The Forgotten Exodus Podcast Review

Immigration from one land to another is part and parcel of human history. Unfortunately, so are violence, expulsion, and becoming a refugee.

The new podcast, The Forgotten Exodus, tells the story of Mizrahi Jews who were either forced out of predominately Arab lands or left of their own volition. Produced by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which also produces People of the Pod, this limited series started releasing episodes this week.

Each week, the listener is introduced to one person who tells the story of their family. This person speaks both of their familial past in the land of their ancestors and their experiences living outside of that country. After this narrative is told, a historian fills in the gaps with the documented events that led to the immigration or expulsion.

When we talk about Jews, the focus is often on Ashkenazi Jews. The problem is that in doing so, we forget that Jews come from many nations and have different skin tones. This podcast rounds out the Jewish narrative and brings new colors and flavors to a tale that the listener thinks they know.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

New episodes of The Forgotten Exodus drop every Monday.

Jon Stewart Spoke the Truth About the Republican’s Reactions to the PACT Act

When it comes to our veterans, the generally accepted response is to shake their hands and verbally thank them for putting their lives on the line. While that is well and good, we need to ensure that they have access to medical care that is unique to their experience.

Last week, many Republicans voted against the PACT act. The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that those who were exposed to burn pits can see a doctor when dealing with the adverse side effects of this exposure. Ironically, they voted for the bill last month.

The response from veterans and comedian/former The Daily Show host Jon Stewart was swift and loud.

Why does it take a famous comedian to shine the spotlight on what should be an obvious agreement? This is not a political issue that depends on one’s belief system. This bill and the money that is being put aside is for our fellow Americans who put their lives, their families, and their futures on hold to protect this nation and its values.

And how do we thank them for their service? Not by providing free treatment when they are living with cancer or another fatal disease? We tell them good night, good luck, and shove them out the figurative door. Let them die, let their families grieve, and deal with the multiple after-effects of that loss.

Like many men of their generation, both my grandfathers fought in World War II. When they came home, they were not kicked to the curb by the politicians of the era. They had the GI Bill. That gave them access to education, home ownership, etc. Where is the conscious of some of those in power today? I’d like to think that deep down, they have one. But I have yet to see it.

This was just another round of political “top that”. It’s not about serving the people, it is about their want to stay in power. Just another reason to vote them all out in November.

Where the Crawdads Sing Movie Review

*This review is solely based on the movie. I have not read the book yet.

Rumors are powerful. Regardless of whether or not they are truthful, they have a way of developing a life of their own.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a new movie based on the book of the same name by Delia Owens. Set in 1969 in the South, Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones) has been on her own since she was a child. Growing up in the woods, she is known in town as “the marsh girl”. Though she is independent and able to take care of herself, a part of her yearns for love and acceptance.

When Kya’s ex-boyfriend, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is found dead, the finger is pointed at Kya. Defending her is local lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn). The film flicks back and forth from the present to the past. Included in Kya’s past is her first love, Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith).

This film is really good. The whodunit aspect of the narrative kept me on tenterhooks. Kya is the type of heroine who is likable, human, and an outsider. That outsiderness is what made me want to follow her story and understand the choices she makes.

The visuals are fantastic. The beauty of nature and the animals that make up the world around us were front and center, adding layers and a character that is both touchable and distant.

The only issue I have is the characterizations of Mabel (Michael Hyatt) and Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr.). They own the local general store and are one of the few allies that Kya has. The problem is that they are the only people of color in the film and unfortunately falls into the magical negro category.

Produced by Reese Witherspoon, this movie is one of the best this year. It is a slow burn that made me question if I knew the whole story until the very end.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Where the Crawdads Sing is presently showing in theaters.

By the Book (Meant to Be Series) Book Review

The haters to lovers trope is one that had been used many times, by many authors, in many different ways. The figurative beauty of this well-known narrative arc is its ability to be dynamic and uniquely moldable to a new perspective.

By the Book is the second book in the Meant to Be Series. Written by Jasmine Guillory and published in May, it is essentially a modern-day rom-com version of Beauty and The Beast. For the last three years, Isabelle has been working at her NYC-based publishing company, hoping to be noticed by her manager. In her mid-twenties, she is one of the few African American employees and starting to become disillusioned.

While on a work trip to California, she finally seizes upon an opportunity to get the appreciation she deserves. Beau is a well-known author who has been radio silent on the status of his manuscript. She decides to try to talk to him in person. When Isabelle finally meets Beau, she discovers that his reputation of being impersonal and hard-headed is not too far off from reality.

Getting Beau to open up is a bigger task than Isabelle initially expected it to be. But as they spend time together, both Beau and Isabelle learn that each of them is lost in their own way and may find what they are looking for in one another.

This book had me at hello. It was delicious, romantic, funny, and held me by the lapels from beginning to end. Guillory holds tight to the Disney narrative while remaking it in her own image. I loved Isabelle’s spunkiness, Intelligence, and drive. Beau, as the leading man, has his own troubles, making him relatable and enough of an asshole to challenge both the reader and his future other half.

Do I recommend it? Of course.

By the Book (Meant to Be Series) is available wherever books are sold.

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Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life Book Review

Where an author lives often plays a role in their perspective and their work.

Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life, by Evan Hughes, was published in 2011. It tells the story of the history of Brooklyn via her writers from the late 19th century until the modern era.

He delves into the writing, the lives, and the neighborhoods of noted authors such as Walt Whitman, Arthur Miller, Truman Capote, Jennifer Egan, and Richard Wright. Each author, in their own way, use Brooklyn and their experience in the borough as a backdrop for their work and their character’s point of view.

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I enjoyed this book. Though it could be seen as a little niche, it could also be seen as both a history book and a series of vignettes about respected writers. As a native Brooklynite, I enjoyed learning about the subjects and how their non-writing life influenced the works they would become known for.

My only complaint was that I wish that Hughes would have included more female writers.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life is available wherever books are sold.

Married… With Children Character Review: Jefferson D’Arcy

The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*I apologize for not posting last weekend. There is only so much time in a day.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television show Married… With Children. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

When we get married, the hope is that your spouse says “I do” because they are in love and want to make a life with you. But not everyone marries for love. Some marry for the lifestyle.

In Married…With Children, Jefferson D’Arcy (Ted McGinley) is the second husband of the former Marcy Rhoades (Amanda Bearse). The best description of him is that he is a pretty boy. Younger than his wife, Jefferson has married Marcy for her money. He has no ambition and cannot see beyond his own image. The male version of Peggy Bundy (Katey Sagal), he is fine with sitting at home all day or spending Marcy’s money without a second thought.

At this wife’s urging, Jefferson does try his hand at work. But every job he has goes down in flames, mostly due to the women he works with. Upon meeting her husband’s colleagues, Marcy demands that he quit, sending him back to the life of a pampered househusband.

He also represents Al Bundy‘s (Ed O’Neill) worst instincts. If there is an opportunity for a get-rich-quick scheme, Jefferson is quick to get on board with Al not too far behind him. When it comes to his marriage, Marcy wears the pants and has no problem telling her husband what to do. When she is not around, however, Jefferson is not above mocking his wife, ignoring her instructions, and maybe cheating on her.

To sum it up: Part of maintaining a relationship is honesty. The best thing you can say about Jefferson is that he is honest about his intentions. It is certainly better than some people, who married for money and pretend to marry for love.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

This will be my last character post for Married….With Children. Come back next week to find out which group of characters I will be reviewing next.

Jews Don’t Count Book Review

Intersectionality and progress go hand in hand. We cannot make this country and this world better if we only speak to or include certain groups of people.

David Baddiel‘s 2021 book, Jews Don’t Count, takes this racist concept and drops it squarely in the lap of the reader. He speaks about antisemitism on both the right and the left, referring to certain politicians in both the US and the UK. On the right, we are not accepted because we are Jews. On the left, we are seen as the oppressor because the image of the Jew is often of one of Ashkenazi descent (i.e. White). And of course, the issue of Israel is packed in and used as needed.

He also takes on Jewface and the controversy of a non-Jewish performer playing a Jewish character. Particularly when this character is a full-on stereotype without the nuances and humanity that are given to the non-Jewish character.

The problem he points to is loud and clear: if we are to move forward and create a better world, all groups must be included. No one should be left out.

There are only a handful of books that I think everyone should read. Jews Don’t Count is one of them. Especially those of us who are fighting for a future in which we are all equal and judged on our merits, not on our labels.

There was one line that has stayed with me. At this stage of his life, Baddiel is an atheist. He stated that if he were a hidden Jew who was outed during World War II, he would still be killed because he is Jewish. Nothing else would have mattered to the Nazis.

A couple of recent headlines perfectly summed up this idea. Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro (whom I disagree with about everything) made the following statement about Reform Jews:

“What do you think about what former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer once said: that Israel should put its political fortune in the Evangelist community rather than in the Reform Jewish community [in the US]?” Segal asked Shapiro, who at just 38 years of age has written 11 books.

“As a matter of blunt fact, that’s true,” Shapiro answered. “It’s an unfortunate reality of life in the United States that Reform Judaism, as a branch, does not see Jewish identity in a serious way, as central.

“It’s a very simple rubric for me: If as a Jew, your values are more in line with same-sex marriage, transgenderism and abortion than they are with, for example, the safety and security of the State of Israel – I have serious questions about how you think about yourself as a Jew,” he continued, receiving a standing ovation.

Then Pennsylvania Senator Doug Mastriano (who is also on the political right) said the following about Shapiro:

“We don’t want people who are atheists. We don’t want people who are Jewish. We don’t want people who are, you know, nonbelievers, agnostic, whatever. This is an explicitly Christian movement because this is an explicitly Christian country.” He also added: “Ben Shapiro is not welcome in the movement unless he repents and accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior

It doesn’t matter to Mastriano and his ilk that he and Shapiro have the same beliefs when it comes to this country’s identity and future. It only matters that Ben Shapiro is a Jew.

The only way to stop this kind of thinking is to stand together. Until we do, the ideals that our founders believed in will be just that.

Do I recommend it? Without a doubt.

Jews Don’t Count is available wherever books are sold.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings Book Review

“Normal” is relative. What is every day to one person is out completely out of the ordinary for another.

To say that Chrysta Bilton‘s childhood was anything but ordinary is an understatement. Raised in and around Los Angeles, her story is told in the new memoir, Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings. It was published earlier this month.

In the early 1980s, her mother, Debra was out of the closet and wanted to be a mother. Other than getting married to a man and making a baby the old-fashioned way, her options were limited. She would have to go to a sperm bank. While getting her hair done one day, Debra met Jeffrey Harrison. He was everything she wanted the father of her children to be.

Through Debra tried to create a traditional family structure for both Chrysta and her younger sister, it was anything but. She had a series of partners, addiction issues, and tried to support her daughters via get-rich-quick schemes.

When Chrysta finally discovered the truth about her parentage and her many half-siblings, she was forced to face a reality that would force her to shift her worldview.

This book is amazing. Bilton’s story is complicated, emotional, difficult at times, and shows the truth about what it is to have a family. What I found inspiring is that Bilton somehow came out of this extraordinary childhood with a resolve and a strength that some might not have developed at all.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings is available wherever books are sold.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir Book Review

America has been built on the back of immigrants for over two hundred years. But in every generation, there are those who forget this and try to limit who can enter this country.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir, by Jane the Virgin writer by Rafael Agustin, was published this month. Born in Ecuador, Agustin entered the United States with his parents as a young boy. He believed himself to be as American as any other child. That belief is shattered when he tried to get his driver’s license in high school and is unable to do. When he gets home, Rafael is told that they entered the country illegally and have been undocumented ever since.

Though the truth is out, the question of Rafael’s future is now unknown.

I loved this memoir. His voice is so clear that you can easily see the world as he knew it to be then. The narrative speaks to the American dream and why so many have walked on that same path.

If nothing else, it reminded me of why my own relations immigrated more than a century ago. Their dreams of their future and their children’s future were the same as Agustin’s parents, even in a different time and place.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Illegally Yours: A Memoir is available wherever books are sold.

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Flashback Friday: Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers (1988 to 1990)

There is something about a childhood cartoon that instantly takes you back to that time in life. That innocent, simple era when decisions were uncomplicated and nothing was impossible.

Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers was a Disney cartoon that aired from 1988 to 1990. The series followed best friends Chip (Tress MacNeille) and Dale (Corey Burton) as they fight crime with their friends and save the day.

This show was so much fun when I was a kid. It was charming, it was entertaining, and perhaps there was a lesson or two subtly built into the narrative.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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