Rare Medium

Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk

Harry Kreisler chats with 20 righteous people.

Book Cover Though I am not an (religiously) observant Jew, I am appreciative and simpatico with various myths and legends and teachings of my people. And I am especially thankful that the Israelites have avoided the voodoo of creating saints—which is, I suppose, an entertaining and consoling enterprise for folk who hold such things dear (if you find that tautological, that’s the nature of that voodoo). On the other hand Hasids have held on to the endearing and lovely notion of the lamed vovnik—36 hidden righteous ones—that at all times there are 36 such special people in the world—some may be infants and some may be near death—and that were it not for them, all of them, if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end.

Harry Kreisler, the executive director of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, has interviewed a multitude of artists and activists over the past quarter-century, and The New Press has anthologized 20 of them in a splendid collection entitled Political Awakenings: Conversations with History. Participants include Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, Elizabeth Warren, Shirin Ebadi, Michael Pollan, Daniel Ellsberg, Ron Dellums, Howard Zinn, and others.

Speaking of Howard Zinn, I was privileged to attend a private (private in this case filling Boston’s Arlington Street Church) memorial hosted by Howard’s family. Though it was a bittersweet moment, I came away uplifted, as I had when I attended the Zinn family memorial for Rosalyn Zinn, a year or so ago. I would list who was there and who spoke but I feel it would violate the spirit of that celebration to make what now passes for news. It should suffice for you to know that emotions were eloquently presented and well-received. The over-arching feeling I came away with was that Howie, as his children and grandchildren referred to him, was the best evidence and example of his politics and values. Here’s one of the gems from the Political Awakenings collection: Howard Zinn’s expressed belief:
If you are engaged in a movement, even if the objective looks very far away, you don’t have to look for some victory in the future. The very engagement with other people in a common struggle for something you believe in—that is a victory in itself.
And this idea of 36 just people, the lamed vovniks, when I think of Howard Zinn, it does gain some credence.
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