Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Yeshiva Boys Choir: Breaking Boundaries

Tamar Fox, over at, says of the following video:
I can't decide if I had a spiritual experience while watching this, or if it gave me chills of horror...

I respond to Tamar's post:

Okay. I was simultaneously creeped out and excited when I watched this video. I felt strangely drawn to it, and at first I wasn't sure why I felt a sense of deja vu.

Then I realized what it was.

I wasn't actually born Jewish. Instead, I was born Evangelical Christian, and since I demonstrated a strong proclivity to music from a young age, over the years I found myself singing in various traveling religious choirs, some of which recorded and performed regularly. The product looked and sounded nearly identical to this . . . sans kippot, of course. And, oh yes, there were girls -- I was one of them.

As somebody who has seen the best and worst of both the Jewish and Christian worlds, when I see things like this I get an uncanny feeling -- uncanny because of the moment at which I cannot remember whether this is a Jewish or Christian children's choir. Of course, there are the kippot and the Hebrew lyrics that identify it as Jewish, but otherwise it could've easily been a product of the Jews' Jesus-loving offspring.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Big Bird vs Palestinian Bee

To say that children are impressionable is an understatement, to say the least. From a very young age, humans begin to formulate perceptions of the world around them -- perceptions that are not easily changed, even later in life when the children become adults. I've often said that as much as I support the existence of the State of Israel and its right to defend itself, I can sympathize with Palestinian grief. It's not a black-and-white situation anymore; it's much more nuanced than that. Much more complicated.

I can imagine the impression that is made on a young Palestinian boy who watches his father's face as the family's home is bulldozed by Israelis. I can imagine that the boy might vow to avenge his father, and the family's honor, in any way possible. I can imagine this, and sympathize with such a family's plight, in spite of my "pro-Israel" stance.

But I am disturbed on a much deeper level when the malleability of children's minds is knowingly exploited in destructive and underhanded ways. I just happened to see this piece in the IsraelInsider about a Palestinian children's show that features a giant bee who teaches kids to hate Jews. You can watch the clip here, and I have also copied part of the transcript below.

This so never happened on Sesame Street. So much for tolerance.

Nahoul, a giant bee: "My friends, Al-Aqsa awaits you. My dears, Al-Aqsa is very sad. My friends, Al-Aqsa is being held prisoner and is besieged by the criminal murderers of children. We must arise in order to take revenge upon the criminal Jews, the occupying Zionists. We must liberate Al-Aqsa. Do you know how we can liberate it and get hold of its key, just like it was liberated by Saladin?"

Child host Saraa: "How, Nahoul?"

Nahoul: "How? By means of morning prayers, blood, sacrifice, and pain, by means of martyrs, and with endurance. This is the key. I am so sad, Saraa... Allah Willing, We Will Regain the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Cleanse it of the Impurity of the Zionists"

Saraa: "Don't be sad, Nahoul. I, you, the dear children, even the older ones - the generation of the 'Pioneers of Tomorrow'... Allah willing, we will regain the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and cleanse it of the impurity of the Zionists."

Nahoul: "Allah willing."

Saraa: "On a different subject, Nahoul, let's see what you got up to this week."

Nahoul: "Nothing, Saraa."

Saraa: "Let's see for ourselves."

Nahoul enters the cats' cage at the Gaza Zoo.

Nahoul: "Meow! Meow! I'm opening the door and going in. I opened the door and entered the cage, and the guy didn't see me. I am now standing in the cats' cage. The cats here are asleep - the poor, wretched, imprisoned cats. I feel like abusing them. This cat is asleep. I feel like attacking it."

Nahoul picks up cat by its tail.

"Shoo... Meow..."

Nahoul throws stones and roars at the lions in their cage.

Saraa: "What have you done, Nahoul? Haven't you heard of the hadith of the Prophet..."

Nahoul: "No, Saraa, I haven't heard."

Saraa: "He said that a woman went to Hell because she locked up a cat, without feeding it or letting it eat on its own, Nahoul. Therefore, Allah punished her and sent her to Hell. If you keep doing this, you will have the same fate, Nahoul."

How sweet.

I learned three things from this clip: 1.) Jews are bad and must be destroyed, 2.) Jews must be destroyed, but animals must be cared for, and 3.) If I don't do what Allah wishes (i.e. destroy Jews) I will go to hell.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A World Gone Mad

According to a piece in the NYT today, the Indiana State Fair has banned the use of all oils that contain trans fats. So now everyone here can eat guilt-free fried oreos, twinkies, Snickers bars, and Pepsi. Yes, fried Pepsi. As if Indiana fried food was not disgusting enough.

This is why I loved this article:

“This is a slice of heaven,” said Ryan Howell, 31, as he cradled his Combo Plate, which, for the record, consists of one battered Snickers bar, two battered Oreos and a battered Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup — all deep-fried in oil that is trans-fat free, thank goodness.

I used to say that one of the main (though there are many) differences between Indiana and California is the fact that people in Indiana fry everything, and love every second of it, while Californians turn up their nose at fried food and opt instead for trendy plates of low-calorie, high-sodium sushi. And it's true in some sense -- the evidence of this is the fact that in Indiana, at 5'6" and 115 lbs I'm considered runway model thin, but in California I'm an easy candidate for the Jenny Craig weight-loss program.

But I've changed my stance, ever so slightly.

In California we do have our fair share of people who like everything fried. But the difference is that they do not do it out in the open. They know that it is shameful, and so they enjoy their grease-laden fare in secret, in the privacy of their own homes. It's like porn -- most people won't admit to watching it, yet many are secretly addicted to it. But in Indiana, there is no shame in frying anything and everything. It's a world in which deep-fryers occupy daily counterspace with the coffee-maker and toaster. A world gone mad.

I am certainly not making this out to be more sinister than it is. Even the Times hints at its dark underside:

But inside the booth, where the air is dense with oil, workers chuckle about the whole concept. And Mr. Orme himself rarely eats what he cooks here.

“I stay away from fried foods,” he said.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Machu Picchu?

My sister and I have decided to take a trip together in January. We were thinking of going to Machu Picchu, but the recent earthquake in Peru has spooked my sister a bit, and so she may wimp out, and we may end up in Europe again. I just like the way it sounds when I say Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu.

"Where did you and your sister go, Monica?"

"Machu Picchu."

Today I noticed that whenever I say "Machu Picchu," I use a voice that differs greatly from my normal speaking voice. I think I also make a strange face when I say "Machu Picchu." I can feel it. Not sure why I need to do this.

My second choice, after Machu Picchu, was the Greek islands. I had envisioned myself lying on the beach by day and chomping on spanikopita and drinking lots of wine by night. But I'm told that the January weather in Greece will not permit me to lie on the beach unless I am fully clothed and possibly wrapped in a blanket.

Down with the Greek islands in January.

Somebody tells me I should consider taking a trip to Texas instead. There is lots to do there.

Maybe Egypt, though. Somehow I envision myself riding atop a camel and gazing out over the pyramids. When I was in Israel many years ago I rode a camel. And at one point, a very scary man tried to buy me for ten camels--he said, in broken English, that I had nice lips. Gross. I thought I was worth much more.

Or, what about Jordan -- isn't that where Petra is? I want to see Petra because I know it only from that scene in that one Indiana Jones movie--The Temple of Doom, I think it's called.

Must decide . . .

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Minority Report: Sans Jews

I've cross-posted over at free to leave your comments there as well.

I recently returned “home” to Indiana from spending the summer at Cornell’s School of Criticism and Theory. Basically, SCT is like the ultimate nerd camp, where young intellectuals (mostly professors and advanced PhD students) attend seminars and lectures—on literary theory, philosophy, political theory, postcolonialism, and everything in between—all day, everyday, and with a smile. Fortunately, evenings were devoted to reclaiming our cool-ness by going out to all the Ithaca, NY hotspots and drowning our livers in whatever libations the all-too-eager-to-close-at-1am bartenders would pour us (seriously, last call was at 12:30!).

But what does any of this have to do with Jews? Nothing. And, everything, it seems.

In addition to the public lectures and colloquia that all participants (approx. 60) attended, we were each enrolled in one of four seminars that we attended twice a week. I chose a seminar led by Eric Cheyfitz called “What is a Just Society?” On the last day of the seminar, we were asked to fill out evaluation forms. One participant in my seminar, a lusty Latina, was openly angry, groaning and mumbling as she filled out her form.

Later, as a few of us sat outside, I overheard her complaining that there was no diversity at SCT—that all of the seminar leaders and public speakers were white, that there was no minority representation. The few people around her seemed to agree.

Leave it to me to infiltrate myself into a conversation where I am not wanted. “Uh, what about Gayatri Spivak?” I said. Spivak, a heavy-hitter in the world of literary theory, and a South Asian woman, had given a public lecture that was rather bizarre, and in which she relayed too much information about her physical ailments before demanding—ahem, requesting—that the air conditioner be turned off. We were all sweating in sync by the end of her talk. A regular diva, that one. I hope to emulate her one day.

In response, one participant did one of those half-laugh, half-snort things, and said, “Spivak was the token minority.” I was confused. And I was confused because I had counted at least two or three speakers who were Jewish. And Jewish is a minority, right? White Anglo-Saxon Protestants are not minorities. But Jews are minorities. Right?

Apparently not.

As if she had read my mind, the lusty Latina again chimed in, this time with an unveiled air of disgust: “All four seminar leaders are Jews. And two of the three outside speakers are Jews also.” I waited for her to whip out her copy of the Protocols.

Okay, apparently my Jewdar, which is usually right on target, had overlooked a couple Jews. The list of SCT seminar leaders and speakers was as follows:

Daniel Boyarin—My Jewdar did not even have to be turned on for me to know he is Jewish; he’s an openly gay Orthodox Jewish scholar at UC Berkeley who wears both a kippah and suspenders.

Eric Cheyfitz—This guy is Jewish, and he is also pretty bad-ass, and does some cool work with American Indians. He was also a key player in the recent Ward Churchill debacle.

William Connolly—Not a Jew; he was the token WASP.

Dominick LaCapra—Technically not a Jew, but he’s done so much interesting work in Holocaust Studies and trauma theory that he deserves a free pass; in fact, he told me that when he was in Israel, he was the Shabbas Goy, who lit the candles for observant Jews.

Marjorie Levinson—A Jew, of course, who is an expert on Spinoza.

Martha Nussbaum—A convert to Judaism. In her lecture, she kept talking about converting to Judaism from Puritanism. I’m not quite sure what that means. I thought the Puritans died out with the scarlet letter. She wrote a piece on the boycott of Israeli institutions for this summer’s Dissent that I thought was smart and rhetorically savvy, but in her public lecture at Cornell she was anything but that.

Bruce Robbins—A Jew! My Jewdar completely missed this one! He’s totally incognito, except for that Magen David around his neck.

Gayatri Spivak—Like I said, not a Jew, but according to some, the “token minority.”

Ann Laura Stoler
—Jewish; an anthropologist over at the New School; the sound of her voice is so loud and abrasive that it scrambled the decoder on my Jewdar and I nearly missed identifying her as Jewish.

In my opinion, this was a great—though perhaps imbalanced—celebration of diversity. But I was one of very few people who saw it that way. Frankly, I was a bit freaked out by the animosity that the presence of so many ethnically Jewish (only one was religiously Jewish) speakers provoked in this particular group of participants. There was something creepy about it—what I mean to say, is that had all of the Jewish participants been Asian or African American or anything else, these people wouldn’t have been upset.

But they were Jewish. And they dominated the playing field. And they were kicking ass.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised—it’s par for the course. You’re not a “minority” once your ethnic group becomes successful or outnumbers the “majority” in any isolated instance. It’s the same reason why, as a scholar of Jewish and Jewish American literature about to enter the job market, I’m afraid to market myself as someone who does ethnic American literature.

So, what’s the story—are Jews no longer minorities?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Everything's a Holocaust, Everyone's a Nazi

There are very few things that drive me crazy (okay, maybe there are more than a few), but one thing that really gets to me is the ease with which people like to evoke the Holocaust as some kind of measuring stick. We don't like what someone is doing, we call them a Nazi. We don't like the way a group of people is treated, we label it a Holocaust. In one of my first graduate classes I remember an openly gay man going on and on about what he called the Holocaust of homosexuals in America. I thought the comparison was ironic, given his equally open stance on Jews: he hated them, and was always ready to bash them for one reason or another.

God, people, be a bit more original -- get a different term.

And then there's Seinfeld's notorious soup Nazi (see below) -- extremely funny, but in poor taste.

Or what about the recent Ward Churchill debacle -- he thought it would be cool to call all of the victims of the World Trade Center collapse "Little Eichmans." Now, I certainly don't think he deserved to be fired for making the remark, but it's beyond gross and inappropriate.

But this one, today (well, actually a couple of months ago), from syndicated radio host Glenn Beck, is really bizarre:

Al Gore's not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization. The goal is global carbon tax. The goal is the United Nations running the world. That is the goal. Back in the 1930s, the goal was get rid of all of the Jews and have one global government.

You got to have an enemy to fight. And when you have an enemy to fight, then you can unite the entire world behind you, and you seize power. That was Hitler's plan. His enemy: the Jew. Al Gore's enemy, the U.N.'s enemy: global warming.

You can read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Post-Ithaca Depression and Repression

Repression = The unconscious exclusion of painful impulses, desires, or fears from the conscious mind.

I want to learn how to develop the art of repression.

Then, I would like to repress West Lafayette, Indiana, and everything that comes with it.

Except for the North American Levinas Society.

But it seems rather unlikely that I will be able to repress WL.

I might as well just ask for a magic wand that makes things disappear.

Counting down the days until I can say sooooo loooooooong.