Monthly Archives: January 2011

Messing Around on Tour

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Saul Austerlitz is the author of Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy. He will be blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council‘s Jewish Authors Blog.

Being on tour for a book is simultaneously an exhilarating and a terrifying experience. Exhilarating because, after toiling so lengthily in the mines of authorial solitude, it is a pleasure of no small import to emerge to the surface, book in hand, and talk about it with friends, family, and total strangers. Terrifying because, as all authors who have ever done a book tour can attest to, the midnight panic that occasionally bubbles up, convinced you’ll give a reading and no one—literally not a single person—will show up.

Thankfully, that did not happen to me during my tour for my new book Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I occasionally broke out into a cold sweat at the prospect of.

Some writers are also good talkers, but many writers — myself included — would prefer to gather their thoughts in front of a computer, with unlimited time to gather my ideas and refine them before releasing them to the world at large. Speaking in public offers no such assurances. Like an actor, you must deliver on the spot. Acting is actually a fairly good comparison to giving a reading; there were times where I felt like an actor of whom a performance was required, and like an actor, there were times when I felt like I was playing a role, playing “the author.” But I ended up surprising myself at times with my capacity to perform. Shakespeare, here I come!

The thing about a book tour is that each stop is completely different from the previous one, even if the talk you give is the same every time. Some of my readings, like those in my hometown, Los Angeles, and New York, where I live, were filled with friends and family, while others were composed entirely of people I didn’t know. (Weirdly, I felt more confident in front of the strangers.)

The best part of the tour, hands down, was the people I met along the way. In San Diego, I got to hang out before the reading with the shop’s owner and some of his friends, who
were devotees of 1940s comedy, and had some terrific recommendations for films I hadn’t even heard of. In Philadelphia, I had a long talk after the reading with a guy planning a blog devoted to the television shows his wife watched. In Raleigh, I got quizzed thoroughly by the wonderful students at North Carolina State University, who wanted to talk about Tyler Perry and whether I thought The Hangover was any good (I loved it, in case you’re wondering). Best of all, in New Haven, I got to share the stage with one of my favorite teachers from college, whose class on comedy had helped to inspire Another Fine Mess.

Touring for Another Fine Mess was a wonderful opportunity for me to engage with comedy fans of all stripes — everyone from college professors teaching courses on Charlie Chaplin to casual fans of Will Ferrell, and all points in between. I surprised myself by especially enjoyed the question-and-answer sessions after my readings, when I faced a virtual firing squad of rapid-fire questions on everything from the importance of Preston Sturges to the comedic canon to the charms of Bill Murray.

I had expected to find the barrage intimidating, and tongue-tying, and was pleasantly surprised to find the air of nervous expectation (what will they ask next?) deeply enjoyable. Even the guy in North Carolina who asked me, apropos of nothing, about my feelings about Schindler’s List (and later revealed himself to be a Jew for Jesus), managed not to throw me entirely off my game. Bring on the questions!

Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy is now in stores. Check back all week for Saul Austerlitz‘s blog posts, and read his articles on MyJewishLearning.com.

Posted on January 31, 2011

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

Best of the Week

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Here are the best things that happened at MJL this week–with no additional Tu Bishvat related material!

Is Saag Paneer specifically Jewish? I believe the country of India would disagree. However, it still makes an amazing kosher dish!

Franz Kafka was a clue on Monday’s episode of Jeopardy–the exact same day he was featured on our homepage. Coincidence? Or is Alex Trebek working here now?

The Talmud has over 100 chapters dedicated to internet privacy. The rabbis were true trailblazers in the field.

What are the ethical implications of genetic screening?

Finally, we have an interesting read on contemporary activism in agunot–with the hope of protecting more women in the event of their divorce.

Posted on January 28, 2011

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Wise Fridays: A Song of Sorrow

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wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on  your WiFri

“Three ways are open to a man who is in sorrow. He who stands on a normal rung weeps, he who stands higher is silent, but he who stands on the topmost rung converts his sorrow into song. ”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on January 28, 2011

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

Flying Kosher In Frankfurt

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Flying is the worst, right? I mean, except for being able to fly across the world in a matter of hours, it’s still not a fun experience. That is especially truly if you have a long lay over or if you’re flight is delayed.

Usually, what I do is walk aimlessly around the airport for hours before sitting down and playing Angry Birds on my phone. Occasionally, I’ll even get up and buy a piece of (vegetarian) pizza–or if I’m willing to splurge, I’ll get a smoothie (when in Rome…).

But I can only imagine how hard long delays are if you only eat in kosher establishments. Being stuck in an uncomfortable chair, breathing the stale air of the airport, all the while being starved? That must stink.

As of now (at least according to this article–though a quick google search brings me to this post), the only airport in the world that offers kosher food is Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel. But that’s all about to change. According to Chabad, Frankfurt, Germany, the second busiest airport in Europe, and a popular layover spot for North Americans flying to Israel, is starting to insert kosher vending machines in its terminals.

I can’t speak to how good the food will be–don’t be expecting ribeye steaks out of a vending machine, though one can dream–but it’s still a great idea. I’m actually surprised that there hasn’t been more pressure for this to happen in other airports. You don’t think Chicago/L.A./New York/Toronto would benefit greatly from this?

Posted on January 27, 2011

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

Hating on Hockey Jews

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

I know you probably weren’t asking for it, but if for some reason you wanted proof that I am a Canadian Jew, all you’ll need is this. Yesterday, when I read this story about professional hockey player, and Canadian Jew, Jason Bailey, I went straight to Facebook to see if I could find his profile. Bam! That was easy. I have nine friends in common–all Jews. We are a small community I guess.

Why was this Bailey fellow in the news though? I mean, I’d never even heard of him until I saw him on TMZ last night.

Bailey was drafted by the Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks back in 2005. Still being young and raw, the team assigned him to their minor league team in Bakersfield, California–you know, a hockey hotspot. There, Bailey claims that both his coach and assistant coach would assault him with anti-Semitic slurs and even make him travel separately from the rest of the team.

Bailey has since been traded to the Ottawa Senators but he is firing back at his old team…with a good old fashion lawsuit. Amen brother. Stick it to Bakersfield.

Also, quick side note. Look at this headline from the Wall Street Journal’s article about the story: “The Frozen One.” Yes! That’s the best. Is that a play on the Jews being the chosen people or Wayne Gretzky being called “The Great One” or both? Whoever wrote that deserves a raise.

Posted on January 26, 2011

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 Sway Machinery Play Michael Jackson

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The Sway Machinery’s new album House of Friendly Ghosts, Vol. 1 won’t be out for another few weeks (who are they? check out our interview with the band) but this is too good not to share. The band, who recently returned from recording their new album in Africa, plays “Billie Jean” live in Mali. It’s everything we’ve come to expect from the band — intense, dark, fiercely danceable, with just the right amount of undercutting quirkiness. (The sound starts 2 or 3 seconds in, so be patient.)

If that’s not enough to whet your appetite — it’s less than a minute, after all — check out more YouTube videos of the band, or buy their new single.

Posted on January 26, 2011

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

Religion Versus Financial Planning

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These days I spend a lot of time volunteering as a gabbai at Kehilat Hadar, and among other things this means dealing with our budget concerns, i.e. making sure we have enough money to pay rent. So it was especially interesting to me to read this article in the Wall Street Journal about churches and other religious spaces that have had trouble paying rent, and have had to walk away from mortgages in the past couple of years. It’s a much bigger problem than I would have thought:

Just as homeowners borrowed too much or built too big during boom times, many churches did the same and now are struggling as their congregations shrink and collections fall owing to rising unemployment and a weak economy.

Since 2008, nearly 200 religious facilities have been foreclosed on by banks, up from eight during the previous two years and virtually none in the decade before that, according to real-estate services firm CoStar Group, Inc. Analysts and bankers say hundreds of additional churches face financial struggles so severe they could face foreclosure or bankruptcy in the near future.

