A sobering, provocative look at antisemitism

I was alerted to this book by Jewish Twitter soon after its release, and read many positive reviews and impressions. It was also mentioned by one of the rabbis at the synagogue I livestream services from (seeing as how I’ve been unable to go to shul in person since lockdown began in March 2020). Many of these people brought up Ms. Horn’s sobering statement that more people can name three death camps than three Yiddish writers.

The twelve essays in this volume make painfully clear how many Gentiles, often without doing this on purpose or being consciously aware of it, only know about us through the Shoah and visiting heritage sites in places whose Jewish community has long since vanished. In other words, they know a lot about dead Jews, but not living Jews (either past or present).

We also have to contend with Gentiles goysplaining antisemitism to us, lying about Jewish history (particularly our indigenous connection to Eretz Yisrael and the Hebrew language), happily believing any false information they hear because it’s wrapped up in the guise of wokeness, only listening to fringe tokens instead of proud, committed Jews, and trying to gaslight us.

I’m still angry at the fellow writer and former virtual friend who soft-blocked me on Instagram in May because I shared so many stories calling out antisemitism and supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland and to defend itself against terrorism. She was sharing stories with the exact opposite message. The end of our virtual friendship isn’t much of a loss, though, since she’s gone full woke over the last few years, and is the kind of clown who gets off on virtue-signalling by putting freaking pronouns in her screen name.

The new woke antisemitism comes straight from the Soviet Union’s playbook.

Ms. Horn’s first chapter, “Everyone’s (Second) Favorite Dead Jew,” opens by talking about how an employee of the Anne Frank House was told not to wear a kipah to work in 2018. The previous year, visitors noticed Hebrew was the only language in the audio-guide displays without a national flag next to it.

The rest of the chapter discusses how Anne’s diary has been so popular and palatable to the masses largely because it’s not about the Shoah at all. Had Anne lived and written about her experience in the camps, it’s doubtful she would’ve found such a receptive audience. She also wrote the famous line about everyone being good at heart before she met people who weren’t good.

The next-best-known Shoah memoir, Elie Wiesel’s Night, is full of rage in the original Yiddish. Only after it was published in French and transformed into a story of theological angst did it gain notice. In other  words, many Gentiles look to Shoah memoirs for feel-good inspiration, and are deeply uncomfortable when they don’t follow that socially-acceptable mold.

Chapter Two, “Frozen Jews,” concerns the history of Harbin, China, which had a large, flourishing Jewish community from 1898 till the 1950s. The last Jewish family left in 1962, and Harbin’s last Jew died in 1985. Though many Harbintsy fondly recall their lives in the city, there were also many pogroms, particularly after White Russian refugees arrived in 1919 and brought their violent antisemitism with them. Among their vile acts was burning a synagogue. The city’s golden age lasted less than one generation. Then came the Japanese occupation, and the situation became even worse. Many people viewed immigration as inevitable because of how difficult life was.

Now Harbin’s remaining synagogue is a typical heritage site paying homage to the former Jewish community, with no mention of just why everyone left. The displays also only have photos of and captions about the minority of rich and bourgeois residents, not the poor and proletarian majority who could only dream of servants and grand society events.

Chapter Four, “Executed Jews,” talks about the Soviet Union’s persecution and eventual purging of Jewish writers, artists, actors, and playwrights. They were allowed to remain at liberty after Stalin’s crackdown on Yiddish only because they served as useful tokens. Basically, classic Chanukah antisemitism as opposed to Purim antisemitism. Chanukah antisemitism purports to like and respect us, but demands we dutifully assimilate and abandon our faith and culture. Purim antisemitism openly declares its belief that we’re inferior and intent to murder us.

Chapter Five, “Fictional Dead Jews,” discusses the differences between Jewish and Gentile literature. Traditionally, many Jewish novels end without an uplifting, redemptive happy ending, but instead are morally ambiguous or even depressing. Given Jewish history, it’s easy to see why. I got a lot of great authors and books to add to my TBR list from this chapter.

Chapter Six, “Legends of Dead Jews,” discusses the urban myth about surnames being changed at Ellis Island. A lot of people react with anger and disbelief when they’re presented with undeniable historical and documentary proof that this never happened. They cherish their family stories about stupid clerks changing the spelling or inventing an entirely new name.

What really happened was that many immigrants felt compelled to change their obviously Jewish names due to systemic, institutionalized antisemitism. Other groups of immigrants, like Italians, Greeks, Germans, and Ukrainians, typically kept their names, or at most changed the spelling to make the pronunciation more obvious or look a bit less foreign. Jewish name-changers routinely cited difficulties in finding jobs, being accepted at schools, being allowed to stay at hotels, and housing.

