We all come to Los Angeles with a dream.
It’s cliché to say because the idea of it is ingrained in the American psyche: Hometown hero boys who come off of Greyhound buses in Hollywood with hope in their hearts, and pretty girls who were big names in small towns now praying to become stars on a sidewalk. It’s not only America; people all over the world have joined in that chorus, crossing borders to arrive on our shores.
They come to be a part of the dream, the dream that a lot of us have: To make it, whatever that “it” may be. It could be stardom, it could be a new life in a new country, it could be any number of things. It really doesn’t matter what that “it” is exactly. It’s different for everyone.
After all, in Los Angeles, we are the fools who dream.
That’s the main line in the song “Audition” from La La Land, and with good reason: Because to the rest of the world, we are fools. Ask anyone in New York, San Francisco, almost any resident of another big city, and there is usually a roll of the eyes about us. “The people there are so…” and then you fill in the blank with whatever you like. They don’t know we are so much more than that. After all, in order to survive this city we had to learn to stop caring what people thought of us a long time ago; those who do usually end up on the Greyhounds back home.
We don’t listen to them, because they don’t know the people who live here. We are the immigrants and the fresh-eyed optimists, coming from all over the world with all different backgrounds and shades of skin. We are the freaks and the disenfranchised, trying to escape our pasts. We are the strange ones who couldn’t settle for ordinary life, couldn’t bow our heads in submission to those who thought they knew better.
You know those people. They are the ones who tell us to hang up hopes along with our childhood dreams, which were cute when we were of smaller stature. It’s time to tie nooses around our necks to head to the office or strap a child to our bodies. Their chorus is, “Grow up!”
Apparently, wanting our lives to be better than the status quo was for children. So we come here to Los Angeles, where the clothes were casual and there was still room to breathe — even in the freeway traffic jams and smog.
We are here to pursue. Here, where you sit on the side of Mulholland Drive, with the stars of the city sprawled at your feet. Here, where the Pacific Ocean meets the sand and summer seems to linger eternally. Here, where the sizzle and the smell of bacon wrapped hotdogs from street vendors trying to make a buck fill the night air and we line up at the taco trucks to share a laugh and a bite. Here, where we come to thrive in the sunshine and pound our laptop keys in the coffee shops.
Our dreams are all different and yet the same. Because here is home. It is what we have created, all of us, together as residents of this city.
No matter where I’m coming from, when that downtown skyline hits my eyes, I know I’m safe here. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, even when I used to live somewhere else. No matter what you change in your life, you can’t change where you came from.
In a weird way, I came back home all those years ago to make it. My make it, though, wasn’t for fame. It was for freedom. To have it, it meant the anonymity to grieve, followed by the courage to become. Only a bustling city, full to the brim of fools and dreamers, can you get something like that.
Somewhere in the suburbia where I fled, I’m sure there are men and women who once knew me and call me a fool. Perhaps I am. Perhaps I always was. There was a rebellious core in me back then that was fighting against the suburban box, full of chain restaurants, unnaturally clean sidewalks and emerald-colored laws, perfectly cut.
Maybe it was because I was meant for red Chucks and graphic t-shirts, not billowing housewife skirts and ballerina flats. Maybe it was because of my discomfort in McMansions and gravitation towards the Spanish style architecture of my grandparents’ home. Maybe I saw myself more in the people who came here trying with hopeful eyes rather than the ones who settled in for the as-is, lofty in dismissing the dirty city.
In Los Angeles we are not above it. We live in the grit, thrive in it. That is why this city fights so hard, from the street corners all the way up to city hall. This is a difficult city to be in, we know this. But we don’t give up. We will never give up.
We sling espresso shots and shots of tequila across bars, knock on your doors to deliver food, drive Lyfts, take out trash, wash dishes and serve food to demanding patrons. Almost every person in this city has a story about the time they put in for their dream, and we wear those days like badges of honor.
And even when we do make it, in that great “it” that lies somewhere in our sunshine filled universe, there is no pause. We work the long hours, writing checks for our bills and driving to get to wherever we’re going. And yet at the end of it all, we’re still typing away on our pilots, singing on stage, cooking bright foods, opening shops, telling stories and jokes to waiting audiences.
We don’t stop. We will never stop. Because we are the fools who dream.
You can’t extinguish that with 10,000 realities and hundreds of neckties. You won’t break us by dismissing us. We, from the immigrants to the faces on a Greyhound bus, are the Angelenos who make this place what it is. Together, we are united in something bigger than ourselves.
There is a song in all of us, each individual heart, and we sing it proudly and as loud as our voices can go, to the point where the world begs to see it. And with a light of the screen, a voice in our ears, the note of a song, the dream comes alive again. And it is the fools who make it.
There are days where no matter where you turn the road is blocked and you can’t make it through. These are the days where you’re at the lowest, and you’re wondering if it’s worth it, if you’re worth it.
That day for me was Monday.
Sitting in my parked Honda in Griffith Park, I looked out the window at the beautiful foliage, the standard California warm brown combined with the emerging green from the rains that decided to grace the Southland. I was parked near the Greek Theatre, just below the observatory, my favorite place in all of Los Angeles; the place I couldn’t get to because the road was blocked for the holiday.
The road was blocked. This sounded too familiar.
It had been about five hours since I lost my job; the one that I thought was it. They told me when I was brought on board that people stayed, reassuring me in a calm voice that this was permanent. They were growing. This was good.
They had been talking about eliminating several of our television magazine programs on Thursday. On Sunday I updated my LinkedIn profile. On Monday they let me go, claiming “convergence.” I was still getting letters of congratulations on my new position as I was sitting in the park.
When I got upset upon my termination, saying how I let everyone down, my boss didn’t understand. She had been with the company for five years; the last time I held a full-time job with benefits for more than one year was 2009, just as the recession took hold. This job didn’t even offer health insurance and was a drastic pay cut for me, but I took it in hopes of getting closer to working in the field I wanted, of video and television.
With everything they told me previously, this was supposed to be the one for me. I would stay there for a long time. But the road was blocked.
Almost every job boiled down to money: Full-time positions would hire me and then in turn realize they didn’t have enough money to sustain my employment. Contracts liked me, but not enough to pay off the recruiter to buy me out of it. Positions were eliminated and management shifted. And yes, on one or two occasions it was my doing; I will not pretend that I am blameless. But no matter the circumstances, when you’re tossed out like yesterday’s trash, you begin to believe that you are.
Over the years, I have constantly looked for full-time work but was forced into limited contracts. There were whispers of “overqualified” and suspicions about my work history’s lack of long-term positions. My anxiety over desperately needing a job forced me to bungle almost every job interview I went on. And when I was able to get a job, I couldn’t bring myself to trust anyone I worked with, because deep down I knew it wouldn’t last. It never did.
In the meantime, my friends as human resources consultants told me I should be making $70K while I had never been able to top $50K. I usually was forced to take the first job that was offered to me because I needed money, no matter if the work environment was a good fit or not. The idea of pursuing the dream career was put on the backburner in favor of survival, because monetarily I was on my own.
Eventually enough was enough, and with the help of my father I decided to begin coursework at UCLA in business and management in entertainment. Three days after I registered, I was offered this job, which would put me closer to the career that I had always wanted. Finally, my life was coming together. My father was so proud of me. And now, several months later sitting in Griffith Park, it was coming undone.
The days blurred together in tears, phone calls and Facebook messages. I loved all my friends and how they reached out to me, but for every one of them who called I wondered if there were ten more who were whispering and asking what the hell was wrong with that girl who couldn’t hold a job to save her life — mainly because that was the overwhelming voice that was running through my head. I recalled how, several months previous to this, my therapist said that my inability to hold a job was a sign that I was bipolar and needed a psych evaluation immediately.
(However, when the doctor and I went through the results several months later and he told me I wasn’t, the first thing out of his mouth after that statement was, “I hope you fired your therapist.”)
Despite the people surrounding me, my desperation grew bigger. No matter how much my friends said they loved me and my father expressed his support, it was me who faced the future with nothing but a black blazer and professional dresses buried in the back of my closet. It would be me who was going to be rewriting my resume, sending out cover letters and walking into job interviews, praying with every day that passed after it that I wouldn’t get another rejection letter. The job hunt grind was back, and the idea of it just broke me. I wasn’t ready to do this again. Not now, not so soon.
In my mind, the road was blocked, just like that road to the Griffith Observatory. I was blocked from the place where I wanted to be, that beautiful pristine palace on the hill with green manicured lawns and a breathtaking view of the city, where at night the buildings would become towers of stars and my soul would shine along with them. My happiest place, and the minute I thought I was there, that I had finally made it after years of struggling, it was snatched away just as fast.
What could I tell the world? What could I say when I thought my life was finally coming together, with the hopes of now finding a romantic partner to complete the trifecta of work, home and love? It was gone just as fast. All I had left were my classes.
The day before, I had stood in Agua Dulce, recording a professional introduction at a liquor store. It was the place where I interviewed the directors of the movie Little Miss Sunshine on a crappy pay phone while serving as a newspaper reporter in Santa Clarita. The corner was filled with the noise of whizzing cars and bright blue skies, but I was excited to share my story with my class.
My world felt darker now than that girl, who was talking excitedly about editing video for her job working at an Israeli television station and scheduling programming online. Now there was no job, and the cute introduction that I had recorded with my friend Gary was not real anymore. It hurt even more to try to upload it to the website, as the file wasn’t transferring over and I only had a few hours left to turn it in. I was frustrated and could feel the tears rushing to my eyes again.
It was then that I remembered sitting in the park again, the silence setting in when my friend Jana called me. My eyes wandered towards the golden light of the setting sun caressing the brown leaves as she gave her strong, bold encouragement that seemed to pierce me through the fog.
“You are a dangerous combo, my dear,” she said. “There are so many people who are creative but not intelligent, and there are people who are intelligent who don’t have a lick of creativity. You have both in spades. So I don’t want to see any tears on those cheeks. You’re worth more than that.”
It made me shake my head. Crying wasn’t going to get me there any faster; she reminded me of that. It was time to think fast, think quickly; what are you going to do now that the road is blocked?
In my case, it was 10 pm, and I changed from my pajamas into a long sleeved black top. Fishing through my makeup bag, I pulled out a tube of bright red lipstick, my power color of so many years, and put it across my lips.
Yes, here I am. No job is going to change that; no career can take away my identity. And I hit record on my webcam and began to talk about losing my job. And as I talked, I felt like I was pulling the knife out of my back.
“Things don’t always go the way you plan,” I said to the camera. “Productions never go according to plan either, and you need someone to roll with the punches, to make things work.” If there’s anything I had to do in my life, it was that. And that’s why I was meant to do what I was doing, to take the path towards this career, no matter how many roads got blocked in the process.
As I uploaded the video and sighed, I laid back on my bed and looked up at the ceiling, thinking of the observatory and the city of stars, this place that I called home. The road was blocked for now, but if I have learned anything, that’s usually not a forever thing. After all, there was more than one way up to the top of the mountain.
When we think of fairytales, we see Disney dance before our eyes like leaves in the wind. We think of clean and shiny, and of those words that end the tale: “And they all lived happily ever after.”
We forget the beginning and the middle of those stories — where Cinderella is in rags or Snow White being sent into the woods to be killed; details glossed over like they don’t matter to the story. But they are a huge part of the tales that begin with, “Once upon a time.” In fact, they are part of why we tell them again and again.
My story five years ago began with those words, because once upon a time, I was a fallen angel who crashed hard to earth.
When people think of fallen angels, they think of descending from heaven, when in truth I came from an unusual purgatory. It was pristine and clean; the better to hide the cracks under the surface. It was the place where you had dreams and illusions of what it was, but then you woke up to find that those dreams were your protection against what was actually there — waking in the middle of the night in cold sweats, my walking on eggshells and forced panic attacks, his short fuse, complete with banging on the walls and the high pitched screaming echoing in my ears.
There was only one option for survival, which was to fall away in a blur of colors — white walls and doors with silver handles, black coat against a cold January night, a red duffel bag with orange fluorescent lights and a green prayer book. And before I crashed on the slopes of the dry brown hills of this place, I let a prayer escape from my lips.
When angels fall, where do they go? When they crash to earth and are abandoned by those they thought loved them, where do they make their new home?
Luckily for me, there is a City of Angels. It is full of dreamers and drifters, of dirt and grit that coexist alongside sunlight and glimmering gemstones. It is packed with people constantly talking and honking their horns, charging through with coffee cups and their latest projects. Where I used to live, they called it La La Land. It was known as unreasonable, impractical, awful, the other, the fear — all this despite the fact it was my birthplace. And it was the place that would give me the anonymity to grieve.
I had returned to be born again, naked and crying to the universe. Back in the city that was once home, I was crawling on the floor in the ashes, the agony of what I lost. My soul was shaking in agony, trying desperately to learn to walk again as a lone entity when accustomed to running with a weight tapped on my back. All the while, I was lying in strange dark rooms, and all I could ask was, “Who am I? Where did I go?”
One night, another cold night, I met an older gentleman with a guitar. For an hour and a half, he sang holy prayers and told stories of Jewish sages and wisdom beyond compare. His melodies were beautiful and his words inspiring. But then he sang a prayer in Hebrew. “Lord, guard my tongue from evil and my lips…”
These words, this melody were already a part of me; I used to sing it. I first heard it in a coffee shop over the loudspeaker, and it merged into my being. Music was the only place where safety lived in my past and my happiness dwelled. It defused bombs and replaced fear with laughter and dance. And in the darkness, where I fell to earth, this song was a light waiting for me.
I rushed to the man afterwards. “How do you know that song?” I asked him.
He looked at me, shocked. “I wrote it,” he replied.
It was a flicker of a phrase, but one of the many bricks in the foundation. It told me that I could create a new life in this strange place that was now my home. A door had opened, and there laid out before me was a narrow bridge for me to cross over into a different world. Strapped to my back was the darkness and the baggage that came with the past, the things which I couldn’t leave behind just yet. But as a childhood song taught me about those bridges: “The most important part is not to be afraid.”
When I started, I began crossing that bridge as a lonely soul. People whizzed by my ears, as if everything was perfect and nothing could catch them. My inadequacy threatened to take over. Yet even when things got dark, there was a whisper, both inside my head and outside of it: “Keep going. I promise it will be worth it.”
It wasn’t long before I met people on the path and they began to walk with me. When the sun shone, they taught me to glow alongside it. When world got colder, they kept me warm. And when the road narrowed and the fear threatened to take over, they kept me from falling over the edge.
Others along my path were not so lucky. Some flung themselves off the bridge; others fell away as their days were numbered. I thought I could catch them, but even though I was a fallen angel I had no wings to fly far enough so they could stay in my grasp. All I had were the memories they left me with, and the long path ahead. In being on the bridge, there were sacrifices to make.
There were little stumbles and celebrations along the way. There was singing and cheering under full moons and tears standing in food pantry lines with an empty belly. There were phone calls, stolen kisses and warm embraces. They resided alongside the heartbreaks and death, and the moments in between where you’re laughing and crying all at once. They all live on the bridge, waiting for you to discover them and then fall away from your hands, but not how they felt emotionally as they were coursing through your veins.
Time passes, and as we move along there comes a moment where you realize the bridge has gotten wider. The smile grows broader on your face and sleep gets a little easier. Your laughter flows out of you lightly, and there comes a breath where you look up at the blue sky, and you’re able to easily say, “Okay. I’m okay.”
Recently, my fairytale has progressed to the point where people have been seeking the end. Where was the prince that was supposed to sweep me away and take me to his kingdom? Where does the happily ever after come from?
This was a question that was brought up over Christmas Eve. After whiskey and wine, my friend and I stared at each other, blissfully happy to be in each other’s company after many months apart. I kept lamenting that I should go to one of the many Jewish singles parties pulsating through the city. My weariness of the search was catching up with me, but several people in my life seemed to be begging me to find someone; they didn’t want me to be alone.
“I don’t get the push,” he said to me. “You have so many amazing friends, and family who loves you. You have a great new job, you live in a place that you love. You’re smart and funny, an amazing writer and have so much going for you. So what if you don’t have a man? That doesn’t make you who you are. A man shouldn’t define your worth.”
As the Chanukah lights flickered, I realized that this is why I fell to earth in the first place: Because I knew that there was more to life than what had happened. That being an angel, or someone’s idea of one, isn’t worth sacrificing yourself for. Sometimes you have to come down to earth to realize that.
As I headed home later that night, I took a deep breath and soaked in the lights. Here I was, home again in the City of Angels; a place that gave me the anonymity to grieve, but when it came time also gave me the brilliance to shine on. It is where brown hills turn green after the rain and sky somehow becomes bluer, where glasses are raised high and the laughter is louder, where dreamers find their sanctuaries and their compatriots. It doesn’t come without sacrifices, but there was no happiness like the one I was experiencing in this moment, right now.
There was no prince, but I had a kingdom all my own; it was in a place where fallen angels can hit the ground, get up and walk the path to becoming a queen. And this fairytale has only just begun.
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.
There 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.
We were in the underground parking lot below the synagogue several years back. A group of us had just gotten out of Torah study. I was wearing one of my favorite outfits, with my knee high boots and a long denim tunic. I wore my leather jacket over it; it made me feel strong and tough.
I always sensed he liked me. He was overly flirty, and I brushed off his advances. He was pushy, bragging about his family’s money, how much they donated to the temple. He was a board member for the young professionals chapter there, and now a group of us were standing in the parking lot, him being one of them.
He knew I was looking for work. He said to me that he could walk me to my car, telling me he might have a job for me. I couldn’t say no. I needed the work.
We walked up the ramp to where my silver Saturn was. “What are your skills?” he asked me.
“Well, I write and edit blog content, work with HTML and SEO…”
“Are you a good kisser?”
What? What was he talking about?
“Um, I don’t know how that applies to my job skills,” I replied awkwardly. “But I’d like to think I’m a good kisser.”
“Because I’d really like to kiss you right now.”
Alarmed, my feet moved faster. My mouth became dry, because I realized how he manipulated the situation. I eventually was stuck by the front door of my car, but he had cornered me next to it. I couldn’t run; where would I go?
I told him that I didn’t want to kiss him, tried to steer the conversation back to work, but it was to no avail.
“I know you want me,” he said.
“No, not really,” I replied.
“Look me in the eye and tell me you’re not attracted to me!”
Looking him square in the eye, I said loudly, enunciating every word, “I am not attracted to you.”
There was a pause as if to register what I just said. Then, as if he hadn’t heard it, “C’mon, just one kiss.”
I kept saying no, and he kept trying to negotiate. Eventually, he asked for a kiss on the cheek. I agreed tepidly, hoping it would satiate him. But then he tried to move into my denim tunic — the v-neck on it was a little low, and I am rather busty. I pulled away as best as I could, but he kept kissing my cheeks, trying to get me to change my mind. It didn’t work.
Eventually he walked away, and I sped from the parking lot. A part of me was so angry that I wanted to run him over, but instead I just sped back to my then-apartment in Culver City.
When I got home, I realized several things about that interaction, like how it wasn’t my first inappropriate encounter, not even at this temple (that came from a middle-aged drunken gentleman one Shabbat dinner asking me to sit on his lap). It wouldn’t be my last. Also this guy was so powerful at this temple that I immediately knew there was no way in hell the men in charge would believe me. I stopped going to this organization’s events for the most part, unless I had friends who would be there to protect me.
My story isn’t rare; in fact, it’s more common than you think. When you have a community structure full of organizations that are dependent on the money of wealthy individuals to function, those individuals are dealt a hand of power. There are many who use it lovingly, but then there are those who use that power to use others and then make their transgressions disappear.
When I read in the Jewish Journal about Danielle Barrin’s story, I was happy about her courage, but slightly angry. She was explaining a story that happened in Los Angeles, but her assailant wasn’t from here; he was from Israel. The guy from my story above lives in the greater Los Angeles area, probably not far from the guesthouse in Beverly Hills that I call my home now. That temple isn’t far away either.
In many ways, it’s easy to dismiss it. Jews are usually upper middle class, owning homes and nice cars, donating money to charities and temples. There are many issues that we see as “over there” problems, particularly with social issues such as domestic violence and sexual harassment and assault. They’re so heinous we think that they can’t happen here, or we’re too scared to report it when it’s in our backyards.
Yet the first place that I can argue I was groped was at a Jewish day camp. I had just turned 12. The boys wouldn’t leave me alone, grabbing at me in the swimming pool and jumping so they could try to kiss my cheeks due to my height. I told my counselors. The result? “Well, they’re just doing that because they like you.” It was normal for boys to treat girls like a jungle gym; they weren’t reprimanded and I had to learn it was a “thing” and live with my isolation.
I never talked about that summer until very recently. I blocked it out of my memory almost completely, until therapy brought it back to life again. It colored my life and relationships even from a young age — that I was a plaything, not worthy of my voice, opinions or objections.
Up until recently, I felt alone. But in the age of social media we have become more open, particularly about our experiences with abuse and sexual assault. Sure, the social media age has given us some not-so-great things, but when it came to sharing our truths, it was an amazing place to be. It let us know that this wasn’t just an isolated problem, but an epidemic.
When the Trump assaults came up, I saw the echoes of my womanhood past, where we were forced to pretend it didn’t exist or, “that’s what men do.” There were many people who stood up against it. I saw people who were confused, and that’s okay too. But then there were those who excused it away, as if it didn’t happen. Not here. Not right in front of our eyes where we could see it and then pretend it wasn’t real.
Now these stories have a national voice, and hopefully it trickles down and gives hope to others going through those situations. I feel more confident coming forward with my story because of the one in the Jewish Journal, and maybe another woman will become comfortable coming forward from mine. There’s a reason why when a public figure is accused of sexual assault they come forward in groups; because when one person comes forward, it gives strength to others. I want to share my voice.
As for my story above, it came with somewhat of a happy ending. A friend of mine was on that same young professionals board of that temple, and he asked me why I didn’t attend events. As a close friend I confided in him, and as a decent human being he was absolutely livid.
“You know, I always sensed something off about him,” he told me. “I couldn’t put my finger on it. But I think I know what it is now.”
I swore him to secrecy; I was afraid of the backlash. I loved my Jewish community and wanted to still be involved; there was no way to do it if I was saying I was sexually assaulted in any way, especially by someone who had more power than me.
The months passed, and at one point I was in the elevator with that male friend and a girl friend. Apparently the same guy did that to her, and several other girls. That male friend then reported him, to which my parking lot assailant was reprimanded immediately. I attended one of the organization’s events recently, and he was nowhere to be found.
That ending was only somewhat happy. I felt shamed into not reporting due to the power that person in their organization had, and that is a place no one should be. Then I wondered if the only reason why it might have been taken seriously was because a man with power reported it. And when I spoke to a friend of mine the other day, I realized he continued to be friends with him only until recently, knowing two of his female friends had been groped by this guy. The reason why the friendship ended? Ironically, it was because the guy supported Donald Trump.
It was in this moment that I realized the power of patriarchy: not only does it not trust women or dismiss their claims, but it also silences women from the men who care about us, who want to be our allies. I tell the stories above, stories I told to my mother and female friends. Then I look at my father, and realized he doesn’t know them.
My father is as decent of a man that ever was, lovable, sweet and fair. He is truly the definition of a feminist ally, but I never told him about what the boys did to us. We shared it with our mothers and sisters, but not our fathers and brothers.
So one day, I took my dad to brunch. And it’s wasn’t about what I told him; it was what he taught me.
In the past almost five years I’ve been single, online dating has been the norm. I’ve done them all — swiped left, right and in between, shoved myself into various dating algorithms and marketing ploys. I’ve downloaded a variety of dating apps, ranging from the Hinge to Tinder, or the dating app known as John Oliver puts it, “A barrage of unwanted d**ks.”
But this Sunday, I was done. Seriously done.
I’ve said that phrase quite a few times. I have uninstalled and installed, disabled accounts and bitched plenty of times over coffee with both girl and guy friends. But I never gave up on the potential of finding a lifelong connection online. After all, several of my friends have ended up with partners from OKCupid. I have several friends who have met on Coffee Meets Bagel. One friend even met her guy on JSwipe.
Yet within the past several weeks, I realized that the modern dating atmosphere wasn’t fitting me. My criteria isn’t crazy — I’m looking for a guy who isn’t an a-hole, is semi-stable, fun, has good values, a great personality, can hold an intellectual conversation and preferably smells nice (you’d be shocked how important this is). I’m not looking for a guy to sweep me off my feet; rather, I’m seeking my best friend… who I just so happen to have sex and will live with, and is most likely male.
The longest I’ve ever dated anyone in these past five years is two months. On average, I go about three dates with any one guy. I have my share of horror stories like everyone else. Yet after experiencing the equivalent of dating whiplash, where I went from receiving flowers and making plans for ten zillion future dates to being dumped in a week, I was tired. I couldn’t do it anymore.
Although I have turned off my dating profiles in the past, the constant pressure of, “You need to find someone,” rings in your ears to where you feel forced to turn them back on. But after this past deleting, I decided to take a look at current dating culture, including my place in it. Why did I feel so miserable? Why wasn’t it working for me? And it seemed to boil down to five different categories:
Us In a Nutshell
We are walking, talking collections of various human experiences, from nights up until 1:30 in the morning drunkenly making pancakes to the loving bonds we share with our family members and friends. Each of us has something special that we contribute to the universe, and many great things that we can give to others in our relationships.
Yet online dating is telling us, “Please reduce yourself to a short description with a few emojis, as well as several selfies that show off your body, but not your spirit. Then everyone can play a game of hot or not with you.” How depressing is that? And how can you even think about forming a loving connection with anyone based on that type of mentality?
The online dating world doesn’t give a lot of room for bonding and getting to know another person, and we can be dismissed with the swipe of a finger. It’s not a great place to be. We deserve better.
Let Me Upgrade You
At one point, a guy online asked me if I was into interracial dating. I was alarmed by the question, as race never factors into it. And yet I realized that I am a strange breed, because many of my friends will veto a guy by any variety of things (including race), or hold out for that one that fits their exact type. After falling in love with a guy that was shorter than me. brown-eyed and bald when I prefer tall, light eyes and a luxurious dark head of hair, I’ve learned better.
Online dating makes it worse because both the computer and us don’t think of the person behind the profile. This includes those algorithms sites set up with “personality questions.” Some will show me a 90 percent and he’s boring as hell. Meanwhile, I have met people who were given 65 percent and we had lots of fun.
There is such a thing as too picky, and the online dating world makes us think that there are so many fish in the sea we can get exactly what we want without compromises, which is what dating and relationships are founded on. It’s comparable to ordering a pizza. And speaking of…
Sex or Pizza?
At one point, I had a guy try to get me to come to his house. No coffee, no nothing, just me walking to his door at 10 p.m. My response? “I don’t come hot and fresh to your door in 30 minutes or less, I’m not a pizza.” And yet, that’s what we seem to expect from many of our apps.
Due to the anonymity of online courtship, we treat people as afterthoughts, like what we’re having for dinner tonight. I can’t even begin to count the number of times the opening message I got from a guy was “DTF?” That guy saw me as a place to put his penis, not a person. Otherwise, he would remember that meeting in a public place first is ideal not only for common courtesy, but also for my safety as a woman.
As mentioned before, we are human beings with complex inner worlds. Trying to reduce us into tools for others’ pleasure makes us into commodities, and that’s not right. If you want to hook up from there, I’m not judging — trust me, I have used them for that, too. But with any human encounter, including sex, respect should come with the territory.
The Accountability Dilemma
Usually the best way to find someone is being set up by friends — except in my case, where I hear, “He’s socially awkward/slightly autistic, but he’s really nice!” (Not a joke. Those actually happened.) There is a sense of accountability and shared values with friends. And if he does anything stupid, that friend can promptly yell at him.
Online dating has none of this. There’s a reason why you see so many articles about girls who send horrible text messages from guys to their mothers: because for the first time, these guys are being held accountable. We can feel degraded, or even worse, threatened. And while some sites have moderators to take inappropriate people out, many times we don’t report — or worse, they are the moderators.
When we are strangers on the Internet or with phones in between us, we feel like we can get away with a lot more that we would never do in person. Dating is hard enough without any extra problems.
Fear of FOMO
Several times, I’ve been with a guy where everything seems to be perfect: Solid chemistry and lots of fun. Everything falls into place very, very quickly, as if it was always meant to be there. They were amazing human beings, treating me like a goddess when they were dating me.
