For Jews, these are the Days of Awe, the ten days between with the New Year and the Day of Atonement, when Jews repent for past sins and make resolutions for the future. One topic Jews may ponder is the special place assigned them among the peoples of the world. This is a distinction most Jews would rather do without. Injustices to which they have been subjected over the millennia are constantly diluted and devalued into a kind of common currency of calamity, with which all may identify. On the other hand, injustices which they have (supposedly) visited upon others are constantly magnified into unique catastrophes,to which history offers no parallels.
One sees evidence of the first phenomenon in the comparison of the plight of the Syrian refugees with the Jewish refugees of 1938. Pundits, and even a questioner at the second presidential debate, repeatedly mention the supposed equivalency.
Friends, foes, and even casual acquaintances of the Republican Party insist that disaster looms. And, indeed, the odds are that the Grand Old Party will lose in November. But that’s the short run. In the long run, the Democrats, not the Republicans, face calamity.
The parties’ respective situations are illustrated by the legendary exchange between Winston Churchill and Bessie Braddock, when the plumpish Labor Party MP spied the Prime Minister deep in his cups. “Sir Winston,” she said, “you are drunk.” “Bessie,” he replied, “you are ugly. But tomorrow, I’ll be sober.”
This year, the Republican Party is drunk. But its inebriation with Trump is a short term affliction. In due course, the Party will sober up and dump him. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is stuck with a set of ugly positions which they cannot disavow or abandon. Whether the Democrats win or lose in November, those positions are likely to grow even more repellent with time, and they will weigh the Party down.
The 2016 Republican and Democratic Party conventions are history, but nothing said there can be aptly labeled historic. Of course, partisans on both sides insisted that their favorites delivered oratorical performances that were one part Winston Churchill and two parts Hank Aaron. The preferred phrase was: “He (or, equally often, she) hit it out of the ballpark.” In fact, even though many speakers did creditable jobs reading the words others wrote for them, no one really hit it out of the infield.
But if most of the noise was sound and fury signifying nothing inside the convention halls, at least one memorable statement was made outside. That statement was made by Donald Trump, and it was a statement that he, the nation, and the world, may live to rue. Continue reading
In a strange coincidence of timing, the world marked two events of great import to the Jewish people during this past Fourth of July weekend. The first was the death of Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, author of 54 books, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The second was the 40th anniversary of the Raid on Entebbe, in which Israeli commandos flew 2500 miles to Uganda to rescue 102 hostages.
The two events inform the way the world sees modern Jewry. But they do so from opposing poles. Elie Wiesel’s life and works embody the Jew as Victim. When he wrote about genocide or evil on a mass scale, Wiesel commanded respect because these were not merely academic issues for him. They were part of his personal biography. The Raid on Entebbe, on the other hand, symbolizes the Jew as Warrior. The Israeli soldiers stunned the world with their lethal military effectiveness.
The differences have consequences. As the Jewish State’s image shifted from Wiesel’s world of suffering and oppression, to the triumph of the Entebbe operation, so did sympathy and support. Israel became perceived more as master than martyr. Continue reading
The latest battleground in the never-ending struggle of the social justice warriors to reform mankind is Titipu. Yes, the same Titipu from which Nanki-Poo, son of the Mikado of Japan, fled to escape marriage to the domineering Katisha. And yes, the Nanki-Poo of whom we speak is the same swain who fell in love with the gentle maiden named Yum-Yum, the ward of Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner.
Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado ran for 670 performances following its 1885 London debut, and has been performed continuously ever since in theaters around the globe. This summer, San Francisco’s Lamplighters will present a very different version of the gem. Instead of Japan, the setting will be Renaissance Italy. The switch follows pressure from local activists who asserted two contradictory criticisms.
First, they complained that the musical’s depiction of Japan was racist. Second, they complained that the cast did not have enough Asian actors.
The activists seemed unaware of the schizophrenic nature of their indictment — demanding more Asian actors to perform roles deemed degrading to Asians. Their inconsistency is reminiscent of the Puritanical criticism of modern cinema: “Movies today are pornographic … and ticket prices are so high!”
Inconsistent or not, do the criticisms have merit? Continue reading
Andrew Jackson will soon be removed from the front of the $20 bill. The family crest of Isaac Royall, the benefactor whose bequest funded the first professorship at Harvard Law School, is about to be erased from campus. The seal of New Mexico University, which features an Anglo settler and a Spanish conquistador, is under attack. Woodrow Wilson’s name has survived a challenge to remove it from Princeton’s School of Public Policy and International Affairs, but just barely.
These, and many other comparable campaigns, constitute expeditions into the past in the relentless pursuit of imperfections. Why are these expeditions undertaken, and what do they tell us about the searchers? Continue reading
In light of President Obama’s nomination of D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, partisans on both sides of the political aisle are shocked – shocked – to discover that the other side is playing politics. But there is an important difference. The Democrats are playing smart. The Republicans are playing dumb.
That should not come as a surprise. After all, this is the year the Republicans have shown themselves hell-bent on ensuring that they lose the presidential election. While the Democrats proceed to nominate Hillary Clinton — a figure so shady that she is widely viewed by her own Party as untrustworthy — the Republicans are en route to nominate Donald Trump, their one candidate who consistently lags well behind Clinton in the polls. And for good measure, he lags even farther behind Bernie Sanders.
That is dumb politics. But the Republican Party position on the nomination of Judge Garland is, if possible, even dumber. Continue reading