Monthly Archives: April 2010

Wise Fridays: Where Does God Exist?

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on your WiFri

“Where does God exist?” the rebbe asked several of his followers.
“Everywhere,” the surprised disciples responded.
“No,” the rebbe answered. “God exists only where man lets him in.”

–An exchange between the Kotzker rebbe and his disciples.

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

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

Almost Dead: Gaza, 1988 / Tel Aviv & Jerusalem, 2002

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

In his last posts, Assaf Gavron wrote about hanging out in the West Bank, moonlighting as an Israeli mover in New York City and about Israeli fast food. His most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He’s been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

As a soldier in Gaza in the first Intifada, I unknowingly started the research to a novel I was to publish 18 years later (22 years later, this month, in English translation). Gaza hardly appears in the pages of this novel, Almost Dead, but what I saw in its refugee camps, their streets and their houses, was the main inspiration to the story of Fahmi, one of the two storytellers of the novel.

That period of a few months in 1988 was the first time I was exposed to Palestinian life. The first time I understood what “occupation” means, how it works, and how life under it looks like. How young kids behave when they are given power over other people, and how those people react to them.

Living in Tel Aviv in 2002 was the starting point for the second storyteller of Almost Dead, the Israeli 30-something hi-tech engineer Eitan “Croc” Enoch. The surreal and chaotic atmosphere, with suicide bombs going almost dead assaf gavronoff on a daily basis in Israeli cities and people living in trauma and paranoia while trying to conduct their “normal” daily life, almost called me to deal with it through writing.

So here I was, with these two sides of the coin, two stories running parallel and at the same time bitterly colliding, so close and so apart, so similar and so different and all the other cliches (though cliches are sometimes true). I wanted to look into this point in time and to go deeper, to write about life at this time and place, as lived on both sides of the fence.

For Croc’s story, I only had to look around me. The people, the jobs, the city, the sensibilities were all around me. For Fahmi’s, I had to work harder. So I started with my Gaza memories for the looks, the smells, the alleys and the curfews. But my story takes place a decade and a half later, during a different, bloodier second intifada, and in the West Bank. And now it was much more difficult for me to gain access to this place. In fact, the actual refugee camp where Fahmi lives in is forbidden ground for Israelis. So I read books and magazine articles, watched the many documentaries made by Israelis as well as foreigners on suicide bombers and on the occupation, and traveled where I could — for example, to visit a friend doing a reserve army service in Ramallah.

The final part of getting Fahmi’s story right was to find Palestinians who can read Hebrew and would be prepared to read the texts and give me their comments. Through internet forums and cooperation organizations I found two readers, professors of Hebrew in the Gaza University. Connecting with them and sharing my texts with them was exciting and tremendously useful — their comments on things as small as the brand of cheese my character would eat and as big as the way he would behave near a woman were crucial. Most importantly, their overall approval of Fahmi’s character and reliability gave me the final courage to publish the book.

Almost Dead was just published by HarperCollins in the US. It was published in Israel in 2006, and since then has appeared in German, Italian, Dutch, and soon in French. A movie based on the novel is in production by Neu Filmproduktion from Berlin (“Goodbye Lenin”, “Run Lola Run”). He has blogged all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

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

Jobnik!: Sex, Guns, and Hot Israeli Soldiers (An Interview)

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

The title of artist and writer Miriam Libicki‘s comic series Jobnik!: An American Girl’s Adventures in the Israeli Army made me wary at first. The first thing you think of when someone name-drops the Israeli army is, it’s going to be fiercely political and partisan. And when you think about political comics, you can be forgiven if the image your mind conjures up is pro-Palestinian protesters or boring Israeli propaganda.

jobnik 8 miriam libickiJobnik! is decidedly more personal. After an intensely candid prologue in which Miriam is diagnosed by a military psychologist — “Overly emotional, disconnected from reality, possessed of anxieties (especially social), unable to form interpersonal bonds, sexually conflicted…sure you haven’t considered suicide a little bit?” — she’s introduced to her new Hebrew-speaking coworkers and her new job: secretary to an overdemanding, office-supplies-stealing sergeant.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Israel that Miriam (the author) portrays and that Miriam (the character) stumbles through in this “sometimes autobiographical” series is a multi-layered one filled with sex and sexism, adventures and concerts and lonely soliloquies, all punctuated by lots and lots of bus rides. The Miriam of the story is a character in flux: torn between being religious and being secular, the social pressure to date and the desire to play the field — coupled with, of course, the fact of being on an army base in the middle of nowhere with a whole platoon of sexed-up twentysomethings in peak physical condition.

Libicki’s portrayal of the Israeli army includes a lot of what, in our American Western minds, we’d think of as matter-of-fact sexism. Her officers flirt with her. She embarks into hook-ups with other soldiers, relationships that aren’t relationships, dangerous flirtations, bizarre social schemes. Some scenes totally confound our sensibilities, like where the female soldiers discuss whether different uniforms make a character’s thighs look big. It’s a different world they’re living in.

And Miriam is living in an even different world than that. She is an expatriate several times over, traveling through the shidduch-dating world in New York and the underground folk-rock scene in Toronto — as well as the after-hours Israeli military social scene — without fitting seamlessly into any of them. A just-released compendium collects Jobnik!‘s first six comics in a 200-page full-book format, while the newest issue follows Miriam back to Israel after a hiatus in North America and introduces a new potential storyline, and two new potential love interests.

What are you working on now?

Jobnik! is continuing. The graphic novel that I published is supposed to be the first in a trilogy of books that are about that size. It’s still the idea that I always had — I served for a year and 9 months in the army, and I wanted to do a book that took me from the first month till the last month. I sat down with my old army diaries and an overview of the intifada and I basically did a very, very rough outline of everything else that’s going to happen.

So you have a master plan? You know what’s going to happen, say, in issue #17?

Right now I do. It could all change. There should be 18 issues altogether. If you go to my Livejournal, you can see the first page of issue 8, although I’m really really way far behind on where I should be. I wanted to have it finished by the summer, and I had the thumbnails finished by New Year, and the final pages I’ve done this winter. I have some commissions, and then I have everything else going on, too.

jobnik by miriam libickiWhat’s “everything else”?

I have a part-time day job, which I didn’t have for the rest of the time I was making comic books. I always kind of planned to get a day job; I thought it was something people should do.

I’ve gotten to the point with my comic book where I don’t lose money, where I recoup travel costs and printing costs, but I don’t make enough to pay my rent. So I have a part-time job and it’s working with kids, which is fun, but very tiring every day. I’m furthering my education in teaching children, but leaves less time for comic books — well, not less time, but less energy.

Do your kids know about your secret life?

Not at all — it’s something I try to keep really separate, because Jobnik! is a comic book, and some of the stuff in there isn’t really — well, people who aren’t familiar with the history of graphic novels would expect it, but people expecting Sunday morning cartoons would find the content to be really shocking. {laughs} I really hope that the parents of the children I teach don’t find out!

How long have you been away from Israel? Do you have to look at visual cues or old scrapbooks to jog your memory, or do the feelings and visual memories of Army camps and Egged buses just naturally come to you?

I was discharged in May 2002, and I left the country two weeks after. I’ve been back — over half my family still lives there. My parents made aliyah after I came back. I still go back often, but not as often as I like — I’ve got two siblings with their families there. I try to visit, but that works out to less than once a year.

I’ve had a couple of articles in the Israeli press. In fact — probably the article that gives me the most pleasure is the IDF international magazine that gets sent around to all the bases, they did a feature on me.

What do they think of your comic-book double life?

Well, they’ve always encouraged me a lot artistically. My father is somewhat of a prestigious artist, and we were always encouraged to draw — we were always critiqued more than other kids. When I went to art school, they never really pushed me into doing something more practical.

With the comics, it’s not completely positive — there’s dirty laundry involved — but they’re very happy about the fact that I’m doing comic books and getting myself out there, and that it’s had a teeny tiny amount of success. My father is very tickled whenever I send him an article or anything, and that makes him happy, but he doesn’t read Jobnik! himself — which I think is a good call on his part.

In Jobnik!, you’re straddling the religious divide — in the Miriam character, you identify as religious, but you’re also experimenting sexually, doing things that most people would say was way not religious, and then not doing them…

It’s something that’s just not written about. It’s not uncommon, but you don’t see it written about much, people who grew up with religion but fall into it and fall out of it, whatever your life at the time seems to allow for. This isn’t a book about my religious crisis. It has that, but — spoiler! — religious crises aren’t what the plot is going to turn out to be about.

I’m always trying to negotiate my religiosity with the rest of my life. For me, being religious has always been more about practice than faith. I come from a Modern Orthodox practice, where faith is de-emphasized, as opposed to what you do.

Do you think you’ll tell that story in your future?

