Chargers football commentator uses Jewish stereotype in on-air exchange


Hank Bauer, a longtime radio analyst for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, used a Jewish stereotype in an exchange with his on-air colleague.

In the waning moments of Sunday’s Chargers-49ers preseason football game, play-by-play man Josh Lewin said if he were paying to attend he would not have left early, as many fans did, because of the high price of the tickets.

Bauer responded, “You know how copper wire was invented? Somebody dropped a penny between Josh and his family member.”

Lewin, who is Jewish, then attempted to change the subject by announcing the amount of time left in the game.

Bauer replied, “I say that respectfully and endearingly, my partner.”

“Love you too, buddy,” Lewin responded.

The Deadspin website first reported the exchange.

Bauer has been the color commentator for the Chargers radio broadcasts on FM105.3 and AM1360 in San Diego since 1998. He played for the Chargers between 1977 and 1982.

Doing Jews right on TV — for better or worse


In the AMC drama “Mad Men,” about the male-dominated advertising world of 1960s New York, an early episode features Jewish heiress Rachel Menken soliciting the services of ad firm Sterling Cooper to boost sales for her family-owned department store.

Eager to secure her business, the ad execs find Sterling Cooper’s only Jew — David Coen in the mailroom — and bring him to the pitch meeting, supposing that his presence will earn the woman’s confidence.

But when it is suggested that another company might be more suited to her needs (subtext: a firm run by Jews), Menken becomes incensed and insists on a high-end image in which “people like you” (subtext: non-Jews) will shop there precisely “because it’s expensive.”

“I’m not going to let a woman talk to me that way,” Don Draper, the agency’s creative director, declares before walking out of the meeting.

What the scene lacks in offensiveness, it makes up for in subversiveness in the depiction of what the show’s creator, Matt Weiner, calls “casual anti-Semitism.” Because this woman is attractive, lacks any discernable accent and therefore any ethnic specificity, she is identified as an assimilated Jew and is instead, assaulted for her gender.

“I was surprised that no one talked about it,” Weiner told an assembly at Friday’s panel discussion, “Fair or Foul: The Portrayal of Jews on TV,” part of the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference, which took place in Los Angeles last week. “Law and Order” producer Rosalyn Weinman and former Los Angeles Times’ television critic Howard Rosenberg joined Weiner in discussing the evolution of the Jewish character on television.

“The sexism was talked about,” Weiner continued, “and that the show was so racist — but casual anti-Semitism?”

Because, as he admits, Jews are prevalent in Hollywood and have a legitimate cultural sensitivity to Jewish discrimination, there is both interest and concern regarding images of Jews disseminated through entertainment media. As old as the medium itself, the depiction of Jews on television tells a story of ethnic identity, and therefore an acute responsibility is ascribed to the storyteller who decides what language, images and styles become associated with being Jewish. Thus, the underlying theme of the panel discussion became whether producers, writers and directors are conscientious in their depictions of Jews, and, if so, what are the boundaries?

“I’m very conscious of my depiction of Jews,” Weiner said. “When I said to my casting people, ‘Can you get me a Jewish actress?’ they said, ‘Well, we can’t really ask for that,’ and I was, like, ‘Well that makes sense; I just violated, like, 80 laws.'”

Since the advent of television, the medium has been a vehicle for defining aspects of American identity. Ethnic entertainment emerged to portray various aspects of the immigrant experience and explored relationships among ethnic subgroups.

For her part, Weinman talked about an episode of “Law and Order” dealing with black anti-Semitism that aired during its first season, just after the 1991 Crown Heights riot in Brooklyn.

“There were still raw nerves in the City of New York about these issues. And I think that it was very useful in at least elevating that conversation from the New York Post to somewhat of a higher plane, a plane that was more intellectual and hopefully a little more healing,” Weinman said.

“But in order to try to do that — and that was the goal — the language was rough. The language about the blacks and the Jews in Crown Heights at that time was reflective of what was happening.”

The “Law and Order” episode dealt with subject matter otherwise being ignored by mainstream television. Weiner traced the history of ethnic entertainment, citing examples from “All in the Family” to “The Jeffersons,” but, he said, the emphasis on ethnic specificity has diminished over time, in favor of a melting-pot philosophy of entertainment.

“I’ve always thought, you know, ‘Think Yiddish, write British,'” he quipped.

“I think that multiculturalism and political correctness have been very hard on Jews, because we don’t want to be seen as a minority … we don’t want to call attention to the fact that we’re immigrants,” Weiner said, adding that the presence of openly Jewish characters with accents has disappeared from television. “It’s embarrassing for executives and for a whole generation of people that that’s our past.”

The result is the Jewish character becoming the American Jewish character, disassociated from an ethnic history and assimilated into American culture. And the assimilation hasn’t only been for Jews. Blacks and even Italians have preferred a more Americanized identity, as well. “We became less politically interested in [ethnic identity]; we became more bland, more everyman, with less ethnic identity for everybody,” Weiner said.

Weinman recalled her days as an executive at NBC, when “Seinfeld” was thought to be “too Jewish,” and there was great debate over whether the show would air. It wasn’t until the addition of the Elaine character, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, that the show was considered more acceptable for a wide audience.

The 1999 debut of “The Sopranos” on HBO constituted the return of a fully formed ethnic identity to television, said Weiner, who was a writer for that show.

Yet, when ethnic identities are being played out onscreen for purposes of entertainment, the problem of stereotypes inevitably arises. During the Q-and-A portion of the panel, some audience members expressed concern over some representations of Jews that could be seen as offensive. One woman cited an episode of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” in which he scalps High Holy Day tickets. Another man said he is bothered by the Ari Gold character on “Entourage,” a Jewish Hollywood agent who engages in some of the most “horrific anti-Asian, anti-gay slurs.” These examples brought up the deepest worry of most Jews in the room: Should Jewish storytellers depict Jews in any kind of negative light?

“I think there’s a distinction between hate language and doing something in the spirit of comedy,” Weinman said of cutting the phrase, “don’t Jew me down,” from a show she oversaw. She cited an episode of “Law and Order” in which Chabad members were in cahoots with Hells Angels distributing ecstasy on the streets on New York, a story, she said, that was based on fact.

Both Weiner and Weinman agreed that even controversial Jewish depictions can be appropriate, if rendered in the spirit of comedy or truth. Whether their audience agreed or not, the choice of how Jews are represented is ultimately in Hollywood’s hands, and people like Weiner and Weinman have significant influence and control over what images network television promulgates.

Jews, Weiner said in conclusion, “are represented in this industry in a very big way.” “We are in every aspect of it — the creative part; we’re behind the camera; we’re in front of the camera — [Jewish] people have been attracted to [Hollywood], and America enjoys our product.”

VIDEO: Woody Allen and the Jewish robots (from ‘Sleeper’)


Woody Allen is fitted for a new suit by robot Jewish tailors—from ‘Sleeper’

 

Big talkers


Who talks more, men or women?

If you think the answer is obvious, perhaps it’s because you’ve been conditioned by a society that stereotypes.

We’ve all heard the joke the best man cracks to his buddy the groom on his wedding day: “Remember, when you have a discussion with your wife always get the last two words in: ‘Yes, dear.'”

Very funny. But is it a fair stereotype?

When God split the Red Sea, Moses and the Jewish men broke into spontaneous song. A long song. A song that is 19 long verses in the Torah — I know, because we recite it every day in the prayers.

Afterward, the Torah records how Miriam gathered the women, along with musical instruments, and called out to the women: “Sing to God for He is truly exalted; having hurled horse and rider into the sea.” (Prayers would be a lot shorter if we used Miriam’s version.)

Why was Miriam, the woman, so terse in her song to God? Where is the trait of loquacity normally found in the fairer gender? Furthermore, does the terseness of her song mean that Miriam and the women were less grateful for the miracle of the Red Sea’s splitting than the men?

Curiously, Miriam here is identified as “Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aaron” (Exodus 15:20). Wasn’t she also Moses’ sister? And why identify her by a sibling in the first place? The Talmud explains that Miriam’s adventure in prophecy began when she was but a girl, even before Moses was born, when only she and Aaron were alive (hence, she was only “Aaron’s sister”).

Because of the terrible servitude in Egypt, Miriam’s father and the other community elders wanted to give up on having children. But Miriam insisted that the Jewish nation had to continue growing despite the oppressive servitude. She said, “I know prophetically that my mother will sire the redeemer of Israel!” And so it was with the birth of Moses.

Miriam (and, it would seem, the other women of the time) had a much farther reaching gaze of the unfolding of Jewish history than the men. The men were able to witness the miracle before them and provide an exciting play-by-play analysis of God’s ultimate and palpable victory over Egypt.

Miriam’s perspective, however, was to look at the totality of the Jewish experience. She viewed the splitting of the Red Sea as necessary, seminal and miraculous, but still, just one more step in bringing the Jewish people closer to their ultimate end as the Chosen People.

This is why her comments are so abbreviated. She knew that we as a people haven’t made it yet. We’ve been liberated, but we’re still without a Torah to guide us, and still without a homeland where we can build our families.

In looking at other biblical prophecies we find that women prophetesses were more into the bigger picture, the eschatology of the Jewish people. The World to Come, known as the “the bond of life” in scripture, was prophesied by Abigail (I Samuel 25:29). Resurrection and proper silent prayer were prophesied by Hannah (I Samuel 2:6). Reincarnation was prophesied by the Tekoan woman to King David (II Samuel 14:14).

This is also why the Talmud states that the women did not worship the Golden Calf. The men suffered from shortsightedness, so when it appeared that Moses was dead, they fell into despair and took up a foreign god. But the women could see the bigger picture, and knew that the future of the Jewish people was bigger than any one individual leader.

Sometimes, stereotypes are on target. I like the stereotype of the Jewish grandmother, sitting silently in her rocker, smiling wisely in reminiscence with the knowledge that the Jewish people are stronger and longer-lasting than any one episode that forebodes “the end” of our people.

Thanks, Bubbe.

N. Daniel Korobkin is rabbi of Kehillat Yavneh in Hancock Park, and director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union’s West Coast region.

The Pearl Fellow


Ramy was my first Syrian.

We didn’t meet cute, as people do in the movies. We met awkward.

Ramy Mansour came to The Journal offices last week as a Daniel Pearl Fellow. As part of its effort to increase understanding between Islam and the West, the Foundation, named after the slain American journalist, brings Muslim reporters to work at major American newspapers like The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal for up to six months. As part of their fellowship, the journalists agree to spend a few days or more at The Jewish Journal.

Over the past few years, we’ve hosted many of these journalists, from Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, even Yemen. For most of them, The Journal is their first exposure to Judaism and Jewish life outside media images in their home country.

For us, it’s an opportunity to learn about a distant country without the media filter, as seen through the eyes of a native journalist — someone who is both a participant and very often a critical observer of his society.

Then there was Ramy.

The other journalists showed up for the first day punctually, dressed in a coat and tie. I had to rouse Ramy from bed where he was staying. He came out in shirt and jeans, a cigarette in his hands. The other journalists had a jaundiced eye toward their governments and media, fully aware that news controlled by the state might not be entirely trustworthy. Ramy almost immediately began presenting the Syrian government view of the recent suspected Israeli bombing of a Syrian nuclear facility.

“It was nothing,” he said. “I can assure you they missed.”

“And Bashir Assad, do people like him?”

“Very much,” said Ramy.

The other journalists could argue in fluent, Oxford-inflected English. Ramy’s English was much better than my Arabic, which is no big compliment.

I figured I was in for a long week.

At first, our guest lived up to expectations. Ramy is the opinion page editor of a 30,000-circulation daily in Damascus, al-Watan. He said it was the first independent newspaper in Syria. I asked him if he believed it was truly independent.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“Could you print an editorial saying something good about Israel?”

“No,” he said.

“Well, why not?”

“Because,” Ramy said, “There’s nothing good to say about Israel.”

All our political discussions ended that way: my question, his categorical answers, then he would rush downstairs and outside for a smoke. Ramy reminded me of someone, I just couldn’t figure out whom.

“We have nothing against the Jewish,” he would say firmly. “Our problem is with Israel. Even the Jewish in Syria hate Israel.”

I only wished I was as certain of anything as Ramy was of everything.

The next day when I logged on to my e-mail, I saw a message: “Ramy Mansour added you as a friend on Facebook.” That’s when it clicked: I had been going about this all wrong. Ramy’s Facebook page featured a dozen beautiful women, almost all Syrian, and many successful-looking and handsome men.

They were all young and chic and vital-looking. And here I was trying to pigeonhole him into long political arguments over cups of lukewarm office coffee.

So last Thursday after work, I took him to Luna Park for a beer. As the bar filled up with the young and chic, he told me about the bars and discos where he and his friends hang out at until 4 a.m. About the way they hate the religious fundamentalists — and how much they like Assad for oppressing the Islamists. About their love lives and how they dance and drink and smoke.

About how they love watching “Oprah” and “Law and Order” and, until Israel Channel 2 TV stopped broadcasting it in Arabic, “Baywatch.”

But, he said, what he and his Syrian friends most love to do is simple.

“Facebook,” he said. “Facebook is huge.”

