HIS SPACE AND TIMES
BY STEVEN GIMBEL
Yale University Press
Jewish Lives series
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
only 191 pages.
Poor Dr. Einstein. His face and wild hair is used as pop culture shorthand for eccentric brilliance or to sell intelligent popcorn or egghead software. But he wasn’t eccentric. Actually he was an outspoken pacifist and moralist. In this latest addition to the Jewish Lives series from Yale University Press, Professor Steven Gimbel explains Einstein main theories in easy to understand term, and he shows how the were a product of his times. For example, is it any wonder that Nazis hated Einstein not just for being Jewish, but for being a relativist at a time when there should be and can be only an absolute leader, religion, power, and culture?
We learn that Einstein felt a deep – but not religious – connection to the Jewish people and its future. He renounced his German citizenship and Judaism as a teen; he thought nationalism and religion were shackles of the mind. he put “Mosaic” down for his religion on forms, only since he was forced to. Einstein disapproved of Fritz Haber, the chemist from a Hasidic family who converted to Lutheranism to assimilate into German culture. Einstein gave pride and confidence to Jews worldwide at a time when Hebrews were discriminated against in America, and murdered in Europe. He deeply supported Zionism, but did not want a State of Israel or post WWII America to become militaristic. He sought coexistence between Jews and Arabs, but knew that forced peaceful coexistence would fail. He wrote, “Friction is perhaps inevitable, but its evil consequences must be overcome by organized cooperation, so that the inflammable material may not be piled up to the point of danger. The absence of contact in every-day life is bound to produce an atmosphere of mutual fear and distrust, which is favorable to such lamentable outbursts of passion as we have witnessed. We Jews must show above all that our own history of suffering has given us sufficient understanding and psychological insight to know how to cope with this problem of psychology and organization: the more so as no irreconcilable differences stand in the way of peace between Jews and Arabs in Palestine.” Einstein opposed the idea of a Jewish state before 1948, although he helped Chaim Weizman and Ben Gurion Jews raise funds. He abhorred what he called the ignobility and Fascism of Revisionist Zionists and told them that to their faces.
Gimbel also explores Einstein’s loves, his dysfunctional marriage, the messy divorce; his walks through and hangouts in Princeton’s African American neighborhood; and Herbert Hoover’s rabid attempts to connect Einstein to Communists and drive him from America.
Among the books in the series that have already been published are one of Freud, Kafka, Bernhardt, Rothko, Kook, Dayan, and Trotsky. I await the one on Marx.. Groucho Marx, in January 2016.
LOOK WHO’S BACK
BY TIMUS VERMES
Translated from German
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
If Mel Brooks and Jack Benny could write comedies about Hitler, I guess Nuremberg born Timus Vermus can write a novel starring him. The novel’s premise is: What would happen if Adolf Hitler woke up in modern-day Berlin?
It is 2011, and Hitler wakes up in Germany. He narrates that story of how he, like Rip Van Winkle, has been asleep for 66 years in a Berlin bunker. He believes destiny has a reason for bringing him back, since he is the perfect German. He takes up temporary residence in a newspaper kiosk. There he is discovered by some TV producers, who take him to be a Hitler impersonator of rare method-acting genius. He becomes a star on Youtube, and gets a TV show. Berliners think that this man is a great performance artist and impersonator of the mass murderer and leader of the Nazi party. When he spouts hateful, bigoted speeches, Germans and Turkish-born Germans see him as being satirical, but many secretly admire his disgust with modern Germany, foreigners and the welfare state. His T Vproducer tells Hitler that “The Jews are no laughing matter” (meaning don’t joke about them). Hitler thinks she means that yes, they are a serious problem. His antisemitic rants are seen as just being “authentic” as a Hitler impersonator.
Hitler is disappointed in the right wing parties, so he starts his own political party. And makes his own typeface. And people like a man who can be charming and make fast decisions. He makes no excuses and says what he is going to do if he comes to power. And some of supporters accept it.
To me, it was funny at first, but got a tad boring after the initial satire.
THE BOOK OF JOAN
Tales of Mirth,
Mischief, and Manipulation
By Melissa Rivers
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Penn grad Melissa Rivers, the daughter, heir, confidante, and partner of comedian and entrepreneur Joan Rivers, has written a memoir of her mother. She and Joan did everything together. Worked together. Lived together. Survived together. Melissa was the straight man in a comedy team, and must now find her own voice and live a life that is not just managing her mother’s estate and legacy.
According to Melissa, When your first parent dies, it’s a comma; when your second is gone, it’s a period.
Three weeks after her mother’s funeral. Crown called Melissa’s agent, to get her to write this book. She declined the entreaty. Then they told her how much cash advance they would give her. So she signed the contract. It is a tribute to her mother (Joan wanted to write a book about how bad a mother she was, but it was to be published after her death, and Melissa was supposed to put her name on the expose). Melissa writes that Joan’s love for her knew no bounds — or boundaries. She said, “Melissa, I acknowledge that you have boundaries. I just choose to not respect them.”
Melissa shares the high-jinx of her and her mother, as well as her father, Edgar Rosenberg. She also shares stories how much Joan badgered (and “badgered and badgered and badgered” ~page 240) Melissa for nuggets of gossip. A true Yenta. We learn the life lessons of growing up in the Rosenberg-Rivers household (“I can do tips and discounts and figure out the number of gay men in an audience to make it a good show. That’s all the math you’ll ever need.”). we learn that Joan loved crosswords (and Melissa put some into her casket). Joan did not hoard packets of sweeteners but she collected American Airlines chocolates from the first-class lounge. She also liked to send Melissa tearsheets of articles on how to be at sex.
“The Book of Joan” includes parts of River’s speech to Melissa’s graduating class at Penn. …Don’t be proud, look at failure as something positive. And then there’s this: Don’t think just because you’ve gotten your degree, your childhood is over. As long as you’ve got a parent left, you can always be a child to someone. The light is in the window.
We also learn that Melissa, 47, is learning how to live after the loss of her mother. (Mostly she stays home in Pacific Palisades with her 14-year-old son.) Fortunately, Melissa was raised by survivors. She told the Los Angeles Times that she is “…gonna keep going! What do you think I’m gonna do? What are my choices? Sit in a puddle? Be consumed and lay in a bed? Please! I’d have to put a lightning rod on this house to make sure she wasn’t throwing lightning bolts at me to get out of bed if I let myself wallow.”
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