Thoughts That Came out of a Secular Rosh Hashanah Dinner Party

Posted by Jason Diamond

I hosted a small, totally secular and non-traditional Rosh Hashanah dinner for the Jewish (and non) orphans in New York last night.  It was nice.   Adam Wilson made kugel, Justin Taylor brought Mexican beer, Adam Whitney-Nichols of Fortnight Journal gave everybody really tiny bells for some reason that I still don’t understand.  (Don’t you love name dropping?)

All in all, it was a lovely time.

When you have a dinner party of any sort, there is usually one big current topic that everybody tends to discuss, and last night’s was the fact that New York Magazine decided to have an excerpt from a forthcoming book called The Lampshade; which is a true story about a Jewish guy who buys a lampshade that may or may not have been made from the skin of Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis.

Is that weird?  I don’t think so.  I mean, the subject matter is obviously fucked up, but the Nazis weren’t exactly nice people.  They did shitty things.  They may (or may not have) made Jews into lampshades.

What people found disturbing and  offensive, was the fact that NYM decided to make this excerpt the cover story, presenting it with a text only image that uses the word “Jew” twice and “Hitler” once, and (for good measure) another term that is eye grabbing, “Katrina”.

One friend said it was “exploitative,” another called it “fucked up,” and  asked me my own opinion on the matter.  I said I really didn’t have one, and went to go drink more wine, not really in the mood to discuss this sort of thing on the Jewish New Year.

A few hours prior, I wrote a somewhat short piece at Jewcy, attempting to show that I actually found the whole thing somewhat absurd.  The industry (for lack of a better and probably more sensitive term) of the Holocaust in it’s aftermath has left me and many other Jewish people wondering, “when did the Holocaust become the focal point of our heritage and culture? ”

I grew up amongst survivors, and, sadly, there were many family members who I never got to meet because they were unlucky enough to become part of the 6 million Jews that perished.  For those reasons, I’m a proponent of the ideology of “never forgetting” the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis, just as I believe we should never forget the atrocities carried out by any other nation (this one included) over the course of time.   We should “never forget,” but should anybody profit?

I thought about that this morning as I got dressed to enjoy my day off .  About my lack of stance on the fact that yes, the New York Magazine cover is somewhat badly timed–probably on purpose.  I’d be beyond shocked if a magazine that names itself after the most Jewish city outside of Israel didn’t realize the timing.  And upon second reading, I realized the story isn’t actually all that interesting.  It appeals on a visceral level, tosses in some personal narrative, but in the end, just another story dealing with a Jews inability to cope with his own heritage and the horrible darkness of the past.

Does that really deserve a cover story?  Ask any Jew, observant or not, and I’m sure you could get that sort of story out of them, except probably minus the drama of buying a creepy and tragic piece of furniture.    It doesn’t really merit a cover story during any part of the year on a magazine that I read enough to know has better things to present itself with.