Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Etgar Keret

She sat in a Cafe Greg grading her students’ flash fiction stories as her husband played with their two-year-old daughter at Gymboree on the first floor of the Herzliya mall, the one by the beach. They came there every Saturday during the winter so Maya could expend energy and so that Ms. Cohen (not Mrs. Cohen, she frequently and annoyingly - to both parties- corrected her students; she hadn’t taken her husband’s name) could grade papers. She sipped a chai latte and avoided the glares of impatiently waiting customers wanting her crappy table inside the mall, not with a view. She also looked down when the pretty waitress approached the table asking her if she wanted something else. She knew that "something else" was a euphemism for “Your 18 NIS Chai Latte isn’t going to pay for my trip to South America.” But alas, everyone had their cross to bare, and Ms. Cohen’s was grading papers on a Saturday instead of playing with her daughter and occasionally holding her husband’s hand. 

However, if she were honest with herself, she had no desire to step foot in the germ-ridden, dirty Gymboree with balls wet from saliva and snot dripping, symptoms of the winter illnesses suffered by seemingly every child in Israel. So she was thankful for the mall cafe’s comfortable chairs, the nutmeg on her Chai Latte, and mostly for her husband who was dealing with the aggressive children, the loud parents, and the bad smell of the decades old pop corn machine. She was finishing grading a story about a student not being able to think about anything to write for this assignment when her red pen began fading. She pressed hard to circle the apostrophe he had incorrectly placed. She wondered if her red pen had suddenly remembered that it was the Sabbath, and no one should be working on the Sabbath. 

She looked around for a shop to buy a red pen when she saw him. He was downstairs with his wife and preteen son in between the Gap Kids’ 50 percent off sign and the wannabee Shuk in the mall featuring a Hello Kitty table filled with products such as a razor kit that seemed nonsensical to brand itself with a  cat. Ms. Levy hated Hello Kitty. She didn’t like cats in general and in Israel, where cats served the same purpose as American squirrels, had propelled her dislike in to pure
hatred. Also, why didn’t Hello Kitty have a mouth? She guessed it was a patriarchal statement that women should be seen and not heard. Had he stopped to look at the Hello Kitty table, she would have been appalled. But, thank God, he hadn’t. Why was he at a mall in Herzliya  anyways? He belonged in an independent coffee house in Tel Aviv drinking straight espresso, but not smoking a cigarette.  The cigarette would be cliche and she no longer tolerated cigarettes since her daughter’s hospitalization for RSV and subsequent asthma. She lost sight of him and immediately regretted not going after him. But what would she say? “My students read your Flash Fiction and now I’m grading their own pieces of creative writing.”  He’d respond with an awkward smile and a glance of “leave me alone.” She called her husband to report the celebrity sighting. He didn’t answer. Perhaps he was playing with their daughter and not reading a liberal blogger on his phone. She returned to her papers when after correcting yet another incorrectly punctuated sentence, her red pen officially called it a day and headed to synagogue. She hadn’t been to synagogue since she had moved to Israel. She had never been less religious in her life. How pathetic to have a pen more religious than she! As she continued to shake the red pen trying to find some remaining ink she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“Do you need a something to write with?” Etgar Keret asked in English. That annoyed her. How do Israelis always know when they spot an American? He and his family were waiting for a table, probably one with a view of the sea and not Gap Kids.

“Yes, I do, thank you,” Ms. Cohen said watching Etgar Keret look at the sprawled stories, taking almost every inch of the small circular table.  

He handed her a sharpened pencil. How would she grade papers with a pencil? She thought back to her liberal professor in education school who blamed the red pen for demoralizing young people so that they hated writing. A special education teacher recently chastised her for using a red pen. But red was her favorite color so she ignored the professionals and continued to ruin the lives of her students.

“Thank you,” she said insincerely.

“What are these papers about?”

“Well, they are pieces of creative writing.”

“Why have you marked them up like that? Isn’t that mean?”

“It’s my job. If I’m not mean, I will be told that I’m not doing my job.”

“That’s ridiculous. What are your students’ reading?”

“Actually, they read five of your short stories.”

He looked pleasantly surprised and asked, “What did they think?”

“Well,” she stammered wondering if honesty was the best policy, “They read you after Oscar Wilde and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. So, some of them didn’t understand why we were reading them; others appreciated the brevity.”

“Yes, I am good, but I am not Wilde or Marquez,” he said humbly.

“They also struggled with the notion of a talking fish,” she added. “I tried to explain that it was a Hebrew translation that they weren’t understanding, but teenagers are always skeptical.”

“They didn’t mind the premise of a man never aging, only his portrait does?” he asked.

