JBuzz News March 1, 2012: Lila Corwin Berman: Collaboration enriches professor’s exploration of the American Jewish experience at Temple’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Collaboration enriches professor’s exploration of the American Jewish experience

Lila Corwin Berman, shown at the 227-year-old Congregation Rodeph Shalom on North Broad Street, examines the American Jewish experience from a historical perspective, bridging religion, politics and questions about identity.

Lila Corwin Berman always has her eyes on bridges, both constructing and deconstructing them. But she’s not an engineer — she’s an historian.

As the new director of Temple’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, Berman explores the bridges between academics and practitioners, the past and present, history and politics, religion and identity, and the city and suburbs.

“At the center, we strive to make academic work meaningful by not only serving the scholarly community but also engaging with the public,” said Berman.

Founded in 1990, the Feinstein Center brings together scholars and lay people interested in the American Jewish experience. To that end, the center collaborates regularly with external institutions, such as the Gershman Y and the National Museum of Jewish American History. It also sponsors conferences, fellowships and public events all devoted to new approaches to understanding the many dimensions of Jewish experience in the United States….READ MORE

Arriving at Temple just three years ago from Penn State, Berman spent her first year getting acclimated, but an upcoming symposium titled “The Art of Being Jewish in the City: Aesthetics, Politics and Power” will be the grand finale of a full two years of conferences, events and even a performance focused on Jews and urbanism.

“Temple’s Department of History is an ideal place to locate this type of exploration,” said Berman. “It is full of top-notch urban historians, and a lot of forces in the department intersect around urban questions.”

According to Berman, as Jews were leaving American cities during the post-war period, they were also grappling with being middle class and suburban, and there was a part of them that was staying behind.

“Many of them never left cities in their minds,” she said.

“Through these two-years of programming and upcoming conference, we are asking, ‘How did Jews retain their investment in cities both as part of their identity but also materially, politically and economically?'”

The Art of Being Jewish in the City

How are Jews imagining, funding and creating urban arts and culture for the future?

As the culmination of two years of programming, Temple’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History is hosting “The Art of Being Jewish in the City,” a day-long symposium exploring arts-led urban development and the role that Jews play in envisioning new forms of urban life.

The symposium invites the public to join in conversation with some of today’s most important urban thinkers.

Thursday, March 15, 9 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.
The Edward H. Rosen Hillel Center for Jewish Life
1441 Norris St. (at corner of N. 15th St.), Philadelphia

The conference is free, but registration is required. Visit www.temple.edu/feinsteinctr/symposium, email feinsteincenter@temple.edu or call 215-204-9553.

JBuzz Interviews February 20, 2012: Eitan Fishbane: A conversation on love and loss with Jewish studies professor

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JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

A conversation on love and loss with Eitan Fishbane

Jewish studies professor whose new memoir recalls the tragic death of his wife at age 32.

Source: Haaretz, 2-20-12

In February 2007, Leah Levitz Fishbane arrived at a hospital in Hackensack, NJ, complaining of severe headaches and vomiting. Within hours, she was in a coma, and two days later, she was dead at age 32, killed by a tumor in her brain that had announced its existence with a swift and dramatic finality. She left behind her husband, Eitan Fishbane, and a 4-year-old daughter, Aderet, and was nine weeks’ pregnant at the time. Not long after Leah’s death, Eitan began recording his memories and meditations about their life together and his responses to the loss. Eventually, Fishbane became convinced that his ruminations might be able to provide comfort to others who had suffered similar losses. The result is the book “Shadows in Winter: A Memoir of Love and Loss” ‏(Syracuse University Press, 156 pages, $19.95‏). The couple had met as graduate students at Brandeis University, where Eitan completed his PhD in 2003, and where Leah, at the time of her death, was working on her own doctoral dissertation, in American Jewish history. The same month Eitan, an assistant professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), published his memoir, Jewish Lights brought out an edition, which he selected and translated, of writings on Shabbat by early Hasidic masters, “The Sabbath Soul: Mystical Reflections on the Transformative Power of Holy Time.” In 2010, Fishbane, today 36, remarried, to Rabbi Julia Andelman. Haaretz spoke with Eitan Fishbane by phone from his home in Teaneck, New Jersey.
•••
When did you actually begin writing this book?

The process of writing began relatively early, within a month of the shivah. Initially it was more of a therapeutic anchor, a stable activity to return to during those fragile days. But the process of writing awakened in me the power of words to heal the writer and to hopefully bring the force of that experience to readers as well. It stretched out over five or six months, though the first three months were really when a lot of the white heat of my experience was flowing out through the writing. [Afterwards, I did] some editing, though I really tried to preserve the authenticity of those early hours, to capture the ferocity of early grief in a way that’s hard to conjure up from a distance.

Eitan Fishbane - February 2012 Eitan Fishbane.

You do that, but am I right that anger isn’t a strong emotion here?

I didn’t feel anger as a dominant emotion. Certainly I did experience moments − I think that everybody in the swell of grief does − but when there was anger, it was less directed at something or someone in particular, more a surge of feeling….READ MORE

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: The Woman Behind the Polish Jewry Museum

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INTERVIEWS — MUSEUM NEWS

Source: The Forward, 8-3-11

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has many titles: award-winning author, essayist and New York University professor, among them. Most recently, she’s been tapped to lead the core exhibition development team for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which is now being built on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, and which recently made headlines with the surprise departure of its longtime director.

Long associated with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett worked with Polish-born scholar Lucjan Dobroszycki on the landmark 1976 exhibition “Image Before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life Before the Holocaust,” which later was made into a book and a film. Her latest book, “They Called Me Mayer July” (University of California Press, 2007), was a collaboration with her father, Mayer Kirshenblatt, who died in 2009 at the age of 93. It combined Kirshenblatt’s paintings depicting prewar life in his hometown of Opatow, Poland, with stories gleaned from interviews that his daughter began conducting with him in the 1960s.

Forward contributor Ruth Ellen Gruber caught up with Kirshenblatt-Gimblett in Krakow during the Festival of Jewish Culture and asked her about her Yiddish roots, her most enduring project and the current morale at the museum….READ MORE

Historian Gerald Steinacher Interview: How Did So Many Nazis Escape Justice?

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Source: Jewish Free Press, 7-13-11

How did so many Nazis and Nazi collaborators manage to escape Europe after World War II? Who helped them flee and why? What routes did they take on their way to freedom?

https://i2.wp.com/www.jewishpress.com/UploadedImages%5CStdImage%5C450Gerald-Steinacher.jpgThese and other questions are answered in painstaking detail in a new book, Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice, by Gerald Steinacher, an assistant professor of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The book, originally written in German, was translated into English by Oxford University Press and hit bookstores last month. The Jewish Press recently spoke with Steinacher.

