The Jewish people are time-tested “experts” when it comes to prejudice. Over millennia, we have experienced its many manifestations, from subtle to life threatening. Volumes have been written about why, but to simplify: Sometimes it was because our religion was different. Sometimes it was because our traditions stood out. Sometimes it was because we were considered an inferior race.
Our understanding of human differences has changed dramatically. Many religions no longer claim to be the exclusive path to God. Diversity of traditions is more acceptable, at times even valued. And the science of genetics has all but erased the concept of race and recognizes that physical differences are the products of genetic mutations—variants caused by chance and evolution.
Still, we humans struggle with our differences, large and small. Old categories of discrimination remain deeply ingrained in our cultural and belief systems. Divisions that stem from living apart have left the many groups that make up humanity with endless work ahead in getting to know one another. That is the reason why Moment has its own anti-prejudice project, the Daniel Pearl Investigative Journalism Initiative (DPIJI). It’s named after Danny Pearl, who would have turned 48 this year had he not happened to be an American-Jewish reporter. He paid for this with his life. The people who killed him were warped by hatred rooted in prejudice.
In this issue, Eve Fairbanks, the young reporter who received this year’s DPIJI grant, will take you to a university in the heart of Afrikaner South Africa to experience the jubilation of integration at the end of apartheid, followed by painful voluntary re-segregation. It is not just a South African story; it is universal. And at its end, I promise, is hope that prejudice can be transcended.
The word “Jew” never appears in this story. So why do we devote space to it? Because as Jews, it is important for us to understand the many and varied prejudices today, to be better able to combat them. Those among us who are survivors of genocide—or their descendants—have an obligation to help others who suffer because of prejudice. This belief propels Moment co-founder Elie Wiesel, whom I talk with in this issue about his recent brush with death, and his fear that as survivors die off, future generations will forget the Holocaust.
Prejudice is also at the heart of our story about the history of the word “ghetto.” The changing meaning of this one word, first used to describe the separate neighborhood created by Venetians for Jews, is a virtual tour of prejudice from medieval to modern times. After a horrific stop along the way in Nazi Germany, the word has come to represent contemporary oppression of African Americans.
This issue breaks new ground with a truly illuminating look at the Middle East by a spectrum of stellar thinkers in a symposium that asks: Is the two-state solution dead? The differences in passionate opinion are both so dramatic and so nuanced that they transcend all the maddeningly clichéd platitudes we so often hear on this topic. Read it and be informed.
On another plane, we address the non-human species that share the planet with us. In “Ask the Rabbis,” we inquire into Judaism’s attitudes toward animals. In “Moment Mythbusters,” we trace the origins of the idea that Jews don’t like animals, and in “Talk of the Table,” we navigate the Jewish relationship with veganism, which, as it turns out, is not such a new idea after all.
As usual, our book section teems with pieces that you shouldn’t miss. In addition to my interview with Elie Wiesel, there’s Martin Indyk’s perceptive review of a new biography on the reclusive Menachem Begin, Alan Stone on Franz Kafka’s psychosexuality, and Erica Wagner on Elisabeth de Waal’s bold World War II novel The Exiles Return. (It was actually written immediately after the war but only published this year.) In recognition of the winners of our children’s book review contest, we publish our annual children’s book author interview with the wonderful Jane Yolen, author of The Devil’s Arithmetic and over 300 other books.
As we do each May, we celebrate national Jewish American Heritage Month. The theme this year is “American Jews in Entertainment,” and we transport you to the Beverly Hills home of comedy legend, Carl Reiner. Reiner riffs on his best pal—“2,000-year-old man” Mel Brooks—his favorite current comedians and TV shows, then croons Yiddish radio jingles in the mother tongue. Our Jewish Routes section highlights Washington, DC, Moment Magazine’s base, and home to Jews with a front row seat to power since 1795.
This is a truly special issue. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have enjoyed creating it.