Monthly Archives: March 2009

18 Under 18

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Parents love to brag about their kids. By the way, did you hear from my parents that I work for MyJewishLearning.com? Because…it’s true.

But what if your kid or another kid you know really is special. He or she goes above and beyond any expectation you would have for a normal teen. They are, to put it frankly, a mentsch.

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JVibe Magazine (In all honesty, a fantastic read. I would look forward to my job as a USY advisor just so I could go into the shul’s youth lounge to read it. My life is pretty simple), has come out with a new initiative, called 18 Under 18, trying to find, you guessed it, 18 kids under the age of 18 who have made an impact in their respective communities.

You can submit someone by clicking on the link above. Here is the question that they ask: In no more than 250 words, please tell us why you feel that this teen is a role model for other teens in our country. How does he/she embody one or more of the Jewish values that JVibe promotes, including repairing the world, education, loving your body, personal and social responsibility and helping the needy?

Or, as I would put it, how is your teen in any way like Jeremy Moses?

In all seriousness, submit someone you know. They will appreciate it.

Posted on March 31, 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

That’s What He Said.

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

In this case, “He” is actually Hebrew for “She.” But by the time you understand what I’m talking about, the joke is clearly not funny anymore.

Regardless, news overseas is that there will be an Israeli version of NBC’s hit show, The Office. The Office, if you don’t watch it, is a Mockumentary television show about the staff of the Scranton, PA branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

Not that I’m going to watch the Israeli version, but I have to admit that if one show is meant for Israeli television, this might be it. What makes The Office so funny are the characters. No one is alike. Everyone is an absurd version of themselves. You have the gay latino accountant; the big fat doufus; the beet farmer; the drunk divorcee; the man who may or may not be homeless; the woman who loves cats, etc.

While I don’t have the full cast list, I do know that a couple of the characters in the Israeli version sound pretty funny. You got the Arab factory worker, the angry Russian worker and the Ultra-Orthodox accountant. If Israel has anything, it has some pretty absurd citizens, so it isn’t so much of a stretch to put them all together in an office.

Apologies to anyone outside of the US. This video won’t work for you.

Posted on March 31, 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

Mother’s Day Gift Idea

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Culture, Holidays, Life on by .

I get really good gifts while sitting shiva. Last time I got jewelry, and a bunch of books, and this time a friend of my parents left me a copy of A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book, edited by Aliza Lavie. jewish_woman__s_prayer_book.jpg

Normally, this is the kind of thing that makes me gag, because it’s typically 7000% more religious than I’m interested in being, and comes with shlocky Artscroll commentary about how the most fulfilling thing any woman can do is give birth. Blech. But this book is different. Aside from being beautifully bound and printed, the scope of the book is remarkable. It has what you would expect—prayers about getting married, having children, lighting candles and taking challah—but also dozens of beautiful and obscure prayers written for other occasions, including a prayer for a son serving in the army, a paschal prayer, a prayer for removing the pittam from the Etrog, Queen Esther’s Plea, prayer for an unhappy wife, and something called, “The Supplication of the Mothers for the Rebuilding of the Temple.”

Additionally, the prayers come from all over the world, not just the Ashkenazi tradition.  The book includes a tahdid, a North African traditional celebration of motherhood in which the new mother’s relatives gather in her home and recite liturgical poems and songs meant to ward off the evil eye. There’s also an excerpt from a Haggadah written by a woman in Auschwitz.

When I first opened the book to flip through it I opened right to the Prayer for Single Women (Eema, is that you?) and there are great sections on Bnot Mitzvah, Illness, and Loss and Bereavement. I would say that this is a great gift for a bat mitzvah girl, but I think it’s likely to sit on a shelf and get dusty if given to a 12-year-old. What this is, is an excellent gift for Mother’s Day (only a month and a half away) or your mom’s birthday.

Posted on March 31, 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

Vegetarian on Passover

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

If you’re a Jewish vegetarian, Passover can be a really trying time, health-wise. All of a sudden, you’ve got a lot fewer sources of protein, both from wheat products and, for those Ashkenazic vegetarians in the audience, beans and legumes.

From KatiBlack, one of our followers on our new Twitter feed, we got a link for VegCooking.com’s vegan and vegetarian Passover recipes. A lot of us are going to need this in the next few weeks — not just those vegans and vegetarians among us, but also anyone who gets sick of matzo brei and brisket after about 2 meals, and then realizes that we have seven and a half days left of Passover.

vegetable matzah brieIn some ways, the above link is really great. There’s traditional food, some modern twists, and a bit of variety. But VegCooking’s Passover reads like a menu consisting entirely of side orders, not meant to fill up anyone whose stomach is bigger than their fist — and it falls way short in the health arena. (The site, made by PETA, really should take itself more seriously, especially with an advertising budget as big as theirs.) VegCooking also doesn’t talk about what to do instead of a shankbone on the seder plate. Fortunately, however, we’ve got a solution for you.

VegCooking’s failings made me wonder what alternatives were out there. Recipezaar has some cool recipes — especially half-sour pickles — but you can tell it’s not a site made by people who know about kosher cooking. For one thing, it has a bunch of stuff that isn’t universally kosher for Passover, and nowhere does it warn that, for instance, no Ashkenazic Jew would ever eat lentils on Passover.

If you are Sephardic, however, you’ve got to check out VegKitchen.com. I’ve never done Passover this way, but the recipes look amazing, and a bunch of my Sephardic Facebook friends swear by her.

One of the best resources (and with some great writing) are the brief-but-thorough entries on The Chocolate Lady‘s blog, which goes through an encyclopedic list of vegetables and other foods, and includes some bonus recipes. (Plantains! Plantain chips! Now this is a Passover to dream about.)

Back to nutrition, though. “It’s all about almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds,” says Sarah Chandler, a practicing vegan and the webmaster of JewSchool. Pumpkin seeds especially — they have amazing stores of iron and protein. (Here’s a complete chart, just in case you’re wondering.) But vegetables are also a good source of protein — “Even one cup of broccoli has a good deal of protein in it,” notes Chandler.

Other good, solid bets for Passover food include:

* Plantains! Plantains look like bananas, although they sometimes look spoiled or bruised. They’re not! That’s just how plantains grow. Take it as a warning not to eat them raw — they’re starchy and thick, and they taste like biting into thick dough. Fried, however, they’re bloody amazing. You can make them sweet (cinnamon, nutmeg) or savory (salt, pepper, paprika) and it’s like two entirely different foods. You know that amazing smell that always hits you walking past Latin American restaurants? A lot of that comes from plantains.

* Wheatgrass! OK, I’m not a big wheatgrass fan. It’s not actually made of wheat (it’s not exactly grass, either, though the similarity is disturbing), and therefore, it’s 100% kosher for Passover.

* Quinoa! is a great underused food, not just for Passover (and not just for vegetarians) but for pretty much everyone, all the time. It feels like couscous, tastes like whatever you spice it with (it’s really good at absorbing flavor) — but it’s actually a tuber, a distant cousin of the potato. (It’s also loaded with vitamins and protein.) It comes from South America, so no ancient rabbis ever thought to outlaw it. Today, there’s a big question among observant Jews about whether or not quinoa’s allowed on Passover, but Rabbi Avrohom Blumenkrantz, who basically wrote the rulebook on Passover food, says that it’s impossible to forbid it outright — and that many people have a custom of not eating quinoa just because it’s so weird, but for vegetarians and anyone else who’s conscious of their health, you not only can eat it, but you should eat it.

tomato soupMy personal favorite technique for Passover is to make normal food. Uh, whut? Pretend it’s not Passover — just cook without wheat or grain. A really good tomato soup (basil! leeks!) is an awesome meal that’s totally kosher for Passover as long as you don’t remind yourself; MJL’s beet and potato frittata was made to be a light and fluffy post-Yom Kippur fast meal, but light & fluffy is exactly on the menu for someone who’s just made it through two seders.

And, if you needed a reason to go vegetarian, this supplies it: In the midst of my complaining about VegCooking, I found a tiny link that sent me to a tiny 3-minute documentary that shows the horrors that went on at Rubashkin’s. I know it’s old — but I’d never actually seen the footage before, of a kashrut inspector cutting open a cow and then someone right behind him yanking out the cow’s trachea. And now I think I’m more freaked than ever.

Posted on March 30, 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

‘Tis The Season For Repentance…

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Holidays on by .

I mean, when isn’t it the season for repentance?

On Friday, I posted, what I thought was a somewhat humorous video mocking Bernie Madoff for “giving Jews a bad name.” You know, all in good fun…

The truth is though that many people are really angry at Bernie Madoff and they want him to know about it. It is one thing to call for justice, but it is another thing to call for public humilation.

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Putting this all into context this week over at The Forward, is Louis E. Newman (no relation to Alfred E.). In his opinion piece, titled, “The Pity of Bernie Madoff,” he reminds people, especially Jews that we should have compassion for our enemies.

As he writes:

“Judaism reminds us that even our enemies are human, and the disgrace of another person is never cause for celebration. As Passover approaches, we should consider that most powerful ritual moment, when we symbolically reduce our joy by spilling some of our wine as the suffering of the Egyptians is recounted.”

Remember, Bernie Madoff should be in prison, probably for the rest of his life. But to take joy out of that is wrong. We shouldn’t be happy that he no longer gets to live his life of vanity, now sitting in a small cell. We should be saddened by the fact that he did not appreciate what he had, and that he has to suffer the consequences.

Posted on March 30, 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

Israel is for the (Jordanian) Dogs

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Sometimes Israel and her enemies are able to come together to help get an ill child the services he or she needs, but this is the first time I’ve read about a canine bringing Israel and Jordan together. Ynet reports:HMKA.jpg
King Abdullah’s dog dies in Israel

After falling seriously ill during IDF offensive in Gaza, Jordanian royal family’s pet secretly rushed to Jewish state for medical treatment at Beit Dagan veterinary hospital. Doctors regretfully fail to save beloved pet’s life.

I love dogs, and I think it’s great that a sweet puppy was able to garner support from Jews and Arabs, but I also find it kind of insane that Israelis can secretly operate on the Jordanian king’s dog, but the two groups can’t sit down at a table and agree about, say, things that affect millions of people. Talk about bizarre priorities…

Posted on March 30, 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

De-Baptism Easier Than Reversing a Bris

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Life on by .

There are things your parents do to you when you’re too young to protest—like give you a bowl cut—that you later regret, but can’t change. And then there’s baptism, which you can now undo by downloading a certificate of de-baptism from the internet for about six dollars (three pounds).  Already more than 100,000 people have taken advantage of this service, offered by the UK’s National Secular Society, who were also behind the atheist bus advertisement campaign. debaptise
What amuses me about this is that, as far as I know, nothing really happens when you get baptized. I mean, in theory it’s a spiritual transformation, and certainly doesn’t hurt you in any way. If you grow up and object to Christianity all you have to do is not go to Church and you’re fine.

I really don’t have a lot of sympathy for the people wasting their money on this stuff. However, I do get why some men might consider reversing circumcision, since it’s actual a physical difference in one’s anatomy.

Then again, reversing circumcision sounds like the very definition of a scarring experience. I’m just saying.

Posted on March 30, 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

Birkat Hahama: The Untold Dangers and Sinister Pratfalls

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

On Tuesday, April 8, we celebrate Birkat Hahama, the Blessing over the Sun. It’s observed once every 28 years, when the sun reaches the exact location that it did when it was created.

Jews actually also recite a Blessing over the Moon, too. This occurs at night, of course, and it happens once every month — and, for that reason, is not nearly as interesting and obscure and cool-sounding.

There might be another reason that we only celebrate Birkat Hahama once a generation, however. Check out the beginning of this article, wherein one rabbi is arrested by brave Policeman Foley — in Tompkins Square Park, one of New York’s punk-rock meccas, no less! — and another, that tricky Rabbi Klein, flees the scene.

Birkat Hachamah, the untold story

Posted on March 30, 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

Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz, a “Unique” Woman Rabbi

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

This week the Jewish Channel covers a few Jewish stories in its weekly update, including the official appointment of Sara Hurwitz as the Mahara”t of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a Modern Orthodox institution. If you don’t recognize the term Mahara”t, you’re not alone—Rabbi Avi Weiss made it up especially for Sara Hurwitz. It’s an acronym for Manhiga Halakhtit Ruhanit Toranit, which means Leader in Halakha, Spirituality and Torah. Rabbi Weiss was looking for a way to give Hurwitz the title Rabbi, without actually giving her the title Rabbi, and thus causing more uproar within Orthodoxy. In an interview with TJC Hurwitz says that Mahara”t means rabbi, so this isn’t exactly a covert effort at skirting the semantic insanity of the greater Orthodox world.

I honestly feel all of this is a bit silly. As far as I’m concerned a person has either learned enough to be called a rabbi or he/she hasn’t, and the presence of a Y chromosome has nothing to do with it. But I’m not particularly concerned either way. If Hurwitz is happy with the title, then I wish her the best. What I found offensive was a separate quote from Rabbi Weiss, in which he says that Hurwitz should be considered, “a full member of the clergy, leading with the unique voice of a woman.”

Perhaps Rabbi Weiss doesn’t fully understand what unique means. Unique means ‘one of a kind.’ Hurwitz’s voice may, literally, be unique, but it’s not because she’s a woman. Women are not, as a group, unique—there are billions of us. That statement by Weiss is a perfect demonstration of how hard he is trying to straddle the fence of Orthodoxy. Either Hurwitz is a unique situation, or all women have the opportunity to gain the same position as she has, if they complete the learning obligations required.

I think what Weiss is getting at is actually that bringing a woman’s voice into the leadership conversation of a modern Orthodox institution is an important and beneficial thing for both the woman in question and the congregation. And perhaps more importantly that women’s voices are underrepresented in these congregations. This is certainly true, but it doesn’t mean that Hurwitz has “the unique voice of a woman.”

Oy.

Posted on March 29, 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