Year 2, Week 9: The road map

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 397 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 248 hours
I have reviewed 4,570 individual flashcards

I wish I could remember studying Hebrew better, because I find myself curious as to how much Yiddish I know after 14 months compared to how much Hebrew I knew after the same amount of time. I feel like a know more. A lot more. But maybe not, as I worked pretty hard at Hebrew and feel like I absorbed it pretty well.

It's almost all gone now, nebekh. I'm unhappy to have learned something and forgotten it, and I am unhappy because I still occasionally need something to compare myself against, just to see how I am doing.

It's not like it used to be, when I started this project and obsessed about metrics. I've somewhat given up on the idea of fluency, and even of the importance of fluency, in favor of a philosophy of indulgence, where I study whatever Yiddish appeals to me and I find useful or enjoyable in my own life.

But there still is a little bit of my brain that thinks, what if? What if this weird, self-directed, cocooned study program I have invented for myself actually is leading to fluency, of a sort. After all, what is language but knowing a lot of words and how to assemble them, and that's exactly what I am studying.

I've been operating under this weird little theory, unproven and based on nothing but a hunch. But my feeling is that if you can convince 1000 Jews to learn 10 words of Yiddish, 100 of them will go on to learn 100 words. And 10 of those will go on to learn 1000 words. And one will go on to learn 10,000 words, which is about active vocabulary of an educated native speaker.

I base this on something completely unrelated to language, and something that is more a rule of thumb than anything that has data behind it. I used to work with a lot of salespeople, and they made a lot of cold calls, which is a frustrating undertaking. They would comfort themselves by telling themselves that it took 10 cold calls to find one person who was interested, and it took 10 interested people to make one sale.

So I have always proceeded with my life under the assumption that there would be 10 disinterested people for every one vaguely interested person, and 10 vaguely interested people for every one person who commits.

This theory might be appealing to me because I am such a flibbertigibbet. I have a need for novelty, so I constantly try new things, do them for as long as I am amused, and then dump them. It's why this blog has so many little projects on it, so that I can move from one to another when my interest wanes. If I try 100 things, there is probably 10 I will do for any length of time, and one I will do regularly.

Yiddish I do regularly. I'm the 1 in 100 in my equation. I don't know why I am doing it, except that I like it, and I don't know where it is headed, except to a collection of 10,000 flashcards in the next year and a half.

It's like I'm inventing a road map to an uncertain destination based on unrelated folk wisdom. But, then, since I have no real destination in mind, this road map works just fine.


Year 2, Week 8: A cat may also look at a king

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 393 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 245 hours
I have reviewed 4,530 individual flashcards

I feel like the hardest part of my project right now is coming up with something to talk about in these weekly progress reports. Most of the time, when people document a project like this, they do it for a year or less.

And, by "people," I mean A. J. Jacobs, who wrote "The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to follow the Bible as Literally as Possible," and has made a career of doing contained, discrete oddball projects, like reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, which took him 153 days.

It's harder to know what to say about an open-ended project, especially when you snap into a groove. I'm still exclusively adding new words from the Schaechter dictionary, and still enjoying it. Yesterday I learned that the Yiddish word for rabies is vassershrek, which means waterfear, which is delightful.

I received a nice couple of emails from a Yiddish scholar in London who suggested I try the Lily Kahn book "Colloquial Yiddish" to study Yiddish grammar, and I think I will do so. The grammar book I am currently using, "Grammar of the Yiddish Language" by Dovid Katz, feels like it is arranged academically rather than educationally; it explains grammar without teaching it.

This has gotten a little frustrating, because the stuff I have been studying just isn't sticking. So I'll put in an order for "Colloquial Yiddish" in a week or two, whenever I feel like I need to get back to grammar, and we'll see how that goes.

In the meanwhile, I feel like I am ready to start plugging in new proverbs again. As I mentioned, I am no longer stalling on them every time I see one, and I'm actually starting to remember a few without having to be prompted.

One day, maybe five, ten years from now, I'll be able to pull them out and use them when a moment requires it. "He thinks he's a big deal," a person will say, and I will answer "A ketz meg oikh kukn ofn kaiser," and they will say "what?" and I will just nod sagely.


My other name

I have another name

It's my first name, actually, although I only learned about it recently. There are some very early records of my life, locked away for almost 49 years at Hennepin County's Juvenile Court. They detailed my adoption, and, because the law then sealed these records, they were not available to me until I recently petitioned the court for them.

They came in the mail on Valentine's Day, and there it was, on page after page of official documents, my first name, the name before I was adopted, before I became a Sparber, when I had no real name and so was given a temporary one.

Baby Boy Monaghan.

I first heard this name about two years ago, from the adoption agency that handled my case. As some of you know, as a result of a DNA service, I discovered the identity of my biological mother, the deceased author and scholar Patricia Monaghan.

With the help of her husband I was able to gain access to my files from the adoption agency. And while I was speaking to a representative of the agency, she told me that before I was adopted, I was called Baby Boy Monaghan.

I fell in love with the name. It sounded like the moniker of a Victorian bare-knuckle boxer or a 1920s Irish gangster.

It also felt like it gave me a name for my Irish self.

As Max Sparber, I feel like what I am, a Jewish boy from St. Louis Park whose grandparents came from Eastern Europe, the guy who edits a Jewish newspaper, the guy who teaches himself Yiddish and writes this blog.

But there is another me as well. There's the me who was conceived in an Irish bar in Fairbanks, Alaska. The me whose biological mother was an Irish citizen and wrote scholarly books about Irish myth. The me who has always been aware of my Irish ethnicity, and who studied Irish history and mythology and language, who authored a blog about the Irish American experience called The Happy Hooligan. Who plays penny whistle and had a Celtic Punk band called the Peter O'Tooles.

That's me too.

Before learning the details of my adoption, that part felt undernourished. There are things Irish-Americans often know, like the county their family came from, and I didn't know it. Irish-Americans get their identities in a few places, largely from family, church, and bar, and I only had access to one of those three, and only when I turned 21.

Now I feel glutted, at least as far as family is concerned. (I will never have the church experience in any meaningful way, since I am Jewish, but, then, neither do Irish Jews, and there are plenty of them.) My DNA test brought me a massive biological family, who have been tremendously welcoming, and who passed along to me their family history.

So I know how I got here and where I came from, at least on my biological mother's side of things. I know that in the past there were the Monaghans, the Deasys, the Dunlanys, and the the Gordons, all from County Mayo.

I now have photographs of Irish immigrants who all look like me, and know their stories: The Manhattan police officer in the Victorian costume who was my biological great-great grandfather, the striking woman in the giant hat and fur collar who was my biological great-grandmother.

This is the part of me that is Monaghan, and I am glad to now have a name for it: Baby Boy Monaghan.


The Jewish press and poisonous comments

I'm buffaloed by the news media at this moment, genuinely buffaloed. One of the bedrocks of democracy, built on a bedrock myth of carefully sourced, objective reporting, has nonetheless turned over a massive amount of its publishing real estate to propaganda and bullying.

I speak, of course, of comments sections, and especially the comments found on social media platforms, most especially Facebook.

For some reason, our news sources have collectively refused to take responsibility for moderating these spaces, and they became what unmoderated spaces on the web always become: cesspools.

The media always had standards about what went out under their imprimatur. Sources had to be credible. Information from interviews had to be independently verifiable. Not just any yahoo could get on the air and say anything they wanted. Letters to publications were selected for publishing, fact checked, and edited, rather than simply published without any oversight.

I suspect there are two facts that discouraged these same organizations to provide the same sort of oversight on their comments and social media pages. The first is that it is expensive: You must pay someone to babysit the page and make use of the limited moderation tools available, which is mostly deleting and banning. Secondly, a company's web presence will, in general, not be under the direct control of the editorial department, but instead in the hands of IT, or PR, or some other department, who have a tendency to treat any activity at all as "engagement" and somehow desirable.

However it happened, the result were the same. Without moderation, online spaces have a long history of turning into aggressive free-for-alls where brawlers drive away everyone else. They also are irresistible to spammers and propagandists, paid and volunteer, all of whom will seize any opportunity to plant lies that benefit whatever cause they serve.

