Category Archives: opinion

Remembering Zalman Shoshi (“Zlotta”)

Zalman_ST_09

I knew Zalman Shoshi fairly well. I lived in Israel when it was against the law to be gay and the police preyed on us nightly wherever we met. Shoshi never let it bother her—she was in and out of jail all of the time and always had great stories and we would see with her what was then Kikar Malchi Yisrael now renamed Rabin Square and laugh WITH her for hours. She was “Zlotta” to us—she loved that Yiddish name and loved to be the center of attention. She died last week at age 60 and I tried to find a way to memorialize her but could not find the words. Then I saw this and it said all I wanted to say so I am copying it just as it was printed.

“NO LGBT PERSON SHOULD EVER FEEL LONELY

Author: Amit Alexander Lev

Source: GoGay

Published: July 18, 2016

 

Everybody knew “Zalman Shoshi,” but no one wanted to be near him. Amit Alexander Lev eulogizes the man who changed LGBT life in Israel forever, and paid the price of isolation from society.

Almost everyone who grew up in Israel in the 1990s knew the name “Zalman Shoshi.” Zalman Winder, known as Zalman Shoshi, “this transvestite” was a generic name for almost any gay or transgender person, and not for nothing. Zalman, who was born shortly after the founding of the state of Israel, was a household name, but never in a positive way. He represented in our household the other, the different, the grotesque. This man wanted to wear women’s clothes, to be the transvestite who sells his body in Tel Baruch.

Even when I grew up, even before I realized I was gay, his name has represented the forbidden. He represented who we don’t want to be. You do not want to be effeminate and ridiculous like Zalman Shoshi, God forbid you don’t want to find yourself on Tel Baruch beach, pressing against men, dressed and made up as a woman.

But Zalman didn’t have an easy life. If today, in 2016, it’s not easy to be LGBT in Israel, living in the ’50s and’ 60s was probably much worse. If today we can come out easily, it is because Zalman Shoshi, and several others more anonymous than he was, paved the a way with their bodies, literally. The body which he sold in order to finance the renovation of the Aguda house, back in the day, on Nahmani Street in Tel Aviv, for example. The body that suffered humiliation because he dared to be who he wanted to be, despite being told it was forbidden.

Perhaps the word “dare” is too big. Perhaps Zalman didn’t dare – he just had no choice. And perhaps he had a choice, and he chose to be the vertex point so that we can all stand behind it and say we’re okay, we’re normal. Either way, the change that Zalman brought, willingly or not, is impossible to ignore.

I didn’t know him personally, but his life circumstances were plastered in newspapers all the time, and did not reflect a particularly beautiful reality. From a difficult childhood, sexual exploitation, living in prostitution, and isolation – a lot of living in solitude. “It’s not so hard to be a prostitute, it’s not so hard to be a transvestite and it’s not so hard for me to be gay – it’s the loneliness that’s hard. Solitude is the most difficult thing for a man,” he once said in an interview.

Today, in 2016, I want to be naive and say that no one should suffer loneliness, certainly not in light of being LGBT. But I know this is naive, and I know we are not there yet. So all that remains for me is to hope that we have the sense to not miss people, that we can help those who need help and that we should not let anyone drown in life’s circumstances”.

“Hannah Arendt and Theology” by John Kiess— Theology and Thought

hannah arend and theology

Kiess, John. “Hannah Arendt and Theology”, (Philosophy and Theology), Bloomsbury, 2016.

Theology and Thought

Amos Lassen

Hannah Arendt is regarded as one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century and she has kept that standing even with the controversy that came as a result of her coverage of the trial of Adolph Eichmann for “The New Yorker” magazine. She is famous for her work on totalitarianism and her book about it is still required reading in history degree programs on many campuses. However, her real came with her coinage of the term “the banality of evil” and I am sure there are those who are familiar with the concept without knowing that this came from Arendt who is found at number 38 on the list of women read today in academia. She is also noted for her work regarding the Holocaust, statelessness and human rights, revolutions and democratic movements as well as for her studies on the various challenges of modern technological society. She went through a period in which the world seemed to be angry at her but in recent years, we have seen a growing appreciation of her work especially concerning the complex relationship to theological sources, namely Augustine, the subject of her doctoral dissertation and a thinker with whom she contended throughout her life.

