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December 10, 2016 / 10 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Joshua Heschel’

July 4th Special: 11 Jews Who Changed America

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Inevitably, when one composes a list of people whose contributions have changed America, or any other country for that matter, the first reaction from the astute readers of the list is an objection to half the choices, and suggestions for far better choices. So we encourage the astute reader to add his or her own suggestions in the comments section, as well as their enraged reactions to our audacity in including some of our choices below.

In making our selection we looked for true pioneers, people who arrived when a certain situation was at point A, and due to their investment over a lifetime, things moved on to B or even higher in the alphabet.

For the record, we wanted to keep our list at 10, but the powers that be who pay our wages intervened and inserted one additional Jewish person. We invite you to guess whom this person is, and we are certain you won’t be able to.

Our list is purely in alphabetical order, because we have no way of telling which of these ten distinguished individuals was more crucial in shaping the way America is today, and we thought going in chronological order was boring.

We’re grateful to the many online sources from which we lifted so much of the copy in this article; they are so numerous, we fear that if we mention some we’d only hurt the feelings of all the others.

And, yes, we’re aware that we’ve actually listed 15 Jews, because one of them is a pair of sisters and the other are three brothers (and then some).

Louis Brandeis Louis Brandeis

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1916 – 1939, Brandeis radically changed the way American Law regards personal freedoms in a modern society.

In 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson nominated Brandeis to the Supreme Court, his nomination was contested by many, because, as Justice William O. Douglas wrote, “Brandeis was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible.” And, in that context, “the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.” Justice Brandeis’s opinions constituted some of the “greatest defenses” of freedom of speech and the right to privacy ever written by a member of the Supreme Court.

In Gilbert v. Minnesota (1920) which dealt with a state law prohibiting interference with the military’s enlistment efforts, Brandeis wrote a dissenting opinion that the statute affected the “rights, privileges, and immunities of one who is a citizen of the United States; and it deprives him of an important part of his liberty. … The statute invades the privacy and freedom of the home. Father and mother may not follow the promptings of religious belief, of conscience or of conviction, and teach son or daughter the doctrine of pacifism. If they do, any police officer may summarily arrest them.”

In Whitney v. California (1927), dealing with the prosecution of a woman for aiding the Communist Labor Party, which was promoting the violent overthrow of the government, both Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes expanded the definition of “clear and present danger” to include the condition that the “evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion.” According to legal historian Anthony Lewis, scholars have lauded Brandeis’s opinion “as perhaps the greatest defense of freedom of speech ever written by a member of the high court.” In their concurring opinion, Brandeis and Holmes wrote:

“Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of free speech to free men from bondage of irrational fears … Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty …”

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

This singer-songwriter, artist and writer has changed and influenced popular music and culture for more than five decades.

After initially modeling his style on the songs of Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, and Hank Williams in the early 1960s, journalist Mike Marqusee wrote that “between late 1964 and the middle of 1966, Dylan created a body of work that remains unique. Drawing on folk, blues, country, R&B, rock’n’roll, gospel, British beat, symbolist, modernist and Beat poetry, surrealism and Dada, advertising jargon and social commentary, Fellini and Mad magazine, he forged a coherent and original artistic voice and vision. The beauty of these albums retains the power to shock and console.”

Australian critic Jack Marx wrote that Dylan “invented the arrogant, faux-cerebral posturing that has been the dominant style in rock since, with everyone from Mick Jagger to Eminem educating themselves from the Dylan handbook.”

J. Hoberman wrote in 2007: “Elvis might never have been born, but someone else would surely have brought the world rock ‘n’ roll. No such logic accounts for Bob Dylan. No iron law of history demanded that a would-be Elvis from Hibbing, Minnesota, would swerve through the Greenwich Village folk revival to become the world’s first and greatest rock ‘n’ roll beatnik bard and then—having achieved fame and adoration beyond reckoning—vanish into a folk tradition of his own making.”

And in June 2014, before the sale of the original lyrics of “Like a Rolling Stone,” written on four sheets of hotel stationery by Dylan in 1965, Richard Austin of Sotheby’s said: “Before the release of Like a Rolling Stone, music charts were overrun with short and sweet love songs, many clocking in at three minutes or less. By defying convention with six and a half minutes of dark, brooding poetry, Dylan rewrote the rules for pop music.”

Betty Friedan Betty Friedan

No one contributed more to changing the way American women view themselves and their male-dominated society than this American writer, activist, and feminist. Her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique sparked the modern wave of American feminism in the 20th century. In 1966, Friedan co-founded and was elected the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which aimed to bring women “into the mainstream of American society now [in] fully equal partnership with men.”

Published in 1963, The Feminine Mystique depicted the roles of women in industrial societies, especially the full-time homemaker role which Friedan deemed stifling. Friedan described a depressed suburban housewife who dropped out of college at the age of 19 to get married and raise four children. She spoke of her own terror at being alone, wrote that she had never once in her life seen a positive female role-model who worked outside the home and also kept a family, and cited numerous cases of housewives who felt similarly trapped.

The “Problem That Has No Name” was described by Friedan in the beginning of the book: “The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?'”

In 1970 NOW, with Friedan at the helm, was instrumental in the Senate’s rejection of President Nixon’s Supreme Court nominee G. Harrold Carswell, who had opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act granting women workplace equality with men. On August 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Amendment to the Constitution, Friedan organized the national Women’s Strike for Equality, and led a march of 20,000 women in New York City, promoting equal opportunities for women in jobs and education, and demanding abortion rights and the establishment of child-care centers.

Friedan spoke at the Strike for Equality about “the question of a woman’s right to control her [sic] own reproductive processes, that is, laws prohibiting abortion in the state or putting them into criminal statutes; I think that would be a statute that we would [be] addressing ourselves to.”

Friedan founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, renamed National Abortion Rights Action League after the Supreme Court had legalized abortion in 1973.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, Heschel, who was a professor of Jewish mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, believed the teachings of the Hebrew prophets were a call for social action in the United States and worked for African Americans’ civil rights and against the Vietnam War.

Edward Rothstein wrote in the NY Times in 2007 that “no modern Jewish thinker has had as profound an effect on other faiths as Heschel has; the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said he was ‘an authoritative voice not only in the Jewish community but in the religious life of America.’ Nor has any Jewish theologian since Heschel succeeded in speaking to such a wide range of readers while rigorously attending to the nuances of Judaism.”

His daughter, Susannah Heschel, recalled that in his 1965 inaugural address at Union Theological Seminary, “my father reminded his audience that the Nazis attacked Christianity as well as Judaism, and he called for both communities to unite against the threat: ‘Nazism has suffered a defeat, but the process of eliminating the Bible from the consciousness of the western world goes on. It is on the issue of saving the radiance of the Hebrew Bible in the minds of man that Jews and Christians are called upon to work together. None of us can do it alone. Both of us must realize that in our age anti-Semitism is anti-Christianity and that anti-Christianity is anti-Semitism.”

In 1963, Heschel was invited to a meeting of religious leaders with President John F. Kennedy. The day before the event, Heschel sent the president a telegram about civil rights, asking him to declare the nation’s racial inequality a “state of moral emergency” and to act with “high moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”

King and Heschel stayed in close touch, and after the first Selma march, “Bloody Sunday,” Heschel led a delegation of 800 people to FBI headquarters in New York City to protest the Bureau’s failure to protect the demonstrators. Heschel flew to Selma from New York on Saturday night, March 20, and was one of the leaders in the front row of marchers at the next Selma march, with King, Ralph Bunche, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. The photograph of Heschel walking arm in arm with King has become the symbol of the coalition of Jews and blacks in American politics.

Heschel later wrote: “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

Abigail van Buren and Ann Landers

Ann Landers and Dear Abby

Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer and Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips were born seventeen minutes apart on July 4, 1918. They later became advice columnists Ann Landers and Abigail van Buren (Dear Abby). The sisters were in their late thirties when Esther, and shortly thereafter Pauline, entered the advice column business. Esther, known as Eppie Lederer, won a contest to replace the original author of the “Ask Ann Landers” column for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1955. By 1993, the Ann Landers column appeared in 1200 daily newspapers with 90 million readers, making her the world’s most widely syndicated columnist. The column has also been translated into more than twenty languages. A few months after Eppie Lederer took over as Ann Landers, her twin sister Pauline Esther “PoPo” Phillips introduced a similar, competing column, Dear Abby, using the pseudonym Abigail Van Buren, which resulted a lengthy estrangement between the two sisters. Phillips wrote her column until retiring in 2002, at which time her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, took over.

Both columns used a straightforward tone, gave practical advice, and a firm but modern moral sensibility. Both sisters used humor, including sarcasm and one-liners, in their advice. “Dear Abby” once published a letter from a reader inquiring whether a woman could get pregnant underwater, responding: “not without a man.” Both columnists won millions of loyal followers. As one reviewer put it, each was “just the person you’d want to go to with a problem—the aunt with the wise mouth and the heart of gold.” Psychology Today credited Ann Landers with having a greater effect on the way people deal with their problems than any other living individual. Both women were politically liberal, and used their columns to condemn racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism and to advocate for women’s rights.

Here are one each of their famous responses:

Dear Abby: Our son married a girl when he was in the service. They were married in February and she had an 8 1/2-pound baby girl in August. She said the baby was premature. Can an 8 1/2-pound baby be this premature? —Wanting to Know

Dear Wanting: The baby was on time. The wedding was late. Forget it.

Dear. Mrs. Landers: I’ve always regarded most marital mix-ups as very humorous — until now, that is, when the noose is tightening around my own neck. We have been married 10 years and have two sons. I like auto racing, but my wife has no interest in it, so I’ve always gone without her.

I’ve fallen for a woman with three children who is also very fond of auto racing. Her husband is ignorant and impossible. This may sound corny, but I think she would be a wonderful companion for me. I suppose you think I’m a louse — but I am stumped. I would like to have your advice on this problem — MR. K

Dear Mr. K: Time wounds all heels — and you’ll get yours. Do you realize that there are five children involved in your little racetrack romance? Don’t be surprised if you wake up one of these days and wish you had your wife and sons back. You are flirting with a muddy track on Black Friday, and the way you’re headed, you will get exactly what you deserve.

Estee Lauder.

Estée Lauder

A trailblazing American businesswoman, Josephine Esther Mentzer was the co-founder, along with her husband, Joseph Lauter (later Lauder), of Estée Lauder Companies, her cosmetics company. Lauder was the only woman on Time magazine’s 1998 list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century. She was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was inducted to the Junior Achievement US Business Hall of Fame in 1988.

Her uncle John Shotz was a chemist who created face creams in a makeshift laboratory, set up behind her family’s house. He discouraged Estée from using detergent soaps on her face and showed her how to make the cream that, years later, she would improve and market under her own name. She launched her cosmetics business during the Depression in New York and later in Miami Beach.

Estée Lauder was an exceptionally talented and ambitious promoter, pioneering the giveaway promotions, and always including a lipstick in the gift package. Women tried her products, liked them, and told other women about them. Much of her initial success came from gift-driven word-of-mouth advertising. She called her strategy “Tell-a-Woman” marketing. She moved on to invest in larger marketing concepts, using beautiful models to sell her products. Estée Lauder chose her models carefully, selecting the “Estée Lauder kind of woman,” rather than the movie star type.

In 1953, she launched Youth Dew, a bath oil with a scent that could be used as perfume. Later she brought out many other popular scents such as Azurée, Aliage, Private Collection, White Linen, Cinnabar, and Beautiful. Lauder trusted only family members with formulas for the various fragrances.

She ventured into the male cosmetic market in 1964, using her son and other men in her company to test her products. In 1965, she came out with Aramis and an entire line for men’s skin, which she re-launched in 1967. Another of her ideas was the fragrance-free Clinique line, which was launched after extensive medical testing.

When it went public in 1995, her Estée Lauder Companies was estimated to be worth about $5 billion and she was given the title of founding chairwoman. In 2003, it had 21,500 employees and an estimated worth of about $10 billion. Its products are sold in more than 130 countries across five continents.

The Marx Brothers

The Marx Brothers

The brothers Julius Henry, Leonard, and Adolph Marx, a.k.a. Groucho, Chico, and Harpo, are on the American Film Institute (AFI) list of the 25 greatest male stars of Classic Hollywood cinema, the only performers to be inducted collectively. There were also Gummo, and Zeppo Marx (Milton and Herbert respectively), but the three zaniest Jews of all times have created, working together from 1905 to 1949, an ingenious merging of Vaudeville and Hollywood that taught an admiring world just what insane things can be done with film comedy.

Five of the Marx Brothers’ thirteen feature films were selected by AFI as among the top 100 comedy films, with Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera in the top twelve.

Pleased with the success of their first two films, The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930), Paramount Pictures extended the Marx Brothers’ contract, which they fulfilled with three of their greatest comedies: Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), and Duck Soup (1933). Among their wildest, most anarchic efforts, the three films mercilessly lampoon moneyed society, higher education, and warring governments. They were filled with Groucho’s verbal effrontery (in lines such as “Remember, men, we’re fighting for this woman’s honor, which is probably more than she ever did!”) and surreal sight gags such as a live, barking dog that emerges from a doghouse tattooed on Harpo’s chest. Monkey Business and Horse Feathers were enormously popular with Depression-era audiences, but the political satire Duck Soup was a box-office disappointment. Today, however, it is regarded as one of the great film comedies of the 1930s.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer then signed the brothers to a two-picture deal, resulting in A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day at the Races (1937), their most successful financially and among their best efforts. The Marx Brothers’ characters were tamed, though, their surreal elements were minimized, and they were turned into likeable, even heroic characters.

There’s no doubt that the inventiveness and raw chutzpah of the Marx Brothers gave life to countless successors in post-WW2 American film, including Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich, and several generations of TV comedy writers.

Jonas Salk

Jonas Salk

Poliomyelitis, also called polio or infantile paralysis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. In about 0.5% of cases there is muscle weakness resulting in an inability to move. This can occur over a few hours to a few days. The weakness most often involves the legs but may also involve the muscles of the head, neck and diaphragm. In patients with muscle weakness about 2% to 5% of children and 15% to 30% of adults die. Another 25% of people have minor symptoms such as fever and a sore throat and up to 5% have headache, neck stiffness and pains in the arms and legs. Years after recovery post-polio syndrome may occur, with a slow development of muscle weakness similar to that which the person had during the initial infection.

Small localized paralytic polio epidemics began to appear in Europe and the United States around 1900. Outbreaks reached pandemic proportions in Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand during the first half of the 20th century.

In the United States, the 1952 polio epidemic became the worst outbreak in the nation’s history. Of nearly 58,000 cases reported that year 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis.

Three years later, Dr. Jonas Salk became a national hero when he developed the first safe and effective polio vaccine in 1955 with the support of the March of Dimes. In the two years before the vaccine was widely available, the average number of polio cases in the US was more than 45,000. By 1962, that number had dropped to 910.

Contrary to the era’s prevailing scientific opinion, Jonas Edward Salk believed his vaccine, composed of “killed” polio virus, could immunize without risk of infecting the patient. Salk administered the vaccine to volunteers who had not had polio, including himself, his lab scientist, his wife and their children. All developed anti-polio antibodies and experienced no negative reactions to the vaccine.

In 1954, national testing began on one million children, ages six to nine, who became known as the Polio Pioneers. On April 12, 1955, the results were announced: the vaccine was safe and effective. As one of the largest disabled groups in the world, polio survivors also helped to advance the modern disability rights movement through campaigns for the social and civil rights of the disabled. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 10 to 20 million polio survivors worldwide.

A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal repeated the popular Jonas Salk statement (in an Edward R. Murrow interview) about his Polio vaccine: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Many use this statement as the moral impetus for refusing patents on medically important innovations (most notably Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story”). However, according to WSJ, Salk could not patent the vaccine if he wanted to. The fact is that whether or not Salk believed what he said to Murrow, the idea of patenting the vaccine had been considered by a team of patent law lawyers, who recommended not to apply for a patent because the law at the time would not have awarded it.

Which makes Salk an innovator also in his role of a scientist who chose not to litigate what he knew he couldn’t get.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, (1902-1994), the seventh and last leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, changed the way many American Jews, and then the rest of the Jews of the world viewed their connection to the Jewish nation. Rather than impose his views and philosophy on the million of unaffiliated and non-Orthodox Jews in America and then in the rest of the world, the Rebbe created a network of Chabad Houses into which they were all invited.

The forty-four years of the Rebbe’s leadership saw Lubavitch grow from a small movement that had barely survived the Soviet Union and the Nazi Holocaust, to a worldwide community of 200,000 members, the finest among whom the Rebbe employed to establish the Chabad education and outreach centers, offering social-service programs and humanitarian aid to all people, regardless of religious affiliation or background. His corps of Lubavitch emissaries (shluchim) went out to build Chabad Houses that reached out to local Jews and to passers by with concrete offerings: a place to stay, a place to eat, a place to pray, a place to study. Today there are more than 1,400 Chabad-Lubavitch institutions in thirty-five countries on six continents.

Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz wrote in the Forward a few years ago that “Lubavitchers are sent into the street as 13- or 14-year-olds to ask passersby, ‘Are you Jewish?’ For those who say yes, they offer to help put on tefillin, the little wearable black boxes containing prayers, or, depending on the season, give them matzos or Hanukkah menorahs. They, too, may not convince others to become observant, but they are always solidifying their own observance.

“But as we know, Chabad is, in fact, quite good at persuading some Jews to become more observant. And the 4,000 or so shluchim, emissaries, who along with their wives and children have dispersed across the globe to do missionary work among lapsed Jews, or those in areas with little organized Jewish life, have also become necessary to hundreds of thousands of Jews’ religious lives. Their schools, summer camps, adult education classes, and weekly Shabbat dinners have fortified Jewish life, often in towns or countries where Jewish life had been left for toyt (dead). And the emissaries do it because the Rebbe told them to.”

The Rebbe’s model of Jewish outreach has been imitated by all Jewish movements including the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Haredi. Peggy Noonan has written that moral issues would be better addressed by leaders such as Schneerson than by politicians, and since his death, Schneerson has been referred to as the Rebbe for all people. His teachings have been published in more than two hundred volumes. He also written tens of thousands of letters in reply to requests for blessings and advice. These detailed and personal letters offer advice and explanation on a wide variety of subjects, including spiritual matters as well as all aspects of life.

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart

From 1999 to 2015, Jon Stewart hosted the half-hour “The Daily Show,” a satirical news program on Comedy Central that changed the way younger Americans received and engaged the news. While not inventing anything new, Stewart was able to dominate the airwaves and on occasion the news cycles by lashing out at phenomena and individuals in American politics and society and, even more importantly, by putting the news in a historic and social perspective. He taught a generation of American viewers about context, nuance and morality that no one has been able to do with the same authority since, including his closest protégé John Oliver (alas, not Jewish).

Stewart also attacked with satire but also with straight-forward criticism, media personalities, shows and networks with a devastating effect. His appearance on CNN’s Crossfire on October 15, 2004 eventually killed the show. Speaking to then-host Tucker Carlson, Stewart criticized the state of television journalism and pleaded with Carlson and his co-host Paul Begala to “stop hurting America,” referring to both Carlson and Begala as “partisan hacks.” He insisted that Crossfire had failed in its responsibility to inform and educate viewers about politics as a serious topic, engaging in partisan hackery instead of honest debate. He said that the hosts’ claim that Crossfire is a debate show is like “saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition.”

In response to Carlson telling him, “Come on, be funny,” Stewart said, “No, I’m not going to be your monkey.” Later in the show when Carlson said, “I do think you’re more fun on your show,” Stewart retorted, “You’re as big a [expletive] on your show as you are on any show.” Carlson said, “You need to get a job at a journalism school,” to which Stewart responded, “You need to go to one!”

In January 2005, CNN announced that it was canceling Crossfire. When asked about the cancellation, CNN’s incoming president, Jonathan Klein, referenced Stewart’s appearance on the show: “I think he made a good point about the noise level of these types of shows, which does nothing to illuminate the issues of the day.”

In March 2009, exchanges between MSNBC’s financial guru Jim Cramer and Stewart led to a highly anticipated face-to-face confrontation on The Daily Show. The episode had 2.3 million total viewers, and the next day, the show’s website saw its highest day of traffic in 2009. Although Cramer acknowledged on the show that some of Stewart’s criticisms of CNBC were valid and that the network could “do better,” he later said on The Today Show that Stewart’s criticism of the media was “naïve and misleading.” But watch for yourselves, it’s obvious Stewart murdered him.

Stewart frequently accused Fox News of distorting the news to fit a conservative agenda, at one point ridiculing the network as “the meanest sorority in the world.” Stewart criticized Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson – a former Miss America and Stanford graduate – for claiming that she googled words such as “ignoramus” and “czar.” Stewart said that Carlson was dumbing herself down for “an audience who sees intellect as an elitist flaw.”

During an interview with Chris Wallace on June 19, 2011, Stewart called Wallace “insane” for saying that Stewart’s comparison of a Sarah Palin campaign video and an anti-herpes medicine ad was a political comment. Stewart also said Fox viewers are the “most consistently misinformed” viewers of political media. This comment was ranked by fact-checking site PolitiFact as false, with conditions, and Stewart acknowledged his error.

