Monthly Archives: June 2009

Regina Spektor’s “Far” Snuggles Up Close to Me

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Culture on by .

This is the best birthday present I’ve gotten all year.

regina spektor, far, album coverRegina Spektor’s third proper album, Far, is like that cynical older cousin who you love to sit next to at family functions. Totally funny, mostly good-natured, and both angry and delicious — angrilicious? — like the kind of person who says all the things you want to say but don’t.

And — uh — says them all in cute, random metaphors and rhyming couplets and sweet, sweet melodies.

After the meandering intro of “The Calculation” — a good, mid-tempo, semi-funked-out song about relationships, technology, and emotional indifference — we get a virtual onslaught of Regina with the instant hookiness, smileyness, and spine-tingling anticipation of the piano chords that lead into “Eet.”

The song might be named for its homonym, or it might be the way Spektor writes down her own whimsical non-word singing on paper. Then, when the drums come in — “You spend half of your life/trying to fall behind/using your headphones to drown out your mind” — the song becomes simultaneously triumphant and snarky. And it’s especially victorious when you consider it’s a song about hipster kids who are so preoccupied with looking cool that they forget how to dance. (That’s what I think it’s about, anyway.) Really, it’s a self-defeating argument — by the time you’re done analyzing, you’re hopping up and down in your desk chair, anyway.

A few weeks ago, we brought you from Regina Spektor’s new video, “Laughing With.” It’s been seized upon and passed around a fair bit among the Jewish bloggy folks, but I don’t think any of us have really given as much credence to the lyrics as they deserve.

No one laughs at God
When the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one’s laughing at God
When it’s gotten real late
And their kid’s not back from the party yet

So freakin’ true. And yet, if this wasn’t being sung within the context of an MTV video with cool effects and a Harry Potter-like Cloak of Invisibility, we’d probably freak out and call the writer a zealot or a fundamentalist.

But Spektor always likes to close her songs abruptly, which drove me crazy when “Better” was on the radio, or when I listened to her songs out of sequence regina spektoron my iPod’s Party Shuffle (which, btw, I love saying, because I never actually use shuffle at parties, but I always feel like being at a party when I’m walking down the street and I select that option) — but which, taken on its own, is both wise and satisfying. The closing line of “Laughing With,” which fades out together with the song — “No one’s laughing at God/We’re all laughing with God” — is kind of the perfect paradigm of this. It’s winking at the listener and pulling the rug out from under our feet at the same time.

“Two Birds” is the natural offset to “Laughing With,” a parable about two birds that don’t trust each other. The chorus, “I’ll believe it all/There’s nothing I won’t understand/I’ll believe it all/I won’t let go of your hand,” speaks to our natural tendency to distrust each other, to get cold and clam up and retreat into our own little worlds.

To one extent or another, artists are all recluses. We hate other people. We distrust them and fear them and don’t want to trust our ideas with them, preferring instead to remain in our own little universes that we draw and write around ourselves. Again, witness the “Laughing With” video…or just try to talk to me while I’m writing in my notebook. And then, on the other side of the spectrum, we’re trying more than anything to understand the way people work, and get inside their heads, and to create a song or a story that’s bigger than ourselves.

I think what I love most about Regina Spektor is that she really gets both of these things. And both of them, she does so well.

regina spektor, laughing with

Posted on June 24, 2009

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Bringing Canadian News to the Masses

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I’m not one to loosely call someone an anti-Semite. It’s a pretty rough thing to be labeled so if you’re gonna say it, you better mean it. So when I hear this story, I have to make my own decisions.

Lesley Hughes, a journalist in Manitoba, is suing B’nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Jewish Congress because she claims they falsely accused her of being an anti-Semite. You see, Hughes was running in the last Canadian election as a member of the Liberal Party. After she was accused of being an anti-Semite, then Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion, asked her not to run in the election.

But why would they accuse her of such a horrible thing? Because back in 2002, she wrote a newspaper column saying Israel had been warned of 9/11. Her “proof” is that there were a number of Israeli businesses that left the the World Trade Center weeks before the attack.

Hughes admits that she wrote that. I gotta tell ya, Lesley, you’re kind of an anti-Semite.