It was reading Ramy’s Facebook page that rocked my world. Because the truth is, if he came to us with prejudices and certainties, I also had more than my share. I figured Syria for a dark, oppressive society. In all the time I’ve spent in Israel, the truth is, I’ve never read or heard a positive thing about the people or the country. Every Israeli tour guide I’ve ever had has relished telling stories of how the Syrians treat captured Israeli soldiers the worst.

That’s what I knew about Syria.

Ramy told me that, like all Syrian men, he spent two years in the army.

“Did you like it?” I asked.

“Does anyone like the army?”

Ramy told me he dreams of being a documentary filmmaker in Syria — he was looking for an American university that offers an online course in the subject. The next day I took him to Beverly Hills to see the exhibition on Middle Eastern Media at the Paley Center for Media. The show interested him less than the huge houses and Ferrari-choked streets.

“This is the best,” he said. “I like this.”

He didn’t even mind when I told him there was no smoking anywhere in Beverly Hills, and that the mayor is a Persian Jew.

“Really?” he said, then, despite the smoking ban, he lit up a cigarette, his dark eyes squinting as he took a welcome drag. And that’s when it struck me.

“Ramy,” I said, “All this time you’ve reminded me of someone, and I finally figured out who it is — you remind me of almost every Israeli I know. They like to have fun, to stay out late, to convince you how right they are. And your name is Ramy, for God’s sake. You could drop into Israel tomorrow and feel at home. Ramy, you’re an Israeli.”

On the way back to the office, in the car, Ramy was quiet.

Helicopter parents: Jewish mothers go airborne


Consider this description from Wikipedia: “a person who pays extremely close attention” to her children and rushes “to prevent any harm from befalling them or letting them learn from their own mistakes, sometimes even contrary to the children’s wishes.”

Consider further this description from collegeboard.com: “They are always on the lookout for threats to their children’s success and happiness. If a problem does surface, these parents are ready to swoop in and save the day.”

Definitions of a Jewish Mother, yes? Sorry, bubeleh. They’re definitions of “helicopter parent,” the phenomenon of hovering, overprotective, overinvested, and overbearing mothers and fathers. Apparently Jewish mothering is contagious: jumping gender and religion on a national scale. Suddenly we are all, as Woody Allen titled his short film in New York Stories, “Oedipus Wrecks.” And no one is giving credit where credit is a Jew.

To see just how closely a Helicopter Parent resembles a Jewish mother, one need only glance at collegeboard.com’s quiz “How Do You Know If You’re a Helicopter Parent?” While the term is often used in the context of parenting college-age children, the similarities are undeniable. Still, the Helicopters can only bob amateurishly in the mighty wake of the Jewish mother jet fighters.

You are in constant contact with your child

Jewish smothering has wrung its hands into the 21st century, where you can run, but you can’t hide. The AT & T network was nicknamed “Ma Bell” for a reason, and with satellite technology your mother knows she can hear you now. (Nu, so why aren’t you calling?) She can even buy you a ringtone from YentaTones, including “Ya Mother’s Cawling,” “My Son the Doctor,” and “Have I Got a Boy for You.”

University of Georgia professor Richard Mullendore dubs cellphones the “world’s longest umbilical cord.” But Nokia-wielding Helicopters are mere Johnny-come-latelies to long-settled Jewish mother territory. Indeed, as Allen, Phillip Roth and the APA know, Jewish mothers achieved wireless communication decades ago with the guilt-powered internal monologue.

You are in constant contact with school administration

A recent Doonesbury panel depicted a cellphone-brandishing MIT freshman telling the dean if he didn’t let her into the class she wanted, he’d have to speak to her father. While Helicopters specifically target college administrators, Jewish mothers have targeted the entire world — teachers, doctors, roommates, boy/girlfriends, spouses, bosses — no one is off limits. In Allen’s short film, his mother and aunt pay him a surprise visit at work — a WASPy Manhattan law firm. When an imposing white-haired partner comes to retrieve Allen, who has left an important meeting to head his mother off, she turns to her hearing-impaired sister and says of the boss in a voce not nearly sotto enough, “He’s the one with the mistress!”

You make your child’s academic decisions

Yes, Helicopters choose their children’s school and their courses, after which they may even maneuver their way to do the schoolwork itself. Meanwhile, Jewish mothers have mandated legal, medical, and other professional careers for generations of sons and now daughters, many of whom probably represent Helicopters in their grudge suits against schools or treat them for anxiety and depression when Junior gets a B. Even beyond the academy, Jewish mothers are notorious for deciding everything for their children: from when to wear a sweater to why they shouldn’t marry that no-goodnick.

While both Helicopters and Jewish Mothers dictate and interfere, their decision-making methods differ. Helicopters take direct action: the old nothing-gets-done-right-unless-I-do-it-myself approach. Jewish mothers, on the other hand, nudge until they get their children to do it. My son the doctor, as the ringtone trills, wasn’t always a doctor, but the Jewish mother knows she can do only so much on her own to make him one. To become Dr. Katz, he’s going to have to take his own MCATS. All she can do is provide a little motivation, i.e., alternating doses of praise and guilt.

You feel bad about yourself if your child does not do well

Helicopters derive vicarious pleasure from their children’s accomplishments and suffer pain from their “failures.” Data released by the Society for Research in Child Development indicates that in seeking self-worth through their children’s achievements — which means getting top grades and into certain colleges — Helicopters endure more anxiety, depression, and insecurity, and enjoy less contentment, than those on the ground.

Jewish Mothers, too, are utterly invested in their children’s advancement. For them, however, it is not the Ivy League or bust. Jewish mothers are less interested in prestige than they are in tikkun olam that happens to come with a house in the suburbs. Steven Spielberg’s mother, undoubtedly bursting with nachas, might still feel a pang of regret that her son was not, for example, Jonas Salk. Helicopters want their children to do well; Jewish Mothers want their children to do good.

Popular culture may have assimilated the bagel hamwich, Red State Yiddish, and the “Daily Show,” but it can never appropriate the Jewish mother. At the end of the day, both the Helicopters and Jewish mothers are fueled by love gone amok, but only the Jewish Mother answers to an authority higher than Air Traffic Control.

Ronda Fox is the proud mother of two teenage mensches who do their best to keep her grounded.

Oy vey! You should read what they’re writing about them — in books yet


I have the kind of Jewish mother who could both make gefilte fish from scratch and play 18 holes of golf in one day. Every day throughout my high school years, my mother would hand me lunch in a paper bag as I rushed out the door and left most of the breakfast she had prepared on the kitchen table.

Now, when she visits, my eighty-something mother will clean our toaster inside out if we don’t stop her. She’s still the best person around to shop with for just about anything.

But while I’ve always been a daughter –an adoring one, in fact — this is the first time that I’ve written a column about books for Mother’s Day while being interrupted to go over 5th-grade spelling words and help illustrate a 7th-grade poster. As I write late into the night, tomorrow night’s dinner is cooking and three young children are sleeping upstairs in the new home I share with them and their father, a widower.

We got married just a few months ago, and we are all finding our way toward forging a family. Yes, I see my mother in my household routines, and I am ever aware of her example and increasingly awestruck by her talents.

So I read this season’s selection of books with perhaps a different eye and an increased curiosity. There are serious books about Jewish mothers, lighthearted books, how-to volumes and memoirs and some manage to cross categories. Some offer knowing advice, others observations and jokes. The best are those that are open, honest and wise, not preachy or sentimental.

The title of Joyce Antler’s new book not only grabs attention but conveys the tone of the book. “You Never Call! You Never Write!: A History of the Jewish Mother” is scholarly and lively, full of rich anecdotes drawn from popular culture, sociological and historical studies and life experience.

Antler, a professor of American Jewish history and culture at Brandeis University and author of several books, including “The Journey Home: How Jewish Women Shaped Modern America,” examines the origins of negative stereotypes associated with the Jewish mother. She shows how images like being domineering, manipulative and overprotective have endured, and how they’ve been depicted in books, film and particularly on television, even as Jewish mothers have represented so much more than that.

“I wanted to understand the misunderstood Jewish mother, ” Antler said in an interview, noting her goal of coming up with a portrait that’s more diverse and pluralistic, recognizing the great strengths of Jewish women over these last decades in America, who’ve helped their families get acculturated and achieve great success. She said that the images get re-invented every generation or so.

25 Questions for a Jewish Mother book cover
Hers is the most serious and engaging of new books, as she shifts her analytical eye from early television and radio’s Molly Goldberg and the jokes of George Jessel (“Isn’t it nice to have your own phone?” he asks his mother. “What? Nobody calls you? Even before you had the phone, nobody called you either?”) to Tovah Feldshuh in “Kissing Jessica Stein” and the humor of Sarah Silverman.

Antler also interviews Jewish mothers and includes their voices, speaking directly of their lives. One 97-year-old Sephardic mother of five who was born in Turkey spoke of having “a paradise in my home.”

Antler, who has been teaching at Brandeis for 28 years, is the proud Jewish mother of two daughters, and she’s admittedly quite involved in their lives.

“I’ve come to embrace the label, more so than I ever did before,” she said. One daughter is a stand-up comic who enjoys making fun in her monologue of having a feminist Jewish mother — a mother who encourages her not to wait for a man to shovel the snow for her but to put on a warm coat and get out there.

When you show up empty-handed on the first day of your young child’s softball practice, and the rest of the mothers all seem to be bearing bags of doughnuts for the coach, you realize that they know something that you don’t. “What the Other Mothers Know,” by Michelle Gendelman, Ilene Graff and Donna Rosenstein (Harper), is a smart, practical, funny and hip guide.

The Los Angeles-based authors, who describe themselves as not professionals like Dr. Spock or Dr. Phil but “three Dr. Moms, hands-on working parents” who have to budget their time and money, share advice that’s generous in spirit, especially geared to first-time moms.

There’s nothing of the competitive attitude that marks the so-called “mommy wars,” as they offer their version of a maternal E-Z Pass, culled from those with older kids and good memories. First-timers will learn about what other mothers seem to already know about preschool enrollment, finding good baby sitters and getting around the rules of school uniforms.

Yiddishe Mamas book cover
When I saw Judy Gold’s show, “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother,” off-Broadway, I laughed and cried and called my sister as soon as I left the theater and told her that she had to get tickets. Gold’s new book, “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother” (Voice), written with playwright Kate Moira Ryan, is based on the show and organized into 25 chapters of questions, ranging from “What makes a Jewish mother different from a non-Jewish mother?” to “What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do as a mother?”

Gold’s monologue — here presented as narrative — is based on her own adventures growing up in suburban New Jersey and now as the mother of two sons, along with the voices of 50 Jewish mothers she and Ryan interviewed around the country over a five-year period.

“I am not the typical Jewish mother I make fun of in my act,” she writes. “I’ve always wanted to be the ‘young and fun’ kind of mom and not some secondary character in a Philip Roth novel. For most of my adult life, I have struggled with the conflicts of being Jewish as well as being gay and being a comedian as well as a mother. Honestly, what Jewish mother do you know who spends her evening in smoky clubs full of drunk people, shouting obscenities over the sound of a blender, and the next day drops off her kids at Hebrew school?”

Different cultures produce different Jewish mothers


When people talk about the Jewish mother stereotype, they’re usually referring to the American Ashkenazi Jewish mother stereotype.

But what about Jewish mothers from different cultures and countries?

In Israel, where the Jewish mother is everywhere, the stereotype is known as “Isha Polania,” or a “Polish woman,” but can be applied to any woman who fits the description: She suffers but with an Israeli twist — not a martyr, she’s aggressive in her suffering and, like a Middle Easterner, she knows how to hold a grudge.

Consider this joke translated from the Hebrew:


“Polish” woman 1: “Have I told you how wonderful you look today?”
“Polish” woman 2: “Too bad that I can’t return the compliment.”
“Polish” woman 1: “What, you don’t know how to lie like I do?”

“They are very jealous, and they don’t forgive,” says Avner Hofstein, West Coast bureau chief of the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonot. “They don’t forgive their neighbors, and they’re always talking about how someone else is not as good as them in order to make their status seem better (‘Did you see what she did with her son?’).”

Hofstein says that to be a “Polanit” is a state of mind, not a place of origin. “The Yemenites are the biggest Polaniyot,” he says.

But the Israeli stereotypical Jewish mother is also evolving. “Today there are more career women, plenty of women with child care, with nannies — the women work outside more, so their focus is not so much on their children,” Hofstein says. “They’re more like Americans.”

But, he added, in Los Angeles, you do see more of the stereotypical Israeli mother, “because the women don’t work outside the home, and they’re focused on the children and all their activities. All day long the mothers are nudging them.”

Persian Jewish mothers have their own typecasting, too. For these women, the original stereotypical Jewish mother was referred to as “Sara Khanom” (Lady Sara), according to Dr. Nahid Pirnazar, lecturer of Iranian studies at UCLA. Like the American Ashkenazi Jewish mother, Lady Sara is a nurturer and caretaker but not loud or brassy.

“She is usually very naive, submissive and a devoted mother and wife. She is the one who takes care of the family Shabbat dinner with her special meal called the ‘Gondi.’ She usually speaks with a Jewish accent and accompanies her husband, ‘Aqa Ya’qub’ (Master Yaqub) wherever the occasion permits,” Pirnazar says.

Today, Persian Jewish mothers, while many of them have achieved the highest levels of professional, academic and social status, still face the struggles of many new immigrants: how to integrate the old with the new.

“Persian Jewish women are caught between the traditional culture of their original community and the new challenge of life in America,” Pirnazar says. “This challenge is shown in every aspect of their lives: Their own relations with their parents, relations with their spouse, children and, if unmarried, the choice of a partner in life. They try to perform their obligations to everyone and if possible fulfill their own dreams.”

Gina Nahai, a Jewish Journal columnist, is a professor of creative writing at USC and best-selling novelist (“Cry of the Peacock” (Crown, 1991) and the upcoming “Dreams of a Caspian Rain,” among others). Nahai also considers herself a typical Persian Jewish mother because she’s overprotective.

“My son moved to New York two years ago, and every time I see him, I spend the whole time crying, thinking of leaving him,” she says. “My daughter got into Berkeley, and we encouraged her to go, but she didn’t, and we were all happy.”

“Persian mothers want to keep their children warm and safe their entire lives,” Nahai says, but that characteristic is changing a little. Although there are grown men who live with their parents until they get married at 40 or women who must see their mothers every day, perhaps Persian Jewish mothers are “a little less likely” to hold on too long and are more willing to let their children move out.

But as far as the stereotype that Persian Jewish mothers only want their daughters to “marry up” and their sons to have a good career and family, “I don’t see that changing much,” Nahai says.

“I’m really amazed at how much (the girls) have become their mothers; they aspire to the same things as their mothers aspired for them. Some go to school, but you can tell it’s finishing school, not an actual pursuit of something.”

Becoming American


She comes up to me through the crowd — designer clothes and Tahitian pearls and that I-know-I’m-gorgeous confidence that makes her impossible to look away from
— and hands me one of my own books. We’re at a writers’ conference in Long Beach. I’m scheduled to speak later in the day, and to sign books afterward, but she’s offering me a pen already.

“To Nancy and Bob Miller,” she instructs in a heavy Southern drawl.

Bob, I assume, is the gentleman standing next to her. He has a gray beard and round, wire rim glasses. He’s wearing a navy blue jacket and white trousers, and you can just imagine the captain’s hat that goes along with the outfit, whether or not there’s a boat in the picture. I sign the book and give it back to her.

“You know,” she says, “I’ve been trying to find you for some time.”

I smile and say I’m flattered.

Then she says, “I think you and I are cousins.”

I assume she means this symbolically — that she believes we have a few things in common — so I nod gravely and say something stupid like, “Is that so?”

“I don’t mean it symbolically,” she says, looking me in the eyes, dead serious. Next to her, Bob is nodding with all the measured wisdom of a ship’s captain about to make a life-and-death decision for the entire crew. “I mean I think you and I are related by blood.”

Now, I’ve been around the block enough times with my books to know that they sometimes evoke interesting reactions from readers. I’ve had strangers come up to me and recite entire pages from my novels, or say they believe they are a certain character in one of the books. I’ve had hate mail from Muslims who are convinced I’ve made up the entire history of Iranian Jews just to make them look bad, and from Jews who believe I write only to embarrass their family and to make sure no one will marry their daughter. But I’ve never had a Southern lady in a St. John suit claim she’s my cousin.

“I figured it out as soon as I read about Solomon the Man,” she says.

Solomon the Man was my great-grandfather. He was born in Esfahan, before airplanes were invented, and though he traveled widely and spawned many children — some, possibly, out of wedlock — I doubt very much he got as far as North Carolina.

“That’s a bit unlikely,” I venture, but Nancy Miller is unwavering.

Two months later, I’m in Pasadena, at another book event, and she finds me again.

“I don’t think you took me seriously last time,” she says reproachfully.

“Are you Iranian?” I ask Nancy, trying to put a stop to this.

“No.”

“Were your parents Iranian?”

“My father was blue-blood North Carolinian. My mother might have been Jewish.”

Does she know that Jewish and Iranian do not necessarily go hand in hand?

“My mother is dead,” she says, “but I remember she talked about someone called Solomon when I was a child.”

Does she know that, at least in some parts of the world, there is more than one “Solomon” in the general population?

A year goes by. I’m at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills for another book event. My mother is with me. When I see Nancy Miller strut toward me through the garden, I quickly turn to my mother and warn, “That lady’s going to say she’s my cousin; just smile and play along; don’t engage and don’t antagonize.”

I pick up a pen and get busy signing books, hoping this will discourage Nancy from approaching. From the corner of my eye I see that my mother is smiling at Nancy Miller, looking every bit as eager to engage her as I had feared. Then she walks away.

She returns half an hour later with Nancy Miller. They’ve linked arms, and are laughing like a pair of 12-year-old schoolgirls. I hear the words, “Friday night,” and shudder at the thought that my mother has invited Nancy Miller to her house for Shabbat dinner. Then they see me staring at them.

“Gina,” my mother exclaims, proud and beaming, “I want you to meet our cousin Nancy. She and her husband are coming over for Shabbat dinner so I can introduce them to the rest of the family.”

I wait till we’re in the car, a safe distance away from the Four Seasons, before I ask. Nancy Miller’s mother, I learn, was indeed an Iranian Jew, related to Solomon the Man in ways that my mother will neither deny, nor confirm. In Esfahan, where Nancy Miller’s mother lived, she had worked for an American company and ended up marrying her boss. They had had a child — Nancy. When she was 3 years old, her parents had moved from Iran to North Carolina. There, her Iranian Jewish mother had hidden her origins from her Southern Baptist neighbors, but she had sometimes spoken to her children about her Iranian family — about a man, Solomon, who was a Tar player in the court of Zil-el-Sultan.

I’m stunned, and more than a bit embarrassed.

“How did you find all this out?” I ask my mother.

She shrugs. “Nancy told me. She said she’s told you, too.”

I’m thinking of the Southern accent, the country-club attitude, the ship-captain husband, trying to figure out how any of that fits in with a story about a family from the Jewish ghetto of Esfahan.

“She might have told me,” I confess. “I didn’t listen because it didn’t make sense.”

I’m thinking of what I hear so often, here in Los Angeles, from my American friends and neighbors, about Iranians not trying hard enough to “become” American, about how we speak too much Farsi, socialize with too many other Iranians. About how they — the Americans — can tell an Iranian from a mile away.

“She looked nothing like an Iranian,” I say. l

Gina B. Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her new novel, “Caspian Rain,” will be published this fall. Gina Nahai’s column appears monthly in The Journal.

Too Jewish to Play Myself


People see me as your “typical Jewish woman,” and maybe it’s true: I’ve got curly hair, opinions on every subject and I do not go camping. Plus, even after years of speech classes, I still have an identifiable New York nasality in my voice. When I walk into a room, someone always greets me in a Yiddish accent: “Velkom, dollink hev a seat, enjoy!”

(The last person who did that was a Chinese friend, who ought to know better!)

This Jewishness has often been an obstacle in my professional life. My agent submits me for a movie, but the director — Harold Shlomansky — won’t see me because he feels I’m too Jewish. I hear that all the time, but this is for the part of a rabbi. Shlomansky is only seeing non-Jewish actresses because — as he puts it — he wants to be sure that the character is likeable!

A while back, I read for a commercial, which I knew I would book. I had worked with the director, Stu Lefkowitz, before and my agent told me he was looking for an “Annie Korzen type!” Wow! Talk about a sure thing! Well guess what? I do not get the job. Stu Lefkowitz hires a perky little blonde. I am too Jewish to play myself!

So I guess I am a living stereotype, and the worst thing about it is having to suffer through the never-ending barrage of jokes about me and my kind. Some of them are funny, and relatively benign: Why do Jewish women watch porno films until the very end? Because they want to see if the couple gets married.

The jokes I object to are not so kind: “A guy has a heart attack. His doctor tells him to avoid any excitement, so he marries a Jewish woman.

The jokes are lies. And lies hurt.

And who is it that tells these lies? Who is it that has such loathing for Jewish women? Who is that writes the jokes? It’s those nice Jewish boys I grew up with, that’s who. They are the guys, like Philip Roth’s Portnoy, who dream of a blonde goddess who will help them enter mainstream America, who will help them seem less “ethnic.” It doesn’t work. They still are who they are.

It’s like the old joke about about Hymie Greenblatt, who changes his name to Standish Merriweather III to get into the country club, but on the application, when asked his religion, he fills in “Goy.”

The great film director Sidney Lumet, who started out in Yiddish theater, proudly describes his wife as “WASP heaven … whose people literally came over on the Mayflower.” I’ve never understood what’s so special about the Mayflower. My people also came over on a boat. But the Sidneys don’t see it that way.

Last year I interrupted a comedy act because the Jewish comic was doing a bit about Anne Frank — describing her as an “ugly little JAP.” She was writing letters home from camp, complaining about the bad food and unflattering uniforms. The big joke was that the camp was called Auschwitz. Get it?

In the midst of all this hilarity I lost my cool and told the comic to get off the stage. I called him an “abomination,” which is weird, because I didn’t even know I knew that word. It sounds so biblical. The crowd shushed me, and someone told me not to be so rude. The comic finished his act to rousing applause and I crawled home, depressed and humiliated.

I got many hate mails the next day from the comic and his friends. One of them said, “You are the living personification of why Jewish men have contempt for Jewish women.” Oh, great! So now it’s all my fault!

There’s only one thing that consoles me when I ponder how unfairly women like me are maligned by our own men. There was one piece of good news for Jewish women in the last century, and his name was William Jefferson Clinton. He risked his marriage, his career and the stability of the United States government: all for a sexual obsession with a dark-haired, zaftig, Jewish girl. For this reason alone, he got my vote!

Annie Korzen is a comedy writer-actress who is best known for her recurring role of Doris Klompus on “Seinfeld,” and her humorous essays on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Father’s Day Fix


Several years ago, my wife, Linda, and I attended a conference of psychotherapists and sat next to a recently divorced female therapist who said to us, “Next time I’m going to marry a Jewish man.”

My wife asked, “Oh, are you Jewish?”

The female therapist replied, “No, but I’ve always heard that Jewish men make the best husbands and the most involved dads for their children.”

This wasn’t the first time we’d heard someone insist that Jewish men were the “chosen” husbands. But my wife and I weren’t sure if she was correct. Should we have told her about certain Jewish men (including some in our extended family) who are quite frustrating for their wives and frequently unavailable for their kids? Or should we have let her go on believing the stereotype?

As a Jewish psychologist counseling couples for more than 23 years, I wanted to find out the truth about “The Myth of the Menschey Jewish Husband.” So, for the past few years, I have been collecting data. I’ve surveyed several hundred couples in my counseling office and several thousand more at workshops nationwide. I’ve interviewed individuals and couples at men’s club programs, sisterhood events, federation gatherings and temples nationwide where I’ve been a guest speaker or instructor. I’ve also talked to friends and colleagues. Based on this sizeable but unscientific sampling of over 2,700 Jewish men from 22 Red states and Blue states, here’s what I found:

Good News: Almost 34 percent of Jewish husbands and fathers seem to qualify as a definite mensch.

Slightly more than one-third of the Jewish men I was able to assess in these surveys fit the criteria for a great husband and father. These individuals are able to work hard at their jobs and still find time and energy to be involved in household chores, child-care, shared spousal teamwork and family activities. On Father’s Day 2005, these multitasking and compassionate men deserve something a lot nicer than another department-store tie. They deserve our heartfelt thanks because their kids are growing up with great role models and their wives know the joy of having a true teammate in life.

Sad News: Almost 29 percent of Jewish husbands and fathers are emotionally unavailable to their loved ones.

Despite the stereotype that says Jewish men are great catches, in fact, there are a sizeable number (some with high incomes) who don’t seem able or willing to be good listeners or helpful partners at home. They don’t tend to pitch in much with child-care or family activities. His wife and kids typically complain that, “When he’s finally at home, he’s either cranky and short-tempered or he’s obsessed with golf or video games or watching his favorite shows on television while tuning out the rest of us.” Or he’s described as, “A bit self-absorbed and even though he does some good volunteer events for the community, he’s always got an excuse as to why he won’t do his fair share regarding the kids or the chores.” It’s almost as if the kids are being raised by a single mom.

Mixed News: Approximately 37 percent of Jewish husbands and fathers fluctuate between sometimes being a caring family member and at other times being too stressed or unavailable because of other priorities.

This group fascinates me most as a psychologist. More than one-third of Jewish marriages have occasional tension because a husband/dad, who deeply desires a peaceful and involved family life, gets pulled away by stressful work demands, sporting events, volunteer commitments or hobbies that eat up most of his free time. Most, it seemed, didn’t grow up with good modeling from their own dads or from other adult males in their lives. These dads are appreciated sometimes by their wife and kids and resented at other times for failing to follow through on family commitments.

There are remedies, and the problem is obviously worth addressing if you are a Jewish husband and dad (or if you know one) who needs either a minor tune-up or a major overhaul. The first place to start is early in the week when you carve out sacred family time. You should make sure nothing will disturb a beautiful family Shabbat dinner, and you should plan some enjoyable, connecting family activities on the weekend. You also should set aside time for one-on-one conversations during the week. And you should volunteer to share the load of weekly tasks with your spouse rather than waiting for her to plead or get fed up.

To do this, it helps to carry in your wallet a “Kavanah Note Card” stating your good intentions. You can pull it out and reread it just before entering your home each night. The note card that you write in your own words should say something like: “The precious souls I am about to listen to during the next few minutes and hours are more important than any customer, boss, or colleague I’ve spoken to all day. They deserve my most compassionate and helpful self, not my crankiness or my criticism. Don’t take this for granted, because the emotional and financial costs of doing a mediocre job with my family life will be enormous.”

Collectively, we Jewish men still have some inner work to do. Father’s Day 2005, possibly, will inspire each of us to make improvements and learn what they don’t teach in high school, college or even graduate school — how to be the involved, deeply caring husband and dad that your kids and truly deserve.

Leonard Felder, a licensed psychologist, has written 10 books. His newest is “Wake Up or Break Up: The 8 Crucial Steps to Strengthening Your Relationship” (Rodale, 2005).

Pacino Adds Depth to ‘Merchant’ Villain


 

There is little doubt that the first film version of William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” will find its detractors.

Literary purists may be horrified by liberties taken by director-screenwriter Michael Radford, including a 50-minute cut in the play’s original three-hour length.

Champions of family values may object to the rather obvious homosexual relationship between Venetian noblemen Antonio (Jeremy Irons) and Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes).

And Jews may wonder what good is served, in this day and age, by reviving the most famous anti-Semitic stereotype in Western culture.

Yet this is a movie well-worth seeing for the fine performances of its Anglo-American cast, its colorful, teeming recreation of 16th century Venice and, most, for the complex and heart-wrenching portrait of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, evoked by Al Pacino.

I first encountered “The Merchant of Venice” in 1939 as a brand new immigrant and sole Jew in an eighth-grade class at Lower Merion Junior High School, outside Philadelphia, and the traumatic impact has stayed with me since.

For those who were deprived of this experience — and of the visceral American anti-Semitism of that time — here’s a brief refresher on the plot line.

In the Venice of 1594, then the most powerful and liberal city-state in Europe, the profligate young Bassanio needs money to woo and marry the lovely and accomplished Portia. He turns to his older friend, the merchant Antonio, who, temporarily short of cash, asks Shylock to lend him 3,000 ducats. The moneylender, who has been consistently humiliated by Antonio, demands no interest but instead a pound of flesh should the merchant not repay the debt on time.

When Antonio defaults, Shylock appears before the duke to execute the penalty but is foiled by Portia, disguised as a young lawyer, who turns the tables on Shylock. He leaves the scene as a broken man, the more so since his daughter, Jessica, has run off with a Christian, taking along much of her father’s fortune.

A New Yorker cartoon in the 1940s showed Hitler bestowing a Nazi medal on Shakespeare for writing the play, but as times have changed, so has the villainous caricature of Shylock.

Nevertheless, to make a film of so embedded a stereotype is a challenge, as even the daring Orson Welles learned when he had to abandon an identical project.

In the present case, director Radford and his cast have done well. On a technical level, the intimacy of the camera conveys facial closeups and character expressions not perceived in a stage play, while the beauty and bustle of Venice form a handsome backdrop.

While it would be condescending to label the film as politically correct, a great deal of care has been taken to place Shylock within the context of his time and place.

An on-screen prologue, accompanied by an elegiac Hebrew melody and the burning of prayer books, explains that Venetian Jews were confined to a district containing a cannon foundry (“getto” in Italian), restricted to the occupation of money-lending, forced to wear a distinctive red hat and were frequently brutalized.

In the very first scene, Shylock civilly greets Antonio in a market square, who responds by spitting in Shylock’s face.

But ultimately, it is the talent of Pacino (who played another reviled Jew, Roy Cohn of McCarthy infamy, in HBO’s “Angels in America”) who elevates Shylock from a two-dimensional, vengeful villain to a fully fleshed, tortured and humiliated human being.

In the classic monologue, “Hath not a Jew eyes?” to the closing, “The villainy you teach me I will execute,” Pacino conveys centuries of hurt and persecution.

And in the final scene, a distraught, impoverished Shylock, forced to convert to Christianity, stands bareheaded outside a synagogue — as always, the eternal outsider.

“The Merchant of Venice” opens at theaters nationwide on Dec. 29.

 

A Family Affair


In his 86th year and in his 86th movie, Kirk Douglas has fulfilled a long-cherished dream by uniting his clan in the film, "It Runs in the Family."

The picture’s Gromberg family, for whom the word "dysfunctional" was invented, consists of patriarch Alex (Kirk, naturally), son Mitchell (son Michael Douglas) and grandson Asher (grandson Cameron Douglas).

Rounding out the mishpachah (family) is Diana Douglas, Kirk’s ex-wife and Michael’s mother, who plays the patriarch’s wife, Evelyn.

The Grombergs of Manhattan are over the top in every conceivable way. They are gratingly Jewish: Kirk sprinkles his comments with Yiddish vulgarisms, screams out a "Kaddish" (prayer for the dead) as he sets fire to a boat carrying the corpse of his senile brother and for good measure, there is a family seder from hell.

Adding to the New York stereotype, the Grombergs are obscenely rich, thanks to the patriarch’s successful career as a corporate lawyer.

At the seder, when the youngest grandson, Eli (Rory Culkin), finds the afikomen, Kirk whips out a $1,000 bill and another greenback of the same denomination for 24-year-old Asher, who didn’t find the afikomen.

There is almost constant intramural bickering between the crusty Gromberg patriarch and his son; between the son and his wife, Rebecca (Bernadette Peters); and between this couple and their children. Ultimately, the family rallies around when Asher is busted for growing and selling marijuana.

Relief comes occasionally, as in the warmly portrayed relationship between the Gromberg grandfather and his wife and the brotherly bonds between the two grandsons.

But most of the time, the film is as dysfunctional as the Gromberg family, running off in a dozen different directions and with a convoluted plot line that defies description.

Australian-born Fred Schepisi directed the film, with Michael Douglas doubling as producer.

"It Runs in the Family," released by MGM and Buena Vista International, opens Friday, April 25.

Romance in the Negev


He closed the cap on my gas tank, returned the nozzle and
handed me a slip of paper.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“A coupon for a car wash,” he responded. “Kind of like a
present.” He smiled, dazzling me.

“Give me another present,” I said, handing back the slip of
paper. “Your phone number.”

When I moved 10,000 miles from California to Israel this
fall, I did not expect to end up with an Arab Muslim boyfriend from a
traditional Bedouin tribe. My friend, Josh, thought I was nuts when I told him
I was still involved with Sabih one month later.

“How do you reconcile your radical feminist values with
someone who comes from such a misogynistic background?” Josh asked.

I didn’t know whether to laugh like a madwoman or strangle
the man. This is the same Josh who told me I had serious psychological problems
because I didn’t want to sleep with him. Harvard-educated Josh with a coveted
job at a prestigious New York law firm, I might add. So much for the superior feminist
consciousness of America’s elite men.

Culturally, Sabih’s Arab identity and my Jewish identity are
not as diametrically opposed as people might think. I come from an Iraqi Jewish
family. Far from being a bagels-and-cream cheese stereotype, I have a
Judeo-Arabic name, my Jewish prayers are to a God alternately called Elokeem
and Allah, and my family has various shades of olive and brown skin.

A common Middle Eastern identity, however, is not what
brought me into this relationship or what keeps Sabih and me together. To the
contrary, we operate in a little bubble removed from identity politics. Our
relationship is based on simple things: wacky humor, independent thinking, a
kindred-spirit connection, heaps of respect and an appreciation of the basic goodness
in each of us. Oh, did I mention the fireworks?

Coming from Berkeley, an American suburb with its own damn
foreign policy, it was quite a challenge to learn how to be apolitical in a
relationship. But since the climate around Sabih and me was so explosive, it
seemed imperative to keep politics out until we built a strong foundation and
had time on our side.

During the first few months of my relationship with Sabih, I
was attacked twice by a group of Arab men. In addition, my neighbors were
hostile when they found out I was with an Arab. It was difficult not to talk
with Sabih about conflicts like these — to “process the issue,” as we say in
Berkeley speak. These kinds of incidents added a lot of stress to my side of
the relationship, shoving in my face the tensions and divisions between Arabs
and Jews. In the first few months, I felt as if I am standing in the middle of
a crossfire.

“Loolwa,” a close friend said as I burst into tears, “this
is not an environment that will encourage your love to blossom. It will be a
miracle if your relationship survives.”

Not exactly comforting words, but seemingly true.

As Sabih and I got to know each other, he himself made a
number of comments that disturbed me: On several occasions, he stereotyped all
Israeli Jews with the negative behaviors of a few people. A few times, he
implicitly failed to recognize Israel’s significance for me as a Jew. Once, he
put all blame for the Arab-Israel conflict squarely on the shoulders of Israel.
Sometimes I gently objected to his comments; sometimes I made a joke out of
what he said to minimize the sting; other times I remained silent.

And yet, Sabih also showed respect for my identity and
religious observance. One day after breakfast, for example, I returned from the
shower to find him washing the dishes. I was delighted by his gesture. Then I
panicked. In Jewish tradition, we separate the dishes used for dairy and meat
products, and I had not yet put up the signs identifying which was which.

“Are you concerned about dairy and meat?” Sabih asked,
scrubbing a fork.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Don’t worry,” he smiled. “I looked at the patterns on the
silverware and figured out what was what.”

These caring gestures made all the difference to me. I chose
to focus on them and let go of the negative comments, rather than get into
heated political debates with Sabih. Over time, I noticed the Arab-Jewish
conflict slip away from our relationship, simply through the strengthening of
our personal, apolitical connection.

What’s more, seeing I was not about to drop Sabih like a hot
potato, my neighbors came to accept that we were an item. Out of love for me, they
started to care about him. And so, just through the simple act of our being
together, we created our own little version of a peace agreement, without the
big political brouhaha.

“I’d like to meet you in a timeless, placeless place,” I
once said to Sabih, quoting Suzanne Vega. “Somewhere out of context and beyond
all consequences.”

“Yah,” he laughed cynically, “that place doesn’t exist. It’s
just a fantasy.”

But I don’t agree. In the middle of the Negev desert, amidst
hatred, violence and decay, Sabih and I have created an oasis of love, respect
and laughter. Ironically, keeping politics out of our relationship has resulted
in perhaps the biggest political act of all: Despite our surroundings, we are
still together — growing with, learning from and getting closer to each other
as the weeks and months go by.


Loolwa Khazzoom (

Reality Doesn’t Bite


Last night, I was watching "Big Brother," a show mocked for its lack of action. Call me crazy, but to me, it’s Chekhov; it’s all about the subtext. Anyway, a contestant named Bunky was voted out of the house last week. That’s when I realized that slowly, quietly, the new breed of reality shows is causing a revolution.

Bunky’s first order of business in the house was to come out, one by one, to his fellow contestants, which he did with ease and patience. There was only one problem, and his name was Kent, the Platonic ideal of a Southern homophobe. It didn’t take long before Bunky and Kent became friends, real friends, with private jokes and a comfortable rapport. Faced with Bunky, a real person and not a stereotype, it was impossible for Kent to completely retain his idiotic views about gay people.

When Bunky was evicted, his partner of 11 years was there to greet him. The screen identified him as "Gregg, Bunky’s husband" as if this happened on television every day, no big deal.

Where’s the firestorm of hate letters and canceled sponsors and Republican housewives collecting signatures? If this is happening, it isn’t making news.

A discussion of gay people on reality shows wouldn’t be complete without Richard Hatch, the man who won America’s first "Survivor." Hatch shattered stereotypes — at least when he had his clothes on. He was tough, a competitor, deeply honest and most important, a winner. And America loves a winner.

More people saw Hatch win that million bucks than have ever been to a pride parade or even caught an episode of "Will & Grace."

Perhaps the most affecting of reality T.V.’s homosexual cast members was Pedro Zamora, who appeared on MTV’s "Real World, San Francisco," before he died of complications from AIDS. This guy was handsome, courageous, didn’t take any guff from grating roommate Puck and gave educational talks about HIV.

It wasn’t just his housemates that fell in love with Zamora, it was all those kids sitting home watching MTV, kids who may have been spared Zamora’s disease because of what they learned watching him on some silly reality show. Another season featured a lesbian cast member in a supportive, healthy relationship.

Isn’t it amazing that these cheesy, slandered game show operas have gone where sitcoms never really could? Will may be gay, but he isn’t married. I doubt he ever will be.

The reality shows bolted ahead of television movies, dramas and mainstream films in terms of tolerance.

The first time I noticed was watching "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" when Regis Philbin introduced a contestant’s same-sex partner sitting in the audience. This happens regularly on the show, without an audible gasp from the home viewers or protesters yelling that Philbin is hosting the funeral of family values.

While this quiet shift warms my heart, I still eagerly await that Jewish reality television contestant who will make us all proud.

The real winners on these shows may be minorities — racial, religious, sexual –who couldn’t find a decent reflection of themselves on television until it started getting real.

Teresa Strasser is now on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.