Thursday, October 22, 2009

So what do you get

when you put together pork, Schindler's List and a mohawk-wearing, football-playing Jew from Ohio? Glee! This new TV show that focuses on a group of outcast high school singing and dancing Broadway hopefulls turns out to be pretty good at satirizing stereotypes of all kinds and last night, its lens honed in on the Jews.

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

Call me tasteless if you want...

But I am kinda tickled by the description of this book created by Alloy Entertainment, a production house for teen-girl themed books and other products:

"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

Inaction is not Always the Right Action

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

Holocaust Preservation in the Ukraine

There's been a recent flurry of interest in the Ukraine as the Kiev city council toyed with building hotels for its 2012 European Football championships on the site of the Babi Yar massacre. The massacre, carried out from September 29 to Oct. 1, 1941 by the Nazis, killed 33,000 Jewish men, women, and children. Due to pressure from local and international Jewish and human rights groups, the city council ultimately decided against building the hotels.

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.