Monthly Archives: October 2008

More Ironic Than Rain On Your Wedding Day

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Oy.  So the Simon Wiesenthal Center is hoping to build a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.
According to the Washington Post:

The Wiesenthal Center says the museum was conceived to promote coexistence in a city that is holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians and is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as a capital.
Plans call for a conference center, a theater and museums for adults and children with exhibits covering Jewish history and Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors. The center was designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry.

Well that sounds pretty nice, right?museum_of_tolerance.jpeg
Oh, except that Museum of Tolerance is going to be built…wait for it…on ancient Islamic cemetery.  Which some Muslims are not too happy about.  They filed an appeal with the Israeli Supreme Court, but it was struck down today, so construction will continue on the project after a two year hiatus.

“All citizens of Israel, Jews and non-Jews, are the real beneficiaries of this decision,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Wiesenthal Center the center, said in a statement.
But Zahi Nujidat, a spokesman for the Israeli Islamic movement, condemned the court for what he called “clear religious and ethnic oppression.”
The court sought to address religious demands for respecting the dead by giving the project 60 days to agree with the state-run Antiquities Authority on a plan for either removing human remains for reburial or installing a barrier between the museum’s foundation and the ground below to avoid disturbing graves.

Man. A Museum of Tolerance whose foundation, literally, it’s foundation is inherently intolerant.  Only in Israel.  There is a very tiny silver lining of tolerance, though:

The museum’s Muslim opponents found unexpected allies among ultra-Orthodox Jews, who aren’t known for sympathizing with Arab causes but who care about preserving graves. Orthodox Jews often disrupt construction when graves are uncovered. Typically the problem is solved by slightly altering a project.

Well, that’s nice, at least.  ::Sigh::

Posted on October 30, 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

Historic Moment for the Conservative Movement

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Yesterday, the Rabbinical Assembly elected Rabbi Julie Schoenfeld to be their next Executive Vice President, the highest administrative position in the organization.

This is the first time a woman has been selected to be the head of any rabbinical organization in history. Not only is that significant in its own right, but now, Schoenfeld is going to be one of the three figureheads of the movement, along with Chancellor Arnold Eisen at the Jewish Theological Seminary and whoever replaces Rabbi Jerome Epstein as the Executive Vice President at United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

I’m no expert on how this will effect policy in the movement, but I can assume that this does bring in a new era into the movement. Though women have been permitted into the Conservative rabbinical schools since the early 1980s, we are only really an age where women have impressive enough resumes in the movement to gain high end positions within the movement.

I don’t say that in a chauvinistic way. What I mean by that is if women only starting going to Rabbinical school in the 1980s, they are only hitting the prime of their careers now. It would not have been possible to elect Schoenfeld even 10 years ago.

But good for the Rabbinical Assembly. The Conservative movement needs a kick in the pants sometimes to jump start excitement for itself.  Electing Arnold Eisen was a step in the right direction because of his outsider status.  Now Schoenfeld proves that the movement is trying to recreate itself.

By the way, if anyone was counting at home, my dad seconded the motion to elect her.  Moses represent.

Posted on October 30, 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

Who Ya Gonna Call? Jewish Ghostbusters!

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Just in time for the launch of our new Magic and the Supernatural section, the New York Times runs an article about ghosts and ghost hunters.  They also copied us with a front page picture of the Wicked Witch of the West.ghost_towel_1.jpg

Anyway, the NY Times article is pretty great.  I learned lots about ghosts and people who are haunted by them.  For instance:

You don’t believe in ghosts? Then you are either tragically out of step with the times or possibly a slovenly spiritual housekeeper looking for an excuse to avoid tidying up. A recent Google Internet search for getting rid of ghosts yielded nearly two million hits. By comparison, a search for cleaning rain gutters yielded 191,000.
In a Harris poll last year of 2,000 adults, 41 percent said that they believed in ghosts. Although the National Association of Realtors says that it is not the legal obligation of a real estate agent to tell a prospective buyer about alleged haunting, many agents, like Diane Ragan of Keller Williams Realty in New Orleans, feel that if they hear of something that may distress a buyer, they have the duty to pass it on.

But everything you think is a ghost might not be.  Case in point:

Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, the stars of the ‘Ghost Hunters’ program on the Sci Fi Channel, have been helped by their expertise as plumbers.

“We had one case, somebody’s dead uncle Fred was a plumber and they thought that he was giving them a sign because every morning at 2 a.m. their toilet would flush,” Mr. Hawes said.  “Come to find out, they would go to bed at about 11 at night and they had a leaky flapper in their toilet. Eventually, after two or three hours, the toilet would drain down enough that the fill valve would kick on, so it would sound like the toilet would flush.”

The number one recommended method for getting rid of a ghost seems to be burning sage (and apparently it must be organic).  But if your ghost is Jewish, which is to say, if you have a Dybbuk then maybe you should check out our article about Exorcism just in case… Also, here’s a nice Jewish ghost story.  Wooooooo…

Posted on October 30, 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

Half a Torah

This entry was posted in Life, Practices, Texts on by .

