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Shvuyes (from 2012)

16 Jun

I am categorically opposed to the Zionist tyranny of neo-Hebrew pronunciation, though I don’t know what gives me the right to such a strong opinion on the subject since I’m not even Jewish.  But I am a New Yorker, and pretty proprietary about at least my city’s Jewish and Yiddish-speaking heritage, and it bugs me to no end that most young New York Jews now say: “L’Shan-ah To-vah” in their best Hebrew school accents, instead of “Lu-sha-nuh To-vuh,” or “Sim-chat To-rah” instead of “Sim-ches Toy-ruh” like they used to.

We have no idea how ancient, pre-Babylonian Hebrew was pronounced; the Jews returning from exile having thoroughly become Aramaic speakers.  The pronunciation of Modern Hebrew was constructed on the basis of Sephardic liturgical pronunciation of the language, on the flimsy assumption of some kind of Semitic purity to be found in Sephardic usage, which the nineteenth-century Zionists in Europe who formulated the pronunciation and other structures of Modern Hebrew were probably attracted to mostly as an exotic escape from Galizianer shtetl-stigma and not any serious linguistic or historical considerations — the lost Golden Age of Jewish Spain being a nobler basis for Zionism’s new start than the muddy reality of Poylin.  The old Ashkenazi-Yiddish pronunciations served the vast majority of the world’s Jews perfectly fine for many centuries and there was no need to “correct” them.

But Zionism is so often about reducing the entire Jewish historical experience — before the success of its ethically problematic project — to shame, though it was through the diaspora that Jews were forced to cultivate their greatest and most extraordinary gifts and share them with the rest of humanity as well.  That’s why I feel there’s an anti-diaspora shame in this pronunciation issue too that I don’t like.  And an Israeli colonization of the diaspora Jewish mind and soul, culturally and politically, that I like even less, but which is probably now irreversible.  Worse — a victim-shame which, combined with genuine, horrific trauma, has all kinds of negative and destructive consequences for Jews and everyone around them.  While Joseph Massad’s claim that Zionism is an: “anti-Semitic project of destroying Jewish cultures and languages in the diaspora,” is a bit hyperbolic, that’s pretty close to how I feel as well.

On a lighter note, Shvuyes is when you eat blintzes – and other dairy.  I don’t know why.


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Pentecost 2019 (2012 repost)

16 Jun



Today is Pentecost (it was last Sunday in the western Church), the day that commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit and the divine enlightenment of the gathered Apostles, when they were suddenly given the wisdom to speak all languages and that marks the institutional beginning of their mission and the Church generally.  What the New Testament doesn’t say is that the Apostles were gathered to celebrate Shavuos (lit. “weeks”), “Shvuyes” in deep Yiddish pronunciation,* the day God gave the Torah to the people of Israel.   The Christian feast of a gift of divine wisdom was based on the existing Jewish feast of a gift of divine wisdom, and Shavuos comes seven weeks after the first day of Passover, like Pentecost comes seven weeks after Easter – it means “fiftieth” – a name Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jews were already using for the holiday long before the Christian era.

I always loved the reading for Pentecost from the Book of Acts (below in English, the original Greek and the Vulgate Latin).  In its endless list of peoples I always felt a kind of Pax Romana yearning for unity that still moves me, especially when it’s properly recited.  It’s a bit of a sad holiday too because it marks the official end of the Easter cycle (like it does the end of the Counting of the Omer in Judaism).  The day before is one of the several “soul Saturdays” on which the Orthodox Church commemorates the dead; old folk beliefs held that the dead dwell among us from the Resurrection until the eve of Pentecost and then depart again.  And tonight at vespers, people kneel for the first time since Holy Week; the joy of the Easter season prohibits any kneeling or prostrations during the seven weeks it lasts.  It’s the return to Real from Divine time.  And from the period of renewal where death has been defeated to real existence again where it still holds full sway.  Until the promise of the next Resurrection.

I couldn’t find a recitation of the actual second chapter.  But here’s a beautiful Arabic recitation of the first chapter of Acts — which uses the same phrasing as a Greek reading would — where Christ preps the Apostles on what’s in store for them and, like a good rabbi, tells them not to ask too many questions:

And here’s Giotto’s depiction of the event from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, which probably contains more spectacular art than any other equivalent square footage of space in the world:

And El Greco’s more violent, Cretan-Spanish imagining (it became a tradition to include the Virgin in the scene, especially in the West, though Acts doesn’t mention her):

2 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.

Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?

And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?

Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,

10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,

11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.

12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?


2 Καὶ ἐν τῷ συμπληροῦσθαι τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς πεντηκοστῆς ἦσαν πάντες ὁμοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, καὶ ἐγένετο ἄφνω ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἦχος ὥσπερ φερομένης πνοῆς βιαίας καὶ ἐπλήρωσεν ὅλον τὸν οἶκον οὗ ἦσαν καθήμενοι, καὶ ὤφθησαν αὐτοῖς διαμεριζόμεναι γλῶσσαι ὡσεὶ πυρός, καὶ ἐκάθισεν ἐφ’ ἕνα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν, καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες πνεύματος ἁγίου, καὶ ἤρξαντο λαλεῖν ἑτέραις γλώσσαις καθὼς τὸ πνεῦμα ἐδίδου ἀποφθέγγεσθαι αὐτοῖς.

Ἦσαν δὲ ἐν Ἰερουσαλὴμ κατοικοῦντες Ἰουδαῖοι, ἄνδρες εὐλαβεῖς ἀπὸ παντὸς ἔθνους τῶν ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν· γενομένης δὲ τῆς φωνῆς ταύτης συνῆλθε τὸ πλῆθος καὶ συνεχύθη, ὅτι [ἤκουον εἷς ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ λαλούντων αὐτῶν· ἐξίσταντο δὲ καὶ ἐθαύμαζον λέγοντες· Οὐχ ἰδοὺ πάντες οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ λαλοῦντες Γαλιλαῖοι; καὶ πῶς ἡμεῖς ἀκούομεν ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ ἡμῶν ἐν ᾗ ἐγεννήθημεν; Πάρθοι καὶ Μῆδοι καὶ Ἐλαμῖται, καὶ οἱ κατοικοῦντες τὴν Μεσοποταμίαν, Ἰουδαίαν τε καὶ Καππαδοκίαν, Πόντον καὶ τὴν Ἀσίαν, 10 Φρυγίαν τε καὶ Παμφυλίαν, Αἴγυπτον καὶ τὰ μέρη τῆς Λιβύης τῆς κατὰ Κυρήνην, καὶ οἱ ἐπιδημοῦντες Ῥωμαῖοι, 11 Ἰουδαῖοί τε καὶ προσήλυτοι, Κρῆτες καὶ Ἄραβες, ἀκούομεν λαλούντων αὐτῶν ταῖς ἡμετέραις γλώσσαις τὰ μεγαλεῖα τοῦ θεοῦ. 12 ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηπόρουν, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες· Τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;


2 et cum conplerentur dies pentecostes erant omnes pariter in eodem loco

et factus est repente de caelo sonus tamquam advenientis spiritus vehementis et replevit totam domum ubi erant sedentes

et apparuerunt illis dispertitae linguae tamquam ignis seditque supra singulos eorum

et repleti sunt omnes Spiritu Sancto et coeperunt loqui aliis linguis prout Spiritus Sanctus dabat eloqui illis

erant autem in Hierusalem habitantes Iudaei viri religiosi ex omni natione quae sub caelo sunt

facta autem hac voce convenit multitudo et mente confusa est quoniam audiebat unusquisque lingua sua illos loquentes

stupebant autem omnes et mirabantur dicentes nonne omnes ecce isti qui loquuntur Galilaei sunt

et quomodo nos audivimus unusquisque lingua nostra in qua nati sumus

Parthi et Medi et Elamitae et qui habitant Mesopotamiam et Iudaeam et Cappadociam Pontum et Asiam

10 Frygiam et Pamphiliam Aegyptum et partes Lybiae quae est circa Cyrenen et advenae romani

11 Iudaei quoque et proselyti Cretes et Arabes audivimus loquentes eos nostris linguis magnalia Dei

12 stupebant autem omnes et mirabantur ad invicem dicentes quidnam hoc vult esse.

* See next post



Proud to be “a citizen of nowhere”

24 May

Generally, fostering a sense of citizen-of-the-world-ness is the reason I took to blogging.

That line that killed her for me:

She, too, deliberately stoked a culture war that threatens to consume Britain, most notoriously in her demagogic “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere,” speech.

Check out more of the merciless British press:

Exit Theresa May. Stand by for a summer of Tory fratricide and country-shafting

Feel no pity for Theresa May. She has been the worst prime minister in modern times

3500 May 10Theresa May returns to 10 Downing Street after her resignation speech. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters


Spain and Turkey — Elif Shak in the Guardian: “…one type of “benign” nationalism has dangerously inflamed another to stoke a vicious conflict.”

6 May

Vox and other extremists are making huge political gains for the first time in years. Their success risks tearing societies apart


Matteo Salvini

Matteo Salvini addresses the World Congress of Families in Verona. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

I spent part of my childhood in Ankara and part of it in Madrid. Commuting between Spain and Turkey in the early 1980s was a strange experience. Spain had recently returned to democracy after years of dictatorship, and Turkey had experienced yet another military coup. Both countries were at the fringes of Europe, neither part of the EU. It was said that “Europe finishes at the start of the Pyrenees”, but if the mountain range between France and Spain was regarded as a border, another frontier was the waters of the Bosphorus. It often felt as though I was travelling from one end of Europe to the other.

The Spain that I experienced was vibrant, welcoming and warm-hearted. Despite the occasional pro-Franco mutterings of an older generation, Spain embraced democracy. How I wanted my motherland to follow suit. But one day, on my way to school, I saw something that made me stop in my tracks. All the walls down the street were plastered with posters of dead babies thrown into bins. I froze. The disturbing and distorted images had been distributed by an ultraconservative Catholic group that claimed family values were being attacked, women had gone too far in the name of emancipation. A patriarchal backlash still lurked under the surface. The culture wars were under way.

The recent general election has made that clear. For the first time since 1978, a far-right party is making huge gains. Vox managed to get 10.26% of votes. The party, founded in 2013, has become the fastest growing movement in the country. Political scientists once smugly assumed that there were countries in which fascism could never again raise its ugly head. Germany and Spain, having gone through its horrors, were thought to be immune to the false promises of the far right. But then came Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), and now Vox, to show us how wrong those assumptions were.

What Vox is selling is strikingly similar to the package embraced by populist nationalists elsewhere: anti-immigration, anti-diversity, anti-gay marriage and LGBT rights, an aggressive longing for a mythical golden past. The Catalan conflict has played into Vox’s hands – as through history, one type of “benign” nationalism has dangerously inflamed another to stoke a vicious conflict. Populist nationalists love imaginary enemies, and Vox is no exception. Misogyny lies at its heart. Talk that men are suffering at the hands of “feminazis”, and that radical feminists are threatening the social fabric, will be familiar to watchers of the far right. They don’t believe that patriarchy exists, just as they don’t believe climate change is happening. Coming from Turkey, the misogynist rhetoric of the Spanish movement is horribly familiar to me. Just like the Justice and Development party (AKP) in Turkey, Vox wants to convert the current gender ministry into a ministry of family. The shift in words is significant. Rather than looking at gender discrimination and institutional gender disparity, the new focus is on “traditional family values”. Until recently Spain was regarded as one of the few countries that had made huge gains in gender equality. Now we know that even in such countries history can go backwards.

The party spokesman Francisco Serrano, a former judge, has even claimed there is a genocide against men, citing high suicide rates as his proof. This is typical of the far right propaganda machine – exploiting a real problem (the pressures on young men, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds) for its own selfish political gains. Vox is not alone in this. Ultraconservative Catholic organisations, such as Hazte Oír (Make Yourself Heard), known for its vitriolic attacks against the transgender community, are providing full support for the anti-feminist backlash. This year it hired a bus with a picture of Hitler on it captioned, “It’s not gender violence, it’s domestic violence #StopFeminazis”, and drove it around cities ahead of International Women’s Day. The message, and the identity of “the enemy”, could not be clearer.

A far-right “family rights conference” has been held in Italy, where Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and leader of the rightwing League, was the keynote speaker. In his speech he lashed out against two groups: feminists and immigrants. Salvini thinks low fertility rate is an “excuse” for immigration and therefore, Italian women must produce more babies. He falsely accuses feminists of pretending not to see the danger of Islamic extremism, failing to explain why one cannot be a feminist and oppose all kinds of extremism simultaneously.

In Poland, members of the Law and Justice party talk about making the country “LGBT free”. Kacyzsinki claims gays are a major threat “not just for Poland but for entire Europe, for the entire civilization that is based on Christianity.” In Hungary, Viktor Orbán, who offers financial incentives to boost the birth rate, has banned gender studies in universities. In Turkey, President Erdoğan says “every abortion is an Uludere” (a mass murder in which 34 Kurdish civilians were killed by the Turkish army in an air strike), and views birth control as a conspiracy against the great Turkish nation. He calls women who do not have children “deficient”. “Strong families lead to strong nations, every member of the nation should be mobilised in the pursuit of ‘great goals’.”

