Monthly Archives: April 2010

AWJS Dvar Tzedek Fellowship

This entry was posted in General, Texts on by .

For the past three years, MyJewishLearning.com has been proud to feature weekly d’vrei Torah from American Jewish World Service, connecting the weekly Torah portion to pressing issues of social justice. Now AWJS is looking for new contributors:

AJWS is pleased to announce that we are accepting applications for the Dvar Tzedek Lisa Goldberg Memorial Writers’ Fellowship for 5771 / 2010-2011. AJWS Dvar Tzedek Fellows receive a modest stipend and write weekly Torah commentaries relating to the Jewish imperative for social justice. The Dvar Tzedek currently reaches more than 5,000 people a week over email.

Click here to download the application and here to see examples of the work of this year’s Dvar Tzedek fellows.

We invite you to apply for the fellowship. Applications are due on May 24. For more information, please contact education@ajws.org.

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

Yom Haatzmaut ’round the World

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Today is Israel’s Independence Day. What exactly does that mean? And what can you do?

israeli independence DayThere’s no better place to start than MJL. Read up on Yom Haatzmaut the way it’s celebrated in Israel and the rest of the world, and check out our new article about whether Yom Haatzmaut should be celebrated — as a religious holiday? or at all?

* Pioneers for a Cure, the Jewish network of artists fighting cancer, are using the occasion to release a new download of Yehoram Gaon singing “Shir Ha’avoda Vehamlacha.” For a $2 donation to the cause, you’ll get yourself some new music.

* Everyone’s favorite Israel-lovin’, reggae-singin’ superstar, Matisyahu, just lost his Israeli keffiyeh while stage-diving in Argentina (thanks to Shemspeed, check out Rolling Stone’s photos of the show) — but he’s freshly re-keffed and back for more.

* There are parties across the U.S. — and Israel’s just one big party as soon as you walk out of the street, so we won’t even discuss that. Everyone from Shemspeed to the Israeli consulate are having parties. There are a zillion blogrolls, but the best way to find some other local folks in your area celebrating freedom, falafel, and Zohan is the trusty old Google.

Of course, that’s not all that’s happening — either in cyberspace or in real life. If you’re doing anything cool for the holiday, let us know in the comments.

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

Teaching the Holocaust

This entry was posted in History on by .

A look at some disagreements in how the Holocaust should be taught, including the emphasis on victimhood, the importance of the “technical details” and whether there has been “too much emphasis on the Jewish aspects of the Holocaust.” (Ha’aretz)

The Holocaust was not just about the Jews, and Anshel Pfeffer decries the fact that this simple fact isn’t being taught in Israeli schools. (Ha’aretz)

In 1943, about 250 Jews escaped from a work camp in Poland through a 700-foot tunnel dug by hand. Here is the story of one: Sonya Oshman. (Tablet)

Israel has decided that high school students will learn for the first time about the Eichmann trial and its impact on the shaping of the collective memory of the Holocaust in Israel. (Ha’aretz)

A look at the use of motion comics (animatics), which may blend in archival footage, to tell Holocaust stories. (Jewish Week)

Posted on April 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

Dulce Et Decorum Est

This entry was posted in Holidays, Israel on by .

Today is Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day. If you’ve ever been to a tekes (ceremony) for Yom Hazikaron you’ve probably thought about how different it is from Memorial Day in America, which is basically about barbecues and department store sales. Yom HaZikaron is a genuinely somber and emotional time in Israel. Unfortunately, out of necesssity Israelis have gotten very good at creating ceremonies and memorials that are effective and respectful but also provide a good avenue for public grief.

But see, public grieving is such a bizarre concept to me. To me, at least, the thing that’s so gut wrenching about grief is that it’s personal. You’re rebuilding your life around this noticeable absence. Your job, as someone who is mourning, is to pay respect to the person who was a part of your life. And at least in the Jewish world, we grieve for those we know best and who are related to us. This isn’t just a loyalty thing, I don’t think. These are the people who are the most major characters in our lives. We grieve for them because we are a part of them, and when they are gone, so are whole segments of our own history.helmet_and_flag_hp.jpg

In light of that, grieving publicly for someone we didn’t know, never even met or knew existed until after they died, it seems very odd to me. Even in Israel, where it’s done well, I think it’s more about performance of grief, and less about actually giving space for those who are experiencing grief. Now, some people really need an avenue for performance of grief, and I think that Israel, as a country, has a lot of national grief issues. Still, the whole thing feels very very strange to me. I imagine that if my father was a soldier who had been killed I would feel really angry and not comforted by a whole nation of people grieving for him. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like forcing people to share their grief, which isn’t always attractive/helpful.

I don’t know. I’m probably off with some of this. Anyway, for more thoughts on this, check out the excellent and insightful blog post by Zach Silver, a friend who’s in Israel now. Zach talks about what it’s like to be in Israel while the country is mourning, but to not actually have any relatives or friends to mourn for on Yom HaZikaron.

The other thing I want to mention is that I think a lot of times in war memorials of all kinds we end up crossing the thin line to patriotism when we really shouldn’t. Today is about remembering Israel’s fallen soldiers, but tomorrow is about celebrating the State’s existence, and there is something very dangerous about putting the two so close together.

The title of this blog post references a famous anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen, a soldier who died in WWI. In the poem he describes one of his comrades dying from mustard gas, and then writes:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
*

*It is beautiful and becoming to die for one’s country.

If there’s anything that Israel knows it’s that it isn’t beautiful and becoming to die for one’s country. It is, pretty much always, completely pointless. It’s obscene (not to mention wrong) to say that the deaths of any Israeli soldiers/fighters somehow paid for the existence of the State. The fighting, the wars accomplished something, but each individual death? No. To paint these–or any–deaths with the brush of patriotism is the ultimate act of hubris.

So many men and women died. It’s horrible. It’s horrifically sad. That’s all.

Posted on April 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

New York, 1998: Research for “Moving”

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Assaf Gavron’s most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He will be blogging for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series all week.

To research my novel Moving (published in Israel in 2003), I traveled to New York to work in the moving business for three months.

It is known, at least among Israelis and American Jews, that the moving business in New York has been largely taken over by Israelis in the last decades, as exemplified by firms such as Moishe’s, Shleppers and dozens of smaller companies in New York and elsewhere, owned by Israelis and employing young Israeli men after military service. This phenomenon has led to the creation of an Israeli movers community in New York, with its own habits, lingo (a specific kind of ‘Hebrish’, Hebrew-English), blocks of residence in Manhattan, New Jersey and elsewhere, favorite restaurants and clubs to hang out in, and so on.

The idea to write a novel based on this community, and their experience as a group of young foreigners in a unique pursuit of the American Dream, came to me following a series of conversations with a close friend who had worked as a mover in New York for three years in the early 1990’s. This friend set me up with his contacts and I was invited to work in a moving company in New York.

Between January and May 1998, I became a mover in Trio Moving and Storage, a small company based in midtown Manhattan. I moved the furniture and personal belongings of families, offices and companies all over the U.S., and had an intimate inside look at the way the business worked, the life of Israelis in it, and the way they experienced America, its landscapes, roads, culture and people.

moving assaf gavronI worked in New York, but also traveled long-distance: to old-age homes in Florida, to Minnesota with Russian immigrants, to Texas, to northern Michigan with hippies, to Chicago, Boston and more. Being in a small company enabled me to quickly learn the different parts of the job and to reach the position of driving a truck on my own on long distance trips.

The experience was fascinating and inspiring, and provided me with plenty of fodder for the resulting thriller-comedy that is Moving. As I write in the first chapter of the book:

“Working as movers, you see changes all the time. You’re part of them. You see people at the moment of change… You see America from right inside its soft underbelly, right inside people’s fragile lives.”

Moving was published in Israel in 2003 and was a bestseller; It will be published in German translation in October 2010. A movie based on the novel is in production by Lama Films from Tel Aviv (Paradise Now, Jellyfish). Assaf Gavron’s most recent book, Almost Dead, is now available. He will be blogging for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

Posted on April 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

Where Are You At Sunset?

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Three weeks into Sefirat HaOmer, and I don’t want to ayin hara myself, but it’s the first time that we’ve gotten this far.

bart simpson omer

I’m usually really good at doing it for myself, at completing this strange and obsessive ritual that us Jewish people have. Starting on the second night of Passover, and lasting until the first night of Shavuot exactly 50 days later, we count Omer. Omer used to be a measure of wheat that was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. These days, omer means a number. And that’s basically it. On the first night we say “today is the first day of the omer,” and on the second we say “today is the second day of the omer,” and so on, up to and including Day 49. Usually, I say it during the evening prayers.

This year, though, I’m draggin’ my wife along.

I don’t mean this to sound sexist, although given the circumstances, it almost inevitably will: gung-ho religious-nut boy yanks his lady friend along with his particular brand of fundamentalism. But the reality is more like, in my wife’s family, the men always counted omer and the women never really did. Until now. (Cue lightning striking.)

We’ve worked it into a little ritual for our family. Usually we count right at sunset, after we’ve put the baby to sleep. We’ll have dinner (both of us! eating together! the same food! every night! for us, this is revolutionary). We’ll hang out a bit, pack for our upcoming move (tomorrow, bli ayin hara), and watch the sun go down. And then as soon as it’s dark, one of us will inevitably remind the other by running up to the other person and saying, with no prelude, “Baruch!”

Baruch, of course, is the first word in most Hebrew blessings. Including the blessing over counting the omer.

There’s a big rabbinical debate over counting omer. Not whether you’re supposed to or not –more or less everyone agrees (a rarity, for Judaism) that the omer counts as a mitzvah, or a commandment. But is it one big mitzvah to count all 49 nights, or is counting each night a different mitzvah? The conclusion that the rabbis of the Talmud reached — which, of course, is more of a compromise than a conclusion — is that, if you remembered to count every night so far, then you should say a blessing. If you forgot, even for one day, then you can still count — but you can’t score with the blessing. (All of this, of course, is a way-simplified version of the more-or-less official account of how to count the omer on MJL.)

And that’s also a roundabout way to say: We haven’t forgotten yet. And we’re still counting with a blessing.

Yes, it’s a bit self-serving. But that’s because I’m a little bit proud of us, and a little bit astounded at us, too. Wonder Twin powers, activate.

Image thanks to DWallach.

Posted on April 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

Best of the Week

This entry was posted in General on by .

What was better this week? Hanson coming out with a new music video or Justin Bieber performing on Saturday Night Live? This is like choosing a favorite between two of your children. You don’t want to disappoint either of them.

I’m reminded by my parents often that I became an old man at a very young age. Every Shabbat, at synagogue, I would run into kiddush so I could get my hands on the herring with cream sauce before it ran out. I don’t really know what the rush was. For some reason it never ran out. Check out our recipe for making your own herring.

Julius Rosenwald revolutionized the way Jewish philanthropy works in this country. He also created the Sears catalog. But I promise our article about him has no pictures of women in bras. Too bad.

When I was 13, I had my first love. Oh wait, sorry. Those are the lyrics to a Justin Bieber song. When I was 13, I participated in the Bible Contest. Half way through the test, I came to the realization that I was not a Torah scholar. This was the first of my mediocre results on Bible tests in high school. But others kids do well in the Bible Contest. Read all about this crazy phenomenon that captures the hearts of Israelis every year.

Posted on April 16, 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

Reb Brad Mendel Pitt

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

I’m very happy I found this video because someone had to say it. Someone had to say that Brad Pitt’s beard is ridiculous. He looks like a cross between The Dude and Tom Hanks in Castaway.

Now this isn’t to say that all beard are ridiculous. My dad, for example, (and I think I’ve mentioned this before) looks exactly like Toby from The West Wing. Now that’s a classy lookin’ beard. Or even the beard of world famous blogger/beard connoisseur Matthue Roth looks okay.

I had to ask Matthue about his feelings on the Pitt beard and his reviews were mixed: It’s shabby, unkempt, crusty, and it looks like he has leftovers from last week stuck inside. Then again, having leftovers from last week that close to your mouth is actually pretty convenient.

Matthue is always resourceful.

But Matthue isn’t the only religious person who has issues with Pitt’s black hole of hair. Mendy Pellin brings us this ridiculous video of Chabadniks complaining about people thinking they are Brad Pitt. It’s really well done and some of the old guys are actually pretty hilarious, especially when they complain about being tagged in Facebook albums as Brad Pitt.

The video advertises an event that has already taken place, so you can ignore the last 30 seconds or so. Thanks to BangItOut.com for finding this.

Posted on April 16, 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: You Go First

This entry was posted in Life on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the    reception on your WiFri

Two men came to Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak of Ponovezh. They had both bought plots in the cemetery, and each wanted the better of the two. After they had argued back and forth for some time, Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak rendered his verdict: “Whoever dies first gets the better plot.” Never again did they argue the issue.
–Shmuel Himelstein
Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on April 16, 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

Rabbi Schmuel Buckman Sings the Hits

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

This video is an oldie but a goodie. At first glance, it seems pretty generic and overdone. But believe me, this video is pure genius.

It features the always funny Nick Kroll as Rabbi Schmuel Buckman giving his own Jewish interpretation to some past musical “hits.” I put that in quotation marks because his choice of songs to sing are unbelievable. After starting a little slow, he doidles The Godfather theme and as well as Entertainment Tonight‘s intro.

The more you watch this, the funnier it gets. So watch it over and over and over.

Posted on April 15, 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