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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

ground zero

Last weekend I was in San Francisco. As part of my planned “entertainment,” instead of going to the symphony or the opera or even to MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), my sexually unaligned friends insisted that I go with them to the most hard-core, open-to-the-public gay event of the year: Dore Alley gay leather fetish fair. Pretend you are an anthropologist, one said, when he saw the expression on my face. So I followed him, passed the orange street barrier, and entered the dense crowd of men.

The Dore Alley event is not designed for the squeamish among the hetero population. It is the most in-your-face-I’m-gay extravaganza San Francisco has to offer. And while gawkers are certainly welcome, as many participants are by definition unrepentant exhibitionists, one should try to blend in, if only out of respect for the blatant counter-culture expressionism.

I tried to act nonchalant and inconspicuous as partially naked men dressed in what looked like Nazi paraphernalia walked by me, but that was almost impossible, since I am obviously a woman who does not wear black leather straps and stilettos too well. To the credit of the naked Nazi look alikes, I must say, they had absolutely no interest in me. I stood on the sidewalk and took pictures, and no one bothered to give me a second look. (see above)

There is something to be said about middle aged men who don’t possess the statuesque silhouette of a Michelangelo’s David or Bacchus and still have the audacity to walk completely naked on the street, with their anatomy hanging out for all to see. I am not sure what this type of nudity is supposed to mean, but it certainly made me extremely uncomfortable. This is not the innocent nude beach, family-friendly nudity. It is provocative nudity intended to unnerve the softhearted.

And so I was unnerved. But at the same time, I must say that it was quite an amazing experience to be in the middle of this display of what some people might consider as perverted sexuality, and feel completely safe. Because that day, on Folsom street, I was the strange Other; yet not one person cared to question my presence or look at me unfavorably.

A lot of the guys who come to Dore Alley are just guys. Many are beyond the stage of making a statement about their gayness. They accept it, their family accepts it, their friends accept it, they’ve been out of the closet for years, without apology, without having to explain or prove a point. Many are just gays in a hard-core gay festival, like the Greeks in the Greek festival, the Italians in the Santa Rosalia festival, and the Japanese in the Obon festival.

I guess sometimes what looks like the most unusual place to be in, is actually a very ordinary one. There must be a lesson here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dog Love I

An English Setter in the water.
                    Image via Wikipedia

Almost all my friends have dogs. Some have one, some have two, and some have three.
My closest childhood friend has two aging lady dogs. The older one she rescued from the streets of Los Angeles when she was already at a very advanced age and infested with all kinds of exotic parasites and illnesses. Madam Mika now spends her days in diapers, dragging her hind legs from one side of the living room to the other to check her food bowl and bark at the occasional pedestrian who passes by the house. The younger one was rescued from a cruel and thoughtless neighbor. This dog now spends her days barking at squirrels, sleeping, and going for long walks twice a day. Both female dogs are totally indifferent to me and treat me like I don't exist when I visit, except for a few lackluster barks upon my arrival. However, I did notice that they have the better sitting arrangements in the house, and that my entertainment heavily depends on their feeding and walking schedule.

Another friend of mine used to have three dogs; two tall English Setters with gigantic droopy ears and one unidentifiable black mix who was considered the smartest of the pack. When I used to come see her, the English gents would bark their heads off as soon as they heard the doorbell, and the moment the door opened, shove their long faces at me and drool their sticky saliva all over my pants. It was not fun, although my friend found it hysterically funny. One of the Setters ended up developing a terrible disease and had to be put down. It was a sad moment for my friend, but she knew it was coming and prepared herself for his departure. Surprisingly, though, the surviving Setter never seemed to miss his friend or look for him, probably because he has no sense of time, my friend explained. The black dog had to be put down not too long afterward. He suffered a stroke that caused him to lose his eyesight and develop frightening late night seizures. Now my friend is left with one Setter, who seems to generate very few stories, so I assume he is doing fine.

I have another girlfriend who has three spoiled yellow labs, each fatter and friendlier than the other. They also bark their heads off in excitement when I approach the door, and the moment she opens the door they happily shove their heads into my crotch and sniff me, making sure I am one of their female tribe. They push each other trying to get to me, and their wagging tails hit me so hard, I feel my legs turn black and blue under my pants. These labs have the best life. They sleep in my friend’s king size bed overlooking the Monterey Bay and eat incredible food she cooks for them every single day of the year. I eat toast standing at my kitchen counter. I once told her that I would have loved to be her dog, sleep in her bed, eat her food, and not suffer any consequences for bad behavior. I think her fabulous cooking gives them bad gas, because many times after we finish enjoying a meal, a strange smell invades her living room and nearly suffocates me. I know it doesn't come from her. She is a tiny Thai woman who eats like a bird. She would probably kill herself before letting anything like this come out of her body. However, when I bring that smell to her attention, all she does is laugh and scold her labs in the most loving, nonjudgmental voice.
The last couple of days I spent with a friend who has two large dogs she found at the pound: a big black one and a yellow something. She claims that the dogs bring her endless love and happiness. She also has a loving husband and a very good marriage. These dogs are also the crotch sniffing kind that bark at flies and lick your face when you sleep on the couch, and drop a ball in your lap 50,000 times no matter how many times you tell them you are not going to throw it anywhere for them and "Please leave me alone." Their greetings include jumping on me and putting their paws on my shoulders!!! And each one weighs probably 90 pounds. Yet, my friend claims they are the embodiment of joy to and she loves them so much, and the kind of love you get from a dog is the most precious love.
I tell her I'd rather have human love.
She laughs at me.
I say, "Of course your dogs love you. You feed them."
She insists that their love is unconditional.
But I want verbal love, not barks and sniffs and farts and stupid tennis balls on my lap.
She says I should adopt a dog if I want to feel true love.
I tell her "Over my dead body."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Palestinians' response to Nahal Brigade video

A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestini...Image via Wikipedia

Yeah, the Palestinians took on the challenge and posted a response on youtube. Peace is almost here. Check it out.

To be fair, not as funny as the Israeli video, but hey, it was worth a try. I like the concept of protesting the body searches. One suggestion to the Palestinians: keep the int'l activists out (those pretending to be Israelis). Solidarity or no solidarity, this conflict is between you and the Israelis.

The Nahal soldiers received an "educational punishment." They had to prepare another video explaining why the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) forbids these things. 400 viewers so far.

Let's turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the next Eurovision. The winner gets East Jerusalem as capital.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

the best peace initiative to come out of israel

Sorry, guys, but Israeli Soldiers Rock the Casbah in Hebron is the best thing to come out of Israel since ICQ. How these guys pulled off this stunt is simply amazing. They must have been rehearsing it for days. I think whoever dreamed up this thing should get the Nobel peace prize.

I mean, think about it; these nineteen year-old boys are drafted into the army immediately after finishing high-school. They know what they are getting into, they don't necessarily want to be there, but everyone does, so they do, too. They don the bullet-proof vests and ammunition, and M-16s and those funky safari hats and patrol the streets of Hebron because they were told to protect right-wing, ultra-orthodox fundamentalists they have nothing in common with. They put their young lives on line for these people because this is what their government and commanders tell them to do. And so, instead of chillin' on the beach with a cold drink, chase girls, smoke pot, and dance in the clubs at night they have to fight a war their parents and grandparent fought, without ever seeing the end of it.

I'd rather see these Israeli kids rock in the Casbah than see Palestinian kids throwing rocks at them and getting shot.

So to all those self-righteous pricks who criticize the Israeli kids who dance with their guns on the streets of Hebron (instead of using them on the Palestinian population), I say, lighten up. Wouldn't you prefer that these kids dance on the streets of Palestine rather than raid a ship and end up shooting unarmed civilians? I mean, get a life people, give those kids a break. When Israeli commandos shoot and kill, the entire world screams hell, and now that they dance - everyone screams hell all over again. What's the matter with you? We know, curfew sucks, and bombings suck, and road blocks suck, and terrorist attacks suck, and untimely violent deaths and endless war suck, and the occupation sucks, and these kids have shown the world the ridiculousness of it all. Their under two minute prank shoves it in the politicians' face: we don't want to fight your wars, we have a life to live.

And by the way, this clip is funnier and riskier than the ones made by the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq! These guys were dancing on the street in full gear, not behind blast walls in their T-shirts. Check out the link below showing U.S. soldiers dancing to Lady Gaga.

Now all that's left for us to do is see if the Palestinians are up for the challenge; if they can outdo the rocking soldiers from the Nahal Brigade.

Let's see what the fighters from Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade can come up with!!

[And just FYI, this is not the first dance performed by Nahal recruits. Check out Lahakat HaNahal. Some of Israel's best singers started their career there.]

related articles:

Jerusalem Post: Dancing dispute

The little babushka: Arabs in Hebron seething over IDF Dance video

True/Slant: Israeli soldiers dance to Kesha

U.S. soldiers made a Lady Gaga music video

Monday, July 5, 2010

eating kosher

Last week a Saudi friend of mine asked me how to say “I want Jewish food” in German. Since my German is practically non-existent, I came up with something that sounded like “ich vil yuden food,” but that struck me as not even close to the right answer, so I asked him if he was joking (in the past he accused me of driving like a reckless Arab, so I had to make sure his question was not one of his latest pranks). He said no, that he was going to Germany and wanted to make sure they didn’t serve him bacon or pork sausage in every meal.

