February 5, 2015

History vs Art, and other concerns

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism at 12:32 am by chavalah

Still from the movie, "Selma," starring David Oyelowo

Still from the movie, “Selma,” starring David Oyelowo

As a disclaimer, I have yet to watch “Selma” which is up for Best Picture in the Academy Awards this year. But some of the “factual” criticisms levied against them remind me of being a fan (or sometimes not so much of a fan) of novel adaptations for TV or film. For example, one of my biggest disappointments with “Mockingjay, Part 1″ was that they excised a conversation between Katniss and Haymitch working through their anger and guilt over failing to protect Peeta–as if this were an actual historical event. (In my defense, it would have made the story stronger. :p)

With “Selma,” some of this criticism comes from historians, claiming that the movie painted President Johnson in too negative a light. Director Ava DuVernay responded that she didn’t want to make a film about “a white savior,” aka she wanted to focus on some of the African Americans, namely Martin Luther King, Jr., I assume, who were at the center of the Civil Rights movement. I might add that, be the source material a novel or actual history, a movie is too contained to give much dimension to non-main characters. But another argument is–this isn’t a documentary, it’s art. DuVernay–or Francis Lawrence of the final three “Hunger Games” films–aren’t contractually bound to stay true to “the source material.”

The natural follow-up question might be–does that make the movie less “true”? This might be where my fiction-oriented/spiritual brain trumps whatever I have of a facts and figures science brain. :p. I think the truth contained in novels and other fictional media are that they can go deep into characters, and explore the complex questions of identity, history, politics, relationships, etc, etc, etc from a uniquely emotionally resonant perspective. The “truth” about life is more than a ledger book of physical actions. “The truth” is about several different narratives and experiences, but who has the time to watch a movie as long as life? :p

But to be hypocritical (another component of the complexity of “truth,”) I feel disappointed that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was omitted from the movie, even as he marched to Selma amongst other white clergymen who were depicted, so I’ve read. When a group one identifies with is part of the larger narrative (particularly a positive narrative like joining together with diverse communities to stand for civil rights,) I suppose it’s natural to want to see that validation. And again, perhaps a short scene of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel shaking hands might’ve made for a stronger story. But either way, this is one small component of a work that belongs to art, not history. I’d rather judge DuVernay’s movie on what’s there rather than what’s not.

Just because there is a commercial component to some art doesn’t mean that we, as consumers, require a say. This transaction isn’t about buying a pair of pants, after all; it’s about exploring the world in new ways. Part of that, in fact, requires us to give up personal control. No movie, or book, or etc is perfect, but I hope that people leave their personal biases at the door, insofar as is possible; and that they also take into account what the creator was trying to accomplish (and how well he or she succeeded at that) before offering critique.

Tangentially, I’m always on the lookout for films that portray a variety of Jewish characters and experiences in the driver’s seat (currently I’m having trouble narrowing down my selections for the 2015 Washington Jewish Film Fest). But that feeds into my empathy for the perceived goal of the movie, “Selma”–to depict African Americans as the center of their story rather than as the supporting cast. It’s a perspective we don’t often get to see in Hollywood, though with recent successes like “12 Years a Slave,” hopefully it will become more normalized.

Sticking to judgement, though, I don’t really care how the Academy considers something to be a good or bad movie; they have their own issues to work out. But since we are still relatively close to the beginning of the year, allow me to offer my best and worst novel reads from 2014. :p

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January 5, 2015

2014: A Look Back at Jewish Italy

Posted in Italy, Judaism at 11:03 pm by chavalah

Depiction of Jewish communities in Italy

Depiction of Jewish communities in Italy

Continuing in my annual tradition of looking back at Jewish news that came out of Italy in the past year. I picked what I consider to be an eclectic mix about Italian people and situations. Several revolve around culture or altruism, to offset those that deal with antisemitism.

I’ve included links to the stories and dates below; please feel free to add anything I may have missed. I think it’s important, on a macro level, to gain insight into Jewish communities that exist outside of Israel and the United States. Our Tribe has made a long, distinguished mark on the world! I am glad, in however crooked a way, to be connected to the Italian Jewish community.

