A Personal History
Ari Shavit is an influential Israel journalist and he shares with us his personal history of his country. He reflects on the pressures that Israel is now facing after giving us a look at the most moments of Zionist history.
Shavit’s great-grandfather was a British Zionist. In 1897, he visited the Holy Land on a Thomas Cook tour and understood right away that this was to be the future of the Jewish people. He bought land there and in the 1920s, he began to grow Jaffa oranges and they went on to be an integral part of the economy of the country. In the 1940s, he became a youth grew leader and went on to transform Masada into a powerful symbol of Jewish resistance and the Zionist movement. We are reminded of stories once heard and probably forgotten. Here we read of a small country surrounded by enemies and that plays such a crucial role in world politics.
The existence of Israel is, without question, one of the great accomplishments of Jewish history and we must not only appreciate that but it must also be a part of us. Granted we did always do the right thing but we must accept the fact that the state is ours and we achieved it at great cost. Shavit gives us a book about Zionism yet not bound by it. He understands Israel and he shows us how to do the same. We also sense his love for his country and his reverence for history and tradition.
The strongest aspect of “My Promised Land” is when Shavit writes about individuals and while his portrait of Israel is not optimistic, it is honest. He sees the peace progress as no longer alive and this is because the Palestinians have no single, strong leader who can see a solution through that will grant national security for Israel. If this is not a condition of peace, then there will never be a solution to the situation. When he was a member of the Israel Defense Forces, he served on the West Bank and is convinced that the control that Israel. He looks at all of Israel and while much is not to his liking, none of what he sees is strange. He sees the reality of the Jewish state and he truly loves it.
Shavit is one of Israel’s leading columnists. He voices his empathy for the tragedy of the Palestinians and the Israel/Arab struggle for the land. He is able to bring the history of Israel to life and through his writing, we learn of the politics of the country and we are aware of what it means for Israel to sit at the center of world politics.
We also know that he is aware of his own political biases—he is a left wing journalist who is opposed to occupation but he is also fair and balanced. As a man who is very pro-Israel (and who sees and understands the problems), I feel a bit troubled about this book. It is Shavit’s position that the present Israel/Palestine conflict dates back to 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel. He maintains (and will probably be challenged) that it was Ben Gurion and Rabin who ordered the expulsion of 35,000 Palestinians from the city of Lod (Lydda).
On the other hand he writes of the glory of Zionism and the miracles that have come about because of it. He is extremely critical of the Israel peace movement because it sees that the threat to the existence of Israel can be solved by withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza. He describes the threats from the Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians as well as from Iran with her nuclear power. We do not feel comforted while reading this book but that comes from what he sees as truth.
There is one major problem with the book and that is the lack of citations and footnotes. Because of that, it cannot be considered the definitive book on Israel. On the other hand, Shavit writes as if the reader and the author are engaged in a conversation. Even with my criticism about the lack of citations, the book is totally worthwhile for the character sketches it provides. Shavit criticizes Israel of the way she behaves in the occupied territories yet he totally embraces Zionism. However, he skips over the role of religion and it seems to me, at least, that he does not understand or else just chooses not to show the differences between the National Religious Party and the religious communities in his country. In fact, some maintain that the religious divide is a greater problem than the Arab/Israeli divide. Many religious Israelis do not work nor do they do military duty. Shavit claims not to praise and not to blame yet he does both.
The story here begins with the creation of the state. He has his opinion of what the Zionist mission was and still is. He condemns those who are guilty of crimes against the state yet he acknowledges had it not been for those who committed these crimes, there would not be the nation of Israel.
The Gay-Themed Naz + Maalik, Which Explores Stereotypes About Muslims, Seeks Funding
There are all sorts of gay-themed films released but very few of them concentrate on queer Muslims. However the upcoming indie Naz + Maalik take that on, while exploring stereotypes and the pressures put on young Muslim men. The film has already been shot, but it’s now looking for funding on Kickstarter to get it completed and into film festivals.
Here’s the synopsis: ‘A decade into the War on Terror, two first-generation Muslim teens – friends, classmates, business partners, lovers – spend their Friday hustling the streets of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. While deciding whether to tell their community about their homosexuality, Naz and Maalik’s ambiguous and secretive relationship unknowingly sets an FBI agent on their trail. As the agent grows convinced that the boys are engaged in “violent radicalism,” her pursuit becomes increasingly menacing and the stakes surrounding the boys’ hapless hustling and lies grow. What began as a struggle to protect their sexual identities evolves into a crisis much larger – a fight to stay alive.’
The film was inspired by interviews director Jay Dockendorf’s conducted after being appalled by FBI and police tactics following 9/11. He did indeed find that one couple’s secret relationship was enough to get the authorities investigating them.
The director commented to HuffPo, “The film considers Islamophobia through the lens of homophobia and homophobia through the lens of racism. I know they’re very separate issues, but for some people, real people on whom these characters are based, they’re completely linked and the balance is delicate. ”
If you’d like to help out, head over to Kickstarter.
Grey, Dorien. “The 9th Man” (A Dick Hardesty Mystery), Audiobook, 2013.
Listening to Dorien
I am somewhat new to audiobooks having only “listened to books” a handful of times but I must say that what I have heard, I have liked a great deal. Dorien Grey’s has now released “The 9th Man” as an audiobook and it is read beautifully by Jeff Frez-Albrect. I am familiar with the Dick Hardesty series as they have appeared in print and when I have reviewed them in the past, they have garnered praise from me. Hearing a story now puts it in a whole new perspective.
The story, quite basically, is about a serial killer who randomly targets gay men and kills them in very strange ways. The police force is bound up in homophobia and has no interest in solving the murders. The number of dead continues to grow. Private detective Dick Hardesty takes on the case and he wants who and why and if the dead had something in common.
Grey, aside from being a good writer, knows the formula for a good mystery. I wondered how he would transfer it to sound and I can tell you that he does so beautifully. I am used to looking at how a writer draws his characters and it is really interesting to hear this instead of just read it. Hardesty is the narrator so we see everything through his eyes. We have the crimes, the man responsible who is yet unknown, suspects, intrigue and clues so we would think that all Hardesty has to do is follow what he knows and solve it. Bit of course it will not be that easy. Grey wants us to know Hardesty and slowly we learn about him as we are given now and then a little bit of information. In effect we are following both the man and the crime at the same time. We also learn about him through the way he interacts with the other characters. As we discover what happened during the crime, we also learn about Hardesty. We really need to know him in order to understand how he soles the crime. We come to know him as one of the old-fashioned detectives. Grey gives us some clues but just enough to keep us guessing. I love that Hardesty is a kind of everyman. He could be anyone of us and for me that make him special.
Grey also manages to include both humor and a bit of eroticism but this is not a story about sex. It is a crime story first and foremost and that a character study of the protagonist, Dick Hardesty. The way it sounds makes it seem very real. Now my curiosity is piqued and I want to hear all of the Hardesty stories but I guess I will just have to wait.
BE IN A KINSEY SICKS MUSIC VIDEO — WITH YOUR FRIENDS, FAMILY, CO-WORKERS, PETS, STRANGERS ON THE STREET, ETC
“Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets” by Lars Eighner— Twenty Years Later
Eighner, Lars. “Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets”, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013.
Twenty Years Later
I used to think that I knew I was getting older when I had to sit down to put on trousers or that I realized that I have become one of the people I used to say no to. Now I understand that a sure sign is having a book reprinted that I read twenty years ago. On December 3, 2013, St. Martin’s Griffin will rerelease Lars Eighner’s “Travels with Lizbeth”, the story of a man and his dog who survive while having to face some really precarious situations. It contains a new afterword by Eighner. What I found amazing as I reread the book this afternoon is that it is still relevant and an interesting read that indeed has something to say.
The world is surely a different place than when gay Eighner lived a homeless life as the last decade of the 80s drew to a close. There he was, in Austin, Texas and alone except for Lizbeth as his companion. Here is an up-close and personal look at America, the America that most of us never see and hope we will never see. He had to dumpster dive for food, fight against fire ants, deal with welfare agencies, police and dog catchers and continuously be on the lookout for a place to spend the night. Life is not easy for the homeless and depending on “the kindness of strangers” became a way of life. If you have ever faced a period of time when you had no money and no idea that you would have any than you know what Eighner was dealing with. Yet he tells us all about it with brave humor, wonderful description and total sincerity. It is hard to imagine what it is like to live with just enough for an occasional cigarette, dog food and a shower curtain used for shelter. I was reminded all too well of how I lived after I lost it all to Hurricane Katrina.
