Historian Deborah Lipstadt Tackles Modern-Day Antisemitism in Book Touted at Sixth & I

Deborah Lipstadt in conversation with Rabbi Shira Stutman at Sixth & I / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

The lower half of the sanctuary was filled on Tuesday evening as readers stepped into Sixth & I Historic Synagogue from the rain to hear Deborah Lipstadt talk about her new book, Antisemitism: Here and Now.

In conversation with Sixth & I’s senior rabbi, Shira Stutman, Lipdstadt touched upon the long provenance of antisemitism, which found its way into Christianity’s earliest texts, to more modern interpretations. But much of this established hatred, she assessed, remains rooted in conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world.

Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust historian currently teaching at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., is perhaps best well known for her brush with David Irving, who sued her for libel in the UK for calling him a Holocaust denier. That experience led to her 2005 book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, and a 2016 movie starring Rachel Weisz.

Her most recent book centers upon the conceit that she is addressing two individuals about antisemitism today—a Jewish student and a non-Jewish colleague. But the issues raised are based on real interactions, Lipdstadt asserts. The book cover focuses on the tiki torches wielded by white supremacists at a 2017 rally who, among other things, shouted antisemitic slurs. Then, when advance copies of the book were circulating, a white nationalist committed a massacre at a synagogue, in the largest single instance of violence against Jews on American soil.

Lipstadt described white nationalists of the far right believing in age-worn conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world and working with Blacks to destroy the white race. Liberal billionaire George Soros, Lipstadt says, has emerged as the 21st century version of the Rothschilds.

On the other side of the political spectrum, some voices on the left see things through a particular prism of race and class. Since American Jews are seen as wealthy and white, the claim goes, they can’t actually be discriminated against. And any attempt to challenge this must be a cover up for something else. The relation to right-wing conspiracy theories grows starker in the midst of recent firestorm over Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar leaning into the notion that a Jewish lobby controls the government through money.

Lipstadt made it clear, in a 15-minute q&a session with the audience, that she wasn’t calling out specific leaders as antisemites. But giving voice to these conspiracy theories has broader repercussions, as the Tree of Life Synagogue proved. Lipstadt also touched upon BDS and a “myopic” focus on Israel’s faults, and she shared personal anecdotes, like a neighbor trying to get her daughter to come to terms with the fact that their shul needs police protection.

She also attempted to tell a few jokes, bittersweet as they were, like this one that she heard in the 1970s Soviet Union (to paraphrase): a shoe company gets a large shipment of shoes and a long line forms early on a cold morning. Later, the shopkeeper walks outside and says, “We are running out of shoes. All Jews must leave the line and go home.” So they do. Later, the shopkeeper reappears and says, “We are running out of shoes. All non-Party members must leave the line.” This exchange repeats a little later, with the shopkeeper asking those who didn’t serve in WWII to leave. Finally, they run out of shoes and turn away the elderly veterans. As these folks shuffle away, they proclaim: “those lucky Jews; they must have known what was coming!”

The problem with antisemitism, Lipstadt says, is the problem with most conspiracy theories. It is illogical, and attempts to counter it with facts only feeds into the narrative. But the Holocaust historian also urged the audience not to give into despair. Before giving way to the signing portion of the evening she talked about the last chapter in her book: “Oy versus Joy.” In this epistle to reject victimhood, Lipstadt hopes we take pride in our heritage and what we’ve given the world.

To purchase a copy of Antisemitism: Here and Now (and support your local indie!), click here. And you can find similar coverage of my attended literary events under the Books, Plays, Movies and Music tab!

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New Internship at the United States Holocaust Museum Library!

Books in a staff member’s office overlook a repository of the names of Holocaust victims / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

With all luck I’m entering what should be my final semester of Library Science school. 😀 As a capstone experience for my master’s degree, I have to take part in a field study practicum. And I thought, what better place than the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum research library?

Unlike many museum libraries, this one is mandated by Congress to be free and open to the public. It caters to all manner of patrons, from grade school students to international doctorate candidates; genealogists looking for lost relatives and Museum staff creating a new programming event. The collection is ever-growing, including a multi-lingual array of books, journals, DVDS, VHS and audio, photographs, electronic databases, machine-readable microfilm and more. The reference staff also provides access to the Museum’s archival material found here. For the library catalog, click here.

I am grateful for this experience to round off my Library Science education in a hands-on, practical way, as well as the opportunity to work for another Jewish organization in DC. Be sure to check out the library the next time you’re at the Museum; it’s on the 5th floor and open weekdays 10-5:30!

Supeman’s Jewish Story Explored in Plays and Children’s Literature

Kids get to learn about the evolution of Superman, created by Cleveland Jews Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

When the lights dimmed, and one of the panels in the comic book-mimicking stage design lit up on the silhouette of Jerry Siegel hours before his death, he begged for “emet,” or truth. This is one of the recurring themes in the play, “The History of Invulnerability,” written by David Bar Katz and currently playing at Theater J at the DCJCC.  Siegel and his infamous creation, Superman–their statuses as saviors of the Jewish people lie somewhere between “truth” (emet) and “death” (met.) The rest of the two-hour play is a well acted, well staged hodge podge of Siegel and his “son” revisiting their tumultuous past, and exploring what Superman did (and didn’t) do for the Jewish people.

Several weeks ago when volunteering at the Adas Israel library, I chanced upon the book, “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman” (cover featured here.) I remember being shocked that this book was included in the children’s literature section; it didn’t seem as “serious” as the rest of the collection largely dealing with holiday observances, Jewish history and family life. The play, as well, touched upon some of the negatives of lauding comics, and this one-note, sort of violent character in the “funny” pages. It’s easy to forget that some 75 years ago, the idea of a superhero who could stop injustice with a snap of his fingers was more of a fad. I grew up in a more jaded generation, a post-Holocaust one if you will, where magical heroes have given way to average Joes willing to break their backs for the community. Recently, on Facebook, a friend posed the question why everyone was so obsessed with Batman or Iron Man (both also created by Jews), positing that maybe they should stop crime by using their wealth for housing programs.

But the origin of Superman, the first major Hebrew superhero, wasn’t really about fighting justice. It was about proving that Kal-El from Planet Krypton, or Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster with Jewish roots in Eastern Europe, were as American as Clark Kent and as secretly admirable as Superman. From there, as DC Comics wrested control of Superman from the lads, broader American culture wrested him from the Jews. Perhaps his most Jewish connection was when he fought Nazis in comics in the 1940s, which the S.S. took note of in an attack against “Jerry Israelite Siegel.”

Bar Katz played with the idea of what Superman meant to European Jews in a sub-plot about three men, a boy, a young adult, and an elderly kohanim, all prisoners in Auschwitz. They each play out fantasies of escape (the boy’s directly invoking Superman,) but near the end of the play, Siegel stops his creation from interjecting himself into the story, opting for “emet” instead. And the last, rather harrowing image is of Superman standing alone in a gas chamber amidst dead bodies.

To me (and apparently to some editors, as stated in the program introduction), the Holocaust sub-plot may have gone on a little too long. Perhaps I’m too influenced by “Boys of Steel,” and the theme of Superman/Clark Kent being more of an allegory for American Jews than European Jews. Maybe it’s that jaded thing again, because I already knew Superman couldn’t stop the Holocaust, and so I couldn’t fantasize about it. I liked the understatedness of the Siegel storyline, the connections between all of the dead or estranged fathers and their sons; the issues brought up in the trials like personal legacy and the impact of comics on children; and the evolution of Superman from alien Jew to super human with a small weakness, to god-like figure and back again. Gripping, thought-provoking stuff, all of it.

“The History of Invulnerability” will be playing at Theater J through July 8. Click here to buy tickets or click here to check out “Man of Steel” from the Adas Israel library!

Local synagogue vandalized- community comes together

Antisemitism reared it’s ugly head on Monday morning as B’nai Shalom congregation in Olney was found painted with hateful graffiti, The Washington Jewish Week reported.

With such touches as swastikas, Nazi slogans in both English and German, and coins scattered along the ground, possibly a reference to the money-grubbing Jews stereotype, the shul’s president believes this assault to be more high up than the work of rebellious teenagers.

Two other houses in the neighborhood were also vandalized, and officials now believe that the number “1488” that appeared among the graffiti is a reference to a white supremacist group, according to The Gazette. People with any information about this crime are encouraged to call the Investigative Services Division at 240-773-5500.

Meanwhile, B’nai Shalom has erected a commemoration page on it’s own website. This moving testament features photos of the hate-graffiti and the clean up, various news coverage, and notes of support from the community. To donate to the synagogue for repairs and extra security, click here.

Time for a Re-Brand

Image courtesy of WordPress

It’s not exactly as dramatic as all of that, but recent events have nudged me to take into account where I am, and what I want to gain from my Internet presence. To that effect, I’ve switched up my professional page/blog to rachelmauro.net, and over here, did an edit of the About Me page. Times have been changing since I started this blog in July 2008; JewishDC has been a success, and I wanted to share that story. 🙂 Thank you all for continuing to read!

In similar news, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has taken their commemoration of Officer Stephen Johns, the security guard killed by a white supremacist last summer, to a new level, as they now establish the Stephen Tyrone Johns Summer Youth Leadership Program Endowment Fund. Open to 50 teenagers, it strives to continue to teach the lessons of the Holocaust. Click here for more information.

Holocaust Museum Shooter Dies in Prison Hospital

Officer Stephen Johns / Photo courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

James Von Brunn, accused gunman in the June 10 attack on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which resulted in the death of security guard Stephen Johns, died earlier today, according to newspaper reports. The 89-year-old white supremacist, wounded in the shooting, had been in a Bunter, N.C. federal prison for psychological examination. The reason for his death is unclear.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a statement shortly after the news hit the wire:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Museum’s thoughts and prayers continue to be with Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns’ family at this time. Officer Johns died heroically defending the Museum, visitors and staff. This tragedy is a powerful reminder that our cause of fighting hatred remains more urgent than ever.

Leave it to USHMM to find a classy way to end this sad story.

Electro Morocco and DJ Balagan caters to young adults at the Washington Jewish Music Festival

Electro Morocco performs at Station 9 / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Electro Morocco performs at Station 9 / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

It was a night of Middle Eastern-styled ballads and Israeli hip hop Wednesday at Station 9. Dozens of young professionals, still largely donned in their work clothes, came down to U Street to hear a concert by Electro Morocco and then dance to the styles of DJ Balagan, as sponsored by J-on-Demand and Shemspeed.

It was one of the closing acts of the annual Washington Jewish Music Festival, which has been running for 10 days since Tuesday, June 2, featuring such acts as Ivri Lider, popular Israeli singer, and Miri Ben-Ari, a hip-hop violinist.

Young professionals dance to DJ Balgans beat / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

Young professionals dance to DJ Balgan's beat / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

I ended up attending with some folks from YP@AI; it was a nice way to blend interests and network with peers. I enjoyed chatting it up, though in usual modern concert style, it was hard to hear myself think! 😛 I especially liked Electro Morocco’s sultry, danceable songs, though I wish I could’ve heard more of the vocals. But we partied late into the night, or at least late by my standards, seeing as I had to Metro back to home to Silver Spring and get up early for work the next day. 😛

On an unrelated note, my thoughts and prayers are with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and slain security guard, Stephen T. Johns’ family in the wake of yesterday’s attack on the building. JCRC is holding a community vigil at the site this afternoon at 2; check it out.