When I was in graduate school, I dated a Catholic (with both a capital C and a lowercase one) girl. She gave me a book one year for a gift. It wasn’t just any book; it was a book she had read while she was still in high school. According to her, it was a book that changed her worldview and gave her insight into a topic she never expected to be interested in. Having attended Catholic school and grown up in a suburban Midwestern town, she knew very few Jews. In fact, when we met in 1996, I was the first real Jewish friend she had ever had. Fortunately, she was smart enough to know that we didn’t have horns or anything like that, but she still knew very little about the religion or the culture or the people. I am pleased to say that she is quite knowledgeable now, thanks in part to me, but also thanks in part to this book. Of course, that book was Leon Uris’s Exodus.
I dutifully read the book, and thought that it was very interesting. I must confess that I remember very little of the book 12+ years later. I do remember that I enjoyed it, and that I was glad that she had read it and understood a little better the importance to the Jews of a homeland, particularly after the Second World War and the atrocities that were afflicted upon European Jews. I am blessed that I was born in an era where anti-Semitism is at an historic low. True, there is still hate related crimes against the Jews, and, perhaps even worse, anti-Semitic sentiment still reigns, but fortunately, I have never really been personally exposed to serious anti-Semitism. I am also fortunate to have been born in the US, where arguably, I am more protected from anti-Semitism than almost anywhere else in the world. I also consider myself lucky to have been born in an era where the State of Israel has asserted her right to exist, and although too many people still die (on both sides), and there are still too many bombings, there isn’t war and the serious constant threat like from 1948 thru 1967. I have been blessed to have lived and toured Israel at a time when peace was the norm, and attacks were not…at least where I lived in Jerusalem. My friend SK may feel differently; she lived in the north and had to sit in her bomb shelter almost weekly.
I finally got around to watching Otto Preminger’s insanely long movie adaptation of Uris’s book (which was no slim novel itself). In a nutshell it was exactly what I expected. Bad acting, poor sound, obvious dubbing, and too many shadows of the cameraman (most obvious in the scene where Ari and Kitty kiss for the first time as they overlook the Valley of Jezreel). Nevertheless, it fascinated me to watch this epic unfold on my television (I can only imagine what it was like on the Big Screen). It amazed me how propagandist it was (was the book so much so as well?). How could anyone walk out of that movie and not say, “hell yea the Jews deserve their own land…and what’s with those awful Arabs? They were invited to live in peace and said no. F’ them. It’s their own fault.” Of course, the reality of the situation between the Jews and the Arabs was (and still is) much more complicated than Otto made it out to be, and there were other, centuries old forces at play.
I’m not ashamed to say that I got caught up in the moment of the movie, and I kept thinking, how exciting and romantic it would have been to be living back then, just before the birth of a nation. To be among the first generation who created a fertile, vibrant country out of sand and dust. It reminded me of what the Jewish people had to go through to get the world to have any sympathy whatsoever to allow the partition to happen, and what these same people had to go through in order to survive in an arid land with enemies on all sides. Just like the American experiment has baffled economists and historians, so, too, has the survival of Israel baffled all the naysayers. Logically, the country shouldn’t have survived the War of Independence, let alone any of the other wars. And yet, somehow it has. We could talk about God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We could talk about God’s promise that Jerusalem would never fall. We could talk about a myriad other explanations, but no matter what, the bottom line is that the State of Israel did survive, and she has prospered.
I think that the part of all of this that has been gnawing at me lately is that back then, I think everyone knew what they were fighting for. Ari claims to have dynamite strapped to the Exodus’s engines. If the British try to take the ship, he will detonate it, killing every Jewish man, woman, and child, as well as the British soldiers. When the Haganah commander finally decides that all children under 13 must return to Cypress to ensure their survival, he is reprimanded by those very children’s mothers. They would rather see their children die struggling to reach Palestine, then die behind barbed wire like some caged animal. I have heard stories that the #1 bus in Jerusalem (which takes you from town right to the Western Wall in the Old City) used to have grenades regularly lobbed into it. Back then, so the stories go, someone would immediately throw themselves upon it, sacrificing themselves to protect the rest of the bus. There’s another story I’ve been told about a soldier during the War of Independence. He was part of a demolition crew, and they were ordered to destroy a key bridge, lest the Arabs use it to get their forces across. After the explosives were set, it was discovered they had no detonators left. Knowing full well the importance of destroying the bridge, the soldier stayed behind. After giving his unit enough time to get to safety, he ignited the dynamite by hand, taking out the bridge, and himself with it. I’m not so sure that modern Israel has this sense anymore.
