A letter from Ben, because it's interesting and because I think I've come down with a case of mono (or something else that has drained my energy and put me in a state of wakeful sleep--hence, no post yesterday):
Please don't think I'm one of those wacko Jews you meet in New York who suddenly start yelling and quoting all kinds of dates and history and stuff, but your whole trip has me kind of excited so this is a long message.
-I don’t think all Jews are wacko, just a few of those who I work with.
Since living in Austria, my whole sensitivity to this stuff has changed. The difference between for-real Nazis in this country and racist assholes in the USA is that the Austrian guys aren't afraid to tell you to your face that they'd gas you again. So, like, in the magazine office, do you lie all the time?
-No, after a few mishaps the first few weeks, it turned out to be a less dangerous situation than I thought. I think the concept of someone posing as a Jewish guy is so bizarre that it’s not something anyone expects or assumes. I can get by as long as I don’t date anyone who works here, and that doesn’t seem to be in the stars right now, so I’m just cruisin’ along.
I guess I should just read your blog, but do you like, have to tell stories about your Bar Mitzvah or are you just like, "we weren't religious when I was a kid."
-No. If I had to do that, I’d be fired. As it turns out, I am a bit more ignorant than I initially thought I was about religion (read: Judaism). I thought I was pretty well-rounded when it came to religious topics, but I was humbled when I started working here.
What do you think of those Polish Archbishops who were spying for the communists?
-That’s a difficult question because I don’t know what the circumstances were. For instance, when I was really young, my great grandfather recalled his experiences growing up with slavery and segregation. I told him then that I wouldn’t have participated in racism and he “corrected” me, saying that the climate was such that you actually believed it was just how things are. That never sat well with me. However, perhaps the Archbishops were in the same state of mind as gramps. (The "this is how things are" mindset), which, again, I don't agree with (but, even again, it's hard to have an informed opinion about the 'inside' when you're on the 'outside')
Do you think that the pope during the Holocaust supported the Nazis because he was an Anti-Semite, or because the Nazis had a gun to his head, or a mixture of the two?
-I think that there was a lot of brainwashing going on during this time. Human beings are innately weak. It’s easy to manipulate what they think. Perhaps he was not initially Anti-Semitic, but with a bit of dark “education,” he became so. On the other hand, the Pope, of all people, should know right from wrong, so to speak. Clearly this was wrong; inhumane; sick. There's little rational argument to the contrary.
Just to talk Catholicism for a minute. I'm Atheist. I know Jews are mixed up a lot. Not more or less than other people I hope. Regarding yesterday’s post, I think the girl has a right to be agnostic, which is like pussy-footing around being Atheist. But anyway, she's still Jewish. You don't need Hitler for the political argument either. I can go to the extreme left. Lenin and Stalin and those guys thought that Jews would just jettison their Jewishness once they got hip to communism. Lenin called the Jewish socialist organization that had been a big part of the February 1917 revolution, something like "Zionists who are afraid of the water" or something like that. Most of the left back then was thinking that way as well. Thinking of religion is an opiate of the masses, that the only identity you need is class identity, not race or religion or whatever. But check out Rudolph Rocker, the German Anarcho-Syndicalist. He heard about a Jewish anarchist meeting in London and he thought, "ha ha, that's an oxymoron, anarchists don't believe in god!" So he went, and then it totally turned him on, he thought the Jewish anarchists were way more passionate than the German or British scenes. So, he learned Yiddish and became the editor of a Jewish anarchist newspaper. Emma Goldman was a famous anarchist, obviously opposed to Zionism, but then she got into a debate with British anarchists who were against letting Jewish refugees into Palestine in the early years of the rise of fascism. So what kinda catholic are you? Polish? Italian? Irish? malt-f'in-tese? Austrian? Most of my friends grew up catholic.