“IN BETWEEN MEN”— Four Friends

in between men

“In Between Men”

Four Friends

Amos Lassen

Four All-American guys feel caught between two worlds, not truly knowing where they fit in. “In Between Men” follows these four friends in New York City who live “in between” a gay world, “whose cliches they don’t relate to, and a straight world they don’t belong to”. They are successful, professional men not defined by their sexuality. We go with them on their wild adventures, racy story lines, joys and pains all underscored by the pulse of New York City, “In Between Men” looks at relationships the men have between each other, their lovers, and the greater community. Granted that description sounds wonderful but unfortunately the series is not nearly as good as it could be. This was originally a web series about sex and clubbing and all the things upstanding gay men are supposed to enjoy. In reality, it is a stereotypical mess.

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To start, the acting is poor at best. The men are gorgeous but their lines are delivered without emotion, and the energy feels sudden and manufactured. The main character Dalton (Nick Mathews) is robotic. The worst of the bunch is Michael Sharon who plays an older, wealthy Italian man that wants Dalton and he is, indeed, cringe-worthy.

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The dialogue is unbelievable, as if the characters aren’t even listening to one another. While some bits of the writing are funny, these moments are ruined by bad timing. The majority of the lines are strange and stilted, often in situations that seem out- of-place. The narration, which (thank goodness) fades away as the series progresses, is very similar but not nearly as good as Carrie Bradshaw’s narration in “Sex and the City”.

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There are problems in every aspect of this show: the vast majority of the characters are white, well-to-do men (with the exception of a black man that appears in the final episode of the first season and he seems to be there as an afterthought and to appease that criticism); the opening credits, the best of a high school Flash project, are set to hip hop that has nothing to do with the show or the atmosphere in it. An even bigger problem is that thee is nothing new to see— it has all been done before and better.

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The show does become a bit better as it moves forward and for a series made for the Internet, its production values are quite good. If you like cute boys, beautiful bodies, a bad script, and bad acting then this is a series for you. So if like fluff, a contrived scrip, and you have a mind that is partially gone, you should enjoy this.

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The series presents an over-the-top idea of how gay people might be living in New York City today. For those of us who don’t live there, and never will, this is a chance to see what it is like (for the rich gay man). It is a fantasy world that presents itself as something that arguably could exist in today’s world and we are well aware that it is fantasy. Here is a list of the episodes that are part of the series.

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Season One

Pride & Prejudice

It’s Friday of Gay Pride Weekend in NYC. All in one day, Dalton Fuller considers hiring a PR Firm for his business, throws a major industry party for his friends opening night art exhibition, and learns what happens when you do talk to strangers.

It Takes Two

Dalton and Massimiliano learn that the unexpected is sometimes better than any plan. Jake and Kyle take the next step. Dane makes a forbidden compromise.

Business as Un-Usual

It’s Monday after Pride Weekend and the guys’ attentions turn back to work. Ben’s career is skyrocketing, but could get sidetracked by a competitive colleague. Kendra’s efforts to sign Dalton to Capital PR are called into question. Dane shows his frustration.

Secrets and Ties

Dalton gives Massimiliano the third degree. Jake reveals a past tragedy to Dalton. Ben gets a surprise visitor with his own secrets and Dane hits a low point of desperation.

Muscles and Manbags

Dalton and Dane discuss the travails of modern dating. Ben calls on a secret weapon to uncover the truth behind Andrew’s surprise visit. Massimiliano gives a deeper glimpse into his “other” life. Kendra reveals more than she realizes.

Trouble in Paradise

After riding a great high, Dalton & Massimiliano hit a new low. Jake and Kyle have a turf war as Jake’s past catches up with him. A fetish catches Dane off guard. Ben feels the heat at work.

Season Two

Under the Big Top

The Gang Bang’s All Here

As Jake’s Memorial Service looms, the guys try to resume life as usual. Dalton confides in a stranger, Ben returns to changes at work, Dane leans on a familiar element from of the past. Kendra invites her cousin, a mutual friend of Jake’s.