People like to think that they’re doing God’s work and so they won’t have to worry too much about the finances. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Posted on January 25, 2011

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

Explaining The Ads

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If you are a regular on our website or any other Jewish website for that matter, you’ve probably noticed that a new film, Barney’s Version, starring Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, and Minnie Driver, has been featuring ads all over the place. Even if you know nothing about the film, or the original book by Mordecai Richler, you’ve probably made the connection that this is probably a Jewish movie.

The Jewish Week was lucky enough to score a sit down interview with Giamatti to talk about the film, Montreal Jewish life (a central part of the film), Mordecai Richler, Jewish weddings, and the Jewish commandment of honoring your parents.

We’re jealous that they got an interview but that doesn’t mean we can’t share it! Check it out (the clip also features the movie’s trailer).

Posted on January 24, 2011

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

Best Of The Week

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Weekend is coming. My friend from Newfoundland is coming to town (actually, I have numerous Newfoundland friend. Good folk). They have their own time zone!

This week, we featured a lot of Tu Bishvat material, which might seem irrelevant now being that Tu Bishvat was yesterday, but maybe you can archive this stuff for next year.

Hey, Todd & God are back! And God is Al Gore! And God isn’t boring! I promise!

Here are some ideas to incorporate different fruits into your dinner. Just because Tu Bishvat is over, that does not mean you should only eat Twinkies.

What else can I help you with…Yitro is tomorrow’s Torah portion! Super important stuff happens in there. All the other parashahs are kinda just details surrounding this. Go to shul tomorrow.

Finally, Matthue found this amazing video that he posted the other day. I think it’s about unity? It’s more about going, “WHAAAAAAAAAAAATTTT!?!??!” at the end of it (it’s the last video on his post).

Posted on January 21, 2011

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

It’s Double Mitzvah Time!

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

Yesterday I had occasion to google the term “double mitzvah.” Growing up going to Jewish day schools, we all knew the joke that having sex on Shabbat was a double mitzvah, because in theory you could be both fulfilling the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, and the commandment to enjoy the Sabbath. I googled because I was wondering if there was any actual halakhah about this, or if it was something that high school kids say because we liked talking about sex. I didn’t really get an answer to my question, but I did find out that there’s a romance novel called Double Mitzvah about having sex on Shabbat. It’s actually not so much a novel as it a long short story, and it only costs about $3 to buy it for your ereader. Or you can download the PDF to your computer. But be warned, this story is definitely rated XXX. In this relatively tame section, the narrator, Annie, is getting ready for Shabbat:

I take out knives, cutting boards, and bowls and begin preparing carrots, celery, and potatoes for the meal, throwing them into a pan. But as I’m slicing, dicing, and chopping, my hands tremble slightly as I remember the brief exchange between my husband and myself that morning.

We were both standing at the front door, our ten-year-old son dancing impatiently on the sidewalk, waiting for his parents to say their goodbyes so he could get to school to see his friends. Ignoring the comments of our impetuous boy, Joel picked up my right hand and slowly licked my fingers one by one, his dark green eyes never leaving mine. I held my breath at the arousing impact of his warm tongue, and Joel flashed me a wicked grin. “Stay tuned,” he whispered before dropping my hand and joining our son.

The story is predictably filthy (the language in particular was much dirtier than I expected it to be) but actually kind of awesome because it tells the story of a Modern Orthodox family who keeps kosher and keep Shabbat, but the man doesn’t wear a kippah to work, but they do keep taharat hamishpacha, and evidently they eat vegetarian at non-kosher restaurants. There’s also the expected emphasis on how modestly the narrator dresses, but whoa is she hot under the collar. The sex scenes here are red hot. Technically the writing is pretty weak, but I love that the story provides a (slightly cheesy) model of a Modern Orthodox couple with a very spicy sex life, and a commitment to Jewish life. Also, the cover art is hilarious.

One more thing: my friend Andrea reminded me that in college we came up with an elaborate multi-mitzvah situation, wherein one was having sex for the first time, in a sukkah on Shabbat at a bris, creating a son. I have no real aspirations to kill quite that many birds with one stone, but my boyfriend is in town this Shabbat, so, um, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go prepare to fulfill some commandments…

Posted on January 21, 2011

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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