Posts tagged: judaism

Emotion versus Reason – Military might and Israel

By , September 24, 2012 3:58 pm

Compensating much?

Last night, while watching TV, I spent some time on my laptop surfing Wikipedia’s pages about the military. I was sent to Wikipedia by some link in a discussion over at Slashdot on why aircraft carriers are still important. I looked at military expendituresMissile defense systems. The history of the US Navy. And, or course, aircraft carriers themselves. Delving into Wikipedia was, as it so often is, entirely fascinating. While doing all this browsing, though, I noticed a disconnect between my emotion and my reason. Logically, I want US military expenditure (currently at $700+ billion a year, and accounting for 41% of worldwide military spending) to drop. I want it to drop a lot. The US spends less than 1% of that amount on the National Science Foundation. About 3% of that amount on NASA. About 0.03% of that amount on the arts.  If even a fraction that money went to education, to science, to space exploration, to the arts, to education imagine where we’d be. A world with the US spending $600 billion on the military (still kind of absurd) with tens of billions going to other projects.

At the same time, while browsing Wikipedia, I am reminded of the emotional security that comes with an absurdly (even obscenely) powerful military.

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Jewish antisemitism (in which I badmouth Israel AGAIN)

By , June 6, 2012 4:14 pm

I’m no stranger to opening my mouth and talking about Israel, even though I’m relatively ignorant about its history or its current situation. My biggest foray into Israel and its history were two posts last May, about Obama and Israel and whether or not Israel is an apartheid state. (Short summary: Obama said “borders” when Israel prefers “armistice lines,” and no, Israel isn’t an apartheid state, but not for lack of trying to subjugate the Palestinians.)

A little over a year later, my mom is dating someone who is vocally pro-Israel. I like him a lot, and we agree on lots of political issues, but we send pro- and anti-Israel emails back and forth every so often. Most recently, he said he’ll buy us each a copy of Side By Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine, so we can talk about it sometime. While we wait for the books to get here, though, he sent me this gem:

 if you want to make it in this incipient debate, here’s some very strong amunition for your side.  Join up with the Holocaust deniers, those who believe we use the blood of children in our matzos, and that we are all members of an international conspiracy to take over the world…for these are the beliefs of those who argue for the total recognition of the Palestinians and all of their arguments. Link: http://isracampus.org.il/third%20level%20pages/Editorial%20-%20Steven%20Plaut%20-%20The%20Pathology%20of%20Jewish%20Anti-Semitism.htm

My response is below.

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“Israel is the gender-neutral bathroom of my people”

By , February 22, 2012 3:14 pm

I recently spoke to a group of high school students at the synagogue I’d attended growing up, and where I had my Bar Mitzvah. The workshop went really well, and the students seemed receptive and open to what I was saying. I’m speaking next week to a group of seventh grade students, which should be fun, too.

After the workshop, I had a conversation with the friend of mine, Dinah, who runs the youth programming. We were discussing our queer identities, and how those do and don’t mesh with our Jewish identities. I brought up a conversation I’d had over the weekend, in which, while discussing Israel, someone Jewish (Sam) said, “Israel is the only place I’ve ever visited where I haven’t been a minority.”

Dinah agreed with Sam’s sentiment, and said one way she’s explained the importance of Israel to queer friends is in a context many queer people understand. As she put it, “Israel is the gender-neutral bathroom of my people.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that concept, but I’m not sure it rings true for me.

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Race identity

By , November 29, 2011 1:52 pm

Not the kind of race I mean

I was recently having a conversation with a number of artistic peers, discussing the impact of our personal and community histories on our art and artistic process. I don’t remember who the question was raised by, but the group consisted of a mix of racial/ethnic/gender/sexual identities, making for good conversation.

In general we all agreed that our various personal and community histories – of religion, race, ethnicity, language, geography, class, sexuality, gender, and so on and on and on and on – played a factor in how we approached creating art. While it was a great conversation, and fodder for more discussion, I’m less interested in that than in something which happened after.

During the conversation, I said, “It’s been interesting going from presenting as part of a strong, privileged group – white, heterosexual, male – to an oppressed group: queer, trans, female.  I try to both be conscious of and artistically honor that oppression while being aware of the privilege I still do posses.”

Then, while giving someone a ride home – who identifies as black, female, lesbian – she turned to me and said, “Your comment really surprised me, since I don’t think of you as white.”

What?

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Israeli Aparthied?

By , May 27, 2011 4:02 pm

That’s right, I’m wading back into Israel. Not satisfied with my recent post about Israel, Obama’s speech, and the 1967 borders/lines/whatever, an article I saw in my Google News feed caught my eye. The Sacramento Bee disappointingly reprinted a total fluff piece entitled “New York LGBT Center Taking Sides of Anti Semites.” The subtitle is “Michael Lucas Organizes Boycott,” and the piece is by none other than one Michael Lucas. Way to be classy. I’m not linking to the piece, since it’s total propaganda, but it did make me really curious about the organization being referenced, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. And, more broadly, is Israel supporting a state of apartheid?

(For the record, I do think this discussion and disagreement is newsworthy, I just think it’s really poor reporting to reprint a biased self-written press release supporting a specific position. So I’m not opposed to the Sacramento Bee reporting something,  just on how they chose to report.)

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How Obama pissed off Israel – the 1967 “borders”

By , May 23, 2011 1:53 pm
For all its faults, Israel is pretty badass

Picking on Israel went really well for the aggressors...

Following my last post, I’ve been trying to do some research to figure out why Obama’s urging to use the 1967 Israel borders as a starting point was a bad thing, and why it pissed off Israel (and a bunch of other folks). Here’s what I’ve been able to figure out.

