Posted by: jbwuk | February 24, 2012

Science & Religion: Jonathan Sacks and Marcus du Sautoy


‘Science offers explanations and religion confers meaning,’ said Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

This was his opening gambit in a mind-bendingly wide-ranging discussion with Marcus du Sautoy that was effectively a bridge-building exercise – an antidote, if you will, to the bitter stand-off that existed between du Sautoy’s direct predecessor at Oxford, Richard Dawkins, and the entire religious world.

Anyone hoping for a round of intellectual fisticuffs would have felt slightly let down by the spirit of bonhomie suffusing proceedings, by the pack-patting and hand-shaking and general cosiness: Sacks and du Sautoy shared a sofa, leaving Daniel Glaser to chair from, well, another chair.

The consensus building began with Sacks and du Sautoy agreeing that science and religion, both, are concerned with life’s big questions. Often the same questions, such as: why is there something and not nothing?

They also agreed that there are plenty of things we cannot know. Here, du Sautoy trumped Sacks by pointing out that mathematics can actually prove we don’t know things. If we determine the position of an electron, he said, we cannot determine its speed. And if we know how fast it’s traveling, we cannot say where it is.  Just as importantly, Gödel’s Theorem shows that mathematics can make true statements (about infinities, say) that cannot be axiomatically proven.

Science has its mysteries as well as religion…. But, according to du Sautoy, religion is complacent about mysteries, whereas science does its best to resolve them. Science isn’t content to marvel at the universe being a precision-made instrument – a starting point for the kind of natural theology that styles God as a watchmaker. It wants to know why the universe is so finely tuned.

Sacks, for his part, offered multiple appreciations of science. He admired its aesthetics and poetry, as well as the service it performs in explaining us to ourselves. For all that, he was adamant that with evolutionary theory Darwin refuted Aristotelian science, and not religion, by proving there are no purposes in nature.

If you’re wondering how Sacks can be so comfortable with science, so generous towards Darwin and Freud and cognitive science and biological science and physics and mathematics and geology and cosmology (yes, we love the Big Bang, too; that’s no problem for theists), it is because he knows that while science does a sterling job of unraveling The System – life, the universe, everything! – it cannot touch the matter of God. God, you see, is beyond The System.

For atheists, like du Sautoy, there is nothing beyond The System. Which implies that if we’re after meaning we have to look to ourselves to provide it — our stories, including religion, our mythologies and our science.

As the discussion wore on, differences between the two men became increasingly apparent, even as the bear hugs grew more intense. ‘I believe that faith is the courage to live with uncertainty’, said Sacks. ‘And I have faith’ said du Sautoy,  ‘that there will ultimately be an explanation; that we will know how nothing can become something, how a zero can become one, how a void can fill with particles.’

If there was poetry from the panel, there was also wit from the floor. Is there progress in religion as well as science? asked one listener. The question was expertly fielded by Sacks who said that every time our paradigms shift, so too does our understanding of religious texts and religion thereby progresses.

Is there a method – much as there is a scientific method  – by which religion can test its truths? This too was well handled by Sacks. He said that history was that method. Our values and belief systems are perpetually tested by human behavior. ‘Does the movement of history lead us to acts of graciousness and justice?’ asked Sacks, ‘Can it bring peace? And reconciliation?’

Du Sautoy conceded that science isn’t very good at explaining how society works. Personally speaking, however, he doesn’t care. He’d be perfectly happy, he said, reducing everything to a function of Shrodinger’s equation. This struck me as a bit like the answer to life’s essential mystery in the Hitchkiker’s Guide to the Galaxy being 42. To a mathematician that’s beautiful: precise, concise and potentially revisable. But the rabbi would probably say, now where’s the story in that?

Marina Benjamin is a writer and journalist. Her most recent book is Last Days in Babylon; The Story of the Jews of Baghdad (Bloomsbury). Marina is Contributing Editor for Aeon Magazine, and her blog documents the week-by-week diary of her multi-faith reading group.

marinabenjamin.wordpress.com

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Posted by: jbwuk | February 22, 2012

JBW interview: Meg Rosoff

“There aren’t many authors who, like Meg Rosoff, can claim to be read with equal delight by children and adults. There Is No Dog is zany, clever, and loopily enjoyable, and explores some of the themes that have haunted Rosoff throughout her career: identity, love, trauma and the madness of being a teenager. One must simply revel in the joyful singularity of Rosoff’s latest masterpiece.”—The Telegraph

Meg Rosoff will be at JBW on Sunday talking about her new book, ‘There is No Dog’ alongside Bernard Kops. In her book the role of God has been handed to a teenage boy with some chaotic and hilarious results.

 If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?

Peace, gentleness, goodness.  And infinite cake.
 
 What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher that made a profound impression on you?
 
 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.
 
 What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation? 
 
Catch-22.
 
 What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done?
 
My Batmitzvah.
 
 What is the most important Jewish book of the last 60 years?
 
Herzog, Saul Bellow.
 
 When did you know you would become a writer?
 
I didn’t really know until I wrote my first novel at 46.   But really? I was born a writer.
 
 If you were not a writer, what would you be?
 
I would like to be a professional dressage rider, despite the fact that I’m a million miles away from being talented enough.
 
 What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Don’t be in a hurry. 

 What would your superpower be?
 
 I would like to be able to fly.
 
 Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday night dinner?
 
Saul Bellow, Hilary Mantel, Simon-Russell Beale, Raphael.
 
 On the very distant day when you will make it to the other side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?
 
“You didn’t do so badly.”
 
 
Posted by: jbwuk | February 19, 2012

JBW interview: Leon Litvack

Dr Leon Litvack is Reader in Victorian Studies at the Queen’s University of Belfast. He is a renowned Dickens scholar and broadcaster, working primarily on the novelist’s letters, manuscripts, and photographs. Leon is also a Cantor, and has sung in synagogues in the UK and Ireland, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Canada, the United States, and Israel. He is also the principal tenor of the Belfast Bach Cantata Consort. He recently appeared on Radio Four’s ‘Sunday’ programme, talking about Dickens and religion, and in January of this year he presented ‘Prayer for the Day’ on Radio Four, including one on Dickens — the first time this has ever been done on national radio.

If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?

Universal literacy. There are far too many young people and adults who do not have the necessary reading and writing skills to communicate effectively, to get good jobs, and to give themselves a better chance in life. It’s unfortunate that even with all of the advances we have made since Dickens’s day in technology, social support, and human rights, there are more and more people being left behind because their literacy skills are not up to the required minimum standard

What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher that made a profound impression on you?

Tehillim (the Book of Psalms). At my school (Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto – Canada’s premier Jewish high school) we studied Tanach (the Hebrew Scriptures) constantly, and I competed in the Chidon Ha-Tanach (National Bible Contest) for many years. In preparation I learned many of the Psalms off by heart, and my dad (who attended Yeshiva in Radom, Poland, before the War) used to help me. He was able to reel off many portions of the Bible from memory, and I always came away hugely impressed. As a gift he gave me a tiny book of Tehillim which I could carry in my pocket. Many years later, when he lay dying in hospital, I read from this little book at his bedside. It was a great comfort to him, and to me.

What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation?

There are several: David Copperfield is my favourite Dickens novel (and the author’s own ‘favourite child). It offers us much personal insight into Dickens’s own life, and there are whole passages repeated verbatim from a fragment of autobiography which he wrote in the 1840s. In speaking about the time, at age eleven, when he went to work in Warren’s Blacking Factory, he uses the haunting phrase ‘No words can express the secret agony of my soul…’. They are echoed in chapter eleven of David Copperfield.

As for Jewish books, the choice is more complex, because many of these tug at my soul. At school I always enjoyed Mikra’ot Gedolot, which offered all the classic commentaries of the chumash on single pages. Rashi was always my favourite: he has withstood the test of time. After more than nine hundred years, he is still worth reading (and his idiosyncratic Hebrew script is actually easy to read if you try hard enough!).

