Robert Mnookin discusses his book, “The Jewish American Paradox”, at Politics and Prose. In this probing analysis of contemporary American Jewish identity, Mnookin, a leading scholar of conflict resolution and Harvard Law School professor, observes that being Jewish in the U.S. is as likely to be a matter of personal choice and public self-definition as it is of family heritage. To investigate whether such broad criteria for inclusion threatens to weaken American Judaism, Mnookin identifies four challenges the community needs to address: rampant intermarriage, weak religious observance, diminished cohesion in the face of waning anti-Semitism, and deeply conflicting views about Israel. He argues that the greatest danger to American Jews is disengagement and advises that the community can stay strong through actively embracing diversity and debate.
You can’t claim to understand Israeli culture without mastering the powerful and multifaceted word ‘nu.’
Nu, so how much ink can you spill already on the many nuances of the Yiddish word “nu”? Answer: Just a little more, en route to explaining the meanings of this versatile little gem.
Spoken once, one of the word’s primary functions is as a prompt. It serves as both a nudge (“Nu, are you coming?”) and as a query that relieves the speaker of the Jewish burden of actually responding. “Nu”requires little adornment, but it does demand precise inflection to get across the intended meaning. (If someone tells you, “I went on a date last night,” and you answer “Nu?” you’re probably digging for more information, as in “Do tell” or “And?” But if your tone of resignation is just right, you might be asking “So what?” or sarcastically, “So what’s new about that?”) For those familiar with this popular Yiddishism, which has become an integral part of spoken Hebrew, these nuances are nothing “nu.”
He set foot on Ellis Island on January 7, 1903, with $8 to his name. Though fluent in Polish, Russian and Yiddish, he understood no English.
.. In the span of some 80 years and five decades, this family emerged from poverty in a hostile country to become a prosperous, educated clan of merchants, scholars, professionals, and, most important, American citizens.
.. What does this classically American tale have to do with Stephen Miller? Well, Izzy Glosser is his maternal grandfather, and Stephen’s mother, Miriam, is my sister.
I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, an educated man who is well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.
.. I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses— the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants — been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom.
.. The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the “America first” nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees.
Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family likely would have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him.As in past generations, there were hate mongers who regarded the most recent groups of poor immigrants as scum, rapists, gangsters, drunks and terrorists, but largely the Glosser family was left alone to live our lives and build the American dream... blind to the hypocrisy of their policy decisions. After all, Stephen’s is not the only family with a chain immigration story in the Trump administration. Trump’s grandfather is reported to have been a German migrant on the run from military conscription to a new life in the United States, and his mother fled the poverty of rural Scotland for the economic possibilities of New York City. (Trump’s in-laws just became citizens on the strength of his wife’s own citizenship.).. These facts are important not only for their grim historical irony but because vulnerable people are being hurt. They are real people, not the ghoulish caricatures portrayed by Trump... In the early 2000s, Joseph (not his real name) was conscripted at the age of 14 to be a soldier in Eritrea and sent to a remote desert military camp. Officers there discovered a Bible under his pillow which aroused their suspicion that he might belong to a foreign evangelical sect that would claim his loyalty and sap his will to fight. Joseph was actually a member of the state-approved Coptic church but was nonetheless immediately subjected to torture. “They smashed my face into the ground, tied my hands and feet together behind my back, stomped on me, and hung me from a tree by my bonds while they beat me with batons for the others to see.”.. Joseph was tortured for 20 consecutive days before being taken to a military prison and crammed into a dark unventilated cell with 36 other men, little food and no proper hygiene. Some died, and in time Joseph was stricken with dysentery. When he was too weak to stand, he was taken to a civilian clinic where he was fed by the medical staff. Upon regaining his strength, he escaped to a nearby road where a sympathetic driver took him north through the night to a camp in Sudan where he joined other refugees. Joseph was on the first leg of a journey that would cover thousands of miles and almost 10 years.
.. Before Donald Trump had started his political ascent promulgating the false story that Barack Obama was a foreign-born Muslim, while my nephew, Stephen, was famously recovering from the hardships of his high school cafeteria in Santa Monica, Joseph was a child on his own in Sudan in fear of being deported back to Eritrea to face execution for desertion.
