Sunday, January 30, 2005

From the New York Times last week, a report on Daniel Barenboim's (the conductor and pianist) recent speech at Columbia University in which he Criticizes Israeli Views: "Mr. Barenboim said that the failure of the Israeli government to accept the Palestinians' 'narration' had led to a new wave of anti-Semitism, and that suicide bombings in Israel had 'to be seen in the context of the historical development at which we have arrived.'" Doesn't this sound like a justification of suicide bombings? I find it amazing that an Israeli could possibly say such a thing - hasn't he had friends or relatives either injured or killed by suicide bombings? The Times article also reports that "Mr. Barenboim said Wagner's anti-Jewish vitriol had to be placed in the context of 19th-century European nationalist feeling. He said that he understood the pain of Holocaust survivors but that it was hypocritical to keep Wagner off the concert stage when audio and video recordings of his work were available, and even cellphones in Israel rang with 'The Ride of the Walkyries.'" Doesn't Barenboim understand that the same people who are offended by listening to Wagner are unlikely either to listen to Wagner recordings or have cellphones with a Wagner ring? And what is this about placing Wagner's anti-semitism in the context of 19th century European nationalism? In that context, Wagner is one of the originators and popularizers (in his essay "Jewry in Music") of racial anti-semitism! That doesn't make him a Nazi - but it does mean that he is part of the intellectual stream that led into the development of Nazi racial anti-semitism.
It does seem rather amazing that Iraq and Palestine, two Arab nations currently under occupation by foreign forces, are the two that have managed to conduct elections that were fairly free and had large turnouts. I know that the news about the Iraqi election is preliminary, but this does give me hope that eventually Iraq will be a democratic and (hopefully) peaceful country.
The Kirkland Project website at Hamilton explains their rationale for including Ward Churchill as a speaker. He is appearing as part of a year-long lecture series on "Class in Context: Intersections of Class, Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Nationality," on a panel entitled "Limits of Dissent?"
A nearby upstate college, Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, is hosting Ward Churchill as a speaker on Feb 3. After Sept. 11, 2001, Churchill wrote about the victims in the World Trade Center, "As for those in the World Trade Center," ... "well, really, let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break."

He continues:

Churchill's essay argues that the Sept. 11 attacks were in retaliation for the Iraqi children killed in a 1991 U.S. bombing raid and by economic sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations following the Persian Gulf War.


This is despite the fact that bin Laden himself said that the attacks were motivated by anger at the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia.

The essay contends the hijackers who crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11 were "combat teams," not terrorists. It states: "The most that can honestly be said of those involved on Sept. 11 is that they finally responded in kind to some of what this country has dispensed to their people as a matter of course."

The essay maintains that the people killed inside the Pentagon were "military targets."

....The essay goes on to describe the victims as "little Eichmanns," referring to Adolph Eichmann, who executed Adolph Hitler's plan to exterminate Jews during World War II.


So even the illegal immigrants working in the restaurants in the WTC were Nazis? As were the folks who worked at Windows on the World? And the people who cleaned the offices in the building? And the police and firemen who tried to save people? Churchill is the head of the University of Colorado's Ethnic Studies Department and should know better about poor people, undocumented workers, and working class workers in general. (This is not to justify his remarks about ANY of the people killed in the WTC - as far as I'm concerned, all the people who died that day were innocent victims, and the attackers were terrorists).

For more on Churchill, see here.

Families of the Sept. 11 victims, including a student at the college who lost his father in the attacks, are outraged. The student, Matt Coppo, said "Knowing that I'm paying for a person to disrespect my father, it doesn't go over too well in my mind," Coppo told The Post-Standard of Syracuse (cited in an article in New York Newsday).

Hamilton is defending its choice of speaker with the usual set of academic excuses:

Administrators defended Churchill's appearance, even while admitting his views are considered "repugnant and disparaging" by many people.

"Hamilton, like any institution committed to the free exchange of ideas, invites to its campus people of diverse opinions, often controversial. The opportunity to encounter and respond to people from outside academia in their intensity and their immediacy is among the key attributes of a liberal education," the school said in a statement issued by college spokesman Michael DeBraggio.


The academic program that has invited Churchill also invited another controversial speaker to campus, but was ultimately forced to uninvite her:

Churchill's panel discussion is part of a series sponsored by the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture, a college-funded program that tried to bring 1960s radical Susan Rosenberg to Hamilton. Rosenberg, who served 16 years in federal prison for possessing explosives and was linked to a 1981 armored car robbery in which two police officers were killed, was to teach a half-credit memoir-writing course this month but withdrew from the position in December after weeks of debate and protest on campus.


