Just letting you know how much I liked the cover of your February 24 issue and Wen Stephenson’s article “From Occupy to Climate Justice.” I always thought the ballerina on the bull was one of the most striking images to come out of Occupy Wall Street, and I love what you’ve done with it. I was a member of the Occupy sustainability working group in 2011 and did some workshops at the park on the climate crisis.
At its best, Occupy prefigured a world beyond the growth model, and the climate crisis has added a terrifying deadline for getting to that world, as Stephenson suggests. The two problems are mutually exacerbating, with climate impacts intensifying inequality, and inequality blocking solutions to the climate crisis (Christian Parenti’s Tropic of Chaos explores this really well).
This analysis was always a part of OWS, although we’ve become much, much better at articulating it since those early days—look at the incredible work done by Occupy alumni involved in tar sands resistance, for instance, or the powerful work still being done by Occupy the Pipeline in New York City. Those are just two that spring to mind; I could name dozens more. Fascinating story, beautiful image.
Tiny Tasks, Tiniest Pay
Moshe Z. Marvit’s “The Wages of Crowdwork” [Feb. 24] was a revelation to me. I never bought into the “technology will make us free in a flat world” meme, but the extent of the slave-wage exploitation of hooked “independent contractors” by big-time corporate players had been hidden in the cloud from me. I’m better informed now and more exquisitely miserable.
In “‘Think of Me With Joy’” [Feb. 10], Julia Klein claims that Sholem Aleichem, the pen name of Sholem Rabinowitz, means “Peace be unto you” in Yiddish. Actually, it’s Hebrew. Sholem is a variant of shalom (Hebrew) and salaam (Arabic). Yiddish is derived from German; in fact, Yiddish is the equivalent of the German Jüdisch, which means “Jewish.”
rohnert park, calif.
We consulted Gennady Estraikh, professor of Hebrew, Judaic and Yiddish studies at NYU, who wrote the following. —The editors
If “Sholem Aleichem” is Hebrew, then “garden,” “candle” and “pocket” are Norman French rather than English. The word “English” originally denoted the early Germanic settlers of Britain or their language. And so on.
There is nothing new in describing Yiddish as a “bastard language” or a “jargon” of German. Many languages have had a similar status. Ukrainian, for instance, was regarded as an illegitimate child of Russian, and the so-called “Vulgar” Latin formed the basis for the modern French, Spanish and Italian.
Still, it is surprising that people continue to have a prejudice against the language of a Nobel Prize winner (Isaac Bashevis Singer) and scores of other excellent writers, including Sholem Aleichem, who certainly knew that his nom de plume belonged to Yiddish.
Incidentally, shall we “edit” Bashevis to make it more Hebrew—Bathshebis?
new york city
Last Word on the Library
Michael Sorkin’s “The Trials of Rafi Segal” [May 13, 2013] is an excellent work of journalism about the political setting of the architectural competition to design the National Library of Israel. I was the author, with the support of several people—including Bing Wang, an associate professor of real estate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design—of the proposal selected by the competition’s international jury. While Sorkin exposed the disturbing events that prevented that proposal from being commissioned, he just as importantly situated the proposal in a system of values, and thus questioned the competition organizers’ commitment to these values.
Wang recently attacked me, Sorkin, The Nation and others in an exchange on the Letters page titled “Trials and Designs” [Dec. 9, 2013]. In her letter, Wang claimed that her company, HyperBina Design Group, contributed “essential design work” to the proposal, a claim with which I and other architects, as Sorkin has shown, disagree. Yet Wang’s letter is most curious, for she says not one word about the design itself, not a single word in defense of the merits of the architectural work that she claims to have been an equal partner in creating.
The jury that selected the proposal described it as “modest yet original and unique,” one that “reflects a deep understanding of the historical significance of the National Library; sensitivity to the special place of the Library in Jerusalem and will give expression to the needs of the Library in an era of social and technological transformation.”
The project’s “modesty” is expressed in the structure’s integration with the topography and its harmonious relation to the city’s historic landscape, an image counter to Jerusalem’s contemporary urbanism of barriers, roadblocks, walls, segregated neighborhoods, tension and conflict. In opposition to the city’s settlement-building and its exhibition of control, power and the “conquering of the hill,” the project’s horizontality, landscapelike quality, and accessible interior and exterior public spaces offer an alternative political image of Jerusalem—one of contemplation, accessibility, respect and sensitivity to the landscape. It is a cultural statement far removed from what Israel has come to represent, and one that can only surface through the democratic process of an architectural competition.
With the departure from Israel of the competition’s international jury goes the belief in a democratic and public process for the design of the National Library, one of Israel’s most public institutions and, even more important, the cultural property of the “people of the book” at large. It is unfortunate that this institution, whose role is to preserve and secure the artist and his creative work, has turned its back on architecture as such—a true sign of Israel’s cultural vacuum.