Another guest post!+ Yes, another holiday.

I am very proud to say that I am today’s featured guest poster at NonProphet Status.

Chris Stedman (perma-linked in the Smart People blogroll) is the Managing Director of State of Formation, an initiative of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions — and he’s an atheist. His blog is dedicated to the entirely reasonable proposition that atheists and people of faith can find a place of mutual respect, and work together toward shared goals. We found each other through Twitter (all hail the Tweet!), and he asked if I might like to rework an old piece for posting over at his place — to which I could only say: Yes, please!

Here’s the top of that post — for the rest, please click through!

Lately Americans have been talking a lot about faith – the Muslim faith. As we grapple with the understanding of just how diverse we are as a people, Americans of good will – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims – have been striving to help their countrymen learn that we have nothing to fear from Islam. As a believing Jew, I’ve been right there in the thick of it.

But as I struggle with the fact that so many of my fellow citizens fear a belief system dear to the hearts of 1.5 billion people, I struggle also with another, far less acknowledged, fact: Even more of them fear my husband.

Because he doesn’t believe in God at all.

I urge you to also check out the important work that Chris just did for The New Humanist (published the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University), an “attempt to offer an introductory but comprehensive consideration of the issues surrounding nonreligious involvement in the interfaith movement.”

The idea that interfaith cooperation is necessary to advance social progress was not a conclusion I came to overnight. In fact, after I stopped believing in God, I spent some time walking about decrying the “evils of religion” to anyone who would listen. I wanted nothing to do with the religious, and was sure they wanted nothing to do with me.

…Now I see interfaith cooperation as the key to resolving the world’s great religious problems. All the more, I want my secular community to join me, to share their stories and learn from those of the religious. And, more importantly, I want us to join with the religious in working to resolve the problems that afflict our world. Together, we will accomplish so much more.

And speaking of religion!

Tonight (in, like, half an hour) yet another Jewish holiday begins! I would explain, but honestly, it’s kind of complicated — it’s two holidays smooshed into one, unless you live in the Diaspora, where it’s still two, unless you come from Israel, which we do, so it’s still one for you, unless you’ve officially moved to the Diaspora, which we have, so then it’s supposed to be two, unless you’re like us and holding on to your Israeli-Jewishness by your very teeth and thus only ever celebrate them smooshed together as one…. Who has time to explain all that!

I will say this though: Among our celebrations over the next day/two days will be Simhat Torah, a celebration of our Torah, the very thing that makes us a people. We finish the annual cycle of reading the first five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) — and then we start all over again. There will be dancing, and parading about with our Scriptures in our arms, and children running around like wild things, and it will once again remind me of how much I love the homey reverence with which we hold our faith and our holy books, awed and yet also literally carrying it all in our all-too-human hands. It’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing — and, as per usual, it means I won’t be here again until there are three stars in the sky on Thursday night. (Or possibly later, as these Diaspora Jews, they think the whole dancing with the Torah thing is tomorrow night, so I’ll be in services! I told you it was complicated).

So, the usual reminder: All first comments require my approval — if you get stuck in moderation, I’ll fish you out as soon as I can.

In the meantime, chag sameach, happy holiday! (And go read NonProphet Status!).

The problem.

I have family in a West Bank settlement.

Every left-wing Israeli family has its right-wing wing, and the rightists have their lefties. Thus, when I married my husband, I got not just his left-wing-through-and-through nuclear family of origin, but also the folks who parked their Uzis under the table at our wedding (next, it should be noted, to the table at which my Palestinian co-worker sat. Oh, that was a moment!). I also got the aunt and uncle who lived in a Jerusalem “neighborhood” which I, in the fullness of time, finally realized was actually a settlement in its own right, but they’ve since moved into really-Israeli-Jerusalem (their daily needs changed, not their ideology).

Everyone on that side of the family — all modern Orthodox, all parents of many children — has never been anything but kind and welcoming to me. They’ve reached out, they ask after me, after us, they want to see pictures of the children, they’re sorry we’ve moved away. One cousin in particular has the warmest, most gentle smile. She makes you feel like you’ve made her day just by walking into the room.

But the truth is that it matters not in the least that they are kind, or warm, or gentle. Because they are the problem.

They — in the broadest sense: they, and their friends, and their beautiful houses, and their armed guards, and their by-pass roads — are what stands in the way of peace and security for 7.3 million Israelis and 4 million Palestinians. I would venture that a good few Palestinians might even find them to not be particularly kind, warm, or gentle.

