Monthly Archives: November 2016

Dear Muslims

Dear Muslims,

Hello there, wherever you hail from. I am your resident weirdo and giant nerd Reina, and I want to be your friend.

There is no joke here, no punchline proclaiming various stereotypes that comedians might use to appear edgy. I am serious in my offer, from one person of G-d to another. Any laughter from this piece is accidental, although the goal here is to make you smile a bit.

Let me tell you a little bit about me first. I’m a freelance writer/editor and live in Los Angeles. I love all things nerdy, from Harry Potter to Star Wars and Star Trek, Buffy and Game of Thrones, as well as watching John Oliver and other funny political shows with my dad. We lost my mom in April and my sister lives far away, and so any time I can spend with him is great. And not only does he love nerdy things, but he’s very, very funny. I often post our conversations on Facebook, and it makes so many people laugh.

My cooking skills are on point, from vegan and gluten-free dishes to pure carnivore delights. That being said, I don’t cook with bacon or shellfish — I was kosher for seven years, and although I eat them when I go out now it still doesn’t feel right to cook with them. Yes, I am Jewish. No, this doesn’t stop me from wanting to be your friend.

I’m single, although ironically as a Jew in dating I have sometimes gotten along more with Muslim guys than even my own people. Yet despite a lack in relationship, I have a great group of friends who love watching movies, eating, Halloween, playing trivia, singing at the moon, going to spas and laughing together on a regular basis. We are like a little family, and I am sure they would love to include you.

The truth is that I was always a strange duck, even in my own Jewish community. I’m Jewish, but my mother’s family was from Turkey. For hundreds of years, since the Jews were accepted as refugees from the Spanish inquisition in 1492, the Muslims and the Jews lived together in harmony there while the Ottomans ruled over them. It wasn’t always good (in fact, my great-grandparents fled Istanbul to America because it was rumored that great-grandpa Solomon tried to overthrow the sultan as a part of the Young Turks), but we had each other.

In college, my disgust for how the people in my Hillel treated Muslims on my campus was strong. How could they proclaim discrimination against themselves and yet discriminate against others? Wasn’t our battle theirs?

Around this same time, I met Rudy. She was petite, but her warmth matched my height. Her brown eyes were just as kind as her demeanor, and we would often walk around campus together talking about anything and everything, from the bigotry faced by the 909-area code to the constant demands of our mothers. Our friendship was surrounded by jokes, because she was an Egyptian Muslim and I’m Jewish. The joke was always, “Don’t mind them, they’re going to go solve the Peace Process together.”

It was through Rudy that I met her friends, who were from all different regions of the Middle East. We never talked politics, but drank tea together and talked about our grandmothers, how they bugged us about getting married and all the delicious foods they cooked; they were similar because my family was also from the region.

This was seen as a betrayal from my Jewish community on campus. I wrote an article for the campus paper about the radicalization of both sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict on campus, and how moderates would be the only ones to solve the problems. My roommates called a house meeting to say how disappointed they were in me. A friend confronted my now-ex and said, “I hear your girlfriend is a Jew hater.” I could barely show my face in my own community. My Muslim friends rallied and hugged me tightly instead.

There are a million stories I could tell like this. I could talk about living in D.C. and meeting a girl in a hijab from Tennessee, who embraced me and told me growing up all her friends were Jewish too. Or about one of those friends from college that Rudy introduced me to, and running into him years later at an interfaith event when he told me I had changed his mind about Jews. But those are stories. What matters is right now.

Hate is coming for both your people and mine; no matter how many excuses my community makes, it is clear there is an anti-Semitic thread that weaves itself through the new administration as much as Islamophobia. While we were busy fighting with each other over the years about various issues, the hatred was coming at us from the outside. And now that it’s banging on our door, with threats of registries, removed hijabs and internment camps, we have decisions to make.

We can try to fight this battle alone, but the hatred is too strong and our individual communities too small against the growing tides. Members of our respective groups may try to site a conflict 7,000 miles away to divide us, but the truth is that it doesn’t stop the cancer growing here. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., who my father met and eventually took up his call: Hate cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that. He understood that it was his duty as a man of G-d. And it is now mine.

As a Jew, this is as much my battle as it is yours. The portion of the Torah where Abraham dies, Isaac and Ishmael come together once again to bury him. This is despite Ishmael’s exile, and eventual future as the father of Islam. I have always believed that we would come together again; for the sake of our humanity, it is essential now.

So if they register you, I register too. If they send you to the camps, I will go alongside you. We share the same father to our faiths; it is my religious obligation to stand up for you. Together we build a barrier against the hatred that doesn’t divide people, but embraces. Jews have seen this before; one-third of Europe’s Jews were destroyed over 70 years ago in similar circumstances. We say, “Never again,” quite often. Now it’s time to put our words into action and let our marching feet stand in for our prayers.

This is why I want to be your friend; because I know the days are going to get darker. If I have learned anything since the election, I know that now is the time to take up our arms in love and build the bridges we need to fight the battles ahead. I’m not asking for undivided loyalty right when you meet me; just conversations over coffee and dinners are a great place to start.

So let’s go to the movies, sing songs together, play trivia or even just share a hug. We need to begin our bonds now, because as they get stronger we need to stand taller. And the only way to do that is to banish the darkness together as friends.

So as your resident weirdo and giant nerd girl, may I suggest starting this by dining on an impossible burger at Crossroads on Melrose together? Because if this world is so incredible that it can make a vegan burger taste like meat, then our friendships should be nothing compared to that.

Love,

Reina

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On Tuesday We Wear White

white-dressThere is a dress that is sprawled out over the stool in the corner of my bedroom. It is a beautiful, gauzy white dress with an intricate sky blue detailing in the middle. It is one of my favorite dresses. And on Tuesday I will wear it.

I bought it from the Fox Hills Mall just before I left to go to Israel three years ago. I wanted to wear white on my Shabbat in Jerusalem, as the Kabbalists believe that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come, right down to the white of our garments. This was the closest to white that I could find, but it didn’t matter that it wasn’t all white; to me, there was perfection in the blue.

It reminded me on the little blue flowers on the Corelle dishware in my mother’s cabinet, or the Ottoman style fabrics that would make me think of my great grandmother’s life in Turkey. Yet it was long and dramatic, a statement of sorts. Just like the girl who would be wearing it.

I remembered how proud I felt wandering around the Old City in it wearing a white cardigan over my shoulders. I will never forget walking through the courtyards just above the Kotel and how it flowed around my body; the magic in the fabric was unmistakable. I would wear it many times after that, including on Tu B’Av, where Jewish women would go into the fields in white dresses and dance, and from there the men would pick a wife.

I am an American citizen, the third generation of proud Jewish women living here. When my family came here in the early 1900s, the world did not know of Auschwitz. It could barely conceive of the birth of a Jewish state. We were Jews seeking a better life, where the boys wouldn’t be sent to war and my family could be safe.

I remember sitting in my grandmother’s tiny kitchen with its warm wood paneling, cooking the delightful delicacies passed on to her from the centuries of life in the diaspora, and how thrilled she would be when she got an envelope that said jury duty.

“I love it,” she would say in that honey husky tone that was uniquely hers, yearning for another letter to call her for service. She hoped to learn and to understand the American justice system, to be a part of something bigger than herself, as my grandfather blared C-SPAN in the other room. How she told me in secret how she missed working and going to school. She was born in 1918; two years before the women got the vote.

Her daughter and I got into many battles together. My mom was born in 1945, almost 25 years after women got the vote. Being a woman in this country for her meant not necessarily pursuing her dreams the way her brother was able to, because women had certain expectations put on them. But she believed, even as the medical bills piled up in and the hair fell out of her head due to chemo, that this was the best place in the world to live as Jews.

“How can you not love this country?” she would yell at me when I would write one of my questioning American blog pieces. And there, watching her die and my opportunities fade as I tried to take care of her, I wondered how she could.

Neither of these women lived to cast their ballots in this presidential election. Six months ago, my mother was wrapped in a white shawl and buried in the ground in a pine box, per our custom. And on Tuesday, I will be wearing white too.

It’s because when I was 18 I discovered a copy of The Vagina Monologues in my mother’s bathroom. She didn’t understand those words of Eve Ensler’s, but I did. It was my voice as a woman who grew up in a town where girls were supposed to be quiet and accept their treatment at the hands of men. I was already 5’11 and had a voice that boomed, and a brain that was just as smart as anyone else’s. Why should I be silent?

My words spoke better on paper than they did in my vocal tones, scary as they may be. Yet they were meant to capture the distaste of what the world told me to be as a woman, let alone as a person. How I was told my aptitude for the written word was no match for the power of math and science. Yet even though I understood and respected logic and reason, I understood the heart is just as powerful. Why should I be silent?

Standing alongside me were the women who I came to know throughout my life, beautiful and strong, yet somehow felt silenced in telling their stories. They couldn’t speak their truths, ranging from sexual assault to health issues and discrimination in the workplace, for fear of retaliation. I understood the fears, yet I knew that their stories were also mine and should never be shamed or scrutinized. Why should I stay silent?

When the suffragettes of the early 1900s donned their colors, of purple, gold and white, they saw that we could be so much more. We didn’t need to stay silent. We were voices in this place just as much as others. We were battered and bruised, with women who pursued the presidency such as Victoria Woodhull (actually the first female candidate for president, even before the suffragettes were successful in their quest for voting) described as Satan incarnate. And we got that right, and for 96 years we have exercised it accordingly.

Now, after 96 years there is a woman running for president on a national-level ticket. She believes in what I believe in, as does the Democratic Party platform, so I am casting my vote for her. There is far too much to lose in this race as women if we don’t; I sometimes wish the men in our lives would see that.

For over 24 years, she has faced opposition to who she is as a woman: One who doesn’t stay silent. Who is ambitious and determined, and has every word thrown at her in the book. So have we all who have decided to take a different path than our mothers, who decide not to hide behind what we should be and instead strive for what we could be. We are loud and strong. She wears white. And we must too.

So Tuesday, I will wear white when I go to cast my ballot. The blue pattern in my dress, I realized, is to represent my matriarchs who gave my faith to me. Our Jewish faith instructs us to wear our prayer shawls with a thread of blue, and I believe truly that we pray with our hearts as much as our words. And my vote is a holy act.

My mother and grandmother believed in and loved this country, probably a lot more than my questioning mind does. They would have loved to vote for a woman for president. I am but one, but as one I am the culmination of generations and years of love and proud heritage, and will vote in their spirit. That is what I will be on Tuesday, standing with the rippling fabric that once flowed with divinity in my homeland, and will flow around me again.

My mother would always say to me, “Remember who you are.” I am an American Jewish woman, one of many. And on Tuesday we will wear white.

Consent: The Ultimate Dad Conversation

img_0683This is dad. Everyone loves dad. (It’s actually true, most of my friends adore him and ask me to say hi to him for them regularly.) Dad is warm and kind, goofy and fun. He has a lot of devotees, even if only because I post a lot of our hilarious conversations on Facebook for the world to see.

He is an accomplished entertainment professional, having helped develop the first non-linear editing platform and constructed studios as diverse as ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut and the Dolby Theater in Hollywood (once the Kodak Theater and home of the Academy Awards). He sold audio equipment to Aerosmith, hung out with Alice Cooper, cut film with Alan Alda in his living room, spoken at length with James Cameron and worked with George Lucas. He has had a stellar professional career and is a tremendously hard worker, having started at a young age working for his dad in a grocery store in Inglewood. He isn’t happy unless he’s working; this I know about dad.

But although dad loves his career, he has other passions. His first love is the theater, specifically Shakespeare. He is spiritual, often reading the Torah and various commentaries for new meanings. He is truly colorblind, having worked in the civil rights movement and aiding in black theater in the ‘60s. And he has been supportive and devoted to the women in his life, whether helping professional women see their potential or loving his wife and two daughters, doing anything he could to support them.

I was extremely lucky to grow up with my father’s influence. It’s very hard to see when your friends have horrible relationships with their fathers, and then see your dad and wish that he was theirs, too. In many ways I don’t have a lot of luck, but when it comes to my dad, it’s there in spades.

Dad and I talk about everything and anything. Well, almost anything and everything.

My dad is a well-established liberal, saying that one of the few celebrities that he ever met that flustered him was meeting soon-to-be President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s in downtown Los Angeles. When Obama was elected, he called me in tears, remembering how he left places where he and his buddies from the theater couldn’t eat together because they were mixed. Trump has always disgusted him. But when the tape came out, he was floored.

“Why now?” he asked. “Why is it this that is breaking everyone? He tore women down before. He tears everyone down. Why now?”

I was looking for the words, but I couldn’t say them. Yet in writing my previous blog post, waving my fingers across the keyboard, I realized that I had told my mom the story of being in the parking lot. It was one I had never told my dad. We never talked about sex and dating, let alone my interactions with men in general (given everything I’ve done, I think his head might explode). And that was just one story; I had plenty more, some even more graphic.

So one Sunday morning, Dad and I went to brunch in Thousand Oaks. We scrolled through the menu as I lamented about Los Angeles brunches, where all they served was oat pancakes and quinoa. And naturally, we started talking about politics. And Dad continued to lambast Trump.

“Why did that tape make a difference now?” he asked again. He really wanted to know.

“Because, dad, we all have those stories. I do.”

He paused and looked at me. I told him the two stories I had mentioned in the blog previous to this, of summer camp and temple parking lots. He listened, really listened to me. He was almost shocked that those things had happened, like it didn’t live in his house.

I let the quiet sink in. There was a sadness in his eyes that showed he didn’t want to believe, but knew I would be honest with him because that’s the relationship we had. Finally, he spoke.

“When I was young, I was always told that all these girls wanted to date me,” he said. “I didn’t really register it, didn’t really see it.”

“Oh great, it’s genetic,” I laughed, thinking about my past dating history.

“But at the same time, I didn’t know how to approach these girls. I wouldn’t want to hurt them or take advantage of them. That’s not right. I didn’t want to be those guys in those movies, that’s not me. I wish that there was a word for it.”

The waitress served our coffee and I started pouring in my creamers. There was a fear, a tension. My father was a newly minted widower with eyes only for my mother, never having to think about dating until recently. Talking to him at this moment, the idea scared him even years after he did it the first time around, because he didn’t want to hurt anyone. My dad wouldn’t hurt a fly, and even if the fly was really bothering him, he would negotiate with it so well the fly would leave impressed by him.

I paused for a moment, thinking about it as I sipped my coffee.

“Consent, dad?” I asked.

“Consent… yes. Yes! That’s the word,” he replied. “I don’t really know about it, don’t know how to approach it.”

Sometimes consent feels like a new topic. We came from a culture of women as tokens and objects, portrayed in the movies as sexy lamps and “take me nows.” We live in a new age, though, where women have a say in our futures and do more than just wait for a guy to arrive at our doorstep. We are worth so, so much more.

“No one really knows about consent that much, dad,” I replied. “They don’t really teach about it.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, but they should. John Oliver has a short segment about it though.”

“Really?” Dad lit up; my father loves John Oliver. When I go back home to visit him, we’ll watch it together.

“Yes,” I replied. “He talks about how women have learned how to say it, but men need to be better at hearing it.”

“I want to watch it.”

With this conversation, as we continued to talk about the topic, I learned a lot about my father, and about men in general. Even though I had issues with groping and even attempted rape in my past, this is not what guys are going for; I don’t think most men actively seek to be misogynistic. I look at my dad and realize that one day, when he feels that the time is right after grieving my mother, he might want to date again.

In modern society, you can’t date in a productive, let alone reasonable manner unless you know what consent looks like. He hadn’t dated in over 50 years. But his eagerness to know what it is and looks like, even at an older age where he might be forgiven for not following these rules, gives me so much hope.

For probably the 10 to 15 percent of guys who might pull shenanigans or truly hate women due to some issue, there is 85 to 90 percent who want to not fall into that archetype. They want to know what consent is, what it looks like so that our experiences with them can be special, not disheartening. And they can’t know unless we tell them.

In the true definition of feminism, men are not to be treated as subservient, but as true equals. And if they are our equals, they deserve to understand through communication about all topics, including this one. In discussing what consent is and how it looks, it helps each other as human beings by understanding the stories behind those we love.

It’s as simple as talking about it, getting our voices heard by one another and standing up against those who dismiss it and those who continue to grope and shame women. And that includes your local Republican presidential candidate.