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This week, Tablet celebrates its 15th anniversary. We can think of no better way to mark this milestone than by saluting our heroes.

Introducing: The Sinai Awards

The following names belong to people who’ve made the world freer in the past few years—not necessarily calmer, or safer, or prettier—or whose work in previous years laid the groundwork for others to be able to fight for freedom in this moment.

To honor Sinai recipients, Tablet commissioned artist Judi Harvest to create a unique award, which you can see in the picture above. Handmade by traditional glass artisans in Italy from a lost-wax mold of a genuine piece of matzo baked in the Venice Ghetto, it is a beautiful, translucent emblem of the struggle toward freedom.

There is a Jewish mystical concept, rooted in the Talmud, called the Tzadikim Nistarim—or, as it came to be known via its Yiddish vernacular, the Lamed Vovniks. It refers to a Jewish belief that at all times there are 36 special people in the world; were it not for them—all of them, if even one were missing—the world would come to an end. All of which is our way of saying: We thank God for each of these human beings, and think you should, too.

A decade ago, Ayaan Hirsi Ali became the first recipient of an impromptu award offered by Tablet—which in a way makes her the patron saint of these prizes. Born Muslim in Somalia and subjected at age 5 to genital mutilation, Hirsi Ali became a leading feminist and atheist thinker. In the wake of 9/11, after seeing tapes of Osama bin Laden claiming “words of justification” from the Quran, she turned her critical eye on her own faith: “I picked up the Qur’an and the hadith and started looking through them, to check,” she wrote. “I hated to do it, because I knew that I would find bin Laden’s quotations in there.” Hirsi Ali had been highly regarded in elite spaces, especially for her defense of women and girls, but her decision to criticize Islam changed everything. She became a lightning rod of international notoriety and a target of constant death threats, which eventually forced her into hiding—earning her both fame and opprobrium.

In 2014, Brandeis University offered Hirsi Ali an honorary degree, which it then revoked in the wake of a mob whipped up by, among others, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It was, we wrote at the time, “a shameful reminder of how threatened we’ve all become by a public conversation that permits the expression of nuanced, complicated, even at times offensive ideas—meaning, any ideas at all worth their salt.” Since then, Ali has become braver, clearer, and stronger—a public intellectual who never shies away from calling out hypocrisy, injustice, and mistakes, including her own. In November 2023, Hirsi Ali abrogated the atheism she once fought so hard to advance and announced her conversion to the Christian faith, and she did so not quietly but by explaining, in detail, exactly what she had gotten wrong and why. “We are honored to offer [Hirsi Ali] a distinction merited by those who have struggled to carry their people from the house of bondage and into liberty,” we wrote 10 years ago, in these pages. Although she has, since then, changed in some respects, in all of the ways that matter, she is resolutely, genuinely, inspiringly the same.

Hailing from a deeply religious family in the village of Ghomi Kol in northern Iran, Masih Alinejad is, with her voluminous hair and even bigger voice, the antithesis and repudiation of everything Iran’s Islamist state ever intended: a woman from the mostazafeen or downtrodden class, in whose name the 1979 revolution was supposedly waged, but which instead led Iranians—girls and women especially—against its medieval ideology of inequality, repression, shame, and hate.

Today, Masih is president of the World Liberty Congress, a network of pro-democracy leaders battling repressive regimes across the globe. Her social media campaigns have brought the reality of both Iranian brutality and Iranian courage to a global audience, urging policymakers to support the people of Iran who fight for a free and peaceful future. For her journalism, activism, and political leadership, Masih faces ongoing threats to her life—including a 2019 plot by four Iranian intelligence agents to kidnap her on U.S. soil. For facing it all with unimaginable courage, she has our deepest admiration and enduring solidarity.

According to Hasidic tradition, the Lamed Vovniks are not just righteous but hidden, their world-sustaining work invisible to the crowd. No one could accuse Marc Andreessen, the 52-year-old technology investor, of blending in. At 6-foot-5, he literally stands above the crowd, his bald pate gleaming in the light like a helmet of medieval armor. But his work shaping a brighter future for America and the world is hidden in plain sight. In fact, you’re looking at it right now—whatever web browser you are using owes its existence to Andreessen’s pioneering creation of the Mosaic web browser as a University of Illinois graduate student. Andreessen didn’t invent the basic technologies behind the World Wide Web, nor was Mosaic the first graphical browser. It was just, simply, the first that was pleasurable to use for anyone who wasn’t a huge computer nerd. (The gods already have their fire. It’s the humans that need Prometheus.) After leaving academia, Andreessen founded Netscape and kicked off the first internet boom.

At Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm he runs with yin-to-his-yang business partner Ben Horowitz, Andreessen now has his sights on something even bigger. When almost everyone else in Silicon Valley believed that the future was in software and in China, Marc swam against the tide—refusing to work with Chinese communists. Instead, he chose to invest in American defense companies, manufacturing startups, and infrastructure firms. And in the middle of the pandemic, when so many other elites were locking down in fear and isolation, Andreessen published “It’s Time to Build”—an enduring manifesto of belief in humanity in general, and in America’s future specifically. In its wake, Andreessen Horowitz began pioneering an investment category that other VCs are now rushing to imitate: American dynamism.

Andreessen is a man who lives in the future, and calls us toward it with hope and confidence.

