This is AnnaLevine's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following AnnaLevine's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
AnnaLevine
Recent Activity
Dear Ruchira, I enjoyed reading your thoughtful commentary on various topics more than a decade ago, as forwarded messages to 'Maina' from 'Mummy' (future book title?), before we had ever communicated and long before the birth of Accidental Blogger. I enjoyed reading the same in the comments section of the defunct Dissemination blog. And I enjoy that commentary, albeit in truncated format, on facebook. You entered the blogosphere with pluck and grace and are exiting it with the same. I am confident that neither you nor any of the other AB contributors (even derelict contributors like Joe or me) will be silenced by a transition to new formats, and so look forward to encountering your future contributions to the best that has been thought and said, whether in ink or in counted electronic characters or in oil paints or in chocolate sauce. Thank you for all the energy and substance you contributed to this endeavor, and for welcoming us in, as both authors and readers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snihdG1rE0Y
Toggle Commented Dec 11, 2012 on End of the line at Accidental Blogger
1 reply
The where did they go part of Elatia's question is the easy part. There's a public facebook page for the Indian Jewish diaspora-- a diaspora of a diaspora-- here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2243478969 A good friend of mine from law school is Baghdadi Jewish from Delhi on her mother's side. Half the family is in Los Angeles, which has the biggest such population in the US, and half in London. Although I lived not more than a mile from her grandparents, and attended a quite diverse synagogue a short walk from our homes, I would never have run across them but for my friend. An insular sub-community. The why part is difficult to answer, and probably different for the different sub-communities. For some communities and individuals, it may have been a religious drive to return to the physical land of Israel stemming from an interpretation of sacred texts, coupled with the political opportunity to do so. That the upheaval of Indian independence coincided with the creation of the state of Israel almost certainly played into the choice for some. For some, basic economic opportunity in Israel and elsewhere may have played a large role, as they have for many non-Jewish Indians who have left. My understanding is that for a variety of sociological, historical, and political reasons, the Baghdadi Jewish community, in particular, chose to identify with the British Empire (my friend's older family members from India have names like "Victoria" and "Anne"), which explains in part the choice of many in that particular community to leave for England when England left, notwithstanding their lack of ethnic connection to England. There's been an increasing embrace of the food of other diaspora communities by Jews in the US (and certainly in Israel, where many now live). I've noticed an increase in Sephardic recipes in news articles at holiday times, and among dishes presented as party/event food at the aforementioned synagogue in LA, though most of the congregation were of Ashkenazi origin. Many of the Indian Jewish dishes (I've mostly had the Baghdadi ones, which have a strong Arab/Central Asian influence) are delicious. Frankly, nostalgia aside, pretty much every Jewish community in the world ate better than my ancestors in Russia. For wonderful historical detail and some good recipes (although some are frustratingly vague as to amounts of, e.g., salt, water for stews, etc.), I recommend World of Jewish Cookery by James Beard award winning Claudia Roden, an Egyptian Jew now living in the UK. There are two entries in its index for my uncle, Ed, so you know it must be good! :)
1 reply
How Protestant of you, Ruchira! Your closing argument echoes in Luther, Tyndale, et al. A wonderful article in Vanity Fair by Christopher Hitchens, regarding the continuing strength of the King James Bible, details the history of biblical translations and of this debate: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2011/05/hitchens-201105 That a cantankerous atheist like Hitchens should rely on passages of the KJB at important life events such as his father's funeral speaks to the disjunct between ritualistic language and our rational self-- also articulated by others in these comments. My own preferences are consistent. I have on occasion sung portions of the evening Hebrew prayer service under my breath to myself (Ashkenazic tunes, Sephardic pronunciation, for reasons of the politics and history of the Conservative Jewish tradition in which I was raised) when walking home in the dusk from the train, just for the comfortingly familiar, mournful tune and rythm of the words. But my mind translates the Hebrew only as something like "blah blah king of the universe blah blah tree of life blah blah loving-kindness." I squirm through Reform services where most of this is translated into English. As Norman, citing Campbell, suggests, the translation loses the poetry, sense of removal from the everyday, and sense of placeless orientation: the ability to summon a memory from my youth and connection to my family no matter where I happen to live. Moreover, it forces me to feed my rational mind, which mutters along in English, with a great deal of content that does not compute. A religious adherent seeking greater purity of faith within the tradition would say that's precisely the point. But for many people-- particularly those from particular ethnic/religious traditions-- religion serves a complicated role outside its role as a belief system. A related anecdote: my sister strenuously resisted everything having to do with Hebrew School, but managed to become, kicking and screaming, a bat mitzvah at age 13. The ritual requires that the bat mitzvah read a torah portion. The torah scroll is written in ornate calligraphy without vowels so novices must memorize it to read it, and gabbaim (rabbi helpers/synagogue elders) correct any misprononciations by readers. So after much procrastinating, my sister did memorize her torah portion. She did not, however, learn the related readings she was also tasked with reciting. When it came time for those related readings, she just invented and sang Hebrew-sounding nonsense words to fill in the many spaces she couldn't remember. To her credit, she kept this a mortifying secret at the time. By my memory and her account, though, while the rabbi and gabbaim scowled, most of the congregation smiled in blissful ignorance.
1 reply
You make a good point, Sujatha, regarding the role of compulsion both in ambivalence toward having children and toward taking care of them for women of an earlier generation (and many women today). Choosing to sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" for the 50th time in a row with one's own toddler is far more entertaining than doing so with one's employer's child rather than be fired for failing to keep him entertained, or with one's own seventh child because she needs to be distracted while one tends to the other six children. I also think it's important to ask who was taking care of the children of Lessing and Bergman while they pursued their careers. In some cases, passing on responsibility for raising the children to others-- whether those eager older relatives Ruchira mentioned, a nurturing father (hopefully, like any single parent, with help from a network of friends and family), or a professional with a real interest in and aptitude for child-care-- might be the best decision for the child. I've known families both professionally and personally, in which a child found far more happiness once his or her mother made the difficult decision that for whatever complicated reasons, she would not care for her child as well as someone else would (usually grandma and grandpa). For all of their bravado, and while they weren't willing to give up on their careers, Bergman and Lessig may have found the decision to leave their children for such long periods of time harder than they let on. Certainly Bergman's comment suggests that. Of course for the vast majority of people, none of this is a choice. Most parents work and leave care of their children, at least in part, to others, out of economic necessity. The group left out of this discussion, for whom I have a great deal of sympathy, are men who would like to be primary caregivers. I can definitely think of families (thinking mostly of childhood friends, here) in which the fathers were the real nurturers by temperment, the ones a child would seek out for comfort or care, but the mothers were at home while the fathers pursued a career they loathed, fulfilling their traditional roles. I doubt even now such fathers would trade roles, because of the enormous stigma attached to fathers who stay home and care for children while their wives work. That stigma, which attaches to both parents, and to which I attribute at least some of the results of studies showing that working moms in dual-earner families tend to shoulder more household duties-- affects men's parenting and career choices at least as much as it affects women's choices (probably more). But while Baird's choice of role models is provocative, I suspect that she comes from a social milieu much like that enjoyed [?] by Andrew and Dean and me here in the Bay Area, and interpret her bigger point as: parents should have a life. We can love and be devoted to our children and still spend time with adult friends and discourse when we do so on a variety of topics, including but not limited to children and work. When I compare my parents and their peers to my own peers, I do think-- perhaps in reaction to the hyper-individualistic indulgences of the 70s/80s-- that my generation has struck a balance that doesn't get it quite right.
1 reply
Narayan: I've only ever read Malamud's short stories, not the Fixer, ( though I ought to, because I really enjoyed the short stories), but I meant something similar. In the same way one person’s terrorist is another's freedom fighter (the legitimacy question), one person’s terrorist/freedom fighter is another's rebellious son/disgruntled ex-boyfriend/belligerent neighbor. I can think of a handful of emigrations of sizeable groups of native born Americans, historically, all of them more or less for political reasons: African-Americans to Liberia, former Confederates to Latin America (particularly Brazil), draft resisters to Canada during the Vietnam War, American born Jews to Israel. And of course there have always been some number of affluent American ex-pats who make a life elsewhere for personal reasons (e.g. my sister-in-law, who married a Brit and lives in Germany, where her husband is employed), or to get more for their money when they retire, in places like San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Costa Rica. There have also always been a significant number of immigrants to America who never intend to stay emigrate back to their home country after they've made some money (about a quarter of Italian immigrants in the early 20th century; some number of Chinese, both early 20th century and now; Latin American laborers, particularly from Mexico and particularly when the border was more fluid), as well immigrants who return to their home countries after political turmoil dies down or their political party comes back into power...though these latter groups don't meet the "born here" part of your idea. I think the main reason so many of us born here don't leave is that the reason our families immigrated in the first place is that life was quite terrible for "people like us" where we were coming from-- we're not going back there-- and the situation for us here would have to be pretty bad for us to want to live somewhere where we will always be a foreigner accepted (or not) into a place that feels strongly that it has its own culture, which we are "diluting". I have lived and worked for brief periods in both France and Italy, and often had that reflection when there: not only would I always be, from a French or Italian perspective, at best a good imitator of a "real" French/Italian, but so would my children and children's children. Any contribution by us, resulting in a hybrid new culture, be unwelcome. And most of those of us who are second or third generation or more are ethnic mutts, making our reception in many countries even more complicated. For better or worse, and for all the xenophobia commingled with racism that exists here, there's no other place that is primarily an immigrant culture. If I were drafted into a war I could not support, or had been enslaved/subject to horrible mistreatment, I could see how exile might be a relief that it would overcome these considerations. I could also see how a person of homogenous ethnicity whose country of origin was not such a bad place to be might become interested in returning there. Most folks born here don't fall into either category. Anyway, notwithstanding the bad PR, I certainly wouldn't regret a mass exodus of tea partiers leaving to found a settlement in Brazil, like the former Confederates (sorry, Brazil). And there's always the hope of secession, which seems to be a strong strain in the movement. Just let them go, this time, with a please don't slam the door on the way out.
1 reply
By the way, I thought your points about Israel and the Bene Israel were interesting and well taken (to the secular but hawkish list you could add populations of mostly secular, angry, poor Sephardim from North Africa). My point was mostly in jest.
Toggle Commented Nov 14, 2009 on Who Is a Jew in England? (Joe) at Accidental Blogger
1 reply
Civil rights law and sometimes employment are areas in which I do and have practiced law, though not in the area of religion. I would say that Razib might well win both hypothetical cases in the U.S. under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC guidance provides a good outline of the discrimination analysis that Joe aims to paraphrase: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-relig_ethnic.html It's a bad analogy, though, because the civil rights laws passed by Congress are only about to what extent the government will intervene to define one private party's rights with respect to another private party. And workplaces and housing are singled out as public spaces for application of civil rights laws in a way that private religious schools, or private organizations (pace Narayan, way back when in this thread, private religious schools fall in the same category as private membership organizations), are not, unless they accept public funding. Thus the Americans with Disability Act does not apply to churches, but might to a homeless shelter run by the church that accepts federal HUD funding. None of this legal framework holds true in much of Europe, which is much more comfortable intruding in private religious affairs. A better analogy in the U.S. could be found in various First Amendment cases, which necessarily deal with government action. So if you want to find government intrusion in religious matters in the employment context, Razib, you would want to look at cases such as those in which the individual wishes to engage in religious activity that's been made illegal by the government for unrelated reasons under its parens patriae or police power authority. The classic case in this area is the Scalia's decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which held that the plaintiffs could be denied unemployment benefits after termination for "misconduct" that stemmed from their ingestion of peyote for purposes of a religious ritual. outhttp://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0494_0872_ZO.html That's probably as intrusive an example as I can think of, but it hardly qualifies as all the time.
Toggle Commented Nov 14, 2009 on Who Is a Jew in England? (Joe) at Accidental Blogger
1 reply
Narayan, It seems as though you're basically saying that there is no real conversion to Hinduism, which in some ways reinforces what Ruchira's saying. I think we all wandered out of Kenya, to be precise. My point was that as an ethnic group that includes people with an enormous spectrum of physical complexions, from blond to quite dark, it's a farce not to accept that people have converted and intermarried into the faith for millenia, and that even those who consider themselves the purest of the pure by whatever test undoubtedly have, in addition to a cultural, religious, ethnic, and possibly ancestral connection to other Jews, also an ancestral connection with the groups among whom they've lived for centuries, whether European, North African, or South Asian. There is no central authority or ruling body in Judaism, and I would say of it, as well, that the social strictures, ritual and practice are geographically disperse and convoluted. There are various widely varying groups (Syrian Jews, Ashkenazim, Baghdadi Jews, etc.), who all look down on each other, and then denominations or sects within groups, different groups of rabbis who disagree with each other, and then a whole mess of unaffiliated people, e.g. a random minion (prayer quorum) that convenes at the local Jewish Community Center somewhere in Kansas. The problem in the case of the state of Israel is the same problem, in my mind, as the problem with the school in England: a particular religious body-- in England, the "United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth" and in Israel, the Chief Rabbinate-- has been deputized by the state, creating a central religious authority through the combination of religion and the state. What the Chief Rabbi of the UHCC or the Chief Rabbi of Israel says about religious practice and who's a Jew matters not a whit to (even an observant) Jew in Los Angeles, California, from a religious perspective. That's why this seems more coherent to me as a political problem than it is as a religious problem.
Toggle Commented Nov 12, 2009 on Who Is a Jew in England? (Joe) at Accidental Blogger
1 reply
Ruchira, To be clear, I was describing, not exculpating the attitudes involved, by way of explaining that I think, as in Hinduism, ideas regarding ancestry can be part of a set of religious beliefs, making the line the Brits are trying to draw tricky. Personally, I don't know why the subjective criterion of "believing" oneself to be Jewish, which gets into intrusive questions of bona fides (i.e., do we know he really has faith?) would even be a test for entry into a Jewish academy, or a Muslim, Christian, or Hindu one. There shouldn't be a test. If the boy wants a religious Jewish curriculum, he should be able to enter the school, the same as if he were a Christian boy who happened to have an interest in the Jewish faith. Frankly, from my American First Amendment perspective it seems that where things went off the rails here is when the Brits decided to publicly fund religious schools. And having decided to publicly fund religious schools, when they decided to allow exclusion by religious test, and to defer to religious authority as to the definition of faith. In the United States, if public funding goes into it (the question of tax exemption is more complicated), everyone gets to attend, and if not, they can exclude whoever they want, which is why all the religious freaks either homeschool (popular among Christians) or send their kids to private religious schools (Jews, Muslims) and scream bloody murder about public education funding. I have no particular sympathy for such groups, but this balance between public and private seems more politically sane to me, which I think is what Joe was trying to say. You'd get into a religious Hindu school, I might or might not into a Jewish one (depending on the denomination), but I suspect neither of us would either undertake to go to such schools or to shut them down (though, again, I'd fight to keep public funding from going to them). Bob Jones University lost its tax exempt status, but continues to operate, notwithstanding its position on interracial marriage, and as loathsome as I find that position, that seems the appropriate political balance to me. It forces the good, bad, and ugly of the people's values and beliefs out into the open, and does not involve the government in the business of what people should believe: all squarely First Amendment purposes. I'd add that this kid's easiest practical move to get into the school would have been to say he wanted to convert, which if he really is a believer, would be a nothing process, and would have garnered warm fuzzies all around. Offensive to make him do it, maybe, but that gets back to why does he want to go to this school, anyway? And why battle this through the court system? There's a much larger debate raging in the Jewish community over Jewish identity, and it seems to me that this kid's being used as a pawn in that debate. My emotional response is that I'm comfortable with my own, mixed sense of identity, and who cares what the Orthodox rabbis think? Their approval is wholly unnecessary to my identity as a Jew. Concentrating all the wackiest people in one place seems like a terrible idea to me, Razib. The last thing Israel/Palestine/the world needs is to exacerbate the movement of religious fundamentalists into Israel, and of tolerant secularists out.
Toggle Commented Nov 12, 2009 on Who Is a Jew in England? (Joe) at Accidental Blogger
1 reply
Ruchira, I have been both quite sick with, apparently, the dreaded H1NI virus, and quite busy with court filings, a combination I recommend to no one. Judaism is a religion and an ethnicity (or collection, thereof). As to the religion, from the perspective of the person whose beliefs are Jewish, every denomination of Judaism that I know has some kind of process for conversion. What constitutes sufficient voodoo to accomplish conversion is a matter of endless squabbling. Again from a religious perspective, if you were born to a Jewish mother, you get in through the back door. I suppose the logic is that through reliable, maternal ancestry, you can be traced to someone in the covenant, way back in the deserts of the Middle East, or to someone who underwent proper gerut (conversion). Even King David was the son of a convert (Ruth, Moabite), after all. I write this with proverbial tongue in cheek, of course: look at groups of Middle Eastern Jews and European Jews, for example, and it's plain that the chances that we all wandered out of Egypt are slim. Here, the kid's mother converted in a "progressive" synagogue, whatever that is. That synagogue (like Reform Synagogues, which don't require conversion, at all) no doubt considers both child and mother Jewish. Orthodox Jews (insofar as they or any group of Jews agree as a community) would say that either the mother needed to undergo the Orthodox, halakhic gerut process, or the child now has to, for either to be considered Jewish. A religious analogy might be if a child baptized and raised in a "high church" Episcopal church sought to become Catholic--the child's beliefs might change little to nothing, but the Catholic Church would still make him undergo Catholic conversion. What makes this analogy poor from a religious perspective (beyond, but related to, the fact that if the child's mother were Catholic, he would still need to undergo Catholic conversion) is that Catholicism, like all Christianity (and Islam, and some other religions) is explicitly proselytic and xenophilic. Judaism is neither. There are admonitions about loving the stranger because we were once strangers in the land of Egypt (e.g. Lev. 19:34) using the same word for strangers as is used for converts ("gerim"), but my experiential opinion--religious scholars may argue with me-- is that the religion is explicitly hostile to conversion, and uncomfortable with converts. The connection of that discomfort or hostility to conversion/converts with Judaism's status as an ethnicity as well as a religion is a chicken and egg question. "Race" is a term freighted with 19th/20th century connotations in my mind. But there's no question that a person can be Jewish by ancestry rather than by belief. To insist otherwise would render nonsensical, e.g., medical forms I've had to review that include among the categories predisposed to some disease or another "Ashkenazi Jewish." There's genetic baggage there, whatever its cultural, religious, or political import. As to its political import, I don't think that saying someone could be Jewish by ancestry feeds Anti-Semitic ideology or caused Hitler to persecute Christian converts anymore than saying that someone could be Roma or Slav by ancestry caused Hitler to persecute those populations. The "clannishness" of Jews is certainly a popular meme of Anti-Semitism, but on one hand that perception isn't clearly linked to the definition of Judaism through ancestry, and on the other there are countries, such as India, where insular groups defined by ancestry and hostile to conversion live quite peaceably with one another. One might also make a distinction between religious Jews and the people like my many relatives who are almost entirely non-observant and non-believers, but married other Jews, have circles of friends that are disproportionately Jewish, and not coincidentally follow the cultural traditions of the Jewish holiday calendar. I think of such people as culturally Jewish, but not religious Jews. And I think of many very assimilated Jews I've met (particularly from places with limited Jewish populations) as maybe Jewish by ancestry (I'd usually mentally specify, Ashkenazi, Iranian Jewish, etc.) but not Jewish either culturally or religiously. The issue of intra-Jewish hostility among all these groups is a whole different can of worms, which we've discussed here, before. On a related note, regarding Rabbi Schochet's ham sandwich analogy, it was either taken radically out of context, or earned him some serious rebuke. While the Orthodox would consider such a person a Jew, they are far more hostile to non-observant Jews than they are to non-Jews (as radical fringes always are). “Schochet” means ritual butcher in Yiddish. Maybe the guy just has meat sandwiches on the brain. That earnest response aside, the following is my favorite response so far to this news item: http://gawker.com/5399953/questionnaire-are-you-a-jew According to the questionnaire, I am "meh." According to the Orthodox rabbi in England, maybe, though probably not. My mother converted to Judaism through a Conservative rabbi before I was born. I would summarize the attitude of the synagogues in which I grew up toward such a union and its issue as "Okay, but don't let it happen again." Most generally accepted us all as Jewish, but continued to express disapproval of intermarriage).
Toggle Commented Nov 12, 2009 on Who Is a Jew in England? (Joe) at Accidental Blogger
1 reply
Yesterday evening I attended an event (Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund's 30th anniversary dinner) that was, by a truly uncanny coincidence, a long-planned tribute to Ted Kennedy at which his son, Patrick, was scheduled to speak, along with several others who knew him (a replacement for Patrick was found). I have tremendous admiration for the procedural savvy, determination, energy, effectiveness, and idealism that Kennedy showed during his tenure in the Senate. I am saddened at his loss from the political scene (though we've had a while to ponder that) and particularly concerned about what it will mean for health care reform, which was not only an animating, life long cause for Kennedy, but one that is likely to require exactly his combination of talents for passage. Last night, there was understandably no talk of Kennedy as a "flawed" man. From a disability perspective, the younger generations of Kennedys (that is, after the generation of Joe Sr., a far worse than "flawed" man) have a phenomenal track record in the area of disability rights, from various Medicaid and Medicare legislation to the ADA to the Mental Health Parity Act. No Child Left Behind, some of Ted's deregulation efforts, the Bork confirmation hearings (a battle won that cost a war, IMHO) make his legacy in other areas somewhat more complicated, though "flawed" is not the right word. But, I think referring to Kennedy's genuine personal mistakes or flaws is not necessarily an effort "to appease" so much as an effort to accurately capture his place in current events, and to create a compelling narrative of his life. It's not just that Chappaquiddick, the ineffective presidential bid, the William Kennedy Smith trial, and various less chronicled antics and failures, happened: they were prominent current events in their time that, at least as postulated by a number of the obit authors, affected the arc of Kennedy's life and career. America loves a redemption story, and as a number of authors have noted, Kennedy's life offers a doozy. His youth is difficult to extricate from the Hollywood glamour (and badly reckless behavior) of "Camelot," but his career in the Senate is not, and creating an Augustinian connection between the two to arrive at a "flawed" but redeemed whole is compelling to the American public. And maybe it should be compelling. Kennedy was particularly effective at mastering boring procedure and behind the scenes deals, which sometimes required (as noted by one of the NYTimes editorials) that his name not appear on the finished bill. Not only would I have trouble wholly accepting a Bill Clinton obit (no curse on him intended) that omitted Monica Lewinsky, but I would have worlds more respect for Bill Clinton if he'd spend the remainder of his career toiling away in legislative committee meetings without credit-seeking or further drama. On a totally separate topic that I'll not flesh out since I have to get back to work: many of those now lionizing Kennedy often profess a deep dislike of "politics as usual." That dead horse for beating helped Obama's candidacy, but I always thought that professed high ground useful as a campaign slogan...but only as long as the candidate didn't really believe it. Kennedy never lost his idealism, but his M.O. as a senator-- a talent for political theatre, deal-making and compromise, and rigorous knowledge and exploitation of arcane rules and compromise-- were all about politics as usual. That's exactly why I miss Kennedy in Obama's efforts at health care reform. There's a lot of talk and talk-back now about his death acting as impetus and inspiration-- my wish is less that the Democrats will be motivated than that Obama will somehow learn to channel Kennedy (or Johnson) and get down in the trenches to get the deal done.
Toggle Commented Aug 27, 2009 on Cicero Is Dead (Joe) at Accidental Blogger
1 reply