Category Archives: Israel

Alice Walker Denies The Color Purple’s Power

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Alice Walker is one of my favorite authors ever, hands down. The Temple of My Familiar might have been the first book to ever make me think of things in a spiritual way, and Meridian basically made me a feminist. Not to mention The Color Purple, which is huge. Huge. It seized the collar of my adolescent Philadelphia-white-trash t-shirt and pulled me into another world, another place, made me realize that there were people other than myself, told me that being a woman was not all dressing sexy and laughing at nerd boys, and that there was in fact a greater world out there. (And the film version was, of course, directed by Steven Spielberg, my favorite director person at the time.)

color purple hebrew

Keep this in mind when you read this article from JPost about Ms. Walker forbidding a new translation of The Color Purple into Hebrew:

In a June 9 letter to Yediot Books, Walker said she would not allow the publication of the book into Hebrew because “Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.”

In her letter, posted Sunday by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel on its website, Walker supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and offered her hope that the BDS movement “will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation.”

There are so many reasons this is ridiculous. But there’s only one thing that sticks out in my mind: That Ms.  Walker is denying the power of stories. Maybe she doesn’t want to accept Israeli money, and that’s legit. But it’s a freaking BOOK ABOUT OPPRESSION. Wouldn’t it make sense to publish and spread it in Israel? Or does she think Israelis are beyond redemption? Doesn’t she think that art has the possibility to change people’s minds and attitudes? Doesn’t she think that more people reading The Color Purple could actually alter the dynamic of a society that is going through major hurdles, in terms of race and gender and sexuality at this very moment?

Maybe Walker is denying Israel a book that Israelis really actually need to read. (Or, Israelis: maybe you should just pick up a copy of Po Man’s Child by Marci Blackman, which has a similar message, and is really pretty amazing.)

By the way, there’s been at least one suggestion on Facebook to crowdsource a new translation. Which I sort of love, as a way of pulling the carpet out from under everybody’s feet at once.

Posted on June 19, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Sacha Baron Cohen Speaks Hebrew

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Hey, did any of you see Sacha Baron Cohen on The Daily Show the other night?

More specifically, did anyone notice the language that he was speaking in the movie clip? Sure, it was pronounced like Arabic. But if I’m not mistaken, he was actually speaking Hebrew.

Here — it starts about 30 seconds into this video:

My mastery of Hebrew is not the absolute greatest (disclaimer: MyJewishLearning hired me anyway), but I definitely recognized the word “machonit” used for “car,” and “od echad” for “another one.” What do you think?

Posted on May 9, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Yom Ha’atzmaut, Motorcycles Included

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Tomorrow is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day! To celebrate, we thought we’d share this mini-documentary we filmed one year at New York’s Israel parade. Featuring the chancellor of Yeshiva University wearing tattoo sleeves, no less.

Special thanks to Jeremy Moses!

Posted on April 25, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Showdown at the Co-Op

So, um, yeah. The coop last night. Utter craziness.

First, a recap from the The Daily Show:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Co-Occupation
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

The Story

Last night, the Park Slope Food Coop had a special election, deciding whether to boycott all Israeli-made products. Because we are the Coop and are totally masturbatory overprocessing Brooklynites, it wasn’t actually a vote — it was a vote about whether or not we should have a vote.

Anyway. This international BDS movement (I keep wanting to say “BSDM movement,” and really meant to slip up accidentally-on-purpose on stage last night, but forgot to) has been trying to infiltrate the Co-op for the past few years. It always comes up, but last night was the real boiling point. Two thousand people packed into an auditorium. Supposedly it cost over $10,000. The election would’ve cost another $20,000. The entire assembly was people speaking for one or two minutes. It was a LOT of people.

What I Said

I’m a walker, and I’ve gotten into some of the best fights of my life at the Coop. We’re all different. We have nothing in common except for the fact that we like really good food. And that’s the way it should be. I’m a vegetarian. I totally think the Coop shouldn’t sell meat. I also really hate lima beans, and I’d encourage everyone not to buy them. But I don’t think it’s right to ban other people from buying them. Keep listening to each other, people, and please, keep the arguments alive. Don’t just ban them.

The Aftermath

* Got home. Our boarders were like, “You’re Internet-famous.” Went through the tweets, and there were a ton of references to “the hyper Hasid” and “this surfer with payos.” Hey, I even got my own Twitter hashtag, which is super awesome and flattering, if ephemeral. Amy Sohn said “a star is born” about me! My friend Liz wrote, “Highlight 4 me was @matthue on his hatred of lima beans.” P.S.
my mom is so gonna kill me.
* There were a lot of BDS people at the vote last night. A lot of them weren’t actually coop members; they were just there to protest. I asked them, and they were really forthcoming about it. Totally fine for them to be there. On the other hand, they were the only ones not waiting to be admitted, which meant that the reporters got to speak to a lot more of them than anyone else–say, for instance, actual coop members. I’d call it “infiltration,” but then again, I watched every episode of the X-Files (not an exaggeration) and love conspiracy theories.
* I was one of the last people to speak. Itta said the people around us (big BDS shippers) didn’t understand what I was saying — granted, I’m not entirely coherent; I talk really fast and get bubbly, and the mic was really loud. On the other hand, I got stopped by a ton of people on the way out complimenting me. Granted, they were mostly old Crown Heights Hasidic ladies, but they were still awesome.
* I still want someone to ask if I’m in favor of the BDSM movement so I can just say, heck yeah!

Posted on March 28, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Footnote: Finally a Movie that Understands Academia

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

It’s tough out there for an Israeli film at the Oscars. When an Israeli film gets nominated for best foreign language film it’s almost always because the movie references the Holocaust and/or the Israeli-Arab Conflict. But while a Holocaust theme is a guaranteed win in most categories, not so when it comes to Israeli films. And a film that seems very sympathetic to Arabs is unlikely to garner a win from the typically conservative Academy voters.

This year, though, the Israeli nominee is neither a careful look at the history of the Jewish people, or a tense war film. Instead, it’s Footnote, a film that casts its gaze on the small and insular world of academic Talmud scholars. Eliezer Shkolnik is a Talmud professor at Hebrew University whose diligent work has never been recognized by his peers. His son, Uriel Shkolnik, also a Talmud professor, is an up-and-coming star in the field, collecting awards and distinction with ease. When Eliezer is awarded the prestigious Israel Prize, father and son have to try to keep their smugness/jealousy in check and generally behave like respectable adults. This turns out to be remarkably difficult for both of them. Also, there’s a surprise twist, and a fun scene involving a fencing uniform.

The movie is remarkably successful: its depictions of life in the academy are spot-on, and I found the set design to be particularly effective at capturing the jumbled papers and library aesthetic of your typical university professor. It also uses voice-overs and some effects that are nicely reminiscent of the meta-story effects in Stranger Than Fiction.

But what’s most enjoyable about it is its narrow focus. At no point does it pan out to view this family drama in the wider scope of the Israeli-Arab conflict, or look back at the tragedies of Israeli history. Instead it looks deeply and critically at the ivory tower, and the way that petty grudges and jealousy drive a lot of the goings-on in any university department. And it looks too at the relationship between fathers and sons, beyond Oedipus and into adult professional competition. But where it cleverly highlights (and footnotes) the academic politics, when it comes to family drama, the film loses some of its strength and sharpness. Uriel’s relationship with his son is a focal point of the last portion of the movie, but the scene in which they finally fight falls flat (perhaps due to the lackluster performance of Daniel Markovich, who plays Josh Shkolnik). And both Dr. Shkolniks are married to formidable women who get barely any screen time (the film doesn’t come close to passing the Bechdel test).

Despite not quite being able to pull off the father-son drama it attempts, the film is extraordinary and entertaining. In the climax of the movie the audience watches as the elder Shkolnik takes apart a text, finding its references in other places, and looking up words and phrases in his library. It’s difficult to make rifling through books seem interesting, even exciting, but writer/director Joseph Cedar pulls it off with remarkable aplomb.

Sadly, Footnote doesn’t have a chance of pulling off a Best Foreign Film win—A Separation seems guaranteed a win with all the accolades it has pulled in from far and wide. I can only hope that Footnote will get the cheers it deserves when it comes out on March 9, and won’t be destined to be only a footnote.

Posted on February 23, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Watch Obama Speak at the URJ Conference

This entry was posted in History, Israel, Life on by .

President Obama is speaking today at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial. You can watch live online here, or watch recaps that will be posted on the URJ site later.

Posted on December 16, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Complex Happiness

This entry was posted in Israel, Life on by .

We are living in a moment of Jewish historic significance, one which embodies the blessing: “Thank you God for helping us arrive at this day.” This Simchat Torah, we express joy not only as we complete the reading of the Torah, but as we come to the end of a five year struggle to achieve the freedom of one Israeli soldier: Gilad Shalit. I will now put away his dog tags that have been near my Shabbat candles, helping me think of him when bringing extra light into my own home. I wonder at how he has changed these past years and how excruciating it must be to leave one painful world and enter another realm entirely, one full of heroic expectations.


Throughout the difficult moral debates of the past weeks, the Jewish unity that people expected has broken down into understandable fractiousness. I have gone back in my mind to one of the most well-known statements in the Mishna: “If a person saves a single human being, Scripture considers it as if he saved the world” (BT Sanhedrin 4:5). We hear this used in all kinds of metaphoric contexts, but now the situation is real and the question is painful. Should we do anything to save one human life? As we read the long list of prisoner names who have and who will be released, we cannot ignore the heinous crimes of most and the fear we have that years in Israeli prisons has only toughened their determination to return to terror. Will kidnapping soldiers become the ticket to prisoner freedom in the future?

There is another Talmudic principle that comes to mind: “If confronted with a certainty and a doubt, the certainty is preferable.” We do not know how to answer the above questions. They are all part of a future landscape we can only imagine but one which has not been actualized. We know for certain now that this lone Israeli soldier is alive and can be freed and so, in our Jewish tradition of redeeming captives as the most important collective commandment we can perform, we will go with that certainty and forgo the doubt for now.
But these decisions are political ones, not Talmudic ones. They were made under great national pressure but also with the overwhelming support of the Knesset and Israel’s security services. They were made when a small window of opportunity opened in a Middle East collapsing with anarchy. And if Gilad were allowed to languish in captivity to prevent this kind of leveraging, would any parent of sound mind be prepared to send a child into an army that is not committed to returning their children, whenever possible, home safely?
I have found my response in a muted, complex happiness and in a prayer found on a piece of wrapping paper in the Ravensbruck concentration camp:
O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill but also those of ill will. But do not remember the suffering they have inflicted upon us; remember the fruits we brought thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, out loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of this; and when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.

I will think of the thousands of kindnesses that have led to this moment in time, the fruits we have brought to the altar of suffering, the fruits that sometimes can only come from suffering. I will pray that those who are freed will use their freedom responsibly and that we can create a universe where God will redeem suffering because we do.

In the past 54 years, Israel has exchanged 13,509 prisoners for 16 soldiers. Gilad is not the first, and he probably won’t be the last. And if this is the craziest thing we do as a people to show what the value of one life means to the rest of the world, so be it. We are crazy about survival – the survival of each and every one of our people. And we’ve survived longer than most because of this almost fanatical – meshugena - commitment to what life means. And to an enemy that blows up its own and calls them martyrs we say loudly, “Not us. To us, every single life is a treasure.” It doesn’t get more Jewish than this.

Posted on October 18, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Is Gilad Shalit Really Coming Home?

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

I don’t know whether to believe it. Many news outlets are now reporting that Israel has struck a deal with Hamas and in exchange for a lot of Palestinian prisoners (1027) Israel is getting back Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured in June of 2006 and held in Gaza since then.

I have an uneven relationship with the Shalit situation. I’m not one of those people who used his picture as my facebook profile picture, or constantly tweeted how many days he had been gone. I mostly have felt strange and angry about how his capture led to him being a pawn in an enormous game of national chess. How strange it must be to be him, most likely cut off from all current events, until suddenly he will be thrust into the limelight. And how awful for his family, the years of protracted waiting and worrying.

I will admit, though I don’t feel super invested in the Shalit situation, I cried when I first saw the video that proved he was alive in 2009. And today, I feel a surge of joy in the knowledge that he will (hopefully) be soon returning home to his family.

I find myself thinking, “So, I guess Israel does negotiate with terrorists.” And then I think…isn’t that good?

This is a good thing, this mediated settlement between two groups. Many people get to go home, and I’m happy for them, on both sides. But somehow, it all makes me so sad. How did we get here? Why did it take so long?

Posted on October 11, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

An Arrogant Revolution

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Lucette Lagnado’s most recent book, The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn, is now available. Lucette won the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

I couldn’t seem to escape Egypt this year – though I never set foot outside New York.

For months, I worked fiendishly to finish The Arrogant Years, my memoir which takes place in Cairo and New York. But whenever I’d put the book aside, I would follow news of the revolt unfolding on Tahrir Square. The revolution was addictive – I couldn’t seem to get enough of it. I found myself constantly clicking on online news of Cairo, or tuning in to CNN. It was all so exciting.

And terrifying. Even as I witnessed the euphoria, I felt a strange sense of alienation – I couldn’t feel much joy or passion, couldn’t quite cheer the protestors as the entire rest of the world seemed to be doing.

As I noted in an essay for The Wall Street Journal this weekend, I have been feeling uneasy since the start of the uprisings. Yes, I supported calls for democracy and believed that strongman Hosni Mubarak had far outstayed his welcome. I simply thought that viewing him as the cause of all of Egypt’s woes – even as the military that had ruled the country with an iron hand for 60 years was being embraced as saviors – was bizarre and misguided.

Nine months after the protests began, Mubarak is gone, on trial, and possibly on his way to being executed — but Egypt seems no closer to democracy. Worse still, it has descended into a kind of lawlessness, marked by occasional really scary incidents – attacks on Coptic Christians, the brutal sexual assault of CBS reporter Lara Logan, and, most recently, the storming of the Israel Embassy in Cairo, which forced the departure of the Ambassador and his staff.

All of this has made me terribly sad – and brought back some awful memories to boot. Somehow I have found myself transported to an Egypt I didn’t really know, when I wasn’t even born — the Egypt of that first revolution of 1952, when King Farouk was overthrown, the military took over, and the world as my Egyptian-Jewish parents knew it turned mean and fierce. There was a certain wildness, terror to the period, I was always told. Egypt’s Jewish community, once comprised of 80,000 Jews or more, left in droves until there were only a few Jewish families, including mine, trying to hang on.

We left in 1963 and settled in New York. My parents spoke lovingly of the Egyptians they had left behind, with one exception – the dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser who was charismatic, arrogant and bombastic, and galvanized the public with a rhetoric of hate. The experience taught my family – taught all of Egyptian Jewry, I think – to be watchful and wary of revolutions and all they promise.

Hence my lack of excitement at a time everyone – even my mother-in-law – seemed to be cheering Mubarak’s ouster and the events in Tahrir Square and the promise of it all.

It is rather stunning to me how ineffectual the Egyptians have proven to be at nation-building. They were terrific protesters, the world was riveted by the daily protests and everyone raved about the “Google guy” and the “Facebook revolutionaries.” Yet none of these original leaders with their lofty promises of democracy and their slick use of the Internet has emerged to date to take the country to the next phase. Instead, the ones to watch have been the Muslim Brotherhood, who seem determined – despite their moderate patina – to take Egypt in a different and frightening direction.

This past year I could always find comfort in my book, and the very different Cairo I was conjuring up – my mother’s Cairo, the Cairo of the 1920s and 1930s, when there was genuine political debate and a tolerant society. Egypt was ruled by a monarch, yes, and yet to my mind, looking back, King Fouad seems so much more benign somehow than those military guys who came to power in 1952. The Cairo of my book is particularly striking because of the lovely status Jews enjoyed – in the same period that they faced persecution in Europe, they were rising to the top of this Arab society.

There were even Jewish Pashas, the most prestigious social title that an Egyptian could enjoy.

It seems to have been such a promising society, truly multicultural, where Jews and Moslems and Christians seemed to co-exist with a considerable degree of harmony. What I find myself wondering is why the Egyptians, as they cast about for a model of nation-building – Turkey, Iran, Hamas – don’t simply look back to this halcyon period of their own history?

Lucette Lagnado will be blogging here all week.

Posted on September 21, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Mourning My Arab Spring

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Lucette Lagnado’s most recent book, The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn, is now available. Lucette won the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

What is going to happen to the Arab Spring – no, not that Arab Spring but my own recent awakening and love affair with the Middle East?

I have been gripped by fear since January, watching the uprisings, not knowing how these movements would all shake out, unable to get my arms around them. Lately, fear has been replaced by sadness and melancholy. I feel as if a chapter is ending for me – the chapter of my personal Arab Spring.

In the last couple of years since my memoir, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, came out, I savored the opportunity to reach distant audiences, but looking back, nothing stirred me as much as my book’s popularity in Egypt.

When I first heard my book was selling briskly in Cairo, I was amazed. Why would a memoir by an Egyptian-Jew about her exiled family resonate in Egypt? Why would Egyptian Moslems or Christians even care about my story?

On a visit to Cairo and the popular Diwan bookshop, a sparkling oasis of Arabic and foreign language books complete with a coffee bar, I spoke to the owner and learned that Sharkskin was in effect a bestseller.

Its owner invited me to do a reading. I still recall the joyous, loving crowd circling around me – elegant women not in veils, debonair gentlemen who seemed to have stepped out of my father’s 1940s Cairo.

Looking out at the crowd I had my own Sally Fields-at-the-Oscars moment: They like me, they really like me, I thought.

After my lecture, young woman, a reporter, came over and said, “You are as Egyptian as I am.”

When my book was published in Arabic, I returned for another reading. This time I stood side by side with my Egyptian publisher at Diwan. I would read a passage, he would read the same passage in Arabic. I have never felt so proud – I was being read in the language of my father.

I continued to hear from Egyptians when I returned to the U.S. They managed to find me through email or Facebook, and they seemed very anxious to tell me how they felt about my book – how much they’d loved it. Many addressed me by my childhood nickname, “Loulou.” I corresponded with several of them, moved by how eager they were to befriend me. I thought of moving back to Egypt – perhaps renting an apartment for several months. That is what I mean by experiencing my own Arab Spring – a time when I felt reconciled with my own past.

I had stumbled quite by accident into an Egypt that was terribly nostalgic, that was turning to the past as one way to escape the tribulations of life. There was a longing to learn about the monarchy, and there was also a hunger to learn about Jews.

Once upon a time, Jews were all around, fully integrated members of Egyptian society. They went to school with Muslim children and later as adults they worked side by side with them, and often they socialized together. Then, suddenly they were gone – a community of 80,000 began leaving in droves, until there were only a handful of Jews left. An entire generation of Egyptians grew up without knowing Jews – only hearing about them through their parents or relatives.

Then Sharkskin came along, and Egyptians began to rediscover Jews.
Some were too young to have known any – they actually wrote to tell me that – and yet had heard stories from relatives who still remembered the days when Egypt was a cosmopolitan, multicultural, multi-ethnic society.

Those first months of the revolution, the emails and letters stopped. I felt badly – I’d always been so excited to receive them. But they’ve resumed of late, and in my Facebookpage, many of the people who reach out to me are Egyptian.
Yet it is not the same. Egypt suddenly seems like a forbidding society. There have been too many disturbing incidents, chaos reigns, as does hostility toward Jews.

And that is what I mean by the end of my Arab Spring – a sense that I really can’t go home again.

Lucette Lagnado will be blogging here all week.

Posted on September 19, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy