Sunday, December 31, 2006

Next year in Jerusalem

I've just streamlined what I'm bringing to Israel. One book on Zionism, not two. One possibly non-working European (aka correct-plug-having, multi-voltage) hair iron rather than one effective American one that would have required some kind of voltage conversion. (Does Israel accept voltage conversion performed by reformed adapters, or only orthodox ones? Why do I even try to be amusing after 4 am?). One dress for "Shabbat and going out," rather than one dress for Shabbat and one for going out, since I had no sense of which would be which, anyway. I eliminated the University of Chicago "butt shorts," because pictures from the program go online, and there's no way to indicate that you are wearing something ironically under such circumstances. These photographs are, needless to say, also my reason for taking a hair-depoufing device to a trip that apparently involves such things as camel-riding and swimming.

And goodness, it's New Years! Next year in Jerusalem, indeed.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

"I'm so worried about what's happening today, in the Middle East, you know." --Monty Python song, "I'm so worried"

Very soon, I will be bli machshev, bli (working) pelephone, and bli gvinah tsarfatit, the mainstays of my life here in the States. Although I do periodically threaten to move to Israel--whenever I read an especially convincing passage in something by Herzl or Hertzberg, whenever I'm expected to take an astrophysics exam, etc.-- this will only be for ten days. I'll be back, studying Zionism from afar, in no time.

I'm excited to go to Israel. As everyone who knows me knows, this trip is a long time coming. However, I'm also scared as hell, mainly because it's a while since I've gone anywhere further away than Montreal, and that many hours on a plane, yikes! Other concerns:

1) I will forget to pack something crucial: A trip to Duane Reade, a stop at Bobst to pick up the requisite Zionistic literature, and a very brief moment in Radio Shack or similar for an adapter should do the trick. Passport: crucial. American pelephone: also crucial, for when I return and want to call people at 5:20 am and let them know I'm back.

2) I will have to go into some kind of underground tunnel: There are photos of this from previous Birthright trips, some kind of adventure that looks a bit too much like how I picture the mines from Germinal. Just as Ladies' Paradise made me fear department stores, Zola's book on miners made me fear narrow enclosed spaces.

3) Given the amount of time I spend on NYC public transportation, I am not especially worried about terrorism for this trip as opposed to on any normal day. Although Saddam Hussein was just killed, which could lead to who knows what, retaliation-wise. Not that Israel killed him, but my sense of how these things work is that Israel, Jews, French Jews, and so forth tend to be held responsible for all actions taken by America specifically or the West in general. So add terrorism to my list of concerns as well.

I know the trip will be amazing. But as a Jew of the Diaspora, forgive me for approaching things a bit more like Woody Allen or George Costanza than would be ideal.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rules of attraction

I was about to respond to two different posts in two different posts, then realized that they're on much the same topic: should the personal be the political? From a Jewish perspective, should one go out of one's way to date and marry other Jews, and under which circumstances (and from which Jewish perspective)? And from a left-wing, open-minded, American perspective, is it racist to say that there are entire races you do not find sexually attractive?

I will say this up front: I believe Jewish concern over intermarriage in the United States is missing the mark. It is in fact a good thing that secular American Jews feel more American than Jewish and are considered as such by those around them. For observant Jews, it's another matter. But as for the Jews Laya of Jewlicious speaks of, who advocate marrying other Jews "just because," they are the reason the Portnoys and Singers of the world so delight in flaunting the non-Jewishness of their partners.

Jewish continuity is either religious or national in nature, and all the education programs in the world aren't going to reverse Western secularism. So what's left is Israel. If you care enough about Jewish continuity but do not wish to become religious, move to Israel, where you're far more likely to marry a Jew, and where you will not be forced to come up with reasons for why your children should do the same. If you stay in America and are not observant, you have no right to expect either yourself or anyone around you to marry another Jew.

Jewish nationhood should not be dependent upon secular American Jews being made to feel separate from the rest of the country, to think it's lovely when an African-American and an Italian-American couple off, but despicable when a Jew intermarries. No, America and Israel are different things for Jews--in America, we should be allowed to embrace universalism, and in Israel, we should have the option of particularism, of promoting one's own. If Israel did not exist, perhaps I'd suggest something else. But it does, and the burden's on those who care to hop over there, not on those who don't care to all of a sudden see the light, or to pair off with the wrong people out of guilt from years of being told to marry a Jew "just because."

Now, onto race. Pam Spaulding at Pandagon quotes a gay man who on some message board apparently said the following:

"I personally am not racist but I don’t date black people. Nothing against black people, I’m just not attracted to them. The same reason I don’t date woman. I’m not attracted to them."

Spaulding responds as follows:

"Given the range of what 'black' looks like, how can this person make a blanket statement about all black people when it comes to dating? Is it a matter of perceived physical features (many blacks who can pass for some other ethnicity), a perceived cultural difference ('all blacks are poor or into thug culture'), etc."

This response brings up an obvious counterargument: Given the range of what "woman" looks like, how can a gay man make a blanket statement about the features of all women when it comes to dating? A gay man does not want to sleep with a very butch woman any more than a very feminine one, although he may well have female friends across the spectrum.

While sexual orientation is typically framed as a preference for men, women, or both, it is in fact a spectrum of attraction to different degrees of masculinity and femininity within one's preferred sex or sexes, not to mention one's degree of attraction to any number of other traits, many of which are impossible to articulate, but some of which can be easily enumerated. Plus, there's the automatic sorting people do in which they eliminate from the list of potential partners those far less or far more conventionally attractive than themselves. A simple test, for the New Yorkers among you: sit on the subway and look around, and go over the reasons you are not sexually attracted to every last person in the car.

To sum up: we like what we like. Education can do something in making Jews care about dating other Jews (mainly, though, in the realm of making it so that Jews meet other Jews at an age when they're looking to pair off), and education can help to make Americans more racially tolerant, but on an individual level, you cannot possibly be happy unless you are with someone you consider, for whatever reasons, immensely attractive.

Pauvres chiens de race!

Masafumi Yamamoto for The New York Times

Poor dachshunds! It's horrible that the fabulous little dogs of Japan are so inbred that they are often enough "genetically defective sister and brother puppies born with missing paws or faces lacking eyes and a nose." This is a news story that requires a response from the blogosphere's expert in all things Japanese and dachshund-related.

Infrequently Asked Questions about my upcoming trip to Israel:

Does the fact that (hundreds of) trip photos go online for all to see mean that I should, contrary to my impulse, bother purchasing an adapter so I can make sure my hair looks fabulous while I'm away?

Does the fact that (hundreds of) trip photos go online, etcetera, mean that I should be especially careful in the upcoming bathing-suit shopping excursion, or that I should float in the Dead Sea in something more, uh, Orthodox.

Will there be a place to purchase copious amounts of Herzl paraphernalia?

How worried should I be about this?

Can I live for ten days without the Internet?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Maltz, the new Prada

This picture from Gawker is awesome. Who cares about socialite rank--I want a scarf that says Maltz Maltz!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Don't they know it's still Christmas?

And the celebrations continue. The NYUers, ex-Stuyvesantians and company had some Vietnamese food in Chinatown, then drinks on the Lower East Side. I took a picture or two, but mainly of the bizarre Christmas decorations at Max Fish, a bar whose bizarre decorations can't really get much stranger than the usual.

New York on Christmas is not much of an occasion to ask why this day is not like any other.

Don't they know it's Christmas?

Last night I ended up at the "Heeb" festivus party, for lack of a better way of describing it, with Jewlicious, etc. There will be photos, once I'm in the same borough as my camera cord. There may be other photos with me in them, but this I cannot directly control, so we shall see.

The party was surprisingly fun, considering it was a) a singles' event, and b) an attempt to provide Jews with something as meaningful as Christmas Eve, when there's really no way a room full of leering men is ever going to achieve the same status in our society as a family sitting 'round the hearth. (Insert obligatory paper on the remarkably similar role of Jews and gays in Proust and elsewhere in literature). But a gin and tonic beats a hearth any day, and a singles' party is perhaps best enjoyed if you are not, in fact, single, and can thus take a more anthropological approach the the proceedings.

