Monthly Archives: December 2008

Laughter Through Tears

By Jeremy Gillick

Sholom Aleichem, the revered 19th century writer whose earnest, incredulous and good-natured humor came to define a century of Jewish jokes, is back. Not resurrected–Aleichem was never much of a believer, though he undoubtedly would have welcomed the Messiah into the world like an old friend into his home–but reincarnated in the body and voice of Theodore Bikel. At 84, the man who made Fiddler on the Roof into an American story–Bikel has played Tevye the Dairyman upwards of 2000 times–has brought back to life the man whose writings shaped his long and illustrious career.

“Laughter Through Tears,” which recently premiered at the DCJCC’s Theater J and which, following it’s strong reception, was extended to run through January 18th, is a one-man tribute to Sholom Aleichem. Written, acted and sung by Bikel himself, the play offers a moving and funny depiction of Aleichem that is at once sincere and nostalgic. Not just nostalgic for Aleichem, or even for Bikel’s own distant youth, but for Yiddish, a language on behalf of which Aleichem fought an uphill battle for most of his life.

Forced from his home in Eastern Europe by pogroms, Aleichem found himself, alongside countless other immigrants, in a land where assimilation all but required abandoning his native language. But, as Bikel reminds us, Yiddish was the soul of the Jewish people; Aleichem could not have written in any other language for precisely that reason. Despite his best efforts, its use faded. The old country may have been full of dreams and longing, as Bikel explains, but so too is the new one, and the old country is their object.

Bikel’s performance won’t bring back Aleichem or the land and people of his tales, but it gives a glimpse, and that might be enough to forestall the demise of a lost language. In fact, its revival may already be under way.

More on Madoff

By Benjamin Schuman-StolerTom Toles's Madoff

There were articles on Bernard Madoff’s arrest and scandal in every section of the Washington Post today except Sports. We especially like this rather ominous cartoon by Tom Toles.

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Holocaust Not A Part of Young Diaspora Jews’ Identity, Survey Finds

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

96% linked family with their Jewish identity

96% linked family with their Jewish identity

JTA reported today that a 12 year survey, conducted among 60,000 Jews aged 15-17 in 20 countries outside Israel, indicates that few young diaspora Jews consider the Holocaust or anti-Semitism a part of their identity.

Only 21 percent of the youth indicated that they are Jewish in relation to the Holocaust. A series of other determining factors was more prominent in determining their Jewish identity, such as family, 96 percent; birth, 90 percent; religion, 72 percent; and culture, 67 percent.

Hmmm. Is this a bad thing? Seems like a an era without an ingrained focus on terror would constitute a positive era in Jewish history. Or does it just signal a new generation of naiveté?

What do you think? Do you consider the Holocaust a part of your Jewish identity? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo by Hindrik.

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Madoff Scandal Hurting Jewish Orgs–Yeshiva U lost $100 Million

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

Bernard Madoff

Bernard Madoff

Another financial drama is having rippling effects in the Jewish community, only, unlike the financial misfortunes of Sheldon Adelson we wrote about last week, this one is despicable.

Bernard Madoff, the founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, was arrested Dec. 11 after admitting responsibility for a massive Ponzi scheme. Both JTA and Bloomberg reported on the effects Madoff’s arrest will have on non profits.

JTA says:

The Robert I. Lappin Foundation in Salem, Mass., announced Dec. 12 that it would shut down after losing $8 million — all of its money. And the Chais Family Foundation, which gives out some $12.5 million each year to Jewish causes in Israel, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, announced its closing Dec. 14. Continue reading

Israel Expels Richard Falk

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

Richard Falk

Richard Falk

Israel refused to allow senior UN rights official and Special Rapporteur in the Palestinian territories Richard Falk into the country earlier today, sending him back to the US after he landed at the Tel-Aviv airport.

Falk planned the trip to investigate human rights abuses in the Gaza Strip but was expelled, according to Israeli sources in the foreign ministry, because of statements he made comparing Israeli policies in Gaza to Nazi policies during WWII.

Falk was notified before his trip that he would not allowed into Israel, whose foreign ministry believes the Princeton professor emeritus has not viewed the circumstances fairly. The BBC has this quote:

“[He] does not try to advance human rights, but instead comes with his conclusions ready and those conclusions are of course extreme, methodic criticism of Israel and only of Israel,” said foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. Continue reading

Birthright and Bibi

By Jeremy Gillick

While the economic crisis may spell Birthright’s demise, New Voices editor Josh Nathan-Kazis argues that the famously free trip to Israel has already left its mark. In its December issue, Josh takes a look at Birthright’s Hidden Cost.

The issue also features an interview with Naomi Klein, the new darling of the left, who has been the subject of recent features in The New Yorker and in The New Republic, as well as stories on Manischewitz, the Jewish Defense League, and Jews at small, southern colleges, and a podcast on transgender issues in the Jewish community.

In a provocative op-ed, Asher Berman makes the case for a strategic alliance between Iran and the United States. Read it all at New Voices.


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Matisyahu’s RV

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

Matisyahu’s blog had a funny look inside the man’s RV yesterday. Check it out:

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