Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fun and Games With Hamasniks

On Sunday, having thoroughly rested up, I headed to Union Square, to be a counterprotester against the pro-Hamas demo happening there.

Specifically, it was supposed to be candelight memorial service, to mourn those killed during Operation Cast Lead, and you sort of feel bad counterprotesting a memorial service. Until you show up, and notice the vile anti-Semitic signage, and the chants of "From the river to the sea", and QUIT standing happily out with their banner, and the paper-mache puppets, and you realize that this isn't a memorial service, this is another dang Hamas rally.

The opposition had the steps leading into Union Square, corner closest to the Powell Street BART, so we lined up on the opposite side of the street, streaming past Max Azria, Victoria's Secret, and the Westin St. Francis, which happened that day to be flying the flag of Saudi Arabia, just to make everything completely deranged.

A fairly low-key evening, really. Cold. Me clutching a sign with a message about gay Palestinians in one hand, and one with the faces of children killed in Sderot in the other, singing "Oseh Shalom" and stamping my feet. Assorted Japanese tourists took pictures--I suspect that we have ended up in many a photo album, as an example of real American protestors. We wound up around six o'clock.

One thing I have not entirely worked out is how to deal with the people who drive by in the stalled traffic in SUVs, waving Palestinian flags and screaming at you, when they roll down the back windows and encourage their small ones to do likewise. I am torn, between stony-faced "Am Yisrael Chai!" yelling, and smiling and waving at the children. Hard to do both, especially when both hands are full.

Meanwhile, Code Pink is still stalled in Cairo, although apparently a group of them are to be let through.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Overcoming Speechlessness

I notice that Alice Walker has reposted to her blog an essay entitled "Overcoming Speechlessness: a Poet Encounters "the horror" in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel". I had thought to write something about this essay when I first read it, but I put it aside. Other matters were pressing, and, well, I didn't know where to begin. But now it's back, and rather than grinding my teeth, I'm overcoming my own speechlessness and saying something, hardly everything there is to say, about it.

Beginning:

It's hard to know how to begin to tackle this enormous, sprawling, hateful and clueless essay. Maybe at the top, where there is a picture of Walker posing with "Hamas Sister, Huda Naim, Member of Parliament, and Mother of five children". Maybe just a piece at a time, picking out a piece or two that got my Irish up.

Walker begins the essay with an account of meetings and travels in Africa. She begins with the stories of women in Rwanda and Congo who have survived things that make you want to scream to think of them. And then, she brings us to her understanding of Israel:


Like most people on the planet, I have been aware of the Palestinian-Israel conflict almost my whole life. I was four years old in 1948 when, after being
subjected to unspeakable cruelty by the Germans, after a "holocaust" so many future disasters would resemble, thousands of European Jews were resettled in Palestine. They settled in a land that belonged to people already living there, which did not seem to bother the British who, as in India, had occupied Palestine and then, on leaving it, helped put in place a partitioning of the land they thought would work fine for the people, strangers, Palestinians and European Jews, now forced to live together.


Does the willful ignorance take away your breath yet? The "holocaust" in quotes, which doesn't reflect past treatment of Jews but 'future' disasters, the European Jews who passively "were settled" there? The ignorance of the history of Zionism, of the thriving communities of Jews already living in the land, working and living on land they owned? The communities of Jews living in what is now Israel, since Ottoman times or before? The people who came during the ninteenth century, and the first half of the twentieth, to build a country? The non-European Jews who came after the war--oh, Alice, tell me why you think they came from countries they had lived in since the Babylonian Empire was a going political power, lands like Iraq and Egypt? That's not to even bring up the Jewish people's connection to and presence on this land going back to the Bronze Age, which I'm sure Alice doesn't take into account at all.

So this woman knows nothing, nothing at all, about Israeli history, and yet she is going to write an essay about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From the heart, one supposes.

So many Jews.

Alice wants you to know about all the Jews, seeking justice, who went to Gaza with her. This includes:



A woman in her late fifties or early sixties stood at the front of the bus, as we passed donkey carts and Mercedes Benzes, and spoke of traveling to Palestine without her husband, a Jewish man who was born in Palestine. Several times they had come back to Palestine, renamed Israel, to see family. To attend graduations, weddings, and funerals. Each time they were held for hours at the airport as her husband was stripped, searched, interrogated, and threatened when he spoke up for himself. In short, because his passport was stamped with the place of his birth, Palestine, he was treated like a Palestinian. This Jewish husband sent his best wishes, but he could no longer endure travel in so painful a part of the world.


A Jewish man who was born in Palestine? How could that be, Alice? I thought they were resettled after the war by the Brits. Oh, never mind. I am supposed to believe that Israeli customs officials have never seen a passport issued to someone born in British Palestine before, and treat him like an enemy, because he is 'Palestinian'? Alice, sorry, but this is BS. Your ignorance of the country you see as the stronghold of racism and discrimination is leading you to swallow bubbemeisehs.

Let me tell you another story, and ask why you think this man's wife was not on the bus with you. The grandfather of a woman I know used to go every year, by train, to British Palestine, to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarch. It's a long train ride from Baghdad to Hebron, but he went every year, and then he prayed, not at the Tomb itself, because Jews were not allowed inside, but from the outside, as close as he was permitted to the shrine itself. His children and grandchildren now live in Israel and the United States, because within a decade of the founding of the State of Israel, Iraq was no longer a safe place to live as a Jew. Alice, did your guides introduce you to anyone who could tell you a story like this? Why do you think this man's wife, or his daughter, were not on your bus to tell their stories?

Rubble.

And she describes Gaza, and she asks: If children are not safe playing in their schoolyards, where are they safe?

And I think of pictures of children dead in Sderot, and I wonder at this woman's inability to see more than one snapshot of a conflict.

May God Protect You From The Jews

Alice encounters an old woman in Gaza:

I gave her a gift I had brought, and she thanked me. Looking into my eyes she said: May God protect you from the Jews. When the young Palestinian interpreter told me what she’d said, I responded: It’s too late, I already married one.


What a moment of solidarity, between the Palestinian woman and the leftist American novelist. A racial slur. Beautiful. But of course, Alice has a reason:

I said this partly because, like so many Jews in America, my former husband could not tolerate criticism of Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians. Our very different positions on what is happening now in Palestine/Israel and what has been happening for over fifty years, has been perhaps our most severe disagreement. It is a subject we have never been able to rationally discuss. He does not see the racist treatment of Palestinians as the same racist treatment of blacks and some Jews that he fought against so nobly in Mississippi.


I wonder, Alice, if that might be because you've never bothered to learn the true history and the more complicated stories, and when you hear that from him, you turn off your ears and close your heart. But, no, clearly the ethnic slurs are justified.

I'm being mocking here because I don't know how else to respond. The sheer, stupid, self-justifying ugliness in this passage stopped my heart for a moment.

It's the pretension of awareness that gets to me. The self-anointing as struggler in a cause seen out of context, seen with no historical understanding, or knowledge of the broader world. The photographs with the Hamas 'Sister', with no understanding of what Hamas is, what they have done, who they are. The justifications for everything. The unwavering willingness to be the latest poor dumb American to come along and not look for any hidden truth or moral ambiguities.

May I never have to overcome speechlessness when it comes to lies and ignorance like this.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The War Against The War On Christmas Reaches New Depths of Barely-Contained Anti-Semitism

In a cryptic rant on Salon, apparently mostly about how Unitarian Universalists shouldn't mess with "Silent Night", Garrison Keillor writes:

This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism and we Christians have stood for
it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up
the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did
one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll
blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

And so the gloves come off. Mr. Keillor, I'm really, really sorry that you're feeling so victimized at this time of year, but since your private religious holiday takes over Western Civilization for approximately six to eight weeks on an annual basis, please forgive me and Irving Berlin and Mel Torme for failing to give you enough cultural distance to feel that your holiday remains free of Jewish trash and dreck.

Mysteriously, after years of War-On-Christmas nuts moaning about the trauma of having to hear "Happy Holidays" in the stores, the second comment on this screed reads:

Give 'em hell, Garrison! And don't forget: Don't say Merry Christmas...unless you really mean it.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Keillor. And I really mean that...in the same way Ann Coulter does.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Vacation

Well, sort of.

I have a stack of finals to grade, and a stack of essays to grade, but other than that, I'm on vacation!

Friday, December 04, 2009

China Rain

I don't know why I remembered this stuff today. Back in high school and college, I always had a couple/half dozen of the little bottles of perfume oil from Body Time in Berkeley rattling around on my bureau. I liked the Tea Rose, and the Amber, and I wore Lilac for a time in college, and I always had a little vial of the China Rain scent. It was soft, very clean and pretty, the smell of hippie-lite teenagers from the Bay Area.

I went looking for it online again today. Maybe I'll get another little bottle. Suddenly I missed the little bottles, and the scent of China Rain.

Monday, November 23, 2009

In Which Nofrat Gets Arrested

This is Nofrat Frankel. Nofrat is 25, and she is a medical student. She was arrested, November 18, for the henious crime of wearing a tallis at the Western Wall. Sources say that in addition to this crime, she may also have been praying.

She was arrested, detained by Jerusalem police for two hours, and ordered to stay away from the Kotel for fifteen days.

A Jew. In Jerusalem. Was arrested by Israeli police for wearing a tallis, and ordered to stay away from the Wall. No, this is not science fiction.

Nofrat may face charges of 'performing a religious act that offends others'. That may carry a penalty of six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Reuters states that Nofrat was "wearing a prayer shawl, which Orthodox Jewish tradition dictates is only for men." This is not true. 'Orthodox Jewish tradition' does not forbid women to wear tallitot. In additional, "Frankel was also holding a Torah, a Jewish biblical scroll, in contravention of Orthodox Jewish tradition." Did you realize it was assur for a woman to hold a Torah scroll? Apparently Reuters does. Hmm. I wonder who told THEM?

Apparently, the management at the Wall are digging their heels in, going once again after women following Jewish customs considered to be invalid by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the man in charge there. He has announced that women praying together at the Wall are a 'desecration' of the site.

Meanwhile, Nofrat asks the question on my mind. "If I cannot wear a religious garment at the Western Wall, where can I?" she asks.

Good question, Nofrat. I think the answer is meant to be pretty clear.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Oceans of Lotions

I seem to be giving the impression this month that my students are just a bunch of victim-blaming, narrow-minded, callous little begrudgers, and this isn't the case at all, of course. To present a lighter side of them, let me tell you about my locker-room gig.

Last year, St. Dymphna, in the rush to balance the budget, let go the only female gym teacher. Part of the reason I was called back is that they realized in the fall that they were going to have to answer the first question everyone else asked--'who's going to supervise the girls' locker room'?

Three blocks a day, that would be me. My role, such as it is, is to be there at the beginning and end of the block, and supervise as the girls change into and out of their gym gear.

This would be simple, except that:

1. They often forget stuff, and run around screaming things like "Does anyone have an extra pair of shoes?"

2. They have to remove all their jewelry to play, and this sometimes takes a while.

3. Some of them are more modest than others, necessitating hiding in the bathroom stalls to do all this.

4. Some of them feel it necessary to reapply their eyeliner both before and after playing volleyball.

and 5. The lotion thing.

They get ashy, you see. Now, when I was the age of my students, ashiness was a specific African-American issue, and mostly limited to things like elbows anyway. But ashiness has gone big-time since then. Now it is racially universal, and everyone worries about being ashy. They worry about their arms, and their legs. They have to be completely moisturized at all times, or a flake of ash might show, and then they would die.

So they moisturize. They apply lotion before leaving the locker room, and when they come back. They borrow lotions from one another, and apply them with a liberal hand, while the air fills up with sweet fruity-floral odors. They run around screaming "Does anyone have lotion? I'm ASHY!" Someone always comes to such a classmate's aid. The ashiness of one is the ashiness of everyone.

Then, just in case they might not smell fruity-floral enough, they pull whole bottles of body spray or cologne out of their lockers, and spritz each other until the whole place smells like Bath and Bodyworks after a bad earthquake.

I don't complain. The male gym teacher gets to supervise the boys. I don't know if they care about ashiness, but they worry about smelling bad. So they use AXE.

I'm getting off easy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hard conversations

Yesterday, after school, hanging out in the freshmen religion teacher's office, one of the boys says: "I still don't understand why that girl isn't in trouble for under-age drinking."

This has been a recurrent question, asked at the assembly too. I don't fully understand why it preoccupies them so, but they seem troubled, seriously, by the idea that several young men are in custody for rape and battery, while an under-age drinker gets off scot-free.

"Try to look at it this way, Moish," I said. "Let's say you steal a book from Baruch's locker. That's wrong, it's against the rules, and you will get in trouble for it, right?"

"OK."

"But let's say that before we get a chance to punish you for stealing a book, Baruch comes after you with a baseball bat, beats you to within a inch of your life and puts you in the hospital. Believe it or not, we are going to be so concerned about the felony Baruch committed, that we may not even bother about punishing you for the book, especially since you're in the hospital, recovering. Got that?"

"I guess so."

"If that girl had been black, this wouldn't even be in the papers," says Baruch.

"I think maybe you guys are making too big a deal out of this," says Ahuva. "I mean, it's kind of a big deal. But this has been going on for weeks, and it's not THAT big a deal."

"Ahuva," I say, "I don't want to start reciting all the details of this crime, and trying to scare you. But the detective who's been working this case, every time he speaks to the press, says that this was horrifying, one of the worst things he's seen. This is a guy who's a detective for the Richmond PD. He's seen everything. If he says it's bad, I believe him."

Apparently, one of the girls simply refused to wear one of my turquoise ribbons to the assembly. She told her teacher that "that girl" shouldn't have been drinking with guys, and it wasn't her problem.

Cold world these children live in.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Turquoise Ribbons


Today, St. Dymphna had an assembly for the rape at Richmond High School, and about sexual assault and safety in general.

Turquoise is the awareness-ribbon color for sexual assault, at least that's what I was told over the loudspeaker earlier this week. Some sources now say teal--anyway, we believed it was turquoise, which is why the Balabusta went to Jo-Ann's yesterday and bought eight yards of turquoise acetate taffeta--they didn't have a cotton-poly blend in the right color--and today spent several hours slicing the stuff into ribbons to put on the students at the assembly. Note to self--acetate taffeta frays like a mother. Next time we have an assembly needing ribbons I will get a couple of rolls of ribbon.

Right before I rolled my class into the gym for the assembly, one of the girls asked what the ribbons were for, and I told them it was to show solidarity with the victim. One of my freshmen looked me right in the eye, and told me that what she heard was that "that girl" was seen walking around in Pinole, and didn't have a bruise on her.

"The police report tells a different story," I said, and left it there.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Those High-Rolling Lesbians

Reading David Gibson over at Politics Daily, the Balabusta comes across this theory on why Maine voted down same-sex marriage, from Anne Underwood of Catholics for Marriage Equality:

"Tourism is down, fishing is a disaster, and people who used to work in the mills in Maine don't have anything anymore," Underwood said. "When you are struggling to meet the basics, it is much more difficult to be persuaded to extend yourself into understanding justice for people who don't seem to be affected by the same economic ills that you are."

I have nothing against Anne Underwood, who seems to be a nice person, but this little snippet set my teeth on edge. Gay people in Maine who want to get married 'don't seem to be affected' by the same economic ills that struggling straight folks in Maine are? Is it really that profitable to be gay in Maine? Are there secret pockets of great lobstering that only lesbian coops know about? Let's get real. Gay Mainers are losing their jobs at the same rate as straight Mainers.

What I think Anne Underwood means is that struggling straight folks in Maine have been sold a bill of goods by the same out-of-state deep-pocketed religious groups that targeted California during the Prop 8 run-up. They've been told, among many other things, that gay people who want to get married are not their friends, their neighbors, their coworkers, they're an affluent, privileged 'other'. This is, of course, grade-A BS.

It's going to be another hard-candy Christmas in Maine as well as most of the rest of the country. Voting for the gay lobstermen in their lives to be able to marry would have been the cheapest and best early Christmas present ever. Too bad some of the electorate was convinced a bunch of rich folks with an agenda were on their side.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Here's how to do it right

Meanwhile, the Rev. Byron Williams, pastor of the Resurrection Community Church of Oakland,CA, gets it absolutely right.

He writes: The imagery conjures memories of the gruesome photos of whites gleefully posing in front of black lynched bodies. It is the sense of elation rooted in profound hatred that is beyond comprehension for most humans.

He writes: Some might suggest that had the victim not been drinking alcohol to excess, as it has been reported, none of this would have happened. Even if alcohol was consumed, since when does drinking too much justify taking someone's humanity?

And he finishes with a resounding defense of non-human kind: Someone referred to these perpetrators as animals. They are not animals. I'm confident the uncivilized acts committed at Richmond High are beneath any behavior exhibited by my dog Zeus.

Read the whole thing. This is a spectacular piece, angry, insightful and absolutely correct.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Preconceived Notions and Prepackaged Ideas

I came across this piece by Daisy Hernandez, while reading articles about the rape at Richmond High. I remember Hernandez's work from back when she was writing for Ms.--that was back when I could still read Ms.--and now she's apparentlythe managing editor of Colorlines Magazine. I have to say that as an analysis of the role of race in this horrific situation, this article completely sucks. It's full of assumptions, bizarre statements, and half-understandings. And it makes me angry.

Hernandez writes:

The gang rape of a 15-year-old at Richmond High School last weekend has shaken many of us. The details have made us shudder. We’ve refused to read the details of the assault or we’ve analyzed more than a dozen people watched and did nothing or we’ve quietly thanked women like Margarita Vargas and Atianna Gibbs who upon hearing about the rape say they called the police. More than two hours had already lapsed.

The rape has also raised the issue of race.

Not in Richmond. Online, among the unpaid commenting classes, yes, some hideously ugly racial stuff has come up, but not in Richmond, with only one exception that I can think of. And her nephew is a suspect, so she's not entirely accountable for what comes out of her mouth.

It’s hard to figure out what’s most disturbing about this video—Kami stumbling through tears and anger to make her points but ending on an enigmatic reference to Asian students or that a white student immediately jumps to the idea of checking the IDs of Latino men as the only way to feel safe or that CNN made no reference in its written report to Kami’s insistence that school security policies vary according to the skin color of students.

Here we suddenly diverge from reality. I've watched video several times, and Kami Baker makes no reference to the race of the men whose IDs she wants checked. What she accuses the school of is allowing twelve to fifteen men who couldn't prove they had any reason to be at a high school dance, to loiter outside without being challenged. That's an egregious failure of good security practice at any high school. But we do not know that those men were 'Latino'. We don't know, because Kami didn't mention it. Because it's not important. Regardless of their race, their IDs should have been checked. Hernandez seems to want it both ways here--to acknowledge Kami's accusation that systemic racism played a part in Richmond High's lousy security, but to imply that checking the IDs of men hanging around a high school dance would be racist.

Meanwhile, the school has received emails from across the nation comparing its students to animals, forcing young people of color in Richmond to defend themselves, their school and their community—precisely at a time when they are in terrible grief and shock.

“It’s stigmatizing an entire people,” say Nicholas James, director of special projects with Youth Together, an organization that develops student leaders at six sites in the Bay Area including Richmond High School. “Why can’t we see this for what it is—violence against women of color.”


Except that the victim is white, the accused perpetrators are white, black and Latino, and the school is multi-racial, so this basically means absolutely nothing, unless you're prepared to define the city of Richmond as a 'whole people'. Seriously, what does this mean?

As of Friday morning, cops had also arrested six people including teenage boys and young men. One of them is a young Black man, whose family insists he was only arrested because he is Black, prompting comments that the family is playing the race card and leaving the rest of us to wonder how much worse this is going to get before it’s over.

You know, it's pretty bad already.

This piece angers me. It's a cheap attempt by an outsider to fit prefabricated ideas about 'young people of color' over a real situation in which a young woman living in a tough neighborhood was horribly victimized because she was a woman.
Think first, write later.
Hernandez also includes this information which I cannot better:

* * *
Donations are being taken for the victim. Checks can be sent to:
Assault Victim Fund
Richmond High School
1250 23rd St.
Richmond, CA 94804

The checks should be made out to "Richmond High School Student Fund." On the memo line, write "Assault Victim Fund."

Vigil at Richmond High


Yesterday, some of the staff and students from St. Dymphna's walked over to Richmond High for a rally and candlelight vigil for the young woman who was raped and beaten on campus a week and a half ago.

The first thing I notice, of course, is that their students look just my students--young, cute, vulnerable, exasperating. Same neighborhoods, same clothes, except for our school khakis and polo shirts. They wear their hair the same way, and greet each other identically. No distance here. These are the people in our neighborhood.

Our little group was greeted, and given white cloth armbands by students and parents. We sat down on folding chairs in the late afternoon sun, and watched the rally. There were signs--"Harm 2 One Is Harm 2 All". "Never Blame The Victim". Hand-labeled, painted in bright colors.

The rally began with an Aztec ceremony conducted by one of the teachers. Speaking in English and Spanish, he explained that he would be honoring the directions--and added, as an aside, that he hoped the smudge smoke would not bother anyone, but that if you were offended, you should consider that it was less offensive than the pot smoke that had contaminated our neighborhoods for too long. As a young man blew a conch shell, he swung a smudging pot to the four directions, to the sky and the earth. Substitute a shofar, substitute a lulav--amazing how similar all these things are, stripped down to essentials.

He was followed by students who read poetry, the mayor of Richmond, the principal of the school, a coach who sang a gospel piece, and school board members. There was a dance performance. The St. Dymphna crew crept away at this point, but left behind our principal, and some students from the neighborhood who were there with their parents. The group stayed on until dark, and lit candles in the twilight.

It felt inadequate, all of it, and I think it's because of the language people are using. Everything was heavily couched in the same social justice language we in the Bay Area use for everything from solar panels to street crime, and it just fell flat, it felt stupid and inexpressive. "Sustainable social change", said one kid "speaking truth to power, demanding change" said the mayor. "Healing from violence," said everyone. The media were chided for presenting a negative image of the school. It wasn't until one of the school board members stood up that I heard a direct message to the students that they were responsible for opposing sexism, homophobia, violence. You stand up, he said, and you stand up even if you're the only one who stands up.

Thank you, Mr. Medrano. That was what I needed to hear. I could have also stood to hear "and you call the police when a crime is in progress".

It was nice to be there. It was even nicer to hear that there are now six young men charged in the case. I am so angry. I am even more worried about my students than I used to be. Bad times.

Monday, November 02, 2009

All Souls


We had a mass for All Souls at St. Dymphna's this morning. I love mass at St. Dymphna's. I wish we did it every week. It's spiritually intense to sit in our gym on the bleachers with almost six hundred teenagers, listening to the folk-rock-mass choir sing, and making the Mass come to life with kids in sneakers carrying up the gifts, and the collection going into big manila envelopes.

The kids from Campus Ministry made a bazillion little colored paper fish for people to write names of departed loved ones on, and with the fish, and some fishnet, they created some beautiful decorations. There was boat, with a mast and sail, and nets draped on the altar. Very kitschy. Very lovely.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A Long Bad Week

Last Saturday, St. Dymphna's had our homecoming dance.

The same night, Richmond High School, a mile and a half from St. Dymphna's, also had their homecoming dance. And there was a gang rape at theirs.

Some of you are probably already following this in the news. For those of you who aren't, it's easy enough to Google.

It's been a long, bad week.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ramona, Ramona

This morning--English department meeting--I was told that our principal had made a suggestion. Perhaps we should drop Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, a novel that many of our juniors have trouble reading, and replace it with something else.

With what? asked our department head. Well, proposed the principal, what about Ramona, by Helen Hunt Jackson? Then the kids could learn California history.

Oh dear.

Ramona, for those of you not in the know, is a tearjerker romance from the nineteenth century, set in Southern California, which chronicles the doomed love of Alessandro, a brave young Indian, and Ramona, a Scots-Indian orphan who abandons her white privilege to run away with Alessandro and live with him in the wilderness.

It was written as a political novel, a denunciation of the mistreatment of Native Americans. It has a certain amount of political cachet: Jose Marti liked it! Marti wrote: “Ramona is a second Uncle Tom’s Cabin. . . . The arrogant mestiza whose attachment to her Indian lover endures through persecution and death . . . and the desperate love they share until the vanquishing blond race casts them out like hunted animals . . . all this is alive in these pages.”

It survived as a romance. Well into the mid-twentieth century it was a beloved love story--the Balabusta's grandmother was a passionate fan.

A great American novel it is not. A replacement for The Scarlet Letter it is not. You could convince me to toss The Scarlet Letter. But not for Ramona.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

'Scapino'

Last night, the drama club at St. Dymphna's presented 'Scapino', and I was there.

'Scapino' is a cute little commedia dell'arte piece, which the kids put heart and soul and a lot of ham into. Plates of spaghetti get thrown. People get beaten up with salamis. There are not one, but two families consisting of elderly misers, sons who have married inappropriate gypsy girls, and long-lost daughters who vanished in their infancy. (Three guesses how all this is resolved. You really need three?)

I'm impressed with the kids, as always. The boy who played one of the fathers was especially good--he really managed to pull off playing a cranky old man, which is something of a feat for a seventeen-year-old boy. They put a lot into their performances, and obviously work very hard. And they finished with a dance number to "Mambo Italiano", following which they pulled their director (our drama teacher) up on stage and danced to one of their own dance hits with her. It was all very cute.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Euro-American Heritage Month!

Oh, you didn't know that October is Euro-American Heritage Month? Well, neither did I. Until this year, that is, when I got involved with organizing the Breast Cancer Awareness event at St. Dymphna's, and discovered we were competing not only with Homecoming Week, but also with Euro-American Heritage Month.

(For some reason, just typing "Euro-American Heritage Month" makes me want to burst into "National Brotherhood Week", but I'll try to resist.)

I assumed this was something the campus student activities guy had made up. "Come on, Mr. Gunewald, you're making that up," I said.

"No, it's real," he protested. To prove it, he pulled up Google, and googled "Euro-American Heritage Month". Some hits came up. "See!" he said, pointing to one.

"Mr. Grunewald," I said, "that's Stormfront."

"No, it's real!" He found other sites that were not Stormfront. It's real. What can I say?

So what do you do to celebrate Euro-American Heritage Month? I asked Mr. Grunewald. "Should we all show up in Ukrainian folk-dance costumes?" I asked.

"Do you have one?" he asked eagerly. Note to self. Do not be cute with Mr. Grunewald. We're having a long lunch to celebrate Euro-Americanness later in the month, and he's hired a bagpiper for the event. The French club is selling baked goods. And...

Every morning on the announcements they read the Euro-American fun fact of the day. This is what finally got me in trouble with Mr. Grunewald. I was supposed to get on the microphone before lunch and remind the kids about the Breast Cancer Awareness Moment of Silence on the law--what St. Dymphna's calls the Holy Grass--at the end of lunch. As I headed out to do that, Mr. Grunewald intercepted me. "You need to read about the fish and chips too," he panted.

"The fish and chips?"

"They read the wrong Euro-American fact this morning! It was right on the bulletin! We're having fish and chips in the cafeteria for lunch! They were supposed to read about the fish and chips!"

I check the bulletin. Sure enough, there is a while paragraph about fish and chips. Did you know that fried fish came to England with Portuguese Jews? (That I knew.) Did you know that Charles Dickens mentions fried fish sellers? Did you know that fish and chips are served in England wrapped in newspaper? Now you know.

I headed for the microphone, and ran into our dean, Mr. Lucas. "Should I read about the fish and chips before or after breast cancer?" I asked him.

"Fish and chips?" Mr. Lucas bellows.

"It was supposed to be the Euro-American fun fact. They're serving fish and chips in the cafeteria."

"NO WAY! No more announcements! They already say we have too many announcements! Besides, they READ a Euro-American fun fact."

"It was the wrong one."

"I DON'T CARE."

So we didn't read about the fish and chips. We read about the Breast Cancer Awareness event, and I skedaddled back to get my study hall reassembled.

And ran into Mr. Grunewald. "What about the fish and chips?" he wailed.

