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From the Editor | January/February 2015

Theo Bikel Gala with Nadine Epstein

From the Editor | January/February 2015

January 1, 2015 in 2015 January-February, Jewish World
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by Nadine Epstein

Take a look at the top of the cover or turn to the masthead on page three. There you’ll see Volume 40, Issue 1, in small type. This line, a publishing tradition, reveals that Moment Magazine is 40 years old. Even though I knew our 40th year would soon be upon us, just reading it gives me a thrill!

The number 40 has special significance in Judaism. The Jews wandered in the wilderness of the Sinai desert for 40 years before they were deemed worthy to enter Israel. Forty years is also a tremendous milestone in the journalism world, especially given that the last decade has been decidedly unkind to magazines. Magazines of all kinds have vanished. Others—such as The New Republic—are undergoing dramatic changes. High-quality journalism and literary criticism are endangered species, as are thoughtful analysis and truly balanced perspectives.

There is a second milestone that goes hand in hand with Moment’s 40th. The magazine’s cofounders, Elie Wiesel and the late Leonard Fein, named it for Der Moment, an independent Yiddish daily that was based in Warsaw and read widely throughout Eastern Europe. It was published between 1910 and 1939, and 2015 is the 105th anniversary of its founding. Der Moment was one of the great lights of Jewish literary and political journalism—and one of the leading publications of Poland’s independent free press between the two world wars. Last summer I experienced yet another thrill when I found the spot where Der Moment’s office was located in the heart of the Jewish district that would become the Warsaw Ghetto.

These are milestones worth celebrating, and we plan to do them justice!

• We will continue our commitment to great journalism. We have an array of exciting and important stories and symposia planned. The May/June issue will be our special 40th anniversary edition.

• We will be holding 40th/105th anniversary celebrations in New York, Washington, DC and Poland. Stay tuned for details.

• In honor of the late Leonard Fein, we will soon be publishing an e-book of his selected Moment writings plus photographs that will be available to download at momentmag.com.

• I will be leading a small expedition of Moment’s friends to Warsaw and Krakow this summer to explore Der Moment’s past and the Jewish role in Poland’s free press. We will also visit the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews and the Krakow Jewish Festival. Renowned Polish writer and Moment contributor Konstanty Gebert will be our journalist-in-residence.

In the meantime, let me tell you a little about this first issue of our 40th year. Here in Washington, DC, where Moment is headquartered, there’s been quite an  uproar over Rabbi Barry Freundel’s arrest on charges of voyeurism at Kesher Israel’s mikveh in Georgetown, and subseqent revelations of his inappropriate behavior with conversion candidates. That sad episode has led to much pain, anger and soul searching, and spurred us to ask the rabbis of our Ask the Rabbis section: How do you decide when a candidate is ready for conversion?

On a national level, religious politics continue to grow more central to American civic discourse. Last fall, Moment held a live symposium, “Religion and the Supreme Court,” in partnership with the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute. We asked a select group of court observers—Robert Barnes of The Washington Post, Tony Mauro of The National Law Journal, Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog, and law professors Stephen Wermiel and Marshall Breger—to discuss how the personal religious beliefs of our current Supreme Court justices may have influenced their rulings. In this issue, we present an expanded print symposium, which also includes interviews with Emily Bazelon, Leslie C. Griffin, Dahlia Lithwick and Sarah Posner. This is an important topic, and after reading about it, I suggest that you watch the original symposium online on C-SPAN.

Internationally, we publish the second in our Democracy in Retreat series, which is supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. This installment goes beyond the headlines to provide insight into the obstacles that Ukraine faces and the reforms it will need to implement to establish a strong democratic government. (Fortunately, democracy in Ukraine appears to be less in retreat than when we originally selected Ukraine as a subject.) Reporter Yigal Schleifer also explores the changing perceptions of Jews in a country with a long and traumatic history of anti-Semitism. In our columns, Konstanty Gebert reflects on Turkey, where he wonders about the implications of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent erratic behavior; Naomi Ragen and Gershom Gorenberg report from Israel, with vastly different perspectives; and Marshall Breger boldly goes where few dare to go—he questions the wisdom of curtailing free speech on American campuses, even when that speech is critical of Israel.

For literature lovers, there’s plenty to delight. We stop by the Portuguese coastal town of Foz, not far from Lisbon, to meet author Richard Zimler. Some say this Long Island-born, Kabbalah-loving, gay Jewish writer and his thriller, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, have awakened modern Portugal to its Sephardic Jewish past. Then there’s Moment Magazine-Karma Fiction Contest’s winning fiction, plus a packed review section including Anne Roiphe on Martin Amis’s new novel, Jonathan Brent on a reexamination of Adolf Eichmann and much more.

For those of you who could not attend Theodore’s Bikel’s 90th Birthday Celebration last November, we’ve included a page of photographs from this wonderful evening. You can also watch the event on our website. It was a night of great music, spoken word and warmth, well worth viewing for a mid-winter pick-me-up. Also online is a delightful tribute video featuring Judy Collins, Kirk Douglas, Leonard Nimoy, Leon Wieseltier, Ruth Westheimer and Peter Yarrow.

Again, welcome to Moment, Year 40! We look forward to celebrating with you throughout the year.

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