When people ask me what my future career goals are, I have a very simple answer. I’d like to go back to school and get a PhD in Muppetology. Yes, the study of Muppets.
I have had a long time interest in not just collecting Muppet memorabilia, but also researching the history and impact of the work of Jim Henson.
Documentarian David Van Taylor’s “When Muppets Dream of Peace” (which has been in production for a while) is apparently hitting the press rounds, though the movie isn’t due to come out until next fall.
The movie follows the production and collaboration of three of the Middle Eastern Sesame Street shows, known together as Sesame Stories, and aimed at Israelis (Sippuray Sumsum), Palestinians (Hikayat Simsim-Palestine), and Jordanians (Hikayat Simsim- Jordan).
They are separate from the series that were limited to local audiences, such as the 1980s Rechov Sumsum, which is familiar to many American Jews. They are also distinct from the Rechov Sumsum-Shara’a Simsim joint show for Israeli and Palestinian children, which had to cancel productions after the Second Intifada.
As Sesame Workshop describes the cooperative effort:
Sesame Workshop and a dedicated group of Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian co-production partners have joined together to create Sesame Stories, a multimedia project that promotes messages of respect and understanding to young children in the Middle East. The three separate versions have some unique and some shared elements so that Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian children view specific segments formatted to address their specific cultural and linguistic needs. The Israeli production has a special emphasis on the Arab population within Israel. (MORE)
But this is far from the first time that Muppets have been used to try to promote peace, tolerance, and understanding globally.
In 1989, Fraggle Rock became the first Western show to air in the Soviet Union. It is no coincidence that the show centers around three classes: the working Doozers, the giant and powerful Gorgs, and the Fraggles, left in the middle to help the other two groups get along. Many Muppet scholars speculate that the show was a calculated attempt bring American democracy to the youngsters of the USSR, with the hopes of inspiring them and showing a different way of life.
Sesame Street, today shown in more than 120 countries, shows a group of diverse inhabitants (Muppets, monsters, and humans) who have their differences, but in the end find a way to live together in peace. No one character is more important than any other.
It is the hope of the show to share this kind of society with children across the globe who many not live in countries where this is a reality of life. By planting the message of democracy into the growing minds of children around the world, one can be wishful and hopeful that a new generation of world citizens, conscious of the possibility of a peaceful world might emerge.
Muppets aren’t just child’s play. Trust me on this one.
It’s been interesting to monitor the response to our new animated short The Adventures of Todd and God. For the most part, people have loved it and encouraged our attempt to find new modes of educating and engaging.
Our goal, of course, was to create something truly informative and useful and package it in a fun way. Still, when you experiment, the product is not going to work for everyone.
Some have objected to God’s first Hanukkah gift to Todd: a box of cigars. While we certainly weren’t trying to assert the divine approval of tobacco products, I understand why it might make some uncomfortable.
But a couple of people have critiqued the video on Jewish legal grounds. At the end of the video (spoiler alert!), God retrieves the stogies he gave to Todd and lights one using the fire from the menorah. According to Jewish law, the light of the candles is not supposed to be used — i.e. we are not supposed to benefit from the light or use the candles to transfer fire.
This is why we have a shamash, a candle that is used to light all the other candles, but is not counted as one of the “official” Hanukkah lights.
So I am here to affirm for all who were wondering: God is, indeed, a halakhic Jew. We specifically made it so that God lights His cigar off the shamash, which is 100% kosher.
Have we violated the principle of lifnei iver, the prohibition against leading people to transgress a commandment by giving them the wrong impression (i.e. that you can light a cigar off of any of the Hanukkah candles)?
If so, I hope this blog post will rectify any halakhic damage done. As for the potential theological damage done by our video: we’ve probably still got some work to do.
-Andrew Lachman makes the case that â€œProgressives should join Jews on Iran strategy,â€? while acknowledging that the Jewish position on Iran is somewhat at odds with the general Jewish rejection of the neo-Con agenda. (Jewish Journal)
-Seeing little hope for preventative sanctions, Zvi Bar’el predicts, â€œWithin three years the international community will need a new kind of diplomacy vis-a-vis Iran – one whose goal is to dismantle existing weapons and eliminate the motivation to use them. (Haaretz)
-Barry Rubin makes the case that there are specific threats from Iran, in the diplomatic and economic areas, entirely apart from the nuclear threat. (The Jerusalem Post)
-A look at efforts to press the United Arab Emirates, and other courtiers, into taking a tougher economic stand against Iran. (Haaretz)
-The threat from Iran is now seen as topping the agenda of American Jews. (The Jewish Week)
-Aluf Benn reports that the US is telling Israel that it ought to simply get used to the idea of Iran with a nuclear bomb. (Haaretz)
-And similarly, Martin van Creveld says that a nuclear Iran cannot be prevented, but should instead be prepared for. (Forward)
-Efraim Halevy, a long time intelligence officer and former Mossad director makes the case that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel and that a conciliatory approach to Iran would be more effective. (The Washington Post)
-Michael Freund makes the case that either US or Israel should attack Iran militarily â€œsoon.â€? (The Jerusalem Post)
-Murray Polner sees the danger of a sharp retaliation from Iran, against Israel, if it is attacked. (The Jewish Week)
Avi Issacharoff argues that “the Annapolis summit â€¦ will perpetuate the rift â€¦. between the extremist camp lead by Iran, and the more moderate Sunni camp lead by Saudi Arabia.” The Saudis attended because “they hate the Iranians more” than they hate the Israelis. (Haaretz)
Tonight is the official opening of the new building of the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago. Many people may not be familiar with the institute and it’s mission:
Spertus invites people of all ages and backgrounds to explore the multifaceted Jewish experience. Through its innovative public programming, exhibitions, collections, research facilities and degree programs, Spertus inspires learning, serves diverse communities and fosters understanding for Jews and people of all faiths, locally, regionally and around the world.
And the beautiful new $55 million building overlooking Michigan Avenue now has a dairy kosher restaurant from none other than Wolfgang Puck. So how better to celebrate than with Puck’s recipe for dessert pancakes with raspberry sauce and creme fraiche for Hanukkah. As he notes in his column:
Hanukkah traditions center on foods fried in oil, such as latkes, the potato pancakes so popular in European and American Jewish communities, and sufganiyot, the doughnuts that Israelis share. Oil figures prominently in the Hanukkah story: A single day’s worth of oil miraculously kept the light burning for eight nights during the rededication of the main Temple of Jerusalem after Jewish warriors recaptured it in 165 BC.
Yet another tradition commemorates the cunning of Judith, who during the same period helped defeat an enemy general by feeding him salty cheese and then getting him intoxicated on wine. For this reason, dairy foods (but not necessarily wine) star on some Hanukkah tables.
My contribution to the Hanukkah party combines elements of both those traditions in the form of dessert pancakes. They are fried on a griddle or in a skillet and they include tangy buttermilk and some butter. (MORE)
I’m not sure his knowledge of Judaism actually extends to the story of Judith. But I’m willing to bite. After all, I’m sure it’s delicious.
-AIPAC comes under attack from two of its major donors for, of all things, being too pro-Palestinian. (Forward)
-Interview with Herb Zweibon, chairman of Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI), a Zionist organization very opposed to “land for peace.” (The Jerusalem Post)
-Bâ€™nai Brith of Canada is facing a stiff internal challenge on its governance procedures, and the leadership is responding with some sharp tactics. (Forward)
-Isi Leibler, former Chair of the WJC, condemns the New Israel Fund and the Israel Policy Forum, among others, as “Jewish defamers of Israel” (The Jerusalem Post)
-But Larry Garber rises to the defense of the New Israel Fund. (The Jerusalem Post)
-And Seymour Reich and Marvin Lender similarly defend the Israel Policy Forum. (The Jerusalem Post)
Hanukkah’s almost here, so we’ve got a gift for you, dear readers: the “pilot” episode of MyJewishLearning.com’s The Adventures of Todd & God.
Many thanks to Jewish Robot William Levin for his work on this.
Feel free to share with friends and family as an early Haunkkah present, but don’t return those socks you bought them. They still want those.
Israel tends to lead the world in airport and airplane security. It probably has something to do with terrorist attacks and previous hijackings. Well it just got even tougher to fly over Israel:
Soon, pilots from all airlines flying into Israeli airspace will have to enter a numbered sequence to prove they are not terrorist hijackers. The secret code will be generated by the Security Code System, designed by Elbit Systems complete with a credit-card-sized keypad. (MORE)
And what happens if you don’t enter your code in time:
Pilots who fail the authentication test when they approach Israeli airspace will be denied entry. Should a plane go ahead, ignoring further warnings, Israel will consider it hostile and scramble fighter planes for an interception.
Knowing Israel, that’s not an empty threat.
In today’s Jewish world, a whole range of post-denominational identities has popped up. For those that took part in our annual reader survey, you saw just a few: Just Jewish, Unaffiliated, Secular.
Secular Judaism is probably the most misunderstood of the bunch. It’s not “more reform than reform,” nor is it an absence of Judaism in one’s life.
This movement does something that, while some might say is heretical, shows the great flexibility and power of Judaism. Secular Judaism transforms Judaism into something that is not religious at all. It recognizes Judaism’s valid forms of culture and history without the religious aspects.
As a telling sign that this area of Judaism still needs further exposure, Katie Halper recalls:
I recently went on a young adult retreat, whose aim was to explore the definition of Judaism. When several people assumed I was Reform I explained I was secular. When they responded, “Oh cool. What synagogue do you go to?” or “Nice. Where do you celebrate Shabbat?” (MORE)
“Jelvis,” the Jewish Elvis, sings Blue Suede Yamulka.
-Although Israeli-Arabs make up 19% of the population, their representation in the media stands at only 1%. For example in TV â€œChannel 2â€? â€œonly 0.55% of the items broadcast by the channel featured Arabs.â€? (Ynet)
-Israelâ€™s HOT, which has nearly two-thirds of Israel’s cable and satellite audience, will be replacing CNN with Al-Jazeera’s English channel. (The Jerusalem Post)
-Shlomi Barzel argues that the recent episode of Israeli press censorship (over the Israeli air attack on Syria) shows the parties acting reasonably well. (Haaretz)
-But Gideon Levy disagrees: â€œThe Israeli media have unconditionally given themselves up to the smoke screen. It is not the media’s job to weigh the considerations of war; their job is to report.â€? (Haaretz)
-Former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon has accused the media of protecting politicians who adopt pro-withdrawal policies. (Israel National News)
-Does the New York Times Magazine â€œhave a Jewish problem” about both the facts and the message? Or do â€œthe articles reflect, accurately, a fundamental trend within the Jewish worldâ€?? (NJ Jewish News)