Monthly Archives: June 2010

Alan Dershowitz–Republican?

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Say it ain’t so Alan! One of my favorite liberals (at least I always considered him a liberal), Alan Dershowitz, has endorsed his first ever Republican for congress. Prof. Dershowitz came out in support of his former student, Joel Pollack, in his Illinois race against Jan Schakowsky (a fellow Jew).

I might be in the minority with other liberals, but I really enjoyed Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel a couple years back (less so, The Case for Peace, but only because I found it to be lazy). In the book, he comes off as definitively pro-Israel, but also reasonable and compassionate toward the Palestinian cause. He isn’t a supporter of some far-right wing agenda and he seems genuine in trying to find viable options for a peace plan.

Then again, he is very much part of the pro-Israel establishment (not that that is necessarily a bad thing). So with more and more liberals moving to the left when it comes to Israel, Dershowitz may feel as though he is being pushed out of his own tent. He has been critical of the Obama administration and did not find that Schakowsky was worthy of his endorsement (honestly, I had no idea Dershowitz went around endorsing congressional candidates).

It is going to be interesting how the “Jewish vote” polls this fall and in 2012. Is Dershowitz part of a larger trend of Jews who will be voting Republican for the first time in their lives (not the Dershowitz will necessarily be voting Republican), or is he part of a loud minority? Even if there is a large portion of the Jewish population that feels angry about this administration’s Israel policies, is that enough to swing them over to a Republican party that is moving increasingly to the right on social issues? Or will Jews just decide to not vote? I’ve spoken to more than one person (obviously, a very scientific poll) who will be choosing that last option.

Posted on June 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

The Rebbe and the Forty-Nine Hipsters

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

Last week, I told you how the Biala Rebbe was coming to our house. And I’ve gotten a bunch of emails/Facebooks/twittery questions back, asking the question that should be self-evident: What did he say?

First, let me tell you what I think. I think the Rebbe sees things that the rest of us don’t see. I don’t know if he’s hooked up to any otherworldly powers or has a direct line to G*d that the rest of us don’t. But I do think that he’s a professional at this sort of thing. The same way that, more than a normal person, a psychologist is going to watch me chewing on my cuticle and know that it probably relates to the fact that I’m always hungry — I mean, of course they will, it’s their job — the Rebbe also picks up on stuff. Maybe it’s tiny physical movements. Maybe it’s our auras. I don’t know.

My wife and I sat down with the Rebbe. Immediately, before he asked our names (he always asks our names), he turned to her and said: “You’re loved from above, and you’re loved below. Why are you always stressing out?”

Case in point. It’s not like other people aren’t stressed. It’s not like 98% of the people there weren’t stressed. But, in her case — this week, and the certain circumstances in our lives and what was going on — yeah, it was pretty freaking relevant. If I would’ve had to pick a single topic to talk about, it would be the amount of stress that we (and, specifically, she) are under.

So, go fig.

It was a really weird night. Awesome, but weird. I’d kind of figured that it would be a party of sorts, since the Rebbe sees people one at a time and a bunch of us were waiting — but it wasn’t that kind of atmosphere at all. We sat around. We made small talk. It wasn’t fun small talk, though; it was the kind of small talk that you make while you’re waiting for the results of a particularly invasive exam. Everyone was half in that room and half in their own heads, thinking about what they wanted to say. When a random man with whom you have no straight connection flies from Israel, and you can talk to him about anything, it’s a horrible kind of freedom. What’s the most important thing in your life? How do you sum that up? What do you ask for a blessing for — your kids, your job, your books? Everything?

In cases, like ours, you don’t even decide. The Rebbe just starts talking. He spoke Hebrew, which I mostly understood, but it helped to have it repeated back in English (by Rabbi Davide, my old teacher at yeshiva) a second time. He asks the questions, and you fill in the blanks. He asked why I spread myself so thin — to which I could only say, yes. I told him about my new movie and I asked what I should be writing now — another screenplay, a teen novel, a real novel, or what. He said, it doesn’t matter. Just pick something, and go on it 100%. Don’t divide myself up.

I think we got lucky — or unlucky, depending on your vantage point. We were the second people to speak to the Rebbe, so I had the entire rest of the night to chew on what he said. Meanwhile, people in the living room were looking at me for answers, like I’d gotten out of there successfully, so what do they do? The people on their way out didn’t look at me like that. They had their own mental stuff going on.

