The High Priest Descends on the West Village

Jan. 12 2018

Ruby Namdar’s novel The Ruined House was published in English in November, translated from Hebrew by Hillel Halkin. It also made Mosaic’s “best books of the year” list in 2017. Herewith, its opening passage:

One clear morning, on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Elul, the year 5760, counting from the creation of the world, which happened to fall on Wednesday, September 6, 2000, the gates of heaven were opened above the great city of New York, and behold: all seven celestial spheres were revealed, right above the West 4th Street subway station, layered one on top of another like the rungs of a ladder reaching skyward from the earth. Errant souls flitted there like shadows, one alone bright to the point of transparency: the figure of an ancient priest, his head wrapped in a linen turban and a golden firepan in his hand. No human eye beheld this nor did anyone grasp the enormity of the moment, a time of grace, in which not a prayer would have gone unanswered—no one but an old homeless man who lay on a bench, filthy and bloated with hunger, shrouded in his tatters, wishing himself dead. He passed away instantly, without pain. A blissful smile lingered on his face, the smile of a reprobate, his penance completed, granted eternal rest.

At that exact hour, not far away, in a trendy café in the lobby of the Levitt Building, which looked out into Washington Square Park, Andrew P. Cohen, professor of comparative culture at New York University, sat preparing the opening lecture of his course “The Critique of Culture, or the Culture of Critique?: An Introduction to Comparative Thought.” It was required for students majoring in comparative culture, and Cohen taught it every fall. Cohen specialized in elegantly naming his courses, which attracted students from every department and were always fully enrolled. It was more than just their names, though. His courses were well conceived and well rounded. For all their incisiveness, their main strength lay in the aesthetic harmony of their superbly formulated interpretive models, which were easy to understand and absorb.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Hebrew literature, Hillel Halkin, Jewish literature

 

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem