When I go to shul, I like to sit in the first or second row, by myself. Even if I arrive late, the first and second row are reliably empty, so I can have my pick of seats (I like to sit on the aisle) and I like to put my tallit bag on the seat to my right, effectively preventing anyone from sitting next to me. I do this intentionally so I won’t end up sitting next to someone I like and talking to them the whole time.
I am intensely anti-taking during davening. Partially, this is because I’m totally a rule follower. When I was a kid in Jewish day school the rule was no taking during praying or you would get in trouble. I hated being in trouble, so I didn’t talk. As an adult, though I don’t often feel moments of transcendence during davening, I still really don’t want to be having a conversation with anyone during services. It feels rude. I also feel like there’s a time for davening at shul (services) and there’s a time for socializing at shul (Kiddush). Though I do occasionally mix the two, I try not to. But the reason I’m not super tempted to talk during davening is because when I want to daven I feel like I’m part of the group. My voice is important, I can see what’s going on, and I’m invested in the prayer.
The women in our shul were talking all through the services yesterday. More than once I found myself thinking What a gaggle of geese. Can’t they shut up? Other man made faces, rolled their eyes, and gave little condescending shrugs. A few times, the gabbai walked to the back of the shul, and rapped on the mechitzah. That helped, but only for a moment. Then the dull hum of their chatter would start up again. “Like a horde of locusts” said my table mate.
I started to agree, when I caught myself and realized something important.
The women in our shul talk, because they’re segregated into a tiny box in the back of the shul, from where they can’t really see or hear anything. The mechitzah is 9 feet tall and solid wood, and the room’s acoustics are such that a chzan, standing in his spot way at the front of the room, needs to project like a professional actor to be heard on the woman’s side. According to my wife, its next to impossible for a woman to follow the service. If you were trapped in such a woman’s section, would you find it easy to join the minyan? Our women aren’t allowed to be part of the shul, so they don’t act like they’re part of the shul. We make it impossible for them to participate so they don’t participate. And then adding insult on top of injury, we men, the architects of this unhappy situation, decide that women are uninterested in davening and incapable of keeping their mouthes shut, and therefore require nothing more than a little room, with no view and bad acoustics.
There’s more. Go read it.
And next time, think before you talk at shul.
With the peace process at seeming standstill, some academics and policy analysts have revived calls for a single state. (VOA News)
And indeed, some push for such a plan, involving giving Israeli citizenship and equal rights to all the Palestinians in the West Bank, is coming from Israeli right-wingers and settlers. (Ha’aretz)
In fact, even the Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) says “I would prefer for the Palestinians to be citizens of this country…rather than divide the land.” A single state in which there are equal rights for all citizens would be preferable to dividing the land. (Ha’aretz)
And a number of Palestinian officials have spoken in favor of abandoning the two-state plan and focusing instead on a fight for citizenship within a one-state framework. (Ha’aretz)
But Yossi Beilin is opposed: “a border, in an agreement, is a vital thing, and anyone who’s ready to give up on borders is really talking about the end of Zionism…no one on the right is really proposing to grant citizenship to all the Palestinians, and no one is ready to have a Palestinian prime minister or a Palestinian defense minister.” (Ha’aretz)
I had been on the West Coast, staying in a hovel just a few blocks away from one of my favorite places and finishing up research on a memoir about my father and speaking to a very prominent Jewish organization. The memoir was emotionally difficult work, and I knew that for my next project, I would want to do something fun. A screenplay sounded like a good change of pace, so I met with my agent in his plush office just for a few moments before he had to meet with a far more celebrated client. He told me briefly about screenplay structure—how a script needs to have three acts, last about 120 pages, and have an “eleven o’clock” moment on page 90. Before he left, he gave me a stack of screenplays, which I read on the plane ride home; one of the scripts was rumored to be a Tom Cruise vehicle.
My initial idea was to see if I could adapt one of my novels into a script, but I had trouble motivating myself to revisit an old work and, instead, turned my attention to a novel idea I had abandoned—a comic thriller set in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and told in a hyper-literary patois. I enjoyed the pace of the writing and the made-up language I was using (I had spent more than enough time reading hard-boiled thrillers that used their own hard-to-decipher lingo and wanted to pay those writers back). But the story, which had something to do with manuscript authentication, never coalesced in my mind, and I didn’t get much further than the first scene, set in a fictionalized version of a coffee shop where I like to write. Other writers, Jewish and otherwise, seem to enjoy the atmosphere at this coffee shop as well.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to write in my screenplay. I talked about collaborating with a writer friend of mine on an update of a Henry James novel, but we never made it past a quick conversation about it while walking around a fairly grotesque Chicago food festival. Without necessarily knowing where I was going, I began work on a script about a frustrated young barista named Ian, who finds himself embroiled in a confidence game when he considers putting his name to a fake memoir. I love films about con games and thought that the literary world would be a great place to set one. I found myself inspired by a great Scandinavian film about the writing life, which I saw with a fellow Jewish writer, and a classic Hollywood satire, which I saw with a fellow not-so-Jewish editor. After a few months of work, I wasn’t sure whether I had a great script or not, but I did have one with three acts and 120 pages and an “eleven o’clock moment” round about page 90.
View Adam’s first dabblings in screenplay writing:
His 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.
Since I’ve been on vacation, here are some cool articles you might have missed at MJL over the past couple of weeks.
Read all about the history of television in Israel, from television programs to news coverage.
If you are bored by the regular store brand hummus, try making these different and zany twists on your favorite hummus recipes.
Learn all about the history of the Beit Din, from its beginnings until today.
Now that Tisha B’Av is over, feel free to enjoy this amazing recipe that Tamar wrote for homemade brownies. Just do it.
Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is a fundamental teaching in Judaism. Learn all about it here.
If you’ve ever wondered how Judaism can reconcile the story from Genesis with science, here is an interesting piece that can shed some light on the issue.
Have a good weekend!
I don’t know if this means that as a group, us Jews are doing something right, or are not quite getting across some of the deeper issues involved in our religion. Check it:
Benedict Garrett, 30, who goes by the stage name Johnny Anglais, has made films such as European Honeyz 4 and is in demand for hen parties nationwide for his services as a naked butler, clad in just a bow tie and a smile.
He told the JC: “I have a long-time fascination and affiliation with the Jewish people, their history and their culture, visited shul, been to Israel, learnt Hebrew – but, alas, I am still a gentile.”
Alas indeed, Benedict. On behalf of Jewish women everywhere, let me say that this is indeed a tragedy. But the true gold is buried even further into the article:
On his Facebook profile, Mr Garrett lists his favourite music as klezmer and his favourite film is Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic Schindler’s List.
I don’t care how much you love the Jews, Schindler’s List cannot be your favorite movie. FYI, that’s a movie about Jews dying.
Have you heard about this story from Israel yet?
Sabbar Kashur is an Arab-Israeli from Jerusalem. He met an Israeli woman, and had a one night stand with her. She went to the police and claimed that she wouldn’t have slept with him if she knew he was Arab, but he pretended to be Jewish in order to get in her pants. This past week, Kashur was sentenced to 18 months in prison for rape by deception.
I’m not about to defend Kashur as a good guy. If he did go out of his way to lie to this woman just to sleep with her, then he did something wrong. But rape? That’s just kind of crazy.
The saddest thing about this whole thing is that Kashur is going to be going to jail based off of what I can only assume is racism. I’m sure that the woman regrets sleeping with him, but everything she did was consensual. Just because you regret your actions, it doesn’t mean someone needs to be punished for it. You move on.
If this was the law here, every putz in a bar on a Saturday night would be in prison. We all make ourselves up to be better and more appealing than we actually are. This guy might have done it on a more extreme level, but that doesn’t make it illegal. It makes him a jerk.
Just to follow up a bit on my time at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, I heard some amazing Jewish comics while I was there. However, you won’t be hearing a word about them on this blog today.
Because today, I’m here to discuss Mr. Tim Minchin. Somehow, with a Wikipedia entry this long, I had never heard of this man. Then again, when you are a musician/comedian from Australia who spends all of his time in England, the chances of me knowing you are a bit smaller.
I spent all of this week watching YouTube videos of Minchin, and song after song, the man was blowing my mind. Just to get a taste, you can experience his brilliance in “If I Didn’t Have You,” “If You Really Love Me,” and of course, “Inflatable You.” And if you’re not in the mood for a comedy song, his rendition of “Hallelujah” is also quite beautiful.
But that’s not what we’re hear for, are we? This is a Jewish blog after all. Luckily for us, Mr. Minchin has a song for us too. Appearing on the BBC’s Comedy Shuffle a couple of years ago, Minchin tried to solve the Middle East conflict by writing a peace anthem. His humor can be quite subtle, so watch it a couple of times, and you will like it more and more.
Hey look, the New York Times is running two of the most depressing stories I’ve heard in months. And both are tangentially Jewish. Great. Who’s ready to get sad?
The first story is about how testing for breast cancer is prone to error–a piece of especially bad news for Ashkenazi Jewish women, who have a higher risk of getting breast cancer, so are constantly being told to get mammograms. If you have any experience with this–as, sadly, I do–you know that after the mammogram comes the biopsy, where some cells are extracted and you find out if you really have cancer (alas, after the biopsy there is no hotel lobby). Unfortunately, it turns out that reading the results of the biopsy can be very difficult, and in a shocking number of cases women are undergoing surgery and treatment when it later turns out they never had cancer at all. This is bad news for a lot of already freaked out Jewish women. Oy.
As it turns out, diagnosing the earliest stage of breast cancer can be surprisingly difficult, prone to both outright error and case-by-case disagreement over whether a cluster of cells is benign or malignant, according to an examination of breast cancer cases by The New York Times.
There is an increasing recognition of the problems, and the federal government is now financing a nationwide study of variations in breast pathology, based on concerns that 17 percent of D.C.I.S. cases identified by a commonly used needle biopsy may be misdiagnosed. Despite this, there are no mandated diagnostic standards or requirements that pathologists performing the work have any specialized expertise, meaning that the chances of getting an accurate diagnosis vary from hospital to hospital.
The second piece of bad news is that women were much larger players in the atrocities of the Holocaust than was previously known. Men definitely did the lion’s share of the evil work, but an American historian has uncovered evidence that implies that women were much more involved than anyone really thought.
The Nazi killing machine was undoubtedly a male-dominated affair. But according to new research, the participation of German women in the genocide, as perpetrators, accomplices or passive witnesses, was far greater than previously thought.
The researcher, Wendy Lower, an American historian now living in Munich, has drawn attention to the number of seemingly ordinary German women who willingly went out to the Nazi-occupied eastern territories as part of the war effort, to areas where genocide was openly occurring.
“Thousands would be a conservative estimate,” Ms. Lower said in an interview in Jerusalem last week.
I made the mistake of reading this article while eating my lunch. Ugh. Truly horrifying stuff.
[One woman] was married to an SS officer who ran an agricultural estate, complete with a colonial-style manor house and slave laborers, in Galicia, in occupied Poland. She later confessed to having murdered six Jewish children, aged 6 to 12. She came across them while out riding in her carriage. She was the mother of two young children, and was 25 at the time. Near naked, the Jewish children had apparently escaped from a railroad car bound for the Sobibor camp. She took them home, fed them, then led them into the woods and shot them one by one.
She told her interrogators that she had done so, in part, because she wanted to prove herself to the men.
Thankfully, the Times has a sort-of antidote to all this sadness: a cute little story about the restored recordings of a famous early 20th century cantor. The recordings were painstakingly cleaned up by a Hasidic music salesman, and you can hear some of them via the Times site. I’m not a huge fan of cantorial music, but I’m thrilled to have something happy to read about, finally.
In the winter I never have any trouble planning Shabbat and holiday menus. Many of the most basic and quintessential Jewish foods–brisket, kugel, matzah ball soup, babka–are perfect for a blustery day in November, or a snow-day in February, but come the sticky humid heat of June, July and August, and I find it hard to locate Jew-y recipes that seem temperature-appropriate.
There are two obvious solutions here. First, abandon all pretense of making something Jewish, and just make something delicious. When it’s 95F in the kitchen, I don’t think any of my Shabbat guests are going to complain that gazpacho is Spanish, and there haven’t been Jews living in Spain since, oh, that pesky inquisition. They’ll just be grateful I didn’t make a hot soup.
The other solution is to spend the entire summer cooking Israeli food. There are many Jewish communities from very hot parts of the world (Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, etc) but somehow I find that food from these communities is still too heavy for me in the summer. Israelis, though, know their hot weather food, and now when I want to make something for Shabbat I find myself thinking about what my friends are probably eating in Jerusalem and Haifa and Be’er Sheva and making that. If I need some Israeli inspiration, I head to our Israeli food section, or open up Janna Gur’s gorgeous The Book of New Israeli Food. Those pictures will get your mouth watering no matter what season it is.
Hm. Now I want some gazpacho and falafel.