Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin--You heard it here (among the) FIRST!

Sarah Palin! My post of January 8 of this year has a huge photo of her--my suggestion at the time for GOP nominee! Whoa, was I ahead of the curve or WHAT?

Last night I was hoping in this space for "someone electrifying," and whattaya know, McCain came through. He's an innovator, that's for sure. Youthful, female, married to a Native American, mom of a Down Syndrome baby, known as a corruption-cleaner--and, important in our media-driven world--BEAUTIFUL. I am eager to hear her oratory style, her ability to think on her feet, and her defense of her inexperience. She countered her military deficiencies with the notation that her son is serving in Iraq; not quite enough, but a good start. We're off for a very exciting ride in the next few months!

Her acceptance speech and style were brilliant--energetic, straightforward--she made a few boo-boos (like using George Bush's mis-pronounciation, "nuke-u-ler" and at the end herself blessing the audience) but over all, the excitement was overwhelming and I found myself in that great emotional stratosphere that has all of us McCain supporters on a high, and must put Barack in a deep blue funk. I love how Palin credited Hillary with 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling that now Republicans will shatter! We live in amazing times!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Emotion trumps Logic in Obama's Convention Speech

Due to some faulty information, I tuned in to hear Obama's speech after it was over. But I have read it, and, admittedly, the words on paper don't have the same punch as Barack's preacherly delivery, but I did have some reactions.

Overall, it was long, and its themes repetitive and predictable. But, it offered that inspirational political style that, when delivered with Obama's usual emulation of Martin Luther King, zings right into the emotions that are his and the Democrats' central appeal. It's a clever trick, bringing pity and righteous indignation for the present government, while insisting that the same government structure under him will be contrastingly kindly and paternal. The Dem theme of the "mean and selfish Republicans" versus the "compassionate and supportive Democrats" gets the visceral arousal that logic and specifics on issues don't.

I'm a psychologist. From years of practice I've learned that when you pit reason against emotion, emotion wins. Barack is so emotionally engaging that he summons adherents with platitudes and, in this case, unassailably universal values and visions.

What is it he plans to do that is such a change from the present Democratic congress' direction? From Nancy Pelosi and the other lawmakers who have blocked innovative legislation that George Bush desired? Well, one change is that Obama's black, and that is huge. But from tonight's lovely generalities, "change" might just be skin-deep.

Obama naturally presented statements that bothered me. Regarding McCain, the nominee said, "
For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy--give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is, you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, even if you don't have boots. You're on your own."

Aarrggh. Since when does any politician "give more and more to those with the most"? What does he mean, "give"? The federal government doesn't have any of its own wealth--every penny of its resources are forcibly confiscated under pain of imprisonment--from those who work to earn it. Whatever the government "gives," it first must take. When the government takes less from people who have enough to then hire other people, that's not "trickling down," that's allowing expansion.

The "Ownership Society" gives individuals control, or "ownership" over their own resources--to choose their children's schools, to control their retirement plans and funds, to make their own health care decisions--that's empowerment, not abandonment.

Obama misuses the term and smirks that Republicans say "tough luck" to the unemployed. What would he prefer--that the government say "I'll hire you?" When people don't have health care, why does he think it more efficient to create a huge national bureaucracy to intervene between peoples' earnings and their health insurers? And as far as giving "boots" to those "born in poverty," they're only valuable if the footwear's used to regularly walk to class, punctually show up for work, and wear out the soles striving to advance--gifts the government just can't give.

But overall, Obama used cute phrases to describe what everybody wants, a speech of the ilk used to unite the nation after a candidate's already won the presidency.

His concept of "change" sounded far too broad and moderate to please his base, but who cares--they're so emotionally fired up they'll cheer anything The One says. Here's what Obama pledges to do: Eliminate capital gains taxes for startups (while increasing taxes on larger corporations), and cut taxes "for 95% of working families" while steeply raising them for those who earn more than $150,000.

His pie-in-the-sky energy plan is to
stop depending on middle eastern oil in 10 years (not mentioning that 75% of our oil today comes from South and Central America), and "invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy; wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced." Aside from nationalizing something that private industries are falling all over themselves trying to accomplish right now, his energy innovations are pretty much what McCain wants, too.

