jew on this

critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

Category: books/films/tv/music

Judith Butler on Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’

by R.S.

Angelus Novus, described by Benjamin in his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’. Butler: “It’s kind of a freak of an angel. Oh Well”.

Here is Judith Butler speaking on Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’.

Click here for Benjamin’s paper

I converted the youtube video into an mp3 so I can listen to it and have uploaded it here. Wait. No. WordPress wont let me do that, but if this is something that interests you, you can go here, drop the youtube link in, and it will do it super quickly.

There is a really sweet spot around the 24 minute mark where the class shifts tone and Butler speaks of the day to day considerations of running a class room, and the kinds of containment that feels so familiar as someone who has worked in university classrooms. Brief and probably insignificant, but nice nonetheless.

Related beautiful essay:

Taussig, M, (200) ‘Walter Benjamin’s Grave: a profane illumination’


music break

by tobybee

this is getting me through my pre-shabbes hours:

(p.s. the shondes are currently on tour in the US – go if you can!)

this got me through my week:


by tobybee

At a talk last night on Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique (this year is the 50th anniversary of its publication), both of the speakers mentioned Friedan’s anti-lesbian stances, and the problems that it caused. One of the speakers, when he mentioned it, said in an offhand way that it was probably a result of her Jewishness.

Friedan, who was born Bettye Naomi Goldstein, published under the surname of Friedan for the first time with the publication of this book. Prior to that she had been a writer for unions and in the communist presses, had been active in radical Jewish circles, and had published as Betty Goldstein.

In The Feminine Mystique Friedan referred to suburban homes as “comfortable concentration camps” and wrote that “”the women who ‘adjust’ as housewives, who grow up wanting to be ‘just a housewife,’ are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps” (p. 294).

Both of those are actual, interesting, provocative, points about the impact of Friedan’s Jewishness on her writing in The Feminine Mystique. Tracing her homophobia to her Jewishness is lazy and antisemitic.

(And so I spent the rest of last night kicking myself for not saying anything during question time. If only I’d been quicker, and had more guts.)

music break

by tobybee

when I’m working I tend to need to listen to music to be able to get anything done. alas, my computer in my office isn’t mine, and doesn’t have my music on it. and so I daily turn to youtube, and today found this gem to get me through the morning. listen and watch some Fela Kuti from Berlin, 1978, for great music and amazing fashions

(and because there should always be an explicitly Jewish connection, I’ll draw your attention to this rad project combining the music of Fela Kuti and Shlomo Carlebach)

World War Z & Unified Palestine

by R.S.



Firstly: the flick is not a work that is based, in any real or meaningful sense on Max Brooks’ work World War Z: An oral history of the zombie war (2006). It has the title (well, partly), but this is about it. One of the few things they took from the novel was a plot line that teetered on the edge of Brooks’ narrative on Israel/Palestine and stretched it through a large chunk of the film.

Brad Pitt’s character Gerry arrives in Jerusalem to complete a mission given to a virologist (KIA) to find patient zero in what seems like hours of the undead outbreak. It doesn’t really make sense, but there you go.

In Jerusalem, in the radical othering, zombies seamlessly replaced Palestinians as the threat par excellence. This transition is entirely unremarkable. Behind the Wall – now used to protect from the swarm of undead – is a fantasy of human purity, protected, safe, and a sanctuary from a world whose intent is to wipe the inhabitants from the face of the earth. The desert is in bloom and life needs protection. Beyond the borders, beyond civilization, are uncontrollable hordes, baying for blood. They are mindless. They hate life. Israel has a right to protect their borders, after all.

In both narratives Israel has managed to implement procedures early to stem the threat of the “African Rabies” (was this in the film? warning: it is in the book). In the novel, describing a situation where Israel had been driven out of the occupied Palestinian territories by the resistance and thus wielding considerably less power, the Israeli ambassador announced to the UN General Assembly that they were enacting a policy of “voluntary quarantine”. The Palestinian interviewee Saladin Kader tells the (unnamed) narrator twelve years after the outbreak:

I didn’t even hear the second part of the fat bastard’s speech, the part about offering asylum, no questions asked, to any foreign-born Jew, an foreigner of Israeli-born parents, any Palestinian living in the formerly occupied territories, and any Palestinian whose family had once lived within the borders of Israel. The last part applied to my family, refugees from the ’67 War of Zionist aggression…I had never been to Israel, or what was about to be absorbed into the new state of Unified Palestine…(2010, 39)

The film entirely skirts these narratives of the novel. Instead, Israel-proper is innovative, benign and site of salvation for the world’s refugees. Within the scenes of a benevolent, peaceful, harmonious Israel, power has not shifted, and Palestinians – we assume from the racialised discourses – are just happy to have their lives saved in a world gone to shit.

Given this is meant to be an adaptation, the filmmakers are directly antagonistic to this post-apocalypse speculation. The novel goes to Tel Aviv and Bethlehem, but not to Jerusalem – in fact in the novel Unified Palestine had withdrawn altogether from Jerusalem because it did not make sense strategically in the planned defense from zombie attack.

It does, however, (and I speculate) make strategic sense for Israel that an international film to be set in a contested space such as Jerusalem with benign nationalists at the helm. Herein the Israeli state and nationalism is not problematized in the way the book suggested were possible in a situation of extreme emergency. It would be interesting to know what incentives  the filmmakers were given to depart so significantly from this narrative.

What made Brooks’ work so distinct was a number of factors: it was speculative fiction; it was set 12 years after the Zombie War; it was a reflection on experience, rather than action-thriller. I suspect what would have worked well as a format for this story (perhaps ironically) is the Israeli film Waltz With Bashir, albeit without what Ghassan Hage calls the “postexterminatory existentially anxious warrior”. Set 25 years after the “Lebanon War”, it flits around in time and space, has a central character that is collecting stories, and does not require action scenes to propel it forward.

The filmmakers had a chance to be innovative with a radically new zombie apocalypse film format and story telling style, but instead made clichés collected from every zombie apocalypse flick since Night of the Living Dead, without the fun of Shaun of the Dead.


(But also:

I was really disappointed by World War Z. Many reviewers have cited (lazily) Romero’s work, but I think where this departs from Romero so spectacularly to the endless miraculous escapes by our protagonist Gerry. Zombie films need to suspend your disbelief and as someone who is pretty into the genre, it really doesn’t require much to get me there. We never, for instance, get any sense why Gerry is so important. Or why the mission is on is so urgent, why he was chosen, or why he is so materially supported in doing this is not entirely clearOr why, after the immediate outbreak a massive fuck off plane can be afforded so a virologist can go and find patient zero (or why this would be a pressing issue). Or why Gerry continued the work of the virologist (who thankfully toppled himself)– what the fuck does Gerry know? Come to that, what does he know that he is considered so important by the UN that he is shunted around the world? Or why is it that Gerry’s plane was allowed to land?  Or why he could move around with little more than a limp after being impaled after a plane crash (I wont go into that).

Also: Do not watch it in 3D, whatever you do.)

weekend music breakout

by tobybee

“Filmed June 9, 2013, Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival. Michael Winograd and the Klezmer Orchestra International entertain the crowd outside the Museum at Eldridge Street. Steve Weintraub facilitates dancing.

In it’s thirteenth year, the Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival celebrates the Chinese and Jewish communities who’ve called the neighborhood home. It’s one big block party both inside and out combining history, culture, music, performances, and folk arts demonstrations.”

“interstices we would normally eschew”

by tobybee

there’s a lot going on that’s kicking my ass at the moment, but here’s six and a half minutes of excellence that reminded me why i do what i do

(i thought it was better to share this tonight than an essay on why the liberal party’s announcement today that they are going to cut funding to anyone (with a particular focus on academics) who supports bds is utterly atrocious and terrifying (for it is an exemplary disciplinary measure to ensure that those of us who are political radicals, or simply stand for movements for justice, as well as academics are forced to compromise ourselves in some way). better that we should have some hope, a vision for a better world, than engaging with that tripe)

(hattip to C.F.)

pesach music

by tobybee

here are two versions of chad gadya for you, as – in Australia at least – we get close to the start of Pesach.

The first by Arab Jewish women’s choir “Shirana” from The Arab-Jewish community center in Jaffa. (hattip to Sol Salbe)

and the second, Chazzan Benzion Miller & Yanky Lemmer, accompanied by an all star Klezmer quartet (Frank London – Trumpet; Michael Winograd – Clarinet; Aaron Alexander – Drums; Patty Farrell – Accordion), in Brooklyn just the other night

enjoy! and may we take seriously the memory that we were once slaves in biblical egypt, and take seriously the injunction to turn that memory into (radical) change in all our communities (even the ones we think we’re not a part of) and personal interactions.

the jews and the movies

by tobybee

good jews of melbourne! what are you up to on thursday eve? thinking that you’d like to gather together with a group of progressive jews living on the northside and watch a movie and then have an interesting/challenging/insightful/wonderful discussion about it? well – you’re in luck!

a group of us came up with the idea to organise a northside progressive jewish film club, and the first gathering is this thursday. here are the details (also available on facebook, where you can let us know if you’re coming):

Inaugural Gathering of the Northside Progressive Jewish Film Club!!

date: Thursday 1 November
time: 8pm
venue: Longplay, 318 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North (just south of Holden St)

Come together for a film and discussion: we’ll watch ‘Arna’s Children’, a film about a theatre group in the West Bank, and talk about the many issues raised.

We’re hoping that this will become a regular film/discussion event. Come join us for the first one!

All welcome

About the movie:

ARNA’S CHILDREN tells the story of a theatre group established by Arna Mer Khamis. Arna was a jewish political and human rights activist from a Zionist family who in the 1950s married a Palestinian Arab, Saliba Khamis.

In the 1980’s Arna founded an alternative education system in Jenin for children whose regular life was disrupted by the Israeli occupation. In order to help the children express their everyday frustrations, anger, bitterness and fear Arna began a theatre group, which became an important part of many children’s lives.

Arna’s son Juliano, the director of this film, was also one of the directors of Jenin’s theatre. With his camera, he filmed the children during rehearsal periods from 1989 to 1996. In the film, Juliano goes back to Jenin in 2002/3 to see what happened to them in the midst of intense violence of the second intifada. Yussef had committed a suicide attack in Hadera in 2001, Ashraf was killed in the battle of Jenin (‘Operation Defensive Shield’) and Alla leads a resistance group.

Juliano, who was one of the leading actors in the region, looks back in time in Jenin, trying to understand the choices made by the children he loved and worked with. Eight years earlier, the theatre was closed and life became static and paralysed. Shifting back and forth in time, the film reveals the tragedy and horror of lives trapped by the circumstances of the Israeli occupation.

The film won “Best Documentary Feature” in the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival.

More info about the film here

for a sweet year

by tobybee

please don’t spill over, dear tomatoes, i prayed. alas, to no avail…

gut yontif, dear readers. i’m finishing up cooking an eggplant and tomato bake for erev rosh hashana dinner tonight. and so, i wish you a nourishing, fulfilling, self-reflective year to come. a year filled with love, laughter, and friendships. with the strength to cope with adversity, and the strength to ask for help. and the strength and care to offer help. the determination to offer forgiveness, to others and to yourself. the desire to right the wrongs that you perpetrate, knowingly and unknowingly. the willingness to see what structures of oppression you fall victim to, and which ones you are complicit in. and to do what you can to not be complicit. the assurance that you will dance as you further the revolution.

my cooking playlist:
the wailing wall
the shondes
leonard cohen