Remember. And actually do something?

Flowers and Mountains

The Holocaust.

Holocaust Remembrance Day.

What more can I say about it that hasn’t been said already by people who understand how to say it better?

I can say that  there is no way to stop it from happening again.  And that maybe just posting Holocaust pictures on Facebook isn’t going to do anything.

We are always told to remember and to never forget.   That the goal is not only to mourn our family, but to prevent the next one, wherever it may be, but especially keep an eye out on Israel and Iran.  But the burden is on the Jewish people, not the world, because it was our catastrophe.  The world’s moved on.  Just check out the front page of the New York Times today versus Die Welt versus Le Figaro versus Yediot Ahronot.  Which is the only one plastering Holocaust memorial material?

By the way, it kind of loss something when you have Aryan children sandwiched between a “What girls in the know buy” and “Metallic colors return as a trend.”

It is impossible to stop genocide from happening again and it is naive to think we can do it by observing Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Because genocide starts at the micro level and spreads like a cancer through society.  It’s a byproduct of human nature and there is no distinct moment that you can say, “Oh, that’s genocide. I’d better stave that off before it becomes too widespread.”

I’ll give you an example.  Yesterday, I was walking to work through Suburban Station.  There was a girl crying and talking to two police officers, and another man standing nearby, also with two police officers.  I glanced over them and turned up the music on my headphones louder.  I didn’t go over to see if I could somehow help this girl. I didn’t want to get involved.  Because I am an asshole, and a human.  Humans don’t like complication and conflict, and we don’t always understand if something is serious enough to merit our intervention.  In the post-World War II 21st century, we don’t want to bother other people.

That’s how the Holocaust really started.  We always think, “Oh, if only the German people had done X or Y, they would have been able to prevent the whole thing. ” But the Germans aren’t one multi-celled unit and neither is any other society. It started with a father coming home from the factory where he worked. “Oh, they’re talking about some changes in the government,” he might say over dinner, hanging up his hat. “They want us to join some union, but it shouldn’t be a huge deal.  No impact on us.”

I asked my grandpa a couple weeks ago how he felt living in Stalin’s Russia.  “There was a young man in my village in Belarus,” he told me.  “He complained at the market that there wasn’t any good quality food and that the Kremlin only sent us fishtails.  The next week, he was never seen again.  The KGB had taken him.”  Were you afraid?  Did you think you could do anything? “No, what could we do?  What could we do?  We thought he really did something to justify the fact that he was gone.  We didn’t understand what was going on at the government level.  We just knew to keep our heads down.” How did you feel when Stalin died? “I was on military duty in Siberia when we found out and the officers all started crying.  We all started crying, too. We didn’t understand how the country could go on.”

So people saying the Holocaust could have been prevented are wrong. It’s just as easy to say that the Soviet people could have overthrown Stalin, who also killed at least two million people, and that’s me lowballing it.

We can’t do anything to prevent genocide because genocide is like a cancer that starts a cell at a time in the body of humanity, a spark of an idea in the mind of a person and by the time it’s spread, it’s too late to eradicate because it has metastasized. Otherwise, we would have stopped Sudan and the Balkans and every minor or major disaster that has happened to people since the Shoah.

But maybe that’s what all the essays and the picture posts are about.  Maybe we understand that there’s nothing we can do and we’re just mourning the loss of a generation.  Because how do you distinguish people who say insane things on the radio from people who really mean it? And if they do mean it, what do you do to stop them? Do you stop every racist remark that every person ever makes?  Do you storm the offices of politicians who are threatening war?  Do you start small? If you see someone crying on the street, do you come up to them and get involved?

I wish I could end this post on a positive note and say that if I do notice someone doing something wrong I’ll confront them.  But I won’t. I’ll just remember.  And post this to Facebook.



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.


Books: O Jerusalem

I’ve been gushing about this one for the past couple weeks on various social media outlets because it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  It’s really rare that I’m be sad when books end, the way I was when Jonathan Strange+Mr. Norrell ended, but this is one case where I was.

The book goes through, detail by detail, of the battle for Jerusalem during the war for Israel’s independence in 1948, from both the Israeli and the Arab perspective (both military and civilian), incorporating a freaking impressive range of historical evidence, interviews with hundreds of people (including the King of Jordan, homegirl Golda, Ben Gurion, and American, British, and French sources.) and mashes up each perspective in a way that’s not dry.  Each person interviewed is painted as a character that keeps the pages turning fast and furiously.



This Tu B’Shvat, I’m buying a donkey and a plane ticket to Haifa

Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish festival for the birthday of the trees, is tonight.   Since it’s been a while that I’ve been part of something Jewish (living with Mr. B does not count as doing something Jewish, although sometimes I try to pass it off as such,)  I wanted to celebrate, which involves planting trees and eating fruits of the Torah (pomegranates, dates, olives, and Bamba.)

Unfortunately, we don’t have any Bamba and Mr. B hates olives in the same way that Hamas and Fatah hate each other.   So, instead, I tried to get Mr. B and myself enthused about going to a Tu B’Shvat event, namely this event by the awesome awesome Sixth and I (where we’ve gone for stuff before).  Here is a description of the event:

Embrace your inner environmentalist by joining us for a Tu B’Shvat celebration. Dine and drink your way through a traditional seder as we sprinkle in tasty Kabbalistic tidbits and nature-inspired yoga poses. Tu B’Shvat; its more than just trees.

Tu B’Shvat, traditionally known as the birthday of the trees, is a time to think about relating to the natural world. This holiday can be celebrated by planting trees, eating fruits, and having a Tu B’Shvat seder, a ritual that began with the Kabbalists of the 15th century. At our seder, we’ll enjoy some new and exotic fruits, discuss issues of sustainability, and discover connections between environmentalism and Judaism.

Not to be a drag, but yoga poses?  Really?  And sustainability?  I hate that word more than Mr. B hates olives.   Which makes me wonder, what have we as a Jewish people turned into?

Here’s how hipsters spend Tu B’Shvat:

Please take note of:

  • The ironic hipster glasses
  • The ironic bright orange almost American Apparel-like tee
  • The ironic non-leggings sweatpants meant to resemble sweatpants from the 1980s
  • The ironic laugh

And here’s how real Jews spent Tu B’Shvat.  You know, building the land of Israel.  Although Guy on the Left’s yoga shorts look really comfy.  He probably got them at American Apparel.


I think, through all of this, it’s incredibly important not to underestimate the blows to his sanity that Mr. B experiences on a regular basis by being married to me:


Movie Review: Amreeka


Go see this movie. As soon as possible.

Amreeka (America in Arabic) is the story of how a Christian Palestinian single mom, Muna, and her son, Fadi,  get a visa to go to America from the West Bank town of Bethlehem because it is clear that there is not much future in the territories for them. They arrive in snowy Illinois to stay with Muna’s sister and her family.  So starts Muna’s process of getting on her feet as an immigrant by working at White Castle (having obtained two degrees and 10 years experience working in a bank), and Fadi’s process of fitting in at his new high school.

I’ll let the trailer speak for itself:

Everything about this movie was achingly familiar and close-to-home for me, both in the scenes they shot in the West Bank and the ones in America.

I’ve been struggling  lately with reconciling my Zionism with the realization that Israel is not only a place of ideals, but a country, just like any other, where ordinary people get up, go to work, drink Aroma coffee, and are screwed over by the beauracrcy of what is ostensibly a state created to protect us.  The fact that Israel, even as a Jewish state, is not perfect, has caused me to struggle between loving it and criticizing some of its actions.

In spite of  this inner conflict,  the minute Israel and the territories were shown in the movie, I became “homesick”.  The director, Cherien Darbis, portrays Israel and the territories with much familiarity.  All the nuances: the pale Jerusalem stone, the small, hot, cramped makoliot with flies on the tomatoes, the constant sunshine, and the crowded markets.  However, Darbis takes all of these things that I am intimately familiar with, and spins them on their head.  She doesn’t show Israel proper. She shows Bethlehem, the separation wall, and the checkpoints.  She shows Palestinians living their everyday lives, and she shows it from their perspective.  True, there is a political tilt, but, for the most part, she just aims to show how Muna and her family live, particularly as non-Muslim Palestinians that have to put up with the same obstacles as Muslims (who are, ostensibly, responsible for 100% of terrorist acts commited in Israel) do.


All of a sudden, everything changes as Fadi pushes Muna to accept the visa.  They fly to Chicago and brought home to live with Raghda, her husband, and their three children in American suburbia.  And this is achingly familiar, too.  The comfortable suburban houses, the American road signs, the snow, and small-town life. Raghda’s children, mostly born in America, are predictably enormously Americanized and look at Muna and Fadi with wild eyes.  They reply in English to Muna’s Arabic and blast rap music.  They sneak out of the house to smoke weed and, what’s most important, the eldest daughter argues passionately about the rights of Palestinians without really understanding what it means to be one.


I really loved this movie because of the way it portrayed immigrant life (with the same type of flavor as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but slightly more serious.) It once again reaffirmed my belief that all immigrants are the same.  Our parents have the same fears that their children will assimilate, that they won’t carry on the traditional cultural mores that they’re used to, that they won’t speak their native language.  At the same time, they know America is really the best place.  Yet, they still have nostalgia.  One scene really stuck with me. Raghda and Muna are in an Arab grocery store, and Raghda says something to the effect of, “Oh, how I want to go back to Palestine.  The food tastes better there,” and Muna replies that everything has changed in the 15 years they’ve been away; the wall is in place now, and the people are much different.  Raghda replies, “It doesn’t matter, it’s still home,” and Muna replies that there’s really nothing left there for them.  This struck such a deep chord with me because the nostalgia, the urge to return, forgetting everything else, is one that is also very prevalent in the Russian community. It also clearly shows the difference between Americanized immigrants and those fresh off the boat, and the sharp difference in family values.

More than relate the immigrant story, Amreeka also humanizes Palestinians, bringing them down from suicide bombers or casualties in the far-away headlines, to real people. They live in Bethlehem, a town that’s in the news a lot, but which we don’t see a lot of in real life.  They laugh, they dance, they are angry, just like normal people.  They’re not all oppressed wretches, and they’re not all Al-Aqsa suicide bombers, just as not all Arabs are Iraqi and deserve to be shunned. Some Arabs, such as everyone portrayed in this movie, aren’t even Muslim.  How do they fit into the web of stereotypes that we construct?

All in all, the honesty, warmth, and genuine hope in this movie make it a must-see for anyone, either to understand Palestine beyond the politics, or to understand immigrant culture in America.  Jews and Zionists, this goes double for you.  It challenged and broadened my understanding of Palestinians as a people, and I hope it will challenge yours, too.