Monday, January 26, 2015

The Last Ride Home

We lost a good woman, a great lady, and a pillar of our family this past week. Pesh was the poster woman for grace and fortitude, honesty and compassion, acts of loving kindness and feats of loving cooking. She was an Aishet Chayil...a true woman of both the classic and modern senses of those verses from the Book of Proverbs (chapter 32:10-31.) 

She had done so much for me in the years since that evening I called their home to ask: "Do the names Peshe and Shlomo Sweet mean anything to you?"  Her answer, "I'm Peshe, but I think you mean my husband's grandparents," changed our world forever: I had family in St. Paul. We had crossed into being part and parcel of our little community by virtue of being related to them.

Senior son with his favorite rock star
It is hard to write down all the lessons from Pesh. There was the soup-skimming lesson and the floating matzah ball lesson; the bite-your-tongue-and-say-nothing lesson, and the NFF*-eat-nothing lesson when more people than expected showed up for a festival meal. Life, she used to tell me when I was mired down, was meant to be lived, not frozen in time. "Snap out of it!' was her best admonishment....and my favorite. 

Jewish tradition calls for Kavod ha'Met, the act of honoring the dignity of the dead. This is a sacred obligation, the last thing you can do for a person, something that can never be repaid.  When asked to accompany Pesh home to where she would join her husband, my incredible cousin Bud (z"l), in the family plot, I was humbled by the request to be her shomeret from Minneapolis to Madison. Riding with her was such a small thing. A long ride, sure, but a flash, a split second, barely a moment when compared with time she had given not just to us, but to our entire community. 

Those four hours, much of it spent with my hand resting on the corner of the covered plain pine casket behind me, seemed much too short. Pesh was still with us, above ground, and I wanted so much for her to knock on the box to tell us to stop and go back. For those hours, my job was to protect her, but she was still protecting me; I could hear her voice in my head telling me this was enough already. Time to let go. 

Letting go is not easy. No matter how prepared we think we are, no one is ever really prepared to say a final farewell. We cling to the memories we want to cling to, we selectively remember the words, the phrases, and the sighs that make up a relationship between two people. There may be photographs, or even videotapes that let us linger with a presence for a moment or two, but at the end of life's day, letting go is all we can do. However reluctantly.

If you are lucky enough to have a Pesh in your life, or to have known one, consider yourself blessed. The Peshes of the world are rare as fine rubies; they step up and do what needs to be done without grousing or pretense. They walk the walk without ever having to talk the talk. Through action, they show the rest of us not how to behave... but why to behave.  

Kavod ha'Met isn't just about protecting the dignity of the body. It's also about honoring the person who was, and seeing them off on one last journey. They should be accompanied by respect, honor, and wherever possible, love. I had the privilege to share the last hours of Pesh's time on this earth with her. I can only hope that she knew just how big a difference she made in my life, my husband's life, and my kids' lives.

May Pesh's memory forever be a blessing for her family, her friends, and all who had the great, good fortune to know her. And to my cousin Laurie, her husband Tom, the kids and the grandkids: May you be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Honor and respect are earned;
they are far more precious than rubies.

*NFF- not-for-family. Just in case something might run out. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Revisionist History ~ When A Movie Isn't Just A Movie

This past week, everyone was talking about Selma. There has been so much written about the film, both pro and con, that I am loath to write about it here, yet  I cannot escape the feeling that something must be said about not just the movie, but about history and biography in film.

The first "biopic" I remember seeing was The Miracle WorkerI was 10 years old. I think it was the first real play I'd ever read. Miss Myrus said I should read it and if she said I should jump off a bridge, I would've done that, too. But I did read it, and it changed me forever....mostly because I figured out there was a format I could use to put words in other people's mouths....something that came in handy when I decided to be a playwright. But I digress. 

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan ~1888
The story was riveting. The movie was spellbinding. And I decided to read whatever I could find about the real Helen Keller and the real Annie Sullivan. The Story Of My Life, Keller's autobiography and the book upon which the play is based, was a bit different from the play, and my own teacher explained to me the merits of artistic license. I remember the conversation if for no other reason than Miss Myrus told me when writing a play, you have to make allowance for time and the space you are in, and sometimes things are telescoped in order to present a larger picture. But, she cautioned, it's not nice to change the truth so that people can no longer recognize it. That admonition stayed with me...and served me well. I became a reader of stuff, a collector of factoids, and when the web became something other than a spider's weaving,  the world was mine. I was the second person I knew who knew what Mosaic was. The first, of course, was Ziggy; he showed me how to ask a question.  