Arts and Aircrafts

When Max leaves for a business trip, Dalton enforces the new rules of their relationship. Ben repays the kindness of a stranger. Dane’s wild night catches up with him. Just as Dalton’s past intersects with Brian.

Kind of a Big Deal

Dalton and Max relationship goes public. Brian and Max have something in common. Drugs teach Dane a hard lesson. Ben faces new challenges both at work and from Adonis.

La Familiar: Part One

A former admirer takes another crack at Dalton. Dane weighs the outcome of Paul’s overdose. Brian gets confronted with a secret he has been trying to run away from. And the stakes get higher on Ben’s quest to make partner.

La Familiar: Part Two

Two for One

Dalton has been juggling three love interests and in this episode, they all make an appearance and cause Dalton to get caught in his own web. Brian comes clean. Ben gets put in an awkward position while Javier pursues. Kendra gets a familiar proposition. Dane moves on.

Wake Up Call

On the Season 2 Finale many questions get answered and many new ones arise in the lives of Dalton, Ben, Dane & Brian.

“Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History” by Zev Eleff— Documenting Modern Orthodox Judaism— Memory and Practice

modern-orthodox-judaism

Eleff, Zev. “Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History”,  (JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought), Jewish Publication Society, 2016.

Documenting Modern Orthodox Judaism— Memory and Practice

Amos Lassen

Before we have a look at Zev Eleff’s monumental study of modern Orthodox Judaism, let me say a little bit about myself and my relation to Judaism. Having been raised as an Orthodox Jew, I realize now that there are so many questions I should have asked but didn’t. When I was growing up, we did not ask questions about religion— we just accepted what we were supposed to do and not think about it. I did not leave Orthodoxy for any specific reason—it just so happened that I found myself in places where Reform Judaism spoke to me more directly than any other faction of the Jewish religion. I have always considered myself to be something of a hybrid of the two branches of Judaism. The most important thing is that I am satisfied with where I am. When I was growing up there was no Modern Orthodox Judaism (in fact, there was not much conservative Judaism either in New Orleans).

In his study of modern Orthodoxy, Zev Eleff shares a collection of documents that dates back to the early nineteenth century and comes forward until the present day and what we see is a diverse and multi-dimensional portrait of how Orthodox Judaism has attempted to respond to the cultural changes and challenges that have occurred with the evolution of Jewish and secular lifestyles in the United States over the course during the last two hundred years.

Every religions faces making sense out of and engaging with the human condition at the particular times and places where we, as adherents, find themselves. Unlike those religions that are opposed to relatively extreme religious approaches that can cause them to isolate themselves from their surroundings or completely incorporate the current trends extent within society, Modern Orthodoxy, works at maintaining some kind of balance between tradition and modernity—which some feel is a contradiction in terms. Eleff shares reflections of how Orthodox Judaism has addressed “changes in liturgy, the divinity of the Torah, the delineation of various Jewish denominations, aesthetics of places of worship, attitudes towards secular education, women’s ritual and leadership issues, interfaith dialogue, Friday night programming, sexuality and family matters, genetic testing, Zionism, the bat mitzvah celebration for young women, commemorating the Holocaust, Zionism, Soviet Jewry, and addressing the terrible dilemma of helping women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce”. It seems that no stone is left unturned and just to give you an idea of what is covered here, the table of contents is twenty-three pages long.

The documents included are those that reflect the ongoing soul-searching and important concerns in which institutions and their leaders have engaged in their attempt to adjust and yet preserve Judaism’s traditions over the years. We get consistent integration of several points of view regarding many of the issues addressed thus allowing us to see the complexity of issues and the sincerity of purpose that those dealing with them have. We see something of a decline in the relatively broad ideological religious approach that has been categorized as Modern Orthodoxy and this can be seem in the documents from the 1960s to the 1980s. Important and significant changes in the movement’s key leadership is one of the reasons for the leaving behind moderate, centrist positions in favor of a sharper delineation of the left and right wings of the group. Much of what we read in the book’s last chapter shows that attempts on the part of more liberal and progressive elements within Modern Orthodoxy, claim to be the heirs of this particular tradition.