Two Israeli girls who went in there came out satisfied, like they’d gotten the exact thing they asked for. My one stodgy, rationalist friend came out a little shaken, like the Rebbe’d pulled one of his Jedi mind-reading tricks. The person who was the most excited to go in came out crying. It sounds like a collection of riddles, or stories whose answers I’ll never know, but in the moment, it was amazing — like watching one of those grainy family videos that you shouldn’t have a right to see, but you do. It really wasn’t about fortunetelling. It was about what you boil your life down to, when you’ve only got one thing to say.

Halfway through our session, the doors to the room slid open. Rabbi Davide stood up, ready to intercept whoever was interrupting. Then my two-year-old daughter, who’d gone to sleep hours ago and who never woke up, ran in through the crack. She wasn’t crying or afraid or uneasy. She just ran up, held her arms out, and demanded, “Up.” I scooped her up, plopped her on my lap, and introduced her to the Rebbe, and introduced the Rebbe to her right back. Sometimes you don’t even need a Hasidic sage to tell you what the most important parts of your life are. Sometimes you just need a conduit.

photos by Dan Sieradski

Posted on June 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

Haurowitz/Harris’ Goods and Sundries

This entry was posted in History on by .

On Monday, Allison Amend wrote about Jews in odd places. She is the author of the novel Stations West. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

My aunt, Jackie Cohen, put together a history of my relatives. In the only picture of my great grandfather Joe, he is standing proudly in his grocery store, apron wrapped around his prodigious middle, goods stacked to the rafters all around him. Like most people of his generation, he doesn’t smile (when did smiling in pictures start?).

It was this image I had in mind when I created Haurowitz/Harris’ Goods and Sundries in my novel, Stations West:

Moshe looks around the store. They have built rows of shelves and ordered glass cases. There are stacks of Indian blankets and pipes, hot water bottles and cloth. There are huge vats of pecans, hides of various provenances hanging from the walls, metal goods such as pots, pans, teakettles, and flour grinders. There are small bottles of tonics, large glass jars of spices, salt and pepper, and Mason jars for canning. There is wire for chicken coops and fishing line. There are chisels and lathes and knives and china, tin silverware, salt-back pork, chicory, and tobacco. There are old newspapers, and a part of the store that can be roped off with curtains when the photographer comes to town. A sign outside says HAUROWITZ SUNDRY in large gold-painted letters.

One small observation I was interested in exploring in my novel was the idea that Jews cannot farm. Obviously, that is not particularly true, yet the stereotype stands. It is true that most Jewish immigrants in this country became salesmen and tradespeople, owning stores, or becoming tailors or importers. Why is that? I looked for an answer and could not find one. It’s not a function of education, for after the initial wave of German immigrants, most of the Jews that came to America were uneducated.

My characters initially try to farm but are stymied by the nature of the soil in Oklahoma (which gets quickly exhausted by cotton). A store seems like a logical extension of someone used to deferential behavior and used to providing a service. Is that why other Jews seemed to open stores rather than farm?

Allison Amend’s first novel, Stations West, is now available. Come back all week to read her posts for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

Posted on June 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

Cooking the Bible

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Let’s get this out first: Kitty Morse’s texually-inspired cookbook A Biblical Feast is not a Jewish book. Or, to be more specific, it’s inspired by two books: One is the Jewish bible; the other is a Bible about a Jewish guy.

But, if there’s a narrative to the cookbook, it reads like the Casablanca-born Ms. Morse’s quest to discover the simplicity at the root of  both her religion and her cuisine. As she writes in the introduction: “Somehow, I never considered the similarity between the way of life of the ancient Semitic tribes I was studying in the Bible and the culture of the people just beyond the city limits.”

a biblical feastThe recipes in A Biblical Feast have that fresh, special, olive oil-juicy feeling to them. There aren’t many ingredients in most of the recipes, and the ingredients there are, you’ll want to be fresh and yummy.

In a few cases, the biblical connections are tenuous — a recipe for squash with capers and mint comes from a verse (in Jonah) that mentions a gourd — but other connections are more natural. A list of spices in the Song of Songs spins into a recipe for spiced, fluffed millet. One of my personal favorites is the recipe for braised cucumbers & leeks with fresh dill. It takes its inspiration  from a verse in Numbers where the Israelites are complaining to Moses about the lack of food in the desert: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.”

Ms. Morse’s Christian Bible leanings are apparent, too. Though the majority of the recipes are taken from the Testament we share, there’s a a barley, beef & onion pottage from Revelation. A simple instruction from 1 Corinthians — “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (5:7) is a great rationale for including instructions for a sourdough starter. And her sardine-caper recipe — ironically, probably the dish that my Hasidic-raised professional-chef wife will love most — comes from the opening book of the Christian Bible. (Which, you’ve guessed it, is the Book of Matthew.)

