Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Tale in two photographs

Daniel Gordis, senior vice president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, finds a powerful visual way of illustrating Israel's frame of existence, past perfect, past simple and present continuous:

"The dramatic change in Jewish self-perception that Israel has wrought can perhaps be best appreciated by recalling two photographs—each, in its own time, the iconic representation of what it meant to be a Jew. The first, taken in the Warsaw Ghetto, depicts a terrified young boy, his arms raised helplessly in the air, as a Nazi points a submachine gun in his direction. This little boy, a victim in every way, is dressed in his finest but seems likely to die. He is alone; no adults have come to his aid, and even if they chose to, of course, there would be nothing they could do in the face of the armed Nazis standing just feet away. To be a Jew is to be a victim.

Flash-forward to June 1967, when the Israeli photographer David Rubinger photographed three paratroopers at the Western Wall shortly after they had captured it from Jordan during the Six-Day War. It was the virtual undoing of the condition reflected in the Warsaw Ghetto photograph. The boy in the photograph is alone; these three men are surrounded by comrades. The boy is pure victim; the Israeli soldiers are victors. The gun in the former photograph belongs to the Nazi; there are no weapons in the 1967 picture, but had there been, they would have belonged to the Jews. The boy in the Warsaw Ghetto seems certain to die; the victory these soldiers had just wrought would breathe new life into the Jewish state, inspiring Soviet Jews (who almost immediately demanded permission to emigrate) and American Jews (who took a sudden great pride in the Jewish state and expressed it more openly and unabashedly than at any time before) to new heights of Zionism.

Interestingly, the paratroopers in this photograph have their heads uncovered, and they face away from the Wall, not toward it, as would be the case were they praying. There is one combat helmet, and though it is visible, it has been doffed. Rubinger’s is neither a religious nor a military image. It is, instead, the image of the “new Jew” that Israel had created, the Jew who could shape his or her own destiny rather than waiting for it to be shaped by others."

Read the article in its entirety, here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Comment trail September 28 - October 2

Poor Rick Sanchez

More on Hitchens

@TNR: Mad Men

Is Don Draper the modern version of the Byronic Hero? (Note to self: Watch season 4 when you get the chance and read "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" before jumping to conclusions)

@ Forward: Philologos on the struggle for authority in naming names

@ Bob's, in the comments : (I'm without speech...)

@ The Spine: The usual futile attempt to explain that antisemitism is not a legitimate criticism of Israeli policies

@ The Spine: Moratorium Shmoratorium

Monday, September 20, 2010

Comment Trail September 20 - 27

Jonathan Franzen's novel, Freedom, and the return of literary antisemitism?


1. "a wizened person” with “turkeylike cords in his neck” and “the almost shrunken smallness of his skull that made his white, white smile so prominent”

"A small flat-nosed Jew raised his large head and regarded me with two fine growths of hair which luxuriated in either nostril. After a moment I discovered his tiny eyes in the half darkness" (The Great Gatsby)

"in a corner by himself a Jew, muzzle down in the plate, was guiltily wolfing bacon." (Orwell)


So what else is new?

2. "The fact that such a wizened person had sired the amazing Jenna seemed to Joey of a piece with his eminence. "

So the conniving old shyster has a lovely daughter. It's reminiscent of Franzen's perhaps unconscious model, Shylock, whose daughter, Jessica, is also beautiful, though, unlike her father, virtuous, as demonstrated by her religious conversion."

Jessica is not virtuous in Shakespeare's eyes though she is a smidgen better than the Venetians she courts (she tips the servants). However the model for Franzen's character's amazement at the fact that such an ugly specimen would sire such beauty is contained in the MofV, in the ugly figure of:

* Launcelot Gobbo. Yes, truly; for, look you, the sins of the father
are to be laid upon the children: therefore, I
promise ye, I fear you. I was always plain with
you, and so now I speak my agitation of the matter:
therefore be of good cheer, for truly I think you 1845
are damned. There is but one hope in it that can do
you any good; and that is but a kind of bastard
hope neither.

* Jessica. And what hope is that, I pray thee?

* Launcelot Gobbo. Marry, you may partly hope that your father got you 1850
not, that you are not the Jew's daughter.

* Jessica. That were a kind of bastard hope, indeed: so the
sins of my mother should be visited upon me. "

I wonder if the author had meant to lead his readers to this suspicion.

3. "... whose father is described as “the founder and luminary president of a think tank devoted to advocating the unilateral exercise of American military power to make the world freer and safer, especially for America and Israel.” ... this man—”a wizened person” with “turkeylike cords in his neck” and “the almost shrunken smallness of his skull that made his white, white smile so prominent”—holds forth to Joey:

“He spoke of the ‘new blood libel’ that was circulating in the Arab world, the lie about there having been no Jews in the twin towers on 9/11, and of the need, in times of national emergency, to counter evil lies with benevolent half-truths.”

