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 B├╝cher 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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Apricots, Poetry and Children

A little late, but this appealed to me:

A Newborn Girl at Passover
by Nan Cohen

Consider one apricot in a basket of them.
It is very much like all the other apricots--
an individual already, skin and seed.

Now think of this day. One you will probably forget.
The next breath you take, a long drink of air.
Holiday or not, it doesn't matter.

A child is born and doesn't know what day it is.
The particular joy in my heart she cannot imagine.
The taste of apricots is in store for her.

Copyright © 1998 by Nan Cohen

Sunday, May 08, 2011

We're Not Kidding About Lacking Partners For Peace

I have been looking for a while for a simple pendant shaped like the State of Israel. It's harder than you might imagine. There are a bazillion chais and chamsas and magens david and the like out there, but relatively few Israel-shaped objects, or stylish Israeli flag jewelry.

I wonder if part of the lack might come from our ambivalence, our never-ending debate, about what the borders of the state really are, or will be, or should be. The most aesthetically attractive candidate I have found on my hunt is the piece above, by Israeli jewelry artist Elanit Leder. It's very pretty, I think. Of course, as observant readers will note, it's missing something--two somethings, in fact--all of the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Look at it. Look, especially, at that vulnerable, breakable-looking little strip of land between the West Bank and the water. Let me think about this. Deep breaths.

The thing is, you see, I'm on record tentatively supporting a two-state solution. I feel that a two-state solution should in an ideal world be entirely unnecessary, since Jordan and Egypt should have provided full citizenship and equality for their nationals displaced from the land they found themselves no longer occupying after '67--but it seems fairly clear that now that they've had a while to think about that, the answer is still "NO," or, as it tends to come out when people are being emphatic in Arabic, "LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!" So perhaps a Palestinian state is something we're going to eventually have to have, because this is far from an ideal world.

Elanit Leder, the designer of this piece, has discussed what its borders mean to her. “Practically, it’s Israel,” she said, “because I cannot go to Gaza and Chevron, and I can’t go to Ramallah. This is the safe Israel for me, so to call it. … This is the Israel that we practice.”

Maybe it would be OK for me to wear the Israel that we practice?

But here's the thing--I go looking for the linking piece of this, the Palestine-shaped charm necklaces out there. There are more of them than there are Israeli ones, for whatever reason. And they have an interesting consistency to them, for maps of a still-hypothetical nation:

Oh, yes. They're not kidding, here and at our demonstrations here in San Francisco, and abroad, when they chant "From the river to the sea."

At the discussion of Elanit Leder's piece in the Forward above, "Steve" got a little insistent with some people:

What my left wing friends often fail to recognize is that while they may make a distinction between say Chevron and Tel Aviv, the other side (the enemy, thank you) does not. Ask the Palestinian types which part of the country should be for the Jewish State. Let me know what they say.

His language offends "Pontigo":

people who say enemy must believe in war, and war isnt the solution for the state of israel.

"Steve" responds: So.. whats the answer to my question? What exactly is the map for the Jewish State that the, uhm, other side, has in mind?

I wish I had a snappy answer for Steve. But as an honest left-winger, I think we both know what the answer is.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Senate Democrats To Obama: Warn the PA

I'm tempted to snark, and say that this can't possibly be the case, since so many people have told me that the Democrats simply hate Israel...but I'll stop there. Hamas remains the spanner in the works of peace for the foreseeable future, and everyone knows it.

Casey, Menendez and Colleagues Call for Evaluation of U.S. Relations with Fatah-Hamas Government, Possible Suspension of Aid to Palestinian Authority

Friday, May 6, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC— U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today sent a letter to President Obama asking him to evaluate the U.S. relationship with the Palestinian Authority and consider taking stronger measures in condemnation of the recently formed Fatah-Hamas unity government. In the letter signed by 27 Senators, the Senators urged the Administration to stand by its refusal to work with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas and consider cutting aid should the U.S. designated terrorist group remain in the government. Preconditions in U.S. law prevent aid from being provided to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, unless the government and all its members have publically committed to the Quartet principles.

“It is imperative for you to make clear to President Abbas that Palestinian Authority participation in a unity government with an unreformed Hamas will jeopardize its relationship with the United States, including its receipt of U.S. aid. As you are aware, U.S. law prohibits aid from being provided to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, unless the government and all its members have publically committed to the Quartet principles. We urge you to conduct a review of the current situation and suspend aid should Hamas refuse to comply with Quartet conditions,” wrote the Senators.

The full text of the letter is here.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Denying Culture, Denying History

Getty Images. People meet to pray at a vigil honoring Ben-Yosef Livnat, murdered by PA police at the Tomb of Joseph

As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. (Joshua, 24:32)

This is the history of my people. This is the story of how they brought the remains of their ancestor home to their own land from exile, and laid him to rest. Joseph's tomb has been a pilgrimage site for Jews for thousands of years. This is our heritage, in the simplest, deepest sense. A tribal ancestor and hero lies buried there. Like Hebron, like Rachel's Tomb, this is a sacred place to Jews everywhere.

Jews have always made pilgrimages to such places. A friend once told me about her grandfather, who made an annual pilgrimage from Baghdad to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, by train. I imagine this would have been in the 1930s or early 40s. Only Muslims were permitted to actually enter the tomb, but he would go as far as he was allowed, to pray as near to the shrine as he could. Every year the man did this, at enormous expense and danger, to express his piety. This is whole history lost on people who talk big about the Middle East--a total lack of understanding of what it meant to be a Jew before Jews had a country. In Baghdad, as everywhere else in the Middle East, you were a second-class citizen. Even if you had the money for a ticket from Iraq to Palestine, and most didn't, you couldn't expect to be treated like a human being in either place. And usually, you weren't.

Jews continue to travel to Joseph's tomb to pray whenever they can. The tomb rests inside the Palestinian Authority, which has permitted it to be repeatedly vandalized, but pilgrims continue to make their way there. Often they make their way under IDF guard, by prearrangement. Sometimes worshipers, especially young male worshipers, sneak in. That's what happened on April 24, when a group of young Israeli men quietly made their way to the tomb. As they were leaving, Palestinian Authority police officers opened fire on their cars. One man, 25-year-old Ben-Joseph Livnat, a father of four, was killed.

Baz Ratner/Reuters. Ben-Yosef Livnat's funeral procession.

Peaceful civilians, leaving a place of prayer, were gunned down by armed police, murdered in cold blood, and the best excuse that could be come up with were, 'they didn't fill out the correct paperwork'. In the aftermath of the shooting, men from nearby Palestinian communities rioted and set the tomb on fire. (Again, this has happened a few time.) (In theory, Joseph's Tomb is, actually, also a Muslim holy site. How the nominal Muslims who have repeatedly vandalized it justify this to themselves is their problem.)

Another tragedy. Another murder. Another desecration of religiously and culturally sacred space.

A man who posts frequently to a blog I contribute to went a little nuts after Livnat's death, and the assault on the tomb. He said a number of things that I and the other bloggers found offensive, and was asked to tone it down. But while I was clear with him that some of the things he was saying were unacceptable, I also noticed that many other people in the group were simply shocked by his anger. Jews, like women, are not supposed to be angry. We are not supposed to feel fury when we are violated. We are supposed to consider what we did to deserve this.

Indymedia UK posted Palestine Today's comment on the incident: On the ground, Palestinian sources reported that hundreds of Israeli settlers, mostly armed, are roaming around the city of Nablus in the northern part of the West Bank. This motion by the settlers comes two days after an Israeli settler was shot dead in Nablus, believed to be by Israeli military gunfire by mistake.

The settlers was killed when a group of settlers invaded Nablus and attempted to enter the Tomb of Joseph in the city. Palestinian police tried to stop them however, the settlers pointed their guns at the police. Palestinian sources say settlers opened fire in the air to stop the settlers. Immediately a nearby Israeli military post responded to eh source of fire, which led to the settlers' death.

Both Israel and the PA are investigating the incident, but no final report has been issued yet.

So, let me see if I've got this straight--the 'settlers' invaded Nablus, tried to shoot the police, and were themselves gunned down by an Israeli military post? Oddly, that does not seem to accord with any other report, but it certainly does make it clear that the 'settlers' were entirely to blame for their own fate.

I'm angry, and I'm alienated. What is holy to me--a man's life, an ancient place of prayer--is merely a distraction to an ongoing campaign to delegitimize a nation and a people.

Jewish Schoolgirls

Beautiful little girls from the largest Jewish community outside Israel that is left in the Middle East.

(AP Photo--Wearing their Islamic style uniforms, Iranian Jewish school girls, react with joy, at the Fakhr-e-Danesh school of Iranian Jewish community, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, May 3, 2011.)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

A Very Strange Blast From The Past

Those of you who recall the bad old days of the Soviet Jewry may appreciate this. It's the Russian Army Chorus. Doing "Let My People Go".

As odd as this particular rendition may seem, I love this song. It brings up so many memories of seders past.

A Chief Rebbetzin?

Over at the Jewish Chronicle of London, Sally Berkovic has an interesting concept: create a female leadership role equivalent to the Chief Rabbi.

Who would you nominate?

Louise Brooks--With Flintlocks

This picture just makes me so happy.

My grandmother once told me that right after high school she had a job at the movie theater in Fresno, CA (this would have been the late thirties, I suppose), and she bobbed her hair and dyed it dark, and wore black eyeliner and white powder, and bright red lipstick. Apparently my grandfather thought she was the chic-est thing he'd ever seen.

I said, "Grandma, you were a GOTH?"

She said, "Is that what they call it now? I was trying to look like Louise Brooks."