I am hardly the feminist by modern standards – my daughter and I startede watching old movies through the decades. We went with Singing in the Rain because it’s the best rated musical movie of all time – 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, 8.3/10 on IMDB – wow.

What was wrong with you 1952? The movie has even less of a plot than the Greatest Showman – it’s all about watching Gene Kelly dance. Admittedly, he’s extremely talented at that. The songs, however, have little to do with the plot and are just sort of … there. Tap dancing while being condescending and physically abusing your teacher because work is too hard? Sure. I guess that’s funny or something.

In the Middle a Song Where The Teacher Gets Abused … 2020 Sure is Better than 1952 in a lot of ways!

Now, if you ever wanted to know the reason for the feminist movement – watch this movie. There are a ton of scenes where there’s one guy surrounded by rows of eye candy women who do not much else but dance around the man in skimpy outfits. The lead female characters have no say in anything – Gene Kelly grabs them by the arm, waves his finger at them, physically shakes them, gets in their face … the one who falls in love with him does so after Gene Kelly says he’s angry at her and then basically forces her to dance. The whole movie is filled with forcing her to sing without credit while she even runs away when she’s finally given some. There’s a lot of women crying too.

One of the Scenes with a Crying Woman – not physically abused here … just embarassed in front of hundreds of people.

The only woman who has any choice or say in what she does is a conniving villain who extorts other people and can’t get anywhere without cheating and has no real ability. Her terrible voice is actually an overly Brooklyn accent … okay, that’s fair.

Dang man. By 1952 standards I’m the biggest feminist. The movie was watchable and entertaining … I’ll give it that much … also kind of horrifying. This is who people idolized 68 years ago?

I finally watched another classic an frequently referenced movies, my daughter and I are up to the 1940s.

First, why is it that so many movies of this era have some sort of cop chase scene where they shoot wildly into the air, often towards public streets full of people? It’s like how I grew up playing ‘cops and robbers’. Somehow, in an era without gun violence, movies sure showed a lot of cartoon-style use of it.

While on the subject of the police, the cops names are “Burt and Ernie.” Ha. While we’re at it, I always wondered whose voice Cameron was imitating on the phone to Mr. Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (the classic of the 1980s). Turns out it’s the bartender from It’s a Wonderful Life.

A Honeymoon in a falling apart house; posters for honeymoon locations on the wall – taking one of many sweet idea from Charlie Chaplain’s Modern Times

On to the plot – the movie reminds me a lot of Charlie Chaplain’s “Modern Times” from the 1930s. It has a distinctly populist message about a worker stuck in his place in life by an oppressive force (in this case, a banker with a lot of money) who wishes for something different. The ‘something different’ never comes and in the process of trying to figure it all out, a woman finds an old beat up house and makes him supper. (The wild-shot gun scenes come earlier in Modern Times.)

A Wonderful Life replaces the comedy genre with heart. It does it well. Mr. Bailey is not without his flaws (he can get angry and impatient, he let’s another woman kiss him, and like most movies of this era, marriage comes after man-handling a woman until she cries which is still better than the Garfield stone age version where he hits her over the head with a club and drags her home).

Despite his flaws, Mr. Bailey has a pure heart. He is put into a position where he wishes he were not, doing so to save the family business and the town from evil. Well given more than one chance to do what would be best for him personally, his first desire an choice, at the expense of education and money, is to others. It is a welcome change from today’s ultra-individualistic, “I do what pleases me” attitude. While I am no Christian (and the original story seems to have been written by a Jew anyway), it is easy to appreciate the family gathering at Christmas time. The version shown here is the epitome of appreciation of family and community who, in turn, appreciates him and just as he saved the community through self-sacrifice, the favor is now returned.

Mr. Bailey’s motives were altruistic yet led to more road blocks pushing him further with yet harder tests starting small and culminating with1946: It’s a Wonderful Life. Finally watching old classic an frequently referenced movies, my daughter and I are up to the 1940s.

While on the subject of the police, the names of the cop and taxi driver are “Burt and Ernie.” Ha. While we’re at it, I always wondered whose voice Cameron was imitating on the phone to Mr. Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (the classic of the 1980s). Turns out it’s the bartender from It’s a Wonderful Life.

It’s Burt and Ernie!

On to the plot – the movie reminds me a lot of Charlie Chaplain’s “Modern Times” from the 1930s. It has a distinctly populist message about a worker stuck in his place in life by an oppressive force (in this case, a banker with a lot of money) who wishes for something different. The ‘something different’ never comes and in the process of trying to figure it all out, a woman finds an old beat up house and makes him supper. (The wild-shot gun scenes come earlier in Modern Times.)

