Saturday, December 31, 2011


Well, it's that time of year, and I am embarking on a diet.

It has to happen. For a number of reasons it has to happen. But I am not happy about it. Back pain and recurrent tendonitis is going to make it hard to make exercise a part of this. It ain't gonna be fun.

I'll keep you all informed.

In more cheerful resolutions, I plan to make this the year that I learn Hebrew as a speaking language, rather than a reading-Tanach language.

I'll also keep you all informed about that.

And writing. Lots and lots of writing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chanukah: Not a Commodity

My own personal war on Christmas was posted to Facebook by a friend of mine who seems to find it funny. I tried, and failed, and I don't think it's entirely due to my general hostility toward the Daily Kos.

No. It just falls flat. What's more, it feels like appropriation of the most unconscious sort--using Chanukah as some sort of shorthand for "Oh, wow, I know that not everyone is a Christian, I'm kind of amazing. Many Gentiles are not as hip and cool as me. I live on the West Coast."

I wanted to like this, if only for the sake this snippet: But what really concerns me? In a couple of nights, that strange candelabra is going to be completely full. I have no idea what's going to happen the night after that. It's almost like a countdown of sorts. I think the storm is coming. And I'm afraid.

That actually made me laugh out loud. But the jab about 'our special relationship with Israel' spoiled it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Beannachtaí an tSéasúir

Blessings of the season to all of my readers!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Houses of Hogwarts

This child is being steretyped before school even begins.

A remarkable number of people in the world today can readily tell you what house they would belong to at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. One of the core organizing principles of Harry Potter's alma mater is the 'sorting' of students into four houses, generally distinguished by the characteristics the students in each are supposed to exemplify.*

Identifying oneself as a Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff may be highly amusing for an adult who wishes to knit a Quidditch scarf, but it's one of the worst pedagogical ideas I've ever heard. In the highly unlikely event that I am ever tapped to fill the shoes of such luminaries as Phyllida Spore, Newton Scamander and Albus Dumbledore--should I ever, in short, become Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, I plan to dismantle the entire system.** The Sorting Hat will be going to a museum. Students will be assigned to their house by a random system modified to avoid any child attending the house his parents were in.

First off, there is this business of entrusting the placement of these ickle Firsties to the Sorting Hat. Exactly what the Sorting Hat's degree of sentience is isn't clear. It was supposedly enchanted by Godric Gryffindor, the founder of Gryffindor House, and may be the rough magical equivalent of the sorting quizzes now found online, where a handful of leading questions about your personality and preferences will place you in one group or another. Worse, I suspect from its conversation with Harry that it is essentially placing children where they think they belong, in the house their parents were in, or the one that appeals to them most.

However, even if the hat is gifted with more insight than I give it credit for, as an educator, I find the system problematic the extreme. The houses live together, eat together, play only with one another on sports teams, and attend classes in groups. They are able to speak to people in other houses, and make friends across house lines, but their grouping controls a great deal of who they will spend time with during their formative years at Hogwarts. And they're being put with people who are just like them.

Think about this. There is no roommate from whom a Ravenclaw can learn that a B on a test does not mean the world is ending. There is no one to suggest to a Hufflepuff that a leadership position might suit them after all. There's certainly no one to say 'perhaps you're going to develop into a different sort of person than you thought'. Everyone has been typecast at the door by the Sorting Hat, and they're going to STAY typecast, because at Hogwarts, who you are in the sixth grade is who you're going to be for the rest of your life.

The problem with the house system at Hogwarts becomes clearest, though, looking at the situation in Slytherin. Slytherin's defining characteristic is supposedly ambition ("by that sin fell the angels", ya know), but students from all the houses demonstrate ambition, and aiming high is considered a fairly ordinary thing at a school which educates the elite of the wizarding world. I'd add, as well, that the Slytherins we see generally don't appear to be particularly cunning or 'ambitious'. Mostly, with the exception of the unfortunate Draco Malfoy, who does his best to imitate his father's style, they seem be dimwitted bullies, or sullen spiteful types. They may be suck-ups, but they're not very charming suck-ups.

I don't know how Salazar Slytherin's early plan of teaching only ambitious pure-bloods used to work out, but by the time of the Harry Potter books, the house has become a dumping ground for children already at risk of going rotten. They are evidently mostly students who are from homes where their parents also went through Hogwarts in Slytherin, and they are disproportionately the children of Death Eaters, and those who sympathize with them. They are also likely to be from families preoccupied with the purity of their wizarding blood, and bigoted against mixed-blood and Muggle-born wizards and witches.

Socially speaking, taking all of these children and concentrating them in a single house together is a recipe for disaster. Students at Hogwarts are encouraged to take their identity from their house, and show loyalty to it. This is problematic in the other houses, for all the reasons identified above, but in Slytherin it it is simply tragic. Rather than seeing that there is a broader world, in which blood is unimportant, and Voldemort, far from being a hero, is a murderer of other people's parents, in which people cooperate as well as compete, the Slytherins are put in a setting where everything they have been taught at home is reinforced.

It's not surprising that 'there isn't a witch or wizard that went bad that wasn't in Slytherin', and a fair amount of the blame for that needs to go to Hogwarts' ridiculous system of sorting into houses. Given how long this has been going on for, the reign of the Sorting Hat could, in fact, be considered a significant factor in the rise of Voldemort and the continued loyalty of the Death Eaters over a generation.

It is an AWFUL idea, and in the final pages of the series, you see the process beginning all over again. Oh, sure, Harry assures his son that Slytherin isn't so bad as all that, invoking poor old Snape's name (Snape, another victim of Slytherin BTW), but you know the damn sorting hat is going to read little Albie's deepest wishes and yell "GRYFFINDOR", while little Scorpius goes to Slytherin, and it will all start all over again.


*For those of you who live under rocks, I shall quickly sum up: Gryffindor, associated with courage and 'best foot forward' heroics, house attended by Harry and his closest friends; Ravenclaw, associated with brainyness and intellectual focus; Slytherin, officially associated with 'cunning' and 'ambition', and unofficially with magical facism; and Hufflepuff...God knows. OK, Hufflepuffs are supposed to be diligent, fair and loyal, but despite her best efforts, Rowling manages to make this sound like something of a curse. The Hufflepuffs are described in one poem about the houses as 'all the rest', which pretty much says it all.

**Those of you who are appalled by this should not worry too much. I've applied for the Defense Against The Dark Arts position for three years running and have never gotten so much as a 'we will keep your resume for future reference' e-mail back.***

***Since Defense Against The Dark Arts appears to be offered in every year, why is there only one teacher covering it in any given year at Hogwarts? Prepping seven classes is cruel and inhuman. I'm not sure they'd keep anyone longer than a year even if circumstances didn't keep intervening.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Romeo AND Juliet

When I was teaching Shakespeare to ninth graders I always wanted to show them this song.

The problem is that if they'd seen this, they might have wanted to see the REST of "Reefer Madness: The Musical". Which would not have been good for parent-teacher relations.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Welcome to the Food Desert--Do You Know Where You Are?

OK, so, you say, "Balabusta, you're being ridiculous. El Cerrito is not a food desert."

This is true. We are not, by any stretch, 'a poor urban area where residents cannot access nourishing food', or whatever the formal definition is. We're not even a mile from the nearest giant supermarket. I know all of this. But I'm still in kind of a bind, because the Safeway closed.

The Safeway was two blocks from our house, and it was extremely convenient, and then they closed it. Our current sources of food are:

1. The new Safeway, which is gigantic and beautiful, and only three-quarters of a mile north of us.

2. The Lucky's and Trader Joe's at the Plaza, once again, a little less than a mile to the south of us.

3. Giovanni's, the adorable little family-owned place, about half a mile from the house.

No problem, except that we still have no working vehicle. So, taking the bus to the store, or walking, taking the bus back, or lugging, or going to Giovanni's which has cheap, gorgeous local produce, but prices everything else through the roof. Perfection.

We're going to order delivery from Safeway, and just do the best we can...but this is reminding me once again that I'm going on a decade of being determined to get a car and learn to drive, or maybe vice versa.

I feel a fool for not having done this, but there things going on, and also financial problems all along. But something's got to give. I cannot live carless in the burbs, and I can't afford to move back into San Francisco. So there it is.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Getting ready for Monday

On Monday, my new pair of classes start. I'm taking Psychopathology and Counseling Children. I'm hoping for an interesting session.

I'm still waiting on a financial aid check, eight months after enrolling in this program. I think we're almost there, which is good, because, ladies and gentlemen, I am beyond flat broke. I though, I swear, that it was a good idea to enroll in school when I escaped from the soul-killing job from hell because I figured a little financial aid would see us through.

That was eight months ago, so far not a penny.


I like being in school, but I still need a job, and I'm having trouble finding one. I've passed up a couple of possibilities--not job offers, but things I could have pursued further--simply because I could tell that it was not going to be a good situation. I am still emotionally raw and bleeding from the fall, and I am NOT going to put myself back in a situation like that again.

I'm trying to take this slow.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Retrieving the Madonna

I got Basya to go and get the statue of the Virgin back out of my old classroom for me. Yes, this was nutty as hell, but it had to happen.

Brief explanation: last year, a friend was kind enough to make me a long-term loan of a statue of Mary from his late mother's collection of such things, to put into my classroom. I installed her lovingly, imagining all kinds of things that did not happen, because as you may recall, this past fall was a nightmare from hell.

When I bailed, I left her there, mostly because it felt weird to take her out of the classroom in the middle of the year. But as this summer wore to an end, I knew I had to get the statue back.

Why? Well, I've been freaking out again about that last job, and how it ended. I am dreaming about it, and thinking about it, and generally not in such a good place, emotionally. I felt that I'd already given that school plenty, and this particular beautiful thing wasn't going to be a part of it.

Problem was, in my present mental state, I didn't dare set foot inside the damn building. So I called on Basya, my bridesmaid and general mainstay of existence, and because she is awesome, she came over and collected Mary from the office at St. Attracta's.

Basya ended up spending the night, due to the 580 being closed, and today we went to Target to get her some camping gear. We're walking along, me and Basya and the Husband, and lo and behold, who do I see coming but the Mom From Hell, my worst parent from this fall, and her darling boy.

There was a long sort of pass by when I couldn't figure out if they were going to recognize me at all, and then we spotted each other, and I smiled, and was gracious. She smiled, but when I said, "Well, fancy meeting you here?" she kept going, and then said, "What?"

And then I had to steer the whole party around to avoid running into them again, in school supplies.

I want St. Attracta's out of my life and out of my system, and it's not easy. I feel wrong in my skin these days, too apologetic, and too tentative for a woman in her late thirties. I feel as though I've failed, and should apologize for everything, all the time, at least until I have a job where I'm succeeding at such a high level that even I can't find fault with myself--a situation which is probably impossible, so maybe I should find an alternate route right now.

This last fall messed me up. This coming fall had better be better.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Harriet Sherwood and the Russians

Remember Harriet Sherwood? The one with the felafel issues? She's back, and over at CIF, they're commenting on a piece she wrote for the Guardian about how the Russians are ruining Israel.

CIF points out, correctly, that Sherwood and her readers would probably be infuriated (and rightly so, in my eyes) at a journalist who broadly slurred a group of immigrants to Britain as damaging the country. Indeed, I've spent some time online myself, since the London riots, dealing with people who blame the whole thing on the West Indians, or the Muslims, or...well, mostly one of those two.

Yet, Harriet Sherwood – the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, who, no doubt, fancies herself a multiculturalist who is free of such narrow-minded anti-immigrant bias – saw fit in her most recent post, “Israel’s former Soviet immigrants transform adopted country“, Aug. 17, to blame Israeli immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU) for moving the country in a dangerous direction.

Sherwood’s piece blames “The million-plus citizens of the former Soviet Union who immigrated to Israel in the past 20 years” for causing a housing crisis, being resistant to integrating into Israeli society, and bringing with them Russian political values inconsistent with democracy, tolerance and compromise.

Now, just imagine if something similar was written about the injurious effects of immigration to the UK on traditional British culture, and substitute the word “Muslims” for “Russians” to get a sense of the supreme moral hypocrisy at play here.

Luckily, we get a rejoinder, from Anastasia Couzminski, one of those unintegrated Russians, who has this to say:

Hello CiF watch,

As a regular reader of your blog and one of those annoying Russians that “integrated little” in Israel, I couldn’t let this article pass. This is personal.

I am beyond furious at [Harriet Sherwood's] article!

[What she says about Russians] couldn’t be any farther from the truth.

As an immigrant who’s been living here most of my life, I consider myself to be 110% ISRAELI and not Russian or Kazakh (I was born in the republic of Kazakhstan).

My mother is Jewish but I have many friends whose mother are in fact non-Jewish but are similarly supremely dedicated to this country.

It is absolute rubbish that immigrants integrated little and live mostly in “Russian enclaves”.

Many such “unintegrated Russians” are married to “Sabras” (Israelis who were born in Israel), give their kids Israeli names and many even refuse to speak Russian anymore.

This LIE [regarding the] lack of integration is evident everywhere.

I, as with most of the “unintegrated Russians”, have served in the army and, in fact, many of these “unintegrated Russian” young men go to become fighters and officers in the army and fight and DIE side by side with Israel-born soldiers!

We study all together in schools and universities and despite there being “Russian” hang-out places, it is SIMPLY NOT TRUE that [non-Russian] Israelis are NOT wanted there. The FIB that Russians created a housing problem is [also simply not true]. Russians did not come to parasite on this country. They finished “Ulpan” (Hebrew classes for immigrants) and right away began searching for jobs. They can now be found in every single workplace including hospitals, courts, and the media (NOT ONLY Russian media).

The fact that Harriet Sherwood makes a point of singling out Russians is a total double standard. And the following quote by the Russian-hating Israeli journalist, whom [Sherwood] must have had to dig out from some very dark place, which claims “…alienation between Russian immigrants and native-born Israelis [exist because] there is not much social interaction” is also simply not true.

Most of my friends are Israelis, many of my friends are married to Israelis, we party, travel and do everything together! And the older generation is the same.

In short, [Sherwood] evidently didn’t have anything to report about and found, in the much maligned Russian community, a convenient target and scapegoat.



Watching anti-Israel writers deal with the phenomenon of immigration to Israel from the FSU has been rather interesting. They see them as a single group, of course, and the information that not all of the Russians are Ashkenazi, or from Russia, often appears to baffle them. (Jews from Kazhakstan? Huh?) Mostly, though, they appreciate the Russians, even as they bash them, because the Russian olim reinforce what the anti-Israel crowd wants to see, in their own minds, that is. They see the Russians as 'white', and 'intolerant' because of their Soviet background. (Odd, from people who insisted, while it was still standing, that the USSR was a bastion of tolerance.) This saves them, once again, from having to examine the multicultural nature of Israeli society, or from examining other groups in the country too closely. The Mizrahim and Sephardim from Arab countries are a particular problem for the anti-Israel pundit, one they generally solve by being terribly concerned about racism within Israeli society, but not actually giving a damn about the opinions or political leanings of these poor, poor props of theirs.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Hours of Entertainment

The husband and I are petsitting for some friends (yes, this is the pair with the whippets that almost derailed our wedding four years ago. Since then they have acquired a cat as well.)

On the way back from lunch today, we stopped at a supermarket on the way to get cold drinks. Said supermarket turned out to be a delightful mix of Asian and Latino goods, to suit the neighborhood, which allowed us to wander through examining the wonderful things with wonderful packaging that you find on the shelves of a big Asian grocery store.

The coconut cubes, we learned, were 'fibrous', and promised 'hours of entertainment' as you ate them. There were TWO flavors of Hello Kitty soda. I bought some chestnuts that were 'roast with sugar and skin peeling off', and we bought some Sriracha sauce cheap.

The holy candles section, however, was a bit unnerving--there were some few standards, like San Jose and San Martin...also a giant selection dedicated to Santisima Muerte, and a section devoted to Jesus Malverde. And a lot of 'Law Stay Away', and 'Control' candles. Not my idea of a nice neighborhood's candle selection.

The food choices, though...awesome. Plus, they had the McCormick White Chicken Chili spice mix, which I have been trying to find for ages. Bought five packs.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Right To Make And Eat Felafel

Over at Anne's Opinions, she's tearing up Guardian Israel correspondent Harriet Sherwood. Most of the piece is about coverage of the new anti-BDS legislation, but she added something else that caught my Jewish foodie eye. Anne writes:

In a similar, and totally related, development, Harriet Sherwood reports on McDonald’s withdrawing its McFalafel from Israeli restaurants due to its unpopularity.

So far so tasty.

Then she scrambles her omelette by adding in this nasty little aside right at the end:

"Falafel is thought to have originated in Egypt, although Israel now claims it as a national dish."

Oh! Those thieving Israelis! Not only content to steal other people’s land, now they go and steal other people’s foods! They can claim it as their national dish but we liberal-minded people know better.

Once again Sherwood betrays her bias by inserting an unrelated dig at Israel.

May she stew in her own falafel oil.

This sort of tripe is not uncommon with anti-Zionist types. Assuming as they do that Israelis plopped into the Middle East like Martians from outer space, they are constantly on the lookout for examples of appropriated Middle Eastern foods and such, in order to better define Israelis as fundamentally inauthentic and nonindigenous. I thought I should add a note at Anne's blog, reproduced below:

Lemme ‘splain, Harriet. In 1948, Egypt had 75,000 Jews. Currently, it has less than a hundred. Most of those people headed to Israel, after state persecution and confiscation of their property. In 1956, the Minister of Religious affairs announced that ‘all Jews are Zionists and enemies of the state’, and promised to expel them. Almost no one managed to stay after the 1967 war.

In Israel, these fine people continued to make felafel, and along with other Jews from the region popularized it with the multicultural population of the new nation.

Now, of course, not only is their right of return to Egypt not a potent talking point with left-wing pundits, but even their right to make and eat felafel is apparently up for grabs.


Where We Stop, Nobody Knows

This morning I interviewed over the phone for a job--teaching English in Oakland. I answered questions, and asked questions, and then I asked "What is your hiring plan?"

"We do this interview," the lady explained, "and then I'll observe some teaching, either in the classroom or on videotape. Then we'll be ready to hire."

"OK," I said. "I hope to hear from you..."

"No, you don't understand," she said. "I would like to see you teach."

I told her I'd get back to her.

I am not sure I can teach this fall. I'm not sure I can NOT teach this fall. I'm trying to stay calm about this. But given that I have now completed SEVEN MONTHS without getting any financial aid, or having a job beside this summer-school teaching gig that nearly sent me tumbling back into depression, making a living is getting scarier and scarier.

This is complicated.

Hard subjects

 The Jewish blogosphere has been dealing in a variety of ways with the news of the murder of 8-year-old Leibby Kletsky, who was killed in Boro Park after asking a man from the neighborhood for directions.

This article by Shmuley Boteach has been reprinted in a variety of sources, from the Jerusalem Post to The Algemeiner. And it is bothering me.

I don't want to be critical, even of Shmuley Boteach, at a time like this, but between utter disavowals of the alleged killer's humanity (which, frankly, I'm OK with), he seems to be saying that Hasidim choose to live in Hasidic neighborhoods in part to keep their children safe from the corruption of the world, and it is beyond him how this could have happened, in a neighborhood meant to protect children.

I don't know either, but I do know that no one raises their child in a neighborhood that they pick to expose their children to corruption. No one decides to move to a neighborhood they think might contain an average number of insane criminals. Everyone, to the best of their ability, tries to keep their children safe. And I know that I've read many accounts of similar crimes where people expressed shock that a child would be harmed or murdered in a community where people knew one another, and looked out for each other's kids.

He writes: I said the third reason why religious Jews live together is to protect their children from corrosive influences, to filter out elements of the popular culture and the media which are unhealthy for a child’s development. My God, given that’s the case, how do we make sense of a child being killed in a neighborhood set up to protect children? 

There's an odd sense for me that he simply can't make the necessary distinction here. "Corrosive influences" have nothing to do with psychotic murder. Neither do popular culture, or unhealthy media. Somehow he can't seem to understand that we're dealing with two entirely different things here. On the one hand, aspects of society that one can choose to allow or exclude in your child's life; on the other, pure evil that strikes like lightning.

I know it's different when it happens to people you identify with it. Hell, this one is different for me. Something like this happening in Boro Park is horrifying. My heart bleeds, and I cannot imagine how this must hurt not only family and friends, but the whole community. It hurts me. But something in this column, disjointed as it is, bugs me. A lot. It feels different when a child from a familiar, frum, community is murdered. I understand that. I'm not sure that Rabbi Boteach understands that it is not different, not if you're a grieving community of any religion, urban, suburban or rural, anywhere. Psychopaths come from all walks of life.

One question Boteach raises, I think there may be an answer to--he's baffled that rather than being abducted, the child seems to have walked up to the killer, who took advantage of the spur-of-the-moment opportunity. Failed Messiah says that the Shomrim had some information that the accused was stalking another boy in the community. I suspect that he'd been building himself up to something like this, and either frustrated by failure or overwhelmed by a sudden opening, he took the chance.

I suspect I'm so annoyed with Shmuley because I'm so stunned and saddened by this horror, and Shmuley pushes my buttons almost without fail. May this child's family, and all who mourn for him be comforted. I'm going to shut up now.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

From Alice Walker, On Her Latest Star Turn

A portion of Alice Walker's latest arrogant and ahistorical screed, blogged from Greece: Emphasis is mine.

I have never believed in the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. Whenever I saw the men gathering to talk about peace I was reminded of what the Indians said to the white colonizers of America who came to talk peace with them: ” Where are your women?”

This would make slightly more sense if the Palestinians, whom Alice clearly casts in the role of the Indians, had a tradition of including women in political negotiations. As it is, we have here two traditionally patriarchal groups, and while including the ladies might be an excellent idea, one feels that here the example is used simply to get those Indians in there somehow.

An occasional woman has appeared to take part in the talks, but overwhelmingly the process has been male driven. I like to think if women, in equal numbers to men, had been at the table things might not have turned out so badly. But perhaps, recalling the disrespectful young Israeli women at the check-points, this is naive. 

Israeli women aren't the right kind of women, anyway. 

In any case, it is when one sees the Israeli settlements, after hearing about them for decades, that the final “Aha” moment arrives. They are colossal, and, like the wall, they are everywhere. It is obvious, looking at them, gigantic, solid, white and towering, that they have been constructed to completely devour the rest of Palestine, and that the peace talks have been a ruse to continue their growth so that Jewish Israelis can claim the land by possession alone. Possession is nine-tenths of the law is one of the dictums I learned from my Jewish lawyer former husband. This belief might even be enshrined in the Torah. In any case it is a very old idea, and Israelis have made good use of it.

So, we a. don't need to worry about the peace talks, because the Israelis don't want peace anyway, and b. her Jewish lawyer former husband, apparently the origin of her nasty streak of anti-Semitism, pops up again. Brief note: "Possession is nine-tenths of the law" is not 'enshrined in the Torah", as Alice could very easily have found out by Googling it, or asking someone with even a slight knowledge of the text. The ugliness of that slap is matched only by the ignorance.

Dispossessed of land and houses, poverty stricken, refugees in their own country since the catastrophe of 1948, when Zionist terrorists drove them from their villages, towns and cities, Palestinian laborers have been forced to build these settlements for the Israeli settlers and, having built them, are rarely permitted inside them, except to service them. This is similar to our own history, in America: the genocide and enslavement of Native people, and the forced black and Indian labor that built so much of America, including The White House. Sometimes one wonders if this greed that devours the very substance of other human beings is part of human DNA. I don’t think it is; and, in any case, I hope not!

And, as usual, one doesn't even know where to begin with this tumble of lies, half-truths, and determined editing of history. Really, it's a mistake to even start trying to undo Alice's tangle of deceit. Elsewhere in the piece, she's still going on about "Jewish-only roads".

