Nicholas Lemann: Growing Up Jewish in the American South
Nick Lemann is the Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism and a former New Yorker staff writer. While at Harvard – where he graduated in 1976 – Lemann served as President of the Crimson. He has worked as a reporter and editor at The Washington Monthly, Texas Monthly, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Post, focusing primarily on national affairs.
Lemann is the author of The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America, The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, about the SAT, and most recently, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, about the failure of Reconstruction. At Columbia, where he was hired as Dean of the Journalism School in 2003, Lemann implemented a two-year curriculum and has focused on teaching alternative journalistic mediums in the Internet age.
Nicholas Lemann: Well I grew up Jewish in a way that is very hard to describe, because it’s a sort of vanished world. It was . . . I happened to have had dinner with somebody who grew up the same way in St. Louis last night, so we were sort of talking about this. The thing that captures it the best is the movie Driving Miss Daisy, if you’ve seen that. My family, you know, had been in the South for many generations. They were long time and prominent members of the Jewish community, involved in all leading Jewish causes, etc. We were members of the biggest synagogue in New Orleans which was called Temple Sinai which was a big pile on St. Charles Avenue. And now we get to the part that would surprise people who grew up Jewish anywhere else. So this is by way of saying we were not, you know, consciously kind of trying to hide the fact that we were Jewish. We did . . . In our synagogue it was reform. We did not have the laws of kosher. We did not read the Torah in the service. There was a choir. There was a rabbi who was a cousin by marriage who wore kind of ermine robes to give the service. And no one wore a yarmulke. No one wore a prayer shawl. We didn’t have bar mitzvahs. And to my memory the whole time I was growing up, the state of Israel was never once mentioned in our synagogue. So it was a . . . It was a brand of reform Judaism known in the trade as “Pittsburgh Platform” after the meeting in Pittsburgh when it was founded in 1882. And it was meant to be a kind of Judaism that sort of looked and felt like Episcopalianism, except a Jewish version. And so that’s how I grew up. It’s also a very small Jewish community. Everybody knew and/or was related to everybody else, and it was predominantly German.
Recorded on: 11/30/07
Lemann describes growing up in a community of assimilated German Jews.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In their findings the authors state:
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
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