Mosaic begat Netscape. Netscape begat Mozilla Firefox. Google happened somewhere in there. And I no longer needed whole days at the U's library to do research on stuff. I could do it sitting at my desk at home, pin down what I needed, and if I couldn't get it on the web, I had a list of books to find on the shelves. There was no excuse any more for not doing your homework.

40 years later, I was so excited about this movie. I was anxious to see who was going to play Dr. King and the others. And I was anxious to know who would get to play Rabbi Heschel.

Dr. King is in the middle. Rabbi Heschel has the white beard
Years later, I would sit at a table in the city and listen to Rabbi Heschel talk about what it was like on that March 17th when they finally marched from Selma to Montgomery. He said it was "praying with our feet." He told us there was no way to express the emotion he had as he marched, only that it was a giant prayer, a great moment of faith, and it had to keep going even though Dr. King had been assassinated.

The more I heard about the movie, the more I wanted to hear what the director had to say. Here was a black woman, Ava DuVernay, directing a very major motion picture on a subject so important, so crucial to the social history of this nation that I believe she would share great insight into what it was like to put this on film. Then I heard Dr. Heschel and the other Jewish leaders weren't even in the film. I was crushed. 

As Ms. DuVernay said on all the chat shows, ...and finally quoted in reliable news sources as stated at a New York City luncheon celebrating the opening of SELMA:
I think everyone sees history through their own lens and I don't begrudge anyone from wanting to see what they want to see. This is what I see. That should be valid. I'm not going to argue history. I could, but I won't. 
I have a problem with that; it is is not artistic license and it is not valid. This is re-writing history according to her version. The pictures from that week, and the stories in the papers, and film clips and other reliable standard evidence tell a different story: the one where Dr. Heschel and the others are present and visible. 

Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but think about it over the long term: all the kids that are going to see this film are going to take this as an accurate accounting of the fact. They may know it's not a documentary, but as far as they're concerned, this shows who was there and what happened. 

This is a problem....and here's why. 

I had a comment about this published in the New York Times. It has a yellow NYT pick ribbon and it's the 2nd most recommended reader comment on Maureen Dowd's column: Not Just A Movie. Look for yourself. But after the comment submission closed, but the editors were still putting up the comments, the follow comment appeared under mine:


 IL Yesterday

Before he became supporter of civil rights Lyndon Johnson was a segregationist Dixiecrat protégé of Sam Rayburn and Richard Russell. After Lyndon Johnson became a civil rights activist he continued the John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy alliance with J. Edgar Hoover to spy on and harass Dr. King and other civil rights activists.

Black African Americans did most of the leading, bleeding, sweating, crying and dying for their civil rights from the end of Reconstruction to the end of the civil rights era. Black people were a physically identifiable enslaved discriminated against despised disenfranchised socioeconomically politically educationally weak minority.

The Black- Jewish "alliance" was among the elite. While most poor Blacks then and now had to deal with the tiresome condescending paternalism combination of pity and contempt from their Jewish "friends". About 5000 black men, women and children were lynched. The film "Selma" is about and told from the perspective of the Black African American holocaust which happened in America to Americans by Americans. Rabbi Henschel was no Schwerner, Goodman nor Levison.

Blacks died and were wounded fighting in every American war for a country that denied their humanity as persons and their equality for most of it's [sic] history. And the unsung Black giants are legion. Edgar Daniel Nixon, Joanne Robinson, Diane Nash, Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, Robert Moses and Fred Gray.

When will the life of Judah P. Benjamin become a film?
[My highlight]

Blackmamba apparently wants to live up to his/her reputation as a highly poisonous snake because this is pure poison.  The Judah Benjamin reference is racist and antisemitic all at the same time. Plus, he/she couldn't even be bothered to get Dr. Heschel's name right. How are we supposed to respond to this? How do we get to set the record straight when the message is tainted in this way?  And no, this is not the first time I've seen Blackmamba's thinly veiled antisemitic screed. 

We worry about Jews in Paris. We worry about BDS and Gaza and the West Bank and all that other stuff....for good reason. But I think we might not be worrying enough about what is happening here, in the United States. People like Blackmamba are out there and they are looking for ways to throw us all if not under the bus....into the ovens. This is not to be lightly dismissed; this is just one more canary in the coal mine. Either we begin to address this directly, or we continue to put ourselves at peril. Blackmamba and his/her ilk will not go away if we ignore them. 

The big question really is: what do we do next?

Wifely Person's Tip o' the Week
Going to the movies to see a biopic?
Bring your skepticism along with the Milk Duds you're smuggling in.

Monday, January 12, 2015

What A Hero Looks Like

This is what a hero looks like:

Please note: he is black. He is wearing a hoodie. He is an immigrant. He has a foreign sounding name, Lassana Bathily. He is Muslim. 

And he is a hero of France and of the Jewish people. 

He put his own life at risk to save the lives of Jewish customers in the Hyper Cacher market by hiding them in a walk-in freezer. He told them to stay calm, turned off the refrigeration, and locked the door behind him before he went up a freight elevator and out to the police...who immediately handcuffed him and treated him like a terrorist. 

Thank G-d, they listened to him anyway. Still, they kept him cuffed for about an hour and a half. 


I knew what Charlie Hebdo was before the massacre last week. Over the years, I'd seen their work, and it was not nice. It was pretty vile. They were equal opportunity offenders. Yeah, some of the stuff was antisemitic, anti-American, anti- whatever. And grotesque. And not all that funny. Their brand of humor was (in my humble Pollyannaish opinion) gross, disgusting, and, well, really vile. But never did I think they should be shut down. 

On the backs of the peasants
Laval's capitulation

This kind of cartooning is so rooted in French social tradition. There are so many seriously subversive cartoons from the moment the printing press was in common use that one cannot really come up with a period of time when political cartooning was not being published in France. Even during the Nazi occupation of Paris cartooning did not stop; it just went underground. 

There is no requirement to like this stuff. And as Americans, quite frankly, we don't even get to have an opinion about what France's cultural/social policy should be in regard to what constitutes a free press. We don't get to tell them how to censor or restrict what comes forth from the pen of a French toon-guy. 

What we do get to do is be enraged that radical jihadists have fire bombed Charlie Hebdo offices in the past, and now have murdered members of their staff. This is the moment when we have to decide what freedom of speech really means in our own society. This is when we figure out what constitutes freedom of expression. 

I can loathe was comes out of the mouths of Faux News guys but they get to report the news with their own spin for people who are unable to discriminate between news and news with an agenda. Nobody says I have to agree with Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh....and that means they get to have their opinions heard on their shows no matter how vile I think either of them can be. I will defend to the death their right to be assholes if they so choose. 

So many of us cut our satirical teeth on Mad Magazine. I first started filching them from my brother, and then I just bought my own. Ziggy and I were known to read Mad while browsing in Barnes and Noble. And when the kids were old enough, we introduced them to Mad as required reading....and we would both read whatever copies came into the house. Spy vs Spy, the Lighter Side of..., the movie parodies, the fold-in-back covers...we loved them all. Ever-so-slightly subversive, furtively I still will thumb a copy when I see it on the rack. Mad is an equal opportunity offender, even if it is not nearly as vicious as the Charlie Hebdo, and it does garner its share of criticism. It's an American rite of passage. 

On CBS's Sunday Morning program, John Ficarra, editor of Mad, spoke eloquently about the right to create satire. Take a moment to read... or to listen... to what he had to say. It's not about liking whatever is published; it's about understanding the right to a free press. As he said,
The worst that could happen to us was that we would get a stern letter from their lawyers -- we live for those.
Now, they all have to worry about wearing targets on their backs. 

I may be just a small time blogger, but

©2015-Steven G. Artley - Artley Toons Online

Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls' tip o'the week

“The choice was made by the French Revolution in 1789 to recognize Jews as full citizens. To understand what the idea of the republic is about, you have to understand the central role played by the emancipation of the Jews. It is a founding principle.
If 100,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France anymore. 
But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France.
The French Republic will be judged a failure”

Monday, January 5, 2015

What I Heard On My Winter Vacation

Not that I went anywhere over what is lovingly called "Winter Break;" I was at my desk in the office every day except Christmas and New Year's Day when the office was closed. Back in olden tymes, when we were open 7/24, I always used to volunteer to work Christmas since it's not my holiday, and I thought it would be nice to give someone else the chance to have the day. These days, I just work as late as I can on Christmas Eve, again so someone else can split early. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy the relative quiet.

But the holiday week is interesting all on its own. People "wrap up" the past year, talk about big events, and some write about it. Others stand in public places and talk like they're in their own homes. And let's not forget the alcohol-driven yakkers who just say seriously weird stuff to anyone who is in earshot. If you hang around any place where people are present, you definitely hear stuff your brain tells you can not possibly be said anywhere but Comedy Central. These are just a few snippets of what I heard/read during my winter vacay:

At a birthday brunch this past weekend for one very sweet and darling 18-year-old, one of her relatives said two income families were the cause of the degradation of the American social fabric. In the strictest confidence, he told me:
It's really all about greed. One salary should be enough to put food on the table. People just want too much. They should be satisfied with what they have.
I actually had to go shopping for a gift and as long as I was in Hugedale, I decided to just take a walk. Yes, it was crowded, but if you're not necessarily interacting with sales people, it's not bad. I did, however, find this really cute little outfit for my granddaughter while wandering Nordstrom's Rack. Standing in the check-out queue, I listened to a fascinating discussion between a middle-school girl and her mother:
Daughter: It's not like she has anything to put in her bra. 
Mother: She stuffs her bra? 
Daughter: Yeah. You mean you couldn't tell? 
Mother: No. I mean, I don't think I noticed. 
Daughter: (rolling eyes) Well, you must be like the only one.
I thought this might have been considered a bit precocious, but I am assured it is not. 

At the local Michael's Craft Store, two women were discussing in-laws. 
Lady #1: I am always careful about what I say around him because it always gets back to her.

Lady #2: So what are you giving her? You are giving her something, aren't you?

Lady #1: A giant can of macadamia nuts.

Lady #2: I thought she was allergic to nuts.

Lady #1: Exactly.
I combed the newspaper for days after Christmas looking to see if some poor woman died from macadamia nut poisoning. 

From the "if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes," category, Roger Cohen, the New York Times columnist who usually sends me to the edge with his self-hating view of the Jewish world, wrote a column taking Hamas to task. It included the following:
Gaza is shameful.

The enclave is a thorny quandary. Hamas has a vile Charter, a goal of destroying Israel, and it fires rockets on Israeli civilians from among Palestinian civilians. But it is not monolithic. Putting Gaza first would have several merits: forcing Palestinians to unify their national movement and hold long-delayed elections; averting yet another war with its heavy toll in human life and negative impact on Israel’s international standing; ushering a large group of Palestinians out of radicalizing misery; obliging the peacemakers, so-called, to get real or go home; stopping the distraction at the United Nations.
A few days later, the NYT ran an editorial entitled Stop Giving Palestinians A Pass . It's an interesting enough piece, but the comments are another story. The hatred of Israel is palpable, and it's not just Israel. No one is denying there are real issues that must be addressed, much of the so-called commentary is just plain screed....written by people who have no idea about the history or the reality of the region. Fadia from California,
with a NYT Pick ribbon, writes:
The title should be "Stop Giving Israelis a Pass". The Palestinians have been negotiating in good faith for decades and all they got is more occupation and illegal settlements. The Palestinians have already offered Israel a very generous deal, they want a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This is 22% of historic Palestine and less than half of the land given to them by the UN partition. The world must hold Israel accountable for it's [sic] ongoing violations and the U.S must stop supporting Israel's crimes against the occupied, oppressed and horribly abused Palestinians. 
I wonder how the air is on her planet....and in the NYT's OpEd department. Palestinians negotiating in good faith? Yeah, sure...if that means you accept the notion that Hamas' charter pushes all Jews into the sea. That their version of the land is Judenrein. I read that and I go nuts...not because she has the opinion....but because the NYT sees fit to endorse her distorted view of history as fact. The Palestinians OFFERED Israel a deal? Is that woman on drugs???????????????????? Then I have to stop and think....This op ed piece isn't about Israel's right to exist. It's about giving the Jew haters another forum from which to preach annihilation. And that's exactly what Hamas says it wants. Read the charter. Roger Cohen was right about that much; it is vile. 

And to end this little adventure on a high (as in Rocky Mountain kinda high) note, we cannot omit even a small mention of the Queen of Quirky, Madame Bachmann. She has left the building in a non-dead way, which means she can return.

Seems while running for POTUS, she predicted that gas would be $10 a gallon if President Obama was re-elected. Now, she is taking credit for the low price of gas. I'm going to miss Michele Bachmann. To be fair,  Madame B. provided some pretty good fodder, and there is something to be said for comic relief when Congress is run by a bunch of clowns. Somehow, I don't think she's done. I'm not sure about which incarnation she'll use when she comes back, but whatever it is, it'll probably be pretty interesting....and that's a Minnesota kinda interesting.

I am going to try to enjoy the calm before the political storm, but I'm pretty sure the kick-off to Happy Hour is going to be the State of the Union Address. I predict that the rebuttal comments will signal the start of an all-out war of word that will dovetail right into the Presidential elections. 

It's gonna be a painfully long two years. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
NBC would do well to make that Todd fellow on Sunday mornings go away.
He is undermining their entire news team with his inability to process information