One shabbes in 1973, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin officiated at the bat mitzvah of future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. The ceremony took place at New York’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox congregation on West 67th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. A decade later, Kagan’s rabbi immigrated with a group of his congregants to the West Bank and founded the settlement of Efrat. Riskin, who came from the liberal Jewish stronghold of the Upper West Side, has served as the settlement’s Chief Rabbi ever since. Occupation is more mainstream than you might imagine.
Today, Efrat is a popular destination for American Jews. The appeal: a settlement is essentially the ultimate gated community. Across the West Bank, American Jewish immigrants love that their children can play in the streets unsupervised and walk themselves to school. In a stranger-less world of their own, they achieve the American suburban idyll. Theirs is a long white flight.
…Continue reading at The Revealer, where you can also watch my collection of funny/awful youtube videos from the settler kitsch genre.
The Long White Flight
The West Bank settlement of Hashmonaim is about 40 minutes northwest of Jerusalem. Residents of Hashmonaim enjoy manicured lawns, top-notch schools, and panoramic views of the surrounding hillsides. There’s even a baseball diamond by the entrance, just past the guardhouse.
Nearly half of Hashmonaim’s 2,600 settlers are from the New York area. With the Ben-Gurion Airport a convenient 22-minute drive away, many residents actually keep their white-collar American jobs, working remotely and commuting back as needed. Prospective settlers receive a handy FAQ sheet: “Is this area over the ‘Green Line’?” reads one question. “Geographically and tax-wise, yes,” the sheet explains. “Security-wise and politically, no.” In other words: Yes, this settlement is technically illegal according to international law. But because it’s guarded by armed men 24/7, and because the Israeli government officially sanctions the settlement, Hashmonaim doesn’t feel illegal.
Hashmonaim’s settlers are religious Zionists, meaning they see the land beneath their homes as God-given. It’s a territorial claim passionately disputed by the neighboring Palestinian village of Nil’in, the two enclaves separated by a barbed-wire fence.
…Continue reading “Living the American Dream in the West Bank” in VICE.
An open letter to my parents, who still don’t believe I survived Hurricane Sandy
Dear Mom and Dad,
Thank you for your continued concern about my wellbeing during and after Hurricane Sandy. To reiterate: I’m fine. You’ve got to stop calling to ask if I’m in the dark, in the cold, underwater, or dead. Please redirect your worry to those who actually deserve it. As I’ve said repeatedly, the lights in my apartment merely flickered during the hurricane. Roommate Max had to evacuate his bedroom when the downstairs neighbors started having loud sex. But otherwise, what was for many people the beginning of a full-scale humanitarian disaster—one that’s still unfolding nearly three weeks after the storm hit—I experienced as an embarrassment of worldly comforts. I baked a cake to pass the time. Even Mr. Melon, my Brooklyn neighborhood’s beloved 24-hour Asian grocery, remained open during the hurricane. With sidewalk produce.
In the days leading up to the storm, the order came from on high to evacuate low-lying areas of New York. Those with money simply went to hotels. For those in public housing, the City decreed that the heat and elevators would be preemptively shut off. This was father-knows-best Mayor Bloomberg showing his brand of tough love to over 45,000 residents of the projects, a fine gesture from a billionaire to the poor, in a city in which the top fifth earns forty times more income than the bottom fifth.
…Continue reading at VICE.
We Were Merely Freshmen: Classmates Recall Mitt Romney’s Year at Stanford
One Friday in the spring of 1966, Mitt Romney, then a freshman at Stanford University, skipped the discussion section of his Western Civilization survey class. A sit-in against the Vietnam War was underway inside President Wallace Sterling’s office. Outside, Mitt Romney protested against the protestors. Romney’s anti-anti-war camp was a clean-cut crew dressed in khakis, button-ups, and blazers. They held signs that read “oppose anarchy” and “support President Sterling.” In the evening, after Romney had left, his compatriots showed their true colors. Here’s how one of the anti-war protestors—the ones being protested by Romney and co.— remembers it:
When we were bedding down for the night in the President’s office, the counter-demonstrators behaved less politely than they did in the daytime. Knowing full well that there were a good number of blacks and other minorities inside, they swarmed around pretending to be drunk and kept singing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” with obscene lyrics. Instead of the words “We shall overcome,” they sang, “We shall come all over.” Later on we heard the clippity-clop of a horse on the stone pavement of the Quad, and looked out to see a frat boy riding a horse, as if to declare that the Ku Klux Klan would rise again.
That’s the team with which the young Mitt Romney aligned himself. At least until his father, Michigan Governor George Romney, formerly a staunch supporter of the Vietnam War, reconsidered his position and declared he’d “had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get.” Then, 23-year-old Mitt Romney fell in step, saying, “If it wasn’t a political blunder to move into Vietnam, I don’t know what is.”
…Continue reading at VICE.
Mitt Romney: Safety Patrol Captain
Long before Bain Capital, Mitt Romney was managing underlings in grade school. Mitt was the captain of his school’s Safety Patrol Team, the AAA-sponsored crossing guard program that has, over the years, attracted its fair share of future politicos. “Tomorrows Leaders Today [sic]” promises an official AAA video.
Former Safety Patrol members include Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Jimmy Carter, and, yes, Joe Biden, according to Police Chief magazine and AAA.“One of the proudest moments of my life came when I was given a white canvas belt and a tin badge and sworn in as a School Boy Patrolman,” Carter once said. “My job was to enforce all the safety precautions but, also, to go to the nearest house for help when our makeshift bus frequently slid into a ditch during rainy weather.”
…Continue reading at VICE
Grace in Broken Arrow
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all. – Psalm 34
No more sleepovers. No more babysitting, or car rides home. No more being alone with children or “lingering hugs given to students (especially using your hands to stroke or fondle).” Aaron Thompson—Coach Thompson to his PE students—sat in the principal’s office at Grace Fellowship Christian School as his bosses went through the four-page Corrective Action Plan point by point. It was October of 2001, the same month Aaron added “Teacher of the Week” to his resume.
Grace’s leader, Bob Yandian—“Pastor Bob” as everyone calls him—wasn’t there: no need, he had people for this kind of thing. Pastor Bob’s time was better spent sequestered in his study, writing books and radio broadcasts. His lieutenant, Associate Pastor Chip Olin, was a hardnosed guy, “ornery as heck,” people said. Olin brought a USA Todayarticle on the characteristics of child molesters to the meeting. At age 24, Olin explained, Aaron was acting immature and unprofessional, and someone might get the wrong idea.
…Continue reading at This Land.
…For the story behind the story, see my interview with the Nieman Foundation.
To the Abortuary
North Dakota’s one and only abortion clinic, located in Fargo, is something of a hub for religious life in the state’s largest city. On the one hand, volunteer escorts come to the Red River Women’s Clinic (RRWC) from the nearby Lutheran college wearing buttons that say “Jesus Never Shamed Women.” On the other, a state-funded Christian crisis pregnancy center (one of the city’s nine state-funded CPCs) is a half block away, while across the parking lot anti-abortion Catholics pray downward upon the clinic from a third-floor chapel. The chapel is an outpost of St. Mary’s Cathedral, just five blocks away, whose bulletin announces that the church “goes to the abortuary every Wednesday.”
…Continue reading at Religion Dispatches.
In Which the Young Will Eat the Old
Tuesday night, Brooklyn’s Park Slope Food Coop held a long-anticipated vote on voting: members decided whether to have a Coop-wide referendum on joining the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. About 2,000 of the Coop’s 16,300 members packed the specially rented facilities, a GOTV triumph. In the end, the audience voted against having a BDS referendum: 1,005 against and 653 in favor.
…Continue reading at The Nation.
Starr v. Ellis
Former Special Prosecutor Ken Starr would rather be known as “Uncle Ken.” That’s how he refers to himself around Baylor University students in Waco, Texas, where he has been president since 2010. But for Starr, who very nearly took down Bill Clinton and helped uncover the president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, history seems to have a way of repeating itself. Once again, he is trying to oust a liberal icon for alleged sexual misconduct with a subordinate. This time around his target is noted leftist Baylor professor Marc Ellis.
…Continue reading at New York Magazine.