Thanks: A DC Poem

For U.S.A. chagim
We love July Fourth
Memorial Day’s meaning
And Labor Day’s worth
Veteran’s Day’s solemn
MLK Day’s inspiring
Columbus Day is about an explorer not tiring
But of all of these days
When our offices rest,
We all should agree
That Thanksgiving’s the best.

It’s the food
It’s the family
It’s an ancestral vision
Even though most of us
Aren’t related to Pilgrims
So with belly’s a-swollen
With victuals digestible
Here are some of the figures
That we thank at our table

We’re thankful for donors,
Volunteers and teachers,
Subscribers, new members
And fitness goal reachers.
We’re thankful for films
For Authorial speakers
For treadmill addicts
Who wear-out their sneakers.
We’re thankful for Circles,
Scott, Dupont and Logan
Thanks for the ‘hood
Someone named “Borderstan

Of course we are thankful
for our partners, Federation.
For synagogue rabbis
And all congregations:
Like Bet Mish and Micah
DC Minyan and Adas
Wash-Hebrew and T.I.
With religious org status
Kesher, Sinai, Ohev
For the ‘gogue on Sixth Street
Rosh Pina and wherever more than
10 Jews can meet

Thank you Vince Gray
And to the government of DC
From our rep Jack Evans
To our local ANC.
For the folks on the Hill,
Boehner, Cantor and Reid,
It not just thanks
But a deal that you need.
Once the debt deal is done
Or before if you’re open,
Thanks, please give a vote
To Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Thanks for Obama,
And Mitt and Newt too,
We’ll see who’s most thankful
In Twenty, One-Two.
And Occupy K Street
And Tea Party Nation
And David Petraeus
And Alex Ovechkin.

Thanks to the Nats,
The Skins and the Caps
The Wizards get thanks
When the lockout gets scrapped.
So thanks to Rex Grossman,
Davey Johnson, Mike Rizzo
The Shanahan clan,
And bald Bruce Boudreau.

Thanks Michael Kaiser
A toast to Todd Gray
Thanks Reggie Love,
Who is going away.
Thanks City Paper and
The Post’s Reliable Source
Thanks weather-guy Bob Ryan
And Nat’s Slugger Mike Morse.

Thanks Wale, thanks Kojo
Thanks Hilda Solis
Thanks Justice Kagan
And the Metro Police.
Thanks Dr. Jill Biden,
And George Pelecanos,
Thanks Ezra Klein
Welcome home Wilson Ramos.

Give thanks for the thanks
That you know that you’re due.
Give thanks for the J
Cause we give thanks for you.

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After Rich Iott: Playing Nazis and Writing Like Survivors

Rich Iott dressed as a member of the Waffen SS

Rich Iott, second from right, in a Nazi SS Waffen uniform

There was a gasp of disbelief when it became known that Rich Iott, a Republican candidate for Congress in Ohio, enjoyed dressing up as a member of the Waffen/SS as part of historical reenactments of World War II battles. Mr. Iott’s subsequent defense of his hobby and appreciation of the over-achieving German military has not done him any favors. Nor has his counter-attack on Eric Cantor, the current Minority Whip and the highest-ranking Jewish Republican member of Congress, helped much. In the process of digging his hole ever-deeper, Mr. Iott explained his admiration for the soldiers he recreates by saying, “They were doing what they thought was right for their country. And they were going out and fighting what they thought was a bigger, you know, a bigger evil.”

When he says that, Iott is engaging in a naïve, if amoral, act of radical empathy. In Iott’s mind, his German alter-ego, Reinhard Pferdmann is a tragic character, who fought valiantly for what he believed—conveniently ignoring that part of what he believed-in was an ideology of racial purity that legitimized the murder of millions.

Moral idiocy aside, Iott is achieving what many of us seek in literature – a vicarious experience that allows us a measure of understanding of another’s life and experiences. It is the particular life and experiences in question that make Iott’s activity a perversion of imagination. The legacy of the Holocaust makes such a life unworthy of memorializing in a manner lacking explicit condemnation.

What about when those life experiences include surviving the Holocaust? There we run into the opposite problem, where the importance of the lives lost makes memorializing them either in a fictional or a non-fictional setting a sacred and fraught act. There rightly are no “historical reenactments” of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising or the march from Auschwitz to Buchenwald. Likewise, to read a work of Holocaust fiction or memoir actively discourages empathy because it is generally accepted that one who was not there cannot truly understand the experience of surviving the Holocaust. Ruth Franklin’s new book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press) takes a look at this complex issue which she’ll be discussing on Tuesday, October 19 at the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. The program will feature an introduction by Leon Wieseltier, the Literary Editor at The New Republic.

Scandals involving fake Holocaust memoirs (Fragments and Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years) are despicable frauds, not only because they serve the pernicious ends of Holocaust deniers, but because they have made the requirement of fidelity to historical and biographical facts obscure the role imagination plays in transcendent literature. In fact, the lack of artifice in seminal works like Elie Wiesel’s Night, have long set the standard for other Holocaust-themed works. While Rich Iott labors under a surplus of misguided and selective imagination, Holocaust literature risks a paucity of it. Franklin would argue that fidelity to true imaginations (as opposed to Iott’s frivolous ones) is as great a responsibility as fidelity to the facts (which Iott selectively ignores).

In her thorough survey of the major memoirs and novels about the Holocaust, Franklin identifies the essential contributions the best of these works makes to the perpetuation of the Holocaust narrative. She covers the writers you would expect like Wiesel and Primo Levi, but she also spends significant time on lesser-known and equally worthy authors like Imre Kertesz. While Franklin is an advocate for the power of imagination, she is particularly hard on authors of the “Second Generation” whom she accuses of “identity theft.” Likewise, she sees promise in the “Third Generation” of writers like Nathan Englander and Jonathan Safran Foer who by not having to deal directly with the Holocaust, have been able to shed new light from oblique angles. She also spends significant time on Thomas Keneally’s “non-fiction novel”  Schindler’s Ark and its adaptation into Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List.

And why should you care? Because memory is preserved in many different ways. To be critical of the selective memory of World War II war reenactors only does half a job. We should be equally rigorous in how the legacy of World War II reads on the pages of our books.

Eric Cantor for Veep? He can thank the Q Street Preschool

Well, since the air is buzzing that McCain will be announcing his running-mate any day now (possibly even tomorrow), I thought it was now-or-never to cash in on our connection to this year’s VeepStakes. Loyal readers may recall that our Pre-K Yanshufim class did a Reggio project on elections during the Primary season that was supposed to last six weeks, and well…went on for a lot longer than that.

Rep. Eric Cantor for Veep?

Rep. Eric Cantor for Veep?

As part of their project they went to visit Congressman Eric Cantor, the Republican chief Deputy Whip of the House of Representatives. I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with the Congressman when we first posted about the visit. You figure anyone who makes time in their day for a bunch of pre-school students (from the no-vote-in-Congress-District-of-Columbia) can’t be too important. I guess I sold him short. Way short. Because this past weekend I read this in the Washington Post.

Cantor for Veep Movement Gaining Steam

Conservatives wary of John McCain and worried about who he’ll choose for a running mate are offering up ideas left and — more to the point — right. One of the ideas gaining momentum in conservative circles is Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

The case for a McCain-Cantor ticket has some strong logic behind it:

Cantor, the 45-year-old Republican chief deputy whip of the House, has three great attributes: youth, conservative bona fides and geographic desirability, as Virginia will likely be a crucial swing state in this year’s presidential election.

Oh, and in a year where Jews are seen as a potential swing vote, Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in the House. Now, that didn’t work out so great for Gore/Lieberman in 2000, but don’t let that stop you John.

So just in-case Cantor is chosen (and he doesn’t even appear on some shortlists on the same Washington Post website) we want to say, “We knew it all along.” If you want to make sense of politics in Washington, just let the four-year-olds lead you.

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