Chanukah Lit

Have there always been so many wonderful essays written about Chanukah? Or is this just the first year I’m noticing? (Or does it simply have something to do with heavy-duty anthology promotion?) For an officially minor holiday, Chanukah seems to be inspiring some truly lovely writing. Here are two more finds: Amy Klein’s “Hanukkah Is in the Holiday Season, Too,” and David Bezmozgis’s “Festival of Birthdays.”

Happy Chanukah

Happy Chanukah! To launch my celebration, I took this quiz over on The result: Apparently, I’d get a B-minus in Chanukah studies. Not too impressive, even if I think one of my errors resulted from careless reading. Why don’t you check it out and see how you do? And then be sure to eat some latkes.

And on a more serious note, do read this extraordinary Chanukah-related essay by Joanna Smith Rakoff.

The United Nations, Israel, and Me

I grew up with the utmost respect for the United Nations as an organization. I don’t remember a Halloween when I didn’t tote a Unicef box along with my plastic pumpkin. When I was in elementary school, my mom and one of her friends met up in Manhattan, coming from our respective residences in Brooklyn and Staten Island (and bringing us kids along), and toured the building that houses it. The UN has also been the subject of some scholarly interest for me (though unpublished, my first-semester graduate seminar paper on France’s path to a permanent seat on the Security Council remains one of the best pieces of work I did on my way to a Ph.D. in history).

But the UN loses credibility in my eyes when I see how it treats Israel. The Jewish Week reminded me about that in this article published in the November 23 issue. The idea attributed to Daniel Carmon, Israel’s deputy permanent representative, that there has been “a considerable [improvement]” in the UN’s treatment of Israel from 20-30 years ago, does not, unfortunately, console me.

Mazel Tov, National Humanities Medalists

Last week nine individual Americans and one cultural foundation received prestigious National Humanities Medals at the White House. These awards recognize outstanding cultural contributions in multiple fields.

Commentary magazine proudly noted connections with five of the medalists, and presented links to some of their noteworthy work online. Thus I finally–far too belatedly–came to read Cynthia Ozick’s classic story, “Envy; or, Yiddish in America.” The piece appeared in Commentary‘s pages back in November 1969. If you have not yet read it, you must.

Congratulations to all the medalists (especially Ruth R. Wisse, who led one of my most memorable courses at Harvard, on Jewish-American Literature, and to whom I will be forever indebted for introducing me to Ludwig Lewisohn’s Island Within).