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December 31, 2014

And to end the year…two 2014 movies and their impact on reality

Posted in Judaism, Pop Culture at 11:12 pm by chavalah

the interview I admit, I feel a little irritated every time someone (including relatives and ASOIAF author George R. R. Martin) gets on a bender about this whole “The Interview” business. Yeah, yeah, no one should trample on our freedom of speech to watch whatever movies we’d like. And it’s certainly abhorrent to threaten anyone with the atrocity of 9/11. But this all seems a bit trite in comparison to other ills plaguing our country and our world. Folks are pretty fucking lucky if their biggest grievance in life revolves around their inability to see a movie starring two of my tribesmen who embrace their poop humor, and Lizzy Caplan’s cleavage. (I’m assuming that low-cut top that she’s wearing while on duty as a CIA official doesn’t have much to do with character development. :P)

Granted, people don’t just have to be upset about the worst things that happened to them, or to society as a whole. I’m certainly disappointed by the rotten tomatoes score of “The Mockingjay: Part One”—and even though I full-heartedly believe that it explores complex social and political issues that “The Interview” wouldn’t even think to graze, lower ratings certainly don’t impact any real world issues of poverty and injustice. An interesting contrast between these two movies is that “Mockingjay”’s clout is within the story itself, whereas “The Interview” is all about external context—these hackers conceivably could have gone after any movie.

The rotten tomatoes score for “The Interview” is pretty abysmal—not that I always put a lot of stock into those, but I have little reason, given what I’ve read and seen in trailers, to believe that this movie really lifts its head from the sophomoric. I’ve read one or two defensive reviews that claim the movie educates people on the despotic regime that is in North Korea, but even without seeing the film I feel confident in saying that you could definitely find more thorough and reliable information elsewhere.

To a degree, “The Mockingjay” has an unfair advantage over “The Interview,” because it doesn’t chronicle a specific, contemporary issue. Though that also makes it easy to commandeer for any agenda—a slippery slope. Personally, my calm is affected when anyone ascribes the words “Capitol” and “Rebellion” to something like “Republican” and “Democrat,” or any international conflict. (Which beyond over-simplifying real world politics and history, also over-simplifies the Capitol and the Rebellion.) I appreciate more specific examples of poverty and oppression—eg Americans who use the hashtag #MyHungerGames to talk about how economic inequality has affected their lives. And speaking of movies being banned, Thailand did so for “Mockingjay” after some Thais used the story’s iconic three-fingered salute to protest their militarized government. Similarly, “The Mockingjay, Part One” opened in the US around the same time that the Ferguson protests against police aggression were heating up, prompting someone to spraypaint Katniss’s words “if we burn, you burn with us” in town. This was the bit of “movies meet reality” news that caught my attention before “The Interview” hoopla exploded in everyone’s faces.

Not to say that The Hunger Games is the only franchise that has inspired such deep thinking; it’s just one that speaks prominently to me. I hope that these books and films may inspire us to think about the world, and the type in which we’d like to live. Something I didn’t mention in my last post about “Mockingjay,” but in terms of Judaism the book, and movie one, make me think of tikkun olam, healing the world. Things may be broken, but we are surrounded by shards of goodness, if only we have the will to try and bring them together.

Wishing you all a happy and fulfilling 2015.

December 30, 2014

2014 in review for Chava’s Footsteps!

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:00 am by chavalah

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

I plan to be back again before the new year (or at least soon thereafter,) but in the meantime, here are my stats! Thank you all for reading, and hope you’re having a great holiday season.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

November 3, 2014

The year of the “Mockingjay” adaptations

Posted in Pop Culture at 5:13 am by chavalah

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1"

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1″

“This is where the meaning of the entire series comes into play. The answer to why these books exist exists in “Mockingjay,” and that’s really been exciting to me. That’s been kind of what I’ve hung on to through these stories.”
–Francis Lawrence, director, in Entertainment Weekly

(Warning for spoilers about the end of The Hunger Games series)

When I was 11 years old, my mother bought a copy of my favorite book, wrote an inscription and packed it into my Camp Moshava trunk. No, the book wasn’t “Mockingjay,” though I kind of wish I were that young now. :p. It was 1995, and the book was “Daphne’s Book” by Mary Downing Hahn.

