A MIRROR OF JEWISH AMERICAN HISTORY: Moment's Archives Reflect What Has Troubled, Concerned, Excited and Inspired American Jews from 1975 to the Present

By Breger, Sarah | Moment, Summer 2020 | Go to article overview

A MIRROR OF JEWISH AMERICAN HISTORY: Moment's Archives Reflect What Has Troubled, Concerned, Excited and Inspired American Jews from 1975 to the Present


Breger, Sarah, Moment


IN 1910 IN WARSAW, POLAND writer Zvi Prylucki founded Der Moment, a popular independent Yiddish daily read by Jews throughout Eastern Europe. In 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, and the newspaper and its editors vanished into the cataclysm of the Holocaust. Thirty-four years later and more than 4,000 miles away, two professors in Boston sat down to discuss their dream of a new independent Jewish magazine. One was Leonard Fein, then teaching at Brandeis University; the other was Elie Wiesel, from Boston University. Wiesel recalled that his father Shlomo, who had been incarcerated with him in Auschwitz and died shortly before liberation, had been an avid reader of Der Moment. Fein and Wiesel decided their new publication would be called Moment, to continue the legacy of Der Moment. Wiesel would be literary editor, Fein editor.

In his editor's note in the May 1975 inaugural issue of Moment, Fein set out the magazine's mandate "that Moment will help raise the sense of Jewish possibility, hence also raise Jewish aspirations." For Fein, Moment was "above all else, an invitation: an invitation to take Jewish possibilities seriously (but not somberly); an invitation to inquiry, to learning, to literature, to Jewish life richly conceived. For that reason, no aspect of Jewish life is alien to us. And for that reason, as well, no established verity is outside the scope of our critical concern." For its 45 years of publication, Moment has stayed true to this mission, becoming a vital chronicle of modern American Jewish history. Even at its inception, Fein realized its potential value for historians, jokingly thinking of a future doctoral student's thesis, "The First Years of Moment and How It Helped Shape and Nurture, Protect and Defend Jewish Life and Bring Us to Our Present Happy State." As he predicted, Moment's archives today are a lens into what has troubled, concerned, excited and inspired American Jews from 1975 to the present.

Moment's first issue lived up to its tag-line as "The New Magazine for American Jews." A mix of literature, criticism and Jewish thought, the publication featured prominent voices such as Calvin Trillin, writing a satirical piece about his Eastern European immigrant family (who arrived in die U.S. via the port of Galveston, courtesy of New York banker Jacob Schiff) and Susan Dworkin surveying the growing American Jewish feminist movement. The magazine ended with an essay from Wiesel, "Remembering," marking the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, "when die remaining young boys and girls rose up and made a desperate last bid to live--or at least die--as free human beings." He called upon Jews to remember all six million, "those who took up arms and fought but also those who did not, those who had the strength to resist but also those who chose to die in silence."

But it was the State of Israel that took up most of Moment's pages, with pieces such as "Can Israel Win Another War?" and "The Real Threat of the P.L.O." And an exchange of letters between Shlomo Avineri and Robert Alter examined the state of Zionism inside and outside of Israel. "The classic Zionist position on Jewish existence, which half a century ago was still the subject of strident debate among Jews, has become a generally assumed fact for most Jews, even for many who are not officially Zionist," wrote Alter, adding, "One issue about which classic Zionism was dead wrong was the so-called 'normalization' of Jewish life through the establishment of a Jewish state. The intrinsic terms of Jewish national existence are anomalous, and the cutting edge of the anomaly has, if anything, become more acutely felt since the creation of a Jewish state, supposedly k'chol hagoyim" ("like all other nations").

The magazine's first year managed to cover Lubavitcher Mitzvah Tanks, Jewish cops, and corruption in the American Jewish world. Some opinion columns could easily appear in today's Moment--a call for universally funded Jewish education, for example--and yet the sensibilities of the time ring through. …

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