Covid-19 and J.K. Rowling’s The Ickabog

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic last April, when celebrities around the world were lecturing us via tweet to stay home and wear a mask, British novelist J. K. Rowling took a different approach. As kids were forced to forego school and interactions with friends, she published a new children’s book and released it in free installments for families stuck at home. The novel, The Ickabog, was published in full this past Thanksgiving. Proceeds from sales of the book are donated to communities hurt most by COVID-19.

Rowling has said that the Ickabog story first came to her years ago, when her own children were young. She wrote the book during the period in which she wrote the Harry Potter books, and claims to have made no serious modifications since that time. Yet intentionally or not, The Ickabog may be the most serious literary indictment of the mass response to the COVID-19 epidemic published to date.

The cover of JK Rowling’s The Ickabog. This may be a stretch but note the corona (Latin: crown) artfully woven into the book logo.

I bought the book as a gift for my Harry Potter-loving 9-year-old, and first picked it up on the Sabbath after Hannukah. My family had just returned from Jerusalem, where the lack of tourists and the still-considerable virus restrictions cast a pallor on this normally magical time of year. After months of closures, the street vendors of Jaffa and Ben Yehudah streets finally had their Judaica and souvenirs proudly on display, albeit with few takers. Seemingly half of the usually bustling restaurants were temporarily shuttered or closed for good. I wasn’t in the mood to read more of the endless news about the pandemic, so I turned to my son’s Rowling book looking for a light fantasy escape.

Read the full essay at First Things

Why the Menorah Is the Most Enduring of All Jewish Symbols

At the beginning of this week’s Torah reading of B’ha’alotkha (Numbers 8-12), the Bible gives instructions for the daily kindling of the menorah.

The menorah has long occupied a prominent place in the Jewish imagination. From the time of its placement in the inner courtyard of the Tabernacle in the desert and later of the Temple in Jerusalem, to its rekindling after the Maccabees’ defeat of the Seleucids, to its central position on the Arch of Titus in Rome, to its modern repurposing as the emblem of Jewish revival by the state of Israel, few Jewish symbols have been as familiar or as evocative.

Fray Juan Ricci (17th Cent.) Sketch of the Menorah as Described in Exodus

And yet the Bible leaves unstated the significance of the menorah and its seven branches, its importance to the Temple, or its meaning and purpose with respect to the relationship between God and His chosen nation and perhaps beyond. On these matters, an examination of five key scriptural passages can shed light.

The full article may be read in Mosaic Magazine.

“Not to See By but to Look At”: Hanukkah and the Objectivists

At the beginning of the twentieth-century, modernist poets such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams revolutionized English and American poetry under the banner of “make it new.” For Pound in particular, poetry needed to be emancipated from traditional forms, excess verbiage and hackneyed thought patterns. Unlike the Romantic poet-prophets, for whom the vastness of nature was a reflection of their own inner emotions, modernist poets sought to develop new poetic forms and language to reflect the world in clear, concrete terms.  The new poetic ideal was, at least in theory, to “go in fear of abstractions,” or to “show” rather than to “tell.” In practice, however, both Pound and Eliot inherited many hackneyed tropes from their literary forebears, including a distinct anti-semitic strain that is apparent in both their poetry and other statements.

One offshoot of this initial wave of modernist innovators was a group of American, mostly Jewish, poets with secular inclinations who are sometimes referred to as the “objectivists.” These poets were inspired by Pound and Eliot but also rejected their heavy use of mythology and symbolism, and of course, their anti-semitism. Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen and Charles Reznikoff, among others, found themselves composing verse-libre, free verse, poems with a clear, concrete and also distinctly moral sensibility.

Continue reading ““Not to See By but to Look At”: Hanukkah and the Objectivists”