Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Where are the Caucasians with gunshot wounds?

Recently I was involved in two conversations with fellow Caucasians that veered uncomfortably toward bigotry. The first was with a former admissions or guidance counselor (can’t recall which) at Heritage College, a now-defunct for-profit career college whose enrollment was predominantly black.

The former counselor told me how, after spelling out the rules and regulations, students would invariably tell her, “Well, that’s not how I roll” and / or “Hey. I’m a grown-a_s woman!” I was stunned that someone would generalize this way, but didn’t say anything. Whatever I would think of to say would come out sounding like I was accusing her of lying; after all, she was a credible person, and she was there; I wasn’t. So I said nothing.

Then I listened to another account, this one from the mother of a resident working in the ER of a city hospital serving a predominantly black area. She said her daughter, a physician, had told her that she saw several cases of gunshot wounds nightly, most of the patients with police records.
She said that after one patient that they’d tried to save had died, his family members almost rioted and she was compelled to ask for a security escort her to her car at the end of her shift. Another gunshot patient came in at 4 a.m. After treating him, she asked him, “What are you doing out this time of night? You know this is a rough neighborhood. Stay indoors.” Again: She was there; I wasn’t. I said nothing.

But I couldn’t let these two conversations go. I just didn’t like the direction they headed in and their subtext about blacks and the black community. Then I finally arrived at what might be an answer, what I wish I’d said: “Somewhere, there’s a career college serving a mostly poor white population, and you might hear the same things out of the mouths of the students there. Somewhere, there’s an ER serving a mostly poor white population, where the staff sees gunshot wounds [or hunting injuries?] on a regular basis. Like some of the black wound patients, some of them might even wear their wounds as a badge of pride." Of course that’s f_cked up. The difference is:

We don’t see poor whites – or any whites – as a group to be commentated on, analyzed, and / or victim-blamed. We don’t see poor whites as a threatening group with its own culture and codes, or as losers unable to extricate themselves from the cycle of poverty. We aren’t instantly suspicious of young poor white men. We don’t talk about white-on-white violence, or the alcohol abuse and teen pregnancy (that invariably results in poor mom-headed households on public assistance) that pervades poor white communities. Quite simply, we don’t see a "poor white problem", and we certainly don’t attribute these ills to their being white.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

No problem: Put me in Business Class אין בעיה: תנו לי לעבור למחלקת עסקים

Hi everyone. Back after a long hiatus. So, many of you have no doubt heard about the airplane seat-switching controversy involving ultra-Orthodox men and non-Orthodox women passengers. But instead of just getting riled up over the ultra-Orthodox attempt to control not only our lives on the ground, but airborne as well, let’s look at the phenomenon as part of a larger, meta-phenomenon that I call tiptoe-ing around, placating, and pretending to the Orthodox.

I know of at least three funerals where Orthodox people – either themselves mourners, or members of the Chevra Kadisha [burial society] – compelled the primary mourners to engage in / refrain from engaging in, certain practices. In one case, everyone in attendance was compelled to engage in a strange ritual that originated generations back in some neck of the Diaspora woods with which none of them identified, much less had ever heard of. In another, distant Orthodox relatives of the deceased showed up and jogged behind the hearse, loudly chanting psalms in a way that, I found out later, horrified the children of the deceased. At another funeral, the deceased’s children, being daughters only, only began reciting kaddish after a male relative began doing so.

In addition, it calls to mind a recent bar mitzva I attended where the host edited her speech at the Shabbat dinner that mentioned the bar mitzva boy’s grandmothers having aliyas the following morning in shul, so as not to offend an Orthodox relative who wasn’t even going to be at the ceremony.

What do all three of these situations have in common? They all involve heightened anxiety, impatience, and being invested in everything going smoothly: a trifecta, or “perfect storm” if you wish, for the Orthodox individuals to exploit the non-Orthodox individuals’ (the stakeholders) vulnerability to compel the latter to accede to the will of the former. After all, boarding a plane, we all have the same goal: For the accursed thing to take off. Not having buried a parent, I’m assuming that the goal at a funeral is to just get through it intact and start the shiva. And as for the bar mitzva, I know how stressful it can be to host an event of that scope: You want so badly for it to go off without a hitch, and are thus willing to skirt anything that has even the slightest potential to “become a thing”, or what everyone’s going to remember about the event in which you and your child have invested so much.

Regarding the funeral and bar mitzva examples, since every case differs, it would be impossible to suggest a blanket policy. But you can be sure that if I’m ever asked to change seats pre-flight, I’ve got my answer ready: “Sure. I’d be happy to either upgrade to Business or higher; or get a voucher for a free round-trip flight of equal distance on this airline.” That way, I’m not holding up takeoff, but I obtain what I believe to be fair compensation for my inconvenience.

I actually don’t agree that the seat change request is anti-woman; I simply believe it to be pure chutzpa. Maybe if we all gave my suggested answer, the airlines would start printing on their ticketing conditions and posting signs at check-in (i.e., before passengers hand over their luggage) to the effect that no seat change requests will be honored beyond this point, we can make this chutzpa go away. How about it?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Gender and the physical plant מגדר והחצר

My backyard, wedding day – my neighbor’s daughter’s getting married. A corner of the chuppah is anchored to another neighbor’s roof. Bamboo rods conceal my back porch, as if it’s an eyesore, even though I covered up my “unsightly”water bottles, as I agreed to do. A crew constructs the chuppah…headed – as always – by a woman. The landscaping team sweeps the area surrounding the dining room, and we’ve been asked not to park our bikes there.

What does it all mean? On the surface, the aforementioned activities are always described with pride: “Our community knows how to put on a wedding.” “The entire community comes together”. “The community invests all its resources”. “Members toil day and night”. But what are we saying when we allow entire teams (landscaping, maintenance, dates) to be commandeered toward this objective? What’s the message conveyed when we’re admonished not to park our bikes – in the bike racks provided for that very purpose – or when neighbors start to dictate what’s visually acceptable for a particular event?

I theorize that the frenzied preparations and their pleasing result fulfill some peoples’ – overwhelmingly women’s – fantasy-for-a-day that we actually live in suburbia – clipped, manicured, homogenous, sterile of any human activity – and not in an alternative community in the desert.

And, notice that it’s always the women’s responsibility to produce the appearance thereof, to remove any evidence of actual human activity, from menstrual blood, to brooms concealed in a broom closet or outdoors, to bicycles banished from the landscape. Sure, the men are working. They’re out there leveling uneven terrain, setting up traffic barricades, removing anything deemed unsightly…but they’re doing it at women’s behest, and as per women’s instructions. The women are carrying out their gender’s implicitly assigned job of eliminating all evidence of human activity; the men are delegated to do the (literal) heavy lifting toward that end.

The above was borne of a conversation I was having with a friend. He asked me what it is that bothers me about Ketura wedding frenzy. I had to dig deep to discover what it is that bothers me and why. After all, what could be bad about sprucing up the community in honor of a community-raised child’s wedding? “After all,” I’ve been reminded, “When it’s your turn, won’t you want the place to look nice? When it’s your child getting married, you’ll feel differently.”

It’s called a tradeoff

Look, I can’t predict how I’ll feel at a hypothetical event; no one can. But what I do know is that I didn’t sign up to live in suburbia, and that decision, like all our decisions, comes with a price: It means living in close quarters with other human beings who actually ride bikes and produce waste. It means trees that provide shade but that also shed their leaves and needles. It means that back porches contain furniture, and yes, toys, drying laundry, and other evidence that – as the sign said on the safe house in the film In the Name of the Father – People Live Here.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Water Conservation: Offensive? איגום מים: מעליב?

This blog post was originally a response to yesterday’s article about the impending water crisis and my admittedly small-scale but earnest effort to offset it. But an incident this morning is having its effect. As many of you know, for years now I’ve collected air conditioner condensate from each room unit in our home (4) and my unit in my office. For those not familiar with the process, every room unit air conditioner has a pipe from which condensate drips…all summer long. Depending on the unit, the drip can reach up to six liters a day. The water is safe for all uses except drinking: mopping the floor, wiping the countertops, shampooing my hair, feeding it to my dogs, steam ironing, car radiator (it’s essentially distilled water)*, flushing the toilet.

I collect the water in 1.5-liter soft drink bottles, which are arranged in neat rows on my back porch, to the chagrin of my husband and to the admiration of visitors. The part that hurts is that despite numerous attempts to interest them and encourage them to follow my example, my own fellow community members’ reactions range from amused to downright derisive, the latter on the grounds that the collection and storage is unsightly. We are talking about a bucket containing a bottle and a funnel; nothing could be less offensive. To see what it looks like, see this writeup on me (and others) in Maariv.

