Va’Etchanan part 1

(As previously noted, all my parshot are done with the Etz Hayim used in my original Conservative denomination.)

Most of us are probably at least peripherally aware of this parsha, due to the presence of the Sh’ma and its centrality in the Jewish faith. It also seems central to this parsha as well, according to the URJ, since this week’s portion is entirely an exhortation to Israel to listen to Moses.

We start with Moses telling Israel about being denied entry into the Land of Israel by God – Abraham ibn Ezra says that Moses did it to emphasize the privilege embodied in living there, as it was the one thing God denied him which he truly wanted, while the Midrash tells us that Moses said it to impress upon the Israelites that they ought not to assume God owes anyone an affirmation of their desire through prayer or flattery. Personally, I think this is later emphasized in the attribution that “God does not accept bribes” (Deut. 10:17).

Now, Deuteronomy 4 starts with another command, a command not to add or to take away from what God has commanded (Deut. 4:2). Of course, if some things had not been added or taken away, we would not have modern Judaism as we know it – quite possibly, there may not have even been Solomon’s Jerusalem Temple. The Sages, according to Etz Hayim, opined that this was limited to “quantitative” changes in the law, while extension and clarification did not qualify as “adding” – to me this actually seems like the only way we could survive all this time within the framework of The Law.

Deuteronomy 4:5 gives us an interesting contrast to most of the nations of the world – Samson Raphael Hirsch noted for this passage that the Jews are unique among the nations for having the Law first, and then the land. Indeed, for thousands of years after the end of the Second Temple and expulsion from Jerusalem, we have had Torah and later Talmud to sustain us, so I suppose the question is: what’s the priority?

There are a lot of things to unpack in this parshah, so I will have to continue this later.


Between You and Your Doctor

I find it just wonderful that conservatives are still pulling out the “A government bureaucrat between you and your doctor” canard in their fight against health care reform. I guess I can see that argument working during the Clinton years, when things weren’t quite as bleak as they are now (although, being a teenage dependent with two well-off parents, I never had to worry about health insurance during the Clinton years, so what do I know?). But relying on it again now? Balls, folks: that takes some.

For a little under twenty years, I’ve been dealing with chronic pain. (No, not my back problems. I’m going to refrain from discussing my specific condition itself in order to keep the focus on the politics.) Because this condition is hard to diagnose and often misunderstood, I’ve gone without treatment for most of my life. In fact, the only two times I’ve had regular treatment for it were in college and grad school, when I had the twin luxuries of student health insurance and autonomy from my parents. In college, the doctor I found was well-meaning, but ineffective. In grad school I had a great doctor, and together we started to make progress. But then I finished grad school.

For about a year, I went untreated again until a flare-up made me realize that I needed to find a doctor despite the cost. My husband and I did some budgeting – I currently subscribe to Blue Shield’s cheapest plan, which only covers basic exams and major disasters – and found a doctor who charged a sliding scale. She was awful. For a few months, I went untreated again, and had another flare-up. It turned out that a friend of mine has a similar condition, and she gave me the name of her specialist.

Here’s where the story gets interesting.

I made an appointment with the specialist – and loved her. Within ten minutes of our first appointment, she’d described my condition with eerie accuracy and outlined what sounded like an effective treatment plan, with options that I’d barely even known about. Her bedside manner and level of expertise were terrific; she put even my grad school doctor to shame. At the end of the appointment we talked money. My current insurance didn’t cover regular office visits, so I’d be paying completely out of pocket. I gulped at her office visit fee – even paying for that first appointment was going to be interesting. I talked to my husband and we agreed that I’d have to get a new insurance plan. If we ditched the cable, the Netflix subscription, and a couple other amenities here and there, we could pay more for something better.

I looked at other Blue Shield plans while my husband looked at Kaiser. I figured that while I was getting a new plan, I might as well search for something that covered maternity. I looked at plans going up to $200, $250 a month – nope, nope, nope. Blue Shield doesn’t like its members having babies.

Meanwhile, my husband found a Kaiser PPO (at least, we thought it was a PPO, but I guess that’s kind of rare for Kaiser) just barely within our price range. It was $139 a month – yikes, but okay. It had a fairly good maternity plan. We called their office to find out if this doctor was in their network. They didn’t know. They gave us a regional number to call. We called. No, this doctor was not in their network.

Next we tried Blue Cross. I don’t even remember what plan we eventually found, because the whole website was so labyrinthine. We didn’t bother calling them before we filled out the form because, hey, everyone takes Blue Cross, right? The application took all morning – and we even left off in the middle because I needed to dig up some old information.

Later that day, I talked to the doctor to reschedule our next appointment, since it was taking so long to find a new plan. I asked if she took Blue Cross (just to be absolutely sure – because everyone takes Blue Cross!). “Uh, some of their plans,” she said. “I don’t know, some but not others. It’s all very strange. I don’t even handle that part of it.”

We called Blue Cross. No, the plan we’d selected didn’t cover her. Were there any plans in our price range that did? Tappa tappa tap, pause. No, there were not.

So we went back and called Blue Shield, told them I was already a member. We asked for any plans at all that covered this one doctor. Damn the cost! We’d use our savings! We’d move into a smaller apartment! We’d rob a bank if we had to! What was the doctor’s name again? We spelled it. Nope, they said. Blue Shield of California does not cover this doctor at all.

We called the doctor again, canceled the appointment, told her we just couldn’t afford her. I still owe her for our first (now useless) meeting – $150 down the drain. I cried, I was so disappointed. All that work, all that hope, for nothing.

I’ll probably never know why no insurance plan would touch her. She wasn’t some bizarre, esoteric practitioner or anything; my best guess is that only employer-paid plans cover her. But when I hear conservatives trotting out the specter of “a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor,” I have to laugh. Because right now, at this moment, I am gritting my teeth through 20-year-old pain while the doctor who could have treated me goes about her business 2 miles from my apartment. Bureaucrats are standing between me and my doctor.

On the one hand, if conservatives are going to try to block affordable health care, the least they could do is come up with a less insulting argument. On the other, I guess it’s to my advantage that they’re making themselves look like total idiots.

We’ll go ahead and give Pacificare and Aetna a call, but I think my course of action now is to go for the original Kaiser plan we found and hope that there’s a doctor as good as this one in their network. (Of course, the maternity coverage raises some troubling questions. Does Kaiser have midwives? Doulas? Birthing centers? Will I have to give birth on my back? But I’m not pregnant, so I can cross that bridge when I come to it.) If we ever get a national health plan in place, then sign me up – but I’m not holding my breath. My one wish for those who oppose it is that they someday experience health insurance that is comparable to mine.

(A note on comments: because I know what types of comments posts like these tend to receive, I am declaring myself Queen Tyrant on this thread and will delete offensive comments without warnings or justification.)

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

This, to me, is Doikayt.

Doikayt: Yiddish for “hereness.”

A young british black woman sits on tribal lands surrounded by her ancestor’s people. They ask her for money. She says no. They say: Go away–we don’t need you anymore.

The necessity of her–the hole left by her ancestor’s disappearance–long since filled by others.

There comes a time when you can’t go home.

But you can –understand–.

how do i sit in this space:



I think this speaks to Zionism and Diaspora in ways too complex, and sometimes contradictory, for me to do justice to in a blog post.

On my mind lately:

Doikayt and Ottomanism were about wanting to be citizens, to have rights, to not worry about being shipped off at any moment where someone else thinks you do or don’t belong… Diasporism [a term the author coined] means embracing this minority status, leaving us with some tough questions: Does minority inevitably mean feeble? Can we embrace diaspora without accepting oppression? Do we choose to be marginal? Do we choose to transform the meaning of center and margins? Is this possible?

– Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, from The Colors of Jews

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Wash Your Hair!

