It's a cliche to say that the world's major religions have long influenced and been influenced by each other. Jesus and his followers were Jewish; Maimonides was indebted to Islamic philosophers; Mohammad saw the Koran as an extension of Jewish and Christian texts; and so on. At a time like today (when the three monotheistic faiths feel deeply defensive about their place in the world) this message bears repeating.
The New York Times Book Review's recent survey of the "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years" produced a number of interesting findings. The first was that, despite Toni Morrison's "Beloved" winning the prize, there were hardly any books by women among the multiple vote-getters. The second was that Philip Roth had far more of his books on the short list than anyone else, and if the Times had instead asked the question "Who is the best American writer of the last 25 years?" he would have won hands down.
Years ago, I wrote a short story called "The Institute for Lenny Bruce Studies." The idea was that a wealthy Jewish donor created a think-tank on a sleepy New England campus, dedicated to jump-starting the "secular Jewish prophethood" that inspired him as a young radical. Institute Fellows would come from the fields of academics, politics, religion and stand-up comedy, and the two-year curriculum would include the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, the songs of Bob Dylan and, of course, the routines of Lenny Bruce.
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating as some 2008 presidential contenders take up the issue with reckless abandon: politicians who exploit public anger about illegal immigration are stoking long-simmering resentments that can ultimately threaten all minorities in this pluralistic land.
This isn’t to say our nation’s leaders should sit idly by while illegal immigrants pour across our borders. Far from it. In this age of terrorism, effective border control is more vital than ever.
The American film industry’s record regarding the Shoah is spotty at best. “Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust,” a documentary by Daniel Anker that opened this week, is a frequently vivid reminder that despite the domination of the front offices of the major studios by men of Jewish ancestry, American filmmakers remained nearly silent about the murder of Jews by the Nazis until more than a decade after the events had taken place.
At the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Markus Preminger, a brilliant young lawyer, was offered the position of chief prosecutor, an honor never bestowed on a Jewish attorney. There was only one catch: he had to convert to Catholicism. He refused but got the appointment anyway.
Two decades later, his soon-to-be-famous son, Otto Preminger, was offered the post of head of the Vienna State Theater, as prestigious in its field as the chief prosecutor’s job was in his father’s. Same catch: he had to convert to Catholicism.
It is a commonplace notion that historical fictions are not about the period in which they are set but, rather, the period in which they are created. Elie Chouraqui’s new film, “O Jerusalem,” which opens Oct. 17, is a case in point.
It can be frustrating or awkward “to see people involved in a peace walk one week and the same people involved in an anti-Israel protest the next week,” said Rabbi Micah Kelber of the Bay Ridge Jewish Center, a small Conservative synagogue in the midst of one of the nation’s largest Arab communities.
The two men — Michael Steinhardt and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz — took center stage Monday night at the 13th annual dinner of the Aleph Society, created in 1988 to raise funds for the rabbi’s activities. And although their exchange seemed blunt at times, reflecting the wit of both men and the directness and irreverence often associated with Steinhardt, both men seemed to enjoy the dialogue, which was sprinkled with humor and words like “respectfully.”