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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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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New York’s Guide to Holocaust Movies

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

Can’t decide which of the Holocaust/WWII movies coming out this holiday season you want to see? New York has this useful chart:


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Donor’s Woes Inducing Breach Birth(right)?


By Mandy Katz

Birthright may have to cut back on the inspirational Israel tours it hosts for Jewish American teens, the Forward reports. A drop in the fortunes of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation threatens the financial viability of its majority stockholder, Sheldon Adelson, a major Birthright donor who last year was the world’s richest Jew, according to Forbes. (His ranking has since slipped.)

Birthright’s officers contend Adelson will come through on his outstanding $20-million pledge to support this summer’s tours. But if he doesn’t, insiders told the Forward, participant numbers could fall from 25,000 to 5,000.

Fertilizing not just the fields of Israel advocacy, Adelson in recent years has also spread his wealth in GOP funding circles, most notably by sinking at least $30 million into a now-collapsing advocacy group called Freedom’s Watch. (That’s where Ari Fleischer hung his hat after resigning as President Bush’s  White House Press Secretary, a move Joan Walsh says he may not want at the top of his resume.)

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Impresario for the Lost Voices of Theresienstadt

In Czech, "Z" denotes Jewish.

In Czech, the "Z" denotes "Jew."

By Mandy Katz

Perhaps an apt follow-up to my post Monday about a journey from the Holocaust to the Ivy League? Yesterday’s Washington Post carries an inspiring obituary for 82-year-old violinist Joza Karas, one of the Christian righteous. If not already officially recognized at Yad Vashem, he should be, for dedicating much of his life to preserving the music of Theresienstadt.

Many musicians and composers were among the 140,000 Jews interned at the the Nazi camp in Czech territory, where prisoners defied the machinery of death by forming orchestras and choirs, and staging plays and concerts and art exhibitions. Most of them eventually died, though: 33,000 on site, from starvation and illness, and another 90,000 after being deported to Auschwitz and elsewhere.

Karas was born in Warsaw, the son of a Czech official who fought with the resistance only to be executed under Soviet rule. After fleeing to the United States, Joza made a career as a teacher and performer in Connecticut. In the 1970s, he began seeking out the trove of music written by Jews trapped in the Nazis’ notorious “model” camp. His finds included the Hans Krasa children’s opera, Brundibar, a story of innocents triumphing over evil, of which Karas conducted the American premiere.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Jimmy Carter Alert!! Everybody Look Out!

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

Jimmy Carters on a Mideast tour

Jimmy Carter's on a Mideast tour

Former president Jimmy Carter just arrived in Lebanon, where he will do some electoral analysis and give a speech that will probably upset legions of Jews across the globe.

Carter will speak Dec. 12 at the American University in Beirut on “30 years after Camp David: A memo to the Arab World, Israel and the Quartet.”

He will also go to Syria. Says JTA:

From Beirut, Carter will continue to Syria and a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad “to discuss the prospects for peace in the Middle East,” according to a statement from the Atlanta-based Carter Center, the human rights group he established and still leads.

Israel and Syria have been negotiating peace indirectly under Turkish auspices but without the encouragement of the Bush administration, which regards Syria as a terrorist-backing rogue nation.

A number of dovish pro-Israel peace activists and groups in the United States are pressing President-elect Barack Obama to give priority to Israel-Syria talks, saying the Israeli-Palestinian track is intractable for now.

We’ll keep an eye on this.

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