I can't wait for the bagpiper.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why Does Shmuley Do This To Me?

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the Kosher Sex Rabbi himself, is going to release a book about Michael Jackson. Now he's just doing this on purpose.

Seriously. Are there a lot of people out there who are just dying to read a book by Shmuley Boteach about Michael Jackson's 'life, views on celebrity and what motivated him'?

Actually, there probably are. I'm just baffled as to who they are, and what their other problems might be.

I also think that Rabbi Shmuley is doing this just to get back at Madonna. He's always disliked Madonna, in part because of the Kabbalah Center thing, which I can understand, but also, not too subtly, because she's an overtly confidently sexual woman who doesn't need him to explain the facts of life. And apparently Michael had some snide little things to say about how Madonna was in love with him, and also jealous because he got more adulation than her.

Here's my question. Rabbi Shmuley calls Madonna 'vulgar', and criticizes her for 'simulating sex' and kissing Britney Spears (why Madonna is not allowed to kiss Britney remains unclear). How in the Lord's name does the Kosher Sex Rabbi hope to write an even slightly positive book about a man whose sex life was at best dysfunctional, and probably criminal, predatory, and really much more problematic than kissing Britney Spears or being naked in a movie? Let's get real.

It's Raining, It's Pouring

I completely soaked my socks and shoes getting to work this morning. I'm now in my off block, trying to dry out the socks on the radiator. We'll see.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Gary Bauer Can Interpret Scripture to His Own Devices

In regards to Barack Obama's use of scripture, Gary Bauer writes:

"For example, Obama has referenced the Sermon on the Mount in support of special rights for homosexuals, despite the Scriptures’ clear support of marriage between one man and one woman and its admonitions to celebrate sex inside the married relationship only."

Scripture does clearly support marriage between one man and one woman, and admonish us to celebrate sex inside the married relationship only. I am sure that my ancestor Yaakov, and his wife Leah, and his wife Rakhel, and his concubine Zilpah, and his concubine Bilhah would all be very concerned to hear how the President is misinterpreting Scripture.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pot Brownie Wednesday

Shimon was late to my morning study hall, but Shimon is always late to everything, so I took the note from the office and logged him in.

Some time later, the dean came and got him. Shortly after that, he was returned. Then taken away again. Then the dean stuck his head in again, and asked who he had spoken to after returning to class. He took one kid out, looked in his bag, and then told the rest that they had one minute to fess up about who had it, or it was bag searches all round and stiff penalties when caught.

Soreleh raised her hand, thereby doing the only smart thing any child was going to do all day.

Shimon, that blessed Child of God, showed up at school with his buddy Aharon this morning, and the two of them smoked a bissel dope before coming to class. Then, once they realized the fuzz (represented by our dean) was on to them, a complicated game of pass-the-pot-brownies began, going through an unsuspecting Calev, and ending up in Soreleh's hands.

I love teaching. It's just the students I could do without, sometimes.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Yes, Indeed, Boycotts Must Happen In The Heart

A few weeks ago, a colleague asked for my advice about novels by black women that might appeal to high school students. Toni Morrison's "Beloved", we agreed, was too hard for our younger student to tackle, despite its staggering beauty and power. I mentioned a few authors I like who write in a less complex style--Toni Cade Bambara, Kristin Lattany, Tina McElroy Ansa, Octavia Butler,Zora Neale Hurston--"and Alice Walker," I added reflexively. "Her work isn't as well-written as Morrison's certainly, but some of the early novels--'The Color Purple' especially, are good and might appeal to the kids. The girls like historicals, I've noticed."

I didn't mention why I excluded the later novels from that recommendation--the increasingly lousy quality of the writing, the increasing delusions of spiritual grandeur, the increasingly annoying plots. By "Possessing the Secret of Joy" and "The Temple of My Familiar", I was done. There is a kind of author who writes books where characters are perfectly two-dimensional, and act out the author's ideas about gender, or race, or religion, or politics. Alice Walker is one of these. It produces a sort of novel you can only read if you agree sufficiently with the author's views to enjoy keeping company with their literary paper dolls.

I also didn't mention the issue of Walker's issues with Jews, something I first ran into as a college freshman. In writing a paper on Meridian, I became obsessed with a section of the book, in which a Jewish woman, rejected by her parents for marrying a black man, loses her daughter. After the child's rape and murder she calls her parents to tell them their granddaughter is dead. They tell her they have no daughter.

I couldn't let that passage go. I was a college student in the early nineties, learning the kind of identity politics based criticism of text you learned at the time, and I took those skills to the pages of Meridian. Jewish grandparents, I argued, of that generation, of that social background, might have ostracized their daughter for marrying a black man, or, more importantly, for marrying a gentile. But with the husband gone (as he was at this point), there was no way they would continue to reject their daughter, to reject their granddaughter. There was a lie in the text.

I was an eighteen-year-old college student, and I did not have the political understanding or the writing skills to back up what I knew, so that paper turned into a semester-long struggle with my professor. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that Jewish parents of that generation would have done exactly that. I was told that Walker was writing from 'personal experience'. And I wrote a term paper about something else, and moved on...until the day I read Rebecca Walker's memoir, Black, White and Jewish. Early in the book, Rebecca's grandmother, Alice Walker's Jewish mother-in-law, arrives to visit. Relations were strained after Mel Lowenthal married a Gentile woman, but now Mrs. Lowenthal arrives to meet her grandaughter, and buy Alice a washing machine she doesn't want. I laughed over that page, in pure delight. I knew Bubbe better than my tense, Southern professor of literature, didn't I?

Now I turn to Alice Walker's blog, led there by At The Back of the Hill's recent post. And I find there a disturbing defense of Walker's decision to sign on to the boycott of the International Film Festival in Toronto.

Why are Alice and her friends boycotting the International Film Festival? Because the film festival plans to showcase films from Israel in honor of the 100th anniversary of the city of Tel Aviv, "as if Gaza was not recently besieged and bombed, and as if no Palestinians ever lived in Tel Aviv."

Above is the famous of picture of the founding of Tel Aviv. I usually avoid the more cliched cliches of hasbara, but you will note that there is, in fact, nothing but sand around those people, and if you read a little more deeply on the subject, you will learn that the city was built on land purchased from its Beduin owners. Israeli Arabs have lived, and do live in Tel Aviv, but to invoke Palestinians, whom Walker no doubt believes were kicked out of their ancient sand dune by those invaders up above, is deliberately misleading and meant to delegitimize any Jewish presence in Israel.

Read the whole thing. It's disturbing in the extreme, and much of it is about Walker's own issues with the religious environment she was raised in. One passage of Walker's writing, once again, leaped out at me, though:

A boycott story: The Beautiful Israeli Sandals That Fit Me and Looked
Great.

There they were, I was trying them on. They were fantastic. However, I live in Northern California where political consciousness is quite high and is likely to bring you down to earth when you least expect it. The saleswoman said apropos of nothing: Yes, they look wonderful on you. (Pause). They were made in Israel. Oops. Who came to mind when she said that? Ariel Sharon? Netanyahu? Tsivy Livny?


No. No Israelis at all. Who came to mind was a young Palestinian woman I had recently learned about; she had been arrested eight years ago and held in solitary confinement, in an Israeli prison, ever since. Never charged with anything. What did this woman do with her days, I thought. Could she possibly be the person who, in her cell, made these shoes? Suddenly, I could see her there in her cell. It felt cold. It felt barren. It felt lonely. She was all of these things,and more. Seeing her there, torn away from her world, made so strong an impression I lost all interest in the sandals. I could not even bear to look at them. I noticed her cell had a metal door and that there was a huge lock. I could never have purchased anything that would keep her there. I could only wish with all my heart to become a key.

I ended up buying a really boring pair of sandals made in Germany, and the irony of this didn’t escape me either.

I walked out of the shoe store strengthened in some indefinable way; I had
kept faith with the part of my spirit that knows what is right to do .



Yes, you read that right. Alice Walker is suggesting, not exactly alleging, but musing on the notion that Teva and Naot are using Palestinian prison labor to make sandals for export.

Reading the rest of the blog, one thing that becomes very clear is that Walker knows nothing but what she has been told by very dubious companions--and has accepted it wholesale. She's probably no more misinformed than the average knee-jerk Israel hater, but she is more influential, and more dangerous. (She really is comically dim. At one point she alleges that Ariel Sharon led the attack on Sabra/Shatila, which strongly suggests to me that she has never actually read an account of what happened there, unless it was given to her by Cynthia McKinney)

I'm sad, reading this, angry, and frustrated. This is pure bigotry, and it's being promoted by a woman who for at least a couple of generations of American feminists and activists has been promoted as a deeply spiritual person, a secular saint, a champion of the oppressed. Children are dying in Sderot, and Walker can't be bothered to care. She's chosen sides in a war she hardly understands, and allied herself with people who care nothing for either Israeli or Palestinian lives. I'm troubled by her ignorance, by her callousness, which I'm sure she would describe rather as deep caring. I was assigned her work in college, I've taught it to students, and as far as she's concerned, me and mine have no right to our own land and our own self-determination, no right to self-defence.

I'm going to go buy a pair of Naots, maybe two, and God knows I will not be recommending any of my students read Alice Walker. Because, you know, she's right about one thing...boycotts do need to come from the heart.I'm feeling this one.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sister Mary Exasperata Takes Note

So we're standing as a class for morning prayer over the loudspeaker, and I turn, and Sophie is standing right there, with an eyelash curler in action just as Father says "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

I glare. She looks only mildly sheepish.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rosh Hashanah In Boulder

The Balabusta's high school friend, Chaya, got married yesterday, in Boulder, CO. Long-time readers may recall that Chaya lost her first husband in a tragic accident a few years ago:

Scary News

Bitter and Sweet

The Memory of Muffins

Yesterday, she married a wonderful man, and told him in their vows that she had been hurt, and he helped her heal, and all of us cried.

Getting there was complicated. After losing her husband, Chaya moved to Santa Barbara to be near her sister, Drora, and met the new husband, Yochanan. They decided they needed a fresh start, and moved to Colorado. That was fine, except that they decided to get married in their new town, which mean that the Balabusta had to get to Boulder on Rosh Hashanah.

There is a 1965 Western spoof with Burt Lancaster, The Hallelujah Trail, which features a group of Prohibition activists marching on Denver. They sing a song, which I can't find the lyrics for, but it goes something like:

Stand up! We'll march to Denver,
(Something, something, something.)
Stand up! We'll march to Denver,
For our cause is just.

Stand up! We'll march to Denver,
Raise our banners high!
Cause when we get to Denver,
Denver will be dry,
You hear? Denver will be dry.

I kept singing that as I trekked across the Southwest.

U.S. Airways got me as far as Phoenix, and then we had an hour's delay on our stopover, while they tinkered with the plane. Then we got off the ground, headed for Denver. An hour into the flight, the head stewardess came on and told us that we were going back to Phoenix, because something was still wrong with the plane.

We were closer to Denver than to Phoenix at this point, but turn back we did. The plane landed, and the stewardess said, "Well, I'm not sure what to say. Welcome back to Phoenix."

At this point, I called Chaya to tell her I was missing the rehearsal dinner.

We were herded across the Barry M. Goldwater Memorial Terminal, and led onto a new plane. Then the new plane sat on the ground for an hour, because we had a new problem--the computer codes that are supposed to detatch the plane from the airport were not working.

We sat patiently, while technicians in Phoenix and Pittsburg (?) worked on the problem. Eventually, we got into the air, and this time, they actually took us to Denver.

As I lurched into my hotel at midnight, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a young man in fedora, tzitzit, and carrying a shofar. Not kidding. Apparently the hotel Chaya recommended to me hosts the Boulder Chabad Chagim. Next morning, I was able to chat with a lady in a shaytel and a pink-and-black set as I waited for my pickup.

The wedding was lovely, the bride was beautiful, the cake fell in, but we were all too happy to care. A wonderful simcha.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Madonna Does The Right Thing!

I have some issues with Madonna. But I'm thrilled that she stood up against bigotry aimed at the Roma in Europe at her Bucharest concert. The crowd booed. This runs deep...

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So This Is What Happened

I'm back at St. Dymphna High.

"But wait," I hear you saying, those of you who are still following the plot, at any rate, "didn't they lay you off? And didn't you get a job at a charter school in the East Bay Somewhere?"

Why yes. This is what happened next:

I got a call from St. Dymphna. Actually, I got two calls, one from Mrs. ---, the English department head, asking me to call her back, and the other from Mr. ---, the principal, asking me to call him about an opening.

Apparently, due to a wild chain of events that I will not share here, St. Dymphna's ended up short-staffed, and they called me.

They like me! They really like me!

They needed someone to teach one section of English, three study halls, the after school study program, and to help out in the gym department. All of it added up to one full-time job for which I was uniquely qualified, so they offered it to me, and tendered my resignation at the other location and I took it.

My head is spinning, but I feel as though I've come home.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Another Week Off

I have one more week off, and then I report in to the new school.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Complicated Times

Mr. Bluejeans Sr. is in the hospital. It's a long story, a very long story. Suffice to say that Mrs. Bluejeans Sr. and I spent most of yesterday and today at his bedside, and running errands, and I'll be back tomorrow.

This is new stuff, building on some health problems we'd already been dealing with, and, well, it's not easy.

On the other hand, I have a job for the fall. More details to follow.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Twice Chai

The Balabusta is turning thirty-six tomorrow.

There's a story about the Besht I recall from somewhere, that a crazy lady came up to him at a marketplace and told him that he would have great powers, but that he couldn't reveal then until he was thirty-six. He told her to keep quiet about that.

I doubt the Balabusta is going to be quite that big, but I do have some hope that this will be the year in which I grow into some of what I'm supposed to be and do. We shall see.

In the meantime, still job hunting. Also, Mr. Bluejeans Sr. is having some health problems--tehillim, rosaries, prayers, white light and good thoughts gratefully accepted. I'll give more details if I get permission.

Hope everyone had a glorious Fourth. The Balabusta and the Balebos celebrated by watching part of the John Adams miniseries. Much fun!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Preacher and the Naked Bicyclists

I was heading home from work on a fine Saturday afternoon, when I decided to pop up out of the underground before getting on BART, and go sample some perfume at Sephora.

As I emerge from the Powell Street BART Station, I realize that there is a street preacher, perched up on the molding of Forever 21, yakking through some kind of amplifier. He has a big sign about the blood of Jesus with him, and some friends handing out little tracts, and he's ranting on about Gay Pride, specifically the rainbow flags that go up on Market a month before the parade. We're misusing the rainbow, which is a sign from God. Do we even know what 'queer' really means? Etc. I walk by with a stone-set face, and storm into Sephora, thinking about how Jesus never took time out of his busy schedule to yell about a gay pride parade, when people were sick and hungry in the community around him.

Some time later, I come fragrantly out from Sephora, and head back to the BART station. Preacher still up on the moldings, still shouting. But as I approach, something new enters the scene--about thirty people on bicycles, naked except for their bike helmets, pedalling toward Market Street through the Powell Street cable car turnaround.

The preacher spots them, and turns his sermon to them. "You should be ashamed!" he yells. "Going around naked in public! Go home and put your clothes on! Be ashamed of yourselves!"

The bikers, of course, are loving the attention, and pedalling like mad. The crowd is cheering for them as they merge onto Market and streak off happily toward the Mission.

Apparently they were part of the World Naked Bike Ride.

I did wonder if the preacher had a religious leg to stand on in regards to them. Now, he didn't say that what they were doing was irreligious, he simply told them to be ashamed, but it occurs to me that nowhere in Exodus or Numbers does it say "Thou shalt not bike around town naked as a jaybird."." Nudity, in scripture, is mostly seen an expression of humility, or vulnerability, which would fit nicely in with this group's concern about environmental damage.

I love San Francisco...

Monday, June 08, 2009

Israel in the Gardens 2009

A lovely day was had by all. Well, by me. My parents decided to stay home, and my husband would rather have a root canal than listen to Israeli pop and watch me do activisty things, so I headed out on my own.


There was food: I ate spinach burekas, and a felafel arrangement the size of my head, and watched as the health inspection people had their annual fight with one of the felafel booths about whether everything was sufficiently refrigerated. Fought my way through the mob at Flying Felafel, where the whole experience is authentically Israeli.


There were vendors: I looked at children's games, and jewelry stands, and interesting tallitot, and stacks of Shalom Sesame DVDs.


There was music: I watched a troupe of teenagers in folk-dance costumes bounce around to Israeli songs, including a Bollywood-inspired number. There was singing. There was a gay Israeli pop star.


There were approximately a bazillion small children running around screaming in English, Russian, Hebrew and Chinese.


I checked in with some organizations. JIMENA was out, so was Hadassah, and BlueStar. BlueStar was very excited because they had a plane coming to fly around overhead with a banner saying WE STAND WITH ISRAEL. This was very nice and cheerful. In past years, the planes have said unpleasant things. (Those planes, obviously, were not chartered by BlueStar.)


And, there were protesters, although not nearly as many as we were fearing. Across the street from Yerba Buena Gardens, on the steps and the sidewalk in front of St. Patrick's Church, were a scattered line of representatives of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, and QUIT. Frankly, I was expecting something grander. After all, they sent out this:



Kind of looks impressive, no? It wasn't.


Best sign over there was a banner that read "Lesbians Support The Palestinian Uprising". This is one of those things that just makes you blink a lot, but there they were. Apparently, the IJAZN people were specifically irritated that Ivri Lider, the singer who was the star of the IitG entertainment, is gay, and per IJAZN, "Queer people reject this exploitation in the service of a racist state." Well, queer people except for Ivri Lider, and all the gay San Franciscan Jews and their loved ones, lounging on the grass listening to him sing. They were, I daresay, having a better time than the IJAZNers. Plus, they got burekas and felafel.

I joined the banner line on our side, grabbed an Israeli flag, and waved for a while. The opposition gave up around two-thirty, and wandered away. In the meantime, I got to meet a number of people previously only known through e-mail and blogs, and generally enjoyed myself.

After a felafel break, I decided to head across the plaza and check out the Contemporary Jewish Museum, which I had not previously seen. Very nice place, saw a display on Chagall and the artists of the Russian Yiddish/Hebrew theater, enjoyed myself a great deal. New piece of knowledge: I had been aware that Sholem Asch wrote a play called "God of Vengeance", but I had not been aware that it had a lesbian theme. In 1922. Quite cool. Banned in New York. Gawd I love the Jewish arts.

Headed home, very relaxed. A nice, nice day.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Curley's Wife's Name

This is the second year I've taught John Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men, and for two years now I've put a wacky little question into my final--what is Curley's wife's name? Why?

