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Tyghe Barry, wearing a money suit and pants, engages in a theatrical performance, pretending to be Kushner, who is auctioning off Gaza to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Dan Schere.
About 25 protesters from the left-wing group Code Pink marched to the home of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and special Middle East peace envoy Jared Kushner Thursday, demanding that the diplomat not negotiate East Jerusalem away from the Palestinians, end Israel’s use of deadly force at the Gaza border and allow for the so-called Palestinian right of return in his proposed peace plan.
For about an hour, the protesters stood side-by-side in front of Kushner’s Northwest Washington home with photos of Palestinians killed during the recent Gaza border protests taped to their chests and frequently chanted, “Palestine is not for sale.” The demonstrations were peaceful, with no arrests made.
Tyghe Barry, a part-time Washington resident who also lives in Los Angeles, wore a suit and pants decorated with bills of American money and a photo of Kushner taped to his face. At various points throughout the demonstration, he and Washington resident David Barrows, dressed in a purple cape and wearing a photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, staged an improvisational street theater performance in which Kushner auctioned Gaza off to Netanyahu as part of the peace proposal.
In an interview, Barry said that the goal of the theatrics was not to antagonize Kushner or the Trump administration, but to send a message that the Palestinian perspective must be taken into account.
About 25 activists from the left-wing group Code Pink, protested Thursday in front of the Northwest Washington home of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a Middle East Peace envoy. Photo by Dan Schere.
“We’re not targeting Trump and we’re not targeting Kushner,” he said. “We’re targeting a failed policy. We need a policy that includes Palestinian rights and the right of return.”
At its maximum, the Palestinian right of return would open Israel up to the settlement of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees who left at the beginning of Israel’s war for independence in 1948. It is regarded as a non-starter in Israel, particularly because it would make it impossible for Israel to retain its character as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Washington resident Pam Bailey said although she was protesting in front of Kushner’s house, she has protested against the Middle East policies of every American president prior to Trump and thinks the overall approach needs to change.
“There’s been this same challenge for every administration, because the U.S. has acted as Israel’s lawyer, and never as a truly neutral mediator,” she said.
Bailey said she knew the protest wouldn’t change Kushner’s mind, but that she feels it is a way to attract attention and make her voice heard.
“It feels like an ordinary citizen doesn’t have a say, but we can’t give up,” she said.
Kushner has yet to release the details of his peace plan, but the administration’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has angered a number of left-wing Middle East peace groups, particularly Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem in May. Code Pink National Director Ariel Gold called the move a “direct slap to Palestinian rights, international law and Jewish values.”
Gold, who lives in Ithaca, N.Y., was recently denied entry into Israel due to her involvement with Code Pink — one of 20 groups the country has blacklisted due to their support of boycott, divestment and sanctions tactics. She said the goal of Thursday’s demonstration was to show that her group is willing to take a stand until everyone living in Israel and the territories is treated equally. She compared the pro-Palestinian movement to the American civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“During the civil rights movement, there were lots of small protests, and people said, ‘Oh, your protest isn’t going to change the bigger picture,’” she said. “This is something where every little thing helps tip the scales, and we’re here to be part of that tipping of the scale.”
Guila Franklin Siegel, the associate director for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, condemned the protests in an interview and said she was not surprised by the low turnout.
“Code Pink is a known anti-Israel organization with which we’re very familiar,” she said. “The fact that they were only able to garner a very small crowd shows the marginalizing nature of their advocacy work. We will keep going about our work of keeping peace in the region between Israel and her neighbors.”
Siegel said although the details of Kushner’s peace plan have not been released, she remains optimistic.
“It is our hope that we will have a peace plan that recognizes Israel’s paramount need for security,” she said.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is seen at a doctor’s appointment in a screenshot from a video he made for Penn Medicine, where he is receiving treatment. The video is titled “Governor Ed Rendell: Living With Parkinson’s Disease.”
PHILADELPHIA — Ed Rendell was Pennsylvania’s governor in 2010 when he made national news by declaring the country “a nation of wusses.”
Two years later his viral rant turned into a book, “A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great,” in which he wrote: “We must regain that American spirit, that boldness and courage, that willingness to take on challenges no matter how hard or how great the risk.”
These days, Rendell, 74, seems to be taking his own advice. Last month, he held a press conference to announce he has Parkinson’s disease.
“I was stunned,” he said of the diagnosis, which he received 3 1/2 years ago. “Like all of us, I thought I was indestructible.”
Rendell was reluctant, initially, to speak out about the diagnosis. But he decided to come forward because he wants people to know how beneficial treatment can be.
“My disease is stabilized, progression has stopped, some of the symptoms are better than they were 3 1/2 years ago,” he said. “Ordinary folks who have these symptoms, who get in early, can get these same type of results. … Treatment is available to anybody who has a health care plan.”
Rendell’s sunny outlook represents a change in the national conversation around Parkinson’s disease, which was once marked by dour prognostications.
“There really is a lot of reason for optimism and hope,” said Vanessa Arnedo, director of research partnerships for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. “There are more symptomatic therapies that are coming to market. In fact, the FDA is reviewing three of those now. And there are over 20 drugs in clinical testing with the hypothesis that they could slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease in its tracks. It’s exciting.”
The pipeline of development for better therapies, Arnedo added, “is really as robust as it ever has been.”
To keep the progress going, the foundation is looking for Ashkenazi Jews, like Rendell, to participate in its landmark observational study, the Parkinson’s Progressive Markers Initiative. PPMI started in 2010 and is the foundation’s single largest investment to date, with 22 industry sponsors and 33 clinical sites worldwide.
“The goal of PPMI is to identify better markers of Parkinson’s disease progression … an objective measure of the disease, whether a diagnosis or how the disease progresses,” she said.
At the moment, there is no blood test for Parkinson’s, and no way for doctors to assess whether the disease is getting worse or better.
“If we were able to have better objective measures of Parkinson’s disease and how it progresses,” she said, “that would actually help accelerate the therapeutic development of treatments that could potentially stop or slow the progression of disease.”
While Parkinson’s is not considered a strongly genetic disease, there is a genetic link in people of certain ethnic backgrounds. In the Ashkenazi Jewish community, a larger percentage of people who have Parkinson’s also have rare genetic mutations that are likely the cause of the disease.
“The prevalence of Parkinson’s disease in general does not seem to be higher among individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent,” Arnedo explained. But the LRRK2 mutation, which is the greatest genetic indicator of Parkinson’s, is much more prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. The PPMI study is also looking at the GBA genetic mutation implicated in Gaucher disease, which has also been linked to Parkinson’s and is prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews.
“When you actually know what’s causing the disease or you know why someone is at risk for Parkinson’s disease,” Arnedo said, “you really already understand a lot more about what’s underlying the biology of the disease. That’s the reason to want to study individuals who have the genetic mutations. Since we know that individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are much more likely to carry the rare genetic mutations, it makes sense that that would be a community that we would want to encourage to get involved in this research.”
Adrienne Berger, a Philadelphia resident active in promoting the arts, is a PPMI study participant.
She was inspired to get involved after she saw how the disease affected both her late father and her brother, but when she learned the study required her to find out if she had specific genetic mutations, she got nervous.
“I really was hesitant because I prefer not to know,” she said.
When she asked the researchers if she could choose not to be informed whether she had the mutations, they said no, as that information would determine her ongoing participation.
“I decided I really wanted to advance the cause, so I was willing to risk the discomfort,” she said. “It was just a cheek swab that I had to send in and I had to answer some questionnaires. … It didn’t demand that much of me. So how could I not do it?”
It turned out that Berger did not have the mutations, which she was happy to know, given her family history.
“It was a big relief to hear I didn’t have it, but the researcher explained that you could still get it when you don’t have them and you don’t have to get it when you do have them.”
For a layperson, it can be hard to understand the connection between the mutations, the disease and Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, which is why headlines like “Are Jews at Risk For Parkinson’s Disease?” and
“Is Parkinson’s a Jewish genetic disease?” appear in Jewish publications. The subject is further complicated by recent research that suggests links between Crohn’s and Parkinson’s in the Jewish population — again, through the LRRK2 mutation.
But for now, Jewish genetic disease testing centers do not screen for LRRK 2.
“Our program is focused on reproductive carrier screening,” said Karen Arnovitz Grinzai, executive director of JScreen. “Gaucher disease (GBA) is on our carrier screening panel, but we do not test for LRRK2 mutations.”
Dor Yeshorim does not test for it either, and it is not included in any list of Jewish genetic diseases. But people concerned about the LRRK2 mutation can find out if they have it through non-reproductive genetic testing services, such as 23andMe, which is how Sergey Brin, the Jewish co-founder of Google whose mother has Parkinson’s, learned that he carried the mutation.
Or people can join the PPMI research study and find out that way, as Berger did. In time, such participation will likely lead to a clearer picture of how this all intersects.
“It is possible that in the future,” said Arnedo, “as researchers are learning more about the underlying disease and what the genetic factors and variants mean, we may actually identify that more of these cases are due to a genetic factor than is currently known today.”
Meanwhile, progress is being made, Rendell noted.
“It’s not a death sentence,” he said. “It doesn’t have to affect the quality of your life. I was out of Philadelphia 15 days of 31. That’s not a sign of someone afflicted with disease.
“That’s someone who has a disease but is coping with it because of treatment, because of therapy.
“It turns out that I wasn’t indestructible; none of us are,” he concluded. “But it turned out that I could be helped. All of us can be.”
Sasha Olinick plays Albert Einstein and Lolita Marie portrays Marian Anderson in the Fairfax-based Hub Theatre’s “Secrets of the Universe (and Other Songs).” Photo by DJ Corey Photography
“People like us don’t belong anywhere,” a loquacious Albert Einstein says to great operatic soprano Marian Anderson in the new play by Marc Acito that sheds light on a little-known friendship between the two.
In acknowledging their common predicament as outsiders — he as a Jew in Nazi Germany, she as an African-American in racist 20th-century America — “Secrets of the Universe (and Other Stories)” pushes a narrative that aligns with the growing anti-Semitism, racism and incivility occurring in the United States today.
The production by Fairfax-based Hub Theatre, in conjunction with the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, on stage through July 29, valiantly wrestles this issue into the light. But Acito’s cryptic approach, with its tangential flights of imagination, never finds its purpose. The play is unfortunately not helped by outgoing artistic director Helen Murray’s clunky staging in the modestly appointed Swayze Theater housed in a private school.
This meeting of minds — and hearts — occurred in 1937 on the occasion of Anderson’s invitation to sing in Princeton, N.J., where Einstein was a resident, having fled Germany for a post at the university in 1933. When Anderson was denied a hotel room because of her race, Einstein stepped up, offering her a place to stay. A supporter of the civil rights movement, he occasionally, and often quietly, acted on behalf of African Americans as a member of the NAACP.
Acito contrasts Einstein’s thinking — a merging of personal experience, logic and morality — with Anderson’s different world view. The granddaughter of slaves, she rose to the heights of high art, singing across Europe before returning to the United States. Her experience as a black woman in a segregated society is meant to parallel her host’s as a Jew in Nazi Germany. Yet while both have risen to the apex in their fields, Einstein has attained acceptance, while Anderson can never escape her race to simply be known as a singer.
We first meet Einstein bantering with his officious assistant Helen (Mindy Shaw) about Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. This is an Einstein that will delight many and frustrate some by making this serious man a goof. Sasha Olinick, who casts a striking resemblance to the mustachioed, wild-hair scientist wrapped in shabby sweaters, emphasizes the man’s humor — lame jokes and all — along with his compassion and a nod to his intellect.
As Marian Anderson, Lolita Marie is initially reserved, exceedingly polite, but soon she lapses into her diva-esque demeanor — diamond broaches and fur coat included. But she never forgets her manners.
Acito aims to capture these two titanic figures in the humdrum of daily life, even its private moments. Yet does he really need a scene showing Miss Anderson on the toilet or an attack of flatulence for Einstein? Yes, these great figures are human, but these scenes add nothing to the play.
Neither do the poorly played flashbacks and imagined scenes. These moments do little to illuminate this meeting of minds and hearts and merely distract from the central point of the play — how their friendship grows, even during an era when blacks and whites, Jews and Christians, weren’t meant to intermingle, let alone forge steadfast friendships.
It becomes evident from the outset how much Anderson and Einstein come to like one another. They trade puns and musical-sounding phrases, talk about love, morality, life, friendship, even baseball — Anderson is a fan while Einstein has little interest. This modestly small dramatic portrait feels occasionally intimate but not profound. Their repartee is smart but lacks punch. While it’s easy to like both Anderson and Einstein and appreciate their out-of-the-ordinary friendship, playwright Acito and director Murray missed moments to delve further into the minds of these two icons.
Einstein reached out to Anderson because he felt the sting of being a Jew in Germany. His hospitality over their 15-year friendship — until his death — though. is not without admonitions. Their conversation grows heated when he encourages Anderson to refuse to sing in segregated concert halls in the South and beyond. (Remember, Constitution Hall wouldn’t allow her to sing so the Roosevelt administration arranged for her concert to be performed on a stage on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, just a few years after Anderson and Einstein met.) Einstein admonishes her that not speaking out explicitly on segregation and race makes her also complicit in the problem. Anderson forcefully disabuses him of his high-minded values by detailing the daily indignities she suffers as a black woman navigating a white male world.
“Secrets of the Universe” is a modestly interesting play that sheds light on a little-known chapter in the lives of two great Americans. This historic episode most likely would be consigned to a biographical footnote if Acito hadn’t resuscitated the work — for better or worse. Alas, the play stumbles with its puzzling imagined scenes and added characters, who draw the focus away from Einstein and Anderson.
“Secrets of the Universe (and Other Songs)” through July 29, The Hub Theatre at the New School, 9431 Silver King Court, Fairfax; tickets: $22-$32; call 703-674-3177 or visit thehubtheatre.org.
This week’s Torah portion is Matot-Masei, Numbers 30:2 – 36:13.
We are at the end of the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness, a period during which we often describe them as “wandering.” As we read the long recap of their travels, place name after place name, it becomes clear why the word “wandering” is used. It seems as if nothing happened in the lives of the people except moving from camp to camp.
Yet we know that our people’s story is full of much more than travels. They built a Tabernacle and created a holy community with sacred rituals. They agreed on an ethical blueprint for living their lives. They fought with each other over moral questions, and fought together against other peoples. They betrayed their commitment to their new covenant over and over, and then came back to it each time.
They also lived their lives as individuals, in details only fleetingly revealed by the text. They raised children, cultivated relationships, gained insights and suffered losses. We can see all this, looking in from the outside. But did the Israelites? Or, were they so consumed by their journey that it is all they saw?
In next week’s portion, the people will stand still for a moment, a long moment that stretches the length of the book of Deuteronomy. They need this so that Moses can prepare them for life in the Land of Israel. He can help them shift from being wanderers to a community that sets down roots, from the disconnectedness of their journeys to the grounding of living their lives where they are.
For all of us, the journey through life is full of defining moments and milestones such as lifecycle events, graduations, professional accomplishments and life changes, or smaller stopping points like the completion of an all-consuming project or the end of an academic year.
Summer is a good time for us to stop and enjoy, to take a well-needed vacation or just an evening walk — whatever helps us to notice the moments when nothing big in life is happening except life itself. In this way, we are not wandering from stopping point to stopping point. We are living our lives where we are.
Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe is a rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church.
These days, there are few kosher wine producers that do not produce rosé wine. Not surprisingly, some of this is simple pink plonk, some is complex and seriously well made, and much of it is aiming for a happy medium of being fun, fresh and tasty, with just enough complexity to also amuse wine geeks.
Much of this kosher rosé is also produced in the now-nearly international style of what used to be confined to Provence — dry, pale, uncomplicated and with high acidity to maintain freshness. This international style of rosé has a reputation for being less than serious, designed to be quaffed very cold and very quickly.
And many rosé wines of this style — and not just in the kosher world — suffer from being harvested slightly too early in an attempt to maximize acidity, so that the wines stay fresh. It can be done brilliantly right, of course, but just as often this is at the expense of the wine’s ultimate character and flavor.
According to Elizabeth Gabay, in her fascinating, compelling, exhaustive, and exhausting, book “Rosé : Understanding The Pink Wine Revolution,” this Provence-driven style is crowding out more genuine, terroir and tradition-based wines.
While one would be hard-pressed to find them in your average wine shop, there are actually many dozens of different styles and approaches to rosé.
If only consumers would consider some of these other styles, argues Gabay, and if only producers would return to some traditional aspects of regionality rather than aspiring to mimic the pale pink rosé wine of Provence, the rich variety of niche rosé would become more commercially viable.
In her book, Gabay also details the great history of rosés around the world, offering snapshots of recent regional developments. Her brief notes on Israel, for example, are informed, up-to-date and appreciative.
Ultimately Gabay argues for recognition, at times restoration, and for preservation of this rosé diversity. Her argument appeals to me, but doesn’t seem to have an answer for why she thinks there would be commercial viability in complicating something whose popularity is based, at least in part, on its being uncomplicated. For now, at least, Provencal style rosé is still the dominant style — especially when it comes to kosher rosé.
When this style is done right, however, such rosé can be outstanding. Indeed, well-crafted rosés of this sort are very food friendly, typically pairing well with spring and summer fare. Most rosés are light and easy drinking, and are best served while young and well chilled — adding, again, to their warm-weather associations.
I am a big fan of this sort of rosé — but I’m a bigger fan of regional character and differentiation. My own proclivities helped power me through the Gabay book in those instances where the narrative style became too ponderous or over-academic.
Reading about them is no substitute for drinking them, however. While there is a little kosher Bandol from Provence (the more serious version of Provencal rosé) in the American market, nobody imports kosher Tavel from the Rhône or kosher Cabernet d’Anjou from the Loire. Such a shame.
I recommend a glass of the Hagafen Cellars’ rosé: Don Ernesto, Beret Rosé, 2017 ($27; mevushal; available directly from the winery). Made from syrah and offering plush aromas and flavors of strawberry, red grapefruit, watermelon, honeysuckle and lemon zest, with a whisper of menthol-like greenness and some light herbal notes and solid acidity, this nicely balanced, medium-bodied wine both quenches and refreshes. L’chaim!
On a recent Friday I walked into a synagogue in the middle of Madrid with 140 of North America’s most dedicated young Jewish philanthropists. Though we were traveling to Spain and Morocco as part of the Jewish Federation of North America’s 2018 National Young Leadership Cabinet Study Mission, none of us knew another soul there.
None of us knew any of their customs. Most of us couldn’t even converse with the congregants. We were truly strangers in a strange land.
And then the rabbi started speaking: “Yitgadal, v’yitkadash shmay rabah.” May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified.
An instant later we no longer felt like strangers, or even guests. With the simple recitation of one of our people’s oldest prayers, we became members of a kehillah — a community — stitched together by a common goal to prepare for that week’s Sabbath as we all said together, “Amen.”
While we may have entered a shul to curious stares from congregants wondering who (or what) just took over their special place, we walked out of shul just 60 minutes later with congregants of all ages wishing us, “Shabbat shalom.”
This moment perfectly encapsulates the JFNA National Young Leadership Cabinet.
In both Spain and Morocco we witnessed many more moments that proved the Jewish community knows no borders.
When 18 elderly Jews in the remote north of Morocco needed kosher meat, we were there for them with a truck. When residents at a Casablanca old age home needed some company, we were there with bright smiles and big hugs. When families told us they could not afford to send their kids to Madrid’s only Jewish day school, we showed up with a check.
Thus is the power of my experience with the National Young Leadership Cabinet. This was an experience none of us, the 140 participants, will ever forget. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we return home energized and inspired about the future of not just the Jewish people, but the future of successful co-existence of Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Brian Ashin is a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
Kehilat Shalom members at the Montgomery Village 5K race on July 4. (Photo courtesy of Kehilat Shalom)
Hoping to spark a resurgence in religious school registration, Kehilat Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Gaithersburg, is taking a gamble on free education for the youngest grades.
Starting in September, Kehilat Shalom’s K-2 religious school class will be free for all. Congregation officials said they know it’s a risk — the synagogue still needs income to function — but the status quo isn’t tenable.
“Places that thrive are willing to fail,” said Rabbi Charles Arian. “So, we’re going to try this.”
The Kehilat Shalom religious school is small — just 10 students in a congregation of 120 member families. As it stands, none of those 10 would be in next year’s K-2 class.
“It would definitely be a shame not to have a K-2 class because we don’t have kids,” said Rebecca Hoffman, chair of the religious school board and member of the synagogue board.
The religious school is set up in three classes — grades K-2, 3-4 and 5-7 — and the synagogue hasn’t yet decided how it would then introduce the families to paying for future classes, according to Arian. He said the school would sit down with the new parents and work out a model. He suggested a sliding scale or similar method. Currently, tuition for the religious school is $1,000 for members and $1,500 for nonmembers.
For Kehilat Shalom, the small school is also a benefit, Hoffman said, because it means the school has room to grow. It also means there’s a lot of one-on-one time for the students and the kids get to know each other well, she added.
The classes are a combination of in-person classes on Sunday and virtual classes during the week. That has been a lifesaver for some parents, Hoffman said, including herself.
She said she has already received a few phone calls and emails from interested families, but no registrations yet. Up to now, the synagogue has been using word of mouth to get the news out. It plans to take out paid advertisements on social media in August.
Arian proposed making parts of the school free last year, but the synagogue board thought it might be too radical a step, he said.
But after a demographic study of Washington’s Jewish community was released in February, the board saw that declining synagogue membership was an area-wide trend, Arian said.
According to the study, which was commissioned and funded by the Morningstar Foundation, 45 percent of families in which both parents are Jews and 19 percent families in which one parent is Jewish are raising their children as Jews by religion, as opposed to culturally Jewish. This leaves a lot of young Jews out there without a religious Jewish education, Arian said.
So, the congregation is eliminating the cost of entrance for the youngest children to attract those families.
One of the most widely-cited reasons Arian has heard for why parents don’t enroll their kids in religious school is that initial cost. And, like most synagogues, Kehilat Shalom is happy to work with families to make its services more affordable, he said, but that request can also be an uncomfortable conversation — and subsequent barrier — for families.
“If we think that we have a good product and people are sort of reluctant to buy into it because of the cost, let’s face that head-on,” he said. “Money is a barrier to getting people in the door, but I think once we get people in the door, they will see what we offer is valuable and enriches their lives.”
There are a lot of options for parents who want their kids to be in Hebrew school, Arian said. But he believes a synagogue-based model is ideal. A synagogue is a full service Jewish institution and can provide families with a larger community.
That’s what drew Liat Katz and her family to the synagogue. She and her wife, who is not Jewish, wanted their oldest daughter to attend religious school at a welcoming synagogue. They tried a few larger synagogues, but found that Kehilat Shalom had what they were looking for — the warmth Katz remembered from her childhood synagogue and a small school that worked for her two daughters. Since the family does not live in Gaithersburg, the virtual classes make learning more convenient, she said.
Katz said the cost of religious school was a consideration for her family, so she’s happy to see Kehilat Shalom making itself more accessible.
“I think it’s a good move,” she said. “I think the majority of the people at the synagogue are a little older, so it would be nice to get some more young families.”
And that is the hope, Arian said. If families come to the school and see the benefit, maybe they will also try out the congregation. He sees it as a risk worth taking.
With the death of Claude Lanzmann, France and the world have lost an eloquent spokesman for the angst and pain of the 20th century. Lanzmann, who created and is best known for the monumental film “Shoah,” a documentary about the Holocaust, bore witness to the complexity of one of the most violent and turbulent epochs in modern human history.
Lanzmann was a professional philosopher. He was a thinker of great thoughts who moved in circles filled with such personalities. As a young man, he could be found among the post-World War II existentialists of Paris’ Left Bank. As he grew older, he became a student of the horrors that had befallen France and his Jewish brethren during his lifetime.
When the history of the Holocaust began to emerge and the witnesses, both victims and perpetrators, became more inclined to speak about their experiences, Lanzmann plunged into the daunting task of documenting their stories. He recorded hundreds of hours of interviews and ultimately pieced together a brilliant documentary of nine and one-half hours that stands as a very definitive retelling of the essence of the Holocaust.
During the course of his more than 90 years, Lanzmann made a number of films, notably about the Holocaust and Israel, and he wrote many articles and a number of books on diverse topics, each with a serious philosophical bent. He joined the ranks of France’s great contemporary thinkers — individuals who spend their time weaving profound thoughts heavily focused on their society and their ruminations about the ebb and flow of history. Interestingly, a very large proportion of those philosophers are Jews. Lanzmann fit very nicely into that group.
He did more than that. In many ways, Lanzmann was a symbol of the post-World War II Parisian world, an active participant in that world and an eloquent witness to an era that has evolved out of existence. His proximity to some of the greatest personalities of that time was second to none. For seven years, he even shared a mistress with the greatest philosopher of that era, Jean-Paul Sartre.
