Monthly Archives: March 2007

Yentl the Mensch

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

What is it about Barbra?

Jewish Women’s Archive celebrates mega-star Barbra Streisand’s 1963 Broadway debut in This Week in History: 

Streisand has changed the face of the female movie star. Never afraid to be emphatically Jewish and herself, she has opened the door to other actresses who look more ethnic than the Hollywood mainstream. She has also challenged Hollywood’s gender norms, directing three of her own movies, and insisting on total control of all her projects.

Barbra’s also sold more albums than anybody except the Beatles. Which might have earned her the right to sit in her big house and count her money.

But not our Barbra–she’s shared her good fortune.

Saying that “I have enough money, thank God, and the only reason I want it is to give it away,” Streisand has been generous to a variety of causes. Through the Streisand Foundation, she has supported Jewish charities in the U.S. and in Israel, environmental projects, AIDS education and care, and Democratic politicians.

Barbra, darling, we love you.

Posted on March 22, 2007

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The $Big$ Winner

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

This just in from the Jewish Book Council:

New York, NY (March 21, 2007) –The Jewish Book Council, administrator of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish literature, announced today that Tamar Yellin of England, author of The Genizah at the House of Shepher (Toby Press), is the first recipient of the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the largest-ever Jewish literary prize given, and one of the largest literary prizes in the nation.

The two runner-up awardees, who will receive the Choice Award and will each receive $7,500, are Amir Gutfreund, author of Our Holocaust (Toby Press, translated by Jessica Cohen), from Israel, and Michael Lavigne, author of Not Me (Random House), from San Francisco. All three winning authors will be celebrated at a gala event to be held May 21 in Manhattan.

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Posted on March 21, 2007

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Without an Eruv

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

This past Shabbat, my little boy was a prisoner of Jewish law.

The DC Eruv was down, which meant that my son, who doesn’t walk yet (so according to Jewish law cannot be carried by an adult on Shabbat outside an eruv) had to be kept in our apartment building for the full 25 hours. It raised a lot of interesting issues for me, including, how far are you willing to go when halakhah gets really, truly inconvenient? 

This weekend also just so happened to be the DC Minyan’s Scholar-in-Residence Shabbaton, featuring Yitz and Blu Greenberg. Which reminded me of a great piece by Blu Greenberg, from How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, which just happens to be excerpted on MJL. Recalls Blu:

For most of my early married and childraising years, I lived in a community that had no eruv; and therefore, if I didn’t plan ahead for a babysitter to mind the babies at home or take them out in the carriage, there was no way that I could go to shul or take an afternoon walk with [my husband] and the bigger children. For the most part, I took it with great equanimity.

When I look back on those times, I can only wonder in amazement why it didn’t bother me more and why I didn’t organize a huge rally of all Orthodox mothers of young children. Although no eruv has come out of a women’s protest group, I think the increase in eruvin has something to do with the new perception women have of themselves, their needs, and their place in community life.

It’s not until the eruv goes down that you realize how important it is to family religious life—from the baby’s exposure to Shabbat to the mother’s participation in public Jewish life. 

How you deal with the eruv outage can be telling—in our case, my husband went to the hashkama (early morning) minyan and then took over babysitting so that I could go to DC Minyan to pray and hear Rabbi Greenberg speak. The boys had a nice afternoon in while Ima went out to be a public Jew.

Now that’s egalitarianism.

Posted on March 21, 2007

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What if Ariel Sharon Woke Up?

This entry was posted in History on by .

I just got emailed this dialogue that sums up the current state of Israeli politics:

It is a rainy night, and we are at Tel HaShomer Hospital. Only one orderly is around. He is on night duty tonight in the room of the “sleeping” former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. Everyone but Sharon himself knows that he is no longer the Prime Minister of Israel.

The orderly is sitting, peeling an apple; and G, the Israeli Secret Service (Shabak) agent, is nodding off.

Suddenly, all of the machines start to beep. The PM is waking up!

Sharon says, “I haven’t slept like that for a long time! Get me my strategist, Reuven Adler. I have some ideas for a new direction.”

The orderly says, “Good morning, sir. How do you feel?”

Sharon answers, “I am dying of hunger. Where am I?”

The Shabak agent continues to sleep, while the orderly explains to Sharon what had happened to him.

Sharon does not take him seriously and says, “So tonight you fooled with the PM, eh?”

The orderly says, “Sorry, sir; but you are really no longer the PM.”

After a few minutes, Sharon asks, “So who replaced me?”

The orderly answers, “Ehud Olmert.”

Sharon reacts, “Olmert? What will happen if war breaks out? He does not know how to run the army! At least, Shaul Mofaz is still there!”

The orderly answers, “Mofaz is the Minister of Transportation.”

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Posted on March 20, 2007

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My Holocaust

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I just received a review copy of Tova Reich’s forthcoming novel My Holocaust, and it looks intense, to say the least. Here’s the first paragraph of the description from the HarperCollins website:

Maurice and Norman Messer, father-and-son business partners, know a good product when they see it. That product is the Holocaust, and Maurice, a Holocaust survivor with an inflated personal history, and Norman, enjoying vicarious victimhood as a participant in the second-generation movement, proceed to market it enthusiastically. Not even the disappearance of Nechama, Norman’s daughter and Maurice’s granddaughter, into the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, where she is transformed into a nun, Sister Consolatia of the Cross, deters them from pushing their agenda.

