Brandeis Left Personal

The other Sahars

(This is a sequel, in part, to Some thoughts about today. It’s also the transcription of a facebook post I made that seems to have struck a chord ).

Let’s start with a story about the other Sahar.

Only one person texted me on Saturday day. Another that evening. Maybe 2-4 did on Sunday. More later. As people texted me, they would often ask about my family. I’d say, in mordant humor(?) that “I have a large family, last time I checked”. Or “They’re alive so far”. That’s not true any more.

Last night, my mom called and told me I lost a relative. Not someone too close. Someone that I didn’t know existed. My grandfather’s sister’s granddaughter. She was 20. Her name was also Sahar.

I have a large family, or at least I did last time I checked. There are whatsapp groups. My cousin spent some time posting about a friend they lost track of, a friend who was at the rave, looking for news, asking us to ask around. They stopped looking. Her name was also Sahar.

How am I doing? How am I doing? How am I holding up? How is my family?

The questions pile on and on. I play little games with myself and answer each question differently. Sometimes I emphasize my sorrow. Other times my rage. Other times I joke around. I never have time to ask the question to myself for real.

In one feed, I see notices of death after death. Reshares of funerals, of photos of happy-looking people with heart-breaking captions bemoaning their demise. In another feed, I see people I respect applauding argle-bargle that amounts to self-flagellation and victim-blaming from jews who should know better.

I see so, so much, bad reasoning by analogy. By people who should know better!

So many terrible ideas by bloodthirsty americans.
So many terrible ideas by americans so eager to talk about their 9/11 that they completely miss the details about ours. (For example — Israelis are not rallying around the flag, or at least the prime minister. The government is discredited.) Stop making us the puppets in your trauma or morality play.

Here are more stories.

I’m in the Boston suburbs right now, ready to join a flood of Brandeis alumni for the college’s 75 year anniversary party. Or will it be a flood? People are worried sick. Thousands of (not just, but many, mostly?) jews packed into one of the crown jewels of jewish institutions, on Hamas’ day of rage? Will we be targets? Maybe people won’t show up. Maybe the staff won’t show up. Maybe a gunman will show up.

My people are SCARED right now. Including (especially?) in New York, at Brandeis, in the US.

I was beside myself on Simchat Torah. I couldn’t think, couldn’t hold a conversation. I was drained. But I dragged my body outdoors because on Simchat Torah, the jews celebrate the torah. Even when no one feels like celebrating.

I’ll tell the full story later. I have told it to a few people. It was quite a night. But I’ll tell you this now — one of the most levelheaded people I know, in going over the story, said: “maybe you shouldn’t have gone outdoors for that religious celebration. Maybe you should not have worn your kippa. Maybe they should have done it indoors. Maybe it wasn’t safe”

I see a story about people in Australia chanting “gas the jews” in a big rally. I see photos of smaller, similar chants in the UK.

I see video of the organizer of a rally in NYC cheering on killing jewish “hipsters” and the people applaud. I see tweets angrily defending the rally.

A cousin of mine sleeps with a knife under his pillow. He knows it is useless. It is now his security blanket.

I started wearing a kippa now. I wear it to show myself I’m not afraid, or to master my fear. People at the cafe ask me “how are you today?”. I say “terrible, of course”. They’re surprised and don’t understand.

A cousin of mine spent the day barricading his dad’s apartment.

My cousin’s husbands are called up to the reserves.

I read more headlines. “Sydney government apologizes for pro-Palestine protest that had ‘gas the Jews’ chants”

I see heartwarming stories of israeli arabs opening their homes to refugees from the kibbutzim. I see them giving blood. I have so much hope that they can be more fully accepted by the rest of the nation, and vice versa. If that happens, then the country of Israel can be saved.

I’m on a listserv for people who in lefty nonprofits. On Sunday and Monday, the overwhelming majority of posts are about “palestine solidarity”. No one posts about jewish solidarity.

