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The Uncivil Servant: Ave Caesar!

by Mitchell Abidor   Discussed in this essay: The Landmark Julius Caesar, edited and translated by Kurt A. Raaflaub. Pantheon, 2017, 793 pages.   AS I WAS READING the magnificent new Landmark edition of Julius Caesar’s works, my initial instinct was to relate the Roman leader to the anti-democrats of today, starting — of course — with our […]

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The Uncivil Servant: German Cinema in Nazi Times

by Mitchell Abidor   OCCASIONALLY DERIDED for being too broad and hasty in its estimation of individual films, Siegfried Kracauer’s 1947 study, From Caligari to Hitler, nevertheless stands as a classic of film criticism. Its old-fashioned, Old-World vision of German cinema from its beginnings until the arrival in power of Hitler, and its focus on the unity […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Where the Hell Did We Come From?

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: The Origin of the Jews, by Steven Weitzman. Princeton University Press, 2017, 408 pages.   AT THE END of Steven Weitzman’s Origin of the Jews, a scholarly but eminently accessible account of the search for the origin of the Jews (which we should not confuse with their beginnings), the […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Richard Wagner, Made (Too) Simple

by Mitchell Abidor   Discussed in this essay: Being Wagner: The Story of the Most Provocative Composer Who Ever Lived, by Simon Callow. Vintage, 232 pages, 2017   IN THIS AGE of doorstop biographies, the actor and biographer Simon Callow’s breezy 200+ pages on Richard Wagner, Being Wagner, appear to be a quirky, quixotic venture. How to squeeze so tumultuous a […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Revolutionary Bandits

by Mitchell Abidor   Discussed in this essay: Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits: The Crime Spree that Gripped Belle Epoque Paris, by John Merriman. Nation Books, 2017, 327 pages. FRENCH ANARCHISM, so important in the history of leftwing politics, giving the world Louise Michel and Sébastien Faure and providing a home to so many exiles, was […]

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The Uncivil Servant: London Alexanderplatz

by Mitchell Abidor   Discussed in this essay: Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin, translated by Michael Hofmann. NYRB Classics, 2018, 458 pages.   ALFRED DOBLIN’S Berlin Alexanderplatz, originally published in 1929,  achieved its greatest fame in the English-speaking world in 1983 when Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s version, made for German TV, was released here. That was also […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Sexual Repression in Iran

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Tehran Taboo, a film by Ali Sooznadeh IN ALI Sooznadeh’s Tehran Taboo, a film visually bright yet tragically dark,  we are offered an Iran eaten away with moral and sexual hypocrisy. The film demonstrates that a society and government constructed as an Islamic state cannot control to control the unruly instincts roiling […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Full Disclosure, She Wrote a Note to My Son

THE WONDERFUL WORK OF MAIRA KALMAN by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Hey Willy, See the Pyramids by Maira Kalman, New York Review Children’s Collection, 2017; Max Makes a Million by Maira Kalman, New York Review Children’s Collection, 2017; Ooh-la-la (Max in Love) by Maira Kalman, New York Review Children’s Collection, 2018; Max in Hollywood, Baby by Maira Kalman, […]

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The Uncivil Servant: After the Revolution

IN THE INTENSE NOW AND MAY ’68 IN FRANCE by Mitchell Abidor   WE ARE JUST a few months from the fiftieth anniversary of the events of May ‘68, the great uprising that seemed as if it would topple the French ruling class but which, in the long run, proved that ruling class’s flexibility and strength. […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Looking in on Western Literature

BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Essays on World Literature by Ismail Kadare, translated by Ani Kokobobo, Restless Books, 2018, 255 pages; The Wild Book by Juan Villoro, translated by Lawrence Schimel, Restless Books, 2017, 232 pages.   IT SOUNDS like damning with faint praise to call Ismail Kadare the greatest Albanian novelist, […]

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Samplings from the New York Jewish Film Festival

by Mitchell Abidor   THE ALWAYS INTERESTING New York Jewish Film Festival will be running from January 10 to January 23 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Information on screenings can be found at nyjff.org. What follows is just a sample of the riches on view. The Romanian director Radu Jude is one of the […]

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Brownshirt Violence and the Nazi Machine

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Stormtroopers: A New History of Hitler’s Brownshirts by Daniel Siemens. Yale University Press, 2017, 459 pages.   OUR DOMINANT image of the German streets, both during the rise to power of the Nazi Party and while it ruled, is of jack-booted men in brown uniforms beating opponents, threatening Jews, […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Refugee Children and Their Teacher

by Mitchell Abidor   NICOLAS PHILIBERT’S 2002 To Be and To Have was a moving documentary about the students and teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in rural France. This lovely film, a deservedly huge success, was in a way a vision of both France past and the mythical eternal France — the students white, the teacher dealing, at worst, with […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Diaries of Doomed Writers

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries 1917-1922 by Marina Tsetaeva, translated by Jamey Gambrell. NYRB Classics, 2017, 248 pages; and The Diaries of Emilio Renzi by Ricardo Piglia, translated by Robert Croll. Restless Books, 2017, 448 pages.   MARINA TSETAEVA (1892-1941) was part of the remarkable generation of Russian poets who had […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Oliver Sacks’s Fabulous Mind

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017, 237 pages; Oliver Sacks: The Last Interview, Melville House, 2016, 100 pages; Insomniac City by Bill Hayes, Bloomsbury, 2017, 291 pages.   WHEN OLIVER SACKS died in 2015, he left instructions with three friends for the assembling of what is (perhaps) […]

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How Stalin Built and Buried Communism

by Mitchell Abidor   Discussed in this essay: Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, by Stephen Kotkin. Penguin Press, 2017, 1154 pages.   AT THE OPENING of Stephen Koptkin’s magisterial Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, the second volume of his biography of the Soviet leader and gravedigger of the revolution, Lenin has been dead for five years and Stalin, […]

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The Rise and Fall of the Russian Revolution

LOOKING BACK A CENTURY LATER by Mitchell Abidor From the Autumn 2017 issue of Jewish Currents   Discussed in this essay: October by China Miéville, Verso, 2017, 343 pages; The Dilemmas of Lenin by Tariq Ali. Verso, 2017, 371 pages; Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale, Metropolitan Books, 2017, 354 pages.   AT FIRST GLANCE, the notion […]

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The Uncivil Servant: A Novel of Provincial Pettiness Amid War

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Blood Dark by Louis Guilloux, translated by Laura Marris. NYRB Classics, 2017, 514 pages.   LOUIS GUILLOUX’S brilliant 1935 novel, Blood Dark (Le Sang Noir), is a classic and mordant portrait of provincial life in an unnamed provincial town modeled on Guilloux’s hometown of Saint-Brieuc in Brittany. (In the photo at top, […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Murdering Freud

by Mitchell Abidor   Discussed in this essay: Freud: The Making of an Illusion, by Frederick Crews. Metropolitan Books, 2017, 744 pages.   FREDERICK CREWS, a retired professor at Berkeley, has spent decades taking a pickaxe to the work and legacy of Sigmund Freud. His near monomania on the topic (equaled only by his interest […]

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The Uncivil Servant: “Thy Father’s Chair”

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE FILM’S CO-DIRECTOR, ANTONIO TIBALDI by Mitchell Abidor   THY FATHER’S CHAIR is the day-by-day account of the cleaning of the Borough Park apartment of Shraga and Avraham, twin Orthodox brothers who are, as I wrote here a year ago, “kosher Collyer brothers,” hoarders who haven’t cleaned their flat since their parents’ death […]

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Fascism: What It Isn’t and How Not To Fight It

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray. Melville House, 2017, 259 pages.    MARK BRAY’S Antifa can perhaps be considered the definitive statement of the movement that leapt to the front page after the events in Charlottesville. Widely though not deeply researched, Bray’s book clearly lays out the historical […]

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The Uncivil Servant: The Fantasy of “Fantasyland”

IS AMERICA EXCEPTIONALLY ECCENTRIC? by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, by Kurt Andersen. Random House, 2017, 462 pages.   THE FANTASYLAND that is the subject of Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland is, of course, America. And not just today’s alternative-fact America and its truth-challenged president, but America since its foundation. As Andersen writes: […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Fauda’s Dehumanizing Humanism

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Fauda, a television series by Avi Issacharoff and Lion Raz.   IN HIS EXCELLENT New Yorker article on the Israeli TV series Fauda (the word means “chaos”), which can be streamed on Netflix, David Remnick quotes series producer Avi Issacharoff as saying of the show that it “was an […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Fame and Disillusionment

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Late Fame by Arthur Schnitzler. NYRB Classics, 2017, 128 pages.    ARTHUR SCHNITZLER (1862-1931) was so central a figure in Viennese literary life in the first decades of the 20th century that the great cultural historian Peter Gay titled his book on the development of bourgeois culture between the Battle […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Protestantism at 500

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in the essay: Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet, by Lyndal Roper. Random House, 2017, 540 pages.   WHEN ON NOVEMBER 7 we observe the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution, which died a slow, ugly death after a life of barely seventy-five years, we should not forget the far greater revolution celebrating its 500th […]

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Hitler and the Art of the Deal

HIS RISE TO POWER AS A MASTER MANIPULATOR by Mitchell Abidor Published in the Summer 2017 issue of Jewish Currents Discussed in this essay: Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, by Volker Ullrich. Alfred A. Knopf, 998 pages, 2016; On Hitler’s Mein Kampf, by Albrecht Koschorke. MIT Press, 78 pages, 2017. IT IS DIFFICULT when reading Volker Ullrich’s brilliant and absorbing […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Leonora Carrington’s Madness

by Mitchell Abidor Books discussed in this essay: Down Below by Leonora Carrington. NYRB Classics, 69 pages, 2017; The Milk of Dreams by Leonora Carrington. New York Review Children’s Collection, 54 pages, 2013 [first publication in English, 2017].   THERE ARE FEW more harrowing, more unromantic accounts of that too-often-romanticized experience that is madness than Leonora Carrington’s Down […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Reading to Baby Bolsheviks

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: The Fire Horse by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam, and Daniil Kharms, translated by Eugene Ostashevsky. The New York Review’s Children’s Collection, 2017.   THE SOVIET UNION sought to turn babies into Bolshevik babies. Schools were, of course, a key element in this, as were the various youth organizations. But as in […]

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The Uncivil Servant: A Grand Home for Essays

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this article, six books published by Notting Hill: Beautiful and Impossible Things: Selected Essays of Oscar Wilde; Essays on the Self, by Virginia Woolf; Junkspace, by Rem Koolhaas; The William Hazlitt Essay Prize 2013 the Winners; A Eulogy for Nigger and Other Essays; Cyclogeography by Jon Day; Questions of Travel by William Morris.   SINCE […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Jerusalem’s Outsider Architects

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Till We Have Built Jerusalem, by Adina Hoffman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016, 352 pages. A CITY’S ARCHITECTURE is often an excellent guide to its history, politics, and vision of itself. The Haussmanian Paris we know today still speaks of the need for clean, airy streets, as well as […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Ten Million Books

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell. Viking, 2017, 352 pages. THE NAZI WAR on knowledge and ideas is well-known and documented, and its image has been eternally fixed: the burning of books on May 10, 1933, a scene that opens Anders Rydell’s informative and well-written The Book Thieves. Less […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Family Fiction

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Family Lexicon, by Natalia Ginzburg, translated from the Italian by Jenny McPhee, NYRB Classics, 2017, 221 pages, and And Then, by Donald Breckenridge, David Godine, 2017, 101 pages. SEVERAL YEARS ago, my wife and I were in Venice, and in an effort to avoid the omnipresent crowds, we […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Meanwhile, in France . . .

by Mitchell Abidor AFTER THE FIRST round of the French elections, in which the centrist banker, Emmanuel Macron, leading his party of one, emerged in first place, followed closely by the anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN), and as the battle continues in preparation for the second round on May 7, a […]

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Title IX and Sexual Harassment

DERIDING THE CULTURE OF CAMPUS PROTECTIVENESS by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Unwanted Advances by Laura Kipnis. Harper, 2017, 245 pages. AMERICAN COLLEGES have become a punching bag, or laughing stock, for certain elements of student life that have become standard: trigger warnings (advance notice of upsetting subjects), safe spaces, banning of speakers defending […]

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The Uncivil Servant: “Making It” and Escaping It

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Making It, by Norman Podhoretz, NYRB Classics edition, 254 pages, 2017; and Confessions of a Heretic, by Roger Scruton, Notting Hill Editions, 196 pages, 2016. LET US BE CLEAR: Norman Podhoretz is now and has long been one of the least attractive characters on the American political scene. […]

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A Conversation with Bernard-Henri Lévy

by Mitchell Abidor Shortly after undertaking my review of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s The Genius of Judaism, but before completing it, I was able to interview Lévy before his conversation at the 92 Street Y ( January 11). He arrived late, so the interview, which was conducted in French, was brief. —M.A. Q: In 1968, during the […]

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The Donald Trump of Philosophy

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: The Genius of Judaism by Bernard-Henri Lévy. Random House, 2017, 256 pages. WHEN BERNARD-HENRI Lévy burst onto the philosophical scene in the late 1970s as the leading voice of repentant young leftists known as the New Philosophers, the phenomenon was something of a mystery here in the U.S. […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Jewish Radicalism, Worldwide

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Revolutionary Yiddishland, by Alain Brissat and Sylvie Klingberg. Verso Books, 2016, 304 pages, indexed. VERSO’S PRAISEWORTHY publication of Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg’s engaging, well-informed, and at times moving Revolutionary Yiddishland comes to us thirty-three years after its initial publication in French, and seven years after its reprinting […]

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The Uncivil Servant: In Praise of Esperanto

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Bridge of Words by Esther Schor. Metropolitan Books, 2016, indexed, 364 pages SOME TIME NEAR the end of the 20th century, the late, lamented magazine Lingua Franca ran an article about the international language, Esperanto. It presented it so attractively that I immediately picked up some teach-yourself books, […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Homage to a Great Bad Writer

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Farewell to Europe, a film directed by Maria Schrader. THE PAST FEW YEARS have been posthumous good ones for the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942). Once one the world’s best-known writers, his stock had fallen greatly, his novels and stories of Hapsburg Vienna viewed as inconsequential confections, his […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Manipulating the Immutable

CENSORSHIP IN THE JEWISH TRADITION by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Changing the Immutable, by Marc B. Shapiro. Litman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2015. ANY SYSTEM that claims to represent eternal verities is eventually forced, either tacitly or openly, to confront the fact that nothing, in fact, is eternal; that the circumstances that made […]

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The Uncivil Servant: The Hour of the Hypocrites

by Mitchell Abidor THE TIME has perhaps come for a hypocrisy check. As the number of women accusing Trump of unwanted sexual advances mounts, we all sit in shock and horror, wondering how anyone can continue to support him, and how anyone can think, as Trump claims, that this is all a politically manipulated campaign […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Birobidzhan Follies

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Where the Jews Aren’t by Masha Gessen. Nextbooks/Schocken, 2016, 170 pages. WHERE THE JEWS Aren’t, Russia-born Masha Gessen’s recounting of “the sad and absurd story of Birobidzhan, the Soviet Union’s “Jewish Autonomous Region,” is the latest addition to the Jewish Encounters series produced jointly by Schocken and Nextbook. […]

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“We Are All Mahmoud”

OR WE SHOULD ALL PRETEND TO BE by Mitchell Abidor From the Summer 2016 issue of Jewish Currents 1. A PLAINT THESE LAST FEW YEARS have been terrible for us Muslims. The promise of the Arab Spring has ended in chaos and dictatorship in the best of cases, with our fellow Muslims feeling the weight […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Tim Who? Tim Why?

by Mitchell Abidor LIKE SOME HERO out of Greek tragedy, Hillary Clinton seems to be dogged by an evil fate of her own making. Her lack of principle has long been reproached her, her overweening arrogance as well. She and her husband’s sentiment that everything revolves around the Clintons, and that all is permitted them […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Bernie Comes Home

by Mitchell Abidor SOMEONE FROM the local Bernie campaign had the absolutely brilliant idea for Bernie to hold a rally not just anywhere in Brooklyn, but deep in the bowels of the borough, on East 26th Street and Kings Highway, in front of the building in which he grew up. The rally was announced at […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Deflated France

by Mitchell Abidor AFTER TWO WEEKS traversing France working on a book on the events of May 1968, speaking to leftists both Jewish and non-, I took a while find the right word to describe the state of the country, but I think I’ve hit on it: deflated. The economic situation, the political situation, the […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Michael Moore’s Invasions

by Mitchell Abidor MICHAEL MOORE’S latest film, Where to Invade Next, is amazingly timely. Moore travels the world, a one-man invasion team searching for social programs other countries have that we don’t, so he can bring them back to the U.S. The film is, for most of its length, a virtual Bernie Sanders campaign ad, […]

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The Uncivil Servant: America, Seen from the Antipodes

by Mitchell Abidor Andy Blunden is an independent scholar in Melbourne, Australia. A Hegelian who frequently lectures on the German thinker and has published many books on philosophy, he is also an administrator of the Marxists Internet Archive. Andy is a longtime political activist who left Australia for England in 1966 after burning his draft […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Hillary Clinton’s Scolds

by Mitchell Abidor IF HILLARY Clinton’s supporters wanted to confirm their image as irrelevant relics they couldn’t have done better than they have over the past few days. Madeleine Albright’s “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” and Gloria Steinem’s “When you’re young you’re thinking, where are the boys, […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Bernie, Pigs, and Corn

by Mitchell Abidor THE CORN-GROWERS of Iowa have finally spoken. Hillary Clinton, who learned nothing from her humiliation in the primaries of eight years ago, when she mocked Barack Obama’s magnificent promise, talking about how under Obama “the skies will open, the light will come down, [and] celestial choirs will be singing,” repeated her performance […]

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The Farewell Letters of the Manouchian Group

Jews of the French Resistance in Their Final Hours Translated by Mitchell Abidor From the Autumn 2015 special issue of Jewish Currents on the theme, “Honoring the Jewish Resistance.” THE MEMBERS of the Manouchian Group, twenty-three mostly foreign-born men and women fighting in the Communist Resistance in France, were captured in the fall of 1943. […]

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The Uncivil Servant: The Candidate We Deserve

by Mitchell Abidor We were discussing politics, my wife and I, and I said, “Who knows, maybe it’ll be Trump against Bernie in the general election, and we’ll see which way America chooses to go when presented with the clear choice between decency and vileness.” Joan said she wouldn’t want to see that choice presented, […]

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The Uncivil Servant: BDS and Free Speech in France

by Mitchell Abidor IN LATE OCTOBER, France’s highest appeals court issued a decision with such alarming implications that it deserved far greater notice outside that country than it has received. The court determined that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is in violation of French law prohibiting discrimination based on national origin. The court has, […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Bambi in Vienna

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Bambi’s Jewish Roots and Other Essays on German-Jewish Culture, by Paul Reitter. Bloomsbury Academic, 2015, 296 pages. PAUL REITTER’S Bambi’s Jewish Roots, a collection of the author’s reviews and essays, provides the reader with cause for reflection not only in every selection, but virtually on every page. In […]

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The Uncivil Servant: For Bernie

by Mitchell Abidor IT IS ONLY NOW, when I’m old enough to receive a pension and Social Security, that I will be actively supporting a Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders. I must have supported Eugene McCarthy for ten minutes in 1968, because among my political memorabilia from the Sixties, in a box with my countless Black […]

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Honest Abe and the Children of Abraham

Much Ado About the Inconsequential by Mitchell Abidor From the Summer 2015 issue of Jewish Currents Reviewed in this essay: Lincoln and the Jews, by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shappel. Thomas Dunne Books, 2015, 288 pages. THERE HAVE BEEN some sixteen thousand books written about Abraham Lincoln, few of them, I’d wager, dedicating many pages […]

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The Uncivil Servant: History and Civics Lessons

by Mitchell Abidor THIS HAS BEEN a week for exposing the public’s general ignorance about American history and our entire political system. My 7th-grade social studies teacher, Miss Kelly, told us that if we remembered everything we learned through the 6th grade, we’d seem like geniuses all our lives. Back then that was true: Who […]

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The Uncivil Servant: The Thugs Are Loose

by Mitchell Abidor THE THUGS ARE LOOSE on the streets of Baltimore and New York, and the papers and the TV news are full of scenes of violence. Unlike the rioters and demonstrators frauds like Geraldo Rivera call “thugs,” these thugs wear uniforms, and they kill. And when they kill, until now they have almost […]

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Le Groupe Manouchian

Betrayed Heroes of the French Resistance? by Mitchell Abidor From the Spring, 2015 issue of Jewish Currents IT WAS LATE FEBRUARY, 1944 when the German Occupation authorities in France decided that the time had come to stage the trial of a group of Resistance fighters they’d captured the previous autumn. Under ordinary circumstances, trials of […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Albert Maysles’ Last Film

by Mitchell Abidor ALBERT MAYSLES, the documentary filmmaker who directed, along with his brother David (who died in 1987), three classic films, Salesman, Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens, died in March of this year at age 88, just before the release of his final film, Iris. His earlier films, aside from their pure cinematic genius, […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Atatürk and the Third Reich

How the Turkish Revolution Inspired the Nazis by Mitchell Abidor Reviewed in this essay: Atatürk in the Nazi Imagination, by Stefan Ihrig. The Belknap Press of Harvard Univerity Press, 2014, 320 pages. THE 20TH CENTURY was one of revolutions in all corners of the world, revolutions that promised much and, in the end, delivered little. […]

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The Uncivil Servant: End-of-the-Year Films to See

by Mitchell Abidor THE YEAR PAST wasn’t a great year for film, but ended with a flurry of releases by some of the most important filmmakers working today. The best of them is Two Days, One Night by the Belgians Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Sandra (pictured at right, played by brilliant Marion Cotillard, intentionally drab) […]

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The Uncivil Servant: History Books for Khanike

Our Resident Biblophile Recommends… Dark Mirror by Sara Lipton. Metropolitan Books, 2014, 390 pages. Hitler’s First Victims by Timothy W. Ryback. Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, 273 pages. The Nazis Next Door by Eric Lichtblau. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 266 pages. by Mitchell Abidor   WE START OUR GUIDE to Khanike book-buying in the Middle Ages […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Women in the IDF

by Mitchell Abidor Reviewed in this essay: Zero Motivation, a film by Talia Lavie TALIA LAVIE’S DELIGHTFUL FILM about life in the IDF, Zero Motivation, is a radical change from the films we usually see about Israel. The soldiers featured in this film are neither conscientious heroes nor rage-filled brutes. Lavie instead takes us to […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Counting German Jews

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Loyal Sons: Jews in the German Army in the Great War, by Peter Appelbaum. Valentine Mitchell, 2014, 347 pages. IT’S LONG BEEN A HISTORICAL TRUISM — and truth — that Hitler’s rise to power and the consequent Holocaust were to a large extent the fruits of the German defeat in […]

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The Uncivil Servant: “The Decent One”

by Mitchell Abidor IT’S CERTAINLY A TRUISM that no one is only one thing, and even if there is some element that dominates a person’s existence, or our vision of that existence, people have multiple facets and are viewed differently by all who know them. The most caring of husbands and loving of fathers can […]

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The Uncivil Servant: The New Lynch Law

by Mitchell Abidor THE WAR ON TERROR has seen Americans surrendering civil and constitutional rights — like those against illegal search and seizure — on which we have long prided ourselves. We grumble, but in the end we say that it’s only those doing something wrong who really have anything to fear, and in our search for […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Fleeing France

by Mitchell Abidor TWO PLANES CARRYING 430 French Jews landed in Israel on Wednesday, July 16th. All of them were new immigrants about to settle in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya, Ashdod, or Ashkelon. Former Soviet refusenik and current head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, said that “More and more people are asking whether Jews […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Balls, Bites and Bombs

Uruguay’s National Psychosis by Mitchell Abidor The end of the first round of the World Cup — a round of wonderful, exciting play and some wretched officiating — was crowned by l’Affaire Suarez. Luis Suarez, a forward for Liverpool and the Uruguayan national team, with about ten minutes to go in his team’s game against Italy, bit […]

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The Uncivil Servant: A Response to Bush’s Broadside

by Mitchell Abidor Lawrence Bush complains in his “broadside” post about progressive Jews embracing Jewish identity that “It is only when Jews act as a religious community, or in service of narrow self-interest, that Jews are portrayed as Jews in America. When they act in the name of our finest humanistic traditions, in a univeralist […]

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The Uncivil Servant: The Success of a Failure

Our Contributing Writer Retires by Mitchell Abidor “The journey towards idleness is the journey of a lifetime.” -Tom Hodgkinson, “How to be Idle” On April 1, 2013 the long, slow climb to the middle that I described in Blog-Shmog came to an end and I retired after nearly forty years of work for the Health […]

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The Uncivil Servant: In Protest of Ultra-Orthodox Jews

Am I Being Anti-Semitic, or Do They Deserve It? by Mitchell Abidor Some time ago, I spent several months translating the correspondence of the French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline, a ferocious Jew-hater and Nazi collaborator. Reading his rants, I felt a certain unease. That unease returned while reading, for a future review article for Jewish Currents, […]

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“Do I Look Like a Nazi?”

The Dieudonné Affair in France by Mitchell Abidor An avalanche of outrage has been cascading down on the French comedian, provocateur, and Jew-hater Dieudonné. The performer has been on the receiving end of attacks from the French government, which succeeded in banning his public performances after he made a series of outrageous comments, including one […]

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Megaphone: Jacob Bender, a Jew Among American Muslims

Interviewed by Mitchell Abidor From the Winter 2013-2014 issue of Jewish Currents   WHEN JACOB BENDER WAS NAMED the director of the Philadelphia office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in September, he became the first American Jew ever to lead an American Muslim organization. The reaction was enthusiastic in the Muslim community, with […]

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“Jewish” Soccer in the Netherlands

by Mitchell Abidor Discussed in this essay: Ajax, the Dutch, the War, by Simon Kuper. Nation Books, 2012, 288 pages. I am a Houston Astros fan. This is a fact of no significance. It doesn’t mean I support Rick Perry or believe that Texas should secede. Nor does it mean I’m from Houston. It simply […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Our Criminal War in Vietnam

by Mitchell Abidor In 1967, both the war in Vietnam and the world-wide movement against it were heating up. It was in that year that Chris Marker, the great French filmmaker, decided to produce Far From Vietnam, an anti-war film made collectively under the aegis of his Société pour le Lancement des Oeuvres Nouvelles (SLON […]

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Israel on 8mm.

by Mitchell Abidor Israel: A Home Movie, is a documentary from below. The filmmakers, Arik Bernstein, its “creator,” and director Eliav Lilti, sent out a call for home movies made in Palestine and Israel, and they then assembled a history of the land from 1930 until the 1970s, with the amateur filmmakers providing commentary on […]

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The Uncivil Servant: Alfie-Shmalfie

Burt Bacharach Walks on By His Jewishness In 1997, the eccentric musical genius John Zorn released, as part of the “Great Jewish Music” series on his Tzaddik label, a Burt Bacharach tribute album. It included many of the luminaries of the then flourishing Downtown music scene contributing their unique versions of Bacharach hits like “(They […]

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General Grant and the Jews

by Mitchell Abdior Reviewed in this Essay: When General Grant Expelled the Jews, by Jonathan Sarna. 2011, Schocken, 224 pages. If 1862 ended badly for the Jews, with General Ulysses S. Grant’s General Orders No. 11, (December 17th) expelling them from his war zone in the west, for the North it had been a fairly […]

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The King of Pigs

by Mitchell Abidor In 2006, Ilan Halimi was kidnapped and murdered in a Parisian suburb. A gang of thugs chose him as their victim because they presumed that, as a Jew, he was wealthy. This and other anti-Semitic manifestations in the cités inhabited by immigrants and their children set off a wave of concern among […]

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Contra “Shabbat”

by Mitchell Abidor Peter Novick, in his 1999 The Holocaust in American Life — a brilliant analysis of the process by which the Holocaust went from being, in American Jewish life, the subject of shame and silence to a central fact and a sacralized event — speaks of the “profound ‘Israelization'” of American Jews following […]

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Proust at the Morgan

by Mitchell Abidor This year marks the hundredth anniversary of entry into the world of one of the most cultivated, worldly, charming, loved, and ultimately saddest Jews of the 20th century, Charles Swann, the main character in Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which was published at the […]

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The Gatekeepers: Amazing Half Truths

by Mitchell Abidor Over the past year, three documentaries from and about Israel have revealed interrelated but distinct faces of the country. In the Academy Award-nominated Five Broken Cameras, we saw, through the eyes of a Palestinian, Emad Burnat, the brutishness, brutality, and murderousness of the Israeli occupation. In Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s The Law in These […]

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José Saramago, Communist

by Mitchell Abidor As the 20th century faded into the 21st , two writers with communist backgrounds won the Nobel Prize in Literature: José Saramago in 1998, a member of the Portuguese Communist Party since 1969, and Elfride Jelinek in 2004, a member of the Austrian party from 1974-1991 whose oeuvre was largely produced while […]

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Why I’m Not a Jewish Secularist

THREE THINGS ARE CONSTITUTIVE OF MY BEING: being a Brooklynite, being a Jew, and being an atheist. The first gives me a place, my family having been in Brooklyn for over a century; the second gives me a history and an existential situation in society, an alterity that I happily assume; and the third a […]

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People of the Book 101: Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee

“Correspondence” or Correspondence? by Mitchell Abidor It’s a sad truth that nevermore will we have access to the drafts of great novels, since almost all are now written on computers, which swallow up the old once it’s revised. Nor will we ever again have the likes of the five thick volumes of Flaubert’s correspondence, or […]

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My Son the Homeland Security Threat

A Confiscated Computer at the U.S.-Canadian Border by Mitchell Abidor The hearing in the case of Abidor v. Napolitano was held at the federal courthouse in downtown Brooklyn on July 8th, 2011. The Abidor in the case was my son Pascal; the Napolitano, Janet Napolitano, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security; the lawyer for the plaintiff, […]

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