The Jewish Press: According to your book, a great many Nazis escaped Europe through Italy. Why Italy?

Steinacher: Because the Allies were in Germany and Austria but had retreated from Italy. There was no Allied government there after December 1945, so once you were in Italy, you were free. This is one reason. The other reason is that for many people from Eastern and Central Europe the ports in Italy were just the closest in terms of geography.

Who gave Nazis the travel documents they needed to escape?

The International Committee of the Red Cross. They were in charge of giving documents to [the 12 million] Volksdeutsche – ethnic Germans – who were expelled from Central and Eastern Europe after 1945. But there was one condition for obtaining these documents, and this was that the person had to be stateless.

So war criminals like Eichmann, Mengele, and many others went to Italy and, once there, stated, “I’m an ethnic German from South Tyrol, Italy and I am stateless.”

Why would someone from South Tyrol, Italy be considered stateless?

That’s a good question. South Tyrol is a border region. It’s in Italy but it’s mostly German speaking. It was annexed to Italy after the first world war (it had previously been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for hundreds of years) and in 1939, as part of Hitler’s policy with Mussolini, the South Tyrol minority in Italy was given a choice: They could stay and become completely Italianized or they could become German citizens and move to the Reich or some newly annexed territory. Most of them became German citizens.

At the end of the war, this agreement between Hitler and Mussolini was not recognized by the Allies and these South Tyrolans were considered stateless like most ethnic Germans from Eastern and Central Europe.

But didn’t the Red Cross realize that some of these “South Tyrolans” applying for travel documents were in fact former Nazis?

They did. But you have to realize that the Red Cross had no, or at least not much, experience with issuing travel documents and they were completely overwhelmed. They told the Allies and the Italian authorities: “We don’t want to do this job anymore because we are not the police. We can’t screen the backgrounds of these people. We have to take for granted whatever these people tell us. If Adolf Eichmann tells us he is Richard Klement from South Tyrol and he’s stateless and he wants to go to South America to start a new life, we have to believe him.”

My interpretation is they realized there was massive abuse, but they thought, “We are still helping many, many normal refugees who need these travel documents to start a new life. There may be some black sheep with Nazi backgrounds among these refugees, but the majority are innocent people.”

How many travel documents did the Red Cross issue?

Around 120,000-140,000 between 1945 and 1950.

How many “black sheep” were among them?

It’s extremely difficult to give exact numbers. One reason is definition. Are you only looking at Austrians and Germans who were perpetrators of the Holocaust? Then you have very small numbers. If you look at Austrians and Germans who were Nazis or in the SS, but maybe not technically or legally perpetrators of the Holocaust, then of course the numbers are much higher. And if you also include collaborators and fascists from all over Europe – from the fascist regimes in Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, Belgium, Ukraine, or Vichy, for example – then you have tens of thousands of people. So it depends very much on definition.

What was the role of the Vatican in all this?

The Vatican relief commission for refugees worked in close cooperation with the Red Cross. A Nazi would come to the Red Cross with a reference letter from the Vatican commission, and say, “I’m stateless, this is my name, date of birth, location of birth” and so on, and the Red Cross officials wouldn’t ask questions because the recommendation came from the Vatican.

That’s how Franz Stangl, the commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp, escaped Europe.

Why would a Vatican official give Stangl a letter of recommendation?

In this particular case the official was a bishop by the name of Alois Hudal, who was known to be very pro-Nazi. In 1937, Hudal had written a book by the title The Foundations of National Socialism, which he sent to Hitler with a dedication.

But members of the clergy helped Nazis for various reasons. Some of them did it because they were former Nazis; others because they were pro-fascist; and others out of religious motivations. They said we want to help these people come back to the herd. They got lost; we have to bring them back into the church and forgive them. Christian mercy also played a role. In fact, there were some clergy who helped Jews hide during the war and then helped Nazis escape after it – both times acting out of mercy.

What’s your take on Pope Pius XII?

Well, I don’t think he was “Hitler’s Pope,” but it’s clear that he was very anti-communist and anti-communism played a crucial role in all of this. The fear of a communist takeover in Italy was widespread after 1945. There was a strong communist party in Italy, and the possibility that Rome – the heartland of the Catholic Church – would become communist was a horror scenario for many people inside the Vatican. So there was a strong motivation to help anti-communists even if they had a Nazi background.

In 1945 the Nazis were gone, but the communist enemy was still there and more dangerous than ever before.

You write in the book that the CIA also helped former Nazis escape Europe. Why would the CIA do that?

Again, you have to keep in mind the background of the early Cold War. These Nazis were anti-communists and the new enemy was the communists. The United States thought some of these Nazis could be useful. They didn’t have experts on the east who knew the Ukrainian, Yugoslavian, Italian and French communists, for example. But there were people who knew these communists and these were former German intelligence officers.

In your book, you discuss a popular theory – which you call a myth – that former Nazis helped each other escape Europe after the war through an organization called ODESSA. What is this ODESSA myth?
ODESSA is short for Organization of Former SS Members. The ODESSA story came up in ’45, ’46 based on some reports from the CIC, the American counter intelligence corps. This was picked up by Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi hunter, who proceeded to depict ODESSA as a worldwide organization, a kind of conspiracy of former SS members who had unlimited resources and bank accounts in Switzerland and gold and connections everywhere.

But this is a complete myth. There is no evidence of it whatsoever. Such a perfectly- and centrally-organized organization with these powerful means never existed. It’s an invention by Simon Wiesenthal and Frederick Forsyth, who wrote The ODESSA File, which was a best-selling novel – and later made into a movie – based on Wiesenthal’s reports.

Hitler and Stalin The Q&A: Timothy Snyder, historian

Hitler and Stalin The Q&A: Timothy Snyder, historian

Source: The Economist, 6-3-11

SOME topics are so dark that even scholars feel intimidated. Yet Timothy Snyder is not so easily daunted. A professor of Eastern European history at Yale, his most recent book, “Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin“, examines some of the most devastating collective memories of the modern world. With scholarly rigour and engaging prose, he seeks to explain both the causes and effects of the two most haunting mass murderers of the 20th century. The “bloodlands” of the title describes the area where the Nazi and Soviet regimes murdered 14m civilians. The Economist has praised the book for being a “revisionist history of the best kind”, one that “makes the reader rethink some of the best-known episodes in Europe’s modern history.”

The book has been controversial among some Holocaust scholars, many of whom argued that Mr Snyder does a disservice by comparing the crimes of the Nazis with those of the Soviet Union (something Mr Snyder discussed in an interview with The Economist when the book first came out last year).

Mr Snyder was recently in Poland to promote a Polish-language edition of his book. This month his tour will take him to the Netherlands, England, Australia and Israel. In a conversation with More Intelligent Life, Mr Snyder talked about his approach to the book, which is meant to clarify some common misunderstandings about the second world war.

