Friday Comic and Friday Links!

It’s baby fever time in the family!



  1. Pictures of the last barber of Sofia, Bulgaria
  2. Held by the Taliban, a very touching five-part series
  3. I can’t wait to see this movie, Slackistan
  4. Traveling around Lake Baikal with beautiful pics
  5. Soros says, it’s time to rethink economics
  6. Why men should give women flowers
  7. Real live pictures from Kabul!
  8. Donate your wedding dress for tax benefit
  9. I have fallen in love with this blog
  10. Where are all the lady bloggers? Here’s one! Meee!

Asher Kaufman on the Village of Ghajr at the Middle East Institute


One of the things I love most about working in Washington, D.C., is the enormous amount of think tank lectures (for free!) constantly going on in the District, many only a couple blocks away from where I work.  I am extremely, extremely lucky.  That’s why I was so excited to go for the first time to the Middle East Institute a couple days ago for lunch to hear Asher Kaufman speak about the village of Ghajr (taken with my stalkerphone cam, above.) Here is what I learned from the notes that I took on Dr. Kaufman’s lecture, below. (Too bad I don’t get brownie points.)

Ghajr is a village that has a unique geopolitical situation, but unfortunately, one that is all too common in the Middle East.  As a result of frequent border redraws, the citizens of the village now find themselves in a quirky situation:  they are currently Israeli citizens and receive all the benefits and work in the state including fluency in Hebrew among the men, but part of the border is in Lebanon, and the inhabitants are Arabs of Syrian origin with strong ties to Damascus.

This issue began in the 19th century as a village fully within the scope of “Lebanese national boundaries”, as shown by a map drawn by French cartographers exploring the region in 1862.     Before 1967, however, due to some poor British cartography, it fell under Syrian control, and is shown as inside the (then) Syrian Golan Heights in a map in 1942.  This makes the most sense, given the small population of Ghajar is Syrian Allawites that strayed far from Damascus approximately 300 years ago, close to the Lebanese border.

Here’s Ghajar today, to give you an idea of how the boundaries intersect:

al ghajar

In 1962, the Lebanese cartographic system was reogranized, and the UN maps of the area were also changed; the 1963 UN map was based on a typograph which put Ghajar in Lebanon, a mistake that carried through several generations of maps, including Israeli maps that picked up on it, as well.  In 1967, after Israel won the Golan Heights, new Israeli cartography divided th region, and in 1981, the residents of the village (which is theoretically split into north and south, with the north side in Lebanon and the south side in Israel), received Israeli citizenship, but the status is currently under debatable sovereignty, with the possibility that Ghajar could go back to Syria at some point.

At play here is the strategic importance of the border to Israel (which, as you can see above, doesn’t even extend that far up except to touch Ghajar,) and several key water sources in the region.

What’s the end result? A village that was divided into two parts that are now divided by a checkpoint (since an Israeli soldier was kidnapped in the region in 2005, making security harder for Israel to control in the area), and a village that straddles three different countries, essentially, none of which are willing to offer a solution to the citizens there.

The actual village, from here.


Such are the realities of the Middle East today, and, as is evident, ones caused partially by the British and the UN pretty much partitioning things willy-nilly.  I’d love to see more pictures of daily life in this village, and what is interesting is that Dr. Kaufman said that the villagers live better, relatively compared to the other Arab villages (not Jewish) in the region.


Guest Post: Halloween and Pippi Longstocking…and Jews

My friend Jane Charney bails me out again with a thought-provoking post about Halloween costumes:

jane pippy

For two years in a row, on Oct. 31, I’ve stuck pipe-cleaners into my braids, painted some exaggerated freckles on my face and put on two completely mismatched knee-high socks. I’ve impersonated my favorite children’s literature role model – Pippi Longstocking. And I’m not going to do it again this year.

In fact, Halloween is this week, and I barely have an idea of what I want to be. In years past, I’ve been a flamenco dancer, a pirate, and a Renaissance damsel. This year, I’m considering giving a nod to my evil side and going as the devil’s sidekick. On second thought, maybe not.

Even larger than the question of choosing a costume is whether I ought to be celebrating Halloween at all. Does dressing up for what is basically a pagan holiday make me any less Jewish? Some friends and I had this exact discussion recently.

One friend noted that since I keep kosher-style (I don’t eat pork or shellfish and separate meat from dairy) and am strongly in touch with my Jewishness, it seemed incongruous that I’d be willing to go along with Halloween.