A Wonderful Life replaces the comedy genre with heart. It does it well. Mr. Bailey is not without his flaws (he can get angry and impatient, he let’s another woman kiss him, and like most movies of this era, marriage comes after man-handling a woman until she cries which is still better than the Garfield stone age version where he hits her over the head with a club and drags her home).

Despite his flaws, Mr. Bailey has a pure heart. He is put into a position where he wishes he were not, doing so to save the family business and the town from evil. Well given more than one chance to do what would be best for him personally, his first desire an choice, at the expense of education and money, is to others. It is a welcome change from today’s ultra-individualistic, “I do what pleases me” attitude. While I am no Christian (and the original story seems to have been written by a Jew anyway), it is easy to appreciate the family gathering at Christmas time. The version shown here is the epitome of appreciation of family and community who, in turn, appreciates him and just as he saved the community through self-sacrifice, the favor is now returned.

Mr. Bailey’s motives were altruistic yet led to more road blocks pushing him further with yet harder tests starting small and culminating with a test of jail for a crime he didn’t commit where even here he learns to appreciate all he has done. This a very Jewish theme comparable to Abraham’s ten tests, culminating in destroying life itself when Mr. Bailey wishes that he himself were never born until aided, by all his past good, to pass this test as well. Just as an angel moved Abraham’s hand away from death, an angel does so here.

I was also happy to see that salvation does not come in the form of the evil oppressive force turning to good. This is … cheesy and unrealistic. I can’t help but think in religious-themed works, the evil stays evil. In Les Miserables, Javert never comes around. Here, the evil force does not even have what is his – yet this money he does not return. Still, the money doesn’t buy him happiness. Family and community do. Within the framework of many religious lifestyles, one finds that tests remain and sometimes they seem unfair (see Iyov/Job, Jonah…), yet it’s all for the good.

A Wonderful Ending – It’s Like an Anti-Rosebud

Recommendation: While the lessons of the movie are heartfelt, I thought I’d be at a loss for what to even write about during the first 1/3 of the movie. It was slow, jerky, and hard to understand what it was there for – it was about a man’s early life. Some of my own family joined in for the last half of the movie and completely got the point. Watch the second half – it’s good stuff. a test of jail for a crime he didn’t commit where even here he learns to appreciate all he has done. This a very Jewish theme comparable to Abraham’s ten tests, culminating in destroying life itself when Mr. Bailey wishes that he himself were never born until aided, by all his past good, to pass this test as well. Just as an angel moved Abraham’s hand away from death, an angel does so here.

I was also happy to see that salvation does not come in the form of the evil oppressive force turning to good. This is … cheesy and unrealistic. I can’t help but think in religious-themed works, the evil stays evil. In Les Miserables, Javert never comes around. Here, the evil force does not even have what is his – yet this money he does not return. Still, the money doesn’t buy him happiness. Family and community do. Within the framework of many religious lifestyles, one finds that tests remain and sometimes they seem unfair (see Iyov/Job, Jonah…), yet it’s all for the good.

Recommendation: While the lessons of the movie are heartfelt, I thought I’d be at a loss for what to even write about during the first 1/3 of the movie. It was slow, jerky, and hard to understand what it was there for – it was about a man’s early life. Some of my own family joined in for the last half of the movie and completely got the point. Watch the second half – it’s good stuff.

Continuing the old movie ‘research’ with my daughter, we just completed Citizen Kane – it’s a movie about Donald Trump only more accurate to real life where having affairs and feeding the media with false information derails a campaign for president.

References to this movie abound in places I don’t even remember – excepting for the theme song to Animaniacs. Why is a movie from 1941 that no kid will have seen referenced in the theme song of a kid’s show? No idea.

Unfortunately for me, the ending was ruined by a Dr. Demento song. It is, however, the best part of the movie. It’s genius. I don’t want to ruin it here except to say it’s a movie about a narcissist (based off of William Hearst) who rises to the top. He can buy anything he wants yet has no lasting relationships of any kind.

Though color was certainly available by 1941, the use of a very crisp black and white does the movie better justice. Remembering back to taking pictures with a manual camera where you had to set the F-stop and developing the pictures myself in a dark room in summer camp (I went to Camp Nerd, okay?) … black and white was and is substantially always more crisp than color.

Beautiful Use of Light and Dark In Citizen Kane

Orson Welles is also a far better director than his counterpart director of Gone With the Wind, made only two years prior. However where Gone With the Wind excelled at color and was often abhorrent with lighting, Citizen Kane excels at the use of dark and light. A questioner is often in a black shadow with the interviewee being very well lit akin to many modern movie interrogation scenes and cartoon spoofs … such as found in Animaniacs.

In terms of treatment of women and minorities, well, they’re sparse in this movie excepting for an accountant named “Bernstein” some female dancers scantly clad (as seems to be a requirement in any movie of the era just as a love/sex scene is required in any modern movie. The modern version is, in my view, not better and often clearly there just to excite the audience like the dancing girls are in old movies. The only large role for a woman is … an opera singer who is scantly clad and leaves her abusive husband. Phantom of the Opera subplot with stronger woman or weaker man? It’s, at least, far above Singing in the Rain with pushovers of woman. Here, however, the less weak woman doesn’t experience any growth. She’s just a tool to show the fall of her man.

The Only Minority Represenation: Mr. Bernstein the Accountant 🙂

Another “film first” often repeated in movies like Momento (to a much greater extent) is showing the end first followed by scenes where past and present are alternated. This is brilliant if only because an otherwise long and a boring movie becomes greater. Watch a chronological order version of Momento or The Usual Suspects and you’ll see what I mean. Or, watch Passengers and see how a mediocre movie could have been great if it was non-chronological.

The ending, which I mentioned near the beginning in the style of the movie, is brilliant. The whole movie comes together in a scene which explains a man who no one was able to understand. It explains how he became such a narcissist, unloved as a child, who wanted to be loved but had none to give, only to die lonely as he began. Everything but the first ~5 minutes and last ~1 minute are exposition, in my view.

Rating: Well, I have to admit that when I watch a movie alone I typically watch it on fast forward, returning to regular speed every so often to see different important points of the movie. I’d of watched this movie the same way. Watch the beginning, watch a few middle scenes, watch the end – you’re good.

Having read some history about Charlie Chaplain though only seeing a Charlie Chaplain movie for the first time now, the theme of this movie seems quite related to his life – growing up dirt poor, his mother checked them into a “work house” rather than literally continue to live under stairs. Poor people didn’t get rent payments and food stamps in England is those days- they got jail like conditions, separation from their family, and were meant to work because it was believed it was their lack of work that caused them to be poor.

It’s Not Much, but It’s Home – “A Wonderful Life” will copy this.

The movie features exactly those themes, though in a comedic way … which may have seemed funnier at the time through the prism of someone living through the Great Depression who could relate and desperately needed an outlet such as a movie like this. This includes Chaplain going to jail where he doesn’t want to leave, taking the blame for others’ misdeeds (he was once beaten in the workhouse in front of everyone else because he took the blame for another child), and children are ripped from their parents. He shows the evils of society around him where the rich dominate the poor and the poor steal a loaf of bread Jean val Jean style or break into department stores with guns … those gun people who try to shoot him to death are sympathized … the police are evil, ruining people’s lives.

Chaplain Comedically Force Fed to Shorten Lunch Breaks
Pre-Porky Pig One Year Later

Chaplain’s character starts out in a factory where workers are juxtaposed with sheep following the herd not too long before George Orwell picked up the theme in multiple novels. Chaplain is a cog in a machine complete with a forced feeding machine to make lunch faster … which, incidently, appears to have been picked up by “Pigs is Pigs” a Looney Toons short to come out one year later which I remembered from my childhood. Chaplain’s walk, toes far out, overly large shoes, and a wobble back and forth, seems to be the inspiration for Krusty the Klown (The Simpsons fan wiki lists many references to Chaplain, though not this one … yet).

The humor is … interesting by today’s standards. It’s quixotically funny until you realize … wait, that was a scene where Chaplain was high on cocaine. No, really. Then he moves in with a girl who is maybe 16 (she is a juvenile delinquent meant to have gone to an orphanage). Statutory … nevermind. … moving on to violence – there are three Stooges-like gags well before the three Stooges with beams falling on heads and dives into shallow water where you’d break your spine, etc, etc. That’s not the worst of it: It’s somehow funny when his colleague is dragged between large roller-pin like gears with teeth and doesn’t turn into a pile of goop … instead being stuck. immovable, in the gears while Charlie Chaplain drops burning hot coffee in his mouth. Is this one of the Saw movies or is this a comedy? Maybe Saw was as comedy and I misunderstood it (actually, I couldn’t watch that garbage – what kind if sick monster wrote that stuff? Charlie Chaplain’s kin or something?)

Snorting Cocaine Can Be Funny

Regarding women, as they change through time in movies and I have been writing about them – here, the 16 year old female lead actually is no better or worse off than Charlie. In the end, she is the one to take the lead and get Charlie the first job as a singer/dancer, and the first one he doesn’t lose. She is the one who helps him up – by way of wearing a sexy dress and dancing for men, but whatever. We’re doing better than the other movies so far. … and we can’t say that only the male is self-actualized because I would argue neither are. In the end, he raises her spirits and they go off still never succeeding (in a touching way, really).

It’s an interesting movie with populist working man themes which are still relevant and repeated today. Suffice to say, such themes were more poignant during the Great Depression and the violence is now what we call a horror film instead of a comedy. Of the old movies I’ve been reviewing as of late, despite being a silent film, this is easily the most enjoyable and watchable as a whole.

I minored in Comparative Literature and would totally get an “A” if this were a paper I turned in… as you can see, lots of practice.

It’s been a while between my last old movie review and my latest – Gone with the Wind, 1939. There’s a good reason for this – the movie is a bit of beast. It’s almost four hours long with the lengthy introduction song and intermission included. The music, while memorable, is limited to about eight bars. To make sure I didn’t miss anything, I listened to the soundtrack on YouTube and found – much like the movie in general, the soundtrack has a few good moments interspersed between passive melancholy.

For a movie from the era, my pre-conceived notions were entirely wrong. I expected it to be like a Nick-At-Nite show of the 1980s and 1990s, meaning, shows from the 1950s and 1960s where couples slept in separate beds and the worst think you saw or heard was, “golly” and “gee wizz.” Wow, was I wrong.

Rhett's proposal | Gone with the wind, Wind movie, Hollywood

The movie centers around Scarlet, a female protagonist who, gee wizz, she’s proper on the outside and disgusting on the inside. There’s no growth – just a shallow shell of a person who wants to fit into the right corset size and connives to get the man she wants who doesn’t want her and having not more than one child because her corset has to be laced one size up. After leaving the plantation when the south loses the civil war (which is nothing more than a passing backdrop to the movie) she marries an abusive man for … it’s not really said. It seems to be for financial support and the fear of being alone. Well, actually she says “no” but when a woman says no, that means yes if you force your way onto her and skip the marriage scene. Funny, because “Singing in the Rain” in 1952 has the same exact motif.

She has an extreme case of insecure anxious-preoccupied attachment which somehow preoccupies most of the movie. That’s really the movie in a nutshell. The rest is backdrop and seeking / being with men who don’t want her because, I don’t know, she’s shallow eye candy that just wants a guy who she thinks is better … and when that doesn’t work, she’ll take whomever else – three times. It gets worse each time as she digs herself into a deeper hole – no gore like a Darren Aronofsky movie (whose early movies were brilliant), but same idea in girly form.

Suffice to say, I can see how this was a major work in 1939 and won multiple awards. Clearly lots of thought and hard work was put into this movie. The acting is stiff and some of the shots are back lit by the sky leaving partial silhouettes of people. Still, I’m overall impressed with the technology they had to work with. In many ways, it’s more real and artistic than all the perfectly set compilation of false visuals in modern versions of such movies like The Greatest Show.

the importance of scarlett's dresses in gone with the wind ...

Along these line, where the movie really shines is with the use of color. Technicolor was fairly new – it’s a process of shooting with three cameras simultaneously, each with a different color filter recording on each of three different black and white negatives. Put them together and you have a nice color image. Wow, did they take advantage of this – the dresses are beautiful beyond anything seen in modern movies and they just keep coming at you with the next one and next one. There are entire articles and videos dedicated to why certain dress colors were used in one scene and then a different in another. It’s like the sequel to Tron – beautiful shots and very artsy … and they forget everything else.

With that segue into the plot, I will never complain about modern movies that leave out most of the book. There’s nothing worse than reading a good book to have it ruined by a bad movie. You know what’s worse? Having the book be the movie. Different mediums and no further complaints from me. Every Les Miserables production missing most of the book – fine!

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss race in this movie. Until June 2020 I couldn’t understand why Gone with the Wind is this “wonderful classic masterpiece” and Song of the South, with very similar depictions of domestic servant slaves is banned even by it’s own company. (It’s on the internet – I watched it – because, you know, it’s banned. … and I wanted to understand Splash Mountain. Why does Disney have a ride dedicated to a movie they don’t want people to see? I digress …) Well, HBO put Gone with the Wind on their streaming service and then took it down. Finally! Consistency!

