My NYTimes debut: experience of an expat Staten Islander during Sandy

My New York Times debut: A journalist found my post on my experience of helplessness as a Staten Island expat, far away during the Hurricane Sandy disaster. After some emails and a phone call, my Staten Island-based mama and I became the lede of his article on New York expats taking action during crisis.

Here’s the article, in this weekend’s paper in the New York Times Giving section:

Tied by Heartstrings to Calamity

It was kinda cool to be on the flip side of reporting as the interviewee. Probably made it a lot easier for the writer, too. And I also got a kick out of collecting info for him to find other local Israeli resources.

The experience reminded me of my old reporter ambitions (which, since abandoning them, I’ve partly pursued here for the last 8+ years; so one might say). It got me thinking that I might want to revive that old life a little, perhaps staying online, maybe starting with guest posts? Might be fun to give it a shot.

Next stop… byline somewhere!

We’ll always have Jew York…

A new study’s findings on the Jewish demographic(s) in New York City is challenging some long-held assumptions/notions regarding… Jews in New York.


“The study… challenges the entrenched image of Jews as liberal, affluent and well educated. Over the last decade wealthy, Ivy League graduates like those on the Upper West Side have increasingly lost population share relative to Orthodox groups, like the Hasidic population in Brooklyn, where college degrees are rare and poverty rates have reached 43 percent.” (NYTimes)

Some fun frum and not-so-frum facts:

  • After a decline, it seems Jews are on the upswing, and (not shockingly) the numbers hike is attributed to the Orthodox/Ultra-Orthodox populations.
  • New York area’s Jewish population is (still) the largest outside of Israel. One-third of the entire American Jewish population is located in that area.
  • The numbers: 40% of NYC Jews identify as Orthodox, up from 33% a decade ago. 74% of NYC Jewish children are Orthodox.
  • The less observant are becoming even more less observant. The Conservative and Reform counts are in decline.
  • Unsurprisingly, the Orthodox communities tend to lean to the right on political issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and how Israel handles Palestinians.
  • 316,000 Jews on Long Island and 136,000 in Westchester. Combining the eight counties makes for 1.54 million Jews, up 10% from 10 years ago.
  • Less affiliated Jewish children are less likely to be attending any sort of Jewish structure, while at the same time, overall, more local Jewish kids are going to Hebrew day schools or yeshivas. About 50% of Jews ages 18 to 34 in the area had gone to those types of schools, whereas it was only 16% of their parents/ages 55 to 69.
  • Intermarriage is hanging tight at 22%, but has increased specifically in the less affiliated.
  • 12% of Jewish households include a non-white person, often from adoption or intermarriage.

Nothing about this is shocking. It makes me a bit worried though. I didn’t ‘flee’ New York per say, but I’ve had trouble understanding how modern Orthodoxy can sustain itself in this type of environment. As people get pulled to the left and right, to the unaffiliated to the fundamentally affiliated, what’s left for those of us who want to practice traditional Jewish lives?

Nightmare: being a black boy’s parent in America.

I’m gonna do a lil Jon Stuart here and shift the focus to Camera 2: America.

May I have your attention? I have a question for you. For us. It goes like this:

What the fuck? 

The Trayvon Martin story. This 17-year-old boy was killed in cold blood when a 28-year-old community nightwatchmen (not a cop), George Zimmerman (they’re calling him Spanish-speaking white), decided Trayvon was a threat to HIS LIFE while he was on duty in the Sanford, Florida community. Zimmerman called 911 and reported the boy. He was meant to leave it alone for 911 services to take care of, but continued pursuit of the boy, got out of his car with his concealed weapon, and proceeded to attack. Neighbors heard screams. Trayvon was found dead with a bullet to his chest, after a wrestling match seems to have occurred in the grass.

But according to Florida law, killing someone in self defense is legal – in your house or anywhere in public. Obviously, carrying guns is also legal.

So when the cops arrived, no arrest was made of Zimmerman. He walked off, covered in an innocent boy’s blood. And there are no charges as of now because according to state law, he’s somehow ‘in the clear.’

Here’s some more background if you’ve missed it, because this is NEED TO KNOW info for all American citizens:

Charles M. Blow from the NYTimes writes a heart-wrenching piece on what it means to be a black parent in the United States : The Curious Case of Trayvon Martin

And, no, I chose not to go into law for 307562 reasons, but I gotta say, Florida, you really fucked this one up. This was self defense? And he’s a goddamn minor. A minor. You can’t offer the chance at justice in the case of a murdered minor? When the transcripts show proof of no good reason to follow, persecute, kill the ‘suspect’ by a non-police citizen with a record for excessiveness?

Trayvon Martin deserves the chance at justice, like every other American. The way this country was built to do.

Here’s a petition, addressing Florida’s 18th District State’s Attorney (Norman Wolfinger), Florida Attorney General (Pam Bondi), and Sanford Police Chief (Bill Lee), as well as the the Facebook page demanding justice and spreading news.

Etgar Keret #3.

A third Etgar Keret piece that can be found in the NYTimes.

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The Way We War

Tel Aviv

YESTERDAY I called the cable people to yell at them. The day before, my friend told me he’d called and yelled at them a little, threatened to switch to satellite. And they immediately lowered their price by 50 shekels a month (about $11). “Can you believe it?” my friend said excitedly. “One angry five-minute call and you save 600 shekels a year.”

The customer service representative was named Tali. She listened silently to all my complaints and threats and when I finished she said in a low, deep voice: “Tell me, sir, aren’t you ashamed of yourself? We’re at war. People are getting killed. Missiles are falling on Haifa and Tiberias and all you can think about is your 50 shekels?”

There was something to that, something that made me slightly uncomfortable. I apologized immediately and the noble Tali quickly forgave me. After all, war is not exactly the right time to bear a grudge against one of your own.

That afternoon I decided to test the effectiveness of the Tali argument on a stubborn taxi driver who refused to take me and my baby son in his cab because I didn’t have a car seat with me.

Etgar Keret is the author of “The Nimrod Flip-Out.’’ This article was translated by Sondra Silverstone from the Hebrew.

Etgar Keret in the NYTimes 2.

nytimesMarch 27, 2006

Stupor in Our Time

Tel Aviv

THE parties my father votes for never get into Parliament. One year he’ll vote for some economist with thick glasses who promises a revolution in tax law, the next year for an irate teacher with a ponytail who advocates a revolution in the school system, the year after that for a restaurateur in Jaffa who explains that only a new culinary approach can bring peace to the Middle East.

The one thing these candidates have in common is a genuine desire for fundamental change. That and the naiveté to believe such change is possible. My father, even at the age of 78, is naïve enough to believe this, too. It’s one of his finest qualities.

In the last elections, my brother, a founder of the Legalize Marijuana Party, asked my father for his vote. My father found himself in a quandary. On the one hand, it’s not every day that your son founds a political party. On the other, my father, who had a taste of the horrors of fascism during World War II, takes all his civic duties very seriously.

“Look,” he said to my brother, “It’s not that I don’t trust you, but there are all these serious people who claim that grass is actually dangerous, and as a person who’s never tried it, I can’t really be sure they’re wrong.”

And so, about a week before Election Day, my brother and one of the senior members of the party rolled my father a joint. “What can I tell you, kid?” my father said to me that evening during a slightly hallucinatory phone conversation. “It’s not half as good as Chivas — but to make it illegal?” And so my father became the oldest voter for the coolest party in the history of Israel’s elections. From the minute he said he would vote for it, I knew it wouldn’t get into Parliament.

That’s why I’m really surprised that my father, an enthusiastic supporter of underdogs, is going to vote for Kadima, the party of Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The polls say Kadima is a shoo-in. “This is the most boring election campaign in the history of the country,” he explained, “and I’m telling you this as a person who’s been here since it was founded. I won’t even turn on the TV on Election Day — well, maybe for the weather forecast, but that’s it. These elections are one big sleeping pill.

“In past elections, there was always a little suspense, something to raise your blood pressure. And it didn’t matter whether it was Menachem Begin burning up the town squares with his speeches, or the fuss over Ehud Barak and that brilliant remark of his: ‘If I’d been born a Palestinian, I probably would have joined a terrorist group.’ This time, there’s nothing. Sure, Olmert’s smug. But one look at his face and I’m already yawning. Forty years that man has been in politics and he hasn’t done a single thing anyone can remember.”

“That’s not exactly a reason to vote for somebody,” I said, trying to argue.

“The hell it isn’t,” my father replied. “Listen, we’ve had so many Rabins and Pereses and Begins, people who tried to galvanize everyone with their charisma and energy. None of them ever really managed to bring us peace. I’m telling you, what this region needs is Olmert — someone who’ll bore us and the Palestinians so much that we fall into a kind of stupor. A stupor that’s a kind of co-existence. A co-existence that’s a kind of peace. Forget all that ‘peace of the courageous’ stuff Barak and Arafat tried to sell us. Even a child knows that courageous people go into battle, they don’t make peace. What this region needs is a peace of the tired, and Olmert’s the man to put us all to sleep.”

