Hannah Arendt on Caryl Churchill

“One can hardly overestimate the disastrous effects of this exaggerated goodwill on  the newly Westernized, educated Jews and the impact it had on their social and psychological position. Not only were they faced with the demoralizing demand that they be an exception to their own people, recognize “the sharp difference between them and others” and ask that such “separation…be also legalized” by the governments, they were expected to become exceptional specimens of humanity. And since this, and not Heine’s conversion, constitutes the ticket of admission into cultured European society, what else could these and future generations of Jews do but try desperately not to disappoint anybody?”

This is Hannah Arendt writing about the illusion of Jewish emancipation in Europe. Of course, in those days the difference was between Jewish Jews (you know, the ones with the full beards and yarmulkas) and cultured, Europeanized Jews. The latter, Arendt is saying, in order to be admitted into the bosom of European society, were expected to distance themselves from their brethren in the East (Russia, Poland), i.e. to become non-Jewish Jews.

I bookmark this page from The Origins of Totalitarianism in order to draw a quick parallel. In today’s Europe, “good Jews” are still asked–perhaps more than ever–to distance themselves from their brethren in the East, namely Israel. Of course, not only in Old-New Europe, but even in brand new North America this is true. Jews everywhere are told that they must choose between their troublemaking brethren in the East or the goodwill of their non-Jewish neighbors.

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