What is a haftarah, exactly? You should visit MJL’s haftarah page to become an authority on the matter in less than 3 minutes (promise!). My favorite trivia from that page: did you know that, in the Christian Bible, Jesus recited a haftarah?

Yep — it’s straight from the Book of Luke. I don’t know which haftarah it is, but seeing as though it’s from the Book of Isaiah, it could be any number of haftarahs — Noah, or — coming tomorrow — Lekh Lekha, or any number of others. (Isaiah was a prolific guy, and the rabbis recognized this when choosing which haftarah would correspond to which Torah portion.)

The Haftarah has always been a keystone part of the Shabbat morning prayers, a bonus bit of Torah after the regular reading. Bar and Bat Mitzvah children often layn the week’s haftarah (boys, at least, in a high, nasal voice that makes everyone wince, and then say how nicely they performed) as a demonstration of their newfound official Jewish prowess — that they actually have some sort of fluency with the Bible.

But how many of us actually know what’s going on? One of the hardest parts for me about reading the haftarah is actually caring what’s said. It’s like poetry, with rich metaphors and several layers of meaning — and they all go straight over my head.

This year, for those of you who receive our weekly Torah e-letter or check out the weekly Torah page might notice a new feature: a summary of the haftarah. It’s been an exercise in going deep — moving past the flowery language and trying to get to what Isaiah or the prophet of the week is actually saying. The haftarah’s always inspired by or connected to the Torah portion in some way, and that’s one level of connection that’s always different. It’s one way to move past, for instance, the first level of meaning that I always seem to get from the haftarah: Israel screwed up. Israel gets told off. God still loves us.

And that’s how most of them go — but, it seems, that’s also how life goes. And, beyond that, there’s a world of meaning inside the weekly haftarah. So go ahead…check it out along with us.

Posted on October 30, 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

Impurim

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

San Francisco, for all that city’s rent chaos and interweb madness, still has one of the most productive, experimental, and lovably dysfunctional writers’ communities in the world. In the top echelon is Sherilyn Connelly, gothic princess, writer of unrestrained imagination, and (according to this woman at the post office last year) a dead ringer for Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner.

darryl hannah in blade runner

And she’s got about as much to do with Judaism as a polar bear.

Anyway: color me surprised when Sherilyn sends me an email linking to a new story she’s written called “Impurim” that’s basically a cover version of the Megillah. For all her ignorance of Judaism (she introduces the story by saying, “I had never even heard of Purim when the Beyt Tikkun Synagogue asked me to write and perform a revisionist version of The Magillah, the Book of Esther from the Bible”) she does remarkably well on the tone and beats of the story, down to the tongue-in-cheekness rubbing right up against an almost holy tone of unholiness — I don’t know; I could make lots of cracks about how the most qualified person Beyt Tikkun could find to perform at their Purim function isn’t even Jewish, but they knew what they were doing. This is good.

It all started when word spread that King Achashverosh was looking for a new queen. The details about what happened to Vashti, the old queen, were a little vague. Some said she’d been killed. Others swore she’d been banished, or ran away. A few people insisted that she’d never existed in the first place, and that the search was going to result in yet another imaginary queen. Achashverosh was known to be something of an odd bird, so that wouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

KEEP READING

Did I mention that Vashti has become a recurring character in her short stories? Consider this a request for more.

Posted on October 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

Counting to Ten

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(Cross-posted at Blogging the Kaddish)

This morning I went to a different minyan than usual because it was a friend’s last day in NY, and I promised I’d show up at the shul he usually goes to for minyan, even though they were starting forty minutes earlier than the place I usually go, and was ten minutes farther away.  When I arrived, I was only the sixth person in the room, and because it’s a Modern Orthodox synagogue, I didn’t count towards the minyan anyway.

It took another twenty minutes before we finally had ten men, and though we did move forward in the davening while we waited, I spent those twenty minutes paralyzed with fear that we wouldn’t have a minyan, I wouldn’t be able to say kaddish, and I’d have to try to run to another minyan once we finished.

I hadn’t thought about this much up until this point, but one of the things that I like about saying Kaddish is the way it forces you to depend on your community.  You have this obligation, and in order to fulfill it you have to get nine other people to help you out, and fulfill an obligation of their own.

Sometimes grieving feels so private that it can seem bizarre to have to say Kaddish in front of a group of people.  But having those people around forces you into a community, forces you to care about other people when you might otherwise be consumed with a more selfish and all-encompassing grief.  It’s not fun, really.  Waiting for a minyan can actually be quite stressful, but I think it gives a new perspective in a time when it’s easy to be too inwardly focused.

Posted on October 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

WIN $500!

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It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a pop-up??

Okay, yes it’s a pop-up on our homepage. But it’s for a good cause. Answering those three demographic questions help us get to know our readers better.

And if you continue and fill out the the slightly longer questionnaire (it’s only 9 questions!), you’ll be entered to win a $500 gift certificate from Jewish Source.

Come on. Everybody is doing it. Especially the cool kids.

Posted on October 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

What’s the deal with libel?

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I’m all about reporting on people being sued.  Today’s victim, Jerry Seinfeld.

Let me give you the whole story. Jerry has a wife named Jessica. Jessica has lots of time and money on her hands so she decided to write a cookbook geared at cooking healthy food for kids. Only one problem. Best selling cookbook author Missy Chase Lapine claimed that Jessica plagiarized her recipes.

Flash forward to Jerry on David Letterman a little while ago. While Dave was making some funny jokes about how Lapine must have invented food and no one is allowed to make food again, Jerry took it to another level, joking that people with three names always turn out to be assassins (John Wilkes Booth, James Earl Ray, etc.).

Lapine, who either wants Jerry’s money or hates funny, is suing Jerry for libel after her 7 year old daughter came home asking what an assassin was. Lapine is arguing that she has never felt more threatened in her life.

Threatened? No one is trying to kill her. She is the assassin (please don’t sue me)!

This isn’t the first time Jerry has gotten in trouble for making jokes.  Remember this?

Posted on October 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

Daily Show Democrats and Larry-publicans

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Guest blogger Simcha Weinstein is the rabbi of the Pratt Institute. His latest book, Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century, was just released by Barricade Books. His website is www.rabbisimcha.com.

Democrats must be praying that “Cool Jewâ€? Jon Stewart doesn’t tempt Barak Obama in saying anything stupid tonight. Senator Obama will appear on the Daily Show via satellite, which will air just hours after the Democratic candidate appears on the major networks after having bought a half-hour time slot to pitch his candidacy.

shtick shift, by simcha weinsteinThis will be Obama’s fourth appearance on the Daily Show, but his first since last April.

On the other hand, if you want to hear what Republican candidate John McCain has to say, you can catch him tonight as he sits down with a less “Cool Jew� on Larry King Live.

The two interviewers could not be more emblematic of the two candidates themselves.

The current U.S. election has seen an unprecedented Shtick Shift whereby Jon Stewart and his cast of comedic connoisseurs have replaced the traditional news media as many voters’ main source of information about issues and candidates. As the Rabbi at New York’s prestigious art school, the Pratt Institute, I can assure you that, for better or worse, countless young people look to Jon Stewart’s program as their main, and sometimes only, source of news.

If the Daily Show comes across as written especially by and for hip, young, people with a penchant for irony and iconoclasm, that’s no accident. Jon Stewart acknowledged as much when he accepted his Emmy in 2005: “When I first said that I wanted us to put together a late-night comedy writing team that would only be 80 percent Ivy League-educated Jews, people thought I was crazy. They said you need 90, 95% . But we proved ‘em wrong.�

The program grapples with the inconsistencies and contradictions ignored by the mainstream media, and gives voice to our frustrations with traditional news. If you look past the Daily Show’s cynicism, you see a real attempt to introduce ideas into the nation’s political conversation.

Yet for all its cool-factor, Jon Stewart still belongs to that long tradition of Jewish political satirists that includes Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce. There is something very Jewish about grappling with the discrepancies of power, which is exactly what satire is all about. Jews have a history of wrestling with higher authorities. Ever since Jacob wrestled with the angel, battling earthly and heavenly powers has been at the core of Jewish identity.

Back in the “old country,� Jewish humor critiqued the shortcomings and absurdities of Russian rulers, first the Czar and then the Soviet government. As perennial “outsiders,� Jews possessed a unique perspective that made them natural-born comedians.

It’s a vicious circle. As real news gets more and more shallow, the Daily Show mocks that shallowness and earns great ratings, so real news desperately responds with – still more slick, superficial “reportage.� And so on. It’s a little like cereal passing itself off as nutritional while it adds sugary goodness, which in turn drives some people towards sports nutrition bars packed with expensive calories. Sometimes we just need some oatmeal.

Posted on October 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

The Kabbalah of Young-Adult Literature

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Not to get too self-promulgating, but if you’re in New York, show up at the New York Public Library, Jefferson Market Branch in the West Village tonight — I’ll be reading from my new novel Losers, and a host of other people will be appearing, including Coe Booth, whose book Tyrell the New York Times couldn’t get enough of, and David Levithan, who wrote this little movie about two kids and an infinite playlist.

david levithan and michael cera, bff

It probably isn’t the first movie ever to give the definition of tikkun olam, but it is the first to do it at an emotional high point that’s riveting and gushing and that makes you feel like you just fell in love. Or, at least, got a maddening crush that fills your skull and flushes out every other thought.

NORAH (letting down her guard): One of the best things about Judaism is called tikkun olam. It’s the idea that the world has been broken in pieces, and it’s up to us to gather them and put them back together.

NICK: Maybe we’re the pieces.

Anyway — there you go. Kabbalah, Hassidus, and movie stars. And me. The action starts at 6:00….

Posted on October 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

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