Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 21, 2019

Shtisel

Filed under: Jewish question,television — louisproyect @ 10:37 pm

Over the past month, I watched seasons one and two of “Shtisel”, an Israeli soap opera (for the last of a better term) about haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews living in Jerusalem. It has little to do with Israeli politics or society since the characters disdain the Zionist project entirely. In season one, Rabbi Shulem Shtisel, the bullheaded patriarch of the Shtisel clan, decides to prevent the young students at the yeshiva where he teaches from watching the air show of the Israeli air force to their dismay. His son Akiva, who teaches there as well, overrules his father and allows the kids to watch the planes through the yeshiva windows. This should not be interpreted as his openness to Zionism, only his “softness” to the kids. He has zero interest in politics. All his energy is focused on drawing and painting, “hobbies” frowned upon in the Haredi world. The conflict between father and son provide most of the tension in this stellar drama. On a personal level, you are drawn into their test of wills but on a larger canvas, this is the central drama of the ultra-orthodox everywhere in the world, one between the closed, ritualistic and suffocating social norms and the yearning of young orthodox Jews to taste the forbidden pleasures of the outside world.

None of the characters in Shtisel are played by the Haredi themselves, an outcome dictated by their disdain for television entertainment, especially one that was critical of their values. Dov Glickman, who plays the father, is a veteran Israeli actor who began his career performing in the IDF’s naval revues. His son is played by Michael Aloni, who also played one of the cops in “Our Boys”. Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky conceived the idea for the show and have co-written the scripts. They bring a level of realism that you might expect from men who grew up in an ultra-orthodox family.

If you are a Jew, “Shtisel” might resonate with you more than the average viewer but rest assured that once you get past the oddities of Haredi life (they pray before drinking a glass of water), you will find each episode immediately recognizable and touching. For example, in season one Akiva has fallen head over heels in love with a woman who is probably 7 years older than him and widowed twice. Since the Haredi use matchmakers often given instructions to bring together a man and woman together based on traditional values, the idea of Rabbi Shtisel’s son marrying an older woman and one who had two husbands dying on her was not one he would tolerate. He must have taken Tina Turner at her word when she sang, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Once you get past the ultra-orthodox parameters of the conflict, you soon realize that Akiva’s determination to marry the woman he loves rather than one his father deems “appropriate” is basic to family dramas of any religion or race. What makes “Shtisel” so amazing is its ability to make the narrowly particular so universal.

For those who have seen the 2017 American film “Menashe”, you will immediately recognize its kinship with the Israeli TV series. What made “Menashe” so exceptional was the willingness of an American Haredi man (Menachem Lustig) to take the leading role of a widower who will have to accept his son becoming part of another observant family unless he remarries. Like “Shtisel”, matchmaking is a key part of the drama. I consider “Menashe” a masterpiece and urge you to see it on the usual streaming services including YouTube.

In my review, I stated:

Like John Travolta’s Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever”, Menashe has a low-paying job as a clerk in a retail store—in his case a small supermarket owned by a fellow Hasid. He owes his landlord back payments on rent and is constantly hitting up his boss for loans. In the first hint that the film is not romanticizing Hasidic life, Menashe argues with his boss about selling unwashed lettuce to a Hasidic housewife, a violation of strict Jewish dietary laws. He is told that the store’s profits are more important than following scripture.

Among the key characters in “Shtisel” is Shulem’s brother Nuchem who has returned to Jerusalem from  Belgium where he runs various businesses, much of which seem to be bending ethical rules of one sort or another. When one of them is on the verge of failure, he implores Shulem to sign for a loan to keep it afloat. Shulem agrees but only on one condition. His brother has to sign a statement acknowledging his refusal to live up to his responsibilities as a son. He left it up entirely to Shulem to look after their ailing mother, a situation obviously not restricted to the ultra-orthodox.

Judaism is an odd religion. It is based on the need to carry out “mitzvahs”, which means commandments. So, when I was growing up, you frequently heard something as a “real mitzvah” in the sense of being charitable or benign in the Christian sense, like Jesus attending to lepers. However, for the ultra-orthodox, the mitzvah would be something like saying a prayer before drinking a glass of water or wearing side curls—acts having little to do with ethics.

In 2001, I read a book titled “Postville” by Stephen Bloom that told the story of the Rubashkins, a Lubavitcher family that had taken ownership of a meatpacking plant in Iowa in order to turn it into a major purveyor of kosher meat. Bloom, who is a secular Jew and writing professor at the U. of Iowa, ingratiated himself into their world and spent many evenings with them drinking vodka and sharing feasts at Friday night shabbat dinners.

Even if they followed every single mitzvah to the letter, these were people of the deepest moral failings. Hundreds of undocumented immigrants offered accounts of Rubashkin fostering a hostile workplace that included 12-hour shifts without overtime pay, exposure to dangerous chemicals, and sexual harassment.

Sentenced to 27 years for his crimes, Sholom Rubashkin’s sentence was commuted by Trump in 2017. No doubt Jared Kushner helped persuade his father-in-law to free the monster because his understanding of the “mitzvah” was the same as the packing house owner. Just say your prayers and you will be “righteous”, whatever that means. Kushner has donated $250,000 to the Lubavitcher movement that unlike the Haredi depicted in “Shtisel” sees Israel as evidence of God’s will.

In 1996, when Benjamin Netanyahu was running for his first term as prime minister, the Lubavitchers ran a costly campaign with the slogan. “Netanyahu. It’s good for the Jews.” The campaign was financed by Josef Gutnick, a wealthy Australian businessman with close ties to the late Lubavitcher rabbi and a major supporter of the settlement movement.

On September 7th, the Sunday Times Book Review covered Times reporter Bari Weiss’s new book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism”. The reviewer was Hillel Halkin, a rightwing Zionist who found her attempts to synthesize liberalism and Zionism laughable. Halkin is a regular contributor to The New York Sun, a neoconservative newspaper that was launched by Conrad Black in 2001 as an alternative to The New York Times. Black was found guilty of financial fraud in 2007 and sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison.

Halkin’s review was in keeping with tendencies both in the USA and in Israel to align Judaism with reactionary politics. In the case of Israel, of course, the term reactionary is relative. Even under the most “liberal” Zionist government, Israel was already moving rapidly toward consolidating an apartheid state. Halkin understands this tendency and fails to understand why Weiss does not. It would occur to me that before very long, the split in Judaism will become so deep that the two camps will begin to consider each other as mortal enemies. Halkin sounds like he wants to “bring it on”:

Weiss fails to realize that she herself is an example of the wishful thinking about Judaism that is ubiquitous among American Jewish liberals. One might call this the Judaism of the Sunday school, a religion of love, tolerance, respect for the other, democratic values and all the other virtues to which American Jews pay homage. This is a wondrous Judaism indeed — and one that has little to do with anything that Jewish thought or observance has historically stood for. “We’ve always been there,” Weiss approvingly quotes a friend of hers, hurt to the quick by the proposed banning of “Jewish pride flags” at the 2019 Washington Dyke March. Always? As if the right to define oneself sexually as one pleases were a cause Jews have fought for over the ages!

As a matter of historical record, it was Greek and Roman high society, not the Jews, that practiced and preached polymorphous sexual freedom. Judaism fiercely opposed such an acceptance of sexual diversity, against which it championed the procreative family, the taming of anarchic passions, and the cosmically ordained nature of normative gender distinctions that goes back to the first chapter of Genesis: “So God created man in his own image. … Male and female created he them.” And while we’re at it, it was the Greeks, not the Jews, who invented democracy. What mattered to Jews throughout nearly all of their history (and still does to a considerable number of them today) was the will of God as interpreted by religious authority, not free elections.

Judaism as liberalism with a prayer shawl is a distinctly modern development. It started with the 19th-century Reform movement in Germany, from which it spread to America with the reinforcement of the left-wing ideals of the Russian Jewish labor movement. As much as such a conception of their ancestors’ faith has captured the imagination of most American Jews, it is hard to square with 3,000 years of Jewish tradition. Weiss has delivered a praiseworthy and concise brief against modern-day anti-Semitism, but if she thinks this long tradition is ultimately compatible with contemporary American liberal beliefs, she might want to take a closer look. Honestly regarded, Judaism tells another story.

October 11, 2019

Martin Monath: A Jewish Resistance Fighter Among Nazi Soldiers

Filed under: Counterpunch,Fascism,Jewish question,Trotskyism,zionism — louisproyect @ 9:08 pm

Recently, Pluto Press came out with Nathaniel Flakin’s “Martin Monath: A Jewish Resistance Fighter Among Nazi Soldiers.” It pays tribute to another Jewish Trotskyist who displayed incredible heroism and dedication to proletarian internationalism. Like Leon, Monath was a left Zionist starting out, but became convinced that Zionism was a hopeless illusion. And like Leon, he was caught by the Gestapo in his youth and died at their hands.

Flakin has performed a yeoman’s service by digging through archival materials, the few letters that Monath wrote, and memoirs by his contemporaries to help bring this obscure figure to life. While there is virtually nothing in this biography that refers to the current period, we cannot help but consider the parallels to Trump, Orban, and Modi’s persecution of the “other”. If being a revolutionary in 1941 France or Belgium required enormous courage, there are other difficulties we face today. We have few worries about being hauled off to a torture chamber in countries like the USA or England. Instead, we have to swim upstream to defend a revolutionary socialism that has become unfashionable. Our problem is indifference rather than repression. We are grateful to Nathaniel and his comrades at Left Voice for having the iron will so necessary to defend the ideas of Karl Marx in a period when the spirit of compromise and pragmatism infect so much of the left.

The first paragraph of Flakin’s Introduction sets the tone for the rest of the book:

It is late 1943 in Brittany in north-western France. For three years the population has been suffering under the Nazis’ increasingly brutal occupation regime. In the city of Brest, however, there are astounding scenes of fraternization: Young French workers and equally young German soldiers greet each other with raised fists. An illegal newspaper reports from Kerhuon, ten kilometers from Brest: “On August 6, German soldiers marched through the city and sang the Internationale,” the anthem of the revolutionary workers’ movement. Between 25 and so German soldiers from the Brest garrison had organized themselves into illegal internationalist cells. They obtained identification cards and weapons for the French resistance. They felt so confident that they began to ignore the basic rules of conspiracy. They met in groups of ten. “It was madness,” recalled their comrade Andre Calves, decades later.

Continue reading

October 9, 2019

After Manukha the matchmaker discards Shulem’s dead wife’s clothes, will he call off their marriage?

Filed under: Jewish question — louisproyect @ 6:26 pm

Episode seven in season two of the ravishingly beautiful Netflix series “Shtisel” is titled “The Lost Children’s Good Will”. I have plans to write a fuller review of this show about Haredis living Jerusalem in a future blog post but this episode deserves some commentary on its own since it is so close to my own family experience even though we were secular.

The two main characters in “Shtisel” are Shulem Shtisel, the widowed sixty-something principal of a yeshiva and his twenty-seven year old unmarried son named Kive (short for Akiva) who has launched a career as an artist. Although he appears to be burdened by a thousand different strictures the ultra-orthodox live by, in his father’s eyes and those of others in their family and social milieu, he is considered a “rebel”.

Shulem has secured the services of a recently widowed matchmaker named Manukha to find a wife for his son. In consultations with her, she suggests that his son’s bachelorhood might be a function of his own refusal to move past his wife’s death. She follows up with a virtual order that the two get hitched. He leaves that up in the air but events conspire to make it happen. When standing on a dining-chair to change a lightbulb, he trips to the floor and injures his foot. Lying on the floor helplessly like a beached whale, he is finally rescued by Manukha hours later when she became alarmed by his failure to return her phone calls. Realizing that he had the need for someone to look after him, especially in light of what he perceived as his son’s fecklessness, he agrees to marry the matchmaker and a date is set.

Manukha does not like living in the past. In advance of her marriage to Shulem, she hires an observant handyman to begin knocking down a wall in his kitchen so as to make room for her own future planned modernization. When Kive awakens early one morning to hear the pounding of the worker’s sledge-hammer, he is outraged. Why hadn’t anybody informed him about this desecration of his mom’s kitchen, even if it was in the name of remodeling? His father takes Manukha’s side and the demolition continues. Not willing to put up with either the noise or the effacing of his mother’s memory, he packs a bag and moves into the studio where he works.

A day or so later, Shulem has his own bit of trauma over Manukha’s roughshod attempts to make over the Shtisel household. He comes home from a day at the yeshiva to discover that she has put all of his dead wife’s clothing into large garbage bags that she intends to donate to a Haredi thrift shop. Shulem is stunned but is not yet ready to defy her in the same way his son did. Having to choose between a dead wife’s memory and a new wife’s admittedly brusque takeover bid of his apartment is something to be resolved in a later episode.

When my mother was around my age, she belonged to the reform synagogue in Monticello, NY. Even though it was a 10-mile drive, she was willing to put up with it because she hated the synagogue in Woodridge that had become taken over by the Satmars, a Hasidic sect whose members are like those in “Shtisel”.

Not long after she started going to services there, she met Victor, a widower like her. He grew up on a farm outside of Monticello that was right next to Max Yasgur’s, whose land became the site of the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Before long, they were a couple but I suppose not on an intimate basis. Victor’s son made a living piloting marijuana into the USA from various sources until he died in a crash. When she learned about this, she began to offer emotional support and the two became quite attached to each other. She had experienced her own family tragedy and the two helped keep each other afloat emotionally.

Like Manukha, my mother had a forceful personality. She called Victor up every night to check up on him and brought home-cooked meals over to his house 2 or 3 times a week. My mother was a terrible cook but he appreciated the gesture.

At a certain point, she broached the subject of marriage with him. She had little in common with the Haredi culture of Woodridge and felt more at home in Monticello. What prevented the marriage from being consummated was perhaps what will prevent Shulem and Manukha from becoming man and wife. My mom explained to me what made Victor reject my mother’s proposal. Unlike my mother, he had a very long and satisfying marriage. When his wife died, he kept all her belongings exactly where they had been up until her death. She called their bedroom a “shrine” to her memory. He never would have let her take over. If my mom had done anything like Manukha, he would have disowned her. Of course, things never got that far.

So, despite the rituals that mark ultra-orthodox life, they have certain things in common with reform Jews like Victor and my mother. Even though they rely on match-makers rather than online dating or hooking up in a synagogue like my mom and Victor did, once the marriage starts there are certain universal human relations that fall into place. I imagine you can make the comparison between the Haredis and Christians or Muslims just as well.

This is what make “Shtisel” so magical. Once you get past all the strange rituals (they say a prayer every time they drink a glass of water), you see that their lives and ours are so alike. What makes me reflect on all this as a film critic is why Americans can’t make films so emotionally involving. Leaving aside network TV, which is all garbage, HBO family dramas about ordinary people are non-existent. “The Sopranos” had much of the same ability to get inside family dynamics but all within the context of a Hobbesian universe ruled by homicidal instincts. The gentleness of “Shtisel” is quite an accomplishment, especially from its Israeli creative team. More about that to follow after I have completed watching season two.

March 18, 2019

Making kosher half-sour dill pickles

Filed under: food,Jewish question,Turkey — louisproyect @ 10:25 pm

In the 50s and 60s, my father had a fruit store in Woodridge, NY that was famous for the kosher half-sour dill pickles made in the back of the store. By the time I was 14 years old, I began making them using his time-honored recipe. It consisted of the standard spices that he bought wholesale, garlic, dill and vinegar. You put about 25 pounds of Kirby cucumbers into a huge barrel, mixed in the other ingredients, put the lid of a peach basket on top of all this, and topped it off with a heavy stone to keep everything compacted together with the pickling ingredients. People used to come from miles around to buy his pickles.

The kind of barrel I used, about four feet tall.

In recent years, I have gotten into the habit of buying what my Turkish relatives call turşu, which is pronounced turshu. There was a great store that sold turşu on 85th and First but like so many small businesses became a casualty of extortionist rental leases.

We then started buying kosher dill pickles from Fairway, even though they didn’t sell the entire range of turşu products, which in addition to pickles can include mixed vegetables. Since Fairway is owned by Blackstone, a company I really hate for personal reasons, I decided to look into making them myself. It turned out to be a roaring success.

If you have access to a Whole Food store, you can buy Kirby cucumbers there. Then, you order the Ball spicing mix  from Amazon (or buy it from Whole Food or your local supermarket, even though I think you’ll have to end up ordering it online since it is not an everyday product.)

Kirby cucumbers

If you are making two quarts of pickles, as the Ball instructions indicate, make sure to use 2 ½ pounds of pickles rather than the 3 ½ it calls for since that would require a third quart jar. But still use the same amount of pickling ingredients. Don’t bother buying fancy gourmet vinegar. Heinz works just fine. This is what you’ll end up with after a week in the fridge. Trust me, they taste great. I say that as a bona fide expert on kosher pickles learned as an apprentice to my master pickle-maker Jack Proyect.

The next step is to make turşu with the other ingredients, a mixture of cauliflower, long green peppers, carrots and cabbage. Goes great with barbunya pilaki and kuru fasulye.

January 1, 2019

Lev Tahor: the Jewish Taliban

Filed under: cults,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 6:15 pm

Several days ago my tiny village in the Catskills got mentioned in a NY Times article titled “Jewish ‘Cult’ Tied to Brooklyn and Mexico Is Accused of Kidnapping 2 Children”. It seems that the children and their mother were part of a bizarre Taliban-like Hasidic cult based in Guatemala called Lev Tahor, which means “pure heart”. In October, she fled from the cult and relocated to Woodridge, New York, a village that was always predominantly Jewish but for the past decade or so at least has morphed into a Satmar Hasidic shtetl.

After my mom went into a nursing home over a decade ago, I went upstate to work on getting her house into shape for the real estate market. While working on the house, I used to go next door to chat with my Satmar neighbor, who had bought his house from my neighbor Frank Draganchuk, a Ukrainian-American who loved hunting as well as the animals he would shoot. He left salt licks behind his house just to admire the deer that he would hunt during season but far from his house.

After my house went on the market, it was snapped up almost immediately by another Satmar family. Within days of the sale, another neighbor who lived across the street, a garage mechanic and good old boy like Frank, phoned me to complain about the house being sold to a Satmar. A half-Jew himself, he might be perceived as an anti-Semite nonetheless. But another neighbor who lived down the street was not only a full-blooded Jew but the former president of the village synagogue where I was bar mitzvahed. He hated the Satmars with a passion. A WWII veteran like my father, his idea of Judaism was eating kosher and going to synagogue on Saturdays, not having your entire life revolve around rituals.

The Times describes Lev Tahor as anti-Zionist. As a split from the Satmar sect, this is one belief that they retained. The Satmars are staunchly opposed to Zionism, so much so that the Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum was denounced by Jewish officialdom for blaming the West Bank settlers as being responsible for the murders of three of their teens by colonizing Palestinian land. Refusing to accept the legitimacy of Israel based on their interpretation of Jewish teachings (a Jewish state can only come into existence upon the return of a Messiah), he stated that while “every heart bleeds for the teens, it is incumbent upon us to say that these parents are guilty”. The settlers “place the lives of the Jewish people at risk for the sake of Zionism”. The most extreme sub-sect of the Satmars is Neturei Karta that denounces Israel at pro-Palestinian rallies organized by the PSL.

Just two months after the mom and her children settled down into normal Satmar life in Woodridge, a Lev Tahor member named Aron Rosner, who is the brother of the group’s leader, came into the village, kidnapped the two kids, Yante Teller, 14, and her brother, Chaim Teller, 12. They were brought to Mexico where they would then be transported on the next plane back to Guatemala. The Interpol arrested the kidnappers in Mexico and are in the process of sending the children back to Woodridge.

The children’s mom was the daughter of Shlomo Helbrans, the cult’s founder. After his death, his son Nachman took over. He is regarded as more extreme than his father and was arrested with the other kidnappers in Mexico. As part of the astonishing history of this tiny sect of no more than 200 members, Shlomo drowned on July 7, 2017 while performing a ritual immersion in a Mexican river. If the idea of Hasidic Jews in Mexico or Guatemala seems strange to those of you reading this post, imagine how Guatemalan Indians regarded them.

After settling in San Juan la Laguna, about 90 miles from Guatemala City, a local indigenous council told them to leave or else they would be forcefully removed. The Indians had problems with them refusing to greet or have physical contact with the community. Actually, that’s the way most of Woodridge’s more secular-minded Jews felt about the Satmars.

Ironically, Shlomo Helbrans was born into an Israeli family that was as secular-minded as my own. It was only after he turned 13 that he became a zealot. As for me, when I turned 13, I cut all my ties to organized Judaism. Getting bar mitzvahed was like graduating high school. Once you were certified, why would you ever want to go back to places as alienating as a high school or a synagogue?

I first heard about Helbrans in 1994 when he was involved in a case similar to this one. He had been charged with helping a 13-year old boy run away from his mother while taking bar mitzvah lessons with him. Sentenced to two years in prison, he left for Israel two years after his release where he established his cult that Israelis call the “Jewish Taliban”. According to Wikipedia, its practices include lengthy prayer sessions, arranged marriages between teenagers, and black, head-to-toe coverings for females beginning at age three.

Despite its minuscule size, the group has been widely covered in the media. Perhaps there is more than the customary interest in a Jewish group that forces its female members to wear burqas.

Foreign Policy ran a story in the January/February 2016 issue titled “A Tale of the Pure at Heart” that is worth reading. But for the most revealing look inside this controversial cult, I recommend this Global News documentary:

Finally, I can say that the readiness of such people to live within a cult is no great mystery. Judaism, like all “sky religions”, tends to create a rich subsoil for formations based on a strict obedience to doctrine and blind worship of the leading group. While Trotskyism was not a “sky religion”, it certainly knew how to keep people in line, including me over an 11 year period. Like the mother of the two kidnapped children, I bailed. Fortunately for me, nobody tried to kidnap me and force me to go door to door selling books written by Jack Barnes. They probably understood that I had gone over to Satan, thank god.

November 3, 2018

Uzbek Jews and the Pittsburgh massacre

Filed under: Jewish question — louisproyect @ 7:21 pm

Uzbekistan has been on mind for a while for a couple of reasons. To start with, I send nearly a thousand dollars each month to my mother-in-law to pay for the Uzbek housekeeper/caregiver we hired a couple of years ago to look after her husband who was suffering from dementia. After he died a few months ago, we decided to keep her on since it would make the mom-in-law’s life easier as well.

It is not unusual for Turks to employ emigres from the margins of the former Soviet Union. My wife’s brother-in-law had a maid from Moldova before he moved to the USA. Those women fleeing post-Soviet poverty frequently become prostitutes, operating in small brothels that are legal in Turkey, a legacy of Mustafa Kemal’s defiance of Muslim norms.

Some emigres end up in dead-end jobs despite the professional qualifications they accumulated in their home country. For example, the woman—a Muslim—who looked after my father-in-law was an accountant in a bank. When she arrived in Turkey, those qualifications made little difference.

A few days ago I had a chat with an Uzbek Jew who was cutting my hair. If you are looking for a great barber on the upper east side that charges only $16, I recommend Albert, the owner of L’Mosh Aliz. I have no idea what “mosh aliz” means but he is established enough as a barber to have been quoted in The Awl for his views on Donald Trump’s hairdo:

“If he’s a man, and wants to show he is a true leader, he would make it shorter. Take out the piece and walk like a businessman. Trim it close and keep it natural. Don’t try to cover it up.”

— Albert, L’Mosh Aliz Unisex Salon, Upper East Side

Those are my views exactly. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a comb-over. I told Albert that I wanted him to use a number one razor that gives the closest cut and added that I liked the military look.

A minute into the haircut, I asked him a question that has been on my mind for years now. All of the barber shops in the neighborhood, as opposed to the hair-styling salons I used to go to, seem to be operated by Jews from the primarily Muslim, southern mountainous regions of the former Soviet Union, especially from Uzbekistan. It appears that some Uzbek Jews also end up running combination shoe and watch repair shops like the one my wife and I patronize a block away. How did that happen, I asked Albert?

He explained that barbering is a craft ideally suited to immigrants who have not mastered English. He said that for many, putting 3 or 4 pictures of different hair styles on the wall of a shop was sufficient. You’d ask someone sitting in the chair to point to a picture of the kind of haircut he needed and that was that. My guess is that the shoe repair business amounts to the same thing. My maternal grandfather had a shoe repair shop in Kansas City and never learned a word of English, as was the case with my grandmother who peddled clothing in the Mexican-American neighborhoods. In fact, her command of Spanish was much greater than that of her English as was the case with my mother when she was young.

Albert provided some details on how his family ended up in the USA. Working with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the same group that provoked Robert Bowers to murder 11 Jews in Pittsburgh, his father was given the choice of immigrating to the USA or Israel. He chose the USA—a wise choice in my view. Like my mother-in-law’s housekeeper, his prior professional experience meant little. He taught music in a high school in Uzbekistan but ended up being trained as a barber, just like his son.

The other question on my mind was how Jews related to the national culture in Uzbekistan. I was under the impression that unlike Ashkenazy Jews they tended to adopt the cuisine, dress and broader cultural affinities of the Muslim majority. Albert confirmed that. His father played in a band that consisted mostly of Muslim men and could count on Muslims for friendship and support. The sizable donations that Muslim organizations provided to the synagogue in Pittsburgh reflects the affinity that has been lost in decades of Israeli depredation. Some analysts argue that as long as there is Islamophobia, Judeophobia will follow in its trail. I find this argument convincing.

After I returned home fresh as a daisy with my buzzcut, I decided to do a little research on Uzbek Jews. The findings were eye-opening. Although the July 24, 2004 Washington Post article referenced below does not mention Uzbekistan, the mention of Bukhara should indicate that it is talking about Albert and his countrymen. Bukhara is in Uzbekistan, as is Tashkent, the capital and largest city that was a cauldron of support for the Bolsheviks in 1917.

Rafael Fuzailov’s place is a traditional barbershop. The smells, both astringent and fragrant, are familiar. The steel chairs look as if they’ve been used for years. Once in a while, one of the men grabs a broom and cleans up. A sign out front advertises haircuts for $12.

But around a corner in the back of the shop, a Russian-language newspaper lies under a ceramic teapot. There is a silver-plated samovar against one wall, and the barbers’ accents are foreign — the shop is a long way from the cities of the Great Silk Road of central Asia where the men were born.

Rakhmin Izgelov, who is administering a trim, is from Tashkent. Working the chair next to him is Rafael’s son, Daniel Fuzailov, from Samarkand. They are Bukharian Jews, barbers transplanted to this shop far from the mountainous land that was home to their people for centuries.

“I never thought I would be here,” said Izgelov, a stocky man with a thick, neat mustache and a serious expression, who has been cutting hair since 1968. “The customers are different. But hair is hair.”

The Bukharians trace their origins, through Iran and Iraq, to the Persian Empire, in the centuries after the kingdom of Israel was conquered and its inhabitants first forced into exile. Today, Bukharians live in Queens, part of a community of about 50,000 immigrants from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgystan and Kazhakstan. For generations, the barbers of central Asia were Jews.

The barbers at Rafael Barber Shop — nestled in its strip mall near a Starbucks and a hair salon — are following a hallowed immigrant path. They are working their way into American society with the skills they brought from their home countries, much as how Jewish tailors, Greek cooks and, years ago, Italian barbers have done.

“There are not too many Italians in the business anymore,” said Mike Zholendz of the American Barber Institute in Manhattan. “Now we have a new breed of people: The Bukharians are coming.”

It helps that it doesn’t take much capital to get into the business — as little as $10,000, said Gloria Blumenthal of the New York Association for New Americans, which aids immigrants. She said barbering is the Bukharians’ top profession.

Bukharians are barbering throughout Long Island, though it’s difficult to know exactly how many there are.

“I see a Jewish community. I like to work in a Jewish community,” Rafael said, explaining how he chose Plainview.

He does not work at the shop — he’s got his fingers in other enterprises, including buying and selling cars — but his son and his wife, Rachel, do. The Plainview store also does a little shoe repair, a little jewelry work — crafts that Bukharians dominated in the cities of central Asia.

“During Soviet times, most of the professions like barber, photographer, watch fixers, shoemakers, most of the jobs were controlled by Bukharian Jews,” said Peter Perkhasov, 26, a political science major at Queens College who is director of http://www.bukharianjews.com, one of a number of Bukharian Web sites. “There were barbershops where only Bukharian Jews worked, 20 or 30 people.”

Documentary photographer Frederic Brenner made a portrait of one such establishment in 1989 in Leninabad, Tajikistan, showing 10 Jewish barbers and their Muslim customers. Eight years later, Brenner found and photographed seven of the same barbers together in Israel. Along with the 50,000 or so in the New York area, there are an estimated 100,000 Bukharians in Israel, with a few thousand more in Austria, France, England, Australia and Argentina. Only about 2,000 are left in Central Asia.

Frederic Brenner: Barbershop Barbers, Left to Right, with Their Tajik Muslim Customers: Ibrahim, Roshel Ya’akobov, Arkadi Dadabayev, Sa’id Hudja, Joric, Shlomo Ya’akobov, Adina, Asher Dadabayev, Shmaya Mushayev, Abraham Ya’akobov, Leninabad, Tajikistan, USSR, 1989

The Bukharians lived in the cities along the Silk Road for hundreds of years, practicing their own, isolated form of Judaism and speaking a Tajik or Farsi dialect. As a result of continuous repression and persecution mixed with occasional periods of free movement, they lost touch with many of their religious roots.

According to lore, a rabbi from Morocco went to Bukhara, in what is now Uzbekistan, in the 18th century and instigated a Sephardic religious revival. “He changed it from the Persian religious tradition to the Sephardic tradition, but we are not Sephardic Jews,” Perkhasov said.

The Bukharians are proud of their Jewish heritage, if not Orthodox in their observance — Saturday, the Sabbath, is one of the shop’s busiest days. Dmitri Izkhakov, who also works at Rafael Barber Shop, indicated clearly that he immigrated because he is Jewish. He arrived in New York in April 2002, because “there are now 15 [Jewish] families left in Samarkand. There were 10,000 families, and now the synagogue is closing because there is no minyan,” he said, referring to the 10 adult males needed to conduct prayer services.

Barbering is a bit different, both for the newcomers and customers who recall the old-time practitioners. The Bukharian barbers don’t strop their razors the way the old Italians did; they don’t use fragrant oils as much or keep their scissors and tools in alcohol-filled glasses. “The Italian guys are very slow and precise,” Izgelov said. “We have a little less attention to detail.”

And American customers are not the same as the Uzbeks. “In Tashkent, there is more a standard haircut — three types of haircuts,” he said. “Here, everybody is different, different kinds.”

Ultimately, though, a barber is a barber. Daniel Fuzailov carefully shaved Alan Sternberg’s head while Sternberg’s son Jake, 3, perched on his dad’s lap. Then Billy Hunter of Jericho, who had been the store’s very first customer, came by for his regular shave.

“There are very few barbershops that do shaves anymore,” Hunter said, settling back under Izgelov’s ministrations. “There’s a family atmosphere here. They make you feel right at home.”

Frederic Brenner’s photo above reminds me of what was lost when Jews became part of the nationalist project known as Zionism. For the better part of a thousand years, they were part of a culture that they were happy to assimilate into while retaining their particular religious customs. Under the various more enlightened Muslim rulers, especially in the Ottoman Empire, they flourished. In Europe, they benefited from the Enlightenment, so much so that the Reform movement in Germany was seen as a threat to the hegemonic Orthodox sect.

Not much has changed apparently. Israel, which has become an Orthodox bastion closely affiliated with the Christian right, has tended to line up with the Republican Party over the killings in Pittsburgh. In September 2017, Haaretz reported on how Netanyahu’s son had developed a mindset associated with both Robert Bowers and Cesar Sayoc:

When he shared a cartoon full of anti-Semitic imagery on his Facebook page over the weekend, the son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not have understood he would be playing straight into the hands of notorious Jew haters. After all, he discovered the image on a Hebrew-language social media site whose fans and followers appear to be Israeli.

The cartoon, which Yair Netanyahu – known by the pseudonym “Yair Hun” on Facebook – has since removed, featured a photo of George Soros dangling the world in front of a reptilian creature, which, in turn dangles an alchemy symbol in front of a caricature of a figure evoking the anti-Semitic “happy merchant” image.

Leaders of the anti-Semitic far right in the United States couldn’t have been more delighted. David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, rushed to share the cartoon on Twitter, while The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi news website, called the prime minister’s 26-year-old son “a total bro” in an article headlined “Netanyahu’s son posts awesome meme blaming the Jews for bringing down his Jew father.”

Isn’t it obvious that class divisions in the Jewish population are sharpening today? Young Jews will have to make a choice between Zionism and socialism. I made that choice in 1967 and remain convinced that the only way to prevent murderous attacks like the one that took place in Pittsburgh will be the abolition of capitalism, a system that continues to exist because the ruling class learned hundreds of years ago how to divide and conquer. The answer to that is class unity and militancy in a period of capitalism rotting to its very foundations.

August 16, 2018

The Ritchie Boys

Filed under: Film,Jewish question,WWII — louisproyect @ 6:00 pm

Not too long ago I discovered that Werner Angress, the historian from whose “Stillborn Revolution: The Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921–23” I have been posting excerpts, was a Ritchie boy. After he died in 2010, The American Historical Association commemorated his life, including information on Ritchie:

Drafted into the army in 1941, he was trained as an interrogator at Camp Ritchie (he is featured in the film, The Ritchie Boys, about this remarkable institution), and parachuted (his first jump) into France with the 82nd Airborne on D-Day. Despite his extraordinarily youthful appearance and rather small stature, Angress was a tough and resourceful soldier who was eventually promoted to Master Sergeant and awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

In going through a backlog of DVDs received from publicists about a decade ago, I discovered that I had one for “The Ritchie Boys”. In extracting it from the package, it accidentally was damaged. Not willing to be deterred from seeing the film, I got a copy through the Columbia Library and was richly rewarded by a documentary that might be regarded as the ultimate alternative to Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”.

Although Werner Angress and all the other German and German-speaking Jewish immigrants had every reason to want to kill every Nazi they got their hands on, the allied cause was better served by them functioning as “soft cops” to get information that could save the lives of fellow soldiers as well as civilians. Additionally, the Ritchie boys discover that many if not most of the German soldiers were ordinary workers forced to kill or be killed as deserters. The same thing was true of the German civilians they came in contact with.

Every Ritchie boy interviewed in the film was as ethically and politically informed as Angress, with some demonstrating the leftist politics they probably absorbed growing up in Weimar Germany. Among the most interesting is Si Lewin, a Polish Jew who was born in 1918 and died two years ago at the age of 97. Like all the other Ritchie boys, including Angress whose parachute got caught in a tree in Germany not long after D-Day, he has an amazing story to tell.

He was assigned to convince German soldiers to surrender by speaking to them through high-powered speakers wired to a batteries in a jeep. Routinely, German artillery honed in on Lewin and his comrades by geolocating the sound of the speakers until they figured out how to position them far from the jeep.

Si Lewin’s website is still up and running. In the about page, we learn that he was a close friend of Art Spiegelman who wrote “Maus”. In a Harpers Magazine article, Spiegelman describes “Parade”, one of Lewin’s most celebrated works:

By 1950, Si was pursuing an idea that had begun to gestate while he was still a soldier. Inspired by a lifelong love of movies — and in conscious resistance to the pure nonrepresentational abstraction that was coming to dominate contemporary art — he made the Parade.

The work begins with an excited crowd of flag-waving parents and children who gather to cheer a military procession of soldiers that turns into an abstract engine of war. Little boys playing with toy guns are beckoned from the arms of their mothers into the arms of a shrouded Grim Reaper, who transforms the children into helmeted, goose-stepping cannon fodder — interchangeable cogs in a relentless war machine. A series of vignettes focuses on scenes of escalating havoc and suffering — the disasters of war — replete with bayoneted mothers and babies, terrorized families fleeing bombed-out cities, and devastated farms. The images accumulate into a panoramic harvest of blood and death. The parade turns into a hanging row of severed heads, a procession of the wounded and maimed, a march of ravaged survivors staggering under the weight of the coffins they carry.

I had to make a tough decision in writing an article about “The Ritchie Boys” since it was neither available as VOD or even as a DVD with the standard pricing. The director Christian Bauer, a German, died in 2009 and the distribution company he founded died along with him. The only way to see the film is to buy a DVD on Amazon that is now going for $70 when it was available.

I saw no alternative except to put it up on Youtube, which took a bit of time and money to accomplish. Since the DVD is copy-protected, I had to pay $100 to have someone bypass the copy protection and make it uploadable. I doubt that Youtube will be hearing from anybody about copyright protection but just in case I wouldn’t waste any time watching this film since it is absolutely terrific.

July 31, 2018

Munsees, Monsey and Muncie

Filed under: indigenous,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 12:36 am

Monsey, NY is a town just north of New York City that is mostly Hasidic. Here you see the Neturei Karta sect celebrating Lag Bo’omer. You’ve probably heard of them. They often participate in protests against Israel, mostly because they consider the state of Israel to be contrary to Jewish religious precepts. Until the Messiah comes, there can be no Jewish state in their eyes. In addition to that, they also decry the treatment of the Palestinians who they see as victims of ethnic cleansing.

The town of Monsey derives its name from the Munsee Indians, who were part of the Lenape nation. They had a village there as well as settlements all through New York State from approximately just south of Albany all the way down to New York City. In fact, the Munsees were the ones who supposedly sold Manhattan to the Dutch for $24.

In the early 1800s, the Munsees were systematically robbed of their land in New York and eventually relocated to  Wisconsin. in much more meager circumstances.

They also resettled in Indiana, where they called their village Munsee Town. It was once  again absorbed by whites who at least gave them the courtesy of retaining the name but Anglicized it as Muncie. Muncie became immortalized as the subject of Robert and Helen Lynd’s “Middletown” that examined attitudes of people living in Muncie, the first sociological study of its kind.

The Lynds were the parents of long-time radical Staughton Lynd. Their study, according to Wikipedia, found that at least 70 percent of the population belonged to the working class. “However, labor unions had been driven out of town because the city’s elite saw them as anti-capitalist. Because of this, unemployment was seen among residents as an individual, not a social, problem.” With a study reaching such conclusions, no wonder they were investigated as Communist Party members in the 1950s.

Because of the wrongs done to them in the 1800s, the Munsees were compensated by being allowed to build a gambling casino in Sullivan County, where I grew up. They were as dominant in Sullivan County as the Sioux were in the Dakotas. Unlike the Sioux, they were farmers and mostly dispossessed of their land rather than dispossessed of their game as was the case with the Sioux.

Four years ago they decided to abandon plans to build the casino since Cuomo had authorized the building of casinos closer to New York City, thus shrinking their market.

As for the Neturei Karta, Lag Bo’omer is a holiday that nobody in my Jewish village celebrated. It is much more of a Chasidic thing with Kabbalistic implications. The Talmud states that it originated in the 12th century when a divinely-ordained plague led to the death of 24,000 rabbinical students in the month of Omer. The “lag” refers to the day when the plague was lifted. As far as I know, there is no explanation why God visited such a calamity except maybe as a Job-like test of their faith.

The holiday is marked by dancing around bonfires and the children taking rubber bows and arrows into the fields sort of like in a John Ford western. In today’s Israel, the holiday is celebrated as a symbol of Israel’s fighting spirit. Needless to say, the Neturei Karta has different ideas.

July 21, 2018

Yitzy the Pupa photographer

Filed under: Catskills,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 7:12 pm

On Wednesday and Thursday, I was up in Sullivan County—once the home of the now mostly defunct resort hotel industry—to work with a drone pilot I had hired to capture the sights of the Catskills from above.

Of all the major hotels that were well-known in the area, there is only one that is still in business and that has the same appearance it had when it was built in 1937, namely the Raleigh Hotel. When I had been told in advance that it was now owned by Hasidim and catering to the frum (devout), I was a bit worried about being prevented from filming since these people are notoriously wary of outsiders. About a mile from the hotel, we stopped on the road to ask directions from a likely hotel guest wearing a long frock coat and a wide-brimmed hat. He told us it was right up the road and asked if he could get a lift. When he opened the door to hop into the back seat, he spotted the drone pilot’s female assistant and then said, while grinning sheepishly, “No thank you”. This came as no big surprise since there were lots of reports about Hasidic men refusing to be seated next to women on Israeli airplanes. Even when I offered to change seats with the assistant, he still said no.

Given that introduction, I suggested to the pilot to stay fairly clear of the hotel in order to avoid confrontations with hotel security. After about five minutes of filming, a car pulled up with a Hasidic driver who we figured to be part of the hotel management ready to tell us to get lost. After we explained what we were doing, he said “Great” with a big smile on his face and then asked when and where the drone shots of the hotel will be available. What a pleasant surprise!

Back in 2004, the hotel was being run by Laurie Landon, a secular Jew who took over the hotel after her father Mannie Halbert died that year at the age of 91. The NY Times described a transition that was atypical:

When she turned 18, she left the Raleigh and the so-called borscht belt behind to study fine arts at the University of Wisconsin. She then ventured farther, to California, where she studied and worked in design before returning east to live in Manhattan. Her father was left to run the 320-room hotel by himself after her mother, Nettie, died of ovarian cancer in 1971.

“The hotel replaced my mother,” she said. “It was his world. I knew he wanted to pass away here. He wore a suit and tie every day until he went into the hospital.”

Having hassle-free filming at the Raleigh was just the prelude to the next encounter with a Hasid that was even more unexpected.

1352

Old Falls, on the Neversink River

The crew and I were at Old Falls, a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, when all of a sudden a panel truck pulled up and a young man wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a yarmulke on his head stepped out to see what we were up to.

While the pilot and his assistant prepared to fly the drone over the falls, I drew their attention to a monarch butterfly a few feet away. To our delight, we had seen a number of them when we were upstate—perhaps recovering from the massive die-off from pesticides in the 1990s. When the young man overheard us chatting about the butterfly, he dashed to his truck and brought out a digital SLR camera with a massive telephoto lens to see if he could photograph the butterfly. In fact, it was this camera:

That is one of the photos on Yitzy’s website that is devoted both to photographing the beauty of the area as well as the religious leaders of the Pupa branch of Hasidic Judaism.

Not only is he a passionate photographer, he is also into drone photography and owns a Mavic Pro just like mine. I should add that the only reason I hired a drone pilot (and a great one at that) is the impossibility of learning how to fly my own in New York City where there is a virtual ban. (Contact me if you want to buy a Mavic Pro in excellent condition.)

Right off the bat, Yitzy identified himself as a Pupa person. The Pupas are a Hasidic sect named after the town of Pápa in Hungary who were deported to Auschwitz during WWII with only a tiny number of people surviving the death camp. There are several thousand Pupas in Brooklyn where Yitzy grew up in a cloistered world that had incorporated the same customs and Yiddish language used in the 19th century in Hungary. He told me that he learned English on the street and even picked up Spanish along the way.

Yitzy and I discussed his online passions that are strictly verboten in his world. Computers, like the female assistant in the drone pilot’s back seat, are doors that open up into the world of temptation and sin. But he was not ready to forsake them since this was as much a part of his identity as the sidelocks (peyot) that he had tucked neatly behind his ears. On Friday night and Saturday, the sidelocks are unraveled and he trades his jeans and t-shirt for the same kind of clothes that the Raleigh hotel guest was wearing. Obviously, it is this sort of ceremony that retains a grip on him:

Yitzy is aware of the films on Hasidim that have cast them in a negative light such as “One of Us” (https://louisproyect.org/2017/10/19/one-of-us-jane/) even if he has not watched them. He wasn’t aware of “Menashe”, the outstanding film about a single father being told by a Hasidic court that unless he remarries, he will have to turn over his son to another family. When I described the plot to him, he had no hesitation saying that the rabbis were wrong.

I was deeply impressed with Yitzy and could understand why he would want to remain in the Hasidic world. Karl Marx once wrote that religion was the opiate of the masses but the words that surround this statement are often neglected:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

My interest in the Hasidim goes back a number of decades mostly because they are so defiantly unconcerned about how they are perceived by others. In American society, it is difficult to withstand the social pressures that turn people into commodity fetishists unless you exist within a religious cocoon like the Amish or the Hasidim.

Ilan Halevi’s “A History of the Jews: Ancient and Modern” is the definitive treatment of Jewish history that I highly recommend. His discussion of the Hasidic movement places it in the context of economic and social dislocations of 19th century Europe:

There is one area where Hasidism not only did not challenge orthodoxy, but outbid the rabbinical discourse: the crucial area of the cleavage Jews and non-Jews. The eschatological justification of difference as essential. Difference was one of the constantly recurring themes of rabbinical Judaism: Separation (havdalah) was a key concept. God separated Israel from among the Nations and this extraction was of an ontological nature:

“Like day from night, like the sacred from the profane.” Talmudic law pushed the horror of the mixing of species to the prohibiting any grafting of vegetable species. Kabbalistic literature was full of such expressions of national pride and messianic particularism. But the intellectual practice of the Mediterranean Kabbala could, through exegesis, lead to heretical questionings of this basic distinction, which cannot simply be reduced to the divine guarantee of the ethnic superiority chosen group. The rabbinical caste, indeed, was dependent on it for relations with the princely rulers and the stratum of intermediaries. The weight of this dual relationship tempered the cosmological tribalism of the Law. It had even, under the tolerant Islam of the Abbassids, allowed this tribalism to harmonize its language with the surrounding civilization, which was itself fascinated by Greek Reason.

Nothing like this, no modification of rabbinical ethnicism was at work in universe of the Hasidim: the fact was that the persecution of the community was occurring in conditions that were unique in the history of this Law. The de facto separation of the Shtetl from the surrounding society, a separation that was not only religious and social, but linguistic and spatial, found in this the theological weapons it needed to assert itself. While postponing to an indefinite future the hopes for a political messiah, Hasidism also expressed, by its outright denial of time and place, the historical subjectivism of the Shtetl which could later fuel the growth of Jewish nationalism.

The internal crisis of the Shtetl, whose roots are to be found in the crisis of Polish feudalism, was exacerbated and radically aggravated. The domain of Polish sovereignty was shrinking rapidly. A kingdom that had stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea grew smaller and smaller as around it tsarist Russia, the Hapsburg empire and the German states grew larger and larger. The Polish question became the European question and centuries-old Polish Jewry saw its territory carved up among several states Austria, which took Galicia, lightened the conditions of Jews there: but Russia, having seized the Ukraine and Byelorussia, oppressed them there, said Lenin, “more harshly than the Negroes”. The Napoleonic conquest, short as it may have been, precipitated the disintegration, inducing a general upheaval in the empires of the centre and east. Following the French occupation, the whole map of the region was transformed. The new frontier of Austria and Russia, which shared the whole of what remained of Poland in 1815, cut the Ashkenazi world in two, divided the dynasties of Hasidic rabbis, and determined new sub-problematics. The sociological unity of Ashkenazi Judaism was beginning to fracture.

This year Philip Roth died at the age of 85. Well over fifty years ago, I read his “Goodbye Columbus” that included a short story titled “Eli the Fanatic” about a secular Jew living among gentiles who is chagrined to discover that a Hasidic Jew has moved into his neighborhood. Samuel Freedman, a Columbia professor who has written about conflicts in the Jewish community in a book titled “Jew Vs Jew: The Struggle For The Soul Of American Jewry”, summarized the plot:

In 1959, very early in his literary career, Philip Roth wrote a short story entitled “Eli, the Fanatic.” At the outset of the tale, nothing is fanatical about Eli, except his desire to fit in. He has ridden a law degree and the wave of postwar prosperity from working-class Newark into a leafy suburb up the slope of the Watchung Hills—the sort of suburb, the reader understands, that had barred Jews with restrictive covenants on home sales until the revelation of the Holocaust discredited the formal structures of American anti-Semitism. Even so, Eli feels that his station there is vulnerable. So when two survivors, one of them Hasidic, open a yeshiva out of a ramshackle home in what is supposed to be a residential neighborhood, Eli fears that their oddity will undermine his fragile new niche. He instructs the men in the importance of obeying zoning laws, and, when that doesn’t work, gives the Hasid one of his own business suits so that, at the very least, the stranger won’t attract quite so many stares as he walks down Main Street. In a final plot twist, the Hasid leaves a set of his own black garb on Eli’s porch. Eli, inexplicably drawn to it, puts on the clothes, whereupon he is committed to a lunatic asylum.

Sometimes I wonder if my 50-year commitment to Marxism is as “fanatical” as Roth’s character. In a world headed to disasters of Biblical proportions, it takes a certain kind of stiff-necked resolve to adhere to beliefs that reject our affluent society that is symbolized by Donald Trump’s garish penthouse. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I admire Yitzy even though his world is so remote from mine.

March 2, 2018

The Arab-Jew: Caught Between Warring Identities

Filed under: Counterpunch,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 5:00 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 2, 2018

Nearly five years ago I wrote an article for CounterPunch titled “Voices of the Mizrahim” that discussed “Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs – The Iraqi Connection”, a documentary that featured four Jewish members of the Communist Party in Iraq who became part of the “population exchange” associated with the creation of the state of Israel.

All four never stopped feeling like Iraqis after becoming Israeli citizens. In addition to the four, the film includes commentary on the phenomenon of the “Arab Jew” by NYU professor Ella Shohat who was born to Jewish parents in Baghdad and has written eloquently about the problems of divided identity for over thirty years. (The film can now be seen on Vimeo for only $5 and is well worth it: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/forget).

A generous collection of her articles are now available from Pluto Press in On the Arab-Jew, Palestine and Other Displacements that is of enormous importance in understanding not only the tragedy of the post-1947 “population exchange” but the ethnic conflicts tearing apart the Middle East and North Africa today.

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