LISTEN: Zelensky and the Trump call — good for the Jews?
People of the Pod

LISTEN: Zelensky and the Trump call — good for the Jews?

Episode #5: JTA’s Cnaan Liphshiz delves into the Jewish angle to the current US crisis * Sole US blood libel case * Delving into powerful Yom Kippur prayer Kol Nidre’s pull

It’s time for People of the Pod to bring you the Jewish angle on the origins of United States President Donald Trump’s impeachment case and JTA’s Europe correspondent Cnaan Liphshiz gives the background on Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky.

In our weekly podcast, produced in partnership between the American Jewish Committee and The Times of Israel, we take you beyond the headlines and analyze global affairs through a Jewish lens.

The podcast examines political events, the people driving them, and what it all means for the Jewish people and Israel.

Upon Zelensky’s election, Ukraine briefly was the only country outside of Israel to have both a Jewish president and prime minister. Ahead of his surprise 2019 election, Zelensky sprung to public attention by starring in “Servant of the People,” a wacky comedy about a teacher who posts piercing criticism of Ukraine and rises through the ranks to become the country’s leader.

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Liphshiz describes Zelensky as behaving like a “guided missile,” tackling corruption in Ukraine. His success since his April election is mixed. “It’s a very big machine and will take a lot of time to correct course,” said Liphshiz. The journalist said the controversial Trump phone call showing the Ukrainian leader “boot-licking” and behaving deferentially to the US president was an act that could boomerang against him.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky takes a selfie at the first congress of his party called Servant of the People in the city Botanical Garden, Kiev, Ukraine, June 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Zoya Shu)

Next, co-host Manya Brachear Pashman is joined by NYU Professor of History Edward Berenson to examine how an incident of a missing child led to America’s only blood libel case. Berenson recently published a new book about this exceptional incident titled, “The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town.”

Barbara Griffiths, age four (Courtesy Barbara Klemens Griffiths)

The sole known US-based case arose two days before Yom Kippur in 1928, when a little girl named Barbara Griffiths went missing in Massena, a small industrial town in upstate New York. The four-year old showed up the next day healthy and unharmed after having gotten lost in the tall grass of farmers’ fields. However, before Barbara safely returned, an accusation was made against local Jews that they had kidnapped and killed her to harvest her blood for ritual purposes.

Born in Massena into an Eastern European Jewish immigrant family two decades after it occurred, Berenson has known about blood libel since he was a child. Blood libel, the accusation that Jews kill Christian children in order to use their blood for ritualistic purposes including the making of matza, is an old form of anti-Semitism, with roots in the Catholic church, said Berenson, Read more in this interview on The Times of Israel.

Romanian Jews, seen through a glass door, attend a religious service ahead of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at the Great Synagogue in Bucharest, Romania, September 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru/Mediafax)

Ahead of Yom Kippur, The Times of Israel’s Jewish Times editor Amanda Borschel-Dan takes listeners on a journey to Israel’s National Library, where Dr. Gila Flam, director of the Music Department of the National Library, helps us delve into emotional pull and significance of Kol Nidre, an ancient Ashkenazi musical setting of a prosaic Aramaic vow of renunciation.

Dr. Gila Flam, director of the Music Department of the Jewish National and University Library (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

The song is one of a set of some 10 foundational liturgical Ashkenazi melodies which are grouped under the label of “Mi-Sinai” or “From Sinai” tunes, Flam said, whose musical “sighing motif” captures listeners. But that doesn’t explain all of its allure. For a much more in-depth dive into famous prayer and its psychological pull, read this Times of Israel story.

And finally we start the new Jewish Year with co-host Kogen becoming nostalgic for the Eighties in his segment, “Good for the Jews.”

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With contributions from Renee Ghert-Zand and TOI staff. 

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