“I’ll Never See This Again.”

I think this was the most moving moment of the day for me, and I wasn’t even watching at the very moment it happened – thank heavens my friend Michele told me to rewind right away:

Honor done to President Obama in the ellaesther household.

As President Obama gave his Inaugural speech, my 9 year old daughter took herself off, and about half-way through his remarks, returned to ask me the color of his eyes. Here’s the result:

obama mll portrait


And here’s my own, rather less impressive, honor done — an homage to the Oval Office coffee table:

bowl of apples


Huzzah! Happy Inauguration Day! : )

Inauguration Day.

To paraphrase my favorite Vice President of all time: This is a Big Fucking Deal. The President — this President — is a Big Fucking Deal. Not because he’s an icon, but because of his prodigious skills and inordinate abilities. Because of what he has been able to achieve, despite the enormity of the forces stacked against him. Against us.

Hereunder, a few video reminders of what today’s about — starting with the actual inauguration, which was yesterday, because that’s what the Constitution mandates (by tradition, when January 20 falls on a Sunday, the festivities are moved to the following day):

(It makes me so unreasonably happy every time I hear Justice Roberts say “Barack Hussein Obama”).

How big a fucking deal is this big fucking deal? This big:


Here’s President Obama thanking his campaign staff on November 8 (wrecked voice, tears, and all):


Here’s the President’s acceptance speech a couple of days before:


Here’s the speech he gave in Iowa just one night before that (also complete with tears):


And finally, here’s a young Mr. Barack Hussein Obama presenting a Black History Minute, back in 1991 (he’s just so him!)


Happy Inauguration Day, one and all!

Daniel Gordis and cognitive dissonance.

Israeli_and_Palestinian_FlagsLast week, Daniel Gordis ran an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post entitled “We Gave Peace a Chance,” consisting largely of a lengthy and pretty accurate list of the many and various ways in which Palestinians have been a disappointment to Israelis.

I cannot and will not argue that the Palestinian leadership has been a paragon of virtue, either in leading its own people or in dealing with mine, nor will I argue that the Palestinian people have taken many steps to reassure my people that they don’t actively despise us. It’s my impression, based in a quarter of a century of observation, that a lot of Palestinians do, in fact, despise Israel. Where Gordis and I differ, I think, is our starting point for dealing with Palestinians in the first place.

In his piece, Gordis relies on and advances the same kind of bush-league dehumanization of the Palestinian people writ large at which so many Israeli and American Jews excel. We feel sad when their children die (some of us do, at least, although I’ve certainly heard from those who do not), and we proudly cite Israel’s military rules of engagement as a sign that the IDF is the “world’s most moral army” (without much examining the extent  to which those rules are adhered to or are, in fact, moral). Mostly we just don’t think about the Palestinians—not as a nation, not as a culture. Not as actual people with real rights.

That blindness to the Palestinian people as anything other than flat characters in a play that we Jews get to write is the bedrock for everything else with which I disagree in Gordis’s piece.

Early on, he refers to the long-held peacenik expectation that “we would give land, and we would get peace.” This is an attitude shared and bruited about by many supporters of Israel, and the problem with it is that it presumes that the land is ours to “give” in the first place.

As a Zionist, it’s clear to me that the Land of Israel is the only place in which the Jewish people could build our national home; as a pro-Palestinian activist, I’m very much aware that the contours of the Land of Israel are more or less coterminous with those of historical Palestine.

When the Palestinian leadership began to negotiate for the establishment of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, they were acknowledging that after many decades of nationalist warfare—they had lost. Israel had and would remain in 78 percent of historical Palestine; the State of Palestine would be built on 22 percent, split into two pieces.

But just as the Land of Israel doesn’t belong to the Palestinians, neither does Palestine belong to us. The Palestinian people have just as much right to a state in their homeland as we do; when and if we negotiate land for peace, we’ll not actually be negotiating over “giving” the Palestinians anything—we’ll be negotiating over how to share that which belongs to us both.

Gordis goes on, attempting to rebrand the second intifada as “the Palestinian Terror War,” announcing that the Palestinian leadership has never been interested in a peace deal, and suggesting that the Palestinian position “gets stronger with each passing year.”

Space prevents me from responding to every disagreement we have (and there are more), but I’ll focus on the particularly striking notion that the Palestinian position can be seen as having gotten “stronger,” a notion that’s again based in a bedrock assumption that somehow the Palestinians are somehow a different manner of human:

Why should the Palestinians be interested in a deal? …They have seen the world shift from denying the existence of a Palestinian people to giving them observer status at the U.N. …With the terms bound to get sweeter in years to come, only a fool would sign now.

I’m left to paraphrase Chris Rock: one doesn’t get a cookie for acknowledging that people exist, not even if one is Israel and/or the Jews. Furthermore, U.N. observer status is not unlike being made assistant manager on your junior high basketball team—a consolation prize, and not a very good one.

Meanwhile, Israel decides whether or not Palestinians in Gaza may have access to gravel (serving to rather powerfully suggest that we didn’t really “give them” Gaza after all), and is free to launch military incursions into the West Bank seat of the Palestinian Authority. The state and its settler proxies continue the decades-long theft of Palestinian land on the West Bank, creating facts on the ground in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, while the majority of Gazans find themselves dependent on international agencies to meet their basic food needs. And as the editorial board of Haaretz put it on Thursday, the IDF has created and perpetuated an impression that “Palestinian blood may be shed with impunity.”

Again I ask: What would we Jews, we Israelis do—how would we react—if this was our reality? Would we trust the people who’ve been saying for decades that they want peace even as they continue to build on our land and kill our people? Would we sit quietly, or fight back however we could—fair or dirty, moral or not? Would we find it easy to not hate the people who rule over us? Might we not say (like Daniel Gordis) “our enemies are not fools, but they are consistent”?

By and large, the Palestinians behave as if they’re living in a long-term state of war in which their enemies have vastly more power and much better friends. They sometimes say terrible things (just like Israelis) and they often believe those terrible things (just like Israelis). They behave, by and large, like people.

Gordis is right that Israelis live in “a world of utter cognitive dissonance,” but it’s not a world in which we’ve duped ourselves into believing in the magical unicorn that is Peace With The Palestinians. It’s the world in which we say one thing, act another way entirely, and expect the human beings upon whom we’re acting not to notice.

Unlike Gordis, I can’t fool myself into believing that “to give up hope for peace is not to choose war” (speaking of cognitive dissonance). I fear that our attachment to this kind of willed ignorance will not only continue to lead to the sort of fear and tragedy with which Israelis have lived since 1967, but will ultimately lead to the end of the Zionist dream. For which, I am certain, we will blame everyone but ourselves.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Why I’ll never be fancy.

fancy pantsI will never be fancy. I can fake it, if needs be, but I assure you dear reader: It’s all a ruse.

First of all, there’s the walking.

I fall off my heels. I fall off my heels when I’m barefoot. I trip over curbs, and over the seams between sidewalk sections. Once, when wearing my fanciest dress and my fanciest heels, I took a step off a stage — and slid down the rest of the stairs, in front of God and everybody. The ability to locomote with some degree of confidence is, if I’m not mistaken, a key element of being fancy.

Then there’s the food and drink portion of any event dedicated to fanciness. For starters, I don’t drink. I mean, I do hydrate and all, but I don’t drink alcohol, so the whole “fine wine and/or champagne” thing is lost on me. To make matters worse, when it comes to wine, “I don’t drink” is really just my excuse for not drinking, because I actually hate wine (and/or champagne). It tastes awful — what are you people thinking?

And fancy food generally means fancy meat, and while I do eat meat, I don’t get it. I would almost always prefer a nice bowl of oatmeal, frankly. I will admit that I recently discovered the joys of a well-prepared pan-seared rib eye (and yes, it is in fact possible to keep kosher and still get a good steak) but probably my favorite meat dish is meatloaf. And I think we can all agree that meatloaf is not fancy.

Furthermore, at any given moment, at least one part of my body looks (or in fact is) banged up. I hurt myself in the most mind-boggling ways — the scab I’m currently sporting on my right index finger, for instance, is the result of (and I am really and truly not making this up) being cut by a loaf of bread. A loaf. Of bread.

Now, of course, it was a very crusty loaf of bread. And it was just out of the freezer, and some bits of crust were kind of breaking off and were rather sharp because they were frozen. But still and all. It takes real skill to be injured by a loaf of bread that was not, I don’t know, shot out of a t-shirt cannon at one’s head. (Unless one is Jean Valjean, in which case it was really poverty and a repressive system of government that did the injuring).

I can’t even get a really good manicure, because (follow-up to the above!) I once slammed my left hand in a car door and 30 years later, one of the nails still doesn’t grow properly. I’ve been told that the fact that said nail always splits when it gets past about a millimeter long (actual measurement, BTW) indicates that I must have “damaged the nail seed.” Which, of course. Of course I would “damage the nail seed.”

I do clean up pretty well. Give me a nice dress, a flat-iron, and my makeup basket, and I’ll look ok at your fancy do. And I tend to smile a lot, which I have found can cover a lot of bases.

Plus, it eases everyone’s mind considerably if you’re smiling as they help you up off the floor.


mordor door


Call them. [UPDATED]

The President will be speaking about gun policy midday today. Please call Congress – all the numbers, links, and a brief sample script are right here (or you could just scroll down).

UPDATE: The speech was great and brutally honest and beautiful and moving, and the President said over and over again that we are responsible: “Government of, by, and for the people. We are responsible for each other…. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s do the right thing for [victims], and for this country that we love so much.”

This is our job. Please call Congress.

To read the 23 Executive Actions that President Obama signed, click here.

White House to roll out gun policy on Wednesday.

The Washington Post reports that President Obama will be introducing new gun control proposals “at midday Wednesday.”

The announcement, to be delivered at the White House, is also expected to include a slate of up to 19 executive actions [update: it turned out to be 23 – click here] that the Obama administration can take on its own to attempt to limit gun violence.  The White House has invited key lawmakers as well as gun-control advocates to appear at Wednesday’s policy rollout, according to two officials who have been invited to the event.

Please tell Congress and the White House that you support sensible gun legislation.

Michael Dimock from Pew Research told NPR on Monday that “Gun rights advocates tend to be much more engaged…. 15% of gun rights advocates say they’ve contacted an elected official to address the issue; that’s twice the number that you have among gun control supporters.”

Please call your US Representative: 202-224-3121 (If you don’t know who that is, click here).

Please call your US Senators: 202-224-3121 (If you don’t know who that is, click here).

And please also call the White House – it really matters that President Obama be inundated with support on this, because he is fighting an uphill battle: 202-456-1111.

If you’re not sure what to say: All you really need to say is some version of “I’m calling from [location or zip code] and just wanted to make sure that the Senator/Representative/President knows that I support sensible gun legislation and I hope that Congress and the White House will work together to move forward on the issue.”

It’s my deep, deep hope that the former community organizer from Chicago will not simply address issues like assault weapons bans and magazine capacity but will also address the violence visited on our cities every day, where 1% of the population tends to be responsible for about 70% of shootings (for more on that, please click here), but I guess we’ll know more tomorrow. For the time being, let’s just make sure they know that we want to get the ball rolling.

PLEASE CALL THEM. And if you’ve called them already — please call them again.

Dear too many people on the left: Yes, you’re better than everyone else. Now get over yourselves.

head-deskI get so frustrated, and on a nearly daily basis (thank God for Shabbat, mirite?) with the never-ending carping that happens on my side of the political map regarding the lack of purity of those who would dare condescend to communicate with the vast middle of human opinion.

Yes, it would be nice if everyone on earth believed as I believe about women and rape and Palestinians and human rights and LGBTQ equality and gun violence and whatever whatever whatever, but you know what? They don’t. They really, really don’t.

And there are a lot of people out there doing excellent work, either on the ground or in opinion advocacy (or both) who — gasp! — have the temerity to speak to all those millions of people who have yet to see the wisdom of my great and marvelous mind. To speak in terms that most people will understand. To draw comparisons that are not perfect, but are informative to those who are unfamiliar with the facts. To speak in broad terms, because they only have 800 words, or to deal with a single aspect of a struggle, because they only have 24 hours in a day. To favor immediate needs over long-term goals, or to favor long-term goals over immediate needs. To, on occasion, fall prey to human error or — heaven forfend! — to have once held a different opinion to the one they now support.

And there are a lot of people out there who invest a lot of time and energy in dogging those other people, for not being good enough, or for being too nice to the bad guys, or for failing to fully comprehend the enormity of What Must Be Done and All That Is At Stake.

Fuck that noise.

You cannot organize people where you want them to be – you can only organize them where they are.

You will change no minds and win no hearts by accusing your allies of perfidy – you will only exhaust your allies and convince them to ignore you.

Anger is not sign of sincerity, patience is not a sign of weakness, and purity is unattainable. And snooty sarcasm (to quote Rat, of Pearls Before Swine fame) is never prudent.

Here’s what does help: Talking to people. Raising questions. Thanking them for their commitment, and offering additional information. Assuming that people who identify with The Cause are not, actually, trying their level best to screw you. Most people are mostly decent, and if you don’t believe that to be the case, why are you even trying to live among us? I am going to fail you, I promise you that, and so will everyone else.

And now I’ve yelled (again), and convinced no one. But I feel better. Which is pretty much all that yelling can do, anyway.

And PS: You’re not the only ones who are angry. I am too. Always.



Things I miss.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Typewriter_adler3.jpgI miss the sound of manual typewriters.

Typewriters sound like you’re actually doing something, like sentences are being yanked into the world, possibly against their better judgement, and when all is said and done, you will have A Thing to hold and show the world. I should probably note that I don’t miss actually using typewriters (manual or not), because word-processing is much kinder to my bad typing and changing thoughts. But I miss that sound, what sounded to me like the heartbeat of words.

I miss handwritten letters — real letters, not thank you notes, not yearly and uninformative Christmas cards, but real letters. The kind in which my best friend and I would go on for 12, 15, 20 pages, the kind in which people would tease out their thoughts and feelings even as they wrote, thoughts and feelings they might not have shared, had they had access to a backspace button.

I miss LPs. They felt like something substantial, they felt like they really were one step away from the artists themselves. I miss big, 12 x 12 inch cover art, I miss the gatefold of double-albums, I miss the ritual of cleaning the record, cleaning the needle, setting it down, then there’s that scratchy bit and – sound. Much better sound that MP3s, of course, and possibly better than CDs, but I will admit that my ear isn’t sensitive enough for the latter. I miss judging people by how they treated my records, and I miss knowing that that judgement was accurate.

I miss going shopping for school supplies. It’s true that I actually do go shopping for school supplies every year, not once but twice, but the supplies are not for me. I don’t get to choose the folders, or the pencils, or (indeed) the clothes. I don’t get to wake up of a September morning and feel new and shiny. Indeed, at 48, I very rarely feel new anymore, if I do occasionally feel shiny, but the real point, I think, was the pencils and the notebooks. And sure, now I can buy a bunch whenever I want to – but that’s not new. Or shiny. That’s just having a driver’s license.

More than anything, though, I miss my babies and my toddlers. They were lovely, you know? Well, perhaps you don’t, but they really were. Here, see?


The boy.

The girl (and a bee).

The girl (and a bee).

The world is a better place without typewriters and LPs, and my children are a delight at any age. But some things, some times, will always be missed, even if that which comes after is a blessing.

And some things I will never miss. But perhaps that’s a different post.