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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 8, 2004 / 15 Adar, 5764

Hunting for Jewish ghosts

By Lawrence F. Kaplan



An urban Jew ventures into the country


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Delhi, Shanghai, the Russian Far East — the search for Jewish life in exotic places grows so tiresome. At least, this was my opinion as a child whose mother, upon touching down in an unfamiliar locale, would master its Jewish history by the time we reached the hotel. "Take off your fins, and let's go find the Portuguese synagogue," went the refrain of a Caribbean vacation. "You can snorkel at Jones Beach when we get home." Or, in New Mexico: "You can visit an Indian reservation in New York. Let's find out something about the crypto-Jews." Invariably, the only trace of Jewish life that awaited us — even on excursions down to the Lower East Side — would be a long abandoned synagogue or cemetery. As for living Jews, I came to suspect that, outside the Upper West Side, Long Island's North Shore, and Century Village, they simply didn't exist. 

Two decades have not completely erased the suspicion. In fact, the past year, spent writing a book in rural Virginia, only fed it. Here, again, I found myself hunting for Jewish ghosts. And, on more than one occasion, I found them. The unlikeliest place was surely Staunton, Virginia, once the Warsaw of the Shenandoah Valley. The approach to Staunton cuts through a lush green landscape, all hills and cows. Then, quite literally out of nowhere, there appears what looks to be a deserted stretch of upper Broadway — rows of huge prewar buildings, some with the faded names of Jewish stores painted on their facades, brownstones, and, in the middle of it all, a shul founded in 1876 by a former Confederate Army officer.

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Robert Rosen, author of the fascinating The Jewish Confederates (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.), observes that the Jews of the Confederacy were "Israelites with Egyptian principles." That a people who commemorate their escape from bondage in Egypt celebrated Passover in a society premised on bondage is, to say the least, incongruous. But the Confederacy was good to its Jews — better, surely, than Ulysses S. Grant, who infamously banned Jews from his military district. Repaying the favor, Jewish Southerners spilled their blood at Gettysburg, Antietam, Seven Pines, and throughout the South. One of those who fought was FDR adviser Bernard Baruch's father, Simon, who for years after the war could be heard loosing the rebel yell from, among other places, his seat at New York's Metropolitan Opera. 

The Jewish Confederates may have fought side by side with their fellow Southerners, but they were different. To begin with, few if any were farmers. They toiled instead as traders, shop owners, and, in the case of Moses Ezekiel — a hero of the Battle of New Market, located ten minutes from my house — a future sculptor. Why, their critics and persecutors have been asking since roughly the year 200, will the Jews not work the land? Restrictions on land ownership, urbanization, economic factors — all have been offered by way of explanation. Economic historians Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, whose conclusions Steven Landsburg summarizes in a very funny article on Slate.com, have come up with the most persuasive answer I have seen: Judaism. Before you can read the Torah, which an observant Jew must do regularly, you first must know how to read. Literacy, in turn, opens the door to higher-paying occupations. The catalogue of attempts to reverse this history, to go back to the soil, has produced its share of lemons — the short-lived Jewish colonies in Kansas, for example. It has also produced a Jewish state. 

Virginia is not it. After a while, I lost track of the cultural miscues. On one occasion, a trip to the county fair turned sour when, thinking that a procession of pickup trucks was the line for the parking lot, I nearly drove our Hyundai into a monster-truck derby. On another, the idea of a dog being on psychiatric medication — my Shiba Inu was systematically dismantling the quaintly decorated farmhouse we had rented — proved too much for the local pharmacist, who called our big-city veterinarian to complain. Then, of course, there was our hen. She tiptoed up the driveway one day, having fallen off of one of the trucks that carry chickens to their slaughter from a nearby farm. We fed and sheltered her, and, before long, she was following us around the yard and taunting the cows across the fence. Cautioning me not to take this the wrong way, our neighbor remarked that her situation was not unlike, well, that of a Jew escaped from a train. I blanched, visibly. 


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Here I was, an anthropological curiosity in a land of anthropological curiosities. That this is how many cosmopolitan thinkers view rural life even today became apparent to me whenever I returned to New York or Washington. The New York Review of Books' inveighing against the "false nostalgia for an idyllic life never experienced," Howard Dean's patronizing comments about guns and pickup trucks — in certain quarters, Marx's indictment of the "idiocy of rural life" still seems to pass for wisdom. So, too, does the opposite fallacy, the celebration of rural life as the custodian of values America must recover. Even in the hands of the Romantics, the idealization of country life was always something of a lie, and, in the much less capable hands of American politicians, the lie has only become more obvious. In the town where I lived, drug busts were routine. Several local plants recently closed their doors, and, as a result, vans clogged the road at 4 a.m., carrying workers to jobs 100 miles away. The county newspaper doesn't run ads for Shiba Inus. It runs ads for foreclosure auctions. 

I write this from a cramped apartment in a dilapidated building in Washington, directly across from the Jewish Community Center, where, I am told, young Jewish professionals go to sweat. The closest thing I have to a rabbi, Lou Reed, warbles a Velvet Underground song about the joy of a city kid boarding a train home after a brief stint on a farm:

Taking me away from my country
I'm sick of the trees
Take me to the city

Even though he imagined living as an alien in the country, Reed sings about leaving "my country." Which, I suppose, is the lesson I learned this year. It's all my country. Our country. 

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Lawrence F. Kaplan is a senior editor at The New Republic. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, The New Republic