The result is the largest mechanism for propagating abusive behavior and fake news ever created, with the bullies and the liars hitchhiking on the backs of a massive audience developed by legitimate news.

I have run the social media for news organizations, I know how disengaged most so-called "engagement" actually is. Most people who see stories in their Facebook feed, as an example, don't click through. So they never actually access the original vetted, sourced news, but only see the unvetted, unsourced responses.

The stuff that shows up in comments and on social media is frequently beyond awful. There is an awful lot of unabashed racism and sexism and the like, and if news sources are counting on, say, Facebook to address it via users flagging the comments, they have quite a shock coming to them. I once spent three months flagging every racist comment I saw on Facebook; perhaps 5 percent of it was actually deleted as being in violation of Facebook's terms of service. I'm not talking about edge cases either. I'm talking about naked, unmistakable racist commentary. I documented it, if you're curious, but be warned: it's really, genuinely, hair-raisingly racist.

The media has created this unsupervised playground for abuse and propaganda and then just washed their hands of it, despite the fact that it undeniably influenced the last election. Apparently the media just thinks these are stories people share with each other on their personal pages. Well, I've been to your Facebook pages, media, and these stories are being spread to your audience on your pages under your nose, either as links or just by having commenters parrot the content.

It's a problem with the media in general, but I am a member of the Jewish press, and so that is what I will address specifically. It's high time we took responsibility for the content that reaches our readers, as we do in every other instance where content is published under our banner.

So here are a few things I regularly see as comments on the Jewish press that should be addressed, immediately and permanently. I will follow this with suggestions for people who are not members of the media, but read it and want to know how to respond:

1. Islamophobia

I'll address this more in a later post, as Islamophobia and the Jewish community is a larger problem, but to the Jewish press I say this: Develop some standards.

Far too often, people in your comments section are allowed to say whatever the want about Muslims, without contradiction or moderation. You don't have to let people say whatever they want to about Islam, no matter how awful or (with disappointing frequency) genocidal. You are entitled to set standards for your comments section. What standards? Well, I have a simple rule: If you would not publish it as a letter to the editor, why on earth would you allow it anywhere else?

I know there are Jews out there that just hate Muslims. But you are not obligated to host their commentary on the subject, and shouldn't. It furthers a narrative that Jews and Muslims are somehow natural enemies, a narrative that both Jewish and Muslim extremists have literally made murderous.

2. Antisemitism

I'm bewildered by the fact that I even need to address this, but there are Jewish sites that leave antisemitic comments untouched. I saw one editor explain on Twitter that he felt people needed to know this sort of viewpoint is out there, which seems naive.

Firstly, we know there are people that hate Jews, we don't need to be reminded of it by being harassed in the comments section while trying to read a Jewish news article on a Jewish news site. If you really must make these comments public, compile them into a story, where they can be addressed and contextualized as news, rather than leave them as Facebook comments, where the context is that someone has popped in to tell Jewish readers how much he hates them.

I sometimes wonder if the people at these publications are capable of recognizing antisemitism. If whoever is in charge of your social media doesn't know that the Kuzari story is used by antisemities to delegitimize the Jewish experience, as an example, you need to put someone else in charge of your social media.

3. The use of the word "kapo"

As you likely know, kapos were Jewish prisoners in Concentration Camps who were assigned supervisory or administrative tasks, and so are widely seen as being collaborators in Jewish death. The word has also turned into a popular epithet, with Jews declaring each other kapos as the drop of a hat.

Anyone who does so on any site I moderate is immediately banned. That accusation is disrespectful to both history and to contemporary Jews -- momentously so. I cannot believe it is allowed to stand on any Jewish site, and yet there it is, day after day, again and again, unmoderated and uncommented on.

4. Declaring other branches of Judaism to be inauthentic

If your a site that serves the entire Jewish community, you probably shouldn't have a comments section where Jews accuse Jews from other denominations of not actually being Jewish.

It's one thing if, say, you're an Orthodox Jew and you're looking for a tenth for your minyan. If you would not accept somebody who was converted in a Reform synagogue, that's your prerogative. It's your minyan.

But in the comments section of a general interest Jewish magazine? Arguing about who is or isn't authentically Jewish is not needed, and -- take heed publishers -- needlessly alienates Jewish readers who are not looking to be part of an Orthodox minyan, but instead just want to read a Jewish news story. You don't want a minority of your readers to pointlessly alienate the remainder of your readers.

I suppose if it is a story about, say, the various denominations and how they determine who is a Jew, such a discussion would logically take place in the comments sections. But if you're writing about Ben Stiller, as an example, who had a Jewish father and Irish-American mother, we really don't need some religious prig popping in to declare that he's not actually Jewish.

Similarly, declaring someone to be a "self-hating Jew" because you do not agree with them is odious. 

5. Fake news

Yes, the Jewish press is also a carrier of this garbage. If you mention Hillary Clinton, someone will pop in to insist that she was planning such and such, or she committed such and such crime. If you mention Keith Ellison, someone will show up to insist he is a follower of Louis Farrakhan, even though he isn't. This is as much a chronic problem in the Jewish press as it is elsewhere.

What is the point of being a news company? It's to make certain your public is given an accurate look at the news that affects them and the world, right? Ben Franklin considered it a bedrock of democracy, which could not happen without an informed populace.

So why would you allow any element you control to be used to deliberately spread fabricated stories that are meant to subvert that goal? You work so hard to write stories that are accurate and true, and yet the moment they are posted to social media the comment section fills with lies?

How any of us stomach the fact that this happens, I don't know. You know what helps? Moderation helps. Deleting lies and banning users who want to use your site to spread lies helps.

6. Abuse

Nobody who types the word "libtard" or "rethuglican" in a comments section has anything of substance to add. At this moment, there are too many commenters who act more like schoolyard bullies or domestic abusers.

These people will drive away a significant portion of your online readership. There is no reason to allow it and every reason to delete it and ban people who engage in it.

What do do if you're a reader

Now, I do not expect that Jewish publications are going to heed my advice and I have every reason to think they will ignore it. In my experience, people don't do things because I make a good argument. The don't do things because it's the right thing to do. There is, just now, a greater cost to doing something than doing nothing, and so nothing will be done.

But that doesn't mean that readers of their sites need simply put up with it.

I have a few simple suggestions for you:

Firstly, at this moment there is no reason to give anyone in comments or social media the benefit of the doubt. The moment they become abusive, Islamophobic, antisemitic, otherwise hateful, or lie about the news, you are justified in blocking them.

I do a few things as well, which you may do if you like or not do if that's your preference. Firstly, if they are spreading fake news, I link out to a credible news story that contradicts it with the facts. This will not convince them, especially if they are there to propagandize, as they don't actually care about the truth, but it will help other readers who might mistake what they say for the truth.

If they violate Facebook's community standards in any way, I report them. I know it doesn't generally do anything, but sometimes it does, and maybe Facebook will actually take this seriously one day, so it is a good habit to be in.

I also communicate my dissatisfaction with the publication. I will leave a note saying, in essence, I really wish you would moderate this sort of thing. I have a feeling that if enough readers voiced this, the publication might start to take it seriously. It starts raising the cost of doing nothing.

Finally, I always let the person know I am blocking them and why. This serves two functions: It reminds other people on the site that they also have to block someone; if enough people do that, the abusers and liars will only have each other to talk to.

Secondly, it irritates the person I blocked, which may seem passive aggressive, but I am a Minnesotan so that's right in my wheelhouse.


Year 2, Week 7: Eight years of Hebrew

 The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 384 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 240 hours
I have reviewed 4,455 individual flashcards

I'm in sort of a groove now of just adding new words in from the dictionary. It's not especially time consuming, it's something I learn relatively quickly, it's enjoyable, and my study time is faster, generally about a half hour compared to an hour when I am teaching myself grammar and homilies and curses and whatever else catches my fancy.

