So, someone asked me to comment on Jewish LA. I had planned on doing so anyway, but first, a word on my perspective. I view Jewish LA, really all LA as a transplanted New Yorker: Essentially a place which merits scorn and mockery, with good restaurants. Whatever stereotypes New Yorkers hold of LA are confirmed when you spend a significant amunt of time here. Some people grow to like it (I hope to return to this). Not me.
Now a comment on Jewish LA: At the moment, in my email inbox there are no fewer than four emails advertising "A Special Kabbalah Class", which will take place a a mainstream shul that caters to Baalei Tshuva. The class, entitled "Men, Women & Kabbalah: Revealing Who We Really Are"
is being taught by a woman from this organization. This serves as an excellent introduction to the situation here. Virtually every Jewish lecture advertised to the public contains the confluence of Kabbalah, and self-help, particularly in the context of relations between the sexes, whether in the context of singles or families.
There seem to be two major reasons for this phenomenon: A) The success of the Kabbalah Center, which is based right in the middle of the major Jewish community here. While they rely on Madonna, Demi Moore and other celebrities to raise their profile, their success is rooted in giving people this combination of pop psychology packaged as spirituality. B) Chabad, picking up on this trend has also cashed in on it in a big way. Currently, the largest building on Pico Blvd., the major shopping area in the Jewish area is a huge full-block replica of 770. These are the same guys who bring you the Chabad telethon, packed with those celebrites who straddle the A and B lists, that pulls in a million bucks each summer. What both of these organizations have taught the Jews of LA is that it is all about entertainment. If it doesn't entertain, it won't sell, and people will go to the sources that do entertain. ( I should note that for these purposes, I think of this Kabbalah/Self-help fusion as a form of entertainment.) We, my wife and I, have made it our Rabbinic mission to combat this attitude. We don't have as many people at our programs, but those who attend on a regular basis tend to be the more intelligent and thoughful segments of the population.
Gary Rosenblatt gets to his bread-and-butter, putting together a story on the (potential) upcoming trial between Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim and Yeshiva University, the real story of which is the allegations of abuse against R' Matis Weinberg.
Hate to dredge up old posts, but I wanted to call attention to a comment made by Mariam Sobh, the columnist who recently corrected a couple of errant quotes from Sharon and Eitan that she included in an article in the Daily Illini a few months ago. (Obviously, I can't authenticate it, but it seems legit to me):
I am the actual columnist Mariam Sobh. And I would just like to correct the facts on your blog. No one forced me to apologize. In fact all the "experts" I asked advice from told me to ignore the issue. I wish you would read my article more clearly to realize I did this out of my own free will.
First, I really appreciate Sobh's entrance into the discussion, and - as I mentioned in the original post - her column in which she apologizes is extremely credible, and I commend her for it.
And, to the extent that I may have drawn incorrect conclusions from the events, I apologize.
But I would like to explain what factors made it appear that Sobh's retraction was elicited under less-than-ideal circumstances:
1) The original article appeared in December of 2003. The full retraction - for errors that would take less than five minutes to confirm as mistaken on Lexis-Nexis - did not appear until 4 months later.
2) Subsequent to the original article, and before the retraction, Sobh referred back to the issue in a couple of columns - one in which she said that she was "sure" that all the "drama" she brought the paper was "because my picture shows that I'm obviously Muslim," and another in which she halfheartedly apologized for the quote [which was "too good to be true"] while claiming that her error didn't "erase Ariel Sharon's record as a war criminal."
3) In the meantime, before the retraction, many Jewish organizations as well as students on campus (and alumni) demanded corrective measures from the paper, and from higher-ups in the university, including the dean of the school of journalism .
Now, given this combination of factors, it did seem reasonable to suspect that the pressure may have played a hand in the ultimate retraction. I readily admit that the one factor that did not seem to fit was Sobh's ostensible sincerity and forthrightness in her ultimate column - but, unfortunately, true sincerity and feigned sincerity are not always easily distinguished.
