Monthly Archives: December 2008

Avraham Burg is Throwing his “Personal” Belongings at the Fans

This entry was posted in History on by .

I try not to write about Israeli politics. I really try. Lately, I’ve become a bit jaded on the subject thinking that any news items concerning Israel just sparks more animosity between the sides in the Middle East and North America. But after reading this article from the New York Times, I can not hold back.

Avraham Burg, former Speaker of the K’nesset and one time candidate for the leadership of the Labor Party, has just come out with the English version of a really crazy book.Avraham_Burg.jpg

In his book, “The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes“, Burg basically shatters the notion that mainstream Israeli political figures could ever veer so off to the left. In his book, Burg argues that Israel should no longer be a Jewish State, the Law of Return is racist and that Israel is in danger of becoming more and more like the Nazis every passing day.

This news isn’t new. His book came out in Israel last year in Hebrew with the title, “Defeating Hitler” (his original title was “Hitler Won”). Actually, the English version is somewhat toned down from the original Hebrew. In the original, Burg argues that Israel may go as far as invoking Nuremberg style laws, banning Israelis from marrying Arabs.

The overall theme of the book is that Israeli culture and politics are too focused on the Holocaust. Comparing every enemy of Israel to Hitler and invoking the Holocaust to justify any security measure does not let the Jews set their own future and move past the tragedy of 60 years ago.

I somewhat buy the Holocaust argument, but definitely not to the extreme that Burg takes. Even if you disagree with everything Burg has to say, this looks like an interesting book nonetheless.

Posted on December 24, 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

Bush = Santa

This entry was posted in History on by .

Dammit! I so wasn’t going to mention Santa on the Interweb today. And I was never going to mention the two of them in the same headline.

But when our giddily pro-death-pentalty president pardons 19 people on Death Row — including, bizarrely, a Montana man who poisoned three bald eagles and a gangsta rapper who was caught with 1.4m of liquid cocaine (and cowrote the Fugees album The Score).

It’s sad that, in addition to this star-spangled list of newfound national patriots, there’s someone who sounds worthwhile and actually deserving of praise — Charles Winters, a Miami businessman who helped transfer two B-17 aircraft to Israel to aid in the War of Independence, even flying one of the planes himself from Miami to Czechoslovakia. His son only knew the reason for his father’s imprisonment after his death:

“I’m overwhelmed,” Jim Winters, a Miami maker of artistic neon signs, said in a telephone interview. “It happened 16 years before I was born. He went to jail and he didn’t want his kids to know. He was old-school and proud.”

Posted on December 24, 2008

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Subverting – and Loving – Islam

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

A few weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times did a story on Muslim punk-rock teenagers — and we ran a critique of it — and noted how the article was actually about one Muslim punk-rock teenager, and a bunch of other girls who talked about how weird it was.

michael muhammad knight

Yesterday the New York Times profiled Michael Muhammad Knight, a Muslim and author of The Taqwacores, a novel about punk-rock Muslims. Both vehemently religious and sometimes vehemently opposed to the official Muslim platform on things — or what’s come to be accepted as the official Muslim platform on things — Knight’s characters are punk band members, co-ed prayer ritual leaders, and a “riot girl [sic] who plays guitar onstage wearing a burqa.” The book started out life as a photocopied manuscript that was passed around between young outlier Muslims, but was soon picked up by Autonomedia and has just been rereleased in a sharp-looking printing by Soft Skull Press. But the Times profile gets both Knight’s message and the author himself in a way that I think the L.A. Times just glossed over, which is to say, there’s a stunning and humbling combination of chutzpah and devekut — that is to say, in-your-face-ness and piety — in Knight’s work that connects with readers in a truly profound way.

The most awesome proof of this, I think, comes from the novel itself. When Knight wrote the book five years ago, he was writing a wish. Taqwacore was his made-up name; there weren’t any Muslim bands playing revolutionary punk music. (And yes, I know I’m being incredibly gushy; my first book, Never Mind the Goldbergs, was about an Orthodox Jewish punk-rock scene that also didn’t exist.) But in the short time since its publication, an entire Taqwacore scene has sprung up.

It seems kind of weird that I’m blogging about this on a Jewish site, I know. But so much of it resonates with my own Judaism — and who among us doesn’t recognize the impetus to both love our religion and despise parts of it? Knight, I think, says it best. It’s easy to link Muhammad’s actions (the prophet, not the author) to Abraham’s riot-boy tantrum that first kicked off monotheism on Earth, but the sentiment of returning our religion to its roots, and separating true Torah from what everyone around you says it is, is a sentiment that we can all relate to:

[Knight] said he wrote “The Taqwacores” to mend the rift between his being an observant Muslim and an angry American youth. He found validation in the life of Muhammad, who instructed people to ignore their leaders, destroy their petty deities and follow only Allah.

Sound familiar?

Posted on December 24, 2008

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Jewish Food Tourney: #2 Lox and Bagel vs #15 Kugel, #3 Challah vs #14 Pickles

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

We got a doubleheader today at the MJLKFI (MyJewishLearning Kosher Food Invitational).

In our first matchup, we got #2 Lox and Bagel. The selection committee has recieved some heat for this high seeding. But we stand by it. Lox and bagels are a Jewish staple. Whether it’s Sunday morning brunch, Shavuot lunch, or a fancy kiddish at shul, lox and bagels spruce up any meal.

Why the controversy then? The cream cheese. If this food had one flaw, it’s the cream cheese. Some people live by it and claim that they can’t have the sandwich without it. Others are revolted by the very idea. Also, some people don’t like fishy things. But they don’t count.

Now, you cannot vote for this meal if you eat your sandwich without cream cheese. I’m sorry. But when you take out the cream cheese, it’s just a fish sandwich. ‘Aint nuthin’ Jewish about that.

It’s competition is #15 kugel. A safe pick. Ask a non-Jew what kugel is, you will be hard pressed to find a good answer. Hell, ask a Jew to describe kugel and they will have trouble. But there are good recipes. Potato is my favorite, followed by unsweetened noodle, and finally sweet noodle. Of course, there is also Yerushalmi kugel, which I have trouble figuring out whether or not I like it.

In the second matchup, we got one of my favorite foods, #3 Challah. You can’t have Shabbat dinner without challah. I would argue that it is the best part of Shabbat dinner. In fact, if the only thing on the table was challah, I wouldn’t even call the meal a complete failure. I would say, “Sure there was no chicken. But did you try the challah?”

We also have a controversial #14 seed in Pickles. There was actually debate as to whether or not they should have made the tournament. I actually think they should be ranked higher. Why? Because I love pickles. Love them. Love them. Love them. My favorite is the half sour, which some people have called girlyman for saying that. But I stand by my choice. They taste the most fresh and are the most crunchy.

The voting for these will end tomorrow night, Erev Christmas. Remember, you can vote for #1 Matzah Ball Soup vs. #16 Haroset until tomorrow morning.



Posted on December 23, 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’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing latkes (Sorry, you can’t come)

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Did you hear about that huge party on Wednesday night? Everyone is gonna be there. Chris, Thomas, Peter, everybody!

Actually, I didn’t get the invite. I don’t think I’m the only one though. Approximately 75% of my building also has yet to recieve their invitation.

Christmas is a tough time for Jews. On the one hand, it’s a spectacular time of year. The scenary is beautiful. Home Alone is on basically every night. Families are getting together to bond and give each other poorly knitted sweaters with ducks on them.

On the other hand, it’s not for us. Imagine if there was a larger Jewish population and Rosh Hashanah was on a Christmas-like scale. Christians would be soooooooooooooo jealous. “You get to hear two sermons! No fair!”

In a great piece I just read on MJL, Ron Wolfson compares Christmas to birthday parties for young children. Kids are taught to learn that while parties are fun, not all of the presents are theirs, nor is the birthday cake theirs to blow out.

Hanukkah gives us a chance to have something for ourselves during this season. But try as hard as some do, it just isn’t the same. And nor should it be. Sometimes, it’s ok just to be the guest at the party.

But for those who need more, or need some advice on how to tackle this time of year in an interfaith family, MJL has a really great section that gives a good history of the Jews and Christmas. Fun fact of the day that I just learned: Herzl had a Christmas tree. Crazy.

And if this scene from Home Alone doesn’t make you tear up, you have no soul.

Posted on December 23, 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 Shavers

This entry was posted in History on by .

Traditional Judaism prohibits men from shaving their face with a razor. While many (or most) Ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t shave at all, exceptions have usually been made for electric shavers — a loophole embraced by most Modern Orthodox Jews.

Well, it turns out that in some communities the permissibility of electric shavers isn’t so straightforward and, amazingly, there’s a special beit din (Jewish court) to deal with shaver issues.

From Yated Ne’eman:

Members of the special beis din on halachic shavers held meetings at the homes of gedolei Yisroel, including Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita, where they expressed their dismay that some men still use forbidden shavers which gedolei haposkim hold are a transgression of Torah law, despite the fact two kosher shavers are currently sold on the market.

MORE…

Posted on December 22, 2008

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Sephardic Music on Demand

This entry was posted in General on by .

This week in New York is the Sephardic Music Festival, and though, if you’ve been to a Sephardic music concert in New York, you’ve probably seen most of these folks already — Diwon, Pharaoh’s Daughter, Sarah Aroeste and Piamenta are mainstays of the scene — but it’s a good excuse to see many of them in full-length nights of their own.

aFor those of us a little farther from the Mother City, however, the recently-opened Sephardic Music Archive gives a new meaning to the word “exhaustive” — and not in a bad way at all. It’s an online catalogue of Sephardic records and CDs, a world that you probably didn’t realize existed — that is, until you look over this stuff. Some of it might cause you to double-take, I didn’t realize that was Sephardic. More of it may cause you to double-take, I didn’t realize that was Jewish…

carolyn hester, sephardic, and bob dylanWhere else, for example, you can learn about, for instance, Bob Dylan playing harmonica on a Sephardic Jewish record (Carolyn Hester’s self-titled album)? Or mp3s of early repertory recordings of ancient Spanish songs?

All told, it’s a pretty invaluable resource. I don’t even know how I’d use many of the site’s areas, but I hope that someone gets some supremely good research for a graduate paper out of this, if nothing else — or, possibly, discovers a few hundred great new albums to buy (or, to drop a less-than-subtle hint, to bring back into print).

Posted on December 22, 2008

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Jewish Food Tourney: #1 Matzah Ball Soup vs #16 Haroset

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

March Madness just can’t come early enough. Experiencing a mix of hunger and need for competition, my friend Jordan and I have come up with an idea to fulfill both.

I bring to you the 2008-2009 MyJewishLearning.com Kosher Food Invitational (MJLKFI-to keep things simple).

The premise is pretty basic. We have compiled a list of 16 different Jewish foods. You will vote to pick the ultimate Jewish food. The winning food will secretly be placed in the book of Leviticus as the most permissible food that does not lead to you being killing by stoning.

Today, we will have one 1st-round matchup. First, we have the #16th seed, Haroset. At first (how many times can I use first/one/1 in one paragraph…oh there we go again) glance, this food is pretty talented. I don’t really know anyone who DOESN’T like haroset. A mix of apples, cinnamon, nuts and wine. Yum.

But there are just too many holes in Haroset’s game that allow it to be a Tier-1 food. First, it’s basically just a side dish. Some would even argue it is only a condiment. Second, we eat it only two nights a year, and its not even part of the main course. And finally, too many Jews are allergic to nuts to make it a mainstream food.

At the #1st seed, we have the powerhouse. Matzah Ball Soup. You may remember Matzah Ball Soup from this past Friday night. The blend of salty and sweet broth. The 2-3 matzah balls floating ever so lightly. Books have been written on it. Grandmothers take their aspirin with it. It truly is a Goliath.

Voting concludes Wednesday morning.


Posted on December 22, 2008

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Latke Alternatives

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

I love potatoes and I love most things fried, but honestly, I have a hard time getting down with latkes. Part of it, certainly, is the word latkes, which just completely grosses me out. Yuck. But also, I think latkes are often kind of lame and nasty. Oil is good, too much oil is gross. Plus, latkes often result in grated skin, lots of burned bits of potatoes, smoke, some possible fires…I just would rather not. I’m a firm believer in hamantaschen, but not latkes. Luckily, there are some awesome alternatives to your standard fare Hanukkah foods.  Check out our own recipe for cheese-filled pancakes–Atayef, a Syrian treat.  We also have Bimuelos, a Sephardic sweet fritter.  And of course there are sufganiyot, or jelly doughnuts.  But today I saw this recipe for Yam and Turnip Galettes, and I knew I had found my new Hanukkah staple.  Potatoes? Check! Oil? Check! Awesomeness that isn’t too greasy and hell on your knuckles? Double check.yam_and_turnip_galettes.jpg

Of course, if you’re a hardline latke-ist, we’ve got plenty of recipes for you, too, and there’s a good one over at smitten kitchen. And some interesting latke-related musings at Self-Aggrandizement.

Still, I urge you, try the Gallettes this year! Spare your knuckles!

Posted on December 22, 2008

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Blending Traditions on Hanukkah

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

Motherlode, the parenting blog at NYTimes.com, has a really interesting post with a new twist on the age-old problem of how interfaith families celebrate holidays. The Motherlode post goes into how same-faith families can still have plenty of issues to negotiate when parents come from different backgrounds:

There is an by essay Hadeel Masseoud, a lawyer in Atlanta, over on Babble.com, called A Very Muslim Christmas, which asks, “Would having a tree betray our faith?� The author, a Muslim child of Palestinian immigrants, grew up celebrating Christmas, then married an Iranian immigrant who saw such trappings as a “sell out.� hanukkah bushAnd more than one Jewish couple finds themselves bring different traditions from their shared religion this time of year.

I heard recently from Tami Kamin-Meyer, a lawyer with two sons, ages 10 and 14, living in Columbus, OH. “Both my husband of nearly 16 years and I are Jewish,� she wrote in an e-mail. “But his brand of Judaism is far more American than mine. My family is Israeli, and while I am a first generation American, my celebration of Jewish holidays, including traditions and attitudes, are closely aligned with Israeli customs rather than American.�

When their first child was born, her husband wanted to hang stockings in the living room, but she did not. (They don’t.) He is more comfortable with prayers and holiday songs in English, which she prefers them in Hebrew. (They incorporate a little of both.)

The post also talks about the forthcoming children’s book No Pig’s Brain Soup, Please! By Gail Greenberg about a little girl who thinks she has to choose between her Jewish and Chinese cultures, but learns that she does not.
Awesome!

Posted on December 22, 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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