What are some of the most common misconceptions of the history of the so-called “bloodlands”?

The first is that there’s something that people think they understand and it turns out that they don’t, and that thing is the Holocaust. The reality of it is, if anything, worse than they think, much more face-to-face, much more barbaric, much more unforgettable. People think that the Holocaust is something that happened in Germany, generally to German Jews. They think it’s something that happened only in Auschwitz. They generally don’t know about any of the other death facilities besides Auschwitz; they generally don’t know that half of the Jews who were killed were shot rather than gassed.

Hitler and Stalin killed virtually in the same place, and that is Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, the Baltic states, western Russia. The Holocaust happened in a place where millions and millions of people have just been killed due to the Soviet policies.

And the third thing I would point to is the habit of reduction. For example an approach saying: it must have all been the Germans, or it must have all been the Soviets. Both of these systems brought tremendous death and suffering. If you want to avoid criticism then you shouldn’t be a historian, because historians are trying to understand and explain. If you’re trying to please people then you should go into the fashion business, or the candy business.

You’ve lived in Eastern Europe for a while, and you have learned the languages spoken in the ‘bloodlands’.  Would you say it’s much harder, or even impossible, to get to certain information if you don’t speak the local language? 

The question of languages is very important. If you don’t know Russian, you don’t really know what you’re missing. Imagine that you’re in a huge country house and you have keys, but your keys only open some of the rooms. You only know the part of the house that you can wander in. And you can persuade yourself that that’s the whole house, but it’s not. We can only see as much, and we can only go as far as our languages take us. I wrote this book in English, but there are very important conversations that are happening in German, Russian, Polish and so on among those historians, and the book is addressed to all of them.

At a lecture at the Kosciuszko Foundation a few months ago, you said that your goal is not to compare the crimes of Hitler and Stalin. But how does one write about the casualties caused by both without forcing the reader to compare? How do you resist the urge to draw clear comparisons while writing such a book?

It’s not that I’m against comparisons per se. On the contrary, I think a comparison is totally natural. It’s just that if you want to compare you have to know what it is you’re comparing. People often generate these comparisons thinking: ‘I already know about the Nazis’ or ‘I already know about the Soviets. Therefore, I know that the Nazis were worse.’ Often they don’t know a lot about the other side of the conflict. I like to think that people will read this book and then be able to make better comparisons.

Westerners tend to know the history of Nazi Germany better than the history of the Soviet Union. Why is that? Is there more literature about the Nazi crimes than the Soviet ones in English?

Something interesting happened when the cold war ended: the US stopped being so concerned about the Soviet Union. Our teachers and professors strive desperately to save something from the 20th century, and that something is the Holocaust. It’s been happening since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Part of this has to do with an issue of identification. People in the West tend to identify with western victims. So even when they think about the Holocaust, they really think about the German or French victims, they’re not thinking about the Polish, Hungarian or Soviet victims. And when they think about the German crimes, they’re not thinking about the starvation of Soviet prisoners of war, which also killed 3m people; they’re not thinking about the partisan campaigns in Belarus, which no one has ever heard of, which killed hundreds of thousands of people. They’re thinking of the people they can identify with—nice, middle class, western-looking people. So it’s not that people only know about the Holocaust. It’s just that they have this very western idea of the whole tragedy. What I try to do in my book is to make the Holocaust more ‘eastern’, which it was.

How did you pick the individual, personal stories that are included in the book? They are effective in giving names and faces to the otherwise inconceivable numbers of casualties.

It was important to me that a book that was mainly about a tragedy on a tremendous scale be comprehensible. I did my best to explain the policies, but also to make sure the readers understood that the victims were human beings. That’s why I have the material about these individuals. It’s about life and death, and life is made of individual human beings. And the significance of death is that it ends a life.

Writing a book like this you don’t want to seem too mechanical, but you also don’t want to be sentimental, and say that only because they died all these people were good. That’s not the point. I was trying to make these people real. And if you make them ideal, they’re not real.

Deborah Lipstadt: Demjanjuk Trial May Be Last For Holocaust Crimes

Source: NPR, 5-18-11

John Demjanjuk was convicted in Germany on 28,060 counts of accessory to murder after four decades of legal battles. Deborah Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University, wrote an op-ed describing the case as likely “the last Holocaust war crimes trial.”

NEAL CONAN, host:

When the United States in 2009 sent John Demjanjuk to stand trial in Germany as an accused Nazi war criminal, many wondered: What’s the point? Or as Deborah Lipstadt put it in a recent New York Times op-ed: Wasn’t there something comic, even shameful, about dragging a dying man across the Atlantic to stand trial for a crime he committed over half a century ago? Shouldn’t there be a statute of limitations, even for genocide?

Deborah Lipstadt teaches modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University, and joins us now from our bureau in New York.

And thanks very much for being with us today.

Dr. DEBORAH LIPSTADT (Jewish and Holocaust Studies, Emory University): Thank you, Neal. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

CONAN: And part of that question line comes – this is a man who spent six months as a guard at a death camp called Sobibor. This was not Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust.

Dr. LIPSTADT: True. It was not, well, first of all, I don’t think Adolf Eichmann was the architect, but we can talk about that later.

CONAN: All right.

Dr. LIPSTADT: He’s one of the operating – chief operating officers. But John Demjanjuk was certainly not as important as an Adolf Eichmann. He was not as high-ranking. He was Ukrainian. He was a guard. But he knew exactly what was going on. And, in fact, the judge – the German judge who found him guilty of being an accessory to murder in 28,000-plus murders made that point, that he had to know what was going on. And as every guard – the judge said every guard at Sobibor knew he was part of an organization with no other purpose but mass murder. So to say it was only six months when people like Eichmann were there – were doing this for four or five years is not really an excuse.

CONAN: And interestingly, he and Eichmann had the same excuse. They said: We had no choice.

Dr. LIPSTADT: Kill or be killed. Well, the truth of the matter is that no defense attorney, including Demjanjuk’s, has ever been able to produce any evidence – defense attorney or historian – of someone actually being killed for refusing to participate. So the idea of kill or be killed is really, I think, a bit of a myth.

Moreover – they might have been sent to the Eastern Front. They might have been sent to do terrible jobs, more dangerous jobs to them, but they weren’t forced to do that. And even if they had been forced, I think there is a – an ethical law that they very happily ignored.

CONAN: And another criticism is there was no specific evidence against John Demjanjuk charged. He was charged as an accessory to murder in the more than 28,000 deaths that occurred at the time he was a guard at the death camp. And basically, the allegation was, yes, he knew, therefore he did nothing to stop, therefore he was an accessory in all of these murders, but no specific allegation.

Dr. LIPSTADT: Well, I think there were specifics. I think – we have to remember that this wasn’t the only court that heard the evidence. He actually had been tried in three different nations: Israel, the United -first the United States, then Israel, then Germany. And all three judicial systems found him – found that he wasn’t Ivan the Terrible, as he was originally accused of being…

CONAN: Falsely.

Dr. LIPSTADT: …falsely accused of being. He was a terrible Ivan. And, in fact, it pays to see what – pay attention to what happened in Israel. After he’s stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 and extradited to Israel, he’s put on trial. The trial lasts 17 months, an inordinately long time. He gets a guilty verdict and sentenced to death. And then, eventually, that verdict is overturned by the Israeli High Court, the equivalent of our Supreme Court. And they issue a 405-page ruling in which they say, it’s clear to us. The evidence before us shows us that this man did terrible things. There is no question about that.

But he was brought here. He was extradited from the United States as being charged as Ivan the Terrible, a specific person. There is now very good evidence to say that’s not the case, that this was mistaken identity. And even though we find him to have done terrible things, we have to overturn his verdict, because you can’t switch indictments in the middle. And they let him go.

CONAN: And they let him go.

Dr. LIPSTADT: The attorney general refused to try him again. They say -he said the atmosphere was poisoned. And, again, the attorney general repeated that they had extradited him to the United States on the charge of being Ivan the Terrible and he wasn’t, and they couldn’t now charge him as something else.

And I think it’s quite extraordinary that here was the victims’ – the heirs to the victim, you know, the Jewish state saying we know you did a terrible thing but justice demands the legal system’s trials. We have that – you’ve had a trial. You’ve been part of a legal system. The legal system demands that we let you go….READ MORE

Jack Wertheimer: “Chabad Calls A Spade A Spade”

Source: Chabad Lubavitch News, 5-5-11

Harvard University

The following is an excerpt from a dialogue with Ruth Wisse, the Professor of Yiddish Literature and Comparative Literature at Harvard University,  and Jack Wertheimer, Professor of American Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, on the theme of American Jews and the Defense of Western Civilization. The dialogue appeared today in STANDPOINT, a cultural and political magazine published in the UK.

RW: I’ll give you one example from this week. I find myself on a campus, and the Jewish organisation on campus, which is the dominant Jewish organisation on every campus, is Hillel. Hillel is a catch-all. The difficulty with Hillel is that it feels it has to go along the lines that you mentioned, Jack: Hillel has to be all things to all incoming students. Therefore, it cannot say, “This is what Judaism is, it cannot say, “This is our position on Israel,” it cannot say, “This is how we behave.” It doesn’t have one Jewish service: Hillel at Harvard  has four or five concurrent services in order to suit everybody.

About ten years ago a Chabad rabbi came and set up a Chabad house at Harvard. Chabad is a movement which when I was growing up was more or less non-existent. One didn’t know what its role was. It felt ultra-Orthodox. Well, Chabad is the product of a very long process and I won’t go into what constitutes Chabad except to say how different the Chabad house is from the Hillel house. It is different in this respect: it is what it is. It celebrates Sabbath the way it celebrates Sabbath, it takes students to Israel the way it takes students to Israel. It does not change. It tells its students to be whatever they want, they can come on Friday night or not come, they can come on Saturday or not come, they can join them for one holiday or two holidays, the students don’t have to change. But it is what it is. It is such a bracing experience to be in that building. This week we had a dinner with 20-odd students and it was fantastic. They were all able to grapple with their doubts and convictions. This is something that doesn’t happen in that looseness of Hillel.  Students coming to the university have an option that they didn’t have before.

JW: I would relate this to my previous discussion about the whole question of cultural liberalism because of the pervasiveness of relativism, the terror of being directive, of being coercive. I’ll give you one example. To speak in rabbinical seminaries about the commandment to be fruitful and multipy — what most rabbis consider the first commandment of the Bible — has becomeverboten. It is not to be spoken about because it will hurt the feelings of some. I’m not making a case for tactlessness but what is accomplished when rabbinical students are never told how much their own tradition values raising children? Some rabbinical students are not married, or have married late, and for whatever reason are childless. Should that make it impermissible to teach that Judaism values procreation?

By contrast, one of the strengths of Chabad is that their people talk about how Judaism can enrich your life, particularly your family life. You’re absolutely right, Ruth, that Chabad accepts people as they are, but at the same time they call a spade a spade in the sense of explaining what Jewish tradition does teach — and how following those teachings leads to a better life.

Deborah Lipstadt: The Eichmann Trial

Deborah Lipstadt: The Eichmann Trial

Source: The Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC, 4-14-11

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Related Event:

Deborah Lipstadt will be in conversation with Gary Rosenblatt at the Center for Jewish History

Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, talks about the capture of SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents in Argentina in May of 1960, and how his subsequent trial in Jerusalem by an Israeli court electrified the world and sparked a public debate on where, how, and by whom Nazi war criminals should be brought to justice. The Eichmann Trial gives an overview of the trial and analyzes the dramatic effect that the survivors’ courtroom testimony had on the world.

Deborah Lipstadt: Eichmann Trial Reconsidered

Source: The Daily Beast, 4-13-11

On the 50th anniversary of the Adolf Eichmann trial, historian Deborah Lipstadt explains the worldwide fascination with the case and how it changed justice for victims everywhere.

On April 11, 1961 scores of reporters from throughout the world—far more than had been present at the Nuremberg tribunals 15 years earlier—gathered in Jerusalem. They were there for the beginning of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a legal process that changed not just how the world thinks about genocide, but how it sees the victims of this horrific crime. More than an historical artifact, the trial continues to reverberate into our own age; the journalists in the courtroom, as much as the Nazi in the dock and the survivors on the witness stand, were part of the story.

Article - Lipstadt Eichmann
Adolf Eichmann in his glass prisoner’s dock before Israel’s supreme court on May 29, 1962 in Jerusalem. (AP Photo)

On that spring day in Jerusalem, the excitement of the journalists was palpable. This trial, they predicted, would be different from all the war crimes tribunals which had preceded it. Precisely 11 months earlier, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion had set off a media maelstrom when he strode into the Knesset and, with no warning, announced that Adolf Eichmann, the man he considered the architect of the Final Solution, was in Israel’s hands and would be tried in an Israeli court.

The high drama of Eichmann’s kidnapping on the streets of Buenos Aires by  Israeli agents was thrilling enough, but what Ben-Gurion understood, and what the journalists were there to cover, was a trial conceived as compelling theater.

This would be the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. that Jews would sit in judgment of a non-Jew who had done them wrong. The existence of a Jewish state, a place where there were more Holocaust survivors than anywhere else, made this possible, but the existence of television sets in millions of homes made it part of mass culture.

