Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Yiddish Writers/3

Isaac Bashevis Singer was the only Yiddish writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (Elie Wiesel, whose first book, And the World Remained Silent, was in Yiddish, was awarded the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.) Admitting his penchant for reading masters like Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, Singer didn’t particularly identify with the Yiddish literary tradition: “I consider myself a writer in the Jewish tradition but not exactly the Yiddish tradition…. The Yiddish tradition, in my mind, is a tradition of sentimentality and social justice.” Swearing off any such social ideology, Singer believed that “the basic function of literature, as far as I can say, is to entertain the spirit in a very big way. I mean small literature entertains small spirits and great literature entertains greater spirits.”

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If we reach the time when Yiddish and Yiddish customs and folklore are forgotten, Hitler will have succeeded not only physically but also spiritually.

I’m sure that millions of Yiddish-speaking ghosts will rise from their graves one day and their first question will be, “Is there any new book in Yiddish to read?” Read the rest of this entry »

She’s Had a Pretty Good Nocturnal Run

At Dunkin’ Donuts
She said matter-of-factly
“I haven’t had a nightmare
In 17 years”
She’s 22

Yiddish Writers/2

I tried in my book Kiddush Hashem to picture Auschwitz in seventy pages. But I wrote the book over a period of six years, in pain and agony. And writing it I became a changed man. I didn’t sleep night after night.  I lived through everyone’s separate torment. I experienced  over again every happening I described. I was back in Auschwitz.  When I did fall asleep I woke, screaming. I had dreamed I was in the ghetto or in Auschwitz. —Rachmil Bryks

Yiddish Writers/1

If you’re looking to buy something, I’m afraid I’m all out of stock, unless I can interest you in some fine hunger pains, a week’s supply of heartache, or a head full of scrambled brains.

Oh, my dear Lord, I thought: they say you’re a long-suffering God, a good God, a great God; they say You’re merciful and fair; perhaps you can explain to me, then, why is it that some folk have everything and others have nothing twice over? Why does one Jew get to eat butter rolls while another gets to eat dirt?

… unless, that is, the Almighty looks down on us and says, “Guess what, children! I’ve decided to send you my Messiah!” I don’t even care if he does it just to spite us, as long as He’s quick about it, that old God of ours!

–Sholem Aleichem, Tevye the Dairyman
Translated by Hillel Halkin

A New-Old Saintliness

On Maria Clara Bingemer, Simone Weil: Mystic of Passion and Compassion

French intellectual Simone Weil has had many biographers, interpreters, and critics since she died in 1943.   Brazilian liberation theologian Maria Clara Bingemer’s recent book is a generous retrieval of Weil ’s relevance in this decade.  What Latin American liberation theology eventually named  in the late 1960s as “the preferential option for the poor” Weil as an individual  was  practicing, sometimes awkwardly,  but always with fierce intensity, in the 1930s and 40s.  Bingemer sees Weil as an inspiring, even exemplary, figure for those who may be distant from the forms and rituals of  traditional religiosity. Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth with Mary Shannon: Practicing Radical Empathy

My work with Casa de Salud has offered me a unique perspective on the St. Louis healthcare system. Through stories of my time with Casa, we will explore the barriers to healthcare that many St. Louisans face, the local systems that make it harder for some folks to be or stay healthy, and the notion of radical empathy.

Mary Shannon graduated from Saint Louis University in 2014, where she studied political science, international studies, and Spanish. After graduation, Mary moved to Nicaragua, working with the non-profit Global Brigades for a year. Mary has since returned to St. Louis and now works for Casa de Salud, a non-profit health clinic that serves the uninsured and under-insured foreign-born communities in the region.

Join us
Sunday 13 August
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Please bring something to share
Mary begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Julia Brucks
2819A Shenandoah
Saint Louis, MO
63104

Mary studied with me in a SLU freshman  Crossroads  Honors class in spring 2011.  It has been a delight to keep in touch with and be inspired by her the last several years.

A Letter Is… by Emily Guck-McGuigan

A letter is….

A humanly imperfect cartography of thoughts and experience
Made not for self-exploration
(Though insight often emerges from the act)
But for sending on–
Inviting,
“Imagine yourself here!”
Read the rest of this entry »

Palm Coast

My friends, the Burkempers, are vacationing at Palm Coast, and Liz sent me this photograph.

Napalm Sticks to Kids, Teens, Adults, Elders

On Robert Neer, Napalm: An American Biography (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013)

1.

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like …victory.”
—Lt. Col.Kilgore, in Francis Ford Coppola’s film, Apocalypse Now

“[W]e’ll fight mercilessly. Flying Fortresses will be dispatched immediately to set the paper cities of Japan on fire… There won’t be any hesitation about bombing civilians.”
Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, November 1941

“Fry ‘em out, burn ‘em out, cook ‘em.”
—Narrator in U.S. documentary film, This Is Korea Read the rest of this entry »

Staying Human

Felicia Langer, An Age of Stone (Quartet Books, 1988) Trans. Isaac Cohen

It is my simple belief that whatever happens to [the Palestinians], their future and their fate in the last decades of the twentieth century must be the concern of everyone.

A Gazan: Inside or out, this whole place is a prison. We have nothing left to lose.

‘The ones who did not know, did not want to know.’

I register the event. I record the facts.

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An Age of Stone is an account of attorney Felicia Langer’s work  from 1979 to  1988.    Published almost thirty years ago, the book reveals what commitment entails in the day to day life of the author: accompanying the Palestinians, defending them in an  absurd and unjust court system, not averting her gaze from the daily horror these people endured, weeping with the families, raging as a spiritual practice, and resolving never to give up.

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1.

There are pictures that stay in the memory as if carved with a fine chisel.

Of the thousands of demolished homes I remember one house in Silwad.

Of the hundreds of torture victims I see the burnt eyes and the crouched back of Sulaiman.

Of the countless smiles in the darkness there is the smile of Sami.

Of the hundreds of hunger-strikers I see the tiny Mehdi.

Like a great sea reflected in a tiny drop. 17 Read the rest of this entry »