"The great thing about the column is that it more or less forces me to keep learning new tricks, to keep scoping out areas I’d never thought much about before. Then it forces me to find a way to talk about those areas in plain English." (The Joy of Research)I read Krugman's blog and column every day, and find his insights into the whole political sphere, especially with regard to economic affairs, quite important in figuring out what's happening. Sometimes he’s ironic about being Jewish -- and his point of view as an outsider who understands what’s going on is fun to read, especially when he reminds his readers of how he predicted one mess or another that the government is getting itself into. His first triumph was understanding Enron before anyone else did.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
I have no idea if I'll get to the Jewish museum in Dublin, as it's only open a few hours per week.
Note: my planned birthday/event posts are queued up and will continue along with any reports on my trip.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
A recent review of philosopher-novelists described Goldstein thus:
Goldstein, whose latest novel is “36 Arguments for the Existence of God,” treats philosophical questions with unabashed directness in her fiction, often featuring debates or dialogues among characters who are themselves philosophers or physicists or mathematicians. Still, she says that part of her empathizes with [Iris] Murdoch’s wish to keep the loose subjectivity of the novel at a safe remove from the philosopher’s search for hard truth. It’s a “huge source of inner conflict,” she told me. “I come from a hard-core analytic background: philosophy of science, mathematical logic. I believe in the ideal of objectivity.” But she has become convinced over the years of what you might call the psychology of philosophy: that how we tackle intellectual problems depends critically on who we are as individuals, and is as much a function of temperament as cognition. Embedding a philosophical debate in richly imagined human stories conveys a key aspect of intellectual life. You don’t just understand a conceptual problem, she says: “You feel the problem.” The Philosophical Novel by James Ryerson
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Echoing a letter from the Newport congregation leader, Washington wrote to them:
"All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens."For more details see this article.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Sometimes this sad trend is disguised as criticism of Israel or integrated with anti-Israeli sentiment, but alas, it's often just the same old Jew hatred that's been with us since the ancient Greeks. Now the modern Greeks are indulging, writes the L.A.Times:
The article, Anti-Semitism flares in Greece by Anthee Carassava details a frightening number of nakedly antisemitic statements by prominent politicians, honors going to perpetrators of formerly unacceptable anti-Jewish books, and tolerated acts of violence against Jews. Needless to say, I recall that the Greeks persecuted the large and longlasting Greek Jewish communities beginning in the 1920s, and then stood by as Kurt Waldheim sent them all to the camps. The article explains: "Such beliefs aren't new. Nor are they just Greek. What's different in Greece is the level of tolerance for anti-Semitism."
"... Athens, one of the last European capitals to commemorate those who perished at the hands of Nazi forces, finally has a Holocaust memorial.
"But since its dedication in May, synagogues have been targeted, Jewish cemeteries desecrated, Holocaust monuments elsewhere in Greece vandalized and the Jewish Museum of Greece, in the capital, defaced with swastikas. What's more, an alarming chunk of Athenians in November supported the election of a neo-Nazi candidate to the capital's city council."
Friday, February 18, 2011
For many readers, Sholem Aleichem's stories define life in the Russian or Polish Shtetls where their ancestors came from; since his perspective is secular even though his characters are nearly always religious in some way, he's an important source of identity information to both secular and religious Jews.
Sholem Aleichem was born before the Russians adopted the current calendar, so his birthdate is also given as March 2. Of course his name actually means "Hello" or "Peace" -- his real name was Sholem Rabinowitz.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
"Call that land Oz, if you’d like. Or call it Israel. (For that matter, call it Miami Beach or Shaker Heights or the Upper West Side.) Anyway you slice it, the story “Over the Rainbow” tells is the oldest Jewish story of them all: "There’s no place like home."
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
- When I Lived in Modern Times, a historic novel about the Israeli war of independence, winner of the 2000 Orange Prize.
- The Thoughtful Dresser, a book about clothes that has a very interesting description of how a Holocaust survivor became a fashion expert in Canada.
