JBuzz Features January 26, 2014: Holocaust Told in One Word, 6 Million Times

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Holocaust Told in One Word, 6 Million Times

Source: New York Times, 1-26-14

The book “And Every Single One Was Someone” — meant as a kind of coffee-table monument or conversation starter — consists of the single word “Jew,” printed six million times….READ MORE

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JBuzz Reviews May 31, 2013: New York Times Reviews Ruth R. Wisse: No Joke: Making Jewish Humor

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‘No Joke,’ by Ruth R. Wisse

Source: NYT, 5-31-13

No Joke: Making Jewish Humor
Ruth R. Wisse

Princeton University Press

Reviews | Table of Contents | Introduction [PDF]

https://i1.wp.com/press.princeton.edu/images/k9942.gif

“No Joke,” a subtle and provocative new book by Ruth R. Wisse, who teaches Yiddish literature at Harvard, recounts the long history of Jewish humor and brings it up to date. She includes the effects of the Holocaust and Stalin on Jewish storytelling; she discusses American humorists from the borscht belt stand-ups of the 1940s to Larry David, and novels from Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” to Howard Jacobson’s “Fink­ler Question,” which won the Man Booker Prize in 2010. And she reviews the lively state of humor in Israel today….READ MORE

JBuzz News May 26, 2013: Naomi Schaefer Riley: Why do Jews intermarry, and who’d marry a Jew anyway?

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Why do Jews intermarry, and who’d marry a Jew anyway?

In her new book, Naomi Schaefer Riley takes a look at why so many in the American Jewish community are marrying out of the faith.

Jewish wedding

Jewish wedding Photo: Thinkstock
Over the past half century, intermarriage has become increasingly common in the United States among all religions – but among Jews at the highest rate.

Why that is the case is one of the questions Naomi Schaefer Riley probes in her new book, “‘Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America” (Oxford University Press).

One of the main reasons, Riley finds, is that the older people get, the more likely they are to intermarry….READ MORE

JBuzz News March 8, 2013: Richard Breitman, Allan J. Lichtman: “FDR and the Jews” New Book Tries for Balanced View on Roosevelt and Jews

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Book Tries for Balanced View on Roosevelt and Jews

Source: NYT, 3-8-13

FPG/Getty Images

A new Harvard University Press book examines President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s broader record on Jewish issues.

https://i2.wp.com/www.hup.harvard.edu/images/jackets/9780674050266.jpgIn “FDR and the Jews,” Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, professors at American University, contend that Roosevelt hardly did everything he could. But they maintain that his overall record — several hundred thousand Jews saved, some of them thanks to little-known initiatives — exceeds that of any subsequent president in responding to genocide in the midst of fierce domestic political opposition….READ MORE

JBuzz News November 9, 2012: Robert Weiner & Professors Chronicle French Jewish Community of Dijon in New Book

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Professors Chronicle French Jewish Community of Dijon in New Book

Source: Lafayette College Campus News, 11-9-12

Robert Weiner, Jones Professor of History, and Richard Sharpless, professor emeritus of history, have completed An Uncertain Future: Voices of a French Jewish Community, 1940-2012, published in August by University of Toronto Press….READ MORE

JBuzz News August 2, 2012: Eugene R. Sheppard, Samuel Moyn & Sylvia Fuks Fried: New Brandeis Book Series Bringing US, Mideast into Jewish Canon

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Book series bringing US, Mideast into Jewish canon

Project is opening doors to a new generation of scholars

Source: Brandeis Now, 8-2-12

Photo/Charles A. Radin

Eugene Sheppard, associate professor of modern Jewish history and thought, and Sylvia Fuks Fried, executive director of the Tauber Institute.

From the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and LifeSection of a painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim of an imagined meeting of Moses Mendelssohn (seated left), Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Swiss theologian Johann Kaspar Lavater at Mendelssohn’s Berlin residence.

With remarkably little fanfare, the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry and Brandeis University Press have launched a new book series that promises to alter profoundly the canon of modern Jewish thought.

Two volumes – one featuring the writings of Moses Mendelssohn, the other recapturing Jewish thinking on race – have already been published. Two more volumes, dealing with diaspora nationalism and Middle Eastern Jewish thought, are due out in the coming academic year. A half dozen more are in the pipeline. And this may be just the beginning for the Brandeis Library of Modern Jewish Thought.

“The idea was born out of frustration,” says Eugene R. Sheppard, associate professor of modern Jewish history and thought, who is co-editing the library with Samuel Moyn, a Columbia University professor of history. “Sam and I were working in these areas of intellectual history in which we could have conversations about texts, but we could only introduce them to our students in a second-hand way” because of a lack of translations.

The two editors collaborated with Sylvia Fuks Fried, executive director of the Tauber Institute and associate editor  of the Tauber Institute Series with Brandeis University Press, to conceive an ambitious set of goals for the project –  introducing new elements to the canon with volumes such as “Modern Middle Eastern Jewish Thought” and “Jews and Race,” reintroducing canonical figures, like Mendelssohn with new texts and perspectives, and opening participation in the library to a new generation of scholars in the field….READ MORE

JBuzz Reviews July 17, 2012: Bruce Kesler Reviews Edward Alexander: Historian Traces Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Present

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Historian traces anti-Semitism from antiquity to the present

Source: San Diego Jewish News, 7-17-12

Review of Edward Alexander’s The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal

Edward Alexander’s latest book, The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal, would better have been titled “The State of the Anti-Jews.” Edward Alexander is a professor emeritus of English as well as one of the better informed writers on matters Jewish, who brings this broad knowledge to a series of “critical appraisals” (using Matthew Arnold’s definition of “criticism”: “to see the object as in itself it really is”) that weave the continuity of anti-Jewish ignorance, indecency, inhumanity, cowardice, and illusion from the paragon of liberty, John Stuart Mill, to today’s Boycott, Divest, Sanction activists….READ MORE

JBuzz Reviews April 20, 2012: Jonathan Sarna: Jewish vote in elections past and present

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Jewish vote in elections past and present

Source: Brandeis Hoot, 4-20-12

Professor of American Jewish History Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) recently published his new book “When General Grant Expelled the Jews,” discussing the election of 1868 in comparison to today’s political climate.

During the election of 1868, Jewish voters faced a daunting choice. Republican candidate Ulysses S. Grant was the man who had issued Order 11 on Dec. 17, 1862, expelling the Jewish people from Grant’s war zone. While it was eventually exposed that Grant issued his order for partially personal reasons related to his father, it was still viewed as a harsh act. The order was revoked on Jan. 4, 1863, upon reaching the desk of President Abraham Lincoln. It held consequences for the Jewish people both psychologically and physically, as some of them were mistreated in the process of relocating.

As Sarna argues, the election of 1868 presented a dilemma for Jewish liberals. “Domestic policies of the republicans during that time period were very much to their liking, but how could they vote for a man who had expelled Jews from his far zone, in what was the single most anti-Semitic act in the United States,” Sarna said.

Sarna describes this choice for the Jewish liberals as an internal one, a question of whether a person should “vote for a party bad for the country in order to avoid voting for a man who is bad for the Jews.”

Sarna wants to get across that Jewish liberals at this time were in turmoil, trying to measure out the “percent of yourself as an American and sense of self as a Jew” and which percent would overcome the other.

He draws a direct parallel to the 2012 elections, arguing that today, there is a “sense on the part of many Jews that Obama is not as supportive of Israel as his predecessors.” If Jewish liberals do not wish to vote for Obama because they question the strength of his support for Israel, their other choice is to vote for the Romney, whose platform goes against what many liberals believe politically.

Sarna believes that “lots of Jews in both cases will find their situation very parallel to the election of 1868.”

