Guest post: London Jewish Book Week 2013 – a view from the sane left

A year ago, Brian Goldfarb who comments here quite regularly, wrote a guest post about his visit to the London Jewish Book Week. This is how I described Brian last year:

This is a guest post by Brian Goldfarb, a frequent commenter on this blog. I felt his report of London Jewish Book Week was very important in order to shine a light on the sane left (as opposed to the rabidly extreme anti-Israel left) and to show us that support for Israel emanates from all points of the political spectrum.

This viewpoint is equally valid today and I am grateful (as I’m sure we all are) for the support of Brian and so many others like him for Israel and for human rights for Jews worldwide.

Brian himself described his and my approach to Israel thus:

“sane leftist and sane rightist join together to fight the bad guys, mainly those on the rancid left”

That’s a pretty good description!

Recently Brian visited this year’s London Jewish Book Week and once more wrote up a report of the event:

London Jewish Book Week 2013

Although it’s now a month in the past, I thought I might start a new tradition: I go to London Jewish Book Week and tell the readers of Anne’s Opinions about my experiences there. Who knows, it might lead to people deciding to buy some of these books by Jewish authors and/or on Jewish topics.

To start with, I missed the book by Robert Wistrich “From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews and Israel” (which was also reviewed in the Jerusalem Post). After all, I’d been to the similarly themed event last year by Colin Shindler (chaired by Nick Cohen, one of the good guys of the “sane left” – thank you Anne, for that designation), and, anyway, my daughter who was lectured by Wistrich says that he writes like a dream but his lecturing style left something to be desired.

However, we (my wife and I) did go to “My Sister Rosalind Franklin” by her sister Jenifer Glynn. She told her sister’s story (which has been told before, by Brenda Maddox), the most well known element of which is that her X-Ray photographs of DNA were “leaked” to Crick & Watson, which enabled them to get to the double helix structure quicker. Glynn was asked if she thought her sister would have got there without the leak. She thought she would have done, but later, because she was a great believer in solid experimental/empirical work, whereas Crick & Watson took an intuitive leap. Anyway, Franklin died of cancer, and was denied any chance of a share in the Nobel Prize because of that early death. Would she have deserved a share, had she lived? Many, scientist and non-scientist alike, believe so.

David Milliband and David Aaronovitch discuss Europe, the future of the left and Tony Judt’s legacy

Later that day, we went to hear David Miliband (the one who wasn’t elected leader of the Labour Party) talk on Tony Judt, Europe and the Future of the Left. Now, I don’t have much time for Judt, not least because of his anti-Zionism (I’m being polite here, of course), but we both wanted to hear what the man who should have been elected Leader of the Labour Party had to say for himself. Further, the session was chaired by David Aaronovitch, who may not be halachically Jewish, but clearly identifies and is loved by Jewish audiences for his liberal (and I do not mean “progressive”) approach to Israel and all things political. Be that as it may, Miliband didn’t have a book to sell, but he did have a “sane left” message to push. Which we appreciated.

Next up for us was “The Elusive Jewishness of J. Robert Oppenheimer”. The author of the latest biography of Oppenheimer, Ray Monk, gave a most interesting talk, at least I thought so, if my wife didn’t. Monk argued that Oppenheimer was the descendant of German Jews, who emigrated out of disappointment with Germany and for even greater opportunity, which many of them achieved. They were prepared to assimilate, if that was the price demanded – but which America didn’t demand of them – and thus they were always seeking acceptance. The title of the biography is “Inside the Centre”, which Oppenheimer failed to achieve. Monk contrasted this with the attitudes of the East European Jews who flooded into the US (and, for the likes of Anne’s and my grandparents, into the UK), who were fleeing, in a very real sense, for their lives. The latter were looking for somewhere to openly practice their Judaism and only secondarily for an opportunity to “improve” themselves. Although they (and their children) did, with a vengeance do just that.

This leads on to Simon Schama’s The History of the Jews – a book and TV series later this year. He’s a descendant of of those Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe I mentioned just now: unashamedly jewish, even if highly educated in the Enlightenment arts. He talks fast, is witty and leaves you wanting more. I certainly look forward to the television series.