I find myself sharing stories of universalism (Sesame Street saying no child should live in fear, stories of arab-jewish or muslim-jewish reconciliation), because I like them, and cannot disagree with them. But I also wish I could just simply say “I stand with Israel”. “Biden’s speech was great”. And be particular and stand with my people rather than anodyne. But at the same time, I’m scared to do so. Maybe scared to be seen as bloodthirsty? Scared to lose friends? Scared to offend?

I want to care for all people, but I also want to care for my people. I can point to a lot of shit I don’t like. And I can point to some things I do like. Bu many things I do like, I don’t point to at all. Because I’m scared, and confused, and worried about being wrong. And that makes me sad.

It’s easy to write something eloquent and heartfelt and ultimately flattering to the reader and writer. It’s so damn easy, folks. Take the reader on an emotional journey. Share your frustration and pain and vulnerability. Then guide them towards a conclusion that they like: pablum. They get the thrill of authenticity but the self-satisfaction of superior morality and a sense of having complex ethics.

It’s hard to write something heartfelt, true, and challenging. Especially for me.

In the fall of 2016 I argued a bit with someone I liked respected online. I told them I wasn’t a fan of Hillary Clinton for reasons going back to the late 80s. I realized that they unfriended me. I sent them a message thinking they were joking. I realized I was wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. It’s so hard for me to disagree with friends now.

In the summer of 2009, I was doing two things: my internship, and watching the “green wave”, abortive uprising in Iran. I was so caught up in it. I saw people tweeting. I was so excited. I thought this was it. And, after a week or two, I realized: if my parent’s hadn’t fled Iran, if they had stayed (and weren’t killed during the revolution) — then I’d be out in the streets in that uprising. I’d say, do, and post recklessly true things that would feel great in the moment. And then I’d be caught by the regime and tortured in Evin prison. I felt it with crystal clarity. I’ve never felt as Iranian before or since. I often think about that other Sahar, the one in the universe where my family couldn’t get away.

It’s hard to for me say recklessly true things online. Things I might want to take back later. Things that aren’t shaped by anxious balancing of all the different audiences they might have. Real or imagined or real-but-in-my-head.

My people are suffering. My people are americans, but my people are also Israel. I will always be on that team.

I might (often! Feels like always!) be critical of the strategy, or even goals that the dominant faction of team israel is going for. I might think they’re disastrous. I might think they’re short sighted. I might think that the current people speaking for our team are cretins, moral midgets, or worryingly proto-fascist. I might think they’re traitors to the cause. But I believe in the cause. I believe in the cause so much that I think we have an obligation to succeed, and do it well.

The cause is both jewish flourishing, and Israeli success. For all its citizens.

What does it all mean? How do I land this plane? How do I end this unexpected essay? What, in the end, has changed for me?

Maybe it’s this: less anguish, more anger. Less crouching, more stating. Less worry that I might be wrong, more confident saying what I suspect to be true. I’d rather say a thing and change my mind later, than never say something at all. I’d rather argue with an acquaintance and maybe lose them, than never have them know me in the first place.

(And, just as I finish writing this, I see that the corrupt incompetent prime minister is giving 1.1 people 24 hours to flee their homes. In case I haven’t made it clear — he doesn’t represent me, he belongs in jail, and nothing I wrote above should be read as supporting anything he, in particular, does or orders.

And yet: why did I feel like I had to write that? Is that basic moral decency? Or that an internalized self-defensive crouch? Do I actually oppose this specific thing? Or is it easy to just oppose anything the government does to score moral points, while being able to sigh in relief if it works?

I know I self-doubt too much. Am I self-doubting so much that I’m self-flagellating for possible internal motivations that I don’t actually have? Am I just a weathervane floating with the wind? Does this entire parenthetical undermine the entire essay? What do I believe? Who am I?)


Props to the Justice

In response to the cafeteria workers vs Aramark battle, they’re with the workers, and prod the administration and other students to take that side as well.

I love living in a place where being pro-union is simply common-sense.

More @ Innermost Parts.


Brandeis in Cairo

I’m thinking about Egypt. You gotta give this to them – they know how to pull off revolutions.

Egyptian students are demanding – and receiving – huge concessions from their administrations. Stuff that we always wished we had here at Brandeis.

At this point, you might say “ok, but they’re, like, you know. Egyptian. Foreign. Far off. Different context. Their administrations are clearly corrupt and they are coming from a lower baseline.”

Well, let’s take a look at what’s really going on.

In Egypt there are a few different education-related revolts happening. First off, the teachers are united in demanding a sane education system. They’re dealing with 60+ student classrooms, meager pay, and “In many cases to make ends meet, teachers essentially force undereducated students to pay for private lessons to pass their grade, creating a shadow education system that places a financial burden on parents.”. About 70% of Egyptian teachers went on strike to demand a reform of the education system. Go teachers unions!

Next up, we have the case of most Egyptian Universities. The administrative bureaucracy, deans, Presidents, etc, were all appointed by the Mubarak government. Amazingly, Professors are the ones taking the lead and protesting to basically replace them with democratically-elected administration. Students are backing them. They have been partially successful so far. Imagine this – a University where the faculty (and students) get to pick the Administration that serves them best.

Those two cases, however, have no real analogue to here and now. We don’t have corrupt propagandistic heads of public universities (there will always be exceptions) and our primary education system is bad, but nowhere near as broken as Egypt’s.

I want to talk about the American University of Cairo.

Located on the western desert fringes of Cairo in a newly developed area called the Fifth Settlement, AUC’s gleaming, multimillion-dollar campus is a world away from its historical home in the heart of Tahrir Square, and it boasts a level of corporate sponsorship that would tickle the imagination of most neoliberal economists, complete with a Pepsi gate, CIB fountain, and Mobinil tower. AUC students pay $17,000 a year in tuition — more than eight times the annual income of the average Egyptian.

Their President, Lisa Anderson, is a former dean of faculty at Columbia University. She’s not some far-off foreigner with strange ways. She would fit right in at Brandeis. Hell, she’s the co-chair of Human Rights Watch/Middle East. They speak English at AUC. It really is an American-style University.

You know what they were demanding?

The students’ demands include the reversal of a 9 percent tuition hike, permanent student representation on the university’s budget committee, and transparency in school finances. But among their chief concerns was an end to what they viewed as the university’s exploitive practices regarding its workers, including security guards, janitors, and groundskeepers.

Less tuition. Representation on the budget committee. Better treatment of labor.

In my time at Brandeis we haven’t achieved any of these goals. Tuition rises a lockstep 1% above inflation every year. Our endowment stays shadowed in mystery. Aramark continues to run roughshod over workers.

Well, these students who are much like us faced their President who is much like every other American University President. And they demanded the sort of things we would like to see here. And they won.

the university administration announced it had reached a compromise on many of the protesters’ demands, including greater budget transparency, the creation of an ad hoc committee with student, alumni, and faculty representatives taking part in tuition and budget decisions, a guaranteed five-day work week for custodial and landscape staff, greater worker protections, and a review of employee salary levels. Anderson also stressed that no university employees would be punished for taking part in the strike.

Look, of course there are differences. Waltham is not Cairo. Fred Lawrence is by all accounts pretty great. Our tuition hikes aren’t as high (in percentage, but maybe not in absolute terms). Brandeis workers are unionized (thanks in part to amazing Brandeis Labor Coalition work in the early 2000’s).

Still. These kids are like us students here in the states. (Or we used to be. I don’t know if I count as a student any more). Their problems are like our problems. They succeeded in pulling off a solution. Let’s cheer them on, and learn from them.

There’s a good Chronicle of Higher Education article on the AUC strike.

Also, did you know that there’s been a National Student Union in Egypt since August? They pulled off a national student union – can we pull off even a statewide one?