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Friday, August 28, 2009

Me. Live. Rapping.

Okay, I actually can't watch this. I'm a squirmer. Here's some live video footage of me doing my verse on Stereo Sinai's song "Hafachta Mitzpedi (Dance)," the first time I've ever done it in front of people. "It" meaning "performing the song live," and "it" also meaning "rapping."

Not sure whether this is totally awful or just plain gawkward. Somebody watch it and tell me. If you can't say something nice, you can totally just pat me on the back and say I was wearing a cute shirt. (Or talk about Miriam's sheitel instead, and then go watch Alan and Miriam performing the song Eleven Below from that night instead. Tell me it doesn't make you want to fall in love with life itself.)

Ahem. On to me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Plant Names in Yiddish

One of the most encyclopedic Web collections I've seen recently was created, ironically, to put to rest a supposition that I've never heard of. Plant Names in Yiddish is the Web adaptation of Di Geviksan-Velt In Idish, a 2005 publication by Yiddish linguist Dr. Mordkhe Schaechter -- who, according to the site, "confronts the stereotype that 'there aren't any plant names in Yiddish'."

plant names in yiddishI can see where the stereotype would come from -- since, you know, Yiddish was developed primarily in climates where the ground was encrusted with snow for 90% of the time. However, I can honestly say that, in all the conversations I've had about Yiddish {and I've had a bunch, at least, compared to the average American} the issue of plant names has never come up.

Which isn't to say that it isn't interesting. As notes, "The somewhat-uninspiring English title belies the amazing nature of the work." He proceeds to kvell:

As a reference work it’s indispensable. But as a simple joy—as an impossibly rich and dense body to dive into at immediately satisying random—it is even dearer. At a random page turn I can tell you that the Yiddish name for Artillery Clearweed, Pilea microphylla, is הארמאטניק.. Harmatnik, that is, ‘cannoneer’—I have never heard of Artillery Clearweed but apparently its offensive associations are not unique to English. Sweetflag, the genus Acorus, goes by the name שאװער, or shaver....[F]ar from being some wasteland of natural terminology, where the urban, mercantile Yid is happy to lump all ferns with ferns, trees with trees, birds with birds, and so on, stemming from a general lack of engagement with nature, Yiddish natural terminology is a happy and well-churned melange of influences, Polish, Hebrew, German, Russian, French, Ukrainian and original coinages, where the language’s syncretic, cosmopolitan nature joyously shines through.

plant names in yiddish

My own Yiddish, and my own understanding of the book, is not nearly as poetic. I struggled through a few lines in the first chapter before turning ahead to the shorter and more digestible later chapters. But I'm bowled over by the potential for this knowledge to exist. That, say, one day, when I finally settle down and learn Yiddish -- or, if we stay in Brooklyn, when my kid speaks fluent Yiddish -- that, if she ever wants to describe the most perfect seeded dandelion in the world, or a beautiful ghost orchid, she'll have a way to do just that.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mista Cookie Jar Takes It Live

C.J. Pizarro, a.k.a. Mista Cookie Jar, has semi-released his new CD, The Love Bubble, which is the best children's music you'll ever hear. I co-wrote 2 songs and rap on one of them. You can hear the album at Mista Cookie Jar, his Myspace page, and if you email him, you can probably buy one, but he's also taking it live. With the kids. And please believe me, I'm not exaggerating when I say that you haven't lived as an artist until you've heard your words rapped by an exquisitely talented 8-year-old.

mista cookie jar

mista cookie jar

Go here to hear the whole album.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stereo Sinai and me in Chicago!

To recap the show in Chicago with Stereo Sinai, Martin Atkins and Can!!Can, PresenTense posted a bunch of Itta's photographs of the concert, along with a little roundup-let. Seriously: I never expected to perform with a former member of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. Much less, for him to be doing a Powerpoint presentation.

stereo sinai live

matthue roth

Friday, August 21, 2009

Interview: Matisyahu Brings the "Light"

Here's the moment I knew Matisyahu had stopped being a Jewish phenomenon and entered the realm of pop culture. My sister, who was living deep in the Bible Belt, told one of her non-Jewish friends that I'd become Orthodox. "Oh," he said. "Does that mean he looks like that Matisyahu dude?"

matisyahu hasidic reggae hip-hop

Portrait by Schneur Menaker

Matisyahu might not be the official face of Judaism in America, but he's a lead contender. The reggae-singing phenomenon, a baal teshuvah who became Orthodox in his twenties, might have the most recognizable profile in pop music due to his beard alone. After learning to be religiously observant through Chabad, Matisyahu expanded his learning to include the teachings and prayer styles of Breslov, Karlin, and other Hasidic groups in addition to the Chabad rebbes.

Matisyahu's third studio album, Light, comes out August 25 -- almost six months after its expected release, and three and a half years since his last album, the pop-infected, Bill Laswell-produced Youth, which sold over half a million units.

Since then, Matisyahu has gone back to the basics. He has a new songwriting cave (an old warehouse in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood), a new synagogue (a Karlin Hasidic synagogue, where the prayers are shouted at the top of your lungs), and, perhaps most radically, a new sound to his music. His new songs, both on last year's single Shattered and on Light, still have the reggae influence that dominated his earlier albums. Yet new album's tone is darker, more varied, and beat-driven. "One Day," the album's first single, has a dreamy, summertime quality that is equal parts Bob Marley playing acoustic and "Eye of the Tiger"-like '80s jams. "Master of the Field" is an electronics-heavy jam that brings his vocal beatboxing to the forefront.

MJL spoke with Matisyahu and learned out about his new band, the stories behind the Light songs that he isn't telling anyone else, and why Matisyahu just can't stop loving God.

MJL: A while ago, you told me how Israel right now is for Jews how Greenwich Village was to hippies in the '60s -- wild and innovative, the only place where Judaism's really alive and mutable and organic, whereas in the United States, Jews are sort of stagnant. Do you still feel that way?

Matisyahu: Anywhere in America where I happen to be -- Crown Heights, Willamsburg -- in any Jewish community, it seems like there's one type of Jew. There's pressure to fit in and dress a certain way, talk a certain way, and if you don't do that, it's almost like you're not Jewish. And matisyahu lightthen in other places, there are a lot of different types of Jews -- and, in those places, you lose the intensity of belief and of observance and of the lifestyle. And that's only among religious Jews. In America, you can be Jewish and elect not to have anything to do with Judaism.

In Israel, even sitting in the airport, you're among a hundred different kinds of Jews, and it's amazing. It's inspiring. Everyone's doing their own thing, but it's not just their own thing -- they have a whole community of people backing them up.

Then you come back to America, and you really feel that we're a small minority of people. We're trying to hold onto something that doesn't necessarily fit into our hands. In Israel, Judaism is alive. It's a real, tangible, living thing.

Is that where the titles come in? Your last E.P. was called Shattered, and it seemed like the very small prelude to something a lot bigger. And then the new album's going to be called Light.

Yeah, it all kind of figures together. There's a Kabbalistic idea of the first world being shattered, utterly destroyed, and the second world -- the world we're in right now -- being a tikkun, a fixing, of the first one. Are you an artist?

Do you mean --

I mean, like, a visual artist.

I draw a little, but I don't really know what I'm doing.

I know what you mean. That's where I am, too. (Laughs.) So when you look at something without light, it looks dead. It's two-dimensional, without any depth or substance. If there's no shadows and no light twisting off of surfaces, it's like it doesn't exist at all. Just like that, when a person looks at the world, it's like it's dead. Then, with light and a backdrop, everything becomes revealed, and their depth comes out.

That's what Shattered was about. Naming the E.P. "Shattered," it was about stopping running away.

I was running for the past few years, running nonstop. My career, my marriage, my kids -- but mostly my career. This past year I've spent mostly at home, going to minyan, working on my record, jamming in my studio.

The songs on Shattered, and the stuff that's been released from the new album so far, is all way different than anything you've done before -- it's more beat-driven and electronic. Why the change?

The foremost changes were all vocally. Musically, we've used elements of reggae, but it's not traditionally reggae. If you listen to my first single, "King without a Crown," it's not reggae -- the beat isn't a traditional reggae rhythm. It's not really a reggae song.

Your vocals, though, really are very reggae-influenced...

It's true. When I sing that song, a lot of my earlier songs, I'm using a Jamaican accent. When I was first developing my singing, I was only listening to reggae. When you listen to only one kind of music, that style penetrates you. A lot of the big reggae singers, the people who've been around for years, they take new techniques and integrate them into their singing. These days, I'm listening to a lot less reggae. I'm listening to a lot of different things.

Do you feel like you need to keep a certain level of reggae influence in your music? Are you feeling pressure to keep it or to move away from it, one way or the other?

In this record, I allowed myself to drop it. Reggae isn't the prevalent music style I'm listening to these days. Also, I've been taking voice lessons, developing my voice to go in different directions as well. I'll hold onto the reggae in some places -- others, I'll just let it go.

Musically, I allowed for all my interests to come together. I've been writing the music for Light in a different way than we've ever written before. [Guitarist and musical director] Aaron [Dugan] and I -- we wrote all the songs together, all very free-form. He'd play guitar, and I'd beatbox and sing. We'd go into the studio and start jamming for an hour and a half. We'd hit record, and then when we finished, we'd play it back and listen to it.

Then we had a bunch of guests on the album. Ooah from Glitch Mob did a bunch of electronic stuff. We had a producer from Jamaica, Stephen McGregor, and another, Motivate. People are like, "He's lost his reggae thing, he's not reggae anymore -- " It's ironic, [McGregor] is this 17-year-old kid who's producing Sean Paul, Trevor Hall, he's a singer-songwriter in the Marley mold, and another producer who's done Fishbone.

matisyahu with crowdYou write really candidly about God, praying, and your relationship with your religion. Does it feel different to write, or less confidential, when you know a million people will hear it? How do you get to the safety of trusting yourself?

It's entirely different. My band, my writing, everything. We changed the band around after Youth. There's a new bassist and a new keyboardist. Building the new band has been a two-to-three-year process.

And then, lyrically, my teacher, mentor, friend Ephraim Rosenstein -- he takes a Chabad ideology and compares it to Breslov ideology -- he asks what's important in each one -- and then he brings in other philosophies, contemporary philosophers like Nietzsche, and he takes wider themes from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. First we break down the themes into simple ideas. Then we bring in stories to illustrate these ideas.

That's kind of what Rebbe Nachman did. He says that the most important ideas can't be transmitted as abstract ideas, that they have to be transformed into stories.

Definitely. I did a project for the John Lennon Save Darfur project to end child slavery, and I'd been studying a lot of Breslov stories, and I looked for a way to link these together.

I came up with two children -- child soldiers in Africa, they've been forced to fight a war. They escape their army, and then they're lost in a forest, like in [Rebbe Nachman's] Story of the Seven Beggars. One song is called "We Will Walk" -- it's about continuing on, no matter what happens. "Two Child One Drop," from Shattered -- it's pretty clear, it's about killing someone, which Hasidic tradition compares to embarrassing someone. It's like putting a gun up to someone's head and making them do something.

Is it something that you expect people to pick up on and intuit when they listen to your music -- or do you think they're just going to go, wow, that's some intense violent imagery, and move on?

I don't know. A lot of it's not explicit in the songs, Africa or Rebbe Nachman -- maybe when they read this interview with you, they'll get it. But I think the ideas come through.

