Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Response from Yale

Dear Ms. Halpern,

Just in case you did not receive the attached letter, it gives me great pleasure to forward to you this description of the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism (YPSA), which will be directed by Professor Maurice Samuels.

With warm wishes,

Peter Salovey

He attached a PDF file of a letter sent out to all who wrote to him regarding YIISA's future. I'm curious to see what develops. Since Yale called off YIISA, I thought, "man, now I don't want to apply to Yale for my PhD in history." And now? It's a bit complicated why Yale still isn't entirely feasible for me but for anyone else, I would still proceed with caution.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dear Yale...

Dear President Levin and Professor Salovey,

I am writing to urge you to reopen the Yale Imitative for Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemiitism and support the new structure and leadership. The study of this highly complex topic is extremely important to me and other researchers and scholars. You can only break down a topic like this through conversations and brain-storming sessions (the point of conferences and in-residence fellows). I don't believe that the study of antisemitism can be done alone and that's why a center like YIISA needs to exist (in addition to the one at Indiana University). As a future doctoral student, I want to have a place where I can attend conferences and produce papers to discuss and unravel the meaning of antisemitism and how it manifests itself.

I have done a book review relating to this topic. It contains a collection of essays that examine both antisemitism and philosemitism and I must tell you, after I read it, I realized that I knew even less about antisemitism. I wanted a forum but I only had myself and my editor to produce the review and I had to trust my own judgment. With these essays proposing new perspectives on antisemitism through literature, film, and politics, I was (and am still) left with a huge ball of knots in my stomach. Why did (and does) it happen and how can scholars and ordinary people recognize antisemitism if it manifests itself in numerous ways?

I admit that I do deal with the Holocaust as my major event specialty and naturally antisemitism is part of my research. There have been discussions as of late about the "new antisemitism" in Europe seeming to mirror what was happening nearly 75 years ago and researchers and scholars like myself only want to know how did that occur so we can recognize the signs today and advise leaders to stop the quiet or outright hatred. Antisemitism can come in many forms, even in the 1930s Europe. German Jews faced racial form of antisemitism. Polish Jews consistently dealt with pogroms and violence because of their religion and comparatively economic successes. American Jews occasionally heard verbal abuse but confronted more restrictions such as university quotas and exclusive hotels and country clubs.

These variations only raise a single question that I believe a center like YIISA has the ability to work through questions such as why such variations exist and how the victims combat them. Antisemitism seems to be like the game of whack-a-mole. They just pop up in various forms and it's hard to whack them all without understanding where they're coming from.

History has shown to repeat itself and I would like to believe that, with research and engagement, we can break that cycle.


Sara Halpern
MA in Judaic Studies, University of Michigan

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Life Without a Country

Today, I want to talk about this young generation and the ways we're perceiving the current "peace process." I came across this blog post while searching for ideas for my job search. I was interested in this particular point - young American Jews cannot imagine a life without Israel. How does this view affect young generation's ability to admit that we need Israel and fight for its legitimacy? (Then again, I have been involved in academic discussions arguing that we "don't" need Israel...)

I admit that my views on the conflict are no different from my like-minded American Jewish peers, or the Israelis. We all stand for Israel and want to defend its borders and feel that the Jewish state is significant to us. Some recent poll said that most American Jews would view the loss of Israel as total "catastrophe." Tov, tov. But what is the demographic break down on on the 18-30 year olds who agree with this statement? I would like to bet a bit lower given the young generation's liberalism. Honestly, I am skeptical because if it is really true, then there wouldn't be a need for Birthright. Right? Birthright or any trip to Israel allows us to connect with the Land of Israel as a Jewish country (note that I am refraining from saying "homeland" here out of sensitivity to Jews who strongly believe that America is their home and Israel for for the rest of the Diaspora to flock to.)

The general media is screwing things up and making the problem of peace/border negotiations all the more complex than it needs to be and it doesn't do a good job of explaining why and connect that with personal identity and security (not nationalism). Negotiating land swaps among the elders who witnessed the 1948 and 1967 wars is so emotionally difficult. History shows that it can take several generations for the hardline mindset to soften, become disconnected with victory/catastrophe, and make cessions more easily. We've only gone through 2 generations since 1948 and we are now raising a third generation. The question is, among many both sides, how do we reach out to both Jews and Palestinians so that the possibility of peace can truly happen?

But it just cannot right now because Jews trying to "negotiate" with some party that wants to wipe Israel off the map. There will always be stories of "catastrophe" being passing down among Palestinians, just as we continue to tell about our own throughout centuries. They will never forget 1948 the way we don't about 72 A.D., 1492, 1943 and so on. How can one make peace with another who wants him dead anyway? It's a win-lose situation.

This young generation of Jews and Palestinians grew up hearing their own versions of the 1948 and 1967 wars, which doesn't help to "soften" the diplomatic tone. It is interesting to point out that the David Project and other pro "Jewish identity = Israel" organizations argue that young American Jews have grown up taking Israel for granted (as well as some young Israelis) that we just cannot imagine a world without Israel. The Palestinians grew up hearing of how their land had been seized by Zionists and how it was a catastrophic event. For my generation of Jews, Israel was always there. There's already security. For a generation of Palestinians, Israel was always there. But there's no security.

My thinking is, if young American Jews are registering Palestinians' arguments and historic views of the 1948 war as legitimate for a statehood, why can't they, themselves, imagine a world without Israel? Are they truly "disconnected" with Israel?

At least, I can imagine a world without Israel, personally. My fighting desire to protect Israel at all costs just comes from growing up without knowing about Israel. Maybe I did hear the name "Israel" but didn't connect it as a "country for Jews." Maybe I did hear of Israel as a country but just didn't connect it as a real Jewish state. In any case, I grew up without feeling that kind of security.

So I want to ask young Jews next time I hang out with them, what is security? Does Israel play a role in feeling secure with your Jewish identity? Can you imagine your life without Israel?

Hard questions, I know.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Let's go back to my last point....

Yes, I slapped my face when I saw the breaking news on Weiner, a Jewish congressman from Queens and Brooklyn. He cheated on his wife, Huma Abedin, of 11 months. At least Abedin, who I believe, can stand on her own. She rode to her own success thanks to Hillary Clinton and only met Weiner in 2008 during Clinton's campaign for presidency. So I'm not too terribly worried about her as some other women who depend their entire lives on their husbands.

Now, let's go back to that point that I made in my last blog post. Power can do harm to men's reputations and self-control. And the likelihood of powerful male leaders being Jewish are rather high. Jewish women cannot certainly make generalizations and give up finding a Jewish man in power who won't cheat. There are plenty of wonderful Jewish men who were raised by good mames but the naughty ones just make the headlines.

If their mames can't get in their heads to be that "nice Jewish boy," then these men need to take a course on ethics.

What's even more squeamish though is that the "other" women were Jewish as well.... Are Jewish communities doing enough to teach morality?

I have to tell myself it's only the minority who do wrong things, not the majority but it's the public image that Jews should be conscious of.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Israel Trip 2010 Part 2

Yom hamesh’i

7:45 AM

Chaim and I are settled on the bus to Ashdod. He eats his favorite breakfast- a cinnamon roll. I am sipping on my favorite iced coffee from Aroma. We are looking forward to a good, but long, day ahead.

9:15 AM

It feels as if we are dropped off in middle of nowhere, although we are in front of a mall. Yet, we are unsure of where exactly we are supposed to meet Shira, our host. Chaim calls and she says to meet at the gas station. Okay….

A Russian man works at his task of putting together plugs.

9:40 AM

Shira, Chaim, and I are greeted by an American, Rachel. She made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel in 1959. She is thrilled to be speaking English upon finding out that I know little Hebrew. She says that she is from Chicago. It is difficult to believe that she is an American. She takes us inside to see her operation that she is in charge of. She is showing us two different places that work on the same tasks- putting electrical plugs together. She keeps reminding us that this particular place “is not a factory.” She emphasizes that it’s a social place for the men, who are in their 70s and 80s. These tasks make them feel productive. They earn 300-400 shekels a month, minimum wage. They are all on government pensions already but these extra shekels help to make their lives a bit more comfortable. Their wives are at home. Standing with us, is a young, gorgeous, tall Russian woman who is serving as a translator as part of her national service (instead of serving in the Army). She looks like a model with beautiful face, make-up, and long hair.

The men actually used to get paid more before the downturn. But the company decided that it was better to reduce their pay to minimum wage rather than to lay off workers. It’s a different business system here, for sure.

Ethiopian women hard at work

10:10 AM

We are at another place, where the Ethiopian women are working. They are, like the men, hard at work. We notice a huge glass cabinet full if Ethiopian clay pieces. They are quite a sight to see. We are taken to the back where a lone woman is carefully preparing her clay for sculpting. She has many pieces behind her. Chaim and I each given a piece. I have a statute of a frog. He has a more interesting one- a shell with a man and woman wrapped around each other. It’s a marriage custom in Ethiopia that the shell’s status reflects the communication between the husband and wife. When the shell is open, they are in agreeable mood, open to discussion. When the shell is closed, it signifies that there is absolutely nothing to talk about. Everyone thinks it is a genius idea.

The communication tool for marriages

10:45 AM

Chaim and I are dropped off at the bus station/mall. We wonder what the heck we are supposed to do for the rest of the day. Chaim says, “Let’s just go to Tel Aviv.”

11:40 AM

Chaim looks at our bus tickets and says, “They are the same!” Both of our tickets say 8.10 shekels. I shrug, “So? It’s cheap.” He responds, “I should get 50% off! I paid 9 shekels to Ashdod!” A minute later, an older woman enters the bus and the driver charges her 4.10 shekels. Chaim grumbles and insists that he will tell the bus driver. I soothe him to wait until we got to Tel Aviv. And to let it go, really.

12:45 PM

Chaim is loudly arguing with three men, including the supervisor who is wearing a kippah, from the bus company over the ticket. I have to cover my mouth to hide my amusement to watch Chaim yell at them, to get it off his chest. As I listen to the argument, I pick up some of the Hebrew. The men insist that Chaim should have asked the bus driver for the discount when he got on the bus. Eventually the supervisor and Chaim calm down and the supervisor blesses Chaim a good, long life. I continue to speak to Chaim in Hebrew to prove that we, as Americans, know what the hell we are doing here. I encourage him, “boyah, Chaim, boyah” as we make our way towards the city buses.

1:30 PM

Chaim and I are relaxing outside Café Hillel on Rothschild Boulevard. The iced tea is a different story. The waiter brings Chaim hot water with mint leaves (nana tee) in a glass mug and another glass full of ice cubes. Chaim realizes what he is supposed to do. As he “makes” his own, he says, “You have to be very, very flexible here.” I nod in agreement. Israelis like that. That’s how they survive in this conflicted country. Chaim and I discuss Israel, our favorite topic.

2:15 PM

We are walking past Max Brenner’s, a chocolate shop/restaurant. Chaim insists that we go inside, “You cannot walk past Max Brenner’s without buying chocolate!”

2:30 PM

Chaim and I are standing on Allenby Street, waiting for a 4 or 5 bus to take us to the Ben-Yehuda intersection for a walk to the beach. I tell him to be patient, as there are a lot of buses that come. He notices the traffic, “They go fast here!” It isn’t certainly Jerusalem!

Tel Aviv beach, slightly marred by previous weeks' storms

3:15 PM

Chaim and I are resting on a bench, looking over the calm water. I notice the deep grooves in the sand. Chaim says, “The beaches are a mess because of that huge rainstorm that we had two weeks ago.” It looks like as if anyone could sprain an ankle just walking across the sand to the water. We people-watch for a while.

4 PM

It gets chilly out so we are now walking to Dan Tel Aviv, a fancy hotel that Chaim used to stay at. I want a picture so I ask a couple. The woman takes a picture of us. She and her husband ask what languages we speak. Chaim and I reply, “Ivrit, English, Deutsch, and Yiddish….” They start talking in Deutsch to me and I respond that we are from America, New York… they do not understand immediately… then they turn to Chaim for Hebrew. Apparently, Deutsch is their mother tongue, which is why they wanted to speak Deutsch first. They claim that they are from America as well. Chaim and I are skeptical as they speak no English to us, even though it’s clear that Chaim and I are native English speakers and American-born.

4:45 PM

Chaim and I are watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. Chaim is completely at peace. The waitress brings us our drinks- margarita and mojito. I look at my mojito. It does not look right. The liquid is brown. There are no limes. Chaim insist that I did order right, it was mojito. I swirl the straw to see what citrus fruit is in there. It is not green but… more yellow, or possibly orange. I ask, why is the water brown then? Chaim looks at the drink, “I think those are oranges…” I make a face and say, “Well, then I don’t want this drink. I did ask for a mojito but I won’t touch it if it has oranges!” Chaim clinks my glass with his margarita and begins to sip. I say, “Well, then I will just taste…” I taste the drink. It is mojito. Then it hits me. Instead of cane or white sugar, the bartender used brown sugar, and lemons, instead of limes. Then I sigh. I turn to Chaim and say, “Well, as you said earlier, you just gotta be flexible here in Israel. Very flexible.” I look at my drink and blink my eyes.

The mojito that wasn't.

6:25 PM

The cab driver gets out angrily and glares at me. I hand him a 50 shekel bill. He takes it and says it’s 50 shekels. I knew that he would get upset. I had already bargained with him for 40 shekels and he thought we were just going to the old port, not the road behind it to get to the theater. I already knew that we would get lost. And he was trying to rip us off as American tourists for that Chaim spoke English to me when the cab driver wanted to make a bargain.

“It’s 50 shekels!”

“I want my 10 shekels back.”

“Back there, that’s 40 shekels. Here it’s 50 shekels! This is further away!

“FORTY SHEKELS! We already agreed on it!” Clearly, I showed him what Jerusalem cab drivers had taught me.

He grumbles, takes out a 10 shekel and then slams it in my outstretched, open palm. He mutters angrily as he gets back in the car. He continues to yell after us for ripping him off. Chaim briefly explains to me what other cab drivers had told him that led us to here. I smile ruefully and told Chaim that I knew it would be more than 40 shekels and that we would get lost. Chaim says that he wasn’t going to get in middle of anything, with a smile on his face.