jewin' the fat


Under-estimated and Under-age
April 8, 2010, 10:03 AM
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I remember sitting in early morning Prayers in high school, a quietly fuming 14 years old and one detention note closer to threatening to turn the whole institution on its head. No, I wasn’t the kid who called in bomb threats to get out of History exams, nor was I the student who lit the computer room on fire, or the idiot who stood on a chair to get the teacher’s frayed attention and stuck his hand in the fully operational ceiling fan. They were the best of times and the worst of  times …  

Nope. I was a rebel with a cause, and that cause was the hypocrisy I could smell on every teacher in every carpet in every classroom. My school reeked of it, and I recall this morning in morning prayers because that is when I came face-to-face with the woman whose hypocrisy went so deep, even Easy-Off BAM’s poor example of grammar couldn’t have scrubbed it out. Looking back it was a simple matter of insubordination – a refusal to a direct order to open a prayer-book. But I stuck it out, protesting the inadequacy of prayer recited without proper intention, and made an offer of silent meditation in its place. My peace-offering rebuffed, I went to that afternoon detention with a smile on my face, content in the knowledge that I had stood up for what was right, and not submitted to what was expected.Lo and behold, over a decade later, I am (sadly) shocked to happen upon the same stench, thick and repulsive, all these years later. It’s still just as offensive, and although I am an adult, with power, influence and killer letter-writing skills, I can still feel the rage of underage subjection and underestimation stinging my senses.  

Except that this time, it isn’t happening to me.  It’s happening to other vulnerable, underrepresented young JC. And that is something I cannot abide.

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Just a small town giiirl
April 1, 2010, 4:39 PM
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"OMG he was so good in Snatch. Totally Gangster"

One would assume growing up in a tightly encircled JC subculture would more than prepare me for a move from the Big Smoke to the Smaller, Less populated Smoke.  And of course, the fact that I grew up in what Real Estate agents and lazy journalists refer to as the ‘Leafy North Shore”, the sea change would really be more like a sleepover at a mate’s house just over Mona Vale Rd.

What I didn’t expect, was how much I would come to dread the return to said Big Smoke. The noise, the pollution, the traffic – everything country bumpkins have hated about Sydney, was suddenly everything I hated about Sydney. The pretension, the ‘extra hot skinny lattes – but do you have equal?’ coffee drinkers, the distance between everything, the tourists, the haphazard arrangement of suburbs and of course, the saturation of JC.

Sure, it’s a pretty Jüden time of year – Exodus season and all, but there was something about a particular gig last night that really irked me. And it was the sheer quantity of JC that I knew crammed into one tight Roundhouse spot.

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Girls who like boys, who like girls, who like other boys
March 14, 2010, 4:43 PM
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As someone who never really ‘got’ the relationship game, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to find out that I am the only singleton in my group of girlfriends. Not that I mind in the slightest. In the community where being attached to a significant other is to be ‘figured out’, it has definitely ruffled a few feathers, and everyone from my Lubavitch uncle, to my friends, to my employer has tried (and failed, thankfully) to get me right, and fix me up with someone who is (always) perfect for me! And thankfully, I always dodged that bullet.

But what has got me writing this time is not so much about the single-relationship-marriage cycle that has defined the expectations of the majority of young Jews (those who take it seriously, of course). It is the unexpected conversation I had with a girlfriend of mine, who happens to be the official girlfriend of her parter.

After a whirlwind romance that broke all the rules (no professions of interest, guy must always been older, no sex on the first date, wait two to three days before calling, wait until she calls), a year later this remarkably odd couple are still going strong. She is the consummate lady, he is the ragamuffin, and surprising both their friends and themselves, they have it down. At least, I thought so.

