Schindler’s List and Jewish Representation

Written by Maya Gonzales

Photo courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej

Six million Jews were murdered at the hands of the Nazi party in the 1940’s, yet it took fifty years for a Hollywood director to tell the story of the Holocaust. Schindler’s List was the first American film dealing with the Holocaust to be successful among popular audiences in the United States. In typical Hollywood fashion, the story follows hero, albeit member of the Nazi party, Oskar Schindler—a man who saved over one thousand Jewish lives through his private metalworking business. Making the protagonist of a Holocaust film a Nazi was highly controversial throughout the release and critic review of the film, especially in dealing with authentic and meaningful representation of the Jews. Through treatment of interactions between Jews and Schindler, Jews and Nazi officers, and Jews and Nazi terrors, director Steven Spielberg represents the Jewish population ethically in his film.

Jews in Relation to Nazi Violence

In his documentary-style film, Spielberg made sure to address the casual nature of violence done onto Jews in their homes, ghettos, labor camps, and concentration camps. It is a crucial part of telling the Holocaust story. However, showing it is tricky, and possibly dangerous in a work of fiction and recreation. As said by Claude Lanzmann, director of  Shoah, a ten hour Holocaust film featuring only testimonials, with no archival footage or re-enactments: “Fiction is a transgression, I am deeply convinced that there is a ban on depiction. Transgressing or trivializing, in this case they are identical. The series or the Hollywood film, they transgress because they trivialize, and thus they remove the holocaust’s unique character.” A notable moment of questionable recreation in Schindler’s List comes with the first mass grave scene. It shows the horrors of burning ten thousand bodies – people who were murdered during liquidation — with an overwhelming choral soundtrack and camera movement which nearly chases Jews. It brings into question what should and should not be recreated in film. However, the chaos created by this short scene is necessary in showing the reality of the Holocaust to viewers. While hero Schindler stands amongst the burning bodies and looks slightly disheartened, it is impossible to read this scene as an undeniable reality of the past for Jews. The recreation of such horrors adds to the shock of the film’s narrative, as intended. However, it also establishes the Jews as a population being brutally murdered regardless of Schindler’s positive plotline.

Another key scene which represents Jews in relation to the Nazi atrocities being committed on them is the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto. After chasing most Jews from their homes, SS officers hunt down those in hiding. The soundtrack ceases to play; officers stand with stethoscopes listening for footsteps as Jews creep out from their hiding places. As the last group hiding is found with a bright light, and their hands sneak up to surrender, another Jew falls onto a piano – this scene’s catalyst of death. The piano is shot with machine guns, which transforms into a soundtrack of exciting piano music. The weaponed attack on the Jews continues, with ceaseless intensity, until Spielberg stops to show an SS officer playing a new piano in a house being raided. Two officers stop to question what he’s playing, and the ease with which these men deal with murder is apparent. Spielberg uses this intense visual and auditory strategy multiple times throughout the film to emphasize the casual attitude of the Nazis towards bloodshed.

Schindler’s List is shot fully in black and white, as an attempt to create a documentary style film appropriate for looking into the true past. Although meant to give the film an immersive and historical feel, the use of black and white gives the film a dreamlike effect. For example, when the Jews are arriving off their train in Auschwitz after being rerouted, the white snow floating down from the sky and bright light coming from the watchtower combine to make a strange, ethereal effect in an otherwise very dark scene. However, this light is contrasted by dogs barking harshly and German officers shouting, keeping viewers aware of the horror the Jews have just stepped into. Prior to this scene, on-screen emotions are mixed, the journey not yet revealed to have a horrifying destination. Hard contrast is used to light the faces on the train, which are closely filmed with portions of their faces completely dark; often only eyes are showing. This reveals the mixed pool of fear, hope, and defeat for what is unknown ahead; the eyes of the Jewish women speak for themselves. Spielberg uses this close-up filming, as well as light and color, of the Jewish faces in moments of transition, to show the truth behind their reactions to actions both from Schindler and the Nazi officers.

Jews in Relation to Schindler

To contrast the reactions of the Jews when dealing with Nazi terrors and dealing with protagonist Schindler, we can look again to use of lighting and close-ups. In the scene where Schindler’s “Essential Workers” each give their names before boarding the train, their faces are brightly lit. Each shot is focused on only an individual or family, their names, and their faces. This use of detail, coupled with a swelling string soundtrack, emotes the hope given by Schindler to these chosen Jews. This scene is a short lived success, however, as it is directly followed by previously discussed scene on the misdirected train full of other Schindler Jews. This quick switch of tone emphasizes the rarity of hope during the Holocaust, proving that Schindler’s story was not the norm.

Another important exchange of action and reaction between Schindler and the Jews in the film is the “girl in red.” Her pop of color gives the audience, as well as Schindler, momentary hope when she escapes the chaos of the ghetto liquidation. Spielberg briefly creates the opportunity for at least one non-Schindler related Jewish story to have a positive outcome. This is understandably dangerous in his filmmaking and representation of the Jewish genocide, in which millions were murdered. However, she later returns to the screen, her body being carried to be burned in a mass grave. Here, Schindler expresses his first true sign of humanity, of sadness, seeing these atrocities being committed. This use of action and reaction by Spielberg indicates that at some point, even Germans, even a member of the Nazi party, could see the wrong being done onto these people. While it could be misconstrued that there were many Germans sympathetic to the Jewish devastation because of this depiction of Schindler, the opposing Nazi officers shown throughout the film dispute this claim.

