Monday, April 30, 2012

Jewish Humour: Anti-Semitism

Monday Humor
Much of the Jewish humour on this site can be found in this wonderful book: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor, compiled and edited by Henry D. Spalding.
This week's humour is focused on anti-Semitism
After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, a government official in Ukraine menacingly addressed the local rabbi, "I suppose you know in full detail who was behind it."

"Ach," the rabbi replied, "I have no idea, but the government's conclusion will be the same as always: they will blame the Jews and the chimney-sweeps."

"Why the chimney-sweeps?" asked the befuddled official.

"Why the Jews?" responded the rabbi.

During World War II, a sergeant stationed at Fort Benning gets a telephone call from a woman. "We would love it," she said, "if you could bring five of your soldiers over to our house for Thanksgiving dinner."

"Certainly, ma'am," replied the sergeant.

"Oh... just make sure they aren't Jews, of course," said the woman.

"Will do," replied the sergeant. So, that Thanksgiving, while the woman is baking, the doorbell rings. She opens her door and, to her horror, five black soldiers are standing in front of her.

"Oh, my!" she exclaimed. "I'm afraid there's been a terrible mistake!"

"No ma'am," said one of the soldiers. "Sergeant Rosenbloom never makes mistakes!"

This one takes place in the Soviet Union before its collapse:
Q: Comrade Lev, why now, just when things are getting better for your people, are you applying for an exit visa to make aliyah to Israel?

A: Well, comrade, there are two reasons. One is that my next-door neighbor is Pamyat and he tells me that after they get rid of you communists, they are coming next after the Jews.

Q: But they will never get rid of us communists!

A: I know, I know, of course you are right! And that's the other reason.

Daniil Trifonov: Chopin Concerto No. 1

Daniil Trifonov performs Chopin Concerto No. 1 in E minor, opus 11, with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Asher Fisch conducting, at the 13th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition Finals in 2011.

Each of the six finalists played a classical concerto. Daniil Trifonov won first prize, including a cheque for $25,000, at the 2011 competition.

The Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition was first held in September 1974, and is held every three years. Arthur Rubinstein, who was one of the jury members at the first two competitions, died in 1982. The next competition is scheduled for May 2014.

A point worth noting is that Russia continues to produce so many fine and talented classical pianists, in good times and in bad. Almost one-quarter (9 pianists) of the 37 pianists at this competition were from Russia, the most from any nation. The country is doing something right, at least musically, when it comes to training pianists.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Alison Balsom: Vivaldi Violin Concerto

Alison Balsom, on trumpet, performs from Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in A minor, accompanied by the Scottish Ensemble, part of the Italian Concertos. Antonio Vivaldi originally composed this piece for violin during the Baroque Period, and yet Balsom gives a wonderful interpretive performance on a modern valued trumpet. As one reviewer put it: "In the Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor, which Balsom transcribed herself, her bright tone, crisp articulation and tasteful trills make you forget it was originally composed for violin."


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Royal Opera House: Charles François Gounod's 'Faust'

Angela Gheorghiu stars as Marguerite alongside a wonderful cast of operatic superstars, including Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside and Sophie Koch, in David McVicar's spectacular 2004 production of Gounod's best known opera, "Faust,"for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London, England. The conductor is Antonio Pappano. This production was the Royal Opera Company's first performance of Gounod's Faust in 18 years.

The five-act grand opera was composed by Charles François Gounod and the French libretto written by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, from Carré's play Faust et Marguerite (1850). This, in turn was somewhat based on on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, Part 1. The opera made its premiere at the Théâtre Lyrique on the Boulevard du Temple in Paris on March 19, 1859.

The opera was not initially well-received in Paris. After going on tour in Italy, Germany, England and Belgium, it returned to France in 1862, where it became a recognized hit. It is not performed as much as it used to be, primarily because it is expensive to mount such a lavish production with its full chorus and lavish sets and costumes. It is interesting to note that  "Faust" was the first opera that the Metropolitan Opera in New York City performed for the public on October 22, 1883.

The story is a familiar one, as the term Faustian bargain has entered the language of many nations and peoples. It is very much a Christian tale of striking bargains for apparent gain with Satan, humanity's adversary and accuser, and in the process gaining nothing of real value. Except, perhaps, youth and sensual pleasure, which is the case in a more modern rendering of Faust set during France's Second Empire (1852-1870). Such a tragic tale has universal appeal. To set the scene, here are the notes for Act I [The synopsis can be found here.]:
Alone in his study, the aged Dr. Faust despairs that his lifelong search for a solution to the riddle of life has been in vain. Twice he raises a goblet of poison to his lips but falters when the songs of young men and women outside his window re-awaken the unfulfilled passions and desires of his youth. Cursing life and human passion, the envious philosopher calls on Satan for help. The Devil appears, and Faust tells him of his longing for youth and pleasure; Méphistophélès replies that these desires can be realized if he will forfeit his soul. Faust hesitates until the Devil conjures up a vision of a lovely maiden, Marguerite. A magic potion transforms Faust into a handsome youth, and he leaves with Méphistophélès in search of Marguerite (Duet: "A moi les plaisirs").

Friday, April 27, 2012

Let Me Tell You About My Operation

Guest Voice

In yesterday's post, I wrote about the world's successful first coronary bypass surgery performed by Robert H. Goetz more than 50 years ago. Today's guest post is by George Jochnowitz, a recipient of this life-saving surgery. Prof Jochnowitz recounts his experience of his loss of memory and the feelings post-operation: "I opened my eyes. What a wonderful thing to be able to do!"

by George Jochnowitz

The first symptom was fatigue. "It's psychological," some people said. My mind felt fuzzy. I was suffering from stupidity: my memory got worse; I couldn't find the words to express myself. "You're depressed," some people said, but it didn't feel like depression. It felt like illness.

The chest pains didn't begin until a year later. After my second midnight trip to the emergency room, I had an angiogram. "You have 70% blockage in three coronary arteries and 50% blockage in a fourth," I was told. "You can have bypass surgery at 8 A.M. Friday—tomorrow morning."

Under normal circumstances, a suspenseful movie is too scary for me. I didn't have the alternative of just walking out of the theater. "Better sooner than later," I thought. The surgeon came to introduce himself. So did the anesthesiologist. "I'll see you tomorrow morning," he said. "Only you won't remember it."

"Yes I will," I said.

"No you won't. You'll get an amnesic drug."

"I don't think I want it," I said, but I didn't have the confidence to argue or insist.

A nurse, or was it a social worker, came later to talk to me. "What is your approach to dealing with fear?" she asked.

"When I'm scared, I'm just scared," I replied.

"Do you pray?"

