family, israel, Judaism

friday: poland

Inspired both by a cousin’s Bat Mitzvah and a friend’s theatrical activities in Poland for the 2009 Grotowski Year, I’ve been finding out more about some of my family’s origins in the small town of Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, a village that dates back to the 1300s. My father sent me this link to an image of the stones from the Jewish cemetery – Ostrowiec’s population was over 60% Jewish before WWII. The town website puts the death toll at 11,000 Jews. The brothers of the Weinberg family who survived, as far as we know, were Isadore, Murray, and my grandfather David, all of whom came to the US (the Midwest) before things got so bad you couldn’t leave.

The Chicago Weinbergs I’ve met are descended from Isadore and Murray. I’ve just learned that there are more Toronto Weinbergs to whom we might be related somehow, although I’m not sure whose descendants they would be – and that David spent 5 years in Toronto before making his way West.

If I were to go back to Europe I think I would be more prepared to visit some of the Jewish history of the region that I was when I went to Berlin, at 21. I didn’t visit a Holocaust museum, a graveyard, or even a synagogue. It felt like just being there, as a Jewish director working with German actors, was close enough to the past, and if I did more than that, I would implode. The most glaring reminder was traveling through Munich on the anniversary of Kristallnacht and seeing that Dachau was still a stop right in the middle of their subway line.

I was also more concerned, at the time, with the cultural and ethnic turmoil of the present – the relationship between Germans and Turkish immigrants in Berlin, and the ongoing situation in Israel (which was bad in 2001, but not as bad as it is now). It seemed like dwelling on the events of the forties wasn’t going to help anyone more forward on any fronts.

It’s easier to think about these things from the distance of the US, but if I were to go back, I guess I would have to make more of an effort to visit that history in person.

Judaism, writing

What is a Jewish writer?

Robert Cohen for the Guardian:

“This was how a number of Jewish-American writers of my own generation started out. We’d read enough of our forebears to see that we were coming in late, and would be only back-row singers in the diaspora chorus, fashioning our cunning little fugues of internal exile, turning Kafka’s lament – “What have I in common with the Jews? I have nothing in common even with myself” – into our own (anti-)national anthem.”

animation, film, Golda, humor rhymes with tumor, israel, Judaism, travel

South Texas and South Israel Park

Sari and I drove out to Poteet today, south of San Antonio, so we could see the area she covers for the paper. It’s very spread out, sunny, open and hot. We wore tank tops and shorts. The land is a beautiful place, with big overhanging trees and wide streets. I can see why people love Texas so much. It has a grandeur to it, even in a small town, and the sky really does seem large. It’s open.

But there’s a lot of poverty. The paint on the buildings is old, and the homes look patched together. We went by a mobile home with “Keep Away” spray-painted in red on one of the windows. We also went by rows of glistening, brand-new tractors, next to houses with crumbling wood. The juxtaposition between Poteet and the prosperity in San Antonio – and even more so in Austin – is extreme.

It was a drive that makes you think, a drive of extreme class contrasts, extreme poverty. Naturally, I got into talking about Golda and TJT and Jewish politics. I gave Sari my 10-minute history of Zionism and the state of Israel. We talked about politics in Palestine on the drive both there and back. We talked about institutionalized racism versus gun-in-your-face, bomb-on-the-bus racism. Texas. Mexico. Israel. The US. Palestine. Europe.

She’s helped me to remember some of the animation I used to do (Sari did the voice for this little film called “Misfortunes Of An Arrogant Child” that was at the Stanford film festival, when I was a junior) and we talked about the possibilities of making short films, short animated Internet segments a la Muffinfilms, which would have Jewish content – which would create something of an Internet comedy/theatrical voice for intelligent criticism of the Israel/Palestine conflict. (Now that’s a tall order.) Something like the South Park of the Jews. Something like a more meaningful Quarterlife. American Jews, or short animated kids, trying to make sense of it all.

It wouldn’t even have to be criticism. It could just be comedy-reportage. I’m really into this idea, but it feels like way too much responsibility – making sharp comedy about this issue is so hard, and so charged, and I’d probably end up with a real bomb on my hands, to use an inappropriate metaphor. Anyway, I don’t need another project.

Maybe I can start by making short animated films about something else with Jewish subject matter. Like I really need another project, right? Especially one that’s going to make everybody angry? But this is what I would want to watch. I guess that means it’s what I have to make.

Then we went to the zoo, came back and made chili. We’re going to see her roommate Monica play at an open mic tonight.

We also discussed, yesterday, what in modern entertainment today is the real child of Beckett.

a propos of nothing, Judaism

Educating the audience

From Kehilat Hadar’s website. It reminds me a lot of various discussions I’ve had about what people are or aren’t going to understand (see page 74, “What if they don’t know the play’s over?”) I also enjoy the prohibition against stage directions.

Why don’t you announce page numbers or when to sit/stand?
We encourage people to daven at their own pace, and recognize that not everyone shares the same custom of when to sit or stand. We also believe that interjections such as page numbers and stage directions harm the natural flow and rhythm of the service. In addition, there are large portions of the service where it is halachically forbidden to interrupt. Therefore, we do not announce pages or tell people when to sit/stand.

However, we realize that not everyone knows where the congregation is at any particular point in the service. We have therefore provided a sheet with page numbers for the most commonly used siddurim. We also encourage people to ask their neighbor for help if they want to find out where the congregation is.

(Seems like this is going to be the year of more Judaism. I just created a category for it.)