David Mandler

Thoughts, feelings, reactions on Hungarian, American, Israeli, Jewish issues

Life Without Facebook: A Year Later

At the end of 2015, I bid farewell to Facebook. While at the time I believed that it would be very difficult to carry on without Facebook in my life, it turns out that life without Facebook has been worth living. Here is why.

Most people predicted that I’d be back on Facebook within a few days. Honestly, I, too, had feared that not having recourse to the familiar routine of signing in and checking Facebook multiple times a day would make me want to break my New Year’s resolution. The good news is that I had no such craving or desire at all from the first day to this moment. If this seems surprising, I can understand that. After all, I was very surprised by this myself. It seems Facebook is not as addictive as many people on it believe it to be.

Throughout the year, I have obtained news only from what I consider to be trusted news outlets. Sure, I must have missed some quirky updates that I otherwise could never have found on my own. Yet it’s clear that I have also missed the onslaught of fake news and the many vituperative personal reactions to them (not to mention the stream of political comments in anticipation and following the U.S. presidential elections). I’m sure I’ve spared myself from being witness to moments of unbecoming emotional overdrive of Facebook my buddies that would have elicited many an unnecessary and high-blood-pressure-inducing personal reaction from me. Heaven knows I don’t need any artificial excitements of this sort. My blood pressure is high enough without it.

My time is no longer taken up by checking what other people have done with their lives or wanting to share “significant” moments from my life nobody gives a hoot about. Granted, I don’t have a smartphone, so the temptation to post pictures is entirely missing. Be it as it may, I am losing many opportunities to post funny, surprising, significant or any other kinds of picture and wait for validation. (By the way, with the introduction of the “Love” button, what’s become of the Like button? Are people offended if their posts only get Likes but no Loves)?

In 2016, I could focus more on the real world and my real work. I was privileged to have my academic book accepted for publication, and it was wonderful to be able to spend every minute of my free time in the first half of 2016 on going over the manuscript and assisting in the publication process. I know that the amount of time I had at my disposal was greatly increased by not spending it on Facebook. In addition, I’ve been able to spend more time on other endeavors (such as writing poetry, being more present with my family without the distraction of obsessively checking for Facebook updates, and creating a curriculum for a brand new course I’m teaching to mention but a few).

Now, I totally understand that for people who need to publicize their work, Facebook is a very important marketing tool. I know that I’ve lost many a reader because I no longer post on Facebook. For that reason, I am aware that is entirely possible that it may be necessary for me to rejoin Facebook in the future when my novel is published (I’m being purposefully optimistic on this one! Publishers, agents, and others: feel free to inquire). Others may be in this position without necessarily noticing that what they are doing is mostly self-promotion. In the United States, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! After all, (tongue-in-cheek) that’s how a particular political candidate for president has made it as far as he has.

So, while I truly miss some of the interactions with people I am unable to see in person, for me, the pros for quitting Facebook by far outweigh the cons. If you don’t think you can leave Facebook behind, consider what you are using it for. If it provides some essential services in your life, stick with it while trying to go on a Facebook diet. But if you find that it’s become more burdensome for you to use it just to keep up with everyone else or if you are plain sick of the political nonsense that is so easy to post and so difficult and useless to argue against–you may find that 2017 is your year for saying goodbye to Facebook and hello to more meaningful pursuits.

Happy 2017!

P.S. Email still exists for periodic updates. My email is mrmandler@yahoo.com.

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My short story “The Loft” is available on amazon.com.




The Duck

The Duck

I walked around the pond one day
And sat down on a bench.
The clouds were gone. “You have to stay!”
A figure yelled in French.

He shouted left and shouted right
This by the stormy pond:
“We’ll drain the swamp without a fight
And form a sacred bond.

But first, to save our way of life
I’ll have to build a wall.
If you bring a sharpened knife
I’ll save you big and small.

These United Ponds will rise
To heights unseen before,
We’ll swat all irritating flies
And push them out the door.

