Sunday, March 9, 2014

Punk Jews

"Convention is constricting"
Last night I had the opportunity to watch Punk Jews, a documentary about just that: In the filmmakers' words, "An emerging movement of committed Jews who are asking...what it means to be Jewish."

Though I would say that Judaism has always functioned as such a movement, this film is excellent in portraying many fascinating elements of Jewish identity, including contortionist art, punk-rock and rap music, sexual assault survival, racism, all-night parties, and Yiddish theatre revival. While not overtly Zionist, it touches on the Jewish-American connection to Israel as a metaphor for the conflicted nature of communal and individualistic self-awareness among modern Jews.

Jewish punkness is represented in the movie as a kind of rebellious spirituality. It is not so much anti-institutional or defiant of conventional Jewish norms as it is fiercely present:

For the love of an audience, the Yoga Yente dresses in a bathrobe and headscarf to perform human pretzel routines;

The writer MaNishtana - Hebrew for "What is different?" or "What has changed?" - muses over his Blackness being at once integral and inconsequential to his identity as a Jewish person;

Kal Holczle leverages the collective power of mothers to confront his insular Hasidic community around allegations of covered-up child abuse;

The Sukkos Mob pays homage to traditional Yiddish theatre by bringing religious-themed flash mobs to the commons of New York City;

among other profiled examples.

I was glad to see this film, as it reignited my appreciation for the weirdness of Judaism: its inconsistencies both beautiful and problematic, its braided approaches to truth and self-reflection, and all the people of the world who claim it as their heritage.

For anyone wishing to explore their ties to social groups, whether religious or not, I would recommend Punk Jews. Playful and sincere, the film showcases people who, guided by their love for something larger than themselves, use creativity to navigate a confusing world. Punk at its best.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Do whatcha wanna, unless it's groping me

On this recent soggy yet otherwise lovely Mardi Gras day, I was outside RBar and saw a male stranger try to kiss my friend on the back of her neck. She shoved him off and he came around to try the same on me.

I told him, "Fuck you, man...Get the fuck out of here." He wandered off, no doubt seeking another surprised victim.

I had spent the morning dodging raindrops and uninvited sexual advances:

"Hey baby, you look good. Come hug me."
 - "No."

"Hey darlin', want to sit on my dick?"
 - "No."

"Give papa a kiss!"
 - "No, thank you."

Tiring shit, my dear Readers.

So when I encountered this fellow again outside RBar later in the day - this time as he came up behind me and grabbed my ass - I was beyond incensed:


I pushed him - violently - and kicked at his shins and midsection. My male friend stepped towards him somewhat menacingly. Thankfully, the guy left the area, or so I thought until I saw him a few minutes later skulking around, trying to kiss on women inside the bar.

I was seized with rage that this person could come into such a crowded space and feel fully entitled to paw at women's bodies, especially after he had been told off so handily just moments before.

Normally I might try to reason with such an individual, explaining that he was creating a threatening atmosphere and would be better off just backing away. This time, I was so furious that I grabbed him by the collar and pushed and kicked him out the door. The crowd parted like the Red Sea in front of us. I was screaming - no small feat for a low-talker like me - things like "GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE, YOU PIECE OF SHIT!" and "WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE! STOP GRABBING PEOPLE!"

He was stumbling, clearly surprised, and not bigger than me, which is why I think I was able to get him out of the bar. 

I returned inside to high-fives and applause from strangers and friends. I couldn't help but feel hollow about this supposed triumph, because it was born from violation. I thought about the many times I've been touched nonconsensually and not responded violently or outwardly at all: Were those responses not also deserving of praise or public affirmation? Is there a right way to react to someone invading your personal space?

I saw the man sneak back through the door just moments after I threw him out. I told my friends I had to leave, as the space was no longer safe for me. The crowd of people who had congratulated me on expelling him was the same crowd that decided not to remain vigilant and protect me and themselves from such an interloper.

Upon reflection, I think my action was maybe fruitless. I felt not better nor worse. I'm glad I made it clear that his behavior was inappropriate; maybe he will reflect on this later, but likely he won't.

"Hey baby, can I buy you a drink?"
 - "Absolutely."