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Monday, March 12, 2007

A shanda fur die goyim

For those who aren't familiar with Yiddish, the title of this post is an expression that literally means 'a shame before the nations'... but which is used colloquially to describe any embarrassing or compromising behavior performed by a Jew where a non-Jew can observe it.

I remember when U.S. Senator Lieberman - a visibly observant Jew - was selected as Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 presidential elections, many Jews around the country were justifiably proud (this was before we found out he had more waffles than an IHOP).   But in private, many voiced deep concern over the potential 'shanda' that would result if the first Jewish Vice President were to do something truly scandalous. 

This double edged sword of pride and trepidation is the driving force behind this mindset.

The moment the modern State of Israel came into existence in 1948, the phrase 'A light unto the nations' was dusted off after two millenia of disuse, and tossed around by Jews worldwide.  However, in the back of many people's minds was the very real risk - one might even say certainty - of the 'shanda' that would result from the less-than-admirable (i.e. human) behavior of Israeli leaders and citizens in full view of the family of nations.

During almost sixty years of it's existence, Israel has been no stranger to public and private scandal.  Many of the big players in drugs and organized crime around the world are Israelis... and so many of our elected/appointed government officials have been indicted/convicted of wrongdoing in recent years that the very idea of an honest Israeli public figure seems like a fairy tale.  Our young, post-army vagabonds are such a scourge in some parts of the world that governmental campaigns have been tried and tried again to try to get Israelis to understand that they represent more than just themselves when they are abroad.

So while I wasn't particularly surprised this morning, it was with a heavy heart that I read a news report of the Israeli Ambassador to El Salvador having been found bound, naked and drunk on a public street with a rubber ball stuffed in his mouth and various, er, adult toys nearby.  As I skimmed the article I hoped against hope that he had been the victim of some sort of assault or hate crime.  But as the information unfolded, it became fairly clear that this latest 'shanda' was the result of him having been involved in some sort of Sado-Masochistic game-gone-wrong.

I suppose that if we Israelis can't seem to elect public officials capable of keeping their hands out of the till and their tongues (and other things) out of their coworkers, I shouldn't be particularly shocked at the questionable judgment of their diplomatic appointments.  If all it takes in this country to become a member of the government is to know the right people and kiss the right @ss, the bar for becoming an official Israeli representative abroad is obviously set considerably lower.

'A light unto the nations', indeed.  More like 'a shanda fur die goyim'

Another source here.

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Posted by David Bogner on March 12, 2007 | Permalink

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Well said. We recently had problems receiving our mail - for a period of a month we just weren't receiving anything, not bills, not checks (my husband and I are freelancers), nada.

It transpired that in our neighborhood in Modi'in, the mailman would decide on any given day that it wasn't worth his while making the trek over to our mailbox if there wasn't enough mail to justify the trip, so he would wait until the mail would accumulate, and only then would he deign to deliver it. I expressed my outrage to the supervisor in charge, and when I got off the phone I was literally seething at this guy's apathy. My husband rightly pointed out that if the very leaders of our country are up to their eyes in corruption, fraud, and other criminal acts, what can we realistically expect from the mailman? He makes a good point.

Posted by: Double Take | Mar 12, 2007 3:18:15 PM

I guess he didn't realize that Purim was over.

Posted by: orieyenta | Mar 12, 2007 4:56:24 PM

Wow. The story would have been funny if it hadn't been so sad.

Posted by: Irina | Mar 12, 2007 10:11:06 PM

The diplomatic circuit in El Salvador will be boring with him gone.

I bet he spiced up the otherwise dull lives of other diplomats posted to what is probably a dreary tropical backwater.

Dutch newspapers, for some odd reason, did not mention that he was naked.
I have no clue why that essential datum was left out.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | Mar 13, 2007 12:15:14 AM

You know, a few months ago (sometime last year), I read a news story about Hareidim throwing feces at secular Israelis (my memory may fail me in the finer details), and I wrote a mildly snarky post about that.

Then I did something, which I never do, which is consult my best friend on the matter to solicit her opinion, and she actually suggested I *not* post it, as it would be considered a shanda far di goyim, especially since more than half of the people who read my verbal detritus are not Jewish.

After I read this, with horror, no doubt, I am since kicking myself for having trashed that post from my drafts, of which statute of limitation laws most certainly would apply.

There are boundary lines of propriety, which one is simply not supposed to cross...I know them, you know them, many of your readers know them...why would not an ambassador know them?

The mind reels.

Posted by: Erica | Mar 13, 2007 12:45:15 AM

"....as it would be considered a shanda far di goyim, especially since more than half of the people who read my verbal detritus are not Jewish."

I'm not Jewish either and I don't think any less of you folks because another Jew does something dumb or illegal. I read J-Post and occasionally Haaretz and am saddened by all the corruption reported in those papers. But, warts and all, Israel is still a democratic, free country in a region filled with dictatorships. And Israel sure ain't the PA!

Posted by: K Newman | Mar 13, 2007 1:10:46 AM

Better to have Jews around us, with all the potential for shanda, then for us goyim to be bereft of your presence.

Wow. Betcha can't tell I'm not Muslim.

Around observant Jews (and Japanese people, oddly) I mostly feel like an ox in a china shop, a too-impulsive person. Yet I think there is much to be said for a restrained (even only ideally restrained) society, that persons in the generally unrestrained USA look down upon -- to their loss.

Posted by: Wrymouth | Mar 13, 2007 2:44:26 AM

It could be worse - he could have been a televangelist. (Oh the shame we Christians bear.)

Posted by: Bob | Mar 13, 2007 6:22:49 AM

To be fair, there's bound to be one or two of them out there. The ambassador of where is that? Not nice to read (except the ball in the mouth part was entertaining), but, there is much more 'a light unto nations' going on than the other. I dunno. Didn't get me as worked up as maybe it should have ;)

Posted by: Seattle | Mar 13, 2007 6:32:24 AM

This fellow clearly is the victim of foul play, and that’s not a double entendre. What if you were spirited out of your hotel room in India, stripped, doused in alcohol, and left in middle of the street, with "Kiss me, I'm Irish" painted on an appropriate part of your anatomy? Someone definitely does not like this guy.

Posted by: Barzilai | Mar 13, 2007 6:59:46 AM

Double Take... The body does seem to rot from the head down. :-)

orieyenta... If only that were the extent of it.

Irina... Doubly mortifying for me since he was American born too.

The Back of the Hill... Maybe because in Holland being naked isn't considered such a big deal. Hmm, for that matter neither is being drunk or into kinky sex. Never mind. :-)

Erica... I am also frequently tempted to edit myself because of the large number of non-Jews who come here. But as several have already pointed out, the problem is with me... not with them.

K Newman... When we trip in public or spill something on ourselves in a restaurant we are always much more embarrassed than anyone who might have witnessed our blunder. Same here.

Wrymouth... Funny you should say that since many Europeans think of Americans as hopelessly prudish to the point of being almost puritanical.

Bob... I have to admit I used to watch the televangelists on TV when I was travelling for business just because they seemed to over-the-top in their delivery. I know that this probably sounds offensive to Christian ears, but when on the road one takes his entertainment where he can find it. :-)

Seattle... Glad to hear.

Barzilai... Something foul alright... but I can't imagine getting burned this badly unless one was playing with matches.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 13, 2007 2:32:51 PM

Naturally, when covering this story, the Washington Post was reminded of past embarrassments. Of other ambassadors, right? Or other foreign diplomats? Of course not. Of other Israelis. Ah, leave it to the Post to never miss an opportunity to trash Israel.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Mar 14, 2007 3:15:54 PM

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