Random thoughts on New York

Tomorrow we leave and go back to Amherst. Tonight we are going to the Yankees-Twins playoff game. This is a wonderful way to end our month here.

As a way of summing up our experiences, here are some random observation about life in the city.

There are a lot of dogs and a lot of them are big. There are also a lot of stores and other services for the dogs. Since most people live in fairly small quarters, it is hard to understand how they handle having such big animals. The level of services indicates that the dogs hold deep meaning for their owners.

Since I am a cat person, I will mention that there is a feral cat problem in the city. I didn’t see any evidence of it- unlike in Israel-, but there is an organization, The New York City Feral Cat Initiative. I gave them money.

There are also a lot of bicycles and bicyclists. Many people seem to use a bicycle as their means of transportation which is inspiring and terrifying. In general, New Yorkers seem to try very hard to engage with the outdoors. In Amherst, which is relatively rural, this would not be unusual. In New York there is a lot of concrete, but there are also wonderful green spaces.

If you live in midtown Manhattan you do not need a car to get anywhere in Manhattan, which is great. You definitely do more walking to accomplish daily tasks. Since many stores are open late, shopping is more of a daily occurrence. At home we drive once a week to the supermarket and buy food and other staples.

My final observations that we had a great time and I would love to live here.


On Monday the Congress voted to appoint Robert M. Groves as the director of the Census Bureau. (See New York Times )The upcoming 2010 Census has become very political. Republicans are worried about the use of sampling and ACORN workers to conduct the census. In 1988 I worked as Field Operations Supervisor in preparation for the 1990 census.

I had used census material from the nineteenth century in my research and was excited to help with the compiling of contemporary data. My experience doing this job for about six months made me much more skeptical about the validity of the statistics .

Groves’ appointment reminded me of this work and also of the d’var torah we heard while we were in Israel. We attended a Reconstructionist minyan on Shabbat and one of the rabbinical students spending a year in Israel gave a talk on the Torah portion for that day. It was from Numbers and had to do with the counting of the Jewish people. The person talked about what it means to be counted and if there are time when we would not want to be counted.

Another day on our Israel  trip we spent time with Daniel Rossing, Director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations. He discussed the minority status of Christians in Jerusalem. All of this has made me realize that we hold a multiplicity of identities at the same time. We can be the person with power in one situation and completely powerless in another. When it comes time to be counted what position you are in could make a big difference in how you would feel about being counted.

Poppins on the Roof

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in the movie
Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in the movie

I went to New York City for the day on Saturday. There was an extended family with two little girls also on the train. They were going to see Mary Poppins, the musical This made me think about the ways in which P.L. Travers original book has been transformed; first into a Disney movie, which I loved as a child, and now a Broadway musical. The book was not about the sanctity of the nuclear family and the importance of parents being involved in their children’s life. The movie was about this and I imagine the musical had developed this theme even further. I feel this is the Disneyfication of Mary Poppins.

When we were in Israel, I had the opportunity to see Fiddler on the Roof, performed in Hebrew at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv.  Earlier in the day, Noam Semel, the creative director of the theater had given us a tour and then nicely got us complimentary seats. It was a unique experience. We had spent several days talking about Israel and the goals of Zionists in founding the country. The early settlers of Israel wanted to create a new Jewish identity that had nothing to do with the life they had led in Eastern Europe. For example, they chose to revive Hebrew rather than have Yiddish, the language of Eastern Europe, as the national language.

Sholem Aleichem’s, Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories is the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. He wrote the stories in Yiddish. In the early 1960’s, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein, created a Broadway musical out of Aleichem’s stories about Tevye. Later it became a film. Similar to Disney’s treatment of Mary Poppins, the creators of Fiddler on the Roof sanitized and modernized Aleichem’s original material. In the book, when the daughter Chava, marries a Christian boy from the village she is lost to her family. They cannot even see her and mourn for her as if she is dead. The play and the movie both minimized this trauma, making it more about Tevye’s inability to be that flexible rather than a complete tearing of the family’s fabric.

The Israeli production of Fiddler is a big hit and the audience genuinely seemed to enjoy the nostalgic look back at early twentieth century shtetl life. However, most of the viewers and their ancestors did not have that past and the founding of Israel was a conscious repudiation of that narrative. The play was a Hebrew translation of an English language interpretation of a Yiddish book.

Fiddler on the Roof, Cameri Theater Tel Aviv
Fiddler on the Roof, Cameri Theater Tel Aviv

I now think it would be great to see Fiddler in different languages – Russian, Japanese, Chinese, maybe even Arabic. Largely I think the material and Tevye have become everyman, international style. The family values and the ongoing daily struggle of his life have universal appeal and speak to memories, real or imagined, for various national groups.


At the end of our meeting with the Sufi Sheik, Abdul Aziz  Buchari, in his lovely and historic home, he said he had a website. I asked him if he was on Facebook. He replied, “Yes.” Twitter? “I am  working on it.”

Almost everyone we met had email and a website. The Arab merchant we bought our game table from said he was trying to develop a site. When the world is that interconnected can getting along be far behind?

We read and discussed a Yehuda Amichai poem, that, in part said:

“Why is Jerusalem always two, (Jerusalem) Above and (Jerusalem) below while I want to live in Middle Jerusalem.” (I’m sorry I don’t know the name of the poem.)

The Internet and the world wide web also occupy both high and low spaces.Would the middle be a better understanding of other cultures and more peaceful ways to solve problems?

Sin Taxes

There is a very lively discussion of the proposed fee increase in the federal beer tax going on in the blogosphere. Two places that have interesting discussions are Alan McLeod, at A Good Beer Blog, and Steve Sullivan, guest blogging yesterday on Kasper On Tap on the Baltimore Sun site. Sullivan provides a roundup of the current blogging on proposed increases in liquor taxes to finance health care reform. I have posted a bunch on this topic and my dissertation and a large part of my book dealt with the federal government and liquor taxes.

Last April I posted about a proposed increase in the Wisconsin beer tax. Many of the points are also relevant for the federal situation so I am re-posting it.

April 14, 2008

The  website Wausau Daily Herald.com had a posting yesterday suggesting that Wisconsin raise its beer tax. Apparently the state is facing a rising problem of underage drinking and some legislators as well as police officers  believe one response should be increased beer taxes. The state is also facing a budget deficit of $250 million.

Wisconsin has not increased the beer tax since 1969. It remains at six cents a gallon; the national average is twenty-six cents. During the forty years that the Wisconsin beer tax has remained stationary, tobacco taxes in the state have increased eight times. They are currently $1.77 a pack. Wisconsin ranks first both in percentage of high school students that drink and  binge drinkers.

Given Wisconsin’s historical image as a center of brewing, the author of the posting suggested that, “Proposing a beer tax increase here is like suggesting higher tobacco taxes in North Carolina.” The author actually understates the potential opposition to a beer tax increase since he cites only Miller as a factor in the current Wisconsin brewing industry and claims primarily sentimental value for the industry today. However there are over fifty breweries and brew pubs in Wisconsin; several of which are among the top fifty brewers in the  country. Miller Brewing is of course the country’s third largest brewers while  Minhas Craft Brewery of Monroe, Wisconsin is fifteenth.

In 1991, when the brewing industry faced the first tax increase for beer in forty years, brewers large and small joined to fight the proposed increase. In fact most brewing industry organizations including the Beer Institute, the Brewers Association, and the National Beer Wholesalers Association maintain that tax should be rolled back.

Although craft brewing has a certain cachet that would imply it is something other than a business, craft brewers are no different from Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors  in seeking the least possible federal and state interference and regulation via  taxation or other means. Given the poor economic landscape as well as the particular problems facing brewers such as the hops shortage, it is very likely that the brewing industry will argue against the tax as a regressive measure that would fall unfairly on middle class and working people. Because the brewing industry has always emphasized the heavy tax burden it already bears, it will argue that further taxes are not appropriate.

Increasing taxes to  cover the societal costs of alcohol and abuse is something that the brewing industry has always rejected and will most probably continue to. It is very interesting that these arguments date back to the the beginning of federal taxation of beer and distilled spirits in 1862 and have not changed very much.

The Jerusalem Syndrome: Shopping

Jerusalem 2009
Jerusalem 2009

On our tour we went at a pretty fast pace. Lee, our amazing tour guide, kept us in line. Because we had so many appointments, leisurely strolling through a market was not often an option.

On the last day, the tour was officially over and we did not have to leave for the airport until 8:30 p.m. Aaron and I walked to the old city, first going through an artist colony. In those shops the wares were fairly expensive and we were able to restrain ourselves. When we got to the Arab shuk, (market), it was a different story. Everything was so colorful and looked so nice. With no time limit, it became almost hypnotic. Eventually, after we bought a game table and had tea in an Arab shop, I realized we had to leave or we would keep shopping. Maybe Lee moving us along was not such a bad idea.