Possibly the highlight of my week was getting to “Textline, not Bloodline”, Fania Oz-Salzburger’s presentation on her book “Jews and Words”, written with her father Amos Oz. The heart of their book can be summed up in one sentence, found on page one: “Ours is not a bloodline but a textline.” We are, they are saying, truly the people of the book. Indeed, without the book, we would not be a people. We would have vanished, like the lost 10 tribes. Our saving was the Babylonian exile and the realisation by Ezra, et al, that the doctrine had, in the absence of the Temple, to be written down. She also argued that through the Mishnah and the Talmud, we can see Rabbis and others arguing with each other over the centuries, without ever meeting, let alone living at the same time. Of course I bought the book, and had it signed. I also got to make a contribution. One person suggested that the ultra-orthodox would make things difficult for the continuation of a secular Israeli society. I was able to present the case of Ruth Calderon, Yesh Atid MK, making her maiden speech in the Knesset on a point from Talmud and having a Shas Rabbi, Speaker of the Knesset for the day, intervening to reinforce her point (for those unaware of this, see this report in Tablet Magazine for an online article on this event from the US Tablet paper). I understand from Oz-Salzburger that this event went viral on the net in Israel.

(anneinpt adds: On my post about the new Knesset, commenter cba posted a video of Ruth Calderon’s speech at the Knesset).

I had hoped to get to hear Rachel Lichtenstein on Hatton Garden, but, sadly, we had to go to a shiva house. So, you’ll just have to take my word for it that she writes like a dream.

Finally, we got to the final session of the week: Thomas Heatherwick on “Making”. Heatherwick? What’s he doing at Jewish Book Week? Well, according to the Director of JBW, he has a Jewish mother, so that qualifies him. And makes him “a member of the Tribe”, of course. Maybe. Anyway, for those of you who were asleep last year, who is going to miss a chance to hear the guy who created the London 2012 Olympic cauldron? Except that he didn’t. Throughout his talk, he constantly referred to “us” and “we”: the design team at the workshop he created. It was a fascinating talk. Not only the Cauldron (which got a round of applause for the video he showed, but 4 other projects, including a redesign of the iconic London Transport bus, the Routemaster, which the likes of Anne will presumably know and love: an iconic London image. So of course we bought TWO copies of his book: one for us and one for a good friend to whose significant birthday we’re going in the summer, both, naturally, signed. And the friend is nowhere near retirement, so he’ll have lots of time to read this large, beautifully illustrated, book.

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6 Responses to Guest post: London Jewish Book Week 2013 – a view from the sane left

  1. Andrea says:

    Excellent overview on this important event. Jewish book festivals all over the world are always such interesting ! I will probably go to the one which is going to be held in my country each year. This time not focused on Israeli/Arabs, left/right, religious/secular diatribes – for once in a while.
    One topic – among others – will be in fact Jewish…. Tango ! Who ever could say that most popular argentinian music benefited from strong Jewish contribution ?
    Well, maybe it is not so odd.
    Happy Peasch ( I am late I know.. here Pesach will be celebrated by Gentiles one week after and I am completely lost betwen different calendars )

    • cba says:

      Andrea, it’s still Pesach, just not one of the “holy days” 🙂

      In Israel the last “holy day” (and last day of Pesach) is Monday, in the Diaspora it’s Monday AND Tuesday (long story).

      Anne, thanks for reposting the link to the Ruth Calderon video. To those who haven’t watched it yet–do! It’s wonderful.

  2. Brian Goldfarb says:

    I should add for those, who haven’t yet heard the news, that David Miliband is leaving Parliament and taking over the leadership of the International Rescue Committee.

    I guess that he doesn’t fancy having to call his younger brother “Prime Minister” (should it happen) nor either having to accept a post from him, or, worse still, fester on the back benches.

    There are those who wonder openly whether, in fact, this is necessarily the end of his overtly political career in the UK. As the old cliche has it, time will tell – especially if the next UK election doesn’t see the return of a Labour Government (and both Miliband’s are on the record as pro-Israel).

  3. Andrea says:

    Miliband, antifascist in every single moment of the life! He has just resigned from his football club when Di Canio put his foot in. Another good point in his curriculum vitae.

    • anneinpt says:

      Indeed. And I’m very surprised at the football club who insisted on taking Di Canio even though they knew about his support of fascism. I know politics shouldn’t be involved in sports, but Di Canio is extreme.

  4. Pingback: Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews, now on PBS | Anne's Opinions

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