Monday, April 30, 2007

the language of the bible

jeanette winterson wrote recently about the english in the king james bible. she makes the point that the elegant language of the pre-1970's version created a foundation of good english for the working classes and the uneducated. she credits it with helping her get a place at oxford university. winterson does allow that language will change:

"Of course language changes; it has to for life’s sake, but its riches come out of a collision of past and present usage — which is why we need literature. The more familiar we are with the whole stretch of language, the less likely are we to think and talk in clich├ęs. If politicians read more poetry, they might spout less garbage."

i don't think i am necessarily questioning the importance of reading well-written prose and poetry as a tool for one's own reading and writing development. she does say that "It’s about literature, not literacy. It is why reading is not a hobby nor a luxury, but fundamental to a civilised life."

i just don't think that church services in particular, and the bible in general are as much of a central educational source as once they were.

i also believe strongly from experience that for worship services and scriptural readings to have contemporary relevance, they also need contemporary contexts. i have always seen that as part of my role as a rabbi and teacher, i.e., to seek such connections and offer them for contemplation.

finally, while i used to say with great pomposity that i liked the victorian patriarchal language of our prayerbook and surely god knew what i meant anyway so why mess with the pronouns ... well ... these days, especially if you know any hebrew (i.e., even if the english is gender-neutralised), i feel invisible when reading and speaking the constant stream of male language that may still be found in many prayerbooks.

so - yes jeanette we should all read a lot more, but i'm just not happy making the kids read a prayer that says something like 'wondrous fashioner and sustainer of life we give thee thanks and praise' unless we have figured out together what on earth that means!

spitzer proposes legalising homosexual marriage

missed this item from reuters in my jet lag last week ...

"By Holly McKenna

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed legalizing same-sex marriage on Friday even though he expects the bill to be rejected by the legislature. The bill faces opposition from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers who likely will prevent New York from becoming the second state after Massachusetts to recognize marriage of gay and lesbian couples. Spitzer's bill fulfills a campaign pledge to press for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, a spokeswoman said. The governor had said on Monday he did not think it would be passed but that he would submit the proposal as a "statement of principle." The legislation would offer same-sex couples the same legal protections taken for granted by married people in areas such as property ownership, inheritance, hospital visitation and pension benefits, Spitzer, a Democrat, said in a statement. It includes a provision that no clergy or religious institution would be compelled to perform gay marriages.

Republicans control New York's Senate and would likely reject the measure. Democrats hold the majority in the state assembly but are not seen having enough backers to pass the law easily.

(Additional reporting Elizabeth Flood Morrow in Albany)"

ny times online reprints this story word for word plus the last paras that i snipped.

when do candidates tell the truth?

how naive is it of me to think that candidates for election should tell the truth and keep their promises? ok, very naive. then where does one draw the boundary with regard to how much spin we will accept? and how do we enforce such choices?

theoretically the third question is the easiest to answer, if you believe that voting can make a difference.

why am i going on about this just now? i found an article in the sunday times online about carl bernstein's new unauthorised 640-page biography, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

complete article here.

when i was about 11 bernstein was one of my heroes. we spent the summer of 1973 in the usa, and our friend bonnie who worked for the epa took us around dc. the first place we went was to a howard johnson's opposite an office building, and from our seat by the window bonnie pointed out the windows of the rooms where the watergate break-in had taken place. i got totally into politics for the first time in my life. *pause while i rummage in my room*

not a good pic but one of the buttons i bought at the time. o, and i also asked for the hardback "the final days" for my big chanukah present.

scroll forward 33 years. the sunday times anticipates bernstein's latest perspective:

"For years Bernstein suffered from writer’s block, but Knopf is promoting his biography as a triumphant return to form. Publisher Sonny Mehta said his portrait would “show us, for the first time, the true trajectory of Hillary Clinton’s life and career”. It will be published simultaneously in Britain by Hutchinson.

According to the publishers, it will cover everything from Clinton’s “complex relationship with her disciplinarian father” to “her courtship with Bill Clinton and the amazing dynamic of their marriage, during the most trying of circumstances”."

i think i feel sorry for hillary. i am, however, no longer sure for whom i wish to vote. it's like the game show 'the weakest link'. it often does not matter who the strongest link actually is. the people vote according to their perception, and for tactical reasons. how much spin will i accept?

before i had heard of richard nixon, i lived in a world where the president or the prime minister was a good man. we trusted him to lead our government honestly and to the best of his abilities. i also was taught to find a policeman if i was in trouble, and to make sure that i paid the bus conductor even if he forgot to ask me for a fare. that was obviously over the rainbow, yet i still hope for some of those attitudes to turn the tide today. *sigh*

Friday, April 27, 2007

war memorial piglet

piglet is paying his respects at the cenotaph in whitehall, london. although i am basically a pacifist, that does not mean that i do not appreciate the service of those who fought and died for me to live in countries where i have the freedom to speak out against war. it is possible to support our troops without supporting the war and the president. i pray they all come home safe and soon.

no smoking

wonderful article in the times today about a pub in cornwall trying to circumvent the no-smoking ban that comes into effect across england starting 1st july. you can find the whole article here, but here are some snippets:

"Peru snubs pub, stubs out smoking ploy
by Sam Knight

A pub in Cornwall has failed in its attempt to become a Peruvian consulate, and thereby escape the smoking ban. The landlords of the Peruvian Arms in Penzance, an 18th century pub built with the proceeds of the Peruvian silver mines, received a letter from the Peruvian Ambassador to the UK, Ricardo Luna Mendoza, turning down their request this morning. "They said 'No', of course. Due to the Geneva Convention and things like that," said Debbie Trevithick. "The Ambassador said they were going to have a meeting about it, but it was only a joke I suppose." Lima was apparently unmoved by Ms Trevithick's offers to accentuate the already Peruvian aspects of the bar should it be granted consular status, including promises that the staff would learn Spanish, play the national anthem, observe Peruvian holidays and buy a llama.

