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Hooray for Love

Rebecca Keys

Spring is here and love is in the air.

Watch Barbra Streisand sing a stunning duet with Judy Garland during an episode of "The Judy Garland Show," and learn more about Streisand's iconic career with Jewish Lives.

 
 

Jewish Life of the Month: Benjamin Disraeli

Rebecca Keys

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Benjamin Disraeli

Dates
1804-1881

Impact
Served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and played a central role in the creation of the modern Conservative Party. He is widely celebrated for his role in Jewish history but is the perception of him as a Jewish hero accurate?  

Famous Quote
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

 
Disraeli: The Novel Politician
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3 Things You Should Know About Alfred Stieglitz

Rebecca Keys

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Explore the life of the revolutionary American photographer ripe for rediscovery as a photographer and champion of other artists

Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) was an enormously influential artist and nurturer of artists even though his accomplishments are often overshadowed by his role as Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband. This new book from celebrated biographer Phyllis Rose reconsiders Stieglitz as a revolutionary force in the history of American art.

Born in New Jersey, Stieglitz at age eighteen went to study in Germany, where his father, a wool merchant and painter, insisted he would get a proper education. After returning to America, he became one of the first American photographers to achieve international fame. By the time he was sixty, he gave up photography and devoted himself to selling and promoting art. His first gallery, 291, was the first American gallery to show works by Picasso, Rodin, Matisse, and other great European modernists. His galleries were not dealerships so much as open universities, where he introduced European modern art to Americans and nurtured an appreciation of American art among American artists.


Reviews

"There is no pure white or black in photography: a great photograph captures the nuances of light and shadow that underlie perception. That is exactly what Phyllis Rose's biography of Alfred Stieglitz does. And no biographer has a sharper sense of focus for the competing narratives that underlie a marriage. This double portrait of Stieglitz and O'Keeffe is the work of a master.” —Judith Thurman, author of Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette and Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller
 
 “Rose is consistently generous, knowledgeable . . .” —Christine Smallwood, The New Yorker


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About the Author

Phyllis Rose is a literary critic and biographer. Her books include the acclaimed biography of Virginia Woolf, Woman of Letters, and her classic Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages. She divides her time between New York City and Key West, FL.

Author photograph © Sigrid Estrada

Menasseh ben Israel: Rabbi of Amsterdam

Rebecca Keys

Watch author Steven Nadler discuss the life and legacy of Menasseh ben Israel, filmed at the Park Avenue Synagogue in NYC.

This event is part of the Jewish Lives Book Club, a global reading group program where participants receive discounted books, free reading guides, and more.

 
Menasseh ben Israel: Rabbi of Amsterdam
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Jewish Life of the Month: Alfred Stieglitz

Rebecca Keys

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Alfred Stieglitz

Dates
1864-1946

Impact
Although his career as an influential photographer and art promoter is often overshadowed by his role as Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband, Stieglitz was a revolutionary force in the history of American art.

Famous Quote
"Wherever there is light, one can photograph."

 
 

Quote Corner

Rebecca Keys

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Groucho Marx: The Comedy of Existence
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Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel
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Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern
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Jewish Life of the Month: Martin Buber

Rebecca Keys

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Martin Buber

Dates
1878-1965

Impact
Buber’s philosophical and theological writings, most famously I and Thou, made significant contributions to religious and Jewish thought, philosophical anthropology, biblical studies, political theory, and Zionism.

Famous Quote
"A person cannot approach the divine by reaching beyond the human. To become human, is what this individual person, has been created for."

 
Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent
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The Power of Peggy Guggenheim

Rebecca Keys

Watch a clip from the Tribeca Film Festival documentary, in which Peggy Guggenheim is remembered for her success and sexuality. Learn more about her uncompromising life with Jewish Lives.

 
Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern
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Jewish Life of the Month: Ben Hecht

Rebecca Keys

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Ben Hecht

Dates
1894-1964

Impact
A celebrated American screenwriter best known for Scarface,Twentieth Century, and Notorious, Hecht emerged as an outspoken crusader for the imperiled Jews of Europe and later became a fierce propagandist for pre-1948 Palestine’s Jewish terrorist underground.

Famous Quote
"Love is a hole in the heart."

 
Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures
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The Genius of Albert Einstein

Rebecca Keys

Watch a History.com documentary about the extraordinary genius of Albert Einstein and learn more about the brilliant scientist with Jewish Lives. 

 
Einstein: His Space and Times
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Jewish Life of the Month: Leonard Bernstein

Rebecca Keys

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Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician
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Leonard Bernstein

Dates
1918-1990

Impact
An internationally celebrated conductor, a skilled pianist, and brilliant composer, Bernstein is best known as the music director of the New York Philharmonic and for his music for West Side Story.

Famous Quote
"Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable."

4 Questions with Judith Rosenbaum

Rebecca Keys

 
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This month, Judith Rosenbaum, PhD, executive director of the Jewish Women’s Archive, answers 4 questions about the Jewish experience.

1. In your opinion, what is the defining feature of Jewish life today?

I would say choice. Jewish life in the 21st century is voluntary, and – even for those of us for whom Jewishness is a primary identity – it is one among many commitments and affiliations.

2. What is your favorite Jewish book and why?

It’s hard to pick just one, but if forced to choose, I would have to say Grace Paley’s The Collected Stories. Her stories, which focus on women’s lives, capture how the most mundane, brief moments of everyday life (a walk with a friend, moms watching kids in the park) contain everything we need to know about people and the world. I also love the intersections of politics, family, and storytelling. No one was better than Grace Paley at making clear the political imperative, as well as the human imperative, to love people and to tell their stories. I return to these stories again and again for Paley’s deep wisdom about people, relationships, love, and justice.

3. What do you think Jewish life will look like in 100 years from now?

As a historian, I have a great deal of humility about making predictions. As in the midrash of Moses feeling lost in the beit midrash of Rabbi Akiva, I expect – and hope – that I would be surprised and perhaps confused, because Judaism should continue to evolve.

4. If you could meet any figure from Jewish history, who would it be and why?

Again, how to choose just one?? I’d love to meet the 19th century feminist Ernestine Rose and hear about how it even occurred to her to sue her rabbi father in the Polish civil court over her betrothal to a man she didn’t want to marry and the loss of her inheritance to him. I’m also fascinated by Emma Goldman and would enjoy meeting her. And I’d be interested to get Bella Abzug’s perspective on how to grapple with politics in this challenging era. Among many others.

Jewish Life of the Month: Mark Rothko

Rebecca Keys

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mark Rothko

Dates
1903-1970

Impact
One of the greatest painters of the twentieth century, Rothko was born in Russia and immigrated to the U.S. when he was ten. His paintings are recognizable for their rectangular fields of color and light.

Famous Quote
“You’ve got sadness in you, I’ve got sadness in me – and my works of art are places where the two sadnesses can meet, and therefore both of us need to feel less sad.” 

4 Questions with Lillian Faderman

Rebecca Keys

 
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This month, Lillian Faderman, a distinguished scholar of LGBT history, and author of the Jewish Lives biography Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death, answers 4 questions about the Jewish experience.

1. In your opinion, what is the defining feature of Jewish life today?

The defining feature at present is one that worries me a great deal because it’s truly divisive for our community: and that’s the passionate disagreements over Israel. As an academic, I’m concerned that so many Jewish college students, and faculty as well, are not nuanced in their criticisms of the Israeli government. They’re hostile to, or dismissive of, the country. They have little sense of the history of why it came into being as a life raft--too late for six million, but there if (or rather, as history would suggest, when) virulent anti-Semitism rears its head again. I’m especially bothered that young American Jews are sometimes in the forefront of their campuses’ BDS movement and don’t do enough to challenge the anti-Semitism that is too often connected with criticism of the Jewish state.

2. What is your favorite Jewish book and why?

There are so many Jewish books that are important to me, but if I had to pick just one I would choose a collection of stories by Bernard Malamud, The Magic Barrel, which was published in 1958. Malamud wasn’t as cerebral as Saul Bellow, and he certainly wasn’t as hip as contemporary writers such as Michael Chabon; but he captured a generation that I knew well from my childhood, and I love him for it. I’ve reread the Magic Barrel stories even in recent years, and they continue to move me. I like the way Malamud gets the Yiddish idiom so right in the voices of his immigrant Jewish characters—I can hear my own immigrant mother and aunt in those voices. I like the ethical issues his stories raise too. He’s concerned with questions about, for instance, the responsibility we have for one another—and he always complicates the answers so interestingly.

3. What do you think Jewish life will look like in 100 years from now?

As a female who in the mid-20th century became part of the group that we now call LGBT, I remember very well how things used to be—and I’m astonished and happy about how they’ve changed. Liberal Judaism has opened up in recent decades to the leadership of women and the presence of out LBGT people. That women can lead congregations, that out LGBT people are now welcome in most reform, reconstructionist, even many conservative synagogues—such expansion of the active Jewish community bodes well for future growth. It also bodes well for “100 years from now” that liberal Judaism has become increasingly vocal in recognizing and welcoming Jews of color. That helps insure that Judaism will continue to grow and that diverse Jews will continue to play a part in the Jewish community.

Another factor (not so happy), that will inevitably impact Jewish life in the future is the perennial sickness of anti-Semitism. Not only history but recent events too demonstrate that anti-Semitism is as regenerative and many-headed as Hydra. If Jews 100 years from now, through assimilation or whatever, forget their Jewishness anti-Semites will remind them.

4. If you could meet any figure from Jewish history, who would it be and why?

If I had to choose just one figure, it would be the man I wrote about for the Jewish Lives series, Harvey Milk. In the course of my research for the book, I discovered all Harvey’s many warts, and I didn’t hold back on revealing them. But I also discovered the ways in which he was big-hearted and brave and truly a mensch. And I grew to love him for his complex humanity. I also grew to admire him deeply for how he crafted the person he became and how he inspired. It may be exaggerating to say that Harvey Milk was the LGBT community’s Martin Luther King—after all, he didn’t live long enough in the public eye to garner the huge national platform that King did. But for huge masses of us, Harvey Milk is the closest thing the LGBT community has ever had to a larger-than-life hero.

Who was Menasseh ben Israel?

Rebecca Keys

His father was tortured by the Inquisition…
His family was forcibly converted to Christianity…
Yet he became the most famous Jew of the 17th century.

Illustration by Sefira Lightstone

Illustration by Sefira Lightstone

Menasseh ben Israel: Rabbi of Amsterdam
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Menasseh ben Israel (1604–1657) was among the most accomplished and cosmopolitan rabbis of his time, and a pivotal intellectual figure in early modern Jewish history.

He was a teacher of Baruch Spinoza. He argued for the Jewish resettlement of England, from which Jews had been banned since 1290. He founded the first Hebrew printing press in Amsterdam.

Learn more about the great Amsterdam rabbi and celebrated popularizer of Judaism with Jewish Lives.

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REVIEWS

“In this lucid and engaging biography, Menasseh ben Israel emerges as a force of nature, moving swiftly and easily between the Jewish and Gentile spheres in Amsterdam. In recreating Menasseh's life, Nadler has stitched together some of the leading figures of the century into a vivid tapestry.” —Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World

"Fluidly written, lively, and truly excellent from every point of view, this book portrays Menasseh's role in the development of Amsterdam Jewish life and learning and in the broad context of seventeenth-century Jewish-Christian intellectual relations." —Jonathan Israel, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

"Excellent." —Rabbi A. James Rudin, Reform Judaism


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Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman

Rebecca Keys

Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman
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Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a military hero who embarked on a historic effort to bring peace to his country. He was assassinated 23 years ago, on November 4, 1995. 

Learn more about the soldier who became a statesman with Jewish Lives, and check out the resources below from our partner MyJewishLearning.com:

A Quick Primer on the Life of Yitzhak Rabin

7 Important Quotes from Yitzhak Rabin

8 Things You Didn’t Know About Yitzhak Rabin

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Reviews

"I want to thank Itamar for writing this book...It's amazing that so much ground could be covered in so few pages." —President Bill Clinton

“A thoughtful and extraordinarily comprehensive account of a significant leader” —Henry A. Kissinger

“I recommend his book to all those interested in peace between Arabs and Israelis.” —James A. Baker, III

“This highly informative and tightly-packed biography is undergirded by a deep personal knowledge of Rabin’s strengths and flaws...” —Derek Penslar, Harvard University and the University of Toronto

"Puts the complexities of [Rabin's] career and achievement in fresh perspective" —Kirkus Reviews