During my participation in the Progressive Leadership Academy, I was strongly encouraged to delve into the experiences of Jews in America to learn about the “seven keys to the enduring wealth of a people.” This book has opened my eyes to all sorts of interesting tidbits, themes, and strategies that are often lost on other populations. As always, I’ve found that it’s important for me to capture my thoughts after reading to increase comprehension and retention.
The Jewish Phenomenon, Steven Silbiger
Chapter 4: Develop Your Verbal Confidence
I greatly enjoyed this chapter in particular because of my recently enhanced enthusiasm for the development of public speaking skills among young leaders. The author states that verbal confidence is “the ability to speak up, say your piece, ask questions, make demands.” Chutzpah or self-confidence comes from the Hebrew word audacity, which was displayed by all of the pioneers throughout the chapter. Confidence is “boldness, assertiveness, a willingness to demand what is due, to defy tradition, to challenge authority, to raise eyebrows” and has served Jews well in their endeavors.
The writer establishes chutzpah as a part of Judaism in that young Jews find their voices through critical analysis of religious doctrine. Unlike many Christian households, Jews are taught to challenge each other and to defend their positions. How did Moses part the Red Sea? How did Jonah survive in a whale? This develops critical thinking skills. Children are encouraged to play integral roles in the family during dinner discussions and celebrations. At their coming of age celebrations at the age of 13, the teenagers are put front and center to speak and perform. I would imagine that this eases the transition into the professional world.
I’m a huge fan of statistics for some reason. “In the 1960s, Time magazine estimated that 80% of the most popular comedians were Jewish.” That’s astonishing! This chapter goes on to explain the stories of some of the most influential Jews in the entertainment industry. In 1998, half of the top 10 of Forbes Top 40 Entertainers were Jews; Harrison Ford, Jerry Seinfeld and Tim Allen were the names I recognized. However, it seems there was also a strategic assimilation of Jews into the industry through the changing of names and suppression of Jewish identity. It’s funny though that Caryn Johnson changed her name to Whoopi Goldberg to “honor her Jewish ancestors.” Besides comedy, some of the most prominent motion picture companies were developed by Jews: MGM, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, Dreamworks!
The motion picture industry got started in bars when folks would pay a nickel to see a “nickelodeon”! Wow! Then 19-year-old Louis Mayer opened the first theater palaces and went on to form MGM. Goldwyn and and Blanche Lansky started producing with $25,000 and a dream when they moved to California, giving birth to Hollywood. The rest is history! Steven Spielberg has “produced or directed 7 of the top 10 grossing films including Men in Black, Saving Private Ryan, Back to the Future, The Color Purple, Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark! Now we aren’t saying that other groups aren’t making major moves, but we have to acknowledge the leverage of the Jews.
They also stand out in TV and radio, having started programs like CBS, NBC, and heavily influencing ESPN and Disney. Norman Lear produced popular African-American shows such as Sanford and Son and Diff’rent Strokes. Jews are even responsible for the Cosby Show and Charlie’s Angels! All this accomplished without brandishing their Jewish culture, considering that in the 1980s “Jews were invisible.” However, their influence is very apparent in TV in the form of popular game shows such as The Price is Right, Family Feud, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune (which was sold to Coca-Cola for $250 MM in 1986)! They made their mark on TV news through Larry King, 60 Minutes, 20/20, among many others. Despite only being less than 5% of the population, they make up 1/4 of “writers, editors, and producers in America’s ‘elite media’. Interesting!
All of this goes to show the importance of verbal confidence. The author concludes the chapter by giving advice on how to develop your chutzpah. Students are encouraged to speak up in class. Parents should facilitate stimulating discussion with children about ideas, the world, and current events. Children should be given experiences, such as sports or the arts, where they are given the opportunity to develop stage presence and confidence. Finally, Silbiger suggests that adults work on their own self-confidence by joining Toastmasters! I’ve been thinking about joining for a few months now. It’s worth a shot!
This chapter just drove home the importance of communication. You can have the best ideas, best solutions, best vision in the world, but if you can’t communicate in a way that makes people listen and respond, then you’re out of luck. Let’s Lift Ev’ry Voice!