Sunday, June 19, 2011

Jonathan Pollard

Before you start demanding that President Obama allow convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to attend his father's z'l funeral, I want you to answer the following questions.

1. What was Mr. Pollard's relationship with his parents before he was incarcerated?

2. Has he spoken to or refused to speak to his parents while has incarcerated?

3. How did he respond to his parents lifelong attempts to grant him clemency?

4. Has he allowed his parents to visit him while he was in jail?

5. Did he petition George W. Bush to see his mother while she was on her death bed or to go to her funeral?

6. Before his parents were deathly ill, did Jonathan Pollard allow them to visit him in prison or wish to see them?

7. Who are the family members making the death bed requests?

7. Do all prisoners, no matter their status, have the right to a. visit their parents on their death beds  b. attend their funerals?

Answer the above questions. After learning the answers, please protest or don't.  Dr. Pollard was a brilliant scientist. His scientific findings were never based on "truthiness." I think he would expect the same from his son's supporters.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Tribute to Mr. Gross

As a young history teacher, I was always using the latest teaching techniques/overcompensating for my youth. Meanwhile, next door was Mr. Gross, telling the students about the Constitutional Convention as if he had been there and reading from the Gettysburg address as if he had given it. While I taught about WWI he presented the Civil Rights Movement as a primary source, someone who had heard Martin Luther King’s  most famous speech perched from a tree on the Mall and rode buses South on “Freedom Rides,” literally risking his life for a cause he believed in.

Mr. Gross and I were cosponsors of the U.S. Politics Club. While our own political movements were being quashed, we still watched with glee as our students developed a love and passion for politics.

Mr. Gross loved the Chicagoland Jewish High School. When the school moved to Deerfield I could not manage the commute. Mr. Gross, twice my age, arrived at school for morning minyan every day on time with his tefillin wrapped waiting for the first student to say the first prayer of the morning.

I imagine many of the prayers spoke to him. For Mr. Gross, the school was Ma Tovu.

How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
And I, with Your great loving-kindness, shall enter Your House; I shall prostrate myself toward Your Holy Temple in the fear of You.
O Lord, I love the dwelling of Your house and the place of the residence of Your glory.
Come, let us prostrate ourselves and bow; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.
But, as for me, may my prayer to You, O Lord, be in an acceptable time. O God, with Your abundant kindness, answer me with the truth of Your salvation.

For him the blessings of the morning also must have held significance, particularly the Birkot Hashahar. While I could not, would not, relate to the blessings, I now read them from Mr. Gross’ vantage point, and understand his piety from a different perspective; from the point of view of someone who had seen our own country during the turbulent times of the 1960s.

Praised are You, Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe,
Who enables His creatures to distinguish between night and day.
Who made me in His image.
Who made me a Jew.
Who made me free.
Who gives sight to the blind.
Who clothes the naked.
Who releases the bound.
Who raises the downtrodden.
Who creates the heavens and the earth.
Who provides for all my needs.
Who guides us on our path.
Who strengthens the people Israel with courage.
 Who crowns the people of Israel with glory.
 Who restores vigor to the weary.
 Who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids

Working for a new school has its ups and downs. Mr. Gross rarely complained, if at all. While many of the teachers (I) and students griped about everything and anything, he quietly fulfilled his duties in the classroom and more, attending many of the boys basketball games and other after school activities.

But he always told me when I came to visit the school how much he missed me and how much I was missed. No one else really said that because it’s just not something you say when a teacher leaves a school, unless it’s for retirement or they move. Mr. Gross always expressed his admiration for my spirited discourse while I envied his calm wisdom that I knew that I lacked.

Mr. Gross touched the lives of so many people, including my own. I still owe him five bags of chocolate candy that I took from the bowl sitting on his desk.

And to his students who are very sad today, you should know, he loved you all, no matter your academic prowess. And to Michael, Victor and Danny, he felt blessed to have such caring students who tried to help him with his health. You probably gave him, and all of us, more time, which is incredibly precious.

I would say that if Mr. Gross wanted anything from his students it would be to live a righteous life as he did, and in the face of adversity, to always do what’s right.

And to fulfill your dreams.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

May her Memory Be for a Blessing

When I was a teacher at the Chicagoland Jewish High School, one of the many classes I taught was Western Civilization. The students in the class weren't the most academically excited (at the time), but they were all smart and unique in their own ways.

We had the best time in this class. And I was a hard teacher. I made them write in-class essays, in-depth research papers, and learn a ton of history. One of the students in that class was Skye Miller. Skye was 4'10 or 4'11, which I liked because I am 5 feet tall. She was a vegan and would frequently come to class with egg and dairy free cookies and brownies that tasted like heaven.

Skye was smart. She didn't always apply herself, but she was very aware of that. When she didn't do her homework or didn't study for a test, she didn't make excuses, she just explained that she had other priorities, whatever they were. Some teachers would call this chutzpa, I liked the honesty. When she focused, she learned at a high level. When she was prepared, her writing was insightful and elegant. She was a wonderful student to have in class.

I really got to know Skye as the advisor of the school's literary journal. Skye and her brother bought an authentic hipster element to the class (Skye would think that description was an exaggeration) that we all craved but couldn't provide. One of my favorite memories of her was taking charge of Open Mic Night, helping with the decorations. With the help of others in the class, she took the old student lounge and transformed it to a poet's paradise. The room was serene yet lively filled with colorful pillows and lava lamps.

The atmosphere was one of openness, so much so that I, who never really does or did so, read something that I had written in front of the students. It was a memorable event, like her, one that cannot be replicated in time or space.

Skye decided to transfer to a different school. She needed a change of scenery. I didn't agree with but did support Skye's change of venue, recommending her to an advanced humanities class at her new school.

When I learned of Sky's illness, a rare Cancer, I visited her a few times and spoke to her a few times, although not enough and I regret that.

But I know Skye wouldn't want me to dwell on my guilt. "It's cool, Ms. Marcus. It's ok." That's what I hear from her on this sad night as I picture her beautiful blue eyes of kindness that shone upon all of us for too brief of a time.

 Skye and I liked some of the same music. This is the song that comes to mind as I think of her now.

If I Could by Phish
Take me to another place, she said 
Take me to another time 
Run with me across the oceans 
Float me on a silver cloud 

If I could I would, but I don't know how 
If I could I would, but I don't know how 
If I could I would and I'd take you now 

Stay with me till time turns over 
I want to feel my feet leave the ground 
Take me where the whispering breezes 
Can lift me up and spin me around 

If I could I would... 
Hear you laughing as we go 
Flipping backward through the doors and through the windows...
I'm melting into nothing
 If I could I would, but I don't know how If I could I would, but I don't know how
To Skye's wonderful family, who cared for her with so much love

HaMakom yenachem et'chem b'toch shar avay'lay Tzion vee'Yerushala....
May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Blog of Dreams

This may be a big year for me. I also am a person who has a lot of crazy dreams. I think this equation will be many more crazy dreams. So I will chronicle them here:

I don't think I will advertise this as much as Scarpeta, because my dreams are really intense and crazy.

However, they will be here (I hope I follow through) for you to read.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


One of the best parts of Judaism is sex.

It’s not forbidden and there isn’t as much guilt around it as there is in other religions.

It’s a good thing, because sex is everywhere from relationships consummated on t.v. with the couple blissfully wrapped in sheets to internet pornography that shows more than everything and anything.

However, despite sex as an entertainment phenomenon, and religiously sanctioned, what is still lagging behind is truthful understanding and frank conversation about the actuality of having sex including the physical and emotional complications.

Sex in the City brought women’s sexuality to a place on the table that it had never been, but again, besides Charlotte’s first marriage, sex was as easy as cake.

The expectation that sex happens as it does on t.v. or in pornography just isn’t realistic and sets couples up for failure and a lack of tools to cope with dysfunction in a female or male.

Why is sex, and I mean real sex, still not talked about? It may be studied at places like the famous, but studied and discussed are separate entities. I wonder if there are no forums to discuss sex because everyone assumes everybody knows everything from popular culture.I’ve started reading an anonymous blog entitled . It is written by a young woman who is 24, a virgin, and is unable to consummate her marriage. She has been married for a year and is suffering from a condition I had never heard of before called Vaginismus. She explains this all in her blog, but what’s clearer than the problem itself is the isolation she has felt for most of the year she has been suffering from it and the lack of preparation she felt before having sex for the first time.

Some of the readers have blamed this on her religious upbringing. I don’t agree with that. There are so many men and women who suffer from sexual dysfunction whose religious morals don’t dictate their sex life.

I’m not a scientist or therapist, but I have a very open relationship with many of my friends and this is what I most frequently hear about:

sexless marriages
inability to orgasm
male impotency
lack of female desire

I also didn’t mention that I’m not 100 years old either. I’m in my 30s and my friends are my age and younger.

Where is the discourse? Who do you turn to?

Some might answer or Others might recommend

The truth is, I’m not sure anyone can solve their sex problems from a web site, book or magazine. This may be an issue of a breakdown in community. Who can you talk about these things with when most of our non-partner human contact is through Facebook? Also, it’s hard to find a place where people aren’t putting up fronts and will be honest about their sexuality.

What’s my non professional suggestion? Sexual dysfunction can be caused by a medical problem, so it wouldn’t hurt to consult a doctor. However, expectations regarding a doctor’s ability to provide emotional support should be kept to a minimum. They are not trained to increase your sexual self esteem.

To combat serious problems in the Chicago Area, the following program was recommended by someone who trained there. It is a Sex Clinic at Loyola University Hospital:

Since its inception in 1972, Loyola's Sex Clinic in Loyola Outpatient Center has treated approximately 3,000 married couples and has trained more than 3,000 professionals. Married couples with sexual problems are provided seven weeks of couples counseling by a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals, including specialists in psychiatry, psychology, gynecology, urology, family medicine, nursing and social work. Single patients also are counseled individually or in a six-week all-female or all-male, small-group setting. To schedule an appointment with a Loyola physician, call toll-free (888) LUHS-888 and ask for extension 6-3752 (ttp://

And this is just a great clip from a great movie.

If Alanis Morissette were to write a song about Israel...

I’ve been in Israel a lot lately. It’s very much a privilege that I get to go so often for work and for personal reasons. A lot of people I know have never been here. They always ask me, “what’s it like?”

Israel is amazing. But there are probably more than a million people who can tell you about that and why, and I think I’ve even written about it before, too.

However, after a while you begin to note the ironies and paradoxes here that can make your head spin. Better writers than I have written prolifically on this subject. Consider this a medium quality addendum to their literature and poetry.

In Israel…

Men in their 20s and 30s drive on motor scooters driving out of control fast (even on the sidewalks) while the elderly speed in their wheel chairs down busy streets causing traffic jams.

An entire country will stop to mourn a fallen soldier, yet a young person killed in a traffic fatality is just another Friday night.

Interracial harmony exists between Jews and Jews. Less integration exists among Jews and Arabs except in the hotels of Jerusalem.

Women feel underdressed in Jerusalem wearing jeans and not a long skirt and overdressed in Tel Aviv without a tank top and short skirt.

The cleaning woman doesn’t speak Hebrew, but speaks fluent English.

The doctor treating an only English speaking patient only speaks Russian and Hebrew.

Stores are never open, except when they are.

The God of everyone lives in Jerusalem, but everyone has a different prophet and he is the best one.

A woman dressed in full Muslim garb practices driving with the Hebrew letter lamed (learner) prominently displayed while her sister in Saudi Arabia is arrested for even trying to drive.

Doctors strike yet continue to provide great medical care, in a socialized health care system.

Some tourists intensely listen to their tour guide while a few think about when is their next chance to hook up, get drunk and/or become more tan.

If you drive in Jerusalem on Shabbat you will get screamed at by little Haredi kids yelling, “Shabbas.” Yet still they and their parents move to the side and let you through without incident.

Gay marriage is recognized, as long as you get married somewhere else where gay marriage is legal.
The boy you danced Stairway to Heaven with at a BBYO dance is now unrecognizably right wing and lives in a settlement.

The Biggest communication problems with your boyfriend’s parents is not being able to communicate with them in Hebrew.

Eating high calorie breakfasts feels healthier than eating nothing for breakfast at home. ( Although I haven’t stepped on a scale.)

A Chicagoan is happy that it’s hot out, but stays out of the sun for fear of skin damage.

Some men over 40 wear earrings, sport ponytails and wear kippot.

The liberal Rabbi preaching tolerance says in the next breath he wouldn't attend a mixed marriage wedding, even if it were his brother's.

Young Haredi girls wear clothes for a Chicago November on hot scorching day.

Rabbi Shmeli Boteach is the only person The Jerusalem Post could find to defend Barack Obama.

Journalists are free to cover the Syrian conflict from the safety of Tel Aviv.

There are Shabbat Elevators so people who observe the Sabbath don't have to actually press any buttons. Only the elevators are so loud, that it's hard to rest because the doors are opening and closing constantly.

You can put anything in a pita, except pasta.

What would you add?