A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 4 days 9 hours ago
Harvard University Dining Services is under fire for its decision to quietly stop doing business with SodaStream, an Israeli company that currently operates in the West Bank, earlier this year.
Members of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee expressed concerns last fall that SodaStream water dispensers in some Harvard dining halls could be offensive to students in light of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has mobilized activists on campus. Following meetings with the students and university administrators, the University’s dining services, known as HUDS, which serves the majority of Harvard undergraduates, decided in April that it would no longer purchase equipment from the company.
This past week, Jews and Muslims across Poland breathed a sigh of relief as its Constitutional Court overturned the country’s ban on ritual slaughter. Since January 2013, these communities have been forced to import their meat or abstain from it altogether, in the face of legislation barring the centuries-old practices of kosher and halal slaughter. The Polish court, however, ruled that the law was an unacceptable abridgement of the fundamental religious rights of Jews and Muslims. “Poland’s top Muslim leader, Tomasz Miskiewicz, and Jewish officials in and out of Poland welcomed the decision,” the AP reported.
This verdict marks the close of a difficult period for both groups, whose daily living and religious observance was circumscribed by the ban, which had been successfully passed by animal rights activists. In one notable incident, Polish Muslims were forced to cancel their annual Eid al-Adha sacrifice. “For the first time in hundreds of years, there was no ritual slaughter here today for the Eid feast,” Michal Adamowicz, a spokesman for the community, told the AFP.
The arrests in Russia began in June 1970. A brief report on the radio said that twelve Jews had been seized at the Leningrad airport while attempting to hijack a plane to Israel. Glenn Richter called: “Comrade Kleinski? Bad news for the Jews.”
Glenn said the hijacking was probably a frame-up. But what if it wasn’t? What if some Jews had become so desperate that they were ready to force their way out of Russia? If the hijacking were real, then Soviet Jews had moved from letter-writing to violence. And our peaceful, “responsible” demonstrations would no longer be enough.
As a freshman in high school, I had two heroes, both of whom were condemned to isolation cells for speaking out against stultifying regimes of oppression. It was absurd and woefully self-indulgent for me to draw parallels between my adolescent rebellions against private-school administrators on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Adam Michnik’s unbending confrontation with the Communist Party in Poland or Anatoli Sharansky’s refusal to be broken by eight years of imprisonment in Siberia. I even knew it was absurd. But I did it anyway, because 14 is an absurd age. I believed that the cause of human freedom anywhere was the cause of human freedom everywhere.
Of the two, Michnik’s fate was the more precious to me. I cut out a black-and-white photograph of him from the inside pages of a magazine that I found in our high-school library and taped it to the door of my locker–not on the inside, but on the outside, in open violation of school policy. Luckily, no one in my high-school administration seemed to have any idea who Michnik was, or else the message of defiance that I intended would surely have been noticed by the authorities. I read everything I could find about Michnik, which wasn’t much, and was happy when the Polish authorities released him from prison for an afternoon so he could attend his father’s funeral, where he flashed a victory sign to the assembled mourners and secret policemen that was duly reported in a single paragraph of a longer article in the New York Times.
The other day I ran into Peter Beinart, who spent seven years as editor of The New Republic, and I asked him why the magazine’s demise was attracting so much attention in the press. I wanted him to say something oracular about The New Republic and its mythic place in American culture. But, too practical for me, he merely observed that a good many people in the opinion-writing business got their start at the magazine, and these people, the TNR alumni, have wanted to have their say. On the other hand, Beinart’s explanation may be a down-to-earth way of making precisely my point. A magazine that commands the angry loyalty of a large number of journalists long after their departure from the place can only be a mythic magazine.
My own contributions to The New Republic began in 1975, and, when I think back on my early experiences, I notice that mythology preoccupied me from the start. I happened to be reading F. Scott Fitzgerald when my first reviews appeared, and one of his books led to another until I had made my way to This Side of Paradise, from 1920, about Princeton students and their post-student lives. And, lo, I stumbled across the ex-Princeton student Tom D’Invilliers, who toils as literary editor of a magazine signficantly called New Democracy. My heart leapt and has never entirely returned to its previous serenity. Fitzgerald is said to have based Tom on a real-life Princeton poet named John Peale Bishop, Class of 1917, but I have always assumed that something in Tom—too cerebral for his own good—derives from another of Fitzgerald’s college friends, Edmund Wilson, Class of 1916. Wilson: one of The New Republic’s titanic literary editors. And absolutely the magazine stands at a mythic center of American life.
