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Friday, December 31, 2010

another year is starting


I think one day I will make a list of where I was and what I did on each New Year's Eve since I first landed in the U.S. I will not remember all of them, for sure. Only those that made a lasting impression.

Like my first New Year's Eve which I spent standing at Time's Square next to the Dominican dishwasher of the restaurant I was working in at the time. He was an interesting guy who made a living in New York City without ever learning to read and write English. Not sure about his Spanish, though. To me, that piece of information was a lot more interesting than the thousands of people who were standing on the street around me screaming ten-nine-eight... as a large ball descended from a spear attached to the top of a building, approaching an invisible point that marked the beginning of the year. At touch down, all hell broke loose. Whistles, shouts, banging on things, smoke and all kinds of hazards erupted in an explosive crescendo into the freezing night skies. I looked around me at the ocean of unknown faces and tried to feel excited that a new year has just began. But nothing really kicked in. It was just another freezing night with lots of people on the streets, looking for a reason to party.

I've been in many New Year's Eve parties since then. Different cities, different people, different wine bottles and different music. But pretty much, it's just another party. Even the night of Y2K, the night we thought life was about to end, was just another night. The ball came down, all hell broke loose in New York City, the new year started on the East Coast, and here in California we were just beginning to gear up for it. Just like on elections night. Living in California can be totally anti-climactic. Here we are getting ready to start the evening, but everyone already knows how it is going to end.

So I guess the new year is almost here.

Have a fun night.

Enjoy the party.

Don't drive while intoxicated.

See you next year...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

my xrissmess gift from barack obama

Some people are really good at gifting. They buy gifts, they send gifts, they give gifts and they receive gifts as if it is the most natural thing to do. They give chocolate and scented candles and picture frames on special days, and little knickknacks when they come back from trips. They make the giving look like the easiest thing to do.

They are not tormented by deep existential questions when they reach for gloves or scarves or whatever crosses their field of vision when they embark on the traditional pre-Christmas eve hunting expedition.

I, on the other hand, can struggle with gifting questions that can practically solve the meaning of life before I decide what to give, even when it's something small. Are they going to like it? Is it usable? Should I get a couple of things? What would it say about me if I give X? Do these things convey what I want them to convey? Does the receiver already have it? Will it make me look like a total ass if I give this thing? Am I making a total faux-pa?

Furthermore, while giving can be quite complicated, receiving can be just as awkward. I will never forget how strange it was for me to open gifts in front of a cheering crowd during the baby shower for my daughter. In Israel, as far as I remember, we don't open gifts in front of the givers. But here people take pictures of you when you open their gifts so you have to be really careful with whatever expression that pops into your face or you'd live to regret it for the rest of your life.

So as a result of the daunting uncertainties that accompany the gift giving season, when the holidays come upon me I usually want to go into hiding. But this year things turned out quite well.

When I asked my daughter what she would have liked to get for Christmas-Hanukkah she asked for an IOU without specifying the dollar amount. This, she said, would be provided at a later date when the dust settles after the holidays. [not her exact words, but in this vicinity.]

Great, I'm raising a shrewd businesswoman, my brain alarm noted quietly. Not that I didn't know it already. However, since this absolved me from going to the mall to fight the crowds in search of stuff, I was more than happy to comply.

But what about the other people I want to gift?

Coincidentally, I came across Dan Ariely's blog during my philosophical contemplation on the meaning of gift giving. Ariely is an Israeli-born professor of behavioral economics who writes about all kinds of interesting stuff in a very reader-friendly way. In one of his blog entries he discussed the question of what makes a good gift. He put it out for his readers and after doing all kinds of studies and interviews and such, came up with this answer: “A good gift is something that someone really wants, but feels guilty buying it for themselves.”

Well, this only goes to show that professor Ariely has not met me, the guilt-ridden Israeli-American phenomenon. Because if I feel guilty buying something for myself (because it's too expensive), I would feel ten times more guilty if my guilt-ridden conscious made someone else pay for it.

And since an owner of two Ph.D. degrees and a professor of economics can't figure it out, I had to come up with my own answer. And my answer was exactly the opposite of Ariely's. I realized that I usually give my friends what I would like to have myself. I am the litmus test of gifts. So I give books I would like to read, and movies I would like to watch, and music I would like to hear, and massages and facials I would like to receive, and whatever else I would like to indulge myself in. I am the most self-centered gift giver in the world. If I want it, there is a pretty good chance, you will get it. So watch out.

Just in case you are wondering what to get me this season - you don't need to. I just got the gift I wanted. And Barack Obama gave it to me with the help of some Republican senators.

The repeal of DADT.

For all I care, it is the best xrissmess gift I could have wished for.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A tribute to my mother

Today my mother would have turned 79 had she not died a little over 8 years ago from cancer. In 2001, I landed in Israel on the morning of her birthday knowing that this was going to be our final days together. My mother knew her days were numbered. She was not afraid to die. She kept saying "whatever happens, happens." Her total disregard for death made it so much easier for me. Like death was not a big deal. There was no emotional outbursts or tears or sudden insights. Just a matter of fact approach to the situation. Life is running out, take it one moment at a time.

I think my mother is glad she did not live to be 79. She hated the thought of getting old. Age was her enemy. She never told her real age and always complained about getting old, not because she felt tired or pain or useless or bored, but because she felt compromised by the undignifying numbers.

One morning she took off her wedding ring and gave it to my sister. I guess my sister got the ring because she wears jewelry better than I, and also because she is the first born. When I saw my mother giving her the ring, I realized it was my time to ask for the masterpiece table cloth she crochet during the First Gulf War while she was waiting in the gas-proof room for the scud missiles to explode above the skies of Haifa. Years ago I told her that I hoped she would leave me that piece in her will and she rolled her eyes and gave me one of her "I give up" half smiles. She knew I could be very persistent once I put my mind into something.

While the drama surrounding the certainty of her death was rather subdued, a very different storm was brewing around her imminent departure from this world. You see, my mother wanted to leave her kibbutz apartment to her three children who were born and raised on the kibbutz. She knew that soon, each member of the kibbutz would become the legal owner of his/her apartment through the process of privatization, but she had no time to wait for this process to be finalized. She knew that she was dying. So from her deathbed at the hospital she asked the members of the kibbutz to let her children keep her apartment after her death until privatization was finalized. But the leadership had other plans for this small apartment and refused to bring my mother's very unusual request to the assembly.

I remember the shock and grief I felt when I heard that my mother's request was denied. Not only was I losing my mother, I was about to lose the only place I ever felt connected to, my parents' home, my home. No pleading could have changed the minds and hearts of those who were in charge, I realized. There was no one to talk to, no one to beg. It was again The Kibbutz, the invisible entity and its invisible regulations that we were facing.

The morning after the final verdict was given to us by the kibbutz secretary, I went to the hospital to see my mother as I did every day. It was pretty early and I did not expect her to be awake. But she was waiting for me. She had something important to say.

"I am going to leave the kibbutz," she said.

I was not sure I heard her right. How could this woman who always said, "the kibbutz decided," "they said...," "this is how it is," could say such a thing? I told her I needed to call my brother.

"She wants to leave the kibbutz," I said to him.

A couple of days later she signed a legally binding separation statement from the kibbutz and from her deathbed she taped a short speech, berating her old comrades' lack of foresight and explaining why she decided to leave the kibbutz.

I found out later that people on the kibbutz thought my brother and I talked her into doing it. They thought we intimidated her to do something against her will. They could not believe that my mother could have done such a thing on her own. I could not believe it, either.

I still have the videotape she had made a month before she died. I haven't seen it yet. I am too scared to look at it. The day she made that video, I did not go to the hospital. I did not want to see her sign any papers or making that video. She did not look too good in her final days. The pain and the drugs took it all out of her. Except for her humor and her resolve. She could barely sit up when she had to read and sign her declaration, my brother told me later. But she was determined to complete her final mission. Standing up for her own principles.

Maybe the time has come for me to watch that video.

I think I'll sleep on it tonight.
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Related material:
If you'd like to learn more about my mother check out my e-book Daughter of the Kibbutz










Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hannukah-how good does it get?

A Hanukkah dreidel.Image via WikipediaHanukkah has been upon us for the past week so it is time to reflect on what it means.

In the early days, back in the kibbutz, it was all about donuts (sufganiyot), the Israeli style. I still remember them and miss them terribly. Burning hot dough, filled with injected red jam that burns your tongue at the first bite, and tons of powdered sugar all over my face. Yummmm. They don't make them this way here, so I've been deprived of suf-ga-niyot for the past 25 years. Oh, well. At least I'm saving on the calories.

