Jewish people of a certain age who attended synagogue or religious school are sure to know the stories of the "Wise Men of Chelm". These classic Jewish folktales are told and repeated to this day on the pulpits, classrooms, and at the communal gatherings of the Jewish community. These stories, dating back almost two centuries, center on the semi-mythical village of Chelm, located in the old Pale of Settlement. The central conceit of the "Wise Men of Chelm" tales is that the residents pride themselves on being the wisest, most erudite and sagest people in the land, when in fact they are buffoons and gullible fools. At their best, these stories are as hilarious as a Louis C.K. performance. There is the famous tale of the Chelmites who hung the synagogue poor box high on the ceiling so no thieves could reach it, but placed a ladder underneath so that the poor could climb up. There is the story of the Chelm resident who lost his wallet on a dark street, but searched underneath a streetlamp some distance away because he could see better. There is the well-known tale of the Chelmites who dug a hole for the foundation of a new building, but when they did not know what to do with the excavated soil, dug another hole right next door to place the dirt; and when they did not know what to do with that soil, dug another hole, and so on. Again, what makes these stories so funny is that the proud citizens of Chelm never realize just how foolish they are, but consider themselves geniuses of the highest order, more insightful and brilliant than the benighted souls around them.
The made-up controversy over "Operation Jade Helm" in Texas is simply a Chelm story (Helm story?) set in modern times. The far- right wing Texas politicians, including the Governor, who apparently believe that a military exercise called "Jade Helm" is really a pretext for an Obama-led takeover of their state is nothing more than the Chelmites at it again. They have gone so far as to assert go that the Obama Administration is digging secret detention centers and tunnels under abandoned Walmarts. Like the residents of Chelm, the current crop of far right-wing "Helm"-Ites now whispering darkly about a government conspiracy consider themselves wise, erudite, patriotic, God -fearing and insightful, but they are, sadly gullible fools and plain wacky. It pains me to say this, because my Dad was raised in Texas and I have fond feelings for the Lone Star State, but in our own time we are seeing yet another iteration of the "Wise Men of Chelm" with a Texas accent.