Saturday, June 30, 2018

Los Angeles Documentary and the Production of Public History, 1958-1977 By Joshua Glick Published 01.19.2018 University of California Press 254 Pages

Film fans and critics  are prone to conflate the politics of representation with the politics of production, sometimes valuing both over a film’s artistic merit. Excitement around the long-overdue hiring of female and minority artists to helm major film projects, for example, has led to a slippage whereby a director’s identity is read directly into the film text. This has made us more eager than ever to interpret mainstream movies, made under the aegis of Hollywood studios and following the formula of franchise blockbusters, as progressive or even revolutionary in their ideology. But not all films require serpentine interpretive moves to prove that they both reflect and affect history.

In Los Angeles Documentary and the Production of Public History, 1958-1977, Joshua Glick explores the production and reception of documentaries and films with documentary elements like The Exiles (1961), The Making of a President: 1960 (1963) and Wattstax(1973), which were tightly connected to the social reality of the city in which they were shot. Respectively, these films emerged from the everyday lives of Native Americans in the soon-to-be-razed Bunker Hill, the New Frontier boosterism of John F. Kennedy, and the community concert in 1972 Watts. Glick uses public history as an analytical framework and draws on rich archival sources to show how documentary film in this era was one arena in which ideas about the past entered cultural consciousness.

In Glick’s book, the commercial film industry’s top-down delivery of public history is embodied by Wolper Productions. This large production company made, among many other movies and television programs, documentaries like The Race for Space (1958), starry clip-shows including Hollywood: The Fabulous Era (1962), and, most famously, the historical miniseries Roots (1977). In so doing, Wolper Productions presented a reassuring history of the United States that comforted viewers and effaced current social crises. On the other side of the documentary field were left-leaning artists and activists that used independent film and local public television series to give voice to underrepresented groups and advocate for social justice. Many made work to be used by organizations fighting for Black Power, Yellow Power, the Chicano movement, and the women’s movement, blending entertainment with activism. Examples from Glick’s study include documentaries The Exiles and Chicano Moratorium: The Aftermath(1970), KCET program Doin’ It at the Storefront (1972–’73), and fiction film Killer of Sheep (1977).

This strict division between top-down and bottom-up documentary production may seem over-determined, but Glick shades his analysis by joining it with a robust history of the documentary film industry in Los Angeles. Glick traces a detailed history of the working relationships that filmmakers forged during these years. He shows the overlap in personnel among Wolper Productions, independent productions, the Human Affairs department at KCET, UCLA’s Ethno-Communications department, and the Asian-American filmmaking collective Visual Communications. By exploring the institutions and modes of production each employed, Glick’s comparisons of films about certain topics — the police, the Vietnam War, or the redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles — take on greater depth.

Chapters alternate between Wolper Productions and more independent makers, institutions, collectives, and universities. Formed in 1955, David Wolper’s company was a new kind of independent production company that capitalized on the waning power of Hollywood studios and the voracious demand for programming to fill the three networks’ schedules. While Wolper Productions also co-produced theatrical films Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and sitcoms Chico and the Man (1974–’78) and Welcome Back, Kotter (1975–’79), Glick concentrates on the studio’s television documentaries. He makes the strong case that these documentaries were largely responsible for burnishing the image, and then the memory, of President Kennedy. This direct relationship with political power continued, with Wolper producing a (shelved) film for the 1968 Democratic National Convention, serving on President Gerald Ford’s American Revolution Bicentennial Advisory Council, and planning the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Glick’s second chapter outlines filmmaker Kent Mackenzie’s career, and it serves as a guide for understanding subsequent chapters about filmmakers working in both independent and studio contexts. Mackenzie’s USC thesis film, Bunker Hill — 1956(1956), is a short, traditional expository documentary that argued against the redevelopment of Bunker Hill and the displacement of its elderly population. Mackenzie continued to work in the same geographic area on his more well-known film The Exiles, but he used a different style and focused on a different group. The Exilesis a poetic documentary that about three American Indians living in Bunker Hill. Influenced by the French New Wave, The Exiles is not an activist film. Rather, its political valance is implicit: the film renders American Indians as complex characters, dignifying their daily struggles and relationship to their heritage. Mackenzie drew on his filmmaking community to complete the independent project. At the same time, he worked for Wolper Productions and the United States Information Agency. While these assignments constrained his filmmaking practice and were made for very different exhibition contexts, it is interesting to note the similarities between Mackenzie’s independent production and his work for the USIA. A Skill for Molina (1964), for example, is a lyrical portrait of a Chicano man enrolled in a job-training program in order to better his and his family’s life. Somewhat formally similar to The Exiles, the USIA circulated A Skill for Molinaaround the world not as an independent, arthouse film, but as proof of the American dream in action.

While the beginning of Los Angeles Documentary highlights documentaries made by white male filmmakers, Glick similarly details the people and institutions that developed and supported marginalized people’s ability to represent themselves in media. KCET’s Human Affairs department, for example, was a key framework for making community-engaged documentaries and nonfiction series at the newly formed public television station. Jesús Salvador Treviño made documentaries like Chicano Moratorium: The Aftermath (1970), about a march against the Vietnam War that drew 20,000 Chicanos to Los Angeles; América Tropical (1971), about the 1932 creation of a controversial mural by artist David Alfaro Siqueiros; and Yo Soy Chicano (1972), which tells the history of Chicano people from pre-Columbian times to the present. Sue Booker took a different tack with a local series for KCET called Doin’ It at the Storefront (1972–’73). Shot in a “storefront” studio in South Central, this was more than a public television show: the studio’s open-door policy invited residents from the predominantly black community to bring news stories in, and it also served as a community center for meetings about health, education, and the arts.

The black independent film movement nurtured by the Ethno-Communications program at UCLA, commonly known as the L.A. Rebellion, has received well-deserved attention recently. Beginning with the 2007 restoration of the 1977 film Killer of Sheep(dir. Charles Burnett), film series and books like L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema have encouraged more people to view the work of artists like Burnett, Billy Woodberry, Julie Dash, and Haile Gerima. But Glick emphasizes that there were other minority filmmaking groups working within the same milieu. In 1970, Robert Nakamura, Eddie Wong, Duane Kubo, and Alan Ohashi formed the collective Visual Communications (VC) to make and show work about Asian-American identity. They screened their films, including Manzanar (1971), about a Japanese internment camp, and Wong Sinsaang (1971), about Wong’s father’s public and private life, at churches, community centers, and elementary schools. They also led post-screening discussions, interacting with their audience and community in ways that a television broadcast would preclude.

Glick does not shy away from discussing films made for political advocacy that ultimately did not serve that purpose. The short-lived filmmaking collective Los Angeles Newsreel, an outpost of the San Francisco–based California Newsreel, made Repression(1970) with and for the L.A. chapter of the Black Panthers. It portrays the Panthers’ programs for helping the black community in South Central and argues for working people of all races to band together in an armed resistance. However, when it was completed, the Panthers deemed the film too militant to be used for recruitment or education.

He also tackles the complicated history of Wattstax, a documentary of the 1972 Watts Summer Festival concert and a portrait of the Watts community. This was a high-stakes project for both Stax Records, which was trying to get into the movie business, and the studio they partnered with, Wolper Productions. Though Wolper Productions was hired for its expertise in the field of documentary filmmaking, Stax executives retained editorial control of the film, ensuring that it would represent Stax musicians and the community of Watts in the proper light.

Glick continues his investigation into Wolper Productions’s approach to black-themed stories with Roots. He traces the development of the project, from its spark in a conversation between Wolper and Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, to efforts to include African-American writers and directors in the production. The extremely popular miniseries, based on Alex Haley’s best seller, undoubtedly influenced viewers’ understanding of America’s legacy of slavery. Glick also compares Roots to Killer of Sheep. At this point, Glick is on shaky ground. The framework of public history is not strong enough to support comparisons between fiction films made in different modes of production, within different genres, and for different taste cultures. It is not surprising, nor particularly illuminating, that a big-budget, multipart production made for television and an independently made MFA thesis film have different ideological bents. The comparison also detracts from the focus on ostensible documentary films. Nevertheless, since both films about black experience were completed in Los Angeles in the same year, mentioning them in the same breath evokes the wide range of work being made at any one time.

And ultimately, that is Los Angeles Documentary’s greatest contribution: by detailing the profusion of documentaries made in Los Angeles during this time period, it is an argument against the press releases and tweets that claim one popular film or television show captures the zeitgeist. Instead, Glick shows how groups struggle to take ownership of the current moment by producing, distributing, and exhibiting documentary media. The book is an encouragement to engage, now, with documentaries being made at the grassroots level by activist filmmakers and collectives, rather than waiting for the glossy, neutered account of the struggle.

Hasidism A New History By David Biale, David Assaf, Benjamin Brown, Uriel Gellman, Samuel Heilman, Moshe Rosman, Gadi Sagiv, Marcin Wodziński Published 12.11.2017 Princeton University Press 896 Pages

The Ba'al Shem Tov, a charismatic folk healer, exorcist, clairvoyant, teacher, and mystical ecstatic who was said to have spoken to Satan and the Messiah-in-waiting — not to mention having merged directly with God — is often identified as the founder of Hasidism. Born somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains, on the seam between Poland and Bukovina at the end of the 17th century, this itinerant holy man, also known as the Besht, arrived at the bustling hub of Mezhbizh, in present-day Ukraine, with its volatile mix of Jews, Gentiles, poor and rich, around 1740. His reputation as a wonder-working Jewish mystic had preceded him, and the Besht was able to secure the enviable position of resident kabbalist. He set up shop with a collection of spells, amulets, special prayers, and potions, deftly navigating the fractious social and commercial interests of the town to become a treasured resource for people suffering every conceivable ill.

At one point he extracted the soul of a sinner from a frog. In another case, an alleged madwoman possessed by a dybbuk (the nomadic spirit of a malefactor undergoing posthumous punishment) challenged the Besht, who’d approached her as part of a rabbinic delegation, by pointing out that he did not meet the minimum age requirement for performing the magical rite of exorcism. The Besht calmly told the spirit to take stock of the mess he’d made. Just leave the woman alone, and all of us will study on your behalf, the Besht said. After he’d persuaded the spirit to privately give him his name, thereby proving he was serious about curtailing the dybbuk’s mortification, it meekly departed. In addition to expelling dybbuks and demons, there were numerous less sensational treatments the Besht offered, including one purporting to buoy the heart and fortify the brain through an elixir that was guaranteed not to cause diarrhea.

But more than all the miracles he could perform, the Besht’s influence grew so expansively because of the radical gloss on Kabbalah he disseminated, and the striking parables through which he communicated the essentials of his theology. As encapsulated by the eight authors of the enormously informative, monumental volume, Hasidism: A New History, the Besht’s primary revelation — achieved in the course of an ecstatic union with the Absolute — was that there was nowhere and nothing devoid of God’s presence. Mundane being was an illusion: “Everything offered a path to communion with the divinity,” the authors write. Many core principles of Hasidism derived from this overarching insight, “worship through corporality, rejection of asceticism, divine providence, and the positive role of evil in the world” among them.

While the idea of God’s all-pervading being had already been formulated in an important 16th-century appendix to the Zohar — arguably the most significant Kabbalistic work of all time — the Besht pushed this notion to the brink of full-blown pantheism. Every feature of human experience was now said to contain the Divine Presence, from drab worldly labors to euphoric love-making. Rather than separating themselves from the material realm, the faithful were enjoined to pursue the longed-for union with God by maximizing their worldly engagement. Indeed, since everything was imbued with God’s spirit, all the traditional divisions between the holy and profane collapsed, including the separation between soul and body, which had played such a prominent role in theology’s long struggle to distinguish good from evil.

This is not to say that for the Besht every carnal activity was automatically sacred, but that it had the potential to become so. Humanity’s mission on earth was to make this implicit holiness manifest. Hence, rather than denying the body’s desires, the pious were charged with elevating those needs. If one experienced, say, a surge of lustful thoughts one might seek to perceive these as allegorical placeholders for the yearning to unite with God, thereby enacting the Besht’s notion that so-called evil was only God’s tool to help humanity reach the good. Working, playing, eating, and sexual activity were all opportunities for consecrating the mundane through kavvanah, righteous intentionality. Instead of puritanical withdrawal, in the Besht’s version of Judaism the devout would fulfill their spiritual mission through a highly mindful simha — great happiness.

Confronting the tendency of some of his disciples to revert to ascetic practices such as fasting, the Besht wrote: “God’s Presence will not be inspired out of sorrow, but only out of the joy of performing the commandments.” Given the widespread impression of Jewish law as a formally exacting, emotionally detached set of responsibilities dictated by cerebral, stern rabbinic authorities — teachers spoke of the obligation to “accept the yoke of the commandments” — the Besht’s emphasis on simha was fertile and subversive.

The intensely physical approach to Judaism championed by the Besht found public expression in his manner of praying, which began with violent trembling accompanied by loud utterances, bulging eyes, and a burning face, then segued into wholesale ecstatic gyrations. This flamboyant devotional style proved infectious to his followers. (Hasidism in fact means piety, referring in rabbinic and medieval literature to exceptionally devout individuals — “saints”; but in time coming to designate disciples as well.) Feeling called upon to explain to those around him what was happening in his convulsive supplications, the Besht delivered a parable that remains telling for the greater Hasidic endeavor.

There was someone who played a fine musical instrument melodiously and with great tenderness. And those who heard him could not contain themselves for all the melodiousness and delight to the point where they would dance almost to the ceiling owing to the greatness of the delight and satisfaction and melodiousness. And anyone who was nearby and who would draw still closer in so as to hear this musical instrument would receive greater delight and would dance all the more mightily. And during this there came a deaf man who could not hear at all the sound of the melodious musical instrument, but only saw the impassioned dance of the people; they seemed to him insane.

The parable ends with the deaf man wondering what all this gladness could be achieving and the Besht reporting that if the deaf man had been able to discern the cause of the happiness he would have been dancing also. Through all its different iterations, Hasidic leaders have preserved variants of this distinction between those blessed with access to the melodious sound of the heavenly instrument, and those for whom that glorious music is on mute.

The Besht intended the parable as an invitation to people who might view his writhing prayer as madness to listen harder for the divine strains he and his followers were already tuned into. But in a theology otherwise so exultantly dedicated to erasing boundaries and finding the Divine Presence everywhere, this story also reveals the nagging exception to that admirably porous view of God’s bounty: the barrier between those inside and outside their community. The Besht’s poignant parable would not sound out of place on the lips of a cult leader cajoling proselytes to crawl into his bubble with the assurance that once there all the creepy weirdness will reveal its true beauty.

In recent times, in some of the most populous centers of Hasidism, notably the domain of the Satmar Hasidic community in Brooklyn and elsewhere, the more sinister cultish side of Hasidism has been on prominent display. With their notorious history of closing ranks around male community members guilty of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and various types of financial criminality, the Satmars have, in effect, revised the Besht’s cardinal insight that everything can become a route to God to something more like, “Everything outside our community is irrelevant, exploitable, or a path to mortal sin.” It’s a dramatic retreat from the Besht’s world-embracing, profoundly joyous vision of Judaism. But as Hasidism reveals, some of the dangerous, structural tensions in the Hasidic project were there from the start.


In truth, for all that the Besht’s teachings proved central to the formation of Hasidism, he himself can’t be considered the movement’s creator for the simple reason that no movement existed during his lifetime. The title was assigned him retroactively by the next generation of disciples to foment his ideas. Rather than viewing the Besht as a singular founding figure, the authors of Hasidism propose that he be seen as an influential representative of a larger spiritual revolution that unfolded over the latter half of the 18th century. And one of the book’s key arguments is that, for all its religious zeal, this revolution, far from being simply a recoil from the Enlightenment, took shape in a vexed, but animated conversation with modernity. Like the fundamentalist movements of our era, Hasidism was never really a retrenchment to some archaic, original form of Judaism untainted by compromise; it was, rather, a complex reinterpretation of the religion’s essential nature that took account of everything from secularism to broader cultural trends favoring greater enfranchisement of the public. As the writers note, Hasidism’s successful creation of a genuine mass movement was an entirely novel event in Jewish history, which should be grouped conceptually with more secular endeavors as part of the multifaceted phenomenon of post-Enlightenment Judaism.

Many of the ideas and practices that came to define Hasidism as a distinct movement were extrapolated from older layers of Jewish mystical thought. But the Hasidic leaders personalized and psychologized these doctrines with theories of self-realization largely absent from their kabbalistic antecedents. Where the early Kabbalists had focused on collective Jewish aspirations and destiny, a substantial part of Hasidic mystical thought is concerned with devotional prescriptions for individual elevation.

When the realm of speculative mysticism that became known as “Kabbalah” began to take shape in Southern France and Spain in the 13th century, it was, according to the field’s foremost scholar, Gershom Scholem, reintroducing a stratum of energizing mythological conceits into Judaism. Before Kabbalah, mythic imagery involving elements such as anthropomorphism of the divine or demonology was viewed as antithetical to Jewish monotheism. In Scholem’s gloss, until the first kabbalists began composing their explosive commentaries, the religion’s institutional gatekeepers had focused on narrow, rationalistic readings of the sacred literature, which risked distilling Judaism into a bloodless abstraction. By the time of Kabbalah’s heyday in the 16th century, Scholem argues, its leading theologians were creatively engaging with traumatic aspects of Jewish history (the Spanish Expulsion first and foremost) that had been neglected by mainstream rabbinic commentary; thereby producing a highly sophisticated symbolic discourse that both crystallized and elevated the Jewish plight. Sufferings and passions that made up everyday life were given profound significance in a body of thought that both fit the Jewish community’s woes into a grand meta-historical schema and made the individual believer an active agent in a new kind of mythic drama aimed at repairing the universe. The Kabbalah of teachers like Rabbi Isaac Luria persuaded the politically impotent Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe that certain rituals undertaken with kavvanah conferred on practitioners a revolutionary power that could swerve the course of history. The perennial desire to hasten the people’s deliverance could now be channeled through a devotional system that couched its innovative elements in daring interpretations of the traditional canon.

But for all that they might have been addressing the cravings and terrors of the Jewish masses, Kabbalistic manuscripts were often forbiddingly dense and demanding. Study of Kabbalah was largely confined to a scholarly elect who, at least in theory, had to pass various benchmarks of maturity and stability before being permitted access to the incendiary mystical texts. While some Kabbalistic ideas were popularized, the leading Kabbalists themselves retained an aura of esotericism and exclusivity. In this sense, the revolutionary Kabbalistic ennoblement of ordinary human experience was circumscribed by the elitism of the mystics themselves.

By contrast, the Besht boasted no higher rabbinic learning, and the circle that formed around him subordinated the value of erudition to religious enthusiasm. The Kabbalistic ideas his adherents promoted were notable for their visceral popular appeal, such as methodologies for spiritual ascension to the heavens and union with God. Rather than being tasked with mastering the allusive labyrinth of abstruse texts, Hasidic leaders gave fresh emphasis to magical-mystical techniques for manipulating the letters in the Hebrew alphabet that dispensed altogether with the meaning of words. No less importantly for the movement’s long-term sustainability, Hasidism displaced the Messianic strains of Lurianic Kabbalah from the national plane onto the sphere of individual consciousness. For instance, Barukh ben Avraham of Kosow, an old-style pietist on the periphery of the Besht’s circle, contended that the language of Lurianic Kabbalah, while apparently narrating cosmic events, referred just to thought processes. Barukh “turned Luria’s ontological and theological categories into descriptions of psychological states,” write Hasidism’s authors. In Scholem’s analysis, this transformation was key to how the movement neutralized the seditious and sublime features of Jewish messianic desire.

Instead of fostering a nascent political consciousness, as Lurianic Kabbalah had done in the communal upheaval surrounding Sabbatai Tzvi (an infamous false messiah of the 17th century), Hasidic Kabbalah expressed its radicalism by disrupting the intra-Jewish hierarchy of authority. Throughout Jewish history, study and learning, along with scholarly lineage, served as the primary avenues to power. By shifting the religion’s emphasis to experiential communion with God, Hasidism “democratized Jewish worship,” and moved the religion’s spiritual axis from textual knowledge to emotional prayer.

However, this democratization did not herald the rise of a more egalitarian society on earth. While the religious ardor that Hasidism prioritized in synagogue might have been broadly attainable, this style of worship emerged together with a novel cultural paradigm of even greater bearing for the movement’s future: the emergence of the tsaddik, or “righteous man.” The tsaddikim pioneered the formation of an entirely new social structure in Judaism: the court of the righteous man. Much of Hasidism is dedicated to presenting a granular history of the appearance and growth of these disparate courts, each with its own presiding tsaddik or “rebbe,” at numerous geographical locations, primarily but not exclusively in Eastern Europe and Russia. The archival spadework behind this exposition is vast; the dynasties of these courts have never been mapped in such detail or contextualized so thoroughly.

Each tsaddik, whether he oversaw a small or gigantic court, (some came to number their followers in the tens of thousands), was free to fashion his own vision of Hasidic customs and beliefs. “Not one, but the full range of these ideas must count as constituting Hasidism,” explain the authors. One of the book’s virtues is the comprehensive reckoning it provides with the question of how a movement possessing only the vaguest, most rudimentary core identity could have been so prolifically franchised.


The Besht himself, with his charismatic arsenal of magic, miracles, mystical wisdom, and devotional ecstasies exemplified the type of the tsaddik that the first generations of Hasidic holy men sought to emulate. After his death, the Besht’s disciples began to acquire followers of their own. When this paradigm of powerful holy men surrounded by fervent disciples started to spread, Hasidism proper was born.

As Hasidism reveals, the truisms about Hasidism establishing “a sort of a democratic meritocracy in which the latent potential of the common people is allowed to rise to the top,” are belied by the reality of a rigid “hierarchical structure, which left no room for any sort of mobility into the elite.” The tsaddikim transferred their authority through a dynastic system, supplemented by powerful rabbis from the traditional networks of communal authority.

Even apart from the issue of the extremely limited pool eligible to become a tsaddik, any truly democratic implications of a Jewish modality that privileged prayer over knowledge were swiftly subsumed in a system that positioned the tsaddik as the only point of access to the divine. Hasidim were enjoined to break their hearts in rapturous supplication. “It is the broken heart that smashes through all the locks, taking us directly to our father and to the reward that He seeks to give us,” proclaimed the Maggid of Mezritsh, perhaps the Besht’s most important disciple. But while ecstatic prayer might, in theory, represent a direct path to God accessible to all devout Jews, in practice that path was traversed the full distance only by the tsaddik.

The tsaddikim “served as intercessors,” write the authors, “providing the channels through which their followers could commune with the divine.” Indeed, the Besht himself supposedly remarked of the Maggid: “He doesn’t just know the Torah, he is the Torah.” It’s hardly surprising that the veneration such a stature inspired could veer close to idolatrous reverence. Some of the Hasidic tsaddikim were altruistic, theologically dynamic community advocates; others were crooks, charlatans, and vainglorious petty despots. The institution of the tsaddik was only as benign as the character of its individual representatives.

Ya’akov Yosef, another important follower of the Besht, developed a “biological” model for the tsaddik’s role. He compared society to a human body with its various organs, some more crucial than others. The tsaddik, in this analogy, occupied the position of head, eyes, heart, and soul. Nonetheless, though the tsaddik might be said to have monopolized all the higher parts of the human organism, if any element of this composite body became ill, every other organ suffered. “The tsaddik himself was therefore affected by the problems of even the least significant people,” write the authors. He was unable to rest so long as even a single Hasid was beset by sin, and had to labor unrelentingly to elevate this spiritually enslaved individual. However, according to Yosef, the constant demands of his double obligation to God and the Jewish people were so great that the tsaddik had to be released from all material concerns. The community bore responsibility for catering to the tsaddik’s worldly needs. A tsaddik’s court became the chief setting in which he both attended to the problems of the people and was himself invested by them with the sometimes lavish honoraria befitting his role.

The Maggid was the first Hasid to set up a court. Jews went on pilgrimage to his home village in present-day Poland, where they received his teachings and blessings. After his death in 1772, his disciples created multiple new centers for their own burgeoning retinues at different locations. By the end of the 18th century, the number of Hasidic courts could still be counted in the dozens, but the new type of leadership they represented, bridging all sorts of formerly distinct communal roles, was already attracting attention. Some of this scrutiny from older rabbinic authorities was predictably hostile, but the concept of an accessible holy man, possessing a privileged line of communication to the divine, resonated among large parts of the population, while the frequent dramas around the dynastic succession at these courts carried its own intrigue.

In their formal structure, Hasidic courts often reproduced aspects of the relationship between European nobility and peasants, testifying to the ways Hasidism, even as it proclaimed its hyper-pious, self-sufficient character, was in fact assimilating elements of the surrounding society. Some courts even became beneficiaries of noble patronage, and the most popular tsaddikim acquired sumptuous accessories evocative of the royal courts they were mimicking: carriages and servants, tapestries, ornate furniture, and even the occasional court jester. The image of extravagant courts established in the East European hinterland by wonder-working rebbes and their acolytes — the whole community garbed in distinctive regalia praying feverishly, performing miracles, struggling with natural calamities and rampaging Cossacks — has a dreamlike character that writers like Martin Buber and Isaac Bashevis Singer conveyed to Western Jewish audiences hungry for authenticity. For all that the power they exercised was primarily emotional and mystical, the Hasidim were creating a magnetic kind of Jewish royalty in the sticks.

As the book shows, Hasidism in the 18th century, with its vibrant, eccentric heterogeneity, by and large played the part of a “radical ferment” in the Jewish world. If the transcendent powers of the tsaddikim carried inherent risks, the rough-and-tumble competition between nascent courts, in conjunction with the rapidly evolving, predominantly life-affirming nature of Hasidism’s message to the Jewish people, put checks on the darker, more tyrannical aspects of the movement.

But this phase of Hasidic history was relatively short-lived. Events in the latter half of the 19th century, above all the increasing inroads made by secular culture on religious Jewish identity, transformed Hasidism into a fierce bulwark of tradition. Why a movement that had at first turned outward to the sensual world should prove so susceptible to reversing its focus — shutting out external reality, and renouncing joy for anger and fear — is a complex question that even the 800-plus pages of this volume cannot fully answer. The inordinate power accorded to the tsaddikim was always bound to be perilous, however. With the outside world becoming steadily more menacing to Jews and Judaism, a process culminating in the Holocaust and the metastasizing secular temptations of new media, it’s easy to imagine a closed-minded, passionately conservative rebbe becoming a surrogate for communal mourning on a cosmic scale.

In time, most Hasidic leaders came to identify all forms of innovation with corruption. As Rabbi Simcha Yisakhar Halberstam remarked at the start of the 20th century,

experience has taught us much, that all those who sought to innovate and to eliminate any item from the ancient practice have brought upon us an erosion and destruction of the fundamentals of the faith, and consequently we must not shift even in the slightest and only conduct ourselves as our ancestors have.

It no longer mattered that the ideal behavior of the ancestors was itself quasi-mythical, or that the movement defending this ancient, imaginary essence of the religion was itself a product of modernity. The end result was chillingly intolerant.

Much of Hasidism’s rich variegation was lost in the aggressive campaign to reach a state of total fundamentalism. As the movement became increasingly aligned with Ultraorthodoxy, which shared its cultural antipathies, if not always its approach to prayer or study, Hasidism grew more homogenous still. The tremendous losses suffered by the Hasidic community in the Holocaust reinforced the movement’s most reactionary tendencies.

Hadisim’s radical conservatism plays out on the family front in dictatorial control of sexuality and a rigid gender segregation that usually relegates women to the role of childbearing facilitators for the temple-and-study centered lives of the men. When Hasidic women leave home to work for money, as is increasingly necessary in this poverty-stricken community, it’s so that Hasidic men can perform the real work of service to God. Beyond the longstanding social constraints, Hasidism also describes a “one-upmanship” that’s taken hold in some quarters whereby community members flaunt their respective fundamentalist credentials. If all Hasidic men wear side-locks, some today grow their side-locks longer and longer. If all women are required to cover their hair and bodies with maximal modesty, some women in Hasidic neighborhoods of Jerusalem now wear a burka-like veil over their clothes, in imitation of Islamist female garb. It’s difficult to believe that the lure of the outside world has not grown in tandem with the increasingly punitive approach to piety and life as such. Yet, with its high fertility rate, the Hasidic population continues to grow at a rate well above average. And leaving the folds of the community has proven to be a challenge few people can successfully accomplish.


