Archive for April, 2015

THE VIEW AT 8,574 FEET

Carolyn had snowshoeing on her bucket list. While both the drought and spring reduced opportunities, some snow remained around Kirkwood Ski Resort 45 minutes from South Lake Tahoe. We found it last weekend at the sno park (that’s how it’s spelled) at Carson Pass, elevation 8,574 feet. The altitude spurred several thoughts.

We’re old but not that old. We seemed at least a generation older—more like two—than everyone we encountered. At 70, I can’t escape being an elder. Fortunately, I keep running into people 10 and 20 years older. On Wednesday we saw “Let There Be Love” at ACT (the American Conservatory Theater). Carolyn and I might have been the youngest in a nearly full house. And yes, it was a matinee.

“Know thyself” pays off. The guy who rented us our snowshoes at South Lake was a 50-something from England. He’d been an engineer for a dozen years before realizing he didn’t care for what he was doing. Having skied on the Continent, he went to New Zealand. Then he discovered that Tahoe was affordable. He could work and still ski 70–90 days a year. He might have stayed in England and built an estimable career. Instead, he followed his dream and never looked back.

The human condition is fragile. Some weeks ago, Carolyn and I witnessed a young man (30) deliberately break a plate-glass window on Clement Street. I helped the storeowner chase him down and keep him in place until the arrival of the police—very professional and restrained. It seemed evident that the young man had emotional problems. He also had an outstanding warrant. You expect this in the big city. But last Sunday at Kirkwood, skiers and snowboarders had their own taste while enjoying the final day of the season on a sunny Sierra morning. Steps from the only lift open, a man of indeterminate age and scruffy appearance held both middle fingers aloft while yelling, “Fuck Kirkwood and fuck you!”

Our water sources are fragile, too. On Saturday afternoon, another Kirkwood guest, staring at the mountain in front of him, said, “It all went so fast.” I responded, “We didn’t have much in the first place.” The drought left the Sierra snow pack way low. That means little run-off to provide needed water. Conservation is all the rage now and rightly so. A big question remains: How quickly will California agriculture adopt better conservation methods? Wells are drying up. Traditional irrigation uses—and wastes—far too much water. Moreover, while wealthy homeowners with big lawns—and golf courses—account for only a fraction of California’s water usage, they have to play their part. Some years ago, we replaced our small backyard lawn with a new patio area and a smaller patch of artificial turf. We went to drought-resistant plants, as well. Our water usage—and bills—plummeted.

As to our reason for going to the mountains, we walked into the park on a sometimes icy trail then encountered enough long patches of snow to tromp through the woods on snowshoes. But that was then and this is now. On Thursday, I went to the Giants-Dodgers game. The Giants won. Life can be good.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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SHOULD JEWS LEAVE EUROPE? — PART TWO

Last week, I wrote about a young Jewish couple in Sweden confronting anti-Semitism. Sara and Michael were shaken by the February shooting outside a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, close to their Swedish home. Michael likens their feelings to those of frogs cooked in a pot of water. Lukewarm water slowly comes to a boil.

The shooting left Sara wondering if the next time she went to synagogue, there would be a massacre. She had thought that she and Michael could live as Jews in Sweden. When they have children, they could send them to Jewish camps. Now she wonders whether they can go to synagogue or Jewish activities without encountering someone with a weapon.

Michael has experienced a gradual rise of discomfort. No one has said anything anti-Semitic to him, but “I don’t walk around outside with a kippah (skullcap). He cites a Swedish TV reporter, not Jewish, who wore a kippah in Malmö’s city center. A hidden camera revealed severe harassment—before the shooting. “We could stay in Sweden and live in a nice neighborhood with like-minded, highly educated people. We could put our kids in a nice school where the risk of being bullied for being Jewish would be low. But I’m more scared about not being able to go to services at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur or any place Jews gather without fearing being killed.”

Sara worries that if she and Michael don’t feel safe going to synagogue, then “even if we could still have a Jewish identity, it doesn’t feel like our kids would still be Jewish or our grandchildren. If you can’t wear a Star of David or anything, you’d have to keep secret from everyone. It would be such a traumatic thing. That’s not the Judaism I want my children to grow up with.”

Daily, the couple discusses leaving Sweden for the United States. That would mean leaving their families behind. Michael is an only child. “His parents couldn’t handle that,” says Sara. She’d also have to chart a new career path. It would be hard to find a job. Her parents, now divorced, each considers the possibility of leaving—her mother to South America and her father to Israel. Michael’s career is transferable to the U.S., but it might take five or six hard years before he could resume his professional career at its current level.

Being human, Michael and Sara find that the shock of last February’s shooting is wearing off a bit. “It’s hard to forecast Sweden’s future,” Michael says. Will it get better? “Probably not, but you never know.” Sara agonizes over what will happen if they stay. Can they still live a Jewish life? If they have children, can they live with the decision to stay if things become worse? “It would be so much easier for our children if we left now instead of waiting until it’s too late and we’re all stressed.”

Michael adds, “The nightmare would be if we had to flee and move really fast. And what if we can’t go to the U.S.?” Israel remains an option. Still, they think about America. But that requires a lengthy application process, finding a job and applying for a green card. They also worry about what comes after. “What would our life be like?” Sara asks.

As the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg points out, this isn’t 1933 Europe. European governments support their Jewish populations. But both Sara and Michael emphasize: there is no easy answer.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

SHOULD JEWS LEAVE EUROPE? — PART ONE

In the April 2015 Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover article asks, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Goldberg surveys anti-Semitism, particularly in the context of Europe’s Muslim population. His question is timely. The answer is challenging.

Part of Goldberg’s article analyzes Sweden’s southern city of Malmö with a population of 300,000, including 50,000 Muslims and fewer than 1,000 Jews. Anti-Jewish feeling runs high. Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, a Chabad emissary from Brooklyn and the city’s only rabbi is the one recognizable Jew in the city. Distinguished by his black hat, black coat and beard, he is constantly targeted for verbal abuse and worse. “I asked Kesselman whether he was scared to stay in Malmö. ‘Yes, of course I’m scared,’ he said.”

Malmö’s other Jews blend in. But do they experience anti-Semitism? And should they leave Europe? I asked two young Swedish Jews about their experiences and the conundrum they face.

Sara and Michael are young professionals. (I’ve changed their names and blurred details for their security.) Sara is Jewish by birth. Michael, an ethnic Scandinavian, converted to Judaism. They met in university. Sara’s family is “pretty traditional.” They went to synagogue for the High Holy Days, occasionally for Shabbat. They kept kosher. Michael’s family, like most Swedes, is secular. Growing up, he had no Jewish friends, but his grandfather was friendly with the leader of the local Jewish community in his suburb. As a teen, Michael loved Jewish comedians like Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and Gary Shandling.

Sara knew that being Jewish was different and perhaps dangerous. People would call Jews names and write hateful graffiti. Still, she never experienced hostility. She did notice, however, that security was plentiful at the cheder—small religious school—she attended. Israel was—and still is—a sensitive subject. She does not involve herself with Israeli politics but maintains a warm, “family” feeling towards the country. She believes the general mood of Sweden to be anti-Israel. “They think the matter is black and white. There are so many other conflicts in the world; there’s too much attention paid to it.”

Today, some of Michael’s friends and acquaintances are academics—leftists who are anti-Israel. When he told a colleague he was going to visit Israel—he has traveled much of the world—he got a strong, “weird” reaction. “I think it’s okay to be Jewish in Sweden as long as you don’t say anything about Israel,” he says. At the same time, he believes that some, but far from all, Swedes tend to overlay anti-Israel sentiments with anti-Semitism.

As to Sweden’s growing Muslim population, Michael relates that the majority of Swedes support the current, open immigration policy. “From the moral perspective, it’s a good policy to help people fleeing from wars. But it may also affect another minority in a secondary way.” Sara notes that some Middle Eastern Muslims have been in Sweden for generations. The new wave of immigrants poses challenges. “Many politicians are talking about how to integrate immigrants regarding learning Swedish and getting jobs.”

The couple might have accepted their shaky status as Jews if not for a shooting outside a synagogue in nearby Copenhagen, Denmark (where Sara has a close relative) this past February. A gunman—identified as a Danish Muslim—murdered a Jewish security guard and wounded two police officers. Michael and Sara started serious discussions about whether they have a future in Sweden.

Next week, Sara and Michael offer a heart-wrenching analysis of their situation.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

BILL MURRAY AND ME

On occasion, someone poses the question, “What other person would you like to be?” As a kid, I would have answered Mickey Mantle, centerfielder for the New York Yankees. As an adult, I’ve never wanted to be anyone else. But I know someone I’d like to be more like: Bill Murray.

I have no idea about Bill Murray’s private life. But I know Bill Murray’s TV/film persona: irreverent curmudgeon with a heart of gold. Just thinking about it helps me keep my balance at trying moments.

Even when Murray plays it fairly straight as in TV’s Olive Kittredge, the 2014 movie Monuments Men or the 2003 film Lost in Translation, he still deflates pomposity and the over-seriousness that too often burdens people. The 2014 film St. Vincent paid homage to the Bill Murray persona that dominated so many hilarious movies after his three seasons on TV’s Saturday Night Live. I liked it.

Why do I want to relate to Bill Murray? Like everyone, I share the genes of two parents—and their approaches to life. My father Morris was a wonderful man—the most honest and ethical I’ve ever known. He also was an introvert. My mother Blanche was an extrovert, great at meeting new people and having a good time. And if someone bent the rules a little? Let’s just say that my mother loved to mention going to a speakeasy during the days of Prohibition. Life, she believed, is to be lived.

My Morris genes have battled my Blanche genes for seventy years. Generally, my Morris genes emerge victorious. They produced an introvert and a straight arrow. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it can feel confining, especially when I take my shortcomings too seriously.

But every once in a while my Blanche genes shove the Morris genes gently aside and say, “So what? So what if you forgot someone’s name or said the wrong thing or responded too late—or not at all—in a certain situation? So what if you chose to do what you wanted to do instead of what you were ‘supposed’ to do?” I become a faux Bill Murray. And I feel good.

Lately, whenever I’m about to take myself to task for one failing or another, I say to myself, “Bill Murray.” That’s it. Those two words. And I’m fine. Because I know what one of Bill Murray’s characters would do to the guilt that tried to climb up on his back. He’d blow it off. Or blow it up. He’d wriggle out of the emotional straightjacket in which we too often bind ourselves, stomp on it and share a philosophical gem like the one he offered in Scrooged: “You’re here to show me my past, and I’m supposed to get all dully-eyed and mushy. Well, forget it, pal, you got the wrong guy!”

I don’t kid myself. I’ll never be that Bill Murray. The Morris genes won’t permit it. But the Blanche genes will keep pushing me in Bill Murray’s direction. That should be just enough to get me to lighten up when I need to. And if it isn’t? Screw it.

Wishing you a Happy Passover or a Happy Easter or just a wonderful weekend.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.