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Contributors
 

Meena Alexander
Jeff Barry
Richard Berengarten 1
Richard Berengarten 2
Richard Berengarten 3
Mashey Bernstein
Denise Duhamel
Geoffrey Heptonstall
Aamer Hussein
Neil Langdon Inglis
Laura Moser
Paschalis Nikolaou 1
Paschalis Nikolaou 2
Sean Rys
Maureen Seaton
Bina Shah
Carole Smith
Angela Topping
Julie Marie Wade
Ronaldo V. Wilson

Issue 21 Guest Artist:
Anne Noble

President: Peter Robertson
Vice-President: Sari Nusseibeh
Vice-President: Elena Poniatowska
Senior Editor-at-Large: Neil Langdon Inglis
Deputy Editor: Allen Hibbard
Deputy Editor: Geraldine Maxwell
Deputy Editor: Jerónimo Mohar Volkow
Deputy Editor: Bina Shah
Advisory Consultant: Jill Dawson
General Editor: Beatriz Hausner
General Editor: Laura Moser
General Editor: Malvina Segui
Art Editor: Calum Colvin
Deputy General Editor: Jeff Barry

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boullossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Sampurna Chattarji
Sarah Churchwell
Hollis Clayson
Sally Cline
Marcelo Cohen
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Siobhan Harvey
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Laurie Maguire
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Paschalis Nikolaou
Martha Nussbaum
Tim Parks
Molly Peacock
Pascale Petit
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Élisabeth Roudinesco
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Daniel Shapiro
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
Rebecca Swift
Susan Tiberghien
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Assistant Editor: Sara Besserman
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Conor Bracken
Assistant Editor: Eugenio Conchez
Assistant Editor: Patricia Delmar
Assistant Editor: Lucila Gallino
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Krista Oehlke
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Assistant Editor: Naomi Schub
Assistant Editor: Stephanie Smith
Assistant Editor: Robert Toperter
Assistant Editor: Laurence Webb
Art Consultant: Verónica Barbatano
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

 
Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. HAVDALAH Nov. 22, 1963
by
Mashey Bernstein
 

 



It is said that everyone in the United States old enough to remember anything can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Well, if one Jewish boy from Dublin, Ireland can also clearly remember the event, then maybe it is not an exaggeration that everyone in the Western world also has clear memories of that day in November, a day that began slow shift of the star-spangled 60's from Camelot to Apocalypse.

As someone just entering his teens in the early 60's, I believed in Kennedy the only way you could believe in someone then--completely. We hadn’t yet learned to look cynically and distrustfully or even apathetically at our leaders. We were innocent and the boyish Kennedy echoed that clean-cut optimism and innocence. It was our time: JFK, Pope John XX111 and a new group, the Beatles, sang our music. A cord of unity bound us all together. Our hearts and minds resounded to new sounds, new words, and new phrases: Ecumenism, Ask not what your country. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

In the past few months, all these figures had touched my life in one way or another. Like nearly every Dubliner, I had stood in the crowd along Dublin's main thoroughfare, O'Connell Street, to welcome Kennedy to Ireland. He was, after all, the first "Irish" President. We had been given the afternoon off school in honor of the event. In June of that year, I had been saddened by the death of John XX111. Despite my insular Jewish world, in a country like Ireland, it was impossible to escape the aura of that gentle, almost mystical man, so I felt it was no blemish on my Jewishness to be touched by his death.

But best of all, and here I felt that I stood on the threshold of history, I had seen the Beatles "live" on their first and only visit to Dublin, along with 3,000 other screaming kids. They played for only twenty minutes but the emotions they stirred up made us feel that the present was rich in our hands and we could all embrace the future unreservedly, full in the confidence that it was ours for the taking. Who had any reason to doubt that the future would not continue on its bright ascension?

It was already night-time in Dublin--eight hours ahead of Dallas, TX, --on that November night of 1963. It was erev Shabbos, and the scene at my house was the same as every Friday night. The family gathered around the large dining-room table, unlike the rest of the week when we ate in the kitchen. The atmosphere was bright: flaring candles, white tablecloth, cleanliness, freshness, satisfaction. We sang the traditional songs welcoming the Sabbath: Shalom Aleychem, Eshet Chayil. My father said the Kiddush over the wine. We ate the special Sabbath meal and sang special Sabbath songs, called z'mirot. My younger brother and I picked some trivial nonsense to fight over. My father's yarmulke balanced precariously on his head as once again the candles hypnotized him and he fell asleep under their spell.

Being an observant family, we did not have the television or radio on, believing that it was not in keeping with the Sabbath spirit. "Put aside the material, devote yourself for one day to the spiritual." So, on Friday nights I went for a lesson in Talmud, with a Rabbi who lived close by. To be honest, I wasn't that crazy about learning Talmud, as I never could figure out the way the ancient rabbis argued and digressed from the issues at hand and never seemed to arrive at any firm conclusions.

On that particular night, we were to start a new volume Betzah, all about the problems of an egg laid on a holiday, which didn’t promise to be any more interesting that the last tractate we had unsuccessfully tackled, Baba Metziah, which began with two men fighting over a prayer shawl.

The November air was crisp and the walk invigorating. I arrived refreshed and ready to learn; however, before I could take off my coat, the Rabbi asked me if I had heard the news. "What news?" I asked. "President Kennedy has been killed" "What! What!" I repeated like an autistic parrot. You walk on solid ground and suddenly you are flying through emptiness. A shot rings out and everything goes haywire. Even the rabbi, usually insulated in his Talmudic tomes, was stunned.

"Who told you?" I asked, hoping for an unreliable source.
"A neighbor came by. It was on the television."
I recited the blessing on hearing tragic news: "Baruch dayan haemeth." (Blessed is the True Judge) It was a testament to our acceptance of the irrational in our lives.

I was hungry for details but still it was the Sabbath and I was there for another purpose. We began to read the now even more alien Aramaic script. For an hour we tried to forget the world outside but its vibrations could be felt in every line we read.

After the lesson, I rushed home and told my parents the news. I begged them to put on the T.V. They refused. The spiritual prevailed for at least one more day. I missed the famous broadcast when Charles Mitchell, Ireland's leading broadcaster, read the news of the President's death with tears flowing down his cheeks. Thus we remained insulated in our little world of the Sabbath.

In the morning the paper arrived but already we sensed it was out of date as events tumbled hectically one after the other and speculation ran rife. And so the day passed, slowly and with dread, but full of the usual Sabbath rituals: morning services when many of the congregants were, like my family, unwilling to break the strict rules that governed our lives; a large Sabbath meal followed by a shlof, (a sleep) then back for more services and the traditional third meal. Being Orthodox, we walked everywhere and so I had the opportunity to gawk fleetingly in shop windows and hear the broadcasts briefly from the T.V's and radios--but nothing was clear.

And so we waited impatiently for the Havdalah ceremony that marked the end of Sabbath--just in time for the 6 p.m. news. Havdalah is a beautiful ceremony, rich in rituals and symbols. As usual, we gathered around my father who held an overflowing kiddush cup in his hands. In the darkened room, we could only see by the light of the braided candle which my brother held as high as "he wanted his bride to be." We sniffed a box full of spices to revive our spirits which, according to the mystics, were weakened by the departure of an extra soul which had joined us for the Day of Rest.

But on that night in 1963, the words of the service had a peculiar ring, one that I was absorbing for the first time. The words of the prayer struck me with a new and darker meaning: Hamavdil beyn koddesh lechol, beyn or le choshech,” He who divides between the sacred and the profane, between light and darkness.”

Somewhere deep down, further down than I could possibly comprehend at that moment, as the light of the candle was extinguished in the wine, I sensed that those words no longer contained the whole story. There was no easy way to block out the physical, to draw a distinction between the forces of good and evil. All that followed during that decade, all the other cruel blows to our hopes and faith, seemed inevitable. An emptiness had begun to creep in, a feeling that only those who had hoped for so much, only to have it wrenched away from them, could possibly understand.