A Play about the Lehman Brothers Dips into Anti-Jewish Anti-Capitalism

Written by the Italian Jewish playwright Stefano Massini and first staged in Milan in 2015, The Lehman Trilogy tells the story of the family that founded Lehman Brothers, from their arrival in American in the 1840s through their descendants’ Wall Street success to the firm’s collapse during the 2008 financial crisis. The play, translated into English and abridged from its original five hours, is now making a brief appearance on Broadway. Judith Miller writes in her review:

Despite the [high-quality] acting, a creative set, elegant staging, and inspired direction, The Lehman Trilogy often feels more like a lecture than a play. Another challenge is the focus on a Jewish immigrant family as the embodiment of the American dream. The play chronicles the reshaping, and the eventual abandonment, of the family’s Judaism and ritual observance over time. As each generation of Lehmans becomes colder, greedier, and more cynical, their attachment to traditional Jewish ritual and values fades. The family mourns the passing of Henry, [the first of the original brothers to arrive in the U.S.], by closing the firm and sitting shiva for a week; a few generations later, Lehman Brothers pauses for just a few seconds when closing the firm. . . . But [the] playwright Massini seems conflicted at times about whether the family’s loss of faith helped trigger its financial demise, or whether its integration in American life triggered that inevitable loss of faith.

[Moreover], the play also contains subtle but pervasive intimations of the classic anti-Semitic tropes it ostensibly laments, with invocations of Jewishness—and Jewish power, and Jewish money—used to cover gaps in the author’s dramatic imagination and historical reach. . . .

If there is a debate, or even discomfort within the family, about the morality of propping up slave owners, or profiting from civil war, there is little indication of it, while the actors utter more “barukh Hashems” than New York has skyscrapers. The audience is never permitted to forget that the enterprise and ambition that built modern capitalism—and three generations and 160 years later, the rapacious, self-destructive greed it [supposedly] inspired—are not just part of the American experience, but part of a particularly American Jewish impulse or imperative.

At the play’s end, the three original Lehmans reappear in their first Alabama store to say kaddish as the financial chaos sparked by their bankrupt firm in New York spreads throughout the world. Since the family is less than devout by then, the dramatic resort to kaddish feels like a particularly gratuitous reach for a significance at once overgeneralized and at the same time a bit creepy.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Capitalism, Finance, Theater

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship