Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Nom du restaurant: Le nom

To use Seinfeldian discourse: What's with "Lucky Chicken" on 1st Avenue? Why would one of those disgusting chicken places choose to call itself that? Isn't ending up at Lucky Chicken about the least lucky thing that could happen to a chicken?

Also problematic: the very fabulous Thai place in Chelsea Market had a special, a soup, and the description claimed its broth would be the best broth you'd ever "tested". Much like the "tasted bagel," this serves to show the importance the English language apparently places on vowels.


It's snowing! And my boyfriend just won a snowball fight "duel" with another grad student from his building, thus bringing Belgium honor for years to come.

In other news, the day began on a bad note (nearly dropped an entire cup of water on one of my professors; then nearly did the same on my--closed, thankfully--computer; key word is "nearly") but has much improved. I'm sitting in soon on a class taught by none other than Professor Pierre Birnbaum, expert on all things French and Jewish. This is very exciting!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Grad school update

On Saturday night I went out with the usual French Studies girls/ science guys crew, which would not be of much interest, except to those studying gender disparities in the academy, were it not for the following:

Fellow grad student Uri wants me to let WWPD readers know that, contrary to my concerns, Israel in fact has a better selection of French cheeses than does the United States, and that, moreover, Israeli cheese is just as good. I'm more convinced by the former argument, but there you have it.

Also at this party, I spoke at length (and in French!) with a girl who is a French Jew, about, well, French Jews. The educational aspects of being a grad student never end, even at a DJed party, even after I've had a whole cup of wine.

Moving onto Sunday night, an IFS trip to see "The L Word" at Cattyshack turned into Jo, Sarah and me going to watch the lesbian soap opera. I ran into a girl I've known since I was little, out with a bunch of fellow UChicago alums, as well as some fellow bloggers, confirming that I can't go anywhere in this city without running into people I know. Also confirmed, I remain of absolutely no interest to lesbians, although this time around, the presence of my boyfriend may have had an impact.

Moving onto right now, Clementine and I are going to learn all about World War I. It was pretty great, but I'm sure there was more to it...


There was just a suicide bombing at a bakery in Eilat. Rather than a simple condemnation of suicide bombing, since I was just in Eilat, I can better make this point with some photos of the area where people were just murdered. First, a view from the hotel I was at, which overlooked, among other things, the Fawlty Towers Motel. Next, a mall in Eilat, in which a man with remarkable hair himself demonstrated hair equipment. And finally, the border with Egypt.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Recently, Jo was telling me about how his cousin's boyfriend, a cop in Antwerp, enjoys arresting people for jaywalking. I was in Antwerp several years ago, and was yelled at once for taking a picture inside a minimalist boutique, but don't remember anything about jaywalking. Given that I'm a New Yorker, I'm sure it happened. In any case, I had, in the back of my mind, that if ever in Antwerp again, I'd better wait for the light.

Since I'm not planning any trips to Belgium in the immediate future (chains Pain Quotidien and Petite Abeille are another story), it wasn't on the top of my list of concerns. I ought to have blogged about it, however, on the off-chance that The Sartorialist reads WWPD, as it could have saved him some trouble. Jo checked, and the cop in question was not his cousin's boyfriend, so this was a medium-sized, not big, coincidence.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Le Reg me manque toujours!

While not as well-known as my activities in the field of Francophilic Zionism, I am involved with a movement so important that it has its own Facebook group: Keep UChicago Nerdy. For those similarly inclined, I point you to Rita's fabulous post on UChicago President (and Stuyvesant alum) Zimmer's attempt to make the U of C less, well, nerdy. This, from a Stuyvesantian? Surprising... but then again, not really. The one thing Stuyvesant is more than nerdy is rankings-conscious. And it's sort of fair--why not make our alums employable?--but it's also more than a bit lame. Every day I thank the tree spirit to which I pray that I chose Chicago over another, far frattier school which tends to hold a similar spot on the US News list. Chicago might get a few more apps if less nerdy, but it might lose the people who make it what it is.