I had occasion to meet and engage with Lanzmann a number of years ago. In my role as a lawyer, it was my task to negotiate a commercial agreement with him. On several occasions I went to his apartment on Rue Boulard in Paris’ Montparnasse neighborhood. It was a small apartment, sparsely furnished, but, as would be expected for a philosopher, filled from floor to ceiling with books, with magazines and newspapers scattered about, and with an abundance of memorabilia of Lanzmann’s encounters with the leaders of our time. Most of all, it was filled with his powerful personality and intellect.
During a couple of my meetings with Lanzmann, we sat together in this environment and talked and negotiated, or more accurately, I sat and listened to him, while he reminisced and gave me instructions.
It was, of course, rather overwhelming to find myself sitting with one of the great philosophers of the time, in his residence. Nonetheless, we carried on our somewhat mundane business and ultimately concluded our transaction. Lanzmann was more interested in the philosophy of the transaction we were negotiating than in its details. In fact, he seemed rather indifferent to the commercial aspects, noting that, as a prominent thinker, he was not really subject to the rules that applied to mere ordinary mortals.
It was not easy to engage in negotiations with someone who seemed so disinterested in the customary rules of day-to-day business and who was even disdainful of them. Ultimately, when our matter was resolved, I came to recognize that, indeed, Lanzmann operated under a different standard from those of us who toil in less elevated spheres than professional thinkers. He belonged to that small and special group of brilliant individuals who give their lives over to thought and contemplation and who contribute to helping us understand who we are, where we have been and where we may be going.
Claude Lanzmann rendered an immense service to the cause of Holocaust remembrance. His personal thoughts and foibles are mere background. It is for his extraordinary work for the preservation of history and for its accurate and comprehensive retelling that Lanzmann will be remembered and honored, as he very much should be.
Gerard Leval is a partner in a Washington, D.C., law firm. He writes and lectures on topics of French and Jewish interest.
Editor’s note: Last week, several members of a Birthright Israel trip protested their itinerary’s not including a visit with Palestinians by leaving the trip and joining up with Breaking the Silence.
I’m conflicted. On the one hand, I am hesitant to engage with you because a response would give your rhetoric a degree of legitimacy. On the other hand, your rhetoric is so presumptive and your intentions for participating on this trip are so disingenuous that I feel compelled to speak out. Ironically, the guiding principle that has ultimately led me to pen a response is Hillel’s famous adage in Pirkei Avot: If not now, when? I am sure you are familiar with it.
After reading your tweets and Facebook posts, a few things stood out to me that I feel we need to discuss. The first is the purpose of Birthright.
Taglit-Birthright has never purported to be the forum for young Jews to engage in-depth with the Israeli-Arab conflict. One glance at the Birthright Israel website should be enough to understand that. Instead, Birthright was born out of a sentiment that you yourselves expressed — that Jews no longer feel connected to their Judaism. The goal of the program was, in part, to succeed where Jewish communal institutions in the United States had failed, and to provide young Jews some kind of connection to their heritage, their spiritual identities and their Jewish community. To be sure, the institution’s work is also motivated by a desire to give participants a connection to Israel, but connection does not mean an unwavering support of the Israeli government. It means that you begin to form a relationship with the land and with the people.
So they took you to Jerusalem to see how religious Jews pray and to Tel Aviv to show you how secular Jews party. They took you to the desert to see how Jewish pioneers feed a country and to Safed to see how Jewish artists create mystical works. They do not do this because of an ethnocentric supremacist ideology they want to force on you. They do it to show you that for the first time in 2,000 years, Jews of all varieties are free to be what they want to be in the land of their genesis. It’s a celebration of the good for a group of 40 participants who may have never seen the good of being Jewish in their lives.
But you knew that, and still, you went in order to promote the agenda of an organization whose narrative you seem to have accepted without question.
If you wanted to participate on a trip to Israel that allowed you to meet with Palestinians and Israelis, and engage with the conflict on a deeper level, I know of at least five organizations that offer such trips. Finding them is as simple as Googling “Israel-Palestine educational trips.” But again, you chose to feign ignorance for 10 full days, take advantage of the free trip provided by those “far-right Jewish billionaires” you fear so much and tweet IfNotNow talking points as though they were your own.
Moreover, your one-to-one equation of a social-justice ethos with Jewish values is deeply troubling, especially considering that at multiple points in your magnum opus you express clearly that you have never felt particularly close to your Jewish identity.
How can you simultaneously be distant from your community and its values, and speak with authority on what the community’s values are and what they are not?
What is most disappointing is that, for all your talk of wanting to critically engage with a complex issue, the path you have chosen — disparaging an organization, disrupting the experience of 35 other participants, being dishonest about your reason for taking part in the trip — was the least critical, most predictable path you could have taken.
Solving complex issues requires patience and critical examination of the individuals and ideas that created the problem. There are scholars, politicians, lawyers and activists who have devoted their entire lives to trying to make sense of the conflict and improve the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians dealing with its consequences. It would be embarrassing to say you made your minds up after 10 days. How upsetting it is to see that you made your minds up before you even set foot on the plane to Israel.
In spite of my frustration with the absurdity of this incident, I still welcome and accept you as part of my Jewish community, as it is written, “Love your fellow as yourself.” I also recognize my own limitations as a student of this conflict. As members of a shared Jewish community, I invite you to join me in studying the history, learning from diverse texts and sharing our insights with one another. I believe this is how we make progress and how we in the American Jewish community can positively contribute to building a better world.
Liel Asulin works for CAMERA on Campus. This article was distributed by JNS.org.
Kol Shalom voted last week to allow membership for non-Jewish partners or spouses. (Photo courtesy of Kol Shalom)
Amid the Conservative movement’s examination of its approach to interfaith families, Kol Shalom in Rockville has come down on the side of more inclusion, last week voting to extend membership to non-Jewish partners or spouses of congregants.
The change reflects how Kol Shalom is organized as an institution, synagogue officials said. It does not change the traditional Jewish approach to prayer and rituals.
Eighty-percent of congregants voting supported the change to the bylaws. The recommendation had already been approved unanimously by the boards of directors and trustees.
Membership includes full voting rights as well as the right to serve on committees and the board of directors, with a few exceptions.
Membership will not be automatically granted to non-Jewish partners or spouses; they will need to apply.
“I think it’s something that’s becoming more and more prevalent in Conservative synagogues,” said Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman, who proposed the idea last fall. “It’s a recognition of the reality of Jewish life.”
What membership does not include is participation in Jewish rituals or in the committees that relate to Jewish rituals.
Members who are not Jewish are not eligible to serve on the executive, ritual and chevra kadisha (burial society) committees, or chair the education committee.
Synagogue leaders discussed the exceptions at length before they presented the final recommendation to the congregation, said Joel Greene, who was synagogue president until July 1.
In the end, he said, the board decided it would be inappropriate for non-Jews to make decisions about Jewish rituals. And because the religious school deals with the Jewish religion, the education committee should be chaired by a Jewish member.
The board also decided “it wouldn’t be appropriate for a non-Jewish person to be president.” Greene said.
The impetus for the change came from above, Maltzman said. Last year, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the umbrella group for Conservative congregations, issued a change to its membership standards. Where the organization previously said membership should be limited to Jews, the new standard “supports every affiliated kehilla [congregation] in developing its own criteria for membership.” It goes on to say that the organization supports congregations in “fully engaging the spiritual gifts of all community members.”
Maltzman said this membership change at Kol Shalom was “not a radical change” for the congregation. The way the synagogue conducts services and operates halachically — or according to Jewish law — will not change, which means non-Jews will still not participate in liturgical elements central to Jewish practice.
Maltzman said only Jewish members are counted in a minyan, or prayer quorum. The synagogue allows non-Jews to accompany their Jewish family onto the bimah for an aliyah, although the non-Jew does not recite any blessings said during the honor. Non-Jews can lead readings in English and may open the ark.
The new membership change would not alter any of this, Maltzman said.
When synagogue shopping, interfaith families ask about membership for non-Jewish family members, said Executive Director Deb Finkelstein. “We have always considered ourselves very welcoming to our non-Jewish spouses, but we couldn’t make them members until the change from USCJ.”
The change is meant to be a sign of welcome to the Jewish partners as well, Greene said.
“One of the things we were trying to say is, we appreciate you and we appreciate your non-Jewish spouse. And we will do everything we can to make you feel comfortable.”
Maltzman sees the change as legitimizing the way the congregation already thought of itself — as a welcoming place for families of all kinds.