Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
To which I say: Mr. Shalev, please explain yourself. What does “a true declaration of war” mean? Who is Israel now at war with? With all of Poland? With Polish neo-Nazis (the presumed perpetrators)? With the thieves themselves? With anti-Semitism? And is it all of Israel that is now at war with one or all of these groups or is it just Yad Vashem? Or are Jews around the world at war? Will I be expected to grab a weapon and fight? Yes, I am being a little flip and perhaps it’s not appropriate, but with all due respect, your reaction completely over the top. Yes, this was a vandalization of a sacred place for Jews and for all other groups imprisoned and killed in Auschwitz. But the Polish government and police acted appropriately and after only three days, the sign was found. If these civil bodies reacted more coolly or ignored the incident all together, then it would be cause for greater outrage. But they didn’t.
Moreover, while the theft of the sign is serious, it’s still less serious than if a synagogue had been torched, Jewish Poles had been killed, or any other acts of senseless violence had been perpetrated. Again, if that were the case, then it would be cause for serious concern. But it wasn’t. So please Mr. Shalev, save your declarations of war for the truly heinous acts.
Update (1/1/10): It looks like the Swedes might have been behind the theft.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Switzerland is apparently the gift that just keeps giving. Yesterday, JTA reported to that a mainstream political leader is calling for a ban on separate cemeteries for Muslims and Jews.
For some levity, Jon Stewart comments on the minaret ban in Switzerland.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Oliver's Travels - Switzerland|
Saturday, November 21, 2009
"My name is Henio Zytomirski. I am seven-years-old. I live on 3 Szewska Street in Lublin [Poland]." This excerpt is from the profile of Heino Zytomirski, a young addition to Facebook. Why is this newsworthy? Because Heino is dead. He was killed in the Holocaust before the age of 10. His profile and status updates are written by Piotr Buzek, a 22 year-old staff member of the Brama Grodzka Cultural Center in Lublin. The Center says that it is harnessing new technology to teach the internet generation about the history of Jews in Poland and to keep their memory alive.
To be perfectly honest, I feel queasy about this approach. First of all, much of what the Center does focuses on Lublin’s Jewish past. Which is important and necessary. But in doing so, it looks backwards and not ahead. There is increasing evidence that Jewish communities in Poland not only exist, but are growing. Just look at the articles published by JTA over the past few days. So why isn’t the Center celebrating and advertising those triumphs? It could easily choose a young 20-something contemporary, living, Polish Jew to talk about his life, experiences, hopes to friends around the world.
Secondly, how can Heino’s story, as horrific as it is, help us today? If more non-Jews are aware of Jewish life in Poland pre-Holocaust and about their subsequent extinction through Heino and his Facebook page, then, again, I applaud the Center’s efforts. But it does no good to focus solely on the Holocaust and not address contemporary issues and conflicts. It is not enough to focus on the past with 20/20 hindsight and proclaim what we should have or would have done. It is too easy to demonstrate support for a long-deceased boy from the comfort and safety of our own homes via computer. Efforts like these are gimmicks, superficial stabs at righting old wrongs that we can never right, however we might wish it otherwise. No matter how many friends Heino makes, they will never be able to save him from death.
Issues of anti-Semitism and intolerance and racism continue to exist in Poland, just as they exist everywhere. There are contemporary victims of other types of oppression and violence around the world whose fates are not sealed and for whom our actions can make a difference. These are the people that we should be creating Facebook pages for. The Center should harness the power and energy of social media and its users to offer a means to organize and fight against injustice that can actually make a difference. If nothing else, we owe to it Heino.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Four Seasons Lodge is a lyrical yet powerful mediation on love, aging, and the importance of friendship. The film, shot in 2006, follows a group of 50 couples, all Holocaust survivors, on their last annual trip to the Four Seasons Lodge, one of the few remaining resorts in the Catskills. Shot in a Robert Altman-esque style, we are given fleeting glimpses into the lives of these individuals, while much remains a mystery. Unlike most documentaries about Holocaust survivors, the focus of this film is not the survivors’ wartime experiences. In fact, we learn very little about their lives during that time aside from some brief shots of arm tattoos, a few allusions to Auschwitz, and a smattering of faded black and white photographs. Instead, the real centerpiece is the enduring friendship that have sustained these men and women in their postwar lives. This retreat in the Catskills provides not only a break from city life, but also a refuge where they could feel comfortable being themselves, no matter their demons, while surrounded by others who shared their experiences.
The movie is powerful in its simplicity. It has no real narrative arc and the filmmakers don’t push the survivors to tell their stories. Rather the camera allows us a peek the inner workings of this family that they’ve created for themselves out of the ashes of Holocaust. Warts and all.
It's now playing at Quad Cinemas.
For a more in depth review of the film, click here.
Watch the trailer here:
Monday, November 16, 2009
What the article doesn't address however, is how or why Israeli banks have these goods and how they acquired them. From the survivors themselves? From Swiss banks? From relatives? Interestingly, I haven't found any other articles about this issue in Israeli or Jewish papers.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
1) The opening night of the conference, I had a conversation with a guy who works at the U.A.E. embassy and who grew up in Dubai. He told me that he had just arrived in DC a few weeks ago and spent part of his first pay check on the conference fee. When I pointed out to him that this was quite a gesture, he said that growing up in Dubai he never learned about the Holocaust or heard Jews spoken about in a positive way. It wasn't until he was at college in Australia did he learn about the Holocaust and was overwhelmed by how much he didn't know about Jews and Jewish history. Since then, he has been a strong supporter of real peace in the region and was excited by what J Street is trying to do. He didn't, however, tell his colleagues at the embassy that he was attending the conference.
2) I also met a junior member of the Swiss Embassy who was there officially. I didn't realize how engaged the Swiss government is in the Middle East and how it tries to provide a neutral ground for many of the parties involved. The ambassador told me that the Embassy likes to keep up to date on the various movements within the American Jewish community and so he was there to get a sense of what J Street was all about from the inside. They didn't spring for the gala dinner though...
3) One of the best breakout sessions I went to was a theater performance sponsored by TheaterJ. It was a one woman show performed by Noa Baum, an Israeli who now lives in the DC area. She took her years-long friendship with a Palestinian woman and wove their conversations into an incredibly moving mediation on friendship, war, and family. Through her show, Noa was able to vividly bring to life the real people behind the 'Israeli' or 'Palestinian' label and demonstrate how often they have much more in common than they imagine.
I'll post a longer piece soon on one of the major debates of the conference: what it means to be 'pro-Israel.' Stay tuned.
I guess I'd better scrap that grant proposal I was working on.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I can't quite put my finger on why the confluence of treif, the Holocaust, Simchas Torah, and the female lead wafting through the window in a white nightgown with a star of David around her neck like in a modern-day Chagall painting is so amusing--but it really is!
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
"You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah!," an account of the coming-0f-age trials of Stacy Friedman and her misplaced affection for one Andy Goldfarb-a classmate who speaks in hip-hop slang, and whose belt buckle reads "G-Farb..." (The New Yorker, October 19, 2009)
Anyone know a tween girl I can borrow this from?
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Earlier this year, I got several emails from the Manhattan JCC, as well as from other Jewish orgs., warning me that a hateful and offensive (they put it more diplomatically) church based in Topeka, Kansas would be picketing them and advised visitors to simply ignore the group on their way into and out of the JCC. "Although you are entitled to your right to free speech" the email read, "we ask that you calmly pass these protesters and walk directly into our building without incident."
I can certainly understand why these orgs. would not want to draw additional attention to this group, but I didn't feel entirely comfortable with the idea of just doing nothing. Even if it wouldn't change their mind (they are obviously too far-gone for that to happen), it would demonstrate that their views are repugnant to the average New Yorker. So, I was thrilled open my local paper this morning and discover that when the group came to Beth Elohim, one of Park Slope's largest synagogues, on the day before Yom Kippur, a crowd of a hundred or more were there to greet them and drowned out the hate speech with calls for tolerance and unity. And despite a local synagogue's email which asked for people to ignore them, the synagogue's Rabbi climbed on the roof of the synagogue and defiantly blew the shofar.
And what ultimately happened? Yes, the incident got publicity. But the story was not that the church protested in Park Slope, but rather that the community rose up against them, outnumbered them and ultimately drowned them out. Now that is absolutely the kind of coverage that I can get behind.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Not surprisingly, all of the media coverage I've seen has been from the Western/Israeli Jewish perspective. Any space given to the Ukrainians has been quotes from Jewish leaders hypothesizing why the Kiev city council acted as they did. For instance, the Jerusalem Post offers this from Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, "perhaps it is not surprising that such a decision was made in a country in which there was extensive participation of locals in the mass murder of the Jews...Since their independence, [Ukraine] has not investigated a single case of a local Nazi war criminal, let alone brought any such murderers to justice."
It is all well and good to write articles vilifying those who wish to destroy Holocaust memorial sites, but what new do we gain from those pieces? Not much. Dr. Zuroff attributes Kiev’s lack of respect for Holocaust victims to anti-Semitism. But that kind of rhetoric neglects to take into account the cultural and societal narratives that evolved in the Soviet Bloc around World War II and the Holocaust that sharply diverge from those in the West and in Israel. More helpful would be some insight into the thinking behind the hotel proposal or questioning if the city council understood the full significance of the site. Anti-Jewish sentiment or Holocaust denial may have played a part, but in the often corrupt Ukrainian government, I’m sure that there were other baser motives as well—like greed.
To build a hotel on the Babi Yar site would be grossly inappropriate. And even if we do gain a deeper understanding of the Ukrainian position, this does not make the council’s initial decision less offensive. However, there is nothing to be lost by trying to insert more nuance into the discussion, even if the conclusions remain the same.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
CBC tries a little too hard to create a link between the positive reception to LMOP and a possible thawing of relations between Jews and Muslims in Israel. Plus, it is, of course, much easier to feel at ease with humorous characters of any religious background on TV than to confront generations-old battles in your own backyard.
The show succeeds because it humanizes its subject with warmth and humor, and most importantly a light touch, as it simultaneously tries to address heavier issues of integration, prejudice, assimilation, etc. In a country as tough and hardbitten as Israel, some of LMOP's plots may come across as fluffy or even worse, unfunny. But even light comedy, smartly done, can affect change where much else has failed and a feel-good Canadian sitcom may be as good a place to start as any.
On September 24, Mustapha Kessous, a journalist for Le Monde, wrote a piece detailing the prejudices that he must confront daily as an Arab male in French society. Kessous' article resulted in a record number of comments on the Le Monde website, many of them with similar testimonials detailing the author’s own experiences of discrimination.
France's leaders have, for too long, pushed aside the significant problem of race and prejudice in French society. Perhaps this article, and its overwhelming response, will underscore the significance of this reality and encourage the French government, and by extension the larger French society, to address this issue head-on rather than spend its time banning headscarves and willfully ignoring the real anger that fuels the annual violent riots in the banlieues.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I can't speak for their veracity, but certainly hope that their efforts bring some needed nuance to the discussion.
I took a few pictures of the outside of the building, but unfortunately couldn't get any of the inside of the apartments. But, hopefully this will whet your appetite to go and see the real thing!
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
"Obama. Did. Not. Link. The Holocaust. To. Israel's founding.
...America's bond with Israel -- not Israel's existence -- is rooted in three things: Culture. History. And sympathy for the tragedy of Jewish history. In its entirety. Not just the Holocaust. Obama's presumption -- and it's not a stretch by any means -- is to imagine these three elements are what sustain American support for Israel: 'America's strong bonds ... this bond ... it is based.' Nowhere does he say, he has not
ever said, 'And the sole underpinning of this bond is the Holocaust.' Nowhere
does he say, he has not ever said, 'And because of this bond, Israel exists.'
Saying this does not, by any means, discount the lives of the 6,000
Israelis who fell fighting for its independence. It is plainly delusional to
suggest as much."
Pleased as I was to have my opinion vindicated, this episode also left me with a more important question--why do American Jewish leaders continue to give life to this falsehood? Do they not realize that these kinds of misstatements only help to fan flames of anxiety already present within the Jewish community? What do they hope to accomplish? While all Jews may not agree with the path that President Obama is pursuing in the Middle East, that is no excuse for Jewish leaders to be absolved of their responsibility to present accurate information to their constituents. Indeed, if these leaders truly wished to provide guidence, they could do no greater service than to lay out the facts, as they exist--not just how they are interpreted--and allow the average person to make an informed decision for themselves. A shocking proposition...I know.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Yesterday, I went to the Austrian Cultural Forum to see their current exhibit on the veil. Part of the recent NY Muslim Arts and Ideas festival, this exhibition, The Seen And The Hidden: [Dis]covering the Veil, brings nuance and personal immediacy to a subject and a debate in which those ingredients are often lacking. Below are a sampling of some of my favorite pieces.
Especially this one with a woman smiling while wearing the scarf. Someone must have put her up to it!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
1) Little Mosque on the Prairie. This Canadian TV show, now in its fourth season, follows a small Muslim community in the small town of Mercy, Saskatchewan. Its characters represent a plurality of religious, ethnic, and political voices and the writers demonstrate a real interest in presenting a more thoughtful, nuanced look at Muslim life in the West. Unfortunately, it's not available on Netflix, but you can watch all the episodes on YouTube.
2) Only Human, a screwball comedy set in Spain, tells the story of a Jewish woman who brings home her Palestinian boyfriend for Shabbat dinner. For all the madcap chaos that ensues, much of it not having to do with the Jewish/Palestinian premise, it also slyly manages to address stereotypes on both sides with a refreshing lack of melodrama or preachiness.
These are but two examples of media projects that are trying, through humor, to offer to bridge the seemingly insurmountable gap between the West and the Muslim world. I am excited by these works and enthusiastically say--keep them coming!
Similarly, when Nasr discusses Christian missionary work in the Muslim world, he is equally one-sided. He is highly critical (appropriately I believe) of missionary efforts to convert Muslims and charges Christian groups with using material aid (food, medicine, etc...) as temptation. He does not however, or at least not yet, talk about how these same tactics are used within the Muslim world, especially among more radical groups (i.e. Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, etc...) to win converts. Perhaps these situations are not exactly comparable, but when Nasr so strongly condemns Western consumerist culture, and does not acknowledge that these same activities (with similar aims--conversion) occur within the Muslim world, between Muslims, it demonstrates a double standard which directly contradicts his stated aim of a nuanced discussion.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, these points of contention, this book is certainly food for thought. If I do finish it, I hope that by the end I will have gained a somewhat deeper understanding of religious Islam...if nothing else.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
"From Professor Jonathan Sarna wondering if this latest attack signals an “open season on Jews” to Rabbi David Saperstein insisting on “the quintessential victimhood” of Jews in the Western world, this rhetoric of victimization only serves to breed fear and heighten tension. To pay mere lip service to other violent acts of discrimination recently suffered by other minority groups in the US, as both these men did, while emphasizing the anti-Semitic incidents is to deny the universality of racist and xenophobic hatred that James von Brunn, and others, embodies. The deadly attack at the Holocaust Museum serves as yet another reminder that there are those who wish to wreak havoc on our society, but in order to confront this threat, we must acknowledge this and fight against the danger that these views pose for all Americans, not just Jewish Americans. "
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I was a little too old for the books (and dolls) when they first came out and always thought the stories were a bit too fluffy (I was more of an All-of-a-Kind Family girl myself). But hey,
if a blond Christian girl in North Dakota enjoys pretending she is living in a tenement on the Lower East Side in 1914...
who am I to complain?
Sunday, May 31, 2009
One of the most interesting things I learned was that there are a large number of young Arab writers who are interested in getting published in the West. It wasn’t completely clear as to why this is (do they want to reach a larger audience, is there more money to be made by selling in the West, do they want to de-exoticise the Arab world, or perhaps all three), but Paul Theroux, one of the panelists and a well-known Arabic-English translator, was encouraged by this wave and half-jokingly suggested that these young authors should be in touch with him as he is always looking for new books to work on!
Raja Alem, the only female writer on the panel, also seemed encouraged by these younger writers even if many of them may be able to sell more books than she, especially if they write books in the “chick lit” style of the Girls of Riyadh. She seemed particularly excited by the the web, in all its permutations, and sees the internet as a real opportunity for young Arab writers to be free from geographical borders and allows their work to be accessed immediately anywhere and by anybody.
Of course I always think of questions once the event is already over, but it occurred to me afterwards that no one really addressed the numerous books by Iranian authors that have already reached a wide audience in the West. I’m thinking of: Reading Lolita in Tehran, Persepolis, Lipstick Jihad, etc. Have their works helped to “break down barriers” and introduce a more nuanced Iran to Western audiences? What about hyphenated authors (i.e. Syrian-Americans, French-Algerians, etc…)? How do their experiences of living in multiple cultures influence their work and bridge the gap between the Arab world and the West?
The festival ends June 14. Go check it out!
Monday, May 25, 2009
Well, I came across it last week and ended up watching it. For all its shortcomings (curiously enthusiastic Catholic families eagerly welcoming Jewish children into their homes and their families, minimal addressing of Polish anti-Semitism, etc...), the story itself made compelling TV. Irena Sendler, a Catholic social worker in Warsaw, became so incensed at the treatment of Jews inside the Warsaw ghetto that she conspired with a small group of trusted colleagues to smuggle children out of the ghetto. In the end, she managed to save over 2,500 Jewish children (the famous Oskar Schindler, for example, saved 1,100).
