1

The Naked and The Dead

Today, I went to the bank, ate a lot of cheese crackers, and went out to have a guy’s night with Shlomo at the movies. The Wisconsin Film Festival is in town, so we headed over to Hilldale to catch the only Israeli film in this year’s festival: The Farewell Party, a 2014 film directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, starring Ze’ev Revach, Levana Finkelstein, Aliza Rosen, Raffi Tavor, and Ilan Dar.

So long, farewell…

 

The film is a black comedy, dealing with aging and machine-assisted suicide, taking place in a Jerusalem retirement home. At the outset of the film, Yana (Aliza Rosen) calls upon her friend Yechezkel (Ze’ev Revach), a machinist and inventor, for a way to put her husband, Max – who is very old and very ill – out of his misery. A mutual friend, Rafi (Raffi Tavor) introduces Yechezkel to someone who can help: his lover Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar), a veterinarian who has experience with sedatives and putting animals to sleep. Though initially apprehensive, Dr. Daniel eventually describes to Yechezkel the type of machine he’d need, and Yechezkel sets about to make it, a machine where pressing a button will administer a lethal dose of drugs. Yechezkel’s ladylike but dementia-suffering wife Levana (Levana Finkelstein, in a stunning performance), discovers the plans and almost blows their cover, but eventually acquiesces and becomes the fifth member of this unlikely death squad. Together, they videotape Max soberly acknowledging that this is how he wants to die, and presses the button, killing himself. To trick the nurses, Dr. Daniel briefly hooks up Rafi to Max’s heart monitor while waiting for him to flatline, and then replaces it and leaves with the rest of the group. They think that this is the end, but at Max’s funeral, a man called Dubek approaches Yana, telling her that he knows what happened (though not how) and begs for her to do the same for his ailing wife, Clara. After stalking the group at their retirement home, they acquiesce (all but Levana, who has become too emotionally fragile), and they do the same as they did to Max for Clara, who is in much better shape than they thought but presses the button anyway. Then there’s a weird musical interlude.

Meanwhile, Levana, who is frequently left alone, exhibits even more signs of dementia, doing things like putting her purse in the freezer, leaving the house with cookies burning in the oven, and eating pizza out of a garbage can. Levana and Yechezkel’s daughter, Noa, urges them to place Levana in a home for elderly dementia patients, but Yechezkel shuts her down, stubbornly refusing to see the signs of Levana’s illness until one day when Levana shows up for lunch in the nursing home dining hall completely naked. Upon returning back to her room with Yechezkel and Yana, Levana becomes hysterical, crying that she needs to be put in the home. Yechezkel then hatches a plan, taking Levana down to the nursing home’s greenhouse that night, where Yana, Rafi, and Dr. Daniel are all naked and smoking marijuana. The two join in the fun until they are caught by a security guard and warned by a social worker, who recommends that Levana go into the home for the mentally disabled.

The group unites again (sans Levana, and Yechezkel, who is taking care of her) to head to a kibbutz to use the suicide machine on their 89-year-old friend Zelda. As soon as Zelda presses the button, a fuse blows and the machine dies. Rafi calls Yechezkel to come and fix it, but since he’s promised Noa that he won’t leave Levana alone, he takes her with him to the kibbutz where once again, the machine blows a fuse when Zelda presses the button. Then after a choir sings outside Zelda’s window, she briefly reconsiders her decision before pressing the button a third time, again blowing a fuse.

We then cut to the parking lot, where we learn that the machine didn’t work and Zelda changed her mind anyway. Zelda’s brother runs out to the group in the parking lot, saying that 5000 shekel has gone missing from Zelda’s money, and though the group thinks Levana accidentally took it, Rafi is revealed to having taken it, as well as money from Max and from Clara. A furious Yechezkel wrestles Rafi to the ground, injuring himself in the process.

Soon after, Levana and Yechezkel visit the home that Noa and the social worker suggested, but find it to be a sterile environment where everyone is a vegetable. Levana reveals that this is all too much for her, and she tells Yechezkel she wants to be the machine’s next victim. Yana tells Yechezkel that he should let his wife die in dignity, with the machine. Furious, Yechezkel destroys the machine.

