Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Makes Jews So Successful?

One could argue that because the Jews were dispersed throughout the world, they came in contact with many cultures and were thus able to take the best ideas of each nation and use them to their advantage.

But the African Diaspora spread hundreds of millions 1 of Black Africans all over Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Western Hemisphere, yet despite their dispersal and contact with many cultures, Black Africans as a group have been dismal failures. For example, only one Black African ever received a Nobel Prize in Economics and not one ever received a Nobel Prize in Physics, Chemistry, or Medicine [see my 13 Black Nobel Prize Laureates] while more 159 Jews have won Nobel Prizes other than Peace or Literature.

A reader may object that Black Africans came from many cultures before they were dispersed and therefor they are not a homogeneous group that can act to help each other.

But the same can be said of Jews from Ethiopia, Spain, Germany, Persia, France, Morocco, China, Japan, and hundreds of other countries and cultures.

Ah, perhaps it is their religion? Black Africans have many religions and are thus not as united as the Jews. But there are billions of Christians in every country in the world and yet their common belief has not made them as successful as Jews.

There are many times more Catholics in Poland than Jews, yet more than half of all Polish Nobel Laureates [see Polish Nobel Prize Laureates]: Jews.

So maybe it's not a common religion but Judaism per se, that makes Jews successful. But that does not explain the remarkable influence and power of Jews in film, plays, music, finance, real estate, banking, fashion, and other enterprises in America where the majority of Jews are secular [see Not All Jews Believe in God].

Well then, perhaps surviving constant persecution and enduring long suffering make the Jew so formidable. Then let us consider the Armenians who have been dispersed all over America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East since 1375 [Wiki], and likewise suffered expulsions, discrimination and even endured a genocide at the hands of the Turks.

There is no doubt that Armenians are very successful and have made their mark in finance, science, and many other fields. Kirk Kerkorian, Garry Kasparov, Kevork Hovnanian, William Saroyan, and many others, although their achievements are great and many, they are still dwarfed by those of Jews. It should be noted that Kasparov, arguably history's greatest chess player, had a Jewish father, which is not remarkable when one considers that more than half of all the greatest chess players in the past one hundred years were Jews 2.

The answer is a bit complex: Jews helped each other, trusted each other, were forced into becoming merchants and traders, had a common language, formed communities with mutual aid societies, encouraged their children to pursue education. Indeed even during the most horrific of times for Jews, Christian royalty and high government officials had Jewish doctors for themselves.

When Spain needed to make a deal with Portugal or Portugal with Italy or Italy with Great Britain, those countries turned to Jews. Where most nationalities mistrusted others, Jews from the Mediterranean and the far flung suzerainties of the Ottoman Empire dealt with each other as if they were landsmen.

Forbidden by law from most professions by local rulers, the church and the unions, many Jews were forced into culturally abhorred occupations, such as tax and rent collecting, pawnbroking, and moneylending.

Since Jews had no problems trading with each other, many became merchants, manufacturers, and international bankers. Communication from Spain to Morocco was facilitated by speaking 'Judezmo,' a lingua franca among Jews in Southern Europe and North Africa.

Jewish merchants of Poland, Germany, Eastern Europe, Latvia, Lithuania, portions of Russia and Ukraine spoke to each other in Yiddish.

When I arrived in Israel in 1965, I lived with very distant relatives I had never before met or even heard of. Though I was a complete stranger to them, they gave me a room to sleep in and helped me register at the Hebrew University. Imagine a French Christian cousin 12 times removed coming into town and getting help from very, very distant Italian relative. Not likely.

After a few weeks I met a Persian Jewish young man (completely unrelated to me) who invited me to his home for tea and I stayed for two years.

In 1967 I had an opportunity to study in Paris. A distant-distant-distant cousin helped me find lodging and register for classes.

I can travel anywhere in the world and hook up with a Jewish relative or a friend of a relative and settle down, if it suited me to do so, helped by fellow Jews.

Many immigrants who emulate those habits of helping one another also succeed in America. In New York one can find Koreans helping other Koreans to open up delis, Chinese help other Chinese open up jewelry stores or restaurants, and so on.

What you will rarely see are Blacks helping other Blacks. Once a Black entertainer, businessman, sports hero makes a fortune - poof - they're gone. Nothing comes back to their community - it's every man for himself.

Or woman for herself. What does Oprah do for urban youth? Nothing. Instead she spends her money on non-American Blacks.
But I digress.

Last year I was looking for a person to do some printing for my telecom business. He took me to a Jewish restaurant to discuss business and before my meal was finished he had introduced me to a half-dozen other Jews that could fill other needs of my business.

That's what makes Jews successful. Not being afraid to share a customer, to network, to help a fellow Jew.

Sure a Harvard man will help another Harvard man but the guy has to be in the same social class. Among Jews, a millionaire can be eating in the same booth as a poor man and each can still do business with the other.

It's what made Hollywood Hollywood, it's what made Broadway Broadway.

No comments: