Bending the Knee

userpic=divided-nationOver on Facebook, a conservative friend of mine posited the question, “Someone, anyone… please enlighten me by pointing out the racist portion(s) of the following song lyrics:”, after which he quoted the Star Spangled Banner. I hesitate to respond directly on his post because of the shitstorm from the Trump-dittoheads that would ensue; instead, I’m responding on my forum.

First and foremost, the problem is not with the anthem itself, just as the fight against the Confederate statues is not about the specific statues, or the protests against the pledge are about the specifics of the pledge. The problem is with the underlying symbolism. Further, “racist” is the wrong term. “Problematic” would be much be much better.

So where is the problem? It is captured in the simple phrase, “Land of the free”. The problem is that our nation is not living up to that ideal.

Are we the “land of the free” when:

  • A black US citizen cannot drive through a white neighborhood without being pulled over, while a white US citizen driving through a black neighborhood is not hassled?
  • A brown US citizen cannot drive near the Mexican border without being stopped and asked about his immigration status, whereas a white US citizen driving near the Canadian border is not stopped?
  • An Arab-American US citizen wearing a hijab is instantly suspect of being a terrorist, whereas the white guy buying the nitrogen and ammonia is not suspicious?
  • When statistics show that brown and black citizens arrested as suspects by the police are more likely to be treated harshly, receive longer sentences, and be shown less lenience.
  • Our President criticizes black football players for not standing up and putting their hand over their heart for the National Anthem, when he has been recorded not doing so?

By the way, when y’all go to church, how do you show respect to G-d? You kneal.

We say we are the Land of the Free, but we don’t demonstrate it as long as we discriminate against people based on conditions that are not of their choosing: skin color, country of origin or heritage, religion, sex, gender, orientation. People are choosing to show respect in a non-traditional form, because that which is different must be respected as well.


Why I Will Not Be Watching Star Trek: Discovery (At Least Now)

Tonight is the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery (FB). The first episode will be broadcast on CBS; for the rest, those in the US must subscribe to CBS’s exclusive pay-streaming service, CBS All Access. I’m a long time fan of Star Trek, and avidly devoured all of the TV series from the point where I could choose my television: the animated series, ST:TNG, ST:DS9, ST:V, and even ST:Enterprise. But I’m not going to be watching Star Trek:Discovery beyond the first episode (and possibly not even that). I think that were Gene Roddenberry alive, he wouldn’t be watching it either.

Here’s why.

In how CBS has chosen to broadcast Star Trek:Discovery (ST:D), I feel they are not being true to the Star Trek vision. Gene Roddenberry emphasized in Star Trek an optimistic attitude, a view of the world where barriers between people did not exist. The class distinctions were gone, and race, gender, orientation, religion, and similar divisions were not factors. All of the other instances of Star Trek on the small screen were egalitarian in their broadcast: if you had a TV, you could watch them, be they on NBC (TOS), the UPN network (Enterprise, Voyager), or syndicated (TNG, DS9). But for Discovery, this isn’t the case. Those without Internet access or those who are not paying for streaming service (read: most cable and satellite users) are disenfranchised. They can’t watch the show. Those with Internet access can, but only if they pay. This reduces the audience to a particular wealthy demographic.

That’s problem enough for the Emmys, as I’ve discussed previously. They no longer serve to encourage excellence in Broadcast TV (or basic cable).  Let the plebeians have crappy TV; those with the means can pay to watch the quality stuff on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon and … Streaming provides the wealthy audience that buys stuff, or pays the network directly for their programming.

But for Star Trek? Putting Star Trek on a streaming platform creates the exact class distinctions that Roddenberry fought against. It is a pure grab for money and revenue from technically savvy Trek-fandom who have more money than they need — money CBS feels free to separate from them. Much as I want ST:D to succeed, it should be on a mainstream broadcast or basic cable channel: the CW or SyFy, not pay-streaming.


From Hamilton to Hitchcock | “The 39 Steps” @ Actors Co-Op

The 39 Steps (Actors Co-Op)And so, with Alfred Hitchcock, our theatre hiatus of almost 6 weeks comes to an end. Between Hamilton, which we saw on August 12 and this production of The 39 Steps, saw us traveling over 4,800 miles (at little over 4,905,290 steps, at the average stride rate).  The break, due to a combination of vacation and other activities, was a palette cleanser. And we’re ready to slowly start back up theatre, and our first show was the first show of the 26th season of Actors Co-Op (FB): Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow.

We last saw The 39 Steps at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in May of 2010. Back then, I wrote about the production: “This is one production I expect to have a long life after the initial tour: it can easily be done by inventive companies.” The show has: I’ve begun to see regional companies doing the show on a regular basis — I think there are two or three doing it in Southern California alone.

Here’s how I described the show back in 2010:

The original “39 Steps” was a 1935 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The short version of the plot of that film, from IMDB, is “Richard Hannay is a Canadian visitor to London. At the end of “Mr Memory”‘s show in a music hall, he meets Annabella Smith who is running away from secret agents. He accepts to hide her in his flat, but in the night she is murdered. Fearing he could be accused on the girl’s murder, Hannay goes on the run to break the spy ring.”. You can find a more detailed summary of the film plot on Wikipedia.

This stage version of “The 39 Steps” is a comic farce interpretion of the movie. It takes the original mystery film, and puts the exact story onstage as if it was done by a group of four British actors at a cheap theatre. One actor takes the Richard Hannay role; one actress takes the three female lead roles (Annabella Schmidt, Pamela, and Margaret)… and the other two men take all of the remaining over 150 roles from the film. Along the way, they throw in every Hitchcock cliche and reference you can think of, including names of every Hitchcock films and most of Hitchcock’s well known situations (such as the shower scene from Psycho and the airplane chase from North by Northwest). They even throw in a Hitchcock cameo!

Making this even more fun is the fact that they don’t do this in the sort of expensive production you’ve come to expect from Broadway these days. They do it on the cheap, using clever invention (such as rear projection, puppets, representational props) to make up for the all-too-common overdone show.

The Actors Co-Op version of the show hewed close to the above, although they slightly altered the framing device and changed the execution as appropriate for an intimate theatre.This production framed the show not as British actors in a cheap theatre, but filming a production in the 1930s. I don’t recall any significant use of rear projection or seeing any puppets (and do not recall any shower scene or Hitchcock cameo). But other than that, the inventiveness was still present — including a great running gag with a window. They used props extensively to create the scene and the place, and it worked very well. They also changed the makeup of the clowns from two men to a man and a woman, which actually added a bit to the humor. They even brought in the Maltese Falcon.

Not being familiar with the script, I can’t say how much of the invention is dictated by directions in the script (stemming from the original production), and how much comes from the director (in this case, Kevin Chesley (FB)). If I had to hazard a guess, I’d estimate about 60/40, with the story giving the basic manic structure and suggesting broad execution approaches, and the director filling in the specifics and adding additional references and tricks as they saw fit. Assuming that is the case, then Chesley did well with this. Not only was he able to capture the farce timing required for this show, and not only did he pull all of the distinctly different characters out of the actors, but he was able to adapt the story from a well-funded production on a proscenium stage to an intimate theatre (under 99 seats) production in the three-quarter round, using no rear projections and a basic set of props.

The actors also captured the farce nature of the show well. In the lead position was Kevin Shewey (FB) as Richard Hannay. He was the straightman to the farce, the person moving the plot forward while being the center and catalyst for the comedy. He did this well, maintaining his composure in the madness. His regular ingenue was Lauren Thompson (FB), who played the main named female roles: Annabella, Margaret, Pamela, and the Radio Announcer. Demonstrating a variety of accents and personalities, Thompson was fun to watch. Both had to perform quite a bit of physical comedy, which came off well.

Supporting them were the two clowns, Townsend Coleman (FB) and Carly Lopez (FB), who covered the remaining 10,000 characters and roles. Well, probably less than 10,000, but it was a lot.  All of these characters — different sexes, different dialects — required lots of physical comedy and quick costume changes, which were executed well. It was fun to watch.

Supporting this effort was the production team: Scenic designer Stephen Gifford (FB) and Prop Master Lori Berg (FB) worked together to provide a very inventive stage and loads of props to support the storytelling (and where did she find the phone decanter). Adding to this were the equally inventive costumes of Vicki Conrad (FB).  Warren Davis (FB)’s sound design provided the appropriate sound effects and ominous music, and Andrew Schmedake (FB)’s lighting design provided the, umm, appropriate lighting effects and ominous lighting. Adam Michael Rose (FB) dialect coaching provided the appropriate dialects and the ominous … well, suffice it to say that the show has a large number of dialects — multiple English and Scottish dialects, as well as German — and Rose helped the actors get the different dialogs down pat. Rounding out the production team were: Derek Copenhaver (FB) [Stage Manager], Thien/Tintin Nguyen/FB [Assistant Stage Manager], Nora Feldman [Publicity], Jorie Janeway (FB) [Producer], Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manager].

The 39 Steps continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through October 29th, 2017. Tickets are available by calling Actors Co-op, or through their website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The production is clever and extremely funny, and well worth seeing.

Note: There was one non-production related discordant note. We’re Jewish. Actors Co-op (FB) is a ministry of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood [FPCH] (FB), which is noted in every program in their mission statement. We have no problem with that — we’ve attended productions from other church ministry theatre groups such as ELATE, and we’ve never noticed any overt proselytizing — only excellent theatre. That’s why we subscribe and recommend this company to others — excellent theatre. However, as we were leaving the show, we noticed a sign on the side of their fellowship hall from FPCH indicating their ministries, which included Jews for Jesus. JFJ and similar groups (the so-called “Messianic Jews”) are problematic for Jews, as they have, as part of their mission, conversion of Jews to Christianity, and they often use misleading tactics to do so. That FPCH supports them does make clear their Christian nature; still, seeing that sign gave this Jewish audience member pause. It will likely be rotated out by the next time we’re on campus, but the company might consider discussing with FPCH the impact of publicizing such ministries on the broader theatre audience attending their shows.

Dining Notes: Normally we hit the local Fresh Brothers Pizza (FB). They are near the theatre, have great gluten-free options, and most importantly, their own parking. Last night, however, we wanted something different as I’m trying to reduce my cheese consumption. Our choice was Localli (FB), which is about 1 block further east than Fresh Bros (on the E side of Gelsons). They also have their own parking lot. It is a combination health-food market and sandwich shop, with some excellent and tasty sandwiches and salads — healthy, and available gluten-free and vegan. It isn’t fancy. Still, I think we’ll be back. There’s also a Thai Restaurant — Pimai It’s Thai (FB) — in the same parking lot that we might try next time.


Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

September is very quiet for theatre — The 39 Steps is our only show. I’ve been looking at the shows coming across Goldstar, and there’s not much that is drawing me to them. So we’ll see about how the upcoming weekends fill out. Currently, our October theatre begins mid-Month with  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB). The third weekend in October brings Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). December brings ACSAC 2017 in San Juan PR, the Colburn Orchestra and the Klezmatics at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB),   Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB), and our Christmas Day movie. More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.


Transportation Perspectives

Continuing the task of clearing out some news chum that has accumulated, here are some articles related to transportation, in honor of Curbed LA’s Transportation Week (as good an excuse as any):

  • The Evolution of Transportation in Los Angeles. This is an interesting photoessay that looks how transportation evolved in LA, from early horses, wagons, and stagecoaches to the Pacific Electric to the private automobile.  It also explores how highways have reshaped the city.
  • The Streetcar Conspiracy. The next article looks at the truth of a subject touched upon in the previous link: the canard that car and tire manufacturers conspired to destroy the Red Cars.  Their conclusion is right: there was no conspiracy. I’ll add some more reasons why the conspiracy theory was bunk: people moved to private cars because they gave more flexible routing, and the cars themselves were newer and better maintained. Even into the 1960s, PE was running cars built in the 1920s. The crime was not the death of PE and LARy, but the loss of the right of way.
  • The Rebirth of the Historic Trolley. The third link look at the rise of the Historic Trolley Car Tours. These tours, of course aren’t on really trolley cars (which have tracks and trollers), but on buses made to look like streetcars. Why the nostalgia for a form of transportation most people didn’t ride.
  • Self Driving Cars. Moving away from Los Angeles, here’s an interesting article on how former military bases are being used to test self-driving cars. Military bases, in many ways, are perfect for the tasks: they have mini-communities with streets, houses, and schools, but not people that can be hurt.
  • Provision Driving Changes. Lastly, an article about a proposed change in California that would change the age under which provisional driving licenses are issued to 21 from 18. Assembly Bill 63, authored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Discovery Bay, will extend the age range of the provisional licensing program from 16 to 21. New drivers will first need to complete drivers ed to then get their provisional license, which will prevent them from driving between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and transporting anyone under 20 years of age, unless accompanied by a driving instructor. The license restrictions remain in effect for the driver’s first year. Active-duty members of the California National Guard, the State Military Reserve or the U.S. Armed Forces will be exempt from the program. Also, individuals age 18 and older who have an ambulance driver certificate, school bus driver certificate or a commercial driver’s license from the program are also exempt.



Life Lessons

round challah userpicThe Jewish New Year started Wednesday night; perhaps you saw my post on it.  For us, this service was a little different. Our daughter had just moved out of state to go to graduate school in Wisconsin. In turn, we had acquired a pseudo-daughter: the daughter of my cousin had moved in with us six months ago and was turning 18 on Rosh Hashanah. Our role with respect to her was not just to provide housing, but to provide lessons in “adulting” — helping her transition to being an independent adult. The effort has been quite challenging; she is very different than our daughter in many many (or so many) ways. She joined us at services Wednesday evening, and all I can say is that the Universe must have known.

The service opened with a very interesting story from the rabbi about a man who complained about the adversity in their life. This man went to a rabbi and asked how to deal with that adversity. The rabbi asked him to bring three pots of water to a boil. In one he was to put a potato, in one an egg, and in one a scoop of coffee. After twenty minutes, he was to turn off the water and examine each pot. All three objects were subjected to the same adversity. One, the potato, became soft and weak. Another, the egg, became hardened. The third, the coffee, changed the water into something better. Adversity isn’t the issue. How we respond to it is.

During the sermon, the rabbi read a letter she had written to her daughter, who was going out of town for college. She has subsequently posted that letter, which I urge everyone to read. There were numerous sections relevant to the young woman currently living with us. Here’s an example of a particularly good paragraph:

You will make mistakes. Some will be small and easily repaired, like missing a deadline. Others will be devastating and not so easily repaired. There are some things that you will only learn the hard way, and it will be painful. Mistakes are a part of life and part of growing up and learning; and you can’t avoid them no matter how old you are. It is up to you to decide to learn from your mistakes. The lessons of the High Holy Days can teach you how to do tshuvah, to truly make repentance. First you must admit that you have done something wrong — and not in general, but in detail; you must recognize your wrongdoing, without downplaying it or making excuses for yourself. You may want to hide from your mistakes sometimes, but owning up to them is the only way you will change. If you hurt another person, you need to apologize. Not a generic blanket apology on Facebook, not a text, not an insincere “sorry, not sorry” but a genuine apology where you acknowledge your part in causing hurt. Yes, this might be an awkward conversation, but it is a necessary part of the process. In the words of Dan Nichols, “embrace the awkward,” and your relationships will be stronger. If you can learn to take responsibility and apologize for the small hurts you cause, you will have the tools to do the same for the harder ones. And then, forgive yourself. It is OK to make mistakes; you don’t have to be perfect. Don’t beat yourself up over your missteps — learn from them, so you can do better in the future.

Part of the discussion touched upon areas we’ve discussed with our daughter. She went to Berkeley for her undergraduate, is passionate about social justice, and is a devoted Yiddishist (for all that means). She is less than enamored with Israel, especially for its treatment of minorities and the Palestinians. She has fallen into the understand of what many see Zionism as today, which has morphed from its original meaning and intent. Therefore, when I heard the following in the Rabbi’s sermon, I though of her:

Stand up for what you believe in. If your relationship with Israel was a Facebook status, you would label it as “complicated.” For years you have been hearing about the dangers of anti-Zionism on campus. Make no mistake: anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. BDS, the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, is anti-Semitic — but they are attracting Jews, especially Reform Jews, by pretending to be a social justice movement. You have learned here at TAS how important it is to stand up to oppressors, to fight for rights and to make sure that all people are treated equally. BDS preys on that by telling you that if you really, truly care about social justice you will recognize Jews as oppressors and will stand against Israel. There are people who will tell you that unless you denounce Israel you can not have a voice in any other issues.

This summer Jewish groups were asked not to participate in the Chicago Dyke March because a rainbow flag with a Jewish star on it was considered threatening and against the values of the marchers. Similar things were said by the organizers of that city’s Slut Walk. There are people who will try to tell you that you can not be a feminist if you are a Zionist. They are wrong. This is anti-Semitism. Calling it anti-Zionism does not change the fact that it is anti-Semitism. Zionism is the belief that Jews are entitled to a nation in our ancestral homeland, Israel, and modern Zionism encompasses our values of democracy, pluralism, and equality. A love of Israel demands honesty and a commitment to the continuation of building a morally exceptional society — to be a light to the nations.

The good news is that your relationship with Israel should be complicated. Israel is not perfect. The Israeli government is not perfect. Just as we can love America without loving everything our government or leadership does, you can love Israel without loving everything its government does. The treatment of Bedouins and discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews are just two of the serious issues that are deeply problematic. Loving Israel does not mean you agree with everything; it does not mean that you will not have reasons to legitimately criticize — there are legitimate problems and you should criticize when it is called for.

This dovetailed with another post I had been saving for my News Chum from the “This is Not Jewish” blog: A post on how to criticize Israel without being Antisemetic. This is an important subject: my daughter is right that much of the behavior of the Israeli government is wrong (as is much of the behavior of the Palestinians — this is one area where both sides have deeply flawed behavior). As this post puts it:

For those good-faith people, I present some guidelines for staying on the good side of that admittedly murky line [of not being antisemetic], along with the reasoning why the actions I list are problematic. (And bad-faith people, you can no longer plead ignorance if you engage in any of these no-nos. Consider yourselves warned.)

I particularly like their item 5:

Don’t say “Zionists” when you mean Israel. Zionism is no more a dirty word than feminism.  It is simply the belief that the Jews should have a country in part of their ancestral homeland where they can take refuge from the anti-Semitism and persecution they face everywhere else.  It does not mean a belief that Jews have a right to grab land from others, a belief that Jews are superior to non-Jews, or any other such tripe, any more than feminism means hating men.  Unless you believe that Israel should entirely cease to exist, you are yourself Zionist.  Furthermore, using “Zionists” in place of “Israelis” is inaccurate and harmful.  The word “Zionists” includes Diasporan Jews as well (most of whom support a two-state solution and pretty much none of whom have any influence on Israel’s policies) and is used to justify anti-Semitic attacks outside Israel (i.e., they brought it on themselves by being Zionists).  And many of the Jews IN Israel who are most violent against Palestinians are actually anti-Zionist–they believe that the modern state of Israel is an offense against God because it isn’t governed by halakha (traditional Jewish religious law).  Be careful with the labels you use.

This is the reason why “anti-Zionism” is considered by most to be a synonym and cover for antisemitism. There is a big difference between the beliefs of Zionism and the behavior of the state of Israel. It is like equating Libertarians with Republicans.

I strongly urge anyone with children to read the first link, and those with Jewish children to teach the second link.



Words, Words, Words

Words, words, words!
I’m so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do?
(“Show Me” from My Fair Lady, M/L: Lerner and Loewe)

Words, words, words (and their underlying concepts): we use them everyday, but as they say in The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Here are some articles that have passed through my various RSS feeds and sources of late that relate to words/concepts, and their use/misuse:

  1. Words You May Be Using Wrong. This is an interesting summary of a scientific paper that explores 50 terms that people regularly confuse and use wrong. For example, there is a significant difference between asocial and antisocial, and most people use the latter when they mean the former. Envy and jealousy are similarly confused. Race and ethnicity. Serial killers vs mass murderers. Quite an interesting read.
  2. Lost Words That Deserve a Comeback. Here’s another interesting word list: 30 Lost English Words that Deserve a Comeback. We had a good example of such a word in the last few days: dotard (meaning “an old person, especially one who has become weak or senile”). I’m not sure that’s the word I would have used.  Sillytonian seems better to me (A silly or gullible person, esp. one considered as belonging to a notional sect of such people). In any case, it is worth reading the list.
  3. Open and Closed Minded. Speaking of Sillytonian people, one of the major complaints about that group is that they are so closed minded (but they would say the same about us). But what does it mean to be open or closed mined. Here’s an exploration of 7 significant ways you can tell open from closed minded. For example, closed-minded people don’t want their ideas challenged. They are typically frustrated that they can’t get the other person to agree with them instead of curious as to why the other person disagrees. Where are you on that spectrum?
  4. Infinities of Infinities. Infinity is a concept that has fascinated me since high school. The math surrounding the concept is so weird: ∞ + ∞, for example, equals ∞. The infinity of all even numbers is the same as the infinity of all numbers. However, for the longest time, we have believed that the infinity of all rational numbers (that is, those that can be represented by a fraction of two integers) was actually smaller than the infinity of all numbers including transcendental numbers (i.e., the real numbers like π that can’t be represented by a fraction). It now appears that we were wrong, and all infinities are equal. I expect this is something we’ll keep seeing come back, because it is in someways counter-intuitive, like the ever-present Monty Hall Problem.

Words, words, words!
I’m so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do?

P.S.: If you like words, here’s a newly discovered Kurt Vonnegut short story.


L’Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year – 5778

Apple in Honeyuserpic=tallitRosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts at sundown tonight, September 20th. Thus, it’s time for my annual New Years message for my family, my real-life, Blog,  Dreamwidth, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook friends (including all the new ones I have made this year), and all other readers of my journal:

L’Shana Tovah. Happy New Year 5778. May you be written and inscribed for a very happy, sweet, and healthy new year.

For those curious about Jewish customs at this time: There are a number of things you will see. The first is an abundance of sweet foods. Apples dipped in honey. Honey cakes. The sweet foods remind us of the sweet year to come. Apples in honey, specifically, express our hopes for a sweet and fruitful year. Apples were selected because in ancient times they became a symbol of the Jewish people in relationship to God. In Song of Songs, we read, “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved [Israel] amongst the maidens [nations] of the world.” In medieval times, writes Patti Shosteck in A Lexicon of Jewish Cooking, apples were considered so special that individuals would use a sharp utensil or their nails to hand-carve their personal hopes and prayers into the apple skins before they were eaten. And the Zohar, a 13th-century Jewish mystical text, states that beauty – represented by God – “diffuses itself in the world as an apple.” With respect to the honey: honey – whether from dates, figs, or apiaries – was the most prevalent sweetener in the Jewish world and was the most available “sweet” for dipping purposes. And as for the biblical description of Israel as a land flowing with “milk and honey,” the Torah is alluding to a paste made from overripe dates, not honey from beehives. Still, enjoying honey at Rosh HaShanah reminds us of our historic connection with the Holy Land. Although the tradition is not in the Torah or Talmud, even as early as the 7th century, it was customary to wish someone, “Shana Tova Umetukah” (A Good and Sweet Year).
(Source: Reform Judaism Website)

Rosh Hashanah ImagesAnother traditional food is a round challah. Some say they it represents a crown that reflects our coronating God as the Ruler of the world. Others suggest that the circular shape points to the cyclical nature of the year. The Hebrew word for year is “shana,” which comes from the Hebrew word “repeat.” Perhaps the circle illustrates how the years just go round and round. But Rosh Hashana challahs are not really circles; they are spirals… The word “shana” has a double meaning as well. In addition to “repeat,” it also means “change”. As the year goes go round and round, repeating the same seasons and holidays as the year before, we are presented with a choice: Do we want this shana (year) to be a repetition, or do we want to make a change (shinui)? Hopefully, each year we make choices for change that are positive, and each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral. The shape of the Rosh Hashana challah reminds us that this is the time of year to make those decisions. This is the time to engage in the creative spiritual process that lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.
(Source: Aish Ha’Torah)

There are also apologies, for during the ten days starting Sunday evening, Jews examine their lives and see how they can do better. On Yom Kippur (starting the evening of September 29th), Jews apologize to G-d for their misdeeds during the past year. However, for an action against another person, one must apologize to that person.

So, in that spirit:

If I have offended any of you, in any way, shape, manner, or form, real or imagined, then I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done anything to hurt, demean, or otherwise injure you, I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done or said over the past year that has upset, or otherwise bothered you, I sincerely apologize, and will do my best to ensure it won’t happen again.

If you have done something in the above categories, don’t worry. I know it wasn’t intentional, and I would accept any apology you would make.

May all my blog readers and all my friends have a very happy, healthy, and meaningful new year. May you find in this year what you need to find in life.


Emmy Awards: Relevance and Privilege

Over on Facebook today, a friend of mine posted a very interesting query: “So of all who watch the Emmy’s year after year…. do you actually have access to all those networks and shows that are nominated?”. This dovetailed with a feeling I had watching this year’s Emmys: What happened to the days when most people could see the Emmy winning shows on broadcast TV? This year there were very few network shows nominated, and even fewer winners. In fact, many of the winners weren’t even broadcast on channels one could get on traditional over-the-air, cable, or satellite TV as part of the basic subscription packages. They were on channels that, like HBO, you had to pay premium prices for, or channels like Hulu which you had to have an Internet subscription to watch.

Thinking about this further, on my Facebook, I asked: Wouldn’t it be great if we could get an awards show for excellent on channels that everyone could see: free channels or those included is most basic packages. That would encourage those channels to be excellent, not just those that can command premium prices.

But, driving home, what I realized is something unspoken about the Emmys: We may celebrate diversity behind the camera — especially this year. But we don’t have diversity in front of the screen. The inclusion in the Emmys of premium channels and channels that depend on the Internet have an unwritten presumption of a form of privilege: the privilege that provides the means to pay for premium subscriptions, to have Internet service, to pay for the extra devices, to pay for the computers and such. Many of the poor in this country don’t have those means — our rush to the Internet has simply passed them by and most people don’t care. There is no requirement of Universal Internet Access, like there is for phone service.

In our push to recognize quality in premium channels, we are sucking the quality from the accessible-to-all channels. And in doing so, we are dumbing down those channels and hurting the entire viewership of TV.