And when those nasty insects burn
Caught in our net of fire,
The slimy frogs will quickly learn
That I am not a liar!

Yes frogs! Your voices dominate
The landscape everywhere.
I know you well, I’d been your mate
For far too long with flair.

But now it’s time for me to swell
And take the seat of power.
I’ll make you proud big league, I’ll tell
You how in just an hour.

Make Everything so great again,
My feathery attire!
My voice is louder than the frogs
Who drown in mild satire.

Let’s put our beautiful pond first
And drain it off completely.
And when your throats will hurt from thirst
I’ll slip away discretely.”

The noise around the pond grew strong,
With every creature quacking.
I closed my eyes and said, “so long
Chief duck, your eggs are hatching.”

It wasn’t French I’d heard, my dears,
But an aging duck.
Who sounded out a thousand fears,
For he no longer could…yuck!

The sunset came. I rose to leave
Just as the pond turned dark.
I lit a torch and said, “Believe
Forever in our park.”

© David Mandler

In Memoriam Erzsi Szabó

In Memoriam

In seventh grade, Ms. Erzsi Szabó, or Liz Taylor  in English,
Shared an article with us. It was a survey of sexual practices.
It came out that I was a tiger.

Literature class in Hungary, 1987.
With the Soviet army kicking its last in isolated barracks throughout the land,
With slender, seductive glass bottles of Coca Cola playing hide and seek
at the last overnight class trip, our seventh-grader bodies curling under a large blanket,
With a pipe-puffing writer of right leaning articles in her bed right next door,
With oblique speeches full of word flowers against world powers, and the brutal refrain
“Only one thing is missing: a shovel full of dirt…that will make everything all right”),
With her lessons on grammar and spelling forming legs for Literature,
With a smile that could only live on a face kissed by two ex-husbands,
(her last name changed three times in five years like Hungary’s borders)
With pop oral quizzes–me analyzing the epic poem, Miklós Toldi, for twenty minutes,
With her thank you note in pearly letters in my drawer next to Allen Ginsberg’s,
(she liked the tape I’d recorded for her with my new keyboard so much she even cried),
With that slender figure, careful makeup, clear voice, and still smoldering ashes ofpassion,
With that voice of concerned and tearful apologetics poured out to my parents one afternoon,
(she felt awful that I broke my wrist in a duel with the son of the said right-wing writer hero),
With the mist of time suddenly lifted by an unexpected email that she died,
With everyone around me unaware and unaffected while the Earth revolves just the same
with her heart
With her body in a fresh grave and spirit in my mind shining more brightly for a few moments
through the veil of romanticized darkness,
I am forced to think of a time when I will be recalled for a few seconds thirty years from  now.
I fear to know just how.  I question just how.
I hope anyhow.

© David Mandler

Note: the lines are off a bit here. Here’s the poem in pdf format. That is how the poem should look on the page:


Paprika Jancsi és Erős Pista Polgári Szövetség Követelései

Követeljük az alábbi illegális migráns csoportok azonnali hatállyal való kitoloncolását Magyarország egész területéről.

1. A muszlim lángost, amely illegális és erőszakos határátkeléssel nyomult be országunk területére a törökök megszálló seregeivel (vagy utána, vagy előtte a római megszállókkal).

2. Minden olyan ételcsoportot amely az olyan idegenszívű megélhetési migránscsoportokhoz köthető mint az Amerikából ötszáz éve benyomult paradicsom, kukorica, burgonya, chili paprika és édes burgonya. Így értelemszerűen olyan idegenszívű csoportoknak is megálljt parancsolunk mint a paradicsomleves illetve a paprikáskrumpli (egy különösen hatványozott német nevü idegenszívű fajta).

3. A túros csuszát illetve minden tésztafajtát. Bárhogy is nézzük, a tészta egy veszélyesen lappangó muszlim kártevő, amely már az 1200-as években sikeresen beharolt Sziciliába, hogy onnan az egész világot behálózza.

4. A madártejet, amelynek még a neve is egy aljas görög fordításból fakad, és egy francia vagy német betolakodót takargat.

5. A bablevest, babfőzeléket illetve minden olyan a babhoz köthető ételcsoportot amelyben ez a pogány és mélyen idegenszívű amerikai indián betolakodó feltűnik.

Abban az esetben, ha követelésünket nem teljesítik, éhségsztrájkba kezdünk.


Paprika Jancsi és Erős Pita Polgári Szövetség
Kelt (amikor tudott)


Don’t Forget to be Happy

(Photo credit: Sarah Chen)

About a week ago, my daughter, Rachel, aged six years and eight months, drew a picture of a colorful little girl and wrote the following message next to it intended for either of her parents to discover on her desk on parent-teacher day: “Dear Mommy or Papa. I  you. Don’t forget to be happy.”

I can’t recall exactly how many of my friends, classmates, and acquaintances surrounded me in the lobby of the main airport in Budapest waiving goodbye to me, but it must have been at least fifteen. We knew it was the last time we would ever see each other as a group. One last round of hugs later, it was time to go our separate ways. I was heading to a place called “America” with my parents while they were heading home to theirs.

“America” was Erica, my aunt and the basement room in her house reserved for my new immigrant family in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Ten days later, America became a now defunct sprawling public school called South Shore High School with bars on all its windows along with something truly incredible: adults in uniforms carrying walkie-talkies. “Did I land in a prison by accident?” I wondered aloud the first time I set foot inside the building. What was it that these uniformed creatures were shouting? “Program cards.” Oh yes. In order to be admitted into this palace of learning, I imitated the people around me and held up a thick, colorful paper printout with my classes listed on it to the security officers blocking the entrance. Inside, a noxious admixture of human sweat, hamburger meat and onions formed an invisible wall between the outside world and school. “If I make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” I would have muttered had I known the English lyrics of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” then.

With my knowledge of English extending not much farther than the phrases, “my name is David Mandler” and “I live in Budapest,” I was placed into the school’s English as a Second Language program (ESL). I took four English classes each day and ESL math, social studies, biology, and French. I also jumped at the opportunity to attend a class with a promising title called “Orchestra.” Over the course of the term, though, it became clear that Orchestra was a place where most students struggled to hold their instruments in the right way and felt a sense of pride when they succeeded in producing the kind of cacophony (topped with drums and all) that would have even made the totally deaf Beethoven shout in joy, “I can hear, I can hear!”

I found out early on in the guidance counselor’s office that another Hungarian student was roaming the windowless palace corridors along with three thousand others. Months into the school year, having been demoted a year from junior back to sophomore, I met him. That was the first time in a long time that I felt somewhat reassured. By that time, I had stopped wearing watches and hats in school lest they be stolen. My English slowly improved over the months, and I was able to skip the lost year and be mainstreamed as a senior. The most immediate benefit of regular classes was that I was permitted to take an English class that was devoted entirely to watching and analyzing films. Apparently, I had “caught up” with American culture. Never mind that I had no idea how a football game was played (not that I do now), was so self-conscious about my deficient English that I could not manage to get a girlfriend (though now that I’m married, the need to procure one is gone) and had no American friends (not that it’s much different now). I totally missed prom (“prom, what’s that?”) and completely abandoned my first instrument, the cello. But I did something new: I began to read books, and I hand wrote dozens of letters each week to my former classmates in Budapest. It was at that time that the desire to become a teacher began to replace my long-standing goal of becoming a classical music composer. True, I still heard and enjoyed the fully-orchestrated hymns in my head on fifteen-minute solitary walks home from school, knowing I would be the only person ever to hear them, but my sights were set on acquiring English to such extent that I could be as funny and witty using English as some people used to tell me I was in Hungarian.

Over the years that followed, every time I traveled with out-of-town acquaintances to Manhattan and passed by Chambers Street, I pointed at the shiny new building across the bridge over the West Side Highway to say, “that’s Stuyvesant High School. It’s one of the best schools in the city,” before driving away. It seemed impossible that I, who had no chance of getting in as a student, would end up teaching English literature there one day.

