Facing the Near Future of Holocaust Denial

Written and Illustrated by Avery Weinman

Today, someone born on the day that Auschwitz was liberated — January 27, 1945 — would be 73 years old.  Someone who was ten years old on the day Auschwitz was liberated would today be 83 years old. Someone who was 20 years old on the day Auschwitz was liberated — the same as age I am as I sit down to write this — would today be 93 years old.  American Jews, Israeli Jews, and all Jews all over the world need to reconcile that soon, through no other process other than the cruelty of time, there will be no more survivors. And when there are no more survivors, no more living testaments of the Shoah, the task will fall to us — the generations to whom the Holocaust is history and not experience — to stand guard against Holocaust denial and all it entails: revision, misrepresentation, appropriation, and the best efforts of anti-Semites on both the Left and the Right to willfully forget, bury, and distort the lessons the Holocaust taught us about what the modern world is capable of doing to the Jewish people.  It falls to us to steadfastly affirm that “Never Again!” means never again.

   I think that in coming decades Jews all over the world will be shocked at how quickly and eagerly the non-Jewish world will seize the opportunity to recontextualize and reimagine the Holocaust to fit whatever political framework best benefits them as soon as there is no more living proof.  In Jewish communities, where the memories and lessons of the Holocaust are so strong and so foundational to what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century, the idea that the Holocaust could be erased, or delegitimized, or turned into a conspiracy theory, or made into something that only happened “then and with those people” and separated from the contemporary world entirely seems unfathomable.  But I would suggest that given what we’re seeing in our time on both the Right and the Left, it’s not unfathomable at all.

    On the Right, Holocaust denial has been revitalized by the global trend of populist nationalism’s re-ascendence to the political mainstream.  In Eastern Europe — where right-wing nationalist parties have not only re-emerged on the political scene, but have become popular enough amongst the people to become the dominant political parties as is the case in states like Austria, Hungary, and Poland — the return to a nationalist desire to reframe Eastern European histories within grand, romantic notions of heroic pasts has put the objective truth of the Holocaust in these states in jeopardy.  Austrian, Hungarian, and Polish complicity in the Holocaust — of which there is no doubt — complicates the romantic nationalist narratives that the contemporary right-wing parties in these states are attempting to craft. So, these right-wing nationalist governments actively engage in Holocaust denial for the sake of the maintenance of their national myth and desire to separate their histories with Nazism, anti-Semitism, and complicity in genocide from the pure national narratives they espouse.

    Take, for example, a most recent and most notable example of this trend: the Polish “Holocaust Bill,” which Polish President Andrzej Duda of the nationalist Law and Justice Party signed into effect in early February.  The law, which passed fifty-seven to twenty-three with two abstensions in the Polish Parliament, criminalizes speech that suggests Polish complicity or Polish support “in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich” with the potential punishment of a fine and up to three years in prison.  The Polish nationalist argument in favor of this legislation is that the Holocaust was perpetrated by the Nazis on Polish soil, and, since the Nazis were distinctly German, Poland and the Polish people should not be held equally accountable for the Holocaust which the Polish nationalists also maintain was an immoral tragedy.  Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki articulated this argument in a tweet from January 27, 2018, “Auschwitz is the most bitter lesson on how evil ideologies can lead to hell on earth. Jews, Poles, and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis. Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase.”  Morawiecki’s tweet exemplifies the desire to explicitly place the entirety of the blame for the Holocaust on the Nazis and to absolve the Poles for what they want to recontextualize as solely Nazi crimes.

      This sort of semantic dance around history and the Holocaust diminishes the scholarly accepted truth that Poles — not all, but certainly a significant amount — were anti-Semitic, supported Nazism, and aided in the facilitation of the genocide of the European Jews both before and after the formal conclusion of the Second World War.  While the Poles have a proud history of actually being the people who did the most to resist Nazism out of the areas the Nazis occupied during the Second World War, well documented pre-war anti-Semitism among Polish nationalists, endemic Polish indifference to the plight of their Jewish neighbors, and cases like the Jedwabne pogrom where local Poles actively assisted the Nazis in burning roughly three hundred and fifty Jews alive in a barn cannot and should not be diminished for the sake of an exalted Polish identity. The Law and Justice Party’s best efforts to deny the Polish role is indicative of their larger desire to trivialize Poland’s anti-Semitic past altogether by continuously denying any anti-Semitism that ever happened in Poland perpetrated by Poles. Instead, they choose to revise history, remove all traces of Polish involvement, and designate the Holocaust and the anti-Semitism that precipitated it as Nazi crimes only.

       On the Left, contemporary anti-Semitism is not nearly as obviously recognizable as the classic Charlottesville brand of angry young white racists chanting “Jews will not replace us” with their torches and retreaded Nazi slogans, but it poses an equally virulent threat to the preservation of the lessons and history of the Holocaust.  Today, left-wing anti-Semitism confronts the Holocaust through the avenue of conspiracy theory. This last year alone has been rife with incidents that demonstrate the left-wing propensity to accept and promulgate anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Some examples include: Washington DC Councilmember Trayon White blaming the frigid winter weather on the classic anti-Semitic conspiracy that the Rothschild family somehow controls the weather, the revelation of British Labour Party and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s past support for a wildly anti-Semitic mural that depicts multiple big-nosed, nefarious looking coded-Jews sitting around a table held up by black slaves with an Illuminati-style eye-in-the-pyramid backdrop, and co-founder of the Women’s March Tamika Mallory’s support and refusal to denounce Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who, at the rally Mallory attended, proclaimed Jews are, “responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”

       Reactively, these might seem like just a few extreme examples from a few bad actors, but these bad actors are also a federal councilman, the potential future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and one of the founders of the most powerful feminist organization in America; such anti-Semitism from such influential echelons holds weight for the trickle down of this kind of causal anti-Semitic rhetoric to make its way into our media, our everyday opinions, and our governments.  But where left-wing acceptance of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories threaten the memories and lessons of the Holocaust is when the conspiracies blend into the thinly veiled and perennially unaddressed line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

    Conspiracy theories that do not target Jews-writ-large, but choose to focus on Zionism or the state of Israel as the object of the conspiracy are also rife in our world.  For every blatantly anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, there is an equal Zionist conspiracy that proclaims that the Zionists did 9/11 to turn international opinion against Arabs and Muslims as the previously mentioned Farrakhan has argued; that the Mossad assassinated Princess Diana; that the Israel Defense Forces harvests the organs of dead Palestinians in a modern interpretation of the blood libel, as was the unsubstantiated assertion in a 2009 article in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet which they later retracted after the author admitted “… whether it’s true or not – I have no idea, I have no clue;” or that the Zionists either fabricated or facilitated the Holocaust in order to gain international sympathy for the birth of a Jewish state as was the topic of current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ doctoral dissertation: The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism. My co-editor Zach brought up an excellent point to me that contemporary anti-Zionists who feel frustrated that the Israeli government utilizes the Holocaust so strongly in the argument for its existence are poised to be in a position where the discrediting and denial of the Holocaust from an anti-Zionist perspective instead of a more traditionally anti-Semitic perspective becomes popularized on the Left. If this happens, the end result will still be Holocaust denial regardless of whether it stems from an anti-Semitic or an anti-Zionist orientation.

    The meteoric rise of all of these trends — right-wing Holocaust denial, right-wing ethno-nationalism, right-wing anti-Semitism, left-wing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, left-wing anti-Zionist conspiracy theories, left-wing failure to differentiate between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and left-wing anti-Semitism — are all coinciding in the era that we are poised to lose the last generation of survivors.  I didn’t set out to write this piece with the intention of sounding like an alarmist, but the confluence of all of these factors in our time should give us pause. The erosion of the Holocaust from both the Right and the Left sets us to be like a fuse burning on both ends — the explosion can happen much faster than we realize.

    The question is — what can we do?  How can we combat these trends and ensure that the memories and lessons of the Holocaust remain valuable and intact even as we lose the living proof?  I believe that it is essential for Jews everywhere to maintain that while the lessons of the Holocaust — tolerance, justice, compassion, empathy, courage — are universal, the Holocaust remains a Jewish particular event.  The Holocaust could have only happened the way it did, with the totality of the way it did, to the Jewish people as the culmination of centuries long processes of the racialization of the Jewish people, the maturation of anti-Jewish religious prejudice in Europe, German nationalism, and modernity.  While the Nazis did target other groups like the disabled, Communists, Poles, and LGBT+ peoples during the Holocaust, none were targeted with as much veracity as the Jews, through such open legal means as the Jews, or with the full intention of total annihilation as the Jews. I also believe that the Holocaust needs to remain memorialized as an unparalleled atrocity and not made equivalent to other genocides; all are tragedies, but the methods, ideological rationalization, and totality of the Holocaust make it unique.  Other genocides rival the Holocaust in the number and proportion of people killed, but none represent the same kind of realization of the darkest potentials for technology, science, law, assimilation, diplomacy, and the relationship between non-Jews and Jews as the Holocaust does. Balancing the universal lessons, while simultaneously asserting the particularism, will be essential for Jews to be able to defend the validity of our history and to affirm our own humanity.

    But on an immediate and personal note, something we all need to do — both Jew and non-Jew alike — is to keep the memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive now, in our time, while we still have survivors with us.  Look at more pictures. Watch more documentary footage. Listen to survivor’s accounts. Learn how the Holocaust intersected with class and race. Learn about the Holocaust outside of Europe. Learn about the Holocaust in the Middle East and North Africa.  Learn about how the Allies knew what was happening in the camps months before the camps were liberated, but did nothing to stop it. Learn how nearly every country in the world, including the United States, shut its doors to Jewish refugees, causing untold thousands of deaths. Read more memoirs and poems. Read Anne Frank. Read Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel. Read If This is a Man. Read Paul Celan’s “Death Fugue.”  If you are fortunate enough to have a survivor in your life, learn about their story.  Write it down. Record it. Transcribe it. Share it. Ask them for lessons — inscribe them in your heart, teach them to your children, teach them at home and away, when lying down at night and when rising up each day.  

