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Mitch Albom enters new Jewish territory with Holocaust novel ‘The Little Liar’

(JTA) — For more than two decades, Mitch Albom has been perhaps the best-selling Jewish author alive — even as his books tend to embrace a much broader and more amorphous definition of “faith.”

But now, Albom says he’s ready to embrace his “obligation” as a Jewish writer: to publish a novel set during the Holocaust. 

“The Little Liar,” which comes out on Tuesday, follows an innocent 11-year-old Greek Jewish boy named Nico, who is tricked by Nazis into lying to his fellow Jews about the final destination of the trains they are forced to board. It was written before Oct. 7 but comes at a time when Jews are again grappling with the aftermath of tragedy in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel and Israel’s ensuing war against the terror group in Gaza.  

Albom is a Jewish day school alumnus, and Judaism has featured in his prior books, if less centrally. “Tuesdays With Morrie,” his 1997 memoir that rocketed up the bestseller charts and made him a household name, focused on his relationship with Morrie Schwartz, his Jewish mentor at Brandeis University. A follow-up memoir, 2009’s “Have A Little Faith,” discussed Albom’s relationship with his childhood rabbi, interspersed with his friendship with a local priest. He has also involved Jewish faith leaders in his many charities, including an orphanage he runs in Haiti, to which he has flown Rabbi Steven Lindemann of New Jersey’s Temple Beth Sholom.

In his fiction, though, the Detroit author, sportswriter, radio personality and philanthropist has taken a more ecumenical approach to morality and the afterlife. Sometimes Albom’s characters wander through heaven, which can be a physical place (“The Five People You Meet In Heaven” and its sequel). Sometimes they are granted the ability to spend time with their dead relatives (“For One More Day”), are admonished for turning their backs on Godly ideas like living each moment to its fullest (“The Time Keeper”), or are asked to put their blind faith in figures who may or may not themselves be God (“The Stranger In The Lifeboat”). 

“The Little Liar,” by contrast, is a squarely Jewish story. Like the 1969 Holocaust novel “Jacob the Liar,” by Jurek Becker, the story pivots on a Jew lying to his people about the Nazis. But unlike other Holocaust novels, Albom traces the repercussions of that moment for decades following the events of the Holocaust itself, through four central characters who wrestle with the trauma and violence of their past.

Even as it includes a great deal of historical detail — from the descriptions of the thriving prewar Jewish community of Salonika, Greece, to several real-life figures such as the Hungarian actress and humanitarian Katalin Kárady and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal — the book also has plenty of Albom-isms. It’s largely structured as a giant morality tale about the nature of truth and lies, and is narrated by “Truth” itself. Aphorisms like “Truth be told” abound throughout the text.

“I didn’t want to write a ‘Holocaust book’ per se,” Albom told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency during a phone conversation earlier this fall. “With each one of my books, I tried to have some sort of overriding theme that I wanted to explore and that I thought might be inspirational to people.”

Yet he admits that, “as a Jewish writer,” he felt compelled by the subject matter to create “a small, small, small contribution to getting people not to forget what happened.”

This interview was conducted prior to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel and has been edited for length and clarity.

JTA: You’ve written two memoirs about Jewish mentors of yours, but this is the first time you’ve incorporated Judaism so openly into your fiction. Can you tell me about your own Jewish upbringing?

Albom: I was raised in South Jersey and Philadelphia. Growing up I had what I think would be kind of a typical Jewish upbringing of that time, during the 60s and 70s. [At] 11 years old, I was sent to a Jewish day school. Half the day was just Jewish studies in Hebrew. And in fact, it was mostly done in Hebrew, and so for from sixth grade until 11th grade, with the exception of one year where I left and went to public school, I went to that school. 

So I had a very deep and thorough Jewish education. We learned everything from not only Hebrew and Jewish studies and Jewish history and things like that, but we learned to read the commentary on the Torah… I had to learn those letters. Don’t ask me to do it now, but I was pretty in-depth: Moses, Maimonides and all that. So I graduated and I went to Brandeis University, which was a still predominantly Jewish school.

At that point, having spent so much time with my Jewish roots and education, I kind of put a lid on it, and said, “OK, that’s enough.” And I wasn’t particularly practicing from that point for a couple of decades. It wasn’t really until I wrote the book “Have A Little Faith,” [when] my childhood rabbi asked me to write his eulogy, I got more drawn back to my Judaism.

Why did you decide to tell a Holocaust story now?