I will say this much: Jewish continuity would not be an issue--and, relatedly, there would be no "Jewish singles' scene"-- if people would just drink, for god's sake! (Or G-d's sake, if you'd prefer.) Ms. "I'll have a diet Coke and a water" is not going to find any of the aforementioned leering men worthy of leering back at. Other communities are not better-looking or more socially capable, they just know which situations call for a drink or ten.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Annie Hall"

Of all places in this huge and rainy world of ours, among the least heterocentric ought to be New York's West Village. And yet... When I got to the Film Forum tonight, as I purchased my ticket to "Annie Hall," I was informed that this was the last one. Knowing that fellow IFSer Charlotte was just down the street, I explained that my friend would be there soon. I kept saying, "My friend, she's just down the street," but the ticket salesmen insisted my friend was a "he" and wanted a description of what "he" looked like. I wouldn't have made a fuss about it, but to get her the ticket, I did need to describe who she was so that she could get in once I'd saved her a seat, and her being a "she" is one of the more ways of describing her, as gender is for the great majority of people. Is it that inconceivable that two women might go to a movie together on a Friday night? Is the "I like boys" sign still as visible as ever?

As for "Annie Hall" itself... it seemed the perfect pre-Israel-trip movie, a look at diaspora Judaism at its most self-loathing before encountering the "Jewry of muscle" Nordau dreamed of and Herzl and so many others gave their lives to provide with a country. But for all the despicable things it may stand for, "Annie Hall" is evidence that Woody Allen is, at times, quite brilliant:

Alvy Singer: I think, I think there's too much burden placed on the orgasm, you know, to make up for empty areas in life.
Pam: Who said that?
Alvy Singer: It may have been Leopold and Loeb.

That, and it's an amazing story about New York. One that makes perfect sense even in 2006.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What am I gonna wear?

In only a matter of time, I will be exercising my birthright. Not the right to return--I intend to return to New York after a ten-day "return" to Israel. Going through the winter packing list, it occurs to me that I do not own several of the items listed. Long skirts pose a problem, as do bathing suits, which I suppose means I can't claim a religious opposition to going swimming.

In also-important news, I'm just about done, need to physically hand one more paper in after reading it over once more, sometime in the next month, and am thus on a television binge this evening. John Cleese is now on "Will and Grace," and just said, "Thank you, Manuel," to Rosario, an inside joke for those who enjoy both "Fawlty Towers" and "Will and Grace," for those whose drug of choice is television. That, and my classmates are moving into Film Forum this vacation, which just showed "Jules et Jim" and is about to start showing Woody Allen movies like there's no tomorrow. If all goes according to plan, I will get to see the "Dissent and Commentary merged and formed Dysentary" joke on the big screen.

Once sufficient time has been spent in front of sitcoms I've already seen and movie's I've already seen, but not quite as many times, more substantive blogging just might begin.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Only simchas, no random play

Who are "singles"? NYU is hosting an event for Jewish "singles," complete with speed-dating, and facebook suggests that the singles in question are college students. Not that college students are generally married or anything, and not that I have anything against the event itself, but I wouldn't say undergrads could possibly count as "singles." To be a single, you have to be old enough that it's not creepy for you to date a grown-up, say, a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. To be a "single," you have to be not just unmarried but anxious to change the situation. You have to earn enough to participate in singles-oriented activities. College, at least at places other than the one I have experience with, is supposed to be about random and regrettable experiences. Which leaves what, exactly? Perhaps a segment of the NYU undergrad population is looking to settle down, mirroring the 30-to-50 set a few miles uptown. Perhaps, relatively speaking, the University of Chicago is debauched.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

French grad students DO get fat

At 9:30 am tomorrow I will handwrite for 2 1/2 hours on 19th century French history. Coffee and similar would help with the studying, but not so much with the sleeping that had better follow. So dinner #2 here I come.

