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Politics & Prose continues to create a public space where emotional topics can be discussed in a robust and civil way. On February 12, we hosted Rabbi Fred Reiner’s Standing at Sinai (Authorhouse, $18), a collection of his sermons and scholarly writings. These are extraordinarily provocative essays dealing with hard issues, such as intermarriage, homosexuality, immigration, and Israel. Audience members raised thoughtful and emotional questions. Rabbi Reiner answered them forthrightly. The audience listened attentively. Both the questioners and Rabbi Reiner modeled the serious and respectful manner in which these matters should be addressed.
As one who strongly believes in Israel as a Jewish homeland and as a democratically religious and secular pluralist state, which includes Israel’s Arabs as equal citizens, I have been disturbed by ongoing efforts by some in America who wish to shut down debate in my religious community. Among many other reasons, Politics & Prose made Carla and me proud that it was a safe harbor for robust and civil discussion. That continues under the leadership of Brad Graham and Lissa Muscatine.
In recent months Politics & Prose has hosted Gershom Gorenberg’s The Unmaking of Israel (Harper, $25.99). Gorenberg is a practicing Israeli orthodox Jew and an outstanding journalist. Gorenberg refutes the shrill defense of “Israel - right or wrong” and the equally strident attacks on the legitimacy of Israel. Israel is an imperfect democracy (as are all democracies.) Its imperfections do not make it undemocratic when vigorous voices challenge those imperfections within Israel.
P&P also hosted Jeremy Ben Ami’s A New Voice for Israel (Palgrave Macmillan, $26). Ben Ami comes from a family of early Zionists and is the founder and president of J St. He dismantles the notion that Jews are single issue voters on Israel and that only hard line policies can win their support.
In the fall, P&P hosted Gilad Sharon’s loving book about his father, the incapacitated former Israel Prime Minister and military leader Ariel Sharon. Gilad Sharon celebrated the publication of his Sharon: The Life of a Leader (Harper, $29.99) to a full P&P audience.
Last year we also hosted at 6th and I the courageous Palestinian whose children were killed by an Israeli attack in Gaza. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish presented I Shall Not Hate (Walker & Company, $15) with strength and courage to a packed and diverse audience.
Carla and Barbara were always proud of the Israel novelists who visited P&P. They represent a moral voice, who like the prophets of old, knew how to be loving critics of Israel. In the fall P&P hosted Amos Oz when he read from Scenes from Village Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22). Lissa recalled his searching autobiography A Tale of Love and Darkness (Mariner, $16) and his novel Fima (Mariner, $18.95), both of which he presented at P&P.
I also remember David Grossman’s visits for his profound novels: To the End of the Land and The Book of Intimate Grammar. Meir Shalev came for his memoir My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner and his earlier novel A Pigeon and a Boy. Who can forget the earlier visits of A.B. Yehoshua for his novels: Mr. Mani and Friendly Fire. I will always remember the late Batya Gur presiding over her mysteries: A Saturday Morning Murder and Murder in the Kibbutz. Each of these novelists gave us rich portraits of Israeli society. They model what a loving critic should be.
That quality of discussion will continue at Politics and Prose.
- David Cohen