They also claimed their names were unpatriotic, too foreign, uneuphonius, cumbersome, annoying, uncomfortable, hard to spell and pronounce, embarrassing, and a hindrance to employment, education, social acceptance, and housing. Rarely did they cite the clear culprit, antisemitism. The only name-changers who mentioned this were Christians with Jewish-sounding names. Instead of challenging this unfair system, they submitted to it.

Chapter Eight, “On Rescuing Jews and Others,” is by far the longest. I was surprised Ms. Horn believes barely anyone has heard of Varian Fry, one of only five Americans to date honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. I’ve known about him for years, even if I didn’t know so many details until now. Mr. Fry rescued several thousand people from his base of operations in France, including many famous artists, writers, and intellectuals such as Marc Chagall and Franz Werfel.

Chapter Nine, “Dead Jews of the Desert,” discusses Diarna, a virtual museum documenting vanished Jewish communities primarily in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Diarna is a Judeo-Arabic word meaning “our homes.” Some of the synagogues and other places documented have now been destroyed by wars, like the gorgeous 500-year-old synagogue of Damascus. Due to Ashkenazocentrism, many people don’t know what a huge, vibrant Jewish presence there was in this part of the world until the ethnic cleansing following WWII. Jews living in Muslim lands were also subject to dhimmitude, a legal, humiliating second-class status.

Chapter Ten, “Blockbuster Dead Jews,” is about Shoah museums and the travelling exhibit Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away. Ms. Horn was very uncomfortable with this exhibit because it once again ultimately used the Shoah as a lesson about love and feel-good inspiration. All these museums, which do wonderful work, also tend to reduce Jewish history and our people to the Shoah, and leave out testimonies soaked with rage at all the bystanders and collaborators.

Chapter Eleven, “Commuting with Shylock,” is obviously about The Merchant of Venice, and explores the cruel reality of Venetian Jewish history. Ms. Horn found that people who critique the play as irredeemably antisemitic are called whiny, vulgar, censors, and too PC, and of course have antisemitism goysplained to them, while Jewish scholars who declare it nuanced or not at all offensive are lovingly praised.

Chapters Three, Seven, and Twelve discuss the shooting attacks on U.S. synagogues in recent years. The final of these “Dead American Jews” chapters reveals the shocking fact that many news stories about the attack on the Jersey City kosher grocery defended the shooters’ motives. They were just angry and frustrated about gentrification, school zoning, and Chasidic Jews moving in. Yet these news outlets never justify hate crime attacks on Black churches, gay nightclubs, and stores with a big Latino customer base, nor do they show sympathy for the murderers.

Ms. Horn concludes by talking about Daf Yomi, the worldwide Talmud study group that studies one page (back and front) of Talmud every day. When this study cycle ends after seven years, there are huge celebrations, and then it starts all over again. I would love to start participating when the next cycle starts in 2027.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. Many of the insights might make Gentiles uncomfortable, but these are important conversations we need to have for the sake of healthy, positive interfaith relations. Oh, and read more Yiddish and Hebrew literature!

A shallow soap opera in the late 1940s

Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis

This book was recommended to me by a library computer while I was searching for Dara Horn’s recent essay collection, the provocatively-titled People Love Dead Jews, as a similar book. Since it was in that very library, and the blurb made it sound right up my alley, I went to look for it and assumed I’d love it.

In 1947, while running late to a job interview, 25-year-old Eleanor Moskowitz’s taxi is rear-ended by another taxi in bottleneck traffic, caused by Pres. Truman’s visit to the city. Because Eleanor suffers an injury to her face, and because cops get involved after the cabbies start arguing, she’s unable to go to the interview.

However, the woman in the other taxi, Patricia Bellamy, invites Eleanor to her glamourous Park Avenue apartment to calm down. Patricia does have some belated misgivings after she hears Eleanor’s obviously Jewish surname, but feels it would be poor manners to rescind the invitation.

When Eleanor arrives at the apartment, she meets Patricia’s only child, 13-year-old Margaux, a polio survivor. Margaux is very understandably bitter, angry, and surly on account of her long illness and being left with a withered leg. But for some reason, she’s instantly drawn to Eleanor, and begs for Eleanor to become her tutor. Eleanor previously worked as a teacher, but resigned when the principal refused to punish a girl for plagiarism. She was also romantically involved with another teacher, and found it awkward to be around him after he started going out with the school’s third Jewish teacher.

