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 better...today 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 www.indybay.org. 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.