I told him I’d ask my German speaking friend how to say it*, when it hit me that all he had to do was ask for Kosher food. My friend insisted that not every small town restaurant in Germany would know what kosher means, and that he’s been asking for kosher food every time he flies somewhere.

That exchange was a true eye opener. Here I am, a Jewish person who couldn’t care less if what she eats is kosher or not; talking to a Saudi man who worries about kosherness as if he were an observant Jew.

Those who understand Islam’s 'kosher' rules (called Halal) know that my friend’s main concern was the presence of pork in food, not all the other kosher intricacies that complicate the life of Jews, depends on how observant they choose to be.

I, for one, don’t follow kosher rules. I know many of them but I can’t be bothered. I also don't have two sinks, two refrigerators, and different sets of dishes and utensils to serve and prepare dairy and meat. Besides, I have a serious issue with the Jewish higher authority on food, i.e. god, so sometimes I would ‘violate’ a kosher edict only to piss Him off.

In Israel, where I grew up, there was little chance to go unkosher, especially in the non-vegetarian department, since pork products and all kinds of marine bottom feeders were either unavailable or too expensive. Unless you hunted them yourself they were pretty much out of reach. Other instances of adherence to kosher food were followed mostly because all food products in the market have a kosher stamp, even soap and laundry detergent. And don't forget the passover mania, when all things with wheat had to disappear from the shelves for a week (pastry, bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, noodles, in short, anything you ever want to eat) or risk the wrath of the kosher adherents. It’s not like I had much choice in the matter.

Sadly though, there is one kosher habit, if I can call it that, which stuck to me in spite of my honest attempt to shake it off with rational thinking and a strong anti-celestial-authority reflex: Mixing meat products and dairy. I mean, just look at the most favorite foods served in this country: pizza, cheeseburgers, all types of pastas, sandwiches; not only the famous ham and cheese but any other deli creation, including the Reuben sandwich (corned beef and Swiss). How that one became a staple of Jewish-American food is beyond me.

Sometimes I tell myself I don't mix the two because it makes me feel special. But deep down I know it's not the whole truth. It's that indoctrination that refuses to give in. When my daughter orders a cheeseburger I tell her, go ahead, we're bad Jews. She nods in agreement - she knows the code words - and orders the fattest burger on the menu, with cheese, no bacon, to soften up the blow. Then she lets me take a bite and it tastes really, really good.

Most people assume I eat kosher because I'm from Israel, hence I am Jewish, hence I observe Jewish etiquette. But of course that's not the case. If I choose not to eat something it is because I think it is either unhealthy, too weird to be eaten, bad for the environment or fattening. And most important of all, I don't eat "Jewish food" because I happened to be born Jewish. I eat Israeli food which does not have much in common with Jewish-American food (i.e. lox and bagels among other things). But that's a completely different story.

related article:

New York Times: Red, white and kosher

* ich moechte juedische spezialitaeten essen

Friday, July 2, 2010

some questions and fewer answers

My father passed away ten years ago. I did not expect it to happen so soon (he was not 70 yet), especially because he was always so busy with life, interested in so many things: history, archaeology, classical music, literature, politics, gardening, traveling, silly jokes, and most of all, friendships. I was really mad at him for leaving us before I had a chance to do all the things I planned to do with him, and before I had a chance to learn from him everything he could teach me. I was also sad that my daughter did not get to know him as well as I would liked her to. I think they would have made a great team.

I wanted my father to leave a written legacy in the form of books or essays rather than the enormous collection of slides and records/CDs/tapes he had left behind for my brother to sift through. I wanted him to leave something for posterity; something more tangible than memories.

When I expressed that thought to my brother he said, but look how much his life touched the lives of other people. So I looked. And when we buried him on that beautiful hillside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on July 4th 2000, people talked about how he enriched their life by teaching them to appreciate music and books, and mentioned the educational trips he organized to all the corners of Israel (as well as other countries in the region) and his enthusiasm and friendship. And that was very comforting.

When a parent dies you realize that you are next in line and that time is running out. This realization takes a while to sink in, but it does, eventually, so one learns to embrace life with more gratitude and appreciate every passing moment.

In life and death my father taught me pretty much the same lesson: life is precious, make good use of it.

