How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

March 22, 2013

Israel activity on and off campus

This is an eventful time in Israel-related activity in San Diego and beyond, and I wanted to get some of my thoughts and resources in one place for my own and others’ edification.

In no particular order, most people know that US President Barack Obama visited Israel this past week for the first time since his election in 2008. It was a highly anticipated trip, no less by all those who’ve been saying since day one that he would “throw Israel under the bus” than by his most fervent supporters. Many of Obama’s critics regarding his Israel policies won’t be swayed no matter what he does short of making aliyah himself (and probably not even then), and reaction in Israel and in the American Jewish community has been mixed (what else would it be? Are we not Jews?). Still, even some conservative commentators lavished POTUS with praise, including Yossi Klein Halevi, who called the Thursday speech “a love song to Israel” and maybe “the most passionate Zionist speech ever given by an American president.”

I had a great conversation Thursday, after reading part of the speech, with a couple of students at SDSU who’d stopped by the Aztecs for Israel table and display on Library Walk. Carl (a history major) and Jay (finance) were two of the most educated, intelligent, and engaged people I’ve ever spoken to about this issue. They were knowledgable and challenging, open to learning, asked insightful questions – it was really a pleasure talking to them, and while they came as friends, I hope they left even more supportive of Israel. AFI was out in force this week (and will be back next week) to counter the ridiculous amount of hatred, lies and vitriol spread by Students for Justice in Palestine during their Palestine Awareness Week/Israel Apartheid Week (one and the same, of course). With able and critical assistance from StandWithUs and other community partners, “my” students (I’m their staff advisor) provide passersby with factual, helpful information about Israel, the IDF, the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (and how they differ), etc. They promote the truth – that Israel seeks peace, but that peace takes partners, and that in many ways Israel doesn’t seem to have any at this time. This is unfortunately but tellingly reflected in the student organization situation on campus, where SJP students have repeatedly rebuffed AFI efforts to engage in dialogue, either direct or with a third party (even when the third party is a high-ranking university administrator dedicated to diversity, who reports directly to the president of SDSU). My students have been amazing through this all, weathering terrible verbal and written attacks while maintaining their composure and maturity, displaying real courage and strength that makes me so proud.

Partly due to President Obama’s visit to Israel, NPR has done more stories on Israel this week than I’m used to hearing (at least when there’s no war going on). While I really appreciate the longer, more in-depth pieces public radio tends to air, they still sometimes display a subtle (or not so subtle) bias, such as when they say “the occupied West Bank” whenever talking about that region. Overall, though, I heard or saw a couple of interesting stories this week:

  • A photo essay on Beta Israel, the community of Ethiopian Jews;
  • A story about Ethiopian-born beauty Yityish Aynaw, who, as the first black Miss Israel, dined with Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, during his visit. This piece also notes a couple of other Ethiopian cultural and social milestones in Israel, including Idan Raichel’s collaboration with singer Kabra Kasai and other Ethiopian artists, and 2011 Israeli Idol winner Hagit Yaso;
  • This piece about Hamas schools in Gaza (about 20 out of 400) that teach Hebrew. This was particularly fascinating, partly because of the subtext and things that WEREN’T said by the reporter or anyone interviewed. There is a whole generation of Palestinian men who are fluent in Hebrew because they worked in Israel before the withdrawal, and who are therefore able to get a glimpse into Israeli society via television and print media. While the 9th grader the reporter talked to in this story said it was important to learn Hebrew because “it’s the language of our enemy” (a sentiment echoed/parroted by “[a]lmost everyone I speak with in Gaza,” the reporter says), the 44-year-old cab driver, who worked in Israel for 12 years, doesn’t put it in those terms. He freely admits to watching Israeli TV and reading Israeli newspapers, and wanting his kids to learn Hebrew as well. I don’t think there’s any way to consume this media diet and not come away with at least a basic sense of humanity of “the other” (in this case, Israelis) and therefore be at least a LITTLE skeptical of your leadership’s claims about the “enemy’s” intentions. In other words, the seeds of normalization exist in Gaza; they were planted years ago, before Hamas came to power, and there’s nothing Hamas can do to erase the experiences and interactions these Palestinian men had with Israelis. Obviously not everything was love and light – far from it – but many of these men (who now have families of their own) know that many Israelis want the very same things they do. They know that on both sides there are people who want to raise their families in peace and security, within borders recognized by neighbors who, while perhaps not engaging in vibrant diplomatic and cultural relations, at least recognize each other’s right to exist.

