Monthly Archives: November 2008

Terrorism in Mumbai

This entry was posted in History on by .

According to NPR, at least 78 people have been killed in a terrorist attack in Mumbai, and 200 more are injured. Right now, communication in the area is flooded, and the Internet is being used as the most reliable way of contacting people.

cafe leopold in mumbaiOne of the targeted locations, Leopold Cafe, is adjacent to the Chabad House of Mumbai. The family asks, if anyone has information relating to the whereabouts of Rabbi Gavriel and Rebbetzin Rivka Holtzberg, or any of the Israelis who were staying with them, to please call ASAP 484-802-2138.

Posted on November 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

Sorry Jews for Jesus, You’ll Have to Pay.

This entry was posted in General on by .

Since Birthright gave me free food over Shabbat, the least I can do is report about them when they are in the news.

It seems as though standards to get on Birthright are a little tougher these days. It used to just be that you had to be Jewish and had never been on an organized trip to Israel before. Qualify? Have a good time on your all expenses paid 10-day trip to Israel.

But wait! You believe that Jesus is the messiah? Well now, you are out of luck.

On the questionaire applicants are asked to fill out, you are asked to check off next to this statement:

I do not subscribe to any beliefs or follow any practices which may be in any way associated with Messianic Judaism, Jews for Jesus or Hebrew Christians.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you are halakhically Jewish. Both your parents could be Jewish, be a descendant of Holocaust survivors, etc. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, go to Cancun instead.jforj.600.jpg

This can’t just be about faith. I don’t see any rules against Bu-Jews and HinJews not being allowed to go on Birthright. Obviously, Birthright has got some beef with the missionaries. After all, no one goes on Birthright to convert to Christianity.

Posted on November 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

Caliph’s Feast

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

People may be enjoying turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie this weekend, but how about some humus atuf— chickpeas roasted in lamb fat and embellished with chopped lemon, ground pistachios, and mint. Or maybe your more of a naranjina person, savoring the dish of two meat balls coated in egg yolk, half-submerged in steaming orange and rosewater-seasoned beef broth.Caliph's Feast

Those and many more dishes were the menu at a recent “Caliph’s Feast,” attended by Abbie Rosner. As she writes for Nextbook, the meal’s host used recipes taken from medieval Arab cookbooks from the seventh to the 13th centuries.

For the evening’s meal, Mayer-Chissick (the host) consulted reproductions of manuscripts written in the original Arabic, as well as the recently published compilation of tenth-century Baghdadi recipes, Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchens , in an English translation by Nawal Nasralla. Written in narrative form, many of the recipes contain long lists of ingredients and spices, often with quantities no more specific than “as much as a nail will hold,� as well as commentary on the most salubrious conditions for their preparation and consumption. (MORE)

Posted on November 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

Eulogies, Truth, and Bad Memories

This entry was posted in Life, Practices on by .

There are extensive rules for giving a eulogy, and we touch on them in our article on eulogies, though it’s not a comprehensive look at halakhot having to do with a hesped, or a eulogy. I looked through those halakhot before I wrote what I said at my mother’s funeral, and was interested to find that we are meant to say things at a eulogy that will “break people’s hearts,” and make them cry over the loss (Yoreh Deah 344:1). Also, at a eulogy one can exaggerate the accomplishments of the deceased (Rosh on Moed Katan 3:63), though it is a sin to outright lie (Brachot 62a).
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These rules only apply to the eulogy itself, but I think about them a lot in terms of how we remember people who have died–how we lionize or demonize them, and how we hone our selective memory so that we come out with a particular understanding of someone who was likely more complex than we imagine.

I struggle a lot with how to deal with unhappy memories of my mother.  When I unexpectedly think of one of the really good times–a Friday night in her apartment in Jerusalem, surprising her at home the week after she finished chemo–I get teary, but when I am suddenly ambushed by a memory of a bad time–one of any number of fights we had while I was in high school, or my birthday this year when she said to me, “Don’t touch me!”–I think I might just pass out the despair is so great.

I don’t know if I’m exaggerating my mother’s warmth and love and all of the good things about her that I think about constantly. I don’t think so, but I suppose I’m an unreliable source when it comes to these things. I wonder, then, if I’m also unreliable when it comes to the bad things. Were any of them as bad as I thought? If they weren’t, as I expect is the case, then I should probably be slapped. Hard.

They say hindsight is 20/20, but it doesn’t feel that way. Every memory seems like it should be interrogated–Was the light that warm? Was the hug that sincere and long? Did I really restrain myself from rolling my eyes in that moment?–but I’m not sure where I’m supposed to end up.  I want my memories to be of my mother–my real mother, not some idolized version that towers over me, unattainable. But I want it both ways. I’d very much like the bad moments to be packed up in a newfangled Pandora’s box, hidden in the back of my closet, never to be seen again.

(Cross-posted at Blog the Kaddish)

Posted on November 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

I Hate Thanksgiving

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

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.

Maybe I’m just a “fundamentalist� rabbi who’s lost his sense of fun, but when it comes to giving thanks, I don’t “get� it.

thanksgiving dinner on a cupcakeWe don’t celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in my native country of England, and can you blame us? Imagine gathering around plates of mushy peas to express your gratitude for another year of record rainfall.

Being new around here, I looked up the history of Thanksgiving and now I’m more confused than ever. Those Pilgrims and their native neighbors first gathered around the table in 1565, in the month of September. Now that makes sense: celebrating a harvest festival during harvest time. (That’s what they still do up in Canada, by the way; their Thanksgiving always falls on the second Monday in October. This year that was also the first night of Sukkot, so that must have made it extra special.)

But November? Did someone just figure we all needed a party between Halloween and Christmas & Hanukkah?

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not because Thanksgiving seems so “goyish,� thanks to all those indelible Norman Rockwell paintings. I think goyish is great; being a child of American culture, I’ve written extensively on its many virtues. a norman rockwell thanksgivingAnd let’s face it: American Jews have much to be thankful for. We enjoy security, civil rights and material success here in the U.S. that we only dreamed of in other nations throughout history.

But I find Christmas more, well, exciting. No, I don’t celebrate it, but my father owned a toy store, so the holiday holds special memories for me. (And this year, December 25 also happens to be my wife’s due date. Please: no manger jokes.)

These days, Thanksgiving marks the official start of the Christmas shopping season, and maybe that’s why it leaves me with mixed feelings. Given the current economic downturn, it seems bizarre to see people shivering in sleeping bags outside the nearest big box store, just to buy their kids latest plasma gadget for a few dollars off. That’s a scary combination of guilt and gelt. Especially since that cool, must-have, “state of the art� thingamajig will be obsolete right after New Years.

Furthermore, who the heck stuck Thanksgiving a mere 24 hours from Shabbat? That’s like having back-to-back Thanksgivings, and I should know. For the last few years, my family and I have celebrated the holiday with special guests: students at the Pratt Institute where I work. The two special days have many similarities, as my non-Jewish students have often pointed out.

Distinguished theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his beautiful book, “The Sabbath,” that the very essence of the Jewish people is summed up in that prayerful weekly gathering. Shabbat truly is a day of thanksgiving, with its focus on faith, family and friends. The difference is, we gather around the table to prayer instead of around the TV set to watch football game after football game, or another “CSIâ€? marathon. Shabbat means no radio or telephone or internet, never mind no plasma doohickeys from WalMart.

Look, I’m no Grinch. My blessings on everyone tucking in to a delicious turkey this Thursday (as long as it’s kosher!)

But don’t forget, 24 hours later, to sit down with at least the same reverence for your bowl of matzo ball soup.

Posted on November 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

You Sell Gay Priests?

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Culture on by .

I’m a big fan of religious controversy.  I like it when people stand up and say things that make any religious community uncomfortable–even when I’m the one being made uncomfortable, I think it’s for the best.  That said, I don’t see the point of this Swedish ad which features two priests getting married to each other (by a woman) and then making out. The company being advertised? Bjorn Borg, which makes clothing, shoes, eyeglasses and fragrances. I’m sorry, but–what?? Why would priests getting married make me want to buy shoes?

All of this was weird, but got weirder when I went to the Bjorn Borg website where they’re running some kind of World Peace project in which they’re letting people swap non-sexy underwear for BjornBorg sexy underwear.  Then the non-sexy items are sent to “warmongers” world wide.  You can choose to have your underwear sent to Hamas, Hugo Chavez, Mugabe, even George W. Bush. The idea is that when they receive boxes of very unsexy underwear, the warmongers will see the error of their ways and immediately declare World Peace.

On the one hand, I like the idea of Hamas having to accept a busload of granny panties.  On the other hand, what are they smoking in Sweden??

Posted on November 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

Jews and Muslims Clash in…oh, never mind.

This entry was posted in History, Practices on by .

Here’s a nice little story in which religious people of different persuasions stick it to the man. No, even that part isn’t antagonistic — although, come to think of it, “freedom of religion” doesn’t always have to mean “freedom from religion.”

Let me explain: young muslim woman praying in synagogueDinar Enggar Puspita, a 17-year-old Muslim girl from Indonesia who’s spending the year in Riverdale, NY, and attending a public high school there, prays five times a day. Forbidden from praying in school, though, her host mother asked around, and found that the rabbi of her synagogue, the Riverdale Jewish Center — which is just across the street from Ms. Puspita’s school — would welcome her and her prayer mat.

“A lot [is] different, but I enjoy it,” Ms. Puspita said. “I mean, I can learn from the differences, right?”

When asked for an example on that fall afternoon, one quickly sprang to mind. In Indonesia, she said, “There are only two seasons: dry and rainy.”

There are more differences than just that, I’m sure. But it’s good to know that sometimes the difference can be welcomed.

Posted on November 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

Anorexia in the Orthodox World

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

The Yeshiva University Observer — actually the official newspaper of Stern College, the women’s school — is a great snapshot into the normally closeted world of Orthodox college students. Because YU is a school that caters to the Orthodox community — but, within Orthodoxy, it’s nonspecific — YU tends to attract a broad cross-section of the population of “mainstream” Orthodoxy. It also attracts students from both extremes of the Orthodox world: the students who want to go to a regular university, but whose families won’t let them go to a non-frum school; and the people who are too observant to go to a regular university, but who still want a college education.

anorexiaAn extraordinarily courageous young woman went on record in an interview that’s both incredibly personal and scarily typical. Currently the Director of Student Programming at an Orthodox high school, she talks about her own experiences as a teenager, not eating, vomiting up what she did eat. It’s debatable whether growing up religious can help avert an eating disorder or trigger it — and, of course, both are likely. Being religious is, in theory, a way of rejecting society’s expectations and saying that the only true standard we care about is God’s standard. But what sometimes happens is that instead of caring about what the rest of the world thinks we end up caring about what the rest of the Jewish community thinks.

Fortunately, people like Ms. Stareshefsky are speaking out and changing that.

I knew a boy. There was a certain boy whom I was very much attracted to, had been attracted to since elementary school, even. He was extremely popular and had many friends….I felt singled out in some ways for his attention, because he would never visit anyone else during that time, even though they lived much closer to him- only me. However, at the same time, he had become cruel and angry because of some family issues. He lashed out at me. He continuously mocked me, teased me, told me I was completely ugly and that he would never even consider going out with me. However, I was very attracted to him and wanted the attention he lavished upon me, even if it was negative. I liked him very much and accepted his cruelty. Not only was he verbally abusive, but he was even physically abusive. He hit me in the middle of the street once, and a neighbor saw. My parents forbade me to have anything to do with that boy ever again.

During the stress of my high school years, I lost a few pounds. And I liked it. I felt ugly and unlovable, and the boy I liked had only enforced that impression of myself. I really wanted to be pretty. So I decided to adopt a diet- a diet I had created for myself, a diet that would cause me to lose weight so that I would become pretty- not beautiful, not gorgeous, only pretty.

MORE >

(Also worth noting in this week’s edition: A poll that asks, Are you shomer negiah? For the uninitiated, that means, do you touch [or more] people of the opposite sex? The results right now: 39% yes, 26% no, and 21% “Yes, but I make certain exceptions for cousins/friends/other.” My favorite option? “I wasn’t initially, but I became shomer after my year in Israel,” currently at 5%.)

Posted on November 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

Going To Shul Is Good For You–An Interview With Dr. Eliezer Schnall

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

Dr. Eliezer Schnall is an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Yeshiva College of Yeshiva University in New York, and a recent study of his has people talking because it found that weekly attendance of religious services reduces risk of death by 20%. Researchers evaluated the religious practices of more than 90,000 post-menopausal women, looking at prospective association of religious affiliation, religious service attendance, and strength and comfort derived from religion. The results are hard to argue with. If you go to religious services once a week, you’re likely to live significantly longer. For more on the study, check out articles at Ynet, JTA and the New York Times.
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Dr Schnall agreed to answer a few quick questions for us at Mixed Multitudes, so here’s the lowdown from the doctor himself.

MM: The study looked at women who went to religious services once a week or more.  Were women who went to services more than once a week healthier than those who went once a week?

ES: As a general rule, no. We did not find added benefit for those who attended more than once per week.

Going to services is correlated with a longer life.  Is it correlated  with a lower than normal level of any particular disease or ailment (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.)?
It may be best not to use the word “correlation,” as this was not merely a correlational study. Rather this was prospective study, which is much more helpful in these kinds of cases. We did look at cardio, but did not find this benefit. The benefit was found, though, for all cause mortality (meaning death of any type).

Other than attendance at services, was there anything else that seemed  to link the healthier women in these studies?
It seems that there may be psychological factors (like social support) and health behavior benefits (maybe less likely to smoke or drink alcohol in excess) that women who attend religious services are sharing.

What’s the next step from here? How will you go about refining these results or creating a new study along these lines?
Future work might focus on younger or male samples, for example. We might also take a closer look at the different groups in this study and find if other potential confounding factors are relevant.

What was your reaction when you realized that your results pointed to longer lives for religious women?
I was not surprised, as other studies have suggested that this might be the case. Our study may be unique in many ways, (for examples its very large sample size). But there have been other studies of religion and health that have found results that suggested along similar lines.

If you’re interested in going to shul and maybe getting a few more years of life in the bargain, head over to our communities page to find a synagogue or Jewish community near you.

Posted on November 25, 2008

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Gaza Message In A Bottle

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Residents of Ashkelon recently found a bottle with a message inside–a love letter, written in Arabic, probably sent from Gaza.

Ashkelon residents find bottle containing love letter written by Palestinian man to his lover
Shmulik Hadad

Israelis are used to rockets being launched from Gaza at southern communities, but Ashkelon residents were in for a surprise Monday, after finding a wholly different “Gaza delivery.”

Residents of the southern town who were engaging in a beach cleanup operation found an Arabic-language letter in a bottle. The letter read: “I love you, I’m crazy about you, and I pray that God never separates us. You changed my life…you’re my life, you’re my eyes.” messageinbottle.jpg

The letter’s content makes it impossible to ascertain whether it arrived from the Gaza Strip or from an Arab state, but based on past experience it likely originated in Gaza. Ashkelon residents are used to large quantities of waste from Gaza making their way to their beaches, but this is the first time such letter was found.

Full story

Sometimes I feel like I’m so caught up with email and texting and twitter and facebook that I forget about the old forms of communication–like letters in a bottle.  Of course, with the modern communication tools there are privacy settings, so that my love letter won’t necessarily end up on The Daily Beast.

Posted on November 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