Anyway, Ms. Sobh, I commend you once again for righting the record. And I welcome your comments and complaints.
The FBI has informed us of an unconfirmed threat of attack today against one of the several malls in West LA (where I live). A few troubling things about this and the reaction to it:
1) I hate when people tell you to go about your business and leisure, even at the risk of harm by saying "If you change your pattern of action the terrorists win." That's absurd. If we die the terrorists win. If we change our pattern of action, and live, we win. There was a time (the 60's and 70's) that terrorists wanted to fill people's hearts with fear. Now, it seems, they just want to kill. A heart that still beats, however full of fear it mught be, is a victorious heart.
2) On a lighter note I assume this is a specifically anti-Semitic threat. If you've ever been to a West LA mall on a weekday, particularly while school is in session, you will know that there seem to be a conspicuously large number of Yeshiva high school girls at the Gap, Bannana Republic etc. Clearly this threat is directed against them. Remeber girls, if you go to class, the terrorists win!
So I'm looking at the front page of the Forward over my Raisin Bran at my desk, and I'm thinking to myself, "Something just doesn't look right." I stare at it for a couple minutes, and then I realize: the image accompanying the review of Steven Greenberg's Wrestling With God and Men has the angel and Jacob clothed, not naked, like on the cover of the book. The image is "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel," by Eugene Delacroix. Interestingly, the image chosen by the Forward appears to have inspired the naked version, which mentions Delacroix in the title.
Anyway, the point of all of this is: Greenberg's trying to reach out to a rather sexually-uptight audience and this cover doesn't seem to be the ideal way to go about it, as discussed in my first post; if we now know that the image doesn't even pass muster at the Forward, does the guy even stand a chance? Unless they're selling versions without the dust jacket, it doesn't seem so.
Welcome, Uri, and bye, Protocols -- SIW tells me that my stint as guest blogger has come to an end (why do I feel like those guys auditioning for Stuttering John's job on Howard Stern? [not that I would ever listen to such a show.])
SIW asked me to access my experience as a guest. I was surprised how much I sought validation for my posts from readers. I'd stare at the comments counters and fret. How come no one responded? Is the subject boring? Doe they hate me? It was fascinating what did and didn't generate a response -- and the unexpected directions the responses took.
I appreciated the chance to try out ideas that eventually made it into the newspaper that I edit. For my column on the Rutgers affair, which began with a post here, a reader set me straight on my caricature of "Assassins"; another suggests, rightly, that I jumped the gun in questioning Ed Koch's standing as an arbiter of anti-Semitism.
I wish the subscribers to my newspaper were as responsive to the things we publish -- we mail to at least 45,000 households, and the letters column is weak. I mull over setting up a blog of my own, but am not sure what audience would find me, and without a community of readers I'm not sure I wouldn't be shouting into the wrong end of the megaphone.
(I'm looking forward to field reports from SIW as he joins the Forward -- the compromises he'll feel he will have to make to please editors, the necessary constraints he will find himself under as he is forced to stick to journalism's standards of fairness and objectivity [go ahead, insert Forward joke here]. I'm guessing he'll look back on many of his previous criticisms of j-weeklies with a little more understanding [and regret ever making unfounded charges about people's hair.])
Let me end by going back to what I wrote in my first post: Thoroughly CLALized, I'm convinced that Judaism is an ongoing conversation, in the literal and figurative sense. In that blogs like these encourage those conversations, logging on is a holy act.
Hineni, HeAni MiMa'as...
With great trepidation, I begin my stint guest blogging.
I've been instructed to answer the following questions:
1)Name, age, rank:
My name is Uri Goldstein, I'm 26 years old. I currently reside in Los Angeles, CA. More on that later. I am a Jewish Educator of sorts here. More on that later as well.
2)Tell us a little bit about your daily reading schedule, and how that's changed in recent years.
Good one. My daily reading schedule includes, as it has for numerous years, the Talmud and commentaries, The New York Times, Haaretz (in English), and generally, at any given time one work of fiction and one work of non-fiction. At this point in my life, in addition to the aformentioned, I am regularly reading texts I had never expected to encounter, including: Goodnight Moon, Brown Bear Brown Bear, and any one of five tomes devoted to the theme "Fire Engines". I'll let you all guess why, but you can say that is a radical change to my reading schedule.
3) (Note: here's where we get "high-faluttin')To your mind, what is the most important contribution that blogging can bring to the Jewish community?
I will claim no expertise on this matter as I read only Protocols, with the occasional glance at EphShap's blogs, and the even less occasional foray into that of Bronstein. I would say though, that I see two major contributions, neither specific to Jewish blogs: a) As Steven I. likes to point out, the blogs are always "scooping" the papers. In truth, this is the fundamental phenomenon of online news, like CNN, and Reuters. Major papers are no longer the primary source of info, as they lack the quality of instatenaety (correct my spelling, someone). As such, I feel like the papers have begun to flaunt their subjectivity, by concentrating on analysis, human interest and other items that are not purely "news". Lots of people in the Jewish community like to whine about that when it comes to Israel reporting in the major papers, but I believe it is the natural reaction to the internet becoming the major news source. B) Blogging provides a voice to the disenfranchised. Not everyone has a voice in the papers, on CNN, Fox News or whereever, but due to the nature of the medium, every Joe Shmo can have a forum to voice their perspective. For the first time in history, it is difficult, if not immposible to control the output and accesibility of individuals. Refreshing, and frightening.
4) What, to your mind, has been J-blogging's biggest shortfall so far?
5)What do you hope to accomplish in your time here at Protocols?
I hope to become one of the aformentioned Joe Shmo's. Also, since taking residence in LA, I haven't had the opportunity to do much "hocking". Those who know me understand that I am suffering withdrawl. I hope to create something of a "virtual hock".
OK, enough from me for now. Back to the grind.
To paraphrase a certain eminent TV host, Uri...Out!
1/ What qualifies Ed Koch's comments on this issue as news? He is a columnist and radio talk show host -- isn't it his job to be always angry about something? What's next: "Paul Krugman Says Bush Wrong on Iraq"? "Rush Limbaugh Thinks Kerry Lied Over Medal Tossing"?
2/ “By trivializing genocide," says Koch, "at a time when governments and private backers are reviving ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ and other hate propaganda that made the Holocaust possible, the cartoon threatens Jews who are alive today.” Does it? Does it really? The cartoon is coarse and offensive, but will it really lead to violence?
It was interesting, while doing stories this week, to see whether and what kind of greeting for the holidays was given by my various interviewees:
Chief Rabbi of Israel Metzger: "Chag Sameach" on Yom Ha'atzmaut for him.
R' David Zwiebel of Agudath Israel: No greeting.
JDC official: "Yom Ha'atzmaut Sameach."
Those are all that I recall at the moment. It's been a really long time since "Chag Sameach" carried such significant political implications; perhaps since the institution of Chanuka, if then?
I've received several spam e-mails for this version of Psalms from Judaica Press. While it's not advertised as such on the site, the e-mail declares it, "The most comprehensive edition of Psalms available!" I'm wondering how any complete edition could be more or less comprehensive than another complete edition.
I think my comments apply to the twin poisons of bad satire and bad journalism -- that is, denounce, demonstrate and delegitimize, but let students do the denouncing, demonstrating and delegitimizing. I find it slightly patronizing when the Jewish bigs swoop onto campuses to strategize on the students' indignation. I think it puts the students in a bad position (it's like your mother asking to see your professor about your bad grade on the midterm). If college isn't a place for students to learn how to stand up for their beliefs, then I don't know what is.
I speak from some personal experience. More than 20 years ago, as a member of the staff of my own college newspaper’s entertainment section, I was in part responsible for a series of April Fool’s jokes that ended up insulting the university’s black and Asian communities. The black student union took over our newspaper offices, demanding an apology and a 10-point plan for bringing diversity to the paper. It wasn't the NAACP's doing or the ACLU's. It was student-led. (For the shameful sequel to this little episode, you'll have to wait for my column in the NJ Jewish News, appearing Wednesday).
I acknowledge, however, that many of our Jewish students seem ill-prepared to defend themselves against crappy student journalism and opining. The "bigs" all say they are addressing this problem, with workshops, Hillel programs, copies of "Myths and Facts" and the like. I'll leave it to actual students out there to tell me if it's working. (I suspect, however, that some of these efforts are less about giving students the tools to combat a "poisonous anti-Israel atmosphere" on campus than it is about protecting their kids from hearing anyone disagreeing with them on Israel.)
Student groups should reach out to the bigs when they need help; the bigs should have the humility to work behind the scenes and let the students stand in front of the cameras.
I'll buy your point with regard to satire - let the nudniks do whatever their attention-seeking little minds demand of them. But I think that in the realm of (what is supposed to be) factual reporting, even student journalists must be held to a more exacting standard. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on whether there should be such a distinction
On this topic, I believe that the following situation is quite relevant. (I apologize if this has been dealt with before).
In Dec. of 2003, Mariam Sobh of the Daily Illini at U of Illinois, wrote an article in which she quoted Ariel Sharon, as follows:
"I don't know something called International Principles. I vow that I'll burn every Palestinian child (that) will be born in this area. The Palestinian woman and child is more dangerous than the man, because the Palestinian child's existence infers that generations will go on, but the man causes limited danger. I vow that if I was just an Israeli civilian and I met a Palestinian I would burn him and I would make him suffer before killing him. With one hit I've killed 750 Palestinians (in Rafah in1956). I wanted to encourage my soldiers by raping Arabic girls as the Palestinian woman is a slave for Jews, and we do whatever we want to her and nobody tells us what we shall do but we tell others what they shall do," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview with General Ouze Merham in 1956.
And Raphael Eitan of the IDF:
"when we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle."
And lest anyone doubt the veracity of these quotes:
"These are quotes that have been published in major newspapers or books and therefore are pretty reliable."
(See all these and more! [sorry, not so good with links])
It was only after CAMERA and other Jewish organizations complained, vociferously and continually, to higher-ups at the University (including, apparently, to the dean of the graduate school of journalism to which Sobh [amazingly!] belongs) that Sobh bit the bullet and penned (last week) what is actually a very credible apology for her offense.
In this case, I believe it would be wrong (and perhaps dangerous, in more than one sense) for the adults, so to speak, not to get involved in correcting the problem. Sometimes, when - practically speaking - results are needed, the "big guns" need to be brought in. Would that it were otherwise.
3 p.m. -- Jewish Community Relations Council protests United Nations Special Envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi for anti-Israel remarks; Isaiah Wall, First Avenue and 43rd Street.
This all comes from a story in today's New York Sun by Benny Avni, featuring a claim by Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman that:
"Several U.N. sources told us that Mr. Brahimi is proud of the fact that he has never shaken hands with an Israeli or a Jew."
In the article, Brahimi denies the claim through a spokesperson. That hasn't stopped an outlet like the Jerusalem Post from not only running with the story, but unjustifiably adding credibility to Gillerman's claim:
The protest comes amid revelations by UN sources that Brahimi, a UN undersecretary-general and former Foreign Minister of Algeria, has boasted that he has never knowingly shaken hands with an Israeli or a Jew. Israel's ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman said that the boast, reported Tuesday in the New York Sun, proves Brahimi's "prejudice, bigotry and anti-Semitism."
No, there aren't "revelations," nor is there even a single "revelation," there is a claim by Gillerman. That is some extremely poor journalism by Melissa Radler, who should know better than to attribute a claim to UN sources when all she's got is Gillerman's word.
I was surprised by the story in the Sun and will be interested to see how this plays out, if Gillerman can provide contact to sources that would claim to have heard the boast from Brahimi directly, but thus far that's not the case.
UPDATE: ASC notes in the comments that the JCRC has ample reason to protest Brahimi on anti-Israel grounds. This is true, and something I was aware of. For whatever reason, I was confused when posting, and thought that the JCRC was protesting his "anti-Jewish" not "anti-Israel" sentiments. Other than the JCRC, though, the rest of the post stands.
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
2:38 PM |
Editors of the Rutgers "entertainment weekly" plan to apologize for their front-cover Holocaust cartoon. Now that I think of it, it's not that the cartoon is unfunny or amateurishly drawn (and it's both -- I've sent SIW a Jpeg of the cover and hope he can post it [Here it is -- SIW]), but that there is really no target for its satire. Again, the cover features a cartoon of a fearful, bearded man perched on the edge of an oven with an open door and the words "Holocaust Remembrance Week -- Springfest 2004!" "How 2 play," the cover announces. "1, Throw the ball. 2, Hit the target. 3, L'Chaim. Knock a Jew in the oven! Three throws for one dollar! Really! No, REALLY!"
The cartoonist seemed to be having fun with the juxtaposition of Yom Hashoa and SpringFest, but to what end? Was there a controversy about a Holocaust remembrance effort being planned during SpringFest? Did, say, a pro-Palestinian group plan a patently offensive anti-Israel display and is this a comment on it? Have Jewish groups trivialized the Holocaust in some recent way (I'm reminded when, a decade ago, the Simon Wiesenthal Center released initial plans for its Museum of Tolerance, and some referred to it as Auschwitz-meets-Disneyland)? You just can't juxtapose any two pieces of popular culture and claim to be making a grand satirical point (unless your name is Maureen Dowd).
There are things worth satirizing about our Holocaust commemoration culture. Ask Larry David (and see this very smart article at Nextbook). In the famous "Schindler's List" episode of Seinfeld, which he co-wrote, David satirizes the Jewish community's conflation of the Holocaust itself with a mere Hollywood movie about it. An important point, when even some Holocaust survivors sometimes have trouble separating their first-hand memories from Hollywood depictions of them. Years ago, when I worked for Moment, I edited a survivor's manuscript in which he described a roundup as something "straight out of 'Schindler'"!!
In "The Producers" the joke is on Hitler, perhaps, but the real satire is aimed at the culture of Broadway, in which anything becomes entertainment as long as you put it to music and dance your hearts out (see Sondheim's new musical, "Assassins," in which Lee Harvey Oswald presumably gets the 11 o'clock number). Is Brooks blasphemous? Some have said so. But again, at least he is satirizing something.
When the National Lampoon was doing the "equal opportunity offender" thing in the 1970s, it was fresh, new and, most importantly, hilarious. The problem is that the heirs of geniuses like Doug Kenney and Anne Beatts and Tony Hendra have all of their attitude and none of their wit or intelligence. It's like all those folks who embraced the "New Journalism" in the 1960s without going through the same rigorous journalistic apprenticeships of Tom Wolfe or Gay Talese.
On the other hand, I think the "adult" Jewish groups should keep their distance from the campus. Colleges should be places of learning, and learning means making mistakes. Let students fumble, and let other students craft the appropriate indignant responses. Let 19-year-old editors learn from their mistakes (indeed -- encourage them to make them). They have plenty of time to become cautious, introspective adults.
Strange approach. A guy's selling a terrorist recruitment tool to gain funding for the IDF. I'm thinking this is a bit like selling Mein Kampf to raise funds, which strikes as a bit odd; then again, if people were selling Mein Kampf to raise funds and awareness in the U.S. in the '30s...
