Plus ca change: The Benedikt case


Lotsa blogo-action over this piece in the Awl by Allison Benedikt, the Village Voice’s film editor, about her evolving views on Israel.

Or maybe not so much evolving, maybe, as Jeffrey Goldberg has suggested, battered by competing emotional needs and loyalties, to her family, to her camp counselors, to her husband, who is less than in love with Israel…

Much of the back and forth has focused on this  husband, John Cook, a Gawker editor, and his, shall we say, robust approach to ingratiating himself with the in-laws.

Here’s a taste:

Once in Tel Aviv, John confronts my sister and her husband on their "morally bankrupt decision" to live in Israel. I spend the whole week trying to explain him to her and her to him, even though they mostly agree. (She’s become Israeli, which is a lot different from being an American Jew.) He thinks the Bauhaus architecture is ugly ("this city looks like a war zone") and is unimpressed by the Wailing Wall ("it’s small"), but at least concedes that the food is delicious and the women are hot. He’s legitimately scared of an attack, which seems absurd to me, even though we walk by a bombed-out disco only a few minutes from my sister’s apartment. We take a trip to the West Bank and pass through a checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers who —so friendly!— tell us they are from Jersey. I feel sick. This is a different Israel than I remember. Or I am different? The trip finally ends and wow it is good to be home.

Goldberg’s excoriation — and the emails he’s received in response — have focused to a degree on Cook’s role in this drama.

This email made sense to me:

Ms. Benedikt writes this article with a stunning lack of self-awareness. She paints her mother as a blithering idiot (and paints herself as a kind of an idiot as well), and she has a lot of hostility for her husband, it’s very apparent to me. She wrote that she brought her Christian husband to Israel where he lectured her sister and brother-in-law on how morally bankrupt they were to move to Israel. She must have been so embarrassed by this behavior. Maybe this was her way of telling him that he behaves like an ass. It appears to me that you were displacing a little of the anger that this husband made you feel onto his wife.

It’s odd: To what degree does one assess  political and journalistic insights against intimacies? But Benedikt has made her marriage a factor in her back and forth. And check out this tweet from Cook upon its publication :

My wife @abenedikt wrote a really wonderful piece for @theawl on her summers living the Zionist dream, and on waking up

"Waking up." Yikes. If Benedikt’s piece truly was a passive aggressive bid at getting hubby to get over it, it didn’t work. Talk about Just Not Getting It.

Anyway, Jeffrey blogs at the Atlantic, and as soon as I read his reaction, something clicked: Years ago, about 20 years ago  — long before everything was archived electronically, and when there was barely an internet — a friend was researching a story and going through that magazine’s archives when he stumbled upon this. He made me a photocopy.

It’s called "I married a Jew." It dates from 1939. Its author remains anonymous.

Now it’s readily available online. Read it, and see if you can’t stop obsessing — as I still do, 20 years later — about what happened to this marriage in 1945 as the news of the preceding six years became horrifyingly clear.

UPDATE: Benedikt responds to Goldberg. She acknowledges that people think her husband is a jerk. She seems to agree that he can be at times. He orders her to retweet a tweet in which he uses an obscenity.

You know what I blame? I blame reality shows.

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