Stewart also used The Daily Show to advocate for causes such as the treatment of veterans and 9/11 first responders. He is credited with breaking a Senate deadlock over a bill to provide health care and benefits for 9/11 emergency workers; the bill passed three days after he featured a group of 9/11 responders on the show. In March 2009, Stewart criticized a White House proposal to remove veterans from Veterans Administration rolls if they had private health insurance; the White House dropped the plan the next day.

Levi Strauss

Levi Strauss

Anyone can make a pair of blue jeans, but Levi Strauss & Co. made the first blue jean –– in 1873. Levi Strauss, the inventor of the quintessential American garment, was born in Buttenheim, Bavaria on February 26, 1829 to Hirsch Strauss and his second wife, Rebecca Haas Strauss. Two years after his father succumbed to tuberculosis in 1846, Levi and his sisters emigrated to New York, where they were met by his two older brothers who owned a NYC-based wholesale dry goods business called “J. Strauss Brother & Co.” Levi soon began to learn the trade himself.

When news of the California Gold Rush made its way east, Levi journeyed to San Francisco in 1853 to make his fortune. He established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name and served as the West Coast representative of the family’s New York firm. Levi eventually renamed his company “Levi Strauss & Co.”

Around 1872, Levi received a letter from one of his customers, Jacob Davis, a Reno, Nevada tailor. In his letter, Davis disclosed the unique way he made pants for his customers, through the use of rivets at points of strain to make them last longer. Davis wanted to patent this new idea, but needed a business partner to get the idea off the ground. The patent was granted to Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss & Company on May 20, 1873; and blue jeans were born.

Prior to the Levi Strauss patented trousers, the term “blue jeans” had been long in use for various garments (including trousers, overalls, and coats), constructed from blue colored denim. Originally designed for cowboys and miners, jeans became popular in the 1950s among teenagers, especially members of the greaser subculture. Jeans were a common fashion item in the 1960s Hippie subculture and they continued to be popular in the 1970s and 1980s youth subcultures of punk rock and heavy metal. Historic brands include Levi’s, Lee, and Wrangler. In the 2010s, jeans remain a popular fashion item, and they come in various fits, including skinny, tapered, slim, straight, boot cut, cigarette bottom, narrow bottom, bell bottom, low waist, anti-fit, and flare. “Distressed” (visibly aged and worn, but still intact and functional) jeans trousers have become increasingly fashionable, making pre-sale “factory distressing” a common feature in commercially sold jeans.

In the 2010s, jeans are a very popular article of casual dress around the world. They come in many styles and colors. However, blue jeans are particularly identified with American culture, especially the Old West. As well, although jeans are mostly known as a popular fashion garment for several decades, they are still worn as protective garments by some individuals, such as cattle ranch workers and motorcycle riders, due to their high durability as compared to other common fabrics.

JNi.Media

The Terror Outside And The Terror Within

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

My readers in The Jewish Press are accustomed to reading my articles on timely strategic and jurisprudential issues. For the most part, these columns have explored various dangers of terrorism, war and genocide. But sometimes we are imperiled by a very different sort of terror. There is, of course, the “usual” threat of terror violence (the terror “outside”), but there is also a serious specter of interior terror that arises from our willful abandonment of individuality (the terror “within”).

Let me explain. We Americans – both Jews and Gentiles – now live with an entirely reasonable fear of terror-violence. Indeed, we sometimes even worry too little about this particular species of threat, believing it to be some sort of political contrivance rather than an authentic problem. At the same time, we appear to express altogether little apprehension about the evident disappearance of “self,” a significant peril that arises not from al-Qaeda or Iran, but from inside. Today, while an entire nation does worry more or less dutifully about the nature and direction of future attacks on the American homeland with bullets, bombs or microbes, there is precious little evidence that we are seriously concerned about becoming mass.

Why should such a complex philosophical concern be related to matters of national survival and national security? Once upon a time in America, each person’s declared objective was clear: To become an individual. Even long after the formal philosophical reign of Emerson, Thoreau and the American Transcendentalists – a reign that had certain prominent (but rarely acknowledged) roots in classic Jewish texts – an ethos of “rugged individualism” remained an integral part of the culture.

Young people, especially, strove to rise meaningfully, not as the viscerally obedient servants of raw commerce, but as authentic owners of their own discrete futures. Now, sadly, perhaps by default, and in some manifestly vulgar sense at least, submission to multitudes has become a sort of overriding state “religion.” Among both Jews and Gentiles, a pervasive and general resignation now prevails in America, a far-reaching surrender of personhood that augurs badly for democratic institutions, national survival and individual dignity. Further, from a specifically Jewish point of view, this cowardly surrender is at variance with many of our most basic traditions, teachings, norms and expectations.

Let us be candid. Mass defiles all that falls under its spell. Charles Dickens, during his first visit to America in 1842, uttered prophetically: “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country in the failure of its example to the earth.” Currently, we Americans have successfully maintained our political freedom from tyranny and oppression – even amid the urgent need to combat terrorists who wish us grave harm – but we have also surrendered our liberty to become true persons. Openly deploring a life of meaning and purpose, we typically confuse wealth with success and noise with happiness. The end of all this delirium is to keep us from remembering ourselves and therefore also from remembering G-d.

“The most radical division,” said the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties, and those who demand nothing special of themselves” In 1965, the Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel offered an almost identical argument. Lamenting, “The emancipated man is yet to emerge.” Heschel then asked all human beings to ask themselves the following: “What is expected of me? What is demanded of me?” These questions may sound mundane; they are actually quite subtle and profound.

An indebtedness to become few was, for Abraham Joshua Heschel, a sacred responsibility. Living at yet another moment of existential peril, it is time that camouflage and concealment in the mass yield to what Heschel called “being-challenged-in-the-world.” Courageous individuals who will risk disapproval for the sake of resisting mass now offer America the only Republic worth saving. As Jews, we especially need to take note – both for our own sakes and for that of the greater Republic.

Unlike previous periods in our national history, when elements of the mass sometimes sought to become few, the situation has been turned on its head. Instead of looking to the few as an exemplary standard of aspiration, the mass wants very much to remain mass. A good portion of the few now even wishes to be blended with the mass. In essence, genuine excellence in America (not the endlessly silly accomplishments demanded by our schools) has become something to be shunned, an embarrassment, and a naive and archaic goal that stands annoyingly in the way of “progress.”

To form the few, each interested American must first wish to separate himself/herself from the demeaning idea that intellectual achievement is measured by academic test scores and that personal importance is strongly determined by frank imitation and unbridled consumption. Gorged with bad food and enchanted by bad taste, we Americans now literally amuse ourselves to death. Living in a society where reading difficult books is taken as arrogance and where universities are more comfortable with “branding” than with independent thought, we have generally forgotten Abraham Joshua Heschel’s injunction to hold ourselves sacred. Not surprisingly, when any citizenry has lost all sense of awe in the world, the public typically not only avoids mindful authenticity, it positively loathes it.

This division of American society into the few and the mass is not an elitist division into vain polarities – rich and poor, educated and uneducated, black and white, native and foreigner – but a more purposeful separation of those who are spectators from those who seek involvement. In the absurd theatre of these United States – where individuals are so cheerfully undifferentiated from other individuals – there are no longer declared protagonists. There are some actors, to be sure, but the play nowadays is almost always about chorus.

“The mass,” said Jose Ortega y Gasset, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.” Today, in craven deference to the mass, the intellectually and culturally un-ambitious not only celebrate the commonplace (which they have been strictly taught to do), they openly proclaim and spread our American ambience of mediocrity as the most enviable form of democracy. While the outside dangers of our time palpitate under the miming masses that wish to be “democratic,” the dignified grace of the few is harder and harder to discover.

None of this is an argument for monarchy or aristocracy. It is certainly not a call for hierarchic separations based upon considerations of wealth or birth. Not at all; it is, instead, a plaintive cry that we now demand more of ourselves, as Americans, as Jews, as persons, as thinkers, and as a singular people of serious understandings.

The mass now makes the American imagination thoroughly reproductive. Feeding off familiar and often tasteless images of pleasure and contentment, this anonymous collectivity – by its persistent forfeiture of individuality – subordinates all meaningful thought to an outright frenzy of mimicry. In this vulgarized America, which routinely blocks access to more genuine images of meaning and self-worth offered by the few, the sinister caress of the mass manifests itself in absolutely everything – from clichéd politics and profligacy to widespread gluttony, abuse and random violence.

The mass, of course, can never become few, but certain individual members of the mass can make the transformation. Moreover, just as more and more individual Americans must now accept the perilous challenges of survival in the world outside, those who are already part of the few must maintain their essential stance against mass. Aware that they comprise an indispensable barrier to America’s spiritual, cultural and intellectual disintegration, these select few amongst the few must acknowledge, soon, that staying the more difficult course of personal challenge and self-renewal is the only decent option.

With their minds fixed on what is truly precious, the few will brood and dream at the edges of our material world, consciously separating themselves from all those who must always epitomize cowardice, compromise and servility. With the market for individual meaning removed from the sweating palms of the mass, these few Americans will steadfastly refuse the crude disfigurement that always comes with “fitting in.” As Jews, it is now time for us to pay especially careful heed to Heschel’s enduring wisdom concerning individual responsibility, and begin – once again – to become few.

The terror outside and the terror within are always interpenetrating and interdependent. Hence, once we are better prepared, as both Americans and as Jews, to deal with the terror inside, we shall also be far more fit to deal with the external terror of violence, war and intended genocide.

Copyright ©The Jewish Press, March 14, 2008. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Louis Rene Beres

As Important As The Threats From Iran And North Korea, Is Countering The Triumphant Mass In American Life

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

We Americans now live with an entirely reasonable fear of war and terror. Indeed, there is precious little doubt that our country will become a recurrent victim of new attacks by those who openly seek the genocidal destruction of “infidels.” Try as we must to prevent such attacks, we also know that we are engaged in a long and difficult struggle against a resurgent “medievalism” and its attendant forms of barbarism. Such truth is surely uncomfortable for us to contemplate, but it is, nonetheless, truth.

There are other existential problems, less immediately apocalyptic perhaps, but still substantial. I refer to the incessant and ongoing disappearance of “individualism” in America. Man, we learn from Psalm 8:5, is “a little lower than the Divine” and a little higher than the beasts. Today, as an entire nation drifts with the latest waves of conformance and fear, there is little evidence of individual Americans striving to rise meaningfully. A general resignation prevails to being part of the “Mass”. Understandably, perhaps, given the lack of tangible incentives, not many Americans now seek to be part of the “Few”.

Charles Dickens, during his first visit to America in 1842, uttered prophetically: “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country in the failure of its example to the earth.” Today, we Americans have successfully maintained our freedom from tyranny and oppression – even amidst the urgent need to combat monstrous enemies who wish us grave harm – but we have also surrendered our liberty to become authentic persons. Deploring a life of real meaning and purpose, we typically confuse wealth with success and noise with happiness. The end of all this delirium is to keep us from remembering G-d.

“The most radical division,” said the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties, and those who demand nothing special of themselves.” In 1965, the Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel offered an almost identical argument. Lamenting that “the emancipated man is yet to emerge,” Heschel then asked all human beings to ask themselves the following: “What is expected of me? What is demanded of me?”

An indebtedness to become Few is, for Abraham Joshua Heschel, a sacred responsibility. Living at yet another moment of extraordinary peril – especially for Jews – it is time that camouflage and concealment in the Mass yield to what Heschel called “being-challenged-in-the-world.” Courageous individuals who will risk disapproval for the sake of resisting Mass offers America the only republic worth saving.

Unlike previous periods in our national history, when elements of the Mass sometimes sought to become Few, the situation is now turned on its head. Instead of looking to the Few as an exemplary standard of aspiration, the Mass wants very much to remain Mass. Now, a good portion of the Few even wish to be blended with the Mass. In essence, authentic excellence in America has become something to be shunned, an embarrassment, a naive and archaic goal that stands annoyingly in the way of “progress.”

To form the Few, each interested American must first wish to separate him or herself from the demeaning idea that academic test scores measure intellectual achievement and that personal importance is determined by imitation and consumption. Gorged with bad food and enchanted by bad taste, Americans now literally amuse themselves to death. Living in a society where reading serious books is taken as an expression of arrogance and where universities are more comfortable with “branding” than with thought, Americans have generally forgotten Abraham Joshua Heschel’s valuable injunction to hold themselves sacred. Not surprisingly, when our citizenry has lost all sense of awe in the world, the public typically not only avoids “mindful” authenticity – it positively loathes it.

This division of American society into the Few and the Mass is not an elitist division into social classes – rich and poor, educated and uneducated, native and foreigner – but a far more purposeful separation of those who are spectators from those who seek growth. Today, in the increasingly absurd theatre of these United States – where individuals are strikingly undifferentiated from other individuals – there are no longer any declared protagonists. There are some actors, to be sure, but the play is almost entirely chorus.

“The mass,” said Jose Ortega y Gasset, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.” Today, in craven deference to the Mass, the intellectually and culturally un-ambitious not only celebrate the commonplace (which they have been strictly taught to do), they openly proclaim and spread our American ethos of mediocrity as the most enviable form of democracy. While the unparalleled danger of our time palpitates under the miming masses that wish to be “democratic,” the dignified grace of the Few is harder and harder to discover.

This is not an argument for monarchy or social aristocracy. It is not a call for hierarchic separations based upon considerations of wealth or birth; not at all. It is, rather, a plaintive cry that we now demand more of ourselves, as Americans, as persons, as thinkers, and as people of belief.

The Mass makes the American imagination thoroughly reproductive. Feeding off familiar images of pleasure and contentment, this anonymous collectivity – by its persistent forfeiture of individuality – subordinates all serious thought to a frenzy of mimicry. In such an America, which routinely blocks access to more genuine images of meaning and self-worth offered by the Few, the sinister caress of the Mass manifests itself in everything – from vulgar politics and profligacy to widespread gluttony, irreverence and random violence.

The Mass, of course, can never become Few, but certain individual members of the Mass can make the transformation. Moreover, just as more and more individual Americans must now accept the perilous challenges of survival in the world, those who are already part of the Few must maintain their essential stance against the Mass. Aware that they comprise an indispensable barrier to America’s spiritual, cultural and intellectual disintegration, these select few amongst the Few must understand, soon, that staying the more difficult course of personal challenge and self-renewal is the only decent option. With their minds now fixed on what is truly precious, the Few will brood and dream at the edges of our material world, consciously separating themselves from those who must always epitomize cowardice, compromise and servility. With the market for individual meaning removed from the sweating palms of the mass, these Few Americans will steadfastly refuse the disfigurement that comes with “fitting in.”

For now, the many still rule in America. This can change only when an expanding number of Americans distance themselves from an anesthetized society of strong appetites but little taste, of surface confidence but limited ideals, of great zeal but no genuine virtue or aspiration. Once this distancing can actually come to pass, and individual meaning in America is created from the “inside,” the destructive propositions of the Mass will collapse. In the final analysis, such an essential collapse is just as important to our survival as the physical protection of these United States from Iran and North Korea, from war and terrorism.

Copyright, The Jewish Press, November 24, 2006. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many books that deal with international relations and international law. He is Strategic and Military columnist for The Jewish Press.

Louis Rene Beres

Resisting Personhood: The Loneliness Of Cell Phone Addiction

Wednesday, April 7th, 2004

One wonders, what are they talking ABOUT? With WHOM are they talking? WHY are they compelled to be SEEN on the phone? And why are they so undeniably eager that others overhear their conversation?

The growing phenomenon I describe could well be called a “cell phone addiction.” This techno-condition represents much more than an ordinary social or commercial need to remain connected. When one looks closely at these communications, an incontestable message is delivered: Talking on a cell phone makes the caller feel more important, more valuable, less alone, less lonely. At a time when “rugged individualism” has become a pathetic cliche in America, and when “fitting in” is our supreme national expectation, being witnessed in conversation with another – ANY other – is increasingly vital to feelings of self-worth.

In this connection, the nature or urgency of the particular phone conversation underway is utterly irrelevant. In a great many observable cases, the exchange consists of indisputably meaningless blather punctuated by monosyllabic grunts. There is no vital content here; certainly nothing to resemble a serious reflex of thought or feeling. All that really matters, it seems, is that one is seen talking with another human being and that the conversation pushes away emptiness and anxiety.

How sad, how sad it all is. The known universe is said to be about 68 billion light years across, and yet here, in the present day United States, individuals are now openly terrified to become persons. For millions of Americans, being seen on the phone – preferably while walking briskly with rapt inattention to one’s immediate surroundings (including life- threatening car traffic) – is a desperate cry to every other passerby: “I am here; I have human connections; I count for something; I am not unpopular; I am not alone.” The cell phone, of course, has not CAUSED people to display such feelings; rather, it is merely a convenient instrument that expresses what might otherwise lie dormant in a society of dreadful conformance and passionless automatism, a lonely crowd driven by a ringing fear and trembling.

There exists, as Freud understood, a universal wish to remain unaware of oneself, and this wish generally leads individuals away from personhood and toward mass society. Hiding what might reveal an incapacity to belong, to be a good “member,” the anxious American soon learns that authentic uniqueness goes unrewarded and that affirmations of true self will likely be unpardonable. Humans often fear ostracism and exclusion more acutely even than death, a personal calculus that is largely responsible for war, terrorism and genocide. It is a small wonder, then, that something as harmless as a cell phone should now become a proud shiny badge of group standing.

The inner fear of loneliness expressed by cell phone addiction gives rise to a very serious and far-reaching social problem. Nothing important, in science or industry or art or music or literature or medicine or philosophy can ever take place without loneliness. To be able to exist apart from the mass – from what Freud called the reconstituted “primal horde” or Nietzsche the “herd” or Kierkegaard the “crowd” – is notably indispensable to intellectual development and creative inquiry. Indeed, to achieve any sense of spirituality in life, one must also be willing to endure loneliness. All of our great sages sought essential meanings “inside,” in seclusion, deep within themselves.

I BELONG. THEREFORE I AM. This is the unheroic credo expressed by cell phone addiction, a not-so-stirring manifesto that social acceptance is vitally immanent to survival and that real happiness is solely the privilege of mediocrity. One can be inconsequential anywhere, to be sure, but personal sadness in present-day America seems to grow more intense where communication is difficult and where fears are incommunicable. In one sense, therefore, what I have called “cell phone addiction” is seemingly less an illness than an imagined therapy. Ultimately, in a society filled with devotees of a pretended happiness, it is presumably an electronic link to redemption.

But the presumption is all wrong. Trying, even desperately, to fill some vacancy within themselves, the compulsive cell phone users should now remind us of a revealing image from T.S. Eliot: “They are the hollow men, they are the stuffed men.” Leaning together they experience painful feelings of powerlessness. More than anything else, they now fear finding themselves alone, and so they cannot find themselves at all.

We live on “borrowed notions,” says Abraham Joshua Heschel, and our relentless reverence for acceptance by others prevents the possibility of quiet insight. It also interferes with an essential awareness of the transcendent meaning of one’s own actions, an interference that inevitably causes us to forget G-d and to ignore the true marvel and mystery of being-in-the-world. The soul must be perpetually in quest of celebration, not an outward ceremony and public demonstration, but rather a deeply inward appreciation that lends spiritual form to everyday acts. “Its essence,” we learn from Heschel, “is to call attention to the sublime or solemn aspects of living, to rise above the confines of consumption.”

The noisy and shallow material world has infested our solitude; upon all of us the predictable traces of herd life have now become indelible. Facing an indecent alloy of banality and apocalypse, we Americans seek both meaning and ecstasy in techno-connections, but discover that the way is blocked by insipid mimicry and endless apprehension. Do we dare, shall we ever dare to disturb the universe, or must we continue to die slowly, prudently, always in responsible increments, without ever taking the chance of becoming fully born?

One usually forgets that life is always death’s prisoner. But once we can finally come to grips with this idea, we can begin to take our numbered moments with more intense pleasure and with true confidence in ourselves as unique persons. For now only our self-doubt is inexhaustible, but this is because we routinely look to others to define who we are and because we despair when we do not measure up to these manufactured definitions.

In a sense, the attraction of the cell phone machine is derivative from our own machine-like existence, a push-button metaphysics wherein every decision and every passion follows a standardized and uniformly common pathway. We believe that we are the creators of all machines, and strictly speaking, of course, this is correct. But there is also an unrecognized reciprocity here between creator and creation, an elaborate pantomime between user and used. Increasingly our constructions are making a machine out of Man. In an unforgivable inversion of Genesis, it now even appears that we have been created in the image of the machine.

Cell phone addiction is not a disease; it is merely the very visible symptom of a pervasive pathology. The underlying disease is a social order built upon nonsense, a literally mindless network of advertised meanings and ready-made ideas that deplores individuality and substitutes slogans for thought. Spawned by a system of education that foolishly identifies excellence with what can be measured on standardized tests, our American society has already lost all sense of awe in the world.

Cell phones in hand, we talk on and on because we would rather not think, and we would rather not think because there is no apparent emotional or material payoff for serious understanding. Holding fast to our cell phones, our fondest wish is that we should soon become interchangeable, but it is a wish that – once fulfilled – would turn into an endless sorrow.

LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and
articles dealing with international relations and international law. He is Strategic and
Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Louis Rene Beres

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