Saturday, April 30, 2011
One of Gertrude Stein’s most often paraphrased statements was about Alice’s birthplace, Oakland, CA: when you get there, there’s no there there.
After Gertrude Stein died Stein’s family disowned Alice and took all their possessions (gay marriage didn’t exist, the “real” family got everything). To support herself, Alice wrote a cookbook memorializing the foods the two of them had enjoyed together. Alice had a second round of fame in the 1960s, shortly before her death, because of the recipe she included for cannabis brownies.
There’s every reason to believe that Gertrude and Alice observed no religion whatsoever but also never repudiated their Jewish roots: Secular. Jews.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Saturday, April 23, 2011
The following statements strike me as an impressive collection:
- Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Holbrooke's death was "a big loss for the American people."
- Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said: "His services will be long remembered. The best tribute to him is to reiterate our resolve to root out extremism and usher in peace."
- The Anti Defamation League statement said: “He was proud of his Jewish identity and he was a good friend of the state of Israel. His death is a loss to the world, to America, and to the Jewish people,”
- And Holbrooke himself said “When I joined the foreign service in 1962, my grandmother was still alive; she was Swiss-Jewish, not German-Jewish, and she said, ‘How can you be a diplomat? Jews can’t possibly succeed in the diplomatic world; it’s not possible.’ I said to my grandmother something like, ‘I don’t understand what you’re talking about.’ It never occurred to me.”
Friday, April 22, 2011
In their own words:
"The Forverts is a legendary name in American journalism and Jewish life. Launched as a Yiddish-language newspaper on April 22, 1897, the Forverts(Jewish Daily Forward) fought for social justice, helped generations of immigrants to enter American life, broke some of the most significant news stories of the century, and eloquently defended democracy and Jewish rights. Under the leadership of its founding editor, the charismatic Abraham Cahan, the Forverts embodied the voice of the Jewish immigrant."
"By the early 1930s the Forverts had become one of America's premier metropolitan dailies, with a nationwide circulation topping 275,000 and influence that reached around the world and into the Oval Office. Thousands more listened regularly to the Forward's Yiddish-language radio station, WEVD. The newspaper's editorial staff included, at one time or another, nearly every major luminary in the then-thriving world of Yiddish literature, from the beloved "poet of the sweatshops," Morris Rosenfeld, to Sholem Asch, Avrom Reisin, and the future Nobel laureates Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elie Wiesel. " -- From the Forward OnlineAnd the Forward is still going strong on the web!
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Rushdie reminds us of historic persecutions of brave and outspoken artists, not mentioning his own experience:
"The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations. The poet Ovid was exiled by Augustus to a little hell-hole on the Black Sea called Tomis, but his poetry has outlasted the Roman Empire. Osip Mandelstam died in a Stalinist work camp, but his poetry has outlived the Soviet Union. Federico García Lorca was killed by the thugs of Spain’s Generalissimo Francisco Franco, but his poetry has survived that tyrannical regime."
"We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight...."
"When artists venture into politics the risks to reputation and integrity are ever-present. But outside the free world, where criticism of power is at best difficult and at worst all but impossible, creative figures like Mr. Ai and his colleagues are often the only ones with the courage to speak truth against the lies of tyrants. We needed the samizdat truth-tellers to reveal the ugliness of the Soviet Union. Today the government of China has become the world’s greatest threat to freedom of speech, and so we need Ai Weiwei, Liao Yiwu and Liu Xiaobo."
Monday, April 18, 2011
I can think of a number of reasons why Passover appeals to secular Jews like me. First, Passover is a family holiday, celebrated at home. The rabbis and other synagogue authorities don't play a role. Their dismissal of secular Jews as not being real Jews, or their wish to change secular Jews into ones who act more like them, can't reach you at your own dining table. Also, they can't bore you to death.
Passover appeals to secular Americans because it commemorates freedom from tyranny and the values of a free society. For religious Jews, it may have additional meanings, but the value of freedom resonates for many secular Jews and other Americans as well. For example, recent feminists have added some details to their Seders that put women's rights into the spotlight. The Seder's flexible nature allows one to have independent ideas, to be as religious or irreligious as one likes, to choose elements of tradition, and also to maintain a Jewish identity. Of course this also depends on one's guest list or host's ideas too -- I don't mean to imply that this is an exercise in giving offense.
Passover has fantastic food traditions. The challenge of giving up bread and other leavened foods inspired cooks for generations. The holiday falls at the most food-deprived time of year in Eastern Europe where most American Jews originate. However, the importance of the holiday meant that poor people were supplied with food or money, and that people of modest means saved up some luxury items from the previous growing season. Insight into history of Jews in other times and environments is embedded in the food traditions.
Some secular Jews may give up bread, but you don't have to do so to enjoy the joyful and generous foodways of the holiday. My father, who was an inventive secular Jew, always bought a few rye breads from the local Jewish bakery before it closed for Passover, and stowed them in the freezer so he wouldn't have to give up anything. The holiday wasn't originally held at a time when food was scarce, but that was the case in the Shtetls -- giving up bread was a really serious sacrifice in my father's childhood. I view the holiday as a time to think about the old days, when food was less abundant, as well as about other traditions -- see Passover in my food blog.
My father also maintained that a Seder should last no more than 10 minutes. An Israeli expert making suggestions for broadening tradition at secular Israelis' Seders almost agrees. He pointed out that the Haggadah became longer and longer over the centuries stating: "In the ninth century, the Haggadah could be read in 20 minutes."
Passover's appeal to secular Jews reminds me of something that I heard at a seminar about Jewish languages a few weeks ago. Being secular (whether in the context of language or another context) is done within the context of a religion. When you are a secular Jew, that means you are some kind of Jew, not a nothing. The speaker, Anita Norich, pointed out that some people said that in the Yugoslav war, the battle was between those who didn't go to church and those who didn't go to the mosque. I'm a Jew who doesn't go to synagogue, but like many others, I celebrate Passover at home in my own way.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
A mob first kidnapped Frank from jail. “Townsfolk were proudly photographed beneath Frank's swinging corpse, pictures still valued today by their descendants.”
From Jewish Virtual Library:
"Southern Jewish historians note that Atlanta Jewry has still not fully recovered from the trauma of the Leo Frank case, and that the Temple bombing of the early 1960s simply reopened those wounds. Another legacy of the case is that, to help defend Frank, B'nai B'rith created its (now-independent) Anti-Defamation League. In 1986, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles finally granted Leo Frank a posthumous pardon, not on the grounds that they thought him innocent, but because his lynching deprived him of his right to further appeal."
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Google has already celebrated Chaplin's birthday with a Chaplin-style YouTube video.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Jefferson’s views as a Deist also make him appealing to me as a secular Jew: he most emphatically did not intend to insist on Christian belief or practice in the new society. Deists belived that a god was not necessary for understanding the physical universe, but that the laws of science served adequately. The universe for them was a smoothly functioning machine that worked without interference from god. I think this is a highly compatible view for a secular Jew.
Needless to say there are trends in modern America that make me worry about the gifts that Jefferson gave us.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
When I was growing up in St.Louis, we still had a sense of civic pride in living in a city with such an excellent newspaper – I think it still has an outstanding reputation. So Pulitzer, though his family long since had abandoned any Jewish identity, had a sort of heroic status for us. A full biography is here.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
It's been many years since Lehrer performed and recorded his amazing original satires, but they are just as wonderful now as they ever were. Just listen to them!
Songs & More Songs By Tom Lehrer
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Why Winchell? Roth explained:
“I chose Walter Winchell to lead the political opposition to Lindbergh because, to begin with, the real Walter Winchell hated Lindbergh and along with people like the columnist Dorothy Thompson and Roosevelt's interior secretary, Harold Ickes, attacked him as pro-Nazi from the moment he became the voice of the America First version of nonintervention. Needless to say, Winchell was never a candidate for president, as I have him being in my book. But then neither did Lindbergh become president. I chose Winchell to lead the political opposition because Winchell was the outsize social creature he was -- as Mayor La Guardia says in his eulogy over Winchell's body (in this book only), ‘Walter is too loud, Walter talks too fast, Walter says too much, and yet, by comparison, Walter's vulgarity is something great, and Lindbergh's decorum is hideous.'’'
“What it comes down to is that I wanted Lindbergh opposed not by a saint but by a gossip columnist, the most famous gossip columnist in the country, gross and cheap without apology, whose enemies considered him a loudmouth Jew. Winchell was to gossip what Lindbergh was to flight: the record-breaking pioneer.” – “The Story Behind 'The Plot Against America'” by Roth
Monday, April 4, 2011
- Margaret Atwood
- Jane Austen
- Barbara Kingsolver
- Martin Cruz Smith (though he did occasionally have a Jewish character in the Renko books)
- Iain Pears (though there was a Jewish character in Dream of Scipio)
- Jorge Amado
- Barbara Ehrenreich
- Julia Child
- Tony Hillerman
- Robert Parker
Saturday, April 2, 2011
After Dreyfus was convicted and sent to Devil's Island, evidence against another officer came to light. A major cover-up followed this discovery, including falsification of documents and widespread conspiracy to change facts and create contradictory evidence. The guilty man, Esterhazy, was the perfect opposite of Dreyfus. His family were old European nobility, he was politically right wing, and he appealed to the anti-Semites. His trial was politically charged; after five minutes of deliberation, the judges declared him innocent, and crowds in the streets cried "Long live the Army!" "Long live France!" and "Death to the Jews!" *
Zola published his famous essay "J'accuse" on January 13, 1898, immediately following Esterhazy's trial. Zola's text presented in detail both the false charges against Dreyfus, the weakness of these charges, and the way they had been falsified. The article is in the form of a letter to the President of the Republic, under the pretense that the President was unaware of the vast injustice that had just occurred.
The initial process that led to the injustice he characterized as "hunting for the 'dirty Jews,' which dishonors our time." He also summarized the creation of a false defense for Esterhazy, who initially was ready to concede that he was the spy. He indites the military, the government, and the press for supporting the injustices.
Near the beginning of "J'accuse," Zola said "The truth I will say, because I promised to say it, if justice, regularly seized, did not do it, full and whole. My duty is to speak, I do not want to be an accomplice. My nights would be haunted by the specter of innocence that suffer there, through the most dreadful of tortures, for a crime it did not commit."
"J'accuse" means "I accuse" -- Zola accused the French of mocking justice in their persecution of Dreyfus. He characterized the initial events as follows: "the instructions were made thus, as in a 15th century tale, shrouded in mystery, with a savage complication of circumstances, all based on only one childish charge, this idiotic affair, which was not only a vulgar treason, but was also the most impudent of hoaxes, because the famously delivered secrets were almost all without value. If I insist, it is that the kernel is here, from whence the true crime will later emerge, the terrible denial of justice from which France is sick."
Eloquently, Zola continued with the facts and with his accusation: "That a man could be condemned for this act, is a wonder of iniquity. I defy decent people to read it, without their hearts leaping in indignation and shouting their revolt, while thinking of the unwarranted suffering, over there, on Devil's Island."
Zola concluded with a series of accusations, each beginning with the words "I accuse." He named all those who conspired to condemn an innocent man and exonerate a guilty one for the worst possible reasons, and those who were complicit with the conspirators.
Finally, he ended with these words:
"While proclaiming these charges, I am not unaware of subjecting myself to articles 30 and 31 of the press law of July 29, 1881, which punishes the offense of slander. And it is voluntarily that I expose myself."Indeed, Zola was tried in court, and had to go into exile as a result of his heroic defense of Dreyfus. I'm a big fan of Zola's novels, but it is this commitment to truth at great risk that makes him a hero.
"As for the people I accuse, I do not know them, I never saw them, I have against them neither resentment nor hatred. They are for me only entities, spirits of social evil. And the act I accomplished here is only a revolutionary mean for hastening the explosion of truth and justice."
"I have only one passion, that of the light, in the name of humanity which has suffered so and is entitled to happiness. My ignited protest is nothing more than the cry of my heart. That one thus dares to translate for me into court bases and that the investigation takes place at the great day!"
"I am waiting."
"Please accept, Mr. President, the assurance of my deep respect."
After a 12 year ordeal, Dreyfus received a pardon in 1906. Zola did not live to see it, having died in 1902. The French right never gave up their political commitment to Dreyfus's guilt. Evidence meant nothing to them: it was a matter of conviction and faith to condemn a Jew.
*p. 228, Gregor Dallas, Metro Stop Paris, 2008. Reading this book inspired me to look at "J'accuse."