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Strange rites of passage and no bullshit: Welcome, 2017!

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Running toward a no-bullshit 2017!

2016 is in the rear-view mirror. Last night, we attended a New Year’s Eve party at a house we’ve been lucky enough to be invited to for the past several Dec. 31sts.  The host (a guy about my age) remarked that, “We’re old enough that the people who influenced us are starting to die off.”

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William Christopher as “Father Mulcahy”

The observation was his response to my sharing that William Christopher, the actor who played Father Mulcahy on the sitcom “M.A.S.H.,” had joined David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, Pfife Dawg, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell and others in wherever it is we End Up after we’re Not Here. (I am not discounting that we simply become ash or worm fodder, but given that death remains a Great Mystery, remain open to any and all possibilities.)

Which is one reason (shoutout to Eddie Izzard), I baked and brought a cake to the party.

(“Cake or Death,” the video, starring Eddie Izzard. Embedding was an issue, so here’s a link.)

The others were:

  1. At last year’s party, I didn’t have a job. This year, I do. That alone is worth cake.
  2. My first run at this particular cake – four layers with lemon curd filling, covered in seven-minute icing – was a month ago for my book group. It turned out well, but I wanted to try it again with a few tweaks. (ie: Upping the tart factor to showcase the lemon and getting the icing to not be so runny. I succeeded with the former, not so much with the latter.)
  3. There’d be a guaranteed gluten-free dessert, which could be my little secret.
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I need to figure out how to make the icing less runny.

The party seemed less crowded this year. One difference was the absence of vote trollers. Last year, going into an election season, there were a lot of “bright young things” (quotes intentional) sparkling up the front room, willingly engaging with anyone they considered worthy (each other) and pretty much ignoring the rest of us. I’m not entirely sad that the only bright young things there this year were the regular wonderful ones, and not just because (huzzah!) it meant more grilled tenderloin for the rest of us.

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This  is from another party featuring tenderloin. I didn’t take any pictures last night.

Tenderloin and cake aside, it’s good to assess where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what’s happening around us at various points along the way.

Which, for those of us old enough to have children in their 20s, 30s and 40s (whether or not we actually do), might be causing a few … twinges.

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In keeping with the food theme, here’s some “where we’ve been,” featuring adult children and elders.

Those children are adults, with all the responsibilities and privileges that word carries. And, at the same time, as Kevin wisely observes, the generation-up people we saw as heroes and role models – and some similarly-situated age peers – are dying within the time frame of a normal life span. (Some are at the younger end of that spectrum, but still within the boundaries of “normal.”)

Getting old enough to die at the point where no one is shocked at how “too young” you were is a strange rite of passage. I don’t spend a ton of time brooding about what that means, but I would be lying if I said I never thought about it at all.

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Me (right), not brooding. And probably not acting my age, either. 

As what is shaping up to be a surreal and potentially interesting interval in the life the world as we know it, or to put it more succinctly, 2017, commences, I’m trying to keep an open mind about things.

One certainty that is becoming clearer is making the best use of the time I have in front of me. Part of that involves making more words, more cake, taking the best possible care I can of the people I love and of the world in which I live.

Regarding that last, loving the world in which I live means doing my bit to create the one I want to leave for everyone else. Seeing the world as it is and not as I want it to be isn’t easy. Talking honestly about it isn’t always politic. But unless you’re willing to look at – and call by name – what’s happening in front of you, you’ll never be able to change it.

So, 2017, here’s a toast. L’Chaim and no bullshit.

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The rabbi’s kids and Christmas trees: A tale of forbidden lust

In light of the mini-kerfuffle over Natalie Portman’s Christmas tree, I offer this recycled post from two years ago. (New something coming soon, but this will do for now…)

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When we were little, my sister and I really wanted a Christmas tree.

We did not want Christmas.

We had no problem with Christmas, but we were perfectly happy with Hanukkah. We liked being Jewish. We loved potato latkes and we got eight night’s worth of presents. So we never felt as if we were missing out on that score. Plus, as a religious minority, we got to partake in a fair share of Majority Culture’s fun. We sang Christmas carols in the school concert and participated in classroom gift exchanges.

