01 November 2010

Am I the Only Under-50 American Jew Who Didn't Like the AJWS video?

Just like how the 'It Gets Better' campaign is all about the featured celebrities and not about the still-harassed LGBT teen, the Judd Apatow-produced ad for AJWS is another example of taking a very worthy and important cause and deep-frying it in ego and smothering it with a side of self-congratulatory condescension.

OK, before I continue on my curmudgeoned rant and in the interest of full disclosure, I did crack up at 4.25 from Brian Williams (I’m a laughing fool for gibberish) and Triumph (who sounded eerily like me at a wedding after a few gin & tonics)….only to vomit a bit in my mouth at the last part of 'goyim' cutting their teeth on one of  'our' languages. But it’s a Judd Apatow flick, which I suppose is meant to automatically trigger one’s gag reflex.

No less important than the argument that such multimedia campaigns satisfy primarily those who appear in them, this is another example of another Jewish organization trying to make itself relevant through online social media/network/blahblahblah to those youngsters among us apparently unable to comprehend the importance of the organizations’ daily mission. Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Tumblr – whatever it takes to get dem youngins’!

While it’s true that online social networks have the power to make connections between otherwise-distant peoples and resources, and not all online social media users are youngsters (as evidenced by the PS in AJWS’ own campaign to promote its video (*I might be turning 70, but I can tweet with the best of ‘em. Follow me: @ruth_messinger, emphasis added) – I cannot help but feel that social media and the under-50 set are inextricably linked in the halls of Jewish organizations, perhaps as a way of keeping us involved enough to forget we’re still not letting you make communal policy decisions.

Cue the latest example: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=166358540044295. Now my relationship with Jewish conferences is like my relationship with advanced math classes in grade school: I love them but I hate them. I love the euphoria, the optimism, the unending buffets, the unending inspeak with no need for simultaneous translation. All of that is for naught, however, when us youngsters are relegated to the kiddy table like it's one big Passover Seder.

How long ago was it that conferences were held hostage by youth delegates, demanding at least 25 percent representation on communal organizations' boards? Long enough that those same delegates are now in charge and clearly forgetful from where they came. It's all too easy for organizations to lament youth apathy but all too hard for them to alloacte a perceptange of their lay & professional leadership positions to those under 35 years of age.

I, like many in my age bracket, am able to comprehend complexity and nuance without the words “boobs” and/or “poop” being used. And I’m able to hold conversations without the use of my two thumbs or 140 characters.

In other words, it’s the same patronization as usual -- only this time, we're able to see just how many have drunk the Manischewitz in our News Feed.

28 September 2010

Lessons Learned While Traveling Between Three Continents

Lessons Learned While Traveling Between Three Continents:

-Never pack multivitamins in their original container if their country of production uses a non-Latin alphabet -- not only will they be opened but will spill all over one's suitcase as a result of security agents' ability to open childproof lids and inability to close them.

-Combining a frequent flyer membership and the evil eye results in at least two seats to oneself on transatlantic flights, as well as the envy of all other passengers. Guard the seats carefully by getting up when everyone's passed out after the "meal."

-Speaking of which, always order "Vegetarian (Dairy-Free)." It's healthier, identifiable, and reduces looks from suspicious-looking passengers curious as to why one ordered the Kosher meal. Be prepared, however, to explain in the flight attendants' native language, whould they lose your request, why you cannot eat the Halal meal instead.

-Never order the Halal meal. Serving passengers half a raw jalapeño pepper is an airborne disaster waiting to happen that no accompanying packet of fennel seeds can prevent.

-Almost everything in Spain contains some part of a pig. Even the coffee.

-One of the greatest museums on The Mall in DC is the Hirshhorn. Not only are the installations spectacular, the museum as a whole has the highest level of tourist repellant.

-There is a connection between the names of Japanese restaurants in DC and their unintended meanings in Hebrew (examples include Sakana on P Street ("danger" in Hebrew) and this one on K Street (the "n word" in Hebrew). Luckily the latter serves a great Negroni.

-The Starbucks by the 110th Street downtown stop on the Upper West Side serves out sartorial compliments to uncaffeinated customers, leaving them speechless and starting the day on a positive note.

-The best meals are home-cooked, be it butternut squash mac-and cheese in Midtown, 14 pounds of the best beef brisket ever made in Ohio, or roasted brussel sprouts back home.

-It's always good to go back to the States for quality time with friends and family. And television.

