An Anecdote from Senator Kennedy’s Memorial Service

I’ve spent quite a lot of time watching the events in Boston and Washington this weekend. Friday night, Senator Orrin Hatch brought me to tears as he spoke of his friend, Ted, at the memorial service that took place at the JFK Library and Museum.

At that same service, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick shared an story I had never heard. It’s about Sen. Kennedy bringing soil from his brothers’ graves to leave with Yitzhak Rabin after the Israeli Prime Minister’s assassination. The anecdote unfolds just about at the 1 hour, 10 minute mark of this video.

"A Great Friend of Israel": Senator Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

Like so many others in the United States and around the world, I am mourning the loss of Ted Kennedy. I am proud to say that for a number of years, he was “my” senator, and I have been especially moved to see among the tributes and articles flowing through the Internet a number of items that touch on Kennedy’s attention to Israel and Jewish issues.

A few examples:

“Sen. Kennedy seen as giant on domestic issues, Soviet Jewry”

“U.S. Jews: Ted Kennedy’s death is a loss for the Jewish people”

Statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Brief Blogging Break

I’ll be sans Internet at home until the middle of next week, so I expect to be on a brief blogging break until then. Please enjoy the archived posts as well as the many links you’ll find on the right-hand side of the screen. Thanks for your patience–see you soon!

A shanda far die goyim

I can’t quite articulate how angry and depressed the shanda that is the Bernard Madoff story has made me. How anyone can defraud Elie Wiesel (ELIE WIESEL!!!), a foundation dedicated to facilitating bone marrow transplants (an especially sensitive subject with me at the moment since a good friend of mine is awaiting just such a transplant), and so many other individuals and organizations is simply beyond me.

I am keeping up with the devastating effects on Jewish charities, schools, and other nonprofit organizations through many outlets, including the eJewishPhilanthropy and JTA Fundermentalist blogs. And, as always, I am looking for commentary and insight via the ever-informed Jeffrey Goldberg.

Back on Monday

The day job is taking me offsite today and tomorrow, so let me wish you a Happy Halloween and a good weekend a bit early. See you all back here on Monday!

A Mini-Rant Prompted by the Nobel Prize for Literature

By now you are probably aware that the most recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature is J.M.G. Le Clézio.

Thanks to my beloved mentor, I am one of the apparently few Americans who’d heard of Le Clézio before last week. But frankly, I’m less concerned with the implications of this choice and the bewilderment it seems to have provoked among American writer-bloggers than I am about other things that point to some grains of truth within Nobel juror’s Horace Engdahl’s much-criticized comments about the “insularity” and “isolation” of the United States and its writers.

I’m far less bothered by the collective “Who?” that greeted the Nobel Committee’s announcement this year, for example, than I am by the fact that the same bemused question met an instructor’s reference to another French writer (Stendhal) in my own (American) MFA program.

And I’m much less troubled by the paucity of American readers-at-large who would be able to read Le Clézio in the original (since only a tiny fraction of his books is available in English translation) than I am by the honors students in a program I used to teach in at Harvard who tried to petition their way out of a very light “foreign literature” requirement for students who weren’t studying a “foreign” literature as part of their program specializiation (for instance, those focusing on the United States and/or Great Britain, rather than those choosing to concentrate on France, Germany, Latin America, or a host of other options).

These students had among their champions a colleague of mine who proclaimed at a departmental meeting: “If that requirement had been in place when I was a student here, I wouldn’t have graduated.” My take at the time: Either we have a requirement, or we don’t have a requirement. But listing requirements in a program catalogue without enforcing them, and worse, without asking students to demonstrate how they’ve synthesized this “other” work into their larger course of study–whether we were talking about the “foreign literature” requirement or the “foreign history” requirement (subsequently renamed the “America in the World” requirement), as this colleague and too many others were perfectly willing to let the students do, incensed me. (The long battle that had to be waged to get that “America in the World” requirement organized would be evidence enough to support Engdahl’s comments, but that’s another story.)

If we don’t expect undergraduates and graduate students who are specializing in literary studies of various sorts to go beyond their own comfort zones and to graduate having looked outside themselves, their own time periods, and their own countries, how can we expect it of anyone else?