A collection of current Essays, Articles, Events and Information
Impacting our community and our culture
Compiled by David Shasha
2001 Issue 7 Friday, May 24, 2001
New Book Announcement:
Zvi Zoharís The Luminous Face of the East
I Was a Teenage Punk: Memories of the Past
By: David Shasha
Excerpts from R. Yosef Alboís Sefer Ha-Ikkarim Make Way for the Cairo Express
By: Barry Davis
A Literary Resurrection for a Forgotten Marrano Hero
By: Ilan Stavans
Elvis Costello: Letís Make Music
By: Allan Kozinn
"We Didnít Come to Tell You to Get Out"
By: Yitzhak Laor
Scientists Detect the Traces of the Seeds of Cosmic Structures
By: James Glanz
Parents Hungry for A B Cís Find Schools Donít Add Up
By: Kate Zernike
New Book Announcement:
Zvi Zoharís The Luminous Face of the East (Hebrew)
During the past two centuries (c. 1800 ó 2000) the Jewish communities of the Middle East were home to rabbinic scholars and leaders of great stature and vision. The halakhic and philosophic creativity of these rabbis are the focus of this book, which reveals to its readers a rich and fascinating cultural world, offering a significant alternative to the Ashkenazic Orthodox ethos of "Torah prohibits the new". The paths blazed by these Sephardic-Oriental leaders in dealing with modernity reflect modes of religious thought and cultural openness that are potentially meaningful and relevant for all Jews interested in a Judaism that is authentically traditional but also alive and responsive to cultural and historical change.
The bookís structure follows geographic divisions: Three chapters on rabbinic creativity in Iraq are followed by two chapters on Syria and then four chapters on the rabbis of Egypt. Then come seven chapters on the writings and thought of Sephardic rabbis in Eretz Israel. A final chapter presents a general thesis on the differences between the Halakhic ethos of Sephardic and Ashkenazic rabbis in modern times.
Zvi Zohar is a senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where he founded the Center for Halakha. He is also a senior faculty member of Bar Ilan university, where he holds a position in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Contemporary Jewry.
Please Note: A limited amount of The Luminous Face of the East (Hebrew), are available for purchase for $20. Please email Jeffrey Dweck or if you are interested in obtaining a copy.
I Was a Teenage Punk: Memories of the Past
I was dreaming of the past
And my heart is beating fast
I began to lose control
I didn't mean to hurt you
I'm sorry that I made you cry
John Lennon, "Jealous Guy"
With the recent death of Joey Ramone, a personal hero from my own youth, I have looked at a few things recently that have given me pause to think.
The perennial theme of the outsider, for those of us who found ourselves shunned by the mainstream of our social circles when we grew up, was one that was raised in the mid-1970's by a number of cultural movements in music. The 1960's left us with a legacy of self-indulgent hippies, rich white brats who took drugs, dodged the draft and generally made a ruckus because their parents had enough money and patience to afford them endless amounts of leisure time.
The 60's morphed into the 70's. The 70's were a time that only served to deepen the freewheeling indulgence promoted by the hippies and counterculture icons like Bob Dylan, a man who demanded in 1962 that "You'd better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone/For the times they are a changin'" - Well, who voted Dylan King of the World? Could these hippies actually change time???
When I was growing up, there was an endless procession of "heavy" songwriters who insisted that they were, as Cat Stevens, one of the most pathetic among them, warbled, "on the road to find out." What it was that they were finding in the early 70's was anybody's guess. But they had mulched over the great artists, Neil Young, Richard Thompson, Robbie Robertson, Van Morrison, etc. by reducing the internal pain and angst of the poet and creating a commercially viable caricature of sensitivity.
The parallel development in rock music was a penchant to excess. Groups like Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Traffic engaged in marathon jams that lost any sense of vitality as they inflated their own sense of importance to the point of sheer meaninglessness. Music in the 1970's was pitched between the singer-songwriter crap and the excesses of stadium rock - both these trends were corporate in nature.
In 1975 there were rumblings in the downtown scene of Manhattan. After years of obscurity, the Velvet Underground, New York Dolls and Iggy Pop and the Stooges emerged as trendsetters of a new and different movement that would come to be known as Punk Rock. The first flowering of this movement was the 1976 release of the self-titled album by a bunch of yokels from Queens named the Ramones.
The Ramones played like the subway at rush hour. Their songs ran no more than a couple of minutes and in their concerts they ran off about 30 songs in under an hour. "ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR" were the intros to the songs rather than the preachy speeches of a Jackson Browne who would ramble on about the omnisignificance of his lyrics. The Ramones were simple and to the point. Their politics were built around the twin "concepts" of speed and energy.
The Ramones brought rock and roll back to popular culture. But at a time when disco ruled the clubs and radio airwaves, the buzzsaw of the Ramones was limited to a rabid group of fans who were all dropouts from the mainstream.
As one of those fans I can say that the exhiliration of the Ramones brought new life and energy to music and culture. It forced us to rethink the categories of culture that we had inherited from the 60's hippie vibe. Punk was predicated upon a merciless questioning of and distancing from the naive and simplistic ideas of peace and love that the hippies have managed to drag out to the present in the form of Oprah and social workers at every corner. Punk was an intelligence, a steely determined effort to overcome ignorance and apathy by throwing ignorance and apathy back at a semi-comatose culture led by narcoleptics.
The Ramones spearheaded a movement which included the Talking Heads, the Patti Smith Group, Television and Blondie. These groups, all different in their musical stylings, brought a bookishness and an intelligence to music that was more learned and more deeply spiritual than the pablum of the Eagles and Chicago, to name two of the more famous practitioners of the 70's corporate rock style. These groups were willfully eccentric and downright visionary and did not go where the rock audience demanded that rock bands go.
Talking Heads' most famous song "Psycho Killer" was about the Son of Sam, Television and Patti Smith sought to resurrect the French symbolist poets Verlaine and Baudelaire, Blondie played go-go surf music with a cheesy Farfisa organ and a lead singer who emulated Marilyn Monroe as played by Iggy Pop. The Ramones were the lead of a movement that brought passion and energy back to music at a time of great stasis.
In England, a number of disillusioned young men, unemployed and angry, haunted the streets of London with David Bowie and Roxy Music records in hand. When word of the Ramones reached British shores, with their glue sniffng and anarchic behavior, these young men were inspired. People like Johnny Lydon (Rotten), Joe Strummer and Mick Jones diligently developed a new (counter-)aesthetic in line with the Ramones' sense of the absurd and the overwhelming passion and energy of their music.
These young men created bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. They developed a sound that seethed and destroyed anything in its wake. In the recently televised Sex Pistols' documentary "The Filth and the Fury" we can revisit this time. Armed with a counter-countercultural perspective, the Sex Pistols saw through the wasteland of post-Imperial England. With songs like "Anarchy in the UK" and "Pretty Vacant" the Pistols created the soundtrack for a new generation of alienated rebels.
Watching the documentary footage of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones in the VH1 documentary "24 Years of Punk" one gets the sense that the revolution never really took hold. The danger and violence inherent in Punk, as in all great art, was too difficult for the mainstream, too pure for the conservative bourgeois fans of Jethro Tull. The movements which currently animate popular culture, hip hop, speed metal and techno are all the mongrel, corrupted children of Punk.
While the punks used safety pins and ripped clothing as a statement reflecting their poverty and chaotic lives, current forms of modern culture, exemplified by prepackaged tripe like Limp Bizkit and Eminem, all of whom shill for MTV and the corporate bottom line, have forgotten that Punk was about innovation and a pure artistic tone set by Joey Ramone who was both a clown and a sergeant of the new order.
The Punk aesthetic went back to Lou Reed and David Bowie, restless dreamers who explored life's less savory side. These were artists, like Neil Young and Van Morrison, who penetrated the spaces of the void with little fear of the consequences. New/old styles like glam and electronica were experimented with and genres like reggae and soca were the expressed soundtrack. Punk, like the best of the 1960's, was about the search for new forms of expression, new ways of seeing the world, a world that had become nefariously self-serving and tyrannical.
As I was growing up, I found that the 60's aesthetic created a sense of self-satisfiedness and complacency that blocked avenues of expression and memory. The jolt of the Ramones and Sex Pistols unleashed my own creative energies and led to my own sense of the dialectical relationship between past and present. The aesthetic of Anarchy led me to understand that all orthodoxies were essentially fatuous and self-serving tautologies.
Art must always seek a way to explore and regenerate creativity. With the recent death of Joey Ramone and the increasing corporatization of popular culture, it has occured to me that real insight and artistic expression happens when artists and writers look deeply into themselves and the world around them and express their thoughts in a passionate manner. These artistic modes of expression are avowedly rhetorical and constructed. Love is a trope that must be rethought and reconceptualized and beauty must be reinscribed and transformed by the artist.
Revolutions are spontaneous and LOUD. In our reading of history we must continue to develop the idea that innovation and spontaneity contain the freedom that the artist needs to maintain his/her links to the past while transforming that sense of the past. Punk, unlike the corporate-sponsored rantings of Gangsta Rap and the inane vugarities of a Marilyn Manson, was a rush of energy that spoke the truth of those who participated in its wild energy.
These thoughts have dovetail well with my own view of culture and history, ideas that have led me back to the sources of history. The exposition of historical ideas are thus enabled by preservation and destruction simultaneously. It is this energy that leads to a renewed attempt to understand where we come from and where we might be going. The two current options before us - static acceptance of the past or complete rejection of the past - are but two sides of the same coin.
As the Ramones and Sex Pistols showed us, the complexity of experience is both exhilirating and filled with loads of negative energy. The idea is to find ways to cross-pollinate those polarities and create something new. Perhaps Bob Dylan demanded change in his own arrogant and conceited way, but he did not bring us back to the sources of our being - he merely sought to expunge those traces. In the music and aesthetics of Punk, the initiate is led back to the vast web of interconnections that make the transformations of life possible.
When presented with the ideas of the ancient rabbinic sages and their Midrashim, anarchy in its own way, and the great aesthetic revolution of the Sephardic poets of Andalusia, I was well-prepared to "hear" those voices of change and development, voices that spoke purely and idiosyncratically, voices from my own past. The countercultural icons of my own community, developed in the 60's crucible, fed on a diet of hippies and stadium rockers, led the community to turn away from its intellectual past while a breakaway faction zealously turned to an uncritical adoption of that past.
The critical stance of Punk can lead one through to the roots and sources in a manner that is neither rejectionist or flatulently parasitic. It is this idea that I learned at the knees of Joey Ramone, who was taken from us a couple of weeks back, an idea that has greatly contributed to the way in which I see the world. Being on the outside has its own validations.
Excerpts from R. Yosef Alboís Sefer ha-Ikkarim (Soria, Spain, 1425):
Hope and expectation are essential to a believer in order to obtain the mercy which follows upon trust... Hope is of three kinds... The most praiseworthy of the three is the hope for God's grace.
Despair not of hope in the Lord because of your many transgressions. You will not be redeemed by your merits, for these will not suffice: grace alone will redeem you from the depths of misery... And now that we have sunk so far in degredation and poverty that nearly nothing is left us, we stand in need of the greatest possible measure of grace.
No man, no matter how well he keeps the covenant and Torah and worships the Lord, can be thoroughly assured of his faith and fealty to the covenant as long as he is wholly at ease and peace in his home and successful in all his affairs, his flax neither withering nor his wine going sour (Sanhedrin 101a); but when misfortune befalls him and days of poverty overtake him and pursue him to the breaking point and yet he remains uncorrupted - then has he passed the test of righteousness for those who worship out of true love for though many and great afflictions have come upon him he has yet persisted in his steadfastness, nor has he caused the hearts of his brethren to weaken, but has trusted in the Lord at all times.
From Yitzhak Baer, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, pages 233-34.
Make way for the Cairo Express
The annual Israel Festival is the acknowledged jewel in the national cultural and entertainment crown. It is the most prestigious and certainly best budgeted of the scores of festivals which take place up and down the country at all times of the year. So it comes as no surprise to note that the festival program includes top-class acts from around the world. There are theater performances from the US, Britain, Italy and Ireland, and dance shows from Australia, Spain, Germany, Sweden and England, while the musical acts come from the US, Ireland, Germany and Finland. There are, of course, also several of our own top performers included in the festival line-up. However, as producer Eli Grunfeld points out, there are very few items which derive from the eastern side of the cultural divide at this year's festival. His Cairo Express show - June 6 at the Jerusalem Theater and June 7 at Tel Aviv's Hangar 11 - is one of the few from that end of the entertainment market. Grunfeld makes no apology for his professional cultural orientation and far from shies away from the political implications of such a project, particularly since the latest political violence began. "I deal in what I call the culture of peace. I look for meeting points between the Jewish and Arab population of Israel and elsewhere. My search led me to find common ground between the Arab classics and folklore and Jewish and Arab audiences."
Grunfeld has quite a record in producing Arab cultural-entertainment events, including showing Arabic films at the Haifa Film Festival and putting together musical programs involving Jewish and Arab artists. "I look for the meeting points between the two cultures at every event that I produce," he states. Cairo Express is an adventurous project described in the festival program as "a tribute to the Cairo nightclubs of the 1940s where the icons of Arab culture and today's stars evolved." The idea is to recreate the atmosphere of the ethnic Egyptian entertainment world of yesteryear with a varied program of dance, live and taped music and belly dancers. The producer says he expects a cross-cultural audience to pack the Jerusalem Theater and Hangar next month. "In my experience, this sort of show transcends all cultural borders. The audiences are made up of Ashkenazim, yuppies, Sephardim, new immigrants, Arabists, peaceniks, you name it. I want to create an atmosphere around my shows in which everybody feels comfortable. Cairo Express is exactly that kind of show."
The show is not only culturally explorative; it also involves some considerable logistical considerations - with 20 artists taking part - and lasts a full two-and-a-half hours. "We have tried to convey a sense of all the rhythms, music and atmosphere of the Cairo nightclubs of that era," Grunfeld explains. Cairo Express will present some of the most popular songs in the Arab world of the first half of the 20th century, including material by Farid al-Atrash, Om Kolthoum, Mohammad Abdel Wahab and Abdel Halim Hafez. The musical experience will be significantly enhanced by powerful visual stimulation courtesy of six belly dancers, as well as live music played by the Arab Music Orchestra from Nazareth. Despite the attempt to portray things in as authentic a manner as possible, Grunfeld admits that the content does not provide an entirely accurate picture of what you might encounter if you were magically transported back 50 or 60 years to the heyday of Cairo nightlife. "You would never have come across all these artists in the same place at the same time. There was fierce competition between many of them. "For example, Om Kolthoum and Mohammad Abdel Wahab did their best to sully Farid al-Atrash's name. There were even rumors that Om Kolthoum was involved in the death of Farid al-Atrash's sister [singer] Ismahan."
True to his declared non-discriminatory stance Grunfeld has recruited Jewish and Arab artists for his new show. One of the latter is Nazareth-based oud player Wisam Gibrian, who has also done some cultural border crossing in his time. He grew up on a mixed musical diet of classical European works and Arab music and attended the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, where he studied composition and conducting, followed by a spell in Berlin. He even picked up a few tips from feted conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim at the Berlin Opera House and at a workshop Barenboim gave in Germany two years ago. With such a varied musical upbringing it is, in a way, surprising to find Gibrian playing oud in Cairo Express. "Yes, I play a traditional Arabic instrument, but my playing has a more compositional, academic orientation to it," he explains. "You might even say there is a certain degree of European influence in my playing. I don't play in a truly traditional way - not just the melodies but also the technique I use. I studied classical piano and violin and I am influenced by the techniques and rationale of European classical music." Gibrian's culturally mixed career to date has generated a cosmopolitan attitude to life and to his art. "I don't believe in pure culture. I don't think in terms of my culture and your culture. I don't make these differentiations. I also don't believe that my Arab identity creates me and my music but the other way round. I make my own identity. If you want to call my music Arabic music that's not my concern." The oud player adds that he does not want to try to transpose the sounds and sense of Cairo in the 1940s wholesale. "I don't like copies. I can play in a pure Cairo style, the way they played there back then, but I prefer to play with my own musical language, which is also influenced by Cairo of those years."
The belly-dancing choreography in Cairo Express has been entrusted to the dancer and teacher known as Tina who runs the country's only school devoted purely to belly dancing. Grunfeld obviously knew what he was doing when he asked Tina to help with Cairo Express. Unlike Gibrian, Tina prefers to revive the artistic style of those halcyon days in Egypt for the current project. "Our dance style is classic and that was the main style used in the 1940s, with a certain influence from Hollywood," she explains. "There is definitely an authentic aspect to Cairo Express - with a live orchestra and singers and belly dancing - that's exactly the way it was then." Tina is also sensitive to the political aspect of putting on a show based on Arab music in these troubled times. "I used to appear in Germany and many people asked me how I, as an Israeli and Jew, can dance in front of the children of Germans who were officers in the army [during the Holocaust]. "It's a tough question, but when I danced I wasn't thinking of nationalities or race or religion. I was thinking of souls, and these souls are everywhere, whether you're talking about Palestinians or Israelis, Muslims or Jews. I think that it is the political emphasis which causes wars. If we stick to what we really love, and our roots, all will be well."
Grunfeld is similarly upbeat about the show's message. "As far as I am concerned, Cairo Express is the Israel Festival's business card - the business card of the country in which I want to live. For me, the show is a political and cultural declaration. The fact that this is the only oriental item in the festival program is due to a kind of lack of knowledge and willingness, but I believe the situation will improve over the years."
(This article was reprinted from the May 23rd edition of the Jerusalem Post.)
A Literary Resurrection for a Forgotten Marrano Hero
A Re-issue of Martin Cohen's 'The Martyr' Casts Fresh Light on New Spain's
Luis de Carvajal
By ILAN STAVANS (The following is adapted from Mr. Stavans's introduction to Martin A. Cohen's "The Martyr," which is to be included in the forthcoming "Jewish Latin America" series (University of New Mexico). The book is a biography of Luis de Carvajal the Younger, arguably the most important crypto-Jew in colonial Latin America, who, despite his astonishing autobiographical writing, remains a figure virtually unknown to English-language readers.)
In 1589 Luis de Carvajal the Younger, a crypto-Jew from a prominent family that resettled in New Spain, as Mexico was known in colonial times, was arrested by the Holy Office of the Inquisition under the suspicion of being a Judaizer. Such an accusation, even if untrue, usually meant a life of misery that ranged from bankruptcy and social ridicule to imprisonment and torture. Carvajal was put on trial but somehow managed to persuade his victimizers of his innocence. Six years later he was arrested again, this time under charges of impenitent heresy, and was burned at the stake in 1596, at the age of 30, in the most notorious of the autos-da-fé seen in the region. His odyssey from Benavente, his birthplace on the Iberian Peninsula, to the site of the auto-da-fé in the Plaza del Quemadero in the capital of one of the major colonies of the Spanish Empire across the Atlantic, and from secrecy to enlightenment ? Carvajal's self-chosen nickname was José Lumbroso (Joseph the Illuminated), and he is also recognized, in the words of historian Seymour B. Liebman, as El Iluminado ? is emblematic of the fate of the Iberian Jews known as Marranos, converts to Christianity during the late 15th century who immigrated to the Americas. Their clash with the religious authorities, and the drama about liberty it inspired, became the stuff of legend.
Carvajal was the nephew of Don Luis de Carvajal the Older, a formidable conquistador, a pacifier of the Indies and by most accounts a true humanitarian whose reputation brought him an appointment by the kings as governor of the New Kingdom of León, in northern Mexico. The younger Carvajal, his sisters and his mother were brought to Mexico by their famous relative. It was the atmosphere there that propelled El Iluminado to explore his Jewish roots, acknowledged by various members of the family but kept quiet for fear of the Inquisition which had begun in Mexico in 1570. A handful of intellectuals and historians have devoted their energy to studying the impact of the Inquisition in Spain, the Netherlands, Turkey and northern Africa, among them Américo Castro, Cecil Roth, Amador de los Ríos, Haim Beinart, Miguel de la Pinta Llorente and Benzion Netanyahu. But the vicissitudes of the institution on these shores, from Brazil and Peru to Mexico and the Caribbean Basin, and the fear it instigated in the population, remain a field researched shyly today. A handful of provocative book-long studies, articles and biographies have been written on the subject, most prominently by Seymour Liebman, Julio Jiménez Rueda and Alfonso del Toro. But none is as sharp or makes better use of the intense dramatic aspects of the Carvajals, the statesman and his mystical nephew, as does Martin A. Cohen in "The Martyr." The anthropologist Fernando Benítez once described Carvajal the Younger as a kaleidoscope of colonial Mexico through which an entire era might be evaluated. Mr. Cohen does just that. His book title is deliciously accurate, for El Iluminado, by any definition, is a sufferer who managed to link his agony to that of his people. As a reader, I first stumbled upon Mr. Cohen's book, as one does with path openers, by accident. It happened after watching two films of the era that both fell dismally short of the mark. What they missed was a leading figure of the stature of either one of the Carvajals: a warrior and an explorer of the external world on one hand, and on the other an introspective searcher whose spiritual journey serves as a map to the theological concerns of that surrounded him. The life of El Iluminado was highly dramatic: near-misses from the ubiquitous eyes of the Church, tropical storms that became a trap en route to the New World, a painful self-mutilation that passed as an act of circumcision, the mental illness of a sister, public duels with monks on issues of faith and salvation and so on.
Neither film managed to capture the depth and complexity of the colonial period. Society was marked by distrust and intense xenophobia. The Spanish obsession with la pureza de sangre (racial purity), with ethnicity and political commitment were complicated in the New World by the presence of the Indian and mestizo populations, which upset the pattern of behavior Iberians had taught themselves to follow centuries earlier. The eradication of minorities on the peninsula ? Muslim and Jewish ? had been the project of the Reconquista, and its success, at least superficially, was unquestionable. (Of course, Spain as a nation ended up paying a huge price for it.) Carvajal the Older was savvy in his diplomatic negotiations with the Indians. His life was surely the stuff of an epic. I thought that a figure as intense and multifaceted as El Iluminado, a Jew by birth and ultimately by choice, was the perfect counterpoint. The two together served as a kaleidoscope through, which to ponder the social, religious and ideological entanglement of the colonial Americas.
Out of curiosity, I typed "Carvajal" as a subject in my library's online catalogue. Only a few nights after having found Mr. Cohen's volume, I had devoured it. Historians, in general, forget that their writing is also literature; they parade fact in a dry, monochromatic style. "The Martyr" is an exception: It is rich in ideas and images but never forgets that they need to be conveyed handsomely to a reader who is eager not only to become better informed but also to be entertained. The delivery is congenial; the author refuses to meditate in the abstract on what happened. At first sight Mr. Cohen's effort is in the tradition of Octavio Paz's "Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz : The Traps of Faith," published in 1982 ? a full-fledged intellectual meditation on an era, not a person. Mr. Cohen's goal, at least in my eyes, is to paint an epic mural of the colonial era without taking over-ambitious forays into philosophy, science and the political doctrines that prevailed. He provides the reader with the context necessary to judge the Carvajals, but he never allows the context to upstage the drama.
The book was published in 1973 under the aegis of the Jewish Publication Society. As time went by, I made an effort to learn more about the author. Mr. Cohen, a Philadelphia native, is an ordained rabbi and a former president of the American Society of Sephardic Studies. For years he was interested in early rabbinical Judaism and Christianity and taught at Hebrew Union College. As an Asheknazi, he was attracted to the topic of Marranos and the Inquisition after reading the oeuvre of Cecil Roth and as a result of the encouragement of teachers and friends. He edited two volumes on the Jewish experience in colonial Latin America and contributed entries to the Encyclopedia Judaica on such themes as crypto-Judaism. Long before "The Martyr" was ready for the press, Mr. Cohen wrote essays on various members of the Carvajal family and translated the lengthy autobiography that El Iluminado wrote between 1591 and 1592.
That translation, published in the American Jewish Historical Quarterly in 1965-66, is the most important of three pillars on which Mr. Cohen based his research for the book. The second is a series of epistles to his mother and sisters that Carvajal wrote during his second imprisonment. The third pillar is a Last Will and Testament that Carvajal composed in the last months of the second trail. As Mr. Cohen suggests, it was more than a will; it was an expression of painstaking commitment to the Jewish religion of his forebears. For decades "The Martyr" sat unread and forgotten in the stacks of the library at Amherst College. The borrowing card stuck to its back page lists only two due dates: August 18, 1986, and May 10, 1989. Thus, the sets of hands that touched it were few and far between. The explanation for the lack of interest isn't difficult to grasp: Mr. Cohen, I'm convinced, offered it to us ahead of its time, when its target audience of American Jews (after all, it was in English) had little interest beyond Zionism and the Holocaust. Things have changed substantially since then. The Jewish population in the United States has grown more complex. It is less provincial, more cosmopolitan; it is also less sure of itself, exploring new routes to define its role locally and internationally. Perhaps more than anything else, it is intrigued by its own lost ethnicity, and at times it displays a farfetched form of envy for those who, in the closet for generations, have remained committed to a sense of authenticity.
How much has really changed since the time of the Carvajals is, of course, the question. Perhaps a fresh reading of "The Martyr" more than a quarter of a century after its original publication will allow us to look honestly not only into the past but also at the present intolerance that surrounds us. For they are archetypes of an epoch and a landscape that highlight not only the resistance against the Jews in gentile societies but also, and equally importantly, the treacherousness of Jewish identity. Their quest strikes me as a quintessential expression of Jewish self-affirmation. Carvajal the Younger portrays himself as a biblical prophet of sorts, as living "in captivity," hostage to the forces that refuse to recognize him as an individual with a clear mission. Isn't it time to reflect on the overall meaning of his journey? How much longer should El Iluminado be kept in the dark?
Mr. Stavans is a professor of Spanish at Amherst College. His latest book, "On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language" (Viking), will be published in August.
Elvis Costello: 'Let's Make Music'
By ALLAN KOZINNHowever one describes Elvis Costello's collaboration with the mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter ? or, for that matter, Mr. Costello's work with the songwriter Burt Bacharach, the jazz guitarist Bill Frisell or the Brodsky String Quartet ? it is best not to use the word crossover in his presence. He refers to it as "the dreaded C word," and describes the concept as tainted.
"I just say music," he said by telephone from his home in Dublin. " `Let's make some music together.' It's easier, and less loaded with meaning. `Let's make some music, and see if anybody likes it.' "
Mr. Costello and Ms. von Otter took their time considering that proposition; they knew each other for several years before the idea of making an album was floated. Mr. Costello first heard Ms. von Otter in 1989, when his wife, Cait O'Riordan (a former member of the Pogues, a rough-hewn Irish folk-punk band) took him to a staging of Berlioz's "Damnation of Faust" in London. Entranced by Ms. von Otter's performance, he began attending her concerts whenever he could, always sending congratulatory roses backstage. Eventually he arranged a meeting, and they began a friendship based more firmly on his interest in classical music than on her interest in pop.