Later, Yechezkel leaves Levana alone for a short time while he goes and discusses what has happened with the other three, returning to discover her in bed, unconscious. The group rushes her to the hospital, where she is revived but reveals that she purposely overdosed in an attempt to kill herself. Yechezkel suddenly sees how much his wife is suffering, and builds a new machine. In the closing scene, the group stands around Levana’s bed as she apologizes to Noa and tells her not to be angry with her father, and that she is deciding herself to die with dignity. The camera then zooms in on her as Yechezkel leans over for a last kiss and her finger presses then button and the film ends.

Shlomo and I had vastly different perspectives on the film. I mean, we saw the same points, but I saw more of the comic elements than he did. I guess I just took the movie at face value. True, the story is incredibly depressing, but the idea of a bunch of old people inventing a machine to kill people, going around and doing it, and getting naked and high along the way kind of made it feel like a screwball comedy for the geriatric. At some points, I was the one doing the dying, dying laughing, that is; Zelda’s three failed attempts at activating the machine and her comments after the room went dark, Levana putting her purse in the freezer, and of course, the naked greenhouse scene, which was actually kind of sweet, knowing that Yechezkel orchestrated it so that his wife would feel less awkward about the whole naked-lunch thing.

As I said earlier, Levana Finkelstein’s portrayal of Levana was absolutely stunning; she really wowed me with her spiral into madness. Ze’ev Revach as protagonist Yechezkel and Aliza Rosen’s tough-as-nails Yana were also fun to watch, and the playful relationship between the two widows (well, one at the beginning of the film and one at the very end) made Levana’s character all the more interesting. In terms of production values, some great camera work and excellent use of color, with whites and hospital-like pastel blues and greens contrasting with the dark shadows that the characters always seemed to be in, as if their wrinkles were intended to be accentuated at every turn.

I don’t have too much criticism for the film, even though I saw what was coming at the end. Oh, and the opening credits went on way too long, as well as the opening bit with Zelda and Yechezkel on the phone. Overall, it had a good mix of moments that were humorous and moments that were heartbreaking.

It gets four stars from me.

And I think I ate about a hundred cheese crackers as I wrote this.

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1

Masterpiece YouTube: Double Feature – KOLture Shock/Wootton Acabellas

This week has been rough in more ways than one, as you know, and I’ve kinda been scrimping on new content. I found out about another death today (my friend’s husband, after a short bout of lymphoma) but I had a really positive and enlightening meeting with one of my professors yesterday, so that kinda makes up for it a little. So, to make up for it, I’m putting out a double feature of Masterpiece YouTube; I know it’s my “fall back content” when I haven’t read anything new or can’t think of a rant or a fun story or anything. But here are two YouTube Masterpieces to enjoy.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 20/21: KOLture Shock, “Hatikvah” 2015/Wootton Acabellas, “Troublemaker” 2013

With all the bad rap Israel’s been getting lately (and by lately, I mean, since the beginning of the world), along comes a video that makes me proud to call Israel my spiritual home; something that could only happen in Israel, nowhere else in the Middle East.

We open on an ordinary Jerusalem Light Rail trip (side note: I never got to ride it because it was not finished until a little while after I left) and it’s chock full of commuters from all walks of Israeli life. Suddenly, a chick in a violet top soprano-belts the first line of the Israeli National Anthem (Hatikvah). After a moment of silence, the percussion kicks in and she starts over, this time with accompaniment from a bunch of other riders and stares from…other, non-singing riders, who pull out cell phones. One older lady with glasses and a curly ‘do is singing along, although clearly not as part of the group because we later see her clapping. After a final crescendo and an awesome percussive coda that sounds like a slowing-down train, they get applause and are greeted by a cheering audience from the platform.

This is a masterpiece for two reasons: the a cappella is not bad, could be better, but the camera work is really top notch. A great mix of shots of singers and bystanders, edited together to show a range of emotions. Plus, singing on public transit has always been a fantasy of mine (come on, who wouldn’t want their everyday life to turn into a musical?).

Final note: I actually know one of the people in the video; the skinny chick in the headscarf at around 1:30 is my sister’s best friend from growing up, the one she went to Israel for in December for her wedding. Also, I’m not sure, but the rabbi at 0:30 looks an awful lot like my Chabad rabbi from UMass.

Now for a different type of a cappella; the video quality is poor but the sound is amazing. It was filmed at Wootton High School in Reston, Virginia, and it’s the Wootton Acabellas singing Olly Murs’ “Troublemaker,” a totally underrated pop hit from the early 2010s. The choreography is cute, their outfits are simple yet elegant and age-appropriate, and the lead singer isn’t too bad.

But then there’s the rap soloist.

She is AWESOME. According to the video, her name is Rahila O. Olanrewaju and if she doesn’t have an album in the works, she better start on one because I would pre-order that. Seriously. And I buy a CD about once every five years. Plus, if you listen closely, she is also beatboxing for part of the song, which is also awesome.

The masterpiece about this is that it’s so simple and humble yet these girls can sing. For most people, it’s amazing; for a high school group, it’s outstanding

4

Dancing with the Enemy

So, yesterday, after the show, I went to watch the second of four films offered by this year’s Madison Israel Film Festival, Dancing at Jaffa, a documentary directed by Hilla Medalia and starring Pierre Fontaine and Yvonne Marceau. For someone who is a huge fan of documentary films, of ballroom dance, of human interest stories, and of Israel, I have to say that I was let down.

Dancing at Jaffa documents the true story of an intercultural experiment aimed at uniting two groups of children in a very unusual way: through a ballroom dance class. French ballroom dance champion Pierre Fontaine returns to Jaffa, Israel – a suburb of Tel Aviv and the city of his birth – to see how he can best contribute to the people of a divided city in a divided nation. The idea of a ballroom dance class is brilliant, and especially the way he did it, by making Jewish boys dance with Palestinian girls, and Palestinian boys with Jewish girls. Of course, the program does not run smoothly; the scenes where the children meet for the first time are wonderfully awkward, and their reactions are candid and honest. Slowly, though, the resistance to look at, to touch, and to dance with the partner of the opposite sex and religion melts away, and by the end, they all (well, most of them) dance in a competition in front of a crowd of parents, family, and friends from both communities. Other than Pierre, two of the trajectories are those of Noor, a chubby Palestinian girl who can be either incredibly shy and withdrawn, avoiding everyone or hostile and belligerent, attacking and scaring everyone; and that of Lois and Alaa. We do not learn about Noor’s partner, but we do learn that Alaa comes from a very poor Palestinian home at which Lois is shocked, and that Lois’s thing is that she was fathered by a sperm donor, which prompts an adorable scene where she tries to explain to her partner what a sperm bank is, and then is followed by an awkwardly graphic scene where Lois’s mother gives Alaa the intimate details of her procedure and of the reproductive process. She’s a wily one, that lady. Noor’s arc basically ends with her in control of her emotions and actually proving to be a very talented dancer, and Lois and Alaa take us out with a scene where they row Alaa’s father’s boat and it’s all very Hand in Hand and gooey as the credits roll.

The concept of the film is great; cute kids and a fun project. If the synopsis weren’t enough, the trailers made me want to jump right up and buy a copy of the movie for myself. However, as I mentioned before, it was not a cakewalk to sit through.

Okay, disclaimer: granted, I missed the first 20 minutes because I was still at the theatre finishing up with the costumes, but for an almost 2-hour-long movie, missing 20 minutes shouldn’t be that big of a deal, and I was able to get right into it when I walked in. The main criticisms I had were the treatment of ballroom dance, the character development, and the camera work/filming style.

Okay, first, the ballroom dance. Obviously, I was not expecting to watch children do ballroom for two hours straight, because that would be boring, but they could have shown more of that and fewer tracking shots of school buses and checkpoints. The only dances that I counted were merengue (which is not something I know much about), rumba (a different style than what I’m used to, though, and tango. There was a tiny bit of foxtrot and waltz in the scenes where Pierre and his American partner, Yvonne Marceau, were demonstrating for the class, but they didn’t show them teaching it. It’s obvious that the children were not professional dancers or even actors, but I felt like I was either watching them dance the same steps over and over in different settings or just watching them talk about their lives. There was a lot left on the cutting room floor.

