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December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘shoes’

It’s My Opinion: Back To School

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

      Summer isalmost over,and in countless homes throughout the country, preparations for the new school year have begun. Shiny new pencil boxes and supplies have been purchased.  Hair has been cut and shoes have been shined. Many children are eager to see old friends and familiar classrooms. Traditionally, this time of year has been one of happy anticipation and excitement.  

 

    Unfortunately, especially in these tough economic times, many Jewish families are facing back-to-school with dread. Breadwinners have lost their jobs. Businesses are barely scraping by. Revenue is down. For these families, yeshiva and day school tuitions loom as an insurmountable hurdle. 

 

   The thought of sending their children to a public school fills many parents with anguish. The youngsters cannot understand why their beloved rebbes and teachers will not let them into the school they love so much. They know that they have done nothing to warrant expulsion. The sad fact is that this experience can forever sour a young mind on the Jewish lifestyle. They see the very yeshiva that taught the importance of chesed, has thrown them out on the street.

 

     The adults feel helpless. They simply do not have the money. They feel humiliated and abandoned.

 

     The Jewish schools, themselves, should not necessarily take the brunt of the blame.  Some can barely meet their payroll. Some cannot even do that. Many have fully half of their students on some sort of discounted (scholarship) rate. It is troubling, however, that the cost of many Jewish schools is on par with that of college tuition.

 

    Jews in the United States took part in a vast cultural endeavor.  They interacted and intermingled with the population.  Their venture was, tragically, a great success.  The rate of assimilation and intermarriage of American Jews has been astounding.

 

   Jews who attended yeshivot and day schools, however, have bucked this trend. Their assimilation is far below the national numbers. They, for the most part, have remained true to their heritage.

 

    The Jewish people need to put together a communal effort toward nurturing every precious young soul. Jewish organizations and philanthropies need to make this funding as a number one priority. It is essential to the very survival of our people.

 

    Synagogues need to make appeals from every pulpit for money to fund Jewish education.  Jewish Federations need to concentrate on this vital issue and cut back on funding non-essential parties, events and trips.  Every Jewish group, club and congregation needs to be part of this vital undertaking. 

 

     One-and-a-half-million Jewish children were murdered in the Shoah.  We have not a soul to spare. 

Image And Preparation: Two Critical Keys To Success

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Now that you know how to research companies before an interview, the next step in the process is to present the proper image and be fully prepared for the face-to-face meeting.

Based on your winning resume, the people you’re scheduled to meet have a mental image of how great and professional you are – so don’t disappoint them. In my years of interviewing men and women for all types of jobs, if a candidate’s appearance showed me they did not take themselves seriously, I would interview them more stringently and never give them the benefit of the doubt. Most interviewers I know feel the same way.

I am a firm believer in the adage, “dress for success.” For some frum people (especially men) this is a new concept that needs to be taken seriously, especially if you are interviewing with a company in the outside world. Therefore I suggest you ask the person who set up the interview (your recruiter, the person in your network who referred you, or a company HR contact) what the appropriate dress for an interview is, and if they know how the people who will interview you will be dressed.

No matter what the job is, and whatever they tell you, I suggest that you dress like a professional. People will not lose respect for you if you overdress for the occasion, but they will if you are sloppy, dress too casually, or too ethnically.

If you don’t have an outfit that creates a professional image, buy some new clothes and look at it as an investment for your future. Or you can borrow clothes from someone who is your size.

For men this would be a dark suit or a coordinated sports jacket and slacks, with a solid-colored white or blue shirt and matching tie that is not too dull or too loud. This holds true even if the company dress code is business casual, unless you are specifically told what to wear. I stress wearing a tie even if you’re unaccustomed to wearing one.

For women this advice is even more important, since there is a perceived inequality between you and a man applying for the same job. It is important that you wear an outfit that fits well, looks good on you, and makes you feel good about yourself. Avoid open-toe shoes and high heels (even if you are short) and do not over-accessorize your outfit. Also tone down the use of makeup, hair spray and jewelry.

Men should get a haircut if needed, and take a clean shave or beard trim the morning of the interview. Women should make sure their hair or sheitel is cleaned, cut and styled for the interview. This should be done one or two days in advance, as grooming should not be left for the last minute.

I suggest caution for both men and women when it comes to perfume or cologne. Remember that quite a number of people are allergic to perfume, so I suggest not wearing any or putting it on a few hours before the interview. Whatever you do, don’t apply it right before the interview.

Here’s an image checklist for the night before your interview:

 

1: Check that your outfit still fits you and that it is clean, freshly pressed, and has no rips, stains or frays.

 

2: Make sure your shoes are polished. This may seem trivial but it is essential, since interviewers put a premium on how your shoes look.

 

3: Men should ensure that their socks match, while women should make certain that their hose has no runs. They should carry a spare pair – just in case.

 

One thing that is inexcusable for an interview is not arriving at least 10 minutes early. This is why I implore you to know exactly where you’re going and how you will get there. If it is by public transportation, know which train or bus goes there and at which stop to get off. Plan one or more alternate routes in the event of an unforeseen problem.

 

If driving, use MapQuest and have an alternate route in case of unforeseen traffic or construction delays. Inquire about parking upon arrival, and its cost – if any. If you are not 100 percent sure how to get there, and how long it takes, make a prior test at the same time of day.

 

Make sure your GPS and cell phone are fully charged, and that you have the phone number and extension of the contact person programmed into your phone in the event you are unavoidably delayed.  Most important, if you schedule two or more interviews for the same day, make sure you leave enough time between them in case the first one runs longer than expected.

 

Perry Newman, CPC is president/CEO of First Impressions Resumes in Brooklyn, and has over 30 years experience as a resume writer, career coach and executive recruiter. If you would like him to review your resume and offer free recommendations, e-mail it to perry@jewishpress.com. You can also call 646-894-4101 and request a free copy of his updated 2009 edition of Job Hunting in the 21st Century, compliments of The Jewish Press. This comprehensive handbook covers resume writing, networking and other key topics on how to conduct a successful job search in greater detail.

Special Purimshpiel Edition

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Question: What will you dress up as this Purim?

 

 



It’s imperative that I boost my popularity now that we are down to the nitty-gritty of the campaign. I will emulate the character of Alvin from that lovable cartoon group Alvin and the Chipmunks. I think I already have his facial features down pat, especially when I smile and laugh.


- Hillary Clinton, U.S. senator, presidential hopeful



 


 


I will be the famous television preacher Joel Osteen, since like him I am a devout Christian. This costume isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination since I love the Christian religion. I will wear a “blinged”-out cross around my neck and carry my favorite copy of the King James Bible, which is also diamond encrusted since in our family we honor and celebrate our religion every day. Just ask my longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Hallelujah, praise the Lord! 


- Barack Obama, U.S. senator, presidential hopeful


 


 


I will dress up as an upper-class elegant woman. I am so mortified after this election that I need to escape for a while and go into hiding. You know, during and after 9/11 many New Yorkers told me I have such compassionate eyes, so why not accentuate them with some mascara? Even during 9/11, while I was deeply involved with repairing the city, I always made sure my shoes matched my suit. So now this Purim I’m taking it to the next level. Did I mention 9/11?


- Rudy Giuliani, failed presidential candidate


 

 

 

 

 



They say leprechauns are fictional characters but I will, by donning their traditional neon green suit and buckle shoes, finally prove to the uneducated Western world that they do exist. We in Iran know full well that leprechauns do exist; they are our allies who jointly work with us to “catch me lucky charms” – which is code for taking over the whole world. Certain things in life are make-believe – women’s rights, free speech, a fantasyland called Israel – but leprechauns are all too real.


- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian president

Borders And Boundaries (Conclusion)

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

         Two weeks ago I wrote about a culture of self-indulgence and instant gratification that seems to have permeated Western society. It is so prevalent that North Americans have thrown financial caution to the wind and many are drowning in debt. (The luckier ones break even, but are not setting aside or saving money for emergency situations like unexpected unemployment.)


 

         If something catches their eye, they buy it – with no thought of the consequences. I attributed this self-indulgent, even reckless, behavior to two factors – a lack of boundaries due to secularism, and low self-esteem.

 

         With religious observance becoming passé, people are growing up with no restrictions, no limits and no boundaries to guide their impulses. There are no “can’t,” “not allowed,” or “it’s forbidden” in their lives. Hence many never had the opportunity to develop such life-enhancing attributes as patience, self-control and self-restraint.

 

         In this column, I will focus on the issue of low self-esteem.

 

         Human nature is such that no one wants to feel inferior. No one wants to think they are a “loser” and that they don’t measure up to their peers. Everyone likes to see himself or herself as being “cool,” or a winner. How else do you explain sports fans? Often their lives revolve around the game and the outcome of each one can affect the mood of an entire school, city, and even country. If your team wins, you walk around elated, feeling superior.

 

         But if you think about it, why is that? Why should the performance of a group of strangers affect a person’s mood? Why should Joe Average be so emotionally invested in how his team does? It is because being associated with a winner (famous people fall into this category as well, no matter how messed up their lives are) makes a person feel good about himself or herself. For someone with poor self-esteem, his or her sense of inadequacy is replaced with a sense of superiority, if only for a short time – until the next game or season.

 

         Likewise, people equate possessions as indicating that they are winners. The bigger, the newer and the pricier the item, the more the consumer feels on a higher madreigah than the “have-nots.” Shopping makes people who have a poor self-image feel better about themselves. Marketers know this and build on people’s insecurities. If you buy their product, you will either get the girl/guy, the job/promotion, your life will become exciting, etc. In other words, you become a “somebody” by dressing according to the latest fashion (even though it may totally not suit you) or by acquiring the newest gadgets.

 

         However, this sense of “coolness” is fleeting because almost overnight there is a new and improved version of whatever it is you bought – and got into crippling debt over.

 

         People who have a healthy sense of self don’t need to artificially make themselves feel good. They don’t need to buy and spend to know their true worth. They don’t need to be snobs, or ingratiate themselves with people they perceive as being superior because they are wealthy, popular or have “yichus.”

 

         How do you recognize someone who has positive self-esteem? They are the ones who are modest and unassuming, and who do not chase kavod – despite achievements they justifiably could brag about. Their modesty is a reflection of true yirat Shamayim because they know that all they have is a gift from Hashem; and not because they are so special or better.

 

         Those who live Torah lives know that the authentic and long-lasting way to feeling good about themselves is by giving, not by getting. Ask yourself this question: Who feels more positive about herself – someone who sent a meal over to a family whose mother is in the hospital, or the person who bought designer shoes with an inflated price tag, shoes that likely will be out of season around the time the credit card bill arrives in the mail?

 

         Do you ever wonder why we love our children so much, even though they complicate our lives so drastically? They take away our leisure time, interrupt our sleep, and drain our finances and mental and physical stamina. You’d think we’d resent them. But in fact the very opposite occurs; we love them fiercely. Why? Because they make us give and give and give, and we feel so fulfilled and so good about ourselves. And our self-esteem, our sense of worth soars.

 

         Sadly, shopping till we drop, in a subconscious desire to elevate our sense of self, is a temporary fix – at best. At worst, you’ll really be down in the dumps when the bill collectors come knocking.

Reconsidering Iraqi Women

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

9 Parts of Desire


Written and performed by Heather Raffo


Directed by Joanna Settle


September 29-November 12, 2006


Arena Stage


1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC


(202) 488-3300, www.arena-stage.org


 


 


 “I try to tell momma she won’t get stolen. Her hair is not that nice. They only steal people whose families have money. But she says, ‘Don’t tempt your fates; now they steal little girls to take them out of the country.’ Today I thought maybe I should get stolens [sic], so I could leave my country.”

 

 So says an Iraqi girl named Samura, as she plays with her abaya (a traditional Iraqi black robe-like garment) in between dance steps to N’Sync music. As she watches her satellite television, Samura reflects upon her family – “I hate my momma! Baba, my father, he said I am smart, but momma says I am stupid” – and upon the political landscape.

 

 “Today even they showed papa Saddam on TVs, and they look through his hair to make fun of him – Do you have lice in your hair? – that is always how we tease in the school when we want to be the most cruel to the poorest kids. Do you have lice?” she says. “I don’t know if he had lice – but to see it like that, he looked like an old man, like a baby. I felt sorry for him, but I didn’t cry.”

 

 Samura is one of the nine Iraqi women depicted in Heather Raffo’s one-woman show, “9 Parts of Desire.” Raffo conceived of the play when she visited the Saddam Art Center in Baghdad in 1993. In the museum, she found many portraits of Saddam Hussein (often billboard size), but in a back room, she discovered a painting titled “Savagery,” depicting a woman clinging to a tree. After researching the artist and interviewing Iraqis, Raffo wrote the play, although the Arena Stage website is quick to note the disclaimer: “Please be aware that all characters in this play are fictitious. The character of Layal is in no way meant to personify the real life artist Layla Attar. Inspiration for her character was purely taken from having seen her painting ‘Savagery’.”

 

 



Heather Raffo as Nanna. Courtesy of Arena Stage


 

 

 Raffo’s play is an unusual performance to address in these pages. The word “Jew” appears only once in the entire script, and it is part of a list that includes Sunni, Shia, Kurd and Christian. The word “Israel” appears three times, each of which refers to the land without any Jewish connotations. But Raffo’s play – albeit not even marginally Jewish in literal content – struck me, as a Jew, as particularly relevant.

 

 “Actually I cried today too when I saw papa Saddam on TVs,” reconsiders Samura, who later reveals that her father and brothers were killed by Saddam, “because he stole my father, so I thought he was bigger than anyone, but he didn’t even fight to death. I felt ashames [sic], because why I am afraid from him all my life? Momma, she is right. I am stupid.”

 

 Although Samura either suffers from a learning disorder or simply lacks an education (or both), her observation that her fears, which had previously carried larger-than-life proportions were now cut down to size, is a perspective worth considering in the current war on terror. It is only the rare racist, whom I have heard refer to all Iraqis as a single entity of “terrorists” or “heathens,” or the like. But I found myself paying careful attention to the wide variety of characters that Raffo presents in “9 Parts” who span the religious gamut – from a traditional 38-year-old Bedouin named Amal, who wears her abaya, in between telling the story of her many failed marriages – to the painter, Layal, who wears her abaya as a smock and worries about leaving Iraq, because “Maybe I am not so good artist outside Iraq.”

 

 It is often very hard to remember that people, though foreign and of different cultures, are still people, and I found myself very intrigued by stories of people I’d have never conceived of before. An old woman named Mulaya (a mulaya is a hired woman who leads other women in call-and-response mourning at funerals), who is obsessed with continuity and history, throws old shoes into the river. “My feet hurt. I have holes in my shoes. I have holes now even in my feet,” she says. “There are holes everywhere. Even in this story.”

 

 A whiskey drinking Iraqi exile, Huda, now in her 70s, reflects, “Well, exile in London for the intellectuals, is mostly Scotch, of course politics, and poetry.” Huda lays out what she calls the dilemma: “Personally, I have my doubts about American policy. I feel they’re making their own map of the Middle East; still I prefer this chaos to the regime, because Saddam was the worst enemy to the people than anybody else.” Huda maintains that Saddam taught his men how to brutally murder; his henchmen’s atrocities are so inhumane that they couldn’t have been innately known.

 

 An anonymous doctor has begun counting deformed babies. “Look, in June alone six babies no head, four abnormally large heads, now today another one with two heads. Such high levels of genetic damage do not occur naturally. These things, maybe you see them once in a textbook.” She laments the fact that children play at bombsites and take bullets to school “to show their classmates what they collected from America. One came in wearing a bullet around his neck, a bullet tipped in depleted uranium around his neck.”

 

 Another woman, Umm Ghada, has taken her daughter Ghada’s name, after Ghada (which means “tomorrow”) was boiled alive with many others in a bomb shelter.

 

 “So I am Umm Ghada, ‘mother of Ghada’,” she says, “It is a sign of joy and respect to call a parent by their kunya (an honorific reference to the parent by child’s name).”

 

 The two final characters are an American girl (who also goes anonymous) with an Iraqi father who watches the havoc in Iraq on CNN, and Nanna, described in the stage instructions as “an old, old woman, scrappy and shrewd, she has seen it all.” Nanna tries to sell her wares on a street corner, and eventually offers the audience Layal’s painting of a woman-as-a-tree, pitching it as more valuable, after Layal was killed by a bomb.

 

 I saw the play during its nine-month premiere at the Manhattan Ensemble Theater in New York in the fall of 2004. Arena Stage is a more open space than Manhattan Ensemble, and the play seems to have benefited a little from the claustrophobic space. But the lines that kept surfacing in my head after seeing the premiere were the same ones that struck me after the second viewing: the commentaries on freedom.

 

 As Americans, we so often think of freedom as the domain of license and no restraint, whereas as Jews, we are told, “You shall not find a free person, but s/he who is engaged in the Torah.” Raffo’s characters cling to their tradition – to what makes them Iraqis at their deepest cores – as expansive, dynamic and safe, rather then containing. They have complaints, to be sure. Amal reflects, “I have no peace. Always I am looking for peace. Do you know peace? I think only mens [sic] have real peace. Womans [sic] she cannot have peace. What you think?”

 

 But it is perhaps Layal’s story about responsibility that is most imperative. “There is a restaurant with a sign, ‘come in, eat all you want, free of charge. Your grandson will pay the bill’,” she begins. “So a young man, a teenager, he goes in happy for the free meal; he eats, and eats, and eats. When he is done eating all he wants, the waiter brings him a bill. The young man says to the waiter, ‘No, your sign says free of charge, my grandson will pay the bill.’ The waiter says ‘Yes, indeed sir, but this – this is your grandfather’s bill’.”

 

 This sense of continuity and family is the cause of the Iraqi-American’s obsession with CNN shots of destruction, and it is what keeps the exiled Huda talking about the very country that cast her out. It is what makes Mulaya dump old shoes in the river and retrieve them at the end of each day. And it is what makes Layal scared of Americans. “I think you’re dangerous – most Americans they are not so attached this way. They feel so free, even to be alone. They are not tied to each other or to anyone. I am afraid to be alone. I don’t want freedom – to be alone? I don’t care for it; I like protection. All I want is to feel it, love.” As Jews, this is surely something to which we can relate.

 

 Menachem Wecker is a painter and assistant editor of B’nai B’rith Magazine in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Between Man And G-d And Art: Installing Jewishly Merav Ezer’s Plastic Arts

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

In a sense, the history of the Jewish people is a history of installation art. The thunder and lightning, booming shofar and floral assortment at Sinai were intense aesthetic experiences. The Yom Kippur service where the High Priest zigzagged through the curtains and entered the Holy of Holies, burnt the incense on the ark and left the room filled with smoke was a dramatic encounter. Even for those who don’t remember Sinai and who were not fortunate enough to serve in the Temple, ritual Jewish practice in its everyday sense relies heavily on installation. Because it necessitates so many props of all sorts – menorahs, lulavs, matzah and a wide array of others – Halakhah requires its proponents to surround themselves with functional objects and to interact with them.

This relationship of what the Talmud calls heftzah (object) and gavra (body) epitomizes the experience of what many art schools call four-dimensional design: artwork that allows viewers to experience the pieces in a way that casts time and space as fundamental components in the relationship. Though other religions suggest sets of objects culturally affiliated with their theological identity, Judaism insists on objects with practical and inherent roles. The sukkah and the four species associated therein serve functional purposes but also create an aesthetic experience that borders on drama. Entering the space of the sukkah surrounded by decorations, looking up through the sekhakh to see the stars and shaking the esrog double as experiences that use a creative vocabulary.

Israeli artist Merav Ezer creates her work within this framework. “My objects, when created, are often site specific: I reflect on the energy that exists in the space and create pieces with this energy in mind,” she says. Over coffee she tells me that she sees her work as metaphorically “Bein Adam La’makom” (between man and G-d). HaMakom, literally “the place,” oftentimes refers to G-d, as in the condolences offered to the mourner. With an intentional irony, G-d is referred to as The Place, though He clearly transcends temporal topology. By using time and space to create dialogue between her work and the location, Ezer meditates upon a certain type of spiritual relationship with the Divine.

Beyond exploring time and space – all good sculpture should – Ezer’s work relies heavily on material. “Much of my work utilizes different types of wood (organic) and either weaved or translucent plastic (inorganic).” Imagine a still life set up on a table, and then imagine shrink-wrapping it. Ezer “shrink-wraps” (think vacuums) objects in plastic with help from a 400-degree oven, and the results are startling. The plastic delineate the contours of the objects, but the objects are removed, so the finished pieces represent footprints left behind, or ghosts. By using such an artificial medium as plastic, Ezer engages notions of dispensability and environment as well. The works are not biodegradable, and they have a feeling about them of packaging, of surface and of malleability.

In “Vacuum Memories 2,” which Ezer exhibited in the Makor “Baalil/Evident” show, which hung through December of last year, Ezer vacuumed a pair woman’s high heeled shoes. The plastic shoes, or traces of shoes, sit atop a light box that casts a blue light over the shoes. According to the press release, the “Baalil” show was a group exhibition “dealing with the notion of place as a reflection upon the human conditionThe notion of ‘site’ comes to evoke a wider notion of place.” Surely, there is no other People for whom the notion of “place” is more pertinent and pressing. For Israelis, in specific and for all Jews, in general, locating ourselves in both the temporal and spiritual realms is paramount. And in a way, the image of the empty shoe recalls the practice of halizah, by which the uninterested brother-in-law chooses not to honor his late brother by marrying his wife and providing offspring in his name, and the widow then spits into his shoe as a symbolic scoffing. In a way, that practice is as much about the physicality of the shoe as it is about the symbolic movement of spitting upon the foot that used to be in the shoe, the absence of which used to occupy the space.

