Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Briefly, on Books

Back then, before things got bad, the Queen of the World gave Annie and me the type of Hanukkah present that is always the right size: books. For me, she had bought Irene Nemirofsky's Suite Francaise. Written by a French woman hiding in Southern France, the book is really a book of manners, set rivetingly during the evacuation from Paris during the Hitler's assault.

Like an idiot, instead of just thanking her for the thoughtful gift, I informed the Queen that I had just received a copy of the book from my older sister.
My thought process: How funny that two women about whom I care decided to
purchase me the same book!

How it came across: You got me a redundant book, you fool!

The Queen encouraged me to exchange her gift, even suggesting other books I would like, but I never got around to it and now I cannot bring myself to return the book. To top it off, in addition to owning two copies of the same book, I can't seem to get through it. I keep starting and stopping. This article in Jewcy spoke precisely to my predicament. I've really got to read this book.

Ask Annie

Hooray Wednesday! You know what time it is? (right now I am resisting the urge to say "game time") Time for me to answer the questions that I think brought people to the blog. So here we go:

1) Where did Gary Gulman go to High School?

I have absolutely no idea.

2) Jews Love Florida, which could be either "why" or "do", I'll go with Why do Jews Love Florida?

I can't say historically, but my best guess is that many older Jews, after working unbelievably hard for years (to secure their children's future, of course) wanted somewhere to retire. Preferrably somewhere warm. California wasn't really an option 50 years ago, as it was super-goyishe, whereas there was some pre-existing Jewish community in Florida. As immigrant trends show, immigrants are more likely to move to a city where they already know someone, or where they know that there is an ethnic infastructure, in this Jews are no different. Why do you think that New York is so Jewy? Lots of people came through Ellis Island, but they didn't all stay. Anyway, once the trend started it seemed attractive, goods and services were provided, all making Florida a more attractive place to go.

3) Were Jews slaves in Egypt?

Depends on whom you ask. The bible says yes. Archaeology, well, archaeologists, naked or otherwise, disagree. There is some proof that Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, or that some major cities (like Pithom and Ramases) were built in large part by slave labor. However, it is up for debate. Whether or not the Exodus happened as the bible tells it, well, that is even more of a dicey issue. There is a guy in New Jersey (whose name I have forgotten) that wrote a piece on how archaeology can be folded into belief, and what you do when it buttresses the holy works, and what you do when it contradicts them. Really interesting stuff. If only I could remember his name.

4) Definition of Hecksher/heksher, what is the?

A heksher, or hecksher, or hechsher is a symbol that represents rabbinic oversight of a product (usually food) and certifies the product as kosher according to that authority. These symbols come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes, which tell you not only where the product was certified, but the rabbi who did it. There is a new movement to include concerns of economic justice in hekshers, ie the Conservative movement's Tzedek heksher, which would mean that not only was the product certified as kosher, but also that the work environment was safe, clean, and the employees paid a fair wage. I'm all about economic justice, so I think that this is a good idea.

5) Amy Odell, which probably is Who is Amy Odell?

An NYU grad, currently blogger for Jewcy, and writer of my least favorite dating column. In her defense, I don't mind the writing style, just the content.

6) problem of segregation slavery. WHAT? I have no idea what this person is asking. Maybe: is segregation, and slavery still a problem?

Yeah. Slavery still exists in the world. And it is hugely problematic. There is sex-slavery, child-slavery, and good 'ol fashioned slavery. If you want to do something about it, a good first stop is IRC, whose anti-Darfur ads you may have seen in the NYC subway. They do some great work. As for segregation, although in the US there is no longer de jure segregation, de facto segregation is still alive and well, white flight anyone? The best way to combat these issues, which are now socio-economic class based as opposed to primarily race-based (although race is still a factor) is with a living wage, as opposed to a minimum wage, and to campaign for economic justice. Hopefully with better health care, and fairer wages, we can avoid stories like this one from WashPo.

7) non-traditional Jewish wedding, which I am guessing is What is a non-traditional Jewish wedding?

A better question is what isn't a non-traditional Jewish wedding. When you talk about non-traditional, you are defining by absence, so it is the absence of some/most Jewish wedding traditions. As Jewish weddings have changed over time, and vary by geographic region, so this is rather difficult. The only constants in a Jewish wedding are the three metrics by which a person is known to be married: the exchange of a ring/item of value coupled with a sentence recognizing that the bride is seperate/holy to the groom from among all others; the signing of, and presentation of a contract by the groom to the bride; and yichud, which I would rather not explain. Yeah, traditional Jewish weddings are not so romantic. "Here you go honey, a contract that gives you 150 (350?) talents of silver in the occasion of my death or if I divorce you. Hang on to that. Oh, also, some guy is going to read it aloud. And you will be referred to as "maiden."

Awesome. Also, for the record, if you have any actual questions for me (or Harley) either post them as comments, or email us: We promise not to judge, nor use your name if you don't want it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

On Institutions, Part II

I was going to write about Oriental Jews, but the only ones I know of are Orieyenta, Kaguya of Jewpanese Nomad, and of course, Su Fei. However, something else came up.

I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I am in my 20s. I am Modern Orthodox. So I participate in "the scene." As much as I hate to admit it, I kind of love the scene. I like standing around in front of shul on Friday night and catching up with people whom I don't see all week (busy jobs, lives, etc), I like being able to look around and see hundred(s) of young Jews, all participating in the traditions of our ancestors. Whatever, I am lame, but I like it.

You know what I don't like? The sermons given at these shuls. An integral part of the scene is shul-hopping. There is one shul that almost everyone attends Friday night (OZ) and another couple that are big for shabbat morning (The Jewish Center's Young Leadership Minyan, and also Young Israel). I like different things about each of these services, and don't feel the need for an exclusive relationship. Unfortunately, the synagogues don't feel the same way, and each charge dues. As a result, I have paid none of them. One of my friends suggested a sort of "community chest" where each person pays a set fee, checks off the shuls which they attend, and the funds are divided evenly among those congregations. However, it seems unlikely that it will ever happen.

Anyway, Saturday morning I heard a sermon to the effect that "you should pay our dues, and probably come only here, not to other shuls. We need the money because we are rebuilding. PS~ if you are single you should hate your life." That was awesome, but not as awesome as the one I heard on Friday night. Not only did it have a "mussar* moment" which I absolutely HATE, but also a plug that offended me to the core of my being.

You see, Purim is coming up, and as a part of that holiday we give misloach manot, gift baskets of food to friends and family. It was suggested that we (the UWS singles) use this as an occasion for kiruv (outreach). If we have secular Jews living in our buildings we should give them the mishloach manot, along with a little card that the shul has (thoughtfully!) provided with some of the most "beautiful observances of the holiday." Really? You can't just give a gift? It has to be a pushy, judgemental, and patronizing gift? What this says to me is "you poor unenlightened Jews, I will win you over to Orthodoxy with some hamentaschen and peanuts. Clearly you don't know better or you would be Orthodox already. Now I can save you from your benighted state. Also, lets celebrate a massacre of non-Jews by Jews."

Ok, maybe I'm overreacting, but the suggestion that we specifically give mishloach manot to our secular Jewish neighbors just struck me the wrong way. After this weekend there are two shuls that I no longer wish to attend. Shul Shopper here I come.

*Mussar is, for lack of a better word, ethics. A mussar moment is sort of like a fortune cookie saying, somewhat pedantic and simplistic, but meant to give you some guidance about how to live your life. This week's? "It's not who you know, but whom you know." Gotta love it.

*Mishloach manot are gift baskets given out on the day of Purim. The observance is to give baskets to several people, and each basket must contain three different types of food (as delineated by the blessings that each require). Also, one must give charity twice, and hear the megillah read twice. Often the gift baskets contain fruit-filled, three-cornered cookies called "hamantaschen" or "Haman's ear." Basically you should just read up on the holiday, because it is kind of confusing.

Best Line in a TV Show RE: Judaism

30 Rock
Agent: Josh is looking for a 15 percent raise, and time off for every Jewish holiday, no matter how ridiculous.
Josh: Yeah, yaznacht is coming up.

As someone who is looking at no vacation for the next year (12 weekdays of Chag!) that resonates pretty strongly. Hooray yaznacht!

And then later:
Jack: Josh can stay, but no raise, no movies, and only one Jewish holiday. What's the one where they go into the tent?
Agent: Sukkot.
Jack: Ok. That one.

Monday, February 26, 2007

On Institutions

Annie's out today and I have to admit that on top of still being in recovery from yesterday's memorial, I'm feeling uninspired in her absence. I don't think you can underestimate the pervasive toll that death takes, that absence takes. That being said, please excuse me for not writing something pithy about the Oscars or snarky about the Libby trial. I will, however, reflect on an experience I had today that was delightfully distracting, if not entirely self-actualizing (not everything can be).

Today, I met with two representatives of a well-known, hundred-year-old Organized Jewish Community organization. We discussed an initiative on which they are working with the "young people" to attract/cultivate/grow young Jewish leaders. We had a lengthy discussion about their purpose and their goals, their strengths and weaknesses. We discussed the goals of their programming and the motivation of young Jewish professionals to be involved with their organization. After much hemming and hawing on their part (and much tongue biting on mine), I had an epiphany.

Their problem is that they have convictions, but not the courage of their convictions. They simultaneously think they represent the Jewish communal voice and that they do not. They framed their organization as the sole access point for Jewish political engagement (not necessarily inaccurately, but certainly with a hint of self-aggrandizement).

The problem with this conceptualization is not that they shouldn't be the Jewish voice or the Jewish access to politics, but that they cannot admit that they are a particular Jewish voice, with a particular agenda in politics. They are not searching for the future Jewish leaders, they are searching for the future Jewish leaders through their organization, which by definition precludes certain viewpoints and certain approaches. So if they have a forum or a book that alienates people, but is representative of their organization's mission and policy, then so be it. That's institutional honesty: we are X, we represent X, and if you like and want to be a part of X, please join us. Part of being involved through the Organized Jewish Community is dealing with the repercussions of working through an institution with a history, a mission, and a stance.

I asked why young Jewish professionals would choose their organization over, say, a non-Jewish organization that would provide them with similar political opportunities and access. They responded that the multiplicity of Jewish concerns provided a unique opportunity to influence policy across a broad spectrum of issues. In addition, they argued that young Jews would want to join in the history of Jewish contributions to political landscapes, in the vein of our tradition of making a positive difference politically and socially. I, of course, thought of Heschel. Yet, Heschel didn't march on Washington with this particular group nor did his involvement with Jewish organizations necessarily make him a Jewish activist. He was a Jewish activist because he was simultaneously an active Jew and an engaged political agent. Does Jewish activism only count as Jewish if it's through the Organized Jewish Community? If I'm active and engaged in a non-Jewish organization, is that not Jewish activist by virtue of the fact that I am Jewish and active?

Really, this issue is a question of focus, of being involved in a particular Jewish voice. It's not about being involved politically, engaging with diplomats and ambassadors, making speeches and writing letters. It's about being involved through this organization, that, yes, may be the only institution with those connections, but also denotes a specific content. These organizations are not just vehicles to allow young Jews to access power, to give them voice. Being involved means being given a voice that already has content, that already has a statement. Is that wrong? Not if you agree with the content it's not. They don't want people who will be good leaders, they want people who will be good leaders who will take prescribed positions at these high-powered meetings.

So they should be clear about that in their discussion, they should be proud of their mission, instead of framing their work as access to power for all Jews. Either the purpose of the programming is to bolster their organization by creating leaders who will further their agenda (and maybe expand the agenda a little bit, even) or it's to allow the organization to be used as a tool to grow Jewish leaders, regardless of the content of their views, as an end in and of itself. And if their goal is, in fact, to grow future leaders specifically for their organization to further their organization's agenda, then so what? That's their right as an institution. But then they should not claim to be investing in "Jewish Leaders," but rather investing in Jewish leaders in the vein of their organization; that's the effect of working through an Organized Jewish Community organization, that's the cost. The benefit is infrastructure and access, but the cost is freedom of content.

The result of being part of an institution is that you're part of an institution.

So own it.

Be who you are; don't try to be everything to everyone; and own it.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Bit Melancholy

This Sunday, Harley and I will be attending a memorial service. I, for one, am dreading it. I hate displaying my emotions publicly, but I cry fairly easily (example: last night's Grey's Anatomy) so beyond the average awfulness of the occasion, I am likely to be both tearful AND angry.

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I suggest the following Jewish blogs on love, loss, and moving on. These blogs aren't limited to that topic, but all are written by men who have lost a child. I can't imagine anything more heartbreaking.

At any rate, here are the blogs. I feel weird about describing them, so my suggestion would be to just read through them yourselves:

Elie's Expositions by Elie Rosenfeld
Moving On by Glen Holman
The Book of Ben by Alan Busch
Seraphic Secret by Robert Avrech

And a few that don't fit that mould:
Five Years Later by With Love
Spark in You by Regina Clare Jane

Jewbiquitous Outing: Ernest Borgnine

Wednesday night, I planned on going home, curling up with the DVR, and catching up on Veronica Mars, but my plans were derailed by the crafty and compelling Annie, who used her wily ways to convince me to grab margaritas with her and the roommate at a place called Tortilla Flats. "It's on your way home," she argued (for clarity's sake, Annie thinks that anything south of midtown is "on my way home.")

I can resist neither Annie's charms nor the sweet siren call of tequila, so off we went, unwittingly heading into the bowls of the beast: the West Village. Tortilla Flats is the type of venue I ordinarily avoid out of a sense of self-preservation. The decoration was the kind of bright that makes you pray for a quick, streamer and sparkle induced coma (or some major sunglasses). It's the sort of venue you go when you are (a) already drunk and don't care that it reminds you of the hell that were children's parties growing up, (b) currently embroiled in that ritualistic slaughter known as a bachlorette party, or (c) a sorority girl who confuses kitsch with character.

Unwittingly, we had stumbled in on a magical, mystical night at Tortilla Flats; a night that transcended its irresponsible obsession with kitsch and misguided Mexican food. You see, the third Wednesday of every February, for the last 15 years, is Ernest Borgnine night. The three of us were ushered to a booth and there, along with our salsa and chips, rested our first indication that tonight was not going to be like every other night: Borgnine masks, We *heart* Ernie hats, paint brushes, paints, and glitter. I was in crafts heaven. To be clear, I am not a “craft” person in the Martha Stewart sense. I neither macrame nor knit and you wouldn’t catch me hot-gluing a ribbon to a basket to personalize a gift (not to denigrate that activity, I come from a long line of craftswomen, but when you are as accident prone as I, you avoid bedazzlers like the plague). I do, however, love anything that involves paint, evidenced by all of my oil paint- stained clothing from high school.

Two pitchers of margarita, a sparkling hat, a painted mask, and an ill-advised bowl of spicy black bean soup later, CJ, the upstairs neighbor (who, it turns out, is a terrific dancer), and the Iowan had joined us and we had witnessed the first game of the night: pin the smile on Ernest Borgnine. So of course, when the woman with the husky voice who was running the contests came by to sign participants up for the Ernest Borgnine impersonation contest, we cajoled CJ to register. The contest consisted of watching a scene from The Greatest (a 1977 Mohammed Ali biopic) and reading Ernie’s line off a cue card. About a dozen people participated, but when CJ’s turn arrived, he wussed out, leaving me to fill his big, manly shoes.

The competition was stiff, but I have Borgnine in my blood (a misrepresentation—I didn’t know who he was until that evening, although I did recognize his picture). The people present at Ernest Borgnine night were true fans, though, many of whom had been to this annual event since its inception, men whom the hostess knew by name, all with the gut and the requisite balls to drop their voice to Ernie’s timber. I had no expectations, particularly given my lack of history, knowledge, or balls. So when the hostess announced a tie, imagine my surprise when she called my name! I had tied with one of those paunchy, gravely, gesticulating Borgnine obsessives!

To resolve the tie: a dance-off to Michael Jackson. Needless to say, I walked home with $115 worth of gift certificates and a SpongeBob SquarePants Mermaidman Beanie Baby. Weirder things have happened, but not recently and not to me.

Luckily, Prettyboy showed up just in time to escort me back to Brooklyn, winnings in hand, Ernest Borgnine T-Shirt clutched to my chest, a new talent revealed.

More evidence that Jews Love: Italians. Watch out Prettyboy, you have some gap-toothed competition and his name is Ernest.

