Monthly Archives: June 2010

Big Brother Rests of Shabbat

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After a hiatus of a couple of years, about two years ago, I started watching Survivor again. While many people (especially my age) watched the first fews seasons of the show, a lot of people I know haven’t watched Survivor since the early 2000s. All of these people are making a grave mistake.

While I don’t want to anger any Bachelor or Amazing Race fans, Survivor might just be the reality show out there. The producers do an amazing job of finding great and compelling contestants that make the seasons so gripping that it has become one of my favorite shows to watch.

It also has secretly been a dream of mine to go on Survivor. I mean, I wouldn’t actually do it, because it looks incredibly difficult on a physical level, with the challenges, no shelter, no food, etc. However, I would destroy when it comes to the mind games. I would get very far in the game. I promise you that.

The other thing that would hold me back would be the Jewishness factor. Depending on where the season is taking place, it might be very difficult for me to keep kosher while on the show. Let’s say you show up and the only thing there is to eat is chicken and shrimp, then I’m going to be very hungry very quickly. Or I would have to learn how to schect (spelling?) an animal beforehand.

But maybe I’m over-thinking it. Take this upcoming season of Big Brother for example. In this article, which mostly focuses on the new twist on the show (which essentially turns it into the cancelled reality show The Mole, but that is neither here nor there), we learn about 39 year old Andrew Gordon from Miami. Defying the odds, Gordon is Orthodox! He will be bringing his own utensils and food into the house. That’s pretty awesome. I also guess he doesn’t have an issue with being filmed on Shabbat.

But the weird part of the article is that the author mentions Gordon as a suspect to be the mole. Is it because he has meat-only dishes? Sounds like a mole to me.

Posted on June 30, 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 Hitler Ringtone

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

Or:  Approximately as Hateful and Annoying as California Gurls

I once dated a guy who had Truly Madly Deeply as his ringtone. Obviously there is no excuse for my behavior, but let’s move on. The point is, every time anyone called this guy I had to hear “I wanna stand with you on the mountain, I wanna mate with you in the sea…” and let me just say it is a miracle and a half that I never threw his phone into the toilet.

Anyway, I always thought Savage Garden was as bad as it gets, but it turns out I was wrong. According to Ynet:

A German man is facing up to six months in prison for having a speech by Adolf Hitler as his mobile phone ring tone, the Daily Telegraph reported Wednesday.

According to the British daily, the 54-year-old man had the speech – in which the Nazi leader pledged the “destruction of world Jewry” if Germany was “dragged” into war – programmed into his Nokia phone.

The report said passengers aboard a train in Hamburg heard the ring tone several times and reported him to police, who seized him at the end of his journey.

Emphasis mine. This makes me kind of jealous of the people who turned this guy in because they got a definite end to the insanity, whereas I actually spent I think three whole weeks dating the Savage Garden guy, and as far as I know he has not served any time for the torture I endured.

Posted on June 30, 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

Israeli Eurovision Retrospective

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

There’s a long and hilarious article in this week’s New Yorker about the Eurovision contest, and it includes a short section of Israel’s three historic wins at Eurovision. It’s really really hard to explain Eurovision if you haven’t seen it–kind of like an international American Idol, with a lot more gibberish and disco–but I actually think these three videos do a nice job of summing it up.

First, the winners from 1978, Yizhar Cohen and Alphabeta singing “Ah-Bah-Nee-Bee” (if you’re wondering what that means in Hebrew, it’s kind of like a pig-Latin way of saying “I” or “me”):

Then the following year, in 1979, we have Hallelujah, sung by Milk and Honey. Check out the suspenders on Milk (or is that Honey?)!

Finally, my personal fave, Dana International winning for Diva. I don’t know why exactly, but I am incapable of watching this video without my mouth dropping open. It’s not that crazy, really, but something about it leaves me gaping. The singing starts at about 1:15.

Finally, an entry from this year’s competition with a slightly religious theme. Aisha, of Latvia sang a song called “What For” which includes the following lyrics:
What for do people live until they die?

Only Mr. God knows why
His phone today is out of range.

Posted on June 30, 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 Camp Goes Green

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Today is the first day of Eden Village Camp, a Jewish sustainable, environmentally-aware sleepaway camp 50 miles north of New York City. And while it’s a stretch to use that as an opportunity to mention how its co-directors, Yoni and Vivian Stadlin, are the co-stars of our reality series How Jews Live, well, we’re not above that sort of opportunity. Here, check out Vivian and Yoni talking the way they use prayer in their lives.

If you’re one of the lucky campers (or staff) who’s heading out to Eden Village, we salute you! And, well, what are you doing on the internet?! And if you’re not, you can still always use today to pitch in a little — read about Jewish beliefs about environmental protection on MJL, or check out this little short film that we did with Al Gore. Or just hit your own backyard and start digging.

Posted on June 30, 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

World Artists

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

On Monday, Allegra Goodman wrote about writing “Jewish” fiction. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

Albert Einstein famously declared himself a citizen of the world. As an artist I’d like to do the same. That doesn’t mean masking the particulars of my experience or my heritage—it means communicating them more broadly. The artists I admire most are world artists. They thrive on this sort of communication. Let me give you some examples.

Composer Osvaldo Golijov is a Jew who grew up in Argentina, studied in Israel and settled in the United States. His work layers South American rhythms, klezmer riffs, sacred chant, classical and popular genres. You can hear a cantorial wail in the clarinet part of “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” and you can hear kaddish in his “Pasion segun san Marcos” along with a rocking Venezuelan choir, drumming, rigorous fugue and carnival. Golijov weaves all these threads together to create a new music greater than the sum of its parts.

Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan but works in England. His diverse work includes Remains of the Day, a novel about an English butler on the eve of World War II, and Never Let Me Go, a dystopian novel about a group of children schooled to sacrifice themselves for society. His fiction is both English and Japanese, treating themes of conformity, self-sacrifice, the ideal of honor, and the price of reticence.

My colleague at Boston University, Ha Jin, is a Chinese poet and novelist writing in English. He has not visited China in many years, and he has not lived in America for very long, but he uses this to his advantage, writing about both China and America from an outsider’s perspective. Ha Jin turns the experience of the stranger in a strange land into a central motif in A Free Life. His work is a profound meditation on defamiliarization—moving from one language to another, from one culture to another. From country to city in Waiting, from immigration to naturalization in A Free Life. Worlds conquer worlds. Individuals discover the possibilities and the costs of reinvention.

All of these artists use cultural difference as a medium. They layer specific themes and idioms with tremendous subtlety and confidence. It’s not a new way to work, but it seems to me an exciting way. Begin with what you are. Use what you know, and your art will speak to more people. As James Joyce wrote in Switzerland many years ago: “For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.”

Allegra Goodman’s new novel, The Cookbook Collector, is available for pre-order. Find her on Facebook and her website, and come back all week to read her posts for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

Posted on June 30, 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

Condolences to Justice Ginsburg

This entry was posted in Culture, Practices on by .

All eyes were on Elena Kagan today, as the nice Jewish girl from New York took the stand for day 2 of her confirmation hearings. And you may have heard the chatter about her cheeky Jew-y comment. When asked by Senator Lindsey Graham where she was on Christmas Day, when the infamous underwear bomber was attempting to attack, she said, “Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.” Zing! God, I love this lady.

However, it was another Jewish Justice who made headlines today. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lost her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg on Sunday morning. You can, and should, read his full obituary at the New York Times, but here’s the sweetest part:

“I have been supportive of my wife since the beginning of time, and she has been supportive of me,” he said at the time of her Supreme Court nomination. “It’s not sacrifice; it’s family.”

He sounds like a wonderful man.

Justice Ginsburg has been battling cancer herself this year, and I’m sure this is an especially sad and difficult time for her and her family. Hamakom yenachem etchem betokh shaar avlei tzion v’yerushalyim.

Posted on June 29, 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

Summer Reading Recommendation: These Mountains

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

It’s hot outside. Too hot to focus on anything. I usually love to read a big fat novel, but in the past couple of weeks it’s been too hot for me to focus on anything long and complex, so I’ve found myself rereading my favorite fiction, and reading lots of poetry. Short poems that fit on one page. The kind of poem you can read and then close your eyes and meditate on it for a minute or two. A bite-sized chunk of thought and beauty.

Last week, I was going through Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems by Yehuda Amichai. That book was given to me by my first serious boyfriend, who did not speak Hebrew but nonetheless knew to get me the bilingual edition. One of my favorite things about Amichai’s poetry is recognizing the biblical allusions he makes. One poem is called My Head! My Head! It’s a reference to this story in Kings 2 and knowing both the precise reference, and the context of that story makes the poem that much more impressive and clever.

After a few days with Amichai, I cracked open a new book of poetry that my friend Ilana gave me for my birthday. Rivka Miriam had her first book of poetry published when she was 14, and has twice been the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award in Israel. Like Amichai she is enchanted by the land of Israel, the stories of the Bible, and the body of her lover. But her voice is not as gentle as Amichai’s, and when she writes about characters in the Bible, her voice is intimate and almost casual. Amichai knows the people in the Bible, but Miriam writes about them as if they’re her first cousins and she knows both their triumphs and their deep dark secrets.

Obviously, not everyone loves to read poetry, but if you’re like me, left dazed and sluggish from the heat, pick up this book. It will dazzle and bewitch you.

I Won’t Abandon You by Rivka Miriam

I won’t abandon you, the land said
Clutching me
Tight
The same way she spoke clutching the sea
Just before being torn from it by force.

Posted on June 28, 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

Israel’s Other White Meat

This entry was posted in Israel, Practices on by .

For any kosher law abiding Jew, visiting Israel is an opportunity to eat some of the things that are normally prohibited from eating back at home. What are those things? McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Subway…you know, all those wonderful looking restaurants you pass by every day jealous that you cannot partake in their food’s consumption.

Okay, maybe I’m going a little extreme. For one, the smell of those restaurants grosses me out enough that even if I wasn’t kosher, I wouldn’t eat there. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t chow down on a Big Mac the next time I’m in Jerusalem. It’s all part of the experience.

While not all food in Israel is kosher, it is actually, for the most part, illegal to sell pork products there. However, the BBC has a really great feature today about Kibbutz Lahav, where, because they raise pigs primarily for animal research, they have an exemption to slaughter and eat pig products.

The whole read is very cool but I think my favorite part is this line:

But over the years, the Kibbutz’s identity has changed. Pork is on the dining room menu less – just Fridays and holidays – these days, as more traditional and religious Jews have moved in.

You know, we wouldn’t want to eat pork on a Wednesday. That is just wrong. But Shabbat? Why wouldn’t we?

Posted on June 28, 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

Writing “Jewish” Fiction

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Allegra Goodman’s new novel, The Cookbook Collector, will be released next week. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

Jewish literature means different things to different people. It can mean writing by a Jewish author, writing about Jewish culture, writing about Jews, or writing about Judaism as a religion.

I don’t always write about Jewish people, but I am always a Jewish author. I don’t always treat Judaism either as culture or as religion, but sometimes I do—notably in my first novel, Kaaterskill Falls (1998), which is about a community of Orthodox Jews who summer in upstate New York.

When Kaaterskill Falls came out, some readers assumed that my own religious beliefs paralleled those of the protagonist, the pious and imaginative Elizabeth Shulman. This was flattering to me, because I loved the character. However, I am her author, not her sister. I did not infuse Elizabeth with my own hopes and fears, nor did I share her history. Readers asked: What is it like to write about your religious beliefs? Again, I was flattered by the question. I was creating a character with her own religious beliefs.

People assume that writing is self expression, and to some extent they are right. The tricky part is that fiction writers express themselves by displacing their experiences, transposing their beliefs, coding their feelings. A novel is closer to dream than memoir. Therefore, while my work is deeply personal, it is not autobiographical. That’s what makes my job so satisfying. I am not Elizabeth Shulman, the Orthodox mother of five, any more than I’m Sharon Spiegelman, the bohemian seeker in my second novel, Paradise Park (2001).

Indeed, I think of those novels as part of a larger project—a kind of “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience” in which I explore the spiritual lives of two very different Jewish women in America. Elizabeth lives a highly structured life, and longs for autonomy. Sharon lives in a wilderness of choice, and longs for structure and guidance. My relationship to these characters? I’m both and neither.

As an artist I take religion as a rich subject. I’m fascinated by belief, by ritual, by the way that people define themselves and search for meaning. Religion is but one of my subjects, however.

My third novel, Intuition (2006), is about a group of cancer researchers. None is particularly religious. The Jews among them are quite assimilated. This is a novel about belief and doubt, about trust, about generational tension, about ritual and tradition—but I write of belief and doubt as powerful forces in scientific investigation, about trust within an intellectual community, about generational tension, ritual and tradition inside a laboratory. Intuition is a book about science and also a book about the soul.

My new novel, The Cookbook Collector, is a novel about identity, particularly buried Jewish identity. It is also a novel about technology and its discontents. It’s a book about the longing
for authenticity in a virtual world, about trust and betrayal and the need to connect. Most striking, The Cookbook Collector is about the displacement of desire.

I’m fascinated by the way we read cookbooks instead of cooking, collect material things instead of living, pursue fame and fortune instead of loving. I ask — what happens when we wake up? What happens when we declare, as Orlando does in As You Like It — “I can live no longer by thinking”? This is a human question. In the end, dreams and thoughts can’t substitute for real life. It’s a modern question. Our virtual connections and our cyber world can’t substitute for face to face conversation. And it’s a Jewish question. Jews are often  tagged “the people of the book,” but Judaism is a religion in which actions speak louder than words. For me, writing Jewish fiction means enjoying these multiple valences.

I don’t see “Jewish-American” or “Jewish woman” or “Jewish artist” as either/or propositions. Nor do I view Judaism narrowly as culture or religion or ethnicity. As an artist I think of Judaism as an additive rather than exclusive quality. Perhaps you can tell from this that I am the daughter of a Jewish philosopher!

Allegra Goodman’s new novel, The Cookbook Collector, is available for pre-order. Find her on Facebook and her website, and come back all week to read her posts for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

Posted on June 28, 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

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As the week comes to a close, here are some things you might have missed at MyJewishLearning.com.

The Bible provides epic stories like Noah’s flood, Jonah and the Whale, and the Exodus. But here are ten stories that you might have missed (and would be surprised to find in the Bible).

Za’atar is an awesome middle eastern spice blend that makes things taste better. Now you can make it on your own.

Remember the 1990s? Remember television in the 1990s? Read our article about how sitcoms dealt with intermarriage during the Bill Clinton years.

Rabbi Bradley Artson offers advice about how to perform the mitzvah of visiting the sick. It can be uncomfortable for some, so any concrete advice can help.

Have a good weekend! Wish me happy birthday tomorrow!

Posted on June 25, 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

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