Archive for January, 2014

JOHN KERRY’S FRAMEWORK

My short story “White on White” in Summerset Review in a way suggests the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations shepherded by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The tale offers an updated example of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” So do the negotiations.

According to Tom Friedman in the January 29 New York Times, Mr. Kerry is about to present a “framework” for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. He will inform Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that an agreement can be reached only if both sides accept several specific concessions.

Duh!

Kerry will tell Netanyahu that Israel must concede East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Netanyahu has long championed a united Jerusalem, although most of East Jerusalem is Arab and treated quite differently from Jewish West Jerusalem.

The Palestinians, Kerry will say to Abbas, must forego any right of return to Israel proper and recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Whatever concerns Abbas has about Israeli Arabs’ rights—as if human and political rights in the West Bank (don’t bother mentioning Gaza) were particularly meaningful—he, like Netanyahu, must acknowledge reality. If Palestine can define itself—Abbas opposes Jews living in the proposed new country—Israel can do the same.

Update: Yesterday former Israeli Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich stated that Abbas had agreed last May to allow Jews to live in Palestine as citizens. Abbas, however, has never made this public.

The connection to “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is obvious. Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah have refused to call a spade a spade. Claiming that an agreement can be reached without following these provisions is a hoax. Bear in mind that Israel offered East Jerusalem to the Palestinians in previous negotiations. Still, no agreement was reached. The present Israeli government keeps its distance from the former position.

What’s next? The Israeli right will oppose Kerry’s framework and pillory Netanyahu if he shows it support. Friction already exists between Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, a right-wing member of the coalition government. (Semi-disclosure: Bennett is my Israeli cousins’ cousin.) Abbas faces a raging storm. Members of Fatah (West Bank), along with Hamas (Gaza) and Hezbollah (Lebanon), will vilify the framework and renew pledges to destroy Israel. Abbas’ safety will be precarious.

Those who oppose the framework will continue to swear that the emperor is wearing the world’s most beautiful garments. Those who keep silent will remain complicit in the deception. Those with open eyes will see that, as before, the emperor is naked.

Giving public voice to this framework is long overdue. It’s not an endpoint. It’s a foundation. Previous American attempts to bring the parties together without first stating the obvious have been more than misguided. They’ve been dishonest and cruel, falsely raising the hopes of many Israelis, Palestinians and the world.

How will Netanyahu and Abbas respond to the reality that has been haunting us since Oslo? I don’t know. But if they turn their backs on Kerry, the situation will move in an entirely different direction.

The outcome will leave everyone dissatisfied.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of my new novel The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Or go to Green Apple Books on Clement Street or Books, Inc. in Laurel Village.

JEWISH DOGS IN FICTION

Can a novel be too ethnic? More particularly, can it be too Jewish? These are reasonable questions given that this Sunday I’m launching my new novel The Boy Walker. A 12-year-old English Bulldog narrates. He’s not the first dog to narrate a novel, but he’s certainly one of a very few Jewish dogs to do so.

My canine narrator, Brute Greenbaum—a fount of Talmudic wisdom—is just the beginning. His masters Morty and Abbie—father and adult son living in the same San Francisco house but estranged—also are Jewish. So is their next-door neighbor Rich Hoernerman. And Abbie’s loose-cannon best buddy Doobie Katz. And Sarah O’Hara-Ohara-Horowitz-Chan, a 10-year-old with Down Syndrome. And her stand-up-comic mother, Rivka Horowitz Chan. (“I couldn’t tell my Jewish and Chinese grandmothers apart. They both played mahjong.”)

So really, do you have to be Jewish to read The Boy Walker? Am I committing literary suicide?

I think not. To begin, ethnic fiction—along with fiction from other countries—has a long track record. If only I enjoyed a tenth of the success of writers like Sherman Alexie, Maya Angelou, Gabriel García Márquez, Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gus Lee, Amos Oz, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Amy Tan, Alice Walker and A.B. Yehoshua. Remember, too, such Jewish-American writers creating Jewish characters as Saul Bellow, Michael Chabon, E.L. Doctorow, Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, Philip Roth and Elie Wiesel.

Why their success? Every ethnic, cultural or religious group fits within the human family. Backgrounds and characteristics vary to be sure. Basic values often take on different expressions. Yet ethnic literature exposes meaningful similarities. Think of food. Chances are, you’ve enjoyed among others Italian, Chinese, French, Thai, Mexican, Moroccan and Peruvian cooking. I know you recognize the healing power of chicken soup with matzoh balls.

Serious readers derive great satisfaction from discovering cultures different from their own. The pages of a novel can reveal people we may never meet and customs we may never experience. We’re struck not only by the differences but also by important similarities. “They” stop being so foreign. “We” realize that ultimately people are all different just the same.

This also holds true of novels depicting geographic or class differences within our own nation. Imagine denying the relevance of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in big cities, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury outside the South or Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March beyond Chicago’s city limits. And what do we do with Twain, Dickens, Proust and others who wrote so long ago?

This Sunday (Jan. 26) from 3:30 to 5:00 pm, I’ll launch The Boy Walker at the Toy Boat Dessert Café on Clement Street at 5th Avenue. I’ll speak and read at 4:15. Do come by. Buy a book if you like, and I’ll sign it. Or just say hello.

See how a very Jewish novel related by a very Jewish dog offers a story with a number of elements specific to Jewish life but as familiar as love of family, the suffering we must endure and the redemptive power of humor.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books and Books, Inc. in Laurel Village, too. And read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review.

WHAT ARE AMERICA’S VALUES?

The Declaration of Independence enshrines in American consciousness life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But what makes Americans happy? And what if that which makes us happy causes other people—maybe millions of people—unhappiness?

The answers to these questions reveal a lot about what we, as individuals and a nation, really value. In this light, three recent pieces of journalism caught my eye.

In last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, Kathleen Pender painted a disturbing portrait of super-wealthy Californians. The headline: “State hit hard as wealthy relocate.” For some of our richest residents, California’s state income tax conjures a reverse alchemy by turning the Golden State into lead.

Of course, few people like paying taxes. But most conservative Californians understand that state government has some role to play. Likewise, most liberal Californians don’t like to see governments waste their tax dollars. Above all, most of us love living here, so we pay the freight.

The thing is, major millionaires aren’t going to live any better in states without an income tax like Nevada, Texas or Florida. Say you’re a not-quite-but-almost-super-rich person with assets of $25 million and/or an annual income of $2.5 million (both admittedly arbitrary figures). What can another state offer for saving you a few bucks when you already can have anything you want? What they can’t give you is the Golden Gate Bridge, the Santa Monica Pier, the casino-less side of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, the redwoods, the beaches of… well almost anywhere… and, to be sure, proximity to the nation’s top technology centers in Silicon Valley and San Francisco not to mention Hollywood.

Also on Sunday, Tom Friedman wrote in his New York Times column, “If I Had a Hammer,” that technology is changing our economy. Yes, we know. But importantly, according to Friedman, “our generation will have more power to improve (or destroy) the world than any before, relying on fewer people and more technology.”

Friedman’s column raises key questions. What purposes will our incredible technology serve? Do new apps and smart phones and Google glasses truly make us more fulfilled as human beings? Do they bring us closer together? As the demand rises for a college-educated workforce, what happens to people without coding know-how and other tech skills? And if “low-tech” folks do have jobs, how can they thrive without a living wage?

Finally, Lane Kenworthy of the University of Arizona writes in the January/February edition of FOREIGN AFFAIRS (“America’s Social Democratic Future”) that America “does not ensure enough economic security for its citizens.” The nation also “is failing in its promise of equal opportunity.” And “too few Americans have shared in the prosperity their country has enjoyed in recent decades.”

Nothing challenges our values more than the concept of “the working poor.” Imagine holding two or three jobs, caring for a family and having nothing to show for it at the end of the month. Then think back to the Chronicle article on California’s wealthy eyeing other states.

Two final questions: What is the pursuit of happiness really all about? And in their pursuit, do too many Americans, rich and poor, resemble dogs chasing their tails?

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of my new novel, The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. And read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review.

MANDELA AND JEWISH WISDOM

Nelson Mandela’s funeral is several weeks behind us. As it happens, now is a good time to consider how Mandela’s philosophy of looking forward finds antecedents in the Talmud and the Book of Proverbs.

Mandela’s greatness was in thinking that while great wrongs had been done to black South Africans, hatred and recrimination serve no good purpose. The new South African society must look to the future without calls for revenge masquerading as justice.

A man who spends 27 years in prison and rejects hatred of his jailers is worth listening to. I hope that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have reflected on this. The ancients certainly did.

This week’s Torah portion Be-Shallach (Sent Out), Exodus 13:17–17:16, presents Pharaoh undergoing yet another change of heart. After releasing the Israelites from bondage following the ten plagues, he and his army chase the Israelites into the Reed Sea (Red Sea is an improper translation of Yam Suf). The sea splits. The Israelites pass through. The pursuing Egyptians drown.

Should Jews—should anyone—treasure revenge? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 39b) relates: “In that hour the ministering angels wished to utter the song [of praise] before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He rebuked them, saying: My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning in the sea; would ye utter song before me!”

Proverbs 24:17–18 offers related instruction: “If your enemy falls, do not exult; / If he trips let your heart not rejoice, / Lest the Lord see it and be displeased, / And avert His wrath from him.”

Yes, attacks should be repulsed and crimes punished. But we must take a broader view regarding those who offend and those who are offended. God may have found it necessary to slay the Egyptians and assist the Israelites to win many military victories, but this does not make those deeds pleasing. Delighting in destruction pushes us across the boundary between self-defense and cruelty. All humans are God’s handiwork.

Do we get that? And can it lead to peace in 2014? Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry still believes that a framework for a two-state agreement can be reached by April. I’m skeptical, but I hope to be proven wrong. And I could be if Palestinians and Israelis emulate Mandela.

Jodi Rudoren wrote in The New York Times (1-2-14) regarding Israel’s demand to be recognized as a Jewish state, “The gulf between the two sides on the issue highlights a broader question critical to the outcome of the talks: whether a peace deal must reconcile conflicting versions of the past, or whether it can allow each version some legitimacy and focus on paving a path forward.”

I’m not addressing the issue of a Jewish state here. De facto, that’s what Israel is. But making room for others’ histories—on both sides—can bring peace closer.

The philosopher George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I add a corollary: Those who dwell solely on the past also are condemned to repeat it.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of my new novel, The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. And read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review.

LAUGHING WITH CANCER

Michelle Holstein’s family had no history of cancer until 2003. At age 40, Michelle, raised in San Antonio and a longtime Bay Area resident, was diagnosed with Stage IIb breast cancer. Multiple surgeries, chemo and radiation followed. She expected a full recovery. One of her oncologists described her experience as a “bump in the road.” The bump turned into a mountain. She’s turned it into another bump.

In 2010, Michelle’s cancer came back. By 2011, it was Stage IV, spread to her brain and liver. Doctors gave her 6 to 12 months. Michelle could have become bitter and withdrawn. She took the opposite approach.

Michelle’s 2011 prognosis prompted her to ask questions: What do you do with that news? How do you live your life? What’s important? “Suddenly,” she says, “there’s a lot that’s not important.”

Her work was important, so Michelle continued as a quality-assurance specialist at Genentech. She’s still there. She also stayed close with her support team—people she deems positive and strong with a wicked, irreverent, sometimes black sense of humor. They make a difference she says. “They treat me normally.”

Radiation and medications granted a “reprieve.” The side effects weren’t pleasant. Hair loss was the least of it. Taxotere made Michelle feel like she was walking through a swarm of fireflies. “Wherever one hit me, it would burn like an ember then fade.” Xeloda made her hands and feet turn red, tender and blister. A radiation treatment required her to wear a Hannibal Lecter-type mask with only small holes for her nose and mouth. She couldn’t open her eyes or speak. Recently, fluid was removed from around her heart.

But there’s a bright—let me say dazzling—side to Michelle’s story. “Cancer is not the death sentence it once was,” she says. “It’s becoming more of a chronic illness to be managed.” Michelle manages her cancer with a very positive outlook. “What you have to go through will be the same, but if you smile, are pleasant, can have fun with it, even laugh and take it in stride, things go much easier.”

When Michelle lost her hair, she walked around bald to demystify the disease. “You can still be strong and beautiful and out in the world.” She takes strength from “an amazing family and friends” while serving as the “go-to cancer lady” at work—someone people can talk to about loved ones’ encounters with the disease.

Diving headfirst into life, Michelle indulges in random acts of kindness while taking greater joy in dancing, the beach, sunshine, laughing kids and babies, gardening, quiet time and “simple beauty.” She also cites a wonderful development: “Pre-cancer I was very guarded and stingy with the word love. Cancer brought down that wall. I’ve learned to love and be loved.”

Michelle has learned much about dealing with doctors and people who mean well but say foolish things. However, her best advice resonates for all of us: “Seek out things that make you laugh, make you happy, make you feel comfortable and secure.” To which we can all say, “Amen!”

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read a review of my new novel The Boy Walker. Then order soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review.