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.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
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