Friday, June 30, 2006

Commentary on "Commentary"

In Commentary, Steven M. Cohen and Jack Wertheimer criticize the American Jewish turn to universalism over specifically Jewish concerns. After explaining various facts about Jewish life in America today, the authors continue:

All of these factors have vastly complicated the task of mobilizing American Jews to take concerted action on behalf of specifically Jewish causes. Many, insofar as they are moved to action at all, seem to reserve their fervor for the approved "universal" causes of our time—Darfur, relief for victims of Katrina, domestic poverty, and the like. Although rabbis, educators, and Jewish agencies strive to link such non-sectarian causes to traditional Jewish teachings, they tend to become tongue-tied when it comes to urging attentiveness to distinctly Jewish needs.

So true. And also, such a sign, as if I weren't already convinced, that this is in fact fin-de-siecle France but with worse food. Just as Dreyfus's Jewish supporters came to his defense out of concern for justice and human rights, not to save one of their own, today's American Jews and American Jewish organizations make sure to reiterate time and time again that they care if anything less about the Jews than about the rest of the world.

But the authors are missing something--when Jews favor "humanity" over their own people, this isn't mere apathetic, comfortable assimilation, and admirable readiness to solve the world's problems regardless of race/creed/nationality of the opporessed. Sometimes, the desire to help the world rather than the Jews comes from what some would call self-hatred but which could more justly be called fear. Many Americans are convinced that Jews are behind the Iraq war and other less-than-successful aspects of American politics today. Yet peace in the Middle East is taking a whole lot longer than anyone with even a shred of optimism would have guessed, and Europe is problematic for other reasons--governments' not knowing what to make of Islamic radicalism, etc. America seems in many ways the best place to be Jewish (or to live, period) these days, and American Jews don't want to blow it.

Cohen and Wertheimer conclude:

In the end, the decline of Jewish peoplehood is symptomatic of a decline of morale, of national self respect. A people no longer proud of what and who it is, no longer dedicated to caring for its own, cannot long expect to be held in high regard by others, or to move the world by its message.

Interesting that the authors choose to mention "national self respect." The nation they're referring to is clearly not the United States, but I can't imagine that many American Jews consider themselves to be a part of any other. This is not all a matter of rhetoric--as long as Jews outside of Israel don't see Judaism as at all national, what the authors are describing will continue.


WWPD's bureaucratic division is behind only its design division in ineptitude. I only just noticed my links to other blogs had disappeared in the latest redesign, so to everyone used to receiving three exciting new hits a day via this site, I apologize for the lapse. I just added a bunch I remembered, but will be adding several more as I think of them.

At least Zabars has good cheese

It's been a tough time for the young and male, French and Jewish. First Ilan Halimi, on the cusp of making aliyah, gets kidnapped, tortured, and killed by a Parisian anti-Semitic gang. Then Gilad Shalit, a French-Israeli dual citizen and Israeli soldier, gets kidnapped by Palestinians who want to "exchange" him for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Which leaves what, exactly, as an option?

That was a rhetorical question to which the answer is, of course, the Upper West Side.

Or is it? According to the ever-useful European Jewish Press, French-Jewish leader Pierre Besnainou has a different idea:

[Besnainou] raised some controversy with his proposal to give Jews in France automatic double French-Israeli citizenship, even if they don’t do [sic] aliyah to Israel. “I would like to be able one day to sing the Hatikvah (the Israeli anthem) in total freedom at a France-Israel football match without feeling guilty,” he told critics. “For non-Jews, Jews and Israelis are part of the same people, so why not make it official?” he asked.

Everyone always criticizes French Jews--now and historically--for being too passive in the face of anti-Semitism and too eager to show gratefulness and not merely allegiance to France no matter how it treats them. This is certainly a step in the opposite direction. But shouldn't French-Jewish self-defence be about French Jews remaining as such? This includes a right to have pro-Israeli sentiments, but a right to actually be Israeli, without so much as wanting to move to Israel? Wouldn't this be a problem for those French Jews who simply want to remain French, if they were assumed of dual citizenship--whether or not they actually were--simply because of their religion? Will all French Catholics get a dual citizenship with the Vatican, and French Muslims with the Islamic state of their choice? Sure, the Jewish-Israeli case is a bit unusual, what with the notion of Jewish nationality, and especially the law of return. But that law is supposed to only apply to those who, well, return.

As I've made clear so many times, both on-blog and off, Jewish nationality exists, makes sense, and is not in the least bit a new idea. I've also pointed out that citizenship and nationality, while related, are not the same thing. Just as American Jewish blogger Matthew Yglesias is not Israeli, just as I also am not Israeli, French Jews wishing to remain in France ought not to be called up to serve in the Israeli army if they take too long a vacation to Tel Aviv; nor should they have the right to send in absentee ballots from the Marais, having never visited Israel in their lives.

Now, I suppose nationality and citizenship could be treated as one, but this would be a disaster. Who knows, France might do well to allow its citizens to define themselves as having multiple identities, rather than French and only French. But multiple citizenships, simply on account of having a non-majority religion or ethnicity? The mark has most definitely been overshot.

Moreover, if a French citizen happens to go to synagogue and not church, he should be considered no less French than the next person. But if he finds himself rooting for Israel over France in soccer matches, barely repressing the urge to belt out Hatikvah, he might consider El Al.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Things are horrible these days. The Middle East is in shambles, Britney Spears is in shambles that are at least amusing rather than purely tragic, and I have recently found myself identifying more with "The Nanny" than ever before. So I leave you with the following, an uplifting post about unlikely holidays I observe:

Gay Pride: Missed it this year! But usually, I'm in the middle of the action. I am not gay, and don't believe in being proud or ashamed of who you happen to have been born or which sex you happen to enjoy sleeping with, but the Gay Pride parade makes the Puerto Rican one look positively boring, and so, why not?

Easter: As a kid, I definitely dyed eggs. And to this day, spring for me means Peeps. My family has never celebrated Christmas, but anyone can see that Easter, unlike Christmas, is a holiday devoid of all religious meaning. Any holiday whose official, Biblical significance is going to Walgreens or Duane Reade and purchasing neon-sugar-coated marshmellows cannot possibly have anything to do with any messiah I do not acknowledge.

Shemini Atzeret: This is a Jewish holiday, but an obscure one, at least to a Passover-only Jew like myself. (Mmm, matzo). But I worked at a Jewish organization at the time of the last Shemini Atzeret, and so had the day off. I vaguely remember Googling the holiday, just to make sure "Shemini Atzeret" wasn't just code for, "What the heck, have a nice day!" No, it was not, so if you find yourself needing a day off in the fall, check which day the holiday appears that year, and by all means, have yourself a merry Shemini Atzeret.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The youngest street gang in Brooklyn

My favorite part of Brooklyn is Cobble Hill-Carroll Gardens. It's all beautiful townhouses, Italian cheese and coffee stores, charming bookstores, and Brazilian boutiques. Well, one Brazilian boutique, but it made quite an impression. So it was a bit disturbing to see a group of maybe eight kids, all that age, give or take a couple years, smoking what one can only hope were cigarettes, but they hadn't quite figured out inhaling, being eight and all, so there was no tell-tale scent of any kind. They tried to break a window, shot menacing glances at passersby, but aside from that, seemed quite reasonable. I don't think their presence does much for area real estate. In other words, bonus points to anyone who helps young children in picturesque parts of Brooklyn turn into relatively harmless juvenile delinquents.

Friday, June 23, 2006

And those subway ads for computer programming school start to look appealing

Via Gawker, another rant about the idiocy of the unpaid, post-college internship. Blogger Toby Shuster begins:

Back in February, when I was fiercely dumping my resume into the enigmatic e-mail depth of publishing HR departments, never receiving a single goddamn response, I started applying to anything and everything I could get my hands on. Now it is the month of June and I am finally hearing back from a company that produces informational posters for medical waiting rooms.

Ah yes, the danger of typing "writing" into a search box on a job listing website. But, as the folks at Gawker point out, "When you’re feeling like your job sucks, remember this: You could have an unpaid internship writing medical posters." The medical poster position, as Shuster makes quite clear, provides a Metrocard and little else. I once saw a job listing for night-shift data entry, on Staten Island, for $9/hr, and was convinced that this was the worst office job ever. This internship might just be worse.

Shuster is right to refute the idea that what keeps her from taking an unpaid internship is a sense of entitlement. It's not a "sense" that one's entitled to compensation for post-college, non-educational work, it's that you are entitled to be paid by your job. But until we as a generation refuse to take unpaid work, this will continue. Because no advocacy group is about to leap forward and point out that well-off 20-somethings are being treated in ways that go against labor laws.

Sears Tower still standing

Chicagoans can rest easy tonight, now that some of the presumably endless number individuals suspected of plotting to knock over the Sears Tower are under arrest. Tall buildings remain popular targets for powerless-feeling men, for reasons Freud could explain far more eloquently than I. But in any case, I'm obviously always glad to see such catastrophes averted.

Perhaps the mere threat of Islamic terrorism will make friends out of Chicago's notoriously segregated and mutually suspicious black and white populations, as real-life Islamic terrorism did in New York. Maybe white people other than those who attend the University of Chicago will all of a sudden start taking the El, and African-Americans will head up to Lincoln Park, purchase Adidas track pants and North Face fleeces, and turn into just another subset of trixies. Chicagoans may start warning visitors of the dangers of visiting Devon, not the South Side. Would this be an improvement? Of course not-- racism's bad news, regardless-- but it would change Chicago as a city quite a bit, and so I'm curious to see if this happens.


I write a post about one of the less racy things ever written by Freud, and an anonymous commentor asks if I am single. Not sure if this was intended as a come-on or an assumption that anyone this nerdy couldn't possibly get a date (for a refutation of that theory, see Chicago, University of), but regardless, I'm very proud of my come-back.

It's hard to be young, urban, female, spectacularly model-like, and a blogger, or even to be just four out of five. (22 by no means counts as young, just ask NRO's John Derbyshire.) Seriously, though. Tell anyone you have a blog, if you happen to fit this demographic, and they'll assume it's a "Sex and the City"-inspired, extended rant about man troubles or a "Devil Wears Prada"-inspired, extended rant about an unpleasant boss. And most of the time, they'll be right.

Given the success of both "SATC" and "Prada," and the horrible failure of "The Affair: Dreyfus on the WB," I can understand why Francophilic Zionism is not the leading theme chosen by today's girl-bloggers. But really, the fun thing about having a blog, for me at least, is that it's an opportunity not to discuss professional or boy-related concerns. Forget the fact that what you say about your boy/boss online can and will be held against you--these are subjects you're probably already thinking about plenty, that you probably can't describe in an original way, and that are already being dissected all over the Internet. Let me guess, your boss doesn't appreciate your talents? Your boyfriend's too clingy, or was it aloof? Which is why we women need to find original things to blog about. Like French Jews, say, or how we might next cut our hair.


