Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Albuquerque, NM

Today was a "rest" day, and time to hang out with our hosts, Kat and Jim. They fixed us a lovely breakfast, even thinking to buy us vegetarian sausage!

Then we were treated to a driving tour of Albuquerque, including the Ballon Fiesta Park (Kat and Jim crew the festival - their favorite aspect is chasing after the ballons to help them land), the lovingly restored Kimo Theater, Central Ave (the historical Route 66) and Old Town.

We had a delicious late lunch/early dinner at Hot Tamale. I had delicious Chiles Rellenos, and fresh sopapillas. Yummy! Our waitress reminded me of Deb in Napoleon Dynamite. Sweet and enthusiastic, yet awkward at points. She also had the same face.

After a brief rest, we took the "world's longest aerial tramway" to Sandia Peak at 10,378'. The 15 minute tram ride was quite stunning, and the view of the sunset from the top was gorgeous. After, we enjoyed drinks and dessert at the High Finance Restaurant (more truth in advertising). On the way down, we enjoyed the lit up city. As the Jayhawks say, "The lights of the city look so good, almost like somebody thought they would."

To make our American journey complete, Karl and I experienced Walmart for the first time in our lives tonight. We bought coolant and a gallon of water for our crossing of Arizona tomorrow. Our host Jim is a big Walmart fan; Kat elected to stay in the car.

Now I'm trying to get all the photos uploaded to the computer and finish all my blogs given that we've got good wireless connection here. We're going to try and hit the road by 7am tomorrow, so I want to go to bed really soon.

I haven't described Kat and Jim's wild and fabulous house yet, nor their African Grey bird, Smoky. Perhaps that's better left for a pictorial!

Ft. Worth, TX to Albuquerque, NM

On Tuesday we set out for our 10 hour drive, 287 N to 40 W. Knowing that we'd need to be well fortified, we stopped by Central Market for coffee and a smoothie.

One of the first things we passed through was the LBJ National Grasslands. I thought this would be interesting to see, but I couldn't spot it from the highway. Much of this part of west Texas, heading towards Amarillo, is ranchland. We spotted our first cowboy, and many cows.

I don't know how far you can see in these parts, but to quote The Who, "I can see for miles and miles." One of the things that breaks up the horizon is the many freight trains going by. I had no idea that Karl was so into freight trains. I took this picture for him:

287 went on and on and Amarillo felt as far away as Buffalo does when you're driving through upstate New York. We passed through many towns where the highway slowed down, and in the bigger ones there was even a stoplight or two. Each of these towns had an old-fashioned main street. One had a hotel called "It'll do." I guess it's good to have truth in advertising! As in the rest of Texas, we passed more porn shops and nudie bars than Jesus billboards. I guess if you're repressed in one arena, it's going to explode in another - excuse the pun!

As we finally neared the New Mexico border, the landscape slowly started to change. Mesas appeared.

40 parallels the old Route 66 for much of the way. When we got off the highway to get gas, we took this picture:

New Mexico was really a treat for sore eyes. These clouds looked painted on:

We continued down the alphabet, with a soundtrack of Liz Phair, Lou Reed, Mojo Nixon, Parliament, Peter Gabriel, The Police, Prince, and Public Enemy.

We arrived in Albuquerque around 6:30, and stopped by our friends' Kat and Jim's place to drop off our stuff before going to dinner with other friends, Joan and Sami.

Joan and Sami have a lovely house with a beautiful oasis of a backyard, with a goldfish pond, hummingbirds, and their cat Squeak, dog Yoyo, and bird Carly. All of the animals seem to get along, some more enthusiastically than others.

After a lovely dinner of mushroom lasagne, we started to crash, so we returned to Jim and Kat's red room for the night.

Austin, TX to Ft. Worth, TX

We awoke this morning to our host, Tomas, frantically searching for his keys. He finally found his spare car key, and made his way late to work. Meanwhile, as we packed up our car, we discovered his keys on the floor of our front seat - we felt so bad!

Both Tomas and Tory work organizing day laborers and ensuring that they get paid through filing wage claims. They have many outrageous stories of what day laborers go through. Tomas has been working with day laborers who are in New Orleans doing the most dangerous demolition and clearing of toxic materials.

We spent the morning taking care of some logistics for our move, such as making arrangements to have our cats flown out to us (much more involved than we imagined) and getting our electricity and gas turned on in our new apartment. Tomas' wife, Maureen, is a vet tech, and gave us good information.

Then we headed over to Dave and Tory's again. Tory stayed home with Elle, while David took us to El Chile for a yummy lunch accompanied by a 9-11 conspiracy theory discussion. I admit it, I initiated the conversation! I really wanted to hear David's responses to a few questions.

Even though he's on parental leave, David had a meeting at UT, so we headed over there so he could meet with some graduate students who he's organizing. He left Karl and me to wander around the LBJ library and museum. My favorite campaign button was "I'm a Beatle fan. In case of emergency, cast my vote for LBJ." I guess it must have made sense in context. David's meeting was a non-event, so we hurried through the rest of the display, and out to the car. David drove us through downtown Austin, and pointed out the state house and main quad of UT, both of which were purposefully built facing south to honor the Confederacy!

I learned an interesting thing from our native Texas friends: the "Don't Mess With Texas" slogan actually originated as an anti-littering campaign. There was a commercial which featured Stevie Ray Vaughn evidently! I like that slogan much better now!

We wish we had more time to check out Austin: the music scene, the bats coming from under the bridge... guess we'll just have to visit again! We were impressed with the local MTV type station that played cool alternative videos as well as local music.

Finally it was time for us to head north to Ft. Worth on 35. We said goodbye to our good friends and hit the road, but not before stopping at a great coffee shop, Ruta Maya.

Our soundtrack for the 3 hour drive, now based on the alphabetical method, was Le Tigre, L7, and LCD Soundsystem.

Along the way, we passed through Temple, which is where my childhood best friend moved when her family left Elkhart, IN.

More Jesus billboards along the way:

God Bless America: Pray... HE listens!

One nation under me. -God

And a good baby one:
What? You weren't expecting me? ADOPTION: 2 million couples wait.

One, I'd like to see a source for the 2 million number, and 2, they should qualify that statement with *for white babies only*.

We found our friend Sean's apartment in Ft. Worth just fine. He tried to take us to the legendary vegetarian restaurant, the Spiral Diner, but unfortunately it was closed on Mondays. So instead we picked up snacks at Central Market, a very nice Whole Foods type store, and went back to Sean's apartment to hang out. Sean played us his friend Thor's music, and then some Magnetic Fields.

Somehow the discussion turned to fascism, and Karl looked up the definition on Wikipedia, all 10 pages of it.

I took advantage of Sean's music collection to rip some CDs, including some which I had on cassette like The Cowboy Junkies' The Trinity Sessions and Kate Bush's The Sensual World.

I was honored that Sean's shy kitty let me pet him before bed!

Houston, TX to Austin, TX

OK, so I'm really behind on these posts, mostly due to uneven internet access. We're actually in Albuquerque now, but I will go back and fill in how we got here.

Sunday morning in Houston we were awoken by people mowing their lawns. Evidently it's part of the agreement of living here - you have to keep up your yard work. We got a slow start, but eventually got to NTB for an oil change. While we were waiting for the car to be ready, Charlie and Linda took us to Denny's for breakfast. Charlie and Linda, and the guy at NTB, were all very confused about us not having air conditioning in the car. "So you need more freon?" No - we don't have AC. "So, it broke and you never fixed it?" Nope, just don't have AC. It was really unheard of for them. Of course in Houston, we saw why it was necessary!

After bidding Charlie and Linda au revoir, we headed to Austin. This was the day we needed AC, if there was any! By the time we arrived, I was completely soaked in sweat. Yuck.

Along the short (~3 hours) drive, we saw many billboards for planned communities such as the ones our friends live in (Sienna Plantation). We saw signs for The Colony, and The Settlement at Patriot Ranch. (In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area there are actual cities called White Settlement and The Colony.) For people coming from the Northeast, it's quite surprising to see such blatant use of racist terms for new subdivisions and cities. It is that people don't see the context, or that they are willfully indentifying with a Confederate past?

