The following is an essay I wrote, or began, some time in 2002 as nearly as I can tell. This blog didn’t exist then, and apparently I intended it for some other purpose. Some of the biographical information is out of date, for example, I am no longer on the board of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and have not been for years.
Like Groucho, I would not like to join a club that would have me as a member. This pertains especially to those clubs most eager to have me, because I meet the criteria. Unfortunately, their sense of affinity is not mine.
Jews would have me, but I wouldn’t have them. At least not simply because they are Jews. Some of my worst friends are Jews.
The AARP would have me. And their cutoff seems to get younger and younger. So although for six years I qualify for cheaper airfare to certain places;
Although I qualify to have my very own lobbyist in Washington;
Although my hair is white and my skin is creased;
And although, like it or not, I am treated deferentially in all the many eateries in Harvard Square that otherwise cater to the overwhelmingly predominant population of young adults;
I really can’t stand even the idea of the AARP, which seems to predicate its importance on the mere fact that they feel chauvinistic about that which they otherwise can do not a thing. Those doomed to die, unite! Join the great society of humans and other mammals, arthropods, insectivora, indeed, all vertebrates and invertebrates! Discounts on movies, and other benefits.
I think the greatest right, right there under life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is the right to be let alone, and to enjoy only that society we choose. Well, can’t help it in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, but that’s a small price to pay, as a citizen, for the privilege of legally driving a motor vehicle. I am talking about something more basic. I am indeed talking about rights.
Of course, they all have the right to solicit not only my interest, but my involvement, my dues, my charity, and my attention: the Jews (though, in fact, they don’t; it’s little known that Jews are very uneasy with the idea of proselytizing and doing missionary work with the objective of creating new adherents), the rapidly aging here (and everywhere else: I don’t know, but I can imagine that AARP has designs on the creation of an international constituency — today McDonald’s, tomorrow AARP for world citizens with cardiac artery disease).
I realize I’m already well into this, and have already invited the response that I’m looking for trouble. I ain’t looking for trouble, or picking on, either the Jews or the AARP. It’s just that, through no effort of mine whatsoever, I qualify for both.
AARP has a marketing campaign, which delivers the usual communications channels — direct mail, telemarketing, and SPAM. As if that weren’t embarrassing for them enough, my friends ask quizzically what my problem is, anyway.
Which brings me to the other. The Jews do not have a marketing campaign, contrary to the opinions of some, and despite, no doubt, their ownership of all major institutions and organizations that service and control the money supply, not to mention the media. They do not need one. They have my friends, or at least some of my friends.
Like my brethren in the chamber of commerce, whose measure of the worthiness of any civic, political, or financial initiative within our venue is “Is it good for business?” — this is, indeed, often the only measure or criterion to determine support — the question of my co-religionists is, “Is it good for the Jews?” There is, to be sure, a certain historic weight to this question — a question fraught with intimations, if not direct threats upon, one’s mortality. Indeed, it is prudent to expect that there is still a certain amount of caution one must exercise as a Jew in the world, which can turn selectively, unexpectedly, and viciously upon one merely for being a son of the covenant. Beyond the innate caution that I would urge upon any citizen to exercise, however, I believe that there has been a considerable diminution of a threat purely on a basis of institutionalized and universal hatred. Anti-semitism is, for the time being, a pocket evil.
Whether it’s Babbitts on business, or a Person of the Book, chauvinism goes a long way to providing a touchstone for behavior. Indeed, there are no more codified ways of conducting oneself than in the broader realms of global business, or global religions.
Well, I will admit it right now. The first things I seek when I have stepped off the plane in another continent, or even farther afield on my native continent than my feet could take me for a day (with ample stops for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and other moments of refreshment), are not either the local board of trade or where one may go to expect a minyan will gather four times a day.
What I seek is more broadly existential. Call it what you will. Shelter from the storm. A feeling of peace, if not of sanctuary. I seek, as I say, to be let alone. And this means only one thing. If you actually are interested in me, let’s leave it at that pronoun.