Bleah. This nonsense could scramble your brains.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Our Queer Family In Palestine

No, this is not a follow-up to 'Our Mutual Friend', written by some edgy experimental heir to Charles Dickens. It's a phrase taken from a flyer distributed by Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (yes, that's really their name), at a demonstration in front of the Castro Theater on Friday.

Why was QUIT protesting at the Castro Theater? I'll let them try to explain that themselves:

 In case you cannot read it, the cute little pink umbrella says "Israeli pinkwashing does not make me wet!". 'Pinkwashing', a term shamelessly stolen from breast cancer activists, is the new hip term in the BDS movement, for 'mentioning that Israel has a sterling human rights record on LGBT issues'. This is so true that they can't stand it, and must create little derogatory terms suggesting that allowing same-sex partners adoption rights, sending transgendered Israelis to represent the country at major music festivals, and acknowledging same-sex marriage from out of the country are all things Israelis have done simply to change the subject, and try to cover up their unspeakable evil.

Hey, we're not here to ruin anyone's good time, the flyer continues. We just want the same freedom to go out and have fun for all queers. But our queer family in Palestine doesn't have it. Many of them live under military occupation, and all of them live under a rigid system of discrimination and segregation very similar to apartheid South Africa.

This is the passage that makes me consider this otherwise fairly innocuous flyer perhaps the most chutzpahdik piece of writing that I've ever seen in a world full of terrible lies about Israel. Even coming from QUIT, this is a remarkable piece of chicanery. The deception comes in two layers. First is the expected one, which involves  throwing out words like 'military occupation', 'segregation' and 'apartheid', mischaracterizing and spinning the situation of Palestinians living under their own governments in disputed territories.

Second, however, is an almost breathtaking lie of omission. Apparently, you see, the reason our 'queer family in Palestine' is not getting to go out and have a fun day at the Palestinian Gay and Lesbian Film Festival*, is because of the Israelis.

Not because sex between men is a criminal act in Gaza. Not because there is no legislation either by the PA or Hamas to protect gay and lesbian Palestinians. Not because government-sanctioned and enacted violence against LGBT Palestinians is common in both the West Bank and Gaza. Not because gay Palestinians are routinely accused of being collaborators with Israel, a charge that carries the death penalty. Not because gay Palestinians have been pressured into becoming suicide bombers to expiate their shame. Not because in order to live as an out gay man and survive, many young men have made their way illegally into Israel, the luckier ones finding support and shelter within the gay community there.

No, it's not because of this nightmare of socially sanctioned hate and violence against queers of all stripes that 'our queer family in Palestine' isn't having a lovely time marching in the Ramallah Pride Parade*. It's because of Israel.

QUIT's website and print propaganda contains no mention whatsoever of any sort of oppression of LGBT Palestinians by anyone except the ever-convenient Israelis.

They clearly believe that mention the LGBT Palestinians dead at the hand of the PA police, murdered by their own families, or living on the street in Tel Aviv, trying to stay alive and find a place to belong, would be too morally complex and inconvenient to their narrative.

They are betraying those they pretend to claim as family.

*The Palestinian Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the Ramallah Pride Parade do not exist, except in the blogger's overactive imagination. May they someday exist, in a region filled with peace.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Guten Shabbos

A very very young Ofra Haza sings "Shabat ha-Malka".

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Video from Israel In The Gardens

Courtesy of the Younger of Zion. Be sure to watch or forward to the very end--that's when the littlest 100% Palestinian bear got picked up and carried off to bed.

Israel in the Gardens, 2011--Release Your Inner Camel

The inflatable camel was with Hillel, and I took a picture of it because it said 'Release your inner camel' on the side of it, and I had never considered having an 'inner camel' before. Also, the camel is a Bactrian. Middle Eastern camels are dromedaries. I discussed this with the Hillel guy, who explained that this was the only inflatable camel on the market. We agreed that it was a Bactrian that had made aliyah.

Welcome to Israel in the Gardens, 2011, a cultural fair featuring Israeli rock, face painting, kids making spice blends, folks selling earrings, and approximately a bazillion people in line for The Flying Felafel. Targeted for hate and protest by Bay Area Women In Black and their peace-loving friends. Let the good times roll!

We, the Mighty Morphin' Zionist Defenders were ready to go. We had t-shirts. We had flags. We had Caterpillar hats. We had khaffiyot yisraelit. We were ready to go. All we lacked was a dance partner.

Here is a lady being wanded, prior to entering the event. I've been to a lot of cultural fairs in my day. Let's just say that at the Scottish Games in Santa Rosa they don't wand you and search your bag when you come in. Same way they don't have security guards outside First Methodist on Christmas Day, but they do for Rosh Hashanah services. But I am grateful for our excellent security teams, because while needing them sucks, needing and not having would suck much more.

Anyway, our dance partners began to arrive...

 BAWIB is always punctual, dreary, and carrying signs that are correctly spelled, although not always fact-checked.

They had great shopping malls in the Warsaw Ghetto, I remember reading about that. Or perhaps what we have here is sheer denial of reality, combined with the pathetic belief that invoking the Holocaust will make the actual situation on the ground irrelevant.

Meanwhile, things were going nicely on the other side of the barricades:

Happy Zionists with a banner


Our waltz with BAWIB was coming to a close. As I've mentioned, BAWIB is quite punctual. If they say noon to one, they show up at noon and leave on the stroke of one. We were not going to be left without dance partners, however. The replacement shift was already getting ready across the plaza, and they were working on...something.

What it was wasn't entirely clear. At this stage it consisted mostly of red and black balloons. They began to add green ones, but were having trouble controlling them. An occasional balloon drifted up to the sky.

As BAWIB marched off into the distance, the first members of the replacement shift arrived. Younger. More excitable. Bearing flags and signs printed by International A.N.S.W.E.R.
Perhaps it's just as well they had the signs printed by A.N.S.W.E.R., since it turns out that they can't spell very well. One would almost think these people were members of the Tea Party.

I couldn't get a clear shot of this man's sign, but it reads "Israel: 63 Yrs. of Ethnic Cleansing & APATHEID". The all-caps was important, but apparently the evil West Bank settlers stole the R.

"Paletinian Ethnic Cleansing". What, is spellcheck a Zionist conspiracy? Don't they PROOFREAD these things? (BAWIB may be hateful, but their signs are always spelled correctly.)

Sadly, the third example of spelling issues that I wanted to post did not come out legibly in the photos. The young man below and one of his friends were both wearing jackets with photographs printed on the back, and a heading accusing "Isreal" of horrible crimes.

By this time there were quite a lot of people in their little area in the street, yelling and screaming. What were they yelling a screaming? I'm glad you asked. They were yelling and screaming "Intifada, intifada, we support the intifada." They were shouting "Falastin Arabiye!" (Palestine is Arab). They were shrieking "From the river to the sea! From the river to the sea!" And they were screeching "Ba ruh, ba dam, nafdeek ya Falastin." (With spirit and blood we will cleans you, Palestine.) And the old crowd favorite "Khaybar, khaybar ya yahud, jaysh Muhammad saya'ud." (Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of Mohammed will return.) You know. Peaceful slogans like that.

And then the piece de resistance showed up. You will recall the mysterious balloon item mentioned earlier? Well, this is what it looked like fully assembled.

In case you can't tell, I am pretty sure it was supposed to be a Palestinian flag. It didn't turn out perfectly, but heck, who am I to judge? My side didn't have any balloons at all. We were struck into silence by the sheer threatening force of all those balloons. For a couple of seconds. Then the Israeli guys behind me started screaming, "Balloons! Balloons! Ooooh, can I have a balloon? I want a balloon!"

More yelling. Several people gave us the finger. And then, as the SFPD became politely insistent, the group took their balloons and their signs and their whistle and bullhorns and moved across the street, ultimately leaving behind two young men who wanted to act out. They acted out. They chanted. One of them pulled up his sleeves to show us that he had the words "100% Palestinian" tattooed on his forearms.

It was as this point that the most wonderful thing I had seen all day, inflatable camels included, happened. A young woman detatched from the crew across the street, came back, and grabbed one of the young men (the one shown above), and pushed him in the right direction. The other guy wasn't moving, so she wrapped her ams under his, and hoisted him off his feet.

The cheering from our side (also the hooting) was deafening, and for a moment I thought the young woman was going to put him down and come back to the barricades to yell at us, but she gritted her teeth and carted him off, over the center divider, and across the street.

My inner camel felt good about the whole thing.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Great Hatred, Little Room

Spent today at San Francisco's Israel in the Gardens Independence Day celebration. A lot happened, and I will be blogging about it, and posting pictures (I hope).

While we were there, my father had a conversation with an Irish woman, there to protest Israel's independence. She said the situation in the Middle East was just like the Troubles, and Mr. Bluejeans Sr. told her that Hamas was the Real IRA, the Provos, the UVF and Ian Paisley rolled into one. She said, "I don't support Hamas", while standing next to people who unabashedly do.

Anyway, summoned by my own random associations, the poem started up in my head, and would not leave, because Yeats could put his finger on it sometimes. Something for me to think about as I sort through the day. This is by William Butler Yeats, who could be a bit of a pretentious eejit, really, but the gift was from God. I had always thought this piece was called "Fanatic Heart", like the Black 47 piece that's based on it in part, but it's actually

Remorse For Intemperate Speech

I ranted to the knave and fool,
But outgrew that school,
Would transform the part,
Fit audience found, but cannot rule
My fanatic heart.
I sought my betters: though in each
Fine manners, liberal speech,
Turn hatred into sport,
Nothing said or done can reach
My fanatic heart,
Out of Ireland have we come.
Great hatred, little room,
Maimed us at the start.
I carry from my mother's womb
A fanatic heart.

I suppose this may sound a bit mournful; it's Yeats, after all. I'm actually in a very good mood tonight. But it fit, so there it is.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Mafroum follow-up

The mafroum turned out decently--at least I think so. One difficulty with this dish for me is that I've never eaten one before, so I'm guessing about what it's supposed to taste like.

Notes for future ones:

1. Beef is probably better, but the turkey turned out OK. The spice mix in the turkey tastes a little overdone to me. I don't know if this because the mix is geared to a more flavored meat, or because I threw in too much pepper 'to taste', or because my taste buds aren't geared for authenticity. It's not bad, just a bit hot and sweet for my overall taste.

2. The potatoes and the vegetables come out amazingly flavorful and lovely.

3. A liter of stock is simply too much, and didn't reduce nearly as much as I'd imagined. Perhaps half or two-thirds of that amount next time. Once the mafroum are eaten, I'm going to have the makings for soup.

4. The baharat is delicious. I've never cooked with it before. NICE.

5. I can hear generations of little old Tunisian ladies gasping in unison, but I'm not sure that stuffing the damn potatoes is necessary. Meatballs and quartered potatoes, slow-cooked the same way would work fine for my lazy modern behind.

I'm Guest Posting!

Hey! Check it out! Over at Anarchzionist's place, the Balabusta rants about circumcision bans and cartooning bigots.

Mafroum, Mark One

Today, the Balabusta is trying her hand at mafroum.

Mafroum is a Jewish dish from North Africa, featuring ground seasoned meat stuffed into potatoes and then simmered to tenderness in a tomatoey sauce. It's one of those dishes that are descended from the grand Persian court cooking of the high Middle Ages, and that gradually evolved into a way for a woman to spend hours of her life stuffing things into vegetables and chopping other things into sauces. I discovered the recipe I'm using at Mimi's Israeli Kitchen, and I just had to try.

So far, so good. I am using ground turkey for the first attempt, mostly because it's cheaper. The meat blend is easy to put together, except for having to grate a potato.

Frying the potato is the more complicated part. You peel potatoes, cut them almost all the way through--well, in my case, all the way through most of the time, and then stuff them with the meat. Then you're meant to roll them in seasoned flour, then in beaten egg, and then fry them golden.

This is easier said than done. Let's just say that my potatoes got sort of fried, but beautiful like someone's grandma's from Tunisia they were not. Then you create the sauce, pour in some chicken broth, put the potatoes in, and let the whole thing simmer for a couple of hours.

The original recipe calls for cabbage, which I am leaving out because the Balabos hates cabbage. I am thinking that carrots or leeks might work for a future occasion.

Anway, the simmer is underway, and everything looks basically like the pictures, so we'll see how it goes. My kitchen smells nicely of baharat and onions.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The 'New Egypt' Looks A Lot Like The Old Egypt

After years of hostility, it looks as though the new Egyptian government may finally simply not allow Jewish worshippers into Egypt for a hilula at the grave of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira.

"After the January 25 revolution, which toppled over the Hosni Mubarak regime, the Jews will not be allowed to enter Demito any more and endanger the public morals and hurt the feelings of its 5,000 residents," Moustafa Rasslan, a lawyer, said.

He called on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been ruling the country since February 11, to enforce a 2001 court ruling that compelled the Culture Ministry, responsible for the site where the annual gathering takes place in late December and early January, to cancel the Abu Hasira celebrations all together.

"If the SCAF does not enforce the ruling, Damito residents will not allow the Jews come to their village to attend the week-long Abu Hasira Mulid (festival), where they used to behave in a way that contradicts Islamic traditions and public morals under the very nose of security officials of the ousted regime," he said.

Yeah, those guys up there look like a pretty raunchy bunch. Terrifying, really.

A few days after Mubarak went down, a young man yelled at me (as a representative Zionist) on the Berkeley campus that now that Egyptians were free, they were 'free to hate you'. He was, of course, quite correct. Foolish of me, I suppose, to hope that for once a people might gain freedom without attacking the Jews first thing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Speak Out For Israel At The Frameline 35 International LGBT Film Festival

The BDS drums are beating again, this time demanding that the San Francisco LGBT Film Festival refuse the Israeli consulate's sponsorship and funding. Why? Because despite the fact that Israel is the only nation in the Middle East in which it's legal to be gay, these folks have decided that's not nearly as important as their campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel.

They refer to any reference to Israel's excellent record in regard to gay and lesbian rights as 'pinkwashing'. Don't confuse them with facts! Don't think for a moment that the safety, dignity and lives of gay Middle Easterners matter even for a moment when the really important thing is destroying Israel!

This is a perfectly vile attitude, one that not only embraces an unjustifiable venom toward Israel, but privileges that hate above any love for the actual wellbeing of LGBT people. These people suck. So let's let the Film Festival know they're going to lose our presence at the Festival if they stigmatize the representatives of the Israeli government in our community.

Mr. Bluejeans Sr. offered his own proposal for a good resolution to this little brouhaha, which was to request that the representatives of the PLO at the UN in New York put up an equal amount of money for the Film Festival, and get co-billing with the Israeli consulate on the programs. Failing this, call, e-mail, and fax Frameline;

You can e-mail and
The Frameline phone number is: 415-703-8650 .
The FAX number is: 415-861-1404.

Speak out!!

Some Information on LGBT Rights in Israel

-Gays have full rights to serve in the military
-Sodomy laws were struck down in 1988
-Full civil rights for LGBT people established in 1992
-There are partner benefits for all governmental employees, including the national airline, El Al
-Partner adoption rights.
-In 2007 the State agreed to recognize same gender marriages performed abroad, similar to its recognition of other civil marriages from other countries

LGBT Pride in Israel

--Pride parades take place annually in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Eilat and Haifa. Attempts by Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious groups to stop the parades, mostly in Jerusalem have consistently been blocked by the Israeli Supreme Court.
-The first transgender person to win the Eurovision contest was Israeli Dana International in 1998 with her song, "Diva". Eurovision is watched by hundreds of millions of people through Europe, Asia and Africa.
-Openly gay singer Ivri Lidder is amongst Israel's most popular entertainers
-Openly gay movie producer Eytan Fox has become one of Israel's most important film exporters to the world, with his movies "Yossi and Jagger", Walk on Water" and "The Bubble".
-Openly gay politicians have served in the Israeli Knneset and on the city councils of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Barack Obama's Milkshake

From Phyllis Chesler at the generally alarming FrontPageMag, a question: Who Can Beat Obama?

