May 22, 2019

I’m a Teenager Who Craves Conversation

Photo from Pinterest

Before Americans became divided, people turned to advice columns or blog posts for conversation starters. These days, people seem to be looking for conversation stoppers. Expressions such as “bias” and “offense” infiltrate our conversations as vague statements that serve to dissuade discourse.

At a summer program on international relations, I asked a Lebanese participant about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I was caught off guard when he told me that my argument was shaped by “media bias.”

The conversation shifted away from what was going on in the region and into an argument about whether Western media favors Israel. He used millennials’ hyperawareness of “media bias” to evade uncomfortable dialogue.

He continued arguing that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians and others, including “his people.” He also called the conflict a “tragedy of white supremacy.” 

White supremacy? That’s a real conversation stopper. King Leopold of Belgium was seen as an example of white supremacy during the “Scramble for Africa.” He monopolized the Congo and ordered his men to tie natives to trees and slash them so that they bled to death in front of their children. Recently, violent white nationalists protesting in Charlottesville, Va., displayed a horrid modern-day example of white supremacy. 

But a democracy trying to survive in a region surrounded by oppressive governments? I don’t think so. 

Nuance hardly seems to matter anymore. Instead, it is OK to trivialize terms with profound significance if it means halting uncomfortable dialogue. 

One example is the misuse of words such as “misogynist” and “sexist.” Sexism describes discrimination based on gender. Misogyny is contempt for women, and the attempt to prevent them from succeeding in roles traditionally attributed to men. 

Journal columnist Karen Lehrman Bloch addressed this issue in her Aug. 17 column, “Dear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” In response to Ben Shapiro’s request for a debate, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Just like catcalling, I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions.”

Bloch wrote, “You and your millennial cohort were never taught real feminism. … You were taught to see anything you don’t like as sexist.”

I see no similarity between a man calling after my friends and me and a political pundit seeking to hear ideas from all parts of the political spectrum. Shapiro complimented her as the “future of the Democratic Party.” A man giving credit to a female minority candidate and suggesting a debate is not the same thing as a man hollering objectifying catcalls at women. 

Clearly, Ocasio-Cortez has ideological disagreements with Shapiro. But rather than expressing those disagreements, she halted the conversation by accusing him of sexist catcalling.

As a feminist, I am humiliated on behalf of the feminist movement. We were given the opportunity to engage and be heard by those with different views. Our response? The distorted use of the word “sexist” that exploits its validity. 

Here’s a potential conversation stopper: If a man says something to me such as, “Don’t wear that, you’ll distract boys,” I could raise my voice and call him sexist. If I want him to understand why I should be able to dress how I want without comment, I would formulate sentences in a calm manner and express my views. 

I adore my generation. Some of the most passionate people I’ve met are teens fighting for causes they believe in. I hope our interest in global politics emboldens us to seek a deeper understanding of what we argue. I hope we avoid using ambiguous terms as arguments. If we want to articulate our opinions, I hope we will learn to justify the narratives we use and modify our approach to create productive discourse.

Our beliefs and views should be used as conversation starters, not conversation stoppers.

Charlotte Kramon was a Jewish Journal intern this past summer.

Stanley Kubrick: Subliminal Jew

Photo from Flickr.

“To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” stated German philosopher Theodor Adorno.

Jews did, of course, create all types of art after World War II, even works of great beauty. But what about the young Jewish artists who came of age right after the Holocaust?

Stanley Kubrick was born in the Bronx in 1928. His maternal grandmother spoke Yiddish, but his home was not religious. (He once said he was “not really a Jew, but just happened to have two Jewish parents.”) 

Yet Kubrick certainly felt the awkwardness of being an outsider, a theme that turned up frequently in his films. He confronted blatant anti-Semitism — he was barred from restaurants and hotels in the South and was denied a table in Vermont. Even Hollywood was far from receptive early on. “Get that little Jewboy from the Bronx off my crane,” famed cinematographer Russell Metty once grumbled.

Kubrick’s observant sense of the outsider no doubt fueled the innovative brilliance of his early photographs. A new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, “Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs,” focuses exclusively on Kubrick’s early work as a photographer for Look magazine. In 1945, at just 17, he sold his first photo to the magazine — an image of a dejected newsstand vendor the day after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

In the exhibition’s 130 images, you can see Kubrick’s uncanny artistic sensibility, finding inspiration in New York’s characters and settings. An acute observer of human interaction, Kubrick was brilliant at capturing the grit and dark glamour of the city — nightclubs, street scenes, sporting events — and trained his eye to capture poignant moments. He spent five years at the magazine, until he began work on his first independently produced documentary, “Day of the Fight.”

The exhibition’s curators claim  Kubrick’s photography laid the technical and aesthetic foundations for his iconic films. In terms of framing, lighting and composition, that would appear to be the case. There is even a poetry to some of them, however dark.

In a new book, “Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual,” author Nathan Abrams asserts that if you look closely enough, the tension between being a cultural and religious Jew turns up frequently in Kubrick’s work. 

Kubrick consistently worked with Jewish writers and actors. In general, Kubrick obfuscated the Jewishness of some of his characters, but expanded the roles that were “coded” for Jews. “2001: A Space Odyssey” plays with the Bible, Jewish liturgy and kabbalah. And Abrams argues “Eyes Wide Shut” is Kubrick’s most Jewish film, adapted from a Jewish author and heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud. 

But what’s most apparent in Kubrick’s films is the extraordinary effect the Holocaust had on him. According to Abrams, Kubrick read every word he could find on the subject. He became obsessed with darkness, perversity and evil, and with what it took for a soul to go from light to dark, for humanity to die on the inside.

Nazi or Holocaust references turn up frequently in his films. Out of nowhere in “Lolita” the title character shouts “Sieg Hiel!” at her mother with a Nazi salute. “Dr. Strangelove” is about the mundane processes of mass murder. “Full Metal Jacket” sports Naziesque generals. Kubrick’s films are filled with explosives, gunfire, firing squads and bombs.

Did the Holocaust destroy Kubrick’s own soul? There is little beauty — poetry — in Kubrick’s films. He ended up fulfilling Adorno’s most famous quote.

For the last 20 years of his life (he died in 1999, at 71), Kubrick worked on “Aryan Papers,” based on Louis Begley’s “Wartime Lies,” about a Jewish boy pretending to be Catholic to survive the war. But he was never able to finish it and was known to be very depressed when working on it. 

This may have been for the best. A Kubrick Holocaust movie would probably have been unbearable to watch.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic. 

A Tribute to Terrorists

As a New York City parent, I knew something like this was in the offing. I just never thought it would be this egregious.

The Beacon School, a “highly selective” public high school in Hell’s Kitchen, held a moment of silence last week for the 62 Gazans killed trying to storm Israel’s border, 50 of whom were confirmed as Hamas terrorists while several others allegedly were part of Islamic jihad.

Before jumping to conclusions, we should put this into the proper context.

The Beacon School never had a moment of silence for the dozens of Syrian children gassed to death by President Bashar al-Assad, nor for the scores of Palestinians slaughtered in Syrian refugee camps. Though the school bills itself as progressive, it has never mourned the gay men that the Iranian theocracy has executed by hanging, nor Pakistan’s enforced honor killings or its stoning of women.

In fact, silent tributes at the school are very rare. So, just like the United Nations, the mainstream media and an alarming number of universities across the country, the Beacon School has a “social conscience” only when the perpetrators are Israelis, and even if the victims are mostly terrorists.

As one Jewish father put it: “I did not send my child to a New York City public school to pray for Hamas operatives.”

Principal Ruth Lacey has yet to be available for comment. A Department of Education spokesman told the New York Post: “We support civic engagement and advocacy amongst students, and encourage schools to provide inclusive environments where students are able to respectfully discuss current events.”

But there was no discussion before or after the moment of silence. And from what I heard, many Jewish students at the school did not feel respected at all.

As one Jewish father put it: “I did not send my child to a New York City public school to pray for Hamas operatives.”

Jewish parents at my son’s elementary school — all Upper East Side Democrats — were aghast at Beacon’s illiberal political act. It was the only reassuring aspect about the incident.

Hearing the truth straight from the terrorists’ mouths doesn’t seem to matter to most progressives. Hamas asserts time and again its intent to murder “every Jew,” and it makes little difference.

The Forward published a bizarre piece on the Beacon controversy that literally made no mention of Hamas. Who was killed? “Dozens of Palestinians.” It’s almost as if they are trying to signal Hamas: “Don’t worry; let us do the talking.” How progressive.

Progressives buy into every lie about Israel because they have been taught to replace critical thinking with victimhood ideology, and victimhood ideology teaches that Israel is the absolute worst “white colonialist offender.” The fact that Israelis are not white; that Jews have been occupied, persecuted and slaughtered en masse throughout history; that Israel has made repeated offers for peace that have been rebuffed; and that Israel doesn’t start wars but defends itself against forces indoctrinated to hate Jews — all of this is conveniently ignored.

I hope someday someone examines how Israel came to be seen as the worst “white colonialist” offender. Was it a coincidence, or perhaps the remarkable success of the propagandistic theories espoused by people like Edward Said, a Palestinian American professor at Columbia University, 70 blocks north of Beacon? Said is best known for wiping away centuries of Arab conquest and occupation and blaming it on the West.

None of this, of course, is to suggest that Israel is immune to criticism. The sharpest criticism can be found in Israel’s vibrant media, something sorely missing in its neighborhood. I wonder if students at Beacon have been taught this balanced perspective.

Meanwhile, about a week after Beacon’s “tribute” to Hamas, the third grade at my son Alexander’s school had a special “Journey to America” musical performance. Unlike Beacon’s moment of silence, this was completely apolitical: they told the story of immigrants’ journeys to America, an essential part of the American story.

So, the question remains: Why can’t progressive administrators in high schools and progressive professors in academia understand the difference between blatant politicization and proper education? I don’t know the answer, but for America’s sake, I just hope it’s not that their goal is indoctrination.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.

This Girl Is On Fire

Israel's Netta poses during the news conference after winning the Grand Final of Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena hall in Lisbon, Portugal, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

The evening that Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won Eurovision 2018, my son and I began to watch the biopic “Pelé: Birth of a Legend,” the early life of the renowned African-Brazilian soccer player.

Pelé grew up poor in 1950s Brazil and faced continual racism from Europeans and lighter-skinned Brazilians. But from an early age, his parents taught him to face life with dignity: “Don’t feel doubt or shame,” his father tells him in the film. “Have the courage to embrace who you really are.”

Pelé revolutionized soccer for Brazilians — inspiring a pride in the country’s uniqueness. “We don’t all play the same,” says a coach in the film, “but that’s what makes us who we are.”

A similar message of embracing both excellence and difference can be felt in a video that my son, Alexander, and I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. Angelica Hale, 9, won the “Golden Buzzer” on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” last year for her magnificent rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.”

I must confess: I’m not a watcher of talent shows. But I have personally found this video deeply inspiring, even more so after reading that Angelica, who is part Filipino, had to undergo a life-saving kidney transplant at age 4. Fearless and resolute, she both belted out and personified the lyrics:

“She’s got both feet on the ground;

And she’s burning it down.”

This is feminism, I told Alexander. A young girl can get up on stage and make a song even more layered and soulful than the original recording (sorry, Alicia). Moreover, achieving something great is far more empowering than playing the victim. Angelica, like Pelé, has no interest in being a victim. Both don’t want the world to feel sorry for them: They want the world to love them for their unique, outstanding gifts.

“I love my country,” she told an audience that has been taught to hate her country.

Somehow, 25-year-old Netta was able to combine all of these sentiments into a magical song, “Toy,” and performance that, despite itself, took Europe’s breath away.

“Look at me, I’m a beautiful creature;

I don’t care about your modern-day preachers.”

“Toy” is also a song about female empowerment, but perhaps even more, it’s about owning your individuality. “Thank you for choosing different, for accepting differences between us, for celebrating diversity,” Netta told the massive Eurovision audience in her acceptance speech.

But Netta clearly has no patience for the victimhood part of today’s #MeToo politics: “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy.” Nor does she have time for an identity politics that has no space for Jews. “I love my country,” she told an audience that has been taught to hate her country. “Next time, in Jerusalem.”

Whether the Europeans who voted for her got the deeper message is less important than the fact that they voted for Israel, despite every effort made by BDSers to prevent this. And Israel won by doing what Israel does best: bringing light into the world. Teaching the politically correct that individuality, creativity — inspiration — is not politically incorrect. That in fact, not becoming what others want us to be is our greatest strength.

Netta, like Pelé and Angelica, doesn’t want the world’s pity — or the world’s harassment. In fact, she included what could be construed as a word of warning for haters: “Wonder woman, don’t you ever forget; You’re divine and he’s about to regret.”

In the Pelé film, a Swedish coach calls the darker-skinned Brazilians “abnormal.” Israelis — Jews — have been called that and much worse. We don’t need to fabricate victimhood — but we also have no desire to wallow in it.