When Wikileaks was founded in 2006, it seemed like an innovative way to use new privacy technologies to combat increasingly aggressive attempts by governments and large corporations to control the news. George W. Bush’s “global war on terror” threatened democracy and freedom the world over by giving governments expansive new powers and capabilities to surveil their populations while denying the public basic information about what they were doing. Civil libertarians, which is a type of person that used to exist throughout Western societies including the U.S., were rightly alarmed.

Through Wikileaks, Julian Assange sought to harness the power of privacy technology to break the attempts of governments and security agencies to monopolize information that rightly belonged to the public—and thereby put themselves and their actions beyond democratic accountability. The attacks on Assange that followed suggested that the sickness might be more powerful than Assange’s remedy. Legacy journalists like Steve Coll, whose livelihoods and professional reputations rested on privileged leaks from security agencies, stridently denounced Assange as a threat to U.S. national security and insinuated that he was a Russian agent.

In 2010, the denunciations grew more virulent, as Wikileaks released video of a 2007 attack by U.S. Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters reporters, and published a trove of diplomatic cables and classified military assessments of the failed U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In that same year, two women came forward in Sweden and charged that Assange had coerced them into having unprotected sex—an offense that could have led to his extradition to the United States, which wished to try him for the crime of publishing U.S. government secrets. The threat led the Wikileaks founder to seek refuge in 2012 in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he spent much of the next decade living in a closetlike room. In 2019, the last of the Swedish sex charges was dropped for lack of evidence. Assange has since spent the past five years in British prisons on charges of skipping bail while awaiting a final hearing on a U.S. extradition request.

It should be clear to any sentient person by now that Julian Assange has been targeted by the U.S. government for the past 15 years for doing the most basic thing that journalists are tasked with doing in a democratic society, a responsibility which the press has now by and large completely abandoned—which is to make the actions of our government public, and to let the public judge whether or not they are right. The fact that in doing so he earned the hatred of U.S. security establishment goons, establishment journalists, right wingers in Congress, and fans of Hillary Clinton alike is further proof that he was doing his job.

It horrifies us that, as a consequence of doing his job, Assange has been deprived of his liberty for over a decade on flimsy pretexts that clearly violate prior legal norms. Even more horrifying is the knowledge that the type of official lawfare inflicted on Assange is now common treatment for anyone, from “insurrectionists” and “COVID-deniers” to FBI whistleblowers and Donald Trump, who oversteps the bounds of what the country’s hypersensitive elite is willing to tolerate. Standing up to tyranny is the bedrock on which our republic was founded. If we don’t want to lose it, we should start by demanding freedom for Julian Assange.

In a universe overrun by mediocrity and greed and driven by the dumbest imaginable politics, Olivier Assayas has given us the counterexample of an artist who has consistently pursued his own moral and aesthetic truths without fear while expanding the possibilities of his art.

Part Truffaut, part French Woody Allen, Assayas is the type of genius who resists any easy categorization, aside from the fact that he speaks very quietly and makes great films. If Irma Vep was so good that Hollywood is still remaking it a quarter-century later, and Personal Shopper made Kristen Stewart an international star, what is one to make of the fact that Assayas also made Carlos, which is by far both the most watchable and best-informed film ever made on the politics of the modern Middle East?

Assayas is proof of the possibility for intelligent life in the arts, at the same time as he is a consummate artist. Too bad there is only one of him.

In 2019, when Nayib Bukele was elected president of El Salvador, the country’s murder rate was a whopping 38 per every 100,000 residents, making it one of the most dangerous nations in the world. Three years later, that number plummeted to 7.8, about on par with the United States. He achieved this stunning transformation by breaking with his sclerotic left-wing party and committing instead to bold ideas and relentless execution. He showed compassion for ordinary people by cracking down on the country’s gangs who made life terrifying and unlivable for the country’s poor and middle-class citizens. Tens of thousands of homicidal thugs were placed in large detention centers, making it very clear that crime no longer paid in the “Land of Volcanoes.” He also withdrew recognition of Venezuela’s malevolent Marxist regime, supports Israel against Hamas, and continues to show the world what a government can achieve when it’s run by men of courage and virtue who put common sense and their nation’s interests above all.

Ted Cruz’s critics deride him as an obnoxious know-it-all who believes he was chosen by God for a mission. They’re right. Unfortunately for them, though, so is he—about a lot of things. In his decadelong stint as a senator from Texas, he has made few friends, with most of his party’s senior leaders repeatedly criticizing his language and legislative proposals alike as being beyond the pale of politics as usual.

But here is a partial list of things he has gotten right when everyone else has been misguided: unwinding the U.S. from the Iran deal, including the decertification, withdrawal, reimposition of energy sanctions, and reimposition of nuclear sanctions; killing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; passing the SCRIPT Act, which drove a wedge between Hollywood and China; standing with protesters in Hong Kong, and more. His recent grilling of Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the Gaza war and Hamas funding was not pretty, but it is required watching.

If Ted Cruz’s best work is fueled by your disdain, hate away. God knows the country needs it.

George Deek’s grandfather had second thoughts. With the Arab states promising to finish off the newly established Jewish state in 1948, he uprooted his family and fled to Lebanon. “My grandfather looked around him and saw nothing but a dead-end life as refugees,” Israel’s 40-year-old ambassador to Azerbaijan once told Tablet. So Deek’s grandfather returned home to Jaffa, where his son became head of the Greek Orthodox community and his grandson became the country’s first Arab Christian ambassador.

We have been blessed to witness George lead first a group of Arabs singing a classic Egyptian song and then Israelis in a Hebrew melody, his beautiful voice expressing his open love for both traditions, cultures, and people. He’s one of Israel’s most accomplished public speakers, no small feat in a country where talk is a kind of currency. He speaks extemporaneously in complete paragraphs because his mind is capacious and generous, a place in the world where nothing is lost, the possible finds fertile ground, and all good things increase.

At first, it seemed like a cruel joke, or the premise for an early 1980s comedy. A sweatshirt-wearing giant is elected to the U.S. Senate on a wave of populist enthusiasm. It’s a great gimmick. All the cool kids and political consultants think so. They invite him and his pretty immigrant wife to parties, and take selfies with the big guy—a small town mayor who has successfully parlayed his image as a working stiff into a U.S. Senate seat which no one remotely believes he’s qualified to hold. He’s the butt of the joke, which everyone in D.C. gets except for him.

Except, maybe the guy is smarter than he looks. He knows that people are making fun of him. He knows that maybe they are right when they say that he is in over his head.

The stress of being a fish out of water, combined with a lifetime of bad eating habits, leads to a stroke, which plunges the new senator into a depression, which leads to hospitalization. When he emerges, he shuffles his feet and communicates with the outside world with halting grunts and nods, fumbling for simple words. For all anyone knows, he’s been lobotomized.

As his speech returns, a funny thing happens. He finds himself saying and believing the same things he said before he came to Washington, when he was trying to get elected. At first, the consultants think it’s a cool new gimmick. Then, as he defies the elitists on issue after issue, from immigration, to taxes, to the Gaza war, the cool kids turn on him. No one invites him to take selfies anymore. Instead, they spread rumors that his wife wants to divorce him.

His constituents love him, though. In fact, even the people who denounced him as a Trojan horse of the elites come to recognize that he’s the real deal—an honest man who is willing to speak his mind and stand up for what’s right. While career politicians have to resort to smear campaigns, underhanded legal maneuvering and attempts to censor and jail their opponents, while soliciting giant tranches of cash from billionaires, the senator’s popularity ratings soar over 70%—simply by speaking common sense, and holding positions that large majorities of Americans find reasonable.

Would you pay to see this movie? We would—at least 50, or better 100, times.

With most news outlets today functioning like Soviet propaganda organs, the task of informing American citizens about the workings of their own government has been taken up—when it’s done at all—by outcasts and whistleblowers like former FBI agent Stephen Friend. A onetime Georgia cop who later spent five years in the FBI, Friend broke ranks to expose how political corruption in the nation’s most powerful law enforcement agency had distorted the public’s perception of the Jan. 6 upheaval in Washington, D.C. In an appearance before Congress, Friend—who is Jewish—testified that the FBI manipulated data on domestic terrorism to create the false impression of a nationwide spike of cases tied to the protests and riots in the Capitol. Of course, the FBI responded by suspending Friend’s security clearance, effectively ending his career. We say kol hakavod.

Michel Houellebecq is French. And what’s wrong with that? OK, so he loathes humanity. His characters are ideas and types bereft of the pleasures and agonies of flesh-and-blood contradiction, and it is therefore impossible to feel empathy or fellow-feeling for them. His dank cultural pessimism is a familiar and feeble form of decadence. He’s been repeating himself for the past 15 years and recently starred in a porn film that he then tried to ban. Did we mention that he’s French?

In a world of globalized sameness, it makes sense that the most influential critic of les temps modernes would be a potbellied, chain-smoking Baudelaire who travels to Thailand (for what reasons, we couldn’t say) and is addicted to porn. Complaints about Houellebecq’s repetitive tastelessness are beside the point, especially in an America where a convicted real estate con man is again vying for the presidency with a desiccated corpse.

A born provocateur, Houellebecq is a necessary hero in a global culture built on monumental, destructive lies. If the author’s incel-like pornographic imagination and his fantasies of a Jewish self-deportation from a France ruled by an Islamist-Socialist coalition make New Yorker festival types sputter, the world of his fiction has turned out to be better rooted in reality than the fake reporting that aims to make unpleasant realities disappear. He should win the Nobel Prize. For now, a Sinai Award will have to do instead.

The 28-year-old author, podcaster, and jazz virtuoso is the most incisive critic of America’s demented mainstream racial discourse, which means people who can’t refute him are constantly accusing him of being a shill. Earlier this month, the View’s Sunny Hostin called Hughes a “charlatan,” a “pawn of the right,” and worst of all a “conservative” for having the chutzpah to write a book arguing that race-based public policy is not in fact the solution to American racism. Time and again, Hughes is in the position of having to publicly engage with people whose entire professional and moral context forces them to treat a free human mind as if it belongs to a space alien.

This would be enough to drive nearly any thoughtful person insane, but Hughes sustains an unreal degree of composure as he tangles with people who think he’s beneath them, as if drawing off of commitments infinitely deeper and more real than whatever it is his counterparts are attached to. Take, for example, a Nov. 20 Substack post in which Hughes dismantles the idea that opposition to Israel is a necessary part of the African American struggle, an infantile idea tossed off by author Ta-Nehisi Coates and Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah and others. “When ideologues co-opt the African American freedom struggle and compare it to the Palestinian national movement, they do black Americans a grave disservice,” he wrote. In contrast to the openly genocidal Hamas, “Black Americans (aside from a fringe) did not seek to dominate and destroy white society … African Americans pursued equality before the law and better economic circumstances.”

But his March appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast was where he really showed off. Hughes guided the country’s leading broadcaster away from libels about an Israeli-perpetrated genocide not with emotion or hysteria but by calmly explaining the problems with the Gaza Health Ministry casualty count, and elucidating Hamas’ battle doctrine of deliberately endangering Palestinian civilians. Among people who can command respect from both View-watchers and the Rogan crowd, almost none of them have Hughes’ intellectual credibility, never mind his absolute self-control.

A Mandarin-speaking moderate Republican who will happily work for Democrats and the first American ever to serve as ambassador to both Russia and China, the former Utah governor has a resume from an earlier, more agreeable, less bilious era of American politics. He could have gone the usual route and spent his bipartisan credibility on something pointless, like flirting with a failed No Labels presidential run, or accepting a medium-stakes ambassadorship. Instead, one of the most sober-minded, universally respected, and hyperaccomplished political figures of his era decided to focus his gravitas on something far more useful—namely, the underangement of American higher education.

In the aftermath of Oct. 7, Huntsman, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus and former university trustee whose family foundation has donated tens of millions to the school, sent a scorcher of a letter to university President Liz Magill. The institution had failed to condemn the slaughter and was generally awash in brain-killing, anti-Israel poison, and one of its leading alumni wanted nothing to do with it anymore. The Huntsman family had given its last dollar to Penn, Huntsman informed her. “The University’s silence in the face of reprehensible and historic Hamas evil against the people of Israel (when the only response should be outright condemnation) is a new low,” Huntsman wrote. “Silence is antisemitism, and antisemitism is hate, the very thing higher ed was built to obviate.”

Magill isn’t president of Penn anymore: Her resignation on Dec. 11 was one of the few convincing pieces of evidence post-10/7 that things really can change for the better. It wouldn’t have happened without Jon Huntsman.

On the American scene two epidemiologists—Jay Bhattacharya, M.D., from Stanford, and Martin Kulldorff, M.D., formerly of Harvard—opposed the West’s initial response to COVID, which imitated aspects of China’s authoritarian zero-COVID lockdown. They helped co-author the Great Barrington Declaration, signed by 60,000 M.D.s and public health scientists, which warned that locking down the healthy wasn’t standard pandemic practice, would increase non-COVID deaths, devastate the poor, and harm the mental health of the young. Both men showed there are two types of public health: an authoritarian version, which uses coercion, mandates, restrictions of civil liberties, and which underperforms while sowing distrust of public health, and a participatory version (practiced in Japan and Sweden), which eschews coercion, instead working to better educate, while preserving civil liberties. They demonstrated the authoritarian model rested on maintaining an illusory scientific consensus through censorship. Both men, prepared to face down the many harms they suffered for dissenting, were inspirational models of civility in public discourse, scientific probity, and courage.

Mark Laita had a successful career making pictures used in advertising for some of the world’s most iconic brands—including BMW, Louis Vuitton, Apple Inc., Arpels, Estée Lauder, and more. After years of capturing parts of our world that are most attention-getting, most spotlit, most visible, he decided to turn his camera on what was left in the shadows. He began interviewing people who are invisible in American society—“the unhoused, the sex worker, the chronic drug user, the runaway, the gang member, the poor and the sick.”

To date, Laita has done more than 5,000 interviews, with almost 2,000 on a YouTube channel that now has 5.5 million subscribers. Each video is a heartbreak. “These people, especially the ones on Skid Row, their self-worth is broken. It’s broken,” he said in an interview. “They don’t believe they deserve anything better than to live in a cardboard box or a tent on a sidewalk.” Laita has managed to get people to pay attention to those in pain, which in this media environment should be considered a simple, real, and genuine mitzvah.

Laita has made himself look, and made us look, at a part of America in the 21st century that no one wants to see. Now what are the rest of us going to do about it?

These days, the act of bearing witness has become a sanctified charade exemplified by charlatans like Bono who make the global rounds in carbon-spewing private jets inveighing against climate change and urging everyone to get vaccinated by Big Pharma. By contrast, Bernard-Henri Lévy travels light and, at the age of 75, continues to put himself in constant physical danger to awaken the world to the real moral quandaries of our time, whether they are blessed by the Davos elites or not. If BHL has spent much of the past two years on the front lines (literally) of the Russian-Ukrainian war, he has spent equal time documenting the slaughter of Christians in Nigeria and the rape and murder of Israelis by Hamas.

Lévy’s activism is a reminder that a higher moral standard indeed exists and is grounded not in cozy self-serving arrangements among elites and their contempt for ordinary people but in the humanistic values of the West, which for Lévy are deeply grounded in Jewish texts and faith. Lévy’s ability to deeply engage with political questions of the moment while maintaining the long view of Western civilization and rejecting all forms of totalitarian thought makes him a model thinker whose opinions and activism fit uneasily with the agendas of both the contemporary left and the contemporary right. For us, the discomfort he causes is the root of his appeal.

Conor McGregor, that maniac, is the closest thing we have today to a hero from ancient (i.e., pagan) mythology. He swoops in on horseback, channels his mystic side to predict the outcome of his own fights, slays his enemies in epic contests, and, on those occasions when he loses a bout, has shown himself (most of the time) a model for how to suffer a defeat without slinking into despondency and while maintaining one’s honor and sense of the future. McGregor is not always a nice fellow, he can be a lout and a drunk and at times a bully, but that’s all part of the same package that made him, at his best, heroic. Above all, he’s shown himself to be free as he stood up to the censorious dishonesty of his own government in Ireland. Tough times call for rough men. McGregor might not be the ideal guest at a Seder, but if we’re going to war, we want him on our side.

A Jewish professor we know once likened Jews to Scots: Both tend to be argumentative, self-deprecating, and good with money—and both strike the English as having a chip on their shoulder. So maybe we shouldn’t be shocked that the most eloquent British champion of Israel since Oct. 7 has been the upstart son of a Gaelic-speaking father. But Murray had a head start, penning The Strange Death of Europe, warning about the collision between an increasingly self-loathing West and poor but culturally assertive Muslim immigrants, back in 2017. As we witness the spectacle of America’s privileged youth chanting “Death to America!” alongside the children of recent arrivals, Murray stands out as a reminder: We can’t say we weren’t warned.

Half of what he says is hype and another part is bunk. He’s a digital age Barnum, running a three-card monte game bankrolled by the CIA, China, and meme lord investors on Wall Street. He turned Twitter into a dumpster fire fueled by hate.

Now think of where we’d be without him.

In an age of crushing hyperconformity, Elon Musk is the good version of Donald Trump. He’s a hype man who actually builds things. And in a moment of supreme peril for the free expression of ideas, Musk spent a fortune to ensure that at least one large and influential social media platform welcomed free speech. Equally important, he came clean on at least some part of the way that the platform formerly known as Twitter had been trying and often succeeding in its efforts to rig public discourse in collusion with the U.S. government while gaslighting hundreds of millions of people by insisting that they weren’t.

It’s a stark and reprehensible mark of this moment that basic human freedoms are increasingly the province of the rich. Nearly alone among his peers, Musk has chosen to exercise those freedoms in a way that clearly benefits others—not by donating token sums to fashionable causes, but by putting his own reputation and fortune on the line. Where The Washington Post and The New York Times see whitewashing government propaganda and lies as part of their mission to “save democracy,” Musk defends actual democracy in speech, thought, and action. Without him, the world would be a darker place.

American Jews, Rejoice! You have nothing to fear! The whole world is bathed in the divine light of creation. We are on the cusp of a revolutionary breakthrough that will bring us closer to the full potential that Hashem intended. All that is necessary is that we keep our covenant and observe His commandments.

One of the greatest American Jews of the modern era, a hero of our people, is a young man whose name we still don’t know but whose face, immortalized in a viral video, will be remembered as a symbol of Jewish strength through mitzvot. As kaffiyeh-clad protesters at UPenn marched through campus a week after Oct. 7, this young man, though visibly shaken, stood outside with a Chabad rabbi to put on tefillin and recite the words of the Hebrew prayers while the marchers passed behind them chanting “Intifada! Intifada!”

Each of us can be like this young man. And now we have him to help light the way.

Many of us last read Harry Potter as kids. Looking back now, even for those of us with only a fuzzy memory of the details of the plot (boy learns he’s a wizard, fights evil, gets girlfriend, etc.), a distinct theme running through the series sticks with us as adults: that institutions can be corrupted, that the grown-ups who claim to know better often don’t, and that most people will resent you for saying so—even if, and maybe especially if, you’re right. But you still have to say so, because if you don’t, who will?

J.K. Rowling stuck her neck out seven years ago, when “experts” decided that yes, of course, women can have penises and that double mastectomies should be considered “lifesaving care” for children, and only a bigot could think otherwise. Now that so many are slinking away from this mania, spare a thought for the woman who dared to say that 2+2=4 at a time when it was extremely unfashionable to do so.

Just a few years ago, the mainstream consensus was that critical race theory (CRT) didn’t exist. Then the consensus became, sure, it exists, but don’t try to do anything about it, especially not through authoritarian tactics like public debate and winning elections. Right wingers will pounce!

Fast-forward a few years, and 28 states have passed anti-CRT measures, thanks almost entirely to the activism of Christopher Rufo—who also claimed the scalp of a plagiarizing Harvard president in the process.

Tyranny in the United States doesn’t operate by direct repression, but by convincing you that there’s no point in resisting, and that social and professional death will come for anyone dumb enough to try. But Rufo did it, and he’s winning. So what’s your excuse?

In August of 2022, Salman Rushdie was rushed on stage by an assailant and stabbed numerous times. He lost an eye, but not his courage or, hallelujah, his commitment to the humanistic tradition that has always urged mankind to appeal to the better angels of its nature.

Rushdie’s memoir of the attack and its aftermath, Knife, does more than merely tell the story in a deeply moving way; it reclaims literature’s power to shape and elevate our lives, the exact same power his feverish would-be assassin sought to deny him. That alone would have been enough—dayenu. But Rushdie also remains, nearly alone among our faddish literati, staunchly committed to standing up for what matters, from supporting Charlie Hebdo in the aftermath of the murderous attack on that publication to speaking out clearly against Hamas’ murderous marauders.

Having a facility with words may make one a good writer, but truly understanding why books matter—and the price we must pay for great art to thrive in inhospitable political climates—is what makes Rushdie a writer for the ages.

For years, many American Jews would spend part of the Passover Seder recounting the saga of a 5-foot-2-inch real life Jewish superhero: For the crime of requesting an exit visa to move to Israel, the chess prodigy and mathematician Natan Sharansky spent nearly a decade in the Soviet gulag, much of it in tortuous solitary confinement, playing chess games in his head so as not to lose his mind. During interrogations, he liked to tell the prison guards vicious jokes about Brezhnev. The guards, struggling to stifle their laughter for fear of the repercussions, were treated to Sharansky’s famous riposte: “You want to tell me that I’m a prisoner? You are the ones who cannot laugh.”

Decades later, in the letters he exchanged with the imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, Sharansky referred to his punishing cell as his “alma mater.” (Navalny bantered back: “In your alma mater everything is as it was. Traditions are honored.”) Sharansky’s sense of humor was never incidental; it was, and remains, central to his philosophy of life. “You can’t teach it,” he recently said when asked if it was possible to teach courage. “You can only show people how good it feels to be free.”

Not all heroes wear toques, but this one does.

Born in Israel but raised in Pittsburgh, Mike Solomonov famously had no Hebrew-language skills when he returned there at the age of 18. So he took the only job he could get: working in a bakery. That was the start of a culinary career that would eventually bring him back stateside, to Philadelphia, working first at Marc Vetri’s Italian restaurants before hooking up with financier and restaurateur Steve Cook—who’d become his partner.

Solomonov—who it turned out had not only an enviable palate but a powerful imagination to go with it—was well on his way to a successful career when tragedy struck: In 2003, his brother David, who had volunteered for the IDF, was killed by snipers during a military campaign on the border of Lebanon. Heartbroken, Solomonov pivoted to focus on Israeli and Jewish cuisine. It was a decision that dramatically changed the course of his career, earning him five James Beard Awards, and inspiring an archipelago of restaurants and brands that asserted the vitality of Jewish history and identity at a crucial moment in the evolution of the global food court.

The importance of that development—which no one, including Solomonov, could have ever predicted—came to a head in December, when, two months after the 10/7 terrorist attacks, a mob of hundreds of protesters marched past Goldie, his vegan falafel restaurant, chanting: “Goldie, Goldie, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” The internet erupted, from all sides. Predictably, Solomonov refused to jump into the fray, instead putting his head down and focusing—on his food, on his employees, on his customers, and on giving charity and helping society where he could.

In a cultural landscape filled with insufferable egotists, overrated mediocrities, and icy dilettantes, Solomonov is a blaze of light, fire, and warmth. And if part of reviving that culture is being unabashedly emotional about the right things, then here we are, doing our part: We love what Mike Solomonov makes, what he stands for, and who he is.

Listen to Solly talk, and, within the course of a few dazzling minutes, you’re likely to get a Simpsons reference, an anecdote about the life of a Founding Father, and a few lines from the Torah, recited easily and from memory, and then watch in awe as he distills them all into a teaching that feels urgent, moving, and new. As the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel—the first synagogue on North American soil, as Solly may remind you once or twice or 19 times—he finds the time, too, to deliver deeply erudite online classes on Torah and Jewish thought, as well as to fight, publicly and gallantly, for religious freedom and for a culture that rises to its God-given potential rather than succumb to its basest appetites.

It is perhaps ironic that America’s leading Black radicals tend to come from comfortably middle-class families, while its Black conservatives—Clarence Thomas, Glenn Loury—have emerged from the sort of disadvantaged backgrounds that progressive theory suggests should breed radicalism. The godfather of them all, Thomas Sowell, dropped out of high school at 17 to work at a machine shop and only completed his education after serving in Korea; he went on to graduate from Harvard and earn a Ph.D in economics from the University of Chicago, which disabused him of his youthful Marxism.

Sowell is a classical liberal in every sense: a critic both of state intervention in the economy and of hubristic attempts at social engineering meant to stamp out various forms of “inequity.” These attempts, Sowell has argued across a half-century in the public sphere, are not only ineffective and frequently authoritarian—they also tend to empower the real targets of his ire: the intellectuals and do-gooders who set themselves the task of “saving” people they neither know nor understand, with the results inevitably being regressive and tyrannical.

Amar’e Stoudemire and Kyrie Irving represent extreme opposite philosophies of the often-pained relationship between African Americans and Jews, and from late 2020 to mid-2022 they were part of the same dysfunctional Brooklyn Nets team. Irving, a starting shooting guard torn between godlike talent, deep social commitments, and his own inner manias, became a Black Israelite and a proponent of the notion that the lying Jews had usurped his true identity. Stoudemire, with “Hebrew” heritage on his mother’s side and his neshama guiding him, converted to Judaism in 2020, years after becoming the partial owner and star player of Hapoel Jerusalem and opening a kosher winery. Eventually, the NBA legend whose true name is Yehoshafat ben Avraham left his job as a player development assistant with the Nets because he could no longer reconcile his Jewish belief and practice with having to work on Friday nights and Saturdays.

The former Knicks center is not a grandstander by nature—while he made six NBA all-star games and was the league’s rookie of the year in 2003, my most enduring image of him is on the sidelines of a game in Israel, dumbstruck at the death of Kobe Bryant—making his reaction to the Oct. 7 attacks all the more striking. The week after the massacre, Stoudemire posted a righteously expletive-laced video ripping Black Lives Matter supporters, politicians, and, perhaps, former colleagues like Irving for the “coward shit” of either refusing to condemn the attack or actively siding with the kidnappers, rapists, and torturers. “I will always say my prayers every night,” Stoudemire told an admiring crowd in Phoenix last month, during his pregame induction into the Suns’ ring of honor, “and I will ask God to be the best player for a hundred years.” May he tomahawk dunk till 120.

As president of the American Civil Liberties Union during the halcyon 1990s and aughts, Nadine Strossen would be forgiven if she’d spent the 15 years since mourning the immolation of the ACLU as an underemployed fellow of the Harvard Institute of Politics, or whatever. Instead she’s continued her half-century fight for free speech absolutism with the same tanklike precision and intellectual firepower that she brought to landmark cases like Reno v. ACLU, when early attempts were made to regulate speech on the infant internet, and to her 1995 work Defending Pornography, which demonstrated that the suppression of porn (under the guise of protecting women’s rights) in fact seeks to erode female autonomy and liberty.

Strossen’s 2018 book HATE, dismantling the legal and ethical arguments for hate speech laws, and her tireless and unsentimental work on behalf of the First Amendment, testify to Strossen’s unbroken and fanatical commitment to the Constitution—and thus to the God-given freedom of the individual—over the faddish politics of her onetime colleagues at the ACLU, whose abandonment of their former principles in exchange for multi-million-dollar grants from billionaire foundations is one of the most shameful chapters of our current cultural moment. Luckily, at a moment when free speech is under unprecedented attack, Nadine Strossen’s voice continues to ring out loud and clear.

Try and explain why Quentin Tarantino isn’t America’s greatest living cinema artist. And try to name one artist in any medium with a better feel for the American vernacular. Tarantino’s unabashed embrace of pulp made him a formalist master who is able to create without fear. By going low, he was able to go high. By refusing attempts to politicize his work, he made the strongest political statement of any artist of his generation.

A meticulous craftsman and a master of the rhythms of human speech, the human body, and the human eye, Tarantino’s work is a joy to watch and a powerful rebuke to the deadening embrace of literalism that is killing the arts. It’s no accident that he left America for Israel, but we hope he comes back.

A pro-Israel progressive is a jackalope, a fantastical creature whose reality not even AIPAC or J Street will attest to anymore. Ritchie Torres, staking out some of the loneliest ground in politics, continues not to have received the memo that he shouldn’t exist by now. The 36-year-old congressman from the Bronx, the first openly gay elected politician in the borough’s history, bangs on about environmental justice, the Green New Deal, and affordable housing, while also defending Israel’s right to eliminate Hamas, attacking the hypocrisy of the Jewish state’s enemies, and generally emerging as the most vocally pro-Israel Democrat in Congress. It’s all perfectly consistent for Torres, who exhibits the clarity of someone whose conscience has been pricked by something unignorably obvious.

Yet merely seeing the obvious, never mind acting on it, is a rare skill these days, especially on Capitol Hill. Despite Israel’s myriad faults, the world’s only Jewish state has created a society roughly as tolerant and open as America’s, a stark contrast to the mindless illiberalism and theocratic homophobia on offer from Hamas and its Western validators. “There’s no issue on which I get more hate, harassment and death threats than on the subject of Israel. My office has been flooded with hate calls,” Torres recently told the Times of Israel, adding that “there are elected officials who allow themselves to be browbeaten into silence and submission.”

Torres is one of the last true pro-Israel left wingers in American public life because he believes his liberalism obligates him to support the Jewish state. We agree with him.

Each year malaria afflicts hundreds of millions of people, mostly in poor countries, and kills nearly 3 million. But countless numbers have been saved from the disease in recent decades, thanks to the contribution to medical science of a Chinese scientist, Tu Youyou. With its origins during the Vietnam War and Mao’s violent Cultural Revolution, her painstaking study of traditional Chinese medicine led to the development of artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin to treat malaria and a Nobel Prize in medicine in 2015.

Long known as the “Three-Without Scientist”—without a postgraduate degree, without foreign study, and without membership in a prestigious scientific academy—Tu Youyou, now 93, is one of the Tzadikim Nistarim of this generation, without a doubt. With America in the throes of its own cultural revolution, Tu shows the power of being an outsider.

A thinker’s influence over the long haul is often determined by where they started out. Diving into the white-hot center of whatever debates are important in the moment is probably not the best route to having consequential ideas two decades from now. A good starting place should neither be too hot nor too cold; it should occasion at least some mentors and rivals to wonder why anyone would care that much about an admittedly interesting, tangential subject.

Michael Walzer’s 1962 Harvard dissertation on 16th- and 17th-century Puritan revolutionaries failed to set off intellectual fireworks at the time it was submitted or when it was published a few years later as The Revolution of the Saints: A Study in the Origin of Radical Politics. Radicalism was interesting, but civil rights protesters then peacefully demanding equal treatment under the law for all Americans regardless of race seemed to share nothing in common with utopian militants in England.

Only a few years later, as America was convulsed by radical politics driven by a plethora of new utopian sects, the centrality of Walzer’s work to understanding post-Puritan America was plain. If The Revolution of the Saints then receded from view for several decades after the mid-1970s, it has reemerged as an explanatory keystone for the decade that began with the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014 and that reached a crescendo in the public demonstrations and self-flagellations of 2020, which to historically minded observers looked suspiciously like a renewed outbreak of utopian-minded Puritan millenarianism, accompanied not coincidentally by a plague of near-biblical proportions.

Every year since, it seems, has brought another major public controversy that can be best understood through the lens of a Michael Walzer book: Exodus and Revolution (1985), which broadened and deepened the ideas about radical narratives in Revolution of the Saints by extending them to their biblical roots (the connection between Judaism and social radical movements that defines both); Spheres of Justice (1983) which makes the most complex and interesting case for how to balance the demands of “justice” and “equality” in a society in which both are understood as social goals (DEI); and Just and Unjust Wars (1977), which eschewed blanket pacificism for the work of explaining under what circumstances wars and their consequences can be considered just (Israel’s war in Gaza).

Taken together, Walzer’s writing shows him to be the model Jewish American thinker of the past half-century, blending history, political philosophy, poetry and biblical awareness together in the hope of illuminating hopes for change, as well as their real dangers and limits. Walzer’s attachment to both sides of that explanatory mission, and his lack of enthusiasm for taking sweeping polemical positions on subjects like BLM, DEI, and the Gaza war, have led plenty of people to disregard or condemn him as either too hot or too cool for their own political tastes. Through the lenses of today’s ideological warriors, Walzer is often either a “neocon” in leftist clothing or else a milquetoast leftist who lacks the balls for the all-out political warfare demanded by the moment, whatever it is.

It seems clear by this point that Walzer’s legacy of deeply informed reasonableness, shot through with equal doses of hope and caution about the imperfectability of mankind, will survive the sneers and dismissals of his critics. What is less sure is whether the America he spent his lifetime talking to about war and revolution and human nature will exist a decade from now. Both intellectually and practically, what is being lost—and in many cases, deliberately erased—is America’s connection to the European and the biblical traditions that Walzer treasured and deeply understood, and saw as crucial to understanding both America and leftist politics. The idea that sectarian warfare conducted along tribal and racial lines under the banner of “universal justice” has come to replace Walzer’s much more delicate, historically and locally grounded ideas of ethics and communal solidarity is certainly a disappointment to us, as it must be to Walzer. But at least he has given us a shining example of what critical thinking looks like—one that helps illuminate our current moment, and which will continue to be useful once it is over.

Had she merely sparkled, in Tablet and The Wall Street Journal, as an editor and opinion writer of immense talent, it would’ve been enough. It would’ve been enough, too, had she then simply moved on to The New York Times and toiled there to keep the Gray Lady’s heart from growing darker, insisting to break the paper’s ideological fever with the occasional dispatch from actual reality. We would’ve said dayenu had she just written How to Fight Anti-Semitism, an essential guide to a terrifying moment in Jewish history. But Bari knows a righteous fight when she sees one, and she never enters the fray halfheartedly. In her Free Press and in her rousing, viral speeches, she’s emerged as our generation’s voice of moral clarity—a paragon of Jewish conviction, American grit, and unbeatable optimism.

If you find yourself lucky enough to be at a table with Ruth Wisse—who, in addition to having been among the foremost scholars of Yiddish literature, is perhaps best known for her unyielding support for Israeli might and forceful critique of what she sees as American Jewish spinelessness—you will likely hear her argue that the only war worth winning is the war of ideas. By the end of the meal (or vodka, if you’re really lucky), you will be surprised to understand that she truly believes this—and even more surprised that she’s somehow convinced you of it, too.

Wisse was born into a life of the mind. Her maternal grandmother owned the famed publishing house Matz press in Vilna, where her father studied chemical engineering. From there they moved to Czernowitz, then part of Romania, where Ruth was born. In 1940, following the invasion of Romania by the Soviet Union, the family fled to Montreal—where they became central to a thriving Yiddish literary community, in which their children were raised.

All of which goes some way toward explaining how Wisse ended up pioneering the academic study of Yiddish—not simply as a scholar, but as a legendary teacher whose career is littered with “not just students, but acolytes.” Jeremy Dauber, the Atran professor of Yiddish language, literature and culture at Columbia, said that taking classes with her “was and remains one of the most intellectually stimulating and exciting experiences of my life.” Aaron Lansky calls her “one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever known,” and describes being in her class, studying Sholem Aleichem, when “she started reading a section … and before you know it she was crying and the whole class was crying … and she made no apologies for that.”

But it is in the areas where she has been not universally beloved—her political writing—that one will find Wisse’s lasting legacy. Time may prove this or that stand of hers right or wrong—we even have arguments with her over substantive ones, particularly the narrow and failed ideology of neoconservatism—but we need not one more day to know that she was blazingly right, before anyone else, about the need for Jews to think, feel and act clearly with and about power.

How did she see it so early? Because she understood that words weren’t meant for cocktail parties, but for battle. “Language is a dialect with an army and navy,” she has said. When it comes to Jews and ideas, no one has been a tougher, more inspiring general.

From the editors of Tablet Magazine.

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