I spent Christmas Eve at two parties in LA hosted by Jews—friends of my gentile brother-in-law. Didn’t plan it that way; just worked out that way.
The first party was all film industry. I asked the host’s daughter about being Jewish and having a Christmas party and she laughed and said, “Yeah. Basically we do whatever’s fun. Like we had an Easter egg roll.” I liked her attitude. California. No baggage.
The next party was more interesting because there was a Holocaust survivor there. He grew up in a wealthy German family, then spent years in Theresienstadt. After the war, stateless, he said No to Palestine and came here. In the last few years he has been able to recover some of the family’s actual property. The survivor’s wife took me in the kitchen and showed me some china they had finally gotten back. “This too survived Hitler,” she said, touching the beautiful Deco-styled plates.
It felt like a west coast dream. Attitudes are different out there, people are more open to new ideas. At New York parties, I get in fights about Jewishness. Not in L.A.
I sat with the wife for a while at dinner and talked about my issues. She explained that she was firmly secular. Religion is a negative force in society. Jewish identity was important to her, but worship was no real part of her children’s lives, and she’d never tried to separate them from kids of other creeds. She was a little regretful about intermarriage but it wasn’t like she could have stopped it. Hey, it’s America. The Holocaust was not something they talked that much about. When I asked her about Israel, she said, “Israel is important.” When I asked her to elaborate, she repeated that statement.
I went in to get Christmas cake and passed a pretty towheaded girl singing, “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel.” It felt surreal to me.
One of the claims of Jewish parochialists is that Where Hitler failed, intermarriage is succeeding: eliminating the Jewish people. It may be an incorrect statement (the latest Forward reports that Jewish #s in the U.S. are up to between 6-7 million). But right or wrong on the #s, it’s ugly. It’s guilting Americans who are making free and wide cultural choices, saying they’re betraying their people. And the answer of the Michael Steinhardts and Elliott Abrams is, Segregating youth. Segregating privileged youth, at that. Think of the little blonde girls who won’t get to sing the dreidel song.