What I Think and More
I’m not sure when I first heard the phrase, “Jewish blood is cheap.” I thought it was in the 1960 movie, “Exodus,” about the founding of Israel. I checked and PAUL NEWMAN, playing a Haganah officer, actually substituted “meat” for “blood”. He said: “For most Gentiles, Jewish meat is cheap, cheaper than beef, even cheaper than herring.” When I saw the video of the horrific murder of George Floyd my mind leaped to a new phrase: “Black Blood is Cheap.” Clearly, four police officers gave little value to his life.
Of course, it wouldn’t be politic to have groups called “Jewish Blood is NOT Cheap” or “Black Blood is NOT Cheap.” But those phrases do state the “nitty gritty” of much of the collective history of Jews and Blacks (not forgetting that many Jews are black). It’s good to state, sometimes, the “nitty gritty” because it gets our “blood-up” and stops us from letting our guard down.
Of course, you can’t live in constant anger. But you should do what you reasonably can do to fight hate, and cruelty, even though we all know that the impact of one individual is almost always small. You also can be kind and, every now and then, like a small miracle, being kind makes a big difference.
In the last two months, I came across two ‘miracle’ stories. The first is about Sidney Poitier, the 93-year-old iconic African-American actor and director. You can’t overstate his importance. He was the first black American actor to consistently portray strong, intelligent black characters. He was the first African-American to win the best actor Oscar. When he received an honorary Oscar in 2002, almost every “superstar” black actor and actress appeared in a tribute video in which they said that he cleared the path for their success.
Poitier, while born in Florida, grew-up in the Bahamas in dire poverty. His family was tight and loving, but they needed his labor and he hardly got any schooling. He moved to New York City at age 16 and worked as a dishwasher. He answered an ad for actors, but he was thrown out of the audition when it was clear he could only read a few words. In a 2009 interview, he told how that changed.
After the audition, he got a dishwashing job in a Queens restaurant. At the end of the workday he would look at a newspaper. An old Jewish waiter came up to him and asked him what the news was. He replied he really didn’t know because he really couldn’t read. The waiter offered to help and for months he and Poitier would read the paper together. Poitier became a good reader. He was also taught the meaning of most words and the rules of punctuation. Poitier told the interviewer that one of his biggest regrets was not thanking the waiter enough. He tried to reach him when he became a success, but couldn’t find him.
ROBERT REICH, now 73, is most famous as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor. In that job, he spearheaded the passage of the Family Leave Act and a minimum wage increase. Reich was born with a genetic disease that left him very short. He would spend his childhood summers with his grandmother at a mountain resort. Because of his height, he was often bullied and he sought the protection of kind older boys. His protector one summer was Michael “Mickey” Schwerner. In 1963, Schwerner was one of three Civil Rights workers murdered by the Mississippi Klan because they were trying to register black people to vote (the others were African-American James Chaney and ANDREW GOODMAN, also Jewish). Reich said in 2011 that that Schwerner’s death inspired him to “fight the bullies, to protect the powerless, and make sure that people without a voice have a voice.”
Another man of courage, ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955), is now featured on the home web page of the Smithsonian magazine. (Look for “Einstein Home Movies”) They have posted a 2 minute colorized video of Einstein arriving in America after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1933 and (later) relaxing with his wife and friends on Long Island. Here is a “verified” Einstein quote that I think is as relevant today as it was in 1953 when Einstein said it at an event honoring the famous cellist Pablo Casals, a staunch enemy of fascism. He said: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”