Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Comic Zoom

My latest published article, and my first in Israel, is now available in this week's issue of the Jerusalem Report.

Here's a short extract of the article from Issue 16, November 24, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report.

You won't find caped crusaders or masked superheroes in any of these comic books. Instead, Miriam Libicki's "jobnik!" chronicles her day-to-day life in the Israeli army in frank, often blunt terms. Jobnik is Israeli slang for soldiers in non-combat roles. More of an illustrated diary than a comic, "jobnik!" takes us behind the heroic fa├žade, to where soldiers wash dishes, file reports and fool around.

"I wonder if, as the no-longer-new girl here, I should warn them about Asher," ponders Libicki's comic persona, recalling a foolish fling with a base scoundrel as she escorts new recruits to the women's barracks. "But I can't think of a way to do it that doesn't just make me look bad."

Originally published as individual comics, the first six issues have recently been reworked into a single graphic novel, "jobnik! An American girl's adventures in the Israeli army," distributed by Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest distributor of comic books in North America, available at comic stores in December. Securing a distribution deal for an independently produced comic on this unlikely subject was no easy feat. "The truth is they rejected it at first," admits Libicki. "So I sent them reviews from Publisher's Weekly and, after some discussions, they finally agreed to distribute it."


You can also read an longer excerpt here. But, I think you need to go out and buy a copy.

The article is a review of Jobnik!, an autobiographical comic book by Vancouver-based Miriam Libicki. I met with her at Comics N Vegetables (the coolest comic store in the Middle East) in Tel Aviv in September. Here we are in the middle of the interview. What do you think of my professional interview shorts?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Heroes

Actor, and seriously cool blue-eyed mensch, Paul Newman, has died at the respectable age of 83. I could write for days on his brilliant, decades-long acting career, but instead want to acknowledge Newman the humanitarian, whose Newman's Own label of salad dressings and sauces earned around $250 million for charity. Wow!

For your viewing pleasure, here's the trailer for Exodus, one of Newman's best known roles.



I reviewed Exodus for a distributor of Jewish films.
Exodus
US, 1960, 208 minutes

Based on Leon Uris' sweeping novel, Otto Preminger’s star-studded epic tends to simplify and is arguably too long but as one of the few Hollywood films to tackle the creation of the State of Israel, Exodus is absolutely essential. Told from an admittedly pro-Zionist bias, the film relates the events that preceded the UN vote to approve partition of Palestine in 1948 through the exploits of Ari Ben Canaan, (Paul Newman) a member of the Israeli resistance group, Hagannah. Exodus is first and foremost a Hollywood adventure romance, but no other feature film captures the mainstream Jewish regard for the heroes of Israel’s birth. For more detail of the events of the film, check out the recently released documentary, In Search of Peace: Part One 1948 – 1967.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Wordplay

I have a problem. I'm a sucker for internet distractions. I've already shown you what I'd look like as a cartoon. Now (at last) I can reduce my bio to a Wordle, a representational 'word cloud' courtesy of IBM Engineer Jonathon Feinberg. Without further ado, Morey Altman reduced to 50 floating words:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Machssomim*

We live near the Green Line and, because of the placement of Highway 443, pass through a checkpoint every time we go to Jerusalem. Checkpoints aren't all the same. This one controls entry onto a highway restricted to vehicles with Israeli licence plates. There are many who believe that these roads are, in fact, racist. Nothing could be further from the truth, as any of the Arab bus drivers who regularly take us to Jerusalem could tell you. But, these security measures are a necessity. Critics conveniently forget similar restrictions in other countries.

Case in point: the US response to the attack on September 11, 2001.

There were not only roadblocks set up around DC, all air traffic was rerouted away from the US, and even crossing the border by vehicle was temporarily stopped. It was only after many hours that traffic started to move again. I happened to be flying to the US two days later; the trip, which would normally take 4 hours, took 24 hours because of increased security. If the US was being attacked at the rate Israel has sustained shootings and bombings over the years, I would expect entry into America to be damn near impossible.

While real, these restrictions within and out of the territories are the direct result of terrorism. When Israel acquired the West Bank and Gaza, traffic to and from was relatively easy. I crossed the border in 1978 in minutes and there were no checkpoints anywhere. We visited Bethlehem, Jericho and Hebron and were welcomed (they wanted our tourist money, of course.)

And y'know, for all the bitching about the security fence (or whatever you want to call it), 10 years ago both Israelis AND Palestinians wanted more separation. A poll conducted in 1998 found 81 percent of the Israeli respondents and 63 percent of the Palestinians interviewed support(ed) a closed border. More importantly, both Israelis and Palestinians -- 77 percent and 65 percent, respectively -- said relations between the two peoples should be intensified in order to build support for peace. Ironically, one of the loudest opponents of a separation fence was Ariel Sharon, who was set against establishing any line that could be construed as a border.

Although living in Modi'in feels a little like being in the suburbs, we don't ever forget that we're also on the front lines.

*Checkpoint

crossposted to altmanaliyah.blogspot.com

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Summer Exodus

As we approach the end of our annual reading of Deuteronomy, I can't help but be thankful for the relative ease of our exodus to the Promised Land compared to our ancestors: Seriously, Manna from heaven! 40 years in the desert! The Golden Calf!

But did it really happen like that?

I don't mean to sound facetious here. The Exodus, and unfortunate wanderings that followed, are easy to dismiss as brilliant 'storytelling' and nothing more. And within the recorded story, there are certainly elements that demand interpretation. The Torah was meant to be read and re-read by each generation; more importantly, it was meant to be relevant and inspirational. Sometimes, it's not the literal words that accomplish these things but the dynamic between the text and our experiences and ability to comprehend. One of the things I love is the Jewish custom of re-reading Torah portions every year.

It never ceases to amaze me how time and again, a passage I've read dozens of times can suddenly leap out at me with profound meaning and clarity. Did the words change? Did the story change? Not at all. I changed. I grew through study and gained new experiences as I've aged.

Torah interpretation also allows each generation to apply contemporary values and beliefs to the understanding of the texts. A good example of this is the phrase, "An eye for an eye." (Exodus 21) The rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud, recording oral tradition going back at least centuries, could not believe that the phrase was ever meant to be understood literally; the notion was abhorrent then and now. It was
clear that the text referred to monetary compensation because that understanding was consistent with their values.

Perhaps the understanding was different 3,500 years ago. Perhaps it will change in the future. Neither of which is as important as how the words are understood and applied to our lives today. Each generation is obligated to address the fundamental concerns and values of its time and to struggle with the parameters of necessary and permissible change. Deuteronomy itself insists upon this: we must rely on the judges/priests/leaders of our time "even if they say that right is left and left is right" (Sifre on Parashat Shoftim). And as we read in Parashat Nitzavim, "[Torah] is not in the heavens."

Did the Exodus really happen? Perhaps not exactly as described, but then the historicity of the Bible isn't as important as its relevance and meaning. The Bible isn't a history book, nor should it ever be reduced to such a mundane purpose. It's much deeper than that.

(crossposted to altmanaliyah.blogspot.com)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Thou Shalt Remember

In April of 1942, Israel Altman, Freida (Frucht) Altman, Rosa Altman, Yonah and Breina (Altman) Rosenblatt, Yidel Rosenblatt, the parents and siblings of Hersch Weidman, Shaya Gelber, Yosel Gelber and their families were murdered in and around Rohatyn and Berezhany, Galicia. The wife and children of Jack Moraff were murdered in Belarus.

Zichronam l'Vracha. May Their Memories be a Blessing.

The 27th of Nissan is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), observed as a day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. In Israel, it is a national memorial day.

At 10:00am, air-raid sirens are sounded throughout the country for two minutes. People stand at attention on the streets; cars stop on the roads; for two minutes Israel is practically motionless.

This video is courtesy Jewlicious.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wrestling with God


I don't even like wrestling but I want this. It's just so davka, y'know?

You can order one for yourself here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Passover

What's my favourite thing about Passover, you ask?

Watching the Seda Club with Shabot 6000! Enjoy.


Dementia

What is President Carter thinking?

Hamas has failed since their first day in office to act as a responsible government both toward the citizens of Gaza and the international community. The first duty of an elected government is to honour and maintain (or renegotiate) agreements and treaties previously signed. Hamas refused to do so. Their response to a Presidential demand to lay down arms, cease rocket fire on Israel and work with the PA security apparatus was to 'take over' Gaza by ruthless force. Do you trust a 'democratically elected' government that throws political opponents off roofs, shoots enemies in the head in front of their children or coerces by shoving hoses down people throats and running water until their bodies explode? Hamas has long since lost the right to rule as a 'democratically elected' body.

Moreover, there's nothing to negotiate. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Hamas co-founder of Hamas, Mahmoud Al-Zahar:

"We do not and will not recognize a state called Israel. Israel has no right to any inch of Palestinian land. This is an important issue. Our position stems from our religious convictions. This is a holy land. It is not the property of the Palestinians or the Arabs. This land is the property of all Muslims in all parts of the world."

What does he see worth discussing?

Speaking with Hamas is not only an insult to Israel and world Jewry, which Hamas has threatened repeatedly, it is also a terrible disservice to the Palestinians, empowering the most intransigent elements in Palestinian society and implying that their President is impotent and wasting his time in direct negotiations with Israel.

Every time a terrorist organization is treated as anything other than a gang of thugs, which they are, they believe more strongly than ever that violence has earned them respect and international recognition. And they're right! As namby-pambies like Carter kiss their asses, Hamas simply continues its campaign of violence emboldened by the prestige it's achieved, thus only perpetuating the conflict.

And apparently even the PA agrees with me. Not sure if that's a good thing or not?

"Palestinian Authority officials urged visiting former US President Jimmy Carter on Tuesday not to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Damascus later this week. The officials expressed fear that Carter's planned talks with Mashaal would legitimize Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip and undermine the authority of PA President Mahmoud Abbas."

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satelli...cle%2FShowFull

And now the news that he wanted to meet with Islamic Jihad, but they turned him down (believing he's an agent of the US/Israel.) At least with Hamas, he had the excuse of saying they were an elected political body. What's his reasoning now? Wow, did I actually say REASONING?

Islamic Jihad: We Refused Carter’s Request for a Meeting

Eric Trager - 04.16.2008 - 3:52 PM Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has announced that its leadership has refused former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s request for a meeting. According to PIJ’s QudsNews website, Egyptian authorities contacted PIJ Secretary-General Dr. Ramadan Shallah on Carter’s behalf earlier this week, inviting Shallah to meet with Carter in Cairo. Shallah is listed on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists, and the reward for information leading to his apprehension is $5 million. In turning down the request, Shallah declared that Carter is “carrying an American-Israeli agenda,” while PIJ spokesman Daoud Shahab blasted Carter’s criticism of Palestinian rocket attacks during the former president’s visit to Sderot. E-mails and phone calls to the Carter Center press office seeking confirmation of Carter’s outreach to PIJ have not been returned.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Made in America

There's been a lot of discussion lately about the US and to what extent it may be considered a Christian nation. Much of this debate has focused on America's constitution, which is notably lacking in references to God and the Christian church. But, as we more closely examine the issue, it's worth asking: which America are we talking about? The original settlements of the refuge seeking Puritans? The revolutionary America of the deist founding fathers? Traumatized America following the Civil War? The American melting pot of the 21st century?

The original settlers were unquestionably seeking religious freedom in the wake of insufferable repression under the English Church. But, there was much more to the Puritan mission than a desire for freedom: the Puritans saw themselves on a divine mission and they modeled themselves after the Hebrews of the Old Testament. "Come let us declare the word of the Lord in Zion," declared Puritan leader, William Bradford. America was to them the new Zion, and they set out to establish a new holy land under God's guidance. They cited Scripture as authority for many criminal statutes throughout the colonies and endeavoured (and generally failed) to convert the natives to Christianity. Christian writers of the period celebrated at length this "choice above all other lands." Cotton Mather, in his Magnalia Christi Americana extolled, "Christ's Great Deeds in America."

