Monday, August 27, 2007

Bye-Bye, Summer of Love...

It's back-to-school time, and, like millions of students across the country, I'm sad. Not just because last Saturday night, my darling oldest daughter departed for school across the breadth of our country,an "out of towner" living for her third year in midtown Manhattan. My second daughter is poised to move into her sorority this week-end, and my son began his school year today with the discovery that a new student in his school shares much of his background.

For each of my children, as the others who contemplate the new school year with a mix of anticipation, curiosity and dread, there's the upside of that exciting first week, when tough assignments aren't yet due and exploring new classrooms, meeting new teachers, and collecting this year's school supplies--those newly-sharpened pencils, fresh binders, crisp-bound textbooks--allows them the hope of possibility, the clean-slate start toward success.

For me, left behind, there's the departure of summer.

Summer has always been my favorite season, largely because I'm a sunshine girl. The feel of that warmth on my skin is indescribably delightful, and brings joy to
my soul while gilding my face and boosting that healthy vitamin D. I know the dangers of those nasty rays, and I've heard the warnings of hastened wrinkles (that I suppose I ought to heed at this point) but the very essence of summer, which permeates my very body through that caressing sunshine, is complete happiness and satisfaction with life.

Nature shares my ecstasy in the summertime. Dawn comes early and bright, pouring yellow magic through my window. There's a reason why all those furniture ads show rooms with morning rays entering--that sunshine conveys leisurely moments together with loved ones at home; happy Sunday pancake breakfasts, reading the newspaper, lingering over coffee and laughter without the rush to depart. Summer sunshine is not just bright with possibility, but it's lush and golden, and we on the west coast needn't dread humidity or stifling temperatures, but merely the sauntering sunshine through hours of options for reward. The trees are heavy with intense green leaves, and in the long hours seem to grow more verdant and more full as we watch. Vegetables blossom and grow into succulent prizes to harvest and enjoy. Summer fruit, the juicy peaches and drippy-sweet plums, are the bounty only a season of plenty can produce.

And the nights, that begin late and seem ever-early, are warm enough to stay
barefoot, and sleep light and free. Friends are more easy, life is less intense, and best of all is having everyone home, a family complete and safe and relaxed.

I'd made some colorful signs, one of my habits, to celebrate that we were together. One of them welcomed my daughter to "the summer of love," a reference to forty years ago, the infamous 1967 summer, two years before Woodstock, but already deep into the liberation mentality. Another sign touted my happiness that our family was united. A third simply cheered each of my children as integral to our summery atmosphere.

So, here's to flip-flops. Here's to t-shirts and sleeping late and lying in the sunshine. To vacations and swimming in the lake and hanging wet towels on a clothesline to dry. To not wearing makeup, and walking on a trail dappled with sunshine. I hope your summer was as wonderful as mine was. And maybe, with a little luck, that luxious warmth can last a few more days...

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Jewish People Seattle

We Jews believe in "ahavat Yisroyal," love for our fellow Jews. (We certainly love others too.) Beyond that, in our tradition, we know God has always responded best when Jews as a people united in our commitment to the Torah and His commandments.

So when the Jews of the Northwest get together every year to throw a "Jewish
Festival," you've got to "feel the love" and support it. That's what our family did this Sunday. My son volunteered several hours of his time to booths for Jewish youth organizations, and my daughter, husband and I decided that it was worth our afternoon to express our interest and caring for Jews of all ilk in our area.

Maybe you've heard that Seattle is famous for, OK, yes, Starbucks and Microsoft. Even before them, we had RAIN. But, supposedly, not now. "There are only two seasons in Seattle. August and the rainy season." Yep, but Saturday afternoon began a pelting summer storm that kept up through the night. You can get a battering from raindrops for five minutes, and then nothing for three minutes until another cloud decides its best target is you.

