Monthly Archives: September 2009

Everything You Heard Is True

This entry was posted in History on by .

Like a lot of Jews my age, I sometimes have a hard time conceptualizing the Holocaust. I’ve heard tons of stories and seen movies and read books, but it’s rare that it really hits me just how many people were killed, and how horrific and sustained the violence was. Recently, two things helped me to think about the Shoah in a meaningful way.

1)    A friend mentioned in conversation that there are fewer Jews in the world now than there were before WWII. We still haven’t gotten back to neutral.

2)    The letter below, posted on the Letters of Note blog:

A heartbreaking letter, and farewell, from a brother to his sister. At the time of writing, Herbert Langer was based in Terezín, a Czech town which was used as a Nazi German concentration camp by the Gestapo during World War II. Herbert’s sister Elly – the intended recipient of the letter – was living in Beverly Hills, California during this period. The day after the letter was written, Mr Langer was deported to the death camp at Auschwitz where he later died.

The letter is written in Czech, an English transcript follows.

czech_letter.jpg
Translation
Teerzin, October 27th, 1944

My dearest Elly,

On September 6th, 1941, our father was taken prisoner and on November 11th, 1941 he died an honest man, decent and respected by everybody. The latest news which he sent to me and which was given to me here last year by a fellow-prisoner who knew his suffering and shared it, was that he felt alright. Our father fulfilled his duty, nobody fulfilled it for him.

Since 1939 I have worked conscientiously and I fulfilled honestly the duties to those who like myself were exposed to persecution and oppression. I am only sorry that I shall be unable to describe what I saw. All I am asking you, is that you believe always what you shall hear, because everything you hear is true. All you are going to hear is nothing compared to what I had to witness. I always had the most honest relations to everything.

Until today, thank God, I was able to save our family, with the exception of our father from the terrible fate, which overtook tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe millions. Tomorrow my family and the family of our sister have to start the trip which thousands before them had to take. If God will be gracious they may survive this hard time and the unjust fate. Alas, beginning tomorrow I can’t guard or help them anymore. I only hope that there will be some people who will take care of them and I pray they will be granted some of the good dreams I cherished for them.

Tomorrow I am leaving, separately from the others. Beginning tomorrow you shall never hear from me again. I shall vanish in the boundless spheres where those had to vanish who recognized and saw, what the whole world looked with crossed arms. We are in the war, we are enemies, we have to die like soldiers. In the next 48 hours my fate shall be accomplished, with me the fate of my wife Gerty. All I am asking you is to take care of our father’s grave and if you should find us then bury us by him. Help our own and Gerty’s families as much as possible, help them forget all the horrors they had to go through. They will need your help.

I pray that you remain healthy and brave and stay happy with your family and that you may never forget that all you shall hear is nothing compared to what millions of people had to suffer and go through.

May God bless you,

Yours,

Herbert.

Posted on September 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

10 Days to a Better You: Day 6

This entry was posted in Holidays, Life on by .

With Yom Kippur bearing down on us, and the promise that only “repentance, prayer, and charity can alter the severity of the decree” you might be feeling like it’s a good time to start doing a little better. But being a better person can be a daunting task. Here at MyJewishLearning we put together 10 easy things you can do right away that will help you do better and feel better as you get ready for the Day of Atonement, and we’ll be revealing a new suggestion every day.

Missed tips 1-5? Find them here. magazines_main_Full.jpg

6. Didn’t get a chance to read all of your magazines this month? Call up the nearest hospital and ask if they need any current reading material for their waiting rooms. When you drop off the newer ones, be sure to pick up the older ones and toss ‘em in your recycling.

Posted on September 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

Eat Me

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

In her last posts, Jennifer Traig reorganized her library and looked at the changes from her past year. She has been guest-blogging all week for MJL and Jewish Book Council.

MJL JBC Author BlogI’ve been an observant Jew for the last twenty-five years, and I’d like to think it’s out of piety, but really, it’s for the food. With a few notable exceptions (gefilte fish, I’m talking to you), Judaism guarantees a good meal. The wise-ass summary of all Jewish holidays is pretty much right: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.