As 2012 approaches fast, this is becoming a subject of immense interest, both to Republicans, and to people who've convinced themselves on no evidence that Barack Obama is a pro-terrorist, anti-Zionist type. It is an good question. I suspect the answer is 'no one', and that the President will smoothly take a second term, however a strong Republican candidate who can make a convincing showing on the economy might have a shot. However, Chesler has a different tack in mind. She writes:

President Obama’s election is due, in part, to the desire among many American liberals and leftists to be seen as “atoning” for the sin of racism and the crimes of slavery. The fact that Obama is bi-racial—his mother was white—matters little since he looks like an African-American. Indeed, the President’s own writing focuses on his African, Muslim roots, especially because his Kenyan father abandoned both him and his mother.

This is, patently, bullshit. American liberals and leftists were going to vote for the Democrat, especially in the absence of a viable Green candidate to distract the leftists, regardless of what color he might be. Was there some excitement about the idea of a black president? Sure. As there should have been. But to suggest that the 'in part' is significant is dishonest and silly, especially when you immediately jump to the damfool, 'He's not black, he's BIRACIAL' meme. Plus, of course,we gotta mention those Muslim roots.

This is off to a great start.

Chesler then goes on to announce that since Obama got his job through white liberal guilt, the only person who could defeat him would be--you see--a black woman, as "Only such a candidate could symbolically address the sin and crime of sexism as well as that of racism." Chesler then goes on to describe it as 'ironic' that a black woman first ran for president in 1972 (Shirley Chisholm) and then in 2004 (Carol Mosely Braun) and that neither received the nomination. I have to say that this is not 'ironic' any more than rain on Alanis Morrissette's wedding day, it might, instead, be a suggestion that being an African-American woman does not make you the shoo-in to take away the sins of the American electorate that Chesler appears to imagine. I mean, maybe you could argue that things have changed since 1972, but have the liberals and the leftists really gotten that much guiltier in the last seven years?

Leaving that aside, let's examine for a moment the reasons Chesler wants someone to beat Obama. She believes that he hates Israel. She believes that he does not acknowledge the elaborate pathology she attributes to Islam and Muslim cultures. She believes he is out to get the Jews. I think she's entirely mistaken on all of these points--but let's get back to her search for a candidate who will agree with all her foreign policy points, and yet be black and female enough to beat Obama (because God knows, being black and female has historically gotten you whatEVER you want in this country...uh...sure has...oh hell. I give up. Obama Derangement Syndrome has apparently caused Phyllis Chesler to have some sort of selective amnesia about American history.)

First, she looks to Congress.

Currently there are 31 African American men and 13 African-American women in Congress; there are no African-Americans in the Senate. In the past there have been only six such senators in American history. Currently, there are 18 women in the Senate. In all of American history a total of 39 women of all races, including the current 18, have served as Senators.

See, this, this is sort of interesting, because apparently we liberals and leftists don't vote exclusively enough for black candidates out of guilt to, say, get black Americans proportionate representation in the House of Representative, let alone the Senate. Chesler also leaves a key part of this out--of those African Americans currently serving in Congress, two of them are Republicans, and both of those Republicans are male. The rest are all Democrats. It seems unlikely that one of the black Congresswomen is going to suddenly start running for the Democratic nomination on a MORE-pro-Israel ticket against an incumbent POTUS from their own party. Call me crazy.

Phyllis Chesler knows this as well as I do, of course, because having put out a few stats on blacks in Congress, she switches tacks to this:

Given how many Americans confuse voting for the Presidency with voting for an American Idol; given how good so many Americans feel that we have “overcome” and have elected an African-American as our President; given how deep, high, and wide emotions are running in terms of racism (which trumps sexism as an issue even among establishment feminists), clearly, obviously, the next election is ripe for an African-American woman candidate. Obviously, she can be as inexperienced as President Obama was as long as she is charismatic, charming, eloquent, glamorous, and well connected to Hollywood, the media, and the academy. .

Maybe Oprah should run.

She will never run against her “guy.” Not a chance in Hell. (And I would never vote for her). But she represents the zeitgeist, what’s popular in America right now. And Obama has all the African-American hip-hop and rap artists and Hollywood stars sewn up tight. We can’t turn to them. Obama’s their “guy” too.

Oh, Lord.

Is it me, or is ODS making some people a little crazy, and making them say things that THEY THEMSELVES would easily be able to define as borderline racist under normal circumstances, those circumstances being that Barack Obama had not driven them stark raving looney-tunes?

I admired Phyllis Chesler for a long time. I read some of her work on feminism in college. I read "The New-Antisemitism" with great interest. I understand how difficult it must have been to take a strong pro-Israel stand after a lifetime in left-wing feminist academic circles.

But she's starting to sound like a nut.

Two final notes:

1. I notice that nowhere in this discussion is there direct mention of the one black woman I think might actually stand a chance as a Republican candidate for POTUS, former US SecState Condoleezza Rice. There are several reasons I can imagine for this, one of which being that Condi has made it perfectly clear for some time that she will never run. However, one has to point out that, given that Chesler's dearest wish is for a president who will meet her rather improbable foreign policy demands, we should point out that Condi, acting for the Bush administration, repeatedly criticized 'settlement expansion'. The fantasy that Obama's administration reflects any kind of a break with extant U.S. foreign policy is just that. And the idea that there is a black female politician out there who would adhere to the Chesler Plan for U.S. involvement in the Middle East, PLUS get all the liberals to vote for her out of guilt seems--fantastical.

2. Speaking of 'hop-hop and rap stars', I would totally vote for Kelis for POTUS.

My milkshake brings all the voters to the box,
And they're like,
It's better than Barack's,
Damn right, it's better than Barack's,
I could teach him, but I'd rather be elected President of the United States of America instead.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Letter To Jewish California

Read this, and respond:

Dear Jewish Community of California,

Bigotry against Jewish students has occurred on University of California campuses over many years and on many campuses. Jewish students have been subjected to: swastikas; acts of physical aggression; speakers, films and exhibits that use anti-Semitic imagery and discourse; speakers that praise and encourage support for terrorist organizations; the organized disruption of events sponsored by Jewish student groups; and most recently the promotion of student senate resolutions for divestment from Israel that seek to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish State.

Last May, more than 700 Jewish UC students signed a petition expressing outrage at anti-Jewish rhetoric and imagery on their campuses. They asserted that these incidents are as offensive and hurtful to Jewish students as a "Compton cookout" or a noose are to African American students. In addition, dozens of Jewish students from three different UC campuses, who responded to an on-line questionnaire, described feeling harassed and intimidated by the promotion of hatred against the Jewish State and of Jews. Almost all of the students felt that the administrators on their campuses did not treat Jewish concerns as sensitively as they did the concerns of other minorities such as African Americans and Latinos.

In June 2010, leaders of 12 Jewish organizations, including the Orthodox Union and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, wrote to UC President Mark Yudof, expressing their concerns about the hostile environment faced by Jewish students on UC campuses, and calling on him to address this serious problem immediately. President Yudof responded by asking Jewish leaders to have patience and faith in the newly-established Advisory Councils on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion. Over the last year, however, these Advisory Councils have failed to address, or even acknowledge, the problem of anti-Semitism on UC campuses. In fact, the aims and actions of the Advisory Councils since their inception, as revealed by documents released under a Freedom of Information request, show that Jewish students are not a focus at all.

In an effort to convey to President Yudof the deep concern that members of the California Jewish community feel for the well-being of Jewish students, and their distress that the harassment and intimidation of Jewish students have not been addressed by UC administrators in a substantive way, we have created the AMCHA Initiative. AMCHA is the Hebrew word meaning "Your People" and also connotes "grassroots," "the masses," and "ordinary people." It is our goal to bring together Jewish people from all over California so that they might speak in one voice, united in their concern for the safety of Jewish students on UC campuses.

Jewish students, like all students, should be guaranteed a campus environment that is safe and conducive to learning.

Please help protect Jewish students at the University of California by signing the Petition to UC President Mark Yudof protesting the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students on several UC campuses:

In order to reach as many Jewish Californians as possible, please circulate this letter widely.

For more information, contact Tammi Rossman-Benjamin:


Leila Beckwith, Professor Emeritus, University of California at Los Angeles

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


In Beloved (which I believe is one of the finer novels in English language), Toni Morrison's protagonist, Sethe, uses the word 'rememory', to mean 'remember', and 'disremember' for 'forget'. Doctoral theses have been written on Morrison's use of memory in fiction, and I am hardly equipped to add much to what's been written about it. The words just sprang to mind because I remember (aha!) reading an essay by Veena Cabreros-Sud in one of those early Third Wave feminist anthologies, in which she talks about her inheritance of rememory from her own parents, her father's family's struggles for Indian independence, and her mother's family's survival in the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

How do we remember violence done against us? As Jews, we write as often as we speak. The Shoah has been documented as well as it has because it was done to people who write, and read, who change languages like socks, and preserve memory as a commandment.

So, that said, today I am looking at fiction markets online, especially looking for places with an interest in Jewish fiction (looking to find homes for some of the chapters of my Jewish lesbian Zionist novel), and a few stray phrases catch my eye.

No Holocaust memoirs, first-person essays/memoirs, fiction, or poetry.

We are not looking for Holocaust accounts.

We do no politics, prefer topics other than 'Holocaust'.

The majority of the submissions we receive are about The Holocaust and Israel. A writer has a better chance of having an idea accepted if it is not on these subjects.

We do not want fiction that is mostly dialogue. No corny Jewish humor. No Holocaust fiction.

Not all the magazines carry this sort of note--some specifically say they have an issue devoted to Shoah material--but a large minority if not a slim majority of Jewish cultural and literary publications DO carry this rider.

Now, I've edited a Jewish 'zine myself, and although I was fortunate enough to get a wide assortment of materials, I do imagine that there are an awful lot of authors churning out very similar material about the Shoah, and if where do you send that, if not to a Jewish magazine. But this doesn't feel as emotionally neutral as that.

What follows is purely emotional. Please, don't write in to defend these magazines--they do not need defending. These are fine publications. This is just a musing about the nature of Jewish culture and writing, here in the first quarter of the twenty-first century.

If, sixty five years later, Jews are still writing obsessively about the Shoah, that's not very surprising. When a people suffers the loss of a third of its population in a matter of a decade, those scars will not fade.

But neither will the history. Generations to come will know what happened, because we wrote. We wrote great books and bad ones, bestsellers, and memoirs intended only as a legacy for grandchildren. Imagine having such a thorough account of almost any other genocide. (I have other issues about how the Shoah has been coopted by the Western mainstream as the token reference genocide, but leave that for now.)

This is our story, this is what happened to us. Of course we write about it!

But what does it mean, now, if a Jewish magazine says, 'No Holocaust fiction'? What does it mean to never forget, if after a time we think maybe enough remembering? Are we overloaded? Can we write, but no longer read? If we truly write about so little else that all these magazines feel the need to tell us so, what is happening? What else should we be writing about? Who says so?

My own area of writing interest is fiction, mostly historical. I don't write about the Shoah, explicitly, and yet it sneaks in. The Jewish lesbian Zionist novel is nuanced and informed by Holocaust rememory, although it's about a young couple having a baby in San Francisco in 2002. The novel I wrote for NANOWRIMO in November is set in the Jewish community of England just after 1200, but when I write about the survivor of the York massacre whose daughter is at the heart of the story, I think of Holocaust survivors I've know. In another medieval piece I'm working on, one of the characters is saved from Crusaders by a Christian neighbor. I didn't make this woman up. I couldn't. All of her is patchwork rememories of her descendents, tough European women who hid Jews at the risk of their own lives, and those of their families.

I'd rather not tell Jewish writers to stop retelling this story. I'd like the world to stop doing to it to us so often that it becomes our central story, our sharpest rememory.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Israeli Books Banned In Scotland

Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.
--Heinrich Heine

You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.
--Ray Bradbury

Via Virtual Jerusalem: A Scottish municipality has banned from its libraries books by Israeli authors and that were printed or published in Israel.

The West Dunbartonshire Council, consisting of towns and villages west of Glasgow, ordered new books by Israeli authors to be banned from the council's libraries, according to reports.

The ban reportedly was ordered after last year's raid by Israeli commandoes on a ship attempting to break Israel's blockade on Gaza that led to the death of nine Turkish nationals. The ban followed a decision made 2 1/2 years ago following the Gaza war to boycott goods produced in Israel. According to that law, the council and all its public bodies are forbidden to sell goods that originated from Israel.

Read the rest.

Amos Oz, David Grossman, S.Y. Agnon, Batya Gur, Dorit Rabinyan, Sami Michael, Naomi Ragen, Yehuda Amichai, Tom Segev, Orly Castel-Bloom, Dan Pagis, Yoram Kaniuk, Emil Habibi, Michal Govrin...a language, a nation, an entire literature rejected. I'm sure these censors feel themselves quite smugly in the right. I can't begin to express my fury.

We are only just beginning to sound the vile depths to which the delegitimization campaign against Israel is sinking. This sounds fine, now. Books may only be bought from countries with a right to exist...which would be all of them, except for Israel.

I'm making no excuses for the West Dunbartonshire Council. I don't care if they're vicious or well-meaning, ignorant or knowledgeable, they have set out to be part of the mechanism of destroying a nation.

Hat tip to Vicious Babushka, both for being one of the first people to bring this story to my attention, and for the Bradbury quote, which I would have never remembered.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Persian Pastries Are Much Cooler Than Hate and Vandalism

A friend e-mailed to let me know that Zand's on Solano Avenue had a BDS sign, saying "End Apartheid, Boycott Israeli Goods" in the window, and my first reaction was "Aw, heck, say it ain't so!"

Luckily, it wasn't so.

Zand's is on Solano Avenue in Albany. They sell delicious Persian baked goods, and for a little store, a stunning variety of Middle Eastern food products, including many Israeli goods. I cherish them as a local source of red lentils for soup, and also for introducing me to the amazing Mashti Malone ice cream. So when I heard that they were apparently signing on to the vicious, bigoted and irrational boycott of Israeli goods, I was rather alarmed. This might mean I never had any Mashti Malone ice cream again.

However, a quick investigation revealed that the sign was not inside the window, but a sticker OUTSIDE the window, where it had been slapped on over the remains of the last several stickers that had been removed by the proprietor. The owners, Persian Muslims, plan to continue to stock great Middle Eastern food from everywhere in the region, despite petty vandalism and petty hate.

Now, this is the best-tasting mitzvah you will ever do--if you're anywhere nearby, go to Zand's, tell them how much you appreciate their stocking Israeli goods, and buy some pistachio baklava and a pint of Mashti Malone's rosewater sorbet. There. Didn't that feel good?

Young People Marching For Freedom

Young Jews protesting the Palestine White Paper, 1939

Is it just me, or does the woman standing in the center look a little like Rosa Parks? I guess round glasses and a fire for freedom will give you that look.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Three Jewish men in Jerusalem. 1895. 

 I wonder if they're learning together, or holding the books for the camera so that it may be seen they are men who own books. 

Children of War--Two Pictures

If you spend enough time reading and writing and speaking about Israel and her neighbors, shocking pictures of children become old hat. Children in mock suicide belts, children dressed in miniature martyr garb, children gaily playing with cartoon characters that praise terrorists--these are shockingly common. So are the wrenching pictures of dead children, wielded by both sides of the situation, the children killed in air strikes on Gaza, the children, like the Fogel family's, murdered in the night by teenage terrorists making their bones.

But this photograph still stood out to me.

This was taken by Reuters. Their caption reads: Palestinian boys dressed in uniforms of Palestinian security forces and holding plastic toy guns take part during a rally marking "Nakba" in the West Bank city of Nablus May 15, 2011. Palestinians on Sunday mark the "Nakba", or catastrophe, to commemorate the expulsion or fleeing of some 700, 000 Palestinians from their homes in the war that led to the founding of Israel in 1948.

Well-fed, chubby-cheeked little boys, wearing matching little costumes and holding toy guns, march in the streets of Nablus, ready to grow up and become real soldiers in a war their leaders fully expect to end only with the complete destruction of Israel. What catches my eye here is how abnormally normal they look to my American eye...fidgety, sleepy, playful. Photos of these children will go into albums at home, and be looked back at fondly, like the pictures of me in my Brownie uniform that probably still lurk in one of my mother's photo boxes.

It makes me think of pictures of little boys in scout uniforms, because it is, except for the big toys guns, so like them, and it makes me think of other pictures of young boys with guns--because it is so unlike them.


These boys are child soldiers in the hideously misnamed Democratic Republic of Congo. They're not well-fed, their uniforms were not ordered up for them by the neighborhood parade committee, and the guns they fire are real. Look at their watchful, controlled faces. Look at the thousand-yard stare on a child who should be worrying about his math homework in a sane world. These photographs will not be going into a photo album in a neatly swept apartment with food in the refrigerator and a television and computer in the living room. There is no home. There is no family.

If you run around accusing Israel of creating a humanitarian crisis 'beyond imagining', look at these photographs, and be ashamed. The Palestinians and their leadership have options beyond conflict, and have consistently rejected them. They have sent their children in harms' way, and justified the murder of Israeli children. Those little boys in Nablus could have a future of peace. Those little boys in the Congo could tell you that a chance like that is treasure you don't throw away.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ovadia Yosef Tells People To Stop Smoking

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, president of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, has not been my favorite person over the years. I am told on reliable authority that he is a reliable authority--that is, that he is indeed a very great Torah scholar. However, he's also the rabbi most likely to show up in the news saying something deeply alarming about Ashekenazim, sheitels, Arabs, Gentiles, Hurricane Katrina, the's a long list. Odds are about seventy-five percent that if the president of the Shas Council of Torah Sages is in the news, then I will disagree with what he says. Vehemently.

You can see my Rav Ovadia problem in a variety of ways. You could say, for example, that I am a secular woman who fails to understand the social context and deep Torah learning of a 90-year-old scholar born in Iraq, raised in British Palestine, and formerly serving as chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, who is one of the lights of the generation. Or, you could say that Rav Ovadia is a reactionary elderly man, representing a particularly hardcore philosophy within Judaism, who likes to say inflammatory things to journalists.

Either way, I am pleased to announce that we have found another point of commonality. Rav Ovadia wants everyone to stop smoking.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, president of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, has warned his followers of the dangers of smoking, and stressed the importance and plausibility of quitting if one is already addicted.

“Doctors are against smoking; they say it causes lung cancer. Whoever can refrain from it, all the better; he should take every effort to keep away from it,” the senior Sephardi adjudicator said in his Saturday night televised sermon, which dealt with the laws of Jewish holidays.

“A person who is used to smoking – it’s hard to quit, but [he] should distance himself from it a step at a time,” he continued.

“My father-in-law, Rabbi Avraham of blessed memory, used to smoke two packs a day.

I told him our holy books say it is a danger. He said, ‘What can I do? I’m used to smoking.’ I told him to
gradually cut down in the cigarettes. When he reached 10, he said, ‘I can’t go down any more,’” he said.

“I told him to cut each cigarette to two, [so that] he ended up with 20. After that, he got down to five, and again said, ‘I can’t go down any more. I told him to cut the cigarettes to two. Until he totally quit.”

“Little by little, I will drive them out before you,” Yosef said, comparing the Canaanites to cigarettes in a reference from the Book of Exodus.

“Praise the lord, we do not smoke,” Yosef said of himself.

While Yosef has in the past spoken out about taking up smoking, health experts say this is the first time he actually went as far as telling people to quit.

Yosef also suggested a less harmful substitute for social instances where cigarettes are smoked.

“There are those in yeshivas who distribute cigarettes among friends when someone gets engaged,” he said.

“Better to hand out candies than cigarettes. You start by smoking one cigarette, and then it becomes a habit, and then an addiction, and that is very bad,” the senior adjudicator warned.

This Is The Way The World Ends...

So I'm on BART, and there's a couple, some older than me, on a date, and the woman is talking about how her son is all obsessed with how the world is supposed to end in 2012.

"Why 2012?" asks the man. She shrugs.

"Mayan calender," I say. They look at me. "The Mayan calender ends in 2012."

"Do you think that means the world will end then?" the man asks.

"No," I say. "I just know a bit about it because I taught high school. I think they just calculated one cycle after another, but you can only get so far ahead, and the Spanish came in the fifteenth century, and after that, the social infrastructure that supported calculating the calender and recording the calculations was destroyed. Anyway, Harold Camping says the world is going to end May 21, this year."

"My God, that's just a couple of days," the woman says. "Really?"

I show them the poster behind us. I explain that Camping has previously floated one end of world date in 1994. I explain that there's a conflicting group that believes it's May 21 next year. I discuss the Rapture, the various biblical prohibitions against this sort of nonsense...

"You sound really smart," the woman says.

"I wish I was smart about astrophysics or something," I tell her. "Theories about the world ending aren't very useful. Sooner or later, they all get disproven."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Surviving On My Own Terms

Today, I mostly stared into space. I have things to do, I just didn't do them. And then, while rummaging through a box, looking for some spare printer paper, I found a holy card, given to me at a funeral at the beginning of the school year.

I met this woman only once or twice. Our only connections were these: I had taught her son at St. Dympnha's for a quarter, when his regular English teacher was on maternity leave, and we had met in a few planning meeting at St. Attracta's, where I went to work this fall, and she was also employed.

She killed herself the night before school began. It seems ridiculous to say that perhaps my tenure at St. Attracta was cursed--it seems like a pathetic attempt to make drama out of someone else's tragedy--but I will remember always meeting the principal at the door of that first school day, and the words tumbling out of her mouth. I didn't remember who this woman was, at first. I was surrounded by her grieving friends, people who had worked with her for many years. I was responsible for children who'd known her their whole lives.

I have no idea, finally, exactly what pushed her past breaking. She'd struggled with depression for years, a bad, deep, depression that put her in the hospital at one point. It seemed terrifying to me that she did it the night before school started. Was it an attempt not to start the school year, not to begin anything she didn't plan to finish? Was it coincidence? Was the thought of being surrounded by the children again too much? She loved her job, I was told. The kids said they could see when the depression began to get the better of her...she stopped laughing, she stopped playing with them on the playground.

The first year I taught, I was so overwhelmed that I had no idea what was going on around me, but I did notice in February when I got an e-mail saying that one of the eighth-grade English teachers was taking the rest of the year off for health reasons. I barely knew this woman. I assumed she was getting cancer treatment, or going for back surgery. It was the next year that I learned that a combination of terrible job circumstances forced on her by the administration had pushed her depression and other heath issues to the point that, on Valentines' Day, she ended up in a locked psychiatric ward. A forty-year teacher, this woman. An acknowledged giant at what she did.

She came back in the fall to finish off her last year before retirement, and when people asked how she was, at the staff meeting in the fall, she smiled and said, "I'm on three very powerful psychoactive medications, thank you, so I feel fine."

This last winter I was so deep under the depression that I stopped eating. I have never stopped eating in all my life. I lost fifteen pounds. I had them to spare, but it was deeply frightening. I eat when I'm sad, I don't fast. I was so deeply stressed that I was responding to stress in ways I had never done before.

And I thought of them, the woman who killed herself, the woman who was hospitalized.

I told everyone, and laughed, that I quit because I didn't want to end up in the psych ward like my old coworker. But it was deeper than that. I was afraid I wouldn't be hospitalized, that I wouldn't break, that I would become sicker and sicker but never let go of the rope, never give up, and let my self-loathing take over from the inside out, while I kept going to school every day, and pretending I could get the situation under control.

I was pretty sure that something horrifying would happen if I tried to do that until summer.

It's really hard for me to remember how important it was to let go, to let myself find a place to hide and heal. I'm scrabbling for work right now, and my finances are just a mess. It's easy to tell myself that I should never have left a perfectly good job. (Perfectly good=pays the rent).

But I was in serious emotional and physical danger, and I could not stay. I had to start over. I had to be serious about my own survival.

The woman who killed herself left behind a sixteen year old son, one of the best kids I have ever met.

The woman who had the breakdown retired to the Russian River with her husband and took up flyfishing.

And I am going to go on to the next thing, and thank God for the strength to get myself out of harm's way.