Guide to the Perplexing
The Baffling in Brief
Masada2000.org, subtitled “Israel 101: A Survival Kit for Dummies,” is a web site that claims to reveal the true history of Israel and Palestine. Graced by quotes from infamous extremist militant Zionist Meir Kahane, its homepage includes historical information from the suicides on Masada through the modern state of Israel, testimony about Palestinian atrocities, and unabashed fantasies about a greater Israel. It also includes images of Yasser Arafat wrapped in a full-body suit of bacon, and, as its main comment on the Road Map, a video of a monkey sniffing its butt.
But what sets Masada2000.org apart from any other extreme pro-Israel web site is its S.H.I.T.-List, an index of approximately seven thousand “Self-Hating/Israel-Threatening” Jews compiled in alphabetical order by last name. They range from Thomas Friedman of the New York Times to Adam Shapiro of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement. The list also includes my parents—presumably because they are active in Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, an American Jewish group that supports Israel and seeks a two-state solution to the conflict. It includes several of my friends and colleagues, and after this article it will probably include me. Jews on the S.H.I.T.-List are referred to as “Judenrats” and explicitly compared to those who sold out other members of the Tribe during the Holocaust. “Call it a sickness or call it madness,” says the introduction. “It makes no difference. Israel pays the price for these traitors’ actions.”
The Masada2000 list has become a phenomenon in left-wing Jewish circles: activists compare their status, those who are left out wondering whether they should submit themselves. But what no one seems to know is, who’s making the list—and why? Are my parents being secretly surveilled? Are they going to wake up one morning and find the FBI at their door? There was only one way to find out: I emailed the Yahoo address printed in tiny type on the site, and after a bit of negotiation (the organization’s membership apparently required some serious coaxing before agreeing to an interview), I got some answers. The site’s creator, Rockwell Lazareth, who emails using the moniker “Big Al,” informed me first of the good news: Masada2000 won’t be making any use of the list beyond publishing it on their site. Rather, he said, “The purpose of the list is to expose Jews who genuinely despise Israel and the Jewishness it represents, ‘progressive’ Jews who are into ‘social justice’ causes for everyone EXCEPT Israel’s Jewish population.” He explained that the index is compiled through web searches in which the staff ferret out anyone “who says or does anything that places Israel at risk or has a smell of collusion with the enemies of Israel.” Further, Rocky stipulated, Masada2000 considers any self-hating Jew—not just a famous one—to be a risk to Israel.
“He doesn’t know that we’re self-hating,” commented my dad. “Did he do a psychological test?” My mom noted that she did not hate herself in the least. She wasn’t insulted by the shoutout, though: “I felt that I am in good company,” she said, “when I saw who else was on the list.” Indeed, Masada2000 apparently has wide-ranging appeal, and a membership upon which the sun never sets—Rocky, when pressed, told me it was a “loosely-knit group” with members in the U.S., Israel, Brazil, Switzerland, and Australia.
While she doesn’t fear for her safety, my mom did say she found it “totally outrageous” that someone would compile such a list. “I think the Kahanists in general are an embarrassment for the Jewish community,” added Lewis Roth, Assistant Executive Director of Americans for Peace Now. “This is the kind of bigotry and hatred that we call on Arabs to condemn all the time, yet it seems to have found at least a small niche in the Jewish community.” (Though he confirms an affinity with Kahane’s teachings, Rocky himself denies that Masada2000.org is a Kahanist site.) Roth is also listed, and, perhaps because of his stature, his name is supplemented with a blurb about his activities—as is anyone whose work puts them particularly in the public eye. “That’s discriminating against the non-famous,” said my dad. “I want a blurb.”
Rocky keeps himself even less famous. While happily publicizing the names of his perceived enemies, the webmast er chooses to remain anonymous, explaining that some in his group “have genuine concerns for the safety of their families.” This inconsistency is no shocker—while decrying those on the list for (apparently) betraying their fellow Semites, he himself is pleased to tattle on those members he clearly thinks the tribe could do without. But never fear: Rocky’s ultimate intentions toward those he “rats” on are good. “We hope,” he concludes, “that those Jews on the list who are salvageable may in some small way come to their senses.” We only hope Masada2000’s butt-sniffing monkey will do the same.
- Miriam Felton-Dansky
Northeastern India might not seem like your average destination for shwarma or a nice Shabbat dinner. But this winter, when Pamela Mendelsohn traveled there on a study abroad program run by Boston University, that’s exactly what she found.
Mizoram—India’s Hebrew haven—is located in a corner of the country between Myanmar and Bangladesh. And though its residents speak the local language of Mizo, area roads sport names like Israel Point and Zion Street, and shops have titles such as “Exodus Press” and “Moses Snack Centre.” That’s not all—the Mizo carry their babies in traditional blankets with blue stripes and tassels that are similar to talit, the Mizo ritual of Cawngpuisial has much in common with the Jewish ritual of Shabbat, and according a local historian named Zaithanchhungi, Mizo oral history tells of similar burial, birth, and marriage practices to those described in the Torah.
What gives? Though most of the city’s inhabitants are Christian, about 5,000 Mizoram-ites call themselves Jews and claim to be descendents of the tribe of Ben Menashe, one of the original twelve tribes of Israel. Zaithanchhungi, who has spent twenty years studying the cultural similarities between the Jewish and Mizo people, believes that the Ben Menashe were enslaved by the Assyrians when Jerusalem fell in 723 BC, then forced into exile. Eventually, she says, they settled in China, where Christian missionaries converted them, and in the twentieth century their home province was incorporated into India. Though they assimilated into Christian Indian culture, the Mizo retained vestiges of their Jewish past. “When (Zaithanchhungi) found out I was Jewish,” Mendelsohn says, “she began telling me about how the Mizo people love and support Israel. All over her home there were Israeli flags, photographs with rabbis…she even had a guest book of people she met in Israel.”
Since the 1970’s, many of the Mizo have been returning to their lost identity—learning Hebrew, practicing Jewish rituals, and enthusiastically supporting the state of Israel. But the Holy Land has not yet acknowledged the Mizo Jews as its own. Among other reasons, Israeli authorities claimed to the Jerusalem Post, the fact that the Mizo Jews have no written history has made it difficult to trace their lineage. But Israel’s resistance might be about to change: this summer, a fact-finding mission of rabbis flew to Mizoram to investigate the Mizo tribe’s claims to membership in the capital-T Tribe. After the mission, Rabbi Shlomo Amar was to rule on whether the Mizo Jews are chosen types or no relation—or whether, under Israeli law, they fit a third category. “Safek” Jews are those with enough ties to Semitism to be taken in by the Holy Land, but who would require conversion to officially claim Red-Sea pedestrianhood.
Taking the matter into their own hands, nine hundred Mizo have already converted to Judaism and moved to Israel, settling primarily in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Why settlements? The Post reports that a Mizo resident of Kiryat Arba—the settlement closest to Hebron in the West Bank—“shrugged off” questions about his hometown of choice, claiming that his new digs were more secure than his home in India. Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, who runs an organization that supports the Mizo Jews, told the Post that the Mizo moved to settlements only when kibbutzim and other communities within Israel refused to help them. With such desire for Holy-Land citizenship, Mendelsohn believes that recognition can’t be far behind: “Mizo people descended from Mongolia,” she says, “but if this is true—that they are from the lost tribe —then they are really descendents of Israel.” Until then, there’s always bhajee on Zion Street.
– Dana Lerner
Teenage girls like to talk about boys. Orthodox Jewish girls are no different. But in a culture where modesty is key and sexual relations are forbidden until marriage, where is a girl to go?
Enter Frumteens.com. In stark contrast to the majority of dating sites, most of Frumteens.com’s users are shomer negiah, not touching (in some cases not talking to) members of the opposite sex until marriage. While other sites help their customers find a date online, Frumteen’s users are there seeking support for their pious lifestyles.
Which are difficult to be faithful to: as one “frumteen” offering advice comments, “platonic relationships have become a huge trend, and a huge problem, for teens recently.” The web site is comprised of nearly 50 message boards with countless threads, from “Getting Along with Parents” to “Kashruth” to the inevitable “Skirt Lengths and ‘Platonic Relationships.’” After all, it’s a web site for teenagers, and even Orthodox pubescents feel the pull of the opposite sex—though in contrast to their peers, they fight it tooth and nail.
The posts in the modesty and dating message board primarily concern girls’ strategies for avoiding the corrosive desire to form relationships with boys. “Talking to the opposite sex is like playing with fire…there’s no way of getting out without getting burned,” laments one girl, who, after three months of online conversation with a boy, gave in to the temptation of speaking with him on the phone. Another has compiled 71 reasons not to speak to boys, including “it’s sooo not cool—who respects you for talking to boys?” and “you become desensitized to all the shmutz out there.” Other posters lament failed shidduchim (arranged marriages). One jaded frumteen, actually in her early twenties, posts a long concerned message about being unable to find a husband. “What’s the point of this superficial goal (of improving myself) in comparison to the ultimate (marriage)? So what if I’m the best person possible. Without marriage I haven’t fulfilled the ultimate goal.”
