Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A jihad for everyone

As I mentioned before, Ross Douthat irked me a few days ago with his piece on Hell. I'd insert a lame joke about it being a Hell of piece, except it wasn't. It was a directionless piece of writing that seemed to be trying to be provocative more than anything else. Still, I think his message was Christians really need to believe in Hell or their moral life will be empty or non-existent.

I'm not a Christian, but who is he or anyone else to tell someone what they need to believe or that they are, in effect, doing their religion "wrong"? But this is not what irked me the most. Somehow, I found myself barbing with a well-known Boston journalist about this. No, he said, this piece was fine, and good for Douthat and the NYT for bringing up religion for it's presumably left-leaning, agnostic or atheist audience. And we should be talking about other religious topics in the Opinion section, like Jihad and the Right of Return.

This is what has irked me for days, and I think a number of my friends as well. I don't think those are religious topics.

Okay, let me make a slight exception, but only if you know the meaning of the word "jihad". [Pause] No, it doesn't mean Holy War. You might want to use the word "fight", but it seems to be better as "struggle": as in, the struggle to become a better person, to resist temptation, or perhaps to improve your world. Yes, it can also be the struggle against those who have wronged you, but that is referred to as a "lower" jihad.

I am no expert on Islam, but it seems to me that the authors of the Q'uran were 1) concerned with creating a society of moral people but 2) understood that, unfortunately, wars happen. But what do I know? See what this guy has to say instead.

My point: jihad the struggle may very well be an intrinsic part of Islam, but Jihad the Holy War is not. I think there may very well be a number of Muslims who would disagree, but I'm going out on a limb and guess that most of them don't come from the relatively prosperous Turkey or Iran but would be more likely found in the poorer Afghanistan and Palestine. In other words, the history and the political context of the person plays a significant role in how they interpret their religion.

As for the Right of Return: Are there Jews who have always believed in the Right of Return? Yes, but there was a time when many did not. When Reform rabbis drafted and adopted the Pittsburgh Platform in 1885, they rejected the idea of a Jewish state. (I've seen other versions that went so far as to call America their Zion.)

What changed for this group of people? The extermination of 6 million Jews five decades later. That's a big deal number, and that's why the majority of Jews like the idea of Israel 66 years after the end of the Holocaust (I include myself). But even among that group we have very different ideas about how the state of Israel should conduct itself.

Believing in the teachings of Mohammed does not mean that you approve of a Holy War; believing in the covenant between God and Abraham does not necessitate a belief in the right of return; and believing that Jesus is your savior does not require you to believe in Hell. Some believers do, and some believers don't. It is wrong- offensive- to say that one belief requires another. Worse, it trivializes the religion: Muslims are terrorists; Jews are invaders; Christians behave only because they're afraid of going to Hell.

No, they're not and they don't. Everyone believes different things for different reasons, and while much of it may be influenced by their religious teachings, there is a filter we all hear things through, and it varies by country and circumstance. Look for the filter as you listen to the words, and maybe look for yours too.

Writing from the Professional Left,
Deb in the City

Monday, April 25, 2011

Vastu Shastra

Some people have different ways of coping when their stressed: food, shopping, porn, eBay, throwing things. Today, none of those options were available to me, and some of them are just unclean (eBay especially). So after ripping my exercise band due to overuse, getting rained on while weeding with my sons, having to do the dishes (this is a bigger deal than you'd think. Just believe me so I don't have to post a picture of my hands.), finding out that the university I want Sam to go to still needs some documents from us before they can talk to us about financial aid and dealing with children who thought that the best thing to do today was hide inside of my husband's filing cabinet, I was in a sour mood. (Ross Douhat's really lousy writing did nothing to improve my mood either.)

So what's an irritated woman to do? Throw stuff out.

I have to confess- I no longer want to throw out all of my daughter's stuff. I mean, I do, but it's only because she never folds anything or hangs it up. So I did the next best thing and threw out unused books and even some toys instead.

I threw out toys. I am so badass. Right? Because if you throw out toys you're a bad and unsentimental person. Yeah, that's me: embracing the dark side.

I threw out books and papers... but not that many. Enough though that the room looks *not* crammed with stuff.

As Penelope Ann Miller once said, Oh baby, now I'm happy.

Can I keep this joy going? Did I mention my husband's books?

Deb in the City (with thanks to JCC for the inspiration)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Better Late Than Never

I promise, we did not wait three nights to observe Passover because I was too busy frothing at the mouth about people's incipient slut shaming. First Michael, the boys and I were sick. Then Michael was sick. Then there was a threatening thunderstorm. Finally, on Thursday, the stars had aligned.

To the people who bite their lip and wonder how they can do a traditional holiday meal without meat, I shake my head. There is so much. So, so much. There's only a tad less if you're a vegan. If you happen to be gluten-free or just wheat-free, you can do it pretty easily as well. But if you're vegan, wheat-free and you need to be respectful of a nut and chickpea problem... guess what? That was doable too.

A few weeks ago at our temple, I showed off some vegan gluten-free donuts from the Baby Cakes NYC cookbook I had. They were our contribution to the bake sale, and they were good. (FYI, the version with agave is just as delicious.) When I explained our limitations to a friend and some of the other mothers, my friend said, "Oh! You're all set for Passover then!" I smiled and shrugged a joke about being Sephardic. One of the other mothers said, "We're all Sephardic for Passover." Big smile. Alrighty then!

So yesterday we had matzo ball soup, potato kugel, tzimmes, aspargaus with sour cream, chocolate sticky buns and hamantaschen. Yeah, a little out of season with the hamantaschen, but I was dying to try it.

The recipe for the sour cream, sticky buns and hamantaschen are not mine, so I can't share. But if you can get to a library for Joanne Steppaniak's work- it's in her Nutritional Yeast cookbook- or to the bookstore (Brookline Booksmith!) for the newest Baby Cakes book, it's in there. You probably know how to make kugel, but this is pretty simple. And I'm not going to tell you how to make a vegetable broth- there's plenty of information out there about it.

Matzo Balls

I'm particularly proud of these. They were inspired by the work of Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Erin McKenna and, oddly, Nigella Lawson, but not so much that I wasn't still crossing my fingers yesterday morning and afternoon.

1/4 cup flax meal
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp brown rice flour
1/3 cup potato starch
2 tbsp arrowroot
3/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1 package silken tofu
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
dash of onion powder
dash of garlic powder
1 tsp nutritional yeast

Mix flax meal through salt in a bowl and set aside. In a blender, combine tofu through nutritional yeast and blend until smooth. Combine with flowers and stir until you have a smooth dough. Cover and put in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

Set a large stock pot of water to boil- use at least three quarts of water. As you wait for water to boil, shape dough into balls one teaspoon at a time, then carefully drop into water. (I had at least 2 dozen little balls.) Let the water come to a boil, turn the heat to low, then simmer for 40 minutes with the cover on. After 40 minutes, turn the heat off but keep the cover on. You are essentially steaming the matzo balls into softness. You can serve with heated broth at this point.

These are really, really good.

Potato Kugel

This is embarrassingly simple.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
6 small to medium potatoes, peeled
1 tsp salt or to taste
dash of pepper
3/4 cup vegan sour cream (buy from the store or check the Steppaniak recipe... if you can't find another recipe on the web.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a baking or casserole dish and set aside.

Heat olive oil on medium low in a heavy pan. Finely chop the onion and add to the pan with 1/4 tsp salt and stir.

Grate the six potatoes. (I did this directly into the pan, but you can use a food processor.) Raise the heat to medium high, add the rest of the salt, then stir occasionally for three minutes. The potatoes don't need to be completely cooked, but they do need to be soft. Turn off the heat and add the sour cream. Transfer into the baking dish, then bake for 45 minutes. When done, the top should be golden and crispy.


I don't really like tzimmes, but I really like these. And so did everyone else last night (except the twins).

2 small sweet potatoes, peeled
2 medium sized pears, peeled and cored
1/2 cup dates, pitted
2 tbsp brown rice syrup (or honey or agave)
1 tsp cinnamon

Chop the sweet potatoes into small dice. Chop the pears into medium dice (the pears will cook more quickly than the sweet potatoes if they are the same size. Cut the dates into medium pieces- halving them will probably suffice. Add the rice syrup and combine to coat. Add the cinnamon and stir until well-distributed. Pour into the prepared dish and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before you serve.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a baking dish and set aside.

I repeat, these are all really, really good. It was the first time in a long time I've had a Passover seder where I could enjoy everything, and the first one ever in which I enjoyed the food and it didn't hurt me afterward.

I'm sure there's a Passover lesson in there somewhere, but I'm just here for the food.

Deb in the City

Thursday, April 21, 2011


There is a serious conversation in other quarters about clothing. It was set up by this loveliness on CNN. There are reactions here and here. Please read all, if you haven't already.

To sum up: Don't dress your girls like tramps/prostitutes/prostitots/whores. They'll have bad self-esteem later in life. You're also making them targets for unwanted leering or sexual advances. And it is in your power to stop sexual predators, because we all know that no child that has been dressed in the most conservative clothing possible has ever been molested, just as we know that wearing the most restrictive clothing has protected women in the strictest Islamic countries from being raped.

Right... we don't know that, because it's not true.

Possible solutions:

1) Dress your girls in boys' clothing. Possible reaction in keeping with Grunderson: no, don't! Then they might get confused about gender norms and grow up to be lesbians and have the opposite problem of no one leering at them. But at least they wouldn't be raped, because men aren't attracted to butch lesbians.

Wrong again... plenty of lesbians get raped every year, no matter what they look like.

2) Dress your girls in girls' clothing, but get it oversized. Possible reaction: oh no! Now they're going to grow up and think it's okay to be fat, and it is NEVER okay to be fat. But at least they won't be raped, because fat women not only don't get leered at, people try to pretend they're not there.

Um, no. Fat women get raped too- even fat lesbians.

3) Teach your children that they are not the clothing they wear. A smart outfit doesn't actually make them smart or clever; clothing that shows off some amount of skin doesn't mean that they are sexually available or give other people the right to treat them like commodities; clothing or shoes that show signs of wear might make them cold or uncomfortable, but they're still people who should be treated with dignity. Clothing might give people a first impression, but that doesn't substitute for the hard work of getting to know someone before you make a final judgment.

Whoa! What?

And, randomly, while Grunderson brings up the potential for his son to look like a rapper (or a prisoner), that's not an equivalent for "tramp" and it never has been. Is this a special problem only the girls need to worry about? If so, isn't that part of the real problem?

Deb in the City

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Today was a big day

Do you know how long I've waited to go clothes shopping? Finally, finally, I could leave the boys with Michael long enough to hit some thrift shops with Jaz. We did pretty well but made a stop at H&M anyway. She found some skinny jeans, I found nothing. Between the two of us, we got eight items for about $57. Yeah! I want two more things, but I'm going to try Macy's and risk it with the boys.

Oh yes, Michael gets to keep his job, despite the best efforts of the governor. In theory, he'll have to reduce his hours, but in practice he was working at about the new level anyway. Sometimes, to quote Tennessee Williams, there's God- or maybe a little bit of luck.

Oh, right- Sam got into Hampshire! She and Michael visited on Monday, and they both loved it. We're still waiting to hear from two other colleges, but she did get some very generous aid. We'll see, but it's good.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A tale of two Scotts

When I was eighteen, in 1990, I made a call. I asked to speak to the District Attorney, and lo and behold I was patched in to Scott Harshbarger himself. I told him why I called, and he was very sympathetic. I would even say kind. He was glad I called, and he made an appointment for me to come in later that month.

A few weeks later, I went in. I was by myself. Harshbarger wasn't there, but two of his assistants were. I told them my story, and they were impressed by how articulate I was. I guess they didn't get too many articulate people? But while they agreed that what I described was a crime, they didn't want to pursue it. Among other things, they articulated that the penalty would be too harsh. I'm not making that up. So nothing happened. But I tried.

It didn't really surprise me that these two ADAs didn't care. Why should they be any different from my family and friends? No, that's wrong. There was one person who did. We were at a birthday party, and I blurted out what I was going to do. She nodded in approval, then asked about it when she saw me a few weeks later. She seemed impressed that I was pursuing this, and when I was told nothing was going to happen, I felt like I had let this person down. But I tried.

Let's fast forward two decades. Senator Scott Brown's memoir came out a few weeks ago, and among other things, he revealed that he had been molested as a camper when he was a young boy. He was terrified, and he had to see the man every day. He also had no one to turn to, as his family life was a mess. As I understand it, he also acted out and got into trouble at school. People didn't like to believe that those kinds of kids could be victimized. But he was.

I disagree with most of Scott Brown's politics, but he is undeniably a survivor. He made it into college and law school and then became a successful politician, first at the state level and then at the national level. Not just a survivor- a success.

After his book came out, his office received hundreds of calls from men who had been similarly victimized and never felt like they could talk about it before. That's a good thing. But I'm not applauding that Scott. Even after he came out with what happened to him, even after he had received so much sympathy, he didn't come out and name the abuser or the camp where he was abused. Even after an investigation was initiated and 13 other people came forward with similar allegations from a camp he went to. Even after a camp councilor was found dead of suicide on camp grounds.

It's not fair to put the other victims on Brown's shoulders- he was a child, and back then he probably wouldn't have been believed. But people believe him now, and he has the pulpit to get something done. But he won't.

I think people may argue that he is still a terrified child underneath it all, and he doesn't want to have to face it. That's not good enough, and I can say that. Because I was an eighteen-year-old who went into a meeting all by myself, told a painful story and was told it didn't matter. I had been told that before by people who were supposed to care about me, but I tried anyway. Scott Brown is a US Senator whose polling numbers went up after his story came out. And he isn't trying.

It's just one more reason why I was happy to vote for one Scott but not the other.

Deb in the City

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Trying to get to No

I have been better for about a week- it took me that long to recover. I am trying to take it easy so I don't get sick again, which makes me crazy. I want to be one of those people that really does only need three hours of sleep, not one of those people that needs seven or eight but has ambitions that could keep her up later.

I've come to the conclusion that during the school year (and by school I mean Hebrew School and Orchestra), I can't take on any extra commitments. That sounds insane to people who send their children to school and these other commitments almost as an after thought, but for us, the time commitments add up. That doesn't preclude seeing friends for Game Day at a library, our impromptu field trips or one-off lectures, but it means that I have to say no to any other long-standing commitments.

Ooh- I hate saying no. However, this was, in it's own way, a year of No- at least, when it came to the things I really wanted to do. I can only hope that I will remember later- tomorrow, next week- what my addiction to Yes cost me.

But in other news...

- Yay! We didn't shut down, but what a price we're paying. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are on the table. Progressive Democrats are uncool in Washington- now everyone is a Serious Democrat. Since everyone knows how much I like to sprinkle Fairy Dust, I'm going to indulge: I want higher taxes on the Super Rich, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to stay funded, out of our go nowhere wars, investments in higher education and job creation that doesn't depend on tax cuts and someone mumbling something about education. You want to negotiate? Fine, but I'm over here. If you really want to be in the "center", you're going to have to move a little close to where I am now.

- The Fukushima Disaster is now at Level 7, which is the same level Chernobyl was. No nuclear power. You're going to have to negotiate with me from here, too.

- And speaking of energy... I tried to forget my political woes on Saturday by taking the kids to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. All was going swimmingly until I realized that their interactive video about staving off global was dependent on carbon capture and "clean coal". That's just what I expect to see at a science museum. How about an exhibit on where we can find the Easter Bunny?

- And speaking of Easter, it and Passover are coming up, and I think I'm on tap for both. I also have the crazy idea of hosting not one but two seders. [Pause] That's a "Yes", isn't it?

Deb in the City