Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Regressive Chic


In 1970, Tom Wolfe coined the term “radical chic” to describe how socialites and celebrities were adopting radical political causes to advance their social standing. If you wanted to be considered fashionable, you had to ostentatiously embrace violent groups like the Black Panthers.

Today, the desire to use radical politics to advance your status has been adopted by not just celebrities but by professors and writers as well. And it’s not only about supporting illiberal, often violent groups and trends; it’s also about silence in the face of the most outrageous acts. Maajid Nawaz calls this regressive leftism because it’s tearing down every tenet of the Enlightenment and liberalism. I call it regressive chic because it’s so tied up in social insecurities.

Take the panel on anti-Semitism at The New School in New York City. The fact that the panel was led by Linda Sarsour and Jewish Voice for Peace—toxic anti-Israel activists who honor terrorists who kill Jews—is of course the height of regressive chic. So was the fact that the five panelists spent most of their time bashing Israel and doing everything possible not to mention the elephant in the room: Islamic anti-Semitism.

But just as egregious: only one professor in the entire country publicly condemned it.

I know of professors who are outraged by Sarsour’s skillful manipulation of the left. But when it came time to writing an op-ed that demanded the panel be cancelled in the name of truth and sanity, they were silent. Why? “Trash-talking Jewish Israelis is not only permitted in progressive circles, it’s rewarded,” wrote New School Professor Susan Shapiro in the New York Daily News.

Across the river at Rutgers University, three professors who have expressed blatantly anti-Semitic views, both in the classroom and out, have been inexplicably defended by Rutgers’ president, Robert Barchi. Again, no professor in the entire country has publicly had a problem with this.

Interestingly, one of the Rutgers’ professors, Michael Chikindas, is not just anti-Semitic; he’s also homophobic and misogynistic. Have we heard anything about this from LGBTQ or feminist groups? Nope. Because in the land of regressive chic, if you show your anti-Semitic hall pass, you are then free to say or do anything, however depraved.

This helps explain the left’s silence when Iran throws gays off of rooftops or when Sharia Law-driven Muslims beat and stone to death their mothers, wives, and daughters.

If you’re wondering how all of this happened, listen to Sarsour or Students for Justice in Palestine. They have so brilliantly conflated the Palestinian cause with African-Americans you would think the South owned Palestinian slaves before the Civil War. The fact that it is Muslim countries, most especially Libya, that to this day own black slaves is Sarsour’s best-kept secret.

If anti-Semitism is key to regressive chic, so is support for protests that promote radical victimhood, including anything “trans.”

This last one may seem innocuous—the granting of rights to transgender people—but it’s not. Forcing biological female teens to shower with biological male teens, for instance, undermines a key tenet of liberalism: your rights end where mine begin. But don’t even try telling this to leftists; they will simply call you a fascist, comically/tragically misunderstanding that regressive leftism is the closest we’ve had to fascism in seventy years.

What makes regressive chic so appealing to even professors who know how illiberal it is? Status. If you can’t be a regressive victim (which of course is the highest form of status), then you can support/appease/apologize for said victims. This gives you an immediate identity and an instant social group: others who eagerly conform to regressive chic by-laws on speech and behavior.

I recently befriended a young Egyptian who wants to write about why the Arab world needs to change its stance on Israel. Since he lives in Egypt, I asked him whether he thought it was better to use a pen name. He thought about it for a few minutes, and then wrote back: “No. We are right so I’m not afraid.”

I was struck by the bravery, by the almost Biblical morality of his sentence.

If only liberal writers and professors—living safely here in the United States—had even an iota of his desire to put the promotion of justice over anything else. Call it liberal chic; call it real liberalism. Whatever you call it, we need to bring it back.

Photo from Pixnio.

The Light We Create


I recently stopped in at one of my favorite shops in Manhattan, a small boutique on upper Madison Avenue. I try to avoid the place because I love the clothes too much. This time, though, I was happy to see Galit, an Israeli designer who works there when he’s not designing.

After we hugged and exchanged pleasantries, I asked him how he was doing. “Oh, you know, whatever.” What do you mean? I asked. What’s the matter? “Nothing. Nothing’s the matter. We get up, we go to work, we come home. Repeat.”

I know enough about depression to recognize it, especially at this time of year when it gets dark at an unseemly hour. But I also know enough about creative people to know that they need to create, that it is essential to their emotional health.

What have you been designing recently? I asked casually. “Nothing. I mean, why design? People like ugly trends,” he said, pulling out from the rack an ugly trend that can be spotted all over the city.

I urged him to continue designing anyway, but what I really wanted to say was this: The deeper meaning of creativity can be even more gratifying.

It is something I have fully understood only in recent years. Creating beauty — through words, paint, cloth — is a great honor, and often, as Michelangelo put it, a great burden. But creating light for those around us, through acts of goodness and kindness, is an even deeper beauty, and it creates an even deeper happiness.

For some, this comes quite easily. My mother, for instance, had what I can describe only as an eternal flame burning within her. Brimming with optimism and sweetness, she seemed to float through life, always being the bigger person no matter what situation she found herself in.

As a child, she was my entire world; as a rebellious teen, I found her perennial sunshine annoying. It was only in my 20s that I began to realize that her happiness came from giving, from creating light for others — it was a circle of positivity, of beauty.

She inherited this trait from her father, my much-adored grandfather, who brought light into people’s lives through humor. No matter where we went with him, cashiers, waitresses, shopboys always made a point of telling us how much they loved Aba. In his later years, we would park him on a bench so we could take a morning walk along the beach. Every time, we would come back to find the bench filled with people laughing.

It was only after I had my son, spending every precious (exhausting) minute with him as a baby and young child, that I fully understood the larger canvas of creativity.

It was only after I had my son, spending every precious (exhausting) minute with him as a baby and young child, that I fully understood the larger canvas of creativity. And it wasn’t just about him. Freed from the hectic pace of office life, I began to look for ways to help — other children, the elderly, people struggling with groceries. Perhaps the most gratifying moment of all was watching my son create light for others — watching his face fill with the deep joy that this special moment brings.

Of course, we don’t often have the luxury of slowing down time. And because of this, we need to make sure that we nourish our souls so that we can then nourish the souls of others. As I write this, “Ma’oz Tzur” plays softly in the background; it is for me one of the most spiritually cleansing songs of Judaism. Whether it’s music, art, majestic architecture, loving friends and family — we each need to recognize what we need to help us create circles of beauty, moments of light.

And so every year, as I teach my son the story of Hanukkah — the bravery of the Maccabees, the miracle of the oil — I increasingly emphasize a more personal meaning: Just as lighting Hanukkah candles creates a beautiful moment, we can do the same in our everyday lives — through just a smile, a kind word, a sweet gesture. Often it takes just a drop of beauty to light up someone’s world.

Chag sameach.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

‘Wonder’: A Call to Our Better Angels


“Who is it that I aspire to be?” asks Mr. Browne in the new film “Wonder.” “That is the question we should be asking ourselves all the time.”

Mr. Browne is August “Auggie” Pullman’s fifth-grade teacher. Auggie was born with severe facial deformities. By age 10, he has had 27 surgeries, enabling him to breathe, see and hear without an aid.

Still, he continues to look different, or, as Auggie puts it, “not ordinary.” Nevertheless, his mother, having home-schooled him until now, feels he’s ready to enter a mainstream school.

The genius of the story is that it starts out being about Auggie’s resilience in facing the real world without his astronaut helmet to shield him, but evolves into a test of another kind — the other kids’ ability to accept difference.

Not surprisingly, most of the kids don’t do well when first coming into contact with Auggie. They stare, mock him and bully him. They are afraid to touch him, thinking he has “the plague.”

Fortunately, they are surrounded by adults who guide them and teach them that each of us can choose on an hourly basis to reach for our best selves. “When given the choice between being right or kind,” says Mr. Browne, “choose kind.”

A couple of the kids begin to look beneath the surface, to see Auggie’s character — his heart and soul. They discover that he’s not just smart, funny and fun, but he’s a really good friend. Interracial friendships and relationships also blossom.

While Auggie continues to grow stronger, the adults stay on message: Every moment is a choice. No one is born ugly on the inside. We are continually making the choice to live lives of kindness and compassion.

The kids backtrack. Auggie loses confidence. “You are not ugly, Auggie,” reassures his mom, played beautifully by Julia Roberts. “You have to say that because you’re my mom,” Auggie cries.

“Because I’m your mom it counts the most, because I know you the most,” she responds.

True beauty can be found only well beneath the surface.

“Wonder” even teaches compassion for bullies. After hearing about one of the bullies, Auggie’s mom says: “He probably feels badly about himself. When someone acts small, you just have to be the bigger person.”

One can see the movie, based on R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, as one big smack in the face at President Donald Trump and his politics of hate. And, sadly, it is. Watching the movie, one can’t help thinking about Trump mocking a disabled reporter, his bullying of anyone who criticizes him, his repeated attacks on women as “fat” and “ugly.”

But the movie is just as much a rebuke of the fashionable politics of victimhood and conformity. Auggie has no interest in either one. “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out,” says his sister.

The immaturity and cynicism of both political extremes has led to divisiveness worse than in any schoolyard, a space where we now look for the worst in each other. “Wonder” shows the ugliness of people, but more important it shows the beauty — our profound capacity for empathy.

Unfortunately, in our country today the responsible adults seem to have left the room. Who is guiding us to reach for the better angels of our nature, as President Lincoln put it in his first inaugural address? Can a children’s movie become the moral leader the country so desperately needs right now?

One can see the movie … as one big smack in the face at President Donald Trump and his politics of hate.

“Auggie can’t change the way he looks,” says Principal Tushman to the parents of the lead bully, who had Photoshopped Auggie out of the class photo so they wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of their friends. “Maybe we can change the way we see.”

We needed “Wonder Woman” to show us how a strong female leader acts. Perhaps we need “Wonder” to teach us that we — each of us — can be the superheroes of our lives.

Or, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it: “There is a difference between righteousness and self-righteousness. The righteous are humble, the self-righteous are proud. The righteous understand doubt, the self-righteous only certainty. The righteous see the good in people, the self-righteous only the bad. The righteous leave you feeling enlarged, the self-righteous make you feel small.”

The true wonder is that this movie came out just when our country needed it most.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic living in New York City.

"Women of the Wall" also is part of the international exhibition "Passage to Israel" (passagetoIsrael.org).

ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Iris Cohenian


“Women at the Wall,” Iris Cohenian

“Women at the Wall” is part of the book “Passage to Israel,” a journey through time, place, religion and culture. Curated by Karen Lehrman Bloch, the book shows how the land of Israel became a unique bridge between Africa, Asia and Europe, a profusion of cultures, customs and traditions — a captivating composition of the natural and man-made.

“Women of the Wall” also is part of the international exhibition “Passage to Israel” (passagetoIsrael.org).

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