The Survivors—those who lived to tell the horrors of Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, and the other concentration camps—are dying. There are only a handful left. Likewise, those still alive who fought in the Haganah, the Palmach, and the Irgun are also growing fewer and fewer. The old soldiers who created the Israeli Defense Forces, the army that every other army studied because they did the impossible on a daily basis have all long since retired. The last war in Lebanon is an example of how things have changed in Israel. Ignoring America’s strong hand in the goings-on in that war for a moment, it was still clear that IDF command were at a loss of how to organize and lead a major war. This is not necessarily their fault, and ironically, it can be seen as a good thing: while almost every IDF soldier has seen some sort of combat, none, until the last war in Lebanon, had actually been to war. Israel’s current army is a mere shadow of the once fearsome army that broke the rules and impressed even its bitterest enemies. People today have forgotten what their fathers and grandfathers fought for.
This is not an argument about land for peace or anything like that. This is an argument of patriotism, of familiarity, of comfort. Israel is now 60. By strict definition, that is 2 generations. People of the current generation have forgotten what it’s like to struggle daily for Israel’s very existence. I don’t mean to negate or diminish the current situation of suicide bombers and rocket attacks from Gaza, but I would argue that this is not the same as having to stand guard 24 hours a day so that your kibbutz isn’t ambushed by the enemy. With all due respect to those who have lost loved ones in recent times, today is very peaceful compared to 60 years ago. And this has created a generation that has taken Israel’s existence for granted. Today, no one fights for Israel’s right to exist, or for its right to exist as one piece of land and not two states. Granted, there are still extremist Arab groups that still want to see the destruction of the Jewish State, but with the Jordanian and Egyptian peace accords and the official pacts, accords, and talks with the Palestinian Authority, it is becoming much more rhetorical than literal.
I am a hopeless romantic, always looking for an adventure and excitement. As with most things in my life, I was born too late. I doubt that I will ever find myself telling my grandchildren stories that grandchildren and even great grandchildren today hear from their grand- and great grandparents about what it was like in the late 1940s in Israel. I worry that I might actually have the opportunity. I believe that now is the time for the IDF to look at how it operated back then and learn from itself. If there is a 2 State agreement, I am concerned that our biggest fears will be realized and that there will be another war for independence. It took the United States 2 wars to convince the United Kingdom that we were serious about severing ties with the Empire, and it seems likely that Israel, too, will need to once again demonstrate her resolve to survive in the inhospitable climate in which she resides. Unlike the US, every war that Israel has fought has been for her very existence and independence, and a future one will be no different.
I pray that there won’t be, but, God forbid, if there is another Arab-Israel war, I pray that the old attitudes and feelings of pride will return to the Jewish people, and they will recognize and understand what they are saying as they sing HaTikvah:
The soul of a Jew yearns,
And forward to the East
To Zion, an eye looks
Our hope will not be lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
I just finished reading A Pigeon and a Boy, by Meir Shalev. Shalev is the Sabra’s favorite author, so when we heard that he was speaking at the DCJCC a few months ago, we went to hear him. Afterwards, they were selling his book, and he was signing autographs. So, even though it was still a few months to Chanukah, and even though I was standing there, the Sabra bought me the book (in English, by the way) for my Chanukah present, and had Mr. Shalev sign it (also in English). I was a little surprised by how aloof he was while we were getting the book signed. The Sabra told him (in Hebrew) that he was her favorite author and that she had read every book he has written; she was buying this one for me so she could introduce me to him. He said, in sum (and in English), “thanks,” and pushed the book back to us. He did smile, so maybe he’s just a moody artist.
Superficially, the book is about Yair who is frustrated with his life and decides to build a home for himself. He is a tour guide, and while ferrying around some American dignitaries, he discovers that one had served in the Palmach, and had fought with a young pigeon handler nicknamed the Baby. Half the book is devoted to telling the love story of the Baby and the Girl, while the other half deals with Yair’s life, his estrangement from his American wife, Liora, and his subsequent love affair with “his contractor who is a woman,” whom he has loved from afar since they were young children. Obviously, the two stories are intertwined, but I will leave it to you to read the book to discover the story.
According to Shalev, the idea of the book came to him as he and his wife were driving to their new home that they were building, and he decided then and there that he wanted to tell the story of building a home. He described in detail, towards the end of the book, Yair’s journey from Tel Aviv to his new home, and it is almost word for word with how Shalev described the journey he and his wife took to their new home when he revealed to her that he intended to write the book.
The problem with all translations is that it is difficult to tell how much of the poetry and beauty in the choice of words strung together to form sentences are the original author’s and how much are the translator’s. Shalev has been called the Israeli Gabriel García Márquez, and after reading the book it is understandable. He paints his canvas with the same pigments that Márquez uses: the muted greens of a feminine voice, the bold violets of love, and the stark reds of hatred. Likewise, he uses the brushes of sarcasm, innuendo, sadness, and depression. And, again like Márquez, there is clear evidence of broad strokes of humor throughout, albeit with the hue of bittersweetness. At any given point throughout the story, you find yourself smirking or laughing aloud as your eyes water and that uncomfortable lump in your throat prevents you from swallowing properly.
Like a Vonnegut novel, there wasn’t much of a plot in A Pigeon and a Boy, but unlike Vonnegut, Shalev keeps your interested in his characters. You want to read more about their memories, about their lives, about their fears, and about their dreams. I would argue that there is a little Yair in all of us, and that is what makes the character so universal. No matter who you are, there are skeletons in your closet; for some those bones will haunt, for others, they are merely the remains of the past. Yair finds a home of his own, one with empty closets, one where he can start afresh, and that is not too different from anyone else. We all dream of starting over and starting fresh.
And therein lies the problems I have with Shalev’s book. It is not actually with his book per se, but with the genre in general. I do not enjoy watching—or even reading, but less so with books—horror films. It is not that I don’t appreciate the skills of the authors, or the talents of the makeup artists, or even the skills displayed by the actors. No, it is much simpler. I don’t like to be scared. There are so many things in life that already scare me, I don’t want to see my fears made manifest on the Silver Screen. If I am going to the movies or to read a book, it is for escape, to escape from the fears and worries and concerns that I face every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moment. This is why I prefer comedies and action and adventure films. For an hour and a half I can escape into a world of make-believe where some unimportant average shmoe (like me) can rise up and save the damsel in distress/country/planet/galaxy/universe. So, too, it is with books that are sad. A friend of mine would say that being sad is wonderful sometimes and that it’s good and cathartic to cry. I agree, but these are not the feelings that I look forward to on grey, rainy days, as I curl up on the couch with a book and hot cuppa. Like fear, there is enough sadness in my life, and especially on wet, dark days, that I do not want to read about misery and dysphoria. I prefer to read something that will make he happy, smile, and even laugh. I like to laugh.
There are, of course, exceptions to this reticence of mine to frolic in the River Melancholia, and when the mood hits me to sail upon her warm, inviting waters, a book like A Pigeon and a Boy is the perfect vessel.
As most of you are aware, I have a weak spot for Ann Curry of “TODAY” fame. Unfortunately, the bedrock of my feelings for this lovely lady felt a rather large tremor this morning when she was reporting the morning news.
I can forgive most Americans for mispronouncing the names of foreigners, especially when they are spelled in an alphabet other than the one used in the US and other English speaking countries. However, I am also aware that in the media world, they always include a phonetic transliteration of hard-to-pronounce names. Likewise, I can excuse newscasters stumbling over names that are new to the news world (i.e., the daily barrage of Arabic names that no one can say or keep track of).
I do, however, draw the line with a politician who has been in the news since 1973. Granted he was a relative unknown then, but he has become increasingly more powerful and his name has become increasingly familiar as he has gone from an unknown MK in Israel’s Knesset to the Mayor of Jerusalem eventually to the Prime Minister of the State of Israel.
As such, I find it deplorable and rather offensive that my nymph of news, my madam of media, could mispronounce “Ehud Olmert” and call the poor man, “Ehud Olmer.” No, Ms. Curry, Hebrew is not an effeminate language like French. There are no soft Ts that need to be dropped. Please don’t offend the Israelis and make their language sound like that of the French. Seriously, no one really wants to be compared to the French, least of all the Jews.
Am I the only one who has “Dirty Laundry” in their head now?
I just noticed that it's been ages since I've posted anything. This is really even more inexcusable when you realize that I've been doing fuckall at work for months now.
Anyway, things that have happened since last I posted:
- I took my buddy out for his bachelor party. I actually started to write this up, but when I got to the part where we went to the tittie bar, I decided that maybe I shouldn't actually post it. Needless to say, we had a great time looking at naked women! We headed over to the Block (Baltimore's Red Light District) for old time's sake. We went to some dive and this 40something-year old skanky crack-whore slides up to me and asks me to buy her a drink. I play along and say, "sure." Fucking twenty fucking five fucking dollars for a fucking drink! I was pissed! That pretty much ended the evening. We headed back to my buddy's house and smoked cigars.
- The aforementioned buddy's wedding. RC came in on Friday, and we headed over to the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner...that was good times. We had chinese food, and I haven't had chinese food (except for the fast food joint near Chez Jo Cose). Saturday we got up and headed to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian, and walked around that, then we did some other stuff I can't remember just now, and in the evening, we met the 'rents, headed into Old Town, VA, met my sister, and had dinner at Landini Brothers (an awesome northern Italian restaurant). After dinner my sister split and the four of us went to a paino bar where we met up with another friend of mine and his partner. Fun was had by all.
- Sunday was the wedding. It was a very nice affair. It was the 3rd wedding I've been a part of in the past 15 months, and it was the first that was fully Jewish, so that was nice. My speech went off without a hitch for the most part. I offended one person, but I suppose that that is life, you can't win them all. The Bride and Groom were happy and entertained, and that really is all that matters. I drank way too much gin. After the wedding, the Bride, Groom, RC, and I went back to the hotel, cracked open some brew, and continued to celebrate.
- Monday morning we headed over to the brunch and had bagels, eggs, and blintzes. I got beat up by the kids...all seemed normal.
That's pretty much it. Now you know the rest of the story.
A blast from the past forwarded this to me this morning. I'm not a big fan of the internet jokes and "Forward to all your friends" emails, but once in a while some come through that are pretty funny. I fear that a lot of the humor in this will be missed by all you goyim, but the yiddin will appreciate it. Enjoy.
Actual Personal Ads taken from Israeli newspapers:
Shul Gabbai, 36. I take out the Torah Saturday morning. Would like to take you out Saturday night. Please write. POB 81
Couch potato latke, in search of the right applesauce. Let's try it for eight days. Who knows? POB 43.
Divorced Jewish man, seeks partner to attend shul with, light shabbos candles, celebrate holidays, build Sukkah together, attend brisses, bar mitzvahs. Religion not important. POB 658
Sincere rabbinical student, 27. Enjoys Yom Kippur, Tisha B'av, Taanis Esther, Tzom Gedaliah, Asarah B'Teves, Shiva Asar B'Tammuz. Seeks companion for living life in the "fast" lane. POB 90
Yeshiva bochur, Torah scholar, long beard, payos. Seeks same in woman. POB 43
Worried about in-law meddling? I'm an orphan! Write. POB 74
Nice Jewish guy, 38. No skeletons. No baggage. No personality. POB 76
Female graduate student, studying kaballah, Zohar, exorcism of dybbuks, seeks mensch. No weirdos, please. POB 56
Staunch Jewish feminist, wears tzitzis, seeking male who will accept my independence, although you probably will not. Oh, just forget it. POB 435
Jewish businessman, 49, manufactures Sabbath candles, Chanuka candles, havdalah candles, Yahrzeit candles. Seeks non-smoker. POB 787
Israeli professor, 41, with 18 years of teaching in my behind. Looking for American-born woman who speaks English very good. POB 555
80-year-old bubby, no assets, seeks handsome, virile Jewish male, under 35. Object matrimony. I can dream, can't I? POB 545
I'm a sensitive Jewish prince whom you can open your heart to. Share your innermost thoughts and deepest secrets. Confide in me. I'll understand your insecurities. No fatties, please. POB 86
Jewish male, 34, very successful, smart, independent, self-made. looking for girl whose father will hire me. POB 53
If the Greeks had bathrooms, Aristotle would be talking about catharsis in there rather than in tragedy. One should never come between a person and the bathroom. Likewise, a certain decorum should be maintained while in the sacred confines of the Holy of Holies. For me, bathrooms are sacrosanct.
And it is for this reason that it took me a while to identify the “right” bathroom here at America’s Space Agency. We have 9 floors with 3 mens rooms on each, giving a total of 27 rooms. Like Goldilocks of The Three Bears fame, I tried each one. I finally settled on the one that fit me the best. It is just right. Tthe stall doors exist. They have working locks. There is no literature on the walls. There is always ample toilet paper. And, most importantly, it is always clean.
So, imagine my horror when I walked into my bathroom and saw the sight that was waiting. As I crossed the threshold, I could feel my body transitioning from profane to sacred. I could feel my bowels loosening in anticipation. Like the smell of incense in a cathedral, the odors of my temple accosted my nose: disinfectant, cleaning supplies, and soap. I passed the urinals, standing guard like silent porcelain sentries, heading for the stalls. And then I saw the horror.
My thoughts were akin to the Jews entering the desecrated temple. There, before my eyes, in my stall, I could see a set of feet with pants at the ankles. Someone was in my stall. Someone else's ass was sitting on my throne. Life will never be the same again.