Posted on June 24, 2009

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Bamba Brakha Brouhaha

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

In Israel, the first solid food many children are given is Bamba, a peanut flavored puffy corn snack. Bamba is as ubiquitous in Israel as a Hershey bar is in America. And the newest rabbinic controversy in Israel is over what blessing to say before eating Bamba.

JPost reports:

What blessing should a pious Jew make on the popular snack Bamba and its many surrogates?
This arcane dispute, relevant to a religious minority of Jews, has been thrust to the forefront of a power struggle between two sons of Sephardi Jewry’s most influential halachic authority – Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual mentor of Shas.
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Rabbi David Yosef, the two sons, are vying to become the next chief sephardi rabbi of Jerusalem.

In a surprise opinion, Yitzhak Yosef, who heads the Hazon Ovadia Yeshiva and authored the Yalkut Yosef – a compilation of halachic opinions that quote heavily from his father’s rulings – argued that the proper blessing for Bamba, which is made out of ground corn, is borei pri ha’adama (Blessed are You, the Creator of the fruits of the earth).

Yitzhak Yosef argued that since the corn was grown especially for the production of the Bamba, this was the proper blessing even if the corn were no longer recognizable.

In contrast, David Yosef, head of the Yechaveh Da’at Yeshiva and rabbi of Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, ruled in a more mainstream opinion that the proper blessing was shehakol (Blessed are You Who brings everything into being by His word).

I’m not a huge Bamba fan, but amazingly, I just got a bag of bamba this weekend in a gift basket. If I hadn’t read this article I would have had no doubts about saying shehakol, but now I think I’ll avoid the controversy and the calories by just handing the Bamba off to someone else.

Posted on June 24, 2009

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Single Men Over 20, What Are You Waiting For??

This entry was posted in Israel, Life on by .

In continuing with my theme of weird marriage-related stories from Israel, here’s a doozy:

Apparently, if you’re a single haredi guy over the age of 20, and you’re not studying in yeshiva, you better get out of Jerusalem–or else. Ynet reports:

Rabbi: Older bachelors must leave JerusalemOver_The_Hill.jpg

Ultra-orthodox bachelors over the age of 20 must move out of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, head of the Hazon Yaakov yeshiva and son of Shas’ spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled this week.

According to the rabbi, who publishes a weekly column on the Eretz Israel Shelanu leaflet, in the past it was customary to banish “older” single men from the capital as punishment for their refusal to marry and provide for a family.

In recent generations, Sephardi rabbis decided to annul this regulation, but according to Rabbi Yosef it should be reinstated. “Only a yeshiva student who studies Torah has an exceptional permission to postpone marriage, if he fears that marriage might distract him from his studies.

“But normally one must not delay marriage till after 20, and those who do had better leave Jerusalem and go study somewhere else,” he wrote.

All I can say is it’s a good thing our editorial fellow Jeremy doesn’t live in J-town. He’s about to be 23 and is not yet providing for a wife and children. Scandal!!

Posted on June 24, 2009

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Jews and the Vatican: Our Christians, Ourselves

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History, 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.

My almighty editor and good friend Matthue Roth told me that I write too much about us Jews and not enough about my encounters with the Christians. But there is a fundamental point to be understood here: at first the Jews were more interesting to me, as things were very dramatic on our end. On the other hand the Christians who are here come with almost one voice. They come mostly from the Focolare movement. They have one authority up there which helps them get to one voice when talking to us Jews. They are dealing with this issue internally — and, considering the power balance of them having a pope who leads millions, we are fundamentally positioned as the reactionaries.

So what about us Jews so far? How do we start looking at our partners for this process? Throughout today, people from the Jewish group keep asserting the point that we speak in different voices. We are a collection of individuals here and G-d forbid we should be seen as one. We are constantly emphasizing that we are individuals and have very clear voices about what we want to do about tfila, about the topics we discuss, about us being vegetarian or not, or what we want the outcome of this to be. In most sessions the Jews speak a lot and the Christians — well, they talk less.

When they do talk, they speak in one voice that basically says, “we are still in process.” For them this dialoging thing is new. It’s actually quite revolutionary considering the past: It has only been about 45 years since Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”) was written, opening a door towards creating relationships with the Jewish people, and 45 years are a tiny fraction of time compared to 2000 years of conquering vast parts of the world and making it be in touch with Christianity in a very different way then what the people of our era could even consider as reasonable. I still find it surprising every time I meet Christians* that they are not trying to convert me or make me bow down at a church alter or force me to eat pork and eventually pour holy water all over me until I acknowledge my salvation by Jesus. Things are a little different then that, and that’s our basis for dialogue.

So they are still in a slow process of creating a new theological understanding of how to deal with the Jews. Nostra Aetate described the desired relationship with the other religions, but mostly with Jews. It came out and said that actually we didn’t kill Jesus — which is nice to hear after all those years — but it also goes one step forward in saying that they want to find a way to be in dialogue with us. The thing is, as this is a such a new process for Catholics, they are not yet sure of how to create a relationship with us and are still having an internal debate but are already reaching out to us, to learn more of how to do this. This is important to us for creating this future relationship as partners and not let it be created in other ways which might be less constructive for us.

I had a conversation with a Focolarina (a member of the Focolare movement) over dinner as she was trying to explain to me the meaning of the word “love” -– understood very differently in the Christian world. Her story was, her search for G-d took a wild turn when the Pope came to Mexico. She was so influenced by his personality that she became a devote Christian and went to study theology for many years in a certain Christian sect.

What an influence of one person over the other! Just hearing about it and seeing the sparkles in her eyes talking about him made me think of how much meaning this figure- one leader of a movement has over millions of people, how different it is from our world. So, back to our dinner: Things changed for her after realizing that the Christians she was learning and practicing the faith with were only focusing inwards she switch to the Focolare movement which based itself on teaching to look out and create relationships with others.

This means — as far as I understand things so far — the Focolare movement, the ones who are conducting this dialogue with us, are a special group in the Christian world, willing and wanting to talk to us (probably amongst others which I am just not aware of).

It doesn’t mean that in the Tridentine Mass on Good Friday they have removed the ancient prayer for the Jews to be able to look in the right way. The Catholic Church is not all there yet, and the road is still very bumpy and long, and until the notion of Nostra Aetate reaches all the Christian sects, a lot of water will flow in the river of Jordan and we need mostly patience.

And what about the prayer drama? Today we invited the Christians to mincha, the afternoon prayers. A beautiful Torah scroll was brought to Castel Gandolfo and the turn of the nice Syrian guy to lead the prayers came, so we put the mehitzah up and made a very long and explanatory prayer with the Christians.

I think we built a few more little bridges, and I hope we looked less weird. When I asked my new acquired Focolarina friend from dinner what was the most significant thing for her that she has taken from two days of talking about profound topics she said that just the encounter with us, seeing Jews in real life was fascinating to her.

* — And I have some very close friends who are Christians, amongst them a very dear friend who came to my wedding from Slovenia, getting a bouquet that was useless to all my Jewish friends but apparently was very helpful to her meeting her future husband as there were no other candidates for it -– mazal tov, Mojca!

Posted on June 24, 2009

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Special Needs Jewish Marriages

This entry was posted in Israel, Life on by .

I just found this strange article at about special needs couples in Israel being allowed to marry. Since the article is short, here it is in full:

Mentally challenged Jewish couples to wed

JERUSALEM, June 23 (UPI) — Four special needs couples will be allowed to marry, rabbis in Israel’s Jewish ultra-orthodox community have decided. huppa2.JPG

The Yedioth Aharonoth reported until now the ultra-orthodox community has barred mentally challenged or couples with special needs from marrying, fearing they will be unable to fulfill their matrimonial obligations in accordance with Jewish law.

The newspaper said ultra-orthodox rabbis distinguish between those who lack all comprehension, and those who have basic comprehension and are able to observe Jewish law, the Web site said.

The four couples permitted to marry fall under the latter category, Yedioth Aharonoth said.

This whole thing is slightly offensive and very very strange, but I’m most concerned about the “matrimonial obligations” line. Is the implication that mentally challenged couples won’t be able to have sex?

Ultimately, this just makes me very very sad.

Posted on June 23, 2009

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Secret Muppet Vineyard

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Our awesome filmmaker friend Sonja Kroop and her puppet Krumpet just entered a contest to get a 6-month gig as the social networking director of a wine factory. If she wins, she gets to live on a vineyard for six months — plus, she is insanely talented as a director. To vote for her video, go to the Murphy-Goode Wine site and vote for it. (You have to give your email to confirm, but that’s the only thing they use it for.) Or just watch it here — and, yes, I’m pretty sure the only reason she made that Manischewitz joke is so I’d post it:

Posted on June 23, 2009

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RadioRan in Israel

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

So I’m watching Fox News right now (not a usual habit, just trying to get updates on the DC Metro crash), and I just caught an interesting story about a guy named DJ Rani Amrani.

Amrani, a “garage” disc jockey, broadcasts online secular Iranian music from his small studio in Tel Aviv. In addition to receiving about 40,000 hits a day, he frequently receives phone calls from inside the war-torn country of Iran, though recently the phone lines are going dead. During the interview on Fox, he received a call from a young girl in Tehran who wanted to join the protests, but feared for her life.

It’s not just Twitter that’s bringing news out of Iran.
The story doesn’t seem to be on the channel’s website, but you can check out Rani’s station online at

Posted on June 22, 2009

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Talking About Abortion From the Bimah

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

This past weekend I went to a family bat mitzvah in the DC area. It was an intense weekend, full of family balagan, but one of the most remarkable parts about the weekend, for me at least, was the dvar Torah that Rabbi Michael Feshbach gave on Friday night.

Rabbi Feshbach spoke, among other things, about Dr. George Tiller, and about the Jewish response to abortion. He reviewed sources that stretched from the Biblical, to the rabbinic, to the contemporary, going so far as to quote Rabbi Avi Weiss, not something you expect to see at a Reform Temple. He talked about the way different Jewish denominations have responded to the issue of abortion, and about he was frank about the ways in which the Reform movement has departed from traditional halakha, and why.


I’ll admit, I found myself squirming, at times. My 13-year-old cousin was sitting in the front row, and while I certainly want her to be educated about abortion rights and Jewish responses to abortion, I found myself wishing that Rabbi Feshbach had chosen a different occasion to make this particular speech. I’m pretty sure I could feel my great aunt cringing from half a room away. But the thing is, at many shuls, there’s a bar or bat mitzvah every week, so if the rabbi is ever going to talk about things like abortion, it’s going to have to happen at someone’s bar or bat mitzvah.And let me be clear: if your rabbis isn’t talking about these issue, things like abortion, and safe sex, then in my opinion, your rabbi is doing you a disservice. It’s hard to talk about these things. Either way you come down on controversial issues related to sex and sexuality it makes people uncomfortable. But clergy–rabbis, priests, reverends, ministers, imams, etc–have, (in my opinion) an obligation to address these issues with their congregations. These are issues that most if not all of us will personally grapple with at some point in our lives, and if we’re the kind of people who regularly show up at shul, church or mosque, then we deserve to know what our tradition says about these issues. And we need to be ready to hear things that we won’t like, and we need to be comfortable looking for new interpretations.

I didn’t love everything about Rabbi Feshbach’s sermon (why do rabbis always want to cram so much into one speech? Iran, the guard at the Holocaust museum, Pinhas and admitting mistakes were not necessary themes for his overarching point) but when it was over I was pretty impressed, not least by the balls it took to give the sermon at all. Well done.

If you want a frank discussion about similar issues at your shul, check out the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, or just ask your rabbi.

In a weird coincidence, my family and I passed an abortion clinic on our walk from the hotel where we were staying to the shul. We literally walked between the volunteer escorts and the pro-life activists on our way to daven. I kind of wish Norman Rockwell had been there to see it.

Posted on June 22, 2009

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Can a Holocaust Movie Be Offensive?

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Oh dear, oh dear. While Perez Hilton is in the news because of his claims that he was assaulted by the manager of the Black Eyed Peas, after getting into an argument with Will. I. Am, his gossip site is reporting a pretty hilarious/offensive Britney Spears related story.

According to the blog post, Spears has reportedly signed on to be in a new Holocaust related film called, The Yellow Star of Sophia and Eton. Your initial thought might be, “Oh great. Finally, Britney is taking herself seriously and is going to be in a touching, Holocaust related film.”


Here is the description that Perez gives. The movie is about a woman who builds a time machine, travels back to WWII, where she is in a concentration camp. There, she meets a man who she falls in love with. They both travel BACK to present day, where they are eventually killed by Nazis. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

Sadly, this isn’t the first offensive Holocaust related movie. Anyone remember Surf Nazis Must Die?

Posted on June 22, 2009

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