In the documents that we see in the book, we become aware that change affects culture and we get the impression that immigration from more traditional and even repressive societies to the openness and personal freedom of the United States, is followed by the general relocation of Orthodox Jews from urban settings to suburban environments and this has played a major role in empowering many to think that past approaches and practices must be altered, regardless of the long-standing demands of religious tradition. When these developments meet the new technology and social media, the integrity of Modern Orthodoxy is tested. Reading documents like those collected here helps us to understand and identify with Modern Orthodoxy and to be prepared for what is yet to come. Today modern Orthodoxy is popular and in fact, I live just three blocks from a Modern Orthodox synagogue and I have enjoyed several of the programs and services that I have attended there yet for whatever reason, I do not feel as at home there as I do in the temple that I am a member of.

Writer Zev Eleff gives us an extensive selection of primary texts documenting the Orthodox encounter with American Judaism that led to the existence of the Modern Orthodox movement. We see that the movement grew out of conflict with Orthodox Judaism and this is especially in the early responses from traditionalists’ feelings about Reform Judaism in its early stages and incidents and events that helped define the differences between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism in the early twentieth century. We also have here texts that explore the internal struggles to maintain order and balance once Orthodox Judaism had separated itself from other religious movements. I remember all too well what happened when my home synagogue decided that it wanted to allow mixed seating during services. Most of the congregation was in favor of this but there was a small group of traditional Orthodox members that fought this idea and it even reached the Louisiana Supreme Court.

This book brings together published documents with seldom-seen archival sources that trace Modern Orthodoxy as it developed into a structured movement and established its own institutions as it came into contact with critical events and issues, Some of which helped shape the movement and others that caused tension within it.

The introduction explains how the movement began and took hold by putting the texts into historical context and short introductions to each section helped to take us through the documents contained therein. Reading this allows us to deal with the issues, especially those of “identity and ideology, religious practice and social behavior, rootedness in tradition and openness to new ways of thinking and acting that define Modern Orthodoxy.”

I do think it is possible to stress too much how important this book is. I keep it on my desk so that I can check it regularly as I deal with questions and situations. Through its use we can learn about the complex issues of identity and ideology, religious practice and social behavior, tradition and openness and new ways of thinking and acting. Can there possibly be anything else to ask for?

“JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews” by Helen Kiyong and Noah Samuel Leavitt— Race, Religion, Ethnicity and Intermarriage— Take Two

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Kim, Helen Kiyong and Noah Samuel Leavitt. “JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews”, University of Nebraska Press,  2016.

Race, Religion, Ethnicity and Intermarriage— Take Two

Amos Lassen

There was a time in this country that many Jews felt that intermarriage would hurt the religion but that thought has since changed. In 2010 approximately 15 percent of all new marriages in the United States were between spouses of different racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. These marriages raised questions dealing with the multicultural identities of new spouses and their offspring. The census gives us information about statistics but does not share the inner workings of day-to-day life for such couples and their children. I have noticed since I moved to Boston the seemingly large number of Jewish/Asian intermarriage and I believe that is because I had never lived in a place where there were both large Jewish and Asian populations.

“JewAsian” is a qualitative examination of the intersection of race, religion, and ethnicity in the increasing number of households that are Jewish American and Asian American. Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Samuel Leavitt’s book looks at the larger social dimensions of intermarriages to explain how these particular unions do not only reflect the identity of married individuals but also of the communities to which they belong. Through the use of in-depth interviews with couples and the children of Jewish American and Asian American marriages, the author’s research tells us about the everyday lives of these partnerships and how their children deal with their own identities in today’s world. A study like this has been needed for a long time and we find that the result actually challenges dominant racial, ethnic, and interfaith marriage discourses.

The authors use sociological research and statistics to give us their objective. We now see that interracial and interfaith marriage are both realities of American life and here Jewish Americans and Asian Americans become the example due to the high levels of intermarriage of these two ethnic groups. The authors do not attempt to justify nor condemn Jewish-Asian intermarriage— rather they simply explain the factors that perhaps lead to such comings together. We get a look at the self-identification of Jewish-Asian offspring and their attachment to Jewish identity and Judaism, as well as to which Asian culture is part of their heritage. The book’s analysis of intermarriage here can be used and applied to not just Jews and Asians but to all intermarriages where cultures and identity may not fit into recognized ideas and preconceived notions. The Jewish-Asian offspring are a wonderful example of people who do not fit exactly into such notions of race and ethnicity— we see that their Asian appearance and Jewish religion coexist peacefully and without contradiction. However, there will be those who see this a something of a problem by those who feel that people whose religion, ethnicity and race fit into mutually exclusive categories.

“The Concise Code of Jewish Law: A Guide to the Observance of Shabbat” by Rabbi Gersion Appel, edited by Rabbi Daniel Goldstein— Modern, Up-to-Date and User Friendly

the concise code of jewish law

Appel, Gersion Rabbi. “The Concise Code of Jewish Law: A Guide to the Observance of Shabbat”, edited by Rabbi Daniel Goldstein, OU Press, YU Press, Maggid, May, 2016.

Modern, Up-to-Date and User Friendly

Amos Lassen

“The Concise Code of Jewish Law” was originally conceived and writer by Rabbi Gersion Appel as a four volume comprehensive work but he was only able to successfully complete the first two volumes which were published in 1997 and 1989. His family took it upon itself to update those volumes as well as finish the set by writing the two missing volumes. The concise code was written as a need for the times. The main text comes from halachah and its classic sources and it follows loosely the pattern of the shortened Shulchan Aruch, supplemented by notes that explore issues in greater depth and address a wide variety of contemporary applications.

This is the updated edition by Rabbi Daniel Goldstein, in style as well as in substance and it addresses new technological developments. It includes the halachic decisions of classic works in addition to the rulings of the greatest leading Jewish scholars of the recent past as well as leading scholars today.

“Concise Code is a perfect text for students, as well as all those interested in enhancing their observance of halachah and acquiring greater knowledge about the intricacies of practical halachah in our time”.

Rabbi Appel translated the text loosely from the shortened Shulchan Aruch and emphasized certain laws and added others. Some of the newer laws have taken on more importance than the older ones. Appel also eliminated those that were no longer relevant to modern life and added two elements that he felt were missing— philosophy and the meaning of mitzvoth. He updated he text and made the decision to relegate the Hebrew references to endnotes thus allowing the text to flow.

In this updated edition the writing has been changed from the more formal and many practical applications have been updated and some new ones have been added. We begin with a general introduction to Shabbat with various definitions of the word and move onto the welcoming of Shabbat, prayer and the reading of Torah. We are presented with a long list of the classes of labor that are forbidden, discussions of carrying on Shabbat and additional laws including those for concluding it. (These include laws for illness and treatment, women and childbirth, weekday activities that are forbidden on Shabbat and a section on non-Jews). Finally there are notes on sources and references, codes, responsa and other works, a glossary, a list of annotations from Halacha, an index of subjects and notes on the author.

“Beyond Monogamy: Polyamory and the Future of Polyqueer Sexualities” by Mimi Schippers— Sexual Normalcy?

beyond monogamy

Schippers, Mimi. “Beyond Monogamy: Polyamory and the Future of Polyqueer Sexualities”, (Intersections), NYU Press, 2016.

Sexual Normalcy?

