Remember

By Avery Weinman

In a beginning there were endless golden days in a land flowing with milk and honey

We basked in the presence of prophets and kings

Worshiped at great Temples built by the majesty of God

Walked hand in hand with myth

But our glory was cut down, cast out to Babylon

With Ezra we returned, a hopeful pursuit towards the end of the Exodus

What was meant to be the closing chapter of our book was crushed by the Empire of Rome

The walls of Jerusalem were torn from us, reduced to rubble

Land of fruit and wonder now shriveled with salt

The dust of our nation blown across the world

We were made like Cain, doomed to wander in eternal exile

We traveled everywhere with only our books to remind us of who we were

Century after century drifting in and out of consciousness

As castle walls rose we sat outcast in the forests

We the God killers, unable to scrub Christ’s blood out from under our fingernails

How conveniently they forgot that Peter called him Rabbi

We the wearers of blood libel

Tell me – does matzah taste better when made with the blood of Christian children?

Or did it just make our blood easier to bear

Culmination of ancient vendetta

Justification for our alienation

Our victimhood in their Crusade

For a time we sought solace in Spain

In the presence of the Moors we tasted long lost dignity

Cordoba was a new home, not the home, but perhaps one that could last

In Al-Andalus we were human

We made art, we wrote poems, painted, sang

We remembered what it was like to live, not just to survive

Though we may have dreamed we were, we were never Spanish

They did not hesitate to remind us of that

A Spanish Jew is a Jew first, still worthy of dying in the streets, still a victim of the Inquisition

Love for Spain cannot undo what has been made by Jewish blood

In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella legitimized the full extent of our unwelcome, exiles again

We were tolerated in other places throughout Europe

So long as we gripped the bars of the ghettos that walled us in

In Venice, in Amsterdam, Prague or Rome we could eke out lives for ourselves

We could worship in our synagogues if we would just smile when they spit on us

They let us lend money, not as a favor but as a slight

Traders and financiers – money changers in the Temple

Sardonic jobs reserved for those not deserving of stability

Our fortunes were the result of luck

Steeped in the blood of others like us who were not so lucky

How were we to know our survival would become a libelous accusation against us

Remember Shylock is not the hero of The Merchant of Venice

Some of us made a humble life in the shtetls across Eastern Europe

We were poor, but we were together

Memorizing one hundred pages of Talmud

Waiting to hear from Yente the Matchmaker

Listening to papa kvetch about selling the horse for five rubles instead of seven

To know the life of the shtetl is to know a grandparent’s consoling hug

We may have barely been making it, but there was still so much to be joyful for

But life here was dissolving both inside and out

As we lost our own culture, others made sure they reminded us we were not welcome to theirs

Pogroms across the countryside, killings without mercy and without need for explanation

Even isolated our presence was intolerable to them

At first we entered Berlin through the Rosenthaler Gate – reserved only for Jews and livestock

But it was the Enlightenment, a time of unparalleled intellectual exploration

For the first time we were seen first as individuals, recipients of unalienable rights

As thinkers we could be could be unmatched, second to none

Revered for our minds not criticized for our culture

We made Germany what is was, we gave it the very best of us, every ounce of our essence

Mendelssohn, Heine, Marx, Arendt, Schoenberg, Auerbach, Börne, Einstein

We proclaimed Ich bin ein Berliner

We were met with the reassurance Arbeit Macht Frei

Trains waiting at the gates

The acrid stench of six million in the air

Our legacy in this country is still ink drying on the page

Some of us came here as refugees

Beaten down after millennia of degradation, murder, exile, and genocide

This was America – a new place, a new hope

We looked up at the woman whose flame is the imprisoned lightning

And her name Mother of Exiles

Cradling all the promise of a country who has sworn to love all who wander

It is in this country that my family has made its life, one that has provided me every opportunity

And now the shining promise is dying – the gates are closing, the clock is winding backwards

Fear and intolerance, our most insidious enemies, creep out of the shadows where they lurk

Emboldened, impassioned, risen again

 

My intention with this piece is not to say contemporary America is comparable to any of the societies I mentioned here.  Beneath the cynicism that tends to crust over my heart, I believe in the resilience of this nation.  I believe in the future of the American Jewry.  I mean only to say that we should not assume that it can’t happen here.  Reading the narrative of Jewish history is an arduous and transcendentally painful task.  For thousands of years our very existence and survival has remained precarious.  Our trust in the mercy of those around us has so often resulted in catastrophe.

In the last few weeks I found myself thinking not of those who perished in the Babylonian or Roman conquests, Spanish Inquisition, Eastern European pogroms or the Holocaust, but of the Jews who lived in these areas generations before these events and thought themselves safe.  Thought themselves accepted.  Thought themselves Spanish, Russian, or German.  How could they have known what would happen to their children? To their grandchildren? Did they feel it? Did they know what was coming, or did they really believe that these places, which had so seemingly welcomed them, would be their homes forever? Did they feel the overwhelming, all encapsulating sense of dread that I found myself feeling these last few weeks?  Is my optimism making a wrong choice?  Will I be dooming by children? My grandchildren?

Unfortunately, my history tells me my optimism is misplaced.  But I will cling to it.  I will cling to it as is my sacred duty bound by blood.  As it is commanded in Exodus 22:21, “And you shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

I mean not to frighten anyone, nor to accuse or blame.  I mean only to say that we must remember. The American Jewry must remember the lives and deaths of those who came before us.  Those people whose sacrifices, both of their dignity and their lives, have brought us here to this moment.  To this chance to be brave with our eyes open. We owe the dead that much.  And to those who forget:

May your children turn their faces from you.

What I Can’t Say Out Loud

 

By Jessica Moreno

* An idea from another member in Leviathan sparked my memory about this piece that I previously wrote for a creative writing class, which I am about to dive into. This member and peer started to speak about her idea, sharing why it is important for her to travel and gain new experiences. This inspired me to share my own personal thoughts of why I want to travel, and other people may relate to these thoughts. *

My instructor had given us a newspaper in the beginning of my creative writing class. He instructed us to flip through it to find single words, sentences, or paragraphs and fashion a piece of our own. As I was cutting the essay we were given, I didn’t know what I was planning on creating, and I didn’t know what I wanted to say. After I flipped through the essay multiple times with nothing catching my attention, out of the blue I noticed on the front page a particular sentence that stood out: “see the beautiful things. Change of scenery.” This sentence spoke to me; it gave me a brilliant idea of what I wanted to write along the lines of traveling.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to travel around the world, but there’s always been something blocking my way. I found and cut bits and pieces from the essay, creating something I was feeling and had been feeling for a while:

“Imagine traveling. See the beautiful things. Change of scenery. Pleasures of the eye are worth a trip! Let’s visit the Eiffel Tower. Naples. Gothic cathedrals. In all its original glory. But beautiful things aren’t all beautiful. Have a change of heart. Don’t stop me. My heart is pounding.”

Creating this wasn’t easy for me, especially the last few sentences because I was trying to picture how I would say this aloud. The last sentences are me speaking to my parents: “Have a change of heart. Don’t stop me.” It’s something I wish I could tell them face to face. I’m close to my parents, I call them both on a weekly basis – my mom more so than my dad. I can talk to them almost about anything, except this. They don’t seem to understand why I want to travel while I’m still in school, and it frustrates me. They think I’m going to go there and not worry about my studies, but they’re dead wrong. I would go to this exotic and glorious place to explore and focus on my studies. It drives me insane, but they refuse and refuse. “Just wait till you graduate college”, they say, but what they can’t wrap around their brain is that I can’t wait that long. I’ll be paying off student loans by the time I graduate and won’t have time to travel. Which is why now is the perfect time! I don’t want to be like them, they never traveled at a young age. I’m not them, I’m my own person who has her own desires. Let me take the chance to chase after my dreams. I want them to let me step outside the box and give me the opportunity to try something new. I’ve tried to talk to them multiple times about my desire to travel, but as soon as I bring it up, it’s shut down.

Why can’t they see that this is what I want? I think that they’re scared, but why? Are they afraid that I won’t be in reach of their parental and overpowering grip? They shouldn’t be worried, I’m not that little girl who has tea parties with her dolls anymore. I’ve grown up. I am able to take care of myself. They shouldn’t be the ones who are scared, I’m the one who should be. I’m scared that I’ll never be released from their tight grip. I’m scared that they won’t stop treating and seeing me as the little girl I’m not. I’m scared that I’ll never get to explore mysterious and far off countries. I want to see all the beautiful places now, Greece, Italy, London, Australia, you name it! I want to take in all the magnificent beauty of the mysterious and far off places. This is a fantasy I no longer want to imagine. I want to get lost in these places, I want to feel awkward asking the locals for directions or to translate something for me. I want to try all the foods that are foreign to my tongue. I want to be in a place that is unfamiliar, yet exciting. It’s an adventure. I get tired of seeing the same thing everyday, I want my eyes to feast on something new. This is something I’ve been craving for as long as I can remember, it’s something I’ve been wishing to do since I was in middle school, but I hate the fact that I can’t tell my parents this. Soon, soon I’ll find the courage and tell them when I’m ready to, but soon doesn’t feel soon enough. If I keep putting it off I’ll never find the strength. I need to step out of that comfort zone. It’s always terrifying to tell the ones you love that you don’t agree with them, but it feels so good once it’s out in the open – like taking a breath of fresh air after seeing how long you can hold your breath underwater. I want to have that feeling when I tell them, to finally breath and feel at ease after what’s felt like years of holding in my breath. Take a deep breath in and out… In and out…

