Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Thoughts

Now and then I turn on the TV and, against my better judgment, flip to one of the twenty-four hour news networks. There’s been a lot of talk lately about how “stressful” this election is to many Americans. People are making appointments with psychotherapists to work through their fears that if the right guy doesn’t win, the world will go up in smoke.

I can’t say that I’ve always been very level-headed about these things myself, although for me, it’s a little bit different. I’ve been planning to vote for Obama from the outset, and just about every development since the primaries—not to mention every debate and every article I’ve read and discussion I’ve heard by professional wonks—has supported my conviction that this is probably the right decision. But then there’s this little voice in my head that says, "What if the McCain people are right? What if Obama is elected and the Middle East falls apart, capitalism collapses, and the world goes up in smoke? It’ll all be my fault." At this point, I remind myself about the electoral college, and how (to paraphrase a friend) every vote counts, but mine doesn’t matter.

Unfortunately, this does little to dispel the worry that I am a Traitor to the Jewish People. (I believe they call this “Jewish guilt.”) The argument goes something like this:

The difference is that unlike Shepherd Smith (who, for the record, is not exactly a left-wing reactionary), I tend to walk away from the conversation worrying that my position is the dangerous one. There’s no rational reason for this. It’s just a neurosis.

Well, today I am feeling less neurotic, and I’ve decided to share my thoughts on this subject. Of course, I’m not expecting to affect anyone’s vote at this point. You may even have already voted. But if you’re sick with worry over how an Obama win will result in the death of Israel, maybe this will calm you down some. (Probably not, but I can try.)

First, as Shepherd Smith pointed out, Obama has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the U.S.’s relationship with Israel. Does this mean anything? Probably not—every candidate does it—but it’s certainly unfair to say that Obama is anti-Israel. Nothing he’s said or done has demonstrated any ill-will toward the Jewish state.

Most of the focus of the “Obama equals death of Israel” argument has been on his stated willingness to “sit down” with Ahmadinejad, as well as other leaders whom he himself has pointedly labeled “America’s enemies.” In and of itself, this is not a controversial position. Our government has talks with enemy leaders all the time, and McCain has admitted that he would also pursue diplomatic relations with Iran and other countries. The argument between the candidates has been over “high-level” talks vs. lower-level talks and “preparation” vs. “preconditions.” There may be real differences here—it’s hard for someone like me to tell—but it’s certainly not the difference between being pro- or anti-Ahmadinejad. Both McCain and Obama have strongly criticized Ahmadinejad for his words on Israel, and both recognize him as an enemy.

The truth is, there’s only so much that the U.S. can do about the existence of countries and leaders that hate Israel and the Western World. We can’t “bomb Iran,” as McCain famously joked; we don’t have the resources for another war, and even if we did, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea. All we can do is speak softly and try to convince the world that we still have a big stick. Obama is generally better at speaking softly, while McCain is better at bragging about his stick. But in the end, I don’t think their policies would be very different.

One other matter has emerged recently, relating to an apparent relationship between Obama and Rashid Khalidi, an outspoken critic of Israel. According to the LA times, Obama has had dinner with Khalidi’s family a number of times and has remarked that the latter has encouraged him to consider his “blind spots and biases” and to continue the “conversation” with Palestinian leaders. To me, this sounds like pure politics and nothing much to worry about. But don’t take my word for it. Take Martin Perez’s:
I assume that my Zionist credentials are not in dispute. And I have written more appreciative words about Khalidi than Obama ever uttered. In fact, I even invited Khalidi to speak for a Jewish organization with which I work.

Moreover, the Israelis are trying to live cooperatively and in peace with Palestinians whose unrelenting positions make Khalidi almost appear like a Zionist.

I’m not saying that an Obama presidency would be better for Israel than a McCain presidency. I’m no foreign policy wonk, and there are many complicated issues involved. I’m just suggesting that we all take a deep breath here. Pour yourself a nice cup of tea or a glass of wine and watch the election results—or don’t. The world isn’t going to go up in smoke if it doesn’t work out the way you wanted. And even if it does, there isn’t much you can do about it now.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

If I Have Been Unkind

If I've wronged anyone reading this, in word or deed, by action or by neglect, I hope that you will forgive me.

As someone said to me recently, good luck with the book and with the seal and everything.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Coming Back to You

You may be wondering where I've been. Or maybe you're used to this already. In any case, it's aseret yemei teshuvah, so I'll just jump right into the hard stuff.

A friend of mine wanted to talk about teshuvah recently. It bothered her, she said, that the people who spend the most time in shul beating their breasts and feeling guilty are the ones who need to do it the least. I agreed. That’s why I always feel so crappy this time of year, I told her. All these Jews who are so much more pious than me are waking up early to pray and repent, and here I am just going about my life, barely doing anything at all.

That wasn’t what she meant, though. She was thinking of all the Jews who would be eating ham sandwiches on Yom Kippur, and wondering why she had to deal with all this guilt, when in the general scheme of things, she’s a pretty decent Jew.

After she left, I admitted to DH that I see things pretty much the same way. I know we're not perfect -- me, DH, my friends -- but I really don't think we're bad people. I always find myself thinking this during the high holidays, as I mumble my way through all that self-deprecating liturgy: Overall, I'm really a pretty decent human being.

“Then why do you always get so depressed?” he asked.

Depressed is probably too strong a word, but it’s true: I do get moody around the High Holidays. What I feel crappy about, I tried to explain, is that I don’t feel crappy enough. With all those hours of prayer designed to induce guilt and remorse, you can’t help feeling remorseful if you don’t feel remorseful.

The problem is that I just haven’t figured out where I stand vis-à-vis halakhah and morality. I think I understand how this process ought to work for a very pious Jew: He or she might, for example, be overcome with guilt for missing the proper time for prayer on various occasions over the past year. The road to teshuvah would be clear: confess, pray for forgiveness, and make a concerted effort not to oversleep any more. On the other end of the spectrum, if someone were, say, involved in an adulterous relationship, she might be likewise overcome with guilt (or at least, she ought to be). And the proper path would be equally clear (if somewhat more difficult): Repent, break off the relationship, and so forth. But what about me? There are lots of things I could do if I wanted to be “frummer.” I could keep kosher more strictly, for example. But that would interfere with my relationships with various family members and non-Jews, and even if halakhah does warrant that, I’m not convinced that it’s the right thing to do. On the interpersonal level, I could try to be kinder and more generous, but I’m not sure that’s the right thing for me to do either. It so often seems to result in my making promises that I don’t keep, in abandoning people who don’t need me, and in resentment on all sides.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s nothing clear for me to work on. Keeping commitments I’ve already made is an obvious one. I could also be more attentive to my loved ones and try to “be there” for them, even if I can’t always meet all their needs. But that’s hardly enough to keep me occupied for five weeks of breast-beating including a twenty-five hour fast.

So that’s where I am.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Another Recipe

This is a pretty weird blog, isn't it? Over the past couple of months, I've gone from nonstop gloom and doom to nonstop berry recipes, with one chick-flick post in between. Pretty soon, I expect to post some more gloom and doom of a seasonally appropriate variety, but first I have a recipe for fish.

The fish recipe is actually seasonally appropriate, too, although that is strictly a coincidence. This week, many observant Jewish carnivores are taking a break from red meat and poultry in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple. DH and I rarely eat meat on weekdays, anyway (and meat is permitted during the Nine Days on Shabbat), but we happen to have tried a particularly good fish recipe tonight, so I thought I'd share it. (See this post for one take on the propriety of eating "gourmet" meatless dishes during the Nine Days.) We started with this recipe, but we used tilapia rather than trout (it was on sale), replaced the half cup of fresh tomatoes with a 14.5-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes, and increased the number of shiitake mushrooms. (It's hard to go wrong with shiitakes.) Here's the result:

Fish With Shitake Mushrooms, Ginger, and Tomatoes

1 lb fillet of trout or tilapia, or a similar thin, mild-tasting fish (maybe sole?)*
Salt and pepper
2 green onions, chopped
4 large fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps thinly sliced
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet or coat with nonstick spray. Rinse fish, pat dry, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place fish on baking sheet.

