Harry Potter taught at Bar-Ilan University

June 24, 2003

* Harry Potter taught at Bar-Ilan University
* Gay pride in Israel; Gay torture in the West Bank

 

CONTENTS

1. "'Exodus' author Leon Uris dies at 78" (News wires)
2. "Study lists Israel as Western country most plagued by labor strikes" (News wires, June 24, 2003)
3. "Harry Potter 101 taught at Bar-Ilan University" (Jerusalem Post, June 22, 2003)
4. "Jerusalem gay pride parade has room for everyone" (Jerusalem Post, June 22, 2003)
5. "Gay pride and Israel's," (By Bret Stephens, editor, Jerusalem Post, June 19, 2003)


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach five recent "human interest" stories from Israel, not directly connected to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. There are summaries of items 3, 4 and 5, for those of you who don't have time to read them in full.

SUMMARIES

1. "'Exodus' author Leon Uris dies at 78" (News wires). Uris died on Saturday of natural causes at his home on New York's Shelter Island. He was 78.

2. "Study lists Israel as Western country most plagued by labor strikes" (News wires, June 24, 2003). A study by the Israeli Institute of Strategic Studies places Israel the first among Western countries in lost workdays due to labor strikes. Israel lost 1.8 million workdays. Next comes Canada with 1.27 and the U.S. with 1.21. Germany lost the least number of workdays, according to the study, which spans the period 1997 to 2000. The study found, perhaps expectedly, that 99 percent of strikes in Israel are in the public sector.

3. "Harry Potter 101 taught at Bar-Ilan University" (The Jerusalem Post, June 22, 2003). "Students studying literature don't have to take the train from platform 9 3/4 to Hogwarts to read the Harry Potter books in school next semester. It will do just as well to take the bus to Bar-Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, which has added Potter 101 to its curriculum of classics. Prof. Danielle Gorovitch, 37, a comparative literature lecturer specializing in 12th century Celtic and Anglo-Saxon folklore and tradition, will teach a course for the second time on the classical influence on the modern hero, focusing on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings."

A SEA OF RAINBOW-STRIPED FLAGS

4. "Jerusalem gay pride parade has room for everyone" (By Jenny Chazan, The Jerusalem Post, June 22, 2003). Jerusalem's Safra square was a sea of rainbow-striped flags, umbrellas, hats, scarves, and popsicles on Friday afternoon, where thousands of colorfully clad supporters of the second annual Love Without Borders Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade gathered to kick off the march. After postponing the event for one week following the suicide bombing of a No. 14 bus, that took the life of American immigrant and gay-rights advocate Alan Beer and 16 others, Jerusalem's gay community finally had its day in the sun...

Sandwich boards and banners depicted slogans including "Dykes and fags fighting all oppressions," "No pride in the occupation," and "Free condoms, free Palestine." "I think there is a connection between all people who are oppressed," said Oakland, California-based political organizer Dara Silverman, who is visiting Israel on a Palestinian solidarity mission.

Haifa also held its first gay pride parade also on Friday.

5. "Gay pride and Israel's" (By Bret Stephens, editor, Jerusalem Post). "... The march was supposed to have taken place last week; it was postponed after one of its organizers, 47-year-old American immigrant Alan Beer, was murdered by a Hamas suicide bomber... For those of us who devote a good amount of thought and breath defending Israel from various calumnies particularly those coming from the hard Left the fact that this march is taking place at all is excellent news. So Israel is a theocratic state? Show me an equivalent march taking place in Iran or Saudi Arabia. So the Israeli army is an instrument of Fascist oppression? Maybe, but gays and lesbians serve in the IDF's ranks without formal discrimination more than can be said for the U.S. armed services.

We're not a country that treats homosexuals the way the Palestinian Authority does... In fact, 'recovered' is what Palestinian gays must be if they are to survive in 'Palestine.' As Yossi Klein Halevi wrote last August in The New Republic, Islamic law prescribes five separate forms of death for homosexuals. To these, the Palestinian Authority adds several of its own. In the West Bank city of Tulkarm, Halevi reports, a young Palestinian homosexual he calls Tayseer 'was forced to stand in sewage up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces, and then he was thrown into a dark cell infested with insects and other creatures he could feel but not see... During one interrogation, police stripped him and forced him to sit on a Coke bottle. Throughout the entire ordeal he was taunted by interrogators, jailers, and fellow prisoners for being a homosexual.'

Tayseer's story is one of hundreds. Halevi also tells the story of one Palestinian homosexual who was put in a pit in Nablus and starved to death over Ramadan; of another whose PA interrogators 'cut him with glass and poured toilet cleaner into his wounds'; of a third who lives in fear of his life from his brothers.

... A few months ago, watching the news in the run-up to the Iraq war, I spotted a couple of demonstrators marching to a 'Queers for Palestine' banner. Note the preposition. While most of the antiwar marchers were merely against war (even if this meant keeping Saddam Hussein in power), these two were for Palestine. I spent the remainder of the evening trying to think of the nearest equivalent. Blacks for the Old South? Jews for the Ayatollah? 'Recovered' homosexuals?"

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLES

HARRY POTTER 101 TAUGHT AT BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY

Harry Potter 101 taught at Bar-Ilan University
By Shira Schoenberg
The Jerusalem Post
June 22, 2003

Students studying literature don't have to take the train from platform 9 3/4 to Hogwarts to read the Harry Potter books in school next semester. It will do just as well to take the bus to Bar-Ilan University, which has added Potter 101 to its curriculum of classics.

Prof. Danielle Gorovitch, 37, a comparative literature lecturer specializing in 12th century Celtic and Anglo-Saxon folklore and tradition, will teach a course for the second time on the classical influence on the modern hero, focusing on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. She does not see discussions of Weasley and Malfoy as incongruous with her medieval field.

"Throughout the Rowling hysteria, I've seen how nothing's changed [since the 12th century]. People are still fascinated with the same things the marvelous, magic, heroes who perform marvelous deeds through their own maturity and friendship."

While skeptics may raise their eyebrows at the idea, Gorovitch insists that the classical mythological influences on Rowling are obvious. "The goblet of fire story in book four, for example, is directly influenced by the story of the holy grail. But in the original myth, the hero Galahad died after he got the grail. Rowling couldn't make Harry die, so instead she killed Cedric Diggory."

When Gorovitch's class discussed the basilisk that Harry fights in book two, Gorovitch brought in copies of a medieval Christian chronicle that describes all animals "in existence" at the time, including the basilisk. Just as in Harry Potter, "the medieval basilisk was afraid of chickens. So people would walk around with cocks under their arms to keep it away," explained Gorovitch. The chronicle also give its readers the same warning that the centaur in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone gives Harry: It is a monstrous thing to slay a unicorn.

Rowling, who has a classical education, makes it easy for fellow Latinists to work out whodunit in the third book by just translating the characters' names (see Remus Lupin and Sirius Black).

Gorovitch has started reading the fifth book and has found allusions to 20th century events, including the two world wars and the war in Vietnam. She has also noticed the influence of children's writer Michael Ende.

"Rowling really combines classical influences with modern situations. She puts this world and the 'other world' together," said Gorovitch.

She's not yet far enough in the book, though, to be certain about the classical elements of book five.

So what qualifies Gorovitch as a leading "Potter-ologist"? For one, she has spent years studying medieval folklore, legends and myths, particularly those of King Arthur's court, which she says much of Harry Potter is based on. She wrote her MA dissertation at Bar-Ilan on Morgan Lasalle, a sorceress and half-sister of King Arthur who dedicated her life to killing him. Her PhD focused on Mary of France, a poetess and troubadour who lived in Henry II's castle and wrote short stories on Arthur's round table. She has also read myriads of books on magic, classics, and children's books.

Gorovitch has not actually met Rowling, and admits that she's not quite ready for that. "I need to think of a really smart question for her, and I haven't done that yet," she laughs. "She's my age, we both have small children. Maybe we'd just talk about baby-sitting."

While some may scoff at the idea of Harry Potter being taught alongside King Arthur, Gorovitch insists that the 21st century fantasy series is itself a timeless classic and attributes its appeal to a few characteristics. "Harry Potter is what anthropologist Joseph Campbell calls a universal hero. Anyone can identify with him. He's a child who finds out he has spiritual abilities, which most of us wish we could have, and he has the strength within himself to change his fate. Finally, it's a series, so we have enough time to grow and develop with him."

Fifty years from now, people will still be reading about muggles and wizards, predicts Gorovitch. "The genre of the marvelous is ever-attractive to children and adults. We live in a world of uncertainty; we need a little magic ourselves. Harry Potter makes you think, can I do this? Can I join the sports team I'm dreaming of? Can I overcome a force that is trying to prevent me from doing what I want?"

Judging by the response of her students, Gorovitch is not the only one who gets exuberant over Potteresque talk of elves and poltergeists. Morag Belinki, one of Gorovitch's students in last year's course, said, "Potter until now has been seen as a kid's book, and I'm happy to see that now it's in its proper place." She explained that from Gorovitch's class, "I've learned literature, psychology, history of England, of Ireland, the Celtic tradition."

Belinki and fellow student Snir Rosenfeld both agreed this was the best class they had taken at Bar-Ilan. Rosenfeld said, "Before I took the class, I was anti-Tolkien, now I absolutely love him. When she said there was a class on Harry Potter, I thought 'This is a break, it's not literature.' But she's connected us to it in a totally new way. If I could take the class again, I would."

Gorovitch is only in her second year at Bar-Ilan, teaching this course as well as a course on folklore studies, which examines hagiographies of saints from the 5th to 15th centuries. She is thrilled with how her Potter course turned out last year, and is excited to be teaching it again. "Over 30 students learned about the 12th century and the 14th century church, and they didn't know they were learning. They just thought they were having fun."

 

JERUSALEM GAY PRIDE PARADE HAS ROOM FOR EVERYONE

Jerusalem gay pride parade has room for everyone
By Jenny Chazan
The Jerusalem Post
June 22, 2003

The capital's Kikar Safra was a sea of rainbow-striped flags, umbrellas, hats, scarves, and popsicles on Friday afternoon, where thousands of colorfully clad supporters of the second annual Love Without Borders Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade gathered to kick off the march.

After postponing the event for one week following the suicide bombing of a No. 14 bus, that took the life of American immigrant and gay-rights advocate Alan Beer and 16 others, Jerusalem's gay community finally had its day in the sun.

"This is the best pride event," said 24-year-old Yovar Rabinovich, a lesbian from Ramat Hasharon. "Pride in Tel Aviv is so mainstream and commercial. You can only be gay, young, and beautiful. Here, it's still open. You can be all sorts of different things. There's room for everyone weird and wonderful."

Among the weird and wonderful crowd were one young woman in tzitzit (and pretty much nothing else), a teenaged boy in a hot pink tutu with matching water wings, and one angel-winged, bare-chested, rainbow-painted lady.

But not all participants were feeling so festive. Like last year's inaugural event, many marchers used the parade as a platform from which to voice left-wing political opinions. Sandwich boards and banners depicted slogans including "Dykes and fags fighting all oppressions," "No pride in the occupation," and "Free condoms, free Palestine."

"I think there is a connection between all people who are oppressed," said Oakland, California-based political organizer Dara Silverman, who is visiting Israel on a Palestinian solidarity mission.

"The oppression of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people and the oppression of Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews here in Israel are connected. Any struggle to be free is never going to happen if there are other people who are oppressed."

Also in attendance were members of political parties Meretz and Shinui, which both call for the full recognition of gay and lesbian couples.

"I made a special effort to come from Tel Aviv to be here, because this parade is more significant," said Jonathan Danilowitz, who hopes to represent Shinui on the Tel Aviv City Council.

"The parade in Jerusalem is much more special. Jerusalem is the most special city in the world. It's unique. I wouldn't miss it for anything."

"We are in one of the most religious cities in the world," noted a member of Young Meretz, which includes former Tel Aviv council member Edan Michal among the list of gay party members. "The fact that we're doing this is really great, because it builds an expression of our democracy and an expression of freedom."

"It is interesting," concurred New Jersey-based tourist Brian Shalinsky. "Most of us in America think it's more conservative here. We don't expect to see this in a place like Israel and especially Jerusalem," he said.
Haifa held its first gay pride parade also on Friday.

The fact that the march began at city hall is significant, especially in light of Mayor Uri Lupolianski's most recent comments about the event to Ma'ariv, wherein he called the gay pride parade an abomination.

Lupolianski, who had initially backed the gay community and was even quoted as saying that "Everyone has his March of the Living," seemed to have finally cracked under the pressure of the city's haredi community.

"They are desecrating our holy city with their perversions," said haredi protester Baruch Ben-Yosef, who stood among some two dozen demonstrators who showed up to cast dispersions on the parade across the street from Kikar Safra. "Even worse, is that the mayor is supposedly religious and he allows this to go on."

"This obscenity is as dangerous as the terrorism. In fact, we believe that it brings terrorism," said Shifra Hoffman, head of the Victims of Arab Terror International Organization. She held a banner that read, "Don't pollute our Holy Land. Your sick abominations should be treated, not flaunted."

"We are not racist. But the Torah, by which we claim this land, says that this is an abomination," she said. "These people deserve treatment if they want, but they have no right to flaunt their sickness and to say that this is the way to go."

While protesters chanted, "No gays, no terrorist attacks," the procession continued along Jaffa Road to Shlomo Hamelech and then to Agron, before concluding at Independence Park, where Interior Minister Avraham Poraz (Shinui) shared the stage with a handful of Jerusalem's drag queens, including soldier Talula Bonet, Lady Di, and Diva D.

The parade reached the park secure in the hands of the Jerusalem police, which has yet to arrest any of the outlawed Kach movement suspects who tore down and burned dozens of rainbow flags three days before the event.

"If there isn't a penalty for vandalism and incitement, then there is no incentive for people not to do those things," said 29-year-old Danny Labin, originally from Los Angeles. "If we don't look at history, it's tempting to say what's a little burning of a flag? But I think we've seen from the history of our own people that the burning of books can lead to the burning of bodies. We can't just overlook things like that, because they are full of the hatred that can spiral into something with much graver consequences."

Despite all the odds, parade organizers were happy with how the event turned out. "At the end of the day, the city did not pull back on a single commitment that it had made in terms of demonstrating support," said Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Jerusalem Open House LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer and Questioning) Community Center. "I think it was a wonderful day. I was moved, almost like the first time I kissed a guy."

 

GAY PRIDE AND ISRAEL'S

Gay pride and Israel's
By Bret Stephens
The Jerusalem Post
June 19, 2003

Today, June 20, gay and lesbian Israelis will parade through Jerusalem's streets, from City Hall to Independence Park. The march was supposed to have taken place last week; it was postponed after one of its organizers, 47-year-old American immigrant Alan Beer, was murdered by a Hamas suicide bomber aboard Bus 14A.

For those of us who devote a good amount of thought and breath defending Israel from various calumnies particularly those coming from the hard Left the fact that this march is taking place at all is excellent news. So Israel is a theocratic state? Show me an equivalent march taking place in Iran or Saudi Arabia. So the Israeli army is an instrument of Fascist oppression? Maybe, but gays and lesbians serve in the IDF's ranks without formal discrimination more than can be said for the US armed services.

Why, then, should those most opposed to this march be the same people, more or less, who are most ardently "pro-Israel"?

"This is a disgusting parade which has no place in a Jewish state," said Itamar Ben-Gvir, a spokesman for the outlawed ultranationalist Kach movement who also confessed to taking down 30 rainbow-striped flags in downtown Jerusalem. "The gay and lesbian community is a marginal, fringe group, and they must not be given a public stage," added MK Nissim Ze'ev of the haredi Shas party.

I know at least a few people who'd argue that it is Ze'ev and Ben-Gvir, not Beer, who represent a "fringe." But put that argument aside. The question is, when we boast that Israel is "the only democracy in the Middle East" (Turkey honorably excepted), what are we really saying? Exactly how does it distinguish us from our neighbors and enemies? And what obligations does it impose upon Israelis, gay and straight?

One way to get at these questions is to point to what we're not. For starters, we're not a country that treats homosexuals the way the Palestinian Authority does.

A few months ago, watching the news in the run-up to the Iraq war, I spotted a couple of demonstrators marching to a "Queers for Palestine" banner. Note the preposition. While most of the antiwar marchers were merely against war (even if this meant keeping Saddam Hussein in power), these two were for Palestine. I spent the remainder of the evening trying to think of the nearest equivalent. Blacks for the Old South? Jews for the Ayatollah? "Recovered" homosexuals?

In fact, "recovered" is what Palestinian gays must be if they are to survive in "Palestine." As Yossi Klein Halevi wrote last August in The New Republic, Islamic law prescribes five separate forms of death for homosexuals. To these, the Palestinian Authority adds several of its own. In the West Bank city of Tulkarm, Halevi reports, a young Palestinian homosexual he calls Tayseer "was forced to stand in sewage up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces, and then he was thrown into a dark cell infested with insects and other creatures he could feel but not see... During one interrogation, police stripped him and forced him to sit on a Coke bottle. Throughout the entire ordeal he was taunted by interrogators, jailers, and fellow prisoners for being a homosexual."

Tayseer's story is one of hundreds. Halevi also tells the story of one Palestinian homosexual who was put in a pit in Nablus and starved to death over Ramadan; of another whose PA interrogators "cut him with glass and poured toilet cleaner into his wounds"; of a third who lives in fear of his life from his brothers.

"It's now impossible to be an open gay in the PA," says Shaul Ganon of Aguda-Association of Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender in Israel.

All this is of a piece with the broader treatment of homosexuals throughout the Muslim world. The Taliban used to put homosexuals to death by collapsing a wall on them. In Malaysia, the maximum penalty for sodomy is 20 years in prison and "mandatory whipping." In Egypt, an increasingly severe crackdown on homosexuals is now entering its third year. In April, Brazil put forward a gay-rights resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission; Muslim countries successfully filibustered it.

And so on. Of course, everybody knows this, though nobody talks about it much. And of course, everybody knows that Israel is a comparatively receptive place for gays and lesbians, though nobody talks about it much, either. Along with South Africa, France, Ireland, Canada and Spain, Israel has been in the forefront of granting legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. So when we say, "We are the only democracy in the Middle East," we are not simply making a statement about our political structure, but about social and cultural attitudes. We are a typical Western state. Nothing demonstrates it better than today's march.

"Typical," however, is also problematic. Typical Western states also mass produce and widely disseminate pornography, ingest gigantic quantities of narcotics and generally suffer every plague of affluence. The gay-rights movement, some argue, belongs in this category.

I don't buy this for a second. But I appreciate why the argument is made. "Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance Of Gays Back 50 Years," went a headline a few years back in The Onion, a satirical newspaper. "'I'd always thought gays were regular people, just like you and me, and that the stereotype of homosexuals as hedonistic, sex-craved deviants was just a destructive myth'" the paper "quoted" Hannah Jarrett, a fictional 41-year-old mother of four. "'Boy, oh, boy, was I wrong.'"

The Onion gets it exactly. For decades, the basic problem with the gay-rights movement has been that it tended to make opposite demands. It rightly insisted on mainstream acceptance and equal protection of the laws. Insanely, it then proceeded aggressively to flaunt its every difference. The aim, it seemed, was not to join a mainstream in the manner of the black civil rights movement or feminism, but to overthrow the very concept of "mainstream."

The result was to confirm every lurid prejudice about gay life. Sexually promiscuous? Emotionally unstable? Morally suspect? Politically radical? The icons of gay life in the 1970s and 1980s, from Michel Foucault to the Village People to Calvin Klein, all giddily seemed to answer yes.

My guess is that the way in which the gay-rights movement pursued its agenda set it back by at least a decade. That both the IDF and the British military allow openly gay service members ought to have been enough to show that the US armed forces could have done the same but the gay community bears its share of the blame for making its case such a difficult one to make. Ditto for gay marriage, which only this week was legalized in Canada: This was something that ought to have happened ages ago, if only more of the gay community had been demanding it back then, and if (male) gay relationships did not have a reputation for being so fickle.

Now this is changing. As Andrew Sullivan writes, among gays "a need to rebel has quietly ceded to a desire to belong. To be gay and to be bourgeois no longer seems such an absurd proposition. Certainly since AIDS, to be gay and to be responsible has become a necessity."

Sullivan is right indeed, has to be right. Those who opposed the gay-rights revolution cannot realistically expect that today's homosexuals will simply be pushed back into the closet. And to preserve existing legal barriers against gays would only perpetuate a gay subculture that is both neurotic and alienating. The only decent conservative alternative is to insist that gay men and women join the social and cultural mainstream and enact the policies required for them to do so.

Which brings me back to Beer. Cleveland-born, a software engineer, "Al" was also an observant Jew who came to Israel five years ago because "it gave him the opportunity to pray as he wanted and live the [Jewish] life he wanted," according to Ze'ev Pertrucci, a former roommate. Interviewed by The Jerusalem Post in 1999, Beer said his homosexuality had presented no obstacles to joining an Orthodox synagogue.

"My understanding of being Orthodox is that there is a long list of mitzvot to keep, which is what I do," he said. "It doesn't bother my being religious."

Testifying in the Knesset the same year, Beer told a parliamentary committee he was "proud of my many identities": Gay, Orthodox, Jerusalemite, Zionist. "People can be both free and holy," he said. Friends recall his "American swagger," his Hawaiian shirts, his passion for cinema, his "infectious laugh," his willingness to volunteer, easygoingness.

Beer was murdered after returning from a shiva call for a friend up north. Had he not been on that bus, he would have marched Friday for gay pride. Would any of us not want him back? And would any of us, really, not have wanted him there?


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.