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Sundown: Larry David Goes Native

Plus saving the earth from synagogues, an identity musical, and more

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• For a strange and degrading appearance on Lopez Tonight, Larry David took a DNA test and host George Lopez revealed that the comedian “really is a bad Jew,” as he is, supposedly, 37 percent Native American. [Monsters and Critics]
• The overzealous printing of Torah-study pamphlets by Israeli synagogues has led to a garbage crisis, as the holy pages must be disposed in special genizah bins and then buried; an environmental group is encouraging publishers to refrain from printing whole Bible verses and using God’s name, which will allow the sheets to be recycled. [Arutz 7]
• Congratulations to Irina Reyn, who won the Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers for her 2008 book, What Happened to Anna K. [Foundation for Jewish Culture]
• Joel and Ethan Coen have a marketing video for A Serious Man that seems to be especially for the tribe (much like the flick itself), in which they discuss “the aspects of Jewish arcane that are in the movie.” [JTA]
• In My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, a new musical now running in Toronto, playwright David Hein explores “what it means to be Jewish in a multi-hyphenated world.” [Canadian Press]

Being Jewish Made Kunstler a Radical

Legendary lawyer’s daughters speculate as their documentary opens

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“I’m not a self-hating Jew,” the radical lawyer William Kunstler says in William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, a documentary opening today. “Anyone who knows me knows I love myself.” Kunstler became famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—for defending the Chicago Seven, the Catonsville 9 (who burned draft files to protest Vietnam), Meir Kahane’s killer, and one of the defendants in the Central Park jogger attack, among others. This film, made by his two younger daughters, is “a refresher course on the history of American left-wing politics in the 1960s and ’70s as well as an affectionate personal biography,” says New York Times critic Stephen Holden. Born into an upper-middle-class New York City family, Kunstler followed a clean-cut path to the Ivy League and then World War II service. So what turned him radical? In an interview with Gothamist, Sarah Kunstler noted her late father’s “profound sense of injustice and empathy for oppressed peoples” and said that she and her sister have “been wondering if it had anything to do with growing up Jewish during the first half of the 20th century.” She explained: “When dad graduated from law school in 1948, none of the top law firms would higher Jewish lawyers. Most Jewish lawyers from that period started their own firms or went into private practice. I think that on some level, being treated as an outsider made dad think more creatively about what to do with his law degree. Conforming just wasn’t an option. So when the ACLU asked him to go to the South to observe the arrests of Freedom Riders, he leapt at the chance.”

Radical Lawyer’s Appeal (and Rebuttal) [NYT]

Emily and Sarah Kunstler, Filmmakers
[Gothamist]
Daughters of Infamous Lawyer Assess his Legacy in ‘Kunstler’ [Jweekly]

Irving Booked UES Catholic Center; Center Says Talk Is Cancelled

But Irving says it’ll go on

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Irving arriving at the Oxford Union in 2007.(Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

Yesterday, we reported that Holocaust revisionist David Irving was scheduled to give a talk in New York City on Saturday, in a secret location that would be announced to registered audience members only at last minute. This afternoon, a group called New Yorkers Against David Irving announced that they’d discovered Irving’s planned venue: the Catholic Kolping Society on the Upper East Side, an outpost of a Catholic fraternal society based in Cologne, Germany. Irving booked the venue under a fake name, the anti-Irving group said, adding that after its members contacted the Society, the event was canceled. A receptionist at the Society house, who would not give his name, said that someone claiming to be named Michael Singer came to the house “a couple of days ago” to schedule a book reading for Saturday, but had not yet left a deposit when the Society started getting calls warning that the speaker was actually Irving.

