Monday, January 30, 2012

The Medium ith the Methage המכה ה11: השפתות

A friend and I were talking (favorably) about someone we know and what a great guy he is. “But,” I said, “It’s hard for me to talk to him. His lisp distracts me.”
“His what?” she asked. “What lisp?”

The above conversation is representative of the common attitude in Israel toward this pervasive speech impediment. I don’t have statistics, but lisping is rampant in the Israeli adult population, so much so that I call it (to myself) the 11th Plague. It’s surprisingly tolerated, illustrated by the fact that we’ve had two lisping prime ministers. Yet I can think of only two adult Americans of my acquaintance who lisp. When I explained to my Israeli neighbor that in the States, you could not be elected to any public office — forget the presidency — if you lisped, she was uncomprehending.

My daughter was sitting in on this conversation and accused me of bigotry. My husband equated a lisp with a foreign accent, which should not count against a person. But it’s neither of these; it goes in its own category: It’s neither a deformity nor a birth defect; it’s simply perceived by the American public as a trait that’s inappropriate for someone in public office (or any profession wherein the practitioners face the public) to exhibit*. And it is eminently correctible.

A colleague explained to me that the reason it’s tolerated in Israel is because it carries with it an association of a stereotypically confident, macho IDF general addressing his troops. And as we all know, IDF generals are all but objects of worship in this neighborhood. Funnily, the lisp in the US is associated with infantility, or the exact opposite of an army general.

While the IDF general theory might explain a lot, it does nothing to comfort me or alleviate my distraction when I hear adults lisp — and there are so many here. The worst is when they can’t even pronounce their own names. Doesn’t anyone get it? Or care? We do have speech therapists here; we're not some far-flung outpost in that respect.

I’d be interested in hearing from other Americans whether they’ve noticed the extent of The Lisp, and also from natives of other countries how the lisp — and speech impediments in general — are perceived and handled therein.

* A “proof example” that foreign accents are not in the same category is Henry Kissinger: We Americans don’t mind accents, but we expect our words to be pronounced correctly.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Just when you thought it couldn't get any more disgraceful

Why should a court order a company or ad agency to include members of certain population groups in its ads? Not only is this undemocratic, but it could go in all sorts of absurd directions: Must men appear in ads for feminine hygiene products? Must women appear in ads for condoms, aftershave, or PED medications (oh wait. They already do)? Must people of color appear in ads for sun protection products? Must Asians appear in ads for hair straighteners?

When will Israelis learn that the courts are not our patrons? You don’t like Cnaan for succumbing to Haredi blackmail? Then find out who their clients are and boycott them. You oppose Isracard’s decision not to feature Gila Almogor in Jerusalem? Get out your scissors and cut your Isracard in half. Put your money where your mouth is; don’t expect the courts to waste their time with what is after all a consumer preference issue. Besides, the womenless ads are only a symptom of the problem, which is that this group that we call the Haredim — I don’t know a better way to put it — have us by the proverbial balls.

So, Roni Shuv, regarding assuming in advance what Haredi individuals’ positions are on every subject, well, yeah, guilty as charged: I'm not interested in whether the Belz don’t sing the national anthem, but the Shmelz mouth the words; or whether the Bangkok Lubavich believe the rebbe’s dead while the Katmandu Lubavich think he’s just on vacation. I’m interested in what they all do have in common, which, yes, I happen to know “in advance”: They compel me, the taxpayer, to support them. Which means that yes, as per that definition, they’re parasites: They’re not disabled; they’re able to work.

And not only do I unwillingly support them, but I support their schools, which not only thumb their noses at the core curriculum, but hatch an entire ethos based on maintaining their self-image as "us against the goyim", only now that they don't have the handy Cossacks persecuting them any longer, they’ve made us (non-Orthodox Jews) into the goyim. Twisted, I know. No doubt about it: They've made persecution into a fetish.*

They remind me of a girl in my social studies class who, upon learning about the Holocaust, raised her hand to inform us that, “The early Christians were persecuted by the Romans too.” Oh really? They had to meet in catacombs to worship? For like, what? Two years? If I’d been drinking coffee at age 10, I’d’ve snorted it out my nose. Not that it’s a competition or anything.

But today I’m not laughing, certainly not at Jews dressing up their children as concentration camp inmates. Talk about disrespecting those who gave their lives for kidush haShem [the sanctification of God's name]. As far as chilul haShem [the desecration of God's name] goes — as well as chilul haAdam — this disgrace takes the cake.

* For a much more accurate picture of our situation vis-a-vis the Haredim, read Aner Shalev’s description.