I do wonder why it's considered "educational" to invite such people to speak and teach on campuses. Do the parents who are paying the bills for their children to go to Hamilton know what their money is going towards?



Thursday, January 20, 2005

Cancer is the top killer for those under 85

As I mentioned in my last blog post, Cancer [is] the top killer for those under 85 - outpacing heart disease for all but the oldest people. This is the latest report from the American Cancer Society, and the statistics are for 2002. Some comparisons between types of cancer:
• Lung cancer remains the biggest killer, projected to claim 163,510 lives this year.
• Some 232,090 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and it will kill 30,350.
• About 211,240 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and it will kill 40,410.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Last Sunday night two of my friends died of cancer - one, Anna Vargo, was someone I had been friendly with many years ago, when I lived in Seattle from 1979 to 1981. She was a very important person to me at that time, because she gave me a crucial piece of advice. My mother was ill with lung cancer, and in the spring of 1981 my parents very reluctantly told me that she had abandoned attempts to treat the cancer with chemotherapy. I asked them if I should come home at that time, and they were unwilling to say - wishing to allow me my freedom of decision as a young adult (I was 24 at the time). I spoke to Anna and she told me that of course I should go home, that they were trying to leave the decision in my hands, but that they wanted me to go. I took her advice and left Seattle (as it happens, forever, except for a couple of visits). It was a life-changing decision. I was at home when my mother died, in October of 1981, and went on to become religious, keep Shabbat and keep kosher, and join Havurat Shalom, in Somerville, MA, where I was a member for almost 15 years.

Also on Sunday night a friend of mine from New York City, Sam Kayman, died of lung cancer. I knew him from the West Side Minyan, beginning in the fall of 1996, when I moved to New York City for two years on a post-doctoral fellowship from Columbia University. Sam was an important person for me - he and his family befriended me when I came to New York, not knowing very many people - I spent many enjoyable Shabbats at their table, and kept visiting after I left New York in the summer of 1998. He became ill in the summer of 2004 but was only finally diagnosed in November with cancer. It was very sudden. I will miss him. I last saw him in New York just before I flew to Israel for my recent visit. He was in the hospital then, with pneumonia, and I spent about an hour with him. When I flew back to the U.S. yesterday, I stopped in New York again, this time to pay a shiva call to his family. I hope to visit New York in the near future again to spend more time with them and other people from the minyan.

When I found out that Sam was ill with lung cancer, I felt not only sad but also angry - about what it seems to me to be the too many people whom I have known who have died of cancer in the last few years. I was talking to one of my colleagues in the Anthropology department about this, because it always seems as if we're being told by various health authorities that heart disease is the great killer in the U.S. At this point in my life, I've known only two people who died of heart disease - my grandmother, at age 98, and my grandfather, in his mid-60s. I wondered why my own personal experience was so different from the statistics, and he showed me a chart that shows that for people from the mid-30s to the mid-70s, the number one killer is cancer, and that even in the late 70s, cancer is the number two killer in the U.S. The disease really is ubiquitous, and the type of cancer with the largest number of deaths each year is lung cancer. And while 87% of people with lung cancer had previously smoked, the remaining 13% had no history of smoking - which was also true of Sam.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Today I went to the first day's session of the Orion Center's 10th annual conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls, called "New Perspectives on Old Texts." Of the talks that I heard, the one that most interested me was Paul Mandel's, When a Scribe is Not a Scribe: A Second Look at the Enochic Scribal Traditions. He spoke about how the meaning of the Aramaic sappar goes beyond merely one who is skilled in writing and copying documents of various kinds, and also includes one who is skilled in understanding the divine will through divining or through the interpretation of texts, or one who is a kind of envoy of the divine will - for example, like Enoch in 1 Enoch.

The conference is being held in the faculty club of the Hebrew University - Beit Meiersdorf, on the Mt. Scopus campus, and has a beautiful view of the city of Jerusalem, especially the Dome of the Rock with its golden dome (see my photo below). It was pleasant to meet with various scholars, including Professor Rachel Elior, with whom I studied the Hekhalot literature at Hebrew University and who advised me and was a reader for my dissertation on the Hekhalot texts, and Philip Alexander, who has written extensively on the Hekhalot texts (including the translation and commentary on 3 Enoch for the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by J.H. Charlesworth. I am not sure I will have a chance to go to more sessions tomorrow and the next day, since I am leaving Israel on Wednesday and have still scarcely worked on my syllabi for next semester! It has been very nice to be on vacation.

I had not been to the Mt. Scopus campus for a couple of years, and the increase in security was quite noticeable. At each entrance to the campus there are guards to whom one must show identification. I had to show both my passport and a copy of the conference program to prove my bonafides. (This security is a consequence of the bombing attack at the Frank Sinatra cafeteria on July 31, 2002, in which nine people were killed).

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Our Secretary of State (for at least a little while longer) demonstrates his moral cowardice in Sudan: Powell Avoids Question on Sudan Genocide (washingtonpost.com).

But with Sudan's first vice president, Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, at his side, Powell sidestepped a question by a reporter about to whether he believed Sudan is still conducting genocide in the region. "It was my judgment that genocide was taking place," said Powell, who is in Nairobi to witness the signing Sunday of a comprehensive accord to end an unrelated conflict in southern Sudan. "I haven't seen the Secretary-General's latest report, but I look forward to examining it."


So now we're deferring to the UN on whether genocide has been and continues to be committed in Sudan?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

This Ha'aretz article warns about what might happen during the evacuation of Gaza settlements: The 3rd Intifada: Settlers take on their own army.

This week, in a disconcerting dress rehearsal for the prime minister's initiative for dismantling settlements in the Gaza Strip and a portion of the West Bank, soldiers who had been confronting Arabs for years in the Second Intifada found themselves under rock barrage in a new uprising conducted by Jews.

The troops were there to back up police dismantling an outpost, one of many in the West Bank with as many names as it has buildings. The forces were there to take down two caravans in Shalhevet, also called Givat Lehava [a satellite settlement of Yizhar].

The other day I paid a visit to the Old City of Jerusalem, and tried to get to the Temple Mount, but unfortunately, the gate was closed before I could get through the security. (The Temple Mount, with the two mosques on it, is open only a few hours a day to non-Muslim visitors). I did manage, however, to get a good picture of the Dome of the Rock from a place high up in the Jewish Quarter.

I've been in Israel for about a week and a half, and on this very rainy day I visited the Israel Museum with a friend. We went to the Shrine of the Book (dedicated, for the most part, to the Dead Sea Scrolls) and saw the Aleppo Codex - a very important 10th century codex of the entire Tanakh (although unfortunately some of it has been lost, including most of the Torah). It was quite moving to see this very finely written Bible that had been consulted by Maimonides when he wrote his own Torah scroll. I went through the Judaica section of the museum and visited the Cochin synagogue - an entire synagogue that was transported from Cochin, Kerala, India, and reconstructed inside the museum - very beautiful, with a particularly finely-carved Torah ark. I also walked through the historical section of the museum and saw some of my favorite exhibits, including several mosaics from synagogue floors (one, from a Samaritan synagogue, is the most detailed mosaic of a Torah ark that I've seen).

Before I went into the museum, however, I took a look at the demonstration across the street. The Knesset (Israel Parliament) and other government buildings are across the street from the museum, and in front of the Knesset, settlers and others opposed to the government's evacuation of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Street have set up protest tents. Hundreds of people arrived today from various settlements to protest the proposed evacuation, which is supposed to happen next summer. They put up signs with slogans like: "The transfer will not succeed," or "Jews don't expel Jews." (The term "transfer" is usually applied in Israeli politics to the idea of expelling all Arabs either from the state of Israel or from all of Palestine - it's politically provocative to use it to refer to the Israeli government uprooting Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip or the West Bank). On the one hand, I can understand why people don't want to leave homes that they might have lived in for up to 30 years - but on the other hand, I don't think that there should be Israeli settlements in Gaza. If Israel completely withdraws from Gaza, it means that Israeli soldiers will no longer risk their lives defending the settlements.

On Monday the Israeli army took down two caravans at a settlement on the West Bank, Yizhar, that had been put up without government approval. Many settlers from Yizhar opposed the soldiers and fought with them, but in the end the army brought in bulldozers and destroyed the caravans. Below is a photo from Yizhar. Such scenes when trying to remove only two caravans definitely raise the fear that the removal of settlements with 8,000 people living in them will bring pitched battles.

protest at Yizhar


protest at Yizhar
Originally uploaded by reb-lesses.



Protest on January 3, 2005, against the Israeli army taking away two caravans from the Yizhar settlement.