Monthly Archives: January 2011

Jewish-American Literature as Multicultural Literature

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Erika Dreifus‘ first book, Quiet Americans, will be published on January 19th. Check back all week for her posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Early next month, four other writers—Andrew Furman, Kevin Haworth, Margot Singer, and Anna Solomonand I will gather in a conference room for a panel titled “Beyond Bagels & Lox: Jewish-American Fiction in the 21st Century.” (Hopefully, some semblance of a critical mass of an audience will be there as well.)

This session is just one among a dizzying array of offerings organized by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) for its annual conference. If you aren’t familiar with AWP, you may find this description from Executive Director David Fenza to be helpful:

The mission of The Association of Writers & Writing Programs is to foster literary talent and achievement, to advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and to serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing.

More than any other literary organization, AWP has helped North America to develop a literature as diverse as the continent’s peoples. This, of course, is also a boast for the democratic virtues of higher education in North America and the many public universities that comprise AWP. AWP’s members have provided literary education to students and aspiring writers from all backgrounds, economic classes, races, and ethnic origins.

True to this mission, the conference travels around North America. We’ll gather in D.C. this winter; next year, the conference returns to Chicago. After that, Boston, Seattle, and Minneapolis will play conference host.

I hesitate to speak for my co-panelists, but it’s probably safe to say that we’re all very pleased to be part of this year’s conference program. Since we’re hoping to run our panel on something akin to a roundtable model, we won’t be reading individual papers serially (as is often the case at academic/scholarly conferences). Rather, we are aiming to offer a lively discussion—among ourselves and with the audience—in line with what our official description in the conference program promises:

Jewish-American fiction has long been seen as a literature of emigration from the shtetl, assimilationist angst, and overprotective parents. But what’s nu? How do Americans born decades after the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel deal with those complex subjects in fiction? Who are the “new” Jewish immigrant characters? How does American Jewry’s more than 350-year history inspire plot/setting? And how are writers today influenced by Judaism’s rich multilingual and spiritual legacy?

When we submitted our panel proposal last spring, we were also required to share a brief “statement of merit” for the conference organizers to consider. Here is what we wrote:

Although many Jewish-American writers participated in the 2010 AWP conference, not one panel session was devoted specifically to Jewish-American writing—in any genre. Our panel not only enriches the conference’s already distinctive multicultural character, but also surveys the variety within contemporary Jewish-American fiction, offering support, inspiration, and resources for attending writers whose work addresses material similar to that reflected in the panelists’ publications.

If you peruse this year’s schedule, you’ll see that the AWP conference indeed possesses a wonderfully multicultural character. You may even notice that “Beyond Bagels & Lox” is not the only panel featuring Jewish-American writers or writing. And I suspect that those other sessions, like ours, will demonstrate diversity within themselves, too. For, as our literature teaches us, there are innumerable facets to “Jewish-American experience.”

The important point is this: Jewish-American writing belongs at the multicultural literary table, as was noted at a different conference one year ago. Next month, when AWP meets in our nation’s capital, it will be.

Check back all week for more posts from Erika Dreifus.

Posted on January 18, 2011

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SNL’s Bar Mitzvah Sketch

This entry was posted in Life on by .

Are you still watching Saturday Night Live? A lot of people tell me that they no longer watch the show because it’s no longer funny. That or they have social lives and are out at 11:30 pm on a Saturday night. Nevertheless, I still think that it’s quality TV and watch it every week.

This week, SNL did a sketch where a bunch of famous singers sang Jewish parodies of their songs at a bar mitzvah party. The songs were, meh. You know, give me Shlock Rock any day of the week. But overall the sketch was pretty funny. Why? Because new cast member Vanessa Bayer (Jew?) plays a fantastic 13 year old boy. She is just spot on. She looks so dorky and amazing. And she provides us with one of the funniest lines from the entire SNL season. “Dad, I told you that I wanted a modest luncheon.”

Here’s the whole sketch. A lot of jokes that only Jews will get, be warned.

Posted on January 17, 2011

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Jerusalem in the Future

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Jerusalem’s Association of Planning and Conservation posed the question to the world: What will Jerusalem look like in 100 years? A bunch of filmmakers, both amateur and professional, entered the Assocation’s “Jerusalem 2111″ competition.

Here’s the winning entry, “Secular Quarter #3,” by David Gidali and Itay Gross. It’s bizarre and disturbing and sort of beautiful.