Justice and Community: A Response to Jewish Fracturedness

Written by Zachary Brenner

Illustrated by Tamar Weir

few weeks ago, I was asked to participate in an interfaith panel on campus, where representatives from multiple religions were invited to speak upon their personal experiences. I sat beside a Buddhist nun, two Sikhs, a Christian, a Muslim, and a Pagan. No, this is not the beginning of a joke. Before the panel began, the moderator pulled me aside to prepare me for the types of questions I would be asked as I had only decided to participate a couple hours earlier. The other panelists had been prepared for at least 30 minutes each. I was told that the first question would be this: “You’re on a bus and someone approaches you and asks why you are Jewish” and that I only had 3 minutes to answer. I thought hard. I wasn’t meant to discuss what made me Jewish — being born into it, in my case — but why. I thought about what I cared about most in life, and trusted that I cared about these things in large part because of my Jewish upbringing and grounding in Jewish thought and morals. After all, I had attended Jewish schools and summer camps for my entire childhood. After much deliberation and consideration of an entire life devoted to Jewish morals, I decided on my answer. The why as to why I am Jewish was because of a commitment to justice and community.

     Unfortunately, justice and community are not as easy to obtain as I would like. Throughout my college career, I have been exposed to a fractured and hateful reality within my immediate Jewish community. The political ideologies that drive different Jews at UC Santa Cruz and across the United States diaspora result in constant clashing, opposition, and blind eyes turned. The source of this divisiveness, from my view, stems from fundamentally different understandings of Zionism and anti-Zionism. Seemingly, the line is drawn down the middle. When Zionists and anti-Zionists are faced with one another: neither seems willing to see the merit of the other side.

   As a student exploring my own political ideas through college, I have studied radical and conventional modes of thinking through classes and conversations with other Jews and left-leaning activists. I have seen the importance of both ends of the spectrum. I identify with both ends of the spectrum. I have resonated deeply with the importance of a Jewish state, having been raised to understand the precariousness of Jewish privilege and the desperation that has ensued throughout the centuries with anti-Semitism and violence. I have also resonated deeply with anti-Zionists who fundamentally oppose nation-states and their socially constructed borders which often exclude groups considered to be “outsiders.” I have also sympathized with anti-Zionist, Palestinian nationalists who, after being affected by decades of a cruel Israeli occupation on Palestinian territory, have resorted to opposing Israel and its government through a  desire for Palestinian self-determination. I have connected personally to the idea that the Israeli government, as it currently exists, is a problematic entity which perpetuates an occupation of Palestine that has persisted for over 50 years.

     But where do I fall on the spectrum? I fall somewhere between Zionist and anti-Zionist, depending on the context.  I am not committed to either. I am not committed to the Jewish state. I am committed to Jews and justice. And that is my point. The Zionist mentality, from my perspective, stems from a deep connection to a preservation of the Jewish faith. Certain Jewish, anti-Zionist mentalities stem also from a commitment to upholding Jewish morals that Israel seems to contradict regularly, or a commitment to calling attention to the atrocities enacted upon a people different from one’s own. Centering conversation on Israel, as it exists today, detracts from the community and justice that I crave; it seems to only promote divisiveness, separation, exclusion, and forcing one to take sides.

    Yet Israel is not going anywhere, and it is because of this that we have to stop this divisiveness which only perpetuates the conflict and avoids the necessary consensus and compromise required before any other solutions can be put forward. There are Zionists who are deeply problematic. Zionists who will do anything… anything to preserve Israel, and this is wrong in my view. A blind support of a government which frequently encourages Israeli settlers and an occupation which results in the murder and displacement of another community cannot be tolerated in my book — ever. There are anti-Zionists as well who are deeply problematic — who use anti-Zionism as a shield for anti-Semitism by claiming that Israel and Jews are separate issues, yet continuously make assumptions about Jews and point their fingers at the entire Jewish community. Or, people who advocate for violence against innocent civilians to send greater messages.

        I want to reiterate the point of this piece. The issue I see is in the divisiveness in the American Jewish community. At Shabbat dinners, I am told to attend Birthright, an organization that I will never support for claiming to be purely cultural yet frequently perpetuates implicit and explicit propaganda to harness blind support of Israel by avoiding any critical views that are completely valid and necessary. This alienates all who oppose Israeli policies and feel the necessity to speak out. Every year, on Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust is co-opted to perpetuate Zionist agendas rather than shifting the focus toward the importance of Jewish perseverance, whether through the existence of the state of Israel or not. The Holocaust is used as a tactic to sell the state of Israel, rather than as a tactic to maintain Judaism. In response to this, members of the Left will speak out against the state of Israel, which redirects the focus of the Holocaust on Israeli politics rather than on what I see as the true message of the Holocaust — that Jews did not die out and should be allowed to continue to survive.

 The divisiveness cannot and will not simply stop. We are far beyond that point. People possess fundamentally different interpretations of the world and we will have to work to mend these divides — to allow people to work through ideas that they may hold onto for authentic reasons, or possibly hold onto as a response to the divisiveness. To mend, we must extend an invitation, at our Shabbat and holiday tables, to those whose opinions are different from our own. Why do they believe what they believe? What underlies their mentalities? I would optimistically argue that these mentalities are perpetuated by a commitment to justice, in some form or another. A commitment to doing what they feel is right. If we take issue with what is said, we should hold one another accountable and discuss, rather than argue, for tangible solutions or middle grounds. Yelling and shunning may make us feel better, but at the end of the day it will make us all feel worse and will have us clinging to our opinions more strongly than ever, not willing to see the world in different ways and abolishing our empathy and compassion (if it hasn’t been destroyed already).

       We do not all have to be friends. But I am disheartened, demoralized, sick, and tired of conversations where it seems that those beginning the conversations do so with a goal of perpetuating divisive and hateful rhetoric — with the goal of tearing people down to shreds and then being proud of it. People seem to want to justify their own actions. I argue that the greatest justification one can have of their own actions is through thoroughly understanding divergent viewpoints, considering those viewpoints, and then making an informed decision that they can truly and fully believe. Many might say that they obviously do this already. For those who do, I commend you and encourage you to continue doing so. For many, however, informed decisions seem to be a thing of the past. I’ve been guilty of this myself: clinging to sources and facts that conform to my preconceived notions about a particular topic. But no more. Facts are facts even if they will be interpreted in different ways — and it is in those different interpretations that we must engage meaningfully with one another, to understand our various viewpoints and priorities. If we do so, we have committed ourselves to establishing a healthier community. It is our job to locate the facts and refrain from immediate assumptions and judgement.

       I crave a community where we don’t have to silence ourselves or resort to angry and hateful rhetoric to prove a point. I crave a community in which the person sitting to the left of me has a different opinion from the person to the right of me — and that the three of us can discuss those viewpoints in a conducive manner, with an honest commitment to justice rather than a commitment toward self-justification. Only then, can we progress toward accomplishing our true goals and reach for tangible solutions to the issues we care about.

Contrary to what I’ve heard, I’d dare to say that anti-Zionists do not all have bad intentions and Zionists don’t either. If you don’t believe me, go talk to some.

The Role of Journalism Today: An Interview With Kelsey Eiland

Written by Annelise Asch

Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

Kelsey Eiland was editor of Leviathan in the academic year of 2015-2016. As a non-Jewish editor of Leviathan, I was curious to hear her perspective of the role of Jewish and non-Jewish journalism in today’s fractured world, and whether her role as a non-Jewish editor gave her pause.

 

Annelise Asch: What do you think is the role of a journalist in these times?

Kelsey Eiland: I think one thing is that we talk a lot about journalism as being non-biased, or the ultimate truth, or somehow that there’s such thing as objective journalism. I think I want to say that no matter who you are and what you’re writing about, the person the information is coming from is in some ways going to influence some kind of perspective, and I think there’s an inherent bias in choosing what content is relevant and important. I think there should be an accepting of that subjectivity as well as that intersectionality of who the person is when they’re writing about this kind of stuff. So I think the role is to speak truth to power. I think that journalism tends to come from spaces and perspectives of folks who are not traditionally in positions of power, because if you were in a position of power there wouldn’t be a necessity or desire to be critical. And you have conversations about the intersections of our daily lives that I think are often overlooked by corporations and capitalism and mainstream identities. Talking about things like race and class and gender and power dynamics and all those… I think we think that journalism is this thing that is void of those things like in order to be professional and unbiased, we can talk about intersections of identity. I think that journalism is nothing without those things.

AA: You were a non-Jewish Editor-in-Chief of Leviathan. So what sorts of things did you have to be aware of as you navigated that responsibility? How can a journalist cover or write about topics that they may not have personal experience to draw from?

KE: I think that coming into a space I will speak for my own personal experience is that I was coming into it with, I think a lot of the goals and values that I believed UCSC’s Student Media as a whole engaged in and believed in.

AA: What’s an example of that?

KE: I think an example would be like being really thorough in the work we do, and producing work that we can stand by and put our name on. And I think that being in a space where you don’t identify with the predominant identifiers of the group, I think that there is a calling for you to know when to step back and let other people step forward. And I think that it was hard for me to even be called Editor-in-Chief. I was actually really uncomfortable with having a higher position and I almost didn’t take it when [the previous editor] Amanda [Botfeld] left. And I think that was because I didn’t want to be the loudest voice in the room and I think that part of it was that I made an intention to uplift other people and act more as the facilitator than a “leader.” I wanted to be able to provide someone else with a platform, instead of putting myself on the platform. And I would accredit most of that to Susan Watrous and the wider Student Media coalition for giving me those skills because I wouldn’t have come to the table if not for that wider community of support.

AA: If you had to envision a future for Leviathan what sort of topics would staffers write about? What would Leviathan prioritize?

