Monthly Archives: October 2009

Best Of The Week

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Here we go. What didn’t we do this week? Well, for one, we didn’t write about Maimonides-related Halloween costumes. Oh wait, we did.

If I were to have a time machine, and believe me, it’s on my list of things to get, I’d DEFINITELY go to Eastern Europe between the years 1700-1914. Why you ask? I just miss traditional Jewish life there. After reading this, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I read A.J. Jacobs’ Year of Living Biblically a couple months ago and I thought it was unbelievable. Then Matthue decided to ask him for an interview literally hours before I was going to e-mail him asking for my own interview. You snooze you lose, Jeremy. You snooze you lose.

Kosherfest sounds like a dream. A wonderful, gluttonous dream. This year, Tamar was lucky enough to go and live blog for us. Once again, Jeremy, you snooze you lose.

Posted on October 30, 2009

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Paul Rudnick: The Man Who Tells Bette Midler What to Say

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There is no better introduction to Paul Rudnick’s book of essays, I Shudder, than its subtitle: And Other Reactions to Life, Death, and New Jersey. And there is nowhere that this description is more apt than the first essay: in which Rudnick tells his life story — a common story, really, of being a writer and moving to the Big City and coming out as a gay man — through a series of visits, by his mother and her two sisters, of his West Village apartments.

i shudder paul rudnickRudnick has a gift for writing about any situation — whether facing off against a movie producer high on cocaine or being a Jew doing fieldwork at a convent for a film script (Sister Act) or emigrating from New Jersey to Manhattan — with good humor and total nonchalance. More remarkably, he shares that sort of easy wisdom with his characters. He doesn’t offer a coming-out story so much as an understanding, sometimes silent and sometimes not, and even the darker sides of his new New York neighborhood are treated with a gentle glibness by his aunts: “‘S and M,’ said Lil, nodding her head. ‘That’s when people like to have other people beat them up, right? Like on dates?'”

Aunt Lil, the don of the Rudnick aunt mafia, reappears again and again in these stories. When Rudnick finally achieves the Jewish dream of dating a doctor, his Aunt Lil is the judge and jury to whom he must present his new acquisition. The comic tension is insurmountable, of course — not so much because of the doctor’s gender, male, so much as his name, John — and the ensuing conclusions about his religion.

And then there are the essays that don’t dwell on the Jew stuff at all. Reading about the making of the Addams Family film is a bit of gleeful joy that arouses both my sycophantic goth side and my faux-pas-friendly flamboyant side. Reading Bette Midler stories during the writing of Sister Act (she was contracted to star in the film, until the last moment) is pure joy. His series of grumpy-old-man meditations — well, meditations, fashion tips, and plots to assassinate Rachel Ray — are a weird series of interstitial fantasies that make the rest of his essays that much more vividly real.

Most compelling of all, however, is “Good Enough to Eat,” which, though it’s entirely devoid of gastrointestinal jokes, is no less a quintessentially Jewish musing on food than anything you’re likely to find on Seinfeld or the humor bank:

An unlikely number of people, and particularly my family, have always been obsessed with my diet. This is because, since I was born, I have never had the slightest interest in eating any sort of meat, fish, poultry, or vegetable. I wasn’t the sad-eyed victim of some childhood trauma; I was never frightened by a malevolent tube steak or a rampaging halibut. A greasy-haired stranger never lured me into his van and forced me to stroke an ear of corn while he took photos. I don’t have what daytime talk shows and the Healthy Living sections of newspapers call food issues. What I have is a sweet tooth which has spread to all of my other organs. I probably have a sweet appendix.

I’ve always thought that David Sedaris was Jewish, even when I’ve been corrected by people much more in the know than I. Paul Rudnick has done more than enough to convince me — not that Sedaris is Jewish, but that Rudnick is actually David Sedaris. It’s good, and so is he.

Posted on October 30, 2009

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Wise Fridays: Professional Development

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wise fridays: sharpen the reception on your WiFri

Rabbi Judah says: Whoever does not teach his son a trade or profession teaches him to be a thief.

–Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 29a

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on October 30, 2009

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Back On The Kanye Train!

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Oh Taylor Swift. You were doing so well. Everyone loved you and your innocent ways. You even went on The View. It doesn’t get much better than that.

But you crazy celebrities just can’t handle being on top. While everyone hates Kanye West for ruining your “moment” at the VMAs, you had to one up him. And it’s a shame. Because I’m a fan. I even wrote about you in support.

Now TMZ has published this photo from Katy Perry’s birthday party, in which Taylor is pictured with some idiot kid with a HUGE swastika on his shirt. Of course, she isn’t wearing the shirt. And according to her publicist (not that we should believe anything a publicist says), Taylor took pictures with hundreds of people that night.

If that’s the case. Then Taylor Swift is one of the dumbest people in Hollywood.

Taylor Swift is stupid

Posted on October 29, 2009

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Hard Love for New York

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I really can’t decide what to think of the new film New York, I Love You — except that I should probably see it before i make any judgment. The trailer looks stunning. But the web clips of the segment “Kosher Vegetarian,” its segment about Hasidic Jews, make me wince — although it’s scripted by Suketu Mehta, who wrote the amazing book Maximum City.

So that’s why I decided to ask Rabbi Elli.

natalie portman kosher vegetarian

Elli Meyer is known as Hollywood’s go-to Hasidic Jew, with hundreds of credited and uncredited roles in everything from The Sorpranos to 27 Dresses. He appeared in the film’s Hasidic Jewish sequence — in which Natalie Portman appears as a Satmar Hasid. He sent out a mini-review to his mailing list of Shomer Shabbos Actors of America — and now he’s agreed to share it with the rest of the world.

It was an okay film, not great. Our sequence (the Hasidic Jeweler sequence) is one of the best, but again not great. The dialogue is pretty ridiculous. Abe Karpen is VERY well featured and seen again at the end of the film. The film is VERY blatantly missing Black, Latino and Gay sequences…

The whole film is very dark. It was all filmed in Feb, March and April and shows NY to be very wet and blah. Very little color, and we know NY is VERY colorful. The editing leaves a LOT to be desired, very choppy. It is also out of sequence and sometimes hard to follow because the scenes are short and we don’t get enough time to know who the characters are. The music is amazing and that makes a huge difference in watching the movie. Actually, it is the saving grace of the entire piece. The two most outstanding pieces are most definitely the Prom and the Older Couple. Ours would be my third favorite.

I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Below is a short behind-the-scenes take with Mira Nair (who directed the Jewish segment, as well as Monsoon Wedding, a brilliant movie about religious families of a different sort). You also get a short glimpse of the flirtation — which feels forced here, but is hopefully different in the actual film — between a religious Jain and a Hasid, who’s played (with hardcore awesome Israeli accent!) by Natalie Portman.

Portman’s other beau in the film was played by a Hasidic actor who got in trouble with his community for appearing in the short film. One of the New York tabloids blew the story completely out of proportion, of course — but apparently, he didn’t drop out (that was the newspapers’ hot air) and it didn’t affect the final product at all. I have to say, as excited as I am to see Ms. Portman frumming it up, I’m more excited to see Grand Rabbi Elli in action at the wedding dance.

Posted on October 28, 2009

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What Jews Can Learn from Rumspringa

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I’m not a big re-blogger — if I think an article’s good, I’ll just tell you to go there. But the latest post on The Sensible Jew really hit home for me. From the first sentences of the post, my eyebrows shot up and stayed that way. “The Amish are best known for their ascetic lifestyle and their shunning of modern technology,” writes the eponymous blogger. “Less well known is their mechanism for retaining their young folk.”

The first Hasidic community I lived in, I was taken in by the bad kids. They were the stuff of stories, the kids who smoke on Shabbos and traffick in the secular world like it was illicit drugs. There are a lot of these kids in Hasidic communities who are wriggling out of the faith, either from a religious or a social perspective. Some of them move to other areas and distance themselves. Others stay right where they are, and rarely leave the house, either carrying on a double life or maintaining an indifferent one.

Rumspringa — as Amish teens could tell you better than I could — is the time between a person’s 16th birthday and the time they choose to devote themselves to living properly Amish and getting married.

amish on rumspringa“There is something familiar about all this,” notes the Sensible Jew, going on to discuss ways that this manifests in Orthodox communities. But the article’s real value comes when the Jew describes how we as a community have done a horrid job in addressing the issues, preferring instead to sweep it under the carpet: “There is nothing quite like isolation for intensifying and exacerbating an already difficult situation,” it says. “And there is nothing like shame to motivate the secrecy necessary for such isolation.”

Most importantly, the article isn’t a simple denouncement of the way we are. Rather, it’s a call to arms about the way we could be — since such a high percentage of Amish teens return to the fold after Rumspringa, and disillusioned Jewish kids, it seems, are just turning into Jewish adults. The entry — okay, you really should just read the rest of it — is a battle plan: addressing the problems in our community, dealing with them, and figuring out what, yes, we can learn from the Amish.

Posted on October 28, 2009

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John Oliver’s Jewish Impression Is God Awful (And Funny)

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It’s been said over and over again. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart is the king of the Jewish joke. I feel like they can’t go two episodes without making one (Ironically enough, in an interview I did with Daily Show writer Rob Kutner a couple months back, he said that most of the Jew jokes are written by the non-Jews on the staff).

Well, last night was no different. In a piece commenting on the Catholic Church reaching out to conservative Anglicans, correspondent John Oliver went into a pretty amazing tirade about Jews. But what is really worth noting is his absolutely dreadful “Jew” impression. In his “mind,” Jews just say “Oyga Boyga” over and over again. For some reason, it reminds me of Team America: World Police.

Check it out for yourself (If you are outside of the U.S., I tried to embed a proper link, but was unsuccessful. If you’re from Canada, you can watch the full episode here. John Oliver is in part II).

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Ecce No Homo
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Posted on October 27, 2009

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Shiksa (Girlfriend)

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I’m way behind the learning curve on this one. I guess that’s what happen when you turn 18 and stop learning about new music until enough people tweet about it. I mean, with lyrics like these:

Let’s spend the night entwined
Out on the boardwalk in sickly summertime
like the yin and the yang of the afikomen
You’re the omen
That all has changed that was deranged

— How can you not be instantly 14, and instantly bored in Hebrew School?


But the band Say Anything’s single “Shiksa (Girlfriend)” wins the prize for most randomly named song of the week. Even though I suspect it’s actually probably an inside joke about Maxim Bemis, the lead singer, and a fling/girlfriend/life partner or something along those lines, it’s still a cool title.

And, seriously — who among us hasn’t jumped up and down on his or her bed, rocking out to the thrill of forbidden love with a cheesy pop-punk soundtrack?

Posted on October 27, 2009

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Kosherfest III

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Being at Kosherfest kind of makes me want to go home and take a shower, but there are a number of funny and awesome things about this gathering:

gourme mist–There is some really good food and great products sprinkled among the usual (and bad) suspects. Holy Cow Beef Jerky looks like it could be good. Nature’s Select Smart Cookies are fantastic. Toobro cheeses are of much higher quality than I ever could have expected, and the KosherKeepers containers are a fantastic and simple idea that many households will want to use.

– Ethnic foods are beginning to make some inroads. There’s nothing really revolutionary here, but I id see some Mexican, Japanese and Indian foods. As these get more popular I think kosher food will get better and more interesting.

kosher marshmallows–Every kosher meat booth here is emphasizing that they’re organic and all-natural. I don’t know that that means anything, but they all look significantly better than Rubashkins ever did. It seems like a step in the right direction, at the very least.

– The variety of kosher wines and liquors is growing all the time, and is already fairly diverse and interesting.

– There are excellent pickle and olive samples all over the place.

– There’s a shocking number of good-looking people at this trade show.

– There’s a lot of talk about making kosher food healthier and more nutritious (but I think most of it is just talk and nothing else).

kosher pickles kosherfest

Posted on October 27, 2009

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Kosherfest II

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Everything here seems to have the label “All Natural,” which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me since as far as I can tell, this is the processed food capitol of New Jersey right now. I keep asking people what it means to be “all natural” and they helpfully tell me that they only use “all natural” ingredients. Um, what? Lots of stands refuse to answer the question when they see I’ve got a camera.

mashed potatoesOn the other hand, some of the “all natural” food is damn good. Maybe it’s just because it’s full of wheat, corn and salt, but the little pieces of veggie burgers are delicious. Most of the desserts look significantly less enticing. There are packages of raw chicken and fish sitting on a lot of tables, too, which doesn’t look attractive at all.

Had my first Susie Fishbein (of Kosher By Design fame) sighting, and discovered a hilarious booth for Holy Cow beef jerky. If I wasn’t a vegetarian I’d susie fishbein kosher by designtotally try the jerky for the name alone. Conversely, I couldn’t never put anything in my mouth that was made by a company called Geshmak.

As far as I can tell, there’s nothing here to encourage people to cook. Everything is either something you just heat up and eat, or something your pour over something else. Other than Fishbein, no one is selling any cookbooks. There are holy cowsome dips (tons of hummus, of course) but no falafel that I can find, which I think is interesting. Also, I’ve seen exactly one booth that seems like it caters to non-Ashkenazi tastes.

Some of the booths are very confusing. Argentina, the country, seems to have it’s own booth. The OU has a completely empty booth, and the Paskesz booth is huge but has no samples except for a bowl of kosher for Passover potato chips that no one is touching.

Best thing I’ve eaten so far today: tiny little purple cookies made with beets. Worst thing I’ve eaten so far today: a mini latke.

Posted on October 27, 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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