Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Love Is the Thing

Rudolph "Rudy" Sheriff Lawless
Rest In Peace

"The drums appealed because of the movement that happened when you played them. It was central to all of it. You could move your body as if you were dancing. You see the horns and the other instruments provided the melodies — which I had learned on account of my dancing — and the rhythmic part of it came along almost without my noticing — it was sitting there underneath, but it was there..."

Quote excerpted from an interview by Todd Bryant Weeks

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why We Must Speak Loudly And Often

My father is a Holocaust survivor. He spent the first years of his life in a partisan camp outside of Minsk. One thing everyone that knows us knows is that my dad and I have always disagreed about politics. When I was a teenager, growing up in the affluent suburbs of Boston, I remember driving in the car with my dad and arguing that because I was not religious, I didn’t have to worry about anti-Semitism. And I remember him replying that they didn’t ask if you were religious before they gassed you.

Of course, he was right (There you go, dad, I said it!). And it was a testament to the success of my parents’ bold decision to leave the USSR as political refugees, which landed me in a (more or less) open and pluralistic liberal community in Massachusetts that allowed me not to notice. I was arguing that in the world in which I live, I would not be targeted for being Jewish but for something in my control — like being religious. Now, obviously, that’s an unsustainable argument and as a Lecturer in philosophy at King’s College London, it pains me that my 13-year old self would have made it.

The reason I bring it up, though, is because as a Jew in America, even a Jewish refugee fleeing the anti-Semitism of the USSR, I had privileges and opportunities unhindered. My Jewishness, unlike that of my mother’s, did not preclude me from studying medicine at university, or require me to take classes at night rather than during the day — or at a vocational college instead of a real university. My Jewishness was not an obstacle to my fulfilling my educational goals. But unlike the unfettered opportunities that so many Americans simply take for granted, I was also raised with constant reminders of evil and tyranny, of autocratic regimes and the ways in which governments could murder, isolate, deprive and demean.

My family history is a history of persecution, under the Nazis and under the Communists. My paternal grandmother escaped the Minsk ghetto with my father when he was only a baby. My father’s first memories are of an imprisoned partisan telling him stories, begging him to just sit still so as to avoid knocking dust into the man’s eyes from the grate above. My mother’s childhood memories are of week-long train journeys to, basically, the ends of the earth, to visit her grandfather who was arrested under Stalin and who lived for more than a decade in Gulag. My grandmother was also arrested when my mother was a teenager. Someone didn’t like something she said and reported her to the police. That’s all it took. She was in jail for months. She was a paediatrician and also survived the war. And lived until she was 96.

The point of all of this is not to somehow emphasise that Jews suffer uniquely but to remind my fellow American Jews that we are in a unique epistemic position because we can couple the knowledge that has been imprinted on us by our family histories with the privileges and opportunities that we have enjoyed living in the US. And because of this special epistemic situation, we have an obligation to speak out against what we recognize as familiar forces of tyranny so clearly taking over in America today. Because they are as familiar to us as the stories that we were raised with and we are lucky enough to have benefited from a system where we are allowed to have a voice: we must not stay silent now. We have a clear obligation to call out the racism, the lies, and the fear and to explain how these are the instruments that tyrants, dictators and despots have always used to control populations and wage war.

We are in a position to raise our voices in resistance and we have an obligation to do so — both because such is the nature of justice, but also, because we have benefited from a system that has deprived countless others who, in virtue of their own systematic oppression, can see the hate, the racism, the xenophobia, and the threat to our bodies and minds — but who have been deprived of the epistemic standing to be heard as equals.

It is no accident that Jews have always fought for liberal enlightenment values. It is no accident that we who have often been seen as less than human fight for a system of government that grounds human dignity in our very humanness. And it is no accident that in Trump’s America, the vast majority of minorities are firmly rooted against the regime and rightly scared about the impacts it may have on us. And so, for us, the fight is not a political choice but an existential one. And that makes it not much of a choice at all.

Words by Ellen Friedland

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Empathy Complex

"I loathe the expression 'what makes him tick.' It is the American mind, looking for simple and singular solution, that uses the foolish expression. A person not only ticks, he also chimes and strikes the hour, falls and breaks and has to be put together again, and sometimes stops like an electric clock in a thunderstorm."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

After School Special

In the early '80s there was a ridiculous urban legend that if you collected enough Lee Jeans patches The Wiz on Fulton Street would give you a free boombox. Kids would form "Lee Patrols," putting a Lee patch in a bus-pass holder as a badge of sorts, and go around ripping the patches off of the pants of unsuspecting victims.

