From The Editor // November/December 2016
This incredibly polarizing presidential campaign and election are finally behind us. To quote from Robert Hunter’s lyrics in the Grateful Dead song “Truckin’,” “…what a long, strange trip it has been.”
This was a campaign like no other in my memory. Along with so many Americans, I was horrified by the angry rhetoric regularly hurled at immigrants, women, Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, and, yes, Jews. And like so many American Jews, I was continually surprised by how many times Jews, Judaism and various Jewish-related controversies came to dominate the news cycle. Although accustomed by now to playing a prominent role in presidential elections, American Jews today are less used to this kind of attention. Sadly, this campaign will be remembered for numerous incidents that either were discomfiting to Jews or, in some cases, constituted outright anti-Semitism. In this issue, Moment looks back at a few of those incidents that our editors found particularly troubling. We also publish an interview with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, a staunch conservative, in which she talks about her evolution from a Jeane Kirkpatrick fan to a Romney supporter to a member of the Never Trump club.
Each edition of Moment has a way of taking shape around a theme, and this one is no different. American Jews and their relationship to Israel was a major concern of our late founders Leonard Fein and Elie Wiesel when they started the magazine in 1975. There have always been two broad tendencies among American Jews—universalism and particularism—as Fein once pointed out in these pages, and this distinction has, in part, informed their stances regarding Israel. Although not everyone would agree, our impression is that the ties between American Jews and the Jewish state are now stretched thinner than ever and may be in danger of breaking if the issues that separate them are not addressed.
Our cover symposium wades into these tensions and deep emotional ties. Scholars, journalists, leaders, rabbis and others, including Yossi Klein Halevi, Dov Waxman, Julie Schonfeld, Ethan Bronner, Elliott Abrams, Daniel Gordis, Hasia Diner and Lisa Goldman, share their very different perspectives. These articulate, thoughtful responses form a nuanced spectrum of opinion that should be read by every American Jew today—and by Israeli Jews as well.
Lest we forget that the earth was still turning on its axis while we were consumed with deciding who would lead the free world, two of our opinion pieces remind us. Columnist Gershom Gorenberg zooms in on Israel, on the Western Wall, or Kotel, in particular. The much-vaunted agreement to expand it to include worship space for non-Orthodox Jews has fallen apart. Gorenberg warns against fixating on the Kotel, which he believes is but one skirmish in the larger struggle for religious freedom in Israel. Michael Rubin catches us up on another important development, the recent rapprochement between Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey and Israel.
Meanwhile, as you will see in this issue, Jewish culture is flourishing. We review Michael Chabon’s new tome, Amos Oz’s first novel in 10 years and a collection of essays on anti-Semitism compiled by the late Robert Wistrich. You’ll learn new Yiddish words for modern inventions, such as shoys-komputer (laptop) and blitspost (email), proving that Yiddish remains a living language. We take you to an exhibition celebrating medieval Jerusalem, and we recount the history of Hanukkah gelt. Plus, we give you a taste of latkes—my dad’s latkes, to be exact.
We publish a powerful piece of fiction, “Turboatom,” by Steven Volynets. His story is the 2016 winner of our Moment Magazine-Karma Foundation Short Fiction Contest. You may not have heard his name before, but we predict that you will hear it again. Noted author and contest judge Nicholas Delbanco had this to say about his story: “From first to final sentence the language is vivid and clear,” he writes. “The narrator moves through space and time with easy authority, and the subject—Chernobyl and its lethal aftermath—is an important one. Told from childhood’s vantage, with a retrospect and overlay of adult knowingness, this homage to a martyred father makes nuclear catastrophe come, in the literal sense, home. The ‘halo of green glow’ alluded to at story’s start becomes an all-embracing blaze, and much gets lost or wrecked. But there’s hard-won survival as well, and the confrontation at tale’s end amounts to ‘…living proof that I once had a childhood and home, a ravaged history all of my own.’ Great power here; great grace of utterance, and the story should be widely read ‘lest we forget.’”
You can find “Turboatom” on page 46 and our interview with Volynets on page 53. Hear him read from his story, as well as listen to a conversation on memory and writing between Delbanco and U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, at our contest award and literary evening on November 15 in Manhattan. This evening will be dedicated to the memory of our late fiction editor and dear friend, Alan Cheuse.
I also want to personally invite you to our annual benefit in support of the magazine and its projects. On December 18, we will be holding our 2016 Gala and Awards Dinner in Washington, DC. We will be remembering Elie Wiesel with music and words. To learn more about this special evening, turn to page 17 or visit momentmag.com/2016-gala.
We work hard to keep the conversation calm, civilized and balanced, while amplifying voices that would otherwise go unheard. This is not an easy task, and we cannot do it without you. Help us by giving Moment subscriptions as Hanukkah gifts to your friends and family, and make a year-end contribution to support our work.
Thank you and happy Hanukkah!