"It was actually Anne Sofie's husband who first said out loud that we should work together. He said it in a lighthearted way, without an agenda, and to be perfectly honest, it had never occurred to me before he said it."
In 1996 Mr. Costello wrote a song cycle, "Three Distracted Women," for Ms. Otter and the Brodsky String Quartet, with which he had written and recorded a more expansive cycle, "The Juliet Letters," in 1992. "Three Distracted Women" was typically quirky: in the finale, "April in Orbit," the wife of a failed businessman imagines herself to be a cosmonaut traveling in an old spacecraft. "I didn't pick particularly romantic archetypes," Mr. Costello said, "but she was great at getting in and telling the story."
In 1996 the two performed with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. She sang Richard Strauss; he sang his own songs. Together they sang "My Ship" by Kurt Weill and, on a wintry Stockholm evening, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser. Afterward she broached the subject of making a record. Mr. Costello compiled cassettes of songs he thought might suit her voice and personality; he sent them to her, copiously annotated.
"Basically I was explaining the history of recent pop music," he said of his accompanying letters. "I was not assuming any knowledge of the context of some of the songs, and I wasn't leaving anything to chance. Once we got to know each other better, we spoke more colloquially and discussed things in a kind of private shorthand, the way you would with any group of musicians, classical, jazz or rock. And as we established that rapport magically, letters began to arrive from Anne Sofie, all written in a beautiful hand and with very individual thoughts on particular songs."
Meetings followed, during which Mr. Costello and Ms. von Otter played through stacks of pop records in search of material. He was intent on avoiding the standards and show tunes included on so many opera singers' crossover discs. She was pushing for the kind of variety she might bring to a lieder recital, something he discouraged in favor of a more consistently moody feel.
"We had a handful of songs that seemed tailor made for her but which didn't make the final cut," Mr. Costello said, "because when we actually performed them, she didn't feel right. Things like `Here's That Rainy Day' by James Van Heusen, or `How Insensitive' by Antonio Carlos Jobim ? both beautiful songs. Or `Real Emotional Girl' by Randy Newman, which I wanted because it played against all those horrible `cold Scandinavian' clichés. I wanted to call the album that, but she didn't like the song."
When they reconvened in October, 27 songs were recorded, 18 of which made it to the disc (with a 19th, "You Go to My Head," by Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots, on a Japanese edition). The musicians were mostly Swedish, enlisted by Ms. von Otter, although Mr. Costello brought along some colleagues, including the keyboardist Steve Nieve. partnerships sprouted. Mr. Costello wrote lyrics for "Green Song," an instrumental work by Svante Henryson, a cellist and composer who plays on the disc. Two songs are collaborations between Mr. Costello and Fleshquartet, a Swedish string ensemble that plays electric instruments. And when Benny Anderson, formerly of Abba, turned up to play accordion on Tom Waits's "Broken Bicycles," Mr. Costello and Ms. von Otter prevailed upon him to play a piano accompaniment on "Like an Angel Passing Through My Room," a song he wrote for his old band.
"The word ownership was something we discussed a lot," Mr. Costello said. "We had to have songs that she could own, that she could sing without the listener constantly comparing it to other versions. That's one reason we avoided well- known songs. Also, I believe that a song like Brian Wilson's `Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)' deserves to be sung somewhere in the world every night."
"I don't mean to suggest a competition with classical song, but there's no reason to assume that the composers of these songs were taking their job less seriously," he said. "And that's one of the other errors, isn't it, of the dreaded crossover records: the performers often sound as if they don't trust the composer and that they need to illuminate him in some way. And it's a shame, because if they just relaxed, they'd have a lot more fun and wouldn't sound so foolish. Anne Sofie understood that."
(This article was reprinted from the May 21, 2001 edition of the New York Times.)
'We didn't come to tell you to get out'
To whom do I recommend reading these novellas? 'The Israelis are in no mood to read Palestinian literature,' Mahmoud Darwish said ironically.
By Yitzhak Laor
"Three Palestinian Novellas," edited by Ami Elad- Bouskila, translated by Gideon Shilo and Yitzhak Schneeboim, Hed Artzi Publishing, 201 pages, NIS69.
This book, which is more than worth its weight in gold, ends with the amazing novella "The Fever Plains" (translated into Hebrew by Yitzhak Schneeboim) by Ibrahim Nasrallah, a Palestinian poet and storyteller of 47, who was born in the Al-Wahdat refugee camp and lives in Amman.
The story in its entirety is narrated in the second person. The narrator is the main character and he is addressing the dead part of himself. He works as a teacher in a small Saudi Arabian village among the burning cliffs of the desert, far from any civilization, amid the sandstorms and the dust.
"The winds gathered their forces, collected their daggers and took shelter again in their secret cellars in the slopes of the mountains, under the huge volcanic boulders, among the hills. Some of them climbed to the peaks of Assir, and the rest went as far as Bisha, but from time to time there were waves that sliced through the desert like a stray bullet" (page 167).
During the course of this astounding story, the protagonist seeks a place to live, and as he describes the desert, the bleakness and the violence of the owners, one can experience with the narrator, through his talk with his "dead half," the desire for a private, shady, human place. Without a drop of longing, without complaint, without whining, ever since he arrived at that godforsaken village, there echoes amid the strange events the desire for a place where it is possible to lie down to sleep without fear. This is a great modernist story.
The novella that opens the book, "The Other Rooms," is by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, a native of Bethlehem (1920) who lived in Jerusalem and later in Baghdad. The story has many symbols in it, and deals in a very indirect way with a reign of terror that gives rise to the expectation that the protagonist will say what he does not know he must say - yet he always says what is expected of him.
Sometimes one seems to read in it a Chaplinesque nightmare. Sometimes it seems that he is realizing what Mahmoud Darwish wrote: "The dictator lives among us, and creates his myth gradually. Is it in our power to deal with these ironic phenomena not through irony?"
And as if especially for these times through which we are now living, the collection also includes the famous short novel by Ghassan Kanafani, "Returning to Haifa." Kanafani was born in Haifa in 1936 and went into exile with his family to Lebanon in 1948. He was murdered in 1972 by "the best of our boys," because at the time he was editor of Al-Hadaf, the organ of the Popular Front (George Habash), and also served as the spokesman of the organization. (During those years, the Popular Front was behind a number of the bloodier and more adventurous acts of terror against Israel and its allies.)
Kanafani's beautiful story, "The Land of the Sad Oranges" (1963) was published in the first anthology of Palestinian fiction in Hebrew published by Ekkad Press in 1970, and two of his novellas, "Men in the Sun" and "What Remained to Them" were published by Mifras Press in 1979.
In his ground-breaking study of Palestinian literature, Shimon Ballas stressed the importance of the novel "Returning to Haifa," and also discussed its weaknesses. It seemed to him that the characters of the Israelis in the story were stereotypical (and the editor of this new book, Ami Elad-Bouskila, follows in his footsteps). However, at the time, he was enthusiastic about the attempt to represent Israelis in a Palestinian novel.