Obama's Princeton education sure was a boon for him, so he wants to federalize schooling down to the lowest levels, taking control for local districts away from those closest and making Washington the watchdog. This was a flop in George Bush's administration--his "No Child Left Behind" act now saddles teachers with gearing lessons to tests rather than to students, but Obama plans to "recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support" so they'll be even more directly controlled by the Feds.

Yep, Obama will lovingly embrace you, cradle to grave. He says he'll cut your health care premiums but at the same time guarantee coverage for those already chronically, expensively sick. He'll force employers to give family leave time even when disruptive and financially crippling to business, and magically "protect social security for future generations." He's going to do it all, with swaddling, enveloping, socialistic governmental paternalism. Who's going to pay for it? Dunno, cuz MY taxes are going to be lowered, remember?

I sure hope McCain picks somebody really electrifying, because the GOP needs its own strong dose of emotion in order to beat the Obama feel-good hope machine. Only with some ecstatic energy can McCain get the momentum to let reason, experience and logic prevail.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Obama's Scary Ego makes Convention Appearance

Obama? Oh-BUM-uh! (or, could be "Oh, Bummer!" but that would be dating me).

Tonight at the Democratic convention we saw some interesting stuff. Well, I heard it--I chose to fold laundry with the dulcet tones of Bill in the background. That is, of course, Bill, as in "I did not hav
e sexual relations with that woman..." which is his most famous of speeches. Tonight's rates a C in comparison. I'll give you my review of Bill and then get to my main point.

But first, the guy who must have been really depressed when Hillary had to concede. His speech was what you'd expect. It had a c
ouple of cute phrases: " People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power." And, after bashing Republicans with straw men: "They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more. Let's send them a message that will echo from the Rockies all across America: Thanks, but no thanks. In this case, the third time is not the charm." Well, this time Bill was not so charming himself, and by offering just about exactly what everyone would've guessed, he actually came across to me as a sore loser doing his perfunctory best to look like a good sport. But Bill always loved the limelight, and losing this shot to be back in the White House just doesn't thrill him. His obviously staged mouthing of "I love you" during Hillary's speech last night, while the red light of the camera was on, also didn't ingratiate him much.

But more relevant to the campaign and the nation's future was the introduction of the Vice-Presidential candidate, Joe Biden. This was his first nationally-televised platform as the nominee--his one shot to impress the party an
d convert the undecided. As I read over the transcript of his remarks, I felt my muscles tighten and my ire rumble. Biden's speech was filled with outright lies, and misrepresented John McCain's positions and their outcomes. But, I kept telling myself, that's the Veep's job: attack dog against the opposition. Biden, too, did exactly as expected, and not in such a clever or masterful way, either. He's just not Mr. Charisma. And, he didn't succeed in his limp effort to make Barack look like a master statesman and unafraid warrior ("Barack Obama, who more than a year ago called for sending two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan? The fact is, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban — the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 — have regrouped in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan and are plotting new attacks. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff echoed Barack's call for more troops.") Like the Joint Chiefs heard Barack and only THEN decided, "Gee, this guy's RIGHT! We need more troops!" Um, I thought Obama was running as the bring-'em-home candidate!

OK, I'm not going to go through Biden's speech; my sanity's too precious. More important is what followed his speech: Obama himself. In a move never before seen at any political convention, Barack decided to "drop in" on Biden just when the VP nominee was to have basked for the first time in glory. Just when Biden was to be feted for his individual, separate contribution to the ticket, Barack "drops in" to steal his thunder. What a friendly gesture.

Here they're even moving the convention to huger quarters (INVESCO football field!) for Barack's speech Thursday, and the guy can't wait till then to step into the limelight. He's a control freak, clearly. Has to insert himself right in front when the lens is trained on the other guy. He's like the hammy kid who leaps in front of the camera just as it's snapping the well-posed portrait. This is worrisome to me. We've got two candidates here with zippo military experience (for the first time in several decades) and the lead guy is an egomaniac w
ho can't wait his turn to speak.

We've seen just by the trajectory of Obama's career that he can't wait to take the lead in the school play--he jumped from "community organizer" to a local political slot, up to a short blink in the Senate--just enough to qualify him for national stardom. He's not a patient guy--he wants that big part. Of course, if he gets it, when answers to the tough questions aren't scripted, he won't be able to dodge responses with "that's above my pay grade."

Does the surprise appearance of the party nominee at the Convention tonight help or hurt? Given how livid Biden must be to have his big moment ruined by having to stand aside and grin like the Cheshire Cat while his benefactor upstaged him, I'd guess their relationship must be, um, strained. And few watching would think, "gee, I didn't like Obama before, but NOW he's my guy!" Also embarrassing and phony was Obama's need to praise his wife's, Hillary's, Bill's and Biden's speeches at this point. This was the time to play up the Vice Presidential selection, not to remind folks that everybody so far is just a warm-up act for The One.

(You might want to take a look at this excellent blog post on Obama's surprise appearance at the convention tonight:

Monday, August 25, 2008

"South Pacific" in the Northwest

"bum-bum-bum-bum, BLOODY MARY is the, (uh!) girl I love! Bum-bum-bum-bum, BLOODY MARY is the (uh!) girl I love!...bum-bum-bum-bum, BLOODY MARY is the (uh!) girl I love, now ain't that too damn bad?"

Awk, I can't get the song out of my head! ("I'm gonna wash that song right outta my head!") Yesterday we had a most wonderful and remarkable time at Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater, out among the firs alongside the rushing Snoqualmie River about 45 minutes from Seattle, watching a superb and challenged performance of Rogers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific."

The c
hallenge for the actors came from two sources. And affected us, in the audience, too. First off, the outdoor theater is nestled deep in a forest (thus the name) with the wooden bench seats layered upward on a steep incline from the stage below. The day had begun nicely, with sunshine, but quickly digressed into clouds and then rain. As we drove through the enormous evergreens out to the remote property for the 3 pm show, the drops increased, pausing a bit as we made our way down switchback paths to the theater. We were offered pads for the soggy benches, and found center seats in the second row, with a perfect view of the double-decker set. Just before the performance, the front row filled with about a dozen feeble nursing-home residents, escorted by two young supervisors.

The performances were top-rate, leaving my husband to muse afterward that it's a pity such talent can't lead to well-deserved national recognition or even a full-time career. Jenny McMurry playing Ensign Nellie Forbush, had a rich, beautiful voice and couldn't have performed her role better. Of course, throughout the play, flashes of the
classic 1958 Oscar-winning film with Mitzi Gaynor kept coming to mind. But in the woods, Paul Linnes' Emile de Becque was as romantic as Rosano Brazzi, with his deeply resonant "One Enchanted Evening....You will meet a straaaanger!" The first act was a delight, with a salty Bloody Mary played admirably by thirty-year theater veteran BJ Stokey, and an enthusiastic and entertaining Luther Bills given delightful life by Chris Maxfield. I had to resist singing along with the happily familiar lyrics.

But just before the scene on Bali Ha'i, the sky opened up and the rain got more serious. As the actors pranced just a few feet away, some oldsters in the row in front of us felt the drops pelting their heads. One old lady, front and center, started repeating loudly, "I don't want to be here!" "I'm getting wet!" "I don't want to BE here!" Though doddering, she attempted to rise, and the group's attendant tried to quiet and re-place her. She would not be silenced: "I DON'T want to BEEEE here!" "I don't see why I have to BE here!" An old gentleman to her left, also quite damp, tried to get up; the aides shushed the lady and led the man back into his seat. As the rest of the audience opened and huddled under umbrellas held close so as not to block others, the fron
t-row grandma got more belligerent, out-voicing the actors, "I don't want to BEEE here!" She turned around, looking plaintively to my husband as if he could release her, as the actors kept singing. Finally, the assistant escorted the hunched woman off, walking her on the wood-chip stage just inches from the struggling-to-carry-on thespians. It was a relief that this drama no longer interrupted the musical, but about five minutes later, she and the caretaker returned, again haltingly crossing the stage, with umbrellas (one for the drenched old man). But even under cover, the center-stage grandma resumed her pining-cat refrain: "I don't want to BE HERE!"

