The Conversation

Readers respond to our November/December 2020 issue
By | Jan 25, 2021
2021 January/February
Moment Magazine November/December 2020 Jewish Music

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An old friend and I recently reconnected after many decades of taking markedly different paths and having very disparate yet fruitful and meaningful lives. Among the consequential things in my life, I can now thank him for introducing me to your remarkable magazine. I was unexpectedly delighted to read through so many great pieces, from “The Soundtrack of the Jewish People” (November/December 2020) to the articles that explained the origins of Kaddish to the various, seemingly endless points of view that you present by brilliant writers, as well as by your readers. In addition, I want to compliment you on your unusually high production values. I think it is sad that readers these days can rarely pick up a magazine that “feels” as good in your hands and is as inviting to your eyes and in effect says “Please read me” as does Moment! It is obvious that you all very much care about your publication, and now I do as well!
Jeff Hest
New York, NY



I am in the middle of your outstanding article, “The Soundtrack of the Jewish People” (November/December 2020). What an extraordinary idea! What a magnificent collection! I could not even wait until I finished every last piece in the “tapestry of genres” to write and tell you how much I am loving the experience of reading all of these pieces. Needless to say, I am crying as I read some of them. It is both an emotional and intellectual experience. I do have one suggestion: Even in this time of plague (to keep the Jewish spirit strong), you might want to consider a virtual concert of some of the music (it might start with “Rhapsody in Blue”) to be followed by a recitation of what the individual contributors wrote in the magazine. Sign me up now! Bravo for your creative and very successful effort!
Aviva Meyer
Washington, DC


I want you to know how much I enjoyed this issue. The musical journey was lovely! I was surprised that “Eli, Eli” was not mentioned. The traditional melody, and also the poem set to music, “Walk to Caesaria” by Chana Senesh (first line “Eli, Eli”) put to music by David Zehavi. Perhaps it will show up in a future issue. I have been enjoying Moment for 35 of your 45 years!
Molly Goldberg
Vallejo, CA


Thank you for the wonderful issue of Moment Magazine about “The Soundtrack of the Jewish People.” The interviews come together like the cherry on the cake of this extraordinary year. Last May, I successfully defended my doctoral thesis From Oy to Joy: Jewish Musical Style in American Popular Songs, 1892-1945. I argue that in the first half of the 20th century, Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe and their descendants collectively developed a Jewish musical style that would alter American popular music. Reading all of these interviews is a feast of recognition. However, there’s one song I miss very much and that’s “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön” (“To Me You Are Beautiful”), sung by the Andrews Sisters. After its release in November 1937, the song catapulted the Jewish musical style into American popular song. It sold 100,000 copies in its initial release, and by the end of January 1938 had sold a
quarter-million copies worldwide. “No Jingle Bells This Year; a Yiddish Leedle They Swing It” was a headline in Billboard Magazine on December 25, 1937. Following the article that Christmas holiday season, people sang “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön” instead of “Jingle Bells.” That’s why “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön” certainly belongs in “The Soundtrack of the Jewish People.”
Niels Falch
Lelystad, The Netherlands


I enjoyed reading (and listening to) the favorite Jewish music choices of the many contributors to your November/December 2020 issue and their interesting explanations. I see that you list “Eshet Chayil” as “music unknown”—unless Perl Wolfe is referring to an unusual tune, the “traditional” tune was composed by Ben Zion Shenker in 1953.
Rachel Schiff
Newton, MA


This is absurd. Thousands of Jewish works by Jewish composers and James David Jacobs chose “St. Matthew Passion”? I would choose “Moses und Aron,” by Arnold Schoenberg, the most significant opera on a Jewish theme by a Jewish composer.
E. Randol Schoenberg via Facebook


Bravo! Glad to see that Dan Bern’s “Lithuania” has been included in your “Soundtrack of the Jewish People.”
Howell Gotlieb via Twitter


What about my favorite holiday album— Erran Baron Cohen Presents: Songs in the Key of Hanukkah?
Julie Cantor-Weinberg via Twitter


What about “I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica,” by Tom Lehrer? I laugh every time I hear it. His rhymes are as inventive as Cole Porter’s or Gilbert and Sullivan’s.
Jane Strom via


I suggest “Misheberach,” by Debbie Friedman. It is sung weekly in most liberal synagogues and was one of the first popular bilingual prayers.
Linda Shivers
Portland, OR


One song I would add is “Papa Can You Hear Me?” performed by Barbra Streisand. Listen to it and I dare you not to get goosebumps. The lyrics and melody never fail to move me to tears. Thank God for Queen Barbra.
Ellen Widawsky
Great Neck, NY

Editor’s note: We received many letters and suggestions of songs and will be publishing more of them in future issues.



I applaud Larry Cohler-Esses’ insightful and nuanced portrait of the Chabad/Lubavitch community in Crown Heights (“Dispatch from Crown Heights,” November/December 2020). His article provides a rare opportunity to go behind the usual stereotypes to catch a glimpse of a complicated and multi-faceted culture. As Cohler-Esses describes, Chabad’s fundamental philosophy entails reaching out and bringing other Jews closer to their way of life. Perhaps this openness explains the Crown Heights-based Lubavitch community’s inclination to establish collaborative relationships with their non-Jewish neighbors and hopefully also signals a growing acceptance of social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter.

