July 28, 2021
Check out my short story “She Is Cigarette” in the tenth anniversary edition of Jewish Fiction .net.
October 30, 2020
The tension is killing me.
September, 11, 2020
Today I am posting some pictures. I took these in late 2019 and early 2020. Even before the pandemic, New York was crying out for help.
December, 25, 2018
I am teaching in the Community ESL Program, which is a partnership between the Institute of American Language and Culture (IALC) at Fordham University and New York’s Department of Youth and Community Development. This program provides free courses in adult literacy and ESL to members of the Bronx community and to anyone regardless of age, income, nationality, educational background or citizenship status.
Please consider donating to help fund this program. The students need books and supplies.
Click on the following link to see an amazing video about the program and to find out information on how to give:
December 10, 2017
The diplomat patted her arm and nodded reassuringly. The diplomat has much experience with the reassuring patting and the nodding, and so pats and nods confidently. Even so, I wish he hadn’t restrained her, as she was about to rip the Hungarian ambassador a new one!
On November 30th, I attended a panel discussion on the current state of negotiations between Central European University (CEU) and the Hungarian government. The panelists were John Shattuck, former rector of CEU and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Kati Marton, a CEU trustee, author of True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy and Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America, and one-time foreign correspondent for ABC and NPR; and NYU Professor and author of Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment, Larry Wolff, who is also the executive director of the Remarque Institute that was hosting the discussion. We were in a largish boardroom on the 8th floor of 60 5th Avenue, New York City. The boardroom was full, but not packed, mostly with graduate students who seemed willing enough to listen politely. (It is unlikely they yet have the life-experience to pull off seeming to listen absorbedly.) During the discussion, a couple of retired professors in attendance anxiously mumbled to themselves and fingered their printed event flyers. The panelists spoke for a little over an hour, and then questions were taken. Ferenc Kumin, PhD, Consul General of Hungary, was in attendance and all ears, right up until it was his opportunity to ask questions, from which point he was all mouth. Fortunately, the question period was ended at the two-hour mark. Kumin had more to say. He shot out of the room to grab a prepoured glass of white wine, and to pull Shattuck into more debate. Most of the graduate students left when the wine ran out, which was quick; I suspect many of them were in attendance only because their professors had strongly encouraged them to be. But, I want to return to the beginning.
I arrived fifteen minutes early for the panel discussion, so I was one of the first to go inside the boardroom and sit down at the long table. I chose a seat in the middle along the length of one side of the table. Some others were chatting outside in the waiting area, but I am not one for small talk. Kati Marton was out there too, schmoozing, but I had already had a satisfying brush with her fame when I had run into her moments before in the ladies room. I think I caught her fixing her makeup. Or combing her hair? Adjusting her skirt? It happened so fast. I smiled. She smiled back at me in a much more accomplished way than I had smiled at her. (I could kick myself for my half-assed smiling.) Anyway, she is a beautiful woman who commands being stared at in the ladies room! And while she perfected her panel discussion game-face in the mirror, I tried to urinate collegially. (If she is reading this blog, I apologize for my nervous toot.)
Back in the boardroom, most of the chairs were still empty. While I waited for the room to fill, a young woman sat down next to me. She said something like, I’m sitting here because you’re reading French and I’m French. What a fitting sentiment, I thought, when we are just about to hear a panel discussion on the global importance of the revival of populist-nationalist tribalism.
The young woman turned out to be a very pleasant former student of Kati Marton who had urged her to attend this discussion. When I showed her what I was reading, which wasn’t in French, but was very much in English–a translation of “Part Five: À la recherche du temps perdu” from Milan Kundera’s Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts–we were both a little red-faced. Fortunately, a rapprochement was established over a pleasant conversation about the importance of bilingual education. (I explained to her that I had grown up in Canada and done my anglophonic-best to try and retain all the French I had been force-fed; I think the correct term is gavage, referring to the supplying of a nutritional substance–cultural sensitivity–by means of public education. It was practiced on us, with some success, from grades one to thirteen.) We also bonded over a laugh about the intrusive and downright crazy questions on the United States citizenship application. (For example, applicants are asked, “Have you ever been a habitual drunk? For the record, I haven’t. And, “Do you now have, or did you ever have, a hereditary title or an order of nobility in any foreign country?” Tragically, I was stripped of my nobility at birth; I am of pure shtetl stock.) The young woman told me stories about living in China Town; her five-year-old son speaks French, English and Mandarin. I teach English as a Second Language at New York University. My mother-tongue is Hungarian, which I still speak, every chance I get. However, I have made no effort at all to teach my daughter Hungarian. (I worry that ma voisine francaise regretted sitting next to me.)
When the panel discussion finally began, Shattuck spoke first, and at some length. Here are some statements he made, which should make us shudder:
“Victor Orbán is the most successful authoritarian leader in Europe.”
“The impact of the election of Trump is electrifying. Orbán has found a soulmate in Washington.”
Then, it was Marton’s turn to speak, which she did passionately, leaning into her microphone and glaring at Ambassador Kumin:
“History is too important to leave to the historians,” she said.
“Mr. Orbán controls the press!” she warned.
“If Hungary is still a democracy, it is a fragile one,” she declared.
After some more back-and-forth by the three panelists–concerning the Trianon narrative of “Brussels is the new Moscow”; the differences between Eastern Europe and Central Europe; and the legal-limbo in which CEU finds itself because of Orbán’s “thinly-veiled anti-Semitic campaign against George Soros, founder and funder of CEU”–the question period began. It was monopolized by Ambassador Kumin. He held forth for as long as he could, complaining that Marton was mixing in liberal politics with “this CEU issue,” which was really no issue at all, he clarified. On behalf of the Hungarian government, Kumin wanted to assure everyone present that CEU did not need to worry about its status so long as it complied with Hungarian law. This was an insignificant legal matter, he said, and had nothing at all to do with the radical liberal agenda-driven issues Marton had raised. In response, Marton was noticeably incensed and thrust forward to grab the microphone. She was about to set the Ambassador straight when Shattuck patted her arm and nodded at her reassuringly, as if to say, Don’t get worked up, Kati. He isn’t worth it. I’ll handle this.
Then, Shattuck sparred with Kumin for a while. He pointed out the fact that CEU was meeting all of the government’s demands, including opening a campus in New York, but Orbán was refusing to sign the agreement between the government and CEU. As it stands, CEU cannot recruit students and faculty, or promise its current students and faculty that its doors will be open next year. Shattuck, in his diplomatic way, and Kumin, in his disingenuous and mocking way, continued on playing-at discussing the matter. Nothing was resolved. I wish Martin had not allowed Shattuck to restrain her.
Not only is it right, as Marton said, that “history is too important to leave to the historians,” it may also be right, in the ideological and political pressure-cooker in which we find ourselves today, that diplomacy is too important to be left to the diplomats. I would rather trust it to the commanding woman in the bathroom mirror.