Interwar Latvia’s Great Hasidic Politician

In Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia between the two world wars, Jewish political parties won seats in national parliaments, local governments, and even cabinets. One of the leading Jewish politicians in Latvia at the time was Mordechai Dubin, a devout Chabad-Lubavitch Ḥasid whose career was documented in a Russian-language memoir published in 2000. In the introduction to his translation of the memoir—now available online—Dovid Margolin writes:

Dubin was a statesman, diplomat, and powerbroker in interwar Latvia, whose influence and impact were felt widely within the Jewish world. At the height of his public career, he walked the corridors of power with a bearing seldom seen in a Jewish lay leader. He was the founder and leader of the traditionalist Agudath Israel political party in Latvia, but represented Jews far beyond his natural base and served as a uniquely inclusive chairman of the Riga Jewish community.

In life and death [Dubin] was lauded by both his closest allies and most bitter political opponents for his proactive willingness to help anyone—especially his fellow Jews—at any time, and in any place, and for the great efficacy of his assistance. . . . He was also popularly regarded as the “unofficial foreign secretary of the realm of Lubavitch.” . . . When he visited the United States in 1929-30, he had a private meeting with President Herbert Hoover in the White House, something few Latvian politicians could ever hope for. And yet his story ended tragically; his wife and daughter-in-law perished in the Riga ghetto, his son in a Nazi camp, and he, years later, died destitute and alone in Soviet captivity. . . .

Mordechai Dubin was born in 1889 in the city of Riga, Latvia, to Shneur Zalman Ber and Rivkah Rokhl Dubin. The family had seven children, four sons and three daughters, Mordechai being the second-oldest son. [His father], a successful timber merchant, was among the first Russian Jews to settle in Latvia and helped found a number of synagogues, Jewish charities, ḥeders, and schools that contributed to the development of Jewish life in Latvia in general and the religious community in Riga in particular. . . .

Dubin had a traditional Jewish education, studying only religious subjects until the age of sixteen . . . He was nevertheless educated in worldly matters, and, for example, was the only Jewish communal activist to have mastered the Latvian language, [which few Jews spoke at all prior to 1918, and most Jews of Dubin’s generation never learned with much proficiency], from the start of his public career.


More about: Chabad, History & Ideas, Jewish politics, Latvia


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus