Notes from the Temporary Curmudgeon – Day 2

2.The Great Let-Down – The Amazing Mrs. Maisel!!  

Even to those of us who subscribe to the various entertainment portals, there is a distinct limit on what is available for consumption overseas. Netflix is quite generous, offering a wide range of choices, but I had watched all I cared to see on the interminable flights over. Which I thought was okay as I could not wait to binge on The Amazing Mrs. Maisel. But ten minutes into the first episode, I was already fed up with this season’s offering.

Sorry, my many friends and family who love this show. I’m no longer with you!

The show seems to have diminished to a series of one-liners delivered by hollow caricatures posing as characters, every one of which is a solipsist with no genuine concern for anyone else. The writers resort to easy, improbable resolutions for every dilemma, and they vacillate between including awareness of the title character’s children and forgetting they exist. No kidding – I was screaming for a Script Supervisor watching the second episode, when the baby was left in the car for hours, and no one even remembered she was there till nearly the next day.

Clearly, the writers have not studied Chekov’s rules for writers of scenes and short stories. There are dozens of interludes, characters, props that exist with no tie to anything essential. And there are far too many props, characters, and interludes that portend surprise and fail to deliver. The Jewish characters are played by fakers, who have no clue what it means to be Jewish, and the script relies on Clichés and stereotypes to tell their ridiculous tales.

Which brings my rant to something more widespread than simply a problem in an Amazon original series.

When will Hollywood get it that it’s okay for Jews to play Jews?

Yellow facing has ended. Asians are hired to play screen versions of themselves. Hollywood and the outlying broadcast gods make at least a modicum of effort to cast Native Americans (including native South and Central Americans) in native roles, to allow South Asians to play Indian and Pakistani characters, etc. Yet gentiles still play Jews pretending to be Jewish. Pretending. Not acting.

This is all part of a long-standing tradition with Jewish characters in film and television. Jews are rarely played as deeply nuanced, real-life people. Instead, they persist as cardboard cutouts. Cartoons. Intensely, grotesquely broad-stroked, either ultra-religious, ultra evil, or ultra ridiculous. In this series, we are totally, ridiculously evil and pseudo-religious.

We all laughed back in 1960 when Otto Preminger cast Sal Mineo as Dov Landau, whom Leon Uris wrote as a scrawny, malnourished concentration camp inmate, who barely survived by learning the art of counterfeiting. Preminger didn’t trust the author’s character and changed him to a swarthy, hale and hearty explosives expert. Okay, it was the ‘60s. And Preminger was making a statement.

A box-office statement enhanced by his casting the gorgeously gentile Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan. At the time few knew that, as Adam Sandler would attest, Newman was half-a-Jew.

Jews were used to being played by Italians and WASPS. Gregory Peck was terrific in Gentleman’s Agreement, but he sure wasn’t believably Jewish. It was okay. We all understand that films were, as they still are, driven by their potential ticket sales. In the 1960s the Jewish actors with the mojo to put bums in seats were scarce at most.

The actors were there in Hollywood. Working undercover. Because once upon a time in the West being Jewish – like being gay or Lena Horn black, etc. – out in the open, was to concede to a career of being consigned to playing Native Americans and Asians and all those “lesser” ethnicities who couldn’t get SAG cards.

Today there are many Jewish people out there in the entertainment world. They are out in the open. And as popular as any of the goyim. Which renders ridiculous that British gentile Clair Foy should be cast as Brooklyn-bred, defiantly Jewish Ruth Bader Ginsberg (On the Basis of Sex). The days when one would cast Sir Ben Kingsley as Mahatma Gandhi are thankfully behind us. Clair Foy was a remarkable Queen of England, but as a Jewish intellectual, she’s a silly cartoon.

I guess I’d be less insulted if I thought Rachel Brosnahan, Tony Shalhoub, and Marin Hinkle deserved all the accolades they’re getting. All three are wonderful actors – I am a particular fan of Tony Shalhoub. But they have all swerved way out of their lanes. Their accents are as flat as their affect. None of them made me laugh, despite being in constant one-liner delivery mode. They all persist in imitating characters for whom they lack empathy. There are so many terrific Jewish actors out there. Why was none of them cast?

It would have be so nice to have our people look like real people for a change.

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Notes From a Temporary (we hope) Curmudgeon – Day 1

From the week before Christmas till the penultimate week of January, I was in Asia. For some of the time, I was in Taoyuan, Taiwan then moved for the last two weeks to Bangkok, Thailand. I was immersed in the world of the two-year-old grandson, who was my constant companion.

That meant that, for the most part, I was absorbed intellectually and emotionally by the mercurial disposition of the little boy. But when he descended into the quiet of sleep, I found brief opportunities for critical thought, just before the curtain of fatigue closed over my brain. The internet was unstable, but I was able to search intermittently for both news of home and moments of entertainment. Thus, in the narrow alleyways of my own mind as it intersected with the limited scope of the available worldwide web, I found enough material to support a series of rants.

I was unusually cranky. It was hot in Asia. I am no fan of high temperatures. The hot weather exacerbated the extreme anxiety wrought of my distanced observation of the travesty that has become my beloved country.

From over there, it was difficult to assess the degree to which my homeland’s future was tenuous, but it wasn’t hard to picture the Orange Imposter standing on the steps of the Capitol Building grinning while Washington burned. A hideous manifestation of

Theater of the Absurd — an ersatz president strutting and fretting his too long hour upon the stage, pizzicato-ing across the instrument of our American government, threatening to pop the strings and break the neck. My reaction to things was probably more negative than it might have been had I stayed home.

I declaim my rants. I realize I am a victim of my own White Privilege, preyed upon by my sensitivity to an unstable internet connection and an Asian climate.

I acknowledge here that I am an outlier. My opinions and reactions reflect (nearly) none of my confederates’, my cohorts’, my co-anyones’. I react on my own, according to my own lens.

Thus beginneth the venting of my steam. . . Over the next few days, one rant a day. . .

1. The journey across the world.

I usually fly Taiwan’s own EVA Air. The service is terrific, the bathrooms are immaculate, the 777s offer sufficient leg room for my aching knee. Best of all, the company offers slippers that make it easy to shed shoes and still wander the ample aisle space and ward off PAD (peripheral Arterial disease). Unfortunately, I was traveling at exactly the same time as the myriad Asian kids leaving their American schools to spend the holidays at home, and EVA was booked solid.

I resorted to Qatar.

The flight over was miserable. Puddles in the bathrooms threatened dropped clothing, and in the absence of complimentary slippers, stocking feet. The

Airbus E350 has aisles too narrow for easy navigation. The endless sitting made my inner thighs ache. Seats are configured such that I was unable to sit up straight, and the strain on my back worsened as each of the 13 hours it took to get to the first stop (Doha) dragged on. No inflight entertainment soothed the soul either. Every film on the agenda was an action or horror film. I’m too old for those. Instead, I watched the Netflix shows I had downloaded, which meant that I used up the shows I was saving for later.

Truth is, I was already predisposed to be disgruntled. Unlike most airlines, Qatar’s policy is to charge a customer $350 when s/he makes a reservation and changes within 24 hours. The website promised a 72-hour grace period, but it turned out that was only for tickets purchased online.The website was inaccessible on the evening I wanted to book. The price they advertised was expiring that night so I phoned Qatar Air and booked with the company. It turned out that I had chosen the incorrect date and had to cancel. only two hours after booking. Hence, I was obliged to forfeit the $350.

I hope I will never have to fly Qatar again. (NB: There is an addendum to this entry at the end of the book of rants.)

 

A Note from the Writing Teacher. . .

To my students, who are struggling with personal essays. . .

So, for me, the pleasure in writing comes from the careful choreography of words and phrases, the shaping of a dance that is the process of making a story. No piece is ever entirely free of ways to make it better, but through thoughtful revision, any writing can be rendered fit to perform.

I’ve been writing the same story for over two years. There have been many versions, some comprising around 3,000 words, one over 10,000. I struggle. How do I tell this story most effectively? How many substories– digressions — do I allow into the narrative? That’s the challenge. That’s the dance.

Is this dance a tango, a foxtrot? Could it be a three-act ballet?

Here’s the story. It’s about my mother. Specifically about my mother and her relationship to her cello. When she and her family were forced to leave Europe and leave behind everything and everyone they loved, she was told she could take only one thing with her. She chose, of all things, her cello. Imagine fleeing across Europe, being stopped at every border by guards who would kill you with little provocation, dragging a cumbersome cello. That cello must have symbolized the whole world she was abandoning. More than that. It contained her sister’s soul – her near-twin sister, her closest ally and dearest companion, who had died a few years earlier. That cello conveyed the music her own mother had lost the ability to sing.

I knew that instrument. I was an only child for nearly four years, and every night she would play as I lay awake wrestling my own fears trying to sleep. I had absorbed from her a sense of foreboding, a fear of dangers I could only intuit. Dangers I suspected she escaped but didn’t know how to name. She could not speak them. But in the dulcet voice of the cello, all her losses, all her pain, seemed to grow tolerable. I could hear her face relax, her smile broaden. All those memories of love and sorrow seemed to have found a place in her heart where she could love them without malice.

My father broke the cello. He didn’t mean to, but he ruined it. How does he fit into this tale? If I tell the whole tale, it becomes sadder.

Shall I write about the flight from Europe and the way the cello facilitated her adjustment to America? Do I write about the way the cello soothed our collective lives? Or do I write about my parents’ marriage and how the death of the cello killed it? That’s all contained within the scope of this project. Each iteration has more or less of every aspect. And then some.

Like the way I tried to emulate and heal that woman. How I wanted her to love me as much as she loved that cello. How much of that should I keep in . . . or edit out?

I wrestle with this the way you wrestle with perfecting your personal essays. You want to tell a story. But you are not sure which story will it be. How do you narrow it down?

A journal helps. You can make notes, write passages, tinker with time and place. Which story can you tell most openly, holding the least of your emotion back? Into which one do you feel most comfortable immersing yourself? Follow that one. . . even if it leads you into steps you never expected to learn. In the end, choose the story that chooses you. It will. At some point, while you’re searching for the right words, hoping for the best inspiration, it will tap you on the shoulder and ask you for your hand.

And that’s when the dance will begin in earnest.

 

A Cousin is a Cousin for A’ That. . . .

Cousins!

“Someone had best pinch me,” Lesley said dreamily. “Never mind. I’ll pinch myself. This is all so unreal.”

I nodded. It’s the kind of statement I might otherwise have thought hyperbolic. Silly even. But at that moment I found it utterly appropriate.

Lesley is my second cousin. We had just met for the very first time at the home of our mutual (also second) cousin Nancy, in Columbus, Ohio. Until only recently, none of us was aware of the others’ existence. Nancy and I were lucky. We knew what had been lost. We had expected to find family members waiting to be discovered. Lesley, on the other hand, had no idea. Having grown up without an extended family, she had no inkling there were relatives of any kind anywhere. Pinching was definitely prescribed.

The preparations for our meeting actually began two years ago. Out of the blue, I heard from Nancy, a shadow from a part of my past I only vaguely remembered. We had a shared history, but it was fleeting, and I had to squint through my memory to recall her.

A month apart in age, Nancy and I played together as small children. We share great-grandparents by way of our mothers, the first cousins. Nancy’s grandfather Joseph was second and my grandmother Rudolfine the last of the ten children born to Chane and Hermann Zwilling between 1883 and 1899. In our early youth, our mothers were in close touch, but over time, distances grew between them, and Nancy and I grew up far apart from one another. Now, as age would have it, our heritage demanded that we reconnect and explore our common roots.

Chane and Hermann Zwilling were a storybook couple.

Chane & Hermann Zwilling, circa 1907

They were born, met and married in Ukraine during the penultimate decade of the nineteenth century. Unique among their peers, they lived happily ever after. Following the birth of their first child, they moved to Warsaw and from there to Vienna, all the while managing to escape or survive multiple tragedies, the tropes of Jewish History. Each of their ten children slipped past disease and hunger, infection and violence, through infancy into adulthood. All were gifted musicians, artists, thinkers, and their weekly reunions were effervescent celebrations of being alive.

Luckiest of all was that by the time of the Anschluss Österreichs, Chane and Hermann Zwilling had long since begun whiling away eternity in Vienna’s Zentral Friedhof, its largest cemetery. They never had reason to suspect the marauding madness of Nazism.

Their offspring, however, were endangered. All but Nancy’s grandfather, that is.

Joseph had left Vienna in 1910. His adamant support of Socialism and his refusal to serve as a soldier in the Hapsburg army led to a quarrel with Hermann. “The Hapsburgs do nothing but breed like rabbits,” he exclaimed, and with that, he entered self-imposed exile. In New York City.

By 1928, the rest of the tribe had begun gathering the resources needed to get out. Out of Vienna, out of Austria, out of Europe if possible.

My own grandparents actively began their process in 1929 when they moved to Zagreb, then Yugoslavia. Anti-Semitism was still more subtle there, and a Jewish man could earn a decent wage, save and prepare to get his large extended family to safety.

In 1939, a year after the Anschluß, Nancy’s grandfather and grandmother met my grandmother and her family at the docks in New York. It was Joseph who secured the Harlem apartment that was my mother’s first American home. Together, our grandparents continued to work toward helping the rest of the Zwillings to flee as well.

They scattered. Sisters Milka, Ella, and Cilli escaped to Palestine; from there, two traveled to Australia and the other to Canada. Brother Heinrich found a circuitous route to Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Adolph took his family to Genoa, Italy.

There would be no more family reunions.

Oldest brother Max and two more brothers Ferdinand and Franz were stranded in Vienna. Franz, who had embraced Catholicism to marry his Slovenian sweetheart Elsa years before, realized conversion was not enough to save them. By 1939, all three brothers knew their prospects were slim. But at least they knew that the children were safe.

By 1940, thanks to my grandfather’s insistence and some financial assistance, the cousins were safely out of Austria.

Max and his wife Paula had two teenage daughters, and Franz and Elsa had one son. All three were among the 100,000 youngsters who wound up in the UK through the Kindertransport, an organized rescue effort facilitated by the British government. The girls enrolled in a nurses training program in the west of England, and Franz’s son Herman went to a pig farm outside of London.

Franz and his wife had reason to hope they would be safe. However, Max and Paula were artists and intellectuals with few prospects for escape. Ferdinand, a bookbinder and a musician by trade, a small homosexual man with a seriously deformed back, was doomed.

Ferdinand’s passport was confiscated immediately after the Nazis took over. They refused to allow him to travel until February 1941, when they deported him to Mali Trostinec, a death camp outside Minsk. There is no date of death listed on Ferdinand’s transportation records. In all likelihood, as soon as the train reached the Mali Trostinec station, Ferdinand was summarily shot.

In May of the following year, Max and Paula were also sent to Mali Trostinec. Max was gassed on the first of June, and Paula followed him twenty-six days later.

Franz and Elsa seemed to have scored a better outcome. In 1940, they were granted permission to depart, and they arranged to reunite with their son. Despite the obvious dangers of the raging war, they set sail for England.

Once in London, the couple settled into a hotel to await their son’s arrival the next day. Overnight, the heater malfunctioned. When Elsa awoke coughing and choking, she found Franz dead beside her. He had been gassed. Carbon monoxide.

After the war, through the 1950s and into the 60s, the surviving Zwilling siblings reached out and let one another know where they had gone. By 1963, my grandmother had managed to visit Adolph in Genoa and Ella in Canada. Letters traveled back and forth for years between New York and Australia. She never knew what had happened to Franz or the precise fate of Max, Paula, and Ferdinand. She found comfort in knowing most of her nephews and nieces had escaped.

Except for one who died flying for the RAF, the next generation of Zwilling progeny were safe. They, too, all members of the same close-knit family that gathered so frequently to make music together, sought one another out. Max’s daughters immigrated to the US, and the younger of the two was married in my grandmother’s backyard in Bayside, Queens. But not all were able to reconnect.

The cousins in Brazil and Europe remained out of reach. As far as my mother knew, Franz’s wife Elsa and his son Herman had vanished. It was Nancy who discovered that the information was incorrect.

Nancy is an only child, whose mother was an only child. Since Joe and his wife had left all their effects to Nancy’s mother, it was Nancy who ultimately inherited the task of sorting through all her family papers and memorabilia. A child psychologist who has written two impressive books on the acquisition of language and numbers, Nancy is a brilliant researcher with a highly disciplined, organized mind and methodology. The first thing she did when she began the mission was to catalog her parents’ miscellany.

In the dizzying piles of paper and photographs, she found letters to her father from a Harry Willing. Who was this Harry Willing? And how did he know her father?

In 2015, when Nancy contacted me, she had just begun the massive task of clarifying the family history.

“Come to Columbus and help me with this thing,” she invited me. “I’ll share the cost of the travel because I could really use some assistance.”

I was intrigued.

“Really,” Nancy insisted in her most erudite academic voice. “I’ve hired a genealogist, a genealogical detective,” Nancy explained. “He’s searching in the ruins for all of them.”

Among the detective’s impressive discoveries was that this Harry Willing was the name Franz’s son Herman Zwilling took when he was confirmed into the Church of England. The letters to Nancy’s father began to make sense. Among them were photos of Franz and Elsa before Franz’s death and photos of Elsa and Harry thereafter. There were also photos of Harry’s family – he had a daughter Lesley and a son Martin. Both still live in London.

“Let’s see if we can make contact,” Nancy enthused, and she immediately wrote to the addresses her sleuth had given her. She was not able to find Martin, but Lesley was well within reach and thrilled to be contacted.

Last May, Nancy and her husband visited Lesley and hers in the UK. There is no way to capture the emotional impact that reunion had on all of us. For Lesley, it was most profound.

“I thought my father was alone in the world,” she told Nancy at that first meeting. “I never dreamed I had any kind of family but the one I’ve made.”

Lesley and I began corresponding. “I feel like I have to meet you,” she said soon after her day with Nancy. “I need more time with Nancy, and I need to see you.”

She was hesitant at first to venture over to the US. Though she and her husband are inveterate travelers, Lesley had never gone off on her own.

Luckily for all of us, however, Lesley was driven by her curiosity.

We converged on Nancy’s home and spent three days talking incessantly. We were awake each night well past our bedtimes, and for Lesley that meant staying up past a bedtime that was five hours earlier than Nancy’s and mine. We shared pictures, stories, observations. We crowed about our children, grandchildren, Lesley’s one great-grandchild. We compared medical histories, and we examined the emotional vacuums of our parents’ collective memories.

We are all nearly the same age, and we all grew up with parents who didn’t know how to convey the emotional depths to which their losses had taken them. They were unable to talk about where they’d been, what they’d suffered. I first unearthed the basic truths about the family’s ordeals when I was eleven and had read a novel set in and after the Holocaust. Animating the stories became my passion. Even so, there were things no one disclosed. As my mother’s older sister was wont to say, “There are things we just don’t talk about.”

For Nancy, the discovery came a bit later. She began to ferret out information when she was in college and later turned to a more methodical approach to learning about them. She could not ask her parents. She could only intuit how their lives fit into those she read about in the literature.

For Lesley, the past was a void. She told us she always felt there was something huge missing from her life, but she had no idea what it might be.

Franz Zwilling, ca. 1935

What she did know was that Franz’s death left a hole in her soul. Had he lived, she surmised, her life would have been far different from the one she knew. Harry and his wife were not warm, nurturing people, and Lesley was left on her own much of the time. There was among them little physical contact at all, no expressions of affection. As a shield, she held fast to the image of the distinguished, beautiful man depicted in the single photograph she had of her grandparents, and, “Somehow I knew that if he were alive, he would have loved me the way I deserved to be loved.”

 

 

 

 

When the weekend was over, Lesley, Nancy and I had bonded like sisters. Cousins. It felt as though we had begun to heal the great gash that persists in our family narrative. Someday perhaps we’ll have this encounter with the other second cousins scattered about the world, and we’ll close the circle.

In the meantime, our Ohio weekend was transformative.

“You’ve filled my heart,” Leslie sobbed as we tearfully hugged goodbye at the airport. “There was always a piece of myself I knew was not there. But I had no idea where to look for it. You’ve given it back. I feel complete.”

The Zwilling Tribe,1900. When their youngest child (on Chane’s lap) was born in 1899, she was named Rudolfine. “But, declared old Hermann, “we shall call her Fini. She is the last of my issue. With this one I am fini.” Behind the three,(l-r) are Ella, Joseph, Max, Milka. to Hermann’s right is Ferdinand; at Chane’s right is Cillia, and to her left is Franz. Seated in the front are Adolph and Heinrich.

Judgment Day

The Face of Heroism

I met my neighbor on the bus the other day. We began our conversation, as we are wont to do, by exchanging details about our various children and grandchildren before falling into the usual lamentations.

“Can you believe what. . . “

“No, I feel like I’m living in a cave reeking of batshit.”

“Right? Nothing makes any sense anymore. . . How can so much doubt remain when three women. . . .“

We nodded, shook our heads, tzikached profusely. Kavanaugh, his accusers, the tradition of blaming women. We shared mutual condolences.

Then I made the mistake of saying, “All this, and Bill Cosby gets only THREE years for drugging and raping –“

She jumped in.

“Well, it was only one woman. Three years seems reasonably punitive for an old man. Especially because we can only prove it happened once.”

What?

“Further,” she went on. “A young woman has the right to say no. You accept a dinner invitation from a Bill Cosby, you know what he wants. What are you doing going out with him at all?”

I realized talking to this woman, whose intelligence and empathy I generally trust, why we older women continue to be part of the disconnect in America. The rules have changed, and instead of embracing the new world order, our judgment remains crippled by old standards.

When my neighbor and I were young, the so-called Sexual Revolution was just getting underway. We got caught up in it, and as we did, we endured the disapproval and shame of the society that had not yet embraced its precepts. We were called sluts, easy women, weaklings without morals. Women were not supposed to explore options, to experiment with sex, to enjoy it. Their imperative was to comply with the wishes of the patriarchy.

We knew that if we spoke out about our experiences with assault, molestation, denigration – and believe me, I know NO one who has had those experiences – we would only besmirch our own good names. I was keenly aware that when I turned down s casting director’s demand for a blowjob, when I eschewed the opportunity to gratify an employer, I was ruining my chances to move forward professionally or personally. I would become the subject of gossip. I would be ostracized not only by the would-be usurper himself but by everyone he either supervised or collaborated with.

I was lucky in that way. I never felt like I had nowhere to go when things didn’t work out for me where I was. There was no driving compunction to give in to male impulses. There was always a refuge. My mother joked about the swinging door on the family home, and my grandmother kept the apartment in her basement stocked, furnished and ready for any time I might opt to leave where I was in order return and begin yet again.

I began many times. We did in those days. Marriage removed us from the fray. It gave us a comfortable hiding place, an awning to protect us from the inevitable detritus that would drop out of that man’s world. Marriage was admirable. No more shame. No more idiotic comments about single women from other women.

In my single days, a self-righteous matriarch told me my hips looked like they were spreading. That, she said, was a true sign I was sleeping around. “Easy virtue, spreading hips,” she sneered. In marriage, we could watch our hips spread with childbearing and be proud of our sexual activity.

We took it all in. In our hearts, however, we rejected the notion that the traditions must continue. We raised our daughters to push back, to stand up to the men who were holding them down. In the process, we taught our daughters to hate that we were not able to do that for ourselves. We forgot to teach our daughters what it was like to be entirely ruled by the parameters of the ruling penises, what it felt like to be unable to open a bank account, have a credit card, rent a car, buy a house without a man’s name attached to ours.

No matter how they judged us. We taught them to refuse to comply.

Now many of us look at them and feel a pang of regret. Maybe they are right about us. If they are successful in fighting back, why were we paralyzed? If they can achieve some kind of retribution, why did we succumb? What is wrong with us?

Nothing. We got our restraint from our own mothers, women who had survived the Great Depression, escaped the horrors of two world wars, fought for the right to work outside the home. Many of them were born before or shortly after the 19th Amendment allowed them to vote. We honored their achievement and initiated the Women’s Movement. We applauded our more brazen sisters who publically burned their bras. We hitchhiked through Europe singing protest songs and making the case for an ERA. And then we raised our daughters to say, “NO.”

But our self-doubt, our self-chastisement can lead to a lapse in judgment so that we say stupid things like, “There was only one. . . .”

Too many of my peers are willing to look the other way as Kavanaugh steamrolls toward confirmation. More shockingly, I learned this week that my 27 Freshman Comp students at a city university, 25 of whom are female, do not know who Anita Hill is. They are nearly as complacent as my cohorts in age about the fact that Rachel Mitchell, a hardline Republican, a friend of criminal Sherrif Arpaio, is conducting Dr. Ford’s hearings. Have our misgivings encouraged our daughters to teach our granddaughters to remain silent? I hope not.

We live in dangerous times. The patriarchy recognizes that women must be silenced. Again. That they are in danger of coming unhinged if we are not checked. It’s dangerous to defend Bill Cosby or to question Dr. Christine Ford Blasey’s veracity. Every time one of us does that, they are victorious.

We don’t have to let them win.

There are plenty of liberated women and men to take the legislature from the ruling, oligarchic party. There are enough enlightened women and their male allies to upend the system. Women need not be dismissed, abused, assaulted, denigrated. We have sat by and allowed the maltreatment to go on long enough. Women in my generation owe it to our country to take a firm stand against the fetid tide.

It’s time for us to remind our daughters what we are made of.

 

 

 

Im Not Getting Better . . . I’m Getting Older

Horsey: T S A ©2010 Hearst Newspapers

There are so many slings and arrows we become inured to as we age. Being shoved aside by youngsters bent on getting a subway seat. Receiving condescending rejection letters from potential employers under forty. Being addressed, like a hard-of-hearing toddler, in loud monosyllabic words. It sucks to grow old. But because the alternative is far worse, we simply tolerate the little insults and abuses.

Most of them.

I still get flustered when a TSA agent tells me, “I’ll have to pat you down.”

A pat-down is unnatural. Disconcerting. I try to make light – the way I do when the dentist is extracting yet another of my teeth – but a typical TSA agent has less sense of humor than any dentist. To make fun could land me in jail because to a TSA agent, I am a threat to national security.

All because of my titanium hip. Which I chose to have placed in me.

One bitterly cold February morning in 2006, I was out for a run in Fort Tryon Park. Looking upward, dazzled by the brilliantly cerulean sky, I failed to see the sharply pointed rock jutting out if the earth just in front of my toe. I tripped and flew a bit upward before falling down. My right hip landed squarely on that rock.

“It’s definitely fractured,” my surgeon affirmed, looking at my x-rays. “You must have fallen just right.”

“I know,” I sighed. “I was running faster than I’d run in weeks. I just got over bronchitis and. . . “

“You’ve got options,” he mumbled impatiently. “I could fix it. But you’ll have pain, and you’ll limp. Or I can replace it. Then it won’t bother you at all. Except when you fly.”

He was half right. It only presents a problem when I fly out of an American city. I’ve flown out of cities in Israel, Taiwan, Thailand, Italy, UK, Hong Kong, Turks & Caicos, among others, and I have never been subjected to so much as a second look. In fact, in most places, because of my age, I don’t have to wait on lines, and people go out of their way to be helpful. A body scanner readily picks up the hot spot near my groin, and other countries’ agents recognize the piece of metal that is my bionic hip. No problem. Off I go. But in the US, I’m treated with the care and respect reserved for foreign terrorists.

To be fair, some TSA agents are nicer about it than others. Some are even downright kind. At LaGuardia last month, the woman who responded to the request for a “Female Assist” was personable, friendly. She apologized and did her business quickly. It’s never fun, but in that case, the experience was not humiliating. I flew to Chicago without a single case of the willies.

The agent in Chicago at my return flight made up for the deficit by providing me with a full dose of creepiness.

It began with a bit of drama back at my hotel.

My room’s safe, where I had put my wallet for security’s sake while I attended a wedding on the South Side the night before, was so secure that it refused to open for me. The hotel had only one person with the key to open it, and he did not arrive to liberate my valuables until ten minutes after I should have headed to the airport. By the time I reached the airport, it was nearly time to board. Flights to NY that day were overbooked, and I wanted to get home. I knew, however, that if I gave the TSA people any inkling that I was in a hurry, I would irritate them.

“I need the body scanner – prosthetic hip,” I announced in the practiced, sing-song voice I’ve developed for the statement.

“Female Assist,” the cry went up.

A formidable woman appeared from somewhere else. Imposingly muscular, at least three inches taller than I, she sauntered toward me in her best John Wayne posture and looked down at me with disdain. I’ve come to the conclusion that the TSA HR looks for candidates with resting bitch faces and eyes that shout “NOTERRORISTWILLFOOLME.”

“Feet on the yellow,” she growled. “I said ON the yellow. Hands up. Higher. Hold still. Stand still.”

I emerged from the cell and waited. It took her at least a minute to get back to me. The picture in the scanner was exactly as I expected. Even though I was wearing no jewelry, no braces, no underwear, there was a dark spot on my collarbone and a large one in my hip and groin area. I have no idea what that is at my collarbone. It’s always there. The hip is self-explanatory.

“You’ll have to be patted down,” she growled again. This time she was clearly annoyed. It was my fault.

“I’m gonna have to pat you down on your breasts, your buttocks, your waist, your groin, your . . . “

“Could you just do it please?”

“Not till I’ve said what I need to say.” She started over, droning on about where she would be putting her hands. I think I groaned. She stopped and stared at me with an unmistakable death threat. “I can have you taken into a private room for this if you don’t like it here.”

“It’s okay,” I shuddered. “I was just thinking my plane is going to leave without me.

“We gotta do our job.”

“I understand.” She stood staring at me. I must have sounded sarcastic. No wonder. I should have just held my breath. Instead I said, “I never have this trouble anywhere but in America. Everywhere else, they. . . “

“Well maybe you should ’a’ stayed somewhere else then. You put our country in danger, we don’t want you here.”

I shut up.

She patted me down not once but twice in each of the specified areas. The second time she even pushed her gloved hand roughly down my pants. I closed my eyes so I could not see the other passengers, hurrying by on their way to their flights, stop to stare at the menacing old woman being detained at the TSA station.

When she was finally done, the agent made me endure a hand check. More waiting. Finally, she scowled at me and said, “You can go now. But next time? Maybe you should just stay home.”

 

The Hero – Dan Alon

 

Dan Alon, speaking at the British West Indies Collegiate School, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos, March 2017.

If I ever resented Dan Alon, it was because I failed him in a number of ways. Never deliberately, never with malice. I failed him by allowing myself to be cowed by the force of his persona. But I loved him almost from the moment I met him, when I recognized on him the mark of the survivor.

