Thursday, July 24, 2014 Tammuz 26, 5774

Let Us Now Praise

February 22, 2007 By:
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The New York Times continues its ongoing project of enshrining American Communists as if they were some of this nation's most heroic citizens. The process nowadays tends to take place on the obituary pages since these aged radicals are fast reaching their 80s and 90s, and have begun dying off.

Consistently, reporters indulge in a form of journalistic hagiography when dealing with these people, and do so for numerous column inches, making them sound like saints simply because they held fast to their ideals decades after they were of any use to anyone. The paper has never gotten around to analyzing just what these ideals might have been, or if the actions of these people did America or the world any good. All that is clearly beside the point, as far as they're concerned.

Two prime examples of such obituaries appeared side by side in the Jan. 3 issue. On the front page, a farewell was said to former president Gerald Ford. Farther into the first section came a sizable obituary for Teddy Kollek, the famed longtime mayor of Jerusalem.

But across from Kollek sat two more modest notices: one for Itche Goldberg, who'd died at 102 and was identified as a "Yiddish advocate"; the other was for Tillie Olsen (born Lerner), dead at 94, and praised as a "feminist writer."

Ari L. Goldman was the author of the Goldberg piece (a veteran Times reporter, Goldman now teaches at Columbia University's school of journalism, but is obviously pressed into service for special assignments like this). For paragraph after paragraph, we heard how Goldberg "wrote and edited and taught his beloved language in the face of all those who said keeping Yiddish alive was a lost cause."

We heard how "Passing on the Yiddish tradition to future generations was the passion of Itche Goldberg's life. He promoted the language in every conceivable form: writing poetry, librettos, children's books and essays and running Yiddish schools and summer camps. His book Yiddish Stories for Young People is still used in the shrinking network of secular Yiddish schools."

The obituary went on like this for most of its length. Only in the last column did we read about his embrace of communism, and how in the 1950s he "repudiated" the ideology after disclosures about Stalin's horrors. What took these people so long?!

The Olsen notice followed the same pattern: literary talk followed by a late discussion of joining the Young Communist League -- though there was no repudiation on her part.

One thing you do have to give Goldberg: He produced a lot of Yiddish-related work, even though only a small and shrinking population looks at it. Olsen's literary reputation is based on three books, and the only substantial one, Tell Me a Riddle, contains four stories.

Truth be told, little doubt remains that the reason why we heard so much about these individuals and why they received such prominent placement was more for their politics than anything else. 

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