Yes, you heard me. I’ve come across the best Jewish video of 2010. And straight out of left field, the video isn’t even made by Jews.
I’ve seen a lot of bad commercials in my days. Watching Jerry Springer wouldn’t be the same without them. But none of them top this. Yeah, Shake Weight. You’ve been beaten.
If you are uncomfortable with your baldness, you have probably looked into a hair replacement solution–even used one. One of those products is called Hair Cubed–a spray that makes you look less bald in less than a minute (from what I can tell, I’m pretty sure it’s just brown spray paint). Hair Cubed, like other terrible products, advertises itself through some horribly written and conceived commercials. Or in this case, horribly offensive ones.
I’m not going to give you any more spoilers.
Just know that, yes, this is a real commercial and a real product. That makes this fifty times funnier.
On Monday, Ruth Franklin wrote about sharing a stage with Yann Martel. She is the author of A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction.
I’m occasionally asked whether I really think that at this late date, sixty years on, anything new can be said about the Holocaust. But people have been asking this question virtually since the end of the war.
When François Mauriac famously encountered the young Elie Wiesel in Paris in the early 1950s, he was amazed, as he would write in the introduction to Night, that Wiesel’s book, “coming as it does after so many others and describing an abomination such as we might have thought no longer had any secrets for us, is different, distinct, and unique nevertheless.” Reviewing Piotr Rawicz’s surrealist Holocaust novel Blood from the Sky in 1964, Theodore Solotaroff wrote that “by now there has been a glut of books and articles, reminiscences and diaries, documentary histories and objective analyses that tell us everything we need to know about life in the ghettoes and prisons and death camps.” And yet those who write about the Holocaust continued to surprise then, as they still do now.
A few weeks ago I attended an informal talk by Yale historian Timothy Snyder about his new book, Bloodlands, which has already been hailed as a breakthrough work despite the well-plowed ground of its subject. What’s unique about Snyder’s book is that he approaches World War II from a geographical perspective rather than focusing, as most historians have done, on specific nations or political figures. Looking at the map of Europe, Snyder realized that the vast majority of the slaughter in World War II took place in a fairly small area: Poland, the Baltic states, and parts of the western Soviet Union. In this region, which he calls the “bloodlands,” fourteen million civilians died, as well as one-half of all the soldiers killed in the war. His book investigates what happened there.
Snyder argues that Auschwitz, which has come to be understood as a symbol of the Holocaust, “is in fact only the beginning of knowledge, a hint of the true reckoning with the past still to come.” To focus on the victims of that camp “excludes those who were at the center of the historical event.” His version of the story establishes an entirely different framework, focusing first on the destruction of the vast majority of Poland’s Jewish community — about 1.5 million in all — at Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor in 1942, and then on the “mass murder by bullets” carried out by the Einsatzgruppen in eastern Poland and the western Soviet Union during the preceding year, in which about 1.7 million Jews perished. Astonishingly, by the end of 1942, when Auschwitz had become fully operational, the Holocaust was “mostly over” — two-thirds of its victims already killed.
The question that lingers after reading Snyder’s remarkable book is why Auschwitz has come so powerfully to symbolize the Holocaust if it was actually an exception to the general rules of slaughter. Snyder points out that “we know about Auschwitz because there were survivors, and there were survivors because Auschwitz was a labor camp as well as a death factory.” In contrast, from the camps that were established solely for the
purposes of extermination there remain almost no survivors: 67 from Treblinka, around 50 from Sobibor, less than a handful from Chelmno and Belzec. Snyder also comments that the Auschwitz survivors were largely Western European Jews who tended to return to their home countries after the war, where they were free to write and publish and their memoirs could enter the public consciousness. The Eastern European Jews, who were much less likely to survive, “continue to be marginalized from the memory of the Holocaust.”
But the reason might be simply, as he said when I posed the question to him, that “Auschwitz is enough.” Faced with what so many have described as the prime embodiment of hell on earth, how many of us have the courage to search for other, greater hells?
