Erica Brown

News About Jews In 2013

Mid-point in 5774, we are about to close 2013, so it’s a great time to look back on major and not-so major Jewish events and notables of the year past. Take a deep breath and sigh, and we will begin with Israeli elections in January of 2013. Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu surfaced as the largest coalition, and we welcomed some new faces to the 19th Knesset.

The Yesh Atid party brought us Yair Lapid, who helped seat the first American to become a member of Knesset for over 20 years: Rabbi Dov Lipman. Yesh Atid also gave us Ruth Calderon, the Jewish educator-turned-politician whose inspiring maiden Knesset speech went viral, proclaiming that Jewish texts are not just for the Orthodox. Rumor has it that she has a Talmud study partner who is a member of Shas on long Knesset nights. Will that lead to mixed legislation? 

On the American political front, in mid-January we learned that our new secretary of the treasury — Jack Lew — is Jewish. Jew Lew was reported to have said he goes to shul to escape politics. Seriously?

In February, we lost two newsworthy Jews: Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York (from 1978-1989) and Ronald Dworkin, the world-renowned American philosopher and influential scholar of jurisprudence. Some claim that Ed Koch was actually a more influential philosopher for his famous line about justice: “You punch me, I punch you back.”

Also in February, the world gasped as Pope Benedict XVI resigned, the first papal resignation since 1294. He was the first pope to formally and publicly exonerate the Jews for killing Jesus, in a book in 2011. We always knew we didn’t do it, but we needed someone infallible to say so. The new Pope Francis is all about progress, starting with the breaking of an important papal tradition: he does not wear red shoes. He has also busied himself by cleaning up the Vatican Bank. Perhaps when he is done, he can clean up some Jewish nonprofits that brought shame on our house in 2013 — the summer of shanda.

While Phillip Roth turned 80 this past March — l’havdil —  the former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez died. Chavez was an outspoken anti-Semite. The Jewish community of that country halved in size during his presidency. Shalom, we say to Chavez, but not l’hitra’ot.

In June we had news related to two American commodities traders. Marc Rich — formerly Reich — and Edward Snowden. Rich died in June. He had been accused of tax evasion and other financial crimes, fled to Switzerland and received a controversial presidential pardon on President Clinton’s last day in office. Belgian-born trader Edward Snowden (not Jewish) publicly leaked information about the United States mass government surveillance program, fled the country, and is now learning Russian in hiding. Both took the biblical Jonah approach to accountability: When authority calls, run in the opposite direction.

The fall brought its sweep of Jewish news: It’s been 75 years since Kristallnacht and, as we look back in sadness, we can say to those who tried to decimate us, we are back and better than ever. Then we had Thanksgivukah and really enjoyed it because it won’t be happening again in our lifetime.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism celebrated its 100th birthday and former Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel turned 85. Speaking of Nobel Prizes, Jews (two of them Israeli), once again dominated the scene in chemistry, physics and medicine. Thank you for helping us once again win the Nerd Olympics.

This year, Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s books are finally available to U.S. readers. On this side of the pond, Mark Russ published “Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House that Herring Built,”
celebrating the Jewish food legacy of the Lower East Side, while Nick Zukin and Michael Zisman Andrews published “The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home.” Artisan seems a bit of a stretch for corned beef and pickles, but it competes with Mayim Bialik’s newest weird venture, The Plant-Based Family Kitchen. You mean pastrami’s not a plant?

Near year’s end the U.S. government went into shutdown, the Jews went into “can’t shut up” about the Pew Research Center study on American Jewry. Most Jewish organizations/leaders read the study, immediately published an op-ed and proceeded to do the same thing they always did, followed by sending out an additional pledge card. One in five Jews today (22 percent) describe themselves as having no religion. It does not matter. You will still get a pledge card.

Shana tova!

Erica Brown is scholar-in-residence at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Her column appears the first week of the month.

About the Author
Dr. Erica Brown is the Vice Provost for Values and Leadership at Yeshiva University and the director of its Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks–Herenstein Center. Her latest book is Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning (Maggid Books).