Jews in Relation to Nazi Officers

To understand the representation of Jews and their relation to Schindler, who is a member of the Nazi party, one must also look at the representation of other Nazis throughout the film. The ease with which Krakow Commandant Amon Göth shoots Jews from his villa, the way the labor camp SS officer gets frustrated with his failure to murder senselessly, the usage of casual violence in this film, is what makes it iconic; it highlights the ease with which the murder of six million Jews occured. Commandant Amon Göth is a perfect example of casual violence throughout the entire film. As mentioned, we see him playing target practice from his villa balcony with Jewish laborers, an easy and seemingly fun part of his morning. From the first shot fired, the laborers go from walking to running – a clear indication of the fear caused by this officer’s game. He remains a symbol of fear in the Jewish labor camp, even after conversing with Schindler, who subliminally attempts to teach him that not killing would show his true power. He “pardons” a Jew who fails to do his job of removing a stain from Göth’s bathtub, and viewers believe for a moment that Schindler has made an impact on this Nazi’s view of his own relationship to Jews. The boy walks off the villa grounds, his back to Göth; two gunshots are seen on both sides of him, as if to scare him, but as soon as the camera focuses away from the boy we hear the final gunshot and see his dead body on the ground. Spielberg meant to  showing the full reality of the Nazi’s evil; Göth embodies it and fails to falter to humanity, no matter how many chances he is given.

Spielberg’s use of intensity through character interaction, light, and sound in his representation of Jews portrays a vivid and real side of Holocaust, apart from Schindler’s heroism. The terrorized population is shown just as much, if not more often, than Schindler’s Jews, in scenes of both casual and chaotic violence. Spielberg ensures that individuals are the focus of the saved, while the masses are liquidated, worked, and murdered. The six million lost are not forgotten in Schindler’s List, and the last scene of the film reminds us of this. While many find this scene to be warm-hearted, I found myself crying over the fact that history needed a “hero” such as Schindler in the first place. These thousand or so lives were saved, but seeing their tribute to Schindler in color begs the question of how many Jews will never grace the movie screen in such romance and gratitude. The film tells a Hollywood hero story – however, the unsaved Jews play as much of a role in telling the Holocaust story as Schindler himself.


Works Cited

Lanzmann, Claude. “Schindler’s List is an impossible story.” Universiteit Utrecht. Departement Filosofie en Religiewetenschap, 8 June 2012. Web. 28 April 2018.

Schindler’s List. Directed by Steven Spielberg, performance by Liam Neeson, Amblin Entertainment, 1993.

Masculinity, Nationalism, and “In the City of Slaughter”

Written by Nomi Nonacs

Photo courtesy of Почтовая открытка Российской империи

At noon, on Easter Sunday 1903, the “first pogrom of the twentieth century” began in the Russian town of Kishinev. During the pogrom, Kishinev’s 50,000 Jews, roughly a third of the town’s total population, were terrorized and tortured by their gentile neighbors, destroying roughly 2.5 million rubles of personal property and leaving 49 dead—among them two babies and a twelve-year-old—and 495 injured. The global Jewish community responded to the brutality with expressions of horror at the savagery of the gentile rioters and sympathy for the traumatized Jewish citizens of Kishinev. Historian S.M. Dubnov and cultural Zionist Ahad Ha’am created the Historical Commission with the purpose of “uncovering the truth about the events which had taken place in Kishinev.” They chose to send the young Hebrew poet Hayim Nahman Bialik to Kishinev to “collect documents, to interview witnesses and survivors, to take pictures of the damage, to compile statistics and to collate all available published sources.” While Bialik and his two assistants did diligently collect the testimonies of survivors, these were not published until much later, after Bialik had died. Rather, Bialik wrote and published a landmark narrative poem called “In the City of Slaughter” (Heb. “b’Ir haHareiga”) based on what he learned in Kishinev.

The poem itself is a long epic, drawing masterfully from Biblical and Talmudic writings, and, from the perspective of G-d, describes gruesome image after gruesome image—a Jew and his dog, both headless, lying on a mound; a baby unable to suckle from the breast of his dead mother; a mother and daughter both raped by multiple men—that appear in the unnamed “city of slaughter.” It is not, however, the gruesome imagery that makes the poem stand out. Instead, it is Bialik’s unsympathetic depiction of Jewish men who, rather than protect their wives, daughters, and sisters, watched and prayed for their own lives as their women were raped and humiliated. He laments that the “sons of the Maccabees,” a militarily powerful sect of ancient Jews, were so unaffected by the violence committed upon their loved ones, that their only reaction was to visit the Rabbi the next day to ask if they were still permitted to have sex with their raped wives. Bialik’s anger at the perceived cowardice of Jewish men and his call for them to stand up and fight for themselves and their women has made “In the City of Slaughter” the “most famous and influential modern Hebrew poem,” as well as “inspired the creation of Jewish defence [sic] groups in Russia” whose members would later form the Haganah, a precursor to the modern Israeli army.

Despite centering on gendered violence committed against women, “In the City of Slaughter” is undoubtedly for and about men. The Zionist project, to which Bialik certainly contributed, sought to rid Jewish men of the “feminine” qualities they had taken on while living in the diaspora, which had supposedly made them easy targets for antisemitism, and to free them “to reclaim the masculine past of the nation.” For women, however, there was “no real dissonance between their behavior and their gender identity” and thus no reason for transformation. There was no reason for Bialik to shame the raped women for their passivity, as they were not acting outside the expectations of their gender. The male bystanders, on the other hand, are thoroughly feminized, characterized by their cowardice and passivity, and are therefore deserving of Bialik’s condemnation.

This does not necessarily sound like a bad thing. It is admirable to stand up for and protect the weak, and this sentiment is present throughout the Hebrew Bible, which includes multiple stories of brothers who actively seek violent justice on behalf of their raped sisters. This ancient form of masculinity that Bialik implicitly advocates for in his poem prizes seeking justice and punishes those who stand by and allow injustices to occur. It is through the expression of this masculinity that Jewish men were able to protect their communities and survive in the ancient world, and it is this masculinity that they had supposedly lost by 1903. In regaining this masculinity, they could protect their communities, and especially their women.