It’s worth mentioning that the reason I find myself single is not for lack of opportunity, but more for lack of accessibility – I’ve never subscribed to the belief that there is one person for me. Rather, there are many people who float in and out of your life to make your world a little brighter for the time they are destined to be there. My Grandfather, for example, found love a second time after the death of his first wife, my Grandmother, and married again on his 80th Birthday. Mazal Tov! Unfortunately there seems to be a firm belief that, like fondue, once you dip there is no going back for seconds, regardless of how tasty that cheese may be.

So, believing myself to be the only person in my circle who followed this kind of thinking, I was surprised to find out, over the phone, that this ladyfriend of mine had done the unthinkable – and cheated on her partner.

Well, kissed another bloke, but let’s assume any and all exchange of bodily fluids constitutes betrayal. And let’s also ignore the fact that he was H.O.T.

In a community where we are prepared to neglect the Orthodoxy of our faith, the geographic togetherness of our families, the traditional gender roles, the traditional professional roles and even the expectations of our parents to seek our own destiny – what about cheating, seemingly betraying those closest to us? What about it makes it so morally reprehensible, when everything else is ok, and ours for the taking? Why are we so intent on sleeping with/kissing/seeing films with only one other person. It’s definitely a risk, and one that doesn’t seem to have a pay off big enough to warrant it. Sure, companionship is one thing, but why limit yourself to one significant other? Seems a significant waste of investment.

There is no doubt a high premium paid to enter into a relationship these days, and far too many of us are paying the excess to get rid of our exes.



Jew is as Jew does

We knew it would happen eventually, and you know what they say – when the shit hits the fan, everyone gets covered in it.

I’m talking of course about the imminent ruling of the Supreme Court in Britain, regarding the case of a Jewish boy who was born to an Orthodox Jewish father, and Progressive Jewish mother (a Convert). This boy, whom the courts have dubbed ‘M’, was denied enrolment to the Jewish Free School (JFS) in London, on account of the fact that the school adheres to a strict Orthodox-only enrolment policy. ‘M”s parents decided to sue on the grounds of racial discrimination, and so we find ourselves waiting with bated breath for the ruling that could change the very way we define ourselves, and our community as Jewish, right here in Australia.

Jewish

Up until now this has been protected by the laws in the UK governing religious freedoms, especially in running educational institutions. Now whatever you believe about the validity of a school operating for the youth of a particular religion, this case is basically proposing that rather than a religion, being Jewish is purely a blood-line – a ‘race’.  

In fact, this case goes to the very fibre of what a ‘Jew’ is in our contemporary society – a race, ethnicity, culture, nation, religion – and whether it is possible to have our cake and eat it too. 

I’ll begin with a story. As with most great stories, this is a tale follows a simple and popular narrative structure.

There is a boy. He meets a girl. At a summer camp for young (Jewish) people. Needless to say, by the end of the camp, they are smitten, and they begin to date. He is a good Jewish boy, from a nice family in Sydney’s north, and she is a sweet, funny Jewess from the south-East of the city. The relationship barrels along, sparks fly, plans are made and before you know it, he is on one knee on a beach proposing they spend forever together.

Except that Mother didn’t tell her daughter that when she married the girl’s father, she was impatient, in love and ill prepared for the tumult of Orthodox conversion. So she converted as a Reform Jew. And that her Orthodox-educated, raised and believing daughter, according to Halacha, is one too.

Now at this point, the story shifts focus, and for many, it becomes a crash course in choose-your-own-adventure – something that many are not prepared for at all. I mean, she was from the right side of the tracks – hell, she could even be more observant than he is, but it changes little in terms of the strict Halacha that governs these situations. And again, agree or not with the Jewish law, this is a purely religious standard, for those who wish to abide by it.

But what about civil liberties? Where is the space in this paradigm for human rights? The ability of a citizen of a country to choose his or her own destiny, regardless of their race, religion, class, sex or sexual orientations? Recent calls by prominent Muslim community spokesperson, Keysar Trad to integrate Shariah Law into the Victorian legal system were met with anger and condemned as being an affront to the very independence and multilateralism of justice. For all. Imagine if the laws governing Jewish marriage, death, divorce – were all suddenly absorbed into a secular, national system, and overruled by it. It will destroy a system that thrives in its separation of church and state.

Australians are beholden to a justice system steeped in British traditions, as according to our history as a former British colony. Our government system, our past times, eating habits – even the Jewish community in Australia looks to the London Beth Din to dictate the terms of Orthodoxy, and rule of matters of Jewish life and law.

So what happens if the British Supreme Court rules in ‘M”s favour?

Well, no doubt it’s decision would need to be accepted by the London Beth Din, and changes made to the JFS accordingly. It means that the right to define who is a Jew is taken away from the community, and given to the courts, in direct contradiction to the human rights of the individual to practise their religion freely and without prejudice.

It means for Australian Jewish schools, clubs and organisations, precedents are being set removing the autonomy of the institution, and the religious structure of the Australian community may begin to erode. It means that while our claim as a nation may be upheld, our religious rights as Jews may not be.

It means that the rights of the individual are protected in law, above and beyond the rights of the community. Unlike other peoples, Jews have ensured their survival over millenia through the power of tzdaka, the importance of tikkun olam and the power of the many, over the self-interest of the few. It would be a shame to start now.

It also means that for Australians, we may have to accept that being a Jew is no longer just an ethno-culture or religion, but strictly defined by the word ‘race’, a concept created by those groups who would have seen Jews eradicated – and almost did.

And that is something I, and you, and even those still perched on the fence,  should not be forced to abide.



Top Ten Tips: Blogging for the new-Jew
November 5, 2009, 11:33 AM
Filed under: Comment, Jewish Community, media, Top Ten | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

It’s the one of the newest crazes, and as with most things, Jews have once again shown their ability to attack, subdue and control the media – or in this case, the blogosphere. Except that this time, we were about five years too late. No matter – young Jewish people are pounding their keyboards with a fierceness we haven’t seen since Chris Brown, and it’s steadily catching on.

Even CNN is starting to sit up and take notice of the new catch of Jewish youth who are taking back their media, and injecting it back out there with a little culture and a whole lot of vengeance. Some with a little more skill than others, but we are all the Prime Minister by our mothers, right?

So it goes – your Top Ten Tips: Blogging for the new-Jew. And just like last time, if you got something to add, don’t forget to do it  at jewinthefat@gmail.com.

1) Slick name: Because appearances are everything – your name needs to have enough sparkle to ensure it stands out, enough gravitas and/or hubris to be considered seriously and a generous see-if-i-care chutzpa to separate you from the wretched, grasping unoriginal hoards. Because you are the real deal. And so are you. And you too. We are all individuals …

2) Smooth delivery: Although it pops up later in this Top Ten, it’s not enough to be able to string a sentence together, or at least spell each word correctly (or incorrectly, with irony of courze). Otherwise you would just be another Miranda Devine. Make sure your content is easy to digest, uncomplicated by outrageous fonts/lay out, and entirely free of “she was as light as air” similes. They make people with an iota of intelligence want to light their hair on fire. With swiftness of a strike of a match.

3) A killer Pseudonym: Now I know that there are some out there who want their names up in lights, but let’s be honest – there is something claustrophobic about writing as a Jewish person, especially in a small community like Australia. You can expect the blogging experiment to spread like wildfire, even if you don’t use your real name – it’s called the grapevine, and Jews have been wringing it dry for centuries to make their Carmel wine. Case in point: a dear writer friend, who’s sick, slick and salacious diatribes about his sexual prowess (even whilst written on another continent, 14 hours away), reached our sunny shores and within weeks, he had shut up shop. So be aware that you are writing for an audience of more than just your mother or partner, and be read up on defamation, slander, privacy laws and all those irritating ethical problems writers deal with.  OR just make up a pseudonym.

4) Something to say: No one likes to read yesterday’s news. Make sure what you want to say is original, personal, and above all interesting. Keep it in the Public’s interest, or keep the public interested and you’ve got a winner baby.

5) An axe to grind: Ooh, those pesky (insert most hated noun here). If they (who or whatever they happen to be) really get your panties in a twist, then make a big stinking noise about it. Because in cyberspace, everyone can hear you scream – but remember, don’t go overboard, because we can also simply tune out. Keep it even, Steven.

6) Someone to read it: So we have already covered your mother and partner, but maybe it’s worthwhile, rather than blathering on for hundreds of pars, to work to a demographic. Who do you want to read this? What do they read online? Offline? Do they read at all – or would they be better served by videos, graphic novels, photos – that’s the beauty of multimedia. But keep on track – if you are planning to make a little business outta your baby, you need the clicks.

7) Someone to hate it: Any publicity is good publicity. It doesn’t matter if the people reading you hate you or love you – as long as they read you, you are in business. But don’t take it too personally. Most of the people commenting are overweight 14 year olds whose older brother won’t buy them West Coast Coolers on Saturday nights.

8 ) Spelling and Grammar: This is simple – Like attracts like, and if you write like a demented 11-year-old on MySpace, that’s who will be logging on to read you. So make sure you spellcheck, and re-read, and for God’s sake – any LOL, ROFLMAO, BRB and STFU is ridiculous, juvenile and down-right lazy. Grow up.

9) a LOT of time on your hands: Even if this is just a hobby, or creative outlet, you will have to put some effort and time into getting a blog started. Maybe not hours at a time, but definitely intermittent spurts of energy and creativity, ideally at regular or semi-regular intervals, is what keeps a blog living and breathing, and readers reading. At least once a week is a good start, but any less than that, and you wander into dangerous territory. Not dangerous like Peshawar, but close.

10) Be informed: The only way to write about stuff you know, is to, like, know stuff? You know? So do yourself a favour and get informed. Read newspapers, books, listen to music, watch films, engage in political, creative, educational pursuits – hell, watch YouTube all day. The best writers are the best readers and to get there, you’ll need to put in the hard yards.



Ennui-tainment (Part 2)

The stubborn refusal to give tragedy the final say

There seems to be a distinctly anti-Generation-Y movement which undercuts the question of Shoah re-commemoration.

See, for years there has been a very stable, highly enforced method of interacting with the history of Holocaust, and an especially enforced standard of commemoration of that history. It included extreme reverence, highly emotive triggers, and a heaviness of the soul that most Jewish youth associate with any Holocaust-related public conversation.

Then, after upwards of 50 years of silent, sombre and most sincere reflection, young  Jewish people began to do with the Holocaust what young Jewish people have done with Shabbat, Zionism and other sacred cows – they turned it on its head.Cyanide and Happiness 

Which is not to say that young Jews today don’t appreciate the gravity of the Holocaust. Rather, they over-appreciate it. They are saturated in understanding. Like the children of Holocaust survivors who were drowning in the silence of their parents, these third-generation Jews are likewise drowning in the over-exposure their parents are kindly facilitating.  

Is visiting a death camp at 16 an age-appropriate experience? Indeed, can one ask an 11-year-old to comprehend or relate to the number 1 000 000, let alone light a candle to remember 1 000 000 children killed in the Shoah? How do you explain hatred for hatred’s sake, without condescending, or killing for ethnicity’s sake, without terrifying?

Would it surprise you that even our nightmares are Shoah related? I challenge any Jewish person to deny that they have had at least one, if not lifelong Holocaust-themed dreams. Mine involved abbatoir-style slaughter-houses, with loved ones forced like cattle through the turnstiles, awaiting their death, with nothing to be done. And for a long time, there was nothing to be done but tread water in the overwhelming tide that threatened to overpower our connection to our history altogether.

As time separated the generations from the immediacy of the tragedy, and threatened to disconnect them from its meaning, humour became the bridge which allowed Jews to take back the power, and stubbornly refused to submit to the magnitude of victimhood. Suddenly there was a means to process this massive influence in our lives – a method to understand the madness. What started with the Ghetto reinterpretations of Hitler’s masterpiece Mein Krampft (My Cramp) and the naming of dogs and pigs ‘Adolf’, became a critical communal and coping mechanism for those affected by Nazi policies. Survivor and Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said in Mans Search for Meaning,

“We knew that we had nothing to lose except our ridiculously naked lives. When the showers started to run, we all tried very hard to make fun, both about ourselves and about each other. After all, real water did flow from the sprays!”

Half a century on this tradition continues, to the chagrin and horror of the PC police and inflated egos that cannot understand that Heeb Magazine’s mockery of Holocaust memoirs stems from a moral disgust that the once noble premise of documenting history has become a money-making industry – so why not write your own Holocaust memoir? And if we want to truly destroy the power of Hitler, how better than to belittle his memory and mock his self-righteousness character with a series of YouTube videos here, here and here? And here. And there. And here too.

People like Rosanne Barr hit the nail on the head – Sure it’s sick and twisted to don a moustache and bake Burnt Jew Cookies in an oven, but what are we so blinded by our pride and self-importance that we cannot see the irony and power of the inversion? When someone like Barr suggests such a photo shoot, a woman whose life has been dedicated to offending as many people as possible with her brand of take-no-prisoners humour, everything is fair game. As she herself told Heeb:

“He killed my whole family, it is true, but he is also dead, and I, a Jewish woman am still alive to make fun of him, and I will continue to make fun of the little runt for the rest of my life! He, and his ideas need to be laughed at even more these days, picked apart and analyzed up and down, as there are more and more people denying his crimes, and more and more despots trying to copy them.”

This peculiar cultural revenge is replicated again and again, in the infamous character actor Sascha Baron Cohen playing an anti-Semitic Kazakh in Borat, or in the faux-terror of Seinfeld‘s dreaded ‘Soup Nazi’ – turning the stereotype on its head, and in doing, fulfilling the hopes of the millions of victims encapsulated in the Talmudic verse: “The best revenge is to live”.

Call it revenge porn, but Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds could be regarded as the best antidote to the evils of the Nazi regime since Chaplin’s The Dictator. Tellingly, after the screening of Tarantino’s film, I bumped into a Jewish couple in their mid-sixties who could not fathom how such a film was even produced, let alone enjoyed – such was their disgust for the film’s subversion of the traditional power-relationship of the Shoah.

Where younger viewers whooped and heckled as Nazi’s were gunned down, and the image of a young Jewish woman laughed, rising in flames as the harbinger of death and destruction upon a Nazi crowd, wreaking her luscious revenge … it was a sweet moment for this generation.

2009_inglorious_bastards_002

Still from Inglorious Basterds

This tale of Jews taking back their honour and their lives from the Nazi regime which had tried and failed to destroy them was a “once upon a time” fable that reverberated in cinemas across the world, re-forming those Shoah nightmares into Shoah fantasies, littered with scalps and bullets and relief. Far from offensive, Inglorious Basterds gave young Jews the chance to divert the course of their people’s tragic history, even if it was only for a couple of hours, in a recliner seat in a theatre in Sydney or Toronto or London. And sure it’s just a movie – but in telling this story, Tarantino validated this generation’s fantasy, and went some way to understanding the foundations of the cultural architecture of 70 years of suffering.

So rather than mis-reading young Jewish attempts to re-imagine, re-define and re-tell the story of the Holocaust as out-of-touch, inappropriate, disrespectful or ignorant – perhaps it is time to step out of the stranglehold of ‘traditional’ Holocaust commemoration, and recognise that the light of satire does not diminish any of the truth of history. Rather, it can light the way to a better understanding, and clearer picture of what the Holocaust means for Jews today.



John Safran – Blacking up, and getting down

Come to the edge, he said. They said: We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them and they flew.     

                                                                        — Guillaume Apollinaire

John Safran is arguably the King of Satire. After the “Make a realistic wish” debacle of the Chasers War on Everything backfired, and the Gruen Transfer going MIA, it was a personal pleasure of mine to hear Safran, of John Safran’s Music Jamboree, and John Safran Vs. God is back on the ABC. This time, he is diving head first into the messy world of Race Relations, asking the hard questions about racism, religious prejudice and whether we should stay with our tribe, or leave it.

In an ABC Unleashed article, Kim Dalton, ABC‘s Director of Television laid down the gauntlet, daring audiences to build and bridge and get over what they think the ABC is about. Tackling holy cows, and pushing the boundaries of good taste, Dalton applauded his intelligent audiences and suggested, “If you think you are going to be offended or outraged (or want to be offended or outraged) then don’t tune in.”

But tune in we did. In a circumnavigation attempt to rival that of Jessica Watson, Safran takes his peculiar brand of squirm producing, power-subverting humour on the road, crossing state lines, continents, ideologies and even races, in an attempt to push the audience to discover what really keeps them apart.

Is it skin colour? Is it guilt – in Safran’s case, of the ‘Jewish Mother’ variety? Is it simply tribalism? Are we able to leave our prejudices behind, and bring all nations together to become a truly global community, living in peace and harmony? Should we get funky, set some mood lighting and make rainbow babies with people we have nothing in common with?

Safran bravely goes where no man has gone before. And he is crucified along the way.

John Safran is crucified in the Phillipines for Race Relations

John Safran is crucified in the Phillipines for Race Relations

This 8 part series premiered on Wednesday night, as with most of John Safran’s work, amidst a mire of controversy, drummed up by the PC police and their minions. Headlines screaming racist, immoral, offensive only drove the puclic interest in the series higher, and the masses were not left so unsatisfied.

In the series opener, Safran takes gene-based dating to a whole new level, consulting a scientist to determine if his penchant for Eurasians is justifiably a genetic preference. Turns out, a panty-sniff test is just what the doctor ordered, and after stealing a dozen pairs of under wear belonging to childhood friends, the Thai Princess, Nicole from the Pussycat Dolls, and . Though obscene (“Ooh, good … Oooh, less good”) is part scientific-fascination and another part creepy. But the fun doesn’t stop there. Throwing in his school-yard Rabbi, a few ex-girlfriends and even some racially-charged pixelation, we are off and running. Oh yes – we head over to Israel and Palestine, land of political (in)correctness, in Safran’s efforts to create the ultimate mixed-race – the Jalestinian.

Probably an image I will have imprinted on my brain forever is a smothered-giggle from Safran, as his Palestinian boom-operator masturbates about two feet away from him. Crass? Yes. Hilarious? Absolutely. And that is just the beginning of this irreverent, devil-may-care series, which takes public propriety and shoves it back in its box. Of course, ripping through the PC shield we have all been covered with for so long, requires some grunt (Thanks boom-operator guy), and no doubt as the series progresses, we will be compelled to take a look at our own prejudices, forced or imbibed, and evaluate their legitimacy.

Not a bad idea, especially considering the trigger for such self-reflection is mostly sexual innuendo, awkward situation comedy and simple laugh-out-loud-can’t-look-away-oh-no-he-didn’t-did-he funny.

Safran hits the G-spot of satire Gold with this one. He is bold, unafraid, and blissfully unpretentious in his geek-makes-good style. After Hey Hey It’s Saturday beamed stupidity and crass across the world, Australia gets a chance to redeem itself, with a man who is not afraid to push the limits of good taste, as long as he makes his point.

And it is a point excellently made.

John Safran’s Race Relations airs Wednesday nights on ABC1 at 9.30pm, AEDST.