Archive for May, 2010

Watch What You Say

May 26, 2010

Apple's Steve Jobs as he launched the iPad

This morning I read a front-page business-related story in The San Jose Mercury News, my local Silicon Valley paper, that annoyed me. It wasn’t the article’s topic, the perception that Apple is now too controlling and stifling of tech free market creativity and innovation, that bothered me. In fact, I think that’s a subject that needs examination and discussion. What irked me was the quote used by the reporter at the end:

“Still, says Sadun [an app developer], even disgruntled developers who flee Apple often come back ‘because they’re addicted to the audience and the technology Apple provides them.”

That would have been fine, but then the piece closes with:

“‘I joke that Apple’s my abusive boyfriend,’ she says. ‘He looks so good; I love him; but he treats me so bad. It’s that kind of relationship – you want to leave, but you keep coming back for more.'”

The metaphor is clear. But the joke isn’t funny. Believe me, I completely understand the reporter’s (and his editor’s) desire to end with something punchy and memorable, but how about a nod to good taste – not to mention social responsibility. As a businesswoman, it  may be in Sadun’s best interests to come back to the “abusive” Apple after it has knocked her down a few times. But the same is not true for a woman who has been kicked around by her boyfriend.

One might argue that I am being too sensitive and taking too much offense at illustrative language that was simply meant to make a point about how a tech giant is treating those trying who work with it. Perhaps that closing quote did not strike a discordant chord for anyone else. However, a recent experience has made me more attuned to the use – and misuse – of such figurative speech.

At the workshop presented by The OpEd Project (of which I wrote in my Owning My Expertise post) that I recently attended,  I met Naomi Tucker who directs Shalom Bayit, Northern California’s first and only Jewish agency dedicated solely to ending domestic violence in the Jewish community. As we went around the circle introducing ourselves, and as we worked together for the entire day, I got a sense of how dedicated Tucker is to her work and cause, and an understanding of how she and her organization have acted as leaders in fighting domestic violence not only in the local Jewish community, but also in the larger Jewish community and even on the national scene.

Shalom Bayit is Hebrew for “peace in the home.” The organization’s website states, “We hope that our name will spread a new message — not of keeping the family together at all costs, but of true peace in every woman’s life.” It further emphasizes that Shalom Bayit “maintains that it is a woman’s right to live free from emotional, physical, and sexual abuse: from economic control; from social isolation; and from ongoing threats of intimidation.”

Many, many women read The Merc, including ones in abusive relationships, I am sure. So I would just ask that its writers and editors think a bit more before they publish – that is, if they are interested in getting the right message across.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Owning My Expertise

May 25, 2010

Katie Orenstein, Founder and Director of The OpEd Project

You’d think that at the age of 43, I’d know what I’m good at. But there I was recently participating in a workshop run by Katie Orenstein of The OpEd Project, completely freaked out at the notion of having to identify what I am an expert in. My mind was a blank. I knew I could handle the first part of the assignment Orenstein was giving us, but the second and third parts were the killers. She gave us our instructions and a few minutes to gather our thoughts.

The assignment? To introduce ourselves to the rest of the group by simply saying, “My name is —. I am an expert in/at —, because —.”

Sounds easy, right? It’s not. I kept thinking and thinking (and panicking and panicking), but I couldn’t get beyond, “My name is Renee Ghert-Zand.”

Luckily for me, Orenstein decided to have us go around the room clockwise, and I was sitting at 10 o’clock. By the time it was my turn, I found out that I was not the only one who found this undertaking extremely challenging. What I assumed would take us a few minutes to get through ended up taking over two hours. (Orenstein, a tough teacher, was not letting any of us off the hook.)

Therein lies the raison d’etre for the organization Orenstein founded and directs. A few years ago, Orenstein became troubled by the fact [that women’s voices were greatly outnumbered by men’s in the public sphere, and she set out to do something about it. She discovered that the problem wasn’t that editors were refusing to publish op-ed pieces by women, but rather that women were actually submitting such articles at a far lower rate than men.

And why were women not writing and submitting thought pieces? Because they didn’t think they were expert enough to voice their opinions. Accordingly, the first thing Orenstein and her team teach the participants in their workshops is that being an expert is not necessarily a matter of having academic degrees or obtaining a high-level professional position. The OpEd Project defines being an expert as having something of value to share with others.

The organization’s vision is for a truly merit-based public debate, so it does not advocate for quota systems. It is crucial that the country’s leadership and public have access to more information and ideas, so it is up to women themselves to stand up and be heard . Or, more accurately in this case, to put fingers to keyboard, compose, find the email address of the op-ed page editor of a major media outlet, and hit “send.”

After listening to the others go before me and get feedback from Orenstein, I pulled myself together and introduced myself as an expert in Jewish issues, especially Jewish women’s issues and Israel education issues. For more details about my expertise, you’ll just have to wait to read the op-ed piece I have written and am submitting for publication.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

This post first appeared as “How Women Are Learning To Speak Up – In Print” on The Sisterhood Blog of The Forward. Click here to read it.

Keep Reading

May 25, 2010

This is the pre-1948 travel poster used to illustrate Ingall's article in Tablet, titled "Never Never Land: I can't talk to my kids about Israel"

Sometimes I have to wonder whether people actually bother to read an article through to the end before launching into a tirade against its author. I really feel for Tablet Magazine’s parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall, who got feedback like, “Thank you for helping me understand why most of my family burned in ovens while American Jews like yourself stoodby doing nothing,” in response to a piece she wrote on her ambivalence about talking to her two young daughters about modern Israel. Those who attacked her for being an ignorant, self-hating Jew and knee-jerk liberal may have gotten their jollies projecting their hate and frustrations on to her, but they clearly missed her point by a mile (at least).

While I don’t completely agree with Ingall’s stance on Israel and how one , as an American Jew and a Jewish parent, should relate to it, I can sympathize with her reticence in talking to one’s children about something that is fraught with moral complexity. Anyone who says that talking about Israel is not a morally complicated undertaking is not in touch with reality, in my opinion. But then again, an awful lot in life is morally complex, and we as parents should not disengage from or ignore any of it. If we don’t engage and expose our children to the grey hues that span between the poles of black and white, then how on earth will they ever know how to do it for themselves when they are older – or how to model this delicate juggling act for their own children further down the line?

As I have stated, I don’t exactly see eye to eye with Ingall. Statements of hers like the following get my dander up (my responses in parentheses):

  • “…the word ‘Zionist’ makes me skittish.” (“Zionist” is not a dirty word. But if you don’t feel comfortable with it, substitute something like “supporter of Israel” for it. Don’t get bogged down in semantics, especially when they main focus is on getting your kids to connect to Israel.)
  • ” I feel no stirring in my heart when I see the Israeli flag. I would no sooner attend an Israel Day parade than a Justin Bieber concert.” (As a Jew – even of a centrist/moderate/leaning to liberal stripe, I find this a bit disturbing. Not really sure how to respond to this, other than to say that Justin Bieber is likely to be a flash-in-the pan in our kids’ lives – not to mention in the larger scheme of things – but Israel won’t.)
  • “I found myself trying to convince her [Ingall’s eight-year-old daughter] that Israel did have that right [a legitimate historical claim to the Land of Israel]. But that’s not what I believe. But I’m not sure what I believe. I want my children to love Israel, but I don’t want them to identify with bullies.” (Israel has a legitimate historical claim to the Land of Israel – at least some of it – and a legitimate right to exist in a state of peace and security. Period.)
  • “Until now, I’ve taught my children about Jewish identity through ancient history, through food, through songs and prayers, through the story of American immigration. I’ve left any Israel talk to their teachers.” (This can be a big mistake. Parents should not assume that teachers know what they are doing Israel education-wise. Research has shown that Israel education is weak and undefined in many non-Orthodox schools and other educational settings – hence the recent focus of educators and funders on developing good Israel education programs and initiatives.)
  • “So, exactly how should liberal parents who want to foster Jewish identity, but who see Zionism as the conversational equivalent of an Alar-coated apple, teach their children about Israel?” (Maybe I don’t get the metaphor here -but is Ingall saying that Israel is supposed to be good for you, but that it is actually poisonous?!?!)

Marjorie Ingall and her daughters

It is only toward the end of her piece that Ingall brings in the expertise of Alex Sinclair, an Israel education expert, who encourages teachers and parents to expose children to a plurality of voices on Israel and to let them try on different stances to see how they fit. She quotes him as saying, “Educational thinkers since Socrates have known that one of the soundest ways in which to get people to feel committed to and invested in a given issue is to ask them to take a stand on it: to debate. In good schools, from the earliest grades, children are asked to collate evidence, analyze data and evaluate positions. Indeed, ‘evaluation’ is the highest order of thinking,…Yet, in Israel education, we seem to want to prevent Jewish children (to say nothing of adults) from aspiring to that level.”

Indeed, why is that Jews – who by nature like to disagree with one another – think that it isn’t okay to argue about Israel? Israelis argue among themselves – LOUDLY –  all the time about their government’s policies and where their country is going. They do it from the position of already having some skin in the game, of being engaged with something that matters deeply to them. That’s what American Jews can learn from Israelis, and what American Jewish parents can model for and transmit to their children.

Ingall begins to wonder, “Maybe instead we should encourage kids to be able to engaged in informed debate and be able to appreciate Israel’s history while also feeling empowered to urge its government—and ours—to take positions we think are right.”

She concludes: “When you’re an American Jewish parent, ambivalence and sorrow about the state of Israel aren’t necessarily bad. Disengagement is. What I need to fight in myself is the tendency to tune out when I’m confused and upset. When I tune out, I can’t learn, and I can’t teach my own kids. Disagreement with Israel doesn’t mean not loving Israel, just as being upset with your own children doesn’t mean you don’t love them. But I need to engage with what frightens me, and my failure to do so is why it’s taken eight years to write this column.”

I’m sorry Ingall did not express these sentiments earlier in her column. It could have saved her some grief. The upside is that it has brought her and Tablet more attention and furthers an important discussion (ergo this blog post). But I do still wonder about people who can’t stick with an article until its conclusion. That doesn’t bode well for civil discourse, which is something sorely needed when it comes to the topic of Israel.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Update: Ingall has written a follow-up column addressing much of the commentary that followed her initial article. Click here to her read her excellent reflection and response a week later.