23 August 2010

I may keep kosher, but I’m in the mood for Frog Kebab

In this quasi-semi-weekly news roundup: French tourists, begrudgingly agreeing with Tom Friedman, and getting ready for the next Stateside trip

~It’s late summer in Israel which means staying indoors with air-conditioning and away from the tourists. I don’t mean Birthright Israel participants, though there were a few close moments where I almost side-checked a few standing idly in the middle of the shuk; no, this time I’m referring to the typical late-summer tourist in Israel – the French Jew. I’m doing my best to be tolerant towards all types, especially being the month before the High Holy Days, but there’s only so much American patience I can muster before hordes of cordovan-skinned screaming parents with equally screaming kids who assume every and any store will haggle over a marked price. My all-time favorite is when, upon breaking their teeth over English, they point to one of their eyes to begin a declarative sentence with “I am looking for....”

This has nothing to do with the ethnic origins of the majority of the French tourists, nor of being French citizens or Francophones per se; but combining government-mandated vacations with the ongoing Diaspora-Israel conflict leads to a level of self-entitlement that even American Jews couldn’t muster out of embarrassment. This article, besides being written by a Tel Avivcentric writer who clearly hasn’t been witness to the onslaught of the Gallic hordes in Jerusalem, paints these tourists in an unflatteringly positive light. I’m all for Diaspora Jews drawing closer and more complicated ties with Israel and vice versa (a trait long lost on this guy), but acting out the worst of Israeli stereotypes on a minute-by-minute basis in perforated Hebrew or English (or simply speaking in French loudly and slowly) doesn’t bode well for my growing taste for frog kebab.

~Because enough people haven't weighed in on the Muslim center to be built in lower mnahattan, here comes another voice: The problem with Ground Zero is neither this planned mosque, nor the strip clubs already in existence; it's the fact that nine years later, there is still a huge, gaping hole in the ground. There's been no post-pigua type collective closure, when the sad music on the radio stops, the memorial plaques go up, and stores re-open because we don't surrender to terrorism -- instead we've filled the hole with two wars and a Patriot Act stil in existence. Till then, when the hole's filled with a new building and we're able to think in nuances again, we're gonna have to endure Americans' ongoing love-hate relationship with their own xenophobia & racism, as well as a gluttony of talking heads. Even Tom Friedman, in his latest Op-Ed, begrudgingly agrees with me to a point.

I'm back in the States starting Thursday for a four city tour, two weddings, and a long stopover in Madrid, with perhaps some writing in between it all.

03 August 2010

Launch of My Own News Reader Roundup

I consume enough news, Op-Eds, style blogs and music to fill my own blog....oh wait, I do have a blog. In the course of job hunting and spilling over with things to say, I present you with the inaugural and semi-weekly roundup of news and homespun commentary. Sarcastic title TBD.

-JTA reports that increasing numbers of right-wing MK's are in favor of a one-state solution. Seems to have  the same problem of those who say "all of Israel's problems are a result of the Occupation" -- they're completely wrong. It still won't solve increasing racism and inter-ethnic discrimination; leaves Law of Return and democratic representation hanging way too high in the air; doesn't solve increasingly poorer distribution of natural resources (blackout in Rehavia, anyone?); and continues to assume North American Jews will some day make Aliyah en masse to fill the demographic difference, despite the growing existential chasm between Diaspora and Israel. I'm not holding my breath to be back in Tulkarm.

-Jewcy Magazine tweeted "A Jew's Primer to Krautrock and Beyond." Maybe it's the 140 characters or the highschool music "been there, heard that" snob in me, but this otherwise-thorough list comes off just as holier-than-thou as this blog post. Not to mention, chances are if you're reading Jewcy and subscribing to their Twitter feed, you probably know the relationship between the genre and David Bowie's "Low" album. If you really want to educate your supposedly xenophobic readership, create a primer for the Arab music they listen to while smoking hookas in East Village bars.

-It's hot outside, really hot outside, so naturally it's time to let off some steam by trying to provoke an international war (caution -- article is in Hebrew!). While the UN-mandated patrol had the gall not to justify the Lebanese Army's heat-induced first shots, and in the first 12 hours of the event no less, the latter hands-down wins the ongoing debate over the better version of the Mediterranean English hit "Do You Love Me?": The Bendaly Family circa 1978 or their neighbor, slightly visible from the coastline, Sarit Haddad?

-If you haven't read this Statement of Principles yet, stop reading this noxious post and read it now. The first Op-Ed I wrote for my highschool newspaper was about the hypocrisy of Jewish students' intolerance towards homosexuals. 13 years later, a must-read breakthrough gets published, in English and Hebrew. I wish I really could back up such a connection, but clearly a lot of time and care went into this declaration and deserves to be praised.  

31 July 2010

It’s been more than a fortnight since the World Cup final. The end of the month-long, Guinness-soaked Mundial can only be described time-wise by words like “fortnight,” as it runs so contrary to American culture. My watching cohort were non-American Anglos, so much so the sound of another Yank talking brought on levels of cognitive dissonance I seldom experienced outside switching passports in a European airport. Only a few moments of American interjection stick out – the US team’s Hollywood finish advancement in the group stage, the Germany-England game with an inebriated, 20-something Yank yelling in a fake English accent about the Holocaust, etc. – in a game seldom appreciated outside of expat circles.

If the World Cup runs contrary to American culture, the Jerusalem Film Festival runs contrary to Israeli culture. A week long event revolving around the city’s Cinematheque, the Festival brings in international actors, films yet to be released in Israel, and an onslaught of style so desperately needed. I managed to get to a total of eight films, largely due to a manageable work schedule and eating pasta to save up the money. What seemed like a challenge of seeing three films in a row in one day turned out to be a source of pleasure, like the first day of classes in a semester at college: three completely different experiences that lit up different parts of my brain. Some of the films were outstanding (the simultaneously funny and chilling "Four Lions" and the must-see "No One Knows About Persian Cats"), some made people in the audience leave prematurely ("Andante," one of the first Israeli surrealist films), some fell short of their real potential ("The Golden Pomegranate," with the very odd English-only dialogue) and other were nothing short of the perfectly descriptive 'bleccch' ("Life During Wartime").
Beyond the individual films, the Festival serves to burn a hole in the increasingly isolationist culture here. As with other aspects of Israeli society, American attitudes are pervasive here – fast-food, individualism, even clothing trends as of late – including the notion that "the rest of the World can go to Hell, we'll be just fine." It's a generalization, for sure, but has some bearing on how we absorb certain trands and eschew others; how entires sectors of society ignore others; and the growing, almost idelogically violent, divide between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

07 June 2010

A Week in the Gutter: Food Poisoning, Flotillas, and Eurovision

This was a trying week. Leave aside the events surrounding that now-overexposed contraption “flotilla” (I’ll come back to the topic), my sweet comfort snack of late poisoned me. To those English speakers who haven’t heard of a “comfort snack” before (believe me, there’s at least several), it’s one’s comfort food in the form of a snack or anything smaller than a meal (though easily consumed in a similar quantity). Mine of late has been Berman Bakery Cinnamon Rugelach, soft and pliable hand-sized pastries that look more like croissants and taste like serenity.

It’s a big deal when your comfort snack turns on you. There’s the obvious larger significance of betrayal from an otherwise source of solace; here, I’m too busy with thee genuflecting-inducing, gut-clutching, fever-inducing maleficence of that betrayal to ponder its larger existential dilemmas. To make a graphic story short, I’ve become a mini-expert on where to find the cheapest Gatorade in the city center (the price markup is astounding).

Back to the flotilla. As one Facebook friend put it so succinctly “I’m getting more updates on the Flotilla from my Facebook newsfeed.” People were posting Left and Right; I got invites to at least five different rallies and fifty different groups; I saw every IDF-released clip at least a dozen times; not to mention the innumerable puns on “flotilla” from a dish in a Mexican restaurant to requisite toilet humor.

I’ve been thinking about the f-word and how it relates to the annual Eurovision Song Contest, which took place in the shadow of the looming vessels. If you’ve never heard of it, much less seen it before, chances are you’re a full-blooded American. It’s the un-American contest, wherein camp and kitsch are held to such a high esteem no wonder this year was just awful. In the past, the winning songs became pop music standards; nowadays, they grace the pop charts on the Continent for a few weeks, if even that long. There were a few decent performances, but as usual politics determined the winner.

International relations have affected the scoring of contestants for some time now, in the form of point trading, or cultural affinities, or giving thanks for political/financial help. In this case, the award went to Germany, the newly minted financial savior of Europe and one lame ass song. But the more interesting voting trend was how well Turkey did, coming in 2nd place with a meh song. Turkey has placed in the Top 10 in the past four years in no small part due to the huge populations of Turkish workers in Europe. No wonder that not only Germany won this year, but German voting has given most of its votes to Turkey over the years.

Turkey has been playing the field for some time now, trying to be a member of the EU and a friend of Iran. Its current PM is following less in the footsteps of Ataturk, the secular founder of Turkey, and more in those of Ottoman sultans of yore. Look at all the moves the PM has made since taking office -- anti-Semitic programs on TV, striking a deal between Iran and Brazil (home to one of the largest Arab populations outside of the region), the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the call of a  vocal minority to reinstitute the Caliphate (last seated in Istanbul) and the rhetoric over the f-word -- and you have the telltale signs of a scimitar-brandishing, besuited firebrand sitting upon his bureaucratic throne in Ankara.

Living in a former vilayet of the Empire, I can tell you few things have united Arab and Jew in the past 100 years more than plotting against the Sublime Porte. Watch your doner kababs, Turkey.

22 May 2010

Punk Preppies

The last week or so was abuzz online with news that Elvis Costello cancelled his performances in Israel for political reasons. His letter of explanation is still indecipherable to me; he seems trying to capture the “two Jews, three opinions” shtick in his writing style, thus supposedly playing to a sympathetic ear. Instead, he comes off as rambling and almost possessed by some other’s ideologies

Hard cheese, Mr. Costello. If this was a political protest meant to raise awareness, one could make just as much of a PR stunt by publicly rescinding an offer of an Israeli producer, in front of a bank of journalists or from a Twitter feed, before they invest thousands of dollars into your performance; instead, he screwed civilians and actual fans who poured out actual money to show their appreciation as opposed to what I can only imagine to be email-sending, eMule downloading quasi-fans more riled by seeing the name Israel alongside a formerly publicity-making entertainer. Caesarea (the venue for his performances) is not Sun City, and punking out like this hardly makes one an activist.

Regardless, this country’s not big enough for two preppy dressers (AHEM), so it’s all as well Mr. Costello doesn’t show his face here. Next time he punks out like this, I hope the ticket-holders demand a refund from him in person.

14 May 2010

Lazy Bones

14 May 2010

There's plenty to be said about my last trip to the States, not to mention the past two months since I last posted on this blog (two jobs and a thesis, US Customs in Northern Kentucky, being stalked by a pollster, etc.); but for the sake of brevity and some things which cannot be published, invite me for a drink or few and I promise to entertain.

Since I've tried starting to write this post, I've been thinking about how much in my life and in others' has to remain offline. Not that I'm confirming or denying a secret agent identity that so many assume I carry; but with companies and aggregate search engines collecting any bits of profile info that are out there, supposedly protected or not, the Luddite in me like that offline face-to-face communication still has a role in our day. A new computer program, wonderfully called diaspora, might soon put an end to all this otherwise much needed self-censorship.

That being said, there's plenty more to come; My previously promised St. Patrick's Day essay has yet to be finished and I have a new essay topic on the linkage between the Spanish Inquisition and the 1970's British Punk scene; I'm going to start posting my DJ playlists in a tab ingeniously entitled "DJ Playlists" on the right-side of the screen, for those interested; and hopefully this belated post, along with the new multivitamins and extra cup of coffee per day will help shed my routine exhaustion for something more fitting for my age.

25 February 2010

Having quickly broken my promise to blog more, here's a quick recap since the last post:

-Fulfilled a long-standing dream of DJing. Two sets down, hopefully more to come. Surprise guests, crazy laser-laden dancers, couples making out in dimly-lit corners, undercover female Shin Bet agents flitring with me, lots of compliments...

-Started to work more regularly at my consulting gig, now hired part-time to open and maintain a website. Lots to say about this amazing project, stay tuned for the site's unveiling!

-The wettest winter in a decade gave way to the warmest winter in decades, leaving me salivating over all the snow dumped on the East Coast (my offer still stands to import some/all that remains over here).

-Updating my family tree online has led to new discoveries of distant relatives, including one I've known for several years. Geni.com rocks.

-Had an anxiety dream about flying to/from the States, which means it must be time for Passover! Back in the States late March-mid-April, including a flight from Israel to Hebron (Kentucky, that is).

Hoping to keep this blog updated more often, as Facebook and Twitter make my need for nuance intensify.

Future posts: New job, 3rd DJ set (hopefully), H&M opens in Israel, Why St. Patrick's Day is good for the Jews