A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 6 hours 50 minutes ago
On April 17, 1965, seven men in suits, and three women in dresses, stood on the sidewalk in front of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s big white home to demand equal rights for the LGBT community. Among them was Frank Kameny, a gay Jew who later worked to have the anti-sodomy law repealed in the 1990s.
“I’ve said for many years that San Francisco was looked upon as the center, but D.C. is very much the success story of the gay movement,” he told the Washingtonian in a 2010 interview. Kameny died in 2011.
Yosi Piamenta, a self-dubbed “Jewish rock-and-roller,” is under a medically induced coma, according to frequent collaborator Naftali Kalfa. Born in Israel in 1951, Piamenta, who first played area weddings and bar mitzvahs while a resident of Brooklyn prior to putting his stamp onto the New York City scene, has rocked international audiences for decades with genre-blending licks from his Stratocaster and Hebrew vocals, often with his brother, Avi. Piamenta, who was reportedly ill last year, has six children.
“Mentioning the late guitarist and leader of the Grateful Dead appears to be unavoidable at Mr. Piamenta’s concerts,” reported The New York Times in 1998. “With his full beard, tie-dyed shirt (adorned, of course, with religious fringes) and a psychedelically embroidered skullcap, the ”Sephardic Santana,” as he is sometimes called, makes no apologies for embracing the trappings of the counterculture.
Sábado Gigante, the longest-running variety show in television history, is shuttering production. Hosted by the 74-year-old Don Francisco, the Chilean son of Holocaust survivors, the Spanish-language program’s 53-year run will come to an end on Sept. 19, Univision has confirmed. (Francisco will continue to develop content for the network.)
“Alberto Ciurana, president of programming and content for Univision, lauded the way in which the program has established itself as a veritable family member,” reported the Los Angeles Times:
An American In Paris, the 1951 classic starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and a cast of thousands, has, like Singin’ in the Rain—its Kelly-starring and choreographed sister film of the following year—rightly been deemed by history as the apogee of the MGM musical.
Truly, it has everything: Kelly at the height of his power; Caron at the height of her loveliness; Oscar Levant at the height of his wit and musicianship; a sophisticated book by Alan Jay Lerner; a sunny score of Gershwin standards; and a twenty-minute ballet sequence which unforgettable for its athletic virtuosity and sheer magnitude of its technical accomplishment. (Kelly spent months re-designing the camera so that it could move effectively enough to capture the dynamism of the dance.) And now, in its new Broadway incarnation, An American in Paris has Nazis, or at least various explicit reminders that the romantic goings-on of these Parisians/former G.I.’s are taking place in their very long, swastika-shaped shadow—a sense that the original film is almost completely lacking.
National Jewish organizations in the United States have played a dangerous game for decades, giving safe harbor to denial of the Armenian genocide. As its 100th anniversary arrives on April 24, there is an opportunity to turn the page on a dismal chapter of Jewish American history.
The bar is set higher now than simply uttering a particular word or posting a statement to a website. Jewish leaders and organizations have to demonstrate that they recognize the humanity of Armenian people who still live in the long shadow of genocide. These families have been robbed of everything they built and earned in centuries of cultural continuity. Their injuries are compounded by Turkish denial and the complicity of those who could be allies, including ourselves.
After Israel’s 1967 war with five Arab armies saw it gain control over East Jerusalem, the Jewish state did something unprecedented: it returned control of Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, to Jordanian authorities, in the interest of preserving regional religious peace. The move would appear to be the only time in recorded history that a religious group voluntarily ceded control over its most sacred shrine to another group which also venerated the area.
Since then, the site, where the First and Second Jewish Temples once stood, and where Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven, has been a flashpoint among Muslims and Jews. Under the Islamic Waqf, the religious body which governs the area, Jews are permitted to visit but not to pray, while Muslims face no such restrictions. But as the New York Times reports today, forbidding Jews to worship at their faith’s holiest spot isn’t enough for some Palestinian extremists, who have begun harassing Jews who dare to visit the site at all.
