Monthly Archives: October 2008

Size Doesn’t Matter (Seriously)

This entry was posted in General, History, Practices on by .

Last night I met up with some of my old friends from the Jewish Society at Oxford, and remembered how great of a time I had when I was in Oxford.  I made a good chunk of my best friends during the relatively short time I spent there, and have stayed in remarkably close touch with the Oxford Jewish community.  The Shabbatot I spent in Oxford were among the best of my life, and I often think back to that time and wish I could do it over again.  Oxford was probably the best Jewish experience of my life, (which is really saying something, especially since it was followed by six months in Jerusalem).oxford_jsoc.jpg

What made Oxford so fantastic for me wasn’t a big Jewish community with loads of amenities like kosher restaurants, tons of shuls, and a big JCC.  Instead, it was the warmth of the people, and the way I was quickly enveloped in a calendar of events that ranged from the purely social, to spiritual, to educational.  We had bagel brunches and garden parties, studied text, and prayed together.  My favorite part of every week was on Shabbat afternoon when we crammed twenty or thirty people into one little dorm room, passed around little packets of various junk food and snacks, sang zemirot and gave divrei Torah until it was time to do Havdalah.

My time in Oxford left me feeling more connected with Judaism, and more in love with the Jewish people than ever before or since (in no small part due to the amazing University Jewish Chaplaincy).

All this in spite of a tiny number of Jews in Oxford, one shul, and no kosher restaurants.

These days I live on Manhattan’s UWS.  I can get kosher pizza, kosher sushi, or kosher crepes without walking more than three blocks from my apartment.  There are probably twelve or thirteen good minyan options for me every Shabbat morning, and sometimes it seems like fully half of the men I see on the street are wearing kippot.  And while I love my community here, and I have lots of friends, my time in New York has never approached the level of greatness I had in Oxford.  Bigger is not better.  It’s just bigger.  And sometimes lonelier.

If you’re one of those people who lives in a relatively small Jewish community, from Iowa City, to Dublin to Nashville (all places where I’ve lived and fallen in love with the Jews) I just wanted to give you a vote of confidence and support.  Big cities have some great resources, but Judaism can flourish anywhere.

Posted on October 28, 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

From Krakow to Krypton

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I know, I know: ask and ye shall receive. The day after I blogged about the new book From Krakow to Krypton, a new Jewish history of comic books by MAD writer Arie Kaplan, the kind folks at JPS shot us a copy in the mail.

And I have to say, it’s a handsome thing. Despite the blase cover, with its too-boring-to-be-retro font, and “artist! in! action!” shot, which is only slightly more exciting than watching slugs wrestle — it’s a less dynamic version of the cover of Up, Up, and Oy Vey, a book released last year that covers similar territory.

Inside, however, it’s a gorgeous thing. Comics of the past are excerpted generously, from Tales from the Crypt and early Superman and Captain America stories to Sandman and Will Eisner. X-Men writer Chris Claremont’s time on a kibbutz.

The foreword bears special mentioning. It’s written (in comic form) by comic creator Harvey Pekar and illustrated by JT Waldman, is a bit of a fanboy fantasy. Pekar is one of those rare writer/artists who’s become a celebrity, a perpetually-balding, middle-aged Jewish guy whose self-conscious, alternately rough and tender and ironic memoiry stories, collected in his sporadic comic American Splendor (Pekar also starred in the film adaptation), wouldn’t be out of place in the Forward or McSweeney’s. Waldman is the adapter of Megillat Esther, which is probably the first illuminated manuscript Judaism’s produced since the Sarajevo Haggadah — and it’s every bit as beautiful, too.

Okay, and the book itself isn’t half bad, either. Quality and quantity both come prime here. If it’s not an exhaustive history, it’s an exhausting one, as complete as I can imagine any single collection being. It does tend to focus its attention on the early era of comics, where Jewish origins are easiest to find — Siegel & Shuster’s creation of Superman as a metaphor for their alienated Jewish selves; Stan Lee and his collaborators’ ambiguous-but-possibly-Jewish entries like Spider-Man and the X-Men. The section on modern comics, in contrast, seems almost book-report-like in its brevity and reaching for relevance. An entire section on the brief early-00’s series GoGirl seems excessive, considering her near-total obscurity and the fact of her name (Lindsay Goldman) being the most Jewish thing about her, as does the analysis of Neil Gaiman’s heroine, the personification of Death, as a woman, solely because the Kabbalah “depicts” Death as female — that is, since the Aramaic word for “death” is feminine.

