Simple Facebook Survival Guide (For People Who Don’t Care for Facebook)

I’ll try to keep this short and simple. As things stand in the communications universe in our times, Facebook is the best place to have some sort of presence if you want to remain in contact with your friends of yore or make new friends. I’ve been involved in “Social Media” since it first began–my dear friend Ari Davidow beats me by a few months because he was one of the founders of “The Well” which has some claim to being the first social network. But I’ve been doing it for thirty years now and that’s pretty ancient as these things go.

Back then, Terri and I wrote an annual newsletter and shipped it out via U.S. Mail around the Winter Break time. That encapsulated an outline of our doings, and we always heard back from friends about how nice it was to keep up with us. But over time, we got out of the habit and that meant that some people very dear to us began slipping into the time stream. Facebook can be better because it’s always available and does a decent job of dealing with photos, and videos and such. With that advantage comes many disadvantages. Exposure to spam, and insults, and above all a potential waste of lots of time. And lets face it, some of us (including me) overshare. Really, most of my friends don’t need to see the latest photos of our cat.

If you’re among that group of my friends who would like to stay in touch but have all sorts of doubts (and perhaps a few bad experiences) with Facebook, here are a few suggestions for making your peace with it.

First, make sure that when you create your FB account, you do so with a strong password. Miscreants will try to steal your identity, but the good news is that FB has gotten very good about protecting you.

Second, learn a bit about the privacy controls that FB gives you. They are far from perfect, but they are useful in ensuring that you get what you need out of FB without compromising your Net safety. Set your default to “only you” or “friends only” — you can always change it later to be more inclusive if you feel like engaging with the greater world.

Third, and I think this might be my most important suggestion for you: manage your time by learning how to read only the the items you care to read. Instead of scrolling through the standard FB feed, learn to click on just the sources and people you want to see. You can click on your favorite news source and see all the posts from that source in chronological (reverse) order. You can click on the names of your friends (or put the name in a search box) and then all the items that person has posted will be shown to you. You can interact (or not) with your friends, and then close out your session.

Fourth, remember the age-old adage: “Please don’t feed the trolls.” If someone is making your life miserable, click on their name and then hit the FB button that allows you to block them. It’s one of Facebook’s best features!

Sure, if you have time to spare, you can then let FB show you what it thinks you will want to see via the “news feed.” But if all you want to do is see what your family and friends are up to, there’s no need for that. Just look at their posts and log out.

I’ve written this article for the completely selfish reason that I want you to stay connected and participate in my posts. I hope my name will be one of the ones you seek out!

Perhaps some of my friends will add to these comments with their own suggestions for surviving social media. And for those of you who still don’t want to use Facebook or other social media, I’ll try to post things here in my private blog as well. Happy conversations to all!

Nina’s Life

Nina de Amor arrived in our home in a rather haphazard fashion. The story begins with the end of another. Our family dog Caleb passed away rather unexpectedly in the Summer of 2003. Both of our kids were away from home at the time. I sat down at the dinner table and couldn’t help but notice that Terri was unusually quiet throughout. As we picked up the dishes, she said to me, “I think the dog is dead.” I raised my eyebrows at this and replied, “You think?” “Doesn’t a Ph.D. biology allow a little more certainty in a matter such as this?!” She said, “OK, the dog is dead.” I should mention that Caleb had epilepsy and Terri had already literally raised him from the dead about a half dozen times, so his passing at the age of 7 may have been unexpected at that moment, but not surprising nevertheless. But that left us with the decision of how to replace him, because we knew that our then 12 year old son would insist on having a dog.

The added complication was that Terri’s allergies were getting worse, and she was specifically allergic to the dog-dander of fluffy dogs and dogs and oily coats of dogs like Labrador Retrievers–a breed she was quite fond of. Since I worked in IT, my immediate course was to Google it. What came up was a “dog calculator.” In this scheme, you enter the three most important things to you about the dog you want to acquire, and the computer will tell you your optimal breeds. I placed “hypo-allergenic” at the top of our list, and the computer spat out three breeds: Wheatland Terrier, Poodle, and at the very top of the list, Spanish Water Dog. I had never heard of the Spanish Water Dog, but if you’re reading this you’ve probably heard of the Portuguese Water Dog because that was breed adopted by the Obamas after they moved into the White House. As I later learned, the Portuguese Water Dog was bred for size from the SWD. The SWD is likely the originator of this line because its 35 lb to 45 lb range seems to be consistent with the origin of the dog species. The SWD was not recognized by the American Kennel Club, but was sanctioned by several other international dog clubs. Obviously Spain, but also in England and Scandinavia. Terri and I aren’t “dog snobs” or in need of purebred pets, but in this case it was important because we were seeking a dog that met the hypo-allergenic criteria, and that is a characteristic of breed.

Acting on these suggestions I started my search for places where we might be able to find either a Wheatland Terrier or a Poodle, but came up empty-handed. Dog breeders explained to me that the summer was not a time when dogs generally produced puppies, and perhaps I would have better luck in the Fall. Striking out on these breeds, I scanned for Spanish Water Dogs. There weren’t many breeders, but there were a few in Ontario not far from where we lived in Michigan so I called them first–no luck. Same story as with the others. I was about to give up when I noticed a Web site for the “Spanish Water Dog Association of America.” That turned out to be a bit of hoax–it was really the Web site of a family that had gotten into the business, but I was happy to give it a try. Sure enough, they had a brand new litter which the proprietor explained had come about “accidentally”–a second breeding in the same season. And he noted that because the puppies were unanticipated, they were also unreserved, so we could have the pick of the litter.

We gave him a deposit and awaited Ephy’s return from summer camp, just a couple of days away. As it happened, Ephy was pretty discombobulated as he emerged from the camp bus–the trip took hours longer than it was supposed to. As soon as we picked him up we said, don’t get settled, we’re on our way to Tennessee to pick up a puppy. He was not a happy camper (so to speak) as we drove ten hours to Knoxville, at several points accusing us of having murdered his dog. But somehow we got there in one piece. And that’s how I landed in Knoxville for the first time in my life! Little did we know what the future had in store.

Nina’s birth location was a country home in the Tri-Cities area of East Tennessee, about a 90 minute drive from Knoxville. We arose early and drove that last 90 minutes. When we got to Nina’s home, before we reached the door, it opened and a man dressed in sort of Amish-like clothing emerged with a musket or some sort of old rifle cradled in his arm. We then noticed a woman dressed in this fashion. And we thought to ourselves, whoa, what have we gotten into!

 

Nina’s godmother

As it turned out, they were both quite modern people of our own period–but that day they were participating in a historical recreation of the early 1800s, hence the garb, musket, etc. When they saw us they waved us over and after that it was all dogs and puppies.

They did a demonstration of their adult dogs’ diving ability in their pond, and it was indeed amazing. They threw objects that sank to the bottom of the pond (which was quite deep) and dogs emerged with them every time. One of the traits of the Spanish Water Dog is that the fur in their paws fills in densely and allows them to use their paws as flippers to drag themselves deep under water. At the time a Spanish Water Dog held some sort of Guinness type record for deepest dive by a dog. For all I know that record still stands.

