After her Princeton High School classmate posted a picture on social media of a drinking game called “Jews vs. Nazis”—it involved tossing ping-pong balls into beer cups arranged as Stars of David and swastikas—Jamaica Ponder did what every decent person with an uncorrupted sense of moral duty should do: she composed a short but fiery post on her blog, condemning her idiotic peers.
“Honestly, it’s ridiculous,” Ponder wrote, “but it would be even more ridiculous for me to come across such ignorance and not utilize it as an example for anyone else harboring the misconception that they can walk around doing dumb stuff like this and not get called out. So here we are.”
God bless her for her clarity and her courage. But the most disturbing part of Ponder’s post wasn’t the revelation that such a game existed; it was the testimony that a few Jewish boys were among the revelers, although they, according to Ponder, only helped set up the game and did not themselves play it. (Ponder herself was not at the party.)
Now, I make no secret of my fondness for Holocaust jokes, and I make them frequently on Unorthodox, this magazine’s somewhat irreverent podcast. And I can’t tell you that if I were a student at Princeton High I wouldn’t have been among the morons reveling in such juvenile inventions as the Anne Frank Cup, which allows the players on the “Jewish” team to hide one of their opponents’ cups for a turn. But if I felt comfortable enough to partake in the poor taste party—a hypothetical since I grew up in a Jewish state and cannot tell how I would’ve felt if the fellows chortling about Auschwitz were named Smith and Jones rather than Butnick and Oppenheimer—I would’ve played the game in full. And I would’ve done so out of a sense of pride, feeling that a bit of lewd and unruly humor is not such a bad retort to a tragic history, and a pretty good finger in the eye of the many who had wished and who wish still to rid the world of me, my family, and my people.
The Jewish kids at Princeton High, however, did something else. They refused to play. They just helped with the arrangements.
There’s a teachable moment here, as educators are fond of saying. The question isn’t why the Jewish boys refused to play the game themselves; presumably, they realized that there was something inherently wrong about reducing the death of six million people to an excuse for the consumption of cheap booze. The question is why, if they realized that the game was hateful and wrong, did they help set it up in the first place.
The answer is short and cutting: they were just following the norms, not only the norms of their meatheaded high school chums but, more troublingly, the norms of the American Jewish community at large. They were doing just what their parents and teachers and uncles were doing when they enthusiastically cheered for Obama even as the president negotiated a mad deal with a genocidal jihadist regime dedicated to denying the Holocaust and obliterating the world’s only Jewish state. They were doing just what their aunts and rabbis and neighbors did when they loudly rooted for Trump at AIPAC’s national conference even as the candidate continued to court a racist and violent mob and advocate policy solutions that should be repellent to any normal person but to Jews in particular. They were, in short, trying hard to pass, to signal that they’re well-behaved, that they’re white and American and unremarkable, that they’re just part of the posse. To object to their heritage being reduced to a sick joke would’ve meant admitting that they’re not a part of the gang, which, to Jews in America in 2016, is just about the most harsh punishment imaginable.
Shame on these boys, then, for lacking both common sense and a backbone. They’d be well-advised to spend some time with Ponder and learn how a mature and empathetic person behaves.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article indicated that Ponder was in attendance at the beer pong party. She wasn’t. Ponder was made aware of the image in question via social media.