It is paradoxical that this generation of populist nationalists leads the way on international political cooperation. They copy each others’ tactics, echo their policies (the new far right in Spain even wants to build a wall along the border between Morocco and Ceuta to keep refugees out), and they’re often seen sending each other warm messages of support. Salvini welcomed the results in Spain: “I hope to have Vox as our ally in the Europe we are building.” And that is exactly what they are doing: they are building Europe. Not a new Europe, not even an old Europe, but a Europe modelled on an imaginary, mythical past. A monolithic Europe dedicated to halting and reversing progress.

If anyone doubts the nature of the political shifts we are witnessing across the world, one need only look to the raging clashes outside of politics and in our culture, from comedians in France attacking minorities in their shows to rightwing mayors in Italy vilifying John Lennon songs for being too internationalist or leftist, from bans on halal meat in Belgium to Freedom Party in Austria suggesting all Jews must register with authorities if they want to eat kosher meat. Political scientists have for too long paid too much attention only to measurable data, forgetting that culture, hard though it might be to analyse, is just as vital.

In contrast to the predictions of the US academic Samuel Huntington, the world is not going through a “war of civilisations”. What we face is far more complicated and disparate. This is the age of a thousand cultural clashes, and these battles take place within countries, not between them. They tear our societies apart and polarise politics to such an extent that it will be for ever altered.


Like I needed another reason to love Madrid

5 May

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 9.36.13 PM

From the Gita: “Freedom is union with the deathless”

28 Apr

Χριστός Ανέστη…  Happy Easter…


The Saturday of Lazarus

20 Apr

“He got up walking like a natural man…”

  20 Apr

Today, the day before Palm Sunday (Orthodox Easter is April 28th this year) is known as the Saturday of Lazarus in the Orthodox Church, the day that commemorates Christ’s raising of his friend Lazarus from the dead, prefiguring his own Resurrection.

The Resurrection of Lazarus, Guercino

And here’s Aretha Franklin’s incomparable rendition of the old gospel song: “Mary Don’t You Weep,” which commemorates the story of Lazarus and the Passover story as well.  Below are the lyrics (“If you hadda been here, my brother woudna died…” always kills me) and the history of this spiritual which dates from before the Civil War, as its moving conflation of the two tales of redemption would indicate:


(Choir) Oh oh mary (x8)
(Soloist) Mmm don’t moan
Listen Mary

(Choir) Oh Mary don’t you weep
Oh Martha don’t you moan
Oh Mary don’t you weep
(Soloist) Tell your sister to don’t moan
(Choir) Oh Martha don’t you moan

(Soloist) Pharaohs Army
(Choir) Pharaohs army
(Soloist) All of them men got drowned in the sea one day
(Choir) Drown in the Red Sea
(Soloist) Yes they did

(Soloist) Now if I could
(Choir) If I could
(Soloist) If I could I surly would
(Choir) Surely would
(Soloist) I’d stand right up on the rock
(Choir) Stand on the rock
(Soloist) I’d stand right where moses stood
(Choir) Moses stood
(Soloist) Yes I would

(Soloist) Pharaohs army
(Choir) Pharaohs army
(Soloist) I know you know that story of
how they got drowned in the sea one day, oh yeah
(Choir) Drown in the Red Sea

(Soloist Lazarus Story Ad-lib)

We gonna review the story of two sisters
Called mary and martha
They had a brother
Named Lazarus
One day while Jesus was away
Their dear ol’ brother died, yeah yeah
Well now Mary went running to Jesus
She said, “Master,
My sweet lord!”
“Oh if you had’ve been here my brother wouldn’t have died!”
Oh yes she did.
Jesus said, “come on and show me, show
me where you, show me where you buried
him, show me where you laid him down!”
And when he got there, Jesus said,
“For the benefit of you who don’t believe,
Who don’t believe in me this evening!
I’m gone call this creature, oh yes I am!
He said “Lazarus, Mmm Lazarus,
Hear my Hear my voice! Lazarus!
Oh yeah!”
He got up walking like a natural man,
oh yes he did! Jesus said,
“Now now now,
Mary, Mary don’t you weep!”
Mmm Oh mary don’t you weep
Go on home and don’t you and your sister moan. Don’t moan.
Tell martha not to moan

(Choir) Pharaohs army
(Soloist) Because you see Pharaohs army,
(Choir) Drown in the red sea
(Soloist) they got drowned in the Red Sea

(Soloist) Oh Mary don’t weep
(Choir) Oh Mary don’t you weep (x3)
(Soloist) Mary dont weep
(Choir) Oh Mary don’t you weep
(Soloist) Mary don’t weep
(Together) Tell Martha don’t you moan



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