The Kyrgyz Government has declared that it has lost control of the southern city of Osh to anti-Uzbek rioters. Few Jewish media outlets or humanitarian organizations have reported on the condition of Jewish communities living throughout the country, including in the embattled cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad.
Ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the former Soviet, Central Asian republic has flared up before, often under mysterious circumstances. The southern portion of Kyrgyzstan is home to a sizable Uzbek minority with different political sympathies than the Kyrgyz that live alongside them. The conflict seems to concern border disputes between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan rooted in the Soviet Union’s collapse southern ethnic Kyrgyz loyalties to the deposed president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, unlike Uzbeks, who generally support the interim government. With Jews, Meskhetian Turks, Uighurs, Tatars, Ukrainians, Kazakhs and Tajik’s all visible minorities throughout the land, the cities seem to be going up in flames, and the United States vying for power in a strategically important crossroads, the current violence is destined to have an impact on the contours of Jewish life in the country.
Today, Kyrgyzstan is home to about 2000 Jews, many of whom are Ashkenazim who settled in Soviet Central Asia after fleeing the Hitlerite fascist onslaught in Eastern Europe. The Joint, Lubavitch and other Jewish organizations are currently operating in the country, but little has emerged from them since violence erupted in Bishkek last April.
Two upcoming movies I’m guessing the Jewish community will be discussing this summer: “Holy Rollers” (above), based on an apparently true story about Hasidic drug runners; and “The Infidel” (below), a wacky comedy about a British Muslim man who discovers his birth parents were Jewish.
My early reviews: the latter movie looks like a hash of the stupidest stereotypes of Muslims and Jews (tho I’ll admit that the final line in the trailer made me laugh out loud).
Re “Holy Rollers:” the peyos in “The Chosen” were more realistic…
Recently, while perusing back copies of the German newspaper Der Zeit, I came across a November 1990 interview with famed Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner, which, nearly two decades later, remains as sublimely absurd as ever.
Taking this entirely out of context (because it is far more fun this way), here is an excerpt of the interview with a gem of a quote:
Gibt es Erfahrungen, die Sie noch machen wollen?
MESSNER: Ich bin noch nie abgestürzt. Also das fehlt mir. Ich bin 1980 auf dem Mount Everest in eine Spalte gefallen. Aber die war nur acht Meter tief. Ich wäre auch gern einmal eingesperrt. Mich würde interessieren, wie ich reagiere, wenn ich eine lange Zeit im Kerker verbringen müßte. Aber dazu müßte ich ein Verbrechen begehen. Ich könnte Sie zum Beispiel erschießen.
Haben Sie einen Revolver?
Außerdem wäre Ihre mutwillig herbeigeführte Verhaftung eine Erfahrung, die nicht viel zählt.
MESSNER: Das ist wahr. Es ist etwas anderes, ob ich freiwillig oder ungewollt leide. Ich habe mir meine Leiden immer selbst ausgesucht. Ich bin nie in einem KZ gewesen. Das wäre noch eine Wunscherfahrung. Ich möchte wissen, wie lange ich durchhalten und wie selbstsüchtig oder brutal ich mich den Mithäftlingen gegenüber verhalten würde.
In other words, Messner expresses his morbid curiosity and interest in experiencing the horrors of a concentration camp: as the ultimate test of physical endurance and moral fortitude. This reality television show practically writes itself…
Oh wait. Larry David has already taken care of that.
C'mon, the Polish Carpathians are at least as beautiful as the Judean Hills!
The recent Forward article entitled “Why Poland’s Jews Mourn Their President” seems to be answering the elephant-sized question that many have been silently asking themselves: Why are so many Jewish organizations (including March of the Living) and The State of Israel voicing such an outpouring of solidarity and sympathy for Poles in a time of their most terrible loss? Could it be an indication that Jewish communities and organizations are finally looking at the Poles as more than the ambivalent caretakers of their most sacred graveyard? Is it simply a sign that the established Jewish community can reach out their hands even to those they perceive as perpetrators of a most grave crime?
Kaczynski’s politics were not more popular among Poland’s Jewish community of 8,000 than among Poles at large. But the Jews had real reason to mourn a leader who had shown sympathy and support both to them and to the State of Israel, from the day when, soon after winning the 2005 presidential election, he compared himself to Ariel Sharon.
Indeed, there are analogies between the political philosophies of the two. Both were conservative leaders with strong nationalist feelings and were at the helm of countries they considered threatened by neighbors. (Kaczynski took a dim view not only of the past, but also of the present policies of Germany and Russia.) Both were impatient with what they considered liberal indifference to their respective national traditions and values. And both strongly believed in the fundamental role of the state as the nation’s most valuable institution. Both tended to look at what they believed history’s judgment would be, rather than at public opinion polls.
Kaczynski was far from being the only conservative European politician in power today. Yet it would be difficult to imagine any other European leader comparing himself to Sharon; the public-opinion fallout would be devastating. But Kaczynski had no such qualms. To him, the Israeli prime minister was an inspiration, and Israel a friendly state. Much of Polish public opinion tended to agree with him. No criticism followed his Sharon remarks.
That’s right, a top Polish politician was into THE BULLDOZER. In this intricate web of official condolence calls and mixed feelings, Gebert articulates too well that the contemporary Polish-Jewish relationship can be understood through the perceived political affinities between two right-wing nationalists who became intensely unpopular during their lifetimes. It goes to show that as Jewish cultural revival continues throughout the Polish lands, the elite descendants of Polish Jewry living in America and Israel largely see their relationship to Poland through a Zionist, not Ashkenazi, lens. This seems to imply that, at least on an official level, the development of Polish-Jewish reconciliation has largely been achieved through the work of politicians, not through the work of grassroots activists who spend so much time investing in a future for Jewish culture and memory in Poland. I never would have thought that March of the Living, an organization that has been repeatedly criticized for portraying Poland as a bloody, smoldering launching pad for the Zionist future, would require a moment of silence for victims of the crash as it toured its participants through Auschwitz. Do our leaders really feel sympathy for the Poles, or are we just trying to maintain alliances in a Europe increasingly critical of Israeli policy? A mixture of both?
His (Kaczynski’s) Jewish sympathies earned him the scorn of antisemitic extremists, who accused him of being Jewish himself (his “true” name supposedly was Kalkstein); somehow, his brother escaped being thus tainted. Rydzyk brutally attacked the Polish president during a lecture in 2007, accusing him of giving in to Jews, both by allocating land for the museum and supposedly ignoring the alleged threat of Jewish reparation demands. In contrast with his brother, Lech Kaczynski never granted the fundamentalist station an interview. But he had to pay the price for tolerating Jarosław’s alliances. At the funeral last year of Marek Edelman, deputy commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and a hero to the president, Kaczynski stood in silence and alone: The family refused him the right to speak, as Edelman had bitterly criticized the twin brothers’ policies…
…Alive, Kaczynski was a divisive and increasingly unpopular figure because of his authoritarian views, with approval ratings recently as low as 32%. But his tragic death has transformed him into a national icon, with all of Poland united in mourning. Polish Jews shared that pain with all other Polish citizens: A memorial service held in Warsaw’s only synagogue was packed full the day after the plane crash.
This one is so bizarre I’m not sure if it’s disturbing or a very sly bit of tongue in cheek marketing. But since it’s Purim and we’re all going to be Adloyada tonight, this seemed appropriate. And if you’re just an Russian Oligarch who needs to get your drink on, this one’s for you too.
The hottest craze in Russian vodka is the brand “Kabbalah” which sarcastically touts being made with Christian children. Each bottle features a glass baby figurine that’s either flipping you off, picking its nose, or crying. And the babies look just a little bit like Putin. Each flavor is tagged with the name of one of the Kabbalistic sephirot, a pentagram, and a neck-hanger with a phrase in Hebrew.
Reportedly this is a super-premium wheat vodka made with water infused with Gold, Silver and Platinum ions. Naturally it raises questions of blood-libels, Jewish alchemy, cultural appropriation, latent Russian anti-Semitism, and who the hell is behind all this…
It’s a joke, right? A bit of whimsy on the aforementioned issues? At 10,000 rubles a bottle (about $330), the joke’s apparently on us…
As you may have heard, two separate arson attacks in January have devastated the 600-year-old synagogue on Crete and left its extensive library and archives in ruins. Two Americans, two Britons, and a Greek citizen have been arrested. The Yiddish Book Center has offered to help replace some of the books that were destroyed – and we in turn are calling on our members and friends. You’ll find a current list of needed titles on our website.
Most of these books are in English, Hebrew and Greek (there are no Yiddish readers in Crete). Could I ask you to look through the list and check your shelves at home? Any of these titles you can spare will be enormously appreciated. To save time and money, books may be transshipped at domestic rates through an American APO address. Please send any books directly to:
PSC 814 Box 36
FPO AE 09865-0036
Please email us or use our website to let us know which books you send, so we can update our online list and avoid duplication.
Aaron Lansky, President
National Yiddish Book Center
P.S. According to David Webber, a Canadian in Crete, the Jews there “continue to pray in a burned and gutted sacred structure one has known to be blessed, beautiful and gracious.” When I emailed Nicholas Stavroulakis, a leader of the Crete community, to tell him I would be writing to our members, he sent this reply: “Thank you so much for your help – books are of course the heart of our lives, and the loss of so many has really been very hard to handle. Be well my friend.”
As we all know, book burning tends to escelate and can do so quickly. The Jewish community of Crete could use some new (or used) books. If you can consider sending them along.
Izis (Israelis Bidermanas) was a Litvak who moved to Paris in 1930, seeking a safe place to be a painter. During World War Two, he escaped to the countryside, was tortured by the makhshimoynik, only to be liberated by members of the French Resistance. In the following decades, he would be praised for his depictions of post-war Paris and its whimsical circus. He is considered to be among the greats of mid-century French humanist photographers, including Cartier-Bresson and Ronis. This Izis photograph is from his book “Izrael.”
Are you a Jewschool reader in Poland? If you are, Jewschool would love to hear from you! A member of Jewschool’s editorial board will be in Krakow this June-July for the Jewish Culture Festival and in Warsaw, Chmielnik, and Szczebrzeszyn for conferences, speaking gigs and collaborations. Want to help expand the trip, spread the love of Jewschool, and build Polish-American solidarity along the way? Get in touch by clicking Contact Us!
It is with great sadness that I learned, a few days ago, of the death of the great modernist Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever ז”ל. Sutzkever’s immense talent as writer was matched only by his heroism as a freedom fighter. During WWII, Sutzkever fought as a partisan and famously saved Yiddish documents in Vilna from destruction at the hands of the Nazis, who killed both his mother and his son. After the war, Sutzkever immigrated to Israel, where he became editor of the Israeli Yiddish literary quarterly Di Goldene Keyt.
Sutzkever has never received his proper due among literary audiences, especially Jewish American readers, and if you have never read anything by him, I commend his understated but intensely powerful writing to your attention (yes, go ahead; buy two copies: one for you and one for the Yiddish lover in your life). Here is a poem he penned in 1948, entitled Yiddish:
Shall I start from the beginning?
Shall I, a brother,
Smash all the idols?
Shall I let myself be translated alive?
Shall I plant my tongue
Till it transforms
Into our forefathers’
Raisins and almonds?
What kind of joke
My poetry brother with whiskers,
That soon, my mother tongue will set forever?
A hundred years from now, we still may sit here
On the Jordan, and carry on this argument.
For a question
Gnaws and paws at me:
If he knows exactly in what regions
Levi Yitzhok’s prayer,
To their sunset —
Could he please show me
Where the language will go down?
May be at the Wailing Wall?
If so, I shall come there, come,
Open my mouth,
And like a lion
Garbed in fiery scarlet,
I shall swallow the language as it sets.
And wake all the generations with my roar!
Now, technically, there really isn’t any good reason for the Orthodox to refuse to recognize Masorti conversion – like all halachic conversion, Masorti Judaism requires mikveh and milah (for males) and profession of a belief in one, unified, God. Much of the brou-ha-ha is about extra-halachic matters. But despite my opinion that the Orthodox are wrong not to recognize Masorti conversions, I still think that this is a bad idea.
