Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Progressive Left's Cruelty Toward the Unvaccinated Will Hurt All of Us

 In America, our hatred for others has grown exponentially over the past two years. We are especially intolerant of those who think differently from us, who have different ideas about what is right and just. But perhaps no other topic has illuminated this vitriol as the the question of vaccines and whether they're safe. Many on the left despise the unvaccinated, who they call "anti-vaxxers," when in reality people who truly oppose vaccines are very small in number. Most of the unvaccinated are actually just "vaccine hesitant," but given the progressive left's intolerance for nuance, it's simpler to refer to them as "anti-vaxxers" and blame them for the continuation of the pandemic and call them "stupid." Other than the fact that this is just cruel and ugly behavior, the problem is that, if you really think more people need to be vaccinated, calling them "stupid" isn't going to shift their opinion. But education might. I've written a piece on this over at Newsweek.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Racism and Individual Responsibility

 I wrote a piece for Newsweek about how fashionable it is to talk about racism as if it's something we are born with, something that is endemic to skin color. Some of the most popular writers--think anti-racism and white fragility--seem to suggest that for white or light-skinned people, racism is something that they will always uphold whether they want to or not, simply because they were born with less pigmentation, because they move through the world with the immutable characteristic of "white" skin. But such a fact would mean that we are, then, less responsible for racist behavior. If we're born with it, we can't in a philosophical sense be absolutely responsible for it. Children's books about becoming anti-racist don't help, no matter how trendy they are. There are so many beautiful stories about and written by important Black figures that do more to fight racism, in my opinion.

But I'm mostly concerned about the question of ethical responsibility here. If you've followed my scholarly work you know that Emmanuel Levinas is central to how I see things. I don't *always* do the right or best thing, and I certainly don't always get it right (I am, after all, continuously learning), but I try to always keep Levinas's ideas about responsibility at the forefront of my thinking and writing and, hopefully, my own behavior.

For Levinas, we aren't simply responsible for all of our own actions, but also for the responsibility of the Other. It's a tremendous burden in some ways, I suppose.

At any rate, it seems to me that arguing that humans are born racist makes people less responsible for racist behavior. Racism is not imprinted on our DNA. It is learned and cultivated in racist environments. We must be responsible for our actions rather than our biology if we want to build a more inclusive and equal society.

From the piece: "It should be obvious that taking away the culpability we bear for racist behavior, just like insisting that babies and children should notice people's race before anything else, is dangerously close if not downright identical to the justifications and processes that enabled the overt racism of darker times."

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Critical Race Theory Should Not Have the Only Seat at the Table

"Outrage is vital. But if not carefully calibrated, moral outrage can quickly descend into something less moral and increasingly unethical."

Discussions of Critical Race Theory are all over social media the past few months. Some see it as the greatest of all evils, while others think it's the only way to analyze every societal problem. In both cases, polarizing perspectives are shaped more by outrage than critical thought. What if CRT is a good thing, as long as it's not occupying all seats at the table?

My piece at The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion: Let's Do it the Right Way


Efforts to support diversity and inclusion are some of the most important work we can undertake. But it has to be done right or it will backfire and cause immeasurable harm to all communities, especially those it claims to help. Especially when "social justice" has a political agenda, the outcome is often division and resentment rather than community and meaningful dialogue.

In schools, the issue is especially fraught, as many institutions that should be educating children have put academics on the back burner and are instead teaching them to analyze their peers based on race, and on whom is oppressing whom. We need to get beyond seeing everyone as part of the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy. We need to stop making judgments about people based on the color of their skin. We need to see people as individuals rather than inseparable from racial groups. 

My piece on this topic is featured as half the "Debate of the Week" in NEWSWEEK. Read it here. And also check out the other side as well, from Pamela Denise Long -- also a great essay with important points.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

The Bias of Anti-Bias Training

Over the past six months we've seen an exponential increase in people calling themselves experts in "anti-bias" and "anti-racism" training. Schools and businesses have rushed to bring in these facilitators not necessarily to fix something that is wrong in the culture of the school or business, but to signal that they are "anti-racist," the buzzy phrase made popular by the work of Ibram X. Kendi (and rejected by a growing number of Black and other intellectuals). As in many cases, it's more important to create a show of solidarity with trendy causes than it is to actually address the very real issues of racism, antisemitism, and bigotry of all kinds.

Two months ago, my son's LA school hosted one of these so-called anti-bias training sessions for parents and the result was disastrous. The big takeaway? Antisemitism always gets a pass. So I wrote a piece about what happened and the ongoing fallout. Read it over at The Forward. It's the first of three pieces that will be published in different venues. Buckle up.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Material Things Matter

 The pandemic has taught us a variety of things. While many people claim that it has taught them "what really matters" and the value of spending time with family, I actually think it has shown us just how important material things are. Here's my piece on why they matter in general, and why they are especially important in this collective moment.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The End of Moral Certainty

 For the past few months I've been agonizing about what I see as a doubling down from people on both sides of the political spectrum. People's certainty when it comes to everything has increased, which is troubling to me given that our current social and political climate is anything but conducive to that kind of mindset. If anything, now is the time to question everything, to think outside of our own circles and ideologies. The novelist E.L. Doctorow once wrote that doubt is "the greatest stabilizer." And he's right. Maybe we need a little more doubt and a little less certainty. With all this in mind, I wrote a piece on the end of moral certainty (and how studying midrash gave me that understanding) for the Jewish Journal. You can read it here.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Is Laughter the Key to Surviving a Pandemic?

I can tell you that, no, laughter probably isn't the key to surviving a pandemic. But it's certainly one of the things that will help us get through it without completely and utterly dying inside. I wrote the cover story for a recent issue of The Jewish Journal about why laughter is so important right now.

Really, don't stop laughing. Except when it's time to cry.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Great Lie

My father died a little over a month ago, on Yom Kippur. They say to write what you know, and what I know now, at least for the time being, is grief. So I wrote a piece about grieving and loss and all the things they never tell you about it. You can read it here at the Jewish Journal.

Above is a photo of my husband and I, and some of our friends and family, laughing and toasting as my dad gives a speech ending with a request for a grandchild. He got one ten months later, his first grandson.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Intersectionality and Anti-Semitism

So I wrote this thing about intersectionality, BDS, and anti-Semitism over at the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. It's actually the cover story of the issue this week. It was probably the most difficult thing I've ever written--even more difficult than my dissertation, or my book on trauma (and by the way, I mean, check out that price--what a steal!). I have a lot of opinions about the topic, and honestly I talk about it all the time. But I almost never write about it. But when I was asked to review Cary Nelson's outstanding new book Israel Denial, there was no way I could say no. And so it morphed into this whole calling out of intersectionality and the ways in which it has devolved into something to be used against Jews.

There's a reason I almost never write about Israel (I wrote one piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education and I think that's it). It's challenging to avoid saying what's already been said, repeating the same lines over and over, preaching to the choir. I have no interest in that. What's the purpose? But I think I did something a little different here. I've gotten some amazing feedback for the most part. I've also gotten two nasty comments/messages from people in my field, and a few people on Twitter accusing me of saying things I never said. But that's the thing--people want to be outraged, don't they? All I know is that I'm trying not to be. I'm trying to see both sides of every issue, and I'm always trying to do the right thing. It's never easy.

Descent Into Trauma, Madness, and Meaning

I wrote a review of Ruby Namdar's brilliant novel The Ruined House over at the Jewish Journal. Read it here!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Power of Community

People always say that having kids teaches you things. I think it would be more accurate to say that having a child forces you to learn or realize things. It's a subtle but important difference, and honestly I'm forced to learn things all the time in this regard. Here's my piece on one lesson I learned from my son on the importance of community (at the Jewish Journal).

Friday, February 08, 2019

Little More Than Pariah's: On David Shrayer-Petrov's "Doctor Levitin"

I was recently asked to review David Shrayer-Petrov's novel Doctor Levitin for the Los Angeles Review of Books. The novel was written secretly in Russia during Shrayer-Petrov's time as a refusenik, and has only now been translated into English. Read the review here!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Power in Academia

I wrote a piece on power in academia for the Jewish Journal as a response to the Avital Ronell scandal (and the equally offensive defense of her actions by celebrity scholars like Judith Butler and others). The original piece was 800 words over the length limit, and I still was not finished saying what needed to be said. But brevity rules in the world of soundbite journalism. At any rate, you can read my piece here.

Coincidentally, my original draft contained personal anecdotes, including a story from 2008 about a film professor named Lance Duerfahrd. Just days after I published my piece at the Jewish Journal, I happened to read this story about a student from Purdue University who is suing him and accusing him of sexual assault. There were multiple complaints of this nature against this man (who was also, I should add, a very poor scholar with a heavily padded CV) as early as 2008, but the English Department chose not to treat them seriously. I wonder what they think of those complaints now? I hope those who were complicit in burying them will have to answer for what they have done.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Making Absence Visible: Remembering Claude Lanzmann

Upon hearing about his death, I wrote a piece about Claude Lanzmann. I didn't realize it was going to be called an obituary, but here it is. His film Shoah was one of the most important works with regard to my own thinking about what it means to talk about trauma in the most ethical and authentic way. I once taught a college freshman writing class in which I had the students watch all of the more than 8-hour film for the first two weeks of class. And then when we had finished, I said, "Okay, now write about something traumatic you experienced in your own lives. Or about something you witnessed."

I know, it sounds crazy. I had done so at the suggestion of my former dissertation advisor, Sandor Goodhart, whom I had called to complain about having to teach a freshman writing course. He suggested I turn it into something that fit my expertise. He said it would work, and he was right. It was one of the best and most real teaching experiences I ever had.

Philip Roth: Literary King of the Jews

My tribute to Philip Roth, Literary King, over at the Jewish Journal.