Indie Rocker and Jewish Day School Alumna Regina Spektor
As those of you who have been following this season’s America’s Got Talent and/or have read my previous post know, one of the most promising contenders in the show is a religious Jew who is a singer. Not only that, but he is an incoming freshman at the Jewish high school I attended. Curious if any ICJA alumni before have ever enjoyed success and fame as popular musicians, I did some searching but could not find anything. To my knowledge, the only music icon to have graduated from ICJA was Disturbed front man David Draiman (who first spent some time at the Wisconsin Institute of Torah Study, WITS, and Torah Valley High in California).
I then expanded my search to include alumni rockers from any major Jewish day school in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia. (Incidentally, this search revealed volumes about the institutional identities of the individual schools. While some schools mention Nobel Prize winners and Rhodes Scholars among their graduates, others mention only male ‘notable alumni,’ and some only rabbis, major Jewish community leaders, and mega-machers. And some even mention convicted murderers. I’m looking at you, Charles E Smith Jewish Day School.) Interestingly, the rock star Jew-school grads hail disproportionately from Orthodox day schools. Care to interpret?
Anyway, on to the challenge (answers after the ‘more,’ but no peeking!):
which of these famous musicians attended which of these Jewish Day Schools? Hint: two or more may have attended the same school
The Promise is a 4 part BBC miniseries portraying, in the words of producer David Aukin, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict “as it is seen through British eyes.” Each episode is divided between the point of view of Erin, a young woman from Leeds spending the summer in modern day Israel/Palestine, and the flashbacks of her grandfather, Len, a soldier in 1945 British Mandate Palestine. The first episode was shown Wednesday, November 16th at the JCC in Manhattan as part of the Other Israel Film Festival.
I’m sure Claire Foy, who plays Erin, gets this all the time, but she looks like a cross between of Rory Gilmore and that Kirsten Stewart person from the Twilight movies. Moving on. The episode begins with Erin’s discovery of her grandfather’s diary, kept during the British Mandate, in his apartment. Her mother tells her to throw it away, but Erin keeps it, and after informing her mother that she’s going to Israel for the summer with her friend Eliza, who’s beginning her army service, she begins reading it on the plane, starting with his account of liberating Bergen Belsen. Then we see a lot of black and white footage from the camp. Or rather, the audience did. I kept my head down and scribbled. “I wish everyone could see what I’ve seen,” writes Len.
Eliza, Erin’s friend, has dual Israeli/UK citizenship, and her parents live in Caesaria, in a crazy house with glass everything and a giant pool. They take a walk on the beach wearing white and drinking wine and the whole thing makes me think of folks who own houses in the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s like paradise,” Erin tells Eliza. “It’s not what I expected.” “You thought we lived in bomb shelters,” Eliza says. Cue a montage of Eliza and Erin cavorting in the streets of what looks like Tel Aviv-shopping, sitting in cafes, Erin gawking at the sight of a soldier’s gun, and then, in a night club, where Erin passes out and has a seizure.
Meanwhile, in British Mandate Palestine (BMP), Len is told by an army commander that “These Jews see returning to be this place as the fulfillment of the promise of Gd,” but that the Arabs see things differently. The goal of the army is to get both parties to live together peacefully, “like the meat in a sandwich.” (The creepiest simile ever used to refer to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?)
A moving scene follows of Jews jumping from an arriving ship into the water, and being greeted and pulled to shore by British soldiers. There’s a woman with a skeletal face, her wet hair clinging to her head, slogging towards land. The camera lingers on her for a minute too long, or maybe I just imagine that. We learn that there is a quota on Jews entering the country, and when Len tries to smuggle a woman through, he’s reprimanded.
Erin and Eliza, clad in her IDF uniform, drive to her army base to begin training. The front entrance is blocked by Peace Now protestors. As they drive to the other entrance, Eliza tells Erin that her brother is one of them. “I know you think it’s idyllic, but it’s total bullshit,” she says, admitting that she’s terrified of being the army. Erin proposes that if she really can’t take it, she’ll bail her out and they’ll run for the border. (Things I would love to see happen in a future episode.)
BMP: Len is in some kind of swanky club, with other soldiers and ladies and lots of alcohol, and he meets Clara, prompting me to worry that we’re going to see some sex really soon. (Spoiler: we do not.) Clara tells him that this is all propaganda, that she and many other women are being paid to entertain soldiers, and that “100,000 soldiers equals 100,000 opportunities,” and that he’ll undoubtedly write letters home to his family telling them about how well he’s being treated by the Jews of Palestine.