Here’s something I wrote to remember him shortly after the completion of the Shiva’ (the Jewish seven days of mourning):

Questions Anyone?
When I was in kindergarten I learned a song about a cute little boy who ceaselessly asked “Why.” He wanted to know why birds have wings, why cows moo, and why his shadow runs away from light. At the end, the songwriter concluded, pessimistically, that there would be no relief, because the moment you’d answer one question, the child would present you with a new one.

The song, entitled “Why?” had taught me the universal truth that cute little children ask a lot of questions, some of which have no answers. Perhaps that was why I was not completely surprised when my daughter reached her “Why Stage” and started questioning everything.

While I was not incredibly surprised, I was poorly prepared to answer her questions. Here I was practicing my limited parenting skills, struggling to teach her basic manners, the importance of good nutrition, how to brush her teeth, share her toys, and wait for her turn, and she wanted to know why.

I was hoping that the why stage would come much later, once she started school, after she learned to read and analyze the facts, preferably with the help of self-possessed teachers who thoroughly enjoyed re-living the discovery process. But life as a parent is never that easy. I had no choice but to start answering questions. Lots of them.

“Sweetie, let’s empty the sand from your shoes before we get in the car,” I say when it is time to leave the playground.
“But why?” she retorts.

The first time the question came up I explained, patiently, what happens when sand-filled shoes are emptied onto the backseat of a car. The second time she confronted me with her “but why?” I looked into her eyes and imitated her in a small voice, “but, but, but, but why?”
She understood immediately. “Sorry, Mommy,” she responded in her sweetest voice, a hint of a lisp on the Sorry.

Instead of acting like a grownup and tell my daughter that it was okay to ask many questions, I chose to praise my astute self. “But, but, but why?” became my signal that a certain question was going to remain unanswered. The new tactic received its seal of approval when my daughter abandoned the apologetic “Sorry, Mommy,” and happily recited my line every time she saw me frown at one of her questions.

Sadly, though, my juvenile solution quickly drowned in a flood of new unexpected questions, many of them lacked the Why opening, which robbed me of my precious signal. Now “Who gave it to me?” became one of the most pressing questions. Anything my daughter touched, wore, played with, or ate logically had to be given to her by someone. And, naturally, I was the authority on the origin of each object. Who else was there to trust, anyway?

One afternoon, on the way home from daycare, she asked me if I had a surprise for her, which meant that she was hoping to get a sweet treat. Proud of my maternal intuition, I had already anticipated that question, I reached for my bag, fumbled inside, fished out a chocolate disk wrapped in gold foil, and handed it to her.

She shoved the whole thing into her mouth and asked, breathless, “Who gave it to me?”
“Who do you think gave it to you?” I tried to hide my irritation.
With her mouth full of chocolate, her lips already turning into a sticky brown mess, she pointed her finger at me and mumbled shamelessly, “You.”

The next morning I was helping her get dressed when suddenly the question popped out of her mouth, again. Pointing at her plain white socks she asked me, “Who gave it to me?”
Since she had a drawer full of socks, it was almost impossible to determine who gave her that specific pair. Unless it was a distinctive pair with a picture of Pooh, Bambi, or any other character she liked to wear on her feet, there was no way I could have remembered where it came from.

“I gave it to you,” I said, feeling like a filthy liar. After all, I could have said Grandma or Auntie Dorit, but I didn’t.
“Thank you, Mommy,” she said, threw her arms around my neck, and kissed me on the cheek, making me feel even worse for lying.

The challenge to provide an answer to each question was overwhelming. But my bad feelings dissipated as soon as I discovered that many times the innocent little girl knew and remembered, surprisingly well, who gave her what, when, and where. To ease my troubled conscious, I decided to adopt the academic method, which separates life into little compartments and puts each one under a magnifying glass. I divided my daughter’s questions into the following categories:

At the bottom of the ladder slouched the annoying, irritating, testing, time-consuming, meaningless Provocative Question. That question did not always demand an answer and could be ignored, unless my daughter kept asking it over and over again, and my head felt like it was going to explode. Questions like “Why can’t I have another candy?” or “Why can’t I watch TV during dinner?” or “Why take a bath?” did not have to be taken seriously if answered once before. Their purpose was to challenge, irritate, test, and communicate dissatisfaction. When asked a Provocative Question, I allowed myself in many cases to stoop to the lowly “Because I said so,” or the shorter version “Because,” and feel completely fine.

Above the Provocative Question sat tall the Practical Question. It did not lean on anything or even rest an elbow on the step. It was genuinely curious, intelligent, and benevolent. Most of the Practical Questions had a clear, concise, honest answer. “Why should I close the refrigerator door?” Pretty simple. “Do cats, dogs, snakes, bite?” Sometimes. “Why can’t I chew the gum I found glued to the bottom of this table?” Because it’s disgusting. Case closed.

The Scientific-Factual Question could be challenging because it demanded a scientific answer and, sometimes, even science could not answer it. But this question was still quite easy to answer. It reclined comfortably on the middle step of the ladder, observing its surrounding, taking notes, comparing, contrasting, and reaching interesting conclusions. “Where is Japan?” Far away. “Why is there water on the car’s windows in the morning?” I could make up something or look for a scientific explanation in a book. “Why do airplanes fly?” Beats me.

I am quite sure that many parents love this type of question because it implies that their kid is smart, curious, and perceptive. Many times the Scientific Question can be almost as annoying as the Provocative Question. My friend, Orna, who raised four incredibly talented, smart, self-motivated kids and kept her sanity intact in the process, told me I did not always have to answer factual questions. ”They don’t expect an answer, they are just making a comment,” she explained. “Smile and give them a hug, it would satisfy them more than an answer.” Bless her heart.

Because of its emotionally undemanding nature, the Scientific Question also permitted the humbling “I don’t know” answer. And as long as not too many of those questions came up my way, the teacher in me was more than glad to comply.

Questions about Life and Relationships are a bit more complicated because they have no definite, complete answers. Many times I am reluctant to answer them, mainly because often they generate more questions. “Why don’t Peter’s parents live together?” Apart from the fact that I didn’t want to know all the details, I wasn’t sure what would be the best answer. And where does curiosity begin to sound like gossip? “Why can’t I play with Daniel?” She scratches your face when you play together and her mommy doesn’t do anything to stop it. Was that the right answer? How far should I go? “Can I marry Steven, too?” Well, he’s only thirty years older than you are, maybe you should let him marry his girlfriend and stay friends with both of them. Now I have to deal with jealousy, disappointment, and female rivalry. It may be good material for a soap opera, but quite a challenge for a well-meaning parent who wants to raise a happy child.

At the top of the ladder hangs the Big Existential Question, suspended between heaven and earth, its eyes always looking up, around, down, behind, and sometimes even beyond, seeking answers to questions the human race had been racking its mind over for centuries. My daughter had not asked me, yet, any Big Question, and even though she already uses the exclamation “Oh, my God!” she had never asked me any God question, either. However, in spite of her cheerful disposition and total avoidance of anything scary, i.e., spiders, hair on the bathroom floor, dark rooms, barking dogs, and all Disney movies, I know that she would soon arrive at those questions, and what am I supposed to do?

My initial reaction is to procrastinate, evade, and lie. When our ninety-six-year-old neighbor died on the early morning of Mother’s Day I chickened out and told my daughter that Francis went to live with her relatives because she was too tired to go up and down the stairs. It did not feel good to deceive her, but it postponed the moment I had to deal with The Big Questions. I clearly remembered how scared I was when I first found out that this fun thing called “life” was not eternal and that everything alive was going to be dead one day, including my parents, my puppy, the fish in the aquarium, and even myself. I started to obsess about everything I touched, ate, saw, and even smelled. Is it going to poison me? Am I going to die now? And then what?

I was afraid my daughter would have to go through the same turmoil. I wanted to protect her, to let her be all grown up and brave when she heard the bad news, so I did not rush to tell her the truth. Then my father died.

Only twice in her life did she have the opportunity to spend time with him. Once as a ten-month-old baby, the second time shortly after she had turned three. Because my father lived on the other side of the planet, many, many long and exhausting hours away from us, we did not see one another often. Yet the impression he had made on my daughter was strong enough to imprint itself on her mind. In spite of her tender years, she knew that she had a loving grandfather who lived far, far away, and that we had to fly in an airplane to visit him.

So I didn’t tell her. I couldn’t bring myself to do it when I saw her looking at his picture. My friend Orna says, “Just say it; kids understand things in a different way. She might not even ask you anything.” But what if she does?

I used to believe that life goes on after death and that we never lose those we love. But now I’m not so sure. I don’t want to lose the comfort of this belief. But in spite of myself and all the years I had been trying to get in touch with whatever it is out there by studying different spiritual teachings, I am still besieged by Existential Questions.

I guess that’s part of living. Paying attention, asking questions, and not worrying about the answers, because answers are not as interesting and revealing as questions. At the moment I am not very clear what my father’s death means, but in a few months some clarity will settle in. And then I will be able to tell my daughter. My maternal intuition tells me that it will not be a dramatic moment. She will ask a question or two, and go on with her life. If she asks me a Big Question I will hug her and smile, as my friend recommends. At best I will say, “I don’t know.” And if I feel up to it, I will ask, “What do you think?”

Summer, 2000