(via Kesher Talk)
5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. -- Israeli trauma experts present ``The Israel Trauma Coalition Findings from the Field: Emergency Room and Crisis Intervention in the Aftermath of Suicide Bombings''; Warburg Room, UJA-Federation of New York, 130 East 59th St., at Lexington Avenue.
5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. -- Bronx Borough President hosts Bronx-Israeli Independence Day Celebration; Seton Park, 232nd Street and Independence Avenue, Riverdale, Bronx.
7 p.m. -- Inside Broadway presents its 6th annual Broadway Beacon Awards; honorees include Tovah Feldshuh and Joel Grey;
7 p.m. to 9 p.m. -- Panel discussion with law professor Thane Rosenbaum, author of ``The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails To Do What's Right.''
So there's a group preparing to scale Mount Ararat to find Noah's Ark. Thing is, when you take a look at the blown-up photo, it becomes pretty clear that what they're actually going for is the last goombah from Super Mario Bros.
Solomon: Your new documentary film, ''Control Room,'' presents a highly sympathetic view of Al Jazeera, the Arab-run television news network based in Qatar.
Noujaim: Sure. I saw the people who work at Al Jazeera as human beings who are caught up emotionally in the war in Iraq.
S: Do you think they have been misrepresented here by those who have accused the station of breeding anti-Americanism?
N: I do think they have been misrepresented in certain ways, just as the American military has been misrepresented in the Middle East.
S: As an Egyptian-American, it sounds as if you have divided loyalties....
Actually, it doesn't sound like that at all -- it just sounds like the filmmaker is trying to see both sides of an issue -- perhaps naively, but not traitorously. I would have thought a Jew might hesitate before playing the disloyalty card. Solomon goes on to change the subject, and Noujaim, perhaps to her credit, doesn't take the bait:
S: ....But Al Jazeera, which is government-financed, is not just the Arab version of CNN. Some stations spin more than others.
N: Al Jazeera did get caught up in a lot of Arab nationalism. They might be the only remaining base of Arab nationalism that exists....
Getting to this late, but I was just checking my spam folder and saw an e-mail from Frumster about changest taking place as of April 23rd, including a subscription fee that apparently includes a requirement for payment in order to receive messages. None of these dating-service people get it.
UPDATE: Esther provides an excellent example for why the whole "everyone pays an equal monthly fee" thing is ridiculous: she's getting bombarded by e-mails from a guy she doesn't like. In a better economic model, he'd be paying for all of those, and she could read them for free. Instead, the more-desirable her is paying for the privilege of being stalked by a guy who doesn't get the message.
Also, Yuter has two posts [1,2] on the issue, and reaches roughly similar conclusions.
Irony alert in Teaneck: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, no great fan of the two-state solution, comes out strongly for territorial compromise in the Opinion section of the 4/26 Bergen (NJ) Record (unfortunately no link available):
The solution therefore requires creative thinking, and the division of Iraq -- as was done in the former Yugoslavia. There is nothing sacred about Iraq's borders, essentially a British colonial creation that linked distinct peoples into one nation that was then held together by a succession of dictators. Iraq should therefore be partitioned into three states: north (Kurds), central (Shiites), and south (Sunnis). Each state would respect the rights of minorities living within its territory, the territorial integrity of the others, and the freedoms outlined in the United Nations charter.
Oh, he was talking about Iraq. But the rabbi also has a plan for the Palestinians:
Perhaps a swath of mainly unpopulated western Iraq could be designated a homeland for the Palestinian refugees -- an area with abundant space and natural resources (both absent in their current domicile).
Easy it certainly is for ivory tour leftists to denounce the Jewish state and dictate to it terms of surrender from thousands of miles away; their lives and those of their loved ones are imperiled by the ignominious Arafatian hordes.
"Easy it certainly is," indeed.