Imagine trying to concentrate on delivering a heartfelt love song with a whiny woman loudly demanding to your face! But the cast was professional and in the best "show must go on" tradition completely ignored her, singing passionately as raindrops bounced off umbrellas, and their soaked costumes drooped. By the final scene, where the children Ngana and Jerome were to sit on Emile's balcony setee, everything was so water-logged the kids grimaced as the wetness
penetrated their fannies.

Despite it all, the climactic moment where Emile returns to discover Nellie with his children awaiting him, was as touching as any on dry land with seasoned actors. And at the end of the bows, with an audience juggling umbrellas to applaud and shout "Bravo!" and "Brava!" the cast applauded those hearty Northwest souls still there to appreciate their work and celebrate the noble effort of the theater in the forest.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oprah as God and Torah

Can't stay away from that NY Times "Sunday Styles" section, much as I try. OK, I don't try. In fact, I lunge for that section the minute my hubby lugs in the paper, eager for the escape into that strangely savage parallel universe, where people carry $1,500 purses to hold the credit cards financing their unique adventures to the plastic surgeon, the Hamptons and Cannes.

One story grabbed me this week, aside from the entertainment of searching the wedding announcements for the gay couples, and gagging at the deliciously smug descriptions of nuptial couples' backgrounds ("The bridegroom, also 27, received a doctorate in chemistry in June from M.I.T., where he specialized in nanotechnology research." "His father is a financial adviser in the the financial services unit in New York of UBS, the Swiss bank, and from 1994-2001 was the publisher of Golf Digest...")

No, the wedding news only framed my favorite story, which was reprinted in our local Seattle Times the following day: "Life in the Time of Oprah," by Jessica Grose. Datelined Chicago, Ms. Grose described the life of Robyn Okrant (above), the 35-year-old wife who voluntarily has submitted herself for one year to everything Oprah, choosing to make all choices according to advice dispensed by the favored gurus or the World's Richest Woman herself. Ms. Okrant traces every decision she makes, from her clothing to her hair dye to her mental perspectives to an edict from the show, the magazine or the professional assistants of Oprah Winfrey.

Then she blogs about it. And seeks to get a book contract out of it. "Oprah's like the popular girl in high school who knows how to emotionally blackmail us," Ms. Okrent says in the article. "The way she'll deliver advice is, 'This will make you happy, unless you don't have enough self-esteem to do it...It's the illusion of free choice, but it's actually an absence of choice."

Ms. Okrent's husband, Jim Stevens, says the Oprah fixation has changed his wife toward being "hyperconscious about her appearance." Which might actually be okay, given that emulating Ms. Winfrey's personal life would leave him out of the picture. In fact, striving to become a clone of Oprah Winfrey--or at least a desciple--must leave lots of opportunity for failure. The Styles piece quotes lifestyles editor Sarah Hepola: "I think there was a time when Oprah really lived her advice," she muses, "and I think that time was 1988."

What struck me about Ms. Okrent's undertaking was--forgive me--how much it smacks of the way pious people approach religion. OK, speaking as a Jew, the Torah puts forth down to the most minute details means to approach every aspect of life. Wake up and immediately say "Modeh ani" thanking God for reviving you. Wash off that "tumah" that sullies you during your snooze. Put on your right shoe first. Say your prayers, complete with blessings for taking each step, and wearing clothes. And that hasn't scratched the surface of the system that overlays on each and every decision to be made. True, like Ms. Okrent, you have free will to choose whether to abide by "the rules" or depart from them, but "it's the illusion of free choice, but it's actually an absence of choice," as Robyn notes. If you're going to buy into the system, be it Oprah's way or the Torah, then any veering off just means "you don't have enough self esteem," read, "discipline" or "strength of character," to succeed.

The difference is...well, first off, lots of people DO confuse Oprah with God. But not really. Second is that Robyn Okrent is doing this for just a year, for a kick, or, more likely, for career advancement. People who accept a religion do it not just for life, but for after-life. That's a real commitment. At the same time, the folk who accept religion, be it Torah or Koran or New Testament--think there's truly no alternative. They know what God wants, and after all, He's God; if he doesn't like your path, it's worse than sleeping with 'da fishes. If you're Hindu, you could be a fish.

According to the Styles article, the essence of the Oprah lifestyle is "a spiritual quest," and that's pretty close to what religion offers, too. You can replace the Oprah-ese "shlumpadinka" (which sounds pretty Jewish to me) which dictates fashion choices with the sartorial customs of Catholic nuns or Chasidic Jewish groups. You can substitute Oprah's refrigerator endorsements for physical accoutrements religions use--oh, say a succa, or elaborate rectories.

So, I chuckled at the silliness of Robyn Okrent's pursuit. And then I went to cook my kosher food, say the grace after meals and read my Aish ha Torah emails. Um....why do I feel weird about this comparison?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Heat of a Summer Sunday

The summer is heating up. The weather here in the northwest this last five days finally felt truly warm, delightfully so, until today's chilling rain. And the candidates are heating up their confrontations.

Perhaps by the time this is posted, Barack Obama will have selected a running mate. John McCain, however, will probably wait to see who Obama picks, and then make his choice with his competitors in mind. Interestingly, Colin Powell's name seems to be floating in the politico-sphere as a possible GOP running mate, though Tim Pawlenty still seems to be in the lead, with Bobby Jindal a close second. With the steeplechase analogy, Gen. Powell would certainly be the dark horse, no pun intended. I didn't see the Saddleback Church candidate interviews because we don't have TV in our home, but the clips and analysis I heard
suggested Obama's embarrassing pauses and dodges to questions concisely and knowingly answered by McCain gave the Republican candidate a decisive image boost.

Meanwhile, my husband and I took a fieldtrip to Mt. Rainier. The day was envelopingly, soothingly warm but not uncomfortable, and the verdant roadways with their pleasant curves snaked through old-growth groves of enormous cedars and firs that reminded us of our minuscule size in the grander scheme of things.

I'd bought a little portable BBQ in a box on sale, and we stopped at the kosher supermarket for supplies on our way out. After some exclaiming over the bo
untiful wildflowers, we set out to cook our vegetarian hamburgers and hot dogs, and discovered that we should have unboxed the BBQ, because it came with an ominous "instruction manual," aka means to use up the packets of "wingnut A, grommet B, hinge C..." all the way through thing-a-ma-bob G and H. Reminded me a bit of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, minus the Vroom.

However, the combined brain power of my husband and I managed to put together the cooker and serve up some delicious mushroom burgers and Tofurkey Kielbasas before returning to roam the big mountain and tour, for the last time before its demise, the Henry M. Jackson Visitor's Center (above), which the friendly ranger told us is scheduled "to return to the mother ship" next spring, when its more architecturally-correct replacement is completed. We took a walk through the recently-refurbished Paradise Inn, built in 1916, with hand-carved and painted decor designed and built (according to the Inn's website) i
n 1919, by Hans Fraehnke, a German carpenter--including a rustic piano and a 14 foot grandfather clock.

And we also toured the National Park Inn at Longmire with its adjacent walk through forest and field with mineral rich springs gurgling up from the ground. My husband kept praising the great use of tax money for National Parks, and the wise foresight of officials to set aside this land in 1899.

What a great way to spend a summer Sunday.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How Would God Vote?

Today I attended a meeting of a book club where the author, David Klinghoffer, made a presentation about his new book, How Would God Vote? Why the Bible Commands You to be a Conservative (Random House), which I found not only controversial but thought-provoking.

I admit to not yet reading the book, but the discussion was less about specifics in the text (which reaches into traditional biblical and Jewish sources for precedents that Klinghoffer applies to 20 hot-button issues), and more about why it's not arrogant to suggest that God has a point of view that He offers for our use.

The conversation got interestingly impassioned as it rolled around to the presidential candidates, with Klinghoffer suggesting that Obama's appeal is in how he makes voters feel--like they're open-minded, forward-thinking, in with the in-crowd. It's that cool image Obama peddles, even as he eschews specifics on many issues (the only promise being that he'll raise taxes) and offers only ephemeral abstracts like "change" and "hope" as his mantras.

