Well Versed

Eugenics Today: Or, Guess What Nazi Germany and North Carolina Share

A couple of months ago, I wrote a story about the excellent and horrifying exhibit “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race,” now on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.  It describes how Nazi Germany took the pseudo-science of eugenics—or “racial hygiene”; attempting to create a purer race through breeding, sterilization, and eventually murder—to its extreme. Jews would eventually suffer the brunt of these policies, from sterilization programs to outright death in gas chambers. But many Germans with simple disabilities like mental retardation or epilepsy had their share of racial cleansing too.

Mahler's Ninth at 100: The New York Phil Gives It Its Due

Gustav Mahler was Jewish though not religious.  Yet he was superstitious.  When he began composing his ninth symphony, in 1908, he refused to name it by its number.  Many of his artistic heroes—Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner—died before they could finish their ninth symphonies, so Mahler thought he would out-do fate and simply call it by another name.  He dubbed it “Das Lied von der Erde,” and its one of his best.

Athens and Jerusalem: The Case for Knowing the Classics

In our secular, liberal age, the Bible and the classics often get a bad rap.  The Bible represents everything modernity is not—free inquiry, divested of hoary beliefs—while the classics are often snidely dismissed as the hubristic fantasies of aging, if not already dead white males.

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close": Adorno's Ghost and 9/11

It’s probably impossible to count the number of film reviews that attack kitschy takes on the Holocaust like this: “an impossible movie that has no reason for being other than as another pop-culture palliative for a trauma it can’t bear to face.” 

Or like this: “This is how kitsch works. It exploits familiar images, be they puppies or babies …and tries to make us feel good, even virtuous, simply about feeling.”

Have Yourself a Hitchensonian Chanukah

I’m sure Christopher Hitchens would have no problem with me, an admirer, taking him to task for a shoddy piece he wrote about Chanukah a few years ago in Slate.  Hitchens, the eloquent atheist and polemicist, who died last week, at 62, had no problem with criticism.

The Military and Me: Or, How Jews Changed the Army and the Civil War

I recently started reading Eric Foner’s “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” which won a Pulitzer this year.  It’s a subtle yet fast-moving narrative about Lincoln’s evolution from a man merely averse to slavery to the one who would abolish the institution forever in America. Slavery in America is inexhaustible topic for historians, but a subject harder to come by is Jews in America, at least before the late 19th century.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Nathan Englander

In February, Nathan Englander's much awaited short story collection will be released.  But this week, The New Yorker gets privileged access, publishing a new short story titled "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank."  That's also the title of the upcoming collection, and if the story is any indication of what's in store, readers are in for a major treat.  The story had me riveted, not least because of the communal Jewish d

Philip Glass Occupies Lincoln Center -- and His Own Opera, "Satyagraha"

Tonight is a big one for Philip Glass, the iconic Jewish composer who turns 75 next month.  It will be the last night of the Met staging of Glass' Gandhi opera, "Satyagraha," and Glass will also be there -- to protest it.  Glass announced on his website this week that he will be joining Occupy Wall Street's planned "Occupy Lincoln Center" protest outsi

The Ravitch Switch: Searching for Answers to the Radical Transformation of Education Critic Diane Ravitch

Ever since her fierce polemic against the school reform movement, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” which came out last year, Diane Ravitch has become a ubiquitous voice in the raging education debate.  It is not only because her writing is so cogent and ostensibly fact-driven, but also because her striking transformation—from one-time school reform champion, to sudden critic—that she has turned many heads.

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