Combine remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and mix. Spoon over fish. Bake uncovered until fish is just cooked through, about 20 minutes.

*You can also use whole trout, cleaned, boned, and butterflied and baked skin-side down, as per the original recipe.

Two years ago, I posted nine other simple meatless recipes for the Nine Days on the Kosher Blog and rounded them up here. Some of the posts have more than one recipe in them, so you have to scroll down to see them all.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

SHF #45: Berries!

It's been a while since I've participated in Sugar High Friday, but when I saw this round's theme, I had to jump in. Berries have become a minor obsession with me lately (possibly because I was allergic to them as a child). Since early June, I've been eating berries nearly every day—often two or three times—which you might think would have dampened my enthusiasm somewhat, but you'd be wrong. Actually, it would be convenient if something did dampen my enthusiasm a bit. Strawberry season is long over, and the local blueberries are pretty much gone, too; even New Jersey blueberries have been hard to come by as of about a week ago. I bought some raspberries and gooseberries at the farmer's market on Tuesday, but they were gone by lunchtime on Wednesday (a situation that I can't blame on DH, who had exactly one berry), so this recipe is made with strawberries from California and blueberries from Michigan. I'm all for eating local, if you live someplace with a growing season longer than ten seconds.

But enough of that. On to the sugar. We weren't having guests, so I knew I'd be eating most (or, as it turned out, all) of this dessert on my own, so I wanted something light and easy. This recipe fit the bill: it's mostly fruit, and it took all of five minutes to assemble. Another perk: I already had all the ingredients (except the berries, which I'd planned on buying anyway; see above). Taste-wise, there are no surprises: if you like berries, orange, and ricotta (as dessert—this seems to have been a turn-off for DH), then this is for you. Personally, I loved it. As I said, no surprises :)

Berries With Ricotta Cream

adapted from Epicurious
Serves 4 (or 1, if you're me)

1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon orange liqueur [I used Carmel orange brandy, and it was good anyway!]
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
berries [the original calls for 1 pint strawberries and 1.5 pints raspberries; I used strawberries and blueberries] combined with 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon orange liqueur [or not]

Combine ricotta, liqueur, honey, and sugar. Let stand 30 minutes (or longer). Top with berries and eat.

Visit Food Blogga in the next few days for lots more berry recipes!

(In case you're wondering: DH managed to get the camera working by some method he read about on the Internet that seemed to involve a lot of smacking. Maybe he'll post something about it on that nerdy blog of his. Anyway, I'm very grateful, but it seems to me that the picture quality has deteriorated somewhat, so if those berries look kind of blurry, that's probably why.)

More berry recipes on this blog:
Berry Sorbet
Vegan Blueberry Ice Cream
Strawberry Shortcake
Strawberry Frozen Yogurt (the recipe is actually here)
Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
Raspberry Ice Cream

Friday, July 11, 2008

Vegan Blueberry Ice Cream

It looks like the camera is kaputt, so I can't take a picture of the beautiful purple vegan blueberry cheesecake ice cream that I made today. I can tell you, however, that it is quite delicious IMHO. The "parve cheesecake" flavor may not be for everyone (I haven't tried it on the guests yet), but I recommend giving the recipe a shot even if you find the idea somewhat disgusting.

The recipes on Agnes's blog are all made with soy creamer, although she suggests some alternatives here. Silk brand creamer, I recently confirmed, is nondairy even though it is labeled OU-D. I discuss the halakhic implications in this Kosher Blog post.

Now I have to leave the apartment so that I can get some work done without eating all the ice cream. Shabbat shalom.