Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ethiopian women imposed a deadly birth control pill as a precondition to aliya to Isarel

Ethiopian Jews arrive in IsraelPHOTO: MOSHE SHAI

The right to make one’s own family-planning decisions is essential in a free society. All of those involved in Ethiopian aliya must now ensure that this right remains at the forefront of any administration of birth-control methods.

A program aired on Israel Educational Television on Sunday revealed that Ethiopian Jewish women awaiting aliya were given long-lasting birth-control while in transit camps. According to the report, the clinics were run by the Joint Distribution Committee and Israel’s Health Ministry.

The drug, administered every 12 weeks, is known as Depo-Provera, a hormonal, injectable contraceptive known as the “birth-control shot.” Although it has existed for around 30 years, it is not widely used. Only about five percent of women elect to use this method of birth control in the US.

Yet it appears that it was chosen as an easy and effective choice for women in Ethiopia about to emigrate. According to the report, the practice of providing Depo-Provera disproportionately to Ethiopian women was continued after their arrival in Israel.

The central question this raises is to what degree the women were provided with an informed choice. Also, was the decision to administer this shot tinged with racism and paternalism? One Ethiopian woman claimed, in an interview with Haaretz: “We said we won’t have the shot. They told us, if you don’t, you won’t go to Israel.... We didn’t have a choice.”

The Joint responded, “We do not advise them to have small families. It is a matter of personal choice.... The claims by the women, according to which refusal to have the injection would bar them from medical care and economic aid and threaten their chances to immigrate to Israel, are nonsense. The medical team does not intervene directly or indirectly in economic aid and the Joint is not involved in aliya procedures.”

But if those administering the shot were not involved in immigration, this doesn’t mean that the mostly poor, vulnerable and sometimes illiterate women were not made to feel that they had little choice in the matter.

Were the women provided, for instance, with the same information that an Israeli woman would expect to receive from her health-care professional? Were they told that not only would the shot prevent pregnancy for three months, but that it is linked to weight gain?

The Journal of Medical Ethics published a report addressing this issue in 1984, in which the authors noted, “Depo-Provera has been damned as an example of Malthusian enthusiasts foisting unsolicited and questionable therapies on other people hence creating unwarranted risks especially for the poor and those least able to understand the benefit/ risk considerations.”

Travel writer Frosty Woolridge reported that in Haiti, aid groups discussed making Depo-Provera injections free to women because “Haitians need to bring their fertility down to European rates.”

In 2008, according to an article in The National, Rachel Mangoli – who ran a day-care center for Ethiopian children in Bnei Brak – was told by a family clinic that it had been told to provide Ethiopian women with the long-term birth control vaccination.

Feminist organization Woman to Woman reported in 2010 that 57 percent of women receiving Depo-Provera in Israel were Ethiopian, even though they made up only 2 percent of the population.

Unanswered questions remain and it is imperative that the organizations involved in the aliya of Ethiopian Jews – including the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jews, the Joint, the Health Ministry and the Jewish Agency – provide clear answers.

It isn’t enough to shirk responsibility and claim that the women are not telling the truth. What would motivate these women, after having made aliya, to lie? If, as they say, they felt pressured to take a birth-control shot that they did not fully understand the ramifications of, and they were then encouraged to keep taking it in Israel, a system should now be put in place to make sure that women in their circumstances receive the same information and are presented with the same choices as immigrants from North America, haredi women or Arab women in Israel.

Attempts to limit population growth in places such as China and the controversial sterilization program carried out by Indira Gandhi in India in 1975 are hallmarks of coercive population control. It is neither the job of the government nor an NGO to decide on an individual’s future family.

The right to make one’s own family-planning decisions is essential in a free society. All of those involved in Ethiopian aliya must now ensure that this right remains at the forefront of any administration of birth-control methods.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

“A Voice in the Night” :Steven Millhauser: The New Yorker


BY DECEMBER 10, 2012

Photograph by Eric Ogden.
Photograph by Eric Ogden.

The boy Samuel wakes in the dark. Something’s not right. Most commentators agree that the incident takes place inside the temple, rather than in a tent outside the temple doors, under the stars. Less certain is whether Samuel’s bed is in the sanctuary itself, where the Ark of the Covenant stands before a seven-branched oil lamp that is kept burning through the night, or in an adjoining chamber. Let’s say that he is lying in an inner chamber, close to the sanctuary, perhaps adjacent to it. A curtained doorway leads to the chamber of Eli, the high priest of the temple of Shiloh. We like such details, but they do not matter. What matters is that Samuel wakes suddenly in the night. He is twelve years old, according to Flavius Josephus, or he may be a year or two younger. Something has startled him awake. He hears it again, clearly this time: “Samuel!” Eli is calling his name. What’s wrong? Eli never calls his name in the middle of the night. Did Samuel forget to close the temple doors at sunset, did he allow one of the seven flames of the lamp to go out? But he remembers it well: pushing shut the heavy doors of cedar, visiting the sanctuary and replenishing the seven gold branches with consecrated olive oil so that the flames will burn brightly all night long. “Samuel!” He flings aside his goat’s-hair blanket and hurries, almost runs, through the dark. He pushes through the curtain and enters Eli’s chamber. The old man is lying on his back. Because he is the high priest of the temple of Shiloh, his mattress on the wooden platform is stuffed with wool, not straw. Eli’s head rests on a pillow of goat’s hair and his long-fingered hands lie crossed on his chest, beneath his white beard. His eyes are closed. “You called me,” Samuel says, or perhaps his words are “Here am I; for thou calledst me.” Eli opens his eyes. He seems a little confused, like a man roused from sleep. “I didn’t call you,” he answers. Or perhaps, with a touch of gruffness, since he doesn’t like being awakened in the night: “I called not; lie down again.” Samuel turns obediently away. He walks back to his chamber, where he lies down but doesn’t close his eyes. In his years of attending Eli he’s come to understand a great deal about the temple and its rules, and he tries to understand this night as well. Is it possible that Eli called his name without knowing it? The priest is old, sometimes he makes noises with his lips in his sleep, or mutters strange words. But never once has he called Samuel in the night. Has Samuel had a dream, in which a voice called out his name? Only recently he dreamed that he was walking alone through the parted waters of the Red Sea. Shimmering cliffs of water towered up on both sides, and as the watery walls began to plunge down on him he woke with a cry. From outside the walls of the temple he hears the high-pitched wail of a young sheep. Slowly Samuel closes his eyes.
It’s a summer night in Stratford, Connecticut, 1950. The boy, seven years old, lies awake in his bed on the second floor, under the two screened windows that look down on his back yard. Through the windows he can hear the sound of summer: the chk chk chk of crickets from the vacant lot on the other side of the back-yard hedge. For donkeys it’s hee-haw, for roosters it’s cock-a-doodle-doo, but for crickets you have to make up your own sound. Sometimes a car passes on the street alongside the yard, throwing two rectangles of light across the dark ceiling. The boy thinks the rectangles are the shapes of the open windows under the partially raised blinds, but he isn’t sure. He’s listening: hard. That afternoon in his Sunday-school class at the Jewish Community Center, Mrs. Kraus read the story of the boy Samuel. In the middle of the night a voice called out his name: “Samuel! Samuel!” He was an attendant of the high priest and lived in the temple of Shiloh, without his parents. When he heard his name, Samuel thought the high priest was calling him. Three times in the night he heard his name, three times he went to the bedside of Eli. But it was the voice of the Lord calling him. The boy in Stratford is listening for his name in the night. The story of Samuel has made him nervous, tense as a cat. The slightest sound stiffens his whole body. He never thinks about the old man with a beard on the front of his “Child’s Illustrated Old Testament,” but now he’s wondering. What would his voice be like? His father says God is a story that people made up to explain things they don’t understand. When his father speaks about God to company at dinner, his eyes grow angry and gleeful behind his glasses. But the voice in the night is scary as witches. The voice in the night knows you’re there, even though you’re hidden in the dark. If the voice calls your name, you have to answer. The boy imagines the voice calling his name. It comes from the ceiling, it comes from the walls. It’s like a terrible touch, all over his body. He doesn’t want to hear the voice, but if he hears it he’ll have to answer. You can’t get out of it. He pulls the covers up to his chin and thinks of the walls of water crashing down on the Egyptians, on their chariots and horses. Through the window screens the crickets seem to be growing louder.
The Author is sixty-eight years old, in good health, most of his teeth, half his hair, not dead yet, though lately he hasn’t been sleeping well. He’s always been a light sleeper, the slightest sound jostles him awake, but this is different: he falls asleep with a book on his chest, then wakes up for no damn reason and strains his neck to look at the green glow of his digital clock, where it’s always some soul-crushing time like 2:16 or 3:04 in the miserable morning. Hell time, abyss time, the hour of no return. He wonders whether he should turn on his bedside lamp, try to read a little, relax, but he knows the act of switching on the light will wake him up even more, and besides, there’s the problem of what to read when you wake up at two or three in the godforsaken morning. If he reads something that interests him he’ll excite his mind and ruin his chance for sleep, but if he reads something that bores him he’ll become impatient, restless, and incapable of sleep. Better to lie there and curse his fate, like a man with a broken leg lying in a ditch. He listens to the sounds of the dark: hsssh of a passing car, mmmm of a neighbor’s air-conditioner, skriiik of a floorboard in the attic—a resident ghost. Things drift through your mind at doom-time in the morning, and as he listens he thinks of the boy in the house in Stratford, the bed by the two windows, the voice in the night. He thinks of the boy a lot these days, sometimes with irritation, sometimes with a fierce love that feels like sorrow. The boy tense, whipped up, listening for a voice in the night. He feels like shouting at the boy, driving some sense into that head of his. Oil your baseball glove! Jump on your bike! Do chin-ups on the swing set! Make yourself strong! But why yell at the boy? What’d he ever do to you? Better to imagine the voice calling right here, right now: Hello, old atheist, have I got news for you. Sorry, pal. Don’t waste your time. You should’ve made your pitch when I was seven. Had the boy really expected to hear his name in the night? So long ago: Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders on the radio, his father at dinner attacking McCarthy. War in Korea, the push to Pusan. Those old stories got to you: Joseph in the pit, the parting of the Red Sea, David soothing the soul of Saul with his harp. In Catholic working-class Stratford, he was the only boy who didn’t make the sign of the cross when they passed Holy Name Church on the way to school. Girls with smudges of ash on their foreheads. His God-scorning father driving him to Sunday school but taking him home when the others went to Hebrew class. No bar mitzvah for him. His father mocking his own rabbi for making boys jabber words they didn’t understand. “Pure gibberish.” A new word: gibberish. He liked it: gibberish. Still: Sunday school, “Rock of Ages,” the story of Samuel, why is this night different from all other nights. The boy lying there listening, wanting his name to be called. Had he wanted his name to be called? Through the window the Author hears the sound of a distant car, the cry of the crickets. Sixty years later, upstate New York, and still the cry of the crickets in the summer in Stratford. Time to sleep, old man.
Samuel wakes again. This time he’s sure: Eli has called his name. The voice stands out sharply, like a name written on a wall. “Samuel!” He throws off the goat’s-hair blanket and steps onto the straw mat on the floor by his bed. He has lived with Eli in the temple of Shiloh for as long as he can remember. Once a year his mother and father visit him, when they come up from Ramah to offer the annual sacrifice. When he was born, his mother gave him to the Lord. She had asked the Lord for a son, and that’s why his name is Asked-of-the-Lord. That’s why he wears a linen ephod, that’s why his hair flows down below his shoulders: no razor shall ever come upon his head. Samuel: Asked of the Lord. He enters Eli’s chamber, where he expects to find Eli sitting up in bed, waiting impatiently for him. Instead, Eli is lying on his back with his eyes closed, like a man asleep. Should he wake Eli? Did Eli call Samuel’s name and then fall back to sleep? Samuel hesitates to wake a man who’s old and filled with worries. Though Eli is the high priest of the temple, his sons are wicked. They are priests who do not obey. When flesh is offered for sacrifice, they take the best part for themselves. They practice iniquities with women who come to the doors of the temple. “Here am I!” Samuel says, in a voice a little louder than he intended. Eli stirs and opens his eyes. “For thou didst call me,” Samuel says, more softly. The old priest raises his head with difficulty. “I called not, my son; lie down again.” Samuel doesn’t protest, but lowers his eyes and turns away with the uneasy sense of having disturbed an old man’s sleep. As he enters his own chamber, he tries to understand. Why has Eli called his name twice in the night? He called out in a loud, clear voice, a voice that could not be mistaken for some other sound. But Eli, who speaks only truth, has denied it. Samuel lies down on his bed and pulls the blanket up to his shoulders. Eli is very old. Does he call out Samuel’s name and then, when Samuel appears beside him, forget that he has called? Old men are forgetful. The other day, when Eli spoke to Samuel of his own childhood, he could not remember a name he was searching for and grew troubled. Samuel has seen an old man at the temple whose body trembles like well water in a goatskin bucket. His eyes are unlit lamps. Eli is old, his eyesight is growing dim, but his body doesn’t tremble and his voice is still strong. On the shoulders of his purple-and-scarlet ephod are two onyx stones, each engraved with the names of six tribes of Israel. When he stands in sunlight, the stones shine like fire. Slowly Samuel drifts into sleep.
It’s the next night, and the boy in Stratford again lies awake, listening. He doesn’t really believe he’ll hear his name, but he wants to be awake in case it happens. He doesn’t like to miss things. If he knows something important is coming, like a trip to the merry-go-round and the Whip at Pleasure Beach, he’ll wait for it minute by minute, day after day, as if by taking his attention away from it for even a second he might cause it not to happen. But this is different. He doesn’t know it’s going to happen. It probably won’t happen, how could it happen, but there’s a chance, who knows. What he really needs to figure out is how to answer, if his name is called. In the story, Samuel was told to answer “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” He tries to imagine it: “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” It sounds like a boy in a play. Better to say “Yes?,” which is what he’d say if his father called his name. But the Lord is not his father. The Lord is more powerful than his powerful father. He’s more like the policeman in front of the school on Barnum Avenue, with his dangerous stick hanging from his belt. Better to say “Yes, sir,” as he’d say if the policeman called his name. If he hears his name, that’s what he’ll say: “Yes, sir.” Don’t shout it: say it. Yes, sir. A voice in the dark, calling his name. The thought stirs him up again. He’s too old to be scared of the dark, but the fear still comes on him sometimes. He likes to play a scare-game with his sister, the way they did when he was four and she was two. She lies in her dark room pretending to be asleep and he whispers, “Booooo haunt moan. Booooo haunt moan.” Then they both burst into wild, scared laughter. But a voice in the night is not funny. He’s through with witches, ghosts, monsters, isn’t he, they’re not real, so why is he scaring himself with the story of Samuel? It’s only a story. His father has explained it to him: the Bible is stories. Like “Tootle” or “The Story of Dr. Dolittle.” Trains don’t leave the tracks to chase butterflies, the pushmi-pullyu with a head at each end isn’t an animal you’ll ever find in the zoo, and the Lord doesn’t call your name in the night. Stories are about things that don’t happen. They could happen, but they don’t. But they could. What if his name was called? He would want to be there. He’d want to know what comes next. What did the Lord say to Samuel? He can’t remember. The most important part, and he can’t remember. That’s one thing about him: he can’t remember the important things. He can remember the prince climbing the hair to the top of the tower but he can’t remember the capital of Connecticut. Is it Bridgeport? The library in Bridgeport has long stone steps and high pillars. It’s what he first thought of when he heard that Samuel was serving the Lord in the temple of Shiloh. A temple is different from a church. Jews go to temple and Christians go to church. But Catholics go to Catholic church. And everybody goes to the library. He’s getting tired. At the backyard hedge, Billy turned to him and said, “Do you believe in Jesus?” His eyes were hard. There’re two answers to that question. One is “No.” The other’s what his father said to him: “Jesus was a great teacher.” But he was a coward and looked down. A door opens and he hears footsteps in the hall. Do his parents know he’s lying awake, listening for his name? He hears the door to the bathroom open and close. Sometimes his father is up in the night. If he opens his door and waits for his father? Tell me about Samuel. Tell me. Tell me about the voice in the night. If you heard that voice, nothing would ever be the same. He pushes the thought away. Tomorrow they’re going to drive out past the Sikorsky plant to Short Beach, where he can wade out to the sandbar.
One-fifty-four in the morning. The gods are out to get him. Sleep for an hour, wake for no reason, stare like a madman, waiting for sleep. Dragging himself through the day like a stepped-on snail. Won’t take a pill, they leave him groggy. Sloggy and boggy. That all you’ve got? Draggy and saggy. Baggy and shaggy. Like a hag, haggy. Now he’s alert, full of useless energy. In the old days he’d recite fistfuls of sonnets. My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun. Three things there be that prosper up apace. Now all he can do is lie there thinking about things, far-off things, high school, grade school, the boy in the room in Stratford, listening for the voice in the night. Did it really happen that way, or is he embellishing? Habit of the trade. But no, he lay there waiting for his name. The two windows, the two bookcases his father had made from orange crates, the bed against the other wall for his sister to sleep in when one of the grandmothers came to stay. One grandma from West 110th Street, one from Washington Heights. Father’s mother, mother’s mother, first one, then the other, never together. Waiting for the train at the Bridgeport station, with long dark benches and the row of hand-cranked picture machines. The something-scopes. Turning the handles, making the pictures move. The grandmother with crooked fingers who brought packs of playing cards and dyed her hair orange and wore lots of rattly bracelets, the grandmother with the accent who made cold red soup with sour cream. Mutoscopes. Two women born in the nineteenth century, who can grasp it, one in New York, one in Minsk, before skyscrapers, before horseless carriages, before the extinction of the dinosaurs. His own mother growing up with Russian Jewish parents on the Lower East Side. Her father escaping the tsar, embracing America, naming his first son Abraham, middle name Lincoln. Moving them to a new apartment every few months, skipping out on the rent. She said he sat reading Dostoyevsky in Russian while his sons waited on customers in the store. The Stratford boy’s own early childhood in Brooklyn, all there in the photo albums: pretty mother with flower in her hair on a bench in Prospect Park, pretty mother in wide-brimmed hat standing with little son in sailor suit on the Coney Island boardwalk. The two of them riding the trolley. Trolley tracks in the street, wires in the sky, the grooved wheel at the top of the trolley pole: a forgotten world. His invisible father holding up the light meter, adjusting the f-number, staring down into the ground-glass screen of the twin-lens reflex. Then Stratford, working-class neighborhood, where else can a professor afford to live. Milk delivered in glass bottles to the back porch each morning. Italians and Eastern Europeans, Zielski and Stoccatore and Saksa and Mancini. Riccio’s drugstore. Ciccarelli’s lot. Ralph Politano. Tommy Pavluvcik. Mario Recupido. What is a Jew? A Jew is someone who doesn’t cross himself in front of Holy Name Church. A Jew is someone who stays indoors practicing the piano on bright summer mornings while everyone else is outside playing baseball. His mother playing Chopin nocturnes and waltzes, dee dah-dah-dah, dee dah-dah-dah, teaching him scales, reading on the couch with her legs tucked under her. The mahogany bookcase by the staircase, the wall bookcase by the fireplace. His father driving them home one night: “Did you see that? Not a book in the house!” What is a Jew? A Jew is someone who has books in the house. His father demolishing an argument for the existence of God, his lips twisted in scorn. Jewish Community Center but no bar mitzvah. A tree every Christmas, a menorah once or twice. No baby Jesuses, no Marys or mangers. A package of matzo once a year: like big saltines. The strange word: unleavened. Dyeing Easter eggs, walking under the roof of cornstalks and branches at Sukkoth, biting into hollow crumbly chocolate bunnies, lighting the yahrzeit candle for the grandmother from Minsk. What is a Jew? A Jew is someone who thinks of Easter as a holiday celebrating rabbits. His mother a first-grade teacher, his father a teacher at the university. The grandmother with crooked fingers, once a piano teacher. The whole family teaching up a storm. A tutor who tooted the flute. Tried to tutor two tooters to toot. What is a Jew? A Jew is someone who comes from people who teach. Erleen, from the project in Bridgeport, watching gently over him each day when he came home from school. The rhyme in the street: Eenie meenie miney mo, catch a nigger by the toe. His father serious, quiet-voiced, his mouth tight: “People use that word, but not in this house. It is disgusting.” Negro: a word of respect. Respect people. His all-Jewish Cub Scout troop. “You don’t look for trouble,” the Scoutmaster said. “But you don’t let anyone call you a kike.” Not in this house. A new word: kike. He tried to imagine it: kike. Hey, kike! Hit him, kill him. Did he really lie awake night after night, listening for his name? The child Samuel. All about obedience. Saul’s flaw: disobedience. Samuel thrusting his sword into the belly of the King of the Amalekites. That’s what happens when your name is called in the night. The righteous life, the life of moral ferocity. His father and Samuel, two of a kind. Samuel: “Thou art wicked.” His father: “You are ignorant.” A special sect: the Jewish atheist. The thirteenth tribe. And you? Who are you? I am the one whose name was not called in the night.
The voice calls again. This time Samuel doesn’t hesitate. He swings his legs out of bed and rushes through the dark to Eli’s side. “Here am I,” he cries, impatient now, “for thou didst call me.” Eli is lying on his back, his eyes closed, his hands crossed on his chest. All at once he’s leaning up on an elbow, searching Samuel’s face. Samuel feels aggrieved, anxious, expectant. What is happening? Something is happening. He doesn’t know what. The long hand of the priest rests on Samuel’s arm. Samuel suddenly understands two things: Eli did not call his name, and Eli knows who did. Does Samuel know? He almost knows. He knows and doesn’t dare to know. But Eli is speaking, Eli is telling him who it is that has called his name. It is the Lord. “Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” The searching look, the hand on his arm: Samuel understands that he must ask no more questions. He returns to his bed and lies down on his back with his eyes open. He wants to hear with both ears. One hand is pressed against his chest. His heart is like a fist beating against the inside of the bone. What if his name isn’t called again? Eli said, “If he call thee.” Three times, and he failed to answer. Should he have known? He knew, he almost knew, he was about to know. Now he knows. What he doesn’t know is whether he will hear the voice again. If his name is not called, he will never forgive himself. And if his name is called? Then what? What should he say? Oh, don’t you remember? Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. He remembers the first time he saw Eli, the high priest of the temple. A powerful man, with shining gems on the shoulders of his ephod. His legs were like tall columns of stone. His hands the size of oil jars. Now Eli’s beard is white, he mutters in his sleep. Difficult sons, wicked sons he cannot restrain. Calm yourself. Stop trembling. Listen.
The third night, and the boy in his bed in Stratford still hasn’t heard his name. He’s not really listening, is he? He thought he heard it once, a distant call, fooling him for a second, that cat cry or whatever it was. He no longer expects to hear anything, so why’s he still waiting? By now there’s a spirit of stubbornness in it: he’s waited this long, might as well wait some more. But that isn’t it. What’s it is, he doesn’t believe the voice in the night will come, but his unbelief upsets him as much as belief would, if he believed. If the voice doesn’t come, it means he hasn’t been chosen. He likes being chosen. He was chosen to represent his class in the school spelling bee. It’s easy to spell, he doesn’t know how to spell words wrong, but it still feels good to be chosen. He’s not so good on the playground, can’t kick the ball as hard as most of them, lucky if he gets to first. He wants the voice to call him in the night, even though it won’t happen. He doesn’t believe those old stories, doesn’t believe the prince climbing the hair or the thorns growing up and covering the castle, so why should he believe the story of the voice in the night? His father doesn’t believe those stories. His father doesn’t believe in God. But when the boy asked, his father didn’t get the angry look, he got the serious quiet look. He said you have to think about it yourself and make up your mind when you’re older. The boy wonders how old is older. When is when? If he hears the voice now, he’ll know. But he already knows. He knows he won’t hear the voice. Why should he be chosen? He’s no Samuel. He’s a good speller. He plays the piano with two hands, he can write a poem about George Washington and draw a picture of a kingfisher or a red-winged blackbird. But Samuel opens the doors to the temple when the sun comes up, Samuel fills the lamp with oil so that it burns all night. Down below he hears a car going by. It’s passing his yard and the vacant lot, the two bars of light sliding across the ceiling, now it’s passing the bakery down by the stream, he loves the bakery, smell of hot rye, the gingerbread men and the muffins with raisins, now it’s climbing the hill, sound of tires like the waterfall in the park earlier this summer, over the hill toward Bridgeport. He feels old, very old, older than Eli, he wishes he were young again, a child. He wishes he’d never heard that stupid story. Sh-h-h. Sleep now.
Another night, another waking. Not a good sign. Death by insomnia at sixty-eight. All Samuel’s fault, keeping everybody up when they ought to be snoring away. The boy in Stratford battling it out at the age of seven. By high school, no tolerance for the once-a-week churchgoers. Priest or atheist: choose one. The move to Fairfield, the beach, Protestant churches galore. Presbyterian, First Congregational, Episcopalian. Roper. Warren. Kane. No Jews allowed in the beach club. Who’d want to join a beach club? Reading the five arguments for the existence of God and their rebuttals. The ontological argument. The teleological argument. Walking along the beach at night, the deserted lifeguard stands, the lights of Long Island. Challenge to a friend: Why do you go to church? Why only on Sunday? He knew what he knew: always or never. If the voice calls your name, your other life is over. No going back. Short of that, sorry, please pass the ketchup. By the age of fifteen, done with religion, like the baseball books of his childhood. No regrets. Girls in tight skirts reaching up into lockers, girls in tight blouses hugging books to their chests as they hip-swing down the halls. Let me touch! Let me see! The house for sale on his friend’s street out near the junior high. “They’ll never sell to Jews.” “Why not?” “You know how those people are.” “How are they?” “They take over the neighborhood.” “You’re talking to one.” “Oh, you’re not that kind of Jew.” At age eleven, the talk with his father: “We don’t do anything in Sunday school. Just play games and fool around. I don’t want to go anymore.” His father taking his pipe out of his mouth, looking at him gravely: “You don’t have to go.” He’d expected resistance, a look of reproach. Might as well blame it all on Jehovah. Could have called his name in the night. The boy in Stratford, listening. Something extreme in his temperament, even then. Shy and extreme. Stubborn. You don’t call my name, I won’t call yours. Even Steven. Dr. Dolittle and Pecos Bill instead of Samuel and King Saul. Don’t have to go. The neighborhood goes to church, the family stays home and reads. In high school, asking his father whether he liked teaching. His father’s pause, his grave look, his utter attention: “If I were a millionaire, I would pay for the privilege of teaching.” The son knows he’s heard something important. He is moved, he is proud of his father, he’s envious. He thinks, I want to say that someday. They call it a calling. Samuel’s call in the night. His father’s calling. Lying awake remembering these things. Walking in his bathing suit, towel around his neck, to the beach in Fairfield with his parents’ friends from the city. Janey with her long black hair and tight white one-piece, waving her arm at the street of ranch houses: “Suburbia.” Her voice mocking, disdainful. New York judging Connecticut. Jews moving out of New York: abandoning the tribe. Always the connection to the city. The four years in Brooklyn, corner of Clinton and Joralemon, the grandmother on West 110th Street and the grandmother in Washington Heights, mother growing up on the Lower East Side, father on the Upper West Side. Childhood trips to the city, the stone bridges of the Merritt Parkway. The Museum of Natural History with dinosaur skeletons like gigantic fishbones, lunch at the Automat: the sandwiches behind the little glass windows. Horn & Hardart. Early admission to Oberlin, but he chooses Columbia. Walking along the eighth floor of John Jay Hall, the thrilling sound of violins and cellos behind closed doors: the good Jewish boys practicing their instruments. Weinstein, or was it Marinoff: “What kind of Jew are you?” A Jew from suburbia. A nothing Jew, a secular Jew, an unjewish Jew. A Jew without a bar mitzvah, a Jew without a bump in his nose. Later he develops the idea of the Negative Jew. A Negative Jew is a Jew about whom another Jew says, “You don’t look Jewish.” A Negative Jew is a Jew who says to another Jew, “Judaism is a superstition that I reject,” and to an anti-Semite, “I have Jewish blood.” A Negative Jew is a Jew who says, “I don’t believe in Judaism,” while being herded into a cattle car. Hitler, the great clarifier. His father’s German Jewish colleague, Dr. What’s-Her-Name, one of the first women admitted to a German university, her passion for Kant, for all things German. Stayed put till 1939. Blamed it all on the Polish Jews. “They gave us a bad name.” The boy in Stratford, lying awake at night. Hard to remember how it was. A game, was it? Scare yourself with witches, scare yourself with Jehovah. A shudder of delight. All those old stories, wonderful and terrible: the voice in the night, the parting of the Red Sea, Hansel in the cage, the children following the piper into the mountain. “Hamlet” and “Oedipus Rex” as pale reflections of the nightmare tales of childhood. Everything connected: David playing the harp for Saul, the boy in Stratford practicing the piano, the cellos and violins behind the closed doors. The boy listening for his name, the man waiting for the rush of inspiration. Where do you get your ideas? A voice in the night. When did you decide to become a writer? Three thousand years ago, in the temple of Shiloh.
And the Lord cameand stoodand called as at other timesSamuelSamuel. Commentators disagree about the meaning of the word “stood.” Some say that the Lord assumes a bodily presence before Samuel. Others argue that the Lord never takes on a bodily form and that therefore the voice has drawn closer to Samuel, so that the effect is of a person drawing closer in the dark. In one version of this argument, the boy hears the voice and imagines a form standing beside him. All this, the Author thinks, can be left to the interpreters. What matters to us is that the voice of the Lord calls Samuel’s name. After all, Eli had said, “If he call thee.” For it was not inevitable that the voice, which had called three times and not received an answer, would call again. Now the boy Samuel has heard the voice a fourth time and knows who is calling him. He doesn’t yet know why the Lord is calling him, but he knows how to answer, for Eli has told him exactly what to say: “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” Samuel resists, the words refuse to come, then he says it aloud: “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” He hears his words clearly in the dark: “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” There is no doubt: he has said “Speak” and not “Speak, Lord,” as he was instructed to do. Was he so frightened of uttering the sacred name? He feels a rush of self-reproach, before commanding himself to be still and listen. He lies motionless, alert all over his body, fiercely calm. He has served in the temple of Shiloh ever since early childhood, but nothing has prepared him for this moment. He does not try to imagine what the Lord will tell him, but he readies himself to remember every word, in the order of speaking. Eli is awake, waiting in the next chamber. Eli will ask him what the Lord has said. Though the voice of the Lord is strong, Samuel knows it cannot be heard by Eli, and not because Eli is too far away to hear. The voice is for him alone. He knows this without arrogance. And he will remember. He has a good memory, he’s proud of his memory, though he watches over his pride so that it doesn’t become vanity. Words read to him or heard by him remain unchanged inside him. It has always been that way. Now the Lord speaks, and Samuel listens. There is nothing in the world but these words. The words are harsh. The house of Eli will be judged for its iniquity. The sons of Eli are wicked and Eli has not restrained them. Therefore the Lord will perform against Eli all things which he has spoken concerning his house. The sons of Eli will die on the same day. The House of Eli will come to an end. When the Lord departs, it is like the silence after thunder. Samuel lies awake in the dark. It seems to him that the dark has become darker, a dark so dark that it is like the darkness upon the face of the deep, before the Lord moved upon the face of the waters. The words have shaken him like a wind. He can feel Eli lying awake in his chamber, waiting for Samuel to tell him what the Lord has said. But Samuel cannot bring himself to leave his bed and go to Eli’s chamber. If Eli asks him, and Eli will certainly ask him, he will speak the truth, but he does not want to speak the truth unbidden. Samuel lies in the dark a long time, listening for the Lord, listening for Eli, but all is silent. Has the darkness become less dark? Can darkness be less dark and still be dark? The darkness is growing lighter. Soon it will be time to open the temple doors. Eli will ask what the Lord has said, and Samuel will repeat the terrible words. Samuel understands that nothing will ever be the same. But now, as the darkness is fading, without yet losing its quality of darkness, he wants to lie in his bed as if he could be a child forever, he wants to lie there as if his name had not been called in the night.
It’s the fourth night, and by now the boy in Stratford knows he’ll never hear his name. Still, he’s awake, and in case he’s wrong he’s still listening, no harm in that, though at the same time he makes fun of himself for lying there, waiting, and for what? His name? It’s only a story in a book. You might as well lie awake waiting for a genie to rise up out of a lamp. And even if it isn’t only a story, why would the Lord call his name? Samuel was an attendant of the high priest of the temple, Samuel was already favored by the Lord. The boy in Stratford goes to the Jewish Community Center on Sunday for two hours and skips Hebrew lessons. He doesn’t make the sign of the cross in front of Holy Name Church, but he looks forward to Christmas as if it’s the greatest day of winter. No crosses or angels on his tree, no lit-up statues of Mary blinking on the front lawn, but still, stockings, colored tree-lights, glittery tinsel, presents piled high. Christmas: a holiday celebrating the end of the year. Rosh Hashanah: a holiday he can’t pronounce, celebrating something he can’t remember. The Lord, if he’s even up there, shouldn’t call his name. And that’s fine with him. He doesn’t want his name to be called. If your name is called, everything changes. It would be like going to Sunday school all week long. He likes the way things are: catching fly balls and grounders in the back yard, walking in the hot sand at Short Beach, firecrackers on the Fourth of July, sitting in front of the fireplace in winter reading a book while his father grades papers at one end of the couch and his mother reads at the other end, birthday parties, reading “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins” to his sister, playing double solitaire with Grandma Lena, watching the black-and-white pictures rise into the white paper in the developing tray in his father’s darkroom, riding slowly in the boat through the Old Mill at Pleasure Beach. He doesn’t want to leave his family, doesn’t want to leave his room with the two windows looking down at the back yard, the big record-player in the living room, where he and his sister listen to “Peter and the Wolf.” His mother looking at him one day, touching him, her eyes shining: “Oh, my firstborn.” His father answering all his questions with that serious look, as if nothing is more important than those questions. What happens when you die? What is God? What is the most important thing in the world? He doesn’t want to leave it all for the temple of Shiloh. School starts in a few weeks, he’s still got lots of summer left, picnics by the river, drives into Bridgeport, the smell of hot roasted nuts in Morrow’s Nut House, the elevator operators in their maroon jackets and white gloves in Read’s department store, the wooden ships with rigging in the window of Blinn’s. He’s done with Samuel, done with the voice in the night, but now, as he feels sleep coming on, he gives a final listen, just in case, straining his ears, holding his breath, listening for the voice that came to Samuel in that old story that’s only a story but one he knows he’ll never forget, no matter how hard he tries.
Again. Enough already. But hey, look on the bright side: four in the morning, three hours of sleep instead of one. The long walk after dinner, more than an hour, hoping to outwit insomnia. Walk for one hour, wake up at four. Walk for two hours, wake up at five. Walk for three hours, wake up at six. Walk for four hours, drop dead of a heart attack. His flab-armed father’s muscular calves. Walked all over Manhattan in his City College days, late nineteen-twenties, Harlem to the Battery. A safe city. The boy in Stratford walking up Canaan Road to the White Walk Market, walking to school along Franklin Avenue and Collins Street and the street that led past Holy Name. Calves skinny as forearms. His father walking a mile to the bus stop each morning to catch the bus to Bridgeport, no car till the boy is in second grade: city people don’t drive. No television till fifth grade: TV is for people who don’t read. Last in the neighborhood. Back from Manhattan with a ten-inch box, an Air King, set up on a table next to the piano. The feverish pleasure of black-and-white cartoons. Czerny exercises and Farmer Al Falfa. Mozart and Mighty Mouse. His mother playing Schumann and laughing with him at “The Merry Mailman.” His grave father bent over the Scrooge McDuck comic, praising the diving board in the money bin. Reading “Tootle” to him, telling him how good the first sentence is. “Far, far to the west of everywhere is the village of Lower Trainswitch.” Far, far to the west of everywhere. His father said, “There are three great opening sentences in all of literature. The first is ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ The second is ‘Call me Ishmael.’ The third is ‘Far, far to the west of everywhere is the village of Lower Trainswitch.’ ” A father who’s serious and funny: you have to watch his face carefully. The book about the whale: he knows where it is on the shelf, he’s held it in his hands, thinking, When I’m older. The whale, God: when he’s older. Books, always books. Ten years old: his father lashing out at Eisenhower. “He doesn’t open a book!” The trip to Spain after Columbia, one-way ticket, two pieces of luggage: one for clothes, one for books. The boy in Stratford lying awake at night because of a story in a book. What’s a story? A demon in the night. He wants to protect the boy, warn him before it’s too late. Don’t listen to stories! They’ll keep you awake at night, suck out your blood, leave teeth marks in your skin. Let him sleep! Let him live! His New York Jew parents in working-class Stratford, with their books and their piano. The professor who doesn’t do work with his hands. Joey’s father a machinist at the helicopter plant, Mike’s father a carpenter who builds his own house in the vacant lot on the other side of the hedge. Joey turning to him with a fighting look: “Can your father make a wheel?” The old sun-browned Italian men working in their gardens. The grapevines growing all over Jimmy Stoccatore’s high fence, the bunches of purple grapes, heavy in the hand. Old man Ciccarelli chasing kids out of his lot. Eenie meenie miney mo, catch a tiger by the toe. Not in this house. The Jewish Boy Scout troop, where he learned to tie a sheepshank but never could identify poison sumac. His refusal to be Jesus in the Sunday-school play. Mrs. Kraus’s shocked surprise. “But why?” “Because Jesus betrayed the Jews.” Her confusion, fear. “I never taught you that!” His father: “Jesus was a great teacher.” Sixty years later, awake at night, at the mercy of memory. Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your hair! And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. The boy in Stratford, listening. Thank you, Old Man of the Sky, for not calling his name. Better for all concerned. He can’t really have believed it, can he? Working himself up into a temporary blaze of half-belief, a possibility: a ghost in the dark. Better for him to stay out of the temple of Shiloh, better to go play in the green back yards of Stratford, grow up in a world of family excursions and shelves of books until the writing fever seized him and claimed him for life. A calling. Not Samuel’s call but another. Not that way but this way. Samuel ministering unto the Lord, his teacher-father ministering unto the generations. And the son? What about him? Far, far to the west of everywhere, ministering unto the Muse. Thanks, Old Sea-Parter, for leaving me be. Tired now. Soon we’ll all sleep. 

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2012/12/10/121210fi_fiction_millhauser#ixzz2E4qpK7d3

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From Ethiopia to the state comptroller’s... JPost - National News

Bureau chief Rahel Tabay has overcome the obstacles faced by many immigrants in order to achieve success.

When Rahel Tabay was born in the desert of Sudan in 1981 on her family’s journey on foot from Ethiopia to Israel, it was unclear if she would survive, let alone that she would become bureau chief to State Comptroller Yosef Shapira.
Tabay said that both she and her mother were “in danger during birth” because of the problematic conditions and the “lack of any standard medical care.”
Even after she survived the birth, her parents were “unsure that she could survive the journey through the desert which could take anywhere from weeks to months.”
“It’s not like we had GPS,” said Tabay, who added that many Ethiopians annually mark a day to remember around 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who died in the walk across the desert.
Tabay grew up in Beersheba and had to struggle through adapting to Israeli language and culture despite the fact that neither of her parents had reached a level of Hebrew fluency.
“There were organizational volunteers” and people “associated with school,” who Tabay was very thankful to and who gave her and others extra help in order to get through school and adapt.
Calling herself religiously “traditional,” Tabay came from a completely orthodox family and could have opted out of army service in favor of doing national service.
However, Tabay wanted a chance to “broaden her perspective” and “see something different from what she was used to.” Tabay also decided from the start that if she did the army, she wanted to “do something significant,” and volunteered and was selected for an officer track in the IDF logistics division where she would serve an extra year and obtain the rank of lieutenant.
She said that the officers course was “not easy,” but that it was also an “experience which changed who I was.” Although her parents were initially surprised by her decision, they were eventually “very supportive and proud.” Prior to joining the State Comptroller’s Office as bureau chief and liaison on foreign cooperation, Tabay worked to raise money for her studies, got a degree in communications at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and traveled on several trips to the US.
On one of her trips, she toured synagogues and non-Jewish venues trying to correct people’s perceptions of Israel in the face of what she called media distortions and tried to highlight some of the less-known impressive aspects of Israeli society.
It was particularly fun for Tabay, she said, to explain to non-Jewish Americans about multicultural Israeli society, since many of them thought that Israel was all immigrants from Europe and had not met a “black Jew” from Ethiopia ever before.
Tabay started her position with Shapira, in which she, among other things, manages his schedule only three months ago.
Her other “hat” is to share information with foreign nations so that Israel can improve its oversight of government operations and to help other nations learn from Israel’s accomplishments in that area.
For example, Tabay noted that the comptroller’s powers in Israel “are much wider” and the “areas of government which he critiques are much broader” than in many other nations.
Tabay also emphasized that the comptroller had significant “independence, a freer hand and independent control over his budget” in a way that corresponding officials in many other nations do not.
She added that exchanging information and hosting visits, such as a recent visit by the ombudsman of Panama, were a huge opportunity to positively affect other nations’ views of Israel by direct contact.
Asked why she took the position, Tabay said that not only did she want to do public service, but she liked that part of the comptroller’s work would let her improve services to ethnic minorities, such as the Ethiopian community.
Tabay said she appreciated that Shapira was seriously concerned about issues of equality in Israeli society and that, provided candidates met the necessary qualifications, he viewed hiring ethnically diverse candidates as an additional positive.
She remarked that Shapira was both “very serious about his work,” but “also fun to work with.”
Asked if she was nervous interviewing with such a high public official, Tabay said that before she entered the room to interview “she took a deep breath.” But once she entered she said that she just “explained who I am, made sure I was myself” and showed that she “could be assertive,” an important quality in a bureau chief and foreign liaison.
Tabay hopes that her experience and achievements will inspire other Ethiopians to see that a barrier has been crossed and that important positions in society are now open to them that were not in the past.

The Jewish Week | Connecting the World to Jewish News, Culture, and Opinion

Staff Writer

Photo By Getty Images
Photo By Getty Images
Every year on the 50th day after Yom Kippur, Ethiopian Jews mark Sigd, a unique Ethiopian Jewish fast day, with prayers and Torah readings. The holiday, which means “prostration” in Ethiopia’s Ge’ez language, marks the day when, according to the Ethiopian Jewish tradition, God first revealed himself to Moses.
On Sigd, Ethiopian Jews symbolically re-accept the Torah.
In Israel, where the majority of Ethiopian Jews have settled in the last three decades, the Ethiopian Jewish community has grown to more than 100,000.
Sigd, which became an official holiday in Israel in 2008, was marked recently, and is growing in recognition. This year, the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews offered classes that taught the traditional Sigd prayers. The classes took place at the Armon Hanatziv promenade — also known as the tayelet, or the Haas Promenade — where many Ethiopian Jews gather each year on the holiday, the walls of the Old City in the background.
The Ethiopian Jew above prays on Sigd at the promenade.
“I have learned about the leaders and traditions of your magnificent community, and I have studied about your cultural and religious wealth,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this year in an official Sigd statement. “I think that the time has come for the entire Israeli public to recognize the beauty and uniqueness of the Ethiopian community. No less important than this is to assist you in your long journey to integrate into Israeli society.”
His remarks followed a recent announcement that Israel is increasing the monthly pace of bringing Ethiopia’s remaining Jews — members of the Falash Mura group, whose forebears converted to the country’s dominant Christian religion a century ago — to Israel. All Falash Mura whom Israel recognizes as Jews will, according to schedule, be in Israel by Rosh HaShanah next year.

Last Update:

11/20/2012 - 17:03

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Operation Dove’s Wings Begins as Ethiopian Aliyah Comes to a Close | JewishPress

The flight was organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel, pursuant to the July government decision to increase the rate of Ethiopian Aliyah, in order to complete the immigration of the remainder of the Falash Mura to Israel.
Falash Mura olim arrive in Ben Gurion airport.
Falash Mura olim arrive in Ben Gurion airport.
Photo Credit: The Jewish Agency for Israel
Operation Dove’s Wings commenced on Monday, with arrival of some 240 Olim from Ethiopia, half of them children, on the first charter flight. The flight was organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel, pursuant to the July government decision to increase the rate of Ethiopian Aliyah, in order to complete the immigration of the remainder of the Falash Mura to Israel.
The ceremony at Ben Gurion airport took place during the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors, which is taking place this week in Tel Aviv, with Jewish leaders from Israel and around the world.
On July 2012, the government of Israel decided to increase the rate of Aliyah from Ethiopia in order to complete the process as quickly as possible. It was decided to reopen the Jewish Agency’s Ibim Absorption Center at the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, which will be able to accommodate up to 600 of the Falash Mura.
Immigrants arriving from Ethiopia will also be housed in 16 Absorption centers around the country, run by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. In order to facilitate absorption of the new immigrants, Jewish communities around the world and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews have raised $3 million, in addition to $1.5 million invested by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.
Operation Dove’s Wings is expected to be completed by October 2013, with the arrival of the remainder of eligible Falash Mura, who have been waiting in Gondar. The Jewish Agency for Israel has been operating a community center in Gondar, headed by Asher Sium, to provide services for the waiting Olim. The center provides a comprehensive range of social services with the support of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. These include preparation classes for Aliyah run by a group of volunteers, humanitarian assistance, and catering services. The center also runs a school which includes Hebrew and Jewish studies, as well as the regular curriculum of the Ethiopian Education Ministry.
Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky said at the ceremony: “What a miracle. I just met a brother and a sister who were reunited today after 25 years. Well, we the Jewish people have just been reunited after 25 centuries. When Ethiopian Jewry left Israel, there was no Hannukah. Now we can celebrate both Hannukah and Yom Haatzmaut together. Together we are writing the last page of the history of Ethiopian Jewry. We are now bringing all of our brothers from Africa to Israel. This is happening thanks to the State of Israel, world Jewry and our Christian allies.”