"Thank God I'm not praying," I thought. Prayer is good for thanksgiving; religious ritual celebrates the passage of time and may help in time of mourning. But when you're scared, prayer only sharpens the fear. If God could hear prayer, he already knew what I wanted. "If I live, maybe I'll be grateful," was the only prayer I could formulate. That was exactly right.

Could I have fallen asleep? I couldn't open my eyes. I couldn't try. I wasn't breathing. I couldn't try. "Maybe I can roll over and bang the side of the bed," I thought. I couldn't try.

I wasn't gasping for breath. I wasn't doing anything. I couldn't make the effort. I didn't feel paralyzed; it was just impossible to attempt to move a muscle. If it had been possible to try, I might have been able to move. I had just been turned off.

"Without air I will get headachy and lose consciousness," I thought, but I didn't have a trace of a headache. "If I am found before I have been unconscious too long, maybe there won't be too much brain damage," I thought. But I was very conscious. I felt very smart. My stupidity had gone away.

The terror was unlike any other I had experienced. "Three minutes left," I thought. "This is all so unnecessary."

"Am I dead?" I asked myself. "Does the mind function after the body dies?" Then I felt air entering my lungs. I had not been abandoned after all. "How could someone have put a tube for air into my mouth without my knowing it?" I wondered. And finally—a voice: "George, this is Sheila, your nurse. It's a quarter to five in the morning and you're all right."

Relief. There is someone who knows I can't answer. At last I could fall asleep. But the voice came back to tear me out of my rest: "George, this is Sheila, your nurse. It's a quarter after five in the morning and you're all right."

If the words hadn't been almost exactly the same as the previous time, I might have forgotten the whole thing.

I opened my eyes. What a wonderful thing to be able to do! The ceiling was the same hospital ceiling I had been looking at when I was able to move. I couldn't talk, but I could distinctly feel a hose in my mouth. Did I dare hope? Could the operation be over? The ceiling was the same, but lots of rooms in the hospital must have the same ceiling. If I could find out what day it was, I would know. I pointed to my wrist.

"It's a quarter after five," said Sheila.

I shook my head no. I was able to move it as easily as always. "What are you trying to say?" asked Sheila.

I pointed to my wrist again.

"Something about the time?" she asked.

I nodded.

"It's Saturday," said Sheila. Thank God. The operation was over and I was alive. I was in a different room despite the similar ceiling.

The anesthesiologist had been right. I didn't remember seeing him before the surgery. Later, after I got out of the hospital, I asked my general practitioner about my experience. She told me I had been given a paralytic drug. "You weren't supposed to remember that."

The amnesiac had worn off before the paralytic drug. The paralysis should have been forgotten along with my trip to the operating room. Is terror all right if it has been erased from your memory? If the memory is gone, has it never happened? When you die, does that mean you have never lived?

Is an erased memory the same as a repressed memory? Probably not. Do erased memories survive as anxieties? Who knows?

I was tormented by anxiety for over a year. I went to a shrink. It is always nice to be shrought
(think : thought :: shrink : shrought). Unfortunately, psychiatry hasn't been invented yet. The talking cure works when you talk to friends or acquaintances, but it is much less effective when you talk to an analyst. Nevertheless, a combination of talking and drugs helped me to feel better.

Would it be better to warn patients about the paralytic experience and not induce amnesia? Let me give the last word to Primo Levi, citing a Yiddish proverb: Ibergekumene tsores iz gut tsu dertseyln. It's good to tell about past troubles.

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937. He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects. As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at 

Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. An earlier version of this essay appeared in And Then, Vol. 7, 1996; and in Sh'ma, September 5, 1997. It can also be found on George Jochnowitz. It is republished here with the author's permission.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Robert H. Goetz: The First Coronary Bypass

Great Advances in Science

The chairman of my own department thought that I had "too much work" and suggested that I concentrate on vascular surgery and appointed a cardiac surgeon without consulting me. I tried, but could not convince him to continue in my footsteps.
Robert H. Goetz, 
The Annals of Thoracic Surgery (2000;69:1966-1972)

Robert H. Goetz: On his fishing boat
Credit & Source:

Few persons, including surgeons, know the name of Robert H. Goetz, but millions of persons have benefited from his life-saving surgical technique—the coronary artery bypass, or what many simply call bypass surgery. The first successful heart bypass surgery was performed on a 38-year-old patient at the Bronx Municipal Hospital Center in New York. Igor E. Konstantinov, a physician at the Mayo Clinic, writes  about it extensively in a fascinating article in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery (2000;69:1966-1972):
Robert H. Goetz performed the first successful clinical coronary artery bypass operation on May 2, 1960. He used a nonsuture technique to connect the right internal thoracic artery to the coronary artery by means of a modified Payr’s cannula made of tantalum. The patency of the anastomosis was demonstrated angiographically and the patient remained free of angina pectoris for 1 year. It was an important and brave step forward, a step that was far ahead of its time. Unfortunately, his pioneering work was not appreciated and fell into oblivion.
Such happens at times with certain pioneers, likely more often than we can know for sure. But Goetz's pioneering work is worth remembering, as is the man who helped make life better for the many millions of patients who might take bypass surgery for granted. Science is a series of steps, each an attempt to offer an improvement in the technique or method. Medical science is a noble endeavour since in the best of cases it centres on improving human life.

Goetz's career and pursuit of scientific knowledge took him from his native Germany to Switzerland, then to Scotland and then to South Africa— where one of his students was Dr. Christiaan Barnard, famous for performing the first human heart transplant in 1967— and eventually to New York City. It was there, seven years earlier, where history of a more modest but not less important nature was made.

The Early Years

Robert Hans Goetz was born to Johan Konrad Goetz and Emilie Goetz in Frankfurt, Germany, on April 17, 1910; his father was a sculptor. The young Goetz spent the years of the First World War with his grandparents in a small village in the Black Forest, attending a small one-room schoolhouse. He did well, and after the war was accepted to Helmholtz Ober Real Schule in Franfurt. After he graduated in 1929, Goetz had two career choices before him—architect or physician. "It was the decisiveness of the family physician, who would lance big boils at a wink of an eyelid without anesthesia, which impressed him and made him to choose medicine," Igor E. Konstantinov writes in a biography of Goetz.