Ruth Franklin’s A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction is now available. Check back all week for her posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.
Sometimes a story is so random, so weird, so out of the blue, that there really is no explanation for it. This story that I’m about to reveal is exactly like that. I can’t tell you why it’s happening. I can just tell you that it is happening.
Mike Tyson is looking into starting a chain of high-end kosher restaurants.
Read that again. Mike Tyson, also known as the craziest person to ever live on this very Earth, is starting a kosher restaurant chain.
I’m not exactly sure where to start here. Tamar was trying to figure out different menu items that could include ears. Please, send in your suggestions.
I’m just hoping he doesn’t serve babies:
I guess it was the recent New York Times profile of the hateful extremist Pamela Geller that set me off again.
Though the controversy over the Park51 Islamic community center has died down slightly over the past few weeks, the way in which the culture of Islam has been demonized, particularly by radical Ashkenazi Jews like Ms. Geller who have successfully entered our mainstream media, remains a fixture in the current discussion.
In an attempt to ameliorate what I feel is a widespread ignorance about the important subject of Muslim Spain, called by Jews Sepharad and by Muslims Al-Andalus, I have prepared a short reading – and viewing – list for your consideration.
1. Maria Rosa Menocal, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (Little, Brown, 2002)
In the wake of 9/11 there was a pressing need for a book geared to a general audience that would present the history of Muslim Spain and its epochal achievements. The Muslim past was little-known to American readers and The Ornament of the World was a heroic attempt to provide a picture of a polyglot and cultured Islamic world that could act as a corrective to the many books that argued for Muslim barbarity. Menocal’s book was vilified in many Conservative quarters for being too romantic and optimistic a picture of the era. The post-9/11 march to demonize the whole of Arab-Muslim civilization was now on in earnest. But those readers who did examine the book carefully found a thoughtful and lucid exposition of a world that continues to dazzle us in its cultural achievements.
2. Chris Lowney, A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment (Free Press, 2005)
Lowney, a former Jesuit who became a financial manager, came to the subject of Muslim Spain from a religious perspective. Seeking to provide a clear introduction to the emerging Interfaith Dialogue groups who sought to give a chance to peaceful discussion rather than hateful name-calling, A Vanished World covers much of the same territory as Menocal’s book, but uses a more pronounced religious context in which to explicate the history of Al-Andalus. The book is a rousing success that presents the old Sephardic world to a religious audience keen to better understand the rich cultural legacy that it can provide us at present.
3. David Levering Lewis, God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 (Norton, 2009)
The latest entry in the popular library on Andalusia comes from an unexpected place. Levering Lewis is an African-American scholar best-known for his definitive biography of the great thinker and social activist W.E.B. DuBois. But after 9/11 he too decided to go back in time and try to better understand the place of Islam in the European world. The result is a book that expertly traces the many intertwined paths that stretch from the Middle East, Persia, North Africa, and Europe during the period that begins with the Roman twilight and crests with the struggle between Islam and Christianity in the Mediterranean-European world. God’s Crucible provides a sharp counterpoint to those who mark the Arab-Islamic place in European history as negligible. It schools the reader in a complex yet surprising history that can illuminate the dynamic interplay that animated the medieval world and the role it played in Western civilization.
4. Richard E. Rubenstein, Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages (Harcourt, 2003)
Using the motif of Hellenistic wisdom and how it was transmitted after the fall of Rome, Rubenstein traces a story of a profound Arabo-Islamic influence on the emerging European culture that is encapsulated in the Renaissance. The Renaissance does not come out of nowhere, and Aristotle’s Children brilliantly describes the process by which the ancient philosophical-scientific tradition snaked its way from dead empires to a later era. It recounts many European names now obscure to us and highlights the significance of the translation movement in Medieval Spain that brought Jews, Muslims and Christians together in institutions that served as incubators for the promulgation of this valuable wisdom.
5. “El Cid” (Anthony Mann, 1961)
Perhaps the greatest of the Hollywood historical epics, “El Cid” remains an important point of reference for the popular understanding of Medieval Spain. Telling the story of the military adventurer Rodrigo Diaz, a national hero in Spain for many generations, “El Cid” is perhaps the first expression of the idea of Convivencia for the general Western audience. In the film, a buff Charlton Heston and a lovely Sophia Loren look to save the polyglot, multicultural Spain from Muslim Berber fanatics who seek to destroy what the extremists see as an effete and secular realm that is opposed to the literal truth of Islam. The film, directed by the great stylist Anthony Mann, is a plea for compassion and tolerance in a sea of hate and fanaticism. It continues to have many important lessons to teach us today.
6. The Song of the Cid (Translated by Burton Raffel, Introduction by Maria Rosa Menocal, Penguin Books, 2009)
The national epic of Spain, the poem of the Cid is an epic work that shows us a Europe still enthralled by Arabo-Islamic culture. In the midst of his military exploits, the Cid is shown as a man whose life is informed by Arabic adab, a way of behaving that expresses moral fineness and altruistic ideals. The Cid is a complex man whose history provides us with a multi-layered figure whose nobility represents the courtly ideal in Medieval Europe. The poem remains one of the defining moments of European culture and presents a world where Muslims and Christians were intimately connected to one another.
7. Maria Rosa Menocal, Raymond P. Scheindlin and Michael Sells, editors, The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: The Literature of Al-Andalus (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
My one concession to the expensive world of specialist studies is this extraordinary collection of academic essays on the many aspects of literary creativity and social culture in Muslim Spain. The work is a comprehensive yet accessible volume written by expert academics that covers the most important aspects of Andalusian-Sephardic civilization. Framed by a brilliant introductory essay by Maria Rosa Menocal that places this civilization in its proper context, The Literature of Al-Andalus provides the reader with a dazzling array of scholarly studies which display a deep understanding and appreciation for the uniqueness of what was created in this brilliant cultural movement.
8. Peter Cole, translator and editor, The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain 950-1492 (Princeton University Press, 2007)
In an astonishing work of cultural reclamation, the poet and scholar Peter Cole has for the first time presented the English reader with a comprehensive selection of poems from the Hebrew poets of Sepharad. Poetry was the lifeblood of Arab literary creativity over many centuries, from the pre-Islamic period known as the Jahiliyya to the cutting edge modernism of Adonis and his school. An important part of the Jewish acculturation to the Arabic model was the adoption of this new poetic and literary sensibility. Amazingly, Cole’s anthology is the first such work in any language–including Hebrew–and reminds us that while this Hebrew-Arabic symbiosis was once central to Jewish self-understanding, today we have a whole new set of values that inform Jewish identity. The Dream of the Poem is a superb evocation of a culture rich in wondrous literary motifs and extraordinary poetic grace and power. It is a world of enchanted gardens, beautiful women and religious devotion that set new standards of excellence in Hebrew literature and remains the high point of Sephardic civilization.
9. Joel L. Kraemer, Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization’s Greatest Minds (Doubleday, 2008)
Along with fellow Cordoban Ibn Rushd, better known in the West as Averroes, Moses ben Maimon took the Greco-Roman legacy and expertly adapted its ideals and values to a monotheistic context best described as Religious Humanism. Far from slavish imitation, the work of Maimonides transformed the ancient paganism and the primitive Jewish monotheism into a heady amalgamation of rationalism, ethical values, science and religious devotion into a triumphant synthesis that remains the summa of all Jewish thinking. The Andalusian-Sephardic orientation of Maimonides remains central to understanding the towering cultural edifice that was erected in Muslim Spain and the profound influence it had on the transmission of knowledge and civilization to the Christian West. Though contemporary religion has once again slid back into superstitious ignorance and literalist fundamentalism, the work of Maimonides continues to provide a brilliantly wise alternative to such ignorance.
10. Jose Faur, In the Shadow of History: Jews and Conversos at the Dawn of Modernity (State University of New York Press, 1992)
Muslim Spain was progressively eaten away by the military attacks of the Christian north which eventually ended the famed Convivencia and brought down on its Jews and Muslims a crushing blow of crusade and inquisition that led to the Expulsion edict of 1492 and the end of Sepharad/Al-Andalus as we know it. In a critically important study of the Jewish community and its handling of the Christian destruction of the old polyglot culture of Muslim Spain, Jose Faur focuses on the emergence of a class of Jewish converts to Christianity, known in Spanish as Conversos, and the role that they played in the historical development of European culture. Lamenting the dissolution of Maimonidean Religious Humanism in the wake of the Christian reconquest of Spain, In the Shadow of History tells the remarkable story of converted Jews whose skepticism and intellectual precociousness set the stage for the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Many of the emerging luminaries of European culture in the early modern period were descendants of the unfortunate victims of the Spanish Inquisition. Faur’s tells this tale with a clear concern for the way in which the old Sephardic legacy served to inform many of the later European intellectual and cultural movements that provide us with the basis of our modern civilization.
11. Robert Irwin, The Alhambra (Harvard University Press, 2004)
Written in the form of a tourist guide, Irwin’s book is far more than the usual ephemera. In the course of a breezy 200 pages, The Alhambra provides an expert summation of the history of Medieval Iberia touching on most of the key historical and cultural moments. The historical importance of the Alhambra palace is more known than understood. Built after the so-called Golden Age of Andalusian Islam, the Alhambra is a belated product that is in a sense the last great moment of European Islam. Irwin is an expert guide to this history and his reader is well-served by his great mastery of Muslim civilization.
Over at the Jewish Food facebook page we recently ran a dessert recipe contest, and we’re pleased to announce the winner and the runners-up.
Our first place winner is Ilya Spektor of Grafton, WI. Ilya won for his recipe for Poppy Seed Cake, and we’re pleased to send him a copy of “Simply Southern With a Dash of Kosher Soul.”
Here’s the recipe:
Chef Ilya’s Poppy Seed Cake Roll
Enjoy this classic Eastern European cake with a tall glass of milk, tea, coffee or even a nice sweet wine. Poppy Seed Cakes are commonly found during the Holidays on Eastern European and Jewish dessert tables.
- 3-4 cups flour
- 2 &1/2 cups luke warm water at approximately 110 degrees
- 1 packet of dry yeast,
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil,
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar.
(Or purchase pizza or baguette dough.)
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 8oz/16oz bag of dry Poppy Seed (depending on preference).
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1tsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
(Or purchase Poppy Seed Filling found in specialty grocery stores.)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl add the packet of yeast, water, salt, and oil. Then mix the flour in slowly by first adding 2 cups and then slowly adding the remaining flour until the dough becomes as thick as pizza dough.
Place the dough in a warm place for a few hours to let it rise and then dust a surface with flour and kneed the dough until it is firm and not sticky. Roll it out gently to about 1/8 thick and work side to side so that it is a rectangle shape.
Poppy Seed Filling –
In a large bowl, mix the poppy seeds with the corn syrup, oil, sugar, and salt. Spread the mixture on the dough surface to about half the height of the dough to prevent the filling from spilling out.
Roll the dough into a log and place on a baking sheet. Cut five slits down the cake on an angle. Make the egg wash by mixing the egg yolk and 1 tsp sugar and baste the top and sides of the cake.
Bake cake for 25- 40 minutes. Cut into 5 to 10 slices and serve warm or cold.
About Chef Ilya:
Chef Ilya was born in Russia with Jewish roots and immigrated to Milwaukee, WI when he was five years old. Baking and cooking is in his blood and beyond a passion he believes that it is his calling. In his spare time, Chef Ilya owns and runs a mobile international cuisine catering company, specializing in ethnic international cuisine.
Chef Ilya’s culinary specialties include baked goods such as breads, cakes, cookies, and pastries as well as old world smoked meats, fish and jerky. He believes that life should always be about sitting down with good food, drinks, friends and family.
