Mumbai

Like many of you, I’ve been spending a lot of time following the horrible news from Mumbai.

Sometimes when these awful incidents occur, it almost begins to seem that all the accounts from witnesses and survivors are blending together. But when a CNN broadcaster interviewed Jonathan Ehrlich earlier today, something was different.

From the safety of Vancouver, Ehrlich told CNN about his frightening experience in Mumbai, where he was staying at the Oberoi hotel.

Ehrlich said he feels even more blessed now than he did before–he’s got a good life, and he’s always recognized that, and now he feels even luckier. Among his thoughts, when talking about how fortunate he is to have escaped from the terrorists in his hotel: “First of all, I’m Jewish, and if they knew I was Jewish, I’d be dead….”

Which led the interviewer to bring up the targeting of the Chabad House and ask Ehrlich how it feels to be part of a group of people “that was purposely targeted.”

“The sad truth of it is is that Jews are a target everywhere because of who they are,” Ehrlich said. But, he added that “We’re tough, we can take it,” and we will go on.

Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu ya’ase shalom aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, v’imru amein. (May the source of peace send peace to all who mourn, and comfort to all who are bereaved. And let us say, Amen.)

Woman of Letters and Other Goings-on at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

In the current (November) issue of The Writer magazine, I’ve contributed a short news item on Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Woman of Letters runs into March 2009, but if you can’t get to the Museum to see it, you can still check it out online.

Plenty of events are being planned in conjunction with this exhibition, among them a discussion of “Jews in Vichy France” (featuring scholars Robert Paxton and Michael Marrus) and another session on “Irène Némirovsky and the Jewish Question,” with my own former professor, Susan Suleiman, and The New Republic‘s Ruth Franklin. Check out these sessions, and other events planned for this fall at the Museum, right here.

(I won’t be blogging on Yom Kippur. See you back here in a few days.)

From My Bookshelf: The Temple Bombing, by Melissa Fay Greene

Last year I spent a few days in Atlanta, and at one point I passed the beautiful Temple on Peachtree Street. I hadn’t yet read Melissa Fay Greene’s 1996 book, The Temple Bombing, but I’d heard about it (it was a National Book Award Finalist), and I knew the basic story it told: the Temple, Atlanta’s oldest synagogue, was bombed in 1958. Thankfully, no one had been hurt.

Now I’m reading Greene’s book, and while I haven’t yet finished it, I’m very glad that I’ve finally gotten to it. The book not only chronicles the bombing, but offers a rich history of Atlanta Jewry; a detailed portrait of Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, the Temple’s leader in 1958; and a reminder of just how difficult the struggles for integration and civil rights in the South really were.

At about 500 pages (with footnotes), it’s a challenging read. But very much worth the effort.

Censorship?

I’ve often been chagrined by the ample discourse on the supposed suppression of anti-Israel discourse. It’s amazing how much press time–and how many book sales–critics of Israel can get while they’re complaining about how they aren’t allowed to speak or publish or express themselves. It’s infuriating.

So, as David Harris notes, it is indeed worth watching and thinking about what happens when the shoe is on the other foot. Somehow, I suspect certain voices otherwise prone to crying “censorship!” will be conspicuously silent. And anyone who speaks up in favor of disseminating a pro-Israel message will be accused of being a “rightist,” a “neocon,” or some other pejorative sobriquet.

Anti-Racist Blog: Gone, But Definitely Not Forgotten

I hadn’t visited Anti-Racist Blog for a few days, so I was surprised, upon clicking over today, to see the blog basically dismantled. And I’m sad and angry (though unfortunately not so surprised, given some of my own experiences) about what has driven the blogger to take this serious step. You can read all about the blog and the reason it’s been taken down here.

But of course I respect the blogger’s decision. Thanks for all your work, Anti-Racist blogger. Todah rabah, indeed.

Letter from Stockholm

Guest commentary from BJ Epstein, sent via e-mail from Sweden during her recent visit back there.

During my years living in Sweden, I was never quite sure what people found more objectionable — the fact that I was born and raised in the United States or the fact that I am Jewish. Together, those two items proved to be an unpleasant combination.

Jews are a small percentage of the Swedish population (around 0.2%), and a pretty invisible group here. Swedes take pride in their “neutrality” during World War II and in the White Bus movement and so forth, but to them, that was a long time ago. Now, in part because of the situation in Israel and also because of how the United States and its foreign policy is viewed abroad, Swedish Jews receive no sympathy and instead can have serious problems.

Here are a few examples of events that happened while I lived here: a Jewish store-owner was badly beaten up and his store damaged; two young Jewish teachers-in-training were teaching in an inner-city school and were so frequently harassed by their students (who were nearly all from Muslim backgrounds) that they both quit; a man wearing a yarmulke was violently attacked at a subway station; and in one of the major squares in a large city, someone drew graffiti that showed a swastika, a star of David, and an American flag with equal signs between each of the symbols. Not one of these appalling occurrences was discussed in any of the major newspapers, as far as I could tell. I only learned about them from the tiny Jewish press (and, in the last case, from seeing the graffiti myself).

I certainly received a lot of questions about Jews (such as “Jews celebrate Easter, right?” and “Jews are just another kind of Christian, aren’t they?”) that showed that people had learned little about Judaism in school, and I heard a lot of criticism about Israel and about Jews. The critical remarks often proved to me that though people claim that disliking Israeli or its various policies is not the same as being anti-Semitic (and, yes, this is of course true), many people nevertheless offered comments that were both anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic, while disingenuously pretending that this was not the case and that Jews were just oversensitive.

I have now lived elsewhere for over a year and a half, and I was disappointed on my recent trip to Stockholm to see that little has changed. The Mediterranean Museum does not mention a single word about Israel or about Jews and although I know that the small museum can not feature every single country in the Mediterranean area, it does have a prominent exhibit on Islam and on the Muslims of Sweden. Also, there was a large protest against the United States a few days ago, and I saw protesters carrying signs that showed how disgruntled they were with what they termed “Usrael.”

The “foreign” population of Sweden is currently around 10%, and it is growing all the time. I can’t help but wish that all the minorities in Sweden, including the Jews, received better treatment, and could feel more comfortable and welcomed here.