Thus, the choice made, he started to study medicine at the University of Frankfurt in 1929, and did well. One of his mentors at the university was Dr Albrecht Bethe, professor of physiology. His son, Hans Bethe, would go on to become a professor at Cornell University and win the  Nobel Prize for Physics in 1967. Goetz was a good student and in September 1934 passed the exam to become a physician "summa cum laude," but he did not get his medical diploma because the Nazi Minister of the Interior declared him "politically unreliable." (The diploma was issued to Goetz in 1997, exactly 62 years later.) As Goetz writes about this dark period in Germany's history:
All students were forced to join the National Socialist Student Organization. As members they were put into uniforms and given a "Book of Duties," in which their compulsory participation in all political rallies, lectures, and demonstrations were officially recorded. The weekends were usually reserved for semimilitary training. More ominously, you were not admitted to the final exam unless you provided proofs in the booklet of your participation in all events of the Organization.
For not going along with the Nazi ideology, Goetz was not granted a license to practice medicine in Germany. He thus left Germany for Bern, Switzerland, where under the care of a former professor, Dr. Hans Bluntschli, Robert Goetz finally received his credentials to practice medicine and the coveted M.D. degree, in 1936, that he had worked assiduously to gain. He then joined the department of pysiology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
I was accepted as a full member of his staff. Using my own methodology, I began investigations into the control of the circulation of the intestine. However, all was not well again. Not being Jewish, I was not considered a "bona fide" refugee by the "Home Office" and got my passport stamped "to stay in Great Britain for one year only" and that I could not accept any remunerative employment. As the year in Edinburgh was coming to an end, I was faced with a big VOID. Just by chance, I saw on the blackboard at the dean’s office an advertisement by the University of Cape Town offering a research fellowship in the Department of Surgery.
In South Africa, Then America

Goetz had married another physician, Verena Bluntschli, who had graduated from the University of Geneva, and both sailed down to Cape Town in October 1937 to start a new life and medical adventure together. At first, Goetz, with his wife acting as his assistant, worked as a researcher at the newly opened Groote Schuur Hospital, and in 1940 at its vascular research lab. Yet, he had no access to patients, since his German and Swiss degrees were not recognized by South African authorities.

In 1944, he passed the exam and finally became a licensed physician; and by 1945, Goetz was in charge of a Unit for Vascular Diseases. After a few years, his reputation in the field of vascular surgery increased so much, that by the 1950s Goetz was considered an internationally recognized authority in blood circulation. It was an opportune time to emigrate to America, where Goetz became Associate Professor of Surgery at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1957 and a full Professor and attending surgeon at Bronx Municipal Hospital in 1961. He held both positions until his retirement in 1982.  Goetz writes:
In 1954, I visited the States with a Carnegie Traveling Professorship. Einstein College was in the throws of assembling its first faculty. Doctor Charles Ripstein had already been appointed Chairman of the Department of Surgery. After he heard my lecture at Georgetown University, he offered me to join his staff as head of cardiovascular surgery and head of the research laboratories. In October 1957, exactly 20 years after I arrived in South Africa from Edinburgh, I joined Einstein and settled with my family in America.

Before really settling down in my job at Einstein, I had to straddle yet another hurdle. I had to pass the American Medical Board Exam. Aged 47, it was not easy, but in 1958, I passed at the first attempt... . After arrival the first task was to get cardiac surgery going.
On May 2, 1960, Dr. Goetz made history when he performed the first successful coronary artery bypass on a human, a 38-year-old cab driver who had such severe angina that he required between 70 and 90 tablets of nitroglycerin daily. Assisting in the surgery were Drs. M. Rohman and J. D. Haller. After the operation, the patient did well, living for a year without angina pain. He died on June 23, 1961. By all accounts, the operation was a success, but few people knew about it. It was the first and last coronary bypass that Goetz performed. This might sound surprising, but it fits with the tenor of the times. The reason, like all innovative procedures, was that it was both controversial and new in a profession that was by all accounts conservative:
You wonder why I did not pursue the subject. The reasons were several. First, with the exception of the attending cardiologist Dr. Jordan, our medical colleagues were violently against the procedure. We even came in for severe criticism from some of our surgical colleagues.
Such is the history of a procedure that is now routinely performed. It would take another decade before the procedure that Goetz pioneered to become more acceptable. By then, others got the credit. This is an attempt to set the record straight to give recognition where it's due.

Robert H. Goetz died of prostrate cancer at his home in Scarsdale, New York on December 15, 2000. He was 90. Dr. Goetz was survived by his wife of 67 years, Dr. Verena Bluntschli Goetz; two daughters, Sylvia Perle-Goetz of Detroit and Angela Goetz of Manhattan; two sons, Lionel Goetz of Fairfield, Conn., and Stephen Goetz of Los Altos, Calif.; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mstislav Rostropovich: Bach Cello Suite No.1

Mstislav Rostropovich [1927-2007] performs the Bach Cello Suite No.1 in G major, BWV 1007. Bach likely composed the Six Suites For Unaccompanied Cello— this being the first—when he was Kapellmeister in Köthen, Germany [1717-1723]

Rostropovich, a Russian cellist born in Baku, Azerbaijan, is considered by many to rank among the greatest classical musicians of the second half of the 20th century. Listening to this Bach piece intimates why this is so; he wrings out of his instrument a richness and clarity that does Bach justice. As is always the case, notably for musicians, the man is marked by his experiences, notably his struggles.

Rostropovich was a well-known fighter for freedom of speech, both within the former Soviet Union and outside its borders. After his public performances were reduced, primarily for his views, Rostropovich left the Soviet Union in 1974 with his wife and children and settled in the United States. From 1977 until 1994, he was musical director and conductor of the U.S.National Symphony Orchestra in Washington.

He returned to his homeland in 1990, when the situation for freedom improved and democracy's hand appeared to be gaining strength.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Itzhak Perlman, Isaac Stern & Pinchas Zukerman: Vivaldi Concerto For 3 Violins (1981)

Celebrating his 60th birthday, Isaac Stern is joined in this gala event by violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, conducted by Zubin Mehta, performing Vivaldi’s Concerto for Three Violins, in F Major, F.1. No 34. V 1: Allegro (00:02-04:42); 2: Andante (04:48-07:04); and 3: Allegro (07:08-10:27). This is a 1981 LP.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jewish Humour: Doctors

Monday Humour

Much of the Jewish humour on this site can be found in this wonderful book: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor, compiled and edited by Henry D. Spalding.

This week's humour is focused on doctors
A man wasn’t feeling well so he went to the doctor. After examining him the doctor took his wife aside, and said, “your husband has a very sensitive heart. I am afraid he’s not going to make it, unless you treat him like a king, which means you are at his every beck and call, 24 hours a day and that he doesn't have to do anything himself. 
On the way home the husband asked with a note of concern “what did he say?” 
“Well”, the lady responded, “he said it looks like you probably won’t make it.”

It’s 10 p.m. when the phone rings in Dr. Minkofsky’s house. "It’s Dr. Gold," says his wife, passing him the phone, "I do hope it’s not another emergency."
Dr. Minkofsky takes the phone and says, "Hi, what’s up?" 
"Don’t worry, everything’s OK," replies Dr. Gold. "It’s just that I’m at home with Dr. Lewis and Dr. Kosiner. We’re having a little game of poker and we’re short of one hand so we thought you might like to come over and join us?"
"Sure .... yes, of course," replies Dr. Minkofsky, putting on a serious voice, "I’m leaving right now." And he puts down the phone.
"What’s happened?" his wife asks, with a worried look.
"It’s very serious," Dr. Minkofsky replies. "They’ve already called three doctors."