Eleanor isn’t too sure about the prospect of being Margaux’s tutor, but ultimately agrees to do it. Prior to accepting the offer, she went to an unemployment agency and was advised by the woman who saw her, Rita Burns, to change her surname to something less obviously Jewish, like Moss or Morse, so her résumé wouldn’t be automatically thrown away. Miss Burns says she knows what she’s talking about, since her real name is Rachel Bernstein.

Because the Bellamys’ building is restricted, Eleanor indeed ends up pretending to have the surname Moss when she announces herself to the doorman. This charade continues when she joins the Bellamys at their summer home in Argyle, Connecticut.

And it’s in Argyle where all the trouble begins.

Patricia’s Bohemian playboy brother Tom arrives for a visit, and he and Eleanor feel an immediate attraction. For many compelling reasons, Patricia is quite alarmed to discover their romantic feelings, and even more upset when she discovers Eleanor was in Tom’s bed. Not only is Eleanor her employee and expected to set a good example for Margaux, but she’s also a good thirteen years younger than Tom and of a different religion and social class. Tom is also notorious for his string of broken hearts and endless affairs, one of which ended with the woman having an abortion.

Also angry is Patricia’s husband Wynn, whose many terrible qualities include antisemitism, sexual predation, drunkenness, classism, poor anger management, lack of success in his law firm, and hatred of modern art. He blames Eleanor for the increasing strain in his marriage, and will stop at nothing to let her know who’s boss and what he really thinks of her.

And when Wynn crosses that line, everyone’s lives are sent into even more of a tailspin.

Overall, I was really disappointed in this book. While Ms. Zeldis does a superb job of describing things like interior decoration, architecture, clothes, and Manhattan streetscapes of the era, the characters all seemed kind of flat and shallow. I never truly felt in anyone’s head, and the narration is rather telly instead of trusting readers to discern things for themselves.

This book also follows the annoying trend of alternating POV characters every other chapter, except for one time where two chapters in a row are in Patricia’s POV. Thus, many times the revelation or cliffhanger than ends a chapter isn’t followed up at all, or the resulting reactions and events are relayed later instead of shown as they actually happen. God forbid you use third-person omniscient in a book with more than one main character!

I also wished there’d been more development of Eleanor’s relationship with Margaux and their lessons. And without giving anything away, there’s a really convenient deus ex machina plot development for one of the storylines. I agree with reviewers who feel this is a YA book that just happens to have adult characters.

I was hoping for a more thorough, engrossing exploration of the institutionalized, systemic antisemitism which continued even after the Shoah, not just alternatingly heavy-handed and minor mentions every so often. Eleanor is very secular and assimilated, with almost no connection to either religious or cultural aspects of Judaism. It feels so out of character when she visits a mikvah, not to mention contrary to norms of halacha (Jewish law).

Obviously, antisemites don’t care how religious or secular someone is, but Eleanor never demonstrates a strong or believable Jewish identity. The distinction between her and the Bellamys feels more believably based on class instead of religion.

Also, her relationship with Tom and their supposed chemistry never felt believable to me, coupled with how rare and scandalous interdating and intermarriage were in that era. Eleanor only thinks about how she’ll be excluded from Tom’s Gentile world, not about things like how they’d raise potential kids.

The treatment of premarital sex also felt a bit unrealistic and ahistorical. Outside of really Bohemian types, which Eleanor isn’t depicted as, it was generally only done by couples planning to marry anyway in this era. Not couples only thinking of a good time and unsure of their relationship’s future.

And did I mention the book just kind of ends in media res?

Yes, we do bleed when you prick us

As I’ve mentioned before, I am so disgusted, angry, and hurt at how a lot of people have been showing some very ugly true colors since the latest terrorist attacks on Eretz Yisrael in May.

The horrifying story screencapped above is far from the only such incident of this nature since the explosion in worldwide antisemitism since May. Many politicians, organizations, businesses, schools, sports teams, etc., who issued statements against antisemitism and in support of the Jewish people have been dogpiled on social media. People are absolutely ranting about how one-sided, bigoted, politicized, and uneducated they are.

Shamefully, there sometimes followed retractions and apologies.

Just as all these “intersectional” clowns are trying to recast feminism as a feel-good social justice free-for-all where everyone but actual women are centred in our own liberation movement, so too have Israel-bashers tried to force-link condemnation of antisemitism with Islamophobia and anti-Arabism. God forbid we get a voice all our own!

If you don’t feel the need to condemn anti-Asian hate crimes without also mentioning prejudice and crimes against gays and lesbians, African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Haitians, and the disabled, there’s zero reason for you to “All lives matter” antisemitism.