It's kind of weird that the JDL would have a blog, opening up to the world its inner thought processes. They've just increased their chances of getting caught before harming Darrell Issa, like, ten-fold, or something.
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
8:10 PM |
9:30 a.m. -- State Sen. Ruben Diaz receives the Abraham Bernstein Memorial Award at a breakfast hosted by the Jewish Community Council of Pelham Parkway for his leadership; 2157 Holland Ave., the Bronx.
Diaz has probably been the most vocal New York state legislator in opposing the same-sex marriage movement. Though it's likely that this is just one of those "local community honoring the local leader" kind of things, without any reference to what the leader has actually done.
10 a.m. -- The Crown Heights Community gathers in support of Israel's settlements in Gaza slated for withdrawal by the Sharon government; 1714 President St., Brooklyn.
11:30 a.m. -- The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America holds its first Move-a-thon, with men, women and children moving through Prospect Park's Bartell Circle using walkers, wheelchairs, bicycles and rollerblades to raise funds for the disabled; Bartell Circle, near 15th Street and Ninth Avenue).
See, it's articles like this that make me want to grow my hair long just so I can tear it out in frustration. Whom, exactly, was Nathan Englander sleeping with at Haaretz to get such a puff pastry piece of a profile, especially since (as the article itself concedes) he hasn't done squat since his "first and only" book, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. This work, critically acclaimed for some reason well beyond me (in my humble assessment, its only value lies in "The 27th Man," its first story - way to wow 'em at the end, Nathan....) was published in 2000 - ages ago, short-fiction speaking, and Englander has produced little (nothing, really) since.
But the book's merits aside (since I'm no lit crit - just a mean Philistine of a med student), what really got to me about the Haaretz piece was how it strove to portray Englander in the repressed-haredi-turned-free-artist (chaim potok anyone?) mode - a myth Englander has fostered since the book's publication. "Englander - luxurious locks, but no side-locks" advertises the article's photo caption, as though Englander rejected his cheder-yingel upbringing for the wide world of Jewish Literature. In fact, Englander grew up fairly MO. He hails from the noted Haredi ghetto of West Hempstead, attended HAFTR (where you're about as likely to find a sidelock as you are a catholic priest), and chose to attend SUNY Binghamton while all his friends went off to YU - a rejection of sorts to be sure, but not the Elisha Ben Avuya moment that's insinuated in his breathless bios.
So we read how
"When he was 13 he found among his sister's possessions a copy of George Orwell's famous novel "1984" and began to read it. Gradually he was exposed to secular Western literature, to the books of Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud. "
In his sister's private stash of secular novels, squirrelled away from their MO parents? Ooooh. And while I'm no fan of Yeshiva day school educations overall, I hardly think it's fair to characterize them as gradual, grudging introductions to secular culture.
I guess what bothers me about Englander is not so much how he created his little mythic haredi upbringing. After all, success is all about packaging, and he deserves a marketing nobel (those flowing locks are certainly a nice Old Testament touch). Certainly there are more nauseating profiles out there (just on a simple google search, the top few hits were here, here, and here, with the touching line: "I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the ankle-length denim skirt.")
I do object to the platitudes thrown at his feet for a substandard work of fiction - encomia resting on the strength of this image and not the accuracy of his fiction. The assumption is that, due to his backstory, Englander is unquestionably giving us an honest, unvarnished portrait of Haredi life. What's clear to those of us who DO know how that world looks, however, is that his portrait is more of a cartoon than a snapshot. His haredim are laughable caricatures, more the work of someone sloppily cribbing IB Singer than one relying on his own (nonexistent) memories of childhood. But most reviewers don't know Willamsburg from William's Island, and consequently, the Myth of Nathan Englander is the only lens through which they can assess his fiction. Pity, since there is a place in the world for the rebellious haredi novelist - sadly it's being filled by poseurs like Englander.
posted by Sam |
11:45 AM |
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