“The Tree” (1997) sat in the Ein-Hod forest during the international biennial for sculpting. The Ein-Hod forest houses 300-year-old olive trees, and it lies near the artists’ village Ein-Hod, located on the foot of Mount Carmel and on the road to Haifa. Ezer covered one olive tree with 20 kilograms of raw linen, and the linen seems to lend the tree the hair of a sloth or a monkey. The idea of wrapping an olive tree; a symbol of both peace in general, a national Israeli icon and a focus of contention with the Palestinians, makes wrapping it with canvas material a very ripe concept. The linen looks like it might almost strangle the tree and draw out its last breath after 300 years, or conversely, and yet the linen suggests a long distinguished beard that the tree has earned in its long tenure.

If New Yorkers still have Christo’s “Gates” on the brain (and wrapping in general), Ezer’s work addresses a vital component that Christo never addressed: the tree has a large hole in it. “All of the work has a hole,” Ezer says. “The hole represents a penetrating object as well as a receptive one.” This almost Kabbalistic mapping of space as simultaneously empty and full, of an object that is lacking something and yet that is well equipped to receive further material manifests perfectly in the ancient olive forest.

Ezer is now working on a film concept that draws in part from the recent movie “The Matrix,” where the main character, Neo has a mechanical bug that gets under his skin. In a display of downright awesome video technique, the audience watches the bug moving through Neo’s body and the bulges in the skin suggest the bug’s movement, though the bug is hidden from view. Ezer is working with a similar contortion and distortion of portraits in her film, which she will exhibit at the Makor Gallery in early June. As one can see from the video, the subject sits in a chair, framed by lights, and he is captured on two screens. This attention to space and to alternate perspectives surrounding the body, develop the body-object relationship discussed above. And in a way, this is what Ezer’s work has been about, all along: getting under the skin of whatever object she considers; and rattling about underneath to figure out what it is all about.

By wrapping the olive tree in linen-hair and by working so prominently with the hole as entry into the tree’s bowels, she pushes the viewer to consider surfaces and innards. If the tree trunk takes on a different consistency (linen), but the surface is still distinguishable as tree, there must be something inside the tree that dictates its “treeness.” If one can shrink-wrap shoes and then removes them, can the imprint in plastic help interrogate the basic form of the shoe in a new way? Can this very modern kind of shoe fit those linked to tradition? The holes that Ezer leaves literally offer a microcosmic technique of interpretation that forces the viewer to transcend the particular form and to walk right inside. And that, of course, especially coming from a Jewish, Israeli artist, is a powerful avenue to access the interior spiritual identity that we might aptly call “Between man and The Place.”

Merav Ezer has shown her work six times in the last year including in Tel-Aviv, The Andy Warhol Factory (NY), the Nexus Projects Gallery (NY), Makor and Columbia University. Her work will hang in the Makor Marathon exhibit on June 5 at the Makor Gallery of the 92nd Street Y, where she is a Makor Artist-in-Residence.

Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the Yeshiva University Commentator. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art. Menachem may be contacted at: mwecker@gmail.com.

Contradictions

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003
Each time I get on an airplane, I am struck by contradictions. We are a species that can take tons of heavy metal and transform it into an instrument of travel, transporting millions of passengers at very high speeds from one place to another. At the same time, we are required to take off our shoes before being allowed to board the plane, not for reasons of civilized comfort, but rather to ensure that we are not about to destroy the aircraft.

Moreover, many of our fellow human beings are forever trying to invent still more ingenious methods of mass killing in the skies. Recently, we were warned of the special dangers that now lie latent in various electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops – devices originally designed not for murder, but for pleasure and convenience.

What has gone wrong for humankind, especially in the overtly death-centered Arab/Islamic world? As a species, how shall we explain the growing gap between technical intelligence and reason?

In the time following 9/11, certain elements continue to reveal with anguish and clarity the delicate veneer of human society. Recalling William Golding’s shipwrecked boys in his novel, Lord Of The Flies, we discover that behind our civilized veneer always lurks a dreadful barbarism.

Reading through the daily newspapers, we unavoidably encounter a world apt to become bloodless, a skeleton, facing war and genocide with little concern about its impending fate. To be sure, our global civilization does make a great deal of noise, but the true point of all this delirium is ultimately to keep man from remembering G-d.

Why? How has so large a portion of our species scandalized its own creation? How many people are potential murderers of those who live beside them? Must every airplane passenger be a suspect terrorist? How have we gone so terribly wrong?

Today, as we look back at a 20th century that can only be described as the Age of Atrocity, there is little cause for optimism. Wherever we look, the corpse remains in fashion. Soon, with the assistance of spreading weapons of mass destruction, especially in Iran and other portions of the Arab/Islamic Middle East, whole nations of corpses will be the rage. Following even a small nuclear war, almost certainly a jihad or “Holy War,” cemeteries the size of entire cities will be needed to bury the dead.

How sad it all is. The appalling silence of good people is absolutely vital to all who would madden and torment. Yet these good people remain generally still, as quiet as they were from 1933 to 1945, content to spend their days impressing the neighbors and preparing their children for prestigious nursery schools.

Yes, of course there are appropriately impassioned reactions to the latest suicide bombings against Israeli civilians; to expanding exterminations in Africa, and even to the accelerating nuclearizations in Iran and North Korea. But the sighs and tears and obligatory exclamations of disbelief are rarely so serious as to interfere with lunch.

How sad, how sad it all is. I write these words as parts of the Arab/Islamic world think excitedly about future wars, some very carefully planned, others still largely unrehearsed. How much treasure, how much science, how much labor and planning, how many centuries have been ransacked to allow this seemingly unstoppable spasm of chemical, biological and nuclear conflict! Frightened by the spectre of personal death and also by the persistently desperate need to belong – how much longer can our fellow humans disguise and project their tortuous private terrors in world politics?

I don’t really know the answers, although I am certainly making some progress in figuring them out. I do know for sure that the universities are essentially unmindful of these important questions, and that they now proceed in their day-to-day business of education with precious little regard for anything that is not marketable, measurable or narrowly profitable. The French philosophers of the 18th-century Age of Reason liked to speak of a siecle des lumieres, a century of light, but most nations in the early 21st century remain mired in the bruising darkness, unaware that we are not here forever, and that we can make ourselves disappear.

As Jews, we understand that memory is always the beginning of redemption. But how shall humanity recall? Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Carthage, Rome – ground to dust and burned into oblivion. Is this our collective human fate? Are we all presently still alive merely to become captives of corrupted knowledge and of an increasingly ominous terminal despair?

Hope remains, as it always must, but it should now sing softly, muted, in an undertone. First we must all learn to understand that the visible Earth is made of ashes, and that ashes have authentic meaning. Through the obscure depths of history, we must now struggle to make out the phantoms of great ships of state, and to learn that the disasters that sent them down were unquestionably of their own making.

We must study history, but no longer in an atmosphere of contrived greatness. The barbarians are not all outside the gates; the inclination to tolerate barbarism lies latent within many, heavy and dangerous. As for politics as usual - the upcoming festival of yet another presidential election is a good example - it can never save us. All ordinary politics is “normally” a distraction; shamelessly besmirching life’s great promise with complacent and purposeless babble. There are exceptions, to be sure, but not enough to grant modern civilization the reprieve it now needs to survive.

The Jewish philosopher Abraham J. Heschel, in his Who Is Man? (1965) lamented that, “The emancipated man is yet to emerge.” Heschel then asked all human beings to raise the following questions wherever they turn: “What is expected of me?” “What is demanded of me?” Indebtedness, an indebtedness to resist mass society, is assumed by Heschel to be part of our very being in the universe.

We are living at a moment in history when it is almost impossible to think of collective human behavior without revulsion. It is essential that camouflage and concealment in the mass give way to what Heschel calls “being challenged in the world,” to creating and sustaining small oases of reverence and achievement.

We humans can build complex machines to fly through the air, but we must also fear that some others will use these aircraft as calculated instruments of murder. The contradictions are stark and dense with implication. It is high time to finally figure them out at the most basic species level. Until we do, even our most informed musings about particular human issues and problems will remain distressingly incomplete.

 

Copyright The Jewish Press 2003, All rights reserved.

 

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and publishes widely on international relations and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs Analyst for The Jewish Press.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/contradictions/2003/12/24/

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