One, nice Ashkenazocentrism. About 80% of Jewish Israelis are Mizrachi, from the Middle East or North Africa, and therefore NOT white-presenting like Ashkenazim! Have you ever seen an Ethiopian Jew?

Two, nice job blatantly lying about the history of Israel. The Jewish people are indigenous to the land, and were there thousands of years before any Arab tribes arrived. You’re living in a fantasy land if you truly believe everyone lived in Kumbaya harmony until 1948. There were a number of pogroms committed by Arabs, like in Hebron in 1929.

The antisemitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was also buddies with Hitler, and his thugs convinced the British to severely limit Jewish immigration when they most desperately needed to escape Europe.

Arabs in Israel gladly sold their marshy, desert, unused, uninhabited lands to olim (immigrants), who proceeded to transform them into modern cities and fertile farmland. More Arabs began moving in when the land became habitable and desirable.

Many Shoah survivors were met with anger and violence when they returned home. Their houses and belongings were stolen by former friends and neighbors after they were deported. Some people were even murdered. Hence, why most survivors immigrated to Israel, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., or Australia as soon as possible.

Every single war Israel has ever been involved in was started by the surrounding Arab nations. They even attacked and invaded the very day Israel declared her independence and the British Mandate finally ended! How dare you defend the firing of 4,500 rockets and say it doesn’t constitute a conflict!

All of these things, and many, many, MANY more, are well-known, easily-verified historical facts. They’re not hidden away in obscure folios only hardcore scholars know about.

And by the way, the “anti-Zionism” screed comes right from the USSR’s playbook. They knew damn well open antisemitism was no longer socially acceptable after the Shoah, and so reinvented it under the guise of just bashing our liberation and decolonization movement. In the Middle Ages, we were hated, persecuted, and murdered because we wouldn’t convert to Christianity, and in the 19th and early 20th centuries, we were hated because of our so-called race. (Judaism is actually an ethnoreligious group, or, as Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan called it, “an evolving religious civilization.”) Now that both religious- and racially-based hatred are out of favor, we’re hated because of our country.

Helpful tip: If you replace the word “Zionists” with “Jews” in what you’re saying or writing, and it sounds very obviously antisemitic, you know damn well you’re not just innocently criticizing specific policies of the Israeli government.

I never see these obsessed clowns even mentioning real human rights abuses in countries like Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Venezuela, China, Turkey, Russia, Libya, and Nigeria. Just the only democracy in the Middle East, the only Jewish-majority country that’s ever existed. And to make it even worse, they often use Holocaust inversion and soft Holocaust denial in their propaganda.

These people distort history, use doctored and decontextualized pictures and videos, and outright lie in their quest to pretend Israel is, as Bob Dylan sang in a song of the same name, a neighborhood bully for daring to defend herself against terrorism and repeated attempts at destruction.

Oh, and fringe tokens like Neturei Karta and JStreet do NOT represent the vast majority of the Jewish world.

Bottom line: I’m sick of non-Jews goysplaining what is and isn’t antisemitism, and the outright falsehoods, slanders, and threats. When you parrot Hamas talking points, you contribute to the international spike in hate crimes.

Get out of your damn woke bubble and talk to people who don’t share your groupthink!

One of the hills I will die on

Warning: Any hateful, violent, threatening, anti-Semitic comments will be immediately deleted and the commenters blacklisted. If you truly cannot recognize certain phrases and remarks as inherently anti-Semitic and double-standardish, I suggest you leave your echo chamber and stop getting all your “information” from one-sided, biased sources.

I am absolutely disgusted at how many people on my purported side of the political aisle are excitedly celebrating and/or justifying the latest violent attacks on Eretz Yisrael. Many are quite open about their anti-Semitism and desire to wipe out the world’s only Jewish nation (often praising Hitler and wishing he’d finished the job), while others play the “I’m not anti-Semitic, but…” card.

Ever notice how these people are anti-war until it comes to cheering on violence against Jews? How they don’t obsessively argue against the right of any other nation on Earth to exist except Israel? How they’re all about “punching Nazis” while calling for the destruction of the one nation where Jews found refuge from Nazis? How they seem to care less about things like Chinese atrocities against Uyghurs, human rights violations in Myanmar, FGM, and the imprisonment and torture of Iranian women protesting compulsory hijab laws? How they act like Ph.D.-level experts on a complex geopolitical situation and 3,000+ years of history, from the safety of their cushy homes in the West, as they sip almond milk lattes from Starbucks?