KE: I think something that I maybe wanted to see more of when I was in Leviathan, when I was in Student Media and I think we were working hard to do this but I think just, you know, making conversations about intersectionality more integral to all of the work we were doing. And I know that that’s hard and it makes things more complicated and more time intensive. But again, I just think that the point of critical writing and critical analysis is understanding intersections of identity and I think understanding power and oppression. I think we don’t see a lot of that in what I would call the mainstream news cycle. I want to decipher between what I think of as mainstream news and journalism. And I think that journalism should hold itself to a standard of having critical conversations about things that the mainstream news might not cover or might not see as interconnected or interwoven. And I think more and more it’s uplifting voices that aren’t usually heard or supported in mainstream news. And, again, that isn’t to say that Leviathan hasn’t been working on those, but I think that those are always goals, even if you’re doing them well. One other thing is that engaging in conversations about intersection of religion or national identity with other forms of identity so not just talking about the white, straight, pro-Israel, Jewish experience, but the understanding of a Jewish experience in many contexts and also how non-Jewish folks can come to the table. Especially for those who might be on a, say, very pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionist side of the conversation. I think we’ve always seen those two sides of opposing poles and I think that they’ve always been in conversation with one another. I think Leviathan’s done a good job of that but I think that there’s always room for more.

AA: How did Leviathan influence your life after graduating?

KE: I wanna give Leviathan a lot of credit here, but I also want to extrapolate the credit again to the wider Student Media orgs as well as SOMeCA of really teaching young people to be facilitators and mentors in their own spaces. And I think also teaching young people that they can make things happen without looking to a hierarchy, without buying into mainstream cycles of media production. And I think that there’s a difference between having power and feeling empowered. And I think that in student media we strive to feel empowered. And I think through that process we break down having power. And to me, I think that Leviathan is just the most rewarding and soul-feeding part of my college experiences because I think for me it taught me to stand in my truth but also uplift other people’s truths. And I think that that’s core to any way you’re going to navigate the world.

AA: And you think that you’re still doing that?

KE: Absolutely.

White Supremacy in Unexpected Places: An Interview with Shani Kartané

Written by Robin Kopf

Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

Shani Kartané was an editor for Leviathan and graduated in 2012. They now work as a second grade teacher in Oakland, California. They chose to discuss white supremacy in Leftist Jewish spaces and how privilege plays a role in the political reception of people of color, including Jews of color.

 

Robin Kopf: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Shani Kartané: I was editor from 2010, or 2009, for like a year and a half to two years, and I took it in a new direction. [Leviathan] had previously been a magazine-y, newspapery type format and I helped it become a sort of artsy-fartsy, literary chapbook.

RK: Oh, that’s really interesting.

SK: I had been studying cultural anthropology and Jewish studies and I felt that there wasn’t enough base for fine arts in the current setup [in Leviathan]. So, we had a couple of pages in color. The covers were a really big deal, and I think probably every Leviathan editor would say this, but I feel that I made it a little bit more political. I don’t know what’s going on at UCSC these days, but at the time there was no sort of space for Jews who were angry with Israel, from whatever side of the Zionist spectrum, either anti-Zionist, [or] Zionist but angry at Israel. There wasn’t really a space for us to congregate. Hillel was a really pro-Israel, Zionist place and there was not a lot of room for other ideas. And then I could have joined the Committee for Justice in Palestine, and I wanted to join, but I wanted to do something Jewish [as well]. So that’s how I came into Leviathan with this idea of creating a space for dialogue that was not represented in the current climate.

    I myself am culturally Jewish these days. I don’t go to shul. My dad is Israeli [and] not religious at all. My mother is from New York, raised Conservadox, [and] not really religious these days at all. [My] grandmother is Orthodox, [and was] in Europe at the time of the Holocaust and escaped. I grew up Conservative, I attended [a] Conservative shul and went to Hebrew school. After [my] Bat Mitzvah, [I] kind of dropped [Judaism], aside from going to seder at grandmas in New York once a year. In college, I kind of revisted my Jewishness from this more academic and journalistic perspective and got really, really, really into modern Jewish literature. So, that’s [what] I majored [in]; I had a double major in cultural anthropology and Jewish studies and I was one of the first four Jewish studies majors ever at UC Santa Cruz.

RK: Where have you seen white supremacy in the Jewish community and what does it look like?

SK: So, I see it as sort of a two-pronged issue. On the one hand, there’s this issue that doesn’t really surprise me and that is the [ultra] Orthodox Jewish sort of overt racism. You know using terms like “shvartze” and such. And then on the other side, there’s this sort of scary thing that is surprising to me: covert racism in liberal Jewish lefty-ness. I’m more interested in the covert racism in the white Jewish liberal left than the [ultra] Orthodox Jewish overt racism because we in Santa Cruz, for the most part—I’m not in Santa Cruz anymore—but we in California are not really in touch with that kind of community, you know? There’s not that communication with that sort of Reform, Conservative community and [ultra] Orthodox communities. I’m more interested in what’s going on in the Left.

RK: What have you noticed about white supremacy in Leftists spaces? What does that look like?

SK: I mean when you go to shul and there is a person of color, many people [might] automatically think that that person is the help or a nanny. There’s not a general awareness that there are Jews of color, and when I say Jews of color, I mean black Jews or Latinx Jews. There is this idea that even white Jews should be considered people of color and that Jews should be included in racial justice activism. I don’t know if you’ve come across this idea that often times in Hillel, there’s like this mumbling and groaning like, oh my gosh the Left does not take Jewish people as seriously as people of color, which I think is just wrong and damaging to people of color — and that’s what I’m mainly concerned about. I think that the fact that Jewish people are white — that many Ashkenazi Jewish people are white — is actually something that we could use as white allies to stand up and say “we have a history of victimhood and today we are not [victims] anymore. We stand with you and alongside you.”

RK: I feel like Ashkenazi Jews have been a historically marginalized people and it makes you wonder how Ashkenazi Jews can be so racist knowing what they’ve been through. But maybe because it’s been so long, they don’t necessarily notice or they’re so on guard because of what happened that they are prone to not being welcoming of people that look different from them.

SK: Yeah and there was this article in the Times of Israel, it was really eye opening. This article was talking about what happened in Charlottesville about the anti-Semitic riots and [the article] dismissed the impact on people of color, especially Black Americans, and that there was this sort of silver lining in these riots and how that was that maybe after these riots, people on the Left [would] start taking anti-Semitism seriously.

RK: I think it’s still taken seriously by Jews in general, but not always by non-Jews. I’m also curious to know where you think white supremacy in Jewish, Leftist spaces started.

SK: I think in the Left there’s this tendency to think that if you are a victim, your story matters somehow more: privileging of victimhood. I do think we should be listening to victims of oppression and, in that, there’s this sort of oppression olympics, that like “oh, well you don’t know what it’s really like, I know what it’s really like and this is my story.” And I think what the Left needs to start doing, especially in the American Jewish Left, is instead of taking this position of victimhood, of “I know what it’s really like,” taking the position of an ally. What an ally really is is someone who stands up for the people that they pray for, but also lets them speak. So why was there this uproar after Charlottesville of progressive Jewish leaders and community members? And all this shit like “we matter too?” [I’m] like we already know that, why do we have to be the biggest loser? Why can’t we be this strong silent ally?

RK: So, there is white supremacy on the Left because Leftists Jews victimize themselves and they then ignore the narratives of people of color?

SK: I don’t think it’s just ignore, I think it’s a spectrum from ignore to consciously and actively silence. It goes from simple ignorance and misunderstanding to conscious and active silencing of other people. And it can happen in really subtle ways, like what I said before. I mean, this happens all the time. You might even be in synagogue and any person of color is considered or assumed to not be a part of the Jewish community. There are Jews of color, Latinx, Black, Asian Jews.

RK: What do you want people to know about what you think they can do?

SK: It’s time to call for Jews to understand and recognize their privilege and start learning what it means to be an ally. In the US, white Jews have a position of real power and we should recognize that, own it, and not feel guilty about it. White guilt is just this thing that definitely needs to go away — “white tears, I drink them for breakfast.” It’s time to wake up and understand that white Jewish people do not have the same experience of people of color in the United States.

RK: And that they should try to be better about it and listen to people’s stories.

SK: Yeah listen and actively lift up — that term lift up I shouldn’t use because it sort of automatically places one person in the position of power and it’s a nasty term to use. [We should] share and spread the stories of Jews of color like Sephardic Jews that are actually people of color and are experiencing racism on a day to day basis. Now I’m hearing my grandmother saying “never forget” and I think that term often gets conflated with the idea that anti-Semitism is never going away. And yeah, it’s a problem and we should deal with it, but I think “never forget” is a bigger message. It’s not “never forget what happened to the Jews” — because there were other groups of people whom the Nazis were [also] trying to exterminate.

RK: Thank you so much for being so receptive and having such good answers.

Leviathan Through the Decades: An Interview with Bruce Thompson, Faculty Sponsor

Written by Georgie Blewett

Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

met with Bruce in his office to discuss the progression of Leviathan throughout the years. Bruce Thompson has served as the faculty sponsor from 2005 to 2012 and 2016 until now. We would also like to acknowledge Nathaniel Deutsch who served as faculty sponsor from 2013 to 2016.

 

Georgie Blewett: What has been your perception of the progression of Leviathan throughout the years?

Bruce Thompson: One of the things that was important to me when I became involved as an advisor: keep that tradition going because it goes back such a long time and there’s something really wonderful about the longevity of it. I think during the early years, it was more political. It was created, I believe, in response to the crisis of the 1973 [Yom Kippur War] when Israel was in very big trouble. And I think in the early years it tended to be key to current events and lots of pieces about what was happening in Israel. But over the years it became much more diverse and obviously more cultural pieces, as opposed to political. And then I noticed when I became involved, that many of the pieces had a personal dimension, which I don’t think was there in the beginning.

GB: Do you think that was a good direction for Leviathan to take?

BT: I think the more kinds of pieces the better.

GB: Would you like to see it go back to being more political?

BT: Well, I hope it will continue to have thoughtful journalism about current events whether that means what’s happening in Israel or elsewhere in the Jewish world. But at the same time, I think it’s great to have students and aspiring journalists to pursue any kind of direction that appeals to them.

GB: Going off of that, what do you think this new Leviathan means for the Jewish community?

BT: That’s a hard question. Well I think the Jewish community at UCSC has different facets to it. There’s a flourishing Santa Cruz Hillel, there’s Chabad. So to some extent, intellectual and social life and religious life revolve around them, but Leviathan is another forum for Jewish students…well not just Jewish students since not all the contributors are Jewish, but for anyone who is interested in Jewish topics or themes. And that I think it is another of its strengths. But to approach the Jewish experience or experiences from a journalistic standpoint, it’s a different kind of mission from that of Hillel or Chabad and I think that’s great. I think journalism is on the one hand, a craft, a discipline. It has conventions, it has certain requirements, it’s a challenge to meet those requirements sometimes, but at the same time it’s a wonderful opportunity to write about almost anything. And to have that kind of means of exploring the world and expressing oneself simultaneously, I think that’s a wonderful contribution.

GB: I agree. Have there been any particular pieces that have stuck out to you that you remember?

BT: If I were to single out any of them, I’d be leaving out so many more. But, I think that what stands out in my mind recently is some of the extraordinary interviews that Leviathan editors and journalists have been able to get. Sometimes that’s with members of our own faculty who have had extraordinary lives and sometimes that’s with some pretty significant figures in the world of literature, or recently, diplomacy, Jewish thought, or distinguished rabbis. I think that’s a real contribution for our particular newspaper to bring the voices and views of those extraordinary people to the UCSC community, I think that’s been a great contribution. So without naming any of them specifically, that’s one of the things that I’ve really admired in recent years.

GB: How do you feel your role has changed over time?

BT: I think that I didn’t realize at the beginning that a major part of my role was to stand aside, if you know what I mean. The paper really belongs to its students. There’s no sense in which its my baby. I’m just there to help in whatever way I can be useful, but not to provide story ideas, or to copy edit, or to do any of the things perhaps at the beginning I thought I should be doing. My role is to be there if I’m needed, but not to be an intrusive presence. The paper goes beautifully without any kind of active supervision or intervention from me.

GB: What has your relationship with editors and staff members looked like across your time with Leviathan?

BT: Very often, the editors have been students in my classes, my Jewish studies classes, either history or literature, or sometimes both. So I knew them before they became Editors-in-Chief. I knew that they were extraordinary people and that they had, not just one kind of skill, but many kinds of skills. Because to be a successful editor, you not only have to be a gifted journalist, a strong writer, someone with an instinct for great stories, but you also have to be a manager, a leader, a supporter. You have to worry about funding. You have to juggle multiple demands on your time. So the editors that I’ve known, they’ve been able to do all those things, and at the same time to inspire the next cohort coming along to do them as well, and to pass the baton to one generation to the next which I think is one of the major responsibilities of every editor to recruit a staff that is going to be there after the editor or editors have graduated. And in many cases, I’ve been not just impressed by what they’ve accomplished, but felt a little twinge of awe or jealousy because they’ve done things I could never have done when I was an undergraduate, and taken the paper in all kinds of new and interesting directions, done great things with the art and the design of the paper, and found ways of approaching topics that had previously been unexplored, maybe even taboo. Sometimes they made me nervous by doing that, but it’s always been a continuing experiment, and that’s a great thing.

GB: Have you had any ideas of where Leviathan could have gone in the past where it didn’t go?

BT: Well, I suppose because I am a teacher and I tend to see the world from a scholar’s perspective, I suppose I have a preference for more scholarly kind of pieces. But would be deadly, if all the pieces were of that kind. It wouldn’t be the lively journal that it is. So, I’m very, very pleased that the editors, the contributors, and everybody involved in Leviathan have had so many different interests that I could never have anticipated. Who knew that we would be having recipes for these great Jewish dishes? And music, and film, and art. All kinds of different interests, different passions and strengths and enthusiasms that reflect the diversity of the students and staff of Leviathan. That’s one of the things I love, that the students take it in all these different directions.

GB: With that being said, where would you like to see Leviathan go in the future?

BT: We have some really extraordinary professors who have been at UCSC for decades, and some of them of course have retired or are about to do so, and some of the recent interviews with, for example with Professor Aptheker [and] Professor Gildas Hamel. Those have been not just fascinating windows on extraordinary lives and careers, but also a real contribution to the history of our campus. I hope that will continue. We’ve had so much success in recent years of getting interviews with really first rate people from outside the campus, we should continue to try to do that. I think that the paper has been first-rate in recent years. I just wish we could get more students involved. I’m not quite sure how to do that. And part of it is just keeping it going, and being aware of this extraordinary legacy 45 years. 45 years of tradition of Jewish journalism and to keep that going is a pretty big responsibility. The editors, who have taken on such a difficult role that is so time and labor intensive, especially since you get towards the deadline, they are heroic. But the other side of it is, one of the things I especially enjoy, what a great bonding experience it is for you. You become a team, best friends, in many cases, and that’s really something I love to watch.

The Political Future of Jews: A Conversation with Tony Michels

Written by Avery Weinman

Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

Tony Michels was a part of Leviathan from 1987 to 1988.  He currently works in the History Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison with a specialization in American Jewish history.  In this interview, Professor Michels and I explored the rising trend of anti-Semitism coming from left-wing political spaces, the implications left-wing anti-Semitism could have on the future of Jewish politics, and how Jews and non-Jewish allies can address the potential dangers of left-wing anti-Semitism.

 

Avery Weinman: For this issue, we’re asking all the alumni that we’re in contact with to respond to a singular prompt: what is the biggest obstacle facing Jews today?

Tony Michels: I think the biggest challenge is how to continue to develop a liberal left-wing politics that takes into account Jewish interests and vulnerabilities such as anti-Semitism.  This goal is made difficult by fact that anti-Semitism emanates from both the political Left and the political Right.

AW: So what I’m hearing in what you’ve said here is a kind of struggle for American Jews to be able to retain what we think of as these kinds of American-Jewish universalist values in the face of also wanting to maintain Jewish particularism.  Which, I think, is a real struggle for American Jews in particular.

TM: I think it is a struggle, and it’s an old one.  For more than a century, Jews have struggled to maintain some sort of balance between particularity and universalism.  It’s an effort made all the more difficult by the problem of anti-Semitism and the fact that it comes from the Left as well as the Right, as I mentioned a moment ago.

AW: So I’ll ask you about that, because I’ll admit that, like you, that has kind have been a personal crisis for me at UC Santa Cruz.  I grew up in Davis so near UC Davis but also near Sacramento —  and it never even really crossed my mind growing up that there would be anti-Semitism on the Left until I came to college and saw it for myself.  I know that you work at the University of Wisconsin: Madison, so in terms of alumni that we’re talking to you are still much more rooted in this kind of college experience.  So maybe you could elaborate more on how you first came in contact with anti-Semitism on the Left?

TM: It sounds to me like [my experience] is similar to yours.  I grew up in San Jose, and it never occurred to me that there was anti-Semitism on the Left.  Not that I was a very politically aware high school kid. But I came to Santa Cruz with the presumption that the Left was the natural political home for the Jews.  It was in Santa Cruz that I discovered that I wasn’t entirely correct in my presumptions. I experienced anti-Semitism on the Left, first, as part of hostility toward Israel.  I don’t mean mere criticism of Israel; I mean an obsessive hostility that morphs into anti-Semitism. This sort of left-wing anti-Semitism wasn’t widespread at UCSC back in the 1980s, but it was evident.  Apart from Israel, there were milder forms of anti-Semitism, such as a refusal to criticize the likes of [Nation of Islam leader] Louis Farrakhan. There was also an attitude that held Jews ought to assimilate, or submerge, or minimize their Jewish identity, but members of other ethnic groups should celebrate theirs.  Of course this double standard was evident among Jews as well as gentiles.

AW: I don’t particularly think that it’s a secret and I don’t really understand people who think it’s not an issue that there’s a serious problem with the Israel discourse on college campuses.  I think it’s pretty objectively clear that there is a serious discourse issue, but there’s a lot of pushback from certain activist groups saying that it’s not anything to do with anti-Semitism, it’s only to do with Israel.  At Wisconsin do you have similar type issues to what we have at UCSC where it’s getting more and more difficult to bring Israeli speakers on campus because the fear is just that those events are going to get shut down and that time is going to be wasted and resources are going to be wasted?

TM: There’s some of that, but I don’t think it’s nearly as strong as it is in the UC system.  I think the kind of anti-Israelism that you’re talking about is regional, more evident on the west coast and in the northeast, less so in other parts of the country.  

AW: I’m curious, at Wisconsin would you say that there’s an actual discourse on Israel, because I feel that at Santa Cruz we’re actually moving away from what I would term as discourse and we’re more moving towards just one side, one perspective, where student run activist groups just run the conversation and literally shut down alternate viewpoints, and I don’t feel that that’s productive in any way.  Would you say that Wisconsin actually has an active discourse?

TM: Yes, I would say that.  Various perspectives are heard.  I don’t think anybody is silenced.  

AW: A little bit ago you mentioned Farrakhan, who is now in the news again.

TM: Surprisingly to me, I have to admit.  I thought his sort of anti-Semitism had mostly disappeared since the 1980s.

AW: I would have hoped to agree, but clearly it has not.  But he brings up an interesting thing to me; I do want to talk about intersectionality, and how some intersectional movements are perhaps a little bit in crisis and that Farrakhan exposed that, at least pertaining to the Jews and how the Jews are involved in progressive activism.  What he said in his speech and this is a recent speech, this is not like his 1980s speeches, this is a 2018 speech he blamed the Jews for all of the sexual abuse scandals in Hollywood and he retreaded some old Satanic-Jewish tropes.  But what made this story interesting is that [Tamika Mallory] one of the co-founders of the Women’s March, which I would pin as the most visible feminist movement in America today, was in attendance.  So I think this exposed a really prominent fracture right now in American progressive politics where it does not seem like this whole idea of intersectionality includes the Jewish people, at least in the same kind of willingness to say “okay, we make mistakes and it’s complicated.”  Essentially [Mallory’s] rebuttal for having been at the Farrakhan event was “it’s difficult to build an intersectional movement because people are complex,” and the response on the Jewish side was “we’ve been saying that the whole time, but we’ve also been kicked out of rallies for being Zionists and we’ve been told we can’t wear our symbols anymore.”  Would you agree that this is also a potential fracture in left-wing politics today that needs to be addressed, and how do you think we can fix it?

TM: Look at it this way, Farrakhan is, among other things, an anti-Semite. Plain and simple.  He espouses classical anti-Semitism that originates in the European racist and nationalist right-wing.  He’s a conduit for it, in fact, he’s one of the main conduits for it in the United States. The Nation of Islam and white supremacists share a common hatred of Jews and employ a similar vocabulary.  So this is a problem. The complicating factor is that the Nation of Islam is seen as doing important work in African-American communities. The Nation of Islam is a symbol of black militancy and pride, in the eyes of many, including those who are not members of the Nation of Islam. There is some truth to this perception.  The Nation of Islam has made a positive difference in the lives of some people. Nonetheless, Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism has to be completely rejected. There are people on the Left who are confused; they think somehow that Farrakhan is a fighter for freedom and equality. But I don’t see how the Nation of Islam has actually challenged structures of racism and inequality in the U. S.  The organization seems to stand on the sidelines most of the time and sees capitalism as the route to Black empowerment. And then there’s the fact that Farrakhan has espoused homophobia and sexism. How he can be regarded as a leftist or a friend of the Left is beyond me.

AW: Going off of that, we’ve covered that Farrakhan is really almost an essential European-intellectual anti-Semite, where the things that he says are really just regurgitations of things we’ve heard for more than a hundred years now.  And I would say that also applies to [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas’ recent speech where he retreated back into Holocaust denial. He said something along the lines of: the Holocaust was caused by Jewish social behavior and money lending and not by anti-Semitism.  And Abbas had previously written his doctoral dissertation on the so-called secret link between Zionism and Nazism arguing that the Holocaust was all a Zionist conspiracy to get international sympathy. But my question is, since these are both really recognizable, clear anti-Semitic tropes that both Farrakhan and Abbas are using, why is it so hard for the Left to reject them, when if the same statement had come from, I don’t know, [former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan] David Duke, instantly there would be outcry and instantly there would be rejection?

TM: Why is there reluctance?  Here I’m speculating, but I think there are several reasons.  First, it’s inconvenient to speak out against Farrakhan. It distracts from the main target and purpose of anti-racist activism.  Second, there are some people, I don’t know how many, who actually agree with him on some level. These are people who do not view him as an anti-Semite, but rather as someone who courageously exposes the nefarious doings of the Jews, their plotting and scheming and exploiting.   Finally, there are people who don’t agree with Farrakhan, but neither do they believe his words have consequences for Jews, so to their minds, there is no need to respond to him. Farrakhan is a sideshow, according to this perspective. One can turn a blind eye to his anti-Semitism because it doesn’t cause actual harm.  Those are the three factors that come to mind. One, he’s an inconvenience best avoided. Two, he’s seen as a truth-teller, not an anti-Semite. Three, what he says about Jews is believed to be inconsequential.

AW: Do you think it is consequential?  That it is something that needs to be more addressed so it doesn’t turn into a serious problem?

TM: Yes, I believe it’s consequential. One consequence, in the political realm, is that it has the effect of driving Jews from the Left.  If Jews think there’s no place for them on the Left because anti-Semitism is tolerated there, then at least some of them will move in a different political direction.  Also, there’s a possibility that anti-Semitism will spread and gain traction, and where that leads I don’t know.

AW: You mentioned one of the potential outcomes as that Jews will leave progressive or left-wing politics.

TM: And I’d say that’s already happened.

AW:  Even this year we’re seeing that now in the United Kingdom amidst all of [head of the UK Labour Party] Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism scandals.  We’re seeing really for the first time in modern Jewish-British history, Jews are not voting Labour Party anymore. The consequences of that are not yet known.  We don’t exactly know where the Jewish-British demographic is going to end up putting their political currency, but we are seeing that that is a totally possible manifestation of tolerance of anti-Semitism in left-wing politics.  But to bring it back to your original answer to what the biggest challenge facing the Jewish community today is, how do Jews remain in left-wing liberal spaces while also asserting a kind of Jewish particularism in that anti-Semitism needs to be addressed and routed, that there are particular Jewish vulnerabilities that people should be aware of what do you think can be done to balance these two things?

TM: Well, I think Jews on the Left should stick up for themselves.  Which is to say, one should speak out in defense of Jews as one would for any group that faces racism and bigotry.  I still feel confident that if Jews do this, they will gain allies who will stand with them.

Inclusivity and Accessibility in Jewish Spaces: An Interview with Aliza Abrams

Written by Natalie Friedman

Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

I conducted an interview with Aliza Abrams, a former Leviathan editor who participates in the Jewish community with her son through Camp Newman, a Jewish summer camp in Santa Rosa. Aliza’s son has special needs and Camp Newman offers a family weekend in which Aliza and her family experience a perfect fit with a new, inclusive atmosphere. We speak about how the features of Jewish spaces affect how those with special needs feel in these environments. In my research at UCSC, at the Re-Embodied Cognition Lab in the Psychology Department, I have been attempting to make public spaces more accessible and establish social connectedness within community through robots. Both Aliza and I strive for a similar goal: making those who feel out of place feel in place by providing a way to make that possible.

 

Natalie Friedman: When you were in Leviathan, what did you do?

Aliza Abrams: I was a decent writer, but I’d never really done any journalism. Somehow, I got pulled into being the editor because they [at Leviathan] knew I spoke Hebrew. I was doing an independent Hebrew course with the father of one of the former editors, Shalom Caspi. [At Leviathan,] they said, “why don’t you be the editor and we’ll just teach you?” I’m like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” And I became the editor. I did this completely backwards. In those days, you know, it was all laid out and pasted. Everyone did everything. I was a good copy editor, but I had no idea what I was doing.

    I was completely flying by the seat of my pants. We did all our work at City On A Hill. We only had the weekend to put it together. We’d stay up all night for like three days and get the whole thing done. Of course, nobody would get their articles in on time. So it was all in three days and everyone was up for three days. Oh my G-d, it was crazy.

NF: Were you mostly editing other people’s work or were you writing also? Do you have a favorite piece that you remember?

AA: At the beginning, I don’t think I was writing, [only editing]. I did a piece called “Journey through Africa” which I interviewed [someone in] New York at a conference. A bunch of us went and I interviewed a guy named Baruch Tegegne who actually became sort of a hero in Israel. He was one of the people that helped get a huge amount of Ethiopian Jews out of Ethiopia to Israel. He died about 10 years ago. The article was actually published in the Baltimore Jewish Times and I think a couple other places too. But I interviewed this guy in New York in Hebrew and had to translate the whole thing to English. It told his whole story of leaving Ethiopia and walking across Sudan. That was an amazing story and I was so privileged to be able to interview this guy. That was the second year I was involved in Leviathan. A bunch of us lived together on Broadway and Ocean. There were five of us living together. We had this crazy Leviathan house.

NF: Can you tell me more about your son?

AA: He went to Camp Newman and then he was a counselor. I went to family camp also. I have two kids. I have a daughter who’s two and a half years older and then I have my son. My daughter is neurotypical. My son wasn’t diagnosed with autism until he was 13. He didn’t go to Hebrew school because he just couldn’t handle it really. He wanted to have a Bar Mitzvah.

    We started going to family camp [at Camp Newman] when he was eight or nine and he loved it there. He felt normal there. The services were just amazing because they were no-shush services. It means people can be in services and nobody’s going to tell them to be quiet. A lot of the kids are autistic or have cerebral palsy, et cetera. They make noises and nobody’s going to tell him to be quiet and my son wasn’t unnecessarily loud but he could never sit still. He always took his shoes off and [here] nobody was going to tell him [not to do that]. He ended up having his Bar Mitzvah there. He’s a counselor now and I go up and I work in the art room and I’m a parent liaison.

NF: When did you begin thinking about how Jewish spaces were affecting your son?  

AA: Hebrew school didn’t work very well. We tried to bring him into day care and that didn’t work very well and he would come into the synagogue and he just couldn’t. He would make too much noise or take off his shoes or he just couldn’t handle it. And it was very frustrating. He’d want to leave after 5-10 minutes and then he’d embarrass his sister. We just didn’t know what to do, you know? And at that time we kept trying to get help for him. He couldn’t get the right help. I developed some really bad physical problems that developed into a severe form of arthritis. I felt like I didn’t get very much support. We did try meeting with the rabbi and getting some support for this, [connecting us] with the families that had kids that had issues. Nothing really ever helped.

    And the first thing that felt like a lifeline of any kind was this family camp. From the first year, I was like, oh my G-d, we fit. My son decided to have his Bar Mitzvah at camp. When I asked him about it, he told me, “Mom, all my best friends are there.” He only saw them once a year, but they were his best friends. There were other kids like mine and there are other families like mine.

NF: In synagogues and Jewish spaces, in my experience, you have to act a certain way. You have to be quiet at certain times and you can’t walk around wherever or whenever you want to. When one doesn’t have an impulse to move around, one may not notice these restrictions. Do you feel like the intersection of Judaism and the subject of people with disabilities is particularly unique? Why? Does Judaism provide a space where people with disabilities can be accepted more so?

AA: You’re right. See, there’s an expectation that you must act a certain way, and they [people like my son,] can’t. It’s starting to [get better]. I think in the Orthodox community, from my own observations, it’s actually better. They’re much more accepting.

    In the Conservative and Reform movements, I think it’s becoming better. Just like it’s becoming better for other people with other differences, you know, people that are LGBTQ, there is a greater sensitivity towards people that are not the same.

    One of the cool things about this camp is that there [are] a lot of service animals. So some of the kids will gravitate towards the service animals and that will help them calm down.

NF: Do you feel like the connection with your son has changed over the years?  

AA: Oh yeah. We didn’t have the right diagnosis. My son became extremely aggressive and violent and we ended up having to send him to residential care. He was not even speaking to me for a couple of years. It was really, really painful. But what happens over the years, you know, he got the right diagnosis and a lot of treatment.

    My daughter finally got enough attention and my son and I now have a really wonderful relationship. It took a very long time. I have bipolar disorder and that affected our relationship a lot too. He’s grown up a lot. He’s very functional and at 13, we had no idea if he was going to be functional. He was verbal, but his receptive language wasn’t very good. He used to get very frustrated because he couldn’t process very well or say what he needed to say for a long time.

    It’s taken a lot of time to learn how to be appropriate and stuff and not lash out. But he’s really good with kids that are like he was and he knows just how to deal with them. It’s hard for people with autism to get from point A to point B. It’s hard for them to get started but once they’re started, they do okay.

NF: Tell me more about your son’s relationship with his sister.

AA: He has a really good relationship with his sister now and they didn’t have a good relationship before. They’re really close, which  to me, is so important that they were able to mend their fences. They need each other. He’s always gonna need some help, and she wants him around. A lot of the kids that have siblings with disabilities are into acting. My daughter is a major in Theater Arts Performance and a minor in Special Education at San Francisco State University.

NF: What’s your favorite part about working at the art studio at Camp Newman?

AA: I do two things there. I’m like a parent liaison and I do art. Working with the kids is just great because they’re all at different levels. I just meet them at their level. There are certain kids that come year after year and so I know what they really liked to do. I actually really, really like working with siblings because [neurotypical] siblings will come too. They don’t get enough attention. It’s like the kids with disabilities take up all the air in the room and this is what happened to my daughter.

    I really give them a lot of attention when they’re in the art room because they may not seem like they need attention, but they do, they love it. The other kids have their counselors. I love working with the adults because we do an adult art project. The adults always say, “I’m not creative!” But everybody has an imagination.

Top row: Aliza Abrams, Dan Pulcrano, Larry Glass, Susan Amkraut, 2nd row: Ted Goldstein, Cindy Milstein, Ed Sherman, Deb Haber, Ari Davidow, Richard Ozer, and unidentified guy behind him; 3rd row:  Corey Salka, Eric Eigenfeld, Avshalom Caspi

Left to right: Dan Pulcrano, Susan Amkraut, David Greenfield, Richard Ozer (on bike), Cindy Milstein, and Aliza Abrams.

What Changes in Forty Years: An Interview with Corey Salka

Written and Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

In 1979, Corey Salka published an article in  Leviathan titled, “Russian Refuseniks: a view from within.” It was a true story about Corey’s trip to the Soviet Union, where Corey and his companion met with Soviet Jews who were repeatedly denied the ability to emigrate. Their attempts to leave in search of better lives cost them jobs, and put them under suspicion of the government. I interviewed Corey at the beginning of this May, not only about his article and experiences, but also some of the overall changes he’s seen in the Jewish community since he graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1981.

 

Amanda Leiserowitz: How old were you when you went to Russia to do these interviews and wrote this article?

Corey Salka: It’s interesting you phrased it that way. I was 21…It’s interesting you characterized it or thought about it as me going to do interviews. It was, as I mentioned in my email, the peak of the Cold War depending on how you look at it, some people would say the Cuban Missile Crisis was the peak of the Cold War I was only 4 when that happened, so it actually peaked on my fourth birthday. But anyway, it was the peak of the Cold War, and it was before the Internet, and you know, the way people learned what was going on was by people going back and forth. And so the whole Soviet Jewry Movement, I don’t know if it’s well understood by young people today, but one of the things I find particularly cool about [the Free Soviet Jewry Movement] is that it was a movement that was started by college students, in which young Jewish college students fought against the Jewish establishment to make it a priority. If you go back, historic things started around 1964, and so this was kind of, for those of us at Santa Cruz from ‘77 to ‘81 I used to joke that we were clinically depressed not to be ten years older and not be around when the really good stuff was happening, you know? But the point is this was a movement really driven by young people, by young college students. And for the most part the information that came back and forth was from young college students going back and forth.

   People would go and visit… in a pre-Internet world, even just getting information out once you had it, could be challenging. People would go and come back and share what they had learned, either in the form of the article I wrote for Leviathan, or slideshows, back in the day, or speaking in synagogue about that world. But it’s kind of strange now because it is such a different world.

    […] That struggle for Soviet Jewry precedes your experience on the earth in a similar way to mine and the Holocaust, actually. You know, I was born thirteen years after the end of the Second World War so it was already history. And yet it’s a piece of history that is well studied and well understood. The struggle of the Soviet Jewry is not well understood, but it happened, and it’s actually an incredible success. It should be really inspiring to people who want to think big and make big things happen in the world.

AL: Definitely, knowing a little more of the context helps me understand the article as a whole. […] This was before the Internet and that’s how information traveled, through speaking.

CS: But also remember this was still the Soviet Union, so again, I briefly said in my email, you know, we were followed by the KGB [security agency for the Soviet Union] we were interrogated by the KGB at the airport and they gave us a good scare. Our parents were pretty freaked out and completely opposed to it. My dad said, “If I knew how to stop this, I’d hire a lawyer, find a way to stop this…” [I said] Well, “Sorry dad, I’m going!”

AL: When you took this trip to Russia as a 21-year-old, what kind of impact do you feel that had on your experience as a student and as a young person and a Jew?

Courtesy of The American Jewish Historical Society and the Center for Jewish History

CS: My going and doing that is in the top ten or top five of the things I feel like are among the most important things I’ve done in my life. It feels weird to say that about something that happened so long ago and I was so young, but it remains with me to this day in certain times in terms of how we think about what’s really stressful. When I’d be really stressed out I’d reflect back to what it was like with those two KGB guys in the airport when they separated my friend and I in separate rooms and proceeded to rip through everything. That felt really scary. And so coming back, you can imagine, oh I’m stressed out over a paper…I just think back to that time there in Leningrad, and it’s not so bad. And literally to this day sometimes if I’m really stressed out about something, that will pop into my head.

   But going back to the core of your question, I think I was already someone who was involved in different expressions and connections to Jewish life. Not necessarily in a religious way, perhaps more of a political way. But that’s where my connections were. And I think much of that has stayed, has remained, and I think I learned at a really young age that individuals can make a huge difference. It’s not always at the macro level, sometimes it’s the micro level. [If] it’s ten people whose lives I made a big difference in… that’s huge.

   Through the Internet I’ve reconnected with some of those people. I actually met with, the people I felt closest to, and most tense about were these two [refusenik] couples in Kiev Alex and Pauline Churniac and Lev and Channah Elbert. Lev was a Hebrew teacher which was kind of weird, because I was teaching at the local synagogue on the side as a student at Santa Cruz, except that what he did was illegal. We could all be arrested if the KGB decided to come in. The thought of that was really bizarre. And both he and the Churniacs ended up being imprisoned during the [1980 Moscow] Olympics. They were imprisoned in a psychiatric ward and shot up full of drugs and what not, but the Churniacs ended up in San Francisco, and I’ve since seen them. And Lev Elbert ended up in Jerusalem and we’ve reconnected over the Internet. It was really big seeing the Churniacs in San Francisco when the last I’d seen them was a generation ago, in such a horrible and depressed situation, without much hope for the future. And here they’ve ended up raising their children in San Francisco, and one works at Google. Just completely unimaginable from the experiences we had.

AL: In your email you included some of the follow up on them. I really appreciated that, because after I read your article, I was able to go back and say, “Okay, so these people, they have happy endings.” That made me very happy.

CS: It does, and that’s so cool about it. This one guy we met, Vladimir Kislik, we met him within a couple of days of when he’d been rustled up by the KGB for a few days. The guy had a heart condition, he was very overweight. He looked like he was barely alive when we saw him. And at the time I didn’t think he would make it out of there, and he’s been in Israel for a long time now, so that’s pretty cool.

AL: In light of how different it was in the state of the world, I saw a pretty big difference between your article and the style of Leviathan today at first when I opened up that article I thought I was looking at a newspaper. Do you have any thoughts on the style of the journal, and the political or apolitical content, changing over time?

CS: Yeah. It’s actually some really interesting history and I don’t know how much of it is even known, but the original founders of Leviathan, shortly after it was founded, ended up moving to UC Berkeley and some of them ended up being hard core Left in Israel. We were definitely very, very political. Again, as I said earlier, we were the generation that wished for this time that had passed us by, and so there was a piece of that in our paper. Perhaps, as young people, we were fairly far Left, and when I said far Left, I mean having conversations around the notion of a two-state solution in 1978, this was like radical, incredible. Back then, the idea you would talk to the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] was this radical, crazy idea. And yet it was something that many of us were comfortable with, and many of us had spent extensive time in Israel.            

   Anyway, we ran some really provocative kinds of things that we wrote. The editor at the time was Dan Pulcrano. Dan really brought the professional newspaper graphic layout, edginess, to some of what we did back then. And that was really his. He was the one that made a lot of things hum. But a lot of the political orientation of our cohort was very deep, and very much on the surface of what was expressed at the time.

   We had some stuff that wasn’t political, but and again I don’t know what it’s like being a UCSC student today and what the level of political awareness is among the students is — but it was pretty high in our time. Those expressions really embodied what people wanted to communicate and why they were passionate about spending their time that way. So for example, if people’s passions were in the arts, if an artist had something that we could publish, and we knew about it, there was some art published. But for the most part the people that were really passionate about art weren’t really a part of us, so perhaps we ended up self selecting this sort of a congre of people who inherited the earliest legacy of Leviathan as being this really almost purely political thing, more of a newspaper, more polished, professional, with deeper articles and some variety. But again, it was a really political time.

AL: How would you define a Jewish lens? For example, when I was starting to write my questions, I was starting with things like, “From a Jewish lens…” and one of the editors asked me, “Well, what’s the definition of a Jewish lens?”

CS: The first thing that comes to mind is there’s no such thing as a singular Jewish lens because I would assert that every person’s Jewish lens is a little bit different. And although there may be some commonality, you can’t separate the Jewishness piece of someone from the rest of them, and so it’s always going to have some unique flavor. Both my kids are artists my elder is a painter at UCLA and my younger is a jazz pianist. And they both express their Jewishness through their art. In my time, and my wife in her time, expressed it in more political ways, perhaps at a time, more spiritual ways. For our kids, that lens is one of being a young Jewish artist, and what that means around the spoken word or visually.

   I’d say that a Jewish lens starts with the whole person. If we’re thinking metaphorically, if the whole lens case is the whole person, perhaps the piece of the lens that does the focusing just the glass prism part, perhaps, is the Jewish part. Is it a religious connection? Is it a cultural connection? Is it a spiritual connection? Is it a political connection? Whatever it happens to be, I think everyone’s lens is going to be different, and yet for the most part, there’s these shared commonalities. There’s some frayed edges around where that is, in today’s Jewish world, perhaps more so now than when I was in college.

AL: That’s a really hard question, and I think that encompassing the whole person is a really important part of that. But the end of your response leads into one of my next questions really well, which is, what are the changes you see from the time you were a college student here at UCSC to the current world landscape?

CS: I’m thinking about two axes here. One is an axis of US and Israel, in the context of the entire world. And one is an issue of young people and Jewish establishment in the US. If one identified as Jewish in the late ‘70s, Israel was a subject around which people didn’t always agree, but it was a subject around which people could conduct respectful discourse on their differences.

   Israel was a topic around which there was a certain degree of Jewish shared value that pretty much cut across communities, Left and Right, religious and not, and so on. That’s not true anymore. Israel is actually perhaps one of the most divisive topics in our community. It’s very painful that it’s divisive in that way, but when we were in Leviathan, we could express our very left views and people didn’t always agree with us, and yet I’m not even sure that could be done today. If we published stuff today that was as far out of the mainstream as some of the stuff we did, I think you’d be having some of the challenges that occur around discourse around Open Hillel and things like that. And to me it’s very painful that we live in a world, in a community, where we find it so hard to have respectful discourse. But I think we’re just a microcosm of the rest of the world you don’t have a respectful discourse in [the] US political arena, and we certainly don’t have it in the Israeli political arena. It saddens me that that change has occurred.

   The other change is very much related to that. So, Baby Boomers are sort of known as being a “me” generation, of being focused on themselves and what they wanted to do, whether that was being a hippy or whatever other things are out there. And although the Boomers were a “me” generation, they embodied an “us” expression and an “us” voice politically, and we live in a world where we’re used to labeling ourselves down into these little things, and one of the things that I wonder is, have we ended up forming these sort of micro-communities that keep us a little bit isolated and that make it really comfortable not to engage with people who have differing opinions? For example, on one hand, I regret that we in our community can’t have respectful discourse around Israel, and at the same time, that there’s a flip side of the coin, I think related to concepts of safe spaces. I wonder if there comes a point around issues of safe spaces where people are no longer willing to engage in conversation with people they disagree with. And I think there’s a relationship between our desire to constantly feel safe and our inability to interact with people whose views are very different than ours.

   When I look at that spectrum of from the individual to the community, what I see and I hear in my kids and in my friends’ kids, is it’s not a lack of interest in things Jewish, but really their interests are somewhere else. And I get it, I understand it. I was fourteen when the Yom Kippur War happened and we thought Israel might get destroyed and Israel was very much the underdog, and wow, fast forward a generation and a half, and it’s completely different. They’re certainly not the underdog. If we’re gonna engage in critical thinking about Israel it causes us to ask questions, and to engage in tough issues if we’re gonna be honest. I think many people just want to be doing different things. And again I’ll speak to my kids both as artists who identify strongly Jewishly but perhaps their primarily identity is as artists. And so they seek a Jewish expression in that. The cognitive dissonance and the tension that’s present in the conversations around Israel makes it easier for young people to not really engage in the broader community. And that saddens me too, because we need new ways of thinking and new ways of approaching the world, and we need to listen to things that might make us uncomfortable even if we don’t want to.

   If Not Now is a group of largely Jewish students, very leftwards leaning, and they [look at how the] Jewish community is embodied in things like the Jewish Federations, or Israel and want to see changes there. The reason I mention them is because we had a 70th anniversary Israel celebration here in Seattle. Twelve hundred people there, and there was a group of young people protesting outside. It was funny, because I looked at them, and I was like, wow, I totally know if I was their age I would be with them outside, I would not be inside. I would be with them outside, not because of what they’re saying I actually don’t agree with what they’re saying but because it would have been my cohort. I  almost reached out to them to meet with them I thought even though I disagree with them completely, their heart’s in the right place. Because their heart’s in the right place, we should have a conversation, even if it makes us uncomfortable. The big change in the world that I see is largely around how we conduct ourselves within our local communities and how our community here in the US relates to Israel. Across all those dimensions, it’s a very different world.

AL: How do you think that you might express yourself differently from what you did in college if you were in college now in 2018? Do you think that you might express yourself in the same ways that you did or that you would have acted in different ways?

CS:  That’s a really hard question, in part because, without sounding like a really old guy, when that much time has passed, there’s romanticism you have for younger periods in your life. So it’s hard for me to seperate the romanticism around the things I did and the roles I played from what I would do today. If I start with the core foundation of being a person who was generally an activist, someone who believed we should take a stand and make a difference I’m someone who was that way from the sixth grade. I’m gonna stand out and make a difference. Some of the things that I participated in as a college student, I think today were largely in disagreement with the establishment. I would like to think that spirit would still be with me, and that’s why I said if I was a young person I might be one [of] the people out there. Again, I actually think they’re really misguided; however, the spirit of, and the gestalt of who they are, felt very very similar to me and my experience at Santa Cruz back in the day. So I think I would like to believe I would still be an activist and take a stand. I would like to believe I would still think big.

    [In college] some friends [and I] […] ended up being asked to lead the crowd of a [Israeli Prime Minister] Menachem Begin speech to three thousand of the top knockers and movers and shakers of the Jewish world and the US we somehow got asked to lead the crowd in “Hatikva”. But we decided we had some messages we wanted to share first. Menachem Begin wrote a book called The Revolt, and he struggled against the Jewish community in Poland before he made his way to Palestine. And so we brought on a passage from his book, where he talks about how important it was to struggle against expected norms and to challenge some of it, and to challenge things that are held to be true, and the importance of the role of the young person to challenge the community in that way. And we literally quoted the book and looked down at him and said, “Is it okay if we continue?” And he had this big grin and was like, “Yeah, go, go forward!” So I feel a certain romanticism for that, and I would like to believe I would step up and take a stand on whichever way my passions took me today. So that said I don’t think they would actually be much different. I think I would probably be doing Leviathan and I guess the bigger question is are there other things in the world that as a young person I would rather be doing? Who knows?

 

Left to right: Kislik, mentioned in article, and Salka

A Preference for Politics and Jewish Spirituality: An Interview with Dr. Ron Feldman

Written by Zachary Brenner

Illustrated by Amanda Leiserowitz

Dr. Ron Feldman attended UC Santa Cruz from 1973 until 1977, where he served as editor for Leviathan after the original founders of the paper graduated. Upon first contacting Dr. Feldman, he responded to our initial prompt with interest in exploring Jewish diasporic activism and Israel activism. He also is very interested in Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. We spoke on the phone to explore his role as an editor of Leviathan, his ultimate joining of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in San Francisco, and his spiritual interests.

 

Zachary Brenner: So jumping right in… at UC Santa Cruz, and I’ve seen this in other left leaning spaces as well, there seems to be an anti-establishment mentality which extends, oftentimes, to nonprofits because of things like donor politics. Was this the case when you were at UCSC and if so, how did that play into your eventual decision to join the JCC?

Dr. Ron Feldman: There’s a long stretch of time between those two things. When I was at a Leviathan, we did have some issues with our donors. I think some of the funding at least was provided by the San Francisco Federation at the time. And there was not a Hillel per se. There was an informal Jewish student organization and a couple of different things happening, including Leviathan. So we ran afoul of the Federation in ‘75. You’ll find an editorial that we co-signed that I wrote up protesting some of Israel’s actions on what was called Land Day. I can’t say I was the lead person on this, but what I heard was that the year later the Federation cut off our funding because they didn’t like what we wrote critical of Israel. I would say most of our positions were fairly progressive, left-wing Israel positions. I spent a gap year [in Israel] before going to Santa Cruz. A few weeks after I got to Santa Cruz, the Yom Kippur War broke out in ‘73. So it was an intense time. We were having lots of debates. I was at Merrill, the core course had a book by a Palestinian, but there was no book by Israelis and I think we complained about that and the next year they started including an Israeli book. So we had some impact.

   There were a lot of political debates. I think that a key thing was ‘73 seemed to be the last of the existential wars in Israel. All the ones after that were not really about Israel’s existence, but more about political issues between Israel and the Palestinians or the Arabs and the neighboring countries. I ended up going after college, living in Israel and then coming back and working in high tech and then ended up working in nonprofits, especially the Jewish Community Centers. I think my work in the Jewish community [has] been rewarding because it’s about creating Jewish community. There are people with a range of opinions about Israel, but they’re not directly related to the day-to-day work.

ZB: Do you feel like the Jewish establishments today are changing from what they once were? My parents say it used to be that all the Jewish children would participate in things like USY or NIFTY or a bunch of other JCC-related events. Yet it seems like today there’s a lot of resistance because of how divisive topics like Israel are. Do you feel that the Jewish establishments, are actively engaging with young Jews who have more polarizing or particularly anti-Israel beliefs?

Dr. Feldman: I can’t really speak for the establishment. I don’t work for a Federation or for a national organization. My perspective is pretty much in the trenches with one kind of organization. I’ve worked at two different JCCs. I do see the Jewish community, as a whole, worried about continuity and the next generation and Jewish peoplehood — they have their various labels for it. And overall, nationally, funders have been forthcoming with all kinds of methods to engage younger people, whether it’s Birthright or in the Bay Area programs like Urban Adamah or Wilderness Torah that seem to be successful in meeting younger Jews where they are rather than where people want to be. I don’t know how many people are involved with, you know, BBYO (a movement for participating in Jewish experiences geared toward Jewish teens).

   I do think that the political part of the organized Jewish community is quite concerned about the left wing perspectives, especially BDS. Israel is concerned about that too. I’ve been reading some editorials from right-wing locations that are concerned about that. There’s always going to be the struggle over what counts as Jewish and what doesn’t and what’s good for the Jews and what’s not. So  right now, clearly between the US and Israel, the right-wing is very ascendant and is doing their best to delegitimize their critics.

    I think there really is a generation gap. I went there during the period of the 73 war, and Israel, at least, I would say, until the first Lebanon war in ‘81, was really a uniting point for most of the Jewish community. And even for most of the non-Jewish community with the Jewish community. Israel was seen as struggling for survival. Unless you believe Netanyahu, that Iran is an existential threat because of its nuclear capabilities I personally don’t hold to that view Israel’s conflicts over the last 40 years have not been existential. And Israel is now seen as not the David in the David and Goliath story, but the Goliath in the David and Goliath story. And for the most part, Israel is not the same kind of uniting point of agreement amongst all Jews and it’s very fraught for younger Jews for all kinds of political reasons. The result that I see is that the successful programs that happen with younger Jews are not oriented around Israel. The topic of Israel is somewhat sidestepped, at least, maybe I’m most familiar with what’s going on in the Bay Area. Israel is so controversial that we need to find other things that Jews are interested in that can bring us together. Israel is not in tremendous need the way it was in ‘67 or ‘73. The Israel that appears on the nightly news is not always the heroes of Entebbe, you know, so…

ZB: Do you think that the Israel activism has gone in a positive or negative direction?

Dr. Feldman: First of all, I’m not really on campus, so it’s hard for me to say. It may vary campus to campus too. I’m not 100 percent sure what’s going on in Santa Cruz, in particular. My sense is that Israel is a very challenging topic. So there are students who don’t mind being at the forefront of challenging topics, whatever their political position. But I think that for most people in most situations, they have other things they’d rather do and Israel is not a charmed topic. It’s a problematic topic that has no easy answers and therefore they’d rather just avoid it.  

   I’m just in touch with a lot of younger Jews, in their twenties and thirties, for whom Israel is an element, but not a key element to their Jewish involvement. I think there’s probably a lot more who don’t want to have anything to do with it. There’s a lot folks you just don’t hear about because they’re not in the conversation. It’s kind of like Holocaust survivors. There’s a lot of Holocaust survivors who are happy to talk about it. And then occasionally you hear these stories about Holocaust survivors who, after the war, just wanted to forget and they assimilated. They converted to Christianity or Catholicism or something like that. Their progeny discovered the deep secret that one of these ancestors was Jewish. You almost never hear about those people because they’re not talking about it. So, I think there’s a lot of people who are avoiding the Israel issue because it’s kind of a no-win. I think there was a moment in Jewish history, like in the late sixties, early seventies where the interests of American Jews and Israeli Jews overlapped. They didn’t really understand each other, but they had similar goals. I think now, 40 years later, that doesn’t overlap. I think it’s good to learn from each other and to try to have connections. I think that the sad part is mostly they don’t really understand each other because there’s rather different existential situations.

ZB: What were you and your staff compelled to write about when on Leviathan and have these interests changed?

Dr. Feldman: You are probably better off than I by looking back at those issues, which I don’t have in front of me, but I know we did write a lot about Middle East politics. We wrote about Jewish culture, and different things that interested us. I remember an essay or two about the use of cannabis on Shabbat. I think there was some creative writing and poetry and interviews. I know I personally was mostly interested in the political stuff at that time. There was a whole school of people, and I think it got reflected in the paper a bit, that were interested in alternative Jewish spirituality or religion. There were a bunch of people who became rabbis in that era and then people like Gershom [Gorenberg] who became journalists, or writers.

ZB: Would you write similar content today or have your interests changed?

Dr. Feldman: You mean if I was writing for Leviathan today? I think maybe I just haven’t changed much since then, but I think the key Jewish topics today are still the Middle East, Holocaust memorialization, spiritual practices, community you know, what does it mean to be connected to people? I think there were people who wrote about environmental things and I think that was fairly early in the Jewish environmental movement, you might say. Yes, we were early and you know, particularly Santa Cruz was very early in thinking about environmental issues and trying to integrate that with their Jewish concerns.

ZB: This question is from one of our non-Jewish staffers. As a religious intellectual, what do you make of other world religions outside of Judaism? Do you see all religions as striving for the same goal or are these systems of belief distinct in their mission? If they are the same, why practice Judaism? What makes it unique?

Dr. Feldman: I’m a kind of a religious relativist. I think they all have their particular cultural origins and perspectives. I think there’s some religions, for example, that strive to be universal and see themselves a faith for everyone in the world, such as Catholicism or Islam; at times they have sought to impose their beliefs on others. Well, Judaism and some other religions do not believe that they need to impose themselves on others. So there are differences. And clearly there’s some differences in belief. What I’ve studied is that a lot of the mystical schools of different religions are often more similar because they’re trying to have some more in depth personal relationship with the divine. But what happens is some people get revelations and they think they’re the Messiah or they need to impose the truth that has been revealed to them onto others. And that is often problematic and leads to a lot of strife. I don’t think Judaism is inherently better or worse than others. I think each one may have a truth, but not the truth. I don’t believe in “the truth” of anything. I started out agnostic. I’ve tried to bring in more spirituality into my life and I think the way for me to do that, given who I am, was in a Jewish way. But I don’t think that’s inherently a better or worse way than any other way. I think every tradition has some legitimacy as long as no one is trying to impose their truth on others. I think that’s the thing I’m most allergic to. Including the imposition of Orthodox Jewish practices on non-Orthodox Jews.

   You have the Jewish people and you have the Jewish religion. And Judaism has always been considered more a process of practice than belief, although there are some beliefs like in one G-d. But when you convert to Judaism, you join the Jewish people. It’s not that you’ve just proclaimed your faith in something. So in that way, a little bit more of a tribal model than these universalist religions. I personally enjoy the practices and the rituals and the holidays quite a bit, as they connect me to the cycles of life and the cycles of the seasons. I’m a little bit more iffy about any kind of faith in the divine and how that manifests or is experienced.

   I think my approach is very historical as opposed to anything else. Judaism itself is a modern concept, but if you take a look at what Jews have done over history, Jews have always been a minority and their practices have modified based on the context within which they live. Whether it was the ancient Persian period, in Judea or under the Romans or later on, as Jews found themselves in various countries. As the sociopolitical environment shifted, the Jews’ self-definition shifted along with this definition from non-Jews of Jews. So for example, in the Middle Ages it was mutually understood and mutually convenient to see the Jews as a diaspora people, as exiled. The Jews felt they were exiled and the Christians felt that the Jews were exiled because they didn’t accept Jesus.  There was a certain kind of consensus. In the modern period, Jews have been redefined. In the modern era we saw the definition of Jews shift towards that of a religious group as a way of fitting as citizens in European-style nation states. Today we see a partial evolution in the wake of Zionism towards Jews being seen — and defining themselves — as someone who’s in Israel or an Israel supporter. I think a lot of non Jews think that the essence of being Jewish is being aligned with Israel. They have [little] concept of the Jewish religion or Jewish peoplehood or Jewish culture as distinct from Israel. But that’s what’s in the news.

ZB: The last question I have is whether you have any regrets from your time in Leviathan. Anything you wish you could correct? What would you hope those in Leviathan today would write about?

Dr. Feldman: No, I don’t have any regrets. I thought it was a great learning experience for me and for some of my fellow students, where it was an exercise in self expression about our Jewish identity, or our Jewish experience. So it was a great learning process to learn to write and edit and put ideas out there and have other people read them and get feedback, in the days way before the Internet. A lot of us started to learn how to have a written voice. So I don’t have any regrets of anything I did or wrote about. I think it’s helped me. I’ve continued to write on all kinds of topics, mainly Jewish topics, over the years.

     In terms of what people are writing about today, I think Jewish students should write about whatever they think is important in terms of the Jewish aspect of their lives. I believe in complete free speech. If people have critical perspectives, I think they need to be engaged in debates. Censorship is not appropriate particularly in the academy, and particularly if we want people to be thinking and learning, and learning to express themselves. I think vigorous debate is important and valuable. I think sadly, a lot of what has come down in politics is, not so much trying to promote your perspective, but trying to delegitimize the other perspective. Whether you’re on the Right trying to say that this other perspective like the BDS perspective, is anti-Semitic or talking about Jews as all colonialists. I’m giving extreme examples, but I think neither way is really helping us clarify what the complex and indeed fraught issues are in today’s political realities. But that’s just me.

ZB: Thank you so much for talking.

45 Years of Leviathan

To celebrate our 45th anniversary, we asked Leviathan alumni to respond to a singular prompt:

“What is the biggest challenge facing the Jewish world today?”

Our hopes were that alumni’s answers would reflect the rich intellectual acumen that forty-five years of Leviathan has produced as well as accentuate how perceptions of the Jewish world change from decade to decade. We wanted to get a sense of who these people are who created and contributed to this journal.

After they responded to us with their initial thoughts, we had our staffers conduct interviews with them in order to go into more depth. The interviews in this section of the journal are all based upon the past editors’ interpretation of the question. Avery and Zach, the current editors, chose to write stand-alone pieces rather than participate in interviews.

The opinions stated in these interviews and pieces are the sole opinions of the participants. The interviews have been condensed for clarity.

Below is a slideshow of covers from our past 45 years!