The ProsenPeople

Book Cover of the Week: The Story of Hebrew

Thursday, February 02, 2017 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

If I had to sum up this book cover in one word, it would be “AMEN”:

Lewis Glinert’s linguistic history The Story of Hebrew boasts one of the loveliest covers of 2017 yet, with the word Hebrew spelled out in its own language and stretched across the full length of the book jacket in luscious watercolor calligraphy. For those beckoned by the deepening shades and delicate wisps of blue scrawled against the volume’s blank canvas of textured white, dive into the speech, preservation, and literature of Hebrew from the opening verse of Genesis through ancient Israel, the two-century Diaspora, and the modern period of post-Holocaust Judaism.

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Lion Feuchtwanger: An Author Never Out of Print But No Longer Known

Wednesday, February 01, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Alan Judd about the personal encounters with British Jewry that led to his latest novel, The Kaiser’s Last Kiss. Alan is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

The German-Jewish novelist Lion Feuchtwanger (1884 – 1958) was brought to my attention by a friend and colleague in the Foreign Office, himself of Jewish extraction. He gave me a copy of Feuchtwanger’s best known novel, Jew Süss, telling me it was about power and Jewishness and that it could prove a manual for anyone with ambitions to rise in any bureaucracy. I think he was right, although in my own career I tended to float up with the tide rather than achieve distinction through ability and manipulation.

It is a great novel, exotic, sensual and vivid, set in an eighteenth-century German statelet and inspired by the history of Joseph Süss Oppenheimer. It begins:

A network of roads, like veins, was strung over the land, interlacing, branching, dwindling to nothing.

Not a sensational first line, but one that tells you you’re embarking on a story told in a leisurely manner, detailed and visual, leading somewhere. You know you’re in good hands. First published in Germany in 1925, Jew Süss was translated by Willa and Edwin Muir for publication in English in 1926. Helped by an enthusiastic review from Arnold Bennett (“It entertains, it enthrals, and simultaneously it teaches; it enlarges the field of knowledge,”)the book rapidly went through five printings and, by 1931, translation into 17 different languages.

I possess a signed first edition, rough-cut, number 26 of 275 numbered copies, which I picked up for £2. You can still do that with Feuchtwanger because, despite the fact that he has rarely if ever been completely out of print, he is no longer widely known.

I then began collecting and reading others of his works, usually for next-to-nothing in second-hand shops. My favourite after Jew Süss is his Josephus trilogy, a convincing evocation of that equivocal Jewish-Roman historian and general. Again, Feuchtwanger demonstrates his profound insight into the mechanisms and costs of the quest for power. I found an early 1950s book on contemporary German authors in which he was given almost as much space as Thomas Mann.

Next I found a printed script of the 19,34 film of Jew Süss, made in Britain by Lothar Mendes and starring Conrad Veidt. I learned that the Nazis also filmed the book in 1940, predictably as antisemitic propaganda. I’ve never seen either, but it is surely a tribute to the artistry of the book and its author that, with some distortions, it permits of two conflicting interpretations. So why isn’t Feuchtwanger better known?

Feuchtwanger left Germany for a tour of the United States in 1933, already an early and influential opponent of the Nazis and, possibly as a result of his First World War military experience, a proponent of the Left. While he was abroad his citizenship was revoked and he was designated ‘Enemy of the State Number One’. He never returned to Germany, living in the south of France until imprisoned early in the Second World War. He escaped—just—and was given asylum in the United States, settling with other escaping writers in California.

Feuchtwanger fell under suspicion in the McCarthy era, unsurprisingly given the communist sympathies evident in his book, Moscow 1937, an account of his state-sponsored travels in Russia, in which he praises Stalin and defends the show-trials. Although in the foreword he appears uneasily defensive, his text unhappily demonstrates that there are none so blind as those who will not see. He even excused Soviet antisemitism by proclaiming that in Jewish villages “the surprising absence of people between the ages of fifteen and thirty—of young women as well as men—lies in the fact that the whole of Jewish youth goes to the towns to study.”

Could this have tarnished his reputation and played a part in its posthumous disappearance? Maybe. It would be interesting to know whether Feuchtwanger reacted publicly to Kruschev’s 1950s revelations of Stalinist atrocities. Whatever accounts for it, over half a century later Feuchtwanger remains an unjustly neglected writer whose insights into the nature of Jewishness and anti-Jewishness, formed in the crucible of the twentieth century, are still unhappily relevant.

Alan Judd is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of The Kaiser’s Last Kiss, his eleventh novel, and two biographies. He currently writes for The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph.

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A Traveler Without a Ticket

Monday, January 30, 2017 | Permalink

Alan Judd is the author of The Kaiser’s Last Kiss, a novel exploring the intricate relationships within the exiled home of Kaiser Wilhelm during World War II. Alan is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

Photo: Colin Bell

I grew up in a village outside London during the years following World War II. What we now call the Holocaust was less widely known then, and I was largely unaware of Jews or Jewishness. The only incident I recall from childhood is a conversation over tea at my grandparents’ house. It must have been a Saturday, because we always had tea with them on Saturdays, and there must have been remarks about Jews which I’ve forgotten. What I do recall is my grandfather’s response, suggesting that the conversation might have been casually antisemitic in the Jews-are-mean-with-money vein that was unremarkable in those days. My grandfather’s job involved walking the streets of East London, checking people’s electricity meters and collecting payments. I remember him intervening with, “No, but I’ll tell you one thing about the Jews: you can trust them. If I call and they haven’t got the money and they promise to pay if I call back later, they always keep their word.”

My school was a state secondary. I remember nothing about Jewishness there except for one boy in our class who was often bullied, mocked, and picked on. His name was Joel; it was only years later that I realized the name had Jewish connotations (unlikely as it seems now, I was so unaware that it never even occurred to me at the time that such names as Abrahams, Moses, Cohen, etc. were Jewish). But I don’t think poor Joel’s presumed Jewish origins were the reason he was picked on, unless we assume some unconscious group impulse. He was small, weak and passive and my classmates were unfortunately like the bantams my grandparents kept at the bottom of their garden: they pecked the weaker ones to death.

The next stage in my unconscionably slow awakening occurred in the army, when a friend rehearsed the (to me, novel) thesis that the creation of a Jewish homeland might paradoxically have weakened the achievements and contributions to human progress of the word-wide Jewish Diaspora by focussing identity on territory rather than on matters of the mind and spirit. This made me more aware of Jewish contributions to learning and the arts, though I remained lamentably uninformed.

Then, when I was at Oxford, I shared a house with a friend of Eastern European Jewish origins. His consciousness of his roots and our late-night discussions awakened me. It helped that I was reading philosophy and theology and was thus aware of the formative influence of Judaism on Christianity and our contemporary secular morality. My friend had a volume of George Steiner’s essays, including one on Kafka which he annotated so aggressively that it got me reading Kafka myself. (My friend later confessed he hadn’t read him at all, but he didn’t see that as a bar to strong opinions).

Gradually, I became aware that a significant number of my friends were of Jewish extraction, a process that accelerated when I joined the Foreign Office. Despite its perceived pro-Arab bias, an internal historian there used to say that the Office was sustained throughout the twentieth century by Jews and Catholics. One colleague, a friend and mentor whose trading ancestors had over centuries been driven westwards from southern Russia by successive pogroms, introduced me more widely to the writings of Jewish authors, beginning with Leon Feuchtwanger.

This process continued after I left the Foreign Office, perhaps unsurprisingly given that I mixed partly in journalistic and literary circles. It has never been a deliberate quest on my part; I have never sought out people because they were Jewish but increasingly I found that many of those I was drawn to, whose humor I shared, whose abilities I respected and whose friendship I valued were wholly or partly Jewish. I have always found it easy to identify with them, especially with those prepared to articulate their Jewishness.

I’ve asked myself why this should be, without any clear conclusion. To ascribe it to an unconscious inclination or yearning merely begs the question. So far as I know, there is no Jewish blood in my ancestry, though for a while I rather hoped there was on the assumption that Judd—my mother’s maiden name—derives from the German Jude. (It’s most likely Scottish.)

So there you have it: a free rider so far as Jewishness is concerned, a traveler without a ticket. But I’m enjoying the journey.

Alan Judd is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of The Kaiser’s Last Kiss, his eleventh novel, and two biographies. He currently writes for The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph.

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Ernestine Rose, Judenschmerz, and Me

Friday, January 27, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Bonnie S. Anderson explored the Jewish identity of subject of her book The Rabbi's Atheist Daughter: Ernestine Rose, International Feminist Pioneer and why she would have been at the front of the Women’s March on Washington this past weekend. Bonnie is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


The word Judenschmerz, which literally means “Jewish pain,” was coined in the first quarter of the nineteenth century to denote the difficulties of still being identified as Jewish when one has converted from Judaism to Christianity. Often used about the German poet Heinrich Heine, it came to mean suffering from antisemitism when a Jew no longer believes in religion.

Growing up in a nominally Jewish family in New York City of the 1950s, I experienced this pain. My mother had been raised in Ethical Culture, a self-defined “religion centered on ethics rather than theology” with a progressive, largely Jewish membership. My father was an atheist who believed that all religions were a force for evil and all believers stupid. We children were taught nothing about Judaism, never went to temple, and celebrated Christmas and Easter, which my father considered to be “American.” But the greatest family sin was to deny you were Jewish.

In those years, life in New York was segregated along religious lines: there were Jewish buildings, Jewish law firms, Jewish dancing schools. My first experiences of antisemitism occurred at Brearley, an elite private girls’ schools unique for having 25% Jewish students—the others in its cohort were almost exclusively Christian. When I told our headmistress that I wanted to apply to the women’s college at Harvard, she said I wouldn’t get in because “they have a Jewish quota.” I wondered why the head of this prestigious school supported such discrimination. When I interviewed at the women’s college at Brown, I was told that “girls like me” were not very happy there. “What do you mean, ‘girls like me’?” I asked. “Dark girls from New York City,” she replied. Since I was only accepted there, I was nervous about going.

I actually had a fine time. I encountered more antisemitism when I married and changed my maiden name, Sour, to Anderson. Assuming I was not Jewish, a number of my husband’s associates freely voiced antisemitic views, calling my city “Jew York,” saying someone had “jewed them down,” remarking that “all Jews are stingy.” When I wrote my first book with my best friend, Judith Zinsser, who is not Jewish, we used to trick people by asking, “Who’s the Jew?” and then telling them they were wrong.

All this was far milder than the antisemitism Ernestine Rose (1810 – 1892) encountered in the United States. She lost her faith in Judaism at seventeen, became an atheist, and frequently lectured for freethought as well as feminism and anti-slavery. Although she experienced far more prejudice against atheists than Jews, documents reveal at least two instances of antisemitism in her life.

In 1854, Lucy Stone, a co-worker in the women’s rights movement, wrote Rose’s closest female friend, Susan B. Anthony, that since Rose’s “facewas “so essentially Jewish,” and she was “avaricious,” she should not be allowed to represent women’s rights. Although Stone continued this criticism, Anthony paid no attention and continued to place Rose in important roles within the movement.

A more serious instance occurred ten years later, when Horace Seaver, editor of the freethought Boston Investigator newspaper, published a series of antisemitic editorials. Antisemitism directed at the ancient Hebrews had a lengthy tradition within freethought, but Seaver, previously Rose’s friend and champion, now attacked modern Jews, writing that Judaism is “bigoted, narrow, exclusive, and totally unfit for a progressive people like the Americans, among whom we hope it may not spread.”

Ernestine Rose initially answered her friend with humor: “I almost smelt brimstone, genuine Christian brimstone” when I read your piece, “Would you drive them out of Boston… as they were driven out of Spain?” She cited the widely accepted stereotype of “the renowned ‘Yankee,’ who, it is admitted by all, excels the Jew” as a “cunning, sharp trader” and concluded by writing “I know there are honest, honorable Yankees as well as Jews;” you “are one of the very best.”

