Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Israel is like the crazy person on a reality TV show

As almost everyone knows, the government of Israel has employed the brilliant strategy of trying to get its citizens to move back a country where gender segregated public busing is tolerated by running a series of ads that tells Israelis that if they don't move home they will imperil their identities as Israelis and Jews.

This is just one of the ads that the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption is running to get Israelis in the U.S. to return to their native country. In addition to implying that American Jewish children don't know about Hanukkah so you better hurry on back, other ads suggest that Americans of the Jewish or non variety can't understand Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) or that your child will call his father "Daddy" but will be unable to learn "abba." Real flattering stuff.

Jeffrey Goldberg over at the Atlantic put it best:

These government-sponsored ads suggest that it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America. How else are we supposed to understand the "Christmas" ad? Obviously, assimilation and intermarriage are issues in America in ways they aren't in Israel. Israel has other problems of course, such as the fact that many of its rabbis act like Iranian mullahs...The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying the American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.
Yes, cause as we all know Judaism disappeared during the Diaspora and was only resurrected in 1948 when the state of Israel was founded after the Zionists discovered it in the Negev like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I can't get too down about all this since it supplies yet another incident for the reality television show The Real Bureaucrats of Jerusalem.

In the last couple of years, Israel (and by that I mean its government) has kind of become like that crazy character on reality television shows--you know, the one who has tantrums, starts fights, pulls someone's hair. The one that makes you think, "Damn, you're crazy." But because they're so crazy, they're also unpredictable, which makes them excellent entertainment in a perverse way. That's what Israel has become to me. One the fake tan bitches in the Real Housewives franchise.

I'm not saying I truly enjoy watching Israeli democracy break down but if I'm going to continue to pay attention to events in the Middle East, I do have to find amusement as well as note frequent injustices. It's either that or cry. The latter is not really an option--I don't wear waterproof mascara.

Oh, and by the way--here's how Americans view Israelis. (Check out this SNL clip from way back featuring Tom Hanks as a Sabra host of the Price is Right.)

And a spoof of the ads (h/t Dov Bear)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Modesty is an Olympic sport

As many who have grown up in Orthodox Jewish communities know that folks get hyper competitive over matters of observance--who is more restrictive in matters of Shabbat, kashrut and modesty. The more things you don't do, the more pious you are. It's like a competitive sport for those who don't engage in them a whole lot.

As for the modesty arena of competition--this is the special domain of women, just like candle lighting or childbirth--except less flammable and less bloody.

Below is a pretty funny video depiction of what can result from this sort of hyper-competitive mentality. Don't be put off by the Hebrew--there is very little speaking in the video and you can get the gist without understanding the language.

Nevertheless, I will translate it cause I'm a good person.

At the start, the disembodied male voice says: "Our parasha (Torah portion) concerns itself with the modesty. Maimonides says, 'A woman of valor is one who is careful with modesty.'"

And at the end: "The Rashba disagreed with Maimonides and said that, 'More important than modesty is that the woman appears beautiful in the eyes of her husband.'"

There you have it. In two short lines, the religion's take on woman's physicality: cover it up or look pretty. Different sides of the same misogynistic coin.

(h/t Esther K.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

1994 National Championships and the Confederate flag?

On the International Gymnast message board, there is currently a thread which asks fans, "Which is your favorite national championships?" The originator of this thread listed 1994 when Dominique Dawes swept the all around and all of the event finals.

I recall this event dimly. I was such an ardent Shannon Miller fan at that time that I only watched the competition (which I had recorded) once or twice because it was too painful for me to see Miller place second repeatedly. I was a pretty intense 11-year-old kid when it came to things like that.

Anyway, at the suggestion of this message board post, I decided to stroll down memory lane and watch the competition again. Thankfully, at 28 I am able to accept and enjoy Dawes' victory. Ah, maturity.

Yet as I was watching I was unsettled by an unexpected sight. As I appreciated Dawes' excellent choreography (take note elites of today: it is possible to do four tumbling passes and still fit in some quality dance) I noticed a Confederate flag behind the African American gymnast as she danced and tumbled. Go to :51 if you want to see the image.

It turns out that this is the state flag of Georgia, which was officially changed in 2001 to remove this symbol. Typically strolls down gymnastics memory lane make one feel nostalgic for an era of a more artistic sport but this trip made me appreciate that some things in the present are a bit better. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

The ladies of MAWU

Here's a fierce new video from the women of MAWU, an all-female house dance crew based in New York City.

If this doesn't make you want to get up and work off that Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing and pie, I don't know what will.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's Jew got to do with it?

I'm all for writing about Jews and linking Judaism to stuff when there is a true connection between say, dance, and the religion and its practitioners. But sometimes I'm irked when I read stories out of the Jewish media (the niche one, not the larger Philo-Semitic one) that bend over backwards to create a Jewish story where one doesn't exist.

Case in point: a recent article for Tablet about Drake and Mac Miller. While both rappers are Jewish, that's where the Jewish content ends. The article doesn't do any analysis, aside from noting record sales, hit songs and characterizing one as frattish and the other as introspective, yet proclaims them to be indicative of a "golden age of Jewish rap."

I have more to say (along with jokes and videos!), which I did over at JTA.

Apologies if I have already used "What's Jew got to do with it?" as a title for a previous blog post. I've got a finite source of puns and jokes as well as very limited short term memory.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Very Young Gymnast

In today's New York Times, there is a long article about Stephanie DePierro, the ballerina that was the subject of Jill Krementz's book, A Very Young Dancer. DePierro had been 10 when Krementz chronicled her life, from family to school to dance, for an installment of the A Very Young series.

While I don't recall the particulars of this book--I read it about once and no more--this made me think about A Very Young Gymnast, also by Krementz, which was about Torrance York, a gymnast who lived in New York City. (Those of you who know about high level gymnasts know that very few of them end up coming from NYC).

Anyway, I took this book out from the library dozens of times until I had committed the text to memory. Once or twice, I contemplated "losing" it so I could read it forever. I wished to be like Torrance--gifted, in high level training. I was insanely jealous that she got to meet Nadia Comaneci and Bela Karolyi when they visited the U.S. I also really wanted a green leotard like the one she wore on the cover of the book.

Today's article got me wondering-- what ever happened to Torrance York? Did she stop doing gymnastics young as Ms. DePierro had done with dancing? Did she feel undue pressure to continue in the sport because many young, aspiring (and maniacal) gymnasts looked up to her? And finally, who will pay me to investigate and write about her?

UPDATE: Reader and commenter Tanya S. googled Torrance and provided the link to this bio about the adult York, who is an award-winning photographer. She explained her work and its connection to gymnastics in an interview:

What I found satisfying as a child--achieving the exact form required on the balance beam--is now reflected in my fascination with the specificity of the GPS system. Practicing, refining and reworking to get the time and nuances of my childhood gymnastics routines just right is not unlike my current photographic process--the effort to get the precise image I want and the many revision made to print it as I envision it should be. The perfectionism nurtured through the sport can be daunting in everyday life, but has a useful role in my photographic work. 

As someone who also entered into a field where being painstakingly precise--writing--is also an asset, Igree with York's assessment of how gymnastics training and perfectionism can be useful in certain types of future endeavors, such as photography (and writing) that require so many hours of practice and dozens of iterations (or drafts).

She also had some interesting observations about the photographic representation of gymnasts that is particularly insightful:

While taking the course "The Camera and the Body" at the Rhode Island School of Design, Torrance observed how the news media would reduce the image of gymnasts to the simple elements of a competitor's name, age, height and weight--just the surface facts representing the whole person. She likens this to her use of the GPS system to identify her exact position in relation to the environment she is shooting. The GPS coordinates are a label, but the place, like the gymnast, is more complex. The resulting photographs express her experience in that place, on that point.

I find this particularly fascinating because one of the most salient points about gymnasts (and more generally, athletes) is spatial awareness, awareness of where your body is in space. Of course, the media cannot be expected to keep track of a gymnast's relative position throughout her performance. But I do find it interesting that a former gymnast devised a GPS system in her photography to best represent position in space.