Facebook is all the rage. It's the means by which you give out all manner of personal information to your "friends"--who include everyone who happens to live in the same city or have attended the same college--and then "they" will use it against you. Who are they? Employers, for one. And sleepaway camps. Authority figures of all shapes, sizes, and, uh, degrees of authority.

I totally saw this coming. Exhibitionism crossed with name-dropping blurs the line between public and private. Katie, 14, who likes weed and boys, is a different story from Katie, 14, who likes weed and boys, goes to school at Chapin, camp at Ramah (an odd combo I realize, these are just examples), and so on. Bragging and anonymity are hard to reconcile, after all, and it's no fun boasting of your exploits if you cannot associate them with the appropriate Ivy or sorority. That said, it's ridiculous that employers would penalize an of-age individual for photographs online in which they are not passed out, not skanked out, but merely drinking alcohol. I mean, where does that leave these people?

But--and this I find devastating--blogs are also part of the problem. Which I find amusing because this site has if anything helped me in the outside, non-sitemeter-checking world, by bringing me in contact with countless writing-obsessed, French-Jewish-everything-fixated compadres. But moreover, Facebook has come to my aid on several occasions. Specifically, every time I'm considering a new hairstyle. There are girls in my "networks," whose profiles I can access, who I've never met but who nevertheless have the hair I covet. First it was this girl with long hair and long bangs. But then I remembered that as my hair grows longer, it also grows wider--a problem Ms. X does not seem to share--and so have turned to a new young woman, who has the same long bangs, but with an angled, longish bob. Yes, she's the one, and I will be bringing her picture to the hairdresser.

Which brings me to my daily anecdote. On the Upper East Side today, I saw some women who were--how best to put this--very much of the neighborhood. All I caught of their conversation as we passed on the street was, "When you get highlights, do you get lowlights also?" And I thought, wow, how lame. And then I went home and tried to decide if maybe I'd keep my bangs the same length, just cut the rest of my hair shorter so as to make the bangs appear longer. I think that effect is what's being referred to when you hear people mention the "theory of relativity."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Holy Moses

As a Jew who believes that a little black eyeliner never hurt anybody, male or female, I am of course fascinated by Freud's contention that Moses was an Egyptian. Moses and Monotheism, my latest lapse into reading in English rather than French, is also interesting to me as an example of the Western-assimilated-secular-Jewish, pre-WWII analysis of Jewish history, along the lines of Bernard Lazare's Antisemitism. What these writers say about ancient Judaism says at least as much about their own feelings about being Jewish as about the subjects they are ostensibly discussing. I'll have more thoughts on this once I finish Moses and Monotheism, and read Freud's Moses, a book which may well have said it all already.


I can't wait to decorate an apartment entirely with products purchased here.

Vive la Resistance

Just got back from the 1969 movie "Army of Shadows" at Film Forum. The film tells the story of some members of the French Resistance whose near-death experiences extend far beyond my own usually-impressive stories of Maine-rapids-mishaps and South Side Chicago adventures. The movie is fascinating, the acting and scenery stellar, and the men and clothes beautiful (Jean-Pierre Cassel in a leather jacket is no less impressive than a similarly-attired Lior Ashkenazi, although the French have the Israelis beat in terms of the leather jacket design itself). You definitely get a sense of what it must have been like to live in German-occupied France as a non-collaborator and not be able to escape, no matter what.

Two things in particular struck my viewing companion and myself--it's never explained why this group of people felt moved to join the Resistance, and almost no actual resistance is ever shown, just a lot of shuffling fellow resistance members from place to place and getting them out of prison. The group is quite talented at saving its own, but inflicts no damage on the Nazi occupiers except in self-defense. It's implied that the Resistance is a cause worth dying for, but beyond fighting for their own freedom as individuals to live in a French France, it's unclear what these heros are looking to achieve.

The only problem with "Army of Shadows" was the woman sitting behind us. She found each turn of the plot immensely confusing, and rather than wait the two minutes to let the movie spell things out, she loudly asked the man next to her what was going on. She also gasped and spoke out loudly whenever anything violent happened. If you react like this to movies with violence, it's probably best to steer clear of anything with "army" in the title or anything about Nazis, at least until it comes out on DVD. Because that seems to be what's happened, people are used to watching movies at home, and forget that the comments your spouse finds acceptable or even charming are of no interest to anyone else in the theater. Unless the movie is really awful and begs for mocking, but this one was spectacular. I'm not sure what this says about whether I'd have been brave enough to be in the Resistance, but the best I could come up with to let this woman know I'd heard enough was to turn halfway around in my chair and hope she got the idea.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Look out, there are llamas

(Laura Pedrick for The New York Times)
"The rationale for llamas is somewhat different than for other types of livestock. Sheep ranchers acquire llamas as guard animals for their flocks. The sheep's natural predators, foxes and coyotes, generally will not tangle with a llama, which can be more than six feet tall. Llamas get along quite nicely with sheep, and when a llama senses danger, it emits a high-pitched whinny that alerts the farmer to bring the shotgun."--from an amazing article about NY-region llamas! The last line of the article is fantastic, but in no way refers to a llama. Look at the slideshow--you will see that llamas need no rationale, they are just beautiful animals!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Newish Jewish

Baron Eric de Rothschild defends France, claiming anti-Semitism there is not a problem, and that Jewish nationalism is unnecessary. The year is 189?.... wait a second. The times are a'staying exactly the same. According to a Jerusalem Post interview, the philanthropist believes "the priority for Jewish giving... should be helping Israeli Arabs." Of course it should. Forget Jewish self-defense, Zionism, or even traditional Diaspora Jewish philanthropy that helps Jews in particular and human beings in general--the baron might as well have said, "Oh, please like us, pretty please?"

Also in the Jerusalem Post, news of a newish Jewish Defense League in France. While part of why I mention this is that I've never before had a chance to type "newish Jewish," it also provides evidence that Rothchilds do not define French Jewish politics. I found this quote, though, especially amusing:

"Jews are fed up," said a league member named Maxime who refused to give his full name, saying he feared for his safety. "We've been nice for 30 years. Now, we gather and fight back."

30 years indeed. I had no idea that we are now in the year 1821. But that said, while I'm not sure what I think about any modern nation collapsing into a bunch of militias, it makes sense, given the history of French Jews--who relied time after time on official roads to justice and on reverance for universalist rights of man only to get completely screwed over--that some would want to take matters into their own hands. Pierre Birnbaum, in his book about the anti-Semitic riots of 1898, argues that contrary to popular belief, the Jews did stand up for themselves. He gives examples mainly of Jews filing reports with the police or otherwise reacting to rather extreme, frightening levels of anti-Semitism in what I would call the most meek ways possible. While this meekness may have been defensible given the circumstances, it was still just that, meekness.

Why are things different now? Is it because Jewish nationalism succeeded, if not in garnering approval for the "please, please like us!" types, in creating a Jewish state? That's usually my assumption, along with the fact that the Holocaust gave European Jews a better idea of what's in store if they remain silent. Another possibility is that the current French Jews are culturally different from the pre-WWII population, less Ashkenazi, or just different culturally in some way that makes them less inclined to remain silent. (I have no sense of what would make Ashkenazi Jews different from Sephardic Jews politically, in 2006, but it's the only cultural difference I could think of that might apply here.)

There's more on this subject, including a response to all the Dreyfus info left in the comments to the post below by my friend "Anonymous." I also need to read a TON more about all of this, possibly immerse myself in French Jewish life via moving to a charming apartment in the Marais and eating so much falafel and so many pastries, before I can say anything more substantive.

Friday, June 16, 2006

France in America

I was watching French TV, a show called "Double Je." I am super awesome and understand French TV without subtitles, especially when that French is being spoken by someone of the American persuasion. ("D'autant plus... que..." could be utilized here if I were writing this in French, right? Right? Gar!) So I was delighted to see that they were interviewing American authors of recent France-related books. The three books were on topics--Truffaut, Vichy, and artisinal bread-- that, together, pretty much sum up the American perception of France.
Pretentious movies, cowardly and racist political activity, but such tasty, tasty food.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tourism to NYC to drop

They caught the subway stabber. Which is fantastic. But is it really necessary to have the following quotes from the Texan victim's aunt:

"He's a smart, very bright kid," his aunt said. "He's not violent. He's pretty passive." The attack must have been unprovoked, she said. "It had to be a random deal," she said of the attack. "He's not that type of kid." She described her nephew as a big science fiction and fantasy fan who used to collect Star Wars paraphernalia.

Because what's a trip to the big city without both getting randomly stabbed on the subway and getting called a wimpy nerd in the New York Times?

Scrambled tofu

The Village Voice profiles a band called The Shondes, "a three-quarters transgender, three-quarters Jewish, 100-percent-political Park Slope quartet." I was intrigued, in part because one of these Shondes is, I believe, a former co-worker (just someone I'd see around the building), but more because this group is clearly a parody of itself, whether it's aware of it or not. From the Voice:

"I think we all have a lot of frustration about hipster Jewish culture," [band member Louisa] Solomon says during a discussion heavy on politics, music, and appropriate transgender pronouns (Brannigan is "she,"Oberman is "he," and Fruchter won't commit to either) over coffee and scrambled tofu at an East Village vegetarian diner. "There's an assumption in those communities that it's pretty liberal and progressive. But in fact, especially in the hipster culture of Matisyahu, the politics underlying them are in fact funded by Jewish institutions that are really Zionist and wedded to an ideology of Jewish nationalism and Jewish heterosexuality and procreation and all this stuff we really hate."

I'm going to have to step up to the plate and defend Zionism, Jewish nationalism, and Jewish heterosexuality, all things I find quite wonderful. Not sure what Solomon means by "Jewish heterosexuality," now that I think of it, but I'll assume she means being Jewish and into the opposite sex. Guilty as charged. But I don't "hate" Jewish homosexuality--"Yossi and Jagger," the most beautiful movie ever made, would never have come into being without it. Seriously, people, don't hate.

But what about Zionism or Jewish nationalism does this band have a problem with? Granted neither is especially hip. "Hipster Judaism," which they rightly denounce as lame, is also not hip, but is rather an invention of various Jewish institutions--yes, the same ones that have the politics so despised by The Shondes--to keep younger Jews involved, and as such is no cooler than Christian indie rock or "Seventh Heaven."

Breaking away from pieties and embracing self-hatred always guarantees Jewish artists a certain audience. Ironic love of the shtetl and the nebbish, while wearing a keffiyeh, is hip; wear an IDF shirt and you might as well announce that you are boring, suburban, and psyched about the next Dave Matthews Band concert. But is it any more interesting to follow a hipster party line than a suburban one? It's certainly no more progressive. To "really hate" Jewish nationalism is no less idiotic than really hating Palestinian nationalism. Declaring one's hatred for one side or the other does nothing to help find a peace-oriented solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although perhaps, progressive as they are, this is not The Shondes's wish.