The back cover of the book is comprised of a two paragraph blurb from Cynthia Ozick, which includes the following high praise:

Tova Reich’s My Holocaust is a ferocious work of serious satiric genius. I believe it to be one of the most penetrating social and political novels of the early twenty-first century, next to which the last century’s Animal Farm is a mere bleat.

That’s serious hype, and from the description, the book sounds like it’s ripe for controversy. We’ll know soon enough. It’s due out on April 3rd.

Posted on March 20, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Jewish Music in Texas

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I just returned from a mini-vacation in Austin — my fifth trip to South By Southwest (SXSW), the music industry’s annual mega-festival and conference. Among the 1,400 bands and artists who preformed were several Jewish/Israeli acts.

Most notable, was the fact that JDub records had their first official SXSW show, featuring several of their bands including Golem and Soulico, an Israeli DJ crew and the newest additions to JDub’s lineup. The show was co-sponsored by Heeb magazine and was hosted by comedian Michael Showalter.

I’m a big music junky and, obviously, a Judaism junky too, but I’ve never been terribly moved by Jewish music. Golem, however, has proven to be the exception, and Saturday night in Texas was no different. The klezmer/rock sextet was remarkable, getting an overwhelmingly non-Jewish audience to do the hora as they sang Mazal Tov to JDub for it’s first SXSW show.

The congratulations were well-deserved. SXSW is dominated by skinny-jean indie rock. Festival logic would seem to demand that a band singing in Yiddish and led by an accordionist could not pack the house with smiling, cheering fans. But Golem plays great, and almost as importantly, looks great, and the crowd was loving it.

Unfortunately, Balkan Beat Box, the night’s headliner, never made it to Texas. The weather in New York on Friday left them grounded on the east coast.

I’m writing a full festival recap for the Jersualem Post. I’ll post a link here when it’s published.

Posted on March 20, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Stateless Fuhrer

This entry was posted in History on by .

Bringing new meaning to the expression “A day late and a dollar short”:

Hitler may be stripped of German citizenship, reports Spiegel International Online. However:

Lawyers have their doubts as to whether a dead man can be stripped of his citizenship at all… “Dead is dead,” commented an official from Lower Saxony’s Ministry of Justice. “There’s nothing more you can take away from them.”

Posted on March 19, 2007

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The Segulah Trap

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Feeling superstitious? Recently The Jewish Week took a look at segulot, Jewish good luck charms. Turns out that they’re not so Jewish after all:

…Rabbi Daniel Sperber, author of the seven-volume “Minhagei Yisraelâ€? (Customs of Israel) and one of the world’s leading experts on segulot, said that “most segulot derive from outside [non-Jewish] sources. In Ashkenaz the Jews were very heavily influenced by Germanic folklore, theology, and superstition. In North Africa you have influences of North African folklore and superstition. And in the East, in India and Yemen, you have the same phenomenon. The folk beliefs were culled from the cultures in which the Jews lived, and were given a new identity. They were converted, made Jewish.

Okay, so segulot are not particularly Jewish…but are they forbidden? Some say no, but…

Many rabbinic scholars have warned against such semi-magical actions, saying that they may violate the commandment to “be pure with Hashem your God� — that is, to pray to God directly, rather than to rely on intermediaries. 

Posted on March 19, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

What to Wear

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Long gone are the days when standard Jewish attire was a streimel or a sheitl. Today’s Jewish hipster can’t afford to be seen without a clever, ironic t-shirt.

Don’t want to date non-Jews but find it awkward to ask about religion? Send the message loud and clear with That’s Jewtastic’s “I only date circumcised boysâ€? t-shirt.

Born to be wild? Warn the world with Shtetlwear’s “Wilde Chaya� t-shirt (Yiddish for “wild animal).

Crazy for commentary? Café Press offers a “Rashi Rocks� t-shirt.

Rotemgear asks: “What would Rambam do?�

But more importantly…what would his t-shirt say?

Check out all these sites for many more designs, or create your own. 

Posted on March 16, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Celebrating Girls

This entry was posted in History, Life on by .

According to Jewish Women’s Archive’s This Week in Jewish History, on March 14, 1977 the New York Times published an article on the new trend of Jewish naming ceremonies for girls.

While Jewish boys had always been welcomed into the world with a brit milah (a ceremony for circumcision) on the eighth day of life, no parallel ceremony for baby girls had existed until American Jewish feminists began to invent them. As the Times reported, naming ceremonies (often called simchat bat, or rejoicing in a daughter) violated no strictures of traditional Judaism, so women could blend Judaism and feminism in new rituals without creating conflict with rabbinic authorities.

Today Jews from every denomination celebrate the birth of a daughter with beautiful and creative ceremonies honoring their little baby girls. Unfettered by the religious requirements—and emotional difficulties–of a Brit Milah, a simhat bat can be an extremely special experience for everyone involved. 

Borrowing from old traditions and new innovations, couples are creating rituals which reflect their Jewish beliefs—whatever they may be–and celebrating the value and importance of this new female life.

Perhaps most amazingly, a tradition which is only a little over thirty years old has become practically commonplace, taking its place alongside the oldest ritual in Jewish life. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks.

For resources on creating your own simhat bat, or to learn more about the ceremony, see: Ritualwell.org, About.com, Jofa.org and MyJewishLearning.com.
 

Posted on March 15, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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