Consulates and embassies are exempt from the smoking ban, which covers all pubs, clubs, membership clubs, cafes and restaurants in England, under the cloak of diplomatic immunity, the Department of Health confirmed. Although it is unclear whether becoming a Peruvian consulate would have been an advantage for Ms Trevithick's pub: the country has had its own smoking ban since 1991."

jack valenti r.i.p.

from bbc news

"Jack Valenti, Hollywood's film industry lobbyist who developed the modern US movie ratings system, has died aged 85.
He died of complications resulting from his stroke in March at his Washington home, said Seth Oster of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Valenti had led the MPAA for 38 years, introducing the G, PG, R and X film ratings system. He retired in 2004.

As the man who represented the Hollywood industry in Washington, Valenti was a fierce opponent of film piracy, crusading for copyright enforcement.

He also abolished the industry's restrictive Hays code, which prohibited explicit violence and sex on the screen. The film ratings system that Valenti laid out in the 1960s generally has remained intact, although some changes have been added over the decades.

Hollywood directors and actors paid tribute to Valenti, with Stephen Spielberg calling him "a giant voice of reason" and "the greatest ambassador Hollywood has ever known". Kirk Douglas said that Valenti had been "a loyal and caring friend to many people".

Valenti once said that the 1966 film A Man For All Seasons was his favourite movie. "I'm the luckiest guy in the world, because I spent my entire public working career in two of life's classic fascinations, politics and Hollywood," he said. "You can't beat that.""

i learned about the hays code from the musical 'a day in hollywood/a night in the ukraine'. there is not a lot about this musical online, and the usual places one may find lyrics do not cover it. all i can offer you, therefore, is from my swiss cheese of a memory:

nudity can never be permitted
as being necessary for the plot
the effect of nudity on the average audience is immoral

transparent material
translucent material
aaaaaand a silhouette
are even more suggestive than exposure!

and here is from the original:

VI. Costume
General Principles:
4. Nudity can never be permitted as being necessary for the plot. Semi-nudity must not result in undue or indecent exposures.
5. Transparent or translucent materials and silhouette are frequently more suggestive than actual exposure.

basically, the company tapdances a rhythm while reciting a precis of the code. as usual, the part of my brain that adores trivial information has kept snippets of these lyrics in my memory for over 25 years.

why am i going on about this? because dick vosburgh died also in the past few days. he wrote the book and lyrics for the show. the independent obit notes:

"Vosburgh made no secret of the fact that having a show on Broadway was one of the greatest thrills of his life. A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine started life at the New End Theatre in Hampstead before transferring to the Mayfair Theatre. Devised and written with the actor and composer Frank Lazarus, it was a two-part musical that combined a revue, centred on the fads and foibles of Hollywood, with a pastiche Marx Brothers movie entitled A Night in the Ukraine.

The first section included an inspired number devised by Vosburgh and Lazarus, in which the cast of eight, while tap dancing, recited the risible Production Code devised by censors in 1930s Hollywood. The brilliant pastiche of a Marx Brothers movie, which comprised the show's second half, resulted in a lawsuit from the heirs of two of the brothers, who claimed plagiarism and were shocked to discover that everything in the script was pure Vosburgh. (Though the case dragged on for months, Vosburgh and Lazarus ultimately won.)"

Thursday, April 26, 2007

no designer babies after all

that same mark who was so superstitious at the cardiff game has written another interesting article, this time about pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD. you may read the whole thing here. btw, i told him that i liked to share some of his articles, and asked if it was ok with him. at first he thought i had quoted him in a book, and was rather happy. once i had disabused him of that notion, however, he was still kind enough to say it was ok by him if i blogged his writing.

the catalyst for the article is a woman with generations of breast cancer in her family, whose embryo will be screened for the gene that causes it. the gist of what mark is saying is that:
a. the fear is that the more reasons that become accepted for screening for certain genes, the closer we will get to a form of eugenics (the slippery slope theory).
b. there is, however, no reason to fear this since "its dystopian potential is firmly limited by science. It is certainly a powerful technology that has helped hundreds of families to have a healthy child. But it is entirely unsuitable for mass production of babies-to-order."
c. since it can only be done via ivf, " Success rates are poor, and it involves invasive and gruelling gynaecological procedures. There are also side-effects for the prospective mother".
d. not to mention the fact that " It is all very well ordering a designer baby with the brains of Stephen Hawking and the looks of Kate Moss. If mum and dad are thick and ugly, it isn’t going to happen."
e. while nobody knows to what future scientific developments may lead, "PGD is a great tool for preventing genetic diseases that cascade down the generations, blighting whole families with misery and suffering. For the eugenic design of superhumans, it is essentially useless."

so there you have it. no need to invoke a brave new world, or mengele's experiments. no ethical crisis. in fact, this procedure may help prevent diseases such as cystic fibrosis and, as our catalyst hopes, end the chain of death from breast cancer that haunts her family.

food for thought

this is from dry bones, a link to whose website is on this page. whatever one may think of the situation in the middle east, i think kirchen's point is valid.

qpr 1 - 0 cardiff city!

there are many ways of seeing things. this is one view of dexter's goal that won the game against cardiff city and made sure qpr were safe from relegation.


and i was there. in the first half, i sat in j block, about where piglet sat when he was photographed at qpr a few years ago. there was, however, little atmosphere there. mostly dads and their little ones. i texted noam to see if there was any space in p block and agreed to change at halftime. by that point, we were winning. however, when i arrived at the new spot, mark (the science editor from the times) told me that since i had changed my seat, if we ended up losing, it would all be my fault. (the SCIENCE guy). o the anxiety. o the tension. but i sang my heart out for the boys. when the final whistle went, first i turned to mark and just pointed at him with frabjous glee. next i turned to noam, but she was refusing to celebrate until she had heard the scores for the other teams. choruses of 'the r's are staying up!', and players coming to our corner and applauding us. gazza hopped onto the pitch in a suit with his crutches and waved a stick at us. finally, marcus bignot, our captain and my favourite player, came over to lead the cheers, and even took the announcer's mike to sing a cheer. much joy. wonderful afternoon, and with the late evenings already in evidence, a sunlit walk to the buses and ride home, carried swiftly by the happiness and relief the win had given me.

this is the view that i had of the goal from the loft - a corner from the south africa road side taken short, the ball passed back to the corner-taker, and crossed into the box for blackstock to send a powerful header into the goal:

a bit of eye candy

with angelina jolie in 'gia', as dr legaspie in 'e.r.', and now in some show called lost. i found this pic on scribegrrrl's blog, and hope she doesn't mind my copying it to here, but in my current single state it is an image that gives me great pleasure :-)

you go rosie!

news and (so-called) entertainment media are feasting on the imminent departure of rosie o'donnell from the tv show 'the view'. it is horribly fascinating to see how 'news' is made, i.e., the creation, fuelled by the dumptruck himself, of the 'celebrity feud' between trump and rosie; assisted by conservative hosts of tv 'news' talk shows. i read her blog regularly, and thus get a view of her perspective. it is pretty clear to me that while she sometimes puts her foot in her mouth, she has strong opinions that usually coincide with mine (not so sure about the wtc building #7 conspiracy). she was hired by 'the view' specifically to give her opinions, and i cannot believe the hysteria this has induced. hetero neo-con middle-aged men who speak their opinions don't get 1/100th the scrutiny and fallout that she has received this year. i don't watch tv so i haven't seen the show so i will not miss it. i suspect rosie could do with a bit of a rest from all the noise as well. i look forward to seeing what she plans to do next, and wish her well.

bashed by baked beans

(photo from 'pink is the new blog')

it has been a while since i have been able to post, which has been rather frustrating. to welcome myself back, i have this somewhat bizarre story about hugh grant and a paparazzo:

"LONDON (Reuters) - Hugh Grant has been arrested and questioned by police after a photographer accused the actor of attacking him with a tub of baked beans. Photographer Ian Whittaker told the Daily Star tabloid that he and Grant, 46, clashed near the home of the "Four Weddings and a Funeral" star. Whittaker said Grant abused and kicked him Tuesday before lobbing the beans. The paper printed photos of Grant with a plastic tub of food raised over his head. Grant's lawyers said an incident had taken place and was now under investigation. His agent in the United States said he had no official statement at this stage and London representatives could not be immediately reached for comment. A police spokeswoman, when asked about the incident, said a 46-year-old man had been arrested Wednesday evening and questioned at a London police station after an allegation of assault in west London. He was bailed to return in May."

to be honest, when i read this all i could think was i wonder which brand of beans it was ...

"a million housewives every day
pick up a tin of beans and say
beanz meanz heinz"

Friday, April 20, 2007

a moment of connection

sitting on the 137 bus from oxford street yesterday
evening, i was next to a woman reading a book of
poetry. i had my headphones on, but kept sneaking a
glance over her shoulder at the poems. eventually,
she showed me the cover. i took out the earpieces and
said, "i was wondering what you were reading as i
looked over your shoulder." she smiled and asked what
it was that i had been reading. i told her it was a
piece i'd been working on at my writing workshop. she
said, "as i looked at it over your shoulder, i thought
it might be." i smiled at her, and then we reached my
stop. "take care," i said. "bless you," she said,
and i got off the bus.

i wonder who she was. a minister, perhaps, i thought.
i wonder what would've happened if i'd've stayed on
the bus. i did have an all-day bus pass. on the
other hand, it doesn't really matter. it was a brief
encounter (maybe this is a better title for this
post!). somehow, though, it gave me a little bit of hope.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

kitty carlisle hart r.i.p.

an obituary from the new york times. here is a snippet:

"As a young girl she was taken around the capitals of Europe by her mother, Hortense Conn, whose ambition was to establish her daughter in a “brilliant” marriage, preferably to a prince. There were piano lessons, voice lessons and a grounding in the dramatic arts. When a royal husband did not materialize, Miss Carlisle recalled, her mother would tell her, “You’re not the prettiest girl I ever saw, and you’re not the best singer I ever heard, and you’re certainly not the best actress I ever hoped to see, but if we put them all together, we’ll find the husband we’re looking for on the stage.” She found that husband in the celebrated dramatist Moss Hart. They were married in 1946. In the years before he died, in 1961, they were at the center of New York’s glittering theatrical life."

why am i blogging this? first of all, this life appears to have been a good and a full one (she was 96). next, her husband wrote two of my favourite plays - 'the man who came to dinner', and 'you can't take it with you' (with george s kaufman). also, she knew the marx brothers and the gershwin brothers and cole porter and irving berlin and she sang their songs. finally, my mother said that my father loved watching her on television. may her memory be for a blessing.

ps just got back from my writing workshop. i mentioned that kitty carlisle was dead, & j got really upset because she had a date to see her in nyc next week. s then recalled a couple of memories. he said that kitty was over to visit and he was making conversation and said to her that she must have made quite a lot of money from her recent show and she said that she had. he asked if she was going to do something nice with it and she said, yes, spend it as fast as i can!

thursday thirteen xvi

Thirteen Things about Albert

1. albert einstein - scientist
2. albert brooks - film-maker
3. albert hofmann - inventor of lsd
4. prince albert of saxe-coburg-gotha
5. albert pujols - baseball player
6. the lion and albert - boy
7. albert camus - writer
8. albert the bear - margrave
9. albert schweitzer - ethicist
10. albert finney - actor
11. fat albert - cartoon character
12. albertus magnus - monk
13. albert h friedlander - parent

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

piglet ben again

today we went to the house of lords to have tea with our godmother. there's never enough time to stop and look around because we have so little time together. however, the walls and ceilings of the halls through which we pass are so inviting, not to mention the corridor-long shelves of books. as we arrived at the blue carpet, through a half-open door i could see that there was a debate going on in the chamber. but it was time to update my godmother with regard to all the upcoming changes in my abode, profession and life. on the way out, i had to follow my mother's dictum and take advantage of the loo because you never know when the next opportunity will arise. i walked through the door marked 'women peers'. there is a lot to look at in there also. even peeing in parliament may be thrilling. i washed my hands, and dried them with the last hand towel on the shelf - white with a red st george's cross and 'h of l' printed in the middle. o, the tea was very tasty too.

on our way home we enjoyed the sights again. as you can see in the above picture, piglet is checking out government security measures, but the policeman was not quite as friendly this time. on the other hand, piglet was able to get quite close to his favourite clock:

julie christie is back, for a while

the ny times has a review here about julie christie's latest appearance in a major film role. she plays a woman fading away with alzheimer's.

julie christie was one of my first major crushes. not in dr zhivago, actually, but in 'fahrenheit 451' and 'far from the madding crowd' (alongside alan bates, my other great crush of that era. i have been sworn at by mr bates. i took a movie producer who was a friend of my father's to qpr once, and on our way to the match he pointed out the house in which his friend alan bates lived. a few days later i went back to that house, and jumped up and down in the front garden trying to see into the house. he opened the window and told me to go forth and multiply. i drew a cartoon about it ... must dig that out and post it)

o yes, julie christie. most of all, i loved her in 'heaven can wait'. i think i caught a glimpse of her as madame rosmerta in the last harry potter, but since harry was under the invisibility cloak at the time it was not a clear shot.
anyway, i cannot wait to see her on the screen again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

harvey fierstein op-ed on prejudice

via a bit of a roundabout way, here is a piece by harvey fierstein from last weekend's ny times. he comments on the unpredictability of public and media response to a variety of recent incidents of prejudice. do read the whole thing!

wherever you may position yourself on the political spectrum, i feel that his conclusion speaks to us all:

"I urge you to look around, or better yet, listen around and become aware of the prejudice in everyday life. We are so surrounded by expressions of intolerance that I am in shock and awe that anyone noticed all these recent high-profile instances. Still, I'm gladdened because our no longer being deaf to them may signal their eventual eradication.

The real point is that you cannot harbor malice toward others and then cry foul when someone displays intolerance against you. Prejudice tolerated is intolerance encouraged. Rise up in righteousness when you witness the words and deeds of hate, but only if you are willing to rise up against them all, including your own. Otherwise suffer the slings and arrows of disrespect silently."

it is definitely difficult to be consistent. nu - we need to try harder!

liviu librescu z"l

From The Times
April 18, 2007

Liviu Librescu
One victim of the Virginia massacre left an incomparable legacy

"The last person to see Professor Liviu Librescu alive appears to have been Alec Calhoun, a student at Virginia Tech who turned as he prepared to leap from a high classroom window to see the elderly academic holding shut the classroom door. The student jumped, and lived. Minutes later, the professor was shot dead.

There is no meaningful distinction between one relative’s grief and another’s sorrow as the bereaved converge on Blacksburg from as near as Roanoke and as far as India. But it is worth reflecting on the significance of Professor Librescu’s life of quiet heroism, which encompassed the Holocaust, a career of internationally admired teaching and research, and a final act of sacrifice that saved at least nine other lives.