All told, though, it’s a handsome book, and one that portrays a great legacy — and does it greatly. It’s the kind of thing that, even if you don’t understand why it’s so awesome, you doubtlessly know a geek who does — and you should introduce them immediately.

Posted on October 28, 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

Better find a friend who takes good notes.

This entry was posted in History on by .

Sorry gentile college students of Toronto.  That long weekend trip to Cape Cod you were planning next Rosh Hashanah is going to have to be postponed.

York University (known for its students’ abilities to hold a fork) has ended its policy of cancelling class on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

History professor, David Noble, who happens to be Jewish, filed a human rights complaint claiming that the policy was discriminatory towards other religious groups who have to go to class on their holidays. This past Rosh Hashanah, he defied the school policy by holding a 3 hour seminar.

While I’m not totally sold on the fact that a school should have an obligation to close for Jewish holidays, the whole Noble situation smells of self-hating Jew.

I checked him up on the always reputable website, Wikipedia, and Noble has a history of giving out anti-Zionist pamphlets, propaganda, etc.

While I’m not necessarily a believer in the whole “if you don’t like Zionism, then you hate Jews” argument, his history plus his recent actions show Prof. Noble has a strong distaste for the Jewish community, or at least loves to single them out.

I mean, why would he file this complaint? How many other religions don’t permit one to write or travel? And since when do we have class on Christmas?

Posted on October 28, 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

Want to fix the world? There is a solution.

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

A recent trend in commercials about political issues is to have a close up of a famous celebrity/sad looking child’s face explaining to you, Joe the Plumber, why your Jeep Grand Cherokee, is destroying their wonderful futures.  Need an example? Check this one out.

Now, there is a new video out concerning the global financial crisis. It features Natalie Portman and Rashida Jones, two (hot) Jews. Portman, I’ve written about before.

Jones, known recently for her role as Karen Filipelli on The Office, as well as being Quincy Jones’ daughter, is lesser known for her tribe status, but a member nonetheless. Both Portman and Jones went to Harvard too.

So, in honor of Meredith’s dog, Peyton’s Bark Mitzvah this weekend, here is the video.

See more Natalie Portman videos at Funny or Die

Posted on October 28, 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

Noah, Meet Youtube.

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

G-dcast has been going off the hook lately. First there was the wave of Jewish blogs raving, then the Gigaom (which is syndicated by the New York Times!). Now it seems to have led to erudite observations about why Jewish education turned out the way it is, and what the potential for Torah education could be.

Anyway, not to ego-ize, but I’m the host this week. Check out Noah, and special guest-star me:

Posted on October 28, 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

Jews in Television #2: Hitting on Bubbie.

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

You heard me. Hitting on Bubbie.

Ever see the show The Pickup Artist? Or to be more exact, The Pickup Artist 2? It’s a show hosted by a man named Mystery, who claims to be an expert on picking up women.

In the show, 8 men who have no idea how to talk to women go through “grueling” competitions and are transformed into the next “Pickup Artist.”

In last week’s episode, the men were given their first challenge: To go to a bingo game and flirt with old women.  At the end of the day, the women would choose who their favorite was.

Of course, the winner was the resident Jew, Matt Radmanovitch. Why do I say of course? Because Matt credits his win to visiting his bubbie at her old age home and flirting with all of her friends.

You can’t make this up.

Posted on October 27, 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

Mourning and the Right to Lead Davening

This entry was posted in General on by .

(Cross posted at Blog the Kaddish)

Some of the rules of being a mourner seem obvious to me.  I understand why I’m prohibited from going to see a live music or theater performance, and I appreciate that restriction.  It makes sense to hold back from such public displays of jubilation and drama when I’m still, internally, an emotion basket case.  It also seems like a sign of respect to my mother that in the wake of her death I refrain from going to big shows and concerts.

But when I first heard that mourners had a greater hiyuv, or obligation, to daven, than other people attending a minyan, and were thus the preferred choice for leading services, I was surprised.  It’s one thing to require that we show up every day and praise God despite the raw grief we’re feeling, but it’s another thing entirely to say that we should lead others in long expressions of thanks every morning, afternoon and night.  That seems almost perverse.  Of course I can go through the motions, but should I–or any mourner–really be leading davening when they’re likely having a crisis of faith, or at the very least struggling with loss and acceptance?

That’s what I used to think, but I’ve changed my mind.

Some days I feel like I am in a constant one-sided conversation with God.  That whole bargaining stage of grieving? It’s for real, people.  So it makes sense that I’d be the person to lead the plea for his goodwill.  But also, and perhaps more importantly, when you’re a shaliach tzibur, you have to pay close attention to what’s going on.  You have to be more present in the moment than if you’re just answering Amen to someone reciting a blessing at the front of the room.  Grieving can feel like being very far away from the world, and from everything that’s happening in it.  Standing at the amud calling out words of joy and gratitude to God–it requires you to focus yourself, and it focuses others on your words.  You can’t be far away.

I didn’t think I would feel this way, but especially in the past couple of weeks I’ve been itching to lead davening.  I have a few things to say to God.  I can’t wait to stand at the Amud.

Posted on October 27, 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

Klaus the Mouse in My House

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

Part of my hazing to New York City is, apparently, having to deal with mice in my apartment building.  The whole building was infested shortly after I moved in, and every day on the elevator I swap mouse horror stories with other tenants.  My roommates and I thought we only had one (we named it Klaus) but last week Klaus met his demise, and not two hours later we spotted Klaus II.  We’ve now spent hours discussing mice and mouse traps, the merits of poison versus those weird sonic things you have to plug in.  And when it came time to get rid of Klaus’s remains, I was the nominated party.  Gross.

The whole thing has got me thinking about our relationships with animals, especially those that aren’t either pets, work animals, or food. Do we have an obligation to protect wild animals, like those who may live in endangered environments like the Wetlands or the Amazon rainforest?  And what are our obligations when dealing with rodents, insects, and other icky things that come into our homes?

I did some digging online, and found few answers to my questions.  We have a section on Judaism and Animals, but it doesn’t bring up the issues I was looking for.  Our section on Tzaar Baalei Hayim is fantastic, but still no dice.  The Kitzur Shulhan Aruch mentions that it’s forbidden to trap or kill rodents on Shabbat, but is mum on what we’re allowed to do during the rest of the week.  The closest approach to a Jewish response to this issue that I could find was a funny story from the Baltimore Jewish Times about a family of Jewish exterminators who sound kind of great:
“We’ve gotten emergency calls. ‘My wife is in the bedroom and she won’t come out because she saw a mouse in the kitchen,’� said Levi Brody. “You have to be a psychologist, and calm people down.

Maybe what I need is a psychologist–and not a rabbi–to help me deal with this problem?

Posted on October 27, 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

Jews in Television #1: Mazel Tov on Becoming a Dad

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

I’m devoting today’s posts to the love of my life: Television.

Because I was a bit too young to appreciate it when it first aired (you must be thinking, how young is this guy?), I’m only currently watching The West Wing.

I’ve had many debates with a friend of mine as to who our favorite character in the show is. Sometimes it’s Josh Lyman, it’s never been Sam Seaborn, etc. Recently though (I’m onto Season 5), it has been White House Communications Director, Toby Ziegler.

I’m obsessed with Toby. Everything he says is genius.  He genuinely cares about America more than anyone I’ve ever seen (besides possibly President Bartlet).  More importantly, he is a Jew.

Today, on the street, I walked past Richard Schiff. Since I had just finished Season 4, I almost screamed “Mr. Ziegler! Mazel Tov on your twins!” I restrained myself. Hey, if Will Bailey is allowed to say it, so am I.

Posted on October 27, 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

A Different Kind of “From the Academy”

This entry was posted in History on by .

Recently a group of more than 250 Jewish studies scholars endorsed Barack Obama. At first I was a little confused as to what they add to the mix. Why should Jewish voters listen to them in particular?

Their reason is somewhat compelling: “As scholars of Jewish Studies, we are concerned that distortions of Senator Obama’s record and biography have caused undue anxiety among American Jews about what an Obama presidency would mean for Israel and the Jewish community here.” (MORE)

The list itself is pretty impressive, I think. My perspective is rather skewed. I did quite a bit of my graduate work in Judaic Studies and a great majority of the list are important names to me. But my guess is that the greater Jewish American public may have heard of a few of them including Steven M. Cohen, demographer extraordinary, and Susanna Heschel, daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel.

It’s refreshing to know that there are liberal-minded thinkers in academia.

Posted on October 27, 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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