Irène Némirvosky and the Jewish Question

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend last week’s panel discussion at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on “Irène Némirovsky and the Jewish Question.” On the bright side, though, the Museum has made podcast segments available on its Web site, and I’ve had some time this weekend to listen. Well worth my time, and, if you’re interested in Némirvosky and her work, quite likely worth yours, too.

Summer Internships at the National Yiddish Book Center

Received this info via e-mail:

INTERNSHIPS: June 14-July 24, 2009
at the National Yiddish Book Center
Amherst, MA
Live and learn Yiddish for six weeks in the lively Five College area:

Intensive beginning and intermediate Yiddish-language classes.
Studies in Yiddish Culture and Eastern European History.
Hands-on professional experience with the Book Center’s staff.
Research opportunities.
Field trips, workshops, performances, and more.

Full-time undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged to apply. Each student receives free tuition and credit for two undergraduate courses. Application Deadline: February 2, 2009

For more information and application guidelines go to

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.)

Letter from Shanghai: Guest Post from BJ Epstein

Remember BJ Epstein‘s guest post about her experiences as a Jew in Sweden? BJ is an intrepid traveler, and now she has graciously agreed to share impressions (and photographs) from her recent trip to China.

Earlier this month, when I went to China for a translation conference, I didn’t expect to learn some Jewish history. I vaguely knew that some Jews had taken refuge in Shanghai during the Second World War, but I didn’t think too much about it. However, a chance meeting at the breakfast buffet in our hotel with another American Jew convinced me and my trusty sidekick (a.k.a my mother) to make learning about the Jews in Shanghai a priority.

With that in mind, on our last full day in the country, we headed off to the old Jewish quarter, a small area centered around the synagogue. The Jewish Refugees Museum is in what used to be Ohel Moishe Synagogue. There, a young Chinese college student enthusiastically told us about how Shanghai warmly welcomed Jews from Europe during World War 2. Ho Fengshan, called the “Chinese Schindler”, was a diplomat in Vienna who gave visas to Jews so they could enter Japanese-controlled Shanghai and come to safety. My mother and I were told that at the height of the war, there were 25,000 Jews in Shanghai, many of whom had Ho to thank for being alive. After he died, he was named a Righteous Among the Nations by Vad Yashem. After the Holocaust, most of the Jews left China to settle in Israel, Australia, and the U.S., and today there are only around 3,000 Jews left, and they apparently have no synagogue. Some of them are descendants of refugees while others are business people who settled in Shanghai to take advantage of the booming Chinese economy.

Our guide also informed us that there is a close partnership today between China and Israel, and this was illustrated at the museum by many pictures of Chinese and Israeli dignitaries shaking hands and exchanging knowledge. Most of the captions were in Chinese, however, so although I could tell that Israel was, for example, sharing knowledge about cows with the Chinese, the circumstances were unclear.

The museum also had photographs showing the small synagogue in use during the 1930s and 40s as well as some artwork created to show the connection between Jews and the Chinese.

It must be said that China is not the most religion-friendly country in the world, so it makes sense that few Jews are left there today. Nevertheless, the people are extremely, and rightfully, proud of their role in saving Jews during the Holocaust. There was testimony at the museum from families who had been turned down by a dozen or more embassies before receiving a visa that allowed them to leave Europe for China and it is sad to think about what would have become of them without Shanghai’s open arms.

Job Opportunity at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Just received an e-mail about a job available at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Silberman Foundation ITS Research Scholar is responsible, “under the supervision of the Director of the Center’s Visiting Scholar Programs and in consultation with the Center Director, for planning and implementing research workshops, symposia, seminars, and other outreach activities that guide, encourage, and enhance scholarly investigation of the more than 100 million digital images of documentation held by the International Tracing Service (ITS) that are being transferred to the Museum. These activities may involve cooperative efforts with other research and educational institutions or with ITS itself. The incumbent will also undertake assigned research and publication projects utilizing the rich documentary resource that the ITS archives represent.” For more information, click here.

A Visit to the Mémorial de la Shoah

In my last post, I mentioned that I was leaving for vacation. What I didn’t say there was that I was on my way to France, where I participated in the Paris Writers Workshop and tried to begin transforming a failed short story into a novel.

Beyond that, I was able to stroll around my beloved Paris. Many years ago, I made my first visit to the Mémorial de la Shoah located there, and I returned to its museum last week.

This time, I went to the museum especially to see a current exhibition titled “ALYAH-BETH: L’Emigration clandestine des juifs depuis la France vers la Palestine.” As you might discern even without knowing French, this exhibition focuses on Jewish emigration from France to Palestine, particularly in the years between the end of World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel.

If you can read French, and plan on being in Paris before the exhibition closes on September 28, I highly recommend a visit. If you’re limited to a virtual tour, you can get a sense of what the exhibition offers here (but you’ll still need to read French).

It’s also worth mentioning that on the English version of the museum’s Web site, Anglophones will find the following note: “For the benefit of a growing number of English-speaking visitors, the Shoah Memorial is organizing on the second Sunday of every month, a guided tour in English, free of charge. Start of the tour at 3.00 pm in the lobby. Prior reservation is not required.”

A Visit to the Center for Jewish History

Last Sunday my parents and I headed downtown to the Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street. We had two goals: to visit the exhibit on “Alfred Dreyfus: The Fight for Justice,” and to see the one on “Jewish Chaplains at War: Unsung Heroes of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ 1941-45.”

For those new to it, the CJH is, according to its Web site, “a unique partnership of five major institutions of Jewish scholarship, history, and art: the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, the Yeshiva University Museum, and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.” The Dreyfus exhibit belongs to the Yeshiva University Museum segment; “Jewish Chaplains at War” is linked with the AJHS.

Since the exhibit on the chaplains was on the main floor, we started there. The story of Jewish chaplains in World War II is not entirely new to me. Still, I was incredibly moved by the photographs and objects on display. One photograph of a Jewish chaplain leading services for Buchenwald survivors was overwhelming. (Although much of the exhibit appears to be online, that piece of it does not seem to be.)

Then we continued on to the Dreyfus exhibition. According to the brochure I picked up there, the exhibition was organized by the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris. Which might explain the fact that I was able to read/understand much more of what was on view than were my (non-French-speaking) parents.

I’ve known a lot about this historical episode for a long time. And yet, it still affects me profoundly. Maybe it affected me even more this time, seeing some of the actual fabric ripped from Alfred Dreyfus’s uniform during his dégradation in January 1895.

It’s an extensive exhibition, one that will take you much more time to absorb than you’ll need for “Jewish Chaplains at War.” You can catch it until February 17. And while it will help you to have some facility with French, that’s really not required. Je vous le promets.