Congratulations to Chef Ilya, and to the runners up:
Gittel’s Pastry Shofars by Gail M Seigel
Bubbie’s Russian Tea Cakes with Cacao Nibs by Tamar Plotkin Genger
Avocado Chocolate Cake by Will Wurth
The three runners up will receive copies of Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis.
Mazal tov to all, and happy eating!
Ruth Franklin is the author of A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.
Ah, fall – the season of hot apple cider, leaves crunching underfoot, and … Jewish book fairs. As I write this, bleary and jet-lagged, I’ve just returned from San Francisco’s terrific Jewish Bookfest, where I did an event with Yann Martel. As much of the world’s reading population knows, Martel is the author of Life of Pi, a saga about a boy stranded on a raft with a Bengal tiger, which won the Booker a few years ago and promptly became a runaway international hit. I, on the other hand, just published my first book, a collection of essays about Holocaust literature focused on the tension between imagination and memory in works by writers such as Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, Jerzy Kosinski, and a number of others. Heavy stuff, and not always what people want to be entertained with on a Sunday afternoon.
Martel’s new novel, Beatrice and Virgil, deals with the Holocaust, so our pairing wasn’t quite as bizarre as it might seem. Still, I was more than a little anxious about the prospect of sharing the stage with such a prominent author. To his great credit, Martel put me at ease immediately. I don’t know what I was expecting an international superstar to look like, but certainly not this slight, unassuming man dressed in blue jeans and leather jacket who immediately started chatting away about Holocaust literature when we met at the airport. Each of us had been reading the other’s book on the plane, it turned out, and we both emerged full of ideas and questions.
The opening of Martel’s novel describes the genesis of the book in a lightly fictionalized way, so I knew that he had spent much of the last half-decade or so obsessed with the very same subject as I had: the difficult question of how a catastrophe like the Holocaust can be represented in art. Ever since the first years after the war, when Theodor Adorno famously proclaimed that writing poetry after Auschwitz was barbaric, there has been a deep-seated uncertainty about the legitimacy of such representations, which many scholars and critics have seen as a distortion of the grim historical truth: “Art takes the sting out of suffering,” as one theologian put it. However, as I argue in my book, there’s really no avoiding art. It’s simply not possible to say, as Elie Wiesel and others have done, that the only acceptable way to represent the Holocaust is through testimonies or memoirs, because even these works—if they are effectively written—are profoundly shaped by creative imagination. Every canonical work of Holocaust literature involves some graying of the line between fiction and reality. And many of them, including Wiesel’s Night and Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, have been identified, at different points in their publishing histories, as both memoirs and novels.
Martel’s book opens with an account of a writer who has created a different kind of book about the Holocaust: a work of fiction paired with an essay, to be published back-to-back within one binding in flip-book style. In a scene that is at once hilarious and excruciating, various bigwigs at the writer’s publishing house take him out to an elegant lunch over which they savage both his manuscript and the flip-book concept. (It won’t work, one of them tells him, because in a book with two front covers there would be no place to put the bar code.) He leaves demoralized, abandons writing for some time, and moves to an unnamed city abroad. There he meets a taxidermist who requests his help with a play he is writing: a dialogue between two characters, Beatrice and Virgil, who, we soon discover, are taxidermied animals—a donkey and a howler monkey. As the novel unfolds, it becomes clear that what we are reading is an allegory—perhaps even an allegory within an allegory—that has certain resonances with the destruction of the Jews.
Martel’s protagonist, early on, says that he wrote his previous novel “because there was a hole in him that needed filling.” If novels can fill holes in people, can they also help to fill holes in history? I didn’t get a chance to ask Martel this question, but I imagine that he would have said yes.
Ruth Franklin’s A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction is now available. Check back all week for her posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.
The week is over. Here’s the best of it.
Hanukkah is really soon. Like realllllly soon (so soon that it warrants spelling errors). Try making these amazing Hanukkah cupcakes to wash down those greased filled latkes.
Still hungry? Try making these awesome Hanukkah cookies!
