Monthly Archives: March 2010

Imagining the Afterlife: Reviewing Sum, by David Eagleman

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

A few days after my mother died I called T-mobile to cancel her line and to have the family plan moved over to my father’s account. The person I spoke with at T-mobile told me that my mother had to be the one to close and transfer the account. I explained that my mother had died, but the man insisted that only my mother was authorized to make the transfer. I eventually spoke to three supervisors, all of whom had the same thing to say: my mother had to call. At the time, nothing would have made me happier than a phone call from my mother, and I remember thinking that there probably wasn’t good reception underground, and anyway, we hadn’t buried her with her phone.

The phone situation was eventually straightened out (confession: I eventually called pretending to be my mother), but since then I’ve done a lot of thinking about the afterlife, and what it all means. We have a whole section on MyJewishLearning about tehiat hametim, or the post-apocalyptic revival of the dead, and how various Jewish thinkers and texts have dealt with the idea of life after death. Within Judaism there isn’t just one view–there are many that diverge slightly from each other, as if our faith is trying to hedge its bets.

david_eagleman_covers.jpgBy far the most thought-provoking and beautiful take on the afterlife that I’ve ever read is in a new book called Sum: forty tales from the afterlives by David Eagleman. This is a slender volume, with chapters that are rarely more than two pages long. Each chapter imagines a different way that the afterlife might work. Perhaps God (a she) has decided to let everyone into Heaven, with disastrous consequences. Perhaps after you die you hang out with all of the potential versions of yourself, if you had moved to Panama, or quit your job, or spent more time at the gym. You see yourself for who you could have been, or narrowly escaped being. Perhaps God is a microbe, and it is not God who is pulling the unfathomable strings of the universe, but us, humans, moving microbes about in so many ways, who are in control. Perhaps the afterlife has been privatized. Perhaps when you die you become the background characters in other people’s dreams.

These stories–and as someone with an MFA, I’m not sure they qualify as stories, since they don’t have characters, or plots–glitter on the page. They are so carefully crafted it is heartbreaking at times. You will feel, as you read all of these possibilities, as if you are reading the options to a multiple choice exam, which is life.

You can listen to some excerpts from the book here, but listen, take my advice and go out and find this book in a bookstore or library immediately. Read any three stories. If that doesn’t make you want to take it home and pour over it like the body of a new lover–well, then you’re doing something wrong. Very wrong.

Posted on March 19, 2010

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

Wise Fridays: Don’t Worry

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the   reception on your WiFri

“Rabbi Yehiel maintained that he had learnt from his teachers never to worry about two things–what can be corrected and what cannot be corrected. What can be corrected should be corrected at once, without any worry. And as for what cannot be corrected, worrying will not help.”
–Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor Ha-Cohen.
Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on March 19, 2010

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

Shabbat Unplugged

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Late last year, I finally got around to reading A.J. Jacobs’ Year of Living Biblically. One thing that stuck out for me was Jacobs’ struggles with not checking his e-mail on Shabbat. While he struggled with tougher assignments, like never touching women, his addiction to technology was the toughest to break.

And he isn’t the only one. I’m lucky that I’ve grown up keeping Shabbat, because otherwise, I’m not sure I would be able to get through an entire day without checking my Facebook or Twitter (@JeremyMoses…the funniest twitter account that no one reads).

But there is a group that is trying to counter this…at least for one Shabbat. Reboot, one of those cool, young people, Jewish non-profits, is holding it’s first annual National Day of Unplugging this Shabbat (starting tonight).

The idea is based off of the “Sabbath Manifesto,” created by Dan Rollman (who works for the Universal Record Database…more about them next week). Rollman’s idea was to “reinvent the Jewish ritual and make Judaism a little more modern and contemporary.” So where did he look to first? Technology, of course.

What Reboot wants you to do is, this Shabbat, if you aren’t shomer Shabbat already, try to not use technology. That means computers, Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, etc. You can do it to varying degrees.

Give it a try. It can be tougher than you think.

Posted on March 19, 2010

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

Matzah: The Original Fast Food

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Yesterday I blogged about my friend Mat, who’d suddenly decided to bake his own last-minute matzah for Passover. This morning, on the way to the subway, I gave him a pre-Shabbos call. While we talked, I happened to mention that I’d written about him for, oh, the few thousand people who wind up on this blog every day.

He asked me what I’d written.

mcdonald's matzah“Oh, basically, that you were insane,” I told him.

