Monthly Archives: December 2008

Jewish Food Tourney: #4 Latkes vs #13 Manischewitz Wine, #5 Cholent vs #12 Honey Cake

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We got another doubleheader for you today. But first, thanks to everyone for voting. This tournament is getting higher ratings than the NIT.

In the first matchup of the day, we got #4 Latkes vs #13 Manischewitz Wine. At first glance, this kind of seems like a blowout, especially with Hanukkah just ending. Yes, I get it. Latkes taste great. They are about as staple a Jewish food as you have. Or is it? Have we just built up latkes because of the hype of Christmas season? Are latkes the Gonzaga (watch this video) of Jewish foods? In the end of the day, isn’t the latke just kugel’s younger, cooler brother (who also happens to be fat)?

Then again, I might be wrong. Latkes can very well win this tournament.

Its opponent is Manischewitz Wine. For some reason, Manischewitz has a bad rap. But let me try to defend it’s case here. First, it is as much a Jewish staple as latkes, if not more. Non-Jewish restaurants serve “potato pancakes.” No bar, I mean no bar, would ever serve Manischewitz.

Second, it has an amazingly hilarious website, where you have to be 21 years of age to enter (No, I’m not kidding. They ask for your birthday when you enter). Speaking of which, Manischewitz wine might be the most underrated “pre-drink” drink ever. You seriously haven’t played Manischewitz Pong?

In the second match, we start with the #5 seed, Cholent. You can’t spell Shabbat lunch without Cholent (except for the “e” but I’m sure you didn’t actually check that). I personally like my cholent sweet. Others like it spicy. Eating cholent gives me an excuse to eat kishka and hot dogs at the same time. But beware of seconds. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

It’s up against the (in my opinion) overrated #12 Honey Cake. Honey cake CAN be very good. Your bubbe probably makes the best honey cake in the world. But Honey Cake is ranked low for a very simple flaw. Shul Kiddish. Have you ever eaten the honey cake at a shul kiddish? It’s hard, stale and tasteless. You are better off going for the greyish egg salad.

The polls will close at 11:59 pm, New Year’s Eve.

Posted on December 30, 2008

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Matisyahu: Return of the “King”

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Although I can’t actually remember whether he played “King Without a Crown,” that iconoclastic first single that a friend swore was going to condemn him to one-hit wonder status forever, it didn’t feel like Matisyahu’s brief history was being reinvented last night. On the seventh of his eight-night Hanukkah stint at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (insert the appropriate jokes about how Shabbat makes Orthodox Jews late for everything here), he played a more-than-two-hour set that was alternately pensive and meandering and quietly grooving and straight-ahead all-out rocking.

matisyahu performing in brooklyn

Matis’s music has always lived in the space between worlds — the secular and religious, the contemplative and the party vibe, the reggae and the rock. (Here’s an article about his new work, just to get you caught up.) Last night, the wings of the place were filled with Hasidic Jews who wanted to come to the show but were avoiding the dancing, and the tiny two-steps-up division served as a makeshift boundary for them. The crowd was all over the place — I was skeptical that it would be mostly Orthodox Jews, and afraid that it would be mostly hippies, but most of the folks there were just regular people. Good-looking people, too, as opener Mike Doughty pointed out repeatedly in his set*.

The couple in front of us were these Asian-Australian cool-kid transplants who wouldn’t have been out of place at the Yeasayer show down the street, which gave me hope that (a) the one-hit wonder thing isn’t happening, and (b) his music really isn’t as insular as my default listening position (jumping on the furniture around the house, payos bopping, shouting out Aramaic phrases at the top of my lungs) might give one reason to think. And when a hippie did finally pop up, it was onstage — this dreadlocked kid going wild on a whole array of percussion instruments, doing intense and admirable things to a tambourine.

Which brings us to the music. The band started playing before Matisyahu came onstage, which in normal circumstances I always think of as an egotistical pretense — the crowd raves, the band builds up, and the singer ascends to his place of glory. But when Matis came on, there was none of that — it wasn’t like he was ignoring it, but more like he was unaware that it was happening at all.

The band launched into “Sea to Sea,” which I always used to call “the Amidah song” before I looked it up on Amazon twenty seconds ago — it’s the song that opens his live album, which is the band doing their low bass funk thing while Matis sings the Hebrew words that introduce the silent devotional. It was faster than the album version, and the band was putting in everything, and Matis was holding his own but not going crazy.

Turns out he was just building up.

From there they blasted through “Youth,” which gave the crowd the requisite recognizable song before launching into the meat of the set. It leaped between hard, driving guitar rock and more chill, rhythm-propelled stuff. At times it didn’t seem like songs so much as ideas, Matis and the band tossing freestyles at each other. At one point, he was alone on stage with Shalom Mor, an Israeli oud player who flew in especially for this series of concerts, and a harpist, and — after nearly an hour spent beatboxing-free — he dropped into a fast beat.

That was the pace of the entire show. Usually, you see a band play three songs, and, boom, you know what they’re about. Here, every twenty minutes it was a completely different concert. I started to get bored during the first extended jam (although it might have just been annoyance with the cloying pot smell that suddenly sprang from half a dozen different places…damn Hasidim), and then the guitarist started plucking a pop song, the drummer jumped in, and Matisyahu started freestyling over it — well, not exactly freestyling so much as an impromptu rendition of the liturgical song “Yibaneh Ha’Mikdash,” which roughly translates to “building the Temple.”

I think the best songs alive are cover songs. Maybe it’s because they stick around forever; maybe because they’re the songs that are so good that they’re addictive. That is, I think, where prayers com from. They’re essentially cover songs that we perform every day.

I couldn’t tell you why, but “Yibaneh” is the moment I realized that I really love what Matisyahu is doing. I’ve never been that big a fan of reggae, and though I’ve warmed to Jewish music, I still mostly feel like Jews and I live in two different worlds: they don’t get me, and I don’t get them. But that moment when he was screaming out the words — words that most of the crowd probably didn’t understand, and even more of them weren’t paying attention to the meaning of — I felt like I was in the middle of his lyrics and like I understood. There’s a midrash that says that the Third Temple isn’t going to be built by the Messiah; that we’re going to have to start building it ourselves. Not to be *too* cliche, but it seems like Matisyahu’s doing exactly that.

* — who is an amazing musician in his own right, and has a huge archive of concerts on mp3 here, but, hey, this is a Jewish blog — I might write about his set later on my site, but we’ll see.

Posted on December 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

Israeli Government Twitters the War

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It’s mostly PR, but it’s a kind of PR that the Israeli government hasn’t historically shown the capability to produce — and the kind of PR that Israel desperately needs. The Israeli Consulate in New York has a Twitter stream which is reporting on the progress of the war, and fielding the questions of anxious, uninformed, and occasionally hostile people on the Interwebz.

What follows are sample lines from the stream. (The “@” thingys mean that the Consulate is replying to a direct question.)

@travamag We wish Hamas stops bombings, we’ve disengaged from Gaza but. we can’t stand bombs hitting Israelis

@skap5 Expect Egypt to continue what they’ve been doing: trying to covnince Hamas to stop rockets, make peace w/isr

@brianoflondon Hamas has dclred JIHAD on Isr. ths mns they wll go 2 any xtrme 2 injre IL ctzns. their suiciders r ordrd 2 go actv

@avivnu A Hamas rocket has a single aim Isr. civilians. We’re sorry for every civilian hit &wish Hamas will not use human shields

Posted on December 30, 2008

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The Holocaust, the First War in Lebanon, and Gaza Today

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Last night a friend and I went to go see Waltz With Bashir, the animated Israeli film about memories of the First Lebanon War. The film was, in a word, extraordinary. It tells the story of director Ari Folman, who was outside of Sabra and Shatila while the massacres were taking place in 1982, but who has no memories of that day. As he interviews friends and others he knew in the army at that time he seeks to uncover his own memories, and the nightmares they’ve been giving him thirty years later. The animation is amazing, at times seeming very elemental and bold, and at times eerily realistic. If you have any opportunity to see this movie, please do.

Perhaps my one serious criticism of the film is its relationship with the Holocaust. At one point Ari is speaking with a friend of his who’s a psychologist. The friend suggests that a major part of the reason Ari is having so much trouble accessing his memories of the day of the massacre is because he was terrified of the refugee camps from the beginning. He was terrified of them because his parents were survivors of Auschwitz, and so to him all camps are in some way representative of Nazi concentration camps.

It’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure I buy it. There are plenty of reasons to be afraid of a camp full of members of the PLO without needing to harken back to WWII. At least according to the way it was presented in this film, these soldiers did not need any more reasons to be afraid. I don’t think we need to invoke WWII every time anyone experiences an extreme trauma. I don’t think all traumas are necessarily related.

That said, I don’t think the moment of Holocaust parallelism was gratuitous, the way it so often is (see: The Kite Runner). Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary–the conversations we see are real conversations between Ari and his friends (two friends didn’t want to have their own voices used in the movie, so their lines were dubbed over by actors) so when the Holocaust is invoked it’s done so by a real psychologist, not a screenwriter. And in a way that’s more upsetting to me. We have somehow created a culture where all trauma connects back to the trauma of WWII. Is that fair–to anyone?

When the movie was over–the ending in particular sat on my chest like a stack of bricks–my friend and I walked out of the theater talking about how little Israel seems to have learned from past conflicts. As the bombing in Gaza continues, I wonder if we’ll be watching another version of Waltz With Bashir in thirty years. Though I’d love there to be more movies as moving and sophisticated as this one, I don’t wish on my generation the internal anguish that affected Folman.

Posted on December 30, 2008

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Do Apples Even Grow in Germany?

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Herman Rosenblatt has become famous for his amazing story of how he met his wife. He claimed that while he was a child prisoner is a sub camp at Buchenwald, a young girl, later his wife, would throw apples over the fence, allowing him to survive the Holocaust.

Very touching story. Very touching, UNTRUE, story. That’s right. Rosenblatt, who’s story has spawned a movie that is in the works, has come out with a statement admitting that the story of how he met his wife was made up. Let me guess, the title for the movie is going to be called Jakob the Liar II.

This is what Rosenblatt had to say:

Why did I do that and write the story with the girl and the apple, because I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people. I brought good feelings to a lot of people, and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world.

Oprah once called Rosenblatt’s story the “greatest love story of all time.” She also loved that Million Little Pieces guy. Plus she got fat again.  Bad luck all around. At least she supported that Obama dude.

The story seems fishy from the start. How can Germany be bombed to smithereens yet still be a hotbed for apple orchards in Europe?

Posted on December 30, 2008

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2008: The Year in Fast Forward

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2008 was so quick, and so tornadolike in its ferocity, that you may have missed some of the bigger events — which is why we’ve whipped up a handy guide to the year that just came and went.

my jewish learning, year in review 2008The Agriprocessors scandal turned into the largest single bust of an abattoir in U.S. history, and a nightmare for kosher meat. It did, however, buoy the start of two different systems for certifying that Jewish ethical laws are carried out in food preparation.

Then, of course, there’s the continued corruption in Israel — and the tragedy in Mumbai. Jews have been hit colossally both on the giving and receiving ends of the economic downturn and the scandals that have sprung from that — and then, of course, the “Obamania” that swept the country, fueled and supported in part by the Great Schlep. And that’s just the top of the barrel. Check out what’s inside.

Posted on December 29, 2008

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Break Out the Beer-nukiah: Latke Quiche Recipe and DIY Chanukiyah

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

So here we are in the last few hours of Hanukkah. I took a pretty low-key approach to the Holiday of Lights this year, skipping all of the big parties, and forgoing oil-drenched latkes and sufganiyot for healthier and more interesting Hanukkah foods, like Yam and Turnip Galettes. But last night, after I lit my customary Beer-nukiah beernukiah.jpg(this year featuring Magic Hat and Brooklyn Brewery) I realized I still had some potatoes left and felt I should use them for something Hanukkah themed.

Just as I was ready to give up and make boring old regular latkes I remembered seeing an episode of Paula Dean’s kitchen where she made a quiche using hash browns as the crust. Shredded potatoes? Check. Lots of oil? With Paula Dean it’s usually butter, but sure, check. And this way I could add cheese in honor of Judith, so it would be even more Hanukkah-y. The results were delicious, if I do say so myself. And honestly, I see myself making this all year round. Yum!

Tamar’s Hanukkah-themed Latke Crusted Quiche
3 cups shredded potatoes (you can use frozen hashed browns if you want)
3 tablespoons butter, melted, or 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 green pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella, or the cheese of your choice
1 serrano pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to tastesmall_quiche_with_slicer.jpeg

1.    If you’re shredding fresh potatoes, let them sit in a colander for a good twenty minutes to drain, then press down hard on the pile with a towel, pushing out as much liquid as you can. If you’re using frozen hash browns, let them thaw, and drain them well.

2.    Spray a 9″ pie pan with the cooking spray of your choice, and preheat the oven to 450 F. Gently mix the potatoes with the melted butter or olive oil, and then press it into the pie tin so that it forms a crust. Bake at 425 F for 20-25 minutes, until it looks golden brown and crunchy.

3.    In a bowl, beat together the eggs and milk, add the peppers, onion, salt and pepper, and finally the cheese, stirring gently to mix. Note: I chose these vegetables because they’re what I happened to have around the house. Feel free to mix things up as you see fit. Rivka, at Not Derby Pie, has some excellent suggestions of good combos to try in this kind of dish if you’re in need of inspiration.quiche_small.jpg

4.    Pour the egg mixture into the potato crust, and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, or until the center of the quiche is firm and doesn’t jiggle when you shake the pan.

Make a final toast to Hanukkah, and enjoy!

Posted on December 29, 2008

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The Conspiracy of Covering Up

This entry was posted in History, Practices on by .

Because it’s impossible to write enough stories on Hasidic Jews and sexuality, Nextbook has an article on dressing modestly in Crown Heights. The neighborhood in Brooklyn is home to the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Jews, although, because of their commitment to outreach, they’re known in press circles by their colloquial name of The Hasidic Jews to Turn To Whenever We Need A Story About How Weird Hasidic Jews Are.

the tznius patrol's gonna get yaAnd, no matter what else I say about the Hasidim in my neighborhood, they never fail to disappoint. When I read the article’s lede — “An outsider visiting Crown Heights might be forgiven for thinking that the women in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood represent the height of modesty” — I was baffled. After all, shuttling between Boro Park and Williamsburg, where the most common accoutrement for women is a body-sized pillowcase, the far-more-liberal Crown Heights is mostly known for French designer clothes worn by 22-year-old MILFs in 4-inch heels pushing baby carriages.

Every year, some people in the community pick a pet cause, and this year, that pet cause is tzniut, or modesty. Admirably, much of the attention has been devoted to modesty among men — making sure that they’re wearing tzitzit, and that their shirts cover their elbows (which is commonly known as a commandment for women, but many observant Jews seem to forget it’s also for men). So far, much of the push for tzniut has taken the form of lectures and group Torah study. But there’s a new poster campaign, in pink of course, and, like Barry White says, this one’s for the ladies, calling attention to such things as:

  • Skirt length! (“No part of the knee is visible–even sitting”)

  • Sleeve length! (“Upper arm must be constantly covered…with sleeves extending past her elbow”)
  • Leg wear! (“Going about bare-legged without stockings…is a most grave offense”)

The prominent respondent in the article is Ms. Bronya Shaffer, whose primary credential given in the article is being “a mother of 10″ (she also answers questions on Her critique is admirable, and very postmodern:

“The medium [of the posters] itself is antithetical to the very essence of modesty,” she said of the posters. “It’s not the Chabad way. I cringe at the specter of kids, young boys and girls, reading in huge letters, in bold technicolor, about uncovered legs and necklines and tight clothing.”

It’s a valid point. But how do you reconcile the medium with the message — that is, getting your ideas across and perpetuated, but not making it seem overt or lusty?

And, somewhat relatedly, how can Chabad continue to be poster-boys and girls for religious Judaism, both positive and negative, and in some way avoid this fetishistic what-are-the-Hasidim-doing-now attitude?

Posted on December 29, 2008

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Happy Holidays From Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

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Every year the Queen of England gives a short speech on Christmas Day that is broadcast on the BBC. She never says anything hugely exciting–she’s the Queen, after all–and as a result every year there’s an alternative speech broadcast on Channel 4 at the same time as the Queen’s speech. One year it was given by Ali G. Another year by an anonymous British-born Muslim woman. Other presenters have included Sharon Osbourne, Jamie Oliver, Brigitte Bardot, and the late gay icon Quentin Crisp. This year the alternative Christmas Message was given by none other than the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Independent reports:

The speech by Mr Ahmadinejad, whose nuclear ambitions and views on Israel and homosexuality have strained relations between Iran and the West, was moderate, with none of the harsh rhetoric for which he has gained notoriety. God, he said, had created “every human being with the ability to reach the heights of perfection”. He also urged Muslims and Christians to work together towards a world of “love, brotherhood and justice”.

Perhaps mindful of its controversial choice of speaker, Channel 4 did not broadcast the message at 3pm to coincide with the Queen’s speech on BBC and ITV, as it has done every year since 1993. Instead, the programme was screened at 7.15pm. However, that did not prevent a backlash which started even before the broadcast. The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell had urged Channel 4 to “pull the plug on this criminal despot, who ranks with Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and the Burmese military junta as one of the world’s most bloody tyrants”.

Speaking in Farsi with English subtitles, Mr Ahmadinejad sent his congratulations to “the followers of Abrahamic faiths, especially the followers of Jesus Christ, and the people of Britain”. He said the world’s ills had come about through nations failing to follow the teachings of the Prophets, including Jesus. He also made a thinly-veiled attack on the US, claiming Christ would have been against “bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers” and would have opposed “warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over”.

Watch the video below. It’s pretty boring, but also very bizarre. I’m not sure why it makes sense to invite Ahmadinejad to give an address about a Christian holiday, even if he isn’t a tyrant, bigot and anti-Semite. And since he is all of those things it really seems like a dumb choice.

Posted on December 29, 2008

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Back to the Ghetto, Yemen-style

This entry was posted in History on by .

The son of the head of Yemenite Jewish community (that is, the Jewish community still in Yemen) was shot and killed last week, and since then many members of the Jewish community have been threatened and have been victims of harassment from the greater Yemenite population.

If you were Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President of Yemen, how would you respond?yemenite_jews.jpg If you answered, build a ghetto for the Jews, and give them a $10,000 incentive per family to move into the new ghetto, then give yourself a pat on the back. Ynet reports:

Yemen’s president has informed human rights organizations and the heads of the Jewish community in the country of his decision to allocate an area in Sana’s northern suburb for the construction of a residential neighborhood for Jews on the state’s expense.

Any family who decides to move there from Umran will receive $10,000 in compensation.

According to President Saleh, the Jewish neighborhood will be guarded by security forces at all hours.

Since Nahari’s murder dozens of Jews in Umran have reported receiving death threats and falling victim to violent harassment in the streets of the Umran province.

I’m not even sure what to say about this. On the one hand this sounds very very different from Nazi ghettos, where Jews were forced to live, give up much or all of their property, and were subjected to persecution and execution by Nazis. On the other hand, it sounds something like the original ghetto, in Venice, in the 16th century.

But in 1516, when an enclosed neighborhood for Jews was created in Venice, “ghetto” referred to the foundry that the district replaced. What’s more, the intention wasn’t to persecute Jews per se: “The Venetian Republic segregated its Jews to placate the Roman Catholic Church, which had already forced the expulsion of Jews from much of Western Europe.”
Read more at Venice for Visitors.

What do you think the Jews of Yemen should do? Fight the ruling that puts them in ghettos, move to the ghetto, or get out of Yemen?

Posted on December 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