Hold It All


Category: Jewish Tradition

Learning by Heart, the Joy of Music, and the Power of the Prophetic

Dear Lauren,

I received your letter today about the online Good News class and your hand-written adaptation of Kipling’s famous poem. The fact that you have had “If” as a companion in your work and life at Casa Maria Catholic Worker reminds me of a short book I recently read. It’s titled, A Long Saturday, and it’s a translation of a series of interviews from French between  journalist Laure Adler and literary critic George Steiner.

Steiner was born in 1929. His father had the prescience to move his family out of Europe by 1940, thus escaping the Nazi juggernaut. He went to New York where his teachers included the noted Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson (whom Dorothy Day probably read at some point!). He later studied at the University of Chicago, was a Rhodes Scholar, worked for The Economist awhile, then joined Princeton’s Center for Advanced Studies. He’s been at various elite universities for decades and published many books (on topics like Antigone, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, translation, Homer). His contemporaries include Elie Wiesel and Noam Chomsky, and I’ve learned a lot from all three. Read the rest of this entry »

The Way It Looked In 1968

Within a short period of time there will be no Jewish workers in Israel. The Arabs shall be the workers; the Jews shall be the managers, inspectors, officials, and policemen and mainly secret service men. A state governing a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners is bound to become a Shin Bet state, with all that this would imply to the spirit of education, freedom of speech and thought and democracy. This corruption, characteristic of any colonial regime, would be true for Israel. The administration will be forced to deal with the suppression of an Arab protest movement and the acquisition of Arab quislings. We must fear that even the army and its officers, a people’s army, will deteriorate by becoming an occupation army, and its officers, turned into military governors, will not differ from military governors elsewhere in the world.

Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Israeli philosopher and scholar
Yediot Ahronot
March 1968
Quoted in George Baramki Azar, Palestine: A Photographic Journey

Yesh Leibowitz


Share the Wealth with Celine Dammond–Lost World of an Egyptian Jew: Reflecting on My Grandma’s Life

Liliane Dammond came to the United States in 1950, 25 years old, recently married and pregnant with my father. Learning English at 14 and studying in England, she was privileged to have no language barrier and access to education. Her focus on family and work dictated her life until retirement, when she decided to share stories of life in 20th century Egypt for Jews. In 1956-57, foreigners (both Jews and Europeans) were expelled from the country. Approximately 30 interviews with Egyptian Jews were transcribed for my grandma’s book, The Lost World of Egyptian Jews. I will share about her life as an Egyptian Jew in the United States, using both personal memories, stories as well as her own writing.

The book was self-published and is available for purchase on Amazon if you’re interested in the topic and stories.

About me: My name is Celine Dammond and I am the daughter of an Egyptian Jewish father and a Danish/British Mormon mother. Neither of my parents practice their religion anymore, however their families were people from separate times in history whose stories echo with a resounding, important similarity: freedom of religion.

Join us
Sunday 19 February
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Celine begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Fatima Rhodes
4406 A Laclede
Central West End 63108

Nonna (as I called her) & I, 1992

Elie Wiesel and Worthy Remembrance

See, Wiesel has often made this claim quite explicit:  I am above politics, my message is so precious and pure it cannot afford to be sullied by compromise. Such is the transcendent dignity of the murdered Jews of whom I am their delegate and spokesman.  My task is to show, au contraire,  how and why he’s (unconsciously?) political, that is to say, not as independent as he thinks he is, not as distant and detached and free from the determinations of the “political” as he would like to think.  For to reap the symbolic profits that he has himself reaped, he has had to cover a lot of distance in the move from a space of  relative in cognito to one of major publicity and prestige.  And yet, I need to attend to the subtleties involved in his case, because he is often quite deliberately political in the case of Sanctuary for example, even if he in the same case contradicts himself.

Another issue worth investigating  is whether by his own efforts, Wiesel has assisted in the process of transforming the Holocaust from a perennial warning to a political fashion statement [which affords him plenty of symbolic profits, and which he himself already denied in his memoir about “capital”]. Read the rest of this entry »

Hold It All/37

In the last thirty years of his life, [Jacob] Glatshteyn’s poetry became an incessant, internalized conversation on Jewish history, the lost world of European Jewry, the birth of Israel, assimilation in America, the tragic demise of the Yiddish language, and the loneliness of the poet.

–Benjamin and Barbara Harshav, American Yiddish Poetry: A Bi-Lingual Anthology



A Second Bible by Melech Ravitch

Why shouldn’t a second Jewish Book be put together and edited and canonized, on the lines of our Bible? 377

A Bible is not an anthology, nor a history, nor a collection of documents. It is all of these together. The most important thing in a Bible is the bold, courageous, manly, human idea—the flowing line, not the precise dot. And the line is that man is good, and that absolute justice does exist, and that it will one day prevail; and that the Jews work for it and suffer for it, and though they often suffer more for it—for absolute justice— they don’t stop working for it, work more for it, in fact. But all this must not be said, must not be brought out apologetically. 379

A Bible is an undefinable literary form of its own. And part of its indefinability is its absolute truth, once it has been put together and canonized….A Bible is a Book of absolute sincerity, like life itself. A Bible is not written. It is put together of elements that already existed previously. 383 Read the rest of this entry »