Len has a look of perpetual torture, which only gets worse when he’s ordered to attend a rally against the Jewish quotas, a project that Clara and her father are involved in, in civilian clothes. “Be a Jew for a day,” his commander tells him, urging him to get information on any insurgency the Jews might be planning. Clara, in the meantime, confesses to him that her mother met another man while in the concentration camp. “Not every concentration camp story has an unhappy ending,” she says.
Bon Iver. Bikini. Swimming pool. Erin floats around on a raft until she’s surprised by Eliza’s “insane” brother, Paul, who’s visiting his parents. Erin tells him about her grandfather, Paul tells her that his grandfather fought in the Irgun. Over dinner, things get a little American-Jewish community when we learn that Paul is an anti Zionist who believes Israel is a military dictatorship. Fight with parents about the occupation ensues. Eliza shows up in her IDF uniform and gun. Everyone stares. Later, Eliza tells Erin that once, Paul was very hard core about the army, before he went to Hebron.
BMP: Len attends the anti quota rally, and a man is killed whom the British believe to be an instigator. Later, some of his friends are killed in a shooting. It’s unclear who’s responsible, but in a move that I can only regard as insanely ironic, the remaining solidiers break into an Arab home in pursuit of the actual shooters. Clara’s father tells Len that he’s no longer welcome in their home, even after Len assures him that he’s on their side. “We may be stateless,” says her father, “but we are not stupid.” In the stairwell, Clara and Len embrace secretly.
That’s the end of the flashbacks. Erin and Paul travel to Ramle so she can see the graves of Len’s friends, and she freaks out when she sees the graves of two who aren’t dead in the journal yet. And then we’re in Paul’s car driving into the Territories. “I thought it was dangerous,” Erin says. “You’d rather be back by the pool?” Paul says, and she doesn’t answer. In Nablus, Paul speaks at a Combatants for Peace meeting, along with Omar, a former member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Erin watches, enraptured. She’s surprised to learn later that Omar is an Israeli Arab, and watches, horrified and confused, as Omar is stripped searched and detained at a checkpoint after confronting a solidier about his treatment of a Palestinian woman. “Welcome to Israel,” Paul says, as they drive away from the checkpoint after Omar has asked them to leave him there. “Isn’t it to stop the terrorists?” Erin wonders. Paul responds by showing her the separation barrier and explains that the goal of the checkpoints and the barrier is to force Palestinians off their land and into such a state of despair that they leave all together. He yells a lot. Erin looks confused and scared.
At the entrance to a cafe, a bewildered Erin gets searched by a security guard. She and Paul drink beer. She says she loves it in Israel, he says it’s because she lives in the safe world of his parents, who, he admits, are lovely people. He tells Erin that when he was little, his father took him to a border and pointed out the difference between Jewish and Arab land. “Look what they’re done with the land in 2000 years and look what we’ve done in 50,” his father said. Paul: “He was telling me that they aren’t as deserving as we are.”
On the way out of the cafe, Erin’s glance lingers on a couple coming in. Paul realizes that he’s left his wallet inside when they get to the car and tells Erin to wait. And then there’s a explosion in the cafe. End of episode one.
Are you still reading? Good. After the episode, there was a q/a in the Speakeasy cafe with Liel Leibovitz and producer David Aukin. The idea of the series began with a letter from a solidier who served in Palestine during the British Mandate, which inspired Aukin to portray the conflict through a British perspective. The series was shot on location in Israel/Palestine and the crew represented a cross section of Israeli society, which, according to Aukin, resulted in very real tensions and arguments.
In response to an audience member’s question about the source and prevalence of Britain’s anti-Israel boycotts, Aukin said, “There is no memory in the current British narrative about the Mandate. It doesn’t exist anymore. If anything, this film is anti-British. What we’re dealing with now are the seeds of what the British left behind.”
In case you’re wondering what happened at the end of episode one of The Promise, you can see the second episode this coming Monday, November 21, at the JCC in Manhattan at 7 pm. Episodes three and four will be show on Wednesdays, November 23-December 7th. For more information, visit www.jccmanhattan.org/cat-content.aspx?catID=2928&progID=24759.
Above, the Chilean Federation of Jewish Students protests discrimination.
Over at New Voices Magazine (my day job), we launched a new blog this week that Jewschoolers might be interested in. It’s called the Global Jewish Voiceand it’s a way to jump-start a wider conversation that we normally have at New Voices. While New Voices is normally American or Israeli (and occasionally Canadian) in scope, the Global Jewish Voice is a fully international conversation about the lives of Jewish students and young adults.
The blog is staffed by 10 writers reporting on their lives on campus, in the workplace and at home. They are writing in from every corner of the globe, including Israel, the US, Chile, Spain, China, Canada, the UK and–no joke–Serbia. The blog’s student editor is based in Portland, Ore. There’s also an open submission policy.
This could quickly turn to riots – we need to get the hell out of here. We don’t even have bulletproof vests – any jerk in the street can knife me and disappear. I started to walk toward the trucks and my phone blinks again, this time from a Facebook message: “Shlomo gave us grades! I got a 91! I think he is good after all, he probably didn’t even check that well… how much did you get?”
Meanwhile in Chile, sometimes the struggle is more symbolic of living Jewishly in a non-Jewish world. University student Maxamilliano Grass is on the vanguard of Jewish student activism and pro-Israel work in a country with 75,000 Jews—and over 400,000 Palestinians: More »
Every once in a while, somebody accuses Jewschool contributors of ignoring or belittling anti-Semitism. For those who found Borat to be a hilarious take-down of the haters, here’s a reminder from JTA of why some of us actually found Barron-Cohen’s shtick just a bit offense:
Two upcoming movies I’m guessing the Jewish community will be discussing this summer: “Holy Rollers” (above), based on an apparently true story about Hasidic drug runners; and “The Infidel” (below), a wacky comedy about a British Muslim man who discovers his birth parents were Jewish.
My early reviews: the latter movie looks like a hash of the stupidest stereotypes of Muslims and Jews (tho I’ll admit that the final line in the trailer made me laugh out loud).
Re “Holy Rollers:” the peyos in “The Chosen” were more realistic…
Now, technically, there really isn’t any good reason for the Orthodox to refuse to recognize Masorti conversion – like all halachic conversion, Masorti Judaism requires mikveh and milah (for males) and profession of a belief in one, unified, God. Much of the brou-ha-ha is about extra-halachic matters. But despite my opinion that the Orthodox are wrong not to recognize Masorti conversions, I still think that this is a bad idea.
Do we really want secular courts deciding who gets to be considered Jewish (or any other religion, for that matter)? I know that Europe views government interaction with religion quite differently than my government here in the USA (or in theory ought to, anyhow), and there are certainly circumstances in which it makes no sense for us to try to separate our opinions from the religious sensibilities that formed them (or not), as long as we try to be honest about where those sensibilities come from. But having a presumably secular government decide that the Orthodox have no right to exclude Masorti Jews is just a recipe for trouble.
The potential for other decisions to go awry is just too great. Now, if they want to rule that no school has a right to exclude anyone of any religion from enrolling, okay then, as long as they also grant that the school gets to insist on its curriculum without outside interference, and the enrolled student has to follow along if he (or she) enrolls.
In Israel, government participation in religious business has caused just no end of trouble. The founding fathers of the USA were more than right when they noted that a healthy religion is not going to be helped by having government promote it. Reading Steven Waldman’s book Founding Faith made me think a lot more of how religion developed in the USA — and why our secular government, with all its problems, works much better in the arena of helping religion by ignoring it than nearly any other in the world. Which is not to say that doing so hasn’t had its own problems. Certainly the idea of an agora for religious ideas has also resulted in people treating at least Judaism as if it were something one could choose in pieces, treating it as any other product, to evaluate on, say, whether it makes you happy, or is fun, rather than Judaism as something to which we might have to submit ourselves in order to make ourselves better, or our community better. Further, we need to realise that we might not be better off for choosing our community according to whom we like to hang out with, rather than being stuck with the lumpy mess that is true community. But overall, we are better off with a hands-off policy from the government.
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the ADONAI ELOHIM made the earth and the heaven. (Genesis 12:15)
Why does the creation begin with the Divine Name as the Creator and end with two Names, ADONAI ELOHIM when concluding the creation story? The Midrash explains: This may be compared to a king who had some empty glasses. The King wondered: “If I pour hot water into them, they will burst; if, however, I pour cold water, they will contract (and shatter).”
What then did the king do? He poured in a mixture of hot and cold water so the glasses would remain whole. So, said the Holy One: “If I create the world on the basis of mercy alone, its sins will be oppressive; on the basis of judgment alone, how would the world be able to exist? I will create it with justice and mercy together and then, maybe, it will be able to endure!” (Midrash Genesis Rabbah)
Ever since Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced the release of convicted Pan Am bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi this past Thursday, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the precarious balance between justice and mercy.