That being said, I get why you don’t want to show overt racism in a kids movie. I have no problem showing it in adult, or even teen, historical fiction. Does every movie set in other time periods have to be white-washed (err…) to meet today’s moral standards? Of course not. Prove me wrong, but modern movies about the oppressed are typically about the oppressed breaking free from the mold. 12 Years a Slave, the Island, the Matrix, Castaway, Legally Blond, The Hunger Games, Schindler’s list – you name it. Do I want to watch a movie about the norm, e.g. a protagonist who dies in the Holocaust like 5/6 of European Jews or Tom Hanks dying on an island alone? No, not really – well, maybe. Do you want to include an accurate depiction of a Jew in a shetel in Poland – that’s not racist. That’s historically accurate – when done with honesty.

I love Darren Aronofsky movies because they’re real. The Wrestler was genius. Requiem for a Dream was brilliant. They were real! He also got called out for racism. nonsense! His characters were based on real wrestlers! (Then his movies became unwatchable…)

Moreover, you can learn more from this time period from the black characters than from timeless stereotypical convincing white women who achieve nothing and are worth nothing but for gold digging to support their primp. If we are judging the characters by their character, the two black characters are the only honest and complete (but simple) people in the movie. Who wants to see another conniving pretty white woman use her looks to marry the biggest jerk in the world? (Side point: I don’t let my girls watch Little Mermaid.)

Unless your home during a pandemic and are giving your kids a class on historical film appreciation, just watch some of the beautiful scenes online, read this review, and move on.

Today’s old movie review – Phantom of the Opera, 1925.

It’s a silent horror film which is surprisingly watchable and actually scary at times with very ominous music, great make-up, and well a faster speed than the 1910s movies has a speed similar to many suspenseful modern movies.

Like the other movies from 1910s through at least the 1950s, the woman is led by a man though in this case, it’s more like seduced. Frankly, I never understood this story about a woman being lored into a basement crypt and forced to ‘marry’ the man. Is this Josef Fritzl?

There is a great scene with ominous music while the abductor guy slowly leads his seductee down a circular staircase all with large stone blocks – this clearly seems to be the inspiration for an almost identical looking scene in the opening song of Ducktales.

Phantom 1925 Staircase
DuckTales Version

The set itself was constructed to hold 3000 extras in concrete. For this reason says Wikipedia, the sound stage was not destroyed until 2004 – 79 years later!

This movie was also one of the first uses of Technicolor – a process of using a prism to split red, green, and blue colors and record three black and white film strips and then expose them together with color filters. It must have been expensive as it’s only used for some short scenes. It probably wasn’t displayable in most theaters of the time and printed without the color – it has to be restored in 1996 based on the Technicolor records showing what was colored – and it’s creepy:

Classic movie reviews for today – my daughter and I, during all this home time, have started watching movies from the 1910s forward:

1916 – Intolerance: This movie is a reaction to Griffith’s 1915 movie which was said to show black people very badly (presumably white actors in black face). The irony is that this movie overly anti-semetic. The movie is much more sophisticated than I would have thought, alternating between four stories which have overlapping plots about “intolerance” resembling one of Quentin Tarantino’s early movies, “Four Rooms” (which was precursor to his more sophisticated and genius “Pulp Fiction” – I wouldn’t doubt if Tarantino, an old movie buff, has seen this movie).

The ‘evil pharassee’ – his tefillin is on wrong. In a later scene, they used an elongated rectangular box.

The problem is that this movie is … really intolerant. I can’t say I watched that much of this movie – it’s very hard to sit through what’s survived in poor quality, very slow scenes, and cut cards … I focused on the story about the evil “Pharisees” which oppressed people by … asking for quiet while praying (uhhh….). The actor is clearly meant to be a religious Jew complete with beard, tallis, and tefillin (though his tefillin is too far forward on his forehead to being carrying out the mitzvah). The text in the cut cards is overlaid over the ten commandments in Hebrew on stone tablets. The scenes, however, are about how Jews oppressed the guy who, according to the cards between scenes, came to allow all men to do as they please rather than the Jew who, and it actually says this, prays to G_d with text that says he’s better than all other people.

The cut scenes interesting have the 10 commandments in Hebrew behind them.

The irony of this movie shouldn’t be lost on anyone – the movie is about those who are “intolerant” while being filled with overt anti-semitism an mischaracterizing of Jews in what appears to be politically acceptable speech in 1916. It seems it’s not a recent invention to say you accept others … as long as they agree with your views.

A question in the back of my mind

Corridor of Yad V’Shem, like that of Belzec

At Yad V’Shem, Israel’s primary holocaust museum in Jerusalem, I picked up a copy of “The Jews are Coming Back“, a book about the return of Jews to their countries of origin after World War II.  How do you answer a person that says, “Jews should have gone back where they came from!”  As an American, it’s actually hard to answer.  After World War II, Jews generally found a safe place in the United States with quotas lifted (or rather, unused spots from prior years filled when the state department changed their policy).  Without knowing one way or the other, it would seem that Jews could just return to their places of origin in Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere . . . turns out this answer greatly varied by country.

The book is organized by country, from most friendly to Jews to least friendly after the war.  The holocaust didn’t just “end” in Europe.  The flip of the switch that happened in the United States where refugees (and especially Jews) where suddenly welcomed never happened in Europe, save for perhaps France and Belgium to an extent.  Unsurprisingly, France also has the largest Jewish population in Europe today though the Jews are largely leaving for Israel these days due to virulent anti-semitism in France.  However, even there, shortly after holocaust, groups organized to prevent Jews from reclaiming the property they had stolen from their former neighbors.

Country by Country – Jews Returning in Europe after WWII

Memorial candles with the names of human extermination camps

While Jews in France and sometimes Belgium were sometimes able to get their property back through court proceedings, in the rest of Europe the situation was nearly hopeless.  Jews were told they needed to lay low so as not to cause anti-semitism in country after country, and after all, the refrain went, everyone suffered in the war!  France, at least, learned of the concentration camps and mass killings as did the United Kingdom, Belgium, and somewhat the Netherlands and the more the country people knew, the more sympathetic, at least, the government was, though the people tended to feel in country after country, “we all suffered!  … and this property is mine now, so who are you to come back and ‘reclaim’ it on the basis that you suffered too/more?”

Exhibit in Yad V’Shem

Should your country be communist after World War II then the refrain was that there should be no separate nations.  We were “all the same” and just because a returning Jew had his property and rights removed from him and had nothing but barely the rags on his back, that was just the way it was.  The Jewish Agency might try and send you aid, but the communist government almost always rejected same unless it went to everyone equally … which usually meant it went to aid those in power and that was that.  An exception was found here and there: in Tarnipol, Poland a mayor allowed for a statue commemorating the holocaust, but he found himself overruled and without further promotions in the party for life.

Should you try and return to the Ukraine, you might find pockets of help from the government – but the local officials would first strip the women bare, delouse, search, and humiliate before you boarded the train.  In the countryside the government actually provided a safe house for returning Jews and jobs but the locals, the former neighbors, would protest and sometimes violently.  Jews were unable to actually work and the situation was dismal.  In other places older Jews who survived the concentration camps would return to roam without proper shelter or help from the anti-semetic locals.  While Zionists organizations came to pay for transit for younger and able bodied youth to be found to move to Israel and start a new life, neither the elderly were left in squalor, penniless, unable to work, having everything stripped from them.

Perhaps you would try to go to a different country where things were more favorable to you … many traveled to the Netherlands where things were better for Jews, but only Jews who were citizens before the war (and could prove it).  Travel there, or to many other European countries, and you were treated as an “enemy combatant” no different than an ordinary German.  You might find yourself in jail if you were unlucky, or “free” but without rights to do much of anything.

Return? Hardly … and Conclusion

Exhibit in Yad V’Shem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum

There was no light at the end of the tunnel for many.  Surviving the holocaust didn’t mean being able to rebuild you life.  The stories we here and the movies we see are almost always about the 1/6 who survived.  They were the exception to the rule.  We want to hear the stories of the exception who made it, and by in large that’s where we find stories of heroism and those who rose above the horror, but even being the 1/6 to survive did not mean recovery.  My wife’s great-grandmother survived Bergen-Belsen to die of a tuberculosis epidemic after “liberation”.  In researching my own family records at Yad Vashem, I found a cousin of my great-grandmother who made it to Jerusalem to testify about my great-grandmothers family – they were almost all killed in Belzec.  My great-grandmother, Sheindel (Jenny) Silberman, the oldest of a dozen plus children had left for New York earlier, at the age of 12, to avoid being raped by the Kozacs … they saved her life and mine in a twisted way.  One sister made it to Brazil, another to Toronto after hiding in convent.  Other cousins made it to Israel.  There’s a reason they didn’t find their homes in Europe – Hashem [G_d’s] plan, it seems, was not for Jews to remain in any large numbers in eastern Europe any longer.