Like the election of 1868, Jewish voters have to consider their obligations as Americans as well as their obligations to the Jewish community. Sarna discussed whether a person can forget they are Jewish in a voting booth, or whether that is an identity that cannot be left outside the voting polls. Making connections to further back in history, Sarna even related the election of 1868 to the Federalist papers—their “concern over factions” and “putting the needs of country first regardless of group interest.”

Sarna does admit that the impact of the Jewish vote in both the election of 1868 and today may be over-exaggerated. Grant won the election of 1868, yet it may have been more because of black voters who approved of his efforts to improve their lives and grant them rights. Indeed, Sarna believes that the “power of the Jewish vote was exaggerated by four to five times,” and that people believed there were more voters than actually existed.

At the time, the media was concerned with the ramifications of Order 11, so the Jewish vote came to the forefront despite the fact that the number of Jewish voters was not as large as imagined.

JBuzz Reviews April 5, 2012: Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander’s ‘New American Haggadah’

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Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander on their ‘New American Haggadah’

Source: The Takeaway, 4-5-12

The Haggadah, the Jewish religious text read at Passover, is 3,000 years old. It has been translated more than any Jewish book, from ancient times, to 14th-century Sarajevo, to the just-published “New American Haggadah.” The new version, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and translated by Nathan Englander, began as a personal project for Jonathan. He started to realize how little he truly understood about his own belief system, and that many American Jews feel like immigrants to their own religion. “I went to Hebrew school, I was bar mitzvah’d, I’ve been to Israel a number of times, but as I started to work on this book, I realized that I really had to confront my ignorance, my lack of Jewish literacy.”

Nine years after the project began, Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander have constructed a new Haggadah, religious, yet modern, for the American Jews of their generation.

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Opinion

Why a Haggadah?

Oded Ezer, from “The New American Haggadah” (Little, Brown and Company, 2012)
By JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER

Source: NYT, 4-1-12

I SPENT much of the last several years working on a new Haggadah — the guidebook for the prayers, rituals and songs of the Seder — and am often asked why I would want to take time away from my own writing to invest myself in such a project.

All my life, my parents have hosted the Seder on the first night of Passover. As our family expanded, and as our definition of family expanded, we moved the ritual dinner from our dining room to our more spacious, mildewed basement. One table became many table-like surfaces pushed awkwardly together. I always knew Passover was approaching when my father would ask me to take the net off the ping-pong table. All were covered in once matching, stained tablecloths.

At each setting was a Haggadah that my parents had assembled by photocopying favorite passages from other Haggadot and, when the Foers finally got Internet access, by printing online sources. Why is this night different from all others? Because on this night copyright doesn’t apply.

In the absence of a stable homeland, Jews have made their home in books, and the Haggadah — whose core is the retelling of the Exodus from Egypt — has been translated more widely, and revised more often, than any other Jewish book. Everywhere Jews have wandered, there have been Haggadot — from the 14th-century Sarajevo Haggadah (which is said to have survived World War II under the floorboards of a mosque, and the siege of Sarajevo in a bank vault), to those made by Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel during Operation Moses.

But of the 7,000 known versions, not to mention the countless homemade editions, there is one that is used more than all others combined. Since 1932, the Maxwell House Haggadah — as in the coffee company — has dominated American Jewish ritual….READ MORE

Jonathan Safran Foer is a novelist and editor of “New American Haggadah.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on April 1, 2012, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: Why a Haggadah?.

Two Novelists Take on the Haggadah

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Nathan Englander, left, translated the liturgical text for the “New American Haggadah,” which Jonathan Safran Foer edited. Four writers contributed commentary.

Source: NYT, 3-9-12

AFTER a lengthy interview with President Obama in the Oval Office two weeks ago, Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for the Atlantic, had one more question, and it had nothing to do with Iran.

Related

Jake Guevara/The New York Times

The new version of the text for the Seder liturgy.

The latest version courtesy of Maxwell House.

“I know this is cheesy …” Mr. Goldberg started, but before he could finish, the president interrupted him. “What, you have a book?” Mr. Obama asked. Turns out, Mr. Goldberg did, but “it’s not just any book,” he replied.

Mr. Goldberg reached into his briefcase and handed the president an advance copy of the “New American Haggadah,” a new translation of the Passover liturgy that was edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and contains commentary by Mr. Goldberg and other contemporary writers.

After thumbing through the sleek hardcover book, Mr. Obama looked up and asked wryly, “Does this mean that we can’t use the Maxwell House Haggadah anymore?”

Mr. Goldberg was impressed. “Way to deploy the inside-Jewish joke,” he later said. Since the 1930s, Maxwell House has printed more than 50 millions copies of its pamphlet-style version of the Haggadah. It has been the go-to choice at the Obamas’ White House Seders, though Mr. Goldberg hoped the president would consider using their version this time around.

In the end, the White House decided to stick with the Maxwell House next month. But the book’s advance buzz is an unlikely triumph for a version of a ritualistic text that was spearheaded by two lauded experimental novelists from Brooklyn, Mr. Foer and Nathan Englander.

“The Haggadah is the user’s manual for the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday, Passover, ” Mr. Foer said on “The Colbert Report” last Tuesday. “It’s one of the oldest continually told stories, and one of the most well-known across cultures.”…

One might assume that Mr. Foer’s version would end up being almost unrecognizably postmodern. A critical darling since his mid-20s, Mr. Foer, 35, has been celebrated and excoriated for his use of avant-garde literary devices in novels like “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” which ends with a 14-page flip book.

And starting out, that was the direction in which its creators were leaning. As Mr. Englander, who grew up in an Orthodox house on Long Island, put it, “I originally thought we’d be making some sort of hipster Haggadah.”

Indeed. The book’s minimalist design, by Oded Ezer, looks like a catalog for a MoMA typography exhibition, and the text is rendered both vertically (for the Exodus story) and horizontally (for commentary and a timeline). In place of storybook illustrations of Moses are abstract watercolor illustrations based on Hebrew typography.

The idea was to draw readers into the story and invite them to linger, since “the Haggadah must be the most skimmed book of all,” Mr. Foer said. After a pause, he added, “maybe Stephen Hawking’s ‘Brief History of Time’ beats it.”…READ MORE

A version of this article appeared in print on March 11, 2012, on page ST10 of the New York edition with the headline: Two Novelists Take On the Haggadah.

JBuzz News & Reviews February 22, 2012: James Loeffler: University of Virgina Professor Explores Lost History of Russian-Jewish Composers

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U.Va. Professor Explores Lost History of Russian-Jewish Composers

Source: UVA Today, 2-22-12

James Loeffler

(Photo: Jack Looney)

University of Virginia historian James Loeffler explores the lost world of Jewish composers working in Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution in his new, award-winning book.

“The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire,” examines composers who viewed themselves as both Jewish and Russian and who saw their work contributing to both identities. He focuses on the second half of the 19th century through the Russian Revolution, covering two generations of composers.

“It is an attempt to rethink the stock image of the Jewish experience in Eastern Europe,” said Loeffler, an assistant professor of history in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The research director of Pro Musica Hebraica, Loeffler is a pianist who has been actively involved in Jewish music for the past decade as a scholar, critic and performer. He co-founded the Jewish Music Forum, a new national academic organization supported by the American Society for Jewish Music and the Center for Jewish History in New York, and has served as a music consultant to numerous organizations and institutions.

Loeffler’s book has been lauded by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, receiving its Béla Bartók Award for Outstanding Ethnomusicology Book, and the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, which presented him the University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies. His work was a finalist for the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, which recognizes the important role of emerging writers in examining the Jewish experience.

Loeffler’s book fills an important void in the scholarship of these composers, said Joel Rubin, an assistant professor and director of music performance in U.Va.’s McIntire Department of Music.

“This is the first substantial piece of research on this movement,” Rubin said. “A lot of what had existed before was old and romantic and not up to the standards of scholarship we are used to today. It is important he has tackled the subject and I am happy to have more material I can teach to my students.”

Rubin said the composers were influenced by Zionism and feelings of national aspiration, as well as by their Christian Russian contemporaries to create artistic music with Jewish roots. He said Western classical music evolved over a long time, without much contribution from Jews until the latter part of the 19th century.

“These are people who left the shtetl and went to the conservatory,” Loeffler said. “These are the contemporaries of Piotyr Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and later Igor Stravinsky.” Among them was Anton Rubinstein, a Russian-Jewish pianist and composer and a founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, the first in Russia.

“The people I write about are complex, but they felt they had to be validated by others,” Loeffler said. “They thought they were Russians and Jews and that they didn’t have to choose. They thought they were furthering classical music, that their twin identities would feed into each other and that they would be more accepted. And for a brief period they were heralded as the young guns, bringing Russian classical music into the modern era.”

But the brief period did not last. Loeffler said they had to choose an identity; if they did not choose, one was assigned.

“They believed art would transcend politics, but they found that it didn’t,” Loeffler said. “The Russian culture liked Jewish music, but it didn’t like Jews.”

Russian composers, though, wrote on many classic Jewish themes, Loeffler said, citing Dmitri Shostakovich and his the song cycle “From Jewish Folk Poetry” and his 13th Symphony, subtitled “Babi Yar.”

“It becomes a symbol that represents to liberals a freer, more pluralistic Russia that embraces minorities and allows free expression – or it warns of the dangers of a fifth column within the society,” Loeffler said. “It becomes a barometer of what kind of Russian you are.”…READ MORE

JBuzz Reviews February 22, 2012: Historian Harold Holzer Reviews Jonathan Sarna’s When General Grant Expelled the Jews

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“When General Grant Expelled the Jews” by Jonathan Sarna

By Harold Holzer

Source: WaPo, 2-22-12

WHEN GENERAL GRANT EXPELLED THE JEWS

By Jonathan D. Sarna

Nextbook/Schocken. 201 pp. $24.95

 

Not all Civil War-era Jews were speculators, peddlers or smugglers, and not all Civil War-era speculators, peddlers and smugglers were Jews. But Americans living through the rebellion — and many crises before and since — often cast blame on the tiny minority that 19th-century Northerners and Southerners often referred to as “the Israelites.” Shocking as it seems, one of the most notorious offenders was the greatest Union hero of the war: Ulysses S. Grant.

That Grant harbored anti-Semitic inclinations should come as no surprise. He was educated at West Point and spent years in the Army, both bastions of period intolerance. In 1862, he assumed a particularly chaotic military command, including border states technically loyal to the Union but filled with slave-owners and Confederate sympathizers. Into this combustible mix swarmed speculators eager to turn chaos into cash — among them, certainly, Jewish ones. Grant and his chief lieutenant, William T. Sherman, groused about the Jews’ presence repeatedly but initially kept their concerns to themselves.

General Grant

(Knopf) – ’When General Grant Expelled the Jews’ by Jonathan D. Sarna

What apparently sent Grant over the edge was the arrival of another camp follower — his greedy father, accompanied by three Jewish business partners, all eager to use the general to secure profitable cotton-trading permits. Grant blamed the Jews.

Still, no historian has been able to fully understand — much less justify — why, on Dec. 17, 1862, Grant issued his notorious General Orders No. 11 deporting Jewish citizens. “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade,” went the chilling text, “. . . are hereby expelled from [his command in the West] within twenty-four hours.” Those returning would be “held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners.” Just two weeks before Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to extend freedom to one minority group with the Emancipation Proclamation, his most promising general thus initiated a virtual pogrom against another.

In the end, as the gifted and resourceful historian Jonathan D. Sarna points out in this compelling page-turner, General Orders No. 11 uprooted fewer than 100 Jews. But for a few weeks, he suggests, it terrorized and infuriated the Union’s entire Jewish population. It also inspired one of the community’s first effective lobbying campaigns. Jewish newspapers compared Grant to Haman, the infamous vizier of Persia in the Book of Esther. A delegation of Jewish leaders traveled to the White House to protest directly to the president, who quickly but quietly had the order revoked, eager to right a wrong but reluctant to humiliate a valuable military commander. As Lincoln carefully put it, “I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.” He never mentioned the episode publicly.

Grant tried not to as well, understandably omitting it from his otherwise exhaustive memoirs. In 1868, however, he did issue a letter confessing: “I do not pretend to sustain the Order. . . . [It] was issued and sent without any reflection and without thinking of the Jews as a sect or race. . . . I have no prejudice against sect or race.” But Sarna notes that this weak and “self-serving” statement — neither an admission nor an apology — “did not actually bear close scrutiny.” Besides, it was motivated as much by politics as regret. At the time, Grant was running for president, and Jews were threatening to block-vote against the Republican. Although no statistical evidence survives, most Jews probably did vote Democratic in 1868. The general won anyway. And to his credit, he continued to evolve.

The Jewish tradition encourages atonement and makes forgiveness mandatory. Grant made amends; the Jews forgave. As president, Grant appointed Jews to official posts, welcomed Jewish delegations, supported Jewish relief efforts in Europe and once attended a worship service at a Washington synagogue, the first president to do so. When he died, Jews mourned him as a hero.

Sarna’s account shines brightest around the edges of the story, offering valuable new insights into ethnic politics, press power and the onetime ability of leaders to flip-flop with grace. In a particularly stunning, if disturbing, argument, he suggests that many Northern Jews brought suspicion on themselves by questioning emancipation, fearful that freed blacks, abetted by anti-Semitic abolitionists, would compete with immigrant Jews for economic opportunity. Sarna shows how ineffective communications within Grant’s command further ignited unfounded calumnies against Jews. And he posits that the general’s military subordinates might have urged their overworked chief to ban Jewish speculators in order to leave the field open for their own graft.

Some quibbles: The illustration of “Grant, about 1860” is a photo of a beef contractor mistaken for the general; and Sarna’s occasional embrace of au courant phrases (“He was a one-man Anti-Defamation League,” “speak truth to power”) proves jarring.

What is still the best analysis ever offered about Grant’s greatest mistake came from his widow. In her own unsparing memoirs, Julia Dent Grant called General Orders No. 11 “obnoxious,” admitting that her husband “had no right to make an order against any special sect.” Sarna’s excellent study offers no excuses either and comes closer than ever to an explanation.

Harold Holzer is chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. His latest book is “Emancipating Lincoln.”

 

JBuzz Review February 10, 2012: Joshua Golding: ‘The Conversation’ professor’s novel focuses on Judaism & Philosophy

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Book Review | ‘The Conversation’ by Joshua Golding

This ‘Conversation’ is worth listening to

Source: Courier-Journal, 2-10-12

Reviewed by Frederick Smock

The Conversation
By Joshua Golding
Urim Publications
527 pp.; $28.95

David Goldstein, the central character in Bellarmine University philosophy professor Joshua Golding’s new novel, is a fairly typical American Jewish college student, in that he is expected to marry a Jewish girl, and he knows that the state of Israel is important and, beyond that, he does not know very much about his heritage.

As a college freshman, David begins to encounter the big questions: Is there a God? If so, why does He permit evil and suffering in the world? And what does it mean to be Jewish?

“The Conversation” is neatly divided into four sections — freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years — and follows David as he learns about Judaism and philosophy.

The reader, of course, learns along with him.

