Can we confront the future without reckoning with the past? How do we absorb new ways of looking at history? Can we learn to view the past in a more nuanced manner? As I write, some of the old ways of looking at the world are toppling to the ground—in many cases, literally—exacerbating already existing cultural and societal tensions.
In search of insight, Moment special literary contributor Robert Siegel interviews Anthony Julius, a London lawyer, art historian and outspoken opponent of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Together they ponder the complexities of idol-smashing throughout the ages, as reflected in religion, literature and public art. In “The Woman Who Drove Old Dixie Down,” senior editor Dan Freedman profiles Eileen Filler-Corn, the first woman—and Jew—to preside over the Virginia House of Delegates. Europe editor Liam Hoare explores how countries choose to deal with sites associated with hate in his story, “What Will Happen to the Hitler-Haus?” Deputy editor Sarah Breger turns a lens on the Jewish community—and our blind spots—with her inquiry into the term “Jews of color.” In “Ask the Rabbis,” our rabbis address a question that has only recently entered the consciousness of mainstream America: Should Jews support reparations for African Americans?
All this toppling is happening against the backdrop of a presidential campaign, the lead-up to what may be the most important election of modern times. In our continuing effort to strengthen civil discourse, we check in with some of the Jewish Political Voices Project participants we’ve been interviewing since 2019. You’ll hear from six—three for Biden, three for Trump—and as we have come to expect, they view the same contemporary events from vastly different vantage points. Opinion columnist Sarah Posner posits that with President Trump’s help, evangelical Christians are sucessfully reshaping religious freedom in America. Opinion columnist Marshall Breger is concerned about liberty, specifically free speech, which he sees as endangered by all sorts of groups, even Jewish ones.
In “The Triumphs and Failures of a Jewish Son-in-Law,” we take a deep dive into Jared Kushner’s Middle East peacemaking efforts and his record on domestic policies. Whatever you may think of him, this powerful senior adviser to the president can’t be summed up and dismissed as a one-dimensional villain or political naif. In his opinion column, Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner describes Israeli right-wingers’ disappointment over Kushner’s Israel-UAE deal. In “Moment(s),” Elisha Wiesel remembers his father, Elie Wiesel, who would have been 92 this year. He reminds us that his father would want us to listen to each other and work together to transcend our divisions.
And then there’s the pandemic, with North America heading into cold weather, and a vaccine months away at best. All of this tumult leads to our Big Question: Are we moving toward a better society, or are we regressing? I’m an optimist, but I admit there have been moments this year when I’ve questioned a bedrock of my thinking: that human society is moving forward. I have felt pangs of fear. I know I am not alone in this. Our views on this question influence how we perceive the world, including how we vote. It’s a human query, so we have not limited responses to Jewish thinkers. But, as you will read, it is also a very Jewish question.
We have talked to some amazing people–from a student who survived the mass shooting in Parkland to a survivor of the Holocaust. From an epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox to a physician influenced by Eastern thinking; from a CEO of a drone manufacturing company to an Orthodox rabbi who teaches bible and philosophy; from an environmentalist to a former prisoner of the Soviet gulag; from a Supreme Court Justice to a former Secretary of State; from a woman descended from both slaves and a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon to a conservative columnist, and many others.
They touch upon disparate topics and diagnose different problems. In this challenging time, I have found these interviews, even those that scare me, to be comforting in their wisdom and breadth. Some of our thinkers also suggest where we might go from here.
There are no easy answers in these pages, or anywhere else. All I can promise is that this edition of Moment will get you thinking and at least for a moment, take you out of your information bubble. (At a time when people have been discussing herd immunity, I have also been thinking about the rapidly spreading virus of herd mentality.) In its entirety, this issue will please neither those on the left nor those on the right, nor some in the center. But I promise you will learn something new. Without learning, there is no progress.
We couldn’t squeeze everything we would have liked into print, so be sure to go to momentmag.com to read more, including more answers to our Big Question, the thoughts and voting preferences of all of our JPVP participants, the latest updates from our Anti-Semitism Monitor and much more. Make sure to watch the many fascinating conversations taking place online, such as the one between Robert Siegel and Simon Schama, and register for those to come at momentmag.com/zoominars.
I wish you all a healthy and safe New Year. We always wish this for one another, but this year these words have more meaning than ever.
Opening picture: Photo credit: Marissa Vonesh