Amos Lassen

Mimi Schippers explores compulsory monogamy as a central feature of sexual normalcy. She argues that compulsory monogamy promotes the monogamous couple as the only legitimate, natural, or desirable relationship and in this way, monogamy supports and legitimizes gender, race, and sexual inequalities. She investigates sexual interactions and relationship forms that include more than just two people, be that polyamory, threesomes, and the ‘down-low,’ by exploring the queer, feminist, and anti-racist potential of non-dyadic sex and relationships. She sets out to give us an intense and serious look at the intersections of society and sexuality by taking us on a journey through these various kinds of sexual relationships. We are to keep in mind that the key word here is sexual. She further looks at why there is such a strong cultural taboo against certain kinds of sexual relationships and what we learn about how society regards gender and sexuality. She examines the “racialized and gendered backdrop against which heterosexuality and monogamy play out in contemporary US culture” and the impacts of non-monogamies on it. In doing so she exposes how hetero-masculinity and mono-normativity are socially constructed and are nowhere near being inevitable.

Schippers blames feminist sexuality scholars for failing to theorize compulsory monogamy as a regime of normalcy that enforces gendered, raced, and classed inequalities thereby showing the importance of expanding how we understand sexual and romantic relationships.

There are several problems that I encountered reading Schippers. First of all this is not a book written for the layman and this knocks out a large percentage of the reading population. As an academic myself, I feel that I can say that. What is really missing here is the concept and practice off bisexuality. Schippers also does not have knowledge or experience with the gay community and it is obvious that she does not want to know about gay and lesbian relationships. The tone with which she writes emphasizes how judgmental she is. I was stunned to read her criticism of a relationship between one man and two women. She claims that the two women engaged in bisexuality only to satisfy the single male and that what they did together was faked.

If you really want to read about this topic this book is a poor place to begin. There is really nothing new here and everything in it is how Schippers alone sees it and how she sees things is narrow.

 

“The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel” by Uri Bar-Joseph— Ashraf Marwan, Egyptian Spy for Israel

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Bar-Joseph, Uri. “The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel”, translated by David Hazony, Harper Collins, 2016.

Ashraf Marwan, Egyptian Spy for Israel

Amos Lassen

As the son-in-law of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and a close advisor to Anwar Sadat, Nasser’s successor, Ashraf Marwan had access to the deepest secrets Egypt’s government. Marwan also had a secret himself— he was a spy for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. Using the codename “The Angel,” Marwan gave Israel very important and classified material. By letting the Mossad know in advance about the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur, he saved Israel from a devastating defeat. Yet I find this a bit troubling. If the Mossad knew in advance that war was coming, why were the armed forces not alerted to this earlier?

Uri Bar Joseph has pieced together Marwan’s story by drawing on meticulous research and interviews with many key participants. We see some new facts about Middle Eastern history. We also see the discord within the Israeli government that brought down Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Marwan was able to elude Egypt’s secret services for many years, but then somebody talked and five years later, in 2007, his body was found in the garden of his London apartment building. Police suspected he had been thrown from his fifth-floor balcony and Bar-Joseph having discovered new evidence is able to reveal what really happened, why happened and who was responsible for Marwan’s death. His death was really no surprise but what lead to his death was quite a mystery for some time. Perhaps it was suicide, perhaps he was trying the two men that witnesses claimed to have seen on his balcony, and perhaps he was murdered. If indeed Marwan was murdered there were several ways to look at it.

Marwan was involved in many shady business deals. Then there were possibly hit men from Egypt, the country he had betrayed for thirty years as a spy for Israel. Scotland Yard investigated but was unable to solve the case and it is still unsolved. Bar-Joseph could not solve it yet he has put together many important facts and intimate details about Marwan’s life that it almost impossible to read and think that with all he knows, he is unable to solve the murder.

Marwan was perfectly placed to deliver information to the Israelis. In the years leading up to the Yom Kippur war of 1973, he gave them specific Egyptian war plans and material on Cairo’s weapons deals with the Soviet Union. He had numerous meetings in London over the years with his Mossad handler, a partnership that lasted until 1998.

Marwan had his reasons for committing treason—he was a narcissist, he was bored and he wanted to live a life filled with luxury something he was unable to do on his government salary from Egypt. He might also felt retribution for his father-in-law, Gamal Nasser who didn’t fully trust his son-in-law and often tried to cut him out of important decision-making. Here is where I find it difficult to understand how Israel could have been caught so unready when the Egyptians and Syrians launched a surprise attack on Yom Kippur? We want to know why so many soldiers were fasting and in synagogue that year, why all of Israel’s military reserves mobilized had not been mobilized. Bar-Joseph stares that this was because there were elements in Israel’s security apparatus that felt sure that “the Angel” was a double agent sent from Cairo to sell disinformation. There were also many who believed that Sadat would never attack until Egypt was able to close its military gap with Israel.

Bar-Joseph discounts the double-agent theory and claims that the  villain is Major General Eli Zeira, Israel’s director of military intelligence at the time of the 1973 war. Zeira never thought Marwan was credible, and Bar-Joseph says that it was this led to Israel’s military being so unprepared. Bar-Joseph has synthesized the voluminous Israeli government information about Marwan and searched for any kind of turn that would explain this better. Marwan’s funeral was attended by a host of Egyptian elite. President Hosni Mubarak, who was in Ghana at a summit, issued a statement that lauded Marwan “a true patriot of his country.” At that point, Marwan’s deceit was well known inside Egypt’s government, but it was a source of such deep national embarrassment that he was buried a hero. Not only was his life was a lie, but so was his death.

Marwan was an intelligence disaster that almost doomed Egypt. His story is a suspenseful tale of a dangerous life and a mysterious death. Marwan changed the course of history in the Middle East and we see how little we actually know about something we thought we understood. Ashraf Marwan was the most valuable source the Mossad had ever recruited and we are just leaning his story now.

 

“The 9/11 Generation: Youth, Rights, and Solidarity in the War on Terror” by Sunaina Marr Maira— Coming of Age with the Question of Political Engagement

the 911 generation

Maira, Sunaina Marr. “The 9/11 Generation: Youth, Rights, and Solidarity in the War on Terror”, NYU Press, 2016.

Coming of Age with the Question of Political Engagement

Amos Lassen

I am sure that we call agree that the world today is much different than it was before 9/11/01. National security has become more intense for Muslims and Arab Americans and those young people who have come of age at this time have done so when political engagement is urgent. To understand what is political subjecthood and mobilization for Arab, South Asian, and Afghan American youth, Sunaina Marr Maira uses ethnography to look at how young people from those communities who have been targeted in the War on Terror deal with the “political” by building coalitions based on new racial and ethnic categories at a time when they are under constant scrutiny and surveillance. These bonds have been organized around ideas of civil rights and human rights. We gat an intense look at the possibilities and problems of rights-based organizing at a time when the vocabulary of rights and democracy is being used to justify imperial interventions like, for example, the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maira explores political solidarity in cross-racial and interfaith alliances at a time when American nationalism is understood as not just multicultural but also post-racial.

Maira shares stories of post-9/11 youth activism through key debates dealing with neoliberal democracy, humanitarianism and the “radicalization” of Muslim youth, gender. Young people today do not accept contest the uncomplicated way the categories ‘Muslim’ and ‘youth’ are framed as dangerous. They use their activism to bridge race and faith by using what they know of the civil rights movement and they critique of empire and as they find ways to change the world. The book takes us through the impact of the Global War on Terror on Afghan American, Arab American and South Asian American youth and it is a very important book.

“Contemporary Israel: New Insights and Scholarship” edited by Frederick E. Greenspahn— Competition and Contradiction

contemporary Israel

Greenspahn, Frederick E. (editor) “Contemporary Israel: New Insights and Scholarship”, (Jewish Studies in the Twenty-First Century), NYU Press, 2016.

Competition and Contradiction

Amos Lassen

Israel gets a lot of attention simply because, it is bastion of democracy in an area of the world where there are no other democratic nations. Then there are those that see Israel as “a racist outpost of Western colonialism”. Looking back at Israel’s short history, we see that it was in 1967 when the rest of the world actually began paying attention to the country whose military prowess shocked both a Jewish and gentile world that was world still dealing with the sense of powerlessness that overtook everyone with the Holocaust. Israel, at that point, became a symbol of romanticism and she became the little country that could”. Today Israel’s supporters speak with great pride about her technological achievements while her opponents blame almost every problem in the region, if not beyond, on her imperialistic aspirations.

We see Israel as a place of contradiction and competition. This is what “Contemporary Israel” is all about. There is so much more to Israel than just the conflict in the Middle East and the country has changed drastically during he short life.

These views of modern Israel are the subject of this book.  There is much to consider about modern Israel besides the Middle East conflict. I moved to Israel before the country was fifteen years old and I can say with a sense of nostalgia (and sometimes great disappointment) that the Israel we have today is not the one I went to build. We have had a great deal of writing about the various aspects of the country, “including its approaches to citizenship and immigration, the arts, the women’s movement, religious fundamentalism, and language”. However, most of this has been academic and left to the academy to write about. Frederick Greenspahn has collected essay ten essays under four topics— history, society, religion and identity to give us insight to the contemporary nation that Israel has become and while these essays do not attempt to solve any of the problems that the nation faces, it indeed does present a sample of contemporary scholars’ discoveries and discussions about modern Israel in a very accessible way. In each of the areas discussed, we have competing narratives that shed light on the achievements and the problems that are part of the country.

Through the essays presented here, we are given a look at the both the myths and the realities of the State of Israel. Many of Israel’s images have been inherited from the past and have become part of the memories of those who pay attention to the country and these images do not fit the reality of the country today. Today, she is a country that must deal with the reality of the world around here as she copes new social challenges.

The writers here are all leading researchers and they provide us with a great deal of information Israel’s diverse population, its national and sub-national identities, and how the country has transformed public and private spaces. There are no partisan polemics; instead we get a deep look into a society that is multifaceted and gain understanding of Israel’s relationship to herself and to the Jewish Diaspora.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Siddur Nehalel” by Michael Haruni, Rabbi Daniel Landes and Rabbi Tzvi Grumet— Meeting the Modern Challenge

neha the best cover

Haruni, Michael, Rabbi Daniel Landes and Rabbi Tzvi Grumet. “Siddur Nehalel ”, Nevarech 2016.

Meeting the Modern Challenge

Amos Lassen

Prayer can be a challenging ideal as we are to pray while being focused on the act of prayer. This is experienced as much by people who pray regularly and devoutly as by those less familiar with a prayer book. The two-volume siddur “Nehalel” was created to assist meeting this challenge. It uses photographs that depict the meanings of the texts and directs our attention to what our prayers are about.

nehalel1

The power of photographs makes this a siddur for holding as it helps us achieve an awareness of the meanings in prayer. The liturgy celebrates the Creator of our spectacular environment, the cosmic, the universal human environment as well as the national. It recounts the catastrophes in our history, of destruction and exile, and then turns us to our redemptions and on almost every page we point to Jerusalem as the symbol of that complete redemption we desire to achieve.

The images in “Nehalel” reflect these different themes. The photos are contemporary and historical; of the natural order, and of human reality. Some have been taken out of the archives and include the darkest periods of our history as well as the triumphs and wonders of modern Zionism. Through the photographs, we see the relevance of the liturgy to our lives.

Extensive resources have gone into ensuring that the fully orthodox Hebrew text is reliable and accurate, keeping the dedication to tradition, The Hebrew font used is graceful and readable. It incorporates state-of-the-art unobtrusive pronunciation symbols.

neha12

The new English translation is literal and contemporary and faithful to the Hebrew. This is a prayer book that uses the power of visual connections to deepen the prayer experience. Thephotography is Zionist and boldly Jewish in ethos, reflecting values of learning, charity, family, awe of God, and the wonder of creation. A majority of the new siddur’s prayers and passages are accompanied by photographs.  For example, there is a sunlit view of earth’s atmosphere illustrates the Aleinu, the idea that God “stretches out the sky and establishes the world”; Psalm 27 is accompanied by a bald teen with cancer a plea not to be abandoned by God; the concept of deliverance found in “V’yatziv,” the prayer immediately following the Shema, is depicted with both death camp liberation scenes and photos from the Israeli airlift of Ethiopian Jews, Operation Solomon; the notion of God lifting up those who are bowed down in Psalm 146 is illustrated with a photo of Israel paraplegic tennis champion Genedi Kahanov.

There are some prayers that do not have photographs such as the Shema and the first pages of the Amidah. Michael Haruni, a Jerusalem-based editor and translator who developed the siddur feels that a photo’s content will create awareness within the reader, and merge with the act of prayer. “The photo should become part of a whole thought directed at God.”

Haruni, has said that this is the first set of siddurim that engages photography of this magnitude into the act of prayer and that uses spot color type in the text to connect photos with words in a prayer: The lines of text on the page that appear in color is are meant to signal a connection to the photos.

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We are to let our imagination beyond the photographs. The siddur uses male personal pronouns of “Him” and “His” for God. There are no photos of men and women together in prayer or study.  The editors avoid the issue of women wearing tallit or tefillin by illustrating the third paragraph of the Shema with tallitot, but other photos of tefillin-in-use are exclusively male. While photographic inclusion of women is generally even-handed, in both content and interpretation of the prayers, this is an Orthodox siddur that should also appeal to traditionalists for prayer. It should also serve as an excellent companion in deepening an understanding of the traditional liturgy, no matter the individual’s denomination.

Using the siddur for prayer will be a challenge for those who struggle with Zionism or prefer a more egalitarian volume. Yet everyone who loves Jewish prayer should study these prayers and photographs, learning from them and being inspired by them. We see the sanctity in individual creativity and what a thinking Jew is able to accomplish. There are currently two volumes, one for Shabbat and one for weekdays.

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“Prince of the Sea” by Jon Michaelsen— Another Look

prince of the sea

Michaelsen, Jon. “Prince of the Sea” Lethe Press, 2015.

Another Look

Amos Lassen

Every so often I will read a book for review and think to myself that I will return to that book when there is no pressure to review it; to read it for the pure pleasure of reading. That is when I did “Prince of the Sea by Jon Michaelsen. I am glad I did because I found that I had not said all that I could. This is the story of Paul and Jonathan, a gay couple that has been together for ten years. It seems that the passion that the men once shared is not what it once was. Jonathan thought that a vacation together might put a little kick back into their relationship. Jonathan rented a cottage on the beach off of the Georgia coast on Tybee Island. Jonathan had grown up there and it was a very special place for him and he looked forward to sharing it with Paul.

However, Paul went to Chicago to deal with a client and left Jonathan alone and even more upset than he had been about where their relationship was going. He decides to go on to the cottage alone and there he had surprise meeting with a very mysterious stranger. While this helped to take his mind off of Paul, it gave him the chance to find love for while but it did not take long, Jonathan found himself in a dark place he that knew nothing about.

Jon Michaelsen excels at writing descriptions and the way he painted the island had me feeling that I was actually there. This is quite a contrast to what we know about the stranger who seems to be covered with a sense of mystery.

Combining mystery, romance, myth and well-developed characters, Michaelsen gives us a novel that is paced well and that keeps us interested and reading. Jonathan does not hear much from Paul aside from short phone calls and he has serious doubts about how Paul feels and that perhaps with the two had is headed now to an different place. Since he is alone, Jonathan decides to make the best of his vacation. He decides to spend time on the beach and there he meets Lucius who had once been the guy h had a crush on when they both were young. When he saw Lucius walking down the beach and realizes that he is still attracted to him. Jonathan does not want to acknowledge his feelings because of Paul and also because he knows that his vacation is short and does not want to be hurt nor did he does he want to hurt Lucius. However, he is also very aware that the longer Paul stays away, the more time he has to cultivate a friendship (if not more) with his old flame.

But then, one of the locals wants Lucius gone because he fears him. This puts Jonathan in a situation of having to make serious decisions. Jon wanted to try to work things out while Paul seemed to want hurt Jonathan. Michaelsen is a fine writer and this book attests to that.