The interesting part of Hanukkah now is that I have to impart the story to my daughter. And as I have already confessed before, my success rate at Jewish education is abysmal.

This morning my daughter bragged that she knew the letters on the dreidle. Kind of.

Is it 'nun',(נ) she asked me to make sure she was right. Is it 'vav'? I know 'hey',(ה) like hey you, she said proudly.

I squirm when I see the ignorance. But then she tells me that she took a bunch of dreidles to a party at the neighbor's house and taught the other kids about the meaning of the letters and my heart was filled with pride and joy. She knows the Hebrew word for dreidle (sevivon) and she thinks it is a cool word, like her mom is a weirdo from some esoteric tribe that mumbles unintelligible words and eats strange vegetables and celebrates the aversion of disasters. It is just too funny to see my own flesh and blood knowing so little about things that are part of my DNA.

So speaking about averting disasters, this morning she said something about Hanukkah and crossing the sea and maybe she even mentioned Moses, I'm not sure. So of course, using my motherly compassion I told her that was passover, and that passover was the miracle of being saved from the Egyptian, but on Hanukkah it was about a miracle of being saved from the Greeks, and on Purim we were being saved from the Persians.

So getting into the car she went like, without even looking at me, "Don't you have anything with Muslims?" I swear to the almighty evolution that I am not making this up!

I guess through the grapevines she had heard about the Israeli-Arab conflict. I mean, I talk about stuff at home once in a while, you know. So I was like, Muslims? We are celebrating miracles that occurred five thousand years ago, girl, two thousand years minimum. Muslims? There were no Muslims around five thousands years ago.

But then, lo and behold, I remembered, we do have a holiday for overcoming the Muslims. Independence Day. The Nakba, as our Palestinian friends call it. This holiday does not mention god or miracles, but still, again, we were almost annihilated, and we were saved, Yee-pee. Let's celebrate and eat something.

So just to cover my base I asked her, do you know when is Yom Kippur? You should know that stuff because one day you might be kidnapped by Jewish fundamentalists and the only way you can save your skin is by knowing about Yom Kippur and proving that you are a good Jew. After all, this is what the Taliban are doing now when they kidnap people. If you can say allahu akbar convincingly enough you don't get beheaded.

So this girl of mine, whom I have been trying to teach something about what it means to be a person of the Jewish persuasion for over a decade now, settled in her seat and said it as if it were the most obvious thing in the world: Ten days after Rosh Hashana.

I'm cleared and vindicated for eternity.









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Saturday, November 27, 2010

the single mother ghetto

Today, the word 'ghetto' conjures up images of inner city gangs, unemployment and dilapidated neighborhoods. Before it entered the American lexicon 'ghetto' conjured up images of orthodox Jewish men in Eastern European cities being kicked by goyish brutes in front of shop windows announcing their ware in Yiddish. But the word 'ghetto' can also be associated with something a little more abstract, not as tangible as unkempt real estate or exotic attire, but as a state of being. And that is the state of the single mother.

I've been a single mother for a little over eight years now. And every year, when the American holiday season threatens to swallow life as we know it, I see the invisible walls of the single mother ghetto closing in on me.

My daughter, you see, spends the holidays with 'the family' which is what we call her father's side. And a large family it is. Grandparents (post widowhood marriage), uncles and great uncles, aunts, first and second cousins, babies, dogs, boyfriends, girlfriends, gossip, good food and loud television. I, on the other hand, am only 'Ima'; the Hebrew equivalent of mother. And since I have no family in this country I have to figure it out - somehow.

So every year it is the same thing. How far am I willing to go to avoid staying in my single mother ghetto when everyone else is stuffing their face silly in the company of other married (or unmarried) couples and those who are yet to be paired up?

In the past I used to go as far as possible. Fly to Los Angeles, drive to San Francisco. Spend the day with people I barely know. Anything but staying in the single mother ghetto. But I no longer have the energy and the stamina to run away from it. So I stay put and deal with it.

And this is what comes up as I sit and meditate inside my invisible ghetto:

Married people don't like to mingle with the single mom type. She breaks the unspoken symmetry of one man per one woman (and vice versa); she challenges the social equilibrium. Maybe she looks desperate and needy, maybe she reminds people of something they prefer to forget, maybe she gives people ideas they don't want to toy with, maybe some people are threatened by her seemingly blessed independence. I cannot crack the silent code that separates married people from single moms. But I did notice that nearly all my women friends are either single, on the verge of divorce or separation, or in some kind of alternative relationships. In short, your typical run-of-the-mill comfortably married woman keeps the single mother type at arms' length. And her man... well, he'd better have a really good excuse.

And as I sit pondering the meaning of my ghetto life, I come across the article Single Mothers Are Yummy... If You're the Right Kind of Man and I leap to my feet in joy before I realize that the title is a trap.

Here's the point made in the article: By "Yummy" the writer implies in no subtle terms that this delicious treat which is the single mom may clog your arteries, make you gain weight, raise your blood sugar level, give you indigestion, and slow down your metabolism. In short, this writer, who is a dating expert, is warning you not to get near people like me, unless your male intestines are made of steel and you don't give a damn about your health or what other people might think about you.

So this season, out of consideration for my fellow human beings, I decided not to impose my deliciousness on anyone and chose to stay home by myself. But at the last moment I chickened out and called one of my 'person of accent' girlfriends who had recently walked out on her marriage and was spending the day by herself. We watched some movies, stuffed ourselves with spicy food that had no trace of turkey in it, and talked about life.

The next day, when the cashier at the coffee place I frequent asked me if I had a nice thanksgiving dinner I said that this year I decided to rebel. I didn't feel like going through the ordeal of cooking and overeating and going to bed stuffed to the brim, I told her, so I spent it with a friend.

What I didn't say to her was something Antonio Banderas said to Liam Neeson at the end of the very mediocre movie I happened to watch that evening:

"Losers are brilliant at making things pretty."

Friday, November 19, 2010

dog love II


There is a joke that goes like this: What does a dyslectic insomniac atheist do in the middle of the night? Answer: Lies awake and thinks about dog.

That's me! ... Minus the dyslexia.

As you might guess, I have little patience for dogs and their people. I know that this condition might get me kicked out of civilized society, but I can’t help myself.

So here it is: Dogs are a total pain. And so are their people. No matter how much I love my dog-enchanted friends, I don't know why they think that they can inflict their dog-love on me. And by dog-love I mean their love for dogs, not their dogs’ love for me which is usually expressed by jumping on me and licking my exposed body parts. Besides, I don't inflict my Korean wannabe daughter on them, so why do I have to pretend that I am enchanted by their dogs?

As I have stated before, I don't hate dogs. I am just indifferent to them. I know that they can wiggle their tails and make a person feel loved when she thinks that the entire world hates her. That's certainly a blessing. It always helps to have someone loving you when you look like crap, feel like a zombie, and want to rid the world of several people who crossed your path that day.

But I promise you that no amount of dog slobber will ever make me feel loved, no matter how awful I was feeling before that tongue came into contact with my face. And what is it with dogs' tongues? I mean, everyone knows where those tongues spend a good deal of their time. So why would I want them to touch my person?

Because that's the price I have to pay so my friends will tolerate me, the human.

Last weekend I spent an afternoon with a dear friend, who brought along her two precious labs to play with a tennis ball at an open space overlooking the ocean. It was a beautiful afternoon, soaked in soft sunlight and a light sea breeze. I stood by her side and watched as her two excited-beyond-control chubby labs chased a decrepit tennis ball she threw for them, again and again and again and again, ad nauseam. No matter how many times she threw the ball, those two bolted after it, sometimes completely missing it, even though it landed right in front of them, sometimes returning from their quest with that ball in their mouths and such victorious smiles on their faces, you’d think they discovered the Higgs Boson Particle in the low grass.

This fantastic spectacle seemed beyond bizarre to me. Here I was, an educated woman with books to read, food to cook, laundry to fold, a Korean wannabe daughter to call, and blogs to write, standing on a patch of grass overlooking a beautiful bay, watching two panting dogs breathlessly chasing a ball covered in white, slimy, sticky saliva as if it were the Holy Grail. And my dear friend, the human, swinging a long plastic ladle-looking thingy—which dog people use to fling balls without having to bend down every time the ball is brought back to them by their breathless besties—perpetually in awe of the miracle of Dog Brings Ball Back.

