December 30, 2005

by Andrew Silow-Carroll
Kushner's "Calamity"

A good deal of the criticism of the Spielberg movie focuses on the fact that the screenplay was co-written by Tony Kushner, who among other things has been quoted as saying "the founding of the State of Israel was for the Jewish people a historical, moral, political calamity," which he did write in liner notes for a Klezmatics album.

It's interesting to see the quote in context, however, and ask if this is the thinking of a twisted creature or of a Jew struggling to find a place for himself among modern Judaism's various orthodoxies (lower case 'O"):

I want to be both a God-believing Jew and a historical materialist socialist humanist agnostic. I want the State of Israel to exist (since it does anyway) and I want the cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs honored and I want to shokl with Jews at the Wailing Wall and at the same time (and I'm afraid this won't help sales of your CD) I think the founding of the State of Israel was for the Jewish people a historical, moral, political calamity. Contemplating the possible destruction of Israel (civil war?) I feel at times if I could ever kill for a nationalist cause, I might kill for that one but at the same time I wish modern Israel hadn't been born; I am a diasporan Jew, not a Zionist; and I say this feeling that Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, is, its Zionist agenda and homophobia notwithstanding, Jewish history's best most eloquent single answer to Hitler and the Holocaust; and is so because it is in Jerusalem but I wish Jerusalem was an international city under a U.N. protectorate; and I wish the Museum of the Holocaust in Washington was a Museum of the Jewish-American Experience instead, with a holocaust wing, and I wish it stood on the Mall alongside museums devoted to the sufferings and triumphs of other ethnic-American groups, including a museum of the African-American experience, with a Slavery wing, which I wish was built with, in addition to other funding sources, Tsedakah from committed, determinedly anti-racist Jewish-Americans.

It's also interested to gauge the reaction to Kushner's quote to the non-response to one by Rabbi James Ponet, the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale, who writes in Slate on Hanukkah as Jewish civil war.

Today, the Maccabean memory has been resurrected in the modern state of Israel in the image of Jew as warrior, and Hanukkah is celebrated by many as a military holiday, the vestige of an ancient Independence Day. But I propose that on Hanukkah, we ought to consider whether an ethnic group that wishes to survive must turn itself into a nation-state. In the aftermath of the Bar Kochba debacle, at Hanukkah the words of the prophet Zachariah were read in the synagogue: "Not by power nor by might but through My spirit, says the Lord." In the glow of the candles this year we should wonder aloud whether the prophet's vision is but balm for losers or whether the international system may yet generate a new way for groups to be both part of the world and apart from it. Here is the hard question that an adult celebration of Hanukkah can bring into deliberate focus.
(Emphasis added.)

Is either writer calling for the destruction of the Israel? Clearly not. Are both struggling with questions of what was gained and what was lost with the rise of Jewish nationalism? Clearly. Is asking these questions beyond the pale? I hope not.


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