Monthly Archives: September 2009

Convertibles in the Snow

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

Jennifer Traig, author of Well Enough Alone, is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

This New Year I’ll be grateful if there’s very little new. Last year there was far too much. Within a single week, I got married, got pregnant, and published a memoir. Six weeks after that I was dragged across the country to live in a house I’d never seen, in Ann Arbor, a place I’d visited just once.

jewish author blogI didn’t know what I was getting into at all. That single visit had been a Potemkin Village tour over a perfect summer weekend. My husband had only brought me to the nice places, the vegetarian restaurants and bead stores he knew I’d like, and he’d coached his friends to lie about the weather.

But now we were living here, and I wasn’t very happy about it. I was also fiercely home- and morning-sick. And so I spent the first few months sulking in bed and reading, by which I mean watching TV mostly but also sometimes reading. Usually the book in question was a doorstop biography of Marie Antoinette. I identified with the royal teenage newlywed. When she married, she also had to leave everyone and everything behind, even her name and underpants. I, at least, got to keep those.

After a little while, I decided it might be a good idea to go back on my antidepressants and get out of bed. And when I did I was surprised to find that I actually really liked Ann Arbor. In the month or so before we left Berkeley our block was cordoned off because of an in-home murder; our car window was bashed in and our things stolen; and a visitor found a small packet of heroin on our stoop. That doesn’t happen here. Yes, it snows a lot, but that just gives you a good excuse to stay home and read.

Which is the other thing I like about Ann Arbor. This is a town of readers, the place where Borders began. It’s also a town of writers, home to Elizabeth Kostova and Phoebe Gloeckner. Loads more pass through, like Ryan Harty, Julie Orringer, and Josh Henkin, whose lovely Ann Arbor novel Matrimony I’d read as preparation before my move and my marriage.

well enough alone by jennifer traigAnd then there’s Danit Brown. The month we moved she published Ask for a Convertible, a collection of linked short stories about a young Ann Arbor transplant that became my instant favorite. Saddled with a name that guarantees years of classroom torture, Osnat moves from Tel Aviv to this strange and snowy place with as much good cheer as I did, which is none. It’s a perfect book, wry and funny, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I loved every word, but these most of all:

Maybe it would be like all those movies where the guy brings home a girl he handpicked expressly to piss his parents off. Her father, Osnat knew, had once pulled the same trick and brought home a Catholic woman, but he’d just wanted money for a convertible. He was nineteen, and this strategy had worked for two of his friends, he’d told Osnat. It didn’t for him. His mother Osnat’s grandmother had simply taken the girl’s coat and fed her some brisket and some apple pie. “You’re not mad?” Osnat’s father had asked her afterward, and she’d said, “Do you think I’m blind? Or maybe you think I’m stupid?” Then she added, “My son, the pimp.” This always made Osnat’s father laugh. “And this is why you should never blackmail,” he liked to say. “You want a convertible? Ask for a convertible.” And when Osnat finally did, he told her to get a job like everyone else. “This is Michigan,” h’d said. “You don’t need a convertible.”

The funny thing is, now that I live in Michigan, I see convertibles all the time, way more than I did in, say, California or Israel, places where the climate actually permits roofless cars. I can only guess this is due to the same sensibility that leads Michigan to have more public golf courses than any other state, although we have some of the worst weather. And that’s another thing I like about this place, and I wonder if it’s why Brown still lives here, too: there’s a certain native convert-ability, an eagerness to seize the day when things are fair, and to adapt when they’re not. Osnat eventually figures out how to do this, and I’m figuring it out too.

You put the roof up. It’s not that hard.

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 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

Cloudy, with a Chance of Falafel

This entry was posted in General on by .

Movie titles translate differently into different cultures. There are all sorts of tangled idioms associated with different cultures. For instance, when I lived in Prague, the teen rom-com “She’s All That” was translated as “Takova Normalni Holka,” or “Such a Normal Girl.” It’s all to do with the subtleties and nuances of language.

The latest example of this is the new film (based on the awesome children’s book), Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which, in Israel, is being marketed somewhat differently:


If you can’t read Hebrew, the title is “Cloudy with a Chance of Falafel.” No word yet whether the digital animation has actually replaced the meatballs with falafel, although the poster kind of looks like it. Or whether the sequel (the book’s sequel was called “Pickles over Pittsburgh”) has anything to do with hummus, harif, or mango chutney.