Note to a Friend Who Surprised Herself Last Month by Reading Ten Various Historical Critical Political Theological Books about Jesus

Dear Flannery

Son o’ God
Messiah Numero Uno
Christ the King
Son of Man
Son of Mary and Joe
Champion of the poor
Pre-incarnation of Che
Founder of the Church?
Believer in the Reign of God
Summoner of the Kingdom
Embodier of that Kingdom
People pray to him
People talk to him, but not in Aramaic
People cheer in his name
People killed in his name
People burned the Talmud in his name
Russian pilgrims trudge through the snow repeating his holy name
Aryan Jesus
Yiddish Jesus
Fundamentalist Jesus
Vedantist mystic Jesus
Taoist Jesus
Feminist Jesus
Resurrected Jesus
Jesus on the Rez
Jesus saves
Jesus dies for us even the pagans in Paraguay?
Jesus Logos
Jesus cousin to Socrates
Jesus knows your sins (and loves you anyway or will damn you if you don’t genuflect)
Jesus like no other
Jesus the one and the only
Jesus the Cosmic Christ
Jesus superstar
Jesus storyteller
Jesus Torah Jew
Jesus not one jot not one tittle
Jesus in the Warsaw Ghetto
Chagall Jesus
Kazantzakis Jesus
Is there a Flannery’s Jesus?
“Who do you say that I am?”
Who do we say that he was?
Who do we say that he is?
How much does it matter?

That we can tell each other next Thursday
Russian Tea Room, 5 p.m.
You bring your Tolstoy
I’ll bring my Dostoevsky
We won’t get to the bottom of this


from novel-in-process, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

Max’s Ire

Dear Bella

I receive daily or weekly emails from Algemeiner, the Forward, Chabad, Mondoweiss, Jewcy, ZNet, and Tikkun,  which gives me interesting spectrum of opinion on what’s going on.

I thought I’d share this with you since tikkun olam is a big part of your life;  I received an email from Rabbi Lerner and I asked  Max to offer a comment on the opening paragraph:

Lerner:  Though the first day of our 30th anniversary celebration (Saturday, Nov. 12) will largely be devoted to developing understanding and strategy for the coming years as we face a centrist President who will herself be facing immense pressures to satisfy the agendas of the 1% who have largely funded her political career, and to abandon the trajectory and idealism revealed by the near-successful Bernie Sanders primary campaign, we will also spend much time the second day (Sunday, November 13) honroing [sic] everyone who has been engaged in social change activism at some point in their lives on the second day of the conference, with special attention to a few whose lives made major contributions to the healing and transformation of our world–by giving them the Tikkun Award.

Max: That is an undifferentiated stream of consciousness that betrays a willful suppression of the truth.  In other words, false consciousness and lying to self and others. He knows as well as anyone that Clinton never adopted the trajectory and idealism of the Sanders’ campaign, so there is nothing for her to abandon, not to even get into whether the Sanders’ campaign was what he makes it out to be. As far as awards go, I’d give the Weasel Word of the Year award to Lerner for anointing Clinton a “centrist.” Tell that to Netanyahu.  At least he’d have the sense to laugh.  Clinton will be facing immense pressures to satisfy the 1%. Beautiful. James Baldwin would rather call it going where her blood beats, and has for her entire political career.  Lerner should be ashamed, but of course he’s not, and that’s the real tragedy for liberals like him.

I’ve invited Max to join us in the sangha on Saturday mornings, but he’s not interested in the least.  One of these days, the three of us should meet up.  He was a dear friend of Henry’s.

Barukh hashem,


–from novel-in-process, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris



I am looking, as I write of Kafka, at the photograph taken of him at the age of forty (my age)—it is 1924, as sweet and hopeful a year as he may ever have known as a man, and the year of his death.  His face is sharp and skeletal, a burrower’s face: pronounced cheekbones made even more conspicuous by the absence of sideburns; the ears shaped and angled on his head like angel wings; an intense, creaturely gaze of startled composure–enormous fears, enormous control; a black towel of Levantine hair pulled close around the skull the only sensuous feature; there is a familiar Jewish flare in the bridge of the nose, the nose itself is long and weighted slightly at the tip–the nose of half the Jewish boys who were my friends in high school.  Skulls chiseled like this one were shoveled by the thousands from the ovens; had he lived, his would have been among them, along with the skulls of his three younger sisters.

–Philip Roth, “I Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting”; or, Looking at Kafka, in Reading Myself and Others (1973)

Five Thousand Years of Jewish Creativity

I learned Hebrew by dint of much effort. It is a difficult language, severe and ascetic. Its ancient basis is the proverb from the Mishna: “Silence is a fence for wisdom.”…If it weren’t for Hebrew, I doubt whether I would have found my way to Judaism. Hebrew offered me the heart of the Jewish myth, its way of thinking and its beliefs, from the days of the Bible to Agnon. This is a thick strand of five thousand years of Jewish creativity, with all its rises and falls: the poetic language of the Bible, the juridical language of the Talmud, and the mystical language of the Kabala. This richness is sometimes difficult to cope with.

–Aharon Appelfeld, interviewed by Philip Roth in Shoptalk