Curley's wife is known only as that. I ask students to give her a name, both to give her some dignity, and also to express their ideas about this woman--the only woman on the ranch, known by the men to 'have the eye' two weeks after her wedding, married to a bully, isolated, capable of flashes of warmth, flirtatiousness and downright meanness.

Some students see her as the floozy Steinbeck said she wasn't--one boy last year named her 'Holy Water Girl', "because everyone touches her". Some see her as an ordinary girl and call her by simple, wholesome names. Some give her the names of movie stars, to reflect her girlhood dream.

One of my students says she should be called Hester, after Hester Prynne, because they're both accused of adultery, and unfairly vilified.

And one of my students just blew me away. Her name, Rivka G. writes, should be Soledad, because it means 'solitude' in Spanish, and is symbolic of her aloneness. And of course, although Rivka didn't mention it, Soledad is not only a girl's name, but the nearest town to the ranch in Of Mice and Men.

Wow, this kid is good!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Frida

Last night, the Balabusta settled down with Frida, the famous Salma-Hayek-as-Frida-Kahlo biopic-as-soft-porn extravaganza that was treated as a revelation from heaven by all the Balabusta's Frida-worshipping homegirls when it came out, and which she had nevertheless managed to avoid seeing until last night. When Netflix delivered it into her hands, and she settled down and enjoyed.
Some things about Frida:

1. Salma Hayek is a very, very, very pretty woman, much prettier than Frida Kahlo actually was.

2. The movie is also very pretty. Lavish color, hot people, and of course, Frida's over-the-top Mexican folk-costume clothes.

3. The politics are very meh. Soft-pedalled. And if I was Mrs. Trotsky, I would ice-picked Frida.
4. When Frida first demands Diego Rivera's opinion of her work, she tells him that she has to make money to help her family, and that she can't afford to waste time being a vanity painter. Years and years later she's living as Diego's wife/muse, and has sold four paintings. It doesn't quite add up, unless she meant 'help my family until I get married to a Communist painter'.
5. The scene where Rockefeller confronts Rivera about his portrait of Lenin on the Rockefeller Center fresco was much cooler in Cradle Will Rock. ("Leh-neen STAYS!")

Now, the thing about the Balabusta and Frida, besides the fact that her work was DROOLED over by all the girls I went to college with, and I actually like Rivera's much better, is this--I had always been told her father was Jewish, and I always counted her as a yiddishe kuzine, although I wished she'd give it a bit more of a nod in her paintings. Actually, it sort of annoyed me. Yet another Jewish woman running around the twentieth century, without a nod to the Jewish world...
I remember, for some reason, being irrationally offended by some woman ranting on in an essay in Colonize This! about white girls being obsessed with Frida, with her woman-of-color unibrow, because she is so exotic to us, so wild and untamed...riiiiiiiight. And please note, as evidenced above, that the unibrow actually comes from the Hungarian side of the family. I don't have five pairs of tweezers for no reason, zeiskeit.
Anyway, after all, it turns out that Mr. Kahlo probably wasn't Jewish. (The unibrow, however, seems to be authentic.) So, hmmph. There it is.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Prop. 8 Stands, So Do Existing Marriages

Back in the fall, when I started at St. Dymphna, several families at our very Catholic school were planning weddings.

I got to hear about one of them during the freshman orientation. The uncle of one of our freshman girls was going to have a formal wedding to the man he'd been with for some years. She was thrilled, because she was going to be in the wedding party. This meant she got to wear a long dress, and heels, and her mom had said she could wear her hair up and get her makeup and nails done professionally. Oh, and also she was going to get to do one of the Gospel readings, which was nice, but obviously not as nice to a fourteen-year-old girl as professional makeup and wedding cake.

More casually, I got to hear about the wedding plans of another gay uncle, from his nephew, who was also going to do a Scripture reading, but had no plans to get his makeup done. It was that nephew who breezed into class on the Tuesday California voted Proposition 8 into law, and told me that his uncle and the uncle's young man had gone to City Hall Monday afternoon and gotten married, on a hunch that they should do it while the doing was good. The formal wedding was still on, but they had the paperwork.

I'm glad the existing marriages stand legally. I feel sad for the people left in the cold, angry at how hard this is. Who profits if people who love one another can't get married?

I don't know if the court could have done anything else legitimately. But I hate this precedent. We get to vote now, on who gets access to legal rights? Whooo, boy. Not a good idea.

I'm glad Shimon's uncle got married in time. I wish it hadn't been, as a man on the news this morning said, a limited time offer.

Monday, May 25, 2009

American History Rethunk

I've been reading David McCullough's biography of John Adams since, I think, last fall--I started reading it, and then stopped, and then started from the beginning, and I actually think I may finish it this week. It's filled in a lot of my knowledge of the Revolution, and is generally interesting, but the parts I have found most intriguing have had to do with the Adamses' attitudes about slavery. They were staunch anti-slavery folks, these Massachusetts Puritan types, and McCullough gives some interesting insights as to how this affected their world view, for example, mentioning Abigail's fear at one point that the war effort will fail because the colonies have permitted the sin of slavery.

Much later in the book, when the Adamses are living in London, Abigail goes to see Sarah Siddons as Desdemona in Othello. (MA puritans though they may have been, the Adamses liked theater, and since there were none in Boston, living in Europe was a chance to rock out.)

McCullough writes:

To Abigail, Mrs. Siddons was brilliant but miscast as Lady Macbeth. It was
in Othello, as Desdemona, that she was "interesting beyond any actress
I had ever seen."

Yet to read of Desdemona in the arms of a black man was, Abigail found, not
the same as seeing it before her eyes. "Othello was represented blacker than any
African," she wrote. Whether it was from "the prejudices of education" or from a
"natural antipathy", she knew not, "But my whole soul shuddered whenever I saw
the sooty heretic Moor touch the fair Desdemona." Othello was "manly, generous,
noble" in character, so much that was admirable. Still, she could not separate
the color from the man.


What I find fascinating is that she tries to, and feels disturbed that she can't. I suppose I'm projecting later ideas about race onto poor Abigail Adams, but I find it both interesting and informative that an eighteenth-century American woman (granted, one with a rock-solid anti-slavery bias) would feel bothered by the idea that she couldn't be open-minded enough to feel comfortable with interracial romance.

Apparently, while Thomas Jefferson was shuttling his kids around Europe, his daughter Polly ended up staying with the Adamses in London for a while, along with the soon-to-be-infamous Sally Hemings, who was at the time fourteen and non-infamous. Abigail was somewhat thrown off--she thought Sally was far too young to be taking care of Jefferson's daughter, and she'd never had a slave living under her roof before or since. One wonders what she made of it when the Jefferson/Hemings scandale later hit the papers.

Bishop's Holiday

I get a four-day weekend, because in addition to Memorial Day, the school is having a 'bishop's holiday', an extra day off from school granted to the kids by our local bishop as part of the celebration of St. Dymphna's patron saint's feast day.

It feels good.

I've been to two job interviews so far. One mediocre, one pretty good, I thought.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Well, I'm job hunting...again

At least this time I can blame the economy, rather than insane administrators.

I hate job hunting. I hate ANNUAL job hunting. This will make the fourth summer in a row I have been job hunting, and let me tell you, folks, this is starting to wear thin.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Service Day

Service day was hilarious.

We drove the kids to the Catholic elementary school we had offered to do an Extreme Teacher's Lounge Makeover for, and went bananas.

The walls hadn't been painted since about 1983, before most of the kids' parents were married. Originally bright white, they were now dingeriffic. The trim had all been painted a hideous shade of dentist's-office aqua. The bathrooms were decorated with multicolored handpainted chalk-squiggle paint things. It was hideous.

We painted everything a nice tan color, sort of the shade of coffee ice cream. We got paint on the kids. We got paint everywhere, but all over the walls, luckily. The kids assembled the new furniture from IKEA.

We ripped out the carpet, or rather, several teenage boys ripped out the carpeting while the older men on the expedition (husbands and fathers of teachers, fathers of students) watched and made kind, non-self-esteem-shattering comments like "Stay in school guys," and "You in the red shirt, you are gonna go to college, right?"

Several kids wired a nice light fixture.

Teenage boys went upstairs to the boys bathroom to wash paintbrushes. A short time later, water began to come through the downstairs ceiling.

Luckily, one of the dads is a plumber.

We installed shelves and things. Two of the aforementioned older men were completely startled and entranced when one of the teenage girls demanded to learn how to use the electric drill. They taught her, and then stood, amazed, as she drilled. "Look at her go," one of them marveled.

We got stuff done. A good day.

It's been a crazy time

I'm busy these days. Busy, busy, busy.

Which is weird, because I'm only working part time, but I'm working two jobs part time, which means I spend six days a week needing to be somewhere, sometime.

Tomorrow, though, is a bit of a change. St. Dymphna's is having a service day, which means that my 'faith family' and I, and some other people, are taking off to completely revamp the teacher's lounge at a local Catholic elementary school. We're doing the full Complete Lounge Makeover. Paint, artwork, new carpet.

NEW CARPET? That was the part that threw me. For God's sake, they want me to lay a carpet with these kids? But apparently Mr. Villanueva, who is a professional carpet layer, is coming with us, and we have some special easy-to-lay carpet from Ikea...whatever. It will be OK.

I registered with Little Verdant Footballs. It was a moment of weakness. I've been spending too much time reading and commenting and playing around. I have a weird relationship with LGF. I find lots of the people there interesting and funny, and I enjoy being someplace where Israel is news, and no one will ever turn anti-Semitic or plaintively ask why Israel won't make peace with the poor Palestinians. And they have entertaining discussions about anti-evolution forces in the GOP, and I sort of let the incessant bashing of Nancy Pelosi flutter by me.

I think I may have to give it up, though, after a few months of cautious fun. For one thing, they are getting absolutely wonko about Obama, and honestly, I'm getting bored hearing about how the Communists are gonna take away their guns and make them pay for health care for unemployed undocumented Democrats.

For another, today I finally got irked enough to mildly object to a frequent trope of theirs, calling Mohammed (the prophet, not my ex-sixth-grade student) a 'pedophile', due to his marriage to Aisha. I pointed out, I thought rationally, that a lot of girls were married off very very young for political reasons in the seventh century, worldwide, and that the constant moral indignation about this was wearing thin. I was called a moral relativist on the spot. OK. Not such a big deal.

Then, this evening, I got annoyed when one of the regular posters bitterly complained about Muslim children being allowed to use school space for prayer. My take on this is pretty simple--it's legal, Christian students do it all the time, no big whoop. (Moreover, on this site, it's more common for people to complain that Christian students aren't allowed to pray at school. Which is not the heck true.)

Wrong, big whoop. Not from a whole lot of people, but intensely from a few regulars. Not my favorite people, but still. I got pissed off when told that Islam was not a religion, but a primitive death cult, and I was probably not really a Jew. I called that gal a bigot. Bigger whoop. Personal attacks. Then someone tried to help by sending me a link to a website that could explain the existence of Islamic terror to me.

Well, heck, that opened my eyes right up. I love it when people assume that if you're in favor of letting Muslim schoolchildren pray, and don't stand for slimy religious bigotry, you're a starry-eyed moron.

Anyway, I'm just venting a little right now. I just wish I could find a pro-Israel, centrist Democrat website to hang out on, I suppose. One with no crazy people on it.

Anyway. Busy, busy, tired. Wish the fella could find a job. No one calls back. Except for the census, who called back, but didn't leave a phone number or a name, and wouldn't accept calls at the phone number he had. Now they've called back and left a message telling him that they called eight times, and wanted to know why he didn't set up an appointment. And when he called to tell them, the line was busy.

If you want to know who's running the census, the answer is: no one too bright.

On a good note, Basya, my bridesmaid, is back in town, and she's moved in with Niamh, also my bridesmaid, and we're getting to spend a little time together, and it's way cool.

On a worrisome note, Pesach is coming.

There is chametz in every corner of my house. I am considering taking a note from the Ethiopian minhag and simply camping out on my deck for the duration of the holiday.

And there's work, which is just complicated.

It's the middle of the bloody night, so I should get some sleep.

Guess I'm back to blogging.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sad and Dazed

Flags at St. Dymphna's are flying at half mast for the four police officers killed in Oakland on Saturday.

All The Wingnuts Go Berserk!

Let's see. In a matter of days, Laura Ingraham decided to act like a mean middle school girl by telling Meghan McCain she's too fat, Tammy Bruce called the Obamas 'trash in the White House', and Rush Limbaugh 'mixed up' Robert Mugabe with Barack Obama, referring to the latter as 'Barack Ogabe'.

What has gotten INTO these people? Is Mercury in retrograde?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Ducks Have Landed

My pair of mallard ducks, who return to the stretch of creek near my house each spring, are back. Actually, they've been back a little while, they usually show up just after Tu B'Shevat. I call them the Duckworths, or the Duckbergs, or sometimes just 'ducks'.

It has been raining like crazy this spring, hard pelting showers, including some hail. The creek rushes high, the rain pours down, and I worry about the ducks. But as much as I want to scoop them up, bring them home, and let them hang out in my bathtub, I realize that they are waddling around with, I dunno, 150 million years or so of information about how to be ducks coded into their DNA, and they know how to do this. Also, I realized after a recent shower that the rain brings out the earthworms from the grass planted in the Ohlone Greenway, and the ducks were happily eating them.

In addition to the rain, I worry about cats, raccoons, mean kids, and toxic runoff, but they come back each year--this is the third year I have seen them--to lay eggs, so I assume the spot is a good one.

Just another sign of spring--the Duckworths are back.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Noa and Mira Give Peace A Chance

This year's Israelis at Eurovision are Achinoam Nini, also known to her fans simply as Noa, and Mira Awad. That's the two of them on the right. Aren't they cute?
I am a longtime Noa fan. Mira I only heard of recently, when she made a splash in Israel starring in a popular sitcom about an Israeli Arab family. The pair of them are going to Eurovision, where they plan to sing in Hebrew, Arabic and English..and not everyone happy about it.
I grant you, it may seem a little kitschy (Awad suggested 'cynical') to send a Jewish and an Arab singer to represent Israel at Eurovision, but then again, what could better represent Israel? I usually don't do well with cutesy 'peace gestures', but somehow, this duo singing the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" just seems genuinely hopeful and heartfelt to me, in a way that this kind of thing usually doesn't.

Awad has come under attack by other Arab entertainers, in and out of Israel, who feel that going to Moscow for Eurovision represents a false image of Israel. A petition aimed at the duo states

"The Israeli government is sending the two of you to Moscow as part of its
propaganda machine, which is trying to create the appearance of Jewish-Arab
'coexistence' under which it carries out the daily massacre of Palestinian
civilians."
Part of the tension about this seems to come from events surrounding a fundraiser for humanitarian aid for Gaza. Noa and Mira were going to perform, but were asked to withdraw, because of a letter Noa published during the last days of Operation Cast Lead, reading in part:

"Today, I know that deep in your hearts you wish for the demise of this beast called Hamas who has terrorized and murdered you, who has turned Gaza into a trash heap of poverty, disease and misery. Who in the name of "Allah” has sacrificed you on the bloody alter of pride and greed.

"I can only wish for you that Israel will do the job we all know needs to be done, and finally rid you of this cancer, this virus, this monster called fanaticism, today, called Hamas. And that these killers will find what little compassion may still exist in their hearts and STOP using you and your children as human shields for their cowardice and crimes."

Noa's website shows a range of causes that she supports, which range from MEMRI to Rabbis for Human Rights--my kind of gal, in other words. I think she and Mira will do Israel proud at Eurovision.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Zionists and the BART Police

Last week, the juniors at my school had a retreat.

When they emerged at the end of the day, I asked if they had enjoyed themselves. The kids I talked to were rather subdued, and said it was OK, but emotionally wearing.

When I checked with one of their teachers about what had happened at the retreat, she mentioned that they had one speaker who talked about gang violence, one who talked about human trafficking and, wait for it, a Palestinian activist who discussed 'what's happening over there'.

I did a small flinch, but assumed that whoever it was, it was someone fairly reasonable, and dismissed it from my mind.

Today I was talking to one of our administrators who says it was a fiasco. He quotes the speaker as saying, among many other things, that 'the people who killed Oscar Grant' trained in the same place as 'the Zionist army'.

Gently banging head against wall.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Things I Love About Catholic High Schools #106

As you walk to the library to meet with your after-school study group, you encounter a sturdy young man, wearing khakis and a school polo shirt. He is also wearing a Roman-style infantry helmet, and bearing a very large wooden cross over one shoulder.

"Ah," one says to oneself. "The Mystery Players are practicing in the cafeteria again. It must be spring."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Liraz Goes To The UN


This is Liraz Madmony from Sderot, addressing the UN Human Rights Council Special Session on Gaza.
Twenty-three years old, smart and gorgeous. The UN may not be listening, but she certainly gives me naches.
Her speech:
Thank you, Mr. President.
I come from Sderot, the city in Israel that for eight years has been terrorized, by 10,000 rockets fired against us from Gaza.
As a law student, I learned - and I believe - that all human beings have the right to peace and security.
But when I see today's resolution, I ask: Why is the United Nations ignoring my suffering?
When the terrorists committed these 10,000 violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, why was the UN silent?
Are human rights for some, but not others?
The constant assault on Sderot has destroyed our ability to lead a normal life. The warning before each attack gives us only 15 seconds to run for shelter. Fifteen seconds that will decide, life or death.
Mr. President, who will protect our right to life? My family does not have a bomb shelter, so we run to the most protected room, which is the shower.

There is one attack I will never forget. We heard the siren at seven in the morning. We ran to the shower. The rockets fell next to my house. My little brother, who was 14, went to see if anyone needed help. He found a man whose legs were blown off, and a woman blown to pieces.
My youngest brother is six. The rockets have been falling for eight years. He knows no other reality.
Everyone suffers in Sderot. Fathers and mothers are afraid to go to work, creating poverty. Kids are afraid to go to school. I have missed many of my law classes. My friends are afraid to visit. The streets lie empty.
I dream of the hometown that I remember. When the park near my house was filled with happy families and children playing. When people enjoyed life.
I still dream of peace. It will come when the rulers of Gaza choose humanity over hate, when they stop firing on our children while hiding behind their own.
We refuse to grant victory to the terrorists. We choose to live, staying strong with our faith, family and love of country.
Mr. President, who will protect our most basic human rights? My country is now trying its best, and all who love life and desire peace should pray they succeed.
Thank you, Mr. President.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

From Roseanne

Remember how Roseanne was in the JPost for calling Israel a Nazi state? Well, Roseanne isn't just a hater. She has a detailed peace plan:

israel must make alliances with the vatican and with Islam. Israel must rebuild
the temple and stay within its own borders. Israel must treat its labor party as
a democratic labor party for WORKERS instead of for Israeli's. that will change
everything---there is no real religious problem, there is only a labor
problem...the palestinians are the suppliers of israel's labor, and they want
decent living conditions and a living wage. there is no other issue in the
problem...i have unmasked the bullshit. israel cannot afford the religious bs
any longer. god demands they make peace and not war. god demands jews to give up
hatred and seperatism and become citizens of the world! god demands that the
israelis who are of european tribal descent step down, and be correctly replaced
in government by tribal sephardic jews who have lived in peace with arabs for
thousands of years. god demands this, according to jeremiah the prophet. read
his words. the torah is demanding unity and synthesis of all ways of thinking
about god. unity and not division for israel and the world. israel wrestles god
down to earth. this is the story of jacob. meditate and share and love and
trust. THAT IS WHAT IS MEANT BY ZION. zion is not a militaristic place. there
are no weapons in zion. there is no need for weapons, because justice and mercy
rule.


Roseanne also explains the nature of the divine presence:

the shekkinah is being revealed to us---she will simply eat the alien human
and then rebirth it again at a later carbon tested time or on a different
satelite that she uses for growing her babies. we gave birth to the indigo
children. their skin is greenie.



Here in Baghdad-by-the-Bay

At The Back of the Hill reports:

01/10/09

Early Saturday evening, homosexual anti-Israel demonstrators held a noisy event
in the Castro district, to the general disapproval of most of the people on the
street. They were counter-protested by several local activists, and a swelling
number of passers-by.Most gay San Franciscans are keenly aware that only one
state in the Mid-East offers gays full rights and protection. So when the
Israel-haters started throwing shoes, in imitation of their ideological cohorts
in parts of the extremist world, enthusiastic volunteers gathered up the flung
footwear for deposit in nearby garbage cans. This proved discomfiting to the
pro-terror side, as the throwers were left barefoot in consequence.


Meanwhile, Most Holy Redeemer Church in the Castro was vandalized. Swastikas were painted on it, in addition to angry messages about Archbishop Niederauer's support for Prop. 8.

Problem is, MHR is a predominantly gay Catholic parish. So this is not only hateful and ugly, it's even more stupid than if they had hit any other Catholic church.

Deep, deep sigh.

Hebrew-Speaking Workers of the World Unite!!

ANSWER and friends had a big anti-Israel get-together on Saturday morning at San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza, and San Francisco Voice For Israel gathered to counterprotest. I missed the counterprotest because work demanded that I be administering an entrance exam to a pack of nervous eighth graders. I did, however, manage to convince Mr. Bluejeans Sr. to attend, and met him for lunch afterwards.

By the time I arrived, the ANSWERniks had gone on their march, and come back again. As I approached the plaza, the speaker on the stage was shrieking at the crowd to go on supporting the Palestinian struggle. A drunk crossing the streets behind me screamed "Yeah, you do that! I support the Jews, and I'm a ****ing Catholic! **** terrorists!"

All the usual signs, except for a new contingent from SocialistWorker.org. A small group had strung up a clothesline with 'bloodstained' onesies. A table was selling olive oil. The usual. As I was crossing the plaza, a teenage Palestinian-American poet was called up to the stage to read her free verse. I learned that her cousins in Jordan do not understand the struggle, that her uncle does not know who Che was, and that some Zionist once told her there was no such thing as Palestine.

I feel bad for her cousins in Jordan, if they have to hear about this on a regular basis.

Mr. Bluejeans reports that an earlier speaker rejected a two-state arrangement, in favor of one state, "for the Palestinians and the Hebrew-speaking workers".

Gee. If Pharaoh's bureaucracy had only been delicate enough to call us "Hebrew-speaking workers", who knows how history might have come out?

Monday, January 05, 2009

QUIT, Just QUIT

QUIT is at it again. The Jawa Report is taking notice of them, ("I wonder if these people realize what Hamas would do to them?") and Meryl Yourish spotted them too...("Are these the most clueless Hamas supporters ever?")

So, as the lady who ends up having to explain the Bay Area to the rest of the world sometimes, yes children, there is a group called QUIT, that stands for Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism. I will not link to their website, you can find it with Google, OK? Be prepared, it is full of some really incredible laugh-out-loud Big Lies.

No, this is not a fly-by-night group, they have a website, a membership, and some years ago they went through a phase of attacking Starbucks because the owner of the company donates to Hadassah or something, also Estee Lauder, and when "Yossi and Jagger" first played in the Bay Area in 2003 they protested that too.

Yes, they are that disconnected from reality.

No, I'm not sure how it works either.

No, there is not a word on their website about the situation of LGBT Palestinians.

No, they are not typical of gay people in the Bay Area. Gay people in the Bay Area are, for the most part, too busy with the gay lifestyle--carpooling, jobs, taking the kids to the zoo, trying to assemble shelves from IKEA, TIVO, the parish council, and watching their 401Ks plummet--to get involved with crazy self-destructive people. (Gilah's last girlfriend does not count for the purpose of this discussion.)

Hopefully, this information will prove useless to you in the future, since God willing, you will never meet any of these people. But if you do, at least you will be informed.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Baby animals and wily coyotes

Two websites you need:

www.zooborns.com is a site dedicated to zoo baby pictures. Little jaguars, little hippos, little sloths, they have it all. A baby aardvark is an amazing example of 'so ugly it's adorable'. Check it out.

www.dailycoyote.com is dedicated to pictures of coyotes. Coyotes are wonderful. (If you're a rancher, you may disagree. Tough. I love coyotes.)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Truthiness and the Divine

Roseanne Barr made it into the JPost for announcing in on her blog that Israel is a Nazi state. I don't know exactly why this made the JPost. Roseanne is always sayin' death to someone she don't like. (Name that movie reference!) And she has general big issues with Israel. Since Cynthia McKinney failed to sailed to Gaza in a cabin cruiser, she's been very cranky. So, like I say, not sure why this was news.

But it did make me go and check out Roseanne's blog, and this time I read quite a bit of her archives, and well, it's quite something. I particularly enjoy the lengthy bits about how Mary, mother of Jesus, was the last Priestess of the Temple (yes, that's the Temple in Jerusalem, the second one, you know, the one that there's one wall left of, and al-Aqsa built on top), and Mary Magdalene, wife of Jesus, was raised to be a priestess, and ya know, they killed Jesus to end the matriarchal Goddess cult that apparently survived right up until that point and then just fell in like a house of cards. Someone has read The Moon Beneath Her Feet too many times, and well, OMG as the vilde chayas say.

Anyway, as I am sifting through this chaos and confusion, I find a link to www.sgulah.com. This is an interesting little site, which entertains me no end. Sgulah, you see, is a new spiritual movement. Its goal is to re-win the Grace of Kabbalah (I think she may be related to a fabulous waitress some friends of mine used to call The Amazing Grace of Dunkin' Donuts) lost in a very successful attempt of mass production.

I guess this is a jab at the Kabbalah Centers, although this website sells such great Sgulah accessories as $500.00 Shabbos candlesticks, (silver, which enhances the energy of Shabbat with the energy of Hesed.), $200.00 keys--the Large Key of Prosperity or the Small Key of Luck, your choice, and a $380.00 mezuzah--they recommend that each house should have two.

But anyway, on the front page, they're selling some new book of theirs, and they pitch it like this: A book is a book is a book, right? Not exactly! A book in Hebrew is SEPHER. If you are a spy and want to send me a message that nobody else can understand, you will use a special code or a so-called CIPHER. The word CIPHER comes from the Hebrew word SEPHER, meaning a book.

Now isn't that fascinating? The problem is that I have a copy of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and I go to this source to learn that the source of the word "cipher" is actually the Arabic "sifr", which means "zero". To cipher, in the old sense, is to do arithmetic--math with Arabic numerals, using the zero, rather than the Latin system with no zero. Now that really is fascinating.

And as I muse over Roseanne's fascinating version of history in which a Cohenet Gdolah distributed the words of the Goddess to the people of Jerusalem until the last generation of BCE, I am reminded of an article by Rabbi Gershon Winkler in which he asserts that Jewish women had an equal role in Jewish society, until in Europe (but not in the Middle East or North Africa), in the Middle Ages, Jews began to remove "their women" from public roles to prevent them from being burned as witches.

So why am I nattering about these things? Because when I was in college, I was surrounded by people who were attracted to things like this--secrets, and ancient history of women's power--and I would always be the one who said "OK, but is that true?"

It's not true that the Virgin Mary was a priestess in the Second Temple. It's not true that gender inequity was only acquired by Jews from Europeans. It's not true that "cipher" is derived from "sepher". And I think it is important to know that these things, if only so that those things that are truly fascinating and real about history and language keep their beauty and importance.

So what about midrash? I had a moment with one of my colleagues at work, in the religion department, who told me that Origen (father of the Church) interprets the lines in the Shir haShirim about the woman's navel being a cup of wine, and her belly a heap of wheat as an image of the Eucharist. "Oh, that's a beautiful midrash," said the Balabusta, enraptured. "There's NO textual evidence for it," says the coworker, crankily. But there's not SUPPOSED to be evidence for it. It's poetry. It's interpretation. It's symbolic truth. It's not an assertion that Christianity was secretly practiced in Solomon's day. This, by me, is different than creating a secret history that you make up and then insist is true, against all evidence.

I've been watching a lot of Bones reruns, and while I am not in the least like Dr. Temperance Brennan, I understand her insistence on scientific truth. I am not a scientist, but I am an historian at heart. I believe in finding out the truth, so far as we can know it. I believe in honoring the real experience and thought of those who came before us, even if we may do and believe differently. "Truthiness" is not a basis for religion.