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 The UN has also been the subject of some scholarly interest for me (though unpublished, my first-semester graduate seminar paper on France’s path to a permanent seat on the Security Council remains one of the best pieces of work I did on my way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).

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!)