Monthly Archives: January 2009

Chabon’s Latest “Mysteries”

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A girl I was trying very hard to get to like me once casually mentioned her favorite book, Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh — which, of course, meant that I immediately packed myself over to the closest public library and began scavenging through it like a madman.

Of any book to be read under these circumstances, Mysteries is probably among the worst — a bizarre coming-of-age tale about a boy named Art Bechstein, the son of Jewish mobsters. It starts reading like an old-school American novel like Herman Wouk’s The City Boy and concludes more along the lines of, uh — a really bizarre old-school pulp porno.

Keep in mind that this is Chabon when he was an undergraduate in college; trying to be a haute auteur and not yet at the point where he could ‘fess up to his X-Men addiction. He had yet to be hailed, for better or worse, as the Jewish Author of the Generation (although, in a just world, his reputation would be solidified by the admirable Khazar novel The Gentlemen of the Road than, well, Yiddish policemen), and so what follows is just a smattering of experimentation, sexually as well as narratively, in the life of young Mr. Bechstein over one summer.


Posted on January 21, 2009

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Jewish Food Tourney: #4 Latkes vs #5 Cholent

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By far the most intriguing match up that we have seen in the tournament yet. The last match #3 Challah vs. #6 Apples & Honey was a blood bath (So much honey was spilled on the floor, the world Bee community has called it an International Week of Mourning).

Today’s will be much better though. If either of these foods ended up winning the whole tournament, I would not be surprised. They both possess all the makings of a champion: great taste; non-English names; unhealthy. Talk about a Triangle Offense.

#4 Latkes are very powerful. They are associated with the most popular Jewish holiday, Hanukkah. They are deep fried. They go well with apple sauce (Then again, what doesn’t go well with apple sauce?).

One argument against Latkes is that bad latkes exist, while bad cholent does not. I don’t buy it though. Just because you can buy store bought/frozen latkes, that does not mean fresh latkes should be punished. When I refer to “Latkes,” I’m talking about the ones that my dad almost burned down are house with, not the packaged ones.

#5 Cholent may seem like it is ranked low. But really, the #1-5 seeds are all interchangeable. To prove my point, all but the #1 seed are still in the tournament (and Matzah Ball Soup lost to Brisket, which I will discuss next week).

The key for me in Cholent is sweet potato and kishka. Not only do they taste great, but they also break apart better than regular potatoes and barley, making the cholent that much creamier.

Finally, I think it is important to note that Cholent is a good source of fiber, more than any other food in the bracket. I’m just putting that out there.

Voting will end tomorrow.

Posted on January 21, 2009

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Go For Gold(en Tan)

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Don’t think that Michael Phelps is the only U.S. swim team hottie that I enjoy looking at. Ben Wildman-Tobriner is not only buff, but also a Member of the Tribe.

He recently went on Birthright Israel, and the New York Times interviewed him about his experiences:

WHAT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE TRIP? One thing that comes to mind was getting to float in the Dead Sea. You really have to float. From a distance, it looks like a normal body of water, but up close, you realize there’s no way you can swim in it. You don’t want to be getting that salt in your mouth or eyes. (MORE)

Really astute, Ben. It’s okay though, when you look like this:

Ben Wildman Tobriner

Posted on January 21, 2009

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It goes with my Lox SD card.

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As seen on Gizmodo from Bagel Drive:

A mini-bagel deliciously baked to perfection with fully functional USB 2.0 flash memory and a shmeer.

The Bagel Drive is ideal for storing files, photos, video, music and all of your digital tchochkes.

1 giganosh for $24.95 (plus $3 shipping).

Buy one for a friend. It’s a mitzvah!

Each Bagel Drive is individually hand-crafted from the finest ingredients and carefully preserved by a proprietary process. No two look exactly alike! It’s the only flash drive that looks good enough to eat.

Bagel USB

While you are on the site of the seller, Bupkes Bakery, check out Tanta’s Tech Support:

Tanta Sophie knows from computers! Let her help you with all sorts of problems related to electronic gadgets-computers, VCRs, 8-track systems, CB radios, even electric razors. Everybody in her building knows. Tanta gives advice whether you want or not, free of charge!

Posted on January 21, 2009

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

Atheist Bus Ads Still Pissing People Off

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

A while back I mentioned some atheist bus ads that were going up in Britain. Apparently they’ve been successful enough that the ads are spreading to Barcelona, where 94% of the population is Catholic. there__s_no_god.jpgMy sister lives in Barcelona, so I’ll see if I can get her to take a picture of “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life,â€? translated into Catalan on the side of a bus.

Even Italy was going to get in on the game, with buses saying, “The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that we do not need him,� but it looks like some Italian conservative politicians in might be trying to stop that campaign from going up. just_be_good.jpg

The Christian Post:

“Right-wing politicians criticized us ferociously,� said Giorgio Villella of The Italian Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics (UAAR) to Reuters.

“It’s strange that in a country where ads depicting near-naked women wearing skimpy lingerie is permitted on buses that we can’t run ads about atheism,� he complained.

I have to admit, that’s a pretty good point… On the other hand, as Adfreak points out:

Yeah, how about that. People would rather stare at boobs than have their belief structures questioned by a total stranger.

Posted on January 21, 2009

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 Love You. Why Don’t You Love Me Back?

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Yesterday, Matthue posted a video from Pesach Stadlin. He referenced/linked to his Love Song to Islamic Fundamentalists but decided not to post it on its own.

I’ve recieved mixed reviews for this video. Many in the office think that it’s just okay. Catchy, but not that funny or memorable.

On the other hand, I have recieved two emails from people asking me to post it. That breaks the old record of people emailing me with suggestions by two!

Enjoy and God Bless America.

Posted on January 20, 2009

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

Thoughts from Rabbi Shai Held

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Mechon Hadar’s Rabbi Shai Held wrote the following personal and beautiful words about the inauguration, which he has kindly allowed me to share with you.

Those of you have been my friends and/or my students over many years have no doubt heard me say it countless times before: the meaning of the Exodus is that anything is possible, that there is no status quo that cannot be overturned.  Imagine a world in which you are a slave, and your father was a slave, and his mother before him, and so on for generations.  And then, seemingly suddenly, God intervenes and you are no longer a slave.  To be sure, the journey ahead will be long and arduous. Indeed, there will be moments when things seem so frightening and unsettling that you will even find yourself longing for the way things were before.   But there is no returning to the way things were– not ultimately, anyway.  The Exodus is a rupture, a break in history, a moment after which all things are new, a moment in and through which all things are possible.

I have a very personal confession to make:  over the past couple of years, as my struggle with chronic illness has continued and in many ways intensified, I have found myself less able to talk about the Exodus in this way.  Is there really no status quo that cannot be overturned? I have asked myself.  What about the pain and fatigue that wrack your body each day?  What about the degradations and devastations that pervade the globe and seemingly make a mockery of human dignity and of life’s meaningfulness?  Perhaps all this talk of the Exodus as paradigmatic for human history was just loose talk, just so much Pollyanna nonsense.  I have wondered, and lamented the depths to which life seems resistant to, indifferent to, the stories we tell and the narratives we strive to live by.

This morning I feel something I have not felt in quite a long time:  I believe– but really believe– in the Exodus again.  That which was utterly impossible, indeed unimaginable, will become a reality in just a few short minutes.  The United States of America, the great beacon of freedom and democracy, has always been tainted by the monstrous legacy of slavery and the ways it denied that black men and women, too, were created in the image of God and were thus every bit as infinitely valuable as their white counterparts.  Today these same United States will swear in its first black president, a black man who will occupy the very house that slaves built so long ago.  The status quo has been overturned, repudiated, one might even say redeemed.  (This, I hasten to add, remains true regardless of one’s political commitments or affiliations.)

We ought not be deceived.  Just as the Israelites faced a long and torturous road to the Promised Land, so also do we Americans face  a long and difficult road ahead (and on more fronts than I can begin to list).   The Hasidic masters teach that each year we are obligated to re-live the Exodus, to tap into the liberatory energy that the Exodus represents, to reclaim and deepen our own freedom and dignity as God’s creatures.  I cannot help but feel that the Exodus is being re-enacted and re-experienced in our day, today.

To be sure, many of the world’s problems will remain as intractable tomorrow as they seem today.  On a personal note, my own battle with illness is not likely to disappear soon.  I’m still not sure about every status quo being overturned– at least not before the Messiah comes and enacts a kind of cosmic Exodus for us all.  But what I’ve learned this morning is that much of what we take as given and immutable is in fact neither.  So I go back to what I have said and taught over and over again:  to take Judaism seriously is to believe that the world as it is is not yet the world as it must be, and to know that we are implicated in the sacred task of closing the gap between them.  May all of our faith in the possibility of redemption and transformation be renewed and revitalized by this extraordinary day.

“This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and delight in it.”

God bless all of you, and God bless the United States of America.

Posted on January 20, 2009

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Would You Invite Isaac Mizrahi Into Your Kitchen?

This entry was posted in Culture, Practices on by .

I was pointed to a video of Isaac Mizrahi and Chef Mark Bittman making braised artichokes this morning, and though I was skeptical it’s kind of awesome. The two of them remind me a lot of my own cooking techniques, which is to say: simultaneously harried and distracted, loosely inspired by traditional Jewish dishes from around the world, inelegant, but generally resulting in really yummy food (if I do say so myself).isaacmizrahi_look.jpg

Mizrahi is a designer, not a chef, but he’s a genuinely interesting guy to watch, and his explanation of rubuh (Syrian veal pockets) is hilarious. And if you like him talking about food, it’s worth the fifteen minutes to hear him talking about what inspires him and how his design process works.

But all this got me thinking about how different people’s cooking personalities are. Jewish kitchens are notorious for being places where women come together to gossip and prepare for holidays, but to me that’s not really descriptive of my cooking life. My kitchen is less gossip and more nurture. And I end up doing holidays with family most of the time, so my kitchen is more about weekdays and making food that I can eat on a Tuesday afternoon, not on Rosh Hashanah. And since I’m a little reckless, my cooking is too, which means occasionally disasters, and lots of happy accidents. What about you? What is your kitchen like? Would Isaac Mizrahi fit right in, or would his grubby hands cramp your style?

Posted on January 19, 2009

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A Prayer for the Inauguration

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

A friend of mine, Michael Millenson, has a piece over at the Huffington Post about why tomorrow is an amazing and appropriate time to recite the Shehechiyanu prayer:

Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.

It seems to me that the Shehechiyanu is the natural response for all Obama supporters who remember his 20-point lag in the polls in the fall of 2007, the bitter cold of Iowa in January of 2008 and the long slog through the primary season. It is the prayer for all Democrats giddy at the end of the ruinous reign of Republican ideologues whose politics look very much like Kristol’s.

And finally, it is a prayer that can unite all Americans — and, yes, it resonates with special force for African-Americans — who are filled with genuine joy (that word again — I can’t help it) at the way in which Inauguration Day 2009 has sustained us with an extraordinary revival of the American dream.

Full article

I often struggle with how exactly to bring together important Jewish and American events and holidays. I don’t usually think they naturally complement each other, and often I think they’re in marked contrast, but not in this case. In this case, I think Millenson is right, and I look forward to saying Shehecheyanu tomorrow morning.

Posted on January 19, 2009

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Jewish Food Tourney: #3 Challah vs #6 Apples & Honey

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Big game today here at the MyJewishLearning.com Kosher Food Invitational (MJLKFI). Of course, it will be a lead up to what I believe is the best 2nd round matchup, Latkes vs. Cholent.challah.jpg

#3 Challah has a pretty strong game. In terms of taste alone, Challah is one of the best breads. It is so good, that God demanded we eat two of them on Shabbat, knowing that we would run out of the first.

Growing up, there was always a fight in my house for who got the biggest peice of challah. Somehow my younger brother always won, which was bull, but I kind of got over it.

The question is, will people be afraid to vote for bread? Just remember, as I said in its 1st round matchup against #14 Pickles, Challah is the highlight of Shabbat dinner. You can disagree with this, but bad challah can ruin an entire Shabbat. I read that in the Talmud.

#6 Apples & Honey is an interesting case. Its downside is that there is no cooking involved. Without the honey, you just have cut up apples. And without the apples, you just have sticky fingers.

But as Dick Vitale would say, “Just dip it in the honey, baby!”

Apples & Honey is the symbol of Rosh Hashanah and every Jew has tasted it.

But who will win? That is up to you to decide. Voting ends tomorrow evening.

Posted on January 19, 2009

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