This is the story of the meeting of two refugees from Haifa, who in the panic of their flight, left their one-year-old son, Khaldun, behind in his cradle. In the midst of the disturbances, under the bombardment of their neighborhood, as the husband (Said) was trying to return home from work and the wife (Safiyya) ran out to see if her husband had been hurt, they were swept up in the stream of those expelled toward the port. They never succeeded in going back for their baby and because they saw a dead baby who had been thrown on a refuse heap, they were convinced throughout the years that their son was dead.
During their visit to Haifa (they live in Ramallah), after the 1967 occupation, they discover that the baby had not died and had not been killed, but had been raised by a Jewish woman.
"Throughout the entire journey neither of them stopped talking. Now, as they reached the entrance to Haifa, they both fell silent. At that moment they both realized that they had not spoken a word about the matter which had brought them there. When the car crossed the road and entered the main street, all the walls came down and the road dissolved behind a film of tears. He heard himself say to his wife, 'This is Haifa, Safiyya!'"
From this point on, the presence of the woman begins to take on another dimension of force. ("He turned toward his wife, but she wasn't listening. She was turned away from him, absorbed in gazing at the road now to the right.") Later, after she scolds him for his political blather, Saffiya goes silent.
Kanafani is in a hurry. He packs into this very short novel material that should have been developed over many pages, as if he knew that he did not have much time (the novel was written in 1969). Therefore, the return to Haifa is not accomplished in stages, but all at once, from Ramallah to their former home, where they meet Miriam, who is living there.
This meeting obviously creates discomfort for Shimon Ballas. Miriam is a survivor of Auschwitz; she did not take the house but had been given it by the Jewish Agency; she did not come to Israel because she wanted to. In short, she is the Zionist and the anti-Zionist narrative intertwined, for better or for worse.
But the truth is that haste is not necessarily a drawback here. The compression of events takes on a dramatic dimension (and most likely the current Italian attempt to turn the novel into a film in a European production will succeed precisely because of that tense meeting between the couple and the house, the Jewish woman who now owns it and with the lost son, who is revealed to them at single stroke as someone who has not died but who has become a soldier). What, then, is nevertheless disturbing about this key chapter?
"A heavy silence prevailed. All of them began to look around at things they had no need to look at. Said broke the silence, saying calmly: 'Naturally we didn't come to tell you to get out of here. That would take a war ...' Safiyya pressed his hand to keep him from veering away from the conversation, and he understood. He continued, trying to keep his words closer to the subject. 'I mean, your presence here, in this house, our house, Safiyya's and my house, is another matter. We only came to take a look at things, our things. Maybe you can understand that.'
"She said quickly: 'I understand, but ...'
"Then he lost his composure. 'Yes, but! This terrible, deadly, enduring but ...' He fell silent beneath the pressure of his wife's gaze. He felt he'd never be able to reach his goal. They were on a collision course here, it couldn't be denied. What was going on now was nothing more than absurd talk. For a moment he wanted to get up and leave. Nothing mattered to him anymore. Whether Khaldun was alive or dead made no difference. How things reached that point he simply couldn't say.
"He was filled with helpless, bitter anger and felt as if he were about to explode inside. He didn't know how his gaze happened to fall upon the five peacock feathers stuck in the wooden vase in the middle of the room. He saw their rare, beautiful colors shifting in the puffs of wind coming from the open window. Pointing at the vase, he demanded gruffly: 'There were seven feathers. What happened to the two missing feathers?'"
Here is where the first turning point comes. Miriam, the refugee from Poland, tells them that she has raised their Khaldun - he is Dov. After some tense expectation, the son enters and to their dumbstruck astonishment he is in uniform.
"The silence lengthened. Then Safiyya, who had composed herself, asked in a subdued voice: 'Don't you feel that we are your parents?' No one knew to whom the question was addressed. Miriam certainly didn't understand it, nor did the tall young man. As for Said, he didn't answer."
Saffiya cannot speak to them, because they are talking English to one another. Her status, as someone who is trying to interpret the angry exchanges between the father and the son, or between the refugee and the soldier, is the status of an impotent yet very powerful interpreter. As time goes by and the argument between the father and the son becomes more aggressive/intellectual, the status of the mother/refugee, Saffiya, takes on the central role.
"Said looked at Safiyya, whose shock had taken the form of helpless collapse. He felt a deep sadness for her sake. Just to avoid appearing foolish he went over to her and said shakily: 'I don't want to argue with him.'
"'What did he say?'
"'Nothing. Well, he said we're cowards.'
"Safiyya asked innocently: 'And because we're cowards, he can become like this?'" (page 126-7).
Here, in effect, the confrontation ends. Said reiterates that the only solution is war. If you like, this is the political credo of the novel. Something in the structure of the plot leads to what Kanafani believed in from the outset. Nevertheless, what Said, or Kanafani, has to say can explain while his forecast about the war comes true: "'My wife asks if the fact that we're cowards gives you the right to be this way. As you can see, she innocently recognizes that we were cowards. From that standpoint you are correct. But that doesn't justify anything for you. Two wrongs do not make a right. If that were the case, then what happened to Iphrat and Miriam in Auschwitz was right.
"When are you going to stop considering that the weakness and the mistakes of others are endorsed over to the account of your own prerogatives? These old catchwords are worn out, these mathematical equations are full of cheating. First you say that our mistakes justify your mistakes, then you say that one wrong doesn't absolve another. You use the first logic to justify your presence here, and the second to avoid the punishment your presence here deserves. It seems to me you greatly enjoy this strange game. Here again, you're trying to fashion a racehorse out of our weakness and mount its back ...'" (page 127).
The conflict and a story of kinship
Mahmoud Darwish has examined the problematic nature of the way the narrative rests on the question of kinship. In his correspondence with Samih al-Qassem ("Between the Two Halves of the Orange"), the two poets discussed the book "A Good Arab," the author of which hid behind the name Yosef Sharara.
To Darwish's credit, it must be said that he immediately realized that the writer was a graphomaniac - even before it became publicly known as the pseudonym of Israeli writer Yoram Kaniuk ("He probes the human wound with a rusty razor blade, and presents the tragedy in a pornographic way").
But Darwish also noted that this novel by Sharara/ Kaniuk was reminiscent of Kanafani's "Returning to Haifa," with respect to the approach to the conflict: "He (Sharara/Kaniuk) convinces us that it is now within no one's power to bear the two, the Arab and the Jew, in a single entity, just as Ghassan Kanafani could not bear this burden in his book 'Returning to Haifa.' Why? Why?"
In what Darwish says (and I fully agree with him) there is not the slightest hint that "Kanafani is like Kaniuk." Kanafani wrote wonderful prose, including this novel. I thought of prompting Darwish now to answer this question he had broached in his letters, but who in Ramallah these days can put his mind to answering such questions?
During the 1980s, Darwish answered the question ("Why? Why?"): "Today, the Jew inside the Arab is betrayal, and the Arab inside the Jew is defeat. Between the defeat and the betrayal, literary expression moves forward only as irony or black comedy."
I found myself putting off writing about this book from week to week. To whom do I recommend reading these three novellas? "The Israelis are in no mood to read Palestinian literature," Darwish told me ironically. "No, they aren't," I mumbled. In the home of the hanged man only the hanged man jokes about the rope, but nonetheless I must write about this beautiful book, which was no doubt being prepared for press as we celebrated the "making peace" festival, before the "doves," together with the "hawks," once again became what they have always been, as together they built the Jewish settlements beyond the 1967 borders, as together they expanded them, as together they are defending them.
Scientists Detect the Traces of the Seeds of Cosmic Structures
By JAMES GLANZ
A telescope in eastern Australia has seen what appear to be the faint imprint of waves, much like sound waves, that may have rippled through the gases of the young universe. Scientists have long theorized such waves were the seeds for all structures glittering in the heavens today.
The imprints were revealed within the clumps and filamentary patterns formed by tens of thousands of galaxies that the telescope observed in Earth's cosmic neighborhood.
The findings, which were presented last week at a scientific conference but are being made available to scientists around the world today, have emerged from the largest and most detailed mapping of galaxies ever made.
Using the 12-foot-wide Anglo-Australian Telescope near Coonabarabran, Australia, the project ? involving scientists at a dozen institutions in Australia, Britain and the United States ? has mapped the positions of nearly 170,000 galaxies. The map not only revealed great clusters and filigree patterns made by the galaxies, which earlier surveys had seen, but also let project scientists analyze the data for more subtle features.
When they did so, the scientists found that hidden in the irregular clumps and filaments were imprints of waves of particular sizes, or wavelengths, that cosmologists believe were generated in the explosive birth of the universe. The waves are thought to have seeded the primordial gases with slight irregularities that later grew into galaxies and clusters.
If confirmed, the observations would be scientists' first direct glimpse of what amounts to a blueprint for the structure of the universe.
"We're seeing the big picture ? cosmology in the early universe and in the local universe coming together for the first time," said Dr. Karl Glazebrook, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the project, called the 2-Degree Field Galaxy Red Shift Survey, or 2dF.
Dr. Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said that emissions from the early universe, called the cosmic microwave background, had provided strong evidence that the waves existed when the universe was just a few hundred thousand years old. But the span of billions of years of cosmic history since then has erased all but slight traces of the original waves, or wiggles, in structures today, Dr. Tegmark said.
"None of the earlier surveys had the sheer brute size that was needed to see them," Dr. Tegmark said. "Not only are the wiggles there, but they're the right size."
The team's paper on the finding, whose lead author is Dr. Will Percival of the University of Edinburgh, is being posted today on an electronic archive at Los Alamos National Laboratory (arXiv.org/abs/astro-ph /0105252) where scientists often place their new findings.
Dr. John Peacock, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, said that even larger surveys would be needed to ensure that the difficult measurements were correct. He presented the results last week at a conference at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago.
One of the organizers of that conference, Dr. Joshua Frieman of Fermilab and the University of Chicago, said that a much larger survey now in progress, called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and involving the United States, Germany and Japan, would among other things determine about a million galaxy positions over the next several years. He said that the initial finding by the 2dF team suggested that the Sloan survey would be able to use the wiggles as a sort of probe of the overall contents of the universe.
The 2dF finding "holds out the promise that when we have an even larger sample, we'll be able to use this as another cosmological tool," said Dr. Frieman, who like Dr. Tegmark is a member of the Sloan team.
Strange as it sounds, the problem of how structures like galaxies and galaxy clusters could have formed has persistently bedeviled scientists working out the theory of the Big Bang, the great explosion in which the universe apparently began.
Early measurements of the cosmic background radiation, emitted from the hot gases of the young universe, seemed to show that it was nearly smooth and featureless, with no irregularities that could have spawned lumpy structures like galaxies.
But in 1992, a NASA satellite called the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite, or COBE, made highly sensitive measurements of the radiation and saw minute temperature variations suggesting the existence of so- called acoustic waves sloshing in the early universe.
Subsequently, measurements of the radiation have turned up a series of discrete "tones," or wavelengths, that theorists have predicted should have been generated in the explosion. But while those waves are thought to have been the seeds that allowed galaxies and other structures to coalesce, no direct evidence for the waves had until this point turned up in the confusion of the present-day heavens.
The 2dF survey tried to find them by rigging the Anglo-Australian Telescope with robotics, electronic light detectors and computers that enabled it to determine the distances and positions on the sky of hundreds of galaxies at a time.
"The question is, Are the imprints that we see in the microwave background still apparent in the galaxy distribution that we see today?" said Dr. Matthew Colless, a 2dF member at the Australian National University. "The answer turned out to be yes, somewhat to our surprise."
The size of the imprints seen by the survey range from about 300 million to 1.5 billion light-years, Dr. Peacock said. For reference, the Milky Way's nearest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, is about 2.5 million light-years away. One of the largest clusters of galaxies in the Milky Way's neighborhood, called the Coma cluster, is about 500 million light-years away.
The intensity of the features seen by the survey give an accounting of all the matter in the universe. The results confirm studies that have concluded that a vast majority of the cosmos is not ordinary matter but dark matter, whose gravity is felt but which has not been detected directly.
But Dr. Carlos Frenk, an astrophysicist at the University of Durham in Britain and a member of the 2dF team, said the importance of the findings were to be found in the grand perspective they provided.
"For the first time, we have a convincing connection between the initial state as probed by the microwave background and the present universe as probed by the galaxies," Dr. Frenk said. "The microwave background tells us about the seeds, and what we are doing now is reaping the fruit that's been growing through 10 billion years of cosmic evolution."
(This article was reprinted from the May 16, 2001 edition of the New York Times.)
Parents Hungry for A B C's Find Schools Don't Add Up
By KATE ZERNIKE
Signs of quiet revolt are everywhere: children tracing neat cursive letters in penmanship class, memorizing multiplication tables, taking spelling quizzes and learning the value of a strong topic sentence.
Today's model classroom tends to avoid these things, deeming them uninspired and uninspiring, dismissing them as ''chalk and talk,'' ''drill and kill.'' Here, the new Princeton Charter School is embracing them unabashedly. Call us traditional, the parents who started this school say. They prefer to think of this as ''drill and skill,'' the foundation of a good education.
Much attention has been given to parents and educators in Scarsdale, N.Y., and elsewhere in the country who rail against new standardized tests. Their children need critical thinking skills, they complain, not a steady diet of details.
But there is an equally potent rebellion taking place in communities like this with comfortable homes and reputations for excellent schools. In these places -- Fairfax County, Va.; the northwest suburbs of Chicago; Hanover, N.H., to name a few -- parents say they want the memorization, the emphasis on content and basics so detested elsewhere.
