Monthly Archives: June 2010

We Were Shut Out

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A dark, dark day in basketball. As the state of Kentucky rejoiced with five of their state college’s players being drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft, the Jewish world hung their heads in shame as no Jews were drafted. This ends the amazing streak of Jews getting drafted…at 1.

As mentioned a couple of days ago, Duke guard and Maccabi USA team member Jon Scheyer has entered the draft, but sadly, was left undrafted as the night came to an end. I can only imagine how he is feeling right now. When I went undrafted in 2008, it took me minutes (even hours) until I came to accept my fate. Luckily, I had already been hired to work at MJL, so I had a backup plan.

So hopefully Scheyer is reading this because I have a life plan for him. Come work for You’d get to move to New York. They might be able to offer you benefits. The hours are reasonable. Believe me Jon, in this economy, you could do much worse.

But all hope is not lost. While not Jewish, Cornell center Jeff Foote has made some news in the Jewish world by signing a contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv. I’m sure he will be in for a shock when he finds out that Tel Aviv is less Jewish than Ithaca. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! And no Jeff, you can’t have a job at MJL, Scheyer is our man.

Posted on June 25, 2010

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A New Anne Frank Controversy

This entry was posted in History, Life on by .

There’s a new novel out that imagines the life inside the Annex where Anne Frank and her family lived, told from the perspective of Peter Van Pels (known in her diary as Peter Van Daan). Apparently the novel includes some suggestions to Anne’s sexual awakening and/or to intimacy between Anne and Peter. And as you might expect, some people are skeeved out.

Isn’t the amazing thing about Anne that she was a regular teenager, a fantastic writer, who was able to writer poignantly and relatably about her life? And have you ever met a fifteen year old girl? They have a lot to say about sex. Some of them are having sex. It’s not disrespectful to suggest this. It’s honest.

When I was at Limmud NY I saw a documentary about a Dutch couple that were in a concentration camp together. At the time they were in the camps the man was married to a different woman, and in the documentary he joked about having his wife and his girlfriend in the camps with him and how awkward it was. This might be surprising to us, but it shouldn’t be. It was a horrible horrible time in history, and people were suffering in every imaginable way. But natural urges are natural urges, and to pretend that no one was interested in having sex during the many years of the Holocaust is unrealistic at best.

Posted on June 25, 2010

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How Do You Say Goal in Hebrew?

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

If you’re like half the population of the world, you’re pretty interested in that whole World Cup situation that’s going on in South Africa. Wouldn’t it be fun if you could watch the games and listen to Hebrew commentary to brush up on your Hebrew soccer/football terminology? According to my friend Dov, you can! Check out and look for the games with (Hebrew) next to them. Doesn’t look like it’s available all the time, but I’m watching the Spain vs. Chile game now, and enjoying the sarcastic and deeply Israeli commentary.

While you’re thinking about Israelis and soccer, why not check out our article about Arab soccer leagues in Israel, and see if you can find a showing of the film After the Cup about a team from an Arab village who won the Israeli Cup and went on to represent Israel in European competition.

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

Allegra Goodman Goes to Berkeley

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Next week I’m especially psyched that we’re going to host Allegra Goodman to the MJL/Jewish Book Council Authors’ Blog. Goodman is a sort of hero to science geeks, observant Jews, Jewish Hawaiians (I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, wereallegra goodman it not for Damon Lindelof of Lost and some woman who calls herself the governor, Ms. Goodman would be the most famous Jewish Hawaiian  alive) as well as, well, the rest of us writers.

Take, for instance, her awesome response to the New York Times interviewer asking her about her novel Intuition in which one of the main characters is cheating on the other–not sexually, but in terms of research findings. “I’ve always found tales of adultery rather dull,” she says–and the interviewer shoots back:

Are you saying that you find research biologists more scintillating than “Anna Karenina,” “Madame Bovary” and other adultery-laden masterpieces?

Well, adultery has been done. I wanted to move into a different sphere beyond the domestic. It is certainly true that scientists do not exactly dominate literary novels. But I think we are going to see more novels with scientists as main characters now that we have entered the age of genomics and cloning.

Goodman’s new novel, the about-to-be-released The Cookbook Collector, is both a departure and exactly what we’d expect. It’s more conversational and flowy than her earlier work; it’s not nearly as introverted, and the relationships between the characters are almost chick-litty — not in a disparaging way, but in a way that keeps us readers on our toes as we’re constantly bounced between plot twists.

The book isn’t actually about cookbooks–not at first, really. The plot takes its time opening up, and as it does, we start to see the directions she’s been pushing us, from a grouchy Silicon Valley bookstore owner to environmental activists to the Berkeley, CA Chabad House rabbi (oh, okay, it’s called the “Bialystocker Center” in the book, but seeing as how the Bialystockers don’t seem like they’re about to leave the Lower East Side any time soon and Rabbi Ferris in Berkeley is every bit as charming and whimsical and mischievous as this character, we’re going to make some assumptions). Goodman writes, “I’m fascinated by the way we read cookbooks instead of cooking, collect material things instead of living,” and this book is perky, peppy, fun and unexpected–and she’ll tell you a lot more about right here, next week.

Posted on June 25, 2010

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Wise Fridays: Families of Jerusalem

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on  your WiFri

“Beautiful are the families of Jerusalem:
A mother from a Russian curse and a father from a Spanish curse,
A sister from an Arabic curse and brothers from the curses of the Torah
All sit together on the porch
On a summer day, in the perfume of Jasmine.”

Yehuda Amichai, From ‘Beautiful Are the Families of Jerusalem’

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

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

Searching for Bobby Fischer’s Money

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

As a kid, I remember having a bunch of books about Jews in sports. The books would tell stories about the heroic feats of all the greatest Jewish athletes of decades past. I guess because of either a lack of talent or some poor editing, Bobby Fischer was always included in these books.

Why was Bobby Fischer considered an athlete? Was it because the Book of Jewish Nerds was already onto its 149th edition, and there just wasn’t any more space? I mean, if you are a good chess player, seriously, good for you. You are smarter than me and probably most of my friends (especially most of my friends). But an athlete? Let’s just say there aren’t any plans for steroids testing in chess anytime soon (ACTUALLY! That’s a lie. Check out this link! Please let this story be true).

Of course, it was only years later that I realized that Fischer shouldn’t have been in those books. Not so much because he wasn’t an athlete, but because he was a crazy person. Not like Lady Gaga crazy. Flat out, mental institution crazy. He really shouldn’t be included in any discussion about heroic Jews.

As some of you may remember, Fischer, who was exiled from the U.S., died a couple years ago in Iceland. But Fischer left behind over 2 million dollars, and (because he is a crazy person), no will. And as you can guess, there is now a fight to see who will get the money.

One person who is claiming the money is a 9-year-old girl from the Philippines, who’s mother claims that Fischer was her father (why anyone would sleep with that man is beyond me. Look at that picture! Was that taken before or after he died?!?!). And in order to figure out if she actually is his daughter, they are digging up his grave to do a DNA test.

I know what you are all thinking. And don’t worry, I’m one step ahead of you:


Posted on June 24, 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

What To Do In Hebrew Class

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

People! Big news! We’re goin’ viral! Last week, we debuted our newest video featuring College Humor’s Amir Blumenfeld about why you should go to Jewish summer camp. And because Amir is so darn funny (or maybe I’m so darn funny), the video has been making its way around the internets (thanks Buzzfeed!).

Now, it helps that Amir has a pretty large internet following. But before he was getting hundreds of thousands of hits for his web videos, he was living out in Los Angeles attending the Stephen S. Wise High School (how do I know that? We interviewed him last year).

While I’m sure it’s a fine educational institution, Stephen S. Wise is probably much like other Jewish day schools, where the day-to-day discipline is, how should I put this, lax. And Amir can actually provide us with some proof. Someone got their hands on an old video Amir and his friends made called “Top 10 Things to Do in Hebrew Class.”

Some are better than others (especially #9). But to be fair, they were just high school students. Pretty impressive.

Also, Amir’s Hebrew class seemed WAY more fun than mine. We spent all day doing useless grammar quizzes (I NEVER NEED TO USE TZIVUI! I hate that tense). I would have given my left arm to be able to sing classic Israeli folk songs. MY LEFT ARM!

Okay, just give the video a watch and don’t forget to pass The Truth About Jewish Camp along!

Posted on June 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

Oh We Will Know They’re Jewish

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

In Amsterdam, the cops are going to start going undercover as Jews in order to sniff out anti-Semites. According to MyFoxNewYork:

Cops will pose as Jews in an attempt to weed out anti-Semites under an unorthodox police tactic being considered in Amsterdam, Dutch newspaper Het Parool reported Monday.

[Mayor] Asscher proposed the tactic after secret television recordings aired on Dutch TV Sunday revealed young men screaming anti-Semitic abuse and making Nazi salutes at a rabbi as he toured different parts of Amsterdam.

The city’s police already use plants posing as gay men and the elderly in an effort to catch muggers and homophobes, Het Parool said.

Does this remind anyone else of an old NYPD Blue episode where they have to dress up as Hasids to help recover a stolen Torah? The episode was called Torah! Torah! Torah!

My favorite part is when Sipowicz describes himself as the kind of rabbi “who will wrap his payes around your throat and pull until I got you begging for God’s mercy–which will not be forthcoming!” My second favorite part is those awesome beards!

I also kind of love the horrible but amusing 1992 movie, A Stranger Among Us where Melanie Griffith goes undercover as a Hasidic Jew to solve a murder. She is totally unconvincing as a baal teshuva. Let’s hope the Dutch police are better at it than she is.

Posted on June 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

The Do-It-Yourself Prayerbook

This entry was posted in Practices, Texts on by .

Patrick Aleph is the lead singer of the Southern Jewish punk band Can!!Can and a former employee of Modern Tribe Judaica. Michael Sabani is his quieter, more introverted partner in crime. Together, they’re creating PunkTorah, a mostly (but not entirely) online Jewish community of punks, vegetarians, outlaws, and anyone else who (in their words) wants to take ownership of their spirituality. indie minyan kitPhysically, they’re based in Atlanta (with a group house and beis midrash/library in the works), but online, they’re literally all over the place. And, with the release of their new Indie Minyan Kit, they’re aligning themselves for even bigger things.

The Minyan Kit includes music, an “egalitarian kippah” (more on that to come) and a brand new PunkTorah Siddur — a “gender-inclusive, LGBT friendly, progressive and independent” prayerbook for individuals and groups, with prayers composed by Aleph and Sabani.

In their short existence so far, Sabani and Aleph have been wildly productive. They’ve started a video blog of the weekly Torah portion, created an online IndieYeshiva (their word) of outside-the-box Jewish learning, and printed about a million little themed pins, from the kooky “Hey! There’s a box on my head”yoda jewish to drawing the missing link (see the graphic on the right) between Star Wars and Pirkei Avot. I wrote my first book about Jewish punk kids because I was Jewish, and pretty intense about it — “intense” in a slam-dancing, shout-your-prayers-out-loud way — and I wished there were other people out there that felt the same way I did. Patrick and Michael did the same thing, but they went a step further: instead of fantasizing about the community, they’re actually building it. Through their websites and, they’re building a virtual community of like-minded activists, learners, and Jews that want to be affiliated, but are uncomfortable affiliating with the usual places. We asked them about the perfect minyan, how to write a siddur…and what exactly a gender-inclusive kippah is.

MyJewishLearning: Let me start off by saying I don’t get it. What’s the difference between a regular kippah and an egalitarian kippah?

Michael Sabani (to Patrick): You kind of named it that.

Patrick Aleph: That’s true, I did name it that. The egalitarian kippah came out of my experience of going to the Limmud fest, the first-ever Southeastern Limmud fest, and seeing women walking around with kippot. When we were putting together the idea for the IndieMinyan kit, I casually talked to friends of ours about what we wanted to include. We struggled with this thing of, how do you do headcoverings for men and for women? We finally decided, instead of having lace headcoverings and yarmulkes and scarves–so what’s the one thing we can do that covers all headcoverings? We picked this one design that was gender-inclusive, that wasn’t too much in either direction.

Why not just use one of the egalitarian siddurim that already exists?

Michael: Personally, for me this came out of a soul search — more a soul struggle. I got all these different siddurs, and I’m looking at them, and they’re so — just confusing to me. With PunkTorah, we’re making a place where outsiders can feel welcome, and where I can feel welcome. I would study with some Orthodox rabbis, and I’m like, how do you do this stuff? How do you pray every day? We didn’t have any spirituality in the house at all growing up. I was looking for guidance, getting different answers from everywhere. We wanted to take Judaism and make it understandable for us — something that anyone can feel comfortable making their own.

Patrick: One thing for me is, when I started talking about writing a siddur, at first Michael mentioned it to me — I’ve got a really out-there idea, let’s write a siddur. I’d been writing since i was 11 years old, but it never occurred to me that a siddur was something that someone could write. Someone could look at our siddur and say, hey, that’s something I can write. Prayer should be open source.

So was the idea of the PunkTorah siddur to create a beginner’s prayerbook, or an everyone-should-write-their-own?

Michael: I wouldn’t call it a beginner’s prayerbook, but it is an easily-approachable one. It’s for someone who’s not in the traditional or progressive movement, or someone who’s not familiar with praying 3 times a day — you alterna-rebbe michael sabaniknow, someone who’s like “You mean there’s more than just going to services on Friday night?” We wanted to bring it into people’s lives, the idea of praying three times a day. And if it inspires people to write their own, that’d be incredible — to inspire someone to own their Judaism by creating their own.

Patrick: I almost see it like when you’re young, and you go to your first rock concert, and you see a band play that you’ve heard on the radio, and then you pick up a guitar or the drums, you’re not going to play that style of whatever that person’s into — you might play something completely different. But you still have that initial experience, and you use that to go the next step. Michael: The whole big driving point behind this whole yearlong project of writing the siddur and creating [the upcoming website] 3xDaily, I come from an interfaith home, too — my father’s Muslim. We didn’t do anything Muslim as kids, but seeing the whole Islamic aspect of praying five times a day and how vital that is to Muslim identity — it’s like, being a Muslim means that you pray five times daily. And I have the Jewish concept of praying three times a day, and it’s not familiar to many Jews, even affiliated ones — they don’t even know what you’re talking about. We want to bring that to people, to make it important and approachable. That’s one of the main things we tried to do with the siddur — it’ll have videos and content and, just, how to pray 3 times a day. Not that you should pray, but that you can — and this is how.

Did you base your prayers on any single translation, or was any existing prayerbook influential for you?

Michael: Pretty much all of them were. We have a bunch in the IndieYeshiva library — as we wrote, we would have all of them open, and we just jumped from Mishkan Tefilah [the new Reform prayerbook] to Renewal to ArtScroll and the Koren Sacks Siddur and Reconstructionist.

Patrick: Not just that, but also having different commentary books and philosophy books. We really wanted to bring in everything. If there was a word we didn’t understand or a comment that didn’t make sense, we tried to see what everyone thought about it — we took this gigantic base, and then we went ahead and mashed up everything.

Some of the prayers — especially the bedtime shema — are surprisingly peaceful for, well, someone who shouts for a living. How’d you swing that?

Patrick AlephPatrick: That’s fair. I’m in a band where I scream and roll around on the floor, but there’s a place for meditation in every person’s life. This is the best example I can give of this: I was at Jewlicious, and I was working in the kitchen with Sasha Edge and her father, who catered it — they’re screaming and there’s knives everywhere, and fire. But then when it was time for Shabbos, we ended up making motzi over a vegan cookie and drinking Kedem grape juice and some of the back-of-the-house volunteers had a great, awesome, totally spiritual and peaceful moment. If you’re a rambunctious person like myself, it’s even more important.

What is the usual Shabbat like in your community?

Michael: We like to have dinner at home. My wife comes home, and my daughter, Willow, is running around, and try to make dinner and light the candles and have a normal — for us — dinner. Relaxing, company, friends and food.

Patrick: Occasionally, we’ll go to synagogue together, the four of us, but…

Is there a synagogue around, or a minyan, that gets you, or do you do your own thing?

Michael: We do have a minyan sometimes, actually — we’d be working or just hanging out on Friday afternoon, and we’re like, let’s just do it here! And we’ll fly solo, I guess. But there’s a few places around that we do like. We’ll go to a bunch of them —

Patrick: We tend to be temple-hoppers.

Michael: We’re not members of any synagogue in the area, mostly because we can’t afford it. We like to see what’s going on in different places. For me personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable only davening in one place.

Do you have any plans to get together a community of your own? Or are you going to start a little PunkTorah Michigan-Militia style havurah?

Patrick: I like that! In a sense, we have a havurah online because we’ve created it. Here in the Atlanta area, now that we’re doing PunkTorah all time through a few generous contributions, we’re in a place where we’re really going to start having more physical events. I’ve been talking to our local chapter of Birthright NEXT who let us be involved in their first conference. Now that the siddur is out, now that we have minyan kits and the new websites and the web store, getting out of the office and being more physical.

Kind of like praying, I guess.

Patrick: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Posted on June 23, 2010

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How Authentically Jewish Is My Chicken Soup?

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What does it mean for a recipe to be authentically Jewish? Here at MJL we try to bring you great Jewish recipes, but that means we spend a lot of time thinking about what it means for a recipe to be Jewish. Must it have been made by Jews and that’s it? Must it be something old-world-y, like brisket, or do my recipes for seudah shlishit also count? Jewish cuisine tends to be heavily influenced by regional cuisine (thus Italian recipes from Italian Jews, Persian recipes from Persian Jews, etc etc) so is it really definitively Jewish at all? Does it have to be kosher to be Jewish? Is there such a thing as a goyishe recipe?

Personally, when I think of Jewish food I tend to think of heavier Ashkenazi fare like chicken soup, brisket, kugel, and babka. But I’m Jewish, and when I make Shabbat and holiday meals, those foods are very rarely on my menus. Instead, I make pescatarian-friendly dishes with clean crisp flavors. Lots of salads, lots of roasted vegetables, and dairy desserts. They’re not traditionally Jewish, but they serve as “Jewish meals” for my guests and me. Is that enough?

Over at The Kitchn they’re having a discussion in the comments about authenticity . Add your two cents there and in the comments here.

Posted on June 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