I wonder what kids in the city do for fun these days?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Only The End Of The Beginning

"People are talking about immigration, emigration and the rest of the fucking thing. It's all fucking crap. We're all human beings, we're all mammals, we're all rocks, plants, rivers. Fucking borders are just such a pain in the fucking arse."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Walking My Freedom Highway

My family came to America from Eastern Europe back in the day, I work with Mexicans, the coffee I drink is from Puerto Rico, I buy my $5 deli sandwiches from Yemenis and Chinese folks, one of my high school girlfriends was from France, the pizza I eat way too often is made by Italians, my late night local bartender is from Ireland, the most delicious meal I had last week was made by Indians, the best grocery store in my 'hood is owned by a Lebanese family, my childhood crew was like the damn United Nations. Do I have to go on? This city and county was built, and made great, by refugees and immigrants. How is this not totally fucking obvious to everyone?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Brooklyn Spleen

"Nothing is as tedious as the limping days,
When snowdrifts yearly cover all the ways,
And ennui, sour fruit of incurious gloom,
Assumes control of fate’s immortal loom"

Photograph by Lee Greenfeld © 2016/17
Poem from Le Spleen De Paris, 1869

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Talkin’ Bowling Green Massacre Blues #45

Now I heard her blab all ‘bout it one day
Her voice a crackling’
On the tee vee con waves

We gotta shut ‘em out
Got t’ shut ‘em down
Can’t have them people
Floodin’ to our town

Don’t ya see? she schemed
As her eyes grew wide
That last guy did it too
We gotta stem the tide

Well, I set down m’ sandwich
On top a’ m’ knee
‘n’ picked up the clicker
Shut off that malarkey

But before I could
She said somethin’ startled me
‘Twas a tale the newsman never told
‘Bout a Bowling Green Massacree

Bowling Green Wha? Where? I thought
Now that don’t seem right
So I clicked up the sound
‘n’ choked down some more vegemite

She prattled ‘n’ chirped
Her platinum doo bobbin’
Then came the talkin’ head melee
‘n’ my head started throbbin’

So I poured myself a whiskey
‘n’ took a stiff nip
Then kicked back the recliner
‘n’ drifted off on a trip

A fairy in sunglasses led me out to a pier
As he flew off he yelled
“It’ll be a riot!”
I said I thought that was queer

To my right was a Tiller’s son
And beside him a black bear
Behind them stood a spy
Who gave a blank stare

A goat lady wore pearls
And read a book upside down
Surveilling all was a fat man
Who clutched beneath his cloak a gold crown

“There must be hundreds here!”
I remarked to a midget in an ill-fitting suit
“There are far more — thousands — millions!” he barked
Then went back to counting his loot

A foghorn’s blow pierced the air
‘n’ my whole body shook
But it wasn’t a ship horn at all
Just that blond TV crook

“It never happened” she croaked
“It was an innocent mistake.”
“Ha,” I smirked, clicking off the tee vee
“That’s one way to prevaricate.”

Well, now I don’t care just what ya do
If you wanna keep watchin’ the news
That’s up t’ you

But don’t tell me about it
I don’t wanna hear it
‘Cause ya see
I just lost all my tee vee spirit

Yep, that’s right
I’ve had enough
No more vegemite ‘n’ hard stuff
From now on it’s all p.b. ‘n’ fluff

Lyrics and illustration by Kate Kaye © 2017

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Statue

Deny your faith until the deathbed, but its stink is all over you and your precious borrowed clothes. Your coal-black hair carries the reek of want, and your saccharine breath betrays your core of loss. Now picture the multitudes — "sheep," you whisper. See them sulking in their lonely rooms, surrounded by meaningless artifacts.

It's comical how you step out briskly from the twilight to present yourself. "I am rational!" you shout, but behind you lurks that same broken-down machine that feeds on such paltry exclamations, emotions dripping like oil from its worn seams.

In front of you your minions sit, their minds thick with the ache of betrayal, and their lips cracked from the ill-wind bite of careless infatuation. Stare in my mirror and see not yourself, past or future, but a sentiment scarecrow, trembling from false declarations, and the disease of your mind's costume.

© 2009-2017 Lee Greenfeld