Monthly Archives: April 2010

Weird Kosher Fish

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

We all make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. I, for one, am wearing non-matching socks right now. Oops!

The same goes for websites. This morning, we received an e-mail at the MJL help desk informing us of a mistake on our Kosher Fish List article. Being that we don’t want people to eat a fish that they think is kosher when it isn’t, we took this complaint (not really a complaint. More like a nice little nudge) seriously.

We spent a lot of the day looking over the list and have come up with some pretty amazing facts:

– Doctor fish and surgeon fish are very much kosher. In fact, they are the same fish. Interestingly enough, lawyer fish is not kosher (you can’t make this stuff up).

– Jew fish is kosher. Not that that was a guarantee. There are plenty of delis that aren’t kosher and those are as Jewish as they come.

– Mullets are kosher. They have a business-y outside but are all party in the back.

– Dolphin fish is also kosher. However, you should not get this confused with dolphin, which a) is illegal to eat in the United States and b) is not kosher.

– Even more surprising than that is Pig fish, Hog Fish, and Pork fish are all kosher as well. I guess if a pig doesn’t chew its cud, but can swim, it’s good to eat.

Posted on April 27, 2010

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Pre-State Israel, in Color

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

If you close your eyes and try to picture the Holocaust, or the birth of the State of Israel, you’re probably picturing it in black and white, right? Because all of the images you know from those times are in black and white.

Well, color film existed in those days, it was just really expensive, which meant very few people had it. But a rich American named Fred Monosson was able to afford it and took it along with him on his lengthy adventures in Israel, Europe and the Middle East starting in 1947. He hobnobbed with Golda Meir and David Ben Gurion. He visited the kotel in 1947 and hung out at a cocktail party with friends during the War of Independence. He welcomed Jews from Yemen, visited Auschwitz, and saw British soldiers arrest Jewish immigrants from Europe–all of which he also captured on color film.

Check out the video below (Hebrew with English subtitles) about the newly discovered film reels of Monosson and his recordings of Jewish history.

Posted on April 27, 2010

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Why Join a Jewish Community?

This entry was posted in General on by .

Jane Roper has a fascinating article in Salon about how she recently joined a church with her family after years of proudly being an anti-joiner, and non-observant Christian.

So why, now, have we gone and joined a church? We who, untiShabbat dinnerl recently, couldn’t handle being members of anything beyond Netflix?
In a word, children.

She goes on to talk about providing a context for her kids to talk about God and spirituality (she chose a Unitarian church, so it’s not going to be at all dogmatic). Then she gets to the meat of her argument:

I want my children to see that a group of people can work together, give of their time and talents, and support each other through life’s joys and sorrows not because they’re family or even necessarily friends, but because they believe that it’s an important part of being human.

I also want to expose them to good, old-fashioned community in a world where, increasingly, community happens only in virtual spaces. I’m a huge fan of blogs, Facebook and Twitter, but I don’t think there will ever be a substitute for sharing the same physical space with a group of people — having conversations, making music together, offering each other a handshake, a smile, or a word of sympathy.

I know how earnest this sounds, and the cynic in me cringes to type the words. But the rest of me believes this is the stuff that matters. My girls will figure out irony and irreverence and how to craft a pithy, 140-character dispatch on their own — probably sooner than I think. But before that happens, I want to make damned sure they understand kindness, empathy and respect for other people.

I’ve been having a low grade spiritual meltdown this year, but it never occurred to me to leave my Jewish community, and the reason is as simple and as earnest as Roper puts it in this essay: no matter how strong our virtual worlds and online communities get, they are still no substitute for a Shabbat dinner like the one I had at my apartment on Friday night, full of smart fun people enjoying each other’s actual company, and coming together for a ritual. Even if you don’t believe or don’t care that much about religion, a religious community is an incredibly valuable thing to have.

Posted on April 27, 2010

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Jesus, Israel, and Volcanoes

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

The massive volcano eruption in Iceland is strange to think of as a tragedy, but it is. There hasn’t been any official death toll to speak of, or property damages, but you know that it’s coming — thousands of airline workers are going to lose their jobs. And the wake of destruction looks, well, like the Land of Mordor.

Lavie Tidhar, one of the coolest new authors to pop up in a while (he wrote the Jewish science fiction classic HebrewPunk as well as a bunch of other stuff), just moved back to Tel Aviv and got married — and ten of his wedding guests are now marooned with Tidhar and his brand-new wife. What’s a writer to do?

Strangely, yet somehow appropriately, he’s publishing a new online novella. Every day for the next two weeks (we’re nearly halfway in), Tidhar will release a new chunk of the story. He explains:

Morale is high. At one point we had 8 people sharing our 1-bedroom apartment, and we’ve now rented a second apartment near us (thanks to my lovely landlord) for the family with child. We cook for 10 people and do the washing for 10 people and we have wireless Internet and we can go to the beach. The weather is good.

I think it’s a fun story, and more than appropriate right now – as our stranded guests have all visited the same sites, Nazareth and Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee and Bethlehem, following in the footsteps of our hero.

That’s right. The story, Jesus and the Eightfold Path, is a clever little romp through early Jewish (and even earlier Christian and Buddhist) history, a shot of Douglas Adams mixed with a chaser of Good Omens. You don’t have to know about all three religious mythologies to know what’s going on (but, like starting to watch Lost a season or two late, it helps) — it’s a good-natured romp, and the bizarre characterization of intensity and good-natured slacker-ness by which Jesus and his costars are portrayed, calls to mind something singularly Israeli.

Yes, Israeli. You know — Like Mr. Tidhar himself.

And like Jesus, too. Check it out:

Episode One: Journey to the West

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.
Matthew 2:1

They were not entirely men, and they were not entirely wise; however, here they were, three pilgrims clothed in the dust of the road, travelling faster than men do: for the road was long and dangerous and hard, and a single star in the sky beckoned them on, as if to say, hurry, hurry.

‘Barbarous country,’ Sun Wùkong said. He was tall and thin and had the wizened face of a monkey. He raised a hand and touched the gold band around his head. ‘I could be back in the Bloom Mountains, or better yet, making play for the Jade Emperor’s daughter.’

The fat companion beside him roared with laughter and said, ‘Really, Monkey! The girls in these parts are not too bad. You are too aloof! Too selective! You are a connoisseur, whereas I–‘ he took two enormous fingers and pinched a lavish section of ample skin from his belly–‘I am a democrat, a man of the people! I like to try everything!’

Read the whole thing on Apex’ website >

Posted on April 26, 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

Best of the Week

This entry was posted in General on by .

Oh, the week. You passed us by so quickly. At one moment I had a case of the Mondays, and before I knew it, I was getting ready to hibernate in my apartment for 60 hours. You work in wonderous ways. What did you bring us this week?

When I was a kid, Saturday night meant one thing and one thing only. Walker Texas Ranger. And if you disagree with me, you’re just lying to yourself. Who knew that there is a custom called Melaveh Malkah which allows you to keep your Shabbat party going?

Question: What is the fastest tune for Adon Olam? Answer: Yankee Doodle Dandee. You can get through that thing in like 20 seconds. Take more time than that though when you read our new article on the prayer.

Finally, Earth Day was this week, so give our Todd & God “Going Green” episode a watch. I think it’s funny.

Posted on April 23, 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

Fake Athlete Joins Hall of Fame

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Today, I start my campaign to be elected into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. From the years 1996-2001, I ruled the Moses Shabbat League in “Wallball” and “Sockey.” Both games made up by the Moses boys, both meant to make Shabbat pass by faster. And for that, I’m expecting the Hall of Fame to call me any day now.

You don’t agree with me? Sockey (a mixture between soccer and hockey, played in my basement) isn’t a real sport? Well, then you should be opposed to Bill Goldberg getting elected to the HOF too. Who is Bill Goldberg? Oh, you know, only a professional wrestler.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love wrestling. And this isn’t me favoring the WWF (now WWE) over the WCW either, though I’m sure everyone would agree that, except for a little period when Hulk Hogan became Hollywood Hulk Hogan, the WWF just had a superior product.

It’s just that wrestling isn’t real. They have writers. The winner is predetermined. At least Sockey was a real competition.

Also, as proven in this video, if you have ever been beaten up by Bam Bam Bigelow, you don’t deserve to be in a sports hall of fame.

Posted on April 23, 2010

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Israeli Design and Typography

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

A standard element of a middle class Jewish child’s nursery is a poster of the Hebrew alphabet. (Remember the one in Paulie Bleeker’s bedroom in Juno?) It’s cute, and whimsical, and…twee as hell. Usually, it’s really just cheesy. Plus, as an adult, it may scar your eyeballs. (You know the bright monstrosities I’m talking about. You’ve seen them.) But it’s hard to deny they’re educational tools. Teaching your kids the Hebrew alphabet is pretty important.

Enter the excellent Tsilli Pines, an Israeli artist and designer. She has put together a series of three posters (available in red or blue) with the Hebrew alphabet that are sophisticated enough for adults, but still have a touch of whimsy for the kids. The design and typography are gorgeous, and a set of three ($58) would look fantastic in any home.

alef2.jpg

Bonus: Pines also designs ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) that are simple and incredibly classy.

sunburst_thumb.jpg

I don’t particularly want a baby or a husband these days, but I totally want some of Pines’s art for my aparment. Would that be weird?

Posted on April 23, 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

If I Were a Jewish Boy

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

This week my friend and I were discussing the pros and cons of being a guy vs being a lady. You’ve probably had this debate at some point (or several points) in your life. I think it’s fairly clear that men generally have it easier, but not necessarily better. I mean, hi, us ladies make people. Also, D is very jealous of that whole multiple orgasms thing. On the other hand, there’s that whole patriarchy thing. Bummer.

Anyway, this led to a discussion with a different friend about how different our Jewish lives would be if we were guys. Even as lifelong members of egalitarian Jewish communities, there are serious and clear differences between the way we were treated, and what was expected of us, and our guy friends. The standard within the egalitarian halakhic community seems to be that men are definitely obligated to do all kinds of things, and women can choose. This can be seen as a luxury, but in practice I find it exceptionally challenging. [Imagine if you were asked about every action you take at work, "Do you really want to be doing this?" You'd probably say, "Not really." But there's a reason we all do stuff we don't like from time to time--the payoff is pretty sweet.]

There is a halakhic basis for this argument, but that’s not what interests me, now. It’s strange, and sad, to think about how much more gemara I’d know if I was a guy (true story: in my high school the guys had a gemara class, and the girls did a unit on covering your hair). Also, how much easier it would have been to say kaddish. And I’m not one of those girls who’s dying to experience peeing standing up, but God, I would LOVE to spend a few days on the other side of the mechitza and see what it’s like.

Posted on April 23, 2010

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Any Given Hasid

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

This morning I got an email from my friend Dugans (of the awesome band Dreams in Static) asking, “Hey, isn’t that you on some random person’s blog?”

tess lynch

Yep! Turns out it is. Tess Lynch, a writer and actor in LA, weighed in on the Hasidim-vs.-hipsters debacle in Williamsburg. I guess she was scrambling for a picture of Williamsburg folks, and even though my memoir about becoming a Hasid took place in San Francisco and the photo was taken in Jerusalem, I looked the part.

Her observations about the bike-lane controversy are actually pretty astute and non-one-sided. To wit:

Obviously religious beliefs, particularly ones that have their roots in the way-back-in-the-day, aren’t what one would call “flexible” or “evolutionary” or “susceptible to the charms of trends like the sort sold at American Apparel.”

Because you are doing something great for the environment, you bikers can have my respect (1 point for you); but because you ignore traffic rules so much of the time, I am going to award one point to the Satmars.

I’ve never wrote about the issue, although a bunch of people (including the editor of BrooklynTheBorough.com, where, coincidentally, the photo of me was lifted from) have asked. But, for about five minutes, I’m going to let it fly. Hasidim, hipsters, hold onto your outdated hats: All of you are kind of wrong.

So: I’ve always believed that one person’s autonomy stops where another person’s starts. Bikers (and bike lanes) are inevitable when you live in the city — the same way billboards in your face and taxi drivers honking at 6 A.M. are inevitable when you live in the city — but I think what’s really an issue, as you astutely pointed out, isn’t the *actual* bike-riding; it’s the in-your-face-ness of both the Hasidim and the hipsters.

No one lives in Williamsburg because of convenience. It’s expensive, it’s crowded, pretty much every wall in the entire borough leaks; it’s actually pretty gnarly. My cool-kid friends who live in Williamsburg keep saying they live there because it’s cheap. (It’s not. A few years ago, I was paying $800 a month for a closet; now that closet is something like $1200.) My Hasidic friends live there because it’s where their families have lived there forever. But the kids are drawn to Williamsburg because of the scene and their friends, yes, but also because of the ambiance of living among the Hasidim and the abandoned-warehouse aesthetic. The Hasidim living there don’t move out to Monsey or Kiryas Yoel because of family and friends and because they’ve lived there forever, but also because living in Brooklyn is special — as one of my cousins put it, “we like to be around a little diversity.”

(And yes, there will always be the creepy outsiders, like all those Craigslist stories of a Hasidic guy who proposition a random woman for sex — but they’re a huge minority. I mean, I’ve met Hasidic pervs, but in a microscopic amount compared to the amount of non-Hasidic pervs I’ve met; even proportionally.) Again, that’s the price of living in New York City — there are several million people in a very small space, and you will come into contact with most of them.

That said, there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in a very cramped Brooklyn apartment with a wildly copulating couple on one side and someone with every major sneezing disease on the other: You learn to ignore things. You learn to let people have their privacy, to avert your eyes when immodesty rears its naked head, and to politely turn your music up to cover up the mucous and the “Yeah, baby, just like that!”s. You also learn to respect other people: You give your seat to a pregnant woman on the subway. You step out of the way of a person with a cane. And whether you’re a dude in Spandex shorts or a chick in Spandex anything (or vice versa), you don’t shove yourself in front of people who have never in their lives wished to see that much of you.

Ms. Lynch herself gets it. As she writes:

By the way, in case you didn’t know, as the hipster in the NYMag article seemed to not know: don’t go around damning God in front of a Hasidic jew. It is a bad idea and makes you look like a real idiot. I can do it here because I’m posting a blog and there is no one around to make uncomfortable but myself.

That said, it’s also kind of creepy that she lifted a random photo of me and my rabbi and plastered it to an article talking about Hasidim at their worst. I’d hate for one of my kid’s friends to be reading about Hasidic protesters and Hasidic perverts and then they look up and think, hey!, I know that guy. We can talk about autonomy, but it’s important to remember that it’s not “the Hasidim” or “the hipsters” we’re hating on — it’s a bunch of individuals who happen to live in the same neighborhood.

Ms. Lynch ends the article with a great proposal: that a cross-cultural barbershop should open, specializing in beards. The idea is a great one, but sadly, it’ll never happen. We don’t cut or trim our beards. That’s why they’re all bushy and upside-down Jew-fro-y. But maybe we can all sit out on the stoops and drink Manischewitz together out of brown paper bags some time?

Posted on April 23, 2010

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What Chapter of Jewish History Do You Wish You Knew Better?

This entry was posted in History on by .

There’s a wonderful podcast you can listen to (for free!) called Stuff You Missed in History Class. Each episode is short (typically under 25 minutes) and gives you a closer look at all kinds of things you either never heard of before, or just barely knew existed. I’ve learned about the shoot out at the OK Corral, Bluebeard, the Taj Mahal, Bonnie and Clyde, and lots of other cool and interesting moments and figures in history. titus.jpg

I mention this because they recently did a show on the Bar Kokhba revolt, a hugely important and interesting moment in Jewish history. I’ve always been pretty vague on my ancient Jewish history, and the Bar Kokhba revolt especially has befuddled me, so it was helpful and nice to have such a clear summary of the events. I highly recommend it. (To find the podcast, go to the Podcasts tab in iTunes. Stuff You Missed in History Class is almost always in the list of most popular podcasts, but you can also search for it. The blog that accompanies the podcast is found here.) In the episode about Bar Kokhba the two hostesses mentioned that they’d like to do more episodes about Jewish history, but aren’t sure what topics to cover. Does anyone out there have any ideas?

Here are some off the top of my head:
The Ramban debating with Paulus Christians in Barcelona in the 13th century
I think Rashi would be a good topic, but maybe too big for 20 minutes
The bird head haggadah
The story of the Burma Road in Jerusalem

Posted on April 23, 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