Newsletter : 15fx0108.txt
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Jewish Cartoonist Georges Wolinski Among Hebdo Victims
Among the victims of Wednesday's terror attack in Paris was a Jewish member of the
Charlie Hebdo staff, Georges Wolinski. The son of a Tunisian Jewish mother and a Polish
Jewish father, Wolinski was a well-known caricaturist in France, and the subject of a 2012
Looking for an alternative to his university architectural studies, Wolinski began
cartooning in 1960, eventually becoming one of the most influential cartoonists in France.
His work has appeared in the daily newspaper Libération, the weekly Paris-Match,
L'Écho des savanes and Charlie Hebdo, the publication at whose offices he was
killed in Wednesday's terror attack.
Twelve people were killed in the shooting attack at the offices of French satirical
news magazine Charlie Hebdo in central Paris. The magazine published cartoons of the
Muslim prophet Mohammed in 2012, leading France to temporarily close its embassies and
schools in more than 20 countries amid fears of Islamist reprisals. The offices of Charlie
Hebdo were also burned down on Nov. 2, 2011. A firebomb was lobbed into the offices of the
paper at about 1 a.m., igniting a blaze.
On Wednesday evening, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Paris to
protest the terror attack. Many of the protestors carried signs that read "I am Charlie,"
a reference to the name of the publication attacked by Islamist terrorists. In a speech
Wednesday night, French President Francois Hollande declared Thursday a day of mourning
for the victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
Calling the attack "cowardly," Hollande said that "an act of exceptional barbarism has
been committed in Paris against a newspaper. It was an act against journalists who had
always wanted to show that in France it was possible to defend one's ideas, and exercise
their rights that are guaranteed and protected by the French Republic. The people
responsible for this are now hunted men. They will be hunted for as long as it takes. They
will be arrested and face justice for their crime.
"Today France is in shock," said Hollande, "the shock of a multiple assassination, a
terrorist attack. That much is clear; Charlie Hebdo had received threats in the past, and
was under police protection. We must all stand together at this difficult time. We must
show we are a united country. We know how we must react, and our response will be firm,
always taking into account that national unity."
US Asks Poland to Extradite Roman Polanski
The United States has asked Poland to extradite filmmaker Roman Polanski, who pleaded
guilty in 1977 to raping a 13-year-old but left the country before sentencing, Polish
prosecutors said Wednesday. The move comes months after the US attempted to have the
French-Polish filmmaker arrested for sex offenses when he traveled to Warsaw for the
opening of a Jewish museum in October. Polish prosecutors questioned the 81-year-old maker
of "The Pianist" and "Chinatown" but allowed him to walk free.
The extradition request was sent on Monday and will be transferred over to the regional
prosecutors handling the case, according to Mateusz Martyniuk, spokesman for the general
prosecutor's office. "The first prosecutors will do is question Polanski," he told AFP,
while refusing to give the filmmaker's location at the moment.
Polanski was accused of raping Samantha Geimer after a photo shoot in 1977 when he was
43 years old. He pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, or statutory rape, avoiding
a trial, but then fled the country fearing a hefty sentence. US officials have pressed for
his extradition regularly to no avail. Polanski, who became a French citizen in 1976 after
moving there from Poland, was arrested in Switzerland on an international arrest warrant
in 2009. He was released after being held for months.
Polanski's lawyers recently requested a new hearing to try and close the case on
procedural grounds, but a Los Angeles judge refused to reopen the case last month.
Polanski's lawyer Jerzy Stachowicz told AFP on Wednesday he was aware of the extradition
request and refused to say whether his client was currently in Poland.
A Polish court will examine the extradition request. A rejection would mean the case is
closed. But if the court approves the request, it will be up to the justice ministry to
give the final go-ahead. Martyniuk told AFP in October that Polanski's extradition was
still possible because "the statute of limitations does not apply to US requests."
Geimer wrote a book about her encounter with Polanski in 2013, in which she said she
was made to drink champagne and was given a sleeping pill before being raped by Polanski
in the house of actor Jack Nicholson.
Isaac Bashevis Singer: The Yiddish Don Juan
"In my younger days I used to dream about a harem full of women; lately, I'm dreaming
of a harem full of translators. If those translators could be women in addition, this
would be paradise on earth," Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, one of the
greatest Jewish writers of all time, noted in his autobiography.
Singer's literary works are indeed filled with desires and passion, yet few know that
his life itself was no less stormy. Now, a harem of women, sex, betrayals and affairs have
all come to light in a new documentary, "The Muses of Isaac Bashevis Singer, which offers
a less-familiar picture of the revered writer. His relationships with women, it turns out,
were like an unfinished chapter in one of the Yiddish genius' stories.
Many years after emigrating from Warsaw to New York and establishing himself as one of the
world's most important writers, Singer, who only wrote in Yiddish, set up an army of
translators, all young women, who helped make his works available to the
non-Yiddish-speaking public; and many of these women were smitten (or burned
depends how you look at it) by the apparent-womanizer's charm.
The revelations in the documentary, filmmakers Shaul Betser and Asaf Galay stress, come
from interviews with some of the translators. "Contrary to the prevailing image of the Jew
in exile, it turns out Bashevis Singer was a Don Juan who was always in a relationship
with three different women at the same time one was the mistress, one was for
serious conversation, and of course there was his official wife too," Galay said.
"That thrill, that triangle, was very important to him. His nephew, a journalist who
dreamed of becoming a writer, once asked him how he does it, and Singer replied: 'You
can't be a writer until you have a lover on the sixth floor who can fire up your
adrenaline and emotions. Only then will you cease to be a journalist and start becoming a
"We love Bashevis Singer," Betser added somewhat apologetically. "But the subject of
the translators hadn't been sufficiently covered. The story of the translators can be
explained, in general, by the fact that they met two of his two requirements he
used them as a sounding board, but he also needed their admiring looks for him."
And indeed, in Isaac Bashevis Singer's harem, the translators were muses and madonnas.
He listened to them like the psychologist they never had, and they fawned over him and
offered him inspiration. He loved to hear their most intimate secrets and used them in his
works and life. "He hurt some of them very much, forgot to give them credit for their
translations, didn't invite them to the book launches but they always forgave him,"
"Most of the translators were young, in their twenties, and the amazing thing is that
none of them worked as translators professionally," Galay continued. Jody Biber, for
example, was a hostess at a hotel Singer liked to stay at. She had no idea about
translation from Yiddish and she only approached one day to ask for his autograph; and
then Singer asked to meet with her and one thing led to another and she became his
"Another translator, Hannah, approached him after a lecture and told him that she loves
stories. He asked her to meet with him and turned her into his translator too. They were
always second-generation Jewish Americans, and he also had a preference for black
Singer's unresolved story with women began long before his move to the United States.
In Warsaw in the mid-1920s, the young writer met a woman named Rochel Shapira, the
daughter of a rabbi, who was an ardent communist, full of life, and the total opposite of
Alma, his submissive future wife.
Although Singer and Shapira never married, the two had a relationship that three years
later produced a son, Israel (journalist and author Israel Zamir, who passed away in
November). Five years thereafter, however, Singer abandoned Rochel and his son and moved
to the United States. Twenty years went by before Singer and Israel met again.
"When I was young girl, I didn't know I had a grandfather who was a writer," says Merav
Chen, the daughter of Zamir and granddaughter of Bashevis Singer. "All I heard from my
grandmother was very general talk about the fact that he left them and followed his
brother to the United States, and that he promised to send money but never did. She was
angry with him for years, yet she still admired his stories."
Rochel and the young Israel eventually found their way to Israel, via the former Soviet
Union and then Turkey. "We went to the United States when I was four, because my father
was an emissary for Hashomer Hatzair, and we lived nearby Bashevis Singer," Merav, the
granddaughter recounts. "I remember a short-tempered man and the arguments he caused
between my grandmother and my father. She would say he is a man without a heart, a
self-centered man who never cared.
"My father had contacted him 10 years earlier, but it wasn't a warm relationship. In
New York he really did spend more time with him. My grandmother never spoke to him again.
The moment she found out he had married Alma, she shut the door."
Bashevis Singer certainly had a way with women, who didn't fall for his looks but for
his sharp tongue instead. In the 1980s, he was chosen by the prestigious magazine,
McCall's, as one of the 10 sexiest men in America. "There's an enormous energy damned up
in him which is capable of sending a rocket to the moon," the magazine's editors wrote of
their choice. "He describes such strong lust that the page catches fire as you read it."
For Singer, Betser and Galay both say, Alma, his wife, served as home and stability.
"At some point, she's aware of all the mistresses and accepts it," Betser says. "Singer
was very dependent on her. Alma divorced her husband and left her two children to be with
Playwright Leah Napolin, who turned Singer's short story, "Yentl," into a successful
stage production, says that Singer treated Alma disgracefully and discounted her
completely. "She was a very nice woman," Napolin recalls, "but the relationship was a
problematic one between a very strong man and a subservient woman. He treated her like a
servant. He had a name for being a womanizer."
Evelyn Torton Beck met Singer in the United States in 1968. She was a PhD student at
University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Comparative Literature, and the two hit it
off when Singer went there as a guest lecturer.
"Singer invited me to his house to talk about a story by Kafka," Beck recalls. "I was a
little afraid at first because he had a reputation and was known as a womanizer, but I was
already married and I was self-assured and it was wonderful. He asked me if I would be his
translator, and now, I don't know how to describe it to you, but it was as if he had asked
me to marry him. I was so excited that I agreed without even thinking.
"We talked a lot. He used to come to my house because his office was small. At that
time, my children were in school, my husband was at the university, and we would sit
together in the study. He would sit in the special orange chair; and sometimes he stayed
for dinner, and sometimes we went out to eat. There's a pretty square in Madison,
Wisconsin, that overlooks the lake, and we'd watch the pigeons there together.
"Look, Bashevis loved to be loved, and he needed it in his life, too. There were
stories that some of the women succumbed to his charms and had intimate relationships with
him. He loved to listen to the stories of their lives and he drew his works from that. He
always used to tell me stories about various women and students who come to him in the
middle of the night and want to talk to him, like in some of his stories."
Although he lived in the United States for more than 50 years, Isaac Bashevis Singer,
who was born in 1904 or so, will always be remembered as the red-haired boy from the house
at 10 Krochmalna Street in Warsaw. And no one captured the essence of life in the Jewish
shtetls of Eastern Europe quite like him with stories of Hasidim that also include
gentiles and brothels.
"Singer was born into a traditional society that regarded women as impure," explains
literary scholar Dr. Bilha Rubinstein, who has translated Singer's works into Hebrew. "He
knew the three blessings: Blessed is God for not making me a gentile; blessed is God for
not making me a slave; and blessed is God for not making me a woman. But because he
admired his mother, the women he wanted around him were women who want to learn, women who
stand up for themselves, or gentiles. He was fond of assertive woman because he was an
Merav, the granddaughter says she doesn't think Singer was "a womanizer in the simple
sense of the word." According to Merav, "His behavior stemmed from the fact that he sought
the image of his mother in every woman the wise woman, the opinionated woman, with
lofty ambitions, but at the same time also the woman who will manage him and look after
him. I think I really realized I had a grandfather who was a famous writer when he won the
Nobel Prize. I still remember my father's excitement and his trip to the ceremony.
"When I was 18, I went to visit friends in Mexico and I spent 10 days with him in Miami
on the way back. His wife, Alma, came across as a woman who was willing to do everything
for him not in the sense of a weak woman, but in the sense of a woman who has
decided that she's going to live with a great man and is willing to pay the price. She
lived to provide and care for the special man that fell into her net."
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