A little while back, I blogged about a brand new kosher taco truck in Los Angeles. Needless to say, my mouth has been drooling ever since (It’s pretty embarrassing. I have to carry a handkerchief everywhere I go). But my heart belongs in the East Coast so it is only fair if I do a small feature on a kosher food truck here in New York City.
The Forward just posted a video on an interview they did with the owner on Moshe’s Falafel Truck that is stationed all around the city, but primarily in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The video is posted below.
I wouldn’t normally write about another kosher falafel restaurant. Lord knows we have enough of those. And they all pretty much taste the same if you ask me. But Moshe’s Falafel has two unique qualities.
1) They don’t sell sushi.
2) They sell Belgian waffles.
I’m not exactly sure what the connection is between waffles and falafel. In fact, I actually see no connection. But if the food is good, then I really don’t care.
Watch the video and if you live in New York, go check the cart. I’ll probably do the same thing myself.
On Monday, Laurel Snyder wrote about writing a book about inclusion and diversity. She is the author of the picture book Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher. She will be blogging all this week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.
For a long time I’ve wanted to write about Baxter’s dedication, which reads: “This book is dedicated to Jerry Sorokin, who offered me a place at the table. But also, this book is dedicated to anyone who ever felt excluded in any way. Which is to say, this book is dedicated to everyone.”
Now — the second part of the dedication is obvious in its meaning. But a lot of people out there have no idea who Jerry Sorokin is, or why Baxter is his book. So I’d like a chance to explain.
Jerry isn’t my husband or my father or my esteemed ex-writing-professor. Jerry Sorokin is the director of Hillel at the University of Iowa. For one short year of my life he was my boss, at the job I only took because I was tired of waiting tables, and because I needed healthcare. It was a year that changed my life in many ways.
I didn’t just grow up in an intermarried home. I also grew up “in the city,” far-removed from most of the suburban Baltimore Jewish community. I didn’t really have any Jewish friends, certainly none in my neighborhood. Then I moved to Chattanooga, where I was one of twelve Jews at my college. With the exception of a semester in Haifa, Jewish practice had nothing to do with community.
But then Jerry offered me a job, and this huge new world opened up for me—this world of community and support. I was intimidated by all that I didn’t know—the prayers I couldn’t say and the mistakes I made, by the fact that the students knew more than I did. But Jerry made that all seem just fine. He said things like, “You know things they don’t know.” He reassured me in a way that felt like the truth.
So I learned to keep a kosher kitchen. I studied with Orthodox rabbis. I built a sukkah and lit candles every Friday night. I couldn’t believe it! Me – Laurel Snyder! Instead of fasting alone that year, I gave a d’var Torah at Yom Kippur services, and I did it my way. Over a year I learned something I didn’t know it was possible to learn. I learned comfort.
And when I left at the end of the year, to move to Atlanta for personal reasons, I felt terrible. I apologized to Jerry, and he said, “Never apologize for doing what is right for your family.” I remember this clearly.
And that was when I knew he was part of my family too. He taught me that everyone has something to contribute. He made me believe that all these Jewish values we talk about are true, enacted daily in this rich diverse community of Jews.
He made me feel like that was my job too.
While I agree with Tracy (and pretty much everyone else) that Franzen’s new novel is remarkable, I must quibble with Tracy. Franzen’s neocon dinner is not his greatest Jewish faux pas in Freedom. That distinction must go to a scene in which two of Franzen’s characters visit the Diamond District in New York looking for wedding rings.
On page 417, Franzen writes:
They went into the first deserted-looking jewelry store they came to on 47th Street and asked for two gold rings they could take away right now. The jeweler was in full Hasidic regalia — yarmulke, forelocks, phylacteries, black vest, the works.
The problem? No Hasid would be working in his phylacteries (what we call tefilin), which are — these days — donned only during the morning prayer service. My guess: Franzen confused tefilin and tzitzit and grabbed the English word for the wrong one.
I’ve been feeling a little bit nostalgic lately for professional wrestling. I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I would sit for hours with my brothers watching the WWF, the greatest soap opera in history.
While I was reminiscing about the good old days of Razor Ramon, Ultimate Warrior and the Macho Man, I remembered one of the most forgotten wrestlers of all time, Barry Horowitz.
Now, when most people think about Jewish wrestlers, Bill Goldberg is the first name that comes to mind. And rightfully so. He is easily the most successful Jewish wrestler ever. But that doesn’t mean he was the “most Jewish.”
Barry Horowitz wins that title.
For some reason, the WWF (now the WWE) thought it would be funny to have Horowitz occasionally enter the ring to the tune of Hava Nagila, something that probably seemed cool at the time but would be beyond cheesy today…especially with his terrible mullet.
However, more than his Judaism, Horowitz had the reputation for being the worst wrestler of all time. Like…beyond bad. In fact, that was his gimmick. He was known as a “jobber,” a kind of blue collar wrestler who was just trying to make ends meet, not win any belts. His problem though was that he never won. In fact, he lost every single time. He was terrible. It became a running joke that when you fought Barry Horowitz, you would win.
In fact, Horowitz was so bad at wrestling, that when he finally did win a match, it became a memorable moment in wrestling history. He reacted like he had just won the lottery and the crowd went into an uproar. You should all watch this. It will bring a tear to your eye. If you can’t handle wrestling, start watching at about the three minute mark.
Horowitz wins! Horowitz wins!
How are you feeling about the New Year? Excited? Trepidatious? Nervous? Whatever’s going around in your head, you should get it out of your head — sit down and write a poem. (Or, if you’re more in the mood, stand up and yell it out…but make sure you write it down or record it!)
And, once you’ve done that, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5:00 tomorrow night for the chance to win MJL’s High Holiday Poetry Contest — and the chance to win one of a bunch of really cool prizes from Shemspeed, MyJewishLearning, and Simon & Schuster.
Of course, even if you don’t enter, keep your eyes peeled and your RSS feed set to stalk the MyJewishLearning blog, where we’ll be announcing the winners and reprinting the winning poems.
When I was in Jewish day school (all hellish thirteen years) I came to expect that in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah one of our teachers would remind us that the letters in the Hebrew word Elul (Aleph, lamed, vav, lamed) were the first letters in the phrase Ani l’dodi v’dodi li, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3). I can see why for some people that might be really meaningful, but I find that particular line to be the very nadir of inspiration. I’ve seen it printed on approximately 352 wedding invitations. It’s a cliché, and a boring one at that.
But my senior year of high school, the principal mentioned in passing that you can also say the letters in Elul stand for Ish l’re’ehu u’matanot l’evyonim, (Esther 9:22) “sending gifts to one another, and presents to the poor.” His point–and it was a wise one to make to teenagers–was that we should give up using Elul as a time to think about MeMeMeMeMe. We were in high school, so we were pretty much thinking about ourselves all the time anyway. Instead, Elul should be about actually doing things. Regardless of what your year was like, whether you were good or bad, selfish or a doormat, busy or idle, you should spend the month of Elul focusing on helping others. This includes your friends, and other people in your immediate community who need help getting basic things like food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.
I heard that way back in 2001, but I find myself thinking back to it every year. Because the truth is, I do have a tendency to spend Elul navelgazing. In theory it’s in order to make myself a better person, and figure out ways to improve the way I comport myself and interact with others. But in practice, it ends up being a guiltfest, followed by a lengthy and complex system of making excuses for myself. And that’s not helpful to me, or anyone else.
Yes, it’s important to try to figure out where you went wrong in the past year and fix it. But maybe it’s just as important to get over yourself and sign up for the tzedakah committee at your synagogue. It’s just as important to sign up to take a few shifts at a homeless shelter. It’s just as important to look at your finances and figure out how you can create a new budget that actually allows you to give ten percent of your salary to charities that help people with their most basic needs. It’s just as important to go visit a friend who is sick, or sit down and listen to a neighbor who is going through a rough time. But you have to actually do something.
Because here’s the rub: If I follow my own rule here, and I let go of my desire to spend Elul mired in deep thoughts about bettering myself, and instead I just get out there and help people, maybe I will end up being a little less glib with people, and a little slower to anger when I encounter obstacles. But if I don’t achieve those personal goals, I will still have staffed a homeless shelter, signed up to be a red cross volunteer, and given some money to a local food bank. And that’s pretty good, as self-improvement goes.
When I talk how I came to write books for children, I often leave out an important part of the story—the miserable failures. There were (and continue to be) many of them. But in particular, there were many failed attempts to write Jewish picture books for intermarried families.
It’s funny, how the memory slips. In recent years I’ve managed to block out these particular manuscripts, because they feel so clunky and heavy-handed to me now. I wrote them a decade ago, when I was only just beginning to think about myself as an engaged Jew, and as a writer for kids. When they didn’t work, I set them aside, and turned my thoughts about intermarriage into an adult book called Half/Life instead.
After that I went on to publish other non-Jewish books for kids. In a sense, I divided my energies into two distinct sets of projects.
But then, through a strange series of events and conversations, I found myself drawn back to the idea of writing for Jewish children. And what happened was interesting — I wrote the book I’d been wanting to write all along.
I didn’t write Baxter to be an intermarriage book. The idea simply popped into my head one day — a kosher pig! It seemed like a silly idea. A fun idea. I didn’t think could sell it. I was really surprised when I did.
In fact, it was only once the book was done and actually looked like a book that I was able to read it and recognize it for what it was—a book about inclusion and diversity. In some ways it was the happiest moment of my publishing career so far.
It was as though I’d planted a seed in my own mind, and left it alone, then come back to find it had grown into something I’d never have made on purpose. Something less intentional, less controlled than the failed manuscripts about intermarriage. In stepping away from my intent, I managed to produce something that might be of interest for the community I’d intended to write for.
Does this make sense? The other books I’d written — 100% Ruthie and The Queen of In-Between — were too much about my own struggle, as a kid growing up with one Jewish parent. They started from a place of frustration, with an axe to grind, and never quite managed to leave it. Or that’s what I think now, reading them.
Stop back later this week, and see for yourself!
With the week coming to a close, let’s take a look at some of the things you may have missed here at MJL:
While you may have known the words to it since your childhood, do you know the rich history of Hatikvah? It’s more complicated than you’d think.
Though more of a modern innovation, in recent centuries, Jewish law has developed tools for regulating the rights to intellectual property.
Rosh Hashanah is creeping up on us quickly. Refresh your memory with a crash course on the holiday.
With the summer coming to a close and schools starting up again, learn how to send your kid off to college with a new Jewish ritual.
Finally, how much do you know about the history of the State of Israel? Test your knowledge right here.
Have a great weekend everyone!
It kind of sucks to find out about a great story of someone’s Jewish journey through hearing about their untimely death. Sadly, that is the case today for Yoseph Robinson.
Last night, Yoseph Robinson, born in Jamaica, and a convert to Judaism, was shot and killed in Brooklyn after the kosher wine shop that he worked at was robbed. This is the biography that is posted on his website.
Raised in Spanish Town, Jamaica by his Grandma Pearl, Yoseph Robinson, like most of the island kids, thought of the United States as a kind of utopia. It was a fantasy come true when he and his two sisters were finally able to join his parents in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, New York in 1989. At the age of 12, he exchanged his slower-paced life of mango-picking, fresh water fishing, and swimming for an Americanized one filled with stylized clothes, girls, and worries about being cool enough.
Constant disobedience in school and a strained relationship with his parents during his teenage years led Yoseph to drop out of high school when he was just 16. Influenced by a group of older kids and in need of money, Yoseph entered the world of drug deals, street crime, and violence. His reckless lifestyle took him to the Bronx, Philly, and finally LA, where he invested in a lucrative hip hop label.
But by the time he was 23 years old, Yoseph knew he had to leave the affluent Hollywood scene behind in order to physically and mentally survive. He turned to Judaism as a means to surrender control, accept humility, and educate.
Yoseph persevered through many highs and lows in his lifetime, but converting to Judaism continues to be his most challenging transition by far. His struggles, transformation, and experiences as a black Jewish man in the United States have inspired Yoseph to write a book.
Though Robinson was killed last night, his book, Jamaican Hip Hopper Turn Orthodox Jew, is due out this December. It’s a shame Yoseph wont be around to see it his the stores.
Yesterday night I listened to an NPR story about the history of the song Strange Fruit, made famous by Billie Holiday, who used to sing it at the end of her shows. The song was written by a Jewish man named Abel Meeropol (he used the pseudonym Lewis Allen). Meeropol was inspired to write the story after seeing a photo of a lynching that happened in Indiana 80 years ago on August 6th (the song references the South, but events the song describes took place in Yankee territory).
Three young black men were arrested for possibly taking part in the shooting of a white man (a white woman was also at the scene). A mob broke into the town jail using sledgehammers after the sheriff wouldn’t let them in, took two of the young men, beat and hung them from a nearby tree. A third boy was brought to the tree, and a noose was put around his neck, but the tide of the mob turned, and he was eventually returned to the jail alive.
Meeropol saw the famous photo of the lynching and wrote the song, which was published in a Marxist publication called The New Masses. Later, Meeropol and his wife adopted the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after the Rosenbergs were executed.
Learn more about the song and the events that inspired it here. Watch Lady Day sing it below.