Every breeder we spoke to was concerned to let us know that these dogs are work dogs and as such are happiest when they have things to do. They don’t necessarily make good pets if one’s idea of a pet is an animal that lies around the house most of the day. The breeder was relieved to hear that we lived in the country on 11 acres and that Terri was experienced with farms and farm animals. So we passed that test. After giving us some paperwork assuring us of the pedigree, we plopped our eight-week old brownish red puppy into the back seat with Ephy and we began the 11 hour drive back to Ann Arbor.

Nina was everything the Spanish Water Dog sites claimed. She learned with amazing quickness and had a broad skill set. She was a fierce guard dog and protected her family with passion. Throw a stick and Nina would beat any other dog to it. When we added a poodle to the family (Nina was then about 8 years old), Nina made sure the poodle knew who was boss, and then showed her ropes of coping with the LoveLees.

Spanish Water Dogs live an average of 11 or 12 years, but Nina showed no signs of slowing down until she hit 14. She went partially and then almost completely deaf which meant she could no longer hear knocks at the door–and she was visibly disturbed at having people show up without her personal scrutiny. We tried to move her downstairs so she wouldn’t need to navigate the staircase, but she had nothing of that. On her last day with us, she still dutifully climbed the stairs to her bedroom. And that last day she lay down and could move no more. Our wonderful vet helped her out of this world without further pain and I don’t think I will ever stop missing her.

Sho and Clara Say Goodbye To Nina

Designing a Health Plan, Or How to Deal With Obstructionists…

All the talk about healthcare plans has stirred up some Memory Lane incidents from my past life.

The first real job I had was one that I remember with great affection. As a student I had received much life-affirming support from the Hillel Foundations of Madison, Wisconsin and Berkeley, California. At Berkeley I began my career of teaching Hebrew which I am still doing, now as a lecturer at the University of Tennessee, some forty years later. Berkeley Hillel and Lehrhaus Judaica (the school associated with Hillel) combined to hire me full-time. For Hillel I was the Associate Director, and for Lehrhaus I was the Director of Hebrew Language Programming. My Hillel job included all the administrivia–managing the financial systems, employee benefits, that sort of thing.

Both Hillel and Lehrhaus were, in those days, under the general umbrella of the national Jewish social organization, B’nai B’rith. The relationship was usually positive, but here and there conflict arose as it so often does between parents and children.

B’nai B’rith had a mediocre health plan which we could buy into, but even that didn’t allow family add-ons or provisions for part-time employees. I began to look at possible plans of our own. I met with insurance company representatives, and a small HMO. The HMO was willing to allow us–and anyone associated with us–to become group members.

I next discussed with our Board  whether we could offer this as an employee benefit, and defray some of the cost via payroll deduction. Not only did they agree, but a couple of those Board members would eventually sign up as well.

When I notified national Hillel (in Washington D.C.) that we would no longer need their health plan, they sent me a rather nasty letter “explaining” to me that I couldn’t do this because we were part of their corporation. Luckily, I had been on the job for enough time that I knew something they didn’t know. Berkeley Hillel had its own corporation! When the money was raised to build the building in the 1950s, the donors were not willing to give the money to national B’nai B’rith. Instead, they incorporated separately. I had to file various reports with the State of California each year, so I knew about this. And pretty soon our local corporation had its very own health plan.

One of our employees was man of color in his 50s who had never in his life had a health plan. He had serious problems with one of his legs. But thanks to our new health plan, he received treatment and was able to work until his retirement.

Oh, and my wife was a post-Doc at UC-Berkeley which provided a plan almost as lousy as the one offered by national B’nai B’rith. But I could cover her through our new local healthcare plan. That meant that when my precious, lovely daughter had to be brought into this world via C-section, all of that cost was paid by our local insurance plan rather than bankrupting us.

Getting from the Upper East Side (Manhattan) to Riverdale (The Bronx)

I wrote this some time ago, but forgot to post it. I’ll be heading back there tomorrow, so this timely once again!

_______________

As many of my friends know, I am an aficionado of public transportation. Especially rail, but really any sort of mass transit system. During my recent visit to New York City, with one of the better mass transit systems available in the U.S., we needed to get from the upper East Side (say, Madison Ave and about 80th St.) to a residence in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

All sorts of consternation broke out in my family. Riverdale, they made sure I understood, was some sort of island, an oasis where public transit was impossible to navigate. I asked where the nearest subway station would be–after all, I have walked the Bronx from river to river, how far could it be? No, impossible they said. What about buses? Too much trouble, they don’t exist, heaven only knows.

I have to admit, with all this sturm und drang, my thoughts did turn to simply calling a cab or even Uber. But I finally succumbed to the suggestion that we make the journey via the Metro North system. This is did have the advantage of being a commuter railroad I had never traveled and much of the journey would be above ground near enough to the Harlem River to enjoy a spectacular view all the way to Spuyten Duyvil. So don’t get me wrong, I was pretty happy with this solution.

To get to Metro North we wound up taking the subway to Grand Central. My eyebrows did get a bit of a rise when I saw the fare on Metro North. The distance we were traversing was nothing unusual for mass transit–it would have been a single fare on the subway. But even with a senior rate, we were charged about 3x what the subway costs. And of course, since we had to pay the subway fare anyway, the whole Metro North fare was on top of that. No, it wasn’t an economic hardship for us, especially since it was just the one trip. But I feel for the many who have to pay that fare each way for a work week. I suppose there are probably bulk and discount programs. Anyway, all things considered it was a fun for me and not horrible for Terri. A member of the family picked us up at the Spuyten Duyvil stop for another mile or two journey to our destination.

But all this made me curious. Just how difficult is it really to get somewhere via regular NYC mass transit? For years people told me that it was impossible to get to or from any of the NYC airports and I figured out that that was BS–it’s perfectly easy to do as long as you aren’t burned by multiple suitcases, and can be accomplished with a single fare.

In my years as a foot messenger (the name is a bit strange since we always traveled by subway or bus unless the distance was very short) it was a matter of deep pride to be one who could figure out the most efficient route for delivering a package. These days, services like Google have taken a lot of the skill out of this process. I know I should have taken the two minutes it would have taken to figure out how to do the trip via regular transit. But I didn’t want conflict, and making my ever-suffering spouse ride along on my adventure didn’t seem the right way to go. So I followed the family orders. But there is that nagging sense–what else could I have done?

Back home in Tennessee I decided to look at the mass transit options. So here’s what else we could have done. The place we were eating lunch was exactly one block from a regular city bus stop where two different Bronx bound buses stop. We could have boarded either the BxM1 or the BxM2. Either bus would have taken us to a stop exactly 1 block from my family’s home. Google estimates the total time for the trip at 1 hour, including the walks to the bus and from the bus to the house. Each of the buses runs approximately every 15 minutes on Sundays, so our wait would have been no more than that. Obviously, NYC traffic is always an issue, but as I said, this was a Sunday, so not so bad. One fare, one hour. And life goes on…

Michigan Follies Part 1: The Great E-Mail Fiasco

I’ve been waiting to tell a few of my U-Mich stories for quite a while now. The reason for the wait is that there are still a few folks around who I love who might not want these things brought to attention. And for that reason, I won’t be naming any names–either of the guilty or the innocent. Even if I knew who that was, and often I don’t! There are no secrets here, by the way, the entire matter was the subject of lawsuits and was eventually reported in the press. I’m not mentioning anyone because I’d just rather not remind them of some unpleasant times.

This story rises to some importance because of all the publicity around Hillary Clinton’s email problems. I write at least in part to demonstrate how silly a lot of this drama is.

First on a lighter note: e-mail or email? The answer is, depends when. I titled this blog entry with E-Mail because that was the “correct” spelling when this story unfolded. Over time, people got tired of putting in a hyphen, so now the “correct” spelling is email. Use whatever you like best! I certainly will.

E-mail was just getting off the ground as a major communications medium when I started my career at the U of Michigan. At that time, the servers were large and enormously expensive computers that were usually called “main frames”, words which eventually became hyphenated and then crushed to “mainframe.” I teach language, so these things are sometimes important to me.

Michigan was at the forefront of encouraging electronic communication and the IT (Information Technology) department was instrumental in convincing the university administration that resources should be committed to ensuring that all faculty and staff had access to such systems. The main e-mail server was a machine purchased from IBM at a cost in excess of $1 million.

Just before I arrived, the Amdahl Corporation donated a second mainframe computer to the university.

Now, one of the ways that this initiative for greater electronic communication could be fostered was to keep the institutional costs low, and one way to do that was to rebill services to corporations or the government whenever possible. If a faculty member was funding their research via government grants, it was completely legitimate for the university to rebill the costs of their time use of the computer to the government.

A problem was quickly identified. Since the Amdahl computer was donated, there was no cost that could be rebilled to anyone. A person I was later to call both my boss and my friend came up with a legal and legitimate solution. Anyone who had a grant was given an account on the IBM e-mail server whereas those who had no external funding were given accounts on the Amdahl (free) server. In this way, the university could recover costs that could eventually be used to purchase the next computer needed to run these systems.

Let me emphasize again that this is both legal and legitimate. No one questioned or got into trouble for this stage of development. But things began to go awry.

As anyone who has worked with soft money knows, grants come and grants go. In order to keep the system honest, periodic audits were necessary so that people who were on the IBM (and thus billed for costs) were moved to the Amdahl (if they lost their funding) or vice versa. That simply didn’t happen. The result was that after a few years there were people who were on the IBM who should have been billed but weren’t (because they no longer had grants) and people on the Amdahl server who were being billed because they had received grants. Note that in the latter case, the government was being billed for services the university was not paying for. And that is the heart of an administrative nightmare.

The government does not take kindly to being billed for services not rendered. My friend, the architect of this scheme, understood the problem and began notifying first his immediate superiors and then higher level university administrators of his concerns. You might think that the university would thank him and work towards fixing the problem, but you would dead wrong.

Shortly after he hired me, he visited my office to tell me that he had been fired. You might wonder what they could have fired him for. Believe it or not, they alleged that they were firing him for creating the very system that they were defending. If there was a problem, they said, it was his fault. And he responded the only way left to him on the advice of his attorneys–he filed what is called a “whistle blower’s” claim on the university. Initially the Federal government hadn’t wanted to do anything about it. It sounded to them like a difficult case to prove. But once the suit was filed, they joined it. Eventually the university agreed to pay over a million dollars back to the federal government, and my former boss received a large settlement. Large, but certainly not enough to replace the career that was now wrecked. And for what? Trying to do the right thing.

And what of the 10 administrators who knew of the warnings that had been provided over a year’s time? Those who ignored those warnings and told people to shut up? The warnings were provided in memoranda on paper, and the most senior administrator involved told the others to destroy the memoranda so that the government could not get them via the legal discovery process. Nine out of ten of the administrators did just that. Fortunately for my friend, one did not and so the government got the evidence. None of these administrators were punished. They all kept their jobs and life went on as if defrauding the government is all in a days work. Only the whistle blower paid the price for honesty.

The university got into all this trouble because of an underlying fact of technology. There are legitimate reasons for people (and institutions) to try to control their communications by keeping those communications in segregated systems. Now that there are a lot of free email systems out there, lots of people have multiple accounts and will use one or another email address to manage such issues. And it is simply inevitable that people will forget that they are one system and start a conversation on that system instead of switching to the “right” system. We now fully understand how difficult it is to “stay straight.”

So am I excusing Hillary’s behavior in the great email brou-ha-ha? No. She did the wrong thing. But we need to keep a sense of proportion about it. Did she recognize her error and apologize for it? Yes. Did her error result in any damage to the security infrastructure of the U.S.? As far as anyone can determine, no. And other than the investigative costs (which probably were substantial), her mistake was not costly. If you want to focus on the investigative costs, I suppose it might be reasonable to expect her campaign or private foundation to reimburse the government. But do keep in mind that much of that cost was driven by opposition party politicking. It would not be fair, I think, to hold her responsible for the portion of the investigation that was politically motivated. And figuring stuff like that out is about as hard as figuring out how to bill for email servers when one is purchased and the other is free.

New Mexico-Style Chili

Several friends congregated at our home last night and some were kind enough to ask for my Chili recipe. I’m a “by the seat of my pants” kind of cook–I make it up as I go along, so the only way I can provide a recipe is by telling a story.

New Mexico (hereafter: NM) is the Chili state. Not the Tex-Mex chili most of us are used to, the actual plant that produces the chili pods that become the basis for spice concoctions called “Chili powder” and the like. I’ve loved cooking with these pods for decades, but my interest has deepened ever since my kids moved to NM–first Alamogordo and now Albuquerque.

When you enter a NM restaurant specializing in local cuisine, the first question you are likely to hear from your server is “Red or green?” Oddly enough this does not necessarily have anything to do with the spiciness of the sauce, it’s just a color preference and doesn’t have much more to do with flavor than red, green, or orange bell peppers. But in any given restaurant, the red might be spicier than the green (or vice versa), so my reply is usually, “Which one is hotter?”

Once something you had to scour specialty markets for (unless you lived in NM of course), these days you can find a nice assortment of dried chili pods in most large supermarkets or produce stores.

For the dish I cooked yesterday, I used two packages of dried, mild New Mexico chili pods. You can find the basics of preparation for chili pods on the Internet, but here is the system I follow. First remove the stems. Many recipes suggest removing the seeds as well, I don’t. I place the pods in a dry pan on medium high heat. Using a spatula, I turn the pods frequently until the skins begin to blister. This marks the point at which they are “toasted” and it’s important to remove them quickly from the heat–over toasting them results in a bitter flavor. Next, cover the pods in very hot (almost boiling) water and let them soak a while. Drain off the water and then grind them up in a food processor–a Cuisinart works great for this. Finally, strain out the bits of skin. You will be left with a thick paste–this is the meat of the chili plant. It will be hot or mild depending on what type of pod you selected, but it will have the distinct taste of chili.

At the beginning I mentioned the Tex-Mex chili most of us are used to. Aside from using powdered chili preparations, the most distinctive flavor we experience from these dishes is that of some sort of tomato product–tomato paste, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc. The chili powder adds a bit of flavor to an overwhelmingly tomato-y dish. There is nothing wrong with this, and I do make these sorts of dishes too. But the point of NM style chili is to taste the chili. Therefore, most NM chilis contain no tomato products. It is important to adjust your expectations accordingly!

Last night’s dish was a basic meat-and-beans chili, NM style. To prepare the meat, I used 5 lbs of “stew beef” which I sliced into bite sized chunks. Obviously most people make chili with ground beef, but I prefer the result of using something that better resembles steak. In fact, the chili sauce resulting from the process above can easily be used to dress a simple grilled steak. I brown the beef in a heavy skillet using olive oil and then add it to a slow cooker. A large crock-pot works fine for this.

In addition to the beef, last night I added two medium onions, sauteed, and later in the process, some sliced chicken sausages.

So now the beef is slow cooking in the chili sauce with the onions. This is the point at which I do something a little different–and perhaps not at all in the vein of New Mexico–but seems to produce a very pleasurable result! My secret ingredient is the Israeli salsa called “Z’hug”. Z’hug is prepared by combining 1/3 chopped fresh cilantro, 1/3 chopped fresh garlic, and 1/3 chopped hot peppers of some sort. It used to be quite the chore to get all that garlic ready, but nowadays it is easy to find ready-peeled fresh garlic in the store. You might be tempted to stint on the garlic, but don’t. Trust me, the secret to good z’hug is lots of fresh garlic. The basic technique is to mix the ingredients in a food processor with a generous dollup of good olive oil. I often vary my z’hug by adding other sorts of fragrant green herbs such as basil. Always fresh! The heat of the z’hug ranges from moderate (if one uses jalapenos), to hotter (with serranos), to hot with habaneros, and finally intense with ghost peppers.

The important point here is that if you notice the constituent parts of z’hug, you will discover that when cooked it is a perfect unit for any recipe that calls for herbs, garlic and some heat. After I sautee the onions mentioned above, I quickly sautee some z’hug (lightly, because garlic shouldn’t be fried for long) and add it to the pot.

As I mentioned, last night was a meat-and-beans dish, so we arrive at the critical issue of proper preparation of the beans. Although we joke a lot about it, and many people fondly remember a particular scene in the Mel Brooks comedy western Blazing Saddles the truth is that most of us, even those of us who like blazingly hot chili, do not care for the after-affects of a pot of beans. Again, you can find lots to read on the Internet about this, but the truth is that it is amazingly easy to produce fart-free beans.

First, do not use canned beans. Most manufacturers don’t do the simple steps needed to produce good quality, non-flatulent beans. I prefer dried pintos, but do feel free to use kidney or black beans or any combination thereof. For last night’s recipe, I used two cups of dried beans. Rinse off the beans in a strainer that’s has holes big enough to get rid of any tiny stones that often land in bags of dried beans. Put the beans in a stock pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and let the beans boil for two minutes. Drain the beans and–this is very important!–rinse the beans thoroughly with cold water. What you are doing is removing enzymes that are the actual culprit in the flatulence problem.

Next, add water to the stock pot to get a 2 to 1 water to beans ratio. Boil the beans according to any recipe. You can do the fast method or the overnight method. I don’t taste any difference, so I do the fast one. When you’re done, rinse the beans again. It’s the stuff that makes the water thick that causes the problem, so rinsing off the beans takes care of the problem. Some purists think this is bad because we’re rinsing off all that good nutrition. Sure, then fart and stop complaining. Anyway, there was no flatulence among any of the participants at our get together last night.

You may notice that I have said nothing about salt. I have sodium sensitive high blood pressure, so I don’t add salt to my food. Contrary to most people’s thinking, no salt is needed for cooking most things. One can add salt to taste at the dinner table. That’s why God made salt shakers. But most people will add salt to this chili recipe and of course if that’s your pleasure, go for it. Commercial chili preparations also have other herbs and spices such as cumin, turmeric, allspice, etc. As I explained at the top, the goal of my dish is to be able to taste the chili pods so I don’t use any of those for this dish. But you can add whatever you like!

chili_pods

New Mexico chili pods ready for preparation!

A word about heat (spiciness). There are two good ways you can control the heat of your chili. The first is the question of which chili peppers you choose for creating the chili paste. There are hotter and milder peppers. To make the chili milder, you can eliminate the seeds, but recipes that suggest you eliminate the veins should not be followed. Those veins do indeed contain a lot of the capsaicin which is indeed the primary irritant which gives the sensation of heat. But they also carry a lot of the flavor of the pod, so if they are too hot for you, choose milder chilis. The second way to control the heat is with the peppers you use for the herbal mixture (z’hug). Hotter peppers, hotter z’hug. Resist the temptation to add commercial products like Tobasco. If you or your party want hotter chili, you can always add those at the table!

So now you have a slow cooker going with your genuine chili paste, meat, beans, onions and lightly sauteed z’hug. Let it go for four hours (on high) or ten hours (on low) and you will have great New Mexico style chili!

Enjoy!

LoveLee Family News for The Departing Year of 2015

Terri and Jack Wishing You the Best for the New Year

Terri and Jack Wishing You the Best for the New Year

It’s All Good

The holiday period finds us on the road to Clara (see the previous Blog entry), but it’s also time to reflect on the year winding up. For me, there is little doubt that the major milestone was taking and passing my Ph.D. comprehensive exams. While I know most will agree that’s important, it pales beside the accomplishments of other members of the family. Terri has once again hit the ball out of the park as Dean of Arts and Sciences at U-Tenn. Ephraim completed his MS degree in Geography (specializing in GIS systems) and has found his first real job. Shoshana has configured her life in a way that allows her to both work in a vitally important profession (critical care for our veterans) but still finds lots of time to spend with Clara. And Karl completed a term as interim director of his federal agency and has returned to the scientific role he loves.

About that Ph.D.

Some might think I’m being overly modest about passing that exam, but after all it isn’t my first time at this stage of academic progress. Twice before I’ve reached the point of writing a dissertation, and twice before life intervened to direct me to other pursuits. I regret none of that–my choices allowed me to find Terri and I had a good and rewarding career as a professional in the campus Hillel at UC-Berkeley followed by more than twenty years in Information Technology at U-Michigan. During those decades I kept up my Hebrew and Jewish studies by, among other things, teaching regular courses at Lansing’s Congregation Kehillat Israel.

I would see the attainment of a Ph.D. at this point in my life as something of a vanity quest if it weren’t for the fact that I am teaching courses at U-Tenn now. The primary meat-and-potatoes of this new academic career for me are courses in the Religious Studies Department of U-Tenn such as Beginning and Intermediate Biblical Hebrew and Introduction to Judaism.

The latter is an interesting exercise. I never taught the course by the same name at Berkeley’s Lehrhaus Judaica where I spent 9 years. At least during that time it was always taught by a rabbi and was seen as a gateway to conversion to Judaism. That would certainly not be an acceptable way to teach a course at a public University! In fact, it is critically important that we study Judaism in the same way that we study Christianity, Islam and other religions in order to obtain as objective as possible an understanding of the contributions and issues that these intellectual and ethnic movements and ideologies have raised in the world in which we live.

As rewarding as these courses have been for me, they are all at the most basic level because with just an M.A., that is what I am allowed to teach. If I want to have a chance at teaching something more advanced, I have to have that Ph.D. And so that is the motivation. But it’s a bit of a vanity quest too. 🙂

Now that I’ve passed the exams, I have three more upper level classes to complete all of which can be part of my dissertation effort and one of which has to be the start of that process. But enough of process! I’m sure at least some of you are wondering what I intend to work on. 37 or so years ago I was interested in political, ethnic, and military history. I arrived at graduate school in Berkeley having completed a prize-winning undergraduate thesis which was a study of what can be known about an obscure conflict between Jews and Romans that took place during the term of the Roman emperor Trajan. You might think you have never heard of Trajan, but if you’ve ever looked at a map of the Roman Empire, you will usually find one that says something like, “The Roman Empire at its greatest extent under Trajan.” In other words, by many measures, Trajan was the most powerful emperor in the history of that world power. And the Jews in North Africa, Egypt, Cyprus, Syria, and Babylonia all rose against him.

This is a pretty typical map of the sort you will find in basic books and on the Internet. Note the description in the box.

This is a pretty typical map of the sort you will find in basic books and on the Internet. Note the description in the box.

My attempts to learn about this episode in Jewish history did not bear much fruit in the usual sense. The truth is we will probably never know very much about it. Unlike the major revolt documented by Josephus decades earlier, we have no Josephus for this era. Even the Bar Kokhba revolt a few decades hence has more documentation. So what began as a quest to learn about this event turned into a quest to understand just what the historical sources could actually be for such an event. And that led me to Jewish, Christian, and pagan sources, inscriptions, paintings and all sorts of arcane things. My interests broadened to the social and religious, and in recent years I have become fascinated by the question of just how different Christianity and Judaism were in the first two centuries of the followers of Jesus.

And in other parts of life

While teaching and studying consumed a large part of my waking hours last year, I’m happy to say that there was so much more! The previous year I at long last faced the music and had my left knee replaced, and that has led to a resurgence in my physical activities. I’m now going to the gym three times a week again and walking an average of 8 miles a day.

Jack "Hamaning" it up on Purim

Jack “Hamaning” it up on Purim

Terri and I have a wonderful and full social life which includes many dinners with friends, and enjoying many of the plays and music that Knoxville has to offer. As I hope you already know, Tennessee is the “Music State”–and that isn’t limited to Country music. Broadway shows come to the magnificent Tennessee Theater. The University sports three stages which are used for the incomparable productions of the U-Tenn Theater department, one of just a few combination professional/educational companies in the country. And if that isn’t enough, Knoxville has a wonderful volunteer company called the Tennessee Valley Players. Knoxville has a professional orchestra which performs symphonies and opera. And the School of Music has more productions than we can keep track of, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every performance I  have been lucky enough to hear.

Carousel Theater at the Clarence Brown as staged for Of Mice and Men

Carousel Theater at the Clarence Brown as staged for Of Mice and Men

Knoxville is, of course, one of the major centers of the Appalachian region and that means Bluegrass music and moonshine. I haven’t found the latter to be all that appealing, but the former is a constant great pleasure. No matter where you are reading this, you can enjoy some great live Bluegrass music every week day at noon (Eastern Time). Just point your computer to WDVX.com and for that lunch hour you’ll hear two different music acts live on stage. If you’re in town, the performances are held in the main room of the Knoxville Visitor’s Bureau, downtown. The station plays recorded Bluegrass and old-time Country music the rest of the day. All sorts of live music acts are held at two theaters–the Bijou and the Laurel, and on just about any night you can hear good music at bars and clubs sprinkled throughout the area.

The popular Israeli musician David Broza performed an impromptu concert for free on Knoxville's Market Square (May)

The popular Israeli musician David Broza performed an impromptu concert for free on Knoxville’s Market Square (May)

I can’t leave the theater/music scene without a mention of a rather extraordinary experience Terri and I enjoyed during this holiday season. We were invited to Pigeon Forge (best known as the home of Dollywood) to hear the Christmas Show at a venue called the Smoky Mountains Opry (not to be confused with Nashville’s Grand Old Opry). This is one of many entertainment venues in the area, but it is quite amazing. The auditorium easily holds as many people as the largest theater in Knoxville. The Christmas show was not at all what I expected. It resembled the show at Radio City Music Hall (NYC) more than anything else in my experience. The first half of the show was winter and holiday music with a distinctive Tin Pan Alley/Broadway sound. Almost nothing of a religious nature. After the intermission, the second half built towards a number of the best known Christmas carols–but that would have been true at Radio City for their Christmas show too. In addition to the singing (which was polished and professional) there was a plethora of comedy, ballet, and magic acts. Yes, there was an Evangelical cast to the production, and you’d have to be deaf and blind not to notice the Christian (and not Catholic) overtones, but I found it all tasteful and and not as heavy handed as I had feared making the journey up to Pigeon Forge. Our host lamented that as good as the production is, and as well attended as it seemed to be, the company is having a tough time financially. He noted that although there are many tourists to the area, these venues are all heavily dependent on local patronage, and Appalachians don’t have the money to spend that would turn operations more plentiful. ‘Nuff said on that point.

Passover

The Malcolms joined us for Passover Seder this year, and we have this photo of Ephraim and Karl enjoying some TV while Miss Clara naps at her uncle’s side.

Karl on the left, Ephy on the right, Clara snoozing between

Karl on the left, Ephy on the right, Clara snoozing between

Summer Vacation

We did have a summer vacation this year which took us north to Lansing, Traverse City, Marquette, Houghton, Milwaukee and Indianapolis. I know I’m risking overstaying my welcome with you, so here is just one photo of Terri enjoying the scene on Portage Lake.

Terri on the Portage Canal which separates Hancock from Houghton in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The Portage Lake Lift Bridge is in the background.

Terri on the Portage Canal which separates Hancock from Houghton in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Portage Lake Lift Bridge is in the background.

Terri’s Words

I can hardly believe that we have been in Knoxville for 4 years now, and my first ‘term’ as Dean will wrap up June 30. Do not worry — I very much enjoy this very busy job and if asked I expect to continue for another term. Our first year I did not think we would ever acclimate to the climate, but we have — and I have even succeeded in creating a small, successful vegetable garden that was planted the first weekend of April, and I finally gave up protecting from light frost just before Thanksgiving. As a midwesterner, I marvel at the duration of the growth season, as well as the wide variety of plants that are successfully grown in this area.

I love my job because it takes me into all corners of this exciting university, all over the state of Tennessee and into most major cities in the eastern half of the country. I never imagined that I would so enjoy the job of “selling” my college and university — but, I guess it is true that when you believe in your “product” it is not hard to do so. It is not always easy, and helping to push a college/university into its best self is always slower than one would prefer. But, after 4 years, it is very clear to everyone on campus that we are modernizing and improving at a rapid rate. I give much credit for the success to the university’s leadership and their willingness (need) to involve everyone from top management, professors, facilities staff and students. Sometimes these gains come despite the state’s local politicians!

Wrapping up — we have made many wonderful new friends of all ages, learned to enjoy and adapt to (if not always love) the local cuisine, and love the breadth of music, theater and dance. While we may not always agree with all the local political perspectives, it has led us to be very active with the Jewish community and the League of Women Voters. And no matter what, the conversations are civil and people are invariably kind and polite. I have found Tennessee’s culture has much to recommend it! As Jack always says — we are in the cross-roads to many places with I-75 and I-40 crossing very near us. So y’all drop in and visit — we have plenty of room! If you particularly love growing plants, come visit the Smoky Mountains in late April for the Wildflower Pilgrimage. It is inexpensive, wonderful way to learn a great deal while spending a day or three in the beautiful outdoors.

There goes 2015, Hello 2016!

