Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Oppenheimer in Av

The Nine Days: We, the Jewish People, have now entered the month of Av. This coming Sabbath is called the Sabbath of Vision (שׁבּת חזון) because of its Haftorah, the third in the series of three Haftorot of Affliction leading us to Tisha b"Av, the Black Fast on the ninth day of the month.

It is the custom in most synagogues to announce the month of Av as "Menachem Av" - literally, "Consoling The Father." The Talmud says, "When the month of Av begins, we reduce our joy." During the Nine Days we observe a greater level of mourning than during the Three Weeks. 

Oppenheimer Movie

During the Three Weeks, we marked the anniversary of Trinity, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, as part of the Manhattan Project. The test was conducted in the Jornada del Muerto desert about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico.

This year, during these Nine Days, the new movie Oppenheimer is to be released. And in another few days, the world will solemnly observe the fateful anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during - and ending - World War II.

Trinity. The commemorations of the destruction of Jerusalem, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. And the movie Oppenheimer - all within the same period of time. 

"Coincidence," Abq Jew hears you say?

As Abq Jew pointed out just last week - coincidence may just be God's way of remaining anonymous. Or, perhaps - hidden. Or, perhaps - angry.

American Prometheus

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the movie Oppenheimer is based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin about J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist who led the effort to develop the first nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project - and which thereby ushered in the Atomic Age. 

Now showing in New Mexico!   

Need to brush up your nuclear physics and atomic history background before you see Oppenheimer

Abq Jew strongly recommends the video Jews in the Manhattan Project, provided by Gaon Web Films and produced by the Jewish Learning Channel, a program of Santa Fe's Institute for Tolerance Studies.

The talk was first presented as part of the Santa Fe Distringuished Lecture Series - by New Mexico's own "Physics Rabbi" Dr Jack Shlachter, whom many of us New MexiJews are privileged to know. For those who don't - 
Dr. Jack Shlachter, former head of the Theoretical Division of Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratory, talks about the outsized representation of Jewish physicists in leadership positions in the Manhattan Project during World War II. 
He discusses many of them with personal stories about who they were. Fascinating inside descriptions Jews in scientific research during WWII. 
Andrew Silow-Carroll

And then there's Andrew Silow-Carroll, former Editor-in-Chief of JTA and current Editor of the New York Jewish Week. For those keeping score -
In January 2021, The Jewish Week announced its acquisition by 70 Faces Media, the publisher of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and other Jewish brands, under whose umbrella it continues as an all-digital brand.
Anyway, Andrew Silow-Carroll and Abq Jew are long-time Facebook friends, both of us being Jewish, and writers, and from New Jersey. Andrew recently posted:
I spoke to a rabbi/physicist (slogan: “Judaism for Your Nuclear Family”) about the Jewish backstory to “Oppenheimer” —
Rabbi Jack LANL

As Abq Jew expected, Andrew was referring to New Mexico's own "Physics Rabbi" Dr Jack Shlachter. And his FB post pointed to the just-published JTA article, At the heart of the film ‘Oppenheimer’ is a clash between real-life Jews. Which begins:

In 1945 physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer was a national hero, hailed as the “father of the atomic bomb” and the man who ended World War II.

Less than a decade later, he was a pariah, after the United States Atomic Energy Commission revoked his security clearance following allegations about his left-leaning politics at the height of the anti-communist McCarthy era.

Christopher Nolan’s biopic, “Oppenheimer,” which opens in theaters on July 21, will star Irish actor Cillian Murphy as the famous scientist. 

But it will also feature Robert Downey Jr. as a lesser known real-life character, Lewis Strauss (pronounced “Straws”), the chairman of the AEC and one of Oppenheimer’s chief inquisitors. 

The clash between the scientist and the bureaucrat was a matter of personalities, politics and the hydrogen bomb (Strauss supported it, Oppenheimer was opposed). 

But according to amateur historian Jack Shlachter, the two represented opposites in another important way: as Jews. 

Shlachter has researched how Oppenheimer’s assimilated Jewish background and Strauss’ strong attachment to Jewish affairs set them up for conflict as men who represented two very different reactions to the pressures of acculturation and prejudice in the mid-20th century.

Ya gotta read the article [Click here]


Andrew points out (as we New MexiJews already knew) that

Shlachter is in a unique position to explore the Jewish backstory of Oppenheimer: A physicist, he worked for more than 30 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the New Mexico complex where Oppenheimer led the Manhattan Project that developed the bomb. 

Shlachter is also a rabbi, ordained in 1995, who leads HaMakom, a congregation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as the Los Alamos Jewish Center.

Abq Jew had always thought that the Big Clash of the Manhattan Project was between Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, with whom Mr & Mrs Abq Jew once - in California, of course, where dreams used to come true - had occasion to meet and converse. But that's a story for another time.

In any event, Rabbi Jack offers a fresh perspective - on the post-Manhattan Project, post-WWII clash between Oppenheimer and Lewis Strauss, who was one of the five members of the original Atomic Energy Commission.

Rabbi Jack offered that perspective in Fifty (Well Maybe Two) Shades of Grey: Nuance in the Relationship Between Lewis Strauss and J Robert Oppenheimer, a talk that he recently presented to the J Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee, a Los Alamos-based nonprofit.

But back to the JTA article [Click here]

At one point in their discussion, Andrew says to Rabbi Jack:

I’ve read that Oppenheimer did not feel guilt over his contribution to developing nuclear weapons or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but he did feel a sense of responsibility for what had been unleashed. 

And Rabbi Jack responds:

Oppenheimer realized that a lot of people lost their lives as a result of this. 

But I will tell you, my father was a GI during World War II, he enlisted in 1943 and fought until ’45. He was in Europe when V.E. Day came, and then came back to the United States for leave before he was going to be shipped out to the Pacific. 

And my father was convinced to his dying day that the bomb saved his life [by ending the war with Japan]. And, you know, that was a widespread sentiment.

Tisha b'Av

May we be comforted among the
mourners of Zion and Jerusalem -


and among the mourners of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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