Wednesday, October 25, 2017


My new GOLDEN CITY is up at Tablet and it's part of their 100th Anniversary of the Soviet Revolution week. In my column I talk about how younger artists have started to engage with the hopeful, utopian aspects of the Revolution, taking a playful approach to history. 

For almost 10 years [Psoy] Korolenko and [Daniel] Kahn have been bringing all kinds of revolutionary songs into their slightly mad dialectic. As the Unternationale, Korolenko and Kahn set Zionist, Bundist, and Communist anthems against each other. No longer matters of life and death, 20th-century anthems become just another text, to be mixed and remixed with a ruthless 21st-century playfulness.

Keep in mind, that playfulness has only recently become available as an artistic position. Insofar as the Cold War is over (if it is), we're only now starting to see what Yiddish studies, and new Jewish art, might look like without the fierce gatekeepers of anti-Communist hegemony on guard. What if we could talk about Jewish Communists without constantly relitigating the battles of the past?

In their superb introduction to the new translation of David Bergelson’s Judgment, Harriet Murav and Sasha Senderovich tackle a thorny problem, not just for readers of Bergelson, but for students of Yiddish history and literature: how Cold War politics warped the reception of Soviet Yiddish art in the West. 

In 1952 Bergelson was murdered on Stalin’s order. A decade later he suffered another execution, this one in the West, as his literary legacy was made and remade according to the politics of the day. Judgment, published in 1929 and untranslated into any language until 2017, became the boundary for the “acceptable” Bergelson. Murav and Senderovich note, for example, that in 1977 the hugely influential anthologists Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg introduced Bergelson to English speaking readers, but as regarded the last two decades of Bergelson’s work, it was “better to leave in the past.” For Howe and Greenberg, there was no point in translating any of it. 

Having recently read Judgment, a penetrating, darkly funny, and nuanced tale of shtetl Jews caught in the post-Revolution Civil War, the willingness to discard such an important work in deference to politics strikes the contemporary reader as bordering on literary malpractice....

Read more over at Rokhl's Golden City...

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Harvey, Mayim and Me

My latest for Haaretz: How 'Feminist' Mayim Bialik Insulted Countless Jewish Women

OOF. This has been quite a time, eh? Ever since the Harvey Weinstein story 'broke' last week my jaw has been on the floor and my stomach has been in knots. Each new story is simultaneously horrifying and numbing. Hollywood is an industry built on abuse. Our entire society is premised on men's toxic entitlement to women's bodies. Is it really going to be different now? Can women speaking their truth really 'shock the conscience' and change us, fundamentally?

None of us really know what, if anything will come of our sudden attention to sexual harassment, abuse and assault. But I do know we're all fumbling around, trying to make sense of our own stories and the endless stories now being shared.

Which brings me to Mayim. Mayim Mayim Mayim. Mayim Bialik managed to make her own mini-scandal last weekend when she published a New York Times op-ed in which she talked about her brush with Hollywood misogyny. But in her case, or at least, in the story she told herself, she managed to avoid sexual harassment by not being pretty enough but also smart and also dressing modestly?

Bialik's seeming suggestion that modesty, and not trading on one's sexuality, could protect a woman from assault just about broke the internet outrage meter, especially among Jewish women. For women of my age, especially, Bialik is not just a star, she is us. The funny, beautiful, undeniably Jewish overachiever with a wildly successful TV career AND a doctorate in neuroscience. She did it all and never compromised who she was.

But, what was apparent to me from her piece, in which she refers to herself with the same kind of scorn she got from her critics, is that Bialik did not manage to avoid the abusive side of Hollywood misogyny. Internalizing that kind of woman hating beauty bullshit is just a different kind of abuse, one that seeps into your soul and affects every choice you make. It's hard not to see Bialik's embrace of tsnius as a psychological reaction to the degrading ways she had her appearance dissected in the media. Ugh. Anyway...

Read my Haaretz op-ed here and Mayim's apology here.