It might surprise readers to learn that although the Lubavitch in Crown Heights loom large in how people view “Jewish New York,” their actual population size—at least as of 2011—has been relatively small. In fact, in the last two decennial UJA Federation of New York’s Jewish Community Studies, Crown Heights didn’t even “make the cut” (determined by the number of people in Jewish households in the area) to be considered a “primary” Jewish neighborhood. For this reason, important information is lacking about Jews in Crown Heights, including the proportion who are Lubavitch, the extent of their economic needs, and their own racial diversity. However, given the high Lubavitch fertility rates and the gentrification-driven influx of secular Jews (both described in the Cohler-Esses article), it is likely that Crown Heights will statistically qualify to be profiled in depth in the upcoming 2021 Jewish Population Study. And if this is indeed the case, we will gain important information and insights into this unique and fascinating Jewish community.
Pearl Beck
First author of The Jewish Community Study of New York: Geographic Profile
(2011; 2002)

New York, NY



Kudos to Moment for the highly informative and engaging article on the Mourner’s Kaddish (November/December 2020). In less than two pages, George E. Johnson captured the ancient history, selections of key rabbinic interpretations, a sampling of contemporary commentaries and thoughtful insights on personal practice. While the subject of some articles in Moment may reside outside a random reader’s interest, a study of the text and prayer for the loss of a parent, sibling or spouse has immediate pertinence to each and every reader. Moment’s decision to share a short, authoritative, but easily readable overview of this topic was a gift to your readership. I look forward to more of the same.
Sumner Gerald Sandler
Tulsa, OK



I found Irwin Cotler’s column about the Uighurs powerful (“Indifference Is Complicity,” November/December 2020). It reminded me of the time a friend of mine asked me to house a Uighur student at my home while she interviewed for Harvard. I was told to pick her up at the Chinese bus stop in Boston. This was in the era before Facebook, so I couldn’t look up her picture. My contact assured me I would recognize her because she would look different from the other people getting off the bus.

When I went to meet the bus, no one passenger stood out to me as looking particularly different from all the rest. But I found her and after a week or so, we became friends and I told her this story, asking what she thought made her look different. She responded automatically, “Well, my nose is a little longer, my chin is broader, I look like your typical Uighur.”

I, who had not grown up hearing these stereotypes, had thought her nose looked like her nose and her chin looked like her chin. Since I hadn’t been taught that such-and-such feature was an ethnic stereotype, I had no idea. You have to learn to hate. Thank you for this column. Thank you for calling attention to yet another racial stereotype.
Ruth Nemzoff
Brookline, MA



Robert Siegel’s interview with Isabel Wilkerson (“Race Is the Skin, Caste Is the Bone,” November/December 2020), discussing her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, cites the “striking similarities of prejudice in India, Nazi Germany and the American South.” Yet it has enough counterexamples in history and current facts to undermine the entire thesis of the book, including her closing sentence: “Another way of looking at it is, if you can act your way out of it, it’s class,” she says. “If you cannot act your way out of it, it’s caste.”

Despite America’s tragic history of slavery and racism, there are countless examples of African Americans “acting their way out of it,” from being slave owners themselves in the antebellum American South, to dozens of highly successful Black entrepreneurs of the 19th and early 20th century achieving business and cultural prominence (e.g. Frederick Douglass), to countless current prominent academics, actors, athletes, business tycoons, professionals and politicians who reach the highest rungs of their professions, including Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, and who today are welcomed in the highest echelons of American society. Most damning of all to Wilkerson’s thesis are the millions of modern-day Black Africans seeking immigration to the U.S. in pursuit of a better life. No counterpart to that phenomenon existed of Jews seeking entry to Nazi Germany. When people vote with their feet, they demonstrate reality as it exists, not an author who abstracts their lives to a concept to help sell a book.
Rachmil Jacobovits
Rockville, MD



I enjoyed “The Great Topping Debate” (November/December 2020), but we should never have to choose between applesauce and sour cream.
Ray Brower via Twitter


Sour cream all the way! And extra sour cream at that! Maybe ketchup for a nice change once in a while.
Elana Karshmer
Miami, FL

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Absolutely sour cream. Only with a dairy meal. Otherwise applesauce with meat and chicken.
Roz Schwartz-Fein
Delray Beach, FL


Hold the applesauce and the sour cream. I never heard of ketchup. I just enjoy a sprinkling of pink salt from Asia! To each his own!
Sandy via


Great piece! And I am glad you mentioned mole latkes…If I had been in the Old World, I’d have topped my latkes with the spiciest salsas available.
Ashish Gupta via Twitter



I read with interest the short story “The Anniversary Camera,” by Joan Mora, in the September/October issue. As I am a lifelong resident of Rochester, New York, the connection to Kodak and George Eastman in the story was wonderful and somewhat personal. Although I have no direct connection to Eastman Kodak, I really enjoyed the references to one of our city’s most famous citizens. I shared the story with the George Eastman House/International Museum of Photography and one of its curators called me. Indeed Kodak and George Eastman conducted this program as a way of giving back to the community. The program was also brilliant marketing. The girl in the story would probably spend the rest of her life taking pictures on Kodak film. It is interesting to note, keeping with the theme of girls and women in the story, that Kodak’s marketing in those days was generally targeted toward women since it was felt they would be more interested in preserving memories. True to this, the 50th anniversary free camera giveaway was endorsed in advertisements by then-First Lady Grace Coolidge.
Howard Ressel
Rochester, NY


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