This might be the most stunning one minute video I’ve seen.
The Republican Co-Majority Leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives casually apologized yesterday for casually using an antisemitic slur during a debate on a bill to repeal an old law prohibiting retailers from selling their items at a loss.
“[Customers] might try to Jew me down on the price,” Johnson added. “That’s fine. You know what? That’s free market as well.”
After it was pointed out to him that the phrase “to Jew down” might be considered offensive by, say, Jewish people, Johnson half-heartedly apologized.
“I apologize to the Jews,” he said, to laughter from his colleagues in the House. “They’re good small business men as well.”
It’s worth noting that there isn’t a single Jewish member in either house of the Oklahoma Legislature.
Reached for comment by the Tulsa World, Joe Griffin, spokesperson for Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton), said Johnson “is not the first person to make a comment they regret. The chamber accepted his apology and has moved on.”
You watch and tell me if he’s actually apologizing here, seconds after using a slur and learning from a slip of paper someone hands to him that it is, in fact, offensive to use such a slur.
Oh, I’ll just tell you: He isn’t apologizing. He doesn’t care in the least. It’s actually funny to him. His colleagues, you’ll note, are laughing too.
HT: Michael Tofias.
Johnson later issued a longer apology:
“I made an offhand reference that was inappropriate, and I know that it hurt some folks. I acknowledge that. I regret that. I apologize for it,” he said. “I’m almost 60 years old, and it’s a phrase that was used when I was kid, and it was used often.
“It was just something that came out from the wrinkles of my brain. I certainly did not mean to offend anyone, and I apologize to the folks that I did offend.”
For those who remember as far back as three weeks ago, this is almost identical to Rep. Don Young’s apology for his slur about Latinos:
“During a sit down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio this week, I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California,” Young said in the statement. “I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.”
I tell ya, the good ol’ days when these guys were growing up must have been fun as hell. You could be as much of a racist or anti-Semite as you wanted and no one thought for even a second to bother you about it. It’s a lot less fun today, since you have to pretend to apologize for things that everyone used to say out loud in good fun.
If you haven’t been following the story of Rabbi Michael Broyde, which broke on Friday, here’s the gist of it:
Rabbi Michael Broyde, arguably the single most prominent young Orthodox rabbi in America, adopted a false identity and used it to write and comment on scholarly articles, essays and blog posts over the past two decades. In addition to using the name Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser to laud work he had written under his own name, Broyde used it to obtain a membership in the online forum of a rabbinical organization competing with the professional organization of centrist Orthodox rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, on whose executive committee he sits.
Broyde issued an explanation and apology, but also believes that his actions weren’t unethical.
Having written about online anonymity — both the need for it and the problems with it — I have to say that I found the revelations about Broyde’s decades-long charade one more giant cautionary tale. While it might be the case that Broyde wasn’t well-known or well-respected twenty years ago, when he first began his pseudonymous writing, or that there were things that could only be written under a pseudonym, it’s very clear that things spun out of control for him. In a sense, the allure of anonymity became too much for Broyde and he lost control. In other words, he transitioned from offering online commentary that might be unpopular or professional damaging to himself if his true identity became known and began to use the character he created in order to make himself feel good, improve other people’s opinions of him, and even to invade spaces reserved for others. He went on to create a number of other pseudonyms over the years as well, most often using them to add positive comments on posts he published.
More troubling than these actions, though, is the clear sense from Broyde that there wasn’t anything obviously unethical them: “I don’t view writing under the name Hershel Goldwasser as lying. It’s a technical untruth, so I guess you can call it lying. But it’s a well-accepted social convention.”
