Life after “Life After Zionist Summer Camp”

Thinking about the occupation, human rights, democracy, the demographic problem, and more at Zionist Massada. Or maybe just thinking that I'm getting sunburnt.

It starts the minute I read the first paragraph. That feeling of vague anger and helplessness. Because I’ve been reading and thinking about this issue ever since I decided that Israel was something I needed to be reading and thinking about. And I’ve been experiencing all of the things that Benedikt did for the past ten years, maybe more.  In different stages.  In different places.

The olives, the AIPAC meetings, the beach, the sunflower seeds, the 1967 maps, the rallies, the checkpoints, the walls, the 2006 war, meeting Sharansky, homeless people in Tel Aviv, the Wall, Yad Vashem, J Street, the Golan Heights. I’ve done it all. I’ve thought about every angle. I’ve thought, thought, thought. When I was on the plane. When I was on group buses. When I was in Hebrew classes.   When I was in hotel rooms, when I was drenched in sweat in apartments. When I was at my computer at work. When I am reading before bed. I’ve thought it this way and that way until my brain came loose from the see-sawing and took flight into a dream where I was speaking Hebrew on the moon and still thinking.

But at some point, I’ve stopped thinking. Because American Jews like me and Allison think too much. We are a nation, a tribe of over-thinkers, over-complicator, justifiers, neuron-processors. We like to hem and haw and on the one hand and on the other Israel until we are worn out.  We love to write angsty pieces and to have thinktanks and psychosessions.

Because no matter how hard we think,  all those problems will still be there.  And we don’t need to address them. Unless we live in Israel. And pay taxes to the State. Then we can sit in coffeehouses and debate thewallsettlementspeaceprocesstwostatesolutiongaza until our Turkish coffee embers run dry and the tide comes in so that we can walk from Tel Aviv to Yaffo in the shoreline.

But in the meantime, I promise,  Israel is just Israel. No matter how hard we think. Or are angry. Or sad. Or happy. Or no matter how many angsty essays we write, no matter how many rallies we go to, no matter how much we twist and turn our brains.  Just like America is just America. Or Pakistan is just Pakistan.  They each have their flaws.  They each do hideous, horrendous things. They each do wonderful things.  Because both sides of the coin are simply part of existence.

So, sometimes, actually, most times, Israel is just Israel. It’s not a grand conspiracy designed to give you angst forever.  It’s just part of who you are as a Jew. And it just is.

American Jews, I am giving uspermission to stop trying to understand our relationship to Israel.  Stop thinking of army helmets and prisons and double-meanings.  Israel just is.

Israel is just a fruit shake, made out of milk and strawberries that you’re drinking on the beach.  Israel is the soldier in the supermarket that tells you you have sunburn and you should put on lotion.  Israel is the bread at Abulafia. Israel is a little girl in a dress running to her mom, who’s not thinking about the conversion bill, but what she’s going to make for that little girl at dinner and then she needs to go to the store for some milk. Israel is the Banias waterfall, and the falafel place in that suburb outside of Jerusalem that you always go to.  Israel is people trying to make money the same way people try to make money everywhere, and Israel is a girl in a bikini just trying to get a decent tan.

What makes me frustrated about these types of posts is that some Protestant but not really Protestant anymore agnostic atheist post-modern hipster in Brooklyn will read this on his Macbook, sipping his latte, and make clucking sounds at all the appropriate and right moments.  And he’ll process it, and then read all of the comments by the Jews who were like, “Me too! Me too!”

And then later that night, he’ll go to a party, and someone will bring up Woody Allen and inevitably the Occupation and the hipster will say, “Oh, I just read an Awl piece about Zionism, and apparently they drill it into all the little Jews. Can you imagine?  That’s so crazy! But then they grow up to be normal, well-adjusted thinking adults.  And it turns out that Israel is something you have to think very hard about. Because they do. If Peter Beinart and Allison say it, it must be true.  Jews are conflicted and tormented. ” And then the hipster-chain will activate and continue to share.

I used to be.  But now I’m not.  Thinking hard about Israel is an American Jew’s martyrdom, a form of self-flagellation. And we want people to know that we self-flagellate. Because it makes us look good and moral and fair and balanced.

The last time I was in Israel, with Mr. B, sometimes I thought hard about all of this stuff.

But then, I gave myself permission to stop being such a self-righteous asshole and taking myself so seriously.  That was when we sat on the beach in Tel Aviv at night and ate watermelon and ice cream and I didn’t think about politics at all.  We just were. I thought about how good the ice cream was and maybe I wanted some more and I thought about how happy I was to be on vacation with my husband and I thought about the Mediterranean, coming in and going out quietly, and I thought about how I wished I had a hookah and about how loud the people at the next table over were being.

Not Israelis.  Not Jews. Just people.


Bards and a Vanishing Breed of Russian

Years ago, on a bus in Israel, on the way from Jerusalem to the Golan Heights, a shy Russian Jewish boy named Igor (or maybe Ilya?) saw that I was bored with the music in my Discman (back in the days of CDs) and quietly slipped me one.  “Who is this,” I asked Igor/Ilya?”  “This guy named Timur Shaov.  He’s really good.”  And he was.

This weekend, I, along with my parents and Mr. B’s aunt and uncle,  got to see Shaov,  one of my favorite modern singers perform live. He sings in a type of style called, in Russian, bard song, which mainly means that he writes his own music, often on political or satirical themes, and accompanies his singing with simple guitar chords. I guess, in a way, he can be compared to Bob Dylan or Paul Simon, but it’s not a perfect comparison.

The most famous bard is Vladimir Vystosky who sung about the injustices of life in the Soviet Union with an enormous amount of cleverness, tenderness, rage, and humor.  He is my favorite musical artist of all time, and his lyrics are very hard to understand unless you understand the Soviet Union and Russian culture.  But even just listening to his voice is very powerful, and this song is one of his most-known. If you click-through, there’s a translation of lyrics into English:

Anyway, so Timur Shaov is awesome, amazing, funny, ridiculously smart, and phrases songs in a way that makes the writer in me very jealous. He is extremely good at making fun of Putin’s Russia in all its gory form but doesn’t come across as bitter and cynical like some people that have pretty blogs, but as wise and cheeky.   He has songs making fun of the money shortage in Russia in the early 1990s, when he was a doctor, by saying that patients paid their doctors in urine samples.

He’s made fun of how Russian husbands often dump the load of housework on their wives in a song where the kids are screaming, the soup is boiling, but the wife is locked in the bathroom reading porn, hoping to get three minutes to herself.  He’s made fun of Tajik drug smugglers, gaishniki (Russian traffic cops who fine you for bribes), how the desire to drink decreases with age, hangovers in general, men who yell at their husbands, and Medvedev.  It’s hard to explain how smart he is and how much I am jealous of the talent that God gave him without listening to some of his songs and understanding how he makes fun of Pushkin and Putin in the same breath.

Anyway, so this concert.  The hall, at the Philadelphia Russian-oriented JCC, was 100% sold out. But, I swear to God, I lowered the average age in the room by 30 years. I only saw three other people my age there and only one that looked like their parents didn’t make them go.  Most people were in their 40s-60s.

One of the reasons is that Shaov uses a highly satirical, fluid Russian that is hard to understand if you came when you were little like most of us now-20-somethings did.  I don’t have to bring a dictionary, but I do have to concentrate in a way I wouldn’t have to with American music, and man,  that concentration shit is hard.  Pair that with him singing about Chubais, Nekrasov, and Luzhkov, and, forget it. You’ve lost 90% of the people in our age group.  After I listen to one of his songs, I usually have to either Google around a couple of names or ask my mom.

And that’s really sad.  Because it seems like the immigrant generation will go quietly into that good night, and us, the ones that are supposed to keep the magic going, will go quietly into Americanization. Granted, that’s the way things are supposed to work.  Are there any Italian Americans that still speak Italian as it has been passed down from 1900 or any German-Americans that know anything about German culture other than bratwurst?  But it makes me really, really sad. And more than that, anxious for my future children.

Because one of the things I want to give them is a feeling of otherness. I don’t want them to feel 100% American. I don’t want them to be comfortable and settled in their own skin.  I’ve written before, but only for myself, about how I find it hard to tell people that I’m American, as if I don’t deserve it, even though I have lots of American characteristics and speak American English and write primarily in English.

All of this is a long way of saying: WHITE WHINE.


Parents censor Anne Frank. Miep would be disappointed.

You know what makes me angry?  Aside from lite jazz?  When parents feel the need to step in and censor childrens’ libraries.  This time, not only the thesaurus, but Anne Frank is under attack.

A more graphic version of Anne Frank‘s diary is no longer available for students to read in Culpeper County, Va.

Unlike other editions, this version contains sexual references. Apparently Anne Frank’s father, who survived the Holocaust, also felt the need to censor his daughter’s most intimate thoughts. He eliminated about a third of the original diary published in 1947.

Here’s what I really hate about this kind of censorship: it makes kids unprepared for the real world.  How do I know this?  I learned 90% of what I didn’t learn about physically (and mentally) growing up  in health class from books like  Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, and anything by V.C. Andrews.  Once, when I was nine, I asked my parents how the whole baby thing goes down and my mom let me check out a book from the library that described the process in cartoons for kids.  I never had to ask her again.

Judging from the comments to the awesome (but now unfortunately defunct) series Fine Lines on Jezebel,  that’s how most girls my age learned about sexuality, the  fertility cycle, and boy stuff.  Here are Lizzie Skurnik’s fond remembrances of  Are You There, God, and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit.

How many times have you learned something from a book that sticks with you in a way that something from class never does and that you can apply in real life?  From A Little Princess and The Secret Garden I learned that British people lived in India and the word memsahib and about English moors and London fog.  From Are You There, God, I learned that there were other half-Jews just like me that felt in two separate worlds, and from Heidi, I learned about the Alps of Switzerland and when I actually did go to Switzerland the book and Alm Uncle was playing in my mind the whole time.

How are kids ever going to learn anything real and non sugar-coated if we keep censoring things from them?  Granted, there is a time and place for everything, but I can’t say that I was scarred from the fact that my mom let me run wild over all of the sections of the public library.  Are we supposed to ban books every time they contain sexuality and “inappropriate” scenes as determined by a group of angry overprotective parents?  Like the fact that Are you There, God talks about the word menstruation (menst-ROO-ation) or that The Hobbit contains multiple scenes of death?  Or this other list of tons of banned books that are essential to the cannon of Western literature?

I’m not a parent yet so maybe I’m missing something, but this whole situation just seems sad to me.


Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit

When I was in the third grade, I won a contest or got the best grade in some class-I don’t remember exactly.  All the other kids that won had gotten something like gift certificates to Pizza Hut or stickers, so I was excited to get the same.  Unfortunately, all I got was a book called Words of Stone with the words “Happy Holidays! from Mrs. Moyer,” my third grade teacher,written there.

I was really disappointed because  the book had no pictures and no stickers.  I felt really gypped and left it in my room.  A couple months later, I picked it up and read it straight through.

It scared me and fascinated me at the same time.  It was about a lonely little boy, Blaze, whose mom died of cancer several years ago, leading him to be secluded and to just play with his dad and his grandma.  One summer he started seeing his mom’s name, Reena, appear in stone formations in the field near his house.  The work is the doing of Joselle, who comes to stay near Blaze’s house at her grandmother’s after her mother abandons her.  Both are lonely and both form a common bond, although the friendship isn’t what is seems.  That book was one of the first that taught me it was ok to be weird, and about family structures different from my own.

Anyway, the point is that I obviously have treasured this book for a really long time and have picked up a couple of things from it, the most important of which is that Blaze’s grandma, Nova, says rabbit, rabbit, rabbit superstitiously every month, the first day of the month. I picked up the habit subconsciously and now am annoyed if I don’t say it on the first day of the month and expect not such a good month, even though it’s obviously a silly supersition.

Today, I forgot to say, “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.”  Tonight while I was headed to the gym, I got into a car accident.

It wasn’t a big accident and only my left-hand side bumper was damaged, and no one in either of the cars was hurt, thank God.  But, combined with the cold, cold darkness of the the past couple months and the not saying of Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, I am convinced that winter is out to get me.  As an economist, I know for a fact that correlation does not equal causation.  As someone who’s already been messed with, I am ready for April.