I know some people can compartmentalize their lives so completely that this sort of cellular-level disagreement regarding the ethics of one’s daily behavior can be overlooked for the sake of the relationship, but I am not such a person. Beyond what I’ve just said, I can’t really tell you much more about this side of the family, because I’ve worked pretty hard not to know them.

When I was once forced (it felt like I was forced) to spend the night in one of their homes, I couldn’t sleep; when celebrating family milestones together, I frequently have to leave the room, just to breathe. Whenever I see any of them, talk to any of them, hear about any of them, I want to — I don’t know, what? I guess I want to take away their homes and their land and move them bodily into Israel proper, and then shut the door and walk away, so as not to hear the stream of lies-that-they-believe that would inevitably pour from their mouths about Greater Israel and the knife I had just plunged into the nation’s back.

When the neighbors of the woman with the gentle smile were killed in a terrorist shooting, I did call. I asked how the family was doing, how the children were doing. I did it through gritted teeth, and I did it because it was the right thing to do, and, I will admit, I did it to make a point that the left often fails to make: No matter where you may live, you do not deserve to be shot to death on your way home. Terrorism — perhaps it bears repeating — is evil.

But it took terrorism for me to make any kind of effort, and that was years ago. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about their lives now.

Other than, of course, the earlier stated fact that they are the problem.

Their homes are the problem. Their decision, and the decisions made by half a million other Jewish Israelis to live on Palestinian land and slowly but surely turn the entire Jewish State into the Settlers’ Auxiliary and Bugle Corps, their decision to build and keep building and keep building and keep building — this is why, when history looks back on the Jewish State, it will see a sea of blood followed by the ultimate dismantling of the state.

When our blood is in the ground, when the Palestinians and Israelis have reached the point that the killing has utterly destroyed both societies and The State of Israel is but one more disaster on the long, long list of Jewish disasters, when, finally, this long, horrific tale is done — our blood will mingle, and no one will know which drop belonged to whom.

And the anemones will cover our graves, grow up and down the hills, heedless of battlelines or borders. Because that’s what anemones do.

 

**********************

For information, background, and statistics on the settlements: The Foundation for Middle East Peace

For historical documents on the occupation and settlement project: South Jerusalem (note, in particular, this legal opinion finding that settlements were contrary to international law, issued two months after the 1967 Six Day War).

For the impact of settlements on the Palestinian population of the West Bank: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

For the history of the settler movement, read: Gershom Gorenberg’s excellent The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (Gorenberg is also one of the left-wing Orthodox bloggers at South Jerusalem)

For a close look at Palestinian life under occupation, read: Saree Makdisi’s heartbreaking Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation

Note: If anyone knows of a good source on Israeli perceptions of/responses to the settlements — a sociological or psychological study, something beyond polls such as these — please let me know.

***********************

Update: Coincidentally, Bradley Burston at HaAretz wrote a very similarly-themed piece in today’s paper: “Confessions of an Israeli anti-settler bigot”:

They say the first step in dealing with rage is acknowledging it. So here it is: I have become a bigot where it comes to the settlement movement.

I believe that the officials, the activists, and the Diaspora bankrollers and rooting section of this movement have ruined my life. They ruin it a little more every single day.

The extent to which they have embittered the lives of millions of Palestinians is incalculable. I won’t pretend to know what they go through or how it feels. For the moment, I just want to talk about what the settlement movement does to its fellow Israelis, and why so many of us are so fed up.

Bradley Burston is one of my favorite Israeli commenters. Please click through and read it all.

Things I shouldn’t hate nearly as much as I do.

You know how there’s genuinely annoying stuff that you kind of don’t really notice? And then there’s pretty mild stuff that you actually actively hate? And probably shouldn’t?

Oy, don’t get me started.

Oh, ok, I’ll get started:

  1. People who say “ATM machine” and/or its direct corollary: “PIN number” - So ok, I’m not a monster. I don’t hate those people. But I fucking hate what they say! People, people: You don’t need to tack the noun on — it’s right there in the acronym! Right there and handy! All bundled up, for the ease of your elocution! Lesser hate: The use of the word “social” in place of the apparently-far-too-long-for-mere-mortals-to-get-their-mouths-around “social security number.”
  2. The endless confusion of “less” and “fewer” – Say it with me now: If it can be counted – you use “fewer.” If it cannot be counted? “Less.” Thus: I have less patience for people who have fewer brain cells. See? Simple. Now go fix the damn signs in the grocery store.
  3. She Drives Me Crazy, by the Fine Young Cannibals – It drives me crazy. And it is apparently the only song from the late 1980s that radio stations not dedicated to the 1980s are allowed to play. (What – is there a law?)
  4. Commercials that attempt to fool you into believing that you are eavesdropping on an actual conversation – Commercial currently played ad infinitum, nay, ad nauseum on Chicago radio about how if I stick labels on everything in my office, my workers will become 817% more effective? “According to a recent study”? I’m looking at you.
  5. The voice of Mark Regev – Mark Regev is an Israeli government spokesman born in Australia, whence they produce people who speak English with an accent that I generally quite enjoy. And yet when I hear Regev’s dulcet tones pronouncing whatever callous lies the Israeli government is currently foisting on the world, I’m as likely to break the radio as listen to it. His voice quite literally makes me shudder.
  6. The use of margarine and imitation vanilla in baking – Well, no. Upon reflection, I heap upon these abominations precisely the amount of contempt and loathing they deserve.
  7. Football - But I’ve learned that the less I say about this, the better.

Housekeeping – support your local blogger.

A quick post for now, just to announce some updates. /clears throat/ There have been updates!

To wit:

  1. Mama_Z has been added back to the TNC blogroll, in a new iteration.
  2. Benjamin the Ass has been added back to the TNC blogroll, in the same iteration, but now with more, you know, blogging!
  3. This isn’t really an update so much as a reminder but: I added Russell King’s Russ’ Filtered News to the Smart People blogroll some time ago, and dude. Really. You have to go. He brings the news, he brings the funny, he brings the smart.
  4. NonProphet Status, the blog maintained by atheist-interfaith activist Christopher Stedman, has also been added to the Smart People blogroll, and dude. Really. You have to go! He, too, is smart and funny, and he’s also doing something that almost no one else is doing, i.e.: Searching for common ground between those who believe, and those who really don’t. Or, as he puts it: NonProphet Status is a forum for stories promoting atheist-interfaith cooperation that hopes to catalyze a movement in which religious and secular folks not only co-exist peacefully but collaborate around shared values. (And I’ll be guest posting there later this week – just one more reason to love Chris!)

Update to the update! I’ve also added commenter Huimang to the TNC blogroll – check it!

Another update to the update! And now I’ve added not one, but two links to Josh Jasper! His pro-blog, and his livejournal. Check it – er- them!

Yet another update! Now I’ve added l_roberts to the TNC Webring! Verily, you should check it!

Home.

I never thought that my children would be growing up within shouting distance of where I grew up.

I think this had to do, in part, with the nature of the age in which I came of age: The 1970s were a time in which Americans like me moved hither, thither and yon, at the apparent drop of a hat, and no one lived near anyone. The fact that I spent two-thirds of my childhood a ten minute walk from my grandparents’ house, the very house in which my mother grew up, was, upon reflection, kind of odd. Certainly unusual. Even for as small a town as Lake Bluff, Illinois.

But then I not only moved away, I  move away, taking root in Israel. And I never once considered moving back to the States, never considered raising children in any language but Hebrew, never thought I’d house them anywhere but in Tel Aviv (Kfar Saba, in a pinch).

When I applied to US graduate schools, it was only because I wanted the opportunity to live as an adult in America — not to move here. I applied up and down the East Coast and to the University of Chicago, because if I wasn’t going to be home, I at least wanted to be near family. Accepted at all the schools to which I applied , I chose the U of C not because I had grown up on Chicago’s North Shore, but because they paid my way. Again, there was no thought, whatsoever, that I should be looking at mortgage rates or school districts.

Even after I had my first baby I didn’t know we were staying. We were going to be home in time for the boy to start kindergarten in Israel, didn’t everybody know that? Honestly.

And so we come to yesterday, wherein I found myself a dozen years back in the States, driving north on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive with my two very American children, speaking English, listening to Fleetwood Mac, headed to my past.

We spent the morning tootling around Lake Bluff, with me saying things like “Oh, hey! I used to dig in these little hills hoping they were Indian burial mounds and I’d find an arrowhead!” and “That’s where your grandma and I both went to school!” and “Yep, that parking lot used to be my house!” And then we went apple picking (and if there is a more quintessentially Rockwellian/Midwestern/American-small-town activity than going apple picking on a breezy late September day, I don’t know what it might be) at the very orchard at which I used to pick apples.

My kids go on field trips to the same museums I went to. They swim in the same lake I swam in. They feel a special affinity to Abraham Lincoln, just like I did, and they are charmed and wowed by the same big city that has charmed and wowed me my entire life.

And having never expected it, the gift it has proven to be occasionally bowls me over.

My childhood was not easy. Lake Bluff was, for me, for my family, a point of salvation but (I have since realized) also the repository of ghosts and sorrows. The last time I was there I wound up fleeing, with an almost palpable sense of dogs nipping at my heels, or ghosts grabbing at my heart. I couldn’t get out quickly enough.

But yesterday, on a Norman Rockwell Saturday, the love of my life and I took our boy and girl to — a place. A nice place, but: a place. My stories were vaguely listened to, or genially ignored, as they should have been, given the age of my audience. Any rush of emotion I might have had was supplanted by the real needs of real people, people whose childhood is shaping up, so far, to be as Rockwellian as any Norman himself might have envisioned (knock on wood, hamsa aleichem!). The reality of the joyful life that I have built for myself is right now, and my past, it turns out, has passed.

All unexpected, my children share with me the cultural touchstones that shape my worldview — but they will never share the sorrows. There is nothing out-sized, or mythic, or existentially meaningful to the struggles of the bad years — they were just bad. And now they’re over.

And someday, please God, my children will tell their children: Your grandma used to dig here for arrowheads! And then they’ll pile in the car, and go pick apples.

Welcome! I have to go now!

I’m so glad that so many new folks are swinging by, and really hope you’ll poke around a little, to see what you might find! In my earlier post, I linked to a few old pieces that show the breadth of subject matter that you’ll find here at In My Head (from Winnie the Pooh to wars in the Middle East), and here are a couple of earlier round-ups: The past is prologue, and The past is prologue II.

I need to point out two important facets of the functioning of this blog, however:

  1. I don’t roll on Shabbos, meaning that I will very soon not be around for nearly 25 hours (until Saturday evening) to do any moderating — which leads to:
  2. All first comments require my approval. Which means you may get stuck in moderation for a little while. But if that happens, I promise to fish you out as soon as I can!

In the meantime, please enjoy the work of my internet pal ajw93! She blogs here (though she needs to post more often… Hey! ajw93! What’s up with that?), and her photography can be purchased here. Enjoy! (And don’t forget to stroll down and gaze at the beauty that is bactrian’s work, as well! Or, just click here).

On a lonely road in the Catskills, I found a mysterious bog of dead trees. Hudson, NY. 2010.

Blogger stymied.

Well, this day has taken a turn for the surrealistic!

First, Ta-Nehisi posts an endorsement of this blog that just knocks me off my feet, makes me cry, turns my frown upside down, the whole nine yards. Then all the folks over there are so sweet I can hardly stand it. And Ta-Nehisi said I maka him cry. And all this time my Twitter feed is hailing me right left and center. Then I get a ping-back from my old internet pal The Grand Panjandrum — a delight unto itself — and thus learn that Balloon Juice has front-paged me again (it was, after all, John Cole at Balloon Juice who was the first blogger at the big kids table to ever link to me)! Then I scoot back over to TNC’s site to peek at the original post again — and lo and behold, not only do more kindnesses await, but my own sister has left a comment! And then I learn, via commenter DougEMI, that because Ta-Nehisi gets linked to on memorandum — so did I!

My head is spinning, inside and out. I’m sure that real bloggers, the grown-up kind, the kind that get linked to all the live-long-day, are not given head-spinnies by such events. I’m sure they are unmoved and unfazed. Well. I am still a very wee fish is an unfathomable sea, and as such, I am both moved, and fazed!

I had planned to write something light today — tired, as I am, of all the heaviness I’ve brought to these pages lately — and then I got paralyzed by the attention, thinking: Not light! Not light! Important! You must write something important!

And then I learned that there are serious troubles afoot for one of the two American-Jewish organizations that I really believe in, J Street (the other one being Americans for Peace Now), and then I learned of running battles in the streets of Jerusalem, and I was brought crashing to earth.

Because whatever has happened at J Street, it frankly doesn’t matter — because neither J Street, nor the people involved with J Street, are the point. The occupation is the point. The lack of peace is the point. The horrors that could be stopped, if only we were to do the one thing that could stop them, are the point. But none of that will matter, because now, for the next several weeks, all the talk around the conflict in American Jewish circles will center not on the conflict, but on J Street.

So. I’m wrecked with the whipsaw of emotion, and I’m not going to even try post a real post today. But I will do so on Sunday, a thing I don’t usually do, in order to kind of catch up. Pinky swear!

And in the meantime, I made a promise to another internet pal, and that is a promise I intend to keep. Watch this space, for soon, a lovely photograph will appear above it!

Wow.

Update: Also, don’t forget to check out the “Lovely Folks @ Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Place” blogroll on the right!

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have great respect and deep fondness for Ta-Nehisi Coates, a man to whom I link almost compulsively, whose writing slays me on a nearly daily basis, and whose generosity of spirit and openness to the new are not only moving, but they’ve led him to almost accidentally create an online community of real depth and warmth. It’s a group of people who are geeky in the best possible sense of the word, emotionally and intellectually honest, and a joy to hang out with, at our virtual watercooler.

And today, Ta-Nehisi not only “front-paged” me (in the parlance of those-who-comment-on-blogs), he full-on endorsed me:

I’ve been meaning to say the following–All of you should be reading Emily Hauser’s blog. Emily, who comments here, got a shout-out from Nicholas Kristof during Peretz-gate (and someone else who I can’t remember.) But that aside, she impresses me because she displays a quality which all bloggers struggle with–commitment.

This doesn’t happen to me often, but I am, in fact, speechless. Thank you, TNC, and thank you all you commenters and lurkers who are now swinging by at TNC’s recommendation. I’ll be sure to get a real post up later today (I mean, if all these guests are going to stop by, I really should serve them a little something, I think!), but in the meantime, I just wanted to say: Wow.

Wow!

And to get the ball rolling, I’ll use the little introduction I cooked up the other day, when (as TNC so kindly noted) Nicholas Kristof linked to me:

The About page is a good place to start — I’m a freelance writer who used to write commentary all over the place, until the world of print and the world’s finances collapsed, and well, upsy-daisy! Now I blog.

I write a lot about Israel/Palestine, and from there often spin out into other Middle Eastern issues, broadly speaking — hence, all the writing I’ve done lately on Islam, including my general fulminating on the Cordoba House/ “Ground Zero Mosque” issue.

But I also stray pretty far from those core areas, the areas in which I got my education and professional background. Occasionally, for instance, I blog about stuff like Martin Luther King’s Strength to Love, or my two gorgeous children, or magazines I hate (and other stuff that I don’t hate), or music. I’ve written about Winnie the Pooh and a really annoying Heineken ad, body issues and the crying need to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. (For a while there I was writing a lot about health care reform, but phew! That one’s under our belt now!).

In short, this place covers quite a range. I hope you take some time to look around, and if you like what you see, you come back, and maybe even comment! (And why not tell your friends – it couldn’t hurt!).

Good stuff: Look! Look how pretty!

Update: Link to bactrian’s site now fixt.

The other day I lifted a comment made at Ta-Nehisi Coates’s place in which Muslim-American commenter bactrian responded to Marty Peretz’s anti-Muslim rantings. I later updated with bactrian’s real name, and the fact that you’ll find some of his lovely photography here: Zenfolio / Ciruce A. Movahedi-Lankarani. And I urged everyone to take a look — as one does, with lovely things!

But really, why stop with a link? Why not post a picture?

Evening Repast at the Djemaa el Fna - Every night the Djemaa el Fna would fill up with food stalls where they prepared all manner of delicious things. The best meal of our entire trip was found here.

(And now you know why I think you should go look at the rest of them!).

In which technology fails me utterly.

I had a couple of thoughts for posts, and certainly wanted to get something up before the holiday of Sukkot starts (in, like, an hour and fifteen minutes!), forcing me to disappear from all professional pursuits for another 25 hours (sunset today until three-stars-in-the-sky tomorrow), but Comcast had other plans — plans like leaving me with no phone or internet for nearly eight hours!

And honestly? That’s just the tip of today’s iceberg. It also involves soup that boiled over, and a kid that forgot my Bible (my Bible!) on the school bus, and my cell phone launching what appears to be its death march. And hiccups. Etc. It’s been the anti-yesterday, and boy am I glad I had yesterday to reflect on as I sopped up today’s various messes!

So, yeah. This is the post. If you want to learn about Sukkot — honestly one of my favorite times of year, as it involves (among other things) my whole delightful wee little family trooping out to eat our meals in a hut set up temporarily in our backyard for a solid week — this and this and this will help (our sukkah [hut] looks like a much smaller version of the bottom picture in that last link). And if you don’t want to learn about Sukkot? I got nothin’. (But I am sorry!)

Off to save the soup! (And hag sameach, happy holiday, if you’re celebrating!)

Oh and – PS: Thanks to all who wished me a happy birthday! You are very sweet, you are!

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