Outside of school, Mom let us stand in line so we could sit on Santa’s lap (we always told him we were Jewish and he always wished us a Happy Hanukkah). And our parents took us on an annual nighttime ride around the city during which we oohed and ahhed at houses and houses dressed for the season. They’d pull over, leaving…

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‘Big Brother meets the digital Third World’ or ‘I wrote a paper in 2008. Check it out.’

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I don’t have any pictures of myself writing papers, so this graduation morning photo will have to do.

In summer of 2008, I took an Ethics of Information class. Our final project was a paper on the topic of our choice.

I wanted to look at what I saw as the New Third World – the way on-line information about us could and was possibly already being used to exploit us, make our lives worse, keep us from getting jobs, bank loans and or other essential and quality-of-life goods. The haves got the good stuff, the rest of us would unknowingly become citizens of a borderless Third World nation.

Sunday’s New York Times featured an editorial entitled “The Secret Agenda of a Facebook Quiz.”

I just finished reading it.

My response is to post my paper here for anyone to read, learn from and possibly follow up on and extend. It’s long, but it may be one of the most important things I’ve written. I haven’t updated it, but would be interested in feedback from anyone brave enough to get through it. (It’s not written in academ-ese; my prof said she wanted my own voice.)

Click on the link below.

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Two post-election vignettes: ‘Hamilton’ cast makes most of ‘Carpe Diem’ moment; Ephemeral display lets librarian do the same

This morning, I woke up to the Facebook village and Twittesphere going nuts over what happened when Vice-President Elect Mike Pence went to see “Hamilton” last night.

My first thought was “Geez! If I’d known becoming vice president would have helped me get ‘Hamilton’ tickets, I would have applied for the job.”

But who am I kidding? There’s no question that my political leanings, vagina  and average looks would have completely disqualified me from consideration.

On a more serious note, there were a couple of FB posts calling what the cast did “rude and out of line.”

My question, voiced to those posters, was this: When would they have been able to have that kind of access and opportunity to be heard? And that doesn’t just go for the cast of “Hamilton,” who, once the makeup and costumes are off, are just ordinary working Joes and Janes like the rest of us.

Their 90-second address, delivered by Brandon Victor Dixon, the actor who plays Aaron Burr, was a respectfully-delivered request. He spoke to the fear and anxiety many people are feeling about their well-being and that of people they love and care about. He refused to let the audience boo Mr. Pence.

It was a heartfelt speech, a request for reassurance in a situation where it is becoming increasingly apparent that reassurance is needed.

From all I’m seeing, the Trump/Pence administration is going to do everything it can to limit access to anyone who doesn’t agree with everything they believe in or want to do. This includes the press, which they seem to want to keep in the dark as much as possible. That scares the you-know-what out of a lot of us.

So Friday was a singular chance to be heard, and the cast seized its moment.

I’ve been seizing display space at the library, and, because of it was able, yesterday, to seize my own “be heard” moment.

The morning after the election, I cleared out my “He said/She said” display. This (below) is what I put in its place.

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My post-election display. Someone has already taken out the cat book (replaced with another cat book). I borrowed “Comfort Food” last weekend  and made maple glazed baked beans for Book Group. The book next to it is a recipe book for making cocktails. My fabulous manager, Amelia, helped round up books for the display – Cats, Canada and Jamaica were her finds.

 

Then, this past Wednesday, one of my favorite recent reads, Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” received the National Book Award. So Thursday, I made a display. It was an Oprah’s Book Club picture, so I didn’t think she’d mind me borrowing this 2004 shot of her looking extremely happy (she was giving away cars). On Friday, a woman came in looking for the book. I felt just like Oprah when I handed it to her. I also seized the opportunity to recommend “Underground Airlines” by Ben Winters and “The Sellout,” by Paul Beatty, which just won the Man Booker Prize.

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I hope that woman likes the book and comes back for the others, but even if she doesn’t, seizing a moment to share something valuable is a valuable thing to do.

So go out there and seize your chance to be heard. In the face of uncertainty, a little love and reassurance  (in many forms, including between the covers of a good book) can go a long way.

Kudos to the “Hamilton” crew for showing us how to do it with grace and dignity.

