It seems that we American Jews have a sacred duty. It has nothing to do with skullcaps or boiling a goat in its mother's milk. No. It is our obligation to be perpetually offended and hypersensitive, lest something terrible happen.
So naturally, when former movie star and director Mel Gibson announced that he will be involved in producing a movie about the life of Jewish icon Judas Maccabaeus, community indignation was ramped up. God knows, Gibson had already declared that Jews had started "all wars," during a DUI arrest a couple of years back. He later apologized, calling it "a moment of insanity" and a "public humiliation on a global scale." But surely, a person doesn't spontaneously break into Jew-baiting unless there is some underlying animosity. When you're on the back end of a two-day bender, does it ever occur to you to harangue members of the Greek Orthodox Church? I thought not.
But if there's anything more irritating than listening to a slightly insane and very angry celebrity who is stupid drunk, it's listening to self-appointed Jewish leaders be offended for me.
The media rushed to make sense of this peculiar movie project by, as they always do, seeking out professionally aggrieved Jews, such as Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who explained: "Casting him as a director or perhaps as the star of (a film about Judas Maccabaeus) is like casting (Bernie) Madoff to be the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission or a white supremacist as trying to portray Martin Luther King Jr. It's simply an insult to Jews."
Then there was the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman, who once called Gibson "the portrait of an anti-Semite" and who is the leading voice of the distressed American Jew -- and don't we suffer! He claimed that seeing as Gibson's "previous attempt to bring biblical history to life on the screen (with 'The Passion of The Christ') was marred by anti-Semitism," this one has no shot.
Well, there are certainly plenty of places in the world to find dangerous, theologically embedded anti-Semitism -- with Beverly Hills being low on the list. And sure, Gibson's words were ugly. But if a Polish director who drugged and sexually assaulted a 13-year-old can cast stars in his films, find funding and win Oscars, why not Mel? If Jeff Spicoli can buddy up with a fleshy two-bit dictator and continue to find work, why not Mel? If Al Sharpton -- a man whose vile and consequential anti-Semitism has incited violence, destruction and social unrest -- has a TV show funded by NBC, why not Mel?
And as strange as it seems, artistically speaking, the Jews could use Gibson on this one. The story of Hanukkah isn't only the tale of miraculous candles and Christmas envy, you know. It's about slaying unarmed Hellenistic interlopers and taking names (afterward). It is about populist Jewish rebellion, the unsheathing of theocratic swords and the struggle for freedom (Jewish freedom, anyway). Surely, this kind of material can't be entrusted to some hand-wringing, weak-kneed director who will slather his Jewish liberal sensibilities all over history. Have you seen Steven Spielberg's "Munich"? No, we need crazy on this.
Charles Dickens, Edmund Burke, Virginia Woolf and Edgar Degas, to name very few, had some bad words for the Jews on occasion. But we can put these things in perspective. You can love the art (or whatever this movie will be classified as) and believe that the creator might be in need of psychiatric help or even that he might just be a bad guy. There are limits, of course, but if I stopped watching actors and directors who spewed absurdity, I would have, for instance, missed the entire Jason Bourne series.
Actually, I would have missed a lifetime of popular culture and art.