We’ve decided to publish some of our favorite entries as well. Here’s one about a flying Jerusalem — it’s a cross between a travel guide and the second half of “The Empire Strikes Back”:

This one takes place in the Arab Shuk, which might be the most photogenic place ever. Just seeing it makes me want to eat fresh fruit and get my hair cut.

The weirdest of the flock, hands down. This one, I have no words for. Except to tell you to keep watching till the end. There’s no specific reason that it should take place in 2111, except…oh, just watch it.

Thanks to io9 for the tipoff!

Posted on January 17, 2011

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LimmudNY: The Responsibility of the Teacher

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When you’re attending four or five sessions a day at a conference like LimmudNY, you start to compile an internal list of what makes a good teacher. Now, a good teacher at an event like Limmud is different from a good teacher in a regular classroom, or a college lecture hall. The age range in any class is pretty wide, and so are the skill and background levels. People pay a lot of money to be here, but they don’t feel any real obligation to respect the teachers because the same teachers will be students in the next session. Also, everyone really wants to be schmoozing and eating at all times, and will do both of those things throughout every session if given the opportunity. So it takes a different kind of teacher to be really successful at Limmud. Here are my thoughts on why the good teachers are good, and what separates the good from the great

The marks of a good teacher:
–Has a deep knowledge of the subject at hand and demonstrates it without diverging from the topic constantly. If you’re teaching a 75 minute session you should know at least three hours worth of material.
–Can manage time effectively. If you have 75 minutes to teach and you show up with two packets that are each five pages of sources, you’re deluding yourself.
–Can deal with the stupids without allowing class to be derailed. You’re giving a class on Zionist thought among twelfth century Welsh monks and some guy in the back asks a ten minute question about Alan Dershowitz and the Shas party? If you can politely shut this guy up you are the hero to everyone else in the session.
–Actually has something interesting to say. If your point is that sometimes Moses wasn’t as good of a guy as we were told he was in Hebrew school, you are either not smart enough to be teaching, or no trying hard enough.

A great teacher
–Feels no need to be an entertainer, but is still entertaining. You’re not the MC of a circus, and cracking wise doesn’t make you seem any smarter if you’re clearly BSing. If you happen to be naturally funny, go with it. If not, don’t keep trying.
–Has a whole fresh perspective to offer, as opposed to a nice nugget of information.
–Isn’t reading entire presentation off of lecture cards, or source sheet.
–Keeps the session accessible to people with little background in the topic area, while keeping it interesting for people with high level of background in the area.

Posted on January 17, 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

LimmudNY: Let’s Not Muddy This Up With Jewish Texts

This entry was posted in Culture, Texts on by .

So I just went to my first session here at LimmudNY 2011. It was called Relationships and Sexuality Consumerist Culture Creating a Contemporary Sexual Ethic (I assume there are supposed to be some colons in there, but they aren’t in the program). It was a good session—an interesting discussion of the economics of relationships, hookups, sex and FWB (friends with benefits). The teacher tried to bring in some traditional sources, and at the end she read a quote from a 14th century Jewish commentator, but honestly, I don’t think any of those sources had anything particularly helpful to say in this context. It was a good discussion that didn’t really need any Jewish texts to make it great. (Also, in my opinion, it was pretty heavy on the “Kids these days with their cell phones and their facebook!” rhetoric.)

One of the amazing things I’ve found about Limmud is that there’s so many great people here that I inevitably have awesome conversations with people, in and out of sessions. But it makes me kind of sad, because some of the conversations, like the one about sexuality, or one I had last year about education and schooling, are not specific to Jews at all. I wish there was a way for me to meet lots of non-Jews and have these kinds of discussions with a wider range of people. That said, I’ll take a great weekend with smart interesting people in Hudson Valley for now.

Posted on January 14, 2011

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Wise Fridays:

This entry was posted in Life, Texts on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on  your WiFri

“Do not say, ‘Why should I lessen my own fortune by giving my money to this poor person?’ Bear in mind, rather, that the wealth we posses is but held in trust for the purpose that we might use it to perform the will of the One who deposited it with us.”

Tur Yoreh Deah 247

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on January 14, 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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Shabbat is just a couple of hours away. Time to start making your cholent! Before you go, here are some things you should print off and read during the rabbi’s sermon tomorrow.

What goes better with chicken on Friday night than some hearty roasted potatoes? Here is a great new recipe for you to use.

