Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Here he is, Noah Feldman, in all his adorable elegance.

Noah Feldman, another feather in the cap of American Jewry, the product of an Orthodox Jewish upbringing, the globally-acclaimed intellectual wunderkind, the author, the political pundit, the Harvard Law Professor -- formerly of NYU -- who barely looks old enough to shave, let alone get married.

To an Asian, non-Jewish woman, as he details in the pages of this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

Well, who cares, really?

Noah cares. He cares that the yeshiva he attended for 12 years -- The Maimonides School in Brookline, Mass -- has airbrushed him out of any of their newsletters, thereby erasing any evidence that he ever attended their institution.

And he cares enough to write an essay that lays out a dangerous game of connect-the-dots, hopscotching from his personal tale of being hurt by exclusion to finding a basis in Judaism itself for the terrorist actions of Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir.

By the end of the magazine piece, any sympathy I might have had for him had evaporated and in its place was sheer disgust. Reading postings on the blogosphere, I know that I am hardly alone.

Oh, Noah, you meander through childhood memories that are hardly unique to anyone who attended Orthodox Jewish day school. So the Maimonides School had to cloak their obligatory sex ed in the prohibitions of negiah, hauling out the philosophy of Feinstein in a multi-volume set to suppress your teenage hard-on. Big freaking deal. So you got reprimanded for holding hands with a girl? Been there, done that. So, your rebbes said stupid, parochial things about...goyim? Wow. I never heard of that happening.

There is a Talmudic debate about saving the life of a non-Jew on Shabbat? How fascinating that this took place so many centuries ago! Of course it is as dated as most of the discussions in the Talmud about women. Isn't the proof of the pudding in the fact that Jewish doctors are a worldwide institution, saving the lives of Jews and non-Jews without discrimination on Shabbat, on Yom Kippur, on every day of the week????

Do you hope to reveal some ugly, hidden face of Judaism to your shocked readers who previously had such a positive view of Jews? A pile of gentile corpses outside of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, all the unlucky goyim in Upper Manhattan who had the misfortune to get sick on Shabbos?

Which readership are you writing for, anyway? The subscribers to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion?

You delve into the stories and teachings of our tradition, trying to out an ugly underbelly.

By connecting the dots, the reader might assume that Judaism is a hateful religion, promoting genocide, leading to acts of terrorism.

Gee, speaking of religions associated with promoting acts of contemporary terrorism...isn't something missing from your essay?

Here's the thing: I personally think that Maimonides' decision to airbrush you out of their newsletter was pretty stupid. But you shouldn't have been surprised. To be surprised is kind of disingenuous, isn't it, Noah? You know the consequences of marrying a non-Jew within the Orthodox community.

Some readers of your essay familiar with the goings-on inside Orthodox Jewish community might conclude that you must have been dozing in day school during that lesson on sure-fire ways to obliterate the Jewish future. Numero uno: marry out and raise non-Jewish kids. Have the line end with you. Finish the job Hitler left undone.

Other readers might conclude that you want it both ways: to spit in the face of the community and receive applause for marrying the woman you love...who happens not to be Jewish.

But this reader thinks that in your pain and hurt at the rejection of you and your wife by the Orthodox community of your youth, you have marshalled all your forces, all your intellectual aptitude and built a dangerous missile, pointed straight at the Jewish community at large, packed with enough ammo to inflict real damage.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


How does the city sit desolate
That was full of people?
How has she become as a widow
She who was great among the nations?

The lights were low at Eitz Chaim, the congregants seated on the carpeted floor, individual copies of the Book of Lamentation illuminated by flickering candlelight.

Every year, a familiar gathering at this low-key Conservative synagogue in Monroe, led by Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, whom I first met when he was in rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

More than a decade later, he still has the youthful aura of a recent graduate tempered with the gravitas of being a religious leader in increasingly perilous times.

To my left, Little Babe sat cross-legged, wrapped in polar fleece, black Crocs on his feet. He looked chilled and tired. It had rained all day in New York and by evening, we were water-logged and weary.

Another year, another Tisha B'Av.

I have written elsewhere of my great love for this day of observance, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem -- first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans. In my writing, I have often detailed the somber and magical observances at the legendary and now-defunct Camp Massad, which have stayed with me my entire life.

