Many unicorns herded together form a blessing upon your Saturday. And this week’s blessing of unicorns is an extra eclectic and glorious herd—family policy, Jane Addams, immigrants, Jewish converts to Christianity, and the humor of Great Books.
Erika Bachiochi has a wonderful reflection at the Institute for Family Studies blog: “Healthy Families Should Be at the Center of Economic Policy.” A taste that should convince you to go read in full:
I think we ought to prioritize, in the words of Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Hull House Founder Jane Addams, “the family claim over the social claim.” How might we do that today? I don’t think it’s in seeking to return to the stopgap 1950s settlement of public men and private women, even if some families would (and happily do) arrange themselves that way. Indeed, in our post-industrial, technologically-advanced economy, in which women are as educated as men, and younger fathers (much like their agrarian predecessors), are increasingly invested in the care, nurture, and education of their children, determining who-does-what-when with their peculiar gifts and constraints requires a practical wisdom that mothers and fathers must together employ for the good of their family. But encouraging that wisdom requires law and policies that respect the work of the family as foundational to every social, political and economic good, and thus respect the autonomy and responsible agency of each family to best organize itself according to its own concrete needs.
Okay, so this is not from this past week, but Bachiochi’s discussion of Jane Addams reminded me of Eric Miller’s gorgeous essay about Addams here at Current a while back: “What Jane Addams Knew.” A taste (and you should go read this in full):
Addams envisioned another form of wealth and Hull House became its hub, a Wall Street for the people, nine thousand passing through its doors each week. Many made costly deposits. Dozens took up residence, organizing and administrating and agitating and teaching and taking care. They led reading circles, trash removal brigades, child-care classes, neighborhood dances, construction projects, reform campaigns. Eventually Hull House grew to thirteen buildings that housed, among other things, a theater, apartments for working women, a nursery, a gymnasium, a coffeehouse, and a labor museum…
Jane Addams knew, in sum, that the discrete and the local always participate in the whole—and that the ever-crucial question becomes, in turn, Is the participation harmonic? Does the broader political frame inspire acts of mercy and justice? Or does it impede them? Is life on the ground—in the shanties and alleys and schoolyards—fostered by a grander movement toward broadly shared goods? Or is it being pressed into more degraded forms by forces at ease with poverty and, in fact, intent on exploiting it?
This week at Current, Carolynn Roncaglia reviewed Mary Beard’s newest book, Emperor of Rome. If your interest is piqued, you may enjoy this new podcast episode from Beard about Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Olga Zilberbourg and I share a hometown back in the “old” country. I always find Olga’s writing deeply moving—an immigrant never fully stops feeling like an immigrant, a transplant from elsewhere, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only brought out these feelings further for many of us. So it is with this gorgeous short story, “Make Peace with Cake,” in The Museum of Americana: A Literary Review. A taste that should make it clear why you need to read this in full:
To be sure, Leo wasn’t himself in any rush to enter the circuit. When his first birthday came, he pushed at a cupcake as though it was a foundational threat to his life, and munched on grape halves. At his second birthday, he decided that his cake was treasure and guarded against all enemy approaches to it. We found no way to convince him that not only was it food, but also a food meant to be shared.
Then the pandemic happened. Quarantine. Leo started preschool late, and for two years, there was barely any talk about socializing outside of school. We filled the weekends with trips to the park, the ocean, the zoo. Leo fell in love with a flamboyance of flamingos and once spent forty minutes watching them stand around while he munched on his grapes and dry toast. One thing about Leo, he stayed true to himself; with him, it was grapes once, grapes forever.
In his third and final year of preschool, birthday party invitations started coming every two weeks. He had twenty-four classmates, so that made a certain sense. Sioma and I, on the other hand, didn’t feel like celebrating much. Earlier that year, the country where we’d grown up attacked its neighbor. It turned out that most of our friends weren’t actually from Russia, but from Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and one family was Korean by way of Kazakhstan and Crimea. We were from Russia. It made Sioma feel guilty by association.
Over at Ad Fontes, Miles Smith tells the fascinating story of Ridley Haim Herschell, an early 19th-century Jewish convert to Christianity. A taste:
In 1842, the United States’ major Presbyterian publishing house, the Philadelphia-based Presbyterian Board of Publication, offered to the public one of the strangest books they had yet published. The author, Polish-born Ridley Haim Herschell, hailed from a family of pious Ashkenazi Jews. A bright child and good student, Herschell procured an education in then Prussian-controlled territories. In Berlin, Herschell encountered Christian literature and had what he called a dramatic conversion to Christianity. He asked Roman Catholics and Protestants for help learning his new religion as he struggled to reconcile his Christian beliefs with his Jewish family and heritage; he eventually became a Protestant because he believed Protestantism allowed him to reconcile his Jewish heritage with his Christianity more easily than Roman Catholicism did.
Conversion of the Jews for Herschell rested on an embrace of who Jesus Christ was. The Messiah, Herschell reminded his generally Protestant readers in 1837, was a Jew. His best-known book, A Brief Sketch of the Present State and Future Expectations of the Jews, “endeavoured to impart more just views of the present condition of my brethren the Jews” than was “commonly entertained among Christians.”
Joel Cuthbertson’s fantastic essay suckered me in with the title—“All Classics Are Funny”—and while the Classics he discusses are a lot more recent than what this Classicist was expecting (pet peeve, people: if it’s less than 2,000 years old, you can call it a great book, but it’s not Classics with a capital “C”!), this really is a fun read. A taste:
I have developed a modest theory about all this having to do with classic books1: All classics are classics only insofar as they’re funny. It might sound more reasonable to say, “only to the extent that they can be funny,” or “only if they’re sometimes funny,” or even, “All classics are not funny, except for Jane Austen.” I hold no truck with such tact. Consider Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a work dedicated to depicting the horrors of America’s chattel slavery. One-liners abound: “Sethe struggled to stand and discovered that not only could she do a split, but that it hurt.” Another grand volume in the canon of world literature, War and Peace, is outright farcical: “Can they be coming at me? And why? To kill me? Me whom everyone is so fond of?” Even Faulkner gets his licks in, devoting an entire page in As I Lay Dying to one line: “My mother is a fish.”