Swastikas drawn on Yale dorm steps

Swastikas were drawn in chalk on the steps of a Yale University dormitory.

The swastikas were discovered early Sunday morning on the New Haven, Conn., campus. The Yale Police Department was investigating but had no leads as of Tuesday, the Yale Daily News reported.

“I condemn this shameful defacement, perpetrated anonymously under cover of night,” Yale dean Jonathan Holloway wrote Monday evening in an email to the campus community. “There is no room for hate in this house.

“The use of the swastika violates our values of respect, thoughtfulness, generosity, and goodwill. I will not stand idly by when this or other symbols of hate are used on this campus. It is my hope that you will join me in taking a similar stand.”

Following the discovery of the swastikas, Yale students gathered outside the dorm to write messages of support for the Jewish community as part of a chalk mural.

Last month, two swastikas were drawn on a whiteboard in a Yale lecture hall.

Sunday’s incident comes after several incidents of swastikas drawn on campuses, including at Emory and Eastern Michigan.

In Brussels, a tragic note to a Jewish student singing tour

Moments before they were scheduled to start singing at an impromptu memorial vigil outside the Jewish Museum of Belgium, the 13 members of Yale University’s Jewish a cappella group were still unsure what number to perform.

Fresh off the train from Paris, Magevet’s men and women had not initially planned to perform anywhere near the museum during their biennial international tour in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

But they decided to show up after hearing on Saturday that an unidentified shooter had killed four people at the Jewish museum in central Brussels.

The following day, they were already standing at the solemn vigil that the Jewish community of Brussels had hastily organized. And while they were full of emotions, they still had no proper set for that performance before the 2,000 people who showed up.

“It was not even clear whether it would be possible for us to sing at all,” recalled Yale sophomore Joshua Fitt, 18.

But as it turned out, Magevet’s members needn’t have worried.

“At a certain point, people from the vigil spontaneously started singing Hatikva,” Fitt said in reference to the Israeli national anthem. “So we joined the singing and took it from there.”

Magevet — whose founders 21 years ago named it after the Hebrew word for “towel” as a tribute to their love of saunas — followed up with “Yerushalaim Shel Zahav” and other Israeli semi-official anthems “that all Jews share,” Fitt said.

Fitt still gets overcome with emotion when he describes what he saw at the gathering, where many Jewish parents came with their children despite the fact that police are still searching for the shooter and at least one other accomplice – both of whom have shown considerable determination in their effort to kill Jews.

“The fact that 2,000 convened there in the current situation exemplifies the Jewish response to such acts, which is unity,” said Fitt. After the show, Belgian Jews approached him to thank him and his group for their performance, he recalled. “He told me, ‘when some Jews hurts, all Jews hurt.’ And that captured what we were feeling.”

Though the performance at the vigil was unplanned, Magevet did have a concert scheduled in Brussels on Sunday, at the city’s Jewish Community Center. But following the attack, the center – which does not list its address online for security reasons — changed the venue. The concert was held before the vigil for 60 people at the home of a member of the local Jewish community.

“We began with a minute’s silence but we followed with our set, including some Israeli pop songs,” Fitt said. “We did it for the same reason we decided to keep our performances in Brussels  despite the tragedy, To uplift the community’s spirits and to not to allow the people who perpetrated the killings to achieve their goal of disrupting Jewish life.”

Most depressing brain finding ever

Yale law school professor Dan Kahan’s new research “>piece about it in Grist:  “Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.” 

Kahan conducted some ingenious experiments about the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly.  His conclusion, in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.” 

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.   

For years my go-to source for downer studies of how our hard-wiring makes democracy hopeless has been “>The answer, basically, “>Here’s “>Best Columnist award, is the “>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Yale alumnus donates $1 million to campus Chabad

A Yale University alumnus has donated $1 million to the campus Chabad House.

Brad Berger, a private investor from Los Angeles who graduated from the university in 1977, made his pledge to the $6 million capital campaign on Sunday, the Yale Daily News reported Tuesday.

The building when it reopens in 2012 will be called the Berger Family Building, according to the newspaper.

“I’m making the gift in honor of my great-grandparents from Czechoslovakia, Herman and Faye Berger, and four of their sons who were all killed in the Holocaust,” Berger told the Yale Daily News.

The new building will be eight times larger than Chabad’s current 1,100-square-foot structure and will have a dining hall that can accommodate more than 120 students, according to the report.

Fortunoff Archive preserves Holocaust testimonies

Until his 50th birthday, Geoffrey Hartman had little Jewish involvement after fleeing Nazi Germany as part of the Kindertransport to England. Instead, this Sterling professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at Yale University devoted time to establishing his reputation as a scholar of Wordsworth, Keats and the romantic poets.

It took a non-Jewish colleague, Bart Giammati, Yale’s president at the time, to re-direct Hartman’s energies to the task of elevating and expanding the Jewish studies curriculum at the university and simultaneously preserving memories of the Holocaust. In the 1980s, Hartman helped establish the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, a Yale-based collection of videotaped Holocaust testimonies he continues to head. The archive preceded Spielberg’s Shoah Visual History Foundation by more than a decade.

“I have always thought of literature as dealing with extreme situations. It wasn’t just a sense of duty that motivated me. Rather because it is a part of the human condition, the Holocaust is what the humanities should be studying. While it was a change in my direction, I felt no discontinuity,” said Hartman, who is now in his late 70s.

During a recent stay in Los Angeles as a Getty scholar, Hartman met with students of the UCLA Jewish studies program and addressed an audience comprised largely of Holocaust survivors and their families at the American Jewish University (AJU), formerly the University of Judaism.

In his talk at the AJU, given under the auspices of the Sigi Ziering Institute and titled, “Holocaust Testimony in a Genocidal Era,” Hartman touched on a number of salient contemporary issues, among them what he described as “the globalization of grief.”

“The Shoah was not the end of all genocide. Each collective trauma has its own unique character, and as long as eyewitnesses are able to testify, we must preserve their memories,” he said, adding that no one has a monopoly on suffering.

“We surely have no intention to show that Jewish suffering is special,” he said.

As Hartman began his efforts to expand teaching resources for Yale’s Judaic studies program, his wife was volunteering to help a grass-roots group in New Haven that had begun videotaping Holocaust witnesses. Founded by television journalist Laurel Vlock and Holocaust survivor Dr. Dori Laub, a psychiatrist, the Holocaust Survivors Film Project was having trouble reaching a national audience, let alone an international one.

“I was struck by the project’s relevance for education in an audiovisual age, and convinced the university to adopt the project and lend it its name and prestige,” he said.

Hartman joined with Vlock, Laub and William Rosenberg, president of the New Haven Farband and the New Haven survivors fellowship group, to expand its scope to Europe, Israel and wherever survivors could be found. Their efforts resulted in an initial collection of almost 200 videotaped testimonies, as well as the 1981 Emmy Award-winning documentary, “Forever Yesterday,” produced by New York’s WNEW.

Hartman emphasized that when gathering the testimonies, trained volunteer interviewers use no prepared set of questions and allow the survivors to speak freely for as long as they wish.

“We’re interested in their memories, not history, and we strive to cover the survivor’s life before, during and after the Holocaust. This has resulted in deeply emotional responses and adds an important sociological dimension,” he said.

With support from the Revson Foundation, Yale provided space for the testimonies, as well as technical assistance in 1981. The project received a major grant from the Fortunoff Family Foundation in 1987, and became known thereafter as the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. While the Fortunoff grant is adequate to support the archive’s ongoing operations and maintenance, Hartman said that some $800,000 is now needed to digitize the testimonies, which were recorded more than a quarter century ago using technology that has become obsolete.

The archive currently holds more than 4,300 testimonies, comprising more than 10,000 hours of videotape. The tapes are housed at the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University and are available to the general public.

In addition to the testimonies available through the Fortunoff archive, as well as USC’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, Hartman believes the proliferation of genocide documentaries and docudramas have value in educating people about the Holocaust and other examples of genocide. But he cautioned that there is also the danger that showing so much violence tends to create a sanitizing effect.

He said that some survivors who reacted to those depictions have said, “First we were killed and now they’re taking our stories away.”

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