Monthly Archives: September 2008

“Rosh Hashana” is a nicer way of saying Screwing Up Less Often

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Holidays, Practices on by .

Oh, yeah — we hit it again. Two parking tickets this morning, and one’s more than $100.

Man, this Rosh Hashana is shaping up to a great start.

I flipped. It’s not pleasant to say, but I felt steam coming out of my nostrils and ears. There was a very small phone, and I started yelling into it — to a friend, who really didn’t deserve any of it. I mean, he didn’t write the tickets.

“How do you do it?” I asked my friend. “You’re always growing.” It’s true: he’s always talking about how he’s waking up at 5:30 a.m. instead of 6 in order to get more stuff done, or the vegetable patch he’s tending on his balcony, or new recipes for cobbler (I don’t even know what cobbler is).

He told me: “It’s hard to perfect your butterfly stroke when you’re struggling to keep your head above water.” And I feel like this is hitting pretty much everyone I know right now. How do the Lehman brothers (assuming there are brothers, and that they’re Jewish) focus on being better people? How do we keep from going bankrupt? How does the girl I know who just tried to kill herself work on the abstract idea of “improving herself”? How do I start helping out with the cooking and the laundry when I’m in the office for 8 hours, the subway for two more, and there’s this book I wrote that I’m supposed to be promoting?

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Posted on September 29, 2008

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

Francesca Lia Block: Learning to Quake

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Francesca Lia Block changed the face of young adult publishing with her first novel, Weetzie Bat — a book that was mature (both in the “sophisticated” sense and the sense of mature themes) beyond francesca lia block anything else that was being published in the genre of children’s literature at the time, but never lost sight of its primary audience and never stopped being, at its heart, a book about a teenage girl. She’s influenced by imaginary realism writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jeanette Winterson, as well as early film (think Georges Méliès) and the golden age of Hollywood. Weetzie is the tale of a girl whose father (a Jewish immigrant) became an effects man in Hollywood, and whose life starts off surreal and blossoms into a fountain of weirdness.

Her latest novel, Quakeland, is a departure both stylistically and thematically. While it retains Block’s surreality and manic, fragile beauty, Quakeland also plays with themes of broken lives, questioning, repentance — in other words, it’s perfect Rosh Hashana reading. It draws from recent American tragedies (the main characters’ names are Katrina and Grace) as well as people with premonitory dreams of 9/11, and domestic violence.

We spoke to Ms. Block about the new book, the New Year, and the nature of catastrophes…and how to derive hope from them.

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Posted on September 29, 2008

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

Kosher Refrigerator

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Gizmodo, one of my favorite tech blogs, recently profiled this conceptual refrigerator, intended for roommates sharing an apartment. It prevents roommates from having to encounter each other’s rotten food messes.

Kosher Refrigerator

But I think it would be another great appliance for kosher kitchens. One section for meat, one section for dairy, and one section for the secret hidden stash of treif.Shabbat Shalom.

Posted on September 26, 2008

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

Rosh Hashanah In The News

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Every year, thousands of men abandon their families on the High Holidays to prostrate the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in the Ukrainian town of Uman. Is there a moral or Halakhic problem with this practice? (Ynetnews)

Israeli acute paralysis virus take aims at Rosh Hashanah observance. (Haaretz)

A talk with Maurice Kamins, who “estimates that he has crafted between 150 and 200 shofars since he began making them in the late 1980s.� The sound that the shofar gives when blown is triggered, for the first time, by a belt sander.(Jewish SF)

A collection of Rosh Hashanah links for kids. (NJ Jewish News)

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent out Rosh Hashanah cards and now there’s a small stink. (Haaretz)

Rabbi Benjamin Lau sets forth two elements of the holiday which “may seem to be contradictory, but together they give Rosh Hashanah its unique character.� (Haaretz)
 

Posted on September 26, 2008

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

New Fruit Poll

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays, Practices on by .

With Rosh Hashanah around the corner, we here at My Jewish Learning are wondering what you will use as your new fruit on Tuesday night.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have Todd & God explain it to you.

Posted on September 26, 2008

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

Shimon Peres on The Globalization of Peace

This entry was posted in General on by .

Last night, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel spoke at NYU on the Globalization of Peace.

shimon peres_1.jpg

Although President Peres spoke on major political and social issues, the caveat that interested me the most was his “midrashic” conclusion.
President Peres told a story that he heard from a Muslim teacher:

“The Rabbi asked: When does the night end and when does the day begin?
A student replied: If you can distinguish a lamb from a dog from a distance then maybe the night is over.
Another student replied: If you can distinguish an olive tree from a fig tree then perhaps the day arrived.
The Rabbi said:  When you meet a woman, whether black or white and you say, ‘you are my sister’ and when you meet a man, whether rich or poor and you say, ‘you are my brother,’ then the night is over.â€?

Posted on September 26, 2008

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

Digging Your Own Graveyard Book

This entry was posted in Holidays, Practices on by .

When you’re an observant Jew and you have more than a passing interest in the non-observant world, it can cause more than a passing clash of values.

The Graveyard BookFor instance, Neil Gaiman, my favorite author in the world*, is doing two readings of his new, beautiful novel The Graveyard Book in New York and Philly — both of which fall on Rosh Hashanah. From his journal, you can see this isn’t the first time it’s come up.

When I was twenty years old and pushing it, I might have hopped a fence or two. Now that I have a baby, it’s not quite that simple. (I’ve read the manuals where you strap the baby to your back and keep her from the barbed wire that way, but that never ends up working in practice.) Mr. Gaiman, who, as in his writing, manages to infuse that extra snatch of creativity into everything he does, is reading a different chapter each night of his tour, effectively turning it into a marathon live event.

Here’s the question, however: would it be a violation of Jewish Law to listen to a recording of Mr. Gaiman — who, according to Wiki, is Jewish — having read on Rosh Hashanah? Factors involved:

  • Neil Gaiman is Jewish.

  • The recording engineer, or whoever it is who hits the button, may or may not be Jewish.
  • I am probably going to waste at least a portion of our Tuesday night Rosh Hashana dinner (cousins-in-law’s house. you know how it is.) contemplating whether I should sneak out the back and make it to a reading.
  • No less amazing, the formidable performance poet Daphne Gottlieb — who, btw, made a cameo appearance in one of Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books — is also going to be doing several readings on the East Coast that week. She’s brave and daring and confessional, and it’ll be great to put you into a Rosh Hashanah mindset. But I’ll probably miss that, too.
  • Halachic innovators, what do you think?

    * – yes, I know I say that about half a dozen people. but i really mean it this time (and with lydia millet, too).

Posted on September 26, 2008

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

Help me Natalie Portman. You’re my only hope.

This entry was posted in History, Life on by .

I’m not sure of many things.  But one thing I am sure of is that Natalie Portman and I are meant for each other.  Think about it.

I’m Jewish.  She’s Jewish.  She speaks fluent Hebrew. I…well, I could use the practice.  She was in Garden State.  I’ve been to New Jersey many times.  I think she is pretty.  I’ve been told that I have beautiful blue eyes.

But why is this news to anyone? Well, it isn’t.  Except for the fact that Natalie Portman broke up with her boyfriend, folk singer Devendra Banhart, this week.devendra_banhart_2308b.jpg

Seriously, this guy is not attractive.  And I could probably beat him up (and I can’t beat up  anybody).

So Natalie, if you are planning on returning to New York any time soon,  give me a shout and I’ll try to fit you into my schedule.  I’ll even let you take me out to Caravan of Dreams.  I know how you love being a vegetarian.

Posted on September 26, 2008

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

Rosh Hashana in Antarctica

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

A couple of days ago, we received this email:

I am a Jew working in Antarctica as part of the US Antarctica Program. Are there any online HHD services that I can watch or other online ways to join other Jews in worship during Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur? Thanks for helping out.

We’ve been getting a lot of requests to find High Holiday services (and High Holiday dinners, for that matter). Usually, we refer people to the always-reliable Chabad site for services in far-flung areas, or give them our fave picks (mine is Simon Jacobson’s sure-to-be-wildly insightful Meaningful Life center in the East Village) — but when you get a request like this, how could you not dive in?

Here’s what we found:

  • Temple Israel in Miami will broadcast an audio version of their service for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (Although it might not be the best experience for you, picturing a breezy, tropical congregation right next to the beach…)

  • Also, Temple Beth El in Charlotte will air a video of their Yom Kippur night service.
  • Lastly, this might not work at all, or it might totally work. Temple Emanu-El in New York City will be recording all services and then posting them online later during the holiday. The person we spoke to said that she isn’t sure whether it’ll be a few hours later or a few days — but maybe by the time it’s Erev Rosh Hashanah in your time zone, it’ll be up?

Posted on September 26, 2008

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

How to Repent Right

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Culture, Holidays on by .

The idea of repentance always fills me with performance anxiety. Most of it’s due to the prayer service, which starts at 9 a.m. and doesn’t end till sunset (some congregations take a 1-hour break; mine usually does not, because they are zealot wackos). But there’s another reason, too — I wrote a memoir called Yom Kippur a Go-Go, and whenever somebody starts to say “Yom Kippur,” I suddenly think they’re talking about my book.

yom kippur a go-go by matthue rothIt’s weird how a book can take up this much space in your subconscious. Even my own book. It’s an instant warning to myself to shape up and do good. It makes me feel like I’m being watched. In my first novel, Never Mind the Goldbergs, there’s a line about flipping the pages of the prayerbook back to front. I never used to be careful not to do that — but now that it’s out in the world, I feel like EVERY SINGLE PERSON is watching to see me do exactly that.

In that respect, it’s almost healthy to write a memoir. Not because you’re getting your secrets into the open (please don’t ask me about Chapter 8 ) but because you’re working through your past, getting it out and learning from it. The New Year is about polishing our pasts to straighten out our future, and there’s nothing like having a hefty, solid record to look at your own life from a distance and analyze exactly where you slipped up with a new and anxious freshness.

And besides — if you can’t learn from books, where can you learn from?

Posted on September 25, 2008

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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