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

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://i0.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