Monthly Archives: July 2010

I’m no longer just an author …

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

In his earlier posts, Adam Langer set out to write a screenplay and wrote a book in two months. His newest novel, The Thieves of Manhattan, is now available. He has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

Even though I finished writing The Thieves of Manhattan less than a year ago, the universe I describe in my novel is already beginning to seem to me like a quaint artifact of a bygone age. The exclusive society to which my hero Ian Minot gains entry—one of power lunches at Michael’s, meetings at the Century Club, and tony author wing-dings attended by the literati—seems as if it is being replaced by a far-more-competitive, faster-paced, and perhaps-more-egalitarian world in which authors must constantly work on reinventing themselves to be heard above the din. For, I’m no longer just an author—I’ve become a book video producer , a guest blogger, an essayist . I’m on Twitter now; I’ve hustled blurbs from  famous writers and infamous ones. I corresponded about the book with writers who inspired me when I was growing up, while waiting vainly to hear back from this guythis guythis guy, and this guy, all of whom inspired me too.

I now post articles to Facebook. My publicist encourages me to do Q and A’s and write  op-eds , a bunch of which have wound up on the cutting-room floor. Some authors might grouse about this rapidly-changing landscape, but I find myself kind of excited by it. In fact, it has given me some ideas for a sequel. But there’s no time to think about that right this minute. I’ve got to finish writing a script for a bookstore reading of Thieves, and then I have to work on editing my next novel, which I hope to finish in the next month or so. I don’t want to talk too much about that book, but I can say that it has epigrams from two of my  favorite movies , that a lot of it is set in the  town where I went to high school, and that, while I’ve been writing it, I’ve been listening to these songs a lot. Once I’m done with that, I might want to take another look at that screenplay I began writing two summers ago. My novel’s 272 pages long; 120 doesn’t seem like much.

Adam Langer’s most recent novel, The Thieves of Manhattan, is now available. Visit his official website here and check back all week for his posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog series.

Posted on July 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

Best of the Week

This entry was posted in General on by .

With this week (And month. Summer is almost over people. Get your winter coats out) coming to a close, let’s take a look at some things you might have missed here at MJL.

We have three new articles about the history of three different Jewish communities in India. Really interesting and informative. It’s a part of Jewish history that a lot of people don’t know about.

To top things off, here is the history of Jewish Indian cuisine.

Jewish weddings take place under a chuppah. But do you know anything about the structure? Read all about it here.

Finally, Matt Plen takes a look at how the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War have shaped Israel’s history through today.

Have a good weekend!

Posted on July 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

Wise Fridays: Caring for the Poor

This entry was posted in General on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on  your WiFri

“When Rabbi Joshua ben Levi went to Rome, he saw marble pillars covered with sheets, so they wouldn’t crack from the heat, nor freeze from the cold. He also saw a poor person with only a reed mat under him and a reed mat over him.  ”

–Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 9:1

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on July 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

A Weird Birthday Present

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

Facebook trends go in fazes. We’ve had Farmville. We’ve had quizzes. We’ve had wallposts. But my favorite Facebook trend was the “Soundtrack to my Life” trend.

If you don’t recall what I’m talking about, there was a note that was passed around a couple years ago with a template of a list of different events in your life (birth, first day of school, graduation, yada yada yada), and you were supposed to put your iTunes playlist on random. Whichever songs comes on would be the song that would be played on your life soundtrack. If that doesn’t make any sense, which I’m sure it doesn’t, here is an example I found on Google.

But what if I told you that if you became important enough, someone would actually create a soundtrack to your life? Because this is exactly what has happened to Israeli President Shimon Peres.

For the former prime minister’s 87th birthday, the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv is putting together a Shimon Peres musical (via the Forward), and he is going to be attending. Damn. I only got him a card.

Weird on so many levels, but also beyond awesome. I hope they spice it up and pretend he went through a cocaine phase. It would add a little bit of drama to the show. And it would explain the Oslo Accords…zing!

