Hanukkah. The temple defiled, the one jar of oil, enough to last one day, miraculously lasting eight days. We recreate this every year to celebrate this miracle and the victory over dark forces that it represented. Let me let you in on a little secret. I know religious scholars and even rabbis who don’t really […]
The post The War Within: Rabbi Avi Finegold contemplates the contemporary resonances of Hanukkah appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.
‘October 7’ Restaurant Opens in Jordan
A new shawarma restaurant opened in Amman, Jordan on Wednesday, with a name that is causing outrage in Israel. The “October 7” restaurant, chosen via a Facebook poll by the shop’s owners last month, was given the name to mark the date of the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust, when Hamas terrorists killed over 1,200 Israelis and took captive more than 240 to the Gaza Strip.
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid chastised the new restaurant, tweeting: “The disgraceful glorification of October 7th has to stop. The incitement and hatred against Israel breeds the terrorism and extremism which led to the brutal massacre of October 7th. We expect the Jordanian government to condemn this publicly and unequivocally.”
According to Channel 12 News in Israel, the restaurant owners have said they will not change the name, irrespective of the outcry.
Jordan is party to a peace treaty with Israel, signed in 1994, that has allowed for general peace to flourish between the countries. Mostly this comes in the form of security, economic, and water ties, though there are levels of tourism between the two.
Despite the warm ties, Jordan’s government has not hesitated to condemn Israel during the current war against Hamas. This has included their Foreign Minister Ayman Saadi accusing the Jewish state of “genocide,” saying, “We have not seen the world yet come to the place we should come to an unequivocal demand for ending this war, a war that is within the legal definition of genocide.” The country’s Queen Rania spoke to CNN in October, just three weeks after the war started, accusing the world of double standards, saying, “When October 7 happened, the world immediately and unequivocally stood by Israel and its right to defend itself and condemned the attack that happened… but what we’re seeing in the last couple of weeks, we’re seeing silence in the world.”
Jordan has yet to condemn the attack of Hamas terrorists against Israel.
My ‘transgressive’ Holocaust novel is still stirring debate, 20 years later
(JTA) — Recently, I opened my email and found a link to an article in a scholarly publication, The Journal of Jewish Identities, published by Johns Hopkins. Puzzled, I clicked and discovered the following: “‘I was a prisoner. Jew. Whore’: Inherited Sexualized Trauma in Sonia Pilcer’s ‘The Holocaust Kid’ by Alex M. Anderson and Lucas F. W. Wilson.”
I read the headline and gasped. “The Holocaust Kid” is a novel of interconnected stories I published in 2001. In it, I explored the psychological and existential perspective of being the daughter of Holocaust survivors, but not reverentially. (Hence the title.)
Sure, it is semi-autobiographical. And yes, I was scarred by my history. But had I really “inherited sexualized trauma”?
I began writing ”The Holocaust Kid” in the early 1980s. It was written in an edgy style, used in my first novel “Teen Angel,” that a New York Times reviewer described as “tough and sweet, rude, loud and hilariously filthy.” I worked on much of the book in Israel, wanting to live in a country of survivors. But I hadn’t realized how uncomfortable the subject was, almost taboo, until I gave a reading in Jerusalem to a room filled with young writers and journalists. After I finished, there was hostile silence. One listener finally asked, “Why write this? And why are you reading it here?” I answered, “Because I’m a writer.” I had stories I wanted to tell, and believed that my take on the Big H, as my protagonist Zosha calls the Holocaust, needed to be heard. But the question should have alerted me to the difficulties my manuscript would face.
I didn’t know, nor did my agent Carl Brandt, who had sold my two previous novels, that it would take 20 years, over 40 rejections, countless rewrites and several more agents to sell this book. It was treated as nasty and unseemly — and I, an untouchable — by editors, many of whom were Jewish. Perhaps the editors were offended by the language. Or was I making fun of the Holocaust, as some editors suggested?
I suppose I am interested in the transgressive, but I had no intention of being disrespectful. A good joke, I thought, is the best way to deliver a devastating blow. I learned that from the survivors.
In lieu of living family, my parents belonged to a large network of Polish Jews. All were survivors. The women played canasta and men, poker. As they tossed their bright plastic chips and picked up cards, blue numbers flashed on the insides of their arms. Their stories were profoundly and terrifyingly cynical about human nature. Yet often funny, and extremely dark.
“You remember Yola? She was the not bad-looking one with crooked teeth, who went with the German. He gave her crabs.” Laughter. “If Bolek hadn’t shared his piece of bread, I wouldn’t be here. Lucky me, I was dealt three queens!”
I was born in a German DP camp, but I was raised on the streets of Brooklyn and Washington Heights, where I attended tough public schools. I rebelled against my Jewish/Holocaust background and joined a girls street gang. It is a complex matter to write about the Holocaust and its inheritors. I realize the subject was inviolable. And I admit that my take on survivors and their children is troubling, but that’s what I meant to do: to give it a raw, provocative slant, growing out of my experiences.
The book was finally sold by Gareth Esersky to a small, courageous press, Persea Books, and editor Karen Braziller. The pub date was September 2001, right before the tragedy of 9/11. The book was mostly ignored, but I did get an email from the husband of a well known therapist and filmmaker who is a Second Generation descendant of survivors, or “2G.” (In 1987, I believe I introduced the term “2G,” in a short-lived New York magazine called Seven Days.) He wrote that ”The Holocaust Kid” was a travesty, that I insulted the memory of the dead and should seek psychological help.
The almost universal rejection by the Jewish literary community was painful. But I carried on, kept writing and published other books.
Twenty-one years later, I was contacted by Lucas Wilson, who was writing his doctoral dissertation about Second Generation writers. His subjects included Art Spiegelman, Helen Epstein, several others and me. I had watched on Zoom as he defended his thesis. End of story, I thought.
A year or so later, I received the email with a link to an article by him and another graduate student, Alex Anderson. The scholars focused on the most controversial story in the collection, “Shoah Casanova.” This story involves a sexual encounter between Zosha and Uly Oppenheim, a Jewish Holocaust professor, who like Zosha, is 2G.
As they begin their lovemaking, he takes off his tie and begins to snake it around her. “He was the master. Ubermensch. Superman. So powerful,”” she thinks. “It was 1942. I was a prisoner. Jew. Whore. … If I made him love me, he’d take me through the war. I would survive.” As he is about to climax, he says, “I’ve got something for you, my little refugee. This comes all the way from Oswiecim.” Oswiecim is the Polish word for Auschwitz.
The scholars wrote, “The protagonist, Zosha Palovsky, engages in Nazi-Jewess erotic fantasy and role play as a way of addressing, albeit obliquely, her inherited sexualized trauma… [I]t gives voice and, as it were, body to what she imagines her mother to have gone through.” They continue: “Inherited sexualized trauma can thus be defined as the second generation’s adopted psychic and affective wounds that stem from what they imagine to be their parents’ experiences of sexualized violence during the Holocaust.”
Whoa! When I wrote ”Shoah Casanova,” I wasn’t thinking about my mother’s trauma, nor my own. I was trying to describe my character’s attraction/repulsion to Uly, and to their master/slave game. This is one more variation on the theme of how the Holocaust plays out in both of their lives. So it was weird to have the language of trauma applied to my story and, by implication, to me.
While he was writing his dissertation, Wilson and his mentor, Alan Berger, questioned me more than once about the identity of Uly Oppenheim, the kinky Holocaust professor, but I refused to reveal it. Why? Because I made him up, just as I made up his book about female survivors forced to work in brothels, titled “Our Bodies, Not Our Souls.” To me, this is the pleasure of creativity — making things up.
I cannot deny that the book contains episodes from my life. But I take refuge in what Carl Brandt told me when I was starting out: “There’s no way for anyone to know what actually happened and what’s fictionalized.” And I recall Philip Roth’s remark: “I say to my imagination: ‘This is what really happened. Can you top this?’”
After I sent a few friends the Wilson/Anderson article, they asked with concern, “How do you feel about this?”
If I am honest, at first, I felt thrilled to have my work read at all, after so long, and analyzed by scholars. Then I began to wonder: How much truth is in their thesis?
I remember a story my mother once told me. She worked at a munitions factory in a forced labor camp. Once she returned after curfew. A soldier caught her. He forced her to take off her dress and clean the street with it. Then he laughed and walked away. For the rest of her life, my mother remained frightened of men in uniforms. I once saw her grovel before the mailman, but I do not think this was not sexualized trauma.
The desire for domination is hardly limited to the Jewish/Nazi dynamic. Many women and men run fetishistic scenarios in their minds. You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy humiliation, at least in your fantasies. Besides, they’re just playing. And dead serious.
Yet there is something deeply embedded in our culture’s collective unconscious that feeds on the notion of Holocaust “sexualized trauma.” It’s in the ether. Consider the films “The Night Porter,” “The Pawnbroker,” “Sophie’s Choice” and “Schindler’s List.” All of them feature scenes of terrified, naked women.
Twenty years after my book came out, and 80 years after the Holocaust, writers and filmmakers are finding new ways to tell the story. Some are breaking taboos about whose stories should be told, some are using humor and others have focused on the children and grandchildren of survivors and victims. A recent film, “The Zone of Interest,” written and directed by Jonathan Glazer, captures the horror from the point of view of Nazi commandant Rudolf Höss and his family, who live in an idyllic house. It shares a wall with Auschwitz. We see their lush gardens, parties with children jumping in a swimming pool. But in the background, there’s the insistent sounds of gunfire and screaming. And no one notices.
“We’ve become desensitized,” Glazer has said. “It’s impossible to show what happened inside those walls. “And in my opinion, one shouldn’t try.” Instead his interest was in creating “ambient evil.” The effect is powerfully haunting.
Although I did not agree with the scholars’ thesis, they gave me a reason to go back to a novel I began many years ago. My hardest one to write. The most difficult to sell. My most personal book. “The Holocaust Kid” lives on.
The post My ‘transgressive’ Holocaust novel is still stirring debate, 20 years later appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
New York Times Airs a Grievance Against the Passover Seder
Of all the many strange and egregious things the New York Times has done since October 7, 2023—rehiring an openly Hitler-praising Gaza stringer, misquoting Israel’s defense minister and prime minister in a way that falsely portrayed their intentions, falsely claiming the war is the deadliest in 40 years, advising the president of the United States to “lose it” with Prime Minister Netanyahu—one of the oddest of all is attacking the Passover Seder.
A Times magazine article falsely claiming the old Black-Jewish alliance for Civil Rights has transformed into one against Israel includes about 1,400 words about a single far-left activist named Nicole Carty. It included this paragraph:
“I’ve been to a lot of Passover celebrations,” she added, “and it’s so weird that the story is only of Jewish subjugation, even though subjugation is still so present for other people.” She went on: “Black people still haven’t had their histories honored. We are still gaslit about the impact of slavery and the continued impacts of white supremacy.”
The passage was widely mocked on social media. “The author complains that Passover is too Jewish centric!” one commenter marveled.
Sure, there’s a distinction, as there often is, between the New York Times endorsing this attack on the particularism of Passover and merely reporting on it as newsworthy. The overall framing by the Times, though, is not as an example of black antisemitism or individual silliness, but as a description of a kind of rational and inexorable demographic and historical response to Israeli actions. The Times is perfectly capable, in other contexts, of investigating extremist ideologies while carefully signaling to readers that those ideologies are extreme or not supported by evidence. Not so here.
Carty’s claim is so inaccurate in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to begin. One place might simply be with the characterization of the Passover seder. To begin with, Passover is not the story “only of Jewish subjugation,” it is the story of liberation, of freedom, of God’s bringing the Jewish people out of Egypt to the promised land. Many modern Passover seders do universalize the story some by incorporating references to other liberation stories. In fact, at least one Passover haggadah that is widely used by American Jews, A Different Night, includes the African-American spiritual “Let My People Go,” a discussion of “Black Moses” Harriet Tubman, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Maybe Carty’s been going to Passover with the wrong crowd.
Nor is it accurate that Black people “haven’t had their histories honored.” The United States has two federal holidays, Martin Luther King Day and Juneteenth, honoring Black history. In contrast, there are zero federal holidays honoring Jewish history. Maybe you can make a case for Saturday’s inclusion as part of the weekend, but that’s more Jewish religion or civilization than history.
The inaccuracy extends not only to the specific claims about Passover but to the entire premise of the Times article, which is that the “Black-Jewish alliance within the civil rights movement” frayed and has now been replaced: “a new bond between Black and Jewish activists has emerged, catalyzed, in part, by the confluence of civil rights protests and attention to the Palestinian plight.”
That’s false, too. First, the “Black-Jewish alliance within the civil rights movement,” in its best days, while significant, powerful, and praiseworthy, was never universal. There were some Jews in both the North and the South who were reluctant to push for integration, especially if it involved their own neighborhood or schools. And there were some Blacks who were antisemites. The Times article misses that nuance, instead establishing a straw man.
Second, there’s a lot of black-Jewish cooperation happening—largely unreported by the New York Times—in defending Israel and American Jews after the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack. Democratic congressman Hakeem Jeffries spoke strongly in support of Israel and against Jew-hate at the pro-Israel rally in Washington DC on November 14. So did Van Jones. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina has been a stalwart, as has the lieutenant governor of Virginia, Winsome Earle-Sears. The Yeshiva University, University of Notre Dame, and Brandeis “We Stand Together With Israel Against Hamas” statement was also signed by the United Negro College Fund and many historically Black colleges and universities.
Finally, plenty of young Jews are pro-Israel. A lot of them were at that November 14 rally in Washington. The Times prefers to focus on the young Jews who abhor Israel or who are activists for Palestinian causes, but that tells much more about the Times and its readership than it does about the reality of the American Jewish community.
To sum up: what’s really happening, big picture, is that lots of blacks and Jews, including young ones, are supporting Israel against Hamas. The Times chooses to ignore that news and focus instead on that there are some blacks and Jews who don’t like Israel and have minor differences among each other.
The online version of the Times article now carries a single small correction: “A correction was made on Jan. 23, 2024. An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people killed in Gaza as of mid-October. It was around 3,500, not many thousands.” If the Times had any integrity, it would correct the entire story: “This entire article was based on a false premise generalized wildly from a few unrepresentative anecdotes.”
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.
The post New York Times Airs a Grievance Against the Passover Seder first appeared on Algemeiner.com.