Monthly Archives: October 2009

It’s Like My Family’s Passover Pasta Fest

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I love TV. Really love it. At the beginning of the fall television premiers, I may be balancing 40-50 shows. Thank goodness for DVR (all three of them in my house).

The only problem with watching so many shows is that I’m often a week or two behind some of my favorite ones.

But I knew when my sister texted me last night saying, “Are u watching Glee– u must blog about it on mjl!” it was time to catch up.

The scene she was talking about in particular was truly a beauty. (SPOILER ALERT) We find out that Noah ‘Puck’ Puckerman, is Jewish, during a not-so traditional family moment.

He flashes back to his family’s annual “Simchas Torah screening of Schindler’s List.” He says, “It makes my mom feel connected to her Jewish roots.” While offering Puck some sweet and sour pork, his mom begs “Why can’t you date a Jewish girl?”

Later that night Puck dreams that Rachel (who we learned was Jewish a few weeks ago) climbs into his window, wearing a massive Jewish star necklace. It’s not 24 hours later that the two are making out.

The relationship doesn’t last, but you’ll have to watch the entire episode to see manifestations of his Jewish guilt, impromptu kippah-wearing moments, and an ode to one of my favorite Jewish singers– Neil Diamond.

You can find the beginning of the Jewy Jewiness around 13 minutes in.

Posted on October 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

The Rashida Jones All-Stars

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I mentioned yesterday that my next post would be my team for the Rashida Jones All-Stars. Now, if you didn’t read my blog post from yesterday, here is a quick recap. On ESPN writer Bill Simmons‘ Friday podcast, he and ESPN fantasy expert Matthew Berry thought of the concept of the “Michael Douglas All-Stars,” a group of celebrities who people don’t realize are Jews.

Rashida Jones is jewish I, in my sports/pop culture/Jewish obsessed brain, thought this was a fantastic idea. The one problem though is that everyone knows that Michael Douglas is Jewish. His father, Kirk, was born Issur Danielovitch for god sakes. So I decided it should be called the “Rashida Jones All-Stars,” named after the very talented “Parks & Recreations” actress.

Before I reveal my list (by reveal, I mean that it is right under this), here are my criteria. 1) Either I didn’t know they were Jewish until I researched this, or if I did, the vast majority of people would not.

2) When I found out, my first reaction was, “ACTUALLY?” For example, I found out that Seth Meyers from Saturday Night Live is Jewish but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. He didn’t make the team.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Rashida Jones All-Stars:

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Amanda Bynes, best known for her WB series “What I Like About You.”

- Yasmine Bleeth, former Baywatch star. Not well enough known celebrity to warrant making the team.

- Ron Jeremy, world’s most famous male porn star. (the link opens to his wikipedia page, don’t worry)

The Bench:

- Zac Efron, star of High School Musical.

- Neve Campbell, star of “Party of Five,” among other things.

- David Duchovny, star of “The X-Files” and “Californication.”

- Courtney Love, lead singer of “Hole,” and widow of Kurt Cobain.

Starting Lineup: (I tried to have a good male-female ratio here. But believe me, Courtney Love deserves to be on this list.)

- The one and only, Rashida Jones.

- Joaquin Phoenix, no freakin’ way.

- Paula Abdul, American Idol.

- Sean Penn, from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

- Olivia Newton-John, “Grease.”

If you disagree with any of this, please send in your own list of all-stars. Or if you think I’m secretly an anti-Semite, I love to get that stuff too.

Posted on October 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

Love in Infant Monkeys

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Lydia Millet’s new book Love in Infant Monkeys is a collection of short stories about the interaction between animals and people. While it could never replace our article that examines why God created animals in the first place, it’s packed with nuanced observations about animal behavior, human behavior, and how vast (or not-vast) the difference between the two can sometimes be.

love in infant monkeysMillet, who works for the Center for Biological Diversity and whose last book, How the Dead Dream, is a chilling portrait of animal extinction, definitely comes with an agenda. In the first story, “Sexing the Pheasant,” Millet looks at an ordinary day at the Ritchie hunting ranch in London, on what must be a routine act in that household — the shooting of a pheasant. To be exact, the story opens directly after the shooting. The bird lays on the ground, its beak spurting blood, its body growing limp, which sends Madonna into an existential meditation on stardom, the British nation’s perception of her lifestyle, tabloid coverage, and — of course — kabbalah.

The first mentions of her spiritual devotion are casual — “OK. The rabbi had been hinting at this: It was better not to kill animals. For sport, anyway” — but they quickly grow more substantial. She name-checks sefirot and questions God’s place, not in the universe, but in human dealings. The climax of the story is a striking realization about Judaism and Christianity:

She had nothing against the poor [bird], but then it rose out of the bushes and flew up and blam! — feel to Earth, like Bowie in that seventies movie. He was like Jesus in that. If Jesus was an alien. Which, let’s face it, he probably was. There was no other explanation. Huh: What if Christians were basically the UFOlogists of ancient history? And the Jews were the people who were the debunkers? They were like, “No, the Messiah hasn’t come, and if he has, where’s the proof?” Whereas the Christians were the ones who said, “Seriously, the aliens came down, and we saw them. Man, you’ve got to believe us!”

Christians were hopeful, which made them basically insane. They were hopeful about the past….Jews were more like, Come on. Be reasonable. Here we are on Earth, now just try to be nice for five minutes, would you? Can we have five lousy minutes without genocide? Sheesh.

Millet’s sense of humor is wickedly pointed. She makes jokes sparingly and purposefully; you can almost hear a little poot of a gun with a silencer as the objects of her rage crumple to the ground. The rest of the stories in the collection, if less overtly Jewish, are no less remarkable.

Posted on October 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

What is Jewish Literature?

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

In her last post, Ellen Frankel looked at how to make the Bible PG. She is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

jewish authors blogWhat is Jewish literature?

What makes a book or its writer Jewish? What’s “in” and what’s “out” of the contemporary Jewish syllabus? Who gets to make such judgment calls? Should they even be made at all?

Some time ago, an Orthodox scholar I know suggested a different way of thinking about this issue. He pointed to a distinction between books that Jews “read” and those that they “study,” i.e., secular vs. sacred texts. In my mind, this distinction largely hinges on the question of the authority we invest in books. Those that we read—for pleasure, for a course, to make ourselves culturally conversant—exercise little authority over us. But those that we study—for moral instruction, for answers to ultimate questions, to inspire us and develop our character—guide our lives and matter profoundly to us. If a particular book is itself in conversation with other Jewish books, we then become part of that conversation as it becomes part of us. If a book is not in dialogue with other Jewish books, then our reading will lead us away into a different conversation. Whether or not we ever find our way back into the Jewish conversation is anyone’s guess.

In a review of Ruth Wisse’s book The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture published in Commentary Magazine, the eminent Hebrew translator Hillel Halkin argued that “the question of provenance—who wrote a given text, with what personal background, motives, and opinions—cannot ultimately determine a modern Jewish canon, any more than it can determine a text’s worth. What matters is less where a book is coming from than where it is going: to, or not to, a lasting engagement with other Jewish books.”

Thus, in a kind of Darwinian way, Jewish literature has preserved the best of its writings and cast off the derivative, the insignificant, the merely timely or imitative. What survives are those texts that are in dialogue with what came before, that engage with what matters to Jews. What ultimately makes our books our own is not their authors nor their critics but us, their readers, the People of the Book.

Ellen Frankel will be blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and Jewish Book Council. Check out her new book, JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible.

Posted on October 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 Circumcision Debate Rages On (and On and On and On)

This entry was posted in Life, Practices on by .

The internet gave us so many wonderful things (cats jumping into boxes, for instance, and The Google), but it also, unfortunately, gave us flame wars. Apparently, many people have computers that come with their very own high horses high horses attached, and they will let you know what’s what in the endless pastures of the comment box.

There are many ways to incite a flame war online, but perhaps one of the quickest and easiest ways is to bring up the circumcision debate. Is a bris a time honored ritual that ties us to our religious roots, or is it barbaric and obscene and beyond any kind of excuse?banana091026_560.jpg

Hanna Rosin takes on this challenge over at New York Magazine:

Every year, it seems, a new study confirms that the foreskin is pretty much like the appendix or the wisdom tooth—it is an evolutionary footnote that serves no purpose other than to incubate infections. There’s no single overwhelming health reason to remove it, but there are a lot of smaller health reasons that add up. It’s not critical that any individual boy get circumcised. For the growing number of people who feel hysterical at the thought, just don’t do it. But don’t ruin it for the rest of us. It’s perfectly clear that on a grand public-health level, the more boys who get circumcised, the better it is for everyone.

You go, Hanna! Of course, Hanna knows that her opinion is going to get her an earful (or more accurately, a click-ful): There’s no use arguing with the anti-circ activists, who only got through the headline of this story before hunting down my e-mail and offering to pay for me to be genitally mutilated.

But then she goes on to do an amazing job of arguing the case for circumcision. Hooray! For more on this controversial issue, check out our article on A Difficult Rite by Rabbi Shai Held.

Posted on October 20, 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

Bill Simmons and the Jewish Podcast

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

If you read a lot of sports columns, you most probably read Bill Simmons. The most popular writer on ESPN, Bill Simmons is known for his unabashed love of Boston sports, hatred of the Yankees and Kobe Bryant, and his pop culture references.

bill simmons is hilarious But what I love most about the guy are his podcasts. In an all too corporate sports company, Simmons doesn’t seem to care about his bosses. This is especially seen in his repeated criticism of ESPN on most of his podcasts.

This past Friday’s podcast was more of the same. With ESPN’s fantasy expert Matthew Berry on, Simmons started to question ESPN.com for not having fantasy leagues for non-sports related competitions.

Since Berry is Jewish, Simmons brought up the idea of having Jewish related fantasy leagues. The two main ideas brought up were hottest Jews and the “Michael Douglas All-Stars” (Jews who you didn’t know were Jews).

It’s all pretty funny stuff, that you can listen to here. It is Part II of the podcast and starts at about the 29 minute mark (feel free to skip to that point if you don’t know anything about the NBA).

But before you do, let me clear up a few points that were questionable in their podcast. First, all Jewish boys know that Natalie Portman is Jewish. You’re not allowed to have your bar mitzvah without passing that test.

Second, Jordan Farmar’s father is not Jewish. However, he was raised Jewish. I think I’ve covered that topic here about 40 times.

Third, and this is similar to the first point of clarification, but who doesn’t know that Kirk and Michael Douglas are Jewish? I propose that the “Michael Douglas All-Stars” be changed to the “Rashida Jones All-Stars” immediately. My next post will be my team. You can bet on that.

Posted on October 20, 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

Like Sand Through the Hourglass

This entry was posted in History on by .

I don’t normally watch Ukraine’s Got Talent but this winning performance by Kseniya Simonova will blow your mind (and possibly make you cry). She used sand on a giant lightbox to dramatize the German invasion of Ukraine in World War II and though that sounds bizarre and abstract it’s actually a really amazing work of art that’s totally worth watching.

Nice to see new ways of thinking and learning about the Holocaust that aren’t just testimonials and pictures of concentration camps.

(The video is long, but watch at least until the 2:00 mark and you won’t be able to stop).

Posted on October 19, 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

Win a New Midlife Crisis!

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Earlier today, we told you how cool Kohane of Newark is:

They are sometimes awkward and darkly meaningful, like “Pizza” (an ode to the victims of the Israel Sbarro’s bombing); sometimes funny and angry and nostalgic, and the angst and sexual awakening of “Festival” — which is quite possibly the most introverted Hanukkah song I’ve ever kohane of newarkheard. Then there’s the “White Wedding”-inspired anti-love anthem “Shoshana” (”Shoshana’s had all her dreams shattered/by me”). Characterized with deep grooves, moody, dark jazz, and all-out rock, “Kohane” is weird and extroverted and unexpectedly both raucous and meditative. more

Now, you’ve got a chance to hear the magic for yourself. You can hear tracks on iSound, and you can also try to snag a CD from us directly. We’ve got a couple of copies to give away — as well as the charity disc produced by Kohane’s frontman, Ricky Orbach, Pioneers for a Cure, which features Dov Rosenblatt, Rashanim, Tovah Feldshuh, a duet by Frank London & Joshua Nelson, and 14 other awesome folks.

This contest is easy. Just send an email to matthue (at) myjewishlearning (dot) com by Thursday night. We’ll pick two names at random. And you’ll be able to rock out to Kohane of Newark for the rest of your life!

Posted on October 19, 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

Making the Bible PG: How Children’s Bibles Differ

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

Ellen Frankel is the author of the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, as well as the Editor-in-Chief and CEO of the Jewish Publication Society.

jewish authors blogFor most of Jewish history, the Bible was “one size fits all.” There was simply no such thing as a children’s version.

The second-century rabbinic anthology Pirkei Avot counsels: “At five years old [one should begin the study of] Scripture” (5:24). For centuries, Jewish children were introduced to the Bible, unexpurgated and unabridged. In fact, Jewish children’s books did not emerge as a separate genre in America until the 1930s, with the publication of The Adventures of K’tonton by Sadie Rose Weilerstein. Until then, Jewish children read the same texts that were meant for adults.

So, do Jewish kids really need a children’s Bible? Or are we just imitating our Christian neighbors, who have been publishing and teaching children’s Bibles since the 11th century?

Without question, the Bible contains material that is tough for children to handle. Many of the key stories in the Bible are violent. Cain murders Abel. Abraham raises his knife to sacrifice his son Isaac. Shechem rapes Dinah; Simeon and Levi retaliate by slaughtering all the men of Shechem. Pharaoh condemns to death all newborn Hebrew boys. Then Egypt is brought to its knees by ten deadly plagues. The Book of jps children's bibleJoshua chronicles a campaign of genocide against the peoples of Canaan. The Book of Judges runs with blood. And the bloodshed continues through Samuel and Kings, with the Jewish people serving sometimes as executioner, sometimes as victim.

Other books, too—most of the prophets, Psalms, Lamentations, Esther, and Daniel—depict scenes of graphic violence. And there’s plenty of x-rated sex, too, including prostitution, seduction, rape, adultery, and pagan debauchery.

When I wrote my children’s Bible, I chose to leave out most of the sex and violence, on the advice of colleagues and my teenage readers. I did it for the sake of parents and teachers as much as for the kids. In light of radical Islam and Jihadism, how can we countenance Joshua’s campaign of extermination or Saul’s massacre of Amalek, all in the name of God? In the shadow of the Holocaust, do we want to expose little children to the horrors of Lamentations?

But I didn’t exclude all violence from my book. Some stories, like the Binding of Isaac, are too central to the Jewish national story, even though they may disturb young children. Other stories, such as Cain and Abel or Noah’s Flood, are too familiar to omit. And some stories, like the Exodus from Egypt and the Book of Esther, serve as useful object lessons for today’s world.

As for the censored “adult content,” let parents tell their children that they have to wait until they’re older to read those sections. There’s no better way to ensure that the children will come back to the Bible for more.

Ellen Frankel will be blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and Jewish Book Council. Check out her new book, The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible.

Posted on October 19, 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

Kohane of Newark: The Interview

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Ricky Orbach is a singer, poet, music producer, and patron of the arts — but, really, it’s more accurate to just call him Kohane of Newark.

His first CD features some of the most highly-acclaimed experimental rock and jazz musicians in the New York scene — but, most prominently, it features Orbach’s lyrics. They are sometimes awkward and darkly meaningful, like “Pizza” (an ode to the victims of the Israel Sbarro’s bombing); sometimes funny and angry and nostalgic, and the angst and sexual awakening of “Festival” — which is quite possibly the most introverted Hanukkah song I’ve ever heard. Then there’s the “White Wedding”-inspired anti-love anthem “Shoshana” (“Shoshana’s had all her dreams shattered/by me”). Characterized with deep grooves, moody, dark jazz, and all-out rock, “Kohane” is weird and extroverted and unexpectedly both raucous and meditative.

Below, we talk to Orbach about his music, his idols, the tenuous status of his priesthood, and the status of New Jersey as the new Jerusalem. Listen to the album and buy it here. Come back later today for a chance to win a copy — but, for now, check out the Kohane himself.

There’s a lot of potential midlife crises on the album: religious, emotional, relationship-al. What’s it like to have a midlife crisis — presuming, of course, that you’ve had one?

You happen to catch me on a good week. It’s actually not a midlife crisis I’m undergoing, but a “new” midlife crisis (emphasis on “new” for renewal) like the record says and yes, it is in full swing!

Why do you think there’s no sort of official midlife ritual in Judaism, like there is with being born or getting married or becoming an adult?

Rituals serve as bookends for all the stuff that goes on in between them. The unofficial midlife ritual for most human beings is the “crisis” itself. The significant events — birth, marriage, bar/bat mitzvah and death -– are really the parents of crisis. You could argue that “midlife” begins when you’re born because damn it, who knows if you’ll make it through the night?

The title song celebrates this “candle flickering” signifying both life and death co-existing in the space between our breathing and not breathing as we make our way through our lives.

What’s your relationship with Marc Ribot?

Since the early 1980s, I’d seen Marc play dozens of times around town and sometimes we’d talk shop after a show. We really met however when he came to a shul in my neighborhood for Shabbat in search of a potential shul for him and his daughter shortly after his divorce. After services, we had coffee and conversation. A few months later, Marc and his daughter joined my family for Kol Nidrei. I’d like to get together with him more often but because he’s such a studio rat, Marc is usually booked solid.

How did you two start working together?

Like I said, Ribot is a very busy guy. Initially, he turned me down but I was committed to his presence and I changed my schedule to work with his. I also begged him.

ricky orbach, kohane of newarkI hold close to my heart the first time Ribot “read” me. In the studio after we performed a take of “Festival,” he pulled me aside during playback and said he knew what I was doing. “You’re the Jewish Brian Wilson,” Marc began. I think of this moment as a watershed; I had my first taker and these words were coming from the guy who shaped whatever Tom Waits did after Rain Dogs. Ribot went on to say that my “writing songs about the ordinary everyday American-Jewish experience” was “subversive stuff.” Marc nailed my Velvets/Talking Head connection then and there and my cat was out of the bag.

Did you play these songs live before recording them, or did it work the other way around?

I wish that I could have played these songs out first but I didn’t. Most of these songs were fresh out of my head and I never played them live before recording them. Essentially, the musicians were introduced to the music in the studio from a homemade demo I made a couple weeks before the session. Eight songs were written in a three-week spurt two months prior to the studio, and they shaped the New Midlife Crisis storyline. No rehearsal, no pre-production, no transcription and no real rules; I just figured as long as I have people like Ribot, Richard Lloyd and Avram Pengas in tow, I may as well go for the jugular and catch their first attempts -– and mine -– at shaping the songs. Our average was two takes and a couple tunes went to three. Otherwise, it was vitality uber alles. I don’t think many other concept records are born this way, though I could be wrong.

Continue reading

Posted on October 19, 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

Privacy Policy