Possibly because of my camp experiences, the mourning for the devastation of the Temple in Jerusalem -- which signalled the beginning of the Jewish diaspora -- is immediate and accessible to me, winding through the centuries, becoming enmeshed with other tragic historical moments deserving of commemoration.

Tisha B'Av is about pure sadness, grief, regret, remembrance. It doesn't require fancy preparation or complicated observance, mostly abstinence from food, drink, washing, sex and other pleasurable activities, the shunning of leather shoes, reciting special prayers and the reading of the Book of Lamentations.

Tisha B'Av is a day when Jews, hard-wired for survival and overachievement, have a chance to cry about everything horrible that has been done to us as a people.

While the rabbis would have us believe that the Temple was destroyed for sinat hinam -- senseless hatred -- between Jew and Jew, I am pretty convinced that the senseless hatred was directed AGAINST the Jews for refusing to accede to Rome, for stubbornly insisting upon being Jewish.

Last night, the ground at the Love Shack was wet beneath our feet as Little Babe and I trudged to the minivan to drive to Eitz Chaim. We had just eaten our seudah mafseket, finishing meal, and were ready to greet the fast.

Prior to our meal, Little Babe had been at Tae Kwon Do. During his lesson, I met an Israeli woman I had never seen before and we spoke compulsively while watching our sons spar in padded uniforms, bonding avidly as Jews meeting one another in an unexpected outpost. She invited me to a reading of Eicha (the Book of Lamentations) at the local Chabad and I told her about our tradition of attending Eitz Chaim.

Now Little Babe and I were heading to the synagogue through the dark, raindrop-bejeweled night. Five minutes before we arrived, he surprised me with a question: Why do so many bad things happen to the Jews? Why do so many people hate us?

Reading Eicha is difficult, as it is filled with self-flaggelation. Jeremiah, widely considered to be its author, depicts a ravaged city and a hopeless people. The desolate Temple mount is overrun by foxes; women cook their own children. A verse tacked onto the end -- Return us O Lord to you, renew our days as of old -- provides only the slightest relief from the sheer and utter devastation.

This bleak scenario could not be farther from the world that Little Babe inhabits on Manhattan's Upper West Side, a world in which being a Jew, even an observant Jew, constitutes being a member of a social and cultural elite. Moreover, the Jerusalem of Eicha is utterly alien to Little Babe, who has visited and lived in a sparkling, overpopulated, Jewishly-dominated Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem of Jeremiah is not even close to the creepy experience of living in Oxford, England three years ago, where Little Babe was regularly called a variety of names that involved his Jewishness and Middle Babe was attacked verbally by her elite private school classmates for the alleged sins of the State of Israel... the chief one being its very existence.

Once a year, on Tisha B'Av, I cast off my comfort as a contemporary American Jew and dwell in the sadness of being part of a persecuted people, exiled, longing to be returned to my beloved Zion.

Once a year, on Tisha B'Av, Jewish parents -- especially those living on Manhattan's Upper West Side, spending their summers in a glorious paradise at the foothill of the Catskill Mountains -- begin the process of explaining to their children the difficult truth about being Jewish.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


It took the better part of one entire year, but I finally prevailed.

After refusing to veer from his steady habit of anime and Cartoon Network, Little Babe grudgingly allowed me to cajole him into watching West Side Story.

The Sunday night screening was one of the most magical moments of my recent life.

Following a relentlessly social Shabbat at the Love Shack and a trip out to Long Island to visit MOBB and FOBB (mother of Bungalow Babe; father of Bungalow Babe) in Great Neck and friends in Long Beach, Little Babe and I returned to Monroe, New York just as the sun was setting on Sunday evening.
Driving west on Route 17, a mysterious fog settled around us like a great big benevolent quilt. What I really longed to do at that hour was to dive onto my bed to read Mary Gordon's stories but somehow, as if by magnetic force, I found myself drawn into the new Target in the pre-fab new shopping development known as Harriman Commons.

The impetus for this detour was to pick up a few packs of the popular undershirt known as a wife-beater for Big Babe who has developed a sudden dependency upon them. Those of you who frequent Target are probably well-acquainted with the syndrome of check-out shock, which is the phenomenon of being utterly astonished at the check-out counter by the sheer quantity of (non-essential) items you have just purchased.

However, tucked into the trademark red and white bag were three magnificent metziahs (steals) that made the excursion entirely worthwhile: the musicals Hair, Fame and West Side Story on DVD, each for $9.99.

Oh, snap!

Upon returning to the horrifically messy Love Shack -- abandoned hastily earlier that same day in a mad effort to get HOBB (husband of Bungalow Babe) to La Guardia on time for his flight to Boston -- Little Babe and I collapsed onto the master bed, eyes trained upon my computer screen, which was balanced on the makeshift table that forms my desk. Between us rested Alfie the Pomeranian, blissfully squashed between our sandy, beach-burnt bodies.

The DVD player whirred inside my computer. The window for the DVD player popped up. I pressed play. The computer screen went black. That famous West Side Story whistle sounded, hovering in the silent air, and then the thrilling overture began, a skycam panning New York City, causing Little Babe to cry out in recognition -- "Columbia University!" "The Empire State Building!" "The East River!!" -- until the lens honed in upon a playground on the West Side.

In the quiet of the country, Leonard Bernstein's energetic music sounded overly loud and I kept compulsively fiddling with the volume button, afraid of waking the entire bungalow colony. Lying on our stomachs, facing the computer, chins resting on fluffy pillows, a soft breeze wafting through our curtains and brushing our pajamas, I kept stealing glances at Little Babe, monitoring his reaction.

Some adults take their kids to Disney World to show them the time of their lives.

For me, Disney World is eclipsed many times over by the wondrous world that Bernstein, Robbins, Laurents and Wise created in this film: the urban battleground of the Sharks and the Jets, the Eden of Tony and Maria, the sisterhood of Anita and Maria, the safe haven of Doc's Candy Store, the frilly retreat of the bridal shop, the shadows in the schoolyards and playgrounds (haunted by Anybody's), the alleys and streets, nooks and crannies of New York's dirty, down-at-the-heels West Side in the very era I was born.

The epic relationships of West Side Story have been with me my entire life: Tony and Riff; Anita and Bernardo; Riff and Bernardo; Tony and Maria; Anita and Maria; Maria and Chino. And the characters are hard-wired into my memory: Officer Krupke; Doc; Ice; A-Rab; Baby John; Velma; Graziela; Consuela; Lieutenant Schrank; Action and mah gurl Anybody's, the ultimate celluloid tomboy.

After four decades of watching this film, the characters of West Side Story have become mishpocha. Their story, oft-told, is family lore, a primer for life, a template for every situation one is likely to encounter -- love, longing, hatred, disappointment, betrayal, exhiliration, adversity, loss.
And rumbles. Especially rumbles.

To see West Side Story is to take a crash course in life-preparedness.

The first time I saw West Side Story was in 1972, watching it from the high-rise bed next to my cousin Rena in the basement of her house in New Hyde Park. The film was on TV, a Sunday night special, perhaps Channel 9's Million Dollar Movie. From the very beginning of the film, I was breathless with the thrill of discovery; I felt like the Vasco da Gama of Queens. Here was entirely new territory! Never before had I seen a musical like this, filled with characters I instantly loved... and wanted to be.

Watching the film unfold, I recognized myself in Riff, in Action and in Anybody's. With each viewing -- sometimes even between each viewing -- I wrote myself into the script. Little did I know that ten years later, their West Side setting would become my own neighborhood.

As I got older, I even tried on the persona of Anita -- sexy, savvy, hot-blooded, Spanish like me, though it would be many years before I learned the truth about my own Sephardic origins.

How bold the film was, confronting the tribal animosities of urban life! Yes, we all knew it was a modern-day adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but it wasn't until I actually saw Romeo and Juliet performed that I realized how faithful the adaptation was.

And it wasn't until I was older that I realized how daring the film was, allowing good-girl Maria a night of sex with Tony. The scene of Anita coming upon an obviously post-coital, half-clad Maria in the room with the rumpled bedsheets, Tony escaping through the alleys was an important milestone in my moral development.

Don't listen to your parents...people in love can and do have sex, it informed me... even if they are not married! Good girls like Maria and good boys like Tony. People like Judy and Bob, my birthparents, a college and a medical student, in love, unmarried, utterly unknown to me at that time in my life.

Thirty-five years ago, I watched, miffed, as the final, melodramatic scene unfolded and Maria cradled a dying Tony. Naturally, my girly-girl cousin wept and naturally, I laughed at the corniness of it all, tomboy that I was. I remember rolling my eyes at that excess of emotion while my cousin shouted at me through her tears that I was ruining the ending for her. But the ending had been ruined for me by the director.
Until that final scene, everything had been great and irreverent and suddenly, there were violins and ashen-faced gang members and everyone was acting serious and grown-up and like they didn't hate each other anymore. Eeeeuuuuwww!

Outraged though I was, I ultimately forgave the filmmakers, pragmatically deciding that they needed to turn the movie into a tearjerker...this was Hollywood, after all.

I have no idea how many times I've watched West Side Story, seeing it anew through the eyes of each of my children, finding it ever more brilliant with each viewing.

So, what novel observations did Sunday night's viewing bring?

Well, for one thing, the choreography nearly made me swoon. It is utterly sublime, sophisticated and greatly varied -- ballet to mambo to jazz to modern and back again. I saw Little Babe's mouth open during each dance number, suffused with wonder that "boys" could dance so well.

This Sunday's viewing also activated my gaydar. Maybe it is due to the dancing, but at this recent viewing, most of the Sharks and Jets struck me as gay. Especially the Sharks. Check out their tight little butts and high-waisted pants. (The lipsticked pouty mouths don't help matters.) Still, the gayest guy of West Side Story has got to be Tony. When he attempts to look love-besotted, he merely manages a constipated grimace. The way he holds Maria is distant and awkward. It is far more natural to imagine him, say, making out with Bernardo.
Gratuitous musings about the the actors' sexual orientation aside, what my latest encounter with West Side Story gave me was the sheer joy of sharing it with Little Babe --wondering how it looks to him now that he is the very age I was when it entered my life in a very different world, a world before the Intifada and 9/11 and videotaped decapitations and American students going on murderous rampages and flaming jeeps being driven into airports. I wonder how Little Babe's mind will preserve the memory of the first time he viewed the Jets and Sharks rumbling in urban playgrounds and alleyways, an Upper West Side child on the cusp of adolescence, camping out in the country in the summer before his Bar Mitzvah.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


God is taunting me. He/She obviously read my previous posting and thought to Him/Herself:

So, you like to racially profile perfect strangers? Two can play the game!!!

Evidently, the game has begun. This morning, when I popped into my local Dunkin Donuts, I nearly dropped my small cappuccino with an extra-shot when Verena, the Eastern European clerk from last summer, emerged from the back of the store wearing a Muslim headcovering and a long sleeve black leotard beneath her Dunkin Donuts shirt.

The veil was pinned beneath her chin and her face was utterly free of make-up. She kept her eyes downward, looking up only briefly to take orders. Last summer, she smiled at customers and wore her mousy-brown hair free and uncovered.

Now, of course, I am consumed with wondering whether Verena and the sleazeball from last week are related. Now, of course, my paranoia level has gone up to Level Red.

And it didn't help that five seconds later, I was trotting on the treadmill at Straub's Fitness three stores down, listening to Michael Chertoff talk about the hunch he has that a large-scale terrorist plot might be hatching for a city such as New York. Possibly this summer.

No specific information about a threat, just the hunch from the director of Homeland Security.

Of course, this could be a ploy from the Bushies to get everyone all paranoid and nervous and deflect from the fact that the troop surge in Iraq is a huge failure and the frikkin war in Iraq is a huge failure and the Iraq government is a huge failure and every frikkin thing that has happened over on Bush's watch has been a huge failure.

It's hard to figure out where to focus my paranoia.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Three Tuesdays ago, I gave up coffee. Not forever...that would only make me rebel against myself. For now. For a day, or a week or a month or however long it would take to get me away from the Give-me-coffee-or-give-me-death relationship I was having with my body.

I'll admit it. The prime reason I went off the stuff is so that my metabolism can kick in to maximum effect. I know that a number of the diet mavens have skirted the issue of caffeine, timidly suggesting that their adherents would be best served by keeping caffeine to a minumum because to boldly state that coffee is utterly off-limits to people already deprived of normal food would make them homicidal. But I know the truth and the truth is that when people stop guzzling coffee, they lose weight.

Anyway, I don't think it is coffee or tea per se, but simply the way Americans consume everything in excess. Several Venti-sized hits of java will absolutely mess up your body's chemistry. And by Americans I mean myself. If I could only be like a European in my coffee consumption, I'd be effortlessly thin.

So, three Tuesdays ago I gave up coffee and yes, have been drinking green tea like it has the secret of eternal youth, which it may well have. But I felt like a taste of coffee last Thursday. And I didn't want to get into an arm wrestle with my yetzer hara (evil inclination). So I drove to the Dunkin Donuts next to Master Sang's Tae Kwon Do place, where Little Babe takes classes.

First, however, I popped into Master Sang's to explain that Little Babe was absent this week because of the hairline fracture on his big toe, which he got from sprinting around the exercise room after class the previous week. Master Sang bowed in greeting and looked truly contrite to hear of Little Babe's injury. This brought out my most nurturing Bungalow Babe instincts. Of course, it didn't hurt that Master Sang is the hottest Asian man in the world. And that there is the word "Master" at the beginning of his name, which is kind of fun to say and even more fun to think about...

...but where was I???

Oh, yes, so after leaving Master Sang, I trotted into Dunkin Donuts and guiltily placed an order for a small cappuccino with an extra shot. If I was going to backslide, I was going to do it in style. Not extra-large, but extra strong.

Because they were cleaning the machine, it would be a bit of a wait, I was told. How long, I asked, suspiciously. Oh, about 3-4 minutes. I rolled my eyes discreetly and smiled my amenability.

The 3-4 minutes I waited at the side of the Dunkin Donuts counter gave me just enough time to hear the customer to my right giving a hard-sell to the clerk about some new enterprise that would net him "eighty thousand dollar" the first year, probably double or triple that the next. With his Walmart-issue clothes, close-cropped hair and unsavory complexion, the man was hardly the picture of financial success. Everything about him screamed sleazeball. His accent caught in my ear and perplexed me. It sounded at first Eastern European, then Hispanic, then Balkan...and finally I placed it as Arabic.

Which made me pay infinitely closer attention to the man...and conclude that he was Muslim.

There are loads of Satmar Hasidim and townies and mainstream goyish types and a proud showing of Conservative and Reform Jews but I had never seen an Arab/Muslim in Monroe before. Yes, he could have been Christian or Druze or escaped Bedouin, but in the script that was unfolding in my mind he was absolutely Muslim.
Whatever he was, the guy was a no-goodnik. This much was obvious. To his credit, the young Mexican dude at the counter yeah-yeahed him good-naturedly while his made his oily sales pitch. The coffee was brought. Change was given. And then he sauntered out of Dunkin Donuts, across the parking lot and towards a....JEEP CHEROKEE?????

My heart started hammering like mad. OMG!! Was this Jeep about to be plowed into the Dunkin Donuts??? Or driven north along 87 towards Stewart Airport? Or taken south along 87 to La Guardia??

I admit that I got close enough to the window to see the license plates of the Jeep and memorized them. I was too embarrassed to write them down. But I have them in my mind in case I can help a future police investigation.

Am I insane? Paranoid? Racist? Retarded?

And I'll admit something more. I intend to stalk the Dunkin Donuts next to Master Sang's, on the lookout for this guy...or others like him.

And keep my eyes peeled for Jeep Cherokees driving along Rt 17.

As for my resolve...let it be said that after three or four sips of the cappuccino, I tossed the entire thing away. However, I would be lying if I didn't admit that I drank a delicious Lavazza cappucinno at the rest stop along 87 while driving out to the Hamptons on Friday and had several gulps of Gevalia coffee at the 1880 house on Saturday morning and had a triple-shot cap at the Organic cafe on Sunday morning, right off of Main Street in Westhampton.

If we are under imminent terrorist threat, then it's kind of pointless to give up coffee, right?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


What does it mean, the television anchor asked the expert, that the terrorist masterminds in the UK car bombing plot are doctors?

What does it mean, she persisted, horror mixed with incredulity, that these are educated people?

The expert paused and collected his thoughts. And then offered an answer that sounded more like a kid bulls%^&ing his way through a test he failed to study for: that people with a propensity towards science are more easily swayed by extremist ideology.

As Scotland Yard chases down clues and suspects with stunning speed, this rapidly-unfolding international drama has all the ingredients of a major blockbuster film.

Including the plot twist of seemingly harmless doctors revealed to be murderers.

Like the Nazi doctors.

But this century's Nazi ideology is not contained to one continent...or one people. It is hopscotching around the world.

And the film would be thrilling were it not the unfolding of our new reality, minute by terrifying minute.