My first time back to Yad Vashem was last summer on the insistence of my teenage son.  I had my fill of Holocaust museums earlier in my life, but the museum is well made and well thought out.  It chronicles the history of the Holocaust as you move back and forth from room to room, crossing through a long narrow corridor designed after corridors such as that which my great-great grandparents went through stripped bare on the way to the gas chamber in Belzec where they were told to breathe deeply.  At the end, in Yad Vashem at least … when you finally make it, after what took us hours of passing through “highlights” and stories of 12 years of hell in Europe, one reaches an actual light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s a balcony overlooking the hills of Jerusalem.  In the distance is a physically rebuilt Jerusalem, bigger than it every was.  Now we wait for the ongoing spiritual rebuilding to be completed.

(Written and published on Tish B’Av while fasting though I visited Yad V’Shem on Shiva Esser B’Tammuz last year – I couldn’t seem to complete the article until today.)

On a wall in Yad V’Shem – Truth.

Albert Einstein Biography

Who is Einstein?

I just finished Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein.  I sought out the biography to better understanding various quotes which have been circulating as of late.  There are the witty quotes about relativity of time and sitting with a pretty woman and there is the 1914 letter to his first wife:, ”A. You will see to it (1) that my clothes and linen are kept in order, (2) that I am served three regular meals a day in my room. B. You will renounce all personal relations with me, except when these are required to keep up social appearances.” And: ”You will expect no affection from me . . . You must leave my bedroom or study at once without protesting when I ask you to.”

One has to wonder, what was he really like behind the Warhol-like posters, tongue sticking out, and unkempt hair?

If you’re also wondering, you can read this summary or you can read the biography.  Walter Isaacson never disappoints – he has a great book titled “In the Plex” on the early years of Google and another on Steve Jobs.  Walter Isaacson, clearly Jewish himself, also provides plenty of information about Judaism and Jewish people in his books, most especially when talking about Einstein.

One can best sum up the contradictions between a cold-hearted spouse and witty affable man with a pipe, sailboat, and violin by looking at different stages of his life.  He came from a very secular Jewish family and had more Christian than Jewish education which, Isaacson suggests led him to seek out more about Judaism.  He had some informal Jewish education in his single digit years and actually kept Shabbos and Kosher for a time despite his family doing neither.  Then he got into secular philosophy and that was the end of any formal religious practice for the rest of his life.

Young Einstein

Through his 20s he was a “dissenter” as he described his religion in a government document.  At the same time, he was a “dissenter” from any sort of ideas society would impose upon him and quite aloof in terms of human relations.  He would write letters to eminent scientists and tell them everything they did which was wrong and then ask them for a job at the end of the letter.  This also goes for professors for him he did not care for and for whom he would later rely on to find employment.  As such, he found employment in the Swiss patent office.  I chuckle at this because it’s quite often that one finds those near the bottom of their scientific profession working at the U.S. Patent Office making, sometimes, 1/3 of what they could make in the private sector.

Though much of this information didn’t come out until the 1980s when letters were found (which ex-relatives didn’t destroy but were asked to), it turns out during these younger years Einstein had an illegitimate child, a failed marriage, an typically absentee father (though he was very involved before the divorce) and occasional teaching positions with few attendees.  Then came his breakthroughs.  As such a “dissenter” from religion, society, and structure Einstein gave up his German citizenship (well before WWII) hating rigidity of German society where he was born and opted for Switzerland and a whole lot of thinking.  Most of his papers, as he himself would describe, were of little consequence – except for relativity.  (He never failed math, incidentally – the closest he came was a bad grade in college because he refused to attend.)

I’ll refrain from getting into the science for the purpose of this article.  Rather, Einstein was catapulted into stardom for his theory that the New York Times regularly misunderstood and said they didn’t understand.  Yet they kept writing about Einstein and he became famous to a level which seems to be largely unknown today in a fractured society with so many media outlets.  At that time, heroes were simple and uncomplicated.

Einstein Matures

Returning to the Jewish issue, as Einstein got older it seemed he was more aware and involved in being Jewish.  Though intermarried to his first wife, his second was his Jewish first cousin.  Throughout his life he continued to reject things like monogamy and had many female “friends” but he was acutely aware of anti-semitism.  He didn’t, before the rise of Hitler, seem to lose any speaking positions or professorship jobs at various universities but he had friends who did and anti-semites who spoke out against him and his “Jewish science” which was less grounded in the reality and experimentation and more based in abstract thought and reasoning.

Einstein, for his part, believed in a form of an omniscient G_d or Creator.  However, he did not believe that this Creator cared about us or that we matter, in a large break from Jewish thought.  On top of this, as he got older he retreated from a free-wheeling philosophy to one of formalism.  A hydrogen atom, when excited, releases a certain discrete quanta of light when energy is added but the direction which the light travels is seemingly random.  Einstein said to Neils Bohr on a trolly ride where they lost track of time and position, “I do not believe that G_d plays dice.”  Bohr responded, “Who are you to tell G_d what to do?”  Einstein believed there is no free will – merely causation in a big dance that plays itself out.  Bohr, who I learned from the book is also Jewish believed like a Jew – we have free will and can decide or destiny.