    Finally, a fair amount has been written and said about the phone call Bibi made to Turkish PM Erdogan from Ben Gurion Airport, as Netanyahu was escorting President Obama back to Air Force One for the trip to Jordan. Some of what’s being said is to the effect of “Obama forced Bibi to make the phone call,” “this is humiliating to Israel,” “Erdogan is the only winner from Obama’s trip to Israel,” and other such nonsense. Quite frankly, if you really believe that this phone call was forced on Bibi at the last minute (or at all( and that the renormalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey is of no benefit to Israel, you have no idea how international diplomacy works and should just stop talking about it.
    That is all.

March 12, 2012

Forty kilometers (25 miles) from the border

To make it easier to imagine yourself in southern Israel over the last several days (not to mention the last 10 years or so), as Palestinian terrorists fire dozens of deadly rockets every day on civilian population centers, here’s a handy little map. If Gaza was Tijuana, this is the area of San Diego county that would be subject to being hit by the rockets. Schools are closed throughout this area (this would include SDSU, USD, and all primary and secondary schools in this range), mass transportation is at a standstill (including our international and regional airports), and most businesses are shuttered. Do you know anyone who lives in this area? They all have to be prepared to run into their bomb shelters with a few seconds’ notice from an air raid siren. Here’s what a small part of the barrage on Ashdod sounded like this morning.

Zoomed in for detail:
Range of Gaza rockets - TJ to San Diego

November 27, 2007

Professional development/putting myself out there

Filed under: education,history,humor,Israel,SDSU,technology,UCSD,work — howdoyoujew @ 23:48

Last week I participated in an IT Careers Panel organized by our colleagues across town at the UCSD Career Services Center. There were three other panelists (all UCSD alums), and a whopping TWO students attended. So, yeah, it wasn’t a resounding success in terms of attendance, but the two students who were there sure got lots of personal attention and customized advice from all of us. I was honored to be included (thanks, Bobbie, Craig, etc.!)

This afternoon I taught the second-to-last session of my University Seminar, an introduction/orientation to Career Services, and this evening I taught my Hebrew High class, the 12th Grade Seminar (we began a unit on dealing with Israel issues, anti-Zionism, and the like on college campuses).

I love an audience, but public speaking engagements depend a lot on the audience’s reaction, and I’ve had very different responses along the way (tonight’s Hebrew High class was great; the University Seminar class, not so much). For me, the more reactive and participatory the audience (whether they’re responding to my questions or laughing at my jokes), the better. I still remember the first time I got a feel for working a crowd, delivering my bar-mitzvah speech. I had some native Hebrew-speaking guests, and I inserted a section of Hebrew into the middle of my speech. When I switched back to English, my first words were, “Hi! I’m back!” and I got a nice laugh (which I wasn’t really expecting, frankly). I got such a rush out of that, and have used that as motivation in driving my public speaking ever since. I fed off the energy of my audiences in high school speech & debate (and yes, I’m aware that the people in the photo banner at the top of the page look like they’re in a SNL sketch), and I continue to do so these days, when I present at the occasional conference or speak about Israel or other topics I’m passionate about.

I’m available for weddings, birthdays, and bar-mitzvahs. Thank you, thank you… try the salmon!

November 19, 2007

Playing around online

Filed under: Blogging,education,fun,Life Online,productivity,SDSU,technology,work — howdoyoujew @ 23:38

My buddy Avraham has provided a lot of great intellectual (kosher) meat for me to chew on ever since we met in grad school way back around the turn of the 21st century (can you believe it’s been that long, dude?). He challenged me again recently by asking how I keep up with news of emerging technologies and trends (and which technologies I thought were setting the most prominent trends), and in the conversation that ensued, he reminded me of Netvibes, which I’d signed up for when it was first introduced, but hadn’t played with at all. It may have been David Pogue, it might have been one of the editors of BoingBoing, or it could have been someone else entirely who turned me on to netvibes originally, but I just didn’t take the time or have the inclination to mess around and explore too much.

Well, leave it to Avraham to prod me into action by 1) asking my opinion as an expert user (ha!), and 2) appealing to my ego by telling me he wanted to add my blog feed to one of his netvibes tabs. I figured out the latter task and recognized right away the signs of an impending addiction coming on. Thanks, man. Thanks a lot. Please don’t forget to come visit me when I’m in rehab.

November 13, 2007

Quality time, and Spider-Man 3 pre-review

We spent time tonight with E and S, good friends with whom we have a weekly dinner, rotating between our two houses. We were scheduled to go up to their house, but S called to let us know their laundry machine is on the fritz again, so we switched the date to our place, and they brought their laundry to do at our house. Considering that we’ve stored S’s breast milk in our freezer, hosting them for laundry wasn’t such a big deal. E & S have a little girl about four and a half months younger than Hadarya, so we’re enjoying spending time together for our girls’ sake, too. It’s a real treat to watch them play together, and we look forward to many more evenings of this sort (without this last part when Hadarya woke up screaming, possibly from teething. We’ve gotten her back down thanks to S’s suggestion to use the portable swing we’d moved out the garage because Hadarya didn’t like it when she was younger. She’s sleeping like the proverbial baby now.).

We started watching Spider-Man 3 this afternoon. We’re about an hour in, which means

  1. I’ve already enjoyed the Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell cameos, and I’m very afraid that they are the highlights of the film;
  2. I am already annoyed with Mary Jane for being such a prima donna while simultaneously being irritated with Peter for being so self-centered and full of himself; and
  3. I’m very aware of how long this movie has to be to deal with all its subplots, and that is way too freakin’ long. I mean, an hour in, and we still haven’t seen what the stupid black alien thing is actually gonna DO (not that I don’t know this from the previews/commercials/etc., but come on!

I hope I have time to watch the rest in the next day or two, since it was due back at Blockbuster yesterday. I’m teaching my University Seminar and Hebrew High classes tomorrow, so perhaps I’ll have something more interesting to say.
Laila tov.

November 4, 2007

Parenting, literally and figuratively.

Parenting is hard. I’m not complaining, mind you, just stating a fact. Allow me to illustrate with two anecdotes.

Having a fever of 102°F sucks.
Being less than 13 months old with a fever of 102°F sucks a couple of ways. First, you have no idea why you feel so crappy; you have no life experience on which to base a conclusion. Second, you can’t communicate to your caretakers exactly what hurts or feels bad, so you get frustrated, which just exacerbates your already crappy situation.
Being the parent of an infant with a 102°F fever also sucks in multiple ways. I am cognizant of all the ways my baby’s situation sucks, which sucks for me too. Plus, when there’s no easily discernible cause for the fever, I find myself (with, since I’m exceedingly lucky, my lovely wife) grasping for possible causes, treatments and cures without getting too panicky or frustrated.

The good news is, barring major disease or infection, the suckiness goes away in relatively short order. And so it was over this weekend, when Hadarya developed said fever on Saturday evening, after an intense afternoon of playing at D’s birthday party. Jenn and I had one of the most difficult nights we’ve experienced as parents, up frequently with our daughter, trying to calm and soothe her. And today, other than a wacky, nap-less existence and a steady 100° fever most of the day, things were almost normal. Hadarya has tended to do these sort of things on weekends when it’s least disruptive to our work schedule, which some might see as considerate, and normal for her is so great that it’s easy to forget the tough, sleepless nights and whiny, fussy days. we’re still not entirely out of the woods, as she’s been waking up crying intermittently as I write this, but hopefully we’ll get through this night not too much worse for the wear.

On to parenting of another sort, and the letting go that it entails: Immediately upon my arrival in San Diego in 1999, I visited the Hillel house at SDSU and became active there, as I had been at UCLA, particularly on Israel-related events. Through Hillel, I connected with the larger Jewish community, including the Israel Center, the local Federation‘s Israel activities hub. (It was this connection that hooked me up with a memorable gig as a counselor on a teen summer trip to Israel. That’s a story for another time.) One of the first major events I had a hand in was the annual commemoration of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. I don’t know off the top of my head if the San Diego Jewish community held a ceremony to mark the anniversary before I arrived, but organizing this event and ensuring the participation of a variety of youth, student, and other community groups was one of my pet projects in those first years.

Since then, I’ve remained an active participant in that ceremony (and the Yom HaZikaron ceremony), whatever form it took. My participation has included MCing the event, translating songs, poems, speeches, and other readings for inclusion in the ceremony, and other duties. This year, I was so busy being a dad and dealing with other things that I didn’t notice that I hadn’t been contacted about the ceremony until I saw community-wide publicity for it. I was so impressed by the professional quality of the publicity materials and elated about the ceremony’s change of venue (to the JCC, which we’d tried and failed repeatedly to utilize over the last several years) that it didn’t dawn on me until more recently that I still hadn’t been contacted about participating.