There is nothing sentimental about being homeless and having to depend upon “hitchhikers, Good Samaritans, petty bureaucrats and lost souls who, through reasons besides simple irresponsibility, happen to find themselves on the streets.” Even though it all has a happy ending it is somewhat bittersweet to read especially because of Lizbeth. There is nothing typical about Lars Eighner; we see that he is a good writer and from that we know that he was not a typical homeless person. Reading this made me wonder how many others like him are on the streets today. Eighner is intelligent and honest, humane and authentic and totally original. There is so much to be learned here now since our economy is in such bad shape and many are just a few steps from the street.
It is the author’s wit that makes this such a delightful read. He writes with clarity and honesty and even though he is homeless he is not angry and he, all by himself, rips apart the stereotype of the homeless. The homelessness continues for three years and he tells us about the welfare system of the country. Have a look at what he has to say about food stamps:
“In Texas, a person cannot qualify for food stamps unless he or she does not really need them. A person who truly needs food stamps cannot be eligible to receive them. To get food stamps, a person must have all to him or herself a functioning kitchen; if the kitchen is shared, then all who share the kitchen must, as a group, qualify for food stamps. To prove that you have the kitchen, you must have a rent receipt, which opens the question of where you got the money to pay the rent. If you cannot pay the rent then you must get a written statement from the landlord that he allows you to live rent-free, which statement the landlord will not give you if he is properly advised, because it prejudices his case in the event he wants to collect back rent or to evict you for non-payment.”
Harris, Maurice D. “Leviticus: You Have No Idea”, Wipf & Stock, 2013.
Leviticus: A Different Look
I have heard the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible referred to as both irrelevant and confusing by many people. It does confuse and it really does not add much to the narrative of the children of Israel. It is certainly not what I would call an interesting read. However, I wonder if the reason that it is so disliked and alienating is that it is so completely misunderstood and almost every word must be weighed to get its full meaning.
Rabbi Maurice Harris, a Reconstructionist rabbi takes another look at the book and it springs to life under his guidance. He looks at the laws, the rituals and the stories contained in Leviticus to see what we can learn from it and attempts to find a higher meaning than the one we have dealt with for so. He evaluates the book with serious thought but he does take it word for word. Rather he writes a commentary that makes us want to take yet another look at the writing.
I often wonder if my life would be any different if I had the hours that I have spent trying to understand back again to use for something else. But then I read this book and I understand that I have not wasted a moment. Harris takes the most confusing elements of Leviticus to task and explores the topics that are important to life in contemporary times. Those topics include the LGBT community, religious fundamentalism and childhood trauma, criminal justice to name just a few. What Leviticus really does is to challenge us to be better than we are and to help repair a world that often appears to be broken. Harris has a lot to say and what he states makes us thing. For me, that is what literature is all about. It is fine to read for pleasure but it is so much better to read and think.
Rabbi Harris uses scholarly insights and then applies them to our world of social challenges and in doing so we become more aware of what is written. As confusing Leviticus has been for the Christian world, it has been that much more challenging for those who read it in the original Hebrew. Christians have used the book for admonitions against homosexuality and to challenge gay rights which is not the purpose of the book at all. Just the phrasing of laying with a man the way one does with a woman has been totally misunderstood and anyone with a basic knowledge of human anatomy knows that this is impossibility. Looking at the rules for purity and animal sacrifice, the book becomes hard to read and even harder to understand. Christians use these to usher in Jesus with idea that he came to the world to get rid of these laws.
Rabbi Harris tells us about these issues but he uses a different perspective and interpretation. What he shows is that Leviticus is a philosophy of government that looks to provide social and economic justice. It is also from Leviticus that the golden rule emerges.
Looking at the passages that many feel deal with homosexuality, sex and gender rules and shows how these apply to us today. The impurity laws the relationship between man and God are further clarified and ritual sacrifice is explained as a way to foster humane treatment of animals. He goes on to deal with religion and zeal and how God wants us to mend the problems of the world.
He looks at how the rules regarding property and loans and harvests can provide ideas on the role of modern government. Harris is a progressive rabbi and therefore he does not consider the texts to be immutable. Many of the laws of the Hebrew Bible such as those concerning marriage in the book of Leviticus no longer work in a world that is constantly evolving. The same is true of same-sex relationships and there are laws in other books of the Bible that are much more effective than those in this book. Looking at the broader Hebrew Bible, we find more tolerance regarding how we live now. There are contradictions in our Bible. The prophets questioned the way the laws were used and misused and even thrown aside. Unlike Christian commentators, Harris looks at Jewish tradition and commentary.
While this may sound like a scholarly text me assure you that it is quite readable and quite short. It is easy to understand and well written. It is also a welcome addition to Torah commentary. We easily see that how we think and how we act does not always jive with what is written. It is up to history and us to decide what is no longer relevant and/or outdated.
The show promises a frank and honest depiction of adult gay life that hasn’t been seen on television since
The A-List: New York Queer As Folk ended, and the fact that it comes from the creator of the brilliant gay indie Weekend only enhances the pedigree.
Yet with the buzz comes comparisons to to that other HBO series about young people looking for love in a big city, but Looking creators Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh want to set the record, er, straight.
In an extensive interview with SFGate, the creators stress that Looking isn’t the gay Girls or Sex and the City, but its own distinctly unique animal they hope can be universally relatable. When asked about the comparisons, the two replied:
Haigh: Whenever before a show goes on air, people want to define it. The easiest way to define it is to say it’s a gay “Sex and the City, or a gay “Girls.” But I think the show is different from both of those shows. Different people, different ages. It’s out of our control, and I’m not embarrassed to be compared to those two shows. They’re both great shows. But I think ours is distinct in its tone and feeling. Our characters are in their 30s, coming up on 40. It’s a different age group.
Lannan: “Girls” before it was “Girls” was “Sex and the City” with twenty-somethings.
We definitely understand why the guys are frustrated, but a quick look at the Looking trailer definitely reveals some visual similarities with Girls, plus the fact that HBO has scheduled it to air directly after Girls on Sundays isn’t exactly the surest way to avoid comparisons.
What will be interesting to see is if the sexual situations on Looking are as squirmy/awkward as they can be on Girls, but anyone who has seen Weekend (available on Netflix streaming and highly recommended, by the way) knows that Haigh doesn’t shy away from awkwardness. Or fluids.
New in December
Sneakers Turn On!
Not only women love shoes! For years, sneakers have been a popular fetish in the gay scene. They represent not only sports and body health—but also youth. This is another TurnOn anthology showing the work of photographers from around the world. For everyone who loves sneakers!
160 pages, full color
Hardcover with dust jacket, 9 ¼ x 11 ½“ (23, 5 x 29 cm)
€ 29,95 / US$ 54.99 / £ 29.99
Gengoroh Tagame in English!
Gengoroh Tagame is one of the stars of manga. His stories are among the best in this genre and until recently have only been published in Japanese. Bruno Gmünder is pleased to publish two of them in English for audiences around the globe.
160 pages, black & white
Softcover with flaps, 7 x 9 ¾“ (17, 5 x 24 ,5 cm)
€ 19,95 / US$ 34.99 / £ 19.99
“Snails in the Rain”
Tel Aviv, Summer 1989
One of the most warmly received films at the Cannes Film Festival this year is the story of Boaz (Yoav Eruveni), a young Israeli, a linguistics student who begins to receive anonymous messages– love letters written by another guy and these letters affect his sexual identity and interfere with the life he shares with his girlfriend. When he got the first letter, he thought it was a mistake—the long white envelope that was in his post office box. It just had his name on it and said, “Dear Boaz, Don’t ask who I am or how I know you. I think about you a lot. I feel quite embarrassed to sit here at my desk and write you this letter, but I don’t have the courage for much else. I shall write again.” “Dear Boaz, Don’t ask who I am or how I know you. I think about you a lot. I feel quite embarrassed to sit here at my desk and write you this letter, but I don’t have the courage for much else. I shall write again.”
