A Belgian’s Tale of an Encounter with Jews Betrays Incomprehension and Bigotry Lurking Beneath Empathy

In 1987, J.S. Margot, then a student at Antwerp University, got a job as a tutor for the four children of a family of devout Jews, and remained in contact with the family even after her six-year-long tutoring stint came to an end. Margot draws on this encounter in her award-winning memoir Mazel Tov: The Story of My Extraordinary Friendship with an Orthodox Jewish Family, which has recently been translated into English, and several other languages. Liam Hoare finds the book “artfully” written, but lacking in the “empathy” for which it has praised:

This is a book that is neither about a friendship in any real sense of the word nor demonstrative of the author having learned much from the Schneider family at all. Rather, Mazel Tov is a memoir about Margot’s ignorance of the Modern Orthodox world—which very occasionally manifests as low-level anti-Semitism—and ultimate failure to comprehend it.

She takes in the whats and wherefores of Judaism but is never quite able to grasp the why: why someone would wish to be Modern Orthodox and live a life according to the strictures of traditional Jewish law. To be “empathetic” . . . would be to come to terms with those things about Orthodoxy with which she disagrees. Instead, her tendency is to fight against the possibility of comprehension, each new piece of information provoking a cacophony of objections, often phrased as rhetorical questions.

[Such questions include], “Who, apart from the whites in South Africa, sought to protect their identity by isolating themselves? How self-righteous—or fearful—would you have to be for that?” [And:] “It wasn’t so long ago that Germany and its cohorts had viewed this tight-knit people as public enemy number one. Yet now, not 50 years later, they still wanted to isolate themselves?”

Margot also has a habit of bringing up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in contexts where it doesn’t quite belong, using it as a cudgel with which to beat the Schneiders as if they bear responsibility for Palestinian statelessness. It would not have been [the fault of Elzira, the daughter with whom Margot becomes closest], for example, that while she was studying in Jerusalem, her rights differed from those of a Palestinian living in the same city, or indeed, in the West Bank. Yet Margot—who had been corresponding with her—wonders if she was being “tactful or hypocritical” not to point out that Elzira had “overlooked the Palestinian population” in her letters.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Belgium, European Jewry, Modern Orthodoxy


How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy