“How I Stopped Being a Jew” by Shlomo Sand— What Jewish Means

how i stopped being a jewSand, Shlomo. “How I Stopped Being a Jew”, 
 
Verso, 2014.

What Jewish Means

Amos Lassen

Shlomo Sand was born in a displaced persons camp in Austria in 1946. His mother was Jewish but his father was not (which made him a Jew since the religion goes from mother to child). His family eventually migrated to what was then known as Palestine and Sand, as a young man, questioned his Jewish identity even as a secular Jew. Now he shares with us from his own thoughts and essays his personal feelings at the problems of a modern Jewish identity.

Sand discusses the negative effects of the Israeli exploitation of the “chosen people” myth and its ‘holocaust industry.’” He criticizes the fact that, in the current context, what “Jewish” means is, above all, not being Arab and gives us his thoughts about the possibility of a secular, non-exclusive Israeli identity, beyond the legends of Zionism. He grew up among Jews and tried to understand the social integrity of Israel as a state. Israel, “a Jewish state” is also made up of non-Jewish religions, but those who follow these religions do not enjoy the benefits of being Israeli citizens.

Sand also writes about the over exploitation of history for the good of religion. The number of deaths during the Holocaust, he writes, is not limited to Jews (six million) but that were also as many as five million other deaths of people of other religions. History does not always mention this and the benefits (German reparations), Sand claims, are collected only by Jews. As a result of this and other issues, Sand demands to be “stripped of the (his) Jewish identity”.

This just might be the weirdest book I have ever read. Sand seems to think that regarding Israel there was some kind of conspiracy theory. He claims that Israeli historians have suppressed the Khazar theory that says that the Ashkenazi community came from ancestors who were medieval Slavic converts and that the theory maintains there is no history of Zionism but rather an anti-history. Therefore there is no such thing as the Jewish people. However he cites no evidence for this.

He goes even further by rejecting his Jewish religion because it is a “genocidal Yahwestic tradition.” He cannot identify with secular Jews, since they have no common culture — no shared language, customs or literature. He says that the great modern Jewish writers such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth did not look at and/or explore Jewish themes in their writings and instead wrote of and with an “Eastern European sensibility.” Jewish humor therefore becomes “Yiddish-Slavic humor since it was never shared and Jews “… do not experience today joys or pains shared by other secular Jews the world over.” Therefore he announces that he wishes to resign from the Jewish religion and no longer think of himself as a Jew.

He has no awareness that Judaism can be looked at and defined by “the tensions between universalism and tribalism” and that there is not and never was a Jewish culture. and schlemiels.

There is really nothing original here—all we get is a union of memoir, unfounded history and ideas about Jewish identity that he has taken from others. He seems to be trying to prove that being Jewish is an onus and a terrible thing. He appears to hate other Jews (those aside from himself) and he regards himself very highly.

Sand does ask an important question here by saying that there is a closeness between an essentialist Jewish identity and how Israel treats its non-Jews. No doubt there are those who claim Israel is a haven for Muslims and everything is great in Gaza. However, those who seek intellectual honesty have to admit that there is a contradiction “between Western ideals and an ethno-religious government that humiliates and brutalizes people under its jurisdiction”. American Jews must decide why they support a situation in Israel that they would never allow happen here.

“Wave Goodbye to Charlie” by Eric Arvin— Meet Charlie

wave goodbye to charlie

Arvin, Eric. “Wave Goodbye to Charlie”, Wilde City Press, 2014.

Meet Charlie

Amos Lassen

Charlie is a hustler, a runaway, a ghost, a loner and the keeper of the carnival. He feels that the carnival is his most important job and even though it has seen many better days, he feels obligated to take care of it even though he has not officially been hired to do so. Charlie says it is the only place he ever felt at home and he has lived other lives. He says that he is now “one year past the age anyone gives a shit”.

Have you ever stopped to wonder what death is all about? None of us really know because no one has ever come back to tell us yet death is an important fact of life.  Death and Charlie come together here in Eric Arvin’s new book, “Wave Goodbye to Charlie”.

Actually Charlie Boyd is a young runaway who lives off of the profits he makes selling his body. He lives at the carnival and is friends with the ghosts that haunt the old place. His life seems over before it even began yet he has something to take care of before he…

My description so far is of a story that sounds pretty dismal. However this is a story of love and friendship and the family—the one we make and not the one we are born into. It is also a tale of evil and despair—the kind of feeling one has when nothing goes his way.

Eric Arvin was one of the first writers that I ever reviewed and I have been following his work over the years and reviewing whatever he writes. I have watched his writing mature and I have seen how comfortable he is using imagery and lyrical, beautiful language even when the subject is far from pretty. This story combines the best of Arvin—his imagery here is wonderful as is his prose and here is a novel that is emotional and poetic in style.

This is a story that will keep you thinking long after you close the covers. Arvin once again creates a colorful and lively cast of characters from Charlie to his surrogate fathers to Nessa, Alfie and the others—we find a whole new group of friends here.

Going back to death for a moment, I believe it is the greatest fear we have because it comes unexpectedly and it is such a mystery. Because it is the unknown, we fear it and because we fear it, we question it. Here death takes on a new role and instead of it being an end, it is a new genesis.

I personally love a book that makes me think and makes me ask myself questions. Eric Arvin does that here with style and grace, compassion and love—the same qualities that have made him such a good friend to so many.

 

“Phantom Four: Dark Evolution” by Roger Wilson— Not Recommended for Children

phantom four

Wilson, Roger. “Phantom Four: Dark Evolution”, Roger Wilson, 2014.

Not Recommended for Children

Amos Lassen

We have already met the four brothers who become known as the sons of darkness. In the previous volume we learned that they hade a terrible accident and then reappear twenty years later with no memory of the past. As they try to discover who they are, forced to deal with it in violent and sadistic ways as they feel darkness growing inside of them turning them into creatures of the night. Every bit of strength they gain comes with some of the curse.

Now there is a new threat. Black Miriam, a power-hungry sorceress has plans to make the entire world worship her losing their free will. She is totally obsessed with this. At the same time, Satan is seeking his own revenge in subtle methods, and now the brothers’ girlfriends have become increasingly suspicious of their secrecy, and they want answers.

It seems as if the world is depending on the brothers and they begin to feel the weight of this. While this many not be a book for everyone, there is certainly plenty here— action, romance, sex, horror, and a story that you cannot stop reading.

“Rise of the Thing Down Below” by Daniel W. Kelly— Waiting for the Fun to Begin

rise of the thing down below

Kelly, Daniel W. “Rise of the Thing Down Below”, (Comfort Cove #3),  Bold Strokes Books, 2014.

Waiting for the Fun to Begin

Amos Lassen

A New boardwalk attraction is coming to Comfort Cove and the bears and boys who live there cannot wait. It is to be a sexually provocative attraction named SandMen Strip. However, something spoils their fun and their wait. Several bodies wash up on the sand and they are identified as dockworkers.

Local paranormal investigator Deck Waxer investigates the case and suspicion immediately lands on the new young owners of SandMen. But there are others in town to check on and Deck goes to check them out as well. Little Larry Long is a two-and-a-half foot tall artist who has a cocky attitude. Then there is the mayor of Comfort Cove who is hiding something in his mansion and Father Merrin, the local pastor who has been keeping a young psychic with him.

The body count continues to rise and the dockworkers that are still alive begin to blame Deck’s own group of friends who just cannot get enough sex. What everyone seems to have missed is an evolutionary mutation that lives down below….

Let me state early on that I am over the paranormal aspects of gay literature and would love to sit down and read a book about the way we actually live—no shape shifters, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, etc. But I must say Daniel Kelly’s book is very good despite my objections to the other world. I met Kelly a couple of years ago and he impressed with his sincerity to be a writer and while he has not written a great deal, what he has published is all way about average. I might not care for the plot subjects but I must laud the guy for his writing skills. Kelly has the gift of being able to combine humor with the grotesque and gore. Because of this he is able to write what others dare not touch. His characters are also well developed and this book has a large number. However, this is not a book for everyone yet I implore all of you to give it a go. I did not realize at first that this was one of a series and I did not read the ones that came before this but it stood alone just fine.

“Bottled Up Secret” by Brian McNamara— A Love Story

bottled up secret

McNamara, Brian. “Bottled Up Secret”, Bold Strokes Books, 2014.

A Love Story

Amos Lassen

Brendan Madden is a senior at his Catholic high school in Ohio and he is a happy guy. He can choose his college, he has great friends and he is ok with his sexuality. Things get even better for him when he meets Mark Galovic, a classmate of his who just happens to be very good-looking. Brendan is immediately in love with Mark but they are only friends and he does not know if Mark and he “play on the same team”. Summoning up all the courage that he can, he tells Mark how he feels and is rewarded by learning that the feeing is reciprocal. The two boys begin to date even though Mark is not out and must be very discrete. As time goes on, Mark begins to feel paranoia that his secret might be found out.

The two begin to date, but because Mark is not out, it must remain a secret. As their friends and family become suspicious, openly gay Brendan becomes increasingly frustrated with their discreet relationship, while Mark becomes more and more paranoid that they’re going to be found out.

When I read a story that is so filled with emotion as this one is, I cannot help but wonder how much of the story is made-up and how much of it is a reflection of the author’s own life. It really doesn’t matter but I have learned after years of study and reviewing that every story has some of the author in it. It hurts to read about a character like Mark who is so obviously in love with Brendan but is still in the closet. Mark does not have the freedom to celebrate his love for Brendan and therefore neither boy is free to discuss it with anyone else. We know that this is a cause for problems.

Brendan came out easily and with no repercussions even though he is not really out to his parents. Mark was willing to be with Brendan on the condition that no one is to know about it. Brendan’s mother suspects that her son is gay and when he tells her that he is, she tells him to pretend that he is not and this is already hurting him with Mark.

Soon secrets collect other secrets and Brendan’s friends also begin to suspect that something is up between him and Mark. They begin a relationship, under the agreement that no one knows. This causes a lot of problems for Brendan. He has to hide Mark from his friends, and keep his nosy mom out of his business. In fact, his mom picks up on Brendan’s sexuality and while Brendan tells he truth, she is upset. She wants him to deny it, and go on pretending he is not gay. It’s an awkward experience as they are the only people in the house–it leads to a lot of silence.

The secrets seem to pile up around Brendan but he is able to deal with it all in a mature manner although it is hard to do so. He is comfortable with his sexuality but he had not really acted on it until he met Mark who is something of his opposite in terms of knowing who he is and being out. In fact, I believe that Mark is afraid of the way he feels for Brendan and because he is not out, there is a strain on their relationship. I am not going to say any more about the plot because I do not want to include a spoiler. I do, however, want to say that we need more books like this for the younger and upcoming generations, as I am sure others will have similar experiences. I just wish that this had been better written but I am sure McNamara will be just fine given time.

“CITIZEN AUTISTIC”— An Inside Look at Autism

citizen-autistic

“Citizen Autistic”

An Inside Look at Autism

Amos Lassen

“Citizen Autistic” takes us inside the minds of the activists who serve on the front lines of the war against autism offers an inside look at the activists on the frontlines of the autism war that is the fight for human rights and self-advocacy. It features interviews with Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Landon Bryce, founder of thAutcast.com, artist Robyn Steward, Clarissa Kripke, MD, and activist Zoe Gross. They discuss how Autism Speaks, one of the largest organizations in America, relies on propaganda to raise funds for genetic research without considering families touched by autism. The film, directed by William Davenport, wants to expose the controversies provoked by the organization’s so-called advocacy by giving voice to some of the most articulate members of the communities that it claims to represent.

The film focuses on the divide between autistic self-advocates and organizations that are actively seeking a cure for the severe kinds of autism. Some insist that it is a question of civil rights and America’s history of the civil rights movement has been dominated by progress that activists had to work hard to achieve. Oppressed and marginalized citizens have had to stand up and demand recognition, respect, and equal access to the benefits of modern society. Director Davenport shows us autistic activists and self-advocates on the front lines of this struggle for inclusion, and freedom from persecution. This documentary details what the emerging neurodiversity movement is up against, from the torturous electroshock “treatment” that takes place at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts, to the dehumanizing and alarmist marketing campaigns of fundraising juggernaut Autism Speaks. The idea of a philosophy of neurological variation is simply another aspect of human diversity and these activists embody the call of the disability rights movement: “Nothing About Us, Without Us”.

We must ask ourselves as educated human beings who care about others if the film’s message needlessly divisive or does its message needed to guarantee the acceptance, representation and support for autistic people? I can see how this film is relevant to those working in autism and I wondered if I would really like to see it. When I did watch, I was blown away by it and realized that autism is everyone’s concern.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and autism are general terms for several disorders of development in the brain. The results vary and include difficulty in social interaction and in verbal and nonverbal communication as well as repetitive behaviors. It can also be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and issues dealing with attention and physical health. The roots of the disease appear to be in early brain development. I am amazed at how little I knew about autism before seeing this film and I see here that the activists are true heroes. A film like this can make all of us so much more aware and that is only one reason to see it. In fact, I categorize it as a must-see.

“In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate” by Tim Parise— Coming Together

in the name of God

Parise, Tim. “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”, The Maui Company, 2014.

Coming Together

Amos Lassen

When two young Iranian teens are sentenced to death because they were involved in a three-year homosexual relationship, every gay civil rights organization in the Western world protested. That was all they did because they felt that it was the adequate thing to do. However, there is someone who disagrees with this; Major Matthew Martin, a teacher at the Marine Corps University who feels that the action is not enough.

Martin is having a bit of a rough time right now—he has had his duties taken from him because of a controversial speech he gave at a local high school and having nothing else to do he enlists a few other Marines who are not happy and he decides to organize something—an invasion of Iran to stop the murder of the gay teens and rescuing them. He has connections with military contractors in Afghanistan and it all seems like the plan could work…at first. But someone the news of this leaked and the Iranian government moves the teens and mobilizes the arm to close all routes of escape. What happens next is that four gay Marines (yes, you read that correctly) go up against 50,000 Iranian troops in their attempt to rescue the boys. Their cause now becomes one of international concern and while the teens had once been just other convicts they now become a cause célèbre.

How often do we pick up a book that pulls us in on the first page? For me that is a rare occasion but this book had me with the very first sentence. It is not easy to bring two controversial subjects together in a singe volume but author Tim Parise has tackled the anti-homosexual agenda of the Iranian government and being gay in the U.S. Marines and brought them together seamlessly and provides us with a read that will not be easily forgotten. In fact, I finished reading the book 2 days ago and I cannot get it out of my mind.

Parise does not limit himself to just the issue of the two young men. He takes to Bahrain where the government is taking action against the pro-democracy activists who have become more vocal and more demanding about reform. Asim, a student of computers is almost arrested but he manages to run and finds himself in an underground organization of hackers whose goal it is to bring down the government. The head of this operation is an imam who feels that an Islamic state is an impossibility and cannot be allowed to exist. He takes his reasoning from the Muslim Holy book, the Quran and maintains that all existing states are nothing more than idols and this is a position that places his group at immediate and lethal odds with the government of Bahrain.

And yes, there is more. We go back to the United States where Republican congressman Mark Randall is meeting with freshman representative Michael Elliott.  It seems that Randall has been a bit too out of the closet  so that Elliott’s husband, a magazine editor has discovered his recent affair with a party operative. Elliott agrees not to allow the information to be printed if Randall casts the vote necessary to make the Equal Marriage Act to become law.

So here we have three different subplots going on simultaneously and the amazing thing is that we do not get lost with what is going on. To me that is the sign of a good writer—someone who juggle things smoothly and we are really not aware of it. It is something akin a good movie director when we do not feel his hand on every frame. So what we have here is Randall searching for a way out of his ticklish situation, the government of Bahrain teetering after information gets out and a U.S. Marine Major disappearing in Iran with nothing but arguments and debates about what he has done as his legacy.

 And while Randall searches for a way out of his predicament, and the Bahraini government is rocked by one disclosure after another, Major Martin disappears into the heart of Iran, leaving nothing behind except a trail of argument and debate over the merits of his actions.

One would think that with so many characters that it must be hard to get a grip on any of them but the opposite is true. Once you are drawn into the story, you realize that everything falls perfectly into place and the story and the characters merge. When Parise write to me about his book along with a synopsis, I was doubtful that he could pull it off—it all sounded way to busy. How wrong I was.  Have since learned that Parise has written other books however this seems to be the first with a gay theme. He is going to have a tough attack act to follow after this book but I feel sure he will be able too judging from the way he handled this book. Do I recommend it? I can answer that with the question—have I not made you curious to find out how it all ends?

 

 

“Springtime 1962, The Lawson YMCA” by Owen Keehnen— A Found Diary

springtime

Keehnen, Owen. “Springtime 1962, The Lawson YMCA”, Wilde City Press, 2014.

A Found Diary

Amos Lassen

When a diary is found in a bookstore, the owner opens and learns that it is an intimate look at a man whose name is Joseph. As he continues reading the entries, the owner sees that he is now becoming part of a passionate gay romance between an older man and a younger one, both retail workers in Chicago in the spring of 1962.

Joseph is a man in his 40s who worked at a downtown department store and one day a new worker by the name of Clint was hired. Clint was in his early 20s and quite muscular. One day Joseph saw Clint at the Lawson YMCA and he understand that they both actually live there. Before long the two men begin spending time together doing the things people do—movies, lunching, working out, etc and they fell in love with other but in a closeted way which was the rule of the times. This was one of the reasons that made them think that what they shared could never be. Over time David learns that Clint has a secret that could not only threaten what they have together but could also ruin any futures they might want to have.

There is a sense of mystery here. The man who narrates the story is the never-named owner of the bookstore and we are also in the dark as to when this takes place. All we can be sure of is that is later than the 60s.

What we do know is that before Clint, Joseph did not have much of a life—he works and enjoys the gym at the Y but that is about it aside from what he finds in the steam room of the YMCA and occasional forays to the movies where he sometimes finds sex in the balcony.

I  felt a little guilty reading the diary and it was as if I had intruded on someone who did not want to be open about who he was. However, because it is a diary, reading it was someone interesting because I knew I should not be doing so. That also made the read move along very quickly because of the hope of getting to the juicy parts. I could not help but remember how it was back then when being gay was a crime and the news carried the names of those busted in raids. It was as if I was looking back at that time that the youngsters of today have no idea about. When we reach the end we find that this diary reading is a lot of fun and can only hope that we will be able to continue with it in another book. For me, this is the sign of a good writer. He makes us want more but constructing his novel in that way.

Author Owen Keehnen is a man you can depend on to give a good story—I have read and reviewed most of his prose and have never been disappointed. I am sure that other readers will agree.

