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A Culture of Tough Jews

Rhetorical Regeneration and the Politics of Identity


David Moscowitz

From brutal Nazi killers to Hanukkah heroes in the ’hood, tough Jews refute images of doomed Holocaust victims, wandering Jews of exile before them, and the post-war ‘nice Jewish boys’ who followed. They foster belligerent responses to polemics of fear and self-hatred, and as such, materialize as a challenge for postmodern cultural identity. A Culture of Tough Jews reframes the tough Jew as an enduring act of rhetorical regeneration by reifying a related figure, the vital Jew. As corrective to the tough Jew, the vital Jew encourages robust cultural production and dialogue. For audiences of rhetoric and cultural studies, the book offers critical and theoretical study of rhetorical regeneration, including original constructs of postmodern blackface and transformative performativity, as a resource for contemporary rhetorical invention. It also constitutes a case study for the postmodern critique of identity by invoking concerns of (post)assimilation, gender and power, and the social construction of race, ethnicity, class, and power to advance conversations on fractious cultural exigencies. A Culture of Tough Jews is a spirited call for postmodern cultural vitality that responds to contemporary politics of identity and memory.
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Conclusion: Vital Identity + Politics


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Vital Identity + Politics

Following the November 1995 assassination of Israeli leader and peace broker Yitzhak Rabin, progressive American rabbi Michael Lerner referred to the tragedy as a “symbolic opening” for what would likely be a new “civil war” in the Jewish community (“The Civil” 33). Lerner used that cataclysm to tangibly position a divide that already had influenced American Jewish discourse, the growing political tension between what Israeli sociologist Uri Ram calls neo-conservative “neo-Zionists” and more progressive, liberal-leaning “post-Zionists” (525–529).1 Likewise, this project’s introduction invokes the determinism of Hillel Day School Headmaster Mark Smiley, whose expressed priority for instruction shifted from the viability of dialogue and discussion to the call for defense and division. Smiley’s message is not unique, particularly in a context characterized by ongoing tensions in the Middle East and worldwide fears of terrorist activity. In particular, the fallout from the events of 9/11, the rise of the second intifada in Israel, and worries of a third intifada have engendered a cynical hopelessness regarding prospects for peace and stability.

Influential American Jewish organizations often validate this politics of separation. The American Jewish Committee (AJC), one of the oldest, largest, and perhaps the most prominent of the major Jewish “defense” agencies, echoed Smiley’s sentiment in mid-2004 with several versions of full-page newspaper advertisements asking, “How can there be peace in the Middle ← 129 | 130 → East …?”2 The question implies the premise that the AJC’s conditions for...

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