Monthly Archives: May 2010

What Does This Mean??

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Life on by .

My best friend sent me this parody video, Brokeback Beit Midrash. As you might expect, it’s a parody of Brokeback Mountain, but instead of two cowboys falling in love with each other, it’s two yeshiva bochurs. The video is amusing, I guess (for a parody, it’s fairly well done) but I really don’t know what the subtext is. Is it mocking? Is it pointing out the ridiculousness of the way Orthodoxy treats the queer community? Is it just homophobic?

Jeremy thinks it’s just a parody and I shouldn’t look too deeply into it, but I don’t know… to me, there has to be something else here.

Posted on May 13, 2010

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My Alter-Ego

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

It all started with an e-mail from my mom a couple of years ago. She had been googling my name when she came across a curious video on YouTube titled, “J-Mo: A HipHopumentary.” The star of the video was a kid from Sydney, Australia named Jeremy Moses.  My friends and I immediately because obsessed with the video (which alter-Jeremy has since removed from the internet, but that’s another story). We knew all the lyrics to his rap and it became somewhat of an anthem to my life (“Jeremy is my name/Ladies are my game/Once you hear my rhymes you will never be the same.”).

Recently,  I’ve started Google Alerting my name (I’m in a very vain period in my life). While it is a great chance for me to find out more about Stephen F. Austin University Football, yesterday, I was googled alerted about some YouTube videos from a Jeremy Moses is Australia. YES! My alter-ego has made a triumphant return!

But the great discovery did not stop there. Jeremy Moses (Australia) is also Jewish. Not only that, he occasionally makes Jewish videos. Well, what a coincidence! I blog about Jewish videos! A true match made in heaven.

So while this video might be a little dated (it’s about a Jew who doesn’t know what to do with himself on Easter), it’s still worth showing. Go alternate me!

Posted on May 12, 2010

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Your Ideal Celebrity Shabbat Dinner

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

Apparently Q-Tip is into observing Shabbat since he’s been filming Holy Rollers, a movie about Chassidic drug mules. Totally awesome, and of course I had to invite him to Shabbat dinner at my place.

This got me thinking—who are the celebrities you’d like to invite to spend Shabbat (or just Shabbat dinner) with you? Besides Q-tip, here’s my list:
Matt Damon—because he’s smart and a good writer and lives in my ‘hood now
Maureen Dowd—because she’s outspoken and brilliant
Nick Hornby—one of my favorite writers, he seems like he’d be a great guest
Greg Graffin, of Bad Religion—smart, science-y, has what to say about religion, and would up the cool quotient by a thousand
Laura Bush—I don’t like her husband, and he wouldn’t be invited, but she’s pretty fascinating in her own right. Plus, it’d be fun to see her and Dowd play nice.
Brooke Magnanti—scientist, writer, and former escort, she’s actually Jewish, and we could bond about our love of whiskey, among other things

Who would you invite??

Posted on May 12, 2010

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Brian Chase and Nigguns, You Make My Day

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Since I started listening to music again, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have become the only band that I listen to. I mean that more seriously than is probably good for me. I’m writing a story that’s more moody and creepy and dark and slam-danceable than anything I’ve ever written, and their songs have a way of getting the exact second of a mood that I’m thinking of, harnessing it, and making it last long enough for me to write pages and pages without leaving the moment.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, in case you don’t know, are a trio. Karen O sings and doesn’t play anything. Nick Zinner does guitars and keyboards. And Brian Chase, the percussionist, basically does everything else. “Everything else” means drums, yes, but it also means that he’s the nervous and skeletal systems that fills up the music. Listen to this live version of “Y Control.” In the song’s intro, it basically sounds like a full orchestra is backing up Mr. Zinner. It’s not. It’s just one man and a boatload of drums.

Why am I telling you this? Partly so you’ll like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as much as me. Or maybe so you’ll ridicule me that I’d never heard them before. Especially since I’ve been a huge fan of Mr. Chase’s other band, the Sway Machinery, for several years.

Or because I’m so excited about his new piece for the Farverts.

Jeremiah Lockwood, Mr. Chase’s partner in the Sway Machinery and MyJewishLearning hazzan, has started a nigun project with the Forward — he’s researching and collaborating on new versions of different traditional songs. The first entry, Rebbe Nachman’s Nigun, was a collaboration with Sahr Ngaujah, who stars in Broadway’s Fela!. This new song, he writes,

is based on a melody I found in a collection from just after the war that was commissioned by the Lubavitch Hasidim.