.. In all of the countries he traveled through during his ordeal, he was vulnerable, exploited and his status was “illegal.” But in the United States, he had a chance to acquire the protection of a documented immigrant.
.. Today, at 30, Joseph lives in Pennsylvania and has a wife and child. He is a smart, warm, humble man of great character who is grateful for every day of his freedom and safety. He bears emotional scars from not seeing his parents or siblings since he was 14. He still trembles, cries and struggles for breath when describing his torture, and he bears physical scars as well.
.. I have met Central Americans fleeing corrupt governments, violence and criminal extortion; a Yemeni woman unable to return to her war-ravaged home country and fearing sexual mutilation if she goes back to her Saudi husband; and an escaped kidnap-bride from central Asia.
.. Trump wants to make us believe that these desperate migrants are an existential threat to the United States; the most powerful nation in world history and a nation made strong by immigrants. Trump and my nephew both know their immigrant and refugee roots. Yet, they repeat the insults and false accusations of earlier generations against these refugees to make them seem less than human.
Trump publicly parades the grieving families of people hurt or killed by migrants, just as the early Nazis dredged up Jewish criminals to frighten and enrage their political base to justify persecution of all Jews.
Almost every American family has an immigration story of its own based on flight from war, poverty, famine, persecution, fear or hopelessness. Most of these immigrants became workers, entrepreneurs, scientists and soldiers of America.
.. Most damning is the administration’s evident intent to make policy that specifically disadvantages people based on their ethnicity, country of origin and religion. No matter what opinion is held about immigration, any government that specifically enacts law or policy on that basis must be recognized as a threat to all of us. Laws bereft of justice are the gateway to tyranny. Today others may be the target, but tomorrow it might just as easily be you or me. History will be the judge, but in the meantime the normalization of these policies is rapidly eroding the collective conscience of America.
Can a mix of liberal politics and soft traditionalism survive a militant left and a right-wing Israel?..Every #metoo scandal is different, but most are alike in at least one way.. the fall of prominent men usually accelerates some pre-existing debate about where the larger institution or culture should be going, and which side of its internal arguments deserves to gain... In answering his accusers Cohen has embraced the clichés of male big shot contrition — promising a “consultation with clergy, therapists and professional experts” and “a process of education, recognition, remorse and repair... his fall has inspired a critique not only of his behavior but also his life’s work .. his sexual sins should prompt a larger reappraisal of “the troubling gender and sexual politics long embedded in communal discussions of Jewish continuity and survival.”.. the longstanding angst within the American Jewish community around assimilation, intermarriage and fertility tends to sustain a kind of soft traditionalist pressure even in liberal Jewish life — one that defines Jewish identity in exclusionist terms, they complain, while marginalizing “single women, queer people, unwed parents, and childless individuals or couples.”.. a “liberalism without/conservatism within” combination is common to minority populations, and it’s a particularly reasonable reaction to the experience of Jewish history: An oft-persecuted people’s flourishing can both depend on maintaining a certain conservatism about its own patterns of marrying and begetting and cultural transmission (and, in the case of Israel, the safety of its lonely nation-state), and on encouraging liberalism and cosmopolitanism in the wider, potentially-hostile order in which the diaspora subsists... the fear among many politically liberal Jews that if they don’t sustain a certain familial traditionalism, they’ll just cede the Jewish future to the ultra-fecund ultra-Orthodox.).. Benjamin Netanyahu has embraced the view that European Jewry’s old enemy, Christian nationalism, is less dangerous to the Jewish future than the dissolving effects of liberal cosmopolitanism and the threat posed by Islamist anti-Semitism... Thus you have the striking phenomenon of the Netanyahu government cultivating friends like Hungary’s Viktor Orban
Roth, whose sexually scandalous comic novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” brought him literary celebrity after its publication in 1969 and who was eventually hailed as one of America’s greatest living authors for the blunt force and controlled fury of his dozens of later works
.. His lifelong themes included sex and desire, health and mortality, and Jewishness and its obligations — arguably his most definitive subject
.. He could write about these international issues because he was truly cosmopolitan, a global citizen who was grounded by American culture.”
.. A 2006 survey by the New York Times Book Review of the best books since 1981 found an astonishing six of Mr. Roth’s novels among the top 22.
.. “Going wild in public is the last thing in the world that a Jew is expected to do.”
