While teaching my elective at the kibbutz today, one of my students brought up a delightful bit of insight. You might even call it a quintessential Jewish paradox. Or perhaps just a cultural pondering.
My elective is entitled Yid vs. Goy: Secular, Jewish, and Israeli Culture. We’ve been covering a motley crew of topics, from traditional religious observance to modern musical expressionism. Today, we were talking about the prevalence of Jewish culture in secular society, with a specific focus on the arts. Today was a highlight.
On a hot, sticky day, on which half of the class decided to skip to pursue other (illicit?) pursuits, one statement (a la “if a tree falls in the forest…”) resounded against the ambient noise.
If an audience with no Jews in it went to see Spamalot, would there still be people to laugh at the Jewish jokes?”
This was a reference to the song “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway if You Don’t Have the Jews,” which itself is an off beat satire of the very thing which we were discussing today, namely, how is it that less than one percent of the world’s population seems to exert so much cultural influence.
A Jewish Conspiracy?
The discussion took an incredibly interesting turn when we began to discuss who has ownership of the various Jewish cultural influences on non-Jewish society. Do we get to decide who gets to laugh at our jokes if we don’t tell them? Do we get to decide who eats our food if we don’t cook it? Do we get to decide who listens to our songs if we don’t sing them? And are they all still Jewish if we don’t?
I know my answer. What’s yours?