The amusement derives from the claim that the entire volume of water that I collect throughout “air conditioner season” – six months where I live, which lasts me all the way through the winter to the following air conditioner season – is enough to irrigate one date tree for one day. To which I reply, “So what?” Whatever I collect replaces (costly) tap water; every time I don’t turn on the tap, that’s quickly-depleting groundwater not being depleted.

The question shouldn’t be “Why do you take the trouble (which “trouble” is about five minutes a day)?” The question in my view is “Why isn’t everyone else doing it?” If they were, it would no longer be a one-date-tree savings; it would be significant, perhaps huge. As far as I’m concerned, everyone in Israel who runs a room unit air conditioner should be collecting the condensate. It’s free water, for God’s sake. Even if you think I’m crazy, who can argue with money in your pocket?

Let’s not wait for the impending water crisis. Let’s instead lead the way to offsetting it. How can conserving water – of any quantity – be a bad thing?

* - In fact, during last year's date harvest, our date-growing enterprise used a portion of the water I collected to feed a water-guzzling radiator in one of the hydraulic lifts. I was glad to supply them!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Is BDS hypocritical? האם בי.די.אס צבועה?

There’s been lots of talk about boycotts lately, particularly BDS. The predictable response to BDS on the right is, “How come they don’t talk about other human rights violations, but only Israel’s?” So I’ve made a convenient table listing the human rights violators usually cited in such discourse (“Top Violators”), and how BDS can be expected to react:

Action >
North Korea
1. Do they have anything we want?
2. Do you know of any Western academics who seek to collaborate with any North Korean academics?
3. Is Roger Waters scheduled to perform there?
Do you know of universities, churches, or other institutions invested in any North Korean companies?
Aren’t we already doing this?
Islamic State
1. Do they have anything we want?
2. Do you know of any Western academics who seek to collaborate with any ISIS academics? Are there ISIS academics?
3. Is Roger Waters scheduled to perform there?
Have you heard anyone express anything other than condemnation? I mean, who’s not already there?
1. Does he have anything we want?
2. Do you know of any Western academics who seek to collaborate with any Russian academics?
3. Is Roger Waters scheduled to perform there?
OK. Then you may call for a boycott.
Do you know of universities, churches, or other institutions invested in any Russian companies?
Thought we already were.
1. Yes, they have oil.
2. Do you know of any Western academics who seek to collaborate with any Iranian academics?
3.Is Roger Waters scheduled to perform there? OK. Then you may call for a boycott.
Do you know of universities, churches, or other institutions invested in any Iranian companies?

There. That was easy, wasn’t it? But for the sake of transparency, we must discuss one more human rights violator: Saudia. If you look at the table, the big difference between Saudia and the other Top Violators is: Petroleum. Anyone who wants to boycott petroleum had better be energy independent. Ironically, who’s more dependent upon Saudi oil: Israel, or any other Western country? Unless shipments are coming in the back door unmarked, I‘d venture to say that barrel for barrel, Israel is the more energy independent country. Yay, us.

But you know what’s even more important? We should aspire to be a respected member of the family of nations. I should hope that irrespective of BDS, we hold ourselves to a higher standard than do the Top Human Rights Violators. Do we really want to be “Best of the Loser States”?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Who cares if Israel offends the majority of Jews? למי אכפת אם ישראל פוגעת ברוב היהודים?

עברית מופיעה למטה

It is with a heavy heart that I read Rabbi Julie Schonfeld’s plea, Israel, don’t forget the majority of Jews, precisely because for a while now, even before the last elections, but certainly since, it’s been fair to say that those in power here simply do not give a you-know-what about the very majority that Rabbi Schonfeld represents.

That’s right: If push came to shove, our current leadership would forfeit its relationship with non-Orthodox Jewry in favor of the Orthodox, who -- with a few Beinart-like exceptions -- it can count on to support its policies unconditionally. After all, they don’t even consider half of you to even be Jewish, and the half that are Jewish they have no use for: Not only do its ranks refuse to support Israel blindly, and rightly criticize it (otherwise known as “hang out our dirty laundry for the goyim to see”), but they’re not voting with their feet, i.e., donating millions to our leaders’ pet enterprise – the settlements – and they’re certainly not making aliya.

Unfortunately, our leadership couldn’t care less about your outrage at the cancelled bar mitzvah in Rehovot, or “Rabbi” Rabinowitz’s tyranny over the Kotel, or the treatment of non-Orthodox converts or immigrants who seek a marriage license.

Also unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. A non-Orthodox boycott of Israel? Our leadership would be only too happy not to have to deal with you any longer; you’d be playing straight into their hands. Even withholding donations wouldn’t make them blink; no worries: They’ve got the likes of Sheldon Adelson and Irving Moscowitz on their team.

The only fix I can come up with is a massive influx of non-Orthodox Jews into our population, which doesn’t look promising. One thing I do know is that editorials – written in English – warning our leadership that they are antagonizing you, isn’t having the desired effect. I’m both afraid and deeply sorry.

למי אכפת אם ישראל פוגעת ברוב היהודים?

בלב כבד אני קוראת את תחינתה של הרבה ג'ולי שונפלד, הקוראת לישראל לא לשכוח את רוב היהודים, בדיוק מכיוון שמזה זמן כבר, אפילו לפני הבחירות האחרונות אך בעיקר לאחריהן, ניתן לומר בכנות שגורמי השלטון כיום פשוט לא שמים קצוץ על אותו רוב שאותו הרבה שונפלד מייצגת.

אכן כן: אם תועמד בפני הברירה, תוותר ההנהגה הנוכחית שלנו על יחסיה עם היהדות הלא-אורתודוקסית לטובת האורתודוסים שעליהם –  למעט יוצאים-מן-הכלל בודדים דוגמת ביינרט –  היא יכולה לסמוך שייתמכו במדיניותה ללא סייגים. שהרי אין המנהיגים הנ"ל מחשיבים מחצית מכם כיהודים, ובמחצית השניה, שהם כן יהודים, אין להם צורך: לא רק שהיהודים הללו מסרבים לתמוך בישראל באופן עיוור, ובצדק אפילו מותחים עליה ביקורת (מה שנקרא בחוגים מסויימים "לתלות את הכביסה המלוכלכת מול פני הגויים"), אלא שהם גם אינם "מצביעים ברגליהם", כלומר, לא תורמים מליונים להתנחלויות האהובות על מנהיגינו, ובהחלט לא עולים לישראל.

למרבה הצער, זעמכם על טקס הבר-מצווה שבוטל ברחובות, או על רודנותו של "רב הכותל" רבינוביץ, או על היחס למי שעברו גיור לא-אותודוקסי ולמהגרים המגישים בקשות לתעודת נישואים, אינו מטריד כהוא-זה את מנוחתם של מנהיגינו.

יתרה מכך, לצערי, אין לי שום עצה עבורכם מה לעשות. שהלא-אורתוקסים יטילו חרם על ישראל? ההנהגה שלנו רק תשמח אם לא תצטרך להתעסק אתכם יותר; כך רק תשחקו ישר לידיהם. גם עצירת תרומותיכם לא תגרום להם למצמץ: עם שלדון אדלסון, אירווינג מוסקוביץ ודומיהם בקבוצה שלהם, אין להם מה לדאוג.

הפיתרון היחידי העולה על דעתי, קרי השתלבות המונית של לא-אורתודוקסים באוכלוסיה שלנו, לא סביר שיתרחש. לדאבוני חוששני כי מה שאני כן יודעת הוא שמאמרים באנגלית, המזהירים את מנהיגינו מפני פגיעה בכם, אינם מסוגלים ליצור את ההשפעה המקווה.

תרגם באדיבות: עמי ארגמן

Friday, March 27, 2015

No apologies for being privileged בבועה ולא מתנצלת

Here’s how Ari Shavit described me and my ilk in yesterday’s Haaretz:
“Many of them [“sushi eaters”] don’t know a single Likud voter. Many of them have never heard the music of Amir Benayoun.
The economy of high-tech, natural gas, and business mergers has allowed some two million Israelis to live a very good life in a closed world, whose values are those of California. The prosperous liberal colony that they founded on the Mediterranean allowed them to live in an illusory incubator of advanced technology, totally disconnected from reality, the state, and the land.
Between Florentine and Arsuf, and between Ra’anana and the Peres Center for Peace, they launched startups, watched Channel 10, and didn’t know where they were living. They had no direct contact with Jews of Middle Eastern origin, traditional Jews, struggling Russian-speakers, Haredim, or Arabs (though they talked about them a lot).”
Well. I had no idea I was being awarded a Diversity Score on Shavit’s Divers-o-meter, or I would’ve made sure to listen to Amir Benayoun and make friends with some Likudniks. While I don’t reside in the area bordered by Florentine - Arsuf - Ranaana - PCP, and I don’t eat sushi when I can avoid it, I certainly count myself in the demographic that Shavit so witheringly describes. But I refuse to feel ashamed of belonging to that demographic.
I plead guilty to having friends who believe as I do, with whose politics I feel comfortable. I plead guilty to having chosen an address where I feel comfortable as a woman, as a non-Orthodox Jew, and yes, as a leftist. But if I’m guilty, so are the rest of Earth’s inhabitants, most of whom live in enclaves, whether they be liberal, conservative, religious, or ethnic. So no, I don’t count any Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, or Russians among my friends, and don’t interact on a regular basis with Mizrahim or those of low income, but I do strive to treat every individual with whom I interact with courtesy and kindness.
It is precisely having grown up as a minority member that informs my leftist views. Granted, growing up as a Jew in North America, I was able to blend, and rarely if ever encountered anti-Semitism. But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t keenly aware, practically every moment, of not being part of the dominant group. I brought that awareness with me when I made aliya, which is why the first thing I ask when encountering any policy or social phenomenon is “Where are the Arabs?” / “How will Arabs feel about that?” This, besides setting an example for my children by (multiple) attempts to learn spoken Arabic and (laboriously) teaching myself to read Arabic, which I’ve advocated be a required subject in all schools from 3rd grade (to little avail).
So I don’t have any Arab friends. Does that mean I can’t still act upon and speak out for the principles of equal rights and against segregation? Is socializing with minority members a requirement for voting Meretz? I’m Ashkenazi, comfortably middle class, and have a post-secondary education. I can’t erase any of those blessings, nor do I want to. And those data do not preclude me from “talking about” Arabs, or ultra-Orthodox, or any other group. In fact, we should be talking about them, and keeping their issues on the agenda, as I want mine on the agenda as well.
I’m annoyed with the self-flaggelation of the Left. I’m tired of it. I don’t need to refine or redefine – or whatever it is the pundits say we need to do – my vision. My vision has been the same since I hit these shores in 1981. Like Zahava Gal-On, I’m an avowed leftist and secular, a fighter for human rights, an opponent of the occupation, and a supporter of social justice who opposes religious coercion  the struggle for social justice also as a fight against the occupation, against the violation of Palestinian human rights, against continued illegal construction in the territories and excessive budgetary allotments to the ultra-Orthodox.
And what’s new as far as voter behavior? What we just saw happen here in Israel has been true in the US for decades: The poor continue to vote against their own interests; newcomers, especially if they’re people of color, naturally migrate to slums, where, predictably, they’re abhored by longtime residents and are believed to steal the latter’s livelihoods (while actually doing lowly work that nobody else – rich or poor – is willing to do). Right-wing politicians play on the poor’s fears and perceived weakness, and – surprise! – look at the results, in both countries.

I take issue with the critique of Meretz that it doesn’t appeal enough or target itself to the Mizrachim. This claim actually insults Mizrachis’ intelligence. What? They don’t have access to the same media as whites? They’re not targeted the same as the rest of us? If parity and leveling the playing field; if channeling funds away from settlements and toward the populations in need; if separating church and state don’t appeal to underserved people, then playing Amir Benayoun in the background of campaign ads certainly won’t convince.

Don’t get me wrong: I was stunned and grieving last Wednesday morning. But I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal: Left-wing parties have historically sat in the opposition. Meretz winning five seats – one owing entirely to soldiers – is great. This Knesset has more women and more Arabs than any previous one: also great. And the Left certainly gave the Right a run for its money. Plus, the game’s not over: We will sit in the opposition and continue to speak out against injustice and in favor of democracy.

Sitting in Hot Mobile last week being helped by an agent, the customer next to me, a woman who looked about my age, announced she was expecting her 10th grandchild. I wished her beSha’ah tová. Then she said something about never dividing Jerusalem. I surprised myself by speaking up (reminding everyone that this is Eilat). I said, “Let ‘em divide it already!” to which she replied, “Divide it? You don’t divide your home!” To which I replied, “It’s already divided.” After all, who knows? Maybe it's she who lives in a bubble. Maybe she needs her assumptions challenged that everyone in a random public place at a given moment agrees with her views.

Ten or even five years ago, I would’ve been too timid to speak my mind like that in public. But somehow – age? “Tenure”? Feeling like we’ve got nothing to lose at this point? – I’m less inhibited about my views. Knowing that those five MKs are there, speaking for me – purely and without dithering – keeps me strong. No one will silence us.