I won't continue to do this exclusively for much longer, but it's nice to have a little roll going once in a while, where I feel like I'm learning something. The other stuff can take an awful long time to really settle into my noodle. There are some proverbs that I've been trying to memorize for eight months or so and, nope, not memorized, not at all.

It's all a bit easier now, though. It used to be that flashcards that had sentences written on them generally gummed up the works. I just couldn't remember them, and would have to repeat them again and again. In the meanwhile, individual words disappeared to the back of the deck as I learned them, and so I was stuck with these sentences that carried over day after day after day, growing and growing, until I'd finally take a day and just work my way through them, sometimes for hours.

That hasn't happened for a while. I seem to memorize new sentences relatively quickly, and remember old ones after perhaps a repetition or two. It took a while -- it just started to happen in the past couple of weeks, in fact, perhaps assisted by the fact that there are not that many new sentences in my deck, so I am not overwhelmed by them.

But it does feel like something has shifted in my head. It used to be that I was simply memorizing sounds. Now they seem like sentences, with recognizable structures and full of words I recognize. It's nice.

I would say, if there is one thing that frustrates me just now, it is that I don't have any of this stuff on the tip of my brain. This isn't especially surprising. Learning language is a bit of a trick, in that you must learn something in two ways. You not only need to have the words buried deep in your head, where it won't be forgotten, but also need to have it immediately available if you need it.

This is a lot easier if you make regular use of a language, especially if you use it as your vernacular. It's a lot harder if you're just studying a language for a half-hour to an hour per day. We'll see, though. An hour a day doesn't seem like much, but I studied language in college and that's about what we ended up doing there, if you count weekends and school breaks. Additionally, college classes went at the speed and addressed the needs of the average student, while my studies feel comparatively supercharged.

I wouldn't say I came out of college a skilled Hebrew speaker, but it was enough for me to have a functional understanding of the language. I studied Hebrew on and off for somewhere near eight years total. We'll see how comfortable I am with Yiddish after the same amount of time.


On allyship: Shutting down debate

It has been three weeks since I wrote my essay about Jews and their allies, and I wanted to offer a followup.

Firstly, I won't be rejoining MetaFilter anytime soon. The moderators were shockingly absent in that thread, to the point that one apologized for his absence, and the resulting unmoderated discussion was so alienating to a number of Jews on the site that they likewise left. The thread is still open and still gets occasional comments, but seems to have wound its way down to a few commenters circling the same few subjects. This sense of irresolution has happened before on the site, in every past thread on antisemitism, and the problem persists.

The thread was instructive, in an unhappy way. The crux of it seemed to boil down to an impasse, and this is where the moderators are going to have to make a decision. The impasse is as follows: I, and several others, argue that discussions of antisemitism on the site must be taken in good faith. You do not need to agree with the conclusion, but you must not dismiss it outright, even when the subject is Israel.


There is a small group on the site that responds to this as though the request will cause an intolerable chilling effect on discussions of Israel. One person, in particular, argued that for every other group we can proceed from the assumption that they are acting in good faith when discussing oppression, but we cannot when it comes to the Jews. Jewish discussions of antisemitism will necessarily be tainted by our relationship with Israel, and therefore must be treated as suspect, as we are either blindly parroting pro-Israel viewpoints put forward by a vast pro-Israel propaganda outlet or are deliberately using charges of antisemitism to shield Israel from criticism.

This is galling. This is usually the point where I would say, yes, there are some Jews who unfairly throw around accusations of antisemitism where the subject of Israel is concerned, and, yes, I know they are irritating. I won't bother with that anymore. Those sorts of people exist in every group, and their abuse of the language of oppression should not be used as an excuse for ignoring discussions of oppression.

I have also dealt with those people, and they represent a minority Jewish opinion that sides itself with Israeli hard-line right wing politics. American Jews solidly back the two-state solution -- 80 percent. A plurality of American Jews find Israel's illegal settlements in Palestinian territories detrimental to Israel's peace process. As a whole, American Jews do not serve at the pleasure of Israel, we do not exist as unpaid propagandists for the country, and we are frequently publicly critical of the state.

Beyond this, I suppose I am part of the press mechanism that the commenter viewed as pro-Zionist propaganda, as community news editor of a Jewish newspaper. I've only had the job for three months, but in that time our coverage has included an awful lot that is explicitly critical of Israeli politics, especially that of the right wing Likud party.

Propaganda for Israel

We republish a great deal of material from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and I suppose you can go to their website and see for yourself if they could fairly be described as pro-Zionist propaganda. If you search for stories about antisemitism, of the past 20 stories, only four of them are about Israel or Zionism in any significant way: Two are about a student from McGill who enjoined students to "punch a Zionist"; one is about the new US envoy to Israel, David Friedman, who is controversial precisely for throwing around accusations of antisemitism and for calling Jews who disagree with him kapos; and one about Marine Le Pen of France's National Front Party saying Jews in France would have to give up dual citizenship with Israel.

You'd be hard-pressed to make the case that any of these four stories use the charge of antisemitism to deflect against criticism of Israel, and the one about Friedman is implicitly critical of him for his abuse of the charge of antisemitism. In the meanwhile, the last 20 stories about Israel include a story about Angela Merkel canceling a join cabinet meeting with Israel over illegal settlements and a story about Israel’s president reportedly saying outpost law makes the country look like an "apartheid state." None of these stories suggest that these critical viewpoints are antisemitic. There is a lot of criticism of Israel's policies published in American Jewish newspapers.

But I shouldn't have to go through and make a case that the Jewish press is not merely a propaganda organ for Israel. The idea that American Jews have divided loyalties and so cannot be trusted to honestly represent their viewpoints in discussion is an antisemitic viewpoint. It paints Jews as untrustworthy citizens, as shifty, and as manipulators of the press, all historical antisemitic charges against the Jews.

And yet it was allowed to stand. Moreover, none of the people in the thread who were afraid accusations of antisemitism would have a chilling effect spoke out against this. This suggests to me that, even if they didn't necessarily agree with it, they found it to be non-controversial. You would think that if someone said, hey, there is this minority group that has suffered two thousand years of oppression, but they cannot be trusted to discuss it because they either manipulate the press or are brainwashed by it, someone might take pause, but apparently not where Jews are concerned. Conveniently, this means that the only people who can be trusted to discuss antisemitism are the very people responsible for antisemitism and who benefit from it.

Jews and Israel

But this goes to a larger problem: People on the site simply cannot stop conflating Jews and Israel. Discussions of antisemitism are endlessly conflated with discussions of Israel, to the point that one commenter said that we have heard the viewpoint of Jews on this subject, but not the other side, meaning Palestinians. But, on the subject of antisemitism, the other side isn't Palestinians, it is antisemites.

This is a moderation issue, and one the moderators seem to be entirely at sea on. They present it as being complicated and nuanced, but there is nothing uniquely complicated or nuanced about anitsemitism, and hand-wringing about the complications is a perfect way to drive away Jewish members while behaving as though it's just too tough a subject to effectively address: One moderator even admitted as much in the thread while still leaving the thread unmoderated enough that a number of Jews left the site.

The people who think charges of antisemitism are used as a dodge repeatedly point to one user, who I mentioned in the last thread: JFA. He is repeatedly accused of this in the thread. When users ask that people on MetaFilter presume good faith when discussions of antisemitism occur, they are told this is impossible, because JFA.

I went back through JFA's posting history and I'll be damned if I can find a single example of him using charges of antisemitism to shut down criticisms of Israel.  Admittedly, I only went back four years, but that seems like enough. In fact, you can find numerous examples of JFA criticizing Israel. I know JFA has had comments deleted in the past, so maybe they were all insane, unjustified accusations of antisemitism, although the moderators often leave notes explaining their deletions. I'm not seeing any saying, essentially, we've talked about this, JFA, and no more of these wild charges, please.

What you do see is that JFA's antisemitism meter seems to be calibrated a bit more sensitively than a lot of people. He is especially keen-eyed for the form that criticism takes, pointing out if it mimics historic antisemitism. This happens once in the thread: A user says that the state of Israel wishes to grind Palestinians into dust, and JFA responds that this is the blood libel; he is immediately told he is wrong. I've seen this previously: JFA once pointed out that you'll see repeated hints of the idea that Jews consume blood in criticisms of Israel, such as Stephen Salaita making jokes about the Israeli company SodaStream selling "Palestinian blood orange flavor."

The pushback against was instant and enormous (it always is), despite JFA saying he doesn't know that this was meant as antisemitism, but when it is pointed out that you have accidentally duplicated a murderous charge against Jews, you would think people would walk it back, and they don't.

It's a fair cop, but it was treated as a wild, unjustifiable accusation designed to suppress dialogue. I don't always agree with JFA, but I don't think he's being dishonest in his participation. There will always be someone whose meter is tuned slightly differently than yours. It doesn't mean they're wrong, and it certainly doesn't mean they're dishonest.

Manufacturing a problem user

But there is this unproven perception of JFA as being a problem user, and therefore, according to critics, it is impossible to request that people address the question of antisemitism on the site because JFA makes it impossible.

This is a moderation issue. Because members of the site have decided that they can insist that JFA be the official spokesperson for the subject, can insist he is a flawed spokesman, and only respond to him and only by litigating what they see as the most problematic part of what he said. It's a perfect dodge, and you see the same tactic with other minority groups. I, and others, in the MetaFilter thread asked repeatedly that the thread not be a referendum on JFA, and were ignored. "maxsparber doesn't get to set terms for what we discuss here," one user said bluntly.

Jews on MetaFilter, including yours truly, have been asking for years for a moderation policy regarding the charge that Jews abuse accusations of antisemitism, and that request has not been honored. We have explicitly asked that the subject of antisemitism be treated as a good-faith discussion.

Instead, users keep singling out one guy, JFA, insisting without evidence he is acting in bad faith, insisting on responding only to him, insisting on responding to only what they see as the most easily disregarded aspects of what he says, and blaming him for this.

That's how you lose members of a community. That's how you lost me. It's not a complicated riddle of nuanced and twisty competing but legitimate agendas. It starts with one question: Do you believe Jews when they discuss antisemitism? And, if you do, what do you do about the fact that there are members of your community who don't believe Jews when they discuss antisemitism?

Until MetaFilter's moderators can answer that question, the thread I started, the one that caused me to feel alienated enough to leave, will happen again, as it has regularly for years now, and more will leave.

We can get into the nuances later. But we must start with a presumption of good faith, and, on MetaFilter, that presumption is not currently extended to Jews. That's a problem, and until it is solved -- and it will be solved with moderation -- it is going to be a site where a lot of Jews are not going to feel very welcome.


Year 2, Week 6: Forward

The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 379 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 237 hours
I have reviewed 4,408 individual flashcards

About a year ago, I had taught myself a little more than 400 flashcards, and I wrote this: "In your first month of studying using this process, you're going to feel like you're learning a lot very quickly, which is exciting, and in your second month you're going to feel like you have no idea what to do with what you're learning, which is confusing."

I've learned 10 times as many flashcards. I just lapped myself again -- another 400 flashcards since the start of the year. Back then, I was trying to have pretend conversations with myself using a paltry vocabulary and no grammar. I was obsessed with vocabulary acquisition, charting the number of words I learned and comparing it against standard lists of new language learning (Based on that, I now have the approximate vocabulary of a 7-year-old, although I suspect the average 7-year-old is better able to make use of their vocabulary than me.)

I can now have rather detailed, if grammatically awkward, conversations with myself. Today I struggled through an article in the Yiddish Forward. They have a nice feature where you can click a word and get its translation, and I only had to do this maybe a dozen times, and it was all technical language that there has just been no reason for me to learn, plus a few basic words that, at the moment, I couldn't remember. It was slow reading, and I recall being a much faster reader when I was 7, but, then, I haven't practiced it much.

Maybe I should. It's certainly easy enough for me to access the Forward online, their stories are relatively short, and I started this project with an imagine in mind of me as a 50-year-old sitting in a deli and reading a copy of the paper. Might as well get comfortable reading it now.

