Sunday, May 27, 2018

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"Philip Roth won’t be having a Jewish funeral"

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

From the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

Philip Roth forbade any Jewish rituals from being performed at his funeral.

The prolific Jewish-American author, who died on Tuesday at the age of 85, will be buried on Monday at the Bard College Cemetery, his biographer, Blake Bailey, told JTA.

Roth had originally looked into being buried next to his parents at the Gomel Chesed Cemetery in Newark, New Jersey, Bailey said in a phone interview on Friday. However, the area surrounding the Jewish burial ground had in recent years become rife with crime, and Roth was unable to find a plot next to his parents, Bailey said.

Instead Roth decided about 10-15 years ago to be buried at the Bard College Cemetery, where he could be near his friend Norman Manea, a Romanian-Jewish author who works as a professor at the college, Bailey said. Roth was also friends with Bard College President Leon Botstein, who is also Jewish.

“He said he wants to be buried near Jews so he has someone to talk to,” Bailey said.

Jewish author and philosopher Hannah Arendt is also buried in the Bard College Cemetery, next to her husband Heinrich Blucher.

Roth “expressly forbade” any religious rituals from being part of his funeral, according to Bailey.

“There was no metaphysical dimension to Philip. He just flatly refused to believe in it. He thought it was fairy tales,” Bailey said.

Though Roth “was bored out of his mind when he had to attend Hebrew school as a boy,” he was happy to be Jewish, Bailey said.

“He liked Jews as human beings. He liked their warmth, he liked his male friends’ filial piety, which he made a lot of fun of too, in ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ especially,” Bailey said, referencing Roth’s 1969 novel that depicts the therapy sessions of a sexually frustrated Jewish man.

Early in his career, Roth drew outrage from some in the Jewish community who feared his harsh portrayals of Jewish life would stoke anti-Semitism. In more recent years, however, Roth was embraced by American Jews. In 1998 he won the Jewish Book Council’s Lifetime Literary Achievement Award and in 2014, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Conservative Judaism’s flagship educational institution, bestowed him with an honorary doctorate.

“I welcomed the honor,” Roth told a friend after the ceremony, suggesting that for all his aversion to religion he still felt a strong Jewish bond. “Who takes Jews more seriously than the J.T.S., and what writer takes Jews more seriously than I do?”

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2,300 words but none for high-speed rail

Mayor Gavin Newsom visits with homeless campers under the Transbay Terminal overpass on Beale Street in July 2010. Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle 2010
Photo: Michael Macor, the Chronicle

In today's edition of the Chronicle, a front-page story on Gavin Newsom by Heather Knight of more than 2,300 words without a single mention or question about high-speed rail, the largest, most expensive public project in the country. 

Yes, a Governor Newsom will be judged in part on how he deals with homelessness in the state. He did well on that issue as Mayor of San Francisco. 

But if as governor he allows the high-speed rail project to continue, it could bankrupt the state, or, more likely, crowd out money for more important priorities, like housing and education. 

And of course there won't be any money for the project coming from the Trump administration. High-speed rail is the only important issue that Republicans are right about.

Newsom has waffled on the high-speed rail issue, but he won't be able to do that when he's governor. He'll have to pee or get off the pot.

Later: see also in the LA Times: The bullet train is California's biggest infrastructure project — but it's seldom discussed in governor's race.

The Chronicle's editorials have always been dumb on the issue.

The most thorough analysis of the dumb high-speed rail project is found on the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail's site.

See also Newsom lectures Obama on political timing! and "Greatest thing" Newsom did was on homelessness, not gay marriage.

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Censorship and self-censorship in the Arab world

...How was working on “Mary Shelley” different from directing films in the Middle East?
When I was shooting in Riyadh, I couldn’t go in the streets — I had to be in a van on a walkie-talkie, and I always had to be carrying the burden of censorship. 

Self-censoring is part of who I am when I work in the Arab world. When I started working in the West, the freedom was wonderful. It was nice to be engaging just with my art.

Can you say more about self-censoring and how it shapes your Arabic films?
I come from a conservative place and I always want to respect where I come from. I don’t want to go and do something that is outrageous, because it puts a block between you and the audience. I feel like I can present it in a way that they will like and understand, especially when you’re talking about women’s rights or empowering young girls in a conservative society. Because I’m from that culture, I understand it. It made me say things differently, and it’s an interesting exercise. You have to be creative to say things...

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