We passed through LaGrange, where my German host sister spent a year as an exchange student. Germans love Texas!

Having exhausted our supply of Texas bands, we listened to Franz Ferdinand, Hot Hot Heat, and Interpol.

Vultures continue to be ever-present.

We arrived at our friends David and Tory's place around 7pm. They just had a baby girl, Ellison Leticia (Elle for short) on the 16th. We had dinner with them, our old sleeping buddy Sarah (that's a story from another road trip), our hosts Tomas and Maureen, and Sarah's friends Gina and Ross. After much bitching about old jobs, and many a political discussion, we decided to turn in.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Memphis, TN to Houston, TX

We started the day yesterdat at Sun Studios, the "birthplace of Rock and Roll". It was very cool to learn the history of the recording studio and label where greats such as B.B. King, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and of course Elvis got their start. Our tour guide Amy was very cute, and had an accent you could listen to forever!

There were so many more things we wanted to see in Memphis, including the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, to Stax Records, aka Soulsville. I guess we'll just have to go back to Memphis sometime.

We got on the road around 11:30 for our long drive to Houston. 55 south down through Mississippi and into Louisiana, then 12 west through Baton Rouge, to 10 west all the way to Houston.

Reflecting our trip to Sun, our soundtrack started with lots of Johnny Cash, from the greatest hits and the concert at Folsom prison, to American IV The Man Comes Around. Then we listed to Elmore James, King of the Slide Guitar, for a little Delta blues (and a strong indication of where Led Zepelin got all those riffs from.) By that time we were in Louisiana, so we listened to Lucinda Williams sing about all the cities we were driving through, such as Jackson, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, etc. Other bands included The Gossip, Led Zep, and as we moved into Texas, ZZ Top, Janis Joplin, and Steve Earle.

All day we went in and out of rain squalls. With the Katrina disaster just one year ago this week, it weighed on our minds as we drove though the states which were devastated by both nature and the government.

A cool part of our drive was the elevated highway through the Atchafalaya Basin, an area of marshes and swamps just west of Baton Rouge. Again, an area I'd love to explore more in the future.

Overall, we found this part of the south verdant and lush. We spotted vultures and cranes alternately. I'm sure alligators lurked in the swamps just out of our sight.

We were greeted in Texas with billboards advertising Jesus and babies. Welcome to Texas!

As our 10 hour drive neared an end, we were treated to a John Ford-esque sunset.

We are staying with Charlie (one of Karl's oldest friends) and his wife Linda. When we arrived, they had not yet gotten back from their baby shower (due in ~ 2 months), so we showed ourselves into their huge home - twice the size of our old condo in JP and almost half the price. So this is why people live in Texas!

This morning we need to get an oil change - yep we've driven that far already! Then off to Austin later this afternoon.

I'm having problems uploading the photos again, so look for those in a separate post.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

St. Louis, MO to Memphis, TN

Cocoa the dog slept with us all night. She growled at Karl when he came to bed, but deigned to allow him to have about a third of the bed.

This morning, our host Brian took us to the Missouri Botanical Garden, a gem in the middle of St. Louis. In addition to the usual lovely flowers, herbs, scented garden, and Japanese garden, they had unique urban gardens showing a variety of mulches, composting techniques, and ideas for small spaces. There was also a stunning exhibit of site-specific glass art by Dale Gilhuly throughout the garden.

Brian was a passionate and knowledgeable St. Louis tour guide. He practically had us convinced to move there! I guess it helps that he is a St. Louis native, and a history professor.

One thing that struck me was the openness in STL of the city’s connection to the Civil War and slavery. All around was evidence of wealth made off of slave labor, including the Botanical Garden itself, which was essentially the plantation of its founder, Henry Shaw. Of course Boston, and New England more generally, gained wealth from slavery as well, but it is hidden behind the fa├žade of the “free” north and the – very real and powerful – abolitionist movement.

As we were driving through St. Louis, I noticed some protestors, and sure enough it was the Planned Parenthood. We also noticed a lot of anti-choice signs along the highway, including a huge handmade “vote pro-life” sign, painted red, white, and blue, on the side of a barn. I thought of my former colleagues at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice of MO, and was doubly impressed by their good work in the face of such a hostile climate.