The idea of moving back to basics is not entirely new. Conservatives have pushed the idea for years, especially as a way to reform failing urban schools. But now, with a new emphasis on choice in education, parents themselves are embracing the idea.
In a desire to move from ''teacher-centered'' to ''student-centered'' classrooms, to satisfy multiple intelligences and foster self-esteem, these parents say, most schools have moved so far away from the fundamentals that their children come home knowing about the Holocaust but not World War II, Babylonian math but not fractions. Children cannot think critically, they retort, if they do not have the basic content to think about. Many tried for several years to change the system by talking to principals or running for a seat on the school board. Others hired tutors. But increasingly, parents horrified by what they call progressive education run amok have been starting their own schools, teaching what Charles Marsee, the head of school at the Princeton Charter School, calls enlightened back-to-basics, grounded in grammar and spelling, historical facts and mathematics.
''This is the PTA president, the suburban mom who does the car pool, and she can't quite believe that her daughter is in the third or fourth grade and can't read and can't do math and she's reading about Kite Day instead of long division in her math book,'' said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a charter school advocacy group in Washington. I don't think most parents start out wanting to start a new school; they just want the school to do what they thought the school was going to do.''
The governing philosophy in education today is that children need to do more than learn, they need to learn how to learn. Technology, the argument goes, has rendered obsolete skills like writing perfectly curved letters and figuring simple equations. The vast amount of information on the Internet has highlighted the need for students to develop their own kind of intellectual filters. Memorization and plot lines no more interesting than Dick and Jane walk the dog turn children off. Let them color outside the figurative lines, and they will come to love learning.
But as a result, parents in Princeton and elsewhere complain, schools have replaced essays with a ''cardboard curriculum'' of dioramas and posters. Calculators replace flash cards, word problems replace equations. Students write with what is known as inventive spelling and inventive punctuation, on the theory that too many red marks will discourage them, that they can pick up the rules once they get the hang of putting ideas to paper.
The motive is well intentioned, the parents say. But the theory is not working. Students end up proficient with scissors and glue, but not with numbers and words.
''Of course it's true that children learn on different levels, but nobody is going to learn to write by making dioramas,'' said Maureen P. Quirk, one of the Princeton founders.
Princeton parents were particularly horrified by a series of books that taught children in the public schools to read using hieroglyphics instead of letters to spell out words. ''E'' was a woman standing on a chair and shrieking as a mouse scurried underfoot.
''You got the feeling they just wanted to be modern and follow the latest fad,'' said Kim Steinnagel, who put her child in the charter school.
The methods are unproven, the parents complain; one result is a booming tutoring industry.
''This is the most educated group of parents in the world, yet we're keeping the Score! learning centers flying,'' said Karen Jones Budd, a parent in Fairfax. ''Anybody looking down at this from a 30,000-foot level should be very upset at our children being used as guinea pigs.''
What these parents call fads have been around for decades. But with a new emphasis on achievement, test scores widely publicized, and the Internet making it easier to share information, parents are becoming more critical of their schools, and they are willing to do something about it.
''Five or ten years ago, most parents fell into the category of believing my school knows what is right and best for my child,'' said Mychele Brickner, a member of the Fairfax School Board, who keeps lists of ''reading parents'' and ''math parents,'' grouped by gripe. ''That trust level has eroded.''
In Los Angeles, parents are pushing the superintendent to use Saxon math, a more basic approach. A Web site for a California group called Mathematically Correct operates as a kind of national clearinghouse for parents looking for more traditional approaches. The Core Knowledge Foundation, based on the work of E. D. Hirsch Jr., the author of ''Cultural Literacy,'' started its curriculum in one school in 1990. By 1995, 250 were using it, and this year, 1,100 schools are.
Crossroads Academy, a private school in Hanover, N.H., and one of the earliest schools to push a traditional academic curriculum, started with five students and parent volunteers. Ten years later, it has 140 students. Madison Country Day School, a four-year-old private school in Wisconsin, has grown from to 125 students from 22, and it, like Crossroads, has a long waiting list.
Charter schools, however, have given the parents their most powerful option. In 37 states over the last eight years, charter school laws allow publicly financed schools run by private boards. And parents have responded hungrily; Princeton received applications from one in every four students in the public school system.
Now in its fourth year, the Princeton Charter School teaches students to read with phonics, the old method of sounding out the letters. Children learn math from textbooks so traditional that the publisher recently reissued them under the label ''The Classics,'' which were chosen for their emphasis on practicing equations and a dearth of pictures and cartoons. Students spend an hour each day in English class, another hour in math class. Other subjects are taught in the 45-minute periods typical in American schools, and include topics considered musty elsewhere, like history and geography.
The curriculum is tightly defined. Beginning in fifth grade, students learn history chronologically from year to year, starting before 500 B.C. Grammar lessons begin in the first grade. Young children memorize and recite poems to grasp the rhythms of speech and words. Every student writes each day -- and spelling and syntax count in the grading.
''Princeton Charter School believes that a 'thorough and efficient' education is best accomplished through a rigorous curriculum that requires mastery of core knowledge and skills,'' the founders of the school wrote in their mission statement. ''Some schools sacrifice high expectations for fear of undermining student self-esteem. Princeton Charter School believes that knowledge must come first, and that children acquire genuine self-esteem through academic accomplishment.''
The school gives relatively frequent standardized tests to identify students falling behind. When one test revealed weakness in middle school students' vocabulary, a curriculum committee of teachers and parents decided students would spend a week learning the Greek and Latin roots of words. And in a cluttered corner of a computer classroom that serves as her office, Norma Byers, a math teacher who buys textbooks for the school, showed off a series of slim volumes that the school uses to drill students in specific areas of reading comprehension, with titles like ''Getting the Main Idea,'' ''Drawing Conclusions'' and ''Following Directions.''
''It's really the old school,'' she said admiringly.
The school provoked a bitter public fight in Princeton, with opponents branding the founders ''curriculumists.'' But it is an epithet that they, and others who share their vision, wear with pride.
Many public schools have been reluctant to impose a specific curriculum, fearing any intrusion on teacher autonomy, or fierce political debates about what to include and not include. But parents pushing for traditional education say the lack of any curriculum meant that what their children learned depended on which teacher or school they were assigned, so that when students were reshuffled with each school year, teachers had to waste time reviewing to make sure everyone knew the same things.
''It's a matter of using our time as efficiently as we can,'' said Eric McLeod, a co-founder of Madison Country Day School. ''We should know what everyone is learning in the third grade.''
Knowing that, schools can progress faster to more advanced concepts. Princeton teaches Shakespeare in seventh grade. By fifth grade, students use math texts for the year ahead.
''We're not saying it's boring,'' said Ms. Byers, the teacher in Princeton. ''There's plenty of room to be creative in deciding how you teach these skills. What we are saying is that you need to be able to read to do anything else, you need the logic, the order, of math to survive in the world.''
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