Yiddish culture is at the root of Judaism and American culture, and YAAANA in San Diego is going to make sure we know it.
The invitation to a Yiddish Cafe sat in my email inbox unopened for over a week. Each week a new reminder arrived about ’s YAAANA (Yiddish Arts and Academics Association of North America) Yiddish Cafe arrived taunting me. As a friend of Joana the organizer I couldn’t say no. As a Jew from Ukraine I shouldn’t say no. But as Sam, I really wanted to say no.
He sat with a phone against his ear in the dim hallway of the Fairmont of Grand Del Mar. We nearly passed him but I recognized the silver haired man with a grey kippa from the pictures of my research. Minutes later, the ex-congressman, Stanford Law graduate and the current CEO of Hillel entered the large oak-paneled dining room where I set up my recorder. The room had a long bar, floor to ceiling windows, stone carved fireplace, paintings worthy of museum walls, and cloth covered chairs transporting me far from San Diego. “Hi, how are you,” said Fingerhut full of energy as he shook my hand with a smile. He excused our surroundings, explaining that he heard that this is the “Versailles of San Diego and so I had to stay here.” I looked out the window onto the lawn below where fountains crisscrossed and bushes artfully manicured into intersecting diamonds. It was no Versailles, but it certainly tried and was in stark contrast to my usual perception of Hillel.
I’m going to do something to educate people on fear and hatred. I’m going to highlight someone Muslim who helped me along in my Jewish Story. I know that it won’t matter to those who hate blindly. To those people exceptions prove the rule but to me, I’ve yet to see the rule. Quiet the opposite, given my experience with the Muslim faith and no negative experiences in real life, I want to show why I feel that it is the rule that people are good and while yes there is bad, there is bad in our culture and all cultures. That was the goal of the project and is as important as ever.
January 2017 is starting out with a bang! I am giving two talks to the San Diego Historical Society followed by JED talk at Beth El Synagogue on January 24th and then with a Photography show in North Park San Diego! Please join me for some stories, some music, some drinks and photography. Proceeds to benefit Women of Coffee and Dharma Bum Temple.
Peace Through Understanding photography show
Originally printed in L’Chaim Magazine
In a small strip mall near SDSU is a little shop with buddha statues, incense and meditation books. The shop was once owned by a funny old Jewish man with a beard, Alfred Baron and his Thai wife. Being a octogenarian, he needed someone to take over as the business plunged further and further into debt while as he was desperate to retire. In 2009, after two long years, he thought he found the man to take it over. Jeff Zlotnik was a young man who grew up in San Diego going to temple Emanu-El every Saturday. A few years earlier Jeff came back from eleven months in Taiwan living as a Buddhist Monk. After struggling to expand with the San Diego Buddhist establishment, he decided to strike out on his own. Jeff’s community was small, they were barely paying the bills and so in no position to take on debt and run a shop full time. However, after weeks of persistence, he acquiesced to the old man and took on the shop with the idea that the shop would help bring in revenue to pay for the temple. The added revenue never came in, but the shop ended up serving as a way to get westerners to discover Buddhism as they shopped for charms, books and statues.
Forests burn all over Israel. They were set by terrorist arsonists who do not care if the forests burn down the environment, the trees, the people Muslim or Jews. They hate and people online rejoice.
It pains me deep in my heart to hear that hate, to know that there are people that they want to kill and see killed over land, religion, some grievance. That somehow they identified that killing me or those whom I love, people who wake up everyday, go to work, put their kids into school and do nothing different from what these people do.
I’ve thought to rationalize it but I know that no amount of good that Jews do will stop them from wanting me dead. I know that perhaps it is good lot to be hated, because we accomplished enough to be known to be hated. But why death? Why do they want us dead? Why are some people blood thirsty for the death of people they have never met? Why are we as human beings able to dehumanize other people to feel that is ok?
I fight for optimism everyday. I think of how far we come and what we achieved and what we were able to overcome. And yet, I also think of the 6 million killed by people from dozens of nations, of the glee they had killing women, men and children. And I think of the glee that people have today imagining another Holocaust.
It’s too much sometimes, just too much.
What’s most telling about this election is that there were so many similarities to the Hitler’s election. The media focused on what was historic about this election and similarities to our previous elections instead of the nationalist tone and intimidation tactics that were far more similar to Hitler Germany in 1930s than to any US previous election.
I was at my girlfriends’ last night when her friend JuliAna stopped by. JuliAnna and I began chatting about the Cubs and how even though none of us are baseball fans, we were caught up in the drama of the quest to return as Champions. The saga which came to momentous climax when they won the day before. In fact, I was practicing for my GRE test as game seven was concluding and I would check the score at every break and could hear the bar next door erupt every time they scored and loose all control when they won.
We’re in a beige room. A bunker and I am messing with the dial.
“What was that” she asks
“I think something about killing” I think I heard
“Strange.” says another in the corner.
She has a worried look but nothing happens, so we try to brush it off.
I twist the knob and there comes a chirp from the speaker, barely audible but you can hear it was something. Something ominous.
The screen was dark but the sounds soul-piercing. Loud, cutting phrases of a pastor’s sermon, a hateful, angry pastor of the Westboro Church broke the silence. The violence of the words made children’s brows furl as several hundred of them looked down on his image on a large screen in front of them. His words made one as uncomfortable as a shot of cheap vodka. The video describing the teachings of a fundamentalist church in Kansas. Towards the end of the video, a woman with signs and eyes hidden by sunglasses speaks. In her voice is hatred, righteousness, pride and self-assuredness. Not fifteen feet from me, sits the same woman. Appearing similar and yet clearly, this is an entirely different person. Calmness and kindness seems to permeate her, a stark contrast to the face above me on the screen. She is Megan Phelps-Roper, the grand-daughter of Fred Phelps, the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church. Megan was born into the church and left it and her entire family four years prior. As I looked over, I imagined what it must feel like to hear her old self say those angry words, and thus, becoming even more uncomfortable. It was at this point that she quietly stood up and with the royal fluidity approached the podium, took the microphone and looked up at the middle school and high school students in front of her as the sound cut out and their eyes silently centered on her. Megan’s steady and clear voice takes over: “I am Megan Phelps-Roper and I was the person in that video.”