Only my dog-like loyalty to my friend kept me from walking away. Until she started getting too close to me with that dog-saliva-smothered long spoon thingy. You should have seen my face. The horror! And she thought it was funny.

Well, dog people, it's time to wake up and smell the coffee, or more accurately, your dogs’ breath. Whether you brush their teeth with a special dog tooth brush or not. Me—innocent, unassuming human specimen; them—huge pink dog tongues splattering long strings of saliva; we don’t need to get too cozy. I'm perfectly comfortable in my human skin cover and happy to keep myself as dry as humanly possible when I am in the company of dogs’ drool and their saliva smothered tennis balls.




Thursday, November 11, 2010

picking up stuff

Romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. longifolia).Image via WikipediaI think I can safely generalize that most men and all children don't pick up after themselves. I've lived with this predicament since my daughter was born, so I am not extremely sensitive to this fact of life. But sometimes I can't help myself, and I resist the urge to pick up stuff just to see what might happen.

I have a friend who made picking up stuff one of her life's missions. Every morning when she takes her dogs and husband for their morning walk on the beach at freezing temperatures, she carries a plastic bag and collects stuff. Not love notes or exotically dressed genies sealed in bottles that have been carried across the oceans, mind you. She once found a functioning lap top and a hundred dollar bill left by a pile of wet firewood. But most of the time she picks up empty beer cans and garbage left behind by drunks and other environmentally challenged segments of humanity.

I, on the other hand, have no special affinity for things discarded by thoughtless strangers. I pick up stuff on a whim. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, depends on my mood and depends on the offender. Paper napkins, old newspapers, an empty bag of chips? Yes. Used diapers? Absolutely not. Heads of lettuce? Maybe.

Last week on my daily outing to the semi-wilderness area where I walk almost every day to clear up my mind and enjoy the outdoors, I saw a head of lettuce lying on the sidewalk by the paved road. It looked fresh and crispy and not one of its leaves were missing. It was a strange encounter, my brain noted to itself. What does a head of lettuce do on a sidewalk in the semi-wilderness all by itself? It couldn't have fallen from someone's pocket or thrown out of a car window. That would be stupid. And it wasn't the typical offender found by the side of many country roads; the stained paper coffee cup, the hamburger wrapper, the plastic soft drink bottle.

I decided to leave the lettuce where it was, and let the wild life enjoy it. There's a lot of wildlife in the area: rabbits, deer, coyotes, wild turkeys, raccoons, and crazy squirrels who make suicidal dashes across the road to get from one side of nowhere to the other side of nowhere. One of them might be happy to find this head of lettuce.

The next day I saw the lettuce again, still lying intact on the sidewalk. And the next day. And the next day. A week later it was still there. Wilted, some of its leaves separated from the head and lying next to it. But still there, lying on the sidewalk. Waiting.

I couldn't understand why that lettuce was still there. It's been a week already. Other people must have seen it. As it was lying in the middle of the sidewalk, one had to step over it in order not to step on it, and I could see that no one stepped on it. It was certainly wilted, but not stepped on. And certainly unmoved. Or more accurately un-removed.

And how come the squirrels didn't take it? What was wrong with them or with the lettuce? The sidewalk was not attached to any building. Waist-high grass, an oak tree, an electric pole, dirt and more dirt. Some deep holes in the ground, and lots of little rocks was all that one could see by that sidewalk. And a head of lettuce lying on it, waiting to be picked up.

Am I the only person who noticed it? What about all the other people who walk by it? Doesn't it bother them that a head of lettuce lies in the middle of the sidewalk? It started to feel as if this wilting lettuce was testing me. Are you or are you not going to pick me up? How long are you going to pretend that you don't care about me? I know you want to pick me up. I know you can't ignore me. I know you can't resist.

But what about all the other people, I wanted to ask the lettuce, this annoying lettuce who's been lying there for over a week, testing my resolve not to pick it up.

The next day I gave up. But instead of picking it up and taking it to the nearest trash can, I kicked it and it landed in the yellow waist-high grass. I felt very accomplished and self-righteous. I was the only person who took decisive action while all the other people treated it as if it did not exist. I was the only one who felt connected to that stupid head of lettuce enough to remove it from the sidewalk.

Yesterday there was no sign of lettuce in the waist-high grass.

I think I will never look at lettuce the same again.



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Friday, November 5, 2010

the sports gene

Since I heard that progressives have a special gene that makes them think the way they do, I've been hoping that scientists would soon start looking for the sports gene, because although I am quite sure I possess the liberal-progressive gene, I know for a fact that I lack the gene responsible for anything that has to do with sports. And this, I'm afraid, might jeopardize my place in American society.



The reason I started to worry has to do with the Giants. You see, in 2010 the Giants had won the World Series. My San Francisco-born daughter posted something about the team on Facebook, which should have alerted me to the event. But I had no clue what she was talking about. She might as well had written it in Korean.



And so, a day after the game I tried to strike up a friendly conversation with a colleague at work. I asked him when the Giants were going to play the final game of the World Series. Was it going to be in November, December or January?



The expression on the guy's face made me feel like he might need a defibrillator. He stared at me in stunned silence and after a few seconds the words fell out of his mouth. "The Giant have already won the World Series."



Oops.



I didn't dare ask if the Giants played football or baseball. That would have finished him off completely and I didn't wish him any harm. As they like to say in this country: "It's not personal."

So you see? I am hopeless when it comes to sports.



I once rented a room from a woman who was the accountant for the 49ers. Shortly before I moved in, the team won the Super Bowl. My landlady who was the accountant of the team, partied with them after the game. Now, how do I know that the 49ers play football, you may ask. Because I remember  the signed footballs enclosed in a glass case in her living room. She also had a bunch of signed photographs hanging on the wall next to the glass case.



I am sorry to say, though, that all the football paraphernalia left me unmoved. My total ignorance prevented me from collapsing in front of the altar in sheer awe. Or how should I say it more clearly? My inner Moses failed to recognize the deity in the burning bush.



Don't get me wrong, though. I am not a hater of sports. I am just not that into it. Because I lack the sports gene. It's a DNA malfunction.



For the benefit of the doubt, and to preserve my citizenship, let me tell you that there was a time that curiosity took the better part of me and drove me to watch some unmemorable matches in very famous stadiums.



For example, I once saw a game at Yankee Stadium between the Yankees and the Red Sox. I was told that Reggie Jackson played at that game, not that I knew who he was (if I commit blasphemy here, please forgive me). Like any dumb foreigner, I knew nothing about the game and all I could think was: "What the hell is an inning? IN what?" I sat on the hard bench among screaming adults and tried to figure out why it was such a big deal to watch overweight guys in pajamas spitting on the ground and rearranging their privates. There was also lukewarm beer and hot dogs and lots of American cars in the enormous parking lot that created a traffic jam from hell after the game finally ended in the sixteenth inning or whatever. I think the Yankees won the game but don't quote me on that. I marked an  "X" on my "to do" list and went home to brag about it.



A year or so later, I found myself watching a soccer game in Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. This was when I learned to chant "um dos tres, quatro cinco mil, eu quero que flamengo vai pra puta que pariu." The chant translates into "one, two, three, four, five thousand, I want Flamengo to go to hell (literally, "go to the whore who gave birth to you"). Definitely good material for learning authentic language use. In Portuguese it rhymes nicely when 100,000 grownups yell it in tandem and blow giants horns to high heavens accompanied by incessant drumming. No hot dogs included. The only thing worth noting is that the team I was supposed to root for had won. Which probably saved my life and the life of those who took me to see the game.



The last time I was in a stadium was at the U.S. Open. I am quite sure one of the tennis players was John McEnroe because there was lots of cursing and tantrums on the court. I used to think it was Jimmy Connors who I saw playing, but when I described the tantrums years later I was told it was McEnroe not Connors. Maybe I saw them playing against one another. Not so sure about it. My memory betrays me when it comes to these details.



So you see, that's how it is with me when it comes to sports: McEnroe, Connors, Giants, Forty-Niners, Dodgers, Lakers, Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Dream Team, whatever. It's all just names to me. And don't start me on boxing, please. Watching men punch each other in the face to unconsciousness is not what I consider as "entertainment."



People try to explain to me why watching a good game is fun. Why being a fan of a sports team is fun. I listen with all the open mind I can manage and try really hard to understand. But I can't.



