9

Feminism, In Its Purimist Form

Well, after sleeping for almost 24 hours straight from Friday to Saturday, I woke up just in time to go to the Ovation Purim party last night. It was pretty enjoyable, plenty of hamantaschen to eat and a very nice megillah reading, then back home and to bed.

But this morning, I realized that us Jews and our holidays – well this one in particular – are surprisingly progressive for such an ancient religion. Allow me to explain.

Purim is a day when we celebrate the Book of Esther, and specifically, its heroine, the Queen herself. She was pretty much a bad-ass bitch, making her way into the palace to replace the dethroned queen, hiding her true identity, and then pulling off a pretty covert mission in order to uncover the wicked Haman’s plans to jettison the Jews. Long story short, Haman got hanged from a tree, the Jews of the Persian Empire were safe and happy, and in her honor, we dress up, get drunk, and eat cookies which are supposed to be shaped like three-cornered hats but sometimes end up looking like vaginas.

To me, feminism means disruption of the status quo in order to ensure a greater good, benefiting a marginalized group. And it’s no coincidence that it was a woman-led effort. I mean, what other mainstream religion has a day celebrating a woman, and only a woman?

I hear the arguments that Judaism is whatever, demeaning to women, second class, all that, but at the end of the day, without women like Esther and Ruth, we wouldn’t have some of our best holidays and our religion would lose a significant part of its meaning and importance.

I hope these inside-out hamantaschen turn out all right.

 

15

Kajagoojew

And here’s the long (…well, a few days) -awaited review of the second book I finished this past week. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in the recent past, and I think a lot of people will find something about it they’d like, so here’s a review for Hush, by Eishes Chayil (pseudonym).

Hush takes place between 2000 and 2008/2010 in Boro Park, the most Jewish section of New York. Gittel Klein, a 9-year-old girl in one of the most religiously observant of sects, witnesses some unspeakably horrible occurrences revolving around her best friend Devory Goldblatt, and 8-10 years later, as a young newlywed, her life changes forever when old feelings from the past bubble up to the surface, threatening to explode her marriage, her family, and her community.

(Wow, that’s like, the most concise plot synopsis I’ve ever written. Good job, laconic me.)

It was hard to put this book down. On Friday night, I willed myself to stay awake until the words on the page became mush, and I spent Saturday afternoon, when I should have been studying, engrossed in Gittel’s world for several hours outside on my new chaise on the sixth floor terrace. Eishes Chayil (real name: Judy Brown) weaves a compelling tale that effortlessly jumps from past to present and back again. The only real criticism I have is that Gittel’s sister is alternatively referred to as “Surie” and “Surela” so it took me until about halfway through the book to realize that they were the same person. The emotions that I felt while reading this book ranged from shock to horror to embarrassment to shame. It was as if Gittel was navigating her own way in this world populated by crazy people, from her marriage-obsessed parents to her painfully awkward husband to her teachers, who said some of the worst things.

Although I have not experienced any of the kinds of domestic/sexual abuses seen in Hush (for which I am thankful), I can only imagine that this book provides a hint of the soul-crushing experience it can be, not just on the victim but on those who love her, and those who don’t understand what is going on to their friend. What makes it worse is that Gittel had nowhere to turn to, and no one who would (or could) tell her the truths which she deserved to know. It makes it seem understandable, then, why she acts the way she does as a 19-year-old who has the wherewithal to go to the police; the code of silence under which she has been pulled has pervaded her worldview to the point that she has no frame of reference, and that if she has been lied to her whole life by her family, why wouldn’t those outside her family lie to her as well. What’s even sadder than what happens to Gittel and Devory is again, how those who are older and presumably wiser (just about everyone else in the story) is so blinded by status and marriage prospects that the welfare of their own little girls suffers. And with how the abuser’s story goes – well, let’s just say that it makes Brock Turner’s punishment look harsh by comparison.

Of course, there was predictable backlash from within the Jewish community, especially Orthodox, and Chabad Lubavitcher circles. However, having read some of those reviews, like this one from JewishMom.com, there might be a case of tunnel vision going on; it’s not about that at all. For what I think is a more accurate review, from a Jewish standpoint at least, is this one from Hella Winston of The Jewish Week.

I can’t speak for the Chabad or Hassidic communities, but as an Orthodox Jewish person and a human, I thought that this book was absolutely necessary, and regardless of the Jewish facts and descriptions, it’s the story of a community, their behavior, and the consequences that result from willful ignorance of evil and wrongdoing. Even if the author exaggerated some aspects of Boro Park Jewish life – so what? It’s fiction and she had a point to make. She didn’t go out to write some kind of abuse expose – she could if she would have wanted to, and that would be a completely different book – it’s a story she has lived with for quite a while, and fictionalized in an artful way without pointing fingers at any one group of people, with all the fake names and pseudonyms she uses, all the way up to her own name, for the first year of the book’s publication.

Go pick yourself up a copy of Hush. Come on, don’t be too shy-shy.

This book review was brought to you by bad 80s pun, some delicious strawberry sangria, and The Bachelorette.

Here’s some music.

7

Bye, Bei, Bye

Now that I finally have a moment…

Here’s another pet peeve of mine.

The sentence “we stayed by my grandparents’ last night” is something that a Jewish person might say.

It is also horribly grammatically incorrect. I never actually noticed it until a few years ago when my dad pointed it out, but if you think about it, it makes sense.

By means via, as in “by train”, alongside, as in “pass by a house” or “sit by a window,” or indicates a creator, as in “a painting by Picasso”. It does not mean over, at, or with.

“But why do you call out Jewish people, Jacob?”

Because they’re the only ones whom I’ve heard use it that way. I used it myself until my dad corrected me.

Actually, it has a linguistic meaning. In German, the word bei means “with,” therefore making its usage in the aforementioned sentence about staying with grandparents grammatically correct. For some reason, this word kind over traveled over and became a false cognate in English speech.

For some reason, though, it irks me more and more each time I hear someone use it incorrectly. I don’t know why it does, but it is grammatically incorrect. One time, I tried to correct someone, and was greeted with a blank stare, so it is not something that I try terribly hard to change about others’ speech patterns.

But don’t start saying it now.

That, or singing the Maude theme song in public, or else Lady Godiva will be freedom riding through your brain for the rest of the day.

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;