Bernard Kops is one of 150 celebrated authors who feature in The British Library’s forthcoming exhibition Writing Britain: From Wastelands to Wonderlands ( May 11 – September 25) which promises to be a cornucopia for literature lovers with iconic British novels, poems and illustrations displayed in all kinds of formats. With artefacts such as a William Blake notebook and Lewis Carroll’s diary to slaver over and origional Shakespeare and Chaucer works. Kops and other contemporary writers were commissioned to perform and explain in a newly commissioned video, their sense of place in Britain today and how their work reflects Britain’s unique landscapes. Kops’s contribution involves reading poems and talking about how he draws inspiration from his Jewish East End roots .
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Bernard Kops will be launching his acclaimed new novel The Odyssey of Samuel Glass at the Jewish Museum in Camden Town, on Sunday June 17th at 3pm
With readings by actor Stephen Reif
www.jewishmuseum.org.uk tel 7284 7384 128-131 Albert Street, London NW1 7NB
Reviews of The Odyssey
Mark Lawson Front Row BBC Radio4 ” Watch out for an appearance by Anne Frank, one of the historic figures met by a Jewish teenager who achieves time travel in Bernard Kops new novel The Odyssey of Samuel Glass.”
Jewish Chronicle “Set in Muswell Hill and Hoop lane as well as in 19th century Russia with a rabbinical guide and the ghost of Anne Frank. If that’s not the recipe for a perfect Jewish coming-of-age novel, what is? (Yes, of course there is chicken soup as well.).Samuel Glass is 17 and can hardly open his mouth without uttering a literary quotation much like the polyglot hero of Jack Rosenthal’s Barmitzvah Boy and just as engaging. Unable to get over his father’s death, Samuel travels back in time to search for the meaning of life, as you do. For all ages, teen to grandparents.
Michael Kustow “Kops cooks up a coming-of-age journey from Muswell Hill to ancestral Russia and back, studded with jokes, desire, Jewish food, actors, a magical rabbi and music of the spheres. A serious tale that defies gravity.”
Or a man? Neither. We anthropomorphise. Most theologians on this programme agreed. Yet they still argued and were divided over whether there should be women bishops. Historian Bettany Hughes and Rabbi Elli Sarah, battle it out with Rev Canon Dr Gavin Ashenden and Rabbi Pesach Efune and others to show how the overwhelmingly feminine depiction of the divine in early history was superceded by male images as warrior tribal societies became dominant. Women were priests in the first 300 years of Christianity says Hughes. A rare treat to see two rabbis going toe to toe on mainstream TV And a good plug for Bettany Hughes forthcoming series. Divine Women.
Discussion begins at 42.30 mins Feature approx 17 mins
Bernard Kops is being interviewed by Mark Lawson on Tuesday pre-recorded - about Anne Frank who appears in his play, Dreams of Anne Frank, in his poem Anne Frank’s Fragments from Nowhere and in his new novel The Odyssey of Samuel Glass in which she makes love to the novel’s eponymous hero.
Authors in conversation at Jewish Book Week -
Feb 19 Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah will be talking about her new book Trouble-Making Judaism. with Rabbi David Goldberg. As Britain’s first lesbian rabbi in a mainstream synagogue she faced prejudice for her radical views. Now rabbi at the thriving Brighton Hove and Progressive Synagogue. They will be discussing what it takes to make Judaism relevant in the 21st c.
Feb23 Acclaimed Israeli short story writer and filmmaker Etgar Keret, co-author of Gaza Blues (with Samir El Youssef) talks about his work with Tim Samuels, also a filmmaker – and journalist.
Feb 26 The veteran master storyteller and dramatist, .Bernard Kops discusses his new novel The Odyssey of Samuel Glass with Meg Rosoff. His book is a tour-de-force A coming-of age yarn for adults about a young man who is taken back to the Russia of 1881 and meets his ancestors and learns about the past and the future. Jewish magical realism at its most audacious. With a remarkably similar audaciousness to Meg Rosoff’s There is No Dog – about a stroppy teenager who happens to be the creator of the universe.