On a much darker note, read all about Jewish views on the death penalty–this one has nothing to do with Hanukkah.
Ever wanted to learn about sex from your grandmother? She might not be willing, but Dr. Ruth is the next best thing. Learn all about this amazing woman.
Have a good weekend!
[If a rich man said to a poor man],”Why don’t you go out and work at a job? Look at those thighs! Look at those legs! Look at that belly! Look at that brawn!” The Holy One will then say to the rich man, “Is it not enough for you that you gave him nothing of yours? Must you also begrudge what I gave him?”
–Leviticus Rabba 34:7
Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.
Raising money can be a difficult task–especially in this economy (I love that line). But non-profit organizations have to raise money this year just like any other. And I’m starting to notice a trend with how some big Jewish organizations are doing it (and no, it’s not donating $2).
That trend is making funny video campaigns.
First we had that video from AJWS made by Hollywood famous person Judd Apatow. And tha video went viral and beyond. It didn’t hurt to feature every possible celebrity imaginable. Lindsey Lohan for the TMZ crowd. Patrick Stewart for the Trekkies. Jerry Seinfeld for my dad. The list goes on and on.
Now, JTA, whom I rely on a lot for material on this very blog (including right now), has come out with their very own funny video asking you to donate money. And they make a little jab at AJWS too. You gotta love it when Jewish organizations make fun of each other–especially when one is trying to save the world.
Check out their new video. I liked it. Maybe you will too.
Over at The Hairpin two awesome ladies are playing do/dump/marry with Rahm Emanuel, Hugh Laurie, and Anthony Bourdain. Guess who they decide to do?
Rahm is truly the bone wolf of Silver Jews, isn’t he? (No David Berman homo.) He speaks to the agricultural kibbutz capability, the machine gun swagger, and the nationalist fury that Hebrews would have more firmly and historically embedded into our DNA had we had the benefit of our own country for longer than approximately the same amount of time that’s passed since psychoanalysis was invented. Incidentally, which modernist development is more controversial? Psychology or Zionism? It is a question that, along with hubris and everything bagels, is the only thing keeping Phillip Roth alive today.
But Rahm is an ACTION JEW, which is compelling and exotic and thoroughly, essentially, beautifully boneable. Do I need to mention power? Do I need to talk about it? I can, and I will and I have, but it’s not to remind men how Machiavellian THEY think WE are (bitches be wanting men who can all “carry themselves” and “form a sentence” and “provide for their families by demonstrating expertise in their line of work” and “cause you inhale sharply just by entering a room in a suit and, at the same time, have something important to do IN THAT ROOM”), because how dare we for not just wanting a squeezable pair of tushy buns atop two muscle stems, or whatever it is guys like about Eva Longoria.
I also wish to add that the reason Rahm has a missing finger part is because he lost it in a roast beef slicer when he worked at Arby’s in high school. Oh, and his middle name is Israel. Therefore! Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe — may Rahm and I boning cause Yasser Arafat to not only roll in his grave, but also to find Yitzhak Rabin in ghost form and shake his goddamn hand again, in a spiritual reenactment of Rahm’s accomplishment when both were on Earth and Rahmbo got Clinton on Team Florida.
I think they hit so much on the head here, but especially the whole nationalist fury/power/obvious Jewiness. However, I will say that I personally would marry Rahm and do Hugh, not least because I am actually friends with one of Rahm’s nieces, and I think it would be weirder to do one of my friends’ uncles than to marry one of my friends’ uncles. Don’t you agree? Also, let’s hope she never reads this blog post.
And just a note: other things that are sexy about Jews (girls) according to non-Jewish guys who have hit on me:
How we know the language of Jesus (this really only works on the daughter of an Aramaicist, which it turns out I am)
That god loves us best
That we went to Jew camp (unfortunately for the guy trying this line, I never went to Jew camp)
That we can hold our liquor (really?)
That we are well endowed (literally/figuratively)
That we are good in the kitchen
That we are shomer fucking shabbos