by Nadine Epstein
Late in the afternoon of Friday, November 13, I was in our Washington, DC office finalizing details for Moment’s 40th anniversary celebration at the French Embassy that Sunday evening—and reviewing remarks I was planning to make at that night’s private Shabbat dinner hosted by French Ambassador Gérard Araud at his residence. That dinner, for about 20 Moment board members and donors, was scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
When news of the attacks in Paris broke, I was already driving to pick up one of our guests. Only when I stopped back at the office did I realize the viciousness and extent of the shootings and bombings. Some staff members were glued to their computers, silently following events as they unfolded. Others were talking quietly among themselves.
The Shabbat dinner was canceled, and we also considered canceling the gala, which 250 people planned to attend. How could we have a celebration in the wake of ISIS-backed mass murder? But we were heartened when the French Embassy suggested that we proceed as planned. Terrorists want to instill fear and disrupt, and no one wanted them to have this kind of victory. As it turned out, the location of our dinner was especially moving. True, security was on high alert and our guests were thoroughly inspected before entering. But outside the embassy gate, Washingtonians gathered around a massive impromptu shrine of flowers, notes, candles and wine bottles—placed there to remember the people killed and injured outside the stadium, in the cafés and at the Bataclan concert hall.
NPR’s All Things Considered senior host Robert Siegel couldn’t emcee as planned because he was sent to Paris, but his cohost, Ari Shapiro, took his place and opened the evening by saying: “I know I speak for everyone here when I say that we are devastated by these terrible attacks, and our hearts go out to all the families who lost loved ones in Paris.” The embassy’s senior counselor, Patrick La Chaussée [in photo], touched everyone when he spoke about the death of a friend at the Bataclan, and about his own Jewish—and Muslim— heritage. Our Moment Magazine Creativity Award recipient, piano virtuoso Yefim Bronfman, poured his rage and grief into Prokofiev, Chopin and Schumann. I think each and every one of us felt that our presence that evening in support of France was an important statement.
A week after the dinner, I traveled to Israel. It was an uneasy time—several stabbings occurred while I was there— but life went on. I traveled around the country in part to conduct interviews for the article on the Cairo Codex that appears in this issue. I’ve been fascinated by codices for a long time, even before Matti Friedman’s wonderful book The Aleppo Codex came out in 2012. I grew up in Deal, New Jersey, where many Jews from Aleppo now live. And in 1979, I was in Cairo working on a research project during the very period that some of the events in this story were taking place. I hope this piece will illuminate what the Cairo Codex is, why it is important, its journey through time and what happened to it. As it turns out, the story is far more than a search for a “lost” manuscript; it is a window into a lost world.
Also in this issue, Marc Fisher of The Washington Post interviews New York Times columnist David Brooks, whose writings have begun to focus more on issues of morality and faith than politics. I worked with Brooks decades ago when we were both reporters for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago, a renowned boot camp for young journalists whose alums include Seymour Hersh and Kurt Vonnegut. We were cub reporters assigned to the police beat, racing around the city covering crime, accidents and the occasional political event. I stayed for nearly a year and a half, growing to love Chicago, which also happens to be the focus of this issue’s Jewish Routes. Brooks left after a brief stint to work for William F. Buckley. The rest is history!
Our Moment symposium focuses on an issue of great interest to many readers: Is there a Jewish way to parent? We talk to a combination of experts and parents from families of various configurations. We also ask our rabbis the same question. I doubt that Jewish parents have ever thought parenting to be an easy task, but certainly parents today face a greater array of choices.
We also reflect on issues in the news. Columnist Naomi Ragen heads to France to attend her grandson’s bar mitzvah in the wake of the terrorist attacks; Gershom Gorenberg discusses the “victimhood Olympics” he witnessed on a recent trip to America; and Sarah Posner encourages Jews to talk to evangelicals about gun control.
On a lighter, flakier note, Talk of the Table features babka, and we make sure to address the quintessential debate: Chocolate or cinnamon? Plus, there’s fiction, poetry and so much more.
Please enjoy, and as usual, e-mail—or mail—us your thoughts. Wishing you a happy and healthy 2016!