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This Friday night, I went to the big Shabbat Dinner because Noam was with me as a pre-frosh. Afterwards we stayed on for the Oneg, which was a speaker about the Holocaust, a survivor. The man was an interesting speaker, and he basically just told us a section of his lifestory. He began just as the Soviets were taking Riga, the capital of Latvia and his hometown, and told up to when American victory reached them. At the end of the story he answered some questions that people asked.

The questions were, in a way, the most interesting part of the talk because nearly every single one hinted at a moral in either the asking or the answering. For example, the last question was asked something along the lines of "since you've seen how vulnerable we Jews can be, you support Israel, right?" -- but he turned his answer into words about de-humanization. The Holocaust survivor warned that the de-humanization of Arabs in the eyes of Israelis is as dangerous as the de-humanization of Jews in the eyes of the Nazis. I was impressed to hear him say that, because I believe that too.
He also commented that of all the countries involved in WWII, it is only Germany that has made any national effort to reconcile and own up to its behavior. The Latvians, and other European nations, all cry that they were forced into any actions by the invading Nazi Germans, painting themselves as helpless occupied volitionless victims -- which he insists is counter-factual. He did not press the point about Germany's behavior, but the suggestion that they have, alone, attempted teshuvah should give pause to knee-jerk anti-germanicy.
He answered the inevitable "What do you believe God was doing then?" question in a realistic-to-me way. There was one more question that may, in its way, have been equally inevitable: the question was "Why did you decide to stay in your village when things were starting to look bad?". This question bugged me, and once I thought highly of his response. He had, as it happened, already explained the reason earlier in his story. But it is very possible that the questioner had come in after that part, so it would be a fine question to ask. Except for one thing: this speaker did not come from some little village in Eastern Europe, he grew up in the capital of a country, quite a genuine city. Even if the questioner had missed the very beginning, how could they have missed the fact that all the action took place in a city, that he survived in a ghetto which obviously entails a larger urban matrix, the repeated references to the work crews walking into the city for their jobs, as well as that the place suffered bombings unlikely for an isolated outpost.

I would have bet my shoe that the question-asker did not bother to stop and think before coming up with their question. Their words gave it away. I see this as a result of the standard Hebrew School unit on Life in the Shtetl. Everybody has it, and we young American Jews are trained to think of all old European Jewry as consisting of "Fiddler on the Roof" Tevyehs. In my Hebrew Schools' curricula (both the one I attended and where I teach), we learn of insular ancestral societies, with no mention of the mixed-Jewish/non-Jewish villages that also existed, let alone of major cities with a significant Jewish populous. Lodz for example -- if I recall correctly -- was half Jews before the war! That's a lot of people who are not all small-time tailors and Torah-scholars. There were seriously elaborate Rabbinical courts of the sundry regional centers. There were Jews who were Reform, even before America! And yet all of this is overshadowed, breezed over, to give a simple image of dark-robed shtetl life, that doesn't even include all of Ashkenazi reality let alone the invisible Sephardi -- or Mizrachi --- histories.
This gets my goat quite a lot.
Why bother to bring a real man, a person who can speak of personal experience and who can lay out for you every point where he feels raw chance saved him as others, even with more passion to live than he, around him were destroyed, why bother inviting him to speak, if people aren't even going to listen!?

The speaker took this question admirably, I thought. He paused a moment, and made sure to calmly point out that he is not from a "village" at all, before going on to re-tell why they decided to risk staying
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I had a long chat with Lee today. He's an upper-middle aged Chinese man who works the register for Aramark. About a year and a half ago I helped him to read and adapt a consitution & bylaws for a Tenants' Association he was founding in his apartment building. He told me that the organization is now running, since a couple of months I think. They've got a full executive committee and 56% of the tenants have joined. I hadn't known and was wondering what, if anything, had come out of the effort. This news makes me happy.
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Went to see Bowling for Columbine today with a bunch of friends. This is a movie I would like to see again. One part that has really struck a reaction out of me is the portion in which the filmmaker Michael Moore goes to Canada. He is attempting to compare American and Canadian cultures etc to understand our insane gun-death rate. He beings this segment with a series of New Yorkers describing what Canadians do -- and what they believe is entirely urban legends. But even more than that, there was a segment that had me twitching in my theater seat: Michael Moore learns from some residents of Toronto (I think it was Toronto, maybe Windsor, Ontario) that they do not lock their doors. Then he goes and tests this by opening several front doors in a residential neighborhood. In fact, the homes are not locked, so Moore ends up sticking his head unannounced into folk's foyers.

Ok, so we learn that the big-city Canadians leave their homes open, and the Americans have triple-locked doors. Perhaps we learn to believe the smarmy triteness of the coffee-sipping Toronto boy declaiming that when you lock your house, you aren't really locking away others, you are "locking yourself in." But what I mainly learned is that Michael Moore is an incredibly rude man.

No, that's not seriously all I learned, but I strongly do not approve of his actions in that neighborhood. He is persistent to the point of rudeness with Charlton Heston and with Dick Clark etc, which I do not object to. These are people who did something, and he wants to get answers out of them. The residents of that Toronto block did nothing to him -- he doesn't even know who they are. Although they chose to leave their homes accessible, that does not absolve the visitor of the obligation to respect the residents' space. To announce his presence with a knock (even if he followed with the knob-twist immediately) is part of that respect.

As for the rest of the points that Moore argues in the film, I feel that I should see the movie again before I debate them. I get the clear impression that the filmmaker has slanted most of the clips and perhaps some of the evidence. His main thesis is apparently that America has a disproportionately high level of gun violence in part because our mass media condition the populace into a constant state of fear or uneasiness. He also argues that Welfare/Workfare and other forms of what a sociologist might call institutional/structural violence are a further part of the reason. I do not think that Bowling for Columbine has fully proved the second connection, but the first is well-enough argued to feel plausible.

After film hung out at Bishop's Lounge with old friend and her roommate. Chatted it up with the Bearded Lady, the one who does piercings in P-Town. She's fun!
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So I was eating dinner in the cafeteria with a handful of friends, and one (a Math/Physics major) tells us about all the exciting things they are getting to learn in her physics class because it has recently been declassified.
I don't quite recall if the course's topic was specifically nucelar physics, but nucelar studies are the ones that were being released. In 20 years we can anticipate to learn about what was done in the Cold War.

Does this anticipation seem odd to anyone else? It did to me. I think of the secret stories of unannounced civilian testings as dirty government ill-judgements. That government research would decide it was an OK idea to, say, expose vast groups to various agents, or set off thermonuclear devices in deserts upwind from people's tribes, or slip whatever into breakfast's illicit! And I have thought of the non-disclosure of these schemes by people, who MUST have learned of them, as moral failings. I forget that the actions were taken under top secret classifications. The secrecy was enforced, not simply complicit.

One cannot assume that a changed social atmosphere toward experimentaion on unaware (and all too often on socially disempowered) groups would be able to stand against national-security classification. We will be uncovering records 50 years from now again. I'd like to believe that there won't be anything queasy hidden there this time, but I don't trust it.

My mistrust has gotten worse as time has gone on this past, post-september-11, year. The Patriot Act not only demands of institutions such as libraries that they open their records to federal questions, but forbids any institution from acknowedging if records have been demanded of it. Forbids! From publicizing when the law is used!

That gets me going, it really does. This is a law -- how may it be secret? I can ponder the question of the rightness of this information-gathering: maybe it is justified, maybe it is invasion, maybe it is useful, maybe neccessary. I am not convinced it is good, but I am not convinced of the opposite either. Yet, to conceal the very operation of the questionable activity, that is a violation of a deeply immoral sort.


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