Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Blaxploitation Shofar

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

This post came our way courtesy of Alan Jay Sufrin, singer/guitarist/bassist/keyboardist for the band Stereo Sinai. He’s also the official shofar blower at Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue this year (and is tremendously excited about it). Here he is with his newest instrument in the recording booth.

So, here we go.

It’s the Hebrew month of Elul, during which it’s a custom to sound the shofar every day. The blog HearingShofar (which, amazingly, is a year-round blog about shofars) just reprinted a page from the comic Teen Titans #45, from 1976, in which Malcom “Mal” Duncan, DC Comics’ first black superhero, is attacked by a shadowy figure who promises to kill him. Then, randomly, he receives a magical ram’s horn from the angel Gabriel.

black shofar

According to HearingShofar:

[T]he tale seems kind of goyish. But hey, Superman was invented by several Jews and much has been written postulating how Jewish legends and archetypes influenced the creation of his character. And we are instructed to sound shofar in times of crisis, just like Mal is.

Which reminds me of a joke that my friend tells way too much — as illustrated by the illimitable comic artist Mat Tonti. What do pirates say to each other on Rosh Hashanah?


Happy Elul, everyone. T-kee-yorrr!

Posted on August 20, 2010

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A Fashionless Rosh Hashanah

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

I’m pretty sure that “fashionless” is not a real word. Even Microsoft Word is telling me so.

On to the news of the day. New York Fashion Week is a big deal, or so I’m told. It’s the place to be in the city and there are tons of shows from the biggest designers to the up and comers, or so I’m told.

But this year is a teensy bit more complicated. Because this year, New York Fashion Week partially coincides with Rosh Hashanah.

I can’t say I particularly care about this issue but it does remind me of the New York Jets last year moving up there home opener so it wouldn’t coincide with Kol Nidrei. But this story has a sadder ending (relative to the story). Because of the tight schedule models and designers have, with fashion shows all over the world, little can be done to switch the shows out as to not conflict with synagogue.

And it doesn’t end there. Ten days later, London Fashion Week is going to coincide with Yom Kippur. Honestly, if you’re Jewish and fashion conscious, just give up now. You’re not going to be in “the know” until the winter.

On the bright side, New York Fashion Week was a little accommodating. They agreed to let Israeli fashion designer Yigal Azrouel change his show. But still! How will we ever know what Dolce & Gabbana (that’s a fashion company, right?) thinks is cool?? HOW?

Just as a warning, there are some scantily clad people in this video. Also, no spoilers, but it’s the most boring 2:06 of my entire life.

Posted on August 19, 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

This Kippah Cures Cancer and Causes Trouble

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

Israeli soccer player Itay Shechter scored a goal in a game against Red Bull Salzberg, and to celebrate he pulled a kippah out of his sock, put it on his head, and said the Shema.

He got a yellow card for this, and some people are crying anti-Semitism. It does seem unnecessarily intolerant, but my first instinct here is to ask why on earth he said the Shema, and not, say, shehekhianu, or the blessing we say when we hear good news, hatov v’hameitiv? Presumably he didn’t know any better, but this annoys me. Scoring a goal is a huge deal, but it doesn’t reaffirm my belief in one God. It just seems like an arbitrary choice.

It turns out there’s a story behind the kippah: Shechter received it from a fan, Moshe Zinger, a 60-year-old religious Hapoel fan who travelled to Salzburg despite suffering from cancer. According to the Jewish Chronicle, Zinger said: “Seeing Hapoel win and Shechter put on the kippah gave me such a lift that I reckon if they checked me now they would find I am healthy.”

I still don’t support just randomly saying the shema, but if that kippah really does cure cancer, Shechter can recite the lyrics to I Had a Little Dreidel for all I care.

Posted on August 19, 2010

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Ground Zero & Auschwitz

This entry was posted in General, History on by .

When it comes to political debates, I really try very hard to realize that there are logical reasons to have two different viewpoints on an issue. While I may be a liberal, I try to be tolerant of conservative views, as long as they pass the logic test.

But I’ve been finding myself incredibly angry the past couple of days when hearing the rhetoric over this “Ground Zero Mosque” issue (the nickname itself is pretty inflammatory). As hard as I’ve tried, I’ve yet to hear an argument against the building of the mosque that essentially doesn’t make Muslims complicit with 9/11.

One argument that we’ve heard has been that you wouldn’t put up a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum (said by Newt Gingrich) or a less extreme example of not putting a convent near Auschwitz. Why should we let Muslims put up a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero?

