The Forgotten Exodus Podcast Review

Immigration from one land to another is part and parcel of human history. Unfortunately, so are violence, expulsion, and becoming a refugee.

The new podcast, The Forgotten Exodus, tells the story of Mizrahi Jews who were either forced out of predominately Arab lands or left of their own volition. Produced by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which also produces People of the Pod, this limited series started releasing episodes this week.

Each week, the listener is introduced to one person who tells the story of their family. This person speaks both of their familial past in the land of their ancestors and their experiences living outside of that country. After this narrative is told, a historian fills in the gaps with the documented events that led to the immigration or expulsion.

When we talk about Jews, the focus is often on Ashkenazi Jews. The problem is that in doing so, we forget that Jews come from many nations and have different skin tones. This podcast rounds out the Jewish narrative and brings new colors and flavors to a tale that the listener thinks they know.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

New episodes of The Forgotten Exodus drop every Monday.

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Jews Don’t Count Book Review

Intersectionality and progress go hand in hand. We cannot make this country and this world better if we only speak to or include certain groups of people.

David Baddiel‘s 2021 book, Jews Don’t Count, takes this racist concept and drops it squarely in the lap of the reader. He speaks about antisemitism on both the right and the left, referring to certain politicians in both the US and the UK. On the right, we are not accepted because we are Jews. On the left, we are seen as the oppressor because the image of the Jew is often of one of Ashkenazi descent (i.e. White). And of course, the issue of Israel is packed in and used as needed.

He also takes on Jewface and the controversy of a non-Jewish performer playing a Jewish character. Particularly when this character is a full-on stereotype without the nuances and humanity that are given to the non-Jewish character.

The problem he points to is loud and clear: if we are to move forward and create a better world, all groups must be included. No one should be left out.

There are only a handful of books that I think everyone should read. Jews Don’t Count is one of them. Especially those of us who are fighting for a future in which we are all equal and judged on our merits, not on our labels.

There was one line that has stayed with me. At this stage of his life, Baddiel is an atheist. He stated that if he were a hidden Jew who was outed during World War II, he would still be killed because he is Jewish. Nothing else would have mattered to the Nazis.

A couple of recent headlines perfectly summed up this idea. Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro (whom I disagree with about everything) made the following statement about Reform Jews:

“What do you think about what former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer once said: that Israel should put its political fortune in the Evangelist community rather than in the Reform Jewish community [in the US]?” Segal asked Shapiro, who at just 38 years of age has written 11 books.

“As a matter of blunt fact, that’s true,” Shapiro answered. “It’s an unfortunate reality of life in the United States that Reform Judaism, as a branch, does not see Jewish identity in a serious way, as central.

“It’s a very simple rubric for me: If as a Jew, your values are more in line with same-sex marriage, transgenderism and abortion than they are with, for example, the safety and security of the State of Israel – I have serious questions about how you think about yourself as a Jew,” he continued, receiving a standing ovation.

Then Pennsylvania Senator Doug Mastriano (who is also on the political right) said the following about Shapiro:

“We don’t want people who are atheists. We don’t want people who are Jewish. We don’t want people who are, you know, nonbelievers, agnostic, whatever. This is an explicitly Christian movement because this is an explicitly Christian country.” He also added: “Ben Shapiro is not welcome in the movement unless he repents and accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior

It doesn’t matter to Mastriano and his ilk that he and Shapiro have the same beliefs when it comes to this country’s identity and future. It only matters that Ben Shapiro is a Jew.

The only way to stop this kind of thinking is to stand together. Until we do, the ideals that our founders believed in will be just that.

Do I recommend it? Without a doubt.

Jews Don’t Count is available wherever books are sold.

I Have a Huge Problem With the Claim that Anne Frank Had “White Privilege”

White privilege is a serious problem, both in the historical sense and in our modern era. The idea that one’s skin tone dictates our opportunities or lack thereof is, unfortunately, in 2022, a problem that we are still wrestling with.

Earlier this week, there was a debate on Twitter as to whether or not Anne Frank had “white privilege“. The person who made this statement is either uneducated about the Holocaust or is deciding to twist the historical facts to fit their own perspective.

Of course, she was white. As were all of the millions of Ashkenazi Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and their co-conspirators. Their skin color meant shit, they were only seen as the other because they were Jewish.

This assertion spits on the memory of Frank and is a harsh reminder of why the Holocaust must not be forgotten.

May Anne’s memory be a blessing and may we truly for once, learn from the past. Z”l.

Helen Mirren, Golda Meir, and the Question of Jewface

Representation both on the screen and on the page is a powerful thing. For those who feel maligned or ignored, seeing themselves in the media as fleshed-out human beings is an experience that can only be described as life-changing. It also changes minds and hopefully opens the door to understanding one another.

When it was recently announced that Helen Mirren is starring in an upcoming Golda Meir biopic, some people accused her of playing Jewface.

I have mixed feelings about this. Golda Meir was Israel‘s first female Prime Minister and a woman to be reckoned with. The actress who plays her has to have that same energy and presence. Mirren is clearly up for the job.

The problem (which I understand) is that Mirren is not Jewish. When she spoke to the director before she took the role, she understood the criticism that was potentially coming her way.

“[Meir] is a very important person in Israeli history,” Mirren continued. “I said, ‘Look Guy, I’m not Jewish, and if you want to think about that, and decide to go in a different direction, no hard feelings. I will absolutely understand.’ But he very much wanted me to play the role, and off we went.”

“I do believe it is a discussion that has to be had – it’s utterly legitimate. [But] You know, if someone who’s not Jewish can’t play Jewish, does someone who’s Jewish play someone who’s not Jewish?”

This is not the first time that she has played a Jewish character. In both The Debt and Woman in Gold, the women she played were of the faith. But neither of the women who she temporarily inhabited were in the position that Meir was in. What I think makes this question of Jewface more complicated is that Ashkenazi Jews (for the most part) are Caucasian. The question of the entertainers’ skin color is less important than their ethnicity or family heritage.

I have no doubt that Helen Mirren will be nothing short of fantastic. I have been a fan of hers for a number of years. My hope is that she will do Golda justice. But for now, we can only wait and see how the movie is received when it hits theaters.

Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family Book Review

The Passover story and the Exodus of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom is a potent one. In one way or another, we can all relate to the idea of breaking free from whatever is holding us back.

Laura Arnold Leibman‘s new book, Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family was published back in August. The book traces the ancestry of Blanche Moses. Moses, whose Jewish-American ancestry goes back to the Revolutionary War, tells the story of her biracial ancestors. Both Jewish (mostly Sephardic with a handful of Ashkenazi) and black, her ancestors had to navigate a world in which they could be doubly ostracized while passing as Caucasian. Living in such different places as New York City, London, and the West Indies, it was akin to a game of chess, in which every move must be calculated before proceeding.

I wanted to like this book. The subject is one that is certainly of interest to me. The problem is that it is slow to read and void of the excitement that I should have had while answering the question that the book asks. While I appreciated this deep dive into a part of Jewish history that is not always in the spotlight, the promises laid out by the author are not met.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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