Monthly Archives: November 2013

Never Again? Anti-Semitism on the Rise

In Belgium a group of students at a Jewish school are assaulted by neighborhood youth. In a small town in the Czech Republic vandals topple 80 tombstones at a Jewish cemetery and damage a Holocaust memorial twice. In Finland swastikas with anti-Semitic slogans are spray-painted on public buildings. The son of a rabbi in France is attacked outside his home by men shouting ant-Semitic slogans. Reports continue to grow of incidents in Spain including vandalism, verbal harassment and anti-Semitic sentiment in newspapers and at sporting events.

These examples, all of which have been reported by the State Department, are true. And all of them occurred in Europe, where 22 percent of Jewish people say they hide their Jewish identity because they are afraid. But the kinds of anti-Semitic acts they portray are happening all over the world, from Armenia to Argentina, Belarus to Brazil, Syria to Saudi Arabia.

Commenting on a 2012 survey of more than 5,000 people in nine European countries conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, a former representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted that “a majority of European Jews are experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism.”

The global increase in incidents of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, not only by individuals but by some government officials and religious leaders, has prompted the State Department to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. The Department’s 2012 report on religious freedom cited particular concerns about government-sanctioned expressions of anti-Semitism in Venezuela, Egypt and Iran.

A recent Voice of America editorial shared a message from now-retired U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal. “Not only is anti-Semitism still prevalent,” she said before stepping down last year, “but it is evolving into new, contemporary forms of religious hatred, racism, and political, social and cultural bigotry.”One need only consider how President Obama has been treated in some quarters to see the relevance of her remark.

The VOA editorial noted that Ms. Rosenthal has underscored that in addition to the traditional forms of anti-Semitism such as defacing property and desecrating Jewish cemeteries, there are now new forms appearing. These include Holocaust denial, “holocaust glorification” – a particular favorite among some Middle Eastern media that call for a new Holocaust to finish Jewish annihilation – and “Holocaust relativism,” in which some governments and institutions conflate the Holocaust with other tragic events that include great human suffering.

Because of the increasing frequency and severity of anti-Semitic incidents over the past decade, especially in Europe, the international community is taking steps to combat it. But how effective will these efforts be? United Nations meetings and resolutions are notoriously ineffective. Speeches by government officials are just so much blah, blah. Law enforcement agencies frequently downplay the seriousness of hate crimes. And the media seems increasingly willing to provide a forum for anti-Semitic propaganda to flourish.

Perhaps recent events in Hungary, reported by The New York Times, offer a way to at least shine light on anti-Semitism. Ivan Fischer, conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, fed up with right-wing parties in his country and across Europe, wrote an opera about a famous 1882 blood libel case in Hungary as a rebuke to the country’s growing tolerance for anti-Semitism under the leadership of its right-wing, authoritarian prime minister, Victor Orban. The opera has been seen widely and is much discussed in the media and in coffee houses across Hungary. “Culture has a strong responsibility to find the essence, the real concealed truth which lies behind the day to day,” Mr. Fischer told The New York Times. Perhaps culture can help curb the growing crisis.

But as Hannah Rosenthal knows, “leaders must confront bigotry. Where there is hatred born of ignorance, we must teach and inspire,” she said. “Where there is hatred born of blindness, we must expose people to a larger world of ideas. Where there is hatred whipped up by irresponsible leaders, we must call them out and answer as strongly as we can – and make their message totally unacceptable to all people of conscience.”

Having just passed the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass” in Berlin that marked the turning point toward Hitler’s Jewish genocide, Rosenthal’s words are urgent and perhaps prescient. A Neo-Nazi group in Kansas City, Missouri chose the anniversary day to plan a rally protesting immigration reform. The white supremacist gang which is connected to the KKK and other hate groups, claims to be “the political party for every patriotic white American.” They are against granting amnesty to “illegal aliens” who, they say, (as Hitler did of German Jews) are causing the “nation to drown in a free fall of economic collapse.”              

Never again? As my mother would say, “From your lips to God’s ear.”

Hester’s Daughters Gets Rave Review!

Here’s the latest response to my novel, Hester’s Daughters – a contemporary, feminist re-telling of

    The Scarlet Letter

– along with an excerpt! Great holiday gift or way to thank anyone in your life for honoring all the work women do as producers, reproducers, and community caretakers!

With her novel, Hester’s Daughters, feminist writer Elayne Clift has presented a gift to Second Wave feminists, their daughters, and granddaughters. In re-shaping Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale,

    The Scarlet Letter

, she elegantly reveals a 20th century Hester, a woman with courage, determination and sensitivity who forges an independent life unimaginable in Hester Prynne’s Puritan world. Clift writes from the vantage point of having been deeply involved with the women’s movement. Added to this is her skill as a writer and her deep understanding of human nature. Kudos to her for revealing a new Hester and for sharing her daughter Pearl’s story as well. They are women you won’t soon forget.

Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., is a clinical and research psychologist, an award-winning playwright and non-fiction author, and a specialist in women’s issues.

Hester and Pearl: abstract adoration!

Excerpted from Hester’s Daughters * (OGN Publications, 2012) by Elayne Clift
* A contemporary, feminist retelling of The Scarlet Letter

How did a priest and a Jew become lovers? How did they first move beyond the boundaries tethering each of them to their own worlds? I don’t know the answer, and I have not intruded upon Hester to ask. But here is what I imagine might have happened:

Hester and Arthur have become friends. They are sitting in a restaurant together on a frigid winter night. They have just been to a particularly moving film together — Elvira Madigan, perhaps. The film’s theme music, Mozart’s haunting 21st Piano Concerto, has heightened awareness of their growing mutual attraction, so long and frustratingly suppressed. The table where they sit is small and round; the proximity to each other provides a new intimacy. His knee brushes hers beneath the white tablecloth; their hands touch inadvertently as they reach for their glasses of Chablis. Her eyes tear as she recalls the closing scene of the movie in which a man shoots his beautiful young lover and then kills himself because they both know a future together is impossible. Arthur is deeply moved by Hester’s weeping. Tenderly, he wipes away a tear from under her eye with the tip of his thumb. She pushes a wayward lock of hair away from her eye and taking his hand in hers, brings it to her lips, briefly, but does not kiss it.

“Hester,” he whispers, “It’s no good. I can’t go on without saying it. I love you. I love you so very much.”

“Don’t, Arthur!” she says.

But the floodgates have opened. Together, they are navigating their way to somewhere new, somewhere beyond the ancient, restraining locks. Boundaries begin to dissolve on the horizon. There is no going back.

Ice forms on the restaurant window, its crystals shimmering in reflected candlelight. Outside, snow falls and Christmas lights flicker from brightly decorated shop windows and apartments. The thought of going home, each to a solitary, cold bed, is unbearable in its starkness. So Hester agrees to go to Arthur’s apartment “for a little while.” He promises it will warm and cheer her, “yes, just for a little while.”

She trusts him, and her own strong will. He knows that he will regain control of himself once the cold air strikes his face. And so, together, deluding themselves on a white night in a season meant for sharing — for connection, for giving, and receiving — they walk together, silently, down the street.

At home, Arthur lights a bold fire. Its heat quickly warms them both. Rising from the hearth, he takes her into his arms and says again, “I love you.”

And because she loves him too – because she has loved him for years – she draws him to her. They kiss, gently and long, as if drawing sustenance, each from the other’s soul. His hand finds her breast, caresses its firmness, lingers there. She slides it under her blouse, pressing his palm to her heart as if to staunch its bleeding. Unwilling to break apart, they sink into each other, yielding to the desire they have each kept private for so long. There is no shame and afterwards, no regret. As they lie together, there is only release, and joy. Both of them know that in one brief moment, their lives have changed, sweetly, forever.

Did they only once yield to physical love? Was it then that I was conceived? Or were there more moments of passion before they agreed to end their physical liaison, maintaining only their deep friendship? The answers, irrelevant in the fullness of our lives, are Hester’s alone. But I wonder: Could there ever have been a greater passion from which to be born?