I think the time has come to pray to all the many divinities I do not believe in that the test will be on Hausmannization, Ladies' Paradise, liberalism, and (please, please!) Third Republic Jews. These are among the trillion possible topics. It's just as likely the test will be on non-French-speaking French peasants, about whom I, as a many-generation noble, know little.

Better get back to those peasants...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And then there were three

One final out of four is done, and our professor just assured us that none of us did badly enough on it to be thrown out of the program. That is a good thing. Also good--the wine and cheese event for the French Department, which followed (bien sur!) the Champagne and cookies event at the French Studies Department. I'm not going to say who or in what context, but at one point at the party, someone made reference to wanting to go "drink a cigarette." That's when you know definitively that you're at a French department party. That, or when you see a certain blogger piling her plate high with what was either brie or camembert. Now, it's time to immerse myself in 19th century France, before returning to the 18th and 21st. The time has come. Starting... now!

My first NYU finals-- how very Olsen! Except not at all.

Various factors, not the least of which is finals, have led to a bit of a lapse in blogging. Now the sitemeter informs me my only visitors are those Google-responding to the spam "French porn" comments in the archives. But let me reassure those of my original readers who may still be on board, the cause of Francophilic Zionism does not suffer. Au contraire, nachon? I'm writing two papers on French Jews, one on the 18th century variety, who were just Jews in France, not French Jews, and another on the current set, who are moving away from an "Israelite" French identity and embracing an Israeli one. So, things are coming full circle. History is repeating itself, but it's the first time around that looks a whole lot more like farce.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Faites attention aux mots

My big fuss about Dunkin Donuts's linguistic mishaps brings up the point that Euro McDonalds alternative, despite being Belgian (and Wikipedia doesn't lie), presumably targeted at the anti-America consumer of fast food, yet is called "Quick" and neither "Vite" nor the equivalent in any other non-English European language. I was going to blog about this a few days ago, after the relevant conversation, but here you go.

The moral of the story is that we all want to be what we are not, and we express this desire by ordering our fast food in foreign languages. Or, that coffee sounds better in anything but English, whereas fast food is only recognizable in American.

The other, more relevant moral of the story is the impending explication de texte, the last for some time. Clearly my attention a chaque mot will come in handy!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Oh, the fluidity of gender!

I feel like this was a discussion in the blogosphere I took part in a while ago, but I'm too tired/busy/bored to find it in the archives. But here goes--women aren't as funny as men. There, toss it out for all to see, and sit back and let the angry responses flow in. This time around, it's the esteemed Christopher Hitchens giving it a go. What I've concluded from Hitchens's piece is that I am not a woman. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, nevermind, I'm a dude. Here's the supporting evidence:

"Men will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is—or they are—extremely stupid. Women aren't like that."

I not only nearly collapsed laughing watching the "Borat" cheese sketch, in which he asks again and again what different things are in the supermarket, all of which turn out to be cheese, but I watched the YouTube video again and again, with an equally enthusiastic reaction each time.

Hitchens' point is remarkably graphic, and brings about that other popular blogospheric debate: a man says, "Women don't like sex," a woman says, "Yeah we do," and man #2 says, "Shut up, silly woman." Hitchens once more:

"If you can stimulate her to laughter—I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. I shall not elaborate further.

Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift."

I do enjoy the subtlety. This would be lost only on that one girl who, in 5th grade health class, was genuinely distraught to learn that a penis goes into a vagina, or perhaps that such a thing as a penis exists, period. So Hitchens is saying, in case this wasn't clear, that laughter spreads a woman's legs, whereas men require no coaxing whatsoever. Further proof that I am, in fact, a man: I have not once had impure thoughts about George Costanza, who is the funniest entity ever created, and yet Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi, who's not all that amusing, falls more under the category of if you catch my drift. Yeah, for a man-liking, eyeliner-wearing, bra-needing individual, I'm quite the dude.