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An open letter to American Muslims and Anyone Else Unsettled by the US Election: a Dispatch from the Land of Trumpelstiltskin

Dear American Muslims and others feeling unsettled by the possibility of no longer being safe in your own country:

There is no delicate way to say what I am about to say, so I am just going to say two things that have been running through my mind since Tuesday night.

  1. I am so sorry for what you are all going through. My heart is with you.
  2. You now understand, in a way more visceral than any Jew of my generation, the reason for the creation of a Jewish homeland – which, although originally posited for anywhere available, ended up as the State of Israel in the Middle East.

Regarding the current state of Israel, its prime minister, its issues around settlements and all the other complications and messy realities of statecraft and daily life, please set it aside for purposes of this discussion. Not because those aren’t valid topics for conversation – they absolutely are – but because it’s not the issue I’m addressing here.

In 70 CE, the Romans dispersed most (not all, but pretty much all but the equivalent of a tiny rural village’s worth) of the country’s Jews. From then until 1948, we were an itinerant crew, depending on the hospitality and governmental vagaries of the countries to which we managed to hie ourselves.

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I think these two are my great-grandparents, who brought my then six-month-old  grandmother over from Russia in a valise. From what I understand, he was, to paraphrase our incoming president, “Not their best.” His offspring were better. Bobby married a peddler. They saved money, bought a farm and raised dairy cattle, cash crops and five children. My mother was the first to graduate from college.

 

It’s not a happy history. There’s a joke that so many Jewish kids played violin because you could pick one up and run when you got kicked out of whatever country you were living in.  Jews got really good at languages, because they had to learn so many. When we were allowed to live in a place, we were often made to keep to a restricted part of town, and wear visible clothing that marked us as different. (Note: It was a thing WAY before Nazi Germany.)

My lifetime has been a period of what is best described as a golden age for Jews. I live in a country where, for the most part, we’ve been pretty welcome. (Exceptions exist, but again, not the issue I’m addressing here.)

Some of that is due to what happened in 1948, when the Jews got what no generation for more than 1,000 years had had – a place of our own, a country of refuge in which we would never be “other.” A country where national holidays would be our holidays, our shared culture and religious observance would be the norm and not the exception, where we could raise our babies and care for our elders without having to explain what “kosher” entails. Most of all, it was a country where we never wondered when a mob would burn our neighborhood, round us up and run us out of town, arrest and/or kill us.

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The great-great grandchildren of the people in the photo above. This picture was taken in Israel, with Shelli the Labrador retriever. The great-great granddaughter on the left is in medical school, the one on the right is getting ready to apply for Ph.D. programs in biology.

 

Everything else aside, it’s a terrible thing to feel unsettled in your own home, whether that means the space on the furniture-filled side of your front door or the space beyond it, the public space.

I live in the United States because my grandparents fled Russia and Ukraine. I don’t want my country to be a place where those of us who are different are made to feel “less than.”

That said, I’m not gonna lie. Knowing what  – and that – my forebears sacrificed to try and create a place that would take me and mine in without question  gives me a sense of place and security.

It requires something else too. Because of my history, I have an obligation to do as much to ensure the physical, emotional and moral safety of those around me. Whatever happens over the next four years, for better or worse, I’ve got your backs. We’re in this together.

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One display, one playlist, one eighth-grade groper & one heart-to-heart across voting lines: a 2016 presidential election word buffet

Fifty days ago, I made an election display at the library. There’s so much crazy flying around and libraries are supposed to be safe havens. I wanted my display to do two things:

  1. Provide a way to give people access to digestible and genuine information about the candidates.
  2. Remind us all that at least this phase of the crazy would come to an end.

 

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The first day. Those are tweets beneath their pictures. Each day I added a tweet and tore off a calendar sheet.

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This is eight days out. Mom never threw anything away, so she gets all the credit for that postage stamp, which I enlarged for this display.

 

So every day since I built it, I’ve been pulling a sheet off the countdown calendar and adding a one thing a day from each candidate’s Twitter feed. It’s been pretty satisfying to see people reading them. (One day a man actually took one home! I just printed a new one and put it up in the old one’s place.)

I wish I was more enthusiastic about this election, but at this point I am secretly wishing for one last presidential debate. In a dog park, with both candidates dressed in gender-appropriate versions of Lady Gaga’s meat dress.

