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I write the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and also report for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere. I have four daughters and two dogs.

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Friday
Aug292014

Zionism for Refugees

 

I expected more angry mail about this piece. Did I just convince everyone?

Friday
Aug292014

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match

 

You want to know how to get a lot of mail? Write about legendary Jewish matchmaker Tova Weinberg, and wait for e-mails to pour in from people who want to know how to get in touch and ask for her help.

Sunday
Aug102014

Michael Oren, that was not a good piece about Zionism

Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, is a good historian and probably a good man. But as an opinion columnist, he is just a shameless propagandist, at least to judge by his recent Wall Street Journal piece. Excerpt from what I had to say:

In any event, I come not to attack or defend Zionism, but rather to discuss what somebody like Michael B. Oren owes to his audience. When he was a government official of Israel, it was to be expected that he offer up simplistic paeans to his adopted homeland. What worries me is that as a professor he’s still at it. As somebody whose career calling now entails ruthless honesty at all costs—for that’s what professors are paid to do: seek and disseminate truth—he should begin any defense of Zionism, or Israel, with unsparing admissions of all the best arguments on his opponents’ side, phrased in language that his opponents would recognize. Intellectual can never be afraid to look at their own soft underbellies.

Of course, Oren’s failure here is not somehow specifically Israeli. In recent years, as American colleges and universities like New York University, Yale, and Wellesley have formed ill-considered alliances with repressive governments abroad, their faculties have been implicated in policies of those governments. When Yale sends faculty members to open up a college in cooperation with the government of Singapore—which bans student political parties—and promises that its faculty will help enforce Singaporean law, it’s doing its part to create little Orens: men and women who aren’t sure where their duties as scholars end and their duties as feds begin.

Sunday
Aug102014

From “90210” recapper to Muslim convert

As an old 90210 fan (the original series, not the lame reboot), was mirthful beyond mirthful to have tracked down Danny Drennan, who wrote the pioneering weekly recap that so many of us read with squeals of delight every week. Who knew that, as a transplant to Beirut and convert to Islam, he’d be perfect for my Beliefs column? See here.

Tuesday
Jul012014

Angélique Kidjo and the “trail mix bar” in Aspen

Just did my first Aspen Ideas Festival, which is where you can sit in the main tent and see Jeffrey Goldberg, Leon Wieseltier, David Brooks, and Katie Couric munching from a “make your own trail mix” bar, which — you heard it here first — is an invention that will sweep the world like nothing we’ve seen since the great fro-yo-lounge tsunami of 2013. Granola and chocolate pieces and wasabi peas? Give whoever came up with that a MacArthur genius grant.

But the two highlights of the festival, for me, were the dramatic reading of Michele Norris’s Race Card Project. I joined Michele, Gwen Ifill, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and others to read dozens of 6-word essays submitted to the project by people all over the US. Ever since I retired from acting at age 20 after an ignominious career on gymnasium stages, I have been eager to get back onstage, and I can’t think of a more fun return to action than what I had Saturday evening at Aspen’s Belly Up club.

BUT what was even better was that, while at the Belly Up, I noticed that the next night Angélique Kidjo (above in the video, with Joss Stone) would be performing there. So I bought a ticket. And on Sunday I went to a shamefully undersold show by the great Beninoise pop star. And she rocked. At the end, she invited people onstage to dance with her, which meant I got to shimmy with Kidjo and about 50 other very white audience members brazen enough to hop onto stage when invited. This makes up for the time that I was 7 years old and my dad took me to see Diana Ross (the “Upside Down” tour), and she invited all the children onto stage to dance with her, and I was too shy.