Wednesday, September 17, 2014

When my Creative Writing teacher spread anti-Israel ideas I wouldn't stand for it

Today was the second time I've ever cried at college, oddly enough, they were both about the same thing. The first time was on Yom Ha'atzmauot, because I wanted to be back. However; this was not that.

In my fiction writing class, we read a piece called "Means of Suppression" written by a former IDF solider who had attended Harvard at the timem her piece was published in The New Yorker. In a nutshell her narrative was a satire bemoaning the dramatization and false pretenses surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict. The focus is on individuals becoming jaded during wartime and the petty practices to use the media as a propaganda outlet to gain sympathizers.

Here is a single quote from the narrative made by a Palestinian protester at an armed checkpoint:

"Shoot and miss, just shoot and miss.... please," said the man. "We need to be in the newspaper. Page 5, even."

At the start of class the teacher decided to give some background to the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
"How many of you have never heard of the Arab-Israeli conflict?" Several hands jut into the air. And with that she began.

Direct Quotes From Class:
"Palestinians don't have an organized army,so they use whatever they have to defend themselves."

"The British created a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This means that if you are a Jew in Germany and your parents, grandparents, and ancestors lived in Germany, you now have the right to take Palestinian land."

"For decades the Palestinians did not resist."

"Israel responded by bombing the shit out of Palestine."

(Repeat after me style)

Teacher: "The IDF use...?"
Class: "Guns"
Teacher: "Palestinians use...?"
Class : "Rocks"

After she had said all she wanted to in terms of historical context, she started to move into analyzing the text. A decision. Stay quite and live long and prosper- but people will be mislead- people who dont know the truth... God....

"I think the perspective you gave was a one-sided approach."
A long piercing stare.
"Palestine does not exist on the map."
(Am I even breathing?)
"What about the rockets in Gaza?"
Somebody stop me.

Professor at student- student at professor. A standoff. She made me look like an idiot. I made myself look like an idiot.

I could have talked about the fact that there has been a continuous Jewish presence in Israel for over 2000 years. I could have talked about the Zionist concept predating the Balfour declaration and it was not just a Holocaust guilt outcome as she had said. I could have talked about the hundreds of tunnels dug under Israeli fields and homes paved and paid with money sent to better the Palestinian socio-economic conditions yet used frivolously and maliciously to kill innocents. I could have said how the United Nations together with the Israelis agreed on a two-state solution back in 1947, and how it wasn't enough for the Palestinians who militarized and instead fortified with every available Arab nation to wipe Israel off the map, then lost, cried about it, and out of Isreal's generosity, given land in Gaza and part of the West Bank.

I could have. But I froze and in being dumbfounded, left Israel in a more precarious light.
After class I was warned not to sabotage the lesson again.

I walked in a dream-like state to a tree outside my dorm room and sat under a small, delicate sapling. Reaching for my phone, I called the only person I knew would understand.

"Bubbie," I said. "I'm having a bad day."

As always, her chicken-soup words filled me with the strength to continue. As I sat down in my next class familiar faces from the last class smiled at me. "Wow she really dug into you. The stuff she said about 'Israel bombing the shit out of Palestine' was not cool."

It was the second time I had cried in college--but right now--all I could do was smile.

Second Chances

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

As an English and Journalism major, my days consist of reading, writing, revising, and repeat. Through it, what I've determined is that literature focused majors are all cut from the same cloth of crazy.

Saddled with five English and Journalism courses, in addition to freelancing for a local newspaper, occasionally blogging, open mic poetry reading, and living with other writers as part of the school's writing program- I feel like Narcissus-  knowing that I was over ambitious in planning my schedule and will eventually be overwhelmed, drowning  in a pool of nouns and prepositions.

But I must to tell you, as much as the work is incessant, complex, and unforgiving, it is also freeing.
I am taking a fiction novel writing class, and for the last 15 minutes of class we disabled the projector, stopped speaking, and just wrote. At first the liberty of time and permission to invent caught me off guard, but then it just poured onto the page. 

A woman. She's pregnant. She's telling her husband about the baby. tonight. He needs to tell her something too. He lost his job today. The rents due by the end of the week. They chew their Eggo waffle dinner. A storm. Losing power. A knock at the door. A mother in law. Suitcases in hand. 

Freeze. 15 minutes are up. 

Creative writers we're an enigma labeled "extra crunchy." My professors, they say things like "buttload," "shithead," and "F*$@ it." My fellow writing members write about meth, cannibalism, and intergalactic force-fields. They share open mic stories about masturbation- and getting caught.

Sometimes I feel like I shouldn't be classified with people that some may box-in as "freaks," but then I remember my own freakish habits.

 I get drunk on verbs, high on metaphors, and shoot up Stephen King. I dream up novels about dinosaurs and the apocalypse and sometimes a dinosaur apocalypse, while I'm showering. The ultimate test if you're in English major is if you have a favorite word, a word that would make you hug your arch enemy at its recitation. Mine is  "nincomoopery." That's validation enough.

So for now I'll read, write, revise, and repeat, because if I'm not a writer, then who the hell looking up at me from the pool?

Deep-end-ing on reflection

Monday, September 1, 2014

Growing up, I saw a lot of black in my community. Everywhere you turned, plenty of them-black hats, suit jackets, and velvet kippot- but rarely did I ever interact with someone of another race or sexual orientation during my daily to-do.

A product of my environment, my definition of ethnicity was restricted only to the Semitic Sphere. Meaning, I felt fully content and even quite pleased knowing Spheradim, Tamanim, and Yerushalmis.

One of the biggest shocks came during Freshman registration while talking with my Arts and Humanities advisor about English careers. My advisor was responding to a question I had about the core curriculum, but her answer barley registered. My ears were turned inwardly to some internal shock: a startling realization that I had never actually spent more than 10 minutes, let alone a half hour, talking with a black person. As my third eye rolled back into reality and we broke into conversation about studying habits and keys to successful time management, I sensed a prick, and took mental note. Later I would recall this moment as the first crack in my "Jewish Bubble."

With the commencement of Sophomore year conveniently falling out during the month of Elul, I find it appropriate to assess the state of my bubble. Has it been obliterated, leaving a free-spirited spongy core, or in fact responding to change like those fancy bike locks that fortify when one tries to break the chain? 

A few nights ago, the topic of race spontaneously came up between myself, my roommate, and her friend. They spoke of their hatred for all applications that make an applicant conform to a particular race. My roommate is the product of multiple roots with black, white, and Hispanic ancestry. A bit darker, her friend was black with Caucasian roots as well. She spoke uncensored about the acute stigma of lighter blacks within the black community; yet she affirmed that she felt unashamed of her pallor.

 "During slavery, I would have been the one working in the house," she said, "the lighter blacks got to stay in the kitchens instead of doing fieldwork." Even though their labor was reduced, because slave owners didn't consider whiter blacks their legitimate offspring, they lived a limbo existence, resented by darker slaves yet abhorred as bastardy by whites. And I thought deciding between "Caucasian" and "Jewish" on the application was rough. 

Blessed and plagued by the desire to engage and question others, I schmoozed with a girl waiting at a busstop for the city Metro. I was on my way to my job at a local Jewish newspaper. She was headed home for a Nigerian convention in a North Carolina Baptist church. She told me about "her country," and the slow-moving political response of Nigerian officials to Boko Haram's mass kidnapped of 200+ Nigerian schoolgirls.

We sat, we chatted, and we departed. 

Last night, my roommate's friend asked a question with the preface, "Can I ask you something I don't understand?" 

Her question: Do Jewish people identify themselves as a race, nationality, or ethnicity? 

I said I didn't know. While on the one hand I want to say Judaism is a religion, how can I account for Jewish traditions like the Horah or Mazah Ball soup that are not deistic? A step further, what about atheists who still consider themselves Jewish- Humanistic Judaism- who follow religious construct hollow of any supernatural Force? So I'm stuck, and when one is stuck, I usually reach for a dictionary.

Race:  a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock; a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics

Nationality:  a group of people who share the same history, traditions, and language, and who usually live together in a particular country

Ethnicity of or relating to races or large groups of people who have the same customs, religion, origin, etc. ; associated with or belonging to a particular race or group of people who have a culture that is different from the main culture of a country

Religion:  an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods

I am left even more baffled- but again- Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will this answer be. But during this coming Elul, I challenge you to a duel! Yes, I am metaphorically slapping you with an old western glove and saying "wake up and access your bubble!" As important as it is to engage in the world around you,  it is just as (if not more important) to reflect on your own Jewish identity. Just as one prepares for an interview by considering the questions his boss may pose, ask yourself questions about your own identity and see if you can answer them. Who knows, you might learn something new. 

The year is beginning, and I for one could use a refresher course. 

failed yet again by Merriam-Webster