As for Jewish fiction, I always enjoyed the novels of Chaim Potok – especially The Chosen, for the way its characters negotiate the ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’ worlds. It’s still immensely relevant.

More recently I have become interested in Jewish meditation, and have conducted deeply moving meditative services filled with chanting, silence, and atmosphere. The best book on the subject is Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide. Meditation was always a part of Jewish worship, and deserves more attention. On the High Holy Days, after I led a meditative service, an elderly gentleman came up to me, and said that this was the second time in his life that he had experienced God. The first time was during World War Two, when, he claims, he was saved from enemy gunfire strafing the runway by praying to God that he would be saved. For mehat was very powerful .

What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done?

Kissed the stones and prayed intensely at Kotel Ha-Ma’aravi (Western Wall) in Jerusalem

When did you know you would become what you are today?

I always knew that I would be a Cantor. I sang Jewish liturgy from the time I was a child! The beauty of the words, and the ways in which the music brings this out, have the capacity to stir the soul.

As for being an academic, that career choice came while I was at University in Canada. As an undergraduate I attended a summer school in ‘Victorian Literature and the Arts in London’. I was taught by the people who were top in their fields (literature, art, architecture) and was hooked! Many of these people are still my friends, over thirty years later. I then came to the UK to do my postgraduate studies, and never went back.

If you had not, what would you be?

A doctor. That’s what my parents wanted me to be, and I’m glad that I didn’t take that route; but I can recall my dad saying to me, well into my thirties, ‘It’s not too late: you can still go to medical school!’

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Learn how to say ‘No’.

What would your superpower be?

The gift of physical healing. Music has the power to move, and to heal — psychologically; but I would still like to be able to heal the body. Perhaps I should have been a doctor after all!

Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday night dinner?

 Dickens (of course), because he was so jovial, high-spirited, and generous to friends.

Ellen Ternan (Dickens’s supposed mistress), to see how she behaves in his company.

Louis Lewandowski, because he left us an enormous legacy of beautiful cantorial music, which is known and celebrated round the world.

Debbie Friedman (the Jewish singer-songwriter), to thank her for her touching melody for Havdalah, which moves me to tears every single time I sing it with a congregation.

On the very distant day when you will make it to the other side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?

 ‘Tell me what you did in your lifetime to help others’.

Incidentally, God does exist: there’s no doubt about it.

Posted by: jbwuk | February 10, 2012

JBW interviews:Allison Pick

Alison Pick started off as a poet and then, like many Canadians before her*, turned to prose (beautiful, well-crafted prose). She wrote her first novel, The Sweet Edge, in a Benedictine Monastery. Far to Go, her second novel was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and described by the Financial Times as ‘…a potential classic in the making that deserves to be on every reading list.’ It centres on the Czech Bauer family who are forced to grapple with the decision of whether to send six-year old Pepik on the kindertransport. The impetus for the novel came from the surprising discovery  of her own Jewish heritage which led to her Jewish conversion whilst writing the book. She’ll be in conversation with author Jake Wallis Simon and Guardian Literary editor, Claire Armitstead at JBW on Sunday 26th February and of all the dream dinner parties our writers have thrown, hers is the one I’d most like to crash.

*Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Anne Michaels

If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?

Healthy chocolate. Also an hourly wage for fiction writers, so daydreaming could be done on the clock.

What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher that made a profound impression on you?

I loved both I AM DAVID and TUCK EVERLASTING when we read them in Elementary School. That said, I don’t remember much plot-wise about either one, so perhaps it was just the teacher himself who made an impression…

What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation?

The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff

What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done?

Converted to Judaism. I grew up thinking I was Christian, and found out later that my Father’s family had hidden their Judaism following the Holocaust. Researching FAR TO GO gave me an opportunity to delve into my family’s lost faith and I found that it resonated in a way Christianity never had.

When did you know you would become a writer?

In the last year of my undergraduate degree I took a Creative Writing course as a lark, and fell head over heels in love. From that moment I had no other choice.

If you were not a writer, what would you be?

Prior to my late discovery of the world of simile and metaphor, I was studying to be a therapist. Tragedy narrowly averted. Turns out I’m a terrible listener.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

The best piece of writing advice I received was threefold: read, read, read. This was followed up by three more juicy morsels: write, write, write.

What would your superpower be?

I would like to alleviate global suffering with a single flap of my cape. Failing that, I would double the number of hours in the day. But only in my own day. And nobody else would know I’d done it.

Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday night dinner?

Emma Goldman, Marc Chagall, and my late great grandmother Ruzenka, who practiced her Judaism in secret for her whole life.

On the very distant day when you will make it to the other side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?

Welcome.

Posted by: jbwuk | February 7, 2012

JBW interviews: Daša Drndić

I’ve just finished reading Daša Drndić’s novel Trieste. It is an amazing piece of work, fiction made of a myriad of real documents. Superficially it is the story of a mother searching for her son stolen from her as a baby during the war but it is much more. It is a book about memory, about not wanting to see what’s happening, complacency and cowardice, about facing reality and history. It is the amazing portrait of a region which has changed language, nationality, identity. At its core is the list of the 9000 Italian Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Drndić tells us one story but behind all these names lie as many other stories, forgotten, silenced, ignored. It is also the story of children punished for crimes committed before they were born, sometimes by parents they never even met. It is fascinating, horrific, disturbing and must be read, absolutely.

Do read Daniel Hahn’s review of the book in the Independent, as he puts it all much better than me.

Daša Drndić is a distinguished Croatian novelist and playwright. She also translates and teaches at the Faculty of Philosophy in Rijeka. She is not Jewish and I am particularly happy she accepted to launch her book at Jewish Book Week on Sunday 26 February.

Here is her interview:

–       If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?

Justice, equality. Opportunities for all. The world I would escape to would be a utopia, so I cannot escape, but I can dream and hope and write about what is unjust and wrong with and in the world we live in.

–       What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher that made a profound impression on you?

There is no “one” book. Just as there is no “one” person. That is precisely what gives life substance, the non-existence of oneness. Or, if you wish, diversity.

–       What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation?

My mission is not to pass on to. Nor should it be anybody’s task. I think we must ask questions, question our lives, our deeds, our actions; our past, our present. Then the future will present itself. Time is in a flux and nothing is definite, so whatever one wishes to “pass on to” might not work. The future generation(s) should have open access to facts and search for its own ways.

–       What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done?

I have done many things, good, bad, clever and stupid “things”. Whether they are Jewish, Croatian, atheist, socialist, masculine, feminine, and so on “things”, hard to tell.

–       What is the most important Jewish book of the last 60 years?

What is a Jewish book?

–       When did you know you would become a writer?

Although writing demands skills, learning, practice and work, it is not the same as training to become a surgeon, for example. Writing is also an urge. I did not know, and I still do not know.

Tomorrow  I might stop writing forever.

–       If you were not a writer, what would you be?

A sculptor or a plastic surgeon.

–       What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Generally speaking I am against such categorical statements. Life is not (or at least should not be) composed of sets of rules. Who is it that was or is supposed to give advice, and how?

–       What would your superpower be?

To change this world.

–       Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday night dinner?

Intimate friends. And that is what I do.

–       On the very distant day when you will make it to the other side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?

For me, there is no other side, I cannot assume there is a God, because I try not to assume. Assuming can turn out to be dangerous business.

GDA

Posted by: jbwuk | January 26, 2012

Jewish Book Week interviews Eliane Glaser

Eliane Glaser is  a writer, radio producer, and an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. She writes on a wide range of aspects of politics and culture. She has written for the Guardian, the London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement, among other publications, and she speaks at academic and non-academic conferences and in the media about her ideas and research.