To the credit of his good name, he neither hacked into my email nor called my bosses and told them to fire me. Instead, he gave a huge sigh.

“I don’t get why everyone thinks it’s a big deal,” he said. “You know, the Children of Israel managed to pack up their entire lives overnight, heaved some flour on their backs, and baked matzah as they were running for their lives from the Egyptians. And they didn’t even have a recipe. Why’s it such a big deal?”

I was rendered speechless. Not only speechless, but, as the kids say, I got schooled. If there was a slang verb for being out-Midrashed, that would be me right now.

The only thing I could offer in reply was that my cousin, who isn’t observant at all but really, really loves her Jewish heritage, used to say in high school that if we were really trying to be true to the Israelites’ story, we would just eat fast food.

Posted on March 19, 2010

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

How to Bake Matzah

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

By now, most of us are elbow grease-deep in cleaning our houses for Passover, and getting ready to make that big and most noteworthy of transitions — from cleaning to cooking. If you’re like me, the last thing you want is to take on even more work. (Unless, of course, it’s writing just a few sentences about your best seder ever and winning our contest.)

matzah bakingFortunately, not everyone in the world is like me. My friend Mat just called, asking where in Brooklyn he can purchase special grown-for-Passover flour — he and a friend got a sudden urge to bake their own matzah. A five-hour drive (they live in D.C.) will be the least of their problems. MJL has an easy and convenient matzah baking recipe — and the folks at Sicha Basadeh were nice enough to show us their matzah-baking PowerPoint presentations. (The second one is about how Passover flour is made, and they can explain it way better than I can right here.)

Although, as our recipe explains, it’s

a) very labor-intensive
b) easy to mess up — remember, if you don’t thoroughly mix even one drop of water with one drop of flour and it’s hot for more than 18 minutes, it’s not officially matzah
and
c) time intensive

it’s also pretty rewarding. You’ll be doing the same thing our ancestors have done for millenia — and, if nothing else, this will be the bread of your affliction. And, as we blogged about yesterday, the heart of Passover really is a do it yourself holiday. So feel free to dive in, come up to New York (or wherever you can find it) for some Passover-safe flour, and make the holiday your own.

Or, of course, you could just enter our contest. And then you won’t have to worry about buying matzah for a while.

Posted on March 18, 2010

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

Preparing for Passover: 4 Wines for 4 Cups

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

I am still holding out for a holiday where we’re required to enjoy four cups of good whiskey, but until then, I will just have to make do with this four cups of wine business, which isn’t that bad.

You can go crazy in the wine aisle trying to choose just the right wines for your crowd and cuisine, but I recommend buying four types, one for each glass, two reds and two whites, and just leaving it there. Here are my suggestions for a delicious (and slightly tipsy) seder. Added bonus: buying these will still leave you enough room in your budget for the brisket.

Whites:
baron_herzog.jpgHerzog Selection Charteneuf 2008
It’s light and sweet, but not quite desserty. My friend Adam describes it as a great summer wine, and I actually think it would be a great first glass to ease you into the seder. And it’s only $10.55 a bottle.

kosher_wines_bartenura.jpgBartenura Moscato
Okay, so it’s a sparkling wine that really could be grape juice. It will appeal to even the wine-haters in the group, and combined with seltzer it makes a killer spritzer. Also: $9 a pop.

Reds:
binyamina_yogev_cab_shiraz.jpgBinyamina Yogev Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2007
This was the wine that made me realize I love reds. Rich and full bodied it’s like a hug in your mouth. Or something. I’m not a wine writer, but it’s good, and at $12.99 I can afford to buy a few bottles to get me through the whole holiday. Huzzah!

segal__s_fusion.jpgSegal’s Fusion Red 2007
You know how sometimes you buy a wine wondering if it will be any good, and then two guests and three bottles later you realize that yeah, you’d say it was pretty excellent, actually? That has been known to happen with this wine. Just saying. And at $11.35, putting three bottles away is pretty reasonable.

Posted on March 18, 2010

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

An American Visit to Israel

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

I went on Ha’aretz yesterday and read an article that made me feel mixed with emotions. I don’t know how I should feel. Should I support the Americans or shouldn’t I?

I’m speaking, of course, about the upcoming Simpsons episode where the family takes a trip to Israel.

Here’s what you have to understand. And if you know The Simpsons as well as I do, you will be nodding your head in agreement. I grew up watching that show. It was my favorite show from when I was a little kid through my high school years. On long car trips, my brothers and I would sit in the backseats for hours playing Simpsons trivia. And the amazing part of the show is that if I were to go back and watch some of my favorite episodes, I would probably find jokes that, in the past, had flown over my head. It’s just that good.

But The Simpsons had a turning point, somewhere around 1999-2000. It became less about the intelligent pop culture jab and more about some slapstick gimmick. Instead of social commentary, the show decided to focus on guest stars and going to cool, exotic places. I cannot even tell you how bad the episode where the family goes to Winnipeg is. Uch.

So when I read that the Homer, Marge and the family are going to be visiting Jerusalem, I was torn. Sure, it’s gonna be cool to see the Western Wall in cartoon form, but this episode is everything I hate about the show now. Relying on guest stars (Sacha Baron Cohen) and foreign places to make up for the fact that the show has been on for over 20 years and there just isn’t that much for the writers to cover anymore. It’s all been done.

So yeah, I’ll watch. But, let me tell you, I’m not gonna be happy about it. But at least Family Guy isn’t going to Israel. Talk about a show that’s over the hill.

Posted on March 18, 2010

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

Finding Harmony in DeScribe’s New EP

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Erez Safar always has an eye for interesting and unique musical talents. In the past I’ve talked about Erez’s awesome Lecha Dodi vs. Akon remix and the rhyming of Kosha Dillz. This time though, I gotta give a shout out to Erez’s newest prodigy, DeScribe.

If you were just to look at DeScribe, you might think he is just a novelty. A Hasid rapper? I’ve seen Matisyahu already, thank you.

But that would be a mistake on your part. Because DeScribe is a talented guy. While his songs are very much Jewishly-themed, and he most definitely does have a message he is trying to convey to you, he doesn’t throw it in your face.

DeScribe’s ability to take his own Jewish values and make them universal so that a broader audience can enjoy him should be commended. And that’s exactly what Harmony, his new EP, does. And his rapping isn’t half bad either.

If you click here, you can buy the CD for just $6 (and that includes goodies, whatever that means).

Here is DeScribe’s newest video…

Posted on March 17, 2010

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

Who Wants to Ask Their Rabbi?

This entry was posted in Life, Texts on by .

I know some pretty free and easy rabbis, but I came across a question that even I might squirm before posing to a rabbinic authority.

Via The Slog Via Facebook:
man_and_pig.jpg

Anyone know the answer to this: So apparently docs are getting really good at skin grafts using pig skin derivatives called Strattice. There’s a chance they will start using this for bottom surgeries soon. Is it kosher though if someone, well, sticks the resulting phallus in their mouth?

My immediate reaction, which you can read as a comment, is that halakhah prohibits deriving any benefit from non-kosher animals, barring life-saving circumstances. Assuming putting the phallus in one’s mouth counts as a benefit, I have to imagine it’s prohibited.

Anyone else have any ideas?

Posted on March 17, 2010

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

Coming Soon to MJL…

This entry was posted in General on by .

I’m pleased to announce a major development here at MyJewishLearning.com. Recently, we received a significant grant from the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal (COJIR) at UJA-Federation of NY to build a new website aimed at parents of Jewish kids age 0-5.

The new parenting website will cover Jewish concerns related to getting pregnant, pregnancy, baby naming, baby raising, educational choices and more. (Yes, I’m sure we’ll have many, many articles on circumcision.)

We’ll also be piloting a section that connects New York parents to local events and resources. If the local section works out well, we’ll be looking to expand it to other cities over the next few years.

The project is particularly exciting because it’s part of MyJewishLearning’s general plan to begin creating content that is more targeted toward specific niche audiences. The web is a wasteland for good Jewish parenting content, and we hope to fill that void.

We’re aiming to launch the new website (which has yet to be named) sometime this summer. Its development will be spearheaded by the website’s editor, the newest member of the MJL family, Debbie Kolben. Debbie was previously the city editor of The New York Sun and the managing editor of the Village Voice. She recently returned to the states after receiving an Arthur F. Burns fellowship to report in Germany. We’re excited to have her on board here at MJL.

And, of course, we’re thrilled to have UJA’s COJIR as a partner in this project. COJIR has taken a particular interest in engaging young families, recognizing that there are key developmental moments during the life cycle when people are making critical decisions about personal and communal identity and that at these times — including when people begin their family life — people are more open to Jewish engagement.

As the launch date of the new website gets closer, we’ll let you know, of course!

Posted on March 17, 2010

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