Category Archives: Articles

Real News From Mosul by Peter Eisenstadt

The big news story today is that the Syrian government has probably used nerve gas against Syrian rebels, killing a number of civilians. Because we place poison gas in a different category from conventional means of killing people from the air, and because the Asad government is despicable, it has received a good deal of attention, temporarily driving the latest Trump scandal from the lead story in the news.

The biggest problem in trying to follow the news in recent months hasn’t been fake news—though there certainly has been enough of that, thank you very much—but too much real news, like water from a burst dam, flooding everything, saturating our ability to follow it. It has been difficult to follow any one story as it quickly rushes by, and we all seem to be unable to concentrate on any one story for very long. read more

Rash Promises by Peter Eisenstadt

Over the weekend, through the magic of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD Series, I saw a performance of Mozart’s opera Idomeneo. It is Mozart’s first great opera (as opposed to the 10 or 12 very good operas) he had previously written. Premiered in Munich in 1781—the original theater is still standing—it found Mozart at a crossroads in his career. He was a young man of about 25, his days as a dazzling young prodigy days far behind him, and was now just another scuffling musician, albeit one of needing to prove that he could build on his early success and earn the big pricey commissions befitting his talent. (He had his share of successes, but, as perhaps the original member of the “gig economy” he continued to scuffle.) read more

Rash Promises by Peter Eisenstad

Over the weekend, through the magic of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD Series, I saw a performance of Mozart’s opera Idomeneo. It is Mozart’s first great opera (as opposed to the 10 or 12 very good operas) he had previously written. Premiered in Munich in 1781—the original theater is still standing—it found Mozart at a crossroads in his career. He was a young man of about 25, his days as a dazzling young prodigy days far behind him, and was now just another scuffling musician, albeit one of needing to prove that he could build on his early success and earn the big pricey commissions befitting his talent. (He had his share of successes, but, as perhaps the original member of the “gig economy” he continued to scuffle.) read more

The Ides of March – by Peter Eisenstadt

The Ides of March

Today is the Ides of  March. All I can say is, “beware, beware, beware.”  You don’t have to be an soothsayer in the market  to have a sense of impending catastrophe.   We still have a senate.  We still have (lower case “r”) republican institutions that are badly fraying. And we still have would-be strong men who seek to take advantage of the situation, phony tribunes of the people, and a would-be dictator (which was an office in Republican Rome, which Julius Caesar occupied in his last months.)  Just to be absolutely clear, I am not drawing any further parallels, or anticipating or advocating for anything bloody or untoward. It’s just that the Ides of March is a day for looking at where we are, and where we are going. read more

Helping Women is Helping the Entire Planet by Ayala Emmett

Statement by the President on International Women’s Day

“Today, on International Women’s Day, we recommit ourselves to achieving a world in which every woman and girl enjoys the full range of rights and freedoms that is her birthright.

Women and girls make extraordinary contributions every day across all fields of human endeavor, including in business, education, sports, art, science, agriculture, parenting, and governance.  Without these contributions, economies would collapse, communities would fail, and families would fall apart.  And yet, in too many places around the world, women still struggle to rise out of their status as second-class citizens.  They are denied opportunities for full economic and political participation.  Some are forced to marry and have children when they are still children themselves, while abusive practices, such female genital mutilation/cutting, still persist in too many places.  Moreover, secondary education-arguably the most powerful tool for helping girls escape cycles of poverty and abuse and take control of their lives–remains beyond the reach of tens of millions of girls around the world. read more

The Raft by Peter Eisenstadt

I went to the J Street conference in Washington over the weekend. An interesting time was had by all. There were plenty of denunciations of Trump and Netanyahu, talk of resistance, plenty of interesting speakers, including several members of Knesset, US senators (Chris Murphy, Tim Kaine, Bernie Sanders), prominent Palestinians, diplomats, journalists, big machers from the American Jewish community, the whole ball of wax. There were a lot of enthusiastic young people, along with a fair number of curdled and cynical old timers like myself, old enough to have seen too many dreams smashed too often to hold out much hope, though I try to rain only on my parade and not the parades of others. read more

All Evil Begins With 15 Volts by Dr. Shira Gabriel


Social Psychologist Phil Zimbardo famously said, “All evil begins with 15 volts” in reference to the infamous Milgram electric shock experiments.

When I teach students about the Milgram studies, in which participants were asked to give electric shocks to another participant, I ask my students to guess whether they would have given the other participant a shock of 300 volts – a point at which the other participant had already been screaming in pain and begging to stop.  Every single student in my class says they would not have given the shock, and yet every single participant in Milgram’s study did. read more

David Ben-Gurion: Biblical Truth and Midrashic Truth by Matia Kam

King David

One of the greatest virtues of Tanach according to Ben Gurion has been “The truth, the unvarnished truth that shows no favoritism.” It is the truth “that has God’s imprint on it “ and therefore “there are few books in the world that have that biblical imprint.” As clear proof to that sharp biblical truth Ben Gurion invoked King David’s life story, “of his awesome deeds and shameful crimes,” as it unfolds in the book of Samuel (and in early Kings).

In a dispute with Israeli literary critic Avraham Kariv, Ben-Gurion used the full force of “the ethical and the Jewish” to reject the approach that “every verse came to universal and eternal life in the post Tanachic period;” he opposed the argument that “the Midrashic truth is superior to the Tanach truth.” read more

Why Acting Presidential Is Not Going To Happen by Ayala Emmett

Mr. Trump’s Press Conference

Last Thursday’s press conference was a shocking display of Mr. Trump’s inability to “act presidential,” a phrase he often used on the campaign trail. He would tell his audience that his wife and his daughter constantly urged him to be more presidential. In an interview on NBC in 2016, he promised, “I will be so presidential, you will be so bored.”

The press conference last week was most alarming because it was clear that Mr. Trump was incapable of fulfilling his promise to be presidential. This serious failing is more than style, demeanor, or manners. It is lodged in the fact that in the array of socially available roles, the only role that Donald Trump is able to occupy is that of an “I”/“Me” of a self-absorbed person. For him the political is always entirely personal. He responds to all questions and crises not in the role of president, but as a person praised or attacked, loved or aggrieved. read more

Harold Wechsler: Home Run Hitter by Peter Eisenstadt


My beloved friend, Harold Wechsler, died suddenly, tragically, of a heart attack last Friday in his New York City apartment. Just last October we celebrated his 70th birthday. I am stunned, bereft, at a loss for words though I know that I have to write about him.

I first met Harold in 1996, a few months after I moved to Rochester from New York City. A mutual friend suggested that we get together. At the time, he was teaching at the School of Education at the University of Rochester. About a decade later he was hired away by NYU, where he was, until last week, the professor of Jewish Education and Educational History at the Steinhardt School of Education. We hit it off.   There were a lot of things we had in common. We both were historians, we both were interested in Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history.   And we both were baseball fans. Although we did a variety of things together, including during the cold and dark baseball-less months of November to March (which, believe me, in Rochester, are very dark and very cold) we primarily went to baseball games. We first went to a game together at Frontier Field, the home field for the Rochester Red Wings, in 1996, the year the new stadium opened in Rochester, and we soon were going to a game every month, every other week, or even more frequently. In 2012, the summer after Lynn Gordon, his wife died (after a long fight with cancer) we were going to multiple games every week. read more