“No, they didn’t seem to mind that,” I said.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’m going to grade the rest of these stories for you.”

“Oh no, Mr. Keret, I couldn’t have you do that,” I said.

“I insist,” he said.

How could I refuse? What an opportunity for my students to be read by an internationally-renowned author. What if he didn’t give them back, though? What would I tell the kids, their parents, and the principal?  But for some reason, I trusted him. I handed him my binder with the multiple drafts, story outlines, peer edits and asked him to have them ready a week before the semester ended when grades were due.

When I returned that Monday, I handed back the papers I had graded to my students and told the others that Etgar Keret would be grading theirs. Their reaction ranged from not caring, to disbelief, to excitement, to, “What if he’s a hard grader?”  I reassured them that if they were graded “too hard” I would adjust the scores.

Just as I had requested, one week before grades were due the binder appeared at the security desk with a box of sharpened pencils taped to it.  Ms. Cohen looked at the papers. He hadn’t marked them up, no, he had written “100 percent. A+.  Great Story! Keep writing!” at the top of every paper with his autograph. One one of the papers he had doodled a talking fish.

“Figures,” Mrs. Cohen thought. Later that day, when she returned the batch of papers, the students who had received lower grades from her protested.

“It’s not fair,” they chimed.

Nothing was ever fair.

The next day she was called into the principal’s office. He showed her an email, written by the students, demanding that Etgar Keret grade all of their papers. I looked at the principal and asked him what he wanted me to do.

“You don't have to do anything,” the principal said. ”I spoke to Mr. Keret last night and he has agreed to be a guest English teacher here next semester. He will be taking your classes. You can sub for him when he goes on tour, but you will only receive sub pay."




He was grading papers with his pencil when she asked him how he would like his eggs cooked. He had ordered the Cafe Greg breakfast.

“Scrambled,” he answered, not looking up.

"Would you like to add parsley, mushrooms and onions for five shekels?"

"Sure," he muttered.

“Toast?” she asked.


“Light bread,” he said.  

“Would you like your coffee now or after the meal?” she asked still writing the order down with her red pen.

“After, Mrs. Cohen, after,” he said shooing her away with his dull pencil.

“It’s Ms. Cohen, Mr. Keret,” she said with annoyance, but then remembering the possibility of a big tip she changed her tone and said, "But please, call me Karen."  

She entered the order into the computer, "accidentally" putting in a fattening croissant instead of light bread, and then made her way to the next table. It was the most tables she had every had; many of the other waitresses had called off because it was a Saturday and the previous night there had been a huge party of some sort at the beach. After her shift, she would go home to play with her daughter at the park. Since she had been demoted, they couldn’t afford the Gymboree anymore. However, on the plus side, when she finished work she didn’t have any papers to grade.

She couldn’t say the same for Etgar Keret.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

My favorite lines of the White House Correspondents Dinner 2015

Here are my picks of the best jokes from the White House Correspondence dinner from funny to very funny. The very scientific criteria for the order was based on how much I laughed. 

10. On Saturday Night Live, Cecily impersonates CNN  anchor Brooke Baldwin, which is surprising, because usually the only people impersonating journalists on CNN are journalists on CNN.

9. The polar vortex caused so many record lows, they renamed it MSNBC.

8. And Bernie Sanders might run. I like Bernie. Bernie’s an interesting guy. Apparently, some folks want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House. We could get a third Obama term after all.

7. Hillary kicked things off by going completely unrecognized at a Chipotle. Not to be outdone, Martin O’Malley went completely unrecognized as a Martin O’Malley campaign event.

6. A few weeks ago, Dick Cheney says he thinks I’m the worst president of his lifetime. Which is interesting because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime.

5. ...for many Americans this is still a time of deep uncertainty.  For example, I have one friend just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa.

4. Being president is never easy. I still have to fix a broken immigration system, issue veto threats, negotiate with Iran. All while finding time to pray five times a day. Which is strenuous.

3. He’s not just a great Vice President, he is a great friend. We’ve gotten so close in some places in Indiana, they won’t serve us pizza anymore.

2. Today thanks to Obamacare you no longer have to worry about losing your insurance if you lose your job. You’re welcome, Senate democrats.

1. And it is no wonder that that people keep pointing out how the presidency has aged me. I look so old John Boehner’s already invited Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at my funeral.

To watch the entire speech:



To read the transcript, click here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Facebook Privacy Changes

Given Facebook's change in guidelines on January 1, 2015, I declare that from this day forward any time I use a web site copiously, ignorantly, and for free, I agree to suffering the consequences until the unforeseeable future when I shall stop using said web site. If these posts were personal property, then I should keep them as such instead of constantly branding my virtual image to the world. However, it's too much fun and it's my only social outlet. (just kidding, not really #verylonely) Not to mention, this round of changes actually enhances my so-called privacy, not reduces it. However, if Mark is using my images for his ads, I hope he at least will Waze me the addresses of the billboards. Oh, right, Google bought Waze after it bought Blogger, three more free products I use that exploit my personal information.

I guess I need this little Waze guy to protect me.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Unreciprocated Rainbow

Today on my way to work, as a car was cutting me off, I saw a stunning rainbow. The rainbow followed me to school and was a magnificent site through the window of the Humanities teacher’s office that also serves as the school’s second-floor bomb shelter.  Sitting at this desk last week, I checked my Twitter account to learn of the terror attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem that left four dead as they said their morning prayers.

Meanwhile, Arabs in Israel are also being attacked, but by right wing Jewish nationalists. Over the weekend, some set fire to a home in an Arab village where two women were sleeping, but escaped.

The bad behavior on both sides seems to never cease. Eight and nine year old Palestinians in Jerusalem are being encouraged by their parents to skip school and throw stones and incendiary devices at Israeli police and soldiers.

Then looking at news from the United States, I was overcome with the horror of the UVA rape cases reported by Rolling Stone. Not to mention, the Congress’s desire to de-science the EPA. Meanwhile, I wonder if the United States was too naive in trying to make a nuclear deal with the Iranians.

…..

I remember at Jewish camp when I was nine or ten years old, we discussed the following: who will bring Messianic peace: God or people?  There was no one answer, but the idea (it was a Reform camp) was that our actions change the world and God might chip in, too. This was a bit different from the Orthodox Jewish school, I attended that taught God judges our acts of loving kindness, but has the final say on all matters.

As I’ve gotten older, I have found myself to be less religious. Perhaps that will change again later in my life. However, because of the longevity of today’s rainbow, I have been  contemplating the Biblical food story. After Noah spends 40 days on the ark, God promises him to never destroy the world again. The rainbow is a symbol of that covenant.


But now, 20 minutes into writing this, the rainbow has disappeared. And I’m wondering if the story would have had a better ending had Noah promised God the same. Instead, he goes off to plant vineyard, presumably to forget his time on the ark.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fox News Panelists, Anchors and Experts need to stand up to racism, bigotry, sexism and slander

In our 24 news hour culture which promotes vile, so-called-discourse as a means of discussing controversial topics, there are those who are equally as culpable as the propagators of misinformation protected as expert opinion: the bystanders.

The bystanders are the other experts, panelists, or anchors who do nothing to challenge the opinions of their dangerous and inflammatory peers, but cheer them, remain silent, or offer meek retorts instead of speaking out against statements that are just plain wrong.

 I am going to provide three example of this, but it happens just about everyday where talk over substance is the mode of operation.

On an August episode of “Out Numbered,” the hosts were talking about congressional opposition to First Lady Michelle Obama’s nutritional standards in schools. One of the panelist, Fox’s medical expert whose name I don’t want to use because he has earned undeserved notoriety from this exchange:

 “What is (Michelle Obama) eating?” he asked. “She needs to drop a few."
 “You did not just say that!” co-host Harris Faulkner said while the other women had their mouths drop open.
“We’re taking nutritional advice from who?” the doctor opined. “Let’s be honest. There’s not Frenchs fries? That’s all kale and carrots? I don’t buy it.”

Then they continued on to other pressing matters.

Harris might deserve 1/8th of a point for at least saying something, but it was not nearly forcefully enough especially given that it is her show, and what is wrong with her co-hosts? Does the cat have their tongues? Even Harris’s meek response should have been replaced with a more resounding one, calling out the doctor (who is a psychiatrist, not a nutrition expert) for his slander of the first lady. By not doing so, she might as well have endorsed his views.

Because of the controversy of the segment, they invited back the good doctor and at least, thank God, stood up for themselves when he told the four women that in addition to Michelle Obama, they needed to lose a few pounds.

"I'll tell you what the bottom line is," co-host Sandra Smith said. "In future appearances, maybe think about what you're going to say before you say it."

"It thought about it this time!" the Good Doctor insisted. "Listen if I came here on the couch and had a drink and you smelled it on my breath, wouldn't you say, 'Hey, … what's going on?'"

"I wish you were drinking now because that would explain this crazy behavior," co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle lamented. "Hell, no, you didn't just tell a Puerto Rican woman she needs to lose five pounds."

Perhaps you are thinking, who cares, it’s just about the First Lady’s weight? However, this perhaps minor issue is one example, but there are many more. This brings me to another Fox News frequent contributor who I also won’t name, because he doesn’t deserve the praise he’s received from fascists from the following exchange on Fox’s “Cashin In.”

The topic at hand was ISIS and American Muslims. The contributor who will be referred to now as Miss Piggy (sorry Miss Piggy!) said:

“We should have been profiling on September 12, 2001. Let’s take a trip down memory lane here: The last war this country won, we put Japanese-Americans in internment camps. We dropped nuclear bombs on residential city centers. So, yes, profiling would be at least a good start. It’s not on skin color, however, it’s on ideology: Muslim, Islamists, jihadist. That’s a good start but it’s only a start. We need to stop giving Korans to Gitmo prisoners, we need to stop having Ramadan and Iftar celebrations in the White House. We need to stop saying the enemy is not Islamic. They are.”

The Japanese Internment is considered to be, next to murdering the Native American populations and slavery, the third worst thing the American government has ever done. The U.S. government apologized for interning the Japanese. It was horrible.

Now Miss Piggy is a financial analyst. Why is he commenting on international affairs? Because Fox News asks him to, that’s why. But what’s most troubling about Miss Piggy’s comments is that no one challenged them. The show has a host, Eric Bolling, and two other panelists who seemed to think was he said was perfectly fine. Miss Piggy did end up giving the definition of a half-hearted apology a week later. However, the panelists and Bolling never said a word.

How amazing would it be if Bolling had responded to the apology, "Thanks Miss Piggy. And I apologize to our viewers for not pointing out that your comment was inappropriate, callous, and had no added value when discussing ISIS."

Perhaps Bolling’s lack of response is no surprise giving his own idiotic “Boobs on the Ground” comment made about Major Mariam Al Mansouri, the UAE’s first female fighter pilot who led its airstrikes against ISIS at the end of September. Bolling also apologized, twice in fact, for his sexist comments crediting his wife and US female military members for helping him see the light. Who didn’t say much of anything: the other four panelists sitting at the table including the female reporter who so proudly reported on Major Mansouri.

I'm going to use cable news rhetoric now: To the bystander panelists and reporters, you are a joke. Perhaps journalism is mostly dead anyways on cable news channels, but if it’s not, you are hammering the nail in its coffin by not challenging slander, racism, and sexism on your shows. How do you look in the mirror every day? I guess it’s the pay check that helps you, because it’s certainly not credibility that’s getting you out of bed.

You know it’s a sad day in broadcast journalist when Ben Affleck is the star panelist from the past few months, calling out Sam Harris and Bill Maher for their “Islam is the problem” statements on Live with Bill Mauer. While the show is partially scripted comedy, like the Daily Show, Colbert Report, and the John Oliver Show, the writers and hosts are often more informed about the issues and appropriately reactive to them than many of the panelists and anchors of the  Fox News (?) Channel.

Here’s the exchange:  

Maher: But you're saying the idea that someone should be killed if they leave the Islamic religion is just a few bad apples? 

Affleck: The people who would actually believe in that you murder someone if they leave Islam is not the majority of Muslims at all...

Thank you Mr. Affleck for standing up to the host and his sidekick. Perhaps you could do a training at Fox News in between promoting Gone Girl and Batman.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Response to David Harris Gershon's "For a Moral World to exist, Israel must kill innocent Palestinians"

David, I just wanted to include this in the comments section, but the comments section of your article was closed.  I encourage everyone to read the article. It's very thoughtful and well written. David makes excellent points. My takeaway from it is that there is really never a moral war when civilians are killed. 

But there are details of your article that I just couldn't get on board with 100 percent. I'm having trouble getting on board with anything, honestly. I find myself responding emotionally to everything and very stressed about teaching my course "Middle East History" to Jews, Muslims, Bahai, Christians, Hindus from all over the world first semester. 

So, I turned to my Israeli husband, who I would describe as amazingly smart, thoughtful, liberal and perhaps most importantly, reasonable. I interviewed him about your article. He had read it before I did, not knowing it was you who wrote it.

This is written in the spirit of conversation and friendship, not as an attack on your ideas. I also don't agree with everything my husband says in this interview, but he makes good points. My thoughts are in red. 

I hope one day that we can all get together and watch The Daily Show. We've watched the clip from yesterday 10 times.
Air Strike after Unity Government was Announced

They objected to the unity government between Hamas and Fatah, but my husband doesn’t believe that the air strike you are referring to was because of that. “The Air Force attacks all the time in response to terrorist movements or retaliation to rocket fire. We hear about two rockets fired at S'derot and no one even thinks about it, but the military responds to it or movements of arms on the ground.”

Me: I'm not so sure. I just don't know. 

The Kidnapping and the West Bank Search

They suspected they were dead; they didn’t know. Was it a wide scope operation at least in part to behead Hamas in the West Bank? Yes, but that’s because they kidnapped children. Rogue criminals is NOT TRUE. The two suspects are known Hamas activists who have served time in Israeli jails.

They weren’t pillaging and raping, they were getting intelligence. 

Me: Arresting people without due process is problematic....I also don't think they knew for sure that they were dead, but I think they probably assumed that they were dead. Dead or alive, the bodies are deemed sacred, and their recovery was also important. Also, Netanyahu should know how sacred words are given the role of words and the assassination of Rabin. His language before and after the funeral was inflammatory. 

Blockade

The blockade of Gaza isn’t a collective punishment. it's to punish Hamas. In 2007 Hamas had a coup d'├ętat where they murdered and expelled the Fatah officials and formed another party, essentially seceding from the PA which is the elected head of the Palestinians (who Israel negotiates with). The head of the PA is the president. Israel started blockading because Hamas is a terrorist organization. If there is no blockade you will have more rockets from Iran and Syria, and more tunnels. How do you ensure no arms shipments if there is no blockade? 

Me: I agree with him, but I think they should ease it as much as possible, to the fullest extent, so that there are no restrictions on civilian supplies. 

Death of Civilians

Civilian people die in Gaza. How many civilians died in WWII, Afghanistan and Iraq? War has civilian casualties. As an IDF soldier, we don’t try to kill civilians, we try to minimize civilian casualties. 

Me: I agree with him, but I don't think when so many civilians are killed, that Israel has the moral high ground. I just don't think war and morality are usually ever synonymous. Israel's justification, if there is any, is based on sovereignty, not morality.

Goals of the Operation

I don’t know if the best policy is to keep the operation going, because it would be seen as a giveaway to Hamas to stop now. If they objectives are to deal with the tunnels, deal with the tunnels and get out. 

Me: This ground operation will do little except reset the cycle of violence and buy, maybe at most, another five years. 

Peace with Hamas?

I don’t believe in conquering Gaza and overthrowing Hamas. I hope the unity government would provide a return to a peace process. But, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Hamas is a Islamic, Jihadist movement that wants every piece of land that we live on. I doubt all of the sudden Hamas will say that the land is not Waqf (as to article 11 of the Hamas charter) and that Jews can live on it.

My hope is that the Palestinians will relegate Hamas to an organization like the Klan.

I and a lot of other Israelis don’t think the Palestinians are always wrong and Israel is always right. But Hamas is not dissimilar from the same people who run Isis or Al Quaeda or all these other Sunni Jihadist organizations. Once they decided in 2007 (Hamas) to take Gaza by force, they have to take responsibility for the people there and how their actions affect them.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Educational Resources on Arab-Israeli Conflict, Middle East


If you are looking for resources on the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Middle East in general, please see below.

1. This is a very recent poll of Palestinians and their views on politics, religion and economy.  

2. This is a very recent poll asking people from different countries what they think the likelihood is of a two-state solution.
Mounting Pessimism about Two-State Israeli-Palestinian Solution http://pewrsr.ch/1lPzQvs
 
3. Another poll
How support in Muslim countries for suicide bombing against civilians has changed over time pewrsr.ch/TzKmfa

4. Another poll
Hamas viewed negatively in countries with big Muslim populations, even Palestinian territories pewrsr.ch/TzwhOQ

5. Another poll
Concerns about Islamic extremism on the rise in the Middle East pewrsr.ch/TzwhOQ

6. Good, cogent explanation of history of Sunni-Shia split 
ow.ly/y80LJ 

7. Forty maps that explain the Middle East 

The resources below are on the longer side. 

7. Have you ever heard that the Oslo Accords are to blame for everything? This is a nuanced explanation of the failures of Oslo that isn't filled with vitriolic rhetoric. I used this in my International Relations Class. (PDF)
Liberalism and the Collapse of the Oslo Peace Process in the Middle East by Jonathan Rynhold

8. I wish every single person in the world would read this book. It is read as part of our Middle East Studies Curriculum. It is the Palestinian and Jewish narratives of Israel/Palestine written by Israelis and Palestinians respectively. (BOOK)
 Side by Side: Parallel Histories of the Arab-Israeli conflict 

9. The following book is the best resource on the Middle East out there. I've been using it with students of all ages for 12 years. (BOOK)
The Middle East published by Congressional Quarterly