Book Cover - The Eichmann Trial
The Eichmann Trial. By Deborah E. Lipstadt. 272 pages. Schocken. $24.95.

This was the first time a trial was broadcast internationally.  ABC, CBS, and NBC were miffed when Israel gave the rights to a small unknown company called Capital Cities, which eventually became the parent company of ABC. (Israel stipulated that Capital Cities had to share the footage with other media outlets.) The networks offered both specials and regular reports on the trial. Americans could watch the previous day’s proceedings over dinner. And they did. So too did viewers in close to forty other countries. (One country where the broadcasts were unavailable was Israel, which did not offer broadcasting services until 1966.) I suspect that watching snippets of the trial on television as a child helped push me toward my present career.

It’s unsurprising that the trial crops up in the first season of Mad Men—a Jewish character, feeling the sting of discrimination in postwar Manhattan, has already made a touchstone of his capture and impending trial, learned via television in her living room.

With the Eichmann trial, the medium and the method were perfectly joined. At Nuremberg, the crime of genocide was a sidebar, an example of one of the many crimes against humanity the Third Reich had committed. Moreover, that proceeding was built, almost entirely, on documents.  Witnesses, the prosecution assumed, could not be trusted to tell their story in a fashion that would convince the judges. In contrast, the Eichmann trial was the first war crimes trial to rely heavily on victims’ testimony. Israel’s Attorney General, Gideon Hausner, intent on painting a complete tableau of this crime, one that would convey its emotional impact, actively sought out survivors with a “good story to tell.” Day after day survivors entered the witness box and spoke in the first person singular.  Never before had the world heard the victims—men and women in their 40s—describe in such detail what had been done to them. Though scores of documents were submitted, it was the victims’ stories that captivated the audience. Ironically, the judges were among the few observers who responded otherwise. They noted that while the testimony of Holocaust survivors “who poured out their hearts as they stood in the witness box” would be useful to historians, for them it was just “a by-product of the trial.” Instead, they based their judgment on the documents. This was a valid jurisprudential decision. Robert Servatius, Eichmann’s defense attorney, well aware that he was in a courtroom filled with survivors, had been reluctant to vigorously grill the survivors in order to expose any possible inconsistencies or inaccuracies in their statements. At subsequent war crimes trials the victims have generally had a far more confrontational courtroom experience…. READ MORE

Joseph Brandes: A conversation on everything under the sun

Source: New Jersey Jewish Standard, 6-11-10

So encyclopedic is Joseph Brandes’ knowledge that a conversation with him may skip around from why Jews generally vote Democratic to the secret of being a good teacher to why certain couples have a happy, long-lasting marriage. (In his case, a partial answer is that he and his wife, Margot, who have been married for 57 years, are immersed in Zionist activities.)

Brandes, 82, a retired history professor at William Paterson University, is the author of a fascinating book that has just been re-published: “Immigrants to Freedom: Jews as Yankee Farmers! (1880’s to 1960’s).”

The book tells of 400 Jews from Eastern Europe who came to the United States in the 1880s and started agricultural communities in south Jersey — to escape pogroms and to prove that Jews could be farmers, despite the stereotype of them as tradespeople. They were followed by thousands of others, and in 1902, one of their thriving communities, Woodbine, was even recognized by the state as a borough. A magazine of the time referred to Woodbine as “The first self-governed Jewish community since the fall of Jerusalem.”

These communities eventually vanished — the farmers could make better livings in cities — but their innovations, Brandes points out, influenced Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Born in Poland, Brandes (and his family) left in 1939 and eventually arrived in the Bronx. Brandes graduated Phi Beta Kappa from CCNY’s School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, then earned a master’s degree at Columbia University in 1950 and a doctorate at New York University in 1958. He taught at William Paterson from 1958 through 1992, and part-time after that. He and his wife have four children: Cheryl, Lynn, Susan, and Aviva.

Here is condensed version of a recent conversation with Brandes.

Jewish Standard: What advice would you give new teachers?

Brandes: The major thing to keep in mind is: Make an effort to develop a personal relationship with your students. You’re not teaching a class: You’re teaching individuals. I found this was most satisfying part of my experience — personal interaction.

J.S.: What drew you to history?

Brandes: I started out as a child loving stories, and to me history was in part stories — real stories about real people. As I matured, it was analysis and learning what the world used to be like. And how the world we’ve inherited developed. History is story of conflict, dilemmas, and complex choices for leaders to make.

In my religious education, there were plenty of stories for me to read in the Bible, about good guys, bad guys, conflicts, how Israel was created in ancient times, the destruction of the two temples, holidays pegged to stories like Passover. I knew these were stories of real people, not fairy tales. The Bible does a very good job of describing the character of its heroes. My mother also read stories to us — by Dickens and others — even when we were young children. We were a family that loved to read.

J.S.: Why American history?

Brandes: I wanted to go into European history. As a kid I liked knights in shining armor and nobility, and I was sorry I couldn’t live through Napoleonic times and the French revolution. They were such exciting times! So much reform! The downfall of monarchies! But I was realistic enough to know I couldn’t afford to spend a year in London or Paris or Munich. I asked for a meeting with Salo Wittkmeyer Baron, professor of Jewish history at Columbia, and told him I wanted to write my master’s thesis on the economic deprivations of Jewish people by the Polish government. He was a thorough scholar. “Can you read German documents?” I said no. And I had forgotten my Polish as well. He gave me good advice: “Don’t do it.”

I don’t regret that decision. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized that American history has enough color — with the frontier, the treatment (and mistreatment) of Indians, economic cycles from Colonial times to today, and so forth. I have no regrets.

J.S.: Why do most Jews vote Democratic?

Brandes: Most Jews were once Republicians — because they admired the progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt, and they admired Lincoln, who was a Republican and a great president. They became Democrats because of Franklin Roosevelt. He gave them the WPA, Social Security, minimum wage laws.

J.S.: To ask an old question: What are some of the roots of anti-Semitism?

Brandes: One of them is religion. In the early years of Christianity, the first Christians were Jews. Consequently there was a kind of kinship between Jews and Christians, where people who called themselves Jews could also believe in Jesus as a god. And that kind of relationship continued for several centuries — until Christians became worried about the success of the Muslim world. Christianity was also being challenged by people [the Christians] called heretics — that what stakes were for, to burn the heretics. So, more and more, the Christian church focused on cleansing itself of its own heretics, including the French Huguenots.

Also there was the fact that the Jews persisted in existing — they failed to accept the divinity of Jesus, and the existence of Jews was considered to be a threat. Jews were a small minority in a great sea of Christians, but the fear was that the Jews might unite with the heretics in the Christian world and challenge the primacy of the papacy.

Going beyond the religious point, Jews have been a convenient scapegoat — as they are to this day.

J.S.: You’ve been married a long time — 57 years. What is the secret to having a happy marriage?

Brandes: You need a tolerance of each other’s characteristics, not necessarily faults. In many if not most couples, wife and husband have different views on, for example, what they should do with their spare time, athletic activities, books to read. My wife loves to travel; my idea of a good time is staying home. But I’m willing to bend. Isn’t that right, Margot?

Margot Brandes: Not enough.

Brandes (laughs): The fact that we’re both active in Zionism also helps keep us together. We’ve always very strongly pro-Israel and involved in the Jewish community in general. That’s one of things that has made ours a successful marriage. In addition to the fact that my wife is an excellent cook!

Professor Aharoni, will Israeli students reach the world pinnacle of math again?

By Jonathan Lis Source: Haaretz, 5-25-10

Mathematician Ron Aharoni of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa is a founder of the Israeli Foundation for Math Achievement for All. About 19 years ago he became involved (“completely by accident,” he says ) in the teaching of math to children; he is the author of “Arithmetic for Parents: a book for grownups,” “The Cat That Isn’t There,” which he calls “an non philosophical book about philosophy;” and “Mathematics, Poetry and Beauty,” on the resemblance between math and poetry.

High schools will hold the math matriculation exams today. Professor Ron Aharoni, will Israeli students ever reach the world pinnacle of mathematics again?

It may never happen. Perhaps we don’t need to try to be first in the world and compete with Finland, Korea and Japan. Within our constraints, it isn’t certain we could do so even if we wanted to [in view of] low teachers’ salaries, huge numbers of students per class, money that largely goes to ultra-Orthodox education where classes are small, and even more wasteful spending. A different answer is that much of the education budget goes to the apparatus itself: Six percent of the budget in contrast to 1.5 percent in comparable systems around the world.

So, will the so-called Jewish genius lose its standing in the world academic arena?

The answer is no. Israel is a mathematics superpower, and somehow continues to be one, despite the statistics. There is a very good group of people controlling high-tech and mathematics in Israel at a high level indeed.

In your estimation, will we learn from the results of today’s matriculation exam that there has been an additional decline in Israeli students’ knowledge of math?

I can only speak as a professor in the Technion. The students who reach us are less and less prepared. Today, those accepted by the university, in the math department, too, did not necessarily score well on the matriculation exam.

And that’s strange, because the level of the exam has not declined. To the contrary, the demands are not less than those of 30 years ago. On the other hand, fewer students study math at the highest level (five points ). An even tougher problem is that hardly anyone at all studies physics at that level. Physics is no less important than math when it comes to the life sciences. Why aren’t they prepared? I simply don’t know. More students are getting a higher education these days; we also turn to weaker sectors of the population.

Are the matriculation exams worded correctly? What grade would you give them?

I’d give them an 80 – they are too technical. I’d be glad if they were less sophisticated and tested material connected to understanding. But the tests are definitely at a high level. They are a wonderful tool with which you can guide education for a very small cost. It’s hard to make changes in a gigantic system like the educational system, but the matriculation tests make this possible. If you change the nature of one test, you dictate the nature of all studies.

Isn’t the problem broader than that? You yourself found it difficult to teach middle school classes because of discipline problems. Parents spend much money for private tutoring, and the high-school teachers spend their energy on teaching the students how to take the tests, rather than on how to understand math. Perhaps the problem lies in the grade industry, and not in teaching methods?

Teaching is definitely aimed only at successful test taking. The main problem with higher mathematics is that there’s no set curriculum. It’s as simple as that. Hard to believe, but it’s a fact. The teachers teach without a plan. The subjects on the matriculation exam dictate what they do. The text books are not divided into chapters about algebra, geometry or trigonometry, but the different lists of exam questions.

Is the Education Ministry proceeding properly?

It has been going in the right direction for the last five years, and is attempting to create a new curriculum. A good word must be said about math supervisor, Hannah Perl.

But I’m sorry to say that the ministry is an extremely slow boat, a giant body that can’t be hurried. It took eight years to write the middle-school math curriculum, which is very unsuccessful.

Generations of students were raised on math books by legendary authors such as Benny Goren and Aharon Aspis. Are they responsible for the students’ deterioration?

These books are very good for their genre. They were created over many years and have been corrected and adjusted. But this is a genre of exercises – and not study. The exercises are often sophisticated. The poor students must solve complicated problems that sometimes contain five different elements, without their having studied each sufficiently. The classic example is the basic concept of a derivative. Text books approach it technically, as a slope on a graph.

Every Technion student will tell you that. That’s not understanding, but rather a misunderstanding of the concept. The correct definition of a derivative is “the rate of change.” Israeli children learn a huge amount of technical information. It’s important. But understanding is missing. I think that today what’s happening is an attempt to go in a new direction.

Q & A with Professor Doron Ben-Atar New play addresses demonization of Israel among intellectual elite

Source: The Jewish Ledger, 7-1-09

Professor Doron Ben-Atar’s play, “Peace Warriors,” which he co-wrote with Debbie Pollak, will be performed at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C. in July and at the New York International Fringe Festival in August. The play was a semi-finalist in this year’s O’Neill theater competition.

A resident of New Haven, where he is active in the Jewish community, Ben-Atar is the chair of the history department at Fordham University, as well as a member of the university’s Middle East studies and women’s studies programs. He is also a fellow of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism at Yale University and was a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.

Ben-Atar’s first play, “Behave Yourself Quietly,” is based on his mother’s experience at Auschwitz. He and his mother, Roma Nutkiewicz Ben-Atar, had previously collaborated on a book, “What Time and Sadness Spared: Mother and Son Confront the Holocaust” (University of Virginia Press, 2006).

Ben-Atar is the author of numerous books and articles on American history, the modern Middle East and psychohistory’ including “Trade Secrets: Intellectual Piracy and the Origins of American Industrial Power.” A frequent commentator on the modern Middle East on many radio and television programs, he has written about current international affairs in “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” the “Jerusalem Report” and “The Globalist.”

Raised in Israel, where he played basketball for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Ben-Atar came to the U.S. to study and play basketball at Brandeis University. He has coached soccer and basketball at Ezra Academy in Woodbridge, and chaired Talmud Torah Meyuchad of the New Haven Department of Jewish Education. He serves on the Anti-Defamation League’s civil rights committee and is a founding member of the board of the new Jewish High School of Connecticut.

The Ledger spoke with Ben-Atar as he was preparing to leave for the nation’s capital for the premiere of “Peace Warriors.”

Q: What is “Peace Warriors” about?

A: “Peace Warriors” is a dramatic exploration of the fashion of taking anti-Israel positions among the American intellectual elite. A visit from an old family friend sparks rivalries and hidden affairs, as four academics and one teenage girl flaunt their peace activism. Family conflicts spin out of control, while the characters argue war and peace in the Middle East, and in the bedroom.

Q: You are an Israeli American and a professor of American history. What inspired you to write this play?

A: I wrote “Peace Warriors” because we are living through a worrisome dramatic rise in global antisemitism. Leading the charge is the intellectual elite who are demonizing Israel and de-legitimizing its existence. College classes on the history and politics of the Middle East teach students that Israel is the new Nazi state, and that terrorism against Jewish targets in Israel and around the globe is a justifiable anti-colonial act of resistance. Jewish students and professors who dare to question these positions face an intimidating and corrosive hostile atmosphere. Israeli academics are subject to boycotts and harassment. And the movement to divest university endowments from companies that do business with Israel is rapidly gaining strength.

The actual event which inspired the play sounds made up, but it is sadly true. My family and I live in New Haven and are active members of the Jewish community. We got a call a few years ago from our friend, the Yale Hillel director, telling us that a troupe of co-existence actresses were coming to perform at Yale; he asked us if they could stay at our place. The group was supposed to consist of an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian – co-existence activists – a driver, and a tech person. We found out that the Palestinian wasn’t really a Palestinian but an Israeli Arab who lived inside of Israel, and the Arab refused to stay at our house because she hated the Israeli activist and could not bear to be in the same house with her!

Various organizations and individuals invest a great deal of money and energy in co-existence. But all too often taking part in these projects involve Jewish self-abnegation. My camp, the peace camp in Israel, has been devastated electorally in recent contests because its activities are characterized by denial of Israel’s claim — we lost our credibility with our own public because we seem to see only the other side. I haven’t altered my convictions. I hate the occupation and believe it has had a brutalizing effect on Arabs and Jews. I never supported the settlement policy, but the conversation about this subject is reduced to a vile shrill. Settlers are the most demonized group in the world. Not to acknowledge their humanity and the life they live — that they live under constant threat — is not fair. Many in the peace camp don’t actually know a single settler. They know more Palestinians. But they imagine settlers as beastly violent fascist fanatics.

Q: Why do you write plays?

A: I am a historian by trade. Playwriting allows me to take part in age-old Jewish conversations. In drama I explore the three major Jewish questions of our time: the memory and persecution of the Holocaust, the place of Israel in contemporary Jewish life, and Jewish continuity. My first play, “Behave Yourself Quietly” considers the meaning of the memory of the Holocaust. “Peace Warriors” explores how Zionism and Israel have become such demonized entities. My next play is set at an old age home and looks at the question of “who are the real children?”

Q: The press materials for the play report, “All the inflammatory statements about Israel that are uttered in the play are actual quotes of statements uttered by the leading anti-Israel crusaders of our time. However, some anti-Israel statements by prominent intellectuals were so harsh that readers said they would not be believable on stage.” Can you explain?

A: It is true. Some of the real quotes that have been said were deemed so offensive by earlier readers of the script that they urged me to tone them down because they would not be believable on stage! My play examines the celebrated anti-Zionist Jew – those who claim to be better than the rest of us because they make a career out of uttering hateful, demonizing remarks against Israel. I’ll give you an example. In the original script, I copied a real petition and wrote, “The students … oppose the existence of the apartheid colonial settler state of Israel, as it is based on the racist ideology of Zionism and is an expression of colonialism and imperialism. We unconditionally support Palestinians’ human right to resist occupation and oppression by any means necessary in all the territory of historic Palestine.” The revised text now reads, “We … oppose the apartheid policies of the rogue state of Israel and reject the racist ideology of Zionism that led to the dispossession of millions. We sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians . . .”

Q: How did you go about getting your play produced?

A: The process of getting a play to the stage is as follows. You send it around to different places that you find in the Dramatists’ Sourcebook. Most places get hundreds of scripts and they really don’t have the time or resources to give the scripts a fair look. It is very rare for a theater company to take a risk and produce a new play by someone who is not well-established. I was fortunate. I sent “Peace Warriors” to Blue Line Arts, Inc., a group run by three brilliant men, that does festivals, like the well-known Edinburgh Festival, and they liked it and decided to stage it in American festivals this summer.

Q: Your first play incorporated laughter into a story about genocide. Does “Peace Warriors” involve similar in-your-face humor?

A: Absolutely. I am an iconoclast and the play is a comedy. I think laughter allows us to deal with complex issues in greater depth. That is what I tried to do in “Behave Yourself Quietly,” and this is what I hope to achieve with “Peace Warriors.”

Jeffrey Gurock: America’s Unorthodox Orthodox Jews

America’s Unorthodox Orthodox Jews: A Conversation With Professor Jeffrey Gurock

Source: The Jewish Press, 5-20-09

He put on tefillin every day. He was rarely absent from shul. He ate only Orthodox Jews in America by Jeffrey S. Gurock: Book Coverkosher. But during the busy season in the garment industry, this Bronx Jew who grew up in the first half of the 20th century worked on Shabbat. Can such a person be considered an Orthodox Jew? Today many Jews would answer “no.” However, this gentleman and many others like him appear in a new book, Orthodox Jews in America, which examines the many shades of American Orthodoxy over the past 350 years. The book’s author, Jeffrey Gurock, has written and edited 14 other works, is a former associate editor of American Jewish History, and currently is Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University. The Jewish Press recently interviewed him about his book.

The Jewish Press: Your book, devoted to American Jewish Orthodoxy, includes Jews who work on Shabbat. In what sense is someone who works on Shabbat Orthodox? Gurock: He’s Orthodox in the sense that he understands what the requirements of halacha are. This individual is very guilty about his inability to observe Shabbat, but there are certain basic economic exigencies that force him to work to support his family.

Some would argue that working on Shabbat makes a person, a priori, not Orthodox. Obviously people are entitled to their opinion, but no one observes all the mitzvot. What makes someone Orthodox is his understanding that one is required to observe the mitzvot. Someone could be a Reform Jew and observe many of the mitzvot, but he’s not Orthodox because this is a personal decision he makes not based upon a belief in a halachic tradition.

People growing up today don’t realize how prevalent this type of Orthodoxy was, especially pre-World War II and while the Blue Laws were still in effect. Fortunately today American Jews are more affluent and they’re in an America that’s far more accepting of them. When I teach undergraduates and talk about this phenomenon [of Orthodox Jews being less than fully observant] they look at me like this is a strange world. And then I say, “Go home and if you’re privileged to have grandparents who are living, ask them about this Orthodox life.” And they come back and [their grandparents] all have stories – either about themselves or about the person who sat next to them in shul who had this type of difficulty.