Do we really want secular courts deciding who gets to be considered Jewish (or any other religion, for that matter)? I know that Europe views government interaction with religion quite differently than my government here in the USA (or in theory ought to, anyhow), and there are certainly circumstances in which it makes no sense for us to try to separate our opinions from the religious sensibilities that formed them (or not), as long as we try to be honest about where those sensibilities come from. But having a presumably secular government decide that the Orthodox have no right to exclude Masorti Jews is just a recipe for trouble.
The potential for other decisions to go awry is just too great. Now, if they want to rule that no school has a right to exclude anyone of any religion from enrolling, okay then, as long as they also grant that the school gets to insist on its curriculum without outside interference, and the enrolled student has to follow along if he (or she) enrolls.
In Israel, government participation in religious business has caused just no end of trouble. The founding fathers of the USA were more than right when they noted that a healthy religion is not going to be helped by having government promote it. Reading Steven Waldman’s book Founding Faith made me think a lot more of how religion developed in the USA — and why our secular government, with all its problems, works much better in the arena of helping religion by ignoring it than nearly any other in the world. Which is not to say that doing so hasn’t had its own problems. Certainly the idea of an agora for religious ideas has also resulted in people treating at least Judaism as if it were something one could choose in pieces, treating it as any other product, to evaluate on, say, whether it makes you happy, or is fun, rather than Judaism as something to which we might have to submit ourselves in order to make ourselves better, or our community better. Further, we need to realise that we might not be better off for choosing our community according to whom we like to hang out with, rather than being stuck with the lumpy mess that is true community. But overall, we are better off with a hands-off policy from the government.
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the ADONAI ELOHIM made the earth and the heaven. (Genesis 12:15)
Why does the creation begin with the Divine Name as the Creator and end with two Names, ADONAI ELOHIM when concluding the creation story? The Midrash explains: This may be compared to a king who had some empty glasses. The King wondered: “If I pour hot water into them, they will burst; if, however, I pour cold water, they will contract (and shatter).”
What then did the king do? He poured in a mixture of hot and cold water so the glasses would remain whole. So, said the Holy One: “If I create the world on the basis of mercy alone, its sins will be oppressive; on the basis of judgment alone, how would the world be able to exist? I will create it with justice and mercy together and then, maybe, it will be able to endure!” (Midrash Genesis Rabbah)
Ever since Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced the release of convicted Pan Am bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi this past Thursday, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the precarious balance between justice and mercy.
As you are no doubt aware by now, Scotland went ahead and freed the terminally ill Megrahi on “compassionate grounds” over the furious objections of the American government. Whatever your opinion of this incident, you have to admit it has made for some pretty fascinating reading. I can’t say I ever recall reading so much about the ethics of compassion vs. justice in the op-ed pages before.
The United States was right to complain to British and Scottish authorities, who now have a great deal of explaining and investigation to do in order to demonstrate the integrity of their handling of the entire matter. At the very least, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who granted al-Megrahi release on compassionate grounds, ought to lose his job. Probably he is not the only one.
Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 killing 259 aboard the 747 passenger jet and 11 people on the ground. Libya and its leader, Moammar Gadhafi were blamed and, ultimately, Libya gave up al-Megrahi. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
This gives us the first reason why the release was wrong. The man was sentenced to life. He served eight years. MacAskill ordered the release on compassionate grounds because the prisoner had terminal prostate cancer. People die in prison all the time, which is, in theory, what phrase life in prison means. Even compassion has its limits and it is warranted in this case only for the victims’ families, the victims themselves having been denied it by their murderers.
MacAskill could have washed his hands of this issue and simply had a terminally ill man spend the few remaining days of his life in a Greenock prison cell. Few, beyond the masters of the British petroleum industry, would have demurred. Certainly not Downing Street, whose haunted incumbent would have been praying for such a verdict, and certainly not America whose default position on justice is: “When in doubt, hang them from the neck… especially if they are poor, black and uneducated.” In the Arab world, there would have been desultory protests but nothing more. Baghdad, Helmand, Kabul and the West Bank are of far more pressing concern than the final resting place of a man they all wished to forget.