So one day, when they find the sports gene, I will consider gene therapy. It might make me a better American.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

elections night














Tonight I was acting like a hot shot blogger, walking around the Democrats campaign headquarters, a.k.a. Center 4 Change, taking pictures of friends, supporters, professional campaigners (Daniel behind the laptop at the back) and volunteers, while waiting for the elections results to trickle in, and trying to stay positive in spite of some icky losses which gave the House of Representatives to the Republicans. Bad, bad Republicans and their awful Tea Party cohorts.

Anyway, to a more cheerful topic. In two of the posted photos (which I took) you can see our victorious Congressman Sam Farr being interviewed by a local reporter. Check out the shot with the close up on his button on the TV screen behind him, which reads The Farr Side - ain't that a cool shot? I didn't listen to what Sam Farr said. All I cared was that he won, and by a large margin. Go 17th District!! Apparently Sam Farr does very well even among Republican voters because he crushed the competition. Alhamdulillah.

In the shot on the top right side of the screen you can see Bill Monning, our state assemblyman, giving his shpiel to the volunteers. Shortly after eight o'clock, Monning looked like he was trailing behind some tea party woman whom no one ever heard about, but at around ten o'clock more numbers came in and he seemed to widen the gap in the right direction. Sigh. Bill Monning is a hard core progressive from Santa Cruz so he definitely has my support. He used to work at the center for nuclear non-proliferation, a couple of blocks from my house, so it was interesting to hear him comparing the incitement against Obama to the Red Scare. He said they called Obama anything but the N word, so the s**t is starting to hit the fan, I think. Some politicians just say it as it is. It's about time.

Anyway, California went democrat in this round, which feels great. Jerry Brown and Boxer defeated the two evil rich women; Gavin Newsom, the heartthrob mayor of San Francisco won, and the Giants won the world series in an unrelated fluke, so we have nothing to complain about, because here in California, I guess, everything is gonna be alright....

But not everything is alright. Because Senator Russ Feingold from Wisconsin had lost.

Now, how shall I put it? I am not completely sure how I feel about his defeat.

Usually when a democrat loses an election I feel bad. Unless he loses to an independent whom I know would caucus with the democrats, (on second thought, scratch that out, come to think of the Jewish guy from Connecticut, that Liberman person who supported McCain in 2008.) But Russ Feingold made me mad this year when he wouldn't vote with the Democrats to reform Wall Street. So I thought, hey, if he loses I am not going to feel bad for him. I am not going to mourn the loss. I even unfriended him on facebook.

But then I realized that I was not totally honest. It was not Wall Street reform that made me mad. The reason I was mad at Feingold was not that he didn't back Obama. The reason I was mad at him was because he wouldn't go out on a date with me.

You see, Feingold would have been a perfect date. Smart, most liberal senator in the senate, Jewish, divorced, and age appropriate. What more do I have to ask for? I even sent him a check for his re-election campaign and on the back of the donation slip I wrote him a note: if you ever come to Monterey give me a call, I'll take you out to dinner in one of the restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf. But he never came and he never called. So I was mad at him.

But now, that he is no longer a senator, he might have time for me. After all, he's not going to be busy fighting the idiots. So maybe it will be all for good. Maybe in the end of things, I will get my date with Russ Feingold.

So if you run into him in the near future, tell him there's a nice Jewish lady in Monterey who would be very happy to take him out on a date. All he has to do is give her a call.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

rally to restore sanity and/or fear

When my daughter was born my pediatrician advised me not to buy any "how to raise a baby" book. He said that people write these books to make money, so one day I would read one thing and the next I would read the opposite. "Trust your own judgment," he said, "you know your baby better than anyone."

Now, you're asking, what does this have to do with the rally to restore sanity and/or fear?

It has to do with this thread I saw on Friday in the New York Times imported from the Washington Post, and which I think should be characterized as the biggest heap of doo doo, if one wants to be generous: Just who the hell does Jon Stewart think he is?

This was written mostly before the rally, not after, mind you. Before anyone knew what the game plan was, how things would turn out, what kind of people were going to show up, what type of signs they might carry. So many opinions, so many big words analyzing what's right and what's wrong about this "liberal" spoof, the intervention of comedians in politic, the message, the medium, the merit, what it means for Democrats in the coming elections and so forth. Telling mindless readers like me what to think about Jon Stewart and Colbert with big words and deep analysis encompassing the entire history of the republic: precedents, civic duty, proscenium (huh?), anathema, manufactured controversy and alarmism, political laziness masquerading as ironic detachment, bla bla bla bla bla....

Hey, people, excuse me, hello... I want to think about the rally whatever I want to think... don't feed me what to think... don't shove into my head the entire history of rallies in the Mall, and don't you dare badmouthing Colbert, or else!!

While I was recovering from the overdose of the pundits' verbosity, I heard this line streaming out of my laptop, thanks to CNN live streaming of the rally. It was uttered by the prankster Father Sarducci while he was waiting for god to give him a sign to which religion He ascribes to (not his exact words). After calling various schools of the Jesus persuasion and receiving enthusiastic responses from the crowd, Sarducci named Judaism and Islam and suggested with a heavy Italian accent: "You don't eat pork, we don't eat pork, let's build on that."

What a great idea to solve the conflict. Let's not eat pork together!

Which brought to my mind a piece I saw on the Jerusalem Post recently, where the writer Gil Shefler suggested to bring the rally to restore sanity to Israel. In his own words:

It might not bring peace to the Middle East
but it might help promote just a little humor
and good will in the region, and that in itself
would already be a great start.

There’s only one problem. How does one restore
sanity to a part of the world where it never existed?
I therefore propose calling the gathering in Israel
the Rally to Introduce Sanity.


I think it's a wonderful idea. Colbert and Jon Stewart going to Tel Aviv, 15 years after the assassination of Rabin during a peace rally. Hey, it might work out. Who knows. In the Middle East, where being sane was never an option, maybe the least predictable gesture would get everyone out of orbit. After all, when you have nothing to lose, resorting to humor is so much more humane than suicide bombing and state sponsored bombardment. Don't you think?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

hope we can believe in

Today, two men from Afghanistan moved into my office. I was expecting the move and been reading about Afghanistan to prepare myself for their arrival, so when they moved in I felt ready for the challenge. But then one of them did something very unexpected. He taped a photo of Obama to the cabinet door above his head. (not the one in this post)

This, I thought, must have been something he learned to do in Afghanistan. Hanging a picture of the "leader" to show loyalty and secure his place at work. I mean, we've seen pictures of Saddam in every corner in Iraq, maybe they do the same in Afghanistan. I wasn't sure if it would be okay to say anything. But it was just too interesting to let it pass, so I made the most innocuous comment I could come up with, "You hanged a picture of Obama."

The man turned to me and said, "Obama is the best thing that happened to America."

Then the other man stopped organizing his stuff and told me that his wife, who never voted and didn't care about voting, made a special trip to the polling station to vote for Obama in 2008.

I think I am going to sleep much better tonight.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

are men necessary?


I've been racking my brain with this question for quite some time.

Maureen Dowd struggled with this question in a book carrying this title some years ago, and I must admit that although I had read her book in my search for an answer, I am still at a loss.
Michael Moore wrote in his book Stupid White Men that the portable, easy-to-carry, aluminum stepladder "did the male population in... and made us guys as useful as an eight-track tape."

While there is some grain of truth in Moore's statement, there are still a few things I need a man for, and no, it is not what you're thinking...

It is true that I own a (wooden) step-ladder, that I can drill a hole in the wall, change a light bulb, and even check the oil level in my car and add more if it's low, BUT for the life of me, I can't twist off tight things, like the lids of jam and pickle jars or the cap of the water purifier, which needs to be opened every couple of months in order for the filter to be replaced.

The last time my daughter wanted me to help her open a jar of pickles I gave in and said "I need a man to do this," only to hear the contempt in her voice echoing in the kitchen. "You say a woman should not depend on a man to do things for her," or something in that spirit. Suddenly she cares about what I say. Fourteen year old smarty pants.

Of course, I can get that lid off, if I puncture it with a wine opener. That's how I do it when there is no man around. But I didn't want to make a hole in the lid. I wanted to keep it wholesome, perfect, and unpunctured, man or no man in my life!