Can you talk about America’s first rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Rice? He comes from Bavaria in 1840, arrives in Baltimore, and discovers a community where many of the members are not particularly observant. It’s a very big problem for him. As a European rabbi, his first approach is to take a highly resistant, exclusionary approach toward his congregants. So he says he will not let anyone have an aliyah if he is mechalel Shabbos b’farhesya [publicly desecrating Shabbat]. But then he changes the rule and says you can get an aliyah, but the congregation shouldn’t say amen to the brachah. And eventually he just gives up. He ends up leaving the rabbinate because he’s just uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable with the state of religious observance in America. Yes, it’s a very different environment than Europe. But Europe is also changing. There’s a stereotype that all our ancestors in Eastern Europe were frum, and then they came to America and they threw it all overboard. My point is, number one, people don’t throw everything overboard; they maintain plenty. And two, Eastern Europe during that time period is far from 100 percent observant. You have radicals [who become ritually unobservant] and then you have [ordinary] people who are beginning to observe less than they did in the past.

You have some interesting information in the book about kosher and non-kosher methods of shaving. Can you share? There is a graphic in the book of an advertisement in 1932 for the first electric razor that reads, “A new invention to prevent a transgression.” So here’s an example of how the ability to be shomer mitzvot is enhanced by modern technology. My grandfather, who I’m named after, used a stinking depilatory. But when the electric razor comes along you can look like other Americans without either stinking up your apartment or violating the tradition. But just to show you the nuances involved, at the same time that [people are using depilatories and the new electric shaver], the Jewish Forum, an Orthodox newspaper closely connected to the OU, has ads for regular Schick razors. Now that doesn’t mean the OU endorsed it, but advertisers are obviously serving a constituency. If no one was buying those shavers, they wouldn’t be advertising.

What happens to American Orthodoxy after World War II? A decline numerically in the numbers of people who identify with Orthodoxy, but those who have remained become more observant than any prior generation before them. Also the influx into America of Jews who for a variety of reasons did not come here until after the Shoah adds a great deal of vitality and strictness to Orthodox behavior.

In one of your previous books, Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports, you examine this new, stricter American Orthodoxy through the controversy surrounding yeshivas – such as Torah Vodaath and Chaim Berlin – playing in Orthodox basketball leagues that allowed girls to attend games and sometimes featured cheerleading squads and post-game dances. Can you elaborate?

[These yeshivas were concerned with] elevating the athletes to a status in the yeshiva that they didn’t want. They wanted the star of the yeshiva to be the scholar or rebbe, not the coach or athlete. Another problem for the yeshivas was that the whole environment of sports was a very secular one. So Chaim Berlin had a team and it dropped out. Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem had a team and then it dropped out. Torah Vodaath had a surreptitious team and then [Rabbi Gedalia Schorr] squelched it. And yet in the early ’60s [these yeshivas formed] a league called the Mesifta High School Athletic Association. [The administrations of these yeshivas basically said] that you can have a league but you’re not going to have dances after the games and you’re not going to have girls at the games. In its own right, this was a degree of accommodation.

What happened to this league? In the mid ’60s it just died. There wasn’t a moment in time when someone said, “Don’t play.” It just drifted away.

Looking forward, what trends do you see taking place in the Orthodox community? I’m going to duck that question. I have enough trouble understanding the past. I don’t want to predict the future.

Henry Feingold: On the state of Jewish lobby in America

Source: Jerusalem Post, 4-16-09

…..Your book is called: Jewish Power in America: Myth and Reality. In short: what’s myth, what’s reality?

The general myth of Jewish power which thrives despite the genocidal murder of one out of three Jews during World War II is that Jews conspire to gain power that they intend to use for demonic purposes.  In the middle ages it spoke of poisoning the wells. In America it speaks of the Jews controlling the nation’s Middle East policy. The real story of American Jewish power is that it has been able to retain its high level whereas other ethnic constituencies, Greek Americans regarding Cyprus and Cuban Americans, have faded from the foreign policy stage. They have been able to sustain their influence despite a decline in the Jewish proportion of the population from about 3.5% during the Holocaust years to less than 2.3% today.  American Jewry might have followed the same declining path had they been able to perceive that the threat they faced was also declining.  In the case of Israel it is in fact rising.

The reality is that Jews do have power in America which sometimes seems inordinate but is in fact legally and practically circumscribed and of a “soft” long-range character.  At the historic juncture when an urgent need existed to bring that power into play American Jewish leaders were unable to mobilize it for immediate need.

Jewish political power in America feeds the anti Semitic imagination because Jews exercise the power inherent in citizenship with considerable skill and have in addition developed supplementary means to amplify it.  Jews are probably America’s most politically engaged and activist ethnic group. From the civil rights campaign to leadership of the women’s liberation movement, from the movement to halt the Darfur genocide to concern about secondary smoke, it is unlikely to find a group advocating “progressive” change which does not have a disproportionate number of Jews in its leadership and among its activists. In addition Jews have used their comparatively high per capita income to fund expensive political campaigning.  Despite the McCain Feingold campaign funding law Jews continue to fund about 60% of the Campaign needs of the Democrat party. They are disproportionately involved in the profession of politics as pundits and strategists, campaign planners and organizers and pollsters.  They display great skill in using the public relations instrument so crucial in the American political game. Jewish voters are more likely to vote and to send letters to their congressmen and newspapers expressing their opinions.  A trend to move from its customary behind the scenes role to actual office holding has sharply accelerated while old Protestant representation in the legislature (Episcopalians and Presbyterians) has declined. Jews have become an important part of the operational elite that manages America. Paradoxically the rise in Jewish representation on all levels of government and in university faculties occurs as its proportion of the general population declines.  That decline in numbers coupled with the weakening of affiliation is bound to affect the ability of American Jews to mobilize its political power. The myth of great power is balanced by the reality of its eventual decline.

In reality it is a power that is all dressed up without knowing where to go.  Jews are politically active but mostly about local issues such as zoning, education and so on.  Most of the Jewish philanthropic dollar is not spent on funding Jewish causes and a far more numerous African-American and Hispanic constituency with an urgent agenda looms in the wings. In years to come it may overshadow Jewish concern regarding Israel.

When the myth of Jewish power confronts the reality there is little to set a concerned mind at ease. The continued projection of Jewish influence or power is contingent on maintaining a degree of Jewish communal cohesiveness and coherence.  But that is problematic when most American Jews identify themselves as “just Jewish” and are otherwise unaffiliated.  Jews have exercised political power with considerable skill. One of its high points was the campaign for the recognition of Israel in 1948. Recently they achieved more in their efforts to gain the release of Soviet Jewry than they were able to do for European Jewry during the Holocaust. But the kind of power they wield has two weaknesses.  Soft power here described cannot ward off an immediate physical threat and there is no assurance that American Jewish power based on communal unity and focus will be available indefinitely….