Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Jewish Tradition

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 »

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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

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

celine-and-noona
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

 

jacob_glatstein

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

Jesus
Jee-zus
Yesh
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

Perry

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