Oy–My People Are Too Rich!

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This week I did an article for New York Magazine on a big financier with houses all over who is in trouble in Florida for soliciting prostitution. The Palm Beach police record says that he had two girls a day come to his mansion to give him naked massages, and some of the girls were under 16. One was 14. The massages generally led to sexual activity. The financier gave the girls $200 to $300 a pop. According to one friend, the financier is blaming Palm Beach’s (zealous) investigation of his private life on antisemitism. Two weeks back in New York Magazine they did a piece about a 14-year-old hustler in downtown New York who has the run of fancy restaurants and stores and hotels, chats up A-listers in the Hamptons, and is a brand-name fanatic. A Jewish kid. Nouveau Jews.

25 years ago, when I was a young journalist, an older friend urged me not to run an article about a rabbi who was arrested for stealing money. "It’s not good for the Jews," he said. It was a "shonde" for the goyim. Even one little story like that would embarrass Jews in the eyes of the gentiles. Something’s changed. No one seems to care anymore. My people are fat and happy. All around me is Jewish wealth. My mother is always saying she will show me the middle-class Jews who live in her community, but I don’t think they’re representative of my people. My own family was once all middle class. Now we’re upper- and better. And a lot of my middle-class friends in college have become members in good standing of the establishment.

I sense that Jewish entrepreneurialism is the engine of the American economy. The Republican Party is now losing the money race to the Democratic Party, according to the Times, and meantime the Washington Post reported some years ago that more than half of Democratic presidential giving is coming from Jews, while Steve Rabinowitz, Clinton friend, told me this year that if anyone did a study of how much Dem money comes from Jews, it would fuel conspiracy theories… We helped invent the service and information economy. We’re all over the hedge funds that have altered the flows of capital around the world, we are all over the media. I know this is impressionistic–and I live in New York–but we’re everywhere. I pick up my wife at the airport and a guy is wearing a Bloomberg School sweatshirt. Steve Walt has the Belfer chair at Harvard, Niall Ferguson (who lectured at Yivo about Jews and Money) has the Tisch chair there. I lost this blog at the Observer because the paper was bought by a conservative Jew. Sheldon Adelson is the biggest supporter of the new Republican pro-Iraq war group Freedom’s Watch, while Steve Grossman is one of the leading fundraisers for Hillary in New England, and Grossman attacks Desmond Tutu for speaking about Palestinian suffering; and when the political establishment/Hillary push ahead to confront Iran, Sy Hersh says it’s about "Jewish money." I go to a concert at the beautiful Paramount in Peekskill, N.Y., and the chairman of the Paramount board is a guy named Rubin. At times it seems like Jewish money is the only game in town. Like when Obama folded, sickeningly, on a Walt-and-Mearsheimer book ad on his website. Or when the New York Theatre Workshop folded, grotesquely, on the Rachel Corrie play. The thinktanks in Washington–forget about it. Two years back I heard that Cato scholars were being told to watch what they said about Israel, because of funding concerns. 

Obviously Jewish wealth is playing a huge part in U.S. politics and foreign policy. My theory is that the strength of the Israel lobby is a reflection of class and economic power in American life; I’m going to blog about that. But let’s put politics aside for a moment. I’m talking now about my historical culture, Jewish culture. I go to a party and see an old serious friend in the media and he tells me about selling a website for a ton of money to some new investors. He’s sheepish about his news. He didn’t get into the business to be rich. In the old days he would have been a quiet toiling star at the New York Times. In Isaac Singer’s tales of Warsaw, he would have been a starving nebbish. In today’s economy, he’s rich.

As I’ve said here before, Yiddish writers of the 19th century all talked about the dangers of wealth. People lost their compass. They turned into pigs like that financier of whom I wrote, or that 14-year-old who runs around to brand-name restaurants. I fear other consequences. I fear an inability on the part of privileged Jews to be able to sincerely relate to segments of society that have to work with their hands or their bodies, or who are at risk to go to Iraq. I fear an inability on the part of Jewish kids to identify with the underprivileged, let alone the downtrodden. The Jewish kids I see tend to be ambitious and a little entitled. I know, not that different from WASP kids.  But because Jews still think of themselves as outsiders, there’s nothing like the "noblesse-oblige" ethos which characterized the WASP ascendancy of the previous 200 years.

The WASPs resigned. Mutilated by the Vietnam War and sensitive to the criticism of their caste as exclusive and snobbish and racist, they calmly decamped and left the scene. Joseph Epstein wrote that there has never been a sociological surrender like that one, without a shot being fired, in history. I’m hoping for a sociological capitulation on my people’s part, a return to other values. Yes we are the kings of the information age. But look how disfiguring it is.

[Earlier version of this post gave Grossman’s name as Gross. Thanks to Hilda Silverman for alerting me to the error…]

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