The novel is, by and large, conversational, hence the title. We see David in dialogue with rabbis, professors, fellow students and friends, as he seeks a personal understanding of deep questions that are only now beginning to make themselves real to him.

The story is likewise multi-textual, told in conversations, letters, journal entries, emails, lectures and essays for class (complete with the professor’s markings and marginalia in red ink!). Differing typefaces are used for each genre.

Published in Israel by Urim Publications, the book has been beautifully produced.

The book is an interesting hybrid — a novel that is also intended to instruct.

The philosophical content is quite accessible for the lay reader. In some quarters, this book might find itself compared to Jostein Gaarder’s 1991 novel “Sophie’s World,” but it should not be….READ MORE

Tom Segev Reviews Gur Alroey: The Makings of History / Zionism, Uganda and the Jews

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The Makings of History / Zionism, Uganda and the Jews

In the annals of the Zionist movement there was no argument more bitter and more formative than that over whether the Jewish state should be built within the Land of Israel, or whether it would be better off wherever possible

Source: Haaretz, 12-9-11

A Jew, a Swiss and an Englishman were on a train. This could be the opening of a joke, but the three were on their way from Basel to Trieste. From there they sailed to Africa in December 1904, to look into founding a state for the Jews in Guas Ngishu, northwestern Kenya. That venture mistakenly went down in history as the “Uganda Plan.” The trio went at the behest of Herzl, following a decision by the Sixth Zionist Congress.

In the annals of the Zionist movement there was no argument more bitter and more formative than that over whether the Jewish state should be built within the Land of Israel, or whether it would be better off wherever possible. The Swiss scholar Alfred Kaiser and the engineer Nahum Wilbush, who came from the Land of Israel, ruled out settling Jews in Guas Ngishu; the British explorer Hill Gibbons thought the region might work and proposed setting up an experimental settlement.

Nahum Wilbush. Industrial pioneer. Nahum Wilbush. Industrial pioneer.

A fascinating book by Gur Alroey maintains that the British explorer voiced the most serious, in-depth and credible opinion (“Seeking a Homeland,” Ben-Gurion Research Institute ). Alroey, a professor in the University of Haifa’s department of Land of Israel studies, writes: “If we compare the condition of the Land of Israel to the condition of the region that the delegation investigated in those years, Guas Ngishu was not in the least ‘a place that has nothing and with which nothing can be done,’ as Wilbush claimed. It seems that had a similar delegation been sent in December 1904 to the lower and upper Galilee, the Jezreel Valley or the sand hills north of Jaffa, where Tel Aviv later arose, the sight would have been far worse than what the delegation found on the plains of Guas Ngishu. In this country – malaria stricken, rife with swamps and occupied by natives – they surely would have concluded against it.”…READ MORE

Barry W. Holtz Reviews Jonathan Krasner: How One Man Samson Benderly Shaped American Jewish Education

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Barry W. Holtz Reviews Jonathan Krasner: How One Man Shaped American Jewish Education

Source: The Forward, 8-19-11

Visionaries: Samson Benderly (front row, second from right) at the 1907 Zionist convention in Tannersville, N.Y., with fellow delegates including Rabbi Judah L. Magnes (front row, left) and Solomon Schechter (front row, second from left).
Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Visionaries: Samson Benderly (front row, second from right) at the 1907 Zionist convention in Tannersville, N.Y., with fellow delegates including Rabbi Judah L. Magnes (front row, left) and Solomon Schechter (front row, second from left).

The Benderly Boys and American Education
By Jonathan Krasner
Brandeis University Press, 496 pages, $95

In the early years of the 20th century, Samson Benderly stood with the legendary figures of American Jewish life: He was recruited to New York by Judah Magnes; he knew Henrietta Szold and Barnett Brickner; he battled Solomon Schechter; he met regularly with his benefactor, Jacob Schiff, and his closest friend was Mordecai Kaplan. Indeed, Kaplan wrote of Benderly, “He is to me the most positive force in Jewish life today.”

Benderly, more than any other single individual, shaped the institutions of American Jewish education that we know today; but aside from historians of American Jewry and scholars of Jewish education, his name is virtually unknown. Now, Jonathan Krasner, an assistant professor of American Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, has produced “The Benderly Boys and American Jewish Education” (Brandeis University Press, 2011), a prodigious and clear portrait of Benderly and his world.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this volume is the most important piece of historical writing about American Jewish education to have appeared in a generation. Although many fine scholars have written about various aspects of Jewish education in America, no one until now has taken such a comprehensive view of it. Krasner’s book delves deeply into the crucial period of the field — the 20th century — and contextualizes the history of American Jewish education both within Jewish life and within modern education. The wonderful collection of photographs on display throughout the book adds to its charm.

Benderly, born into a traditional Hasidic family in Safed, arrived in America in 1898 from Palestine. Though he came to Baltimore for medical studies, he was drawn to Jewish teaching and eventually left medicine to become an educator.

Benderly was a visionary and was capable of inspiring others to follow his vision. He developed around him a group of remarkable young people who shared his excitement about changing the face of American Jewish education. These were the “boys” of the book’s title: Alexander Dushkin, Isaac Berkson, Emanuel Gamoran and many others. Krasner also points out the importance of a group of “Benderly girls” (such as Rebecca Aaronson Brickner and Libbie Suchoff Berkson), many of whom had important careers in Jewish education, though most of them did not go into the work of institutional leadership, which was more characteristic of male career paths at the time. An excellent companion to this book, therefore, is the 2010 book “The Women Who Reconstructed American Jewish Education, 1910–1965” (Brandeis). Edited by Carol Ingall, it comprises portraits of influential female Jewish educators.

When Benderly began his work, Jewish education was a hodgepodge of disorganized institutions, profoundly incompetent teachers, nonexistent textbooks and undefined curricula. Studies were often conducted in “dilapidated, dark, stuffy, and often filthy conditions.” Benderly’s main mission was to organize, modernize and Americanize Jewish education. He was, despite his traditional upbringing, a cultural Jew, and he saw Jewish education in the light of Ahad Ha’am’s Zionist dream and his focus on Jewish peoplehood. Therefore, Benderly placed a strong emphasis on Hebrew-language acquisition, with a focus on the Hebrew of the modern world, not that of the synagogue and traditional texts. It was Benderly more than anyone else who promoted the “natural method” in Hebrew education, using the approach that has characterized the ulpan, or Hebrew language school, in Israel and “immersion” techniques in foreign language learning today that have a strong emphasis on conversation and comprehension in real-life situations. In addition, Benderly introduced “technology” into Jewish education, developing magic-lantern (an early type of image projector) slides to use in instruction on Jewish holidays and the Bible. (If he were alive today, it would be fair to assume that he would be promoting social media and the Internet as means for Jewish education.)

Benderly also insisted on a system for training and accrediting teachers. He wanted to apply the findings of educational “science” (what we today would call “research”) to Jewish education. And he strove to create an organized, centralized system of support for, and supervision of, Jewish education, dealing with curricula, standard hours and classroom environments. He also understood the importance of the “informal” aspects of education, and one of his disciples, Albert Schoolman, was the prime mover in creating what is arguably the greatest and most original contribution of American Jewish education: the summer educational camp. All this flowed from Benderly and his followers….READ MORE

Yosef Yerushalmi: Wanderings This Time In Fiction

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Yosef Yerushalmi: His short story in The New Yorker is the only fiction the noted historian ever wrote.

Yosef Yerushalmi: His short story in The New Yorker is the only fiction the noted historian ever wrote.

Not long after Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi — perhaps the most esteemed Jewish historian of the last half century — died two years ago, at 77, his wife Ophra got a frequent question: “Is there anything else he’s written that hasn’t been published?”