 

In 1967, Israel was attacked (again…) by Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the Six Day War, so called because that’s how long it took for Israel to kick everyone else’s ass and over double its territory. That’s right: Israel was invaded and ended up with more land than it started with. Specifically, Israel ended up with the Sinai Peninsula (since returned to Egypt), the Gaza Strip (which Israel has already pretty much withdrawn from), the West Bank (which Israel has also basically said they’re wiling to part with, even though Jewish settlers keep making new settlements), East Jerusalem (which Israel is most emphatically not willing to part with and no one seriously expects them to), and the Golan Heights (which is, as far as I can tell, the biggest point of contention concerning the 1967 borders). For more info, check out Wikipedia’s page on Israeli-occupied territory.

But even the use of the word “borders” is making some people upset. Someone on Twitter sent me this link, which talks about how the map to the right describes armistice lines following the 1967 Six Day War, not mutually agreed upon borders of a cohesive, internationally recognized and legit state. And, apparently, the pre-1967 borders/lines/whatever were really just the result of the cessation of hostilities in 1948, when soldiers (mostly) stopped shooting at each other for the next two decades. (Noticing a pattern here?)

As far as I can find, the outrage over Obama’s comments, from right wing US politicians as well as Israel, is pretty much manufactured. This has been the US’s official position for the last 20+ years, and shouldn’t have surprised anyone. But is it a good position? That, not surprisingly, is much more difficult to determine.

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In Which I Offend The Jews (Who Are A Monolithic People And Can’t Have Individual Opinions)

By , May 12, 2011 4:47 pm
[A table is set with shabbat candles. REBECCA lights them while saying the following prayer. It (loosely) translates to ‘Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who creates _____.” Lighting should be enough to see REBECCA, even when the candles are blown out, but low enough that lighting the candles provides some light to her face]

REBECCA: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha?olam, bo’re p’ri I only remember the prayers which go like this. [REBECCA blows out the candles]

I’m a bad Jew. I don’t keep kosher, I don’t celebrate holidays, I don’t particularly believe in God. But I could be a good Jew and not keep kosher. Not celebrate holidays. Not particularly believe in God.

[REBECCA relights the candles] Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha?olam, bo’re p’ri it bugs me that I can’t get in touch with observent friends on the sabbath because they can’t answer their cellphones. [REBECCA blows out the candles]
I’m a bad Jew because I don’t support Israel.

[REBECCA relights the candles] Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha?olam, bo’re p’ri feeling bad about the Holocaust didn’t give the Western World the right to further divide up the Middle East simply because they didn’t want to deal with Jewish refugees. [REBECCA blows out the candles]

And I understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is incredibly complex. The Jewish historical and religious roots in Israel go back thousands of years. Continue reading 'In Which I Offend The Jews (Who Are A Monolithic People And Can’t Have Individual Opinions)'»

Svara and queering Judaism

By , March 28, 2011 1:26 pm

Limmud Chicago was today, and I did an hour presentation (well, 45 minutes because lunch cut into it) on being Jewish and transgender. The session went really well, and had some good discussion. I went in with the attitude of “Well, nothing is more Jewish than having lots of questions and few answers, so here we go!” Fortunately, the eight or ten folks who attended the session seemed interested and engaged, so they were willing to discuss my experience and the confusion it has brought up.

Much more exciting (for me, at least) was a session called “A Queer Take on Talmud.” I went in with some interest, but also some skepticism: none of the things I’ve read on Judaism as it relates to gender identity or sexual orientation has been particularly revelatory. Interesting, yes, but not eye-opening.

“A Queer Take on Talmud” was revelatory. Eye-opening in the way I’ve been waiting for.

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Return to Hebrew School

By , February 26, 2011 12:33 pm

This past Thursday, I ventured back to my childhood synagogue to lead a class of seventh graders in a discussion of gender and gender identity. The class was taught by two people around my age, including one I attended high school with (and who hired me to lead the class), and I talked with the teachers beforehand about what they’d been discussing.

The class – a pilot program in its first year – seems really awesome, and I’m jealous I didn’t have something similar when I was at Hebrew School. The teachers set out to lead a frank and open discussion around sex, sexuality, teen and adult identity, By the time I came into the classroom, they’d already covered respect, sex and sexuality, and – perhaps most importantly – how to discuss uncomfortable topics. (I loved their ‘spaghetti rule,’ which said that using any word or language to be mean – even spaghetti, as in “That shirt is so spaghetti” – is unacceptable.)

I came in somewhat skeptical of the teachers’ claims of their students’ maturity, but was pleasantly surprised.

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Not from sickness, but from passion – Trans and Jewish

By , February 21, 2011 5:51 pm

Balancing on the Mechitza is a book of essays on Judaism and trans issues. It’s an interesting read, though I admit I didn’t read every essay particularly closely – some of them I simply glanced through. But there was a lot of good material in there, both for how I think of myself as Jewish and how I think of myself as trans. From Abandonment to the Body’s Desire, by Rachel Pollack:

As I [look at my cultural and spiritual history] it strikes me more and more that cross-gender and sexuality is not a matter of sickness, or disturbance, or abuse, as people so often claim, but of passion. The sickness comes from living in the wrong gender. When we cast that off, we begin to live as healthy people. [cut] As long as we tell others and ourselves, “I did this because I was sick,” we cannot become healthy.

[cut] If we acknowledge, or claim produly, that we made these changes as a life-giving act of passion, we risk losing the moral authority given to victims. But victims have no power. Victims can never celebrate their lives. (Emphasis added)

That’s a hard shift to make, from thinking of being trans as something to be treated or fixed – the analogy I’ve used in the past is “it’s like a diabetic needing insulin” – to thinking of it as an exploration and validation of the body’s passions.

But I still have trouble finding passion for Judaism, in an age where God does not answer prayers, except with silence.

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