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December 18, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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PAGE 20A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 18, 2009 By Rabbi Rachel Esserman The (Binghamton, N.Y.) Reporter While some people love spending time with relatives, others dread family gatherings. After reading Jonathan Trop- per's funny and moving "This Is Where I LeaveYou" (Dutton), it's not hard to understand why Tropper's narrator, Judd Foxman, belongs to the latter category. The novel's great opening line sets the tone, showing just how poorly these fam- ily members act toward each other: '"Dad's dead,' Wen@ [Judd's sister] says offhandedly, like it's happened before, like it happens every day." Of course, Judd knows better than to expect real emotion from his siblings, noting tflat "there is no occasion calling for sincerity that the Foxman family won't quickly dimin- ish or pervert through our own genetically engineered brand of irony and evasion." When Judd, his two brothers and his sister learn that their religiously unobservant father made a deathbed request that they observe shiva, the seven days of mourning that occur when a close relative dies, the siblings reluctantly agree to gather together under their mother's roof. His father's request takes Judd by surprise. The only Jewish observance his parents continued after the four chil- dren left home was gathering family members for Rosh Hashanah dinner and services at their childhood synagogue, which Judd describes as "inter- minable....Cantor Rothman's slow, operatic tenor makes you want to prostrate yourself on the spot and accept Jesus Christ as your savior." As for the family getting along, each year "at least one person would theatrically storm out of the house in a huff." While time spent with his family is never pleasant, Judd has even more reason not to expose himself to their brand of hurtful commentary: He recently separated from his wife, Jenn, after learning she'd had a long-term affair with his now-formerboss, an obnoxious radio shock-jock. With no job and a miserable living situa- tion, he feels lost and hopeless, particularly since although he now hates Jenn for her actions, he's still in love with her. While other mothers might offer sympathy, Judd's mother instead lectures him and talks about his personal problems in public, which allows his sib- lings to add their own, usually mean, comments about his life failures. In fact, Juddblames his psychiatrist mother for many of the family's failings: "Twenty- five years ago she wrote a book called 'Cradle and All: A Mother's Guide to Enlightened Parenting.' The book was a na- tional phenomenon and turned my mother into something of a celebrity expert on child rear- ing. Predictably, my siblings and I were screwed up beyond repair." Being with his siblings and mother is hard enough, but trying to mourn his father is even more difficult. Although he revisits some pleasant childhood memories of his father, Judd notes that their relationship changed for the worse when he and his siblings became teenagers: "[My father] didn't understand our infatua- tion with television and video games, seemed bewildered by our able-bodied laziness, by our messy rooms and unmade beds, our longer hair and our silk- screened T-shirts. The older we got, the further he retreated into his work, his weekend pa- pers, and his schnapps." Judd wants to feel something, but is unsure how to successfully mourn a man from whom he felt disconnected. Judd's connection to his sibling is no less uneasy. During theirweektogether, arguments break out, snide remarks are followed by insults and family members stalk out of the living room. At one point, Judd jokes about the real reason behind one of the rituals of shiva: "Filling the house with visitors is most likely to prevent the mourners from tearing each other limb from limb." Yet, be- ing forced to engage with each other for such a long period does create connections and Judd learns some important lessons about himself and his family that force him to re-evaluate his past. Tropper does an excellent job balancing the tone of his novel between the humorous and the serious. There is awon- derful chapter during which the family attends synagogue services on a Shabbat morn- ing. First, the author captures the feeling generated by their reciting the Mourner's Kad- dish together: "We read the ancient Hebrew words, with no ideawhat they might mean, and the congregation responds with more words that they don't understand either.., you would think, in these godless times, that the experience would be empty, but somehow it isn't .... for reasons I can't begin to articulate, it feels like something is happening. It has nothing to do with God or souls, just the palpable sense of goodwill and support ema- nating in waves from the pews around us, and I can't help but JONATHAN TROPPE be moved by it." This passage is followed by a hilarious section during which the three broth- ers gather in a vacant Hebrew School room and prove just how irresponsible and childish they remain. "This Is Where I Leave You" is an impressive work. While no reader will want to be a member of the Foxman family, it's definitely worth spending the seven days of shiva with them. The lives of these mixed up, confused individuals will remain with you after the pages of this book are finished. :eam in By Dina Kraft UMM AL-FAHM, Israel (JTA)--It's time for noon prayers in this Israeli Arab city, and a jumble of sneak- ers piles up outside the doors of a mosque on the top floor of a private high school for the sciences. Inside, the boys, led in prayer by a math teacher, stand in two rows on a soft green-and-beige carpet and then kneel in unison. The $5.8 million tab to construct the high school, considered one of the top Arab schools in Israel with its state-of-the art physics and chemistry labs, was picked up by the Islamic Movement. Such support--helping fund community needs not being met by the Israeli government--is one way the movement is gaining power and influence among Israel's 1.2 million Arabs. "This vacuum has opened the door for the Islamic Movement to get in and pro- vide alternative services," said Yousef Jabareen, a resident of Umm al-Fahm and director of Dirasat, a nonprofit that advocates for socioeconomic and political equality for Israel's Arab citizens. The influence of the movement--particularly its northern branch, which preaches adherence to a devout form of Islam and a code of social isolation from Israel at large--can be seen in the shift toward increased religious observance among some of Israel's Arab citi- zens, the majority of whom are Muslim. Critics say the move- ment's more extreme ele- ments preach a form of nationalism that is actively anti-Israeli and is radical- izing Israel's Arab citizens. Its social service tactics have been compared to the work of Hamas, which similarly built a base of support among ordinary Palestinians by providing social services not offered by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. With its power base in Umm al-Fahm, one of Isra- el's largest Arab towns, the Islamic Movement in Israel is drawing support with the message that pride in Islamic roots can overcome the feelings of second-class citizenship to which Arab Dina Kraft The principal of a private high school for the sciences in the Israeli Arab town of Umm AI-Fahm built by the Islamic Movement helps shepherd students to class. citizens often feel relegated in the Jewish state. The movement is divided into two branches: the more radical northern branch, which eschews the Israeli political process and calls on followers to abstain from voting in national Is- raeli elections, and the more moderate southern branch, There's a difference in our service You'll see it in your yard i! ~ilili~i~ ~i~ii! ~," !~ii~i~ ~ !i/t~ii~ii!~i~i~ Maurice Lawn Care Maintenance. Landscaping. Irrigation 407.462.3027 mauricelawncare@yahoo.com o which is represented in Is- rael's Knesset. Sheik Ibrahim Sansur, a Knesset member who leads the movement's southern branch, told JTA that the Islamic Movement is united by the goal "to crystallize the religious and national identity of the Arab minority inside Israel." Representatives of the northern branch refused JTA's requests for inter- views. But Sheik Ra'ad Salah, a key leader of the branch and the former mayor of Umm al-Fahm, made headlines during the Jewish High Holidays when he called on supporters to "liberate" the A1-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem "with blood and fire," touching off days of clashes between police and Arab rioters. Umm al-Fahm is a visible example of the movement's success. Its hilly landscape is dotted with the rounded domes of mosques built by the movement, as well as dozens of other movement- funded projects, including women's education centers, a college for the study of Islamic law and Arabic language, and even a hos- pital under construction. A growing number--perhaps a majority--of women and girls wear headscarves, and men sport thick beards. The Islamic Movement started to take off here following the 1967 Six- Day War. It was then that Israel's Arab citizens could re-establish ties with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that had been cut off since the 1948 war of Israeli independence. Many Arab Israelis attended Islamic colleges in the West Bank and Gaza, sparking a re- turn to devout observance for some inside Israel. The movement was strength- ened by the example of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Salah has become the face of the movement's more controversial side. A product of the post-1967 Islamic awakening in Israel, Salah returned from his religious studies in Hebron and Nablus as a leader of the movement. He has been ac- cused of raising millions of dollars for Hamas--a charge he denies. Yitzhak Reiter, a profes- sor of political science at the Hebrew University and Ashkelon Academic College, says Salah's broader goal is to connect Israel's Muslims to the larger Islamic world and make Jerusalem the future seat of an Islamic caliphate. Salah preaches that Is- rael's archeological activi- ties near the Temple Mount are part of a secret Jewish plan to destabilize the AI- Aksa Mosque, provoke its collapse and pave the way for the construction of the Jewish Holy Temple. Such charges are dismissed as fantasy and incitement by Israeli authorities. Nohad All, a sociologist at Haifa University and an expert on the Islamic Movement, says Salah and his followers nevertheless believe such conspiracies to be true. The fears have been heightened by the agitation of some Israelis to visit the Temple Mount and messianic talk by a few radicals of rebuilding the Holy Temple, All said. Though it's not in the interests of the movement to rush headlong into confron- tation with Israel, All said, the movement continues to keep the issue a central one in the community, organiz- ing buses daily to the Temple Mount compound from Arab towns and villages through- out the country. In Umm al-Fahm, the recent tensions in Jerusalem feel remote, but social prob- lems are fek acutely. The city has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Ahmad Kabaha, the math teacher who leads students in prayer, says he admires the movement for its grass- roots work. "People tend to think about them in a political way," Kabaha said, "but I see their importance in how it helps with problems within our society, in do- ing good deeds, in helping the poor."