Detonating Jonah

jonahWhen news broke this summer that Sunni extremists with ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, had blown up the tomb of Jonah after capturing the Iraqi city of Mosul, the shockwaves left a piece of me in the rubble from halfway across the world in Brooklyn.

Not that the trail of massacres, beheadings and forced expulsions by ISIS haven’t made for far more shocking news before and since then, as the gruesome executions of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff recently attest.

I can watch the online video of Jonah’s tomb blown to bits in a cloud of dust; but the beheadings of Foley and Sotloff I cannot.

Yet when I watch the former, I am revolted and I cringe. There it is one second, there it isn’t the next: the alleged resting place of my beloved Jonah.

Our beloved Jonah, inasmuch as he is equally revered in Islam as he is in the Judeo-Christian tradition: the Qur’an includes its own version of the book, “Yunus,”and Muhammad is said to have proclaimed, “One should not say that I am better than Jonah.”

Hence the “tears and anger” in Mosul, as reported by The New York Times, where the Sunni population’s initial embrace of liberation by ISIS from centralized Shiite oppression in Baghdad gave way first to resentment, and then resistance, as the city’s trove of treasured holy sites and rich tradition of interfaith compatibility were destroyed. [Read more...]

Escape from the Holy Land, Part 2

300px-Jerusalem_Old_City_By Bradford Winters

Continued from yesterday.

Soon after landing at JFK from Tel Aviv Friday afternoon, I’m greeted by my tearful mother who can take her first deep breath in nearly two weeks. I’m relieved to learn that my family is en route from Tel Aviv, an hour into their flight as scheduled. But when we reach the parking garage, a call from my father-in-law informs us that the flight has been turned back due to electrical problems.

What! Back to Tel Aviv? Back to the airport targeted by Hamas earlier that day? If there’s any consolation, I guess it’s that we’ll only have to wait an hour and a half before the flight takes off again.

My instincts as a screenwriter, so engaged during my five-week work stint on Dig in Israel, must be on hiatus for me not to know that this will probably get worse before it gets better. [Read more...]

Escape from the Holy Land, Part 1

Israel Bomb Shelter 300By Bradford Winters

On a Friday morning in mid July, I entered Ben Gurion Airport in quite a different manner than when I exited it upon my arrival six weeks previously: by running for a bomb shelter.

Back in early June I stepped outside the glass doors and into Israel for the first time, my first photo a snapshot of the airport control tower ablaze against the rising sun because…well…I don’t know—there was nothing else to shoot and I had to mark the epic moment!

Six weeks later outside those same doors, I didn’t understand at first why others were allowed to run for the entrance after I had been stopped for a random security check—until I understood that all the chaotic Hebrew amounted to the equivalent of an air siren. So in I ran and took shelter in a stairwell among other passengers, ticket agents, and janitors, this being my last act in Israel. [Read more...]

The Great iAm

My lovely mother, God bless her, is cursed. And having just spent a weekend with her brother, I can safely claim that he’s cursed, too. Maybe “cursed” is too soft a diagnosis, as my siblings and I have often jokingly wondered if with Mom it’s actually a case of outright demonic possession: does she have a demon who attacks her facility with all things technological?

Computers, cellphones, printers and TVs—you name it. Entertainment systems and the remote controls that come with them? Don’t get me started. If it’s a demon in Mom, or one with many offspring in all her appliances, it’s one that wants to draw the line at her electric toothbrush.

Yes, there’s a generational component in play. But might even that be more about generational sin, a legacy of dysfunctionality born long ago when our mechanically challenged ancestors quickly gave up on the frustrating task of turning the family swords into plowshares? Because in lesser but definite ways I, too, have been cursed.

Long before the iPod and iPad came around, I was sold the iCan’t and iDon’t.

For years I chalked up this quality to my Luddite leanings in a cyberfrenentic world. I was among the last of my friends to adopt e-mail or a cellphone, then among the last to adopt a smartphone. I hated the constant OS updates on my laptop, happy to stick with House Cat or whatever it was called while everyone else moved on to Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion.

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I Sing the Body Eclectic

No doubt Walt Whitman would have sounded his barbaric yawp from the steaming rooftop pool of Spa Castle in Queens, had the multi-level Korean day spa been around the corner from his Brooklyn stomping grounds as it is today.

I’m not saying he would have retitled “Song of Myself” to “Song of Ourselves,” but I like to think that he might have been so inclined upon entering the ground-level indoor spa for the first time, onto a wondrous tiled cavern of heated pools, a sauna, steam room and cold plunge, open showers, a dousing shower, and sitting stations to shave or brush one’s teeth—with all manner of naked men roaming from one rite to the next.

(Women have their own identical spa on the ground level, the rest of the floors are unisex and require the oversized, undersexy shirt-and-shorts uniform found in the locker rooms.)

The first time I entered, before I even dipped my toe in the jasmine pool to test the temperature, I was already refreshed by the raw physical diversity that meets the eyes like a democratic antidote to the idolatrous fetishization of body type in today’s culture. Here was every shape and size, from tall to short and skinny to fat, from the comparatively hairless to bearlike monstrosities with throw rugs on their backs and big bushels of pubic hair; from those genetically endowed with a windsock for a penis, to those with a cigar stub.

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