Monthly Archives: February 2009

Member of the Tribe

This entry was posted in History, Life on by .

Recently, a friend’s father died suddenly, and I found out a few days later through a mass email that one of her friends sent around. Reading about it, I felt like I was being punched in the gut. Another one of my friends joining the horrible club of those saying Kaddish, and mourning a parent at a young age. The minyan I attend most mornings has gotten a few recent additions because of a death in the community, and children who have joined us for their year of avelut. One of the newest faces at shacharit is only a few years older than me. I haven’t been able to look him in the eye yet.

I have always been fiercely protective of my friends (something I certainly learned from my mother) and in the face of grief, though I know I’m powerless, I still want to somehow cover these people in a bubble of safety and tranquility. (This is a concept not foreign to Jewish ideology. At Ma’ariv we ask god to ‘spread over us Your shelter of peace…shield us from enemies and pestilence, from starvation, sword and sorrow’ (u’fros aleinu sukkat shlomekha…v’haser m’aleinu oyev, dever, v’herev v’ra’av v’yagon.)EemainLondon.jpg

While I was sitting shiva a friend of mine (whose own father had died only six months earlier) came to be with me, and memorably stood right in front of me with arms crossed, looking appropriately menacing, so as to dissuade people from coming over to make me cry any more than I already was. I wish I could do the same for all of my friends who are suddenly in this situation. I’d like to be there, physically, to protect them, but metaphysically, too. I think constantly about building some kind of magical force field that would prevent others from joining this miserable community.

And then there are the surreal moments where I am grateful for my horrible lot. Sometimes this comes while hearing about others going through struggles that are far more terrible and heartbreaking than mine. Young mothers who die suddenly, leaving infants, those with missing children, or babies undergoing grueling and unsuccessful treatment for cancer and other diseases. It’s true when they say that it could always be worth, and I do, somewhat grotesquely, feel lucky to have had the opportunity to say goodbye to my mother, to hold her hand while she slipped away from us, to care from her in the months leading up to her death. More often than not, though, when I find myself feeling grateful it’s because I have somehow been given access to this community of strong young people, who are able, despite horrible circumstances, to go on and build lives of success and happiness. People who are compassionate beyond their years, who are good listeners, and deep thinkers, and care for others in a way that embodies grace and love. Given the option, I would still wish to be ignorant of these people, to live without this all-encompassing grief. But if I have to be here, I’m so glad to be surrounded with good company.

(The photo is from a family trip to England in 1988. I was 3, Deena was 6, and Renana was in utero.)

(Cross-posted at Blogging the Kaddish)

Posted on February 13, 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

Eat An Extra Piece of Challah Tonight.

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Don’t tell Jenny Craig, but you must eat extra challah tonight. Why is that? Because Challah is now the undisputed champion of Jewish foods. That’s why.

The final results weren’t even close. While #4 Latkes put up some strong performances in the early rounds of the Food Tourney, it proved no match for #3 Challah. Look at the final numbers: 77%-23%. That sounds like 1st round action.

I’ve secretly been rooting for Challah since the beginning. I actually didn’t think it would win though. Especially by the numbers that it did.

So, I can leave with this advice. Don’t go into the Haroset business. People love challah. If you start a kosher bakery you will do well.

Thank you all for voting. It’s been fun.

Posted on February 13, 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

Stop the Presses! Jewish Book and Manuscript Auction

This entry was posted in History on by .

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about the Valmadonna Trust Library, a collection of more than 13,000 books and manuscripts collected by Jack V. Lunzer. All of the texts are in Hebrew or are written in Hebrew letters, and include everything from the only dated Hebrew text from England before King Edward I expelled the Jews in 1290, to a 19th-century copy of “A Thousand and One Nights� from Calcutta, its Arabic spelled out in Hebrew script.sothebys.JPG

Sotheby’s has the collection up for auction next week, and is expecting at least $40 million, but for the next week, much of the collection is on display, and you can go see it for free if you live near New York City. Head over to Sotheby’s at 1334 York Avenue in Manhattan.

In order to really appreciate the scope of the Valmadonna Library, I suggest checking out our article on Jewish Printing, which gives you a better sense of just how impressive the collection is. And hey, if you have an extra $40 million lying around, may I suggest investing in the first book ever printed in Africa — a Hebrew book about prayer from 1516 Fez? It comes with a few other volumes…

(Hat tip, Jewschool)

Posted on February 12, 2009

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It Turns Out Mel Gibson is Misunderstood.

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

A friend of mine passed this along to me and I thought it was worth sharing. Everyone’s favorite conservative magazine, The National Review, has come out with a list of the Best Conservative Movies of the Last 25 Years.

What is of note is #13, Braveheart. Braveheart, starring and directed by Mel Gibson, is put on the list because of its message that “freedom is worth dying for.”braveheart.jpg

But let me share with you the last few lines of the review:

Six years later, amid the ruins of the Twin Towers, Gibson’s message resonated with a generation of American youth who signed up to fight terrorists, instead of inviting them to join a “constructive dialogue.� Liberals have never forgiven Gibson since.

That’s right. Mel Gibson can’t get a job in Hollywood because he made Braveheart. Hollywood is SO liberal that they would be worried that Mel Gibson would come out with a movie that would bash “constructive dialogue.”

Thank God the truth comes out. All this time, I thought liberals hated Mel Gibson because he is a drunk anti-Semite. The more you know…

Posted on February 11, 2009

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Jewish Music Sale! $5 for Great Tunes

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Craig N Co Music is having a huge sale, all CDs going for only $5. This means the full stock of Craig Taubman CDs are at a huge discount, plus extras, like Blue Fringe and Debbie Friedman. craig_taubman.jpgHead over to Craig’s website for some great deals, and keep in mind, the sale ends in two days, so better get moving!

Posted on February 10, 2009

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Wedding Bell Blues

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

Last night, Stereo Sinai–that is, my friends Alan Jay Sufrin and Miriam Brosseau–got married. It was a ceremony worthy of spectacle, and one that really reinterpreted the traditional framework of a wedding as a kind of skeleton outline and embellished it in every sort of way to crank it and fine-tune it to be as unique as possible. When the wedding parties marched in, traditionally, the rabbi or somebody’s pre-pubescent nephew or a friend with a good voice sings the Jewish song “Mi Adir.” It wouldn’t be very proper to upstage the bride and groom at their own wedding, considering they both have some of the best voices in the state of Illinois, so Alan programmed his own version of the song, with Miriam’s vocals, and the wedding party led in the groom to a recording of Miriam singing.

Miriam’s voice, which is, by the way, low and sultry like an Etta James growl, died down, and then the rabbi—who was standing in front of the microphone, and conducting the ceremony, and, I guess, needed to do something—he started singing “Mi Adir.” His voice, you must understand, is low, really low, low like Brad Roberts, the lead singer of the Crash Test Dummies. It took us all by surprise, especially after Miriam’s vocal soloing, but I think it would have caught us by surprise in any case. And then he dropped out, and Miriam’s voice came back in, and, just when you thought everything was over and the chuppa was overflowing with people, the music started up again with the groom’s voice, and Miriam walked in.

“This is totally the Spinal Tap remix,” the rabbi standing next to me whispered, and I was like, Yes, it has to be — ambient, droning keyboards set a rhythm that was grand but simple, a little bit churchlike and a little bit trancelike, and one that simultaneously embraced and undercut the traditional need for way-overpowering synthesizers, which almost always, nay, always always happens at Jewish weddings.

Often, lately, I question my motives for praying, my demonstrativeness and my verbal and physical presence. I do these performance poetry shows onstage where I get really demonstrative and bouncy and leap around while I talk, and I sometimes get that way when I’m talking to a group of people, too. When I pray, I will occasionally get that way…not often, but when I’m thinking about the words and nothing else, or when I’m not thinking about anything at all.

As much as I go back and forth on the idea of religious rituals as performance, and whether it’s a good thing — that is, am I doing this to get myself into a certain kind of mood? am I doing it for God? or am I doing it for myself, so that I get into a certain kind of mood? — I feel like, at its core, performance is one of the most effective methods to get to a place where you believe in what you’re doing. Whether it’s me saying these prayers over and over again, trying to get to a point where I believe what I’m saying, or whether it’s Alan and Miriam rewriting the service as their own, it’s a way of owning our relationship to God, not just digging in prayerbooks and mumbling the same repeated words every day.

There’s that old Chinese axiom, “We have to be careful what we pretend to be, because we are what we pretend to be.” I’ve only ever heard it used as a curse. But depending on what we pretend to be, whether it’s just a dramatic cover version of a psalm during daily morning prayers or singing a radical remix of the traditional wedding nigun, can be one of the most effective ways of personal growth.

Posted on February 9, 2009

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Happy Tu Bishvat! Three Easy Ways to Celebrate

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Today is the birthday of the trees. Whoop-dee-do. If you didn’t get a chance to go to a seder last night there are still a few ways to celebrate those brown and green leafy things before the day’s over.

1.    Read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Written by a Jew, and reminding us all about how much we owe to trees and the many things that grow from the ground that we use to make our lives better. Discuss how the relationship is not exactly sustainable. Feel guilty.

2.    Eat some fruit salad. You can get it at almost any café. You can make it at home. Eat it slowly to savor the love. You really don’t need a recipe for fruit salad, but here’s one if you need inspiration. citrus_fruit_salad.jpg

3.    Plant a tree. You can plant one in Israel via JNF or you can plant one in the Atlantic Forest for only a buck at plantabillion.org. Other possibilities: plant a tree in a rainforest in Australia, Indonesia, or Sri Lanka.

Posted on February 9, 2009

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People of The Book

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Texts on by .

Last week at JELO, a weekly interdenominational learning program at NYU’s Bronfman Center, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the University Chaplain entered the room with an incomplete Torah scroll. Rabbi Sarna gathered the crowd of over 60 students and announced that this past summer a man told him that he wanted to donate a Torah to the Bronfman Center. Rabbi Sarna agreed but suggested that instead of returning with a completed Torah scroll, the students would help complete the scroll.Each week for the next few weeks, a different student will get to add a letter to the Torah scroll. Rabbi Sarna also introduced a halakhic question:”If a person’s grandparents or parents have already fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll, do their children still need to write one, or can their obligation be fulfilled through their parents or grandparents?”

torah.jpg

Rabbi Sarna’s answer was touching:”A person cannot fulfill their obligation to write a Torah scroll through someone else, and they cannot fulfill it simply by knowing that someone who came before them wrote a Torah scroll. We must each have a direct link to the Torah, not a disconnected one. Perhaps we can learn from this that we must each have a personal, unique connection to the Torah and make the Torah our own. This commandment to write our own Torah embodies this idea of personalizing the Torah.”

Learn more about the mitzvah of writing a Torah and the laws regarding this commandment in MJL’s article on Sofrut.

Posted on February 9, 2009

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Jewish Food Tourney Final: #3 Challah vs #4 Latkes

This entry was posted in General on by .

I never thought this day would arrive. We are about to crown the ultimate Jewish food.

After starting with 16 strong competitors, we are down to two. #1 seed Matzah Ball soup fizzled in the 2nd round. Riots broke out in the streets over the issue of Gefilte Fish. But now, only Challah and Latkes have survived.

#3 Challah has fought a hard fight. What it has going for it is consistency. While some challah is better than others, week in, week out, it shows up to the game. What is a week without eating challah? Well, Passover, but that’s besides the point.

One element of Challah that I haven’t even discussed yet is the quality of french toast that challah produces. Plain white bread just doesn’t do the trick.

#4 Latkes is just as formidable an opponent. After all, it took down both Cholent and Brisket. That is quite the accomplishment.

In my personal opinion, a freshly fried latke is better than challah. But does that bring it over the top? After all, it is partially hyped up because of its connection to Hanukkah. If we ate latkes all year around, would it be in the finals? I’m just not sure. But that isn’t up for me to decide.

Who will be crowned the ultimate Jewish food? It is up to you.


Posted on February 9, 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

Refuah Shelemah, Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only woman on the US Supreme Court, and one of two Jewish Justices (Breyer is the other one) on the bench right now, just had surgery for pancreatic cancer. This is scary stuff, since pancreatic cancer has a tendency to pick people off pretty quickly, but doctors say they caught the tumor–which is only 1 cm wide–pretty early. For now, Ginsburg is resting at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center after yesterday’s surgery. We wish her a full and speedy recovery.
ginsburg.jpg
For more info about Ginsburg, check out this Salon profile, and read her hugely impressive dissenting opinion on Gonzales v. Carhart (partial birth abortion ban) here.

Posted on February 6, 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

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