The Tikvah Podcast

Thirty years ago, in August 1991, riots broke out in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, a neighborhood shared by African Americans and Jews, the latter of whom were mostly members of the ḥasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement. During the riot, which was sparked by a car accident that killed one young black child and injured another, local black residents attacked Jews on the streets, burned their businesses, and killed one of them, often while chanting anti-Semitic slogans. For three days, local authorities looked on passively.

The episode is a sad one in the history of American Jewish-black relations. This week's podcast guest believes that if Jews and blacks are to enjoy a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship in the future, as they have in the past, understanding how and why events like the Crown Heights riot came about is essential. Elliot Kaufman did just that in a recent essay for the Wall Street Journal. A Canadian who is too young to remember what happened, Kaufman—in the piece and in this conversation with Mosaic's editor, Jonathan Silver—forensically reconstructs what happened in Crown Heights, puts together what it meant at the time, looks at what it teaches us today, and suggests pitfalls that can be avoided so that the two communities can avoid such bitter antagonism.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

Direct download: Tikvah_Podcast_Kaufman_Final_new.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:08pm EST

In an 1897 essay called “The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem,” the Zionist writer Aḥad Ha’am argued that “Judaism needs at present but little. It needs not an independent state, but only the creation in its native land of conditions favorable to its development: a good-sized settlement of Jews working without hindrance in every branch of culture, from agriculture and handicrafts to science and literature.” Ha’am believed that the most powerful arguments for Zionism were not economic but moral, and in his many essays he stressed the importance of forming a modern Jewish identity from authentically Jewish culture and ideas. Culture first, sovereignty later, in other words.

Ha’am was born in 1856 this week by the name Asher Ginsburg, and so we thought we'd mark the occasion by rebroadcasting a conversation about him between the Tikvah Fund’s executive director Eric Cohen and Allan Arkush, a professor of Judaic studies at Binghamton University and the senior contributing editor at the Jewish Review of Books. The two discuss Ha’am’s background, his ideas in this essay and elsewhere, and compare them to his more politically-minded Zionist rivals, namely Theodor Herzl.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

Direct download: Tikvah_Podcast_Arkush_Rebroadcast_Final.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 3:46pm EST

In the year 1970, the distinguished American writer Cynthia Ozick published an essay arguing that Jewish literature might succeed if it embraced and conveyed the rich particularism of the Jewish experience. In a famous metaphor, she wrote that “If we blow into the narrow end of the shofar, we will be heard far. But if we choose to be mankind rather than Jewish and blow into the wider part, we will not be heard at all; for us America will have been in vain.”

Fifty years later the Jewish people’s relation to the surrounding culture is a subject that still preoccupies Ozick. Her new novel, Antiquities, deals with the same themes. It depicts an elderly American man who, in the process of writing his memoirs, fixates on a friendship he developed with an outcast Jewish boy during the time they shared decades before in an exclusive private school. On our podcast today, in conversation with Jonathan Silver, Ozick explains how this relationship caused the man to question whether there was a more "significant thing" he could devote himself to, and she reveals some of the subtle wrinkles in the book that direct the reader toward monotheism and to the Jewish tradition.

You can read a transcript of this conversation here. Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

 

Direct download: Tikvah_Podcast_Ozick_Final.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:29pm EST

Two liberal arts professors were intrigued by a habit of mind they detected in their students, especially their high-achieving ones. Despite material abundance and the freedom to pursue a profession or passion of their choosing, their students were unsettled. Even after making a decision about what to pursue, they remain plagued by the thought that perhaps they should have done something else. This habit of mind, not unique to democracy in America but perhaps especially common in democratic conditions, is what today’s podcast guests call “restlessness.” 

In their new book Why We Are Restless, Jenna and Benjamin Storey, both professors at Furman University, explain the cultural force that characterizes modern restlessness by looking back at an earlier tradition of French philosophy. In their interpretations of Michel de Montaigne, Blaise Pascal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Alexis de Tocqueville, the Storeys reveal how restlessness was variously aimed at and criticized by earlier thinkers. And in conversation with Jonathan Silver, they speculate about what modern Americans, and modern American Jews, can do to understand it.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

Direct download: Tikvah_Podcast_Storey_Final.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:23pm EST

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