.. In 1962, Mr. Roth shared a panel with “Invisible Man” author Ralph Ellison and Italian novelist Pietro di Donato during a symposium at Yeshiva University. Again he was denounced by questioners who thought he was undermining Jews. Mr. Roth later recycled the incident in “The Ghost Writer,”
.. it also won praise from prominent reviewers for being playful and moving, a masterpiece on guilt.
.. “Nathan Zuckerman is an act. Making fake biography, false history, concocting a half-imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life is my life. There has to be some pleasure in this job, and that’s it. To go around in disguise. To act a character. To pass oneself off as what one is not. To pretend. The sly and cunning masquerade.”
.. In her book, Bloom draws herself as caged by an often wrathful Mr. Roth, describing his emotional gamesmanship as “Machiavellian.”
“Philip’s novels provided all one needed to know about his relationships with women,” Bloom wrote, “most of which had been just short of catastrophic.”
.. Mr. Roth’s powerful, probing, mocking literary voice largely failed to translate in Hollywood
.. “He goes on and on about the same subject in almost every single book,” Callil said. “It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.”
.. Yet when Mr. Roth announced his retirement in 2012, it was soon revealed that the author was cooperating with biographer Blake Bailey.
Only after becoming a novelist myself did I understand my discomfort. Philip Roth is celebrated for bringing my family’s tiny slice of the world into the American pantheon, widening the literary canon to include American Jews. It is hardly news to point out that he accomplished this feat at the expense of Jewish women.
.. Roth’s three favorite topics — Jews, women and New Jersey — all remain socially acceptable targets of irrational public mockery, and Roth was a virtuoso at mocking the combination of all three.
.. The problem is literary: these caricatures reveal a lack of not only empathy, but curiosity.
.. Shakespeare bothered to give the hated Jewish moneylender Shylock a point of view; Mark Twain bothered to imagine emotions for the runaway slave Jim. Both portrayals still reflected popular prejudice, often horribly so. But they also included a glimmer of humanity beyond it, revealing the artists’ curiosity about lives they could only imagine.
.. His strength lay in those brilliantly rendered characters and voices like his. His weakness was that those voices denigrated just about everyone else.
.. how many of these women are, after all, precisely the people who made Philip Roth’s success possible. The Jewish New Jersey women I know are talented professionals in every field, and often in those two thankless professions that Roth quite likely required to thrive: teachers and therapists.
.. literature means little; the shared humanity that great literature inspires matters even less. What endures, sadly, is Roth’s lack of imagination, the unempathetic and incurious caricaturing of others that he turned into a virtue — and which now defines much of American public life.
.. we’re still talking about Roth, just like his works taught us to do. Yet in the years to come, the real meaning of his work will emerge not in how we judge Roth, but in how we judge ourselves.
The Trumpian case against supporters of a liberal immigration policy is that we are indifferent to law, blasé about crime and blind to the social costs illegal immigrants impose on American communities. How better to feed that case than to misrepresent, and then take umbrage at, the president’s tough talk on a psychotic Latin American gang?
.. The blunt truth is that immigrants have brought crime to our shores for a very long time: Decades before MS-13, there were the Dead Rabbits(Irish), Flying Dragons (Chinese), Undzer Shtik (Jewish) and, of course, the Cosa Nostra. And for just as long politicians have tried to portray immigrants as criminals, from the Know Nothings of the 1850s to the authors of the Immigration Act of 1924. Now the nativist-in-chief is also the commander-in-chief.
The intelligent answer to Trump can’t be that we have nothing to fear when it comes to immigrants, or that every attempt to enforce immigration laws or discuss immigration ills is just a thinly veiled form of xenophobia. The right answer is that, on net and over time, we have far more to gain from immigrants than we have to lose from them... Which leaves it to sensible Democrats and sane Republicans to repel and defeat the president’s demagoguery. That takes a cool-headed command of immigration facts and historical experiences. Baldly misrepresenting what the president says is the opposite of that. It’s a gift to Trump.I know it’s infuriating that the president habitually conflates illegal immigrants with violent criminals, and that he buries the signal of his bigotries in the noise of his syntax. I also suspect that the president would be just as eager to deport Latin American immigrants and build a wall with Mexico if groups like MS-13 didn’t exist... We have a president adept at goading his opponents into unwittingly doing his bidding.