Rabbi Rosenstein and I came up with thirty categories of ideas, of stories -- and then we pared the concepts down to words. Then we went into my studio in Green Point, just Aaron [Dugan, Matisyahu's longtime guitarist] and I -- Aaron would play and I'd beatbox. We'd jam for an hour without stopping.

Then I'd listen to the sound. It was some really dark stuff we were coming up with. I'd take the music, write down some lyrics, and form the songs that way. We brought in other people -- I flew to Jamaica, where we brought in [legendary drum and bass production team] Sly and Robbie. We had the oud player from The Idan Raichel Project, Yehuda Solomon from Moshav singing Hebrew on top of me. The songs ended up in a totally different place from where it started.

Has all the new stuff you're doing transitioned into your live show?

A lot of what we've been doing is totally new. We've abandoned writing set lists in advance. We're abandoning expectations about what the show should be -- we have moments of in-between songs and improvs that become longer than the songs themselves. There's better dynamics. People drop out, we get quieter than we've ever been. The space and the music almost do the job for us. The lyrics are the smallest part.

Are you nervous about the reception of the album? It feels like a lot is riding on this new record -- it's really experimental, but it's also really personal.

In the end, when someone listens to the record, they won't hear that story I told you. I guess the worst reaction could be, "Aw man, this is a love story, Matisyahu isn't writing Jewish songs anymore."

Or everyone might love it, and decide you're not writing just-Jewish songs, but universal songs -- songs that hit everyone in the same way. There was one song about a boy dying in a desert, telling a girl to carry on without him. I was playing some of the songs for my wife's family, and my sister-in-law was like, "What girl is this about? It isn't about my sister." In a way, that's the best compliment I could get.

Steps to Tishrei

Today is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, which is basically a whole month spent preparing for one day. We blow the shofar and start reciting selichot (well, unless you're Ashkenazic or something). At dawn and at nightfall, we recite Psalm 27, which is both weirdly hopeful ("The L*rd is my light and my salvation") and weirdly catastrophic ("Do not hide Your face ... do not thrust [me] aside ... do not forsake me, do not abandon me," which was actually quoted in a They Might Be Giants song. Well, a really gloomy TMBG song).

In this morning's Simchat Shlomo email, Sholom Brodt talks about how Yom Kippur is all about fixing our external behavior, the things we do to other people -- "both knowingly and unknowingly," as we say about a zillion times over in the High Holiday liturgy. Elul, on the other hand, is about fixing our unconscious, and making ourselves good on the inside, in our thoughts. It's like taking the potential goodness or badness of everything you can do, and making sure it's aimed in the right direction -- so that, once Rosh Hashanah rolls around, we're ready to make it actual.

One more thing: The month of Elul is symbolized by the letter yud and the left hand -- which sounds cool, although I've never really understood where all these things come from. (According to Rav Sholom, it's from the Sefer Yetzirah ... although that still doesn't explain it.) He writes: "The letter yud is the smallest letter and it is also a part of every letter -- as soon as you put the quill to the parchment, you have already written a yud. So the yud represents the innermost point--your innermost point of being a "yid'."

That part, I do get. Just by existing, we're continuing to create.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When Books Go Bad

First the ladybugs come alive. Then the trees grow through the roof, and then the Goodnight Moon bunnies start eating you. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thanks to Scholastic for the book.

Eprhyme's "Punklezmerap" Video Deciphered

Eprhyme's new music video is getting all sorts of play -- at least, among the world of Jewish YouTube videos. But what's it all about? We asked Eprhyme as well as Shemspeed founder Diwon, the Yemenite DJ, to tell us.

The "Punklezmerap" video, shot by hip-hop and R&B director Lenny Bass (Fantasia, De La Soul), incorporates a crazy cast of characters from the sacred to the profane, to the profanely sacred. There are several fun cameos, both of other awesome artists in the Jewish world and of people who you wouldn't expect to find there, and some cool allusions to Jewish tradition and ritual.

First, watch the video. Then, read below for our exegetical commentary.

1 A.M. Eprhyme says: "The video was filmed in the basement of Levi Okunov's boutique, The 1929, in SoHo." Okunov is a fashion designer with Hasidic roots who's made a name of mixing Hasidic fashion sensibilities with radical couture.

eprhymeEprhyme: The video opens with Shir Yaakov gettin' his freak on in a boa....Shir is an amazing singer/songwriter, and the other half of my newest project, Darshan."

eprhymeElke Reva Sudin, a NY-based Orthodox artist and comic book creator, sketches away. (And, yep, her hair's covered.) "No one expected the energy to be quite so insane," says Diwon. "I think Lenny did a great job of capturing the energy that was there and the energy in the song and getting that across on film."

eprhymeY-Love, another Orthodox rapper and Eprhyme's labelmate, can be seen goofing off throughout the video. Here, he's wrapping up a wine glass in a cloth napkin, a common practice at Jewish weddings. "Twelve cheap wine glasses were smashed during the making of this video," Eprhyme notes. Also in the background is DeScribe, a.k.a. Shneur HaSofer, who recorded the Change E.P. with Y-Love. "Shneur just dropped by to see how the next video was coming out," says Diwon. "He had no idea what to expect."

eprhymeEprhyme: "Arrington de Dionysion (Old Time Relijun, [a band on legendary Olympia indie-rock label] K Records) plays bass clarinet. He brought along two of his free jazz buddies for the shoot." K Records, Eprhyme's former label, also released Beck's first album, as well as the Moldy Peaches, from the film "Juno."

diwonOn the turntables throughout the video is Diwon, the Yemenite DJ, who also owns Shemspeed Records. What record is he holding? "Eprhyme's single," he says. "It's the original vinyl of the song from K Records, on their international pop underground series."

eprhyme on stiltsEprhyme: "We basically wanted to recreate an Olympia basement party. We were representing underground music...literally underground. This is what hip hop looks and feels like outside the club. It's a freakshow of religious fun addicts! [Someone named] Segulah was sportin' an Ecudorian spirit mask. My homeboy Moshe the Peddler, who was a wine distributor at the time, had a kosher wine tasting during the shoot. Look out for Emily Peck on stilts!"

smashed glassThe video concludes with the boys sitting around on the floor, getting ready to smash a glass. MJL's guide to Jewish weddings says: "The wedding ceremony ends with the breaking of the glass, which symbolizes that even in times of great joy, we remember that there is still pain in the world (which Jewish tradition relates to the destruction of the Jewish Temple). In most weddings, after the glass is broken it is time to jump up and yell, 'Mazal Tov!'"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Follow Your Twitter Bliss

I was a judge for Ben Yehuda Press's Twitter Love Contest. The entries have now been announced, and I would be embarrassed to have been a part of something so totally and unabashedly sweet, if the entries hadn't been so genuine -- and if we weren't running our own totally un-sweet song of songsBad Poetry Contest, with the first two runners up announced yesterday, and the first-place winner being announced later today. And, after all, it is Bad Poetry Day.

1. @velveteenrabbi: My love plans built-in bookshelves, buys paint for the nursery, shapes where our child will dwell. We find home in each other. #15av

2. @vegdem: to my true love, the one who completes me: Thank you for pursuing me relentlessly. Relentlessly! #15av

3. @KatiBlack: chickpea & wilted spinach salad for lunch. thx @n_q_mainstream for being my #vegan meal pimp. u know how to keep ur girl happy #15av

The winners all receive copies of Shefa Gold's new book, In the Fever of Love: An Illumination of the Song of Songs. You can read the first chapter on the nifty Google Reader at the bottom of Ben-Yehuda Press's original announcement of winners.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yusuf Islam & Me

From my cousin Rom: Separated at birth?

young cat stevens

matthue roth, young cat stevens


Well, neither of us knows how to use a razor, and we both spend a whole lot of time talking to God. And getting stopped in airline security lines.

And I don't know this for sure, but I would guess that we both sing Cat Stevens songs in the shower.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

G-dcast: Babies and Hippies

Okay, I was uneasy about this one. Because you guys know me as the big tough punk of G-dcast, and this is SO SWEET AND HIPPY. But it's pretty damn praiseworthy, and Chanan makes it so beautiful that it's kind of inevitable how good this is. If I do say so myself. And it's possibly one of the most abstract G-dcasts we've done, for a just-as-abstract parsha, which led to some interesting discussions about animation, and about the Torah. And now that you're watching it, hopefully, it will lead to some more.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Yiddish Alphabet, as sung by Spider-Man

I have no idea what's going on here. But a secular Israeli in a Spider-Man outfit and a shtreimel -- who seems to be accompanied by a giant llama and the Village People -- singing the Yiddish alphabet...well, you can't not watch it.

As far as I can tell, Gimel stands for a fat goy. Vov is a vildechaya, which is one of my favorite books, and an English expression ("Wild Thing") that comes from the Yiddish slang for wild children. Zayin is a shotgun. One letter stands for getting punched in the face, but I can't tell which. And I'm pretty sure lox, bagels and beer made cameos.

One could try to deeply analyze this video for hidden messages and for subliminal attitudes of secular Israelis toward religious Israelis (or "dosim," which is what Dalet stood for.) But really, my instinct (as someone who isn't Israeli, but has spent a bunch of time there) is to chalk it up to a combination of making fun of the Orthodox, making fun of themselves, and a healthy amount of totally random imagery of hedonism and violence. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

G-dcast: Spooky Moses

It's hard to top a beatbox harmonica Shema, but the first 3 seconds of Ekev really do it. Just the post-bris expression is what my 10-year-old cousin likes to anthropomorphize as an "OMG moment."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tweet One Your Love

Okay, I'm not Stevie Wonder, and chances are you aren't, either -- but let's not forget the grand Jewish tradition of the Song of Songs. If writing a bad Jewish poem is too hard for you -- or if you're only into good Jewish poetry, or something strange like that -- then Tu B'Av is for you. It's a day of love, one week to the day after we mourned the destruction of the Temple, when young single Jews dress up and wear white. In ancient times, they all met up in the field on the outskirts of the city. Today, we, uh, go to singles bars.

twitterOr just show your love in a tweet. Ben Yehuda Press is sponsoring a Tu B'Av Twitter contest, and it couldn't be easier.

First, get a Twitter account. Then tweet a special message to a special someone. Remember to include the tag #15av in your message. We'll gather up the messages and vote on the best ones.

Three winners will receive a copy of In the Fever of Love: An Illumination of the Song of Songs by Shefa Gold, a book that's guaranteed to get you in the Tu B'Av mood.

So start the tweets, and keep 'em coming! The contest starts this Tuesday at sundown and goes till Wednesday at dusk, just like the holiday -- so load the love cannons up, and start firing.

How to Hate the Gays

Last night I was working at our local co-op market. The crowd there is pretty diverse -- Hasidic Jews, Caribbean immigrants, Park Slope people with $50 t-shirts (ironic, baby, ironic!)...and anyone else in search of good, cheap food. Once a month, I wait in front of the store in a loud orange vest and carry people's groceries. Sometimes you get some good conversations. Other times, you can't believe the people you're talking to.

food co-opIt was almost the end of my shift. An woman in her late 60s showed up (danger, my mind flashed, slow walker) asking for an escort to the subway station (another danger sign: it's 15 minutes away). I smiled and said sure. She was an old black woman with one of those hairdos that is frozen into place and pastel pink church clothes. It turned out that she lived a block or two away from me.

We made conversation for a few minutes, and I could tell she was gunning up to ask me something. (When you've got a beard and sidelocks and a t-shirt, it's only a matter of time until people ask, in one phrasing or another, what's up with you.) She prefaced it: "Now, don't feel you have to answer this..."

Oh, boy. This was going to be a good one.

She told me how she was a God-fearing, church-going woman, and she believed in every word of the Bible ("Old and New," she said). And she didn't think homosexuality was right. But what, she asked me, do I think about that man in the homosexual club?

"The gay club murders, you mean?" I said. "In Tel Aviv?"

She nodded. "I mean, I know those people have it comin'," she said. "But that thing that happened, it just seems...wrong."

This next part, I don't understand at all. I could have told her how some of the holiest people I know are gay; how the most devout Christian I've ever met was a gay man who believes that Jesus made him gay as one more way of accentuating how we'll never truly understand the mysteries of Creation, and how one of the most Godly books that's been written this generation, Wrestling with God and Men, is about the incomparable onus of being queer and religious, and was written by Rabbi Steve Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi and a gay man. Or I could just tell her how I helped start the straight-gay alliance in my high school and how a group of tranny boys showed me that being a man was okay (or just showed her the book I wrote about it).

But I didn't.

Instead, I said, "Of course it's wrong -- it's just as wrong as opening fire on people because they're spending money on the Sabbath or wearing the wrong color of clothes." I told her I believed that God made everyone the way they are for a reason, and it's not up to any of us to try and decide what that reason is -- it's between them and God."

She went "Mm-hmm" -- that kind of conversational combination of amen and keep on talking that I learned about when I was doing fieldwork in college at black Baptist churches and haven't heard anywhere else. "It's like Sodom and Gomorrah," she said. "People there were doin' all kind of Lord knows what, and God took care of them. And I know that day's coming, but I ain't gonna be the one to tell 'em that. He told Abraham and his nephew to leave that city, and only after they left, God swept down the destruction."

I said, "Who knows what God's really thinking? God's got an agenda. He didn't put us down here to be the Angel of Death; He's got angels for that. All He told us was to love our neighbors."

He? Since when had I referred to God as He? And why was I agreeing with her?

At this point, my brain split up into a few parts. Part of me was freaked that she was asking me as a typical Orthodox Jew, and I was supposed to answer like some sort of spokesman or something. And then part of me saw it as a teaching opportunity, like I was undercover as a gay-people-supporter and I could subvert all her bigoted views and show her the One True Path.

And then there was a part of me that wasn't being subversive at all, but was instead trying to reconcile my own personal beliefs about homosexuality -- as a person -- with the beliefs of everyone around me. And, perhaps, with the beliefs that I am supposed to hold.

And I realized, I'm kind of answering her truthfully. How do I know what God believes about gay people? How does anyone? For all I know, maybe God really did give the queer gene to certain people in order to test their willpower. That sure as hell doesn't sound like the God I believe in -- but, then again, I really firmly believe that God is both more powerful and more clever than anything that we give God credit for.

So, yeah -- I didn't say any of that to her. And she didn't say much more to me -- just took her bags from my hands, nodded like she agreed with me, and started to descend to the subway.

"I think you're right," she said. She'd stopped on the third step down, turned around, and cocked her head, that universal gesture of going into Deep Thought mode. "The Bible doesn't say 'Abraham destroyed the city of Sodom,' it says that God did. I'm going to think about that."

With that, she disappeared into the belly of the subway system, leaving me stunned and thinking. Of all the lessons I could have gotten from her, this was what I least expected: using texual analysis to combat hate -- or, at least, to learn how to hate more lovingly.

She was absolutely right. Man, if she walked into the club in Tel Aviv, I bet she would've given those people a hug. And possibly taught them a thing or two about how to wear floral pastels.

And more illuminatingly, I think she hit upon the basic flaw of fundamentalists -- or, at least, fundamentalists like the Tel Aviv gay club murderer: They really never read what the Bible actually says.

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