A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 31 min 53 sec ago
Joseph Telushkin’s article, “Black Lives Matter and Self-Hating Jews,” published on Tablet yesterday, put forth a long-held claim that Polish-Jewish-German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was the archetypal “self-hating Jew.” I take issue here with the characterization of Luxemburg as a self-hating Jew and dispute much of the evidence provided by Telushkin.
In Telushkin’s piece, he begins by describing Luxemburg as “one of the most famous” self-hating Jews. It is true that Luxemburg has often been labeled as such (from her opponents in the Jewish Bund in the Russian Empire onwards), but the accusation itself is utterly false. Telushkin writes:
A new survey of Florida’s Jewish voters has found that Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump by a margin of 66 to 23. The poll was conducted by veteran pollster Jim Gerstein of GBA Strategies and first reported by Jewish Insider. With a Jewish population between 600,000 and 700,000, the swing state’s Jewish community is a crucial component of any winning electoral coalition.
The poll’s results are important not just for what they say about Florida, but what they suggest about the rest of the country. In the 2012 election, Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney 68-31 among Floridian Jews, according to exit polls. Thus, at just 23 points, Trump has lost over 25 percent of Romney’s Jewish vote share in the state. It is not so much that Republican voters are flocking to Clinton as that they can’t stomach voting for Trump, a very poor indicator for the GOP candidate.
Lots of us are going on end-of-summer driving excursions—some longer than others. Here are some Jewish twists on traditional travel games to keep the fam engaged and edified!
I’m Going on a Picnic
The Chosen Ones is a weekly column by author and comedian Periel Aschenbrand, who interviews Jews doing fabulous things.
The most competent wing of the pro-Trump effort might be in Israel. Earlier this month, Republicans Overseas Israel launched an outreach campaign aimed at American voters living in the country. According to the West Bank-based website Arutz Sheva, Trump supporters now have three small offices in Israel—in Ramat Gan, Modiin and Jerusalem—that are attempting to sway the estimated 400,000 American registered voters residing in the Jewish state. Arutz Sheva reported that a fourth office will be soon opened “over the Green Line in Samaria,” in the West Bank.
The Israel-based pro-Trump operation has a granularity and an organizational rigor seldom in evidence in the Republican candidate’s official campaign. Both JTA and Arutz Sheva reported that Trump supporters are micro-targeting 30,000 expat voters with registrations in potential swing-states. This sophisticated and labor-intensive effort is in marked contrast to the actual campaign’s stateside ground game, which has been disorganized and skeletal, even in places Trump needs to win. And it draws an interesting if unflattering contrast to the Trump campaign’s U.S.-based Jewish outreach, which seems to consist of only a single campaign liaison to the Jewish community.
As a Jew, I practice Judaism.
Is that a dim-witted statement? I apologize; it’s just that so many of our brothers and sisters these days make a point of telling me that, as a Jew, I ought to do this or that or the other thing. As Jews, thunder the young activists, we should embrace the Black Lives Matter platform even as it singles out the Jewish State, alone among the world’s nations, for calumny and outrageously accuses it of genocide. As Jews, lectures the doctoral candidate, we should reject Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, the single engine driving our people to the brink of disaster. And to hear the columnist tell it, we should even, as Jews, rise against the French ban on “burkinis,” the full-bodied wetsuit some Muslim women choose to wear for modesty’s sake while bathing at the beach. These are all stirring causes worthy of consideration. They have, however, absolutely nothing to do with the fundamentals of our faith.
Vu Ahin Zol Ikh Geyn?
Written in the 1930s by the Polish Yiddish actor Igor S. Korntayer, this plaintive Yiddish ballad describes in stark terms the dilemma faced by German Jews desperate to escape from their homeland after Hitler came to power. Suffering through a worldwide economic depression, Western nations, including the United States and Canada, imposed stringent immigration laws and rigid quotas and were unwilling to accept large numbers of refugees. In order to better identify German Jews who tried to enter the country, the Swiss government asked the German government to stamp a large red “J,” for “Jude,” in the passports of all German Jewish citizens. Thwarted from emigrating to the West, thousands of German Jews fled eastward by sea and land routes seeking refuge in Asia and the Far East, especially the open city of Shanghai.
In the Feb. 7, 1969 edition of The Jewish Press, Irene Klass, the former publisher of the newspaper, wrote an article called “Steven Hill’s Million IMpossible.” The title, of course, was a nod to Hill’s lead role as Dan Briggs on TV’s Mission Impossible—a role he held onto for just one year, in part because of certain “difficulties,” including the actor’s refusal to work late on Shabbat. Hill died Tuesday in Monsey, New York, where he lived for decades. He was 94.
Hill, who was born Solomon Krakovsky, became Orthodox in the early 1960s. His friend Rabbi Mayer Schiller, who’s based in Monsey and called the actor a mentor, said he remembers the day they met in 1964, during a series of visits Hill took to the village of New Square, which coincided with Schiller’s own internal search for meaning. Also there was Skverer Rebbe Yaakov Yosef Twersky. “The very first time we met, he turned to me and said, ‘He’s the Rebbe, he’s a very holy man.'”
