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Despite flaws, ‘Prodigal Sons’ well worth reading

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Prodigal Sons by Sheldon Greene; self-published; 340 pages; no price listed.

By Norman Manson

Norman Manson

SAN DIEGO — This is a fascinating, suspenseful novel, replete with violence, intrigue and romance, but is flawed in several significant ways.

       
The main protagonist, Jan Goldberg, alias Horst Vogle, plays a variety of roles as this saga unfolds. Ostensibly an art historian and assistant curator at a major museum, he’s also a cold-blooded killer and nazi hunter, a guerrilla fighter during World War II, a soldier in the Haganah during Israel’s War for Independence and an accomplaished athlete, especially in tennis and soccer.
       
His family having been wiped out in nazi Germany’s onslaught in Poland,  Jan joins the Jewish Partisan forces as they try to sabotage German efforts on the Russian front. Surviving the war, he arrives in the future state of Israel aboard a ship that runs the British blockade. After fighting in some desperate battles defending a kibbutz against the invading Arabs in 1948, he settles briefly on the kibbutz, but finds this life not to his liking so accepts a chance to again fight nazis in Germany as a member of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence force. This means a new identity as Horst Vogle and a cover job as assistant curator of Munich’s Alte Pinakothek Museum   He had studied art history in Germany before the war. Read more…

‘Tanya’ provides insight into Chassidic thought

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Tanya, the Masterpiece of Hasidic Wisdom: Sections Annotated and Explained by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, NY (Forward by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi); ISBN 978-1-59473-275-1, ©2010, $16.99, p. 165, plus appendices,  Available in Kindle edition

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California — Jews were the middlemen between the gentry and the underclass in seventeenth century Poland. On behalf of the noblemen, Jews, for example, administered estates, collected fees at the grist mills and fishing ponds, and ran the inns that sold liquor. It was only natural that any populist revolt would be directed against the Jews as well as the nobility. Cossack Bogdan Chmielnicki led such a revolt. He defeated the Polish army in 1648. As a result, serfs rose up against the nobility and their Jewish stewards.

With the defeat of the army, Chmielnicki and his rebels continued their ravenous attack on the Jews, massacring thousands in cities like Nemirov, Tulchin, Polonnoe, Zaslov and Ostrog and Pildava. The aggression did not end until the defeat of Chmielnicki in 1651, and the transfer of his allegiance to Russia. Three years later, the Russians invaded eastern Poland, White Russia, and Lithuania, which resulted in a substantial number of deaths as well as expulsion for the Jews. According to historians Margolis and Marx, the lowest estimate of Jewish deaths from these attacks between 1648 and 1658 is one hundred thousand.

The Chmielnicki revolt and its aftermath devastated the Jewish population of southeastern Poland and northwestern Ukraine. The uprisings destroyed Jewish institutions, decimated its intelligencia, and left Jews with only menial jobs and in a constant state of impoverishment.
Read more…

San Diego author tells the rest of the story of ‘The Odyssey’

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Penelope’s Daughter by Laurel Corona, Berkeley Publishing Group, 2010, 358 pages including glossary, afterword and reader’s guide, $15.  

By Donald H. Harrison  

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO—Readers may be charmed by this story and yet find it controversial.  Prize-winning author Laurel Corona, who often writes book reviews for San Diego Jewish World, has written another novel, Penelope’s Daughter, in which she makes a major amendment to Homer’s Odyssey. 

Corona conjures up a daughter, born to Penelope and Odysseus after the latter has sailed off to war to bring Helen home from Troy.  The daughter, Xanthe, growing up without knowing her father, is very much in danger as suitors press their attentions on Penelope (true to Homer’s version).  Would one of these avaricious men seeking Odysseus’ throne rape Xanthe to force her into a marriage?

Fearing that one of these louts indeed might use rape as a political weapon, Penelope decides to fake Xanthe’s death and to send her away secretly to Sparta, where her old friend Helen (of Trojan war fame) rules as Menelaus’ queen.In such a way, Corona weaves for us a tale of a young girl growing to womanhood, and eventually falling in love, in two different cities of ancient Greece, while at the same time providing voices for the women who are otherwise silent in Homer’s enduring classic.  Read more…

Yale Strom authors a book on Dave Tarras, “klezmer king”

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO (Press Release)–San Diegan Yale Strom, himself a well known klezmer musician and musicologist, spent months interviewing people who knew Dave Taras, whom some have called the  “The Benny Goodman of klezmer.”

Tarras is considered the most influential klezmer musician of the Twentieth Century. Scion of a musical family in Ternovke, Ukraine, Tarras played at weddings for Jews and non-Jews − even playing in the Czarist army − up to World War One.  He immigrated to America and after a brief stint as a furrier, began to make a living with his clarinet. From 1925 until his death in 1989, Dave Tarras set the standard for klezmer musicianship and virtuosity.  Even the great be-bop artists Charlie Parker and Miles Davis travelled to the Catskills to study the technique of this complex and compelling virtuoso. Read more…

‘Penelope’s Daughter’ makes debut at San Diego City College

September 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Laurel Corona

SAN DIEGO (Press Release)–San Diego Community College Chancellor Dr. Constance Carroll joins a cast of City College faculty and students on Friday, September 24, 2010 at the Saville Theatre on the City College campus for the launch of faculty member Laurel Corona’s novel, Penelope’s Daughter.

Published by Berkley Books, a division of Penguin USA, Penelope’s Daughter retells the story of Homer’s Odyssey from the point of view of the women, as narrated by a daughter born to Odysseus after he left for Troy.

“An Evening with the Women of the Odyssey,” begins with a talk on “Homer’s Women” by Chancellor Carroll, a classics scholar (Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh), followed by dance and dramatic performances by City College students, based on readings from the novel by Laurel Corona, who also writes for San Diego Jewish World.

The free event begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, September 24, at the Saville Theatre, located on the City campus at 15th and C Streets downtown. It kicks off the International Book Fair, which runs September 24 to October 2, and is co-sponsored by the City College World Cultures Program and Penguin USA.

Publishers Weekly calls Penelope’s Daughter a “variant and dreamy confection of Greek mythology and romance [that] achieves, thanks to Xanthe’s first-person account, a great deal of intimacy. Booklist says that “women who once wept for their lost men are given the voice and power they deserve. In Corona’s tale, women turn a tragedy into opportunity, finding a way to thrive in a world full of men. Penelope’s Daughter provides new insight into the lives of Homer’s women while giving voice to the inventiveness, creativity, and ingenuity of all those left behind.”

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Preceding provided by Laurel Corona

Was the Holocaust the legacy of the Church’s teachings?

August 28, 2010 2 comments

Six Million Crucifixions: How Christians Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust by Gabriel Wilensky, Qwerty Publishers, San Diego, CA. ISBN 978-0-984-33467-4, ©2010, $27.95, p. 309, plus appendices. Available in Kindle edition

 By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California–Twenty-two of the highest ranking Nazi Party officials were tried from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946 in Nuremburg, Germany for crimes against humanity. In the Palace of Justice, the site of the trials, a large wooden cross looks down over the four judge’s chairs. Why a cross? Did it represent right’s triumph over might? The victory of good over evil? Did it symbolize the truth that God was on the side of the allies? Gabriel Wilensky, a life-long student of why the Holocaust happened, and author of Six Million Crucifixions, might reply that the cross deflects the truth that the teachings and preachings of Catholicism built the path to the Holocaust.

In part one of his four-part book, Wilensky begins building his case through descriptions of the actions of the early church, the time when Christianity separated itself early from Judaism. The time when early Christians accepted Jesus as the Messiah, whereas mainstream Judaism did not. To make Christianity acceptable to pagans, Saul of Tarsus, who changed his name to Paul, abolished the Jewish dietary laws and male converts no longer needed to be circumcised. In the fourth century, Constantine forbade Jews from seeking converts. The Council of Nicea replaced resurrection, which stood at the heart of Christianity, with crucifixion. As such, the council focused responsibility on the Jews, and from this point forward sermons excoriated Jews, which often led to violent actions against them.

In the second part Wilensky focuses on Christian anti-Semitism.  Now that crucifixion is Christianity’s centerpiece, the words in Matthew (27:25), “His blood be on us and on our children,” form the basis of the church’s systematic effort to denounce the Jewish people. The church attacked the Jews through sermons, through discriminatory laws, and with symbols. As examples, a belief emerged in the mid-fifteenth century, that the intermixing of blood (Jews marrying Christians) defiles “old” Christians. Two statues stand at the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. The first, Ecclesia, the church, wears a crown and holds a scepter and the Challis of Christ. The second, Synagoga, is blindfolded. Blind to the knowledge that Jesus is God. A crown lies at her feet. The Jews have been dethroned as God’s people. According to Wilensky, there are over four hundred and fifty anti-Semitic verses in just the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. As often happened, these verses became ground for priests to sermonize and stir Christian against Jewish neighbor.

In Part III, Wilensky notes the similarities between the anti-Jewish actions of the Church and Nazism. The Catholic Church prohibited intermarriage between Jew and Christian (4th century). So did the Nazis. The Church did not allow Jews to hold public office (6th century). So did the Nazis. The Church burned the Talmud and other sacred books (7th century). So did the Nazis. Christians could not patronize Jewish doctors (7th century). So did the Nazis. Jews were distinguished from their Christian neighbors by markings on their clothing (13th century). So did the Nazis. Jews were compelled to live in segregated ghettos (13th century). So did the Nazis. Jews could not obtain academic degrees (15th century). So did the Nazis.

The final part focuses on the actions of the Pope and the Catholic Church during World War II. Wilensky notes the Eugenio Pacelli, first as the Vatican Secretary of State, and later as Pope Pius XII intervened on behalf of Jews who converted to Christianity, but not the Jews. He neither denounced the persecution nor the extermination of the Jews by the Nazi government. He spoke out against the treatment of Polish Christians, but not Polish Jews. He sought clemency for the convicted war criminals. He did not recognize the State of Israel.

Six Million Crucifixions brilliantly explains the anti-Semitic attitude of the Catholic Church and how, over the centuries, its repeated railings against the Jewish people created brutal waves of anger, which led to repeated mass murders of Jews in various locals throughout Europe. More importantly, Wilensky meticulously leads the reader down the Road to Hell, which he unmistakably shows was built by the Catholic Church. If nothing else, Six Million Crucifixions clearly demonstrates that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth!

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Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil CalendarsAncient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah. The author can be reached through his website, www.fredreissbooks.com.

Missed a turn in the latest Kafka controversy? Here’s a primer

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Kathi Diamant

Kathi Diamant

SAN DIEGO — Franz Kafka has gotten quite a bit of play lately. His photo has accompanied headlines in any number of newspapers, magazines, and network news websites in the past couple of months, most of which include one or more of the following words: treasure, trial, nightmare, snarled, tangled, vaults, masterpieces, secret, lost—and, lest we forget—Kafkaesque.  

In the past few weeks, CBS News, Time Magazine, Salon, The New York Times,  Washington Post, the Guardian, and Haaretz as well as dozens of other news outlets weighed in on the acrimonious fight over Franz Kafka’s papers in the Brod Collection. One of the most thoughtful was by Rodger Kamenetz in the Huffington Post. Coverage on the trial over the Brod Collection in Tel Aviv extends to The National, published daily in Abu Dhabi.  Franz Kafka is the Arab world’s favorite Jewish writer. Who knew?

Most of the news reports have been correct, more or less. The AP story by Aaron Heller stated, “Aside from previously unknown versions of Kafka’s work, the trove could give more insight on Kafka’s personal life, including his relationship with his lover, Dora Diamant. It may include papers that Kafka gave to Diamant but were stolen by the German Gestapo from her Berlin apartment in 1933, later obtained by Brod after World War II.”  

I am sad to report that the papers stolen by the Gestapo were not recovered by Max Brod after World War II.  Since 1996, the Kafka Project at SDSU has led the international search for these papers, 20 notebooks and 35 letters written by Kafka in the last year of his life, which most Kafka experts agree, represent the real missing treasure, not whatever remains in the Brod Collection.  

As the Director of the Kafka Project and someone who has followed the story of the Brod Collection closely since 2001, I am happy to share the straight scoop, with links to the best sources, as well as a quick cast list to the Kafkaesque drama unfolding in Tel Aviv:  

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka (whose literary leavings in the Brod collection are trapped in litigation) was a Jewish-Czech writer who died at the age of 40 in 1924, largely unpublished and unknown. After his death in 1924, with the posthumous publication of his novels, letters and diaries, Kafka rose to international fame as a literary genius, one of the founding fathers of magical realism and the modern novel. He is considered the most influential, profoundly misunderstood writers of our time. His most famous works are two unfinished novels, The Trial and The Castle and the short story, The Metamorphosis

Kafka’s strange stories have earned their own adjective, Kafkaesque, to describe a world where mindless bureaucracy destroys the mind and body and numbs the soul. 

Max Brod

Max Brod, Franz Kafka’s boyhood friend who became his literary executor, was also, like Kafka, a Jewish Czech lawyer and writer. Brod famously defied Kafka’s requests to burn his unpublished work, and instead gathered as much of it as he could and arranged for its publication. “As far as my memory and my strength permit, nothing of all this shall be lost,” he vowed shortly after Kafka’s death.

Brod fled Prague in 1939 for Tel Aviv, where he died in 1968. He escaped on the last train as the German army rolled into Czechoslovakia, taking with him two suitcases, one  filled with Kafka’s manuscripts, letters and diaries. During the Six Day War, Brod, concerned for the safety of Kafka’s manuscripts, transferred the most valuable to Switzerland for safekeeping in bank vaults. The Brod Collection is believed to be mostly in ten different safety deposits in Geneva and Tel Aviv, as well as in Ester Hoffe’s humid, cat infested apartment on Spinoza Street.

Without Max Brod, we would know nothing of Franz Kafka.  Brod saved Kafka’s writings for humanity, only to leave what he had so carefully collected and saved not to the centers of Kafka scholarship in England and Germany, where his other manuscripts are scrupulously kept, but to his longtime secretary and (most certain) lover, Ester Hoffe, who hoarded them for forty years after Brod’s death, selling off single pages of letters, diaries and whole manuscripts, at random, to the highest bidder. At one point she accepted a very large sum from a German publisher, and then never sent the manuscripts she contractually promised. She never returned the money.

Ester Hoffe, a Holocaust refugee who died two years ago in Tel Aviv at the age of 101, was generally reviled by Kafka scholars and researchers, her name an anathema. Given Brod’s lifelong dedication to establishing and maintaining Kafka’s legacy, his gift of the Kafka papers to his secretary was an unfortunate choice. When she died in 2008, her two daughters, Eva and Ruth, now in their 70s, inherited the collection and decided to sell it to the German Literature Archive in Marbach, Germany, sight unseen, for one million Euros. Headlines rang out around the world: Secret Kafka Treasure to be Revealed!

Kafka aficionados, academics and researchers were thrilled. Priceless, possibly unpublished writings by Kafka would finally be available to shed new light to understanding this most misinterpreted and beloved writer. But then, in classic Kafka fashion, the plot twisted, with no path made easy. The National Library of Israel stepped in, claiming the Brod Collection as state cultural assets, a national treasure, which should not leave the country. The legal wrangling and academic outcry has been ably covered in dozens of articles by Ofer Aderat for Haaretz, which has a financial interest in the case. (Haaretz and many Kafka copyrights are owned by Schocken Books.)

So, for more than two years, the Brod Collection trial has dragged on in a Tel Aviv family courtroom, with drama aplenty, court-ordered openings of secret bank vaults, tales of theft and deception, a nightmare for Hoffe’s daughters, as if straight from Kafka’s own imagination.

When the Brod Collection first made international headlines in the summer of 2008, I was in Poland, on a six-week Kafka Project research project for the 20 notebooks and 35 love letters confiscated from Kafka’s last love, Dora Diamant, by the Gestapo in 1933. Before I embarked on the 2008 Eastern European Research Project, I wrote an article for San Diego Jewish World, “My Quest to Find a Literary Treasure,” explaining what we are searching for, and why it’s so important.

For almost a decade, I have been waiting to see the contents of the Brod Collection. In 2001, in Germany researching the biography of Dora Diamant, I first learned about the Brod Collection, and within it, the existence of 70 letters Dora Diamant wrote to Max Brod between 1924-1952. This was information vital not only for the book I was writing, but also for the Kafka Project. In one letter, written in Berlin in April 1933, Dora described to Brod the theft of Kafka’s writings by the Gestapo. Among the list of 70 letters, a stunning, four-page letter is catalogued, with the date, the return address, and a few lines describing what was taken. But, besides the Swiss lawyer who catalogued the Brod Collection in the early 1980s, no one else has seen that letter or any of Dora Diamant’s letters, telegrams and postcards written over a twenty-five year period.

I am only one of many who are holding a collective breath. The next headline you see on Kafka’s papers in the Brod Collection might announce a happy resolution. But knowing Kafka’s dark sense of humor, I doubt it.

In the meanwhile, Kafka Project isn’t waiting. Plans are afoot to follow up the 2008 Eastern European research, collaborating with the University of Silesia, Jagiellonian University, the National Library of Silesia, and the Polish National Archives in 2012. The Kafka Project is working not only to recover a lost treasure and open a new chapter in literary history, but to repair at least one of the crimes of the Third Reich. If you want to learn more about Kafka, I am presenting a six-week survey, Kafka in Context, for the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning at SDSU, starting Monday, September 13. To register, contact osher@mail.sdsu.edu. Here’s a link for more information on the SDSU Kafka Project.

Stay tuned for the next headline!  

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Diamant is director of SDSU’s Kafka Project,  a journalist, and author.

Sidebar:

For further reading on this case, here are a few of the best articles covering the Brod Collection’s many twists and turns:

Huffington Post: “Kafka Manuscripts: The Fight Over Kafka”

Time Magazine: “Were Lost Kafka Masterpices Stuffed in a Swiss Bank Vault?

Washington Post: “In Israel, a tangled battle over the papers of Franz Kafka

CBS: “Lost Kafka Papers Resurface, Trapped in Trial” CBS News (AP)

Ha’aretz: story on safety boxes being opened, another on estate executor receiving boxes.

The Guardian: “Lawyers Open Cache of Unpublished Manuscripts”;   “The Kafka Legacy: Who owns Jewish Culture?”

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