Monthly Archives: September 2009

Wise Fridays: Three Books of Life

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the reception on your WiFri

R. Kruspedai said in the name of R. Yohanan: On Rosh Hashanah, three books are opened — one with the names of the completely wicked, one with the names of the completely righteous, and one with the names of those who are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked. The completely righteous: their verdict — life — is written down and sealed at once. Those neither completely righteous nor completely wicked: their verdict is suspended between New Year’s Day and the Day of Atonement. If they are deemed to deserve it [by resolving to repent], they are inscribed for life; if [they fail to repent] and therefore deemed not to deserve life, they are inscribed for death.

- Babylonian Talmud, tractate Rosh Hashanah 16b

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

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

Shana Tova Woot!

This entry was posted in General, Holidays on by .

On this Erev Rosh Hashanah, Woot is offering a fantastic pair of Maximo iM-490 iMetal Isolation Stereo Earphones. Headphones

Need to know more?

That Lucky, Lucky Shofar Happy New Year! There’s probably some phrase for that in Hebrew, which we don’t actually know. Bear with us, we’re in Texas.

Okay, we know we’re a little early, but come sundown, you’re not supposed to be using the computer, right? We think that’s how it works. And that’s why we’re wishing you a Happy 5770 a few hours early, with the help of these Maximo iM-490 iMetal Isolation Earphones.

To be fair, there’s a lot of your traditions we non-chosen types don’t feel that we completely understand. Like, is it true that if you used a whole bunch of two foot extension cords to make a border around a village, the whole place is technically considered one house? If that’s true, you could find these Maximo iM-490 iMetal Isolation Earphones to be extra helpful! Plus we’re thinking that the three sizes of eartips (which allow anyone a snug, comfortable fit) could mean that the Maximo iM-490 iMetal Isolation Earphones will make a great gift for all those people you have wronged in the past year. We’re just assuming everyone you wronged had an iPhone, you understand. We always feel like wronging those types of people too. Irritating smug jerkface iPhone owners, we’d like to give them a good kick right square in the… oh, but we were talking about your most important holiday.

So based on our ten minutes of research, we find it unfortunate that the Maximo iM-490 iMetal Isolation Earphones won’t be pomegranate colored, but you will get a lovely travel pouch which you can use after the holiday when you’re allowed to travel again. Maybe when you hit the ham and shrimp with cheeseburgers buffet down the street. What? Why are you all scowling now? What did we say? Jeez, some people. Oh, right, right, you guys don’t do “Jeez”. Our bad.

Anyway, when you’re out for the afternoon, throwing crumbs into your local river on our behalf, these Maximo iM-490 iMetal Isolation Earphones will make sure you can still be enjoying your Burt Bacharach, John Zorn and the Beastie Boys the entire time. And that will hopefully start off those next five thousand and seven hundred years just right.

So Happy New Year, one and all! We hope it’s fabulous! Leshana Tovah Tekatev Vitechatem! Also we just cut and pasted that bit so we have no idea what it really means. Maybe something about “Talk Like A Pirate Day”. Were there any Jewish pirates? Besides Jake Pitler?

(HT: My awesome sister!)

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

Jeremiah Lockwood sings Hineni

This entry was posted in Holidays, Practices on by .

Sometimes, you just gotta let your heart cry out. In honor of Rosh Hashanah, and in honor of the Sway Machinery’s annual repentance tour, here’s the most extreme hazzanut I’ve ever seen.

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

Jennifer Steinman’s “Motherland”: Mourning and Rejoicing in Africa

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

Filmmaker Jennifer Steinman has completed projects for PBS, the Discovery Channel, The Food Network and The Gap. Her first feature-length film, the documentary Motherland, follows six women, all survivors of a child’s death, to rural South Africa — where they worked in a rigorous two-week volunteer program to better living conditions for children.

The women had nothing in common except for the fact that they had all lost a child. The process — the first time that most of the mothers had spent time with other survivors — was the first time they didn’t have to put up a front for the rest of the world. It was also the first time that many of the participants actually confronted the experience — including the director’s best friend, Barbara, who was the impetus for the film.

motherland, the film, south Africa

It sounds like a depressing movie. In a way, it is. There’s no holding back, not much talk of a better life or a Higher Meaning or mercy. Death sucks, and these women don’t mince words. They also don’t hold back from their experience of being survivors — which is at least as intense.

But there’s also a lot of joy. When one woman talks about visiting her son’s grave and lying on his headstone every day before working as a paramedic, it’s tender, almost religious. And then there’s the whole Africa thing — all these inner-city Americans discovering the wackiness and wildness of a third-world country. They discover African culture, and they discover the limits of poverty in South Africa. It’s a very Job-like experience, in which they’re pushed to the limits of faith, questioning the meaning of everything. But there’s also a measure of Job’s triumphalism: when these women succeed, they really succeed; and when they rejoice, they really know how to embrace joy.

MJL spoke to Jennifer Steinman about making the journey, making the film, knowing when to turn off the camera, and her own experiences with doing righteous deeds.

MJL: The movie starts out with six very emotionally-fragile women and only gets more intense from there. How did you keep it together for the entire filming?

Jennifer Steinman: There were definitely some very emotional days, and lots of raw emotion for everyone — myself and the crew included. For most of the women on the trip, it had been less than two years since they’d lost their children so the pain was very fresh and on the surface at all times. As someone who doesn’t have children of my own yet, I was blown away by the strength and courage it takes for these women to just get out of bed every morning and make the conscious choice to move forward.

But I also think one of the most beautiful things about the trip, and about the human spirit in general, was the ability each person had to find laughter through the tears and huge amounts of joy even in the midst of inconceivable suffering. I think we all fell in love with each other on the trip, and with the idea of why we were there and what we were doing, and that was what held us all together.

How did you first meet Barbara? How did you find the other women involved?

Barbara and I had been friends for many years. We met doing volunteer work together several years before her son passed away. When I first conceived of the trip, she jumped at it, and she put me in touch with her grief counselor who gave me several referrals for other women for the film.

Then I decided to cast my net wider, and I sent out a blast email to all sorts of grief organizations, counseling centers, children’s hospitals — I thought I might be able to find one or two more people that way. In just a couple of days I received almost a hundred letters from moms who wanted to go! Needless to say, it was incredibly moving and emotional going through all of them, and eventually having to narrow it down. My original plan was only to take four women, but I think I ended up with the perfect six.

Were there moments where any of the women told you to stop filming — that it was too intense?

I don’t really think there were any times that anyone actually asked us to stop. There was a lot of trust that was built quickly between us, and with my amazing camerawomen, Mira Chang and Karen Landsberg.

Honestly, I think the women really forgot about the cameras after the first couple of days. Or, at least, they got completely comfortable with them being there as part of the experience. There was definitely a lot of footage I left out because I felt it was too personal or perhaps too intense. My goal was never to overwhelm people with sadness, but rather to give voice to these women’s stories as a means for starting a open, honest conversation about the universal experience of grief, and how we heal.

Had you been to Africa before you started shooting?

Believe it or not, no! It was my first time there, too. If only documentary filmmakers could have a scouting budget…(laughs)

From a cynical perspective, it’s very easy to look at a project in which six women from the US come to Africa to help the poor children, then flee right back to their comfortable first-world lives.

I think the much greater crime would be for people to live forever in their “comfortable” first-world lives and never leave! For me, it has always been an essential part of Jennifer Steinmanlife to experience other countries, other cultures, other ways of life. I think many of the problems that exist on this planet are the result of people staying isolated in their own comfort zones, and not exposing themselves to or understanding the ways in which other people live.

I believe a global perspective is essential in understanding and appreciating what we have at home, and that was why I felt it was so important to take these women to Africa — so they could really get a global perspective on suffering. I also think that while we might be economically more “comfortable” in America, there were so many lessons we learned in Africa about what it really means to be happy and what the source of true happiness is, and the answer was not necessarily material wealth. I know that all of us — the American women and our South African hosts — all feel that our lives were enriched as a result of the experience.

Tzedakah is one of the most important values that we have in Judaism. Motherland is an extreme example of helping people in need…but it’s also a pretty far reach from the ability of most people. What should other people take from this movie — those of us who aren’t able to take off to Africa? How has it made you rethink your own tzedakah? And when can we say we’ve done enough?

I have always believed that giving is a very healing thing to do, and that idea was the impetus behind putting together this trip. I think often what happens when people get hurt or are suffering is that they assume the way to heal is to turn inside, and to isolate in order to take care of themselves.

While taking care of yourself can be a very necessary part of the grieving process, I have seen lots of people get stuck there. As a long-time volunteer, my personal experience has been that the most healing times have occurred when I have stepped outside of myself, outside of my comfort zone, and given myself in service to others.

And you definitely don’t need to go to Africa to do that — there are opportunities to give in every community in the world! One of my favorite sayings is “Love is not something you get, love is something you give.” I think that when we give to other people we create love, and it is that space in which the most healing and the most personal freedom occur.

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

The New Year Will Be Televised

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Last year, we got an awesome letter — from Antarctica — asking whether we knew of any services that would be broadcast over the Internet. (By the way, it resulted in an even awesomer interview.)

kol nidre onlineThis year, the Jewish TV Network is running a live streaming online broadcast of Kol Nidre services. If you’re stranded in an un-Jewish-inhabited area and don’t know what to do — or even if you just can’t afford services and there’s no Chabad or other free service nearby — you can tune in. The services are broadcast from Nashuva in Los Angeles, and are led by Rabbi Naomi Levy, who was named one of the top 50 rabbis in America, if you believe the Newsweek poll (or if you believe my friends who keep raving about her).

So, whether you’re in Antarctica without a prayerbook or on the island from Lost and don’t know the tune to “Hineni”, there’s someplace you can turn. God bless the Internet.

Posted on September 17, 2009

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Michael Jordan-6, Tamir Goodman-0

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

It’s a sad day in the basketball world. Tamir Goodman, the high school senior who swept the nation ten years ago after being dubbed the “Jewish Jordan” has retired, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Tamir Goodman Goodman became a celebrity overnight after averaging 35 ppg at Talmudic Academy of Baltimore. He was offered a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Maryland. Goodman played every game wearing a kippah and did not plan on playing games on Shabbat. He was even featured on the front page of Sports Illustrated.

Then it went downhill from there. Goodman, once thought to be one of the best high school players in the country, turned out to be a little over hyped. He ended up playing basketball at Towson, where he stopped after two seasons, after putting up very mediocre numbers.

After leaving the team, Goodman made aliyah, where he signed a contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv and was put on loan to play for Giv’at Shmuel. Goodman eventually joined the Israeli Army, where he suffered a knee injury.

Since then, Tamir has tried making comebacks with teams in the United States and Israel. But today, he decided it was time to call it quits, at the age of 27.

Now, Tamir, a father of three, will work for Maccabi Haifa’s new charity group and will travel around raising money for poor kids to go see basketball games in Israel.

Posted on September 17, 2009

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Our Favorite Cantor

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

What is a cantor? Most of my Christian friends don’t understand: The position of the cantor, or hazzan, is sort of a cross between a prayer leader and a singing tutor. (My Baptist friends, on the other hand — all I have to say is, “He’s the guy who gets down on the synagogue stage,” and they get it right away.)

Fortunately, the world no longer has to rely on my sketchy comparisons. Our favorite cantor here at MyJewishLearning, Jeremiah Lockwood (the exemplary lead singer of The Sway Machinery) explains it to us. And, fortunately, to you.

Posted on September 17, 2009

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How to Be Jewish (and Yourself)

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

I got a pretty wild question in my inbox the other day, in regard to a college application:

“‘I am a different person because of my experiences here’ is a frequent refrain of our alumni. Please reflect on how you imagine your life will be different if you choose our dual-degree program for your college experience rather than attending a traditional liberal arts school.”

I thought of you and how you live your life Jewishly from my understanding. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me like you have a great balance of both the secular and Jewish world. Their motto seems to be “getting the best of both worlds” and after reading Yom Kippur a Go-Go and keeping up with your blog, it seems to me you show me that it is possible to also get the best of both worlds.

Is there, like, something profound you can tell me about the experience of being a Hasidic Jew, being a part of the secular world?

Here’s what I think: the Jewish world is obsessed with thinking that Judaism contradicts basically everything else. “How can you be religious and ____?” people always ask — and you can fill in that blank with basically anything. What they’re really asking is how can you be mindful of your Judaism at the same time as you write/rap/get down at a club/hang out with non-Jews. i mean, the actual answer’s simple: because God created the whole world, and it’s all holy, and our lives are all about finding the holiness in everything. but how do you do that? that’s where the real answers (and the explanation, and the beauty) comes from, I think.

How’s that?

Posted on September 16, 2009

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Living Actively

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Holidays on by .

Our partner, The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, regularly hosts Jewish study sessions on a variety of different topics.  Last week, they discussed “Coping with Adversity” taught by Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder and president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. Below are reflections from Nerissa Clarke, the Senior Bronfman Fellow at The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.

Rabbi Weiss presented a text from Rabbi Soloveicheik, which states: “According to Judaism, man’s mission in his world is to turn fate into destiny- an existence that is passive and influenced, to an existence that is active and influential.”

Soloveicheik argues that while there are certain things in life we cannot control, namely our birth and our death, there are other things in life over which we do have an influence. The quote reminded me a picture I have hanging up in my small NYC apartment, which often gives me inspiration. The image shows a young girl joyfully painting a scenic view on the walls of her bedroom while purposefully disregarding the fact that the only view from her small window is of a brick wall. The caption reads “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” According to Soloveicheik (and the art on my bedroom wall), the key to coping with adversity is to live as a subject in your story, wherein you actively pursue life, a rather than as an object, wherein you let life act upon you.

During the session, the group raised question, “So how exactly does one move from being a passive object to an active subject in one’s own life?” I believe the transformation occurs from the development of self-awareness. One cannot become the first-person in their life narrative if they are not aware that they exist as a distinct and unique entity. It is not enough, however, only to be self-aware. In order to take full control of one’s life, one must also understand where they fit into the broader landscape, and how they relate to the many other distinct actors who exist in the world.

On Rosh Hashanah, we are told that “repentance, prayer and charity cancel the evil decree.” To me, the connection between becoming an active subject in one’s own life and these three components of Rosh Hashanah is clear. Repentance involves inward reflective self-awareness; prayer requires the humbling upward realization that there is more to life than self; and charity necessitates outward interaction with other distinct beings in the world.

As we enter the season of Rosh Hashanah, may we each think not only of ourselves and how to take control of our own lives, but also of our interactions with others and our impact on the world. Through inward repentance, upward prayer and outward charity, may we all come one step closer to turning our fate into destiny.

Posted on September 16, 2009

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The Debate Rages On

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Every year, after Labor Day, as summer comes to a close and the leaves start to change colors, a fight rages around North America. There are two camps and animosity can sometimes get out of control.

I’m referring, of course, to the debate over the High Holidays on the weekends. While we can’t control the Jewish calendar (if we did, I vote for more Purim and less Yom Kippur, but that’s just me), we can have opinions on whether or not we like weekend Jewish holidays. So lets take a look at both arguments:

Pro-Weekend Holiday: “I’m a freshman in college! I’m already feeling overwhelmed with the school work as is and now you’re telling me I have to miss seven days of school?! Are you kidding?” Or a similar argument “I have to use all my vacation days this year so I can go to synagogue? That’s just wrong God. That’s just wrong.”

Anti-Weekend Holiday: Ahem…NFL football. Unless you only want to start watching in Week 6. Also, bars in Murray Hill in NYC are going to go out of business.

I happen to fall on the Anti-Weekend side. For one, I never did homework. Second, I work for a Jewish organization, so I wouldn’t have missed work. Third, I just love Terry Bradshaw.

Which side do you fall on?

Posted on September 15, 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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