High Holy Devilry

by Barbara Fischkin

Is this one of Barbara Fischkin's ancestors, watching her wildflowers?

As the Jewish New Year 5784 unfolds, the late newspaperman Jimmy Breslin comes to mind. Jimmy was a great guy, an awful guy, and a Catholic guy. Channeling him now might be tantamount to sacrilege. Or, maybe not. My immediate ancestors, whose memory I honor this week, loved sacrilege. I imagine their beloved ghosts hovering over me in my unruly but spiritual garden of wildflowers and reminding me that they read Jimmy religiously, pun intended.

Fortunately, none of these relatives, many of them targets of anti-Semitism, were alive when Breslin was briefly suspended from his newspaper for unleashing a barrage of Asian slurs. Yes, that was the awful Jimmy. He apologized. During his long writing life he also published a trove of stories railing against injustice. Included among these were his December lists of  “people I am not talking to next year,” a journalistic winter wind. A bit childish but also fun and laden with messages. Embedded in these lists were cris de coer against inhumanity, selfishness—and snobbery. Jimmy Breslin had no patience for elitism and, in one offering, depicted his ejection from the elegant 21 Club for, it seems, the mere crime of looking like a schlump.

In the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews are asked to apologize to those they wronged during the past year. This week, like Breslin, I will also apologize. But first—and also in Breslinesque mode—I present a list of people to whom I will not be speaking this Jewish new year. I wish I could present this as original, but it has been done before—including by a reporter for the Jerusalem Post. We writers like to copy one another and a select number of us love to copy Jimmy, in particular. Read more »

Walls, Bans and Border Patrols: The Fearsome Fallout for Children

by Humera Afridi

Img_8575 (1)At the age of ten, my biggest fear was a dread of heights. Childhood weekends were sun-drenched (chlorine-filled) idylls during which I worked myself up to fling my body off the high board at the Sind Club into the gleaming swimming pool below. I lived in Karachi, and, yes, in a bubble.

We were surrounded by inequity, yet my ‘innocence’ or, rather, naivete remained intact. I was certainly aware of the sudden, politically motivated strikes and pained by the striking poverty—lame beggars who hopped over to car windows at traffic stops; gangs of wily, threadbare children left to roam the danger-filled streets. Nevertheless, within the highly-selective, members-only club, the harsh world outside with its mayhem of cars, motorcycles, trucks and water lorries threatening to run over the cripples weaving their way through the honking maze, seized to exist for me. The water shimmered, spangled with sunlight; I can still recall the sensation of my toes curling on the edge of the cement precipice, and a frisson of nervous excitement overcoming me in those excruciating moments before leaping towards the joyous shouts that rose to greet me as I plummeted. The beleaguered world of the city at large disappeared.

That life seems unthinkable, unconscionable, today, especially after having lived away for many years, first as an expatriate and then an (accidental) immigrant. But that was how things were: the disparity was deep-rooted and historical. Even as a child I learned to build invisible walls.

Fast-forward to the next generation and a change of setting: my son who is nine and a half, born and raised in America, possesses an awareness around issues of social justice and race, and nuanced identity politics—LQBTQIA is the more current, more inclusive term I learned from him two weeks ago—that simultaneously awes and alarms me. Even as I am grateful for his attunement and ability to perceive and articulate feelings arising from instances of injustice that he witnesses, hears about, or personally experiences, a part of me wonders: isn’t he too young to know all this? Isn’t it too soon to have to create the space in his mind to sort through a myriad possibilities of how to be? And what about facing the facts—far too many— of a cruel and unjust world?

But the age of innocence has vanished. And children aren’t exempt. Last week, over an ice-cream after school, he casually slipped in, “Mom, today I pulled my teacher aside because I was feeling really depressed.”

Words to make a mother’s heart sink.

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