Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Remembering Varian Fry

His Bravery Unsung: Varian Fry acted - bravely, fiercely, fearlessly - to save Jews - many Jews; many rich and/or famous Jews - during the Holocaust. 

But before reading Dara Horn's 2021 collection of essays, People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, a "startling exploration of how Jewish history is exploited to flatter the living," (see February's Thinking About Anne Frank), Abq Jew had only vaguely heard of him.

Varian Fry

Do you know who Varian Fry was? More importantly, do you know what Varian Fry did? Wikipedia tells us

Varian Mackey Fry (October 15, 1907 – September 13, 1967) was an American journalist. Fry ran a rescue network in Vichy France that helped approximately 2,000 to 4,000 anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees to escape Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. 

He was the first of five Americans to be recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations", an honorific given by the State of Israel to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

People Love Dara Horn

But that is hardly the whole story of Varian Fry. Dara Horn comes much closer with her essay "On Rescuing Jews and Others," originally published in 2012 as "The Rescuer." Goodreads tells us

In 1941, a young Harvard-educated classicist named Varian Fry arrived in occupied France on a daring mission to rescue more than 2,000 of Europe's leading writers, artists, and intellectuals from the Nazis. 

Hounded by the Gestapo, he smuggled Marchel Duchamp, Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt and dozens of other 20th century cultural luminaries out of France and brought them to America. 

So why did even the people Fry saved want to forget him? 

In this fascinating psychological profile, acclaimed novelist Dara Horn, chosen by Granta magazine as one of the 25 best young novelists in America, follows the peculiar life and legacy of an American Oskar Schindler. 

In the process, she reveals the secrets of a man who risked his life when others were silent — and the unforeseen consequences, personal and cultural, of his bravery.

In his review of People Love Dead Jews, author Tom Reiss writes

Dara Horn has an uncommon mastery of the literary essay, and she applies it here with a relentless, even furious purpose. Horn makes well-worn debates — on Anne Frank and Hannah Arendt, for instance — newly provocative and urgent. 

Her best essays are by turns tragic and comic, and her magnificent mini-biography of Varian Fry alone justifies paying the full hardcover price.

But wait - there's much more.

In 2017, Ginia Bellafante wrote in The New York Times

In June of 1935, two years after the German government falsely portrayed the burning of the Reichstag as a Communist plot to overthrow the state and just at the moment that it had banned all but “Aryans’’ from serving in the military and made homosexuality a crime, Varian Fry, a young Manhattan editor who was preparing to take over a magazine called The Living Age, traveled to Berlin.

About one month into his stay, he witnessed a night of gruesome rioting in which Jews were kicked, bloodied and spat on, leaving him to provide one of the earliest accounts of Nazi cruelties in the American news media. Relaying his observations to The Associated Press, Fry remarked that the police “nowhere’’ seemed “to make any effort whatever to save victims from this brutality.’’

Occasionally, he said, “they attempted to clear areas for motor traffic,’’ or to keep people from congregating in front of beloved cafes, but “that was all.’’ The crowds — made up of people young and old, well-bred-looking and common — chanting “‘The best Jew is a dead Jew,’” he continued, conducted themselves as if “in holiday mood.’’

The impression left was so searing
that journalism alone became insufficient. 

With that in mind, in August 1940, Fry, a Protestant and 32-year-old, went to Marseilles to begin a covert rescue operation that during his 13-month stay would result in the escape of more than 2,000 people, among them many artists and intellectuals, including Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, Max Ernst, Heinrich Mann, Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, Jacques Lipchitz and Alma Mahler, who crossed the Pyrenees carrying Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 10, her former husband’s final composition. 

And now Netflix tells the story. 


Emily Burack writes in Town & Country magazine

Everything We Know About New Netflix Period Drama Transatlantic

The show will tell the story of American journalist Varian Fry who travels to Nazi-occupied France to help save artists and writers.

A new period drama is coming to Netflix this spring, and we can't wait. Transatlantic tells the true story of Varian Fry, a journalist who arrives in France in 1940 and quickly forms the Emergency Rescue Committee—dedicated to helping artists and writers flee the Nazis and immigrate to the United States.

Fry and American heiress Mary Jayne Gold, who helped lead the efforts, found themselves hiding out in a French villa. The two would help some of Europe's most prominent artists and thinkers flee, including Hannah Arendt, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Marc Chagall. 

Fry would later become the first American to be named "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum, for his efforts saving so many Jewish refugees.

Transatlantic is based on The Flight Portfolio, a novel by award-winning author Julie Orringer. Featuring an international cast, the 7-episode Netflix drama filmed on location in Marseille, France.


Premieres April 7, 2023

Monday, March 13, 2023

Chaim Topol Dies at 87

A Rich Man: As we all learned last Wednesday - Chaim Topol, the iconic Israeli actor who brought Sholem Aleichem's Tevye der Milkhiker to the screen in 1971's Fiddler on the Roof, has died, in Israel, at the age of 87.

Chaim Topol obm

Chaim Topol, who passed away in Israel on Wednesday, was a beloved, acclaimed Israeli actor, best known around the world for his portrayal of Tevye in the film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof. He was 87.

Decades before Gal Gadot, Topol was the first Israeli to conquer Hollywood, receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for Fiddler on the Roof in 1972 and winning a Golden Globe for the role. As David Brinn put it in a 2012 Jerusalem Post profile of the actor, “He was Israel’s most famous export since the Jaffa orange.”

He also won a Golden Globe in 1965 for Most Promising Newcomer – Male for the other role with which he would be most closely associated throughout his career, the title role in Ephraim Kishon’s comic masterpiece, Sallah Shabati.

Topol, who was usually known abroad only by his last name, was a gifted singer, as well as a talented actor. His legacy as a performer was sealed by these two roles, in which he played characters decades older than his real age – a rarity for an actor – and was utterly convincing in both.
And Ynetnews reported:

Shortly after his death, President Isaac Herzog issued a statement honoring "one of the most prominent Israeli stage artists, a gifted actor who conquered many stages in Israel and overseas, filled the cinema screens with his presence and, above all, deeply entered our hearts". 

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated "his wide smile, warm voice, and unique sense of humor made him a folk hero who won the hearts of the people",

and former prime minister Yair Lapid remarked "He and his smile will continue to accompany Israeli culture, his rich legacy will forever remain a part of Israel".


Let's go back for a minute. You younger folks clearly know Chaim Topol from Fiddler. But we older folks - especially those (like Abq Jew) who were in Old Israel back in the day - know Chaim Topol from Sallah Shabati.

Wikipedia tells us:

Sallah Shabati (Hebrew: סאלח שבתי) is a 1964 Israeli comedy film about the chaos of Israeli immigration and resettlement. 

This social satire placed the director Ephraim Kishon and producer Menahem Golan among the first Israeli filmmakers to achieve international success. It also introduced actor Chaim Topol (Fiddler on the Roof) to audiences worldwide.

The protagonist's name, Sallah Shabati, is perhaps a play on the phrase סליחה שבאתי, Sliḥa she'bati, "I apologise for coming". 

The film begins with Sallah Shabati, a Mizrahi Jewish immigrant, arriving in Israel by plane with his family: very pregnant wife, ancient female relative and seven children. Upon arrival he is taken to live in a ma'abara, or transit camp, where he and his family are given a broken-down, one-room shack to live in.

The rest of the film follows Sallah's many attempts to earn enough money to purchase an apartment in a nearby new housing development. His money-making schemes are often comical and frequently satirize the political and social stereotypes in Israel at the time.

Finally realizing that people are more likely to get what they don't want, he organizes a demonstration against the housing office shouting the slogan: 

"We don't want the development: we want the ma'abara!" 

The film ends with residents being forcibly evicted by police and transported to the new housing complex.

Chaim Topol z"l

"Hundreds say goodbye to Chaim Topol in ceremony at Tel Aviv theater," The Jerusalem Post reported.
"Chaim brought gifts and respect to this country," 
said Gabi Armani, who was with Topol in the Nahal band and their Green Onion band later on. 
"Chaim, you are leaving us, but you are leaving us with so much. Thank you, Chaim."

Memory Blessing

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Shushan Purim 5783

Oh Yeah: It's Purim, Shushan Purim, and Albuquerque Purim all week! To start the celebration (or continue it) Abq Jew must (he must! he must!) share with you the latest escapade of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.


When confronted by a senior NCO, now a MRFF client,
who was speaking for themselves and 112 junior enlisted personnel,
the “Officer in Charge” who came up with this clearly proselytizing
"Leadership Lessons of the Lord Jesus Christ” training
ludicrously claimed that it was not religious, but would
"only focus on Jesus the military leader.”


Jesus the military leader? What Bible is this guy reading?

As you, Abq Jew's loyal readers, most surely recall, Abq Jew has written about Mikey Weinstein and the MRFF before (see October 2019's When Christians Break Bad and March 2018's On Selecting Haberdashery).

And you must realize that Abq Jew could blog about Mikey's exploits every week. But then there would be no time or space (as Einstein has pointed out) for other gems appearing in our news media.

CNN (Zoe Sottile, March 4)

Brown Bear

Do not ‘push a slower friend down’ if you encounter a bear, National Park Service warns

The National Park Service has some bear-y important tips for what not to do if you – and a friend – encounter a bear in the wild.

“If you come across a bear, never push a slower friend down,” the agency wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, “even if you feel the friendship has run its course.”

On Twitter, users seemed more interested in soliciting further friendship advice from the National Park Service than learning more about bear safety.

One user, for instance, asked what they should do “if they consider me a friend, but I just consider them an acquaintance.”

“Friendships are special, but they don’t happen by chance,” the agency replied. “It takes effort and trust to build a lasting friendship. Good luck.”

Bear Wave

Park rangers are always advising hikers and campers in national parks to be alert for bears, and to take extra precautions to avoid an encounter.

They advise park visitors to wear little bells on their clothes so they make noise when hiking. The bell noise allows bears to hear them coming from a distance, so they won’t be startled by a hiker accidentally sneaking up on them, which might cause a bear to charge.

Visitors are told they should also carry a pepper spray can just in case they encounter a bear. Spraying the pepper into the air will irritate the bear’s sensitive nose and it will run away.

It is also a good idea to keep an eye out for fresh bear droppings so you have an idea if bears are in the area. People should be able to recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear scat.

Black bear droppings are smaller and often contain berries, leaves, and possibly bits of fur. Grizzly bear droppings tend to contain small bells and smell of pepper.

The New Yorker (Andy Borowitz, March 2)

Disney Roundup

DeSantis Rounds Up Disney Characters and Puts Them on Bus to New York

In a major escalation of his war with Disney, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has rounded up several of the company’s characters at Walt Disney World and put them on a bus headed for New York City.

At least a dozen characters, including Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Elsa, were swept up in the shocking daytime raid, as children visiting the theme park screamed in horror.

A merciless DeSantis explained the seizure of the characters at a midday press conference, in which he claimed that “all of these characters, especially the mice, are card-carrying members of the wokerati.”

The Governor seemed indifferent to the fate of the Disney characters once they arrive in New York. “Let them wander Times Square with Elmo,” he said.


OK. Now Abq Jew has gone too far.

With the recent (?) rise in antisemitism all over the world - even in the United States - perhaps Abq Jew shouldn't joke about roundups and shocking daytime raids. 

Especially after reading this "riveting look at the story of World War II and the Holocaust through the diaries of Dutch citizens, firsthand accounts of ordinary people living through extraordinary times."

The Diary Keepers

About which Abq Jew promises (Billy Nader) to comment ... soon. Until then -

CNN (Frida Ghitis, March 3)

Frida Ghitis

The toxic brew poisoning American society
In what should be a shocking bit of news even in a country where antisemitism, violence and wild conspiracy theories are becoming all-too common, a man was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill all the Jews in the Michigan government, the FBI said. 
The news, which was an important one for some outlets, including CNN, seemed to be downplayed by other major media organizations.

The case, which was publicized by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who said the FBI confirmed she was one of the targets, contains a toxic brew of many of the ingredients poisoning American society: conspiracy theories, poorly moderated social media platforms and a country awash in weapons.

The result, as we have already seen, is not only a surge in antisemitic incidents and crimes – in keeping with a historic pattern of Jews becoming the central targets of all manner of phony fabrications – but also a red flag with a warning beyond one community. 
That American Jews now feel unsafe in a country where they thought that could not happen is sign of a society beginning to lose its moorings.

Continuing -

The explosion of antisemitic rhetoric and actions are evidence of the damage inflicted by conspiracy theories that spread on social media, attributing Jews to all sorts of nefarious powers and objectives. And in the Michigan case, the suspect was found in possession of a number of weapons, which underscores just how dangerous this growing trend is. 

Given how often we’ve seen other groups targeted as scapegoats, the spread of hate-filled rhetoric has wider implications.

This presents a serious challenge to the nation. Countering the threat will require people across society to refute these unfounded ideas, help safeguard the people who are targeted and call out those who promote their unhinged notions.

That’s why it was disappointing when the agenda for a recent House Democratic Caucus retreat included talks about defending Asian Americans and the LGBTQ community against hate crimes and other attacks, but somehow forgot about the minority that comprises by far the largest percentage of religion-based hate crimes, even when the statistics excluded some of the cities with the greatest numbers of Jews.

That a man was arrested after claiming he wanted to kill all the Jews in Michigan’s government should startle even a jaded country. 

That it doesn’t only highlights the depths of the problem.

Wait What

See how that happened? Abq Jew started with happy and funny, but ended up with antisemitism. And he hasn't even mentioned Dara Horn yet.

Back to Shushan

Gary Rosenblatt (Between the Lines) has finally posted a Purim Spoof for 2023/5783. FAKE, SHMAKE ... NEWS YOU WON'T FIND ANYPLACE ELSE. And NEWS BRIEFS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED. Like

Biden Orders Multiple Air Balloons Shot Down

Chaos ensues at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade


World War III avoided (for now) when Chinese spy balloons (disguised as pumpkins) were shot down by U.S. jets.

Eh More

Meanwhile, T'ruah (the rabbinic call for human rights, of which Abq Jew is not and cannot be a member - see January 2015's About That Bush) - has launched Eh. More?: The Institute for (B)Old Jewish Thought.

Eh. More? brings together people from all corners of the Jewish community to ask big questions, study Jewish texts, and hold courageous conversations about today’s most important moral and political issues. And in that spirit offers their next webinar:

Ezekiel El Al

Shoeshine Purim

Abq Jew Substack