“Daphne’s Book” is my favorite novel, and my go-to for understanding life. Written by a fellow Marylander, a librarian, and published the year I was born, it’s a coming-of-age story about an adolescent dealing with various, difficult changes that mark the passage of time in life. I’ve been writing a short story for years based, in part, on the protagonist, Jessica’s, difficulty in losing once-close friends; I completely blame this book for my enduring fear of relationships. :P Another of the novel’s story arcs involves titular character, Daphne, attempting to hide her grandmother’s dementia from authorities, something that felt much more visceral to me in later years once my own grandmothers came down with the disease.

But the real message of the story, what my mom referred to in her inscription, and what came back to me when reading “Mockingjay” is the theme that there isn’t always such a thing as a happy ending; sometimes you can’t get back what you lost, but there is always such a thing as hope.

A lot of people don’t like the closer to The Hunger Games series, or at the very least, it’s a bit divisive among fans. It breaks the mold, a little bit, from the more action/adventure-paced plots of the first two, where Katniss was too focused on surviving the immediate threat of the Games to give much thought to the larger politics. In “Mockingjay,” she’s forced into that world. More to the point, she’s largely unwilling, not your archetypal heroine who goes full throttle into her badass destiny. She’s a major player of the war, not out of some personal political drive, or special, revolutionary superpower, but because of the exploitative nature of her society to propagandize the lives of normal people.

I very viscerally remember reading “Mockingjay” for the first time, pausing to send frenetic texts to the friend who indoctrinate me into the series, and ending it by pacing around my apartment while listening to the “Jane Eyre” soundtrack, my insides churning as I thought about Katniss’s nightmare of being buried alive by the dead. Another one of my favorite authors from adolescence, Tamora Pierce, linked to this post about “Mockingjay,” the crux of which is this:

It’s not an adventure series about justified vengeance. It’s about the consequences of violence, and the personal and social toll it takes on everybody. [Collins] fashioned an intense anti-war story and suckered the audience into it with her thrilling dystopia tales. What a great trick.

I find I’m pretty much in total agreement, although I’m not entirely sure I’d call author Suzanne Collins’s message dogmatic enough to be anti-war. But “Mockingjay” is certainly about the horrible effects of war. Even the most just wars (because honestly, what is more just than stopping child sacrifice,) have horrible repercussions. Katniss escapes to small, enclosed spaces in order to scream, swaddle herself in clothes and shut out the world when her emotions become overwhelming. Peeta is left with fractured memories and violent PTSD after being tortured as a prisoner of war. Gale, responding to power after a lifetime of state-enforced poverty and hard labor, embraces martial extremism with his us vs them mentality. The rebellion and it’s leaders, ostensibly created to be a safe haven from the Capitol’s sadism, falls victim to similar corrupting influences. Bombs fall, everyone is terrorized, and innocents like Prim, who catapulted the series when Katniss saved her from a senseless death, is killed anyway. This is not a happy ending, where “the Mockingjay” can reclaim what was lost.

In “Daphne’s Book,” Jessica and Daphne attempt to write a short story for a middle school competition, based upon some toy mice Jessica owns, one of which has gone missing. In Jessica’s first version, the mouse ultimately comes home, but in Daphne’s version, mirroring real life, the mouse never returns but the family doesn’t give up hope. In “Mockingjay,” Katniss turns hope into a game. From the final paragraphs of the epilogue:

My children, who don’t know they play on a graveyard.

Peeta says it will be okay. We have each other. And the book. We can make them understand in a way that will make them braver. But one day I’ll have to explain about my nightmares. Why they came. Why they won’t ever really go away.

I’ll tell them how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.

But there are much worse games to play.

I’ve read a lot of great fiction since “Mockingay,” much of it literary, with strong prose, and compelling characters in intriguing situations. But this is the last one I’ve read that has deeply influenced my worldview—about the nature of war, of depression and trauma, and the need for personal human connections. The “Mockingjay” epilogue is also my favorite of all time (I still cry whenever I read it)—it’s short and cagey, due to Katniss wanting to protect the privacy of herself and her children; it also refuses to give the story a happy ending, instead insisting that the characters have to keep dealing with what was lost, but in embracing this connection to each other, they are able to forge a hopeful future. Yes, you can call me an “EverLark shipper” (granted, they have both a doctored, public relationship, and their more complicated, private relationship, which changes greatly over 20-plus years)—but more to the point I’m staunch on having people realize that just because they are teenagers and just because this is YA doesn’t mean that the relationship is automatically stupid or shallow. In fact, I believe that a focus on fictional relationships in general gets a bad rap for being “feminine” or “soap operish,” when really it’s about the fabric that makes us human. Or allegorical toy mice. :P

My mom wrote in my 20-year-old copy of “Daphne’s Book”: “Daphne might not believe in happy endings, but I do.” However, “Mockingjay,” where the protagonist doesn’t only battle depression, like I do, but also the effects of war, reveals the complexity of the “not happy, but hopeful” ending. We can’t right all the wrongs and forget all trauma, either individually or as a society. There is no one, revolutionary fix. But there is, as Katniss found, small, personable ways to count up the goodness in your life.

I feel like I’ve only touched on a fraction of what this series has to say about war and other themes, but at least I have one movie to go, and I’ll probably sneak in a few more posts. :P I’ve been attempting to rewrite this one in my head for months, in order to explain why November 21, when the first “Mockingjay” adaptation comes to the big screen, is such an important event for me. Given F. Lawrence’s quote at the beginning of this entry, I am extremely hopeful. It seems like we come from the same school of thought with “Mockingjay,” so I’m just going to re-watch this tv spot about the devastation of war, and continue to count down the days until I can use my premiere ticket. :D Fire is catching.

October 6, 2014

A Busy Days of Awe this 5775

Posted in Judaism at 10:05 pm by chavalah

Just before High Holidays this year, I experienced a barrage of change in my life–from social to professional to health-related. Some of it was good change, some not so much.  I felt the push, more than ever, to set things right in the Days of Awe–to fortify the good and to make positive changes to the bad.

It had the desired effect, I think.  Things that burdened me on Rosh Hashanah felt lighter by Yom Kippur.  My week of reflection and change paved the way for me moving forward.

I love the High Holidays.  They speak to me most poignantly out of all of the holy days. I love being part of the crowd in synagogue–where it doesn’t matter as much how often you do or don’t attend throughout the rest of the year. (This year, I was honored to be asked by the gabbai to wrap the Torah during the mincha/afternoon service).  I love the liturgy about humility and renewal.  I love the feel of a good bagel settling in my stomach at the Yom Kippur break fast.

Yom Kippur brought some interesting, sensory associations between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds as well.  At Kol Nidre, we were outside for part of the service, hidden by a tall fence and only seeing each other, but we could hear the noise of the city continuing to bustle outside as well.  The next day, I walked to the local library between services.  Rabbi Steinlauf had just given a sermon about Otherness to Kittel and Tallit-wearing fasting Jews; outside the non-Jews ate in restaurant windows and lounged in casual clothes in the library.  Was a strange juxtaposition, and a reminder about belonging to two worlds.  I have to find a better balance between these two parts of my identity–Jewish and secular.

If there’s any indication about what can be accomplished in a year, surely it exists through my niece, Grace.  Last Yom Kippur she wasn’t even born yet; by this one, she is babbling, mimicking hand motions, and attempting to walk, amongst other things.  More than anything else, perhaps, she is my light, my inspiration for all the goodness that is possible in life.  She teaches me every day, and I love her so much.

September 27, 2014

Once Upon a Time season 4 meets “Frozen”!

Posted in Pop Culture at 12:03 pm by chavalah

Once Upon a Time official season 4, part one poster

OUAT official season 4, part one poster

The fall TV lineup is upon us, and my favorite show of the season returns this week. :D. In perhaps one of the more controversial decisions for the series, the first half of OUAT this year will feature characters from the most recent Disney powerhouse, “Frozen.”

I’ll admit, I’m so behind the times that, at the end of season three when the reveal happened, I just saw a tall, blonde figure with strange, sparkly magic. :p. What’s the big deal there? My friend had to tell me–that’s Elsa! …so that’s what I get for waiting too long to see the movie. Time moves fast around here.

In fact, that’s one of the criticisms I see from some OUAT fans–“Frozen” isn’t a classic fairytale/Disney adaptation; it’s very, very new. Are the producers just trying to bank in on the latest craze?

Well, probably; television is a business, after all. :p. That being said, can “Frozen” genuinely fit into the narrative contours of Once Upon a Time?

Now that I’ve seen the movie, I’ve pretty much been converted. These stories are mirror images! You can basically tell, when (spoiler alert, for the last person in the world who hasn’t seen “Frozen,”) the act of true love means something a bit different than it has classically. There’s a feisty, modern nature to the movie, too, like when Anna wonders, in song, if she’s excited or just gassy, and of course the whole Disney 180 on marrying someone you just met. These are the types of tweaks that the OUAT show runners have been adding to Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, etc, etc, etc, for three years now.

The main impetus of the “Frozen” story, to my mind, is about sisters. We sort of explored that last season with the Wizard of Oz storyline, but frankly, I was underwhelmed. For the most part, Zelena and Regina were just catty enemies and competitors, not all that interesting. The issues between Anna and Elsa–the sudden abandonment but genuine love–make for far richer stuff. Elsa appears to be a far richer “villain,” too, far more in line with Regina and Rumple, who struggle and grow, rather than Zelena, who was far more one-dimensional in her green-with-envy storyline. (Plus, the end of season three will never be my favorite, thanks to the death of Nealfire–the show’s biggest misstep, IMHO).

All of this doesn’t get into the fact of how similar Elsa is to Emma, possessing magic she doesn’t understand (and also an outsider to Storybrooke). And speaking of Storybrooke, I’m not just excited for “Frozen.” What’s happening with our favorite characters? Are Belle and Rumple still in the honeymoon phase, or is the cat out of the bag? Will Regina hold up with regards to Marian’s return from the dead? Will Emma? And how is baby Neal nursing? :p. Hopefully Snow White and Prince Charming aren’t utterly exhausted fairytale parents.

So I hope “Frozen” doesn’t take up too much room on the show (don’t “let it go” too far! :p) but I am very excited to see things unfold. Once Upon a Time airs on ABC, Sundays at 8 pm.

August 28, 2014

Summer TV left a lot to be desired, so let’s go back to Game of Thrones

Posted in Judaism, Pop Culture at 12:02 am by chavalah

Sansa (Sophie Turner) Arya (Maisie Williams) and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) a million years ago

Sansa (Sophie Turner) Arya (Maisie Williams) and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) a million years ago

But first, a quick recap of True Blood‘s final season and The Leftovers‘ first one.

Despite my hopes last year, True Blood just sank this year. I can find little of spiritual or any kind of thoughtful consequence to pull out of the rubble. Except to say that I think it says a lot about the overall failings of the show that after seven seasons, the only way they could think to wrap things up for title character Sookie Stackhouse was to marry her off to a man we never even meet. Ugh.

The Leftovers was a little hit and miss. After nine episodes, I kind of appreciate the main characters, but I feel like I’m being duped. First of all, there’s a dichotomy between the fact that this departure thing is supposedly a global issue, and yet we are predominately experiencing it through the trials and tribulations of a few people from a small, predominately white middle class town. The three recurring characters of color are all marginalized in one way or another in a way that feels blatantly obnoxious to me, particularly with Wayne and Christine and their hug cult/Asian harem baby messiah craziness. Second of all, although showrunner Damon Lindelof apparently wants the audience to not focus on what happened during the departure but how the characters deal, there’s so much focus on the external–unexplained cracks in the wall or teeth on the ground, to exploding pipes and people who act like they know you until they don’t, and most of all, the crazy, crazy animal activity. It’s disingenuous to say that the show itself, not only the characters, are prodding the audience to want to know the answer.

But probably the reason I feel most excluded from The Leftovers is because I’m pretty sure that the departure is the Christian Rapture. Again, Lindelof tells us that this is an unexplainable event that targeted people from all religious and non-religious backgrounds. But so far, to my knowledge, the show hasn’t featured a non-Christian character. More to the point, the schism between Reverend Matt and his followers, and the new, nihilistic cult of the Guilty Remnant are literally framed by Christian liturgical music. Episodes have included a profile of the reverend and a Christmas-themed number to signify a break from tradition. Even the crazy deer with whom main character Kevin Garvey has several run ins can apparently be seen as Christian imagery. Although some of this might not be intentional framing, art tends to speak for itself.

So, instead my mind has traveled back to a show where I feel more connection–Game of Thrones. Oh, Game of Thrones, which, as I predicted, came, saw, and conquered nothing at the Emmys earlier this year. :p. In keeping with tradition.

I know not what liberties The Leftovers has taken with it’s source material (True Blood has taken so much that you can hardly call them the same story anymore,) but an interesting one in Game of Thrones involves the three protagonist Stark siblings. Benoiff and Weiss claim not to like themes, but for whatever reasons (probably to beef up the individual stories) there now lies a common thread between Sansa, Arya and Bran in season four.

I wrote a few months ago about how Sansa’s decision to side with Littlefinger became more autonomous to her. I didn’t mention that Arya’s encounter with Brienne, and Bran’s near encounter with Jon never happened in the books.

Like with Sansa, her younger siblings were now presented with a tenable choice–should they put themselves in the care of a family member or someone charged by family to look after them? Or do they choose their own paths?

I already wrote a bit about the girls, so I want to focus on Bran. His dilemma is similar to theirs broadly and different in specifics; first off Jon is family, and ergo Bran knows he’s trustworthy. The bigger issue is that the brothers have different ideas about what would be best for the boy. TV Jon, who, unlike book Jon, presumes Bran to be alive, most definitely wants to take his brother back south of the Wall for his own safety. Poor Bran, watching, paralyzed, as his brother draws near, faces an internal conflict–part of him wants to be reunited, but the rest of him has faith in his path to find the Three Eyed Raven. This is a lot more visceral than Jon and Bran’s canon almost-encounter in season three. But back then Jon was alone with the enemy and Bran was stuck in a tower. By tweaking the particulars for season four, the show runners made certain that Bran, like his sisters, had to make a definitive choice.

There’s pluses and minuses in changing character motivations from novel to screen. But I appreciate that visual media favors characters to be more proactive. These changes allow the Stark siblings to come alive on the show, similar to how their reflective POV chapters serve them in the books.

July 29, 2014

A month of religious fervor

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism at 11:07 pm by chavalah

Activists take to twitter to support coexistence and peace.

Activists take to twitter to support coexistence and peace.

It’s been an intense several weeks in the world. With somewhat guilty relief, I went to San Diego Comic-Con on Wednesday and largely ignored current events, except for a few snippets of news programs, with all their violent imagery. Ran into a few Christian protestors with signs about how we should repent and return to Jesus; they always make me miss the Jews, and wuddaya know, today I read an article in Tablet Magazine about a couple of chabadniks who came to set up Shabbat dinner and encourage Jewish attendees to lay teffilin. :p. I’m assuming that they didn’t bring women along, and didn’t reach out to female attendees, but it makes me wonder.

In the US, the month started with the aftermath to the largely controversial Hobby Lobby case in Supreme Court. I wouldn’t go so far to call this “a war on women,” which is too extreme and one-dimensional to be accurate, but it doesn’t sit well with me that my gender can be denied access to healthcare (and it is healthcare–whether an individual choice to avoid pregnancy, or, like me, one is on birth control out of absolute medical necessity,) based on someone else’s beliefs.

As a strong advocate of religion, I’m even more perturbed about what this ruling says about faith. “Religion” is too complex a concept to be defined by it’s dictionary entry, but as a deeply spiritual and cultural person, I reject that it has anything to do with owning a corporation. Religion is a lifelong conversation about the meaning of why we are, coming together with a community with whom you share ancestral and/or spiritual ties. It’s so much deeper, so much more meaningful and important, than to be delegated to topical, secular affairs like workplace protocol. Bestowing corporations, these soulless, industrial entities, with “religious rights” is, frankly, offensive to me.

But it’s sort of the month to be offended, given the horrible turmoil in Israel and Gaza, only to be broken up by the horrible turmoil in Russia and Ukraine. Sadly, it’s a relief to remember how universal violence is, that no one conflict has a patent on it.

Before Comic-Con my stomach was in knots for days, checking in on Facebook to make sure my Israeli friends under the constant rocket fire were holding up ok, and topically keeping up with the news reports, just for a factual account of what was happening. Going into it in depth is largely a futile, finger-pointing gesture. There’s no opinion piece that either my largely pro-Israel Jewish friends and not-so-fond-of-Israel non-Jewish friends have reblogged that I could fully agree with; they were always not holding one side or the other to the complete culpability that it deserved. The only thing I can pray for is a “long-standing” ceasefire similar to those from the past; that’s the only way humanity can possibly “win” this. That being said, maybe I’m too optimistic, but I feel that broader US news-watching audiences have a deeper understanding, this time, of the harrowing role Hamas plays in terrorizing both Israelis and Palestinians. But I can’t be absolutist on this; the world isn’t like that. Both sides, Hamas (and their allies) and the Israeli government play a role in the loss of innocent life; I hold both responsible.

As a Jew, I can never be fully divorced from this issue, not only because of my aspirations for a positively evolving Jewish state, but because antisemites use this conflict to become more violent themselves.. Even in the United States, rioters have beaten pro-Israel advocates and vandalized property, to say nothing of the more vitriolic atmosphere in Europe, particularly France, where Jews are repeatedly assaulted, and synagogues firebombed and barricaded with worshippers inside. I refuse to blame an entire religion or ethnic group for the fear and pain of my people worldwide, but I must stand as witness. I pray that our fear and pain won’t lead to xenophobic tribalism and hatred; that we will continue to strive for global peace.

This is why I believe that true religion is about communities of people. Institutions may gravitate towards blanket paranoia, dogma, damning actions against both others and their own. You look at the institutions in charge, and peace in Israel and Gaza, probably peace anywhere, is likely never possible. But you look at people reaching out to each other, despite any divides…that’s a different story. The picture above comes from the twitter hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies.. Sure, some tweeters are still too one-sided and politically absolutist for my tastes, but peace has to start somewhere. Seeing other people as people might lead to understanding a broader worldview, too.

I draw the most inspiration from the families of Naftali Fraenkel and Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who consoled each other after the deaths of their sons. May their memories be a blessing.

June 30, 2014

Game of Thrones: The Behind the Scenes for the Traditional Fantasy Journey

Posted in Pop Culture at 11:55 pm by chavalah

Three years ago on Game of Thrones, Ned Stark was thwarted in his noble attempts to both show mercy to his enemies and stand behind his political convictions. Once he was killed, his son set off to avenge him, only to be murdered himself after a series of personal and political setbacks. The Starks are dead, most fans proclaim, meaning the adult Starks, the ones with the most agency to pull their family back together. With the three adult Starks dead, we are left with the dispossessed children–Sansa, a hostage in King’s Landing; Arya, a fugitive in the Riverlands; and Bran, chasing a prophetic future beyond the bounds of Westeros. (And Rickon, the baby who has hopefully found some sort of safety). Their half brother, Jon Snow, is a man grown, but is bound by oath to a family-less Order.

