Ben Katchor, an American cartoonist and illustrator best known for his critically acclaimed comic strip Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, begins The Dairy Restaurant (Schocken Books, 2020) with the Garden of Eden story. He speculates whether Adam and Eve were the world’s first vegetarians, and we follow his journey through time to America’s ubiquitous Jewish dairy restaurants – and their ultimate demise.
With his humorous illustrations on nearly every page, Katchor presents an extraordinary range of facts, from the curative properties of milk and vegetarianism to the reason Jewish religious law prohibits consuming meat and milk together to the origins of the first public restaurants in France. He also explains why dairy products are linked to the spring Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot, and he gives a shout out to Sholom Aleichem’s most famous fictional character, Tevye the Dairyman.
Dairy restaurants, especially in New York City, expanded as millions of Jews arrived on our shores from Eastern Europe between 1882 and 1924. These eateries were believed to be healthy, sanitary, and affordable alternatives to venues that served meat and poultry.
My father Philip Rudin was the son of Samuel, a bootmaker, and his wife Rose. They immigrated to Pittsburgh from Belarus at the turn of the 20th century. But because hand made boots were not in fashion for most Americans of that era, my grandfather was compelled to open a grocery store in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Young Philip lived behind the store with seven other family members.
After attending Schenley High School, my father graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Dental School in 1925. A year later, he married my librarian mother, Beatrice Rosenbloom, an Allegheny High School alumna.
The daughter of Louis Rosenbloom, Beatrice and six other family members lived above her father’s clothing store at 856 East Ohio Street near Chestnut Street on Pittsburgh’s “Nor Side” – the area north of the Allegheny River. Louis and Beatrice’s stepmother, Jenny, were born in Lithuania.
In his new book The Survival of the Jews in France, 1940-44 (Oxford Press), Jacques Semelin, professor emeritus of history and political science at the Paris Institute of Political Science, focuses on a frequently overlooked statistic: 240,000 of the 320,000 Jews living in France in 1940 survived the war within that nation’s borders.
After the French armed forces and national government quickly collapsed when Nazi Germany invaded in May 1940, the conquerors divided France into a German-occupied area in the north and a pro-Nazi Vichy regime, the “Free Zone,” in the south. In both regions, French police and gendarmes were zealous in rounding up Jews for deportation “to the East,” a euphemism for German death camps.
A horrific example of French collaboration with the Nazis was the July 1942 roundup in Paris of 8,160 Jews. Before being deported, they were incarcerated for five days under appalling conditions at the Velodrome d’Hiver, an indoor sports stadium. The roundup shocked many people because it included women and children; fewer than 100 survived the war.
Semelin, an expert on the Holocaust and civil resistance, focuses on how Jews “survived” the Holocaust by devising strategies and actions, such as fleeing Paris and moving to the sparsely populated countryside in the Free Zone, acquiring false names and identity papers, posing as Catholics, being hidden by non-Jews, and “blending in” with the general population.
Hatred of Jews and Judaism is the world’s oldest social pathology, and Andrew Goldberg’s PBS-TV documentary Viral: Anti-Semitism in Four Mutations (airing in the U.S. on May 26) presents important new insights into this omnipresent odium.
For Goldberg, whose parents were members of Chicago’s Emanuel Congregation, this will be his fourteenth documentary, and as he told me, this one is intensely personal. During the three years required to complete the 90-minute program, acts of virulent, often-murderous antisemitism sharply increased in the United States and Europe.
Goldberg posits that antisemitism has nothing to do with Jews or with Jewish or Israeli behavior. It is, rather, a deep-seated, age-old pathological answer to the question: Why are bad things happening to me? It can't be my fault; someone else must be seeking to hurt me. Blame “the Jews,” then – who, anti-Semites claim, control the world. His documentary focuses on four current “hot spots” of deep-seated antisemitism: the traditional far right; Hungary and its state sponsored antisemitism; the emergence of far left; and the rise of Islamic radicalism.
During World War II, I loved reading 10-cent comic books and trading them with friends. I was especially infatuated with Superman, Batman, and Robin because they were fervent American patriots and fiercely anti-Nazi in their extraordinary exploits.
My fascination with those superheroes grew when I learned that two young Jewish men, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, created Superman in 1938 and gave him the Hebrew-sounding birth name “Kal-El.” A year later, another Jewish duo, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, became the literary and artistic creators of Batman.
After the war, my comic book heroes pivoted toward combatting criminals and other villains menacing Superman’s “Metropolis” and Batman’s “Gotham City.” The motives of these two fearless fighters were pure, their morality unquestioned, their emotional lives unexamined. Consequently, their stories became all too predictable.
That squeaky-clean image of the superhero changed in the 1960s, when New Yorker Stanley Lieber (a.k.a. Stan Lee) transformed the comic book genre by co-creating edgy, sensitive, morose, emotionally challenged characters such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men, and Fantastic Four for Marvel Comics. As their chief writer, editor, director, and producer for decades, he helped to turn Marvel into an economic and cultural powerhouse.
The modern state of Israel came into existence in 1948, but the forces that led to Jewish sovereignty after nearly 2,000 years of exile were set in motion 70 years earlier.
Here are 10 major historical events that culminated in Jewish statehood.
1. Leon Pinkser writes Auto-Emancipation (1879)A number of Eastern European Jews reacted to the Russian tsar’s virulent antisemitism by forming Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion), which envisioned the return of Jews to their rightful biblical homeland with Jewish settlement in Palestine as their number one priority.
They were officially constituted as an organization in 1884 at conference led by Leon Pinsker, a Hovevei Zion leader and author of Auto-Emancipation (1879), which historians regard as the founding document of the modern Zionist movement.
A widely believed myth is that Adolf Hitler was a unique personal aberration in history and his Nazi movement with its reign of terror was a one and done occurrence that lacked any real foundational ideology.
Such a belief is not only false, but is dangerous thinking argues Robert Gellately in his new book Hitler’s True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis (Oxford University Press).
Gellately, a Florida State University history professor, describes in 428 carefully researched pages how Hitler cunningly drew upon three “preexisting conditions” within the German body politic to first legally gain political power in 1933 and then quickly move to bend the overwhelming majority of Germans to his will.
The weak and little-loved post-WWI Weimar Republic provided few democratic “guardrails” during Hitler’s rise to power. Gellately argues that three long extant forces in Germany – rabid nationalism, a right-wing form of socialism, and virulent antisemitism – paved the path for Hitler’s rise to power. Each force was deeply embedded within pre-Nazi German life and was systematically weaponized by Hitler.
Nearly a century after his death, the name Harry Houdini still evokes in biographer Adam Begley’s words: a “…spellbinding performer who carved out for himself a niche in show business history by escaping from every conceivable restraint and … mystify millions of people who still cannot solve the mystery of how he did it.”
The “it” was the extraordinary number of times that Houdini, in death defying feats, extricated himself from of a combination of body restraints, including straitjackets, handcuffs, metal chains, body manacles, and diving bells.
In Houdini: The Elusive American, Adam Begley, the former books editor for the New York Observer and a Guggenheim Fellow, tells the remarkable story of how a Hungarian-born rabbi’s son achieved global fame as the world’s greatest magician and the master of “self liberation.”
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