Einstein then went on for years to agitate against those that argued otherwise and worked for decades on a “unified theory” to explain all natural phenomena according to formula.  That has remained unsuccessful to this day.  When pressed as to why he was no longer rebelling and was sticking to his rules, complete with finagle constants and the like (which have been shown to be very wrong) he repeated, “a good trick shouldn’t be repeated” and he was left behind as science advanced.

Instead, Einstein became a celebrity and figure in places like the pacifist movement (arguing that if just 2% of people didn’t show for a draft they couldn’t jail everyone).  After WWII he would change his mind about this.  Einstein fund-raised for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem which holds his archives today.  When traveling to Israel and seeing the Western Wall (pre-state) he thought the religious Jews praying there were relics of an old time and went with the reform and typically Chassidic opinion on the formation of a state – he was for Jews living in Israel but not for the formation of the state.  He was extremely against Menachem Begin and violence used to try and make the state happen.  He further felt that it would hurt Judaism and make it nationalistic instead of religious in character.  However, after 1948 he changed his stance going from a “Satmar” opinion to a “Rav Schach” stance stating that since it’s there we have to keep it and do what we can to make it stronger.  He did not think the state would help Jews economically but 70 years later it’s clear how wrong he was.

Conclusion

There’s much more that can be said about Einstein from his transformation from a radical anti-people person to an affable professor as he matured.  In terms of his Judaism he reminds me of my own grandfather who was born in 1918 and worked as a chemist for his career.  On the one hand my grandfather might tell me, “I’ll have you know that I donated a large sum of money to help Jews in Argentina [during the financial crisis there] move to Israel” while perhaps lighting Chanukah candles or attending a Passover seder.  On the other hand, my grandfather also claimed to believe that everything was part of a natural order.  Judaism was more cultural and defined by how other’s treated us rather than an internal value system which guides every aspect of our lives regardless of what the outside world has to say about us.  (My grandfather was completely faithful to my grandmother though!)

 

 

kosher-patentsWhen the name of your blog is Patently Jewish and someone sends you a book titled Kosher Patents, it doesn’t get much more on topic than that.  The book starts with a very good description of the patent process and how one goes about obtaining a patent.  It’s written by Adam Diament, a patent attorney in California.  (I’m a patent attorney in New Jersey.)   It’s a very jewish field in general, including a good number of Torah observant patent attorneys.  Another runs the ‘12:01am Tuesday‘ blog.  Another was the former head of AT&T’s patent department who also happened to train me.  Finally, yet another that I worked with a few years ago on litigation introduced himself to me in synagogue two weeks ago … it turned out we’ve been going to the same place on Friday nights for quite some time.  Patent attorneys aren’t the most social bunch.

Anyway, that’s enough digression for now.  Mr. Diament’s book then proceeds with a disclaimer about bad patents and the examples are really mostly the sort of thing for a coffee table.  I got through the entire book in one sitting.  It’s not very technical … just a picture each invention, what is the Jewish issue it’s trying to solve, and what the patent is for.  Some are serious … like Maneshevitz’s matzah baking machine dating from the 1910s, but most are on the silly side of things.  For example, a wand that you hold next to an LED light on a menorah to turn it on simulating lighting with a candle.  Most are more on the silly side of things somewhat akin to another book, “Patently Silly.”

A great many of the inventions simply aren’t kosher at all.  (The author usually points out the problems with the patents according to Jewish law, although I believe he is mistaken about a lack of source for fish not being eaten with meat.)  There are various inventions to be able to turn on and off lights on the Sabbath, but most of them are totally invalid according to Jewish law, except in emergency situations when you’re probably better off just flipping the switch.  Though I did like one – it was a cover to hold down the switch in your refrigerator so the light stays off when you open the door (we just don’t keep a bulb in our refrigerator).  Many a ba’al teshuvah (loosely used today to describe someone who returns to Judaism from a more secular background) has a story about the first time they had to do that while staying at a relative’s house.  Good times Dad, good times.

So in summary, it’s a good book to open discussion.  Personally, I keep two pictures in my office – one is a stick figure cat drawn by Mark Cuban, and the other is a picture of my family and kids.  Both do wonders to calm down nervous / paranoid inventors and paradoxically help us get down to business.