It's the story of my extracurricular life!
1. George Bush and "the Impostor"
From the Exhibition Guide to Jewes in America, an exhibit running through mid-November at the New York Public Library:
GEORGE BUSH (1796-1859)
The Valley of Vision, or, The Dry Bones of Israel Revived
New York: Saxton and Miles, 1844
Dorot Jewish Division
When New York University was founded in 1830 as a nonsectarian, democratic alternative to elitist, Episcopalian Columbia, it hired much the ablest Hebraist in America, Isaac Nordheimer, a former student in Slovakia of Rabbi Moses Schreiber* -- as its inaugural professor of Arabic. It is a paradox that the city's first secular institution of higher learning should have considered it impossible to permit a Jew to teach the Holy Tongue [. . .] But somewhat paradoxical, too, was their choice, as professor of Hebrew, of George Bush. Competent Christian Hebraist as he was, he was known at the time only as the author of the first American book on Islam -- a biography of Muhammad, whom he insisted on refering to throughout as "the Impostor." [. . .] Bush had made his name as a critic of what he considered disreputable movements -- Islam, millenarianism -- but now he emerged as the leading American advocate of a couple of controversial belief systems of more recent vintage: the occult religion of Emanuel Swedenborg and the alternative medicine of Anton Mesmer. He left NYU and spent the remainder of his life ministering to the Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem in Brooklyn. George Bush's more famous namesakes are the direct descendants of his brother, Timothy.
2. The Bellevue Literary Review
I went to their fall reading Sunday evening. I am pleased to report that it was that rare bird, a reading where everyone was well worth hearing. Particularly impressive was the poet Frances Richey, whose book "The Burning Point" I have requested from the library on the strength of her understated but powerful poems about the current war, her son's military service, her responses to great works of art, and (strangest but most affecting) her recognizing the person of Jesus among men she knew in the 60s. Her poems about war and death, in particular, were moving and thought-provoking without formulaic pacifism or irritating self-righteousness.
3. By the Waters of Manhattan: Talks by/on Jewish Poets
That's the title of a new series that a couple of friends of mine are helping to organize. (Judging from the flier that was handed to me by Bob Rosenthal at shul this past Shabbos, the organizing groups seem to be the Committee on Poetry** and the Educational Alliance's funding project, Jewish Below Fourteenth Street.) In the first event, onThursday, November 4th, at 7, Ed Sanders*** will read his poem entitled "Yiddish-Speaking Socialists of the Lower East Side," and also "speak on the milieu, including Alan Ginsberg."
Bob told me that for some strange reason, the group Jewish Below Fourteenth Street did not want the event to be held in a synagogue. (Too many Jews there!) So it's to be held instead at the Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 5 Union Square West, 7th floor (above Staples). Free and open to the public. I have a phone number for more information, but I'm reluctant to post it on my oh-so-heavily-trafficked blog. E-mail me for it if you like.
*Schreiber is better known among Jews as the Khsam-Soyfer, the Hungarian-Jewish forerunner of ultra-Orthodoxy. His legacy will not in the least be affected by my referring to him in an upcoming review in the Forward of Dovid Katz's book.
**The Web site of the Allen Ginsberg Trust says that Ginsberg "donated much of his income to the Committee on Poetry, a non-profit organization that he organized to assist struggling artists and writers."
***I have no idea who this is, but I imagine it's this person.