Between 1939 and 1945, one-third of the Jewish people in the world were murdered. That was genocide. And since Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 in a war of self-defense, the Arab population in these two areas has gone from just over a million to well over 4 million. That is not genocide. If anything, it’s a population explosion.
Why is it worth mentioning this demographic data? Because the recently released manifesto of the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement set up to address the issue of innocent black men who have been shot by police officers, includes a broadened agenda denouncing Israel, the Jewish homeland, for practicing “genocide” against the Palestinians.
On display at a London gallery through Sept. 3 is a project by Israeli artist Sigalit Landau called “Salt Bride,” consisting of eight images that document the material transformation of a dress submerged in the Dead Sea for two years. The dress is supposed to resemble the costume worn by Leah, a young bride possessed by an evil spirit in S. Ansky’s play The Dybbuk, which made it onto Tablet’s list of 101 Greatest Jewish Books.
According to the show’s press release, “Leah’s black garb is transformed underwater as salt crystals gradually adhere to the fabric. Over time, the sea’s alchemy transforms the plain garment from a symbol associated with death and madness into the wedding dress it was always intended to be.”
The excavation of a Nazi-era train that has never been confirmed to exist began over a week ago in Poland. The dig was led by explorers Piotr Koper, from Poland, and Andreas Richter, from Germany, who claimed to have located the mythical train—believed to have carried riches for the Nazis toward the end of World War II—in secret tunnels below the Owl Mountains in southwest Poland. The project, however, was fruitless. Well, except for a lot of dirt.
“Unfortunately, the excavation has revealed no train, no tunnel and no trackway in the location where we thought they would be,” said Andrzej Gaik, a spokesman for the dig, who spoke with The New York Times on Wednesday.
On Unorthodox, Thomas Chatterton Williams Asks If Jews Are White, Plus MagneticShul Creator Justin Sakofs
Our Jewish guest is Justin Sakofs, creator of MagneticShul, a lunchbox-size toy designed to engage kids in ritual Jewish life. He tells us how he went from being a Jewish educator to a toy inventor, why kids should be encouraged to have fun in synagogue, and when we can expect MagneticSukkah, MagneticSeder, and MagneticShabbat.
For readers tired of the same old partisan American ideologies, Yuval Levin, in his book The Fractured Republic, offers something new and seductive. He wants everyone to get real about a new reality, one that baby-boomer ideologues of all stripes have obscured. Levin, founder and editor of National Affairs magazine and a theorist highly touted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, seeks a sweet spot from which he can scorn both the conventional Left and Right as retrograde. Literally retrograde. When they should be modernizing, getting their minds around an age of “fracture” (to use the title of an excellent book by the historian Daniel T. Rodgers, oddly unmentioned by Levin) and the cultural triumph of “expressive individualism” (a coinage of my former Berkeley colleagues Robert Bellah and co-authors, whose devising of the term also goes oddly unmentioned), all the ideologues are rowing back ceaselessly into the past. They all pine to Make American Great Again, you might say, though they disagree on what exactly was great and when.
All the stale partisans, Levin maintains, need rescue from the “politics of dueling nostalgias”—mostly from nostalgia for the 1950s and ’60s, but in the case of the Right, also for the deregulatory uplift of the business-friendly Reagan years. The Left longs for the ’50s-’60s period of high growth and diminished inequality. Then, Progressive reason reigned supreme, along with that bogeyman “conformity”; it was not yet fashionable to see the world from a subcultural or individual perspective. The Right, for its part, longs for a common culture, for the “Judeo-Christian” synthesis, for “Howdy Doody” and “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver,” before expressive individualism and diffused subcultures took over.
The Indecipherable Voynich Manuscript Is Getting Cloned, And You Can Soon Buy a Copy for, Like, $8000
In 2013, Tablet contributor Batya Ungar-Sargon wrote a fantastic article about the Voynich Manuscript, a 240-page work written in code, which incorporates an indecipherable script (the alphabet contains between 20 and 30 characters), and pictures and diagrams, and many, many (illustrations of) naked ladies bathing in pools and holding hands.” It is named after a book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, “who first began to mention it in his correspondence in 1912.” It remains “a mysterious manuscript has plagued historians, mathematicians, linguists, physicists, cryptologists, curators, art historians, programmers, and lay enthusiasts alike. … After 100 years, the manuscript’s language still has yet to be deciphered.”
Cool, right? Yes, très cool.
Esther Jungreis, who died on Tuesday at the age of 80, was an Orthodox Jewish outreach pioneer who famously crusaded against secularism, liberalism, and the assimilation of the American Jewish community, a phenomenon she called “spiritual genocide.”
She led mass revivals across the globe throughout the ’70s and ’80s—spectacles where thousands of young Jews sang and prayed together as she held forth with her message. She published books, pamphlets, and a decades-long weekly column in The Jewish Press in an effort to articulate the purpose of Jewish tradition in modern America. Her softly demanding Hungarian-accented English is already the stuff of legend.
Well, that was surprisingly fast! Three weeks after we first learned that the venerable Stephen Sondheim was working on a new musical, we’ve now learned that there was a super hush-hush reading of his new musical—its working title is Bunuel—at The Public Theater in New York, under the auspices of its artistic director, Oskar Eustis.
According to New York Post theater columnist and gossip-about-town Michael Riedel, despite the secrecy, the reading was a star-studded affair, featuring top-tier Broadway talent like Norm Lewis, Shuler Hensley, Sierra Boggess, Nancy Opel, Mark Kudisch, and superdirector Joe Mantello, who is the kind of guy who gets offered pretty much anything in his wheelhouse, which is pretty much everything. Certainly, the first new Sondheim show in almost two decades cemented his attendance.
NYT Columnist 'You Have to Decide Whether or Not You Want to Be Part of the Bigotry That Is Donald Trump'
Welcome back to #TrumpWatch, where Tablet presents the daily low-lights of Donald Trump’s attempt to use the dark forces of bigotry to become President of the United States. Today, I’m just going to leave this right here, for your viewing pleasure:
Assad's 'Machinery of Cruel Death': Amnesty International's Report about the Syrian Regime's Prison System
The catastrophe in Syria has been going on long enough to become part of the underlying structure of international politics. The immolation of a country of 25 million people—a conflict that has displaced over 12 million people and killed an estimated 400,000—is something for the global powers to work around, rather than actively solve, and it’s arguably been treated that way for years. Syria has long been considered a side-note to other, more pressing issues. For instance, Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon recently claimed that the U.S. edged off of Barack Obama’s chemical weapons “red line” in September of 2013 in order to preserve its ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, which supports the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
But as regional and global powers continue to coldly and unsuccessfully manage the conflict and its consequences, and as the possibility of a decisive military or diplomatic resolution fades, the world’s attention has largely shifted away from the dynamics inside of Syria itself—to the point that even the most appalling facts about the country’s tragedy have lost any broader political resonance. Regime bombings of hospitals have been reduced to minor news items; the mind-boggling reality that over 730 doctors have been killed during the outbreak of civil war is but a tiny factoid embedded in a monotony of horrors. The worse the war gets, the less morally or geo-strategically urgent the carnage seems to become.
What do those who bravely resist oppression owe their fellow men living under totalitarian rule? That is the question posed by the new World War II film Anthropoid, which thrillingly depicts the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich— the Nazi leader assigned by Adolf Hitler personally to rule the occupied Czech lands—and its tragic aftermath. Long after the Third Reich’s collapse, there exists a natural tendency to venerate any and all acts of resistance against that evil regime, even the most hopeless. No one questions the doomed Jews who took part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which, even if it had succeeded in its limited goals of opening the city’s gates, would have been quashed by the Nazis all the same. But what if an individual deed incurs human costs—in the form of widescale, murderous retribution—that, at least judging by the number of victims, seemingly outweighs the benefits? While Anthropoid (the name of the mission to kill Heydrich) ultimately judges his assassination to have been both morally and strategically just, it does so in highly nuanced fashion, humanizing the more quiescent characters in a way that neither paints them as cowards nor detracts from the heroism of the film’s daring protagonists.
Anthropoid begins in the snowy forests outside Prague in late December 1941. Czech military officer Ján Kubiš (Jamie Dornan) and his Slovak accomplice, Josef Gabcík (Cillian Murphy), parachute into Czechoslovakia from an RAF plane. Two years earlier, after the German invasion of their homeland, the men had escaped to Britain, where they trained with the Special Operations Executive, a clandestine organization that supported resistance movements in occupied Europe. At the same time, Heydrich, deputy of the SS and chief of the Reich Main Security Office, was head of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Slovakia having been rendered a collaborationist puppet regime under the rule of the Catholic priest Jozef Tiso) for only four months. Yet in that short period, the slim-featured, 37-year-old Nazi had already earned the monikers “Butcher of Prague” and “the Blond Beast.” A creator of the Einsatzgruppen mobile killing units that would go on to murder 2 million people in the fields of Eastern Europe, Heydrich would soon convene the Wannsee conference, where Hitler’s top lieutenants devised the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
My grandmother’s tchotchkes were the parts that made up her world, the dust-collecting bric-a-brac that told her life story. When she finally consented to move into an assisted-living facility, the reality hit her like a tempest, forcing her to take that world apart. She needed me, and I agreed to help.
During one packing-up visit, she surveyed the assemblage on the dining room table and asked me what I wanted to remember her by. Cake stands, dainty saucers, my grandfather’s kiddush cup—all of it stared up at me. I joked that I already inherited her bunions, but had no other answer. I wanted everything and I wanted nothing because I wanted her instead. She chose items for me she knew I would regret not taking and wrapped them in pages from the Post.