The Weary Lion and the Wary Lamb

tensions-remain-high-at-israeli-gaza-border-1Author’s note: Like many Jews around the world, I’ve been following the news out of Israel closely the past month and a half. In this piece, I continue to explore my responses to the conflict in Israel and Gaza. I began these explorations in my previous post, “Sitting in Pain in Israel and Gaza.”

The enemy of Israel shakes hands with the enemy of the Jews. The mother of the kidnapped scholar shakes. Just after the explosion, five fresh eggs shake.

In some places, the enemies of the Jews disguise themselves as enemies of Israel. In some places, an enemy of Israel disguises himself as a Jew, a Hasid in fedora boarding an egged bus.

Some days, the enemies of Israel and the enemies of the Jews quietly sip coffee. Yesterday, you had to listen carefully to hear a thin sliver of quiet while the mob on the Parisian street caught its breath.

You going to the Enemies of the Jews show? The Enemies of Israel is opening. I have to show my face at the solidarity rally. Besides, I hate heavy metal music.

An enemy of Israel marries an enemy of the Jews. Their daughter, a religious Zionist, marries a boy in the Givati Brigade.

[Read more...]

Susan Sontag, Simon Weil, and the Pursuit of Seriousness

Susan SontagI could stare for many hours at that famous 1975 picture of Susan Sontag lying on her bed. She’s wearing a turtleneck sweater and her arms are tucked behind her head. She is thinking. Her eyes are open, slightly dreamy, but fixed.

She looks serious. How else could she look? By God, that woman was serious. It is her main contribution as a belletrist, the idea that seriousness itself is a goal, that in the collapse of all other values, we can be serious about being serious.

There is also a picture of Simone Weil at age thirteen, before she got those round glasses you see in the later photos. Weil is laughing and pretty and resting her left arm casually on her neck. It seems impossible that this is the woman who later refused treatment for her tuberculosis and who more or less starved herself to death out of spiritual solidarity with those suffering under German occupation during WWII.

Susan Sontag wrote a review of a collection of Weil’s essays for the New York Review of Books in 1963. Sontag used the publication of Weil’s essays as an excuse to talk about her favorite subject: being serious. Sontag loved Weil’s harshness, her unrelenting, unremitting commitment to seeing her thoughts through wherever they lead. [Read more...]

Rules for Celebrating: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 2

altarContinued from last week.

The Way of Saint James—El Camino de Santiago—is a pilgrimage across Spain that began in the Middle Ages and remains popular today. Each year 200,000 pilgrims walk a route to Santiago de Compostela, a city where, according to tradition, the apostle James the Greater is interred.

Last September my husband and I were among the pilgrims. We hiked 200 miles from Léon in stages, many with Fr. Lukasz, a sprightly, thirty-something priest, and a group of young adults from the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Washington.

Fr. Lukasz set pattern of our days right at the outset of the journey. We rose before dawn and departed Rabanal del Camino, a stone village with a tiny central square. As we walked beneath the moon and stars, guided by a few pilgrim headlamps, I could feel the grade increasing, straining the backs of my legs. We were ascending the pass of Irago. Soon the sun rose lemon-yellow, revealing iridescent mountains, releasing the scents of heather and gorse.

By midmorning we reached the Cruz de Ferro, a simple iron cross atop a weathered pole that marks the Camino’s highest point. There we stopped for morning prayers before descending the pass through several villages: Manjarín, Acebo, and Riego de Ambros, where we walked through a grove of giant chestnuts and a green, wild-flowered vale. After crossing a Roman stone bridge over the Río Meruelo, we stopped at Molinaseca, a medieval town where we would spend the night. [Read more...]

Our Mother Mary

DormitionToday is the Feast of the Dormition (the “falling asleep”) of the Mother of God. It is the analogue in the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Virgin in Roman Catholicism, and on balance, the similarities between the two commemorations are greater than their differences: The Dormition is one of the twelve Great Feasts in the Orthodox year. The Assumption is a holy day of obligation and, I am told, is superseded only by Easter in its importance for Catholics.

The heart of the feast remains the same for both: the end of Mary’s earthly life of faithfulness, the culmination of her own original yes in her agreement to bear the Son of God in the reception of her sanctified body into heaven. It is believed (contrary to some popular misunderstanding) by both Orthodox and Roman Catholics that Mary experienced a normal, natural death, but received upon her burial the glorified state—reunion of body and soul—that is the ultimate end for which all we faithful pray.

In their aesthetic emphasis, though, the two feasts are utterly different: In all the Roman Catholic portrayals of the event that I have seen, Mary is bright-faced and young—evoking the description of the woman “clothed with the sun” from Revelation. [Read more...]

Rules for Celebrating: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 1

cornMy son graduated from college this past June. It took him seven years, due to a hiatus, a transfer, and several changes of major, and there were times I thought I’d never see the day. So when the moment finally arrived, it was time to celebrate.

Now, I grew up in the sixties in New York in an Italian American family, and for us celebrating always meant one thing: inviting family and friends and cooking a meal for them. These meals invariably came in two varieties—formal dinner or cookout—and the circumstances dictated the choice.

The following obliged a formal dinner: all religious holidays; birthdays and other events that took place after Labor Day and before Memorial Day; functions to which clergy, wealthy people, politicians, lawyers, doctors, dentists, business associates, current clients, potential clients, current Anglo in-laws, or any future in-laws were to be invited.

Cookouts were never required but were permissible for celebrations that did not demand a formal dinner and took place from Memorial through Labor Day.

Whether the verdict was formal dinner or cookout, there were rules and procedures to follow, and the women in my family taught me them when I was young. These rules and procedures were immutable. They could not be broken or bent. Never. Not once. [Read more...]


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