From the Editor | Some Safe—and Not So Safe Topics
We were inundated with letters responding to the previous issue’s “From the Editor” column and stories about George Soros. Some expressed disappointment and anger, while others were grateful and supportive. I am not surprised that there is disagreement, but I am saddened by the tone of some of the letters and the assumptions a few readers have made about the magazine.
The letters we received are clear evidence that the American Jewish community is fracturing. On one side, there’s been a powerful lurch to the political right; on the other, a shift to the political left. Those stranded in the center are scrambling to maintain their balance, and are exhausted and turned off by the growing tensions. Complex forces are at play, including worldwide trends such as rising anti-Semitism (see “Ilhan Omar’s Blast from the Past,” and “Why We Need Taboos”) and nationalism (see “Globalism vs. Nationalism”); the nosedive of civility in discourse, in no small part because of social media; and the emergence of political leaders who prefer to whip up fear and divisiveness rather than inspire unity and hope. There are internal debates as well: the never-ending struggle between particularism and universalism in Jewish life, and disagreement over what is the wisest approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As you will see in this issue, the illness of polarization—and it does feel like an illness—has also caught hold in Israel. In my interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, “An Israel Without Hate” , you will meet a leader certain that democracy and security can go hand in hand, and that peace must remain a goal. He warns that a civil war could ensue if a two-state solution is abandoned for one state that transforms the country’s character into something beyond the original Zionist vision. In Naomi Ragen’s column, “Looking Beyond Netanyahu,” about Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, you will glimpse another Israel, where opposing a two-state solution is a top priority, and the courts are seen as subverting the will of the people. This same dichotomy is on display in the latest installment of Moment’s series on George Soros. While Netanyahu and his political allies portray him as a man who protects terrorists and is dangerously anti-Israel, others laud him as a staunch supporter of human rights and a hero to democratic institutions.
Sometimes themes emerge organically in an issue, and the more I think about these pieces as a whole, the more I think that what we are discussing is the fate of democracy. When faced with what they considered existential threats, both the United States and Israel have a history of taking actions that violated human rights. But the beauty of democracy has always been its space for dissent and, eventually, accountability. Without strong civil society groups defending that space, this is less likely to occur.
Journalists also operate within this space. Our goal is to provide reliable information so citizens of a democracy can make informed decisions that lead to accountability—and better government. Not that long ago, this seemed easier: It felt as if the majority of Americans, Jews included, shared certain values about life and liberty. The political pendulum swung less radically and spent most of its time passing through the middle.
Given the current environment, I cannot promise that you will agree with everything Moment publishes. I can only promise you that our editors are careful curators and that, if you read to the end of a story, you may stumble on something worth learning. Our goal is to dig deep, introduce you to thinkers and leaders who are knowledgeable, and produce thought-provoking reporting grounded in facts and evidence.
In this issue, you’ll find plenty to think about. In addition to the aforementioned pieces, we look into Israeli political slogans just in time for April’s elections. They prove an intriguing prism through which to view Israeli political history. Our symposium, “How Is Your Judaism Different From Your Parents’?” gives millennials a chance to be heard. Their answers reveal ways in which they are truly unique, and yet are confronting the same issues and life passages as their parents and grandparents before them.
We can also guarantee some safe topics for conversation this Passover. Have you missed farfel, schav, stuffed veal and homemade gefilte fish? Have you ever heard of russell or apple charlotte? We trace the cultural changes that have led certain dishes to disappear from seder tables. And there’s a detective story: More than 70 years after a Jewish woman in the Kovno Ghetto bravely smuggled her family photo album to a Christian woman on the other side of the wall, dedicated sleuths found her surviving relatives through good old-fashioned research and Facebook.
We have a dynamite books section. Geraldine Brooks reviews Nathan Englander’s new novel, kaddish.com, and Vivian Gornick reviews The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky. Moment literary contributor Robert Siegel takes on both Deborah Lipstadt’s Antisemitism: Here and Now and Marc Weitzmann’s Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France (And What It Means For Us), and Moment Institute Fellow’s Ira Forman conducts a fascinating interview with Deborah Lipstadt.
Have a wonderful Passover. May the conversation at your seder table be rich in thought and fulfilling!