The son of Romanian Jewish parents, he was sent to a Soviet labour camp as a boy after his father was deported by the Nazis. He was repatriated to communist Romania only to be forced out of academia there for his Israeli sympathies. A personal intervention by Menachem Begin enabled him to emigrate with his wife to Israel, from where he visited the US on a sabbatical in 1986, and chose to stay. The appalling ironies of his murder by a crazed student after a life of such fortitude and generosity will not be lost on anyone who hears his story.

Yet neither should those who mourn him forget the role that America played in his life. As for so many other survivors of the mid-20th century’s genocidal convulsions, the US was for this inspiring teacher both a beacon of hope and a welcoming new home. Founded on the idea of liberty, it also made, for him, a reality of that idea. Let those he saved now make the most of it."

more on professor librescu from the new york times, abc news, the independent, the guardian, the jerusalem post

bio from the virginia tech website

hokie tragedy

i've been thinking and thinking but i am just not sure what to say today - the massacre at virginia tech is so awful, yet so distant. just thinking about all that pain and fear, but going nowhere near feeling it.

i've been against guns for as long as i can remember. at the same time, when i was about 6 i wanted a cap gun and my parents refused. my mother tells me that i nibbled my toast into the shape of the weapon and went off to play with my bread-gun. nu, of course we should be concentrating on the problems before they get to the gun stage. preventative measures - not exactly a priority generally in the usa, eh? instead they feed us who is the real father of anna-nicole's baby and a radio jock fired for racist language. a student went on a shooting spree in virginia. what about the carnage in baghdad? every day you could be blown up while trying to shop for food. where and how today are we teaching the respect for and value of human life? don't get me started.

*deep sigh*

rest in peace those who have been murdered. as for us - how can we rest until we figure out what we should be doing for tikkun olam right now!

Monday, April 16, 2007

poor old steffi

the associated press reports that poor old steffi graf needed three stitches on her lip yesterday when her husband andre agassi accidentally smacked her in the face with his tennis racket. the doctor who paid $70k to play tennis with the two of them was the one who sewed her up!

this picture is from about 20 years ago at wimbledon. in those olden days there was a standing area on centre court for which tickets were available only on the day. i would queue for such a ticket, for a place that was right behind the photographers' pit, and take my own pictures. some of the black and white ones i would print up that night and try to flog them to other people in the queue on the next day i was there. this is a scan from an old slide.

i spent the weekend relaxing in brighton, but am not sure if there will be a pic of piglet at the pier because my trustly old digicam got a bit wet during a game of crazy golf and doesn't feel very well right now :-(

Thursday, April 12, 2007

absurd laws, ancient and modern

also from last weekend's sunday times, an article by dan kieran entitled 'goodbye magna carta'. go read it!

some of the ridiculous laws still on the books in britain that he notes are:

1. it is illegal to flag down a taxi in london if you have the plague
2. you cannot shoot a welshman with a bow and arrow before midnight in chester, but you can after midnight
3. it is illegal to get within a few hundred yards of the queen of england if you are not wearing socks!

and, worst of all, according to the government's new serious organised crime and police act, there is an exclusion zone that forbids us to protest outside 10 downing street. read the article!

thursday thirteen xv

Thirteen Famous Berliners

1. Cute Knut - cub
2. Walter Gropius - architect
3. Marlene Dietrich - marlene!
4. Felix Mendelssohn - composer
5. Serge & Beate Klarsfeld - nazi hunters
6. Leni Riefenstahl - nazi photographer
7. Gershom Scholem - scholar, esp. of Kabbala
8. Nastassia Kinski - the bear in 'The Hotel New Hampshire'
9. Kurt Eisner - socialist
10. Rahel Varnhagen - salon hostess
11. Ernst Lubitsch - movie director
12. Katarina Witt - ice skater
13. Walter Benjamin - writer

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

same-sex unions in the ukraine

i cannot find the link anymore, but i saved this article from the jta:

Jewish community leader in Ukraine resigns over issue of same-sex unions
By Vladimir Matveyev

"Ukraine, Oct. 3 (JTA) —- The resignation of a longtime leader of one of the largest Reform congregations in Ukraine has thrown the spotlight on a bitter controversy over homosexuality within the post-Soviet Reform movement. Boris Kapustin, 70, founder and chairman of the Reform congregation in the Crimean town of Kerch, quit his post in September. While Ukrainian Reform leaders cite Kapustin’s age and health concerns as reasons for his resignation, Kapustin told JTA his resignation stemmed from his opposition to the movement’s acceptance of same-sex commitment ceremonies.

“I don’t want to participate in a movement that has organized a chupah for lesbians, which happened in Moscow this year,” Kapustin said. He was referring to Rabbi Nelly Shulman, who officiated at an April 2 commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. It is believed to be the first Jewish, same-sex commitment ceremony in the former Soviet Union. A strong backlash greeted the move by Shulman, who insisted she officiated at the ceremony on her own private initiative and was not backed in any way by her group, OROSIR, the umbrella organization of Reform Judaism in Russia. In a strongly worded statement, the Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities, the largest stream in the former Soviet Union, urged a boycott of the Reform movement.

There were also repercussions within the Progressive movement, as Reform Judaism is referred to in the region. In late April, Zinovy Kogan resigned as chairman of the movement’s Moscow-based umbrella group. In August, a Reform congregation in the Ukrainian town of Pavlograd wrote to all Reform synagogues in the country, urging them to “renounce all religious contacts with the people who committed that crime,” a reference to the lesbian ceremony. Responding to the wave of criticism from their communities, the six Reform rabbis working in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have agreed to ban such ceremonies for the time being, saying that post-Soviet citizens, including Jews, are not yet prepared to accept the Reform movement’s liberal approach to homosexuality.

Homosexuality was only decriminalized after the fall of the Soviet Union 15 years ago. According to a recent poll, 37 percent of Russians still believe gays and lesbians should be criminally prosecuted.

Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny, the Kiev-based leader of the Reform movement in Ukraine, said that Reform Jews who criticize the ceremony “completely misunderstand Reform Judaism, which teaches tolerance and respect toward the choice of each and every individual.” Nevertheless, when Dukhovny is approached by same-sex couples who want to arrange such a ceremony, “I tell them that neither our community nor society is ready for this.”

Esfir Mikhailova, recently appointed as Kapustin’s successor in Kerch, refused to speculate on this aspect of Kapustin’s resignation. “At our board meeting, Kapustin told us he decided to retire because of his age and problems with health,” Mikhailova said. Dukhovny praised Kapustin’s role in building a “strong congregation” in this Crimean town of 160,000.

The Kerch Progressive congregation, which Kapustin founded in 1997, has 1,000 members, virtually all the town’s Jews and their families. It is considered a leading light among the 70-odd Reform communities in the former Soviet Union. A retired Soviet navy officer, Kapustin is credited by many local Jews with building a strong and unified Jewish community. That is a rarity in a region where Jewish life is often plagued by infighting among Chabad, non-Chabad Orthodox and Reform groups. Also rare is the congregation’s monopoly over local Jewish life. Kerch is one of a handful of Reform communities anywhere in the former Soviet Union that owns its own building, a 19th-century synagogue returned to them as part of a government program of religious property restitution. The community restored the building and reopened it in 2001. Chabad does not have a presence in the town. “This is one of the largest, and the best functioning, congregations in Ukraine,” said Alexander Gaydar, executive director of the Association of Progressive Jewish Congregations of Ukraine. The congregation runs religious and cultural, educational and charitable programs, youth and women’s clubs, a senior center, a family Sunday school, a Jewish museum and a theater group, with funds from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Almost everyone in the Kerch community credits Kapustin’s leadership for their congregation’s success. Kapustin’s son, Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin, 26, was ordained a year ago at the Leo Baeck College in London. The youngest of the six Reform rabbis in the former Soviet Union, he serves the Reform congregation in Kkarkov, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Neither he nor Reform Jews in Kerch believe the elder Kapustin’s resignation will harm the congregation he built. “Boris Kapustin has retired, but he built a good basis for the congregation, which will continue to develop,” Dukhovny said."

a a gill in tasmania

i don't know what is up with blogger - for several days or a single day it will not let me post, and then there is a sudden window like this. anyway, reading last weekend's sunday times magazine, i came upon the following fascinating facts gill has to tell us about tasmania:

1. the genitalia of possums are upside-down
"We are driving out to the tip of the northwest coast, and on the way we've picked up a possum. We pull off the road and tie it to the back of the truck like a bunch of good ol' Mississippi boys on a Saturday night. It lies spread-eagled in the dirt. I stare at it, as something's odd, something I can't quite work out. "So you've noticed," says our guide. "Possums have their tackle on upside down." And damn me if he isnt's right. The little critter's got his very neat matt-black meat and two veg sewn on back to front. Now, whatever induced evolution to think that having your testicles upfront was a comfortable idea?"

2. 'tassie' is a euphemism
"... the Dutchman Abel Tasman ... gave us the first map of Tassie. Ever since, "map of Tassie" has been the universal Australian euphemism for a lady's front-bottom area. Its outline resembles a charmingly old-fashioned hirsute pudendum."

3. wombat poo is square
"It was up here that I discovered the odd truth about wombat dung. No creature has grown so snugly into its name as the wombat, and they have this remarkable poo. It's square. Wombats lay organic dice - they have special bones in their backsides for squeezing and shaping and slicing. The reason for the cubic turd is that wombats like to mark their territory neatly, and they lay their personal Lego as high as possible on logs and rocks so that it doesn't get lost in the grass, and they've made it square so that it won't roll off. Nanny nature thinks of absolutely everything."

kurt vonnegut r.i.p.

kurt vonnegut was my favourite author for so many years. i read everything he wrote that i could find. he is famous enough that more eminent writers will dissect his life and work. i shall find some links.

ny times
times online

more later i am sure.

it may be utterly banal, but kv gave me my favourite curse: 'go take a flying fcuk at a rolling doughnut, (go take a flying fcuk at the moon)'! meanwhile, he died my number two stupid death: just falling on your head. well done sir! (number one is tripping yourself up putting on your trousers and then falling on your head)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

berlin beauty

everyone's nieces are genii. it's just that some are more genius than others :-)

ok ok, but listen to this: this morning o saw me drinking water from a bottle i'd bought on the way over. while she was watching a dvd, i put the bottle in the kitchen on the floor with the recyclables. at lunch, she picked up the bottle, and gave it to me, making the noise she makes after drinking. nu - she is just one. she connected the bottle with me in a totally different context. i was pretty blown away by that.

no doubt we will all be hearing more stories about her. meanwhile, i am enjoying my first photo taken with her. i am soggy from the rain outside, and excitement at being with her.

Monday, April 09, 2007

the simpsons watching us!

ken levene posted the evolution simpson's opening, and a commenter on that blog posted this:

qpr 3 - 2 looton town

what a terrible game, and yet how exciting! when i got home, my long-suffering (40 years of qpr fans in the family and could care less about football) mother said, 'so you beat the bottom team.' but, yeah. b-b-b-but we won!

ok, the first half was pretty dire except for dexter's cleanly-taken goal to put us in the lead. just booting it up in the air for nygaard to try and nod on. then ainsworth went off after a clash during a header (rumour is that he broke his leg, poor chap) and o how we missed him. he may not be so fast any more, but his energy and his competitive nature and his niggling of the opposition were sorely absent. smith came on, but did not fill that space.

just before half-time, looton scored a soft goal.

the linesman down our end was useless. he kept checking with the ref before making a decision. and then he missed a blatant foul against smith not ten feet away from him and parallel - the defender had his arm across smith's neck and was pushing back so hard i thought his head was going to come off. while we were all screaming about that, play went straight down the other end and nygaard made his contribution to the score, handling for a penalty. 1 - 2.

everyone started losing their tempers. the ref made a series of questionable decisions, all against us. we had a penalty turned down. our old boy richard langley came on for looton. was he booed! we used to love him. my sister still does. i wonder what it feels like to have 10k people all screaming at you what a wanker you are.

and then, and then ... furlong is tripped in the box again and we finally get our penalty. about 5 minutes to go. langers starts mouthing off at everyone, and tries some gamesmanship to put dexter off. the woman on my right covers her face with her hands. dex waits for the ref to sort things out. he steps up to take the penalty. i cannot see where it goes because all around me are standing and screaming. GOOOOOAL! a strange man next to me is hugging me and someone is slapping me on the back. we have equalised. i am screaming. we are singing the pigbag song with glee (da da da da - hoops! - da da da). we sing for blackstock. 'langley, langley, what's the score?' we tell him to fcuk off. the noise is now non-stop. 'stand up, if you love rangers!' 'rangers' reject!' (for langers), is that the dambusters theme? something like it. the ball is down the other end and people are panicking. 'come on, get yer boot into it!' there are to be 3 minutes injury time. the drum in the r block is beating. the ellerslie road guys start the chant, 'sing your hearts out, sing your hearts out, sing your hearts out for the lads!' we are attacking again, and there is furs in the middle of the penalty area, and i am left short again as all around me rise, and pandemonium. furs has scored! we lead 3- 2 with only seconds left! the guy next to me nearly tips me over the seats in front as we dance for joy. i hold onto his jacket, as he goes into a group hug with fans to his left. we are punching the air and singing 'there's only one furlong.' i throw my head back with joy and see my outstretched hands silhouetted against the sky and i scream with the others.

after this, we all keep whistling for the ref to blow up. right at the end looton have a free kick at the right-hand corner of the penalty box. we are holding our breath, it is ok, and then the ref calls full-time and we are in ecstasy. i cannot remember anything more thrilling for years. 'the r's are staying up!' 'looton town are going down!' our subs rush onto the field to begin celebrating, and the rush for the pubs begins.

we are almost safe from relegation. almost safe. the players looked drained, but still came over to thank us. biggie stayed until last, pumping his fists to wind up the crowd. we love him. for a moment, i am happy.

you go, a-rod

poor old alex rodriguez. ok, he is not exactly lacking in financial remuneration, but he has not yet won over the yankee stadium faithful. he blew it again the other day, failing to drive in runs when needed. this time, however, dj sent him out for a curtain call to celebrate his first grand slam of the season. football season is nearly at an end. time for me to start switching gears?

coventry 0 - 1 qpr

two in a row - who could believe it. jimmy smith comes on as a sub and scores the only goal. it doesn't sound like pretty football, but if it keeps us safe then who bloody cares?!

quis custodiet ipsos custodies

a rabbi is caught shoplifting in florida.
the jta report is here
as the reporter reports:

""Maimonedes said that if you're not sure if someone is guilty, it's better not to punish him than punish him unjustly. But he said that if a Jewish scholar, who should know right from wrong, is guilty, he should be punished far more severely than an ignorant person who doesn't know any better." "

i've only met this man a couple of times, and he seemed perfectly pleasant. maybe he went temporarily mad as a result of medication. i do worry, though, that the community closes ranks to defend him. it's not good for the jews to have such publicity, they worry. but the torah also commands us not to favour anyone in judgement because of their social status (high or low). i am kind of fed up with the old boys club as well. don't get me started!

living without blogger!

have been unable to post for days. oh, the agony. but now, i am back, and 3 qpr wins on the bounce to rave about. o frabjous days!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

thursday thirteen xiv

Thirteen Heroines in Children's Literature

=1. (my all-time favourites) Anne Shirley and Jo March
[no longer in any order]
3. Rebecca Rowena Randall of Sunnybrook Farm
4. Lyra Belacqua
5. Lucy Pevensie
6. Marianne
7. Violet Baudelaire
8. Hermione Granger
9. Katy Carr
10. Marmalade Atkins
11. Meg Murry
12. Clever Polly
Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

and then there's that whole evolution debate ...

we'd be better off without religion?

just noticed this from about a week ago on ruth gledhill's blog. richard dawkins, professor a.c. grayling, and christopher hitchens were speaking for the motion. against it were professor roger scruton, nigel spivey, and my godmother. the chair was one of my late father's favourite (not so) secret crushes - joan bakewell (her autobiography was the last thing he read before he died).

the debaters won the motion, leading at the beginning of the discussion, and increasing their lead at the end. as ruth points out early on, this was not a debate about the existence of god. as i often remind myself, i believe and feel that religion is something that we humans created to help ourselves deal with questions about the unknown in our world, e.g., our origins, what happens after we die, and what is the best way to live the lives that we have. as i read her, ruth felt that religion is essentially about the search for and expression of love for both the transcendant and each other. as for the star of the debate, and ruth's response:

"'There are very good grounds to believe there is no actual truth in the claims of religion. I rather liken it to a child with a dummy in its mouth. I do not think it a very dignified or respect-worthy posture for an adult to go around sucking a dummy for comfort,' said Dawkins, perpetuating a common but gross misunderstanding of why people need religion. Some of us, I suspect quite a lot, are not religious for comfort. It is because we need to be battered, reduced, to have our monstrous egos squashed so we can control them properly. Speaking entirely for myself here of course."

but what about community? of course each individual has her/his personal perspective. is there, however, no benefit to the individual from being part of a like-minded group? going back to what dave thomas said about football ... relationships, connections, mutual support (which is not the same as sucking a dummy for comfort) ... that certainly makes sense to me. i don't know enough about xianity to discuss the concept of a personal jesus. i do know enough about judaism to state that community is central to our religious identity. our synagogues are never just houses of prayer. they are houses of study, and houses of meeting.

if we no longer feel able to be part of our religious communities of origin, how on earth will we be able to find a way to live in peace with other religious communities?

piglet livingstone, i presume?

went for a little walk today to see an old schoolfriend. on the way we passed the royal geographical society. we saw the profile of dr. david livingstone at the corner of exhibition road. many, many years ago, the statue was a sign for my little sister when we were nearly home from somewhere. she would point it out and cry, "livin-thun, livin-thun!" (of course she was about 3) here, piglet contemplates that memory.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

ray evans r.i.p.

i noticed this obit in today's times. i had never heard of this guy. he was a songwriter, and it turns out that he wrote rather a lot of well-known songs with his partner jay livingston.

on the one hand, he was responsible for the song 'silver bells', which has driven me crazy at xmas for so many years. on the other hand, he did write 'mona lisa' and the theme to the tv show bonanza.

in the end, what made me want to publicly note his passing was the song he wrote for the hitchcock film 'the man who knew too much' (the 2nd version). while doris day sang 'que sera sera, whatever will be will be, the future's not ours to see, que sera sera', the song is better known to me in the following form, to be sung when your team is in the lead in an fa cup tie:

que sera sera
whatever will be will be
we're going to wem-ber-lee
que sera sera

so thank you mr. evans for memories of 1982 & 1986.

qpr 1 - 0 preston north end

dexter blackstock in action ... he scored the only glorious winning goal tonight.

i stood at the back of the upper loft with my sister and her friends, and i cannot remember such loud and constant vocal support from the crowd as i heard and took part in tonight (v. v. sore throat). frange was at a second night seder (it took 22 minutes before somebody wondered why noam & i were present), and nobody would go for a chicken balti pie for me to bless. no matter - after half time the guy in frange's seat got a hot dog, i blessed it, we scored and we won. i am happy to also have new lucky clothing that is not embarrassing to mention, i.e., a new away shirt i got for ten quid on saturday, and albert's socks.

had a bit of a chat with dave thomas of the fanzine a kick up the 'r's before the match. he was assuming that i am a religious person. i guess i have been, but at the moment qpr seems more of a religion to me than organised judaism. i wonder how long it will take me to stop being so angry?! anyway, the gods favoured qpr tonight. dave feels very strongly that football is full of good and necessary things. he means being a supporter of the team rather than the sport itself. he talked about connections, and common goals, and community. he talked about a safe place to express large emotions. i know that the only place in the world i can shout at will (as opposed to something like warning people or being angry) is at a sporting event. COME ON YOU 'RRRRR'S!!!!! etc. perhaps not the new chant i learned today: your mum's your dad, your dad's your mum, you're all inbred you northern scum. :-( i do know that the main time that i ever feel like this:
is when qpr score a goal.

baseball season begins

this is a picture of christopher lidle, who is six years old. he is throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the beginning of the new season at yankee stadium. this is because his father cory, who pitched for the yankees last year, died in a plane crash.
this is a-rod, being congratulated by bobby abreu, who he drove in with a home run in the bottom of the 8th inning.

also, the red sox lost to the perennially worst kansas city royals. it's usually like qpr winning and chelscum losing - cause for great joy. somewhat muted, however, today by the sight of that little boy.