You’re going to need something sweet to follow up your potatoes. How about some amazing lemon lavender cake?

While we’re at it, let’s stay on the food theme. With Tu Bishvat coming up next week, try making your own Tu Bishvat seder. Here are a couple of ideas that can make it pretty fun.

I haven’t planted a tree in a while though someone else planted a couple for me in Israel for my bar mitzvah (thanks anonymous Birthright participant). But Tu Bishvat is a great chance to start up again with some good old fashion tree planting.

Finally, learn more about this history of black-Jewish relations in America.

Have a good weekend. See ya next week.

Posted on January 14, 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

Yiddish Shakespeare

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Who is this Shakespeare guy anyways? I mean, the guy is definitely past his prime. Am I right, people?

Kidding. Kidding. That dude is a-okay in my books. I read The Tempest in the ninth grade. I know what’s up.

The best part about Shakespeare is that the themes in his plays are so timeless that anyone can relate to them–or even reinterpret them for their own profitable gain. Remember that “new” version of Romeo & Juliet with Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes (the movie that essentially cancelled My So-Called Life because Danes has gotten huge)? It was garbage–but hey, at least it proved that Shakespeare still works today.

Well, Romeo & Juliet is getting a brand new makeover–again. This time with a hasidic twist. Here is more from the New York Daily News:

In Eve Annenberg’s ­cinematic retelling of “­Romeo and Juliet” the warring Montague and Capulet clans have been replaced by Hasidic sects. And Juliet’s famous “Wherefore art thou?” soliloquy is delivered from a Brooklyn fire escape, in Yiddish.

In fact, two-thirds of the dialogue in Annenberg’s “Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish” is in the ancient language. Subtitled in Shakespearean English, the film makes its U.S. debut Sunday at the New York Jewish Film Festival.

Annenberg’s film, a mashup of the play and the real-life story of the film’s actors, stars two young Hasids who left the close-knit Satmar community in Williamsburg and lived in a van. They smuggled weed, committed credit card fraud and fabricated lost baggage claims with airlines, a scene that opens the movie.

Ummmm…cool? Or awesome? Not exactly sure how I feel. But somehow I’m seriously intrigued.

Posted on January 13, 2011

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Honi the Circle-Maker

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

It’s almost Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees! Even though my friends in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia are covered in snow right now and, from what I hear on Twitter, are having trouble remembering what trees look like.

To that end, G-dcast has adapted the Talmudic tale of Honi the Circle-Maker to remind us of why trees are so great. Here, check it out:

If you’re saying to yourself, “Honi the Circle-Maker!? They must have made him up” — well, they didn’t! Read about him here, here, and here. And if you’re saying to yourself, “G-dcast!? They must have made that up” — then obviously, you haven’t been reading Jewniverse lately. Subscribe for free right now, and discover a new amazing thing every day.

Posted on January 12, 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

Blood Libel History

This entry was posted in History on by .

The media world is in a frenzy this morning over Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” in defending herself against people who have connected her to the horrific shootings in Arizona this past weekend. Just looking at Twitter, “Blood Libel” is the #2 trending topic in the United States right now.

I’m not here to hate on Palin. I’m no fan of the lady but I’ve never thought of her as an anti-Semite. In fact, I’d check off “Friend of the Jews” as one of her positive traits. That being said, her use of the term “blood libel” was unfortunate, because it shows a general lack of understanding that she, and I assume most people, have of the term.

So I decided that I needed a bit of a refresher course on the term and have been reading up on it this morning. You can read our site’s full article here, but I’ll just cover the main points.

Blood libels are made up accusations against Jews that around Passover, a Christian child is kidnapped to use his or her blood either to make matzah or to drink as wine. Pretty messed up stuff.

While the first recorded blood libel was from Egypt in 40 BCE, they really came to prominence in Europe in the Middle Ages. The first European blood libel was recorded in the year 1144 in Norwich, England, when a little boy named William went missing. Since there was no proof that the Jews of the community took him, the police of the town actually protected them. That did stop a mob a short time later entering the town and forcing the Jews to flee.

Throughout history, there have been thousands of blood libels, usually made as an excuse to attack Jews. While they are less pervasive today, the blood libel accusation does still come up occasionally.

We shouldn’t expect politicians and others to know Jewish history like the back of their hand (maybe they can write it on their palm–okay, only one Palin swipe!), but times like these are always a good opportunity to give a little history lesson.

Posted on January 12, 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