By the way, if you want, you can always just write your own soundtrack to your life:

Posted on July 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 Octopus Against the Dictator

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

Normally, in a battle of man vs. animal, I would take man. However, I wouldn’t bet against this animal, especially with its track record.

You wouldn’t expect Paul the Octopus to gain too many enemies. But after the German octopus correctly predicted eight consecutive World Cup matches, one Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decided that Paul wasn’t his cup of tea.

In an interview, the President of Iran said that Paul the Octopus was everything that was wrong with Western society. How dare you, sir! Just because we spend millions of dollars to train octopi so that they can be super duper smart, that does not mean that there is anything wrong with us.

Jimmy Kimmel seemed to find this whole ordeal pretty funny too. I guess he realized that it is weird that Ahmadinejad has given up on hating on the Jews and has moved on to sea creatures. Here is his spoof. Not to bring out any spoilers, but Paul might be one of us.

Posted on July 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

Prayer for the Gulf of Mexico

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

Rabbi Danielle Upbin sent us a prayer she wrote for the Gulf of Mexico. The good news is that it looks like maybe, please God, the leak has been capped. The bad news is: it’s been leaking since April. We killed the ocean. As we ready ourselves to take part in restorative measures, to aid in the process of cleaning the Gulf, we offer this prayer to God for strength and healing:

A Prayer for the Gulf of Mexico

Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, “Maker of the heavens and earth, the seas and all they contain,” Oseh shamayim va’aretz et ha’ayam v’et kol asher bam (Psalm 146): Grant protection and sheltering peace to the myriads of living creatures who make their watery home in the Gulf of Mexico. Shield them from the slick, suffocating forces of the oil geyser. Guard every turtle and every fish, every crawling creature and every swimming creature. Protect each and every organism, from microbe to mammal. As the Psalmist said: Mah Rabu ma’asecha Y-AH kulam b’chochmah asitah… “How great are your works, Oh, Breath of Life, with Wisdom you created it all.” The earth is filled with your creatures. Here is the great, vast sea, teeming with numberless living things, great and small… All of them look to You (Psalm 104). Let us cease from obscuring Your countenance with our contaminants.

Ha’Borei-- Creator of the Universe: Grant us the ability to act responsibly with Your planet. To till and to tend it, to guard it and to guide it, to preserve it and to ensure that there is a healthy earth for us and for the next generation to enjoy. Awaken in us the spirit of stewardship, to use our resources wisely, to create alternative sustainable energy , to love and to live deeply in harmony with all of Your Creation. We are but sojourners on this planet of Yours, as it says in Your Torah, Ki li ha’aretz, ki gerim v’toshavim, atem imadi “For the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me” (Vayikra 25:23).

We recall Your covenant never to destroy the earth again; may we be strengthened as partners in Creation, also, to never destroy the earth. May we return from our environmental aveirot,  sins, and set our path straight for a cleaner, clearer and healthier planet.

Let us say, Amen.

Rabbi Danielle Upbin is the Associate Rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater FL.

Posted on July 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

Israel Won’t Solve Your Problems: Contemporary Fiction Edition

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

I have a friend who’s Indian, but who hates reading Jhumpa Lahiri and Monica Ali, women who are celebrated for writing about the lives of the Indian and Bengali immigrants. “It’s all spices and saris,” my friend complained to me once. I happen to disagree–I think Lahiri is the finest writer of our time–but I can see how my friend might find the writing about things she’s familiar with to be overdone or borderline fetishizing. And it turns out I feel the same way about Israel.

The problem with non-Israeli written novels about Israel is that they are too in awe of the land and its people. It’s not spices and saris, it’s the hot desert wind, and the mysterious Hasidic men and women in their wool coats and long skirts. These novels approach the land with mouth slightly agape. You can feel them thinking, “God, this is just so intense.” And, of course, Israel is intense. The landscape is beautiful, the political situation is terrifying, the people are pushy. But all of that is cliché at this point, and a good writer needs to be able to acknowledge all of that without getting caught up in it to an extent that is distracting to the reader.

Unfortunately, Joan Leegant’s novel, Wherever You Go falls squarely into this trap. It’s a book that follows three American characters through their adventures in Israel, and in New York. New York is crowded and hot and comprised entirely of drug addicts, overbearing Jewish mothers, and religious Jews. Israel is full of crazy, bloodthirsty settlers, romantic Israeli men, and security forces who are overly paranoid.

The three main characters are not at all likable. Yona has come to Israel to see her sister, Dena, who she hasn’t spoken to in a decade because the last time she was in Israel Yona slept with Dena’s then-boyfriend. Since then, Yona has been sleeping with a variety of married men, and is hoping to break the cycle. I suppose we might feel bad for her, but mostly she seems like the kind of person whose drama I would do just about anything to avoid.

Then there’s Aaron Blinder, a college dropout who followed a girl to Israel, was subsequently dropped by the girl, and gets swept up in a group of completely moronic settlers who seem to do nothing but talk about how important it is to do what they do, and drink warm orange soda. His father writes famous Holocaust novels. Literally the only likable thing about this kid is his affection for animal husbandry.

Finally, there’s Mark Greenglass, a yeshiva teacher who has been living in Jerusalem for a decade but has somehow lost faith, and is back in New York teaching at an American seminary, and reconnecting with his drug addicted ex-girlfriend. His family is horrible, he is completely spineless, and somehow I just wanted him to grow up. He’s supposed to be in his thirties, but he reads as a teenager.

You know the drill–the stories start out completely separate but eventually come together. What’s interesting about this book is that while I could not stand any of the characters in the first 2/3 of the book, I did still find them somewhat compelling, and Part 3 (which starts on page 232 of a 253 page book) was incredibly well done. The characters all become people I might actually want to have a conversation with.

In a way, I find that to be the most disturbing thing about this book. We have three unlikable characters, all of whom have been making a long series of bad decisions and what’s the thing that makes them into likable people? A crisis in Israel. It’s kind of the ultimate ‘go-to-Israel-to-solve-your-problems’ book, and that makes me crazy. Israel is not a magical land of problem solving. In fact, anyone who has read a newpaper in the last fifty years can tell you that it’s in fact the exact opposite.

Some people do ‘find themselves’ in Israel (though I can’t tell you exactly what that means). But the (probably unintentional) message of this book is that causing a terrorist attack might actually be the best way to bring people together in Israel, and that is a completely warped view of, well, everything, as far as I can tell.

And if I have to read one more sentence about the hot desert wind, I am going to scream.

Posted on July 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

Amar’e the Jew

This entry was posted in Culture, History, Israel on by .

As I write this, professional basketball player Amar’e Stoudemire is hanging out in Jerusalem trying to improve his Hebrew. Amar’e has been tweeting the past couple of weeks about his intentions to go to Israel, and this week he put his money where his 140 characters were.

Now a lot of Jewish blogs and news organizations have been covering this story over the past couple of days (though I’d like to remind everyone that I wrote about Amar’e and his Jewish tweets on this very blog almost three months ago). Here are some snippets of his best tweets:

- I’m the new Reggie White. (RIP) I’m going 2 Israel 2 study Hebrew. It’s time 2 get a better understanding on who we R. Follow me !! Shalom

- On the flight to Israel. This is going to be a great trip. The holy land. Learn about it. This ze ha’halom sheli. Shalom.

- Boker Tov !! People. Have a great day. I’m done with a weight lift, next stop Basketball Court. All ways working. Shalom.

And of course, this one…

-Yes Indeed !! RT @Shims11: @Amareisreal Whats up w the hebrew? Are you jewish?

If you aren’t fluid in Twitter-speak, that last tweet has Amar’e claiming that he is Jewish. This might confuse people who follow both Jews and basketball, mainly because this comes out of absolutely nowhere.

All this is totally nuts and totally amazing. There is all this mystery as to why Amar’e now believes he is Jewish. According to Ha’aretz (and others), Amar’e “recently learned that he has a Jewish mother.” Wait, what? I don’t doubt the sincerity in Amar’e’s (amazing double apostrophe use!) beliefs about his heritage, but how can a writer so nonchalantly mention that he found out he has a Jewish mother? Like, it’s not like he didn’t know who is mother is. How has no one asked the quite obvious question:

How did his mother just find out she was Jewish? Was it like some weird Holocaust survivor story where a girl finds out in her 40s that her parents hid from the Nazis and pretended to be Christian? In other words, is Amar’e Stoudemire actually Madeleine Albright?

This video might help shed some light on this issue, but many questions remain unanswered. Details will follow in the upcoming weeks.

Posted on July 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

Adam Langer Writes a Book in Two Months

This entry was posted in Culture, Texts on by .

In his last post, Adam Langer set out to write a screenplay. His newest novel, The The Thieves of Manhattan, is now available. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s  Author Blog series all week.

So, after a few revisions, I had a screenplay that I thought was decent. If nothing else, I thought it could serve as a calling card if I ever wanted to pitch Hollywood with a great literary adaptation idea. I sent it to my LA agent who said he wanted to show it to a fairly well-known director who would be coming by his office later in the week. I never heard a complete report on that meeting, but I figured that no news meant bad news. I started in on another revision, but kept getting hung up on details. I discussed my difficulties with my pal Jerome, who told me that I should rewrite the story as a novel. “That would take a while,” I said. “Nah,” he said. “I bet it would take a month.” I took that as a challenge and started work on the novel. I retained about 30% of the ideas from the screenplay, and wrote the rest from scratch, adding details inspired by some of my favorite literary hoaxes.

I began with a chapter about a character I called “The Suave Man.” I worked as fast as I could, as intensely as I knew how, aiming for 2,000 words per day. I typed to the beat of some aggressive music that I found inspiring and some even-more-aggressive music that I found even more inspiring. I rented a dreadful apartment during an even-more-dreadful winter in a somewhat hip Chicago neighborhood, not far from the home of a Jewish writer friend of mine. But at least the apartment did inspire me to write, and though I didn’t finish the first draft in one month as Jerome said I would, I did finish it in two. When I was done revising, I sent it to my agent, who sent it to my publisher, who said she wanted to publish it in July, 2010.

I completed revisions on September 10, 2009 at about 6 PM, just a few hours after writing a blurb for a book by a funny and talented college pal of mine and just a couple of hours before the birth of my second daughter, Solveig (insert purportedly pithy but actually presumptuous statement likening artistic production to childbirth here). That could have been the end of the story, but…

Adam Langer’s most recent novel, The Thieves of Manhattan, is now available. Visit his official website here and check back all week for his posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog series.

Posted on July 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

Roadkill Beer

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

I ask you all to keep an open mind with this one.

Have you heard this story about BrewDog, the Scottish brewing company that has created a beer with a 55% alcohol level? Impressive. But that’s not what I want you to keep an open mind about. Because it isn’t so much the alcohol level that is making the news, it’s what they are serving the beer in.

Because instead of just serving the beer in a bottle, BrewDog decided to stuff its beer into the carcasses of dead squirrels. Yeah, real ones. That used to be alive. And eat acorns.

I guess there are a couple of questions that you might have. For one, on a more serious level, what are the ethical implications of this? Doesn’t it just seem a tad cruel to use the squirrel’s body if you aren’t even going to be eating it? And of course, why would anyone want to drink something from a dead squirrel?

But these are questions that should be reserved for the bigwigs in Washington. I’m more concerned about Kashrut questions.

While the beer never technically touches the squirrel, are you allowed to drink from a cup that is made from an unkosher animal? You would think it is similar to eating a kosher meal off of an unkosher plate, but the beer never touches the squirrel. So my non-rabbinical judgment would have to say that this beer is kosher.

Gross. But Kosher.

What do y’all think?

Posted on July 27, 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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