Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Octopus Messiah

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

Anyone see Last Comic Standing this summer? Because if you did, you probably caught the incredibly intelligent and funny Myq Kaplan blowing the minds of his audiences.

Well now, he is blowing my mind (and hopefully yours) with this animated version of one of his stand up routines. It makes watching stand up all the more exciting when you see Jesus running on water for exercise (watch the video and you’ll understand).

Luckily for us, Myq decided to animate a very Jewishly themed set, presumably with the hope that we would blog about it. In the routine, Myq explains why Jews are hoping that the Messiah comes as an octopus. Believe me, it’s worth a watch (though mildly offensive…meh).

Posted on September 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

The Jewish Pork Cookbook

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

I’m a vegetarian, but if I wanted a really great pork recipe, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t head right over to the Israeli cookbook section of my local bookstore. Or to the kosher section, for that matter.

There’s actually a law on the books in Israel making it illegal to sell pork (though I know plenty of Israelis who have gotten hold of it through various underhanded methods) but that didn’t stop Dr. Eli Landau, author of the first Israeli pork cookbook. Um, hooray?

According to the NY Times:

With 80 mainly Mediterranean recipes and Eastern European dishes, “The White Book” tries to reveal the secrets of the pig for cooks who have never prepared it nor perhaps even tasted it.

Predictably, Orthodox authorities are outraged, but for some reason have decided to just simmer in anger rather than protest and possibly help publicize the shanda. I kind of want Dr. Landau to hang out with fellow Israeli Einat Admony, the chef at NY restaurant Ballaboosta. Ballaboosta means “perfect housewife” in Yiddish (well, kind of) and on the menu at Ballaboosta you can find challah with ham, and a side of applewood bacon.

Posted on September 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

Jon Stewart Loves Sukkot Jokes

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

Jon Stewart, as mentioned numerous times on this blog, loves to make Jewish jokes. But he seems to pull out all the punches when it comes to Jewish holidays–which is ironic, because many of the people who would understand the jokes aren’t watching because it’s a holiday.

And this year is no different. In fact, I would argue that Stewart has upped the ante. Because sure, it’s easy to make a Yom Kippur or a Passover joke. But to make Sukkot jokes? On national television? Those have got to be some impressive Sukkot jokes.

It would be one thing if he made one Sukkot joke on one occasion. But he really seems to be obsessed with Sukkot this year. He’s made Sukkot jokes on two separate shows. Of course, one of them was on the second night of Sukkot, so a lot of Jews never actually saw it.

So here is the first clip, where Jon explains why the Israeli delegation wasn’t present at President Obama’s UN speech about Israel. (Hint: It’s because of Sukkot). Also, look out for a Tu Bishvat joke.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
International House of Handshakes
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

Next, we have a clip from last night’s episode where Stewart and John Oliver discuss the end of the settlement freeze in Israel. Again, be prepared for Sukkot jokes.

I think it’s now safe to say that Jon Stewart…is a Jew.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Middle Eastern Promises
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

Posted on September 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

The Best Part of Traveling

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Earlier this week, Martin Fletcher wrote about stories he’s covered for NBC’s London bureau and about choosing a title for his book. His new book, Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, is available today.

What I loved about writing Walking Israel was meeting the people I came across during my walk, people I would never normally have come across, and who directed me towards aspects of Israel that had never occurred to me in my 35 years of reporting from there: The tour guide who used the four faces of Akko’s clocktower to show Jews and Arabs the four faces of the truth: “it just depends where you stand”; the botanist whose main goal, when Israel was fighting for its existence in 1948, was to save the sea turtles; the Tunisian and Moroccan Jews sitting around in Roger’s café in Ashkelon who barely budged as rockets landed from Gaza, and said if it was up to them they’d make peace with the Arabs in five minutes but in the meantime “in war, it’s war!”

I loved everything about writing the book: the people I met, the subsequent year of research, and the year of writing and rewriting. But best of all was the reaction of my son after he read the finished work. “Dad,” he said, “next time you go for a long walk somewhere, I want to come with you.”

Martin Fletcher spent the last thirty years as NBC News Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv. His second book, Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, is now available. He has been blogging all week for the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

Posted on September 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

Kveller: A Jewish Twist on Parenting

This entry was posted in Life on by .

I’m very excited to announce that our new parenting website Kveller.com is now live.

The idea for a Jewish parenting website was first dreamed up by MyJewishLearning in 2007, so it’s quite gratifying to finally see it come to fruition. The website is meant to be a resource and community for parents of Jewish children age 0-5 (that is, from pre-conception to preschool). Instead of trying to tell you about Kveller, I’ll let the website speak for itself.

There is no one way to parent Jewishly, and we are not about to change that. Whether you grew up observing Shabbat every Friday night, or had your first taste of matzo ball soup when you married into a Jewish family, the ways you can incorporate Judaism and Jewish culture into your parenting style are diverse. Kveller is here to give you ideas for your children’s early years–ideas for first-time parents, interfaith parents, queer parents, adoptive parents, and everything in between–with the hopes that you can find information and inspiration that is right for your family.

Kveller also wants you to know that you’re not alone. There are parents all over the country raising Jewish kids who confront similar questions and quandaries. Kveller is here to connect you to each other through our discussion forums, blog, and local event listings.

I would be remiss, of course, if I didn’t thank UJA-Federation of NY, which provided seed funding for Kveller. They’ve been incredible partners in this project.

And also a special shout out to Sam Apple who came up with the name Kveller.com — just as we were giving up hope of ever finding a great name for the site. You can show your love for Sam by buying his book American Parent.

To get you started with Kveller, here are some links to some of my favorites (so far):

- The homepage, of course

- Former Daily Show and Tonight Show writer Rob Kutner discusses why Stephen Colbert would be a good Jewish father

- Blossom’s Mayim Bialik talks about the myth of “having it all”

- Search for baby names on our Jewish baby name bank

- Discover Kveller’s favorite Jewish kiddie music

- David Shneer tells us about being a gay dad in a family with three parents

Also check out the special pages we have set up to connect parents in Brownstone Brooklyn and Downtown Manhattan with local events and each other. We hope to expand to other cities and neighborhoods eventually.

And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook.

Posted on September 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

Jonathan Ames Doesn’t Look Jewish

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

OK, first up — HBO’s series Bored to Death just premiered. Here’s the whole first episode of the new season:

Jonathan Ames, the creator of the series, is a hilarious writer, and the author of a dozen or so books. (One of my favorite things about him: he recently told Stephen Elliott that the turning point in his career came when he stopped wanting to be a great writer and started wanting to tell great stories.) He’s Jewish, and doesn’t look it. This conversation comes from a recent interview with Powell’s:

Georgie: In your novels, and sometimes in your columns, you have mentioned being Jewish but looking fair and somewhat “Aryan.” Did you ever witness anti-Semitism by people who presumed you weren’t Jewish?

Ames: [I]n my youth, for a brief period, probably between nineteen to twenty-one, I probably didn’t look Jewish, my hair was very blonde from being at the beach a lot, from the ocean, so I think I made mention of not looking Jewish during that period. And I think it was during this period that people would make anti-Semitic remarks, assuming I wasn’t Jewish, and it had the effect on me that I wouldn’t say I was Jewish, because I think that I was embarrassed embarrassed for them, embarrassed for me, and wanting them to like me. But I was also hurt, and a little bit disgusted, and that, I think, has to do with the thing of the Aryan appearance.

It’s an interesting phenomenon of the Jew, who is a minority, and yet can sort of assimilate into the culture. Someone I was talking to, during an interview, was talking about the unusual place of the Jew, in the way of being this minority that isn’t necessarily visibly marked as a minority. Of course, if one is wearing the yarmulke or is Hassidic, then you know. But sometimes we can walk amongst you!

And then you watch the show and realize that Ames is being portrayed by Jason Schwartzman, who might be the most stereotypical-looking Jew west of the Mississippi. Which is kind of an awesome uber-commentary, and a kind of touching hat-tip to the idea that Jews own Hollywood.

Posted on September 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

Ask Your Atheist Friend

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Culture on by .

It shouldn’t be surprising to find out that people are stupid. You’ve seen the Jaywalking segments on The Tonight Show, right? Or maybe an episode of that show Street Smarts? Or maybe you’ve just had a conversation with a stupid person in the last 24 hours. Whatever. You know there are a lot of idiots walking around. And as a religious person I feel comfortable saying this: there are a lot of religious idiots.

All that said, it’s not particularly surprising to me that a new study has found that atheists and agnostics are the ones who tend to know the most about religion. Remember, atheists are the ones who have to listen while the rest of us postulate about the Almighty and being good to our neighbors because of the Bible. Jews and Mormons come next in line of knowledge (we’re within the margin of error of the non-believers) .

According to the NY Times:

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.
On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.
Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

Some key points from the quiz:
¶ Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.
¶ Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.
¶ Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.
The question about Maimonides was the one that the fewest people answered correctly. But 51 percent knew that Joseph Smith was Mormon, and 82 percent knew that Mother Teresa was Roman Catholic.

You can take a sample from the quiz over at the Times website, or you can challenge yourself to take harder (trust me on this) quizzes right here at MyJewishLearning. Try our God quiz. Or our Afterlife and Messiah quiz. If you’re really up for a challenge, try the Halakhah quiz. It’s a doozy. I bet even atheists would flunk it.

Posted on September 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

Field Stories without Names

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Yesterday Martin Fletcher wrote about stories he’s covered for NBC’s London bureau. His new book, Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, is available today. He will be blogging all week for the JBC/MJL Author Blog.


I’m lousy at titles; I may spend more time thinking about what to call a book than planning its content. But what I’ve discovered is it doesn’t matter much what I think because the publisher decides anyway.

