Summer Reading Riot

I know summer’s only just begun, but I tend to snarf through good books like they were covered with chocolate sprinkles and laced with crack. One of these days I hope to be hawking my own book, God willing, but until then, I’m content to immerse myself in the genius of others.

Of course, it’s a challenge to squeeze in reading time now that I’ve got a day job again, let alone think about writing something with chapters and an actual plotline. I find myself lying about doing laundry just so I can disappear to suck down a few more pages. So I cannot comprehend how Rabbi Zoe Klein managed to scribe Drawing in the Dust—she has a huge L.A. congregation to tend to, not to mention a family, and even if she doesn’t have to do everyone’s laundry, she still must have had to call upon some divine time management skills to craft such a richly-drawn, carefully plotted book.

The rabba’s first novel, Drawing in the Dust, is the story of an unhappy, beautiful archaeologist (there’s a funny interchange in the book about whether she’s “depressed,” “repressed” or “oppressed”) who stumbles upon the remains of a mysterious woman wrapped in arms the prophet Jeremiah. Accompanying the bones of the prophet and his lover is a scroll mirroring the Book of Jeremiah and would be the only documented proof of a woman’s voice in ancient times — if only it wasn’t fiction. (What’s amazing is that Klein herself wrote—practically channeled, really—the scroll of Anatiya while in seminary.)

Highly suspenseful and deeply spiritual, the plot revolves around the scroll and its complicated love story as well as the difficult romance of the non-Jewish archaeologist and an Orthodox historian. Klein does such as artful job of keeping the character’s inner struggle a consistent presence without smashing us over the head with it and still manages to weave in the juxtapositions of the Holy Land’s hidden historical secrets and modern pulse and Arab/Israeli relationships. The descriptions of the archaelogical sites are breathtaking, making place a strong character in itself.

Here’s the author explaining her process:

Is it weird to want her to be my rabbi, mentor and BFF?

Speaking of mentors, I hope to one day be a part of novelist Jonathan Rabb’s local writing group. A former Columbia political theory professor, Jonathan moved to Savannah a few years ago from NYC (what can we say? It’s a lovely place to raise a family) and now pens his best-selling historical fiction from Ardsley Park. Because I can’t manage to fit in his writing group yet, I’m consoling myself by consuming his Shadow and Light, the second book in a trilogy set in Berlin between the two world wars. (I have yet to the first, Rosa, since it was already checked out of the library, and the third, tentatively titled The Second Son, will be released in early 2011.)

Noirish and impeccably researched (did I mention the man taught at Columbia?), Shadow and Light utilizes the real-life backdrop of Germany’s Weimar Republic and budding film industry to tell a story of murder, conspiracy and decaying social morale. Another example of how place becomes an active character in fiction, Shadow and Light is a history lesson that crackles with Sam Spade-quick dialogue and hundreds of tiny details. I’m not usually one for crime novels or political commentary, but the combination of perfectly-drawn characters (even the anonymous truck driver in the first scene sticks in the brain) and tasteful treatment of the sordid action of Berlin’s underbelly has me burning through pages when I should be attending other responsibilities (how long can you leave sheets in the dryer without molding?)

After Rabb’s book, I’ve got Chris Cleave’s Little Bee beckoning to me from the nightstand. And if anyone’s looking for chuckle-worthy, stereotype-skewering satire, I must recommend Stressed in Scottsdale scribed by my very own mama, Marcia Fine.

Happy reading! What, you say you’re pressed for time? You’re welcome to sneak down to the laundry room with me.

Kill the Soccer Shofars Now!


El Yenta Man has had the volume turned up from dawn ’til dawn on various soccer matches all week and normally, I’m not one to object to sexy men of all global flavors kicking and sweating.

And though I’ve always appreciated the drunken enthusiasm displayed by football fans worldwide, I’m about to book a midnight flight to South Africa just so I can grab up all those GAWDAMN PLASTIC HORNS AND SHOVE THEM WHERE THE SUN DON’T SHINE.

Speaking of where the sun don’t shine, those plastic horns are actually called vuvuzelas, another reason why they should be considered obscene and banned from existence.

To make matter worse, the company that’s responsible for supplying the most of the world with these horrific instruments of deaf is FROM ISRAEL.

To paraphrase Tablet‘s Marc Tracy, the world might now actually have a legitimate reason to hate Israel.

But maybe there’s a method to the sonorific madness: Maybe all this caterwauling will break down the lies and propaganda like Joshua’s trumpets brought down the walls of Jericho?

Eh. In the meantime, I’m wearing earplugs. And if any joker decides to break out a vuvuzela at Rosh Hashanah as an ersatz shofar, I will start a riot to put the Scottish to shame.


My dear friend and acoustical genius Jory Prum just informed me that a company, Waves, has already come up with an innovative plug-in that specifically reduces vuvuleza noise. Of course, you know Waves is based in…wait for it…Israel. Let the conspiracy theories begin!

Lady Gaga, the Month of Elul & the Illuminati?

This is really more mishegoss than I can handle on a Monday, but here goes:

First, fabulous Rachel of the Jewish record label and publishing house Craig N Co. sent an ecstatic email announcing that this year’s Jewels of Elul contributors would include La Gaga Herself.

(Jewels of Elul is a lovely concept that invites prominent humans, Jewish and not, to write small pieces on a chosen theme to commemorate the Jewish month of Elul — around August-ish— as we prepare ourselves spiritually for the new year. I consider my inclusion in 2007— along with the the Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra! — to be the pinnacle of my career thus far.)

That’s just wacky enough to mess with my morning. Seriously, Ms. Crazy Crucible No Pants writing about “the art of beginning” across the page from Natan Sharansky, wha’?! Look, I get that she’s a boundary-shredding artist who likes hot gay men and fake blood, and the minivan often rocks with a family sing-a-long to “Poker Face.” Catchy hooks? You betcha. Talent? Definitely. Vision? Ohh-kay. But I’m not so sure there’s wisdom there.

But then my 10 year-old, fresh back from a vacation with his grandparents in New York and full of sophistication, was watching music videos and caught this Star of David symbol in Gaga’s new vid “Alejandro”:

It really is a strange piece of work to accompany a tune about a sexy Latin lothario. I’m sure the red latex nun suit and the rosary-eating has Catholics in an uproar, but I kind of shrug this off to Gaga’s personal problems with religion. Ya know, taking Madonna’s issues to the next level to see if she can make the Pope pee in his pants or something.

That wasn’t nearly as interesting to him as the steampunk goggles, and he didn’t have a thing to say about the homoerotic soldiers with Three Stooges haircuts. I suppose I should have tried to shield my kid from the simulated sexy scenes and the whips, but he’d already seen it. I couldn’t hide pop culture more from my kids if I tried — we don’t have cable, we own two Wii games and he spends maybe a half a hour a day or less on the computer. I guess I could lock him in his room with the Talmud but I think that might enhance a child’s propensity for insanity later on.

Anyway, I started looking around for symbolic interpretations for Lady Gaga’s videos and found Jewlicious’ tongue-in-cheek posts on how the tiny Roman Catholic dancer is a Jewish agent of the world-dominating Illuminati (one, two.) Ha ha ha, Mason symbolism, tee hee hee, mind control…

Except those posts led me to these posts by a blogger called Vigilant Citizen (one, two) who writes interpretations about the occult symbolism in music videos. They’re actually very well-informed about the history of conspiracy theories — VC clearly lives in his own mind and sees some very strange connections to Satan in some benign places, but hey, I’m all for personal interpretations on the Internets.

However, his followers are SCARY. The post about the hidden meaning of Gaga’s “Telephone” has almost 2000 comments, many declaring delusions that Lady Gaga’s videos are actually brainwashing people and making comments that reek of anti-Semitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” nonsense.

Geebus. I figured Lady Gaga must have a fairly brilliant mind under those blond wigs in order to climb so quickly to the top of the pop charts, but who knew she was a “crypto-Jew” who has infiltrated the collective unconscious to make us…dance? I wonder if Rabbi Abraham Twerski, who will also appear in this year’s Jewels of Elul, knows?

Bah. Here’s Lady’s Gaga’s vid – you tell me if it makes you want to become an agent of Satan:

The Answer to Israel’s PR Problems?

A friend just forwarded me this with the heading “A Blog Gift for You.” And so I pass on the generosity:

This video, “En tus tierras bailaré” (“In Your Lands Someday I’ll Dance”), features a Latin social activist with cowboy swagger, Peru’s #1 Super Cougar and the Andean Miley Cyrus crooning “How pretty Israel is! Israel, Israel…In your lands one day I’ll dance.”

If you need further explanation, New York Review of Books‘ Alma Guillermoprieto takes a stab at it, but I find it bizarrely engaging all by itself. I mean, any positive publicity for Israel is GOOD at this point, even when it’s wearing a metallic sequined bodysuit, am I right?

A blessed Shabbos and weekend to all.

More Flotilla Fun

I just love those hilarious frummies at — in a totally platonic and appropriate way, of course.

Except I can’t tell if I’m chuckling in an appropriate way or if it’s that kind of maniacal laughter that precedes a night’s stay in a padded room…’s Top Ten Signs The Cruise You are On is A Flotilla:

10. Scuffleboard tournament

9. When someone screams “man overboard,” everyone cheers

8. All-night “clubbing” isn’t exactly what you had in mind

7. Featured drink at the bar: Malatov cocktail

6. Entire cruise already posted on Youtube for your viewing pleasure

5. When set sail, the crowd cheers, “Bomb Voyage!”

4. Seems you are the only one with a round trip ticket

3. Daytime classes include humanitarian improv, fencing and the very popular “spinning stories workshop”

2. Free pocket knife souvenir on every pillow during turn down service

1. All You Can BEAT Buffet

More so-funny-it-hurts flotilla humor here.

Flotilla Madness

Man, not a great week for the Jews, right?

Not only has the Gaza aid ship fiasco generated a whole lot of bad press for Israel, but it’s got Jews everywhere openly questioning their loyalty to the Jewish state.

Surely the questioning was already there, but the Tweets and news reports of “an Israeli attack” on “peaceful activists” has opened a flood of commentary from Jewish writers voicing their “ambivalence” about Israel.

The first piece I read was Marjorie Ingalls’ parenting column on, which fairly and honestly explores how terrifying it can be to explain the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to our children. She also says that she thinks Israel acts like a “bully,” but that “disagreement with Israel doesn’t mean not loving Israel, just as being upset with your own children doesn’t mean you don’t love them.” She caught a huge amount of flak from Tablet’s readers, elegantly addressed in this follow-up piece. I disagree with her on many points, but I respect her courage in offering up her experience.

Then I clicked on David Luban’s “No Direction Home,” a long-winded treatise which I think is about the decline of “liberal Zionism” but comes off sounding like an excuse of why he no longer feels compelled to stand with Israel.

Look, I know us liberal American Jews’ relationship with Israel is COMPLICATED. I don’t begrudge anyone for their informed opinions. I’ve struggled over the years with my own ability to love Israel and not agree with its government tactics and then have to defend Israel’s right to exist in casual conversation. But I have to wonder if all this hand-wringing is provoked by the habit of us self-proclaimed liberal Jews to believe and react to propaganda masquerading as fact.

Those who were depending on the Huffington Post for updates about the flotilla incident never saw the other sites clips of IDF soldiers being attacked and footage of piles of weapons aboard the ship — none of which have shown up on HP even as of today. (I’ve come to find out that HP’s rabid anti-Israel bent has been clearly documented.)

This is a war of information more than anything now. Pro-Palestinian groups know how to use social media to unite their followers, even when they’re intending to spread lies (there was footage seized from the flotilla of “injured activists” filmed well before any IDF soldier set foot on the flotilla.) Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times that “there is no question that this flotilla was a setup. Israel’s intelligence failed to fully appreciate who was on board, and Israel’s leaders certainly failed to think more creatively about how to avoid the very violent confrontation that the blockade-busters wanted.”

Israel, for all its technological advancement, has a kind of Asperger’s-esque inability to sense how it’s perceived in the world. Or maybe it doesn’t care. But it needs to, because it’s losing support fast among its own people, or at least the American liberal-flavored ones. Hopefully, when the next flotilla arrives from Ireland tomorrow, someone in the PR department will do their job to show the world that of course aid is allowed into Gaza — after it’s been checked for weapons and materials that could be used to harm the citizens of Israel.

As for me, after reading about and clicking through and thinking and discussing this incident all week, my views on Israel are the same: I still stand by her. I’m a loud, proud liberal, make no mistake, but I’ve never felt comfortable with the knee-jerk apologies for Israel I heard living in Northern California (boy, I’m glad that I’m not there right now). I’ve encountered too much frightening anti-Israel vehemence that has obvious roots in anti-Semitism to think it’s possible, as a Jew, to disassociate oneself from Israel in the eyes of the rest of the world. And you know what? That’s not a problem for me, because unlike Marjorie Ingalls, I do stand with Abe Foxman’s eagle-eyed quest to hold haters accountable, and I happen to adore our local Yom Ha’atzmaut festivals.

*sigh* I’m not sure if this video is going to help Israel’s image as it attends to the seriousness of facing several million psychotic, screaming liars, but sheesh, it’s good to know someone is keeping a sense of humor about it all:

Vid via my friend in the Jew Crew T-shirt.