I can’t really respond to Gingrich’s argument because it’s comparing Muslims to Nazis. That’s not worthy of a response. And as disgusting as it might be for a neo-Nazi group to do that, it actually isn’t illegal for them to do that. But that’s not even the point. Nazis agree with the politics of the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler. Muslims-Americans, for the most part, disassociate themselves from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

My biggest issue I have with comparing Auschwitz to Ground Zero is that the city of New York and the financial district in particular, is not a memorial to the victims of 9/11. Before you angry, what I mean by that is that the area surrounding Ground Zero has returned to normal. It would be one thing if Ground Zero and the five block radius around it was shut down and turned into a national monument. But that’s not the case.

JTA did us a service by taking a walk from Ground Zero to the proposed spot for the new mosque. Yes, it is close. But during the walk, you pass a bunch of food carts, fancy office buildings and an Amish food market. If a mosque can’t be built in that area, then really, none of those things should.

Check out the video to get some more perspective:

Posted on August 19, 2010

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Beginnings: Jewels of Elul

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

I decided to be Orthodox in the middle of college. I was on scholarship to a very big school, and I was feeling very small. One of my best friends had just gotten raped and then sort of ignored by most of our circle of friends, and ran away to Europe. I’d thought I was going to New York for college, then realized that going to New York for college actually cost money, and so I was back in Washington D.C. on scholarship and with noplace to live.

jewels of elulI surfed around on people’s couches. Some of them were good friends, but more often than not, they were randoms — people I’d met once or twice at a concert or a club meeting, the ones who noticed I was looking even shabbier than I usually did. I tried never to stay more than a day or two. I didn’t want to impose, but more, I didn’t really want these people — these vague people who faded in and out of my life — to notice I was changing.

And it wasn’t like I was choosing to change. It was a side-effect of being around different people every day. No one expected me to say “the Matthue thing,” whatever sort of thing I always said, or to behave a certain way. I was getting born again every day. If I wanted to skip breakfast, how would they know I had a rigorous routine of a bowl of Cheerios with soy milk every day since 9th grade? Boom. Today, I am no longer a breakfast eater.

But I had all this time. I’d been hanging out with my friend constantly and now she was gone. I’d been searching for a place and now I was promised one; I just had to wait three weeks for the old tenant to move out. It was maddening. I didn’t know what to do with all this time. Study more? No; it was college. Why would I do that? Write a book? I’d just written a book. It took time, but not the time I had free — that was for late nights and early mornings. In my life now, where I used to call my friend constantly or hang out in the privacy of my room, there was just an empty silence.

On Friday I was crashing with the guitarist from my band. He was going to a concert in Alexandria; he left me the keys on the bureau and headed out. Faced with a rare weekend night with no plans, I asked myself the question that, in college, surrounded by a million other people, you never actually ask: What do I WANT to do?

I went on a walk. I didn’t carry anything — not my phone, not my wallet (which was falling apart anyway), not even an ID, just in case I got lost and drowned or the Washington Monument fell on me or something. I was a notorious worrier. I actually thought about these things constantly. But not tonight. I didn’t want to worry about anything.

I ended up at synagogue. I’d always known where it was; it was in the middle of Georgetown. I’d just never gone inside. But a hundred other people walking in at the same time, I could do it without anyone noticing. I prayed in the back of the room, alone and with my prayerbook in front of my face. A hundred other people prayed under their breaths; it was a huge noise composed of whispers. In that noise, I could say anything I wanted.

That’s when I decided to start coming back every day.

They say, when you want to become an observant Jew, you should do it with baby steps. Stop watching TV for one Shabbat. Give up the Internet a few Shabbats later. I didn’t work that way. I dove in. I had all this time, remember. What was I going to do with it? Something productive. And it ended up being something productive in a way that wasn’t going to be like publishing a story or playing a concert. Praying is like giving up your time and your energy and your creativity. But it’s like giving it up for a reason; saying that I don’t just need to impress the people around me. Believing that that’s not all that matters.

I talk a lot; you could say I’ve made a career out of it. But this talking alone — talking where nobody else can hear you but G*d — is, in my very small way, saying that not everything I do has to have a specific reason, for work or for my friends or for my writing. Sometimes, you’re just giving it up for G*d. Are my prayers going anywhere? It almost doesn’t matter.

I became Orthodox overnight. But becoming religious — that’s taking a lifetime.

This post is part of Jewels of Elul, which celebrates the Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days of the month of Elul to growth and discovery in preparation for the coming high holy days. This year the program is benefiting Beit T’shuvah, a residential addiction treatment center in Los Angeles. You can subscribe on Jewels of Elul to receive inspirational reflections from public figures each day of the month. You don’t have to be on the blog tour to write a blog post on “The Art of Beginning… Again”. We invite everyone to post this month (August 11th – September 8th) with Jewels of Elul to grow and learn.