One more thing Jewish readers will get a kick out of: her dried fruit, cinnamon and red wine compote, which we call haroset. The accompanying photograph — like all the food photography in this volume — looks absolutely stunning, and delicious, too. I’m forced to point out, it’s a far cry from any Passover seder table I’ve ever seen.  But, hey, maybe that’s the point — that there’s one bible with a million different interpretations, and this book is Ms. Morse’s offering.

Posted on June 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

Talking to a Rabbi About Gay Marriage

This entry was posted in Life on by .

The Governor of Hawaii is a Jewish woman, and pretty soon she is going to decide whether to veto a piece of legislation allowing civil unions for gay couples in her state. Presumably there are a lot of different factors involved in her decision making process, but among them, apparently, is asking two rabbis what they think. According to the Associated Press:

Krasnjansky, who heads the Orthodox community group Chabad of Hawaii, said the Torah teaches that homosexuality, and by extension same-sex marriage, “is not something that should be condoned or should be legalized,” he said.

But Schaktman, who leads the Reform Temple Emanu-El, insists Judaism teaches that all people regardless of sexual orientation are and should be treated as “children of God,” and thus should not face discrimination.

“Civil unions are a legal arrangement,” he said. “Therefore, anyone who uses religion to oppose civil unions is purely using religion to further homophobia.”

Why did the Governor, Linda Lingle, consult with the rabbis? Because: Earlier this month, she described how divided Hawaii and its small Jewish community are on the issue, citing as an example the two rabbis she knows personally.

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love that she isn’t consulting one rabbi and one imam, as if to say, “Hey, one rabbi is all I need to get the Jewish perspective, and one local imam can totally stand in for 1 billion Muslims.” On the other hand, isn’t it supposed to be a matter of law, and not a matter of how Gov. Lingle reads her humash?

Posted on June 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

Immigrant & Migrant Worker Issues in Israel

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Longtime residents of some south Tel Aviv neighborhoods angrily protest the influx of foreign workers and asylum seekers. (Jerusalem Post)

A majority of Israel’s 300,000 foreign workers are women, and they face a wider range of difficulties than men. For example: “pregnancy means a foreign worker must choose between her visa and her baby. If Israeli authorities discover that a migrant laborer has given birth here, she automatically loses her legal status.” (Jerusalem Post)

How is it that “many of the same people against deporting illegal non-Jewish immigrants support a Palestinian state for the sake of keeping a Jewish majority in Israel?” Peace advocates also stress the need for officially recognized borders for the Palestinians “but are indifferent to the sieve-like quality of our official border with Egypt.” (Ha’aretz)

Does the hiring of illegal foreign workers really take jobs away from Israelis? (Ha’aretz)

Israel believes that it can use ex-soldiers to replace foreign construction workers. (Jerusalem Post)

Meet three Ukrainian women whose family saved Jews during the Holocaust (and were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations) who now fear deportation from Israel. (Ha’aretz)

Says Yossi Sarid: “Instead of launching a xenophobic media campaign, the government should publish “thank you” notices for the aliens living among us. Without them–cutting trees, pumping water and wiping the asses of the feeble among us – the state would grind to a halt. The helpless would be abandoned.” (Ha’aretz)

Israel has some 1,200 children of illegal migrant workers, and Israel hopes to expel them this summer. A look at the controversy. (Tablet)

Posted on June 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

The Truth About Jewish Summer Camps

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

I went to summer camp for a long time (Alonim 2002, what what?…okay that was the most excited I’ve ever been about my edah since…ever). From the time I was 10 until I was 22, I spent every single one of my summers in Northern Ontario, and I don’t regret a second of it.

Amir Blumenfeld, a writer and comedian at CollegeHumor.com (Jake & Amir/Prank Wars) and the co-host of MTV’s Pranked, on the other hand, did not go to Jewish sleep away camp. And he regrets every minute of it. While his views on what he thinks Jewish summer camp actually is like are a little warped (I can assure you my camp prays numerous times a day, even when some of the campers don’t want to), it doesn’t mean that all us camp loving people shouldn’t go out of our way to feel bad for the guy.

In our newest installment from our ongoing comedy series, Amir tells us about how math camp differs from Jewish camp and how he feels like he missed out on an amazing teenage experience.

Posted on June 14, 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

Why I Know My Binyanim

This entry was posted in Israel, Life, Texts on by .

Last night I had a dream that I was back in high school, and was working on some homework form my Hebrew class. Homework from that class always looked the same: handwritten work sheets demanding that we fill in the blanks, or, horrifyingly, that we fill in the vowels. In the dream I was considering cheating, because I knew the same sheets were used every year, and my older sister had undoubtedly gotten 100% on hers. It was a remarkably stressful dream.

My high school was notorious for having an incredibly intense teacher as head of the Hebrew department. Known for her drill sergeant mannerisms and adherence to the bun hairstyle at all times, we used to joke that if the building caught on fire she would remain inside teaching as long as possible, and then, at the last second she would grab her verb tables and parachute out the window, quizzing us on tenses all the way down.

A lot of my friends claim that they use the knowledge from that class a lot more than they expected. I can’t corroborate that claim, but I was pretty much dead-set on not learning anything my senior year of high school, so I’m not the best person to consult.

Anyway, Mrs. Bass is the reason I know anything at all about Hebrew grammar and why I can still tell you a lot of rules about the dastardly dagesh but not why it exists. She was one of those teachers who really devoted her life to her craft, and was remarkably successful (if sometimes a bit hardcore for my tastes).

This morning I got an email informing me that Mrs. Bass passed away in Israel on Friday afternoon. I don’t usually believe in any of that dreams-as-link-to-afterlife business, but since I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt about Mrs. Bass before, this is somewhat hard to deny. Godspeed, Mrs. Bass. I hope there are verb tables in Olam HaBa.

Posted on June 14, 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 to MJL: Jews in Television

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

We’re very excited today to announce the newest section on MyJewishLearning.com. While we have always had an extensive section on Jews in film, we have always felt that Jews in television warranted it’s own section. So, through the help of the Norman Lear Center at USC, some great MyJewishLearning writers, and many others, we have created a brand new section covering the history of Jews on the small screen.

Now, you can read all about the roles Jews and Judaism had in television from the 1950s through today. You can also learn about overarching themes in television like intermarriage, negative portrayals of religion, Jewish mother stereotypes and many more.

You can also read up on some specific shows like Six Feet Under or even read about the life of my favorite kid’s show host, Shari Lewis.

This new section is really, really fun and we’re all excited to be able to share it with all of you. Hope you enjoy it. Here is the link one more time.

Posted on June 14, 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

Jews in Odd Places

This entry was posted in Life on by .

Allison Amend is the author of the novel Stations West. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

Since I’ve been touring with Stations West, there are invariably one or two people  who approach me after each reading, telling me that their ancestors are from equally
as improbable places: North Dakota, New Mexico, etc.  What does this mean? That these are not such improbable places after all. Like other religions and ethnicities, we Jews settled everywhere, bringing our culture, tradition (and usually our peddling wagons or dry good stores) with us.

I’ve been a Jew in an unlikely place, too. I spent a year in high school living in Barcelona, Spain, which has not had a meaningful Jewish community since 1492 (though a small Sephardic community thrives still). I spent a weekend in a tiny town by the name of Olot in the Pyrenees. This was during the first Gulf War, and the U.S. Consulate recommended we not divulge our status as Americans, and warned us against telling strangers if we were Jewish. After a few days of avoiding the topic with my teenage hostess  (“My family doesn’t really go to church that often,” “I guess Americans write down the family tree in the Bible,” “No, I didn’t get confirmed”.) I revealed that I was Jewish. My hostess, who, after half-jokingly (I think) asking if I had horns, thought it was the coolest thing about me, and proceeded to show me off to all her friends as a Jew. Her friends were equally as delighted by the revelation; they had always wondered what  Jew would be like. Her little sister kept petting my hair and calling me “Pretty girl” in Catalan. It was an odd weekend.

More recently, I was a Jew in Lyons, France, where I taught high school. Coincidentally, I taught at the only school in the city that had no Saturday classes, and was therefore the Jewish school by default. One of my students, upon finding out I was Jewish, invited me over for Hanukkah dinner, where his Sephardic family was so different from my Ashkenazi one that I might as well have been dining on the moon.  I remember thinking their tunes were all wrong.

They told me a story, which I fictionalized in my short story collection Things that Pass for Love, about their experiences during the Second World War (Lyons was in occupied France). The grandfather hid in the cabinet for the duration of the war. In 1996, the little girl’s Jewish day school was bombed, avoiding killing children only by accident. I realized, then, how lucky I was to be free of the fear of persecution that plagued them constantly.

I found out five years later that one of my best friends in France was the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, who lost his first family in the camps. She had never thought to mention it.

Allison Amend’s first novel, Stations West, is now available. Come back all week to read her posts for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

Posted on June 14, 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