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1. Toward a new history of Hasidism

By David Biale


Two years ago, I agreed to serve as the head of an international team of nine scholars from the US, UK, Poland, and Israel who are attempting to write a history of Hasidism, the eighteenth-century Eastern European pietistic movement that remains an important force in the Orthodox Jewish world today. I was perhaps not the obvious choice for this role. Although I’ve written several articles and book chapters on Hasidism, it has not been my main area of research. But Arthur Green, one of the foremost historians of Hasidism and the person who was supposed to head the team, was unable to take on the role and I had had some success as the editor of a large compendium on Jewish and Israeli culture (Cultures of the Jews: A New History). And so, my colleagues convinced me to take on the organizational and editorial work on the project.

Surprisingly, given its long history and influence, no general history of Hasidism exists. The first attempt at such a history was published in 1931 by Simon Dubnow, the doyen of Jewish history in Russia. Dubnow had begun collecting materials for a history of Hasidism in the 1890s. However, his history covered only the first half century of the movement, ending in 1815, which is when he believed the creative period of Hasidism came to an end.

If I was going to direct this ambitious project, I needed to come up to speed on the bibliography of research over the last half century. I was familiar with the major works of the older generation of scholars such as Gershom Scholem, Joseph Weiss, Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer, and Mendel Piekarz (to name some of the most important) as well as the younger generation, some of whom are members of our team (Ada Rapoport-Albert, Moshe Rosman, and David Assaf). Although the research community working on Hasidism is relatively small, there is still an impressive body of scholarly literature that has emerged over the last few decades.

Fortunately, at about the time I accepted the invitation to direct the Hasidism project, I was also approached by Oxford University Press to serve as Editor-in-Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies. My first task was to prepare a sample bibliography. So, instead of taking on a subject whose sources were at my fingertips, I decided to put together a bibliography of Hasidism, killing the proverbial “two birds with one stone” (or, as the Jewish saying has it, “to dance at two weddings”).

What emerged from this immersion in the sources was the growing sense that our new history could significantly revise the earlier scholarship. In most of the earlier studies, as well as in Hasidism’s own self-conception, the movement was founded by the Baal Shem Tov, who died in 1760. But like the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the Baal Shem Tov (also known as the Besht) wrote little and probably had no intention of founding a movement. It was only later in the eighteenth century that scattered charismatic leaders (known as rebbes in Yiddish, or zaddikim in Hebrew) began to be seen (and to see themselves) as a coherent movement. But since the Hasidim organized themselves as devoted followers of specific individuals, the movement had no central core. Each of these rebbes had his own philosophy and style of leadership, so that one should speak of Hasidism in the plural.

The nineteenth century, far from a time of stagnation, as Dubnow thought, now appears to have been the golden age of Hasidism. While it is questionable whether the majority of Eastern Jews were Hasidim, the movement spread rapidly and became even more active in areas of Poland and Galicia than in the provinces of Ukraine where it originated. In the twentieth century, Hasidism underwent a sharp decline as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of secular Jewish politics in Poland, and the devastation of the Holocaust (see The Holocaust in Poland). Following World War II, the movement rose from the ashes in North America and Israel, in exile, as it were, from its Eastern European homeland. Today, there may be as many as three-quarters of a million Hasidim (out of 13 million Jews worldwide). But a movement that presents itself and is often seen by others as devout guardians of tradition is, in reality, something new, a product of modernity no less than Jewish secularism.

David Biale, Editor in Chief of Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies, is the Emanuel Ringelblum Professor of Jewish History in the department of history of University of California Davis. He is the editor of Cultures of the Jews: A New History (Schocken Books, 2002) and the author of Blood and Belief: The Circulating of a Symbol Between Jews and Christians (University of California Press, 2008).

Developed cooperatively with scholars and librarians worldwide, Oxford Bibliographies offers exclusive, authoritative research guides. Combining the best features of an annotated bibliography and a high-level encyclopedia, this cutting-edge resource guides researchers to the best available scholarship across a wide variety of subjects.

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0 Comments on Toward a new history of Hasidism as of 9/6/2012 4:59:00 AM
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2. "Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story" featuring Hammerin' Hank Greenberg

There has been a lot of talk this spring about the DVD release of “Jews and Baseball: An American Story”, written by Ira Berkow, directed by Peter Miller, and narrated by Dustin Hoffman. The screenings last year at film festivals and a small number of theatrical releases brought critical acclaim from media outlets like the Los Angeles Times and Time Out New York, but now, in the midst of baseball season, is the chance for fans to appreciate and celebrate the history and triumphs that Jews have made in the sport over the past 150 years.

Kurlansky, Hank Greenberg Hank Greenberg takes a central role in the film. He was, after all, the first Jewish ballplayer to be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame, and his decision not to play in the 1934 Yom Kippur game against the Yankees firmly rests in the history of the sport. Because the Detroit Tigers were in the run for the pennant, public response to Greenberg was poor, but to Jews, he became a hero, more so than he was before. In his new Jewish Lives biography, Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want to Be One, Mark Kurlansky sees Greenberg for the secular Jew he was; “not even a Yom Kippur Jew”, but the quality was nevertheless tied into Greenberg’s legacy as an athlete.

As for the stereotypes against Jews discussed in the film—that they were categorically non-athletic—it’s telling that Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg is the right-handed record holder for most RBIs in a single season and holds the #7 rank of sluggers with a 0.605 slugging percentage. The film also notes that there have been Jews in baseball every decade since the 1860s, and there have been 166 Jewish major leaguers, as of 2010.

Be sure to watch the film and for more on Greenberg, check out the Facebook page for the new biography.

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3. David Gelernter's Judaism

Judaism It’s not every day that you get a reflection on life, religion, and spirituality from a professor of computer science. Frankly, you might expect him to launch into a tirade on his favorite programming language. But David Gelernter is certainly no ordinary tech guru. When Gelernter sat down for his front page interview with Evan R. Goldstein for The Chronicle Review, Goldstein highlighted that Gelernter “occupies a unique spot in American intellectual life, at the intersection of technology, art, politics, and religion.”

The interview was timed to the publication of Judaism: A Way of Being, in which Gelernter tries to answer the “easy” question: What is Judaism really about? Of course, there is no simple answer, but the book attempts “to lay out a ‘common Judaism,’ a Judaism whose beauties and animating principles can be recognized and (with qualifications) agreed to by all. From there, the book explores the role of images in Judaism, questions of Jewish philosophical thinking, family and life, and finally, beauty and truth in Judaism.

Ha'Mavdil, by David Gelernter, (c) by artist But this is not a book intended for an expert; rather, Gelernter intends to present his interpretation of Judaism to everyone, certainly those who know the least about it. The book is also illustrated with Gelernter’s own paintings, which are actually a thematic series and titled after important Hebrew words and phrases (the one to the left is Ha'Mavdil, "who distinguishes/separates"); these themes, he writes, “are presented in this book just as they present themselves to practicing Jews: visually; as mental images.”

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4. Hank Greenberg Steps Up to Bat

Kurlansky, Hank Greenberg Baseball season is upon us and Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want to Be One ,“a wonderful book”, according to the New York Daily News, is the newest addition to YUP’s Jewish Lives series, masterfully written by New York Times bestselling author, Mark Kurlansky.

Matters of personal choice easily become the defining qualities of celebrity scrutiny. When Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg decided not to play in the 1934Yom Kippur game against the Yankees, baseball went into an uproar. American Jews loved him, and many fans were furious. That Greenberg was to be identified with religiosity was peculiar, Kurlansky writes, because Yom Kippur “is a solemn day of fasting and prayer that is so significant in the Jewish religion that it is often observed by secular Jews—so-called Yom Kippur Jews. Greenberg was not even a Yom Kippur Jew. And yet his Jewish observance had become a national issue.”

This becomes the lens through which Kurlansky investigates Greenberg’s life, looking at his character both on and off the field to arrive at a portrait that wholly encompasses the at times conflicting demands of Judaism, athleticism, and heroism. When asked what quality most defined Greenberg as a man, Kurlansky responded: “his humility, without a doubt.”

Tomorrow at the 92nd Street Y, Mark Kurlansky will appear for a talk about Hank Greenberg in conversation with David Margolick. And on April 8, Kurlansky will begin a national  twenty-city radio tour. For more news and updates, be sure to follow Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want to Be One on Facebook.

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5. Thursday at the YIVO Institute: James Loeffler on Russian Jewish Music

The Most Musical Nation No image of prerevolutionary Russian Jewish life is more iconic than the fiddler on the roof. But in the half century before 1917, Jewish musicians were actually descending from their shtetl roofs and streaming in dazzling numbers to Russia’s new classical conservatories. At a time of both rising anti-Semitism and burgeoning Jewish nationalism, how and why did Russian music become the gateway to Jewish modernity in music? Drawing on previously unavailable archives, The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire, by James Loeffler, offers an insightful new perspective on the emergence of Russian Jewish culture and identity.

This Thursday, March 24, Loeffler will be reading excerpts from his book at the YIVO Institute Center for Jewish History. The talk will be complemented by musical examples performed by participants from the Sidney Krum Young Artists Concert Series, with a book signing and reception to follow. Admission is free and open to the public.

