Monday, March 28, 2011

A Passion For Truth

The Lion Roars Again!

I was greatly offended by a recent article I read on the online “Tablet Magazine: A New Read of Jewish Life.”

Not easily angered, typically, I could barely get past the first half-dozen paragraphs of the piece by Liel Leibovitz, titled “No Bull” without the fire in my soul bursting into flames.

Maybe there is just so much upheaval presently that I am starting to feel more and more like speaking my piece these days.

Another possibility is that writing this blog is just simply stretching my tongue.

A third slant might be -- you know how “righteous converts” can be.

Maybe I'm beginning to think like a "born again" something or other (see my stories on being the "Former anti-Semitic, Recovering Jewish American Princess"), getting on my bandwagon about injustice.

Intending no disrespect for Mr. Leibovitz's contribution to the subject of lying, particularly in the United States, my distress was not about his intent to spotlight the epidemic of lying, but that the essay seemed so distressingly unjust. Without any redeeming social contribution whatever.

In this piece Mr. Leibovitz -- in my opinion -- was guilty of adding fuel to the spreading fire of slamming others that epitomizes our politics today.

Politics is the arena where lying is reaching near-pandemic levels.

But this situation is not about everyone, everywhere, even those who care about politics (and religion).

Since I generally enjoy Mr. Lebovitz’s commentaries, I was disappointed in this instance to see him guilty of spreading that wildfire.

For starters I took the treatise (once I had completed it and read some of the comments that followed) to be such a grossly superficial examination of the subject of lying that I found myself stirred far more than I would have preferred.

When I got to the bottom line, at least, the one I was quickly able to uproot, I thought my reaction must have been the roar, again, of that mother lion part of me.

Perhaps, however, I might just be privileged, as my friend. Living not terribly far from the Washington, D.C. area, I work and live amongst almost limitless numbers of transparent, accountable social and political activists and whistle blowers.

(My friend, Jeanne, on the other hand, is feeling significantly limited these days by an absence of supportive truth –sayers down in her North Carolina neck of the woods, she tells me.

I, instead, feel surrounded by a bounty of high-minded, dedicated activists who are abundant in transparency and accountability. Admittedly, those of us who are so inclined have now moved far enough away from that D.C. rat race to have the luxury of speaking our truths without having the backlash surrounding us at a K Street pub or a rising up in our backyards.

Still, I hardly know anyone in my circle of friends and associates who does anything other than face day-to-day reality challenges with anything less than full integrity.

When I think of present challenges to our society about truth telling, my mind (and my heart) quickly turn to the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel in his beautifully written book, “A Passion For Truth”.

In this book, Heschel, the scholar, aptly describes -- and – I believe comes to reconcile our essential human challenges with honesty; the tensions we all constantly face about our truthfulness versus our compassion.

I wish Mr. Leibovitz would take a broader look at the subject of honesty, read Heschel’s perspectives on deceitfulness (if he hasn’t already) – and – take a look at the people in my life.

That would tame this mother lion’s roar quite nicely, I believe.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Does All This Chaos Mean?

I’ve got to take a pause.

I need time to reflect.

I am not on the ground in Egypt or Libya.

I can do almost nothing to assist their cause. Nor that of the Japanese either.

I do not feel entirely at peace with myself about this, however.

Yet, I am relieved to be so far away from it all.

I am up in the mountains just above Harpers Ferry. I am safe where I am right now.

My friends and family are safe.

And, whatever is my small piece to contribute to world peace, thinking globally, acting locally, is gestating, once again, inside of me.

There is no earthquake here.

No tsunami or aftershocks from either.

No known threats to the southeastern coast that is close to two hundred miles from where I now sit.

There is not even a power outage where I am forced to get around in the dark. And, keep a set of active, eight year old twins occupied. That was the challenge of my honorary daughter, Terri, and her husband, Paul, in northern California when I called them last night.

Chickadees, a good many titmice and a few cardinals, now and then, are busy chirping away and nourishing themselves at my birdfeeders. Mourning doves are so frequently calling out to one another, now, from morning until night that it has become almost as noisey as it gets up here.

Privileged to be where I am, surrounded by peace and almost quiet, I feel gratitude for my place – and -- great compassion for those so much less fortunate. 

Then, I ask myself, again -- What is mine to do?

What is New Horizons to do?

How can I/we best help what besets us worldwide?  Am I to even have an answer?

What does this all mean; revolutions in the Middle East, devastation in Japan, hearings on Islamic radicalization in congress?

And, on and on. – and – on and on.

Today I am weary. I must stand back and reflect.

Get my bearings.

But that does not feel adequate for such dire circumstances; that I can simply go sit on my deck and watch my bird guests as they feed.

What I can best contribute today, alas, is only at the level of -- -- Gestation.

It is not enough. Maybe tomorrow I will discover how I can better serve.

Perhaps I will, at least, know – while I think globally, what I can do locally.


It seems like such a nothing to do though I know in my greater Self that it is not.

After gestation.


Dayenu = it is enough for today.

Friday, March 11, 2011

"The Kinder. The Kinder. What About The Kinder?"

My grandfather (maternal) was from Roumania. He barely spoke a word of English; only Yiddish.

Though I loved him dearly, I never had a real conversation with him. Hardly ever, even heard him speak a word that I could understand.

(We needed no language, however, for him to be the first to teach me to garden.)

Still in my mind, I can hear his voice, clear as day, with every inflection of his tone as he would speak in mixed English and Yiddish with a worrisome tone to other family members

"The kinder. The kinder. What about the kinder (children)?"

I don't know what he had in mind at any given time when he posed this question though I believe I heard it repeatedly from him. Almost as a mantra of his.

(Maybe I only think that because it was all I remember ever understanding of what he said.)

However, somehow I knew that question had a statement from him in it that had something inportant that included me with lots and lots of love.

Today I am reminded of my grandfather's concerns for his children and grandchildren (and maybe many other children too), particularly in this new world to which he immigrated, bringing his wife and children with him.

As I sit at my computer watching for news reports on the congressional hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims, my heart and mind are particularly concerned about our children and grandchildren etc. etc., today, pondering as I am how these congressional hearings will bear on them.

Will these hearings be a legacy of healing or further hurt and terrorism, I wonder.

I pray for the healing but wonder at the possibility for it.

After all Congress is professional at holding hearings. Not at successful dialogue and storytelling.

Somehow this brings my grandfather's voice and his words to my mind 

"What about the kinder?"

I hear him say as I am thinking of all of them.

Wherever in the world they are right now.

Monday, March 7, 2011

American Jew? Jewish American?

Commentary from Anastasia:

The Former Anti-Semitic, Recovering Jewish American Princess

Putting herself out on a limb, once again.

Here goes.

Am I an American Jew?

Or, a Jewish American?

The question is plaguing me today.

Which is the politically correct way for me to identify myself with this mixed heritage of mine?

Beyond whatever some official statement policy might dictate, which one comes first, Jewish or American, in terms of my identity?

Which one is the true “truth” actually makes a huge difference to me.

But, I ask you, do you know which is the true truth of the matter?

And, what about my “truth”? Where does that fit in here?

I am 100% of Jewish heritage. My immigrant grandparents came to this country from Russia and Rumania (which I generally include in Russia when I wish to be brief though that is not technically, 100% correct).

Still, I rarely, ever identify myself as a Russian Jew.

Actually, I despise being called a “Jew” at all. For me, the word still smacks of being a label, an unsavory one at that.

Now, where did I get that idea?

Nowhere specific that I can place.

Probably just an accumulation of this, that and the other thing.

Life in other words.

(Only once in my life --when I was five or six -- did anyone ever call me a "dirty Jew." And, that little girl, a playmate's little sister, had to apologize to me.)

But here I sit, still having a bit of a charge, after all these years, over the word.

Typically, I acknowledge this “Russian/Jewish” identity of mine only when I speak to others of this same heritage who might do similarly. And, still are able to speak of the "old country." In other words, others who are also carrying this same or similar“mixed heritage” of mine.

Now the question arises in my mind as to when do I get to just simply be an American?

By your standards?

By the dictates of the policy makers?

It is all quite complex.

How do these issues sit with you, if you’ve ever considered them?

Especially in the wake of our forthcoming congressional hearings on Muslim/Americans.

Or are these people really American/Muslims?

Do you know what to make of all this?

I'm sure I don't know.

I do know, however, that the issues that I am presenting, insofar as they relate to me, have some bearing on my only recently resolved, personal, anti-Semitism.

Though I am, 100% of Jewish heritage, I did this to myself, made myself an anti-Semite for decades.

I take full responsibility. I own it. I am the problem!

Still, I am a very smart, well-educated, socially and politically astute woman,

Additionally, I have close to four decades of skill development and experience in overcoming problems of polarization.

So I ask you -- How come there have been no religious, civic channels or federal government sponsored, public dialogues to discuss and help me work this anti-Semitic stance through.

Anti-Semitism has been shown to, potentially, have deadly consequences, you know.

More perplexing, yet quite enlightening, is the fact that my recent resolving of this anti-Semitic “defect” of mine, simply seems to have come to pass by my “naming” my confusion over my Jewish/American or American/Jewish identity on my blog to nameless, faceless “others.”

How very strange!

Indeed. Isn’t that something?

Now as I witness the enormous challenge before us of Muslim/Americans – or – are these citizens of our country really American/Muslims – I ask myself --

What am I?

What are you?

What are we to one another, if we are not the “other”?

And, am I – and --- we – really doing everything we can to get past our “otherness” where it counts (wherever that may be)?

So we can truly be a “unified one” more often than we are presently doing?

I’d really like to get some collective answers to that one.

Thanks for letting me share.

Anastasia At nightfall

Whatever Happened To -- George Barris?

A Story About My Father and George

Every once in awhile I ask myself, “Whatever happened to George Barris?

An important part of my blossoming adolescence, George was, singularly, the only one to whom my father ever paid enough attention to threaten my sense of undefeatable privilege that my father had instilled in me?”

(Here is a clue as to the etiology of my needing to recover from being a Jewish American Princess.)

A recent interview with George, posted online gave me a handy update.

Titled -- George Barris: King of TV's Custom Cars .. the online interview article offered me a fuller picture of George than I had been carrying around in my mind’s storage cabinet of adolescent memories.

There George was held, only, as a starving, relatively young, Hollywood-type artist who showed up at odd hours of the night – to take my father’s focused, concentration on me away.

Believe me, I did not like this at all!

If you know more of the unabridged story of my father and George Barris -- one of those topics that can take awhile to unfold -- you may come to understand how this outrage came to manifest itself in years of reoccurring my dreams about (of all things) blowing up Cadillac dealers’ showrooms.

Even with this short story, however, you may discover a few pieces of my/her-story that explain some of the mystery you presume of me.

I have often been accused of being mysterious – and – apparently my best efforts so far to travel bare-faced (sans any deliberate masking on my part) are not yet enough.

Yes, I was born in Ohio, a bonafide Buckye. I attended my first two years of college at Ohio State, grew up in Hollywood, California (when I was not visiting my mother in Ohio) and have spent my entire adulthood in and around the Washington, D.C. area.

Since geography does account, somewhat, for aspects of personality, this may explain away parts of me that may still seem steeped in enigma for you. I hope so. Transparency is so important to me for our purposes here.

For more on George Barris -- you can read the interview in its entirety for yourself at ---

For the benefits of my totally self-seeking intent, only one sentence of the whole interview --

"There were not customizing shops back then," Barris said --

had more than a passing interest for me.

Thus I offer an embellishment of my father's establishing a custom car enterprise,  Custom Corner, circa 1952, at George’s suggestion in the story below.

My dad met George Barris at a car show when George was, probably about 27/28. It was 1952/53. George was a “starving, ”young” artist at the time though he had on display at the auto show one of his early custom car successes, the Golden Sahara.

The story of their meeting and subsequent partnership goes like this –

My dad had gone west to Hollywood to start a new life at my urging.

(My father and I had both needed to get away from my mother’s raging mental illness and relentless abuse in Ohio.)

My father, carrying a hefty bank roll after selling his junk yard business in Elyria, Ohio. soon met up and collaborated in establishing the Custom Corner enterprise with George.

The foundations of the business partnership were my dad’s money and business acumen, George’s ideas for a custom car business -- and -- George’s creativity and contacts in Hollywood.

With some kind of partnership arrangement in place, my father and George opened up Custom Corner which covered most of a city block on Vine Street in Hollywood (operating from 1953-1961?).

The business location was not far from Hollywood and Vine, on the corner of Vine and Willoughby (diagonally across from Desilu Productions who used the Custom Corner lot for extra parking when needed for overflow). I believe the year they began was 1952 or 1953.

George designed in a little house on the lot while my father supplied the custom auto parts for their design projects; many for celebrities or those in related entertainment industry activities among them Liberace’s car.

My father’s Custom Corner showroom was similar to the auto parts showroom he had earlier on Oberlin Road in Elyria, Ohio, only larger. He also had service bays where mechanics did mechanical work and smaller body work jobs.

From the online article, George’s personal story continues on –

Then one day a man from a movie studio who had heard of the hot rods Barris had helped customize and asked if he'd help with a movie called "High School Confidential!" in 1958. His relationship with movies began.

In the early 1960s, CBS asked Barris to come up with a jalopy for a new series called "The Beverly Hillbillies."

George and my father probably split somewhere around this time (1958).

One reason the partnership ended on my father’s end was that my step-mother did not want my father with George.

Probably -- in part -- because of the Hollywood crowd that was part and parcel of the whole business. My “mom” threatened to leave my father, if he continued with George.

As far as I can recollect, my father closed up Custom Corner in the early 1960s and opened a subsequent business in Sherman Oaks. He died in 1976.

There you have it, the beginning of the story of my father and George Barris as I know it; the teen-age adventures of a small town Ohio girl gone to Hollywood. And my lifelong confusion and conflict about what Americans do with their money insofar as automobiles (and status, especially celebrity) are concerned.

Stories about my life in Hollywood, cars, car destroying dreams and I -- to be continued as time and energy allows.

From Anastasia
Watching a gorgeous red cardinal, feeding on one of my bird feeders, outside my office window.