Monthly Archives: November 2011

“What a Tangled Web: A Non Fiction Narrative” by Daniel Curzon— The Terrors of the Internet

Curzon, Daniel. “What A Tangled Web: A Non-Fiction Narrative”, IGNA Books, 2006.

The Terrors of the Internet

Amos Lassen

Our community is very lucky to have Daniel Curzon writing as when he writes he documents our history. He is prolific and an excellent writer with a wonderful sense of history. In “What a Tangled Web”, Curzon gives us a look at the dark side of the internet in what he calls “a nonfiction narrative” but what I would name as a nonfiction novel—akin to the genre that Truman Capote claims to have founded with “In Cold Blood”.

We are all aware that the internet is not the safest place in the world and Curzon really shows what damage can be done there. When the teacher review website went up, I don’t believe that anyone thought about what could become of it aside from a few bruised egos. Obviously a lot did go on and it takes over 700 pages to tell us about it. The irony here is that the story has as much humor as terror.

At the review website anyone can post whatever they want about whomever they want to post. It is very easy to destroy someone when hiding behind a computer screen with an anonymous personality. But there are also other uses for the site—it can be used to bribe or coerce teachers into giving good grades and of course there can be blackmail. The truth means nothing as I am sure most of us who have ever been in a chat room on the internet can attest to. This site seems to bring out the cruelty of people and they use it for their own personal game.

Because Curzon, himself, had once been involved in something like this, we can be pretty sure that he is writing the truth. Here is a case when the internet is used for evil and not for good.

There is so much in the book that I actually am having a hard time summarizing it and therefore I will leave that to the readers. There is a large cast of characters and this is one of the author’s strengths—he creates well drawn real characters that are like people we know. Perhaps that is what makes this such a frightening book—it could happen to any of us. If you have never read Curzon, this might not be place to start but if you do decide to start here, clear blocks of time because you will have a hard time stopping to read once you have begun.

Program for WORLD AIDS DAY—December 1

I hope you will join me on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011, World AIDS Day, for the world premiere of Australian filmmaker Rohan Spong’s moving documentary tribute to several composers who died of AIDS, “All the Way The Way Through Evening.” The film’s title comes from a series of 5 “Nocturnes” set to my poetry by the composer Chris DeBlasio who died of AIDS in 1993 at the age of 34. The premiere will be at 7:30 PM at the DMAC-DUO Multicultural Arts Center, 62 East 4th Street, in the East Village, and will also feature a program of live music and dance produced by Downtown Music Productions. Tickets are $20 through Smart Tix, and $25 at the box office.

To see a very moving trailer for “All the Way Through Evening”:  http://vimeo.com/31276426

And, to contribute directly to the film, so that it can be seen at film festivals, and be released world wide, please click in this link, and then to go “Support the Project.” 

“The Jewish Annotated New Testament” edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Z. Brettler— A Major Addition to the Biblical Canon

Levine, Amy-Jill and Marc Z. Brettler (editors). “The Jewish Annotated New Testament”, Oxford University Press, 2011.

A Major Addition to the Biblical Canon

Amos Lassen

A book that many have wanted to see for a long time, The Jewish Annotated New Testament” is finally here. This is the first edition of the New Testament that looks at the Jewish background and culture which were prevalent at the time it came into being. We certainly knew that the major characters were Jewish—Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, Mary, Mary Magdalene and so on. Now we get to see the influence of the Jewish world that gave rise to Christianity. The writings here are returned to the original authors who wrote them for audiences of Jews. What’s more, the authors show how much these writings have challenged the relations between Jews and Christians for over two thousand years.

This is an amazing piece of scholarship and it took a team of international scholars that both introduce and annotate the writings from the Jewish perspective and this is very obvious in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible which definitely influenced the writers of the New Testament. With this new view (which is actually an old view), we can better understand what the New Testament says and its importance and significance.

Aside from the annotated Bible there are essays on both religious and historical topics including “Divine Beings, Jesus in Jewish thought, Parables and Midrash, Mysticism, Jewish Family Life, Messianic Movements, Dead Sea Scrolls, questions of the New Testament and anti-Judaism, and others”. With bringing the Jewish aspect of the New Testament to us so that we see the writings in their original context and their place in history and how interpretations came to be. The concepts of original sin and baptism certainly become more interesting and understandable. Jewish concepts such as the dietary laws are also explained. The book is obviously a help to non-Jewish readers who are interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity and to Jewish readers who want to understand what were the reasons and the atmosphere for the rise of Jesus and a religion that was to overtake the world. There are notes on almost every page and sidebars accompany each book.

I have checked on the price and availability and if ordered from the publisher it runs about $35 and it is cheaper at online bookstores which I found surprising when we consider the amount of scholarship that went into this Bible. The only problem is availability. The publisher says it is out of stock (having just been published in November, 2011) and Amazon says it is a one to four month wait. Below is the table of contents and authors’ names.

Table of Contents:

The full text of the New Testament (in the New Revised Standard Version translation), each book introduced and annotated, plus a full selection of essays on historical and religious topics (e.g. the historical background of the Greco-Roman world in the years leading up to New Testament times).

Contributors

Alan J. Avery-Peck – 2 Corinthians
Herbert Basser – James
Daniel Boyarin – Logos, A Jewish Word: John’s Prologue as Midrash
Marc Zvi Brettler – Editor; The New Testament between the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and Rabbinic Literature
Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus – 3 John
Shaye J. D. Cohen – Galatians; Judaism and Jewishness; Josephus
Michael Cook – Philippians
Pamela Eisenbaum – Hebrews
Michael Fagenblat – Who Is my Neighbor? The Concept of Neighbor in Jewish and Christian Ethics
Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert – Judaizers, Jewish Christians, and Others
David Frankfurter – Revelation
David Friedenreich – Food and Table Fellowship
Julie Galambush – 2 John
Aaron M. Gale – Matthew
Joshua D. Garroway – Jews and Judeans: The Meanings of Ioudaios
Barbara Geller – Philemon
Gary Gilbert – Acts
Martin Goodman – Jewish History, 331 BCE – 135 CE
Leonard Greenspoon – The Septuagint
Michael R. Greenwald – 2 Peter; The Canon of the New Testament
Adam Gregerman – 2 Thessalonians
Maxine Grossman – Ephesians; The Dead Sea Scrolls
Susannah Heschel – Jesus in Modern Jewish Thought
Martha Himmelfarb – Afterlife and Resurrection
Tal Ilan – 2 Timothy
Andrew Jacobs – Jude
Jonathan Klawans – The Law
Naomi Koltun-Fromm – 1 Timothy
Jennifer Koosed – Titus
Ross S. Kraemer – Jewish Family Life in the First Century CE
Shira Lander – 1 Corinthians
Daniel R. Langton – Paul in Jewish Thought
Rebecca Lesses – Divine Beings
David Levenson – Messianic Movements

“Pink Eye –Critics of Israel say the state touts its gay-rights record only to conceal its oppression of Palestinians. They call it pinkwashing. That’s nonsense”.

Pink Eye

Critics of Israel say the state touts its gay-rights record only to conceal its oppression of Palestinians. They call it pinkwashing. That’s nonsense.

By James Kirchick|November 29, 2011 7:00 AM (Tablet)

The Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, July 29, 2010. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

In June 2007, I marched in Jerusalem’s gay pride parade. To do so was a risk. A group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis had issued a hex on the event. “To all those involved, sinners in spirit, and whoever helps and protects them, may they feel a curse on their souls, may it plague them and may evil pursue them,” they declared ahead of the march. Two years earlier, a fanatical Orthodox Jew had stabbed three parade participants. And in 2006, a prominent Hebron sheikh had asserted that the parade was “a cancer whose objective is to destroy the Islamic nation through humiliating Jerusalem by demonstrating the perversions of gays and lesbians.” Gays serve an ecumenical purpose in the Holy Land: Extremist Jews and fundamentalist Muslims put aside their differences to join together in hating them.

Thankfully, no violence occurred at the 2007 parade, though hundreds of anti-gay activists lined the route shouting imprecations and holding hateful signs. “Go to a shrink,” one particularly blunt poster read. “Go Away. Your sickness should be healed, not flaunted,” declared another. Over 7,000 police and army officers protected the marchers, and snipers were placed on the rooftops of nearby buildings.

As the ugly reactions to the parade revealed, the vast array of rights that gay people enjoy in the Jewish state—which include serving openly in the military, adoption, domestic partnerships, and the recognition of marriages performed abroad—did not emerge from nowhere. These rights are the fruit of hard work on the part of many activists, gay and straight, who had to push for them against politically powerful, socially conservative elements. This ongoing fight for inclusion was manifested most recently in the creation of an LGBT faction within the Labor Party, supported by all the party’s Knesset members except for Arab-Israeli MK Raleb Majadele.

But the struggles of Israeli activists and the progress they’ve achieved are meaningless to some, including Sarah Schulman, professor, novelist, and self-described “active participant citizen.” In a New York Times op-ed published last week, Schulman argued that these advances in gay rights are merely a “potent tool” in the Jewish state’s “pinkwashing,” by which she means Israel’s “deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.” As evidence of this so-called pinkwashing, Schulman cited the fact that the Tel Aviv tourism board is spending $90 million on a campaign to market the city as “an international gay vacation destination.” For Schulman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reference to the Middle East as a region “where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted” in his May speech to Congress is yet another example of the sinister pinkwashing trend, also known in many quarters as diplomacy.

Schulman, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, isn’t the first person to employ the phrase. In May, a writer for Time magazine alleged that Israel and Israelis’ participation in a series of international gay events was part of a coordinated campaign undertaken “in the hopes of redirecting [Israel’s] global image away from politics, terrorism and the occupied territories.” Joseph Massad, a professor of Arab politics at Columbia University, told Time that Israel launched this effort “to fend off international condemnation of its violations of the rights of the Palestinian people.” (Massad has written a book, Desiring Arabs, which alleges the existence of a nefarious “Queer International,” with supporters of Israel at its core, whose “discourse … produces homosexuals as well as gays and lesbians, where they do not exist” so as to paint Arab cultures as barbaric.)

The first fallacy of the pinkwashing meme is that it’s a non sequitur. No one is saying that Israel ought to be immune from criticism because it treats gay people humanely. Israel’s stellar record on gay rights does not prevent anyone from condemning the country’s settlement policies, its proposed ban on foreign funding of NGOs, or its lackluster effort to integrate Arab Israelis—issues that Israeli gay activists, many of them leftists, would gladly join Schulman in denouncing. But none of these failings renders Israel’s record on gay rights any less impressive, nor does touting that record constitute a covert method of justifying the occupation or racism against Arab citizens.

Schulman seems incapable of such discernment. “Increasing gay rights have caused some people of good will to mistakenly judge how advanced a country is by how it responds to homosexuality,” she wrote in the op-ed. While it would be foolish to judge a country’s “advancement” solely on the rights of gays, it is a telling standard. The protection of minorities is a bedrock principle of any liberal society, and it is an indisputable fact that sexual, racial, and religious minorities are better off in Israel than they are anywhere else in the region.

Though Schulman claims that, “pinkwashing … manipulates the hard-won gains of Israel’s gay community” it is Schulman who renders these gains meaningless. According to her, the victories of gay-rights advocates in Israel do not exist in and of themselves, but are cogs in a grand propaganda machine to legitimize occupation and oppression. The effort to create a more open and inclusive Israeli society is merely part of a broader PR campaign—undertaken, ironically enough, by the same right-wing forces who recommended I see a psychiatrist to cure me of my homosexuality—to fool credulous Western liberals into believing that Israel is something it’s not.

While accusing the government of Israel and pro-Israel activists of deceiving well-intentioned progressives, Schulman and her ilk are in fact using the issue of gay rights to forward an ulterior agenda. So consumed are they by hatred of Israel that they are willing to distort the truth about the horrible repression of homosexuals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If there’s any cleaning of dirty laundry going on here, it is Schulman’s whitewashing the plight of Palestinian gays.

Schulman’s assertion that homosexuality has been effectively “decriminalized” in the Palestinian territories since the 1950s when Jordan revoked colonial-era sodomy laws, will come as cold comfort to the countless gay Palestinians who have fled to Israel after being tortured or receiving death threats by Hamas or Fatah agents. Schulman’s claim would certainly come as news to Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO’s ambassador to Washington. When asked earlier this year if homosexuality would be tolerated in a future Palestinian state, Areikat replied, “This is an issue that’s beyond my [authority].” Hamas strategist Mahmoud Al-Zahar was blunter. In comments directed toward Westerners, Al-Zahar told Reuters last year that “You do not live like human beings. You do not (even) live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticize us?” And whatever law might be on the Palestinian Authority books has yet to persuade the leaders of Aswat, a Palestinian lesbian organization, to relocate their headquarters to Ramallah from Haifa. By making the absurd claim that the issue of gay rights is being “manipulated” by the Israeli government, Schulman ends up making excuses for people who kill homosexuals.

Recognizing the enormous gap between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on their respective gay-rights records, critics of the Jewish state have gone to tremendous lengths to propagate a massive lie in order to win over Western progressives. This cognitive dissonance has driven ostensible intellectuals like Columbia University’s Massad to justify the oppression of gay Arabs, as he did in the aftermath of the 2001 “Queen Boat” incident in Egypt, when police raided a gay disco and 52 men were arrested, tortured, and put through a humiliating show trial. “It is not the same-sex sexual practices that are being repressed by the Egyptian police,” Massad wrote in Desiring Arabs, “but rather the sociopolitical identification of these practices with the Western identity of gayness and the publicness [sic] that these gay-identified men seek.” In a 2006 interview with the Advocate, Aswat co-founder Raudo Morcos complained about people who portray Palestinian culture as “backward” regarding its treatment of homosexuals. “What is backward? Backward to whom? Are we comparing the Middle East, the Arab community, to the Western world? This is not a fair comparison,” she said. But if Morcos and other advocates of the Palestinian cause genuinely believed in human rights then they would, without hesitation, acknowledge the suffering of Palestinian gays. It’s not mutually exclusive to criticize both Palestinians and Israelis.

Introducing the term “pinkwashing” into the mainstream debate about the Arab-Israeli conflict is edifying in at least one respect: It lays bare the delusion, paranoia, and cynicism of the Jewish state’s most earnest detractors. In their minds, any positive statement made about the country is necessarily part of a propaganda campaign in the service of a far-right agenda. For an increasingly large swath of the international left, there really is no good Israel can do, short of disappear.

James Kirchick is a contributing editor at The New Republic and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“BEAR RUN”— Beaucoup Bears

“Bear Run”

 Beaucoup Bears

 Amos Lassen

 “Bear Run” is one of the most enlightening films I have seen in a long time. It gave me a whole new perspective on the bear sub-culture and taught me a lot. I kind of always wanted to be a bear but always felt I was too thin. I found out by watching “Bear Run” that it is not just weight and fur that makes a man a bear but attitude plays the dominant role. I also learned of “trans” bears (Female to Male) and a whole new vocabulary.

       Dan Hunt and Janet Baus have certainly put their hearts into this wonderful documentary about life in the bear world. The film centers on the lives of three loveable bears—Mikhael, our “trans” bear, Louie, former International Bear Cub winner, and Mike, a G-d loving and proud bear. Each has quite a story and each shows us a great deal about himself and his community. There is a certain tenderness to what each man has to say and their tales are eye opening.

       Another thing that I learned here is that there are many more men involved in bear life than I have ever thought. The community that these bears live in is full of love and based upon mutual respect. I especially loved the explanation of how bear culture came to be and it something that we, who are not members of the beautiful people; the gay men who seem to guide the way we act and dress, can relate to.

       We are taken to the different rituals of bear culture—bear runs, bear camping, bear soup ( a swimming pool filled with hot and hairy men), bear pageants. Wherever there are groups of bears there is a lot of love and the film shows that over and over. I am sure I was smiling as I watched the film—watching these guys having a good time just made me feel good.

       I learned that almost every weekend there are 3 to 4 bear events going on all over the country and it is like there is a bear circuit. The guys will travel to meet their friends and there is a great sense of family among them.    

       The focal areas highlighted here include Provincetown, New York City, Montreal, Chicago (an enormous bear party) and Albany, New York. Wherever the filming is taking place, the bears are there having fun.

       Perhaps the most important thing that “Bear Run” does is break down the stereotypes that many hold about gay men. Maybe bears are not the classic idea of the refined and elegant gay men but they have something special and to understand that, you have to see this film.

       There are some great extras on the DVD as well—extra stories from the three main characters, Louie’s home movies, a short course in bear history and culture and additional footage from bear events around the U.S.

       Here is a great opportunity to see what it is being a mature gay man in the twenty-first century. You will be so glad you saw it.

“AVIVA MY LOVE”— Dramatically Droll

“Aviva, My Love”

 Dramatically Droll

 Amos Lassen

 Aviva is a hard working cook in a hotel in Tiberias, Israel and is on of finding greatness. She introduced to Oded, a novelist who vows to help her achieve the greatness she desires. However Aviva’s journey to greatness has an effect on her and her family and even worse—Aviva discovers that Oded has other plans for her and her world falls apart.

       The film reflects the growing gaps in Israeli society and even though it is totally predictable there are some very funny moments in it. The story is told from the woman’s (Aviva) perspective and the director, it seems to me, deliberately portrays the men to be weak and to act like fools so as to give a faux-feminist slant to the film and it does not work. He uses offensive stereotyping very much like what the women’s movement opposes.

       Aviva’s life was a mess before Oded—her husband was unemployed, her children are unagreeable, her mother is suicidal, her job is demanding. Aviva wants to be a creative writer and scribbles down her thoughts. Aviva has little money and she faces constant indignities. Asi Levy is Aviva and she is perfect. Her introduction to Oded Zar (Sasson Gabai) seems to bring her hope even though Oded has not published anything in quite a while. He pretends to tutor her because he wants to publish her stories under his own name. There is a lot of black humor and this social drama explores sexual politics. “Aviva, My Love” is the winner of many awards including six Israeli Oscars.

“ARIZONA SKY”— First Love

“Arizona Sky”

First Love

Amos Lassen

Kyle and Jake were special friends when they were teenagers and even though they wanted to show each other how they really felt for each other, living in a small town did not allow them that option. Finally Jake moved away and Kyle stayed behind but never forgot his best friend or his first love. Now, twenty one years later, each man realizes that his life did not go the way he wanted or planned. Jake moved to the big city but finds himself unhappy in big business. Kyle had planned to go to college but ended up staying home and taking care of his mother, minding the horses and working in a small-time diner. When Jake comes back on a vacation, the two find that their feelings for each other have not changed. It was probably a panic attack that caused Jake to return and when the two men reconnect the spark of their love is reignited. Kyle, however, is in the closet but upon seeing Jake, his feelings come forward. Kyle and Jake spend time reacquainting themselves with each other and with the help of family; they discover how important happiness is.

There is a great deal of sweetness here and I am glad to say that director Jeff London has really come far after his last film. I love movies like this that have that touch of romance—they make one feel good all over.

“ANYONE AND EVERYONE”— America’s Families

“Anyone and Everyone”

America’s Families

Amos Lassen

“Anyone and Everyone” by filmmaker Paula Schutz is a look at America which will wrench at your heart and then warm your emotions. We meet several sets of parents who are connected by having a gay son or daughter. These are families from all walks of life and from diverse backgrounds and religions. They share their feelings about how their children told them about their sexual preferences and discuss struggling with the pain they felt when they learned that their children are gay or lesbian.

Twenty-sex percent of gay teens come out to their parents and are then told that they must leave their homes and we learn that of the 1.6 million homeless youth on our city’s streets, between 20-40% see themselves as gay and nearly 40% of that number have reported that they have been physically harassed. There is a large percentage of attempted suicide within that group.

Coming-out films are nothing new and in most of them we hear the characters tell their stories but we have seldom had the point of view of the parents. Each family in the film is unique from the Mormon family’s total abhorrence and a Hispanic mother’s deep concerns for her daughter. There is something about the honesty and openness of each family in the film that brings both laughter and tears.

Regardless of how one feels about homosexuality, this is a film that must be seen. It is a fair and well-balanced view that looks at the truth instead of presenting the stories in a homophobic milieu that often happens when the wrong people make a documentary like this. The families we see are both courageous and honest and even those that do not accept their children present their views with literacy. The stories are ones that we can relate to and we see why some people choose to remain silent while others tend to be vocal. Those that get past their biased beliefs and offer their children the unconditional love they deserve come across as heroes. What overwhelms is watching the intellectual reflection of the families as they decide how to handle the situations.

This is a wonderful viewing experience but I am a bit concerned as to why this film has not been picked up by a major releasing company so that more people would have a chance to see it.

 

 

“ANOTHER WAY”— Sexual Politics

“Another Way”

 Sexual Politics

 Amos Lassen

 “Another Way”, a Hungarian film, is not new. It was made in 1982 yet its message is still very strong. The population of Budapest lives in an oppressive, intrusive and ubiquitous society under the yoke of Stalinism. In this existence, two women begin a love affair that defies everything around them.

       Eva is a journalist and an intellectual. She was born into the peasant class so she is part of the village life. Her feelings of Hungarian nationalism are the opposite of what Stalin has brought to her homeland. She is a lesbian. Livia is a beautiful blonde who shares an office with Eva and the two women are like the free world and Stalinism—complete opposites. Livia is large and Eva is small. Livia is physical and athletic; she plays water polo (better than men) and she spends her nights in pleasure. She is a married woman; her husband is an army officer. Her life is a duality of political conformity and bland sexuality.

       Livia is not happy with the way she lives although she has just begun to realize it. Stalinist Budapest is a drab place. Eva, with her heretical ideas and common peasant ideas tends to interrupt editorial meetings at the journal where the two women work and to Livia she is fresh and bold and she is interested in her.

       We see how tedious life was in Hungary at that time. The fact that lesbianism was a dangerous secret, director Karol Makk conveys it beautifully.

       The plot is heavy and to say anything about it would give it away. Politics plays a major role in the film and listening to the speech of moving Hungary into the 20th century and seeing it through Eva’s peasant eyes is amazing. It is, however, hard to watch the iron-clutch that Stalinism has on the people. This is a film for the ages and it is beautiful to watch.