So yesterday, in the absence of a judgmental fourteen-year-old in my house, I succumbed to the water filter's stubbornness. I unscrewed the whole contraption from the faucet, threw a pocket-size multi-tool Leatherman in a plastic bag (one of my most manly tools) and took it to my car. My idea was to corner a friendly man somewhere during my weekend rounds, shove the filter thingy and the pliers into his hands and beg him to unscrew the lid, so I could take the purifier back home and replace the expired filter. This is how desperate I was, and this is how far I was ready to go hunting for a pair of strong hands.

Other thingies that drive me to search for a man come in the shape of dead rats! For some unknown reason my garage is acting as a death trap for vermin. And when a dead rat manifests itself on the floor or under the stairs of the garage, nothing can move me toward its corpse. The last time I discovered a dried up rat in my garage I took to the street and called for help. I did not scream or flailed my hysterics. I just called, "is there a man around who can help me?" as soon as I spotted a male-type neighbor emerge out of a house across the street. The man, whom I knew was a navy officer, came to my rescue without a moment hesitation. He picked up the shapeless pile of rat remains and deposited them in his own trash can, so my fragile self would not have to be tormented over the contents of my own trash. Bless his heart.

I find myself thinking about the question "are men necessary?" when I have to lift or move big heavy things, read electronic gadgets manuals, or feel like eating barbecue. But most of all, I think about it when it's ten o'clock at night and I'm in my pajamas on the verge of sleep, and it's pouring rain outside, and I suddenly remember that I forgot to take the trash out, with or without a dead rat lying inside.

It would have been nice to have a man around to help with the little stuff of life. For the big stuff, I  rely on myself.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

the politics of coffee

A photo of a cup of coffee.This morning, after I dropped Eliya at Moss Landing to go kayaking with a bunch of scientific minded kids, I drove to a coastal blink-of-an-eye hamlet by the freeway and entered a local cafe known for its wonderful variety of pies.

The entire weekend crowd consisted of a young dude in a funky wool cap and his laptop. He looked up and smiled when I entered. It was a good beginning. A friendly crowd of one always makes me feel welcomed. No line. Not too many people staring, making silent judgment about the way I walk and talk and dress and order...

The girl behind the counter looked busy doing something, but I wasn't sure what. I waited for a few minutes hoping she would notice me. Eventually she did and promised she'd be right with me. After several more minutes she asked me what I wanted. I asked for a cup of coffee. She motioned toward a heavy wooden dresser behind me and insinuated in some nonverbal way that I should serve myself.

I got myself a paper cup, after paying for the coffee, and started pumping coffee out of a tall thermos. The pump went dry before the cup got half way to the top. Oh, well, no rush, I thought. I picked the empty thermos and gave it to the girl. It's empty, I said.

She took it and turned to serve another woman who materialized out of nowhere. Eventually, someone came from inside the kitchen and took the empty thermos, I guess to fill it up.

I waited. In the meantime I learned about the customer's family and friends and what she thought about a bag of granola. The customer dropped a pen. I picked it up. Then waited some more. It's a small town, I thought. No rush. One customer at the counter, one sitting at the table, and no coffee. So what? We have time. People talk, bond over family ties. The dude at the table finished reading whatever he was reading on his laptop, folded everything and left. And I was still waiting. Waiting for some coffee. In a small artsy cafe at the end of the street, a block away from Starbucks.

Oh, come on, be good. Have some patience. It's the weekend. Take it easy. Everything is cool. I kept on waiting. And waiting. Suddenly something stirred inside me. Are they going to bring the coffee, I interrupted the friendly conversation that meandered next to me. Uh, I'll get it for you, the girl behind the counter said.

She disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a cup of coffee. "Let me know if you want some more," she said, as she handed me a half-filled cup.

I looked at the half-full cup (or half empty, you decide) and out of nowhere said to her that I no longer wanted any coffee. I just wanted to leave.

The woman with the granola bag got really mad at me. She insisted that I take the half-full coffee cup because that was what I wanted, right? You wanted coffee, here it is. She frowned at me and was about to start a fight to defend the honor of the girl behind the counter.

But I did not feel like getting mad at anyone. I left the artsy cafe and drove to my favorite, always busy French bakery, where the friendly woman behind the counter poured me a cup of coffee (after I handed her an empty dispenser/thermos of French Roast) and warned me to watch out because it was very hot.

And no, as you see, it was not Starbucks.




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Saturday, October 2, 2010

America has lost its mind

Recently I saw a headline in one of the local papers toying with the idea that Boehner (House minority leader, i.e., a Republican) is going to be the next speaker of the house. It made cringe. I felt helpless and angry that America was handing me this card, again. After eight years of Bush, a short respite, and here we go again.

Eight years of watching the Republicans destroying everything I thought was good about America really took it out of me. But then came Obama and things started to look brighter, more promising, in spite of the mismanaged wars, the economic collapse, the bitter aftertaste of living under the Cheney snarl day after day after day. In the last elections America proved itself again as the harbinger of progress and renewal. But now, only two years into Obama's presidency, the mean-spiritedness of the republican party already metastasizes into every corner of our public and private spheres and threatens to take us all down into its dark nether world.

I see no difference between the mobs who burn American flags on the streets of Pakistan and the well-funded crazies who wave posters of Obama in a Hilterite mustache on this continent. The only difference you can find between the two is that the latter are fully embraced by the republican mainstream establishment.

I am so tired of being bullied by ignorance, stupidity, greed, fake hysteria, xenophobia, cynicism, belligerence, sexually repressed politicians and their blatant disregard for facts.

I tell myself that in the micro level my life will not change if the Republicans win Congress. I will still go to work every morning, drive my daughter to school, live in the same place, shop at the same stores, walk on the same beach, talk to the same people, enjoy the sunset. So what if more young Americans will get killed because of the misguided notion Republicans had that American democracy can be imposed on Muslims at gun point. So what if the wounded soldiers will get dumped on the streets because there will be no money to care for them. So what if our public schools turn into Christian madrassas. So what if the next generations will bake in an endless summer and watch the sea level rise and the ice caps disappear. So what if the billionaires get richer with our tax dollars and then rip off ordinary citizens, so what if more people lose their health insurance that the health care reform endowed them with after long and tiresome maneuvers the democrats had to pull off on the floor of the congress? So what? Life goes on... "yom asal yom basal" as they say in Arabic. One day honey, one day onion.

I can learn to ignore whatever goes on in the halls of Washington. Focus on my life in California. Then, in a month from now, when the republicans boot the democrats out of congress, I will be ready to see their smug faces ushering in their distorted version of reality. All I have to do is find a way to avoid being arrested in case I feel an urge to please myself.

Because after all, what has given the republicans an edge over the democrats in this election cycle is their freshest battle cry: "No more masturbation for the masses."

related stuff:

Slate: Socialism, masturbation and Christine O'Donnell

Masturbation hater wins senate primary


video: Karl Rove loves Christine O'Donnell

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Kandahar


I think we need to change the phrase "Go to hell" to "Go to Kandahar." Both have a powerful H in them which makes a strong impact and provide immediate release from negative emotions trapped inside the body, but the latter has an additional K which can make for a more powerful release.

I like saying 'Kandahar' but I don't like to think about Kandahar.

Do you know where Kandahar is?

Can you find it on the map if I point to Afghanistan? North, south, east west, center, mountain range, valley floor, desert? I bet you will have to squint your eyes and search for it. Even if you heard about Kandahar, you probably never stopped to look at a map and find the damned place.

While I still have to locate Karbala [Iraq] on the map, I already know where to look for Kandahar.

The Taliban birthplace, that's what Kandahar is all about. The stronghold of pure, concentrated, well-armed, narrow-minded, fanatical masculine evil. Where martyrdom is more appreciated than music and art, where women and children are treated like domestic animals, or worse, where Allah has all the answers, where good people die for what?

And today, according to the New York Times headline "American and Afghan Troops Begin Combat for Kandahar." You would think that Kandahar is some enchanted kingdom sitting on a golden hill, a mythical Troy or Shangri-La, a place worth dying for.

Fuck Kandahar. That's all I want to say today.

Friday, September 17, 2010

blogging on yom kippur


Blogging on Yom Kippur? Hell yes.

Stephen Hawking leaves me no other choice.

The only reason I would fast on Yom Kipur is to divert the wrath of God away from evil-doer me to other evil doers who don't fast, but now that Hawking came out with this old-new revelation about the almighty one, I can finally live without fear. I need not fast to appease Him. I can eat cream puffs if I want to.

Just check out cyberspace and you will be inundated with this tidal wave of headlines screaming Hawking's latest discovery: We don't need God to explain the unexplainable, or what we thought was unexplainable, because he - Hawking, not God - can explain it himself!