The Jewish people are not the world’s toy, to be taken out and abused when it’s having a bad day. “Have the courage to embrace who you really are,” Pelé’s father tells him in the film. It’s well past time that Jews did precisely that. Enough begging the left’s “social justice warriors” to include us.

Not surprisingly, these tolerant, compassionate folks were quick to try to shame Netta after she won, bizarrely calling her performance “cultural appropriation.” And some of Europe’s leftist pols saw Netta’s victory as a great opportunity to call for renewed boycotts against Israel. (So is “justice” their motivation — or jealousy? I get so confused with these compassionate types.)

Netta is not responding to the haters.  And why should she? She’s too busy “lighting up the night.” World, get used to it.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.

Letters to the Editor: Iran Deal, North Korea and Natalie Portman

U.S. Scraps Iran Nuclear Agreement

Let’s start with the proposition that Iran is a very bad actor. Let us also agree that without vigorous monitoring, Iran will not strictly adhere to any agreement. That being said, it is a terrible mistake for President Donald Trump not to recertify the Iran nuclear accord.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent dog-and-pony show was long on accusations but short on specific evidence. The binders and computer discs onstage with him aren’t proof that Iran is failing to honor its responsibilities under the nuclear deal. What Netanyahu and the various authors of the commentaries and articles that support scrapping the accord conveniently overlook is that there is a large element in the Israeli intelligence/military establishment that while acknowledging it’s not a perfect accord, it is working and is good for Israel.

It is also interesting to note the other signatories to the Iran nuclear accord say Iran is honoring its obligations. The only naysayers are Netanyahu and Trump.

Andrew C. Sigal, Valley Village

Kudos to the Jewish Journal for exposing the secrets and lies of the Iranian nuclear deal. The cover story would be enough to tell it all (“What Happens Now?” May 4). Dayenu. Beyond that, the articles describe in detail the lies that were foisted on Americans that were particularly painful for American Jews.

David Suissa gave some Trump haters and, in particular, Jewish Trump haters something to think about (“Why Tyrants Must Hate Trump,” May 4). Admittedly, Trump is brash and a rude tweeter. When it comes to foreign tyrants, as Suissa stated, Trump is just what the doctor ordered. As much as we all value decency, for 16 years the United States got burned by two very decent presidents — first by George W. Bush’s trillion-dollar fiasco in Iraq, and then by Barack Obama’s naïve deal with Iran that empowered the world’s biggest sponsor of terror.

We need somebody like Trump to stare them down and back out of the disastrous Iran deal if Iran does not make further concessions.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills

The North Korean Dilemma

I disagree with David Suissa’s assessment in his column “Why Tyrants Must Hate Trump.” If President Donald Trump’s bluster had worked with North Korea, then it would have stopped testing its long-range ICBMs right away. Instead, despite Trump’s threats, they continued testing until they had proven to themselves that they had a missile that could reach most of the United States. The North Koreans offered to talk only after they had tested enough missiles to prove that their missile program was ready. Listen to the speech that Kim Jong Un delivered to his own country. This was his original intent.

Rabbi Ahud Sela via email

The Natalie Portman Issue

In her column (“Portman’s the Messenger, Not the Problem,” April 27), Danielle Berrin introduces the premise that the effect of Portman’s rejection of the Genesis Prize will lead to increased Jewish disunity on congregational matters, including political problems. Berrin warns that one of the problems is the collapse of peace talks and the promise of a two-state solution.

I have three questions for Berrin.

Does Fatah want a two-state solution?

Does Hamas want a two-state solution?

Does Hezbollah want a two-state solution?

Bernard Schneier, Marina del Rey

How American Jews View Israel

Danielle Berrin claims to rely on, but fundamentally misunderstands, Leon Wieseltier’s advice that the merit of a view “owes nothing to the biography of the individual who holds it” (“Should American Jews Criticize Israel?” May 4).

Wieseltier did not invent this notion. It is his way of restating the classic fallacy of the ad hominem attack: A good argument can’t be refuted because the speaker is bad. Nor can a bad argument be improved because the speaker is good. I have no doubt Berrin has deep love for Israel. But that does not mean her opinion has any merit just because it comes from a good place.

No, what Wieseltier is saying is that an argument — and criticism — must be judged solely on its own merits. What nuanced and insightful advice does Berrin offer for the complex military and diplomatic conundrum Israel is faced with? What is the “truth” that Berrin claims her “holy chutzpah” impels her to tell Israel? I honestly would like to know, but I’ll gladly take the advice of someone who may not love Israel as much as Berrin but has answers to challenges such as: the military land-bridge Iran is constructing through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to threaten Israel; the tens of thousands of Hezbollah missiles aimed at Tel Aviv; the tunnels being burrowed under the desert to snatch Israelis in their sleep; and the diplomatic and propaganda war waged against Israel by the United Nations, the European Union and nearly every American university campus.

Perhaps Berrin’s Israeli friend really meant that Israel does not want for critics but that if you are going to criticize, don’t assume that your love substitutes for sound analysis. Contrary to Berrin’s claim, film critic Pauline Kael was not respected “because everyone knew she loved” movies. Many people love movies. Kael was respected because she was a true expert on movies.

But even Kael wasn’t good at making movies. What Israel really needs, more than well-intended critics, is smart, practical and realistic solutions to massively complicated problems.

What is the role of love in all of this? If Berrin’s love for Israel drove her to develop these kinds of solutions,

I’m sure everyone, especially her Israeli friend, would be very grateful. But love alone, Wieseltier teaches, does not a helpful opinion make.

Ben Orlanski, Beverly Hills

Leftism’s Misguided Values

Karen Lehrman Bloch’s compelling column “The Golden Calf of Leftism” (May 4) exposes a new crisis among American Jews.

We’ve all been shocked by the increase in Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism at Democratic rallies, leading to feminist organizers’ recent praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. But many Jewish Democrats still support former President Barack Obama’s white-washing of Palestinian rejectionism, terrorism and contempt for Israel. Some Jewish feminists support Linda Sarsour, despite her anti-Semitism and reported endorsement of Sharia law. Wealthy Jews, many in the Hollywood community, are bankrolling Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions promotion.

It’s a cruel irony that while thousands of French Jews make aliyah to escape rising Muslim terrorism, Jewish “progressives” are abetting the terrorists and condemning Israel, the victims’ only refuge.

Rueben Gordon via email

History Lessons in the Journal

Thank you, Jewish Journal and David Suissa for your excellent publication.

I know a “lot” about Israeli and Jewish history up until about 70 B.C.E. I knew very little after that. Therefore, a few years ago, I decided to learn more about Jews and Israel today. I’d like to be as familiar with you and your culture as I am with my own English-American culture.

Recently, I discovered the Journal: It’s like Christmas, my birthday and Yom HaAtzmaut (a term I learned in the Journal) rolled up into one. Every article I read — even the advertisements — is interesting, informative and educational.

The one major problem I have with the Journal is that I’m not finished reading it before the next issue comes out. Oy vey!

Jerald Brown, Sylmar

An Ode to Motherhood

Photo from PxHere.

When I was in my early 20s, I gently placed motherhood into the realm of: There is no question I want to do this, but later, much later. First, I need to explore and change the world. Oh, and I also need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am equal to men.

This was part of the message I was ingesting from feminist leaders at the time, and it felt OK because I was nowhere near ready to “settle down.” There was another part to the message, though, that didn’t feel right: Women shouldn’t value motherhood as our mothers and grandmothers had. Bearing children “reduces women to their wombs.” Motherhood, we were told, was “unfeminist.”

Compared with the intersectional mess that feminism has now become, this theoretical gobbledygook — which was not even remotely part of original feminism — almost seems quaint. The problem is, it affected a generation of women. Women who put off child-rearing until it was too late; women who had children, but then spent too much time away from them; women who would preach to other women that motherhood “destroys one’s identity.”

Perhaps because I, too, waited until it was almost too late, perhaps because I had a wonderful career before I had my son, I think I am able to look at all of this with some objectivity. And I would like to send to women in their 20s today a very different message: Motherhood — in all of its beauty, glory, wonder and exhaustion — will compare with nothing else you will ever do in your life. But it is not for every woman. It doesn’t make a woman a woman, but precisely because it is a role, a responsibility that is so profound, only each woman can know if it is right for her.

What is unfeminist? The devaluation of motherhood and, as a result, children. One of the saddest sights I see every year in New York City: A beautiful day at the park, strollers are lined up one after the other — with kids old enough to walk unhappily strapped in. A bevy of nannies sit and chat, seemingly unbothered by the miserable state of their charges.

Motherhood — in all of its beauty, glory, wonder and exhaustion — will compare with nothing else you will ever do in your life.

There are, of course, wonderful nannies who love the children they care for as their own. But let’s be honest here: They typically work for women who don’t “privilege” their careers over their kids.

It’s true: motherhood, especially in the early years, wears you out in ways you never thought possible. (I remember evenings of binge watching “The Good Wife,” not because I loved it but because I literally didn’t have the energy to find a better show.) But if you make it central to your identity, you will experience levels of joy and fulfillment that no job or no career can possibly touch.

And the effects of good mothering on children are profound. Can a father make up for a deficit of good mothering? Sometimes. I have met extraordinary fathers. But, in general, mothers and fathers bring different, often overlapping skills to the parenting table.

When I see a great mother, I don’t care what career she had before or will have after her kids are grown. (Motherhood is a lifetime role, but the in-house years are roughly 10 to 15.) When I see a great mother, I am in awe of her ability to tap into layers of patience, compassion and empathy that other women just shout about. I am in awe of the magnitude of her emotional capacity, an emotional intelligence that can understand the 1,500 different types of crying.

Yes, we can all laugh at overprotective Jewish mothers. But perhaps it’s not a coincidence that there’s a surfeit of Yiddish proverbs on the subject: “Mothers understand what their children cannot say.” “One mother achieves more than a hundred teachers.” “God could not be everywhere so he created mothers.”

I remain in awe of my own mother, who provided me with an ability to see every moment of motherhood — the good, the boring, the sleep deprived — as precious, as a gift from God. And although she was able to experience only the first two years of my son’s life, I believe I am honoring her memory by trying, each day, to reach for the highest ground that she herself provided.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author, cultural critic and mother living in New York City.

The Golden Calf of Leftism

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, the Nation of Islam called the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) a “racist spy agency.” “Sisters” Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour bullied Starbucks into dropping the ADL from co-leading its diversity training. Students with Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine were arrested at an Israeli Independence Day celebration in New York City for setting an Israeli flag on fire and assaulting another student. And Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut called Muslim reformer Zuhdi Jasser “anti-Muslim.”

No one on the left had anything to say about any of this. Indeed, it was just another week in the descent of the left into tribal, anti-feminist, anti-Semitic illiberalism. Or more simply: #woke.
But it was not another week entirely. At the White House Correspondents Dinner on April 28, comedian Michelle Wolf’s venom-filled monologue was so egregious that a handful of “names” from the left, including two New York Times reporters, tweeted afterward their horror and embarrassment. Wolf had crossed a line, creating a crack in the status-obsessed leftist orthodoxy.

Will it shatter from this? Doubtful. The left still hasn’t processed the fact that President Donald Trump didn’t cause the left to go off the deep end into this intolerant groupthink. Trump is a result of the left having already gone off this cliff. The most glaring example: the disallowance of any criticism of former President Barack Obama, no matter how respectfully it was voiced.

Yes, of course, the right has its own version of this. The right’s thought police won’t allow you to criticize Trump’s vulgar, dehumanizing language. It won’t allow you to say that many Americans who own guns are obsessed with them in a disturbing way. That building a wall on the United States’ southern border is not the most rational idea.

But I don’t think it’s going out on a limb here to say that the number of extremists on the right are far fewer than those on the left, that most people who still consider themselves proud members of the Democratic Party have bought into this leftist orthodoxy to some extent.

Today’s golden calf is the anti-Semitic, illiberal propaganda. 

Otherwise, how to explain the fact that Mallory and Sarsour remain unscathed — even after showing the world their bigoted, illiberal agendas? That criticizing them — as the ADL did — will just get you thrown to the ground and stomped on by every virtue signaler needing a status boost? That thousands of professors have remained silent while their universities have turned into propaganda machines, where freedom of speech is considered fascist?

The genius of classical liberalism is that it can instantaneously call the bluff of hypocrites on both the left and the right. It’s like a mirror to your political soul.

If you truly are a racist, classical liberalism will out you in a second. But it will also out you if you don’t believe in freedom of speech or if you think journalists or professors should be biased. And it will most especially out you if your compassion is merely a show for status. Maybe this is why classical liberalism is so hated by many on the left today, where protecting one’s status is far more important than standing up for liberal principles.

I have come to think of the election of Trump as an act of God, a Biblical act meant to teach all of us a lesson. Kind of like Moses throwing the Ten Commandments to the ground after descending from Mount Sinai and seeing the golden calf.

Throughout history, each and every time the left has gotten off the classical liberal path and descended into illiberal orthodoxy — communism, socialism and now, Islamist-led leftism — disaster has been the result.

You might think Trump is a disaster. And you have every right to do so. But if you haven’t yet considered the possibility that the way the left worshipped Obama — “utter only sanctimonious praise or I will publicly scream racist at you till you disappear” — led to Trump, or the way the left is now handling Trump — when they go low, we go lower — then we are still a long way from learning something from this saga.

Today’s golden calf is the anti-Semitic, illiberal propaganda — victimhood! identity politics! intersectionality! — emanating from self-proclaimed activists whose real agenda is so diabolical that only the most impetuous (Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Sarsour) dare speak its name.

And so the question remains: Who is going to burn today’s golden calf?

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.

Letters to the Editor: Honoring Jews, Laying Out the Parameters of Liberalism and the U.N.

Honoring Jews, Not Those Who Would Kill Them

Last week, while the rest of Jewish Los Angeles was memorializing the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, a group of Jews held a memorial in front of the Jewish Federation building to honor the memory of those with the stated goal of murdering the 6 million Jews of Israel — the Palestinians killed in the recent Gaza protests while trying to break down Israel’s security wall to accomplish their goal.

Thank you, David Suissa, for your column “When Truth Comes Marching In” (April 13) and clearly showing the truth — that contrary to what the Palestinians are promoting, the Gaza protests had the sole purpose of breaking down the border wall, murdering Jews and conquering Israel.

Let us never forget the 6 million, and also that, sadly, there are Jews who see nothing wrong with honoring those who try to wipe Israel’s Jews off the earth.

Jason Kay via email

Bravo, kol ha kvod, David Suissa, for “When Truth Comes Marching In.”

However, most of us, whoever we are, don’t listen to facts. We react to myths and media. We only pay heed to facts when pain hits us in the gut — and even then we don’t believe it. Corruption does that to anyone.

Look at your prime example, Gaza.

Linda Hepner via email

David Suissa is right that Israel’s “better” than her Muslim neighbors (“A ‘Better’ Word for Israel,” April 20). Rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, surrounded by enemies, constantly terrorized and fighting for her life, bullied by the U.N., yet still absorbing millions of desperate European and Ethiopian Jewish refugees, and on top of all that, emerging in just 70 years as a cutting-edge, hydro-agricultural, high-tech wunderkind with 12 Nobel Prizes and a super-hip tourist scene to boot — Israel is an unbelievable miracle. And the icing on the cake is that it drives anti-Semites nuts.

Rueben Gordon, Encino

Laying Out Parameters of Liberalism

I was happy and delighted to read Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column (“I Am a Liberal. Are You?” April 20). It boosts my faith in the integrity and honesty of the Journal.

The only thing I would add to it is the following statement:

You are not a liberal

If you reflexively accuse anyone who dares to disagree with you of being a fascist, a racist and an anti-Semite.

I have witnessed some otherwise very intelligent people making these accusations against people whom they know little or nothing about. This kind of behavior is polarizing and degrades our democracy.

Jeffrey P. Lieb, Cheviot Hills

I have always enjoyed reading Karen Lehrman Bloch’s columns, but “I Am a Liberal. Are You?” really blew me away. It was so spot on and expressed so elegantly what so many of us feel but can’t put into words as succinctly. Thank you.

Also, mazel tov to David Suissa for turning the Journal into a top-tier newspaper that Los Angeles can be proud of.

Miriam Fisher via email

Yom HaAzmaut Coverage in the Journal

Israel’s Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut) should have been on your cover, not on page 19 (“Carry a Torch,” April 20)! This was a major failure. Maybe it happened because the editor was in Israel that week. As your columnist Shmuel Rosner put it, “The fifth day of the month of Iyar is your Independence Day. Yes — yours! And by this I mean you, Los Angeles Jews; you, New York Jews; you, Chicago Jews, Sydney Jews, London Jews, Paris Jews.

“Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Bob Kirk, Santa Barbara

Editor’s note: Because HaAzmaut fell on the day the paper came out, April 19, we chose to do a Yom HaAzmaut cover story the week before.

Speaking Truth to U.N.’s Mission

Aaron Bandler’s column is right on target (“We Need a New U.N.,” April 20). He expresses so well what I have thought for many years. And, I am sure, millions of others agree — i.e., the United Nations makes a false pretense to serve the mission for which it was founded.

The U.N. charter called for a commitment to uphold human rights of citizens and outlines a broad set of principles relating to achieving worldwide peace and security. It calls for “higher standards of living,” dealing with “economic, social, health, and related problems,” and calling for “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.

Wonderful! But that was in 1945 when it was created with 51 members. Currently, it has 193 member states.

In this regard, what good has the U.N. accomplished?

By way of example, CNN’s Jake Tapper’s analysis of the pertinent data vividly shows that, from 2012-15, the U.N. General Assembly rebuked and condemned the State of Israel almost 86 percent of the time — compared with all other nations combined. Incredible — considering the turmoil and government-controlled killings all over the world. As far as Israel is concerned: The U.N. is guilty of blatant discrimination. As it is today, it unashamedly violates its own charter and raison d’etre.

Should our country be donating annually almost $8 billion of taxpayers’ money to such an organization? (We could easily solve the homelessness problem and affordable housing crisis with that kind of money.)

The headline for Bandler’s column says it so well: “We Need a New U.N.”

George Epstein via email

Mitzi Shore Will Be Missed

Thank you for the wonderful obituary and tribute regarding Mitzi Shore.
The Comedy Store continues to be a platform for fledgling and professional comedians. I know, because my son is one of them. This is an iconic place that supports and encourages the art of stand-up. It deserves the support of the entertainment community.

Although I never met Shore, one night when my son Josh was performing, the staff let me sit in Mitzi’s booth. It was an honor.

I hope The Comedy Store continues for many years as a legacy to Shore and all the performers past, present and future.

Linda Meyrowitz via email


Here in Finland and in Sweden, the newspapers cry over how it could go this wrong — “peaceful” Palestinian demonstrators against “cruel” Israeli soldiers. They love to misunderstand what Palestinians really want, which is to take over the Jewish state. They even pretend not to understand what the “Great March of Return” means.

Carita Fogde, Helsinki

What the Israeli Left Can Teach the American Left

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“The American left is quite different from the Israeli left,” said American-born Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi during a talk last week in New York City. “There is a sobriety, a maturity, to the mainstream Israeli left that you often don’t find here.”

Right on cue, a few days later, Women’s March organizers Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory were back in the news, this time over derogatory statements about the Anti-Defamation League’s involvement with anti-bias education at Starbucks; and Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman, the 2018 Genesis Prize winner, decided to boost her American-leftist status by announcing she would boycott the award ceremony in Israel.

All of which will no doubt give Halevi, who moved to Israel in 1982, more to talk about as he embarks on a tour for his new book, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor,” out in May.

While the American left celebrates victimhood, Halevi said, “Zionism is a profound rejection of victimhood.” Even the Israeli left finds victimhood “incomprehensible.”

“There’s no nobility to being a victim,” said Halevi, who as a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute has been active in coexistence efforts with American Muslims. Indeed, there isn’t. But somehow, following lockstep with Palestinian propaganda of the past 50 years, leftist (i.e., illiberal) propaganda has ennobled certain victims (notably not all victims) to the point of sainthood.

The maturing of the American left would entail an understanding that it’s been played.

As Portman, whose family moved to the U.S. when she was 3, essentially took the Hamas/BDS line in citing “recent events” when detailing her decision not to attend the prize ceremony, Halevi talked about how in Israel “the Jewish army is treated like a Jewish life force: our soldiers are our children and our security.” Meanwhile, members of the far-left group Breaking the Silence, which aims to monitor the Israel Defense Forces, are considered “pariahs in Israel — no one takes them seriously.” Perhaps most notably, “there’s never been a serious draft resistance in Israel. Our army is us.”

How does Halevi recommend maturing the diasporic left, especially young Americans? “We need to tell our truths, our story — who we are, what our experiences have been,” he said. And we need to do it in the “traditional form of one generation passing on our stories to another. We need to stop worrying about whether millennials will ‘get it.’ We need to stop indulging millennials.”

Indeed. What has this indulgence led to? Two-thirds of American millennials surveyed in a recent poll could not identify what Auschwitz was, and 22 percent said they had never heard of the Holocaust.

At the same time, millennials — and much of the left in general — believe that every aspect of our existence must be politicized. They have been taught that there is no separation between life and politics.

As Hen Mazzig, an Israeli writer and speaker, put it in an open letter to Portman in The Jerusalem Post: “It’s not about criticism, which we welcome here, it is about the way you do it, at this moment in time. I know you are used to a different type of political debate in the U.S., but we don’t need you to bring it here.”

The truth is, the American left — in its current descent into illiberalism — can learn a lot from the Israeli left.

“Palestinians threaten with their powerlessness,” Halevi said. It is the same powerlessness or victimhood that promotes anti-Semitic propagandists like Sarsour and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to positions of influence on the U.S. left. It is the same victimhood that enables Muslim migrants in Europe to kill or maim Jews on a routine basis.

The maturing of the American left would entail an understanding that it’s been played. That ideas like “intersectionality” and “identity politics” have been manipulated for nefarious propagandistic purposes by individuals and groups whose sole mission is to single out and malign the Jewish state.

Ironically, just as Israel and Arab countries are becoming allied in a fight against Iran, the American left puts Sarsour on a panel about anti-Semitism; and Palestinian professors and activists rewrite Jewish history on a daily basis at American universities.

Creating an atmosphere where Israeli-born Americans like Portman feel a need to regurgitate the Hamas/BDS line in order to retain status on the left is as evil as it is brilliant. Can real liberals like Halevi and Mazzig help put the American left on a corrective course? Let’s hope so.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.

I Am a Liberal. Are You?

Photo from The Blue Diamond Gallery.

I am a liberal

And I’m here to take back the word from those who have hijacked it for their illiberal agendas.

I am a liberal

Which means I believe unconditionally in the Enlightenment principles of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, democracy and civil rights.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that different policy stances can emanate from these principles, that an orthodoxy of opinion is the opposite of liberalism.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that unbiased reporting is part of the responsibility of a free press.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that unbiased teaching is a prerequisite for civil society.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that shutting down dissent, especially at universities, is an act of fascism.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that boycotting a group or country based on race or religion is also an act of fascism.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that individuality — not group identity or conformity — is the foundation of liberal ideology.

I am a liberal

Which means I am obliged to speak out against injustice and tyranny wherever it arises.

You are not a liberal

If you attempt to shut down speech just because you disagree with it.

You are not a liberal — if you attempt to shut down speech just because you disagree with it.

You are not a liberal

If you engage in biased journalism.

You are not a liberal If you teach your students your opinions rather than the truth.

You are not a liberal

If you judge people by the color of their skin, rather than the content of their character.

You are not a liberal

If you engage in moral or cultural relativism; if you don’t apply the same standards to everyone.

You are not a liberal

If you call yourself a feminist but never call out the very real oppression of women in countries like Iran or Pakistan.

You are not a liberal

If you oppose Zionism, the self-determination of the Jewish people, the return to our ancestral homeland.

You are not a liberal

If you don’t understand that, as long as force is not involved, sexuality is private; my life doesn’t revolve around your sexuality.

You are not a liberal

If you think maintaining your status is more important than telling the truth.

I am a liberal.

Are you?

Letters to the Editor: Holocaust, Media Bias and Progressives Being Good Parents

Why the Holocaust Still Resonates

I would try to briefly reflect on Thane Rosenbaum’s question: “Is there anything left to say about the Holocaust?” (“What’s Left to Say?” April 6). David Irving and his ilk would show up with technical drawings of concentration camps to argue that the crematoriums were not really used for what all the survivors say they were used for. Or, one of the effects of the fading memories and political manipulations is the emerging concept that the Holocaust was a terrible thing, but it was not just about Jews; these revisionist “historians” would say that gypsies, homosexuals and communists also were unfortunate victims, and numerous soldiers and civilians died as a result of the war. At least Hungary, which certainly has its share of revisionists, is not confused about the word. The equivalent, Hungarian word for “Holocaust” is “vészkorszak” (the age of danger,) and it is used only in the Jewish persecution’s context and does not cover any other death, including the fallen soldiers of the Hungarian 2nd Army or other, non-Jewish civilians.

What we must repeat is that not long ago, 6 million people’s genocide took place on racial/religious grounds. It could happen again if we are not on guard.

Peter Hantos, Los Angeles

It is with concern that I read your article on the Holocaust. More and more young people regard the Holocaust as distant as Hannibal and the Alps. There’s plenty left to say, i.e., Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was so large that it required traffic lights! The camps were nearly as numerous as post offices.  Camp personnel, including guards and administration, were kept drugged on crystal meth. Back then it was known as Pervitin. This was done so they could perform their tasks without giving it thought and in dealing with the large numbers of inmates.