“Just relax”, the hospital staff kept telling Jim, but it was to no avail. Jim’s wife was in labor and Jim was a nervous wreck. 
After what seemed like a week, to both Jim and the hospital staff, a nurse came out with the happy news, “it’s a girl”, she cried. 
“Thank G-d, a girl”, said Jim, “at least she won’t have to go through what I just went through!”

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs from the 4th movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F minor, opus 36, Daniel Barenboim conducting, at New York's Carnegie Hall opening concert in 1997.  It was first performed at a Russian Musical Society concert in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on February 22, 1878,  Nikolai Rubinstein conducting. Truly, if this doesn't stir your heart, then little will.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Evgeny Kissin: Recital From Verbier Festival (2009)

Evgeny Kissin performs at the Verbier Festival at Salle Médran in Verbier, Switzerland, on July 19, 2009.


The program comprises compositions dedicated to Prokofiev and Chopin:

00:11 From: Ten Pieces for Piano from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75
4. Juliet as a Young Girl
8. Mercutio
6. Montagues and Capulets

10:09 Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat major, Op. 84

43:58 Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 61
57:22 Mazurka Op. 30, No. 4 in C-sharp minor
Mazurka Op. 41, No. 4 in A-flat major
Mazurka Op. 59, No. 1 in A minor

01:08:55 From 12 Études, Op. 10:
No. 1 in C major
No. 2 in A minor
No. 4 in C-sharp minor
No. 3 in E major
No. 12 in C minor

01:21:08 From 12 Etudes, Op. 25:
No. 5 in E minor
No. 6 in G-sharp minor
No. 11 in A minor

Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No.2

La Suggestion Diabolique

Friday, April 20, 2012

Teach Your Children

Education & Children

“The world exists only because of the innocent breath of schoolchildren. The instruction of the young should not be interrupted, even by the building of a sanctuary.”
Talmud, Shabbat (119b)

“Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.”
Chinese proverb

Jewish Children with their teacher in Samarkand, Uzbekistan (then part of Russia). Early color photograph from what was then Russia, created by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, as part of his work to document the Russian Empire from 1909 to 1915.
Photo Credit:
 Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii [1863-1944]. Taken between 1905 and 1915.

SourceU.S. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Div., Washington, D.C.

The teaching of young minds, eager to learn and obtain knowledge, is an important privilege. In some nations, children do not attend school. In others they do but students receive state indoctrination, where teachers cannot deviate one iota from the curriculum. Truly, teaching is a difficult often thankless job, but it has rich rewards when students go on to do great and wonderful things, improving the lot of humanity.

Then there are cases where teachers, under the weight of sensitivity training, political correctness and pressure from Saudi oil money, are obliged to teach facts that are contrary to credible history and the weight of evidence—or at least minimize salient facts that older persons and parents know are true. This is now the case in many classrooms in the United States, where even teaching school-children about one of the worst acts of terrorism committed on U.S. soil, the Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has undergone historical redaction and revision.

A non-profit organization founded by Brigitte Gabriel, Act! for America Education, studied 38 textbooks from popular publishers like McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin, for example, to determine whether American schoolchildren are being taught the facts about Islam and its role in 9/11. It has found gross errors in textbooks directed at school-age children in grades six to 11, and has written a detailed report about it called “Education or Indoctrination?: The Treatment of Islam in 6th through 12th Grade American Textbooks." As one writer, Drew Zahn, noted in WND Education:
“This report shines a bright light on a pattern of errors, omissions and bias in the textbooks reviewed,” explained ACT! for America Education founder Brigitte Gabriel in an email. “To give you just one example of the errors our research uncovered, in discussing the 9/11 attacks, the textbooks typically fail to mention the perpetrators were Muslims or that they acted in the cause of Islamic jihad. In one book the terrorists are portrayed as people fighting for a cause.
The report compares what it found in the textbooks with 275 historical sources, listing 375 footnoted citations, an excellent and painstaking piece of scholarly work. It might be hard to believe, that a mere ten years after 9/11, in the United States, revisionist history is already being rewritten and taught to young, impressionable minds. I am sure that even the most hard-core Leftists might find this problematic, the value of sensitivity taken to extreme measures. Even so, sensitivity can go too far when it aims to omit and distort relevant facts. Textbooks are often the singular most important source of information for young school-age children; equally important, teachers are considered an authority figure.

That is why it is appalling that many textbooks in American schools are full of fallacies, half-truths and outright falsehoods, Act! for America Education says:
Misinformation is conveyed by methods as simple and seemingly innocent as the order in which facts are presented. Order of presentation implies priority of importance. Another very common and effective method of falsifying or rewriting history is through the use of partial truth: emphasize and repeat facts that are favorable to one side, and omit or minimize unfavorable facts. Responding to an outright falsification is fairly straightforward: cite authoritative historical reference materials that contradict and correct the falsification. The use of partial truth is much more difficult to expose and refute. In order to demonstrate that selective omission of facts amounts to a falsification of history, it is necessary to show not only the omitted facts themselves, but why they are essential to create an accurate understanding of the issue.
As egregious as this example might be, notably to persons who care about facts and truth, students in America have options— they can bypass the educational propaganda that they and their parents find objectionable, and look to more credible sources either online or at bookstores and libraries. In nations with more authoritarian governments, such as China, Iran and North Korea, this is more difficult.  Even so, such historiography pales to what is currently taught today to Palestinian children. Very young children. Alongside reading, writing and mathematics, young minds are inculcated with hatred, in particular, hatred of Israelis and the Jews [see also here].

The Intelligence and Information Center, based outside Tel Aviv, Israel, writes about the continuing activities of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and its educational initiatives:
Hamas and the PIJ consider children to be a highly important target audience and the organizations' potential future recruits. They therefore subject the children to a wide variety of intensive indoctrination techniques, including the inculcation of radical Islamic jihadist ideology in kindergarten children, the distribution of publications geared towards children, and the integration of children into propaganda activities carried out in the Gaza Strip, where children are often seen wearing masks and carrying arms.
The children are also rewarded with candy to celebrate the murder of Israelis and Jews, as was the case after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. For the young the simple equation is made that the death of a Jew is something good, a moral lesson imprinted on the brain. This anti-human lesson repeats itself after every suicide bombing or terrorist attack against Israeli Jews. One can only draw one conclusion. In the estimation of the Palestinian pedagogues and their political masters, it is a worthy and noble endeavour to teach hatred to young minds, whose ultimate purpose is to train the children to become killing machines—martyrs for the state—devoid of emotion or sympathy.