On the way home from my parents’ house, I began to think that maybe my father was right. And that it wasn’t exactly good news. If, after all the hopes and disappointments, all the accords and intifadas, the best a whole country can wish for is a politician so nondescript that the pundits are still arguing over whether he’s on the left or the right — if we want a non-event on Election Day — then we really must be exhausted.

Etgar Keret is the author of “The Nimrod Flip-Out.” This article was translated by Sondra Silverston from the Hebrew.

Etgar Keret in the NY Times.

February 12, 2006


Suddenly, the Same Thing

“I just hate terrorist attacks,” the thin nurse says to the older one. “Want some gum?”

The older one takes a piece and nods. “What can you do?” she says. “I hate emergencies, too.”

“It’s not the emergencies,” the thin one insists. “I have no problem with accidents and things. It’s the terrorist attacks, I’m telling you. They put a damper on everything.”

Sitting on the bench outside the maternity ward, I think to myself, She has a point. I just got here an hour ago, all excited, with my wife and a neat-freak taxi driver who, when my wife’s water broke, was afraid it would ruin his upholstery. And now I’m sitting in the hallway feeling glum, waiting for the staff to come back from the E.R. Everyone but the two nurses has gone to help treat the people injured in the attack. My wife’s contractions have slowed down, too. Probably even the baby feels this whole getting-born thing isn’t that urgent anymore. A few of the injured roll past me on squeaking gurneys. In the taxi on the way to the hospital, my wife screamed like a madwoman, but these people are all quiet.

“Are you Etgar Keret?” a guy wearing a checked shirt asks me. “The writer?” I nod reluctantly. “Well, what do you know?” he says, pulling a tiny tape recorder out of his bag. “Where were you when it happened?” he asks. When I hesitate for a second, he says in a show of empathy: “Take your time. Don’t feel pressured. You’ve been through a trauma.”

“I wasn’t in the attack.” I explain. “I just happen to be here today. My wife’s giving birth.”

“Oh,” he says, not trying to hide his disappointment, and presses the stop button on his tape recorder. “Mazel tov.” Now he sits down next to me and lights himself a cigarette.

“Maybe you should try talking to someone else,” I suggest in an attempt to get the Lucky Strike smoke out of my face. “A minute ago, I saw them take two people into neurology.”

“Russians,” he says with a sigh, “don’t know a word of Hebrew. Besides, they don’t let you into neurology anyway. This is my seventh attack in this hospital, and I know all their shtick by now.” We sit there for a minute without talking. He’s about 10 years younger than I am but starting to go bald. When he catches me looking at him, he smiles and says: “Too bad you weren’t there. A reaction from a writer would’ve been good for my article. Someone original, someone with a little vision. After every attack, I always get the same reactions: ‘Suddenly, I heard a boom’; ‘I don’t know what happened’; ‘Everything was covered in blood.’ How much of that can you take?”

“It’s not their fault,” I say. “It’s just that the attacks are always the same. What kind of original thing can you say about an explosion and senseless death?”

“Beats me,” he says with a shrug. “You’re the writer.”

Some people in white jackets are starting to come back from the E.R. on their way to the maternity ward. “You’re from Tel Aviv,” the reporter says to me, “so why’d you come all the way to this dump to give birth?”

“We wanted a natural birth; their department here — ”

“Natural?” he interrupts, sniggering. “What’s natural about a midget with a cable hanging from his bellybutton popping out of your wife’s vagina?” I don’t even try to respond. “I told my wife,” he continues, ” ‘If you ever give birth, only by Caesarean section, like in America. I don’t want some baby stretching you out of shape for me.’ Nowadays, it’s only in primitive countries like this that women give birth like animals. Yallah, I’m going to work.” Starting to get up, he tries one more time. “Maybe you have something to say about the attack anyway?” he asks. “Did it change anything for you? Like what you’re going to name the baby or something, I don’t know.” I smile apologetically. “Never mind,” he says with a wink. “I hope it goes easy, man.”

Six hours later, a midget with a cable hanging from his bellybutton comes popping out of my wife’s vagina and immediately starts to cry. I try to calm him down, to convince him that there’s nothing to worry about. That by the time he grows up, everything here in the Middle East will be settled: peace will come, there won’t be any more terrorist attacks and even if once in a blue moon there is one, there will always be someone original, someone with a little vision around to describe it perfectly. He quiets down for a minute and then considers his next move. He’s supposed to be naïve — seeing as how he’s a newborn — but even he doesn’t buy it, and after a second’s hesitation and a small hiccup, he goes back to crying.

Etgar Keret, an author and filmmaker, lives in Tel Aviv. An English translation of “The Nimrod Flipout,” his latest collection of short stories, will be published in April by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. This essay was translated by Sondra Silverston from the Hebrew.