One of Us — a harrowing documentary by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady — examines the shocking mistreatment of individuals who try to break away from the Satmar community today. One of the film’s subjects is a teenage boy who is brutally raped by an authority figure, abetted by his attendants, at a Hasidic summer camp. The community refuses to address the crime, leaving the young man emotionally broken and pitifully isolated. He feels betrayed by the community, but has none of the education, skills, or relationships that might enable him to build a new existence beyond its purview. Another subject is a woman who, after 12 years in an abusive marriage, tries to leave her husband without losing her children. She is repeatedly physically harassed and threatened by her spouse’s allies. Her husband twice tells her son that he is going to “mow her down.” Shortly thereafter, she is struck and injured in a hit-and-run incident she believes to have been orchestrated by her husband.

“We don’t talk about domestic violence, about hitting kids, about sexual abuse,” the woman says of the Hasidic community. “One Jew is never allowed to hand in another Jew to the authorities for anything.” Doing so, she asserts, is viewed as breaking a religious commandment. Her husband warns her repeatedly that the law of the country doesn’t come into their house. It is an unforgivable violation, she recounts, “to publicize our secrets, our beautiful secrets.”

A counselor working with Footsteps (an organization that provides assistance to people attempting to leave the enclave of the Satmars) describes post-Holocaust Hasidim as a movement built on trauma; the idea of allowing their children contact with the outside world appears to psychologically replicate the threat of communal extermination. But unlike the Hasidim of the 18th or 19th century, today’s Satmar community, because of its high birthrate, and because it votes as a bloc for candidates endorsed by their rebbe, have come to wield significant political power. The Satmars have learned how to use legal loopholes and to hire expensive lawyers to advance their interests, no matter how antithetical these might be to the values ostensibly promoted by the law in a free democratic society.

The woman seeking a divorce in One of Us learns that in New York State a person who wants custody of her children has to maintain the status quo of the children’s life before their parents’ breakup. Because the Hasidim now exist in such a self-enclosed, internally consistent world, it’s virtually impossible to raise the children in a manner reproducing that experience apart from the community itself. If a parent is actively exploring life in the outside world, even if she does not attempt to undermine her children’s religious beliefs, the status quo is implicitly violated. Before the end of One of Us, the mother in question has lost custody of her children. To all appearances, this separation is a tragic injustice in which the state is grossly complicit.


Although in terms of sheer numbers the Satmars constitute the largest surviving Hasidic community, they do not represent the only face of Hasidism today. The young emissary families of the Lubavitchers — Judaism’s only proselytizing movement — are based everywhere from Goa and Shanghai to Stockholm and Rio. They have built a worldwide reputation for offering warm hospitality to strangers, without any overt judgmentalism about their guests’ ways of life. If they can encourage the Jewish beneficiaries of their generosity to perform a single commandment, this is perceived as a step toward tikkun olam, the kabbalistic repair of the world; and if their guests do nothing but accept their hospitality still, they themselves are bringing a joyful blessing into Creation. If one is not troubled by the ulterior motive of saving the universe by nurturing greater Jewish ritual observance in whatever way possible, the activity of Lubavitcher’s outreach families can seem a gracious expression of piety. At its best, these individual Lubavitchers practice a form of Hasidism that appears to resurrect aspects of the vision of the movement’s early founders.

But still it’s hard to shake the image of the victims of modern-day Hasidism’s fundamentalist patriarchy. The lives of these individuals have been ravaged, not only by specific antagonists from the community, but by an institutional system. “I am invisible,” the female subject of One of Us announces at last in despair. For the “sin” of not being able to hear the divine music of which the Besht wrote so movingly, these people live in danger not just of being silenced, but erased altogether.

Hasidism ends on an upbeat note. Having now passed its 250th anniversary, the movement epitomizes a paradox: defining itself as the rejection of all things modern, “it owes its identity to the very world it rejects,” the authors write. Compelled by war and vast cultural changes to navigate a reality profoundly remote from the Eastern European centers where it was conceived, Hasidism has managed to thrive. Its success “is a sign of its vitality,” and of the way it has made traditionalism a potent identity. “[I]nsofar as traditionalism is itself modern, Hasidism has made a remarkable contribution to the modern history of the Jews.”

“Remarkable” of course is not inevitably a positive adjective, and the introduction of a powerfully retrograde strand into any religion might be considered a “remarkable contribution” to its modern history, even if that contribution’s net result is to pull the community backward in time. But the allusion to vitality is a trickier matter. While Hasidic communities are certainly flourishing in terms of population size, the severe poverty afflicting many of these groups complicates the assertion. Driven by notoriously weak education in nonreligious subjects, and by a bias against profane labors in general, the economic struggles of Hasidic communities frequently result in an overwhelming reliance on state welfare. Vitality and excessive dependency are not easily reconciled. Nor does any vitality that the movement still possesses often manifest in positive contributions to the society at large. In the 2016 elections, only 24 percent of the Jewish vote nationwide went for Trump, and Trump won almost every Hasidic community by overwhelming majorities. In these circumstances, Hasidism’s vitality might even be seen as toxic.

And still it is true, as the authors of Hasidism argue, that the ideaof the movement exerts “an enduring fascination” on nonobservant Jews and non-Jews alike. For the uninitiated, Hasidism can appear “both exotic and as a repository of spirituality.” Apart from any historical reality it “serves as a mirror on which those from the outside have repeatedly projected their fantasies of religious renewal.” The question of whether these sentimental, nostalgic fantasies are themselves positive is one which the multifold historical insights of this book allow the reader to ponder.

Until a substantial body of Hasidic leaders is prepared to grapple with the problem of a social structure that facilitates the infliction and concealment of grave abuse, and of an institutional framework that countenances the exploitation of a pluralistic society’s resources together with the repudiation of its democratic values, it’s difficult to feel much enthusiasm for the movement’s lingering joys.

A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century Paperback – March 15, 2016 by Jerome Charyn (Bellevue Literary Press)

Author Jerome Charyn would make a good detective. I thoroughly enjoyed following him as he hunted down clues about Emily Dickinson. The man certainly moved heaven and earth in order to find the "real" her, going wherever her ghost led him from shadow box makers to ballerinas to daguerreotype dealers and everywhere in between. He traced her footsteps from her sparse bedroom inside the family homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts into the dark, hidden corners of her mind, and still the trail ran cold.

Charyn's agitation at being stymied time and again simmered delightfully off the page, and I felt myself getting disgruntled right along with him. How could such a pivotal figure in American literature, simply hide in plain sight before disappearing into the ether? He states his case in an anecdote about the famed "Uncle Tom's Cabin" authoress, Harriet Beecher Stowe, upon her visit to the prominent Dickinson household. Charyn hypothesizes that the two women, despite sharing a deep understanding about the power of the written word, never actually met. There is no historical record of it, and due to Emily's hermit-like tendencies, it's unlikely they crossed paths. But to think that the greater literary talent didn't receive any of the acclaim the other did during her lifetime, is one of those moments in the book where you lift your eyes to the skies and scream: why?

That's where the source of Charyn's agitation stems from, and I totally understand it. He wants more for her than she wanted for herself. His admiration for her talent, her unique voice, her courage to break boundaries is expressed with unfailing admiration and respect in this homage to her. Writing this book is his way of paying tribute to a genius as he tries to get as close as he can to her, but like every man before him, he fails every time, catching merely a glimpse of her wan face before she fades right back into the shadows.

American Meteor (The American Novels) Paperback – June 9, 2015 by Norman Lock (Bellevue Literary Press)

There’s a good reason that historical fiction has broken free of its bodice ripper status and is rapidly becoming part of the modern literary canon. It’s a genre that offers the writer an impressive array of tools beyond the delight of creating a dramatic and different setting. Writers can use the readers’ knowledge of history to swiftly create a resonant story that echoes far beyond the confines of the book (think Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra — the audience watches the lovers squabble already fully aware of what great kingdoms are at stake). Conversely, the writer can use the readers’ misunderstanding of history to create a shock that wouldn’t be possible if only the lives of fictional characters were at stake. it lets us write origin stories that show the foundation of our world, and it helps us to create literature with an enormous range, from the petty details of the characters’ lives to the great events of human history. In one slender book, Norman Lock has made use of all the tools in the historical fiction writer’s arsenal, telling a sweeping story of the American West through the single eye of a child veteran of the civil war.

The veteran in American Meteor is young Stephan Moran, a bugler who loses his eye in battle, but still manages to patch together a life as a not particularly talented photographer of the West after the war. Having begun his adolescence in the midst of bloodshed, he swiftly loses his innocence, saying,

And heaven? A boy, I pictured it as a field of fireflies on a
summer’s night — each tiny yellow light a blessed soul. If
my childish fancy is true, then the end of days for hosanna-
hymning bugs lies in the bloated belly of a bat.

This voice, as vivid as it is grim, never becomes nihilistic. Stephan, who has no high opinion of himself, is deeply touched by the poetry and person of Walt Whitman, searches for beauty and love, and possesses “the child’s eager and easily wounded heart.” What he does not possess is any illusion about the world around him. Although he was a union soldier, he doesn’t hesitate to say,

In the days after the Draft Riots, the northbound Marion
might have passed corpses of former slaves lynched and
butchered by New York’s resentful poor — their bodies
dumped in the East River and left for the currents to
carry them resignedly south into everlasting captivity.

Though he loves Walt Whitman, he recognizes the much older man’s racist hatred of American Indians, and though he is indebted to a wealthy railroad owner, he despises the man for his arrogance and his destruction of the Western landscape. He is shocked, though, as I was, by his discovery of hundreds of dead buffalo.

The wind pushed a lumbering cloud across the face of
the sun, and the bones, which an instant before had been
slashes of fierce light, darkened. The mule shied, whinnied,
and hee-hawed. I whipped it with an anger I did not
understand. I suppose what provoked me and agitated
the poor beast was fear. The soughing of the tall grass
couldn’t be heard for the flies, as loud and insolent as they’d
been four years earlier in the Armory Square Hospital’s bedpans.
. . . .The commander of Fort Dodge, where pretty boy Custer
was stationed, liked to tell the newspapers, “Every dead buffalo
is one Indian gone.” The government was hell-bent on exterminating

His child’s eager and vulnerable heart carries him onward across the great expanse of the American West, following with mixed wonder and grief the meteor-like path of Manifest Destiny. Along the way he has flashes of the future that stretch to the present and beyond, creating a book that is a paean to beauty and a warning of its loss.

Ritz and Escoffier: The Hotelier, the Chef, and the Rise of the Leisure Class by Luke Barr Clarkson Potter, 312 pp., $26.00

César Ritz (1850–1918) gave his name to some of the world’s most luxurious hotels—in Paris, Madrid, and London—as well as to the ninety-one hotels in the Ritz-Carlton chain and, posthumously, to a cracker. His surname even became an adjective, “ritzy.” The success of his original hotel enterprises owed much to his partner, Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935), history’s most celebrated cook and still the secular patron saint of most professional chefs.

They were both crooks. (So was Ritz’s deputy, Louis Echenard.) On March 7, 1898, their employers, the Savoy Hotel in London, where Ritz was the general manager, sacked them for larceny, embezzlement, and fraud. The Savoy managed to recoup £19,137, “a significant amount,” writes the food historian Luke Barr in his new book about the rascally pair. But he does not convert the figure to today’s money to show us how significant: £19,137 in 1898 is equivalent to £2,412,123 (about $3.2 million) in 2018. For comparison, Barr says, “the hotel’s total profits” that year were £20,276, equal to £2,555,688 (about $3.4 million) today.

They’d been thieving since Escoffier joined the hotel on April 6, 1890; even so, it’s no mean feat of pilfering to have, in only eight years, stuffed their pockets with nearly the entire profits of a good year. While Ritz, who went on to open the Carlton and then the hotels that bear his name, paid back an enormous sum to the Savoy, Escoffier, who had no head for money, only managed to return £500 of the £8,000 he owed.

Ritz had risen impressively above his background. He was the last of thirteen children from a poor peasant family in Niederwald, Switzerland; Barr says he was ashamed of his “large, peasant-size hands and feet.” At twelve he had the good fortune to go a Jesuit college as a boarder. When he reached fifteen and needed to prepare for a career, he apprenticed for the summer as a wine waiter at a hotel; but the proprietor told him, according to the unreliable memoir by Ritz’s wife, Marie, “You’ll never make anything of yourself in the hotel business. It takes a special knack, a special flair, and…you haven’t got it.” Ritz went back to the Jesuit college, where he worked as a sacristan, then made his optimistic way to Paris in time for the 1867 Universal Exhibition.

Escoffier, also from humble origins, was the son of the village blacksmith in Villeneuve-Loubet near Nice. At thirteen, he was apprenticed to his uncle, who had opened a restaurant in Nice that catered to the well-off winter visitors; as he showed promise as a cook, Escoffier found a job in Paris in 1865, when he was nineteen. Called up for military service shortly afterward, he spent almost seven years in the army, going to Metz as chef de cuisine of the Rhine Army when the Franco-Prussian War began in 1870. His army experience led to his interest in preservation, especially canning food; he would later bottle and sell sauces labeled with his name.

The two met in 1884. Ritz was managing a hotel in Monte Carlo that belonged to his wife’s aunt and uncle, but lost his chef to the new Hôtel de Paris at the casino. Ritz had heard great things about Escoffier, and finally located him. “Temperamentally,” writes Barr, “they were opposites.” Whereas “Ritz was outgoing, debonair, and excitable…Escoffier was cerebral and methodical. Ritz was extravagant, ambitious, and prone to self-doubt, while Escoffier was self-assured and precise.” Both married up socially—Ritz in 1888 to Marie-Louise Beck, and Escoffier in 1880 (some sources say 1878) to Delphine Pauline Daffis, a poet and the daughter of a publisher; both were always in businesses that depended on wealthy, often aristocratic patrons. Social climbing was part of their careers.

Barr refers to Ritz’s mental illness and mentions that he had a final “nervous breakdown” in 1902, but he does not mention the often-cited possibility that Ritz suffered from what was then called manic depression. Though mania might provide a clue to why Ritz was drawn to larceny, there is no comparable explanation for Escoffier’s crimes. His sole excuse was that, in taking kickbacks and a 5 percent commission in cash from his suppliers (who made up their losses by shorting their deliveries to the Savoy), he was only following the long-standing customs and practices of his trade.

The land on which the Savoy Hotel stands was bought in 1880 by the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte to build the Savoy Theatre, dedicated to presenting the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, which he produced. Impressed by the opulence of the American hotels in which he’d stayed while touring, D’Oyly Carte decided to build, on the same site as the theater, London’s first luxury hotel, with electric lighting, elevators serving the 268 rooms, and marble bathrooms with constant hot water. These were all novel in London in 1889, when the hotel opened, but it lost money in its first year of operation. The board of directors (which included the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, the impresario Carl Rosa, and George Grossmith, co-author of Diary of a Nobody) decided that the general manager, W. Hardwicke, was responsible for the hotel’s poor performance and dismissed him.

D’Oyly Carte had been courting Ritz for some time, and now made him the irresistible offer of an annual salary of £1,200 (about $200,000 today), with equally generous wages for Echenard, his deputy and wine buyer, and Escoffier, who was by now the first celebrity chef de cuisine. The chef became the chum of Émile Zola and the friend (some say lover) of Sarah Bernhardt; he attracted the favors of the famous, for a few of whom he named dishes—pêche Melba (after the Australian soprano), poularde Adelina Patti (after another soprano), filets de sole Walewska (after the mistress of Napoleon III). Soon their most important client was the Prince of Wales, who probably used other parts of the Savoy to entertain at least some of his mistresses (rumored to have numbered fifty-five).

Ritz and D’Oyly Carte’s business plan, says Barr, “was for the Savoy to occupy the very heart of cosmopolitan London, to bring together in spectacular fashion socialites and celebrities, royalty and bohemian artists, and newly minted millionaires, night after night—all the energy and drama of the city in one place.” They also wanted to attract a female clientele, as women then seldom ate or entertained outside their homes, so they paid special attention to features of the dining room, such as flattering lighting. But it was Escoffier’s cooking “that was of utmost importance to the Savoy’s success,” Barr tells us. “It was the cooking that would entice new visitors, and bring them back.”

What was Escoffier’s cooking like? There’s a clue in the fact that it was the target of the culinary rebellion by the nouvelle cuisine chefs that began in the 1970s. In his day, Barr writes, Escoffier’s cuisine was novel,

less complicated than [that of his famous predecessor Carême] had been, shorn of unnecessary ornamentation, inedible decoration, and too many sauces. Food should be food, said Escoffier. Surtout, faites simple was his motto—“above all, make it simple.”…Ultimately, he wanted the ingredients to shine through.

Escoffier, of course, made genuine changes to the haute cuisine of his predecessors, but for the nouvelle cuisine chefs, who sought even more lightness, freshness, and simplicity, his cooking was fussy, overelaborate, and oversauced. One sixteen-course banquet—including bird’s nest soup, borscht, crayfish, chicken, lamb, ortolan, quail, and braised turtle fins—had four sweet courses, but only one of vegetables or salad. At a dinner put on by the Prince of Wales, the quail was “stuffed with large-dice foie gras and then wrapped in bacon and lined up in large terrines.”

Escoffier is revered, even by today’s chefs, for his kitchen reforms and for elevating the social status of the profession. Kitchens were hot, sweaty places, even after coal-fired ranges were replaced with gas burners. Cooks rehydrated themselves with beer, which meant a good deal of drunkenness by the time dinner was served. Escoffier banned alcohol consumption (and smoking and shouting) in the kitchen and insisted that no one ever appear in public with dirty chefs’ whites or wear their whites on the street.

Even better for the chefs, waiters, diners, and profits, he restructured the kitchen, introducing the idea of brigades under his overall command. Now, instead of being responsible for cooking dishes from beginning to end, the cooks were divided into parallel teams, each dealing with a single aspect of a dish as assigned by the appropriate chef de partie, or station chef, who oversaw each brigade. This organization greatly sped up the time needed for preparation, reduced waste, and increased the chances of customers getting their food while it was hot. Escoffier also solved the problems, Barr writes, of English clients not understanding menu French and not knowing “how to arrange a pleasing series of courses” by developing the prix fixe meal: “For any party of at least four people, Escoffier would create a personalized seven-course menu for a set price.”

Ritz, for his part, saw that their business depended on the Savoy’s attracting “respectable” society women of the sort who formerly did not dine in restaurants. He had somehow to rid the hotel of the many high-class prostitutes who frequented it. Ritz’s solution was to require formal evening dress. “No unaccompanied women,” Barr writes, “would be admitted, nor any woman wearing a hat. (An extravagant hat worn in the evening, Ritz had discovered, was a sign of trouble.)” He was not so worried by the teenaged male prostitutes Oscar Wilde brought to the hotel—despite “the stains on his sheets” during his and Lord Alfred Douglas’s stay in March 1893—or by Wilde’s taking more than a year to pay the bill.

Notwithstanding the glitz, glamor, and high turnover of Ritz and Escoffier’s first year at the Savoy, there was not enough profit to pay a dividend to the ordinary shareholders. But revenues and profits increased—until September 1897, when profits suddenly went down 40 percent. That month, D’Oyly Carte’s wife and partner, Helen, who had long had doubts about Ritz, received a letter of nine foolscap pages. Signed only “One Who Knows,” it alleged wholesale corruption. The best-attested charge was the complaint of the managers at Bellamy’s, one of the Savoy’s chief grocery suppliers, that they were finding it hard to “allow 5% off the Savoy account, give 5% to the chef and supply Ritz and Echenard’s private homes for nothing.” Kickbacks were almost the least of it—Ritz was charging his taxis and even his family’s laundry to the hotel. Escoffier collected his bribes in cash, paid for, writes Barr, by “a stunning 30 to 40 percent shortfall in the deliveries to the Savoy.”

The directors had no option but to fire Ritz, Escoffier, and Echenard, telling them to leave the premises immediately. Ritz responded by persuading his coconspirators to join him in suing for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract, and the hotel then had to investigate their crimes even more carefully. The result was the Savoy’s countersuit, and on January 3, 1900, all three culprits signed confessions. Ritz’s describes his looting wine worth £3,476 ($555,539 today), some of which he had used to entertain potential investors in his new schemes outside the Savoy; he had also had the gall to charge these lunches and dinners to the Savoy and allow his friends to run up colossal unpaid bills. His personal stockbroker owed £281 ($44,910 today) for meals, which he never paid; his doctor never paid either.

The scandal emerged only in 1983. I was food and wine editor of the Observer newspaper, and a friend, the late Sarah Howell, a commissioning editor for the Observer magazine, handed me an envelope that contained copies of the signed confessions and supporting documents that had obviously come from the Savoy’s archives. Sarah said she was merely an intermediary, giving these to me to use on the condition that I didn’t inquire into their sources. The late Ann Barr (no relation to Luke) and I first published the Ritz-Escoffier saga in The Official Foodie Handbook in 1984. In print (and in the several TV documentaries that followed), I called my benefactor “Deep Palate,” and he has only now given me permission to reveal his identity: it was Ian Bostridge, the opera and lieder singer (and contributor to The New York Review) with a doctorate in history, who gained access to the Savoy’s archives when working for a major accounting firm during his year off between secondary school and university.

Luke Barr almost makes good on the promise of his subtitle to describe “the rise of the leisure class.” He does give the reader a glimpse of how mobile (and slippery) Edwardian social life was, so that anybody with money could dine at the Savoy. Barr is especially sensitive to, and frequently mentions, the anti-Semites who resented the part wealthy Jews had in the creation of this new, democratic leisure class; he bridles at an anti-Semitic remark about a party host in a gossip column: “A very large specimen of the Hebrew fraternity, and if his manners are not quite as polished as the Earl of Beaconsfield, it is not to be wondered at.”

Not every reader, perhaps, will get the punch line. “The Earl of Beaconsfield” was the title created for Disraeli, and the columnist is nastily saying that you would not expect an uncouth Jew to have the good manners of a prime minister, even one of Jewish origin.

In general, Barr has trouble with British titles (which are important to telling the story of a pair of rogues whose livelihood depended on snobbery), listing “lords, barons, and earls” even though barons and earls are ipso facto lords. He also writes that to be made a peer is to be “given the title of ‘Lord,’” apparently without realizing that, in the late nineteenth century, a peerage was primarily a seat in the second chamber of Parliament, which, of course, came with a title. Barr is excellent on food except when he gives the ingredients of ratatouille but calls the dish “cassoulet.” He understands the history and culinary properties of ingredients and recipes, however—even of Escoffier’s bizarrely beloved birds’ nest soup. He knows what chefs actually do, as when he explains the division of labor in the professional kitchen and the preparation of the quail described above.

The real failing of this entertaining book, though, is the novelization of the narrative: Barr constantly tells us, with no source cited, what is going on in his characters’ heads. And he does not address the issue of why the D’Oyly Cartes and their directors never made public the confessions of Ritz and Escoffier. After all, from 1896 to 1899, Ritz was building the Carlton Hotel in Haymarket, designed to be the sole competitor to the Savoy. Why didn’t the Savoy reveal the dirty secret and run him out of town? The answer, I believe, is that though the Prince of Wales exacerbated the situation by remaining loyal to Ritz, even to the extent of planning to use the Carlton for his eventual coronation events (“Where Ritz goes, I go”), the gentlemen of the Savoy did not wish to distress the ailing, elderly Queen Victoria by making royal trouble—and perhaps they were also a little nervous, lest it come out that Ritz and the Savoy had facilitated the frolics of the future king.

California Dreaming: Ideology, Society, and Technology in the Citrus Industry of Palestine, 1890-1939 (Suny Series in Israeli Studies (Paperback)) Paperback – June 1, 2012 by Nahum Karlinsky (SUNY Press)

The citrus industry of Palestine has often been associated with the myths and ideals of the Labor Movement and its Zionist-Socialist ideology. The Jaffa orange, like the young pioneer and the collective kibbutz, was emblematic of a colonizing meta-narrative that marginalized or even denounced the private entrepreneurs--both Arabs and Jews--who were the true founders and proponents of the flourishing citrus industry in Palestine. California Dreaming reveals that these private entrepreneurs regarded the California citrus industry as their primary model of emulation. Utilizing an innovative multidisciplinary approach, Nahum Karlinsky vividly reconstructs the social fabric, economic structure, and ideological tenets of the Jewish citrus industry of Palestine in the early twentieth century. Also accentuated is the role of Palestinian-Arab citrus growers, whose industry predated that of their Jewish counterparts, and the complex relationship between the two national sectors that operated side by side.

Eye on Israel: How America Came to View Israel as an Ally Paperback – January 1, 2007 by Michelle Mart (SUNY Press)

Plenty of people have written about the US alliance with Israel. But just how did the United States get to the point of regarding Israel as an ally in the first place? Michelle Mart has some ideas on this matter.

Yes, we've had a State Department that has been strongly pro-oil and has often been anti-Israeli for two reasons: residual inherent anti-Jewish biases plus ties to the Arab world. But we've had a Congress that has been pro-Israeli, and a public that has been pro-Israeli. Where do these attitudes come from?

Mart shows us some of the possibilities. She gives examples of books, movies, and even magazine articles that have helped shape Israel's image in the minds of many Americans. We see how the events of World War Two helped make up the minds of some folks, not always in the simple sense that some Americans felt that the Jews had been through some tough times and deserved a break, but often in the sense that doing immoral things to Jews was really a poor idea for everyone. Arguments tied to oil money that blatantly encouraged people to deny human rights to Jews simply looked immoral to most Americans, plain and simple.

In addition, we see examples from these same books and movies about some of the transformation of attitudes towards Jews in general in the United States.

The moral arguments we're talking about were anything but specific to Jews. They were general. They were indeed of the form that all people ought to have human rights, not everyone but Women, or everyone but Blacks, or everyone but Jews, or everyone but Arabs. And that had a great appeal.

Mart also spends plenty of time on the attitudes of churches, and of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. She concludes that "the Israel of the American imagination in the 1940s and 1950s embodied the hopes, ideals, and values of Cold War America."

Why am I giving such an intriguing book only four stars? Well, I think that at some point, the author has a duty to discuss the reasonableness of some of the arguments that were made. Which look correct? Which make sense? Which look controversial at best? Were the values of Cold War America worthwhile or not? Without going into this, it is just too easy for readers to conclude either that we Americans finally realized that Jews are human beings who ought to have human rights and thus are entitled to sovereign land in the Levant (something I claim, by the way) or that Americans misled themselves into thinking that Jews ought to have rights on the basis of general and universal principles when in fact it can be argued that they really ought not have them. I think Mart needs to take a more explicit stand here. Others may disagree with me, saying that doing this would introduce excessive editorializing into a careful and scholarly work.

In any case, I recommend this book.

Song Is Not the Same: Jews and American Popular Music (The Jewish Role in American Life) Paperback – December 15, 2010 by Bruce Zuckerman (Editor), Josh Kun (Editor), Lisa Ansell (Editor) (Purdue University Press)

There has been a long-standing relationship between Jewish Americans and the world of American popular music. The essays in this volume blend surveys of music making as a whole with profiles of single artists. This is volume 8 of the annual publication, The Jewish Role in American Life (ISSN 1934-7529), produced by the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life at the University of Southern California. Contents: Foreword (Gayle Wald); Introduction (Josh Kun); Cohen Owes Me Ninety-Seven Dollars, and other Tales from the Jewish Sheet-Music Trade (Jody Rosen); 'Dances Partake of the Racial Characteristics of the People Who Dance Them': Nordicism, Antisemitism, and Henry Ford's Old Time Music and Dance Revival (Peter La Chapelle); Ovoutie Slanguage is Absolutely Kosher: Yiddish in Scat-Singing, Jazz Jargon, and Black Music (Jonathan Z. S. Pollack); 'If I Embarrass You, Tell Your Friends': Belle Barth, Pearl Williams, and the Space of the Risqué (Josh Kun); 'Here's a foreign song I learned in Utah': The Anxiety of Jewish Influence in the Music of Bob Dylan(David Kaufman); Jazz Liturgy, Yiddishe Blues, Cantorial Death Metal, and Free Klez: Musical Hybridity in Radical Jewish Culture (Jeff Janeczco).

Death of a Jewish Science: Psychoanalysis in the Third Reich Hardcover – December 28, 2000 by Eileen Brockman Goggin (Author), James E. Goggin (Author) (Purdue University Press)

Goggin and Goggin suggests that the Nazi ideology concerning the VOLKSGEMEINSCHAFT (the people’s community) denied individual rights and prerogatives, and hence was itself incompatible with psychoanalysis. (pp. 43-45). The author traces the progressive removal of Jewish mental health specialists. The licenses of all Jewish physicians and attorneys were not revoked by the Nazis until September 1938: Those of Jewish Freudian psychoanalysts had been far quicker. (p. 101). The authors believe that the timing of Nazi actions had been governed by concessions to world opinion, especially in the face of the upcoming 1936 Olympics in Berlin. (p. 102).


The authors comment, “Psychologists followed the Wehrmacht’s conquest of Poland to help in the most horrendous purposes of the National Socialist Peoples’ Welfare Organization (NSV). Geuter reports that the NSV was involved in what was called the ‘Germanization’ of Polish children. In this endeavour, psychologists helped the Gestapo and SS implement Himmler’s decree to steal Aryan-type children from their Polish parents. Psychologists were used to provide an initial identification of Polish children ‘whose racial appearance indicates Nordic parentage.’ Those children were taken from their parents and sent to Germany and evaluated for six more weeks to select ‘valuable blood bearers’ for the Third Reich. Those children who failed at the six-week stage of evaluation were murdered. In this way, the psychologists who participated in the ‘Germanization’ program committed a crime against humanity.” (p. 87).

[This has chilling parallels with the present. Attempts have been made, by western European bureaucrats, to take Polish children from their parents under various pretexts.]


The authors write, “One of the ways that the Frankfurt school survived, however, was by toning down its radical Marxist rhetoric while in America. The Frankfurt school survived and endured in the United States during a very conservative period (the 1950s), and it helped influence the leftist student movement in the 1960s, especially the resistance to the Vietnam War.” (p. 68).

Cultural History of Jews in California: The Jewish Role in American Life (Jewish Role in American Life: An Annual Review) Paperback – December 16, 2009 by William Deverell (Author), Bruce Zuckerman (Foreword) (Purdue University Press)

The aim of this collection of essays is to stress the cultural aspects of the Jewish experience of coming to, and living in, the Golden State. The contributors explore how the Jews who settled in California helped shape the state's culture and were, in turn, molded by cultural influences that were uniquely Californian. While this volume looks at the Jewish experience in California in general, particular emphasis is placed on Southern California where the Casden Institute, originators of The Jewish Role in American Life series of annual reviews, is based. The collection presents choice snapshots of how life developed and changed for Jews in California as California itself evolved and grew.

The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation (Shofar Supplements in Jewish Studies) Paperback – February 15, 2011 by Zev Garber (Editor) (Purdue University Press)

There is a general understanding within religious and academic circles that the incarnate Christ of Christian belief lived and died a faithful Jew. This volume addresses Jesus in the context of Judaism. By emphasizing his Jewishness, the authors challenge today's Jews to reclaim the Nazarene as a proto-rebel rabbi and invite Christians to discover or rediscover the church's Jewish heritage. The essays in this volume cover historical, literary, liturgical, philosophical, religious, theological, and contemporary issues related to the Jewish Jesus. Several of them were originally presented at a three-day symposium on Jesus in the Context of Judaism and the Challenge to the Church, hosted by the Samuel Rosenthal Center for Judaic Studies at Case Western Reserve University in 2009. In the context of pluralism, in the temper of growing interreligious dialogue, and in the spirit of reconciliation, encountering Jesus as living history for Christians and Jews is both necessary and proper. This book will be of particular interest to scholars of the New Testament and early church who are seeking new ways of understanding Jesus in his religious and cultural milieu, as well Jewish and Christian theologians and thinkers who are concerned with contemporary Jewish and Christian relationships.

Saving Lives in Auschwitz: The Prisoners’ Hospital in Buna-Monowitz Hardcover – January 27, 2018 by Ewa Bacon (Purdue University Press)

The perception of Auschwitz as primarily an extermination camp disregards the enormity and complexity of this slave labor compound, and its integral significance in Germany’s military-industrial complex. The giant industries that depended on slave labor supplied by Auschwitz prisoners grew increasingly frustrated with the enormous cost of constantly replacing workers who died, and insisted the camp provide health care to prisoners. Stefan Budziaszek, a Polish political prisoner and highly skilled physician, became the director of the Auschwitz prisoners’ hospital. Bacon used the meticulous notes and records kept by Dr. Budziaszek, corroborated by numerous other primary-source accounts of Auschwitz, to examine the operation of the camp, its relationships with the surrounding communities, and the daily challenges prisoners faced for survival. Significantly, Bacon also addressed the ethical dilemma of providing medical care to prisoners to ensure they would be fit to continue to provide slave labor to the industries that fed the war. Saving Lives in Auschwitz illuminates a part of WWII history that has heretofore been unacknowledged. Although this is a well-documented scholarly work, it is fascinating and reads easily. The work offers a much more insightful and thorough examination of the purpose and operation of Auschwitz than is commonly presented. It is a moving testament to the power of an individual to rise above the ubiquitous evil of the concentration camp to preserve hope and life.

Rebuilt from Broken Glass: A German Jewish Life Remade in America (Shofar Supplements in Jewish Studies) Hardcover – July 15, 2017 by Fred Behrend (Author), Larry Hanover (Author), Hasia K. Diner (Introduction), Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer (Foreword) (Purdue University Press)

“Mazel Tov” is the customary response to the sound of shattering glass at the conclusion of a Jewish wedding ceremony. But for a young Fred (Fritz) Behrend, the sounds of breaking glass were not a time to celebrate.

The harrowing events that defined Behrend’s formative years are chronicled in an engrossing new book, Rebuilt from Broken Glass: A German Jewish Life Remade in America, which was co-authored with Larry Hanover.

In the book, we learn about the years leading up to Holocaust as witnessed though the eyes of a 12-year old child, who led a life of innocence and privilege — a life shattered by the Nazis, and eventually Kristallnacht (“the night of broken glass”).

Young Fred grew up in Ludenscheid, a city in western Germany. He vividly recalls the parades and sharpshooting contests, where he was thrilled by the goose-stepping Nazi stormtroopers giving a proud “Heil Hitler” salute to the cheering crowd. His parents stood in silence, under banners emblazoned with swastikas, never uttering a word of disapproval — for fear of being reported to the authorities by some anonymous informant.

Why Divergent Thinking Is Critical to Judaism

In those years, Fred’s father owned a financially successful ladies’ silk and linens store, called Robert Stern. The shop was later looted and destroyed by Nazi thugs — on Kristallnacht.

Prior to that ill-fated night, the family lived in a compound reminiscent of the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port — but on a smaller scale — replete with a gardener, cook, maid and chauffeur. Incidences of antisemitism were initially only a small part of Fred’s early life, but over a short period of time, they became overt — to the point that one of his boyhood neighbors threw stones at him, accompanied with shouts of “Judenschwein” (“Jewish pig”).
At first, the Behrends were immobilized by disbelief at to what was happening in their beloved Germany. The family had lived in Germany for more than 400 years, and never dreamed that a highly civilized country could undergo such a hate-filled transformation against fellow Germans. Fred’s father even received the Cross of Honor for having served on the front lines of defense in World War I.

But none of that mattered to the growing menace of an irrational and infectious hatred of Jews by their fellow countrymen — a hatred fueled by the propaganda machine of Joseph Goebbels, which blamed Germany’s woes on the Jews.

In September 1935, the Nazis enacted the Nuremberg Laws. Those laws excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship, and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with Germans or persons with German-related blood.

From that time, it was but a short leap to the “beginning of the end” of life in Germany for the Behrends and all other Jews. During Kristallnacht, which occurred in 1938, Fred’s father was arrested and deported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. That terrible night was the darkest moment in young Fred’s life.

Fred and his family were forced to flee what had been their family’s homeland for more than four centuries; luckily, the family eventually made its way to the safe harbor of the United States.

Undeterred by a tragic past, Fred Behrend was determined to gather the shards of what had been his life, and craft a new future for himself and his family. At age 18, he joined the US Army, and was assigned as a companion German translator to the father of the US space program, Wernher von Braun.

After the war Behrend raised a family and became a successful businessman. Today, Fred is retired, and has embarked upon chronicling the history of his family as a way of teaching the lessons of the Holocaust to future generations — so that they learn why it is important to “never forget.”

Dr Ruth at 90.....Rebuilt from Broken Glass: A German Jewish Life Remade in America (Shofar Supplements in Jewish Studies) Hardcover – July 15, 2017 by Fred Behrend (Author), Larry Hanover (Author), Hasia K. Diner (Introduction), Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer (Foreword) (Purdue University Press),Stay or Go: Dr. Ruth's Rules for Real Relationships Paperback – January 9, 2018 by Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer and Pierre A. Lehu (Amazon Publishing) ,The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life, and Joie de Vivre Paperback – June 2, 2015 by Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer and, Pierre A. Lehu (Amazon Publishing) ,Roller Coaster Grandma Paperback – February 1, 2018 by Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer;Pierre Lehu (Author), Ann D. Koffsky (Editor), Mark Simmons (Illustrator)(Apples & Honey Press ), From You to Two: Dr. Ruth's Rules For Real Relationships Paperback – June 12, 2018 by Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer (Author), Pierre A. Lehu (Author) (Amazon Publishing), Myths of Love: Echoes of Greek and Roman Mythology in the Modern Romantic Imagination Paperback – June 1, 2014 by Ruth K. Westheimer (Author), Jerome E. Singerman (Author) (Quill Driver Books )

Image result for Dr Ruth , sex,..cartoon
In 1980, before Dr. Ruth Westheimer had become a household name, she gave a lecture about sexuality and pregnancy to a communications class in a New York City college. It never occurred to her that a woman sitting in the audience, Betty Elam, the community affairs manager at WYNY-FM, a popular New York radio station, would be so excited about Westheimer that she’d invite her on the spot to host a late-night program for the minuscule sum of $25 a week.

The program, Sexually Speaking, which first aired in September 1980, and was broadcasted for 15 minutes every Sunday just after midnight, was an immediate hit. Just 139 cm. tall, the Jewish grandmother with the incessant smile who dared to speak openly and sometimes even provocatively about sex has helped thousands of listeners with their problems in the bedroom.

“The radio show was a success right from the get-go,” Westheimer says in an interview that took place on her 90th birthday. “I don’t think that if I’d been young when I started airing the radio broadcast it would have been such a hit. I had been planning to move back to Israel, but I couldn’t stop the momentum.”

In 1982, millions of listeners around the world were following the show, which became known as the Dr. Ruth Show. Westheimer became the most famous sexologist in the world. She currently has 91,000 followers on Twitter, and so I tried my luck and tweeted her with my email address. Not five minutes passed before her manager, Pierre Lehu, wrote me asking for my telephone number. Thirty seconds later my phone rang and I saw the name Dr. Ruth Westheimer appear on the screen.

“Ruth?” I said into the phone, still in shock. She laughed wholeheartedly and then replied, “Yes, it’s me. You won’t believe this, but I’m in Israel now. I’ve come to promote my books and I just finished up a visit at Yad Vashem. I might be 90 years old, but I still feel it’s important for me to visit Israel once a year. This is my real home. Do you want to do an interview? I’m so busy getting ready for my 90th birthday party – maybe you can call me in a week when I’ll be back in New York?” 

When I called her the next week, I was once again overwhelmed by Westheimer’s energy and optimism, considering she came close to death twice.

“You know it’s an absolute miracle that we’re talking right now. Every time I visit Yad Vashem, I think about all my family members who died in the Shoah – I should have died too. I remember everything from my childhood. I was 10 when the Nazis banged on our door in Frankfurt and then took my father away to a work camp. He sent a postcard from there on which he wrote that I needed to travel with a group of children to Switzerland if he was to be allowed to come home. He did that to save my life. I didn’t have a choice, and so I left. I never saw my father, mother, grandmother or grandfather ever again. If my father had not sent that postcard, I wouldn’t be alive today.”

As Westheimer manages to do during every conversation, she finds a flicker of hope within that tragic story about the Shoah.

“I’d been extremely lucky to spend the first 10 years of my life with loving parents and grandparents, and as a result, my internal development was shaped positively. Children who are not fortunate enough to grow up within a loving environment can become quite damaged.”

Westheimer was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928 in Wiesenfeld, Germany, and grew up in Frankfurt. Although she was separated from her parents in 1939, she continued receiving letters from them until 1941. Only after the war did she find out that all of her family had perished in the Shoah.

“I think knowing that 1.5 million children had died in the war, but that somehow I had survived, is what made me such an optimist. I still get together with the group of children with whom I escaped to Switzerland.”

In 1945, Westheimer made aliya as part of the Ayanot group at Kibbutz Ramat David. As many new immigrants from Europe did, Westheimer changed her name from Karola to Ruth and happily engaged in agricultural work on the kibbutz.

“Next, I went to live for a year at Nahalal, and then Kibbutz Yagur. In 1948, I moved to Jerusalem and began studying early childhood education at Eshkolit Seminar.”

Westheimer was eager to contribute to the defense of the young Jewish state, and so she joined the Hagana, where she experienced another miracle.

“During the War of Independence, exactly on my birthday, I came back to the dorm where I was living at 32 Radak Street in Jerusalem,” Westheimer recalls. “Suddenly, an air-raid siren began sounding and I knew I should run to the bomb shelter, but I’d just received a new book as a present for my birthday and so instead I ran inside the building.

“This turned out to be a big mistake. Just as my fingers touched the cover of the book, a mortar came in through the window from the direction of Herbert Samuel Street and killed to two girls who were right next to me. I was injured in both of my legs, but luckily I survived. I was brought to Hadassah Hospital where I underwent emergency surgery. I still remember the name of the surgeon – Katz – who was a Jewish German immigrant. Slowly I learned to walk again. This was the second time I was given the gift of life.”

In 1950, after a long period of rehabilitation, Westheimer moved to France and began studying psychology at the Sorbonne. In 1956, she moved to the US and as a single mother (for the second time) she completed a master’s degree in sociology and then a PhD in education from Columbia University.

In 1961, Westheimer married her third husband, Manfred Westheimer, with whom she lived until he died in 1997. Together, they raised their son Joel, and Miriam, Ruth’s daughter from a previous marriage. In the early 1970s, Westheimer set out to accomplish her next goal: a post-doctorate in human sexuality. “I ended up focusing on this topic after working at Planned Parenthood. I even gave lectures in Israel.”

In the 1980s, Westheimer became a well-known TV and radio personality who dealt with the field of sexology.

“There are many excellent sex therapists out there, but because of my age, my strong German accent and the open and humorous way I spoke about private issues, I guess people loved to listening to my show. I certainly never planned on turning into a guru – it just happened. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time.”

OVER THE years, Westheimer penned 45 books dealing with human sexuality and taught courses at NYU, Yale and Princeton. She traveled around the world to hold workshops and in 2016 her autobiography was finally published in both English and Hebrew. Westheimer is currently starring in a film that covers her early years in Germany, Switzerland and Israel, as well as getting ready to participate in a new TV show in the US.

When I ask her about her active Twitter account, Westheimer admits that her manager, Pierre, is actually the one who runs her Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“But I read every message that comes in, and I tell him exactly what to write in response. It’s important to keep up in these modern times.”

How helpful do you think Facebook and matchmaking apps are for people looking to meet someone? 

“They’re very helpful. Look, the worst thing in the world is to be lonely. There’s nothing worse than that. So, if two people connect through Facebook and a relationship forms as a result, that’s wonderful. But it’s very important to hold the first in-person meeting in a public space that’s well lit so you can give yourselves time to get to know each other. Ideally, the meeting should be held in a café or a hotel lobby.”

At this point in the interview, Westheimer begins barraging me with a series of personal questions about myself, which I manage to deflect somehow. She then tells me, “The most important elements of a relationship are love and mutual respect. The moment these disappear, the passion dissipates and then everything else falls apart. Many people try to create passion without building a foundation, but this always leads to failure. You always need to go back to the foundation and keep the flame alive from there.”

What’s the most common question people have asked you over the years? 

“In the early years, many women would ask me how to reach an orgasm, and many men would ask me how to prevent premature ejaculation. These questions don’t arise as much these days because there are so many books that have been written about these topics.”

What’s the most important advice you’ve ever given? 

“If you don’t have a solid relationship, your sex life cannot improve. If you’re not willing to work on your issues first, don’t waste your (and my) time and just go see your lawyer.”

What has changed over the years you’ve been working as a sexologist? 

“Not much. Nowadays, though, people who approach professionals have a much better knowledge base from research they’ve done on the Internet.”

How should people handle sex education talks with their children? 

“You need to start talking to your children about sex the moment they begin asking questions. Parents should be prepared with age-appropriate answers even for very young children. You should never just respond with something off the top of your head. If a child asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, tell him, ‘I’m going to go to the library and look up the answer in a book. Then I’ll come back to you with the answer.’ You need to take responsibility for their sexual education.”

Are you a big fan of the institution of marriage, considering rising divorce rates? 

“Yes, that’s a big problem. It’s not easy to live on your own, that’s for sure. Even I got married three times – only in my third marriage was I successful at having a healthy relationship. You need to be very mature to keep a marriage going. I’ve never told a couple to stay together for the sake of the kids if they hated each other. But when a couple splits up, they need to tell their kids, ‘We’re not separating because of you. You are not responsible for this. We’re splitting up because we don’t understand each other anymore. But we’re going to continue to be your parents.’” 

Is there a secret to maintaining an active sex life later in life? 

“You need to make time for it. Couples need to have a date night once a week and decide not to talk about the kids. Even after a woman enters menopause, her partner must make sure she reaches orgasm. It doesn’t matter that she can no longer get pregnant.”

Do different religions have varying attitudes towards sex? 

“In contrast to other religions, Judaism has never considered sex a crime. This is a great advantage we have over other religions.”

As a Holocaust survivor, have you ever experienced antisemitism in a professional context? 

“No, I’ve never personally experienced an antisemitic incident. By the way, I attend a sexuality conference in Germany every year, and I’m always welcomed there graciously.”

What’s your dream now that you’re 90? 

“To continue teaching until I’m 120. And to find a partner who’s willing to dance with me. I met my third husband while skiing, but since I don’t ski much anymore, I’d like to meet a man who can dance with me at my speed.”

You’re a very energetic person. What’s your secret?

“I walk a lot. I don’t exercise, but I’m always walking places. And I’m always focusing on my next project, my next book, my next lecture. That’s what keeps me young.”

What does your typical daily schedule look like? 

“I don’t offer many private therapy sessions anymore. I’m happy to leave this to the younger generation. I give lectures in the mornings and in the evenings I always go out – to dance, or to eat in a restaurant or to listen to good music. That’s what makes me happy.”

Have you considered in recent years coming back to live in Israel?

“No. My kids and my professional activities are here in the US. But, as you know, I visit Israel every year. And Israel will always be my home and close to my heart.”

At the end of our interview, Westheimer tells me, “I want to meet you in person next time I come to Israel for a visit. I’m a very curious person and I love meeting people I’ve spoken with and whom I’ve told all about my life. That’s a lesson I learned from my parents. Promise me that when I publish another book on my 100th birthday, you’ll call me for a follow- up interview, okay?”