Reel History of Britain: on Tuesday September 13, 6.30pm Melvyn Bragg takes film footage from a classic 1930′s documentary on slum clearance and asks Bernard Kops and others about their experiencc of poverty. See below BBC2 programme schedule note and pic.
In the programme he reads his poem Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East which brings the library to life and celebrates his escape from the poverty through discovering a love of books.
Sad to hear of the death of Michael Bukht (aka Michael Barry the Crafty Cook) who had several TV series and cookery books to his name. He created Classic FM and was the brains behind the launch of many local radio stations. I was a student for three months at the National Broadcasting School, which he developed and ran. It was a school for trainee radio journalists and ran like a radio station. When we picked up a short item on the press association wires that a few Argentinians had taken over a virtually uninhabited small island no-one had heard of called the Falklands he was first to push it top of the media agenda. Likeable, easygoing and hardworking and very clear about what was important. He made a big impression on me and a lot of other people too and will be missed.
Look out for programmes in this forthcoming 20 part series in particular an interview with Bernard Kops on London’s East End . He reads from his poem Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East which is the first in his collection “This Room in the Sunlight”
Do read novelist Sophie Hardach’s review of Esther Kreitman’s Diamonds – she’s really excited by discovering Kreitman’s work and delighted that it has been translated from Yiddish and can now be read in English.
SECRET DIAMONDS 1 July
One of the most heartening things for a writer is to see a forgotten author being rediscovered. It’s comforting because it means that even if this generation fails to appreciate you, even if critics hate it, buyers snub it and you’re 900,000th in the Amazon rankings, your book might just outlive them all and catch the eye of a true conoisseur wandering into a second-hand bookshop by the Seine in, say, 2111. (Unless you only publish e-books, in which case, shudder, your book might be deleted before future generations get the chance to rediscover it. A strong argument for hardbacks.)
Imagine my delight then when I came across the work of Esther Kreitman. It was a double rediscovery. Kreitman, the sister of the Nobel Laureate Issac Bashevis Singer, wrote novels in Yiddish, depicting life in the Hassidic community in the late 19th and early 20th century. She was born in Poland but entered an arranged marriage with a diamond cutter in Antwerp, and this is why I found her in the first place.
I was in Antwerp a few weeks ago to find out more about diamond merchants and diamond cutters as part of my research for my next novel. The main story is set among British conscientious objectors during World War Two, but one of the characters is from an Anglo-Belgian family of diamond cutters. It’s an absolutely fascinating community and as soon I went to Antwerp, I was completely absorbed by the history of the city and its inhabitants.
Erwin Aelbrecht, a gemologist at the Diamond Museum and an Antwerp native, generously gave me a condensed masterclass in gemology and took me to the workshop of his friend, Pieter Bombeke. I came away with black diamond dust on my fingertips and hundreds of stories about medieval court cases, secretive guilds and perfect forgeries in my head.
And then I found Esther Kreitman. I wish I could say that an old diamond cutter slipped a battered copy of her book, “Brilyantn”, into my hand, that I devoured it in a dusty corner of his workshop and was fluent in Yiddish by the time I finished it.
The truth is that I googled “diamonds”, “Antwerp” and some other related terms and read about her on Wikipedia.
Even better, the Internet told me that a kind soul called Heather Valencia recently translated “Brilyantn”, the story of a group of diamond merchants and cutters who escape from Antwerp to London during the First World War. It was published in English as “Diamonds” last year (by David Paul Publishing) - almost 70 years after it first came out. Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence? Yiddish is close to German and I can understand some of it, but without the translation I would never have been able to read the whole novel. Thank you, Heather.
So, about Esther Kreitman, nicknamed Hindele. Her arranged marriage with the diamond cutter didn’t work out and it sounds like she had a pretty awful life. Here’s an account of her reunion with her mother in 1926, when she was about 35 and hadn’t seen her parents for more than a decade:
(Her mother) “pauses out of reach… In a husky warble she declares, ‘Why Hindele, you’re not all that ugly! I always thought you uglier than Lena… the village idiot.”
Much of Kreitman’s work revolves around the intellectual frustration and thwarted ambition of women in conservative religious families. This sounds rather bleak, but what really made me fall in love with “Diamonds” is her sense of humour. There’s Leybesh, the rebellious atheist who makes his point by munching his way through an enormous feast on Yom Kippur, when the rest of the community is fasting. There’s Berman, the wealthy diamond merchant with anger management problems, whose one aim in life is to sell lots of diamonds and see his sons marry rich girls. And what do his sons do? One spends his days drinking and dancing; the other becomes a Communist. And there’s Reb Beynish, Antwerp’s only matchmaker, who swings boasts about his deals and rubs in the fact that Berman’s competitors are grabbing all the good girls with big dowries:
Usually he snapped up young men from the Hassidic shtiblekh… Reb Beynish caught them in the street, in the synagogue, in the shtibl or at home. Among all the worshippers he was always the first to greet a newly arrived young man, ask him in great detail who he was, where he came from, what he did for a living and so on… “You say you’re not ready to get married? Always the same old tune! Heh! Heh! Heh! But never mind, you’ll soon be ready!”
Beynish goes on to paint a vivid picture of the dangers that await a young man trying to make it in Antwerp: he will fail miserably, he will lose all his savings, he will be exploited in sweatshops, he’ll never get his hands on a parcel of diamonds to trade… unless… he marries a girl from a good family:
“Follow my advice and you’ll do well in the world. You’ll have a home, a wife, a family, and you’ll never be lonely.”
Well, by the end of the chapter I was ready to call Reb Beynish myself and ask him to find me a Hassidic wife.
I didn’t see any matchmakers in long black coats with sheepskin collars hurrying from door to door in Antwerp, but a lot of other things have remained the same. The spinning disc that grinds the diamond is still called a scaife, even among English-speaking cutters, and the handle that holds the diamond is known as a tang, just as in Kreitman’s book. Antwerp is still one of the world’s diamond capitals, and particularly difficult or precious stones are sent here from around the world because the city has the most skilled cutters. The workshops are tucked away at the end of dark corridors in unassuming grey buildings behind the train station, and some of the surnames on shop signs and doors show exactly what the families have been doing for generations – “Rubin & Sons” and so on.
As for what has changed since Esther Kreitman scribbled away at her novels here: unsurprisingly, cutters now use a computer programme to calculate the best way to cut a stone. When I went to visit Pieter Bombeke, the diamond cutter, he told me that in the old days about a dozen craftsmen would have been crammed into his workshop. Children were expected to help out with dirty, dusty tasks like making diamond dust for the scaife. Now the industry finds it hard to recruit new talent and the children of diamond cutters become management consultants or perhaps novelists. Indian diamond traders outnumber the Hassidim, which is in some way fitting since the first diamonds in Europe came from India.
And apparently ninety-five percent of diamonds are now polished according to a formula for the perfect brilliant that was devised by a mathematician called Marcel Tolkowsky in 1919. It’s the typical bling-bling, super-sparkly cut we now associate with diamonds and it maximises the stone’s brilliance, but I feel it’s a bit of a shame that older cuts like the flat, sweet rose or the baguette have gone out of fashion. The baguette in particular may not be as sparkly but it’s very beautiful and classy in its simplicity:
Given the ongoing craze for all things vintage, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the older cuts came back into fashion. Pieter Bombeke is also working on some very special new cuts that combine brilliance with unusual patterns – spirals, for example, or the Star of David. It’s a far cry from the diamond cutters in Kreitman’s book, who grind away in their sweatshops while hoping for salvation in the shape of a brilliant match made by Reb Beynish:
“In the middle of the street, pale young men with wispy beards and older men with long thick ones were riding on tricycles. Their sallow faces told sad tales. Their beards brushed the baskets full of fish, bread and meat, which these former diamond traders and other poor people were delivering to rich houses… It always amused Berman to see these hopeless cases with their dog carts. But he didn’t, God forbid, laugh at them! For who can tell what tomorrow will bring.”
Is Lithuania anti-semitic or not?
This was in the news earlier this week
British politicians have called on Lithuania to combat anti-semitism by reversing a court decision that declare the Nazi Swastika is part of the country’s “historic legacy” and can be used by anti-Jewish thugs at political rallies. Denis MacShane MP and Lord Greville|Janner, both leading campaigners against anti-semitism, have written to the Lithuanian ambassador in London stating that “the Lithuanian Government has been engaged in an increasingly energetic campaign to curtail the truth about the Holocaust.”
Former Europe Minister Denis MacShane will lead a delegation that will hand in a letter of protest (below) at the Lithuanian Embassy (84 Gloucester Place, London W1) on Monday at 10 a.m.
Janner and MacShane also accuse Lithuania of failing to prosecute a single Lithuanian Nazi war criminal since 1991 but instead threatening war crime prosecutions against Lithuanian Jewish resistance fighters who fought the Nazis.
The letter to the London ambassador deplores the absence of Jewish scholars concerned about the Lithuanian government’s approach to the Holocaust from a forthcoming seminar on Jewish life in pre-war Lithuania.
They call on the government in Vilnius to tackle anti-semitism in the media with headlines accusing “the Jews” of expropriating money from the country and of failing to investigate and prosecute criminals responsible for anti-semitic acts like leaving a pig’s head at the Kaunas synagogue during the Sabbath service last summer.
Lithuania is at the forefront of a right-wing European campaign to say that the Holocaust is no different from the crimes of communism. This so-called “double genocide” campaign is aimed at devaluing the centrality of the Holocaust and is supported by anti-Jewish political groups in the Middle East and other antisemitic politicians.
“Sadly Lithuania is not alone in East European and Baltic states where nationalist populist politicians have made anti-Jewish themes part of contemporary political discourse,” said Denis MacShane. “In Poland, politicians like Michal Kaminski, who recently resigned as chairman of the Conservatives for European Reform group in the European Parliament because he said it was too extremist, is notorious for refusing the apologise for attacks on Jews by Poles in wartime Poland. In Hungary, the openly antisemitic Jobbik Party got 15 per cent of votes in the last election. Anti-Jewish political themes are slowly resurfacing with a re-writing of Holocaust and Nazi history a favourite theme of the new anti-semitism,” said MacShane.
The full text is below
H.E. Dr. Oskaras JUSYS
Embassy of The Republic of Lithuania
84 Gloucester Place
London W1U 6AU
7 February 2011
We the undersigned are writing to express our concern at the irony of your hosting an exhibition about pre World War II Jewish life called “The Sounds of Silence” in London, alongside an academic colloquium dedicated to Lithuanian-Jewish relations, without the participation of scholars who are critical of the Lithuanian Government and its Holocaust policy.
For some years the Lithuanian Government has been engaged in an increasingly energetic campaign to curtail the truth about the Holocaust and events of World War II from being discussed in Lithuania, while at the same time manipulating debate on these issues in the European Parliament. These developments form part of a broader campaign against the tiny Lithuanian Jewish community and against Lithuanians and non-Lithuanians alike, who do not subscribe to the “Double Genocide” model inherent in the Prague Declaration (2008) and other such documents. Also of concern is the Government’s failure to condemn and respond to the rising anti-Semitism leading to an atmosphere that allows for the perpetuation of this ancient hatred.
Debate about the Holocaust has been silenced or wrongfully manipulated by:
Investigations, since 2006, by the state prosecutors threatening Lithuanian Jewish partisans with war crimes investigations – a campaign of defamation which has the support even of the Lithuanian Human Rights Association
The failure to punish a single Lithuanian Nazi war criminal since Lithuania’s independence in 1991
Letting the Jewish partisan site at the Rudninkai Forest fall into disrepair and ruin
A Lithuanian court ruling, in May 2010, that the swastika, which over recent years has become a more common sight in rallies, is not a Nazi symbol but forms part of the country’s historic legacy, and as such can be publicly displayed
The amendment of the Criminal Code in June 2010 making it a criminal offence to contest the Government’s “double genocide” policy, which equates, and thus distorts, Soviet and Nazi crimes in Lithuania during the War
Lithuania helping lead a European wide campaign, including the Prague Declaration of June 2008, which “recognizes Communism and Nazism as a common legacy”, proclaims “substantial similarities between Nazism and Communism”, and demands the “overhaul” of all European textbooks to reflect this revisionist history
The national Genocide Museum in central Vilnius excluding reference to the Jewish Holocaust.
The undersigned also note the Lithuanian Government’s failure to condemn and respond to rising anti-Semitism, which contributes to the perpetuation of this ancient hatred. This includes:
The failure of Government officials to condemn and restrict explicit anti-Semitism in mainstream media, such as a front page of a mass circulation daily, in July 2009, which claimed that “the Jews” are plotting to expropriate money from the country, showing the elected head of the Jewish community with a photo shopped abacus superimposed.
Statements invoking anti-Semitic language by Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis in October 2010, such as his claim that “everyone knows” who is pushing the dual citizenship bill, and – in reference to foreign Jews – adding that “they are doing this in order to reap financial benefits by way of property restitution” The failure to seriously investigate and locate the perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts, such as the leaving of a pig’s head during Sabbath services at the Kaunas Synagogue in August 2010, and the fire at the old synagogue in Pokroy (Pakruojis) in Spring 2009.
We, the undersigned, welcome cultural events outside of Lithuania that enhance understanding of both present and past Lithuanian Jewish life, and we acknowledge that in their own right, the Sounds of Silence Exhibition, and all the related events in London, are an important reflection of history, but we regard it as duplicitous and unacceptable for the Lithuanian Government to engage in activities around the world, which ingratiates it to the Jewish community in the Diaspora and Israel, while in Lithuania the Jewish community is continually humiliated, Lithuanian Jewish history is being untruthfully rewritten, and anti-Semitism espoused.
Embassy-sponsored events such as the Sounds of Silence Exhibition, and the academic colloquium “No Simple Stories: Jewish-Lithuanian relations between coexistence and violence”, may present the Lithuanian government in a tolerant and respectable light, but they do not deceive those, such as the signatories to this letter, who take the time to study the full spectrum of its activities both overseas and in Lithuania. We find these events consistent with the Government’s nationalistic rewriting of history, and with its efforts to limit the freedom of debate on “double genocide” and the Prague Declaration by excluding from these academic events Jewish scholars from Lithuania, and members of the Lithuanian Jewish community who are critical of the Government’s policies while being personally involved in “Jewish-Lithuanian relations.”
We, the undersigned, hereby call on the Lithuanian Government to take the following steps to correct the situation and help repair Jewish-Lithuanian relations:
Publicly ending without delay pre-trial investigations against Jewish partisan veterans who are investigated for “war crimes”
Recognising the role of the Lithuanian Activist Front (Provisional Government) and all other Lithuanian organizations involved in the mass murder of Lithuanian Jewry starting in June 1941, prior to the arrival of or establishment of the administration of German Nazi forces
Restoring for posterity the remains of the one surviving Jewish anti-Nazi fort, which was used as a base by 100 escapees from the Vilna Ghetto, from which to combat the Nazis and their collaborators
Repealing the criminal law of June 2010, which allows for the imposition of criminal penalties for supporting, denying or downgrading crimes committed either by the Soviet Union or by Nazi Germany
Outlawing the Swastika as a Nazi symbol
Stopping the use of anti-Semitic insinuation by Government ministers
Refusing permission for neo-Nazis to march in the cities of Lithuania
Adopting laws that recognize and restrict the anti-Semitism which incites against and vilifies the Jewish community in the Lithuanian media
Fully and accurately representing the Holocaust in the Genocide Museum in central Vilnius and in any state sponsored exhibition on Genocide
Including representatives of the Lithuanian Jewish community and the Green House Holocaust museum in forums sponsored by Lithuanian embassies in the Diaspora.
Several of the signatories below are Litvaks – Lithuanian Jews or their descendants, who remain committed to ensuring that the memory and legacy of their ancestors, and those Jews who remain in Lithuania today, are treated with respect and with regard to the historical truth.
