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Back In The Shtetl

July 5, 2010

Hasidic Jewish Rabbi with Neturei Karta, from Williamsburg Brooklyn, protesting Israel’s Treatment of Palestinians during Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent NYC visit

I am not far from where it all began – for me at least – in the Brooklyn Women’s Hospital five months to the day the troops stormed the cliffs at Normandy.  Am a few miles away. Not too far – in Great Neck. The family tended to move east in generations – from Flatbush in Brooklyn to Queens, from Queens to Long Island – Great Neck and `points east’. As usual, getting my directions mixed up as they moved east, I moved west – to Denver. This has been good for my mental health over the years. Make occasional forays back into the old country, until recently to see my mother and aunt, both recently deceased, now to see sisters, nieces, nephews and the only brother in law in my life who has not been a complete asshole. Good man. Nice to have a non-asshole brother in law (on this side of the family) – a rare treat in my later years.

Actually came back here this time primarily to meet my Barcelona friend – one Aurelia Mane Estrada, professor of Political Economy at the University of Barcelona with whom a few years ago I team taught a graduate level course called `Democracy Development and Energy’ at the University of Denver where I teach. It  was essentially a course on Algeria – and how it was that a people who had suffered so egregiously at the hands of the French culminating in their horrific war of independence – could turn on one another in the 1990s and slaughter each other with such wanton violence. Nice story. Warms the heart. Anyhow Aurelia is coming into NY with her mom for a week – and as she has hosted me in Barcelona – I wanted to reciprocate and came back here to shlep Aurelia and her mom around Manhattan. Aurelia’s mom and dad (now deceased) lived with difficulty through the Franco years in Spain and suffered along with the rest of the country through those painful and trying times.

Their plane lands at Kennedy in a few hours and I look forward to seeing them both. Have spent the intervening time with family and friends with mixed emotions. A strange land.

Examples –

  • A young man who wants to study history to probe his strong belief that extra-terrerstrials built the Mayan temples and the pyramids of Egypt. I try to tell him to no avail that it is an old racist tale to think that the Mayans or Egyptians couldn’t do it themselves but he is pretty set in his extra-terrestrial world.
  • A middle aged woman – clearly on some level what could be considered `intelligent’ – who grew up in the orthodox Jewish tradition, studied the mystical Jew ish Kabala texts for many years, but then `found Jesus’ . She prays to Jesus secretly because she is afraid to share her Jesus epiphany with her orthodox Jewish family – who knows anyway
  • A young man who – with no other possibilities – has learned the skills of killing – is proud to be going to Afghanistan – to where he is about to be shipped out to – to, in his words, `kill terrorists’.
  • A 60-ish woman at a public swimming pool in Great Neck in response to my telling her I live in Denver: `Do people live in Denver’ – `No just buffalo but unfortunately no moose.’ I tell her.
  • In a Queens coffee shop someone shows me a copy of the NY Times and asked in a rather agitated manner: `Have you ever been to one of those weddings?’ – I am not sure to what she is referring – so she has to clarify – it is a gay wedding. I answer – `No not yet, but perhaps soon,’ and she looks at me with some hostility mumbling aloud what a strange place  Denver must be.
  • A strange and sometimes wondrous land – although the thermometer today topped out at 105 degrees Fahrenheit – spent the day with Sarah and Aurelia Mane Estrada  – the Barcelona superwomen – wandering around Wall Street and then after a brief boat ride – 4-5 hours in the Ellis Island Museum – in my opinion one of the best museums in the world.
  • Got the Michael Myerson special tour of Park Ave today. It started on

    NYC Labor Led Rally To Cancel Next Year’s All-Star Game in Arizona

    46th St. at the Major League Headquarters and ended at 67 St where Bibi Netanyahu was attending a meeting. 300 or so people, mostly  trade unionists, people from immigrant organizations and a scattering of folks in left groups (DSA, Workers World Party) showed up to call on major league baseball to cancel next year’s all star game in Arizona to protest the state’s anti-immigration bill.

  • Further north, on 67 St there were two demonstrations – a `pro-Israel’ rally of about 100 people who were breathing fire and saying unkind things to another 100 people standing across the street protesting the visit. Met a rabbi in the anti-Netanyahu contingent from the Jewish orthodox group `Neturei Karta’.  I asked him if his anti-Zionist orthodox Jewish movement is growing. `Yes’ he said with no little enthusiasm,` it’s growing by leaps and bounds mostly because we don’t believe in birth control.’. That was a pretty good one.
  • Met someone today who was in the Israeli army from 1987-1990. I said, `oh, you were there during the first Intifada (Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s). How was that?’ He responded `oh, that was fun!’. Fun?

more later…

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