As you are no doubt aware by now, Scotland went ahead and freed the terminally ill Megrahi on “compassionate grounds” over the furious objections of the American government. Whatever your opinion of this incident, you have to admit it has made for some pretty fascinating reading. I can’t say I ever recall reading so much about the ethics of compassion vs. justice in the op-ed pages before.
The United States was right to complain to British and Scottish authorities, who now have a great deal of explaining and investigation to do in order to demonstrate the integrity of their handling of the entire matter. At the very least, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who granted al-Megrahi release on compassionate grounds, ought to lose his job. Probably he is not the only one.
Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 killing 259 aboard the 747 passenger jet and 11 people on the ground. Libya and its leader, Moammar Gadhafi were blamed and, ultimately, Libya gave up al-Megrahi. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
This gives us the first reason why the release was wrong. The man was sentenced to life. He served eight years. MacAskill ordered the release on compassionate grounds because the prisoner had terminal prostate cancer. People die in prison all the time, which is, in theory, what phrase life in prison means. Even compassion has its limits and it is warranted in this case only for the victims’ families, the victims themselves having been denied it by their murderers.
MacAskill could have washed his hands of this issue and simply had a terminally ill man spend the few remaining days of his life in a Greenock prison cell. Few, beyond the masters of the British petroleum industry, would have demurred. Certainly not Downing Street, whose haunted incumbent would have been praying for such a verdict, and certainly not America whose default position on justice is: “When in doubt, hang them from the neck… especially if they are poor, black and uneducated.” In the Arab world, there would have been desultory protests but nothing more. Baghdad, Helmand, Kabul and the West Bank are of far more pressing concern than the final resting place of a man they all wished to forget.
But this unprepossessing minister of justice sought to ignore all the serried interests of the global supermen. Instead, he found refuge in the fundamental principles of a judicial system that has served Scotland soundly for more than 400 years. For 16 years now, our statutes have given us leave to release from prison anyone who is deemed by competent medical authority to have three months or less to live. It was a concession rooted in compassion, pity and forgiveness. Few in the United Kingdom have ever taken issue with it. It is a good and just law. MacAskill simply applied it.
Regardless of what we might think about MacAskill’s judgment (I’m personally struggling with this myself), I don’t think it is fair or accurate to claim that his actions were politically motivated. Based upon everything I’ve read so far, it seems to me that he simply acted upon what he considered to be values of compassion and decency. When was the last time we could say that about the actions of a politician?
PS: Couldn’t help but notice that Megrahi was freed on Rosh Hodesh Elul. (I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’…)
Read an interesting article in the NY Times yesterday about the new $200 million museum opening in Athens. Apparently there is now hope in Greece that it will become the permanent home for the Parthenon Marbles – an ancient frieze from the Parthenon that was taken by the British in the early 19th century.
Toward the end of the article:
Greece retains only 36 of the 115 original panels from the Parthenon frieze, which depicts a procession in honor of the goddess Athena. Britain has long asserted that when (British Ambassador) Lord Elgin chiseled off the sculptures some 200 years ago, he was acting legally, since he had permission from Greece’s Ottoman rulers.
Ottoman law, Ottoman law…
Something about this sounded strangely familiar – then it hit me. Ottoman law has also been invoked in defense of a very different sort of theft: namely Israel’s nationalization of Palestinian land in the Occupied Territories.
The declaration of the territory as state land was grounded on a manipulative use of the Ottoman Land Law of 1858, which was absorbed in the British mandatory legislation, and later in Jordanian law. According to the 1858 law, the state may take possession of land that is not worked for three consecutive years. In accordance with the military legislation, through which the Ottoman Law was applied, the burden of proof was on the person contending that his parcel of land is not state land.
Who knew? It’s almost a hundred years since the Ottoman empire went under, but its legal genius is still appreciated more than ever…
Kudos to the British Jewish community for mobilizing big time in support of Fair Trade!
Check out their impressive new Jewish Guide to Fair Trade – it has to be the most comprehensive resource of its kind. It’s even more remarkable when you consider that it is the product of a wide-ranging coalition that includes every major British-Jewish denomination.
This campaign is but one project of Tzedek, a British org that self-describes itself as
…a voluntarily led Non-Governmental Organisation that draws upon the skills and resources of the Jewish Community to better the lives of those less fortunate. Tzedek aims to nurture and empower open-minded Jewish community leaders to promote the fight against extreme poverty.
Their new guide is much more than just Jewish lip-service to Fair Trade. It’s filled with lots of substantive info, including Jewish sources and curricula.
Any chance that the large Jewish community on the other side of the pond might follow their lead?