Her book Judaism without Jews: Philosemitism and Christian Polemic in Early Modern England was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2007. It explores the various ways in which Judaism was employed pragmatically as an argumentative token in the context of religious and political debates in 16th and 17th century England. The book questions the teleological narrative still present in Anglo-Jewish history, which posits Christian interest in Judaism as a precursor for Cromwell’s ‘readmission’ of the Jews to England in 1656. Judaism without Jews was one of the Jewish Chronicle’s ‘Books of the Year’. I still remember her in a very heated debate with David Cesarani at the time of the celebrations of the disputed readmission.

She is coming to Jewish Book Week to talk about her new book Get Real: How to Tell it Like it is in a World of Illusions which will be published by Fourth Estate in March 2012. It is a passionate and entertaining guide to spotting and decoding the delusions we live under – from ‘revolutionary’ plus-size models to ‘world-saving’ organic vegetables; from heavily scripted and edited ‘reality’ TV to ‘life-changing’ iPhone apps. Busting the jargon and unravelling the spin, Get Real reveals the secrets about modern life that we were never supposed to know. It’s an insider’s guide to understanding the present which puts the truth and the power to choose firmly in our hands. Only by telling it like it is can we improve – and maybe even save – our world for real.

She will discuss it with PR guru Julia Hobsbawm. Their conversation promises to be very lively! And of course we are not putting any spin on either her book or her talk!

–          If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?

Idealism, and readily available good Korean food.

–          What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher that made a profound impression on you?

Middlemarch, by George Eliot. It taught me the importance of that underrated virtue, reasonableness.

–          What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation?

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

–          What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done?

Studying at a (relatively liberal and trendy) yeshiva summer school in Jerusalem. Except that I spent the whole time internally ranting about how the apparent open-endedness of the ‘discussions’ was a sham.

–          What is the most important Jewish book of the last 60 years?

Hannah Arendt, The Jewish Writings

–          When did you know you would become a writer?

When I realised you were allowed to write using your real voice

–          If you were not a writer, what would you be?

Aside from attempting to save the world from political, social and environmental destruction, I’ve always fantasised about becoming a geologist, and was obsessed with collecting rocks as a child. Although at a certain point I realised that geology was actually about oil extraction and plate tectonics rather than sparkly gemstones.

–          What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

If you are anxious about something, don’t fight it. Being anxious is part of the experience. Miraculously, it stops you being anxious.

–          What would your superpower be?

The ability to relax.

–          Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday night dinner?

Oh, the usual German-Jewish intellectual suspects: Freud, Marx, Benjamin, Arendt. And Larry David to lighten things up a bit.

–          On the very distant day when you will make it to the other side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?

Yes, you were a good enough mother. This way to the unlimited spa facilities.

Larry Smith is the editor of Smith magazine and creator of the hottest (and shortest) new literary form, the Six Word Memoir, The phenomena has already spawned three books including, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure and the forthcoming Oy! Only Six, Why Not More? Six Words on the Jewish Life. You can submit your own or keep an eye on the latest additions on the Smith Magazine website.

He will be taking the form out of New York City, transplanting it for one evening only at this years Jewish Book Week. The event features a brilliant line-up; Lail Arad, Shalom Auslander, Francesca Beard, David Mills and Jamie Glassman on Saturday February 25th at 9:30pm

If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?‬

Everyone would have a water view.

 ‪What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher
that made a profound impression on you?

My mother’s original copy of Howl.

What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation?‬
Our Dumb Century: The Onion Presents 100 Years of Headlines from America’s Finest News Source.

‪What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done?‬
Haggled for a Christmas tree.

‪What is the most important Jewish book of the last 60 years?‬
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
[or if you mean more about the Jewish experience, rather than just by a Jewish author, I would say Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees and How They Came to America by Ruth Gruber]

‪When did you know you would become a writer?‬
In fourth grade.

‪If you were not a writer, what would you be?‬
Run a space that’s a combination of an old-school Russian bathhouse, home for live events and all-ages education center.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?‬
“Do one thing well,” advice given to me from my dad. He also advised:
“At an all-you-can eat buffet, don’t fill up on bread and salad.”

‪What would your superpower be?
Going back in time by one hour.

‪Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday
night dinner?‬
Leonard Cohen (for a song), Mario Batali (for the meal), and my Bubbie (so my wife and kid could meet her).