On Unfairness

I just found this video (courtesy of Matthue of Jewschool):

And it is super-cutie. I love videos like this, David Lavon's, and anything by The Chevra, but here's the problem: I can't look at them without thinking about the fact that a similar group of girls can't do the same thing. Religious women can't make a silly video and put it online for tznius* reasons, and they certainly can't sing (kol eisha* being a problem). That is really my issue with the restrictions leveled on women. I don't have an issue wearing only skirts, except that it means that I can't ride a bike, and guys can. Or a horse, or go swimming. It just seems needlessly unfair.

For example, lets take swimming. I recently read an article about a modest swimsuit designed specifically with Muslim women in mind. It covers the woman entirely (including a little hood to cover hair, neck, etc), and is in no way alluring, but according to Jewish law, as the suit is a pantsuit, it would be unacceptable. There is an option for a little skirt, but the skirt is above the knee (probably for safety reasons), and so still can't be worn. The article talks about a woman who had some medical issue, somewhat alleviated by swimming/being in a hot tub, and it seemed so cute, her husband is teaching her (at age 65!) how to swim. Oh so sweet. But wait a minute, doesn't that mean that for 60-odd years he has been swimming, and never before thought that maybe she'd want to do it too? It just drives home the Queen of Words' point that it is hard to separate ourselves from our privileged status.

Hope that you can enjoy the video anyway.

*Tznius is the Ashkenazic pronounciation for the word tzniut, or modesty. It often refers to the set of laws which regulate women's clothing, appearance, and behavior. Examples of these are the stipulation that women wear skirts past the knee, cover their elbows, and their collarbones. Some traditions are more, or less strict, depending on the part of the world, and the denomination.

* Kol Eisha is literally "a woman's voice," and refers to the probition against women singing (alone, or in a group, depending on the reading) in front of men, or against men listening to the voices of women singing.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

My Guilty Pleasures

With Harley out of action (again!) I figured that it was time for some soul-baring, and maybe to troll/trawl(?) for some extra web traffic.

1. Trashy Romance Novels- but only the historical ones. My favorite author is a Harvard grad, so it can't be that bad... right?
2. Best of Craigslist- I spent many a happy hour reading this and avoiding my thesis
3. Celebrity Gossip- The Superficial, Gawker, Go Fug Yourself, I love them all.
4. Dishalicious- Stephanie Greenberg's blog is strangely addictive.
5. Awful TV- Grey's Anatomy, Celebrity Fit Club, and the Food Network (with the exception of Alton Brown, who makes me crazy)
6. Googling My Own Name- which is sadly very common. Do you know how many Annie Smiths are out there? No, but really, could my parents have given me a WASP-ier name? Probably not. Although there was a kid in my high school whose name was, and this is no joke, Hunter Peacock. Which I googled, just to make sure that you cannot extrapolate my high school from that information. You can't.
7. European Music Videos- The best of these are Moskau, Tra-La-La, and Call on Me. The roommate and I spent a huge amount of time watching these in college.
8. Obscure Military Facts- Ok, so most people actually know this about me already, but I love them. My favorite is about Project Habakkuk in WWII. The British tried to make aircraft carriers out of ice. Sadly the project was too expensive and was thus cancelled.
9. Wussy Chicky Music- Although I'd define it a bit differently than ibiteyoureyes. I love to listen to songs that will make me cry. This includes, but is not limited to: Country, anything by Joshua Radin, and Chicago by Sufjan Stevens.
10. Dirty Jokes- if you have a good one, let me know. Although I'd like to add the warning that I don't like them scatalogical, pedophilic, or in poor taste (ie Holocaust jokes). Otherwise, send them my way, and I will use them to torture CJ ad nauseum. I actually have a very lame joke collection (of about three), and I assume that everyone has already heard them, so I've ruined them all for CJ by referencing the punch-lines before telling the joke. As such I need to replenish my stable.

Jews Love: Hanging out with Non-Jews

I know I do. And clearly Harley does (ahem, Prettyboy). So I have anecdotally proven my point. Many researchers would be content to rest on their laurels at this point, but not me, so I'll give a few examples:

Jews love to write blogs with non-Jews:
Isn't that a cute concept? There is my personal favorite (due to my aforementioned crush on Michael), KosherEucharist, but Michael and Chris are by no means the only ones to jump on this bandwagon. The blog An Irish and A Jew is written by two women, you guessed it, one is Irish, and one Jewish! Although, for the record, I do actually enjoy reading their blog. My only qualm is that they both post under the name "Irish and Jew" and I'd prefer to at least have a fake name by which to call each of them.

Jews love to date non-Jews:
But fortunately, as Not Chosen has demonstrated in his recent ode to JAPs, the feeling is mutual. Seriously, though, intermarriage, and interdating are a major issue in the Jewish community today, as shown by Jewcy's latest conversation, and a recently posted article by Laurel Snyder. This trend is so pervasive that an entire site (HalfJew) exists just to cater to this niche. Ahuva of AnotherBT no longer dates non-Jews, but her sister does, and so she is trying to deal with the idea of "this is right for you, but not for me" without being judgemental. Good luck, as that is a hard row to hoe. David, of Inside the mind of David has cited some common arguments both against interdating, and against casual touch, and he explains why he agrees/doesn't agree with each.

One thing that Jews are conflicted about doing with non-Jews? Going to school. There is a huge value in a Jewish education (generally provided by a private school), but it is a) expensive, and b) provides a homogenous environment both religiously, and also generally socio-economically. Not that it is immediately relevant, but I am constantly changing my mind about whether or not to send my kids to Jewish Day School, and if so, for how long. Clearly I need a new hobby.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Jewbiquitous Outing, Part II: Richard Has Rage

This week is one of confessions. Yesterday, I confessed to my rage issue (or lack thereof) and today, I have a deeper, more serious confession to make.

Hi, my name is Harley, and I am a Shakespeare junkie.

It started out small: catching a glimpse at the popular plays in High School, you know, because everyone was doing it. Hamlet. Romeo and Juliet. Twelfth Night. Before long, I was on to the harder stuff: Titus Andronocus, Anthony and Cleopatra, Cymbeline. After that, I spiraled out of control, devouring the histories, joining the Shakespeare Club, performing at the Folger, watching endless Kenneth Branagh adaptations. I no longer knew who I was without Shakespeare; I couldn’t imagine my life without iambic pentameter; I got into reckless arguments about literary theory and the relevance of the apocrypha. I found myself wandering the street, not knowing the time period, speaking in couplets, searching for a folio, just one, to satisfy my craving.

I thought I had shaken Shakespeare, I really did. I had moved on to softer playwrights; I had begun using modern colloquialisms, again; it had been years since I had recited a soliloquy or called someone a “churlish fop.” That was until my older sister, the Athlete, bought me tickets to Richard III at the Shakespeare Theatre in D.C.

I still remember the first time I went to the Shakespeare Theatre (you know it’s good because they use the British spelling of “theater”). Michael Kahn was directing Coriolanus and although it was a school night, I was there with my then-boyfriend (whom I should have known was trouble, given that he not only fed my addiction, but he started our school’s Shakespeare Club). The play was delayed because the stage mechanics were broken (everything at the theater runs on electric tracks, so the props and scenery slide on and off the state) and we watched Michael Kahn stand directly in front of us and redirect the fight scenes. An incomparable experience.

Kahn may be the best living Shakespearean director and his staging and fight sequences are unparalleled. Unlike many directors, he has a real sense of artistry not only in the content and timbre of the piece, but also in the way his actors stand and move onstage. Each scene constitutes a moving, shifting tableau, reflecting the mood of the moment and the relative power of the players. Each moment reflects Kahn’s eye for composition, so the audience views a perfectly composed picture in each moment, with variety and repetition, with symmetry and motion. Watching Kahn’s work is akin to watching one of Caravaggio’s paintings onstage, all dark, tense movement transfigured by brief moments of light. This contrast evokes a simultaneous sense of foreboding with a surprising levity, especially considering that the principle player is a deformed, hump-backed, limping tyrant.