6. Interviews with Janet Malcolm

196, Paris Review Spring 2011 Janet Malcolm’s feature interview, titled “The Art of Nonfiction,” in the new issue of the Paris Review is only the fourth nonfiction interview in the publication’s history. She discusses with Katie Roiphe her career as a journalist, the relationships to her subjects, and the presence of court cases and trials in her writing, touching on her new book from YUP: Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial.

 

Iphigenia in Forest Hills Earlier this week, Malcolm sat down with Mark Oppenheimer, Brian Slattery, and Binnie Klein on Paper Trails, a new public-radio show about books, unafraid of giving its honest opinion on authors and their books before the author weighs in  and responds. Listen on the site or subscribe to Paper Trails’s podcasts on iTunes.

And if you haven’t already, there’s still time to enter YUP’s Goodreads giveaway for Iphigenia in Forest Hills!

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7. Notes from a Native New Yorker: A Visit to the Jewish Museum

Michelle Stein

Houdini From now until March 27, Harry Houdini (born Ehrich Weiss) takes the stage at the Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side with Houdini: Art and Magic.  The museum was crowded with visitors, much like Houdini’s performances. The exhibition looks both at Houdini and his craft, as well as at the art that has been created around the mythology and legacy of Houdini (the companion catalogue, edited by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, offers more detailed information while maintaining the structure of the exhibition). Houdini himself used the visual arts to promote his work.  He created lithographic posters for shows, and many of his feats were captured on film.  These works enabled Houdini to present a face to the public and fans. But just as illuminating are the works by contemporary artists which reference and appropriate Houdini to create new ideas, and their art is interspersed throughout the exhibition. It would seem that Houdini was just as important to his contemporaries as to future artists. While Houdini was performing, his works served as an escape for spectators from the troubles of their time. Houdini’s transformation from an immigrant child who moved frequently to a world famous performer also suggests that he might have served as a reference point for other Jews and immigrants working to assimilate into American society.

In the contemporary art world, Houdini has become a major reference point for a wide variety of artists in different forms.  Sometimes the reference is as clear as a depiction of Houdini, while in other pieces it is his feats that are used for new artistic purposes. The famous contemporary artist Matthew Barney has an entire installation in the exhibition, The Ehrich Weiss Suite. It includes pieces from his Cremaster cycle, a series of five films that were created from 1994 to 2002. The films cover a wide variety of themes and questions, and interweave many different cultural and historical references, including famous figures like Houdini, as played by Norman Mailer in Cremaster 2, and by Matthew Barney in Cremaster 5.  The installation at the museum, in a room that can only be entered by glass door, includes seven pigeons that roam around an acrylic coffin.

Petah Coyne Another contemporary artist, Petah Coyne, whose work “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is on display at Mass MoCA until April, created a hanging sculpture from shredded cars made while she was reading both a great deal about Houdini and World War Two.  The audio guide included Petah Coyne’s description of the links between art and magic (similarly referenced in the exhibition’s title), and both disciplines’ connections to transformation.

This only scrapes the surface of the works by contemporary artists in the show, but in honor of Women’s History Month, it is worth moving on to mentioning an exhibition upstairs, "Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)".  Maira Ka

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8. Goodreads Giveaway: Iphigenia in Forest Hills

Acclaimed journalist Janet Malcolm has a new book, Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial. Written about the trial of Mazoltuv Borukhova, a Queens doctor who hired a hit man to kill her husband, currently under appeal, Malcolm investigates the occurrence, the Iphigenia in Forest Hills Bukharan-Jewish community in Forest Hills, Queens, the attorneys and family involved. Her coverage began with a popular article last year in The New Yorker, and now, Malcolm has turned her writing skill into a full-length book.

YUP is sponsoring a giveaway of 10 copies on Goodreads.com. Log in with your account and enter today. The contest runs until March 29, 2011 when the book is officially published. We'll keep you updated on the appeal in the meantime.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial (Hardcover) by Janet Malcolm

Iphigenia in Forest Hills

by Janet Malcolm

Giveaway ends March 29, 2011.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win
9. 2007 top picks, part 2: Yale books in holiday gift lists

Here is just a sample of some titles that editors and websites have picked in their year-end lists.

Gift600 William Grimes at the New York Times assembled a gift guide of 15 perfect books for this holiday season, including Bears: A Brief History by Bernd Brunner. Grimes warmly recommends "this little gem."

The Washington Post put out their list of the best books of 2007, featuring four YUP titles. They called Hugh Brogan's Alexis de Tocqueville a monumental achievement. West from Appomattox, an "engaging" book by Heather Cox Richardson, also made the list. Ali A. Allawi brings "a valuable new voice to the ongoing debate" in The Occupation of Iraq, they said. And they praise Janet Malcolm's Two Lives as a "lucid and elegant meditation on literature and morality."

In addition, the Washington Post rounded up a list of art gift books. Among them are Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art by Jeffrey Spier, and George Stubbs, Painter, the catalogue raisonne by Judy Egerton.

Library Journal has named Hotel: An American History, by A. K. Sandoval-Strausz a December Best Book Pick. Along with having a "sound historical method," Sandoval-Strausz writes with "that rare blend of erudition and clarity that most of us can only dream of possessing."

Also, the Yale Holiday Sale has been extended. Free shipping is available for all web orders through December 31, 2007, and select titles are 50% off. And don't forget to check out our Holiday Selections.

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10. Michael Makovsky named Sami Rohr Prize Finalist

Michael Makovsky, author of Churchill's Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft, has been named one of five finalists for this year's Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. The Jewish Book Council, who administers the award, considers Churchill's Promised Land to be "a book of exceptional literary merit that stimulates an interest in themes of Jewish concern." One of the finalists will receive the $100,000 prize next spring. For more information on the prize, click here.

9780300116090This book is the first to explore fully the role that Zionism played in the political thought of Winston Churchill. Tracing the development of Churchill’s positions toward Zionism and the Jewish people throughout his long career, Michael Makovsky offers a fresh and balanced insight into one of the twentieth century’s greatest figures.

Michael Makovsky has a Ph.D. in diplomatic history from Harvard and is foreign policy director of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. He lives in Washington.

Read an excerpt. View the table of contents. Listen to an interview with Michael Makovsky on the Yale Press Podcast.

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11. Janet Malcolm at a Chelsea reading

BandofThebes.com has put up this excellent picture of Yale Press author Janet Malcolm at a reading for her book Two Lives in Chelsea on Wednesday night.

Janet

Stephen Bottum, the blogger behind BandofThebes.com, likes Two Lives for the "many fascinating revelations in the slim book, which manages to say something new and important about the nature of biography, the quirks of writing, the work of reading, the unknowability of human actions, the ways in which biographers 'use' their minor characters, and how a scholar's overwhelming fear of not living up to early promise can ultimately prevent him from completing any work." He called the book "always engaging."

You can read his entire blog post here.

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12. National Jewish Book Award names Eva Hesse finalist

Congratulations to Elisabeth Sussman and Fred Wasserman, authors of Eva Hesse: Sculpture, which is a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in the Visual Arts category.

Each year, the National Jewish Book Awards honor some of the best and most exciting authors in the field of Jewish literature. After more than fifty years of presenting these awards, hundreds of books have received the prestigious National Jewish Book Award, including titles by the top authors on the American Jewish literary scene.

The work of Eva Hesse (1936–1970), one of the greatest American artists of the 1960s, continues to inspire and to endure in large part because of its deeply emotional and evocative qualities. Her latex and fiberglass sculptures in particular have a resonance that transcends the boundaries of minimalist art in which she had her roots. Hesse’s breakthrough solo exhibition—Chain Polymers at the Fischbach Gallery in New York in 1968—was a turning point in postwar American art.

9780300114188Eva Hesse: Sculpture focuses on the artist’s large-scale sculptures in latex and fiberglass and provides a rare opportunity to look at Hesse’s artistic achievement within the historical context of her life in never-before-seen family diaries and photographs. Essays consider Hesse’s art from a variety of angles: Elisabeth Sussman discusses the sculptures shown in the 1968 solo exhibition; Fred Wasserman delves into the Hesse family’s life in Nazi Germany and in the German Jewish community in New York in the 1940s; Yve-Alain Bois examines Hesse’s works within the context of the art and aesthetic theories of the 1960s; and Mark Godfrey analyzes the importance of Hesse’s celebrated hanging sculptures of 1969–70. In addition to color reproductions of the artist’s sculpture, the book features a copiously illustrated chronology of the artist’s life.

For the full list of winners and finalists, click here.

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13. Cook's Alfred Kazin a complex, fascinating subject

Richard M. Cook's Alfred Kazin: A Biography, about one of the most important literary critics of the 20th century, has in turn become the subject of articles by literary critics from The New York Sun, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, and The New York Times Book Review.

9780300115055In his Jan. 23 review for the New York Sun, Adam Kirsch praised Cook's biography, despite Kazin's complex character: "Mr. Cook has a judicious appreciation of Kazin's work as a memoirist and literary critic, and he has mastered the tempestuous literary-political milieu of the New York intellectuals to which Kazin uncomfortably belonged." Kirsch found especially interesting the period of Kazin's life in the 1920s and '30s.

On the other hand, Richard Eder, writing a review for The Los Angeles Times Book Review, delighted in "the complications of this genial, acerbic figure." He finds it admirable that what "Cook brings out, appealingly, is his subject's mix of brashness and humility." He finds that "Cook is best at tracing Kazin's growing use of his Jewishness in his books."

William Grimes, in his Jan. 2 review for the New York Times Book Review , would agree with Eder, finding that "Cook amply documents" Kazin's life with an "even-tempered, judicious biography of this notoriously prickly critic." With a "discerning eye" and a "deft hand," Cook "introduces... hundreds of illuminating passages from Kazin’s unpublished journals to round out the picture.... In Mr. Cook’s hands Kazin emerges as an arresting hybrid."

Novelist Brian Morton wrote on the book as well for the Jan 27 New York Times Book Review. Morton, when he met Kazin, "could only envy the astonishing vitality of his mind." He thinks that "Cook’s biography, the first that has appeared of Kazin, is a respectable effort, well written and well researched."

Born in 1915 to barely literate Jewish immigrants in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Alfred Kazin rose from near poverty to become a dominant figure in twentieth-century literary criticism and one of America’s last great men of letters. Biographer Richard M. Cook provides a portrait of Kazin in his public roles and in his frequently unhappy private life. Drawing on the personal journals Kazin kept for over 60 years, private correspondence, and numerous conversations with Kazin, he uncovers the full story of the lonely, stuttering boy from Jewish Brownsville who became a pioneering critic and influential cultural commentator.

Upon the appearance of On Native Grounds in 1942, Kazin was dubbed “the boy wonder of American criticism.” Numerous publications followed, including A Walker in the City and two other memoirs, books of criticism, as well as a stream of essays and reviews that ceased only with his death in 1998. Cook tells of Kazin’s childhood, his troubled marriages, and his relations with such figures as Lionel Trilling, Saul Bellow, Malcolm Cowley, Arthur Schlesinger, Hannah Arendt, and Daniel Bell. He illuminates Kazin’s thinking on political-cultural issues and the recurring way in which his subject’s personal life shaped his career as a public intellectual. Particular attention is paid to Kazin’s sense of himself as a Jewish-American “loner” whose inner estrangements gave him insight into the divisions at the heart of modern culture.

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14. Malcolm's Two Lives makes NBCC's Good Reads List

9780300125511 Two Lives by Janet Malcolm made the National Book Critics Circle's Good Reads Long List for Nonfiction. The list is comprised of "the nonfiction titles which received multiple votes" from the NBCC. It was announced this morning on the NBCC blog here, where you can find the entire list, along with other NBCC Good Reads lists for Fiction and Poetry.

Malcolm’s Two Lives, a remarkable work of literary biography and investigative journalism, turns on the mysterious survival of Stein and Toklas, as Jewish lesbians in Occupied France. Also a fascinating illumination of the world of Stein scholarship, and a stunningly perceptive work of criticism. 

The New York Times Book Review named Two Lives an Editors' Choice and said, "Sharp criticism meets playful, absorbing biography in this study of Stein and Toklas."

Read an excerpt, or view the table of contents.

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15. Kazin biography is "rich," "absorbing," and "truly resonant"

9780300115055 Reviewers are praising Richard M. Cook for his recent Yale Press release, Alfred Kazin: A Biography. Here's just a sampling of what they have to say.

In a February 7 review, San Francisco Chronicle complimented Cook on "a fine job in recounting and interpreting his subject's life." They applaud Cook's ability "to produce a much fuller and rounded portrait" than in all three of Kazin's autobiographies. Cook is a "very sympathetic biographer," with a "sure grasp of the issues at stake" in Kazin's life. They especially admired Cook's "sensitive exploration of the touchy topic of Kazin's Jewish identity.... Cook handles this difficult subject with exemplary finesse." Read the entire review here.

The Chicago Tribune's February 2 review similarly commends Cook's biography, saying that "thanks to Cook's exhaustive research -- synthesizing scores of interviews, distilling the thousands of words from the archive of Kazin's journals -- we now have a vivid chronology of the life of a major literary figure in the 20th Century." Read the entire review here.

Bookforum in their review that Cook's work is "fine, able, and intelligent." They compliment "the way Cook lets Kazin speak and think for himself." Later, they say that "Cook's account of Kazin's mature years is rich and laden with anecdotes." Read the entire review here.

Alfred Kazin, the son of barely literate Jewish immigrants, rose from near poverty to become a dominant figure in literary criticism and one of America’s last great men of letters. This book provides the first complete portrait of Kazin, his troubled personal life, his relationships with such figures as Lionel Trilling and Hannah Arendt, and his prodigious contributions as a public intellectual.

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16. Leading specialist lauds Foxbats over Dimona

Writing for the Middle East Journal, Mark N. Katz favorably reviewed Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War by Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez. Professor Katz, an expert on Moscow's foreign policy toward the Middle East, was blown away by the book's compelling argument and unique viewpoint. Here's what he had to say:

I was highly skeptical about these bold claims when I began reading this book. “Moscow made us do it” seemed to be too neat an explanation for Israel’s actions in 1967. Long before reaching the book’s end, though, I became convinced that Ginor and Remez have gotten it right....

I must concur ... with Sir Lawrence Freedman’s judgment that Ginor and Remez have presented such a strong case for their argument that “the onus is now on others to show why they are wrong.”

Read more from his review of Foxbats over Dimona after the jump.

9780300123173This groundbreaking history shatters many assumptions about the Six-Day War of 1967. New research in Soviet archives and testimonies from participants in the Israeli/Egyptian conflict reveal the extent of the Kremlin’s involvement, plans for the use of nuclear weapons in the Mid-East, and willingness to precipitate a global crisis.

Click here to listen to an interview with Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez on the Yale Press Podcast.

Katz went on to say this of Foxbats over Dimona:

Their argument is based on, among other sources, a careful study of Soviet documents—many of which have only recently come to light—as well as interviews with former Soviet officials and servicemen who participated in the June 1967 events. Since the book’s publication in June 2007, many of these individuals have confirmed in the Russian press what they told Ginor and Remez. One of the authors’ most startling claims — that Soviet pilots flew the USSR’s then most ad-vanced military aircraft (the MiG-25 “Fox-bat”) over Dimona in May 1967 was subsequently confirmed by the chief spokesman for the Russian Air Force. Further, Ginor and Remez’s description of Moscow’s behavior in 1967 is consistent with how it has behaved on other occasions.

Read an excerpt from Foxbats over Dimona, or view the table of contents.

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17. The New Republic on Obama's economic guru and Gordin's yikhes

NudgeIn the March 12th issue of The New Republic, Noam Scheiber writes of the effect of Richard Thaler's economic theories on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Scheiber writes, "Thaler is revered by the leading wonks on Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Though he has no formal role, Thaler presides as a kind of in-house intellectual guru, consulting regularly with Obama's top economic adviser." Thaler and Cass Sunstein recently wrote Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Read more about Thaler's influence on Obama here.

The Jewish King LearElsewhere in that same issue of The New Republic, Stephen Greenblatt discusses the yikhes--"status or honor" in Yiddish--of playwright Jacob Gordin. Greenblatt positively reviews The Jewish King Lear: A Comedy in America, saying that "the late Ruth Gay's fine and lively translation of Gordin's most famous play, along with the richly informative accompanying biographical and interpretative essays by Gay and Sophie Glazer, enable readers without Yiddish to understand what stirred Gordin's original audience so deeply." Read the entire review here.

9780300116007 The New Republic also extensively reviewed The Origins of Reasonable Doubt: Theological Roots of the Criminal Trial by James Q. Whitman for their February 27th issue. TNR subscribers can read that review here.

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18. Morris's 1948 is a critics' favorite

9780300126969 Under the spotlight of the 60th anniversary of Israeli independence, Benny Morris's recent book, 1948, is a praised as a shining example.

Last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review features David Margolick's review, saying: "Morris relates the story of his new book soberly and somberly, evenhandedly and exhaustively."

The May 5th issue of The New Yorker hit newsstands on Monday with a feature piece by David Remnick. This piece on Israeli history centers around Morris and the publication of 1948, calling it "a commanding, superbly documented, and fair-minded study of the events that, in the wake of the Holocaust, gave a sovereign home to one people and dispossessed another."

Last Monday, David Holahan reviewed the book for the Hartford Courant. 1948, he said, is "a richly detailed and thoroughly researched primer.... A compelling 'aha' book, 1948 brings order to complex, little-understood subjects." He went on to compliment Morris on his "vivid narrative prose and masterly analysis."

Canada's National Post began running excerpts from 1948 on May 5, and will run a total of 5 installments. Read the second and third installments.

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19. Israel's Independence and Churchill's Zionism

9780300116090 As Israel, and its millions of supporters world-wide, celebrate its 60th birthday, few realize the important role that Winston Churchill played in the establishment of the State of Israel and the shaping of the modern Middle East.

Michael Makovsky’s groundbreaking Churchill’s Promised Land, brings this and much more to light in his careful and nuanced examination of Churchill’s complex relationship with Zionism.

In exploring Churchill’s evolving and ultimately romantic interest in Zionism, Makovsky offers a fresh, more complete and revealing understanding of this great statesman’s worldview. 

Churchill’s Promised Land won the National Jewish Book Award for History (2007) and was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature (2008).

Read an excerpt, or view the table of contents. Click here to listen to an interview with Michael Makovsky on the Yale Press Podcast.

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20. Marwan Muasher on WAMU's Diane Rehm Show

Marwan Muasher, the author of The Arab Center, will appear today at 11AM ET on WAMU's The Diane Rehm Show, broadcast nationwide via NPR and Sirius Satellite Radio (you can find a list of participating radios here). Muasher will talk about his twenty-year experience with the peace process in the Middle East and the perspectives for reform and peace in the region, subjects he also covers in his widely praised book. The interview will also be available, for streaming and as a transcript, on The Diane Rehm Show website approximately one hour after the broadcast, around 1PM ET.

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21. Adina Hoffman's My Happiness Wins Jewish Quarterly's 2010 Wingate Prize

Earlier this month the UK publication Jewish Quarterly awarded Adina Hoffman with the Wingate Prize 2010 for her new book, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness. Given out annually to an author whose work “stimulates an interest in themes of Jewish concern while appealing to the general reader,” this year’s Wingate Prize marks an historic event for Jewish-Palestinian relations. My Happiness, the first biography of a Palestinian writer written in English, tracks the life of Palestinian poet Taha Mohammed Ali. Anne Karpf, the chair of the Wingate Prize’s judging panel, described Hoffman’s work as “eloquent and moving…ultimately an uplifting book, combining meticulous research with literary sensitivity and a deep humanity: a beautifully written portrait of lived resistance.”

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22. Tuesday Studio: Eva Hesse Spectres 1960

Aspirations must either lessen and then failure will not be so great, or something must come forth to lessen the burden.” – Eva Hesse

This is the declaration of a troubled individual and a determined artist; of someone who feels a great weight on her shoulders and sees little prospect for relief. By 1960, Eva Hesse was certain of her artistic vocation. She had just graduated from the Yale School of Art and Architecture, had moved to a new studio in New York, and was ready to begin her career as a painter. From the new Eva Hesse Spectres 1960, edited by E. Luanne McKinnon, Helen Molesworth, the chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, includes in her introductory essay a photograph of Hesse taken in 1956. Only twenty years old, with soft brown hair, pale skin and a warm smile, Hesse is the figure of youth and beauty; a muse of subtle but erotic flirtation.

Looking at her paintings from four years later, the viewer is wrenched from this superficial complacency, and thrust instead into a world fraught with pain, fear, insecurity, and alienation. As Molesworth notes later in the same essay, these oft-overlooked paintings indicate Hesse’s confrontation not necessarily with the question, “What does it mean to be an artist?” but rather with, “What does it mean to be a person?” After examining the four dozen or so paintings from 1960, the viewer can only shudder at Hesse’s answer.  Eva Hesse Spectres 1960

The catalog accompanies the exhibition, “Eva Hesse Spectres 1960,” the first retrospective to focus exclusively on the young artist’s paintings from 1960, independently of her celebrated sculptural work from 1965-1970. Curated by McKinnon, the Director of the University of New Mexico Art Museum, the exhibit will be in residence at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles until November 30. A slideshow of images from the Hammer Museum appears here. On New Year’s Day, the collection moves to the University of New Mexico Art Museum, where it will stay until the end of April.

The exhibition itself divides Hesse’s paintings into two distinct groups. The first includes figures that are gaunt, loosely rendered, and standing in groups of two or three. These paintings seem to emerge from an intersection of the sculptures of Alberto Giacometti and the paintings of Willem de Kooning. They straddle the divide of flesh and paint, figure and ground, abstraction and line, proximity and distance. As Molesworth points out in her essay, these figures are ultimately defined by a “logic of human relations”: a system of thought that highlights an emotional (and spatial) disconnect between individuals.

The second group of paintings is oriented around a series of self-portraits. As E. Luanne McKinnon observes in her contribution to the catalog, each of these self-portraits displays “a sense of loss or displacement and pain. More directly stated, in these paintings Hesse’s real beauty was transmogrified into the ghastly.” Claustrophobia and aberrant colors abound; skin is thick and dripping with paint; eyes are sightless and reflect nothing but violence. These self-portraits, as with the paintings that comprise the first half of the collection, are embodiments of emotional turmoil and existential frustration. They are an early index of a tragic figure who would become one of the most celebrated and compelling female art

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23. Notes from a Native New Yorker: Landmark of the Spirit

Michelle Stein

The second grade at my elementary school studied New York City in social studies every year, and fieldtrips, of course, were an ideal way to put our social studies learning in action.  Annie Polland’s Landmark of the Spirit was a nostalgic reminder of our trip to the Eldridge Street Synagogue and Lower East Side, replete with a trip to a candy store and to the Lower East Side institution Guss’ Pickles.

At the time of our visit, the synagogue was still undergoing the renovation that was completed in 2007.  Writing after the completion of the renovations, Polland looks beyond the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s architecture to the history of its founding and its development as a community institution until 1945, when the mortgage was finally paid and—in celebration—the mortgage papers burned.

Reading Landmark of the Spirit, I was struck by the similarities in Jewish life on the Lower East Landmark of the Spirit Side in the 19th and first half of the 20th century.  The presidents and other congregational leaders of the Eldridge Street Synagogue congregation had to contend with costs of upkeep, the mortgage on the building, the need to attract both cantors and congregants to the Synagogue.  The High Holidays (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) were so heavily attended as to require tickets, of which there are still copies and reproductions of them in the book.  Tickets are still essential to many congregations’ High Holiday services, as depicted in “The Larry David Sandwich,” an episode of the television show Curb Your Enthusiasm, which finds Larry David purchasing tickets for services from a scalper. Of course some things have undoubtedly changed; one of the later chapters discusses women’s contributions to the Eldridge Street Synagogue community, which were not as well documented as those of men in the early years.

The struggle between the Jewish identity that had been cultivated in Europe and creating new communities in New York and the United States as a whole is evident throughout Polland’s text.  The Orthodox community of Kahal Adath Jeshurun (later Kahal Adath Jeshurun and Anshei Lubtz) at Eldridge Street Synagogue had to react and stay popular in a city where many were turning to Reform Judaism.  This began as early as Eldridge Street Synagogue’s opening, which seemed to act in some ways as a testing ground for maintaining Orthodox Jewish communities.

The congregation also had to contend with the move of many leaders from their congregation uptown.  Polland describes the way in which businessmen became the new vision of Jewish male community leaders.  But their wealth is also what led them to new neighborhoods uptown.  It is also clear though, that Eldridge Street Synagogue remained a grounding point for many, no matter where their lives took them.

Nowadays the idea of maintaining a membership in a synagogue after moving seems quite unlikely.  At the same time, this early struggle for identity resonates just as strongly as other elements of Eldridge Street Synagogue’s history.  Today, distinctions between Orthodox and Reform communities are well-defined, but Jewish identity is constantly fluctuating, and institutions shift along with new ideas and trends, or remain true to something they see as more traditional.  Reading about developing American Jewish identity in the past through one of the institutions that served as a cent

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24. The Final (Re)Solution

With so much political activity and talk of revolution in Egypt, Tunisia, and the greater Middle East, perhaps it is time for us to revisit the darker side of resolutions and how regimes can affect the greater course of human history with decisive action. Indeed, when the object of “solving” measures is a targeted group of people, we see a range from humanizing benevolence, in the forms of enfranchisement, emancipation, and liberation, to tragedy—civil violence, slavery, and genocide.

Ian Kershaw’s Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution is a social history of the most infamous atrocity of the twentieth century, presented by one of the most distinguished historians of Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution the period. He fully explores the mindset of the German people in the Third Reich, and Adolf Hitler’s termed “final solution of the Jewish question.” Drawing on research completed over the course of thirty years, Kershaw synthesizes his research to look at three main components: Hitler and the Final Solution; popular opinion and the Jews in Nazi Germany; and the Final Solution in historiography, that ultimately addresses the uniqueness of Nazism for our better understanding. In conversation with then-Editor of the Washington Post Book World, Marie Arana, Kershaw remarked that “the Third Reich shows in vivid form our terrible capacity for evil. But it is important to temper this pessimistic view of human nature with our immense capacity for good. Humanity has—and has had throughout history—a Janus face.” Hauntingly, or even fittingly, like January itself.

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25. Show Notes for Episode 11 of the Yale Press Podcast

Posted by Chris Gondek, Producer/Host of the Yale Press Podcast.

One year ago today, Yale University Press posted the first episode of the show. 12 months, 11 shows and 32 interviews later, and here we are. I wish I could convey in words how much I enjoy doing this show, and how much fun I have had interviewing these men and women. I can only hope for many more anniversaries.

No particularly funny stories in this episode, though I must say that I now have a bit of a William Steig obsession after reading the Steig book. It is currently on the top of my bookshelf, waiting for some other Steig books to keep it company.

Since I won't be posting again until 2008, have a very happy holiday season and thanks for listening.

Chris

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