Tips for Traveling

By Natalie Friedman

I recently attended a JCC (Jewish Community Center) event in Los Gatos, titled “Jewbilee.” My favorite part was the keynote presentation. The principal, Rabbi Darren Kleinberg of Kehillah Jewish High School was interviewed by Rabbi High Seid-Valencia about his new book, Hybrid Judaism. I left this talk feeling empowered and reminded of the version of myself when I was in studying abroad in Denmark one month before.

Rabbi Darren Kleinberg gave the audience valuable advice. He explained, “before you meet anyone, I need you to remember three things:”

 

  1. That person is infinitely valuable.
  2. That person is unique.
  3. That person is equal.

 

This advice resonated with me. Last quarter, when I traveled to Lyon, Paris, Edinburgh, Florence, Rome, Barcelona, Geneva, and London I met many new people from different cultures. I believed in these three qualities both naturally and often. My belief in these things stemmed from my excitement and curiosity about undiscovered boundaries. Rabbi Darren Kleinberg mentioned a feeling of openness that is evoked when you keep these qualities in mind about each and every person that you meet. This idea was not necessarily remembered because the physical place that I was in – although the places I got to go were pretty special – but really it was my attitude about the people.

 

A month after I returned from Denmark, I missed the feelings that accompanied the entire adventure. This keynote prompted me to write this list of both tips and perks about traveling alone with openness.  

 

 

  • Immerse yourself in what you love about traveling

 

For me, it’s art. The Rodin sculptures at Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon were so emotional and real.

 

 

  • Feel Beautiful

 

For me, I like to add some extra lipstick, or wear a nice pair of sunglasses, dress up for you and only you.

 

 

  • Feel all you can

 

You are in control of how you are feeling. Traveling alone often consists of short interactions with people, and you are on your way. Tip: Try not to listen to sad music about being alone. I made this mistake. While traveling alone can be empowering, it can also be lonely, so don’t prompt that loneliness with negative media about the topic.

 

  1. Everything is up to you!

 

Your schedule is free! Every stop that you make in that boutique is a grand adventure. If you were with someone else, you may not have stopped in.

 

  1. Be Brave, Commit, Stay Open

All of these things are intertwined. To commit, you must be brave. Once you have committed, you must stay open.

 

  1. Smile at a stranger, especially the cute babies.

 

  1. Talk to a stranger

Offer to take a photo for that couple, learn about where they came from. You likely won’t see them again, but how great is it that an encounter like that could happen? When else will you meet someone from Bulgaria?

 

  1. Draw interesting looking things, if that’s your thing!

Draw every detail! You have all the time in the world, no one is waiting for you (I drew all the people in view from the spanish steps in Rome).

 

  1. Observe the culture: the contrasts, the similarities

The common yet charming mistakes that the locales make in english, the common desserts, the common christmas decorations or lack thereof, etc.

 

There is a fabulous Ted X talk titled “Owning Alone” by Teresa Rodriguez. I watched this video while I was in Denmark and it had a great effect on me. I had planned to go on my first trip, alone to Florence and I was slightly nervous about it. This video includes a woman who had gone through a man telling her that they were no longer getting married through a letter. After a lot of therapy that didn’t seem to work, she decides to go on a trip to London. She explains, “Yes, I was alone, but I was alone in London!” It is at this point that she understood, that being alone is not necessarily a bad thing. In the context of traveling alone or not being in a relationship for some people, being alone implies that there must be something wrong with you if you if you haven’t partnered up yet.

 

She goes on to say that “One of the best ways to heal a broken child is to go back to that place of discovery, that place of toddlerhood, where we look at things in a new light with new verve and new excitement. And I was there on High street and for the first time in a long time, I was alive. I was living in the now… It’s so rare that we go into that delicious now.” This theme was especially important to me when I was in Denmark. I took a class on Existentialism and Søren Kierkegaard. In this class, we spoke about the often impossible yet ideal notion of living in the now. While taking this class, I started to acknowledge every time I noticed that I could feel the present moment. This was the first step. By noticing when it was happening, I felt I could begin to prompt this feeling as well.

In the Ted talk, Teresa Rodriguez quotes Debussy, “It is the space between the notes that makes the music” By getting out of a comfort zone, one can create a space and gain a new view. It is in these spaces that one can change and turn into something beautiful.