Why this, why now? Something about the painfully cold weather and spending the day at the library, reading a bunch with breaks for WWPD, makes me nostalgic for the bleak yet productive days of college.

Stirring up controversy

My post on Jewlicious,"Birthrate Israel", in which I discuss Birthright as it relates to the more general problem with turning Judaism into one big repopulation scheme has angered some and impressed others. I stand by what I wrote, and am reposting it below:

Much of the point of events geared at young American Jews– “young” loosely defined as 14 to menopause– is the production of Jewish babies. Such a goal, however worthy one considers Jewish continuity, can be a bit of a turn-off to those Jews wishing to learn about some aspect of Judaism (the Hebrew language, Jewish history, Israeli politics, etc.) but not, for whatever reasons, looking. Check out a 92nd Street Y or JCC catalog, and you will soon understand that “Jewish events” are “Jewish singles’ events,” not in the sense that people meet one another all over the place, but in a very specific, planned, manner. Jewish talks and classes are often geared towards dating and marriage, or, at the very least, some kind of wallowing in singledom.

Birthright Israel is no exception: as Oranim head honcho Momo Lifshitz makes abundantly clear, “It’s all about the love.” Not the love that spontaneously occurs between two people who just happen to have met on the subway, at a party, or even on Jdate or Birthright; not the forbidden love of someone of the “wrong” sex or ethnicity; but the highly-encouraged, stamped-kosher love of a boy and a girl who, after hearing Momo’s charismatic speech, seeking out some form of pseudoparental approval (many of our actual parents do, in fact, just want us to be happy), and duly hook up. After endless hours of travel, when the newly-arrived Oranim kids sat hungry and exhausted in an auditorium, Momo criticized a group of us for sitting “girl, girl, girl, girl,” rather than “girl, boy, girl, boy.” We were, in other words, instructed not to waste any time. Momo also let us know that any couple who marries after meeting on one of these trips will receive a free honeymoon in Israel. A friend of mine at NYU said she’d been discussing my trip with some people while I was away, and that they’d been joking that we get some kind of material incentives to marry or reproduce. She was surprised to learn that this is the truth.

After Momo’s initial words, what followed were, interspersed with an otherwise exciting (certainly for those of us long-obsessed with Zionism) and educational trip through Israel, various attempts at encouraging American Jewish undergrads to couple off in scenery familiar to them. At club night events in both Tel Aviv and Eilat, the Oranim groups interacted with few Israelis, had little sense of being in Israel as opposed to, say, Naperville, Illinois, wore North Face, striped-button-down-shirts, or stiletto-designer jeans combos seen everywhere in the US, and basically recreated American frat parties, except that whichever babies or STDs resulted would be Jewish babies or STDs, goddamn it!

The problem with Birthright (or at least the version I experienced) as it currently exists is the level of desperation. One can’t help but wonder, if Israel’s such a great country, then why do people have to pay us to go visit it? If Jewish women are so beautiful, as Momo keeps insisting, then why do Jewish men have to be told to notice this? As I see it, Israel’s existence is incredible, much of Israel itself is gorgeous, Jews are no better- or worse-looking than any other group of people on the planet, while Israelis are, arguably, better-looking than others, thanks to some combination of salad-consumption, sun, and time in the IDF. But constant, in-your-face nagging that you’d better like Israel, that you better not fall to the temptation of non-Jews (implication being, non-Jews are more attractive but it’s a sacrifice we must make…), is off-putting enough to make those who previously had no feelings either way run off to become (as did George Costanza, much to his mother’s chagrin) Latvian Orthodox.

So what’s the alternative?

Visiting Israel is an amazing experience if you know the history of the state and something about the Diaspora history preceding the state’s creation. Give the Birthright participants a sense of this history (something our tour guide, Yael, did an incredible job of), and do not specifically prevent hook-ups from occurring along the way, but do not repeat, again and again, that this is your reason for being in Israel. College and graduate school are not specifically about sex and marriage, but plenty of those result from both. So let Birthright be the same.