Yours sincerely (in alphabetical order)
· Associate Professor Danny Ben-Moshe, Victoria University, Australia
· Zane Buzby, CEO, Co-Founder, The Survivor Mitzvah Project, USA
· Uri Chanoch, Board Member, Claims Conference
· Michael Freedland, broadcaster, London
· Richard M. Golden, Professor of History, Director, Jewish Studies Program
University of North Texas
· Dr. Clemens Heni, Director, The Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism
· Professor Mikhail Iossel, Concordia University, Canada
· Dr Saul Issroff, Litvak genealogist and author of “The Holocaust in Lithuania: A book of Remembrance 1939-1945”, London
· Lord Janner of Braunstone, Vice President of World Jewish Congress
· Professor Dovid Katz, Editor of http://www.DefendingHistory.com; chief analyst at the Litvak Studies Institute (Vilnius)
· Professor Dov Levin, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
· Rt Hon Dr Denis MacShane MP, former Europe Minister UK
· Dr Daniela Mantovan, Yiddish Studies, the Hochschule für Jüdische Studien Heidelberg
· Rabbi Barry Marcus, Central Synagogue, London; Trustee Holocaust Memorial Day; Patron of Yad Vashem, UK
· Joseph Melamed, Chairman, Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel
· Professor Faye Ran, Metropolitan College of New York
· Professor Ada Rapoport-Albert, Head of Department, Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College London
· Prof Milton Shain, Department of Historical Studies and Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Cape Town
· Dr Harold Shukman, Emeritus Fellow (former Lecturer in Modern Russian History), St Antony’s College, Oxford
· Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center-Israel Office, and Coordinator, SWC Nazi war crimes research worldwide.
HOWEVER one academic, the author Evan Zimroth, Professor of English at Queens College in the City University of New York begged to differ. In 2009 she was awarded the Lithuanian Millennium Star by the Lithuanian State, in grateful acknowledgement of her personal and professional contribution to strengthening the cultural ties between Lithuania and its Jewish American diaspora. In a letter to artist Naomi Alexander (author of Once Upon A Time in Lithuania)
Prof Zimroth wrote:
You keep asking me to respond to these charges (most of them coming from Dovid Katz), but I think the Lithuanian government will probably have to do so. So far they’ve rather honorably withheld comment, but perhaps it’s time for them to combat some of the misinformation that seems to be flying around.
But I should say, just for starters, that when I look at the list of signers here, I’m a bit taken aback. For one thing, Dovid Katz, as I’m sure you know, is no longer affiliated with the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and as far as I know has no academic affiliation, nor is he a ‘Professor’. Lately he’s unfortunately allied himself with Zuroff. (For Zuroff’s reputation, you should read Barry Rubin’s essays in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post.) Katz’s website is full of inaccuracies, or at least it was the last time I looked. Moreover, the Wiesenthal Institute is being investigated for, let’s say, ‘exagerrating’ its claims, and I hope someone is doing a serious investigative report of its funding sources as well, which I’ve heard are unsavory, to say the least. That’s a topic for some very good investigative journalist to take up, and I hope someone does. At the very least, it would be interesting to know who actually is funding Zuroff and Katz. As for the signer from New York, I thought there was no such entity as ‘The Metropolitan College of New York’; I had certainly never heard of it. I googled it, however, and found it does issue a few degrees, to what are called ‘non-traditional’ students. Some of the institutions listed below are bona fide and reputable; others I would question. My point is, it would be a good idea to be skeptical.
Yes, the Genocide Museum should be reconfigured, and I’m sure it will be once there’s the funding for it. The US State Department is also concerned that it doesn’t give enough weight to the Holocaust, but changing museum exhibitions doesn’t happen without a substantial shift within the Museum itself, and funding and support from the Museum board of directors. There’s no museum in London or New York (or anywhere) that can change its focus overnight. That being said, the criticism is valid; my guess is that it’s already under consideration within the Genocide Museum itself, and that the exhibitions will ultimately change.
Some of the changes requested in the petition below have already been endorsed and funded by the Lithuanian government, in their 8 December 2010 resolution, put forward by the Prime Minister, Andrius Kubilius.
There was a ‘double genocide’ in the 20th century. The Lithuanian government has gone on record as not ‘equating’ Stalinism and Naziism, but both murdered millions and should be studied accordingly. Studying them does not mean automatically equating them.
I could certainly go on …. But just one last thing …. I seriously doubt that the Foreign Minister made anti-Semitic remarks. I’ve met him and been with him and talked with him at length, and think it extremely unlikely. I do know, though, as anyone should, that the press easily distorts remarks, and that some elements of the Lithuanian press are more unreliable than others. But his office should be clarifying any remarks he made, and I hope they do.
When you (thank goodness!) have a free press and a free and independent judiciary, all kinds of things happen, as we well know in the UK and the USA. There are libel laws that protect defamation of character, and there are private property laws that should be enforced in all of our countries, whether the incidents under review are anti-semitic or anti-something else. The legislature can also pass laws criminalizing ‘hate speech’ (as the US has done), but this issue is controversial and should be fully debated. As for the judiciary, an ‘investigation’ where witnesses are called on to testify, as in our grand jury system, is not at all the same thing as a ‘prosecution’; the two should not be confused. The US judiciary investigates all the time, as does the UK. Should those three anti-Nazi partisans have been asked or required to testify at a hearing? I think not, and am on record (and on video, from SEIS) opposing it, but the three are not endangered or liable to prosecution. And, in a country like yours and mine and of course in Lithuania, the legislative branch cannot interfere with the judiciary. Do the signers below wish to live in a country where the judicial branch is manipulated by the legislative branch? You can go to Iran for that, or Moscow.
It would be nice to know that all of the British signers below are equally vociferous about anti-semitism in the UK. Did they protest the efforts of the various teachers’ unions to demonize and withdraw support from Israel? Did they protest the recent efforts of the Cambridge Union (the debating society) to vilify Israel and isolate its Jewish supporters? Are they handing petitions to the various mosques and embassies in England protesting anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments? I certainly hope so.
I myself in my ten years of working with the Lithuanians on Jewish-Lithuanian relations and history have found nothing but goodwill and an authentic and very moving desire to come to terms with, comprehend and appreciate all aspects of Lithuanian-Jewish history, including the tragedies of the Holocaust. But there’s much more to this shared history than the Holocaust, and a great deal of very complex (and in some ways, positive, even glorious) history going back to the 13th century. As for the Lithuanians I personally know and work with, I would say there’s more philo-semitism than anything else, and at bottom a sincere and dedicated commitment to righting the wrongs of the past, as much as possible, and a commitment to move forward with common values. I personally am extremely fond of my Lithuanian friends (both Jewish and non-Jewish), and always touched by — despite what they and their families suffered under Stalinism — their commitment to appreciate Jewish customs and values. They value the Jewish tradition as part of their own history, almost eradicated by Naziism and then obliterated even as a matter of study, by Stalinism. It’s remarkable to see how much they’ve accomplished in establishing a democratic, civic culture in their twenty years of independence. It’s not that Lithuanian society is free of bigotry (is your country? is mine?), and certainly there are problems that need to be addressed, but I would like to support and celebrate good-faith efforts and certainly not try to derail them. I am very optimistic about moving forward.
I’ll be in London in March (through June) and more than happy to meet and talk to anyone on this list, to talk about my own position and why I support these Lithuanian initiatives. If you could introduce me to anyone you know here, please do so! You know Lord Janner, don’t you? I would really appreciate a meeting with him, if you could set that up. Meanwhile I hope the Lithuanian government itself departs from its obvious policy of withholding analysis and criticism of these attacks, and takes some steps to clarify its positions. Meanwhile I’m sure you’ll enjoy the conference. As I said, I know several of the scholars (in fact, some of them spoke at the conference I organized for YIVO on Lithuanian-Jewish history, in 2002, in New York and Washington), and it should be a terrific and rewarding event. I wish I could be there!
You may, if you like, send this letter around ….