So it goes without saying that I rank holidays solely by their traditional food offerings. Shavuot, of course, is number one, because you’re more or less commanded to eat cheesecake. Hanukkah means eight days of doughnuts, which makes it also number one. Yom Kippur is number seven hundred and twelve.

As for Rosh Hashanah, well, it’s not to be taken lightly. Rosh Hashanah foods are symbolic; what you eat is supposed to set the tone for the year. This is both good (apples and honey) and bad (fish heads).

Then there’s the menu the Talmud prescribes: “At the beginning of each year, each person should accustom himself to eat gourds, fenugreek, leeks, beets and dates.” We’re not supposed to eat them because they’re delicious (because they aren’t. Gourds?). It’s not how they taste, but how they sound. The names of these particular foods sound like the things we’re praying for this time of year: that our merits increase, that our enemies be vanquished.

jenny traigIn other words, we’re eating puns. Which was also the idea behind every Rosh Hashanah dinner I hosted in my twenties, each pun worse than the last. First came Rosh Mexicana, then Rosh Italiana (we ate rosh lasagna). Then Russia Shana (piroshki). From there it was all downhill, with themes like Rosh HaShande (guilty pleasures) and Rosh HaShania, a country-western menu in honor of Shania Twain.

This year, because my daughter doesn’t have teeth, it may well be Mush Hashanah.

If I were a different person entirely, my menus would be coming from Hip Kosher, Ronnie Fein’s stunning, stylish cookbook of perfectly delicious foods. I want to eat everything in there. The recipes are clear and don’t look difficult at all. But I am a person who forgets to add fundamental ingredients, who mistakes the sugar for salt. I should not be trusted to do things like frizzle leeks or saute balsamic-glazed pears.

I wish I were that person, but all the teshuvah in the world isn’t going to turn me into one just yet. So instead, I’ll be relying on the recipes of another Jewish chef: Kenny Shopsin’s Eat Me. Because I don’t think I can screw up his Macaroni and Cheese Pancakes. They sound like heaven, and if that sets the tone for my year, that’ll be a very good thing.

Posted on September 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

Westboro Baptist Church On Vacation

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

When I was a kid, when the Moses family went on vacation, we did fun, wholesome things. You know, like San Diego. That place seems perfectly respectable.

On the surface, going to Brooklyn and Long Island also doesn’t seem like such a terrible time. Sure, there might be a few too many bubbies for your liking, but all in all, it’ll probably be tolerable. Maybe that’s why the Westboro Baptist Church is going there this weekend.

Ehhh…maybe not. You know the Westboro Baptist Church. They are the people who protest American soldier’s funerals saying it is punishment for America supporting homosexuality. They have a horrible website, which I will not give the dignity of repeating on this blog (actually, by the way, if you do happen to know the URL, it is a surprisingly well done site. You can read the open letter to Jews while you’re there). And they will be protesting in front of a bunch of synagogues and day schools starting tomorrow.

Ignore them. Don’t counter-protest. They feed off of it.

But, please watch this BBC documentary about them. It will literally blow your mind. Here is Part 1.

Posted on September 23, 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

Inglourious Basterds: What You Didn’t See

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

So I’ve been reading the script (downloadable here) to the film Inglourious Basterds. And it’s pretty over-the-top insane.

Not that you wouldn’t expect that from a movie that’s (a) by Quentin Tarantino, (b) about Jews, and (c) borderline sadophiliac in its embrace of violence. But there are some moments, excised from the final film, that tell the story as…well, as a much different story.

inglourious basterds


In this scene, Donny Donowitz, the “Bear Jew,” has just bought himself a baseball bat. (Proprietor: “You gettin’ your little brother a present before you ship out?” Donny: “No.” Stony silence, as they both realize its significance.) Donny then pays a visit to a tiny little old Jewish lady in an apartment building who invites him in for tea:

Donny: Mrs. Himmelstein, do you have any loved ones over in Europe who you’re concerned for?
Mrs. Himmelstein: What compels you, young man, to ask a stranger such a personal question?
Donny: Because I’m going to Europe. And I’m gonna make it right.
Mrs. Himmelstein: And just how do you intend to do that, Joshua?

He holds up his [baseball] bat.

Donny: With this.
Mrs. Himmelstein: And what exactly do you intend to do with that toy?
Donny: I’m gonna beat every Nazi I find to death with it….I’m going through the neighborhood. If you have any loved ones in Europe, whose safety you fear for, I’d like you to write their name on my bat.

I’d assume that part of the reason this scene was cut is because the scene that introduces the Basterds unit — post-battle, where the soldiers are interrogating Nazi prisoners and collecting scalps — flows with such brutal elegance. But also, the scenes that feature the Brookline Jewish community would probably take the movie away from being the squarely violent war film that Tarantino intended to make and cast it more as a Holocaust-era character piece.

In Jordana Horn’s excellent interview with Tarantino, both acknowledge (correctly, I think) that Basterds wasn’t a Holocaust film. But, when looking at Tarantino’s original visions for the film — some reports suggest that his original script, which clocked in at over 270 pages and 5 1/2 hours of shooting time — the final product could have been any of several types of film.

(One final note: Ostensibly, Tarantino’s original concept was to make the film entirely about Shoshana, the Jewish girl whose family was killed in front of her, in which she makes a list of Nazis responsible and extracts vengeance. That apparently turned into his last film, Kill Bill. I do wish Basterds was more like Kill Bill in its embrace of the hero — nearly all the Jews die, and all the women die in particularly horrific circumstances — but I understand how both women’s deaths were called for by the storytelling ethic. Which doesn’t make their portrayal any less anti-woman.)

Posted on September 23, 2009

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Cupcakes Reach the Orient

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

I’m no Edward Said fan, but this article from the New York Times about the cupcake trend going all the way to the Mid East smacks of Orientalism.

AS a young student at the multinational Aramco school in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Fadi Jaber, a son of Palestinian refugees, always preferred his American classmates’ cupcakes, brownies and chocolate chip cookies to his mother’s pastries: knafah, qatayef and baklawah.cupcakes.jpg

But when he tasted a vanilla-frosted vanilla cupcake from the Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village in 2004, it changed his life…And after an internship at Billy’s Bakery in Chelsea, he was ready for his next move: In July 2007, in Amman, Jordan, he opened Sugar Daddy’s, the shop that brought the cupcake craze to the Middle East.

Finally! Cupcakes have come from the West to civilize those poor Arabs who have been stuck suffering through plates of baklawah for centuries.

And–gasp!–they’re even in Israel!

Cupcakes have also bridged the most contentious divide of the Middle East. In the last year, three online cupcake stores opened in Israel, all in Tel Aviv.

Danielle Levy, who emigrated from England, founded I Love Cupcakes (ilovecupcakes.co.il) with her South African business partner, Hayley Rabie.

“We had both enjoyed cupcakes throughout our lives,” she wrote in an e-mail message. “In the past few years we have seen tasted and enjoyed them more and more with the rise of their fashion — in our own lives, film, fashion and TV.”

Why is this surprising? Cupcakes are not a contentious issue. Call me when bagels make it big in Beirut.

Posted on September 23, 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

The Book of Life Is Shelved in the Jefferson Wing

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

In her last post, Jennifer Traig looked at the changes from her past year. She is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and Jewish Book Coucil.

Recently my husband and I moved to a new house. Because we had to sort, pack, and transport an entire house worth’s of stuff while working fulltime, caring for our newborn, and functioning on four hours of sleep, we thought it would also be a good time to catalog and label our entire library.

jewish author blog jennifer traigSo we did, and by we, I mean Rob. It was an enormous project. Although we rarely watch less than eight hours of TV a day, we like to think of ourselves as readers, too, and over the years we’ve acquired a lot of books. Rob alone has close to three thousand. My own books are fewer in number but wider in range, including such eclectic gems as The Twinkies Cookbook and Snoop Dogg’s Love Don’t Live Here No More: Book One of Doggy Tales.

A few hundred hours later, the P-Touch was smoking but every book was labeled and shelved in orderly rows. We’re still marveling at how neat it all is. Organization is new to us, our resolution for the year 5770. Before the move, a third of the books well enough alone by jennifer traigsat in mildewing boxes buried underneath the recycling on the back porch. The Chicago Manual of Style served as a coaster, the self-help books as ottomans. Maimonides was next to Miles Davis, and the collected works of William James were mixed in with back issues of Us Weekly where they belonged.

Now it’s more orderly. Rob labeled and arranged each title by its Library of Congress category number. This has led to some interesting juxtapositions. Because they are both works of personal nonfiction, The Essays of Montaigne ended up next to Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir. And we couldn’t help note with mild alarm that all our books on the Bible are, per Library of Congress designation, now labeled “BS.”

As for the Book of Life we’ll be talking about all this week, I don’t have a copy, but the Library of Congress does―quite a few, in fact. The Library catalog shows 84 different books by that title. Of these, thirteen are about the Bible (BS); two are about the occult (BF); one is about internal medicine (RC); and two are actually about death (BM). Another one includes contributions by Richard Pryor, Jack Nicholson, Tina Turner, and Madonna (PN). My favorite, by Hyman Molod, is about “the principles of clean eating.” That’s probably just a clunky translation of kashrut, but it does seem worth noting that the author holds a 1944 patent for something called a “poultry dipping system.”

Me, I’ll be sticking to apples and honey. G’mar hatimah tovah.

Jennifer Traig is the author, most recently, of Well Enough Alone: A Cultural History of My Hypochondria, as well as Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood and Judaikitsch, and the editor of The Autobiographer’s Handbook. She lives in Ann Arbor.

Posted on September 23, 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

10 Days to a Better You: Day 5

This entry was posted in Holidays, Practices on by .

With Yom Kippur bearing down on us, and the promise that only “repentance, prayer, and charity can alter the severity of the decree” you might be feeling like it’s a good time to start doing a little better. But being a better person can be a daunting task. Here at MyJewishLearning we put together 10 easy things you can do right away that will help you do better and feel better as you get ready for the Day of Atonement, and we’ll be revealing a new suggestion every day.
Missed tips 1-4? Find them here. nursing_home.JPG

5. Call up a local nursing home and ask if there’s anyone who could use a visitor. Bring a deck of cards and head over to play a rousing game of gin rummy.

Posted on September 23, 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

Jake and Amir in Hebrew

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

As a Rosh Hashanah treat, my faves Jake and Amir from CollegeHumor.com bring you a very Jewish version of their ongoing web series. Also, as a plug, check out the interview I did with them a couple months back. The interview will explain Amir’s Israeli accent in the video.

Posted on September 22, 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

WAY Crazier than Triumph the Insult Comic Dog

This entry was posted in History on by .

I blogged yesterday about Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s appearance at this year’s Chabad Telethon. But thanks to my friend Adam, who I continuously rely on to find the most insane stories out there, I found out about a much, much, much, MUCH, crazier appearance.

Ron Artest is crazy As a promotion for the telethon, Chabad held a free throw shooting contest (with every shot made in 60 seconds equaling an $1000 donation to Chabad) featuring, arguably the craziest man on the planet, Ron “Tru Warier” Artest. You may remember him from such instances like this (By the way, while he may be mentally insane, Artest also happens to be one of my favorite players. That’s just how to the NBA goes).

You can read all about it in The New Republic and see a slide show of the event courtesy of Chabad. But I think we can all agree that this picture is one of the more insane things you’ve ever seen. It’s almost like no one at Chabad has seen Sportscenter ever.

Posted on September 22, 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