“I need ammunition, not a ride” — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refusing the US’s offer to get him out of Kyiv.
People used to make fun of Jews. Called them weaklings. Called them cowards. Considered them wimps. That’s what my father who never talked about his Jewish heritage once told me. “After Israel was created, Jews were treated with more respect.” That was his very short answer when I asked if he’d ever encountered any prejudice or discrimination as a Jew. Maybe he was in denial — it’s very possible since he’d grown up Jewish in the South where he definitely wasn’t admitted to any WASP country club.
Even today the stereotype of Jews is a gawky, bookish, nebbish (Yiddish for clumsy, ineffectual) type who wears thick glasses and is more comfortable in a library than a football stadium. Think of the laughs that have been created by characters like Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin or Billy Crystal in City Slickers who confront challenges way out of their usual, lax, privileged, and sedentary comfort zones.
But what if the challenge being faced is not make-believe — what if it means a head-on collision with Vladimir Putin and thousands of Russian tanks and several hundred thousand Russian soldiers. That’s what the Jewish president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is now facing. Very bravely. He’s not fleeing the country like many presidents or prime ministers have done despite the direct targeted threats to him and his family.
And he was a comedian — and a performer and dancer. Try to imagine Woody Allen in such a situation or Jerry Seinfeld or Adam Sandler. It’s easy to imagine a movie that would portray one of these Jewish comedians as a some sort of poor schlemiel who stumbles into the presidency of a banana republic — never imagining ever having to face any real dilemma or conflict — and then is suddenly confronted by a catastrophic assault against him and the country. Wow — that could make a very funny scenario indeed. Hollywood would eat it up. Maybe the film already exists.
What I do know is that this is not Hollywood. The situation in Ukraine is totally real — and far more catastrophic that most of us can imagine — with Putin now trotting out his nuclear arsenal and marching toward Kyiv. It’s calling on the people of Ukraine, with Zelensky at its helm, to be extremely courageous — and most of them, it appears, are rising to the challenge — from villagers turning empty bottles into Molotov cocktails to ex-pat Ukrainians returning home to join the battle.
Courage like that — patriotism on that level — brings tears to my eyes. Its far, far, far braver than the show the Proud Boys put on when they trashed the US Congress by battling against a puny-sized force of police officers.
Actually the fact that Zelensky is Jewish is totally incidental to the courage and tenacity he’s exhibiting to the world. Yet it does make me proud of being a lansman (Yiddish for comrade or countryman) after the recent rash of villains and monsters (also Jewish) we’ve been treated to — like the pedophile Jeffrey Epstein or the nefarious conman in the recent Netflix series The Tinder Swindler.
Prime Minister Zelensky is now showing the world that you can be funny and be a great dancer and also govern a country and face grave danger with enormous nerve. Wow! ##