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March 8, 2017 8:00 am

Using Humor to Expose Hatred

avatar by Alan Zeitlin

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Tuvia Tenenbom on one leg of his American trip. Photo: provided.

Tuvia Tenenbom on one leg of his American trip. Photo: provided.

Tuvia Tenenbom’s fantastic new book, The Lies They Tell, uses humor as a weapon to expose hatred.

The playwright, who runs the Jewish Theater of New York and is also a journalist, previously wrote books about modern-day antisemitism in Germany, and the large amount of Arab antisemitism in Israel.

Here, the Israeli native — who has lived primarily in New York for the past few decades — travels across the United States to see what “regular joes” think about Jews and Israel. In the book, former ADL chief Abraham Foxman tells Tenenbom to expect more antisemitism than ADL surveys report, because people reveal more to someone who talks to them informally than someone who calls with a survey.

The Lies They Tell is riveting because of the casual antisemitism that Tenenbom exposes. It’s hard to believe that so many people spoke this candidly to him on the record. Perhaps it was due to his vibrant appearance (Tenenbom sometimes wore pink glasses).

In Seattle, a cab driver from Somalia tells him that the “Jews own everything and they don’t help anybody who is not Jewish…that’s why Hitler killed them.” In Dearborn, Michigan, a man tells Tenenbom that Jews can pass through — but can’t live in — a certain area, and also claims that Jews carried out the 9/11 attacks. In Michigan, two women selling desserts proudly proclaim that they support Hezbollah.

In Chicago, police tell him that he should leave a dangerous area, where he is trying to interview African American youths. He tries to get an interview with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but an aide gives Tenenbom a business card with a fake email address. Another Chicago man uses toilet paper with Barack Obama’s picture on it. On numerous occasions, Tenenbom marvels at how the people he interviewed criticize Obama for being too soft on Israel and too hard on the Palestinians — while also admitting that they don’t know much about the topic.

Reading the book, one wonders if these people are representatives of all Americans — or just a bunch of wackos. Either way, the things that they say are pretty disturbing, and due to the recent spike of antisemitic attacks in the US, the book seems prophetic.

It’s hard not to be a fan of Tenenbom’s audacity, zeal and energy. In his writing and in his persona, Tenenbom is over the top. In the book, Tenenbom jokes that after getting high on marijuana, he doesn’t know the difference between Wagner and Moses. And he touches on race when he mentions that in nice restaurants, almost all of the patrons are white and the servers are minorities.

The Lies They Tell is a book that may or may not surprise you. Like many of Tenenbom’s works, it will make you laugh, but also disturb you and leave you wondering what exactly to make of what he’s uncovered. Even if we dismiss some of the most outrageous people that Tenenbom talks to, his findings are quite disturbing.

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  • ‘Ami Artsi

    Why does he wear Indians headgear of feathers ?

    I hope it is not to “make humor” ! Indians do really need help, what happened and still is hapening today to them is shameful and unbearable !
    As Jews, we should feel close to them and fight harder the injustice they are and were living !

    We should NEVER forget what happened in North America at Wounded Knee, what have done European invaders and start to fight for the reparations !
    It is useless and outrageous to think about Indians and celebrate Thanksgiving ! This is an offense to what is right and fair !

    That people has been genocided just like ours has been too.
    6 000 000 of us died in Shoah… Dozens millions of them have been killed by Europeans.

    Indians were between 50 and 60 millions people… Today they remain around 10 millions people in horrible nightmary conditions of the reservations, many of them commit a suicide, many other dive into the drugs and alcohol ! They fight to keep their culture, langages and traditions alive just like we have done in diaspora for ours… But anybody think there is nothing to do because for them, they’re still dead !
    We have to help them. We’ve still done it, but we have to do this better ! Until they are free again, strong enough to live, and respected.

    It is very late, but it is not too late.
    Let’s do not wait for the death of the last survivors to realize we should have done very much better for them !

    So they would like “to be free people in [their] land” (like we sing in Hatikva) the only difference is that their land is not in “Zion and Jerusalem” but in the land they are. They see their sacred sites but cannot reach them, they cannot be free and in Canada, for example, there are rights for everyone (but Indians), and different rights for Indians. That cannot keep on like this. That has to end.

    Europeans are there only for 400 years. They think that land belong to them but that is not true. A stolen thing never belongs to the thief but always to its owner.
    We went back in our land, stolen so many times, by Greeks, Arabs, Romans, etc… We are back in our land, in the land of our ancestors. We are free at least, after 2 000 years of galut (diaspora). They are in diaspora in their own land. Strangers took their place and acted with them like if Indians were unwanted and disgusting guests.

    We have to repare the world. La’asot tikoun ‘olam.
    We cannot let such an injustice going on without trying to heal that bleeding heart. We cannot accept the way the things are like if everything were normal… ’cause nothing is in the United States of America… until we give them back their freedom, their pride and their dignity… until we make the world better, more fair and just. And it starts in America and in Canada.

    I’d like to post here the Hatikva… For us and for them, We haven’t the same Zion, but the song sing the same for both of us :

    כָּל עוֹד בַּלֵּבָב פְּנִימָה
    נֶפֶשׁ יְהוּדִי הוֹמִיָּה,
    וּלְפַאֲתֵי מִזְרָח, קָדִימָה,
    עַיִן לְצִיּוֹן צוֹפִיָּה,
    עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִּקְוָתֵנוּ,
    הַתִּקְוָה בַּת שְׁנוֹת אַלְפַּיִים,
    לִהְיוֹת עַם חָפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ,
    אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם
    לִהְיוֹת עַם חָופְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ,
    אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם