Why Not Say What Happened by Morris Dickstein

Book Review // Why Not Say What Happened

WHY NOT SAY WHAT HAPPENED:  A Sentimental Education Morris Dickstein Liveright Publishing Corporation W.W. Norton 2015, pp. 320 $27.95 -------------------------------   Review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt In the foreword of his affecting memoir, Why Not Say What Happened: A Sentimental Education, Morris Dickstein recounts an odd, revealing incident. In 1965, at age 25, he has returned to New Haven to write his doctoral thesis for the Yale English Department after a year at Cambridge University studying literature on a prestigious fellowship and traveling on the European continent. One day he finds himself walking in the deteriorating neighborhood where five years earlier he had shared an apartment with two other observant Jewish graduate students. Passing the three-story frame house that contained the apartment, he is surprised to see it looking abandoned. Overcome by an urge, he nervously enters, finds no name on the landlord’s door, and climbs the...

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Ask the Rabbis

Ask the Rabbis // Happiness

Should Jews strive to be happy? INDEPENDENT No. Jews should never strive to be happy. Happiness should not be something to strive for. It should be solidly entrenched deeply within us, born of a sense of mystery, a sense that defies reason and definition. We are here for the very purpose of not knowing why. And in the not knowing, we rejoice and laugh in the face of every imaginable fate. This is the audacity of Torah, which challenges us to dance on Simchat Torah with numbers etched into our arms, to dream tenaciously about Jerusalem in spite of 2,000 years of exile, to sing joyful melodies on Saturday even if we know a pogrom is pending on Sunday. We are a people that has been subjected to unimaginable tragedy, genocide, expulsion and conquest for longer periods and...

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What Makes Us Happy? A Symposium

The search for happiness is as old as humanity itself. In Jewish culture, the subject of happiness surfaces in biblical psalms, rabbinic commentary, Talmudic pilpul and the musings of the Mussar and Hasidic movements, to name a few. Confronted with the absolute devastation and evil of the Holocaust, Jewish thinkers revisited the topic. Among them was survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who gave birth to what is now called positive psychology, the scientific study of how to make people happy. In recent years, Jews have been at the forefront of advances in neuroscience, regarded by many as the next frontier of happiness research. With this symposium, we attempt not to discover the secret to happiness, but to explore Jewish insights into this all-too-elusive state of mind. Interviews by Sarah Breger, Rachel E. Gross, George E. Johnson,...

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From the Editor

One could argue that Israel is the country where non-Orthodox Jews have the least religious freedom: They can’t marry, divorce or convert according to their own religious preferences. Welcome to Moment’s religious freedom issue. I’d like to be able to report that religious freedom in the world is on the rise, but sadly, the facts don’t support this. Indeed, there was a growing tide of restrictions on religion between 2009 and 2010, as tallied in a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Overall the study shows that fewer people have the rights laid out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” including “freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or...

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Elephant in the Room | How Has Anxiety Affected You, Your Family or the Jewish People?

Our second annual Elephant in the Room Essay Contest—in partnership with the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety—seeks to lessen the stigma surrounding anxiety by encouraging discussion of this important topic. The winning essays, plus finalists and selected excerpts, appear below. WINNING ESSAY For most of my life, I refused to buy into the stereotype of the anxious, neurotic Jew—not because I thought it wasn’t true, but because I never thought it was a stereotype. To me, the Alexander Portnoys and Alvy Singers weren’t mere caricatures, but instead accurate portrayals of the fearful, obsessive-compulsive Hebrew for whom even the slightest discomfort was cause for panic. As I struggled from age 10 with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and through my teens and twenties with panic attacks, depictions on TV, in film and in literature of Jews overwhelmed by worry legitimized...

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Book Review | Black Jews in Africa and the Americas

How to Be Black and Jewish Tudor Parfitt Harvard University Press 2013,  $29.95, pp. 232 Tudor Parfitt’s last book, Search for the Lost Ark, was a scholarly romp through history and linguistics—an adventure story that ended where his latest book begins: the remarkable discovery that male members of a black African tribe, the Lemba, carried the genes of the priestly caste of ancient Jews, the Cohanim. Currently living in Zimbabwe, far from their Middle Eastern origin, the Lemba practice a number of customs that resemble those of ancient Hebrews. But it was their claim to have an “ark” that caught Parfitt’s attention and led him to wonder if they might actually be descendants of an early Jewish community—a belief later confirmed by DNA studies. Whether Lemba customs (including wearing yarmulkes) were simply local developments—what anthropologists call “independent...

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