Here is an interesting promotional video for the new National Museum of Jewish American History in Philly. it does a good job (for the first 3.5 minutes) of explaining what happens when Jews are allowed to do what comes naturally to them…namely achieve. Several hundred years ago this drive was primarily focused on spiritual achievement, but once the crushing oppression of the ghettos were lightened, they embraced secular culture hard enough to suffocate it and the results are what are hinted at in the film-though that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. For an incredibly detailed and exhaustive exploration of this topic, check out “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement” by Steven Pease
At 1:24 in the film, author Lee Meyerhoff Hendler mentions that it was the unique combination of “freedom, protected by the rule of law” that allowed the possibility of achievement we’ve witnessed. She seems to regard it as equally applicable to all immigrant groups which I doubt is truly the case, but it clearly proved to be a combustible combination in the Jewish American example. I might also add that Jews have a deep rooted drive towards ‘Tikkun Olam” (perfecting the world) that was drilled into scores of generations and is not easily shaken even when applied to the secular arena.
As a final thought, it concerns me that the freedom that we have enjoyed in unprecedented quantities as American citizens seems to be on the wane. We are now ranked the 8th most free country according to Freedom House http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=363&year=2009.
There are several other recent notable works that specifically highlight Israeli achievement in recent years, (the Israel Test, Start Up Nation). Imagine what they would be able to do if they didn’t have one hand perpetually tied up in defense…