I don’t think so, because that isn’t my story. My attitude toward religion hasn’t changed a lot. Looking at theology, I’m now more aligned with Conservatism, even though I like the rituals and practices of Orthodoxy — although I don’t do all of them. I guess there are those sorts of people in New York, but there aren’t really any of those in Vancouver [where she lives now].

I’m also at a strange place in my Judaism now, being married to a Buddhist. I keep Shabbat to some
miriam libickiextent, being married to a Shabbos goy. I still keep kosher, even though I’ll eat out at dairy restaurants, which is not something I did growing up in Columbus. But it’s still an important part of my identity to do those things.

Is it weird to be spending so much of your life talking about a part of your life that happened so long ago?

Not really. I think it’s the richest part of my life, storytelling-wise, and when I get a bit bored with it, I do a drawn essay. But it’s something I can use to beat myself over the head with. I can calculate how much time it’s spent writing about vs. doing it — it’s taken five years to write a story that’s seven months long so far. It sounds a little pathetic when I say it like that —

No way! It sounds pretty wild, actually.

It’s an interesting story to tell. It’s just a very drawn-out process. It’s funny that even — I think if I weren’t writing about this, I wouldn’t have as many army dreams as I’m writing about right now.

What sort of dreams — terrorism dreams? Israel dreams?

No, not really. When there is an enemy, I’m basically running from Nazis like Indiana Jones. Not even like my grandparents. Like Indiana Jones.

I’m definitely going to get more into this in volumes two and three, because that’s when the terrorism really kicks up in Israel. That’s when the terrorism becomes really pervasive and affects you, but i think that, like many Israelis, it was this mind-numbing depressive thing rather than this panic thing.

It’s kind of nuts to read how, together with all the army insanity and the relationship insanity, you use news reports and terrorist alerts. It’s like Israel becomes an allegory for you.

That’s definitely intentional. I needed to include the news and the Intifada because that’s the hook of the story — “teenager making poor relationship choices” is not a great hook. When I use the news bits, it’s not my memories I’m working off. Most of these, I don’t have a clear memory of where I was when this bombing began or where that treaty happened. I guess it’s a very intense way, but Israel is an intense place to be, back then, and even more so now.

In Vancouver, I feel like I’m in a sort of exile in a way — it’s a quiet place, and a safe place. In my spare time, I have the freedom to write this book.

Miriam Libicki is the artist and writer behind Real Gone Girl Studios. The collected Jobnik!: An American Girl’s Adventures in the Israeli Army is available now.

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

MyJewishLearning Internship

This entry was posted in General on by .

We’re looking for an intern to join us this summer to help launch our exciting new site for parents of young Jewish children.

The intern will help create and gather innovative content, develop newsletters, update a baby name database, and upload articles to the site. The ideal candidate should be eager, able to work independently, have experience writing for a blog or other feature writing experience, and have some knowledge of Jewish culture and tradition as well as familiarity with the web, web publications, and Photoshop.

The intern will work out of MyJewishLearning.com’s Manhattan office. The position is 20 hours a week and pays $10 per hour.

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and links to writing samples to Deborah Kolben at deborah@myjewishlearning.com.

Posted on April 22, 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

Friday Night Celine

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Have you ever watched a video online, and about a minute into it, you realize that you have your hands covering your face in horror but you were too fascinated to turn away? I just had this happen to me.

I’m all for taking pop songs and putting them to the words of Jewish liturgy. I for one am never able to do Final Jeopardy because the second that theme song comes on, I’m singing Adon Olam. Same goes for Rock Around the Clock.
But this video is so freakin’ weird I don’t know what to do with it. The video is Eshet Hayil, sung to the tune of My Heart Will Go On, by Celine Dion. That in and of itself would be weird enough. But whoever loaded this video thought it would be appropriate to put pictures of the Titanic throughout the song (quick reminder: My Heart Will Go On was Titanic’s theme song).

Quick Note #1: To my future wife: This is the tune I will be singing every Shabbat dinner. If you don’t like it, don’t sign the ketubah. I’ve also already picked out our kids nicknames. We can talk about that another time.

Quick Note #2: People at BangItOut, keep on finding the great videos.

Quick Note #3: I forgot how young Leo was in that movie. Just sayin’

Posted on April 22, 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

The West Bank, 2008-2009: Researching “The Outpost”

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

In his last posts, Assaf Gavron wrote about moonlighting as an Israeli mover in New York City and about Israeli fast food. His most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He’s blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

The Jewish settlers in the West Bank have fascinated me for many years, and especially those living in the illegal outposts — a few mobile homes on remote hills with no running water or electricity, who are in a constant cat-and-mouse chase with the authorities. Regardless of political opinion (if such a thing is possible in our region, especially in this part of it), the extreme situation in which they live seemed like the perfect setting for a novel: the combination of lawlessness, lack of clear borders, the sense of adventure and of conquering new frontiers, as well as the breathtaking landscapes, religious fanaticism and the violent national conflict, make it feel like a modern, surreal kind of Western -– it is, in fact, the Wild West Bank.

The West Bank (often referred to as Judea and Samaria) is geographically nearby the Israelis who don’t live there: from Tel Aviv, where I live, it is less than a 30-minute drive. Yet most Israelis keep as far away as assaf gavronpossible. Seen as dangerous and controversial, some of it blocked by walls and parts forbidden, it is indeed “abroad” for many. Yet it is ever-present on the news, on political and at dinner tables discussions. So after I realized it could be a great setting for a novel, I decided to go there. For over two years I traveled, sometimes once a week, sometimes more, sometimes staying overnight, or for the day. I went all over the West Bank -– the desert lands of Judea; the greener, hillier Samaria; bigger, established settlements; and the tiniest outposts.

I wanted to see life behind the news headlines. I wanted to test the stereotype of the settlers as a crazy, secluded, fanatic, violent and racist bunch, armed with God’s orders to settle the Promised Land by Jews, regardless of other inhabitants, international law, Israeli government decisions or other petty “earthly” matters. I was curious to learn about the people, their thoughts, their way of life, and the ways in which their private life converge with the larger, political story. I wanted to find out what actually happens on the ground when the president of the U.S., the most powerful man on earth, forces Israel to freeze construction in the settlements, and how it actually affects the inhabitants of the mobile homes in a tiny outpost on some neglected hill in Judea (hint: they don’t care much).

In one outpost, a stunning place on the edge of the desert, I found a small hut to sit and write. The bath and toilet were outside under the sky, the floor was hard rock and the wind whistled through the cracks, but it was inspiring and authentic. I met the locals and encountered their architecture, their pets (including a camel), their organic fields and olive groves, and their Arab neighbors. Obviously, I have found a much richer and more complex world than the stereotype predetermined. The novel is still in progress…

The Outpost (working title) will be published in 2011 in Israel. Assaf Gavron’s most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He’s blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

Posted on April 22, 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

Drake’s Bar Mitzvah

This entry was posted in Life on by .

A couple months back, I mentioned how shocked I was that this blog never mentions Drake, one of the biggest rappers in the industry and a Jew.

The guy has been on my mind lately because he was featured in Young Artists for Haiti, the Canadian version of We are the World, which you should watch because it’s a good song and it’s always hilarious to watch my girl Avril Lavigne take herself seriously. Oh, and Bieber makes an appearance.

But I’m getting off topic. Where was I? Oh yeah, Drake being Jewish. I found this cool video from HeebMagazineFans (is this Heeb’s YouTube page or a Heeb fan page? And if it’s the latter, someone better be creating a MJL fan page). The video has the guy behind the camera informally interviewing Drake, when the question of his bar mitzvah comes up. The interviewer was surprised to find out that yes, Drake did the whole becoming a man thing when he turned 13. He also has gone out with Rihanna. I’ve done one of those things.

The video has some “language” so keep the kids away. Unless they enjoy hearing the F-word.

Posted on April 21, 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

Jerusalem, 1995-1996: Eating Standing Up

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

On Monday, Assaf Gavron wrote about moonlighting as an Israeli mover in New York City. His most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He’s blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

My book Eating Standing Up started life as a weekly column for the Jerusalem local magazine Kol Ha’ir in 1995. The concept was simple, and is clearly evident in the title: to review each week one of Jerusalem‘s hundreds of fast food joints — sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, shwarmas, humus places — and the jewel in the crown: falafel.

Jerusalem prides itself, among other things, for its fast food, which derives its inspiration from the unique multicultural experience of the city: east and west, oriental and European, Arab and Jewish, ancient and new. My colleagues and friends found the idea that I should undertake such a task anywhere between disgusting and astonishing. But I -– despite a couple of undesired stomach troubles along the road -– simply loved the job, and within weeks the column became widely popular. My rave reviews were framed and hung on walls of the lucky joints, while angry reactions, threatening phone calls in the middle of the night and a handful of lawsuits were filed by the victims of my less favorable reviews.

As the column gained popularity, a story started to emerge within its pages, the ongoing story of “The Eater” – a single, frustrated Jerusalemite in his mid-20s, along with a regular cast — his faithful right-hand man “The Arab-Issues Reporter,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in Jerusalem” (who was the target of The Eater’s desires), “The falafelVegetarian Commentator” — and several other recurring characters. As much as it was their story, it was also the story of Jerusalem in the mid-90s, a city in transition from the optimistic, quiet, peace-process days, through the Rabin assassination and the following bloody suicide bombings and their depressing aftermath.

In 2009, the one hundred or so reviews that appeared between early 1995 and the end of 1996 were collected in a book by the Jerusalem publisher Uganda. Even thirteen years later, with about half of the places reviewed not existing anymore, the book was received as an authentic slice of life, a memento from the not-so-distance past of the city. And for those visiting Jerusalem, here are a couple of must-eat joints which scored high on the Eating Standing Up scale:

Shalom Falafel, 34 Bezalel St., Jerusalem
A small, falafel-only joint just outside the center, with the unique, orange-colored falafel balls and a perfect, always fresh and inexpensive portion.

Burekas Musa, 30 Jaffa St., Jerusalem
Another tiny shop not far from the old city with only one item on the menu -– a large, triangular burekas (Balkan pastry filled with salty cheese), served with a hard-boiled egg, hot tomato sauce, tahina and a divine pickled cucumber.

Eating Standing Up was published in 2009 in Israel. Assaf Gavron’s most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He’s blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

Posted on April 21, 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

The Ultimate Israeli Food

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

How do you show pride on Yom Ha’atzmaut? I’m really not one for going to rallies or wearing Israeli flags. And god knows that I won’t be caught at a Yom Ha’atzmaut party. I hate parties.

So, like how I enjoy most other holidays, I eat to show my pride. Today, I went to the always amazing Olympic Pita to eat their schwarma on homemade laffa. You heard me, they make the laffa right in front of your eyes. Delicious. Even the non-kosher food blog Midtown Lunch agrees.

But lunch got me thinking. What are my top 5 favorite Israeli foods? Naturally, I made a list.

5) Hummus: The only reason that hummus isn’t ranked higher on this list is because it is a spread that is best served with other things. When you eat hummus plain, which believe me, I have, it becomes drastically less good. Not to say that I wouldn’t keep eating it plain. I’m just saying I wouldn’t be proud of myself.

4) Schnitzel: The Jews response to fried chicken. Now if only a kosher restaurant would come out with their own version of KFC’s Double Down sandwich. All that sandwich is missing is two pieces of bread around it.

3) Falafel: Cheap, filling goodness. Falafel goes perfectly with hummus. Probably even more than hummus goes with schwarma. If cooked incorrectly, falafel can be pretty putrid though. But if it’s fresh and fluffy, there really is nothing like it. My recommendation? If you’re in NYC, Taim in the West Village is wonderful.

2) Merguez: What Roberto Alomar is to 90s baseball, merguez is to my tastebuds. In other words, the underrated food of the century. I have a major love for hot dogs. A MAJOR love for hot dogs. And merguez is just a spicy hot dog. Sign me up right now. I’ll take nine of them.

1) Schwarma: Was there really another choice? What other food can you get either as chicken, turkey or lamb, and have all three taste amazing? The grease might make you only want it on a special occasion, but when that time comes, believe me, you will enjoy your meal.

Posted on April 20, 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

Jewish Guilty Pleasures

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite guilty pleasures recently. What makes something a guilty pleasure? I think it has to be something that’s bad for you, something that you feel a little bit gross doing because you know just how bad for you it is, but something you do anyway because you just can’t help yourself every once in a while. Often, of course, foods are guilty pleasures. But I also include lying outside in the sun without any sunscreen on, fashion-themed reality television, and gossiping about breakups in my social circle.
babka2.jpg
I have Jewish guilty pleasures, too. Some of them are foods: yerushalmi kugel, which is utterly delicious and also horrifyingly bad for you, Babka, and brisket (I’m a vegetarian, but I still sometimes dream about brisket). Other Jewish guilty pleasures include: showing up to shul on Shabbat for the second half of musaf, categorizing everyone as either a religious zealot or a heretic, and delighting in the sordid gossip of the synagogue you don’t go to.

What are your Jewish guilty pleasures?

Posted on April 20, 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