Lunch this past week with my good buddy Ronen, the outgoing Maccabi shaliach, cleared up a great deal of my confusion, and made me anxious to see what the ceremony would be like, now that it had grown up and gone off on its own, so to speak. I was one of a couple of hundred people in the audience in the theater at the JCC tonight, and there were definitely mixed feelings, as I imagine there will be when I watch my actual children taking their first (literal and figurative) steps. Other than the jarringly theatrical biographical vignettes (performed by the J*Company kids, who are, after all, a theater group), the biggest misstep as far as I was concerned was the use of my translation of Chaim Chefer’s powerful poem Hayinu keCholmim (We Were As Dreamers) without any credit given. While I’m assuming goodwill and/or ignorance on the part of the organizers and granting that they may not have known who translated the piece, I’ll be writing the Israeli community shaliach a letter voicing my disappointment at 1) not being consulted at all on this year’s ceremony, and 2) not being recognized, even privately, for the work I did in the past, like this translation.

The ceremony wasn’t all bad by any means. Another friend, Jessie Blank, performed a beautiful, powerful rendition of Naomi Shemer’s Oh Captain, My Captain, a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking free translation of the Walt Whitman elegy for Lincoln that Shemer wrote in the days immediately following Rabin’s murder. And the always reliable Zeji Ozeri (why, yes, he’s a friend of mine too, why do you ask?) led the singing of Shir LaShalom; neither listening to that singer nor that song will ever get old. Finally, Prof. Michael Bar-Zohar, a former MK and friend of Yitzhak Rabin, who’s written biographies of Ben Gurion and Shimon Peres, shared some personal anecdotes that made me feel more directly connected to Israel and the events and personalities of Nov. 4, 1995, this year than many previous years.
Aside: Huh. So this is what it feels like to blog daily. I like it!

November 2, 2007

THIS is how you spend Shabbat?!

Filed under: Blogging,Jewish holidays,SDSU,Shabbat,technology,work — howdoyoujew @ 23:09

Well, not normally, no.. er… wait a minute! Why am I making excuses? This is MY blog!

Yeah, well, I decided long ago that Shabbat observance for me was not going to look like the traditional, Orthodox version. The key elements in the concept and point of Shabbat for me were the separation from the rest of the week and the relaxation and rest. Thus, I decided that if that meant getting away from the grind of wherever I happen to be living and working/going to school by driving out of town or otherwise distancing myself from my daily surroundings, so be it.

When I first moved to San Diego for grad school in 1999, I made a conscious decision to not engage in schoolwork on Shabbat. I knew I’d be plenty busy with it the rest of the week, and I wanted to establish a set time for a break, so I took the time our tradition has already set aside. This served me very well, and was indeed extremely relaxing, for most of my grad school career. Then came time to prepare for the comprehensive (final) exams for my program, and the discovery that they are administered over a weekend. Normally, you are provided with the exam questions on Friday and turn them in on Monday.

I was so firmly entrenched in my Shabbat habit by this point, that I was fairly comfortable speaking with my faculty and asking for an accommodation based on my religious observance. My position was aided by the presence of a fellow student who was even more explicitly observant than I (Avraham [I’ll never get used to calling you Greg, dude] wears a kippah full time, was a first-rate study partner and remains a good friend, and would find it quite amusing that I’m blogging about this after sundown on Friday, even though he won’t be reading it until after sundown Saturday night. One of the brightest, most open-minded people I know.) and required the same accommodation. So it was that my esteemed teachers and department administrators agreed to provide me and Avraham with the comp exam materials on Sunday and accept them, without penalty, on Wednesday. And yes, we both passed.

And so it is that we hosted Shabbat dinner tonight, with Jenn’s parents and sister and my mom, celebrating Jenn’s birthday, enjoying our daughter’s company while she was up, then sat around talking and laughing with everyone, and eventually wound up flipping open the laptops, searching for stuff on the interwebs and finally getting around to making good on this commitment to post every day for a month.

I love saying Shabbat shalom – it’s a greeting that encompasses so much, so compactly (like many words and phrases in Hebrew). So let’s leave it at that: have a peaceful, restful, happy Shabbat. Shabbat shalom!

July 16, 2007

Things that make me sad…

Filed under: Christianity,Commentary,SDSU,Torah Commentary,work — howdoyoujew @ 16:27

Sad in a cosmic, global way, not a “boo-hoo” way:

Evangelical/fundamentalist Christians who co-opt Hebrew, specifically Hebrew sacred texts and liturgy, without understanding or respecting their meanings.

I was prompted to post this by an example I ran into today, which itself reminded me of another from a couple of years ago.

Today I manned an information table on behalf of Career Services for incoming freshmen at SDSU as part of the orientation program that runs throughout the summer. At one point, two young ladies approached the table and my colleague and I asked them if they were interested in finding work on campus, thinking about their careers, etc. – the standard questions we ask to engage the uninitiated and create an opening to tell them about our services. The two immediately informed us that they weren’t, in fact, incoming students, but that they were from Minnesota and South Dakota, respectively. When I asked (politely) what they were doing on campus, they asked if we’d ever heard of Campus Crusade for Christ. My colleague Adam and I admitted that we had, and they told us they were here representing their respective campuses as part of a training program or some such.

This made the fact that one of them (the Minnesotan) was wearing a necklace with a silver pendant reading “אשת חיל” (Eshet Chayil – Woman of Valor) much more interesting to me. I’d noticed it before they’d identified themselves, and I commented that I liked it. When the wearer said she’d been told that it meant “Excellent woman” I noted the standard translation, and she balked, saying she didn’t want to be a woman of valor at all – that it implied things like courage (and a couple of other qualities she spit out) which she, apparently, either didn’t possess at all or didn’t aspire to. It turned out the other girl had an identical pendant (as did, presumably, all the other girls in their study group), and that they’d “studied” Proverbs 31 (Google search results, revealing thousands of pages of Christian reflections on this beautiful poem and nary a Jewish take; I guess all the Jewish web references to it refer to it by its title, as these searches for Eshet Chayil and Woman of Valor show) along with some other important women in the Bible, including Hannah and Rahab.

This exchange reminded me of one that occurred at the end of the 27 hours of parenting classes Jenn and I had to take when we signed up to adopt through the county a couple of years ago. During the last class session, we schmoozed a bit with the other “students” – all prospective adoptive parents. I don’t remember how, but I got to talking to a woman who was wearing a ring with “אני לדודי ודודי לי” (Ani l’dodi ve-dodi li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine). She rubbed me the wrong way to begin with by basically quizzing me on the phrase, not satisfied when I told her I knew what it meant in Hebrew; she had me recite the verse, then she showed off her knowledge by parroting the next couple of lines. When I asked about how she came to be wearing the ring, since she wasn’t Jewish, she said she’d gotten it through her church, and that she wore it around the house when she was doing chores and cleaning and stuff.

Wonderful. So our sacred texts are reduced to accompanying non-Jews on their chores and missions. Of course, we elevate the texts when we truly study them, reflect on them, and live by them, but should we be more possessive of them? Seriously, I’m asking.

p.s.: My favorite part of the exchange with the Campus Crusade girls was that the colleague I was at our table with is a practicing Muslim. He and I had a good chuckle at the irony of the whole situation after they left.

April 4, 2007

People who love burritos.

Filed under: Family,Good News,SDSU — howdoyoujew @ 14:58

I and a few friends are Chipotle fans. Perhaps “fans” is not a strong enough word for our passion, actually, for here is what Jill wrote in response to Elissa’s note informing us of this most worthwhile fundraiser:

Uniting reading and burritos. Seriously, has there ever been anything more beautiful? A fresh dew drop on a rose petal at dawn. A newborn baby. A tear running down an old man’s weathered cheek as he reminisces about family lost. Burritos and literacy.

This is the coolest thing I have ever heard of.

We love hanging out with Jill, and you will too. Won’t you join us?

May 10, 2006

Hooray for Hillel!

Filed under: Hillel,San Diego Jewish Community,SDSU,UCSD — howdoyoujew @ 23:05

Hillel of San Diego is having a good month. Last night, the San Diego City Council brought a half-decade-long legal and logistical process to a close by voting to approve the sale of an unused parcel of city-owned land to Hillel at UCSD. Up until now, UCSD Hillel has not had a home, and many of the residents in the neighborhood where this parcel sits were determined to keep Hillel out of their proverbial back yard. While some members of both camps raised the ugly specter of antisemitism in the course of the long debate, in the end it came down to mundane, albeit important land-use regulations, and Hillel (and the law) prevailed, to the benefit of the community at large, and the Jewish college students at UCSD.

Coincidentally, an even longer process regarding the relocation and/or building of a new facility for Hillel at SDSU is coming to its conclusion in the days ahead. According to my sources (I sit on the Board of Directors, so this is on good authority), we should be closing escrow on our new location early next week (the Board is meeting tomorrow to approve getting a loan for the purchase price). This struggle has gone on for nearly TWENTY years, and involved private party land owners and the SDSU bureaucracy. Getting to this point makes me (and Jenn, both of us SDSU alumni) very proud to be a Hillel member, supporter, and lay leader.

Speaking of my wife, I need to get to bed if I want to keep her. Laila tov.

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