The Dean hugging Ephraim as a newly minted MS

The Dean hugging Ephraim as a newly minted MS

Loves and Malcolms in Albuquerque for the Winter Holidays. Ephy is minding the store back in Knoxville.

Loves and Malcolms in Albuquerque for the Winter Holidays. Ephy is minding the store back in Knoxville.

Traveling to Clara, Hanukkamas 2015

This story could be entitled “Waiting for the Blizzard” as the forecast for these here parts is a bit grim. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Knoxville to the Big Easy

We began our cross country trip in our home town, Knoxville Tennessee and stayed overnight in Hoover, Alabama. Although a brief stopover, we discovered a very fine Chicago-style pizzaria called Tortugas. The next morning it was on to our first goal, the Big Easy. Turns out no one knows why New Orleans is called “The Big Easy” although many theories vie for the title. We checked into the J.W. Marriott hotel directly across Canal Street from the French Quarter, and it was easily one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

View of the French Quarter from the 14th floor

View of the French Quarter from the 14th floor

Of course it was everything you might expect of a big city hotel. Courteous and helpful staff, luxurious appointments in the room and unbelievably expensive parking requiring valet service. But we knew all that going into it so we just forgot about the money and enjoyed ourselves.

Our first mission in New Orleans was finding one my friends from my Berkeley era, Galen.

Galen and I took courses together at U-Cal in the mid-70s. Although he was not Jewish, he registered for and excelled in a Talmud course in the original languages. After graduating from Berkeley he went on to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he accomplished the almost Herculean task of obtaining a Ph.D. from the Bible Department. In those days, it was commonly held that Hebrew University was the last refuge of the German University. According to Galen, that’s the past–the school is more like others in the world now. After the 10 year-long process, Galen was hired as an instructor at Hebrew University, but was disappointed to learn that he would not be considered a good candidate for tenure track due to the lack of Israeli citizenship. He found a job at Tulane as a “Professor of Practice” which is approximately like the position I hold as a Lecturer at U-Tenn. Galen retired after his second term and now lives in the Treme where he composes music and posts liberally (so to speak) on Facebook.

Galen making a point...

Galen making a point…

We enjoyed a most pleasant dinner at a fine restaurant called the Degas Cafe in a neighborhood (district) called Esplanade Ridge. The food, service, and atmosphere were all as good as it gets.

Cafe Degas

Cafe Degas

Long Lost Cousin Marty

There was another reason we added New Orleans to our itinerary for this trip. I learned about a year ago that my cousin Marty lived there. I had last seen this cousin when he was drafted (I think in 1967). In those days he lived across the hall from me with a brother, father, grandmother (to me as well) and our aunt Esther. His mother, Fay, of blessed memory, had passed before I was born, and “Bubby” and Esther took care of the boys while dad Lou worked in the U.S. Post Office. Marty was the closest to me in age (but still about 8 years older), so I interacted with him the most. Marty married a local woman during his military service while stationed in Arkansas, Ceil, and they had a child named Patrick. For five decades I lost track of him. But we arranged to meet in New Orleans where they had settled. Patrick was home for the holiday, and so it was that I had a reunion with my cousin and met his son for the first time. And they met my wife for the first time.

Pround Pappa Marty with Patirck Holland

Pround Pappa Marty with Patirck Holland

We met up at the Court of the Two Sisters in the French Quarter where we enjoyed a fabulous buffet style lunch. (A little “touristy” Galen pronounced, but just the right thing for our day!) When Marty arrived with Patrick, I recognized him instantly and we started to chat like we had seen each other the previous week.

The Love Holland Family Photo

The Love Holland Family Photo

The decades melted away and I learned about his life and Patrick filled in some detail. I wish we could have visited longer, but perhaps we’ll get back soon.

Terri survellling the vast canopy of the Court of the Two Sisters

Terri survellling the vast canopy of the Court of the Two Sisters

New Orleans to Albuquerque

Stephanie making her point to Terri

Stephanie making her point to Terri

From New Orleans we set out on a leisurely place to Clara’s home town of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Along the way we stopped for lunch in Shreveport where we met an old friend and colleague of mine from my days at CAEN, Stephanie and her brother-in-law Derrick. Lovely lunch at the Superior Bar and Grill, catching up with Stephanie and her lovely daughter Brelyn, and making Derrick’s acquaintance for the first time.

 

 

Stephanie's brother-in-law Derrick

Stephanie’s brother-in-law Derrick

After overnighting near Fort Worth, we planned a stop at the Frontier Museum in Abilene (Texas–not to be confused with Abilene, Kansas). Although just a dot on the map, the museum is terrific. Lots of computer enhanced displays, genuine artifacts, nicely produced film features. For me the greatest pleasure was seeing how the curators treated native Americans with a combination of respect and the understanding that everyone in that era was engaged in a brutal struggle for existence.

Just one wonderful diorama

Just one wonderful diorama

After the museum, an unexpected pleasure: BeeHiveThe Beehive Restaurant was just superb. I know few of you will likely ever pass through Abilene, but if you do, don’t miss this place!

Our next stop was Lubbock, Texas. The town name always stirs memories of a roommate I had in the first house I ever owned–in Oakland, California–who hailed from there. Her name was Terry Hicks and I’m sorry to say I’ve lost track of her. But Lubbock was directly on our route to Albuquerque, so we stopped there for the night and had just enough time to make it to the Buddy Holly museum. A small affair, but nicely done. Buddy_Holly

And at long last we arrived in Clara-land!

Clara Country

Clara chooses to live with her parents up on Sandia Mountain–about 6800 ft above sea level. You might say that Clara lives at the intersection of “No Outlet” and “Dead End”.

The street sign near Clara

The street sign near Clara

This is the view from Clara’s road.

The view from Clara's road

The view from Clara’s road

At sunset, it can look like this.

Sunset on Sandia Mountain

Sunset on Sandia Mountain

Our first night in Albuquerque we went to a very pleasant Asian themed restaurant called Jinja Bar and Bistro. Highly recommended! The second night, Karl and Sho fixed a wonderful meal for us. Karl prefers to serve meat that he has harvested from the wild, and on this occasion he prepared quail that he had caught. Sho added a lovely pasta salad. Terri is beaming over the arranged table:

Terri is beaming over the arranged table

Terri is beaming over the arranged table

We met Karl’s friend Jerry at this meal, and Jerry couldn’t resist staying for a serving of quail even though his wife was preparing dinner near by.

Jerry partaking in the feast

Jerry partaking in the feast

Clara was too busy finishing her meal to smile for the camera, but Sho and Karl try to make up for it.

Clara intent on finishing her meal, with Sho and Karl

Clara intent on finishing her meal, with Sho and Karl

The blizzard I mentioned at the beginning of this story arrived on Saturday night, 12/26. Because of my knee, I was staying down the mountain in a hotel in Albuquerque. Terri and the kids remained up on the mountain. The storm intensified overnight and about a foot of snow accumulated on the mountain. The bigger problem was that “black ice” formed on i40 causing almost 200 serious accidents. As I write this late Sunday night, i40 is still closed. We’re hoping to reunite the family tomorrow so we can all go see Star Wars (Episode VII). In the meantime, Clara has ventured out into the snow, so we’ll end this vacation article with her.

snow_girl_Clara

Clara says, “Y’all come back soon!”

Update: The storm just grazed Albuquerque, but further south (towards the Mexico border) it caused massive problems including the destruction of some 35,000 cattle. It then marched east and flooded Oklahoma City and parts of Missouri finally burying parts of New England in several feet of snow. i40 between Albuquerque and Sandia Mountain remained closed for another day.

Despite all that, our winter vacation turned out very well. I was soon reunited with the rest of the family. We saw Star Wars in IMAX from the 3rd row (the furthest back seats still available when we arrived for a matinee!), saw the Albuquerque Zoo, ate in some more lovely restaurants, and then made the trip back to Knoxville in 2 days. Our one stop was in Ft. Smith Arkansas, which we discovered was the 2nd largest city in that state. The detour was pleasant enough and I certainly wouldn’t mind staying there again.

We’re back in Knoxville as I write this, and the semester will soon be occupying other of our thoughts. But we can’t wait to see our Clara again–hopefully this coming Passover.

On David Broza, Pete Seeger and Other Musings

In my life I have been fortunate to have had close encounters of the musical kind with people imbued with immense musical sensibility and talent. In the early Spring of 1971, I was part of a student effort at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) to discover “future alternatives for America.” This Symposium was a direct result of the loss of a student’s life when a group of anti-war activists set off a bomb in the University’s Sterling Hall, home to the Army Math Research Center.

Each of us on the steering committee were charged with inviting speakers who could address the theme. My dear friend Shelley Falik chose to invite Pete Seeger, and to the astonishment of many of us, Pete accepted.

In order to avoid problems with his record label, Pete’s appearance was labelled “Pete Seeger Speaks” and the nothing in the description suggested that he would be giving a concert. But no one was fooled by that.

The night before the concert arrived and Pete Seeger arrived (in my fuzzy recollection by bus carrying his guitar and banjo). At some point, Shelley picked him up in his beat up jalopy and brought him to his student dive of a house where his girl friend and Symposium helper had made a pot of beans. The rest of us came with the simple offerings of students in those “counter culture” days. Pete pronounced the meal as good as any he could recall.

I don’t remember where he spent the night, but the next day at around 10am, Shelley and I were on a makeshift stage with him at the University of Wisconsin Stock Pavilion which could hold around 2,000 people. It was full. Pete Seeger “spoke” for about two hours.  It was broadcast by UW’s public radio station and I have a recording of that event but no idea whether I can legally post it or not. Perhaps some day.

All this came rushing back to mind yesterday when I had another close encounter with musical greatness. A few days ago my friend Mary Linda Schwartzbart noted in her Facebook page that David Broza’s new film would be screened at our Scruffy City Arts Festival here in Knoxville. Scruff City is a rather odd place–part bar, part performance venue. It sits on Knxoxville’s Market Square in a building dating to about 1900. These days, some enterprising and artistic minded folk have purchased it and use if for things like the Scruffy City Arts Festival.

Imagining that there would be a mob scene immediately prior to the event, Terri and I went over there the day before to buy our tickets. For those of you who do not know, David Broza is one of Israel’s most famous musical artists, a celebrity who can fill stadiums. As I bought the tickets, the manager told me that David Broza would be at the event and might perform a few songs after the movie.

As the event was getting under way, Terri headed off on a brief errand and I handed the ticket taker my stub–and I as I did so I glanced back. Standing right next me, close enough that I could have tapped him on the shoulder, was David Broza. Since I couldn’t actually think of anything to say to him, I gawked for a brief minute and then headed for a seat inside. When Terri joined me I said, I’m pretty sure David Broza is here.

The movie is called David Broza: East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem. It is a small study in the ways that music can enlighten people and contribute to peace. A wonderful surprise for the Knoxville crowd is the presence in the movie of Steve Earle. In this film he could pass for a Hassid.

David Broza at Scruffy City, Knoxville

David Broza at Scruffy City, Knoxville

For reasons I can’t imagine, no one seems to have informed the Jewish community of Knoxville that this would be happening, so the audience consisted of Mary Linda’s friends and the usual suspects who turn up for every musical event in Knoxville–which is a wonderful, motley crew. Fortunately that meant enough people to mostly fill the small auditorium, and the crowd made up for its small size in vocal enthusiasm. Knoxville’s Appalachian residents welcomed David Broza into the fold. They clearly appreciated the film, and even more the songs that Broza played at its conclusion. Those songs included two wonderful pieces from the film: Jerusalem and my personal favorite, The Lion’s Den. He also played a song inspired by the music of the Mughrab and concluded with his most famous tune called Yiyeh Tov, a Hebrew song whose title means something like “It will turn out OK.”

On the “Open Hillel” Movement

A two-year old initiative called “Open Hillel” is once again in the news. For those of you who aren’t particularly interested in Jewish politics, much less the emotional stirrings of Jewish students on college campuses, this probably feels like “much ado about not much.” But it is important to me, and I hope you’ll indulge me for a bit.

When I arrived as a young college student at the University of Wisconsin in 1969, the campus was in almost constant tumult with events related to the Vietnam War. Madison (Wisconsin), UC-Berkeley and the U of Michigan (all campuses where I had or would have strong connections) were among the most active, but the uproar was everywhere. There were even students shot and killed–which left an enduring legacy in the form of the Crosby, Stills and Nash song “Four Dead in Ohio.”

berkeleyHillel

Berkeley’s Hillel House as it looks today.

At Berkeley, Jewish students opposed to the war formed a collective they named “The Elders of Zion” and published a campus newspaper called “The Jewish Radical.” The newspaper and the group received support and a home in the local Hillel Foundation. At Wisconsin, Jewish students created an ambulance brigade to provide first aid to demonstrators (or anyone else) who was injured in the demonstrations. That operation, likewise, was housed in the local Hillel Foundation.

Lest you think this was all the exaggerated antics of over-enthusiastic youth, let me provide a very personal anecdote. In the late Fall semester of my second year at Wisconsin, I left a mid-term exam in Geology, got on my bicycle and started pedaling towards my next class. When I turned the corner of State and University Avenues, an unmarked police car pulled up beside me. I glanced at it just long enough to see someone pointing a grenade launcher at me. The grenade hit me in the leg and detonated a tear gas canister. I skidded to the side of the street enveloped by the gas. Suddenly a middle-aged, matronly woman bolted out of the closest building (Chadbourne Hall). She grabbed me under my arms and hauled me into the building where someone else dumped a bucket of water over me.

First aid was important in those days. And no, I had no idea what was going on (it turned out that a band of demonstrators had passed that spot a few minutes before I turned the corner), and I had absolutely nothing to do with whatever the officers were reacting to. Not that I was innocent of participation—I did attend demonstrations. Just not that day.

madison_hillel

Neither this lovely facade nor the photo of Berkeley’s Hillel resemble the buildings of my era. As nice a statement as these facades may make, no one should be surprised that it took major fundraising to transform the old edifices.

At Madison the rabbi of the Hillel allowed the facility to be used for the makeshift first-aid center. At Berkeley, the rabbi supported the student efforts to create a journal for vigorous debate of the issues of the day—particularly the issues that stirred the minds of young, Jewish students. And similar activities were supported throughout the country wherever there were enough Jewish students who desired to use the Hillel Foundation as a home base for their discussions and activities.

A decade or so after the Vietnam War had ended, Berkeley’s students were involved in another cause. Refugees were arriving from Central America. Many campus religious organizations offered these refugees a place to stay and eat. No one at these churches was particularly concerned about the legal status of these obviously beleaguered people. Berkeley’s Hillel Foundation was not directly involved in most of this activity, but there were occasions when there was overflow (too many guests) or a church needed its full facility for an event–and on such occasions the Jewish students would take the refugees over to Hillel for that time.

This was the Hillel of my college and early professional years. Sensitive to the issues that motivated Jewish college students and willing to take small risks (there were never any serious consequences to any of these activities) to assure those students that compassion is an important component of the Jewish faith.

Today, these sorts of things seem to be a thing of the past. Hillel Foundations avoid even the slightest controversies like the plague. Hillel directors shun any sort of activities that cannot be directly connected to matters of interest to Judaism, and even in that smaller arena, the official Hillels are places where any sort of criticism of Israel cannot be countenanced.

What happened? As an historian I like to say, “Whenever anyone says it’s not about the money, it’s always about the money.”

The Hillel Foundations have an interesting history. They were not created by a religious community but rather a fraternal organization called B’nai B’rith (the Jewish version of organizations like the Shriners and Masons). B’nai B’rith was also the home of an international youth association and most-famously the Anti-Defamation League. B’nai B’rith’s status as a fraternal rather than religious organization allowed their affiliated agencies to be non-denominational: all Jewish students should feel equally at home no matter whether their background was Reform, Conservative or Orthodox, or for that matter secular. In order to foster the widest degree of participation, most Hillels tried to serve kosher food and adhere to standards of Sabbath observance that would satisfy all but the most Orthodox of students. Essentially it was a matter of serving the students who would come.

The central office for the Hillel Foundations didn’t have much time to deal with local issues and most local directors (some but not all of whom were rabbis) were given wide discretion. Most of the Foundations were given funds to cover the directors’ salaries and a bit for programming, and needed to raise the rest locally. Oddly enough, this arrangement gave the local foundations a bit of cover which freed them from too much concern about petty local politicking in much the same way that Roman Catholic congregations are sometimes shielded from local politics by the central control of the Vatican.

All this came to a rapid demise in the late ‘80s. Fraternal organizations in general, and B’nai B’rith more than most, saw huge declines in membership and fundraising. Those Hillel Foundations which had received significant funding from the national office were told to make friends locally. That meant dealing with the sources of local Jewish communal funding which generally go by names such as the “Jewish Community Federation of…” Eventually, the situation deteriorated to the point that B’nai B’rith and the Hillel Foundations found it necessary to separate into completely independent organizations. Today, B’nai B’rith has nothing to do with the hundreds of campus Jewish organizations it founded.

One of the casualties of this process was intellectual freedom within the Hillel populations. That may seem like an extreme statement, but bear with me and I think you will understand that it is no exaggeration.

Jewish Federations are not democracies. They were designed to raise the maximum amount of money possible, and to do that they learned to cater to the biggest donors. In most communities those donors are rich, politically conservative, and often vigorously pro-Israel. Of greater importance, they often feel strongly that they do not want their contributions funding any activity that might be perceived as “bad for Israel.” And as the Israeli government has become increasingly conservative in recent years, American Jewish federations have moved along that path as well.

To illustrate how this can affect the academic environment, consider the case of Daniel Boyarin. Boyarin is among the most important scholars of early Jewish religion and history. He holds the Taubman Chair of Talmudic Culture within the Near East Studies department at UC Berkeley. His scholarship is unquestionably of the highest caliber, and he has important things to say about the history and evolution of Judaism in its critical and formative period. Despite his stature in scholarship, he is persona non grata in most Hillel Foundations and Jewish communal institutions such as adult educational forums sponsored by those communal institutions. Why? Boyarin has been an outspoken personality on the progressive or if you will left-wing side of Israeli/Zionist politics, and that irks many of the big donors.

In response to these donors, Hillel has posted guidelines which at first glance might seem innocuous, but contain clauses that can be used to exclude scholars such as Boyarin as well as prominent rabbis and other Jews who are unwilling to commit to what ultimately comes to a matter of restraining free and unfettered speech. The guidelines can be found here:

 http://www.hillel.org/jewish/hillel-israel/hillel-israel-guidelines

Without turning this into a lengthy study of these “guidelines” let me say that I think most would agree that the single most difficult part of these guidelines is the bullet point which excludes anyone who supports: “… boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.”

berkeley_demontration

This is more like the scenes that I recall…

Personally, after careful consideration, I cannot support what has become known as the “BDS” approach. But I find it completely unacceptable that Jewish students should be prevented from learning why other Jews believe this is the correct approach.

Boyarin’s academic methods and conclusions are not universally accepted in the community of Jewish scholars, but none would deny that his claims are credibly based on profound analyses of the sources available to us. To exclude a scholar such as Boyarin is to make a mockery of the idea of scholarship and to deprive Jewish students of one of the most creative minds available to them. But that is exactly what has happened in Hillel Foundations around the country. And this is directly a consequence of the conversion of institutions such as Hillel Foundations into creatures of the local Jewish communal organizations.

I have used Boyarin as one example of this issue, but he is hardly unique. As those of you who have read him might expect, Noam Chomsky, one of the world’s most renowned public intellectuals would not pass muster under these guidelines. My dear friend Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, a tireless warrior for peace and the scion of one of the most prominent rabbinic families in the world would likewise be excluded from Jewish audiences if the national Hillel organization had its way.

What is lost in this haze of politics is that students suffer (and this is true whether we are speaking of Jewish students or any other such groups) when they are denied the ability to hear the wide range of opinions that is a significant feature of higher education. Imagine denying Arab students the right to hear an Arab scholar speak about the positive relations between Arabs and Jews in the Middle Ages because some sponsoring Arab communal organization is concerned about looking too pro-Jewish.

And so we come to the “Open Hillel” movement that seems to be gaining traction at many universities these days. As the term suggests, Jewish students on several campuses have declared an interest in hearing from all sides in the fractious environment of the Middle East. They are not willing to exclude voices such as Boyarin’s. And perhaps even more serious from the perspective of the organized Jewish community, they are willing to listen to speakers and organizations which represent pro-Palestinian and even anti-Zionist schools of thought.

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that if I were a college student today, I would be part of the Open Hillel movement. I strongly suspect that if things were then, when I began my career with Hillel Foundation at Berkeley, as they are now that I would not have been considered an acceptable role model and probably would not have been hired.

The irony in that is that I am neither anti-Israel nor anti-Zionist. While I do have serious reservations about the policies of the current government of Israel, I continue to believe that Israel serves an important purpose in providing refuge for Jews who become the subject of persecution. In a world in which many countries provide special status to their ancestral peoples, I do not see any reason why Israel cannot do so for Jews. But because I am unwilling to declare loyalty for the Israeli policies which I happen to oppose, I would not be considered an appropriate hire for most Jewish communal organizations including most Hillel Foundations.

All of this would be the sad ruminations of an aging curmudgeon if it weren’t for one fact I mentioned above. I believe strongly that the policies I have mentioned here are damaging the ability of Jewish communal organizations to reach college-age Jews. We should all be celebrating the “Open Hillel” movement because it, far more than the regular Hillel Foundations, has a chance of reaching that critically important population sector and perhaps retaining some of these motivated, highly educated Jews for the future of the community.