Postcard From the Westwood Protest


On the day the war in Iraq began, I endured a
migraine-inducing traffic jam on Wilshire Boulevard. As I inhaled car fumes for
nearly an hour, my frustration grew. It reached the boiling point when I
learned the cause behind the gridlock: antiwar protesters. The blocking of
traffic by the No-War-In-Iraq protesters not only had no impact on the events
unfolding abroad, but they diverted valuable police resources from fighting
crime and preventing terrorism. They also made me late for dinner at my
parents’ house.

So it was with scant enthusiasm that I went to the Federal Building
in Westwood a few days later to cover the antiwar marches for The Journal. On
my way to the rally, I walked by a hippie with a stringy gray ponytail.
Shouting “Bush is a fascist” in a stentorian voice, he gave the Nazi salute to
shocked motorists, presumably an expression of his anger toward the
administration.

His antics failed to move me. Neither did the opinions of
the first protester with whom I chatted. After accusing the United States of
going to war for oil, he said America was “killing innocent Iranians for no
reason.”

Call me uninformed, but I thought the America was fighting
in Iraq.

I then spoke to a Muslim of a mixed Persian-Bangladashi
heritage named Said. His voice rising in anger and his forefinger thrust in my
face, he began cataloguing the alleged motives that led Bush to war. They
ranged from a push for global hegemony to “wanting to protect the honor of his
daddy, who Saddam Hussein tried to kill.” Just as I was about to tune Said out
(actually, an elderly woman banging a drum made it nearly impossible to hear
him), he started to make sense. Lots of it.

He said the United States could have avoided bloodshed by
simply keeping its troops in the Persian Gulf and letting U.N. inspections
proceed. With the world united against Saddam Hussein and pressure mounting,
the Iraqi dictator would have likely turned over his illicit arsenal. By
attacking him, the United States has only increased the likelihood that Hussein
will unleash the chemical and biological weapons that America so fears.

There were a handful of Jews among the diverse crowd of
about 100. Given the strong anti-Israel speeches and placards that have
recently appeared at some antiwar demonstration, I was especially curious to
hear their thoughts.

Elizabeth Kaye Sortun, holding a sign that said, “War Is Not
The Answer,” repeatedly flashed the peace sign at passing cars. Dressed in
black to show solidarity with “all the victims,” the 46-year-old daughter of a
Holocaust survivors said protesting an unjust war upheld the Jewish tradition
of social activism.

“I think Saddam is bad, but the United States shouldn’t
unilaterally invade another country. The U.N. said no, and yet this
administration is behaving like a cowboy,” said Kaye Sortun. “The U.S. isn’t
the boss of the world.”

Although the Los Feliz landscaper has seen the occasional
anti-Israel sign at antiwar rallies, Kaye Sortun said fellow protesters have
made her and others feel welcome, whether Jew, Muslim or Christian. To make the
world a safer place for her 10-year-old daughter Ava, Kaye Sortun said she
planned to march as long as the bombs dropped in Baghdad.

Nearby, Carol Honigman waved a sign that said “No War.” The
64-year-old therapist said she worried about a backlash if the conflict goes
badly, including increased terrorism in Israel.

“Jews are always the scapegoats. It’s always our fault,”
Honigman said. “This could worsen everything.”

Her niece Melanie Weiner, 36, shared her antiwar sentiments.
Weiner, who had lived in Israel for seven years as a child, said the United
States was behaving hypocritically. She asked what right did America have
telling Iraq to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction when the United
States has a huge stockpile of nuclear bombs?

Weiner, a therapist, said countries should initiate military
action only as a last resort to prevent genocide and other crimes against
humanity. America’s war against Iraq falls far short of that standard.

After 2 1¼2 hours, the rally began to wind down as
protesters headed home and the banners came down. Weiner, who came to the event
after a busy day at work, had a parting thought explaining her willingness to
the verbal abuse heaped on her and other demonstrators by some passersby.

“I need to do what I can, even if my voice is drowned out,”
she said. “Otherwise, there’s too much despair, too much depression for those
of us on the left. It doesn’t matter if we succeed. We have to keep fighting
the good fight.”  

On the Lone Prairie


When I consider author Sara Davidson’s now-so-public love affair with a cowboy who didn’t know about Anne Frank, I can hear my mother saying, “Honey, you could do so much better.”

To which Davidson’s response would surely be, “Show me how.”

Davidson’s new fictionalized memoir, “Cowboy,” about a UC Berkeley/Columbia-educated Jewish girl who “dates down in class,” quickly reached the best-seller list, thanks to a barrage of publicity that focused on the inappropriateness of the relationship. When we talked this week in her Santa Monica home, where a brown saddle sits near the front door, Davidson carried the self-satisfying aura of a woman whose bet had paid off.

Davidson wrote “Cowboy” over three years, on spec, after quitting her job as chief writer on “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” She had no literary agent or publisher willing to take her on. “I couldn’t get a free-lance writing job,” she told me. She has no illusions about the commercial nature of her business, and even appreciates Maureen Dowd’s put-down of the book as “Cowboy Feminism.” “It’s just ink at this point,” Davidson said of Dowd’s New York Times Op-Ed piece. And it sells books.

I wouldn’t be adding to the hype for “Cowboy” but for one thing. Sara Davidson is visiting territory that I have been loathe to mention myself: the sorry mating habits of ambitious, high-living Jewish women in this post-feminist era.

It’s just an awful cheat, I have to say. Here we are, so highly evolved that we’ve quit our therapists and man our own barbecues, and what do we get: the thrill of a bed and a life on the lone prairie. Garrison Keillor, in this week’s issue of Salon, likens the supply of single, “well-read men over 40” to a rare specie of mountain goat. I think he’s being generous. Among Jewish men, the odds are — well, you know them yourself.

As feminists, we used to say that a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. But, on second thought, maybe fish do like to pedal.

Sara Davidson’s solution to the problem life on the lone prairie was to go where few Jewish women treadeth — a cowboy poetry festival in Elko, Nev. Her affair with the fictional “Zack,” a man many inches shorter and 10 years her junior, followed two marriages to Jewish men. She had been dating a television producer, the kind of guy you’d expect for a woman who grew up in the Fairfax district. But the relationship just didn’t work.

“I censored myself constantly,” said Davidson, who once rode ponies on La Cienega. “I was always worried he would go away.”

With Zack, everything “works” just fine. He clips her toenails and gives her a back rub and likes to comfort her when she’s down. Moreover, he gives up his rural life for her, just as women used to do for men, and he only whines about it once. In short, there’s none of the competition between them that’s killing relationships these days. Think “A Star is Born,” except Norman Maine is part of the publicity tour.

Still, “Cowboy” often reminds me of the old Jewish joke my parents tell: Behind every successful man there’s a woman…who thinks he’s an idiot. In this case, the woman is in front of the man, and she calls him “a yokel, an insolent yokel.” She grieves that even if she’s paying all the bills, she’ll never get him to a better restaurant than Polly’s, the pie place in Santa Monica. And he’s not successful at all; he can’t even pay his own bills.

Nevertheless — and here’s the rub — he is still a man. A strong, silent, knowing man who turns her life around. It’s an old-fashioned romance, after all.

Is this really what (Jewish) women want? And is this really the best we can get?

The children’s part of the story doesn’t work out so well. Sara’s children detest Zack, not only as children always do the new male in Mommy’s life, but as something of an affront to cultural values that they’d been raised by. If they eventually accommodate to him, we’re left puzzled and grateful there’s a Jewish dad somewhere close by.

Which brings us to Anne Frank, and to us. Davidson uses her cowboy’s ignorance of Anne Frank as a metaphor for the cultural, ethical and class differences between herself and him. This presumably unbridgeable gap is too quickly smoothed over for my taste, resolved by time and love. Sara continues to make Sabbath dinner while Goff, Zack’s real name, participates in her children’s bar mitzvah services and Passover seder. Very nice. Still, when she calls him her “partner,” I’m wondering why this particular partnership works, while ones with men from her own background did not, and what she’s censoring in herself in order to make yet another relationship work.

Somewhere in the brave world to come, post-feminist men and women will come together more easily, and neither will have to cut off huge parts of themselves to find comfort and love. Seldom will be heard a discouraging word…. Home, home on the range.


Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, is the author of “A Woman’s Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family Life” (On The Way Press). Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.com

Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.

Zen Rabbi


There’s a new singing cowboy in town, and his name is Ken Kunin.

“I’ve been in this crazy industry for about 10 years,” says the lead vocalist/songwriter. And he’s about to turn up the heat.

His band, davis waits, has been receiving radio airplay , including on local outlets KLOS and KTTC; and a cross-country tour in support of their new album, “the evolution of…,” will follow after the New Year.

Comprised of 14 tracks of jangly American pop, “the evolution of…” covers some introspective terra firma — love and life, with the occasional social commentary — including “my dear kate,” a valentine to his wife of five years, Kathryn Sharp; “transit,” which, in Kunin’s words, charts “the dilemma of winding up in a different city, where’s my values today…”; and “senorita,” the plight of an immigrant worker trying to make ends meet with dignity. Three producers helped breathe life into “the evolution of…,” including newcomer Jon Griffin and John Philip Shenale, who produced Jane’s Addiction’s last real album, 1989’s “Ritual de la Habitual.”

Kunin — who does all of the band’s songwriting and considers it the best part of the musical process — says that his music draws from his spiritual side.

“My Judaism has been a little more internal, not as community oriented,” says Kunin. “But it still plays a definitely important part of my life, my family life.”

Originally from Tarzana, Kunin is a former teacher of martial arts, yoga, and tai chi. He is also the brother of Rabbi Gordon Bernard-Kunin, a religious studies director at Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus and founder of the Pico-Robertson-based Makor program. The erstwhile University of Arizona Eastern Studies major now lives in Van Nuys, where he runs his own label, Underhill Recordings, with Sharp.

“I’m pretty lucky in a sense that a lot of people my age, they’re still searching for their soulmate,” says the 31-year-old musician of his spouse.

Together, the Kunin and Sharp are also producing other artists, including singer/songwriter Leslie King; and an album by davis waits’ guitarist/keyboardist, Brazilian jazz artist Angelo Metz.

Kunin, who grew up blasting Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan on his stereo, also has an acoustic solo CD coming out in February. “The Return of Number Six” (a reference to the number on the baseball jersey he wore when he was eight) will reflect the spiritual inroads he has made. One song, “Grace to Fall From,” will be his take on spirituality and religion; another tune, “Don’t Make It Anything More,” mocks the shallowness of celebrity worship.

So what sets davis waits from the contemporaries? According to Kunin, it’s passion.

“How many times have you been to a show where you’re watching a band and there’s no passion… where you say, ‘Come on I’m not buying it, it’s not real!'”

Passion is a big part of Kunin’s life and art. It is what drives him to handle his own producing and distribution. And it is what he tries to infuse in every live appearance.

“So much of our generation is stuck in front of the television,” says Kunin. “What affects me most on a high holiday is when the rabbi is telling a story. He’s not preaching, he’s telling a tale. I like storytelling.”

Perhaps we are witnessing “the evolution of…” another rabbi in the Kunin clan.

Join davis waits at the Joint on Jan. 15, 10 p.m. For more information on davis waits and upcoming local appearances, check out the band’s official home page at www.daviswaits.com.