After a somewhat depressing high school graduation ceremony with musical accompaniment provided by the proud members of the Orchestra class, I entered Brooklyn College. Four years later, I graduated with a dual major in English and French and a minor in secondary education. I gave piano lessons to children and teens not much younger than me and wondered at the parents who trusted me to do the job right even before I was out of high school. I’d like to think that my teaching skills had improved as a result, but that statement may only serve to provoke the question in some of my more snarky students, “just how bad were Mandler’s skills back than if what he’s got now is an improvement.” Be it as it may, my new goal in college was to become a professor of English. I was very happy that NYU admitted me to its M.A-Ph.D. program, albeit without any financial aid. With the help of my parents, I managed to pay tuition in full year after year. Years of afternoon classes followed. I still could not replace the friends left behind in Budapest who by that time, sadly, were no longer my friends, either. Life went on for them without me.

At one point in my life, I made the decision to be happier, which sounds odd but true. I subsequently gave myself permission to relax a bit after graduating NYU and not mind the fact that I was a poorly paid adjunct professor at Touro College without any realistic prospects of securing a full-time, tenure-track position at a college. In 2007, with two years of high school teaching at private schools behind me, I was hired to teach at the Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Queens. Three years later, I was excessed, i.e., dismissed from my position, putatively for financial reasons. Despair and gloom enveloped me as I looked for a new position. Quite unexpectedly, Mr. Grossman, Assistant Principal of English, called me in the summer. An interview? A demo lesson? I got the job? Ecstasy. A year later, I experienced more heartache when it seemed that I would have to leave Stuyvesant. Thankfully, a teacher retired, and I could stay. In the meantime, I published a short story on amazon.com called “The Loft” and to my intense joy, my academic book Arminius Vambéry and the British Empire: Between East and West appeared this past July, following many years of hard work.

Nowadays, when I emerge from the Chambers Street subway station and see Stuy students rushing towards the sunlit building (with a handful of people with backpacks heading in the opposite direction for some unfathomable reason), I am reminded of my long-ago friends in Budapest heading to school with me decades earlier. So, as I near the Tribeca Bridge each morning, I thank G-d out loud for sending me to Stuyvesant, a school populated with such amazing people.

Ever since the moment I first read Rachel’s message, I knew that my young daughter’s incredibly simple yet quintessential message hit the nail on the head for me. The message on the bulletin board of my classroom is a quote from a little girl to myself, to my students and to the world at large: “Don’t forget to be happy!”

(This story first appeared on Humans of Stuy on 9/26/16).

Discount Code for My Newly Released Vambéry Book

My book entitled Arminius Vambéry and the British Empire: Between East and West was released on July 22nd, 2016. If you’d like to purchase a copy, please note that a discount coupon for 30% is available. In addition, it would be wonderful if you circulated the flyer about my book (see below) amongst your friends and acquaintances who may be interested in identity politics, Orientalism, Jewish identity, Zionism, and Hungarian identity framed by Victorian culture etc. Your suggesting the book to your local library via email for purchase would also be wonderful.

You may order the book directly from the publisher’s website with 30% discount:


The code you need to enter for the 30% discount is LEX30AUTH16.


My Forthcoming Book: Arminius Vambéry and the British Empire


It is with great pleasure and gratitude that I announce the publication date of my book as July 16, 2016.

I believe the subject of this book is especially timely. Questions about British self-identity in face of Great Britain’s decision to leave the E.U. along with current issues about the nature of Islam as a religion and as a manifestation of geo-political aspirations are again in the forefront of public discourse. My book may be read as a scholarly examination of these questions (and many more) as they appeared in the 19th century.

