Monthly Archives: June 2009

Would You Join an All-Jewish Social Network?

This entry was posted in Culture, History, Life on by .

How geeky and sixth-grade USY nightmare does that sound?

Okay, so Facebook is collecting your private data. And it’s going to use it to sell your contact information to marketers. Who didn’t know that already, or at least suspect it? When any automated website asks you for your five favorite bands, it doesn’t want to know in order to agonize about how cool Regina Spektor is with you. It wants to sell you other music that sounds like Regina Spektor.

vampire freaksI was just convinced by my friend, music recommender, and sometime Internet guru Joshua Gee to join VampireFreaks.com. It’s a social networking site for goths — yes, I fly that way sometimes, and I’ve got my own set of fangs to prove it — and, over the past two years, it’s been proven to be wildly popular. The advantage that Facebook has (that is, it includes everyone in the universe is also a disadvantage, and we can already see the results of it: Every time someone from one of my former lives has friended me — or, worse, sent me a long and detailed personal message — and it’s been a person that, if it’s all the same, I’d rather keep in my former life, I stay away from Facebook for a few days.

If, on the other hand, I join a website that fits with my individual identity or my musical tastes or my personal convictions (vegetarian networks, for instance), I can limit myself to associating only with people who I’m actually interested in and care what they have to say…and I’ll feel like my ad money is going to people I support (in this case, goth geeks) instead of Mark Zuckerberg, who I just feel kind of gross about at this point.

In addition to VampireFreaks, there are social networks for Christians, vegetarians, and even pets. So why haven’t Jewish social networks ever taken off?

A rudimentary Googling shows there’s no shortage of Jewish social networks. So why isn’t anyone signed up on any of them? Instead of those (shiver) USY reunions being held on Shmooze.com or JewCrew.org, there are Facebook groups for the upcoming tenth reunion of National Convention ’02 with literally hundreds of members — and you know that all those ex-teens getting together is just going to inspire another round of old photo albums, bomber shots, and messy hook-up sessions, followed by another ten years of practiced Facebook avoidance.

Is that the real reason that Jews don’t join Jewish social networks — because they’re so small, you might actually have to run into someone?

For my own part, I’ll save my Jewish networking for the same user-platform my parents are on — the local synagogue — and use social networking for the things that I really need computers for, like writing protest letters to congressmen and finding new music. In the meantime, if anyone comes looking, I’ll be on Vampire Freaks. Want to join my cult?

Posted on June 26, 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

Candlelighting Time by Zip Code

This entry was posted in General on by .

If you look carefully on our homepage, you’ll catch a new feature. Candlelighting times by zip code. Just pop in your 5 digits, and you can find when Shabbat begins and ends.

Don’t worry, we still have our feature for major cities in the United States and around the world.

And just as a little guide:

Shabbat times for President Obama: 20500
Shabbat times in the most expensive zip code: 81611
Shabbat times for Donna Martin and Brandon Walsh: 90210
Shabbat times for MJL world headquarters: 10016

Posted on June 26, 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

Omri Casspi! Omri Casspi! Omri Casspi!

This entry was posted in Life on by .

Every boy has dreams. Some want to be firefighters. Others want to be doctors. I, like many others, wanted to be a basketball player.

It didn’t work out (yet). In the mean time, I have grown into a pretty die hard Sacramento Kings fan. I read every article about them. I know everything about every player. I throw things when they lose, which is often.

Since the Kings have not won a championship in my lifetime, one of the highlights of the year for me is the NBA Draft. Having moved to New York this past year, and knowing that the draft was on the eve of my birthday, I knew that I had to make every effort to be there. So I did. And I was there.

While I was there for the Kings three draft picks, I was also there for another reason. As I reported a couple of months ago, Omri Casspi, from Maccabi Tel Aviv, was vying to become the first Israeli to ever play in the NBA. Not surprisingly, when I walked into Madison Square Garden, I spotted more than one Israeli flag and in my row was a kid wearing a Maccabi Tel Aviv scarf.

Casspi was projected to be picked in the late first round, possibly early second. The Kings had the 23rd pick. Could fate be on my side?

Yes. Yes it could. Right before the Kings picked, I told the kid in the Maccabi Tel Aviv scarf that if the Kings picked Casspi, I would have a seizure. Then, when David Stern announces the Kings have selected our boy from Israel, I lose it. The guys behind me are very confused why anyone would be so happy for a guy no one has ever heard of, but I didn’t care.

Honestly, about a quarter of the crowd must have been Jewish because everyone was cheering the pick. I even got interviewed by Ha’aretz about Jewish life in Sacramento. I can’t remember being more excited for a Kings draft pick. I think I have a new favorite player.

I can now say that I’ve experienced basketball bliss. Jewish basketball bliss.

Posted on June 26, 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

Wise Fridays: After I Die

This entry was posted in Life, Texts on by .

wise fridays: the wisest guy on the block

Rava said to Rav Papa and to Rav Huna b. Rav Yehoshua: If a written ruling of mine comes to your attention and you see some flaw in my logic…. if I am already dead then, do not tear it up but also do not follow my ruling. Do not tear it up, for if I were there perhaps I would be able to explain my logic to you; but do not follow my ruling, because judges have to follow the evidence before their own eyes.

Talmud, Baba Batra 130b-131a

Go here for more Wise Fridays wisdom.

Posted on June 26, 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

How Gross Are Bar/Bat Mitzvah Parties?

This entry was posted in Life on by .

Um, very. A recent bat mitzvah party in Stamford Connecticut had to be cleared out by the police because 14-year-olds had ripped out ceiling tiles and a light fixture from a historic mansion. Also, apparently some pre-teens were having quite a bit of fun, of the, um, oral variety. Yeah. Or so says the Stamford CT Advocate, anyway.

I was actually at a bat mitzvah party this past Saturday night, and while it never got to the level of the CT party, it was certainly both lavish and rowdy. I sat at a table of my cousins, and we had a pretty great time (full disclosure: there was an open bar) but that was mainly because there was no one there we needed to impress, so we could dance like fools, laugh at the neon party favors, and take many a ridiculous picture (Bubbe dancing and holding a bottle of beer? Check!) without worrying about looking lame. The teens and tweens who were present, however, did not have that luxury. And neither did the DJs who were awesome, but seemed rather incongruous to me, and who at one point actually had the kids bow down to my cousin.

Maybe I’m getting old, but the whole bat mitzvah party concept kind of skeeves me out. Give me a service project and a quiet evening with no obligations and I’m way more enthused than when someone’s trying to force me to dance to Who Let the Dogs Out.

If you’re also uncomfortable with the way Bnei mitzvah parties have been going, check out some other options in our guide to making a bar or bat mitzvah meaningful.

Posted on June 25, 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

Am I Supposed to Feel Bad? I Just Don’t Know…

This entry was posted in History on by .

Bernie Madoff related stories are always tough to read, especially when it comes to Jewish organizations that he has ruined or severely damaged. But this time, I’m just not sure.

Golf Week Magazine has a feature this week detailing the demise of the private Jewish golf clubs in Long Island. While Madoff is not the sole reason for the membership drop in these exclusive clubs, the article admits that a lot of these clubs members were severely hit in the Madoff scandal.

But should we feel bad about this? Many of these clubs were initially created because Jews weren’t allowed into the main golf clubs. But today, that just isn’t relevant. I’m sure there are some clubs that Jews still aren’t allowed into but for the most part, Jews get access to pretty much anything they want, ESPECIALLY Jews who can afford private golf club membership.

So I say, boo hoo. So exclusive, high end clubs are losing money. I’m actually kind of happy about it. Call me a Communist. I dare you.

Posted on June 25, 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

Conversion & Intermarriage

This entry was posted in Israel, Life on by .

Can a person be too evil to convert to Judaism? (Forward)

Says Julie Wiener, “I, a liberal intermarried Jew feel ambivalent about intermarried rabbis.” (Jewish Week)

Jay Shofet is upbeat about non-Orthodox conversion, arguing “We are witnessing the beginning of the end of Orthodox hegemony.” (Ha’aretz)

Reuven Hammer makes the case that the strict attitude toward conversion presently followed in Israel is contrary to Jewish tradition. (Jerusalem Post)

5,321 people converted to Judaism in Israel in 2008, compared to 7,280 in 2007, a 27% drop. (YNet)

Posted on June 25, 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

Jews and the Vatican: Process into Action

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Inbal Freund-Novick is an organizational consultant and co-founder of The Unmasked Comics Project, a social change comics venture with comics artist Chari Pere. After spending a year as a visiting fellow at JPPPI (The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute), she currently serves in the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps of the World Jewish Congress.

inbal freund-novickFreund-Novick is a participant in Discovering Common Values: The Catholic-Jewish Leadership Conference, hosted by the Vatican and held at the Pope’s summer palace of Castel Gandolfo. She’ll be blogging about it all week, only at MJL.

This morning was our first attempt to convert our process into action. It turned out to be very simple and very complicated at the same time. We started doing what we should have done from the beginning –- sit in small groups and get to talk in depth about things that matter. I was leading a discussion group about justice and charity with Elena, a Focolarina from Argentina, and we spoke mostly of social change. Preparing this was not easy, as we speak different languages, sleep in very different time zones, and neither of us had too much time to prepare prior to the conference.

We started by trying to understand both concepts with texts about justice, charity and mostly social change. I brought Maimonides’ 8-stage model of charity to the table and we did some text study together. Then we tried comparing our views of those concepts to see in what ways we are different and what’s similar.

I think there was magic in the air. The group was blessed with very good people who were eager to share thoughts and feelings. For an hour and a half, while working with our group I felt so many strong feelings about this process. I felt curiosity about the others, I felt that the possibility to grow from learning together was enormous; I think I even felt that history was knocking at this building’s doors and we had the keys to let it in.

Later we met in the main hall again to discuss the work done in the small groups and see where are we were planning to take all of this, naively thinking that what we were planning matters. I was so not surprised to discover that the opportunity for us to actually create something together was very limited. With some remarks of the “older leaders” I started understanding that, yet again, this process was in danger of becoming a theater performance in which we were playing roles so that the older leadership could tick off the requisite “doing something with the younger generation.“

I am very appreciative of the place and organization. Our hosts are wonderful people and organizing such things is hard, and takes time and effort, but in so many times the old leadership who hold the means for these processes, talk about us, but not with us. It’s a matter of setting priorities for the process and not wasting time with long top-down lectures instead of letting us do what we do so well as young people –- create. Let us suggest new conferencing methods that were recently developed like open–space for example to help us create together. You gave us good education trust us to keep things going in the right direction. We are eager to take responsibility and very able to do so.

In Lurianic Kabbalah there is a term called Tzimtzum -– reduction. According to this idea, the world was created when G-d reduced himself and left space for the world to be created. Maybe our leaders need to create a frame for us but then reduce themselves so that the younger generations would be able to enter a process of creating new worlds for the future in ways which are relevant to younger crowds.

Will we be able to actually keep this discourse going? Will this amazing group of people with very big hearts and brains — Christians like the Focolare movement members who I met here and representatives of Jewish organizations who came here in order to create a beautiful tapestry of opinions together, will have a chance of meeting again to learn even more about each other despite the massive mentality and language differences?

Read the previous entries about the Jews and the Vatican Conference.

Posted on June 25, 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

Gossip Causes Cancer

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

I spend lots of time at shul these days, but I tend to be the only woman in the women’s section, and thus don’t have anyone to talk to during davening. I actually prefer to zone out during shul and not talk much, and now I’m really glad, since I read in Voz iz Neias that talking in shul causes cancer:

At a Rosh Chodesh event held in Ashdod at the Shevet Halevi community in Ashdod, Rav Avraham Eliezer Vozner, the grandson of the Shevet Halevi, spoke about the increased incidence of people who had come down with “yenem machla.” [cancer]

He related that his grandfather had recently told him of 10 people who had come down with the machla from his own community. He then asked his grandfather, “Until when will the Satan cause tragedies among us? Doesn’t it say that ‘the tzadik decrees and Hakodesh Baruch Hu fulfills’?”

“My grandfather told me, ‘How can one give blessings when there is interferences?’ When I asked him what was interfering, he told me, ‘When someone talks on the telephone and in the middle of the conversation, the reception fails — the conversation goes dead. It’s the same thing with prayer. The conversation is cut off.

“My grandfather explained, ‘Prayers are not acceptable to Hashem if one talks in the middle of prayer. When the mispalelim [people praying] stop talking in the middle of prayers, then the disease will also stop.”

Emphasis mine.
I can’t be the only one who finds this insulting, right? Surely a better way to address this issue is through song and dance. Take it away, Miami Boys Choir…

Posted on June 24, 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

Jews and the Vatican: Thoughts about Spirituality and Love

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

Inbal Freund-Novick is an organizational consultant and co-founder of The Unmasked Comics Project, a social change comics venture with comics artist Chari Pere. After spending a year as a visiting fellow at JPPPI (The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute), she currently serves in the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps of the World Jewish Congress.

inbal freund-novickFreund-Novick is a participant in Discovering Common Values: The Catholic-Jewish Leadership Conference, hosted by the Vatican and held at the Pope’s summer palace of Castel Gandolfo. She’ll be blogging about it all week, only at MJL.

Today, we were going through the streets of Rome trying to learn together about Jews and Christians who lived and still live in this city (and yes, the Christians’ museum is bigger than ours…). Did you know that the tiny Jewish quarter of Rome was surrounded by about 15 churches from all sides serving as a very sophisticated way of trying to convert Jews? If Jews wanted to go out of that tiny crowded ghetto that was situated at the worst part of town back then -– the first thing people saw upon entering was a church with inscriptions in Hebrew calling them to repent and convert. An ongoing reminder to their status as the others in Rome — and the Christian plan to wait patiently or not (depending on who ruled) until they convert, which they hardly did.

During today we got some massive “corridor time” to just talk and try understanding together what we are doing here. At the end of the day a group of us went to eat some authentic (and kosher) pasta, pizza and, most importantly, fried artichoke -– the culinary symbol of Jews in this city. The origin of this fried dish contains the same reason for the creation of many Jewish foods — poverty, probably. Apparently, fried artichoke became popular when artichokes were lying loose in the fields, unwanted, and therefore free. Poor Jews fried them — a technique that can also make a shoe taste well (according to our tour guide, at least). Well, this was far from a fried shoe — and that nice restaurant and Italian scenery we sat in provided the best background to talk about love.

The concept of love as a key term in Christian theology and especially in relation to dialogue was explained in one of these informative frontal lectures we had yesterday on the topic of dialogue. The concepts are: Love is the golden key for dialogue because the relationship between the father (G-d) and his children are those of love. The awareness of having one father for everybody makes us have to love each other like brothers and sisters and this is the secret to interfaith dialogue.

We are obviously talking about love very differently. When Christians say “love,” they mean a Jesus kind of love — a way to relate to the other that they learn from the actions of Jesus. As G-d is love (St. John, the gospel) each definition of love comes from G-d. The way G-d interacts with humanity highlighted by Jesus Christ himself is the way they understand love -– it’s basically a methodology, not a description of a romantic feeling.

So we had all those thoughts and discussions at the restaurant and the end result was missing the last train to Castel Gandolfo by apparently 10 seconds. We actually saw it leave early, and with not being on it, we were mostly sharing the mutual feeling for both Jews and Christians of frustration -– a term we all agreed on. So again, we got some serious corridor time by climbing the dark alleyways towards the Pope’s summer residence and our hostel next to it in hope that the big ancient doors might still be opened despite the nightly curfew of this place.

I had a late late night conversation with Rori Picker Neiss, who has a tremendous head start in this whole interfaith dialogue thing. We came to a realization that Christians have a strength at understanding concepts through feelings, and Jews mostly understand by talking. We analyze everything as if everybody were uttering Talmudic texts each time we speak, and they just try and feel what is going on a in very different method. In fact, Christians were not as reactive as us in the discussions held formally — possibly because of language barriers (most of the Focolarinos come from non English speaking countries) but maybe also because their method is to experience a feeling of what was going on before putting their opinions out there.

I guess that’s our next challenge here — to understand how we talk about love and other things in such different ways to be able to create a meaningful encounter amongst us.

Read the previous entries about the Jews and the Vatican Conference.

Posted on June 24, 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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