On the very distant day when you will make it to the other
side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?
These six words: “You seemed to be enjoying yourself.”

Posted by: jbwuk | January 14, 2012

Jewish Book Week Interviews: Shalom Auslander

I am particularly looking forward to Shalom Auslander’s third visit to Jewish Book Week. He came for the publication of his first book, a collection of irreverent short stories, Beware of God. You can still listen to the 2006 audio recording of his conversation with Elena Lappin and Naomi Alderman. (The first couple minutes will be a sad reminder of what JBW was like before we had a fabulous technical team brought in.)

Shalom then came back in 2008 for the publication of his autobiography – Foreskin’s Lament – at the slightly early age of 38. That time he was in conversation with the novelist AL Kennedy, a really classic moment of JBW.

He is back with us in 2012  for his first novel: Hope: A Tragedy and will this time be talking to Guardian columnist Bidisha on Sunday 26 February at  12.30 pm. I’m sure this be another unmissable session for any one equipped with a good sense of humour. And yes, Bidisha only goes by her first name and is fantastic fun, warmth and wit.

In his new novel, Shalom Auslander tells the story of a man -a neurotic father in search of the quietest place to bring up his son- who, having moved to the most boring little town in Up State New York, discovers Anne Frank is living in his attic. She is extremely old and trying to write her second book, knowing the first one sold thirty two million copies…Very tough. To make things worse, his mother lives with the family and, although she was born in 1945 and never set foot in Europe or had any relative who died in the Holocaust, has reinvented herself as a survivor, complete with screaming in the morning and very unhealthy obsessions. These is just a tiny glimpse of an extremely funny and provocative novel which, apart from making the reader laugh out loud (and trust me, it doesn’t often happen to me), raises some very serious questions.

The book is already out in the US and will be launched in the UK at JBW. I’ve put both jackets as I find the different choice of illustrations quite amazing (the slightly ridiculous little deer in the US, the wonderfully ironic dove in the UK). Shalom has already garnered some amazing comments:

“Shalom Auslander writes like some contemporary comedic Jeremiah, thundering warnings of disaster and retribution. What makes him so terrifyingly funny is that he isn’t joking.” Howard Jacobson

“A wonderful, twisted, transgressive, heartbreaking, true, and hugely funny book. It will make very many people very angry. It will also make very many people very happy.” A. L. Kennedy

“Can the darkest events of the twentieth century and of all human history be used to show the folly of hope? And can the result be so funny that you burst out laughing again and again? If you doubt this is possible, read Hope: A Tragedy. You won’t regret it.” John Gray

Here are his answers to our questions:

–  If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?

Intelligent life.

– What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher that made a profound impression on you?

A Children’s Guide to Why the World Hates You and Everything You Do Is Wrong.

– What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation?

Hardcover? Mine.

–  What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done?

What’s your hang-up with Jews? It’s weird.

-What is the most important Jewish book of the last 60 years?

Hardcover? Mine.

–  When did you know you would become a writer?

When God appeared in a burning bush and told me so, Jackass.

–  If you were not a writer, what would you be?

Rich.

–   What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

“Run.”

–  What would your superpower be?

The ability to consume vast amounts of pornography in a single degrading, loathsome evening.

–  Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday night dinner?

Back to the fucking Jew thing. I don’t know, Moses? Abraham? God? You tell me.

–  On the very distant day when you will make it to the other side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?

“My bad.”

GDA

Posted by: jbwuk | January 9, 2012

JBW interviews: Bernard Wasserstein

Bernard Wasserstein was born in London and has taught at Oxford, Sheffield, Jerusalem, Brandeis, and Glasgow Universities. He is now Ulrich and Harriet Meyer Professor of Modern European Jewish History at the University of Chicago. In 2011-12 he is a visiting fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies in Uppsala.

He won the “Golden Dagger” Award for Non-Fiction from the Crime Writers’ Association for The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln. His books have included Secret War in ShanghaiDivided Jerusalem, and Israel and Palestine.