This leads into character development. I found it odd that almost nothing was mentioned about Noor’s partner; that would have been a great counterpoint to Lois/Alaa. It is clear that we were supposed to root for Noor, but she seemed like a whiner up until the very last moments. Unlike Lois/Alaa, the Noor scenes always seemed to be about someone other than Noor, and Noor’s relationship with that person (Noor’s mother, Noor’s teachers, Noor’s classmate, Pierre). Also, some of the adult characters were frustrating. Pierre seemed a little full of himself at times; Lois’s mother, while funny, clearly attempted to commandeer a documentary that was not about her; and there was something that one of the teachers said to a class that I thought was incredibly harsh and unwarranted. Also, there were like five different schools, and so many children that we barely knew anyone else’s name by the end.

Finally, the camera work. Pick a style and stick with it. You want to do it as if it’s a real movie, with no fourth-wall breaking? Do it that way. You want heavy confessional action? Do it with all the characters, or at least not just Pierre. And for goodness sakes, decide if you want your voice in it – there was one scene in the Palestinian neighborhood where they were talking to Alaa and some of the other boys, and it was clear that the prompts/questions were coming from the person holding the camera.

I would give it a 2 out of 5 star rating, and that’s only because I just love ballroom dance.

And hello to another six continent day, the first after a few! So, just who danced in today? North America (Canada and USA), South America (Paraguay and Colombia), Europe (UK, Hungary, France, Netherlands, and Czech Republic), Asia (India, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia), Africa (Burkina Faso), and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea).

4

Paging American Mayors

Today, the news story that broke my Facebook news feed and the Internet worldwide (my apologies to Kim Kardashian) was what happened in Israel. When Israel hits the headlines, there’s a 75% chance that it’s bad news, and the newest incident/terrorist attack/”terrorist attack”/whatever CNN wants to call it felt particularly close to home.

Among the four dead, three were American citizens.

Here’s the rundown: Two Israeli Palestinian brothers storm into a synagogue in Har Nof, a very religious neighborhood in Jerusalem which has not been the scene of many acts of violence, armed with a gun, an axe, and a meat cleaver. Shouting “Allah’u akbar,” they attacked the men who were praying there. Nine were wounded, and four died: Moshe Twersky, a prominent rabbi from Boston; Rabbi Arieh Kupinsky, a Detroit native;  Cary William “Kalman” Levine, from Kansas City; and Rabbi Avraham Goldberg, originally from London and holding dual Israeli/UK citizenship. All were married and in their 50s/60s. Between them, they were fathers to 17 children and even more grandchildren. In addition, a Druze policeman who came to the rescue was shot in the crossfire, and died a short while after.

Boston.

Detroit.

Kansas City.

My first instinct was to go to the websites of each city’s largest newspaper and see what they had to say about their lost denizens. I found the Boston Globe, the Detroit Free Press, and the Kansas City Star. Surely they had family, friends, and community leaders who were devastated.

In these articles, however, I noticed a trend.

Here is a list of everyone who was quoted in the articles:

President Barack Obama. Richard M. Joel (Yeshiva University). Eric Nelson (Maimonides School). Yehuda Yaakov (Israeli Consul, Boston). Michael Zwick (friend of Kupinsky). Jordana Wolfson (Akiba Hebrew Day School). Beverly Phillips (Jewish Community Relations Council of Metro Detroit). Rabbi Michael Cohen (Young Israel of Oak Park). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Secretary of State John Kerry. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Yosef Posternak (Witness). Yohanan Danino (Israeli Chief of Police). Alan Edelman (Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City). Jonathan Bein (Brother-in-law of Kalman Levine). Shimon Kraft (Childhood friend of Kalman Levine).

Who is missing?

Let’s see…the mayors of the cities of Boston, Detroit, and KCMO. State governors. Representatives. Congressman. Senators. Anyone from the United States of America who is not either in the federal government or a representative from the Jewish community. Where are they, and why haven’t they said anything? After all, these were their constituents, their taxpayers, and first and foremost, residents and natives of their hometowns. And they were brutally murdered in a terrorist attack, while praying in a house of worship in a foreign country. Remember Natalee Holloway, the Alabama girl who never returned from her trip to the Caribbean? Her state governor Bob Riley wagged his finger at the entire island of Aruba and issued a travel boycott. What about you, Governor of Michigan?

I considered the chance that maybe the reporters and news wires had missed the cities’ mayors in their rush to get the word out, so I decided to go to each mayor’s personal website and see if he put up something, a statement or a picture or anything, about what happened to a resident from his city. In the Press Room section of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s website, an article about the arts in Boston from a few days ago. Sly James, from Kansas City? Wrote about Summer Youth Employment yesterday. And today’s news from Mark Duggan in Detroit? Auto insurance.

Now, I’m not implying that employing our youth and insuring our automobiles is unimportant, but people in these cities may not be aware of the fact that someone who once lived in their ZIP code was murdered today. And those who do get word of it could wonder: what does this mean if I go to Israel, or anywhere abroad; would I be safe, and if not, would any public official who I might have campaigned for or voted for or shaken hands with give a darn? And would they make it public? How public? Would there be a memorial day for me in my hometown? Would my parents, siblings, children receive any sort of encouraging message from those who claim to have their jobs at the hands of “the people,” act for “the people,” and represent “the people” of their city to the United States and to the world?

It’s only been two days, but even in just two days all of the people listed above came out of the woodwork and said something. Elected officials, where have you been? If something like this happened in your city, by now you would have addressed the public, called an investigation, and offered public/private sympathies to the family. And one of the victims was the son of an actual person, with a Wikipedia entry, and everyone knows that if it’s on Wikipedia, that shit’s legit, # sarcasmbutyeahitskindatrue.

Most likely, no mayors, governors, senators or city councilmen will happen to bounce on over here and read this, and because I have a paper to finish, a suitcase to pack and some pizza that’s calling my name, I can’t contact every single one of them. But if I could page these three mayors, I’d tell them the truth and if they didn’t believe me, I’d give them the names of the families.

And if they happen to be reading this, then, welcome, and please don’t sue me 🙂 I am nicer than this normally, I promise.

***

Works Cited

Adler, Eric. “Two rabbis killed in Jerusalem attack have Kansas City ties.” Local. Kansas City Star. 18 November 2014.

Rosen, Andy, John R. Ellement and Peter Schworm. “One of four men murdered in Israel has ties to Boston area.” Metro. The Boston Globe. 18 November 2014.

Warikoo, Niraj, Zlati Meyer and Tia Goldenberg. “Rabbi killed in Jerusalem attack grew up in Oak Park.”

5

Turbulence: You May Experience Jerks

The title pretty much says it all.

But to give you some context, it started this morning, when I was supposed to be getting ready for class but reading Facebook on my phone as usual, and I came across an article from a newspaper in New Zealand about this. By the time I had thought of a response, I had long lost the link, so I found an almost identical article here, in the Washington Post.

The article I linked above adds some scenarios that I didn’t encounter in the New Zealand article, so I’m just going to focus on the first one. It happened on an El Al airplane leaving New York (Kennedy, presumably) for Tel Aviv. Several dozen Orthodox Jewish men, some of them rabbis, refused to take seats near women, as Jewish law forbids close contact with non-related women, see one of my negia posts for more on that. After getting all the men seated, the plane finally took off, only for the men to stand back up during the flight and congregate in the aisles, rather than sitting next to women. This made life difficult for everyone else on that eleven hour trans-Atlantic flight, especially when the men offered passengers money to switch seats before takeoff.

I have to say, well done rabbis. You sure showed that plane full of people your true colors. Well, your true monochrome, that is. Now, you’ve not only gotten yourselves a reputation for being jerks, but this stunt will absolutely do wonders for the image of Jews, specifically the Orthodox, around the world. The world is not tailor-made for Jewish people; I’ve learned that the hard way, going to school on Jewish holidays and not being able to eat much from menus in places like Applebee’s, Wendy’s or the entire state of Louisiana. You’re right in the fact that it’s just not fair sometimes. But you have to pick your battles, and when you’re faced with being stuck in a giant metal tube for eleven hours with one hundred or so other people who are trying to live their lives, just sit your ass down and make your your seat belt is securely fastened. This whole not-sitting-next-to-women crap has gone way too far. The Talmud says that men and women may touch in unavoidable situations or during goal-oriented tasks, such as passing plates around a table, doing the laundry, or moving furniture. Why can’t travel fall under the same category? After all, nobody goes on a plane just to sit there and do stuff for the rest of their lives; it’s a temporary situation, so open your book, crank some Miami Boys Choir up to full volume and suck it up. The fact that it’s almost Rosh Hashanah makes it even worse. It’s like, you want to get written in the Book of Life? Try acknowledging other human beings.

I actually have two personal stories about this. The first happened in Israel. I was flying back from Cyprus, and my then-girlfriend surprised me at the airport to accompany me back to Jerusalem in a sherut (shared taxi). The principle of the sherut, especially at Ben Gurion Airport, is that you hand the driver your suitcase and pile in, sitting wherever there is a seat. Not a hard concept. It was late at night, and in our sherut there happened to be, other than us and the driver, five others: an elderly couple, a secular Jewish guy, another guy, and a younger Haredi woman traveling alone, which is a rarity. There were plenty of seats in the van, so we clambered into the back row. The couple sat in two of the front seats, and the Haredi lady sat alone next to a window. The secular Jewish guy enters the van and sits right next to Haredi lady, who asks him to give her some space, because she’d rather not sit next to him. He moves, but as soon as we’re all packed in and the motor starts, he lets Haredi lady have it, laying into her for being a Haredi, always wanting her own way, not living in this century, having so many extra privileges for being religious, and so on. Keep in mind that it’s creeping close to midnight, and we’re all tired. Haredi lady says something back to him, and he keeps going. I can barely see her face in the moonlight, but she looks like she’s on the verge of tears, so the other guy and the elderly couple come to her rescue, while we watch bemusedly from the backseat. It basically lasts the whole ride back to J’lem, not letting up until he gets out. Thankfully, he’s the first stop. After he is off, she breathes a sigh of relief.

The second story happened at Kennedy Airport on New Year’s Eve. I was on my way to Vienna, Austria, to meet DAT for the Slovakia Winter Retreat and I was boarding the plane for the first leg of the trip: New York to Zurich, Switzerland on Swiss Air. Not a lot of people fly on NYE, which is fantastic, because there is plenty of leg room. It seemed like I was among the only American on the flight. Everyone else was either going back to Switzerland, a religious Jew connecting to Israel, or a brightly-clothed African who, as I later learned, were all connecting to Douala, Cameroon. I get to my seat, and there is a super-religious Israeli girl about my age sitting in the window seat of the row. In my pajama pants, Edward Gorey t-shirt, and bright green DAT headband, I look anything but Jewish. She very visibly rolls her eyes and starts chattering in Hebrew to her friend who is standing right there. I did not catch all of what she was saying, but she was mostly bitching about having to sit next to a boy the whole time and how much this flight was going to suck. All while I’m sitting right there, pretending to stare off into space but actually listening and understanding most of their conversation.

People are starting to settle into their seats, and a lovely flight attendant comes over to me and asks me for my meal preference. She then asks if the religious girl is also sitting in this row; by this point, she has gotten out of the seat and is standing in the aisle pouting. She then addresses her directly, that she needs to sit down so she can get her meal preference, and the girl either ignores her or does not understand her English. I whisper to the flight attendant that I can speak Hebrew, and I proceed to get Miss Orthodox Jewish Bitchface’s attention by locking eyes with her and saying in rapid and pretty-well-accented (if I say so myself) Hebrew something along the lines of:

“Listen, honey. This nice lady wants to know if you’re sitting here, so you can get the food you want.”

The religious girl doesn’t look so much surprised as she does disgusted that I’m even talking to her (in her own language!) and says something like:

“Maybe I’ll sit here, maybe I’ll sit over there with my friend, I don’t know, whatever.”

I translate this to the flight attendant, who tells me she needs the girl to sit down in a seat because we are preparing for takeoff and she needs to know what the hell this girl wants to eat. Just doing her job. I translate this into Hebrew and convey it to the religious girl, who walks off in a huff with her nose in the air. Turns out I will not be seeing her for the remainder of the flight.

I turn to the flight attendant:

“Yeah, so from the bitchy display we just saw, I take it she’s not going to be eating on this flight. And if she gets hungry, well, tough luck.”

I earn some brownie points with the flight attendant, whose life is made easier by drawing a line through the religious girl’s name on her list. I feel powerful, and a little bad that she won’t get any food, but frankly, with the way she talked about me in front of my face and how she brushed off both me and the flight attendant, she didn’t deserve the delicious hot rolls and free champagne. If you don’t want to cooperate with me, someone who is trying to help you potentially get the food that you want/need, fine. But don’t take it out on a lady who’s just doing her job.

People. Entitled people.

Anyway, gentlemen…you can always swim across.

***

Works Cited

Sullivan, Gail. “Ultra-Orthodox Jews delay El Al flight, refusing to sit near women.” Morning Mix. The Washington Post. 26 September 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/09/26/ultra-orthodox-jews-delay-el-al-flight-refusing-to-sit-near-women/&gt;

0

Floods of Rain, Floods of Tears

Today, it rained in Madison. I mean rained. Also today the bodies of three teenagers – Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’ar, and Naftali Frenkel – we’re found half submerged in a field near Hebron. One of them, Frankel, was also an American.

As I sat in traffic, watching the water flood the streets and the gutters, I couldn’t help but think about the situation. I try to distance myself from the sadder side of politics, but I couldn’t get this out of mind.

How could this happen? Who did it and where are they? Why isn’t it on the news here in America? What if things were different?

Sone people say that tremping, or hitch hiking, is what killed the boys. No, a person or people killed the boys. So many people that I know in the West Bank rely on hitch hiking to get into Jerusalem due to limited bus service; it’s something that you wouldn’t let your kids do in America, but in Israel, people are taught to trust strangers and help one another.

Then there is the issue of Palestinian deaths due to this. I don’t know the whole story there, but I do know that there were people among their ranks who knew information, including the identities and whereabouts of the suspected murders. By refusing to divulge such information, it makes them accessories to the crime. Killing people is wrong, but when there is a refusal to cooperate with authority, that doesn’t solve anything, and at least here in America that’s not something taken lightly. Not to mention that their Hamas comrades were celebrating the murders.

Next, my thoughts turned to America, and Americans abroad. One of the boys was American, but no one made a statement about him, and no American troops or diplomats were instructed to take action. I have so many American friends living abroad – not just in Israel, but also in places like India, China, and Togo. What if it were one of them? I was once an American living abroad…what if the victim were me? Who would come to my defense?

Another thing: something tells me that if the American were a teenage girl instead of a boy, news outlets would have been all over it like Jessica Lynch. What if it had been Natalie Frenkel, good white Jewish girl from Brooklyn, instead of Naftali Frenkel?

This turn of events causes so much uncertainty in my life and the lives of others. But if one thing is certain, it’s this. No question will change anything, and no answer will bring these three back to life.

There are few times in my life when I’ve been really afraid for my life and my long term future. My parents had JFK and the Cuban missile crisis. I had September 11th, the anthrax scare, the number 22 bus bombing, rising antisemitism in Europe, campus shootings, but then this happened.

If I ever go abroad for research or to live, will I truly be alone? Will I be swept out to sea like so much rain down Johnson Street?

2

Tick, Tick…Oy.

I’d like to return to my current read, Elana Maryles Sztokman’s The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World. I’m still about halfway through, and while Sztokman is dealing with a limited perspective of mostly Israelis, some of the larger concepts about Orthodox Jewish men that she tackles in the first half of the book (Chapters 1-5) are, for the most part, true. Some of those reasons are why I feel the way I do about things, why I’m annoyed at Orthodox Judaism today, and why I continue to identify as Orthodox in spite of all those feelings.

On page 36, Sztokman cites Paul Kivel’s “Act Like A Man” box, and through the remainder of Chapter 2 (and bleeding over into the next few chapters), creates what she calls the “BOMB” or “Be an Orthodox Man” Box. Kivel’s box consists of three concentric rectangles. The innermost contains the things that men try to hide, such as anger, love, and sadness; the middle box contains actions that men do to protect themselves such as yell, fight, and be stubborn; and outside the box are the abuses which men (usually boys) are subject to when they fail to meet these criteria such as name-calling, hitting, and sexual abuse.

So, yeah. Rough stuff.

I can definitely see where Sztokman finds her parallels. Instead of quoting her, however, I can use hers and Kivel’s information to synthesize some thoughts of my own.

Let me start off with a story.

It was senior year of high school, and the junior and senior classes were all going to a pro-Israel rally on the grounds of the Capitol in Washington, DC. It was mandatory, and with the world being the way it was in 2005, everyone was pretty much on the edge about coming back alive. So we loaded ourselves into buses with posters and set off for DC. We got to the rally and it was a lot bigger than most of us expected. High school students had come in by the busload from as far away as Boston, New York, and Atlanta, not to mention all the families that attended. It was also longer, hotter, and sunnier than most of us expected, and a lot of people, including myself, came home that day with horrible sunburns. As anyone who’s been to a rally knows, when the rally ends, people disperse en masse, and this dispersion was of Pamplona-proportions, only with Jews running down the street and not bulls. We were put into groups to make it back to the bus, and hopefully find some cold beverages along the way since those of us who brought water had finished it long ago. I was in one of the smaller groups, about six guys and one of our teachers, who was also a rabbi. Of course, where there are Jews, there are Chabadniks, always trying to engage Jews in conversation at inopportune times and places. As we walk/jog down the street trying to find a 7-11 or something, a Chabadnik pulls aside our teacher – who is a rabbi – and asks if he put on tefillin that morning. My teacher didn’t respond and just kept moving, probably because he was as hot and tired as us students and was wearing a suit, looking very much like a rabbi, which he was.

A few blocks later, when the crowd thinned out and the stragglers caught up, my teacher turned to me and said, “Can you believe that guy? Asking me if I wore tefillin this morning. Just look at me; who does he think I am? Who does he think he is? Bastard.”

Okay, so I added the “bastard” in there for effect (although I’m not entirely convinced he didn’t say it under his breath as we were walking or in his mind) but he was insulted. He didn’t know the guy, but it sat on his mind for several blocks and he felt so challenged that he had to blurt something out to his students. His sour reaction to the event is a good lead-in to the concept of competition in Orthodox Jewish manhood – a topic which Sztokman heavily focuses on in her book.

It’s the truth. Orthodox Jewish men are competitive, from childhood to adult. It’s about how high your education is, how young you were when you got married, how many children you have, how much halacha you observe, how much you pray, how much you study, what you do for a living, what you look like, what you eat, and what you wear. People say that these things don’t matter, but to Orthodox Jewish men, they do. Looking at myself through this “be an Orthodox man” box, my score is pretty low. I am 26 years old with no wife and children (practically “old bachelor” age in the Orthodox world), I don’t wear a kippa every day, I don’t observe all the laws of Shabbos every week, I don’t wear the Orthodox Jewish uniform (white Oxford, black jacket, black pants) 24/7, I never went to yeshiva or did much in the way of Jewish learning/limmudei kodesh past-high school, I don’t go to minyan three times a day, and I got my education in non-Jewish colleges (pretty much anywhere besides YU, Brandeis, Touro, or an Ivy) and I studied theatre. At least I have an advanced degree and am working on my second, I still observe kashrut, and I have a mezuzah on my door; those things should count for something, I guess. Still, if I were to register myself with a shidduch, I’d probably strike out before getting up to bat.