TV Review – Timeless

Short review: A historian, a soldier, and an engineer fighting a worldwide conspiracy to change history by traveling through time? Yes, please! Bonus: Goran Višnjić!

This was one of those shows that had to fight to stay on the air, but we got two good seasons. Thankfully, they had a Christmas special to tie up the loose ends and keep the door open a crack for a new series in the future.

As a historian, I found myself curious about the time periods and characters that they met. I spent time afterward looking up names and dates and thought about moments in history that might have ripple effects in the future – personal moments or historic moments. Just for sparking curiosity, I think this series is worth watching and I can’t wait to see more from Eric Kripke and Shaun Ryan.

Long review: More detailed descriptions of elements I liked. Not exactly spoilers, but if you don’t want to know, you’ve been warned.

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I’ve written before about narratives in history and versions of truths and ultimate truths. And this series takes those ideas and turns them into an interesting story that opens the door to hidden histories. Each episode goes to a different time period and while we might think that the Time Team, as they are called online, is there to stop or save a big event, sometimes it’s a small event that has repercussions generations later.

This can be personal or simply an unknown story. For instance, I had no idea that a little recording session in 1936 by a guy named Robert Johnson would spark blues music, which would lead to rock and roll, the 1960s movements, and eventually to questioning authority (what the bad guys don’t want).

When you deal with merging multiple voices and multiple narratives the right way, you learn about characters you didn’t know before, like Grace Humiston, the first female Special Assistant US Attorney. She was known as Mrs. Sherlock Holmes for helping to solve cold cases involving missing women.

One fun episode was running into Ian Fleming in Nazi Germany. Fleming is the author of all the James Bond novels and he was a real-life spy during World War II. Another is stopping by the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Having read Devil in the White City, I already knew that this was about one of the US’s most famous serial killers. Bonus for that episode: Harry Houdini. And what do you know about Hedy Lamarr? She wasn’t just a pretty face on the silver screen in the 1940s; if you use Bluetooth technology, then you are using something based on the principles she developed. If you haven’t seen the movie Hidden Figures, would you know anything about Katherine Johnson, a black woman working at NASA in the 1960s who made the lunar landing possible with her calculations?

A seemingly benign episode might have bigger repercussions if you think about it. The trio go back and meet the first black NASCAR driver, Wendell Scott. A number of auto executives were going to attend the race. So what happens if the execs get killed by the bad guys? Who would control the whole auto industry?

My favorite thing about the show is that it sparked my curiosity. We all know the basics of history, but to get the full truth, you have to hear all the voices. This was a great way to introduce untold stories to US audiences who suffered through white man’s history. (Or, in the vernacular of my liberal arts university: his-story.)

The great thing about this show is that we see people outside stereotypes. The historian is a young-ish woman. The engineer is a black Star Wars geek who graduated MIT. Another engineer is a Lebanese woman who likes Star Trek. The special agent in charge is Indian (from India) and is married to a black woman. The one character that is stereotypical is the Delta Force soldier; he’s a tasty morsel of all-American origin.

The show takes on the challenge of what a woman or a black man can do in history when neither one of those was respected in society. History is not seen through rose-colored glasses, but it’s not seen as the Dark Ages either. People survived and even thrived. The trio also has to make some tough choices. Would you try to stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln?

If you watch a lot of TV and movies (who me?), then you’ll also get the inside jokes. Some of the most fun moments are when they make up names to hide their identities. Cagney and Lacey are investigators. Lando Calrissian is a record producer. John Maclane and Hans Gruber team up. Denzel Washington is a Civil War soldier. Every episode has fun Easter eggs if you’re quick enough to catch them.

Bottom line: If you like history, if you like turning what you know on its head, if you like to be challenged, and if you like laughing, then this show is for you.

The Space Between

We have national elections coming up in Israel on April 9.

**To my American readers: Try to wrap your mind around an election campaign that is only three months long!

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My mom asked me why I don’t seem to be so interested in the Israeli political scene, especially since I seem to have a lot of opinions on the US political scene. (To be fair, I think everyone in the world is interested in the US political scene. Every day there is some new shocking thing.)

The thing is that Israeli politics are very different from US politics.

In the US, you have two parties, three branches of government, and each state follows a similar pattern.

In Israel, for the upcoming election there are at least 11 parties. You might think that it would be easier to find a party to support, but I find it harder. The principles of each party tend to be so specific that I find myself agreeing with several principles from several parties. But in Israel, you vote for the party, not for people or on specific issues. The percentage of votes the party gets is reflected in the number of seats each party gets in the Knesset. Because one party is not usually strong enough to get a simple majority (61 seats), Israel is ruled by coalition governments. If the coalition is weak, you have elections sooner; if the coalition is strong, you have a full term of government (4 years).

You don’t vote for the Prime Minister either. The leader of Israel is the head of the party that got the most votes – again, it’s the party that matters not the person or the issue.

Israel is the size of New Jersey, but the country has snow-covered mountains in the north and desert in the south, hi-tech in the city, and agriculture in the country. But rather than have regional representation, you can only choose the party and hope that the party represents you.

Right now, people are breaking away from parties, creating new parties, getting fired from parties, getting nominated to parties (not to mention the corruption scandals and possible indictments). Only in February will we have an idea of who is on each party list.

And that’s another thing: some parties have elections within their parties to determine who is on their list; other parties just present their list. That means that if you are a member of a party, you can vote in the primary. The list is numbered by how many votes each person got (sometimes they add special interest places on the list that are likely to get a seat in the Knesset). Then, the number of seats the party gets in the Knesset (based on the percentage of total votes in the election) determines who goes to the Knesset. In parties that don’t have primaries, the leadership determines the list. If you are not a member of any party, you can still vote for any one of the parties in the main election with the knowledge that the list was determined by other people and may or may not represent you, your region, or your interests.

Israel is a little country in a hostile neighborhood, so it’s also really hard to understand how a political swing here or there will affect the country in the short, medium, and long term. As a voter, you have to trust that the coalition that the head of the leading party came up with will protect the citizens, will strengthen the economy, and will do what is right for Israel.

So, it’s not that I’m not interested in the political scene; it’s more that I can’t find myself in the political scene. I do my civic duty by voting (it’s hard not to, it’s a day off!) in the hope that the party I choose will do the best it can for Israel. I don’t feel that any party represents me personally, so from the space in between the parties, I allow myself to be an observer of the process.

Goodbye 2018!

~~ My computer is back! ~~

It’s good to take a minute and look back over the year.

My goals for this blog were to write about life in Israel and make a practice of showing up to the page. I can count this year as a success for both those goals. I wrote fewer words overall than in years past and fewer blog posts, but I hope that means my writing is becoming sharper and more concise (probably not always…).

People visited my page from 54 countries!

2018 map

Leaving aside the United States (#1) and Israel (#2), the top 10 countries were:

Germany
Finland
Canada
United Kingdom
Australia
India
Japan
Italy
China
Ireland

Surprises further down the list:

Six people from United Arab Emirates visited.

Four people from Pakistan stopped by.

One person each came from Bangladesh, Gibraltar, and Fiji.

Overall, I had more visitors this year than in years past and I had the most visitors in September.

I’m hesitant to write resolutions for 2019 for this blog, but my hopes are to write about different things (life in Israel will still be the main topic), try some experimental posts (I’m not sure about this yet), and write more reviews of things I’m listening to, reading, and watching (I’ve had a lot of fun with those posts this year).

I know. Hopes won’t get you anywhere unless you have a plan. I’m working on it.

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all good things for 2019!

May it be the best year yet!

Book review – How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents

I had never heard of Jimmy O. Yang until I saw him play a small role in Crazy Rich Asians. I wasn’t that impressed, but he turned up on Youtube suggestions and I still wasn’t wowed. I’ve never seen Silicon Valley, so I really had no reference point to evaluate who this guy was.

But then I saw his book on audible.com and the title intrigued me. It got great reviews and I like a memoir, so *click*, in my basket and in my ears. Jimmy reads his own book, so you get to hear his story in his own voice. Always better.

Short review: I liked it and I definitely recommend it, but it isn’t for everyone’s taste. The humor is sometimes juvenile (sue me, I like juvenile humor and laughed out loud). There’s some swearing (not gratuitous). Some of the situations are not mainstream (he was a strip club DJ; not my idea of the American Dream). Still, it will make you think about the immigrant experience in America. More than that, it’s a story about finding and following your dreams, even when everything seems to be a strike against you.

Long review: Well, more like a response (below the promo video).

Jimmy O. Yang is a very insightful, well-spoken, college graduate, so this book is not a string of funny stories and jokes. When he uses the Chris Rock-style voice, it’s meant to be funny (and it is). But when he uses his normal voice, you can be sure something thought-provoking is on the way. He was born in Hong Kong to parents from Shanghai and moved to the US when he was 13. He also had a study abroad experience in Italy during college. He has a very deep understanding of what it means to be so obviously a fish out of water and how to survive it, thrive, and then find and follow his dreams.

I’m an immigrant several times over and the child of an immigrant, and many of his insights really ring true to me. He learned English from BET (thus the Chris Rock stylings), while Mom and I learned English from Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers – I was 3; I imagine Mom watched other programs too.

One big difference in my immigrant story is that I am not obviously an immigrant in America. I have no accent. I’m white. I spent a lot of time learning how to be the most American I could possibly be, except for one thing: I am Jewish and I did “crazy” things like walk out of music class when it was Christmas carol season. I purposefully set myself apart. Was it me embracing the American ideal of individualism? I doubt it. I was also set apart because Mom had an accent and came to school to talk about Jewish holidays.

I remember in 8th grade a Vietnamese girl joined our class. I wondered how she would fare. She was embraced whole-heartedly by all the popular kids and became super All-American. And I knew then that, while it didn’t help that I was born in the Evil Empire (thus a Communist, whatever that means to junior high kids) and I was also responsible for the death of Jesus, it would be an uphill battle for me to become super All-American.

I’m also an immigrant to Israel. Here I have an accent and it’s pretty obvious that I’m not a native-born Israeli. But nobody cares. Oh, you were born in Russia and your mom is Russian? Join the club. Half the population has roots in Russia and more than a million Russian-speakers came to Israel in the 1990s. Oh, you’re Jewish? Welcome home!

So the two things that made me not-quite American are the two things that make me more Israeli. And being not-quite American makes me not quite fit in with other American immigrants here in Israel. And throw in the great love of British humor and Korean dramas and I’m a nation unto myself. (You might note that Russian is out. That’s a story for another day. Ya nye gavaru pa’ruski. ‘Nuff said.)

One of the roles that Jimmy is most proud of is Dun Meng, one of the heroes in Patriot’s Day, the film about the Boston Marathon bombing. He had a chance to bring some authenticity to the role (including getting his real dad to play his big-screen dad) by bringing in the correct accent to the Chinese dialogue. How many non-Chinese-speakers would really notice the difference between a Cantonese dialect and a Shanghai dialect? He also connected to the role because he was playing an Asian immigrant in America. He mentions connecting to the Asian immigrant experience a few times in the book as something comfortingly familiar – “this person is like me.” It’s not a struggle like some of his other cultural experiences in America.

Israel is a small country with lots of immigrants. When so many people are immigrants, the details don’t matter because we are all struggling with the same things. The one thing the majority of the population – whether native or immigrant – is sure of is that we are all part of the nation of the Jewish people living in the modern State of Israel.

Still, I’m not exactly Israeli and I’m not exactly American. I guess I’m a fish with legs playing on the beach in and out of the water enjoying both water-life and land-life.

Bottom Line: This book was especially touching to me given my immigrant experiences, but the truth is that this book is for all kinds of people. It’s an inspirational story about someone overcoming internal and external obstacles, making life-changing choices, and pursuing his dreams (even if his dad tells him that pursuing dreams is what makes people homeless).

I love a parade!

Israel doesn’t generally do parades in the American style, but this year we had a special treat. Ok, it wasn’t Macy’s (that was a rumor that got blown out of proportion). Still, there were balloons and floats, and the American flair of classic cars and marching bands!

And we start with the Nutcracker!

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Going US style with US Ambassador David Friedman!

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Smurfy!

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Awesome classic cars!

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And a little red corvette!

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Compilation of the bands!

 

ANIMAL!!!

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Work it, Dragon!

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Wait. We’re in Israel, right? Do you see some Israeli heroes?

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If you will it, it is no dream!

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Chanukah: A light in the darkness

Man, if I was a Grinch last week, you don’t even want to know about this week. So annoyed! My ceiling is leaking and I’m camping in the living room. But there was one thing that made me feel better …

This is AMAZING!! I love a cappella to begin with and then bring in Queen, well, Chanukah doesn’t get better than that!

Cultural notes

As an American and Israeli, I noticed that this was a great cultural mix.

  1. Note the hard ch (Antiochus, Chanukah, Chai) but Mattathius.
  2. Israeli Chanukah treats (sufganiot – filled donuts) and American Chanukah food (latkes – potato pancakes). If Israelis make latkes in Israel they are called levivot (hearts – I don’t know why) and are never served with applesauce (I know, right?). And sour cream? Fuggedaboutit. Maybe gvina levana.
  3. Sevivon as well as dreidle and gelt (Israelis don’t actually know the rules to the dreidle game; they just know there’s a top and it spins).
  4. Sevivon, sov, sov, sov, as well as a clay dreidle (you gotta know your Chanukah songs for this one).
  5. Chanukiahs, but not a menorah to be found.
  6. Aba, Ema, but Bubbe (surprisingly not many grandmas are called bubbe here).
  7. Ah, but where was the miracle? Nes gadol haya po. It was here, not there (sham). We’re in Israel! (Even if Six13 are New York-based.)

So after singing this at the top of my lungs (many times), which hopefully bothers the neighbors whose fault it is that my ceiling is leaking, I’ve decided: Dammit all, I’m going to be a freaking light in the darkness.

Happy Chanukah Everybody!