Daniel Kirwan via email

Poland’s Holocaust Law

Regarding your article “The Polish Jewish Story” (March 23), may I bring up a couple of rarely mentioned facts: During their occupation of Europe, only in Poland did the Germans punish those who helped Jews by death, and the punishment included the helper’s closest family (in other countries the penalties varied from dismissal from work to jail time).

On the other hand, the Polish underground, the largest anti-Nazi underground army in Europe, punished by death those Poles who snitched on their Jewish neighbors.

Also, with all due respect to the author of the article, the new Polish law, although imperfect and perhaps in need of correction, does not criminalize “any mention of Poles” being complicit in the Nazi crimes. Rather, it prohibits accusing “the Polish nation or the Polish state” as a whole, of being complicit in the Nazi German crimes.

Jozef Malocha, Chrzanow, Poland

Media Bias Against Israel 

“(((Semitism)))” author Jonathan Weisman commendably assails surging right-wing anti-Semitism, including social-media trolls and Nazis marching through Charlottesville, Va. (“A Call to Action in the Age of Trump,” March 16). However, anti-Semitism takes many forms, including media bias against Israel, which Weisman seems to ignore. His own newspaper, The New York Times, is a leading offender.

Consider the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. On May 14, 1948, Israel legally declared its independence, consistent with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181. The next day, five Arab armies invaded the Jewish state, determined to annihilate it.

The New York Times never reports these facts. Instead, it describes the conflict as “the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation” (March 8) or “the 1948 war that broke out over Israel’s creation” (March 31). The Times’ Orwellian descriptions whitewash the Arab states’ genocidal intent continues to this day, obscuring the fact that Israel was attacked and implicitly blame Israel.

Rewriting history to vilify Israel is also anti-Semitism.

Stephen A. Silver, San Francisco

Hold on: Progressives Are Good Parents, Too

Here you go again, Karen Lehrman Bloch. In your constant search for negative comments about anything that contradicts conservative dogma, you find the other side guilty of supporting terrorism and raising kids who are insensitive bullies (“Progressive Bullies,” April 6).

As a lifelong progressive, I abhor terrorists and so do all of my progressive friends. I don’t propose that we or Israel give terrorists a pass because they had a rough childhood. Despite blame and fault, Israel is in the dominant position and must treat the general Palestinian population with as much dignity and respect that security allows, and punish terrorists as they deserve.

Regarding child rearing, our two daughters were raised in a progressive home and have become progressive adults who care about their fellow human beings in both their personal and professional lives. They are also raising children to follow our humanistic ideals.

If the proof is in the pudding, we don’t need to look further then at our conservative administration. Bullying, dishonesty, lying and lack of concern are its hallmarks.

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Response to Letter Writers 

In his April 6 letter, Martin J. Weisman blames President Donald Trump for the rise in global anti-Semitism (“Trump and Anti-Semitism,” April 6). Respectfully, far-right Trump support explains the emergence of “old-school” American Jew-hatred, but the explosion of Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party and on American campuses is the fault of former President Barack Obama, with his anti-Israel bias and promotion of Muslim groups in government and academia.

Moreover, Trump has nothing to do with the rebirth of European anti-Semitism, which is mainly caused by the immigration of millions of Muslims, and the rise of right-wing parties protesting them. In fact, some of those parties, like France’s National Front and the Dutch Freedom Party, are wooing Jewish support to fight Muslim misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and even Christian-bashing.

Irrational Trump-hatred closes the minds of otherwise intelligent, inquisitive folks. Jewish Democrats who refuse to face this provide cover for the anti-Semites, Louis Farrakhan supporters and Israel-bashers in their party.

Rueben Gordon via email

Marc Yablonka besmirches the name of David Harris in his letter to the editor (“He Doesn’t Miss the ’60s,” April 6) when he falsely calls him a “draft evader … who persuaded others to go to federal prisons for five years for burning their draft cards,” and wrongly claims Harris “chewed up and spit out those of us who were naive enough to ride along so [he] could further [his] own egotistical adventures. … [He] didn’t give a hoot about the rest of us.”

Factually wrong on every count. Harris was the very model of patriotic objection to a governmental policy.

First, he advised his draft board in writing that he would not cooperate with any of its requirements. Second, he publicized his non-cooperation in his advocacy against the war, ensuring that he would become the focus of federal enforcement. Only then did he publicly and repeatedly urge other young men to do the same.

I should know. Harris — a former Stanford student body president — was in prison when I arrived there to begin my freshman year in September 1969.

I turned 18 that November. Federal law required I register with my draft board. I went to Palo Alto Resistance headquarters, which Harris helped establish, for counseling. The draft counselor’s kindness and respect for my struggles and questions as to what to do, even though he was to begin his own prison term for resistance the very next day, moved me to my core. It still does.

These brave men and the equally brave women who supported them will soon get their due when the documentary “Boys Who Said No!: Draft Resistance and the Vietnam War” is released.

David I. Schulman, Los Angeles


“Why Is This Sport Different?” April 6:

I love it. Baseball is timeless. There is no clock to run out. What a great metaphor for redemption.

Cyndi Buckey

“Between the Shoah and Mimouna,” April 6:

The beauty and light and optimism of Mimouna is tempered, as a sword blade is tempered in the blacksmiths forge and under his hammer, by the awful evil that was the Shoah. It is built into the very fabric of our divinely created world that the forces of destruction and savagery will never have a final conquest. … Not as long as the Chosen People can find the will to resist.

Ernest Sewell

Thank you for writing of the concerns I share about current events.

Marilyn Danko

Beautiful words.

Tamara Anzivino

This Sacred Beauty

It is written in the Talmud, “Ten measures of beauty descended upon the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem.”

It is no surprise that many feel a visceral love for Jerusalem. The city, which has been destroyed twice and attacked 52 times, still emits a sacred beauty, a beauty that transcends religion and politics.

Most Jews feel this visceral connection before we have ever visited Israel, before we even understand our historical, cultural and religious connection to the land. The love we feel for Israel is not complicated or questioning. Rather, it is like the love we feel for our children, our soulmates — unconditional and eternal: “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

In the fall of 2013, I reluctantly joined Facebook to promote a book on “deep beauty,” beauty so profound that it touches you not just emotionally but spiritually. Each day I posted art and design that moved me, hoping to nudge the art world back to a deeper appreciation of beauty. I never posted about politics, although many of my art friends did.

When the Hamas war broke out in the summer of 2014, I (naively) expected these left-leaning justice-warrior friends to see which side justice was on. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

No matter what Hamas did, they blamed Israel — precisely what is happening today.

I started to defend Israel, but I also decided that maybe what was needed was for the world to again be touched by its sacred beauty. For more than a decade, the art world had only “allowed” sad, dreary, conflict scenes to be shown.

As the photo-book world follows the art world, there were many rejections before Skyhorse, a small publishing house, agreed to publish “Passage to Israel.” I chose 200 images to represent Israel, images from a wide variety of photographers. My primary requirement: The images were of deep beauty — images that would touch the soul.

Somewhat miraculously, I was introduced to Anderson Contemporary Gallery in New York City. Ronnie Anderson fell in love with the images; she didn’t care that she wasn’t supposed to love them.

And so the exhibition “Passage to Israel” opened in New York in the fall of 2016, with Matisyahu headlining. After its NYC stop, it traveled around the New York area before opening in Ariel, Samaria. It then went on to the Jerusalem Theater, Jaffa and Haifa.

The reaction has been extraordinary: The Israeli friend living in the U.S. who sat down and cried when she went through the book. The innumerable notes saying, “Thank you for reconnecting me to my love for Israel.” The many people who simply said, “I forgot that Israel is far more than just the conflict.”

Most shocking to me has been the reaction of the Arab world. When I created a Facebook page for “Passage,” I braced myself for daily hate and ugliness. Instead, more than a third of the likes are from Arabic names, many of whom heart and share the photos.

Most shocking to me has been the reaction of the Arab world.

Can deep beauty be the sacred bond?

The ultimate test was back where I started, with the art world. The Sagamore Hotel in the South Beach area of Miami Beach — the center of the U.S. art world — chose “Passage” as the centerpiece of a three-month #Peace70 exhibition. The Sagamore is now owned by Israeli Ronit Neuman, but the idea was the brainchild of curator Sebastien Laboureau, who branded it “art as the crosswalk for peace.”

A snowstorm prevented me from making it to the opening in the beginning of March, but from all accounts it was quite epic. Two Florida mayors spoke; major collectors and “tastemakers” roamed the stunning Sagamore, entranced by images of Israel. As one art patron put it, “I haven’t seen the Sagamore this packed since Art Basel 2012.”

As happy as I am about “Passage’s” ability to touch souls, it saddens me to see that, four years later, we’re still dealing with the same desire to believe Hamas’ lies, no matter how far-fetched. A week into the Gaza turmoil, Hamas flew a swastika between two Palestinians flags. As of yet, no mainstream Western journalist has reported it.

Ultimately, the last two sentences of the “Passage” book still stand: “Israel is indeed a mirror to one’s soul. Those who see the beauty, who stand up for the truth, who understand the meaning, will never regret where they stood in this moment in history, when silence is not an option.”

Am Yisra’el Chai.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.

Progressive Bullies

The first time I encountered a “progressive bully” he was scaling the kitchen cabinets at his parents’ dinner party. While other moms and I shot worried glances at one another, his mother blithely explained, “Oh, we don’t want to create an antagonistic relationship with him. So we never use the word ‘no.’ ”

At the time, I hadn’t connected the fact that he was no longer a happy, sweet kid to  his parents’ “progressive” way of raising him. But as more of these examples have turned up, especially on college campuses and in what is called the millennial generation, the dots are getting easier to connect.

We are all quite familiar with traditional bullies. Traditional bullies have typically endured some abuse in their lives and take that pain and anger out on someone else, or everyone else.

Parkland, Fla., high school shooter Nikolas Cruz was a traditional bully. But so is Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who felt the need to mock Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg’s rejection from some colleges. You don’t have to like Hogg’s personality to see how cruel that was. In response, 15 sponsors have pulled their ads from Ingraham’s program.

The fact that we now have a new category of bully was made clear to me, sadly, the other day. One of my son’s friends had turned mean, not because of abuse but because his father believed that the job of a good progressive parent was to shield his son from every slight and perceived slight to the point where the son: a) had zero ability to engage with the world; and b) now believed that he could say or do anything because all that mattered were his own feelings.

This “empathy stops with me” attitude can be found on college campuses, where kids must be shielded from ideas they didn’t learn about in class but they have no problem, for instance, editing a keffiyeh onto an image of Anne Frank, as students did recently at a South Africa university.

One of the things that makes terrorists who they are is that they no longer respond to positive reinforcement.

Then there are the everyday encounters one has with millennials. Millennials were at the forefront of progressive parenting and progressive colleges and oh they show it off well. The words “entitled” and “privileged” don’t do justice to many millennials’ attitudes. Manners and respect don’t seem to be their thing, and at the slightest opportunity many will try to eviscerate you.

Recently, I saw progressive bullying descending to a new low. After the terrorist group Hamas was involved in the deadly clash on March 30, when thousands rushed the Gaza border, progressive apologists shouted on Facebook: If only the Jews had tried to humanize the terrorists, none of this would be happening. It is up to the Jews to make sure that Hamas doesn’t suffer from low self-esteem; if they continue to act like terrorists, then we didn’t do our job.

As the mother of a strong-willed boy, I am the first to say that positive reinforcement is far more effective than punishment. And as the victim of bullying, I am the first to say that constructive criticism is always more effective than tearing down someone’s self-esteem. But when you are dealing with terrorists, the paradigm shifts dramatically. One of the things that makes terrorists who they are is that they no longer respond to positive reinforcement or constructive criticism. In fact, they will use both against you.

Suggesting that Jews are in part to blame for the evil of Hamas or Hezbollah because we have not boosted their self-esteem sufficiently is engaging in anti-Semitism, exactly what Hamas — Iran — seeks.

It’s not hard to see why Hamas acts as it does: Its members hate Jews and want to destroy Israel. Would empathizing with them make them stop hating us? Well, Israel tried that by giving them Gaza. What was their response? To turn Gaza into a rocket launching pad, using human shields.

Bullies, progressive or traditional, should never be indulged or excused. But while we should do as much as possible for child bullies — knowing that someone or something turned them into bullies — terrorists have moved beyond the point of empathy. Should we try to focus on why some groups turn into terrorists? Absolutely.

But once their souls have been destroyed, there is little that empathy will change. All it will do is create more tragedy, as we have seen time and time again.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

The Beauty of Ritual

Photo from Pinterest.

When you have a child later in life, there are many issues you don’t consider. For me, one of the more troublesome has been: Who will be there for the holidays?

At 8, my son is not yet aware of what he’s missing. But each Pesach in particular, I am achingly aware. Throughout my childhood, the holidays marked the times when a flood of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins descended upon our house, filling it with the raucous joy that only close family can impart.

