God bless Mary-Louise Parker. Seriously, the pie recipe she gives in the July issue of Esquire magazine has changed my life. (You have to scroll down for the recipe.) Two weeks ago I went blackberry picking with some friends and ended up with just enough for a pie, so I pulled out my copy of Esquire and started following Mary-Louise’s instructions. She says, “Cut some little holes in the top of the pie with a knife. Make a design or write a message to someone, code or otherwise.” My friend had just broken up with her boyfriend, so I wrote her a message on the pie.
It was delicious.
Last week I was in Chicago and made another pie, this one blueberry, for Shabbat lunch. I was in Chicago for the unveiling of my mother’s headstone, and it was (as one might expect) an incredibly difficult and upsetting experience. I thought about Mary-Louise’s instructions, and decided that my second pie had to speak the truth. So the blueberry pie had the following inscription: “Life is Hard.”
This week I’m back in New York, and having some good friends over for Shabbat dinner. Since it’s still berry season I decided to make another pie (this time triple berry–raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry) and this time my pie should say something about friendship. Behold, triple berry ‘havruta oh mituta‘ pie. Friendship or death. Amen.
A note on pie crusts: Last week I was without a food processor, and so discovered what I now believe is the best way to make a flaky pie crust. Put a bowl and a pastry cutter in the freezer, along with the butter. Take the bowl and the butter out, and grate the butter on a cheese grater (this is messy, but worth it). When you’re done, stick the bowl of grated butter back in the freezer for a few minutes. Then take them out and make the dough with the pastry cutter instead of a food processor. Slightly more labor intensive, but also better. You’re welcome.
Here’s the moment I knew Matisyahu had stopped being a Jewish phenomenon and entered the realm of pop culture. My sister, who was living deep in the Bible Belt, told one of her non-Jewish friends that I’d become Orthodox. “Oh,” he said. “Does that mean he looks like that Matisyahu dude?”
Portrait by Schneur Menaker
Matisyahu might not be the official face of Judaism in America, but he’s a lead contender. The reggae-singing phenomenon, a baal teshuvah who became Orthodox in his twenties, might have the most recognizable profile in pop music due to his beard alone. After learning to be religiously observant through Chabad, Matisyahu expanded his learning to include the teachings and prayer styles of Breslov, Karlin, and other Hasidic groups in addition to the Chabad rebbes.
Matisyahu’s third studio album, Light, comes out August 25 — almost six months after its expected release, and three and a half years since his last album, the pop-infected, Bill Laswell-produced Youth, which sold over half a million units.
Since then, Matisyahu has gone back to the basics. He has a new songwriting cave (an old warehouse in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood), a new synagogue (a Karlin Hasidic synagogue, where the prayers are shouted at the top of your lungs), and, perhaps most radically, a new sound to his music. His new songs, both on last year’s single Shattered and on Light, still have the reggae influence that dominated his earlier albums. THe new album’s tone is darker, more varied, and beat-driven. “One Day,” the album’s first single, has a dreamy, summertime quality that is equal parts Bob Marley playing acoustic and “Eye of the Tiger”-like ’80s jams. “Master of the Field” is an electronics-heavy jam that brings his vocal beatboxing to the forefront.
MJL spoke with Matisyahu and learned out about his new band, the stories behind the Light songs that he isn’t telling anyone else, and why Matisyahu just can’t stop loving God.
MJL: A while ago, you told me how Israel right now is for Jews how Greenwich Village was to hippies in the ’60s — wild and innovative, the only place where Judaism’s really alive and mutable and organic, whereas in the United States, Jews are sort of stagnant. Do you still feel that way?
Matisyahu: Anywhere in America where I happen to be — Crown Heights, Willamsburg — in any Jewish community, it seems like there’s one type of Jew. There’s pressure to fit in and dress a certain way, talk a certain way, and if you don’t do that, it’s almost like you’re not Jewish. And then in other places, there are a lot of different types of Jews — and, in those places, you lose the intensity of belief and of observance and of the lifestyle. And that’s only among religious Jews. In America, you can be Jewish and elect not to have anything to do with Judaism.
In Israel, even sitting in the airport, you’re among a hundred different kinds of Jews, and it’s amazing. It’s inspiring. Everyone’s doing their own thing, but it’s not just their own thing — they have a whole community of people backing them up.
Then you come back to America, and you really feel that we’re a small minority of people. We’re trying to hold onto something that doesn’t necessarily fit into our hands. In Israel, Judaism is alive. It’s a real, tangible, living thing.
Is that where the titles come in? Your last E.P. was called Shattered, and it seemed like the very small prelude to something a lot bigger. And then the new album’s going to be called Light.
Yeah, it all kind of figures together. There’s a Kabbalistic idea of the first world being shattered, utterly destroyed, and the second world — the world we’re in right now — being a tikkun, a fixing, of the first one. Are you an artist?
Do you mean –
I mean, like, a visual artist.
I draw a little, but I don’t really know what I’m doing.
I know what you mean. That’s where I am, too. (Laughs.) So when you look at something without light, it looks dead. It’s two-dimensional, without any depth or substance. If there’s no shadows and no light twisting off of surfaces, it’s like it doesn’t exist at all. Just like that, when a person looks at the world, it’s like it’s dead. Then, with light and a backdrop, everything becomes revealed, and their depth comes out.
That’s what Shattered was about. Naming the E.P. “Shattered,” it was about stopping running away.
I was running for the past few years, running nonstop. My career, my marriage, my kids — but mostly my career. This past year I’ve spent mostly at home, going to minyan, working on my record, jamming in my studio.
The songs on Shattered, and the stuff that’s been released from the new album so far, is all way different than anything you’ve done before — it’s more beat-driven and electronic. Why the change?
The foremost changes were all vocally. Musically, we’ve used elements of reggae, but it’s not traditionally reggae. If you listen to my first single, “King without a Crown,” it’s not reggae — the beat isn’t a traditional reggae rhythm. It’s not really a reggae song.
Your vocals, though, really are very reggae-influenced…
It’s true. When I sing that song, a lot of my earlier songs, I’m using a Jamaican accent. When I was first developing my singing, I was only listening to reggae. When you listen to only one kind of music, that style penetrates you. A lot of the big reggae singers, the people who’ve been around for years, they take new techniques and integrate them into their singing. These days, I’m listening to a lot less reggae. I’m listening to a lot of different things.
A medicine man from the Blood Indian Reservation, Brother Rufus Goodstriker…picked up the shofar and looked it over. “Ram’s hom,” he commented. “We use a whistle made from an eagle bone. May I blow it?”
He blew a few loud notes through the ram’s horn, handed it back, and simply said, “Of course, it’s much better than cow.”
For a moment I thought, “Better for what?” But Brother Rufus was a medicine man. He knew that you blow animal bones to blow the demons away, to clear the air, to connect with God, to bring about change, to say to the sleeping soul, “Hey, there, wake up! Pay attention!”
My response reminded me of the common element of all religion, the inner experience which transcends external variations and differences. As Reb Nahman of Bratzlav said, “The Holy Spirit shouts forth from the tales of the gentiles, too.”
- Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
From “The Shaman Blows the Shofar”
Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.
My husband and I moved to Rockland County, the far suburbs of NYC, nearly two years ago. At first, it was terribly difficult to make friends or find things to do at night.
Most people move to our neck of the woods (literally, pictured is the road behind our neighborhood) to raise a family. The few restaurants in our town close around 8 pm.
So when my husband went to work meetings nearly every night, I found myself quite bored and rather lonely.
A member of the synagogue, who lives down the street, knew I was spending a lot of time at home and asked me if I wanted to come over one night. A group of her friends were getting together for an activity. “Try it, you’ll like it,” she said. “You can just watch if you want.”
Those words could be bad news on the streets of the Big Apple, but in the quiet suburbs of New City, NY, they were pretty much harmless.Â Or so I thought. The “drug” she was pushing was mah jongg, and soon after my addiction began.
All I knew about mah jongg before I began playing was that is was some kind of game that old Jewish women played. It turns out mah jongg, a tile betting game that I like to describe as “rummy on crack,” is a highly addictive, very social activity that generations of Jewish women saved from extinction.
Don’t believe me? Read my article about the history of the game (my first article for MyJewishLearning!) or check out nearly any Judaic catalog. Need a mah jongg menorah for Hanukkah? Or mah jongg mezuzah? We Jewish women love our mah jongg kitsch almost as much as the game itself.
Every Tuesday, my mah jongg group gets together to catch up on the week’s events, watch a little American Idol, and play rounds and rounds of the game. I look forward to mah jongg nights all week long and rearrange other events to make sure I don’t miss an evening.
While I do find playing to be great competitive outlet, the truth is that at the end of the night, I don’t care if I’ve won or lost. No matter how quarters or dimes make it back to my house, I’ve gained five wonderful friendships.
Traditionally Jewish genetic diseases are associated with Ashkenazic Jews, or at least that’s what much of the public thinks.
So I was pleasantly surprised when the first article I read began like this:
Randall Belinfante was a bit baffled.
When he and his wife went to take blood tests in preparation for starting a family in 2003, he discovered that the screening included a panel of tests for Ashkenazic Jewish genetic disorders. But Belinfante is Sephardic.
â€œWe told them at the time that we were not Ashkenazi, but
they told us they donâ€™t do testing for Sephardic diseases, just for Ashkenazi ones,â€ recalled Belinfante, who traces his ancestry to the Iberian Peninsula via the Balkans, Holland and England. â€œSo they went ahead and did the Ashkenazi tests anyway.â€
With a note of bemusement, Belinfante, who is the librarian and archivist at the New York-based American Sephardi Federation, added, â€œSurprisingly enough, they found we did not have any of the Ashkenazi Jewish diseases.â€
There are other articles that address non-Ashkenazic genetic issues such as the first testing program in America for Persian Jews.
We here at MyJewishLearning will be the first to admit that we don’t cover Sephardic and non-Ashkenazic communities nearly enough. The truth is that we don’t know a lot about these issues and have found it difficult to find writers that are experts in this field.
But we know our weakness and are constantly working to make our site more inclusive –and we commend our fellow writers and editors who are also helping to paint a more accurate picture of the greater Jewish community
Google just started a Palestinian version of their site. Being the always-curious cultural instigator that I am, I hopped on over and decided to see what happened when I searched for “Israel.”
As you probably know, Google has an auto-complete feature. Meaning, when you start typing a word, Google provides you with suggestions so that you don’t have the entire word or phrase you’re looking for. This is usually based on what other people have already searched for.
So, as I said, I Googled “Israel.” And look at the #1 auto-complete result:
It’s true — ethnic hatred really is just a short step away from ethnic lovin’.
(Thanks to the Frum Satire Forums for announcing Google.ps’s existence.)
Today is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, which is basically a whole month spent preparing for one day. We blow the shofar and start reciting selichot (well, unless you’re Ashkenazic or something). At dawn and at nightfall, we recite Psalm 27, which is both weirdly hopeful (“The L*rd is my light and my salvation”) and weirdly catastrophic (“Do not hide Your face … do not thrust [me] aside … do not forsake me, do not abandon me,” which was actually quoted in a They Might Be Giants song. Well, a really gloomy TMBG song).
In this morning’s Simchat Shlomo email, Sholom Brodt talks about how Yom Kippur is all about fixing our external behavior, the things we do to other people — “both knowingly and unknowingly,” as we say about a zillion times over in the High Holiday liturgy. Elul, on the other hand, is about fixing our unconscious, and making ourselves good on the inside, in our thoughts. It’s like taking the potential goodness or badness of everything you can do, and making sure it’s aimed in the right direction — so that, once Rosh Hashanah rolls around, we’re ready to make it actual.
One more thing: The month of Elul is symbolized by the letter yud and the left hand — which sounds cool, although I’ve never really understood where all these things come from. (According to Rav Sholom, it’s from the Sefer Yetzirah … although that still doesn’t explain it.) He writes: “The letter yud is the smallest letter and it is also a part of every letter — as soon as you put the quill to the parchment, you have already written a yud. So the yud represents the innermost point–your innermost point of being a “yid’.”
That part, I do get. Just by existing, we’re continuing to create.
I wish I knew more details about this story beyond “I saw this on Colbert Report last night and thought it was hilarious.” So instead of reporting the news, I’m going to report on Colbert reporting on the news.
In last night’s segment of “Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger,” Colbert discussed (and made fun of) this BBC story. There isn’t much to it. It’s just a group of 50 rabbis flying in a plane over Israel praying to rid the country of swine flu.
The story isn’t so exciting but the video is awesome. However, BBC doesn’t want to let me post the video so you will have to click on the link above.
But what I can link to is the Colbert Report video (unless you’re from Canada). I won’t say much, except that Colbert blows a shofar. It’s worth a watch.
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Tip/Wag- German Campaign, Russian Dogs & Flying Rabbis|
In a major decision, Israel’s High Court has ruled that schools cannot justify segregation of Ashkenazi and Sephardi students on the basis of different worldviews and lifestyles, calling such arguments “camouflage for discrimination.” (Ha’aretz)
Hebrew U. Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson argues that institutions of higher learning must improve their public relations and status in Israeli society if they want to survive, but that the government has not kept financial promises made. (Ha’aretz)
Education Ministry figures show about 8,000 Arab teachers are unable to find work at Arab schools in Israel, yet Jewish schools report staffing shortages. Moreover: “Nearly half of unemployed Israeli Arab teachers would be willing to teach in Jewish schools and over half of Israeli Jewish parents have no objections to Arab teachers in their children’s schools.” (Ha’aretz)
Gideon Levy argues that what ails education in Israel is that excellence is seen not in terms imparting “knowledge, education, and values on its students”–but in terms of getting graduates into elite IDF units. (Ha’aretz)
But Moshe Tur-Pza sharply disagrees. (Ha’aretz)
After a year-long struggle, a new group has taken control of the Ashkenazi Haredi education system (Chinuch Atzmai) away from the Gur Hasidim. (Ha’aretz)
Oh, you don’t think I can find a Jewish connection to the whole Brett Favre debacle? Is that a challenge? Well, sir, I accept your challenge.
If you don’t follow football, I’ll quickly catch you up. Brett Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He has started every single game for his team since 1992. He was the face of the Green Bay Packers. Then, he thought about retiring. Then he decided to return. Then he retired. Then he decided to join the New York Jets. Then he retired. Then he was offered to join the Minnesota Vikings. Then he decided to remain retired. Then he decided to join the Vikings. Ooooh…Did I mention that the Vikings are the arch rivals of the Packers? Yep. Favre’s ego is bigger than Bono’s.
So how does this qualify to be on Mixed Multitudes? First, Favre took the starting quaterback job away from half-Jew (plus raising his kids Christian), Sage Rosenfels. You gotta support the Jewish athletes.
But second, and this one is much more important, the sports world’s reaction to Favre’s return has been swift and harsh. Take for example, former Vikings wide receiver, Cris Carter. Now an ESPN analyst, Carter was very unhappy with how his former team has handled the whole situation. But when asked if he thinks the Vikings are Superbowl contenders, his answer, below, proved that Carter didn’t go to Yiddish school.
“I don’t know that, because I don’t know if they have the glue–the meshugenah–that thing that brings a team together. The training camp that you can depend on me, you can count on me. I’ve got your back, you’ve got my back.”
Pretty hilarious. If you want to skip all the analysis, the funny stuff happens at about 5:15 mark.