Hanukkah is a festive celebration during which Jews get together with family and friends, light the candles, tell the story of the holiday (whatever it actually is), and inhale oily foods in commemoration of the ancient oil lasting eight days instead of one. Given all that family time—and the greasy food—you may find yourself needing a drink.
Cafe Edison, the beloved New York City Jewish restaurant known for cheap, comforting Eastern European food, will officially close its doors December 21, Vanishing New York reports. Known as the Polish Tea Room, the long-time theater district staple will end its 34-year run at the Edison Hotel Sunday night, staying open “until the last person leaves.”
News of the Polish Tea Room’s impending closure first broke in November, when it was announced that the Edison Hotel, which houses the cafè, was planning a multi-million dollar renovation, including the installation of an upscale restaurant. Customers old and new crowded the restaurant in ‘lunch mobs’ and ‘dinner mobs’ organized by activists and supporters eager to see the Manhattan institution remain.
Vice’s Munchies video series has some occasional gems, and the first installation of their Hanukkah Spectacular! is one of them. I mean that literally: the video features comedian Eliot Glazer making gold-painted chocolate gelt, the truest Hanukkah gem of all.
“I’m definitely one of these people who says, ‘I’m a cultural Jew, I identify culturally,'” Glazer, who’s the brother of Broad City star Ilana Glazer, admits, “which basically just means I’m Jewish for the food.”
Alan Gross, the USAID contractor detained in Cuba in December 2009 for setting up Internet access in Jewish communities without permission from the Cuban government, has been released today as part of a prisoner swap between Cuba and the United States, the AP reports. “Officials said Gross was on a U.S. government plane bound for the U.S. Wednesday morning after being released on humanitarian grounds by the Cuban government at the request of the Obama administration.”
President Obama is expected to confirm Gross’ release today, as well as the release of three Cuban prisoners held in the U.S. since 2001. The three men were members of the Cuban Five, intelligence officers sent to South Florida by then-President Fidel Castro. The prisoner exchange marks a stark improvement in relations between the two countries.
5 tablespoons schmaltz or vegetable oil, plus more as needed
1. Put 2 tablespoons of schmaltz into a large heavy-bottomed frying pan set over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cover the pan. Once the onions start sizzling, lower the heat and continue cooking, covered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then cook, uncovered and stirring frequently, over medium-high heat for about 20 more minutes, or until the onions are brown and caramelized.
Chopped liver has come to mean second best (“What am I, chopped liver?”). But this appetizer doesn’t have to be second best. As a rabbi once told me, gehakte leber is perhaps the only uniquely Jewish dish.
Chopped liver originated in Alsace Lorraine, known in the 11th century as Ashkenaz. There, for the first time, Jews migrating north from the warmer climates of the olive oil-rich Mediterranean learned to use schmaltz—rendered fat from the geese in that part of France. For the Sabbath, they wanted to eat a delicacy made from liver, an organ of the chicken known since ancient times to have so much blood in it that it was thought to contain the soul of man. Before observant Jews could eat liver the blood had to be removed, because blood means life, so they put tiny slits in the meat and broiled it to remove the blood before serving. Rendered fat (in this case, chicken fat) lubricated the liver, onions (cooked or raw) sweetened it, and hard-boiled eggs lightened the dish. While French Jews often turned their chopped liver into a kind of pâté (see my book Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France), Jews who migrated to Eastern Europe enjoyed it in its original chopped form, and that’s what they brought to America when they immigrated.
On her way through my apartment where I’d recently hosted the author Daphne Merkin for her interviews, she stopped to admire a couple of my daughter’s old dolls perched on a cabinet in the dining room. “I like dolls,” she said. I nodded since the subject comes up in her new book, The Fame Lunches, where she recalls how she and her sister used to play a game of orphanage, “disciplining our dolls and eating deconstructed sandwich cookies.” I’d done somewhat the same thing during my own childhood, mysteriously pampering or punishing my “orphan” dolls, alternately feeding them and denying them treats. In thinking back, I realized those make-believe meals that Merkin described were powerfully charged and overlaid with meaning. They established patterns of imagination interlaced with everything from feelings about love to peripheral political events including, for me, the McCarthy hearings and the Eichmann Trial, and for Merkin, the expulsion of her parents from Europe.
From her first book, the novelistic memoir Enchantment, to her belles-lettristic essays, Merkin has chronicled personal history, which is, of course, woven through public history, sometimes adding, sometimes subtracting details. She was born in 1954 into a large wealthy Orthodox family with an apartment on the East Side and a second home in Long Beach and then Atlantic Beach, N.Y. Her parents, German Jews, were refugees from Hitler’s Germany. Her father, a financier, was a philanthropist who generously spread money around Jewish charities while withholding at home. Her mother was emotionally complex but capricious with affection. She was hospitalized as a young child because of inconsolable crying; depression, about which she has written often, has hounded her ever since. She went to Barnard and later was mentored by Diana Trilling and William Jovanovich. She was married and divorced. She has a daughter. In 1996 she wrote a notorious article for The New Yorker, “Unlikely Obsession,” about her history with spanking. The Merkin family has a public presence in New York City, and her older brother J. Ezra, a hedge-fund manager, has been in the news due to his connections with Bernard Madoff.
‘Twas Erev Hanukkah, and I sat on my tush
Not expecting to hear from—of all creatures—Jeb Bush.
By now, the leaked emails between Sony co-chair Amy Pascal and multi-hyphenate super-producer Scott Rudin (among others)—the result of a hack that in true Hollywood blockbuster fashion may or may not have been the work of nefarious North Koreans bent on preventing the release of… wait for it… a Seth Rogen movie—have become the stuff of legend.
Like everyone in the entertainment community, I have read the leaks with rapt, if somewhat ashamed, attention, and like everyone in the entertainment community, I am shocked, shocked, that they weren’t way worse. Angelina Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat”? Is that really the best a man of Rudin’s storied taste and erudition can do? Being peeved that $3 million dollars apparently doesn’t buy you a couple of rote tweets from Kevin Hart promoting his own movie? Sounds reasonable enough to me. Certain Fourth Estate types seem very concerned that Maureen Dowd offering to allow Pascal’s husband, former Times-man Bernard Weintraub, to see a profile Dowd wrote of Pascal before it went to press is a real threat to serious journalism, but let’s be real: Anyone who thinks Maureen Dowd is a serious journalist has bigger problems than that.
Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, and Jews around the world have already received their first gift. Celebrated Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, in a rare tweet today in response to a fan’s query, revealed the presence of a Hebrew at Hogwarts.
.@benjaminroffman Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard.
This week, a court in the northern German city of Lueneburg announced that 93-year old former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening, who in September was charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder, will be put on trial in the coming year.
The charges are related to a specific two-month period at the end of the war, between May and July 1944, when an estimated 137 trains arrived at the camp carrying 425,000 people, nearly 300,000 of whom were killed almost immediately upon arrival. Groening was a guard at the camp from 1942 through 1944.
Something is missing from my holiday season, and it haunts me.
I grew up celebrating Hanukkah, singing all the requisite songs, lighting the menorah all eight nights, and gorging on latkes, sometimes with applesauce and sometimes with sour cream. My childhood Hanukkah memory, however, is not a bright menorah or twirling dreidel, but a dim eight-pocketed plastic Hanukkah wall hanging which seldom bore presents that excited me.
In a short video posted on YouTube this morning, a somewhat creepy-looking hipster in plaid, with a full beard, glasses, and cap stumbles around Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, apologizing profusely for anything and everything that happens through no fault of his own, be it a car accident or coffee spilt on him. While in the United States these apologies might be seen as just being overly polite, in Israel it is the clear mark of a spineless lefty. When the man reads, in Haaretz, the translation of a New York Times editorial—Haaretz and the Times, those twin evils!—calling on Israel to apologize for the 2011 flotilla incident, he says: “they’re right!”
Finally, he pulls off his beard and ironic baseball hat. The hipster is revealed to be Naftali Bennett, Minister of the Economy, senior member of the Cabinet and leader of the right-wing Habayit Hayheudi, or Jewish Home party.
Let’s give ourselves over to fantasy for a moment. Imagine a Hanukkah party that’s simple, fresh, and beautiful.
The menu: easy to prepare.
Last week, we read that it is a mitzvah to produce children, in accordance with God’s instruction to Adam and Eve, “be fruitful and multiply.” The rabbis debated how many children a Jew had to produce to fulfill the commandment, with some saying a boy and a girl was enough, while others said two boys were needed. (Notably, no one was content with two girls, presumably because a daughter did not continue a family’s line and property.) But is it only men who are commanded to have children, or are women equally obligated? This was a subject of disagreement in this week’s Daf Yomi reading. In Yevamot 65b, the mishna reads: “A man is commanded with regard to the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply, but not a woman. Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka says that a woman is also commanded.”