Oligarchies in the Jewish Community

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Distinguishing Myth from Reality


One of the principal functions of sociology is to recognize that things are seldom what they seem. It is therefore very important for all of us to know the difference.

In view of the overwhelming might of the media, this is becoming more and more difficult, because television, the internet and other forms of communication ceaselessly tell us what to think, what to believe and what there is to know. All of this is selective, of course, as is visible in the anti-Jewish bias found among almost all of the reports concerning Israel. It is seldom that a news organization is willing to recognize the immense danger in which the Israelis find themselves. Even when Jews are bombed and murdered by Arab thugs, the media find fault with the Jewish victims.

When Arabs murder each other, it is still the fault of the Jews. Consider the murders committed by Christian Arabs on the Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps in Lebanon in 1982. Here, Arabs murdered Arabs. Yet, the Europeans and other enemies of the Jewish people incessantly blame “the Jews” and hold Ariel Sharon responsible for inter-Arab killings.

Likewise, the Arab media have convinced their readers and viewers that the attack on the World Trade Center was ordered by President George W. Bush, carried out by the C.I.A., and that all Jews were notified in advance and that therefore no Jews were victims.

Then there are our politicians who keep telling us that our young people are dying in Iraq for the cause of freedom, even as the FBI spies on us on the internet and investigates who is reading which books in public libraries. In en effort to end freedom of the press, a judge recently jailed a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, for writing something the government didn’t like.

There are innumerable other examples of mythological beliefs which are taken for truth.

Among us Jews, it is common to claim that “all Jews are brethren”. In Hebrew, this is “kol Yisroel chaverim”. That, of course, is true when it comes to collecting money. It is utterly unknown when the poor need help. On the contrary. The poor cannot even enter a synagogue because (a) they cannot get to the wealthy suburbs where synagogues are located, (b) they are ignored if they do get there, (c) they cannot afford the membership fees and (d) they cannot pay for holiday tickets.

“A Jewish man and wife were sailing when a storm forced them onto a desert island in the middle of the ocean. When the weather cleared they found that they were all alone. No communication of any kind was available. There was no ship in sight. Endless water. No hope of escape. The wife confessed and said she had given nothing to their “shul” that year nor had she given one cent to any charity. The husband asked whether she gave anything to the UJA. “No,” she said, “I gave nothing to the UJA.” “Then we are saved,” shouted the husband. “The UJA will find us.”

We have traveled this country from Anchorage to San Diego and Miami, and from Boston to Cleveland and Minneapolis and many places in between. In numerous instances we attended “services” at synagogues in these cities. In all those years we were never greeted by anyone in any “shul” nor welcomed by anyone. The sole exception was Rabbi Isaac Klein. We first visited Temple Emanu-el in 1958 at Sukkot time. We had three small children. When the rabbi saw us he not only greeted us in the Sukkoh and handed us some wine, he even invited us to his home. Yet, he had never seen us before. He evidently really believed that “we are one” and that strangers, in the tradition of Abraham, deserve to be given some recognition.

Of course you may have had a different experience. Please let me know whether or not you were greeted by anyone as a stranger in a synagogue. I’d like to make a brief survey to see if my impression is correct. Contact me at jbuffmail {@}

We wonder how many Jews might have become members of a synagogue if they had been greeted or recognized the first time they attended. We’ll never know.

Sociology teaches us that all human groups, Jews included, are governed by small oligarchies. This phenomenon was first discussed by the Jewish sociologist Robert Michaels. The governance by oligarchies is certainly true in all our Jewish institutions. Self appointed elitists govern Jewish civic life to the exclusion of all others. Therefore, even as we claim that this or that “Beth Hamidrash” is “our family” we are at once forgotten when for any reason we cannot participate any more, lose our money or our occupation, unless of course we are “prominent” businessmen.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that on occasion a Minyan is needed and anyone is welcome to be the tenth man (or woman). 

We Jews have few if any friends. Therefore it would be so comforting if our slogans were not only myth but also reality.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Football & American Identity (2005) &  Youth Culture and the Generation Gap (2005) with Dr. Ursula A. Falk.

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