Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
Bonus Episode: Mailbag
Duration
0:00 / 42:35
Published
December 28, 2023

Many months ago, we solicited questions from you, our listeners, for our first-ever mailbag episode. The result was a wide-ranging conversation that wandered from the serious (Torah study) to the relatively frivolous (HBO’s Girls). We planned to release the episode in early October, but shelved it in the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel and amid Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza. We’re sharing it now as a piece of bonus holiday content because many of your questions still feel relevant—even if we might have answered them differently from within this moment. In this episode, editor-in-chief Arielle Angel, executive editor Nora Caplan-Bricker, managing editor Nathan Goldman, and associate editor Mari Cohen discuss, among other things, how to deal with right-wing family members and what we say when people ask us why we care about Jewishness.

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).” And many thanks to everyone who sent us such thoughtful questions.

Articles Mentioned and Further Reading:

JewBus

Daf Yomi

A ufologist claims to show 2 alien corpses to Mexico’s Congress,” Eyder Peralta, NPR

In the sky! A bird? A plane? A ... UFO?,” Jon Hilkevitch, Chicago Tribune

Former Israeli space security chief says aliens exist, humanity not ready,” Aaron Reich, The Jerusalem Post

HBO’s Girls

Old Loves (feat. Rebecca Alter),” Girls Room

On Loving Jews,” Arielle Angel, Jewish Currents

Hora Haslama!, Habiluim


Transcript

Arielle Angel: Hi, I’m Arielle Angel, editor in chief of Jewish Currents. We recorded our first On the Nose mailbag episode in mid-September and planned to air it October 12. Obviously, that didn’t happen. In some ways, listening to this episode now is like a window into another time. Questions about Jewishness and Israel/Palestine in particular hit differently, and perhaps we would have answered them differently from within this moment. Still, we thought we’d share the episode to accompany you over the holiday week. We hope you enjoy it. Hang in there everyone.

AA: Hello, and welcome back to On the Nose, the Jewish Currents podcast. I’m your host for this episode, Arielle Angel, editor in chief of Jewish Currents, and I’m here with executive editor Nora Caplan-Bricker, managing editor Nathan Goldman, and associate editor Mari Cohen, and today we are taking your questions. It’s the first Jewish Currents mailbag podcast. We got a lot of good questions, we narrowed it down to our favorites, and here we go. The first question comes from E. H., and it’s “If you had to explain to a potential new friend/romantic partner why you care so much about Jews, what would you say?” Getting right into it, the heart of the matter. Don’t all speak at once.

Mari Cohen: All right, I’m gonna go. I think for me, it really does come a lot from my background and upbringing and just feeling a lot of investment in a specific Jewish community where I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I think I grew up with a lot of actual attachment to the rituals and to this way of marking time in the year through these holidays, through the specific times in which we all showed up together, through these specific people that I was kind of accustomed to seeing and just developing a shared language around rituals, bits of Hebrew, these ways of understanding the world. And it’s interesting, because I often talk about feeling like, because I was raised reform, I actually missed out on a lot of education around Jewish practice, and history, and thought, and ritual. And there’s a lot that I didn’t get, but I think even the amount that I did get was enough to actually radically change the way I understand the world, and how I contemplate the seasons changing, and time in the year, and what it means to gather with people, and how I understand spirituality. And I just don’t really feel like I have another language for those things. You know, going to services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and going to Seder is just one of the big ways in which I practice this communal ritual and spirituality in my life. There has never really been anything else that quite speaks to me in that way. I mean, I think there’s social action, like sometimes organizing or protests can have some of that feeling. There’s literary stuff and music that I’m interested in. But in terms of really feeling like I’m participating in a spiritual way, and something that feels like a community that I really belong to, I don’t know, it still speaks to me more than anything else that I have tried.

AA: I mean, I guess nothing against Jewboos or Jews who kind of go looking for spirituality elsewhere and find it elsewhere. That’s cool. But I tend to think that whatever you’re looking for is probably there in the thing that you were given, like if I was born a Buddhist, it probably would have a lot of things to offer. And it’s not to say that birth is destiny in this situation, far from it, but it is just to say I do think that people really crave identity and belonging, and that on some level, identity does carry with it a kind of responsibility to be curious about what it is that you were given, like the whole tangle of that, and to hold some space for that in the world. Now, of course, again, you’re free to refuse that, you’re free to get it elsewhere. But it does seem like—why not start by examining the thing that you’ve been given? And also, I kind of believe that there is some imperative to keep the diversity—almost like the cultural diversity—of the world alive, kind of in the same way that you think about biodiversity on some level. For me, that means starting with the culture and theology and all those other things that I’ve been given. It’s a minefield, actually, to talk about, but that’s kind of how I feel about it.

MC: What helps me as well is that, for me, there are specific things around the form of Jewish practice, just in terms of the text focus that’s like really rich, and there’s a certain focus on repetition and a focus on looking at what’s already there in the text—the emphasis on action, maybe, versus the emphasis on belief. It’s been serendipitous, in a way, that some of the hallmarks of Judaism are things that I think align with the type of things that I’m interested in.

Nathan Goldman: Yeah, that really resonates with me. I think we’ve all had our own shape of vexedness over our relationship to Jewishness. And so there’s been times in my life (as I think I’ve talked about in other Jewish Currents venues) where I’ve run from it more before coming into a place of embracing it more. But for me, it has often been an emphasis on certain kinds of questioning, and wrestling, and constant reinterpretation, and the framework that Jewishness offers for the kind of tensions between a groundedness in tradition and keeping things on the one hand, and an openness to their continual revisement and embodiment in different forms on the other. I mean, part of it is also this way that it is true that I often find a certain connection or intellectual or spiritual or cultural resonance with other people who are also Jews. And it tends to be over sharing a relationship to the same vexed thing and having similar or interestingly divergent kinds of relationships to it. And then another side of it is, I think to speak to some of what Arielle was saying about this kind of inheritance: If we care about this thing that is Jewishness, it must mean caring about the way that’s instantiated in the world through people who consider themselves Jews, including those who I might feel no affinity for, or I might consider political enemies, or all kinds of things. It requires a kind of care, even if it’s not affection all the time.

AA: Nora I’m really curious how you would answer this question since your general answer is “I don’t actually care about Jewishness.”

Nora Caplan-Bricker: I feel like I repress this question on some level in my day-to-day life, because I love working at this Jewish magazine, and I also don’t know why I work at a Jewish magazine—not because I didn’t have a Jewish upbringing or because Jewishness hasn’t, in various ways, been important in my life, but because Jewishness wasn’t important in the adulthood that I chose and created for myself for at least the first solid decade to 15 years of it. I sort of had my Bat Mitzvah and then was like: I’m never going to synagogue again. I hated it there. And that felt fine to me for like 17 years.

I mean, one thing I’ve said when we’ve asked ourselves this question internally, in the past, that still feels true to me, is that there’s a universalist reason to dive into the particular that I felt as a reader of Jewish Currents even before I worked here. Something about really tunneling into my own subject position as a Jewish person who came up in a Jewish family that’s been part of this disintegrating American experiment, in the particular way that many Jews who came here in early 20th century and made their way into middle classness and whiteness in a particular era have participated in the political and class and social formations of our country. Something about really trying to understand myself and my context of origin, in that way, has made me feel that I’m thinking more clearly about the politics of this country, or my place in them. And there’s a way in which I think that’s a useful exercise for anybody: To really reflect on all the things that we come into political coalitions or relationships with and how our starting point is influenced by our families, by our own origins. So I think there are ways in which working here and thinking in those terms just feels really generative to me, politically, culturally, and I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process of doing that.

But I think where I get more stuck is on the question of whether I care about Jewishness as such. I mean, since I’ve been at Jewish Currents, I would say I’ve been trying to find my way back to some kind of Jewish—not really religious practice but cultural practice or familial practice in my own life. And I think those two things are really connected, but I don’t really know which one came first or what’s driving what. I do think that some of it’s a phase of life experience for me, that as my generation of my family becomes the median generation—like, I just hosted Rosh Hashanah for my extended family at my house this past weekend because it felt like it’s not fair to always ask my same aunt or my mom to do all the cooking. So, yeah, I think I’m still trying to figure out why it feels like holding on to the Jewish traditions of my family is synonymous with holding on to my family as a cohesive unit, but it does feel like the traditions are the thing that constitutes my family and vice versa.

AA: Are any of you interested in studying Torah?

MC: I am interested, just because I think it’s interesting. And I feel like the times when I have participated in that kind of study or discussion, or even heard particularly interesting drashes, I’ve really enjoyed it on an intellectual level. At the same time, I don’t know if it means something that I haven’t really made space for that in my life. Obviously, it hasn’t felt like my most urgent spiritual or communal need because I haven’t really done it.

NG: Yeah, I mean, I’m definitely interested. I’m also a yes, and I think similarly feel the guilt that Mari is expressing around the ways in which I’ve not made space for it in my life. I started doing Daf Yomi on the cycle (which for people that don’t know is when you read a page of Talmud a day over years) and failed pretty quickly and have done other bits of things like that. But I feel like what’s behind your question, Arielle, the question of to what degree the text of Judaism even constitutes Jewishness in the way we’re thinking about it.

AA: For me the question of “What can Jewishness mean,” or “What can a robust Jewishness mean in this age of assimilation” that Nora was describing—for me, it’s pretty clear that it’s text. And if I wasn’t spending all my time doing Jewish Currents, I would really want to make some time in my life for textual study. And that just hasn’t happened for me yet. I actually did study Torah as a kid in day school until eighth grade and found it really interesting and generative and really loved it. So it’s something that I would want to return to, but I don’t know if that feels important to others.

NCB: I think I will own my position as the Bad Jew of Jewish Currents and say, probably no for me. It feels low on the list behind a lot of other things that I don’t have time to read. But one thing I’ve wanted to do more since I started working here is dig deeper into some parts of Jewish history that I haven’t learned much about. And so maybe what I’m learning and trying to answer this question for myself is that there’s something about Jewishness, not as a practice or something with meaning unto itself, but as a package of contingencies that have shaped my life (and the lives of a lot of people who are really important to me) that feels like something I’ve been wanting to think more about or understand more clearly.

AA: Yeah, I feel that too. I want a year where I can just read psychoanalysis texts and Frankfurt School texts or something, and then that would feel similar.

MC: One hurdle I face is that I am pretty interested in studying Torah and Jewish texts just intellectually. I feel like it’s very fascinating and generative, but whether I feel like there’s some actual link between what I would study and what I feel is going to resonate for me now, or that I feel I have some sort of obligation to study is not totally clear, I think because I don’t have a very strict religious belief. It’s just not totally clear to me—

AA: What you would get out of it?

MC: —Or that it’s more urgent than reading other texts of philosophy, or history, or critical theory that I’ve also really wanted to get to, and I think that’s maybe what has made it harder to prioritize. It’s just that part of me has this fear that I would be almost, like, cosplaying or something.

AA: How can you cosplay as a Jew? You are a Jew.

MC: Right, obviously, but because I think it would be like, Oh, I’m doing this to try to get some meaning out of it—but do I actually believe that this is something for my life now?

AA: But if it didn’t feel meaningful, then you could stop.

MC: You’re right. It doesn’t feel totally clear to me that I’m going to find what I’m looking for in that text more than in other sources. But it’s almost like I want to, because then I want to have a justification for why I care about Jews and Jewishness.

AA: All right, I’m gonna move on to our next question. I’m going to play our next question since we got it as a recorded thing:

Caller 1: Yo, what’s up Jewish Currents? I’m Adam from Philadelphia. If you count Morgen Freiheit, I’m a fourth-generation reader, first time caller. Let’s say some of the most sober claims of the contemporary UFO/UAP discourse are true: That the USA and maybe other major powers have recovered craft and maybe even bodies or parts of bodies of non-human intelligences and that they’re reverse engineering them. What would that mean for our left politics? What would that mean for our Jewishness, for Jewish civilization? For civilization? What do we make of the retired Israeli General, who I think has made less-sober claims about interstellar diplomacy? Thank you guys for doing what you do, and keeping Jewish Currents alive.

AA: Thank you, Adam, for sending me a question about UFOs. As everyone knows, I really like to talk about that and don’t usually get the opportunity. But also these are really hard questions that, in a certain sense, I feel reveal how mysterious my attraction to UFOs is, because I’m kind of like—I don’t know, I just think they’re cool.

It’s actually really funny because the other night I was in an Uber, and I don’t know if anyone saw these videos or pictures that have been circulating of the supposed little alien mummies that were apparently found in Peru in 2017 and were just presented to Mexican Congress. But I was talking to some friends about them, and then we were sharing a car, and they got out of the car, and the Uber driver says, “Arielle, do you really believe in UFOs?” and then proceeded to lecture me about how they’re not in the Koran, and they’re not in the Torah, and therefore, they can’t possibly be real—which, obviously, there’s a way that a lot of people engage with information about UFOs. I mean, one of my favorite articles is a 2006 article in—I think it was the Tribune—talking about the 2006 UFO sighting over O’Hare Airport. And it’s super interesting because it’s a sighting where a lot of different people saw the craft, including flight attendants, and pilots, and control tower people, and all kinds of people on the ground, and a lot of people talked about how it has shaken their faith. Like, it makes sense. Here’s this thing that we didn’t know existed—what does it mean for who they worship and who their god is, and what does it mean about our little views on Earth?

For me, again, I just think it’s cool. Like I even like that shift in perspective. Because I think even if there were aliens, I would still be a Jew, and I would still be interested in the creations of human beings on this planet. I also feel very confident, in some way, that if we discover other beings who are not subscribing to this human-centric worldview that comes from our religious doctrines, that seems great, and it also doesn’t invalidate those creations and the way that they sit in our culture. I just talked about biodiversity as it relates to cultural life on Earth. I think that probably holds intergalactically. So I don’t feel like aliens are stomping on me. I think it’s only for the good in terms of mind expansion.

In terms of the question of: What does it mean for us as leftists? I think always what it means is the question of where resources are going, in terms of the military. I think it’s pretty interesting that UAP stuff has become more and more significant as we’ve pulled out of our most costly foreign wars in Afghanistan and otherwise. I’m not trying to be conspiratorial about this, I just think it’s interesting that right now, there’s no major military project, I would say, and this could be one, with Trump establishing Space Force and whatever. And I think we have to be careful that this doesn’t become an excuse to inflate the Pentagon or our already-bloated security apparatus. It used to be that Harry Reid was the champion for UFO stuff in the Senate. Now, it’s Marco Rubio. Obviously, Marco Rubio has very different politics, and also, if you watch the congressional hearings, you have people like Matt Gaetz of Florida who are really, really into this. And the question is also: If there is contact, how are we engaging? Are we engaging peacefully, or are we trying to nuke whomever? I think that these are questions that, right now, we’re not really in a position to answer because nothing has happened substantially. But these are the questions that we will have to answer, and certainly as it relates to military funding, that is something that we probably want to avoid and advocate against. So more transparency, but less inflation of the military-industrial complex.

MC: I have always been interested in the idea of discovering alien societies because I feel like there is something that is perhaps powerful about being able to observe a different type of society or creating some sort of elsewhere in order to reflect back on us what our civilization actually looks like.

AA: That’s the whole premise of sci fi.

MC: Exactly. I think there’s something that’s really powerful about that. Whether I have a lot of hope that that would end up being productive and not just result in insane militarism and all sorts of other things is a different question.

NG: Yeah. I basically agree. I feel like, as you said Arielle, with respect to the religion dimension of the question: I think if aliens are real, I think that’s only good for Jewishness and for any spirituality or religion. I guess I’m thinking about the ways in which some of the contemporary philosophy stuff that I am into and that has been a kind of trend recently has been some of the stuff that is interested in animals and is interested in various ways of troubling anthropocentrism by thinking about consciousnesses or even non-consciousnesses, if you’re interested in things in the environment and stuff that exceed our own epistemological and ethical problems of encounter. And I feel like, as you guys were pointing to, the alien stuff has been such a site for a lot of that, and if we’re at really having a true extraterrestrial encounter, that’s such a rich site for thinking and action, and for any tradition to have to then come to terms with that, it also presents lots of risks in terms of how we would actually respond to it. But I think it would be hopeful about what it could result in.

AA: You also asked about Haim Eshed, who has basically talked about the intergalactic federation that Israel and the US have with the aliens and that they have a base somewhere. I honestly have no fucking idea about any of that. I mean, I’m kind of with Avi Loeb on this. He’s an Israeli American physicist. He’s at Harvard University and he’s written a lot about UFOs, that, basically, we need more people studying this, and we need more transparency. The same thing with these alien mummies—I’m with Avi Loeb. Just let scientists at them to do the research that they need to do, to carbon date them and make sure that they’re real and whatever. I don’t know why Eshed said all this stuff that sounds completely next-level insane.

NCB: I think the only thing that I would add is that I like this question, and I’m glad that aliens are part of our planning staff conversation at Jewish Currents, because there’s a way in which trying to embrace the possibility of alien encounter or arrival feels like a good exercise in preparing for the unknown. A very extreme form of the unknown, but possibly no more frightening (or, indeed, less frightening) than forms of the unknown that are hurtling at us in other parts of our lives and our politics. So I’m trying to be open to this part of our work.

AA: That seems like a shift. Usually, I hear you saying, “I don’t have time to deal with these aliens.”

NCB: I think my usual contribution on the aliens is, like, an anxiety contribution. A few years ago, some of my friends and I decided to dress up as our childhood fears for Halloween. And I dressed up as space because I think space, and the cosmos, and the unknown are just fundamentally the scariest. So it’s not that I don’t think extraterrestrial life is real. I think, probabilistically, there are other civilizations and other life forms out there. That just seems likely to be true. But usually, I just attempt to not think about them because they’re pretty stressful to me.

AA: Let’s move to our next question. Very short and sweet question, it comes from Ben Baquette (sorry if I’ve said your name wrong, Ben): Thoughts on HBO’s Girls? Ben, I don’t know how you intuited that there might be some thoughts in this staff on HBO’s Girls.

MC: Ben, I would just like to say, I was in a bar on a Friday evening, and for some reason at like 11pm, I just decided to open my email app and I saw this email, and I was just so overjoyed.

AA: Who wants to start? Nathan, I’m gonna call on you, because I think you were the first rewatcher in this crowd.

NG: I have long been an admirer of HBO’s Girls. I watched it when it was first on. It started when I was in college, and I remember my friends and I were all into it. So that situates me generationally—you know, it’s about people who are at a stage of life that was like right ahead of where I was, or something.

AA: Not Shoshanna.

NG: Yeah, that’s true. And I see a lot of myself in Shoshanna, I love Shoshanna.

AA: That’s funny Nathan, because I see a lot of myself in Ray.

MC: I want to shout out my friend Rebecca Altar, who, when asked on a podcast what Girl she was said that she was Ray and Shoshanna’s baby, which I think is an incredible answer and probably true for all of us and most people you’d want to hang out with.

NG: I just think it’s a great show. I think it did get worse as it went along. I usually will say that I feel like once Hannah goes to Iowa, it’s like getting a little worse, though I think there are still really great episodes after then. And I thought, upon rewatching a few years after, it was the kind of thing where I was wondering like: Oh, did I love this at the time but it’s really not going to age well? It’s such a product of its time, but I actually think it’s aging great in many ways. I just think it’s so smart, and funny, and self-aware in ways that the more critical assessments often are not giving it credit for, and specifically are not giving Lena Dunham credit for (perhaps because of all the other silly things she has said and done in public). But I love Girls.

NCB: I have almost no thoughts on Girls, having never actually watched Girls. I will say that looking back, it seems very clear to me that the cultural reaction to it (and my own reaction as someone who decided that the cool thing was to not watch it and to just be disdainful of it as a cultural phenomenon and of Lena Dunham in particular as a cultural figure) was a really regrettable cultural moment of like extreme normalized misogyny concentrated around the figure of this, like, in some ways not particularly appealing, or likable, or even self-aware cultural figure of Lena Dunham. But still, the sort of outsized hate is the thing that sticks in my mind about Girls and the way that it sort of like gets kicked up whenever she does anything or reemerges.

AA: Yeah, I just rewatched the episode where she meets Patrick Wilson. He’s like an older doctor, and she has been throwing out her trash in his garbage can. They meet cute and have this fantasy relationship for a few days. He’s like going through a divorce. And she spends most of the episode mostly naked, like they have this naked ping-pong game or whatever, and I remember there were articles being written at the time just about how disgusting she is, and also how it’s so much, like how it’s so much nudity from her and how people don’t need to see it. And yeah, I just can’t really imagine that happening now. It does feel like a kind of basic misogyny. I mean, I also can’t think of another protagonist that is as unlikable as Hannah is, and to be doing that with a female protagonist in a show where it’s clear that she’s the center of a show—it’s pretty rare, I think.

NG: Yeah. And it feels like it was a forerunner to certain kinds of things like Fleabag. And then there’s also the whole continuity of things from Seinfeld to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia of unlikability, but I feel like what Girls was doing feels different in the way that Lena Dunham was representing Hannah Horvath. There’s something about the unlikability of the character that feels like it actually goes further.

AA: I think people talk about Fleabag in the same continuum, but also people talked about Fleabag as if it was the first time that it happened, and frankly, Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag is way more likable than Hannah Horvath.

MC: I think there’s something about Phoebe Waller-Bridge being extremely conventionally attractive that sort of changes that calculus a little bit. I’ll just say also, I just finished watching the show, and it wasn’t a rewatch, this was my first time ever watching it. I think I had seen the one clip when Marnie performs the really embarrassing Kanye cover. I had seen that, but I had not seen anything else—which is like the best thing, obviously, to see, but I hadn’t seen anything else. But obviously, I’ve been hearing about this show for years, and I do remember being—I think it was when I was graduating high school is when Girls came out, and I remember all this discourse, these general complaints and concerns and a lot of handwringing around the show, and whether it was too sexual, and whether Lena Dunham was too unattractive, and all of these things. So I think it was kind of interesting to come in now and watch the show and be like, “Oh, my God, this is what people were throwing an absolute tantrum about?” So I think it’s been eye opening for me, even the way that I think I absorbed this idea of Lena Dunham as a really unlikable public figure—which, to be fair, she was making a lot of really unsavory and kind of stupid comments around 2017 and also was really annoying during all the Hillary/Bernie stuff. So it’s not totally off base. But it was interesting the way that I feel like not knowing the show at all, I got this really particular impression, and then actually watching it, I felt like there was a lot of injustice in that conversation towards her and towards the show.

To talk about the end quickly (I guess, spoiler alert): I was pretty torn about the decision to end the show with her having a baby. And it kind of jives with this whole theory I have in general about a lot of millennial female-focused literature being really into baby plots as like a way to make some sort of point about how, like, self-centered young women can return to a better purpose by having a baby. And I was just kind of taken aback that Girls decided to go in that direction, and I actually think it produced some beautiful, amazing episodes, but I also think the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t know, it did feel like sort of playing into this idea that there would have been no way for Hannah to show any kind of independence, or growth, or maturity without becoming a mother.

AA: I mean, just to harken back to its analogue, Sex and the City. That show also ends with Carrie going to Paris and getting back together with Big. Them rekindling their relationship is a reassertion of a certain kind of monogamy—that always seemed, to me, a really regressive ending. And I almost wonder if the show couldn’t get away with a kind of explicit reification of monogamy, but it still needs to come around on some level to something recognizable and transformational, and so it settles on the baby plot.

NG: Totally. If there’s something frustrating about these shows about friendship and women’s friendship not finding their emotional resolution within that frame.

AA: Yeah. The next question we have is actually like an advice column question, which alright—I’ll just read it. My problem is this: My sister is marrying into Reform Jewish family, converting to Judaism, and will raise any kids they have Jewish, but our mother, who used to be a moderate of no religion, is turning into a Christian white nationalist. Our mother, however, doesn’t think of herself as an extremist and becomes angry when we call her bonkers conspiracy theories and ideas of America as a Christian nation antisemitic. It deeply hurts her whenever I defend my sister’s keeping her at arm’s length, and she sincerely wonders why my sister and her partner don’t talk to her more. And when we say to our mother that she needs to reevaluate these ugly beliefs if she wants to have a relationship with my sister, her partner, and his Jewish family, she gets almost violently angry and claims to have nothing against the Jews. She, like a lot of bigots, thinks that because she’s nice to Jewish people to their faces, she can’t be antisemitic, even as she regularly rants about the deep state and the “blood-drinking pedophile elites,” quote. My sister wants to continue having a relationship with her. I’ve suggested just cutting her off totally, but my sister won’t do it. But not like this. Meanwhile, our mother is not budging from her ideas that the Jews secretly run the world and cause all our ills. We’re all stuck. Any ideas? Thanks so much, Hamrick.

MC: I don’t know, man.

AA: I think this is really tough, and obviously, if anyone had a good idea of how to deprogram people in their family, they could just change American politics overnight. But the one thing that I will say is that if you’ve listened to this podcast over time, you know that particularly for me, I have had success moving family members on deeply held beliefs. But it takes a really, really long time and a lot of engagement. It’s not the kind of thing that you can change overnight or send an article and that’ll make the difference. It’s really a conversation that needs to be returned to again and again, picked up at many opportunities, not leaving opportunities to have those discussions on the table. You have to be willing to confront that conflict. And frankly, that’s really hard to do.

MC: I guess the only thing I would say is: Is there someone that you feel is a trusted person you think your mother might respond well to for some reason? Maybe someone who was also like, Christian, but not like a Christian nationalist—someone that you think might have some better luck talking to her? Just because I do wonder sometimes in those situations, it feels like if you get entrenched in a situation in which she’s convinced that you’re trying to convince her of something and that you’re coming at it from whatever uncharitable point of view (if that’s what she thinks), then you might just get stuck in a stalemate. And so I wonder: Is there anyone else that you think she would be open to hearing from, or even, I don’t know, a progressive Christian YouTube channel or something like that?

NG: The other thing that came to mind, for me, was whether there was communication that can be done in terms of just boundary setting. I guess this would necessitate a willingness to alter the terms of the relationship, but to say, like, “You can’t say X things around us, or else we can’t see you” or whatever. If there’s no willingness to negotiate the terms or boundaries, I think that makes that sort of impossible. But I think there’s a question of, on the one hand, the problem of moving her, changing her mind, and then there’s just: What can you put containers on yourself or your family being exposed to?

NCB: Yeah, I just want to echo that this is an incredibly difficult-sounding situation. I think we all felt really sad reading this and just thinking about what a horrible situation this must be for everybody. One thing I’ve observed or even experienced is that these kinds of deep family conflicts do seem to evolve a lot over time, so things that can feel like the final form of some kind of relationship or situation might change a few years down the road—not necessarily for the better. I also do think drawing even a really hard boundary, like Nathan was saying, and saying that “We can’t talk to you because you’re doing XYZ,” even that isn’t necessarily the end of the road and maybe could yield change or could feel a coming back together at some later point. So, I don’t know. I hope this works out as best it can and that everybody in this situation takes care of themselves because it sounds pretty awful.

AA: All right. Last question. Also from E. H. (E. H. sent a lot of questions, and we liked a lot of them, so we’re privileging his second question): When the popular revolutionary anti-state of Palestine is established from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, firmly inscribing equality and liberation for all people who live there, including the right of return for all refugees, will you personally A.) Look forward to visiting a deeply meaningful and beautiful place? B.) Say, “Thank God, now I could stop caring about that distant, dusty part of the world?” I really love this question. Nathan, maybe we’ll start with you here.

NG: I feel really torn between them. I think, in a certain way, I align more to the “I can stop caring about this” side of things. I don’t have a super deeply rooted identification with the land, with Israel/Palestine. I’ve been there twice in my life, and both of those experiences were very meaningful for me in terms of my relationship to my Jewishness, both in terms of the things I had positive attachments to and in terms of the way it developed my critique of Zionism and own relationship to Jewishness outside of it. I think so much of my relationship to Israel/Palestine now does feel mediated through the politics of coming to equality there. So if that were to come to a close, I think I’d have a kind of openness and interest in developing a different kind of relationship, which is going more toward the first option, but it’s not as if I would feel, like, “Okay, now I have this freedom to really embrace this thing.” It would be something that I think would be a real question for me. But I also feel seeds of what could become a real deep and meaningful attachment, and so it would be kind of an open question in my life.

AA: This question brought up a lot of feelings for me. I am a person who spent a lot of time in Israel. I speak Hebrew, which I’m kind of ambivalent about, actually. I never intended to learn to speak Hebrew, it just kind of happened. I have a recurring dream, where I’m on a plane going somewhere, and then I realized that actually, I’m on a plane to Israel, and I’m panicking suddenly. I’m like, “Fuck, I got on the wrong plane. Now I’m going to be there, and I’m gonna have to deal with that, I’m gonna have to deal with all that shit, I’m gonna have to call my family, I’m gonna have to call my friends, I’m gonna have to figure out what I’m going to do.” And it’s a nightmare. It’s a recurring nightmare. It’s not a positive dream. It’s an anxiety dream. So if you’re listening, and you have any ideas about what that means, you can let me know.

But I think there’s a lot of things that it could mean. One deep-seated meaning is that it feels on some level, like I could have been there. That, like, in the shuffles of history, or something, like that could have been me. I was listening to this band, Habiluim, this leftist Israeli band that the last album they put out was in 2013, and I suddenly was just hysterically crying. The album is nearly a concept album about essentially watching everyone become a fascist around you and trying to figure out what to do with it, and the ennui, the hopelessness, the feeling of like: There’s nothing we can do to stop this, and yet, we have to try. And there’s songs like, “We have to organize!” next to songs that are like, “You just learn to live with it, and it’s disgusting.”

And I think that, on a certain level, it would be too easy to say that I would be so excited to see that beautiful place. I think the only way that I can think about Palestine is thinking about it as an experiment in a post-nation. If the midcentury was just about: What is the nation-state? Palestine holds the question of like: What is after the nation-state—what’s next? Any feelings that I have about it are going to have to be rebuilt from the ground up. Like I won’t just be able to reclaim this feeling that I had when I was a Zionist; I’m going to have to build something for this new place that is not going to be anything related to the place that I’ve had any kind of relationship with thus far.

MC: I think that’s a very beautiful way to think about it. When I first got this question, I was thinking about it and I was like, “Wow, it’s interesting that I basically feel like I am a B,” like someone who kind of says, “Yeah, thank God, now I don’t have to necessarily worry about this anymore,” or that my inclination might not be to focus much on the land of Israel/Palestine, if there weren’t this urgent situation of apartheid supported by our institutions.

I think growing up as a kid, I always felt confused about why it was pressed upon me to care about Israel in this specific way. I mean, just even like, we would do things like make passports to Israel in Hebrew school class, and I was like, “Okay, this seems fun,” but it just seemed very distant from what any of my own personal experience of Jewishness was, which really was so focused on my own community in the US, in Michigan. So I always found that dissonant, even before I had any kind of anti-Zionist politics or language. And I went to Israel a few times and thought it was very exciting because going to Israel was the first time I ever traveled internationally. And I think something about being in a different country was really fascinating to me, but whether I could actually find that spiritually meaningful as a Jewish person was a different question. And in fact, I felt it difficult to make a connection with even, like, the Western Wall. Visiting as a woman is honestly a deeply disillusioning experience in the current moment. And for me, it made it very hard to feel any kind of spiritual connection to that place in history. For those who haven’t been, there’s two separate men and women’s sections and the women’s section is extremely tiny and extremely shoved off to the side. And it makes it very clear that you’re not supposed to be an equal participant in the space. So I just always kind of had a resistance to trying to make it a central part of my identity, and I think the more it got pressed upon me, the more I felt stubbornly like I wanted to move away from it.

At the same time, looking at this question again now, I actually think there’s something about that vision that’s so beautiful, right? Like this state established from the river to the sea that has equality and liberation for all people who live there—I think that that is such an amazing vision. And honestly, it’s hard to think about this question most of the time just because we feel so far away from it. So it’s almost like, what’s the point? But if that is something that comes to be, I think I would love to go, and visit, and see what it’s like, and see if there’s some sort of relationship that I could have with it. And maybe I will begin to feel more of a personal connection just because of this time spent feeling deeply invested in what happens and fighting for that kind of vision. So, you know, I started out answering this question in a certain way, and now I think that I’m definitely a little bit torn.

NCB: Yeah, I think I’ll also kind of cheat and say both A and B, a little bit. I hope I live to see a revolutionary anti-state of Palestine, or at least a place in that land, a political formation in that land where all the inhabitants are equal and apartheid is not being carried out. I think that, to the extent that my answer would be A, that I would want to visit, I think I would hope to feel that way out of an interest in seeing a really amazing political experiment that I myself am not part of and don’t have any sort of real sense of ancestral connection to, frankly. You know, just out of a belief that a program of decolonization is an amazing thing to witness, and that that’s an urgent need in a lot of parts of the world, and that this is one site where I hope that we get to witness that in our lifetimes. But inherent in that answer is also some of a sense that the kind of stance that we hold at this magazine, that we’re invested in a struggle, that there would be a kind of release in not feeling that anymore.

AA: Well, that concludes the first Jewish Currents mailbag podcast episode. Thanks so much for joining us. As usual, subscribe to Jewish Currents, JewishCurrents.org, and if you liked this episode, share it or leave us a review. Thanks a lot. Bye bye.


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