Done in the name of a cause. Hardly a whimper of protest from the international community. Do they care, at least, about the Palestinian children scarred by years of indoctrination?

All research shows, sadly, that such indoctrination works: young minds are ready, willing and able to accept the most noxious and hateful ideology to please an authority figure; it takes years of strenuous effort afterward to turn around such a mind, if it can be done at all. The schools and their leaders bear a responsibility: they have taken away a precious childhood from these youngsters, all in the name of a reprehensible ideology of hate. A nation or group that continues to teach hate will eventually find its end, history shows, since hate is an unsustainable force for longevity. The opposite is also true.

In the battle for the hearts and souls of the young, and it is a battle in many ways of overcoming evil with good, the good prevails... eventually. Teaching the values of goodness, knowledge, and love of life is a sure way to ensure the healthy long-term success and endurance of a society or a people. The Jewish People are prime examples, having survived all kinds of difficulties, oppression and campaigns of evil throughout their long almost 4,000-year history— for many, even those without any religious sentiments, the Jewish People's long-term survival and existence can be likened to a miracle.

On the human level, it is marked by a persistent and tenacious desire to learn and to acquire knowledge, it to be used for a proper purpose, namely, to repair the world (tikkun olam), to value life and to do good. Such are characteristic traits of people that build society for its betterment. Moreover, the religious values and beliefs contained in the Torah and the covenant at Sinai underscore the importance of time-honored traditions that have kept the Jewish People from straying too far. Without putting too fine a point to it, such is the true strength of the Jewish People.

Simply put, and its importance cannot be overemphasized, what we teach our children is much more important than how we teach them. It's what enters the mind that greatly influences thought and ideas. That in itself is worth thinking about.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Maxim Vengerov: Sibelius Violin Concerto

Maxim Vengerov performs Jean Sibelius' violin concerto in D minor, opus 47, accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with Daniel Barenboim conducting.

This was the only concerto that Jean Sibelius wrote. Originally dedicated to Willy Burmeister, it had an early history of failure. The violinist to whom the work was dedicated never performed it, which might have contributed to its initial poor public reception, notes one Sibelius reviewer:
Sibelius had arranged for the former leader of the Helsinki Orchestra and then renowned virtuoso Willy Burmeister to premiere the concerto in March 1904. Burmeister followed the progress of the work attentively, showing much interest and confidence in its musical value. But Sibelius, broke as usual, was forced to hold the premiere concert one month before the aforementioned date, just to get some cash to tide over.  But perhaps, as a big name, Burmeister would probably have attracted more attention and therefore more ticket sales. But he was unavailable to travel to Finland.So  the soloist chosen was Viktor Novácek, professor of violin at the Helsinki Musical Academy. 
To put it mildly, the premiere was a disaster, and Sibelius revised the work. Burmeister was once again unavailable. The new version premiered with Karel Halíř as violinist with the Berlin Court Orchestra in Berlin, Germany, Richard Strauss conducting, in October 13, 1905. Burmeister was greatly offended, and swore never to play the concerto. He never did. Sibelius red-dedicated the work to Ferenc von Vecsey, a Hungarian violinist who was 12.  He championed the work, first performing it when he was 13.

A notable recording is by Jascha Heifetz with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Walter Hendl conducting, in 1935. You can also hear Heifetz here from the third movement with the New York Philharmonic, Dmitri Mitropoulos conducting, in a 1951 performance. As much as I enjoy Heifetz, in this case I prefer both Maxim Vengerov and David Oistrakh's expressive interpretation, in keeping with the Romantic tradition.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Marx, Money And Mysticism After Mao

Guest Voice

We welcome regular contributor George Jochnowitz who writes an insightful article on Marx and its influences in China. One of the greatest changes in modern China is the integration of capitalism into the overarching reach of Marxism, creating an economic system called Marxist capitalism. As Prof. Jochnowitz writes: "Deng Xiaoping kept the old Marxist system intact but turned it upside down. China today believes in capitalism with the same religious faith that it once applied to its belief in communism."

by George Jochnowitz


There is a zero-risk method that we Americans can use to end human rights abuses in China. We can point out the fact that the cruelty of Marxism comes from the writings of Marx. We can do it here, among ourselves. Everything that is said in America gets heard in China.

The authority of the Chinese Communist party is based on the respect that all Chinese people feel for Marx. They may love capitalism. They may have no interest whatsoever in political theory. But they believe that Marx was always right and always good. The only reason that Marxism failed, they think, is the evil of human beings. The government of China can command the loyalty of the citizens because it is the heir of Karl Marx.

In America, nobody—left, right or center—ever stops to consider the possibility that Marxism comes from Marx. If only we could talk about how destructive it is to look forward to a society with no disagreement, China would hear us and understand us.

An old story used to circulate in the Soviet Union: Once there was an emperor who was very evil and very fierce. He said 2 + 2 = 6. All the people were afraid of him and agreed that 2 + 2 = 6.

When the emperor died the next emperor was less evil and less fierce. He said 2 + 2 = 5. All the people asked themselves, "How could we have been so stupid as to believe that 2 + 2 = 6?"

A young mathematician thought for a long time. He concluded 2 + 2 = 4. He wrote a book to prove his theory. He decided to take it to the publisher, but on the way, two strangers approached him. "Comrade," they asked, "what are you doing? Do you really want to go back to the days when 2 and 2 were 6?"

The story applies better to contemporary China than it ever did to the Soviet Union. Chairman Mao was the first emperor. The leaders who have ruled since Mao, most notably Deng Xiaoping, are the second emperor. The mathematician who dared to think the unthinkable was the people who sat in Tiananmen Square for six weeks in 1989. And the two strangers who told the mathematician not to rock the boat are the apparent majority of the citizens of China.

When I taught at Hebei University in Baoding, Hebei Province, in 1989, everyone seemed to be pro-student. I remember going to Beijing from Baoding with my daughter Miriam on Friday, May 19, 1989. From the train window, we saw homemade signs made of sheets attached to houses in farming villages: "We love students" - except that instead of the Chinese character ai meaning "love" there was a red heart. When we got off the train in Beijing, there was a group of people sitting in front of the station with a sign saying "Workers love students." And when we got to Tiananmen Square, there was a sign saying Gongchandang yuan ai xuesheng "Communist Party members love students"!

Ambulances were going back and forth through the streets of Beijing, carrying unconscious hunger strikers to the hospital. The demonstrators had assumed the almost impossible job of directing traffic, in order to keep lanes open for the ambulances, and were succeeding beyond anyone's wildest expectations.

We went to Tiananmen Square to see if we could recognize anyone from Hebei University. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, except that we found the needle. First we saw a banner with Chinese characters saying "Baoding," then another saying "Hebei University." Our students recognized us, applauded, shook our hands, offered us soft drinks and gave us headbands announcing our support for the hunger strikers.

One of my students—I will call him Ai Heshui—came to visit us in our hotel room. He said he would be bicycling downtown where he would spend the night. He gave me various documents he was carrying, saying he was afraid of losing them. I was afraid he might not succeed in getting back to the hotel Sunday morning since there already was no public transportation and the traffic situation might get worse, but he answered that if that happened, I should take his papers to Baoding with me and he would pick them up in my apartment. I didn't put two and two together. That night, the army entered the city. A crowd of students and local people blocked the street and persuaded the army to turn back. (Two weeks later, on June 4th, different army units would enter the city and would run over the people who tried to block their path.) From my hotel window, I could hear chanting, then what sounded like shots and finally a great deal of traffic. Miriam slept through the whole thing. I didn't know who had won until Ai Heshui called at 6 A.M. and said he was one of the many people who had faced the army down.

When we got back to America a week after the Tiananmen Massacre, all our Chinese friends in New York were pro-student and anti-government. Things have changed. Many of my friends who were pro-student in 1989 have since decided that Deng Xiaoping did the right thing in crushing the demonstration. Ai Heshui is one of them. He no longer supports the movement he had risked his life for. I haven't been back to China, but people I know who have gone there tell me that public opinion in China has changed as well. Now people seem to be saying they want stability, not democracy. They remember the days of the Cultural Revolution, when gangs of Red Guards entered people's homes searching for books, paintings or musical instruments, all of which were illegal at that time. They say that they need stability to prevent a return of the Red Guards. Somehow they don't realize that it was Chairman Mao himself who invented the Cultural Revolution and inspired the Red Guards. There are very few people in the world who know that democracy is the most stable form of government.


Deng Xiaoping said, "To get rich is glorious." Friends and former students I knew in China who have visited the United States recently have told me that nothing is more beautiful than money, and that they are interested in money, not politics. "Compact affordable car revs up for sale," says a front-page headline in the December 13, 2000, issue of China Daily, an English-language newspaper published in Beijing. At least some people in China are indeed getting rich.

In the days of Chairman Mao, nobody talked about money. It was assumed that what is good for a particular person is necessarily bad for the People. The world was viewed as a zero-sum society where good luck for an individual was considered bad luck for the masses. Self-interest was thought to be anti-social - especially if money was involved. The People was at war with people.

This view grew out of the line in the Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." In a class struggle, there are class enemies, and Chairman Mao had divided people into the hong wu lei,the five red (good) categories - workers, soldiers, peasants, revolutionary martyrs, and Communist Party officials—and the hei wu lei, the five black (bad) categories—landlords, rich peasants, rightists, counterrevolutionaries, and bad elements. No one wanted to risk being classified as rich and therefore a member of one of the five black categories.

The acceptance of the legitimacy of wanting to be rich is perhaps the biggest change in China since the death of Mao. Everywhere in the world, people want to be rich. Money is needed not only for food, clothing and shelter but for education, culture and comfort. Nevertheless, there is something weird about the slogan, "To get rich is glorious." It is a reflection of the inversion of a society where people used to believe that poverty is virtue. Deng Xiaoping kept the old Marxist system intact but turned it upside down. China today believes in capitalism with the same religious faith that it once applied to its belief in communism. Marx, in The Communist Manifesto, tells us that the bourgeoisie "has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous 'cash payment.'" Yet it is China today that glorifies naked self-interest and does not allow other connections among people to exist.

China's current system has been described as market Leninism. That is a misnomer. Market Leninism is what Taiwan had in the days of Chiang Kai-shek. The Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang, was openly Leninist, and adopted the Leninist principle of "democratic centralism," which means strict obedience to the party (see Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, p. 338). What China has today is Marxist capitalism: the belief that nothing matters but economics—not culture, not individuality, not biology, not politics. Marxist capitalism is Marxism with a minus sign in front of it.

The embrace of money is not the only change, however. Life is freer than before. The first time I taught in China, in 1984, one never saw a boy and girl walking together. Once, a student of mine asked me the secret of America's wealth and power, and I answered "freedom." "But if we had freedom, it would lead to sex," he said. Today there is more freedom, and it has led to sex. Not only that, it has led to divorce. An article in the February 23, 2000, issue of China Daily appeared under the headline, "Bear it or leave it: Divorce a suitable solution for sinking marriage." According to the article, the increase in divorces may lead to a new law making divorce harder.

Another enormous change that has happened in China is the appearance of labor unions. An article in the December 14, 2000, issue of China Daily entitled "Unions vital to workers' rights" tells us, "Trade unions are being urged to mobilize workers nationwide to help consolidate achievements made through the reform and development of State-owned enterprises," which sounds as if the unions are a tool of the government. Nevertheless, the article goes on to say that "trade unions should also focus on safeguarding the interests and rights of workers by fashioning a more effective mechanism to solve the problems of laid-off workers and workers' rights violations." Can it be that China is actually allowing citizens to organize? It's hard to believe. That would be tantamount to recognizing that individuals and particular groups have rights that are not the same as the rights of the People.

Once I visited the parents of a student from China who was studying at the College of Staten Island in 1989. When Hebei University had its spring vacation, my daughter Miriam and I went to the home town of my student. I got to his parents' apartment house and found that there was some water coming from a neighboring construction site which trickled by the entrance of the building. Algae was growing there, making it very hard to get into the building without slipping. I was told to hold on to the wall so I wouldn't fall. My friend's mother had fallen a few weeks earlier and was still in the hospital. We visited her the following day and commented on how dangerous the entrance to her building was. "I was careless," she said. If the accident had happened today, she might not have blamed herself but would have sued.

Divorces and lawsuits are not nice things, but the fact that they now are possible makes China a better place —a freer place—than it was before.

Marxism encourages sacrifice for the public good. There is no awareness of the fact that what is good for the public is the sum of what is good for each person. There is no recognition of the rather obvious fact that people will always disagree, not simply because their interests may clash, but because different individuals view things in different ways. Yet the boundary between selfishness and altruism is not as absolute as many people think. Every individual has personal, family, neighborhood, professional, national, and world interests. All of these are simultaneously selfish and altruistic.

Furthermore, each of us belongs to many smaller and larger circles at the same time. Every group has different needs, all of which are valid. There may be conflict between a person's status as family member and as citizen, which is not to say that one of these roles is somehow more moral than the other.

Human life could not have survived without both selfishness and altruism.

In Chairman Mao's day, the government and the people spoke only of altruism; today they speak only of selfishness. The second is the negative of the first, but both views are equally simple minded and equally wrong.

Democracy is the institutionalization of the fact that disagreement is both inevitable and good. Marx didn't distinguish between democracy and other political systems. In the Manifesto, he wrote, "Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another." He was wrong. A philosophy that looks forward to the end of conflict of interest leads logically and inevitably to a society where disagreement is viewed as the embodiment of evil. When individuality was outlawed, individuals themselves were considered worthless. Countries as different as Russia, Ethiopia and China all developed the same architecture, the same "neighborhood committees," the same fear of thought. What is even worse, they pursued policies that led to starvation on a catastrophic scale. Such a famine is currently taking place in North Korea. It is no accident, comrade.


What is a religion? Each religion defines the word "religion" in a different way. Confucianism teaches a way of life and accepts an order in the world, but Confucius was vague about the nature of the gods. Is Confucianism a religion? This is not an easy question. Taoism is generally recognized as China's indigenous religion. Yet the philosophy of Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, is independent of belief in the supernatural. Buddhism was China's major religion before 1949, yet among the Han people, the ethnic Chinese, Buddhism seemed to lack a connection between ritual and ethics. All societies have religious traditions, but one might argue that China was the least religious of traditional societies.

Perhaps this fact makes China a country whose citizens are likely to get swept up by new systems of belief. There isn't enough old religion to form an alternative to the rapid rise of a new faith. In 1836, a man living in Guangdong Province named Hong Xiuquan became a Christian. After having many visions, he concluded that he was the son of God and therefore the younger brother of Jesus Christ. He founded the Taiping Movement. Taiping means "very peaceful" and is the Chinese name for the Pacific, or "peaceful" ocean. The Taiping Movement was both religious and political, and between 1850 and 1864, a bloody civil war was fought between the Taipings and the government of China.

Marxism too is a system of belief, although an explicitly atheistic one. In the days of Chairman Mao, faith in Marxism was absolute. Marxists believe that there are inevitable stages of history: primitive communism, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, and the final stage of communism. When this final stage comes, there will be no economic inequality and therefore no conflict of interest, since the only cause of disagreement is money. The state will then wither away.

Chinese people today say they no longer have any interest in Marx. They simply want to get rich. Yet their acceptance of money as the sole source of happiness shows that Marxism has conditioned their patterns of thought. Other habits of thinking introduced by Marxism remain. Love of money hasn't necessarily changed the view that the poor are good and the rich bad. Marxism, ironically, has prepared China to accept some of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh. But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:20-25).

Arthur Waldron, writing in the Spring 1988 issue of Orbis, reports the following information:
Numbers of Protestant Christians in China have climbed so dramatically that their officially sponsored organization has had to scramble to accommodate even its own members. Thus, foreign visitors who wished to join Protestant worship in Beijing in the 1970s were regularly taken to a lovely small chapel with an adjoining parsonage for the minister, who was always happy to meet them. A decade later, however, the chapel was far too small, and what looked to be a vast old octagonal revival hall on the campus of a school was pressed into service. This is not to mention the numerous house churches, where unofficial Christian groups gathered, or the revival of indigenous Chinese Christian sects, such as the True Jesus Church (which now has converts and churches in foreign countries as well).

Roman Catholicism has shown similar vigor. Because of their loyalty to the pope, Catholics were persecuted relentlessly during the 1950s and 1960s, foreign missionaries were expelled or imprisoned, and Chinese clergy were murdered or sent to the gulag.
There is a large Catholic church in the heart of downtown Baoding. In 1984, mass was still celebrated in Latin. We knew an elderly faculty member at Hebei University who was a Catholic. He never went to that church. I later found out the reason: the downtown church belonged to the Patriotic Catholic Association, China's official pro-contraception, pro-abortion Catholic Church. A devout Roman Catholic would not go there.

We personally had no problems connected with religion in China. On Purim, both in 1984 and 1989, we invited students and colleagues to our apartment, where we all took turns reading from the Book of Esther—in English. Our Chinese guests didn't know the story, and all of them cheered at the end. There was another American family at Hebei University in 1984, non-observant Presbyterians from Minnesota. They didn't know the story either, and were quite upset to learn that when the villain, Haman, was hanged, his sons were executed as well. Our celebration of Purim deepened our knowledge of the differences between American and Chinese culture.

After Purim of 1989, a student came and asked me if he would be invited to our Passover seder. The question surprised me, but we had in fact brought matzohs and haggadahs with us to China. I told him that we would invite friends on the faculty to the first seder and graduate students to the second, but we just didn't have room for our 80 or so undergraduate students. "Last year Miss Ruth invited the undergraduates," he said.

We got to know a Muslim colleague at Hebei University during our first stay, in 1984, and he invited us to services at the local mosque at the end of the month of Ramadan. It was the first time I had seen an Islamic service. I should add that in 1984 we also attended Presbyterian services at a house in Baoding that was used as a church. On our second visit, in 1989, we attended Buddhist services in Shanghai and Inner Mongolia, which we visited during our spring break. The Lamaist Buddhist Mongolian worshippers looked more devout to me than the Han worshippers in Shanghai, but I must add that one can't judge devoutness by looking at people while they pray. China does not accept the idea of freedom of religion, but those forms of religion that are not considered threatening are functioning freely. 2 + 2 = 5. Other groups, of which the Roman Catholic Church is the best known, are not allowed to worship. 2 + 2 does not yet equal 4.

We never attended a Marxist service in China; strictly speaking, there is no such thing. What there was instead was required political meetings for faculty and students at Hebei University, and someone we knew said they were like church. When my wife asked why, he answered, "They are boring." Perhaps I should have asked whether I could attend, but I didn't. I am told that there are no more required political meetings in China.

China recently cracked down on a spiritual group called Falun Gong, which, clearly, is considered threatening. I know almost nothing about the beliefs of this group, but its ability to mobilize lots of protesters at short notice is already a threat to the government. It is not clear whether Falun Gong is considered dangerous because of its dogma or because it is an example of civil society.

In the days of Chairman Mao, there could not be anything resembling civil society; all loyalty was to the state and the Communist Party. There was no loyalty to one's friends and family. Reporting relatives and neighbors for being rightists or counterrevolutionaries was common. In the Soviet Union, Pavel Morozov - a child who was murdered by his neighbors after he reported his father for supplying food to starving kulaks, the analog of "rich" peasants, one of the five black categories - was a national hero. China had no publicly honored equivalent of Pavel, but one of my students—let me call him "Xue Wen"—told me that his mother had reported his father for having counterrevolutionary thoughts. The father died in jail. A second student, a month or so later, told me that Xue Wen had turned in his mother for the same crime. I knew Xue Wen's mother, who seemed to be on good terms with her son. I never asked Xue Wen about this.

There is no more reporting of family members, but there still is no civil society—no independent groups, formal or informal, and no sense of public responsibility independent of the government.