Here is a sample:

MoneyBlog - Stephen Hawking: God is not necessary to understand the universe.

Telegraph - The Big Bang was the result of the inevitable laws of physics and did not need God to spark the creation of the Universe, Stephen Hawking has concluded.

Jerusalem Post - Hawking: God was not needed to create the universe.


Youtube - Stephen Hawking: Physics Leaves No Room For God.


What I don't understand is why the universe is so scandalized by this recent "Discovery?" In 2005, Neil DeGrasse Tyson wrote about the Perimeter of Ignorance in which he stated pretty much the same thing. Yet, I don't remember it making such a huge splash. Maybe I was not so well connected then or maybe I was too busy to notice. Or maybe that essay's purpose was to prepare the universe for Hawking's new earth un-shuttering claim. I mean, it probably will take more than a couple of articles and books to root out the notion of a God who stalks humanity and then abuses it with all kinds of diseases and calamities if it acts human.

I don't know. Maybe Hawking can answer that question, too.

In the meantime, I'll keep my mezuzah on my door sill. Just in case...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Men in uniform


Sometimes the length I have to go to get attention from men is mind boggling.

Most of the time I feel completely invisible. Walking on the beach, shopping at Trader Joe's, or sitting in my favorite cafe, I am clearly not the kind of woman who makes men's heads turn in awe; and at work, well, my men colleagues have been so methodically indoctrinated in the prevention of sexual harassment, they dare not compliment a woman even on days she knows she deserves one, because several of her females colleagues have already commented on her hair, her muscle tone, or her snazzy outfit.

But yesterday things took an interesting turn. Not that I planned it that way. All I wanted to do was donate blood to the Armed Services Blood Program (ASBP). And considering the scary procedure I was going to endure, men were the farthest thing from my mind. But little did I know.

The moment I walked into the gym where the lab team had set its mobile blood collection unit, I realized that things were not exactly the way I had expected them to be. My brain conducted a quick scan of the scenery - young men in uniform lying on folding beds with long plastic tubes hanging from their arms; more young men in uniform sitting on bleachers looking bored, waiting for their turn on the folding beds; young men playing basketball in the back of the gym; young men in uniform collecting information from prospective donors, and a tiny sprinkle of females who seemed to know what they were doing. I also noticed that I was way above the donors' median age; I was not wearing anything remotely similar to camouflage; and everyone but me had a tattoo.

I had no choice but to conclude that any attempt to blend in would be futile, so I decided to adjust to this very odd situation by trying to look professional, respectable and blasé.

But how respectable can one pretend to be when a very good looking young man in uniform asks you "Did you in the last 12 years have sex with a man who had sex with other men?" Or "Did you in the last 12 years have sex even once with a person who gets paid to have sex?" Then he checks how I answered the questions about having syphilis or gonorrhea and whether I had sex with a man from Africa after 1977.

Of course I couldn't keep a straight face. My inner child started cracking jokes with the very cute guy who checked my blood pressure and temperature, while simultaneously pricking my finger and collecting several drops of blood to make sure I was not anemic. While he was marking my blood donor questionnaire, I was shocked to see that my blood pressure shot to 140/70 but then I remembered that I was just poked in the finger by a very handsome stranger and was about to lose a pint of blood. No wonder my veins were misbehaving.

It was also pretty hard to stay serious when another guy checked again all the questions about my potential sex life with non-existent Africans and the exotic diseases I might have contracted in my travels since 1980 (please specify all the dates and names of places you visited). One of the diseases on the 50-questions list was called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. They wanted to know if I had rabies, too. I really had to hold myself back and not protest that all I wanted to do was donate blood, not brag about my extensive exposure to risky sexual activities, exotic diseases, and experimental drugs.

Next in line, I met the lab officer, who practically adopted me once he saw what blood type I was offering to donate to the U.S. armed services. He made me feel really special. Not because of my rare blood type, but because he noticed my purse!!! He liked it. My Moroccan style orange purse with the shiny coiny thingies that dangle on the edge. My $2.00 purse which I bought at Goodwill no less. No man has ever complimented me on my purse. But this captain, who served in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Tikrit (Saddam's hometown in Iraq) and many other scary place, had noticed my purse and my smile - which thankfully made me look younger than my years, he added after checking my age on the form. Thank you very much.


And then came the big moment. I was asked to pull up my sleeves and let a man in a white robe choose the lucky vein. But my sleeves were too tight. So I was sent to change into a blood donor t-shirt. When I said I could change right there, the person in charge nearly passed out. Too many guys around... changing a shirt in front of them...not a good idea. I insisted that I had a very nice undershirt to keep the modesty going, but he was not convinced. I think he thought that having me lie down in front of strangers while blood is flowing out of my body was more palatable than seeing me in my light-blue lacy undershirt. Oh, well.

Once the t-shirt drama was resolved the captain chose the phlebotomist who would draw my blood. It was the best man on the team, I was told. I asked for local anesthesia. They looked at me like I was crazy. Suddenly I felt as if I was going to give birth to my next baby. I was surrounded by a bunch of men, cheering me on, telling me I was doing a great job (doing what exactly, I wondered), and reminding me to squeeze the ball. When I said my hand felt weak and asked if I could squeeze the ball with my other hand, the guy who stuck the needle in my arm could not resist a smile. The captain, who stood by my side the whole time, making sure I was doing fine, was besides himself with pleasure when he saw the smile spread on the face of the guy. For him I was no longer just an exotic French woman with a pretty purse (yes, it's my accent again), I was also a comedian.

The entire affair ended on a very positive note. The armed forces got some good clean blood and in return I got a chocolate chip cookie, a pink squeeze ball, and a t-shirt.

Those of you who wonder what it feels like to donate blood, well, it's not as bad as going to the dentist. And considering the amount of attention a single woman can get from a bunch of dedicated men in uniform, let me tell you, it was worth the trouble.

So next time I feel an urge to be surrounded by men, you know where to find me.

One final comment: if you want to show your support for the troops, donate blood. They will really appreciate it. Check ASBP website to see if you can help.

And to my Israeli readers I say:


אני לא יודעת למה הם עשו מזה עניין כל כך גדול , בסך הכל רציתי לחזור הביתה בשלום

Saturday, September 11, 2010

september 11


By total coincidence I finished reading the book "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11" today. I didn't plan it this way. It just happened that I read the last page in the early morning hours of September 11. There was no commitment of any kind on my part. Just curiosity and probably a little bit of an obsessive-compulsive reading habit.

The way it happened was this: About a month ago, one of my favorite bloggers (TPM, Josh Marshall) asked his readers to name the best book about 9/11 and this book was at the top of the list. So I contacted my local library and borrowed it. It's a 373 pages of a fascinating read - minus 16 pages of black and white pictures showing some of the characters mentioned in the book. I seriously couldn't put that book down. Although I knew how it was going to end, I was still completely engrossed. The revelations and insights that the author provided in this book were simply beyond anything one could find in a typical news article. Sometimes it felt like TMI. For example, reading about the multiple marriages of bin Laden, especially the last one in which he married a 15 year-old girl from Yemen. I think he was over 40 by then, and a father of 17 children. I couldn't help thinking that the girl was about my daughter's age. Sickening.

But I don't want to spend my time writing about the bad guys here. And since talking about the awfulness of the day and what we learned about the world in the last nine years is just too obvious, I decided to write about one tiny detail that came up toward the end of the book and made me go "huh?"

On page 347 of this book the author, Lawrence Wright, mentions a children's book called The Soul Bird and quotes several lines from it. Here's one: "This is the soul bird, it feels everything we feel." Let me tell you, it is not every day that one sees a little Hebrew book mentioned in the context of 9/11. Seriously.

But beside that point, the line the author cited was a part of a much longer introduction. The book starts like this: "deep, deep inside the body resides the soul, no one ever saw her, but everyone knows she exists. And not only do they know that she exists, they know what's inside her. Inside the soul, at the center, stands on one foot, a bird, a bird whose name is the soul bird and she feels everything we feel." [pls check out the picture I posted at the top.]

Now I'm at peace again and you probably have a better grasp of my obsessive-compulsive relationship with words.

The Soul Bird is one of my favorite books. It is a Hebrew book, written by a woman who is connected to me by marriage of my brother's sister-in-law (confused?), so I can't claim she is a relative. But in some cosmic way I always felt that this book was connected to me and when I taught Hebrew I considered it my favorite text book which my students practically memorized, not because I told them to do so, but because they liked it so much. That book covers a variety of emotions and attitudes, for a lack of a better word, allegedly locked in the soul, so if one wants to learn the Hebrew word for patience or jealousy or happiness or despondency or sadness and hope and laziness and hatred, that's the book to turn to.

And the reason that the author of the Looming Tower mentions this little Hebrew book in this masterpiece is that this charming little Hebrew book drove the tough FBI agent, Paul O'Neill, who knew that Osama bin Laden was planning to attack America, who expected a huge attack to materialize any day in 2001, who tried to warn his bosses that something awful was about to happen, and who ended up dying on 9/11- this book drove him to tears!

That's the power of the written word.

----------------------------------------
just in case you wondered:

* Paul O'Neill was an FBI agent who investigated Al Qaeda for years.
He was on the team that investigated the attack on USS Cole in Yemen
in 2000. He had an office in World Trade Center on 34th floor (or 25th, not
sure), he was there on 9/11 and actually was able to get outside after the
plane hit the tower, but then he went back in to help people and died when
the building collapsed. He retired from FBI shortly before the attack and
worked as security consultant for the world trade center. He knew that it
would be hit again, he worked on the first attempt on the towers in 1993
when the blind sheik had his men explode a van full of explosives in the
underground parking lot. He was a real interesting character, kind of a
mafia type but on the other side of the law.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

shana tova and happy new year

Several months ago I stopped watching television. It’s kind of funny, because several months ago I actually bought a big flat-screen television set and placed it in my bedroom, so my daughter would not be tempted to glue herself to the big screen and become brain dead by the time she turns sixteen.

Anyway, for several months I enjoyed watching Rachel Maddow on my big flat-screen tv until one day my cable provider turned her into snowflakes and white noise once he (yes, a cable provider must be a ‘he’ unless it's Meg Whitman) discovered I was able to see Maddow without paying for the more expensive cable package that offers MSNBC. So out of nowhere my two favorite channels disappeared and I was left with the networks, which you pretty much have to put a gun to my head if you want me to watch them. I mourned Maddow's loss for two days and then I decided that I would not be sucked into the cable provider's scheme to woo me into buying a satellite dish or whatever other option is available, no matter what - and if I ever felt a terrible urge to watch Ms. Maddow’s smile as she poked fun at the Koran burning crazies, I would turn to my wireless and watch her online.

What I am trying to share with you here is that I experienced a life transforming event and I barely even noticed it. And now I realize that even though I am not watching television, I still know enough to function in this world. Well, almost. I know most of what I need to know.

True, there are many things I don’t know. I know nothing about American Idol and Dancing with the Stars and Big Man or Mad man, and I know nothing about Weeds. Just name a program that received an Emmy recently and I assure you, I don’t know anything about it. Oh, I never watched the Sopranos, either. I also don’t know anything about Survivor or Lost or the Orange County Wives or whichever hugely popular drama series that's been playing on television for the last 5 years (or 15? I lost count). And, yet, I can converse with people and appear to be pretty well informed and acculturated in all the nuances of whatever culture that is floating out there, around me and my fellow human beings.

Let me be clear, as Obama likes to say - I didn’t give up television because I am a hippie or because I try to be a high-brow elitist or rebel against the mediocre programs tv executives are shoving down our throats and into our eye balls. I gave up television because I am cheap!

Now I get to do what people who don't watch a lot of tv get to do - I read books, really interesting books written by very interesting, articulate, creative thinkers. I learn more about the world. And my attention span is not getting smacked in the head every time I actually find myself really getting into something and sinking my teeth into it.

Don't be alarmed. I am not going to preach to anyone to give up their television. I just hope that the future of television will be similar to the future of the New York Times print edition. One day it will simply go away, and the familiar blue light that one can see shimmering through living room windows will disappear and a new light will start shining in our homes. In that brighter future, no one will need to pay for 900 channels that offer brain-numbing crap or syndicated reruns and stupid reality shows. One will be able to choose exactly what she wants to watch and have the wireless provider bill her on a monthly basis for her daily consumption of television programs.

That’s my wish for the Jewish New Year. Shanah Tova!

Monday, August 30, 2010

gloomy sunday


The title of this post refers to the name of the movie I watched on Sunday night, not to my mood. It is a German speaking movie, taking place in Budapest. It was a bit weird that the "Hungarians" spoke German, but hey, I can suspend belief on this detail. The movie was released in 2003 in the U.S., and you can get it on Netflix if you decide to watch it.

Gloomy Sunday is the name of a song that many of you may know. It was written in the 1930s and was a big hit. An intriguing urban legend is connected to the song, but I will not reveal it here. I will let you discover it on your own if you are interested. Googling was never easier.

The story is... well, unpredictable in some places which makes the viewing quite refreshing when comparing it to the Hollywood productions that are inflicted on us en masse, where the foreshadowed is foreshadowed again and again ad vomitum. I think this is why I like foreign films, because I can't predict everything that is going to happen, even though I realized that second world war was looming in the background and the Nazis were about to make an appearance. I found myself wanting to know what happens next and i liked that feeling. I remember when I was watching Avatar, very early in the movie there was a scene in which a bunch of dog-looking computer animated creatures attacked the main character in the forest, and I thought to myself, well, it's way too early in the movie for this guy to be killed, so I was like, ok, how long is this scene going to last exactly? I get the point. Scary dogs, big teeth, vicious dogs, barking, sharp teeth, black dogs barking loudly, attacking, I get the point, can we move on? And the scene went on and on until I almost wished the dogs would finish off the guy so I could go to sleep.

But in this Hungarian/German tale, I never got that feeling. I was totally fine with whatever happened on the screen (men in love, Europe in Nazi era, schmaltzy music, and an incredibly beautiful woman who disrobed a few times). I was fine even during some moments when things got a bit kitschy or when hearing the gloomy song for the umpteenth time made me feel I was going to have an epileptic seizure.

The other thing I really liked about that movie was that I didn't know any of the actors. That was so refreshing. No familiar shpiels, no "star power" BS, just some actors doing whatever actors do. I was able to get into the story without getting confused about all the other movies that this or that actor did during his/her amazing career or suddenly be distracted by memories of weird stories I'd heard about that actor and so forth.

So if you feel like watching something a little different, and you don't shy from reading subtitles, try this movie. You might like it. And if you don't, hey, don't blame me. I didn't write the screenplay or directed it.

I read somewhere it has a cult following in ....New Zealand.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Zionist condition


Today I am sick, so I am going to write about something that makes me sick. Not about the virus that infected my body, but a virus that infected someone else.

In one of my previous posts I explained why it was no picnic being an Israeli, so consider this post a second installment. Or third... I kind a' have a feeling it is not the last posting on this issue.

To begin with, let me say that I have no problem with being Israeli. I am completely comfortable being who I am. Been like that long enough to know all the ins and outs, ups and downs of having this condition. But I do have a serious problem with the American self-righteous left. I think that by definition I can be considered as lefty, but I am not a stupid lefty. I am Israeli (and American, too), therefore, more pragmatic in my views. But in America, and in Europe, if you are a lefty, you have to hate Israel no matter what. It is the main litmus test to be accepted into the lefty ranks, and it makes me sick!

I used to watch Amy Goodman on Democracy Now until Sharon was elected prime minister. Now, I am no supporter of Sharon by any measure, not a tiny bit; I participated in every protest against him on the streets of Tel Aviv before I left. But I never once thought of him as General Sharon; whatever his rank was, I never really thought about it. But Amy Goodman did. And every time she mentioned him, she called him General Sharon, as if he were Pinochet. This was the most ridiculous thing to call him, and it showed the total cynicism and one-way thinking of the American Left. No one in Israel referred to Sharon as "general" even when he was one, because as many of you already know, Israeli society is very informal, and many politicians and high ranking military commanders have rather idiotic nicknames. It is also true that Sharon (aka Arik) was a general when he was in the military, but once he was out of the military, no one called him General. Israel is not governed by a military junta, but by calling citizen Sharon "General" Amy Goodman was insinuating something totally sinister about the Israeli government. So I stopped watching her program. But I'm digressing...

So here I am, living in America as you know now, for more than two decades, professing some of my unkosher views in public, and I hear from a colleague at work that she has this interesting friend who was educated in France and got a PhD in literature and so forth. So I tell her I would love to meet him (not for romantic purposes, as you will see from her email to him.)

So here's what she write to him, in French:

J'ai parle de toi, a Galia, ma collegue-copine israelienne (bien plus leftiste que moi) et elle a super envie de prendre un cafe avec toi (comme elle le dit, in English in the text, elle adore bavarder avec des intellectuels europeens..:))

I don't really know how to read French, but here is my attempt at translation:

I told you about my Israeli colleague Galia (who is a lot more lefty than I am), she wants to (unrecognized word) with you in a cafe (as she said it, in English in the text, she would love to (unrecognized word) with European Intellectuals..:))

And here is his answer:

Euh... oui... seulement si elle est pas sioniste!

English: Ehh... yes...only if she is not a Zionist!

OUCH. OUCH. OUCH.

Let me tell you, this was a big huge enormous kick under my bellybutton. And boy, it hurt.

My friend was very upset to read this. I kind of went blank. Then I regained my senses and you should be glad you were not there. My colleague remarked painfully, after she let me see his email: "you scratch a little under the surface and that's was you find." And I said aloud and without apologizing: "Antisemitism pure and simple." And believe me, I am not a paranoid Jewess; I don't see antisemitism in every corner, but when I see it, I say it.

You can argue with me until you are blue in the face that the man is not an antisemite, that the man has serious issue with the way Israel is treating the Palestinians and he has a right to disagree with the Zionist project (whatever you think Zionism is; I realize people have different definitions for Zionism, many of which are quite wrong) and bla bla bla.... And I will tell you, no one can agree with you more. I have very serious issues with the way Israel has turned out to be. Hey, I left Israel not because I thought it was the most beautiful place on earth, and I never once voted Likud or even centrist Labor. But I would never ever judge a person I never met by his/her origin or put any conditions on that person's political nuances before I meet that person. Remember that my friend already said I was even more lefty than she was.

Let me put it this way: Let us assume that a colleague tells me that there is an Austrian guy who has a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and he wants to meet me and talk about stuff, and I say, Well, sure, only if he is not a Nazi (because for the intellectual left the Zionists are equal to Nazis, BTW). Or let's try this: Someone tells me there's a guy from Rwanda who wants to ask me about Israel, and I say, only if he is not a Hutu sympathizer. What kind of person would that make me?

People, where does this crap come from? This is seriously the ugliest shit I came across in all my years in America. This is f***ing unbelievable. This is coming from an educated man, a European intellectual who will argue that he is not antisemitic. Sure, people have to hide their antisemitism, I understand. It is very uncool to declare such abhorrent inclination, especially when you are educated and hold degrees in high-brow thinking about things. But to hate Israel and to blame all the ills of the world on Israel and Israelis and even former Israelis is considered the cool thing to do only by the highly-educated, self-righteous American and European lefties.

Yes, we have problems with the Israeli government and the radicalization of many Israelis (quite similar to what happens here in the States with the Tea Party and the GOP); yes, we should be able to criticize the impotence, short-sightedness, and stubbornness of all the sides involved in the regional conflict; yes we should fight to stop injustice and violence and stupidity in all their forms. But by barring me from civilized discussion just because I might be a Zionist, well, that will not usher peace unto the world any time sooner, I can promise you.

Regardless of the narrative, who is more militant and more blood thirsty, the Palestinian or the Jew, I would say to people like this French intellectual who snubbed me: Look into your heart and dig as deep as you can - if you are truly honest with yourself, you will be aware of your deep-seated antisemitism. It is not a pretty thing to look at, but it is better to know it is there because once you see it, once you become aware of it - it will be much easier for you to start the house-cleaning your soul so badly needs.

We all have our prejudices. The sooner we become aware of them, the sooner we can rid ourselves of them.

Monday, August 23, 2010

mosque


I think it’s about time I break my silence on the so-called Ground Zero Mosque since everyone and his grandmother already spoken up their mind. So now it is my turn....OK, I know I don’t have a huge audience and that my opinion matters very little, but hey, I have a blog, therefore I am!! (In Yiddish it is translated as ergo blogito sum)

So where do I stand on this issue?

Since the crazies were screaming so loudly against it, my knee-jerk reaction was that something fishy was going on. So I started looking around and what I found was very confusing. I thought it was a very bad idea for the Anti-Defamation-League aka ADL to come against it if only because of the organization’s expressed goal to fight bigotry and extremism. At the same time, I was somewhat queasy about the unflinching support from New York’s Jewish mayor, not because I was against building a mosque at that specific spot, but because I kind of felt that some in what is called "the Muslim world" would interpret it as a victory for Islam over the wishy-washy gutless infidels. I think someone may have raised that point somewhere and I don’t think they were too far off. I still remember how some people I don’t want to name danced in the streets to celebrate the carnage that took place in New York and Washington DC on 9/11. Then, when the issue exploded all over the place, Obama expressed support for the mosque and took it back a little the next day because of the noise generated by the crazies. I ended up feeling that this whole mosque mayhem was one big nasty provocation and a test of America’s commitment to religious freedom and pluralism.

So in order to clear up some of the confusion, I read the usual suspects (Harris, Jeffrey Goldberg from the Atlantic, and Frank Rich from the NYT to name a few) and discovered that a lot of the information that was spread around this controversy was simply untrue. And then, by total coincidence, I ran into an Israeli friend who is married to an Egyptian man who is also a devout Muslim, I am not kidding you. Take that for religious diversity. It was a total fluke that I ran into her on the day I started writing about the mosque. As they say, it was life imitating blog.

Anyway, she told me that she has been visiting a local mosque with her husband and son in the evenings because this month is Ramadan, and that’s where her husband was breaking the fast. Then yesterday someone looked at her funny when he saw her eat something on the street and she was like “what’s your problem, man, why you looking at me like that? “ Only to find out that he saw her at the mosque and thought she was eating when she was supposed to fast. Little did he know. She ended up explaining to the congregation that she was Jewish and not fasting, and when they were not sure what the word Jewish meant, she added Israeli. That’s when they began complaining to her about the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and she had to put a stop to it and tell everyone that she did not come to the mosque to talk politics. When she saw my jaw falling off my face she said that they ended up treating her great and all ended well. So there is hope after all.

This Friday evening I am planning to go with my daughter and share some good food with my Muslim friends when they break the fast. Where else do you think I can get real good hummus and stuffed grape leaves in this town?

So here is my opinion of the mosque: Calm down people. Let’s talk it over and find a way to contain all this anger and do something productive. Yes, Sam Harris is correct in his analysis of the very serious ills of Islam and the need to speak out about those problems (jihadists, women-hating, total intolerance for the Other) and find creative ways to correct them, but screaming and kicking and badmouthing everyone will not do it. It will only make it worse and increase the alienation and hatred and violence. Transparency, accountability, responsibility, cooperation, checks and balances, due process, monitoring, education, education, education, all these buzz words were not invented for nothing. We should do something with them. After all this is America, where everything is possible and thinking out of the box is the cool thing to do.

We can protect and support and help progressive Muslims who have a very strong point to make like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji and Asra Nomani and all the other incredible Muslim women who write about their lives and fight for their rights and speak out without fear in spite of the huge risk involved in speaking out their minds.

Now, look at the picture I attached above. That’s me, pushing a baby stroller, on HaYarkon Street in Tel Aviv, in 1999. It’s my daughter in that stroller. Behind me is, lo and behold, a mosque! This mosque is standing across the street from the Dolphinarium. On June, 1, 2001 at 11:30 on Saturday night, Saeed Hotari blew himself up in the midst of a crowed of teenagers, who were standing in line to enter the Dolphin Disco. 21 people, mostly girls ages 14-18, were obliterated, 132 others were wounded. The Palestinians celebrated in the streets after the attack and the family of the bomber received a chunk of change as a reward.

I don’t think the Israelis erased that mosque from the skyline of Tel Aviv or demanded to demolish it after the attack that took place across the street. The last time I was in Tel Aviv that mosque was still standing there. A couple of blocks from my brother's apartment. This is how it is in the land of the Jews and Muslims and Christians and everything in between. Mosques were built on grounds where Jews lived and died and built their houses of worship, and synagogues were built were Muslims once worshiped and lived and probably died, too, and churches were built next to synagogues and mosques and cemeteries, and some of them were built on top of synagogues and mosques and cemeteries. And now New York is turning into a city where Christians and Jews and Muslims and everyone in between and around are building things and learning to live side by side. Let us not turn this city into another Middle Eastern province. We should know better.