The Jerusalem Syndrome is a phenomena that occurs when someone comes to the city and starts believing that they are some kind of messiah, prophet, or religious leader. The cure is to leave Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Syndrome: Shopping

Lee implores, cajoles, commands
This way, this way through the shuk
We walk quickly
Looking straight
Our eyes sometimes stray
No stopping
No shopping
We complain
We want to shop
It is our right

Today, no Lee
No directions
No instructions
Plenty of time
The shuk is open and inviting
We are pulled in and in
So entrancing
So appealing
Come in and see my shop
Just for a minute

We cannot stop
We need
Or at least want everything
If we do not stop now
We never will.

Steps and Stones

This is another poem I wrote while in Israel. The session at Elul unleashed a creative spurt that is very interesting.

A few days later we met with David Ehrlich, an excellent writer of short stories. He spent over an hour with us, talking about his writing and the creative process. He said that sometimes ideas are in his mind or in the air and they float by. This is similar to what I have been feeling lately.

Jerusalem is a very different and interesting city. All the facades, by law, have to look the same, which is a beige Jerusalem stone. The Old City is very winding and up and down, but other parts of the city are as well. Jerusalem perches on a mountain with hills and valleys around it. You are always going up or down, often on paved or cobble-stoned paths.

Another aspect of Jerusalem is the intense tourism since so many different people and faiths feel the city belongs to them. When ever I travel overseas I like to buy things that are actually made in that country. Of course in many parts of the world the tourist items are made in China.

Steps and Stones

Everything in Jerusalem is
Steps and stones
Steps and stones
Up and Down
Up and Down

Spend/Don’t Waste
Made here
Made there

Jerusalem 2009
Jerusalem 2009

Beer and Wine in Israel

In my post about Jewish Beer and Brewing I discussed Israeli and Palestinian beer. While in Israel, I had the opportunity to taste both Goldstar and Macabee. Goldstar is a medium color lager with a decent flavor and a small hoppy taste. Maccabee was pretty bad, on par with Bud or Pabst. My husband had Nesher Malt, which is a non-alcoholic beer which has been produced  since 1935.

Someone who was on our trip had Dancing Camel beer on tap and said it was very good. Their website has several different beers, some with funny names in the style of Shmaltz Brewing and He’Brew. The food scene in Israel is so amazing that I think it is just a matter of time before Israel has a thriving micro-brewery industry.

We also had a tour at the Carmel Winery in Zikhron Ya’akov. Most American Jews grow up drinking Manishevitz at Passover and think that is the extent of Jewish Kosher wine. The company dates back to 1882,Baron Edmund de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Lafite, helped established it.

Unlike Manishevitz, Carmel’s fine wines are not pasteurized which allows them to have a  better flavor. The wine we tasted was very good and our tour guide was an amazing, extremely stylish woman, originally from  Morocco. Unfortunately I can’t remember her name but I do have some pictures.

The guide is the person on the right
Wine Barrels


We got back from our trip to Israel on Thursday May 28 after being up for about 26 hours. We  had a wonderful time but it has taken a few days to decompress and resume my everyday life. For one thing the weather was fabulous and the plants and flowers were so beautiful. It is not quite as pretty here at home. I plan to post a few entries about the trip, hopefully with pictures. Some will be about beer and alcohol while others will just be about the experiences I had while there.

One afternoon we walked on the rooftops of the Old City of Jerusalem and looked at churches and other buildings. We also went into some of them. One place we visited was the Syrian Church. A woman named Justinia is in charge. She was from Iraq and had been a math teacher. To say she was strict would be an understatement. She made clear that we were to sit properly and not cross our legs. Justina was also devout. She speaks English but prays in Aramaic which was the street language of Jews and early Christians. She spoke to us about a miracle that had occurred at her church and then sang the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 150, the final psalm, both in Aramaic.

The next day we had a teaching about Jerusalem and its many varied meanings for different people. Our teacher, Yardena,  was excellent and she had us each write something about Jerusalem. I wrote the following poem. I haven’t written a poem in probably twenty-five years.

Syrian Church Jerusalem 2009
Syrian Church Jerusalem 2009

At first Justina seems strange
Even crazy and very strict
But as she talks
She almost glows
Exuding her faith and certainty
When she sings
She is whole and holy.

%d bloggers like this: