Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What's Your "Favorite" Book of Tanach?

Do you particularly enjoy a certain book of the Tanach?

Today, I heard the book of Daniel described as a "really good read." Usually, when I hear orthodox Jews discuss a "favorite" book of Tanach, it's always Psalms/Tehillim. But does another book speak to you personally? Is there a book you simply enjoy reading? Have those feelings or choices changed over time? 

Conversely, do you have particular difficulty with a certain book? Why do you think that is?

Deep Thoughts Tuesday.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Decorating for the Seasons

Today I have some strange questions for you.

For the first time, I live in a neighborhood that loves to decorate for the seasons and holidays. October was great, with all the pumpkins and fall leaves a girl could ask for plus great Halloween decorations. Now I'm anxiously awaiting the Christmas decorations because I'm sure this will be an "electricity be damned!" extravaganza. 

This got me thinking. Other than Sukkot, I can't think of any "holiday decorations" in the sense that I grew up with in the secular American world (one Channukiah in a window isn't very impressive). My family wasn't Christian, but we did decorate for Christmas. Funny story: At 8, they sat me down and said, "We think we're provided you with good childhood memories of Christmas. We're still going to do presents and a big meal this year, but if you want a tree or decorations, you'll have to do it yourself from now on." I was never that into decorating, but I think this is a large reason I don't feel nostalgic for my childhood at Christmastime. That's allegedly a big dilemma for converts and candidates, but in my experience with individuals, it rarely plays out that way. Personally, I find Christmas very stressful and overwhelming, so I'm glad to only celebrate it in small doses with my family.

But...I still love seasonal decorations. Honestly, I'm far too lazy to decorate my house for something when there are so many other things that need to be done. But I love the pumpkins and fall leaves and snowflakes (so long as there's not real snow). I can't be the only one who feels that way, but I don't recall ever seeing such decorations in Jewish homes. Is there a fear that the decorations will be mistaken for non-Jewish holidays? Is it "just not done" because it's too "goyishe" (derogatory word for non-Jewish)? Is everyone else just as lazy as I am?

Sociologically, I would see a difference between fall and winter decorations. Winter decorations have become part and parcel of Christmas decorations, especially once you reach sleds and snowmen. (So does that mean that the new public obsession with penguins should be exempt?) However, there's nothing religious or even holiday-related about them. On the other hand, fall decorations are much more divorced from Halloween, which isn't even a Christian holiday to begin with. (Only you can decide whether to classify it as a secular or Pagan holiday.) Even if paper snowflakes or an evergreen wreath on the door is too goyishe, should fall leaves on the windows get a free pass?

Do seasonal decorations exist in the Jewish world but I just have lazy friends? What's your experience?

EDIT: Husband wants to add Thanksgiving decorations to the conversation. Do you think that's different?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Book Review: Branded by the Pink Triangle

As some of you may remember, I'm very passionate about the "forgotten" victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, such as the Roma and gay men. Thanks to the Jewish Book Council, I got a free copy of the book Branded by the Pink Triangle, which is a very short book about the Nazi experience of gay men. The book is so short, probably because of the fact that gay victims of the Nazis were perceived to be criminals, as homosexual activity was still criminalized in most of the Western world until the last few decades. 

(As this is an orthodox blog, I want to point out that regardless of what one believes the Torah says about homosexuals, it is not inconsistent to believe that a government has no authority to criminalize such behavior or thoughts. But you might be reminded of this current news story: "No gays in my town, thank Gd," Says Orthodox Mayor of Beit Shemesh. Let's just point out that the actual quote was “We have none of those things [gays] here. Thank God, this city is holy and pure.” Glad to know gays weren't created in Gd's image and have no status as a human being. /rant)

In short, the book is interesting, shocking, and a quick read. But I want to take the time to tell you some of the infuriating information I learned.

Like most places, Germany criminalized homosexual behavior under a law called Paragraph 175. The Nazis increased the penalty, making this a felony. They explained their position towards the gay community in 1928:
It is not necessary that you and I live, but it is necessary that the German people live. And it can live if it can fight, for life means fighting. And it can only fight if it maintains its masculinity. It can only maintain its masculinity if it exercises discipline, especially in matters of love. Free love and deviance are undisciplined. Therefore, we reject you, as we reject anything which hurts our people.
Anyone who even thinks of homosexual love is our enemy.
We reject anything that emasculates our people and makes it a plaything for our enemies, for we know that life is a fight, and it is madness to think that men will ever embrace fraternally. Natural history teaches us the opposite. Might makes right. The strong will always win over the weak. Let us see to it that we once again become the strong! But this we can achieve only in one way - the German people must once again learn how to exercise discipline. We therefore reject any form of lewdness, especially homosexuality, because it robs us of our last chance to free our people from the bondage which now enslaves it.
The gays were undesireables. (But hey, at least lesbians weren't as threatening, so they could be considered just "antisocial" when they were sent to the camps - though in much lesser numbers.) Interestingly, that same rationale meant that the Nazis didn't persecute gays "as much" in "non-Aryan" communities because they hoped the gay community would help speed up the internal rot within, say, the Polish community. 

There are no known statistics for how many Jewish victims were gay. However, once the Nazis turned their full attention to the "Jewish Problem," things became somewhat better for the gay community as a whole.

So their intimidation, imprisonment, and suffering in the concentration camps was awful. Sure. So was the Jews' and everyone else's experience. Or as you might say (and as I have heard some in the Jewish community say)... "big deal." 

What really grinds my gears is what happened after the war. Once "liberated," the pink triangle prisoners with time left on their "sentence" were removed from the camps back to the prisons. They're criminals, after all. I guess that liberating armies didn't think the Nazis' policies were ALL bad. While the gypsy populations were actually liberated, they remain stigmatized and treated like criminals even today. But we actually took gay concentration camp victims and placed them in prison. It seems like any victim of a concentration camp has more than served any sentence a court of law could impose. But homosexuality was still a crime in the countries of the liberating armies.

According to the book, the West German authorities arrested "more than 100,000 men" for homosexuality between 1949-1969. Those who were pink triangles in the camps were sentenced more harshly because they were "repeat offenders." These men who suffered the horrors of the camps were considered felons when they went home, and were treated as such. "They were not able to work in the civil service, lost their academic and professional degrees, and were unable to vote. But they were the lucky men arrested under Paragraph 175 - they were still alive."

The German government did not recognize gays as victims of the Nazis until 2001. Until that recognition, gay victims could not claim any compensation for their treatment. Even then, most victims were dead or still unwilling to "out" themselves. The last known Pink Triangle died in 2011, and the last known gay Jewish survivor died in 2012. But it's never too late to acknowledge their suffering and honor their memory.