Is the 18th Century paper ever, ever, going to reach its conclusion so as to allow me to do, I don't know, anything else whatsoever?

Yes it is.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"But first, a glass of this fine Champagne"

The difference between being a French Studies graduate student and whatever it is you do for a living is that I just came back to the building to do some reading, stopped to chat with some classmates, and all of a sudden was handed a glass of Champagne for a reception I wasn't even aware was happening.

In other news, I just got the latest Stuyvesant alumni newsletter, and for some procrastinatory reason, decided to read it more or less cover to cover. Turns out that a member of the class of 1960-something is, in fact, the University of Chicago's new president. GO STUY! GO CHICAGO! Go any institution with which I've ever been affiliated. Go unexpected Champagne at 4pm.

And, back to work.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Francophonic Zionism

Having found a way to make a paper about early 18th century France somehow about Jewish nationalism, it's probably time to call it a night. (So as to get up early and, you know, fix the paper.) That said, here's a fun article that's an open letter from an Israeli, Claude Sitbon, to French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal. Sitbon calls for a new French policy regarding the Middle East, which is all well and good, but more interestingly calls for Israel to be included in something called the "International Francophone Organization (OIF)." Oyf, indeed!

Sitbon notes that Israel is "a country where about 1 million French-speakers live"--does this mean people who can conjugate "faire," or people whose first language is French? Beyond the often-cited numbers on the French aliyah, plus whichever Francophone Jews may have gone directly from North Africa to Israel, I'm almost certain I've heard both French Jews and Israelis comment on how much French you hear these days in Israel, more than Hebrew in some places, it seems. But can Israel be considered a Francophone country? If so, the possibilities for what research I could do under the header of French and French Studies have just expanded exponentially.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


I've got to love any article that begins like this:

"There’s a case to be made that the single most intellectually and politically influential neighborhood in the United States is Chicago’s Hyde Park."

Whee!!! Thank you, Christopher Hayes, of "In These Times." Hayes continues, giving a mostly fair description of the neighborhood:

"Integrated, affluent and quiet, the 1.6 square-mile enclave on the city’s south side is like a tiny company town, where the company happens to be the august, gothic, eminently serious University of Chicago. Students at the U. of C. sell T-shirts that read “Where Fun Goes To Die,” and the same could be said of the neighborhood, which until very recently had a bookstore-to-bar ratio of 5:2."

It turns out, alas, that what makes Hyde Park influential isn't the many, remarkably perceptive French major/blogger/Maroon columnists, but in fact the pro-market school of economics Chicago is known for. The Chicago School. The article comes out against this worldview. So be it. I'm just thrilled to bits by the first sentence.

Friday, December 01, 2006

"The Running of the Jew"

"But the seeds of anti-Semitic sentiment were planted in rural communities where no Jews existed, let alone Jewish usurers, by the Church, whether in cathechism or during the Easter services....At Las and youths executed the striking the stalls and church pavement with sticks. Elsewhere members of the congregation set up a din with rattles and heavy stamping, extinguishing candles (representing Jews), or burned Jews in effigy, in fires lit in the cemetery or (in Alsace) communal pyres. According to Charles Beauquier, in Franche-Comte at the end of the [19th] century the faithful went to Maundy Thursday service armed with a wooden mallet. 'At a certain passage of the service, the priest throws his book to the ground, and then everyone strikes repeated blows on the stalls and on the chairs. This is called tuer les Juifs.'"

--Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen, p. 39-40

L'Academie Anglaise de Dunkin Donuts

There's a problem with the new Dunkin Donuts commercial. It begins with a sort of musical number, all these people are in a coffee bar, confused by all the many options. The song is something like "Chocamochalattacappo...Is it French or is it Italian, maybe it's Fretalian." Then the switch to showing someone drinking a Dunkin Donuts Latte, which, the commercial's voice-over assures us, you can order in English. I guess the point of this commercial is to emphasize the all-American down-to-earth blandness of the Dunkin brand, by purging the coffee vocabulary of all non-English words. But then what's Dunkin doing making a product called a latte?