“MOMMY”— The Grand Prizewinner at Cannes

mommy poster

“Mommy”

The Grand Prize Winner at Cannes

Amos Lassen

Anne Dorval is Diane “Die” Despres or Mommy, a “beautiful women with soul, will and strength, not victims.” She is a self-assured force of nature, as she navigates her relationship with her punchy, mercurial, out-of-control, ADHD-addled teenage son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon). Steve has just come home from a special care facility. He is alternately provocative and seductive in his relationship with Die and with Kyla (Suzanne Clément), his mousy, introverted teacher-neighbor who becomes the third in this ménage.

mommy

This is Xavier Dolan’s fifth feature film and again he brings us a totally original and exceptional movie. “Mommy” is an audacious, visually compelling film driven by extraordinary performances and Dolan’s incredible artistry. There are similarities here with one of his earlier films, “I Killed my Mother” but this film is indeed one to watch having won three awards at the prized Cannes Film Festival. “Mommy” follows the mother’s perspective of the relationship instead of that of the son’s did in the earlier film. Here Dolan not only seems more assured of himself as a filmmaker but appears to have developed into quite an auteur as well.  After all, he took the risk of creating a film so close in theme to another of his works is something of a chance to take but it is in this new film that Dolan demonstrates his disturbingly instinctual talent. Because he revisits the mother-son theme, he is strengths both his storytelling as well as his understanding of the unique relationship. In the five years since his earlier film, he has grown from adolescent to adult and has shifted from youthful intuition to maturity and here the result is fascinatingly brilliant.

The story is about a newly widowed mother and the struggles she has raising her teenaged son who suffers from ADHD. We first meet her when she picks up her son, Steve, from a dentition center where he has been expelled for bad behavior. The two, mother and son, try to rebuild their lives. They meet Kyla, their mysterious neighbor who is dealing with her own problems and demons and they bond; she helps Steve with his schoolwork and gives support to Mommy.

Mommy2

The acting in this book is brilliant—each actor is wonderful by himself and when they come together their raw portrayals are dynamic especially in that they are playing emotionally complex individuals. We see Clement as Kyla combating her extreme anxieties and everything about her is perfect—her movement and her timing. It is as if she hypnotizes the audience—it is that hard to take our eyes off of her. Pilon as Steve is absolutely amazing—he becomes the tortured, violent young man that he portrays, a teen who cannot cope in the normal day-to-day because of his debilitating disorder.  Pilon, who is quite young, beautifully shows the dichotomy of this complex character, painfully revealing the intensity and panic of a son willing to do just about anything for his mother. Dorval as Mommy, is heartbreaking as a woman trying to keep her family together, believing she can change things if only she upholds hope. As she is the center character of the film and it is through her that the story unfolds. She is inspiring, hard-edged, quick-witted and brave, she is an inspiration and Dorval is both breathtaking and unforgettable She dominates every scene she is in.

Director Dolan understands how to utilize the fundamentals of film and gives us a story at its utmost simplest and finest. It is the human element that drives his narratives and this is what makes his films so interesting to watch. It almost feels as if these individuals are stuck in this perfectly square box, their world opening up to full screen only during certain moments of pure joy and release, merely to have the walls slowly close in on them once more, as the certainty of life eventually catches up to them.

mommy3

Dolan’s work uses the themes of frustration, love and communication. We see that one cannot live without the other, that the three structures are bound together rather tightly. This is Dolan’s most visceral and emotionally effective film. 

“Strange Flesh: The Bible and Homosexuality” by Steve Wells— The Big Question

strange flesh

Wells, Steve. “Strange Flesh: The Bible and Homosexuality”,  SAB Books, 2014.

The Big Question

Amos Lassen

If you want an answer to the question of what the Bible really says about homosexuality, then you must consider who to ask. Here, author Steve Wells presents both the scriptural arguments that conservatives use to condemn homosexuality and the more liberal interpretations espoused by modern progressives. The answers are miles apart yet this book presents both of the possibilities and lets us decide which we want to use. He does so with and understanding as well as irreverence. The book “disarms the most ubiquitous weapon in the arsenal against LGBT rights.” I say have a look and then think it over.