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Thursday Newsletter 12/22/22

December 22nd, 2022

Dear Reader,

This was a year of spectacular crises erupting from long-simmering political tensions, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade to Israel’s election of the most right-wing coalition in its history. As this tumultuous year unfolded, we sought to understand its contours and the histories that led us here, while charting a path toward a different kind of future. Here’s a look back at some of our favorite pieces.

Our first print issue of the year was the Winter/Spring double issue on the theme of Soviet Jewry. Its centerpiece was a special package on the Soviet Jewry movement that challenged the conventional narrative about Soviet Jewish emigration—a story also complicated by Bela Shayevich’s riotous personal essay recounting her transformation from Soviet Jew into American Jew. Just as we were finalizing the issue, Russia invaded Ukraine, rendering the theme eerily timely and shifting the stakes of pieces like Linda Kinstler’s report on the contested effort to build a definitive memorial at the Babi Yar killing fields in Ukraine. It is because of our work on this issue that we were able to respond quickly and effectively to the invasion: In one of our most read stories of the year, for example, newsletter editor David Klion reported on the rise of Russian Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich, highlighting the ways the global Jewish community relies on the funding of oligarchs with close ties to Vladimir Putin.

While our Summer issue had no explicit theme, many of the pieces orbited questions related to psychoanalysis. Editor-in-chief Arielle Angel’s responsa took up Freud’s famous dichotomy between mourning and melancholia, examining Jews’ investment in our own oppression to scrutinize the limits of organizing around grievance. hannah baer explored the religious roots of psychoanalysis and asked what might be gained in returning to them. Eta Demby asked whether psychoanalysis in Israel/Palestine is doomed to reinforce the dynamics of the occupation, and Hannah Black delved into the fraught practice of coupledom in her review of Showtime’s Couples Therapy.

Elsewhere in the issue, we published two pieces drawing on Palestinian intellectual history: Contributing editor Dylan Saba wrote about how Palestinian storytelling structures the experience of exile and the possibility of return, while Noura Erakat and John Reynolds highlighted an archive of Palestinian writing that complicates the liberal human rights framework on display in recent reports on Israeli apartheid. Online, we ran an unpublished open letter by Edward Said, newly introduced by Beinart and Nubar Hovsepian, calling on Jewish intellectuals to take a stand against Israel’s abuses of Palestinians.

Over the course of 2022, which began with a gunman taking four people hostage at a Texas synagogue and ended with Kanye West praising Hitler, we’ve seen a surge in discourse about antisemitism, which often flattened varying expressions of anti-Jewish bigotry—as well as criticism of Israel—under the banner of “the world’s oldest hatred.” We tried to complicate this conversation across our platforms. Angel hosted an episode of our podcast, On the Nose, delving into the bizarre ways in which Germany’s zealous defense of Holocaust memory has manifested in draconian repression of speech. Associate editor Mari Cohen and contributing writer Isaac Scher reported on how the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) doubled down on a “‘both sides’ analysis of antisemitism that frames left-wing censure of Israel as a danger equivalent to right-wing neo-fascist ideologies.” Cohen also wrote a deeply reported profile of Deborah Lipstadt, the new State Department envoy on antisemitism, who has advanced a similar analysis. As Kanye West’s and Kyrie Irving’s antisemitism dominated the headlines, contributing writer Rebecca Pierce appeared with Angel and The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer to talk about West’s antisemitism, and with senior editor Ari Brostoff and writers Sam Adler-Bell and Jasmine Sanders in a conversation about Dave Chappelle’s controversial Saturday Night Live monologue.

Our reporting also followed the ways that lawmakers and American Jewish institutions have struggled to respond to the shifting debate over Israel/Palestine. We tracked the changing conversation about Palestine in Washington as senior reporter Alex Kane broke news on Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s decision to withdraw his co-sponsorship of legislation supporting Israel’s normalization agreements with Arab states. Editor-at-large Peter Beinart showed how pro-Israel organizations poured funds into Democratic primaries—aligning with corporate efforts to defeat progressive candidates—and called for progressives to coordinate their efforts to counteract this unprecedented spending. On the Jewish institutional beat, Kane, alongside Guardian reporter Sam Levin, got ahold of an internal memo from ADL staffers who recommended that the organization end its controversial practice of sending police delegations to Israel. Cohen investigated how a donor pulled funding for the University of Washington’s Israel studies program after historian and program chair Liora Halpern signed a letter criticizing Israel, revealing how donors view the academic discipline of Israel Studies as a tool for countering Palestine activism on campus.

As we followed these national stories, we also published a number of stories rooted in New York City with broad implications for the rest of the country. Brostoff’s dispatch from the site of an attempted eviction in Crown Heights showed how one house became a microcosm of the politics of gentrification and Black–Jewish neighborhood tensions, as well as the site of an unusual alliance between vulnerable homeowners and tenant organizers. Against the backdrop of concerns about escalating crime in the city, Kay Gabriel proposed a strategy to counter Mayor Eric Adams’s fearmongering, arguing that the left should view abolitionist and electoral organizing as complementary, rather than in opposition. We also attended to intra-left arguments with Kane’s report about how Palestine became central to strategic debates within the Democratic Socialists of America.

Our Thursday newsletter featured quick responses to local, national, and international news. As Russia invaded Ukraine, Klion helped people make sense of the unfolding conflict with a popular explainer contextualizing the incursion. In response to the overturning of Roe, Angel considered the futility of rallies and the need to go on the offensive for abortion rights, while Saba situated the Court’s decision in a long struggle over the Reconstruction amendments to the Constitution. Naftuli Moster argued that by supporting a last-minute bill in the New York legislature to grant yeshivas near-total autonomy over their curricula, progressives were abandoning Haredi children. And as rising inflation became a major concern in the lead-up to the midterm elections, Jewish Currents fellow Aparna Gopalan wrote an explainer on inflation from a leftist perspective.

The recent closing of several literary magazines served as a grim reminder of the limited space for rigorous cultural criticism, which makes us all the more committed to publishing incisive reviews like the ones we offered this year. In her review of Sheila Heti’s Pure Colour, executive editor Nora Caplan-Bricker showed how Heti refashioned the form of the fairy tale for an apocalyptic age. Culture editor Claire Schwartz’s review of Solmaz Sharif’s Customs contemplated the risks and possibilities of readership under empire. Contributing writer Raphael Margarik’s piece on Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob wrestled with the tension between messianism’s radical potential and the form of the novel. In the visual art realm, contributing writer Zoé Samudzi found that a Philip Guston retrospective, which was postponed over concerns about racial sensitivity, was deeply incurious about the Jewish artist’s work on white racial terror. And in a comic, contributing writer Eli Valley situated the banning of Art Spiegelman’s Maus by a Tennessee school board within the history of the American preference for redemptive portrayals of Jewish suffering.

Thanks so much for reading and listening. We look forward to seeing you in 2023, when we’ll continue to respond to the events that shape our world.


The Editors