But this unprepossessing minister of justice sought to ignore all the serried interests of the global supermen. Instead, he found refuge in the fundamental principles of a judicial system that has served Scotland soundly for more than 400 years. For 16 years now, our statutes have given us leave to release from prison anyone who is deemed by competent medical authority to have three months or less to live. It was a concession rooted in compassion, pity and forgiveness. Few in the United Kingdom have ever taken issue with it. It is a good and just law. MacAskill simply applied it.
Regardless of what we might think about MacAskill’s judgment (I’m personally struggling with this myself), I don’t think it is fair or accurate to claim that his actions were politically motivated. Based upon everything I’ve read so far, it seems to me that he simply acted upon what he considered to be values of compassion and decency. When was the last time we could say that about the actions of a politician?
PS: Couldn’t help but notice that Megrahi was freed on Rosh Hodesh Elul. (I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’…)
Read an interesting article in the NY Times yesterday about the new $200 million museum opening in Athens. Apparently there is now hope in Greece that it will become the permanent home for the Parthenon Marbles – an ancient frieze from the Parthenon that was taken by the British in the early 19th century.
Toward the end of the article:
Greece retains only 36 of the 115 original panels from the Parthenon frieze, which depicts a procession in honor of the goddess Athena. Britain has long asserted that when (British Ambassador) Lord Elgin chiseled off the sculptures some 200 years ago, he was acting legally, since he had permission from Greece’s Ottoman rulers.
Ottoman law, Ottoman law…
Something about this sounded strangely familiar – then it hit me. Ottoman law has also been invoked in defense of a very different sort of theft: namely Israel’s nationalization of Palestinian land in the Occupied Territories.
The declaration of the territory as state land was grounded on a manipulative use of the Ottoman Land Law of 1858, which was absorbed in the British mandatory legislation, and later in Jordanian law. According to the 1858 law, the state may take possession of land that is not worked for three consecutive years. In accordance with the military legislation, through which the Ottoman Law was applied, the burden of proof was on the person contending that his parcel of land is not state land.
Who knew? It’s almost a hundred years since the Ottoman empire went under, but its legal genius is still appreciated more than ever…
Those not up on their Scandinavian political/ sports news may have missed a current shitstorm in Sweden over a Davis Cup tennis match, played today, in which the Swedish national team meets the Israeli national team in the Swedish city of Malmö. The Israeli aspect is what has people up in arms.
Assorted political groups in Sweden, including, but not limited to, radical leftists, mainstream leftists, Palestinian solidarity groups and neo-nazis (!) tried to stop the game.
Kudos to the British Jewish community for mobilizing big time in support of Fair Trade!
Check out their impressive new Jewish Guide to Fair Trade – it has to be the most comprehensive resource of its kind. It’s even more remarkable when you consider that it is the product of a wide-ranging coalition that includes every major British-Jewish denomination.
This campaign is but one project of Tzedek, a British org that self-describes itself as
…a voluntarily led Non-Governmental Organisation that draws upon the skills and resources of the Jewish Community to better the lives of those less fortunate. Tzedek aims to nurture and empower open-minded Jewish community leaders to promote the fight against extreme poverty.
Their new guide is much more than just Jewish lip-service to Fair Trade. It’s filled with lots of substantive info, including Jewish sources and curricula.
Any chance that the large Jewish community on the other side of the pond might follow their lead?
The recent persecution of European Roma (Gypsies) is abhorrent.
The UN News Centre reports:
November 21, 2008 – Two United Nations human rights experts today expressed grave concern over the recent rise in anti-Roma sentiment and violent incidents in several European countries, calling for a stronger response from governments.
“Effective action is required to stem the growing tide of hostility, anti-Roma sentiment and violence across Europe,” UN Independent Expert on minority issues Gay McDougall said in a statement…
In the latest incident on November 17th, far-right supporters armed with stones and petrol bombs besieged a Roma community in the Czech town of Litvinov and were prevented from attacking the community only by a concerted police response.
“Extremists may feel they have license for their attacks when the message they receive from government activities in other spheres is also that the Roma are a problem,” Ms. McDougall said.
“Governments must strongly condemn such actions. Moreover they must be committed to finding ways to create safe environments for all by carefully monitoring and strengthening their own anti-racism activities, through leadership and public education, by swiftly denouncing hate speech and prosecuting the racist and violent actions of others in society.”
Both experts consider the policies and actions of numerous States have been inadequate, at best, to resolve intolerable conditions of poverty, marginalization and exclusion experienced by the Roma. Policies such as fingerprinting Roma, abuse by police, and racist statements by senior public officials contribute to creating a climate in which societal discrimination and racism are sustained and enhanced.
The experts said the growing number of incidents requires both a national and Europe-wide response. “A strong message must be sent by the European Union and acted upon by Member States. It is unacceptable for any sector of society to be vilified, threatened and attacked,” Mr. Muigai said.
Why should this should matter to Jews? The Roma people, who arrived in the Balkans from northern India in the 14th century, spread throughout the European continent thereafter and built a both mythologized and brutally persecuted diasporic civilization. Sadly, the only connections drawn between Jews and Romanies begins with klezmer music and ends in the concentration camp.
This should change. As Jewish communities rebuilt themselves after the war with the help of their kinsfolk and allies, the Roma have struggled for recognition, reparations and a better life in a post-War, post-Communist Europe. It was known among the Hasidim that the Besht learned to set broken bones from a Roma healer. Julian Tuwim, a Polish-language Jewish writer, discovered Papusza, still the most well known Romani-language poet. Unfortunately today, the Jewish people largely ignore the virulent denigration of Romani dignity, preferring to largely abandon their dedication to pursuing justice in the diverse European societies where modern Jewish intepretations of tzedek took shape.
For information please visit the European Roma Rights Centre website : ERRC
From The Independent, also in JTA and Reuters, Britain’s first Muslim minister Shahid Malik has said that many Muslims feel like “the Jews of Europe”:
“I think most people would agree that if you ask Muslims today what do they feel like, they feel like the Jews of Europe,” he said. “I don’t mean to equate that with the Holocaust but in the way that it was legitimate almost – and still is in some parts – to target Jews, many Muslims would say that we feel the exact same way.
“Somehow there’s a message out there that it’s OK to target people as long as it’s Muslims. And you don’t have to worry about the facts, and people will turn a blind eye.”
MP Malik speaks to a big truth – a plus ca change truth. Let’s play with this for a sec:
No, Muslims are not having their rights to property or occupation taken away (even if their rights to wear hijabs are under constant threat), even if people do eye them suspiciously. The animosity towards the Islamic bloc countries is rooted also in a fear of East vs. West geopolitical conflict — something the Jews never could claim to have. Further, terrorist acts on a grand scale are also missing from the early 1900s history of Jews and Europe. One might more accurately say that Muslims might be the new Russians. Or the new Communists.
All that being said, does it matter if Islam actually can declare war on the West — or if we just think it has? Jews were accused of running the world, manipulating finances, and so on, which were exaggerations and lies. The “Islam against the West” line is also a bit hazy in the facts area, yes? Islamophobia is a tiny hop, skip and jump away from anti-Semitism, in its pervasive nature, it’s reliance on cultural myths, and appropriation of populist fears. It is a disease of the logic, backed up by credibility and “research.” The target people is different and the trappings are green-tinted not blue, but the portrayal and useage of it is the same.
This statement is more than interesting to Jewschool because it happens to have “Jews” in the article. And this issue is more important than an exercise in backing up or debunking the similarities between Jews and Muslims in Europe. MP Malik’s statement is a hot poker in the butt of the Jewish people asking us if we (and our societies) have not fallen into the same mental traps as our predecessors’ oppressors. And what, other than decrying or debunking the comparison, we’re going to do to prevent the accusation from going any further.
In the place of the classic Levantine pattern, the Kaffiyeh Feygele has hearts, butt plugs, condoms and hammers and sickles. Also, it has stars of David in the corners. This is an article in the German paper Taz on the phenomenon.