The Jews

David Brooks citing Steven L. Pease’s new book, “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement,” reminds us, or rather spells out for us, just how well the Jews have done throughout many of their adopted countries and most of all in the United States since the end of World War II.

“Jews are a famously accomplished group,” he says. “They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates….

“They make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.”

I have often thought to myself that perhaps the very biggest errors of first Hitler, and then Stalin, were to not treasure this obvious treasure of highly ambitious, highly intelligent, highly creative, and highly sensitive, highly whatever people.

Instead, Hitler tried to exterminate them, and with some success in regard to the 6 million or more of them whom he sent to perish in the Holocaust camps of Eastern Europe. Happily, however, he did not accomplish what he had intended and exterminate an entire people.

Stalin, following the defeat of Hitler and Germany, did allow the Jews to go on living, but refused to fully accept them as Russians, as full citizens of the Soviet Union.

Stalin never ceased to remind the Jews, right down to their Jewish identity cards that they were forced to carry, that they were a people apart, although he did not hesitate to profit from their achievements, in particular in chess, in the arts, and especially the theoretical sciences, claiming their achievements as the Soviet Union’s own, which of course they weren’t.

In the Soviet Union the Jews, although not in large numbers confined to perish in the Gulags, did remain a people “apart,” right up until the demise of the Soviet Empire in the 1991, and even afterwards in the new Russia that emerged from the ruins. Those who were able to leave, first with great difficulty from the Soviet Union, and then much more readily from Russia, settled in Western Europe and in much larger numbers in the United States and Israel, with all the truly extraordinary results that Pease outlines in his book.

What might, I have often wondered, the world be like today if the millions of Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia had been allowed to remain in the places of their birth, had been nurtured, not forced to suffer pogroms and holocausts, had instead been actively encouraged to turn their intelligence and great talents in active support of the societies in which they lived?

But of course it was not to be. Instead we had first Hitler’s then Stalin’s grotesque errors in regard to this people. Only did the United States, after a rocky discrimination filled beginning, get it right in respect to the Jews.

Most of all we eventually got it right for here to meet the Jews, as well as all new comers to the country, there was and is the well established belief that the government’s principal role is not to primarily use and abuse its peoples, but to nurture and protect them, in particular their lives, liberties, and their individual pursuits of happiness.

In regard to the Jews, and the other peoples who have never ceased to come here, opportunity is what is here awaiting them. The Jewish people, rejected in their homelands, came here, took full advantage of the opportunities awaiting them, flourished, and continue to flourish, to the great benefit of themselves and us.

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