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Two ‘big deals’ for U.S. Jews

April 10, 2010 7 comments

By Bruce S. Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA (Press Release)–American Jews were treated to two Biden-style “big deals” – one good for the Jews, one not so good.

Most Jews probably cheered President Obama’s words when he signed the historic health-care bill into law: “The bill I’m signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see.”

Yet many of these same Jews were enraged and apprehensive later the same day when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered the White House for what must have been a let’s-have-it-out confrontation with our president.

Welcome to the unwanted netherworld of dual loyalty. Most American Jews feel fortunate to be both, American and Jewish. We love our country and our people, and in the past few weeks two monumental issues reached parallel boiling points. We can love President Obama for leading the drive for health-care reform, and we can be infuriated with our president for his administration’s abrasive reproach of Netanyahu over an irrelevant sideshow.

The vast majority of American Jews do not favor Israel’s interests over America’s interests. They never needed to decide between the two. They usually vote for Democrats or moderate Republicans who press for a progressive agenda while supporting Israel. They had the best of both worlds.

Some Jews vote for conservative candidates who would reduce services for the poor, lower taxes for the wealthy and launch questionable wars like Iraq, while bolstering even the most hawkish Israeli governments. They represent a minority of Jews here. A check of voting patterns shows that 75 to 80 percent of Jews vote for Democratic candidates each presidential election. Why would the majority of Jews favor the invasion of Iraq or tax breaks for the rich if they voted for Gore, Kerry and Obama?

True, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts voted for the Iraq war, but the alternative in 2004 was President Bush. Clearly, Kerry staunchly backs a progressive domestic agenda.

Obama’s 2008 campaign presented Jews with a potential dilemma. Obama’s plans for health care and other issues conformed with most Jewish attitudes, but his view of Israel was at best confusing. These conflicting concerns recently came to a head at the same time.

On Tuesday afternoon, March 23, the president made health-care reform the law of the land when he signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Vice President Biden contributed a profanity-laced pronouncement that threatens to go down in history with White House proclamations like “Day of infamy” and “Ask what you can do for your country”: “This is a big (you-know-what) deal.”

Like other humane citizens, most Jews are pleased that more Americans will benefit from affordable health care, including the nation’s estimated 5.1 million Jews.

Rep. Henry Waxman, the subdued and astute congressman whose district covers Malibu, Beverly Hills and other obscenely rich areas, linked Jewish religious beliefs to health care, saying, “The meaning of the seder (at Passover) is that no one should be left behind. It means that everyone should have a seat at the table, that everyone should partake in the afikomen of freedom. On the secular level, that is what the health care bill means to millions of Americans.”

As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Waxman was one of three committee chairs who influenced the shaping and movement of the legislation, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. The organized Jewish community could benefit from wealthy donors whose charitable contributions were threatened by a proposed cut in tax deductions; the reduction did not go through. JTA reported that this might mean a windfall for 120 Jewish nursing homes, 145 Jewish family service agencies and 15 to 20 Jewish hospitals supported by the Federation system.

Another big darned deal was created on March 9 when an Israeli minister announced the construction of 1,600 housing units in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. Biden was in Israel when he learned of it and twice publicly condemned the announcement. The vice president considered it a humiliating experience.

This should have been too petty a matter to bother Biden. This was Jerusalem, not the West Bank, which is necessary to create a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu apologized for the timing of the announcement, but on Friday, March 12, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Netanyahu and spent 43 minutes berating him.

Interestingly, they all converged on Washington, D.C., a week later when both Clinton and Netanyahu addressed the premier pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where Clinton declared that condemning the construction announcement was necessary to maintain “an atmosphere of trust.” Clinton’s statement prompts this pointed question: How does building housing units in a Jewish neighborhood spoil trust?

Netanyahu responded that evening with this memorable statement: “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.” The next day, Netanyahu engaged in tense talks with Obama’s team at the White House where the president made some unspecified demands. The prime minister left Washington without reaching an agreement.

Obama has some understandable concerns because Israeli cooperation could help improve America’s image in the Arab world. Bush’s policies – especially the invasion of Iraq – left Obama with a massive clean-up job of Arab attitudes toward America.

The president needs to understand that in the long run the Israeli/Arab situation will make no practical difference in other Arab nations. Reasonable steps by Israel would contribute to an upgraded perception, but Obama expects Netanyahu to go further.

After all, Netanyahu suspended expansion of West Bank settlements, but that was not enough for Arab leaders. This move emboldened them to demand elimination of construction in East Jerusalem before they would negotiate. Why? They are probably pressuring Israeli leaders to capitulate to a demand that they have yet to justify.

It is a positive step that Obama and Netanyahu attempted to compromise on their approach to the conflict, but they have not yet reached an agreement. Now Obama is reported to consider an American proposal for a peace settlement. Is this intended as a suggestion or a demand?

Quite a crazy making conundrum for moderate to liberal Jews who are tempted to seek an alternative to Obama. Bear in mind that the younger Bush eliminated Saddam Hussein as a counterweight to Iran, which now threatens to annihilate Israel with a nuclear device.

Obama is reported to be well aware that he needs the Jewish vote for his political health. He has a strange way of showing it.

Bruce S. Ticker is a freelance writer in Philadelphia. He can be contacted at Bticker@comcast.net.

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A recap of the Jewish Poets—Jewish Voices program

April 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Eileen Wingard

By Eileen Wingard

LA JOLLA, California–The season’s heaviest rainstorm descended Wednesday evening, January 20, as fifteen people braved the inclement weather to gather at the JCC Astor Judaica Library for the first of three programs by local poets: Jewish Poets—Jewish Voices.

Yael Gmach, who was scheduled to sing an original song in French, was stranded in the downpour and needed to be rescued. She never made it to the program. Sara Appel-Lennon, the other programmed poet, read an impressive sampling of her work. Two examples follow.

During the program, a plaque was dedicated to the memory of my late  husband, Hal Wingard, who had participated in the inaugural series of poetry readings last year.  I read several of his lyrics and some were sung by our daughter Myla.
    
For open microphone, Michael Horvitz read his work. His performance was so outstanding that he was invited to be one of the featured poets on the third evening. Interestingly, he wrote a poem about Hal, although Michael knew Hal only posthumously, through his poetry. Two samples of Michael’s work are below.
    
The second evening, February 24, featured six student poets from the San Diego Jewish Academy and their teacher, Melissa McKinstry, as described in an article posted previously on San Diego Jewish World.
    
Simon Patlis, a native of Tashkent, opened the third evening of Jewish Poets—Jewish Voices, on March 9, with several selections in Russian. Although just a few people in the audience understood his words, the inflection of his voice and the spirit of his delivery were riveting. He explained what each poem meant and rendered one of the poems in an English translation. Since that evening, he has translated a second poem into English.

Here are six examples from our adult Jewish Poets-Jewish Voices. Another series is being planned for 2011. One of the unique features of these evenings is that on each program, one of the poets writes in a non-English language, spoken by Jews.

Two Poems by Sara Appel-Lennon

Temple of Dreams (inspired by the newly-built Temple Emanu-El)

Embraced by Jerusalem stone walls
Jewish prayer and songs shared by all

Room filled with shofar blasts
Reflections from the stained glass

Rainbows dance across the bima
Divine sense of Shechinah

Donors carry torahs up the aisle
Six hundred thirteen commandments
adorned in style

Respect, pride, and hope fill our souls
Feeling connected, we feel more whole

Judaism enhances our life and our views
Standing tall, we’re proud to be called Jews.

**

Mourning

When there is a death                    
Breathe deep, you have breath

Fitting to feel grief
Robbed, taken by thief

Life has its sorrow
Time can’t be borrowed

Weeping bitter tears
Breathe deep, you’re still here

Burning, red hot mad
Missing what you had

Lonely, scared, sad, blue
Faith will see you through

When there is a death
Breathe deep, you have breath.

*

Two Poems by Michael Horvitz

  Hal Wingard Came By

I never knew you, Hal.
But maybe
  I know you

I saw your name
  like so many
  among
    e-mailed announcements

I searched the Internet
  through and around
  endless trappings,

and you were there,
but you were not there.
The “Information Highway”
  goes on and on

but where? and for what?
Then,
visiting some
  real place

I found your verses
  dressed smartly
like a young beau
  still courting
dancing
  within your wife’s voice

You were familiar
the way a man who loves
  his wife
  and the world
feels warmly familiar
as something we’ve always
  longed for

You knew
as a poet must know,
that death
  stops
  only
    the uninitiated,

that love
  in its form
touches
  into
    the unknown.

So, Hal,
while some may wish you
  rest in peace
I’m not so sure
  you seek that rest.

What poet rests?
He does not own
  that right

He is obliged
  to seek out
to carry
  human emotion
beyond his own
  mortal life

into a restless
  eternity
  in which
    he feels privileged
      to partake.

And there
  among
  the deathless voices
does he find
  his peace.

*
Body of Verse

For Carole:

Body of verse
Body of woman
There are words that come to me
    solid and weighty
        as the Live Oak

Everything rises from the earth
    everything dreamed of carries
        sounds and mysteries

Cradling
     In my ears
        a new knowledge

Words–the substance
  of verse–my nourishment

You–the substance
  of woman–nourish me

Let all the verses
    sing
          to me until I die,

As I equally
    explore the accents
        of your flesh

All the sounds and scents
    tastes and touch
        all that is beautiful

All that I desire…
    In life…In you…
        all that keeps me alive…

Body of verse
    Body
        of my
             woman…

Two Poems by Simon Patlis

A Speck of Dust

I smashed up a galaxy in the heat of pursuit –
A little speck of debris parked itself on my boot.
I at once shook it off – and it vanished from sight,
And a new little star in the sky went alight.

Vainly, though, I sped – still was late in the end;
Of the dreams that I had – never learnt what they meant;
Left behind in the hustle what was mine – all gone by,
Just that speck of a star ever shines from the sky.
  
*
Dawn

awe! what a moment:
you, as yet are still asleep;
but the night’s matured and has been like an altar sheep
               already sacrificed to the effulgent god,
     and scarlet droplets of its glowing sacred blood
are being sprinkled on the clouds by a radiant hand,
igniting fires of the dawn that fade the stars and shadows,
and  the world’s prepared for the oncoming mighty surge
of nascent day that’s just about to emerge
from the lethargic still and silent nightly deep…
and you, – remember – as of yet you’re still asleep

*
Eileen Wingard is a freelance writer based in San Diego

‘Heidi Chronicles’ — A reality check

April 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Jacque Wilke and Kristianne Kurner in 'The Heidi Chronicles'

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

CARLSBAD, California –When The Heidi Chronicles, Wendy Wasserstein’s Pulitzer Prize winning play for Drama hit Broadway in 1989 it had to have rocked many a boat. It was a reality check on the ‘women’s movement’ from 1965 to 1989 as seen through the eyes of protagonist Heidi Holland. I first saw this play in 1992 fresh off the writing pad from Broadway through regional performances finally hitting the now defunct Gaslamp Quarter Theatre (renamed the Hahn now called The Horton Grand Theatre).  It was then in the budding phases of the re-developing Gaslamp Quarter part of San Diego. The Gaslamp Quarter now hums with tourists and locals on any given night after 9PM.

Wendy Wasserstein was born in 1950 in Brooklyn, New York.  After attending Mount Holyoke College in 1971 and graduating Yale School of Drama in 1976 (with an MFA) “she followed in the footsteps of her grandfather, Simon Schliefer, who was a prominent Polish Jewish playwright.” Wasserstein’s other plays include Uncommon Women and Others, The Sisters Rosensweig, An American Daughter and Third. Unfortunately, she died of cancer at the young age of 55.

It is now 2010 and it’s hard to tell how Heidi and/ or Wendy, if she were alive today, might see the fruits of their labor. The Heidi Chronicles, which could be subtitled a woman in search of herself, is being given a new airing at The New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad under the direction of Amanda Sitton and starring Kristianne Kurner as Heidi. It still raises more questions than it answers.

In a series of twelve or so vignettes, we are taken on a journey back to a time (some in the audience weren’t even born in 1969) when standing up for something, marching for a cause, supporting your favorite political candidate and or picketing outside a building that discriminates against women meant something. Heidi grew up in that hippy, feminist, political, find yourself at any cost and coming of age generation. She strove, but really never succeeded at finding the ultimate happiness of someone ‘who wanted to have it all’.

The highlights and lowlights of Heidi’s career beginning with a lecture at Columbia University that Professor Heidi Holland is giving about the history of women in art and their disappearance from the art scene sets the tone. It then flashes back to Heidi and her high school friend Susan (Jacque Wilke) at their senior high school dance.

With Heidi shying away from the boys and Susan a Venus flytrap the die is cast and Heidi is pretty much set on her singular journey. One positive that follows Heidi, however is the lasting friendship she carves out with Peter Patrone (Brian Mackey) another socially shy senior who whose friendship continues throughout her adult years and who later in their friendship finally confesses to Heidi that he is gay. 

Fast-forward where slides of the Eugene McCarthy era run for president clips are highlighted as Heidi shows up at a McCarthy rally and social event several years later. It is here at this event in Manchester, New Hampshire that she meets up with the overbearing and intellectual snob Scoop Rosenbaum (John DeCarlo) the Jewish thorn in her side; first and lost love that she can’t seem to shake and whom she can’t have.

With Wasserstein’s wry humor, Scoop has Heidi’s number from the start and in the most annoying of his personality traits (and he has many) he judges and grades her every move and thought on a scale from A to D.  This too, continues throughout their long friendship. It is one of the many put down’s Wasserstein’s humor takes on that Scoop has in his arsenal of simplifying and trivializing all the women in his life. Wasserstein was criticized by many in the feminist movement for her depreciating humor toward women.  

Wasserstein’s humor rings throughout and while getting the required laughs, it camouflages some of the more underlying social issues in Heidi’s life. The fact that she always appears to be on the outside looking in and commenting, not necessarily completely emerged, became another thorny issue of criticism for Wasserstein.  

This ‘out sidedness’ is most noted when she attends a woman’s consciousness raising group with Susan, who is now a law student. When Heidi meets up with Jill (Kelly Iverson in multiple roles) and Fran (Frances Regal also in multiple rolls) two of the more vocal women in the group and they ask if she supports their ideas, she retorts, “I’m just visiting.” Again she’s the onlooker and note taker.

Kristianne Kurner, executive artistic director, seems to be the right choice to play Heidi. As one of the founders of the theatre, she has surrounded herself with strong women and probably knows Heidi Holland better than most. It might also be noted that Kurner might very well have benefited from the work of all the Heidi Hollands.

To say that Kerner has it all would be presumptuous on my part, but living her dream to have her own theatre company, raising a son and keeping a positive attitude certainly separates her from Heidi’s not being able to find her little niche in the world.

Kurner’s Heidi is upbeat and straightforward while keeping herself on the sidelines of reaching her true potential. As always, Kurner glows from within and her character, shines as well.  She also manages to show that aloof, reserved and somewhat naïve side as well, giving her some limited range and use of her acting abilities.  

As for her quest looking for that ‘Bluebird of Happiness” even when it peters off in the late 1980’s, Kurner’s Heidi takes on a lonely, disillusioned and little more tarnished tone by its shortcomings and eventual waning. Since the two men in her life are unavailable, Peter is gay and Scoop is married but still playing around, she decides to adopt and raise her baby as a single mom and a new enthusiasm shows through. Kurner remains consistent throughout which has both positive and negative results. 

Jacque Wilke is the perfect Susan pushing for more while her path takes on a more convoluted road as she matures and decides the creature comforts and money work well for her. Brian Mackey’s Peter, who by now has become a respected pediatrician and living in the world of AIDS, is charming and ever convincing as Heidi’s true friend through thick and thin. His character rings as the most convincing.

The Scoop character we love to hate is beautifully played by John DeCarlo. He so typifies the selfish, self-absorbed know it all, pushy playboy. I’m inclined to think his character is more stereotypical than most of the others. I have known men like him. In this case it works well and DeCarlo, as much as we don’t want to like his character, does charm.

