Sunday, August 23, 2015

Alienating the Mishpoche in favor of the Rapture: Israel's destructive US policy

During the Bush Administration years, Chabad of Greenwich, where I attend Shabbat services, had a speaker from the Israeli Embassy at our Kiddush lunch. His title was something to the effect of “Outreach to Evangelicals.”

I listened with attentiveness and interest to his speech about efforts to garner increase support from Protestant Evangelical mega-church leaders and their flocks. Afterward I raised my hand and asked the question that had started to bother me as he spoke: “Why are we allying ourselves with people who only want there to be an Israel so that the Rapture can happen, and then if we don’t accept Jesus as our personal Saviour we take the down escalator to the hot and fiery place?”

He shrugged and responded “We don’t believe the Rapture will happen and Israel needs support now.”

While I understand Israeli pragmatism, the response bothered me then, and as I watched the recent GOP debate, I couldn’t help thinking how this full-throated embrace of right wing evangelicalism has been incredibly short-sighted on Israel’s part, serving to alienate a wide swathe of American Jews.

During the debate, several candidates made statements that were contrary to Jewish law on abortion, in attempts to pander to evangelicals. Scott Walker said that there should be no exception to save the life of the mother, claiming it is a “false choice.”

"I believe that that is an unborn child that's in need of protection out there, and I've said many a time that that unborn child can be protected, and there are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother. That's been consistently proven," Walker claimed, despite the fact that back in 2012, in response to another GOP politician making such claims, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated: “Despite all of our medical advances, more than 600 women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related reasons right here in the US. In fact, many more women would die each year if they did not have access to abortion to protect their health or to save their lives. These inaccurate comments are yet another reason why (The College) message to politicians is unequivocal: Get out of our exam rooms.”  

Mike Huckabee, Israel’s Evangelical BFF who in July claimed that by negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, President Obama would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven” went even further. “I think the next president ought to invoke the fifth and 14th amendments to the Constitution. Now that we clearly know that that baby inside the mother's womb is a person at the moment of conception."

Interesting, because under Jewish Law, the unborn fetus is not considered a person until it has been born. In fact, until forty days after conception, the fertilized egg is considered as “as water.” Yet this man, whom the Israelis court and view as a friend, went so far as to claim,"It's time that we recognize the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being.” 

Perhaps Governor Huckabee – and the rest of these pandering candidates -  should read George Washington’s Letter to the Jews of Newport  to remind themselves the precepts of religious freedom upon which our nation was founded.

As if this weren’t enough to turn off a thinking, literate, American Jew, there was the recent “inspirational Christian romance” from Kate Breslin, For Such A Time, in which a concentration camp inmate falls in love with the SS Officer commandant, billed as a retelling of the Story of Esther with a magic New Testament.

I. Just. Can’t. Even….

My dear mishpoche in Israel, who send emails telling me how I should vote…(not to mention the disgustingly racist ones that if one substituted "Jew" for "Muslim" read as if Goebbels had written them, which I've learned to delete without reading) this is why I ignore your advisements.

You’ve chosen to ally yourself with forces in our country that you wouldn’t dream of electing in your own.

What’s more, we’re then subjected to insulting pieces calling us “cowards” for supporting Israel without blind obedience, like this recent one:  “Liberal Jews are afraid to oppose the Iran Deal” by Vic Rosenthal posted on the Jewish Press. The Jewish Press was formerly edited by the late Meir Kahane. 

While insulting the vast majority of American Jews, and complaining what a shanda is it that the AIPAC meeting supporting the Iran deal has to be held in an Evangelical church instead of a synagogue, Rosenthal conveniently neglects to mention the long list of Israeli military and intelligence officers who support the deal. 

He isn't the first American Jew to make such insulting and patronizing remarks. Years ago, I spoke to a retired men's club at a local conservative synagogue. I was told, as a member of the press who writes opinion columns, that I should keep any criticisms of Israel "in house." 

Apparently being a Jew isn't compatible with my First Amendment rights. Yet these same gentlemen were asking why moderate Muslims weren't speaking out against extremists. Perhaps moderate Muslims were getting the same message I was? 

I was also berated loudly by a man at shul during the period of saying kaddish for my father because I said I wasn't going to the Stand with Israel Now rally. I explained that I felt conflicted about the bombing of Gaza, something that caused this man to go red in the face and start shouting at me.Israeli soldiers in the IDF who fought in Protective Edge apparently have the right to feel conflicted and express themselves about it, but I, as an American Jew, do not. 

If Israel is losing support amongst American Jews, it is their own government's policies they should blame, not American Jewish cowardice. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why you can't post my entire book on WattPad: For Dummies

I just spent what was probably the most difficult four and a half months in my recent memory writing a book that we sold to Scholastic on a very short proposal less than a week before my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly of a deep vein thrombosis.

After turning in the book to my wonderful editor Jody Corbett last Friday, I set off with my daughter, sister, and two young nephews to visit my cousins at their house up in Maine for a much needed break.

I was so determined to relax that I didn't take my computer with me. But I did have my phone, and when I was on wifi, I got this email:

So I recently read your book, Backlash. I love it. It is an amazing book and I'm in the proccess of reading it for a third time. I would like your permission to post your book on a website/app called Wattpad. It would give thousands to millions of people to read the book and enjoy it as much as I have. It would be written just as it is in the book and all credit will be towards you. It would be published within the next few months. Please get me back to me as soon as possible.

Seeing as I had just had to notify my publisher about someone publishing chapters of Backlash wholesale on WattPad so they could get their legal department to issue a takedown notice, and I'd sent them a list of about 15 websites claiming to offer "free PDFs" of my books, this was not good for my blood pressure and relaxation.

I forwarded the email to my agent, the wonderful Jennifer Laughran, with a brief message: "OMG WTF?!"

Her response was equally succinct: "LOL WTF?!"

I decided to wait till I was back in front of a computer to write a response, because, my lovelies, Auntie Sarah is going to need all ten fingers for this rant.

We authors LOVE that you LOVE our books. We LOVE that you read our books more than once. People wonder why I still have books from my childhood on the overcrowded bookshelves in my house. Why I still have books from my mother's childhood, and the copy of Noel Streitfield's Ballet Shoes that my Aunt Marilyn read in her childhood.

It's because these books are like old friends to me. I cannot bear to part with them and I love to walk into a room where I am surrounded by my old friends. It gives me joy to think that a book that I have written might someday be old and worn on someone else's shelf, and similarly handed down as an old friend.

BUT - and here is the big but...everyone in my family PAID FOR BOOKS, even if we bought them second hand. Now not everyone can afford to pay for books, and at the rate I read, I would have read my parents out of house and home. So my parents would take me to the library every week and I'd come home with a stack of books to keep me sated until the following week.

"Oh, but Auntie Sarah," I hear you whinge, "It's such a HASSLE to go to the library....and I'm TIRED and it's HOT or RAINING or it's COLD and SNOWING" or _______________(fill in excuse here).

Guess what?! There's this great thing called OVERDRIVE that many libraries offer so you can borrow ebooks onto your e-reader or phone or laptop without your butt even leaving the comfortable surface upon which you have placed it!

I use this myself and it is both fabulous and convenient. You can even put books on hold and they will automatically download to your bookshelf when they become available. It couldn't be easier!

What's that I hear?   "But Auntie Sarah...what about me posting your entire book on Wattpad, where  it would give thousands to millions of people to read the book and enjoy it as much as I have. It would be written just as it is in the book and all credit will be towards you" ???

Oh yes. That.



Why am I being so mean about this, you ask?

Let me explain a few financial facts of life for you, Dear Reader.

If you mean what you say about loving my books, you should know that I write these books you love from a home upon which I must make mortgage payments. I am a single mother with two children, who is self-employed, and therefore does not have health insurance as a benefit of employment. Such health insurance doesn't come cheap, but it is very, very necessary with the medical conditions I have in my family.

I'm not complaining about working hard. It's what I do and it's how I was brought up. I work many different jobs in order to be able to pay my bills.

 But nothing makes me more depressed and demoralized than looking at the search terms that are used to get to my website. My name is the 1st, but the 2nd through 10th terms are "free PDF" and permutations of my various book titles.

If you say you "love" my book, but then have the chutzpah to ask me to publish it on WattPad, it's exactly the same as saying, "Hey Auntie Sarah, I love what you do," at the same time you're picking the wallet out of my purse.

 Then when I call you on how wrong it was to do that,  telling me that losing all my money and credit cards because you want to give the money I've spent years working for and am counting on to pay my mortgage and health insurance (not to mention keeping THIS GUY in dog food and Lambchop toys) to 'thousands and millions' of random people because.....???? I'm not really sure why. "Exposure?" Honey, let me tell you a fact about banks that hold your mortgage and health insurers (see also, electric company, gas company, car mechanics, gas stations and grocery stores): THEY DO NOT ACCEPT "EXPOSURE" AS VALID CURRENCY FOR PAYMENT.

Here's the thing, dear readers. If you keep posting and downloading my books illegally and my publishers don't make money and therefore I don't make money, then why am I going to bust my butt to write a book when I'm intensely grieving my mother, who modeled a strong work ethic as well as respecting others and not stealing?

I write because I love it and it's what I've always wanted to do, even when I was getting my MBA in Finance and being told I'd never make a living that way by my late father. Do me a favor: don't make my father right by illegally downloading my books. Or any writer's books.

If none of the above is enough to convince you to cease and desist, know this: it would kill my very soul to have to go back to working on Wall Street because you've made it impossible for me to make a living doing what I love.

Friday, July 3, 2015

In which I need to take some advice from my 25 year old self...

My mother kept everything, which means that going through her apartment is overwhelming, but also filled with gifts from the past. Yesterday, I found a set of CD's that were converted from tapes, which were converted from stenographs made by my late grandfather Murray, who worked with William Randoph Hearst, with United Artists, and was President of 20th Century Fox International. Grandpa died when I was 6, so my memories of him are mostly of him and Grandma taking me to FAO Schwartz (which itself is now going to be just a memory) to buy my first Barbie - who had red hair.
But thanks to this oft-converted technology, I'm now listening to my grandfather's voice (with his amazing New Yawk accent) telling stories about Alexander Korda, how Korda discovered Vivian Lee, Korda's relationship with Churchill, and all sorts of incredible stuff. And that's just halfway through disc one.

I also found a folder of letters I'd written to my parents in the late 80's, when I was working on Wall St and going to  NYU business school at night for my MBA. This letter was written when I was almost finished with the MBA, but clearly feeling the strain.

"I know that I'm working toward long term goals, but to tell you the truth, I'm sick of working towards long-term goals, I want start living my life, not just passing time till I get to some point in the future."

At this particular point in time, I really needed to read those words from my younger, and apparently wiser and more clearer thinking self. Fifty-two year old me is still equally as goal oriented, ambitious, and hard working. Some things never change. What has changed is that I'm now putting that ambition towards a career that I really love, the one that I wanted to have all along but was told would never make me any money. I love my work, and so I don't mind working the hours I do, because most of the time, it doesn't feel like work.

But this summer has been crazy stressful. It's the third summer in a row that I have not one, but two books due at the end of the summer. One is a revision that had to be put off because of Mom's unexpected passing, and I'm grateful for that delay, because there's no way I could have tackled it back in March/April. The other is a totally new work, which I'm super excited about, but we haven't officially announced yet.

This week, one of my really good friends, Maura Keaney, was visiting from Virginia with her young son, and she invited me to go to the beach with them. I haven't been to the beach in my town in over two years. Maybe three, because I've spent the summer on book deadlines. I call my mid-life crisis convertible "the beach" because running errands in it, or driving to teaching jobs is the only time I get sun. When she posted pictures from Island Beach, I regretted that I wasn't able to spend the time with them catching up and making sandcastles. I love making sandcastles. I miss having the time to make sandcastles.

But Mom's apartment isn't going to clear out itself. My books won't write themselves.  As Robert Frost said so beautifully in one of my favorite poems: "But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep." 

Still, I am listening to 25 year old Sarah. If 27 years later, I still feel the same way, I think it's pretty important to take heed of her words. Mom's death taught me that we never know when the last day will come, and I don't want mine to come when I'm still waiting for that distant point in the future when I get to stop and smell the roses. Or make the time to meet with friends I really care about and build sandcastles with their children.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dads of Daughters: This is how you do it

Ever since Mom passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in March, we've been going through her apartment, trying to get the place ready for sale. Mom saved everything. EVERYTHING. 

Today I found the speech that my father gave at my wedding. Of course, I heard it before, on Sept 3rd, 1989, but that was a long time ago, and I was pretty overwhelmed with emotions on the day. I remember crying at the time, but today when I found it, I cried again for completely different reasons. My father died in November 2013, but even before that he had lost the incredible intelligence and way with words that made him the man he was to Alzheimer's. But not the love for us. He never lost that. His eyes always lit up when he saw us, even if he didn't remember our names.

Finding this speech brought my father back to me and made me miss him all over again. But it also reminded me of how much of who I am is because of who he and Mom were. If I am brave, it was because Dad and Mom were brave. If I have the courage to stand up for what is right, it is because he and Mom were courageous. 

If I have now found the love and support of a good man who respects my intelligence, it is because my father deeply loved my mother and respected her intelligence. 

Fathers of daughters: This is how you do it. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Cognitive Dissonance

Like most Jews in the Diaspora, I was brought up to support Israel unconditionally. I was excited to bring my quarters to Hebrew School every week to insert in the slots in the JNF folder, so that when it was filled a tree would be planted in my name in the Holy Land. Dad's sister made aliyah in 1949 and she and my uncle raised their family on different kibbutzim.

Over the last 10 years I have had an increasingly hard time reconciling the vision of Israel I was brought up with to the current political reality, and it has made it impossible to maintain that unconditional support.  This put me in the awful position of being berated in synagogue on Shabbat when I went to say kaddish for my father and get away from politics, by a man who thought I (and indeed, all Jews in the Diaspora) have no right to such misgivings.

Last night, when I saw the racist joke tweeted by Israeli talk show host and socialite Judy Mozes, I wondered if the Israeli government is trying purposefully to destroy their relationship with Jews in the Diaspora.

You see, Mozes' husband, Silvan Shalom, was appointed last month by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead negotiations with the Palestinians and to oversee strategic dialogue with the United States. What better way to oversee strategic dialogue with the United States than to have your wife make a RACIST JOKE ABOUT OUR PRESIDENT DAYS AFTER RACIALLY-BASED SHOOTING OF NINE INNOCENT PEOPLE?!!

Then we've got Michael Oren publicly disparaging POTUS on every conceivable front -while pushing his new book.  That's after Netanyahu accepted the GOP invitation to address Congress prior to the Israeli elections, in a massive breach of protocol, and had the chutzpah to claim it "wasn't political", but meanwhile was broadcasting it from his website and collecting signatures at the same time.

Here's my question for Israelis and their government: we just lost nine wonderful Americans to racist violence. Let's call it what it was - we lost them to white supremacist terrorism. To people who hate Jews as well as blacks.

And guess what, Israel and Netanyahu? The people you are aligning yourself in the United States? They aren't speaking out against racism. In fact, they are avoiding it at all costs. Rick Perry called it an "accident," then "pivoted" to blame it on drugs instead of racism. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee said "I'm not a South Carolinian" . Lindsay Graham said "The confederate flag works here."  

For strategic and pragmatic purposes, Netanyahu's government chose to ally itself with the right-wing evangelical base of the Republican party. During the Bush era, one of the Israeli embassy outreach officers to the Evangelical community came and spoke at our synagogue, and I asked him: "Why is Israel aligning itself with Evangelicals when they believe there should be an Israel so that the Rapture can happen and then if we don't accept Jesus as our personal Saviour we take the down escalator to Hell?"

He shrugged and said, "We don't believe in the Rapture, and we need the support now."

Well, I hope that support works for you, Bibi & Co, because in currying support with the right, you are losing the support of Jews like me who remember what it was like for us. Who remember that it was not so long ago that it was our families that were discriminated against and reviled. And that's why we believe in social justice and fight against racism and discrimination - not perpetrating it and allying ourselves with those who do.

During the Gaza bombing campaign, someone forwarded me the most disgusting racist anti-Palestinian screed I'd read in a very long time. If you'd substituted Jew for Palestinian, it could have been written by Goebbels. I forwarded it to my Rabbi, hoping that he might say something about it in his sermon - warning people about the sin of Loshen hara, reminding them about Joshua and the Spies, etc. But instead, he made an excuse - that when people are under stress they make bad choices.

Trust me, I understand that. I've made a lot of bad choices under stress, and continue to do so, and most likely will continue to do so. BUT....I was really disappointed by that response, because as Seth Godin pointed out so well recently:

I'm sick of being told to keep my criticism of Israel "in house" by people who ask "where are the moderate Muslims? Why aren't they speaking out?" only to see continued behavior that I find reprehensible from the highest levels of the Israeli government.

"People like us, we don't do things like that." 

Judy Mozes made her racist tweet against our president on the anniversary of the death of Jewish civil rights activists Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who along with James Chaney were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi during Freedom Summer. She should be ashamed of herself. And Israel should be ashamed of her.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dear Teenagers - Some advice from my late Dad...via me

My dearest teens. You know I love you. I really do. That's why I write books for you, and love to answer your emails. So that's why I'm writing this post. Because I care. 

I subscribe to several daily news, business and tech email blasts to keep me informed for my "other life" as a columnist - and also because I'm interested in what's going on in the world. It helps me to be a better writer and a more interesting person. 

This morning, to my horror, in an email blast that calls itself Business Insider "Tech Select," these were the first three stories:

Relegated to "other news" were stories about how Tesla is building batteries for use in buildings and how Facebook's Ad service affects businesses. But the first three stories were about teenagers (that's you, my dears) doing this viral challenge to have have plump lips with dangerous and painful results.

After my first thought, which was to be mad at the alleged grown ups at alleged "Tech Select" for the ridiculous way they are prioritizing "news", I started hearing the voice of this guy in my head:

That's Dad and me, the day I graduated from college. Sadly, Dad passed away in November 2013 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's, but I still hear the things he said to me, the advice he gave me, as clearly as if he were standing right next to me like he was in this photo. 

And when I saw those headlines, I heard his voice saying something he so often asked me when I was a teenager: "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?"

I'm sure many of my similarly aged friends heard something to that effect from one or the other of their parents, and were as sick of hearing it as I was. 

But there is wisdom in them there cliches, my dears. Trust your Auntie Sarah on this. 

I get it. You are trying to figure out your identity. You want to be heard. And there's so much pressure today to be SEEN. 

I'm old. Or as my daughter would say, "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLD." We didn't have things like Instagram and Facebook and YouTube when I was a teen. Heck, we didn't even have the Internet. We didn't have cellphones. So we didn't have to worry about how many followers we had or how many likes we got, or if we could get our YouTube video to go viral, because there wasn't a YouTube and viral was something associated with a disease you didn't want to get. 

But here's the thing. I was in a video that did go viral. This one.   It's had over 1.1 million hits on YouTube. 

Yet that conversation didn't go viral because my son and I went into the StoryCorps booth with the intention of creating something viral. We didn't even know it would be on NPR Morning Edition. We didn't even know that it would be turned into an animation. We didn't know, when we walked into that booth, that one day we would be on Good Morning America.  We never thought for a moment that because of it we would be on our very first red carpet: 

We certainly hadn't the slightest idea that one day we would be in the front row at the TED Conference when Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, and winner of the 2015 TED Prize, announced his Wish for the World.   

All of those incredibly amazing experiences happened because my son and I went into the StoryCorps booth with the sole intention of having a genuine, honest conversation with each other - of making a loving, human connection. And we did that. Even if none of the other things had happened, we would have achieved what we set out to do. 

The rest is gravy. Really exciting and wonderful gravy, and I am so grateful for all of the experiences we have come out of this. I also continue to be amazed by how this conversation connects with people from all over the world, no matter their nationality, race or religion. 

That's what's important, my dears. Not having plump lips. Not looking like anyone else. Being the best YOU that you can be and making human connections. 

 So please, I beg you - the next time you think about doing one of these ridiculous challenges, just remember my dear old Dad and pick up a book instead. You'll thank me later. I promise. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Another Dear Congressman Letter

Dear Jim - 

I already wrote you another Dear Congressman piece on the subject of school libraries  after our meeting last year. Today you asked me "So it's bad for a legislator to ask for facts and data?"

Well Jim, of course it isn't, and I feel, once again, you are asking me a disingenuous question, which makes me lose even more of the respect I once had for you. Because Jim, you know I once had a LOT of respect for you. What's more, I BELIEVED in you. I really thought that if we sent a smart guy like you to Washington it could really make a difference for our country. I lost my columnist gig with Hearst over you - but I even thought it was worth it, because I believed in you that much. 

But you want to know something? You have done more to make me discouraged with our political system than anyone. It's the people we believe in most that cause the greatest damage to our beliefs. 

So why do I feel you are being disingenuous? 

Let's see...perhaps because when we met to discuss education, I brought you lots of "facts and data." I brought you studies that showed that TFA are less effective than traditionally trained teachers, and the higher costs to school districts of their frequent turnover. 

I brought you data about how despite charter schools like Achievement First claiming 100% graduation rates, if you look at their cohort graduation rate from the students who start 9th grade it's nothing too special. 

I told you about charters not serving the same special ed and ELL populations and Achievement First having the highest kindergarten suspension rate in CT, and the lawsuit against them for special ed violations and how it made me furious when I read it because some of the things they were PUNISHING kids for were the kinds of coping strategies my son would use when he was trying to avoid a meltdown when he was having sensory overload. But these kids were being PUNISHED for that. 

But despite being my legislator, you didn't appear to have the same intellectual curiosity about THOSE "facts and data."And I can't help thinking that it's because it's too politically inconvenient for you to do so. That's why when you asked me the question about research on school libraries, it seemed more like you were deflecting me so you didn't have to answer my question, rather than requesting actual facts and data. 

I gave you the facts and data anyway, because there's over 40 years worth of studies proving the efficacy of having certified school librarians. Annual Testing like SBAC that we're wasting so many billions of dollars on? Not so much. But that doesn't seem to make a difference to policy makers, does it? Because facts and data don't appear to be driving education policy. 

 Why weren't you, and Dan Malloy, and Arne Duncan et al asking such questions BEFORE making the policy that is destroying our education system, driving teachers out of the profession (despite Gov Malloy's utterly ridiculous claim that they are all leaving "because they were hired at the same time, like the state troopers") and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars? Why weren't you asking questions about no-bid contracts by all the crony edreform folks? Because I've been asking those questions. 

Here's another thing that seriously rattled me about my Congressman: your reaction to being told of a Democratic elected official threatening to sue a member of the press, despite not being able to point to anything factually inaccurate in the piece. There's a name for when someone does that -  it's called a SLAPP suit - stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation", and it's intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense.

 If a Republican had done this during the Bush years, I know you would have had something to say about it. But instead you laughed it off, like it wasn't an attempt at press intimidation by your own party. Now you're probably going to tell me you're a supporter of the First Amendment, but your reaction sure didn't give me a whole lot of confidence that as my Congressman you're going to do much to protect me, a constituent of yours and a journalist, if it's someone in the Democratic Party at fault. In fact, it showed me that you are happy to put party over process. 

And that, Jim, is why I am not a party member anymore, and why you, personally, have made me so incredibly disillusioned with the political process. Because if someone I thought was a smart, good guy ends up like this after a few terms in Washington, what the hell hope do we have in this country?

I would write more, but I spent four hours today doing a library program with seven other authors getting kids excited about writing - because they don't get the chance to do enough creative writing in school these days. Too much testing. Too much Common Core. All those things you told me were so wonderful and needed. 

I spent the afternoon with kids who crave creativity - who couldn't wait to use their voices. Isn't that what we should be encouraging in a democracy instead of test taking?