Monthly Archives: January 2010

Poll: Israeli Fruit

This entry was posted in Holidays, Israel on by .

I was in the market the other day looking for a good, healthy breakfast option. What could I get that didn’t involve a captain or a crunch? I finally settled on some yogurt and figs.

And oh man…figs are deeeeeeelish. And the energy they provide is awesome. I wake up in the morning, feeling groggy and wanting to go right back to bed. Then I take a couple of bites of fig…and BAM! I’m awake like I just had two cups of coffee. Never mind that I also had two cups of coffee, but that takes nothing away from figs.

With Tu Bishvat just a little more than a week away, I think it’s time that we all started eating Israeli fruits, if only for a week or two. But which should you eat? There are so many to choose from.

This week’s poll question is…

Posted on January 21, 2010

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Phylactery, Olfactory, Same Thing

This entry was posted in Life on by .

Oy vey. Check out this video of the Chief Inspector of the Philadelphia police department talking about the plane that was grounded this morning because of a pair of tefillin. Pretty unremarkable except for when he refers to tefillin as “a religious device…what is known as an olfactory, a box-like device that goes on the forehead.”

::Sigh::

Tefillin are sometimes called phylacteries, which comes from the Greek term, phylakterion, which means amulet.

Olfactory means of or related to the sense of smell, and it comes from the Latin olfacere to smell.

Posted on January 21, 2010

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What’s the Best Way to Give to Haiti?

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

In the days since the devastating earthquake in Haiti, you have likely been inundated with requests to give money and/or various forms of supplies in order to support the victims of this natural disaster. The response from the American public, and from Jews in particular, has been great. But the more I read about giving to Haiti, the more confused I am about what’s really the best course of action.

First, I read an article provocatively titled, Don’t Give Money to Haiti. I encourage you to go read the whole article, but here are some highlights:

For one thing, right now there’s very little that can be done with the money. There are myriad bottlenecks and obstacles involved in getting help to the Haitians who need it, but lack of funds is not one of them. For the next few weeks, help will come largely from governments, who are also spending hundreds of millions of dollars and mobilizing thousands of soldiers to the cause. But with the UN alone seeking to raise $550 million, it’s going to be easy to say that all the money donated to date isn’t remotely enough.

The last time there was a disaster on this scale was the Asian tsunami, five years ago. And for all its best efforts, the Red Cross has still only spent 83% of its $3.21 billion tsunami budget — which means that it has over half a billion dollars left to spend. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s money which could be spent in Haiti, if it weren’t for the fact that it was earmarked.

The gist of the article seems to be that if you feel like giving now, give to a sound charitable organization, and do not restrict your donation.

Then there’s a response creatively titled Felix Salmon is Wrong; We SHOULD Give Money to Haiti. Highlights:

Just because all the money cannot be employed immediately doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give now. To wait is to run the risk that public attention will move on to other causes, and in the end there wouldn’t be sufficient money for the sustained effort that Haiti needs. Various organizations will employ the donations as they can. I discussed this issue with my colleague Steven Wheeler, who directs the NYSE Euronext Foundation, and he pointed out: “There is relief, and then there is recovery.” After the emergency, there is infrastructure to be rebuilt — roads, schools, medical facilities, sanitation systems — a process that will take years and continued effort.

Then today’s New York Times advises us to give give give, but only money, not supplies. Highlights:

Don’t send shoes, send money. Don’t send baby formula, send money. Don’t send old coats, send money.

Nonprofit groups rarely look a gift horse in the mouth, and the relief effort in Haiti is desperate for resources. But the experience of wasteful giving in the past, coupled with the ease of speaking out via blogs, Facebook and Twitter, have led to an unprecedented effort to teach Americans what not to give.

Another widely circulated blog post, “No One Needs Your Old Shoes: How Not to Help in Haiti,” was written shortly after the earthquake by Alanna Shaikh, an international relief and development expert working in Tajikistan. It suggested giving money, not goods; going to volunteer only if you have medical expertise and are vetted by a reputable organization; and supporting the far less immediate task of rebuilding Haiti.

