Sunday, December 31, 2006

I Went And Saw Borat

I won't even get into why, except that we were going out with friends to the newly reopened Cerrito theater, where you can sit on couches and eat pizza while watching the movie. Anyway.

I am still not sure what to make of Borat.

The impression I had of the 'point' of the movie from reviews was that by being outrageous, Borat gets Americans to reveal themselves as messed-up bigots. This, to my eye, did not occur. In fact, the majority of the Americans Borat encounters behave with an almost superhuman dignity and patience in the face of absolutely ridiculous provocation. He does find a couple of genuine bigots--one genial Muslimophobe homophobe at a rodeo, a couple of frat boys who get very drunk and moan about minorities having all the power. He finds a couple of guys who carry on straightfaced (although rather dour) with their sales routine, (car and gun), while Borat asks about how to kill Gypsies and Jews. But the reviews led me to believe that, for example, the people at the rodeo he attends screamed with approval while he talked about drinking the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq. Actually, they scream with approval when he talks about supporting the troops. As he gets weirder and offensive, they quiet down. The scans of the stands reminded me, in fact, of the scene in "The Producers" where the first big Nazi-musical number goes on. Faces sober up, and get baffled. One man tentatively claps, and then stops when his wife glares at him.

The guy whose Civil War memorabilia place gets trashed is quite calm, and simply asks that they pay for the damage. Alan Keyes and Bob Barr, plus the veteran feminists, behave with dignity in the face of aggressive weirdness. (One thing I did not expect was that Borat would make me feel admiration for Alan Keyes.) The teenagers hanging out in a black neighborhood in the dead of night are quite kind to the nut passing through, and teach him some hip phrases. The Southern etiquette expert he consults is kind too, and when showed obscene family photos, calmly tells him that Americans will not appreciate these. The people whose dinner party he attends are almost superhumanly nice, only kicking him out when the situation becomes intolerable. The Pentecostals are nice to him while speaking in tongues, and tell him that he should forgive the woman (Pamela Anderson) who has betrayed him.

And so on.

So, um, is there a point to this, except for the tasteless over-the-top physical humor? I'm really not sure. None of the 'explanations' of what we're laughing at, or not supposed to be laughing at in Borat really ring true to me.

It's a gross-out fest. It's funny. But it's not 'edgy', 'smart', or 'transgressive'. And it's not all that clever. If you want a really good wacky foreigner's-eye road-trip view of America, watch "The Leningrad Cowboys Go America", which is a much finer movie, even if there are no naked hairy men in it.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Shul Search Continues--Beth El, Berkeley

A year and a half after moving to the East Bay, I still don't have an East Bay shul. I realize that this is my own damn fault. I am still waiting for--oh, I don't know what I'm waiting for. I'm waiting for an absolutely perfect shul to open up down the street from me, and send a delegation to tell me that I can be their first president or something.

Anyway, I got to thinking, how about returning to my roots in Reform? Or at least giving my roots in Reform a chance? So I checked out Beth El, in Berkeley.

There's Torah study at 9:30, Shabbat Shacharit at 10:30. I decide to give myself the benefit of the extra hour...unfortunately the buses are not running perfectly, but at almost exactly the right time I am schlepping up Oxford Street, keeping an eye out for the shul.

And then I see the shul.

It's big. Ummm...yes, it's big. It's modern. And it looks more like part of a college campus than a shul, but I'm pretty sure it's got to be Beth El, not least because there are huge signs up on the fence all around it explaining that Beth El is using green building techniques.

Then I discover that I can't find the service.

Clearly, Torah study was happening in the small chapel that is now full of people talking and laughing, but where the hell the davening is happening, I cannot ascertain. All the doors to what looks like the main sanctuary are locked, and there are signs telling me that due to heightened security, I should go in through the North Gallery doors, but these seem to be locked too.

I meander around for a while, and eventually figure out how to get into the building from the other side, and drift up, until I find the sanctuary. There I discover this:

1. Davening is happening.

2. Davening is happening with a VERY SMALL circle of people.

3. Davening is being led by an ex-employer of mine.

4. I knew she worked there of course, but had forgotten.

5. I don't have warm feelings toward this person.

6. She has noticed me, although I don't know if she recognizes me. She is making eyebrows at me.

7. Possibly because they don't have a minyan.

I tallised up. I joined them. Maybe next week I try the Torah study.

It was distinctly weird, though, davening in such a small group with Ex Employer. It has been nearly ten years. I can't say I was comfortable, but I wasn't that uncomfortable either. More uncomfortable that I didn't know anyone. Maybe it would work out. I found myself thinking that if we didn't have bad blood, I would be fine with what she was actually DOING and SAYING as a leader of the congregation.



1. Not too hard to get to.

2. They appear to have a really good social action committee, with projects I can get behind.

3. The building is weird, but kind of pleasant.

4. The Torah study seems to draw a crowd, and enormous energy.

5. They have a great gift shop. I realize that this is not exactly the most important thing, but...

6. I like the way people dress.

7. It's near Saul's Deli. I had lox and scrambled eggs for brunch.


1. Someone who I really don't want to talk to or see is a spiritual leader there.

2. They got a minyan plus one for the Torah service on a Shabbos morning.

3. The affluence might kill me.

4. They don't have much of a welcoming committee in place. Granted, I could have asked for help.

Does anyone know if there's a way to get to Beth Hillel in Richmond on public transit? transit.511 can't find them.

Friday, December 29, 2006

My Big Fat Jewish-Irish-Scots Irish-Cherokee-Hawaiian-Southern Wedding

This is where we seem to be:


The wedding will be, probably, August 12. I am planning to doublecheck this with a lot of people, but basically, August. We were planning on October, because we have always celebrated October 8 as our 'anniversary'. However, by October he'll be back to school, midterms will be approaching, I'll be working--it will be crazy. If we want a small honeymoon, it will be hard.

I proposed bringing the wedding forward to August, and was met with resistance. This is not because Groomra is sentimental--no, it is because Groomra has learned the October date, and cannot be expected to learn a new anniversary.

"All right," I said. "Why don't we just say that we will keep October 8 our anniversary, regardless of what day we actually get married on?" We've agreed to this, and have worked out that it has some additional nice advantages. To wit, if we forget one, we have a chance with the other, and also, this way we will get to celebrate our first anniversary two months after getting married.


I have invited about six of my girlfriends to be bridesmaids, matrons of honor, attendents, mamans d'honneur, color guard--whatever they want to be called, it's all good. They will wear whatever they see fit--if they want to buy a new outfit, excellent, if not, whatever's in the closet is fine. All of my friends work hard for their money. Many have small children. They all have good taste in clothes. I am not going to make them spend money on a taffeta nightmare they will never wear again. (and there is NO color that will look good on all of them).

However, since Bridezilla secretly wants to put them all in taffeta nightmares WITH BUTT BOWS, I have given some thought to getting a half-dozen taffeta butt bows, with no dress attached, and pinning them to the bridesmaids for the photos.

The groom has invited a couple of friends to be attendents. I think the whole wedding party will gather at the chuppah, and we'll dispense with this business of matched attendents. Too Roman, anyway.


San Francisco City Hall is beautiful and neutral. May be too expensive, may be hard to get the date we want. Golden Gate Park? The Clement Street Bar and Grill? All I've ruled out for sure is the city offices of El Cerrito, CA. NO.


As God is my witness, I haven't the slightest idea.

Here's the problem:

I am, as you may have noticed, Jewish. Groomra is not. Groomra is a cultural Protestant of some sort, but hasn't got the slightest interest in religious matters.

The rabbis I feel close to won't marry me to a Gentile. I don't feel like paying to be married by a Reform rabbi whose sole connection to my family and wedding is that he or she will do the ceremony.

We have friends with Universal Life Church ordinations, and the county of San Francisco will empower a civilian to do marriages for a day. But who? One parent rather than another? One of my friends but not his? We don't have a mentor in common.

Currently leaning to the idea of having a City Hall employee do the wedding, and then we can hand out ceremonial duties at the chuppah later.


(Not imminent, but my mother-in-law-to-be called last night with a list of possible names. No pressure. No pressure!)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Silver Balabusta

I found my second gray hair yesterday. Actually, it could be my first gray hair again, the as the first gray hair disappeared into the hair as a whole, and could not be found again. But second gray hair sighting at any rate.

The fella asked if I wanted him to yank it, but I declined. For the moment I am preserving it. It's an attractive color--my hopes of inheriting my grandmother's seriously silver hair seem to have some possibilities still. (However, the hair starts to go really salt-and-pepper in the forties and then takes about thirty years to reach its peak, so I have some time to go.)

On the one hand, there is the kind of excitement I remember from my period first beginning--and much less discomfort and embarassment. This is a new thing that my body can do, and it's kind of exciting. It's absolute proof of being a grown-up.

It opens a whole new set of questions. Will I dye it? Will I start yanking out the gray ones? How fast is it going to go? Will it get kind of salt-and-peppery before I get into my forties, or will it just stay at a scattering for a while? (My mother's, I recall, did scattering in her thirties, and only really became salt-and-pepperish in her early fifties. My grandmother's ditto. And my hair is really from that side of the family. However, I do have a whole set of other genes, and they're harder to track--my father's hair is such a light brown that we've hardly been able to see the beginnings of his silvering sideburns, and my father's mother has been dying her hair since before I was born. Don't know a thing about the English side's graying tendencies. Genes are a mysterious thing.)

And there's also a sense of regret, maybe even a little bit of panic. My hair is already turning gray (OK, two hairs are), and I haven't even won a Pulitzer yet, or published a novel, or had a baby, or gotten good at a profession. HURRY UP! the hair seems to be notifying me. We're supposed to be in the prime of life here. MOVE! I've hit some kind of Solstice-y balance point--the beginning of wisdom, maybe, and the beginning of the end of hair pigmentation.

But it really looks way cool. I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow. Must ask the hairdresser if she can spot any more in there.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Joseph of Nazareth and his rotten relatives

I have a question about the Christmas story.

Luke says: "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."

Joseph, of the house of David, goes to Bethlehem, to be counted in the census. Presumably, even if his immediate family live in Nazareth, he has extended family in Bethlehem. He shows up in town with a pregnant fiancee..not merely pregnant, but seriously pregnant. And they let her give birth in a barn outside a cheap motel? What is WRONG with these people?

Granted, the town may be jam-packed, but still--"OK, Uncle Yehuda has the couch, Eleazar is in the bathtub, Auntie Chloe is going to sleep in Batsheva's bed, and Batsheva will double up with Devorah. Shimon! Pack up your spare undies. Joe's found some room in the inn's stable, and you'll share that with him until everyone goes home. Whaddya mean, why? Miriam's practically in labor already, and you ask why? She needs your bed, genius! She should give birth in a stable? Your cousin Yosef's first son is going to be put in his swaddling clothes into a feedbox maybe? Aaah, use some common sense!"

It's been suggested to me that the family disapproves of Mary's pregnancy, but why to such an extent, if they assume it's Joseph's child? (I assume Joseph has had the common sense not to go around telling everyone about the virginity, and the dreams, and the angels and everything.) I have to assume there is some famiyl stuff going on here that Luke either doesn't know about, or doesn't care about.

In any event, makes for a much more gripping story than the traditional version, with just the two of them gliding through an angel-filled night--to my mind, at any rate.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


The Balabusta and the fella are engaged.

To be married.

Shortly before the chagim.

In the coming year.

I have decided to embrace becoming Bridezilla. The fella has announced himself as "Groomra", the tuxedoed equivalent to Mothra. Mrs. Bluejeans says there is no such thing in Western culture. Currently we are fighting over the number of people to be invited to the wedding. Groomra feels that any number that goes into double digits is too many.

I want to invite the entire Western half of the United States, plus various East-Coast relatives to share in our happiness. Well, not really, but I think seventy-five is a nice number for a wedding.

Groomra reports that if I think I am having him lifted in a chair, I can forget about it. He will punch, kick, and if necessary, kill.

Perhaps separate dancing is the answer.

Anyway. Details to follow.

I'm happy.

December Highlights

December 6th: Feast of St. Nicholas. Vice Principal only remembers this fact at prayer service. Runs out of building to buy 200 candy canes. With the eighth grade, I put a shoe out in the hall. We are each given a candy cane by the saint.

December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Watch incredibly cute children do a presentation on the Immaculate Conception.

December 12: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Kindergarten presents. "Juan Diego jumped up and ran all the way to the bishop," intones Ms. K. Juan Diego jumps up, slips, and flops to the floor. Then gets up and runs to the bishop. The bishop does not believe in his vision. "Juan Diego CAREFULLY ran all the way back to Tepeyac," Ms. K announces.

Later on December 12: Feast of the 7th and 8th Grade at St. Colmcille, martyred for doing a very bad job singing a very silly Christmas carol in preparation for the Christmas concert.

Ms. Balabusta helps out with that carol, and following ones, as best she can. During "Silent Night", the choir director leans over to her. "Great," she whispers. "The Jewish teacher knows all the words. And the Catholics..." She glares at the Catholics.

"Learned it in public school," I whisper back, truthfully. Choir director giggles insanely.

I even helped out with "Go Tell It On The Mountain", although I only know the words to that because of House reruns.

It was a bad day. But the occasional insane giggle helps.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

We Gather Together...

This year I am thankful. I am thankful that my father is recovering from the Series of Unfortunate Events that took place this past month. I am thankful that (oxygen and all), he is going home tomorrow we think/hope/pray. I am thankful that tomorrow I will be going to visit him and my mom, and perhaps eating a turkey sandwich.

I am thankful for other stuff too--new apartment, better job, love of a good man, great friends...but right now, that's sort of blending into the background.

On the Balabusta front--vay's mir. There's an old Allison Bechtel cartoon (she writes Dykes to Watch Out For) where a therapist demonstrates various ways to break up with a ball of Silly Putty and asks "Have you been breaking up with your girlfriend for so long that you're starting to feel thin and sticky?" I have officially been moving for so long that I feel thin and sticky. The fella's van is broken, so we have been relying on the kindness of one particular friend who owns a truck. This friend is also a large man who believes in helping one's friends, and he is capable of lifting a La-Z-Boy onto his head and walking up a flight of stairs with it, which the Balabusta sure as hell cannot do. So that has been fabulous. The problem is that we can ONLY move when he is available, and he has school, and a home life, and all of that good, the beholden-ness level is getting uncomfortably high. We hope to fix the van on Friday, but still...

We still need to clear out the garage, and clean the old place, and time is running out, since I am NOT gonna pay more rent for the old place. No way, no how. Also, the realtor who rented it to us the last time keeps calling to check on how we're doing. Praying for deposit return...

Anyway. It's Thanksgiving, and I am thankful. Hodu l'adonai ki tov. (You can take that in both the serious and the silly sense.) I'm off to peel some parboiled yams.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Basically Still Here

My father is out of the ICU, and doing better. Thank you to everyone praying and thinking and etc. for him.

We've moved, sort of. Still need to get a whole lot of stuff out of the old place. And clean it. Attempting to cook with very weird assortment of kitchen utensils. Attempting to dress with very weird assortment of clothes.

Two days, and then we're off for Thanksgiving. Five days off = very good thing.

More info to follow.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I Hate Fresno (It's Hereditary)

Mr. Bluejeans Sr. is now in a different room at the hospital, one of the ones where they put you in a little isolation area with a room between you and the hall, and no one is allowed in without wearing a little surgical mask.

They don't know what is wrong with him, but the pneumonia's not clearing up.

The nurse who showed me in told me it might be TB, but they're doing cultures and checking.

My dad, when I got in to see him, told me they'd suggested valley fever to him.

Mr. Bluejeans Sr. was a child in rural Fresno. And he's been back from time to time since. So valley fever would not be out of the question. It would, however, make me very angry. My dad doesn't care for Fresno very much. If it made him sick, we're all going to be...irritated.

Have been reading up on valley fever. Making self nervous.

Mother still coughing a lot.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mr. Bluejeans Sr. is not well

Actually, Mr. Bluejeans Sr. is in the hospital with pneumonia.

"How old is your father?" people keep asking me when I tell them this. "Fifty-nine," I tell them, and they look confused, having envisioned a frail old man. This is similar, I suppose, to my reaction to hearing that the bishop of Oakland had fallen down a flight of stairs in his home and broken both arms.

I assumed he was a frail old bishop, but actually he's also in his fifties, and is now recovering--with some help from my students, who wrote get-well cards, and are now praying for his recovery at school prayer every morning. They also pray for Ms. Balabusta's father.

Anyway, this is scary and alarming--it started with a chest cold, and then the diabetes acted up, and apparently three or four pneumonias took root, and now Mr. Bluejeans Sr. has been in the hospital for six days, and is being treated with weapons-grade antibiotics.

My mother also has the cold, and since she has asthma, she's being very slow to recover, and is stuck at home, since they didn't hospitalize her.

And two people I know well lost beloved cats in the last two weeks.

Altogether, this is not good. Not good at all.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Moving On Again...

So we got the apartment--signed for it and all.

The fella then made ME call the current landlord to say we were moving out. (Have I mentioned that I'm afraid of landlords?) But anyway...

I call the landlord, and his wife answers the phone. I ask for him, and she says, warily, that he's not available. I introduce myself, and explain my mission.

"Oh, I can get him for that," she says. "It's just that every Republican organization in California has been calling all day telling him to vote for this candidate and that one..."

So, anyway, we're ready to pack.

Updates to follow.

Today, the school I work at--let's call it St. Colmcille, to keep it semi-anonymous--went on a peace walk through our neighborhood. This was part of Red Ribbon Week, an extravaganza of safety tips, anti-violence exhortations, and general community good spirit. Also jumping rope to raise money for the Heart Association. Kind of confusing, really. But the kids all wore red shirts and hair bows, and made signs, and we streamed through the streets, looking like a bunch of Young Pioneers who made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Oakland. It was cute. How can you not like first graders with little signs that say 'Peace'?

Unfortunately, one of our teachers made the mistake of beginning the march with prayer--silent prayer. She got nervous about the kids all being outside the school, and crossing the street, and earnestly davened that no one should get hurt, and that if there was any danger out there, it should happen to her.

We got two blocks, and she whacked her head on a street sign, opening a bleeding gash on her forehead, and proving either the efficacy of prayer or the urgency of also taking care of yourself when panicking about the children in your custody. Luckily, one of the moms who came along on the walk is a nurse, who took said teacher into custody and walked her back to the school and bandaged her. She says it doesn't need stitches. We're kind of freaked out anyway.

A good Shabbos to all.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Apartment Found?

Looked at an apartment last night. We're applying for it--at least I filled out my application, the fella is in charge of the rest.


Cheaper than current residence
Swimming pool in building
Kitchen big enough to put kitchen table in
Lots of storage space
Nice modern layout
Bathroom big enough to enter without turning sideways
Big patio
Free month's rent, cheap deposit
Two blocks from current residence


RIGHT next to the BART tracks
Motel-like apartment building layout makes me think vaguely of childhood vacations--not bad, but to live in?
Two blocks FARTHER away from the BART station
Coin-op laundry again?

But if we get it, it will be good.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Apartment Hunt

So, we need a new place to live. Basically, we need someplace cheaper to live. The fella is going to school, and this will probably continue for the next four or five years. This means that the fella is about to lose our ongoing argument about whether we need a freestanding house or not.

We can save about four hundred bucks a month by moving from our two-bedroom house with the deck and backyard we aren't using to a two-bedroom apartment.

Unfortunately, this will involve MOVING. No way out. We will need to get all of our stuff out of this house, and moved to another location. And we will need to deal with people who rent apartments. And our current landlord. And all that jazz.

Now, it cannot possibly (kaynehore) possibly be nearly as bad as the last time we moved, summer before last. This will be a kinder, gentler move because:

1. We have a much reduced amount of stuff, having thrown out twelve cubic yards of stuff, and brought a considerable amount of stuff to Goodwill last time. Also there were the contents of the hall closet that we just abandoned. So there's not nearly as much stuff to move.

2. We are planning to move a much shorter distance. In fact, if I get the apartment I'm going to see tomorrow, we'll be moving about two and a half blocks.

3. Our current landlord is not noticeably (kaynehore) insane.

4. We do not have a vehicle to get rid of. Or a couch to get rid of.

5. My machetenim have not left any ancient emergency water in dusty gallon jugs secret locations around the current house. This is a VERY GOOD THING.

The place I'm looking to move into is on Liberty Street. The place is owned by a company that does rentals. I think that this is positive, because in my experience, properties owned by individuals seem to come with weird expectations. Also, they may still be offering a deal whereby you can get a month's rent off. This might provide us with more time with which to move.

It's apparently about 1200 bucks. This will save us $340 off the bat each month, and if the landlord pays water and trash, more. It has a patio or balcony or something. More, I do not know.

Hopefully, it is also dryer in the winter than the present location. The present location is pretty damp during the winter. Last year, my parents were over for Christmas lunch, and about twenty minutes before they arrived, we discovered that the living room was so damp that the floors were getting slick.

Oh, God, can you tell that I don't want to move? I want to have BEEN moved. I want to wake up and discover that I live somewhere lovely with less rent, and that some kind soul has moved all my stuff, set up the furniture in a clever way, and bought a nice new red teakettle for the kitchen.

What are the odds?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fear of Veils

I've been following with some interest the story of the teacher's aide in Britain who's been suspended from work because she wears a face-covering veil in the presence of adult male coworkers for religious reasons.

The official version appears to be that she wasn't able to communicate effectively with the children through the veil, which seems improbable to me. Generations of women wearing face veils have communicated effectively with children. ("Mustafa, get IN this house, and CLEAN your room, and help your grandfather SWEEP the yard before you even THINK about running off to play ball." Kid understood every word.) It's a sheet of fabric, not a diver's helmet.

Somehow, all kinds of people who you wouldn't think would get involved in a dispute between a teacher's aide and her school are getting involved with this one. Jack Straw has weighed in--apparently he doesn't like to meet with veiled women, and pressures Muslim women who meet with him to unveil. And Tony Blair has labeled the veil a 'mark of separation'. (This is bad.) And some other person in government has announced that equal rights for women don't go with the veil, therefore the veil has to go.

In other words, this is not about a 23 year old girl named Aishah who teaches the fourth grade, this is about whether Muslim women in Britain going veiled is GOOD or BAD.

Some thoughts, in no particular order:

1. I have long wondered how it would have changed things if the dominant culture which produced second wave feminism had been Zulu rather than Anglo-American. I rather suspect that there would be considerable distress among Zulu feminists over the disturbing cultural phenomenon in which all women, married or not, are expected to keep their breasts covered, or be severely harassed, in the cultures of the West.

2. I wonder what else Jack Straw tries to dictate about how his female visitors are dressed? If their skirts are too long, does he ask that they be rolled up? Shirts unbuttoned to a respectable cleavage? Who the HELL does this man think he is?

3. Basically, this is about insisting on assimilation as being necessary to the functioning of society. I am not entirely convinced that society has a vested interest in my male coworkers getting to see my nose.

4. My ox is standing near the ox that is being gored. I will not cover my hair when I marry, but that is a decision _I_ made. Many Jewish women, of course, decide differently. I still remember how angry I was in college when a friend who studied Christian theology told me a 'funny' story about how a teacher of hers had sat through meetings with an Orthodox woman professor who wears a shaytel. It was, apparently, rip-roaring funny that this woman was sitting there in her dorky wig, totally unaware of how funny and oppressed she looked. And SCRATCHING under the wig! (I have some issues still. And I didn't voice them strongly enough at the time.) Is the shaytel or the tichel a 'mark of separation'? You bet. Is it going to be tolerated? In what settings? Who gets to decide what gets tolerated? Oh, yeah. The dominant culture. I keep forgetting.

5. Be just like us, they whisper. We'll be multiculturalists, and honor the universal parts of your culture if you'll really be just like us. Of course, if you break this unilateral bargain...we may have to deal with you.

6. Why are so many people so obsessed with ladies's headwear? This keeps coming up in Europe, and I don't get it. Of all the things Europe needs to focus on, in terms of interacting with Islam and Muslim populations, this seems so tangential as to be almost surreal. ("The Mongols are on their way! And they are wearing furry boots!" "AAAAAH! FURRY BOOTS!")

Give Aishah her job back, and for heaven's sakes, someone tell Jack Straw to stop being such a lech.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

My Freedom Press

I bought a press pot for coffee today. These things are often called French presses, hence the title...yes...I still find the whole "freedom fries" thing funny. So sue me.

I bought the press at Target, and bought some actual ground coffee at Giovanni's, and have hopes of using the new addition tomorrow morning. I have now read extensively about how I need a coarse even grind, and this and that, to which I say--oh, for goodness sakes, we'll try it and see how it works. I have used one before. My landlady in London had one.

I just feel the need for a touch of class to start my day. Maybe making coffee that's not instant Nescafe will help. Even I have to admit that the Nescafe is not great.

I'll report back.

I also bought laundry soap, socks, pantyhose, a new purple glass for toothbrushes to replace the one I broke while scrubbing, the 10th anniversary issue of Latina Magazine, and a lint roller. It was an excellent trip to Target.

Flying Stuffed Torahs

Sukkot pretty much went by without my noticing. (This year I have not-done two of my Jewish life goals, sending out yontiff cards and having a backyard sukkah. Better luck next year.) But I did make it out to Simchat Torah last night, with my mom.

When I was a kid, we belonged to a seriously German high-classical-Reform temple where the rabbis wore vestments but no yarmulkes, but for some reason they had maintained a custom of the children following the Simchat Torah hakafot around the sanctuary to collect candy from the congregation. (Trust me, this was strange and exotic old-country stuff by the standard of my day.) I do not actually remember if the hakafot involved the Torah scrolls, or how many hakafot there actually were--but the kids went around with sacks and got miniature candy bars, and Starbursts, and odd European hard candies, and it was incredibly fun. I think this must be a yeky thing--the focus on kinder and candy--since the same thing turns up at the Conservative shul in SF where I attended for years--and my heart still is. But I've only been there at Simchat Torah once. Kids. Candy.

In more recent years, we've gone to the Conservative shul down the block from my parents, not so much on candy, where the grown-ups slug whisky in Dixie cups, and the dancing runs out into the street, and goes on until the rabbi comes out and begs everyone to come back in so they can get another hakafah going. Currently, this place is out of service, since they're completely rebuilding, and the building has been razed to the foundation. They, and another couple of small shuls, had organized a Simchat Torah at another location across the park.

It was great, utterly disorganized, fun. There were a gazillion kids dancing, screaming, and throwing anthropomorphic plush Torah scrolls through the air at each other. USY's presidents got to auction off the scrolls for the first hakafah (a floppy-haired young man wearing a velveteen blazer and tzitzit begging the congregation to "Imagine Jewish teens enjoying Judaism. Then imagine those same Jewish teens running wild in the street.") Some dancing. (The Balabusta managed to get in about five minutes of circling aroung a scroll until her lungs told her it was time to stop this right now.) All the women were called for an aliyah together, then all the men, then the children. We unrolled a scroll around the room, got a lightning commentary on the high points of the Torah going backwards, and then rerolled to Bereshit. We lost a roller--it popped off the threads--I don't know who you call for that. A sofer? A Torah seamstress?

Enjoyed myself.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Flylady says...

"Your house did not get dirty overnight, and it is not going to get clean overnight."

But as the fella has pointed out, Flylady is mistaken. It takes approximately 24 hours for a house to get completely awful. Our house, anyway.

I've been down for the count for over a week. Despite the fella's best attempts to keep the dishes going, etc., the house looks as though teenage (male) mercenaries with fierce Coca-Cola addictions and an interest in collecting scrap paper and trying to cook dinner (but not cleaning up after the attempt) have been squatting in it.

They didn't break any windows, or leave behind unexploded ordinance, so I guess it could have been worse. And luckily, they weren't smokers. Slowly, we have begun to put things back together.

In other news, I note with annoyance that 'skinny' pants seem to be the new look. Since the world does not need any pants in it that aren't bootcut, this seems particularly insane. Look, even Audrey Hepburn would have looked better in bootcut pants. Think how cute.

I'm still coughing, but things are generally much better.

Tomorrow I'm going to try something new--rather than get in to the school around 11 and stay to late afternoon, I'm going to try to get in by eight, and leave at noon, packing in four hours of earnest work, and getting home by early afternoon, to do laundry, hang out w/fella, make a nice dinner, etc.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I Wanna Be Invulnerable

Drora's baby hasn't arrived yet--37.5 weeks, and the wee un's father is apparently having dreams about having to fight off crazy women who want to take his baby at the birthing center. But all is going well, except that Chava's apparently having a pretty rough time of it right now--can't write more than that.

I, on the other hand, have nothing more going on than a slight touch of bronchitis, and am reacting with about the same emotional fortitude as if I were told they wanted to have all my toes removed.

First, there's the practical problems. I've been running a day late and lots of dollars short for weeks, and the thing that kept me going toward the finish line, even when it was clear that I was coughing to death at the parent conferences, and hadn't done anything except keep upright for a week, was that I would get a three day weekend, to do laundry and dishes and read books and such, and that on one of those days, I would go in to work and get everything all set up for the coming week.

Not happen? Not even the vaguest sniff of it? You got it. Weekend consists of me lying flat on my back taking all kinds of stupid drugs, and here it is Monday night of that precious three-day weekend, and NO planning done, NO grading done, NO dishes done, NO NOTHING DONE. Which means another stupid lousy humiliating incredibly rotten week of 'taking care of myself' scrounging every-damn-thing from clean socks to bus fare, and being unprepared for everything, and hating life generally. Oh, not to mention that it was for nothing, because I AM STILL COUGHING. It is almost impossible to put into words how cheated and bitter I feel right now. I don't care that in broad terms this is nothing, emotionally this is enormous. I feel like a little kid that has had a lollipop taken away.

Also, I have a note from my doctor saying that I'm supposed to take off through Thursday. (Stupid doctor.) I honestly don't know what my VP is going to say about that in the morning. I suppose I could organize lessons for the day and then stick around until they get someone in. I feel well enough to teach, or at least well enough to mind the class as well as a sub would, but there's the possibility that I may still be contagious. When do you stop being contagious with bronchitis? When you stop coughing? When you haven't got a fever? When they say you aren't?

I feel vulnerable at work, all the time, and I need, NEED to at least not be obviously, physically, falling apart. This has not been helped by a round of parent conferences in which at least four people mentioned that the children were not 'listening to me'--one mentioned it vitriolically--or by the fact that, well, not so secretly, I think I'm a complete screw-up as a teacher. I have no more give to let out. I have no more secret resources. And I still haven't sent in the kids' Scholastic orders from last month. I kept meaning to find a minute.

I need a car. I need another weekend. I need something to eat that tastes good. I need a new set of lungs. By tomorrow morning, if not sooner.

A Little Sukkot Whine

Shabbos, the fella frog-marched me to Kaiser, where we saw a nice emergency doctor who didn't actually examine me, he just listened to the hideous noises I was making, and informed me that I had a bad chest cold. Then he demanded to know if I'd been going in to work like that. Then he told me to stay home from work for a week. Then I started crying.

This then led to a bad mess where the doctor kept piling on more patent medicines for me to buy, and demanding of the fella "Hey, man, you're on my side, right?"

So, nice bronchitis. I basically spent all of Saturday evening and Saturday night, and all of Sunday and Sunday night doped to the gills on Robitussin, having involved dreams about ancient Israelite goddess imagery, twin children I might have had with people I didn't meet in college, Turks--it got weird.

I have a work note letting me off work through THURSDAY. I have today off in honor of Columbus, but was gonna spend it at the school. Not going in. Resting.

This is not a good time for me to be sick.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hack, wheeze, hack hack hack

Hi everyone. Happy (wheezyhack) New Year.

Monday, you may recall, was yontiff, and I was off work. Sadly, I started to feel the beginnings of a bad cough and virus that day. It wasn't awful--I finished the fast, went home, and went to work the next day.

Tuesday, I was achy and wheezy and hacky and during recess yard duty, an eighth grader kicked a soccer ball high into the air, and it landed SQUARELY on the crown of Mrs. Balabusta's head.

BONGGGGGG! The eighth grader apologized. I assured him that I was OK. But now I had a headache, and sore neck muscles, and every time I coughed---OH the ache.

So, Tuesday night I went home and went to sleep at five thirty in the afternoon. I woke up periodically after that, each time deciding not to regain consciousness permanently. The one exception was four-thirty AM when I noticed that while asleep I had sweated clean through my sheets and a very heavy comforter and was soaking wet. So I got up, found clean blankets in the dark, made a kind of cocoon, and went back to bed.

Got up Wednesday morning at 6:00 AM.

Got up Thursday morning at 6:00 AM.

This is not getting easier. I really hurt.

And today and tomorrow we have parent conference. This evening, I have parent conferences until 6:45, with little breaks here and there.

Poor parents. What kind of plague-ridden hag is teaching their kids?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Now about to:

Go to work...
Put in appearance at parish festival...
Run upstairs and put in a few hours getting things ready for the sub...
Take bus to San Francisco...
Change pants...
Leave for Kol Nidre...

An easy fast to all out there. This year could be we'll find some answers, or at least some better questions.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The '9/11' class of West Point, the group that had just entered in the fall of 2001, lost their first member in combat. 2nd Lt. Emily Perez was 23. The SF Chronicle ran a small piece with a picture of her.

Beautiful young woman. Black Latina, like a bunch of my students this year, a stunning smile. Exactly halfway in age between me and the eighth graders. Astonishingly gifted, by all accounts.

Her face stayed with me today for a while.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

New Year Resolutions

One of the things I love about my own particular ethnic/cultural/regional blend is that I get to start over a lot. My cycle of new years starts with Rosh Hashanah, but if things don't go perfectly, a month or so later we hit the pre-Christian new year of the Celtic world, at Halloween. Then the Gregorian new year arrives at the beginning of January, just in case things weren't going perfectly, and that helps a lot, and then, just in case things don't go perfectly, the lunar new year arrives not too long after that, and I can eat tangerines and watch the parade in SF, and start over again.

If things don't go perfectly after that, I can count Tu B'Shevat--OK, so I'm not a tree, who cares--and Pesach, of course, and the old European new year in March if needs be.

Summers are difficult, though. No one starts a new year in the summer, at least no one I have any close ties to.

All of this perfectly suits one of my more maddening characteristics, which is that I'm always resolving to become a more perfect person, starting now. It's Rosh Hashanah again, so guess what I'm doing?

Well, I'm taking the day off. I was planning to go into work, but a little voice in my head informed me around three this morning, while I was sleeping, that this needs to stop. I am only gonna allow myself to go in to work on the weekends twice a month. I may do work at home, but I am going to get some Sundays in.

I have a lot of other plans, too.

Shana tova, everyone.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Oh, you've got to be kidding me

It's not allowed to be yontiff yet. I'm not ready. I haven't cheshbonned my nefesh. Let alone washed some pantyhose. (Makes International Jewish Distress Call, which she imagines to sound like a shofar going "aoogah". But you know, in a ladylike kind of way.)

Anyway, my nefesh and me are apparently going to have to like it or lump it, Rosh Hashanah is starting tomorrow evening, no matter what I think about that.


General update:

We are not buying a house right now, although we do now have a specific goal, which is improving my credit rating, and then considering ways to accumulate a down payment. The brokers were nice and bought us French fries. It seems we could get 100% financing, but the mortgage payments would be so astronomical that it just wouldn't work. We'll see.

The fella is still trying to get some financial aid. It's slow going. The stupid college can't meet with him until next week, a full month after classes started. Wells Fargo offered a loan, but apparently need a cosigner with the credit of Paris Hilton. I and a very respectable relative have both been turned down for the job. Also the stupid college gave him pinkeye or something (the stupid college is currently taking the blame for all of the things going wrong in our lives, which may be unfair, but maintains shalom bayit, and doesn't hurt the college none.) Anyway, his eye is pink. Oh, and his wisdom tooth is still doing whatever it's doing. That's the college's fault too. Why is my boyfriend being visited with plagues? What's next? Aphids?

The seventh graders are restless.

I'm tired.

Oh yeah. New year. Good idea.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Real Estate and Such

We're meeting the real estate lady at Denny's this evening--apparently my credit is not so bad as all that. She actually went so far as to say it was 'good'. We'll see what they're offering.

This is a kind of sudden weird thing, but I figure that if nothing else I can find who's out there, and what my options are. And maybe--well, the desire to settle down has become very intense in the past few years. It's a past thirty thing, I think. I want a garden. Some roots. An investment, even.

Plus, the place I like (which may not even still be available, I remind myself, and I've never really seen inside, except through windows, so by 'like', I mean that they have a big side yard, and hardwood floors), is less than two blocks from BART, and a block from Giovanni's, the cute grocery place. Also, it's about four blocks from our current spot, so the move would be ever so much easier...

I can't tell if I'm fantasizing or visualizing, if you are Northern California enough to see the difference. I just know that the thought of having a place of my own is madly appealing.

Well, we'll see.

More About The Pope

So now, apparently, many upset Muslims want to kill the pope for quoting a dead Byzantine emperor saying mean (albeit basically truthful) things about the prophet Mohammed. Michelle Malkin is covering this, hour by hour. She calls on everyone to stand up and unequivocally say "I support the Pope". (I would supply links, but heck, you can find all this on Google, and my computer won't do it. Sorry.)

Sorry, Michelle, but I supported Denmark a lot more than I support the Pope, and I even had some crankiness about Denmark. (Stupid butter cookies! Stupid cartoons!)

Standard Disclaimers: I do not want anyone to kill the pope, nor do I want anyone to throw bombs at Christian churches in the Muslim, which has apparently been happening, as folks watch the news and get all anxious to attack the nearest Christians. I observe with cyncicism and concern the increasing trend of irrelevent 'slights' to Islam by any semi-public figure being blown up by media hysteria into giant affairs that agitate the whole Muslim world. Benedict was, of course, entitled to say any durn thing that he pleased. Yadda, yadda, yadda. There is no justification for the kind of outraged "the West has REALLY gone too far THIS time" routine that appears to be playing out.

But Benedict's speeech, which I've read in full (OK, read with glazed eyes in full), is interestingly silent about the record of his own faith. The context in which the notion of Mohammed bringing faith 'with the sword' is set in contrast with the Byzantine emperor's Greek belief that a 'reasonable soul' can be persuaded to truth by reason. Benedict argues that the Hellenic ideal is compatible with biblical truth.

So far, so good. The reason I will NOT stand up and support the pope as unequivocally as Michelle wants, is that Benedict does not, at any stage, make reference to the failures of the Church to live up this ideal in the centuries before or after Emperor Manuel II had this insight while chatting with a Persian guy he met during the siege of Constantinople.

The catch is that refusing to convert, for Muslims and Jews alike during a long period of European history, meant that you were not a 'reasonable soul', and philosophy went out the window. Books were burned. People were burned. A great deal of other unpleasant stuff happened. Benedict talks about late medieval theological departures from the Greek ideal, but he doesn't talk about the human cost of those departures, nor how deep they went.

So Benedict: why not? If you are upholding Christianity's beliefs in this matter, would it not be best to say "We have not always remembered this truth. In the memory of those who were oppressed because both Christians and Muslims converted by the sword for generations, let both Christians and Muslims knock it the hell off in this generation?" Now that sounds rousing to me.

This caught my attention also because yesterday I listened to a lecture about Catholic social justice teaching from a very nice Jesuit who began by discussing the French Revolution as the end of the medieval reign of the Church's teaching about the worth of humanity, and the separateness of human worth from enconomic production. I would have been happier if he had acknowledged, even in passing, that in the days before the French Revolution, the poor were not exactly getting what they needed from the French Church. No mention. No comment.

So, no, Michelle. I don't stand up to say "I support the Pope". I support the Pope's right not to be assassinated. But Benedict needs to get off his high horse and make it clear that his Greek insights came at a high human cost.

Monday, September 11, 2006

No Bad Guys. No Fire Trucks.

In September, 2001, the younger son of one of my college friends was IIRC, three. His mom believed that she was doing a good job of protecting him from the nonstop horror on TV until the day she walked to the VCR to put on "Blue's Clues" and Aharon (not his real name) screamed "No bad guys! No fire trucks!"

That's kind of where I am at the moment. I don't want to watch any of the TV coverage. I don't want to read the "Where are they now" stories. (Terrorists still in hell. Families of the dead still grieving. Babies born after their fathers died at the WTC and Pentagon now in preschool and kindergarten. U.S. still in Afghanistan. Afghanistan still in poor condition. Bin Laden still making home movies. Am I sounding cynical yet? I'm not. Oh God, it shouldn't happen to a West-coast liberal that the sound of that syrupy 'where eagles fly' song in Walgreens can reduce me to tears.)

BTW: "Saint of 9/11". Biodocumentary about Father Mychal Judge, a NYFD chaplain who died at the World Trade Center. Awesome, spiritually inspiring, very very good for the Irish soul. Check it out.

I have a post I want to write about the apparent immutability of people's political and social perspectives, and how 9/11 didn't change people's mind about things, but I don't think I want to write it this evening. Maybe tomorrow. Or over the weekend.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Love and Molars

The fella is teething. Seriously, the man is thirty years old, one of his wisdom teeth is coming in, and there isn't enough room in his jaw for it plus the molar that was already there. Two teeth enter, one tooth leaves.

This happens to many people. The problem is:

1. We have no money.

2. The fella has no dental coverage.

3. It's Sunday.

4. The University of the Pacific School of Dentistry emergency after-hours number as left on their machine is wrong, and I can't find the right one.

5. 1-800-DENTIST found us a great emergency person. In Vallejo. The only driver has major jaw pain, and did not sleep last night.

6. I have been telling him to call UOP for two weeks, at least.

Current plan seems to be that we will wait for morning, and send the fella to the emergency clinic at UOP.

I am going to wait until the fella is totally recovered from having his wisdom tooth pulled, and then I am going to kill him.

I have informed him that he has been relieved of all rights as an adult member of this family unit. I have informed him that we will be getting domestically partnered. I have informed him that we will be getting married, having three children, and buying a house. I have informed him that he will be getting health coverage for all of his parts, internal, external and removable. And we are getting a dog, so I can share the responsibility for taking care of him with someone sensible. I think a black lab would be a good caretaker.

Also, I am going to buy him some good clothes, we are getting a joint checking account, and I am going to learn to balance a checkbook. We are going to eat at the table every evening like grown-ups. He will go to the gym. There are some other details, but I'm forgetting them right now.

So far his only comments to this rant have been "I can't believe it took you almost seven years to get to this point," and "Can I have some oatmeal?"

I swear, I'm going to take that tooth out myself. With pliers.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Oy, oy, oy

OK, let me explain. I just called a real estate person and asked about buying a house. She's planning to call me back, and get my info in a bit to run my credit.

You see, there's this house, about four blocks away from where we rent now. It's a bungalow, on a big bit of land (for the burbs), with a creek out back, and back in the winter, a friend of mine was looking at buying it. She didn't get it, and bought a place in San Pablo, we all moved on.

Now, eight months later, it's up for sale again, and they're asking for no money down. (Why might be a good question...), but anyway, I called the real estate person, and she's gonna call me back this evening, and get info for credit check.

My credit is fairly lousy, I think, lots of late credit card payments and the like. Of course, I always pay off in the short run--no one has ever had to seize my car or garnish my wages--and I ALWAYS pay my rent on time.

("You have no car to seize," whispers the fella in my ear. So what?)

I don't want to be shamed by the real estate lady. And also, what if I CAN buy a house? That's a terrifying thought. Aren't I financially entangled enough? But also, wouldn't it be nice to have my rent going toward something of mine, and wouldn't it be nice to be able to dig up the back yard for vegetables, and paint the bedroom a nice color? But they said something about coming over to MY HOUSE. Maybe I could visit their office instead? I don't want to let real estate people in. My living room is messy.

I feel a trifle queasy.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Happy Labor Day, All!

OK, I can tell right now that I will have lots of stories about my new students. For both privacy and convenience, I will continue with my blog habit of giving everyone Hebrew names--so now, let me tell you about Dovidl. You're going to hear a lot about Dovidl. At mass on Friday morning, Dovidl behaved so badly, that the vice principal had to talk to him afterward. I later informed him that if he ever behaves like that in a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or sacred pile of rocks again, whether I am with him or not, there will be some serious consequences.

I also learned that Dovidl, despite not having made his First Communion, went up and got communion anyhow. When the VP discussed this with him, he blamed it on Brachi, who told him to.

Maybe this is what they mean when they say that it's dangerous for women to have too much power in the Church. Did they mean twelve-year-old girls who tell their classmates to get in line, though?

Whatever. Nice weekend. I am, of course, lesson planning right now, in addition to cleaning the house, doing laundry, simmering a pot of stew (BTW, a pound of brisket chopped up with whatever stew veggies you like, crockpotted on low for eight hours, makes a very nice stew, although a little fatty), and trying to create a working schedule for this fall.

I really need to have some kind of schedule. I am overextended. I am ALWAYS overextended. And yet, I don't seem to get much done. Can just having a job, and keeping the house picked up mean you're overextended?

Anyway, goals for the fall are:

Do good at work.
Get the house nicer than it is now.
Work on thesis.
Spend some time with friends.
Get involved a little with a shul.
Do some of my own writing.
Learn to drive.

That doesn't SEEM like a lot. Am I overreaching?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Pope and I

I have been asked by Eliyahu if the pope is Catholic. To sum up, a couple of years ago, I would have said that the pope is obviously Jewish--who else wears a white satin bar-mitzvah souvenir kippa to all formal religious occasions--but Benedict I ain't gonna claim. He may possibly be Catholic--some unpleasant people do manage to be, to my distress. He's not my cup of tea anyway.

My classroom features a nice memorial picture of Juan Pablo Dos, and I am happy to keep him up there along with the pretty Mexican folk-art cross. I don't think I could teach with Benedict glaring out over me.

JP2 came to the Throne of the Fisherman when I was quite a small kid, and he is 'the Pope', as far as I am concerned. Maybe I'll develop some fondness for a future pontiff, but the way things are going in Rome...When John Paul died, I followed the process of the papal election with some interest. My grandmother felt it was time for an African pope--I would quite agree, except that African Catholicism is just a touch reactionary these days. My mom and I were holding out for a liberation-theology preachin', guitar-strummin' Latin American, though not with much hope. Second choice would be a sweet Italian great-uncle. (Actually, what we wanted was the cool Spanish guy from Andrew Greeley's "White Smoke", but he's fictional, alas). And the folks down at the local Irish pub were united in their cry of "anyone but Ratzinger".

For some weird reason, the College of Cardinals ignored us all, even the Catholics among us. The day they made up their mind, I got a garbled voice-mail message from my darlin' fella, informing me that 'Ratzenberger' had been elected, and that he had taken the name of 'Constantine or something like that.'

Being as I was at the Fruitvale BART station, no one took the slightest notice as I stormed up and down the platform, snarling things like "Well, he's not MY pope!" and "Hitler Youth! For God's sake, he was in Hitler Youth!" and "The freakin' Grand Inquisitor? Gimme a break!"

I haven't really warmed up to him since, either. And I still call him Ratzenberger when he really annoys me. Which I am sure, drives him crazy...;)

And there STILL hasn't been an Irish pope. Oh well.

Anyway, here's my favorite piece of Christian education humor ever:

Then Jesus took his disciples up the mountain and, gathering them around him, he taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are they that mourn
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are they that thirst for justice
Blessed are you when persecuted
Blessed are you when you suffer
Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven

Then Simon Peter said, "Are we supposed to know this?"
And Andrew said, "Do we have to write this down?"
And James said, "Are we going to have a test on this?"
And Philip said, "I don't have a pencil!"
And Bartholomew said, "What came after poor?"
And John said, "The other disciples didn't have to learn this!"
And Mark said, "I don't get it."
And Judas asked to go to the bathroom.

And a Pharisee who was then present asked to see Jesus' lesson plan and inquired of Jesus, "Where are your anticipatory set and your objectives in the cognitive domain?"

And Jesus wept.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Catholic School Adventures

You know you've been teaching in a Catholic school too long--well, maybe about two days--when a coworker marches into your room with her arms full of religion books and says briskly, "You need Jesus. I need morality." And you don't BLINK. You just say, "Wait, I thought I did morality. Isn't Jesus in the eighth grade?"

(We've sorted it out, now. She gets _Morality: Learning Through Our Faith_. I get _Jesus: The Word Made Flesh_.) We're doing fine.

I may not be doing so good. Three solid days with seventh graders is enough to make anyone a little nuts. We're off to an OK, but not great, start. I was too soft at first, and they went nuts. I was also, I think, too slow, which they saw as condescension. This is not really my fault, I've just spent two years teaching kids who CAN'T SPEAK ENGLISH. My teaching style has become...uh...emphatic.

"Oooookaaaaay, students. Is everyone on the right page? It's page fourteen. FOUR-teeeen. (Writes '14' on the board.) On THIS page we will learn about a kind of story. A tall tale is a special kind of story." Not that bad, but bad enough that some of the kids wrote me end-of-week feedback asking that I not treat them like 'a lower grade'. Gotta snap it up.

Tomorrow I meet the fifth graders, the sixth graders, and the eighth graders.

My coworkers are awesome. The kids are funny, bright, and adorable. The class is mostly Latino and black, with a scattering of Asian kids, and quite of lot of mixed Latino and black families. (The kids are extremely cute, as well. My coworkers swear that they don't require a picture like Stanford used to do with apps, they're just lucky that way.)

So far it's--well--better than anything I've ever had, teaching wise.

And I am scared to death. My last teaching job was hell, and I'm afraid it really was my fault, and I'll screw up big time here too. And that would be disappointing for me, and for my parents, who really like this place, and for my coworkers, who seem to have a lot of faith in me...more than I have in myself, right now.

One day at a time, right? Tomorrow we read Sandra Cisneros.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Along Came a Spider...

I am afraid of spiders. I am not so bad as I once was, but I really, really don't like spiders.

El Cerrito has a plentiful supply of spiders. Mostly, the house attracts the long, wispy-legged kind, which I simply gently pick up on a broom and remove from the house. However, the city of El Cerrito, in summer, seems to be a hot property for a very large (by my standards), decorative garden spider, which I think is a kind of argiope. They spin webs, and hang on them in the late summer heat. Thank God, they do not seem to have any interest in coming indoors, preferring to live outside and eat mosquitos. Good on them. Because if they came inside, I would absolutely lose it.

Unfortunately, the line between indoors and outdoors seems to be getting slightly vague. For three evenings now, an enterprising argiope has been trying to get a web going across my front porch. Specifically, across the FRONT of my front porch, stringing it between the spiky little tree on one side and the porch support on the other. I would have walked into it this morning, except that it had already caught a mosquito, which gave the web's location away to me. Twice, now, I have snapped the guide threads holding the web up. That stuff is STRONG.

I can only assume it is hoping to catch either me or the fella in this web. What it would do if it caught us, is another matter, seeing as we are approximately 800+ times its weight. It is possible that this is some form of recreational big-game hunting. I just hope it's catch and release.

It's also possible, of course, that the spider does not realize that the web is located in a path taken daily by big mammals. The porch, if you don't recognize it as a porch, probably looks like an ideal web frame. I am not sure if spiders can learn from repeated experience that a location is not suitable. I hope to God they can, because if this critter does not get the idea soon I am going to go slightly batty.

Last night I dreamed about big spiders. This morning, as I said, I had to deal both with the web, and with a mosquito I tried to assist (fellow feeling), and, well, didn't help much. Tonight, I took a full bag of trash from the kitchen, and began to take it out. Thanks mercy, I remembered at the last minute to check to see if the path was clear. It wasn't. There's a big new web out there right now, and I've finally spotted the spider. It's large. If I had walked into it, I would probably be in catatonic shock right now.

"Kill it," says the fella. I did not dignify this with a reply. Reading over my shoulder, now, though, he's offered to take the broom and dismantle the latest web, which I took him up on. He's a good fella.

There's a note on the door which reads "Spider Check". Just to remind me in the morning.

Back to School

Now that I'm feeling was the second day of pre-start-of-school meetings. New school is so much better than the old school, I cannot even tell you. More details to follow.

Wishing I Could March for the All-Purpose Revolution...

Back in 2002, I wrote an essay, which read in part...

"I am jealous of people who are able to immerse themselves in left-wing politics without fear. I was raised in San Francisco, and I have wanted to be, as Rebecca Walker describes herself in Black, White and Jewish, ‘a full-fledged progressive, politicized Bay Area person’. I envy the security, the pride and the moral assurance of that description. But I can’t really have it. That much is clear.

"So this article is my letter of resignation. My politics haven't really changed; I'm still a bleeding-heart tree-hugger social-services junkie and a nonpacifist who, in the words of Alan Lupo, 'keeps praying for multiple choice'. I believe that there is too damn much oppression in this world, and that, as a woman spared nearly all of it, as a citizen of a country that's both fought against and financed it, and as a Jew, I have to live my life in opposition to it.

"But this year has forced me to take a close, hard look at what passes for activism and progressive politics in my generation, and I am unimpressed. I have realized that I'm tired of pretending that the anti-Zionist rhetoric that permeates things you wouldn't believe it could be linked to can be excused or overlooked. I'm tired of watching other people bring their history and their community's problems to the coalition table and be honored for it, while I am expected to distort, dilute and denounce mine."

I wish I could say I've hardened up since then. I don't know. I am still jealous of the all-purpose revolution, and the ability to go to a peace march without realizing that peace for you is not on the list.

A lot of my friends don't understand why I don't think I'm invited to the party, and some others can't imagine why I would want to go in the first place. Not sure I can answer the second one. I went to college in the early 1990s. It was the heyday of pretentious watered-down identity politics. I learned the language of opression and cultural resistance, and was then told that mine, brought from the Soviet Jewry movement and my Zionist-ish childhood didn't count. I have been fascinated by, and furious over, concepts of race, opression, privilege, and identity ever since.

I'm angry. I'm angry at the anti-Semites. I'm angry at those smug, shrieky girls climbing the stage at the rally. I'm angry at I'm angry at Jews who can march with ANSWER and feel good about themselves. I'm angry at people who can show up to a rally with a "Destroy Islam" sign and feel good about themselves. I'm mad at Ana Castillo, and Gloria Anzaldua, and Luisa Teish, and Cherrie Moraga and Alice Walker, and Dorothy Allison, and God, I can't even begin to get through this list, because I read their damn books, and was taught to define their oppression, and not mine. I'm mad at people who think the Republican party is a rational refuge for Jews. I'm mad at Mel Gibson. I'm mad because American Jews MADE American progressive politics, and they haven't stopped biting our collective tuchis since them. And I'm really, really jealous of anyone out there who's been told that their nightmares are valid, and not an attempt to use the Holocaust to manipulate public opinion.

I'm tired. And I want to hit back. And I want to find the person who titled a picture of our rally on IndyBay "So much hate", and express just how much hate I got going on, for everyone in the world who wishes that me and mine would just lie down and die.

I am an upset Irish Litvak. Do not rile me.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Memity Book Meme

At The Back of the Hill threw this one over here, and since I've never seen a meme I didn't like:

1. One book that changed your life?

_Harriet the Spy_, by Louise Fitzhugh. I read it almost as soon as I learned to read, and a lot of it escaped me at the time...I knew no one with a nanny, for example, and the exclusive private school just seemed surreal, but Harriet's creativity, and ordinariness, and fascination with people were all things I could instantly relate to. Still can.

2. One book you have read more than once?

This is a very broad category, because I am an addictive rereader. If I like a book I will read it at least a couple of times, and there are books I pick up routinely and read sections of, sometimes out of sequence, for months and years on end. I treat books a bit the way most people treat CDs.

Ummm...R.A. MacAvoy's _Book of Kells_. And Judith Merkle Riley's _A Vision of Light_. And Barry Hughart's _Bridge of Birds_. All set in the Middle Ages, so I guess there's a theme going on here.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

_The Once and Future King_ by T.H. White, and not only because it is nearly 650 pages.

4. One book that made you laugh?

Any of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum mystery novels.

5. One book that made you cry?

Will Eisner's _The Contract With God_. The part with the dog, naturally.

6. One book you wish had been written?

Ummm...a novel version of the film _Mina Tannenbaum_.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Andrew Greeley's latest Nuala Anne book, _Irish Crystal_. Because it was so bad it made me cringe, but I KNOW I will buy the next one in hardcover anyway.

8. One book you are currently reading?

Just finished Terry McMillan's latest, _The Interruption of Everything_, and am moseying my way through Richard Clarke's _Against All Enemies_. (I read fiction much faster than nonfiction.) And for work I am reading _Johnny Tremain_.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

_Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of the Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books_. Aaron Lansky.

10. Now tag five people!

I still can't do links, but--

Westbank Mama
Chayyei Sarah
Jameel, if he ever has time
and, uh, whoever else wants to...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Palestine, Lebanon and Max's Opera Cafe

My father decided to come with me to the counterdemo against International ANSWER's anti-Israel extravaganza in San Francisco today. There were political reasons--Mr. Bluejeans has always loved Israel--but also gastronomic ones--the demo was taking place not far from Max's Opera Cafe, one of my dad's favorite places on earth.

Anyway, this morning I pulled on my nice gray-and-blue "Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace" t-shirt, and took BART to Civic Center. Then I walked up to Max's, where I had agreed to meet my dad, even though Max's was not, at ten-fifteen in the morning, open.

First, the Near Error:

On my way, I had to cross Civic Center Plaza, where the ANSWER demo was to take place. I spotted a sound stage already up, also signs for Mumia (natch), and a coalition to save Bayview and Hunter's Point (not directly related to the Middle East, as far as I know). I spotted a few familiar figures roaming around getting organized on the far side of the street. And nearby, I spotted a woman at one of the jungle gyms in the little playgrounds that dot the plaza. She was wearing a scarf tied over her hair and knotted behind her neck. Over the scarf was a summer hat. She wore long sleeves and a long denim jumper. On the bench near her was a man wearing a pale, knitted kippa, reading a book. On the jungle gym was a small boy, also in pale knitted kippa. I was on the verge of going over, wishing them a good Shabbat, and promising to see them at the demo.

Then I paused. On second inspection, the kippot were sliiiiiightly too big. I paused again. I observed. I decided to wait.

Later, spotting them again in the thick of the Palestinian flags across the street, I would be glad I waited. It would have been incredibly embarassing, otherwise.

I found the dad, and we found our counterdemo. Equipped with borrowed signs (mine read "Peace With Security"), we took up positions along the police barricades.

Some Notes:

1. The dad was disturbed by some of the signs on display by our fellow protesters, particularly those attacking Islam. He attempted to deal with one such sign by getting a larger sign, and attempting to obscure it, then by talking to one of the security guys, and ultimately had to be talked (by me) out of trying to pay the guy to put it away.

2. One of the earliest speakers at the ANSWER demo announced, as part of her rant against Israeli aggression, that women and homosexuals were being denied basic rights. I confess to being baffled. On so many levels.

3. I have more in common with the ANSWER people than I had thought. For example, at one point, the speaker started a chant that went "U.S.! Israel!" I think there was a response the crowd yelled, but we couldn't hear it. Delighted, all the pro-Israeli crowd began to scream back happily "U.S.! Israel!"

4. In addition, at one point, a speaker announced bitterly, in some context I missed, that while you always hear about the 6 Million, the Belgian colonial imperialists had killed twelve million people in the Congo. I am pleased to announce that I (as a happy reader of the liberal romance novel that is _The Poisonwood Bible_) am entirely against Belgian atrocities in the Congo, even if they were a bit before my time. I will even spare a tear for poor old Patrice Lumumba. I hope I can form a warm relationship with the ANSWER people on the basis of this common concern.

5. I was briefly interviewed by Channel 4, and also asked by a random stranger if I was 'angry' with the people across the street. Let me speak for the record. Yes. I'm quite mad at the people across the street.

Anyway, the speakers kept speaking, and I kept running into old family friends, and at some point, my father, who is getting a bit low blood-sugar, starts to get rather slap-happy, and also urgent about getting to Max's.

At some point he lost it, and started his own counterpoint to the chant:

Speaker: "Occupation is a crime!"

Mr. Bluejeans: "I'd like to get to lunch on time."

Speaker: "Occupation is a crime!"

Mr. Bluejeans: "I'd also like a glass of wine."

Speaker: "Occupation is a crime!"

Mr. Bluejeans: "A glass of Chardonnay'd be fine."

Anyway, FINALLY, they started streaming toward downtown, and we went to Max's, where the Balabusta had a tomato salad, and Mr. Bluejeans ate a patty melt.

I thought we'd head home after that, but my dad came up with a new idea, which was to infiltrate the ANSWER crowd. He even had a plain white t-shirt to spare, so I could take off my Israel one. I should explain. I can't explain. We're Irish. Deal with it.

So we infiltrated. We even dressed up a bit, since I found a Free Palestine pin, which my dad decided to put on his hat. We walked all around the ANSWER side of things, and looked around:

Some Notes:

1. The Greens showed up. Tack-o-rama.

2. I was briefly interested in a booth selling Palestinian olive oil. The ex-husband of my former Hebrew teacher (they were married at the time), when I stayed for dinner, used to bring out this incredible olive oil he got from a friend in the West Bank who got it from Arab neighbors who kept olives. (Grew olives? You know. Were oliviers. Whatever.) It was so good you could have drunk it from the bottle, and was the color they call 'olive' in, like, floor tiles. Deep, murky green. It came in empty soda bottles, and other random containers. I wasn't, however, going to give fifteen dollars to anti-Semites for olive oil with a Palestinian flag on it, and besides, it was probably Carapelli siphoned into politically correct bottles.

3. There were some funny anti-Bush t-shirts on sale, but I refrained.

4. Other than that, about what you would have expected.

5. Further, though, I did note that there was very little in the ongoing rhetoric from the stage to suggest that a two-state solution is still considered viable.

The dad, emboldened by his success in threading through the Code Pink protestors, and the young Arab moms, and the scruffy socialists, and so on, decided that he would like to see what our demonstration looked like from the other side. We were winding through the dense tangle of Palestinian teenagers closer to the barricade, when I noticed that, about ten feet up and over, someone had set fire to an Israeli flag and was waving it overhead.

I announced it was time to leave, so we left, and moved back to our rightful side of the street, where we remained until we went home.

Well, sort of went home. As we were waiting for the bus, the dad decided to engage a woman who was driving an SUV around and around the block, with her sunroof open, and her small daughter holding a Palestinian flag and a big green sign saying "Palestine Will Be Free, From The River To The Sea" through it.

My dad began to talk to her about a two-state solution, which she rejected on the grounds that Israelis don't want it, and are killing Palestinians. My dad's not easily put off, he kept talking, and reengaging her each time the SUV pulled up to our corner.

In the third round of this, some of the guys with the unpleasant signs showed up, and started to shout at her about teaching her kids to chop people's heads off. (Decapitation was something of a preoccupation for these guys.) The dad yelled at them. They yelled back, about not negotiating with terrorists. They got on the bus. We decided we needed drinks, and went back to Max's.

On the whole, I had a great day, even with the slightly pink nose I came home with. But I'm not sure I see a whole lot of hope for a good resolution to either the current mess, or the ongoing mess.

I think the Jewish community needs to get organized around this. We need more people. We need a sound system. We need chant leaders.

I think we should also be doing coalition-building. ANSWER's got Filipino activists talking about the oppression of Muslim, er, freedom fighters, in the Philippines. We should have Filipino activists as well. (I like this idea, because the reciprocal demos would include some causes I feel quite strongly about.) We should connect with the Indian community. ANSWER's getting Latino activists involved by pretending to care about immigration. We should get Latino activists. We DO care about immigration. Lots of them are evangelicals. They should like Israel.

And also, we should get Fred. Fred the Sign Guy keeps gravitating to the Palestinian side of the street, I think because there are more of them. We should extend an invitation to Fred. If twelve galaxies are imperiled to a zygnatronic universe, and we need to impeach Ford, that's fine. He can do it with us.

I think we need a sound system, oh, and food. The ice cream guy went to them too. My dad's got a suggestion about that too, involving neutral falafel, but it can wait for its own post...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Slice of Life--BART

As the Richmond train pulled out of the 12th Street station, a young man (part of a largish group of young people all with bikes), bids farewell to his friends on the platform by pulling up his shirt and plastering his body against the window.

On cue, a baby at the other side of the car begins to scream.

"Now I just feel like a jerk," says the young exhibitionist.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Why I Cannot Meet You In The Lobby of the King David Hotel

Note, this is not a slam on Treppenwitz, nor is it his fault. He just happened to be the trigger for a rant of mine.

Over in DovBear's comments, Treppenwitz writes:

I'm still not sure where I stand on the whole issue of rallies. I mean, go ahead and have them if it helps solidify the community over there. But I have to agree that it does hurt when Jews outside of Israel go to a rally and think that they have done their job.


I'm not saying send your kids to join the army and fight. But what's stopping you from coming to stay in a hotel in order to keep the tourist industry alive. Why can't you and/or your kids come to volunteer in hospitals, and on army bases instead of going to Florida. Why can't you figure out a way to do something more for Israel than go out and socialize with your neighbors on some main street in yourtown USA.

And if one more person say to me "I won't tell you how much we give to Israel every year, but..." and then proceed to tell me to the penny how much they give... I will scream. Keep the money if you think that's where your obligation starts and ends. Ezra wouln't take contributions from Jews in Bavel and I think it is bad that today's diaspora Jews think thier contributions are in place of actively helping Israel with their physical presense.

Ahhhhh. Here we are again. The bombs fly, the refugees seek refuge, the world denounces Israel, and the Israelis denounce Diaspora Jews.

OK. Here goes my whimpering explanation:

I cannot go to Israel instead of going to Florida because I am not going to Florida this year. I did not go to Florida last year. It has been three years since I have last taken a vacation out of state. This is not because I have anything against Florida, or Israel, mind you (actually, both are too hot for my taste this time of year. Christmas in Jerusalem, maybe), it's because I have no money to spare. If I scrape together the money for a trip any time soon, I will probably be going to Hawaii, because that is where my machetenim live, and the fella has not seen them in five years. If you don't want the (modest)check I can write, fine, I will use it here in the Diaspora to further Jewish life. I suspect I can get some good cause to cash it, however, plus one for one of those cute ceramic clocks with the skyline of Jerusalem on it.

And honestly, I do not understand why, aside from the money, my spending time in the King David Hotel, swimming lazily up and down the big pool will be helping in any way other than my bringing dollars, and frankly, helping out in a hospital is gonna be a vanity gig for the American girl. Even if I could afford to take off right now, which I, as I may have mentioned above, cannot.

Why do I go to rallies?

1. It creates in the U.S. press a statement of public support for Israel. If you say Israel doesn't care about the U.S. press, you're lying. I read the JPost.

2. It creates a way to connect with other Jews, and share our feelings. Many of us do other work elsewhere, and yes, that includes both sending money and visiting Israel. But standing together in solidarity is worth something. Or were we wasting our time back in the old days of the Soviet Jewry movement by not taking the protests to Moscow?

3. It keeps us out of the closet and in touch with one another, in scary times. As recent news has shown, not all the jihadis bother to get a ticket to the old country either.

4. It is a chance to find out what is happening, and see what opportunities there are to help. Orgs bring their literature with them.

5. I really like standing in the sun and being screamed at by deranged Berkeley students with white-girl dreadlocks. You should try it sometime.

I am an American Jew, and I am damn proud of that. My great-grandparents went to quite a lot of trouble to create this outcome. I am not an incomplete Jew, nor am I simply part of a support system for Israel. I support Israel. I am at home in Northern California. Could that change? Sure. I want to visit some day. Maybe I'll convince the fella he really wants to live in a hot climate. But those Jews of Bavel, and the Jews of all the other great diaspora communities created a whole Jewish world, in the long time between Jewish states, and I am part of that world. I absolutely refuse to be told that anything I do at home is inherently unworthy.

And yes, this is home. I'm a tumbleweed Jew. I carry all the seeds for a next generation with me wherever I go.

You want to know why aliyah has never seemed all that appealing? Because it's never seemed aimed at me. You want to know how aliyah gets advertised for the 'anglo-saxim'? I remember the column in JPost, just a few years ago. It was addressed to 'Alisa and Josh', parents of 'Noam and Tali', or something very like that, and in the very first paragraph it talked about finding a cleaning lady and a 'good' kindergarten. And every time the bombs fall, I get asked why I don't just take a few weeks' vacation abroad.

You know, I think I WILL just send a check.

A peaceful newish week to us all...

I lack the paper-hanging gene

I'm blogging from my new classroom, where I am trying to put up bright colored paper on the corkboards.

So far it is not going so well.

There are people who seem to be able to just cut a couple of pieces of paper, slap them on the wall with a stapler, and have beautiful, color-coordinated boards up. I am not those people. ("I am not those men. I am Saleh ad-Din." Well, no, not that either, really.)

Cut, staple, crumple, cut, why didn't they teach me to do this in teaching school instead of the stupid Rachel Hunter lesson plans you never use? Cut, staple, staple the wrong side forward, crumple, mutter.

There was this woman at my old school who had the world's most beautiful classroom, I can't describe how lovely it was. Double edgings of trim, and all color-coordinated, and neat and tidy. And plants. And yes, she was also a terrific teacher, and kids all loved her. It was only a small consolation to know that she never got any sleep.

Oh well. I'm putting in another hour on cut and staple, and then I'm going home and doing lesson plans, something I CAN do well. Gaack.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Seattle News

I have a very vivid memory of one particular Rosh Hashanah when I was a little girl. I think it must have been the fall of 82, so I would have been nine. I think I had a dress I really liked, although I don't remember what it looked like. My parents would have been a couple of years older than I am now. We walked to Temple Emanu-El on Lake Street from our apartment, and the weather was incredible, perfect yontiff weather, sunny with deep blue skies, but not warm, crisp and cool. The SFPD was standing around the building, checking people as they came in.

I don't remember how old I was when it really occurred to me that Methodists don't have security in front of their churches on Easter day, that most ethnic and religious organizations don't have elaborate security measures. About the time I talk about above, one of my close friends and I used to worry about synagogue bombings all the time. It was something we'd discuss together.

So. A guy who may or may not be crazy, who probably, we think, acted alone, walks into the Seattle Federation building and opens fire at a bunch of women, one of them pregnant, working on a Friday afternoon, about to close up for Shabbos. Because he's a Muslim American, and so it follows, angry at Israel. I am reminded of something an elderly man, raised in Egypt, said once at a conference I attended: "We are all Zionists, whether we like it or not."

The Balabusta's mother works in a Jewish agency, so there's just a slight personal edge here to my anger and fear. (OK, a very sharp and serrated personal edge. How did he get past security? What was the emergency plan? How come all these Federation bigwigs were home when this happened, leaving their secretaries in the line of fire? Why the hell didn't someone hit him with a car when he shot someone out in front of the coffee shop? Do I care that the spokeswoman was making challah when she got the news? Can we ask for the death penalty? Who put this idea into his head? Where did he get the gun? Oh God.)

You know--with all of this, we cope. We speak out, we comfort each other, we plan for the future and revamp our security measures. You realize, at some point, if you're going to live as a Jew in the world, that this is the score. My rabbi, who has made it to his mid-eighties with his sense of humor and his cute German accent intact, made a point of telling the congregation after 9/11 that he was still driving the Bay Bridge--this was when the whole SF area was a little nutso about the bridges. (They attract people with problems. Most of those are self-destructive, rather than homicidal, but the bridges do seem to turn up regularly in terrorist planning stages.) He's not a fatalist, his point was that if you change everything you can think of to avoid danger, you end up boxed inside, having ceded your whole life to your fear, and those who want to make you afraid. But you know what they say. Paranoia is when you think they're out to get you. Jewish paranoia is when you KNOW they're out to get you. You live in world. You do what you can to stay safe.

And now a woman working at Federation on a Friday afternoon--safe enough, no?--is dead. Now five others are wounded. Now I'm jumpy again. No new realizations. I've lived with this a lot of years. But being reminded, especially with a death, is never pleasant.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The language of the blogs

Does anyone else sometimes look at the odd collections of letters Blogger asks you to reproduce to prove you're a real poster, and not a mailbot, and think that they must be words from some mysterious and exotic language? Not all of them, I mean zxetgds doesn't seem to mean much, but today I got:


I pronounce it rock-HOCK-oo, but obviously you might come up with something different. What IS a raqhaqu? I think it is a noun, and I think it must be onomatopoetic.

Perhaps a raqhaqu is the sound of tree braches being tapped against your windows by a rising autumn storm.

A raqhaqu could be a kind of love song.

Or a kind of dove.

A raqhaqu could be a warm, intense wind that rushes into town off the desert, and causes people to eat eclairs and take their shoes off in public.

The possibilities, they're endless. What do YOU think it is?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

We Sweat, But We Stand With Israel

The Balabusta's report on the San Francisco Jewish Community's Israel Rally at Justin Herman Plaza today, respectfully submitted:

For me, a rally begins when you're on public transit, lurching along, and trying to figure out which of the people on the BART train are also going to the rally. Not the bike guys, they're talking about riding in the mission. The woman with the Israel/U.S. flag pin on her "Galilee Comes To The Bay" shirt? Too easy. But how about the older ladies in the sun visors over there? Hmmm...something says yes...

As we disembark and start streaming upstairs it gets easier. Conversations begin to stand out. Speaking Russian? Ours. Speaking Hebrew? Ours. Speaking English, talking about how a cousin in Jerusalem may or may not be coming to visit? Ours. Tring to convince father that they should go to CompUSA and buy the new game after the rally...and so on.

We're having a heat wave here in NoCal, and it was hot, oh, God, was it ever hot. Lots of flags, lots of signs. JCRC was selling "Pro Israel, Pro Peace" t-shirts for five bucks, so I bought one and pulled it over my own shirt, which was a mistake. Sweating through my clothes kind of hot.

The event was MCed by John Rothman, who I've known for approximately forever. Present to speak were--let me see--Dianne Feinstein, a congressman whose name I didn't catch, Doug Huneke, SF Supervisor Bevan Dufty, Nonie Darwish, an Israeli woman from JCRC who grew up in one of the northern towns, Danny Grossman, and the voice of the mayor of Haifa via speakerphone. Gavin Newsom attended, but did not speak. Schwartzenegger was at the LA rally, but sent someone from his SF office who gave a nice address. Some other people, who I'm sure I will remember after I post this.

Bevan Dufty got up to speak and said that with a good Irish name like Bevan Doyle Dufty, people can always tell that he's gay, but not so many realize that he's Jewish. (Gotta love the Jewish-ands. We rock.) After he finished his speech, and told the crowd a little about his soon-to-be-born daughter, I heard someone saying "who was that?" as he walked off the stage. I turned my head. "Bevan Dufty," I said.

"WHO?" Remember, this is over the roar of what DiFi guesstimated at about 700 people. I turn my head, and right there is the Balabusta's former boss for all of four months, a certain left-wing Zionist Renewal rabbi and magazine editor, with his wife. "BEVAN DUFTY," I shout.


"Supervisor Bevan Dufty, from District Eight."


Not a flicker of recognition. I guess I didn't make much of an impact in his life.


At some point I decided that I needed to move out of my up-by-the-barricades, getting grilled like a trout, location, so I wandered back to see what the counterprotest situation was. I was immediately met by a JCRC representative--crisp-shirted in the heat--who wanted us to ignore the counterprotesters, because looking at them would give them publicity, which was what they wanted. "OK," said the Balabusta, and kept heading toward the barricades.

He actually sort of got in my way, and made it clear that they REALLY did not want people going over there. I lost my temper a little. I have a rather low level of tolerance for the organized Jewish community, sometimes.

"Look," I said. "I want to see what the turnout over there is like. I have family who can't be here today, and friends in Israel who will want to know. I am not going to start a slanging match with those guys. I'm going to look and go back to the rally. And I am allowed to go anywhere I want in Justin Herman Plaza."

He did kind of a nervous laugh. "Of course you are..." he said. Anyway, dude, if you're reading this, I'm sorry. I really did just look at them and come back. Maybe I overreacted.

I don't think they had even forty, which made me feel good---we were so outnumbered last Monday. Turnabout, like they say.

Anyway, a good time was had by all. Let me close with something John Rothman said, which I'm sure I paraphrasing a little:

"We are not divided. We are Democrats, we are Republicans, we are liberal, we are conservative, we are black, we are white, we are Asian, we are Christians, we are Jews. We are here united, to stand with Israel and for peace."

Omeyn v'omeyn.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Learner! I Have A Learner!

(Sorry, I've been reading too many posts about girls who want to be kollel wives and won't settle...)

Anyway, the fella has decided to go back to school and do a bachelor's degree in something practical--computer science or engineering. He's enrolled in a local community college with an eye to transferring to Cal State in a while.

The Balabusta is kvelling big-time. So are the machetenim. He's all signed up with classes for the fall, and we're just working out the financia aid details. The place is a short BART ride away, and right in the middle of a business area, so if he wants to get a job off-campus, it won't be a schlep.

The problem with the fella's original line of work, administrative assisting, is that he is, by nature, not cut out to do it. Neither is the Balabusta, but being a girl, she could mimic the required behavior better. Also, I am a RIGHTEOUS receptionist.

"No, sir, I'm sorry. Mr. Donnelly is not in the office." (Mr. Donnelly is in front of me, making gestures indicating that he will shoot himself if he has to talk to the caller.)

"May I take a message? Yes, I know I took a message earlier, and I delivered that right to Mr. Donnelly's desk. Yes, I placed it very prominently. I would be happy to let him know you called again."

"No, I do not know when he will be back. No, he does not normally leave me his schedule. I really can't guess."

"No, I don't know where he is."

"No, I guess I don't know much, sir." (This is spoken without the slightest trace of hostility or sarcasm.) "May I take a message?"

The fella does not like to talk to the public. This makes being an office assistant quite difficult at times. We hope to find him a job where he solves problems in the privacy of his own cube.

I'm happy. And I think he will be happy, once he gets over the heart-pounding terror of dealing for the first time with campus bureaucracy.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Enemies: This Is Not A Love Story

Reading Newsweek this week, I found a short article about how many Iraqis are now carrying two ID cards. One carries their real name, be it Shiite or Sunni. The other is a fake, carrying a Sunni or Shiite name. Hopefully, producing the right one at checkpoints will protect you from being found in a sack in the river, or dumped on the doorstep of the police station.

This reminded me of a conversation in Andre Dumas' _The Three Musketeers_. The novel is, of course, set against the backdrop of France's vicious seventeenth-century internal religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. (No one ever remembers this, they remember the swashbuckling.) One of the musketeers--I can't recall which right now--has a servant who explains that his father made a living for years as a highway robber. When he saw a Protestant coming down the road, he would be overwhelmed with loyalty to the true Church, and would rob the Protestant. When he saw a Catholic, he would be set afire by the rightness of the reformed faith, and rob the Catholic. And he baptized his sons accordingly--"I'm a Catholic," the servant explains, "but he made my brother a Protestant."

Eventually, we learn, the father was killed by two men he'd previously robbed--a Catholic and a Protestant who forgot their differences long enough to gang up on him. The sons, however, avenged their father--the Catholic killed the Protestant, and the Protestant the Catholic. Quite the little fable.

And Kohelet was, in fact, correct, there is nothing new under the sun. Worse, nothing under the sun seems to change much.

You want to know what detail from the last couple of months in Iraq really stood out for me? When al-Zarqawi was killed, they reported that one of the other people in the house was his sixteen year old wife. (One of three I understand.) I haven't been able to find a name for her. I read that he used one of his fathers-in-law as a suicide bomber, but I don't know if this was her father or someone else's. I don't know anything about her, except what's above.

But I can guess. She didn't choose him, not because she loved him, or thought he'd be a good provider, or admired his zeal. He took her, or someone gave her to him. She was sixteen. She was travelling with him (because she was the pretty young one? Because she didn't have small children yet?) when the sky fell on them.

She probably would have defined herself as my enemy. And I probably would have, given the option, taken out Zarqawi knowing she was there. But I haven't been able to stop thinking a little about her, and wishing things could be different, for her and all the other kids in the line of fire.

I keep thinking, too, about the lady who wanted me to extend the hand of friendship to the Palestinian teenagers on Montgomery Street. I've said this before--I always feel closer to Palestinian activists than to people who have no stake in the Middle East, but imagine that peace is just a matter of willpower, like losing weight or stopping smoking. We understand what lies between us, and that if we have to pick--you or me--we'll choose for our own people.

Like Alan Lupo said, I keep praying for multiple choice.

I really do have some very cheerful things to talk about--but I think I'll talk about them tomorrow.