The election has at least given me a chance to put together my first blog post for the library. It’s a playlist menu for election night parties. (Click here to read it, and special thanks to Amelia for editing/formatting.) Every song has some tie to a presidential candidate or election, and I am especially pleased to have included Patrick Sky and Timbuk 3, a couple of brilliant and un/underappreciated acts.

The good, the bad and the groping

The display and playlist were two high points of my election season. The low point was the Donald Trump/Billy Bush tape. Had it been Donald Trump, reality star, gleefully explaining how unwanted sexual contact with women was part of the standard “Fame Privilege” package, you wouldn’t be reading what I am about to write. But Donald Trump, a man who could potentially be representing me to the rest of the world?

So here I am, speaking up about the eighth grade classmate who, when our English teacher sent the two of us and six other boys to the auditorium to check on something connected to the class play, took advantage of an opportunity to come up behind as we stood on the stage, pin me against him and grab my breasts to settle the question of whether what was under my shirt was actual breast tissue or the paper kind. (Being a well-endowed middle school kid is no picnic.) I never told anyone then. I was too ashamed, thinking it was somehow my fault.

I’ve seen him at three reunions, most recently last summer. It made me kind of sick to watch him talk and laugh with female classmates as if he hadn’t a care in the world. It also made me kind of mad at myself for not being comfortable enough to confront him. He can’t change his past any more than I can mine, but it would be nice to hear him express some genuine remorse.

That said, I’m a realist, so unless I do grow a pair and confront him, it’s probably not gonna happen.

I’m with her, he’s with him, we’re good

Speaking of reality, that tape didn’t bother a lot of the people voting for Donald J. I don’t get it. I didn’t get it before that either, but after, I really didn’t. So I phoned a friend I’ll call Dave (because that’s his name). His social media feed is filled with anti-Obama and pro-Trump memes.

We went from kindergarten through sixth grade together. He was one of the cutest and nicest boys in school, and he’s still adorable and kind. He and his wife have two married sons, a crop of grandchildren and three rescued dogs. On one of my recent trips home, we hung out with Grandkid 1 at their house; I’m looking forward to our next get-together.

I wanted to have a conversation with a Trump supporter that wouldn’t turn into some sort of horrible bashing session on either side, so I asked Dave if he’d be okay with us talking about it and me writing some of what he said. Which he was.

So here, for people voting for Hillary Clinton and befuddled as to why someone would vote for Donald Trump, are some reasons.

  1. Bush/Gore was a turning point. He was a registered Democrat until then. Now, he’s Independent.
  2. He hasn’t seen his life improve significantly over the past eight years. “I can call myself middle class but what I do know is that I’m paying twice the health care I used to pay. I have it through work, but what I used to pay pre-Obama care and what I’m paying now, it’s doubled.”
  3. He knows someone who worked in close proximity to Bill and Hillary Clinton during Bill’s presidency, and was not impressed by what he heard regarding her personal conduct.
  4. Memes aside, Dave isn’t thrilled with Donald Trump either. “He’s an arrogant asshole, there’s no doubt about it, but if I have to pick between the two I’ll pick him.”
  5. We both wondered, and agreed about whether we can look to our leaders anymore for the kind of character, honesty and assurance we expect of someone hoping to become president.

Whatever your politics, if you can vote in this election, make a considered decision. Then get yourself to the polls (if you haven’t voted already), and strap yourself in. The next four years are going to be an interesting ride.

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The straight line connecting Donald Trump’s new tallit to “Christians for Islam,” and a best practices suggestion

On my morning Facebook rounds, I caught this post by one of my offspring:

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Clearly, my Photoshop skills are the equivalent of those of a four year old with an easel and finger paints.

 

In the way of Facebook, I could see beneath her post that a few other friends had posted articles about it, too.

At this point, shocking and seemingly inappropriate behavior is kind of the norm for this year’s GOP Presidential Candidate. (His cheerleaders and supporters are the ones who really scare me.)

I tried to imagine the reasons Donald Trump would be wearing a Tallit on Shabbat in a church. The best I could come up with was that maybe he was with a Messianic Jewish congregation. “Messianic Jews,” or as I refer to them, “Christians,” believe that Jesus is the messiah. As I understand it, that’s the foundation of Christianity – that Jesus came, died for our sins, was resurrected, rose to heaven, and will return. The righteous will be raptured and taken to heaven, the rest left on earth to a fate that is not fabulous.

Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to show up. S/He will establish heaven right here. We are supposed to help prepare for that time by doing what we can to help establish an earth that is as close to heaven as possible for mere mortals. That’s why you see so many Jews involved in social action, even those who don’t connect with the religious aspects of Judaism. Also, for Shabbat-Observant Jews (the ones who hew to keeping the Sabbath by not engaging in the 39 forbidden acts considered work), that time represents a taste of every day on earth in the Messianic Age.

So, my take on “Messianic Jews,” is that they can call themselves anything they want, but for Jews like me (who are still waiting for the first appearance of the Messiah), they’re Christians. My only real problem with Messianic types is when they go to small communities where there are no Jews and make presentations in churches to Christians who have never met a Jew in person. I saw this a lot when I was working as a religion reporter in a small community. I had never been able to articulate why I felt so viscerally offended at those press releases (which I ran, but only after I’d had someone else do the editing because my gut inclination was to round-file them, which went against my other gut inclination of everyone having equal rights to media access).

Then, when visiting one of my favorite United Methodist pastors at his church, which was one of the more conservative-leaning  (those UMs are a wide-ranging group – a true “big tent” denomination that swings from far left to far right), I saw one of those Messianic announcements on the church bulletin board.

I felt comfortable enough with Paster Kerry to tell him how I felt, and he felt comfortable enough with me to be genuinely interested, even though he didn’t understand what I could possibly find offensive.

And then, call it Divine Inspiration. Call it just plain inspiration. Call it Fred if you want. I looked at Pastor Kerry and said this.

“Imagine a kid from your church who’s been baptized, gone through your Sunday school and been confirmed,” I said. “Now, imagine him coming to see you during his second semester of college, all excited.

‘Pastor Kerry! Pastor Kerry!’ he says. ‘Did you know that Allah is the One True God and Muhammed is his last Prophet? I am going to keep the Five Pillars! I pray to Mecca five times a day, and I eat halal and observe Ramadan. But don’t worry. I’m going to still celebrate Christmas and Easter, because I’m a Christian for Islam!'”

Watching him make the connection was like one of those time-lapse films of a flower opening, only faster. The emotion with which he delivered his three-word response was a study in understated power.

“I get it,” he said.

But, I digress. Absent what I wrote above, when it came to Donald Trump and a Tallit on Shabbat in a church, I had nothing.

So I clicked on one of the articles. The answer was that Bishop Wayne Jackson of Great Faith Ministries in Detroit gave it to him as a gesture of love and hope.

“This is a prayer shawl straight from Israel. Whenever you’re flying from coast to coast — I know you just came back from Mexico and you’ll be flying from city to city — there is an anointing. And anointing is the power of God,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be sometimes in your life that you’re going to feel forsaken, you’re going to feel down, but the anointing is going to lift you up. I prayed over this personally and I fasted over it, and I wanted to just put this on you.”

There had been some speculation on Offspring’s thread that the Tallit might have been connected to Donald’s daughter Ivanka, who is Jewish. I could labor over a snappy ending to this post, but will go lazy by copying and pasting what I wrote (verbatim) on Offspring’s wall:

“Now, at least, it makes sense, even if it makes me kind of squishy and uncomfortable. I mean, what if Pastor Jackson had given Trump, say, I dunno, a Native American headdress? Or some other religious symbol from some other faith tradition? Maybe Jared & Ivanka will be able to explain the reason that a lot of Jews might find it a little … off-putting.

“That said, the spirit in which Pastor Jackson gifted it was pure, and he was probably reaching back to the roots of his Jesus, who lived and died as a Jew and so he probably feels some ancestral pull that way.

That said, it’s not something conventionally associated with Christianity and the Twister-like moves one needs to perform in order to explain it make it a poor choice.

“That said, The Donald complicated matters greatly by putting it on, when his best move would have been to have simply said thank you and brought it home to put away for his grandson’s eventual bar mitzvah.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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