December 30, 2005

Published December 30, 2005, issue of December 30, 2005.
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A Kvetching Culture Is Anchored in Reality

I suspect that Michael Wex’s book “Born To Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods” hits too close to home for Philologos (“Et tu, Wex?” December 23). The columnist confuses individual temperament and social phenomena. Wex was talking about what Emile Durkheim called a “social fact” —something common to a group of people and yet, to an extent, external to them as individuals. Language and meaning are just that.

Still, Philologos grudgingly admits that Wex knows what he’s talking about. Obviously, Wex’s book and others like it would not sell if they didn’t strike a responsive chord. Wouldn’t you agree with the author’s statement that Yiddish is not a “Have a nice day” language?

The chief reason we don’t have a WASP equivalent to Wex is that WASP culture emphasizes keeping everything to yourself for the sake of civility and smooth interaction — which arguably has been, at least in the past, a major cause of their non-religiously based antisemitism. But there is no WASP Wex, precisely because WASPs, or the Midwesterners described by Garrison Keillor in his “A Prairie Home Companion” monologues, keep it all to themselves.

One could go further. Yiddish kvetching is not a denial of reality. On the other hand, the American mentality of “Have a nice day, we can solve all problems in time” is. In the British comedy “Absolutely Fabulous,” an American woman in a support group concerned with the problems of aging, says, “Oh, in Los Angeles, we don’t believe in menopause.” I have heard it said that Americans believe that death is optional.

If President Bush and the people around him had been brought up in a kvetching culture, American wouldn’t be in the messes we are in. People who kvetch don’t spend like there’s no tomorrow. People who kvetch usually have the sense not to be moralistic fanatics. People who kvetch don’t think that God has been speaking to them personally. People who kvetch aren’t likely to dismiss inconvenient findings from scientists. People who kvetch know better than to get into a messy, stupid, bloody and, above all, unnecessary, war.

People who kvetch may annoy other people — but they are more likely to speak the truth.

David Greenwald

Bloomsburg, Pa.

House Bill Focuses on Anti-illegal Immigration

A December 23 article mischaracterizes the major focus of a House bill calling for a new fence along the Mexican border and for imposing criminal penalties on those found aiding undocumented immigrants (“Anti-immigration Bill Pits Jewish GOPers Against House Hard-liners”). The focus of the legislation is anti-illegal immigration, not anti-immigration. What part of the word “illegal” is hard to understand?

Throwing stones at the majority of Americans who support such legislation and labeling the bill as anti-immigrant totally misses the point. Most people just want current immigration laws enforced and do not oppose legal immigration.

Geraldine Wade

Marietta, Ga.

‘Munich’ Simply a Bad Movie, Politics Aside

J.J. Goldberg misses an important point in his December 23 Editorial Notebook, which is that Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” is one bad piece of filmmaking (“Spielberg’s List”). While the usual “Is it good for the Jews?” hand wringing goes on, this much is true: It is certainly not good for moviegoers. I could barely sit through it, but I was on a date, so I endured.

Where do I start? Is this Spielberg’s “Dirty Half Dozen?” He is all over the cinematic map, landing nowhere convincingly. There are so many references to classic films, from “Casablanca” to “The Conversation,” and almost every spy movie you can think of is paraded before us.

Then there is an egotistical self-reference. Am I the only one who noticed that Spielberg included a reference to his own “Schindler’s List” when he puts the little Arab girl running back to her Paris apartment in a red sweater against the grayish scenery, relating to the little girl in a red coat in the 1993 film? Like he needed to remind us.

As usual, the director loves his explosions. The violence is extensive, but there’s more. Spielberg’s intercutting of sex and violence was truly pornographic. Considering how neutered his previous films have been on matters sexual, what does it say that his first serious attempt to put sexuality on the screen is so gruesome? With the added phallic touch of the aircraft, and the images of terrorists bursting in juxtaposed with our protagonist penetrating his wife, he is either consciously insulting his audience or unconsciously laying bare some serious hangups.

Better to see the Israeli film “Walk on Water.” Whether or not you agree with that filmmaker’s politics, you are treated to a taut entertainment that at least invites intelligent argument. You leave the theater feeling touched, not mauled.

Juliana Sadock Savino

University Heights, Ohio

Bosnian Performer Key To Sephardic Revival

I am happy to learn of new performers who are popularizing Sephardic music in the United States (“Trying To Make Sephardic Music as Hip as Klezmer,” December 23). However, credit certainly must be given to Flory Jagoda, who escaped from Bosnia to the United States during the Holocaust, for keeping Sephardic music very much alive.

Jagoda and her family have made many wonderful CDs featuring Sephardic music, with lyrics in Ladino, perhaps the most well-known being the delightful Hanukkah song “Ocho Kandelikas” from “Kantikas di Mi Nona.”

Harriet Epstein

Vienna, Va.

Be Not Wobbly in Face Of Christian Warning

A December 23 article on the Christian right’s charges and admonitions was very unsettling for its sinister echoes of a message widely promulgated during the Inquisition (“Christian Right Leader Warns Foxman on Israel”).

Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman’s steadfast resolve to resist trading our spiritual soul for the tenuous promise of evangelical sympathy is to be applauded. In our anxiety for the security of Israel and our quest to forge lasting links of support, we Jews make tempting targets of opportunity for proselytizing elements in the Christian community.

The crude salvo of Don Wildmon, president of the evangelical American Family Association, belies the West’s deep concern about militant Islam’s ascendancy. Cooler heads in the Christian community surely must recognize that severing ties with a stable ally sharing crucial common interests could only serve to undermine their own coveted objectives.

Domestically, Americans should vehemently resist the trend to theocratize this country, an insidious threat to its democratic foundation. Foxman’s bold stand calls for our unequivocal support. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher’s exhortation, “Let’s not get wobbly.”

Marcel Binstock

Tulsa, Okla.

Holiday Icons Display Political Triumphalism

The December 23 article on how the placement of menorahs on public lands has inspired Christian groups to do likewise with their religious icons would have done well to suggest that such initiatives have nothing to do with religion (“Menorahs Light Path for Nativity Displays”). They are, rather, expressions of political triumphalism. They enable Christians to implicitly declare, “Look at us, we are the dominant religion in America,” while encouraging Jews to pronounce, “If the goyim can do it, so can we.”

What all parties concerned seem not to care about is that any religion that needs the support of town councils and government bureaucrats, by that fact alone, is drained of its spiritual character and is a deeply impoverished religion.

Joseph Chuman

Hackensack, N.J.

The writer is leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County in New Jersey.

Movement Ordained Female Rabbis Early

An October 21 article on female rabbis reports that women were ordained first in 1972 by the Reform movement and then in 1985 by the Conservative movement (“The Plot Thickens, With Female Rabbis Stirring the Pot”).

In 1974, however, the Reconstructionist movement graduated its first woman rabbi, Sandy Sasso — 11 years before the Conservative movement. Since the founding in 1968 of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, 46% of the nearly 300 rabbis it has graduated have been women.

Gerald Cohen

Director, Public Affairs

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Wyncote, Pa.






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