Tikkun, Winter 2011

Tikkun Anniversary Notes

by Paul Buhle

The twenty-fifth anniversary of Tikkun is a cause for celebration and deep consideration about where we are, where we have come, and where we may be going. Young and old alike will benefit by following the bouncing ball, in the pages of the magazine and on the website.

But in the aftermath of a disastrous election, we should properly begin with a somber tone. The sneering of France's high-profile Jewish intellectual, Bernard-Henri Levy, at the receding waves of young people, civil servants, and other French workers on strike in the millions against social cutbacks and against the rule of the thuggish Sarkozy makes perfect sense. Just as much sense, that is, as the rousing cheers of American neoconservatives at Republican gains at once protecting great wealth from the supposed danger of Reagan-era tax rates, and protecting Netanyahu from pressure to make peace.

After such disappointments, the question facing Tikkun's readers of every generation is where we find inside ourselves, within our cultures and those around us, the reserves and resources that we need now and in the future.

Students in my classes, ever more discouraged during the 1990s and then again after 9/11, took heart at the antiwar sentiment in 2003 (Tony Kushner, Woody Harrelson, and Howard Zinn were among our speakers in that extended moment prior to Shock, Awe and calculated devastation) and then lost it again, regained it during the Immigrant Rights march of 2006 and once more at the Obama presidential campaign, and have been struggling to regain their ground ever since. Jewish students were naturally active in all these movements, while Jewish organizations as such were most frequently on the wrong sides of the issues.

The odds against progressive anything have seemed so often negative that some activist students would invariably ask me, how did you get where you stand? It's a fair question.

My answer would not be their answer, but the two are surely connected. And I said to them that the answer is really about my whole life -- as it will likely be about yours, when you look closely enough. In my case the Old (that is, Jewish) Left was reaching out to me from the time I was a kid in a Republican county in the Midwestern 1950s. Civil rights did not hit town until I was fifteen, and you would hardly know from the local papers that anything was going on anywhere, except of course the Russian Danger, subversion, or the threat of the H-Bomb. But there were some great television shows, in fact my very favorites, written by Jewish radicals on the run from the FBI. There was also folk music and an occasional great satire magazine or stand-up comic delivering a message not to believe the mainstream and to look for sources of solidarity where I could find them.

Soon, if not soon enough, real social movements emerged and things made sense to me as they had not before. They may not now or in the near future, of course. But if the depressing image of Bernard-Henry Levy is too much to bear, think of a young and courageous Israeli, Sivan Hurvitz, whose comic-art images are at once hauntingly beautiful and warning of race-division and potential fascism around her. She is not saying it will happen, but using her strength as an artist to say that it can happen. Thank you, Sivan, for discovering the artist in yourself. Let us all hope to do the same.

Paul Buhle, from Madison, Wisconsin, is retired from Brown University and produces nonfiction comics.

Source Citation: Buhle, Paul. 2011. Tikkun Anniversary Notes. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.

tags: Politics & Society  
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