Seaver responded viciously. “If the Yankees, as a class, like money as well as the Jews,” he replied, “we question whether so many of the former would be found in the ranks of the Union Army. They would be more likely to stay at home to deal in ‘old clothes,’ at a profit of ‘fifteen per shent.’”

This angry correspondence continued for eight weeks. Neither convinced the other. Ernestine Rose stopped writing to the Investigator for almost five years. But she did later resume her friendship with Seaver and expressed great sorrow when he died.

I felt a deep connection with Rose over our similar experiences with Judenschmerz, one of the critical reasons I decided to write her biography. I decided, however, not to put myself in the book, and have never written about this subject before. I hope Rose’s story—and my own—reaches and resonates with readers today, who have encountered religious, racial, or social prejudice in their own lives.

Bonnie S. Anderson taught history and women's studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York for over thirty years. A pioneer in the field of women's history, Anderson lectures throughout Europe and the United States on women’s movements, international feminism, the history of sexuality, and women’s issues today.

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Jewish Book Council Staff Picks for January 2017

Thursday, January 26, 2017 | Permalink

Did you set new reading goals for 2017? So did we! Check out how the Jewish Book Council staff is kicking of a new year of reading!

Evie

Carolyn

Mimi

Suzanne

Families! From dysfunction to love! Judy Batalion’s memoir White Walls is about living with mother who exists in piles of junk and stuff, grandparents that are Holocaust survivors, and a life of total dysfunction. Through reading this story we can all see something to relate to in one's own mother-daughter relationship.

Naomi

Just started reading David Grossman’s latest, A Horse Walks into a Bar!

Carol

Moonglow is Michael Chabon at his creative and joyful best: playful and serious, musical and surprising, with tremendous imaginative reach. For me, one of his best!

Becca

Conceived of long before the last election, Tell Me How This Ends Well is set in a dystopian United States in which casual anti-Semitism is the norm. It's been fascinating—and chilling—to read about this society that eerily reflects the political trends of today.

Joyce

Mary Glickman had me hooked from the beginning with the richly drawn characters and settings of An Undisturbed Peace.

Miri

Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife is a WWII book unlike most others—not only does it feature detailed zoological descriptions, it exists in a world where almost everyone is part of the underground resistance against the Nazis.

Nat

I constantly advocate for reading literature that challenges your personal perception of the world, so to start off the new year I decided to follow my own advice with Salt Houses by Hala Alyan, a novel about a Palestinian family forced from their home in Nablus during the ’67 War, following four generations from Kuwait to Lebanon to Boston and back. I also read Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s Waking Lions, a similarly challenging novel about love, corruption, and racial tensions in Israel’s Negev Desert.

                        

This week I’m picking up Vulture in a Cage, a new translated collection of the poetry of Solomon ibn Gabirol, and following up last week’s reread of Lynn Povich’s memoir The Good Girls Revolt with Bonnie S. Anderson’s biography of Ernestine Rose, The Rabbi’s Atheist Daughter. Bonnie, Lynn, and All the Single Ladies author Rebecca Traister will be speaking about Jewish women’s movements throughout American history as part of Jewish Book Council’s third season of Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation—if you’ll be in New York this spring, see below for more details!

Good Girls, Nasty Women: Gender and American Jewish History

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 | The Jewish Museum, New York City

Disappointed Amazon's Good Girls Revolt was cancelled after the first season? Hear from award-winning journalist Lynn Povich, the author of the memoir upon which the show was based, in conversation with Ernestine Rose biographer and women's historian Bonnie S. Anderson and Rebecca Traister, journalist and author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Discover the Jewish women behind history's great revolutions and contemporary movements, from the activists of America's Antebellum to the women's liberation stirrings of the midcentury—to today's "nasty" women—at Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in New York City!

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How Jewish Was Ernestine Rose?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Bonnie S. Anderson explained why the subject of her book The Rabbi's Atheist Daughter: Ernestine Rose, International Feminist Pioneer would have been at the front of the Women’s March on Washington this past weekend. Bonnie is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


Born in 1810 to a Polish rabbi and his wife, Ernestyna Potowska, as she may have been called then—her Hebrew names have been lost to history—was raised as an Orthodox Jew. (Virtually all Jewish families were Orthodox then—the nascent Reform movement was just starting in Berlin.)

