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Symbols of Faith (Credit: Sara D. via Flickr)

My grandfather was not a Jew by choice. In 1930s Europe, being a Jew was a curse, and one that promised death. Born in the Jewish ghetto of Vienna, he was given the name of Erich Christian Schwarz, a triumphant effort at masking the family’s heritage through words. My grandfather escaped Europe by hope, beautiful coincidence, and profound vivacity, so that I could be born an American shiksa: a gentile girl devoid of the Jewish burden. Now, 18 years later, I choose to spite him. I proudly call myself a Jew, and it has allowed me a greater understanding of my family and our people than I ever had before.

I will not be the first to say that discovering religion has done me a service. Even now, years after beginning my new immersion into Jewish culture, the words sound saccharine and cliched. I want my experience to be an original one, but I know it has never been. The faith has a power that, regardless of our willingness to admit it, has ensnared and enraptured countless people since the dawn of time. This may be for good reason, as I have learned.

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Brazil 1, Germany 7 (Credit: The Telegraph)

To all new students: welcome to Berlin. As you make your way through the city, you will hopefully immerse yourself in the endless exhibitions and concerts, wide-ranging festivals celebrating all things from film to butter, engaging street art, striking museums adorned with (not uncommonly) stolen artefacts, shabby clubs that will reject you thrice in a row, and countless döner places that will have you believing döner is as much a part of the German cuisine as a schnitzel. At this point, it just might be. Many things in Berlin will enchant you, but it is only fair to warn you that there is also an adaptation period (which I have affectionately nicknamed my existence here thus far) that most non-Berliners will have to face.

Coming from Brazil, I don’t think the cultural differences could be any more striking than I have found them to be. After 17 hours of flying, one goes from saying “good morning” to strangers on the street to inadvertently sharing one-second eye contact at the U Bahn – which here could be interpreted as risqué flirting. Why would one look a person in the eyes? We have shoes for that.

Indeed, it is a peculiar day in São Paulo when the handrails of the train are not used for pole dancing by a teenager with a sense of humor or a street artist as a performance prop. I was not naive enough to expect a Carnaval at the U-Bahn, but it did surprise me when I dropped a water bottle on the train by accident and observed that the facial expressions that ensued could contextually fit a funeral. I know you are big on recycling, Germany, but I was going to pick it up.

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Political idolatry in action (Credit: Ido Nahari)

I love Jerusalem. I was born to the city and, as far I know, I am an eleventh generation to the city.  My spirituality and lyricism begin and end with feeling the pulse of Jerusalem in ways that defy secular logic, in ways that I believe would make people who read this piece puzzled for they themselves are secular and see that the new God is either money or the state. Pre-Israel, a Jewish majority in Jerusalem — which has been the case since the 1860s — was never achieved through national hostility towards the Palestinian residents, but through a religious persistence of the Jews that lived in Jerusalem and viewed it as a holy place. Of course, this does not suggest that “Jerusalem is Jewish”. This phrase is not only problematic to the ears of the non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem, but also to the rest of the Christian and Muslim world. Jerusalem is holy to all three Abrahamic religions. At many times I enjoyed living in the city, feeling and perceiving that said holiness in ways that I could not  explain to others. And because I hold Jerusalem to be a holy city, any conversation about its “ownership”, its “sovereignty”, or who it “belongs to” is absurd to me.

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Veronika doing silk acrobatics around campus (Credit: Anna Zakelj)

IKEA recently sponsored a performance piece staged by the theater troupe led by BCB second-year Veronika Rišňovská (HAST). The challenge? Create an engaging, interactive performance — in a shopping mall. How to go about such a project, in a site like a shopping mall, where interactions with strangers are typically minimal and people arrive to shop, not be distracted by theater? Veronika and I sat down to discuss her theater troupe’s creative process and performances, and the possible future of the modern shopping mall.

 

Music:

  1. “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits
  2. Excerpts from shopping mall advertisements as found here, here, and here.

 

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Anonymous woman holding #MeToo sign. (Credit: Pixabay)

The first time someone touched me without my consent, I was in middle school. I think it was in the 7th grade and I was turned to my friends who were sitting at the desk behind me, when a boy grabbed my left breast out of nowhere. I was wearing a purple sweater and a training bra that barely gave any shape to my still-growing breasts. At least, I think that was the first time. It happened a lot in my middle school; it definitely happened to most of my friends.

I tried to speak out. I told our homeroom teacher and she yelled at the boys in our class in front of the girls, telling them that this was wrong. But no real disciplinary measures were taken. Most of the boys (at least in my class) engaged in non-consensual touching, and it seemed that the school didn’t want to deal with disciplining such a large number of students. Eventually, our complaints were simply met with different versions of “boys will be boys”. They were just in “that phase” when they were discovering their sexual urges and, apparently, no one was going to stop these boys from acting on them.

Two memories from middle school stand out. The first is of a few of the more “popular” boys making fun of another, less “popular”, boy – we’ll call him Filip — because he had never felt a girl’s butt. I even remember thinking it strange that he hadn’t. I, a girl, had internalized the gendered logic that the boys in my class had absorbed and then recreated. What made one masculine was sexual power over feminine people. Eventually, Filip got this mark of masculinity, too. There was no adult around to tell them that this logic was harmful because, of course, this was the logic of the adult world as well. 

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A man on his daily commute (Credit: Elisa Soto J.)*

Venezuela’s pain has grown to unimaginable heights. With the highest known oil reserves in the world, it was once the richest country in Latin America. Now, inflation soars while GDP plummets. Murder rates are at an all time high and basic medicine is barely accessible. The humanitarian crisis has led tens of thousands to leave their home. All carry a piece of that pain with them; among them, my best friend.

We met at boarding school in 2013 around the time the crisis took a turn for the worst. After Nicolás Maduro’s election that year, conditions worsened. As my friend and I grew closer, she confided in me her fears. There were feelings of betrayal and defeat, but mostly of utter powerlessness. She would stay up all night trying to stay connected. Distance takes most of your power away; the one thing you can do is stay informed. You latch onto information — reading and sharing, reading and sharing. Unfortunately, most news is bad news.

With the best intentions, 16 year-old me attempted to help. Working within my frame of reference, I treated it as I would any other heartbreak.

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“If desire [in a society] is repressed, it is because every position of desire…is capable of calling into question the established order of society…it is revolutionary in its essence…It is therefore of vital importance for a society to repress desire, and even to find something more efficient than repression, so that repression, hierarchy, exploitation, and servitude are themselves desired…that does not at all mean that desire is something other than sexuality, but that sexuality and love do not live in the bedroom of Oedipus, they dream instead of wide-open spaces, and…do not let themselves be stocked within an established order.”

— Gilles Deleuze, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Stencil graffiti depicting Elmahdy, in the form of the nude blog photo of herself. Its text also refers to the case of Samira Ibrahim. (Credit: Women in the Revolution)

In his essay Arab Porn (2017), the Egyptian author and journalist Youssef Rakha deconstructs an aspect of Egypt’s cultural history of the new millennium. He makes a case for how and why amateur Arab pornography acts as a political tool against the sexually repressive status quo. He attempts to account for the failures of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 by connecting the activists’ shortcomings and ultimately frustration to the nature of Arab porn, which is reflective of the Egyptian society’s approach to sexuality, culture, politics and change. Sharing Rakha’s views, I see the Egyptian Revolution as a failed one: It replaced a military dictator with a misogynistic Islamic fundamentalist one, turning the country into a theocracy that was later overthrown in a military coup to have Egypt return once more to military dictatorship.

While Egypt does not have an official porn industry, if one searches for Arab Porn, plenty of home-made, low-quality videos can be found. Through a voyeuristic gaze, Rakha analyses various porn videos (links to which are included in his book), and draws what I perceive as far-fetched connections between the amateur porn industry, the Arab Spring in general, and Egypt specifically.

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Credit: Plato and Aristotle in discussion (Credit: Raphael, from “The School of Athens”)

In the context of the two recent Liberal Arts days on BCB’s campus that sought to examine the meaning of liberal arts studies and the role of discourse within them, a recent op-ed for The New York Times titled “The Dying Art of Disagreement” was shared with the student body. In his speech, former Wall Street Journal contributor Bret Stephens details the allegedly tragic loss of ‘proper’ discourse on American college campuses, by which he means discourse which contains productive disagreements. He illustrates a world in which the ideologies of “junior totalitarian” college students engender the “bullying” of speakers they don’t like. He paints their vitriol against mostly conservative speakers as the result of an early “miseducation,” as the ugly culmination of an illiberal culture that has engendered a culture of ideological intolerance, in which those who would seek to educate themselves in higher thought irrationally bar the thoughts of those with whom they disagree. He decries a phenomenon that has been discussed ad nauseam in regards to U.S. institutions of higher education. What usually follows from these debates is an ambiguous call for the return to an alleged prior culture of ideological tolerance — a call that assumes such a time existed and ignores the fact that historically marginalized people’s voices have rarely been welcomed in the realm of this “tolerance”. Whether or not this is Stephens’ goal, his proposal ultimately amounts to a call for the rectification of the alleged “infantilization” of today’s youth in the US.

To support his arguments, Stephens calls forth his time at the University of Chicago, where he was taught the art of “interrogation.” His time there, he says, was not blemished by dogmatic instruction, but rather enriched by the freedom to interpret the texts he read with an open-mind: one could say he engaged in charitable reading before considering and potentially disagreeing with the ideas the texts presented. This form of education, so central to the project of the liberal arts, is being lost, according to Stephens. The liberal education that he received is being replaced by a reflexive, almost dogmatic opposition to those who  have unpopular opinions. At the University of Chicago, Stephens learned to “cultivate an open mind” and to “treat no proposition as sacred.”

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