I wish the late Abbie Hoffman was around to answer that question; after all, it was the same Yiddish epithet he hurled at another Hoffman — Judge Julius — in a Chicago courtroom, circa 1969. It’s a biting/scornful/sarcastic expression of contempt for a Jew who does something so embarrassing (”a shande”) in front of an audience of non-Jews (”goyim”) as to bring discredit down upon members of his own tribe. In the case of Abbie Hoffman — one of eight protestors hauled into court for organizing demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic National Convention — the other Hoffman’s egregiously biased conduct during the trail (including tying and gagging Black Panther Bobby Seale to his seat) prompted the weaponized use of the phrase.
Abbie (who I knew from my NYU activist days) was a master of laying down context in the most unlikely of places and in this Chicago courtroom his verbal note to the judge was clear: how can you as a Jew — with the collective DNA of a people who’ve endured centuries of oppression — act in such a foul, disgraceful manner (in fact, all the Chicago defendants were ultimately exonerated).
Shande far di Goyim has taken on new meaning in recent days with the tumultuous appearance of high-profile Alt-Right/Nazis marching through Charlottesville. The response of some high-profile Jews, by contrast, has remained tepidly calm and collected as if nothing has changed and that includes folks like Steve Bannon’s former aide-de-camp and self-proclaimed Statue of Liberty historian, Stephen Miller (the kind of kid my late father would dub a little “pisher”) and Jared Kushner, presently Jesus-tasked with bringing peace to the Middle East, among other things.
I grew up in a 1950’s-era Brooklyn tenement hearing the shande reference used sparingly; it was a time when most Jews kept their mouths shut even among friends and relatives. Mouths went wide open only when a Jew appeared whose activities were so beyond the pale that they, in good conscience, felt compelled by a higher authority to voice an opinion. One prime example was Roy Marcus Cohn; the vile and reptilian excuse for a lawyer who aided and abetted Senator Joe McCarthy in witch hunting alleged communists who had infiltrated the government. In the process he destroyed the lives and reputations of many innocent and honorable citizens. It finally took the courage of a non-Jew, Boston lawyer Joseph Welch, to speak truth to power. Hired by the Army in 1954 to defend against accusations that there were security lapses at top-secret facilities, Welch popped a gasket when McCarthy suddenly launched an attack on one of his aides, labeling him a communist.
Welch’s response was epic:
Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness....Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?
With this short exchange Welch quickly brought down the demagogic Senator. Despite the “Red Scare” hysteria of the day Americans did demonstrate a sense of decency. In short time McCarthy’s political capital fell into negative numbers. He died a few years later, disconsolate and bitter. Roy Cohn, however, hung on capitalizing on a few contacts he still maintained including, interestingly, the current president, whom he represented as an attorney from 1973-1978.
The shande spotlight has suddenly been cast on two high-profile administration Jews: Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin, both with Goldman Sachs pedigrees. They stood dutifully by the President during the now famous August 15th press conference that began as a discussion of infrastructure but quickly derailed into babbling support for the notion that there was blame to be spread to both sides during the Charlottesville violence. Mnuchin stood unblinking as this embarrassment unfolded; he reminded me of Colonel Klink, the hapless star of of Hogan’s Heros, albeit mit out humor (or perhaps the obedient puppy in the vintage “His Master’s Voice” ads gazing into a gramophone speaker). Gary Cohn, however, offered an interesting contrast. He looked disturbed, and tellingly, for those into yoga, his hands seemed folded into a mudra; the one for the throat chakra. No doubt it was unconscious but the fifth in the Yoga chakra schematic represents — if blocked — the inability to speak one’s inner truth.
Cohn acted like he really wanted to unblock that chakra — purportedly writing a letter of resignation — but quickly walked it back deciding that discretion is the better part of valor; in this case, a continuing quest — its been widely reported — to assume the top job at the Fed.
So much for taking a moral stand which caused one reader of the New York Times piece to remark:
That he would choose career over ethics says everything about the enablers & opportunists in this administration.
I prefer my shandes straight up, without ice, which is why I’d argue that Mnuchin is my choice for the real deal. I’ve flogged his horse many times. Repeatedly, the guy has shown himself clueless about the problems of Main Street; seeing those with misfortunes as yet another dollar-brick to insert in his personal financial wall. He made a great deal of money as the “foreclosure-king” overseeing the infamous OneWest bank and now as “king of money” he’s committed himself to the notion that tax cuts for the rich are a good thing. The recent trip with his glam/shiksa (and controversial) wife, Louise Linton, reportedly to view the eclipse from the top of Fort Knox was, daresay, a telling homage to his true idol: King Midas.
Mnuchin is truly a man without a soul. My guess is he’s more focused on reaching billionaire status than doing anything meaningful. Despite swamp-references to the contrary he’s only worth between three and four hundred million; not enough to belly up to the Billionaire’s Bar and share sips of Louis XIII cognac with certified billionaire and cabinet-mate, Wilbur “Uncle Willy” Ross, the Secretary of Commerce.
Mnuchin’s crassness in marching lock step with the president convinced nearly three hundred of his fellow Yalies’ to post a letter urging him, for god’s sake, to resign already. Fat chance.
Having been born in dear old Deutschland, a mere four years after the war (arriving via the Displaced Persons Act) I’ve had a special interest in the rise of hate groups; specifically of the neo-Nazi variety. I remember back in the 1970’s you had the publication of The Turner Diaries which depicted in gruesome detail a successful race war that made the country JudenFrei (also eliminating just about everyone else not of pure Aryan Christian stock). The 1980s brought in the violent shenanigans of the “The Order” whose members robbed banks and armored cars in an effort to buy heavy weaponry. The FBI finally put the perps in the can but not until after they assassinated the opinionated Jewish talk show host, Alan Berg. However, The Order has provided on-going inspiration for the new generation of White Supremacists whose actions were on display in Charlottesville.
So, who in the Jewish community of bankers and financiers will step up to the plate, like Joseph Welch, to address the indecent behavior of the current administration?
Lloyd Blankfein, who sits atop the firm that’s been a favorite target for virulent anti-Semites has only provided tepid “can’t we all just get along” tweets. Sharing a blue-collar Brooklyn upbringing with Lloyd I feel compelled to remind him that Hitler was an equal opportunity killer, escorting Jewish bankers to the gas chambers as enthusiastically as he did millions of plain folk. My suggestion to him, looking forward, is go seek counsel from one of your own: Elisha Wiesel, son of Elie, and chief information officer for the firm
With the current assault on minority groups — be they L.G.B.T or Latino — American Jews still in denial would be wise to remember the oft-quoted but never worn-out admonition of the anti-Nazi cleric, Martin Niemoller:
The Anti-Defamation reports that since the trouble in Charlottesville anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise and if you believe the polls try this one on for size. A Washington Post/ABC poll conducted in the wake of riots found that nine percent of folks thought that it was “acceptable” to hold neo-Nazi or white supremacist views. Extrapolate that number to the whole of the US population and you’ve got a hell of a lot of potential recruits: twenty-two million. Nuff said?
I often imagine what Abbie would do if he were still around. Who would he label a Shande far di Goyim?
In October, 1967 I was down in DC for the anti-war march on the Pentagon (immortalized in Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night) where Abbie attempted to use spiritual/Yippie energy to levitate that monolithic symbol of American military might. These days I have no doubt that he’d be at the head of a new generation of protestors targeting that unique incubator of greed cum symbol of a collective shande: Goldman Sachs.
Joel Sucher, along with Steven Fischler, is a founder of Pacific Street Films and has written for a number of platforms including American Banker, In These Times, HuffPost and Observer. com. Fischler and Sucher are currently working on a new outreach campaign for their 2001 documentary, From Swastika to Jim Crow, which highlighted the story of Jewish refugee scholars from Nazi Germany who found teaching jobs at Black Colleges.