His next book, On the Eve: The Jews of Europe before the Second World War will be published by Profile in 2012. This is the portrait of a world on the eve of its destruction. Eschewing sentimentality, Bernard Wasserstein’s original and provocative book presents a new and disturbing interpretation of the collapse of European Jewish civilization even before the Nazi onslaught. Wasserstein demonstrates that, by 1939, the Jews faced an existential crisis that was as much the result of internal decay as of external attack.

From Vilna (the ‘Jerusalem of Lithuania’) to Salonica with its Judeo-Español-speaking stevedores and singers, and from the Soviet Jewish ‘homeland’ of Birobidzhan to Amsterdam (the ‘Jerusalem of the west’), the book explores the mindsets of wealthy bankers and far-left revolutionaries, of ultra-orthodox yeshiva bokhers and militant atheists, of cultural revivalists and radical assimilationists.

While portraying the predicament of the Jews in a continent suffused with anti-Semitism, the book’s focus is squarely on the Jews themselves rather than their persecutors. Written with compassion and empathy, based on vast research, and enlivened by dry wit, On the Eve paints a vivid and shocking picture of the European Jews in their final hour.

It will be launched at JBW on Tuesday 21 February at 7.00 pm before it’s available in print.

Even though the exercise did not appeal to him, he agreed to play the game and answered our interview brilliantly. We are most thankful to him.
“I am not, in general, a fan of these sorts of questionnaires, which seem to be all the rage now in publishing circles. Still a request from Jewish Book Week is a command. So weakly protesting, I succumb. Here are my answers and I hope you are satisfied. My only stipulation is that you use it all or not at all:
–       If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?  How do you know I have not already tunnelled my way out? What’s missing here is the realization that there is no there.
–       What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher that made a profound impression on you? Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon (profound – and painful)
–       What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation?

The Song of Songs (the most worthwhile biblical book – for the sex)

–       What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done? 
Marry a non-Jewish woman (it’s a mitzvah)
–       What is the most important Jewish book of the last 60 years?
–       When did you know you would become a writer?
In two years’ time.
–       If you were not a writer, what would you be? 
Thwarted
–       What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Think small (from John Gross)
–       What would your superpower be?
Freedonia (President Groucho Marx)
–       Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday night dinner?
 You, my dear
–       On the very distant day when you will make it to the other side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?
“Your assumption was false.””
Posted by: jbwuk | January 5, 2012

JBW Interviews: Lail Arad

Dubbed by Womad as ‘your next favourite singer-songwriter’, Lail Arad has a delicious voice and wry, funny lyrics about friends, exes, the internet and so much more.  2011 was spent touring her debut album ‘Someone New’ which was released on the French label Notify Music.Image

She’ll be at JBW on Saturday 25th February at 9:30pm where she’ll be performing one of her songs as a Six Word Memoir alongside Shalom Auslander, David Mills, Jamie Glassman and Francesca Beard.

In the meantime you can have a listen to some of her music on her facebook page.

Here are her answers to our questions:

If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?

The 25th hour of the day and the 8th day of the week.

What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher that made a profound impression on you?

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe.

What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation?

Just Kids, Patti Smith.

What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done?

Matzah Ball Soup at Canter’s Deli,Los Angeles.

What is the most important Jewish book of the last 60 years?

The Book Of Jewish Food, Claudia Roden.

When did you know you would become a writer?

A songwriter, at 18. I’ve yet to publish anything that can’t fit on a napkin.

 If you were not a writer, what would you be?

It’s probably too late for Roller-Skating Champion. I’d like to be a student again.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Nothing is as bad as it seems, nothing is as good as it seems (Father Ron)

[that’s  her father, designer, Ron Arad, rather than a priest called Ron]

What would your superpower be?

An in-built GPS.

Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday night dinner?

My J-idols: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell and Jonathan Richman. But it would be a Thursday.

On the very distant day when you will make it to the other side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?

“Let’s twist again, like we did last summer”

Picture Credit: Lisa Roze

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