Monthly Archives: July 2010

Love at Hillel Academy

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

On Monday, Joshua Braff wrote about kissing girls at Jewish day schools. He will be blogging all this week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog series.

In the 3rd grade I fell in love with the aforementioned Mora Mirium. She wasn’t my teacher at the time and I remember working so hard for her to notice me the way I noticed her. If you kicked a home run at Hillel Academy, the ball would go into the parking lot of a church so, although there was glory in the trot, you then had to bend the fence back and crawl underneath to get to the neighboring lot. I kicked so many home runs to show off for Mora Mirium that I started to get to know two of the boys that went to the school at the church.

One of them, named Jose Rios, asked me if I made bread crackers out of blood, and how I felt about hell and Jesus.

“Blood crackers?”

Mora Mirium would always see me over there, walk toward the fence and yell my Hebrew name, “Yahashua, Yahashua come back here now.” The boys would ask me something in Spanish and laugh, pointing at her. “She is your joshua braff peep showgirlfriend?” they’d ask. We’d all face her. Wavy brunette hair, those dark pantyhose, a slit in her jet black skirt.

Yes. In my head she was indeed my girlfriend. Before I left Hillel I attempted to get this yeshiva goddess’s attention by saying “amen” faster than other students after prayers and by securing my tan velvet yarmulke on the right side of my head the way Barry Meyerson did with his. And when Rabbi Tworsky let me lead the minyan in morning prayers I told the other teachers to tell her, to make sure she knows who led the thing. It was me. Yahashua. Let her know.

Joshua Braff’s second novel, Peep Show, is now available. Come back all week to read his posts for the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning‘s Author Blog series.

Posted on July 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

Eema Knows Best?

This entry was posted in Life, Parenting on by .

There are a lot of things I would do before giving my parents control over my dating life. For instance, I think I would happily gouge my own eye out with a fork, feed my finger into a pencil sharpener, or, I don’t know, listen to the complete works of Yani and Kenny G while doing my taxes and having a raging case of diarrhea. And I don’t just say this because my mom is dead and my dad makes lists of pros and cons about the women he’s into and leaves them around the house for me to find. I also say this because there are some important factors I consider when dating someone that I might not want to talk about with my parents.

But I guess my feelings aren’t as communal as I would have thought. If you and your mom have joined forces to find your bashert, there’s a website for you! NY Post reports:

She’s taken meddling motherhood to a whole new level.

Geri Brin is so anxious to marry off her 31-year-old son, Colby (pictured), she’s launched a Web site where she and other parents can find perfect matches for their single kids.

“I’ve been fixing my son up for about five years,” said Geri, an Internet entrepreneur who works with Colby on the Upper East Side.

“I even set him up with the saleswoman at the upholsterer I used to re-cover my sofa. I figured I might as well cast a wide net to increase his odds of finding the right woman since he’s not hitting the jackpot on his own.”

Colby is not at all surprised by his mother’s latest project.

“One thing about my mom,” Colby joked, “she has perseverance. I can picture her on her death bed . . . choking out the words, ‘Colby, did you call that girl?’ before fading into darkness.”

Colby seems very cute, and has a sense of humor about this, which I certainly appreciate, but sweet Lord does this set off those pesky boundary issues sirens. And just wait, it gets better:

Colby isn’t the least bit embarrassed about being fixed up by his mom.

“Look, I’m a Jewish guy who grew up in New York,” he said.
“Obviously, I’m a momma’s boy. Who are you kidding?”

Wow. So who’s excited about dating Jewish boys in New York now?

My thing is this: if you go out with a guy on this site, you have to assume that he’s going to go right home afterwards and dish to his mom. And you know what I don’t want to be thinking while making out with my man? I wonder how he’ll describe this to his mom. BLECH. (Also:  Colby works with his mom? Would she have to come on the date, too? Does she have to approve of your outfit before you’re allowed out with her son? So many awkward questions.)

Related anecdote: One time, my grandmother was at a luncheon, and she started talking to another woman who had a grandson. Eventually they exchanged grandchildren’s contact information, and the next day my older sister got an email from a stranger entitled Grandma Knows Best. The guy turned out to be kind of lame. Are you shocked? Yeah, I thought not.

Posted on July 13, 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 Future of Orthodox Technology

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

A few weeks ago, Talia Davis wrote to a bunch of Jewish techy and thinky folks and asked us what we thought about the future of Judaism. Talia is the force of nature behind the religion blog Patheos.com’s Jewish site, and when she chops down a tree, we hear it.

A bunch of folks — including MJL’s Anita Diamant and Patrick Aleph — responded. Some of the highlights include a piece about activism from Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz (who’s shaking up ethical kashrut in America) and a pretty awesome article on feminism that argues that equality is not the only answer.

I weighed in about how technology changes Orthodox observance and gossip. Here’s a snip:

If you look at the biggest change in both communication and skeptical dissent in religious communities, you’ll find two web sites with overwhelmingly huge traffic numbers: Vos Iz Neias and Yeshiva World News. These sites have created a sort of self-policing news filter, reprinting mainstream news stories (from sources as varied as FOX News and PETA), sometimes with names filtered out to prevent gossip or immodest photos deleted, with which ultra-Orthodox people can reliably access “safe” internet content. Of course, the actual news stories reprinted pales next to the comments sections of these sites, which routinely run up to 500 or 1000 entries per story, in which people trade information, debate rulings of Jewish law, and call out mainstream Orthodox authorities (and each other) on inconsistencies or simply gossip about the best new kosher restaurants in a certain area. Is the internet becoming the new rabbinical authority among ultra-Orthodox Jews? Of course not. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know tons of people who have Googled their own halachic questions (and I’ve used the same methodology once or twice myself).

I also rant a fair bit about Orthodox extremist sites like VosIzNeias and Frum Satire, and talk about how the comments are the best part of the Web. Read the rest here.

(And although they didn’t include a photo credit, I’m writing it here: the awesome new pic is from Dan Sieradski. Of course.)

Posted on July 13, 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

Anne Frank Gets Graphic

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

Recently I mentioned that there’s a new YA novel out about Anne Frank, told from the perspective of Peter, the teenage guy who was in the Annex with her. Now, there’s a graphic novel, too!

The Anne Frank House Museum launched a graphic novel version of the teenage Jewish diarist’s biography Friday, hoping to bring her story and death in a Nazi concentration camp to a wider audience. (Ynet)

I hate to be a spoilsport here, but Anne Frank’s diary doesn’t strike me as a particularly great subject for a graphic novel, considering basically all of the action takes place in a pretty small spot. Also, it seems weird to call it a diary if it’s no longer in diary form. But, I’m really not a graphic novel afficianado, so maybe that’s not a detrimental factor at all. Apparently there’s a Japanese anime version of the diary, so I guess there’s a precedent.

Posted on July 12, 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 Tisha B’Av User’s Guide

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Tisha B’Av is the day when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Twice. The entire day is a sort of exercise in sleepwalking: you don’t know where you’re going, or what you’re supposed to be doing. There are more things that you’re not allowed to do (eating, wearing leather or wearing new clothes, listening to music, smiling, laughing, having joyful conversations, learning anything Jewish except for stuff that relates to mourning) than the things you are supposed to be doing (mourning).

Just in time for the day, the Orthodox Union has just released a new edition of the Tisha B’Av Kinot, in a matching edition to the Koren Sacks Siddur that set the Jewish prayerbook world on fire. (Lest you ask, “How hard is it to set the Jewish prayerbook world on fire?”, let me just tell you, this is an incendiary community — imagine reading the same book every day of your life, for up to 2 hours of every day, and that’s the amount of passion that comes out of adapting a new daily prayerbook.)

A brief word for the book-heads: This edition is super nice, with the text spaced out on the page, large and (for the most part) easy to read. They’ve corrected some of the problems that plagued the Koren siddur — this book has thicker paper, easy instructions, and a layout that matches the English and Hebrew across the pages more cleanly and exactly.

And now, the dish. This edition trades up commentators: Rabbi Lord Dr. Jonathan Sacks, whose translation and commentary made the Koren Siddur so superb, is replaced by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, one of the visionaries who combined philosophical and Hasidic ideas with practical and applied Judaism. Rav Soloveitchik didn’t actually write this book — it’s compiled from his teachings and speeches — but the adaptation is smooth and breathless, and the meaty paragraphs are flowing, almost conversational. The commentary isn’t in that two-line style at the bottom of the page that merely informs you that birds is a metaphor for Torah scrolls or something like that, but where the commentary functions as its own text. It’s way more headstrong and less breezy than regular Shabbat morning prayers, but it fits exceedingly well with the pace of the day. Where do you have to run to? Sit down. Read these prayers. Then read the commentary. Then think about it.

The meatiest part of the Tisha B’Av service is the kinot, or mournful poems. There are a bunch of traditional kinot, and more have been added as we go along and more bad stuff happens to Jews. These kinot commemorate everything from the Jews killed in the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition to the Holocaust and genocides all over the world. This collection includes all of the Talmudic and medieval kinot, along with some newer ones. For instance, it’s neat (wrong word, I know, but still fascinating) to see a memorial poem written by the current Bobover Rebbe about the Holocaust alongside thousand-year-old elegies to the victims of the Crusades or the pogrom in York, England. The layout is likewise suitable — the commentary comes after each kinah, so you can read straight through, skip around, or just pay attention to the kinot themselves if you’re falling behind.

Tisha B’Av is a day when everything is sort of wonky. We pray in undertones, wear tefilin at sundown instead of sunrise, eat ashes, and say some of the morning prayers in the afternoon. I always used to just pray out of my regular prayerbook, hoping that I paid attention to the special directions for the day, but I’m excited to have this edition to walk me through. So why not buy this book? The only argument I can think of comes from Shlomo Carlebach, who gives over this story:

Every year Reb Avrahamle Cherchanover would buy a new copy of “kinot” for Tisha B’Av. After Tisha B’Av, he would put it away, saying, “Since the Messiah is coming this year, we won’t need to say kinot again next year.”

So, yeah, I’m pretty wowed by this edition of the Tisha B’Av service. But I’m still hoping the Messiah will show up and I won’t have to use it.

Posted on July 12, 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

Memories of Hillel Academy: Part I

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Joshua Braff is the author of the novel Peep Show. He will be blogging all this week for the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning‘s Author Blog series.

They say write what you know. My first novel is about a yeshiva boy who leaves his religious education to attend a public school in suburban New Jersey. I drew from my memories of a building in Perth Amboy called Hillel Academy, a place that was so ill-prepared to teach that it was torn down a few years after I left. In fairness, it was the seventies, and information on children and how to raise and teach them was not as ubiquitous as it is today. The “How To” book world would need another decade to even begin to school us on the craft of respecting children, our spouses, our neighbors.

But alas, it is important to recall the positive aspects of all periods of life, be they hard to come by or not. I used to love this teacher from Hillel named Rabbi Laloosh. The guy was probably 6 foot 11, wore orthopedic shoes and only said about six words in English.

But he knew just what we yeshiva kids needed. He would position himself in the center of the entire student body just before we were dismissed for the weekend and, during a song I forget the name of, let all three hundred of us scream OO-FARR-ATZ-TA!!! into his ears. I never learned what the word meant, but it had to be the most cathartic primal scream any of us had ever had. Even as a second grader I had the feeling Rabbi Laloosh knew our school life sort of bit the big one. He was letting us vent as the Sabbath approached, and I always admired him for it.

It took thirty plus years for me to understand why my early education left with me such skewed memories of religion. Aside from the much-taught melancholy associated with Jewish history like the Holocaust, the slavery in Egypt and some of the human calamities in the Old Testament, I always had an innate disinterest in the “push” to adhere to the suggestion that I was merely a soldier amongst many in the plight that is Zionism. To me this meant I was merely one, under God, a thistle in a forest of survivors who were forced to overcome more adversity and human loss than any culture on earth. I was thusly obliged to be a part of a larger sum as opposed to an entity unto myself in which life is dictated by both the unfolding of our individual days here, and the way one’s predisposed brain takes flight in a world fraught with possibility.

But I’ll tell you some of my most positive yeshiva memories.

My first thought of kissing a girl was in the back of Hillel Academy. At the time it held a small blacktop that offered a kick ball sized space surrounded by a chain link fence. I think of this square as the place I learned to lust for the smell of Wendy Friedberg. She was the older, fifth grade girl who preferred kissing one’s lips to slapping one’s back in “You’re it” the yeshiva version of “tag.” I would chase her cloud of pheromones around this tiny area with the ferocity of a Wild Kingdom clip, until my fingertips brushed against her ruffled shoulder.

“You’re it!” I yelled, and our eyes met amidst the haze of baking tarmac. “You’re it, Wendy Friedberg.”

You’re it, and I’m the one who made you so. I remember the pressure to kiss her. All the kids watching, egging me on, kiss her, kiss Wendy, and I knew that the only thing before me, before Talmud class, Abraham and Isaac and the Hebrew alphabet, I‘d need to place my lips against Wendy Friedberg’s cheek. But I was hesitant. Scared? Embarrassed? My teacher Mora Mirium would call us, Time’s up, recess is over.

I chickened out. She was older, okay? A fifth grader. She was just too sensual and sweaty, running around that blacktop like a gazelle and all. Her family would later visit our new house in South Orange for Shabbat because Wendy’s brother was my brother’s buddy. There was a song we sang at the end of our ceremony that required we all hold hands. I was next to Wendy and I remember pretending that I had to reach for the person to my left so hard that I couldn’t very well also take her grip. My dad called me out, “Take her hand, Joshua.”

I felt Wendy’s fingers against mine but didn’t face her for the entire song. She truly was a confusing and complicated woman. And I never would have known her without Hillel Academy.

Joshua Braff’s second novel, Peep Show, is now available. Come back all week to read his posts for the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning‘s Author Blog series.

Posted on July 12, 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

Making Aliyah Is Not A Job

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

We’re about three minutes away from weekend, but I just want to take this opportunity to vent a little bit. Tablet is running an interesting article about people who have made aliyah, but continue to work 5 days a week in the US. Yes, they weekend in Israel.

On late Saturday nights at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, a handful of regulars on the El Al flight to New York gather and wave to each other in recognition. They make this trans-Atlantic journey every week, returning each Friday morning to be home with their families for Shabbat. They belong to a small but growing subculture of mostly Orthodox American men who have moved with their families to Israel but have kept their jobs in the United States.

This reminds me of a Shabbat meal I had a few months ago where this random guy came with one of my friends. I asked him what he did for a living, and he kind of hemmed and hawed for a while, and eventually said, “Well, I made aliyah a few years ago, but it didn’t work out and I came back. And I’m thinking of giving it another shot.”

I wanted to throw my bowl of soup at him. Buddy, making aliyah is not a JOB. Moving to another country isn’t a VOCATION. If you want to make aliyah, that sounds great, but you really need to have a plan for when you get there. A better plan than, “Be Israeli.”

Listen, everyone. If you want to make aliyah, I say more power to you. I love Israel, I enjoy whatever time I spend there, but in the same way that I wouldn’t move to, say, France if I needed to be at work in midtown Manhattan every weekday morning, you really shouldn’t move to Israel unless you can actually LIVE IN ISRAEL.

I also cannot even remotely imagine how the economics works out, but assuming it does, it’s still a stupid idea. If you care so much about the Jewish state that you want to live there, you should, you know, follow through. And if you can’t make that happen, summering in Israel is not, like, unheard of. Just saying.

Posted on July 9, 2010

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Like Holy Rollers, But True

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

I didn’t get a chance to see Holy Rollers, the movie about Hasidic kids who get involved smuggling drugs into the US, but it certainly looks good.

It’s supposed to be based on a true story…and now there’s some great material for a sequel. According to AP:

JERUSALEM — Police say they’ve arrested a pair of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men suspected of trying to smuggle $1 million of pure cocaine into Israel from Brazil.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Thursday that the two former seminary students, aged 21 and 20, were stopped at Israel’s international airport overnight.

He says police officers found about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of cocaine in their luggage.

Maybe they could claim to just be big fans of the film?

Posted on July 8, 2010

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As Long As They Don’t Get Any Bright Ideas About Gefilte Fish

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

On these sweltering summer days, we’re all dreaming about ice cream. But when you dream about ice cream does your scoop have little pieces of rugelach in it? Or maybe babka? How about milk and honey?

Well, now there’s Chozen brand all-natural ice cream. Each of their flavors is inspired by classic desserts of major Jewish holidays, and its creators claim it has both chutzpah and kosher certification.

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s 103F outside, but coconut macaroon ice cream sounds absolutely delectable, and I am counting the minutes until I can get myself to a local grocery store for some of this scrumptious, chutzpadik goodness.

Posted on July 7, 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