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Peter Marmorek
Peter Marmorek
The webby arm of Tikkunista.com



by: on October 7th, 2010 | Comments Off

Dear TDB readers,

I wondered if this description of my online magazine, Tikkunista, was inappropriately self-serving for a post on Tikkun Daily so I asked Dave if he thought it was worth posting. He asked that I share his answer, which follows.

I think this post would help a lot of people understand the appeal to the writer of online writing and blogging. We are looking for more people like you who want to do this on Tikkun Daily. We especially want people, whether they are generalists or not, who are able to take a “beat” that fits with our spiritual progressive mission. We are looking for people who will not focus so much on writing their own views (as most of my own posts do, for example), as on reporting to us – with a smart comment or three – on what is happening on their beat out there in the world. So what is happening in the progressive evangelical or Catholic worlds, in First Nations spirituality/politics, in progressive Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, in more “spiritual” or non-religiophobic atheism, and so on? Some of our best posts have been of this kind. Someone who wants a useful way to spend a few hours a week keeping us up to date on a specific area of their expertise could have as much fun as you have been having these last few years.


Tikkunista is the online magazine I created. I describe it as my “weekly winnowing of links to politics, art, and culture”, though the weekly part is a slight exaggeration; it only gets put out about forty times a year. It consists of about 40-55 links, grouped together into about a dozen categories. The first and last two categories are definite: it starts with followups on topics from previous issues, and upcoming political actions (Toronto centric); it ends with Eyecandy (a collection of pretty pictures) and the quote of the week. The eight central categories vary, but always move from heavier political to lighter and more amusing topics, a structure that I adopted for the same reason that parents serve children vegetables before they offer them dessert.

Last week, for example, Tikkunista started with sections on Israel’s somewhat chaotic leadership style (Israel’s foreign minister had just attacked his own prime minister in front of the UN, which is unusual in politics) and on China’s economic expansion (starting from Mao’s “great leap forward”, currently estimated to have cost 54 million lives.) The two sections before Eyecandy’s autumn special were a collection of sculptural websites (Maori, landscape, wooden postmodern) and a look at the positive aspects of computers (which balanced the previous week’s look at their negative aspects.) Each section starts with “Bird’s Eye”, a paragraph or two in which I look at what ties the following set of links together and why it matters. I’ve been putting Tikkunista out into the world for seven years, and from time to time I wonder why I do.


Examining Islamophobia


by: on September 19th, 2010 | 15 Comments »

We probably all start out prejudiced; having been brought up by people who look and act like us and believe the things that we learn to believe, we start by assuming that our way is the right way to do things, and if people do things differently they must be wrong. The need to grow beyond that childhood perspective is what led Mark Twain to optimistically claim that, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” But though we now live in a global village, in which the floods in Pakistan or fires of Russia are no further than a click away, an irrational fear of Islam or Muslims, Islamophobia, has been rising as fast as the floods, and spreading as fast as the fires.

The most obvious examples are the inchoate rage some have felt at plans to build a Muslim community centre two blocks from ground zero, and the proposal to burn Qur’ans sponsored by a fringe Florida pastor. But it goes a lot further: last week Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, wrote: “Muslim life is cheap, particularly to Muslims… This is a statement of fact, not value,” and “I wonder whether I need to honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.” Two immediate points: imagine the reaction if such a statement had been made about Jews or Blacks, or any other minority group! But Peretz has not resigned, has not been pilloried in the main-stream media. Philip Weiss does a fine job of disproving the “Muslim life is cheap” canard, meticulously going through the world’s Islamic states and documenting the evidence, but that such desperate medicine is needed is pretty telling evidence of the extent to which the contagion has spread.


The Myth of Ashkenaz


by: on September 8th, 2010 | 1 Comment »

True myth may serve for thousands of years as an inexhaustible source of intellectual speculation, religious joy, ethical inquiry, and artistic renewal. The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The fake one is. You look at it and it vanishes. You look at the Blond Hero – really look – and he turns into a gerbil. But you look at Apollo, and he looks back at you.

Ursula K. LeGuin “Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction”

Ashkenaz Festival started in Toronto fifteen years ago, as a celebration of the worldwide revival of Klezmer and Yiddish culture. It became a biennial event, held on Labour Day weekend at Harbourfront Centre, and my own smouldering appreciation for Klezmer music was brought to full vivid flame by performances I saw there, by bands such as the Klezmatics, Brave Old World, and Andy Statman. There were free shows along with paid shows, theatre, a parade, art, and of course lots of good food.

It was exciting, back then, because it was both old and new, and of course for many of us who had grown up in North America, a lot of the old stuff was new. I’d never been exposed to Eastern European Jewish music, the roots of Klezmer, before. When I played it to my parents, who had grown up in Western Europe, it was new to them as well: they had been raised on Mozart and Beethoven. Yet somehow this music called to me, and sounded like coming home in a way that much other world music didn’t. And it had a good beat and you could dance to it, too.


Report from the G20 Demo


by: on June 30th, 2010 | 15 Comments »

Saturday June 26th, the anti-G20 demonstration in Toronto was planned to start at 1 pm. I had been uncertain as to whether to go; originally a group of Tikkun Toronto veterans had planned an alternative demonstration, focussed around the slogan, “Open your heart to what matters more.” But the unexpected death of the brother of one core member, and difficulties around getting permission, and the predictions of violence and anarchy that the media had been purveying had reduced our enthusiasm below the critical mass we needed to make it happen. Perhaps, I thought, I don’t need to go. But the MSM descriptions of protesters against the G20 as “thugs and anarchists”, the spending of $1.2 billion on the summit, the revelation of new powers to arrest and detain that the police had been secretly given all made me feel that my right to peacefully gather with my peers was worth coming out to defend. As governments try to balance their budgets on the backs of the poor, lowering taxes on corporations and offering billions to financial institutions that have become too big to fail, surely someone should speak up. And if not me, then who? I created a “My Canada WAS a free country” t-shirt, and went down to the rally, humming the Rolling Stones’ “I went down to the demonstration, to get my fair share of abuse”.

The Black Bloc at the G20 demo in Toronto

In front of Queen’s Park, the Ontario provincial legislature, there were about 25,000 people gathered. While waiting for the speeches, they chanted,”The people united, will never be defeated.” After years of hearing this, I couldn’t help but think that I wasn’t sure I still believed this. But as I wandered around, looking for all the friends and fellow travellers I knew were also there, I realized that it wasn’t really relevant, because while these people may have been many things, they weren’t united. Among the groups were the Ontario Federation of Labour (the organizers), CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), assorted teachers’ unions, the Black Bloc, the Iranian and Iraqi communist parties (marching together!) , independent Kashmir, independent Khalistan, independent Palestine, independent Quebec, the Animal Liberation Front, the American Tea Party, “9/11 Was An Inside Job”, a lot of Trotskyist-Socialist-Marxist groups all selling newspapers, Greenpeace, an anti child-abuse group (are the G20 pro child-abuse?), a person with a sign protesting the mind-rays she claimed the government was using to control what people think, and the Judean People’s Front. (OK, I’m lying about them). But whatever this crowd might have been called, it wasn’t united.


Business Class Refugees: Kartick & Gotam


by: on June 13th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

Who are these guys? Whatever are “business class refugees”? And, most of all, why should I care?

You should care because this album, Business Class Refugees, is a new and extraordinary music, created internationally, in ways that simply haven’t been possible till now. It comes out thirty years after “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” the pioneering Byrne / Eno collaboration which used electronic ambience, and world music behind sampled vocal tracks, but assembled painfully in the studio through analog trial and error. Kartick and Gotam, known as K&G, also weave a beating net of electronic ambience, but overlay it with a stunning selection of Indian and south Asian musicians as foreground. And they do it live with visuals as well, though that comes later.


The Shadow of Israel


by: on June 6th, 2010 | 17 Comments »

In my exploration of the BDS movement a week ago here, I talked about Margaret Atwood, who had chosen to not boycott the Dan David prize of which she was co-winner. She’s written a piece for Haaretz about her experience of Israel, that is a profound and eloquent exegesis of her Israeli experience. She admits that going into the issue she had “strayed into the Middle-eastern neighbourhood with a mind as open as it could be without being totally vacant”, and says, not unfairly, “The whole experience was like learning about cooking by being thrown into the soup pot.”

So what does she conclude about Israel?

The Israelis I met could not have been more welcoming. I saw many impressive accomplishments and creative projects, and talked with many different people. The sun was shining, the waves waving, the flowers were in bloom. Tourists jogged along the beach at Tel Aviv as if everything was normal. But… there was the Shadow. Why was everything trembling a little, like a mirage? Was it like that moment before a tsunami when the birds fly to the treetops and the animals head for the hills because they can feel it coming?

I’d been told ahead of time that Israelis would try to cover up the Shadow, but instead they talked about it non-stop. Two minutes into any conversation, the Shadow would appear. It’s not called the Shadow, it’s called “the situation.” It haunts everything.

The Shadow is not the Palestinians. The Shadow is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, linked with Israeli’s own fears. The worse the Palestinians are treated in the name of those fears, the bigger the Shadow grows, and then the fears grow with them; and the justifications for the treatment multiply.


Exploring Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions


by: on May 26th, 2010 | 14 Comments »

BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is the increasing popular weapon of choice amongst many of us who oppose the actions and positions of the current Israeli government. It is also the Israeli weapon of choice against Gaza, though if pushed they resort to more direct weapons. At the heart of the debate over BDS lies the question of whether it is right to call for a boycott of Israel of when so many other countries do so many worse things. Some BDS opponents claim that call is the demon of anti-Semitism rearing its subtly disguised head. But as Hamlet noted, “Use every man after his dessert, and who should ‘scape whipping?” If I were to boycott every country that committed human rights abuses, I fear I’d have to walk naked for lack of a source of moral clothing. So do I then boycott none? How do I decide?


Adolf Hitler, Michael Lerner, and I


by: on May 5th, 2010 | 17 Comments »

This is a story I have always known, a story I grew up with. It is the story of how in Germany on Kristallnacht, Nov 9th, 1938 the mob which was destroying the houses of all the Jews in Mainz came to the house in which my Jewish grandparents lived. There they were met by Maria, my family’s Catholic cook, who faced the mob and said, “Why are you here? You know these people and you know they have done nothing to harm you.” And the people left the house untouched.

Nor was this the only story my grandmother told me of such kindnesses. I heard of their gardener, who had to be let go because Jews were not allowed to keep Christian servants, and who became Hitler’s gardener, and managed to get vegetables to my grandparents during the first two years of the war before they were able to escape. And when they did leave, the butcher gave them a smoked beef tongue, which they ate while riding the trans-Siberian railroad till they got to Vladivostok, where they took a ship which got through Japan before Pearl Harbor, and eventually landed in Seattle, where they were able to tell me these stories as I grew up. My grandmother told me the stories to teach me that not all Germans were bad. I remember that she said the Holocaust could happen anywhere; it could happen in Canada, or in the United States. And with that absolute sense of certainty about the world that teenagers have, I claimed that it could never happen here. Now, forty plus years later, I believe she was right and I was wrong. But sadly, I cannot tell her that in person. I can only show her that through what I do in the world.


Neil Innes: Pop Goes Your Culture


by: on May 3rd, 2010 | 4 Comments »

All around the musical village
The alarm-clock chased the vulture.
The sands ran through the hourglass -
Pop! goes your culture.

…………..(old children’s song)

“Good evening,” said Neil Innes, as he stepped out onto the Hughes’ Room stage last Thursday. “It’s wonderful to be.”

He opened with “I’m the Urban Spaceman“, ended it after 30 seconds, smiled at the audience and said, “Thank you. That was a medley of my hit.” I laughed, though I remembered that he had started his show at Edinburgh Festival 20 years ago with the same song and line. But then he’d performed the whole song, and now it was just a thumbnail from his (and my) past.

I first saw Neil Innes in 1969 in Boston, when he was a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a UK band of art-school graduates who were heavily into surrealism and dada art. They performed a 30 second Neil Sedaka parody called “Kama-Sutra“, a painfully extended blues song (“Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?”) in which Neil played a guitar with a four foot long neck, explaining sotto voce that, “this next song will feature a long guitar solo.” Other songs included an electric trouser press, and a female mannequin leg with built-in theremin, which made screeching sounds if you moved your hand close to it. There were about a dozen members in the band, and they were quite wonderfully manic.


The New Palestinian Peace Offensive


by: on April 28th, 2010 | 10 Comments »

For years, Israel has said that it cannot negotiate with Palestinians because there is no leader who can represent Palestine and who doesn’t support violence. But finally, things are changing. It appears to be increasingly accepted by Palestinians on the West Bank that the path that offers them the most hope is a non-violent path of demonstrations against the occupation at home and the world wide push for BDS against Israel. Front and centre in this is the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad.

As always in dealing with the Middle East, perception is as important as reality. So the significance of this recent article in the New York Times is two-fold: both what it says, and that the Times (not traditionally a paper that has said much positive about Palestinians) is saying it.

Palestinians Try a Less Violent Path to Resistance New York Times