'Israel Story' Live Show Will Tell the Stories of Residents of Israel's Ubiquitous 48 Herzl St. Address
While we wait impatiently for season two of Israel Story to start up (yes, it’s coming, later this spring!), fans living in and around New York City will soon have a chance to see a live incarnation of the radio program and podcast. The Israel Story team is coming to town for two performances of “Herzl 48,” their new multimedia show that brings stories to life through live collage animation, film, music, and radio storytelling.
The idea for “Herzl 48” came from a popular episode in the first Hebrew season of Israel Story. For that episode, Israel Story producers traveled to a very common yet entirely symbolic street address all over the country – 48 Herzl Street. Herzl streets are, of course, named after Theodore Herzl, considered the father of Zionism, and yes, “48” refers to the year the state of Israel was founded. At each stop, from Kiryat Shmoneh in the north all the way to Dimona in the south, the Israel Story producers knocked on doors to find out who lives and works there. What do they sound like, and look like? And what stories do they hold?
An Open Letter to the Jerusalem Neighborhood of Sanhedria Murchevet, Beset by Fears of a Pedophile Ring
In the last few weeks, I have received a startling number of calls and emails regarding an ongoing crisis in Sanhedria Murchevet, a neighborhood in north Jerusalem where many—including some prominent rabbis and communal leaders—believe that an organized ring of criminals have been abusing, raping, and torturing Jewish children and have been doing so for a number of years. There is also widespread belief that the abuse is at least partially religiously motivated—that operating in the community’s midst is a cult, a ring of men and women who are subjecting the children to ritual torture.
Many of the people who have contacted me, however, did so because they believe that this is, at least to some degree, a case of mass hysteria; that a significant percentage (or even all) of the allegations, especially the most fantastic, may be unfounded; that innocent people may have been or will be accused; that an untold number of lives are being ruined; and that cases of actual molestation and/or abuse could potentially be obfuscated.
Invitation to a Movement
It’s been half a century since 20- or 25,000 mostly young Americans, incensed, earnest, inexperienced, joyful, but weirdly hopeful, congregated in the Washington sunshine to declare opposition to the Vietnam War. I, one of the organizers working with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), was flabbergasted at the sight of all those rented buses parked by the Mall like a herd of friendly elephants. We who loathed the booming war were accustomed to puniness. That we could suddenly be counted in five figures was, for the moment, enough to make us think that we might actually accomplish the impossible—end a war. The civil rights movement had already shown wondrous things to be possible. Something was happening and none of us wanted to be left clueless on Desolation Row with Mr. Jones.
Even After Passing, Two Survivors of Bergen-Belsen Continue to Shape the Life of Their Granddaughter Who Carries on Their Legacy
When I was 17, I visited Germany with my family for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The trip was sponsored by the local German government and included a large number of survivors of the camp and several of their families. I remember meal after meal of smoked salmon at the hotel in Hanover, solemn performances by German orchestral groups of great importance, and wondering exactly what one wore to tour a former concentration camp. It was a heavy trip, especially for a self-absorbed teenager (I probably went with muted tones for my outfits). All I could think about was how badly I wished my grandparents were still alive, and all the things I would ask them.
That trip was 10 years ago this week, which is kind of astonishing to me. I remember when I realized that 10 years had passed since my bat mitzvah, and feeling awed by the fact that I was old enough to start measuring things in tens. How young I was! But the 10 years since that trip to Germany have been, in large part, shaped by the experience—a fact I only realized very recently, when I was asked to contribute to a book of essays called God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors.
Leading Orthodox Rabbis will meet with mental health professionals to publicly discuss the controversial issue of conversion therapy for LGBT Jews at a mental health conference on Sunday. Earlier this month, the Obama Administration said it supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy on gay and transgender minors.
“The end goal of this conference is that our leaders and experts will be well informed and able to provide proper care to LGBT Jews,” Mordechai Levovitz, a conference co-chair, told me. A gay, Orthodox man, Levovitz is also the founder and director of JQY, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing crisis and support resources for at-risk LGBT youth in the Orthodox & Hasidic community.
The NBA playoffs are ready to roll.
Last night’s final slate of regular season games determined the playoff pairings and sealed the fate for a number of not-quite-good-enough teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder, for instance, perennial owners of one of the Western Conference’s top seeds, will be watching the playoffs at home on their big TV’s. And so will the New York Knicks, who suck.
In yet another display of anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses this week, Northwestern University police are currently investigating an incident in which a swastika was drawn on a bathroom window in the university’s library, reported JTA.
“We are looking into several incidents that have occurred, involving racist or anti-Semitic graffiti, in the university library area,” Deputy Chief of University Police, Daniel McAleer told me. “We’ve had four incidents that have taken place recently in the library involving graffiti, normally using pencil,” he said.
The Pursuit of Happiness: Ibsen's Play 'Ghosts' Unwittingly Explores Ever-Relevant Challenges of Agunot
Agunot, literally “chained wives,” are those religiously observant women whose husbands refuse to grant them a get, or a religious divorce. I saw no obvious evidence of these shackles in the audience of Ghosts, a newly opened drama at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, though they were in my head, having just heard about one unfortunate agunah in New Jersey on This American Life.
Written by Henrik Ibsen in 1881, Ghosts tells the story of Helene Alving, a free-thinking wealthy widow in a rural Scandinavian village. In many ways, she too is agunah. Very early in her marriage, Helene, played by the astonishing Lesley Manville, ran away to the divinity student whom she really loved to help her escape a union she knew would be a torture. Her late husband was a drunk and a philanderer; her family forced her to marry him. Yet all those years ago, the student, now the village pastor, persuaded Helene to return home. They rehash the episode, duking out their forceful, still relevant arguments.
Imagine if at the height of Apartheid madness in South Africa, the president of the United States had decided to partner with the racist white regime in Pretoria, lift sanctions, and put that country’s illegal nuclear program on a glide path toward obtaining a nuclear bomb. Would South Africa have free and open democratic elections? Would the African continent be a better, safer place today? And what would America look like at home? Would we be a more equal country with an African-American president, or would we be something meaner and uglier? Who knows. But it seems safe to say that instead of honoring Nelson Mandela, Americans would probably be hearing a lot more of David Duke, or worse.
For 36 years now, Iranian officials have threatened to annihilate Israel. As Basij commander Mohammad Reza Naqdi said recently, “Destroying Israel is non-negotiable.” There may be different centers of power throughout the regime, as Iran experts posit, but everyone agrees with the Supreme Leader that Israel—the “Zionist cancer”—has got to go. Middle East experts and experienced Iran watchers in the West typically dismiss such threats as instrumental rhetoric intended to thrill local bigots and separate the Arab and Persian masses from their rulers. So why take such rhetoric seriously? The Iranians wouldn’t ever really use the bomb. In fact, they’re very clever, rational people.
Adam Kirsch Reviews Meyer Levin's 'Compulsion,' the 1956 Novel About the Leopold and Loeb Murder Case
When you think of how many people have died violent deaths in the last 90 years, it’s strange that a single murder from 1924 should still be remembered at all, much less regarded as the crime of the century. But the killing of 14-year-old Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb was no ordinary murder. We are used to murderers who kill out of greed, rage, jealousy, fear, or hatred; we are even used to genocides committed for ideological or political reasons. What is hard to comprehend, even today, is a murder committed for no reason at all. Yet when Leopold and Loeb, two teenage friends from wealthy Jewish families in Chicago, convinced Franks to get into their car one afternoon after school and then beat him to death with a chisel, the sheer absence of motive was itself their motive. Their goal, they explained during the subsequent investigation and trial, was to commit a “perfect crime,” by which they meant one that was entirely gratuitous, conceived as an intellectual project and carried out with a kind of scientific detachment. “It is just as easy to justify such a death as it is to justify an entomologist killing a beetle on a pin,” Leopold explained.
It’s no wonder that so many writers and filmmakers have been drawn to the Leopold and Loeb case, since the crime itself was so literary in inspiration. The killers, both child prodigies who graduated from the University of Chicago while in their teens, had absorbed their moral detachment from famous books: Crime and Punishment, where Raskolnikov philosophically justifies his murder of an old woman; Lafcadio’s Adventures, the André Gide novel that introduced the world to the idea of the acte gratuit, the motiveless crime; above all, the works of Nietzsche, which taught Leopold and Loeb that the superior man, the Übermensch, was not bound by conventional morality. These were the books that created the modern mind, with its constant temptation to nihilism, the belief that everything is permitted because everything in meaningless.
The young Belgian SS doctor Hans Delmotte arrived in Auschwitz in September 1944. Soon he saw his first selection: hundreds of bewildered, famished Jews led from railway cars and directed toward either certain death or a temporary reprieve. Delmotte was told that, as an Auschwitz doctor, he was expected to preside over selections, inspecting Jews and pointing to left or right, death or life. Shocked by this news, Delmotte collapsed. The next day, still shaking, Delmotte stammered that as a doctor he was meant to serve life, not death: He would never make a selection. He insisted to the camp commandant that he either be transferred to the Eastern front or be gassed himself. Some weeks later, Delmotte calmed down and agreed to perform his duty at the selection ramp. In Auschwitz he spent his time at the Hygiene Institute, using inmates to experiment with typhus.
Seventy years after the Allies liberated the camps, we still read about the Holocaust and the other Nazi crimes in part because we are afraid of becoming like Hans Demotte: We fear that we will start to think of monstrous actions as just the way of the world. Like Ivan Karamazov we want to remain in revolt, refusing to accept the torture of innocents. But our refusal has no effect on the fact that, within living memory, mass murder became both ordinary and necessary. To protest this fact is a futile gesture. Faced with the impossible reality of the Shoah, even our indignation becomes impossible.
In the fall of 1959, I bought my father a birthday gift of a three volume, boxed set of Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln. When he opened the wrapping paper, he raised the books to his lips and kissed them, as if he were kissing his Sabbath prayer book. He read through the volumes slowly, penciling in comments in the crowded margins. “What extraordinary prose,” he wrote on one page. “A poet, a thinker, a deep soul,” he wrote on another.
Lincoln was his idol, the great man who had saved the union.
On April 15, 1945, 70 years ago, British soldiers liberated Bergen-Belsen, and my grandmother, then Charna Francus, became a free woman. She was 19 years old when WWII began, and the proximity of Kalisz, her Polish hometown, to the German border, thrust her almost immediately into the turmoil of the war. At 24, she emerged from the ashes sick and with little family. But like so many others, my grandmother picked herself up and, with eyes firmly planted on the future, rebuilt her life. She married, had a daughter, and lived to see all three of her grandchildren born before passing away in 1991.
This brief letter, written for her English language class in 1950, reflects so much of what I have been told about my grandmother. She was intelligent, and she was reserved. My family treasures this artifact, and it is proudly read every year at the Passover Seder.
Well, my Twitter feed exploded yesterday, and it wasn’t a delayed reaction to Hillary Clinton’s announcement that—surprise, surprise!—she would be seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States, or that Marco Rubio (who? That’s the water-drinking guy, right?) would be seeking the Republican one. No, in my rarified universe, everyone is losing their minds over the astonishing news that Jake Gyllenhaal will be playing Seymour Krelborn in New York City Center’s upcoming revival of Little Shop of Horrors.
That’s right. The cutest Jewish boy in the entire world (that’s not an opinion, that’s a statement of fact) is taking on the role of the ultimate nerd (see Rick Moranis in the 1986 film version, an indelible performance by the ultimate portrayer of ultimate nerds) in a big old Broadway musical. Be still all of our hearts.