We got on the road around 12:30, 55 south all the way. Our soundtrack was Uncle Tupelo, then Paul Simon’s Graceland, then the King himself. Finally, we put on some Willie Nelson. I know he’s not from Tennessee, but I figured it was close enough.

55 south goes through Arkansas for about an hour. It was my first time in the state, so we stopped at the welcome center. The woman behind the desk was excited to see us, and dutifully recorded our visit in her log. Unlike my friend Helen, I think it counts as visiting a state as long as your feet touch the ground – except in an airport - so I’m checking Arkansas off my list. (Helen’s standard, I believe, is an overnight visit.)

We decided to stay overnight in Memphis, so we got a room at the Red Roof Inn. We stopped by Riverside Park and took some pics of the Mississippi. Then we headed over to Graceland on Elvis Presley Blvd. On the way there, we passed a visitors’ center with a banner welcoming Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi from their trip last month. We decided to go to Graceland after hours because admission is $22 per person, plus $6 parking; so it would have cost the two of us $50 to tour the mansion (planes and other features extra). 95% of me says that it’s a ripoff; 5% of me thinks we should have gone anyway.

Driving back into town, we saw a spectacular sunset. The sun was a fiery red ball as it set behind what we believe was an oil refinery. Flames shot into the sky from smoke stacks as the sun sank.

Speaking of oil refineries, as expected, gas prices have been much cheaper ever since we hit Ohio – an average of $2.65. This compared to the $2.98 we paid on the Mass Pike, which was the cheapest we’d seen in months.

We ended our night on Beale Street, home of the blues in Memphis. We bought some cheesy souvenirs, and laughed at the “Big Ass Beer” cups for sale. We looked in vain for vegetarian food, and then returned to the hotel for a dinner of hummus and crackers from our cooler.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

pics from the road to STL

Couldn't get these to upload to the previous post, so here they are separately.

corn fields, and not much else:

Coming into STL:

Kalamazoo, MI to St. Louis, MO

The trip to the Root Beer Stand was a big success, as you can see from these pictures:

This morning we said goodbye to our kitties, and my mom and cousin, and hit the road around 9:30. We headed west on 94 towards Chicago, then connected with 80. We had rain for the first few hours, then it turned clear and hot.

Indiana's motto on their welcome sign was "America's Crossroads." I think a more appropriate motto would be "We sell firecrackers!" There were countless billboards advertising the largest firecracker store, the cheapest firecracker store, 2-for-1 firecrackers, etc.

One of my strongest memories of Chicagoland as a child is sitting in massive traffic jams. I can't believe that over 30 years later, the traffic has not improved. Karl was surprised by the number of trucks on the road - I guess it's just what I'm used to.

After we got on 55 South, traffic cleared right up, and it was smooth sailing. Getting gas in Illinois, I met a older woman working the cash register named Rosemary Rose!

For music, we revisted the mixed CDs made for the trip. We heard East vs. West, volumes II and III. We especially enjoyed the Decemberists. The only two duds were Everclear (!) and Hotel California (!!). I have to say that the Gypsy Kings' version of Hotel California was pretty amusing, though. Then we listened to "Super Groover", which was indeed very groovy. That put us in the mood for some James Brown. By the time we were ready for theme music, we were well into Illinois (Hello, Springfield!), so we opted for a little Wilco.

Karl spotted a bumpersticker that said, "I'd rather go hunting with Dick Cheney than driving with Ted Kennedy." Nuff said.

Driving through the landscape of my youth - cornfields, smily-face water towers, smoke stacks - I saw soybean fields with the following signs:

"From IL's soybean fields to America's roads: IL soy biodiesel."
"From IL's soybean fields not Middle East oil fields: IL soy biodiesel."

We crossed the Mississippi into Missouri and St. Louis around 3pm central time. Karl was impressed by the Arch - the Gateway to the West - and I regaled him with stories of being in the top of the Arch and it swaying back and forth.

In St. Louis we are staying with Karl's freshman year college roommate, Brian, and his lovely wife Christine, twin daughters Chloe and Clair, and 3 dogs Poppy, Blini, and Cocoa. They live in "Central West End", which is full of beautiful big victorian homes and cute restaurants with sidewalk seating.