I think there’s a clear difference between writing posts under an obvious pseudonym — think of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay’s “Publius” — and creating a fake identity that you then spend decades passing off to friends, colleagues, congregants, and the world at large as a real human being. There are certainly good reasons for wanting to write commentary on Orthodox Judaism — or politics, or human rights, or art, or whatever — without opening yourself up to personal attacks or other dangers (real or even imagined). But to deceive so many people for so long by completely fabricating the life of a human being goes far beyond what is needed to protect oneself from the stigma of posting unpopular or challenging opinions online. It was the depth of this deceipt that caused Broyde to lose his way, to join professional organizations with his fake identity and to start commenting with fake identities on work he published under his own name. The invention of Hershel Goldwasser was the lie, the unethical action, not simply writing under a pseudonym.
I’ve been encouraged to say a bit more about yesterday’s blog post concerning the Albany teacher whose students were required to write a persuasive argumentative essay from the perspective of someone living in the Third Reich about why Jews are evil and are responsible for the problems faced by Germany in the 1930s.
On the face of it, the assignment seemed so obviously problematic to me that I didn’t spend a great deal of time outlining the problem. This led a few people to comment that there’s something very valuable about being forced to think about an abhorrent position. Some claimed the value was that it made us more tolerant of unpopular opinions; some claimed it encouraged free thinking rather than repetition.
All of this would be true, I think, when we’re talking about making an argument that defends an unpopular or controversial position. I ask my students to write papers about Marx’s critique of Locke on property or Burke’s critique of the concept of universal natural rights. I think there’s real value in thinking critically about radical challenges to liberalism, especially insofar as finding ways to respond to or even integrate some of those challenging ideas can strengthen or improve the way that we think about our society and its goals.
I think there’s no value, however, in thinking critically about or defending a lie. And that’s the crux of this high school English assignment, which is — again — to write a persuasive argument about why Jews are evil and are responsible for a country’s problems. Those aren’t unpopular opinions; they’re just lies. And to teach young people that there are ways to persuasively defend lies is simple sophistry. It’s not an exercise in toleration or liberal education or anything else; it’s just a bad assignment that tried to be edgy or interesting and failed because it wasn’t thought out very carefully. The example was bad, certainly, but so was the pedagogy behind it, namely the whole notion that using propaganda tactics is a good way to teach persuasive writing.
To go one step farther, let me also add that these particular lies are incredibly pernicious ones; they are lies that led to genocide. And they are the sorts of lies that persist. In other words, you don’t have to travel very far to encounter people who hold this position (about Jews) or others like it (about other minority groups). It’s one thing to say we ought to allow people to believe and to even say all manner of things that we find unpleasant or wrong-headed; it’s quite another to say we ought to allow intolerance, hatred, and lies to be taught to our children in our schools. There’s no reason for us to tolerate that; it doesn’t make us better liberals to laud these sorts of mistaken exercises in the name of open-mindedness or free thinking.
Students in some Albany High School
English classes were asked this week as part of a persuasive writing assignment to make an abhorrent argument: “You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!”
Students were asked to watch and read Nazi propaganda, then pretend their teacher was a Nazi government official who needed to be convinced of their loyalty. In five paragraphs, they were required to prove that Jews were the source of Germany’s problems.
The exercise was intended to challenge students to formulate a persuasive argument and was given to three classes, Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard said. She said the assignment should have been worded differently.
“I would apologize to our families,” she said. “I don’t believe there was malice or intent to cause any insensitivities to our families of Jewish faith.”
One-third of the students refused to complete the assignment, she said.
There’s so much to say about this:
First, there’s the assignment. Isn’t it possible to teach students how to make a persuasive argument without using such a ridiculously awful example? And if you can’t think of a way to do this, aren’t you just a terrible teacher or an anti-Semite?
Second, there’s the apology. “The assigment shoud have been worded differently.” You think so? Like, it shouldn’t have used any of the words it used.
Third, there’s the heroism. 1/3 of the students who received the assignment refused to complete it. I wish the number was 2/3, but given the riskiness of simply refusing to do an assignment in high school, I’m surprised the number was even this high. They should hold an assembly that celebrates the choice made by these students.
HT: Michael Tofias, via April Murphy.
I’ve been following the story of this Berlin museum exhibit that puts various Jews into a box so visitors can ask them questions. And, unsurprisingly, I don’t like the concept.
The short version is that it seems on the one hand zoological and on the other hand reductionist. In other words, it seems to suggest that Jewish people can be put on display like chimpanzees so we can learn about them in a more comfortable environment for us and also that we can reduce what being Jewish means down to whatever these people’s idiosyncratic answers might be to the questions of curious museum patrons.
I find both of these notions obviously wrong-headed.
I don’t, however, think it’s wrong-headed that Germans should learn more about Jews or that they might benefit from interacting with a people that their forebears attempted to obliterate. I just think the mechanism is radically flawed … unless it’s meant ironically, to hold a mirror up to Germans and say something to them about the lack of Jews with whom they might interact. But isn’t that point already so obvious?
I should also say that I was a Jew (with a very Jewish name) who lived in Berlin for three months on a research fellowship in 2006, and who visited Berlin for at least another few months (to attend conferences and workshops for a week at a time, broken up over the course of about three years). Virtually no one with whom I interacted was Jewish and at no time did I feel like some sort of curiosity or that my (obvious, I think) Judaism was something about which Germans felt uncomfortable. Admittedly, the people with whom I regularly interacted were academics and, most of them, specifically were interested in the academic study of human rights. So there’s surely some self-selection going on with that group. But, still, walking around in Berlin, traveling in Germany, and speaking with Germans throughout the course of my day (at coffee shops, restaurants, and the like) never felt awkward in the way that this exhibit suggests it ought to have felt (and as some of the Jews who have written about sitting in the box claim to feel).
New Idea: The Judahism
A good friend posts to Facebook a daily “ism” that his youngest son says.
I might steal the idea.
When I posted two of my son’s one-liners on Facebook, they immediately received fifty “Likes” each. Basically, people on Facebook love funny things said by kids. And (almost) three year olds say very funny things.
The most recent might be the best I’ll ever get so the whole experiment might be really short-lived:
Tightening Judah’s car seat straps and he says to me, “Too tight; let my people go!”
So that’ll be my first Judahism … which is particularly great since it works on two levels.
Unpopular Opinion Alert
Easter Egg Hunts are not secular.
This is the #1 response I’ve received to my post from earlier today about how Jewish parents should react to an Easter Egg Hunt at the daycare where they send their kids.
This is same response I got when I made fun of Bill O’Reilly back in December about the War on Christmas. “The Christmas tree doesn’t have anything to do with Christianity.” I didn’t buy that and I don’t buy this about the Easter eggs.
Easter eggs might have been appropriated by Christianity from a pagan spring holiday, but that doesn’t make them secular. It just puts their origin in a different religion.
But that’s mostly beside the point, since Christianity has entirely usurped the concept of bunnies and eggs from the pagans and associated those things, at least on this day, with the holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Christ.
If my child goes around collecting colored eggs with his friends, that’s the holiday he’s participating in. Whether or not you believe in the resurrection, that’s what you’re celebrating today.
Many people have written to tell me that it’s just fun, like Halloween, and that kids should be able to just enjoy it. But this is a privileged position; it comes from being a member of the majority and from not thinking about things from the perspective of the other:
Not surprisingly, this note came from someone who checks off the box next to absolutely every privileged category in American society … and almost certainly denies the existence of privilege.
You might have collected Easter eggs when you were younger and had a great time without caring at all about Jesus. But, as someone who’s at least nominally Christian, that’s your privilege. You can take part in a Christian celebration without really worrying about how it might impact you, your kids, your beliefs, or your identity.
Me? Not so much.
Originally Posted By arig
That thing where your letter carrier puts a postcard from your synagogue, addressed to a Jewish neighbor who lives a couple of blocks away, in your mailbox.
“There are literally dozens of us!”
Yesterday, with the help of Ken Walzer (a former college professor of mine), my family got ahold of several historical documents we’d never seen before.
They provide a record, albeit incomplete, of my grandfather’s internment in several Nazi concentration camps in the mid-1940s.
While we’ve always known about this part of our history, we didn’t really have much in the way of documentation. When I first mentioned that my grandfather was a Holocaust survivor on this blog, in a post about a visit I took to Buchenwald, people asked for more information. But all I knew were the few things my grandfather recalled about his brief time at Buchenwald. As I wrote to Walzer:
He said that he was only at Buchenwald for about a week, shortly after his 20th birthday, in late February 1945. He was born on February 3, 1925.
He was marched to Buchenwald by the SS and he was marched from Buchenwald about a week later. The prisoners there were building barracks into the hillside, he remembers, and when they would go out to work they would be in danger of being shot by Allied troops.
So, what have we learned?
First, we learned why it was difficult to find documentation on my grandfather. He was born in Vişeu de Sus, in Transylvania (now Romania). But he’s listed here as coming from Felsővisó, which is the Hungarian place name. We never checked under the Hungarian name, even though the territory was disputed for quite a long time and changed hands during my grandfather’s early life.
What’s more, his name is Zalman Kohen but he’s listed here as Zoltan Kahan. When we first started looking for documentation, we learned that there were no Z. Kohens or Z. Cohens on transport lists for Buchenwald in February 1945. But when I was visiting my grandparents two weeks ago, my grandmother mentioned that his family weren’t Kohens back in Europe; they were Kahans or Cahans. I mentioned this to Walzer, who wrote to a friend at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and we had these documents in 24 hours. Zalman or Zelman would be my grandfather’s Yiddish name; Zoltan would have been his Hungarian name. Sure enough, he is listed here as Hungarian Jewish Prisoner #137429 at Buchenwald in February 1945.
In addition, though we still don’t have transport information into Buchenwald, we now have transport information out. From Buchenwald, he was sent to SIII (Sonderbauvorhaben III or Ohrdruf) on March 14. It is likely to have been there that he saw prisoners building barracks, which might have been the never-completed Jonastal project. From there, he was sent to Flossenbürg on March 26.
Finally, with this information, it might be possible to more fully trace my grandfather’s journey through the Nazi camp system and to assign dates to his memories of that time. It opens up a whole new source of information for us and, for a family with so little information about so many relatives who were murdered, every scrap and every minute detail means a great deal.
I’ve written about the theory of restorative justice quite a lot, but I’m now able to more fully experience some of what I wrote and knew, intellectually, to be right: In the aftermath of a terrible tragedy, victims’ families are often left without any information about what happened and so creating an agreed upon historical record is an important part of achieving some measure of healing.
I haven’t been able to stop looking at these documents that showed up unannounced in my Inbox yesterday because they represent a key part of the history of my family, missing pieces of a puzzle I never really knew I needed to complete.
Rabbi David Hartman, the American-born director of the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, passed away on Sunday. He was 81.
Hartman was one of the world’s leading Jewish philosophers and a promoter of diversity among Jewish theological trends.
Menachem Lorberbaum, a professor at Tel Aviv University who worked closely with Hartman at the institute, said he “inspired a whole new generation of teachers in Jewish philosophy and theology.”
Lorberbaum said Hartman will be known for his accomplishments on religious ethics, and as “a pioneer of interfaith dialogue.”
“He was committed to the notion that morality precedes Jewish law,” he said.
I teach David Shipler’s book Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land every year in my class on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and quotes from Rabbi Hartman are featured throughout that book; they are most often presented as a counterpoint to some of the virulent statements in opposition to pluralism that Shipler unearths in conversations with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, citizens, and students.
It’s fortunate that Hartman inspired a new generation of Jewish teachers because his position on interfaith dialogue is a necessary corrective to the potential polarization that comes from a deep immersion in one’s own religious faith … especially in the midst of a conflict that is often cast as occurring between religions.