 

Politics and the Islamophobic Lingo

By Victoria Lang

After the bedlam incited by President Trump’s ill-contrived immigration ban, a word, which I presumed to have withered slowly away, re-entered to my occasional political conversations. I’m speaking of the obtuse construct: Islamophobia. To discuss the word is to discuss an intersection of religion and politics, and sadly, much of this discourse has turned too toxic to even be dialectical. Perhaps this has some correlation with our lexicon that’s grown spectacularly imprecise and euphemistic. Words like post-fact, objectify, social justice, trigger warnings are mostly loaded, nonsensical, and given more credence than they deserve. But my concern, here, is primarily with one word and its politics. Their bloated definitions, and subsequently corrosive culture, have swallowed both the left and right into its mass of confusion and dishonesty.

The implied conflation behind Islamophobia puts its critics closer to the alt-right by the inane left. It’s apparent that a good portion of leftists now stand with Muslim apologists who quite loftily claim representation of the entire Muslim community. Typically, as a non-sequitur, apologists bemoan about Muslims being “offended” individually and as a race, and some even argue boldly that Islam is full of liberties. Oscar Wilde once said in his famously gnomic wit, “A true gentleman is one who is never unintentionally rude”— “gentleman,” here, is of course arbitrary. Likewise, I’ve always preferred upholding dignity for myself and my fellow creatures over compassion and pity. The right kind of people don’t demand apologies or sulk obsessively in their own psyche. And when the worst kind of people demand such things, it’s utterly morally reprehensible.

Islamophobia operates in similar absurdity. It presents a face of kind solidarity when it is in fact an ugly, narcissistic infant who thinks it’s granted special rights. Theocratic mouthpieces use the word to smear advocates for individual freedoms and cover up horrid realities of Muslim societies. Meanwhile, willing liberals suck it up to put themselves on a gallant podium of identity politics. The Southern Poverty Law Center, displaying a wonderful example of this apologetic cant, discredited itself by placing Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz on their list of “anti-Muslim extremists.” Both defend the liberties of other Muslims and their only “crime” is calling out the very religious cruelties stagnating progress. Nawaz cleverly coined the slanderous organization, and those sharing similar sentiments, “regressive leftists.”

Most charges of Islamophobia begin like so: someone excoriate Islam for its doctrines and the violence it inspires, then a stunned listener accuses them of an attack on the whole population of Muslims, as if it were a grand ad hominem. A bizarre passing of short-circuiting in the accuser’s brain and ceases their ability to see difference between ideology and people. Most frustratingly, they want everyone else to believe their irrationalities, too. After all, the turgid slur amasses all Muslims under an umbrella of victimhood and claims to defend all of Islam even from Muslims offending for the sake of reform—who are the ones making grand statements, really?

 Here are the two groups of Muslims that must be made distinct and mustn’t be let off as unscathed victims, no matter how appeasers disallow their scathing. Jihad is the use of violence to advance Islam and Islamism is the politicization of Islam. In principle and practice, the Quran defends and orders jihad, and jihadists evoke it as far as interpretation allows it. By definition and inception, Islamism cannot exist without Islam and, in my judgment, is nearly congruent to clerical fascism. On citing incidents of either form of iniquity, there are simply far too many to name in one article.

But just to give a primer for the sake of argument, in the past few years and ongoing, jihadists bombed and beheaded Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt where they comprise about ten percent of the Egyptian population (the CIA Factbook shows this number; some other statistics suggest more). In Iraq, Salafi jihadists like the Islamic State slaughter and enslave Yazidis due to their Yazidi beliefs which the Salafi regard as apostasy. In Indonesia, Islamists from Aceh revolted in numerous attempts to sever their oil-rich, sharia-abiding region from a relatively more pluralist Indonesian body. In Xinjiang, Uyghur jihadists and nationalists, some of whom trained by the Taliban and al-Qaeda, attack not only Han Chinese but also Hui Muslims over historical feuds and their non-Turkic ancestors. These are just a few examples from a plethora of grotesque assaults and factions inspired by Islam and its multifarious mutations. Each case certainly comes from causes unique to their political and historical contingencies but all of them share two essential qualities: (1) they occur independently from Western intervention and (2) Islam justifies, or nominally justifies, their heinous acts.

If the literal fundamentals of a belief are dangerous and peace is only possible through interpretive acrobatics, then its author is a poor communicator and his commands shouldn’t be a manual. A manual with opaque criteria and orders violence on deviants is immediately a temptation for mass slaughter. The false interpretation argument of “real Muslims” being the peaceful ones and “fake Muslims” being the appalling ones strikes me as unimpressive when, clearly, the peaceful ones are less strapped by the exact tenets. There is no “moderate” Islam but only less devout Muslims who cherry-pick beliefs. Personally, I choose to disbelieve any religion entirely because it’s the only ethical choice without cognitive dissonance, and the chances of religion explaining the natural world is effectively zero. But even if one doesn’t completely renounce religion, at least admit that more pious, more “fundamentalist,” and more “into the manual” mean less tolerant of diverging from original dogmas and more open to committing the most explicitly odious kinds.

Therefore, the following maxim has yet to be disproven: all jihadists and Islamists are Muslim. But the misinterpreters (at best) and slanderers (at worst) insist that the declaration is all Muslims are jihadists and Islamists. It’s true that jihadists and Islamists are among the minority of the vast Muslim population. But they possess tremendous political power, some of which rest upon compliant Muslims. The less violent and less reported variant propagandize to willing people to acquiesce and permit the practice of sharia law. One should think earnestly about tolerating the intolerant especially when it demands entitlements. During the 2005 Danish cartoon pandemonium involving a Danish newspaper satirizing the Prophet Muhammad, Islamists denounced what was a valid exercise of free expression. Some Danish liberal politicians welcomed and encouraged prohibition of blasphemy while more pro-Islam appeasers thought publications should be under religious restriction because it would be racist to depict Muhammad.

To say that it’s a matter of censorship would be a bitter pill to swallow in secular democracies where freedom of the press exists, but masquerade it as racism then it can convince a slew of plebeians ready to throw punches at the “offenders.” The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a rather shady group of Islamic countries officially or covertly, pressured the European Union and the United Nations for more action against Islamophobia in the incident’s chaotic aftermath. These are ambassadors who, in their respective countries and occasions, collude with governments that ignore or encourage killing of Christians, Jews, Hindus, ex-Muslims, Muslim reformers, Muslim women, gay Muslims and mavericks courageous enough to express themselves.

And the Danish paper committed a crime for drawing a sketch? No self-respecting person should capitulate to this kind of hypocrisy, especially when its beliefs were intoned by an illiterate merchant who lived on the edge of the Arabian desert. If the goal is to eliminate offensiveness for mocking an ideology, then the principle should not benefit one and not the others. And if this principle applies to everyone and every belief, then no one would dare to satirize freely or speak candidly, leaving the most boring and obsequious kinds of speech, if any are left by then. What the Islamists preach is not multiculturalism, where every idea can be discussed and debated, but uniculturalism dressed up as diversity.

Moral hypocrisy and moral blackmail can be quite effective on the credulous, and I suspect the Islamist lobbyists want the distortions to persist. Historically, anti-racism movements achieved progress by abolishing, or at least subduing, racial animosity through generations-worth of efforts. But their efforts failed to transfer to an abolition of racialization, if their spectral successors can even tell the difference. If hatred toward a race defines racism, then one must also, being responsible for what’s asserted, contemplate on what race and hatred constitute. The politically correct have only substituted the virulence of hatred with unbridled coddling of some amorphous group they gather as a race. This is patronization rather than empowerment, and ventriloquism rather than representation. The categories of race wouldn’t exist without the racists who created them, so to frame Islam as a race is to commit the same fallacy. Islam is not a united religion and has no ethnic boundaries, let alone be a race.

However, the wish to unite Muslims does form the basis of a caliphate. The so-called “collective voice of Muslims”—literally the OIC’s motto—likes to give the definition of Islamophobia utmost extension, encapsulating anyone who challenges anything Islamic however remote or precise. Most religions make audacious claims like all-knowing, all-seeing and all-creating deities, but institutions like the OIC combines religious audacity with political authority. Just to name a few of their farces: they say Islamophobia is the greatest threat to global peace, refer to Muslims as the “Muslim world” as though all Muslims want to be represented as such, and, most outrageously, have submitted a multitude of U.N. Resolutions attempting to criminalize hate speech against Islam, including censoring reports of Islamic terrorism, while paying lip-service in support of democratic values as if most of their member states had any democratic values to begin with. Inspect carefully at these sorts of rhetoric and evaluate their intentions, those who invoke accusations of hate speech are often those who can’t stand debate. Those who respect the Socratic form needn’t resort to whining about being offended.

For all intents and purposes, Islamophobia is a stupid neologism and propagandist machine that has no place in intellectual conversations. It’s designed to fool people who think Muslims are “brown people” when not all Muslims are brown and not all brown people are Muslims. It deforms the idea of racism and burns the innocents who amplify voices that Islamists try to smother. Those who fall for such chicanery will voluntarily open the gates for barbarians to stride in and siege democratic values. In principle, there is no such thing as medium free speech, partial free speech, or free speech with exemptions in fine print. Pluralism does not privilege one religion over others. Secularism, or the separation of church and state, presupposes freedom of worship, if only privately. Tolerance does not mean cultural and moral relativism. These shouldn’t be partisan issues in liberal democracies unless, those who surrender these principles are sympathetic to theocracies. If this is the case, then it’s not a misunderstanding between leftists and secularists but the cry of a theocratic left. The cultural and intellectual war would hence be between Enlightenment-humanist values and totalitarian-religious values. Liberals should be seeing this conflict more saliently. It’s not enough to understand right from wrong within the confines of race when the world is more than monochrome, as the color of one’s skin is a faulty determinant of ethics and merit.

In the advent of the abolitionist movement in America, the word discrimination took on a pejorative parlance when white racists reviled at the prospect of sharing equal status with blacks. The original definition, which has sadly become secondary in American colloquialism, indicates an ability to make distinctions—a strong mark of critical thinking. The irony never eludes me when I hear the left lambast the alt-right for “discrimination against Muslims” when the reason for prejudice is that the alt-right doesn’t discriminate among Muslims. Milo Yiannopoulos once described his alt-right, shall I say, camp as a defense of Western values and against Islamic encroachment—the most positive description one could possibly give. This rather ridiculous “defense” is mostly composed of Christian fundamentalists, white supremacists, right-wing trolls and a minority but election-swinging cohort of small-town, working class.

During the Obama era, they called themselves the Tea Party, known for its susceptibility to conspiracies like calling Barack Obama a “Kenyan-born, communist Muslim” and charlatans like Sarah Palin. Their patron saints include an eclectic line-up of Donald Trump (who couldn’t stop babbling about Obama’s birth certificate), Stephen Bannon (who shamelessly glorified Palin as a “tough, smart woman” in film), Richard Spencer (an unabashed neo-Nazi) and of course, Milo Yiannopoulos. All of them are rank opportunists of various gradations, but out of these four Bannon is perhaps the most hazardous one. He is a compound of Romantic war fantasies and “Judeo-Christian” values among other things. Being one of Trump’s loyalists, Bannon became a Trump auxiliary without ever having to traipse through legal drudgeries. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d like to see politicians respect proper avenues of power, because the reptilian opportunists won’t.

Like his political ascent, legality and protocol are more like obstacles than civic obligations to Bannon. Executive Order 13769, or the “Muslim ban,” placed a temporary suspension of all migrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The draconian decree invariably matched some of Bannon’s egregious rhetoric. During his time at Breitbart, Bannon challenged Trump on radio where Trump argued along the typical Republican platform acknowledging the economic vitality of legal immigrants. As a rebuttal, Bannon didn’t simply take issue with illegal immigrants but also legal immigrants, suggesting that America’s problem was immigration, period. Putting words into action, the executive order barred legitimate, visa-holding, green-card travelers—a move that was bereft of most advisers’ knowledge, inadvisable from those who knew, and detained an Iraqi who assisted U.S. military abroad.

But perhaps his impulse is not firstly a raw abhorrence of Islam, and instead a passionate longing for holy wars. “Judeo-Christian forefathers” are his favorite people, namely the Vatican, because military history depicts them as defenders of the West against Muslim empires. But it’s also an ideal he shares with the Islamic fundamentalists. The state and the church are synonymous and the primal forces which give their people vitality. As for Bannon’s conception of war history, the first American encounter with an Islamic state, the Ottoman Empire, was of Thomas Jefferson’s secular-liberal values rather than Christianity. If there’s anything holy about America, then it’s the very loud Christian right that continually tries to distort history and science.

On the lower echelons, the Trump electorate’s opinion of foreigners and the global order is a ghastly creature, a mash of parochial Know-Nothings and mindless militarism. Under their bluffable demeanor is an insecure nostalgia for postwar relics. Now that coal mines are disappearing, borders are porous and queers are walking down the aisle, “Make America Great Again” means making the America they once knew alive again. Trump’s outrageous trumperies and rants (and dubious love of Russians) swapped America’s “beacon of democracy” for a panoply of populism. It’s been said that fascism is the most backward beliefs augmented by the most revolutionary language. With a circus of loyalist humbugs in the White House, I doubt their vogue contains enough luster to carry on for long. Americans can only stomach so many lies and know well enough to not be treated like morons—and maybe some will realize they’re being treated by morons. But the most faithful Trump fans will continue to laud him no matter his ineptitude and their decisive political location, unequal compared to the more cosmopolitan urban burgs, protects their otherwise minority influence.