Do you hear yourself talking when you say you’re not against Jews or Israel, “just” Zionists? Are you that ignorant you don’t know it’s a classic calling-card of anti-Semites to use the words Jewish and Zionist interchangeably? Have you never heard people routinely affixing words like dog and pig to it? Never seen the hateful rhetoric calling for death to all of us and wanting to drive us into the sea?

I’m a proud Zionist, and so are 95% of my co-religionists! We also have many allies in other religions! Zionism is nothing more than Jewish self-determination in our own nation, and includes diverse streams such as Socialist, Cultural, Synthetic, Labour, Religious, Political, Revolutionary, and Practical. I guarantee there’s a place within Zionism for you that perfectly fits your beliefs!

If you truly care so much for the plight of Palestinians, why do you never speak out against Hamas and the PLO? Their top brass live like millionaires while they keep their people in poverty and use them as political pawns! And after Gaza became Judenrein in 2005, Hamas destroyed all the beautiful greenhouses and used their constant stream of donations for weapons instead of schools.

Why do I never see you sharing stories about Arab Israeli citizens living very successful lives in the Middle East’s only democracy? About how doctors and nurses treat their Arab patients the same way they treat Jewish patients, even when those patients are terrorists? How a Jewish nurse breastfed a Palestinian baby while its mother was hospitalized? How Israelis have taught Palestinians how to farm pineapple? How Israelis have sheltered Palestinians fleeing from Gaza and the West Bank for falling afoul of the thugs in charge? How a popular Palestinian DJ was arrested for attending a Christmas party rave in Ramallah? How Haifa is the country’s best-integrated city and people of all faiths gather every year at the Santa Claus House for a Christmas party? How Israel took in 850,000 Jews expelled from North Africa and the Middle East starting in 1948? How Hitler was buddies with the anti-Semitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem?

No, instead you only post easily-debunked propaganda, libel, slander, one-sided garbage, ahistorical nonsense, doctored photos, incomplete videos with false claims, lines that come straight from anti-Semites’ playbook.

I’m a charter member of the UMass Student Alliance for Israel. We founded this group in 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada. One night I went to the campus police station with a few friends to report graffitied flyers for our events (including a peace vigil). They all were recorded as hate crimes. On all five of the area campuses, there was a sickening spate of anti-Semitic graffiti, including incitements to violence. Some of these hate-mongers even tried to disrupt a huge community-wide rally against the graffiti!

Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against terrorist attacks isn’t an issue I can agree to disagree on. Your performative virtue-signalling puts Jewish lives in danger.

WeWriWa—Surprise houseguests

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now starting snippets from the book formerly known as The Very Next, the chronological second of my Atlantic City books, set from March 1939 to the dawn of 1940. It underwent a radical rewrite in 2015, and I recently completed the fourth and final version. I plan on a late February  or early March release.

The book opens when best friends Cinnimin and Sparky (real name Katherine) are baking hamentaschen, three-cornered cookies stuffed with various fillings and traditionally eaten on the holiday of Purim. They’re quite surprised to see two strangers coming into the kitchen.

Cinni grabbed a dollop of chocolate chip cookie dough and snuck it into her mouth, then helped herself to some apricot jam. Sparky saw what her best friend was doing and shook her head as she continued to roll out cookie dough.

“You’re so lucky you ain’t bat mitzvah age yet,” Cinni said. “I can’t imagine fasting mosta the day. My stomach would be rumbling after the first missed meal. It really stinks that Gary has to fast on his birthday of all days. That should earn him a get out of fasting privilege.”

“It’s a holy obligation; Queen Esther fasted before she approached her husband to plead for the lives of her people, so we’re supposed to do it too. When I’m old enough, I’ll have to do all these fasts, both minor and major. You’re just not used to the idea ’cause your religion doesn’t do fasts.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish this scene.

The girls stopped talking when a strange blonde girl, who looked about Cinni and Sparky’s age, and a brunette woman, who looked to be in her twenties, came into the kitchen through the open back door. The older one bore a surly expression and crossed her arms as soon as she dropped her heavy suitcases with a big thud, while the girl looked around in silence. Both wore wool dresses almost down to their ankles, with wrist-length sleeves and the highest collarbones possible. The brunette’s dress was a sickly, dour shade of green, and the blonde was in blue the color of dirty, stagnant dishwater.

“Are you lost?” Cinni asked. “Maybe I can help you find the address you’re looking for. I know a lot of people in this neighborhood, since I’m Most Popular Girl, and my family’s lived here for centuries. My name’s Cinnimin Filliard.”