As for procreation, that seems an odd thing to "really hate"-- it's one thing not to wish to be involved in any personally, but if sperm and eggs did not meet and merge, not only would there be no Zionism, there'd be no transgendered rock bands, no Village Voice, and no one to scramble all that tofu.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Guide to NYC

For a while now I've wanted to write a guide to New York City. I'm uniquely qualified to do this, having experienced both the East 57th-96th Street region that is New York for the rich and timid, and the broader gloriousness of the outer boroughs, except Staten Island, since I'm not sure what I think about Staten Island and have been as yet too closed-minded to find out. My guide to New York would lead the curious to the following: nearest public or semi-public restrooms, nearest purveyor of good iced coffee, best muffins, best sushi on a student or otherwise pathetic budget, sites of my various high school humiliations (each of which the City of New York, or perhaps the Department of Education, has helpfully noted with a plaque), least New York-like spots within city limits, spots with the highest concentration of good-looking Israeli expats, tiniest one-block-only streets, best Brazilian clothing, most unlikely Tasti-d-Lite locations.... I would say, you get the idea, but there is no idea. I doubt if this will become a book, but it's likely to become a feature of this blog.

First installment: Foods which surely contain crack, MSG, or something else similarly addictive.

Vegetarian Dim Sum House--I am neither a vegetarian nor all that enthusiastic about Chinese food in general, but I keep going back for more. MSG, at all?

Blue Sky Bakery--There is something in these muffins. Once you have a muffin from this place, you will not be able to have a muffin from anywhere else. You may not be able to even do anything else with the rest of your life, aside from eat these muffins. What makes them so great? Probably having not that many ingredients, that they're made on-site, that they have a nice sugar crust, who knows. I'd say MSG but that seems highly unlikely. Nothing to do with the muffins, but they have a very hipster crowd for Park Slope, thus helping to bridge the North-South Brooklyn divide.

Original Shawarma--Best falafel anywhere. It's on Kings Highway and East 4th Street in Brooklyn, is a hole-in-the-wall type of place, and does not, shockingly, appear to have a website. Not the best post-lunch, mid-bike-ride snack, as I soon learned, but all the same, it's worth it. While there for maybe five minutes, I got to hear a man flip out because his "hummus katan im salat" was taking too long, and another flip out because the place's kosher certification was nowhere to be found. Whether such things add to or detract from a falafel experience is for each of us to decide.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Time for an oulpan

Anti-Semitism in France. Still going strong, apparently. From Haaretz: "The [Parisian] falafel stand owner said that they threatened to 'fuck all the Jews.'" Now of course, if "they" did do this, if the Muslim and Jewish communities made love and not war, perhaps the situation in the Marais--a largely old-Jewish, new-fashionable, Lower East Side-like neighborhood in Paris-- would be less hostile...although of course "fucking all the Jews" was also what used to be called a pogrom, and the reason for so many blond Jews or so the rumor goes....but moving on...

When in the Marais in 2003, I remember seeing signs about Jewish self-defense leagues, but this was before my obsession with all things French-Jewish was at its current level, so I didn't give it much thought. Daniel Ben Simon of Haaretz now clues us in:

The Betar Zionist youth movement is particularly active in Le Marais. The members of this movement seem to be unaware of the changes that have taken place in Israel over the past few decades, and many of them still call for a Jewish state on both sides of Jordan and for the expulsion of the Palestinians. In their eyes, all critics of Israeli policies are anti-Semites. A few years ago, the leaders of the French Jewish community were deeply offended when then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to begin his state visit to France in the company of Betarim and only afterward met with the community's official leadership.

Here is the link to the website of Betar's French division. The website itself is a bit hard to figure out, but I know this much: what I need, at least as much as any French Jew, is an "oulpan." An intensive Hebrew-language class taught in French, that would be ideal.

From what I can tell, Betar is a movement founded by Jabotinsky whose members are somewhat beyond "pro-Israel" as this term is usually understood. Given the history/stereotype of French-Jewish passivity in the face of anti-Semitism, it seems only fair that such a movement should exist, although I don't know enough about it to say whether I believe it is too radical for its/everybody's own good. But back to the Haaretz story:

After Ilan Halimi's murder last February, Betarim "captured" the Jewish streets in Le Marais and called for vengeance, adhering yellow stickers of the Jewish Defense League with that message on every available wall. Tribu KA [anti-Semitic gang] members picked up the gauntlet dropped by these Jewish fanatics and entered the neighborhood. "Where are the Betarim?" shouted the black cult thugs when they burst onto the Jewish streets. "We'll kill them and all of you," they screamed at Le Marais' alarmed residents. [insertion mine]

This all sounds awfully West Side Story, but a part of me is relieved to see that the Jews are fighting back. I can't help but think the fact that the state of Israel exists has something to do with the way things play out on the streets of Paris, both in terms of Muslim and Arab anti-Semitism and in terms of the confidence level behind the Jewish response. I fail to see, from the article alone, what makes Betar a "fanatical" group--they believe in a "greater Israel," just as their antagonists presumably would be happy to see Israel disappear from the map, neither of which is a moderate position. But if all they're doing in France is putting up stickers on walls, and have yet to torture someone from the opposing side, then I'm not sure if they can be called "fanatics." You have to look at the context. As Ben Simon himself points out, "
Thousands of Jews were forcibly removed from their homes here [in the Marais] 60 years ago by the Vichy authorities and were sent to transit camps, from which they were deported to death camps. The memories are still fresh, and the Jewish residents of this neighborhood still carry the scars from that era when the skies of France darkened." If this had happened, say, on the Upper West Side 60 years ago, I'd imagine there'd be a bit more "fanatical" sticker-posting and a bit less relaxed schmoozing over a Tasti d-lite.

As for the anti-Jewish gang-members, "
It is unclear what the cult wants. It has only a few hundred members who observe a cultic lifestyle, maintaining absolute secrecy on their operational methods. Their chief interest today is to beat the daylights out of the Betarim to show 'who's the boss on the block.'" I'm not sure what a "cultic lifestyle" is, other than proof that I need to take an "oulpan" and learn enough Hebrew not to rely on Haaretz's English edition.

The rest of the article describes the state of unrest in the French suburbs, which at least one suburban mayor,
Xavier Lemoine, sees as an "us versus them," with Jews as part of the "us." I mean, who knows. Islamic fundamentalism, glorification of Osama bin Laden, torturing random cellphone salesmen because they happen to be Jewish, all of this probably does conflict with French ideals, but part of what Lemoine minds is that immigrants wish to preserve their own culture. And Jews, at least those who go beyond being "of Jewish origin," tend also to want to do things differently. In theory, France permits this to a certain extent, but the Lemoines of France may not approve.

"I am a proud French Catholic and I have no intention of living as a 'dhimmi' (a non-Muslim enjoying protected status in a Muslim country - D.B.S.) in my own country. We are different from them, and these people do not represent France.".....

....[Lemoine] is sure the Muslim immigrants have declared war on France with the intention of bringing it to its knees. He considers the Jews allies in this confrontation. "I am pained by the thought that my country is ashamed of its culture and values. When France denies its own history and incessantly apologizes for slavery, for its conquests and for colonialism, is it any wonder that the immigrants are rising up against it and are showing no respect for it? Unfortunately, France has not demanded that they change. It has allowed them to speak Arabic and to cultivate their heritage at the expense of French culture."

While in this immediate situation, French Jews and "proud French Catholics" have a common enemy, Lemoine is confused if he sees Jews as on his side in general. Once France stops apologizing for its past injustice towards Arabs and Muslims, why not stop apologizing for its role in the Holocaust, a role France has only admitted relatively recently? But stepping back from Lemoine in particular, what interests me about the place of French Jews today is that they really are in a bind. Hated more than the proudly Catholic, "culturally-French" contingent by many in the Arab and Muslim communities, yet neither Catholic nor "French" in the sense that the Lemoines of the country would have it, they can side enthusiastically with neither "East" nor "West" in this conflict. For the time being, siding with the West may seem the way to go, moving east might also seem appealing.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Restaurant Salute

Tonight was the night. I finally got a hold of an unthinkably long noodle. That's right, for the first--and last--time ever, I sampled Bukharian cuisine, the cuisine of Central Asian Jews, neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic, profiled not long ago in the NYT Dining section. The particular restaurant I ate at, Rego Park's Restaurant Salute, is both kosher and Uzbek, was, as one might guess from this, both bland and odd. Tasty in a way, but if someone were to declare this his favorite type of cooking, I would suggest he get his tongue examined at Lourdes, and then go on to Paris to eat something, uh, not at all Bukharian.

We began with a garlicky, "Korean," shredded-carrot salad, which was either delicious or I was really hungry or both. We also got a giant, bowl-shaped, matzo-like bread which allegedly came from a tandoori oven, with caraway seeds baked into it, and which tasted rather matzo-like indeed. Randomly enough I'd had matzo for lunch (I like it best out-of-season) so I remembered quite well what "real" matzo is like, and slightly prefer what comes out of the box. Then I had some langman, a greasy and tasteless soup containing bits of red meat--kosher, but with not much else going for it--potatoes, and surprisingly normal-length noodles. The noodles were fine, but I'm not gonna lie, I was expecting them to be much longer. Then I had an Uzbek dumpling, with an oniony, beefy filling vaguely reminiscent of Indian food in ways I could only explain if I had a better knowledge of spices, but otherwise sort of like a watery kreplach. And finally, a ground-beef-and-lamb skewer, which I chose over the lamb-fat kebab, but which might as well have been given the same name.

During my brief time in Restaurant Salute, I observed the following:

An otherwise normal-looking woman, stuffing her face with a handful of raw onions.

An otherwise skanky-looking older couple, at a table with others around their age, pounding down the vodka, the man and his lacy-shirt-wearing wife pausing occasionally to burp each other and laugh.

The TV screen, set on an either Russian or otherwise former Soviet variety show, tacky and Borat-esque as all get-out but whatever, kitsch makes a nice change from hipster irony, but then all of a sudden the channel changed, and for a few good seconds there, the dance numbers were replaced by some hardcore pornography. The channel was soon corrected, but whoa. It's one thing, classiness-wise, for a restaurant to have TVs going in the first place; it's another entirely to see a woman's bare breasts and a heaving motion while you're just trying to order an unthinkably long noodle.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Worlds collide

Can it be? While both NYC on the whole and TriBeCa in particular have gotten awfully posh in recent years, I find this description of Stuyvesant hard to believe:

It’s the only school that’s ALL the way down there and close to a despicable and embarrassing Century 21, which every socialite has secretly and shamefully visited. Anyway , it is heaven for brilliant outcasts who are willing to use plastic things called Metrocards and experiment with other sexes as seen in New York Magazine. Among high contention form Flushing, Queens there are tons of rich kids who go on to make their liberal parents proud in Harvard and Yale, while partying on weekends with other kids of their own leveling. Famous alumni (besides multiple Noble Prize winners) are Lucy Liu, Tim Robbins and hot porn star Asia Carrera.

OK, some of this is true. The school is in fact downtown, is definitely "heaven for brilliant outcasts" (or, as Gary Shteyngart once put it, "a holding pen for nerds") and has students from both Flushing and upscale parts of Manhattan. As for the "willingness" to use Metrocards, I'm not sure anyone at the school sees this as a matter of choice. The sexual experimentation is of course an invention of New York Magazine. As for the "tons of rich kids who go on to make their liberal parents proud in [sic] Harvard and Yale, while partying with other kids of their own leveling," is it really now "tons"? There are a few private-school types in each class--rarely Harvard- or Yale-bound, however--which does help to make the school different from other public high schools in the city, which have none. But it's never a remotely "social" contingent in the sense that this list suggests, it's always the children of rich eccentrics, upper-middle-class far-leftists, parents whose openness to public schooling differs tremendously from that of their peers. I know of only one person other than myself who actually knew about socialites, who unlike me seemed to care about that society a great deal, but I never met him while at the school; he lasted a year or so, then transferred back to his private school. I wrote a short story in 11th grade with some characters who travelled in those circles, and my teacher found it bizarre that I'd have heard of that world. But who knows, it now costs a trillion dollars to live in a three-square-foot basement room in an unfashionable part of Staten Island, so maybe a school that was once several degrees away from socialitedom is now the next, err, Spence. Once again, Papua New Guinea awaits...

At the next table

At the sangria place this evening with Katherine, I overheard one of the two women at the next table ask, "So why, if you're not religious, are you so into Israel?" Or something like that. I of course turned around, no less so than if someone had asked, "Where'd you get that bright green vegan bag?" How many people in Nolita could this possibly have applied to?

The other of the two women then went on to explain how she'd moved to Jerusalem a couple years ago, how she'd come to want to do this, her ideology, and so on. Egocentrism quickly transitioned to curiousity, at which point I briefly spoke to these two women. Most of the story, though, I just got from overhearing their conversation. This woman-- not at all out of place in lower Manhattan, not someone I'd have even guessed was Jewish although I'll admit that I can rarely tell such things--had decided to leave the U.S. behind. Amazing the things you can hear if you just listen in to the folks one table over, not to mention how they are, often enough, connected.

Religiosity is the last acceptable excuse for parochialism. (Aptly enough.) If you choose to clump together with people like yourself because you need to be surrounded by those who pray to the same deity, feel equally horrified by gay marriage, to send your children to special schools for others of the group, then that's just faith, can't be argued with. Clumps based on race are, of course, "segregation," and thus both idiotic and problematic. Clumps based on class or sexual orientation are considered less than ideal but tolerable. But what of this other sort of clump, the one that makes this woman--not religious, sufficiently non-ethnic-looking for even the least P.C. issue of the J.Crew catalog--feel at home in Israel? That would be nationalism, which, in its simplest form, includes the desire to live in one's own nation. Jewish parochialism is, "I'll only chill with people who were in my youth group on Long Island." Nationalism is something else entirely.

Which brings me to Dylan's comment, re: the Wall Street Journal piece on Israel's decision to recognize only conversions to Judaism that take place in Israel. The stubbornness of the Israeli rabbinate is an issue of nationality versus citizenship. All Jews, in the Diaspora and in Israel, are part of the Jewish nation. How is "Jew" being defined? A Jew is one whose nationality (i.e. that mysterious bind neither racial nor cultural nor religious, a mix of some or all, but also something else entirely) is, at least in part, Jewish. All Jews are potential citizens of this nation, whose geographic location is the state of Israel, but not all with Jewish nationality wish to become citizens. Nationality and citizenship are both political categories, but citizenship involves responsibility and a higher level of identification.

For Israel to assert itself as not just the country with the most Jews, or the most Jewish country, but as the indisputable worldwide center of Judaism, the state needs to assert itself from time to time, not against the Palestinians, but against Diaspora Jews who want an equal share in determining Judaism but are unwilling to take on Israeli citizenship. This particular move--keeping plenty of honest-to-goodness Jews out of Israel when it's in Israel's interest to have them come--strikes me as silly. The motivation to make Israeli citizenship something a bit more extensive than just being a Jew makes sense; defining this religiously rather than through other forms of commitment does seem misguided.

The future of Judaism is in Israel. I don't claim to know anything about what it's "really like" to live in Israel, to be Israeli, to read from right to left with ease, but I know this much. In the Diaspora, all but the ultra-Orthodox will eventually marry out, die off. In Israel, everyone from the least religious to the most is aware of their Jewish identity and will pass it along to their children without having to make a point in doing so. This is just how it is. This explains why Israelis--at least those committed to a Jewish state-- might not be all that interested, as Dylan points out, in people like me. (This does not include heavily hair-gelled Israeli men who hang around the Village, East and West, whose interest in "people like me" seems not at all dependent on their opinions on the Diaspora versus Israel). People like me won't be around much longer, won't be much of a force to contend with. While a few last stragglers will throw money towards making Israel go one way or another, the grandchildren of these philanthropists will have only a vague recollection that their family once ate bagels a bit more often than other families did.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The JAP in history

Everyman is the result of a Philip Roth novel generator, and so I do hold this book against my all-time favorite author. However, a main character is named "Phoebe," which of course is a sign from the atheistic, culturally-Jewish, Zabars-fixated god above that Roth and I will one day meet. That said, Ernst Pawel's biography of Herzl is spectacular. I'd rather meet Herzl than Roth, but you take what you can get...

JAP, defined. And once more:

Lauren Kaminsky, 17, a senior at Roslyn High School, said her pre-prom to-do list included a bikini wax and leg wax to prepare her for the post-prom beach visit, a tradition at many schools in the New York suburbs.

Her mother, Kim Kaminsky, said she would pay for the entire regimen, which she estimated would cost more than $1,000.

"They are used to having the best," Kim Kaminsky said, referring to her daughter's circle of friends, who normally go for weekly manicures and pedicures. "They are all stressed out about having everything so perfect, whether it's the boy or the dress or the shoes or the jewelry or the hair — every little detail they are worried about."

I don't think it's appropriate for a serious newspaper to discuss a 17-year-old's personal waxing habits--minors ought not to be able to give consent, not to the waxing itself, but to discussing it with the whole world. Also unnecessary is an article pointing out that high-maintenance Long Island girls become especially ridiculous around prom time. If they failed to do so, that would of course be a sign of the apocalypse, and should be noted in all major newspapers if and when it happens.

Herzl accused his wife of Jappiness ("A" for "Austrian," but pardon the anachronism), and biographer Pawel seems to agree with his assessment. So Herzl decided to create Israel, so that Jewish men of future generations would not have to be subject to the whims and nags of women sporting lap dogs and Juicy Couture.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The greatest place on earth... without a doubt the Housing Works Used Book Cafe. Where else can you get biographies of Theodor Herzl, free condoms, and drinks either caffeinated or alcoholic, all in one gorgeous bookstore that would, were it not for the Herzl, lattes, and condoms, testaments to modernity, seem almost too charming. And, in case you're still not convinced, the proceeds all go to an AIDS charity. Can't argue with that.

Speaking (well, blogging) of things you can't argue with, just got back from Al Gore's envirofest, An Inconvenient Truth. When of course the inconvenient truth is that Gore didn't become president when thus elected, and the fact that the world's getting warmer, well, that's also a shame. As we left the theater, the first thing one of the UChicago cohort I was with said was, "el presidente." Amen.

As readers of this blog surely know by now, I'm one of the least enthusiastic Democrats/liberals around, but if there's one thing I'm certain of in American politics (other than the fabulousness of Mayor Giuliani, please don't make me call him "former") it's that we (Americans, the world) would be in a much better spot right now had Al Gore been president. This is not out of any particular love for Al Gore, but out of how things probably would have played out quite differently with him in office. Either 9/11 wouldn't have happened, because with these "ifs" you can never know, but if it had, Gore would have had to respond, and thus "responding to terrorism" wouldn't have come to be associated with "being a far-right, socially-conservative sub-cretin." "Pro-Israel" wouldn't have come to mean "fundamentalist Christian or Jewish neoconservative." Or something like that. In any case, it was sort of depressing to see Gore going through airport security like a normal person when dammit he should fly Air Force One.

That said, before I read and respond to any reviews of the film, my reaction:

1) It is kinda sorta an ad for Apple. Gore has a really beautiful silver laptop. I don't. I want one!

2) It would have been nice to see some meaningful counterargument. While by no means as painful as Michael Moore's indictment of "the current administration" in Fahrenheit 9/11, Gore's movie succeeds in making opponents look absurd, but never addresses where these opponents are coming from, other than greed, willful ignorance, and so on. Even if the movie's conclusion is that these are in fact the motives of Gore's opponents, presumably they themselves present a different story, and hearing that story would have only helped Gore's case.

3) The movie has this "science for idiots" quality that struck me as somehow familiar. Aha, now I remember. Physci! I was half expecting to be shuttled off to a lab to perform some kind of experiement specially tailored to humanities majors, one which I would nevertheless be incapable of figuring out.

Friday, June 02, 2006


I'm fascinated by this story in Spiked (via Arts and Letters Daily) about how Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie essentially run Namibia. The Brangefetus was to be born in Namibia, and so the nation let the Brangentity decide who could and couldn't enter the country. Writes Brendan O'Neill: "It is as if two absolute monarchs had arrived for a state visit to Namibia, rather than a couple of actors who haven’t even made a good film between them for at least five years." Not to mention two actors who aren't, well, Namibian.

But, wouldn't you know it, the same thing totally happened to me. I am not bringing this story back to myself just to be a narcissistic blogger, but also because this really did happen to me. Just replace "Namibia" with "a few blocks on the Upper East Side" and "Brangelina" with "the pope," and that about covers it. I was trying get home from school, but I couldn't because the pope was driving (pope-mobiling?) around the area and the streets surrounding my building were blocked off. It's entirely possible I've told this story before on WWPD--it is one of my better ones, and it happened well before I started this blog--but it is nevertheless relevant here. There ought to be a limit to celebrity power. And in this context, the pope does count as a celebrity. In the Vatican or other specifically Catholic settings he is holy or something like this, but on the East 60s or 70s, he's a man like any other, perhaps with a few more bodyguards than most, but with no divine right to prevent atheist Jewish teenagers from getting home on time to watch "Designing Women."

Relatedly, I just joined a facebook group called "First-World Problems," the most notable of which is something like, my small dog finds the temperature in my apartment uncomfortable. There's a whole list of them, so check out the UChicago facebook if you're curious. Not being able to return to one's home on the Upper East Side as quickly as one would like, due to a visiting dignitary, has to be the best first-world problem of them all.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Overheard out my window

"...but the DNA proved that it's his son..."--one woman to another. Not sure how I feel about first-floor Brooklyn living.