“Out of Jordan: A Sabra in the Peace Corps Tells Her Story” by Dalya Cohen-Mor— Can This Be?

out of jordam

Cohen-Mor, Dalya. “Out of Jordan: A Sabra in the Peace Corps Tells Her Story”, Skyhorse Publishing, 2015.

Can This Be?

Amos Lassen

Dalya Cohen-Mor claims to be the first Israeli-born Jewish American to be sent as a Peace Corps volunteer to a closed Arab society. Even though I just wrote that sentence, I find myself reading it again and finding to be incredulous. While this is supposedly the story of a Jewish worker in an Arab country and not just any Jewish worker but an Israeli, I want to know how this happened. It is inconsistent with both Israel’s and Jordan’s policies regarding each other and knowing what I know as an Israeli citizen, something like this would have had a very hard time getting through all of the red tape in both countries.

Dalya Cohen-Mor, a Sabra-born American woman, volunteered to serve in the Peace Corps and went through a lengthy and highly competitive application process. She was accepted, and was sent to serve in the predominantly Palestinian country Jordan. Upon arrival in Jordan, Cohen-Mor was instructed by Peace Corps supervisors to conceal her Jewish identity, use an alias instead of her real last name, and pretend that she was Christian so as not to compromise her safety and efficacy as a Peace Corps volunteer. (I find this statement highly suspect as I doubt that she would have even been placed in Jordan given her background. I find it even harder to believe that the United States government would allow her to lie about who she is or even that the government would allow something so risky to happen—but then this is Cohen-Mor’s story). This is a really good story and whether it is completely true or not does not affect the way it is told really.

Cohen-Mor was forced to navigate new territory, rethink and redefine her values and attitudes, and discover what it means to be perceived as the other. She lived in the household of a Bedouin host family in a remote village in the eastern desert of Jordan where she taught English at the village girls’ elementary school. As she traveled around Jordan, she often found herself in delicate, complicated, and dangerous situations (Something I am quite sure the Peace Corps never would have allowed to happen). After three months of hard work in the Peace Corps, Cohen-Mor says that she was accused of being involved in intelligence activities and sent back home. Although she lost her dream to serve in the Peace Corps, she feels that she discovered her core identity and sense of self.

In the book we get an interesting look at contemporary life in Jordan and gain insight into the complexities of a closed Arab society with respect to family life, women’s roles, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and how America is perceived by the ordinary Jordanian. Cohen-Mor says that this is an honest and courageous look at her journey and at the realities of two nations who are enemies with conflicting national identities.

As I was doing some extra reading about the author and her time in the peace corps, another person who volunteers with Cohen-Mor has stated that since Cohen-Mor was unable to complete her service then she did not “serve” in the Peace Corps. This volunteer goes on to say that “if anyone, Jordanian or volunteer, were to have discriminatory tendencies towards Israelis, she would never have known, as she misrepresented her background. Other than that, I have few memories, as Dalya mostly kept to herself, and tended to be quite closed when dealing with host families or Jordanian Peace Corps trainers”. Then comes the clincher; “In retrospect, her behavior may have belied her desire to simply stay long enough to write this “tell-all” memoir. Admittedly, I have only read sections – I’d rather not give her time or money – but the sections I have ready have varied from “misrepresentation of the truth” to “that did not actually happen at all.”

The rest of the group served 27+ months in Jordan. That volunteer goes on to say, “Dalya, I am sorry that you did not complete your service (whether it was your decision or that of the Peace Corps). I am sorry to say that I do not recall a moment that you interacted in any kind of open or honest way with the country that was so welcoming to you. I am sorry that you decided to misrepresent the Peace Corps, your fellow volunteers, and to disrespect the generosity of your Jordanian trainers and hosts. I know you don’t understand the sadness that this has caused us all, because you didn’t stay and contribute to the family that we created”. The rest of the comments ask us not to buy the book or to buy it and return it so that Cohen-Mor will not profit from the untruths she has told here. The story is obviously not over yet but we must remember that all publicity is good even if it is not positive.

In closing, another volunteers notes the following;  “Jordan is a closed, dangerous Arab country? I thought that was Saudi Arabia. Aren’t the first two months of Peace Corps service spent in a training community? So technically, this writer spent 1 month in the community she was assigned to. I also know that when a volunteer feels unsafe in his or her community, that volunteer has the option of being reassigned to another community. I’ve met several Jordan RPCVs, and they all seem to have had a great experience over there”.

It should be interesting to follow this.

“THE BENEFITS OF GUSBANDRY”— Straight Woman Plus Gay Man Equals Gusbandry— The First Two Episodes


“The Benefits Of Gusbandry”

 Straight Woman Plus Gay Man Equals  Gusbandry— The First Two Episodes

Amos Lassen

The first two episodes of the new web series “The Benefits Of Gusbandry” have just been released. The series is based on creator Alicia Rose’s real-life relationships with her gay best friends and the series follow a gay man and a straight woman, who meet and find a spark. (Didn’t we have “Will and Grace” with the same premise?).

In Episode 1,  Jackie Rosenblum is celebrating her 40th birthday. During a break from   her party, she meets the good-looking River Manning who  is gay,but Jackie doesn’t initially realise, although it’s something they deal with in  Episode 2 when they go on their first ‘date’  (however their differing sexualities may not be a deal-breaker for some sort of relationship).

The makers are releasing episodes each month between now and next spring. 

“TRANSPARENT”: Season 2— The Return of Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura Pfefferman


“Transparent”: Season 2

The Return of Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura Pfefferman 

Amos Lassen

Following a very successful first season with  millions of viewers  and winning  winning two Golden Globes, five Emmys and many other awards, “Transparent” comes back for Season 2 on December 11, 2015.

Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura Pfefferman dysfunctional family is moving on from the initial surprise and readjustment of realising the father of their family is actually a mother.

The trailer below centers on a wedding pic— ”The whole family’s trying to get together for a wedding photo — it looks like Sarah (Amy Landecker) is one of the two brides — but it’s quickly submarined when the photographer calls Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) ‘sir.”

“BIRDBATH”— Multicultural Gay Love



Multicultural Gay Love

Amos Lassen

Aaron Nassau’s Birdbath is a witty and sweet short that looks at two very different people trying to figure out if they should stay together. Complicating  the situation complicated is the fact that they have  different cultural backgrounds. Harris realizes that his boyfriend, Jasper is a lot to deal with at the best of times. Harris comes from a’ conservative Malaysian background and he begins to wonder if the relationship with Jasper will ever work out. There is a lot of humor and several surprises in this very interesting short LGBT film.


“BRIDGEND”— Sara and Her Dad, Dave

bridgend poster


Sara and Her Dad, Dave

Amos Lassen

 Jeppe Rønde’s “Bridgend” follows Sara (Hannah Murray) and her dad, Dave (Steven Waddington) as they arrive to a small village in Bridgend County. The village is haunted by suicides amongst its young inhabitants, and Sara falls dangerously in love with one of the teenagers, Jamie while Dave as the town’s new policeman tries to stop the mysterious chain of suicides. What we see is an uncompromising story centered on the relationship between vulnerable teenagers and their parents who are left in the dark. The film is based on a mysterious suicide cluster that took place in Bridgend County, a small former coal-mining province in Wales. Between December 2007 and January 2012 seventy-nine suicides were officially committed in the area. Most of the victims were teenagers who hung themselves and left no suicide notes. Filmmaker Jeppe Rønde followed the teenagers from the area for six years and wrote the script based on their life stories.


Seeking to rid herself of her outsider status, Sara befriends a clique of rowdy teenagers whose cultish and wild behaviors take them into the forest where they strip and baptize themselves in inexplicably ritualistic bonding celebrations of their peers’ suicides. Although initially shocked and repulsed by this, Sara slowly gets pulled in and falls for Jamie (Josh O’Connor), a potentially dangerous member of the group. The unrelenting darkness that has mysteriously engulfed her peers begins to overtake Sara’s world view and unravel not only her close relationship with her father but her own sanity as well.   


The film does not try to provide answers to these unspeakable tragedies. Rather this is a dramatic investigation of the mysterious suicide incidents through the lenses of intergenerational conflict, teenage lust and adolescence. We never know if Sara’s desire to spent time with the “gang”comes merely from an adolescent desire for inclusion or the allure of the alpha-male Thomas (Scott Arthur) and Jamie (Josh O’Connor) (or both), but either way she finds herself aligning more with them than her outsider father. Her father is not happy about this, and she soon becomes more of a stranger in her own home than she is amongst the kids who continue to refer to her as “the new girl.”

Murray’s performance is mesmerizing but the focus of the film lies more on the cumulative effect of the suicides and their mysterious instigation than any of the people themselves. The film becomes more of a character study of the town than of anyone who inhabits it.

“The Fire Went Wild: a Novel” by Jordan Nasser— Gay in the South

the fire went wild

Nasser, Jordan. “The Fire Went Wild: a Novel” (Home is a Fire: Volume 2), XXVII Media, 2015.

Gay in the South

Amos Lassen

Living in New York City, Derek found that he had everything he had ever wanted— a handsome boyfriend, a fabulous social life, and an exciting career. However, when he left it all behind to reconnect to his Southern hometown, it turned out to be the greatest decision of his life. With his return to his small-town living, he found himself enjoying the colorful Tennessee culture with his family and friends. He also became involved in a new romance that has him happier than he’s been in a long time—and it’s safe to say things couldn’t possibly be much better.

This changed after Derek and Luke decide to go public with their relationship. By doing so, his romance brought about a lot of drama in the community and when a jealous ex joins forces with a disapproving family member, it’s not long before their career positions at Parkville High School are put on the line. Luke and Derek faced the end of their personal and professional lives and they had to gain support from a few close friends for support if they hoped to make it out of the rumor mill. This is a smart romantic novel that brings together

Southern culture and small-town life. “The Fire Went Wild” is the sequel to “Home Is a Fire” that I have not yet read but plan to very soon.


i don't belong anywhere poster


A Look at a Career in Film

Amos Lassen

“I Don’t Belong Anywhere – The Cinema de Chantal Akerman” explores some of the Belgian filmmaker’s 40 plus films. From Brussels to Tel-Aviv, from Paris to New York, this documentary charts the sites of her work. Akerman was an experimental filmmaker, a nomad, her cinema always looked at the meaning of her existence. Marianne Lambert and her editor, Claire Atherton, chronicle the origins of her film language and her aesthetic stance.

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Akerman recently committed suicide and we lost a valuable and wonderful filmmaker. Akerman was born in Brussels in 1950 and she was a radical filmmaker. Chantal Akerman died shortly after the disappearance of her mother. The director had a visceral attachment to the mother. She often reminded the Jewish roots of his family. The parents had emigrated from Poland. His latest film “No home Movie” is a documentary about her mother that she filmed in her apartment.

i dont2

An expansive documentary tracing the evolution of Ms. Akerman’s career and filmography, which encompasses more than 40 films across the documentary, fiction, short and feature forms, “I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman” goes with Akerman from Brussels to Tel Aviv, from Paris to New York. In the film, Akerman discusses her cinematic journey and, with her editor and long-time collaborator, Claire Atherton and it examines the origins of her film language and aesthetic stance.


“I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman includes excerpts from many films throughout her career including “News from Home” (1976), “Les Rendez-vous d’Anna” (1978), “Je, Tu, Il”, “Elle” (1974), “South” (1999), “From the East” (1993), “From the Other Side” (2002), “Là-bas” (2006), and “No Home Movie” (2015) her last film.



“A SPECIAL DAY”— A Special Movie Now on Blu Ray

a special day

“A Special Day”

A Special Movie Now on Blu Ry

Amos Lassen

There is cause to celebrate now that “A Special Day” has finally been released on DVD. It is a movie that has the best of everything—great acting (Marcello Mastroianni and Sophie Loren), great photography, and a very strong story that encourages you to think about who you are, how you define yourself, how you fit in, whether you are content to accept a role or just break free.

The movie is set against a visit of Hitler to Rome and what develops is a tender love story of friendship, loyalty, homosexuality and fascism. Loren is a housewife and the mother of six who stays at home while her family goes to the Military parade in honor of Hitler and Mussolini. She loves Mussolini and would have loved to have gone with her family. While she is at home, sitting across the yard is Mastroianni contemplating suicide because he is a homosexual and because he has just lost his job. Basically the movie is two people on a roof but there is unity of time and place and the movie s very much in the style of Greek tragedy with the purity and force of this film.

The film really starts to move when Loren and Mastroianni meet, by chance and we get to know the characters, Mastroianni is in a state of despair and badly needs a friend and Loren is threatened by her cheating husband. The film shows a scene when Loren offers her body to him and the rejection naturally comes. She then finds a hunger for this anti-fascist, this homosexual, and to another world aside from the one in which she lives.

The beauty of this movie lies in its craftsmanship. The two actors deliver performances rarely seen. Loren gives one of her finest deliveries on the screen and Mastroianni is right there with her. The movie itself is simple but very powerful and it deals with issues that are quite complicated; fascism, love, homosexuality (especially considering that it was filmed many years before the kinds of films we get today), ordinary people and the human condition (most importantly). Its ending is sad but there is a ray of hope in the way it closes—we feel that things will get better and that someone will understand.

Ettore Scola, the director, focuses on scapegoats of the fascist regime, the outcasts. To seethe unexpected in “A Special Day” is a “special” treat. But what happens in this film is denial of the human being and his intimate personality and being scapegoats means that our heroes’ days are numbered. Every so often I find a movie that touches me deeply and there are not many. “The Lion in Winter” is one and that is because of the brilliant acting of Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, Vanessa Redgrave in “Isadora” is another as is Burton and O’Toole in “Becket”.

“A Special Day” is yet another brilliant film—it is almost a perfect film. It is deeply moving and within its simple story are insights into daily life in Fascist Italy. It hits the viewer hard and is spellbinding even with its few locations. It is an actor’s film and makes a very strong statement as it presents a study in contrast between simplicity and sobriety and ultimate sophistication in content and performance. The two characters are too good for the world they live in.

“AN ACT OF LOVE”— A Father. A Church. A Movement.

an act of love

“An Act of Love”

A Father. A Church. A Movement.

Amos Lassen

We are living at a time that many religions are at a crossroads. The debate over marriage equality threatens to divide churches and some may never recover. Reverend Frank Schafer, who has been a leading advocate for leading rights, had his ministerial credentials revoked in December 2013 after officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding.


When he began his career, Schaefer had no intention of getting involved in the controversy over gay marriage in the Church. However, several years into his ministry at a small church in Pennsylvania, his eldest son, Tim, began to quietly struggle with his sexual orientation. Fearing rejection from his Church and his family, Tim became withdrawn and considered suicide. 

an act of love1

The Schaefers assured their son that they loved and accepted him regardless of his sexual orientation but then they were quite worried how the minister’s congregation in Lebanon, Pennsylvania would react so Tim moved to Boston to go to college and to live in a place that was more progressive. In Boston, he met his future husband and after he finished college, his father officiated at the service that married the two of them. Schaefer knew that this could put his career at risk but since it was going to be a small and private wedding at home, he decided to go ahead with it.


Other ministers in the United Methodist Church have conducted same-sex marriages without penalty, even though it is against Church law. However, there have been times when ministers were brought to trial within the Church and defrocked for officiating same-sex marriages (This is what happened to Rev. Jimmy Creech in 1999 and in 2004, Minister Beth Stroud was put on trial and defrocked after coming out as a lesbian to her congregation in Philadelphia). 

Six years went by and no one said anything about the marriage and then just a few weeks before the statue of limitations was to run out, a member of Schaefer’s church filed an official complaint against him.


In November 2013, Frank Schaefer’s Church trial was took place over two days in a Church camp gymnasium. At the end of the trial, Schaefer was give the choice of either promising to never perform a same-sex wedding again, or turn in his credentials as a minister. He refused to promise to stop performing same-sex marriages and was subsequently defrocked.

Immediately after his defrocking, Schaefer began a six month speaking tour, going to churches and rallies around the nation and appearing on several TV shows. While touring the country, he filed an appeal for his defrocking in the hopes that he would be reinstated. He feared that he would lose the appeals process like other ministers had in the past.


This film follows Schaefer and his family from the initial trial though his final Judicial Council hearing and we witness his struggle to change the Church from within to allow for greater acceptance of its LGBTQ members and clergy.

Now, as Frank’s story draws to a close, the storm within the United Methodist Church is meeting the challenge. In 2016 the United Methodist Church will meet again for their General Conference and there rules about same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy will again be debated. After over four decades of protest from LGBTQ Methodists and their allies, we will soon see if 2016 will finally be the year that the Church changes their stance on this issue or if it will be the year that it divides.


The United Methodist Church is the third largest Christian denomination in the United States and the direction it takes could have ripple effects throughout the entire Christian community, in the US and the world. The Schaefer’s story will undoubtedly have an impact on this discussion. This is a story that must be told and no one can convince a member of the LGBT community that he/she does not have the right to love and be loved by God and someone else.


Reverend Schaefer had never planned to be an activist, he really just wanted his son to know how much he loved him. “An Act of Love” focuses on the rift the issue has created in the United Methodist church and even though he has since been reinstated, it is important that we have this film. Even though statistics show that 76 percent of members of the younger generation support marriage equality, there is still a large number of people that don’t. Schaefer’s story is the story of a father who loves his son and his story highlights the greater issue and the greater conversation with the United Methodist Church. It is tremendously cruel to make someone feel like they don’t have access to God which really means that that they don’t have a right to their own spirituality and their own faith. “An Act of Love” is a really great example of what can happen to a kind and humble man.


In the documentary, we see both sides and this is the basic theme of the documentary. By making a movie like this and putting it out there where it can be seen, it sends a message that can bring about change.

“Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” by Jon Meacham— The Bush Biography

destiny and power

Meacham, Jon. “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush”, Random House, 2015.

The Bush Biography

Amos Lassen

Every American president will have a series of biographies and if we are not so informed we never really know which is the most accurate. Those of you who read at all are aware of the slew of inaccurate biographies that are written every day. I tend to believe that this is indeed an honest biography since the author, Jon Meacham, is a Pulitzer Pride winner. His story of Bush comes from his access to the President’s personal diaries, the diaries of his wife, First Lady, Barbara Bush and his personal access to the Bush family. Meacham gives us a personal and intimate look at George Bush who we see is a very private person and who was at the helm of this country as we sailed through some very stormy waters.

Meacham takes us in to the Oval Office at the White House, to Camp David, to the private quarters on Air Force One. We are the Berlin Wall when it came down and at the first Gulf War. We see the end of Communism and we are privy to Bush’s thoughts, emotions and decisions. We see Bush’s flaws and we see his pluses and above all else we see his humanity.

Bush was born into a loving, privileged, and competitive family. He joined the navy on his eighteenth birthday and was shot down on a combat mission over the Pacific. He married young, started a family and went after Texas oil. Over the course of three decades, Bush rose from the chairmanship of his county Republican Party to serve as congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, head of the Republican National Committee, envoy to China, director of Central Intelligence, vice president under Ronald Reagan, and, finally, president of the United States. In retirement he became the first president since John Adams to see his son follow him (regardless of how) to the presidency.

Meacham was given tremendous and unequaled access to the former President and had many interviews with him. He was able to learn what Bush thought of many of the important people of his time-from Richard Nixon to Nancy Reagan; Mao to Mikhail Gorbachev; Dick Cheney to Donald Rumsfeld; Henry Kissinger to Bill Clinton. The book shows us what high politics are all about.

We get new insights to the rise of the right wing in the Republican Party and we see how this signaled the beginning of the end of the center in American politics. This is not just the story of a man who put his country ahead of everything else but of change in high places and especially in the world of politics. I have never been a fan of Bush yet I must say that he was a man who was propelled by destiny and by duty who tried to be the best he could be at a difficult time in the history of this country. Many of us were unaware of what a class act Bush was but Meacham makes sure that we know.

It is indeed unfortunate that the arrogance of his son affected the way some saw Bush but I am sure fairly sure that Bush 41 will never be accused of stealing an election or helping to ruin a country as Bush 43 did. I always thought that it was supposed to be the other way around. Bush 41 was a paragon of modesty but obviously this was not passed on to his children. It is truly interesting that as time passes, Bush becomes more significant or it could be that we are just now learning about his strength of character and his activities behind the scenes for some seventy years.

Jon Meacham grants George H. W. Bush his well-deserved place in history. There are surprises galore in this book and I found changing the way I thought about Bush 41. In took Meacham’s book to do that.