Mahaleh or Ghetto?

On the April 2nd, 2019, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Lior Sternfeld. (He is currently teaching at Penn State.) The lecture discussed Jewish life in Iran. The lecture was highly interesting, and provided me with a substantial amount of new information. 

Prior to 1975, the Jewish community of Iran was very diverse. German, Polish, Russian, Iraqi, and many more Jews called Iran their home. However, after the events of 1979, the Jewish area was turned into a Mahaleh. (Dr. Sternfeld argues against using the word “ghetto” because of the connotation of the word to WW2.) Jews were attacked for the Zionist culture, with many high profile Iranian politicians questioning Jewish loyalty to Iran.

This claim is not particularly true, as many Jews remained loyal to the Shah. According to Dr. Sternfeld, some Jews were sympathetic to the Islamic revolutionaries!

In modern Iran, the Jewish community largely lives in urban areas. Around ½ of the Jews live in Tehran. The Jewish community is mainly comprised of Middle – Upper middle class, but that meta is changing. There are 4 kosher restaurants in Tehran, which is three more than in Austin, and 4 more than Norman; lets try and get Norman a kosher restaurant! 


A Tour Around the OU Weather Center (In German)

The University of Oklahoma is never short of exciting opportunities. From sporting events that can rival any other university in the world, to guest lectures from some of the best scholars in the world, to interesting cultural events, there is always something to do. On March 8th, the German Club of OU hosted a tour of the National Weather Center; the tour was predominantly in German. The tour was well attended, as many of the German staff and students decided to take advantage of this opportunity.

I have been on a couple of tours before, so I came in with a good grasp of what to expect. The tour was outstanding, and I left with two major takeaways. First, the amount of German speakers in high-ranking positions within the NWC is impressive. The fact that we were able to talk with three separate workers/administrators in German shocked me; I’m happy that the NWC appears to be appealing to international, as well as domestic, scholars.

The second takeaway was that my German comprehension is still very good. I almost understood every word. (Apart from a few German words that dealt with abstract weather concepts.) I am very, very happy with this. I know studying in Heidelberg provided my language skills with a major boost, and I will not let my momentum slide.

Misc Post #2

The recent events in France have caught my attention. The protestors are protesting against Emmanuel Macron and his government. There appear to be some misconceptions as to who the protestors are, with many people thinking that these people are radicals rightists/leftists. However, the protestors are actually from all party lines; their only real unifying factor is that everyone has some sort of hatred for Macron… what began as a localized protest against a fuel tax, exploded into an international phenomenon that has caught the world’s attention. (Interestingly, there have been yellow vest protests in Sweden, Germany, and other European nations.)

Now, Paris appears to be on fire, with widespread violence across the city… Macron’s approval rating has dropped to an embarrassing 23%, and people have even spray painted on the Arc de Triomphe. Macron’s forces have also come under fire lately for shooting into crowds; a lady even lost an eye.

There are more protests planned for this weekend, and Macron has said that people will be better prepared to combat the protestors. I am not sure how he intends to do this without use of force, but this weekend I will have my eyes watching France. Hopefully peace can soon be restored with the people getting what they want (Without violence occurring.)


Misc. Post #1

Recently, I have started to follow the events that are taking place in the South China Sea. In my opinion, this situation requires more attention than we are giving it. China’s interpretation of the nine-dash line remains ambiguous, and every other player in this situation is left to guess as to what their meaning is. Strategic ambiguity is a useful tactic for China, but it is very dangerous for the United States and its allies.

In addition, United States allies, such as Taiwan, have a vested interest in the United States remaining a strong military presence in the Asian region. If the United States was to desert Taiwan, it is possible that China would invade, as Taiwan is part of China’s “One China” policy. In addition, the United States’ desertion of Taiwan could spark fear in other Asian allies such as South Korea and Japan. — it will be interesting how the US decides to define its role in the region.

Lastly, it is important to watch the Philippines’ relation with China. While they have traditionally been opposed to China’s claims, and against China’s island building policies, President Duterte’s disposition towards China is more warm than other previous leaders.

There are many other factors at play in the region, including freedom of the sea, Russia, and other Asian players, and when the outcome occurs, it will alter the entire world.

International Event #2

Earlier this semester, I went to the Kaffee und Kuchen event at OU. This event had a specific interest towards Austrian culture; really a specific interest towards Viennese culture. The OU German faculty contains a few Austrians, and they were happy to tell the room about Viennese culture.

