Shiva shout out out this week to Madeleine Albright, who passed away at the age of 84. A remarkable woman, feminist, diplomat, first female Secretary of State, was raised a Catholic but found out late in life that her parents were Jewish and converted to Catholicism to avoid being killed by the Nazis. If you havnt’t heard her interviews with Terry Gross, I strongly suggest you take a listen using this link. Click here. But one of my favorite Albright stories came from Kara Swisher from the Pivot this week. She was at a dinner with Albright, and later in the evening, when the two were in the ladies room, Albright was approached by a drunken admirer, who kept saying to her “you go girl!” repeatedly and annoyingly. Albright gracefully acknowledged the woman and without missing a beat said, “thank you, but I really do have to go”, and proceeded to the stall to do her business. That’s diplomacy!
Spring has definitely sprung in New England as evidenced by these nest eggs situated in our fall basket outside the front door. And as I ponder this pending new life, as well as the budding plants in our gardens, I can’t help but reflect on the death, destruction and cloud of war hovering over eastern Europe. Maybe it’s the 24/7 news cycle that creates this Felliniesque fascination for us all, or maybe it’s our innate humanity that catches up with our conscience. Whatever it is, like this crazy evil war, it continues to haunt the world and nag at my normally sunny disposition. And I wonder, will there be spring in Ukraine this year? How many generations will it take before spring in Ukraine looks more like the picture on the left vs the right?
President Zelesnkyy has been busy doing his world tour, desperately and passionately seeking assistance and weaponry to beat back the forces of Putin’s evil. He got an interesting reception in Israel where in his short speech to the Knesset he drew analogies to the holocaust as a way to drive home a point and lay an effective guilt trip on the Israelis. “I have the right to make this comparison”, he said. I personally think the analogy is not much of a stretch, but that sentiment was not shared by many Israeli’s who rightly see themselves as the custodians of the Shoah. Needless to say, his comments set off quite a public debate. Meanwhile, nine of the ten Arab-Israeli MK’s boycotted his presentation completely, mostly due I think to their historical and political ties to Soviet Russia, but don’t quote me on that. I think the Israeli’s of all people, should cut the guy a break and maybe instead of debating the issue, share some Iron Dome defense systems with them instead! Nuf said.
So, what else is happening in the Jewish world you may be asking? And to honor your insatiable need for news of the Jews, here are the carefully curated items selected by my random brain from the pages of The Forward, The Times of Israel, Kveller, JewBelong, and a few other sources that invade my inbox with daily news items. Enjoy!
- Chained woman released from marital bondage – I should have added this item last week, as the day before Purim, known as “The fast of Esther”, is also Yom HaAguna, the annual day denoted by Israel for women whose husbands refuse to grant them a “get”, a religious divorce. The issue of “chained women” is a complex one, particularly in Israel where all marriages and divorces are overseen by a national rabbinate and must conform to its views of Jewish law. There is no such thing as civil marriage or divorce. Under the rabbinate’s interpretation, there is no way to dissolve a legally valid marriage without the consent of the husband. Come on Israel, you can do better than this. But here is a happy ending story of one woman who got her freedom. Click here for more.
- Newly recovered ancient tablet reveals Snidely Whiplash (Bullwinkle show: “Curses, foiled again”) was Jewish – Not really. But, the oldest known Hebrew inscription, found on Mt. Ebal, contains the word “curse” 10 times in a 23-word English translation. “Cursed, cursed, cursed—cursed by the God of YHWH, you will die cursed, cursed you will surely die, cursed by YHWH cursed, cursed, cursed.” What was that all about? To learn more about this ancient discovery, and its meaning beyond the Bullwinkle show, click here.
- Israel sets up field hospital in Ukraine – There are a lot of heroes in wars, and I give some kudos here to these brave front line Israeli health workers risking their lives to help Ukrainian civilians deal with the collateral damage to their bodies and souls. Bravo team Israel! True Mensches! Click here for more.
- Madeleine Albright’s Jewish Roots – As I mentioned earlier, Albright learned of her Jewish roots later in her life. In a series of books, she described how she progressively grew to accept the fact that, although brought up in Catholicism until she converted to the Episcopalian faith to marry the scion of a newspaper fortune, her parents were Jews. Read more here.
- On this week in history: Ehrich Weisz, an escape artist and illusionist, was born on March 24, 1874. You may know him better by his eventual stage name: Harry Houdini. The son of a Hungarian rabbi, he was raised in Appleton, Wisconsin, where, according to legend, he wore tefillin and spoke Yiddish. “Some Houdini historians trace young Ehrich’s interest in magic to his father’s sermons,” Michael Kaminer wrote in 2018. “After seeing the rabbi hold a congregation rapt, the power of performance became clear.” Houdini led the Rabbis’ Sons Theatrical Benevolent Association, which raised money for charity during World War I; Irving Berlin and Al Jolson were also members. Here are some Houdini stories you may not have heard ➤
- ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ undercuts its own Jewish identity: “The new season of the hit show often relied a little too lazily on Jewish comedic stereotypes,” says the Forward’s digital-culture critic, Mira Fox. But the final episodes, available on Amazon Prime Video, give a more sensitive and accurate portrayal of religion, she says, when a major character is in the hospital pondering the existence of God. “It’s too bad that the show doesn’t emphasize the Jewishness of this moment the way it does for nagging or matchmaking,” Fox writes. I have been enjoying the new season, more so than the last. Read her essay ➤
- The 33 greatest Jewish pop songs of all time : The Forward published their version of the 150 greatest Jewish pop songs, then invited readers and music aficionados to nominate their own favorite Jewish tracks. Here’s the list of the songs missed by The Forward, including the Louis Armstrong classic “Black and Blue” — which reader Harold Pupko calls “one of the quintessential expressions of what it feels to be on the receiving end of racial meshugas” — and Judy Garland’s iconic “Over the Rainbow.” Read the story ➤
And hey, there is a new variant making the rounds these days, so take my word for it, and continue to be careful out there!