I fought a battle with the local post office. There always was a metal track from their accordion-style door stretched over the ground at the entrance. When I almost broke my neck over it the first time I entered, I told them "hen weixian" (very dangerous). "Mingtian xiuli," they said (they would fix it the next day). The next day, when I tripped on it again, I told them "hen weixian."They fixed it right then and there, but the day after that it was back. "Hen weixian," I said. Nobody did or said anything. I went with a translator and told them an old person would break their head. "Mingtian xiuli," they said. I persisted. It took four months, but they finally removed the hazard. After I left Baoding, someone wrote to me saying the danger had come back to the post office. Who knows if any old people have already broken limbs over it.

What I was doing was acting politically. My success, albeit temporary, happened because I was a foreigner. Chinese people are not supposed to engage in independent political action. There is no way for public issues, major or minor, to be addressed. No citizen would ever suggest that it is the duty of the post office to keep the entrance way safe and free from obstruction. A Chinese who wanted to report a hazard at a post office entrance would have had to make the issue a personal one, and would have tried to persuade an individual employee to deal with the danger as an act of private altruism—a voluntary sacrifice for the good of the country.

In a country where civil society existed, a group of local residents could have organized to get the post office to correct the problem. But China still honors Karl Marx, who hated civil society. He described in the the dirtiest words he knew: "It is from its own entrails that civil society ceaselessly engenders the Jew" ("On the Jewish Question"). In other words, civil society is so ugly that it excretes Jews from its bowels.

Trevor Corson, who studied at Beijing Normal University in 1989, wrote in the February 2000 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, "The origins of the movement among Chinese students were less romantic, and less clearly about democracy per se" than Western reporters believed. My own impressions of that time were there was great interest in democracy and in political theory. People asked me wonderful questions about separation of powers and about the rule of law. It was in China that the May 4th Movement arose in 1919, a movement that chose "Science and Democracy" as its slogan. It was in China that people first understood that democracy - arguing, testing, reconsidering - is the political realization of the scientific method.

Even though the Chinese are no longer interested in Marx, the legitimacy of the Communist Party is based on the unquestioning respect that people have for Marx. If Americans won't say bad things about Marx, why should the Chinese be different? On the other hand, if we and they can see just how much Marx opposed democracy, we can all live in a world where 2 + 2 = 4.

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at
Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article appeared in Partisan Review, Volume LXIX, Number 1, Winter 2002This post can be found on George Jochnowitz.  It is republished here with the author's permission.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Nathan Milstein: Bach's Partita No. 2—'Chaconne'

Nathan Milstein performs from Bach's Partita No. 2 ("Chaconne') in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004) at his last public concert in Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, on July 17, 1986; Milstein was 83. Bach composed this piece sometime between 1717 and 1723, and it remains one of the most beautifully spiritual pieces ever written—an uplifting piece of work, capturing the full range of human experience, that carries you higher and higher. The work has five movements: Allemanda, Corrente, Sarabanda, Giga, and Ciaccona. [You can also hear Perlman's interpretation of the same piece here.]


Monday, April 16, 2012

Jewish Humor: Israel

Monday Humor

Much of the Jewish humour on this site can be found in this wonderful book: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor, compiled and edited by Henry D. Spalding.

This week's humour is focused on Israel
An American tourist was riding in a taxi in Israel. As the taxi approached a red light, the tourist was shocked to see the driver drive straight through without even slowing down. Surprised as he was, he didn't say anything feeling himself a "guest" and not wanting to make waves. The trip continued without event until the next intersection. This time the light was green and, to the American's dismay, the cab driver brought the vehicle to a grinding halt. Unable to contain his astonishment, he turns to the driver. 

"Listen." he says, "When you went through the red light, I didn't say anything. But why on earth are you stopping at a green light?" 

The Israeli driver looks at him as if the American was deranged: "Are you crazy?!", he shouts. "The other guy has a red light! Do you want to get us killed?

Bernie decided he wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and build airplanes. He studied hard, went to the best schools, and finally got his degree. It didn't take long before he gained a reputation as the finest aeronautical engineer in all the land, so he decided to start his own company to build jets.

His company was such a hit that the President of Israel called Bernie into his office. "I want to commission your company to build an advanced Israeli jet fighter.

Needless to say, Bernie was tremendously excited at this prospect. The entire resources of his company went into building the most advanced jet fighter in history. Everything looked terrific on paper, but when they held the first test flight of the new jet, disaster struck. The wings couldn't take the strain--they broke clean off of the fuselage! (The test pilot parachuted to safety, thank God.)

Bernie was devastated; his company redesigned the jet fighter, but the same thing happened at the next test flight--the wings broke off. Very worried, Bernie went to his shul to pray, to ask God where he had gone wrong. The rabbi saw Bernie's sadness, and asked him what was wrong. Bernie decided to pour his heart out to the rabbi. After hearing the problem, the rabbi put his hand on Bernie's shoulder and told him, "Listen, I know how to solve your problem. All you have to do is drill a row of holes directly above and below where the wing meets the fuselage. If you do this, I absolutely guarantee the wings won't fall off."

Bernie smiled and thanked the rabbi for his advice...but the more he thought about it, the more he realised he had nothing to lose. So Bernie did exactly what the rabbi told him to do. On the next design of the jet fighter, they drilled a row of holes directly above and below where the wings met the fuselage. And it worked! The next test flight went perfectly!
Brimming with joy, Bernie went to tell the rabbi that his advice had worked. "Naturally," said the rabbi, "I never doubted it would." "But Rabbi, how did you know that drilling the holes would prevent the wings from falling off?"

"Bernie," the rabbi intoned, "I'm an old man. I've lived for many, many years and I've celebrated Passover many, many times. And in all those years, not once--NOT ONCE--has the matzah broken on the perforation!"

Maurice and Isaac found themselves sitting next to each other in a New York bar. After a while, Maurice looks at Isaac and says, "I can't help but think, from listening to you, that you're from Israel."

Isaac responds proudly, "I am!"

Maurice says, "So am I! And where might you be from?"

Isaac answers, "I'm from Jerusalem."

Maurice responds, "So am I! And where did you live?"

Isaac says, "A lovely little area two miles east of King David's Hotel. Not too far from the old city"

Maurice says, "Unbelievable! What school did you attend?"

Isaac answers, "Well, I attended Yeshiva University."

Maurice gets really excited, and says, "And so did I. Tell me, what year did you graduate?"
Isaac answers, "I graduated in 1984."

Maurice exclaims, "Amazing! This is Besheret. Hashem wanted us to meet! I can hardly believe our good luck at winding up in the same bar tonight. Can you believe it, I graduated from Yeshiva University in 1984 also."

About this time, Moishe enters the bar, sits down, and orders a beer. The bartender walks over to him shaking his head & mutters, "It's going to be a long night tonight, the Goldberg twins are drunk again."