Hat tip to io9.

Posted on September 22, 2009

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10 Days to a Better You: Day 4

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. carbon_offset.jpg

Missed tips 1-3? Find them here.

4. Flying for the High Holidays? That means you’re putting a lot of CO2, the leading cause of global warming, into the environment. You can offset your carbon footprint by supporting businesses and projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Terrapass and Carbonfund will take your donation and use it to make the world more breathable.

Posted on September 22, 2009

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Special Guest at the Chabad Telethon

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Apple and Honey may be the traditional sign that the new year is here, but as of late, you can make a strong argument that it has been replaced.

What is a High Holiday season without the Chabad Telethon? Held last Sunday, the telethon raised millions of dollars for the Chabad organization. But what makes the telethon so unique is their ability to attract “big” name celebrities to perform for the ultra-Orthodox crowd.

And this year was no different. I’m very happy to pass on this video from The Tonight Show, with highlights of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog at the Chabad Telethon. Thankfully for them, yet regrettable for me, Triumph was very, very tame, compared to his usual self.

Posted on September 21, 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

My Favorite Fast

This entry was posted in Holidays, Practices on by .

I know it’s kind of weird to have a favorite fast day, but I do. Tzom Gedaliah, I kind of love you.

Here’s what’s great about fasting today:empty_plate.jpg
I just spent two days eating intense meals and then sitting around. The most activity I got was walking to and from shul. I would be feeling really guilty about all that food, but since I’m fasting today, I’ve decided it’s all kind of evening out.

Yom Kippur
is a week from today. I would normally be kind of freaked out but Tzom Gedaliah is like a dry run. Not quite as long or as intense, but a good way to ease myself into the whole fasting thing.

After a weekend of accomplishing nothing, I’ve got tons on my To-Do list. A day without lunch and breakfast breaks will hopefully lead to more items crossed off my list.

It’s a fast day, but showering is allowed, as is wearing leather shoes. So instead of feeling completely disgusting, the way I do on Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, I just feel moderately gross.

Tonight I get to go to a break fast with a bunch of friends. Few things are as fun as break fasts.

Happy Tzom Gedaliah?

Posted on September 21, 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 Secret Shofar of Barcelona

This entry was posted in History, Holidays on by .

Rafael lives in 15th-century Spain. His father, Don Fernando, is the conductor of the Barcelona Symphony. But their family harbors a dangerous secret: They are Jewish conversos, secret shofar of barcelonaforced to publicly convert to Christianity in order to keep from being exiled or killed.

Of course, this is all just background. The Secret Shofar of Barcelona — a new picture book written by Jacqueline Dembar Greene (better known as the author of the Jewish “American Girl” books) and illustrated by Doug Chayka, is a good-natured story for young children about a boy growing up in the Spain of the Inquisition.

He and his family remain secretly Jewish, though, and any time that they venture to perform a Jewish ritual — whether it’s lighting the candles on Friday dinner or blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah — it must be done covertly.

conversos blowing shofarWhen the rest of the universe thinks you’re not Jewish, however, some things get overlooked — like Don Fernando’s being commissioned to perform a new symphony on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, which must be performed live for the local Duke. The rest of the family frets and worries. Or, at least, they do until Rafael devises a plan so that the whole family might hear the sounding of the shofar.

I won’t give anything away — not that it’s that hard to guess, of course. The plot is even and nonchalant. Perhaps it’s a little too nonchalant, considering that we’re dealing with one of the most horrific periods in Jewish history. The attitude that Rafael’s parents and their friends have when secretly expressing their Judaism seems a lot less daring than most of the literature would have you believe, with prayerbooks strewn around the house as the adults schmooze in the drawing room.

But the book’s treatment of the everyday actions of conversos is still both realistic and chilling. The narrative gets you solidly into the head of a young boy and his time period, and over comparatively few pages, it builds an effective world. The art is a little fuzzy and baroque for kids, but it’s bright and colorful and vivid, and the style has that otherworldly quality that makes it feel like the book is a window to another century and country.

conversos blowing shofar

With the onset of Rosh Hashanah, and as us Jews who live in free countries blow the shofar to repent, The Secret Shofar of Barcelona is a very different kind of warning — not just of what it means to be Jewish and free, but also of how to separate the very real fears of human danger, whether it’s being hit by a car or running from the Inquisitors, from the fear of God that we try to connect with on our way into the High Holiday season.

This morning in MJL meeting-land, we were talking about the difference between teaching adults about the High Holidays and teaching the subject to children. The one thing we all agreed on was that, for children, different things are important…but it’s just as important not to “lighten” it or dumb-down the ideas. This book does a masterful job of it, focusing on the smaller details in order to portray the bigger picture. And what a picture it is.

These images from The Secret Shofar of Barcelona appear with the permission of Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Minneapolis, MN. Text copyright © 2009 by Jacqueline Dembar Greene. Illustrations by Doug Chayka and copyright © 2009 by Lerner Publishing Group. For more information, please visit www.karben.com.

Posted on September 21, 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: Days 1, 2, & 3

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

The High Holidays are a great time to think about how we can improve ourselves. 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. closet.jpgHere 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.

Ready…set…Improve!

1. Clean out your closet and pile up everything you haven’t worn in over a year. Call your friends and have them do the same. Bring the whole lot to a homeless shelter or charity shop.

2. Sign up for a charity walk, run, or bike ride. Send out the mass email to your friends about contributing towards your goal.

3. All that change sitting in a jar on your dresser? Bring it with you on your way to work, and give handfuls to every beggar you see. If you don’t usually pass by homeless people during your commute, bring the money to the bank to deposit, and write a check for your favorite charity on the spot.

Posted on September 21, 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

My Last Post (Of The Year)

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Let’s cap off 5769 (that’s the year right?) with some cool links from the past week on MyJewishLearning.com. Print ‘em all off and bring ‘em to shul so you can look busy when the usher asks you how your job is going.

Tzom Gedaliah. The forgotten High Holiday holiday (I’m sorry Shemini Atzeret. Your title has been taken away from you.). But really, who was Gedaliah? And why can’t I eat lunch on the anniversary of his death?

If you’re Sephardi, you probably already know all about this. But if you’re Ashkenazi, and ignorant about Sephardi culture (guilty as charged), maybe you should brush up on this Rosh Hashanah custom.

I ran kids services in one fashion or another at my synagogue for a good 5-6 years. Thankfully, I have since retired (and retired life is sweet). But if you’re a parent, you might be freaking out about what to do with your kids on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This little article of ours can give your some pointers.

Finally, Ken Gordon wrote what is possibly one of my favorite articles since I’ve been working here, where he and his family attempt to make their own shofar.

Shana Tova Multituders.

Posted on September 18, 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

Food, Glorious Food

This entry was posted in General on by .

How does kosher salt (or, more correctly “koshering salt”) differ from other salt? (JCarrot)

Tova Mirvis looks at the impact in the Orthodox world of three cookbooks: The Kosher Palette, Kosher by Design and, Kosher By Design Entertains. (Tablet)

The new management team at Agriprocessors–now called Agri Star–is off to a rocky start. (Forward)

Subway is now the US’s the largest kosher restaurant chain (9 franchises, and 7 more are planned), having overtaken Mendy’s and Dougie’s. (Kansas City Jewish Chronicle)

Could Kashrus supervision be done via cameras placed in restaurant kitchens? (Ha’aretz)

Posted on September 18, 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

Beep beep Shanah Tovah Beep Beep!

This entry was posted in Holidays, Israel on by .

You are probably sending all of your Jewish friends messages wishing them a Shanah tovah today. You might be doing it on facebook, gchat, twitter, or carrier pigeon. In Israel, you’re probably doing it via text or SMS, because apparently there are 43 million New Years greetings texted during Rosh Hashanah. It costs about 44 agurot per text message, so basically, the cell companies in Israel are having a very sweet New Year.

For more about this craziness, check out the video below (it’s in Hebrew without subtitles–sorry). It includes the requisite whining about how no one sends real letters or calls anyone anymore, we all just do everything via text and facebook. Then they encourage everyone to buy actual cards and send snail mail greetings this holiday season. Then they feature a letter my friend Adi made (woot!).

I’m all for that, but I have to say, there are only so many people that I want to send a real letter to. My good friend David? I’ll walk to the mailbox for him. That guy I once met at a USY dance in 1999–he can read my good wishes on my fb wall.

Plus, facebook is more intimate than you think. That video I posted? Found it on Adi’s wall.

And with that:
Tamar Fox is wishing all of the Mixed Multitudes blog readers a happy, healthy, and sweet new year, and an adventurous Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arrr!

Posted on September 18, 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