So, the Seattle Jewish Festival was a mud-field. The kind of soggy goo that feels like brown quicksand sucking your sandals when you pull up your foot to take a step. The rain was strong enough that we natives resorted to something we NEVER do: we used umbrellas. It was that bad.

The festival was basically rows of those famous white plastic pop-up booths, each touting a Jewish organization. We'd skipped breakfast with the expectation that finally, HERE was a festival with food we could eat--kosher--rather than the usual non-kosher elephant ears and lard-laced curly fries. There was but one food stand, yes, kosher, though we financially careful Jews wouldn't have considered it a mitseeah (bargain).

I do love my fellow Jews, and I wish the sun had shone on this event, in every way. But I did note that the official proceedings had a palpably political (liberal) undertone. Introducing the pro-Israel "march" around the park perimeter was a radio personality known for his anit-Israel views--he'd even met with Palestinians. The only shelter with audience seats offered one left-wing speaker after another. And right up front, next to the only music stage, was the booth of a Federation-sponsored gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gendered group. There were also two Chabad booths, the excellent Seattle Kollel, and my son's organizations, NCSY youth group, and "Friendship Circle," through which he and other teens volunteer in the homes of developmentally disabled children. Several synagogues of all types were represented, and a variety of social service groups, many of which did appear to have a liberal orientation..

The featured musical performer, David Broza, was described in event literature this way: "
More than a singer/songwriter, David Broza is well-known for his commitment and dedication to several humanitarian causes, predominantly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Beginning in 1977, Broza has been working to bring the message of peace to the masses by joining peace movements, and singing what is now the anthem of the ‘Peace Now’ movement, his hit song, Yihye Tov. A recent project has been writing and recording with the Palestinian music group, Sabreen, the song ‘Belibi’, which featured Broza, Sabreen’s Wissam Murad, and two children’s choirs, one from each side of the conflict."

We all want peace, and we all love the hope implied by the group hug of music performed together with enemies. John Lennon wasn't the first to plead naively, "give peace a chance." Motorist Rodney King (i.e. convicted felon who happened to get beat up in the LA riots) wanted to know, "why can't we all just get along?"

At Bellevue downtown park yesterday, (thankfully, as usual,) the Jewish community of Seattle got along. Everybody mucked from muddy booth to the next in good cheer. There were no protesters (that I could see) and nobody even took on the blatantly liberal speakers. Most heartening was the coming together of all sorts of groups that rarely interact in our Jewish community of 50,000. The "Kippa Lady" crochets colorful discs to be worn on any Jew's head (photo, top). Commercial and altruistic groups offer junkets to Israel, the place we agree is our homeland. The point was that everyone was there. Under dark skies and on dank earth, philosophically disparate communities of Jews let each other know of our presence, and reminded Seattle and the world that "Am Yisroyal Chai," the Jewish people live.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Time Warp Town with a Lesson

Today, on this glorious summer day, our family went on a field trip. While my husband proposed various hikes, all immediately nixed by my two college-agers and my 15-year-old, they could not turn down brunch at the only Noah's Bagels in our area that's kosher. Afterward, we browsed our favorite stores in its shopping center, a tony enclave near the university. Such delights, buying books at Barnes and Nobel, and for me, scouting out the latest funky styles at Anthropologie, and home trends at Crate and Barrel. It was only after this suave beginning that we faced a different reality.

Dum-dum-DUM...we decided to check out the Auburn "Good Old Days" fair. In all the announcements about events in the region this weekend, the festival in the town of Auburn was featured. So, envisioning craft booths, fun entertainment, and a new area to explore, we ventured south-east of Seattle, and followed the signs to City Center. Streets were barricaded, but there was parking on
side-streets nearby. With happy hopes, we walked toward the commotion, and soon realized we were in a different era, the "good old days" of the unimproved 1940s.

Here was a town that modernization had forgotten. The sad main street, festooned with red, white and blue banners on its concrete lamp-posts, was lined with restored antique cars, tended by their equally antique guy-owners, seated in folding camp-chairs next to their vehicles. On a cross-street were a few typical white plastic sheet-walled folding booths, but instead of fine pottery, paintings or blown
glass, the booths offered cheap sunglasses, pregnancy services, the local newspaper, and bottled water sold by the Lion's Club. Some overweight visitors sauntered by the cars in their tank tops. We heard faint music, and, walking on, soon came upon...the entertainment.

My daughters cringed. My son scowled. My husband pushed back his baseball cap and scrunched his forehead in puzzlement. An intent, serious crowd of about 60 sat in folding chairs, blank-faced in a parking lot watching...a Dolly Parton impersonator, wearing an outfit too trashy even for the real Dolly. Though her voice was okay, she trounced about in her teased platinum blond wig and cleavage-enhancing neon blue dress (trimmed in a boa of pink feathers) with faux sexiness and such comedic clumsiness that we all sputtered concealing our laughter.
She was having a great time, and the expressionless audience didn't seem to be in on the joke.

After a few incredulous minutes watching, one of my daughters expressed her discomfort with the town's scuzziness and asked to leave, but I insisted we walk down Main Street. The Good Old Days of Auburn were clearly about sixty years before. The town's thoroughfare featured three "antiques malls" in which individuals displayed the contents of their garages on card tables. There was a used-book store, with narrow aisles and shelves of yellowed tomes piled to the ceiling. The community emporium, Rottles , had expanded its "women's apparel" two doors down, though its facade didn't match the peeling-painted original. As we passed, a thickly-made-up elderly woman with raven hair coiffed and sprayed, was locking up, her stiff movements matching the old-fashioned jointed mannequin in the window. Down the street, for a stretch of half a block was an open dirt lot. No weeds, no
sign of imminent improvement, just plain dirt, edged by the sidewalk. The urgency in my daughter's pleas to leave this gasping town increased.

"Not so fast," I answered. I was fascinated by a place that chose to boast its gimping gait. I peered in the window of a check-cashing store with signs all in Spanish. Next door, a tax and loan office was decorated by a kissy-faced Statue of Liberty life-sized doll. A Chinese restaurant with half-lit neon letters, and, down a few doors, the Rainbow Cafe, featuring "Good food" and cocktails with a steer head and OK brand on its sign, provided gustatory diversion for the town.

By now, all three of my children had endured enough of this time-warp. We headed back toward our car, again encountering the strains of music from the event stage. Dolly Parton had finished her set, and in her place was...yes, you guessed it: Elvis. The elder Elvis, decked in greasy, ill-fitting wig and Vegas duds, from which he realistically bulged. "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog, crying all the time..." My other daughter chuckled, "I knew there'd be an Elvis impersonator!" And of course she was right, for who exemplifies glory gone to
seed more than Elvis in Auburn?

Though my complaining daughter vowed never to enter Auburn again, so alien in its working-class lifestyle (and contrary to her privileged existence), I cautioned her. The people in Auburn represent the vast majority of our countrymen, earning a modest living, and able to afford a humble home in a community that is scrambling to keep its dignity and better itself. We must not get smug or arrogant about the blessings we've been allowed. The good folks of Auburn, working hard for wages that don't fairly match their diligence, invited Seattle into their downtown, without pretension, with only high hopes and best intentions. As we drove toward home, past 1940s wooden box-homes with satellite discs and RVs and ocher lawns, I mused that here, houses were affordable. Here, families could get a start. From Auburn, one can always move up. Perhaps these are indeed the good old days.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Happy ME!

After my post on Michael B. Oren's frightening facts about terrorism and Israel, I wanted to offer something a bit more upbeat. Not that my birthday is particularly upbeat; I've come to the stage in life where I'm counting backward. I was 29 last year; now I'm 28. Or maybe 25.

First, I thank God for the innumerable miracles in my life. And especially for the ability and inclination to notice them. Every morning when I put on my contact lenses, I think about the people who, not too long ago, would not be able to correct imperfections in their eyesight, and thereby were less able to enjoy and appreciate the world. "...Pokayach ivrim!" I am grateful for God giving sight to the blind--well, in my case, not too blind, but certainly the world comes into functional focus once I place those plastic discs on my corneas. When, after donning my contact lenses, I look out my window and see Mt. Rainier, I am filled once again with excitement at the beauty and wonders of our environment.

I'm grateful, certainly, to be healthy. Every night as I lie in bed, I thank God for another day free of pain. Pain mars the existence of so many millions of people, and even something as small as the thin cut I somehow got on my pinky, can distract me from the bountiful good around me. And if I do have some minor physical glitch, I'm grateful it's not of the seriousness of those I include in my tfila. I do not forget what it was like even to lie in bed with the flu, quaking and sweating, or worse, bolting to the bathroom--but knowing at least that it was temporary. When I've been in that state of misery, I think of all my misdeeds, and hope my suffering might somehow atone. How much more so should I be grateful for each day I am free to pursue accomplishments with my mind without regard to infirmities of my body.

I'm grateful for my family--my amazing husband and our closeness; that he can be my best friend and yet someone who surprises me. My respect for him only increases, which not only reflects his qualities but also is a gift, as so many marriages flag and respect erodes over time. My children, each in his or her own unique and disparate way, fill my heart with joy and wonder--as they are developing and maturing and blooming. And the friendships I have, in particular with my dear women friends, and also with an array of fascinating and worthy couples, allow me expression and insight, laughter and the opportunity to extend myself in directions I would not have known.

What a world we live in. I've enjoyed all sorts of birthday celebrations, large and small, and while I revel in what I received this year, I am so fortunate that each day is a celebration. I marvel at a beauty in the world--the Rufus hummingbird hovering at our feeder, or even that I have so many clothes to wear. I have an enormous collection of "hand me ups," clothes rejected by my daughters. To me, they're perfectly good, and I wear them, and, okay, call me Pollyanna, but the fact that my daughter wore, say, the t-shirt I'm putting on, gives that too-short t-shirt that I have to wear a longer shirt under, a sentimental dimension. I think as we get older, we get more sentimental. Certainly more is precious to me now.

At the same time, less is precious. After 9-11 in particular, I understood the worthlessness of material possessions. I still love to buy colorful things, especially tableware that I can use to create Shabbat table designs, but I have far less need to hoard items "just in case." I'm too frugal to throw out much, and must use any piece of aluminum foil at least three times, but I'm finding it easier to let things go. What matters is time with important people, experiences, and, of course, photos and videos of that time so that I can relive it.

My birthday allows me to reflect on my many blessings, and also on the finite nature of life. I remember after my parents passed away, that the contents of their home--their face cream and tchotckes and memos and souvenirs of excursions--went into a dumpster. If I don't use that pretty greeting card I bought, it will probably end up there with all the other contents of its drawer. Is anybody actually going to want the little signposts of my life? Not likely. So I need to keep only what will continue to make me happy, use the cute post-it notes and fancy paper clips and gorgeous stationery, and not put it all aside for the future. The future is now, and if I don't walk in the garden today, the flowers there will die without my ever having taken note that they bloomed. There's sure a lot to do when you're 25...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Dr. Michael B. Oren speaks on Terrorism, Israel, the future

As promised, I wanted to report on a lecture the 200 members of our Israel tour group heard from a famous person--not a movie mag celeb but someone who is an expert in the field of mid-east relations, author (Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East) and professor Dr. Michael B. Oren (left).

The auditorium was filled, and throughout the talk completely silent, save for the sibilant scribbling of pen on paper. Dr. Oren addressed facts about the conflicts in the mid-east, content he'd tried to communicate when invited by our President and State Department to offer advice. He warned us that some of the facts were not what we'd wish to hear. But nonetheless, the US as a nation would have to face them.

First off, he said each of the governments of mid-eastern countries are basically "a family with an army," and the way we must deal with them is to make a strong impression. While "Sadam Hussein needed to not get away with defying the UN," at the same time, we should not try to make Iraq a democracy. Instead,he believes a "Shiite strongman" will ultimately hold together the country, not American efforts--but still, "we cannot detach from the mid-east, because the mid-east will come after you."

Secondly, we also can't separate from our need for oil, and so we're forced to continue to buy oil from that part of the world. We must realize that at the heart of the conflict is "a clash of cultures," much broader than just eliminating Muslim extremists. We must "speak their language and know their culture."

To do that, we need a new "lexicon about terrorism," something we've never had to understand before. These are fighters with no uniforms, no negotiators to make treaties and no intention of abiding by traditional codes of war. "We must understand the theology of a world civilization that wants to take over and kill ours--run by doctors and lawyers" (per the British plotters recently). "This is not about democracy, but about theology--we must support moderate Islam, but covertly, because if we do it openly then the moderates will be discredited."

Dr. Oren's third fact concerns Iran: "Sanctions and dialog won't work," he cautions. "Iran will nuclear-ize," and its leaders have said publicly they're willing to "sacrifice 50% of its population to get rid of Israel [should there be a nuclear showdown]." Dr. Oren believes that "once Iran gets the bomb, every country will [get it], changing human reality." Therefore, we have to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; there's "no way to avoid a major collision with Iran." Israel's entire existence is at at stake, given their proximity to Iran, but Israel lacks the planes to take out Iran's bomb-making sites. Dr. Oren believes that the US is best equipped to make the kind of surgical military strike required, and it needs to be sooner rather than later.

Regarding the Palestinians and Israel: He said that the press misled the public regarding Bush's recent speech on the topic. Upon actually reading it, "Bush gave a very pro-Israel speech," including no return to pre-1967 borders, and no opening the doors to Palestinian refugees, whose numbers "would make Israel a de facto Palestinian State." Also, no "land for peace," but rather, "from the Palestinians, peace for land."

He doesn't think Palestinians can "create viable, transparent institutions; they're in chaos." For Palestinians, the goal is a "one state solution," meaning the end of Israel.

"Israel is a miracle; it started with nothing and is among the fastest growing economies. It's the most high tech" even while last year fighting a war with Lebanon, Dr. Oren says. "The US puts relentless pressure on Israel," he notes, "as if Israel is responsible for the attacks on it."

Dr. Oren explained that in the 30s and 40s, Jews bought up Israeli land, "fair and square," giving lie to the Arab's assertion that they were driven off their land by Jews who wanted to create their new state. In fact, in the 1880s, Israel already had a Jewish majority, which continued to grow; the new state was proclaimed and immediately, on May 14, 1948, the Arabs tried to destroy it.

So, what's my reaction to Dr. Oren's points? Though alarming, I've heard them before, and my experiences in Israel have only confirmed that we're dealing with a religiously-driven cult, which means nothing logical or negotiated can deter them. They want the end of Israel--and, in their best fantasies, build a world ruled as a kalifate, under Muslim law, where everyone recognizes their god. What this does is underscore that we're not only fighting for our lives, but fighting for our eternities. These are bad guys, and they have no scruples because they believe they're doing what god wants them to do.

It seems wrong, but I do think America must abandon its wartime morals and practices and start imagining the passion and tenacity of a religion in which those who are "not them" must be converted or murdered. There there is no room for "peaceful co-existence" with anyone else, even Muslims of a variant branch. Non-Muslims are sub-human "infidels."

This is a case where, every day as we continue to live our lives, they plot to end our lives. Dr. Oren's talk was clever, articulate and scary. But I think it's extremely important, which is why I'm reproducing my notes here in my blog. We should anticipate what we as a nation need to do, and pursue what is necessary--because meanwhile, we are being pursued. I only pray our leaders are up to the task.