What Gaza makes me feel


I have been following with horror the current violence in Gaza and Israel. The last several days have been awful. I feel like one of those people passing a horrible accident by the side of the road, unable to look away. And the constant barrage of gruesome images and endless articles and postings from my friends on Facebook has been as illuminating as it has been wrenching. I occupy a bit of a minority perspective in this matter, I believe, due to my upbringing, my significant travel and time spent living in foreign countries, and my status as part of both gay and Jewish minorities. In no particular order, here are the various and sometimes conflicting feelings I have about this entire tragic mess.

1. Where are they supposed to go?

With the relentless bombing of Gaza, the question that keeps popping up for me, is one that of course gets no answer: Where the hell are these people supposed to go to get out of the nightmare they are living in? Israel has blockaded them on all sides except for where Egypt has blockaded them. They are quite literally prisoners and sitting ducks, which makes these bombings and attacks especially cruel and inhumane. They have nowhere at all open to them. If you were locked up in a prison for life, for the crime of existing, you wouldn’t have much to lose either and would employ all manner of action to try to escape, including attacking the jailor.

2. Antisemitism and its excuses are increasing.

It makes me sick to watch this conflict exacerbate anti jewish feeling all over. There is no excuse for antisemitism, but many people around the world are using their hatred of Israel as an excuse to reveal or incite antisemitic feeling. Even among supposedly intellectual friends of mine, I can see them slip sometimes and use the word Jew when they purportedly mean Israeli. I have even noticed otherwise rational friends of mine refer to the situation in Gaza as “Final Solution”. To my mind that really cheapens what happened in the Holocaust, and invites even more antisemitism into the world. I watch them scream bloody murder about what Israel is doing, but remain completely silent about antisemitic violence. Israel exacerbates this tension by claiming to represent all Jews, when in fact they only represent Israelis. And even so, Israeli society is not monolithic. Guess what? There are thousands upon thousands of Israelis who don’t support what their government is doing, just as there were and are multitudes in this country opposed to many of our military (and other) interventions around the world. Vilifying an entire people for the sins of their government is wrong.

3. What is Israel’s possible endgame? What are they thinking?

I cannot, for the life of me, understand what Israel’s long term strategic plan is here. What do they possibly think the outcome is going to be, and how could they possibly think this can turn out well for them? The only possibilities I can think of are: a. They know this will amount to nothing but they are simply trying to show “strength” by killing a bunch of people in response to feeble rocket attacks. b. They really are under the delusion that they can dislodge Hamas and stop rockets by doing what they are doing, or even more ridiculously that there will be some Palestinian uprising that will remove Hamas. Or c. As I have heard the rather ugly euphemism thrown about recently, they are simply “mowing the grass“.

4. No acknowledgment of the other side’s people as anything more than the inhuman “other”.

This is something I see on all sides and it drives me crazy: The total dehumanization and demonization of the other. The need of people on either side to make total monsters of the other. I have news for you all out there: We are all the innocent victims and we are all the monsters. Yes, there are some particularly hateful actors out there (Netanyahu, Hamas, right wing settlers and brigades), but let’s not condemn entire populations to simple vilification despite our very human craving for a clear battle of good vs evil.

5. Stop questioning my “loyalty”, and stop trying to force me into some formulaic tribalism.

I am sick to death of some of my fellow Jews or Americans questioning my loyalty or accusing me of being self-loathing. I believe ALL human life is of equal worth, and that violence only begets more violence. It blows my mind how so many thoughtful and otherwise highly progressive fellow Jews can have such a total blind spot when the subject at hand is Israel. I have a full right to criticize the horrible, deathly actions of the State of Israel or any state actor without being self-loathing. Being Jewish is not the same thing as being Israeli, and I certainly did not vote for their current government.

6. Hamas is horrible all right. So how does that make bombing innocent people acceptable?

I don’t think the above question needs much further elucidation. You can accept that Hamas is terrible and does terrible things without a corollary that allows indiscriminate bombing of children.

7. I’m sick of the game of comparing wounds and existential threats.

It all sucks, ok? I was in a facebook debate the other day when a woman who lives in Israel told a sad story about her fear of the rockets, and the attacks she had to live under. And it shut down the thread, because no one wants to be the asshole that minimizes anyone’s trauma anywhere. Every rocket attack that scares Israeli children, every horrible antisemitic beating in Europe, every twitter hashtag or internet post comparing Israel or Jews to Hitler, every sneak attack that kills an innocent or non-innocent for that matter, these are all horrible and unacceptable. But these do not excuse what Israel is doing in Gaza, not by a mile. Israel has overwhelming military superiority here, and has a responsibility (at least) to be proportional and measured in its response. Instead, Israel is conducting genocide, intentionally or not.

8. Try peace.

In more than one of the multitude of discussions I have had on this subject, I have heard from defenders of Israel patting themselves on the back for how humane they are in setting up field hospitals to treat victims of their bombing or attacks with Israeli doctors and medicine, rather than just letting them die. Pardon me, how about not setting up the conditions where you need to treat them in hospitals in the first place?