In direct contrast to that article is another article, also in the Times, about Hasidim and Haitians in Rockland County NY getting together to gather supplies and send volunteers to Haiti.

This village is hardly alone in its flurry of Haitian relief efforts, but given its Haitian population, it’s not surprising that it has become an extraordinary example. Largely through the efforts of the Ramapo Haitian Task Force, a local aid group, and Jean Elie Porchette, 29, a car salesman and computer technician, the crew of nurses, firefighters and other volunteers flew to Chicago on Tuesday and from there to Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. The village’s Jews came up with the money to fly the team members from New York to Chicago and put them up for a night. There are already plans for more missions, the next including local doctors.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community et al has been coughing up serious cash to various Jewish institutions providing support to Haitians, particularly AJWS which has raised $2.4 million, and the JDC, which has raised $1.5 million, according to JTA.

Then there’s this great video by my internet crush Jay Smooth about the importance of giving to Haiti because of what Haiti has given us.

But Jay recommends giving money, in particular to Wyclef’s organization Yele, which actually seems like a bad idea, and anyway I’m still a little worried that giving money now is not the best way to help.

Here are some ideas about ways I might be able to be helpful and constructive without giving money:

–Call a local Haitian organization and ask if they need help with any of their regular programming, or if they might need help settling any possible refugees. They’re probably devoting all of their time and resources to relief efforts. Do they need someone to answer phones or stuff envelopes or man the door at an event? Are any refugees coming in who might need help with basic job skills, learning English, or finding a place to live?

–Call friends and/or bigshots from some of my favorite Jewish organizations and ask if they’d be willing to go in on a fundraiser for Haiti to be scheduled in, say, July, when a lot of the enthusiasm for the cause will have waned, and we can see what’s needed, and where’s the best place to send our money. I’m thinking small scale, like a bake sale, a car wash, or a happy hour. Choose a date and send out some emails about it now so that people know it’s going to happen in July, and that they’ll have another opportunity to give then.

–Give money or time to my favorite charities that might be hurting now because so much energy is being directed at Haiti. Specifically, local organizations that do community organizing for hunger relief, providing shelter to the homeless, and job placement services.

Posted on January 21, 2010

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Armed (With Tefillin) And Not Dangerous

This entry was posted in Life, Practices on by .

When I lived in Nashville I got used to the people at the airport pulling out my tefillin and getting all confused. And as Jeremy has noted in the past, it’s not at all helpful to explain that they’re phylacteries, because who the heck knows what that means? So I just said they were a Jewish ritual item, and usually that was that. No biggie. I’ve heard of at least one person who was asked to open the boxes, and when he explained that would damage the tefillin the TSA accepted that and all was well.
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But apparently, this morning a man on board a flight from La Guardia in New York to Louisville, Kentucky pulled out his tefillin after the plane took off–and somehow prompted a bomb scare causing the plane to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. According to CBS News:

The passenger who aroused suspicion was a 16-year-old boy who was traveling with his teenage sister. The passenger is a U.S. citizen. He was questioned by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and was not charged.

The flight will continue to its original destination, and the passenger involved in the incident is being permitted to continue on the flight.

The passenger was removed from the plane without incident. The TSA said officials searched the plane, with negative findings.

I know what you’re thinking. Tefillin are about as dangerous as my mother’s gefilte fish recipe. I don’t know what to tell you other than that it’s a mad mad mad world out there.

In the meantime I put in a request at the TSA for tips on traveling with tefillin without getting arrested. I’ll let you know what I hear back.

Posted on January 21, 2010

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What Are Your God Arguments?

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

Last week, we featured two posts by author Rebecca Goldstein (found here and here). Goldstein’s new novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, has sparked a lot of debate about atheism, people who identify as both Jewish and atheist, and the overall importance (or lack their of) of wondering if God exists at all.

And we’re not the only ones who have covered this. Over at Beliefnet, Goldstein’s book has sparked the same debates in the form of two posts by blogger Rob Dreher (found here and here). In Dreher’s first post, he debates what the point of proving God exists is. As he puts it better than I can, “if you prove at 3:00 in the afternoon that God exists, what do you do with yourself at 3:30?”

But he also leaves it open for debate. Do you have any arguments to prove or disprove God’s existence? Feel free to add in their comments section, or start a new one right here.

Posted on January 20, 2010

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The IDF in Haiti

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

This video from CNN has been making the rounds on facebook for a couple of days, but I wanted to post in case you haven’t seen it already. I’m not sure what else to say except that watching this makes me really proud to be a Jew who supports Israel.

Posted on January 19, 2010

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Forest Hills State of Mind

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

How long have you had that Jay-Z/Alicia Keys song in your head? Three months? Four months? Get out of here! FIVE MONTHS!?!?! I feel ya. I can’t get it out either.

Well maybe this new video by comedian Billy Eichner, featuring SNL alum Rachel Dratch, will give you a little variety in your life.

Make sure you watch until the end, where you get some classic shots of Billy’s bar mitzvah video. I think that might be my favorite part.

Oh, seriously, this isn’t appropriate for kids. So if you’re kid, don’t watch it. Adult minds have already been perverted.

Posted on January 18, 2010

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Limmud NY 2010: The Quintessential Limmud Experience

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

The thing I always love about Limmud is the sheer number of times every day that my world is completely rocked by brilliance. In any normal weekend (or week, for that matter) how many times do you hear or see something that leaves you awe-inspired? I don’t mean in a particularly religious way, I just mean, in the way where you learn something that is so smart that you’re left gobsmacked. In my regular life, I’d say that happens, at most, twice a month. At Limmud, it happens at least once a day, and if you choose your sessions well, it can happen five or six times a day.

I don’t mean to sound too gushy, and I do have some complaints. But for the most part, this Limmud, like the ones I’ve attended in the past, has been incredibly moving.
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This morning I went to a session taught by Judy Klitsner about the sacrificing of Isaac, the sacrificing of Ishmael, and how those stories relate to the book of Job. In reading the description of the session, it frankly seemed like a stretch to me. I just did not see how she was going to make the connection. But she did, and it was brilliant. So brilliant, that at one point the room went quiet and I heard someone say, “Whoa,” in that ‘hold on a sec because my brain just exploded a little bit’ kind of way.

Last night I had a similar experience in a class taught by Rabbi Ethan Tucker about whether or not it’s okay to pray in a language other than Hebrew. And in between I did some serious schmoozing, drinking, and laughing with Limmudniks from all over. Also, I got to hold a few cute babies, flirt with a neurologist, watch a movie, sing zemirot, listen to stand up Jewish comedy, and oh yeah—learn some stuff.

Moral of the story: Limmud 2011 is just a year away. Start preparing now.

Posted on January 18, 2010

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Limmud NY 2010: Pet Peeves and the Holocaust

This entry was posted in Culture, Texts on by .

This morning at Limmud NY I overslept and just barely made it to the beginning of a session about Holocaust films. Considering how big of a genre that is, I was excited to hear a real film expert talk about the themes and trends of Holocaust films. For the most part it was a good session and I learned a lot (my friend Rebecca and I were talking afterwards about how many of the seminal Holocaust films we missed and how we kind of feel like we should go back and watch them together, except that would be the most depressing movie tradition ever). However, that session was a perfect example of one of my major conference pet peeves.
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Here’s what I hate: when someone is presenting a session, teaching material that let’s assume they know pretty well, why do people in the audience feel the need to raise their hands and ask meaningless questions? You know the people I’m talking about. We’re listening to a lecture on Holocaust films, and whenever a film is mentioned they need to tell everyone in the room what they thought of it. Then they want to ask if what they thought about it was valid, which really means, “Please, tell me I’m right.” The assumption here is that everyone’s input is valuable, and I’m sorry to say that that’s simply not true. Seeing a Holocaust movie doesn’t mean that you have anything smart to say about it.

