Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Power of Story



Last week I attended the Jewish American and Holocaust Literature Symposium in Miami. It's one of my favorite conferences, and I've been attending since 2004. This year one of the keynote speakers was Jewish-Guatemalan writer Eduardo Halfon, whose work I hadn't yet read, but have since been devouring.  Here's my piece on him over at the Jewish Journal.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Speaking from the Margins: Me Too

I experienced a deluge of ambiguous emotions as my Facebook newsfeed was recently filled with women's #MeToo stories and accounts of victimization. I was deeply moved and astounded by so many of the stories. I felt an initial urge to be part of this mass movement of voices, but it was an impulse that quickly retreated back into my place of observation. Like many things, I wanted to be both inside and outside of this movement.

Truthfully, I have in my personal history so many repulsive #MeToo moments that I've forgotten most of them. The hand that reached into my blouse and grabbed my breast as I walked through a crowded bar in my early twenties; the man who slapped my rear end in a club before I pushed him down and kicked him over and over (I talk about this in my most recent column); and so many stories of forceful, pushy, and threatening behavior by colleagues over the years. The ones where no one actually touched me are, in many ways, more painful because the culprits were people from whom I expected more: academics, philosophers, intellectuals.

Even academia is not immune to the behavior people are wrongly calling a Hollywood thing. And it isn't always about traditional forms of sexual harassment. For instance, what about the professor at Purdue University who, upon learning I had won a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship, said to me, "Who did you have to sleep with to get that?" He said it with a smirk that told me he hated me for refusing his request to take me to lunch a few weeks back.

Is it sexual harassment? No, not really, I guess. But what he did was to minimize my intellectual potential and suggest instead that my value is only in my appearance and sexuality. A less confident woman may have been broken by that. I was just angry.

But here's the kicker: this same professor was recently let go from Purdue University because of sexual harassment--this time an undergraduate student. So maybe it's all part of the same thing.

But I wasn't compelled to tell any of these stories. As a way to work through why I felt this way, I wrote this piece for The Jewish Journal--it's my newest column. The title is regrettable, and it's not mine. I feel it pits one experience against another, which really is the opposite of what I was doing in the piece. But so it goes.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

On Not Forgetting About What We Don't Know: Thoughts on Las Vegas

A couple of weeks ago in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, I started thinking about how quick we are to string a few "facts" together in an effort to create a story. I get it--we need to do this because we have a deep need to understand why and how things happen. But it also occurred to me that sometimes focusing entirely on a few so-called facts allow us to ignore what we don't yet know. I wanted to work through these ideas so I devoted my first column at The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles to this topic. You can read it here. The title, however, is not mine. But I can live with it.

The Complex Polarity of THE LAST RABBI

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of William Kolbrener's book The Last Rabbi: Joseph Soloveitchik and Talmudic Tradition at The Jewish Journal. I enjoyed the book immensely, not least because it brought some of my favorite topics together: literature, midrash, trauma, and Judaism. I ended up writing a piece that was hundreds of words too long, so it had to be condensed. But here is the final version.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Interview with Israeli Writer Etgar Keret

I interviewed Israeli fiction writer (and scriptwriter!) Etgar Keret last week as part of the cover story package for this week's issue of the Jewish Journal. I'm a big fan of Keret's work and I've also taught it at Pepperdine University and UCLA, so it was super cool to get a chance to chat with him. I thought he was going to be a diva, but he was the opposite--kind, thoughtful, and generous with his time.

You can read the Jewish Journal version here.

In the interview he said he enjoys collaborating with his wife, actress and writer Shira Geffen, and I was reminded of how much I like the film Jellyfish, which they did together. I even blogged on it nearly ten years ago!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Last Laugh: Looking to Comedy as a Salve and Savior




The Last Laugh is a new film that deals with the question of whether one can or should laugh at jokes about the Holocaust. It's a fantastic film, and as part of this piece I wrote for the Jewish Journal, I got to sit down with our friend and comic Jeffrey Ross to get his thoughts on all things comedy and tragedy. Read it here!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Modern Language Association's Proposed Boycott Against Israeli Institutions

I am, sadly, not at the MLA conference this year, but have submitted this comment to be distributed at the Town Hall Forum today where the issue will be discussed:

I am deeply saddened that we, those who love literature and all its complexities and nuances, are considering/debating an academic boycott of any kind. These kinds of boycotts hurt individuals, though they purport not to. They also cause considerable damage to the standard of scholarship and responsibility that should characterize the MLA. I want to be part of an organization that encourages, rather than forecloses, dialogue with all scholars from all countries. I want us to come together and find ways to speak across the political/cultural/geographical borders rather than excise some from our community because we don't like their government.