My grandfather, my father’s father, led our seders. Elegant, dignified, commanding respect simply by being a gentleman — a gentle man — my grandfather set the tone for our seders for the next few decades: sensual, spiritual feasts that left our hearts, minds and souls in some sort of cosmic unity. Or at least that’s how it felt.

By the time my son, Alexander, arrived, that unity had begun to shatter. My mother died when he was 2. My brother moved to Florida when my son was 3. My cousins, undermining every value my grandfather tried to instill, dispersed.

Seders soon became makeshift affairs — with an assortment of close friends providing a variegated experience each year.

As much as I am grateful for those friends, the fact that Alexander is not growing up with the same holiday rituals each year tugs at my heart. Oh sure, I fill in where I can at our synagogue, which excels at Sukkot, Simchat Torah and Purim. And I now try to have an annual Hanukkah party for his friends.

But, love ’em or hate ’em, there’s really nothing like being with family on the holidays.

Perhaps unconsciously, I’ve been adding more Jewish ritual to Alexander’s life in other realms. I have sung the Shema to him every night since he was born. We light Shabbat candles as often as we can and go to the children’s Shabbat service as often as the synagogue provides it. (Which means not during the summer months. Did you miss the part in the Torah where God says that going to the Hamptons on summer weekends is more important than a Shabbat service? Yeah, I did too.)

Recently, a new ritual has entered our lives. One evening, as I was fumbling to get the keys out of my bag, Alexander was asking for something that I wasn’t ready to give him. I looked up, and the mezuzah at our door stared back at me. “OK, we’ll see,” I said. “But anyway, it’s time that you start to kiss the mezuzah every day.” He eagerly reached up and did so.

I have to admit, I was a little shocked. This is a child who groans before Hebrew school and likes his Shabbat service only because of the pretty Israeli teachers. But he has taken to this new ritual with gusto, with an enthusiasm usually reserved for kibitzing with his friends.

It has made me think: What other rituals can I easily integrate?

These 3,000-year-old rituals aren’t going anywhere. They’re here to make us feel loved, safe, connected.

The truth is, even when you don’t have a child late in life, families change and often disintegrate. People get sick, divorced, move across continents, die.

But these 3,000-year-old rituals aren’t going anywhere. They’re here to make us feel loved, safe, connected — to provide us with the foundation to create light. And the beauty of most rituals is that they’re not dependent on others: The bond is between each of us and God.

If faith provides hope, ritual provides order. But perhaps more important, ritual provides a reminder of faith, just as nature and beauty do.

Last week, Alexander had to get checked by a cardiologist (for hopefully a very minor issue). For the next 24 hours, he had to be wired up with uncomfortable tabs across his chest. When he realized that tearing off the whole thing was just going to send him back to a long, unpleasant ultrasound, he finally relented to being distracted till bedtime.

I was a little concerned with how he was going to sleep with his chest looking like technological warfare. A slightly tattered, stuffed Torah, given to him as a baby, has been called upon for times like this. “Here,” I said, “Let’s let the Torah hold the monitor so you can just relax and go to sleep.”

When I checked in on him a bit later, he was sleeping peacefully — clutching the spool of the Torah with one hand.

Chag sameach.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

Pleasure Is Not Political

The morning I began to write this column, my son used the phrase, “Hello darkness, my old friend’’ while playing a video game. I asked him if he knew where it was from, and he shrugged. So I played the song “The Sound of Silence” for him. He tried to go back to playing the game, but the quiet beauty of Simon & Garfunkel’s 1964 song kept pulling him over. Listening to the words with him, I thought: Here’s an exquisitely beautiful dissection of the human condition — without a word of overt politicization.

Politicized art has been trending for decades, of course. So it was with great joy to discover the colorful, whimsical work of Marc Camille Chaimowicz, on view at the Jewish Museum in New York until Aug. 5. Chaimowicz was born in postwar Paris to a French Catholic mother and a Polish-Jewish father, but he lived most of his life in London. “Your Place or Mine …,” which explores ideas of domesticity through life-size room installations of furniture, ceramics, collages, wallpaper, textiles and sculptures, is the first solo survey of the artist’s work in the United States.

Because the Jewish Museum is housed in the former home of Felix and Frieda Warburg, which was designed in the French Gothic chateau style of 1908, the building provides Chaimowicz’s art with a unique, ornate interior. And the first thing that pops out is how well the artist’s subdued yet colorful designs mix with the building’s breathtaking detail; timeless pieces fuse well.

Chaimowicz’s work challenges traditional distinctions between interior décor and high art, between the realms of the masculine and the feminine. In his first flat in London in 1974, he designed wall patterns, draperies, bedcoverings, folding screens, tables and chairs. His home became known in London’s artistic circles as an ever-evolving “total work of art.”

As Chaimowicz’s career came of age during the postmodern rejection of soulless modernism, he was heavily influenced by French critic Roland Barthes, who believed that pleasure ­— jouissance — was one of the responsibilities of form. And objects in the home, Chaimowicz added, can be objects of pleasure.

“My mind was drawn to left-wing ideology, but the left-wing practice produced art that I could not enjoy.”  — Marc Camille Chaimowicz


Barthes radically argued that it was OK to lose oneself in art, that not every aspect of art needs to be “read” and analyzed. Said art historian Roger Cook, a friend of Chaimowicz, “We all have a tendency, intellectually, to want black-and-white answers to things. … But when we use our senses, we experience things sensually, without these overriding oppositions.”

And thus we have Chaimowicz’s persistently joyous sense of color, his whimsical patterns, his magical array of objects. We discover his soul through layers of poetry, not through a blatant political message. “My mind was drawn to left-wing ideology, but the left-wing practice produced art that I could not enjoy,” Chaimowicz said. “It was lacking in pleasure, color and sensuality. All the things that matter to me.”

His father escaped Poland and married his mother in France. His father’s family disappeared, and no one ever talked about the war. Raised Catholic, he said, “I have no connection with the Jewish faith whatsoever.” And yet, at any point in his career, he could have dropped the Chaimowicz — Marc Camille is a great stage name — but he chose to keep it.

“He enfolds his rebelliousness in beauty,” curator Kelly Taxter writes.

Indeed, like many post-Holocaust artists, Chaimowicz chose beauty, perhaps unconsciously to undermine philosopher Theodor Adorno’s famous statement: “There can be no poetry after Auschwitz.”

Chaimowicz’s work is a joyous reminder that darkness can be combatted only with light, that, as 1960s American folk singer Phil Ochs put it, “In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.”

Sadly, the Jewish Museum itself needs to get off the political bandwagon. “This aesthetic of pleasure and leisure that Marc Camille Chaimowicz adheres to is actually a political position,” the museum’s audio tour states unequivocally. “It’s saying: We need pleasure.”

Yes, we need pleasure, but no, pleasure is not political, as the entire exhibition demonstrates so well.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

Time’s Up for Faux Liberals

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“Farrakhan has pulled the cover off the eyes of the Satanic Jew and I’m here to say your time is up, your world is through,” Louis Farrakhan, referring to himself in the third person, told a cheering Nation of Islam crowd of thousands in Chicago a couple of weeks ago.

How nice that Farrakhan, 84, has been able to stay rhetorically on trend. Actually, his genocidal bigotry is so on trend that Tamika Mallory, one of the leaders of the Women’s March, was shocked — shocked! — that anyone would care that she attended this largely anti-Semitic rally, that she would get a shoutout from the good minister, and even pose for a photo with him on Instagram afterward.

Truth be told, Mallory had every reason to be shocked. When co-leader Linda Sarsour said that anti-Semitism is “not systemic,” that you can’t be a feminist and a Zionist — when she publicly embraced terrorist Rasmea Odeh — there was barely a peep from those left of center.

In fact, the unpleasant reality that Sarsour and co-leader Carmen Perez also have close ties to Farrakhan — the man the Anti-Defamation League calls “the leading anti-Semite in America”—didn’t stir any pot either.

So, why would Mallory think that the normalization of hate against Jews — a key part of the “intersectionality” that the Women’s March quartet touts — would cause such a ruckus?

What Mallory wasn’t counting on was the fact that Farrakhan’s blatant focus on Jews — not Zionists and Israel — would actually motivate the normally silent to open their mouths. Jews on the far left are often called self-haters for kowtowing to the likes of Sarsour. But clearly it’s not self-hatred — it’s more like they’re happy to hide behind an anti-Zionist cover when needed: regressive chic at its finest.

Not standing up for your own people for the sake of status is just as faux liberal as condoning hatred. So it’s good to know that when push comes to genocide, left-of-center Jews will not be silent. We can now call this the Farrakhan Line: Jews on the left will put their foot down when Israel is not mentioned.

Words, as Jews know in their veins, have consequences.

Indeed, a month before Farrakhan’s speech, the ADL published a report showing that 2017 saw a 67 percent rise in anti-Jewish hate speech, harassment, vandalism and violence.

This seems like a good opportunity to distinguish real liberals from faux liberals, whether they call themselves progressives or leftists or socialists.

Remarkably, the Wikipedia definition of liberalism has remained intact: “Liberalism is a political philosophy founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views … but generally support [the principles of] freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, and gender equality.”

Not standing up for your own people for the sake of status is just as faux liberal as condoning hatred.

This is the key line: Liberals espouse a wide array of views. Meaning, you and I can disagree on how to enforce, for instance, freedom of speech. But if you don’t stand for the principle of freedom of speech, you can’t call yourself a liberal. (Social justice warriors on campus, please take note.)

And speaking of words, I’ve been increasingly seeing the word “gaslighting” in relation to President Donald Trump. Gaslighting is “a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt … in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.”

Personally, I don’t see this as a conscious or unconscious Trump tactic. But I very much see this as a progressive/leftist tactic. From baseless attacks on Israel to Holocaust denial/minimization, to outright Jew hatred, progressives/leftists are, consciously or not, trying to gaslight Jews.

And so, I ask my fellow liberals: Why are you so desperate to be included in these “progressive” groups? Why not work to restrengthen the liberal center? Liberalism, by definition, includes both feminism and Zionism.

And I say to the leaders of the Women’s March: Time’s up for faux liberals and faux feminists.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

Can We Please Start Over?

Screenshot from Twitter.

We are born unique, complex, imperfect.
Into the universe of nature, often moral, often unjust.
Into society, where we must sign a social contract to survive.
We are individuals, continuously striving to retain our individuality.

The first social unit we encounter is our family.
We desire acceptance but also crave respect.
The second is our religion, race, ethnicity.
Often, these add to our unique identities; sometimes, we are subsumed by them.

Next: School. From an early age, we try desperately to fit in, to be liked; it is here that we
first face the harsh realities of social acceptance.
We are cruelly pushed out of some groups and just as arbitrarily pushed into others;
parental pressures only add to the pain.
Our ability to navigate these early social rites informs how we deal with group acceptance
for the rest of our lives.

Finally, our political party.
Up until recently, aligning oneself with a political party did not create an impervious line
in the sand. Republicans and Democrats argued, to be sure, but they also could
socialize, see humor in their differences, compromise.
No more. The two groups hardly interact, and within each party, one must maintain
rigid conformity to a strict party line — The Orthodoxy — or you risk being publicly

I may agree with you on some issues, disagree with you on others. But unless you try to bully me into submission, I respect your right to your opinions, even if I find them odious.

Individuality, on both the left and the right, is dying; tribalism rules; obedience reigns.

Tribalism begets extremism; extremism begets hysterics. Social media lit the final match.

Can we please start over?

I am unique, complex, imperfect.

I may agree with you on some issues, disagree with you on others. But unless you try to
bully me into submission, I respect your right to your opinions, even if I find them

I don’t care which party you belong to; I don’t care which religion, race or ethnicity you
identify with. Unless you try to force me to follow your way of thinking or living.

I may try to get you to see an issue the way I do, but I would never bully you. We have lost
the distinction between arguing and bullying.

Issues are often complex; embrace the complexity. Totalitarianism offers instant
security; resist it.

Question dogma; rebel against irrationality.
Be brave but civil; break boundaries but remain decent.
Relearn to tolerate difference; to take comfort in diversity; to listen.
We each have the ability to create bonds of compassion, to sow seeds of accord, to bring
light back into the darkness.

But first, we need to reclaim our individuality.
I am unique, complex, imperfect.
I try to honor my quirks, idiosyncrasies, opinions, to let them inspire my dreams.
Heterodoxy: I think for myself; I don’t need the validation of others.

I am not a political party; I am not a group identity; I am me.

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

Help Boys Be Better Boys

Photo from Max Pixel.

Amid the soul-searching that has followed the Florida shooting, there has been an implicit acknowledgement that there are in fact differences between the sexes. My friends on the left posted and reposted this stat: 98 percent of mass shootings are committed by men.

After decades of hearing that there are zero differences between the sexes, this acknowledgment is quite welcome. Unfortunately, the fact that it is being used to prop up a “masculinity is toxic” argument undermines its usefulness. Imagine what could be gained if we put theory aside and began to look at reality again.

First, let’s be clear: Masculinity did not cause the deaths of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. A legally bought AR-15 did. An AR-15, combined with systemic failure on the part of the FBI, the police and school officials.

Second, this interest in sexual differences is based on a false premise: that these differences are “constructed” by society, that evil parents condition boys to be boys by continuously telling them to “stop with the emotion,” encouraging aggression, and prohibiting their desire to play with dolls.

When my son was 3, he ran to join the dozen other boys watching a construction site next to the playground. Not one girl stopped to watch, and I remember thinking: Maybe now the “no-difference” parents will begin to understand biological differences.

Once we return to accepting sexual differences, there’s much we can do to help boys — and girls — become their best selves.

Shortly afterward, a mother of one of his friends said to me: “I finally relented on the subject when I gave my son a Barbie and he used it to hammer down some Legos.”

I must interject here: There are, of course, some girls who enjoy watching construction sites and some boys who like to play with dolls. When we talk about sexual differences, we’re talking about how the majority of males and females act.

Boys are generally more physically aggressive than girls, and it’s not because of parental encouragement. In fact, good parents work hard at channeling their sons’ aggression into healthy, constructive pursuits. My son and I used to watch “The Ten Commandments” a lot, and every time we came to the scene where brawny Joshua helps to save Moses’ mother from being crushed, I made a point of saying, “See, this is how we use our strength.”

Unfortunately, some boys become bullies; their aggression turns violent, their energy is used to destroy, not create. This we surely can call toxic masculinity, and it is clear the Florida shooter fell into this category.

Would various Broward County institutions have been better equipped to treat him if there was a deeper understanding of how masculinity can turn toxic? No doubt. All schools — society in general — would gain radically from even an acknowledgement of sexual differences and the problems that can emerge.

Right now, most schools operate under the neutralization theory promulgated by academia for the past three decades: attempt to neutralize all differences. At my son’s elementary school, this has amounted to boys in kindergarten being sent to the principal’s office if they can’t sit completely still for hours on end. Oh, and gym class has been cut to once a week, and there’s only 20 minutes of recess. If it rains or snows, the kids are forced to sit for more than six hours with zero physical activity.

Would frequent diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other behavioral issues be significantly reduced if kids, especially boys, were allowed more time to run around? I looked at the schedule of the top all-boys school in New York as an answer: vigorous activity, academic work, vigorous activity, academic work.

The point is, once we return to accepting sexual differences, there’s much we can do to help boys — and girls — become their best selves. Belittling boys and men, the current trend, is not going to get us to that point.

My hope is that the horrific Florida shooting leads to much change, from gun laws to FBI responsiveness. It would not be insignificant if it also leads to a better understanding of differences between the sexes, and what can be done to foster self-respect and dignity for all kids.

It’s well past time to tear down the false gods, whether promulgated by the National Rifle Association or gender studies departments.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

News Flash: Guns Kill

A protester weeps while chanting at a rally calling for more gun control three days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

In the days following the Florida school shooting, all of the usual “guns are as American as apple pie” defenses came out as though they had been saved from the last mass shooting and the one before that. Key to the apple pie defense: “If we all had guns, there would be no gun violence.”

It’s interesting that this theory gets so much play given that it goes against everything we know about human nature. But it’s also based on a false assumption. Guns have never been as American as apple pie. Whether or not you believe the Second Amendment was purposefully misinterpreted (and I believe it was), huge swaths of the country have always found guns odious.

Even now, when the prevalence of guns in the U.S. is beyond belief — 300 million, nearly one for every citizen — more than half are concentrated in the hands of just 3 percent of Americans, who own an average of 17 guns each. About 70 percent of Americans do not own a gun. The percentage of gun owners has actually been declining relative to population growth and is at an almost 40-year low. Least surprising of all, the less education you have, the more likely you are to own a gun.

The latter was clear when I started posting about guns on Facebook after the Florida shooting. I think I finally found the issue that decisively separates classical liberals/conservatives from what I can only call the totalitarian right.

The totalitarian right’s response to mass shootings is the mirror image of the totalitarian left’s response to terrorism: Find every excuse to do nothing. Feel morally superior about doing nothing. Pretend that it’s completely normal for a 19-year-old with a troubled past and emotional issues to legally buy an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

The one idea that the NRA and the far right have come up with is arming teachers. When I posted about the Colorado school district that is now allowing teachers to carry guns, there was much cheering from the “more guns” crowd. Until a teacher friend wrote: “You all forget that teachers are people, too, with a variety of temperaments. I work in a school and I for one would not feel safer if some of my colleagues had guns at work.” She then messaged me about teachers at her school who have been suspended for being violent with the students.

Arming teachers is a bad idea. Having an armed guard at every school is a much better one. Again, human nature needs to be considered.

For the sake of our kids, let’s tone down the anger and find sensible, bipartisan solutions.

Many on the totalitarian right can’t even engage in a civil discussion about the issue. Why should we trust them to own guns? In my 20s, I dated an anti-gun activist who the NRA loathed because he ran circles around them both morally and intellectually. One of the phrases he used has always stuck in my head: “The ready availability of guns.” The accidents, domestic violence and suicides that wouldn’t happen if guns weren’t so readily available.

Of course, I’m not talking about taking away guns. (I would love it, but it could never happen.) But, as Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times, there is clearly much that can be done to prevent all levels of gun tragedies, from mental health checks and safe storage measures, to banning semi-automatics and sales to those under 21, to standardizing gun laws across states.

A key obstacle, Kristof writes, is our mindset. Why shouldn’t guns be given the same rational assessment as cars? Treated as a public health issue?

People on the totalitarian right act as though guns are the most intimate part of their body. When your political philosophy shows more care for a fetus (which I, too, believe is a life) than a child at school, you might want to revisit it.

Meanwhile, the left’s descent into identity politics has not helped. In New York City, so-called progressive groups are succeeding at removing metal detectors from high schools. Why? Because they consider them “racist.” That’s right. Racist metal detectors.

Raw emotions from both sides are distracting us from moving forward on this complex societal conundrum. For the sake of our kids, let’s tone down the anger and find sensible, bipartisan solutions that a majority of the country will get behind.

If not now, when?

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

Seduced by the Light of Los Angeles

Photo from Pexels

In a magnificent, glassed corner office I visited on my trip to L.A. last week, I watched the setting sun create layers of golden, coral and magenta light. The delicate, ethereal light felt close and intimate, as if I was surrounded by thousands of radiant Shabbat candles.

In New York City, my home, one is lucky to catch a glimpse of sunlight in winter. Indeed, long stretches of Manhattan streets often are devoid of light and cellphone service. The quiet beauty of the elegant townhouses can compensate for the lack of natural light during the winter months — but only for so long.

It traditionally has been believed that greatness comes from struggle, that pushing against challenges and restraints helps an artist or thinker to master their craft. The Torah defines a righteous person not as someone who has succeeded but as someone who has persevered. “A righteous man falls down seven times and gets up,” wrote King Solomon in Proverbs. L’fum tzara agra — according to the effort is the reward, says Rabbi Ben Hei Hei in “Ethics of the Fathers.”

The same has been said about the weather — that parts of the world where sun and warmth reign year-round tend to be less creative than those that wind through the seasons.

There is logic to this theory. Both truth and beauty wrestle with darkness and light — one needs to be able to feel the darkness to create the light.

But my trip to Los Angeles made me less sure whether that perspective should be interpreted so literally.

The light of L.A. is layered and imperfect, just as we are. Let it seduce you and inspire you.

Each morning the brilliant sunshine nearly burst into my hotel room, intent on energizing whatever it touched with its rays. No doubt the seduction of sunlight induces some people to create nothing more than cozy settings on the beach, or to run and rollerblade in pursuit of physical perfection.

But L.A.’s light isn’t vacuous. It’s steeped with all the essential attributes of the universe. Or at least that’s how it felt to me.

I left New York City on a snowy, dark morning and returned on a rainy, dark night. Yes, living through winters here is a rather immersive, dark experience — one that has spawned thousands of richly drawn poems and paintings.

But if one doesn’t have the luxury of hibernating in a candlelit room for five months, the cold, the wind, the harshness all become stressors, deflators. Sure, one can use the opportunity to rummage through one’s soul, to peel away layers of inauthenticity and find the melancholy of a world that often appears insane.

But that is not the whole truth. Darkness needs to be entwined with light, with hope.

The distinctive, dreamy haze of Los Angeles’ light gave life to the movie industry and continues to define the city in art and literature. And yes, ironically, the air pollution lends the light a particular shimmer.

And so I say to you lucky residents of Los Angeles: Engage with this multifaceted, often mysterious light in ways that resonate emotionally and spiritually. Let it take you to a place where you can see and feel the complexity of the world, the controlled chaos, the particular dance of darkness and light that leads to curiosity and self-reflection.

The light of L.A. is layered and imperfect, just as we are. Let it seduce you, inspire you, infuse your world with poetry and passion, but also with the dignity of restraint. Let it lead you to the shadow of darkness, but come away with the light of wisdom.

When I returned to New York City, I brought with me a gift from the Women’s Guild of Cedars-Sinai — a blue crystal butterfly. It now sits enchantingly on my desk, attempting to impart L.A.’s scintillating light into the complicated, animated, yet ultimately gloomy NYC winter.

Every time I look at it, I think of the lyrics of my son’s favorite song: “I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. …”

It is the light in our hearts, I will teach him, that will retain that spirit through many winters to come. Or, we can just move to L.A.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday).

Women, Sex and Power

This address was delivered by Karen Lehrman Bloch at the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Guild Symposium 2018: “21st Century Woman.”

So who is the “21st Century woman”? I think she’s strong, independent and spirited; unafraid of both her femininity and her sexuality; fiercely brave, confident and, of course, feminist.

But wait, how can she be both feminine and brave? Sexual and remain a feminist?

The truth is, those words were never meant to be contradictory. They became contradictory because of an essential misunderstanding of the original meaning of feminism.

What I’d like to do today is briefly touch on this misunderstanding and offer a vision for a deeper, more authentic feminism — a feminism that honors the original meaning.

I also think women will be a lot happier when we begin to understand that we don’t have to give up parts of ourselves for feminism. That, in fact, those parts are what make us stronger.

So let’s start over. Let’s talk about what feminism really is and how it was supposed to empower women. And let’s deal in the realms of facts and reality.

Feminism is not about following a set of rules or politics imposed by other women.

Feminism is not about voting for a woman just because she’s a woman.

Feminism is not about legislating equal numbers of judges or CEOs.

Feminism is not about exploiting your sexuality when it’s useful.

Feminism is not about destroying a man’s career because of a compliment.

Feminism is not about empowering women through victimhood — or shutting down voices of disagreement.

What is feminism?

I. Feminism can be summed up in three words: freedom, responsibility and individuality.

Freedom for women to vote, be educated, have careers — or stay home with our children. Freedom for women to wear miniskirts if we want, freedom to flirt, both in the office and out, to get involved with a co-worker — or to abstain from all sexual relations until marriage.

Freedom for women to become the unique individuals that we are.

Third Wave feminism, which began in the ’80s, was, in my opinion, a huge setback for women. Third Wave feminists actually restricted women’s freedom by adding onto feminism a set of politics, a list of behaviors, even fashion choices. Third Wave feminist leaders attempted to tell women what to think, how to behave, who to vote for.

None of this was part of the original meaning of feminism.

Now we have a Fourth Wave of feminism. Intersectional feminists are adding onto feminism another layer of do’s and don’ts.

Women, say intersectional feminists, must hate masculinity, privilege victimhood and, most important for many, continuously attack Israel. How interesting that a movement that started out 100 years ago as a way to free women from societal restrictions became a movement that urges women to hate Israel, one of the most feminist countries in the world.

II. Feminism also means personal responsibility — taking control of your life.

For feminist leaders in the past three decades, “personal responsibility” were dirty words. Why? Because focusing on a woman’s responsibility, they said, would take the focus off “the patriarchy.”

But just like with true liberalism, you can’t have freedom without responsibility. Why? Well, who else should take responsibility for our lives? The government? Our husbands? Our dates?

I think we’ve had some rather bizarre #MeToo moments precisely because of the lack of emphasis on women’s responsibility. Like “Grace,” the young woman who publicly humiliated Aziz Ansari because … why? She didn’t like the way the date was going but made no effort to tell him that? Or to simply go home?

In fact, the underlying premise of many of the non-assault #MeToo cases is actually quite unfeminist: It is based on the false notion that all women become helpless in difficult situations.

Sadly, many women do. But that’s not the fault of “the patriarchy.” It is largely the fault of the feminist establishment for, essentially, ignoring women’s personal growth.

Real assault cases are, of course, horrific, and right now we’re watching one of the worst: Dr. Larry Nassar, the doctor to the young gymnasts. This is a case of complete institutional failure and, as a result, at least 265 victims were subjected to pure evil.

But denying that sexual tension, even in the workplace, is not complex, that women don’t have responsibilities — that life isn’t perfect — doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.

Right now, any woman can destroy a man within seconds by merely describing an awkward pass. Is this empowerment  or is it the same passive-aggressiveness we’ve spent a half-century trying to overcome?

III. We don’t live in a patriarchy.

Anyone who seriously thinks we still live in a patriarchy — where men control and oppress us — needs to visit countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, this is another great irony of today’s feminist leaders: They have virtually ignored the women in Iran who have been protesting the wearing of compulsory hijab.

So far, 30 Iranian women have been arrested and tortured for this. This should be at the top of Western feminists’ priority list. Instead, it hardly gets mentioned.

But we do have oppressors here — what I have come to call the Gender Industrial Complex. The Gender Industrial Complex tells women who to vote for, which careers are preferable, who to like, who to hate, which ideas to regurgitate, what color to wear, which pronouns to use, which films to see, which films not to see — and most important of all: how to shut down anyone who disagrees with you.

The Gender Industrial Complex is our new oppressor. And if you call yourself a feminist, you need to fight back against it, just as our grandmothers fought against the patriarchy.

Real feminists don’t follow orders — even from other women.

IV. Women are different from men.

Contrary to “gender theory,” this stems mostly from biology, not culture. More important, it’s actually a positive, producing things like babies and making life much more fun and interesting.

Women and men are not the same, and we also don’t exist along a gender spectrum. Social scientists use bell curves to show our biologically based differences. Take aggression. The bell curves for males and females look very different. But there will always be a small group of women who are naturally more aggressive than a small group of men.

What else does this mean? It should be assumed that women think about sex differently from men. This doesn’t mean that women don’t think about sex. This doesn’t mean that women don’t love sex as much as men do. What it means is that women are evolutionarily built to connect our emotions to sex.

Probably the worst thing that feminist academics did in the past three decades was to make women feel ashamed of our femininity and sexuality.

So, while many women have no problem with today’s hook-up culture — where sex is typically expected — many other women, as hard as they try, can’t do it without feeling lousy afterward. Instead of seeing this as a special aspect of being a woman, feminists today blame this lousy feeling on men — either on a particular man or again on “the patriarchy.”

Many of today’s non-assault #MeToo cases could have been avoided, in fact, if feminists had explained all of this to women. If they had taught women that we each need to know what works for us and act accordingly.

V. Femininity and sexuality.

Probably the worst thing that feminist academics did in the past three decades was to make women feel ashamed of our femininity and sexuality — to neuter women. Leaving aside the fact that feminism had no interest in neutering women, a neutered woman is by definition a less empowered woman.

Being at one with our femininity and sexuality is an integral aspect of our strength and self-esteem. Just look at Gal Gadot.

Gal is so unabashedly feminine and sexy that when “Wonder Woman” first came out, some feminists went ballistic. They had been taught that showing our femininity or sexuality was a sign of weakness.

A hundred years ago, that was true. But we went through this thing called the sexual revolution in the ’60s, and one of the positives was that women took ownership of their sexuality.

And by taking ownership — by feeling it and knowing that it doesn’t undermine our ability to run a company or fly a plane — women were made whole in a way that we hadn’t been since hunter-gatherer times.

But it’s a responsible sexuality: It’s not about sleeping our way to the top; going to a man’s hotel room and then claiming victimhood; wearing scanty clothes at inappropriate times.

Sexuality, true sexuality, comes from within.

VI. Beauty.

Being at one with our femininity and sexuality also helps with the other issue Third Wave feminists got wrong: beauty. Beauty is not a myth; it’s not a cultural construct. It’s a harsh reality that only gets harsher with age. But as French and Israeli women know better than anyone: When you’re feeling at one with your sexuality, when you truly own it, it doesn’t matter how old you are.

VII. What about men?

Don’t men have any responsibility here?

Of course. Just because we don’t live in a patriarchy doesn’t mean that men, as individuals, don’t have a lot of work to do. I’m always amused when I read conservatives talk about returning to the ’50s and the Era of the Gentleman.

Sure, many men in the ’50s had good manners in public, and I would love to see those manners return. But we are all too aware of what often went on inside the home or inside the office.

We want men to treat women with respect — not just to keep up appearances. We want men to treat women with respect because it’s the right thing to do.

But here’s the thing: We don’t need to dump masculinity to make this happen. Masculinity is not toxic. Uncivilized masculinity is toxic. Civilized masculinity ends wars. Civilized masculinity moves mountains. Civilized masculinity is, well, sexy.

Another great irony of today’s feminism: the effort to defeminize women and feminize men. So that we’re all gender-neutral robots. No thanks, and again, this was never the intent of the original feminists.

But how do we make sure masculinity is civilized? Parents, especially fathers, need to teach their sons to be proud of their strengths and abilities — but to always have manners and respect. It’s not easy (I have a high-testosterone 8-year-old son; I am well aware). But it’s doable. All of us know men who are both gentlemen and quite masculine.

But also, women — as friends, girlfriends and wives — have a role here. We have the not particularly fun job of helping to civilize men. Actually, I take that back. Imagine how Gal had civilized her early boyfriends. I have no doubt she had a great deal of fun and success — or they were out the door very quickly.

VIII. So what’s the bottom line?

The goal of feminism was to unshackle women, to be able to engage in the world as strong, fully formed adults who know what works for us and what doesn’t.

It’s time to teach women again that we are fully in control of our bodies and our destinies — to reach deep inside of ourselves to find our unique identities.

And so I propose the beginning of a new, Fifth Wave of feminism. We can call it rational feminism or independent feminism or noncomformist feminism. Or, we can just call it feminism, because it would be bringing feminism back to its original meaning.

The key components again would be freedom, personal responsibility and individuality. Taking back our lives from those who wish to control us, both women and men.

That, and only that, is the true meaning of feminism and empowerment. That is the 21st century woman.

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

The Meaning of Cool

Photo from Pixabay

“That’s cool,” I said somewhat offhandedly to my son after he showed me something, well, cool.

It’s not a word I use very often. In fact, I probably hadn’t used it for at least a decade. But he had said it a couple of times, so I thought that maybe it’s made a comeback among the ninja turtle set.

“What does that mean?” he responded.

I paused. I frowned. I think I even looked around to see who else was listening.

“Well,” I began promisingly. “Cool means …”

How to begin? How to sum it up? Why was it so much easier to define coolness 10 or 20 years ago, before everything changed? Before I began to feel completely out of sync with the group of people and ideas that I had associated with coolness?

My introduction to coolness didn’t come till high school. Like most teens in suburban America, I was fairly rebellious. At 14, I believed that meant: Do what other teens who seem rebellious are doing. I let my hair grow long and wild, wore the most bohemian clothes my mother would allow, and spouted the “benefits” of socialism.

At 16, my first real boyfriend introduced me to the works of Ayn Rand, and my entire world was turned upside down. After devouring every word the Jewish-Russian author wrote, I stopped copying what everyone else was doing and began to look within, to look for me.

It was liberating and inspiring. I stopped caring whether the other girls thought I was pretty enough to be part of their clique: I didn’t want to be part of anyone’s clique. I began to seek out the most interesting, thoughtful friends, and we had endless discussions about literature, philosophy and art.

This nonconformist rebellion continued throughout college, shaping and cementing my classical — now called universal — liberal views.

This has not always led to happiness. One of the flaws of capitalism is that it often rewards people who know how to “work a room” over developing innovative ideas. But it has led to a sense of inner peace. If I wasn’t always as successful as I would have liked, at least I knew that I had never sold my soul to the highest bidder.

The illiberal leftism that high school and college students are devouring today makes my initial conformity look almost cool. Students are taught not how to think, but what to think — about politics, film, art, even fashion. Nothing is left to individual choice. In fact, nonconformity is frowned upon. The closer one adheres to the leftist agenda, the higher one’s status.

What would I tell teens who have been brainwashed by their Marxist professors into thinking that following leftist orders is the definition of cool?

We are the artists of our lives. Resist fashions, both political and aesthetic. Listen to Maajid Nawaz, the Muslim reformer fighting against radical Islam; to  Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the ex-Muslim feminist activist fighting against genital mutilation and other forms of female oppression. Listen to Ben Shapiro even if you disagree with him.

The rebels today are rebuilding liberalism, after a quarter century of identity politics, intersectionality and victimhood. As Bob Marley put it: “None but ourselves can free our minds.”

It’s a little harder to talk about this with my son, now 8. He’s already dealing with peer pressure to wear a certain type of clothes and talk in a certain manner. He has learned that being bad equals cool. In fact, he’s already moved on from cool to sick, monster, beast. But he still wants to know what it means.

Students are taught not how to think, but what to think. … The closer one adheres to the leftist agenda, the higher one’s status.

“There’s a difference between questioning things and being bad,” I’ve told him. “You should question things all the time. But being bad is actually uncool. It means you’re trying to get the approval of your friends, instead of following your heart.”

He looked at me as if he was going to cry; he didn’t understand.

I tried again. “Do you know what’s really cool? Creating something incredible. Becoming an awesome artist or athlete or scientist.”

The cry face went away. I continued. “But do you know what’s the coolest thing of all?”

I whispered in his ear: “Just being yourself.”

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

Why I Didn’t March

On the morning of Jan. 20, some guy friends at my gym in New York City ask me why I’m not at the Women’s March.

“Well… the march doesn’t speak for me,” I begin.

“What do you mean — aren’t you for women’s rights?”

“Yes, of course, but it depends what you mean by rights.”

Blank stares. This is clearly not a gym conversation.

“I am a woman, yes,” I continue. “But I don’t agree with the leaders of the march on many issues.”

More blank stares.

“Let’s just say, before I’m a woman, I’m an individual. I don’t need to be told what to think or who to vote for. The leaders of this march believe they have the right to tell me what to think. That is the opposite of feminism.”

Oh, cool, they nod. In their heads, I have moved into the category of “interesting woman at the gym who says things we don’t understand.”

Sadly, so many women who marched last weekend don’t understand this critical point, either. They don’t understand that you can’t call something a Women’s March and then attach to it a particular set of politics. Would men attending a Men’s March be expected to think exactly the same thoughts on every issue?

This was a Progressive Women’s March, as was last year’s. So why don’t they call it that? Because, like it or not, the leaders of these marches don’t think women are very smart. Maybe “smart” isn’t the right word. Obedient — the leaders of these marches believe women should be obedient. You just tell women what to do and think, and they will follow suit. Just as Michelle Obama thought she could tell women that they had to vote for Hillary, these leaders believe they just need to tell women what to chant, who to hate, etc., and they will willingly fall in line.

And for Progressive women, they are quite right. In fact, a defining feature of today’s Progressivism/leftism is its fundamentalist approach to life. In diametric opposition to true liberalism, Progressives question nothing. They follow orders, and they’re very good at it.

But even if I were a woman who shared a Progressive view of life, I wouldn’t march. Why? Well, why would I want to be even remotely involved with something led by Linda Sarsour? Leaving aside everything else, Sarsour has never denied her desire to see Israel disappear. In fact, it is a core tenet of her belief system. And she is brilliant at convincing Progressives that they should hate Israel too.

I understand the goal of the Zioness Movement, for instance, is to force Progressives to give Zionist women a seat at their table. But I think there’s a flaw in this: Progressivism is now, by definition, proudly anti-Zionist. It’s part of the “intersectionality” they toss around. Why would you want to be part of a group of people whose core belief is hatred of you?

Wouldn’t a better tactic be to strengthen real liberalism? Zionism is by definition a subset of liberalism — you literally cannot be liberal and anti-Zionist.

During last year’s march, I had to shield my son’s eyes from the signs and attire of many participants. I remember trying to explain to him one particular sign held by a male: “Kill the patriarchy.”

This year, now 8 years old, he was conveniently in synagogue all morning. Later in the day, we were on a crowded train, going to a tennis tournament. Two white women with pink knit hats were occupying a third seat with a sign that said: “Trust Women.” Meanwhile, a bunch of minority women were standing with me, rolling their eyes. Not once did the pink hats even notice us standing there, let alone remove the sign.

My son was looking at them as well. What message is his generation learning from all of this? Progressive men want to kill themselves because they are so riddled with patriarchic guilt? Progressive women are so self-involved they can’t be bothered to give up their sign’s seat for another human?

The next day, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, we watched men and women in wheelchairs play tennis. My son was mesmerized. “One day, I’d like to help them,” said the boy whose empathy comes in fits and starts.

“You will,” I said, knowing that this moment was more important for humanity than hundreds of women around the country wearing pussy hats. That’s why I didn’t march.

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

We Are All Sh*tholers

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

I spend most of my time on Facebook criticizing the left. Pointing out all of the ways it has become illiberal. For this, I have been called all sorts of names and blocked by friends of 20 years.

During the 2016 election, I switched to the more urgent task of arguing why Donald Trump shouldn’t be president. After the election, I went back to criticizing the left.

I rarely mention Trump, although I have praised him when deserved: his appointment of Nikki Haley; his recognition of Jerusalem; his support for the Iranian protesters.

So, I was quite surprised by the response I received when I wrote that the president of the United States should not have said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” referring to Africa. “Why do we need more Haitians? Why don’t we take more immigrants from places like Norway?”

That evening, I actually thought that all of Trump’s hardcore supporters would disappear from Facebook for a bit. I was quite wrong. They wrote endless defenses of his use of the word.  Defenses — complete with vile imagery — that left little doubt of the commentator’s prejudices.

What was most astonishing is that these were not his alt-right supporters. I’m not friends with alt-righters. These were otherwise rational conservatives who had befriended me because of a shared desire to defend Israel.

Aside from vile jokes about the countries, the word that kept coming up was “refreshing.” How refreshing it was to finally have a president that spoke “the truth.”

After unfriending the worst commentators, I asked a simple question: “Would you find it refreshing if he called Israel a shithole?” But Israel is not a shithole, they replied, missing my point.

I tried another tactic: “Well, my family comes from that sh*thole country Russia. I look forward to hearing Trump talk about it that way.” No response from the president’s defenders.

That night, I wrote: “Here’s the sad irony of Trump supporters who are unable to even say, ‘he shouldn’t have said that.’ For years, we all begged Obama peeps to admit when he made a mistake. To just say it, and move on. But they couldn’t do it, no matter how bad it was. And now many of those same peeps are doing the very same thing.”

But the fact that Trump supporters had become a mirror image of President Barack Obama supporters, who they loathe, also had no effect.

Instead, for the crime of saying Trump shouldn’t have used that word, I was called: a leftist; a virtue signaler; a traitor; a snowflake; and, perhaps most interestingly, a “so-called columnist at the Jewish Journal.”

There were some Trump supporters who had no problem criticizing his language. And I was happy to see that Commentary quickly posted a beautiful “Letter from a Shitholer,” by Iranian American Sohrab Ahmari: “The toxic discharge flows daily from your office and Twitter account into the stream of national affairs — and the homes of Americans struggling to raise children amid an already-vulgar culture. … It is a new moral low point for the American presidency.”

It doesn’t matter that the leftist media get hysterical over everything he says and does. It doesn’t matter that President Barack Obama ended up doing far worse things to African countries, most notably by helping to create a slave trade in Libya.

What matters is that we now have a president who doesn’t understand the essential promise of America.

It matters even less that we have a president who uses language not fit for a bar in Queens.

What matters is that we now have a president who doesn’t understand the essential promise of America: that people come from all sorts of countries to live in freedom and dignity. That the idea of taking white Europeans over nonwhites from poor countries is the same sort of bigotry that was used a hundred years ago against Eastern European Jews.

Jews were thought to be “undesirable,” “of low physical and mental standards,” “filthy” and “un-American.” And now we have Jewish Americans saying the same things about Africans and Haitians.

The left has many problems. But this problem on the right is truly ugly. Perhaps it’s time for some Jews to look in the mirror.

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

The Soul of Beauty

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Walking around the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue, one cannot help but notice the purity of art that doesn’t feel obligated to have a “message” in order to be relevant. It is a freedom we have largely lost today.

The Neue Galerie, which is actually more of a museum than a gallery, houses businessman, philanthropist and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder’s stunning collection of early 20th-century German and Austrian art. The landmark building, completed in 1914, was once the home of society doyenne Grace Vanderbilt.

The current exhibition, “The Luxury of Beauty,” presents a major retrospective of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops): a collection of artists and craftsmen that produced artisanal furniture and homewares in Vienna from 1903 until 1932. The Werkstätte’s historical significance cannot be overstated: It essentially transformed the realm of design.

Founded by painter Koloman Moser, architect and designer Josef Hoffmann and Fritz Waerndorfer, a Jewish textile magnate who provided the funding and management, the Werkstätte had a single, fairly ambitious intent: the beautification of everyday life. Their goal was to elevate everyday objects to the stature of art, and for that art to reach the broadest possible audience. The Werkstätte was the first to create and implement a democracy of beauty.

Author Hermann Broch called fin de siècle Vienna “a joyful apocalypse,” in which an old order was crumbling and a new, uncertain one was emerging. As a result of the Vienna Secession, an avant-garde movement that began in 1897, part of that new order was a desire to unify art and design, to eliminate the distinction between fine and applied arts — to counter the impersonal character and low quality of goods made by industrial means. An elevation of design, the Secessionists believed, would elevate lives.

With more than 400 objects in four rooms, the Neue Galerie’s exhibition surveys the entirety of the Werkstätte’s extensive output in a variety of media — ceramics, drawings, fashion, furniture, glass, graphic design, jewelry, metalwork, textiles and wallpaper. Guided by the genius of Hoffmann and Moser, many of the pieces hit what I consider the sweet spot of design; they feel simultaneously innovative and timeless, modern and classic. They touch the soul of beauty.

Consider, for instance, Hoffmann’s exquisite glassware. The simple lines belie a sensuality that remind me of a quote from Goethe: “The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.” Fortunately, many of Hoffmann’s glass pieces are still being produced by J. & L. Lobmeyr, and can be ordered through the Neue Galerie’s website.

Just as fresh are the graphics of Moser. If you peel back five layers of what we have come to call Art Nouveau, you will find Moser’s crisp yet ethereal reinterpretations of the patterns of nature. In Moser’s work, you can also vividly feel the Secessionist motto: “To every age its art, every art its freedom.”

A desire to again create beauty for beauty’s sake.

With its emphasis on craftsmanship, the Werkstätte struggled financially from the beginning. It was supported by a small group of artists and wealthy Austrian Jews. The appeal for both was the emphasis on individual artistic statements. “The Austrian style,” writes curator Christian Witt-Dörring in the opulent accompanying catalog, “offered the assimilated Jewish population the potential of a feeling of belonging that was not defined in terms of nation.”

Financial issues finally forced the Werkstätte to close in 1932, but its legacy of everyday beauty lives on in our gorgeously designed spatulas, toaster ovens and linens. The genius of the artists also can be seen in how hard it is today to find that sweet spot — the soul of beauty. We travel back and forth from soulless modernism to overdesigned postmodernism, neither of which can elevate the spirit as exquisitely as soulful beauty.

Perhaps this magnificent retrospective, on view until Jan. 29, will inspire artists and designers to reach for that timeless ideal. Perhaps it also will inspire a new freedom for 21st-century artists: a desire to again create beauty for beauty’s sake. After all, as Phil Ochs put it, in such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author. Her writings have  appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

‘For We Are Glorious’

Screenshot from Twitter.

An iconic photo has emerged from the protests in Iran. A young woman — fearless, determined, resolute — holds a long stick. At the end of the long stick is a white hijab. The image is so powerful it was morphed into digital art, which then became a social media meme. But it is a meme with no words, no hashtag.

Because a cry from the heart needs no hashtag.

Sadly, as I write this five days into the protests, most people probably haven’t seen the image. It hasn’t been splashed on all the front pages of the world. Indeed, at least in the beginning, much of the media ignored or downplayed the largest protests in Iran since 2009. There has been a deafening silence from leftist groups that purport to be about human rights and feminism.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. The god of leftism, President Barack Obama, set the stage when he took the side of the tyrannical dictatorship during the 2009 protests, and then, as part of the Iran deal, gave the terror-happy regime billions of dollars in cash.

The Iranians have no interest in victimhood and are throwing off the hijab with abandon.

Eight years later, faced with the agonizing cries of a people desperate for freedom and human dignity, the left is failing again. Many are trying to protect Obama’s legacy; most will do anything not to be on the same side as President Trump, who has thrown his support squarely behind the protesters.

Perhaps the larger issue is this: Iran puts in high relief the difference between real liberalism, in which principles transcend politics; and leftists, who live in fear of helping their ideological enemies and offending the victims du jour.

Linda Sarsour and her fellow travelers have sanctified this antiliberalism through endless manipulation and propaganda. In one surreal moment, she was able to convince women on the left that wearing the hijab was a symbol of “empowerment.”

But here’s the funny thing about this Persian Spring: the Iranians have no interest in victimhood and are throwing off the hijab with abandon. Day after day, the brave Persians are showing the world what real liberalism looks like.

Mesmerized by the protests, I keep thinking of a song from the new movie “The Greatest Showman.” The movie itself is an homage to non-conformity and non-victimization, but one song in particular, “This is Me,” describes the sentiment that first inspired feminism and liberalism:

We are bursting through the barricades/And reaching for the sun (we are warriors)/Yeah, that’s what we’ve become/Won’t let them break me down to dust/I know that there’s a place for us/For we are glorious.

In the film, set in the late 19th century, the song is an anthem to human dignity, respect, tolerance and a classless society where anyone can achieve greatness.

In 2018, it can be seen as an anthem to freedom, justice, individualism and the classical liberalism now reborn with the Iranian protesters.

While Sarsour has convinced the left to make victims the new dictators — she recently announced that Palestinians have a right to become terrorists — the Iranian people are done with dictatorship, terrorism (notably, the protesters shouted: “Death to Hezbollah”) and fundamentalism.

Sure, some women may choose to wear a hijab, just like women in other religions choose to dress modestly. But since 1979 Iranian women were not given this choice. They were forced to wear the hijab, as well as to accommodate the craziness of the mullahs in every aspect of their lives, or they were lashed and imprisoned. Meanwhile, Islamic clerics regularly hang gay men, even teens.

The world has watched a vibrant country be destroyed by Islamic fundamentalism, and now, the world watches a people rising up to say,  “Enough.”

Were the protesters inspired by the U.S. standing up to Islamic dictators over Jerusalem? Perhaps indirectly. Freedom has a way of sending out waves of positive energy, as we saw with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We can mark the start of 2018 optimistic that a ray of courage has emerged from an ancient people who have, overall, a positive relationship with another ancient people — the Jews. And we can hope and pray that the evil mullahs will be gone before Purim.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

On Goddesses, Doormats and Linda Sarsour

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“For me,” said Pablo Picasso, “there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.”

Picasso was somewhat of an expert on women: He knew how to destroy them. Of the seven most important women in his life, two killed themselves and two went mad.

I thought of this quote when reading about how Linda Sarsour allegedly dealt with sexual assault accusations at the Arab American Association of New York, where she was executive director. According to The Daily Caller, in 2009 Asmi Fathelbab told Sarsour that she was being repeatedly sexually assaulted by volunteer Majid Seif.

“Sarsour is no champion of women,” said Fathelbab, 37. “She is an abuser of them.” Sarsour, she said, told her that “something like this didn’t happen to women who looked like me. … She told me I’d never work in New York City again for as long as she lived.”

Others have come forth to corroborate Fathelbab’s allegations. A New York political operative said that Sarsour was “militant against other women. … The only women [Sarsour] is for is herself.” Sarsour denies the allegations, portraying herself, as always, as the real victim.

None of this is shocking to anyone who has followed Sarsour’s hate-filled rhetoric, and while the allegations remain allegations, much of the mainstream media — notably The New York Times — are  curiously silent about this #MeToo case after creating hysteria about every other one.

Nevertheless, I imagine the story also doesn’t come as a shock to most women, who have no doubt been treated like doormats by ambitious women like Sarsour at one time or another. It’s the abuse no one likes to talk about.

Of course, anyone who has ever been around young girls knows how cruel they can be to one another.

But everyone expects that most girls will, well, grow up.

That’s not always the case. Consider, for instance, women in the office who take out their unhappiness on other women. An editor at a book publisher that I used to work for would scream at me each morning from Paris, calling me the nastiest names. I used to joke that it was like the old “Saturday Night Live” routine: “Jane, you ignorant slut.” It didn’t really bother me because I knew I was doing good work, and I knew that she was in a difficult marriage. Neither of which, of course, made it OK.

I’ve had other instances of female abuse in the workplace, most of which have come when I knew the woman personally. This has led me to two conclusions about female abuse: One, many women do it because they can — because they see other women as soft targets. Two, many women do it because they feel threatened by other women’s success.

There is a popular meme on Facebook: You can tell who the strong women are—they are the ones who support the success of other women.

You can tell who the strong women are — they are the ones who support the success of other women.

I don’t expect other women to treat me a like a goddess (men, on the other hand, absolutely). But I do expect a level of respect that some women seem incapable of providing. The “sisterhood” model, as appealing as it sounds, breaks down when it assumes that all women think alike, which, of course we don’t.

But respect is most needed when we don’t think alike. I respect you even if we have different political views. I support your career, and if anyone — male or female — is bullying you, I will be the first to call it out.

As for the allegations against Sarsour, they are especially egregious because they involve both sexual assault and serious damage to a woman’s career. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Women who support Sarsour’s politics are being put in a challenging position: Which do they care about most, the fact that Fathelbab allegedly was sexually harassed, and then bullied by Sarsour, or the fact that they can’t call out a “sister”?

Here’s hoping that Sarsour’s supporters don’t turn into female Picassos for all of the wrong reasons.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.

Regressive Chic

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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.

The Light We Create

Photo from Pixnio.

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.