Go listen to the nigun now. You can keep track of the Niggun project over at the Forward. And don’t forget to check out Jeremiah’s projects with us right right here.

Posted on May 12, 2010

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Eat the Cheesecake the Obamas Eat

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

There’s a cool article in the NYTimes today about the pastry chef in the White House. He sounds like an incredibly fun guy and he includes a recipe for cheesecake, which is apparently revamped from Mamie Eisenhower’s recipe. I’m not sure what prompted him to give the recipe for cheesecake, but it’s just in time for Shavuot, so maybe I’ll give it a go in the ol’ MJL test kitchen this weekend. In the meantime, here’s the recipe for those other adventurous cooks out there.


4 ounces butter (1 stick), melted, plus extra for greasing the pan

6 ounces chocolate wafer cookies

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons flour


12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

1/4 cup heavy cream, at room temperature

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Sour cream or crème fraîche for topping (optional).

1. To make crust: Heat oven to 300 degrees. Butter an 8-inch springform or plain cake pan, and line bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

2. Spread cookies on a baking pan and toast until very dry, about 10 minutes. Remove, and leave oven on. Pulse in food processor to make medium-fine crumbs. Mix one cup tightly packed crumbs in a bowl with sugar and flour, then mix in melted butter. Pour into prepared pan and press in evenly.

3. To make the filling: In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix cream cheese until smooth and fluffy, scraping down sides to eliminate lumps. Add sugar and honey, and mix until smooth. Scrape down sides and add sour cream and heavy cream, then mix for 2 minutes, scraping down sides a few times.

4. With mixer running, add vanilla and then eggs one at a time and mix until completely smooth. Pour over cookie base in prepared pan.

5. Place pan in a larger baking pan. Fill that with hot water halfway up the side of the cake pan. Bake 80 to 90 minutes, just until set. To test for doneness, shake cake pan gently. There should be no liquidity, but it should undulate in a mass, like Jell-O. Remove to a rack and let cool, then refrigerate in the pan at least 3 hours or overnight.

6. If using springform pan, remove the ring. If using a plain cake pan, warm bottom of pan over a very low flame one minute, moving it constantly to distribute heat. Invert cake onto a plate, then quickly re-invert onto a serving plate.

7. Frost top of cake with a thin layer of sour cream, if using. Use a thin-bladed knife to cut into pieces, wiping blade in between cuts.

Yield: 8 to 12 servings.

Posted on May 12, 2010

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Post-Apocalyptic Tel Aviv

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

What’s with all the Israel-centric science fiction stories these days? I’m not even talking about Assaf Gavron’s magical-realist novel about a Tel Aviv techie who keeps surviving suicide bombings, which or Lavie Tidhar’s anthology of science fiction stories from around the world (including two from Israeli authors and one from a Palestinian). I mean this new short movie.

Radium takes place, according to the film’s website, “15 years after the nuclear bomb was dropped on the Nation of Israel.” (That’s the nuclear bomb,” not “a nuclear bomb,” which might just be an ESL slip, but it’s probably more purposely foreboding than that.)

The film looks convincingly desolate and wasted, as you can see, although the creepy part is how similar it looks — in the backgrounds, the architecture, the way people dress (and, uh, the guns they carry) — to contemporary Israel. Are people covering their faces with kaffiyehs and ragged military clothes because they’re Arabs and IDF, or because of trade-winds carrying nuclear debris? It looks pretty ambiguous in the trailer, and I’d guess the film isn’t much more forthcoming. But the sense of tension and danger-around-the-corner is not at all unfamiliar.

The plot of the film centers on Layla, “a strong and determined woman,” who wanders the ruined city in search of her boyfriend, who might be dead. And that’s about all we know, for now. Strangely, Tidhar and Nir Yaniv recently co-wrote the novel The Tel Aviv Dossier (you can read the first three chapters here), which is about nearly the same thing. Coincidence? Or something more? You decide.

Posted on May 11, 2010

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The Jewish Canadien

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Here is a shocker. It has been months since I’ve mentioned my main man Omri Casspi on this blog. As I said countless times, I love Casspi not only because he is an Israeli, but because he plays for the Sacramento Kings, for which I am a die hard fan.

But the Kings stink. So when playoff season rolled around, the Kings players grabbed their golf clubs. But that doesn’t mean my sports fix was left void. Because I have a second team that, at least in the past, I’ve considered to be “die hard” for. That team is the Montreal Canadiens (yes, that’s how it’s spelled).

To be fair, these past two years (and especially this year) I’ve been a terrible Habs fan. It’s just SO hard to watch hockey in the U.S. It is never on T.V. unless you watch Versus on a regular basis, and we all know that you don’t.

But since the Canadiens shocked the #1 seed Capitals in the first round and have forced a Game 7 tomorrow night against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, I’ve been able to jump right back onto the Habs bandwagon.

And my lord has it been awesome. I’ve recently fallen in love with Mike Cammalleri, whom the Canadiens signed as a free agent last summer. And he has been on fire lately, leading the NHL playoffs in goals with 11, including two last night (highlights below).

Speaking with my brother and mom after the game, they both rather nonchalantly mentioned that Cammalleri was Jewish. I was shocked. How did I not know that the best player on my favorite team was Jewish? How bad of a fan am I?

So I decided to look it up. And according to the never lying Wikipedia, yes, Cammalleri’s mother is Jewish, and the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Supposedly, he also grew up observing Jewish holidays.

I vow to now only root for teams with Jewish players on them. I’m looking at you Taylor Mays of the San Francisco 49ers. Oh wait. I’m already a Niners fan? God must love me.

Posted on May 11, 2010

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From Another Planet

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

My new short story “Hailing Frequency” was just published (and you can hear or read the whole thing online). It’s a story about an unemployed geeky dude who moved to Chicago for his girlfriend’s job, and then the entire planet got invaded by aliens, and everyone’s trying to live life normally, only he doesn’t have a life to live yet — and, yep, it’s science fiction.*

It also doesn’t have anything to do with Jews.

matthue aliens

In this world where Jewish books are valued at a premium and branding books as “Jewish” can make or break a book, advertising your novel or short story or whatever as a Jewish book is pretty valuable. On the other hand, I just finished reading Joseph Kaufman’s The Legend of Cosmo and the Archangel, which is written by a self-proclaimed “ultra-Orthodox Jew” and his Judaism is only secondary or tertiary to the book, behind his being a recovering hippie or a rural New Englander.

(On the other hand, a lot of people think my sidecurls look like antennae, which is a pretty good argument for me writing about aliens.)

There’s a huge debate going on in the science fiction world about the split between more literary offerings and more, well, sciencey stories. (For a more in-depth explanation, check out this well-voiced article from the SF periodical Clarkesworld.) Does the television show Lost count as science fiction because there are shady explanations of time travel and otherworldly (or other-reality-ly) dealings? Or does it not, because the focus of the show is on the characters?

I’d submit that it doesn’t really matter. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov‘s most popular book, Rebbe Nachman’s Stories, is all about beggars and princesses and long walks through dangerous realms — and virtually no one in the stories is identified as a Jew. (Keep in mind that Rebbe Nachman is one of the original Hasidic masters, not just some Orthodox dude writing fiction on his Twitter account.) Science fiction doesn’t need to take place on Mars or in the year 2012, and Jewish books, well, don’t need to have JEW printed across the top. (And, conversely, every book with the word “JEW” printed across the top isn’t necessarily Jewish. Or good. But that’s beside the point.)

Next up on my reading plate is The Apex Book of World Science Fiction — edited, by the way, by the Israeli writer Lavie Tidhar. I’m kind of in love with it already (okay, it’s an anthology, and I’ve been peeking). My favorite stories are the ones where nothing really matters except the vital parts of the story — where the characters are like feelings, the setting isn’t “Rome” or “Burkina Faso” but is instead a dry swamp, or a child’s bedroom. The power of telling a horror story lies in its universality, and the power of an emotional story like Lost is the same — no matter who you are, and no matter where you’re coming from, a good story should be good to you. It should touch you. It should change your life. No matter how Jewish, or SFfy, it is.

* – I’m saying “science fiction” instead of the preferred appellation “speculative fiction,” because no one on this website knows what spec-fic means. Sorry, geeks.

Posted on May 11, 2010

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How Many Jewish Languages Can You Name?

This entry was posted in Culture, Texts on by .

Here on MJL we cover the basicsHebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Aramaic–but there are others. This week I learned about Juhuri, the language of the Mountain Jews. Who are the Mountain Jews? I’m glad you asked!
According to Haaretz:

Juhuri, which belongs to the family of Iranian tongues, was the language of the Jews who live in the eastern Caucasus Mountains, an ethnic group whose members were also known as “Mountain Jews.’ For years the Jews of the Caucasus lived as a minority in the northern part of Azerbaijan and in Dagestan. In that region there is a larger population of Muslims of Persian origin, who speak a similar language, called Tat. That is why linguists call Juhuri “Judeo-Tat.”

According to a tradition prevalent in the community, the Jews of the Caucasus are descendants of tribes exiled from the Kingdom of Judea after the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple. They settled in Persia, where they acquired one of the dialects of Persian, at the same time preserving a considerable vocabulary of Hebrew words. When the Persian rulers wished to strengthen the northern borders of the empire, they resettled these Jewish tribes in the Caucasus.

And here’s a bit more about the Juhuri language:

Until the 20th century, Juhuri was used mainly as the everyday spoken language. Hebrew was the community’s principal written language, and was also the language of prayer and study, with almost all Jewish men in the Caucasus learning to read and write it from an early age. When the members of the community began using Juhuri as a written language, they used Hebrew letters similar to Rashi script (a semi-cursive typeface for Hebrew used by early typographers). The first two books printed in Juhuri in Hebrew script – a prayer book and a book about Zionism – were published in 1908 and 1909, respectively. The Jews managed to preserve their unique language for hundreds of years, until the Russians arrived in the Caucasus.

So cool (if you, like me, are a total linguistics dork)!

Turns out popular Israeli singer Sarit Hadad is a Mountain Jew which gives me an excuse to post this music video. Here’s what I find confusing about this video: It takes place at a (presumably) Israeli office where everyone is wearing wearing ties and knee length skirts. Since it’s not a religious office, I’m confused about where in Israel you find men who wear ties.

Posted on May 11, 2010

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Elena Kagan, Esther, and Being Outed as Jewish or Gay

This entry was posted in Life, Texts on by .

So Elena Kagan is Obama’s nominee for Supreme Court Jusice, and I, for one, am elated. I love that there will be two Jewish ladies on the Supreme Court, and I love that Kagan is whip smart and driven and does well for herself. She seems, to me, like a great candidate and I hope her nomination sails through Congress.

But there is, as you may have heard, a lot of talk about whether or not she’s gay. Let’s just skip right past whether it’s appropriate to wildly speculate about someone’s sexuality, since clearly it’s being done regardless, and go for the hypothetical situation in which she is a closeted lesbian. Does it matter? Should she come out?

Andrew Sullivan has some thoughts regarding whether or not she’s gay:

It is no more of an empirical question than whether she is Jewish. We know she is Jewish, and it is a fact simply and rightly put in the public square. If she were to hide her Jewishness, it would seem rightly odd, bizarre, anachronistic, even arguably self-critical or self-loathing. And yet we have been told by many that she is gay … and no one will ask directly if this is true and no one in the administration will tell us definitively.

This seems spot on to me. If she’s gay she should come out because it probably actually can’t hurt her much at this point–the speculation probably did as much of the work as could be done–and it can help her. Being honest is a good thing, especially in a Supreme Court Justice. She’ll no doubt be called upon to make rulings about the gay community, and it behooves everyone to know that she may have a vested interest in certain issues.

Thinking about this, I couldn’t help but think about the megillah, and Queen Esther. One of the major points of the story in the Book of Esther is that no one knows that Esther is a Jew. And that always struck me as odd. Why doesn’t Esther come out as Jewish as soon as the King picks her? Wouldn’t that have made the whole issue with Haman a moot point? Would the king really have agreed to kill off the entire family of his wife? Doubtful. If Esther had just come out and told everyone who she was from the beginning, the whole story would have to focus on other, perhaps more important issues.

I think the ties to the megillah are pretty clear, but I’ve been thinking about them even more because I just finished reading a great book called Good for the Jews by Debra Spark. In short, the novel takes the story of the megillah and moves it Madison Wisconsin in 2005-2006. It’s an incredibly interesting take on the Biblical story, and one of the things that I think makes it so interesting is that Spark doesn’t have the character based on Esther (Ellen) keep her religion a secret. Instead, Ellen has to deal with thinly veiled anti-Semitism, and has to convince those around her that it’s really a threat. This is something that a member of almost any minority can relate to. We all deal with discrimination all the time, but it’s usually more subtle than someone saying, “All Jews should be hanged.” When we face discrimination that’s veiled, it’s still important and even obligatory to make a stink about it. But we can’t do that as effectively if no one understands why we care.

I hope that if Kagan is gay she comes out, and I hope that she makes it to the bench. And I hope you’ll all read Good for the Jews because it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I want to talk about it with someone already!

Posted on May 10, 2010

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