We’re in the middle of 5773, but turning the corner on 2012 and saying goodbye to a year of making history.
January brought us the 10th Israeli film nominated for an Oscar: Footnote. Sadly, it did not win, but there were many Jewish wins to celebrate in 2012. Robert Lefkowitz won the Nobel Prize in chemistry; Serge Haroche won it in physics. Alvin E. Roth won it in economics. Israeli tennis player Noam Gerhsony took the gold in wheelchair tennis at the September Para-Olympics, and Aly Raisman brought her team the gold in a floor exercise performed to “Hava Nagila.“ Seems like all those bar mitzvah dance parties paid off. Another young face stole our Jewish hearts this year: 14-year-old Edon Pinchot charmed the crowds all the way to the semi-finals of “America’s Got Talent” with his pop songs and his yarmulke.
Perhaps the biggest competition of the year was the U.S. presidential election, and Jews were not quiet about the vote. In fact, sometimes we were downright nasty to each other about our very partisan perspectives, while both candidates tried in different ways to outdo each other in the sport of supporting Israel. This year brought us Jack Lew as a new chief of staff for the White House, and critical issues about America’s role in the Middle East. Charity caps and health care will be on our community docket in the months ahead. Let’s try some bi-partisanship in 2013.
It’s not easy for us to celebrate any victories, however, with the defense pockmarks in the political landscape of the Middle East and the recent anxiety over Operation Pillar of Defense. The question of Iran’s threat loomed large in 2012, and despite the current ceasefire, no one is going into 2013 overly optimistic about the Arab-Israeli conflict. On the anti-Semitism radar, three shootings in Toulouse and Montaubon, France, shook the Jewish world with the loss of seven lives in March. And Germany’s ban on circumcision caused a world outcry and more anguished debate. This was shadowed by the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympics, when 11 members of the Israeli team were taken hostage and then murdered. The fact that Olympic organizers would not honor their memory with a moment of silence was a subject of much consternation for many Jews worldwide.
Jews across the globe did come together to mark another significant event in 2012: the Siyyum Ha-shas, or completion of the entire Talmud that takes seven and a half years at the rate of one folio page a day. Tens of thousand of people gathered in athletic stadiums, synagogues and schools to complete the last lines of the last page together. Many began the process again the very next day.
Dec. 6 marked another special Jewish get-together that occurred 25 years earlier when we held the National March for Soviet Jewry on the National Mall. We stood 250,000 strong to protest more than a million Jews held behind Russia’s Iron Curtain. In a historic Gorbachev/Reagan meeting, we discovered a voice that rang out with the biblical phrase: “Let My People Go.” It was a voice that changed our people, opening doors to Soviet Jews in Israel and across the world map. And in a special cap to this anniversary, Gal Beckerman, who traced the movement in his book, When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone, won the 2012 Sami Rohr prize for literature.
Talking literature, Philip Roth announced that he would write no more books in 2012, but Blake Bailey did get a lucrative book deal to write Roth’s biography. He believes it will take 8-10 years. Herman Wouk did us proud by writing his recent book The Lawgiver in 2012 at the prized age of 97.
If all this book talk is making you hungry, try what’s new in kosher in 2012. The New York Times identified Mexikosher as the new phenom in kosher dining. This Los Angeles concoction was started by Mr. Katsuji Tanabe, who has a Japanese father and Mexican mother and opened a kosher restaurant that serves Korean, Indian, and Vietnamese food along with a dash of Southern barbecue. New Yorkers—eat your heart out.
We close the 2012 review with the loss of two relatively unknown heroines who deserve a special mention. Vladka Meed died in November at 90. She posed as a gentile in World War II to become a partisan in the Warsaw Ghetto, smuggling pistols, gasoline, dynamite to resistance fighters. Meed was one of the first to tell of the Holocaust’s travesties in a book she published in Yiddish in 1948, On Both Sides of the Wall.
Lastly, we note the death this past August of Florence Waren, who also smuggled arms to resistance fighters but in a different guise. She was a member of one of the most famous ballroom dancing teams in Europe, and often danced on stage in front of German officers without them realizing that she was actually hiding herself while shuffling in the spotlight. As we lose more survivors with every passing year, we take a moment to honor their memories and their service.
So what made 2012 a special Jewish year for you?
Dr. Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits. She is the author of In the Narrow Places (OU Press/Maggid); Inspired Jewish Leadership, a National Jewish Book Award finalist; Spiritual Boredom; and Confronting Scandal.