Yet all of these times, I have been left because “the one who got away” shows up and they want to try to make it work with them. And almost every time, these guys try to come back into my life after the other one doesn’t take. It never works; the spark is gone and any potential trust has disappeared.
Sometimes we think so much about what else is out there that we don’t see the potential in front of us; it’s called FOMO, or fear of missing out. The online dating world makes it easy jump from person to person, because look at all the people we might be missing if we “settle” for someone. As a result, we are left unsatisfied yet again.
My swearing off of online dating may be all for naught, because let’s face it: When was the last time someone picked you up in a bar or approached you at an event? Or you were the subject of mixed signals from a person to the point where you just assumed they weren’t interested? Sometimes the only way to even date is by going online; at least you know where the intentions are.
I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve actually dated someone from a bar or event. Hell, it’s pretty rare when a guy openly hits on me or buys me a drink. (Unless my friend Justin is around. For some odd reason, if he’s there I’m getting hit on like mad.) We have grown so adjusted to a screen between us that the idea of courting someone in person is downright antiquated, and the idea of potential, face-forward rejection poisons our minds. And it’s not only with guys — I’m horrible at approaching guys for dating.
There is this great desperation for me to give up online dating, to let go of the toxic culture we have built. It seems like any solid relationship that I could have has to be built organically, not digitally. And yet I’m not sure if I can; the indirectness of online dating has been programmed into our generation’s mind to the point where we can barely talk to people on the phone anymore, sending everything via text.
There has to be another way. We all deserve love if we seek it, finding our match and building great connections. That shouldn’t mean dodging various pictures of guys’ junk, feeling disrespected, devalued or threatened. It should mean building the foundations of trust that come with any solid relationship with a person who wants to break through the bonds that hold us back from one another.
When you figure out how to do this, could you tell me how?
I have to ask about privilege. I have to ask.
My mind has been restless, turning over and over. Images from the news circle through my head: Convicted rapist Brock Turner in a button-down shirt exiting prison; opinion columns about Nate Parker’s rape accusations and the idea of consent; having an accused rapist in the NFL say that the most horrible thing that could happen is one of their players not standing for the national anthem.
You see why I have to ask. I can’t leave this question unasked anymore. There is too much at stake.
It’s because the question lingers in the back of my mind as I am sitting with her — at a dinner table, on her couch, over the phone, in a Laundromat. My dear friends, amongst so many, who tells me a story that might only be her story, that I wish could say was unique. I have heard her story before. One in five women have it.
I think about the night where I stood in a synagogue parking lot, or the one where I was lying in his bed in Marina Del Rey. One tricked me into letting him walk me to my car because he said he had a job for me, and I was looking for work; the other told me that he loved me before I forced myself to gather all my strength to throw him off of me while he was forcing me. In both cases, how I desperately tried to escape, and felt scared.
Then I watched how it disappeared so fast. The money was too powerful in both those cases. A flash of cash, and it all goes away.
Yet is it that alone? Nate Parker was the recipient of the largest distribution deal to come out of Sundance — $17 million. Yet in the wake of his rape allegations members of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences swear they won’t see his movie. Yet they don’t blink for Woody Allen and his numerous cases. They gave an Oscar to Roman Polanski, who can’t even come back into the country. So maybe it’s not money after all.
The question lingers in the air. I have to ask about privilege. I have to because it’s been there my whole life.
Even as a young girl, as my body matured into womanhood and my libido starting racing faster than I could, we were told to BE for men. Wear this makeup to impress boys. Wear this perfume to entice. Lose that weight, no man will find you attractive if you don’t. Men were the ones who told us what beauty was, and we had to follow.
But not too much, though — you don’t want to rile them up. As Britney Spears proclaimed her virginity, we were expected to be chaste too. The purity culture was overwhelming. It tore us apart, and it made us question, but in secret.
We couldn’t wear midriff shirts in school because they would tempt men, yet they could change their shirts in the parking lot. I asked this as a freshman in my newspaper class in a corner. One of the editors decided to publish it into my high school paper; as a result I almost got beat up by the football team. You weren’t supposed to say anything; why couldn’t I be quiet like the other girls?
It was the same school where the wrestling team got suspended my sophomore year for raping several boys with a broomstick lovingly known as Pedro. It took months for the school officials to find out, but the girls all knew; we were threatened with Pedro by some of the boys with a twinkle in their eyes. We were the victims, and in many ways the perpetrators; our silence, unknowingly, betrayed others.
I think of those boys, of the ones who took advantage. They felt like they could, it was their right. The need to feel powerful in weak-kneed adolescence was overwhelming, so they took an option those in charge allowed them to take. In many ways, whether it was through words or the actions and inactions of others, they were told that it was okay. It wasn’t. It still isn’t.
It’s the privilege that creates the world we live in, with rape culture, racism and income inequality taking their tolls. However, the privilege also lives in the silence, because we don’t feel pressured enough to speak out. We talk in corners, but not openly with each other and not as often as we should. We live in a world where rape victims feel the need to hide because they are told that it’s all in their heads and not to accuse falsely while very few rapists get punished for their crimes. And in some parts of the world, there is rape that is legal.
So I have to ask about privilege. I have to ask because I refuse to stay silent anymore.
Privilege gives others the right to tell you what to wear on my body, whether it’s a bikini or a burkini, when in truth it doesn’t belong to you. It gives others the permission to say what you should do with your uterus when they don’t have one. And there is no room for questions or consent; it’s “my way.” Privilege means taking freedom that doesn’t belong to you. It means enforcing silence.
Yet I am standing here. I am asking because I have a voice that refuses to listen to regulations on my body that have no foundation in reason. Who sees the suffering of my friends, from warped body images, racism and rape, and told to “get over it.” Who are told that we have to be what the world tells us to. We don’t. And we won’t.
So as long as my voice is clear, I’m going to keep asking about privilege. And you won’t shut me up.
Tisha B’av is considered to be one of the saddest days in Judaism, commemorating the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem amongst other countless tragedies in our faith. For me, it commemorates several other tragedies that I think about today. So I decided to write a Tisha B’Av meditation/HOWL for it, in partnership with East LA Jews’ #24HourWail. Theme: Grief/Loved Ones.
Once upon a time, I told you I loved you. You were about to slip through my fingers down the river of time, lost to me forever. I watched you flow away without me, or maybe you were on the shore and I was the one sailing on. Either way, you are lost to me. Lost and never coming back.
I felt every drop flowing away from my eyes as I laid on my back, their salt feeding the earth underneath me as I stared at the ceiling. My zombie self was coming to life in the ruins of the temple we built together, categorizing the days of my existence into two piles: Days with you. Days without you. There is nothing else anymore.
Many people have come and gone. The past is littered with empty cups of coffee, clean plates where food once was and forced mealtime conversations; kisses of hope and comfort left me behind while the quiet crept in. Yet somewhere in between the seconds, hours, days, years we spent together, you carved yourself into my soul, a mirror reflection in myself. You are etched in permanence, merging into my drifting insanity and hopeless dreams, sneaking up on me in the dark corners of my world.
There in the night before sleep takes me, I wrestle with your legacy, because despite my missing you I refuse to idolize you. I cannot see you with the childlike wonder that once consumed me. Although we are in different places, we are both past the point where innocence can touch us. You are imperfection personified. Even in my love for you, inside me I hate you too.
Hate is love’s constant houseguest, and love is hate’s companion through everything the world has to offer. They live together on this great spectrum of the universe, and one cannot exist without the other. I used to say I could never hate anyone. But I also never knew how deep love could go.
Because hate is the anger residing in the holes where love doesn’t live, manifested into words, phrases, courses of action that, if left to its own devices, can destroy. Only love can fill those empty spaces, reverse it in its own manifestation of words and actions. Whether you want to call it happiness, empathy or even sacrifice is entirely up to you.
I miss your beaming joy, which I so rarely see in photographs. Your very skin could glow with warmth, your eyes bringing me in for the warmest hugs even without hands, but when you looked at me you told me you loved me without the actual phrase. When I walked away, I always sensed you wanted one more word. The last word. The words that I will ache to have every day, but you will never know it.
There are no more words left. You are now far away, in some other part of the universe where my reality doesn’t cross with yours. Left behind or leaving. Love or hate. They mesh together inside of me as I rend my garments over and over again, because the pain is still that deep.
We needed more time. That’s all I ever wanted. Time. The days are ticking away from us now, along with months and years. Echoes of you haunt my life, tiny little parts of the world where you come back to me in a split second, and then just as quickly go away. I stand in halls of walls full of clocks that would physically give me more, yet all while still clinging to the desperation, the hope that time will stand still. And love cannot stop it. Love is powerful, but often not enough.
In slumber I dream of parallel universes where we are together again, where our great monuments of faith still stand before the heathens crumble them to the ground and send us into exodus yet again. There we stand in the dark deserts of the world, separate from each other, crying to the heavens, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…”
If I forget thee… my soul awakens as I look out to the water once again. Here I refuse the darkness, because it’s a new day. I turn back and head inland, letting the wind take me as I watch the last flower fall from the jacaranda trees, the innocence gone as the seasons change once again.
There is no forgetting you, but there is also the refusal to be held back by ghosts. You are gone, you cannot come back. And yet we live on, not as whole as we once were, but adjusting to the new way. Thinking of a new life, and knowing we must never give in.
We do not forget. Instead we build again. There are new temples to construct, peace to be found in the universe. We cry in our beds, but we stand in the mourning, walking our feet forward into the uncharted world.
Today remember the patch of ground where we laid in grief; tomorrow, it will be consumed with new memories. Today we sit in the silence, tomorrow we will sing a new song and dance to the music, stomping our feet with joyful noise. Today we are sackcloth and ashes. Tomorrow we will rise.