I wonder if Ahmadinajad read Franzen's book or vice versa:

"... some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime.

The majority of the American people as well as other nations and politicians agree with this view."

What do you think? Don't the two men share certain positions concerning the genesis of the Iraq war, Israel's perfidious collaborators, Jews, etc?

What does this tell us about Franzen's authorial wisdom? Why would anyone try to exculpate such opinions, even when they are dressed in the beautiful words of literary fiction?

I have a theory that with the onset of enlightenment, liberalism and political correctness, laws quarantining Jews and imposing discriminatory treatment on Jews by way of curtailing their exuberant ambitions were no longer a feasible proposition. So hatred of Jews and resentment of their success have found shelter in fiction. As long as it is "fictional" then anyone complaining about the antisemitic myth and loathing can be ridiculed as paranoid, the ultimate uncool.

More on the same

Mad Men on TNR


How intensely aware were the denizens of the 60's that they were living through a social and cultural paradigm shift? I'm not sure I fully understand the author's beef that "the arms-length respect paid to African American sacrifice feels like an evasion posing as an acknowledgment. "

People who lived in the middle ages did not know they were living in the "dark ages" and 15th century Europeans did not look out of the window and say to themselves: oh, look the renaissance has begun. How wonderful. We understand better how the cosmos works and what's real perspective.

Language always lags behind the events. By the time language catches up to it, the reductive narratives have already set in. In this 60's period piece I suspect the intention is to reverse what has become the conventional wisdom about that decade. They try to divest the language of its excess baggage, strip the sentimentalized patina, refresh the meanings, in order to lend us back bang into the midst of it, with the innocence of ignorance of the world to come.

It's almost Miltonian in its ambition. And I think as least as much I have seen of this series, it has worked.

It's another Deadwood.

And it is very much in opposition to what I've seen coming out of the BBC, whose dramas of late tend to inject 21st century sanctimonious sensibilities and cliches into period dramas.

After watching the latest episodes of "Foyle's War" for example I can appreciate all the more the great intellectual work that has gone into the preparation of "Mad Men". Quite apart from the brilliant visual recreation of the sixties.)

The overstated case for peace in the Middle East

Mosque backlash

@ Bob's: Chomsky, Holocaust Denying, genocide relativizing

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Normblog has a short post in which its author tries to provide some explanation to the question "why African leaders aren't confronting Sudan's president, Omar Al Bashir."

The short answer: "this tendency of political interest to prevail over concern for the rule of law that is at the heart of the weakness of international law"

This hierarchy of priorities, the putting of political interest above the need for justice, reminded me directly of the way Paul Ricoeur tried to define evil:

“Evil is, in the literal sense of the word, perversion, that is, a reversal of the order that requires respect for law to be placed above inclination. It is a matter of a misuse of a free choice... The propensity for evil affects the use of freedom, the capacity to act out of duty – in short, the capacity for being autonomous.”

So what else is new?

Jeremiah asked the same question

צדיק אתה יהוה כי אריב אליך
אך משפטים אדבר אותך
מדוע דרך רשעים צלחה
שלו כל בגדי בגד

You are too righteous, God, for me to quarrel with You
but I will ask you a few questions.
Why are the wicked so successful,
and tranquility is the lot of the treacherous villains?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur is upon us.

Leonard Cohen's song "Who by fire" is inspired by one of Yom Kippur's central prayers "Unnetane Tokef" meaning, to recite for others the terrible importance of this day.

In this version the opening notes are clearly oriental in style and remind me of the manner my grandfather, Shabtai (Sabetai), a Sephardi Jew from Turkey, would intone the liturgy. He had a beautiful haunting voice.

Gmar chatima tova

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Shana Tova 5,771

Tomorrow, Thursday, is the first day of the year 5,771, the number of years Jews believe have passed since God created the world. This evening is Erev Rosh Hashanah, when Jews have a festive dinner, and count their blessings.

I'd like to say to my friends and readers Shana Tova, a wish for a good year and a sweet one.

What would a good year be like for me?

First of all, for my kids to thrive and be happy.
Then, for my husband to come to terms with the passing of his father, and get on with the business of life.
And for me to recover at least in part, my past naivete and optimism about the future.

As you can see, I'm not asking for much.
It would be nice if peace came to Israelis, and we hear no more of Jews getting villified, threatened, or killed. But this, I suspect, is already asking for too much.

My Rosh Hashana gift to you is a song, performed by Shalom Chanoch. It's called in Hebrew,
בגילגול הזה.

גילגול means a reincarnation, or a cycle of life. In Hebrew parlance it means more simply, in this life.

This time around

May you always be joyful
and never stop singing
May you continue to grow
and forever remain young
May you always go forward
and never lose your hope
May you know peace and goodness
and find love

May you learn to live together
and remain free
May you find some usefulness
even in the toughest ordeals
May you remain humble
and always be healthy
And may you manage your life
so it will not be a waste

May you know only goodness
and have enough time to love
in this life
this time around

Because it's not easy
Being here, not at all
to go on and on and on
this time around

בגילגול הזה

שלום חנוך

שתהיה תמיד שמח
שלעולם לא תפסיק לשיר
שתמיד תמשיך לגדול
ושתמיד תישאר צעיר
שתמיד תלך קדימה
ושלא תאבד תקווה
שתדע שלום וטוב
ושתמצא את האהבה.

שתשכיל לחיות ביחד
ולהישאר חופשי
ושתוכל למצוא תועלת
גם במצבים קשים
שתמיד תישאר צנוע
ושתמיד תהיה בריא
ושתצליח שחייך
לא יהיו לריק.

שיהיה לך טוב
שתספיק לאהוב
הו בגילגול הזה
הגילגול הזה.

כי זה לגמרי לא קל
להיות פה בכלל
ועוד, עוד ועוד
בגילגול הזה.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Comment Trail September 5 - 12

Review of Anthony Julius's book about English antisemitism

A little belatedly, @Progressive Alaska blog

Fareed Zakaria says America May Have Overreacted to September 11 …

@ Bob's: Comments: Orwellian Derangement

Burning books

@ TNR: Democracy in Egypt

Leon Wieseltier on the Ground Zero mosque

Marty Peretz on the Ground Zero mosque

Yossi Klein Halevi on the Ground Zero mosque's Imam

@ Mick Hartley: Karel de Gucht, the European Commissioner for Trade, opines about the source of all evil (The Jewish Lobby)

@ Mick's: How Allah honored wives by instating the punishment of beatings.

@ Bob's: On Michael Moore and other Internet moderation busters

Hitchens on the flotilla

Found on the ever diligent Hitchens Watch, a blog with a humongous crush on Christopher Hitchens trying to pass itself as a severe critic of Hitchens. The post cannot be directly linked to but here is the clip on youtube:

I am currently reading Hitchens' memoir "Hitch 22" (I read sporadically, whenever I visit my local "Chapters". I'm waiting for the price to go down or for the cheaper paperback, financial conditions being a bit tight at the Contentious Centrist's household). In the years since 9/11 I have watched Hitchens follow his principles and convictions in ways that pitted him against many other erstwhile friends on the rabid Left. I was gratified to learn that he sobered up from his many years of infatuation with Edward Said and have been waiting for him to take the next logical step and rethink his positions about Israel. In his memoir he finally reveals his opinion about Said and his legacy in no uncertain terms.

Naturally, I disagree with him about Israel not being a normal country. Israel is the best functioning democracy imaginable under circumstances of extreme existential threats. It's not normal in the same way that the US or France or UK are normal countries. And it's not abnormal in the same way that Saudi Arabia, or Syria, or Iran are abnormal. But on the continuum between the "normalcy" of a Western, law and order democracy, and the abnormality of third world theocracies and dictatorships in which law is to be feared rather than respected, Israel is just a notch away from the former end.

I'll write more about this later on. For the time being, you can relish Hitchens' critique of the Turkish prime minister's obscene antics.

Here is Erdogan's rant Hitchens alludes to in the clip:

"ANKARA, Turkey -- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday threatened that some 100,000 illegal immigrants from Armenia might be extradited from his country. "There are around 170,000 Armenians living in our country. Of them, 70,000 are Turkish citizens and the rest are illegal immigrants who have been on Turkish territory for over 10 years. If the situation continues to develop like this, we will have to review our attitude towards them," Erdogan said in an interview with the Turkish service of BBC. The statement came after a US committee and Sweden recently approved resolutions to brand the 1915 killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide."

You might want to pay attention to the cringing, craven, cowardly response from Sweden.

Sighted on the Internet:

Having read parts of "Hitch22", I googled for some information about Hitchens and immediately came across this post on "Hitchens Watch". In the comment thread that follows the post, I encountered this exchange between HW regular poster FGFM and a commenter named Leo:

FGFM: What's your mom's number again?

Leo: She's dead now. But it was tattooed right there on her wrist. I'm shocked that I forgot.

FGFM: Would you mind terribly if I pissed on her grave the next time I'm in town?

Leo: She was cremated. I suppose better late than never, eh Nazi?

: Works for me!

I suppose better late than never, eh Nazi?

Not responsible

This, gentle reader, is the residual venom of Leftist trends that have been fancying themselves as "speaking truth to power". In fact, to call Hitchens Watch blog the voice of Indecent Left is to insult the decent Indecents who are still hallucinaring about being "anti-fascists, anti-imperialists" martyrs.