Writer. Reader. Reviewer. Resource Maven.

Words of the Week, II

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, “The Hate that Starts with Jews Never Ends There”:
“The new antisemitism is different from the old. In the past Jews were hated for their religion, then for their race. Today they are hated for their nation state. But it was not long before I saw how seamlessly the old and new hatreds meshed.”

Ambassador Ron Prosor (via his Facebook page):
“This morning during a press stakeout I held at the UN, I talked about the word ‘disproportionate’. I can tell you that the only ‘disproportionate’ thing is the accusations being made against Israel by the UN and others.”

Liel Leibovitz, “Ctrl-F-Genocide” (Tablet):
“What followed was one of the finest pieces of contemporary theater I’ve read in years, equally remarkable for Harris’s level-headed and intelligent replies as it is for Sullivan’s rants, defying logic and morality in a wild effort to portray the Jewish State as a genocidal demon.” Continue reading ›

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Guest Post: Mark Shechner on Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories, by David Shrayer-Petrov

Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories. By David Shrayer-Petrov, edited by Maxim Shrayer. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. 262pp. $29.95.

Review by Mark Shechner

The present situation for Jewish writers and their readers bears little resemblance to the scene of just two decades ago. It has been so transformed as to be scarcely recognizable. If there is a prior state of affairs, however, in which our time can see itself in an historical mirror it would be the ferment of the early 20th century, the springtime of Jewish writing in America, when writers ambitious to speak for their culture and their moment commonly had at least two languages to choose from, Yiddish and English. We know that some even wrote in Hebrew, and who now remembers the names of those whose also wrote in Russian and Polish? Who recalls Dusk in the Catskills by Reuben Wallenrod, published in 1957? Wallenrod doesn’t appear in any of the standard histories. Nor will he any time soon. He wrote fiction in Hebrew.

The contemporary moment recycles history in this sense: much of it is fueled by émigrés from abroad who work in multiple languages: a handful still in their native tongues, but most in English, sometimes a decentered English under the tonal canopy of another language. The FSU (former Soviet Union) writers are the most remarkable cases in point. 2014 alone has seen the publication of books by Lara Vapnyar (The Scent of Pine), Anya Ulinich (Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel), Gary Shteyngart (Little Failure: A Memoir), Boris Fishman (A Replacement Life), David Bezmozgis (The Betrayers), and David Shrayer-Petrov (Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories). And that is just a single year’s production. These writers are either themselves members of the refusenik generation that forced open the prison gates of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s or their children. Wherever they settled, they brought with them their passion for the written word, their febrile imaginations, and their stories.

David Shrayer-Petrov, born in 1936, continues to write in Russian, though he has lived in the United States since 1987 where, besides writing, he has worked as a doctor. Though he has a reputation in Russian émigré circles, his name is little known in American discussions, even though Syracuse University Press has previously published two volumes of his fiction: Jonah and Sarah: Jewish Stories of Russia and America (2003) and Autumn in Yalta: A Novel and Three Stories (2006). Both books were edited by his son Maxim Shrayer, a professor at Boston College and himself a fiction writer: Yom Kippur in Amsterdam (Syracuse, 2012). Continue reading ›

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Words of the Week

Karen Lerhman Bloch, “Losing Facebook Friends Over the War in Gaza” (Tablet):
“As has been well noted, pro-Israel commentators were a little slow at the starting gate in the social media war, but within a matter of days, Israeli groups were sending out plenty of visually succinct PDFs and news stories that weren’t making it into traditional media, and a segment of my Facebook friends and I began to post and share them. Despite a residual discomfort in becoming a ‘public Jew,’ I actually never felt as though my skills were being put to greater use.”

Mayim Bialik, “Why I Wear My Jewish Star” (Kveller):
“Oh, Israel. What a month it’s been for you and me. I lost a lot of fans this month because of my love for you. But it’s OK. I love you more than popularity, even when you make me crazy. And even though I don’t always agree with Israeli policy, I’m still a Zionist.”

Rachel Azaria, “The People on the Train” (The Times of Israel):
“We need to make sure that those who attack and blame Israel are perceived as attacking human rights in Gaza or anywhere, because this is what they are doing. Supporting Hamas is supporting the annihilation of basic human rights for their people. In retrospect, it’s kind of ironic and at the same time completely logical that a man indiscriminately shouting at a woman and a baby on a subway is not really interested in human rights. We just need everyone else to see it that way.” Continue reading ›

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Pre-Shabbat Jewish Literary Links

Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen

Every Friday morning My Machberet presents an assortment of Jewish-interest links, primarily of the literary variety.

  • Tahneer Oksman interviews Roz Chast about Chast’s new graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?--one of my favorite books of this year so far.
  • The New York Times reviews a production of Martin Blank’s “The Law of Return,” a play about the Jonathan Pollard case.
  • Another news item about a play that has caught my attention: “Olympics Uber Alles,” by Samuel Bernstein and Marguerite Krupp. As the title suggests, the play deals with the 1936 Berlin Olympics–in which two American Jews were not permitted to compete.
  • Robin Williams’s passing prompted the Los Angeles Review of Books to remind us of the film version of Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day–and in which Williams co-starred.
  • ICYMI: I have a new job! With Fig Tree Books (FTB), a new publishing company that focuses on fiction of the American Jewish experience. Read about my first week on the job on my other blog. And please, follow FTB on Twitter and/or Facebook.
  • Shabbat shalom.

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    Words of the Week, II

    Ellen Willis, z”l, “Is There Still a Jewish Question? Why I’m an Anti-Anti-Zionist” (essay originally published in 2003; reprinted online this week by Tablet):
    And yet I count myself an anti-anti-Zionist. This is partly because the logic of anti-Zionism in the present political context entails an unprecedented demand for an existing state—one, moreover, with popular legitimacy and a democratically elected government—not simply to change its policies but to disappear. It’s partly because I can’t figure out what large numbers of displaced Jews could have or should have done after 1945, other than parlay their relationship with Palestine and the (ambivalent) support of the West for a Jewish homeland into a place to be. (Go “home” to Germany or Poland? Knock, en masse, on the doors of unreceptive European countries and a reluctant United States?) And finally it’s because I believe that anti-Jewish genocide cannot be laid to rest as a discrete historical episode, but remains a possibility implicit in the deep structure of Christian and Islamic cultures, East and West.

    Oren Kessler, “Hamas Lies–and the Media Believed It” (U.S. News):
    “It’s the Mideast equivalent of ‘Dog bites man,’ but it took the media nearly a month to recognize its sheer obviousness: Hamas lies.” Continue reading ›

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