Publisher’s Summary

This book frames the fascinating life and influential works of the Hungarian Orientalist, Arminius Vambéry (1832–1913) within the context of nineteenth century identity politics and contemporary criticisms of Orientalism. Based on extensive research, the book authoritatively presents a comprehensive narrative of Arminius Vambéry’s multiple identities as represented in Hungary and in Great Britain. The author traces Vambéry’s development from a marginalized Jewish child to a recognized authority on Hungarian ethnogenesis as well as on Central Asian and Turkish geopolitical developments. Throughout the book, the reader meets Vambéry as the Hungarian traveler to Central Asia, the British and Ottoman secret agent, the mostly self-taught professor of Oriental languages, the political pundit, and the highly sought after guest lecturer in Great Britain known for his fierce Russophobe pronouncements. The author devotes special attention to the period that transformed Vambéry from a linguistically talented but penniless Hungarian Jewish youth into a pioneering traveler in the double-disguise of a Turkish effendi masquerading as a dervish to Central Asia in 1863–64. He does so because Vambéry’s published observations of an arena still closed to Europeans facilitated his emergence as a colorful personality and a significant authority on Central Asia and Turkey in Great Britain for the next fifty years. In addition, the book also devotes significant space to Vambéry’s dynamic relationship to his most famous student, Ignác Goldziher (1850–1921), who is considered to be one of the founders of modern Islamic Studies. Lastly, Vambéry’s impact on Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, is also explored.

                                                What Four Scholars Have to Say

Arminius Vambéry is one of the most fascinating figures in modern Jewish history, and David Mandler has provided us with a magnificent depiction of his remarkable life as atraveler to Muslim lands, a linguist, and the toast of nineteenth-century London high society. (Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College)

David Mandler’s exceptionally fine book is a critical biography of Arminius Vambéry, a polymath linguist, traveler, and diplomatic adviser in nineteenth-century Europe. The book offers a human story of this linguistic genius as he grew up in segregated areas of Austria-Hungary but came to know Sultans and Queen Victoria. It also provides an intellectual history of Vambéry’s development of Middle Eastern studies and linguistics, placing him very interestingly in relation to later Orientalists. Dr. Mandler also gives us a compelling story of Vambéry’s importance in nineteenth-century diplomatic and literary relations. This is a sophisticated work that should make a name for Vambéry and for his author—in Vambéry’s case restoring him to his nineteenth-century brilliance and importance. (John Maynard, New York University)

This book challenges and refines Edward Said’s thesis in Orientalism by demonstrating the fundamental role played in the field by the Jewish Hungarian Orientalists Arminius Vambéry and Ignác Goldziher. Their Eastern European origins—in the context of a cultural milieu set on the borders of Europe and Asia in which Islamic and Christian traditions were in certain ways quite closely intertwined—meant that their Orientalist scholarship was not constructed in the absence of the human and social reality that it described, nor was it consciously or unconsciously motivated in terms of an over-riding imperial politics. Dr. Mandler’s important book thus transforms the widespread view that sees Orientalism simply as the West’s construction of the East, and it demonstrates the importance of Hungarian scholarship for European Islamic Studies. (Robert J. C. Young, New York University)

By digging into Hungarian-language sources, David Mandler has revealed a much more nuanced picture of the ‘oriental’ Orientalist Arminius Vambéry. Mandler does a fine job of correcting previous indictments of Vambéry’s ‘charlatanism’ (including that of the great Arabist Ignác Goldziher) and shows us a Vambéry who was, for his day, a well-informed and sympathetic Islamist and an insightful liberal commentator on European political and religious affairs. (Suzanne Marchand, Louisiana State University)

The book is already available for pre-ordering. It is on amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Arminius-Vamb%C3%A9ry-British-Empire-Between/dp/149853824X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1467740106&sr=8-1&keywords=David+Mandler

The book would make a good (early) birthday present to anyone interested in books of this kind. It would also help if you let your local libraries know about this book and asked them to acquire a copy.

See the flyer below from Lexington Books for an additional 30% off the listing price.The link below will take you to the publisher’s website where you can enter the code.


The code you need to enter for the 30% discount is LEX30AUTH16.


A Poem for Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2016

Red Danube

I see my grandmother
Lying on her hospital bed
Thinking she’s back home
The youngest of eight

Walking an hour each way to school
With three girls and two boys
Making jokes
Throwing rocks into mossy ponds
Her feet massaged in the evenings
Dressed up as Queen Esther
At the carnival
Sitting in Papa’s soft lap
Embraced by the puffs of smoke
Coming from his pipe
Listening to Berty
Making love
With his violin
The challah in the oven

She lies in her bed
Staring at he ceiling
Nurses cold unfeeling
Waiting for her to die

She doesn’t talk to anyone
Her thoughts are incoherent
The light in the room disturbs her eyes
The room sinks under her

Her mother sings a lullaby

Bye bye world
I’m leaving you behind
The blue Danube turns red
Berty’s shoes floating
Upside down

The violin pulls her away
Floating above the tiny shoes
She’s lost in eager silence

April 30, 2015
© David Mandler

David Mandler’s short story, “The Loft,” is available on amazon.com.  http://www.amazon.com/Loft-David-Mandler-ebook/dp/B00E4WONNA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1462375125&sr=8-2&keywords=David+Mandler

The Singer

The Singer

If you have nothing wise to say,
Sing! Nobody cares about the lyrics.
With that, she turned around in bed
And slept away the rest of the day.

So he sang and sang and sang until
A horse came trotting up to his window.
A contrarian by nature, the brute neighed
Wordless tunes that could all but kill.

He smiled, and vowed to sing some more
About alien love, laughter in losing battles,
Frustrated frosty young men, and nothingness
Until his hoarse notes refused to soar.

When they took off his silver hat, bozo nose,
Flushed away the thickened white face paint,
Shaved his bowie hair, and removed the pants,
His skeletal nakedness spoke in silent wisdom.

© David Mandler


The Skullcap: to Wear it or Not to Wear it?

Following a spate of physical attacks on Jewish men wearing skullcaps in Marseilles, the head of the Jewish community, Avi Ammar, has suggested that Jewish men should stop donning skullcaps in public.

While I completely understand the sentiment, I cannot help but feel that this kind of response will only embolden those who seek to hurt Jews in France and all over the world. Nothing pleases Islamic fundamentalists more than seeing their violent actions against Jews and “Crusaders” bear fruit. Lone wolf attacks against Jews in France have occurred with increasing frequency in the past few years. These attacks were not exclusively directed against Jews who wore skullcaps in public. The hostage taking and eventual murder of four people in Paris at a kosher supermarket last January was a deliberate attack on Jews as well. Yet, nobody suggested that Jews stop frequenting kosher supermarkets in order to prevent future attacks on Jews.

In a society that feels solidarity with all its citizens, a groundswell of support for victims of terrorism or bigoted, racist persecution should be expected. There is ample historical precedence for this in Europe. While the story that King Christian X of Denmark vowed to wear the yellow star if the Nazis forced Danish Jews to don this most hated symbol of religious persecution is apparently a myth, it is true that Denmark went out of its way to protect and save its Jewish citizens from certain death at the hand of the German Nazis during World War II.

Far from discouraging Jews from wearing skullcaps, Jews who normally don’t wear them should begin to do so en masse as a result of these unprecedented attacks on freedom of expression in Europe. Moreover, a mass solidarity movement with victims of religious fanaticism should form with a clear message: we will not be cowed into submission. What an inspiring symbol of solidarity it would be for people of all religious backgrounds to wear the kippah, the skullcap for a day in Marseilles, all round France, and, perhaps, all over the world.

One thing is certain: abandoning a single religious principal or a way of life as a result of terrorist attacks will only lead to more attacks against Jews. Those who demonstrate fear instead of steadfast resistance in the face of such threats by these thugs can expect to be next after the Jews.

–My short story, “The Loft,” can be found by clicking the link below. Also, follow me on http://www.amazon.com/author/davidmandler