Either the goal of Jewish life is to allow and encourage those who want to take part to do so–this involves religious and cultural activities as well as defending Israel and the Jewish people–or it is to make more Jews, period. Some would say both. I would say it ought to be the former–I care very much that Jews are able to exist peacefully and freely as such both in Israel and in the Diaspora, and part of freedom is the freedom to decide how much you care if your descendants are Jews. Jews in America are not free if we feel compelled to produce Jewish offspring merely to stick it to the anti-Semites, then and now. And moreover, among the non-observant, the only way to ensure with any degree of certitude that you will have Jewish offspring who will, in turn, do the same, is to leave New Rochelle or Brooklyn or Skokie and–get this–move to Israel. I’ve made this point before, but here goes:

In America, there is no way, short of living in a closed, strictly orthodox community, to guarantee that your children will fall in love with only other Jews. Nor should there be–the beauty of America is that everyone, regardless of ethnicity, can be an American. So if you think it’s beautiful when an American man of Chinese ancestry marries a woman who recently immigrated from Ghana, you should find it equally charming when a man whose ancestors hail from the Pale of Settlement runs off with a Peruvian-American woman (or man, for that matter). If, on the other hand, you think it’s great that America does things this way, but you’d prefer to do things another way, if you believe that the Jewish people as a distinctive people must continue to exist, you have a choice: become ultra-orthodox and pray that your children don’t think to do otherwise, or move to Israel. Those are the options. Once we accept this, we can start having Jewish events that are not singles’ events, we can stop obsessing over why all those Jewish men on the Upper West Side seem so keen on Asian women, we can get rid of the neurotic cultural Judaism of Rhoda Morgenstern (obscure reference? think Woody Allen but female) and we can allow both religious and national forms of Judaism to flourish.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pants, the photographic edition

So, for ck and others curious about the aforementioned pants, here you go. The poster would be much appreciated--where do they come from???

WWPD celebrity sighting of the day:

Chris Noth, aka "Mr. Big," in a North Face puffy jacket, accepting a flyer from a LaRouche supporter, University Place, around 1PM.

An ode to my new pants

On Birthright Israel, there isn't a lot of unstructured time. While this nearly led to me kicking the caffeine habit once and for all, it didn't leave many opportunities to buy, well, anything. I'd wanted to get a poster of Theodor Herzl, but there was time neither to visit the Herzl Museum nor to further investigate what the man in front of said museum told me, that they do not sell such posters. Alas! But we did have several of our meals in malls around the country. On one such occasion, the group's fellow NYUer Shira and I raced through a Tel Aviv shopping center in search of uniquely Israeli clothing, if not Lost Time.

At a very fabulous store called No Name, I purchased a sweater (mainly for sanitary reasons--the one I'd brought wasn't in such great shape after the flight plus several hikes), a really massive scarf, and... a pair of gigantic pants! They fit in the waist, then grow progressively larger until they reach a point of amazing enormousness! They are by no means flares or bell-bottoms, and are too flattering, if I do say so myself, to be raver or goth pants. They are, ahem, army green, and just plain awesome.

I picked the pants up from the tailor yesterday, and so my trip last night to the computer lab, to finish and print the Dreyfus paper, was the pants' debut. Fitting, given that, without the Affair, there might well never have been Israel, and thus no giant Israeli pants. Alfred, you did not suffer in vain! Also fitting (unlike, alas, my pants)-- I ran into Shira at the computer lab! While Jo (who deserves credit for alerting me to Shira's presence in the lab, as well as for being seen in public with me when I wear pants that are not so much in style in NYC these days) is surely impressed by my new, gigantic Israeli pants, Shira and I had been discussing them since before I'd even found them, so this was an exciting moment indeed.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What's going on here?