But David wouldn't give a public biblical stamp of approval on any candidate, shying away lest his employer, the think-tank Discovery Institute, lose non-profit cred as a non-partisan institution. I, however, see Jewish biblical guidelines that point solidly to McCain.

If, as Klinghoffer suggests, Obama's lure is in how his followers feel, and the sharp-looking, youthful black face spouting those well-crafted words, then despite his Democratic credentials, Barack's waving a red flag. We say every day (at least twice!) in the seminal Jewish prayer "the Shma," "v'lo taturu acharai l'vavhem, v'acharai anaichem, asher atem zonim aharaihem..." which means, "and not explore after your heart, and after your eyes, which (make) you stray after them."

Or, as Rashi, (1040-1105) the great Jewish scholar puts it, "the eye sees, then the heart covets, and the body sins." That's the appeal of Obama--the eye, the heart--rather than the mind.

That's where McCain comes in. When you close your eyes to the image and look at relevant criteria for leading our nation, what should you consider? Experience. Record on issues. Track record. Proven dedication.

Yesterday I was struck by an illustration of this. I was listening to my favorite radio talk show, now on in New York 3-6 pm on AM 970, WNYM, and heard a clip of Sen. McCain discussing the Russian aggression into Georgia. This was hours before the cease-fire. He said he'd just spoken to his long-time friend, President
Mikheil Saakashvili, on the phone: "I've been to Georgia several times, and the lesson here is one which is larger than a tiny country. The lesson here is that we are seeing a reemergence of Russia as a major player... I do believe that we need to stand as courageously as we can on behalf of this little country.” Meanwhile, Obama continued his vacation in Hawaii.

Now, I'm sure Sen. Obama deserves his relaxation in the tropical isles. But using logic to evaluate this situation, it's clear that experience and dedication, exactly the credentials of Sen. McCain, are the tools we need on this volatile world political front. "Hope" and "change" are of little help.

Maybe that isn't romantic; maybe that isn't exciting, but the kind of "hope" we need now is that the sense of the American electorate will prevail, to let their minds take charge of their eyes and their hearts.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Usefulness of the Fast on the Ninth of Av

Many of my fellow Jewish bloggers have written their impressions on this most somber of holidays, Tisha b'Av, a day God has imbued with danger and punishment for Jews throughout history. Both of our holy Temples were destroyed on this day; major holocausts throughout history are connected to it, and we are to focus our sadness for the failings that brought these events, and our own failings in this time of mourning. Few secular Jews realize that the calendar is balanced between joyous and sad days, but no time has the cosmic dread of the Ninth of Av.

I write this in the "home stretch," just three hours before the end of our 25-hour fast. Here in the Northwest, we can again hydrate ourselves and wear leather shoes and bathe (relief!) at 9:10 pm. I am already sitting on a normal chair, instead of the low hassock on which I wrote my previous post. But as with any of our six fast days...the home stretch is the most arduous part of the process.

Like my fellow J-bloggers, I have a tough time getting into the spirit of the day. Summertime is the most glorious here, with flowers in bloom and delightful temperatures and trees verdant and drooping. As we ate our "third meal" yesterday on Shabbat, knowing it was our last food until 9:10 tonight, God provided the most glorious rainbow across our view over Lake Washington, so brilliant it made me gasp. I know, however, that the rainbow is an ominous sign, suggesting that God upholds his promise not to drown us all as in Noah's time--though we probably are deserving of it. Similarly, the now-clearing summery day, with its cerulean sky, is not conducive to mourning, especially for historical events that intellectually I know are beyond what I can grasp in their horror.

It is for those reasons that we have the useful "home stretch." For if we fail in feeling sympathy for our people and our own lacks, our bodies remind us--we are needy. We are dependent. We are arrogant when we believe we can skate without the constant provision of God. In thirst and hunger, we can feel serious and even cry--understanding to the smallest degree the devastation about we read last night in the book of Lamentations--Eicha! A cry of desperation, the wail of the child being punished. I am connected with my people, if even for just a time, in realizing the depths of our errors and the significance of our losses.

Just a few more hours. I could sure use an iced Starbucks.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Israel Highlight: An Appreciation of Sight and Sound

Now that I've returned to the world of the normal in every sense (relief!) I can begin to reflect on our journey to the Holy Land, as I start to edit my 1,300 photos. Friends ask what the best parts of the trip were, and there were many, but perhaps the most striking could have occurred anywhere in the world.

It did occur in the ancient port city of Jaffa, in a warehouse in a rather unimproved light industrial area at a place called Nalaga'at Center, which consists of two restaurants and a playhouse. Sounds pretty normal so far, but "sounds" and "normal" were central and not what you think.

Our group had rented out the entire Cafe Kapish for a delicious dinner before an evening of theater. But this eatery is staffed entirely by deaf people, and to order, it is our job to communicate with them. The fare begins with bowls of appetizers--hummus, fresh pita, chopped salads--watiting at the table, and a choice of entrees, either fish or vegetarian. Each table has a whiteboard slate, in case you can't sign or otherwise express yourself using pointing to the menu and your hands. The food was plentiful and excellent, and at the conclusion of the meal, customers paid the tab by sending a table representative up to the cash register.

Then we received our tickets for Nalaga'at Theatre's "Not by Bread Alone," a production by eleven deaf and blind actors. Yes--both deaf and blind. As we entered, behind a filmy curtain the actors stood--four women and five men--dressed in baker's aprons and toques, behind tables kneading loaves of bread. As the play progressed through scenes depicting their lives and feelings about normal events such as love, marriage, and family, they continued the baking process, placing their loaves in pans, leaving them to rise, putting them into on-stage ovens, and finally, removing the hot bread and, at the play's
conclusion, inviting the audience on stage to meet them and consume the product of their efforts.

Two of the actors had lost their hearing after they had gained speech, and so were able to say their lines in that pinched voice of those who only remember the mechanics of talking. The others communicated via a narrator at side-stage who spoke for them in Hebrew. All the dialog was simultaneously presented by a sign-language interpreter, with superscript captioning in both Ararbic and English. In order for the actors to find their places throughout the show, guides dressed in black escorted them as they moved, one actor pushing a baby carriage, another swinging on a suspended swing, others dancing together, finally concluding with a wedding.

The content was illuminating, because one seldom recognizes or appreciates the complete isolation and yearning for connection that those removed from sensory input endure. One of the actors described holding her new
baby niece, and realizing that she would never see the child. Another described waiting and waiting to be touched, feeling abandoned until finally the expected helper arrived. A third told of his yearning to find a wife, to experience the companionship of marriage.

When the play ended and the audience provided a standing ovation the actors would not see, their guides applauded into their hands, mimicking our response. Then we were invited onstage. I admit to feeling a bit apprehensive, shy, intimidated, when approaching, though I certainly did want to thank the performers. Each stood with a guide; audience members took the actor's hand or hugged him, and spoke; the interpreter fed the comment into the actor's hand. Though most did not speak, they could sign a response that the guide relayed. The process is more complex to describe than its actuality. After all, the message of the show and our interactions was that these people smile, think and plan like everyone else. But from a different, dark and silent space.

We did not eat at the other restaurant associated with the Nalaga'at Theater, "Blackout--Restaurant in the Dark," staffed entirely by blind waiters. THAT would have been difficult, but, like the entire experience, eminently worth it. Memorable. Enlightening.

The Nalaga'at Theater's director, a woman whose name I don't know, came out after the performance and explained that the troupe has toured the world, including earning a standing ovation at Rockefeller Center in New York. She described putting together the play, the second production following the actors' very personal stories in "Light is Heard in Zig Zag." The amount of patience and practice in working with actors who cannot see or hear must be incredible. The amount of gratitude we, who have our senses intact, should feel for those very basic sources is inestimable.

As you can probably tell, this was not the usual touristy visit to Israel.

Photos: Above left, before the performance, taken from my seat, the actors knead bread behind a filmy curtain. Above right, Cafe Kapish, where the staff is deaf.