Reached for comment, Irving confirmed that the talk was planned for the Kolping Society. “We have a valid contract, and we’re going to go ahead with that,” he said. “We’ll be there at 7 p.m.” When a similar situation occurred in Toronto, he said, “I turned up, and my entire audience turned up, and that was the end of that. I’m sure that the Kolping Society will see reason.” He said that the Society’s claim of canceling the event was a “smokescreen” and that he will still speak there—as, he added, he’d previously done, in 2004. A Society spokeswoman denied both those claims. “He has no contract at all,” she said. “There’s absolutely no contract. He cannot come in the building.”

UPDATE: New Jersey Residents Against David Irving, a counterpart to the New York anti-Irving group, has announced that an American Legion post in the town of Wayne has canceled a lecture Irving had been scheduled to give there tonight.

Earlier: David Irving to Speak in New York, Secretly

Rubashkin Found Guilty of 86 Fraud Charges

Sentencing, plus a second trial, on immigration charges, still to come

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Sholom Rubashkin, former manager of the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, was convicted yesterday in federal court of 86 financial fraud charges. Rubashkin’s sentencing date has not yet been scheduled, but he will likely be sentenced to hundreds of years in prison, the AP is reporting. In addition, he still faces a second trial on 72 immigration charges. Agriprocessors declared bankruptcy last year several months after a federal immigration raid in which nearly 400 undocumented workers were arrested.

In a jury trial held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (defense attorneys feared that Iowa jurors would be biased against Rubashkin because of pretrial publicity), Rubashkin was found guilty of bank fraud, making false statements to a bank, mail fraud, and money laundering, the Des Moines Register reports. He was found not guilty of five additional charges of failing to pay livestock providers within a 24-hour window required by law. Defense attorneys “tried to portray Mr. Rubashkin as a bumbling businessman who was in over his head,” said the AP, but prosecutors successfully countered in his closing arguments that “Mr. Rubashkin had been aware of the fraud at the plant and that to assume otherwise was ‘ridiculous.’”

Rubashkin’s attorneys say they intend to appeal. They are also seeking to dismiss the charges related to money laundering because, they say, Rubashkin did not profit from the crime. “It’s unbelievable,” Rubashkin’s daughter Roza Weiss told the Argus Leader, a Sioux Falls paper. “My only comment is, we’re Jewish and we’re proud of it.” The Rubashkins are part of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

Jury: Fmr. Slaughterhouse Manager Guilty of Fraud [AP]
Sholom Rubashkin Guilty on 86 Charges in Fraud Trial Involving Postville Meat Plant [Des Moines Register]
Rubashkin Found Guilty on 86 Counts [Argus Leader]

AP: Radicalism on the Rise in Mideast

As Iran holds its ground and hope of peace talks recedes

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As news headline writers struggle daily to come up with different ways to say “No Progress on Peace Talks” and “Iran’s Gonna Do Whatever it Damn Well Pleases,” the Middle East in general is becoming more susceptible to radical anti-Israel factions, according to the Associated Press. Actually, as the news service puts it, the region is “backsliding toward name-calling and saber-rattling, and away from the goal of a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world.”

Recently, Syrian President Bashar Assad, who once held out hope for negotiations with Israel, said that peace will only come “through resistance.” Earlier this week, Hassan Nasrallah, the Iran-backed head of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which now holds 10 of the 30 seats in the Lebanese government, upped his rhetoric against President Barack Obama, who he says has facilitated “absolute American commitment to Israeli interests, Israeli conditions, and Israeli security … while disregarding the dignity or feelings of the Arab and Muslim people.” Even Israel’s old friend Egypt has increasingly turned against it, both culturally and politically. Also not helping: The fact that the Obama administration has increasingly backed away from its initial insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze in the Palestinian territories, not to mention Israel’s hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who, says the AP, “has said Israeli-Arab lawmakers who meet Palestinian militants should be executed and the president of Egypt could ‘go to hell.’”

All of this is music to Iran’s ears: “[W]ith peace efforts stalled, the first time Iran uses its leverage in the Arab world to support another armed conflict against Israel, the election debacle will be quickly forgotten.”


Mideast Radicals Fill Space Left by Peace Impasse
[AP]

Chabad Conference Comes to Town

How to feed 4,000 rabbis

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Chabadniks praying in Brooklyn last year.(Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

The Chabad Men’s Annual Kinus, a conference for Chabad’s emissaries from all over the world, began yesterday in Brooklyn. Everything is staying local this year, with the enormous final banquet set for Sunday night at the Bedford Armory, at the edge of Chabad’s home neighborhood, Crown Heights. (Last year’s banquet at Chelsea Piers apparently required Herculean logistical support to get the several thousand attendees to the western shore of Manhattan.) The enormous armory, with 92-foot ceilings, will play host to 4,000 rabbis for the closing meal and require 7,000 square yards of burgundy event carpeting, 20 different kinds of lighting, and, somehow, an effective coat check for those 4,000 identical hats. Some other statistics on the banquet:

Months of prep work: 4
City licenses needed for the event: More than 10
Tractor-trailers needed to transport event equipment:5
Length of lighting and power cables used: 7 miles
Workers required to assemble and then break down the hall: 40
Simultaneous translations of the speeches: 3 (Russian, Hebrew, French)
DVD copies of the event that will be produced overnight for Monday morning distribution: More than 6,000

And what does it take to feed the 4,000 Chabad emissaries, known as shluchim, for the four-day conference? According to Bentzion Cohen Catering:

Total meat meals served: 15,500
Total dairy meals served: 6,500
Chickens used: 12,500 chickens
Pounds of margarine used: 55
Gallons of soup prepared: 2,500
Rugelach baked: 5,000

What Will Happen to the P.A.?

Speculation on a post-Abbas Palestinian Authority

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Abbas at a rally commemorating the fifth anniversary of Arafat's death on Wednesday.(Omar Rashidi/PPO via Getty Images)

Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t rescinded his announcement that he won’t be running for a second term as Palestinian Authority president, but he’s agreed to postpone the P.A. elections that he had previously scheduled for January. Hamas, the party that controls Gaza—and has a worsening relationship with Abbas’ Fatah party in the West Bank—had refused to participate in those elections, so the postponement is viewed as a last-ditch effort by Abbas to avoid formalizing the divisions between the two territories.

The pressing questions about Abbas’ putative retirement, then, may be slightly less pressing, but no less confusing. First and foremost, is Abbas really planning to step down? He has, as the Economist points out, threatened resignation before. “Some of the Palestinian leader’s aides, however, insisted that this time he would go,” the magazine reported. “Others predicted that he would be persuaded to stay. Still others speculated that he could drop his post as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), while continuing to wield power as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the umbrella organisation that embraces an array of nationalist groups, and as head of Fatah.”

And if Abbas does step down, who will replace him? No one’s exactly jumping for the job, but the most frequently named successor is Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader who helped organize the first and second intifadas, and is popular within Hamas as well. The problem with Barghouti is that he’s serving five life terms in Israeli prison. If he were to win the election, Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister of Israel and a friend of Abbas, writes in the Forward,a whole new set of questions would emerge: “Will Israel release Barghouti from jail and negotiate with him? Or will Israel’s leaders express a sigh of relief and feel justified in refusing to negotiate with someone they consider a terrorist?”

And then there are the more drastic possibilities. Some Fatah officials are considering unilaterally declaring an independent Palestinian state along 1967 borders, and then demanding “the UN to come and drag the occupation forces from our land,” as an Abbas aide told the Financial Times. There’s also a proposal to internally dismantle the P.A. in protest of its lack of real power, the paper said.

In any case, the portrait of Abbas that is emerging is of a man who is resigned in the emotional if not yet in the political sense of the word. As Beilin put it, “Abu Mazen never much liked power, never liked being president, and he eagerly awaits the day he will leave his job.”

Mahmoud Abbas Puts Off Palestinian Elections After Hamas Opposition [Guardian]
Will He Jump? [Economist]
Missing the Abu Mazen Opportunity [The Forward]
Fatah Signals New Strategy if Abbas Quits [Financial Times]

Today on Tablet

Powerful images and images of power

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Orlee Maimon presents a slideshow of photographs by Frederic Aranda, whose current exhibition in London is called “Kosherface” and features images of Hasidic Jews. Liel Leibovitz explores the ideas of power and authority in this week’s haftorah. And, of course, much more to come here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Rubashkin Convicted

Plus a Ponzi scheme in Florida, Nazi imagery, and more in the news

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• Shalom Rubashkin was convicted of 86 out of 91 fraud charges during his tenure as owner of the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in Iowa; “combined sentences could reach over 1,250 years,” says the JTA. [JTA]
• Meantime, the Ponzi scheme allegedly perpetrated by Florida attorney Scott Rothstein is growing in scope as the FBI investigates and is now suspected to involve over $1 billion and thousands of investors in the United States and abroad. [AP]
• A B’nai Brith Canada ad in the National Post pointed out the “common objectives of Nazism and radical Islam”; the group Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors is angry that Jewish leaders would “trivialize the Shoah.” [JTA]
• But Pro-Palestinian protesters in Brazil carried posters of Israeli President Shimon Peres, who is currently visiting their country, sporting a telltale mustache and labeled “Shimon Hitler.” [Ynet]
• And the EveryOne Group for International Cooperation on Human Rights Culture is encouraging Israel to buy the house where Hitler was born in Austria and turn it into a Holocaust art gallery, which would ease the mind of the town’s mayor, who fears the property will “fall into the hands of extremists.” [JPost]

Sundown: Have You Hugged a Jew Today?

Plus elections deferred, spilling the beans, and more

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• To mark the creation of a bizarre new Facebook group naming today “Hug a Jew Day,” the Jewish Chronicle asked a few (all male) minor celebs who they would like to embrace; two of them unimaginatively chose Sarah Silverman. Maybe it would be a good day for Sacha Baron Cohen to revisit the Today show. [JC]
• In the wake of President Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement that he will not run for reelection and might even resign, and Hamas’s refusal to allow residents of Gaza to vote, the Palestinian Authority has determined that elections cannot take place in January as planned; no other date has yet been proposed. [NYT]
• Alysa Stanton, the first black female rabbi, has taken the pulpit at Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C.; according to one member, “The women run this congregation.” [Forward]
• An article about the traditional Jewish stew cholent—a piece that, for unexplained reasons, is framed as a conversation between an unnamed doctor and chef—offers recipes, and an abridged history of beans. [Haaretz]
• For a Muslim community meeting to prepare for backlash after the Fort Hood shooting, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg counter-productively invited Siraj Wahhaj, who was declared an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1995 World Trade Center Bombing. Whoops! [NYDN]
• This Monday, a Bay Area theater is staging a reading of Caryl Churchill’s controversial play Seven Jewish Children paired with a reading of a play written in response, Israel Horovitz’s What Strong Fences Make; although “the plays sit on opposite sides of a controversy,” one audience member at a previous performance said they “described the same reality: both sides trapped by the justification for everything they do.” [Berkeley Daily Planet]

‘Harper’s’ Writer Finds U.S. Crypto-Jews

Finds descendents of Inquistion-era forced converts in New Mexico

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Curiosity sparked by a children’s book about a Hispanic boy descended from Crypto-Jews (those forced to convert during the Inquisition to Catholicism who secretly kept up various Jewish practices)—and by his own childhood, in which his mother asked him to pretend that he was Unitarian so neighbors in their Bible Belt town wouldn’t ostracize him—Theodore Ross headed to New Mexico in search of genuine American Crypto-Jews. He offers a chronicle of what he found in the December issue of Harper’s Magazine; the expansive article is currently available in print only.

Some folks he met remember relatives lighting Friday night candles, attending religious services on Saturday not Sunday, and avoiding shellfish and pork—practices they thought were local customs, not Jewish ones, until they learned they were part of this semi-obscure demographic. Ross also met a Catholic priest who took a DNA test that confirms he descends from the priestly caste of kohanim and a rabbi who oversees the conversions of Crypto-Jews back to traditional Judaism so they can, under Israel’s law of return, move there and create, Ross writes, “a sort of anti-Muslim neutron bomb”—that is, populate the country.

There are a few problems in Ross’s piece. He admits to having projected onto Crypto-Jews a “needful hope in their existence,” but never fully explores the source of that need. Though generally meticulous in defining Hebrew terms, going as far as calling the tzitzit by its proper name, tallit katan (small prayer shawl), he gets Judaism’s essential prayer, the Shema, wrong, misquoting its first words as “Hashem yisrael” rather than, “Shema yisrael.” (We concede that could’ve been a typo overlooked by a negligent fact-checker.) Finally, though, by reporting on a Messianic Jew who wears a yarmulke embroidered with the Hebrew words “Yeshua Ha’mashiach” (Jesus the Messiah) alongside the stories of real descendants of those forced to convert to Catholicism, Ross undermines the seriousness of his piece. He lumps legitimate historical claims and personal histories in with what seems to us to be little more than religious quackery, casting a somewhat cynical light on his whole enterprise.

UPDATE, November 16: Theodore Ross writes: “Just wanted to briefly respond to Sara Ivry’s blog post on my article ‘Shalom on the Range’ (‘Harper’s writer finds U.S. Crypto-Jews”). Sara correctly noticed the inaccuracy of the rendering of the Shema in the article. However, in defense of my stalwart fact-checker, I feel compelled to point out that the version used in the piece, with the word ‘Hashem’ rather than ‘Shema,’ is exactly the prayer as delivered by Father William Sanchez. It was my belief that readers would catch the mistake and enjoy the small joke of a Catholic priest leading me in a Jewish prayer and getting it wrong.”

Shalom on the Range [Harper’s]

David Irving to Speak in New York, Secretly

But protesters try to infilitrate Holocaust revisionist’s plan

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Irving leaving a debate at the Oxford Union in 2007.(Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

Notorious British Holocaust revisionist David Irving will be speaking in New York City on Saturday, but don’t ask him where. Because he tends to draw protesters, Irving has implemented an elaborate procedure on his current United States tour in which would-be attendees must register on his website, at which point, Irving said in an interview with Tablet Magazine, he uses screening software to weed out likely protesters. Those who pass the screening are then notified by email a few hours before the event about where it will take place. “We have to do that because various Jewish groups will go out of their way to smash me up,” Irving said.

Elan Steinberg, vice-president of a national organization called the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, told Tablet Magazine that Irving is scheduling his engagements this way for another reason. It’s “a way of disguising who he is to hotel managers and others who rent out public venues,” Steinberg said. “Time and time again, hotel managers, bookshops, etc, have allowed him to speak there not realizing who he is.” The American Gathering is therefore alerting the press that Irving will be in town, in the hope that venue managers will inquire into the identity of any mysterious guests who might be renting space on Saturday, Steinberg said. That strategy worked in Jackson, Mississippi, he said, when his group notified the city’s mayor that Irving planned to speak at City Hall, prompting Irving to move his talk to a different location.

In the case of his upcoming New York engagement, a spy-versus-spy situation has emerged: a group called New Yorkers Against David Irving is attempting to infiltrate the lecture; Irving, in turn, said that two of his followers were present at the protest organization’s planning meeting last night. Steinberg said that the American Gathering is not attempting to get on Irving’s email list, but that if he gets a tip on Irving’s whereabouts ahead of time, he’ll send his own email inviting members to go protest.

A talk Irving gave in Palm Beach, Fla., late last month, ended in violence, not between followers and protesters, but between two followers, one of whom police identified as a white supremacist, according to the Jackson Free Press. They got into a knife fight outside the meeting room.

Knife Fight at Holocaust Denier Book-Signing [Jackson Free Press]

Messinger: Jewish Service Must Be Real Service

Focus on needs, not college applications, says former NYC pol

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Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan borough president and Democratic mayoral challenger to Rudy Giuliani, had the good fortune of going to an elite private school (Brearley) and an even more elite college (Radcliffe) but she credits a much humbler venue with giving her the earthy edge she needed to become a New York City pol: the back of a garbage truck. “I was the only girl willing to go on the garbage run every day,” Messinger recalled last night at the Woolworth Building, where she was speaking at a ceremony celebrating the opening of the new Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU’s Wagner School, of her experience volunteering as a teenager at a settlement house in Beacon, New York. “It was really good training for my career in politics.”

Messinger, who now heads the American Jewish World Service—a kind of Jewish peace corps that runs humanitarian projects in developing countries—went on to argue that the ever-expanding array of volunteer programs designed to build Jewish identity through community service can only succeed if they provide concrete benefits to needy people. In other words, they have to be authentic service programs, and not make-work designed to foster a fuzzy tikkun olam experience. “I want, as Jewish service grows, to be sure that it pays respect to the Jewish notion that we have responsibility to others,” Messinger told the audience. “We have to focus on beneficiaries’ needs, not on the need of the volunteers to feel Jewish, or to get something on their college applications.”

Berman Jewish Policy Archive [BJPA]

Visit Ramallah in Luxury!

Territories’ first chain hotel coming soon to West Bank

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The first hotel chain to open an outlet in the West Bank will be Swiss company Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, which plans to open a luxury location in Ramallah this fall. Neal Ungerleider, who blogs as “Falafel Mafia” on “entrepreneurial journalism” site True/Slant, says that the hotel is currently hiring staff and will offer “172 rooms and suites, an executive floor, extensive conference and meeting facilities up to 800, all fully equipped with the latest audio-video technology, an all day dining restaurant, an Italian restaurant, two bars, pool with bar and restaurant in season.” It’ll be the only five star accommodations in the Palestinian city, he says.

Ungerleider points out that “the depressed Palestinian economy makes it impossible for all but the rich and upper-middle class to afford regular hotel stays,” which means the new business will likely cater primarily to business and political travelers, who tend to overnight on visits to the West Bank due to the lengthy bureaucratic process of getting in and out. He also posts a bleakly shot video introduction to Ramallah, which promises that “it’s always fun to walk around, even if you weren’t looking for something,” but ends on a somber note: “Ramallah is great,” reads a caption, “but do you know what lies beyond our city? A Wall. Separation. Isolation. Checkpoints.”

Hotel Chains Discover the West Bank [True/Slant]

Tablet’s Kirsch Makes Forward 50

‘This century’s first pre-eminent Jewish man of letters’

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Excuse us while we kvell for a moment: Adam Kirsch, Tablet Magazine’s book critic, has been named to this year’s Forward 50, the newspaper’s annual list of the most important American Jewish leaders. Here’s what the Forward had to say:

This year Adam Kirsch, 33, has cemented his position as this century’s first pre-eminent Jewish man of letters. A widely admired poet and essayist, his mind is exercised both by Jewish particularity and the broader world of culture. Both are evident in, for example, his biography of Benjamin Disraeli or when reminding readers of the New York Times that Ayn Rand was born Alissa Rosenbaum.… Yale professor Langdon Hammer — writing in The New York Times — praised the Harvard-educated Kirsch as a poet-critic akin to a previous “generation of poets who won positions in American colleges as literary critics” and even traced a lineage back to T.S. Eliot.

Mazel tov, Adam.

Adam Kirsch archive [Tablet]
Adam Kirsch: Benjamin Disraeli [Nextbook Press]

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