Apropos of nothing:
Oh, Jewish blogging world, you are losing your touch.
Or maybe I’m just losing touch with you. Last Rosh Hashanah, Regina Spektor — whose song “Laughing With,” by the way, was just named one of the Best Lyrics of 2009 by, um, us — blew a shofar at one of her concerts.
This might be Regina overkill. After all, we’ve already reviewed her new album and blogged about her song lambasting Holocaust deniers. But as long as she keeps being cheeky and inventive and writing crazily good songs, we’ll probably keep writing about it. And, with the recent tragic loss of YIDCore — the only band I’ve ever seen with enough chutzpah to blow hummus out of a shofar and onto their audience — well, somebody needs to step up and take the mantle of introducing traditional Jewish instruments into pop music.
Thank you, ReSpekt Online, for keeping me in the loop. *Ahem.*
Almost every day I come across some article or blog post thatâ€™s worth sharing with the Mixed Multitudes. I usually get around to posting it, but sometimes I just flag it and then let it sit in a folder for ages on end. Since itâ€™s the last day of the year, and youâ€™re probably not doing much work anyway, hereâ€™s a nice little linkdump for youâ€”all the of the stories I didnâ€™t get around to blogging, but that I think youâ€™ll still like. Click away, and happy new year!
What Waltz With Bashir can teach us about Gaza
In Chile, the Catholic Church was in uproar over a fashion designer, who planned a fashion show featuring designs inspired by the Virgin Mary, but worn by revealingly clad, and in some instances virtually topless models.
Gaddafi suggests new state called ‘Isratine.’
If programming languages were religionsâ€¦
If God were sued, would one have to serve God with papers? After all, one might argue, an all-knowing God might not exactly need notice. Relevant because a Nebraska state senator sued God. Seriously.
Christians learn to write love letters.
Facebook doesnâ€™t like rabbis.
60 year old document claims Hitler had bad manners and terrible gas.
The Jews of Old Kievâ€”what language did they speak?
Kottke discovers appliances with Sabbath mode, and Shabbat elevators.
Milk and Honey peanut butter balls
Was there ever a female ruler of Ancient Israel? Maybe.
Cultural ‘War’ for Hasidic Music Hits Brands: Touring, Sponsorships Reportedly Under Strain for Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Artists
Wearing a full veil may be a health risk.
The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.
Simplified Missional Living is a little creepy but super effective.
Is eternal damnation worth a little bacon?
Combat soldier who stole credit card from Palestinian home during Gaza offensive returns money with interest.
Jesus goes casual like Friday.
Is it worth it for ultra-Orthodox women to get divorced just to get the perks? (Probably not, no.)
The Muslim equivalent of Jdate in Gaza.
Religious murder over a cup of tea.
Megachurches are basically just successful corporations.
Man Injured After Using Nail Clippers to Circumcise Himself
Russians cast monkeys as Jews in the circus.
Ricky Gervais takes on Hitler and the results might make you pee in your pants.
Frumsatire looks into Chabadmatch.com and the result is awesome.
Orthodox Jewish blind people may touch their dates, even though that technically violates the laws of shomer negiah.
Awesome podcast with transwoman Joy Ladin, a poet and English professor at Yeshiva University.
Tons of pareve dessert ideas.
If you get arrested while trying to break into a kosher deli, I wouldnâ€™t advise biting the cop, even if you are really hungry.
One in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has been the target of sexual advances by a religious leader.
A woman in Israel died at age 99 leaving 1400 descendants. For real.
Whoâ€™s more hated: the atheist or the believer?
Overheard in New York takes on the Chosen People.
Donâ€™t even think about faking your virginity in Egypt.
The Pope does not want you to use this condom.
Armbands for the kosher keepers.
My friend Raysh Weiss reviews A Serious Man.
MediaMatters compiled a list of the number of times Glenn Beck has compared Obama to Hitler, or Fox News to Jews in the Holocaust, or America to just-pre-Nazi Germany.
Atheist ad campaign comes to NYC buses.
Black Jewish blogger MaNishtana explains the Mikvah in an awesome video over at Memoir of a Jewminicana.
Garisson Keillor doesnâ€™t like Jews writing Christmas songs. Or Unitarians. Full disclosure: the sound of his voice makes me want to throw up.
A cow was born with a cross on its head. Somebody named it Moses. So whereâ€™s the cow with the Jewish star on its head. Thatâ€™s what I want to know.
This Hanukkah mashup/remix is sick.
Israelâ€™s the first country to introduce a point system into their organ donation. You get more points if you and your family members are organ donors, and thus can be moved higher up the list when you need a donation yourself.
Apparently, most believers think God agrees with them. I have no idea why this is news.
Awesome game to play on Wikipedia. Start in a random article, and by clicking through links see how quickly you can get to the Jesus article.
The Kitchn introduces me to recipes in a jar, which they suggest make good holiday gifts, and all I can think is this is freaking perfect for a shalach manot on Purim.
Rabbi Niles Goldstein is the author of The Challenge of the Soul: A Guide for the Spiritual Warrior. In his last post he wrote about approaching spiritual learning as a martial artist. He is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.
I recall a time in my life when I was tempted to give up, to walk away from something that I loved very much. As I think back on it today, stamina was the only thing that got me through the experience. In The Challenge of the Soul, I cite the important role that the martial arts have played in my own spiritual and rabbinic development, and how they can help us–through their practice and principles–to strive to become warriors of the spirit.
In my very traditional Shotokan karate system, you can only test for your black belt once a year–and it usually takes five or six years before your instructors will even allow you to participate in the exam, which takes place at the very end of a Special Training retreat. I’d put in those many years of practice, and my time had come to stand before my senior instructors and demonstrate my abilities as a karate practitioner. I was anxious, excited, and highly motivated. After half a decade of discipline, training, and knowing my place in the pecking order, I felt ready to be evaluated by my teachers.
By the time Special Training was over, I was exhausted, drained on every level of my being. I have come to see now, years later, how that was the point of placing the black belt exam at the end of our retreat. How do you test to see if someone truly has heart? Not at the start of our practice, when everybody is fresh, but at the end, when most of us are about to collapse and want nothing more than to go home and sleep. Who can push past their limits? Who can reach deep within themselves and successfully retrieve whatever remnants are left in their reservoirs of passion, skill, and determination? Who can uncover and display their lev, their innermost character and commitment?
After having trained regularly and intensively for a year to perform at my peak level and try to pass my exam, I gave it my best. I, along with the other black belt candidates, spent most of the day being observed on how well we performed in three key areas: basic techniques, forms, and sparring. At the end of the day, when the senior instructors called out the names of those who had been promoted, my name was not on the list. I had failed to pass. It’s hard to describe how despondent I felt after having put in so much time and effort, and having my desire thwarted. I would have to wait an entire year, according to the rules of my system, before I could try for my black belt again.
The days and weeks that followed were filled with self-pity and self-doubt. I wanted to quit. What more did my teachers want from me, and how much harder could I train? With the passage of some time, I knew that I couldn’t give up. I’d put too much of myself into karate, and it had given me back so much in return, especially during my highly cerebral studies in rabbinical school. One of those gifts was humility; I had to accept the fact that in the judgment of my senior instructors, I just wasn’t yet ready for my black belt. That knowledge hurt, but it propelled me forward. I had faith in myself–in my skills and my heart–and I regained the desire to continue my training. If I couldn’t get past this blow to my ego, I didn’t belong on the dojo floor.
“I’m glad you didn’t take the easy way out, like so many others,” one of my favorite teachers told me. “You just have to jump right back onto that horse and start riding again. The trail hasn’t gone anywhere.” While I had instructors to help me and to guide me by their example, it was absolutely clear to me that I had to overcome this challenge alone–of my own initiative, and harnessing my own powers of resiliency.
I passed the exam the following year and earned my black belt.
The guidance and support of others can be essential as we strive to overcome life’s obstacles. In the end, though, we alone are the final arbiters of the paths we take and the choices we make. Jean-Paul Sartre claimed that we are “condemned” to this freedom; others believe that it is in the decision-making process itself–that place of ambiguity where nothing is certain yet all is possible–that we as human beings find our highest natures. If we do not want that freedom to atrophy, it must be exercised, like a muscle, again and again. Each conscious moment presents us with a multiplicity of options, a maze of alternatives. How we choose to face and respond to them shapes our souls and directs our steps, and makes us models for those who follow us.
Rabbi Niles Goldstein’s book The Challenge of the Soul: A Guide for the Spiritual Warrior is out now. He is blogging all week on MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.
I tend to make my real New Years Resolutions in September for Rosh Hashanah, but this year I am making one resolution at the secular New Year: waste less food.
I do a fair amount of cooking, and I love leftovers, so I don’t feel like I’m wasting enormour amounts of food, but I’m not particularly good at estimating how much food will be eaten at any given meal, and after a few days of leftovers I sometimes forget that there’s one more serving of something waiting for me in the fridge. Fast forward two weeks when I find it, moldy and disgusting, and destined only for the compost heap.
Clearly this isn’t a huge deal, but it’s something I do feel guilty about, given the halakhic concept of bal tashchit, or the prohibition against needlessly destroying or wasting food. So this year, I’m going to start keeping track of what I put in and take out of the fridge, in the hopes that I waste less food, time and money. It’s a small resolution, but one that I think I might actually be able to follow through.
The kids who make up the Chorus of New York P.S. 22 are going to grow up thinking that it’s easier to meet famous people than it is to pick your own nose. They’ve been raved about by BeyoncÃ© and Lady Gaga, they’ve backed up Tori Amos, and, now, they’ve sung the songs of Shlomo Carlebach.
(Actually, to be specific, they’ve sung the song of King David. Shlomo, I think, wrote this particular musical accompaniment, but I’ll defer discussion of the authorship of the Book of Psalms to our article.) This video, on the other hand, I don’t think warrants any debate. It’s cute, boisterous, and inspired — especially that great little hip-hop solo around the 2-minute mark:
In the YouTube tagging, people have, perhaps arbitrarily, labeled it a Hanukkah song. I don’t know exactly why, but its meaning — “I lift up my eyes to the mountains/And call for your help” — is pretty thematically Hanukkah-related. Although it’s also one of the big themes of the Book of Psalms. And, it could be argued, one of the big themes of this religion we call Judaism…and of that universal belief we call being alive.
(And, by the way, you can download a free, chilled-out version of the song from Project Ben David here.)
It’s not news that a Hasidic Jew can rule the charts or that Yiddish-revivalist klezmer-punk bands are capable of rocking out. The big revelation of Jewish music in 2009 might be this: The Jewishness just might not matter.
Hasidic singer Matisyahu‘s song “One Day” was named the official song of the 2010 Olympics — not because or in spite of the fact of his being a Hasid; it’s just a good song. Meanwhile, Jewish music labels such as JDub and Shemspeed have tried to breach the mainstream with new offerings — in some instances, releasing hip-hop or folk-pop albums that just happen to have Jewish content; in others, introducing the world to entirely new forms of music based on traditional Jewish modes and melodies. Below are the year’s top five moments in Jewish music, from the mainstream to the cutting edge.
“No one’s laughing at Godâ€¦we’re all laughing with God.”
Regina Spektor, “Laughing With”
Regina Spektor breathes new meaning into the idea that there are no atheists in foxholes — that, just by living, we’re both getting played with by God and hanging out with God. In her song, the Creator is variously portrayed as the coolest guest at a party, a funny uncle, and Jiminy Cricket. In the end, God is one of us — or, at least, God is someone we aren’t totally weirded out about being created in the image of.
All the lyrics on the Girls in Trouble album
by Girls in Trouble, a.k.a. Alicia Jo Rabins
Of all the developments in Jewish music this year, none is likelier to be lasting — and none takes its inspiration from a greater source — than fiddler Alicia Jo Rabins‘ solo project. She picked ten female characters from the Bible, from Miriam to the nameless woman accused of adultery in Parashat Naso , and wrote songs in their voices. The songs can stand on their own, even if the listener doesn’t know about the biblical tie-ins or even that they exist. But listening to them in tandem with the source material is an enriching, and mind-blowing, way that raises both the songs and the text to new heights.
“We are men of nature/We are made from the earth/At the end of my eighty, I’ll return to the dirt.”
Matisyahu, “Of Nature”
Matisyahu’s new Light album (which we ran an amazing interview about) is a solid mixture of feel-good pop and weighty messages–his statement is that you can have a good time without losing sight of a greater purpose. The new CD’s lyrics have lost the cliches of Matis’s early music without compromising his message or his beliefs, which could easily be written off as cheesy or solipsistic, except he’s so good at expressing them. Yes, it’s weird that millions of middle school kids are going to be slow-dancing to a song by a Hasidic Jew. But who would you rather inspires them: Matisyahu or Eminem?
“Some bugs are kosherâ€¦I don’t know which ones. But do you really wanna eat bugs?”
Dan Saks of DeLeon, from G-dcast
Hey, there’s kosher, and there’s kosher. MyJewishLearning has seen some cool Jewish stuff (and even propagated a bunch of it ourselves), but making a Sephardic country-rock song that teaches which animals are kosher — and gets them stuck in your head — takes a genius.
“Fill up my cup/Mazel tov!”
Black-Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”
How to move a Jewish idea — admittedly, a tangential one — into the mainstream of party-happy American consciousness and have Cosmo readers scratching their heads? For that, we can thank will.i.am of the Black-Eyed Peas and his collaborators. Admittedly, it’s not a deep idea — there’s a call-and-response part of the song where one of the Peas yells out “Fill up my cup!” and another replies “Mazel tov!” — but it’s a good-natured inclusion of a time-honored Jewish ritual. (Later, backup singer Fergie replies with “L’chaim!”) And will.i.am sounds at least as cool as any rabbi when he says it.
It’s the end of the year, and you’ve probably been getting a lot of emails from your favorite (and not so favorite) charities asking for money to help them reach their budget goals by Jan 1. How do you decide which organizations you’ll give to? And how much do you give?
In a recent Forward Opinion piece Rabbi Jill Jacobs wrote about charitable giving among Jews. We’re commanded to give at least 10% of our income to tzedakah, and many of us probably think of any charitable donation–be it to our synagogue, a Jewish day school, a homeless shelter, or an art museum–as tzedakah. But it turns out: not so much.
So we asked Rabbi Jacobs to give us some giving tips as the end of the near draws nigh, and she explained to us how she and her husband make their own giving decisions:
“First, we divide the world into four categories: New York (our home city), the rest of the United States, Israel, and the rest of the world, and decide what percentage of money to allocate to each of these areas. Then, we allocate certain percentages of money to organizations that focus on community organizing, advocacy and education, community development, and direct service. We give the highest percentage of money to community organizing groups, as we believe that we can best end poverty by involving ordinary people in determining their own future…
Finally, we divide our giving between groups that primarily work with Jews, and those that primarily work with non-Jews. Jewish legal sources ask us to prioritize the care of other Jews, but also ask us to prioritize the greatest need. We balance these two obligations by giving a higher percentage of our money to groups that work with non-Jews, but by giving groups that work with Jews a percentage that is disproportionate to the percentage of Jews in the world.”
Another thing to keep in mind, from another helpful and interesting article, is that donating internationally packs more punch than giving money locally. According to Sandy Stonesifer at Slate.com, your donations will almost always yield greater returns when given (to reputable organizations) internationally.
So if you haven’t given any real tzedakah this year, now’s the time to get out there (online, probably) and do it. Just remember to make sure it addresses poverty, and consider giving internationally, where you can make the most difference.
Comic books in 2009 came one more step closer to being accepted by the literary public. Oh, there were the major 2009 motion pictures, Watchmen and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and the continuing debate over what constitutes a novel (Can it be illustrated? Can those illustrations take the lead in telling the story?) — but the smartest of graphic storytellers have continued to ignore these debates, focusing instead on blending together their pictures and their words in a way that makes great art and tells a great story.
This list of notable Jewish comic book characters from 2009 includes two mainstream superheroes, as well as three characters by independent creators, who took on subject matter as mundane as secretarial work and as grand as the story of Creation to illuminate their subject matter.
God, in R. Crumb’s Genesis
Like many secular-raised Jewish kids with a picture of God as an old white-bearded man, I spent most of my life deconstructing that image. Which is one reason why Crumb’s masterwork Genesis freaks me out, with its long-bearded, long-white-haired man molding the Earth and expelling Adam and Eve from Eden. Crumb’s Genesis is a bizarrely classical take on a classical book, and nowhere more remarkably so than his Protagonist.
Sabra, the Protector of Israel (Marvel Comics)
It’s bizarre that the superheroine known as Sabra, an occasional member of the X-Men and self-proclaimed Protector of Israel, has never even had her own miniseries. Consider how she lives in a world where Spider-Man says “oy,” the most powerful mutant on Earth, Magneto, is a Holocaust survivor, and even the superhero Captain America has been known to use a Yiddish expression or two. Last year, she had more background appearances in different comics than in any previous year, and 2009 found her first official comic book released. The story was mostly a disappointment, but we still love Sabra. She deserves better.
Art Spiegelman in his Be a Nose!
The Jewish world will never forget Art Spiegelman for Maus, the story of his father during the Holocaust and his own trials surviving the survivors. But perhaps the most haunting part of Maus was the four-page short, drawn by a much-younger Spiegelman, about his mother’s suicide. The volumes of Be a Nose!, a collection of Spiegelman’s early notebooks, give an insightful and depraved picture of Spiegelman as struggling artist and writer, as well as an infinitely more valuable picture of Spiegelman as a struggling adult.
The maybe-resurrected Gert Yorkes of Runaways by Kathryn Immonen
Almost every superhero team has one token Jew, and for a while, Gert filled that void for the Runaways, a cadre composed of the not-evil children of evil supervillains. She died a few years ago, but recent issues have given hints of her return — a return no one wants to see more than I do. Purple hair, glasses, nerdy catch-phrases, and a pet velociraptor. Need I say more?
Miriam Libicki of Jobnik!: An American Girl’s Adventures in the Israeli Army
Why does our best-of list have two writer/artists doubling as subjects? Maybe because comics, with their sometimes nonlinear storytelling and their combination of pictures and words, come closest to seeing inside our heads. Or maybe because Libicki and Spiegelman are both so damn good at what they do. Libicki released her first collected edition of Jobnik! comics this year. Though the art is black and white, Libicki’s storytelling is anything but, and she examines the intricacies and paradoxes of being Canadian, Israeli, female, and a soldier who doesn’t blindly believe in her government.
Yes, this is a weird culture category; and no, this isn’t the “best of the Holocaust.” After last year’s ubiquity of Holocaust films such as The Reader and Defiance, 2009 brought a flourishing of films, art, and literature inspired by the Holocaust. Both within the art world and outside it, many people have made it their mission to ensure that the Holocaust is not forgotten. And the act of creating new stories and new culture about the event helps keep it fresh in our minds. Here are some of the most noteworthy that we’ve encountered this year.
Clara’s War by Clara Kramer
A striking, matter-of-fact memoir of a 15-year-old girl who was forced into hiding during the Holocaust. Part diary and part retelling of “events that have never left me,” Kramer’s story is simple and shocking and, ultimately, triumphant. Its beauty and honesty are such that it doesn’t feel heretical to call it a companion to Anne Frank’s diaryâ€¦only, here, the protagonist survives.
Have we said this often enough? We love the Bear Jew — and he’s just one of the reasons that this movie is so fist-pumpingly good. Director Quentin Tarantino does what he does best, which is to tell stories that don’t let up and never rest with your expectations. Although the film raises some complaints — the fact that literally every woman in the story dies senselessly is a big one — the film itself, as well as the fact that it seems to have ignited everyone’s imagination, from artsy twentysomethings to eightysomething survivors, speaks of its genius.
Kahn & Engelmann by Hans Kirshner
“Traveling is the involuntary national sport of the Jews,” writes Kirshner, himself a survivor who currently lives in Austria. This book follows the Engelmann family from rural Hungary in 1921 as they run from trouble in their tiny hometown to even bigger trouble in the capital city of Vienna, and all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Dense and lyrical, Kahn & Engelmann is a strange and fascinating book.
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell
This fictitious memoir of an SS officer was slammed in America, due in no small part to its long-windedness (it’s 983 pages long, after all) and the length and subject matter of its descriptions, which are at times both morose and scatological. The book itself is meticulously crafted, with rich descriptions and an obsessive attention to detail. If it doesn’t inspire, sympathy for the title character, it still definitely nurtures our desire to get deeper inside his head.
Soaring Underground by Larry Orbach and Vivien Orbach-Smith
Possibly the strangest book that came across my desk this year. Pitched as “a Catcher in the Rye with a Holocaust backdrop,” this memoir of a teenager who launches himself into the WWII-era Berlin underground is definitely a Holocaust book — the growing-up-before-his-time sensibility and the events themselves are both irrefutable reminders of that. At times, it’s hard to remember that this story takes place against a backdrop of Nazi genocide — more pressing experiences like smuggling contraband, sexual discovery, and street fights are at the forefront of the memoir. At heart, it’s the story of a boy who comes of age in a world where there are no rules, and where, quite literally, thousands of people want him dead.
The awesome Jewish poetry magazine The Blue Jew Yorker has its new issue online today. It probably seems like I’m telling you to go read it because of my poem, “The Other Universe of Paris Hilton,” which takes place in an alternate universe where Paris is responsible and Orthodox Jew (and she always wakes up to pray at exactly the right time before sunrise), and I’m a drunken heiress.
But that wouldn’t be one-tenth of it. Legitimate (and goood) poet and professor Charles Bernstein gives this very Addams Family-like gothic poem called “Rivulets of Dead Jew.” There’s a furious poem called “It Takes Awhile” by Heather Bell, and Samuel Menashe, who’s basically a living legend of poetry (don’t believe me? read the MJL article), has a new poem, “Adam Means Earth,” which is as brief and brilliant as anything he’s ever written (and that’s saying something):
I am the man
Whose name is mud
But whatâ€™s in a name
READ THE REST >
But my favorite might be this tiny little poem by Gary Levine. It’s a love song to his siddur.