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Sep
16
2022

Ari Brostoff (senior editor): A few weeks ago, staying at someone’s house in the Catskills, my friends and I found a closet full of board games including one distressingly called Monopoly: Brooklyn Edition. Since it’s unhealthy to breathe in too much country air without thinking about the face of the real estate state back home, we played. Released last year, Monopoly: Brooklyn Edition is much like the Atlantic City-based original, except the properties run the gamut from Coney Island and Prospect Park to the Hot Corner, a sporting-goods store in Midwood that I can only hope made it onto the list through an inspiring act of grift. An hour into the game, I had monopolies across the cheapest corridor of the board, which included properties in my own real-life neighborhood of Crown Heights: the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the Jewish Children’s Museum, and the Weeksville Heritage Center, which commemorates one of the first free Black communities in the 19th-century US. I built hotels on all of them, which I could do cheaply because the property values were so low, sending rents skyrocketing and immersating my friends. At some point in the process of discovering slumlordism I was like—”you guys I think this game is doing it on purpose?”

As it turns out, it was! The internet revealed that Monopoly started out as a dystopian satire called The Landlord’s Game, patented by a progressive reformer named Elizabeth Magie in 1904 to demonstrate “the present system of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences.” Don’t get too excited, it doesn’t include an account of primitive accumulation or a vision of class war (a corrective I assume is supplied by the cult classic Marxist board game Class War); everyone starts out with the same amount of money and has an equal chance of going to jail. But once property starts to get concentrated in the hands of one or two players, it is basically impossible for anyone else to rebound—even if an impoverished player has a couple of decent holdings, they will inevitably get mortgaged in order to pay for the unasked-for privilege of living in a city with someone else’s hotels. It is manifestly unfair and unpleasant; you build nothing, the board is ugly, and you simply go around in circles until enough people give up. And yet you want to win, maybe just in order to stop!

That all of this was lost on me as a kid, when I played a zillion games of Monopoly with my friend Adam, and simply that the game became as successful as it did, suggests something striking about the power of gamification, the way a simple cycle of punishment and reward infuses aggressive delight into a world where the best possible thing that can happen to you is that you land on a space called “Free Parking.” I’m 50 pages into Malcolm Harris’s forthcoming book Palo Alto, and am learning a ton of fascinating stuff about the proletarianization of California, but if you’re looking for a take on expropriation that can be absorbed while getting slowly, depressively drunk, I highly recommend the thought experiment called Monopoly.

Mari Cohen (assistant editor): Writing and reporting on mental health treatment is frequently dogmatic, posing two ideologies as diametrically opposed and arguing passionately for one of them: psychiatry or anti-psychiatry, psychoanalysis or more solutions-oriented approaches, etc. It’s a rare feat, then, that Rachel Aviv’s Strangers to Ourselves, a deep dive into the complex mental health experiences of several individuals that considers how patients’ narratives of their own mental illness can help or hinder treatment, avoids such easy dogmatism. Aviv’s deep reporting and close attention to the actual experiences of her subjects—including Naomi, a Black woman in Minneapolis incarcerated after throwing her twin sons into a river during a mental health episode; Bapu, a woman in Chennai who may be experiencing schizophrenia but believes she is having mystical connections with gods; Roy, a depressed American Jewish doctor responsible for a famous lawsuit targeting a psychoanalytic treatment center for not providing medication; Laura, a high-achieving young woman from a debutante WASP background prescribed mountains of drugs to treat her depression; and Aviv herself, hospitalized at age six for a seemingly precocious form of anorexia—assures that she is attuned to the nuances of their individual experiences, rather than itching to slot them into a predetermined thesis. Still, Aviv is clear on the types of systems and approaches that consistently fail to serve patients, from carceral settings in the US to colonial models of mental health treatment in India. Those who enjoyed hannah baer’s piece in our Summer 2022 Issue on the discarded religious roots of mental healthcare might also be interested in Aviv’s exploration of the possibilities for therapeutic treatment that better takes into account the full communal contexts of patients’ lives.

Arielle Angel (editor-in-chief): For fans of Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten, may I introduce...my sister, Rachel Angel. I know, I know—but I’ve been listening to the album, Midnite Heart Attack, a country-inflected record about getting entangled in a relationship and then slowly getting free, on repeat since it came out last week. The singles—“I Can’t Win” (boozy honky-tonk vibes) and “Closer to Myself” (breakup anthem banger)—come early on the record, but this week, I’ve been really into the “Baby Can I Come Home to You” / “Many Nights” / “Daddy” trio. Check it out!

Mitch Abidor (contributing writer): Julia Mintz’s Four Winters tells in a simple and direct way the story of the 25,000 Eastern European Jews who fought as partisans during World War II. Mintz tells her story strictly through the words of a group of now-elderly Jews, both men and women, who lived through the four winters of the partisan war. Historians have no say in this; Mintz wants us to hear firsthand the daily experience of the relative handful who fought.

Unlike Jewish partisans in countries like France, many of whom were affiliated with the Communist Party, the fight of these partisans was not an ideological one. Simple survival was all that mattered. One woman’s mother told her that if the Germans came for the family, “just run; maybe one of us will survive.” Some joined strictly Jewish units, while others served with Red Army units. And, as one of the men admits, “we were scared.”

We hear the incidents that led these men and women to take to the forests and join the armed groups. Joining was not a straightforward matter. The partisan bases “were not a hotel”; you had to know someone who would tell you where to go and then hope that you’d find the guerrillas and be accepted among them.

Once there, the shock was immense. These peaceful, largely urban Jews had to live in tents in the open and to learn how to use weapons they’d never touched in their lives. Learning quickly was essential to survival. We are told they learned they had to shoot “a foot below the target.” And they learned quickly, “because when your life depends on it you learn quickly.” Sabotage methods had to be learned, like the proper method for derailing trains.

It was not only bravery that was required; chutzpah was just as necessary. How else could these people, most of them teenagers at the time, be capable of threatening Polish villagers that failure to follow their orders, to provide them with weapons, or to take care of an orphan Jewish child would result in their homes and villages being set on fire?

Four Winters is constructed largely of the talking heads of the partisans, with stock footage inserted occasionally. But there are also photos taken of individual Jewish fighters as well as units—some by Faye Schulman, who is interviewed in the film. She was a photographer before the war and continued taking and even developing photos in the forests, putting a blanket over her head to make an ad hoc dark room. In many of her images, there is a beautiful young woman, often wearing her chapka at a jaunty angle. This is Schulman herself. Her proud poses and her concern for her appearance speak eloquently of the hope that animated these men and women.

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