Sure, let’s make Halloween yet another occasion that appears to require some identity negotiation. The dark magic overtones of the holiday – not to mention its pagan origins – would surely prevent me had I been an ultra-Orthodox Jew.  But I’m not sure that the masquerade has any bearing at all on my Jewish identity. For my secular Jewish self, Halloween has absolutely no religious overtones; though I do know some Wiccans for whom Halloween, also known as Samhain, marks one of the most spiritually charged days of the year.

For me, Halloween is a cultural celebration that marks my acceptance of my adopted homeland. It’s also frivolous and ridiculous. And ridiculously fun!

As a child, I used to love dressing up for the New Year carnival. Usually, the girls would be snowflakes or little bunnies. I wasn’t enthralled with the idea. In third grade, I made my New Year debut as The Night. I wore a black tiara with a long mantilla, a black leotard and tights and a black gauzy skirt that my mom had sown together for me. Come to think of it, a recreation of this costume might be perfect for Halloween!

Actually, since I’ll be going to the Chicago Russian Moishe House for a Halloween party, the entire question is moot. The Moishe House is a group of young Russian-speaking Jewish adults who live together and in exchange for a rent subsidy organize five to seven Jewish events a month. I’ll be surrounded by young Russian-speaking Jews on this most non-Jewish night.

And guess what? Even if I was going to a run-of-the-mill bar, I wouldn’t feel any less Jewish at heart!

Jane asked for my thoughts on the issue as well.  I don’t see any conflict for me between celbrating Halloween and being Jewish, but that’s because I’m not religious.  As a secular Jew, I compare Halloween to Purim. Of course there are the dark, pagan undertones of the holiday, but I think Judaism has lots of dark, pagan undertones anyway that we conveniently choose to ignore.  Plus, I couldn’t think of anything worse than denying my children of this holiday that everyone celebrates; I remember going trick-or-treating and some houses’ doors would open, but without candy, and a sad little girl standing behind a mom saying, “We don’t celebrate Halloween.” Also, I loved Pippi as an awesome girl role model.


Midnight Nutella: A Halloween Post

I am doing a lot of warming up for writing a novel beginning on Sunday.  This means annoying you with my attempts at literature.  Here is my latest, a Halloween poem in the style of Edgar Allen Poe on crack.

From Pingu1963 on Flickr

Midnight Nutella

Oh, what horror!  Oh, what fright!
Has arisen from the dead-
What disturbs me on this night,
What ghoul phantom rears its head?

On the eve of Halloween,
When all good souls are asleep-
Ghosts of fears yet to be seen-
Graze my forehead in my sleep.

As I lay in bed, exhaling,
Muffled footsteps near the door-
My heart pounding, then a wailing.
Like a gale upon a moor.

So, I crept into the kitchen.
Where the light was wan and yellow.
Gasped in shock, for there was standing-
An unopened jar-NUTELLA!

It did nothing-I skipped heartbeats.
I had eaten it last night.
Why now, suddenly, a sequel
Here to tempt my appetite?

Had I not devoured slowly?
Creamy chocolate with a spoon?
Had I not thrown out the remnants?
By the pale glow of the moon?

It stood still.  My neck hair prickled.
Were my eyes just playing tricks?
Had some chocolate really trickled?
From its lid, onto the bricks?

Reaching for it to replace it
To my pantry, on the shelf,
When it bit me!  With its white fangs!
Rasping, “I can move  myself.”

As I smarted from the contact
I expounded, “Ain’t that rich!”
It replied, matter-of-factly,
“I’m haunting you ’cause you’re a bitch!”

“Do you not have home recycling?
Where you should have put me first?
Do you spit upon our planet?
Face it lady, you’re the worst!”

“And not only did you eat me,
Quickly so Dan wouldn’t see,
But as you made to deplete me-
Lady, you just killed a tree!

It jumped up upon the counter
With a force I’d never seen.
And it hissed and made me flounder-
Made me gasp on Halloween.

“Yes, we live in White Bethesda,”
I regained my power of speech.
“But we’ve never used recycling,
But I’ve never killed a beech!”

“Just because we seem like hipsters,
Doesn’t mean we follow trends.
Better stop giving me lip, sir!
Let’s make up and make amends.”

“Why’d you think we would recycle?
Do we drink cafe au lait?
Do we get to work by cycle?
Do we crucify Bill Gates?”

“Do we have Obama stickers?
On our Prius in the drive?
Do we post our shots on Flickr?
Do we Livestrong while we’re alive?”

“No, and no, and no, and no!
We don’t recycle, I told you so!”

“Listen here you Russian reject,
Oh, you communism waste,”
The jar came on toward me slowly.
“Soon enough, you’ll get a taste.”

“It’s the folks who think like you-
Who hate the earth, just as you do!”
Oh, pollution, woe is me!
Recycle, bitch, and be happy!”

“Did you know that your recycling
Doesn’t really help the earth?”
I said, trembling at its molars,
“What’s the point? Where’s the worth?”

Many things then happened quickly.
The jar leapt and I attacked.
As its chocolate maw drew closer-
I grabbed a spoon and beat it back.

And soon, it was in a corner.
Trembling, it let out a sob.
With the jaunt of a new mourner,
I opened it and ate a glob.

The evil spirit then departed,
No longer haunting me in sleep.
We were back where we had started-
The can, in trash bags, in the deep.


Author Interview: Hannah Friedman

Note: This book graciously provided to me by Hannah Friedman.

I spent approximately 45% of high school in my room and crying because I was weird/no one “got” me/had self-esteem issues/was working on homework until 2 am/had a Nutella emergency.


Hannah Friedman’s high school experiences were even worse, mainly because she had a monkey instead of a sister, but also because she had the additional pressure of a private school.   So much worse, in fact, that she wrote a book called Everything Sucks about her formative years in a private school in New York.

This book blew away my expectations. Most people my age (me included) are horrible at writing at the autobiographical level because we don’t have enough talent or life experience to adequately go all Ulyssess on our memories.  Evidence?  Any of my previous posts.

But, Friedman’s first published work is very well-written, and a book I could relate to with the frustrations of the teens.  Judging from reactions of others, the connection holds true for many.   I couldn’t relate to everything because I’d never done hard drugs,  had a monkey as a sister, or pressured myself to get into Yale.  But the angst is still the same and the emotions Friedman describes so accurately is something I could truly relate to.

What blew me away was the amount of honesty (raw honesty, as many reviews of the book write.)  Hannah put into her writing, about sex, about boys, and about her emotions throughout high school. She put all of herself into this book, and if you’re interested in an American private school perspective on high school, as well as the final argument on why  private school is no way different than public school, this book is a great read.

Here’s my interview with Hannah below. I  loved picking her brain because I want to plagiarize incorporate some of the methods she used when I’m writing my own novel in November.

VB: How did you decide what to reveal about yourself? Did you consider the reaction of friends and family when you wrote it (there is some very embarrassing content), particularly given your experiences with the magazine in high school?

HF: Ah, a very good point. I was certainly nervous about backlash… , but I also knew that I really wanted to address all the things I hadn’t been able to find information about growing up. All the absurdity of modern education, the hysteria of girl culture, stigmas about sex and drugs. I knew that if I undertook this project I wanted to be as candid as possible, so that’s what I always returned to when I got nervous.

VB: You talk about the editing process at the very end of the book-how long did this book take you to write? How did you know you were “done’?
HF: I knew I was done when the publisher sent this baby to print- I knew there was nothing else I could change, but that doesn’t mean I was 100% satisfied. I don’t think you ever can be. That being said, I had gone through many drafts and I knew that at least it was close to what I had imagined it could be. All told the book took about a year to write and edit and go to print.

VB: Did you have a specific audience in mind as you wrote it?

HF: To be honest, my audience was me! If something made me laugh or really resonated with me, I thought it would probably strike a chord with at least one other person.

VB: You talk a lot about your struggle with weight in high school and mention briefly your parents’ influence.  Did they ever pressure you to lose weight, or was it mostly your peer group in high school?
HF:My parents never pressured me to lose weight. My peers didn’t say anything directly either. It wasn’t that one day I decided “I have to be super pretty and skinny,” it was more that extremely negative thought patterns began to develop as a way to cope with all the bullshit of highschool- the pettiness and the sleep deprivation and the pressure to perform academically as well as socially. I channeled all of my frustration into this one seemingly simple solution: lose weight and be happy. But it turned out that the more I obsessed over numbers and calories and carbs, the less happy I was.

VB: Did you ever have doubts that you could pull off a novel? If so, how did you work past them?
HF: Every single day of writing this book I was pretty sure I would never be able to finish it. It was a hugely daunting process, and completely uncharted territory. So if you’re a writer out there and the idea of finishing a big project seems terrifyingly huge, then you’re right on track! Don’t lose hope, and try to only concentrate on just a small manageable piece at a time instead of considering the entire work.