Israel, for various historical reasons, sees itself as both strong and weak at the same time. And I honestly don’t know what they think is realistically going to happen in the occupied territories or Israel proper, if they are in total denial or unable to see any way out. Vox.com put it rather perfectly in their discussion of the situation Israel finds itself in: “Arabs will eventually outnumber Jews in Israel-Palestine, if they don’t already. For Israel, which sees itself as both Jewish and democratic, this poses an existential crisis. If Arabs outnumber Jews and are allowed to vote, then it’s the end of a Jewish state. But if Arabs outnumber Jews and aren’t allowed to vote, then Israel is no longer a democracy.”  

So poisoned are relations on all sides, so heavy is the mistrust, that there is no risk-free way forward. And a common retort in many of these discussions is “what would you do?”. Since I have no control at all, but we are playing this fantasy, here is what I would like to see: Given the facts on the ground as I understand them, it seems to me the only reasonable way forward with a chance of long term success is for there to be one state, in the combined occupied territories and Israel proper, with every person living there given equal citizenship and voting rights. This will mean that Israel will lose its status as a Jewish state, but will not lose its status as a democratic one. It will take years of work on all sides to undo the damage and mistrust, but if countries like South Africa can make this transition, why not Israel?



Sleeping like a baby


I had been thinking about getting a new mattress for some time. My old one (purchased about 4 years ago) was not terrible, but it was just a bit too soft. Sometimes I would wake up with a slightly sore lower back, and I had long been wondering what it would be like to sleep on a memory foam mattress. I had been researching on and off for some time, but with no great burning motivation, especially since they all seemed so outrageously expensive (literally thousands of dollars). Then a few weeks ago, I came across an article talking about Tuft & Needle. I read through their site and a bunch of their reviews. I love how they break down the scam that is the mattress industry and its pricing models. They really are about the worst business around, much like the used car sector. I decided to go ahead and take the plunge, ordering up a 10 inch full size mattress (for only $450!). Here is the experience I have had so far:

1. It took about 10 days or so longer than they said it would to arrive (I was out of town when it did anyway, so no big deal).

2. I was surprised by how small the box was (the mattress had been compressed and rolled).

3. It was pretty easy to setup, and was pretty cool to see it self-inflate after I broke the plastic seal.

4. Although my previous full size mattress fit easily within my frame, this mattress pushes right up against the edges, leading me to believe that it is slightly larger than full (or that “full” is not quite so standard a definition).

5. The stitching at the end of the cover was not quite as neat as the website pictures (but hey, it is covered with sheets, I don’t really care that much)

And that leads us to number 6, the most important part of the whole experience: SLEEP. I have to admit to having been worried about heat retention, body molding/sinking, and foam smell — all things I had heard about during my research on memory foam mattresses. But I am pleased to report that none of these have been an issue at all, and most importantly, I sleep like a baby. It is (so far, after a week) an extremely pleasant mattress to sleep on. I highly recommend them.

Goodbye Geneva


It has been really lovely staying here with Jonathan and Michael in their gorgeous home, catching up with Jonathan and getting to know Michael. In a few hours, I will board a flight back to New York. Although I have only been gone 12 days, somehow this time felt a bit longer than that. Perhaps that is because I packed so much activity into that time between work and play. In any event, I am looking forward to being home (for a while, anyway), and the bloom of Spring in NYC.

Heidi in France


Since Geneva is so close to France, Jonathan took me to a little town in the French Alps today, a place called Chamonix. The weather was perfect, the drive there beautiful. The town itself was not so stunning in architecture, but was in a beautiful setting with mountains all around. We had a walk around and then I ordered some heavy but yummy Swiss dish called a croute, which was kind of like a baked monte cristo with chicken and artichokes. Along with the white wine, I was feeling pretty good for the rest of our walk around the town.

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From Geneva weekend

Swiss Napa


Today we went on a little trip around the local wine country. We had an excellent lunch followed by some very nice wine tasting in beautiful surroundings. Apparently Swiss wines are known locally to be quite good but are not well known abroad because they are almost completely consumed domestically. So I bought a couple of bottles to take back with me to the US.  At one of the wineries in particular we had a very good salesperson. She spent a lot of time talking about how to really bring out the flavor in the wine, how to roll it around the mouth, what foods each one would go with  best. She clearly loves what she does and is very good at it. I especially liked that she dispensed with the flowery flavor words (chocolate, raspberry, etc) in favor of the experience of how to make the flavor penetrate, and then to allow one’s own judgment about likes or dislikes.
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From Geneva weekend

Geneva anew


Today I took a great, self-guided tour (wandering, really) around Geneva. I started near the UNAIDS office where my friend works, and walked through the Botanical Gardens, along the lake into the heart of old Geneva. There I visited the St Pierre cathedral, followed by the extensive ruins excavated beneath. It is amazing how many times that site has been built on over the millennia. After that I visited the Museum of the Reformation, which I highly recommend if you are coming to Geneva. One really can’t separate the history of Geneva from the history of the Protestant Reformation. Geneva has been described at the Rome of Protestantism, and certainly after visiting this museum, one understands why. In particular it was fascinating to see how intertwined so many of the facts of the day were which allowed Protestantism to thrive, such as the (then fairly new) existence and use of the printing press. In the space of only a few years, Geneva took in so many religious refugees that the population of the city doubled, and the architecture of Geneva became one of much taller buildings (still needing to be inside the city walls for protection, the only place to go was up). After the museum, I headed down to the restaurant at the Bains des Paquis, a jetty that sticks out into the lake. There I met Michael for a quick bite, before heading over to the station to get a train back to Versoix. I was impressed how easy it was to find everything and get around and use the trains. That rumor about Swiss efficiency seems to be true. The weather could not have been more beautiful today, about 70 and sunny. You can check out the pics from the day below…


Arrivée à Genève


Since I always have to stop through another city on my way to Marrakech (there are, after all, no direct flights from NYC), I always look at it as an opportunity to take a mini side vacation for a few days. This time I noticed a route through Geneva, and that gave me an opportunity to  catch up with my friend Jonathan who I haven’t seen in a few years. He picked me up at the airport yesterday and then brought me to his beautiful house in the suburb/town of Versoix. Everything about his place is perfect, beautiful, and of course in order (as one would expect of the Swiss. Needless to say, I am in heaven. :)) And I finally got to meet Jonathan’s husband Michael for the first time, and we shared a tasty meal in the charming nearby town of  Carouge, followed by a gelato and short walk around.

Today I will go to the city center and have a general tourist walkabout. The last time I was in Geneva was over 20 years ago, and the only thing I remember about it from that time is that it was exceedingly boring.  I suspect that I will find it more interesting this time around, but I will let you know later tonight.

A somewhat frantic race to the finish line


I really should plan for longer trips here, there is always so much to do, and today in particular I was running around like a mad man. I did work in time to have a couple of nice meals though, highlighted by pastilla and mechwi and friendly fun talk with friends and colleagues. I will probably be back again in a month or two for another round of project work, there is so much to do. That said, I am very happy with all that we accomplished, and it was nice catching up with people while here, and experiencing warm and sunny days for a change.

Tomorrow I will head to Geneva to visit my old friend Jonathan (no, not the other one) for a few days, and then I will finally head back to NYC.

How do you say “please don’t cut me” in Arabic?


My trimmer broke in my suitcase on the trip over from the US, so I had been growing an ever longer, unintentional, almost-beard while here. But after over a week of not shaving down to my usual close stubble, I could not take it anymore. The combination of the increasing heat (we have been at 90 the last couple of days) and itchiness was getting to me. Several people suggested I go to a barber to have it trimmed, and always being the adventurous type, I went this evening. They didn’t speak French all that well, but I was pretty sure I got the point across by pointing to my face, then doing a kind of back and forth call with them over the number depth of the trimmer. They kept saying “1″ and I kept saying “.5″ and through trial and error we came to an understanding.

The guy leaned me back in the chair and attacked my face with zeal, pulling and pinching the skin to get it to shave as requested. But of course it was hot and I was sweating and his hands were all sweaty, which made the whole thing rather more difficult, and made the metal of the clippers drag across my skin. In addition to that, at various moments I had the clipper blade, his palm or his fingers just about all the way inside my nose. I don’t want to read too much into his personal habits, but I can tell you he is a smoker and probably had lamb tagine for lunch eaten in the traditional way (with one’s fingers and bread). Overall, he managed to do a fair enough job (for the price anyway, it was only about 5 dollars). They then threw a wet, piping hot, smelly towel on my face which had come from the floor or perhaps the bathroom, and then sent me on my way. While I won’t win any beauty contests, I am more comfortable now without the beard, and should be ok until I get back home or break down and buy new clippers at a different voltage.

Upscale feast by accident


Last night Anthea (the garden’s graphics consultant who is also in town and staying at the same hotel) and I decided to have dinner together, and asked the concierge for a recommendation close by. Without paying too much attention to the details, off we went to the hotel/restaurant nearby, a place called Dar Rhizlane. Upon arrival, my companion and I had the slightly horrible realization that this was probably going to be quite a bit beyond our means, everything was impeccable, opulent and just screamed call your bank to make sure you have enough to cover this. But since we were already there, and the place was so lovely, we just went with the flow. After ordering the wine, we were informed that there was only a tasting menu offered, and they would be bringing that out to us presently. What followed was the appetizers course, which looked like this:


Each and every dish was delicious. I have had many meals in Morocco where they serve a variety of little plates or salads as appetizers, but this was hands down the best I have ever had. This was followed by a small chicken/mushroom entree, and then a lamb entree, then a pre-dessert sorbet, and finally dessert. Or should I say plate of several desserts, each one quite tasty.

We waited for the bill and played the money guessing game, but by that point I really didn’t care what it cost. It was one of the best meals I have had in Morocco, and one of the most beautiful settings:


I really couldn’t have been more pleased. Or so I thought, until the bill arrived and it turned out to be less of an extravagance than I had feared. If you come to Marrakech, I would highly recommend having a meal at the Dar Rhizlane.