The dogs have already settled in for the night, and if I want a part of the bed, I'd better stake my claim soon!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Arlington, MA to Kalamazoo, MI

On Tuesday, August 22 we set out from Boston at 7am on our cross-country drive to Los Angeles. Our stuff is already in storage in LA, and our new apartment awaits us. All that remains is to get ourselves there.

For our first day, we had our two cats, Norton and Princess Rockula, with us. They will be staying with my mom in Kalamazoo, Michigan until we get settled in LA. It was a long, hot drive with no A/C in our car; 14 1/2 hours in all. Norton was a Zen Master the whole way, though he did start to ask when it would be over near the end. Princess, however, freaked out. We ended up letting her out of her carrier. She explored the car a bit, and then made herself a bed wedged in between bags. She was much happier after that.

Not much to report on the scenery. We took 90 all the way to Cleveland, where we hooked up with 80 until Toledo. There we got 69 north (speed limit 70!) to 94 west. Nothing I hadn't seen before, having driven that general route a few times. I did think of my friend Dave R., who I haven't seen in years and years when we passed Rocky River, OH. Some childhood reminiscences of Cedar Point, that sort of thing.

With not much outside to entertain us, we turned to music. Two of our friends, Richard and Kristen, came through with road trip and East Coast/West Coast themed mixed CDs. Not only does our car lack A/C, but we also do not have a CD player. We rigged up Karl's CD walkman to the cassette deck, and were able to listen to Richard's "Super Driver" and Kristen's "East vs. West (Vol. I) before the batteries died. After that, I came up with the idea of state-based Ipod listening, such as playing songs with the state name in them, or playing bands from the state we're driving through. I didn't think of this til Pennsylvania, though, and couldn't think of any PA bands for the life of me. So, I focused on Ohio. CSNY's Ohio is an obvious choice, of course. And Devo, the Waitresses, the Pretenders. I wanted to play REM's "Cuyahoga", but it turns out we don't have that album on the Ipod. For Michigan, we went for the White Stripes.

We arrived safely in Kalamazoo at 9:30 pm last night, and spent today running errands and visiting with my family. Tonight we will take Karl to his first Root Beer Stand!

The camera was full, so no pics from our first two days. Hopefully I'll have illustrated posts from the rest of the road trip.

Monday, August 21, 2006

What I Will Miss About Boston

1) my beloved Citgo sign, seen here by day

and pre-renovation by night

2) walking - not really acceptable or practical in LA

3) Jamaica Plain - the place I've lived longest in my life, where you'll always run into someone you know on Centre Street, home of Jamaica Pond, the Arboretum, Forest Hills Cemetery, and Franklin Park

4) JP Licks - at the rare hour when there were no screaming children; my favorite cake ever: oreo ice cream cake

5) Fat Ram's Pumpkin Tattoo Source of all my tattoos (though some are from before tattooing was legalized); you can see a picture of my waves on his color page

6) Central Square - even though it was completely gentrified in the 90s, Central Square is still a great place, and my home away from home: Green Street Studios, the Dance Complex, Harvest Co-Op, The Middle East, TTs, many great restaurants, I could go on and on...

7) the White Mountains - ok, this is New England, not Boston... we were unable to hike there this summer due to my foot surgery... looking forward to hiking it again in the future

There's so much more, but I need to finish packing as we hit the road at 6 am.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Who the Fuck is Charlie?

Well I was planning a rant about the new "Charlie Card" system in Boston, and while looking for an image of dear ol' Charlie, I happened upon this post from a fellow Boston blogger. Makes the whole thing even weirder that they would name the new card system (which replaces tokens, much like New York's Metrocard) after a character in a song that criticized fare hikes!

Anyway, my rant is more along these lines:
1) Why a white man? Doesn't Boston have enough problems with racism (ahem, Silverline)?
2) Why a human name at all? "T" has worked just fine as a name for years!
3) Doesn't Charlie look like the old Joe Camel, just with the penis nose chopped off?
4) Once you've bought a Charlie Card and you happen to want to get on the T at a stop that hasn't converted yet, you're shit outta luck. You may have money left on that card, but you're unable to use it. So you have to pay again. Typical.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Who Backs Immediate Ceasefire?