- The Clothes On Their Backs: A Novel
- The People on the Street: A Writer's View of Israel
Monday, February 14, 2011
"'Human' is a key word, for the Benny persona defied sub-categorization. Benny had shed his Jewish identity along with his Jewish name on his way from vaudeville to radio. The character he and his writers sustained on the airwaves for four decades had no ethnicity or religion.
"He had no strongly defined sexuality either, despite his boasts about mythical romantic success with glamorous female movie stars and his occasional brief dates with working-class women. In minimizing his ethnicity and sexuality, the Benny character managed to transcend those categories rather than deny them. Beneath his quickly lifted arrogant facade lurked an American Everyperson" (Jack Benny)
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Lincoln also acted once in a way that directly affected Jewish people in America. In December 1862, General Grant issued an order expelling all Jews from the territories under his command. An appeal to Lincoln resulted in the order being rescinded. For details, see Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress: Order No. 11.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Judy Blume grew up as a secular Jew: "Blume has described her childhood home as culturally Jewish rather than religious. Her father had six brothers and sisters, almost all of whom died while Judy was growing up, and she has said, "a lot of my philosophy came from growing up in a family that was always sitting Shiva.'" (Judy Blume)
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Is it really more than 100 years since Sholem Aleichem and I.L.Peretz published anything good? Maybe so. Am I the only person who doesn't find Henry Roth's Call it Sleep very readable? Maybe so.
Marc Tracy writing at Tablet magazine comments: "What is most interesting to me about [this list], ... Jason places a premium on how essential a work was to literature and culture at large rather than specifically to Jewish culture."
Monday, February 7, 2011
Why would I list Dickens here if his most famous Jewish character is so defaming of Jews? Well, interestingly, after he wrote the book Dickens received a letter from a Jewish woman who complained about his stereotyping of Jews, and he actually regretted his excess, and wrote a more likable (though less famous) character to make up for it. I've read the exchange of letters in which Dickens became much more sympathetic to Jews, who were not really well-liked in his time, and I appreciate how he was open-minded to changing his views. Unfortunately, the character he wrote in atonement is nowhere near as memorable as Fagin.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
The YWHA, predecessor to the Jewish Community Center, was a central feature of the life of my aunts, my mother, and their friends in the 1920s. It offered them a social life and also many classes and informal situations in which to learn to be "real" Americans and to forget the immigrant ways of their parents. It did not encourage them to become non-Jews or even to drop out of religious life, but ultimately the philosophy of assimilation changed much in the Jewish community. It's ironic that they went to the "Y" to forget Yiddish, and now Jewish people go to the successor JCC to learn Yiddish and undo some of the assimilation.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
I don't want to make this into a list of people who can somehow someway be claimed as Jews; my motive isn't to prove something about Jewishness. Mendelssohn was such a great composer I'm tempted to include him anyway, though it's a stretch to call him any kind of Jew other than racial.
In fact, looking over my list of heroic people -- that is, the ones whose values seem to me to support a positive secular Jewish point of view -- I realize that I'm often in opposition to the Jewish listers who are obsessed simply with who was Jewish or had Jewish ancestors. I value as a major positive characteristic that a person would have taken away a certain moral and ethical philosophy while rejecting, ignoring, or neglecting Jewish practice and belief. I hold this up as a virtue: a secular Jewish virtue. I also do not have anything against the practice of Jewish ritual, but I do not regret when someone decides not to.
Maybe my overall listing looks chaotic, but this is what I think is behind it.
Here she is, larger than life, painted by Picasso. Gertrude Stein was a model secular Jewish woman of her time: and it's interesting to have a model so early. She practiced no religion, but seemed to have no hangups about who she was or what her background was. She was also a model of an avant-garde lifestyle in Paris in the early 20th century.
Stein almost became a medical doctor, worked with William James, dropped out of that plan, joined her brother in Paris, learned to appreciate modern art before it was trendy, collected paintings, collected artist friends, collected writer friends, and influenced Hemingway (most famously). Her writing was never understood or successful until she wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and then she was a sensation. I like her for every one of those things.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Paul Krugman’s favorite quote about her: “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”