Monthly Archives: December 2008

News Roundup: The World, Minus Menorahs

This entry was posted in General on by .

I’m feeling over-Hanukkah-ized these days. This is, granted, the week where, in Jewish media, real news moves over to make room for cool Hanukkah songs, but sometimes the need strikes me to remind myself that there are still things happening in the rest of the world.

  • Another kosher meat processor, G&G Poultry, faces legal trouble — this time in Berks County, PA, because of allegedly dumping poultry blood, feathers, hearts and gizzards into a Schuylkill River tributary.

  • Russian oligarch billionaire Arkady Gaydamak just left Israel with no plans to return. Gaydamak is one of my favorite Israeli political figures — both a philanthropist and a wild personality, he sent thousands of people from Sderot to a beachfront vacation during the 2006 bombings and is renown in Israel for stepping into the middle of tricky situations and throwing massive amounts of money around to solve them. He also allegedly smuggled arms to combatants in civil wars in Africa.
  • Al Franken has been flip-flopping back and forth with the lead in the Minnesota Senate race, which has been down to the double and even single digits in the past few days.
  • And a great post about whether Haredi neighborhoods in Israel will start having separate grocery lines for men and women. Frum Satire’s typically great take on things: “This new decree…is trying to compete with Saudi Arabia for tough laws on women so they can eventually ban them all together (I hear they are working on ways to have children and make kugel without women).”

Posted on December 22, 2008

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Are Nuns Too Forgiving?

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

I’m dying to see the new Meryl Streep movie, Doubt, about a nun with a bone to pick, but in general I have a very positive view of nuns. So much so that I was particularly impressed by this NPR story about nuns in Maine. Feministing writes:nunsforgive.jpg

Basically, the small order or nuns was terrorized by a man who had been part of their community but had a mental breakdown. Two of them were killed and two were severely injured. The nuns saw to it that the perpetrator got put in a mental health facility, but they also did a ceremony in which they washed the feet of his relatives as a symbol of their forgiveness.

Go listen to the story–it’s pretty amazing. But after I listened I wondered about whether or not the nun’s forgiveness was kosher according to Jewish law. And it looks like it might not. Check out our article on forgiveness and weigh in: do you think the nuns should have forgiven in this case?

Posted on December 19, 2008

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I Want to Be a Rebbe

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

My rebbe is an awesome man. His family lives in a little falling-apart shack on the edge of Boro Park, above their synagogue, which is relentlessly busy and always plundered by a steady stream of visitors, and the occasional kugel floats in to the study hall, only to be mercilessly devoured — it’s kind of half community center and half Salvation Army (well, without the missionizing).

I’m fortunate. According to Shauly Grossman, a 21-year-old singer and songwriter (he wrote the title track to Hasidic superstar Lipa Schmeltzer‘s new album), “There is a certain percent of rebbes who aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do and are just doing it for… the fame and the money and stuff.”

That was the subject matter for a song he wrote, which got picked up on YouTube and turned into the newest Haredi viral hit. I’m not even that Haredi, and it freaks me out. Lines like “Enough with the begging to get a blessing for my bubbe/The rebbe is busy, the president is here and we need to get ready” while Ahmadinejad’s face flashes onscreen — yeah, I’m just not sure if I’m down with that (especially since the Satmar community subsequently cut off that rabbi and was exceptionally supportive of his wife after their separation).

The academics, as always, show their remarkable insight into Hasidic culture: “The people who are talking about it in the blogosphere, some of them are probably alienated and marginalized and of course in the blogosphere, you can say whatever you want because nobody knows who you are.” Because, of course, that’s not true of teenage goths, single mothers, or any other group on the Internet.

It’s pretty cool when the supposedly ignorant Monsey Hasidim end up being the smartest and most anthropologically-aware people in the article. And even the censors have a sense of humor about it:

Communal critics, though, have no monopoly on the Internet. The “I Want to Be a Rebbe”? video has been removed repeatedly from YouTube as a result of complaints alleging copyright violations, including one filed under the name “Chofetz Chaim”? — the renowned Orthodox sage who died in 1933. The video was re-posted on December 1, tallying nearly 2,000 views in 17 days.

(Tip of the hat, as always, to Vos is Neias.)

Posted on December 19, 2008

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Rabbi Rackman z”l

This entry was posted in History on by .

Since his death at age 98 a few weeks ago, I’ve been meaning to write a bit about Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, a giant of Modern Orthodoxy and the Jewish people.

I never met Rabbi Rackman, and the obituaries and tributes that have been written since his passing make me wonder how I could have missed such an opportunity. Like all great men, he was both profoundly influential and also someone who often found himself alone, fighting the good fight.

Rackman.jpg His uniqueness and integrity is what comes out most in remembrances of him, and I highly recommend Rabbi Michael Broyde’s piece in the Jewish Press as well as Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s eulogy, which she delivered at Rabbi Rackman’s funeral.

They both mention one story as paradigmatic:

What I did not know then and what I only learned last night from a colleague when I told him of Rabbi Rackman’s passing, was that in 1951 when Rabbi Rackman was recalled as a chaplain due to the Korean War, he discovered that his security clearance had been revoked because he opposed the death penalty for the Rosenbergs and supported Paul Robeson’s right to free speech. The Air Force offered him the choice of an honorable discharge (not a dishonorable one). Had he accepted it, he would have been able to go home to his family but he would have to accept that his security clearance was rightfully revoked. Alternatively he could seek a military trial. After much thought, Rabbi Rackman took the military trial. He acted as his own lawyer, and was cleared of all charges and promoted to Colonel.

Why did he fight so hard? Because he believed that while “a person can be right or wrong on many decisions that they make, when it comes to one’s integrity, one must stand strong and never let anyone impugn it. Ultimately,â€? he said, “all a Rabbi has is his reputation and honor.”

Posted on December 18, 2008

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Will the Madoff Scandal See a Rise in Anti-Semitism in America?

This entry was posted in History on by .

The Ponzi Scheme involving Bernie Madoff stealing some $50 Billion is kind of a big deal. I wouldn’t even know what to do with that much money. I actually asked friend last night if she thought she could spend $50 Billion and she said, “Just try me.”

But what has been of more interest for me is how this whole scandal looks for the Jews. I mean, Madoff fits a lot of old Jewish stereotypes. He is an involved Jew who ran Wall St. and stole everyone’s money (and for everyone who took issue with me stereotyping Jews playing basketball, I’m assuming Madoff was also pretty unathletic).

But does that mean that by consequence, all Jews are seen that way? People have argued to me that they that are worried that the Madoff scandal will lead to hightened stereotypes involving Jews and money. madoffstereotype.jpg
But I disagree. Look at who invested in Madoff: Yeshiva University, Hadassah, Elie Weisel, Steven Speilberg, etc. These are people and groups who are doing good work in the world community and Madoff exploited them. This Madoff scandal may destroy some Jewish organizations, but it also highlights the work that these organizations were doing.

I saw a clip on CNN the other night highlighting some of these great organizations that no longer have enough money to function. Yes, you have your obvious Jewish organizations like Hadassah, that will survive but will be severely hit, but there are less obvious groups, like an organization that represents Guantanamo Bay detainees, that are now bankrupt.

While this scandal is having terrible affects on the Jewish non-profit world, I don’t think we need to worry about a rise in anti-Semitism. If anything, this could be one of the few positives that come out of this mess.

Posted on December 18, 2008

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Just what the ghetto needs: More alcohol.

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

In last Sunday’s New York Times, Paula Roth (no relation) covers the opening of a new bar in an area with a clientele that, well, bridges borders, to say the least:

Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a mash-up of cultures, is home to both the annual West Indian American parade and the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidim. Adding an upscale bar and beer garden to the mix might seem counterintuitive.

Bar co-owner Matthew Roff (also no relation), who also owns the music venue Southpaw in Park Slope, is following the tide of twentysomething trend-seekers who have migrated from the cozy and posh Park Slope neighborhood — Brooklyn, but lots of subways and pretty convenient to Manhattan — to Prospect Heights, the next neighborhood out (fewer subways, slightly less convenient) and, recently, to Crown Heights (subways suck, and I’m lucky if I make it to Manhattan in an hour).

Crown heights beer garden

But as we’ve reiterated here several times, Crown Heights is its own little universe — a place with its own issues, where the issues of the rest of the world don’t encroach upon it and don’t even really apply. There were the Crown Heights riots, and more recently a series of beatings that culminated in a 15-year-old Hasidic boy beaten by a gang while going to the corner store to buy baby formula…and, on their own, both the Hasidic and Caribbean communities have their own issues.

All the more reason for Franklin Park to exist — because everyone needs a retreat where they can sip on a microbrew and play some Skee-Ball. And the invading hipsters will probably drive rents through the roof, of course, sending much of the neighborhood’s existing diversity into exile, but they’ll also bring some stability, much-needed economic stability, and, most needed of all, peace and boringness.

Mr. Boyle pondered whether old-timers would dismiss them as invading hipsters.

“I’m not a hipster,� Ms. Bonnell, a physical therapist, insisted.

“Yes, you are,� Mr. Boyle said, waving toward her long cardigan, red scarf and chunky boots. He tugged on his subtly sheened blue button-down. “So am I.�

READ MORE >

Posted on December 18, 2008

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Notes for Giving a Dvar Torah

This entry was posted in History, Practices on by .

We have a really nice article with some tips for someone who’s planning to give a dvar Torah.  And when I worked at Jewcy I wrote my own tips, but over at Jewschool they have very wisely posted a lengthy list of tips, tricks, dos and don’ts about giving a sermon that was written by Rev. Victoria Weinstein, a Unitarian minister. Here are some of my favorites:Public_Speaking.jpg

·    Draw from your life. Good sermons come from real-life questions and struggles that have application to our relationships, our work and our inner growth. Lengthy theoretical musings and esoteric expositions have their place, but it is not in the pulpit.
·    It helps to know what your conclusion will be before you begin.
·    Embody your message. Do you care about what you’re saying? We should be able to see that in your physical presence and hear it in your vocal inflection! Many a beautifully-crafted sermon has been murdered in the cradle by zombie-like delivery.
·    Sermons are not free therapy for the preacher, so don’t preach on emotional subjects from which you have no distance and have little or no objectivity. Avoid over-sharing, blaming, or “dumping.�
·    NEVER begin a sermon by describing how hard it was to write the sermon, how nervous you are, how little sleep you got last night, or talking about “what I was going to preach about before I changed my mind and came up with this.�
·    Never use someone else’s life as an illustration even anonymously if they might be recognized by any member of the congregation; always obtain permission from anyone you will be mentioning by name.

See the whole list here.

Posted on December 18, 2008

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How to Light the Menorah (And Look Damn Good While You’re Doing It)

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

Hanukkah’s gonna be here before you know it. So make sure you’re stocked up on all the holiday goods — Extra-thick schmaltz for frying your latkes. Trick dreidels that always land on gimel. And your own gold-toothed, Burger-King-crowned deity to teach you how to light the menorah….

Yes, that’s right. We’re talkin’ about Todd and God.

If you can’t see the film, just click here to learn how to light the Hanukkah candles in style. And if you do happen to pick up an extra carnivorous snake or Lionel Ritchie album, there’s always room under my menorah….

Posted on December 18, 2008

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Grinch knows better than to mess with Hanukkah

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Let’s face it. Lots of Jews love Christmas. Not in the celebrate-the birthday-of-our-savior way.

More in the pretty-lights, catchy-tunes, days-off-of-work, and eggnog-is-the-best-drink-ever-I-don’t-care-if-it’s-actually-made-with-eggs way.

Don’t forget TV specials like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas, a time-honored classic.Christmas Specials

But such love can be confusing for young children. So Dahlia Litwack at Slate gives us, “A Jewish parent’s guide to Christmas specials.”

Litwack is movtivated by her five-year-old son’s astitute question:  “Mom, if Santa and Judah the Maccabee got in a fight, who would win?”

Tough call, kid.

Posted on December 17, 2008

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She’s So Frum She Davens In Her Sleep

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

This past weekend both of my sisters came into town and we had a little Vixen Shabbaton (get it? Foxes…vixens…?). We don’t get to see each other very often, so it was really nice to spend some time together, eat good food and talk about my mom. There was a lot of laughter, which was nice, but by far the highlight of the weekend was on Shabbat morning.

I was slowly waking up, and I heard my younger sister Renana talking in her sleep. At first I couldn’t figure out what she was saying, but after a few seconds I realized she was reciting the Kaddish. She got through the entire Mourner’s Kaddish without waking up, but she did wake up my older sister, Deena, who looked over at me and asked what was going on.
“Oh,” I told her, “Renana’s gotten very frum. She can say the Kaddish in her sleep.”onetwothree.jpg

When we woke Renana up half an hour later she remembered having a dream in which she ran to shul and got there just in time to say Kaddish, but had no idea that she had actually said it out loud.

Sometimes, grief is pretty funny.

(The photo is of Renana, my mother, and my cousin Abigail and it was taken in June).

Cross-posted at Blog the Kaddish

Posted on December 17, 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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