Making People Afraid of Toothpaste

I had the dubious pleasure of flying to LA the day after the new “terror” plot was revealed in the UK and new travel restrictions were announced.  No lotion!  No toothpaste!  No contact solution!  Taste your baby’s formula!  No drinks!  A friend who had the misfortune to travel the day the arrests were announced even saw expensive lipsticks confiscated.

With a 6:45 am flight to LA last Friday, we dutifully got a cab at 3:30 am in order to reach the airport the requisite 3 hours in advance.  When we arrived, there was already a line snaking around terminal C.  Airline and security staff weren’t even at their posts as we queued up and waited.  Around 4:15am, the airline staff arrived, and began encouraging us to “surrender” our liquids and gels, or else pack them in checked luggage.  Security moved slowly, but surely.  The graveyard of water bottles made me thirsty.  Before we boarded the plane, they hand searched all of our carry-ons, a practice I didn’t even experience in the weeks immediately following 9-11, when I flew around the country quite a bit.  (At least we were able to take carry-ons – flights originating from and connecting in Europe were denied even a book to read.  Books = danger!)  

Overall, the personal inconvenience was minimal, other than having to check the bag we’d normally carry on.  Now I’m sitting in LAX, waiting to return to Boston, and the security was no big deal.  

So, what was this episode all about?  In the midst of plummeting numbers of people who approve of the war in Iraq (and a steady march of 2 US troop deaths a day), Israel’s attack on Lebanon (during which they are merely told to “be careful” and “try not to kill too many civilians”), and the warm up to the mid-term elections, it’s clear that the Bush regime needed a little boost for their “war on terror”.  

Bingo!  Terrorists in the UK want to blow up planes traveling to the US!  Red alert on the Homeland Security (sic) color wheel for flights from the UK!  Orange alert for everyone else!  Danger Will Robinson!

The best part is that what airlines are controlling for is a long list of common liquids and gels.  I’m reminded of that SNL skit with Jerry Seinfeld as the newscaster who reported “a common household cleaner could be killing you right now! More at 10:37.”

Gone are the days of worrying about your nail clippers.  Who cares about sharp objects when your lotion could explode!

In Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore concluded that the issue in America is not higher crime rates than other countries, nor is it more guns.  The issue is FEAR.  I think our government understands this better than the average citizen, and they are depending on it working now.  The more scared people are, the more likely they are to buy into the Bush agenda of endless war “over there, so we don’t have to fight them here.”  Especially convenient at election time!  

We may never know if the people arrested in England last week were actually plotting to explode planes over the Atlantic or not.  Ultimately, that’s not even the point.  The point is that the Bush regime is continuing to boldly push their international agenda, which goes hand in hand with “the new normalcy” at home of increasing fear which makes it easier for the government to decrease civil rights.

I don’t believe that banning people from carrying liquids or nail clippers on planes makes us any safer, nor does having to stay seated for the last half hour of a flight into Washington DC.  If it’s “safety” we’re after (and that’s a whole debate in itself), two things that would go a long way are changing US policy on Israel and getting rid of the Bush regime.  I’d give up my toothpaste for that any day.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Jewish Youth Denounce Israel's Actions

I received this email from my friend and co-worker, Nikki. Her words and actions, and those of her friend Felicia, are very important, and I wanted to share them here.

Hello friends and family,

On Tuesday morning I participated in a "die in" with a group of young Jews at South Station. All of us were silent, dressed in black, and lying "dead" on the floor in front of the banners which read "Not all Jews support Israel's actions" and "Jews for human righs in Gaza and Lebanon".

The action was covered by the Boston Globe, the Herald, the Metro, Siglo21 and the CS Monitor. You can also see the photos of our action at this website.

We believe that the horrific massacres of women, children, and all civilians is contrary to the Jewish tradition. It was painful to stand and lie on the ground while people shouted their opposition to us - but it felt so important to publicly break the consensus of unequivocal support for Israel's actions. At one point a woman who looked like my ma caught my eye, and with tears in her eyes said "Thank you. I'm so proud of you."

I am including the peice that my dear friend Felicia wrote after the action. I hope you don't mind my sharing this with you, and I welcome dialogue. Please pass it on to anyone you feel may be interested.

In solidarity,



L'chaim: Thoughts on Coming Back From the Dead
by Felicia Kazer

For me, celebrating life is at the core of all the teachings, traditions and rituals that I love about being Jewish. Sharing delicious meals with friends on Shabbat, lighting the menorah for 8 days in a row, dancing at my cousin Sam's bar mitzvah, studying text late into the night on Shavuot…these are the Jewish practices I treasure most and I know I'm not alone. Celebrating life is what Jews do best: apples and honey, costume parties at Purim time, heated discussions around the seder table. Judaism not only teaches us to celebrate life, it reminds us to do this every time we clink our glasses. Instead of "cheers" or "salud", we say "l'chaim" or "to life."

Why then are there Jews today who are deeply engaged in acts of murder? For a people who believe that life is a blessing, how is it possible that we are simultaneously sentencing innocent people to death? I see the pictures of the victims in Lebanon and my heart breaks. How can this be? I imagine the desperation of thousands of people trapped in Gaza without food, water or electricity. I can practically hear the cries from mothers and fathers as they pull their dead children from the debris left by the bombs that fell in Qana and Beirut. Did Jews really order those bombs to be dropped? Please tell me it's not true. I want no link to whomever is responsible for this madness. I want nothing in common with anyone capable of such atrocities. Tell me they're alien monsters from another planet or robots without hearts or brains. Perhaps Ehud Olmert is a monster, but he's also a Jew and this thought is what made me cry yesterday in my kitchen while listening to the news.

Today was the first day I have felt proud to be a Jew in a couple of weeks. Today I went to South Station in downtown Boston and participated in a "die in" with about 20 comrades. Dressed in all black we wore signs on our bodies that said, "Not all US Jews support Israel's Actions." We entered the station during one of the busiest times of the weekday, we unrolled our banners and died right there on the floor. Our message demanded, "Jews for Human Rights in Gaza and Lebanon". Once we were kicked out of South Station, we sang a nigun as we slowly moved outside. We repeated our action twice at two different busy locations outside the station. Throughout all three, we were silent and we were seen. Twenty dead bodies on the sidewalk silently screaming for attention.

Is this really what it takes for me to feel proud to be a Jew right now? Do I have to pretend to be dead in the middle of a crowd in order to distinguish myself from what is being presented in the press as a unified and unwavering Jewish support for Israel's actions? Sadly, it seems that this is exactly what's needed right now. Lying in the same position on a dirty concrete floor with thousands of commuters rushing by was uncomfortable and scary. However if this is what it takes to strike a cord because death, and not life, is what Jews in power are practicing, then I would pretend to be dead again tomorrow.

There are many complexities when it comes to Israel's security in the Middle East, but there are also many things that are very simple. There exists a human rights crisis right now. Israel is the second largest military power in the world and it is killing hundreds of innocent civilians in the name of defense. Yes, Israelis are dieing as well and I mourned these senseless deaths today with just as much grief. There is nothing forgivable about kidnapping soldiers and sending katyusha rockets to Northern Israel that kill civilians. However, there is no solution found in targeting Lebanon's civilian infrastructure and "turning back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years." This is what Israel's army chief of staff threatened and in the last 3 weeks this is exactly what has happened. Lebanon's major airport, highways, and ports have suffered billions of dollars worth of damage. Over 750 people, mostly women and children, have been killed and Lebanon will be grieving and rebuilding for years to come. I see pictures of Lebanese civilians bombarding the UN building with protests and it breaks my heart to see another generation of Muslims filled with hate and anger. Is this really the path to peace and security?

In accepting these horrific acts, it seems many of us Jews have forgotten our own tradition. I don't know how this happened. Our rituals are punctuated by a reminder to celebrate life and our greeting has the word "peace" embedded within it. What other reinforcements do we need? I was always taught that in Judaism, it's not enough to say it, it's the doing it that really counts. L'chaim and shalom.


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