Educated by her father, Ernestine was taught skills usually reserved to boys: learning Hebrew and reading Torah. Early on, she began to ask questions, as Jewish boys were supposed to do. “Little girls must not ask questions,” her father declared, a pronouncement that she later said made her “an advocate of religious freedom and women’s rights.” At 12 years old, she tested God’s approval of her community’s stricture that “You must keep the Sabbath unto the breaking of a piece of straw.” When the deity sent no sign to stop her doing this, she “broke with the God of Moses and began her break with any personal God.”

She went through the motions of practicing her religion for a few more years, unwilling to finalize the breach with her father, whom she adored. But in her mid-teens she completely renounced Judaism—and with it, all religious belief. She later argued that to Jews, it was all or nothing; Christians could rotate among various denominations, but for the Jew “there is but one step between his religion and Atheism.” If one “takes one step in advance, he is out of darkness, into the broad light of day.” For the rest of her long life, Ernestine Rose, as she became when she married in 1836, identified as an atheist, lectured ardently for free thought, and repudiated all religions as “superstition.”

But can you ever leave the Tribe? I have written elsewhere in these columns about Rose’s experiences of antisemitism, but here I am interested in how much her Jewish upbringing shaped her adult values. After settling in England in 1831, she found a “new father,” the eminent industrialist-turned-radical Robert Owen. Rose became Own’s “disciple” and embraced his philosophy for the rest of her life. Owen believed that the religion of the “New Moral World” he hoped to create consisted in “promoting the happiness of every man, woman, and child[…] without regard to their class, sect, party, or color.” Rose consistently praised Owen’s patience, benevolence, charity, and kindness and made his ideals her own. The egalitarianism of this philosophy demanded human rights for everyone: “white and black, man and woman,” Rose declared, “humanity’s children are all one and the same family, therefore there should be no slaves among them.” In the United States, she consistently linked women and slaves. “Like or unlike, he [the black man] is a human being, and I will use the same argument with regard to him that I use when pleading—no, not when pleading—when claiming the rights of woman,” she declared in 1855.

Owenite philosophy did away with the Christian concept of Original Sin and refused to blame anyone—not the misogynist nor the slave-owner—since people’s characters and values were formed by the society in which they lived. “An entire change in the character and condition of mankind” can be brought about by “philosophical inquiries into the nature of the causes that produce depravity, vice, and misery,” Rose maintained. Restoring the rights of women and slaves would benefit men and whites as well. It would be “in the interest of all….all are one in the race.” Social and political reform can heal the world.

This ideal consitutes the Jewish ethic of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Found in classical rabbinic literature, this concept may have been conveyed to the young Jewish girl during her studies with her father in Poland. Whether in England or America, this ideal motivated Ernestine Rose’s amazing activism, leading her to tour and lecture, to join conventions and sponsor meetings, to write and petition. Throughout her career, she attempted to make the world a better place for women, for slaves, and paradoxically, for non-believers. I believe that even as an outspoken atheist, she remained committed to this basic Jewish precept.

Bonnie S. Anderson taught history and women's studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York for over thirty years. A pioneer in the field of women's history, Anderson lectures throughout Europe and the United States on women’s movements, international feminism, the history of sexuality, and women’s issues today.

Good Girls, Nasty Women: Gender and American Jewish History

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 | The Jewish Museum, New York City

Disappointed Amazon's Good Girls Revolt was cancelled after the first season? Hear from award-winning journalist Lynn Povich, the author of the memoir upon which the show was based, in conversation with Ernestine Rose biographer and women's historian Bonnie S. Anderson and Rebecca Traister, journalist and author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Discover the Jewish women behind history's great revolutions and contemporary movements, from the activists of America's Antebellum to the women's liberation stirrings of the midcentury—to today's "nasty" women—at Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in New York City!

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Book Cover of the Week: On Turpentine Lane

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

It’s been kind of a topsy-turvy week, so the image of a quaint suburban house ripped from the earth and spun like Dorothy Gale’s twister-borne home feels about right at the moment:

As bizarrely inviting as the picture is, it’s the details that make this book cover special: the flying SOLD sign, the sensible brown shoe flying off the foot one of the three figures rattling around inside the suspended house, the sheet of paper blown against the leg of another, the plaid lining of the open trench coat… The detail of the illustrations translates the care with which Elinor Lipman has crafted the Jewish family at the heart of her latest novel. On Turpentine Lane follows private school director of stewardship Faith Frankel as she struggles with an absent fiancée, a cloying mother, an unfaithful father with illusions of artistic grandeur, and an officemate whose friendship might be growing a little too close…

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Agitate! Agitate! Ernestine Rose and the Age of Trump

Monday, January 23, 2017 | Permalink

Bonnie S. Anderson is the author of The Rabbi's Atheist Daughter: Ernestine Rose, International Feminist Pioneer, a biography of “the queen of the platform” for women’s rights, free thought, and abolition in the mid-nineteenth century. In response to current events in the United States, Bonnie is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


The healthiest way I coped with the election of Donald Trump was to write blog entries about Ernestine Rose, the subject of my recent biography. Rose, who lived from 1810 to 1892, spent her career combatting society’s inequities. She persevered for decades to implement her ideals.

A few months after she arrived in New York City in 1836, she knocked on doors in lower Manhattan, trying to get signatures on a petition for married women’s property rights. Legal doctrine then maintained that “husband and wife are one person and that person is the husband.” Single women could own property, but anything a married woman possessed or earned, from a salary to a pocketbook, belonged to her husband. At first, Rose gathered only one signature a month. “Some of the ladies said the gentlemen would laugh at them,” she remembered, “Others, that they had rights enough; and the men said the women had too many rights already.” Relying on her own beloved husband’s support, she persisted. She addressed the state legislature in Albany five times on this subject in the 1840s and found allies to work with her. In 1848, the state of New York gave women in future marriages the right to own property, but not their earnings. “This was not much, to be sure,” Rose later remarked, “for at best it was only for the favored few, and not for the suffering many. But it was a beginning, and an important step.”

Ernestine Rose and others labored on. Finally, fourteen years after she started this campaign, New York gave married women complete property rights. Rose celebrated the victory in a public letter:

How has all this been achieved? The answer is, by agitation—conventions and public lectures to enlighten woman on the laws which oppressed her—to enlighten men on the injustice he perpetrated against her….Agitate! agitate! Ought to be the motto of every reformer. Agitation is the opposite of stagnation—the one is life, the other, death.

Rose did not confine herself to property rights. She worked for women’s right to vote, for their ability to hold jobs and positions confined to men, for their right to equal education. But women’s rights were only one of her three chief causes. She labored equally hard for free thought and anti-slavery.

The only one of these three causes she lived to see achieved was the end of formal slavery in the United States. By the time she died at 82, women still did not possess the vote in any nation and atheists like herself remained discriminated against. But she never gave up and even in old age and illness continued to champion her beliefs.

If she were alive today, I know she would have been at the Women’s March on Washington this past weekend to protest Trump’s inauguration. In many ways, Ernestine Rose’s values are the opposite of Donald Trump’s. She set out on her own at 17 years old, not profiting from her father’s business as he did. She consistently believed that all people, “black and white, men and women,” were equal and so should have equal rights; by contrast, Trump and his father refused to rent their properties to black people into the 1970s. Rose defended prostitutes as victims of male desire; Trump has justified men’s sexual attacks on women. Near the end of her life, Rose argued that all people—“the Christian, the Mahomatan, the Jew, the Deist, and the Atheist”—can “reform the laws so as to have perfect freedom of conscience, the right to think and express our thoughts on all subjects.” Trump’s campaign denigrated Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, and disabled people.

So no matter how disheartened you may feel by his recent election, I urge everyone to battle on. Don’t mourn, organize! Let the Women’s March be the first of many events championing our values and ideals. Follow Rose’s heroic example and agitate, agitate! It is the only way to change the world.

Bonnie S. Anderson taught history and women's studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York for over thirty years. A pioneer in the field of women's history, Anderson lectures throughout Europe and the United States on women’s movements, international feminism, the history of sexuality, and women’s issues today.

Good Girls, Nasty Women: Gender and American Jewish History

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 | The Jewish Museum, New York City

Disappointed Amazon's Good Girls Revolt was cancelled after the first season? Hear from award-winning journalist Lynn Povich, the author of the memoir upon which the show was based, in conversation with Ernestine Rose biographer and women's historian Bonnie S. Anderson and Rebecca Traister, journalist and author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Discover the Jewish women behind history's great revolutions and contemporary movements, from the activists of America's Antebellum to the women's liberation stirrings of the midcentury—to today's "nasty" women—at Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in New York City!

Related Content:

Reading the Holocaust

Thursday, January 19, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Peter Hayes introduced readers to the teachers named in the dedication and acknowledgements to his book Why?: Explaining the Holocaust. Peter is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


While writing Why?: Explaining the Holocaust, I tried to address two groups of readers at once: people new to the subject, and people well informed about it. My goal was to open understanding to novices and to extend or sharpen the knowledge of veterans. Readers will decide whether I succeeded in this chancy undertaking. But the effort made me think about authors who have done so. What other books on the subject can be recommended as both readable and reliable to both newcomers and old hands?

Of course, the classic such works—e.g., several by Primo Levi, Saul Friedländer’s two-volume Nazi Germany and the Jews, and Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men—remain indispensable, but I can think of a number of lesser known or newer titles that should have similar resonance.

Let me start with three outstanding books that emerged from family histories and powerfully foreground personal experience, Edmund de Waal’s elegiac The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010), Göran Rosenberg’s searing A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz(2012), and Modris Ekstein’s harrowing Walking Since Daybreak (1999). De Waal artfully portrays the rise and dispersal of a European Jewish family through the story of one of their possessions, a collection of miniature Japanese carvings (netsuke). Rosenberg tells the story of his father, a survivor of the death camp and much else, as he tries to rebuild life in postwar Sweden and descends into despair and suicide. Ekstein, a non-Jewish Latvian who became an accomplished historian in Canada, immerses you so intensely in the cauldron of conflicts in his native region during the era of the World Wars that you feel its multi-dimensional tragedy. When you reach the end of each of these profound and graceful books, you will want to start again—when you can bear to.

My other recommendations consist of knowledgeable and accessible responses to central questions about the Holocaust. Certainly high on any such list is “How does a country become a persecuting society?” as Germany did after 1933. To get an answer, you could hardly do better than to start with Thomas Kühne’s aptly titled Belonging and Genocide (2010), a disturbing demonstration of the dark side of community-building. Another such question is “What kind of people could do such things?” Two illuminating sets of answers emerge from Bettina Stangneth’s Eichmann Before Jerusalem (2014), a book that exposes not only the mentality of a murderer, but also the origins of Holocaust denial, and Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies (2013), which shows that women were not immune to corruption.


In recent years, much of the “action” in Holocaust studies has centered on issues of complicity on the part, to take the most controversial examples, of non-Jewish Poles, foreign governments, the Catholic Church, and even American businesses, both in and outside of Germany. Journalist Anna Bikont’s excellent The Crime and the Silence (2015) is about both what some Poles did to Jews during the war and how stubbornly many Poles have resisted acknowledging such acts ever since. The late Theodore Hamerow’s Why We Watched (2008) draws on numerous contemporary sources in assembling the most vivid and comprehensive account available of how Europeans and Americans justified doing so little to aid Jews. A worthy supplement to his book is Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, FDR and the Jews (2013), which reminds us, despite the biographical focus of the title, that the American public deserves more blame for the shortcomings of national policy than the president at the time. On the choices made by the Papacy and American investors, the sharpest, most absorbing studies are David Kertzer The Pope and Mussolini (2014), which deservedly won a Pulitzer Prize, and Thomas Doherty, Hollywood and Hitler 1933-1939 (2013).


Two fine and concise new books with great pertinence to the present are Deborah Lipstadt’s Holocaust: An American Understanding (2016), which perceptively traces how and why the Holocaust became a prominent theme in American culture, and Michael Marrus’s, Lessons of the Holocaust(2016), a well-reasoned warning against drawing them too readily.

Finally, I want to draw renewed attention to my personal favorite among the pioneers of Holocaust studies, Yehuda Bauer. To experience the good sense, limpid writing, and sharp judgment that he brought to the subject for decades, read Rethinking the Holocaust(2001), a collection of thoughtful topical essays. You will be able almost to hear the British-accented voice of this wise and articulate man as he converses with you.

Peter Hayes currently chairs the Academic Committee at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was from 1980 to 2016 Professor of History and German and from 2000 to 2016 Theodore Zev Weiss Holocaust Educational Foundation Professor at Northwestern University. He writes and lectures widely on German and Holocaust history in the United States and abroad.

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On Dedication(s)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 | Permalink

Peter Hayes is an award-winning educator and the author of  How Was It Possible?: A Holocaust Reader. With the release of his new book Why?: Explaining the Holocaust today, Peter will be guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


A friend of mine says that the most interesting parts of any book are the dedication and the acknowledgements because they reveal most about the author. In the case of my newest book, Why? Explaining the Holocaust, I doubt this generalization will apply. The subject matter is too unsettling and important. But I hope my expressions of thanks will get readers’ momentary attention, especially the dedication. It is to six teachers who changed my life.

Public education was one of the glories of America in the decades just after World War II, which is when I grew up. The first two people I mention opened worlds to me in the middle and high school classrooms of Framingham, Massachusetts. Mary Faherty was a devout Catholic who not only assured that I got confirmed in that faith, from which I already was falling away at the age of thirteen, but who also introduced me to Shakespeare, Browning, and Ibsen, who are not exactly canonical Catholic authors. I ended up a writer, and I might never have become attuned to words as I am without her. James McGillivray taught history as I had never encountered it before: in the spirit of his era, as a subject that focused as much on the “frame of reference” of those who wrote it as on the matters they wrote about. I ended up a historian of a less subjectivist bent, but I might never have been as questioning and skeptical of received wisdom as I am without him (and Ibsen!).

I came in contact with the other four of these mentors at the elite private institutions—Bowdoin, Oxford, and Yale—to which scholarships gave me access. All men (such was the era), they could not have been otherwise more different from each other or from me, the product of a family in which no one had completed college. Athern Daggett was an elderly, endearing New England Yankee who taught constitutional and international law in Mr. Chipsian fashion; John Rensenbrink an intellectual iconoclast and gadfly (and later Green Party leader) of Midwestern Dutch Calvinist heritage who supervised my undergraduate senior thesis on African politics; Tim Mason, a brilliant and charismatic English Marxist specializing in central European history, moved my attention toward Europe and backward in time, and then passed me on to Henry Turner, a classically liberal American scholar and careful prose stylist, who devoted his career to unmasking the easy certainties of marxisant approaches to German history.

What all six of these disparate people imparted was a combination of passion and rigor. They loved and believed in what they taught, and they treated it—and wanted me to treat it—with the kind of respect that hard work indicates. They made participating in their interests seem like the most fascinating thing I possibly could do with my time and energy. That ability to spark is, of course, the kinetic secret to great teaching. It’s also the singular talent that gives the lie to the old saw that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

Good teaching, whether in person in a classroom or at a distance via the pages of a book, requires the capacity to inspire that these people had, along with one other vital component of their magic: empathy, the ability to sense where listeners and readers are, to reach that place, and to bring them to a new location.

All but one of these six individuals is gone now; and the exception is 88 years old as I write. But, whenever and wherever I have taught and written during a long career, they have been constant presences. To a young person whose parents were not very adept in that role, these teachers provided models of why and how to pay it forward. Now, at long last and in a small way, I get to pay them back.

Peter Hayes currently chairs the Academic Committee at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was from 1980 to 2016 Professor of History and German and from 2000 to 2016 Theodore Zev Weiss Holocaust Educational Foundation Professor at Northwestern University. He writes and lectures widely on German and Holocaust history in the United States and abroad.

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