In my last entry, I talked about how Game of Thrones/ASOIAF relates to real-world social issues. From a different point of view (and thanks to tumblr fandom for this idea,) I can divide the six remaining original POVs from book one into two camps. Tyrion, Daenerys and Jon are viewpoints into the larger story, this impending war between ice and fire. Sansa, Arya and Bran are on more character-driven journeys; to find purpose when the heads of their family, and all those Stark ideals about honor and duty have all but dissipated. It’s undoubtedly my favorite part of this sprawling saga–sticking with the journeys and character development of these kids, who in other fantasy (and more mainstream) novels might just be background characters. With this arrangement, GRRM–and also the show–gives us something new.

I’m tentatively calling this clip my new favorite scene in the series, supplanting Sansa begging Joffrey for Ned’s life. It’s a slight divergence from the book, where Sansa is directly guided by Littlefinger to lie about Lysa’s death, though in her head she justifies it the way she later does on the show; “better to trust the man you know than the strangers you don’t.”

But with the tv medium demanding more external action and Sansa being aged up from her canon counterpart, it’s a change I can buy (helps that Sophie Turner played it off beautifully, too). It’s a development that’s been long in the making for this character, and I mean for longer than season four. Sansa Stark is the type of character who is easily dismissed because she’s not aggressive, and she certainly had no place to be in Joffrey’s court. Like with almost everyone on the show, her life was dictated by powers greater than herself, and in Joffrey’s court, all the king and Queen regent wanted was a receptacle for physical and emotional torture. What she learned there was how best to steel herself against the abuse, so that even in season two, as she seamlessly composed herself after Meryn’s beating, Tyrion remarks “you may survive us yet.”

Season four provided a greater range for the character, largely because outside of King’s Landing, she was able to use her skills in different ways because Littlefinger wanted something far different from her. Under his tutelage, she learned to ask questions of the world around her, and unraveled the mystery of Joffrey’s murder conspirators.

Sansa and Arya were more linked this season than any before, in what i dub the subplot of The Stark Sisters Under the Tutelage of Questionable Men. The Hound teaches Arya to be unquestioningly self-serving and nihilistic in the face of a cruel world (a simplistic viewpoint that I don’t buy, but rings very true for the characters,) and Littlefinger teaches Sansa how to manipulate people for her own ends. Both girls end up surpassing the teacher in the end, with Sansa one-upping Littleginger in her testimony (though it’s worth noting that canon Littlefinger likely wouldn’t be so unprepared to explain Lysa’s murder, but then again, even in the books he sometimes slips up around Sansa,) and Arya leaving the Hound to die. In these acts, the girls also expunge the selfless teachings of their father; Sansa lies and connives simply to save her own skin, and Arya forgoes showing mercy to someone who is now helpless.

Each of them also deny new protectors who are more closely aligned with their parents. Arya refuses Brienne, who was her mother’s guard and is now trying to fulfill an oath by keeping the girl safe, and Sansa lies to Lord Royce, a man who grew up with her father, and maaaaaybe would’ve helped her out of honor. In neither case are the girls 100% sure of this new person’s motives, but what they do know is that their parents’ ideology contributed to their own deaths. So the girls adapt, change and survive.

Bran meeting "The Three-Eyed Raven" in "The Children"

Bran meeting “The Three-Eyed Raven” in “The Children”

Bran’s journey is a little more mainstream for fantasy; a boy awakes from a tragedy to a supernatural calling, and goes on a quest for answers. But, from what little more has been written of his story in the books thus far, I don’t see this as a religious parable. Bran isn’t on his way to become a god, or a devil. He’s there to become a part of the esoteric fantastical fabric of this world, and gain, in memory, far more than he lost with his legs. It’s not religious (though characters like Melissandre put their own spin on matters like this,) but it’s deeply spiritual in a high fantasy way. And yet Bran also subverts one fantasy trope by not taking on the mantle that was left to him, as lord/king of Winterfell.

In Game of Thrones/ASOIAF, the question of who rules isn’t really all that important. The Stark rulers (and most others) are all dead. But how their heirs endure, on both realist and fantastical levels, is far more intriguing.

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