Some might find Wasserstein’s “Chronicles” dated. My first reaction was just that. However with the addition of live music by the very talented Linda Libby (an accomplished actor as well) playing selected music (on her guitar) snatched right out of the era and with authentic videos showing who and what went on during those 25 or so years it all came back.

This all culminated in a very poignant home video showing movies of Heidi (Kurner) and Peter (Brian Mackey) playing with the youngster Heidi finally adopted romping around in front of the very art museum they all picketed at the beginning of their long journey.

As for Wasserstein, her life pretty much mirrors Heidi’s. She too was a bright star an over achiever who never married and at age 48 gave birth to a little girl, Lucy Jane Wasserstein. Unfortunately for both, Wendy died several years later of lymphoma. I happened to be in New York when she died. The lights on Broadway dimmed in her memory.

And while the feminist movement may be a thing of the past and they fought like hell for equality, women are still struggling to break the glass ceiling, still getting wages lower than their male counterparts in many areas of the country and are still in jobs where the ‘good ol’ boy’s club’ takes precedent over fair and equal treatment for all. 

Sitton in her debut directorial assignment might have given the characters a few more layers to make them less one-dimensional. Thumbs up to Brian Townsend for his wonderful and accurate projections, Jason Bieber’s lighting design and Tim Wallace’s scenic design and thumbs down to Renetta Lloyd’s choice of clothes for Heidi in particular and the rest of the cast in general. Nothing in their clothes reflected the period and Heidi’s dress did not compliment her character. Just a suggestion.

Every now and then it’s a good idea for reality checks. I surely wouldn’t want to go back to the times when most women had the choice of being either a teacher or a nurse, if and when they were fortunate enough to have gone on to higher education. I know my three grown girls don’t even think twice about what they can and cannot do as productive women in a changing society, they just ‘do it’.

For all the Wendy Wasserstein’s, Gloria Steinem’s, Bella Abzug’s, Emma Goldman’s and yes, Susan B. Anthony’s, et al our hats are off to you. 

See you at the theatre.

Dates: April 5th – April 28, 2010
Organization: New Village Arts Theatre
Phone: 760-433-3245
Production Type: Dramatic
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, and Ca. 92008
Ticket Prices: $30.00 general admission, 25.00 senior and student and military/22.00 groups of 10 or more.
Web: NewVillageArts.org

 *
Davis is a San Diego-based theatre critic.

San Diego’s historic places: Mission San Diego tells circumspect tale of Kumeyaay life

April 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – Janet Bartel, chief docent at San Diego Mission, treads as carefully as a performer on a tightrope when discussing the Kumeyaay Indian experience at Mission San Diego, There have been too many controversies not to.

In September 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Father Junipero Serra saying that the missionary’s “great goal was to bring the Gospel to the Native People of America, so that they too might be consecrated in the truth.”

On the other hand Rupert Costo, a Cahuilla Indian, wrote The Missions of California: A Legacy of Genocide. The book offers the view that at the missions established by Serra, Native Americans were systematically deprived of their culture and dignity, beaten unmercifully for infractions of the rules, and sometimes killed.

The website of the California Historical Society online tells of Pablo Tac, Victoria, and Lorenzo Asisaro testifying to Catholic authorities about their lives respectively at Mission San Luis Rey, Mission San Gabriel and Mission Santa Cruz.

Tac was the most positive, expressing “thanks to God for the coming of the missionaries to his country. He did observe, however, that thousands of his people died ‘as a result of the sickness that came to California.’

On the other hand, Victoria, a Tongva raised at Mission San Gabriel, said that “mission life was filled with misery, humiliation and terror. She reported that the missionaries punished an Indian woman who had a miscarriage by having her head shaved, by being flogged every day for fifteen days, and by wearing iron shackles on her feet for three months and by ‘having to appear every Sunday in church, on the steps leading up to the altar, with a hideous painted wooden child in her arms.’

And Asisaro said: “The Indians at the missions were very severely treated by the padres, often punished by fifty lashes on the bare back. They were governed somewhat in the military style, having sergeants, corporals and overseers, who were Indians, and they reported to the padres any disobedience or infraction of the rules, and then came the last without mercy, the women the same as the men. The lash was made of rawhide.”

To date, Serra has not been eligible for canonization—a process that requires documentation of two miracles attributable to Serra’s intercession. Beatification requires one miracle, and one was attested to by Sister Mary Boniface Dryda of St. Louis, Missouri, who said her prayers to Serra resulted in her being cured of lupus—a claim Vatican examiners found to have merit. Although others have subsequently stepped forward to claim miraculous results from prayers to Serra, no reported incident has yet been validated by the church as a second miracle.

With sainthood pending, and opposition to Serra among his critics unabated, Bartel knows that she must be circumspect in what she says, lest a slip of the tongue provoke another controversy.

There have been controversies large and small between Mission San Diego and Native Americans, Bartel explained.

In one, Mission San Diego planned to construct a building on the grassy side of the central quadrangle. However, archaeologists said there were bones on the property and notified local monitors for Native Americans. Bartel said it was entirely possible that the bones were those of 19th century U.S. military personnel who were stationed at the mission after the United States captured California in the Mexican-American War of 1846. But rather than have a drawn out controversy, the church decided to simply cover over that portion of the Mission property, and construct the building on another portion where there was no such controversy.

Ewa'a {Dan Schaffer photo}

Even construction of an ewa’a—the temporary shelter that Kumeyaay Indians used to build during their migrations along the San Diego River—was not without controversy, Bartel said. It turned out that the man who built the ewa’a for the Mission, while of Native American descent, was not a Kumeyaay, prompting protests.

On another occasion, she said, a guide provoked ire by telling a group that there were fleas at the Mission, and that Kumeyaay sometimes would burn down their ewa’as as a pragmatic form of pest control. That should have come as no surprise, said Bartel, as there were fleas all over San Diego County. One area of Camp Pendleton, for example, is called “Las Pulgas,” – Spanish for “the fleas.”

Bartel said that in any project that the Mission does now concerning the Kumeyaay, it seeks advice from representatives of the local tribe.

Besides the ewa’a, one can find in the quadrangle the Kumeyaay equivalents of mortars and pestles, known in Spanish as metates y manos. Kumeyaay culture also is represented in the Mission’s museum, where tightly woven baskets are on display. In the Meditation Garden, Indian neophytes who died during the mission are memorialized by crosses made from building materials from the original Mission San Diego.

When the Franciscan padres arrived in San Diego, the Kumeyaay were “hunters and gatherers, and fairly nomadic,” Bartel said. “They would get the small animals and they would fish. Occasionally when they were in the mountains they would catch a deer but a problem was that they had no means of meat preservation, so they would have to kill it, prepare it and eat it.

“To me, the Kumeyaay knew this land like no one else ever could have known it. They might not have been agriculturalists; they didn’t grow things, but the things that grew wild they knew how to propagate,” Bartel added. “They knew what to do with the wild berries and things like that.  Sometimes it seems like the food was not plentiful, other times it was very plentiful. But I think it is important to know that the Spaniards were the ones who planted the first seeds of agriculture here in San Diego” – creating the foundation “for what turned out to be a great agricultural state – California.”

Of charges that Native Americans were forced to live at the missions, Bartel said that whatever may have happened at the other 20 missions, such was not the case at Mission San Diego, where there was no room for a permanent work force to reside. Instead the Kumeyaay came to the mission for eight days at a time, and then went back to their villages. “We have more than enough documentation to support the fact that it was definitely a rotating system here,” she said.

What attracted the Kumeyaay to the missions? The chief guide was asked.

Bartel responded that they were drawn by the advances in agriculture, food preparation, and technology. Whereas the Kumeyaay wore clothes of animal skins or plant material, Spaniards had brightly colored textiles. Whereas the Kumeyaay built rafts, the Spaniards had comparatively large ships.

At the missions, she said the Kumeyaay were taught to sew and to sow – they learned to stitch together clothing and to plant crops. They were taught the blacksmith trade. They were introduced to such livestock as cattle and horses.

They also were introduced to Christianity.

*
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World; his story ran previously on www.examiner.com