Yet the most fascinating part of the story is what was not explored on screen. In typical made-for-TV fashion, the movie ends when Sendler is reunited with her lover and we are left to assume that they lived happily ever after in post-war Poland. However, while perusing Hallmark Channel’s website after the movie, I realized how wrong that was. In reality, she lived in obscurity following the war, was labeled a fascist by the Communist regime and—even after 1989--chose not to discuss her role in saving these children because of lingering anti-Semitism in Poland. Instead, it fell to a group of high school students in Kansas to uncover her story and bring it to light.
Addressing the psychological aftershocks of total war is a far messier business than the typical good vs. evil narrative so often marketed to the Hallmark audience. But if the directors chose to expand the arc of the movie to encompass the postwar life of their heroine, it would have provided an additional, richer, dimension to the story and placed Sendler’s extraordinary actions into even greater relief. That would have been a movie I would have watched right away.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
I'll keep you posted.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Yet it is exactly this authenticity that risks being lost in the name of preservation. The camp is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year who seek, above all, a genuine experience and the hope that being in exact spot where so much suffering occurred will allow them deeper insight into an event and a place is often impervious to true understanding. Will that understanding truly come from an ersatz camp, made up of refurbished barracks and polished signs?
Auschwitz has been preserved to play a specific role in our contemporary world: that of ‘lieu de memoire,’ a tangible yet fragile connection to a brutal era that every day recedes further into the rearview mirror of history. Indeed, more than almost any other symbol of that era, this camp has become synonymous with the Holocaust and its brutalities. In reading these articles, it is clear that for the advocates of this fund-raising campaign, there is a direct line between the physical presence of these buildings, and the feelings of horror and sadness that they provoke, and the ability of subsequent generations to absorb and pass on the story of the Shoah.
Indeed, as Piotr M.A. Cywinski, member of the Auschwitz museum administration insists, “allowing the camps to return to nature …is not a responsible alternative for remembrance," “That's being completely irresponsible. Allowing the same to happen to Auschwitz would simply be finishing what the Nazis started - "realizing the SS's dreams. That's why we are trying to keep the memory.” (Click here to read the full article)
The museum leadership is right to be concerned about the education of future generations. But they are mistaken if they truly believe that is only through the physical presence of the buildings that their children will absorb the lessons of the Holocaust. In an era when hundreds of novels, biographies, memoirs, and other works of scholarship are published yearly throughout the Western world, not to mention the numerous Holocaust movies to appear from Hollywood directors, it is clear that subsequent generations have in fact taken this history to heart and continue to seek out ways to represent it in all its complexity. This multimedia approach does not override or negate the importance of the site nor of its preservation. However, they must be taken into account by those for whom the loss of the buildings spell the end of Holocaust remembrance.
There are many reasons why the camp must be sustained as a site of remembrance and bereavement. But the real fund-raising emphasis should be on raising money to support programs within Poland and throughout the world that support not only Holocaust education, but also education about the roots of other forms of contemporary hatreds: racism, bigotry, and xenophobia. For it is most essential that this generation understand that the hatred that led to the Holocaust did not die in Auschwitz nor does it only concern Jews. It unfortunately lives on in many forms and against a multitude of groups. One day, the buildings that comprised Auschwitz the camp may very well crumble and disintegrate and return, as Mr. Cywinski says, back to nature. But if the Auschwitz museum and others like it champion education for future generations, the knowledge of the camp and the inhumanity that it represents will be impetus enough for them guard and pass on the memory.
In an area that is experiencing ongoing waves of violence between and against its Jewish and Muslim citizens in part because of the conflict in the Middle East, why these directors, who had to have known what they were doing, chose to play into that anger and hate through the controversial interpretation of this opera is beyond me. From "Israeli soldiers dancing orgiastically with their phallic rifles" to Samson reimagined as a suicide bomber, the directors' ham-fisted approach would be laughable if it what was at stake wasn't so soberingly serious. As Michael Kimmelman so vividly describes, this interpretation did very little to advance any sort of productive discussion.
Perhaps the opera lovers among us, myself included, should be thrilled that people believe that this art form truly can have such a transformative effect on people's outlook and politics. But in this instance, I think that we would all be better off to leave the passion to the performers and the political discussions to cooler heads.