Fortunately, not all of Trump’s cabinet are sycophantic loons who need to emulate Trumpmania. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, one of the “pragmatists” as the media calls them, made vital visits to South Korea and Japan. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, who also carries quite an outstanding background, was initially flustered by the Muslim Ban (he did not receive prior notice despite lying about it afterward) and reportedly tried to pry Bannon’s influence off Trump. Hopefully, our so-called CEO of USA, Inc. (which sounds horribly authoritarian but it’s how he treats his job) will show some learning curve and know that he can’t make informed decisions without a competent board of advisors. Although, one thing I don’t expect to improve immediately is the American populace’s dialogue, and the Trump offensive against news outlets will likely degenerate it further. Politics is full of half-truths and hyperbole no better reflected than in its catchy soundbites. As imperfect as mainstream media may be, they are only enemies to Trump’s ardent followers.

On the other hand, does the left understand Muslims and foreign policy better than people like Bannon? I suppose the race-card players haven’t rocked our constitutional architecture quite like the nativists have—perhaps only because they aren’t the ones in power. It would be illusory to see Muslim societies as perfectly sensible, requiring mandatory protection and validation. The meme of Islamophobia continually self-replicates its vacuousness and, like an immortal gene, it eschews any who try to stop the spread. Chances are that the memetic ignorance will spread to the vilest and most paranoid ones who truly hold nasty prejudices toward whatever they think is “Muslim.” The shadowy virus of ignorance—the radix malorum—hides itself with vague symptoms, indistinguishable among those who possess the pathogen of prejudice and those who do not.

If the Islamists are harbingers to combat racism and stereotypes as they proclaim, they would allow people to leave Islam without death penalty thereby separating ethnicity from abominable precepts. And the regressive left, for all their ambitions to eradicate racism, frequently speak on the same side out of fear of appearing, but not actually, racist—hence their name denoting retrograde instead of progress. I’ve never considered myself a centrist (and I’m certainly no Democrat or Republican) but under current notions of left and right, I find that the further one moves toward the fringes of the spectrum, the more delusional and fanatical their occupants become.

Where Do I Belong: Being the Immigrant of my Family

By Rose Teplitz

When I was young and told the other children at school that one of my ancestors came to America from the Mayflower, they looked at my almond-shaped eyes, my long black hair, and laughed.

        “You can’t be from the Mayflower,” they mocked me. “Because they were white and you’re Chin-eeese.”

        They elongated the word “Chinese” for extra emphasis and I remember the fierce burning in my cheeks, embarrassed, but also confused. My family had found veritable proof that we were descendants of a man who boarded the Mayflower and had made it to America in 1602. I didn’t understand why the other children didn’t believe me.

        Later that day, I told my best friend, Maria, of my Mayflower ancestor. As a loyal best friend should behave, she did not taunt or berate me with questions like the others.

        “That’s cool,” she said, but then paused and tilted her head at me with a serious expression, “but they’re not really related to you, like by blood, you know? ‘Cause you’re adopted.”

        It was an honest statement and was not intended to hurt my feelings, but her words rang in my head as I walked home from school. “Adopted.” I had always known that I was adopted, but my adoptive family was the only family I had ever known; I assumed that it was clear I was now part of that lineage, biology and DNA aside. But that day, I became unsure if I had a right to connect myself to my parents’ biological predecessors. Then where did I belong? For the first time, I felt like an immigrant in my own family.

Because of the dreaded Mayflower fiasco, I had lost interest in questioning my parents about our lineage for I wasn’t even sure if “our” was supposed to be “their.” I stopped paying attention to what the family had been and decided that, like other immigrants before me, I would forge my own path in the world and write my own history.

When I reached college, I decided to join Leviathan Jewish Journal as an artist and soon was promoted to the position of Art Director. My mother’s family had been Catholic and I had attended Catholic Church all my life. The only experience I had with Judaism was a brief exposure to a dreidel at a friend’s birthday party; there was no particular reason for me to choose Leviathan, but I longed to change my direction to something new.

I became dedicated to the publication and appreciated the people in the organization. I produced content issue after issue for several years, learning about Jewish culture, perspectives, and current events until I decided to take a class focused on Jewish writers in New York to add to my insight.

One day we watched a documentary in class  that showed the thousands of Jewish immigrants who had poured into Ellis Island between the late 1800s’, early 1900s to escape the atrocities spreading across Europe. As I detailed the history of the film to my father that night on the phone, he said, “You know, my grandparents were Jewish immigrants who went through Ellis Island, too.” I nearly dropped my phone and began to press him for more details, but paused.

“But they’re not really related to you, like by blood, you know? ‘Cause you’re adopted.”

Maria’s words reverberated in my ears and I hesitated. I was the adopted kid, the immigrant child who didn’t have a blood connection to anyone my father was talking about. Inside my head, I weighed the pros and cons. On one hand, I was intrigued, wanting to learn more about the family history for the first time in years. On the other hand, was the Mayflower fiasco.

I decided to take a leap and ask.

My father only had a few bits of information about his grandparents, but he knew that his grandfather, Samuel Teplitsky, came over by boat from the Ukraine in 1902 because, as a Jewish man, he was in danger from the pogroms that targeted anyone who practiced Judaism, or had a Jewish-sounding last name. He had left behind his wife, Rebecca, in the old country, with the intention of bringing her over when he raised enough money. At Ellis Island, he went through the arduous and long immigration process, that to some, ended in heartbreak and tears due to a denial of entry into the new world because of a child with trachoma or a family member deemed mentally unstable. Fortunately, Samuel was successfully able to pass through and was suddenly on the streets of New York City. He took transportation to Chicago where he became a house painter and was lucky enough to be one of the few who made a decent living. Rebecca came over to join him a year later and together they had 9 children, the youngest being my grandfather. Years later, my grandfather had my father and aunt.

My great-grandparents ("Ma" and "Pa") with their children and grandchildren. My grandfather sits on the left in the front row ("Dave")
My great-grandparents (“Ma” and “Pa”) with their children and grandchildren. My grandfather sits on the left in the front row (“Dave”)

“Then your mother and I adopted you,” my father finished.

That night, I went over and over what little information I had received, trying to form an accurate picture of Samuel when he first stepped off the boat into America. Though I initially imagined him as excited and in awe of New York, I then thought of the reason he came to the country: escaping persecution because of his religion. Apparently, by the time he and his wife had their children, they no longer practiced and by the time my father and mother adopted me, it was as if any trace of Judaism had been erased.

But then there was me, the little adopted Chinese girl who had sat in the front row of a Catholic church for her whole life, writing and taking courses on Jewish life and culture, picking up a couple Yiddish words, and attending Shabbat. Following a path to learning about Judaism without any prior knowledge of my family’s past religious practices just because I thought, I’m in college, now is the time to try something different and something new.

But it turns out I was actually returning to something old and significant.

I have almond-shaped eyes, long black hair, and was born in China. I have no recollection or any possible way to discover my bloodline or see the family I am biologically related to. All I have is my family here. People may point to my Asian features and question if I can truly call my family’s ancestors mine.

 

And the answer is yes, I can.
I am Chin-eeese and do not have a blood relation to the people above, but my family is built up of immigrants. We all came to America with the hope to find a happier life and a society who accepts us for who we are. It would be wrong for me to pretend that I have no relation to my ancestor aboard the Mayflower because that would mean not only was I not truly accepting who I was, I was not accepting my family members either.

Fake News

By Wesley Whittlesey

    Growing up, I was typically a boy who would stay away from the news and politics. To me, reading the news seemed like it was merely people wanting to get any kind of story published for a profit and so these individuals would bend the facts to help the story sell better. Because of my perception of the news, I found it easier just to trust what I knew for myself. But as I grew up, I realized that when it came to journalism there were articles that published facts to inform the population, articles that expressed opinions, and articles that bent the truth to sell a good story.

    In light of the recent presidential election, the problem of fake news articles has become especially prevalent in today’s social media. According to The Huffington Post, fake news is referred to as stories that are often created by entities pretending to be news organizations solely to attract views based
upon questionable and misleading or false substance. Fake news websites often publish hoaxes, propaganda, and other false information that claim to be genuine news, and they often use social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. Many of these websites often seek to mislead (rather than entertain and or mock as satirical websites) readers for financial, political, or other gain. An example of these websites, according to the
Daily Dot, is the website Empire News, which contained many fake news hoaxes that were widely shared on social media, with stories based upon social or political controversies or conspiracies. These hoaxes were appalling to many readers, which resulted in even more views.

    Individuals who read the news on the internet might think to themselves, “I will for sure be able to tell fake news apart from real news!” or “I will never fall for a story that is so blatantly fake!” But the reality is that people are indeed believing these fabricated stories. The high emotions that have run throughout the course of the election, and the resulting increase of activity on social media, have resulted in higher likelihood for individuals to believe and share fake news websites and articles. A study done by Stanford University showed that in the three months before the 2016 Presidential Election, pro-Trump fabricated stories were shared a total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of fabricated pro-Clinton shares.

     The question now is why are people reading these stories and more likely to believe them? What leads watchers and readers to believe stories and articles that are created to mislead and misinform the public?