It's a bit odd to go back and read the early entries, when my studies felt like a race toward fluency. That is such a minor concern of mine now, as I don't think fluency is possible without a community of Yiddish speakers to support it, and I don't know that I will ever have such a thing.

Now studying Yiddish is just the thing I do because I like it. I learned the Yiddish word for airhead a few nights ago, katzenkop, and if I am translating correctly this means "cat-head."which is delightful. I learn for pleasure now, not for usefulness.

But who knows. That could flip in a moment. Although this projects has been pretty similar from the start, consisting of me putting words and phrases on flashcards and then studying them for 45-minutes to an hour per day, the goals of the project have proven to be pure whimsy.

And thank goodness for that. If I didn't indulge my whimsy, I might lose interest. I'm just too flighty to stick to any one thing for any length of time. Somehow I seem to have tricked myself into 14 months of study, which is pretty identical from day to day, just by re-framing my goals.

Perhaps I should come up with a list of goals that I can switch to if I start to lost interest. They need not be reasonable or anything I can accomplish. They just need to keep me interested. Here's a few:

1. Be the first man to speak Yiddish on Mars
2. Get into a screaming argument with an old man, entirely in Yiddish
3. Translate the pornographic novel "Top Notch Nymph" into Yiddish
4. Have a Yiddish seance and try to reach bawdy Jewish comedienne Totie Field
5. Produce a Yiddish radio soap opera called The Rabbi Disapproves

I have a lot of work ahead of me. Forward!


Year 2, Week 5: The Schedule

 The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 372 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 232 hours
I have reviewed 4,349 individual flashcards

Anybody else having a hard time focusing on things nowadays? I can't be the only one who feels the constant need to check in on social media, news sites, etc., to make sure that nothing newly terrible has happened.

I soldier on, though. It helps to have a routine, and mine is as follows:

I wake up at 6 am. Actually, I wake up sometime between five and five-thirty and then try to fall asleep without alerting my dog that I am awake. I always fail, and so he leaps into my bed and demands attention for a while. Sometimes I manage to sneak in an additional 15 minutes of sleep.

At 6 a.m. I take the dog out and then climb back into bed to play video games on my iPod for about 15 minutes. Mostly I check in on a game called Simpsons: Tapped Out, which I have been playing for five years, good God. I think that's longer than I ever watched the show.

It's not a game in the traditional sense, but instead you complete little tasks and as a reward they let you build buildings or add decorations. I recently added both a synagogue and a Wicker Man, so now the place really feels like home to me.

After that, I study Yiddish for 45 minutes to an hour. I go through my flashcard program and try to eliminate all the flashcards for the day. If they are new cards, I must remember them twice; if old, once. If I can't remember a card, I recite it five times. If it has a gender, as I recite it, I combine it with a mnemonic: Male nouns explode; female nouns burn; neutral nouns freeze. So I imagine the thing exploding, burning, or freezing as I say the word. This works surprisingly well.

I must not just get the word right, by the way, but also its gender and, now that I am working with a new dictionary, its plural. Fail to do so? Card goes back in the deck.

I'll tweak my cards as I study them, too. I use images rather than words, and sometimes I can't remember what an image represented, so I'll replace it, or add another image, or a snippet of text as a reminder. Verbs tend to end with an n sound, but there are some nouns that do too, and I always think, what the hell is this verb, so lately I have been marking them as nouns. Flashcards need constant tending.

Then I get ready for work. On my way to work, I usually listen to some Jewish music, or, if I need to clear my head, some country music, which I find unaccountably relaxing. I generally listen to an audiobook on the way as well, a chapter of a book or a short story. I have been listening to I.L. Peretz's stories lately, which I have been enjoying.

I work at a Jewish newspaper, as regular readers know, and have now been here for about three months, apparently. So time flies like a banana, or whatever it was that Groucho said. I do my job, and then I head home or out for the evening. When I find time, I write these blog posts.

At the end of the day, I make some new flashcards. Depending on what I am trying to learn, that can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, and I usually start about 10 p.m. with an eye toward being asleep by 11 p.m., which I always fail at.

Then I go to sleep and dream, as I do every night, of fistfighting the moon.