Geraint Wyn Davies played Richard III as a charming, quick-witted underdog, a man whom everyone misread and underestimated, assuming his disarming jokes and his physical disfigurement indicated that his mind was as impotent as his body. To the audience, Richard reveals his plots from the outset, creating an anti-hero for which we root, unwillingly. When Anne agrees to marry him, over the bloodied body of her dead husband, whom Richard has just murdered in cold blood, you feel her disgust but also understand the pathos that leads her to concede. Richard is the tyrant to whom we slowly cede control, unable to resist his charm, knowing as we embrace him that he is simultaneously strangling us. Usually, Richard is played as a cold, heartless villain, but Davies’s portrayal created the kind of cognitive dissonance apparent in the work itself and also reflective of the historical truth of tyrants: they come to power not in spite of our resistance, but because we cannot resist.

Beyond the staging and the star, the play was solid, but not superb. Davies out shined the rest of the cast, although several of the supporting actors were terrific: Tana Hicken (Queen Margaret), Claire Lautier (Lady Anne), Pamela Payton-Wright (Duchess of York), Raphael Nash Thompson (Hastings, Lord Chamberlain), and Aubrey Deeker (Sir William Catesby) were the stand outs. The rest were adequate, at best. The children were distractingly awful, although this Washington Post article disagrees. They were so terrible that I was relieved when they made an untimely exit in the middle of Act IV. Yes, I am a heartless bitch.

What was I confessing, again?

Oh, yes. Hi, my name is Harley, and I am a huge dork.

Ask Annie

No, I am not trying to copy Shifra, Margo Howard, Emily Yoffe, a ninja, or even the despised Amy Dickenson (can you tell that I love advice columns?). Instead I will try to figure out what question brought people to this blog, and answer it.

Here goes:
1) What does b'sheret mean?

Well, basically it means "fated" or "meant to be" and is often referred to in the context of a soulmate. Your b'sheret is your soulmate. However, if something is b'sheret, it is meant to be.

2) Jews and Diamonds. I think that the question is What is the connection between Jews and diamonds?

Tiffany Shlain's movie The Tribe answers this question quite well. Basically, at several points in history European Jews were forbidden from owning land, from attending university, or from practicing many professions. As a result Jews were forced into professions such as usury (money-lending being forbidden by the New Testament) or portable professions, such as goldsmithing, silversmithing, and gem-cutting. Hence the connection between Jews and diamonds. This connection is often referenced in pop culture when talking about the Holocaust. See the movie Inside Man for an example.

3) Jews looking like Italians, which I can only assume is meant to be Do Jews look like Italians?

The answer is both yes, and no. First of all Italians look different depending on the region of Italy. Some Northerners are blonde, with blue eyes, while Southerners (such as Sicilians) tend to have dark, curly hair and swarthy skin. Italians really run the gamut of looks. Secondly, Jews look like the people among whom they lived. So, Eastern European Jews tend to look a lot like other Eastern Europeans. As Jews in the United States are largely from this region (I think) it stands to reason that many people believe that Jews look one way. This is obviously not the case. There are Jews of color (for instance, my Chilean, and Venezuelan second cousins) from all over the world, and "white" Jews whose appearance does not match the stereotype. For instance, I am tall, with straight hair, a small nose, and green eyes, Harley is a redhead, and CJ is a blonde with blue eyes. So yeah, there are probably some Italians that we look like (Prettyboy is also blonde, so there's one example).

4) Condition of Stuart Sarshik?

He seems to be fine, and practicing medicine (urology) in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Thanks for asking.

5) Jewish term Machlokes, which I am taking to mean What does the term machlokes mean?

Machlokes is the Ashkenazic pronounciation of the Hebrew word machloket, which means disagreement. The term is often used in the Talmud to signify a difference of opinion between two sages.

and last, but not least:

6) Shirtless JT. JT, you want to handle this one? Clearly there are some ladies (gentlemen?) out there who sweat you hardcore. Or Justin Timberlake. Either or.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Jews Are Conflicted About: Homosexuality

For those in the know, there are many different flavors of Queer. The acronym most often used to describe them is LGBTQ, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer/Questioning. I'm going to use this acronym as a divider for different Jewish Queer blogs. Instead of telling you about what types of experiences different Jews have, I figured that I'd let them tell you themselves.

TBLJ of That Black Lesbian Jew
Faith of SoQueer

Gay Ex-Choosid of Gay Ex-Choosid
The Gay Black Jew of The Gay Black Jew (for the record he is neither gay, nor black, nor Jewish)

can't think of any, but I know that they must exist
Jewish Bisexuals

Shoshana/Genevieve of Jewish American Prince-ss
LiveJournal Community of Transgender Jews

Jewish Mosaic

There must be more than these, but I can't find any with the magic that is google blogsearch. Anyway, recently Professor Steven M. Cohen published a study on how Conservative clergy and lay leaders feel about the ruling by the CJLS on the recent decision/lack of decision about homosexuality in the Conservative movement. Hence the "conflicted" part in the title. However, what people I knew found the most interesting about the survey was not people's stance on homosexuality, but instead the questions designed to quantify "observance." Professor Cohen asked a number of Conservative clergy about their religious practices, and the numbers were astonishing (at least to me). The most striking of these statistics was that only 37% of Conservative clergy refrain from turning on lights on Shabbat. Wow.

As Lon Solomon would say "not a sermon, just a thought."

I promise that I'll be less scattered in the future.

Jewbiquitous Outing, Part I: I Have No Rage

Hi, my name is Harley, and I have no rage. Periodically, I have anger. I've even worked my way up to outrage, which sounds like rage, but is a separate category of upset. But no. I have no rage. You may ask me, "Harley, is that really a bad thing? Isn't it nice to live without rage? Don't you feel free from the burden of angry extremes?" To which I answer, "Yes. Yes, I did. Until last Thursday, when suddenly I felt bereft, as if my life was absent an essential element."

Last Thursday, Prettyboy and the Rooster (a great name for a rock band) took me to my first thrash metal concert. It's true. I am no longer a Slayer virgin or "Slayvirgin" (Slayergin?). For those of you sad sad saps who've never heard of Slayer, they are the original thrash metal band; they birthed all other worthy metal. That's an exaggeration, but they are a Very Big Deal in the world of metal and their fans are very insistent on this point (and don't argue with them unless you want to be cut deep with a shiv). And they want all of New York City to know it, as became apparent as I waited in line (screaming "Slayer!" translates to "I quite enjoy this band and I am excited about seeing them in this glorious venue).

What does rage have to do with enjoying thrash metal? Everything, my dear ones, everything. I honestly thought that anger would be enough. I read some right-wing screeds, listened to some Rush Limbaugh, perused some fundamentalist anti-feminist literature. I got all fired up and righteously indignant, thinking that would ready me for Slayer. I was so very wrong. So very, very naive.

To truly enjoy Slayer, you need to have the kind of rage only disenfranchised, disaffected, downtrodden white guys can generate (the type of angry white guy who can afford a $50 ticket to a concert on a weeknight. Life is hard.) The Rooster, I need not tell you, has the rage. Prettyboy adorably approximates the rage (it's hard to buy rage when you tend to characterize someone as a snuggly puppy, and when they insist on hand-holding while they rock out). I felt like a bunny among vipers. An over-dressed bunny among vipers (I came from work). Maybe that's an unfair characterization. Despite the Rooster's warnings, everyone I encountered at the concert was delightful, even the yelling people. It was a great people-watching experience. On top of which, although I don't like metal (I realized), the musicians were unbelievable craftsmen. They were truly masters of their instruments and the concert was worth it just to watch their finger work.

As to the content (I don't want to disappoint TR by not mentioning their anti-religion message), I found it difficult to take seriously. Sorry, TR, but it sounded like the poetry I wrote as an angry, disaffected middle-schooler. For example:

Murder at your every foot step./ A child's toy sudden death./ Sniper
blazes you thru your knees/ Falling down can you feel the heat,/ Burn!/ Ambushed by the spray of lead/ Count the bullet holes in your head./ Offspring sent out to
cry,/ Living mandatory suicide./ Suicide.

Get it? It's about war (soldiering). Meh. It's artless and inelegant. The imagery is so transparent and projected, it doesn't trust me to have the intelligence to infer meaning. I understand that some people (including the thousand or so merging bodies at the concert) find meaning and power in these words. It just doesn't do it for me. Even a little bit. And since I'm generally not given to blaming lyrical inadequacies for my distaste in music, I have to blame the rage. If I had enough rage, this music would be screaming poetry to my ears, welcome salt in my wounded, masochistic soul. But I have no rage.
Lyrics aside, their staging and lighting were brilliant. Check out this New York Times review for more in depth coverage (thanks, Autodidact). In terms of stage presence and use of minimalism to evoke mood, Slayer are true artists.