I think as a Jewish writer, I almost felt an obligation, before my career was over, to create a story that hopefully would be memorable enough, set during the Holocaust. That it would be a small, small, small contribution to getting people not to forget what happened. And people tend to remember stories longer than they remember facts. I think people remember “The Diary of Anne Frank” longer than they remember statistical numbers of how many Jews were slaughtered or how many homes were destroyed by the Nazis. 

But it took me until now to find a story that I felt hadn’t already been done. There’s so many books now. And even there’s been a recent rash of them over the last five to 10 years, you know, “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” and “The Librarian of Auschwitz,” many other things, all of which are great books and wonderful reads. But I just felt like so much ground had been covered that I couldn’t really come up with an original setting, original idea, until “The Little Liar.”

Something that sets this book apart from the others you mentioned is the setting of Salonika, the Greek city where the vast majority of its 50,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis. What drew you to that as a setting?

Two things. One, I lived in Greece when I got out of college. Through a series of weird and unfortunate events, I ended up as a singer and a piano player on the island of Crete. I could just spend my days in the sunshine and eating the amazing food and being amongst the amazing people. So I’ve always loved Greece. And number two was, I didn’t want to tell a story that began in Poland, the Warsaw Ghetto, all the familiar backdrops. I just didn’t want to tell a story that people said, “I’ve kind of seen this before.” So I thought, well, this will be fresh. I’ll be able to at least get people to, if nothing else, when they close the book, say, “I had no idea that the largest Jewish majority population sitting in Europe was Salonika, Greece, and even that was wiped out by the Nazis.” 

If there was ever a city that looked like it was impenetrable, it would have been that one. Go back to 300 BCE, and there are Jews. They have been there for so long, and yet the Nazis wipe them out in about a year or less.

Crafting entirely fictional narratives around the Holocaust is pretty fraught territory. I’ve interviewed John Boyne, the author of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” about some of the backlash he’s gotten. What was your own approach to doing this in a sensitive way?

First of all, there’s no such thing as “purely fictional” when you’re coming to a Holocaust story, because you’re setting it during a real event. So you have to rely on real accounts, from people and books, in order to create a world that feels real. I don’t think anybody could write a Holocaust story and never have read a Holocaust book, never have listened to a Holocaust survivor, just sat in a room and imagined what this event might be like — just as you don’t set a book during the Civil War and not study the Civil War.

For me the premise of the book was what came first, and I should point out, I didn’t want to write a “Holocaust book” per se. With each one of my books, I tried to have some sort of overriding theme that I wanted to explore and that I thought might be inspirational to people. And the theme with this one had to do with truth and lies, and that actually goes back to the original inspiration of it, which was a visit to Yad Vashem. 

You know, they have the videos on the walls and different people telling stories, and there was a woman who was telling the story about the train platforms, and she said that the Nazis would sometimes use Jews to calm the people on the train platforms and to lie to them to say everything’s going to be alright, you can trust these trains, you’re going to be OK. And that stayed in my mind, more than anything that I saw. Just the idea of being tricked into lying to your own people about their doom. I thought, one day I want to write a story that centers on someone who had to do that, and what would that do to their sense of truth.

You don’t end the narrative with the liberation of the camps; the story continues decades later. There are scenes of a Jewish character trying to reclaim his old home, of America sheltering Nazis after the war. These are the parts of the history of the Holocaust that I think are harder for people today to come to terms with.

Yeah, that was another way I wanted to make the story more fresh. I didn’t want it to begin with the night that the house was invaded and end with the day that the camps were liberated. I wanted to begin it before that, which I did, and I wanted to end it way after that.

I went to Salonika and I talked with people there about what happened when the Jews came back and, did they get their businesses back? Did they get their houses back? No, the businesses were gone and were given away. The houses, most of the time, were already sold off to somebody else. And I thought, sometimes we think the whole story, the Holocaust, the price that people paid, it ends on the day of liberation, and everybody runs crying and hugging and kissing into each other’s arms and now we’re free. We’re free. In many ways, that’s when the problems began, you know, and a whole different set of problems.

I’ve known survivors all my life. I grew up with them in my neighborhood and interviewed many of them over the years, and they’ve told me about their haunted dreams and sometimes in the middle of the night they just wake up, or in the middle of the day, just start crying, or how certain things they don’t want to talk about. And so I tried to be respectful and reflect some of those challenges in the years after the Holocaust, because I don’t think you can tell a complete story, at least not one about survivors, if you don’t talk about what happened to them after they tried to resume their normal lives.

In the book you point out that the Holocaust was built on a “big lie.” You’re framing truth as the ultimate ideal. But of course your Jewish characters are also surviving the war in part by lying about their identities. And we know that’s true of many real-life Holocaust survivors as well. Do you see that as a contradiction?

No, I see it as fascinating. You know, it’s a fascinating interwoven web of truth and deception. There is nobody who has never told a lie on this earth. And that’s why Nico was kind of a magical character to begin with. He’s 11 years old and has never told a lie — he’s almost an angel. And that’s where the parable feel to the story comes in. 

Your writing has become associated with the concept of “faith,” and in your fiction you often render heaven as a physical place where the dead are finding ways to interact with the living. Is that a more Christian outlook on the afterlife, even though you say you were inspired by a vision an uncle of yours had about his own relatives? How do you think about your own depictions of heaven?

Well, the books that I’ve written about heaven, there was “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven,” which was a sequel to it, and “The First Phone Call From Heaven,” which, if you read that book, you know that it isn’t what it seems. You know, I always looked at “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” as kind of a fable. My uncle Eddie, who was the main character — it wasn’t a true story but he inspired the character. He had told me a story that he had had an incident where he had died on an operating table. For a brief moment, he remembered floating above his body and seeing all of his dead relatives waiting for him at the edge of the operating table. So I always had that story in mind whenever I would think of him. It was meant to be a fable about how we all interact with one another.

A lot of Christians have embraced your work, right?

A lot of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists. 

I’ve seen evangelical writers refer to your body of work as part of a “Judeo-Christian tradition,” which is a term a lot of Jews have different kinds of feelings about. Do you think about the faith of your readers at all, or how they are perceiving your faith?

I write for anybody in the world who has a desire to read my book. I welcome them. I would never make a judgment on any reader. I’m happy to have someone pick up my book and read it.


The post Mitch Albom enters new Jewish territory with Holocaust novel ‘The Little Liar’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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The Associated Press Removes Threats of Violence and Hamas Support From Articles

Vandalism outside the home of Brooklyn Museum Director Anne Pasternak. Photo: New York Mayor Eric Adams’ Twitter account.

Even as authorities from Sydney to Brooklyn were still investigating and removing pro-Hamas graffiti, the Associated Press engaged in a scrubbing of a different sort.

In a June 10 article about the anti-Israel vandalism of the US consulate in Sydney, the Associated Press initially whitewashed a menacing symbol used to denote support for Hamas since the terror organization’s Oct. 7 terror massacre of murder, rape and countless other atrocities (“Australia PM urges activists to ‘turn down the heat’ after US consulate vandalized over Gaza war“).

The AP euphemistically reported about the symbols used to express support for the designated terror organization as follows:

Two inverted red triangles, seen by many as a symbol of Palestinian resistance, were also painted on the front of the building.

A screenshot of the AP’s headline about the vandalism in Australia, along with an accompanying video which briefly shows the red triangles:

Given that Hamas uses the red triangle in its videos documenting attacks on Israelis, it signifies support for the designated terror organization. “Resistance” doesn’t quite convey the horrors that went down on Oct. 7.

The New York Post detailed the association of the red triangles with Hamas terrorism:

The triangle became a prevalent symbol online and offline beginning in November 2023 following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s aggressive retaliatory offensive, according to the Anti Defamation League.

It first appeared in propaganda videos from the al-Qassam brigades — Hamas’ military wing — to highlight an Israeli soldier that was about to be killed or wounded in a targeted attack by the terrorists.

In the clips, the red triangle followed the target, which was then hit with a sniper’s bullet, a rocket-propelled grenade or another deadly blast.

“Though it can be used innocuously in general pro-Palestine social media posts, the inverted red triangle is now used to represent Hamas itself and glorify its use of violence in many popular anti-Zionist memes and political cartoons,” the ADL says on its website.

For example, the group said, anti-Israel protesters will put the symbol over an image of Israeli soldiers or on a Star of David “as a way to call for further violent resistance.”

In response to communication from CAMERA’s Israel office, the AP moderately improved its explanation of the red triangles, revising the sentence to at least include reference to Hamas:

Two inverted red triangles, seen by some as a symbol of Palestinian resistance but by others as supporting the militant group Hamas, were also painted on the front of the building.

While an AP video paired with the article briefly showed the red triangles defacing the US consulate, the AP’s still photographs made do with boarded up windows. The accompanying captions also ignored the sinister red triangles:

A couple walks past the boarded windows at the U.S. consulate as police investigate the vandalism in Sydney, Monday, June 10, 2024. A suspect is believed to have smashed nine holes in the reinforced glass windows of the building in North Sydney after 3 a.m., a police statement said. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Meanwhile, red triangle vandalism took an even darker turn when the pro-terror symbol, used repeatedly to mark targets, appeared June 11 on the New York co-op building where Anne Pasternak, the Jewish director of the Brooklyn Museum, lives.

In coverage of that incident, the AP didn’t simply scrub the pro-Hamas significance of the symbol. Instead, the AP entirely sliced the ominous red triangles out of the story, which referred only to red paint. In his Jan. 13 article, Philip Marcelo selectively reported (“Apparent Gaza activists hurl paint at homes of Brooklyn Museum leaders, including Jewish director“):

People purporting to be pro-Palestinian activists hurled red paint at the homes of top leaders at the Brooklyn Museum, including its Jewish director, and also splashed paint across the front of diplomatic buildings for Germany and the Palestinian Authority early Wednesday, prompting a police investigation and condemnation from city authorities.

Mayor Eric Adams, in a post on the social platform X, shared images of a brick building splashed with red paint with a banner hung in front of the door that called the museum’s director, Anne Pasternak, a “white-supremacist Zionist.”

But the images that Mayor Adams shared didn’t merely show “a brick building splashed with red paint” and a banner denouncing Pasternak as a “white supremacist Zionist.”

Adams’ post on X includes four photographs of the vandalism, all displaying the huge red triangles which absolutely cannot be missed. And yet AP chose not to note the presence of the threatening imagery, much less explain its significance.

This is not peaceful protest or free speech. This is a crime, and it’s overt, unacceptable antisemitism.

These actions will never be tolerated in New York City for any reason. I’m sorry to Anne Pasternak and members of @brooklynmuseum‘s board who woke up to hatred like this.

I… pic.twitter.com/vi17PumBoM

— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) June 12, 2024

The AP’s ubiquitous photographers — the prolific bunch churns out 1.2 million images annually — also didn’t manage to capture the shocking scene of Pasternak’s home defaced with what amounts to a murder threat.

Instead, the cadre of photojournalists suffice with an image of the German consulate, which was vandalized with red paint, apparently applied in an abstract arrangement, sans red triangles. Like Marcelo’s article, the photograph’s caption also paints over the pro-Hamas imagery, referring to a random splashing of color:

Red paint covers portions of the entrance to the German consulate building, Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in New York. Pro-Palestinian protesters have vandalized locations associated with the Brooklyn Museum and United Nations in New York City, throwing red paint across their entrances in opposition to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (AP Photo/Sophie Rosenbaum)

Not only does the caption neglect to note the Hamas-linked graphic, it also ignores that the “locations associated with the Brooklyn Museum” were private homes.

It’s not just Hamas graphics that are subjected to AP’s scrubbing. A pro-Hamas organization also gets sanitized.

Here’s how the AP’s Marcelo whitewashes the pro-Hamas Within Our Lifetime group:

The protest group Within Our Lifetime and other organizers of that demonstration said the museum is “deeply invested in and complicit” in Israel’s military actions in Gaza through its leadership, trustees, corporate sponsors and donors — a claim museum officials have denied.

He says not a word about the organization’s support for Hamas. According to ADL, Within Our Lifetime:

has hosted or co-sponsored at least 78 anti-Israel rallies many of which included explicit support for violence against Israeli civilians by U.S. designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations  Hamas, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Hezbollahthe Houthis and affiliated individuals such as Leila Khaled and Hamas’ military wing spokesperson Abu Obaida. WOL also expressed enthusiastic support for Iran’s unprecedented April 13 drone-and-missile attack on Israel.

Marcelo similarly sluices down Within Our Lifetime’s horrifying and deep embrace of terror at the demonstration outside the Nova Festival massacre last week. His censored account states:

The paint attacks came the same week that Within Our Lifetime organized a large demonstration outside a New York City exhibition memorializing victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on the Tribe of Nova music festival. The group called it “Zionist propaganda” and dismissed the music festival, where hundreds died, as “a rave next to a concentration camp.”

The AP spares its readers from the most disturbing aspects from the event. As The Times of Israel reported:
Protesters set off flares, flew flags of Hamas’s armed al-Qassam Brigades terror wing and of the Hezbollah terror group, and carried banners with slogans such as “Long live October 7” and “The Zionists are not Jews and not humans.”
 On June 11, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) denounced the antisemitism of the pro-Hamas crowd outside the Nova Festival exhibit, twice citing those most heinous lines:

What was even worse, or at least adding salt into the wounds was that just a day or two after I visited the exhibit, protestors gathered outside the exhibit chanting repugnant antisemitic phrases, donning banners that read “Long Live October 7th” and “The Zionists are not Jews and not humans.” How low can you go ?

Having visited the exhibit and seeing those young people and then knowing and seeing on film what happened to them at the vicious hands of Hamas, and then having people come outside and protest and say “Long Live October 7th” and “The Zionists are not Jews and not humans.” How repugnant. How despicable. How terribly unnerving that humanity could sink that low.

And yet, at this low point for humanity, AP has relegated these repugnant slogans glorifying mass murder to the dustbin of history.

Tamar Sternthal is the director of CAMERA’s Israel Office. A version of this article previously appeared on the CAMERA website.

The post The Associated Press Removes Threats of Violence and Hamas Support From Articles first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Netanyahu Disbands War Cabinet, Says No Need After Gantz’s Resignation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Jerusalem, Feb. 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

i24 News — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that he will dissolve the six-member War Cabinet, a move that was expected following the departure from government of the centrist former general Benny Gantz.

During a meeting of the State Security Cabinet, Netanyahu said that the War Cabinet was established following Blue and White leader Gantz’s demand to join the coalition, and that after he left there is no reason to maintain it.

Netanyahu made it clear that he will continue limited security consultations. He rejected establishing a forum of coalition heads for security consultations, an idea that was brought up during the meeting.

 In practice, the expanded cabinet will meet more often. According to Israeli law, the powers and responsibilities for making decisions on managing the war effort are vested in State Security Cabinet.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that, regardless, Netanyahu will continue to consult regularly with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other representatives of the defense establishment.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir lobbied to join the War Cabinet since its inception in the beginning of the war with Hamas in October. After Gantz announced he would leave the coalition and demand elections, thereby resigning from the War Cabinet, the far-right Ben Gvir demanded to be added to the small council. Such a move likely would have intensified strains with international partners including the United States.

The war cabinet was formed after Gantz joined Netanyahu in a national unity government at the start of the conflict. Gantz left the government last week over what he described as Netanyahu’s failure to form a strategy for the Gaza war.

The post Netanyahu Disbands War Cabinet, Says No Need After Gantz’s Resignation first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Only 9% of Palestinians Think Hamas Committed War Crimes; 67% Support Oct. 7 Atrocities

Marwan Barghouti gestures as Israeli police bring him into the District Court for his judgment hearing in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2004. Photo: Reuters / Pool / David Silverman.

There have been shocking poll results in the latest survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR).

Only 9% of Palestinians think Hamas committed war crimes, while a whopping 67% support the Oct. 7 attacks.

For those who still delude themselves into thinking that Palestinians are moderate, think again.

For president, Palestinians overwhelmingly prefer the Hamas leader (46%) over the Palestinian Authority (PA)/Fatah leader (5%). Fatah is only preferred when their candidate is the terrorist Marwan Barghouti, a convicted murderer, who is serving 5 life sentences.

This must be an eye-opener for Americans and Europeans, who are pressuring Israel to accept the Palestinian Authority as a peace partner. The PA represents no one. According to this poll, the Palestinian population is not interested in peace. Mahmoud Abbas only represents himself. And if the Palestinians ever have a future election, they are certain to elect a terrorist as president and Hamas to rule the parliament.

The following are some of the most important findings in the latest poll by the PSR. Palestinians were questioned between May 26 and June 1, 2024. The poll includes Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Was Hamas’ decision to launch the October 7 offensive correct or incorrect?

Correct: 67% (West Bank 73%, Gaza Strip 57%)

Incorrect: 26% (West Bank 17%, Gaza Strip 41%)

Are you satisfied with the performance in the war?

Hamas: 64% satisfied

Fatah (Palestinian Authority): 14% satisfied

War crimes

97% – Israel committed war crimes

9% – Hamas committed war crimes

Who should rule the Gaza Strip after the war?

Hamas: 71%

Current PA (with or without Abbas): 12%

A new PA: 16%

If presidential elections were held today between these two, for whom would you vote?

Mahmoud Abbas from Fatah: 5%

Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas: 46%

If presidential elections were held today between these three, for whom would you vote?

Mahmoud Abbas from Fatah: 2%

Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas: 23%

Marwan Barghouti from Fatah: 47%

If elections were held today for parliament, how would you vote?

Hamas: 31%

Fatah: 17%

Other parties: 4%

Will not vote or don’t know: 51%

Which side will win the war?

Hamas: 67%

Israel: 11%

89% say Mahmoud Abbas should resign.

Itamar Marcus is Founder and Director of Palestinian Media Watch, where a version of this article first appeared.

The post Only 9% of Palestinians Think Hamas Committed War Crimes; 67% Support Oct. 7 Atrocities first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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