Monday, April 28, 2014

Bible Studio Is Not Bible Study

It's no secret to loyal readers of this blog—I prefer movies to books. From my childhood days I've been a fan of biblical-themed films. Counting last week’s airing of The Ten Commandments, I must have seen that film at least 30 times. Probably lots more. 

Maybe my fascination with bible movies harks back to my father telling me bible stories before bedtime. He gave a particularly emotive rendition of the Samson and Delilah story. The movie version of the strongman and the seductress, starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr, was among the first I recall seeing.

I was non-sectarian in my devotion to bible films. Demetrius and the Gladiator, also starring Mature, Androcles and the Lion (Mature, once again), The Robe (with you know who, once more), Quo VadisDavid and Bathsheba, Barabbas, Ben Hur—I was all in on those 1950s-early 1960s epics, mostly because The Million Dollar Movie on WOR-TV Channel 9 in New York City played them a week at a time, over and over. I drew the line at King of Kings and other Jesus bio-pics, though I did enjoy Jesus Christ Superstar when the musical debuted in 1970.

All this by way of saying I was less than enthralled by Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s treatment of the Flood. One of the things you want to see in any bible film is creative treatment of the back story, how the director fills in missing details, what Jewish scholars call midrash. What you don't want to see are significant contradictions to the accepted text. Thus, as absurd as it was to see rock people (fallen angels) help Noah against the onslaught of an evil mob, it was an imaginative interpretation of the Bible’s suggestion of giants living during those times, though a little too derivative, in my mind, to the tree-like Ents that aid the hobbits Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings.

The Bible several times states the three wives of Noah's sons boarded the ark, yet Aronofsky chose to have only one daughter-in-law, Shem’s wife, in his retelling. How the world would be repopulated with only one woman of child-bearing age is solved(?) by having her deliver twin girls. Aronofsky would have us believe uncles Ham and Japheth will just have to wait until their nieces’ puberty arrive to fulfill god’s directive to be fruitful and multiply.

I also had difficulty swallowing the notion of a stowaway on the ark. Sure, it made for a more interesting plot line, but it was an uncalled for reach. 

I did like the creative way Noah kept the animals from feasting on each other, by putting them to sleep. But I was humorously amazed to see biblical man and woman dressed to the nines. Their boots could have come from Steve Madden, their leather, form-fitting togs from Beged Or, the once formidable Israeli leather clothing maker. 

And who knew the ancients had real firepower. Forget swords, spears, bows and arrows. Tubal Cain had the equivalent of a rocket propelled grenade launcher.

I'm not alone in dismissing the choices made by Aronofsky. My friend Noah R., no relation to Noah of the Bible, had this to say:

“Due to my name, I was overwhelmed by invitations to see the movie ‘Noah’, and we finally succumbed. I understand what the director was trying to do to reconcile the Biblical narrative with the possible historical basis, but the "stone giants" [who reminded me of the employees of the contractor who put-on a new roof for us a couple of years ago] and watching Hermione Granger (Emma Watson from the Harry Potter movies) give birth to Noah's grandchildren detracted greatly from the experience.  Furthermore, you and your beard are MUCH better-looking than Russell Crowe.

“It also got me thinking about who the director might have cast as Noah’s other two daughters-in-law to complement Hermione Granger and provide the diversity needed for future generations of mankind/womankind.

“Perhaps Kerry Washington and Ziyi Zhang?  I also think that Lindsay Lohan would have been a more interesting daughter-in-law than Emma Watson.  [And if Lindsay had failed to show-up for the sailing of the ark, as was the case with her court appearances, well.....]”

But here’s my real bottom line: There are too many people out there who profess belief that the Bible is sacred, that it really is the word of god. Yet too many of those people have not read the Bible and are ignorant of simple facts. They don’t know, for example, that Jesus was born and died a Jew. They don’t know that men, not a higher authority or power, chose what to include in, and exclude from, the Bible based on their own prejudices. They gloss over contradictions in the text. 

So, a movie that has so much fable simply complicates an already hard-to-believe text. Let’s remember the Bible says Noah was 600 years old when the deluge began, that he lived another 350 years after the waters abated. Russell Crowe hardly looked a day over 50. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Belgian Waffles Rocked the 1964-65 World's Fair

What do I remember about the 1964-65 World’s Fair that opened in Flushing Meadow, Queens, 50 years ago today?

Belgian waffles.

The DuPont pavilion where a scientist, or maybe just a well trained actor, poured a clear liquid from one flask into another, turning the fluid into a different color, the hue of which I cannot recall.

A talking, walking Abraham Lincoln in the Illinois State pavilion, the handiwork of Disney audio-animatronics engineers.

More Belgian waffles.

Floating in the It’s a Small World ride, another Disney creation.

Even more Belgian waffles, which is to say, I don't remember too much else about the fair. I think I visited it twice, first on a class trip, which explains the Belgian waffles—coming from an Orthodox Hebrew high school, I couldn't eat an unkosher hot dog or some other treyf (that's Yiddish for unclean, unfit to be eaten) in front of my classmates. Eating Belgian waffles surely was no abomination. Who, after all, doesn't like waffles and ice cream? 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Keeping Memories Alive

Around sunset tonight I will light six memorial candles, two for my parents, two for Gilda’s, two in honor of our uncles and aunts who have passed away. On the last day of Passover tomorrow, Yizkor will be recited. Yizkor is the prayer of remembrance, said four times a year in honor of the departed. 

Last week the Colombian, Nobel laureate author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, passed away. He was 87. Among the many passages quoted in his memory, this one touched me deeply: “What matters in life is not what happens to you—but what you remember and how you remember it.”

Perhaps that’s why I have recently been obsessed with the fantasy of getting a dog. For a year when I was 11, we had a dog, a puppy. Dusty. We were told he was a border collie but he probably was of mixed parentage, at least part golden retriever, which accounted for his thick yellow coat and his size. My sister, brother and I still talk of Dusty. They both had goldens when their children were young. Lee has since had two other dogs. She took home Ollie from the rescue shelter a few weeks ago.

Gilda’s not buying into my fantasy. She doesn’t believe I’d be willing to walk a dog early in the morning and late at night, when it’s cold, snowy or rainy. And I readily acknowledge I would not like picking up after it. So I think back on my 12 months with Dusty (10 actually, as two months we were separated while I summered in sleepaway camp) and revel in my memories. 

“I think we forget things if we have no one to tell them to.” 

That sentiment describes another reason for this blog. It is from the Indian movie The Lunchbox, by Ritesh Joginder Batra. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you don’t wait much longer as it is not the type of film that vanquishes superhero, supernatural or animated flicks for screens at the local cineplex.  

Last week an article in The NY Times provided insight into another of my childhood-to-adult foundations. Though born and raised in Brooklyn, I am a NY Yankees fan. My brother and all my friends rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. We went to Ebbets Field to watch the Dodgers, until they moved to Los Angeles. I always said I became a Yankees fan because my mother rooted for them, though she really favored the NY Giants. But they moved west, too, to San Francisco. The last year the Dodgers played in Brooklyn was 1957. I was eight years old.

Keep that age in mind, because according to The Times article, team loyalty for youngsters is deeply impressed when a boy turns eight, particularly if the team wins the World Series ( Furthermore, “the odds of being captured as a perma-fan peak with those aged 8 to 12 at the time of the championship,” the article related.

Now, in 1957 the Yankees lost to the Milwaukee Braves in seven games. But the following year the Yanks defeated the Braves. And from 1960 to 1964 the Bronx Bombers played in five consecutive championship series, winning two titles in 1961 and 1962. It’s not too difficult to understand why I became a Yankees fan for life.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Irony, Purple Power and Some Big Business Questions

I enjoy irony, especially when names are involved. Take, for example, a recent article in The New York Times Magazine. “A Tale of Two Valleys” related the entrepreneurial conflict between old and new techies in Silicon Valley. The first source quoted by the author was Sanjit Biswas, a nouveau techie whose last name cannot help but be a metaphor for the past as prologue in this rapidly evolving business segment.

Here’s another: An invitation arrived from the White Plains Historical Society to support its Historic Preservation Fund by buying raffle tickets. Grand Prize I would be a four-volume set of Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln. 

Grand Prize II would be a four-volume biography of Robert E. Lee, a Pulitzer Prize winning effort by Douglas Southall Freeman. How deliciously ironic for the author of a biography of the general fighting to keep millions of Afro-Americans enslaved to have the surname “free man”! How further ironically amusing that his middle name would be an all-for-the-South rallying cry, if ever there were one.

Purple Power: How would you like to walk around with a target on your chest or back? Probably not, considering the trigger-happy country we live in today. On the other hand, despite threats from the Taliban, nearly 60% of eligible Afghani voters are walking around with purple ink on their forefingers, proof positive they voted in Saturday’s elections. 

Which makes me wonder, why don’t we in the United States dip people’s fingers into an ink well, or create some other visual sign, to signify involvement in the one political process where all of us are equal? In our free society we fail to vote in markedly higher percentages than the threatened populace of Afghanistan. A purple finger would mark for all to see the commitment each individual has to our democracy. Conversely, lack of a purple stain would be a sign of shame, assuming one is a citizen and has not lost the right to vote.

My suggestion does have some kinks that need working out. We have a high percentage of absentee ballots cast. We also have early voting in some states. How would we identify those who take advantage of these alternatives to polling station visits? Maybe we could issue packets with just enough purple ink to paint one finger, to be applied on election day? 

If Catholics are willing to walk around in public with blackened foreheads on Ash Wednesday, if observant Jews are willing to walk around wearing yarmulkes, if Sikhs walk around wearing turbans, if Amish, Mennonites and Hasidic Jews are willing to walk around in distinctive garb, then everyone who cares about democracy should be willing to display their allegiance to the Red, White and Blue (the combination of red and blue make purple; add white and you get lavender).

Here’s another (tongue-in-cheek) idea: If we can't vote in superior numbers, perhaps we can enfranchise people in other democratic countries to help us select our president, for, after all, he or she is the leader of the free world. 

Shouldn't, say, the British or the Australians or the Polish have a vote in whom our commander-in-chief is, considering those countries always seem to support our military initiatives?

Keep Reading: Democracy demands an informed electorate. Yet, I sense a growing percentage of voters agree with a sentiment expressed during a dinner party we attended last Friday. Our host lamented he has been so depressed and distressed by the news lately that he has curtailed his reading of the front page of The Times. 

Secretly, I thought I was in the minority by also doing so, but the consensus around the table was that our host was not unique. Though we were all liberals (to the best of my knowledge), I believe the trend spans political denominations, and is not restricted to shunning The Times. We’re also turned off by network news telecasts.

I’m a big believer that an informed electorate is a prerequisite for a strong democracy. But I am distressed by the bickering from both sides of the political aisle and the tendency to reject outright any suggestions from the other side. 

Here's what I don't understand. If Republicans are the party of Big Business, why isn't Big Business pushing them to pass more projects that would help industry and put more people back to work and thus give the masses more money to spend on the products of Big Business?

Take infrastructure, for example. We need to shore up our bridges and tunnels, our highway overpasses, our rail beds and airports.

We need to modernize our power grid, our telecommunications network, our water supply system.

Surely the captains of industry see this. So why are they flushing tens of millions of dollars into the vest pockets of GOP legislators who are voting against their vested interests? What Machiavellian purpose is achieved? I'm no fan of Sheldon Adelson, but at least his wants are out in the open. When Republican presidential wannabes kowtow to him, we all know what he is demanding in return.

Sure. We know the fat cats don’t want to be forced to pay higher taxes. Nor do they want to pay higher wages. Or pay for health care for their workers. They want less regulation, fewer labor safety laws. But let's be practical. Democrats won't give them that, especially when the president is a Democrat. So why doesn't the industry elite look long term and push for investment that will benefit them in the present and near future?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Regrets, I've Had a Few

The linked article from Saturday’s NY Times Arts section recounts a music critic’s choice to donate the cello he has owned for more than half his life but has not played in years. It was a moving summation of transition and regrets that for some reason evoked within me pangs of melancholy, nostalgia  and regret ( 

I regret never having learned to play an instrument (and, as a parent, never having insisted my children take lessons). For a short time in my childhood we had an upright piano in our living room. It was for my sister, Lee. The piano teacher came to our home just often enough for our parents to realize it was a waste of time and money. The ability to bang out “Chopsticks” was not a sound return on investment.

My brother, sister and I never took up another instrument, nor, to my knowledge, did any of our friends. Until, that is, my best friend, Lenny Dorfman, worked one summer as a counselor in a day camp after either his freshman or sophomore year at SUNY Stony Brook. To garner larger tips, Lenny had been counseled that he needed a shtick, something to make his campers distinguish him in the eyes of their parents. So he self-taught himself to play the guitar and, this being the summer of 1967 or 1968, the harmonica, which he propped up in front of his cheeks à la Bob Dylan. 

It was a transformational experience. Lenny had entered Stony Brook to study physics. He graduated a music major. He learned to play piano. He grew an Afro. He performed under the name Len Gary, Gary being his middle name.  He wrote his own songs, though he could barely carry a tune. 

One thing Lenny didn’t want to carry was an Army-issued rifle in Vietnam, so after graduation in 1970 he opted to go to Canada to avoid the draft. He taught music in Windsor, outside Detroit, returning to New York only after a draft evasion amnesty had been extended. Last time I checked he was teaching music on Long Island.

Unlike Lenny, or my children, I regret never having the college dormitory experience. Brooklyn College was a commuter school. Most evenings I ate dinner with my parents. My year in graduate school in Syracuse I spent in a rented apartment, not a dorm. I guess I had enough communal living from 15 years of sleepaway summer camp. 

I regret not living in an apartment in Manhattan.

I regret being too timid to cast myself forward for parts in camp and school musicals. I knew the scores of most Broadway shows, but couldn’t overcome my fear of failing to remember dialogue and embarrassing myself. I was on stage just twice, when I was 13. For a camp talent show I sang “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady. Later that summer I was Rusty Charlie in the opening number of Guys and Dolls. I was one of three gamblers in “Fugue for Tinhorns” handicapping horses. My horse showed a lot of class; his great grandfather was Equipoise. Only trouble was, I could never learn to harmonize with the other singers. My Broadway dreams finished out of the money. (By a cruel coincidence, The Times also carried an article Saturday on a one-time benefit concert performance of Guys and Dolls performed last Thursday at Carnegie Hall. The article began with a tribute to "Fugue for Tinhorns.")

No doubt there are other regrets I could share, but that’s enough for this post. Besides, for every regret there’s a counterpoint of triumph. Attending Brooklyn College meant I met and married Gilda. No regrets there.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ameriland, Signing Off, LSMFT, Dancing at Roseland

It’s too late to affect this year’s ranking on the Social Progress Index, released Thursday by the Social Progress Imperative, but if the United States wants to improve upon its embarrassing 16th place finish, just ahead of Belgium, Slovenia and Estonia, we have to change the name of our country to something like Ameriland or Unitedland. 

Why? Because the top four countries incorporate “land” in their names—New Zealand, Switzerland, Iceland and Netherlands. Even Ireland finished ahead of us, in 15th place out of the 132 nations rated in the Social Progress Index. Only Poland (32) and Swaziland (108) failed to capitalize on having “land” in their name. 

I will refrain from making any snide comments about America’s less than stellar scores in areas such as health and wellness, plus tolerance and inclusion. You can review the entire list by clicking on this link: 

Signing Off: With my illegible scrawl of a signature I could have been a modern day ballplayer, according to an article in The NY Times ( Of course, to get to the major leagues I might have had to upgrade my skills a little (okay, a lot). But I definitely would have made the first string when it came to passing out indecipherable signed baseballs.

I recently looked at my Social Security card, issued when I was 12 or so. Each letter in my signature is carefully drawn. Today, you could barely make out the “M” in my first name. After that it’s a swirl ending with a flourish. 

The major league baseball season has begun. The temple league softball season starts April 13, but I think I will mostly observe the games in my second retirement from the diamond, unless my team is in dire straits of needing a pitcher at the last moment. I’d rather spend time in bed Sunday mornings than kick-starting my aching back out of bed at 7:20. 

LSMFT: When I was growing up, LSMFT was an acronym everyone recognized—Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco. Lucky Strike sponsored Your Hit Parade, weekly viewing in the Forseter household. I don’t recall whether Your Hit Parade got cancelled before or after cigarette advertising was banned from the airwaves, but LSMFT vanished from my and most everyone else’s consciousness.

Until now. I keep hearing those initials, followed by the word “productions,” broadcast on public radio. So I went on its Web site and became more confused. Under LSMFT Productions, LTD, the tagline says, “Staging powerful and provocative New York Theater since 1997.” 

Okay, but two paragraphs later it says, “LSMFT Productions was conceived in 2008, as a non-profit organization by Artistic Director and Producer Leo Farley.” So which is it, 1997 or 2008? It’s all very confusing.

Dancing Away: Roseland, the iconic ballroom dance hall just north of Times Square, will close April 7 after entertaining New Yorkers and other hoofers since 1919, the last 58 years at its current location on Broadway at 52nd Street. 

I never made it inside Roseland, but Gilda’s mother did. As a young widow with three children, Rose Barasch often went to dances at Roseland. It was there she met Gus Angelo, her second husband who could assuredly be described as the true love of her life. 

Gus epitomized a “salt of the earth” person. Rarely, if ever, did I see him without a smile on his face. Rose was not a good cook, but he ate her food with gusto, without complaint. He taught Rose to drive when she was in her late 50s. He took her for a lesson one Sunday to the E.J. Korvette’s parking lot off Bay Parkway in Brooklyn. This was before Sunday Blue Laws had been lifted, so the lot was empty except for a solitary police car. A solitary, stationary police car. Which Rose promptly drove Gus’ car into. 

Getting back to Roseland, dancing must have been in Rose’s blood. With boyfriend Moishe, Rose’s mother would dance into her 90s, winning competitions in senior centers. They were a spry, diminutive couple, resembling Hummel figurines as they waltzed across the dance floor. 

Gilda likes to dance, though not with the same passion as her mother and grandmother. But she does enjoy Dancing with the Stars. Does that count?