What does this outing have to do with Jewbiquitous? Their producer is the jewbiquitous Rick Rubin. And to put the rumor to rest, despite persistent internet white supremecist gossip, neither Jeff Hanneman nor Kerry King are Jewish. I'm not going to comment on the large amount of white supremacy websites that heart Slayer. I'm sure their taste in angry metal music has nothing to do with their politics.

On a happy note, as much as I did not love Slayer, I did truly enjoy the company of TR, Prettyboy, and TR's friends after the show. And the men did vigilantly protect me from the myriad of pulsating Slayer fans, for which I am grateful. As I was the only woman. Well, almost. There was that one woman who stood on a balcony and took off her shirt as an expression of her inner self. Classy. Yes, I am a hypocrite.

Update 02/21/07: Slayer takes D.C. by storm: The Washinton Post reporter Christopher Porter hearts Slayer more than you.

On Culture. and Language

Since CJ moved to New York it has come to my attention that I live in a world-class city, a city that I have not really been using to the fullest extent. So, on this long weekend (while CJ was away at a conference, and Harley was home) I decided to see many friends and do many things.

Things that I accomplished:
-Saw a movie with my chevrusa* (Music and Lyrics By, much cuter than I thought)
-Went to the Ikea in Elizabeth, NJ, on the free bus
-Read several books (including finishing The Master and Margarita)
-Went to the Met to see the Nan Kempner exhibit (soooo cool)
-Took my dry cleaning to the cleaners
-Brought my favorite necklace to a jeweler to be fixed

While at the Met yesterday I decided to look at their special exhibit from Papua, New Guinea. And I noticed a few things:
First of all, that there is still a "primitive wing" even if they don't call it that anymore. Also, since I slept through/skipped most of my Intro to Art History class in college, I don't really know that much about art that isn't western, modern, renaissance, important to American History, or Egyptian. I think that the Met should address this by having better labels. Specifically in those areas that are less familiar to the average, ill-educated American.

Secondly, as anyone who has read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler knows, the Met is full of random stuff. While wandering around I found a collection of South American jewelry, and my favorite, the armored horses. You know what else I found? Lots of Israelis. As I was walking towards the horses I heard a guy trying to explain the word "elaborate" in Hebrew in a heavy American accent.

I wanted to see the exhibit Glitter and Doom, so that I could talk about it in the context of Judaism (the roommate went to see it and was struck by the number of Jews and academics shown, and the foreshadowing of the Holocaust), but it was crazy crowded. And now it is over. So instead I wandered around bumping into every Israeli. Hooray Israelis! But here is my question, and I actually run into this more often with my other foreign language: if I understand what they are saying, do I have an obligation to tell the speaker? Israelis in New York should know better, it seems like every third person in New York speaks Hebrew, but the other language that I speak is rarely spoken by Caucasians, and even less frequently by young women. So, what is my obligation?

*Chevrusa is the Ashkenazic pronounciation of the word "chevruta" or partner. It refers to two people who learn Torah or other sacred texts together

Friday, February 16, 2007

When Harley is away

Then Annie will play. Basically, since Harley is home for the long weekend, there is no one to stop me from hijacking the blog. Regularly scheduled posts will begin again whenever she gets back.

Until then, enjoy this video of Carbon Leaf, my favorite band, playing my favorite song: Life Less Ordinary. Something about it just gets me.

They are playing at The Knitting Factory on March 24th (not a Friday!) at 10:30pm. The general show starts at 8pm. Who wants to go?

Gypsy Rose Annie

When I go home I watch a lot of TV. This is as a result of the fact that I have no TV in my apartment. I love trash TV, my favorite show is probably Celebrity Fit Club. As I said, trash TV. Fortunately I am joined in this love by my father. We have watched a number of TV shows and movies together over the years. We continue in this, despite the possibly awkwardness, because it is absolutely hilarious. Dad went with me, (and my mom and baby brother) to watch Borat. That was a classic example. The "chick magnet" sketch had him laughing uproariously.

At any rate, my dad and I watched Gypsy together while I was in high school. He was apparently very affected by it, because forever after whenever he was talking about grades, he would say: "You know what happens to girls who don't get good grades in high school? They become strippers." On the theory that Gypsy didn't get good grades, and therefore had been forced into stripping. Which is not, by the way, how I remember the plot.

This was not out of character for my father, who, every morning upon leaving the house would tell me (from age 5 or so): "Go to school, get good grades, get into a good college." But that is beside the point. When I stumbled upon this blog (thanks Gawker) all I could think of was my father's exhortations to get good grades so that I wouldn't become a stripper. (warning: the blog is definitely NSFW and for sure NSFDad)

For the record, I have very conflicted feelings about sex workers. Part of me thinks that it is a degrading profession, where men take advantage of women, and racism runs rife, but another part of me can't escape the thought that maybe these women are expressing their sexuality, and being paid for it. Maybe it can be both, or neither, or something in between. Also, when I, in my younger years would defend the intelligence and choices of strippers to my father and Uncle, the response would almost always be: "I listen to the Howard Stern show. Those women are not intelligent, or well-educated." Some women do strip their way through college (not that stripping and prostitution are equivalent), but it is more common in California than here. I actually had one such woman speak to a Sociology class that I took in college. She wrote her doctoral dissertation about racism in the sex work industry.

Long story short: you should probably not become a prostitute, even if you need the money. I'd suggest tutoring instead. In NYC you can get something like $80/hr, under the table, and untaxed. And there is less of a worry of STI's. Just saying.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

But Seriously Folks...

Enough mush, now back to business. Ernst Zuendel was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of 14 counts of denying the Holocaust. The charges actually are more specific than "Holocaust denial." According to the BBC:
Ernst Zuendel was convicted of 14 counts of inciting racial hatred and for
denying that the Nazis killed six million Jews during World War II. He
received the maximum sentence under German law which bans Holocaust denial.

The New York Times notes that Germany is attempting to make Holocaust denial a crime across the European Union and that British author David Irving was recently released on appeal after serving time in an Austrian prison on similar charges.

So what does Jewbiquitous (I love referring to myself in third-person using the blog name, it makes me feel so powerful, almost regal) think of this news? Holocaust denial: undeniably wrong. Yet, I'm a stickler for free speech. And I think that forbidding deniers from speaking gives credence to their cause. As does responding. Our response should be to continue, to the best of our abilities, to educate people on the Holocaust, its causes, and its effects. And to ensure that history is not repeated. Sigh. Idealism is so nice.

Know Your Jewish Community: Going to Synagogue

When I was a kid, my parents would take me to synagogue every Saturday morning. Rain, shine, sleet, or snow, we'd be there. It wasn't until I was a little older that I even realized that there were services on Friday night, let alone other days of the week (an example of my stellar Hebrew school education).

In college I went through a phase (we'll call it my "frum" phase) where I davened* (usually with a minyan*) three times a day. Now I am somewhere between those two. I don't pray during the week unless it is a holiday, a fast day, or some other exceptional occurance, but I am pretty good about going Friday nights and Saturday mornings. If I am feeling ambitious I'll even go to mincha* on Saturday.

Here's the problem though. I don't belong to a synagogue in New York. There are about 30 million on the Upper West Side, many of which I attend with some regularity. My "favorites" are probably KOE, Darkhei Noam, and Young Israel for their hot kiddush*. From this list you can probably tell a lot about my hashkafa*, or at least that I'm sort of confused.

Into this breech steps Dan Sieradski (aka Mobius) and his Shul Shopper. In case you've been living under a rock for the past little while, it is, in his own words a "Zagat guide" to synagogues. Let me say that I am a really big fan of this idea. If you're new in town, or new to the community, or to Judaism, or observance, or just want to know what's out there, it is amazing.

But here is my concern. I know that Dan has said that he'll keep a close watch for lashon hara*, and other forms of negative speech, but I think that it'll be hard to patrol, and hard to seperate legitimate criticism from people who are just being unkind. For example, the line between "I didn't like this style of service" and "this type of service is not correct/unacceptable/worthless" may seem pretty thick, but I can think of a few examples where it might not be. This doesn't mean that the project shouldn't be attempted, or isn't worthwhile, just something to be addressed.

Good luck Dan, and we're rooting for you.


  1. Daven: to pray
  2. Minyan: a prayer quorum of 10. Different movements define this differently, with all but the Orthodox including women in the count.
  3. Mincha: The afternoon prayer service, takes about 15 minutes.
  4. Kiddush: from the word kadesh or holy, the word means "sanctification." In this context, however, it refers to the light refreshments served after a blessing is made over wine/grape juice to sanctify the day. Hot kiddush includes cholent (a meat stew) and kugel (a sort of pudding a la bread pudding, but often with noodles or potato) and could take the place of lunch.
  5. Hashkafa: personal or individual religious observances/beliefs
  6. Lashon Hara: lit. the evil tongue, refers to gossip (malicious or otherwise)

Valentine's Day: Mea Culpa

Ok, I admit it. I did something for Valentine's day. But in my defense, it isn't like Christmas, or Halloween, where you can just abstain from participation. Both of those require specific practices for observance: presents, costumes, candy. In other words, things that you, or at least I, wouldn't ordinarily do.

And therein lies the problem. I have a loving, caring boyfriend who likes to do nice things for me. Last Wednesday I got flowers. Basically I am trying to say that it is hard to make February 14th a "normal" day without acting abnormally. And by specifically not observing the holiday, doesn't that count as marking it in some way?

Ok, validations and excuses over. Last night the roommate made dinner for us. We had pasta, salad, a bottle of (fairly good) kosher wine, and then, the piece de resistance: smores. Kosher marshmallows are significantly better when roasted.

Wine and smores over, the roommate and I watched a spectacularly bad version of Tristan + Isolde, which could not even be saved by James Franco shirtless. Although I've never read the original (which I keep mixing up with Troilus and Cressida), the movie can't have been true to it. The dialogue was pretty awful, scenes were rife with historical inaccuracies, and not nearly enough shirtless men. Which, in my opinion, can basically save any movie.

I had a conversation about that with my mom. You see, she got NetFlix for a birthday present a year or two ago, and has used it to order every strange, archane movie that one could imagine. My family regularly makes fun of her for her strange choices. She explained to me that she has fairly low expectations for movies. If the script is bad, but the actors are good, she'll watch it, same for the reverse. Basically if any one thing is done well, she's willing to give it a shot. During the conversation I realized that I feel pretty much the same way. It's the reason I watched Memoirs of a Geisha (beautiful, but stupid) even though I strenuously objected to the fact that they used only Chinese actresses for the female lead roles.

Moral of the story? It's hard to have a bad time with wine, smores, and shirtless men.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Everyone Says I Love You

(Watch this movie!)
Desperately... trying... to... post, but I keep getting distracted by... um... work? No, that's not convincing. Killer robots? Annie's sense of humor? Nah, just day-dreaming about my non-Valentine's Day plans that have nothing whatsoever to do with Valentine's Day not even a little bit not at all so don't suggest it because they are totally unrelated even if they do involve what may be perceived as a romantic Italian dinner with an astoundingly good-looking man. Alright, I just made myself throw up a little bit in my mouth.

Before I link to interesting articles and deconstruct the sociological implications of Christianized pagan holidays and how they're molded by our consumerist ethos, I want it on the record that the unfortunate acronym "VD" should be expunged from use. It's one thing to think of Victory or WWII on V-Day, it's another thing entirely to think of sexually transmitted infections. Really? Let's tone it down a notch.

We've all been hurt by love, all loved and lost, all been spurned; it's the inevitability of making yourself vulnerable to another person. To write some concise reflection on love, a blog-worthy soliloquy, is impossible, like trying to capture the intricacies of a painting in a paragraph (or avoiding cliches in a post on love). In researching this post (I am such a nerd-- who else researches a post on love?), I read endless perspectives on love or lack thereof, sex and lack of it, Valentine's Day or not. You all know that, while I don't choose V-Day, I do choose love. In my Odyssey post, I talked about loving the Queen of the World and how, painful as it was, the loss was worth it. I felt the same way when I ended a very long relationship last fall. To borrow a line from one of my favorite movies , "The juice was worth the squeeze." Even if it is all in my head, the cost of avoiding pain is too big a price to pay and the benefit of opening myself to love is too great to deny. Sappy? Maybe. True? Unquestionably, for me at least. Yes, I'm a mushball. Okay? You happy now? I am a big, sticky ball of cliche-ridden mush and I'm proud of it!

So where does that leave me? Tonight, I'm going to go have a non-V-Day dinner with someone who makes me happy, encourages me to appreciate the details, and helps me forget that loss is inevitable. I wish the same for each and every one of you, for every night.

On Parental Supervision

Older Brother: Did you know that Dad reads your blog?
Annie: Um, no. Why, did he comment? I know that Aunt L. reads the blog. What did he say to you?
OB: He commented to me on the [public transport] today about your post on Russian novels. He said he commented once signing as "Annie's Dad," but you didn't seem to read it.
Annie: I saw it, I just didn't know what to say other than "ew, Dad, really? checking out Scarlett Johannsen?"
OB: Ah. Well, just thought you should know that you're almost as heavily scrutinized as a blogger for John Edwards.

This explains so much about my family dynamic. Also my baby brother is thinking of rushing the fraternity Phi Kappa Tau. Anyone know anything about this fraternity? I've never heard of it.

Your Mom

Apparently I am maturing backwards (much like the wizard Merlin), as, at the ripe old age of 20-something, I am struck dumb by "your mom" jokes. I find them hilarious.

I am struck by a Michael Scott-like impulse to follow every declarative statement with "Your mom is [declarative statement]."

Right now Harley, CJ, and the roommate are tied for who most wants to kill me.

Jews Love: Valentine's Day

A brief history, courtesy of The History Channel:

"One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men -- his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.
According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl -- who may have been his jailor's daughter -- who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today."

JT of DaBoys points out that the Catholic Church disavowed Valentine's day as a holiday in 1969. He uses this contention as proof that it is not a Christian holiday. I would argue the opposite: that it clearly was a Christian holiday, and therefore, no matter what it is considered now, it cannot be seperated from its Christian past. Ari Kinsberg of Ari's Blog doesn't celebrate the holiday, not because it's Christian, but because we have a holiday of romance, Tu b'Av.

I am not sure if Reverened Robbie of Today in Alternate History is a) an anti-semite, b) making things up whole cloth, or c) both, but his post on Valentine's day includes a "fact" that would be interesting if it were true. Basically that there was a proposed massacre of Jews by Christians which was only stopped when one woman claimed to have seen the saint. Precious Umdurman of Precious World records the same events, except that in her version 2,000 Jews were killed in 1349 (ostensibly for causing the plague), and there was no reprieve. Poison Pero of This Day in History has an account which agrees with that of Precious. Mmm, nothing gets me in the mood like a massacre.

And an interesting aside, Believer786, a convert to Islam posts about whether or not Muslims should celebrate Valentine's day. His answer is pretty clearly that they should not. But the reasoning makes for an interesting read.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Prelude to a Kiss

(Just because I love PreRaphaelite Art. So there)

Shocking revelation: neither Annie nor I celebrate Valentine's Day. It's true. And it's not because we're anti-love or even anti-commercialization, but for our own, unique reasons that we share with thousands of other people (who also consider themselves unique and probably have tattoos to that effect).

I don't celebrate because I already am the mushiest, gushiest person ever to cross the face of the planet and I should not be encouraged. But really because it promotes a pseudo-gynocentric view of romance that perpetuates the myth that women crave candy and flowers and it is incumbant upon men to provide these things, once a year. How many sitcoms did we watch growing up where Tim Allen was watching a football game in his wife's lapel pin while they were having a mandatory romantic dinner because it was Valentine's Day? Urgh! On the other hand, that's not an excuse to ignore me to make a point. I mean, just because I'm low maintenance doesn't mean that giving me a hug on this day would suddenly transform me into a diamond-grubbing, flower-crazy harpie. Hug me, damn it! Not to say that people who like Valentine's Day resemble harpies. I'm all about an excuse for chocolate. It just doesn't do it for me. And also it's a justification for bad behavior (Miss Manners would never condone a Hallmark-mandated demand for sparkly gifts.)

I asked Annie why she doesn't celebrate. Her initial response: "Because it's Christian. Like your mom." (Please NB, my mom is not, in fact, Christian.) Luckily for all of us, she expounded, "No, for real. It is a Christian Saint's day and the holiday observances are in no way seperated from that fact: orgies, drinking, and banquets are all traditional ways to pay homage to saints/gods. Maybe not so much with the orgies. Besides, we have Tu B'av, which is much less lame, and doesn't involve two colors that are as incompatible as navy and black [she’s referring to pink and red]. Also no lingerie, which I am generally a fan of, but not for the sake of enticing men. You should wear things to make you feel sexy; the difference between object and agent."

I, on the other hand, like to be objectified.

More tomorrow!


And not just because one of the most famous physicists of all time was Jewish (ahem, Einstein), or because the other roommate was a physics major in college. Nor am I talking about what Andy Bachman refers to as the "Jewish Law of Physics" which is living life in slow motion.

I wrote a paper in college about how if electrons are deterministic (meaning that we can see both their velocity/trajectory and their location at the same time) it doesn't necessarily mean that the entire universe is deterministic, nor rule out the possibility of a creator diety. But that's not really what I mean either.

What I mean is more like this: physics as metaphor.

You see, I have some major issues with Judaism. The most pertinent being the treatment of women, and other disenfranchised groups. Most recently Harley and I have been discussing the treatment of homosexuality in Judaism, the conversation started by the recent ruling by CJLS. I firmly believe that in this respect Judaism is like physics. We're at Quantum Mechanics. Things work observably, but there are some theoretical problems. For instance, we've created legal loopholes so that no one can be proven to be a mamzer (bastard), but we haven't gotten rid of the idea of mamzerim, because it is biblical. Functionally the category of mamzer no longer exists, but it is still technically a part of the religion, and one that many modern people object to.

Where we want to be is String Theory. The String Theory of Judaism will reconcile the theoretical problems with the observable, physical world. Somehow the idea that homosexuality is not contrary to Judaism, and that homosexuals are not, by their nature sinful, will be worked into the fabric of Judaism without compromising it. I am just not sure how. This doesn't mean that our Quantum Mechanics Judaism doesn't work, or that it should be discarded, just that it isn't all-encompassing. What we're going for is a Grand Unified Theory of Judaism. One where everything works, but is simple to understand.
Well now I've proved my nerd status. And I know at least one of my friends will correct my descriptions of physical theories.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Jews Love: Reading

I read about 3 books at a time. Right now the books that I'm carrying around are:

The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov
Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I actually just finished Skinny Dip, which was pretty disappointing. The beginning had a great set-up, but there aren't really any surprises after the first few chapters, and I found myself impatient to be finished. I won't tell you any more because CJ is still reading it, and I think that he'd be irritated if I ruined the ending.

As you might recall, Harley gave me a copy of The Master and Margarita for Chanukkah. Or, in actuality, she told me on Chanukkah that she would be getting me the book, and handed it to me two weeks ago. I've been reading it on the subway, and I must say, I've never had as many strangers talk to me as while I've been holding this book.

Guy #1: You know, some of the images really stay with you.
Me: Excuse me?
Guy #1: I read that book 30 years ago, and some of the images, they just really stick in your head. Like of the cat, smoking a cigar and holding a gun.
Me: (I'm about 10 pages in) Hm. Interesting. A friend gave me the book, saying that it is her favorite.
Guy #1: Your friend is really f*ed up.

Guy #2: (stares at me in an unnerving way)
Me: Yes?
Guy #2: I was just checking what book you were reading.
Me: (holding up the cover so that he can see it) Ok.

Sarah (spying the book): You know that is every Russian's favorite novel?
Me: It says on the back that some of the idioms have worked their way into popular culture, and the Russian language.

Bud Parr of Metaxu Cafe posted a "top 10 books" list which includes The Master. Vanessa Gebbie has a dissection of the book on her blog, which contains some plot spoilers. She, like myself, had some trouble about halfway through the book. I think that I might just not love Russian novels. I didn't like Crime and Punishment, nor Anna Karenina. Although to be fair I read a compilation of Chekhov's work during a family vacation in Australia, and really enjoyed it. His wry sense of humor (as found in "The Harmfulness of Tobacco" and "The Proposal") and irony really spoke to my rather twisted 16-year-old self. However, I think that I'll stick to the Brits, I much prefer them.

Also, as a halfhearted salve to my conscience for not really looking at the opinions of other Jews (but The Master has biblical themes, isn't that enough?):

Phoebe of WhatWouldPhoebeDo is a grad student, and therefore reads
ShamirPower of Jewschool claims that "smart Jews read Zeek" (I would like to see some empirical evidence of that)
Nextbook. 'nuff said
Rootietoot of Better Living Through Chemistry is reading My Name is Asher Lev, despite not being Jewish (not that I think one needs to be Jewish to read works by Jewish authors)
Danny Miller of Jew Eat Yet has a son who is reading The Diary of Anne Frank. Does it make me a bad Jew if I've neither read that, nor seen Schindler's List?

Friday, February 09, 2007

All Air

In response to the recent events, someone quoted Qohelet 3 (AKA: Ecclesiastes) to me. You know the one, there’s a popular song from the Sixties about it. I took an excellent class with Stephen Garfinkel centered around Qohelet; he argued that the book was optimistic in effect, if not in tone. I’ve been thinking about the first lines of the book, which translate (roughly) into “Air, air, it’s all air.” (We could have an entire dissertation-length conversation about why I translated hevel as “air” and if you’d like to, please email me, but the accompanying beer/coffee/tea will be on you.) I vacillate between descending into nihilism and desperately wanting to assert that there’s more to our existence than can be measured upon our passing. Instead of re-inventing the wheel in this post, I’ve decided to attach the piece I wrote on Qohelet 3 for Dr. Garfinkel’s class. Please excuse the Hebrew, but it doesn’t translate cleanly (and it would make the post ten times longer). If you’d like a translation, please contact me.

Without further ado…

The poet’s concern, throughout Qohelet, is with the futility of life in the face of human impotence and mortality. The lines following the poem reassert, “את הכל עשה יפה בעתו גם את העולם נתן בלבם מכל אשר לא ימצא האדם את המעשה אשר עשה האלהים מראש ועד סוף.” (3:11) Although God “העולם נתן בלבם,” providing men with delusions of eternity and control, God is the only one who controls that which comes to pass. To this end, the context of “את הכל עשה יפה בעתו” clarifies the first line, “לכל זמן ועת לכל חפץ.” Both זמן and עת translate to a suitable or appointed time (cf. Psalm 119:126, Ne 2:6), indicating not that everything will occur at some time in general, but that God controls when events will occur. The poem that follows enunciates חפץ-כל that God positioned in its proper time.

In this context, the poem of 3:1-8 yields several layers of meaning, all reinforcing Qohelet’s overarching thesis for this chapter: God controls everything. On the broadest level, the poem is about life and death. Not only is its first opposing pair ללדת-למות, but the poem closes with מלחמה-שלום, creating a satisfying inclusio that brackets the entire poem. Each of the couplets, therefore, serve as metaphors for life and death as well as demonstrate the totality of that which God controls. The poem is constructed from paralleled couplets, with each line containing a pair of antonyms. The second line of each couplet adds another dimension of meaning to the first line. For example, the first antonym pair ללדת-למות is paralleled with לטעת-לעקור נטוע. The root נטע yields both the literal meaning of planting vineyards and trees as well as the metaphorical meaning of establishing nations. Often, נטע is used in contradistinction with synonyms for destruction (e.g., לנתטץת, לחרס, להאביד; ref: Je 1:10, 18:9, and 31:28). The second half of this pair, לעקור נטוע, maintains this dual meaning, as עקר means both barrenness of fields and women, as well as uprooting Israel’s enemies (Zp 2:4). God controls sets the time of birth and death for all levels of life: nature, nations, and people.

Similarly, in the second couplet, לפרוץ-לבנות, metaphorically expands on להרוג-לרפוא. In Isaiah 5:5, God destroys God’s vineyard, including פרץ גדרו, as an act of vengeance against Israel. The image is placed in opposition with God planting the vineyard (יטעהו) in verse 2. Isaiah uses the same verb as Qohelet for planting (נטע) and breaking down (פרץ) as acts of God in response to Israel’s wickedness. Likewise, as the first couplet invoked Jeremiah, who distinguishes לנתטץת, לחרס, ולהאביד from לבנות ולנטוע, the second couplet incorporates לבנות, recalling the imagery of לנטוע. Thus, לפרוץ-לבנות are parallel in meaning to להרוג-לרפוא, but bring the concept of killing and healing to a metaphorical level, allowing the words to be applied to nature and nations, which are not ordinarily killed or healed. Until the last line, the couplets repeat this pattern of placing literal pairs parallel to more metaphorical pairs, with the intertextual references providing the multiple interpretations of the second pair.

Qohelet repeats only one verb in the poem (not counting לטעת- נטוע as a repetition of a root in noun and verb form), להשלוך. On first reading, the fifth verse (fourth couplet) appears to have inverted the parallelism, making it chiastic. In this case, להשלוך אבניםparallels לרחק מחבק and אבנים כנוס parallels לחהוק. On closer reading, however, this line means “to discard stones,” not “to throw stones.” The distinction derives from two sources. First, Qohelet uses להשלוך to mean discard, in opposition to לשמור in the second half of verse 6. Second, אבנים often refers to stones used in judicial stoning (for example, Lv 20:2, 24:23; Nu 14:10, 15:35-36; Jos 7:25). If להשלוך refers to discarding stones that would be used for stoning (or for other negative purposes, as in Isaiah 8:14, II K 3:19 and 25, Is 34:11, and Jos 7:26), then it effectively parallels לחהוק because to discard stones that would be used in violence is to embrace one’s fellow man, to choose life instead of death.

Throughout the poem, Qohelet intersperses terms used in mourning contrasted with life. As human beings and nations, we kill and break down (3:3), lose and discard (3:6). In response, we heal and build (3:3), seek and preserve (3:6). In mourning, we cry and lament (3:4), rend our garments and are silent (3:7). In the joy of life, we laugh and skip gaily (3:4), sew together garments and speak (3:7). All of these matters of life are subsumed in the final couplet, which is structurally chiastic, for emphasis, “עת לאהב ועת לשנא, עת מלחמה ועת שלום.” The couplet reduces life, as established by God, to four conditions: חפץ-כל is either love or hate, war or peace.

Basically, to the extent that we can, we chose life or death (life through love/peace and death through hate/war), but in structuring the poem in parallel, Qohelet simultaneously asserts that we cannot have one without the other, that the choice is a false choice. We are condemned forever to straddle the lines and juggle these competing forces without allowing them to tear us asunder.

The Queen of Words said it best, when she threw up her hands, turned up to the heavens and said: "Well, if that's how you're going to play it..."

Jewbiquitous Outing: The Jaded Assassin

I don't know if this qualifies as a Jewbiquitous outing, as Harley didn't go. Harley did go out to see something else, and so I'll try to convince her to blog about it later. I went to see The Jaded Assassin with CJ, and CJ's best friend, my upstairs neighbor. We brought the upstairs neighbor because he loves all things immortality, and CJ had hoped that this show would have some of that. Nope.

You know what it did have? Shadow puppets, and marionettes. According to Alicia of So Aunty, this show is "unmissable." I would disagree. It was fun, and probably worth a little less than the $15 we (read: CJ) paid, but not unmissable. The Gothamist has a short blurb on the play, and repeats a Times quote that was also featured on the playbill: "Take that, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’!" Sadly the review is locked within the "Times Select" for which I am too cheap to pay. I kind of want to see the context for that statement.

At any rate, I had a fabulous time, laughed a lot (although it dragged in the middle) making snarky comments about the self-conciously campy "dialogue" (most of it takes place through a narrator, with some exceptions), the main character's costume (which was definitely from lululemon), and how the narrator had some "junk in the trunk." For the record, that last observation was made by CJ and the upstairs neighbor, both of whom tried to disavow it later.


Random Fight Scene

These two videos give a pretty good idea of what the play/show/thingy was like, but the trailer makes it seem far more exciting. The beginning and end were good, but there were about 20 minutes that were pretty boring. To be fair, the music was absolutely terrific, and the show demonstrated every type of puppetry that I could imagine.

Here was the major downside: while the performance was funny and good-natured, it mixed a number of different Asian styles, presumably on the theory that they're all interchangeable. The main character's name is "Soon-Ja" which sounds Korean, the martial art looks like a mix of Kung-Fu and Tai Kwon Do, yet at the end, Soon-Ja speaks Mandarin Chinese.

"Pan-Asian" is one of my pet peeves. While China, Japan, and Korea all have intertwined history, so do Germany, Italy, and France. China is a country of over 1 billion people. A billion! There are hundreds of different ethnicities and languages, each have their own traditions, costume, and some even have their own religions. To lump them all together is absolutely ludicrous. I find that people do this with Central/South America too. As if Puerto Ricans and Argentinians are the same, just because they are from "South America."

Sorry that this doesn't really have anything to do with Jews.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Jews Love: Vacations

Harley and I were looking into going to Vegas for a weekend. Not because either of us like to gamble, but because we wanted to go away (and our Israel bonds matured, woot!), drink girly drinks, and wear pretty dresses. As an aside, CJ just informed me that Vermouth is not kosher, unless specifically hekshered.

We considered a number of different options for going away: Vegas, Atlantic City, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and so on. In the course of this it became clear that there are a few different types of vacations that Jews like to take:

Most obviously Israel trips. Either for holidays, summers, winters, with family, friends, or birthright, Israel is the eternal Jewish destination. If you haven't gone, may I suggest Jewlicious' Birthright trip. Free, 10 days long, and it looks like lots of fun.

Other Jewish-themed trips: my friend Sarah points out "Jews seem to love Holocaust tourism masquerading as vacation." I've never been on March of the Living, a Poland-Israel pilgrimage, or really to Eastern Europe at all. One day I'll get there, but for now it seems a bit too voyeuristic.

Passover/other holiday: lots of people go away for Passover, either to Miami, to some sort of all-inclusive hotel, or another all-inclusive hotel elsewhere in the US. The final option? Israel. Israel is amazing on Passover. You can get everything catered, pre-cooked, kosher to whatever specifications you keep (gebruchts, kitniot, or sephard), and delicious. I mean, I assume. For me, Israel on Pesach is still a dream. As is Israel for Sukkot. Magical. Also, instead of two days of chag (holiday) you only have one. For those of us who are traditionally observant, that is magic. For the record, I consider Israel to be magic year-round.

Honeymoon: for the record, this is not immediately personally relevant (Aunt L, be sure to tell my father, or I will get a phone call this evening). However, I have a number of newly married/engaged friends. They will be relieved to know that there are kosher cruises, kosher all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica, and kosher spas. And to think that I basically travel with bread, cans of tuna, peanut butter, tradition soup, and hope to be able to purchase vegetables/fruit and bottled water. Apparently, those days could be over. Granted, it probably costs an arm and a leg, but who cares? Kosher food (of dubious quality) in Costa Rica!

I don't think that I've missed any of the major ones, but Jameel points out that basically any vacation that one could want is available in Israel.

The Love Song of J. Annie Prufrock

I have measured out my life in quarters.

Coffee spoons, quarters, same thing. I sometimes feel as if my every business interaction takes place with an eye towards the procuration of quarters. You see, there is a laundry room in my building (amazing in the winter, as I hate the cold), but unlike the laundry rooms at college, it takes neither the college id card, nor a special laundry card. No, no. For the first time since CTY I have had to collect quarters.

The thing is, I always feel guilty about it. My life is busy, but not so busy that I can't make it to the bank occasionally. The closest branch of my bank (with actual tellers, not just atm's) is about a half mile from my house. A long, cold, half-mile. So I could do that, or, every morning when I buy my cup of coffee (which I hate, but the combination of cold, and tired has overcome me) I give $2.00, for a $1.25 cup of coffee. I usually have a quarter on me, but I don't use it, in my quest for enough money to do laundry.

This is not my guy

I'm starting to feel kind of like an ass. Mostly because I buy my coffee from a guy in a cart, and he has a limited amount of change. So I am taking up his change because I am too lazy/cold to go to the bank. The question is, am I just being an inconsiderate ass, or is it truly unethical for me to take his change when I don't need it?