Way, way back in 1989, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency wrote an obituary of the then-recently deceased activist/organizer/author/provocateur Abbot Howard “Abbie” Hoffman, calling him an “activist with Jewish soul.” That, he was, 100%. There was plenty to criticize about the man—he could be arrogant, and he contributed significantly to the Baby Boom’s decoupling of the left from the labor movement, a move that significantly damaged both institutions—but he brought theatricality and exuberance to the often humorless politics of the left, and he was motivated by a genuine and irrepressible desire to see the spoils of America’s prosperity and justice offered to ALL of its citizens.
Hoffman addressed the Jewish foundations of his political ethos in his autobiography Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture, and those connections were discussed in his JTA obit:
“Judaism has never been so much a religion to me as a noble history and a cluster of stereotypes. Jews, especially first-born male Jews, have to make a big choice very quickly in life whether to go for the money or to go for broke.”
Hoffman never made a lot of money, preferring to eschew the life of the yuppie in order to remain loyal to his roots as a Yippie. It conformed with his self-identity as the perennial outsider, a role he viewed as an extension of his Jewishness.
“As a kid, I went to the rabbis and said, ‘What do you think of Philip Roth or Norman Mailer or Joseph Heller, you know, those kinds of writers,’ ” Hoffman told the New Jewish Times newspaper in 1980.
“They would say, ‘Not good for the Jews. Too much self-ridicule, too much mockery.’ But I think this is the destiny for the Jews: to be rebels, to question society. And to be funny. We’re philosophers and comedians.”
More after the jump…