He immediately wadded up the letter but he was surprised and began to giggle nervously. But he also blushes and looks to make sure that no one sees him. He goes to class and somehow forgets about the letter. He comes home to find Noa (Moran Rosenblatt), his girlfriend, baking his favorite cake. Boaz has applied for a graduate scholarship at the Hebrew University (my alma mater) in Jerusalem and has been waiting to hear. He goes to the post office everyday in anticipation but instead of the letter he expected, he got the strange “billet doux”. And that was just the first of the letters he was to receive. In these letters, we sense the world if a gay man who is deep in the closet. Boaz wonders who he is and how he knows so much about hm. As the letters continue to come, Boaz becomes more and more sensitive. He suspects every male he sees but what really bothers him is his own sexuality. He has memories of Nir, his fellow solder in the Israel Defense Force and then there was the German man who slept above him in a hostel when he was in Europe. He had had moments when he was attracted to other men like those two.
Boaz realizes that his life with Noa is disrupted with these letters and his thoughts. Finally, in the fourth letter, his secret admirer tells him that on the next Thursday at 10:00 P.M. he will be hiding in a place where he can see the windows and that if Boaz wants to continue receiving letters, he should turn the kitchen lights off and on three times. If he does not do so, the letters will stop and he will never be bothered again. As the clock nears 10, Boaz is not yet sure what to do and he is emotionally troubled. What he does not know is that Noa has already met the mysterious letter writer hours before and she knows everything about what has been going on but has kept it all inside.
Boaz realizes that the letters come from someone who is close to him and he feels that his psyche is deteriorating as is his relationship to Noa. In fact, the letters begin to consume his daily thoughts and begin to cause him to fall apart. He becomes paranoid whenever he meets someone and he wonders if that is the person. He becomes consumed by doubt and fragile. He begins a journey to find himself and to find a way to remain stable as he understands that his life is being taken over by this secret admirer. The letters are, in effect, the catalyst for Boaz to deal with the inner demons he has and once he discovers the cause for the way he feels, he has to learn to accept himself.
When the film begins there is a montage of woman, man and snail with each looking like it is going to devour him. It is not just the letters that cause Boaz to unravel but thoughts from his past about his sexuality and his days in the military.
The film is set in 1989 before the freedom that gays now have in Israel was granted to them and times were very different. Gay men were closeted and in hiding back then (I know because I was there then). Life for gays was one of secrecy and repression and gay men met in public parks and in many cases consummated sex there. When we first see Boaz, he was content with Noa and he seems to have no understanding about alternative sexualities. We see him as he broods.
Basic to the success of the central dynamic between sexually confused man and his poor, unaware girlfriend is the genuine chemistry between Boaz and Noa. Noa exudes a quiet confidence and independence and she is never a victim even in the hardest scene to watch. Director Yare Mozer overstates nothing and he gracefully follows effect of suppression and the danger it provokes in both oneself and for others.
Through flashbacks we see Boaz remembering his own doubts with his sexuality and how he feels about it now that the letters upend his life. Each letter pushes him toward frustration and confusion.
The film does not deal with religious or cultural issues that could be integral to the setting. This is about two people in crisis who each struggle with the same idea but from different perspectives.
“Snails In The Rain” looks at the difficulty that closeted men deal with as they who are struggle with their lives which does correspond with what they feel inside. Boaz challenges his idea of self and begins looking at other men and sees other sexual possibilities. Even when he wants the letters to continue, he begins to become somewhat violent. We do not get many movies about closeted men these days but in 1989, Israel had ideas about masculinity and this was a problem for someone dealing with his sexuality.
it seems he can’t move without men making eyes at him or offering a sexual possibility. It eems that he is now aware of other men and it also could be that he is seeing something sexual that is not really there.
The film deals successfully with Boaz’s conflict—he is both attracted to and repelled by his sexuality. The film beautifully captures the struggle of living in the closet when Boaz’s finds his straight life threatened and challenged by the fact that he is not who he really is. This is an intriguing and sexually charged film that shows us the layers of Boaz’s character. These conflicting layers as well as the realities of relationships are presented and Boaz has a very hard time to find his place within his family and in the society of Israel that was once.