Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Tragedy No Time for Partisan Politics

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal

As virtually everyone knows by now, an anti-Semitic gunman entered a Jewish synagogue on Oct. 27, in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Jewish neighbourhood of Squirrel Hill. He was armed to the teeth with a rifle and several handguns.

Many worshippers were in the building on the Jewish Sabbath, and he killed 11 people, also injuring many others, including police officers.

I’ll not reiterate what many others have already written. Suffice it to say it appears to be the largest loss of life among American Jews.

I’d rather concentrate on the television coverage, because it speaks to the fractures in both the American Jewish community and the United States as a whole in the Trump era.

I am the son of Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors, with a master’s degree in Contemporary Jewish Studies from Brandeis University near Boston. I have been involved in Jewish life for decades and have written numerous books and articles on Jewish life. So I know something about anti-Semitism.   

But as I watched the American cable networks CNN and MSNBC because of the shootings, I was amazed at how blatantly partisan they were in their coverage, even in a time of tragedy. This is deeply unfortunate. Bigotry and violence affect people on both sides of America's divide. And contrary to the common view of many, these resentments are not stoked by only one party.

Interviews on these news channels were mostly with people, Jewish and non-Jewish, on the Democratic Party left -- the Anti-Defamation League, now headed by a former aide to Barack Obama; the American Civil Liberties Union; the Nation magazine; and the Southern Poverty Law Center, among others.

As always, the narrative minimized – in fact ignored -- the existence of left-wing anti-Semitism, a force that has grown considerably in the last couple of decades.

They downplay these forces because it doesn't tend to erupt in lunatic violence like the Pittsburgh synagogue murders. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a real problem.

These analysts subsume anti-Semitism within the framework of racism, so as to tie it in with hatred of minorities, refugees, and immigrants -- though in fact many individuals in these groups themselves harbour hatred of Jews.

Their views perfectly encapsulate the left-Jewish approach to the problem of anti-Semitism, defining it as a subset of right-wing evil, exemplified mainly by Republicans.

Yet I’ve heard nary a world about the anti-Semitism (euphemistically termed “anti-Zionism”) from the left, which has been indoctrinating students across many college campuses about the wicked Jewish state of Israel and cowing those Jewish students who protest their behaviour.

No one has mentioned the anti-Semitic religious leader Louis Farrakhan or Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian-American who advocates the destruction of Israel.

While lunatic anti-Semites like the Pittsburgh monster are, of course, a physical danger to Jews, the far left’s approach to Jews is, ideologically and politically, systematically undermining the very basis of Jewish peoplehood.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Washington's National Postal Museum is an Overlooked Gem


By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

When I was much younger, stamp collecting was a popular hobby among teenagers, including myself. 

So it was a given that I’d visit the Smithsonian Institution’s  National Postal Museum when I was in Washington DC earlier this year.

Located on Massachusetts Avenue NE, across from Union Station, it’s an often-overlooked treasure, being somewhat out of the way.

On a very hot day, such as the one when I visited late last June, it can be a somewhat strenuous uphill walk from the National Mall.

Since its opening in 1993 in the historic City Post Office Building, it celebrates America’s postal history from colonial times to the present, as well as that of countries around the world. 

Six galleries explore topics ranging from the post office system in colonial and early America to the Pony Express to modes of mail transportation and artistic mailboxes.

The museum contains a vast collection of stamps, historic artifacts and interactive exhibits. 

Visitors will discover the art of stamp making and design, and will marvel at the National Philatelic Collection, which features more than 5.9 million items.

At interactive displays flanking a large globe, visitors explore examples of how stamps reflect their countries of origin and connect people, places, and cultures worldwide.

One display showcases some of the most scarce and famous stamps from 24 countries on six continents. Nearby, 50 pullout frames present almost 800 stamps, one from every country that has ever produced stamps, including many countries that no longer exist.

Canada and the United States jointly issued a stamp to honor the 1959 opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. During the printing of the Canadian stamp, a few sheets were fed into the press upside down—inverting the image. The inverted stamp here is one of only 24 that were actually used.

Among the American stamps displayed is the “inverted Jenny,” the 24-cent 1918 United States airmail stamp with the airplane erroneously depicted upside down. It is the most valuable U.S. stamp. 

The biplane featured in the design is the famous Curtis JN-4-H “Jenny,” modified by replacing the front cockpit with a mail compartment.

The error occurred at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing during the week of May 6- 13, 1918: one sheet of one hundred stamps with an inverted image of a blue airplane escaped detection. 

Because the bicolor stamp was printed from two printing plates (one for the carmine-colored stamp frame, one for the blue vignette), the error resulted from the misfeeding of sheets or the misorientation of one of the plates.

Only one sheet of one hundred inverted center stamps was sold, and no other examples have ever been discovered.

In May 2016, a particularly well-centered Jenny was sold at an auction in New York for $1.35 million.

The “inverted Jenny” is the most requested postage stamp for viewing by visitors at the museum.

Also on view when I was there, behind unbreakable glass in a climate-controlled display case, was the world’s rarest and most valuable postage stamp, the 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta. That alone was worth the visit.

In January 1856, the colony of British Guiana in South America issued a small number of one- and four-cent stamps for provisional use while the postmaster waited on a shipment of postage from England. 

Multiple copies of the four-cent stamp have survived, but the one-cent stamp is the only one of its kind in the world. 

It features a sailing ship along with the colony’s motto, “We give and expect in return,” in Latin.

In June 2014 it sold for $9.5 million, the most ever paid for a stamp at auction.
On loan from owner Stuart Weitzman until this coming December 2, it has spent most of its 162 years behind bank vault bars, appearing only on rare occasions. The National Postal Museum’s display has been the One-Cent Magenta’s longest and most publicly accessible exhibition ever.

There’s plenty to see in Washington, of course, but if you’re interested in philately, this is a must-see place to visit.

Stamps: Longtime, Effective Nationalistic Objects


By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
When I was much younger, stamp collecting was a popular hobby among teenagers.
Most of my friends collected them, and we eventually specialized by limiting ourselves to certain countries.
I saved, and still have my album of, the stamps of Switzerland.
The seemingly most ordinary of artifacts often reveal the most about a culture and a people, and so it is with postage stamps.
There is a lot one can learn from them. They disclose much about nationalism, geography and history.
The issuing of stamps, starting in the nineteenth century, made a significant contribution to nation-building.
The imagery of stamps promotes the dominant discourses of a particular nationalism, and recalls historical triumphs and myths. It also defines the national territory in maps or landscapes.
Postage stamps may be seen as tiny transmitters of the dominant ideologies of the state. The shifting visual representations of the nation through them express the ideology pursued by governments.
Countries have taken advantage of the imagery on postage stamps by manipulating them, often by propagandistic art,  to influence the perspectives of people at other localities.
Dramatic political and economic transitions are often represented in changing iconography, sometimes through the symbolic erasure of previously dominant political narratives.
In such moments, the importance of philatelic iconography in state attempts to mould citizens’ identities is enhanced.
“Postage stamps are vehicles for identity creation and propagation, and as mechanisms for regime legitimation,” observed British academics Phil Deans and Hugo Dobson in 2005. “They demonstrate changing concepts of the state over time and the changing aspirations of state elites.”
Looking at the stamps of Russia and South Africa, whose respective ideological systems – Communism in what was then the Soviet Union, and apartheid in South Africa – collapsed in the early 1990s, they reveal massive transformations.
The newly struggling Soviet authorities had attempted to bring order out of the Communist Revolution by using postage stamps and the attendant imagery on them.
One of the visual challenges leaders faced was what kind of images or messages they wished to send to their own citizens and to those beyond their country’s borders.
The designs on stamps were among the most important early symbolic decisions at the state level.
The Soviets issued stamps and sets on a wide variety of topics, including international ties and ideology.
Many pictured Soviet and international revolutionary heroes, such as Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. They helped build what Benedict Anderson described as “imagined communities” and what Michael Billig referred to as “banal nationalism.”
Post-Communist Russia had to forge a new national identity through stamps; one that required careful consideration of what were deemed desirable images to build and renew Russian nationalism.
Therefore it has issued stamps that promote Russia’s heritage and religion; nationalist imagery replaced ideology and international themes.

In South Africa, the 1948 election of the National Party entrenched apartheid.
The new constructed narrative of nationhood was expressed on stamps through an iconography of white culture and heritage while erasing African, and to some extent British, tradition.
One example was an issue marking the 150th anniversary of the Afrikaner Great Trek.
Historic monuments relating to white settlement and expansionism were deployed to underscore these claims.
The election of Nelson Mandela as the first democratic president of South Africa in 1994 ushered in a new nation-building agenda.
His inauguration was depicted in the first set of stamps issued by the democratic state. The new national flag and anthem soon appeared as well.
But philatelic iconography after 1994 did not symbolically annihilate previous histories and national narratives.
Instead, it pursued a nuanced reworking of national identity framed by a political ideology of equality and inclusion – the so-called “rainbow nation.”