This new book explores how Arendt’s critical and constructive engagements with theology inform her broader thought, as well as the on-going debates that her work brings about in contemporary Christian theology on such topics as evil, tradition, love, political action, and the life of the mind. What we see is a very unique interdisciplinary investigation that brings together Arendt studies, political philosophy, and Christian theology. “Hannah Arendt and Theology” looks at how the insights and provocations of this public intellectual aid in setting a constructive theological agenda for the twenty-first century.

Although I have not always agreed with her, I must state that there is no doubt in my mind that Arendt was a brilliant mind that certainly advanced philosophical thought. She was gifted with the ability to be able to reframe questions about how we should live and thus pushed us into rethinking that which we thought we knew. I cannot even begin to think about how many discussions I have had in my life about Arendt and I see her work as essential. One would probably suppose that if her work is so essential, then she must be easy to understand and that is simply not true.
This is where the value of this book comes in. Writer John Kiess gives us clear understandings of Arendt’s theological thought and leads us clearly to understand the interrelation between Arendt and the importance of her work in the fields of religion and theology.

Just a year old ago I taught a course on Arendt and her banality of evil as it affects and effect the Jewish community and had I had this book then, my class preparation would have been so much easier. However, one of the pleasures of dealing with Arendt is the ideological arguments I would have with myself about what she had to say. One thing I learned years ago is that contrary to what some members of the Jewish community have said— that she was an anti-Semitic Jew is most definitely not true. She never left her Judaism and she acknowledged it especially with the brouhaha that came into being with the publications in the New Yorker about the Eichmann and trial and later with the publication of “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”. And do not think that I have not been chided by members of my own Jewish community for standing up for Arendt when few others dared to.

In looking at theology, Arendt is difficult to stay away from and it is very easy to distort what she had to say. She was complicated and she was implicit when it came to traditional matters and concerns. A book like this has been needed for a long time and Kiess gives us a comprehensive, well integrated, and dialogical reading of Arendt and theology and I sure that is especially welcome for readers of Christian theology. There is a lot to think about and to me that is what makes a book worthwhile. Below is the table of contents:

Acknowledgments

Abbreviations

Introduction

Ch. 1 A Public Philosopher: The Life and Thought of Hannah Arendt

Ch. 2 The Problem of Evil Reconsidered

Ch. 3 Amor Mundi: Worldliness, Love, and Citizenship

Ch. 4 “That a Beginning Be Made”: Natality, Action, and the Politics of Gratitude

Ch. 5 In the Region of the Spirit: Thinking Between Past and Future

Notes

Index

Announcement from Calamus Bookstore owner Brian Gale:

Calamus Book Store

Announcement from Calamus Bookstore owner Brian Gale:

Calamus Bookstore, one of the last remaining exclusive LGBTQ Bookstores has been an important part of the community since its founding a decade and a half ago. Like many specialty bookstores, Calamus is not the thriving place it once was, and as a business, the bottom line must determine the viability and future of the enterprise.
We appreciate your continued support, but given the current economic climate, and the changed nature of the marketplace, it’s clear Calamus must adapt or close permanently. Thus, in order to keep Calamus going in some form, we must fundamentally change. This brings me to my request: first, your continued patronage is essential, and second, going forth, we are in need of some help from folks with specific skill sets.
Anyone with Marketing and Website expertise would be needed. Also, someone with experience in media production, as the new venture will be heavy on video/audio and linked content. Our budget is tight, so volunteer help or students looking for experience to build their resume/CV would be best.
Please, if you are a possible candidate to help, please be in touch. Also, please share this email with anyone you think would be a possible fit.
Thanks! Brian

Rabbis Speak at Conference on Gays in Orthodoxy

rabbi1

Rabbis Speak at Conference on Gays in Orthodoxy

This week there was a major event in modern Jewish history—a group of modern Orthodox rabbis have done what advocates for Orthodox gays and lesbians say would have been unthinkable as recently as five years ago: They spoke at a conference on the treatment of gay, lesbian and transgender people in Orthodox communities. Present were four prominent Orthodox rabbis who participated in “Faith, Desire and Psychotherapy”, a conference held April 19 at Columbia University that marked the first time rabbis and mental health researchers came together in a public discussion about homosexuality and Orthodoxy. A similar discussion was held in 2009 at Yeshiva University but without Orthodox rabbinic participation.

Regarding gays and lesbians, change has come slowly to the Orthodox community. Actually the Orthodox maintain that homosexual relationships are forbidden under Jewish law (halacha). Therefore there is great tension between the limitations of religious law and the inclusivity that is sought by gay Jewish activists and those that support them and this was addressed at the conference. Present were some 120 social workers, therapists, students and rabbis. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin who is the former president of the centrist Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of America stated that the we live in a world where people care about people. This is one of the values of Judaism and denying that is not good.

Other speakers included Rabbi Mark Dratch, the RCA’s executive vice president; Rabbi Shaul Robinson, the leader of the Modern Orthodox Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York; and Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, a faculty member at the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. There were other important Orthodox Jews present as observors. Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the former executive vice president of the Orthodox Union who also holds a doctorate in psychology. He says the reason he attended was to learn more about the situation and what was going on. He further remarked that there is no endorsement for any specific program now and the situation is simply be studied at the present (and this is still a good more than it would have been say, even five years ago).

rabbi2

In 2010, Rabbi Nathaniel Helga authored a declaration, signed by over 100 Orthodox rabbis, which called for the inclusion of gays as “full members” of the Orthodox community. The statement emphasized that while Jewish law forbids gay sex, it “does not prohibit orientations or feelings of same-sex attraction, and nothing in the Torah devalues the human beings who struggle with them.” There was a rebuttal from over 200 Orthodox rabbis and it was called the Torah Declaration. In it homosexual inclinations are described as being “changeable.” At this latest conference, this was rejected by mental health professionals, namely Jack Drescher, who has helped develop the American Psychiatric Association’s positions on sex and gender diagnoses, and Warren Throckmorton, a prominent former supporter of conversion therapy who now condemns it.

Quite expectedly, the rabbis present were uneasy. Dratch stated the he spoke only for himself and not for the Rabbinical Council of America while Goldin said that he had already been contacted by one or maybe two of his Orthodox colleagues who were at the conference. Goldin believes that being labeled causes fear and went on to state that by opening up for discussions like these could affect how rabbis are seen.

Work on this conference had actually been going on for two years. Psychologist Alan Slomowitz discovered two years ago that the only research being done in the Jewish community was done by groups which favor the gay movement and so he teamed up with Levovitz and fellow psychologist Allison Feit to plan the conference. Levovitz does not think that being gay or transgender is in conflict with religious Orthodox principles or that that should be a change in halacha. The rabbis present agreed with him that if” a gay person wants to be part of the Orthodox community or not, he or she should be supported and encouraged.” He went on to say that the Orthodox movement tries to be as inclusive as possible but there is the question as to how to go about this without approving the behavior. The idea is to “show love and show that people are fully part of the community.“ Obviously there is no one answer.

“The Decent One,” Heinrich Himmler: Dedicated family man— A Brilliant Review

the decent one

“The Decent One,” Heinrich Himmler: Dedicated family man

A Brilliant Review

 by: ERIC A. GORDON

october 20 2014

 A friend of mine sent me this beautiful review–if you remember I also reviewed this haunting film.

In her analysis of the Adolf Eichmann trial more than 50 years ago, writer Hannah Arendt referred to the “banality of evil” as the crushing ordinariness of everyday life while atrocities of unprecedented proportion are not only going on all around you, but you are actively perpetrating them.

I have no doubt that her pointing to this troubling disconnect in our thinking processes helped guide a generation of (mostly) young protesters toward opposing the Vietnam War. Not even a full generation after the end of World War II, when we thought the global community had said “Never again!” here were our own leaders, in the U.S. and other countries, doing what disturbingly looked like pretty much the same thing.

It is that very ordinariness that film director Vanessa Lapa addresses in her new documentary The Decent One that focuses on the life of Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS and among Adolf Hitler’s innermost circle of loyalists. Himmler headed the Gestapo and ruthlessly pursued any perceived enemy of the Third Reich, showing mercy to few. He was one of the principal designers of death camps, working closely with scientists and administrators to ensure that his beloved German officers and soldiers could be spared the headache of having to personally execute Jews and other undesirables in mass killings. That’s where gas came in so handy.

Using all archival footage without questionable “reenactments,” but with some added sound (running motors, explosions, music), Lapa surveys the early, not particularly distinguished life of her subject, gradually revealing how infected he was (banally, of course, along with millions of others, and not just in Germany) by the casual anti-Semitism and muscular, militaristic masculinity that defined Aryan ideology. In relatively short time, Himmler rose in the Nazi hierarchy owing to his efficiency and effectiveness as his responsibilities increased.

Where Lapa uses original film work, it is to pan over the hundreds of diaries and letters that Himmler and his family exchanged over the course of some 20 years – mostly with his wife Marga and daughter Gudrun – while voiceovers relate the banalities of love and courtship, parenting, sibling relationships, work routines and vacations, holiday plans and gifts. All bathed in a wash of tender embraces and kisses from “Heini.”

The story of where this cache of documents came from remains somewhat mysterious. It is surmised that at the end of the war, some Allied soldiers, acting against orders, appropriated Himmler’s personal effects from his home in Gmund, and sold them. (Himmler committed suicide on May 23, 1945, with a cyanide capsule shortly after being captured in the final days of the war.) Eventually the papers wound up in Tel Aviv, where they languished untouched for years.

Finally Lapa’s father purchased the collection for the purpose of allowing this film to be made. Paired with film clips from 151 different sources, both family and institutional, the resulting 94-minute documentary, a 2014 Israel/Austria/Germany production, in German with English subtitles, is grippingly eerie.

Himmler personified Nazi doctrine in his abhorrence of weakness and homosexuality, his petty bourgeois standards for gender roles (submissive wife, obedient children), his hatred for Jews and Communists. (Viewers will hear a brief clip of “The Internationale” accompanying the scene of a Berlin street rally.) Above all, he loved his German nation, fantasized about the impeccable Aryan morality of the race-pure medieval commonwealth, and wholly identified with the mystical cleansing role the German nation was ordered by history to play in the world.

For someone as punctilious as Himmler, he does show his personal lapses. Disturbed that his (older) wife had given him only one child, when the ruling ideology was to build up the nation with a much higher birthrate than that, Himmler takes on a mistress, by whom he has another two children. And toward the end, after Stalingrad, after the inexorable retreat back home, German cities being bombed into submission, Himmler is still writing upbeat letters reflecting blithe certainty that his side will win.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Lapa’s film certainly does not “humanize” Himmler in his frankly unremarkable family devotion, but only points up how unrecognizable he is as the man who could at one and the same time be one of the great masterminds of Nazism. Is he truly a freak of nature, a moral Frankenstein? Or is he simply opaque to us, like the strangler or serial killer – or bankster or corporate rapist of the Earth – who, it turns out, lives next door, or even in our own house?

Among the memorabilia my Dad nabbed in the course of his service in the Counterintelligence Corps were a few telegrams sent to a regional Gauleiter by leading Nazi officials, congratulating him on the birth of his new son. They were of scant historical significance and I wondered what to do with them. Eventually I turned them over to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust as examples of precisely the kind of “banality” to which these criminally misguided individuals were allowed to rise.

Through it all, Himmler indulges in self-congratulation, emphasizing at every turn how well his officers treat animals, even the “subhuman” ones. Even their plan for a Final Solution of the Jewish Question was in their minds a generous act of decency on behalf of the Aryan nation and the future of the world. It is no exaggeration to say that I squirmed with discomfort and shame for the cognitively dissonant human race at more than one point in the film.

As Himmler writes home from Warsaw, Riga, Lemberg and other cities where he’s traveled to supervise the war, all I could think of was the Kurt Weill song “What did the soldier’s wife receive?” (“Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib?”), written in 1943 to a poem by Bertolt Brecht. From Prague she received high-heeled shoes, from Oslo a little fur piece, from Amsterdam a fine Dutch hat, lace from Belgium, a silken gown from Paris, an embroidered smock from Bucharest. And from vast Russia? The soldier’s wife received the widow’s veil.

This haunting film, now in theaters, recently won the best documentary award at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

 

Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad

 

Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad

NEW YORK, NY – Oct. 23, 2014 – Facebook canceled ads purchased for the new book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” this week because the images “may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers.”

The book features art by Doug Blanchard showing Jesus as a gay man in a modern city, including the crucifixion and resurrection.

“We are fighting what appears to be censorship and discrimination based on sexual orientation at Facebook,” said author Kittredge Cherry.

Blanchard suspects that complaints from religious conservatives scared Facebook into canceling the ads. He bought the ads to promote the book’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/GayPassion

“The book is indeed controversial, but its intentions are not blasphemous, there is no sexual content, and the violence is unavoidable in any retelling of Christ’s Passion,” he said.

The artist, author and publisher contacted Lambda Legal over the matter.

The ads were supposed to run for a week starting on Oct. 17, but Facebook shut down the promotion on Monday, Oct. 20. A message from Facebook explained, “Your ad wasn’t approved because the image or video thumbnail may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers.”

Blanchard complained to Facebook, and they sent a surprising reply on Wed., Oct 22: “Your ad was rejected because the image violates the Ad Guidelines. Ads may not use images that are shocking. Prohibited images include: -Accidents -Car crashes -Dead or dismembered bodies -Ghosts, zombies, ghouls and vampires.”

One purpose of the book is to reawaken people to the reality that violence is unacceptable and shocking. But the artist and author believe that Facebook is being unfair in how it applies its policy.

“Facebook publishes crucifixes all the time, which would always violate the criteria that they lay out in their reply,” Blanchard said. “Why was our book singled out? I suspect strongly that it is because of the gay content.”

Cherry invited people to show support by “liking” the page that Facebook won’t let them advertise: https://www.facebook.com/GayPassion.

In the book’s 24 paintings, a contemporary Christ figure is jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes, and rises again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God. His diverse friends join him on a journey from suffering to freedom. Each image is accompanied by an essay on its artistic and historical context, Biblical basis and LGBT significance.

Douglas Blanchard is a gay artist who teaches art and art history at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian author and art historian who founded JesusInLove.org, an online resource for LGBT spirituality and the arts. She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches.

“The Passion of Christ” (ISBN 194067140X) was published this month by the Apocryphile Press, a publisher based in Berkeley.

###

* Book website: www.passionofchristbook.com
* Artist website: www.douglas-blanchard.fineartamerica.com
* Author website: www.jesusinlove.org
* Publisher website: www.apocryphile.org

Contacts:
Kittredge Cherry, kitt@JesusInLove.org
Doug Blanchard, counterlight@earthlink.net

“THE HO– USE OF ROTHSCHILD”—Dealing with Anti-Semitism in the Movies

 hr

“The House of Rothschild”

Dealing with Anti-Semitism in the Movies

Amos Lassen

Some of you might wonder why I am reviewing a film that was released in 1934 and the answer is quite simple. Lately we have seen an overt rise in anti-Semitism all over the world and while reading about this; I decided to have a look at the image of the Jew as portrayed in some of the classic films that have come out. “The House of Rothschild” is one of those films and it actually won the Academy Award as best film in the year it was released. It has almost been a standing argument as to why filmmakers have not dealt with Nazism and anti-Semitism in the movies. There are those that say that the heads of Hollywood studios did not want controversy while others have said that it is probably because the industry moguls were Jews themselves and they did not want to bring attention to who they were. And there were others who claim that economics played a role in it and that American movie studios had strong financial interests in Germany and did not want to make anyone angry. And then there are those that say that films about the subject would indeed stir up more anti-Semitism. Finally there was the Motion Picture Association’s Production Code Office whose responsibility it was to self-censor.

Then in 1933, Darryl F. Zanuck decided to take on Nazism and anti-Semitism at his new studio, Twentieth Century Pictures, and took an idea from actor George Arliss and produced “The House of Rothschild.” Now we have to think about who would make a movie about a Jewish banking family at the time that the Nazi party was picking up strength in Germany and the reaction was that this picture was one that no one who was Jewish wanted to see made. Zanuck, however, was not Jewish and wished to attack anti-Semitism and against all kinds of resistance he made the film. If we pay attention to the listings on television we see that “The House of Rothschild” is airing on the Turner Classic Movies channel, as part of the month-long series, “The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film.”

This is a movie that has been by and large forgotten and was misunderstood by many. George Arliss plays two parts— father and son Mayer and Nathan Rothschild. As Mayer Amschel, some see him as anti-Semitic.  We see him playing with coins and trying to find a way not to pay taxes. This does not promote a comfortable feeling. However, this is the reality of the way things were.

As we learn more of the family’s predicament and the excessive restrictions and attacks brought on the residents of Jew Street in the ghetto, we soon understand and we empathize with Mayer, his wife and five sons. Arliss and Zanuck took wanted to create a sympathetic portrait of Mayer and to show him as a Jew who was a persecuted minority and deprived of rights.

In order to cover any possible bad feelings by the audience toward the family, the film introduced a fictional anti-Semite, Prussian Count Ledrantz,  (Boris Karloff). In watching the film from beginning to end, Zanuck wanted to show that the restrictions that were put on Jews were discriminatory. Jews were attacked just because they were Jews but despite this they were many Jews like the Rothschilds who went after their dreams and they were able to become successful and wealthy.  Even though the film was set in Bavaria of the 18th and 19th century, American audiences understood its contemporary anti-Nazi message, some even believing it to be too pro-Semitic.

American Jews were well aware of the growing strength of the Nazis as Germany’s economic woes got worse, but Hitler’s defeat in 1932 provided some relief and many considered Nazism as a fringe group. When Hitler was named Chancellor just a few months later and democratic Germany overnight became a totalitarian state, we were shocked. There was a heightened sense of concern among those who oversaw Jewish communal life when Nazi propaganda was making its way to America. Those in the movie industry were well aware of this.

Work on “The House of Rothschild,” began just months after Hitler’s rise to power and at a time of great anxiety about rising anti-Semitism in America is important here. Many things came into play–the depressed economy, the need for a start-up film company to have important and press-worthy films and a developing Jewish communal structure was not sure how to make itself heard.

 The film is the story of the rise of the Rothschild financial empire founded by Mayer Rothschild and continued by his five sons. From humble beginnings the business grows and helps to finance the war against Napoleon, but it was not always easy, especially because of the prejudices against Jews. We see a sign stating that on Jew Street “All Jews must be inside the Jew Street by Sundown, Chancellor of Prussia.”
 The rest is for you to see in the film itself.

“Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer” by Bettina Stengneth— Another Look at Evil without Banality

eichmann

Stangneth, Bettina. “Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer”, translated by Ruth Martin, Knopf, 2014.

Another Look at Evil without Banality

Amos Lassen

Hannah Arendt shocked the world with her idea that evil could be banal. It is quite scary to think that something as horrible as genocide could be perpetrated by simple people who are not evil or bad intrinsically. Arendt claimed that there was another moral category after she observed the trial of Adolf Eichmann as he was questioned about his role in the Holocaust and this is what eventually became her theory that caused a tremendous backlash from which she was never able to recover. I just finished teaching a course in which I maintained that much of what Arendt had to say has since proven to be true and now I am eating humble pie. Of course this new book was not yet published and, in fact, I had not heard that it was even in the process of being written. When Arendt published her book some 50 years ago, critics assumed that by trying to understand Eichmann’s particular kind of evil, Arendt was somehow excusing his actions. Since then there have been ongoing debates as to whether evil can indeed be banal and it seemed that Arendt had the last word on the subject. She had shaped the way we understand man. Now Bettina Stangneth, an independent German philosopher living in Hamburg, has just completely overturned conventional wisdom about the man Arendt observed  in Jerusalem in the glass cage.

Her book, “Eichmann Before Jerusalem,” shows that Eichmann was a hugely successful liar and a performer who managed somehow to convince Arendt and many others that he had no motive other than advancing his career and that he was simply following orders. Stangneth has uncovered Eichmann’s own writings from before his capture in Argentina that prove him to have been deeply anti-Semitic and very committed to the Nazi’s war on race; that he was, indeed, an ideologue who knew and understood exactly what he was doing. What we see here is damning new evidence that will change the way we think not only about Eichmann but also about Hannah Arendt, one of the brilliant minds of the modern age.

Every book that has been written since the Eichmann trial has been a dialogue with Hannah Arendt. Arendt was the only observer of the Eichmann trial in 1961 in Jerusalem who saw the fundamental ethical problems it presented. What she discovered is very important when looking at evil. The term “banality of evil” is an important concept in modern times. Her discovery of an important concept of evil — the banality of evil — is indispensable for discussions about modern crimes. She provided us with what we need to know to understand evil and that alone is a tremendous contribution. We cannot, by any means, ignore what she had to say.

Arendt’s characterized Eichmann in this way: “Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all. And this diligence in itself was in no way criminal….” Arendt could not find any sign of ideological convictions or specific evil motives in Eichmann. We now know that he had a strong ideological conviction as well as criminal motives. How could anyone claim that a man who would not deny that the clear decision to kill millions of people and continued to lecture about anti-Semitism to his colleagues and create institutions that had no aim but to realize mass murders are could be anything less than evil and criminal? What is disturbing about Eichmann is that he had the ability to use great diligence so that others would realize that he was indeed a murderer. He understood that the “inability to think” was something very useful. Without it, crimes of the state would be impossible, because one would never find enough convinced helpers. Eichmann understood that he had to use normal men and women. It seems that Eichmann understood the concept of the “banality of evil” very, very well.

It is possible to have people who are simply parts of an evil and murderous machine and seek just a regular life and are not concerned with the larger picture of which they are part. However a machine that murders is more than just the sum of its parts; engineers must make the machine run. When the crimes are completed, the engineer can then pretend to be just a worker and hide behind those that actually made the machine function.

Arendt was obviously very taken with Eichmann at the trial and this also says something about others who watched it. There were those who saw Eichmann as a sad and pathetic weak man. Another reporter saw him as a buffoon and many agreed with these two depictions. Arendt repeated these descriptions and people were aghast. In 1961, Eichmann seemed to be a man without his own thoughts and convictions. When Arendt restated this in 1963, it provoked a scandal. This tells us that Arendt was not willing to deny the public astonishment of the year 1961; she wanted to understand it.

Some of us seem to have forgotten that Life Magazine published Eichmann’s memoirs in 1970 that included statements he made while living in exile in Argentina. But we could not discern his true nature from them. There seemed to be some kind of camouflage. There is the statement that in 1950 he told a reporter that he met in a bar in Buenos Aires and the world who he was and it was regarded as nonsense. In the newspapers of Argentina there was the testimony of a large project conducted by a group of Nazis to bring the idea of National Socialism back to power. Eichmann, himself, was a part of this group and he was consulted because of what he knew firsthand about the “Jewish question.” Members of the group wrote their own drafts for discussions, and Eichmann planned to publish his own book together with Willem Sassen, who was the head of this supposed club of historians. Right there in the Argentinean Press is the portrait of a radical Nazi group with incredible international connections, as well as Eichmann’s thoughts and eloquence that he did not mention in his trial in Jerusalem.

We cannot deny that Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” is a brilliant report of the trial. However, Arendt was a political philosopher, and philosophers cannot write about anything without philosophical interest. Some called this a kind of weakness or a mistake but it is an excellent way to write history.

In this new book, Eichmann, the man is secondary to evil and to the lies he told. Stangneth states that it was not her goal to write about Eichmann— she had agreed with Arendt and had read everything about him up until the year 2000. It was then that many unused sources were discovered and she began to consider the man, but from the philosophical point of view. She attributes her ability to write this book to the great philosophers that preceded her—and she includes Arendt along with Aristotle and Kant. We must understand that thought is unlike any other subject studied. Thought cannot be isolated in a laboratory or left behind and then picked up again. Thought enters the mind of the thinker and he studies it. With Eichmann there was a bit of a tremendous difference. Philosophers must examine dangerous thoughts of dangerous people and in this process we arrive at Eichmann before Jerusalem and a duel of philosophies and a breakdown of philosophical power.

Post # 8000— A Meditation on Peace

shalom

This is my post number 8000 which means that there are 7.900 review posts here and several others. I wanted it to be something special and I decided that with the war in Israel and Gaza going on as I write perhaps a nice poem about peace would do it. Here it is—let’s hope for the best.

When Peace Comes: A Meditation

Alden Solovy

 When peace comes,

When the tunnels are gone and the walls come down,

When we sing together as brothers and sisters,

We will remember these days of sorrow and grief,

Of rockets and terror,

Of longing and despair,

As a memorial to those who were lost,

As a remembrance of our mourning,

As a monument to our yearning,

On the road to wholeness,

On the road to wisdom,

On the road to our days of rejoicing.

 

Oh you children of Abraham,

You sons and daughters of Sarah and Hagar,

What will you become?

How long before shalom and salaam

Echo in these hills,

In these valleys and on these shores,

As shouts of awe and amazement?

How long before we remember

To hold each other dear?

 

One God,

Maker of All,

Banish war from our midst.

Speedily bring forth justice, understanding and love.

Bind these wounds and heal our hearts.

On that day the children of Isaac

And the children of Ishmael

Will dance as one.

Joy will rise to heaven

And gladness will fill the earth.