Monthly Archives: December 2008

Inter-racial Intermarriage: What’s Taboo and What’s Not

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There’s a fascinating back-and-forth over at The Atlantic between Jeffrey Goldberg and Ta-Nehisi about exoticism and intermarriage in the black community, and in the Jewish community. It’s a short enough exchange that you can easily read the whole thing, but here are a couple of interesting highlights:

JG: The more time I spent in Israel, the more I came to believe that dating “in” was the responsible thing to do, from a future-of-my-people perspective.  But weirdly, and maybe you could analyze this for me, Dr. Coates, I didn’t get pissed off at Jewish women who dated out, only Jewish men. In retrospect, I guess I felt sorry for the Jewish women who intermarried, because I sensed that they tried, and failed, to convince Jewish men that they weren’t, in fact, their mothers, that they were intelligent and sexy and all the rest.  Jewish men who go outside, I think – and this is not everyone, obviously – are looking beyond the tribe not because they really think they’re going to end up marrying their mothers if they find a Jewish woman, but because they’re scared of Jewish women, especially the intense sort my friends and I all seemed to marry.  (“Intense” is a compliment, by the way, because intense keeps things interesting.) They’re scared that these women will see right through them, among other things.african_singles.jpg

There are upsides, of course, to marrying out – all those new and exciting genes, for one thing, and the opportunity to bring someone new into the fold.  And you allude, of course, to the ultimate promise of real integration.  Anyway, it’s complicated, and I’m getting the sense you believe, as I do, that blacks and Jews have a lot more in common than lactose intolerance and hard-to-manage hair.

TC: Heh, you just made the textbook black argument against interracial dating.  I basically wrote a piece saying exactly this a few years back.  I argued that black men should not date out, but that black women should do whatever.  My sentiments were much like yours – there really is no doubt, that in most cases, black women are looking out after having at least given the neighborhood a shot.  The same couldn’t be said of the dudes, however.

Now, I think that long-term relationships are really, really hard, and should not be subject to ideology.  It just seems like, in my experience, relationships rise and fall over dumb practical shit.  A lot of black folks worry about disappearing.  Not disappearing, I think, in the manner that Jews worry.  But like, that we’ll basically slaughter each other and those of us that are left will go to jail.  So when you have the chance to build a stable black family, the idea is you’ve got to do it.

There’s something else – despite liberalism, I do take some undeserved pride in being partnered with a black woman.  And to make it even more perverse, I take pride in being partnered with a very dark skin black woman.  There is the notion of black writers living kind of apart from their community.  Now there are very good reasons for why that would be the case.  Still, I never wanted any part of that.  I always wanted to be of it.  And I thought the most obvious way to be off it, was in who you choose to spend your life with.  Limited and passe, but that’s me.

JG: You know, nowadays, in liberal Jewish circles, it’s considered a little odiferous to mention that you’d rather have people stay in than go out.  I can’t imagine it’s the same in liberal black circles, but is it?  Do you get pushback when you talk about the importance of this kind of solidarity?

More…

Posted on December 17, 2008

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A Peace Deal Brokered: Talkin’ Basketball with Bethlehem Shoals

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Two of my last posts have featured my views on Jews, specifically Jordan Farmar, and their relationship with professional basketball. It was sparked by a post on the basketball blog freedarko.com. My response triggered a second post on their site, that currently has 86 (!) comments on its thread.

Luckily for us, the author of those posts, Bethlehem Shoals, sat down and answered a couple of questions for us about basketball, his Judaism and his love for awkward shooting players with big noses.fredarkobook.jpg

JM: A lot of our readers may not know what FreeDarko is all about. Can you tell us what it is and what made you guys start your site?

BS: We like to describe FreeDarko as a basketball think tank, which is a fancy way of saying that we write about basketball in more pretentious, academic, creative, and deliberately bizarre ways than mainstream journalists. It stems from our shared outlook on sports, which involves being as interested in the style and psychology of individual athletes as whether their teams win or lose; this also spills over into issues of identity and politics.

We started it because, embarrassingly, we were already writing mini-essays on our fantasy basketball league’s message board, and decided we might as well take it public.

JM: Your pseudo name is Bethlehem Shoals. Is there anything Jewish to that?

BS: Actually, quite the opposite. An African-American friend of mine who also grew up in the South challenged me to come up with the best old church-going lady name I could think of. Bethlehem Shoals jumped out of my mouth, and she called me that for the next few months.

When it came time to start a blog, I went with the only silly name I’d ever had. Though there’s a chance that some Jews were involved in Bethlehem Records or Muscle Shoals Studios, the sources for the name. Well, probably not Muscle Shoals. Strangely, people figure that “Bethlehem” is an allusion to the Holy Land, which is stupid, since that’s the least Jewish town in all of Israel.

JM: We got in contact with each other because I took issue with how you view Jordan Farmar’s Judaism in his game. Do you want to elaborate on why you don’t think his Judaism is as important to his game as I think it is?

BS: I see where you’re coming from: He’s a practicing Jew, you’re Jewish, and therefore you’re proud to have him around. I guess it all depends on what your notion of Jewish identity is. Personally, I’m just as invested in the characteristics that mark certain artists and writers as “Jewish,” or even the kinds of personalities I’m drawn to–which, more often than not, are attached to Jews.

The Woody Allen example was a bad, and obvious, one, but when I look at who I am, and my place in American society, I definitely believe in a sense of community based around–at the risk of sounding totally 19th century–a certain ethnic character. In our case, of course, a lot of it has to do with questioning our character, not knowing where we fit in, what’s ours and what isn’t, and why we care that much to begin with.

As I said in one of my posts, that contradicts the version of American Jewry that deals in absolute poles of assimilation, aliyah, or Orthodoxy. There are interactions between these three, but it’s not the same as an essential state of confusion and contradiction. And yes, you’re right, I don’t really see Israel as figuring that prominently in my Jewish identity, unless you’re talking about the place in 1914.

JM: There are plenty of professional Jewish baseball players and even some Jewish football players. Why is it that Farmar is currently the only Jew in the league? There are tons of Jews who are between 5’11 and 6’6. Do you think it’s a cultural thing?

BS: I don’t think it’s a cultural thing at all. Basketball is mostly identified with African-Americans now, and lord knows Jews have a long history of admiring/ripping off/sort of being down with black cultural forms. I think, to revert to the most cliched answer possible, it is what it is.

JM: You talk a lot about style of play when it comes to Farmar. Who in the league plays the most Jewish? I’m going with Matt Bonner. The man took the freakin’ subway to work while playing for the Raptors.

BS: See, that’s the thing: I want a Jewish player I can get excited about. That’s why, though Bonner once won a dunk contest in high school (was it McDonald’s?), I’m imagining some sort of awkward-yet-athletic slasher with weird timing, good court vision, and a high basketball IQ. I guess I just described Manu Ginobli, didn’t I? Or, as I said in the comments section of my second post, a reincarnated, updated Jack Molinas.

JM: Is Jon Scheyer, the guard at Duke, the next Jewish Jordan? The kid can ball.

BS: Given where I grew up, I don’t watch Duke, and only made an exception when Jason Williams was there.

A propos of nothing, here’s a shocking lost chapter to the Tamir Goodman saga written by a FreeDarko contributor. All true, too.

JM:
Fair enough, but let’s say, hypothetically, that Scheyer makes it big in the NBA and has what you define as a Jewish style of basketball. Being a UNC fan, could you root for him? After all, I root for Jordan Farmar and I’m from Sacramento. And if not, am I a traitor?

BS: That’s another thing about FreeDarko: We eschew team loyalty/hatred unless there’s a darn good reason for it. Like, you hate or love the players on the team at that moment. The one exception to that is Duke. So yeah, I’d root for him, provided he could shed that Duke taint like certain NBA players (Elton Brand, Corey Maggette) have.

JM: Finally, do you think that Commissioners David Stern (NBA), Bud Selig (MLB) and Gary Bettman (NHL) are secretly members of the Elders of Zion and running sports leagues is just a way to control the world?

BS: I’ve long called the Stern “the original Elder of Zion,” which kind of makes no sense, but whatever. We thought of doing a shirt once, but I didn’t think anyone would buy it. It was in our book at one point, but the lawyers made us cut it because it counted as libel.

Bethlehem Shoals, born Nathaniel Friedman, is the chief architect of FreeDarko.com and a co-author of The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. He is a regular contributor for SportingNews.com and SLAM, and has also written for The Nation, Slate, Spin, McSweeneys.com, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Shoals was raised a faculty brat in Chapel Hill, NC, and attended a conservative shul with a reconstructionist rabbi who reminded him of Bill Clinton.

Posted on December 17, 2008

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I’m Dreaming of a White (and Blue) Hanukkah

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I’m all about Christmas songs. They are cheery, joyful, sometimes in latin…it doesn’t get better than that. Sadly, I only really know the first lines of every single one because my only frame of reference are Christmas infomercials. In fact, I could probably do a medley of the first lines of Christmas songs (Have a holly, jolly Christmas. Jingle bells, Jingle Bells, jingle all the way) much like Hugh Laurie did on SNL this week.

Where are the good Hanukkah songs though? Maoz Tzur? That’s about killing heathens.

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic is writing about this very subject. Recalling a conversation he had with Orrin Hatch about their attempt to write a good Hanukkah song, he says that he has yet to find a good list.

I’m gonna try to help him out. I don’t have any current songs but I want to write a song called The Fat Guy with the Large Beard (an Ode to my Zayde for the Holidays). The lyrics will basically be a good recipe for Latkes, followed by an old man eating them.

With extra apple sauce of course.

Until it’s written though, just watch Rasheed Wallace and last year’s Detroit Pistons sing Jingle Bells. Hopefully, they’ll do this again. Watch the whole thing.

Posted on December 17, 2008

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Lights! Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert

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Our friends at Craig n’ Co. have let us know about a Hanukkah music special that PBS is broadcasting this month.

Lights! Celebrate Hanukkah Live In Concert features an eclectic group of performers, many of them well-known in the Jewish music scene along with artists not normally associated with the genre or the holiday. Check local PBS TV listings in early December to enjoy this gala holiday special with everyone in the family.

Lights PBS Hanukkah

Posted on December 16, 2008

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Poll: Dreidel Rules

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Hanukkah is like, well, basically now. If you didn’t get your kids presents yet, stop reading. They want Ipods. Like every single kind.

For those who remain, I’ve been meaning to get something off my chest. Everyone always connects Dreidel with Hanukkah for some reason. I’ve never been really sure why. My guess is that no one plays Dreidel on Tisha B’Av.

But I never was into this Dreidel hoopla. Why?

The hidden answer is because I’m cheap but the more obvious answer is that I’m not lame. So even with all the press coverage on dreidels (if you type it in on Google, MJL is #3 after Wikipedia and holidays.net. Take that ilovedreidels.com), I never really learned the rules to the game.

But my curiosity got the best of me. On the MJL homepage we have a link to a wonderful article explaining the dreidel rules.

Am I alone in my ignorance? Let’s find out.

Posted on December 16, 2008

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Note to Self: Do Not Name Child ‘Shanda’

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There was a really cute baby in the MJL office today, and it got us talking about baby names and how they are so important. I’ve been writing about this a lot lately, and thinking about it even more, because it seems half the people I know are new parents or about to become new parents. I’ve heard of some pretty weird choices when it comes to baby names, but the creepiest baby name award definitely goes to the Campbell Family of Holland Township:adolf_hitler.JPG

JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell and Adolf Hitler Campbell.

Good names for a trio of toddlers? Heath and Deborah Campbell think so. The Holland Township couple has picked those names and the oldest child, Adolf Hitler Campbell, turns 3 today.

This has given rise to a problem, because the ShopRite supermarket in Greenwich Township has refused to make a cake for young Adolf’s birthday.

“We believe the request … to inscribe a birthday wish to Adolf Hitler is inappropriate,” said Karen Meleta, a ShopRite spokeswoman.

The Campbells turned down the market’s offer to make a cake with enough room for them to write their own inscription and can’t understand what all of the fuss is about.

Adolf Hitler Campbell will be getting a cake from Wal-Mart this year.

“ShopRite can’t even make a cake for a 3-year-old,” said Deborah Campbell, 25, who is Heath’s wife of three years and the mother of the children. “That’s sad.”

(Hat tip to Feministing)

Yes, Deborah, you’re so right. That ShopRite won’t make a cake is definitely the sad part of this story. Whoa.

The picture is of little Adolf…

Posted on December 16, 2008

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More on Jews and Basketball

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Last week, my brother called me up shocked to read that in the first NBA game on November 1, 1946, between the New York Knickerbockers and Toronto Huskies, every member of the Knicks’ starting lineup was Jewish. I kind of brushed him off, reminding him that blacks were not allowed in the league back then. But even so, the more I think about that fact, the more significant it is.

On my last post, I talked about my disagreement with the freedarko.com blogger that when Los Angeles Lakers guard, Jordan Farmar steps on the court, he is not thought of as a Jewish player because he does not look/play Jewish.

I got quite the surprise this morning when I opened up freedarko.com, and he had responded to my post. Not only that, he had 46 comments! Hilariously, he refered me to me as a “blog with a larger readership than me.” Thanks for the compliment, but I don’t get 46 comments (and counting) on my posts, nor do I have a book with a forward by Gilbert Arenas.

I really recommend checking out what he has to say (from what I can tell, he is Jewish too) as well as the great comments. Basically his argument goes as follows. While not questioning Farmar’s Judaism, when he watches Farmar on the court, he does not automatically think of Farmar as a Jewish player because of his style.
On the one hand, this is a good thing. Jews don’t need to be judged as Jews. They should be judged on their talents alone and not compared to others of “their type.”mitch_richmond.jpg

But sports are a funny thing. A lot of kids grow up (myself included) hoping to be the next Michael Jordan. I once broke the chandelier in my house pretending to be Mitch Richmond draining a 3-pointer at the buzzer. But sadly, and not to stereotype, but Jews just aren’t made to be athletes.

One comment in the freedarko thread put it best, referencing a book called “Haikus for Jews.” It goes:

Seven foot Jews

Slam Dunking in the NBA

My alarm clock rings

My point is that regardless of how Farmar plays on the court, there are a lot of Jewish kids out there who should look up to him, not only for his talents but because he is Jewish. When I was 12, and I came to the realization that I probably was never going to be able to dunk, it was somewhat heartbreaking. But Farmar gives every little Jewish boy hope. And for that reason alone, his Judaism defines every play he makes.

Posted on December 15, 2008

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Torah for Transsexuals

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A new site, TransTorah, was just launched, offering resources for trans and transitioning Jews along with divrei Torah, and resources for pastoral guidance and “Ritual Facilitation.”

dana internationalWhat, you may ask, is Ritual Facilitation? On the site’s resource page, there are blessings and educational materials for transgender life — both the expected (a prayer for transitioning genders) and the less-expected (a blessing for chest-binding of female-to-male transsexuals, along with anyone else who wants to bind her or his chest).

The site is still new, so it’s not comprehensive by any means. Also, almost the entirety of the site’s content is written by two people, Jhos Singer and Rabbi Elliot Kukla. The non-Internet resources are limited by geography, and (as far as I can tell) are entirely in the Bay Area, except for a shout-out to a rabbinical student in the “New York and greater Boston area.” But, as the site specifies on its donations page, this isn’t an organization or even an organized mass — it’s just a few people who thought there should be a website like this, and put it up.

temim fruchter of the shondesAs might be expected, the site tends toward the Reform and Reconstructionist area of things, with only one article on Jewish law (that, actually, isn’t really an article at all, but a collection of a few texts) and almost no discussion of the way transgender people should actually function in terms of Jewish law. (Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s “Transgender Theory Hits the Mikvah,” which seemed out of place in her book Yentl’s Revenge, comes to mind.) This might seem like a far-out ideological complaint (“Geez, Matt — transgender people aren’t going to be Orthodox in the first place”) but, well, (1) the essence of the Torah is that it’s supposed to apply to every person, in every scenario; and (2) not only Orthodox people are interested in halacha, yo. Interestingly, I was just told about an intersex person who was born to a traditional Orthodox family. Instead of all the social-freaking-out and what-do-we-do-ness that comes with the modern world, they just went to the Talmud, where the case of being intersex is treated normally — or, as normally as any other Jewish issue. And that was how they raised their child.

Posted on December 15, 2008

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Is God a Person?

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From today’s emailbox:

When you think of G_d, do you think of an “entity” (I know it’s not the right word, hopefully you get what I’m trying to say) with a distinct identity, or as a bit more “formless”? More like a being or more like a force or power?

First, the disclaimer: The following is the personal opinion of one kid with far too little sleep, and not the official ideas or positions of MyJewishLearning.com, Mixed Multitudes, or anyone else. God is completely different for all of us.

chamsa, the hand of g-dI think of God as an entity. I know I’m anthropomorphizing, and in my head, I’m always correcting myself — think of it as the equivalent of an English teacher who knows how to speak textbook Shakespearean English but goes home and speaks in Ebonics. Further, in our tradition, there are some times when it’s okay to actively anthropomorphize God — when we say that God took us out of Egypt with “an outstretched hand,” for instance. When we say that during Passover, is anyone thinking that a giant hand came down from the sky and just scooped the Children of Israel out of the desert?

But there’s an interesting midrash that asks the question, when the Torah says in Genesis that we were created in “God’s image” — what, it asks, is God’s image? By God’s very nature, there’s no such thing as God’s image. God doesn’t look like anything. Or, on the other hand, God looks like absolutely everything.

But then there’s another midrash that says that, yes, God does have hands — as well as arms and toes and a nose (possibly a Jewish nose, possibly not). Humans really were created in God’s image…only, God’s image is the original. Our hands are the smallest, weakest representation in the physical world of the metaphysical image of an actual Hand of God. There’s something called a hamsa in Jewish mysticism that’s a representation of this hand…and it, like many other mystical amulets, is meant to remind us of that greater world.

There’s a line in one of my poems that says that I learned to picture God as a girl with “long, long hair and a short, short skirt,” which gets all the righteous folks a little bit nervous. But it’s just what I was thinking — that I can’t talk to anyone with the candidness and the openness that I used when flirting. (Uh, I wrote it before the marriage-and-kids part of my life.) Because, in the half-nervous and half-say-anything immediacy of flirting, you’re talking about anything you can to keep her interested, you’re not worrying about censoring yourself or holding back and, in that immediacy, you lose the withholding-ness and only say true things…and that, I’ve always thought, is what prayer should be like.

Of course, once it makes its way to God’s ears (again with the anthropomorphizing), God’s no more a hot girl than God is an old dude with a beard. But it’s somewhere to start from. Just like we can’t thank God enough for every aspect of Creation (yeah, by the way, thanks for creating the wood planks on the floor solid enough so that I’m not falling through it…oh, look, I just moved to another part of the room; thanks for creating that part solid enough, too), there’s no way to adequately envision God, physically or mentally or eschatologically or otherwise. And so, to thank God, we grasp a few words and hope it’s enough. And in order to communicate with God, we reach out for whatever medium we can find, and hope that’s enough, too.

Posted on December 12, 2008

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Dear God, Love Bob

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Check out this fascinating article in The Guardian about all of the letters that people send to God, often addressed “God, Jerusalem.”

God has a postbox and an address. All you need write is “To God, Jerusalem” and the postman in the holy city’s dead-letter office will deliver it for you.

Yet, of the 2,000-odd notes delivered to the almighty yesterday, many were addressed in such elaborate ways that even the most ardent of God’s ancient correspondents would have blushed.Prayer_Papers_in_the_Western_Wall.jpg

As if the post office might be confused about the identity of the recipient, some of the envelopes read: “The Holy, The Great and Big Temple”, “His Reverence, The High Priest, The Holy Temple of God, Jerusalem Holy City of God, Holy Land of Israel” and “To Almighty God, Alpha and Omega, Jerusalem, Israel.”

While most oddly labeled letters meet their end in the “undeliverable” pile at Jerusalem’s post office these ones get a second life.

As long as the envelopes have some form of address, the postman is obliged by international law to deliver.
The head of the office, Avi Yaniv, says he knows where he can get closest to God on earth.

Every year he has the envelopes opened, the messages neatly folded and slipped between the cracks of the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. Known as the Kotel to Israelis and as the Wailing Wall to others, it is venerated as the last remnant of King David’s temple.

At the dead letter office “we find the owners and send the letters back and in between these letters we also receive letters to God and because we have no address other than the Wailing Wall, we put them there,” Yaniv says.

Yaniv says they also receive letters to Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and King David, but the Chief Rabbi at the Western Wall permits only those addressed to God to be delivered.

When the mail arrives at the dead letter office the staff sorts it into boxes. Correspondence destined for the wall goes into boxes marked “To God”.

Full Story
Does this make anyone else think of all those letters sent to Santa? Also, where exactly are these notes being placed? It’s so hard to find a place at the Kotel that isn’t already totally full of notes, at least in my experience. Maybe the key is to go right after the wall is cleaned out, twice a year. Little known fact: once the notes are removed from the wall they’re treated like holy books, and buried in a nearby cemetery.

Related: Here’s a website where you can read and write letters to God. I don’t think they end up at the Kotel, but it’s still kind of cool.

[Also I would like to point out a mistake in the article: it's not King David's temple, it's the Holy Temple, built by King Solomon.]

Posted on December 12, 2008

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