Rabbi Zac Kamenetz during his first psilocybin experience at Johns Hopkins University (Photo/Courtesy Kamenetz)
Rabbi Zac Kamenetz during his psilocybin experience at Johns Hopkins University.

Meat and cheese!?; Barbie Death Camp, for and against; High Holiday shrooms

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Meat and cheese on the cover?

Your Sept. 6 cover photo depicting “Jewish food,” showing a sandwich of meat and cheese, says all you need to know regarding the state of Jewish food in the Bay Area. The area remains a gastronomic wilderness for Jews who keep kosher.

Paul Diamond
Santa Cruz

Editor’s note: We heard similar complaints from several readers about the yellow oozing out from the multilayered sandwich pictured on our last cover. We assure you that the newsroom believed this to be mustard. The photographer is unknown. So we will proclaim it mustard.

Dark history turned on its head

I first saw Barbie Death Camp at Burning Man 11 years ago (“Auschwitz-themed Barbie Death Camp at Burning Man catches ADL’s eye”). Yes, it uses themes from the Holocaust. But it’s not about killing people. It’s about exterminating sexist stereotypes and crass commercialism represented by these dolls. There are things in this world that should be exterminated. Things, not people. The whole idea, dreamed up by its Jewish creator, is to use the horror of one of the darkest acts in human history and put it to good use to humorously eliminate horrible traits that keep so many people enslaved today.

Not everyone is going to see it this way, and that’s OK. It’s art. The fact that Barbie Death Camp has been a well-known feature of Burning Man for 20 years without seriously offending anyone until now speaks the context in which it exists. It’s supposed to be provocative. Otherwise its message would be lost in a world that increasingly seems to be fueled by outrage. Don’t blindly give into that outrage. Understand the real message.

Kirk Caraway
Carson City, Nevada

Tortured Barbies aren’t art

I went to the 2019 burn (my 20th). Though I didn’t see it, I heard about the Barbie art piece and knew at once it was a perverted and insensitive idea. I’m familiar with their camp and their “art.” And I don’t think that chopping heads off Barbies and hanging them upside down, bloody necks hanging, should qualify as “art” in any sense of the word. I am furthermore repulsed that the suffering of millions of people should be utilized in their “cutesy” death camp display.

My apologies to the Jewish community, and I sincerely hope that this does not forever tarnish their view of what Burning Man and its art truly represents. It seems some people ought to spend less time doing dope in the desert and more time reading history books!

Tom “Tiki Tom” Conley

Find camp distasteful? Good!

I am a member of Barbie Death Camp at Burning Man, and have been for six (nonconsecutive) years since 2011. Along with many others, I think the display is in bad taste. However, I am nonetheless supportive for one reason: It is my belief that the display brings attention to the Holocaust and the terrible things that transpired.

World War II ended in 1945 — 74 years ago. That is a very long time past. There are people alive now who are voters (and possibly even policy-makers) who may not have heard about the Holocaust and, if they have, may have heard of it only in passing. It is not a part of their personal experience or that of any of their friends and family. And it is entirely possible that they have not been involved in or witness to any kind of discussion about the Holocaust and what transpired. These people need to hear about it. If it takes a display that is in bad taste to get the discussion going, I say “Bravo!”

It has been said that the function of art is to make the viewer feel something and that great art makes the viewer think. In that respect, I would say that Barbie Death Camp is an extremely successful piece of art on both counts. Do you find it distasteful? Good! Start a discussion about it with the camp members (or better yet with casual passers-by). Ask questions. State opinions. By the presence of the display and your reaction to it and the discussions that ensue, you (and Barbie Death Camp) are continuing to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and in the consciousness of many people who may have previously been ignorant of it.

Black Rock City is a veritable hotbed of “politically incorrect” art and displays. That is why you see pins that say “Keep Burning Man Potentially Fatal” and shirts that say “Safety Third” and “God — Protect Me from Your Followers.” And nude people and a camp that has a “Running with Scissors” relay race. And on and on. I would maintain that the display at Barbie Death Camp is in exactly the right venue, and that because it is intentionally politically incorrect, it has more impact than if it were less controversial.

Now, to the people who took it upon themselves to break up the display: The fact that they were voicing their opinions in loud voices and in an aggressive manner was totally in keeping with the idea of free speech (as was the display itself), if not in keeping with the stated spirit of Burning Man, which calls for “radical inclusion.” But what I find ironic is that when they began destroying the display, they were doing exactly what was being done on Kristallnacht in 1938 in Germany. The Nazis did not like the Jews and what they perceived that the Jews were doing, so they started breaking their store windows (their displays). And that might be a thought that requires a bit of contemplation.

Jack Hall (aka “Tripod” at Burning Man)
Ripon, California

The new ‘religion’ in Israel

I thought Adam Schorin’s letter to the editor (“March of the Living ‘propaganda,’”) was extremely eloquent and well written. He alludes to a much larger problem, that Israel has created a new Jewish religion involving the State of Israel representing the resurrection from the dead of the Jewish people murdered in Europe. The question the article provokes in me is how anyone could go from witnessing the concentration camps to nonstop partying anywhere, let alone Israel? What kind of callousness and cynicism lies behind this ideology?

Menachem Mevashir
Fort Collins, Colorado

Mystical encounter of awe

The coming Days of Awe are given even greater meaning by Rabbi Zac Kamenetz (“Can psychedelics heal the Jewish people? This rabbi is exploring that question”), who writes that mystical experience — far beyond intellectual readings — can heal our traumatic wounds, habitual tribalism and disconnection from other people, even from our ailing Earth herself.

Kamenetz reminds us that vast numbers have lost our mystical connections to the foundational reality that all is one, echad.

We parrot the words — far different than making every daily decision as if we are family and totally interdependent with all people and life forms.

Instead, we — and people around the planet — have relied mostly on law, ritual and the illusion that there is somehow individual survival.

We two have had mystical experiences, not with psychedelics but with non-drug holotropic breathing.

As with Rabbi Kamenetz, the “breathtaking” symbolism, emotion, dropping of walls of separation, undeniably, indelibly affirms our highest destiny as one connected existence. It raises our motives and everyday choices.

This mystical, unifying, divine encounter of awe is popularly accessible if we will allow ourselves to experience the fullness of our intuitions, engagements with nature and especially successful human relationships.

In decades of face-to-face dialogue facilitation, we have experienced untold thousands of so-called enemies experiencing unifying, healing ecstasy and Kamenetz’s “intensity of love and gratitude… bolt of lightning” simply from being listened to and realizing that “an enemy is one whose story we have not heard.”

If the rational tradition has won out in American Jewish circles, these Days of Awe can be a new beginning of allowing ourselves human experiences of deeper engagement with each other and our Earth in need of affection and healing.

Libby and Len Traubman
San Mateo

Bill of Rights is for the people

I must thank Danny Yanow for his response to my letter on gun policy (“Cherry-picking the Constitution”), as his views deserve respectful debate and response. However, his saying that “Like all the people who put their so-called right to own whatever weapon of mass destruction they want” raises question as to what letter he actually read. Mine stated, “I fully agree that there is a compelling public interest in regulating the sale and ownership of firearms,” hardly a call to own whatever weapon one may want.

Furthermore, his “It is the militia’s right to bear arms that the amendment is about” does not stand scrutiny. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution at the insistence of the antifederalists who felt that there had to be protections for individual rights against the potential abuse of power by the centralized government created in the original body of the Constitution. The militia, today the National Guard, is first referred to in Article I, Section 8, which charges the legislative branch “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia.”

So, arguing that the Second Amendment concerns the “militia’s right to bear arms” would make it redundant since the Legislature was already charged with the responsibility to arm the militia. It seems that the militia of the Second Amendment is a different body, one composed of adult male citizens, and “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” refers to the rights of individual citizens. Plainly, the Bill of Rights protects individual rights, not the financial or logistic support of governmental entities.

There is a compelling public safety interest in the proper regulation of firearm sale and ownership.

Steve Astrachan
Pleasant Hill

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