The two most exciting parts of the event were Dr. Sabrina Bacher’s lecture on Viennese dialect & then Dr. Robert Lemon’s lecture on the history of coffee and cake. Dr. Bacher taught us some of the different dialectal word choices that people from Vienna use; it was really like hearing another language! I think it always super cool to hear different Germanic dialects because some are so different than traditional “High German,” that it is nearly impossible to understand them. For example, a “seidel” of beer is equivalent to “ein kleines” beer. — a small beer.

Dr. Lemon then amused us with a history of coffee and cake, asking us obscure questions such as the origin for the word “cake.” The questions were actually brutally difficult, but they were fun, nonetheless.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the event ended with me becoming a German Club officer… a very nice way to end the event.

18th Memorial Lecture (Schusterman Center)

This is an annual lecture given by the Schusterman Center here at OU. This year, Dr. Jim Diamond was brought in to lecture about the different interpretations of the Ten Commandments. (Specifically the first one; what exactly does the First Commandment mean?)

The first question that was posed was how does one view the Ten Commandments? Viewing them from a mystical perspective results in a different finding than if one was to view them from a philosophical view. (Maimonides was used as an example.)

The largest portion of the lecture discussed the initial bit of the 1st Commandment from Exodus 20: “I am the Lord your God.”

Dr. Diamond spent a substantial amount of time investigating whether this could be viewed as a commandment or a statement. Almost everyone views this as a commandment, but there is no explicit commandment stated. Hearing this was interesting, as it related to Jews and Christians. (A substantial percentage of the world’s population.) — I was not convinced about it not being a commandment, as the next pieces of Exodus 20 do offer explicit demands.

Nevertheless, this was an interesting lecture that got me thinking. The Ten Commandments are important to many people, and a new view of them will always get people’s attention.

German Club

I spent my entire sophomore year studying abroad in Heidelberg, Germany; the experience in Heidelberg made me want to become more involved in German opportunities here at OU… but I didn’t know how. I began with taking German Advanced Composition in an attempt to improve my German writing skills. (This has worked, in large part to Dr, Sullivan’s willingness to help students succeed.)

As I continued with the semester, I began to focus on the German club. This organisation is tasked with the advancement and promotion of German culture and language. After I was asked to be the speak about my experiences at Heidelberg during the German opportunities forum, I contacted the leadership of German club, asking to become more involved; I was told that I could run for an officer position!

On Friday November 16th, I went to the German club’s Kaffee und Kuchen event. (Cakes and Coffee) I will cover this event in another post, but it was very fun + interesting. But, the most exciting part of the event came at the end… the elections. When the position of treasurer was called, the president of the German club mentioned me as the chosen candidate. But, as with all fair elections, others were allowed to state their intentions of running against me. Luckily, nobody decided to oppose me, and I was chosen as the new treasurer.

I look forward to this position, as well as the ability to become more involved at OU. (And promote German things around campus.) This Friday is the club’s “Christmas Bakery.” The club is offering lessons on how to bake traditional German holiday cookies. I am excited for what is to come, and I can’t wait to become increasingly involved.


Only a couple of weeks after my journey to the Netherlands, I journey west again, and went to Belgium. I began in Brussels. Brussels is a very cool city. With a blend of old, new, and ultra modern. Again, another city with world class cultural and recreational opportunities. (A trend that seems to be apparent in all major cities.) Walking around Brussels was my favourite way to navigate the city. That being said, pretty much any way of public transportation are available.

The next city that I journeyed to, was Antwerp. This was actually my favourite city in Belgium. Known around the world as the centre of the diamond industry, Antwerp is a bustling port city. Again, all the general opportunities are available, but I think the city feels less crazy than Brussels, less touristy than Bruges, and more interesting than Ghent. Again, I recommend that one walks to see the city. The churches in Antwerp were particularly stunning.

Bruges… not much can be said about this city that people haven’t already heard. Swans line the picturesque canals, pretty buildings cover the city, and it feels a little surreal. That being said, the city was ridiculously crowded. It was a little harder to appreciate the city with so many people everywhere. I was also a little upset that there were no fast-track tickets to go to the top of the scenic Belfry of Bruges. Nevertheless, Bruges is must-see, and will appeal to almost any kind of traveller.

Lastly, Ghent. Ghent is a city that I feel does not receive the same love as the three aforementioned locations. It is located right in the middle of Brussels and Bruges, and gets passed over as a result. It features a large university, so it is a particularly fun city to go to if you are of college age. The city also contains canals, and lacks the major crowded feel of Bruges. (Although it is definitely not as fairytale looking.) The beer here is great, as with all of Belgium… I recommend the Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant. St. Bavo’s Cathedral also contains one of the world’s most famous pieces of art. The Ghent Altarpiece is worth seeing. But it does cost a couple of Euros to get into the little showing room.

Belgium was a very cool place. Each city that I visited felt completely different than the previous, and that was very exciting. In addition, Belgium is also very cool due to the numerous languages that can be heard on a regular basis. While there are tourists speaking all sorts of languages, Belgium also boasts three national languages… French, Dutch, and German. I hope my little review of each city helps make deciding which cities/city to visit. And of course, there are other interesting cities elsewhere in Belgium!

Netherlands Trip

April was a very busy month for me. I flew back to Germany after a little time back in the US. (Germany has a two month break between the winter and summer semesters.) I began school again with new and exciting classes… and I began to plan out all the travel I could.

My first trip that I planned took me to the Netherlands. Initially, I was only intending to go to Amsterdam, but this would change after a little time in Amsterdam.

A few days before I left for Amsterdam, I learned that it was King’s Day on the day I arrived. All I have to say, is wow. King’s Day was an amazing time. The entire city was clothed in orange, street parties dotted every street, barges lined the endless canals, and happy people were everywhere. I don’t know how many people know about this holiday, but it definitely worth experiencing.

Amsterdam also had bountiful cultural/fun opportunities. World class museums, brewery tours, canal rides, beautiful churches, and everything else a city can provide. In addition, apart from the real middle of the city, it never felt overcrowded. The only two major museums that I went to were the Rijksmuseum and the Heineken Tour. I can highly recommend the Rijksmuseum, and if you like beer, the HT is good. (Although I think that Guinness tour in Dublin is better.) If one wants a cheap and nice view of Amsterdam, I recommend the view from the top of the library. Also, the bridge linking the library and NEMO Museum.

While in the Netherlands, I also went to Keukenhof and Utrecht. Keukenhof has the famous tulip gardens. It is absolutely stunning, but the garden is only open for a short period of time. Utrecht has canals that look like the ones in Amsterdam, but the city is way less crowded. I would recommend this for a day trip.

The Netherlands is amazing, and there are plenty of interesting places to see outside of Amsterdam. I didn’t even it make it to The Hague or Rotterdam.

Mashrou’ Leila and Arab Culture

Music has always been deeply tied to a culture’s sense of identity, and it can simultaneously strengthen that identity and tear it down. A Middle Eastern group that seems to exemplify this sometimes contradictory nature of music is Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band formed in 2008. The group has gained significant attention, mainly due to its openly gay singer Hamed Sinno and often controversial song topics, which range from corrupt government officials to homosexual relationships. In these songs, the group is able to reflect popular sentiments (such as anger and frustration at the government) and shine a light on overlooked or ignored issues (like the treatment of homosexual persons), often in the same album. They both reflect the culture and refract it, showing the pain and struggles as well as the beauty. One of their songs in particular, “For the Homeland,” highlights popular criticisms of the Lebanese government, although it can be applicable to many other governments in the Middle East. It includes lyrics such as “they quiet you with slogans about every plot” and “you sell your freedom,” emphasizing the coercive and oppressive nature of the state. The lyrics are highly critical of Arab governments, which makes sense since this song is from their 2013 album, their most recent after the Arab Spring.

However, Mashrou’ Leila’s songs focus on cultural topics as well, such as the treatment and experiences of homosexuals in the Middle East. Some of their songs, specifically “Shim el-Yasmine” and “Kalam,” deal explicitly with homosexuality, with lyrics like “I would have liked to keep you near me, introduce you to my family…be your housewife.” While many Arabic songs seem like they are being sung to men, since they are often conjugated in the male form, “Shim el-Yasmine” emphasizes this relationship, making it clear that it is one man singing to another man about their relationship.

As Mashrou’ Leila’s songs deal with controversial subjects, such homosexuality, many Arab countries have sought to censor them or limit their influence. Jordan was one such country, as they repeatedly gave the band permission to perform, and then banned the group. Additionally, Egypt allowed the band to host a concert, but after images appeared on social media showing rainbow flags in the crowd, the Egyptian police arrested seven individuals who attended the concert. Egypt’s musician union also denounced the concert and stated that it was considering banning the group from the country. The treatment of Mashrou’ Leila and individual’s reactions to their music can serve to reflect how Arab culture writ large views these issues. Music often reflects society, and Mashrou’ Leila helps hold a mirror to Arab culture in particular.

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