What they meant, presumably, was other academic work, certainly not fiction. But it was fiction — particularly, a short story called “Gilgul,” which The New Yorker published last week — that was the only other thing Ophra knew of. “Nobody knew about it, just me and my son,” she told The Jewish Week in a phone interview. “Not even our friends knew he wrote fiction.”

Ophra remembered Yerushalmi working intensely on something for a few weeks in 2004, but not telling her what it was. Only when he finished, did he say, “Let me read it to you,” Ophra recalled. “He got very emotional about it.”

Yerushalmi never tried to publish it. But after all the questions following his death, Ophra decided to show it to a friend of theirs in Paris. The friend told her it was good enough to publish. A month ago, Ophra pitched it to The New Yorker.

“I didn’t know if they’d take it,” she said, “but it was my first choice.”

That the magazine published the only piece of fiction Yerushalmi ever wrote is all the more surprising. “I was impressed that it came from someone who has never written fiction before,” said Deborah Treisman, the fiction editor at The New Yorker. “It has a lovely lyrical line to it.”

The story follows a character not unlike Yerushalmi. Simply called Ravitch, he’s a scholar of Jewish history living in New York, who, on a whim, flees to Israel….READ MORE

Reviews: David Shneer: Remembering Soviet Yiddish

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BOOK REVIEWS

Source: Jewish Journal, 7-26-11

Since the 1950s, the so-called Night of the Murdered Poets has become a summertime ritual for Yiddish cultural circles in the United States. The gathering commemorates Stalin’s attempted deathblow to Yiddish culture: On August 12, 1952, the major group of Yiddish writers, thinkers, and critics, who were the leading activists in the wartime fight against Nazism, were shot dead, marking a bloody full-stop to a chapter of what may have been the most intense flowering of Yiddish culture in history…..

The simultaneous covert embrace and public rejection of Yiddish Communist culture points at the difficulty in celebrating it. How can you celebrate poets who wrote enthusiastic odes to Stalin, or worse, denounced one another? How do you applaud the only state in the world that gave official, often generous, support to the flowering of Yiddish letters and also murdered its greatest writers?

This summer, two new books examining Soviet Yiddish creativity shed light on what the Cold War obscured: one of the most productive periods in Jewish cultural history. The first, Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust, by historian David Shneer, looks at the way Jewish photographers invented photojournalism in the USSR. The second, A Captive of the Dawn, edited by Shneer with Gennady Estraikh, Jordan Finkin, and the late Joseph Sherman, is a scholarly examination of the foremost Soviet Yiddish poet, Peretz Markish. Both books, in their own way, look at a certain “Jewish” aesthetic.

Through Soviet Jewish Eyes focuses on the presence of Jews in Soviet photojournalism as a key to understanding a striking aspect of crafting Jewish history. Famed Jewish historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi once linked the entry of Jewish life into modernity with the Jewish drive to create history. In fact, the heavy Jewish presence in photojournalism was by no means limited to the Soviet Union, but was a global phenomenon throughout the twentieth century—think of the iconic images captured by Robert Capa and Joe Rosenthal.

In the United States, this “Jewish eye” in the arts in the early twentieth century may be associated with social, often leftist, critique. In the Soviet Union, writers and photographers worked, proudly and confidently (not out of fear, as some who wish to rewrite history claim), in the service of the Soviet State. Although it may be strange to admit, Russian Jewish visual and literary artists in the wake of the October Revolution became the fledgling Soviet Union’s most eloquent advocates.

Shneer’s book challenges the accepted rhetoric that came out of the Cold War’s distortions of Soviet history. In particular, Shneer examines previously neglected work to show that the often-repeated claim that the Soviet Union’s attempt to cover up Nazi atrocities is not only untrue, but completely the opposite. Jewish photojournalists in Russia were able to keep Nazi atrocities on the front page and continually emphasized the Jewish aspect of Nazi violence.

A Captive of the Dawn breaks similar new ground by presenting a complete view of this complex poet, so little known outside of Russia and academic circles. When his name is evoked at the Murdered Poets events, Markish is easily flattened as a simple martyr in the Stalinist “Great Terror.” This volume tells the full story of his creativity and, in doing so, tells the story of this incredible era in Jewish culture.

This year the commemorations of the murdered poets will continue as usual, but, perhaps, with a new focus. A new generation of Jews, both local Angelenos and Soviet Jewish émigrés, who have made LA their home, grew up in the age of bar mitzvah “twins,” perestroika, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. They appreciate art created in the USSR and, even, in service of the State. This generation that was offered only dissidents as Soviet Jewish heroes can now see a richer and far more complicated story of Jewish culture in Russia.

This year the Los Angeles August 12th Commemoration “Words Like Sparks: Celebrating Modern Yiddish Creativity in Russia,” will be held on Sunday, August 14th at 3:00 PM at Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring 1525 South Robertson Boulevard.

Dr. Robert Adler Peckerar is Professor of Jewish Literature and Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder and is the executive director of Yiddishkayt LA.

Allan Nadler: Imaginary vampires, imagined Jews

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Source: Jerusalem Post, Jewish Daily Ideas, 7-17-11

The practice of depicting Jews as drinkers of blood has been common for centuries.

The writer is a professor of religious studies and director of the program in Jewish studies at Drew University. This article was first published by Jewish Ideas Daily (www.jewishideasdaily.com), and is reprinted with permission.

Eighteen ninety seven was a watershed year in Jewish history. The first Zionist Congress convened in a grand hotel in Basel, Switzerland. With much less pomp, the Yiddisher Arbeter Bund, the Jewish Labor Movement, was clandestinely founded in a Vilna basement (socialist movements being illegal under Tsarist rule).

In New York, Der Forverts, the world’s largest-circulation and longest-running Yiddish newspaper, began publication.

Meanwhile, in Odessa, the Hebrew-language Ha- Shahar, the first and most influential Zionist journal, was founded under the editorship of Ahad Ha’am. And now, thanks to Blood Will Tell, an engaging and insightful new study by Sara Libby Robinson, Jewish historians may consider adding a surprising entry to this list of 1897 events: the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

While never explicitly identified as a Jew, the figure of Dracula – and vampires more generally – encompassed an array of anti-Semitic stereotypes: rootless, of East European origin, dark-complected, and lusting after the money/blood of others. Assessing a wide range of themes in which blood and vampirism were evoked in late-19thcentury European “scientific” thought (Social Darwinism and criminology in particular), Robinson argues that Stoker’s depiction of Dracula exploited widespread anxieties about the dangers posed by the flood of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to Great Britain.

DRACULA’S FEATURES are “stereotypically Jewish… [his] nose is hooked, he has bushy eyebrows, pointed ears, and sharp, ugly fingers.” As for his behavior, Robinson situates Dracula in the realm of fin-de-siècle national chauvinism, which viewed non-Anglo-Saxons – and Jews in particular – as dangerous interlopers, loyal only to their alien tribe. “Like many immigrants, Dracula has made great efforts to acculturate himself to his new country and to blend in with the rest of the population, through studying its language and customs… [his] greatest concern is whether his mastery of English and his pronunciation would brand him as a foreigner.” Likewise, Stoker mines anxieties over Jewish dual loyalty. The one identified person whose aid Dracula enlists in escaping Britain is a German Jew named Hildesheim, “with a nose like a sheep.”…READ MORE

Documentary: “Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness”

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Movie Review : Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness (2011)

So, Would It Hurt You to Go See a Documentary About a Yiddish Writer?

Source: NYT, 7-8-11

“Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness” is much more than a documentary biography of “the Jewish Mark Twain,” as the creator of Tevye the Dairyman, Menachem-Mendl and other beloved folkloric characters has been called. It is a rich, beautifully organized and illustrated modern history of Eastern European Jewry examined through the life and work of the author, born Sholem Rabinovich in Pereyaslav (near Kiev) in 1859. His literary pseudonym was derived from the Hebrew expression “shalom aleichem,” meaning “peace be with you.”

Mitchell Waife

Sholem Aleichem

The film, directed by Joseph Dorman, explores the history and dissolution of Eastern European Jewish culture and the conflicting desires of later generations to remember and to forget. In the late 19th century Jews were second-class subjects in czarist Russia and convenient scapegoats in times of social and political unrest; any dreams they had of assimilation were shattered by periodic pogroms.

The rural Jewish culture of the shtetl was further eroded by the Industrial Revolution and World War I and finally wiped out by the Holocaust. One of the film’s central themes is Sholem Aleichem’s personification of the tug of war between nostalgia for the past and the impulse to leave it behind. As millions of Jews emigrated to the United States, where they found it easier to assimilate, Sholem Aleichem was not everyone’s idea of a forward-looking cultural hero.

The movie reveals that Sholem Aleichem was every bit as colorful a figure as the characters in his stories. He was one of 12 children whom his recently widowed father hid with relatives before remarrying, then introduced one by one to the dismay of his shrewish second wife. One of his earliest works was a glossary of his stepmother’s curses. As a young man Sholem Aleichem, who was something of a dandy, took a job tutoring the daughter of a wealthy Jewish landowner. When a relationship between them was discovered, he was fired, and the lovers eloped. He was eventually accepted by her family….READ MORE

 

More About This Movie

SHOLEM ALEICHEM

Laughing in the Darkness

Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Written, directed and produced by Joseph Dorman; edited by Aaron Kuhn, Kenneth Levis and Amanda Zinoman; released by International Film Circuit and Riverside Films. At Lincoln Plaza Cinema, 1886 Broadway, at 62nd Street. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. This film is not rated.

A version of this review appeared in print on July 8, 2011, on page C20 of the New York edition with the headline: So, Would It Hurt You to Go See a Documentary About a Yiddish Writer?.

Allan Nadler Reviews Rebecca Margolis: Montreal, A Yiddish Love Story – Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil

Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 6-28-11

International Yiddish Theater Festival.

The second International Yiddish Theater Festival, an elaborate ten-day fete whose program ranges from carnavalesque performances to academic symposia, just wrapped up last week in Montreal.  What is especially surprising about this young and very youthful celebration of what most Jews today consider the vernacular of the elderly and the Hasidim, is that Montreal is a city with a Jewish population of less than 80,000 (of whom almost 30,000 are non-Ashkenazim).  Toronto, Canada’s largest city, now has a Jewish population well more than twice that of Montreal’s.

The immediate explanation for the venue is that Montreal remains the only city in the world with a Yiddish theatrical company that actually owns its permanent stage.  The Montreal troupe itself is able to recruit Yiddish-literate performers from the only remaining Jewish day school system in North America in which Yiddish is a mandatory part of the curriculum. But such explanations are akin to the classical Yiddish penchant for answering one question with another. The deep question is why any such Yiddish institutions have survived in Montreal at all, given that they have disappeared almost completely in New York, once the world’s greatest center of Yiddish culture, as well more than a dozen smaller American Jewish communities. The historical answer to this question is expertly provided by Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil, a new volume on the subject by Canadian Jewish historian Rebecca Margolis.

Margolis’s detailed and engaging exploration of this bittersweet topic offers a fascinating contrast between the trajectories of Montreal and New York. Montreal emerged quietly as a relatively minor satellite of Yiddish culture in the initial years of massive east European Jewish migration to North America, from the 1880s through the First World War. Simultaneously, Yiddish culture in New York was exploding—during this period it would become the major center of Yiddish literary, journalistic, musical and theatrical activity, eclipsing even Warsaw and Vilna. In chapters devoted to Montreal’s Yiddish press, literati, secular schools, theater, and finally the unique Yiddishe Folks-Bibliotek (“Jewish People’s Library,” known today as the Jewish Public Library), Margolis meticulously documents the slow but steady growth of Yiddish cultural institutions in Montreal.

But Margolis’s book is more than a record of a historical trajectory.  It also offers a cogent explanation as to why Yiddish has managed to survive in Montreal in a manner unparalleled in far larger Jewish communities. One rather obvious explanation lies in the fact that Montreal Jews, educated in the English Protestant school system, always constituted a minority within a minority in a diverse, already bilingual Quebec. More interestingly, immigration to Montreal remained a small trickle until 1924, when the United States’ Johnson-Reed Immigration Act set severe quotas on the numbers of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Canada was a natural second choice for the tens of thousands who could not enter the United States, and this later wave, arriving after the Soviet revolution, constituted a more sober, less radicalized group than the fiery Yiddish socialists and communists who had flooded New York in the previous three decades.

By far the most significant factor distinguishing the Yiddishists of Montreal was their adoption of some form of Jewish nationalism. The two competing Yiddish day schools were both led by passionate Zionists affiliated with the socialist Zionist organization, even as they differed as to the proper balance between Hebrew and Yiddish in the curriculum (the Yiddisher Folkshule stressed the importance of the former; the Peretz Shule insisted on the primacy of the latter). By way of contrast, no Yiddish schools in New York included Hebrew in their curriculum or dared fly the flag of Jewish Palestine (and later Israel) on the masts of its building. Both of Montreal’s Yiddish schools did.

The Jewish Public Library was the first and only communal public library in North America whose main commitment was to promote Yiddish literary culture (though it also actively built Hebrew, English and French collections over the years). As for the Yiddish press, Montreal’s Yiddish reading community was only large enough to support a single daily Yiddish newspaper  (Der Kenneder Odler) which could in turn not afford to espouse any particular Jewish sub-ideology exclusively. Its editors over more than a half-century, the venerable scholars Max Wolofsky and Israel Rabinovitch, both assembled editorial staffs representing the full gamut of Jewish thought, from various radical ideologues to Orthodox rabbis.

While Margolis emphasizes the main difference between the New York and Montreal Yiddishist communities as being the latter’s commitment to communal consensus and moderation, she ironically fails utterly to do justice to the institutions and personalities of the mainstream Jewish community….READ MORE

Rebecca Kobrin, Nils Roemer: Reviews — Bialystock, Worms Cities of Jewish Success, Crushed

Cities of Jewish Success, Crushed

Source: The Forward, 5-25-11 — Published May 25, 2011, issue of June 03, 2011.

Books

Unemployed Workers: Alter Kacyzne,
the Forward’s renowned photographer,
captioned this image from Bialystok
circa 1920, ‘Standing on the corner, looking
for a little work.’

Forward association / Yivo
Unemployed Workers: Alter Kacyzne, the Forward’s renowned photographer, captioned this image from Bialystok circa 1920, ‘Standing on the corner, looking for a little work.’

JEWISH BIALYSTOK AND ITS DIASPORA
By Rebecca Kobrin
Indiana University Press, 380 pages, $24.95
GERMAN CITY, JEWISH MEMORY: THE STORY OF WORMS
By Nils Roemer
Brandeis University Press, 328 pages, $35

A vast, heartbreaking and, to English readers, inaccessible Yiddish and Hebrew library — of some 1,000 volumes, studded with unique memoirs and rare photographs — known as yizker-bikher, or memorial books, is devoted to eternalizing the legacies of the myriad cities and towns of Jewish Eastern Europe destroyed by the Holocaust. These books were collaboratively produced, mostly in the late 1950s through the early ’70s, by the survivors of those Jewish communities. But with the exception of a half-dozen or so, they are not the product of critical historical scholarship, and only three have been fully translated into English.

Thankfully, new scholarly English books that focus on particular European Jewish communities have recently been appearing at a steady pace. Still, not entirely unlike the memorial books, the varied approaches taken by today’s historians have produced uneven results, as exemplified by two new studies — of the cities of Bialystok, Poland, and Worms, Germany.

“The Jews of Bialystok and Its Diaspora” by Rebecca Kobrin is the more problematic of the two, as it fails to provide anything approaching an adequate history of one of the most remarkable Jewish communities to emerge in the modern era in Eastern Europe. A cursory — largely demographic and economic — overview, documenting the rapid expansion and productivity of Bialystok Jewry, provides little more than bare-bones statistical information.

To be sure, these raw statistics are most impressive, testifying to a Jewish population that burgeoned to almost 50,000 by 1900 from 4,000 in 1808, at which point Bialystok was more than three-quarters Jewish. The astonishing economic successes of these newly arrived Jews are evidenced by their rapid domination of Bialystok’s main industry: textile manufacturing. By 1898, more than 80% of the city’s weaving mills were owned by Jewish industrialists. As for the inner, religious and intellectual life of this Jewish boomtown, however, Kobrin imparts no information, beyond simplistically dividing Jews into two political camps: Zionists and socialists.

Kobrin situates her study within the emerging discipline of Diaspora studies, and after this short introduction about Jews in Bialystok proper, she focuses almost entirely on the ways in which those who had left Bialystok labored to preserve the memory and legacy of their beloved hometown, even to establish a “Bialystok empire” in the New World. In doing so, Kobrin repeatedly contrasts their “real” homeland — Bialystok, where, despite their majority and prosperity, or perhaps on account of them, Jews were victims of particularly brutal violence during the wave of 1905 pogroms that spread across Russia — with their “imagined” religious one. This deep identification with the Land of Israel is something that Kobrin discounts too readily and too completely. One of the reasons for this, as I note below, is her disregard for the enduring religious elements of modern Eastern European Jewish societies….

Worms’s long and exceedingly complex historical legacy is deftly recovered and expertly analyzed by Niels Roemer in his erudite new book, “German City, Jewish Memory: The Story of Worms.” The oldest of the three great medieval communities (Speier, Worms and Mainz are fondly referred to by the acronym “SHU’M” — literally meaning “garlic”) is the repository of the richest history, literature and geographical artifacts. After wonderfully summarizing the medieval days of devotion to Torah, pietism and unprecedented acts of martyrdom during the First Crusade of 1096, Roemer turns his attention to the long and shifting history of how the community of Worms became a central, if largely symbolic, element in German-Jewish collective memory.

Roemer’s book is the most original work I have yet to read on German-Jewish intellectual history. It is especially enlightening in exploring how the memory of Worms and its physical remnants waned and then were revived. Holy relics, such as the ancient cemetery, the synagogue, the legendary chair of Rashi (who studied in Worms) and the tombs of her many scholars, such as Eleazar ben Judah — a founder of the medieval pietistic movement known as Hasidut Ashkenaz — regained currency first with the advent of printing, which produced popular accounts of Worms’s heroic martyrs, then with the advent of Reform Judaism and finally by the modern era of tourism, during which Worms became a major pilgrimage site for both Christians and Jews.

A wonderfully sensitive thinker and gracious writer, Roemer has produced an utterly original study in the uses, and misuses, less of history than of memory; for beyond his thorough assessment of earlier historians’ treatments of Jewish Worms, he examines a wide array of less conventional sources….READ MORE

Todd M Endelman: Review: Broadening Jewish History

A collection of essays on the social history of British Jews is a milestone on the road to defining an elusive concept

Source: The Jewish Tribune, 4-29-11

Ring of confidence: 18th-19th century Jewish boxer Daniel MendozaRing of confidence: 18th-19th century Jewish boxer Daniel Mendoza

By Todd M Endelman
The Littman Library, £39.50

Professor Todd Endelman, who teaches modern Jewish history at the University of Michigan, is one of the world’s leading authorities on the history of European and specifically of British Jewry, on which he has authored three superb monographs and scores of scholarly articles. In this collection, he brings together 14 of his essays, most related the history of the Jews in England and all addressing the overarching theme of the volume, namely the “social” history of “ordinary” Jews.

These words – “social” and “ordinary” – beg many questions. Social history came of age in the third quarter of the 20th century in reaction to political history (centred on the deeds and misdeeds of politicians), diplomatic history (centred on the machinations of diplomats) and economic history (centred on national economies in the abstract).

Social history does not deal with elites – the few – but with the many, whose history is much more difficult to recount since, by definition, the many leave no institutional record and precious few memoirs. Until the advent of social history, those who wrote about the Jews had concentrated largely on institutions and elites. What social historians, including Professor Endelman, have done is shift the focus on to “ordinary” Jews.

But what is an “ordinary” Jew? Reading the essays in this volume one soon realises that there is no such entity. The most enjoyable chapter reproduces a study of Jacob Rey – “Jew” King – a scoundrel of a moneylender who, as Endelman reminds us, “flourished in the freewheeling atmosphere of late Georgian London.” Lending to “dissolute womanisers and compulsive gamblers,” Rey’s extraordinary career does indeed have much to tell us about the seamier side of life in the reign of George III. Rey was nothing if not ambitious. He married (apparently) into the landed aristocracy and dabbled in radical politics. But he never attempted to hide his Jewish identity…

This volume is subtitled: “Towards a Social History of Ordinary Jews” thereby charting directions others must take if such social histories are ever to be written. The raw material is certainly there, but discovering its location and divining its meaning are no easy tasks. But Endleman has provided a guidebook and a manual.

Geoffrey Alderman is a historian and JC columnist

Deborah Lipstadt: The Eichmann Trial: Fifty Years Later

Source: NPR, 3-27-11

Listen to the Story

All Things Considered

[9 min 27 sec]

Defendant Adolf Eichmann takes  notes during his trial in Jerusalem.  The glass booth in which Eichmann sat was  erected to protect him from assassination.

Israeli Government Defendant Adolf Eichmann takes notes during his trial in Jerusalem. The glass booth in which Eichmann sat was erected to protect him from assassination.

Fifty years ago one of the world’s most notorious war criminals sat in a courtroom for a trial that would be among the first in history to be completely televised.

That man was Adolf Eichmann — and he had been in charge of transporting millions of European Jews to death camps.

A year before the 1961 trial, Eichmann had been abducted by Israeli agents while he was living in Argentina.

The trial captivated millions of people. And it was the first time many of them — including Israelis— even learned about the details of the Holocaust.

Now Deborah Lipstadt, renowned historian and professor of religion and holocaust studies at Emory University has written a new account of the trial. She tells All Things Considered weekend host Guy Raz that the Eichmann trial was different from any other war crimes trial because it featured the stories of Holocaust survivors and captured the emotions that weren’t a part of the document-heavy Nuremberg Trials, which took place more than a decade earlier.

The Spielberg Jewish Film ArchiveWitnesses of the Eichmann Trial

Survivors Stand Up

“There was a march of survivors, I would say approximately 100 survivors, who came into the witness box and told the story of what happened to them. And people watched them and listened to them and heard them in a way they hadn’t heard them before,” Lipstadt says.

Hearing the voices of survivors wasn’t the only aspect of the trial that shook the audience; seeing Eichmann was unnerving as well. This man, who most Israelis considered one of the greatest murderers of all time, appeared so normal.

“People were amazed because he looked much more like a bureaucrat, like a pencil pusher, [with] thick black glasses, an ill-fitting suit, a man who laid out all his papers and his pens and kept polishing his glasses with a nervous tick,” she says.

Lipstadt says people asked themselves, could this really be the person responsible for the destruction of millions?

But Eichmann’s testimony, says Lipstadt, illustrated not only that he was guilty, but how “enthusiastic” he was about carrying out his orders.

The Eichmann Trial by Deborah Lipstadt

The Eichmann Trial
By Deborah E. Lipstadt
Hardcover, 272 pages
Schocken
List Price: $24.95
Read An Excerpt

“There would be times when he would get a communique from the German Foreign Ministry saying the Italians have contacted them and there’s a Jew in Vilna, or a Jew someplace else in a ghetto who’s married to an Italian Catholic … and Eichmann would quickly rush to get the man deported, sent to Auschwitz or hidden away so that he couldn’t be turned over to the Foreign Ministry and maybe escape. He went after every individual Jew he could find,” Lipstadt says….READ MORE

Jan Gross and Irena Grudzinska-Gross: Poles ready to face dark past of profiting off Jews

Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 3-9-11

Poles are ready to face their dark history of profiting off Jews during World War II, according to the author of a book on Poles who sought financial gain amid the suffering of the Holocaust.

‘Golden Harvest,’ by historian Jan Gross and Irena Grudzinska- Gross, narrates how some Poles living near death camps like Treblinka dug through mass Jewish graves after the war in search of gold and other valuables that the Nazis might have missed.

The book is likely to touch a nerve in Poland and stir controversy in the nation that prides itself for having aided Jews during the Nazi occupation.

But Gross says his new book, to be released in Polish on Thursday and in English in October, will prove less controversial than his previous works on the topic.

Poles are now ready to face their dark past because enough time has passed to look back honestly at history, Gross said, and because more has now been written on the topic.

‘I hope this time we’ll be in a different point of the discussion,’ Gross told German Press Agency dpa. ‘Years have passed and now there has been a lot of writing on this subject. It’s a different state. I think the public is much more receptive to it, and my voice is not a lonely voice.’…READ MORE

Menachem Z. Rosensaft: ‘The long road home’ for Jews after the Holocaust

Source: WaPo, 2-22-11

Most people would not consider a mere five years to be an “era,” that term generally being reserved for far longer spans of time. And yet, as is evident from Ben Shephard’s masterful The Long Road Home, The Aftermath of the Second World War, published this month, the five years following the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of World War II in the spring of 1945, when hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors as well as non-Jewish erstwhile forced laborers from various parts of Eastern Europe languished in Displaced Persons (DP) camps, indeed constituted an era.

“The concept of the ‘displaced persons,'” writes Shephard, “determined the shape of the Allied humanitarian effort after the war . . . because, as it turned out, the war’s most important legacy was a refugee crisis. When the dust had settled and all those who wished to had returned home, there remained in Germany, Austria and Italy a residue of some 1 million people who were mot inclined to go back to their own countries – Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Yugoslavs.”

By way of full disclosure, my father, Josef Rosensaft, who headed both the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone of Germany and the Jewish Committee that administered the Bergen-Belsen DP camp, is featured in The Long Road Home, and Shephard graciously refers to me in his acknowledgments.

The complex, often haphazard efforts by the Americans and British military to regulate humanitarian relief efforts in the context of rapidly changing geopolitical challenges are laid forth in comprehensive detail in the book. So is the inability of the victorious Allies and different relief agencies to adequately deal with the physical and psychological human condition of the men, women and children who found themselves stranded in a political, cultural and economic no man’s land. The public anti-Semitic utterances of Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan, the decorated British Army officer who served as Chief of Operations of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, proved to be a major distraction until he was eventually fired from his post.

It took the Americans and the British quite some time to figure out that Jews who had emerged from death camps and whose families, homes, and communities had been completely destroyed had radically different needs and aspirations than Polish or Ukrainian Christians who had endured a far different plight. While the Jewish DPs strove to rebuild their shattered lives and played a critical role in the struggle to establish the State of Israel, the non-Jewish DPs had no clear ideological or other mission other than to exist while waiting, mostly passively, for the next chapter of their lives to unfurl.

Shephard’s discussion of the critical rehabilitative function of Zionism for the Jewish DPs is especially instructive. David Ben-Gurion, who visited some of the DP camps in the fall of 1945, intuitively understood the public relations value of Jewish survivors of the death camps clamoring for a homeland. When Bartley Crum, an American member of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, urged a young Jewish DP to have patience, the latter replied, “How can you talk to us of patience? After six years of this war, after all our parents have been burned in the gas ovens, you talk to us of patience?”

At the same time, Shephard neither idealizes the prevailing conditions nor ignores the obstacles faced by Jewish Holocaust survivors in their efforts to forge a destiny for themselves. When many of them ultimately decided to go to the United States, Canada, and elsewhere, Rabbi Abraham Klausner, a Jewish chaplain in the American Zone of Germany who had played a pivotal role in organizing the survivors there into a political force, argued that the DPs “should be forced to go to Palestine . . . They are not to be asked but told what to do.”

In sharp contrast, Shephard vividly describes my father’s disillusionment during an April 1949 visit to the newly independent State of Israel where he had been “received at the highest levels.” “His presence,” Shephard writes, “happened to coincide with the arrival of a transport of Jews from Belsen , and he was shocked by the living conditions in the transit camp they were sent to. A previous transport, forced to live in waterlogged huts, had even asked the Israeli authorities to send them back to Belsen.” Upon his return to Belsen, Shephard continues, my father “gave a powerful speech to the Jews in the camp, telling them that Israel was a wonderful but difficult country. He urged them to go there as long as they were prepared for the harsh conditions they would encounter there. He also warned them that they would be on their own. ‘Ben-Gurion will not meet you at the boat,’ he said, ‘and Eliezer Kaplan [Israel ‘s first finance minister] will not present you with a check.'”

With its a thorough and compassionate depiction of the DP era as a whole, The Long Road Home establishes beyond question the period’s pivotal importance as an integral element of, rather than a mere postscript to, the respective, intertwined histories of both World War II and the Holocaust. It is also a book that should be required reading for anyone who seeks to obtain an insight into the capacity of ordinary individuals to confront and, for the most part, overcome the consequences of persecution and dire devastation.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress, Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School , Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Syracuse University College of Law, and Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

Beth Wenger: ‘Heritage’ positions American Jews in Jewish America

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Source: Jewish Journal, 1-5-11

“Heritage,” warns Beth S. Wenger in “History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage” (Princeton University Press, $35), “is always a partisan effort.”

According to Wenger, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of its Jewish studies program, the heritage embraced by American Jews is invented if not entirely imaginary. She insists that the way American Jews see themselves can be “self-congratulatory, often embellished, and sometimes a blend of fact and fiction.”  She argues that “American Jews gradually manufactured a collective Jewish history in the United States,” and the end result has been “[t]he creation of a shared, usable Jewish past” but not necessarily a wholly factual one.

Viewed from the stance of a professional historian, the whole enterprise of heritage-making strikes her as a “messy blend of truth and myth … often self-aggrandizing and self-congratulatory, and almost always self-serving.” The purpose of Jewish myth-making in America has been to “[foster] a sense of Jewish belonging” in a place where we are a tiny minority, and she concludes that “Jews wrote America into Jewish history, and Jews into American history.”

A revolution in Jewish consciousness was at work among the Jews who managed to reach the New World. “The Zionist typology of the ‘new Jew’… had an American corollary,” Wenger writes. “American Jews created a myth of America as the new Zion, an alternate form of the Promised Land.” So it was that the Yiddish poet Avraham Liessin, writing in 1897, saw the Statue of Liberty as a symbol with special meaning for Jewish immigrants: “Man/freed from tyranny/grows free and proud/with a spirit that knows no bound/and a will forged of steel.”…READ MORE