Did you know that a lot of shampoos contain the exact same cleaning agents as laundry detergent? Sulfates and other harsh cleaning agents work by stripping your hair of all its nutrients and oils. If you have curly hair, which is usually pretty dry, this leaves it brittle and exhausted. Then you have to put in loads of conditioner to undo the effects.

Screw that. Here’s a recipe for a homemade cleanser from Lorraine Massey’s Curly Girl, which I found out about from the lovely Whit. Simply take the juice of one large lemon, mix it with your usual amount of conditioner, and pour it through your hair. (I like to massage it in a tiny bit.) Then rinse it out.

“But wait!” you might be thinking. “You still have to use store-bought conditioner! That’s not self sufficient!” I’ll admit that I myself use store-bought conditioner on my hair. But you don’t have to! The Internet is full of conditioner recipes.

Curly Girl also contains instructions for using baking soda and water to clear out product buildup. I found the lemon recipe more effective, though. If your hair is really dry, you may only have to use the lemon rinse once or twice a month (although you should still cleanse your scalp every few days – see the book for details). And remember that your scalp produces natural oils for a reason. If the tiniest hint of oil around your roots is unacceptable, then that says more about your culture than your hair.

On Women, Friendship, and Abuse

Before dating the guy I’d eventually marry, I was involved in two long-term abusive heterosexual relationships. The first one was mildly abusive, the second one more explicit. The first one didn’t like women very much, and the second one liked them but saw them as interchangeable. Both of them profoundly influenced the way I view myself and interact with other people, especially men.

But my first and most enduring abusive relationships were with girls and young women. I don’t have a single close friend from K-12 left in my life because almost all of them were abusers. Those who weren’t abusers I broke off contact with anyway, because I never felt comfortable around them. There was one childhood friendship in particular in which, when she failed to abuse me, I abused her instead. (I’m so sorry, A. I still think about you.)

Because of that string of abusive relationships – and the very specific, almost eerie pattern of the abuse – I remain unable to really let my guard down around any woman. It’s taken me years to realize how deeply those childhood and adolescent relationships affected my sense of self. When the attendants at my wedding gave their speeches, every single one focused on my husband – not because few people like me, but because few people really know me (which isn’t to say that it didn’t hurt pretty badly. They could have made an effort, you know?). I literally do not know how to form strong bonds with other women. This is a skill I was never taught.

Divide and conquer.

How has abuse shaped your life and your sense of self? In what ways do you find yourself reenacting, or waiting to reenact, destructive behaviors you learned when you were young? (I’m sure I don’t need to say this, but anonymous comments are welcome.)

Two quotes from the Free Gaza movement

Many of you probably know that the passengers aboard the latest Free Gaza ship, the “Spirit of Humanity,” were kidnapped in international waters and sent to an Israeli jail to await deportation. During an interview from her cell, Adie Mormech gave this very salient quote:

Have you had access to a lawyer yet?

We have, and at the moment we’re discussing what to do about our deportation. They’ve taken our personal items – laptops, cameras, phones and many other valuables, and we want to find out where these are. They obviously want to deport us as quickly as possible, but some of us are thinking about fighting the deportation. Firstly on the basis that if we get deported we won’t be allowed into the occupied West Bank or Israel for another 10 years, but also, because we didn’t intend to come here to Israel – we intended to go to Gaza, and went directly from international waters into Palestinian waters. There is nothing legal about what Israel has done to us grabbing us like this. We’re considering fighting the deportation on the grounds that we shouldn’t accept and legitimize this barbaric military blockade of Gaza. (Emphasis mine.)

The only way to end the occupation and blockade is to strip it of its perceived legitimacy – and in that, I think Free Gaza is doing an admirable job. The Israeli administration is trying to juggle two contradictory narratives at once: 1) that the occupation of Gaza is over and Gazans are free to do what they like, and 2) only the Israeli military has the right to decide who or what enters and exits Gaza. Activists’ best strategy is to push against these narratives until one, and then the other, collapses.

But then a couple of days ago, I received an email from Free Gaza, linking to a video detailing conditions in Gaza, that included this line:

Israel outdoes the U.S. in torture, imprisonment and brutality. Where do you think the U.S. learned how to torture?

Reading this, I finally decided to unsubscribe myself from their updates.

As I and others have written numerous times before, claiming that the U.S. – the world’s most powerful nation with the world’s most powerful military – is taking orders from or being controlled by a small (albeit belligerent) nation like Israel is nothing but the current incarnation of the myth of Jewish domination. Shifting blame for the U.S.’s crimes (torture, imprisonment, brutality) onto Jews, or claiming that whatever white Americans do, Jews do it worse, is nothing but the current incarnation of the myth of Jewish evil. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then please go away and come back after you’ve educated yourself.) What stopped the author of this email from simply writing, “Israel is engaging in torture, unjustifiable imprisonment*, and brutality?” Why the need to compare? Which is worse: the imprisonment of civilians in Gaza, or the imprisonment of immigrant families and nonviolent drug offenders in the U.S.? Which is worse: Israeli assaults on Palestinians or American assaults on Iraqis? Which is worse? Which is worse? We need to decide which one’s worse – and fast! Your cause or my cause? Your country’s oppressor class or my country’s oppressor class? Why does it matter!? What in the world is gained by such a comparison, besides excusing that which is familiar in order to highlight that which is alien?

I suspect that it’s precisely anti-Semitic – yes, this is anti-Semitic – statements like these, made over and over again and never challenged, that turn many Jewish activists off from Palestinian liberation movements and make us decide to focus our energies elsewhere**. It’s the difference between building an inclusive movement that awakens in us a sense of responsibility for what’s being done ostensibly in our name, and working to alienate us by strengthening our preexisting internalized shame and self-hatred (shame not for what Jews in another country are doing at this moment in history, but rather for one’s own irrevocable Jewishness). It leads to very real physical consequences – although it’s pathetic that so many people think mental and cultural consequences don’t matter.

And for those of you who might be thinking, “who cares about some line that offended you when there’s genocide going on?” Well, first off, that kind of reasoning is often used as an excuse to avoid acknowledging problematic behavior. Will we only be allowed to call out anti-Semitism after Israel has fully retreated from the occupied territories and granted all Palestinian refugees their right of return to pre-1948 land? Assuming that that’s never going to happen, are Jews simply never allowed to call out anti-Semitism again? (And how do you feel when you hear that your ethnic/religious group is required to accept its oppression because some of its members have committed crimes?) Secondly, if one line isn’t that big a deal, then it must not be a big deal to refrain from saying it, right? To tell someone else not to say it? How much energy does it take to just say, “Hey, cool it, that’s not helpful?” If you feel uncomfortable saying that, then examine why. Are you afraid of getting in the way? Well, getting in the way of what, exactly? Sympathizing with “the enemy?” Who is the enemy, and who is being affected by such a statement? Benjamin Netanyahu? The U.S. and AIPAC? Boeing and Caterpillar? Or that woman in the yarmulke over there whom everyone is suddenly staring at?

Acting in solidarity with Jews, Israeli or Diaspora, is no more difficult than acting in solidarity with Palestinians. So where are our allies? Where are you?

* I hope readers who are prison abolitionists know what I mean here.

** Which isn’t to say that we don’t have plenty of reasons to focus our energies elsewhere. Diaspora Jews are not obligated to center Israel over other issues simply because we share a religion or ethnicity with Israelis.

Two examples of horizontal hostility

1) A feminist deciding that the main focus of her activism will be attacking women who she thinks are doing feminism wrong.

2) A Jew deciding that because anti-Semitism wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Israel, he or she will end anti-Semitism by attacking other Jews.

There’s a reason some targets are so easy.

These are the kinds of posts I write when lots of little things add up.