The title I decided on, after much anguish, for my first book about my reporting career was “The Exploding Cow and the River of Death,” which related to two of the stories in the book. That kind of black humor is a tradition for journalist memoirs. My favorite such title is Edward Behr’s 1985 book Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English? It refers to a journalist in the Congo who came across a group of Belgian nuns who had been raped and shouted the question.

If anyone thinks he made up the line, that nobody could be so crass as to ask such a question, trust me, it’s possible. I was there when journalists in Zimbabwe were sticking microphones into the face of a nun who had been raped and an American UPI journalist asked her, “Yes, but did he ejaculate inside you?” Apparently that related to a New York law concerning the statutory definition of rape.

My cow exploded when I was interviewing a Kosovar refugee who had been forced by Serbs to dig holes for landmines in a field. As we spoke to him on camera a cow trod on a mine and flew into the air above his head. The river of death was the Kagera river that flows into the Rusomo Falls in Rwanda; we watched the bodies of dozens of murdered Tutsis float downriver and over the Falls.

Hence my title. The publisher decided on the more mundane “Breaking News.”

The title I favored for my latest book, which is structured around a trek I made along the entire coast of Israel, from Lebanon to Gaza, came from my idea of doing the journey with my son. I would call the book The Father, the Son and the Holy Coast. But the publisher decided that title could antagonize Christians, and anyway my son wouldn’t come with me.

So it’s called Walking Israel. I did an Amazon search to find out how many books are named “Walking…something” and came up with 27,956.

Publishers have a lot more experience than I do of naming books, and it’s true that, being British, I tend towards the tabloidy, tongue-in-cheek, teaser which may not go down so well in America.

And anyway, all I really care about is the content.

But the title is the first attention-getter, followed closely by the cover design. And what I find strange, given that this is actually the author’s book, is that the two key marketing factors are outside the control of the author.

Still, I can only bow to the publisher’s experience, and my contractual obligation, and allow others to decide how my book will be presented. I hate that stuff anyway.

Martin Fletcher spent the last thirty years as NBC News Bureau Chief in Tel Aviv. His second book, Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, will be available tomorrow.

Posted on September 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

Some Cool Sukkahs

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Last week, we showed you our little video explaining what exactly a sukkah is (What? I’m posting it again at the end of this post? How convenient…).

We filmed our video down in Union Square where they were holding the Sukkah City Competition (two designers featured in our video ended up winning). And while you got to see some quick shots of the awesome sukkahs, that really wasn’t the point of the video.

So if all you wanted to see was amazing footage of the coolest sukkahs you will ever see, The Forward has got you covered. They made a REALLY awesome video of the entire event. I highly recommend checking it out. And then watch our video again.

Union Square’s High-Concept Sukkahs from Jewish Forward on Vimeo.

Posted on September 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

A Sukkah of One’s Own

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Jeremy looked out the window to the office and announced it wasn’t raining. “There are a few people with umbrellas,” he said. “But, just, the wimpy ones — you know?”

It was 1:15, a little more than halfway through the day. I decided it was time to make my move. So I jumped out to the street and headed for the Bryant Park Sukkah.

Technically, even during this week when we try to eat every meal inside a sukkah, you don’t have to duck into one of those fanciful little bamboo huts if it’s raining. And I’m at work today in Midtown, not in my awesome neck of Brooklyn with a tabernacle waiting right outside my kitchen.

So you can imagine my surprise when the sukkah — which is made to house several hundred people at a go — was dead empty, except for me and the dude who was minding it, the sukkah gatekeeper. Sort of like Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters, but, well, less Jewish-looking.

Color me disappointed. I remember last year, I had to fight to get through the doors. And today, after a little rain — warm rain, at that — the place is as deserted as a synagogue ten minutes after the end of a fast!? Please, people. This is NEW YORK. You are NEW YORKERS. You aren’t supposed to be afraid of rain. Especially when it isn’t really even raining.

But I ate. It was actually a really incredible experience — just me, this huge space, watching people hustle back and forth outside the tiny wooden door. I’ve said the blessing for eating in a sukkah at least fifty times over this holiday (yes, I snack a lot) but this was the first time I said it with real feeling. Like I’d walked ten blocks and hunted down this sukkah to say it. Like I’d said hi to Rick Moranis and struck up 2 minutes of small-talk with him just so I could say this blessing. So the drops that fell on my head, falling from a decoration posed awry, had purpose. Like I’d earned this blessing to say.

Outside, the sky was gray. Inside, there were weird shopping-mall-like autumnal flourishes of plastic leaves. The zygote-rain gave the inside of the sukkah a fine mist, like the spritz of a squirt-bottle at a barbershop. But do I look wet to you? My hair isn’t even frizzing.

OK, well — maybe it’s frizzing a little.

But you can handle it. You are, after all, New York.

Posted on September 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