My Problem with the "Left"

Not too long ago my father mused aloud that my “political” leanings mystify him. The gist of his commentary was this: Someone born to my parents and provided the education I’ve received (an education for which I’ve spent many years in the rather “liberal” enclave of Cambridge, Massachusetts) would be expected to display far greater affinity for left-leaning politics and proclivities.

But as Mitchell Cohen’s new Dissent essay notes, “There is a left that learns and there is a left that doesn’t learn.” Like Cohen, I laud the “best values of the historical left”; it is, in fact, my quite extraordinary education that allows me to share in particular Cohen’s enthusiasm for “the best values of the historical left,” among which he–and I–would count the legacies of Jean Jaurès and Léon Blum in France.

Unfortunately, there is a far more nefarious “left” at work today, one I find difficult to tolerate. Because, as Cohen notes in the opening lines to his article, “A determined offensive is underway. Its target is in the Middle East, and it is an old target: the legitimacy of Israel.” It is coming “from within parts of the liberal and left intelligentsia in the United States and Europe”–and that’s a determination coming from the self-identified “leftist” Cohen.

Among his other achievements in this article, Cohen does an admirable job showing the cracks in the perennial argument that goes something like this: just-because-I-am-anti-Zionist-doesn’t-mean-I-am-anti-Semitic. Cohen’s critique here is essential reading, and I can only hope that it will actually resonate with the people who need to understand it most. “If you are anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic,” he concludes, “then don’t use the categories, allusions, and smug hiss that are all too familiar to any student of prejudice.”

Then, perhaps, the best elements of the left will triumph. And I, for one, will be able to resume wearing that particular label more easily.

New Magazine: Jewish Living

Last week I received the inaugural issue of Jewish Living magazine. It’s dated November/December 2007, and has a significant Chanukah focus.

In her first editor’s letter, EIC Liza Schoenfein writes:

Why JEWISH LIVING? Because looking at the stuff of life–home, holidays, food, and family–through a uniquely Jewish lens (and a very modern one at that) makes it that much more significant. From our green gifts guide (page 19) to “The Top 10: Gift of Giving” (page 74), our new magazine is about incorporating the rich and diverse fabric of Jewish culture into your life–with style.

Admit it–haven’t you sometimes felt a little left-out when scanning certain mags on the supermarket checkout line? How much Christmas cookie counsel can a Jewish-American reader use, already?

Jewish Living may well fit a niche, and I’ll look forward to watching its progress. (One suggestion for the staff, should they be reading: Please post freelance guidelines on the site!)

Grace Schulman and "Kol Nidrei: September 2001"

One of the perks of my “day job” at The City University of New York is proximity to an amazing array of creative writing programs, events, and talents. Today I am scheduled to meet with poet Grace Schulman, a Distinguished Professor at CUNY’s Baruch College. I’ve been reading some of Professor Schulman’s work lately, and am especially moved by her poem “Kol Nidrei: September 2001,” which presents a particularly Jewish perspective on life in New York just after the September 11 attacks. It’s an incredible piece.

Read About Romain Gary

For reasons too complicated and yet, in reality, too banal to delve into here, I’ve skipped the aforementioned literary event. Which gives me the opportunity to post a recommendation to read this fabulous new Nextbook article on an author I wish more people knew about: Romain Gary.

I discovered Gary and his work during my junior year semester in Paris, when my French literature professor assigned our class La Vie devant soi, and I’ve been an admirer ever since. After you read the Nextbook article, perhaps you’ll become one, too. (P.S.: Several of Gary’s works are available in English, including this translation of La Vie devant soi and this one of the memoir (also extremely powerful) La Promesse de l’aube.)