Between over a semester of French grad school and a trip to Israel with an emphasis on the idea that Israel is home, I haven't been feeling all that American these days. Add to this the fact that few people I interact with on a regular basis are American (make that native-born American, and it becomes remarkably few), and so, cosmopolitan Jew that I am, I've lost touch. It's bad--Elliot Spitzer was on TV maybe a week ago, there was some reference to his being governor of New York, and I had seriously had no idea, I'd have said the governor of New York was Pataki. And now it appears that there will at some point be a choice before me: Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. This is assuming I don't once again become interested in US politics and, in a fit of neoconservatism, "change teams" prior to the primaries.

Although I truly did used to be quite plugged in, alas, all I can think of now is that I'm going to have to decide whether America is more in need of seeing that a woman can be president or that a black man can do so. I'm sure there's more to it--from my more with-it days, I vaguely recall that Clinton's more of a moderate and Obama's more on the left (Clinton: 1, Obama: 0), but it has long since annoyed me that Hillary is seen as this great symbol of feminism, when her name is known because she happens to have married a man who himself was president. Lame, regardless of how much help she gave him. (Clinton: 0, Obama: 1).

That's it for my thoughts on American politics for the time being. A return to things I actually know about will follow.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I live to surprise:

You'd never, ever guess what I'm doing this evening. I am... writing a paper about the Dreyfus Affair! You'd never guess what I had for dinner... pasta!

More substantive blogging may follow, but first, a rendezvous with mon capitain...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Harbeh dvarim

WWPD remains, but do its readers? Who can say. But before I launch back into coursework (Proust for one class, Dreyfus for another, add some Camembert and I'm in heaven!), a post:

1) Just spotted a man who may well have been my Philosophical Perspectives prof. from UChicago, one Eric Schliesser. In front of Joe, the coffee shop on Waverly Place. When in doubt, I make a policy of not saying anything, but if it was in fact Professor Schliesser, hi!

2) Speaking of things scholarly, another academic friend of WWPD just emailed me the best article ever to appear in The Onion, which is saying something.

3) Speaking of amusing articles, a close second to the one from The Onion is Charles Murray's three-part series on why the idiots of this country should remain uneducated and should not waste everyone's time with a six-year drinking and gonorrhea-spreading event known as college. Agreed--let the idiots repair our air-conditioners and mop our libraries while we closely study La Recherche. But how are we to determine just who these idiots may be? Murray likes to go by IQ--but isn't the main problem re: education that plenty of intelligent people, due to the circumstances of their birth, end up at the bottom of the educational heap, while plenty of less-than-brilliant types, also due to chance, end up with CVs that imply great intellect? Keep "them" out of the schools, but who are they? By some measures (Stuyvesant test) Murray would consider me worthy of being educated, but by other measures (high school GPA) not so much. Why does that matter, you ask? Because it's my blog, so it's all about me. But also, because it just goes to show that there's no definitive way of separating the bright from the dumb, except in extreme cases of the latter category. Or something, I don't know, those articles were long, and reading's tough business.

And here, what Murray surely intends as a shout-out to Jo:

If "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can become theoretical physicists, then we're talking about no more than a few people per thousand and perhaps many fewer. They are cognitive curiosities, too rare to have that much impact on the functioning of society from day to day. But if "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can stand out in almost any profession short of theoretical physics, then research about IQ and job performance indicates that an IQ of at least 120 is usually needed.

Why Murray feels the need to so insult experimental physicists is anyone's guess. And with that, I return to my work towards one day standing out in a profession short of theoretical physics.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Jet lag means hello WWPD!

It's barely 5am, but feels about time to start the day. It's been so long since I've been in front of a computer a) for more than 5 minutes, and b) which I didn't continually owe increments of 10 shekels, so may the blogging begin. Photos of my "Jewlicious" trip to Israel can be found on my Flickr page, as well as all over the Internet-- this was one heck of a well-documented trip!

Like every other participant on a winter Birthright Israel trip, I have returned to the Diaspora unexploded, awed by Israel, sick of tomato-cucumber salad... and with a really unpleasant cold. While I know that colds come from viruses, I attribute this cold to one of the following factors:

1) Floating in a very cold Dead Sea, and being freezing from pretty much day one.

2) Sharing a bus with 50 other people, most of whom were coughing, all of whom were most generous with food and beverages.

3) The fact that Momo, the head of Oranim, the group behind my trip, encourages Jewish boys and girls to mingle in ways conducive to the production of Jewish babies, if not nine months after the 10 days, then relatively soon thereafter. While I didn't partake in this most kosher of cuddle puddles, I can't imagine the germ-sharing didn't have a wider impact.

4) Meals that involved hummus and rice mixed up together on a plate, following the tasting and rejection of other options in kosher hotel cuisine.

5) One incident which I will never forget: I'm on line for a falafel at a mall in Eilat. The guy in front of me has just ordered a sandwich. The man making the falafel asks the guy if he wants hummus in the pita. Guy says yes. The man fills the guy's pita with hummus, though much of the hummus ends up on the man's hand, as in, all over his hand. The man making the sandwich proceeds to lick the hummus off his hand in a way which can be described using the obscene metaphor of your choosing. He then--get this--grabs the pita with that same hand and continues assembling the guy's sandwich. Then he proceeds to make my sandwich.

So, yeah. Not feeling so hot. But Israel is fabulous. It's one thing to read about the Jewish state, how Israel's a real, existing country, yet it's another to see a road sign saying, in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, "Work in Progress on Herzel Boulevard." That sign was my favorite part of the trip, along with seeing Independence Hall, communing with Herzl at his grave on the top of his very own mountain, and discovering that Israel has its very own cappuccino and pain au chocolat places, thus making it theoretically a place I could live. (Oh, such pioneer spirit!) Also, the Aroma on Houston Street, aka the best place ever, is, as I'd heard, the Israeli Starbucks. It's everywhere!

Along with being an educational experience in terms of Israel (one man's "Zionist indoctrination" is another man's fair and balanced fabulousness--you all know which man I am!), it's also a learning experience about American culture. From my gentrifying Brooklyn/French grad school bubble, I did not realize that North Face, Uggs, and Dave Matthews Band remain popular with our nation's youth, even in the Northeast, but so it seems. Fear not, there has been no hipsterfication of America or American Jewry.

The best part of the trip, from the perspective of Francophilic Zionism, occurred at the Birthright Israel megaevent. Imagine the sort of emotional, youth-filled, religious-rock-fueled spectable you could only imagine coming out of evangelical Christianity, but with Jews from several different countries around the world. I happened to find myself seated next to the group from Strasbourg. Seems English isn't a popular subject in Dreyfus's old region, but all the more fun for me-- I became the unofficial translator of the proceedings for a group of bona fide French Jews.

Another notable moment for Francophilic Zionism was a French Holocaust survivor's testimony at Yad Vashem. She was super elegant, looked to be maybe 60, married a Christian Zionist--not to be confused with a Christian Scientist-- and moved to Israel. She apparently lived in the French countryside with most of her family and a maid during the war. The only fruit they had access to was apples, which, if used as the definition of tragedy, would make UChicago dining halls a tragic place indeed. The predicted sobbing during the testimony did not occur, although Yad Vashem itself made quite clear exactly why you don't see so many French Jews of that age alive and looking elegant in Israel or elsewhere these days. Our tour guide at the memorial used contemporary French Jews as the best comparison with German Jews in the 1930s who for various reasons didn't see what was coming. Hatred of the French was popular among the other Americans in my group as well-- I find this a bit baffling, since if the Diaspora is problematic, then America's no good, either... but then again, Vichy was in France, not the U.S., and these legacies must count for something...

Finally, during a delay at Ben Gurion, I spent maybe a bit too long sleepily wandering through an airport sporting goods store. Many of my fellow browsers were French, as was clear by their many remarks along the lines of, "C'est cinquante Euros!" I was not the only one to take note: I heard one man tell another, "Yesh harbeh tsarfatim." Let that be the quote that defines my research goals from now till who knows when.