Photo Credit: Rabbi YY Rubinstein
Rabbi YY Rubinstein

My father-in-law’s mind is not as sharp as it once was. That’s hardly surprising in someone who is 94-years-old. He and Mom’s lives (she is a mere 93) are long enough to encompass most of America’s recent Jewish story.

Both were born in the Bronx to immigrant parents from Hungary. Both excelled in their academic fields, he in Engineering and she in Psychology. Soon after they married and children began to appear, Dad accepted a job teaching in Stanford University.

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He told me once that there are only two ethnic groups that are disproportionately represented among Nobel Prize winners; Jews and Scots! I don’t know if he made up the Scottish bit, but it certainly gave me the feeling of being doubly blessed. It’s nice to be proud of your people and background.

Jews represent no fewer than 22.5% of winners, 206 of the 900 and it’s not just the quantity, but the quality of the winners that is remarkable.

Jews have won 54 Nobels for Physiology and medicine alone. Karl Landsteiner discovered the different blood groups. Stanley Cohen discovered growth factors. Others made breakthroughs in curing Tuberculosis, the Immune System and very many other fields. There are other categories where Jews have won; Physics, Chemistry, Economics, Literature and Peace. They have given much good to the world and it’s peoples as a consequence.

Amazingly, Jews have achieved their enigmatic 22.5% figure despite being the most hated and persecuted people in history. Certainly, Theodore Herzl thought so when, as the Paris correspondent for Neue Freie Presse, he covered the Dreyfus trial and decided, ‘enough was enough’ giving birth to an idea that would give birth to the state of Israel.

Portrait of Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935)

Herzl saw clearly the anti-Semitic outrage play out on the stage of French public life and watched it split a nation down the middle. The bitterness of that split is not dissimilar to the split between the supporters of the Republican and Democratic parties today. It was a fracture that has still not healed. It occasionally erupts in modern France between the, “Dreyfusards” as they came to be called and the, “anti-Dreyfusards”.

The story was an echo of earlier show-trials of Europe’s Jews. Alfred Dreyfus was a French artillery officer who was accused of sharing military secrets with German agents. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he was sent to Devil’s Island. He spent five years there manacled by his feet to his bed every night and fed rancid bacon.

New evidence came to light pointing the finger at the real culprit, a Major Esterhazy. Anti-Semites in the army suppressed the evidence and Esterhazy was acquitted after a trial that lasted two days. The Army then laid new charges against Dreyfus based on forged documents. At that point French writer Emile Zola entered the story with his famous headline in L’Aurore, J’Accuse.

For his pains, Zola was forced to flee to London. Dreyfus was retried and again found guilty, but the truth of the evil that motivated his trials was revealed and eventually he was freed.

What’s not so well known is that he survived an assassination attempt. A French court acquitted the assassin, accepting his risible claim that he only meant to, “graze” Dreyfus, which his bullet indeed did.

Astonishingly, the man so abused by his country, returned to serve it once more as an officer during the First World War!

I am not sure if Dreyfus was heroic or idiotic, but his story perfectly illustrates how loyal Jews were, and are, to their countries, and how much they give them, despite how disloyal their countries sometimes are to them.

There is of course no category of Nobel prize for “nobility”, but if there was, Alfred Dreyfus and tens of thousands of Jews like him, could easily be nominated. As my father-in-law intuited when he pointed to the two groups of Nobel winners, it’s nice to feel proud of your people. Naturally, it is not at all nice, when you are ashamed of them.

The Dreyfus affair is back in the spotlight at the moment. A new film called, “An Officer and a Spy” which tells the sorry story, just won the second prize at the Venice Film Festival. It was and is a controversial win. The film was directed by the Jewish Director, Roman Polanski.

Polanski was born in Paris. When his parents moved the family back to Poland, they found themselves trapped in the Crakow Ghetto. His mother and father were taken to concentration camps. Polanski spent his childhood trying to escape his parent’s fate.

He has won more honors than most in the film industry; countless Oscar nominations, two Baftas, four Cesars, a Golden Globe award, the Palme d’Or and more.

But Polanski is a convicted child rapist who fled the United States ahead of his sentencing.

Did the hell of his childhood create the evil part of him? I can’t know. Nor do I know, what created the monster called Epstein or Weinstein.

I do know I won’t be seeing Polanski’s film or any of his films. I would not accept a donation to a Jewish charity from Weinstein or Epstein’s estate.

I know that they failed the test that the vast majority of Jews pass daily; the Jewish nobility test. They failed the 22.5% test of Jews who continue to give so much good to the world and its nations, despite being the most hated and persecuted people in history.

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