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October 19, 2012

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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 19, 2012 By Diana MuirAppelbaum (Jewish Ideas Daily)--Dan- iel Gordis wants you to know that if you want tolerance, diversity and freedom, you should work for Zionism. In his n~w book, "The Promise of Israel: Why Its Seemingly Greatest Weakness Is Actu- ally Its Greatest Strength," Gordis makes a compelling case for the nation-state in general and Israel in par- ticular. His first argument, in favor of the nation-state, is every bit as important as the second. As Gordis points out, the governments that have pro- duced human rights such as personal liberty and the rule of law have most often been ethnically based nation- states like Israel, South Ko- rea, and theCzech and Slovak Republics. In the Middle East, Zionism has brought civil liberties and democracy to millions of people who never enjoyed them before, chiefly Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern and European tyr- anny but also Israeli Arabs. Gordis quotes histoiian Mark Lilla, who notes that while Western Europeans have forgotten "all the long- standing problems that the nation-state managed to solve," Zionism "remembers what it was to be stateless, and the indignities of trib- alism and imperialism. It remembers the wisdom of borders and the need for col- lective autonomy to establish self-respect and to demand respect from others." Until Western Europeans re-learn those lessons, the "mutual incomprehension" between Europeans and Zionists "will remain deep." Gordis is on to something here. True, European and American opposition to Israel partly reflects anti-semitism; but it also reflects the fact that.Israel is the archetypal nation-state, and nation- states have fallen from favor in intellectual circles. The idea that human- ity is arranged into peoples and nations, each with its homeland, language, and ideas about how it should be organized, is fundamental to the Hebrew Bible. It is a profoundly tolerant idea, acknowledging that there may be more than one way to build a just society. This Jewish idea stands in radical opposition to universalism. The great Western univer- salizing traditions--Greek, Roman, Christian, Islamic, Marxist--have all attempted to annihilate 'Jewishness be- cause they could not tolerate such diversity. Apart from a few small city-states, history has found only a limited number of ways to organize political life. There is the intense and appalling tribalism of Af- ghanistan. There are empires in which conquerors oppress the conquered. There are dic- tatorshil~s and monarchies in which individuals may have comforts or privileges b~t not rights. There has been the universalist ideol- ogy of Marxism, which has produced death on an "un- imaginable scale. Then there is the nation-state. Unlike Marxism, Islam or the human rights movement, the nation-state does not claim it will bring peace or justice to the whole world, only that it will work to bring these benefits to a particular people inhabiting a particular piece of land. As Lilla says, the political dilemma is "how to wed political attachment (which is particular) to po- litical decency (which knows no borders). The nation-state has been the best modern means discovered so far of squaring the circle." Even for one people in one land, doing so is a tall order; yet Israel, Gordis argues, has largely succeeded in filling it, maintaining a stable demo- cratic government, a free press and a high standard of civil liberties for its Jewish, Muslim and Christian citi- zens, even those who work openly for its destruction. Gordis would not put it so minimally. He envisions a world in which each people lives in its own nation-state, governing itself as it chooses, perhaps competing freely, but only through persua- sion. Liberal American Jews, Gordis argues--he is surely right--are embarrassed by the fact that the Jewish state is a standard-bearer for this out- of-fashion idea of nationhood. The fashionable advocates of universal human rights have a far more embarrassing problem: Advocating human rights in general doesn't actually do much to make governments behave decently. Issuing reports about govern- ments' human rights viola- tions often seems to do little more than teach dictatorships to lie more effectively. Yet practical politicians in Israel have delivered real democracy and human rights, the Czech and Slovak Republics amicably separated into two liberal nation-states, South Korea emerged from decades of brutal occupa- tion to walk a difficult path towards a prosperous liberal democracy, and the state built by the Nationalist, Chi- nese on Taiwan is distinctly more admirable than the one built by Marxist idealists on the mainland. None of these young nation-states is per- fect, but they look awfully good compared to not just what went before in these places but what goes on today in nearby countries. Activists, understandably, want to find a simple political formula that will bring per- fect government to everyone in the world. But Gordis is right: Building a world of nation-states one by one, a job requiring the kind of hard, painful political labor that created Israel, is a far more practical way to produce aworld that is tolerant, diverse and free. Diana Muir Appelbaum is an American author and historian. She is at work on a o book tentatively entitled "Na- tionhood: The Foundation of Democracy." This article was first published by Jew- ish Ideas Daily (www.jew- and is reprinted with permission. By Dan Pine j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California The daily fee to use the Photo League's darkroom: 25 cents. The social and artistic impact of the Photo League: priceless. Between 1936 and 1951, the Photo League arguably was New York City's premier photography cooperative and school. There, students and professionals learned the art and science of pho- tojournalism, back when pioneers elsewhere, such as Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Mar- garet Bourke-White, were perfecting the form. Turned loose in New York with a 35mm in hand, Photo Leaguers fashioned a hybrid of aesthetics and social con- Walter Rosenblum "Girl on a Swing, Pitt Street," New York, 1938 science in their work. As it happened, most of the Photo League members were Jews. Now, San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Mu- Gre space C.ammemtal linlena. Inc. Commercial, Office, Residential Complete Lawn & Shrub Maintenance Insured Professional/Reasonable/Free Estimate seum is presenting "Radical Camera," an exhibition of some 150 prints by pho- tographers aligned with the Photo League in its heyday. The exhibit opened Oct. 11. How radical were" they? Mason Klein, curator of the Jewish Museum New York, which premiered the exhibition last year, says, "Everyone was to the far left then, smack in the middle of the Great Depression, and there was aneed to reveal the conditions under which people lived, particularly in the urban environment of New York." LET MY 41 YEA RS OF INSURANCE EXPERIENCE REVIEW YOUR COVERAGES AND DESIGN A PACKAGE THAT PROTECTS YOUR BUSINESS BY MEETING YOUR SPECIAL NEEDS! All Forms of Insurance Products for Business Retailers, Manufacturers, Contractors, Service Industries, Restaurants, Child Care, Physicians, Attorneys Call Today To Schedule An Appointment At Your Convenience Marshall L. Helbraun Representing The Sihle Insurance Group, Inc. An Independant Insurance Agency Phone: l-800-432-6652 (407) 761-3521 (cell phone) U Sid Grossman "Coney Island," 1947 Colleen Stockmann, as- sistant curator at the CJM, calls the exhibition "an op- portunity to showcase and celebrate the role of first- generation Jewish Ameri- cans in the history of pho- tography, shaping how the .documentary photograph took shape as a social activ- ist form." Most of the photos on display communicate a powerful social aware- ness. Rather-than shoot the majestic mountains preferred by Ansel Adams, Photo Leaguers most often captured the tired, the poor and the huddled masses. Led by a charismatic young Jewish photographer, Sid Grossman, the members of the Photo League sought artistic mastery while cap- turing the grit of the late Depression, war years and early postwar boom. It's visible in the im- ages: a young girl standing on a swing with the Wil- liamsburg Bridge glowing in the background; filthy street urchins on a Green- wich Village stoop; fedora- topped African-American kids hanging out on a Har- lem street corner; a weary bagel delivery man making his predawn rounds. "This question of social activism through photogra- phy has a strong argument, that it's an extension of a broader Jewish social ac- tivist cukure and history," Stockmann adds. At the same time, the pictures are uniformly beautiful. Though many of them were amateurs, the "Hebrew Immigration photographers had a refined collective eye for light, form, framing and photographic architecture. Most of the Photo League photographers have died, including Grossman. But not all. Sonia Handelman Meyer celebrated her 92nd birth- day last February. In her early 20s, the New Jersey native prowled the streets of New York as a member of the Photo League. Several of her prints from the 1940s are on display in "Radical Camera," including. a shot of a sad-eyed Harlem boy, his face obscured by a bandana; one of grim-faced black men at' a 1946 anti- lynching rally; a~d a picture of Holocaust-era Jewish refugees at the HebreW Im- migrant Aid Society. "The workshops I took were eye and mind openers," Meyer said in an interview conducted via email. "[They] opened up new ways to look around me. I began to wan- der through the city, seeing everything and everyone with clarity and some un- derstanding. My natural eye and my strong empathy were at work, and I was not thinking as I saw and shot these photographs." Meyer was not raised in a religious home, but says she absorbed plenty of Yid- dishkeit. She knew most of her fellow League members were Jewish, though the Sonia Handelman Meyer Aid Society," 1946 subject of religion rarely came up. That didn't stop them from drawing on their heri- tage when taking pictures. "Some of the members shot pictures [in Jewish neighbo~ho0ds]," she re- members, "the Lower East Side or parts of Brooklyn. There must have been a kind of innate feeling of common background, but I don't think it was ever expressed." The Photo League became the target of congressional anti-Communist investi- gations, with individual members blacklisted. The stress caught up. with the institution, and by 1951 the Photo League folded. Only a few members went on to enjoy successful careers as professional photographers. Meyerwas not one of them. She married, had children and left photography behind. But even at 92, she has a website dedicated to her work, and she is thrilled the CJM will hang her pictures. "There has never been another institution like the Photo League," she says. "The work is a triumphant answer to the accusations made." The Contemporary Jew- ish Museum is at 736 Mis- sion St San Francisco http://www, Dan Pine is a staff writer for j. The Jewish news weekly of Northern California, from which this article was re- printed by permission.