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What Jews Can Learn From Jeremy Lin

What Jews Can Learn From Jeremy Lin

If you have anything like a normal human heart, you have probably fallen in love with Jeremy Lin. I have yet to find any criticism of the break-out New York Knick star—or at least any that doesn’t feel merely contrarian or just plain cruel. Almost every ethnic group seems to identity with his story too, and how couldn’t they? Asian-Americans are one of the least appreciated, most misunderstood minority groups in America, fitting in seamlessly with every minorities’ sense of obscurity, and being passed over.

Jews can’t quite claim the obscurity tag, but they can identity with the ethnic stereotyping. And not surprisingly, they’ve fallen hard for Lin as well. Yet so far much of the writing I’ve seen about Lin by Jewish journalists has been sorely lacking. I admit the Lin’s story is relatively new, and there’s plenty of time for something more substantial. But what we’ve got so far are insipid parallels drawn between the Asian-American experience in sports and the Jewish one. Sure, we’re both stereotyped as more brains than brawn, but is that all we can come up with? Anyway, the attempt to circumvent the hyper-intellectual stigma of Asian-Americans doesn’t work so neatly with Lin: he went to Harvard.

So what can we say about Lin and the Jewish connection that’s more substantive? I’m not sure I have anything worthwhile (yet!), but fishing around the internet for some good Jewish-Lin connections, the best one I’ve found so far is this: a parody by the actor and playwright Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg (star of “The Social Network,” “The Squid and the Whale,” etc) writes that he went to the same grade school as Lin and, one day, got his a— kicked for wearing all green to school; Lin pushed the bullies away and they’ve remained friends ever since. Lin, Eisenberg muses, even offered to give Eisenberg’s sister his kidney—his kidney!—when it was discovered she had a rare disease. Turns out Lin’s blood-type didn’t match. But still, what a mensch!

This is all a joke, of course, but it does suggest the adoration that a Jews, like Eisenberg, now have for Lin. He's a mensch for all times. Yet it doesn’t answer the broader cultural questions raised by Lin’s sudden success, and his near-universal approbation. The only thing I have to add on that front doesn’t exactly fit the bill either. But it might be instructive for us Jews anyway.

The main storyline I’ve found most fascinating in Lin dossier concerns his fervent Christianity. Shockingly, it’s done nothing to ward off his admirers. This is surprising mainly in light of the Tim Tebow phenomenon that captivated the nation just last month. Tebow’s faith itself I would argue, was not the problem—it was his unabashed proselytizing, his lack of humility, that irked so many.

Tebow—and by extension, any religious or “ethnic pride”—can learn something from Lin’s humility. He knows his God is Jesus, and in his eyes, he is in large part responsible for his success. But Lin doesn’t berate his fans with that fact. He walks, to use the biblical phrase, humbly with his God.

There are many people who, while not religious or at least who choose to keep their faith private, don’t care so much that Lin’s God is not theirs. What’s kept those people in awe of Lin is his underdog story, without any hint of Tebow-like religious fervency. Lin’s not here to tell you why his God is best. He’s simply here to do his job, and win. That’s a story anyone can love.

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