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The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), taking place July 24 – August 9, 2010, announced today the launch of the New Jewish Filmmaking Project’s Half-Remembered Stories, a new multi-media exhibition, co-created by young adult filmmakers, who explore their Jewish past by combining new digital media formats with traditional storytelling forms. SFJFF teamed up with San Francisco based production company Citizen Film and 11 Bay Area emerging artists, ranging in age from 15 to 25, to explore “half-remembered” aspects of Jewish history from the digital generation’s point of view. The result is 50 short films, several of which will premiere on the big screen at the Festival, and 11 multi-media collages to be presented online beginning June 22, 2010 at www.njfp.org and at interactive kiosks in theatre lobbies throughout the festival.

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How Many Stamps Do You Have?

Passports and visas became requirements for foreigners traveling in the United States in 1918. Since then, the laws, restrictions, requirements, expenses, and the amount of time put into acquiring and maintaining a valid passport and visa have grown to an extremely challenging point. Traveling in and out of the United States is becoming more difficult. The difficulties of obtaining a passport and a visa prevent people from reaping the benefits of travel.

A common challenge people face when dealing with the process of buying a passport and visa is time. The time it takes to receive a passport after the long complicated registering process can be from 6-10 weeks. This creates challenges right and left, and anybody who wants or needs it any quicker can receive it maybe two weeks earlier; but of course they just need to pay another sum of $60-$70 dollars more.

Alex Brown, a Mill Valley local; working in the Mill Valley public library is a frequent traveler. She is constantly in and out of Mexico. Having a friend with a Mexican citizenship she crosses the border once or twice a month. She states in a personal interview on May 9, 2010, “Before the passport laws were changed in 2008 or 2009 I didn’t even need to bring my passport with me crossing the Mexican border.” Later she talks about how the traveling has become more recently, “The Mexican border is extremely lax, going back into the U.S. is such a hassle; driving through San Diego it can sometimes take you five hours. They pull you over to ask questions, identification, drivers license.” Alex now uses a border fast pass just to avoid the constant struggle that comes with returning back into the U.S.

On top of the passport struggle, there is an emigration issue that Alex addressed in her personal interview. The lack of passport ownership has a great deal to do with time and money, but I wouldn’t be surprised if just knowing the difficulties of emigration was a large factor in the lack of passport owning Americans as well. There are numerous reasons why every U.S. citizen should be entitled to the ownership of a passport and visa and have are capable to get a hold of them easily as well.

Although the government has been addressing this particular problem with the passport system by creating the new border “fast pass,” it qualifies only for land crossing such as Canada and Mexico. The process to own a fast pass is even more complicated and expensive than a regular passport but afterwards traveling across these particular land borders is quicker and easier. Even though this seems like a step further in the advancement of passport and visa ownership I believe that these fast passes are really another way to keep the business flowing in and out of the states. In CQ Weekly Liriel Higa states in her Narrowing the Highway to America’s Neighbors article, “U.S. citizens made more than 130 million trips across the borders with Canada and Mexico last year. The stakes are high for companies that depend on routine border crossings…” Higa then points out potential risk about America’s economy if passports continue to be this much of an issue, “Requiring a passport of everyone who crosses the border may have the wider adverse economic effect of slowing the removal of trade barriers begun more than a decade ago by the North American Free trade agreement…”

Money is a significant factor into the recent challenges in obtaining a modern day passport as well. Passports began being purchased for a somewhat decent rate of $60-80 before this generation with a renewal rate of about $60 and that was hard enough for the more financially challenged citizens. Sometime between 2008 and 2009 the price increased all the way up to $97 to purchase and renew and other sources, such as Howard LaFranchi from EBSCO host recorded that the cost of your first passport has skyrocketed to a whopping $135, (not including getting the 2 year or 10 year renewal depending on whether you’re an adult or a minor.) To the successful wealthy American this may not seem like such a large amount of money, but to the average everyday American struggling in our up and down economy this can seem like an exuberant finance which compared to making a living and providing food for the family might not seem like such a critical item to invest in.

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Passports and visas are definite contributors to holding most Americans in their own little western bubble. Obtaining passports in the U.S. while as difficult as it sounds is still admittedly easier than obtaining passports and visas in other countries. The dilemma starts with the motivation of the average American citizen to even want to leave, travel, experience other ways of living and culture. What inspires an American nowadays?

Carol, a frequent traveler, has hundreds of stories about her voyages to many different foreign countries like India, all over Africa, in Sudan and Egypt, all over Europe, and Kazakhstan. She was able to travel to Kazakhstan 6-10 times a year because her husband works internationally. She says, “Other countries make it much harder for local people to obtain passports, they ask you why you want to travel and think you are going to leave the country for good.” After her years of experience dealing with visa difficulties to traveling all throughout Europe and being exposed to such different cultures, peoples, and places, she tells me, “The reason some people don’t travel has less to do with money or time, as it does where their not wanting to step out of their comfort zone. Some people are afraid of language barriers and the difficulties of leaving what’s familiar and dealing with foreign currency, different traditions, and customs.”

The incentive to obtain a passport in other nations is so much greater because people have a higher interest in venturing outside their borders and affiliating with other people. It really all comes down to basic education in a country.  In many other places they speak multiple languages, and because of this, they are exposed to other people and cultures, whereas in America, a majority of the population will only speak English for their entire lives, or rarely use any other languages they might have learned if they had ever learned other languages at all. Later in the interview Carol says, “Once people understand foreign cultures, they won’t see them as threat and may even focus on their similarities instead of their differences.”

With the already instilled Western mindset of “never having to leave” being so comfortable in our own nation without willing to see what the other parts of the world and cultures are like, this is only more reason to make passports more accessible to the everyday American.

We can’t control the people to go somewhere and learn other languages or even to interact with other people and cultures, but we can still control the accessibility of passports and visas for Americans, thus maybe instilling a little more motivation or incentive to travel, grow, thrive, and learn.

I know I’ve found my inspiration to travel. Along with my incredible Manhattan to Kazakhstanian godmother Carol, my uncle Andy’s beautiful wild travels all over the globe have lit up my entire life and exposed a whole another way of life for me.

As written about in my previous blogs (http://njfp.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/the-ability-to-be-the-greatest-inspiration-in-somebodys-life-without-ever-knowing-them/), his ability to embrace the world’s mysteries, beauties, and challenges with such grace and determination has changed my life.

He and others with stories similar to his have inspired me to become the person I am, to grow into myself, and to learn about the others with whom I share this planet. The best (and sometimes the only way) it seems to achieve such self-fulfilling and experiential goals is to leave the comfort zone of our borders and stretch our wings. I hope others find their inspiration as well, hopefully being able to do so with the same ease we have had for years without dealing with the burden of the everyday hassles of traveling; with passports, money, security, and time. We all seem to strive for our balance; we should be able to find that journeying throughout other countries as well.

Without maintaining connection with each other across the nation, I know we’ll lose the very connection we have with one another locally, and even the connection that holds us together within. It is time to reach out, and it is time to choose what each one of us is reaching for.

What are you reaching for? What or who inspires you? Share your thoughts about this issue with me and others on the blog and hopefully inspire many more.

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I interviewed my grandmother Susi on camera before her death, when I was 14. A few weeks ago I logged that footage into my computer, letting it run as I worked in another room; I could hear her voice—and it was so much more familiar than I remembered. It surprised me how vividly images of her house sprung up in my mind and how strongly they captured me. I wrote a list: the long tufts of grass peeking from between the rough concrete squares in her garden, the tree with the wonderful leaves, the lemon tree, the smell of the house, the taste of chocolate ice cream, the chex-mix and coffee-bean-chocolate in jars. It’s funny because reading that list now, I can’t figure out which tree had the wonderful leaves and find it unexpected that, of all things, I thought of the lemon tree. I had grown used to hearing her voice in her house, and hearing it from my computer now, it seemed as if she was next to me.

She and Leonard suddenly seemed close . . . as when we had once interacted and I heard Susi’s voice and she was part of my life. I felt they weren’t so far off. My dad was telling me of Leonard’s taxi-driving, how he drove like a lunatic. But that’s not far from how my dad drives, and I could picture Leonard in that seat as a father, swinging through the streets. Why had a frail, sad image of Susi and Leonard engrained itself in my mind and become permanent? Susi in these tapes didn’t look as weak as I had remembered—instead she was tolerant and good-humored and animated, reminding me a lot of my dad. I would add that Leonard, too, was not how I’d pictured, that he was tall and strong even in his old age; but I’m not sure if that was the case.

And as I watched the tape of Susi today, I was surprised at her energy. When the setting changed, however, and she sat in her room, the sad realization emerged that my memory had been correct to a degree. In this indoor footage I could see Susi’s frailty: her tiny shoulders and spare white hands, her messy hair and papery neck. Though she exuded strength in her character and though she made clear that life would not fade until she was ready, her body was weak.

Memory and reality is echoed and bounding, softened as it approaches and moves. The material and relied-upon facts, or what I viewed them to be, were based on my memory and skewed. With distance, the echo’s calmed, and mingles with emotions. I won’t picture Susi as bearing the weight of this last image… of her frailty and weakness. There are too many different images to rely on one. It makes most sense to me to imagine the feeling she creates—with her voice and the bright warmth and eagerness in her face. Also—I remember which tree had the wonderful leaves now and I can’t believe I didn’t connect it before: they weren’t so much leaves but bunches of tiny dried petals that floated away in flocks when squeezed.

A few clips of Susi are below:

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Protected: The Bible of Survival

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memory not material

I interviewed my grandmother Susi on camera before her death, when I was 14. A few weeks ago I logged that footage into my computer, letting it run as I worked in another room; I could hear her voice from where I was—and it was so much more familiar than I remembered. It surprised me how vividly images of her house sprung up in my mind, and how strongly they captured me. I wrote a list down that night: the long tufts of grass peeking from between the rough concrete squares in her garden, the tree with the wonderful leaves, the lemon tree, the smell of the house, the taste of chocolate ice cream, the chex-mix and coffee bean chocolate in jars. It’s funny because reading that list now, I can’t figure out which tree had the wonderful leaves, and find it unexpected that, of all things, I thought of the lemon tree. I had grown used to hearing her voice in her house, and hearing it from my computer then, it seemed as if she was next to me.

She and Leonard suddenly seemed close . . . as when we had once interacted and I heard Susi’s voice and she was part of my life. I felt they weren’t so far off. My dad was telling me of Leonard’s taxi-driving, how he drove like a lunatic. But that’s not far from how my dad drives, and I could picture Leonard in that seat as a father, swinging through the streets. Why had a frail, sad image of Susi and Leonard engrained itself in my mind and become permanent? Susi in these tapes didn’t look as weak as I had remembered—instead she was tolerant and good-humored and animated, reminding me a lot of my dad. I would add that Leonard, too, was not how I’d pictured, that he was tall and strong even in his old age; but I’m not sure if that was the case.

And as I watched the tape of Susi today, I was surprised at her energy. When the setting changed, however, and she sat in her room, the sad realization emerged that my memory had been correct to a certain degree. In this indoor footage I could see Susi’s frailty: her tiny shoulders and spare white hands, her messy hair and papery neck. Though she exuded strength in her character and though she made clear that life would not fade until she was ready, her body was weak.

This isn’t how I’ll picture her though… there are too many different images for me to rely on one. It makes most sense to me to imagine the feeling she creates—with her voice and the bright warmth and eagerness in her face. Also—I remember which tree had the wonderful leaves and I can’t believe I didn’t connect it before: they weren’t so much leaves but bunches of tiny dried petals that floated away in flocks when squeezed.

A few clips of Susi are below. The last one was filmed by my mom.

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This past Yom Kippur was the first time in five years that I fasted. And it sucked. As I entered the 22nd hour, I was doing laps in an Olympic-sized pool of self-pity. For perhaps the first time ever, I regretted taking a day off of work. I kept thinking how unnatural the whole thing was. I was hungry. There was food. I should eat. Fasting went against every animal instinct I had.

It was at this point that some part of my hunger-addled brain began to flicker. How great is it that we can not eat–by choice. I could’ve eaten any number of things lying around the house. Or I could’ve gone out and ordered food. Or I could’ve called a phone number, and someone would have brought food to me. In other times and other places, being presented with all of those options would have been nothing short of a miracle.

And yet it’s because food is so plentiful that we have the choice not to eat it. It’s like the old joke about how you never visit the legendary landmark next door until someone comes to visit you. Since you know it’s always going to be there, you don’t feel the need to take advantage of it immediately. And so it is with food. The more we have, the less we need.

Of course, these thoughts didn’t help the fast go any faster. As soon as 6:06 rolled around, I went after the snack tray as if the dolmas might evaporate any second. However, the fast did make me think, which I guess is the point of the holiday. It also reminded me of a concept I heard about a while back called the tragedy of the commons.

The idea refers to a hypothetical plot of land shared by a number of farmers. If the farmers each have enough sheep to keep the grass at a constant level, everybody wins. However, as soon as one farmer decides to try to earn more by adding another sheep, eventually the grass will run out, the sheep die, and everyone loses.

Especially the grass.

This applies to any limited resource; people will try to get as much of it as possible for themselves, but if everyone does this, the resource runs out. However, if we know we have enough, we can feel safe taking what we need, and nothing more.

And yet, even though we live in an age of unparalleled prosperity, there is still a general sense of unease. We know that the world is at a tipping point. It seems that the higher we build, the more complex we get, the more precarious our position: the recent financial collapse has demonstrated that quite clearly.

Historically, humanity’s goal has always been to grow. But, as we stand on the brink of 7 billion people, it’s becoming apparent that growth isn’t sustainable. What would happen if some crisis struck and crippled our modern infrastructure? Could we repair our own cars without electricity? Could we plant a garden without looking to the internet?

Which brings me to zombies. As you may have noticed, zombies are incredibly popular these days. These unreasoning, brain-hungry corpses are neck and neck (no pun intended) with vampires in terms of Google searches and kicking the crap out of werewolves, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that vampire-based fiction is currently responsible for approximately 78% of the American economy.

Suck on that, Team Edward (That makes sense, right?)

Several of my friends have started planning for the zombie apocalypse, and even have an escape route planned out in case of zombie attack.

While both vampires and zombies are undead creatures roaming the night looking for more people to infect, over the years vampires have been transformed into sparkling sex symbols, while zombies remained violent, bloodthirsty brutes. However, in recent films as well as all across the internet, the interest in zombies tends to focus on the aftermath of a zombie attack, rather than on the zombies themselves.

There’s both a lengthy Wikipedia article specifically on the zombie apocalypse and a Zombie Survival Wiki, not to mention an academic paper from the University of Ottawa about the effects of a zombie outbreak. Part of the attraction of the zombie apocalypse is the sheer freedom of it. I mean, in some respects, life would be like a giant game of Grand Theft Auto. You could go around, stealing cars, running over zombies, and doing missions for various underworld kingpins.

However, there would be a more serious side, and that’s where all this obsession and preparation would come in.

In almost every zombie movie, the survivors are forced to find a way to provide their own food, shelter, and clothing–to survive without modern technology or conveniences. You’d have to be prepared to go days without eating, and to live with only what you can carry. So, really, the aftermath of a zombie outbreak could stand in for that of any large scale disaster.

Say there’s a terrorist attack. Or some global warming-related weather event. Or the electric grid fails. Or SARS makes a comeback. Or genetically modified plants gain sentience and go on a killing spree. Or any of the dozens of things the news threatens us with every night. What would you do? Of course, nobody’s seriously preparing for all these events, and with good reason. You’d go crazy from the stress, or at the very least people would think you’re extremely paranoid for acting on what seems like a very unlikely possibility. And yet the anxiety remains. You can see it in the increasing popularity of hobbies like knitting, homebrewing, and DIY projects in general. There’s something in the air, and real or not, it’s best to be prepared.

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