By the time I met Dan, a secret had been twisting inside him for nearly thirty-four years. Anyone who knew him knew he had been on the Israeli Olympic team at the Munich Games in 1972. Anyone who stopped to consider would know he had survived the massacre. But as often happens with survivors, who walk away unscathed, his experience was of no consequence to anyone. He harbored a clandestine self-loathing, a remorse that he had not taken action against the terrorists who killed his eleven teammates. He felt dead inside. In truth, though he was hardly able to admit it to himself, he wished he had died.

All this he told me the first time I met him. At the behest of a mutual friend, a filmmaker who had read a story I had written for a former Massad agent, Dan came to the US from Tel Aviv to interview me. The film Munich returned the Munich Massacre to public consciousness, and Dan had recently been convinced to share his story as a cautionary tale. He was ready to broaden his audience, to make it available to the world at large. For that he needed a book.

In the first minutes, we established a kinship. His father had run from the growing darkness of anti-Semitism in Hungary to Zagreb, where he had been part of the Jabotinsky Youth movement. My mother, who was nearly the same age as his father, had lived in Zagreb until her family fled, and she, too, was a Jabotinsky follower. My mother’s father forced her to abandon her Zionist dream and come to America. Dan’s father went to Israel and joined the Ir Gun.

Dan could see that having been my mother’s first child, having watched her grow into her ability to share her experience, I knew a little something about what he felt. We talked about the way in which a survivor becomes a member of the walking dead. We talked about the way guilt and sadness block out all other feelings. Despite his great love for his wife and children, he had felt emotionally constipated. By sharing the story, he said, and by feeling that it was a worthwhile tale, he was reborn.

We worked for four years to finish the book. In the end, I should have hired insisted we hire an editor. I would have liked it to have been so much better than it was. Further, I failed to get Dan to open up and disclose the enormity of the self-deprecation, of the imposter anxiety that darkened his life, took him out of fencing, nearly usurped all his happinesses. He would not allow me to write about those, but those, I believed, would have served his audiences at least as much as the details of his escape and re-entry into the world.

He was a frustrating taskmaster. I knew I was right. But I didn’t know how to win the arguments. He paid me. He paid for all aspects of the publishing. He was in charge. I had no leverage. But it was clear to me I should fight. My acquiescence to his intensely masculine insistence that he control every word cost the book some integrity.

No matter. From 2005 until last year, Dan traveled doggedly around the world, sharing his tale with school groups and Synagogue elders, with athletes and intellectuals. On several occasions, we spoke together.

In March of 2015, he came to NY, and we appeared at a Chabad convocation on the upper west side together. He was already looking ill, and he was re-experiencing some of the PTSD symptoms that had abated. He told me he was tired. “You,” he said, “should be doing these appearances instead of me. I can’t do this traveling. It’s too much.” But whenever he was invited, Dan went. Even as his health was deteriorating.

In November of 2016, we were invited to be on a panel moderated by Bob Costas in a program called Torch Talks, a benefit for the Gerrard Berman Day School in New Jersey. Along with an auspicious complement of experts, we discussed the lessons of Munich. The evening was a tremendous success. Dan was exhausted.

Soon after, I was invited to interview Dan in Turks & Caicos, at an event sponsored by the Chabad rabbi there. The entire population of the islands was invited, and the rabbi succeeded in bringing a large, diverse audience to the hall for two sold-out presentations. The second was an especially brilliant last appearance for Dan. When the audience stood at the end of the talk, they stood with love and admiration for the hero he was.

A hero who was seriously ill. Who probably should not have made the trip. I asked if he had seen a doctor. “I have.” He sputtered. “He’s an idiot.” Dan was certain that the preliminary diagnosis of stomach cancer was a mistake, that the doctor was ignorant. His wife Adele, who had accompanied him on this trip, is a nurse. She shook her head. She knew the truth.

Despite the pain in his belly, despite the fact that his body was shrinking rapidly out of his clothing, despite his overwhelming fatigue, Dan’s message made its mark. After he wept through the details of his ordeal at Munich, he spoke of the need for tolerance, for understanding, for a spirit of community to replace the divisions that create enmities. His very presence was proof that in the aftermath of great disaster, human beings can rebuild and recommit to living. “You go on,” he said. “You prevail. That is your victory.”

Heroism is often defined as something grand like standing up to a despot or dashing into a burning building to save a neighbor’s cat. But true heroism is also quiet, introspective. It’s the resolve to make a life that matters, to give back to the world for the gifts it has doled out. Dan appreciated his renaissance. He knew how very lucky he was and never took that for granted. He carried the enormous burden of Munich wherever he went, and he showed his gratitude by teaching us all how to live with dignity.