The New Land continued to attract both the persecuted and the rebellious. Within a few decades, the territories held Baptists of many varieties, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Puritans of all stripes, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, a handful of Jewish congregations, and undoubtedly those who described themselves as unaffiliated, many of whom were alienated if not hostile toward organized religion. Religious freedom in such an atmosphere became more than just a catchphrase; it was an absolute necessity in the face of such unique diversity and difference of opinion.

Increasingly many saw themselves as outside the Church. This was, in part, due to diversity of belief, but also the great distances between communities, and of course America's relative isolation from European religious leadership. The result was a religious revival known as the Great Awakening which swept over the American colonies from Maine to Georgia between 1730 and 1745. Theologian (and later President of Princeton) Jonathan Edwards, in 1742 wrote: "Tis not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, that is so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or, at least, a Prelude of that glorious Work of God, so often foretold in Scripture, which in the Progress and Issue of it, shall renew the World of Mankind ... And there are many Things that make it probable that this work will begin in America."

As he and others preached a return to the Church, a new manner of Christianity, neither Biblical nor European, emerged - an American Christianity. Americans bonded in a common understanding of Christian faith and being, and a fresh respect for lesser established denominations. The sentiment of John Wesley sums it up: "Dost thou love and fear God? It is enough! I give thee the right hand of fellowship." (The Complete idiot's Guide to Christianity, pg. 183)

It’s also worth remembering the role of religion in the American Revolution. While the conflict split some denominations, notably the Church of England (more than half of the Anglican priests in America, unable to reconcile their oaths of allegiance to the King with American independence, left their pulpits during the Revolutionary War), other theologians advocated that civil and religious freedom was ordained and therefore rebellion sanctioned by God.

It was incumbent upon the Founding Statesmen to recognize and acknowledge the vast range of religious opinion at the time. Still, this diversity was all seen within a Christian framework. "All the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same...Christianity, therefore, reigns without obstacle, by universal consent." (de Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Ch. 17.)True, they were all profoundly inspired by the lofty goals of Enlightenment. While several spoke against the more superstitious and incredulous aspects of Christian belief, there remained for most an essential faith. "I am a real Christian," wrote Thomas Jefferson, "that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus." George Washington was an Episcopal vestryman; John Adams called himself "a church going animal." James Madison was a Hebrew major at Princeton. Most American statesmen seemed to share the convictions of their constituents that religion was, in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, "indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions."

It may well be that some were simply paying lip service to a religious constituency. Even so, they never failed to recognize the Christian nature of the land. If they held personal religious misgivings they felt no compunction against encouraging religious practice in others. Despite the absence of God in the Constitution, Congress appointed chaplains for itself and the armed forces, sponsored the publication of a Bible , recommended that all members of the armed forces “attend divine services”, and facilitated the promotion of Christianity to the natives. As well, National days of thanksgiving were established on which the American people could “express the grateful feelings of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor" and on which they may” join the penitent confession of their manifold sins . . . that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance."

Over the years, Christian religiosity has continued to intrude itself into the American system despite the separation of Church and State. Following the American Civil War, for example, the words "In God We Trust" were added to US coins. And in 1870 Congress proclaimed Christmas a federal holiday.

I believe America is a Christian nation, even if most Americans today do not believe that Christianity should play a central role in governance, or that the United States itself should ever be regarded as a visible 'Kingdom of Christ on earth.' Surprisingly, I don’t have a problem with this. America has, through its Puritan antecedents and resolute founders, developed its own take on the divine mission, one that has sought to shake off the constraints of dogma and superstition in favour of Judeo-Christian practice, based on the rule of charity and respect of one's fellow. America is by no means perfect; the country has certainly experienced its share of anti-Semitism, although very rarely has it resulted in violence. Still, Americans continue to soul-search on these and other problems. Overall I think the Puritans would be pretty impressed with the freedoms their descendants and others now enjoy.