This gendered “protector-protected” relationship, however, is in actuality rarely beneficial to the oft-feminized protected. Citing this sort of relationship as “natural” or innate justifies vast militarization and, in effect, silences the protected, since those who claim to be protectors also claim the authority to speak on behalf of those they claim to protect. “In the City of Slaughter” depicts a perversion of this relationship, in which the men who would be protectors fail the women they were meant to protect. In the real Kishinev, however, that simply did not happen. The rape described in the poem is based largely on the testimony of Rivka Schiff, which Bialik himself recorded. Schiff’s testimony of her rape is gut-wrenching and difficult to read, but in it she never blames her husband or any Jewish man for what has happened to her. There are even men in her testimony who do try to protect her, including her husband who “gave [her attackers] the silver watch and a necklace” to try to bribe them off of her, before he is beaten and tossed out, and a gentile who tries to convince his co-religionists not to touch her by telling them, “But you are Christians and daughters of Israel are forbidden to you.” In the testimony of Shabtai Schiff, Rivka’s husband, he never mentions witnessing his wife’s rape at all. Many of the men in Kishinev exhibited the masculine traits of the protector, and yet they still failed to protect their charges.

The reality of the Kishinev pogrom is that even when the men are sufficiently masculine and women sufficiently feminine, gendered notions of who protects and who is protected still fail to actually protect women. Rather than show that masculine men can try and fail to protect women, Bialik chooses to create a false narrative of what happened in Kishinev in which feminized men did not try, and therefore failed to protect anyone. This false narrative actively silenced a real female survivor of rape and torture in Kishinev, and has been used by male Zionists to advocate for the transformation of Jewish masculinity into a much more militarized and supposedly “natural” relationship of protector to protected. This masculinity is now intrinsically tied to the Jewish nationalist movement, and bolstered by the messages of the modern Israeli army and education system (which, incidentally, requires teaching this poem).

The past cannot change. It is pointless to fantasize about how different Zionism or even the modern state of Israel would have been if only Hayim Nahman Bialik had published his collected findings at Kishinev instead of “In the City of Slaughter.” Instead, the poem was published, and to this day remains a significant part of Zionist canon, and we have to live with that reality. What we can do is learn from the past and choose a different path. The needs of women are most adequately met when they are able advocate for themselves and be heard by their male counterparts. In the future, we can choose to listen to and share the testimonies of actual victims of gendered violence, instead of second-hand accounts of masculine “protectors” seeking only to reinforce a harmful relationship built on problematic notions of masculinity and femininity, which have repeatedly failed to actually protect women.


Works Cited

Bialik, Hayyim Nahman. “In the City of Slaughter.” In Complete Poetic Works of Hayyim Nahman Bialik: Translated from the Hebrew, Volume I, edited by Israel Efros, 129-43. New York: Histadruth Ivrit of America, 1948.

Dekel, Mikhal. “‘From the Mouth of the Raped Woman Rivka Schiff,’ Kishinev, 1903.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 36, no. 1/2 (2008): 199-207.

Enloe, Cynthia H. “How Does ‘National Security’ Become Militarized?” In Globalization and Militarism: Feminists Make the Link. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

Hutchinson, John, and David Aberbach. “The Artist as Nation-Builder: William Butler Yeats and Chaim Nachman Bialik.” Nations and Nationalism 5, no. 4 (1999): 501–21.

Litvak, Olga. “The Poet in Hell: H. N. Bialik and the Cultural Genealogy of the Kishinev Pogrom.” Jewish Studies Quarterly 12, no. 1 (2005): 101-28.

Mayer, Tamar. “From Zero to Hero: Masculinity in Jewish Nationalism.” In Gender Ironies of Nationalism: Sexing the Nation, edited by Tamar Mayer. London: Taylor and Francis, 2012.

Penkower, Monty Noam. “The Kishinev Pogrom of 1903: A Turning Point in Jewish History.” Modern Judaism 24, no. 3 (2004): 187-225.

Elucidatory Espionage: Matti Friedman’s Spies of No Country

Written by Avery Weinman

Illustrated by Cameron Edwards

What makes a great work about espionage? Is it the pulse-pounding narrative beats? The harrowing accounts of close-call brushes with detection by the enemy? The dizzying revolving door of false identities and fake names? The wildly improbable missions? The tragic accounts of doomed love? The inevitable intruding sharpness of death? Or is it the way in which stories about spies and the world of spying feed our deeply human desire to know about more than just what meets the eye? Is it because they assure us that while most of us go about our banal, routine days there are parallel lives filled with intrigue and consequential grand designs? Is it because they prove to us that our world is full of hidden truths, obscured truths, or partial truths that we may not otherwise see? In his third full-length non-fiction book, Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel, Israeli author Matti Friedman confirms that a great work about espionage is all of these things.

Friedman’s Spies of No Country recounts the stories of four Mizrahi Israelis – Jews whose pre-Israeli heritage comes from the Arab and Islamic world – who spied for the Arab Section of the Haganah in a rag-tag espionage unit that ultimately became one of the foundations for the famed Israeli intelligence agency: the Mossad. These four spies – Gamliel Cohen, Isaac Shoshan, Havakuk Cohen, and Yakuba Cohen (no relation between the three Cohens, just a thoroughly Jewish coincidence) – used their intimate knowledge of the Arab world that all of them were born into to collect vital information and execute covert espionage missions to benefit the Zionist project and the state of Israel in the mid-20th century.

Friedman focuses in on two major periods of these spies’ operations. The first, their missions in the industrial coastal city of Haifa in 1947, during the civil war phase of retaliatory violence between various Zionist and Arab nationalist militias in what became Israel’s War of Independence. The second, their deep-cover and operations out of “enemy territory” in Beirut, Lebanon in 1948, during the period of all-out war between the newly formed Israel Defense Forces and the armies of the Arab world. Over these two years, we come to know these four spies intimately. Which ones are mild, and which ones are hot-tempered. Which ones saw espionage as a solemn responsibility, and which ones saw it as a kinetic adventure. Which ones killed, and which ones never fired a gun. Which ones lived and grew to become old men, and which ones died and did not.

Friedman’s background as a reporter for the likes of The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and the Associated Press, as well as his previous experience as a long form non-fiction writer and pop-historian are both on display as considerable advantages in Spies of No Country. His journalistic senses are to the great benefit of the book’s readability and pacing. Friedman’s style of writing provides the text with vividly drawn characters, locations, and events that both draw the reader in and create real stakes in the spies’ fates. It also propels the story with the kind of snappy urgency that is appropriately fitting for a spy thriller, but may have otherwise been lost in a text more explicitly geared towards academia. To Friedman’s credit, this accessibility does not come at the expense of an intelligent academic framework. Like his two previous books – The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible (2012) and Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War (2016) – Friedman is able to situate interesting stories in greater historical contexts and questions. In Spies of No Country, Friedman uses the stories of these four young Israeli spies to touch upon the Mizrahi experience in Israel and the tensions of Israel’s many precarious identities.

Mizrahi Jews have constituted the Jewish demographic majority of the state of Israel from the mid-1950s through to today, but their stories are generally relegated – often intentionally – to an ancillary footnote in favor of telling the story of Israel through a European-Ashkenazi lens. Mizrahi Israeli lives, stories, experiences, and histories – and the way in which these not only influence Israel’s character, but, as the pasts of the majority of Jewish Israelis, largely define it – are too frequently obscured from the layman’s knowledge about the state of Israel. Spies of No Country provides a glimpse into what feels like a hidden, parallel past in a meta-exercise on the revelatory nature of espionage; this, in itself, is one of the book’s greatest strengths. By complicating the traditionally presented Ashkenazi-centric Israeli history with the presence of four spies whose dark skin, native Arabic, and inherent “Arabness” was precisely what made them such valuable assets, Spies of No Country leaves behind hints for the interested reader to uncover the story of an Israel that they previously may not have known existed at all.

As a first clue – a kind of “your mission, if you choose to accept it” – Spies of No Country provides a gateway to a far larger and more nuanced history of the state of Israel in the guise of a thoroughly entertaining spy thriller. With the narrative and scholarly threads that Friedman introduces in Spies of No Country as square one, the interested reader can continue following the legacy of these Mizrahi Israeli spies by learning about the crucible of Mizrahi immigration to Israel, how and why Mizrahim became (and remain today) the core base of the Likud party, and why taking a five minute walk down the corridors of the Jerusalem shuk feels a lot more like a journey into One Thousand and One Nights than Fiddler on the Roof.

At a succinct and quickly paced 224 pages, Friedman’s Spies of No Country is a simultaneously accessible and rigorous study of Mizrahi Jews who played an indispensable role in the nascence of Israeli espionage and the creation of the state of Israel. With enough spy intrigue and genre-true suspense to entertain the casual reader, enough new insight to engage the dilettante of Israeli history, and enough primary evidence and academic framework to sustain the scholar – Spies of No Nation succeeds as a work of far-reaching value. Friedman’s closing remarks for his opening paragraph ultimately ring true about the book itself: “time spent with old spies is never time wasted.”

Ella and Libbi’s Jewish Childhood: An interview with a 7 and 10-year-old on their thoughts about Judaism

Written and photographed by Tamar Weir

Ella and Libbi are fifth and second graders who live in the Mar Vista community in Los Angeles. They have two Jewish parents: their mother was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and their father was born in Haifa.

Tamar: What is your favorite part about being Jewish?

Ella: I love food. I love Choresh, Tabouli and, Dolme, but those are all Persian foods. I like cooking and I feel like everyone in our family has learned how to cook at least one dish from our culture by practicing together. I like that there are more days of Chanukah then Christmas. It’s like we have 8 days of Christmas, but really it’s Chanukah.

Libbi:  Well, I’m not like everyone else and I get to celebrate different holidays and it makes me different. Being Jewish makes me celebrate different traditions like Chanukah, Shabbat, Passover, [and] Yom Kippur.

T: What is your least favorite part about being Jewish?

E: To me it’s a bit annoying that so many people are talking about Christmas around me and they don’t know much about being Jewish and that when you are Jewish you don’t celebrate these things.

L: When all my friends who are Christian talk constantly about all of the other holidays. They are doing it because it makes me feel upset that I’m not allowed to celebrate a great holiday too.

T: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?

E: My favorite Jewish holidays are Chanukah and Purim. I like Purim because it’s similar to Halloween, and I go to this big fair. It’s really fun to dress up!  I like Chanukah because I get to see my family and we usually go on trips as a family.

L:  Chanukah is my favorite Jewish holiday because I get to eat chocolate gelt. I also get to light candles on the menorah, get presents, and make menorahs. All of those things are really fun.

T: Do you know a lot of Jewish people/ do you have many Jewish class friends?

E: I know a bunch of Jewish people but only a few are in my class. Most of my friends who are Jewish are only half Jewish so it’s more common to me now where people are half Jewish but they celebrate both holidays and both religions.

L: Kinda. I have a lot of friends who are half Jewish and half Christian. A lot of my friends are actually Christian but some are Jewish.

T: How do you think being Jewish affects your day to day life?

E: I don’t know. I think Chanukah is celebrated less than Christmas. I don’t celebrate Easter either.  It affects me because I can say I’m Jewish and I don’t feel guilty about lying, because it is a part of me and my ancestors [and] culture revolve around that.

L: It’s good. It’s interesting because I don’t do a lot of other holidays. I don’t do a lot of the things my friends and people around me do.

T: How do you feel when many people celebrate Christmas?

E: It’s a little annoying because people talk about all of the different presents they are going to get.

L: It kind of hurts my feelings because when they say it in my face it hurts. It hurts because I feel jealous I don’t get to also celebrate those holidays.

T: Do you think being Jewish makes you different or more similar to people you know?

E: It makes me different because I’m not like everyone else. There are more Christian people here but if you go to Israel or Iran, there are more Jewish people and people like me, but here in the U.S.  there are less.

L: It makes me feel more different because my life is different and I get to do more different things they don’t do. At the same time, I get to do a lot of fun things as they do!

T: Do you believe in G-d? If so, what do you think G-d is?

E: I don’t really believe in a god that much because there’s not much to believe. People say that he’s up there and is the ruler of everything but I don’t know. If he was actually real, we would have some sort of sign. Maybe people believe in G-d so that they can feel more protected because there is a magical person watching and guiding them.

L:  Kinda. I kind of believe in G-d because all the Chanukah stories I hear makes me feel convinced that there is a god, but I know there isn’t. I know that G-d is not real. I don’t know what G-d is.

Reflection

It was really sweet to hear the voices of my little cousins. The intersections of our identities are deeply affecting the way we live and the way we are able to conduct our lives. From a young age I remember always being confused about what heritage, religion, culture, and my own experience with these identities meant in my life. This interview was special for me because I was able to connect with my younger family members on their thoughts and hopefully aid them in being more confident, aware, and communicative about the large and influential aspects of their being.

Kehilla Community Synagogue: An Interview with Dr. Ron Glass

Written by Georgie Blewett

Illustrated by Rachel Ledeboer

Photo courtesy of the SSRC at UCSC

Dr. Ronald Glass is a philosopher of education and Director of the Center for Collaborative Research for an Equitable California at UC Santa Cruz. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education and M.A. in Philosophy from Stanford University, as well as a C.Phil in Philosophy of Education from UC Berkeley and an Ed.M. and B.A. from Harvard University. I was interested in interviewing Professor Glass after he mentioned to our Critical Pedagogy class that he had been elected to the first Board of Trustees of Kehilla Community Synagogue, a synagogue founded in the 1980s in Berkeley, California, that he described as progressive and unconventional in the way of traditional Jewish practices.

Georgie: What does Kehilla mean?

Ron: It means “community”. Kehilla Community Synagogue essentially means “community community community”.

G: Interesting. Was that intentional?

R: Yeah.

G: Were you a spear-header of Kehilla?

R: Well, Kehilla was founded by Rabbi Burt Jacobson, and by the first cantor, a woman named Linda Hirschorn. The first services that they organized were High Holiday services. I knew both of them from anti-nuclear weapons work, and doing anti-racism work. So when they were organizing those High Holiday services, someone called me and said, “Hey, Burt and Linda are doing this thing, you should go, and you’ll finally have a Jewish home.” So I went to the first services they organized, and not only did I know them, but I knew a whole bunch of the other people.

I started getting involved with them, and when they organized the first Board of Trustees, I was elected. My role in the synagogue on the Board in the first years was in part to mediate between the synagogue community that was being formed, and Rabbi Jacobson, so I wrote the initial Rabbinical contract.  I was involved in the early years of creating the structure of the synagogue and how it would operate and what the basic things were. I also developed a Jewish-Black Relations Committee, which actually I organized before I was elected to the Board. We organized two inter-faith, interracial Passover Seders with the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland. Initially we thought it would [be held] in my living room, and it ended up being 250 people each time. The second time, [there was] actually a documentary made [] called Gospel Seder. We wrote a Haggadah that was both interracial and inter-faith.

I stayed very involved in Kehilla as long as I lived in Berkeley, until I moved to Arizona. We had a Chavurah, a little group that gets together for Shabbat, that included a lot of the early leadership of Kehilla in our little group, like half of the members of the initial Board. We got together once a month and did Shabbat as families, so we all had our kids. We’re still close friends. It’s 35 years later and my kids are grown, their kids are grown. We’ve all stayed really close. Some of the people in that group have remained in the leadership of Kehilla all this time. But I’ve still remained a member of Kehilla 25 years after leaving Berkeley. I still go back for High Holidays.

G: What were the motivating factors behind creating a less traditional synagogue? Like what kind of qualms did you have with traditional Jewish practices?

R: Other than it being patriarchal?

G: Right, exactly.

R: Well, that was one of the really big things. So at Kehilla, Rabbi Jacobson and a few others who were part of that initial founding group are real scholars, and they’ve rewritten most of the prayers so they’re no longer sexist. They got rid of images of G-d as “king” and this very kind of dominant kind of view by substituting many other words that are different aspects of G-d that are more feminine. So all the basic prayers got rewritten in some ways. Then another important founding principle of the synagogue was that we were formally committed to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict; I think we were the first synagogue in the United States, some 35 years ago, to formally declare a commitment to a two-state solution. That was quite a big thing to be a synagogue to integrate that as a founding principle. Still now, even more than before, Kehilla is trying to grapple with racism and coloniality. Those are big current themes. The founding group also held the view that Judaism had become both too stagnant and formal, and too much in the head, not enough in the heart. For example, everything is sung at the services which are very lively. Also from the beginning, there’s been a significant LGBTQ population that’s been part of the synagogue and both its formal and informal leadership. We have interracial families, inter-gender families, and all of that. So we’re creating a space for unaffiliated Jews who embrace very left-wing, progressive politics and are interested in bringing those politics to bear on Judaism as well.

G: Well said. My next question is how do you feel Kahilla challenges white supremacy and implements racial justice into its space?

R: Explicitly. By naming it out loud. You know, they currently have study groups where they have people who are interested [in that]. They have all kinds of social activism where they show up for people of color, in the East Bay. They go to demonstrations and organize, they show up around police brutality issues.

G: Do you face consequences at all from other Jews?

R: Of course. But the synagogue continues. The Bay Area has a big concentration of Jewish people, as does LA, and New York. So the synagogue continues to be influential and controversial, definitely. But Kehilla is only one part of a Jewish Renewal, sometimes called a movement, and though I don’t know if there are other synagogues [like Kehilla] in the movement even after all these years, it has begun to build new forms of Jewish life. Jewish renewal is mainly organized into Chavurot, rather than trying to do a big institution, even Kehilla took a long time before deciding to purchase a building, maybe a decade ago. Before that, we rented space in churches. Kehilla, the space we own now, is not big enough for High Holiday services, so we continue to rent a huge space in Oakland for that.

G: The website mentions Tikkun Olam, healing the world. How would you describe Tikkun Olam?

R: I would say it has always been a part of Judaism, and especially in recent decades it has become more prominent. The task, I think it was Rabbi Tarfon that said, “You don’t have to fix everything about the world, but you have to do something.” The notion is that every single person has a responsibility to do what they can in their own little space. Because the problems of the world reach into every space, the most intimate, from our more private sexual fantasies to our most public interactions, all those spaces are invaded by the dominant ideologies. So wherever we can move, or do something different in those spaces, Tikkun Olam calls us into doing them. And it also calls us into a repair of ourselves. We are called every year to recognize the broken things in the community, and turn toward improvement. In Judaism, the holiest day of the year is Yom Kippur, and one of the central prayers that day is a prayer that the community stands up and says in unison a confession: “I have lied, I have murdered, I have raped, I have stolen” and so on. It’s all “I”, because anything that happens within the community, we all have to own and take moral responsibility for. So that annual prayer, where we stand up and we confess to one another our shortcomings, we also confess the shortcomings of the community and take them all on, a collective responsibility. Tikkun Olam is both an individual and collective moral responsibility.


G: Thank you so much.


Chronicling the Jewish History of Santa Cruz: An Interview with George J. Fogelson

Written and photographed by Amanda Leiserowitz

Amanda: The first thing I wanted to talk to you about was how long it took you to write this book [Between the Redwoods and the Bay] because you began researching the Jewish history of Santa Cruz in 1976, while you were in university. What was so engaging about the topic that you decided to continue researching it until this book was published in 2017?

George: That’s a very good question. I was in a class with David Baile – he’s now with UC Davis, the Jewish Studies department – I took a class called Modern Jewish History. He required us to do a term paper, and we could choose any topic we wanted. It just so happened that one of my non-Jewish classmates had taken me to the Meder Street Cemetery. We went down there and I was just amazed. There was this Jewish cemetery, right near campus, and it had graves dating back to the 1870s. So it kinda clicked. I wanted to write a short paper about the Jewish pioneers to Santa Cruz.

I went to the Santa Cruz Public Library and there was nothing in [the] card catalogues, and the reference librarians knew nothing about [the Jewish pioneers]. So I went back to the cemetery and I wrote down all of the names of the graves from before 1900. I approached my professor and said I wanted to write my paper on that, and he said, “That’s a great idea.” So that’s how it started.

Fast forward, I transferred to UC Berkeley as a history major, and I took a senior thesis class – History 101. The topic I chose was Race and Ethnicity. You had to do primary research and write a paper so I said, “Oh, I’ll expand on my original topic from when I did that term paper.” There was the Jitney Bus, which you could take from McHenry library to Berkeley library and back, free for students, so I figured I could go back to Santa Cruz, see my old friends, and do [primary] research in the library, and interview people. This was the 1970s, so there were people who still had businesses on Pacific Avenue who were born in the 1880s; [it] seems kind of strange, but there were people whose families had come to Santa Cruz around 1800 that were still alive. That’s what prompted me in the early years to do my research.

I went back to Santa Cruz after the earthquake with my family. The archivist at the Octagon Museum said to me, “No one has written about this topic since you wrote about it in ‘78” – when I had my thesis published in  the Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly. She said “Your thesis only went up to 1930, would you be interested in taking that up to the present day?” [Then] I applied for and got one of the History Forum awards. I didn’t know where it was going to take me. But then in the next fifteen, twenty years, I started researching the topic again and it ended up in the book.

A: You mentioned that when you began researching, there wasn’t a lot of information for you to find readily, so it sounds like you were very much building the archive rather than going through the archive of Jewish people in Santa Cruz. Did that pose a lot of challenges, or was there anything in particular that took a long time to overcome? Like finding out who to talk to?

G: This was before an internet or computers, so my only resource was McHenry Library. They had the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the Santa Cruz Call, and a couple other newspapers that had existed for a short time around 1900 to 1920. I literally spent hours just going through the microfilm, looking for the names to match the graves. When I found them, I hand-wrote down the articles – or you could actually photocopy them, but they were not very good copies back then, they were hard to read. I made a system where I put the different family names together in a folder and then had a tape recorder. [Then], I went to the synagogue, and I looked around the synagogue and talked to some of the people there, and asked who would be good people to interview.

So I interviewed a few – went to a few people’s homes and business, and got to be friendly with two senior businesspeople on Pacific. One of them was Hyman Abrams, whose family owned a men’s clothing store – which is actually one of the only buildings that didn’t collapse during the Loma Prieta earthquake – and he and his sister, Eve Abrams. Their father started the business in the 1880s. They were very nice and talked to me, and I met other people. […] Then someone told about the Judah Magnes Museum, which was on Russell Street in Berkeley – it’s no longer there. I went and there were some scrapbooks of some of the Jews who had moved from Santa Cruz to Berkeley. I was always interested in doing detective work, so this allowed me to do research on a topic that no one knew about which I found exciting. […] And now with the internet, from your computer at home, you can look at the Santa Cruz Sentinel from the 1870s to the present, and you can just put in a name, and you can see every article written [about them]. So when I was writing my book, of course a lot of articles that I had bypassed were easily retrieved, and I was fortunate to have all the resources [and library databases] online, and ancestry.com.

A: I can imagine, that’s  much easier than going and transcribing these articles by hand.

G: Yeah, it’s gotta sound antiquated right?

When I saw the cemetery for the first time […] it was just a really peaceful place and I basically thought [about] how sad it is that people don’t know anything about these people, who were pioneers of the Jewish community and obviously had some social and community standing – they have these large monuments erected toward them. I think it might have stemmed from my mother being a Holocaust survivor from Germany. As a child, I always heard about relatives who had been murdered by the Nazis, and I always wanted to find out more about them, to pass down their stories to my children. I kind of juxtaposed that to these people who were in the Jewish Cemetery [in Santa Cruz], and no one knew who they were or even cared about them, so I made it my mission to document them so their stories wouldn’t be lost forever.

A: I think a lot of people, and especially Jews, are interested in memory, and preserving memory.

G: Yeah, that’s very true. One of the real benefits of doing this research is that I got to become friends with a lot of the people who provided the photographs and stories in my book. I’ve given some [primary sources] to the [Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History], but my idea is to give more of my primary documents to the museum curator and talk to her about having an exhibit about the Jewish Community in Santa Cruz. […] I’ve had a close relationship with the [MAH]. They have this thing called the History Forum, and they have an award once a year. Part of the deal to publish my book – they would publish it but I had to raise all of the funds to actually publish it. I always call it my labor of love because it’s obviously not a best selling topic, I just did it because I felt that it was something I could do for future Santa Cruz Jews, just so they knew from whence they came.

A: I think it’s really great to have a resource like this book, which is so full of pictures and information. I think that the pictures are one of the most fascinating things, aside from the personal stories, because it’s really cool to see the faces of these people from so long ago. […] Are there photographs or scenes which really stick out to you, that maybe when you came across them were really significant?

G: One thing was that it’s not particularly Jewish, but it was really interesting to the audience at the temple when I did my presentation – I had the same scene on Pacific Avenue in downtown starting in the 1860s to the 1920s and you could see how it started with dirt streets with no transportation, to in the 1860s and by 1875 tracks for street cars started to appear, and all during this time there were Jewish businesses on Front Street and Pacific. […] It just seemed like the history of the street also showed the history of the Jewish community, because they were always a lot of business people who were Jewish on the street and some of them existed for close to 100 years. There was the Bernheim Hall – it was the first theater in Santa Cruz, and it attracted the whole community to events. They had opera singers from the time and [other performers]. And it was owned by a Jewish family, [they owned] the department store, and upstairs was this theater. It showed to me how the Jewish Community was integrated into the general community, they had started the community with everybody else in the 1850s and they were all pretty much accepted – there wasn’t blatant antisemitism. The Jews had the Christian community come to their events, like used to have a Purim Ball every year, in the 1870s and 80s, in the Jewish community, and it was open to the gentile community. Everyone worked together to establish Santa Cruz and so I think looking at Pacific Avenue, the pictures there, that really interested me.

A: It’s really cool to see places that are really familiar to me become totally unfamiliar.

G: My friend Frank Commanday was on the staff of the Leviathan in 1978, as a photographer. He was the first person who really took pictures of the cemetery for an article and the picture [on page 16 of my book] is of Amy Steen’s grave, who was the first person buried at the cemetery in 1877. [Now] the temple cemetery committee decided that due to vandalism, it would make more sense to take some of these graves down and encase them in cement so they couldn’t be stolen. […] Amy’s Steen’s grave was vandalized, it was actually removed from the cemetery by someone and a year later was left at the cemetery gate. It’s a little conflicting as a historian to see it no longer standing… your generation will never see how some of these graves actually looked.

The current book I’m writing is about the history of the Meder Street Cemetery. That was actually originally Mr. Meder’s family cemetery, and if you visit there and look at the back of the cemetery, there’s a raised plot and that’s his original cemetery. And when the Jewish community was looking for a burial place, he was friends with some of the Jewish people, he was Mormon, and if you google mormonism and Jews, they’ve always had a special affinity towards each other, and he said that he would give part of his land to the Jewish community for the nominal sum of a hundred dollars, so they bought the cemetery land and started their own cemetery with him in the background, you know. I find that interesting too, so what I decided to do was trace the history of his family and talk to the descendants of Mr. Meder, and then also find out how the Jewish cemetery came into existence, then write a walking tour of some of the graves.

Evergreen Cemetery has it – I got the idea because they have a walking tour of some of their graves. So when I was with Bruce [Thompson], I did a little cemetery tour, he said, “Did you know there’s a Nobel Prize winner buried over here?” And I said no. And so I added him to my tour. And there were some other people on the tour – one person said his four year old daughter died about twenty years ago on Hanukkah, so her gravestone has a Hanukkiah on it, and in Hebrew, a phrase from a Hanukkah song. I tried to choose graves that have interesting historical significance from the 1800s, or ones from present day that had compelling stories. So I asked [the families] to write something for me, and include a picture of their family member, so that’s how the book’s going to be. These families are thinking, “This is something I can do to memorialize my loved one”.

A: It seems like a good way to heal, and share the things of that person’s life with the world.

G: Yeah, so they’re not defined by their tragedy of how they died. And some of the people had written poetry, and some of the people had been featured in the Sentinel, and there’s culinary experts and I’m putting in their Jewish recipes, trying to make it a little interesting.

Luckily the Jewish population of Santa Cruz was never more than fifty families until the university, so that’s one of the reasons it was easier to focus on and to chart. Even the Jewish cemetery is a confined topic, I’m just focusing on this one piece of land. I’m not covering every grave, obviously. I also got the idea that – my cousin who was an actress is buried in Hollywood Forever, and they have a book, a walking guide to the graves there. It had the idea. It would be nice so when people go to the cemetery, they know who some of these people are. To me it was something that I thought was worthy of future study.

A: Was it difficult to stay engaged [over such a long time], motivated, interested in all the things you were researching or was it more intrinsically motivating?

G: I’d say it was more intrinsically motivating. […] I just felt that I was doing something I could look back on and be proud of…we all want to make a contribution to society in some way to be remembered, and so perhaps I’ll be remembered as the chronicler of Santa Cruz Jewery.

A: I think you’ve got a good shot!

G: I do think it’s important, for all communities, to know about their history, and what you were saying about Jews and memory, the importance of memory, and that’s why […] a woman who from the temple she told me about the quote that I used in my dedication – “Judaism does not command us to believe, it commands us to remember. We sanctify the present by remembering the past.” That really struck a chord with me. And that’s basically why I did all this research and am continuing to do it.

A: Thank you very much for your time today!

Feeding Hillel

Written by Georgie Blewett

Illustrated by Ashley Lavizadeh and Rachel Ledeboer

I interviewed Jess Shanes, who is a volunteer a Hillel, a Jewish organization that promotes community and student networking. She is in charge of planning and cooking meals.

Georgie: What is Shabbat to you?

Jess: For me specifically, Shabbat has always been a time to stop and reflect on the past week while appreciating all that is being provided to me. I went to Temple most Friday nights, and it was a really nice time to connect with the friends that I did not get to see during the week, and enjoy some time in a stress and judgement free zone!

G: What is your role in cooking dinners at Hillel?

J: I have been a Shabbat Chef at Hillel for almost two years now, and basically this entails shopping for all of the food, and cooking it up for all of you to enjoy! My role in this is to make sure that everyone gets fed and to ensure that Fridays go as smoothly as possible. Luckily, I get to do it with my two best friends as my co-chefs, so I would consider myself pretty lucky there.

G: Who do you plan out your meals with? How do you decide what to cook?

J: Josh and Jonah [the co-chefs] do most of the meal planning because they like to keep it original and try out new things. However, at the end of the week we come together and decide what is most practical and what will taste the absolute best!

G: How do you go about cooking Kosher for so many people?

J: Cooking Kosher isn’t too much of a challenge as long as you are committed! The Hillel kitchen is kept Kosher, so the only thing we need to do is make sure that all the food we buy has some sort of Hechsher (Kosher symbol). If anyone is looking to keep Kosher, Trader Joe’s has a bunch of delicious options!

G: Is it difficult coming up with recipes?

J: Coming up with recipes isn’t particularly challenging, but it can be hard to bring the recipes to life in such large quantities. It tends to be worth the challenge!

G: How many people do you cook for every Friday?

J: There isn’t a very consistent number but we tend to get anywhere between 20 and 80 people at Shabbat every week. I personally find it kind of cool to always be seeing different faces and welcoming new people into a place that I hope they find comforting!

G: Did you grow up with these recipes?

J: I grew up with some of them! Most specifically chicken and matzo ball soup – these have always been my favorite. My parents are both excellent cooks and I would say a pretty big part of participating in the Jewish community is getting together to eat some hefty and delicious meals!

G: What’s it like seeing everyone DEVOURING your delicious food?

J: It’s nice to see people not so much enjoying the fact that the food is good, but rather taking the time to sit down and eat a full meal! It is really challenging to set aside time in college to eat and let go of all the stress that has built up during the week. I like to think that Hillel offers up an opportunity to do that.

Embarcadero Man

Written and photographed by Neva Ryan

On buses, she sat on the seat

Second from the back

Behind the stairs

On bart, she sat anywhere

As long as no one looked at her

On amtrak, she needed to sit

In the right direction

Her body could not be carried backwards

She needed to turn away from home

So as to not confuse herself

She had

Paper printed tickets

Glassy barcodes on screens

Plastic blue cards

And two crumpled dollar bills

The seats at home were hospital-wall blue

The scent of latex gloves

Too-clean hands

Touching her neck

Reminded her of

Sewn together seats

Cushioned

As if we needed comfort

In commute

The new trains carried single seats

Faced in opposite directions

The people didn’t really want

To be separated

The silence of strangers was not comfortable,

But it was comforting

She squished her hips between the red

Triangles

To step out of the station

She paused

For too many seconds

And caught the man’s eye

She’d seen him before

On the 15 minute train ride to Embarcadero

He got close to her

In her face

And she braced herself for the impact

Of a stranger’s skin

This time

Baggy pants and a puffy red jacket

Occupied the space behind her

His stare was all

The Embarcadero man needed

And she saw his retreat

“I didn’t touch her, I didn’t touch her”

In his throat

She was used to protecting herself

But swallowed

And walked out of the station

when i close my eyes i hear the flute

Written by Olivia Magee

when i close my eyes i hear the flute
being played by the man in the rose garden at the mission yesterday
but instead of a song
he plays one unwavering note in my right ear
and the fan blows under the covers
and my legs twist in my shorts
i wonder how it feels to be truly in love
cause i know you once were
i was at least lusting over a facade
but a long sturdy love
like nice hardwood floors or a well trained horse
is a faraway fantasy
love is a big idea i crave
i never saw it in my parents
i thought i felt it in my heart
now my ear hearts
and i’ve been craving a long cuddle and a few awkward kisses
i’d love to recreate yesterday
and never see today

opening your big fat mouth is hard
what would jesus do
the truth is hard
hardened and buried under rock
the more time passes and the more lies made the harder it gets to get to the truth
it’s so easy to lie to yourself about what you need
for example
i need to shit
but i can’t shit in new places

Laughing Cow

Written by Jenna Westling

Born an ungulate with udders

A deadly combination

Because of this fate

You’re less than a carcass

As a bairn

You’re reared in a cramped barn stable

And as a dairy cow

You live in a coffin

You’re labeled as “free range”

Yet you’ve never set hoof on a pasture

You wonder if the grass is just as green

From the trough in your cage

In your daily routine, you’re

Shackled

Ravaged

Raped

Exploited

And abused

Until you can’t even stand on your own four hooves

You dream of the day

You’ll be whisked off into darkness

On a fatal conveyer belt

Leaving this suffering behind

What do they have in store for you?

Will you be a belt?

A tenderloin?

Why did they torture you?

Was it all in the name of whey?

Fingers crossed your skin

Will be worn by a household name

Are you happy?

Are you a martyr?

You’re branded at birth

With a hot iron

Then branded when you’re dead

As medium rare

And what of your offspring?

Will they be veal?

They were robbed of their sustenance

Where were they taken? Where?

Your calf will continue this cycle

And so will your grandchildren

Until all that is left of your family name

Are liquid white ashes