Despite their unique perspectives, the frumteens echo relationship complaints that are universal. They warn of boys who will “say anything to get you into bed” and they share in heartbreak when a relationship doesn’t work. For young Jews who have many questions and no one to ask, Frumteens.com is a godsend. Plus, they do shidduchim.
- Henny Admoni
A Bit Rich
Ever since Reb Tevye sang it out in Fiddler on the Roof, we’ve all thought it. “If I were a rich man…” or a rich woman, or a rich anything, really, as long as we’ve got the filthy lucre in our pockets. It seems the only thing our plaintive requests for money have been missing are backup singers: with her first solo album, LoveAngelMusicBaby, Gwen Stefani rises to the challenge of making a Broadway showstopper about a Jew during the Russian pogroms relevant to the lives of today’s young American consumers, devoting a whole track—“Rich Girl”—to musing on money. Tevye may have sung it first, but did he have a posse of Harajuku girls—trendy Japanese teenagers—following him around? (It’s a good thing he didn’t—one of his daughters would surely have run away with them.)
Stefani changes the song just a skosh to stay true to her shikse roots. Rather than wish for “the time that I lack/ to sit in the synagogue and pray,” Stefani, given the wealth she desires, would “clean out Vivienne Westwood in my Galliano gown.” While Tevye might not accept the analogy, any devotee of contemporary British fashion really wouldn’t find it that big of a substitution. And instead of chickens, geese, and turkeys in her yard, Stefani wishes upon herself “four Harajuku girls to/ Inspire me and they’d come to my rescue/ I’d dress them wicked, I’d give them names.” Rich indeed—taking care of four Harajuku girls is significantly more expensive than your bratty cousin’s Bar Mitzvah, even without the ice sculpture and the sushi bar.
So is Sholem Aleichem, author of the stories on which Fiddler is based, rolling over in his grave? He probably should be. Where Tevye used his request as a one-way conversation with God—a musical prayer for material goods to support his wife and bazillion daughters—Stefani’s version is plain old material greed. There’s no basic altruism behind her request for riches, unless you count her desire for all the Harajuku girls to “come together all over the world.” Her appeal for funds winds up sounding like a request for more—especially once you catch the music video, whose costume changes alone probably cost more rubles than Tevye made in a lifetime.
But if you can get past the differences between the original show tune and Stefani’s pop-punk reiteration, it’s really not such a bad song. And at least if your friends catch you humming “ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum,” you can blame it on the vocal stylings of someone just a little bit hipper than Zero Mostel.
- Claudia Lee
Adam and Email
Adam Levine is the lead singer of Maroon 5, a Los Angeles-based rock-pop band admired by, according to InStyle, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Jessica Simpson. Maroon 5’s recent album, Songs About Jane, is three-times platinum, and they will be going on a three-month tour beginning in early 2005, with Levine playing to hysterical fans every night.
Levine’s living large—but little does he know he’s not the only one.
Because Adam Levine is also a regular dude who fields deluges of emails, letters, and phone calls for his celebrity namesake—and publishes them on his web site, www.ImNotThatAdamLevine.org. “There are many Adam Levines in Los Angeles, from whence Maroon 5’s lame music emanates,” he explains on the site, “but I am the only one who is listed, so you can guess the rest.”
The famous Levine confesses to Rolling Stone that he gets into fistfights when inebriated, though he insists that such altercations are “sweet and brotherly.” The non-famous Levine doesn’t look like he could start a fistfight if he tried, and observes as much on the site, where he posts side-by-side photos of the two. “The Adam Levine from Maroon 5 is young and handsome—look at him. Is that some steamy sensuality or what?” he observes. “Meanwhile, I am old and decrepit—not the normal target for 14-year-old-groupie calls.” Levine’s most recent postings are from fans beginning to cotton on to the fact that they’ve been misdirecting their stalkerdom. If the word gets out, Levine may go back to being a regular Joe—but for now, he’s basking in misplaced glory.
- Miriam Felton-Dansky. Title by Stan Schapiro.
Dana Lerner is a student in the NYU Journalism Program and a New Voices Fellow. Henny Admoni is a freshman at Wesleyan University and a former WebWire co-editor. Claudia Lee is a second-year student at Smith College.