I am a hardcore believer in Egalitarianism, but big conferences always make me wonder if it’s really the right policy. I wish there was some kind of filter that would weed out the people who only want to hear their own voices, not further the discussion.

All that said, it was a good session and I learned a lot. It inspired me to go to a documentary this afternoon about a Dutch couple who survived the Holocaust. While they were in the camps they sent each other love letters, and the letters made it, too. A beautiful and unusual story.

I also got to hear Adin Steinsaltz give a session called “An Introduction to the Talmud.” I’m not sure that I’d say that’s really what he talked about, but it was fun to see so many people get so excited about a cute old rabbi. Gotta love a conference where Rabbi Steinsaltz is the big rock star. (On the unfortunate side, Steinsaltz repeated the patently false thing about there being dozens of Eskimo words for snow. Is it rude to tell him that’s not true?)

Posted on January 17, 2010

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Limmud NY 2010: Drinking, Sex, and Megillat Esther

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Practices, Texts on by .

Shabbat is over at Limmud NY, and once again I’m skipping the big havdalah event to write up some quick thoughts on the past few hours.

The Shabbat sessions at Limmud are interesting because there’s no writing (at least in theory–I did see some people breaking the rules) and no AV help. This means you’re likely to have the more traditional text reading discussions on Shabbat, and indeed I went to two traditional text classes today, and both were fabulous (also a Limmud tradition).

The first was a new Jewish sex ethic, taught by Mahara’t Sara Hurwitz. The class was a late addition to the schedule, and didn’t come with any kind of description, but to no one’s surprise, there were lots of people crowded into the room where she spoke, listening to Hurwitz examine a number of traditional sources about the Jewish approach to sex. I didn’t hear anything that was especially new to me–she was only talking about sex within marriage, and her point was essentially that sex is a vital piece of marriage, and then when a marriage is encountering problems more often than not one of the keys to fixing the problems is reviving the sex–but I did notice that all of the texts we looked at, and all of the texts I know of on this subject really focus on the woman’s enjoyment of sex, and not on the man’s. As a woman, of course, this appeals to me, but I wonder what it means for marriages where women become uninterested in sex.

Halakhah basically says that whenever a woman wants to have sex with her husband he has to go along with it, even if she only hints at it (assuming she’s not in niddah, of course). The same does not hold true for men. There’s nothing that says that if a man wants sex his wife should just close her eyes and think of England. Again, I can see how if I was married I might find this to be a great policy. But if I was a man, I can being very frustrated by it. It’s almost like a man’s desire is simply too basic to be a part of the equation at all, and that’s weird (and somewhat depressing). I don’t think it’s really likely to be a big problem in most marriages, but I was definitely interested, and the session was fabulous.

The second session I loved today was about the history of the Book of Esther. Taught by Aaron Koller, a professor at YU, we talked about the way that the messages in the megillah challenge many of the traditional messages we get in other books of the Bible. For instance, in Esther, the heroine is intermarried and seems to be very assimilated, but it is through this assimilation that she is able to affect change, and ultimately save the Jewish people from genocide. At the time of the story of Esther there was a Temple standing and functioning in Jerusalem, but none of the observant Jews making sacrifices in the Temple were in any position to save the Jews. It was a woman, who was married to a pagan. Pretty fascinating stuff, and I have to say I was incredibly impressed by Koller’s style as a teacher. He was really warm and engaging and seemed very comfortable and a real expert on his subject matter. I definitely want to go to his other sessions.

Later tonight I’m excited for lots of schmoozing time, some more drinking (we got started on that at the Tisch last night), a possible chocolate tasting, and thoughts on the story of Dinah as it relates to abuse by authority figures.

Posted on January 16, 2010

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