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October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Krauthammer’

Who Says Everyone Is Jewish until Proven Otherwise?

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

I was speed reading through a pile of new books last week and came across a marvellous article in a new collection by Charles Krauthammer, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics. The book looks really good. I recommend it.

Here’s the little article that caught my eye because I am known to be asking the “are-they-Jewish’ question here on my blog.

Krauthammer says in the article (partly tongue in cheek) that everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise. Krauthammer’s Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise By Charles Krauthammer

Strange doings in Virginia. George Allen, former governor, one-term senator, son of a famous football coach and in the midst of a heated battle for reelection, has just been outed as a Jew. An odd turn of events, given that his having Jewish origins has nothing to do with anything in the campaign and that Allen himself was oblivious to the fact until his 83-year-old mother revealed to him last month the secret she had kept concealed for 60 years.

Apart from its political irrelevance, it seems improbable in the extreme that the cowboy-boots-wearing football scion of Southern manner and speech should turn out to be, at least by origins, a son of Israel. For Allen, as he quipped to me, it’s the explanation for a lifelong affinity for Hebrew National hot dogs. For me, it is the ultimate confirmation of something I have been regaling friends with for 20 years and now, for the advancement of social science, feel compelled to publish.

Krauthammer’s Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise. I’ve had a fairly good run with this one. First, it turns out that John Kerry — windsurfing, French-speaking, Beacon Hill aristocrat — had two Jewish grandparents. Then Hillary Clinton — methodical Methodist — unearths a Jewish stepgrandfather in time for her run as New York senator.

A less jaunty case was that of Madeleine Albright, three of whose Czech grandparents had perished in the Holocaust and who most improbably contended that she had no idea they were Jewish. To which we can add the leading French presidential contender (Nicolas Sarkozy), a former supreme allied commander of NATO (Wesley Clark) and Russia’s leading anti-Semite (Vladimir Zhirinovsky). One must have a sense of humor about these things. Even Fidel Castro claims he is from a family of Marranos.

For all its tongue-in-cheek irony, Krauthammer’s Law works because when I say “everyone,” I don’t mean everyone you know personally. Depending on the history and ethnicity of your neighborhood and social circles, there may be no one you know who is Jewish. But if “everyone” means anyone that you’ve heard of in public life, the law works for two reasons. Ever since the Jews were allowed out of the ghetto and into European society at the dawning of the Enlightenment, they have peopled the arts and sciences, politics, and history in astonishing disproportion to their numbers.

There are 13 million Jews in the world, one-fifth of 1 percent of the world’s population. Yet 20 percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, a staggering hundredfold surplus of renown and genius. This is similarly true for a myriad of other “everyones” — the household names in music, literature, mathematics, physics, finance, industry, design, comedy, film and, as the doors opened, even politics.

But it is not just Jewish excellence at work here. There is a dark side to these past centuries of Jewish emancipation and achievement — an unrelenting history of persecution. The result is the other more somber and poignant reason for the Jewishness of public figures being discovered late and with surprise: concealment.

Look at the Albright case. Her distinguished father was Jewish, if tenuously so, until the Nazi invasion. He fled Czechoslovakia and, shortly thereafter, converted. Over the centuries, suffering — most especially, the Holocaust — has proved too much for many Jews. Many survivors simply resigned their commission.

For some, the break was defiant and theological: A G-d who could permit the Holocaust — ineffable be His reasons — had so breached the Covenant that it was now forfeit. They were bound no longer to Him or His faith.

For others, the considerations were far more secular.

Why subject one’s children to the fear and suffering, the stigmatization and marginalization, the prospect of being hunted until death that being Jewish had brought to an entire civilization in Europe?
In fact, that was precisely the reason Etty Lumbroso, Allen’s mother, concealed her identity. Brought up as a Jew in French Tunisia during World War II, she saw her father, Felix, imprisoned in a concentration camp. Coming to America was her one great chance to leave that forever behind, for her and for her future children. She married George Allen Sr., apparently never telling her husband’s family, her own children or anyone else of her Jewishness.

Such was Etty’s choice. Multiply the story in its thousand variations and you have Kerry and Clinton, Albright and Allen, a world of people with a whispered past.

Allen’s mother tried desperately to bury it forever. In response to published rumors, she finally confessed the truth to him, adding heartbreakingly, “Now you don’t love me anymore” — and then swore him to secrecy.

(Washington Post, September 25, 2006)

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A Famed Political Pundit’s Musical Side: An Interview with Charles Krauthammer

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Charles Krauthammer is widely regarded as one of the most influential political commentators in America today. A contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and The New Republic, Krauthammer is also a nightly commentator on Fox News’s Special Report with Bret Baier and a weekly panelist on PBS’s Inside Washington. Close to 250 newspapers carry his weekly column, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1987.

In addition to his political prowess, Krauthammer maintains a love for Jewish music. Several years ago, he and his wife Robyn founded Pro Musica Hebraica, devoted to “bringing Jewish music to the concert hall.”

On December 2, the organization will hold a concert of cantorial masterpieces at the Eldridge Street Synagogue. The Jewish Press recently spoke with Krauthammer about the concert, among other topics.

The Jewish Press: What led you to found Pro Musica Hebraica?

Krauthammer: About eight years ago, my wife and I decided there was an area of Jewish culture that had been fairly widely neglected, and that was the presentation of great Jewish music in a classical setting. We wanted to do something to bring it out to the world.

Is the classical music Pro Musica Hebraica presents really Jewish music or just music that happens to have been composed by Jews?

The idea is to bring Jewish experience, feeling, and history – “Jewish soul,” if you like – as expressed through classical music.

So it doesn’t matter who the author is. One of our concerts a few years ago was baroque Jewish music from 17th- and 18th-century Italy and Holland. It included the famous Sephardic Jewish composer Salamone Rossi, but it also had a selection by a Jesuit priest who was a philo-Semite and who set Psalms to baroque music. He was so much of a Hebraist that he actually wrote the music from right to left when he was transcribing it.

So we don’t care about the origin of the composer although, of course, most of the music is by Jews self-consciously reflecting their own heritage, past, and memories.

Why has this music been neglected?

Well, I’ll give you one example. One of the major schools of this music was called the St. Petersburg school. Founded in 1908, this school consisted of students of Rimsky Korsakov. They were in the Russian conservatories, and their teacher basically said to them, “Why are you trying to compose Russian music? You’re Jews, compose the music of your own people.”

So they sent ethnographic expeditions into the shtetl, listened to the music, and transcribed it. That was their inspiration for composing classical music with Jewish themes – the same way that Bartok, for example, produced classical Hungarian music from Hungarian folk themes.

This school thrived for 10 years. They put on concerts all over Russia, but then the Russian revolution came in 1917, and they were all scattered to all corners of the world. Their music was largely forgotten, but we brought it back with Itzhak Perlman on the 100th anniversary of its founding to an amazing critical review in the Washington Post and tremendous public response.

This upcoming concert on December 2, though, will feature chazzanut.

Yes, it’s our first venture away from classical music towards more traditional liturgical music. It’s also our first time in New York; we’re usually in the Kennedy Center in Washington. Cantor Netanel Hershtik of The Hampton Synagogue, who is just exquisite, is performing, and the venue will be the Eldridge Street Synagogue, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Cantor Netanel Hershtik

One theme that runs through this concert is redemption. It’s a theme that’s so prevalent in the liturgy that you can’t go three pages in the siddur without coming across it. I think it’s very important, particularly for those who may not be religious or aren’t even Jewish, to understand that the idea of return, restoration – the idea of Zion – is not a modern creation but a theme going back to “Im eshkacheich Yerushalayim,” which was written 2,500 years ago….

One of the reasons I wanted to do this was because when I was growing up we would spend our summer in Long Beach where, once a year, Moshe Koussevitzky would perform at one of the synagogues at the far end of Long Beach. My father would take my brother and me, and we would walk for about an hour to hear him. I have never forgotten that. It was the most moving music or religious presence.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/a-famed-political-pundits-musical-side-an-interview-with-charles-krauthammer/2012/11/21/

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