Staff Picks: Medieval Jews in England, National Lampoon and Poland’s B-DayWhat we're reading—and watching—this week
“THE JEWS OF MEDIEVAL ENGLAND,” ON HISTORY EXTRA
A feature on the website of History Extra charts the arrival of Jews in England after the Norman Conquest in 1066 through the story of a bronze cauldron, known as the Bodleian Bowl. Jews first settled in England in any sizeable numbers in 1070 and the magnificent bronze cauldron, now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, is closely bound up with the fate of the Jews over the following 200 years, before they were expelled in 1290. The Bodleian Bowl was found in a disused moat in Norfolk at the end of the 17th century and its provenance is described in great detail in the article. It was bought in 1742 by Dr. Richard Rawlinson and he bequeathed it to the University of Oxford in 1755. Jews had lived in Oxford from as early as 1075, where they helped establish the university. Merton College was founded with the assistance of a local Jew, Jacob of Oxford, in the 1260s. Balliol and Christ Church Colleges were also endowed with properties bequeathed by their original medieval Oxford Jewish owners.
The article offers other amazing insights, such as the story of a Christian deacon in Oxford, who fell in love with his Oxford Hebrew teacher’s daughter in the early 13th century. In order to marry her he had himself circumcised and converted to Judaism. Sadly, this did not endear him to the authorities and he was found guilty of apostasy and burnt at the stake in April 1222. Medieval Jewish existence in England did not end happily. In July 1290 the entire population was expelled, and it was not until 1655 that Oliver Cromwell (during England’s short-lived experiment as a republic) allowed them to resettle.
There is a certain poignancy in this history for me. I was a graduate student at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, which was founded by Richard Fox, a powerful Bishop of Winchester and adviser to Henry VII and Henry VIII. Corpus now has in its library what has been described as “the most important collection of Anglo-Jewish manuscripts in the world.” These works date back to the 12th and 13th centuries and include a series of volumes apparently commissioned by Christians from Jews, from which to learn Hebrew and study biblical texts in their original language, as well as the commentaries of Rashi and what is thought to be the oldest surviving Ashkenazi prayer book. Moment reported on these texts when they were on display at the Folger Library in Washington, DC last year for the 500th anniversary of Corpus Christi College. The first woman to be awarded a degree from the illustrious Corpus Christi College, Oxford since its foundation in 1517 was the daughter of a German Jewish refugee who arrived in England in 1936. That is none other than…me. —Dina Gold, Senior Editor
“THE GREAT SOCIETY,” AT ARENA STAGE
Fifty-plus years go by quickly as you relive the final days of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in “The Great Society,” the absorbing new play at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC through March 11. It all comes back: the march on Selma with the armed local police and George Wallace on the attack, the arguments for enlarging our forces in Vietnam—with projections above the stage recounting the mounting numbers of Americans killed and wounded, the Watts riots, the assassinations of King and Kennedy, LBJ’s growing dependence on a malevolent J. Edgar Hoover. This play is a sequel to “All the Way,” which won a Tony and was shown on TV. Jack Willis is superb again as LBJ, never off the stage, and the entire cast is superb. I couldn’t help remembering the full page ad from The Washington Post, which I still have, listing thousands of government workers, including my husband, who marched against the Vietnam War, ignoring the warning that they might lose their jobs. The whole period came back vividly, even more so with the constant reminders of today, especially Nixon’s character coming in after the 1968 election declaring that he was going to make the country great again. —Eileen Lavine, Senior Editor
“A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE,” ON NETFLIX
A Futile and Stupid Gesture is the new sort-of biopic that chronicles the rise of National Lampoon and its overlooked co-creator, Doug Kenney. The creators and cast (including Will Forte as Kenney, Seth Green as Christopher Guest, Joel McHale as Chevy Chase, Jackie Tohn as Gilda Radner and Jon Daly as Bill Murray) intentionally made the film surreal and absurd as a tribute to the Lampoon, giving its familiar fame-and-fortune story a silly and skillfully meta structure. —Navid Marvi, Art Director
THE KRAKOWIAK POLISH DANCERS OF BOSTON
On Sunday, February 11, I was lucky enough to attend an amazing concert celebrating 100 years of Poland’s independence at Boston College. Three classical pianists played Fryderyk Chopin pieces, including “Polonasie in A-flat Major, Op. 53.” The Krakowiak Polish Dancers of Boston taught the audience a medley of Silesian dances, and there was a beautiful reading of the famous Polish poem “Lokomotywa,” by Julian Tuwim, in which the Polish words sound like a train. I told the organizers that I work for Moment, named after Poland’s daily Der Moment, and they were thrilled to learn more about the magazine. —Johnna Raskin, Event Manager
“HOW I MOVED MY CAT FROM ISRAEL TO PAKISTAN,” ON NPR.ORG
This delightful article by NPR’s Diaa Hadad chronicles her journey to bring her cat from Israel to Pakistan. Globalization and bureaucracy at it finest! —Sarah Breger, Deputy Editor