Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How odd of God / To choose the Jews

I recently happened to be reminded of an epigram attributed to William Norman Ewer (1885-1975), a British journalist and occasional poet.  His interests and enthusiasms included foreign affairs and guild socialism, followed by Communism and then anti-Communism, and he seems to have been a Soviet spy for a while in the 1920s.  But I had heard of him only as the (alleged) coiner of this little doggerel:
How odd of God/
To choose the Jews.
(I once had the vague impression that those lines came from Hilaire Belloc, but apparently not.)

The Wikipedia entry on Ewer, from which I quoted that, observes that "This is often taken, with some justification, to be anti-Semitic in intent, though it would have passed at the time as wit." Yes, that certainly does sound like a witty expression of a certain type of genteel English anti-semitism, which would have been entirely respectable at the time.  But I don't know enough about Ewer to say for sure.  In the right circumstances, the intent might have been more ambiguous, or it might even (hypothetically) have been intended as a witty expression of a certain type of philo-semitism.  Then again, as an old saying goes, philo-semites are often anti-semites who happen to like Jews.

But be that as it may ... Wikipedia then goes on to collect some variants and rejoinders:
It provoked at least three capping replies.
Not odd of God. / Goyim annoy 'im
is attributed to Leo Rosten.
But not so odd
As those who choose
A Jewish God
Yet spurn the Jews
is given as Cecil Brown's or Ogden Nash's.

Another runs, "Not so odd / The Jews chose God."

Even more effective is the anonymous
How strange of man
To change the plan
Then again, there is Jim Sleeper's riposte:
Moses, Jesus, Marx, Einstein, and Freud; No wonder the goyim are annoyed.
As usual, Jim Sleeper is on to something here, and I agree that this might help explain why so many of the goyim are annoyed.

But I must confess that I think Ewer was on to something, too.  God does seem to have a strange sense of humor sometimes.  (Or, if your theology runs along different lines, let's just say that His or Her ways are often mysterious.)  God certainly didn't make our lives easier by doing this.

—Jeff Weintraub

P.S.  I learned from Wikipedia that another oft-quoted couplet of Ewer's is this one:
I gave my life for freedom - this I know:
For those who bade me fight had told me so.
This is from Five Souls (1917), being repeated at the end of each stanza.