Posted on August 18, 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

What Seinfeld Teaches Us About Judaism

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

This video has been making the rounds recently, and I was originally skeptical, but it really is hilarious.

The repetition of “boil” is amazing. I also love that she thinks nobody jokes or lies about religion.

If only someone had sent her to our article on Entering a Synagogue. And from now on, in moments of stress and uncertainty I plan to tell people, “Trust me, I watch Seinfeld!”

Posted on August 18, 2010

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Keep Your Swaying To Yourself

This entry was posted in Israel, Practices on by .

You know that moment during havdalah at basically any Jewish communal event? The moment when everyone puts their arms around the people next to them and begins swaying slowly, usually accompanied by the dreaded Debbie Friedman tune for the blessings of havdalah? I hate that moment. Here is a partial list of things I’d rather do than put my arms around someone and sway:
1)    my taxes
2)    100 stomach crunches
3)    attend a lecture about Swedish topology, given in Swedish
4)    listen to my ex-boyfriend talk about how his boss doesn’t appreciate him
5)    wait for a train to come in a 103F subway station
6)    read The Shidduch Crisis
7)    eat a big piece of jarred gefilte fish

As far as I can tell, I am in the minority. Most people love swaying. And I will admit that when I’m davening by myself, I have a tendency to shuckle with the best of them. But it’s independent shuckeling, which, I maintain, is completely different from communal swaying.

Anyway, I know that I have this anti-swaying bias, which is why I was interested to read my friend Dan’s take on swaying on his new(ish) blog, Tusseling With Tefillah. After attending a Kabbalat Shabbat service in which there was a lot of dancing he wrote:

It felt almost as if putting down our siddurim and joining in a lumpy, rhythmically challenged circle released some sort of euphoric energy that permeated the prayer space for the remainder of the evening. I can only explain it by saying that the siddur banging, and shuckeling (swaying) that was occurring before the dancing was similar to building up the pressure in a carbonated beverage. Obviously, when this bottle was opened we weren’t all spritzed, but that’s not the point.

So, I’m not sure exactly where to go with this from here, except to point out that in the case of last Friday, movement lifted the spiritual, physical, and emotional levels of the evening. I’m equally unsure of how appropriate it would be in all contexts, and what a “dancing/movement model” would look like while still retaining respect and reverence for prayer and the prayer space.

Dan seems to have enjoyed the dancing, but notes that it’s hard to figure out a “dancing/movement model” that still feels (to him and to me, at least) like serious prayer and not some kind of cutesy performance.

Posted on August 18, 2010

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Can I Be the Fantastic Jew?

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Larry Harlow (given name: Lawrence Ira Kahn) is a big shot in the world of salsa. Born to a family of Jewish musicians in Brooklyn, he is not Cuban, but embraced Cuban music as a teen and ultimately dropped out of college to move to Havana and take music classes. (I am trying to imagine what would have happened if I played that card with my parents. Hm. Yeah.) The Times has an awesome (and short) profile of him in their arts section, and it mentions that his nickname is “El Judío Maravilloso” (“the marvelous Jew”).

According to Dominican band leader: “He used to take incredible solos. You could tell he had really listened to Peruchín and all those guys in Cuba. The scales he used to play, I was flabbergasted. He really was El Judío Maravilloso.”

This guy is for real. Go read the profile, and enjoy the video of his work below.

Posted on August 16, 2010

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Mr Met is Now Rabbi Met

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Here’s a pretty strange story, with a weirder twist.

A Brooklyn judge has ruled that the kosher hot dog stands at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, can be open on Shabbat. But it’s not what you think. This isn’t the Mets forcing the stand to be open on Shabbat. It is, in fact, the exact opposite.

The Mets must have been worried that they would lose their kosher-eating clientele if their kosher hot dog stands were open on Friday night and Saturday day. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have banned Kosher Sports Inc. from serving their hot dogs on Shabbat. However, Kosher Sports Inc. felt like they were losing out on some well-deserved profit. They sued the Mets for 1 million dollars in lost earnings.

You read that right. It was the professional sports team that was defending the sanctity of Shabbat and not the kosher meat company.

But the judge sided with Kosher Sports. Questions remains though as to a) if the stands will be able to keep their hashgachah b) Even if they get a kosher seal from another company, how much business will they lose?

They must have figured out all the math in this (at least I hope) before they sued. If many kosher eating Jews won’t eat at a restaurant that is open on Shabbat, Kosher Sports Inc., in their heads, can’t be kosher. If they think they can take the hit on profits from that clientele, then I guess they have every right to be open on Friday night.

Posted on August 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

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