Monthly Archives: January 2011

Teaching Civil Rights to Jews

This entry was posted in History, Texts on by .

Many of us know that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walked with Martin Luther King Jr. at the Selma Civil Rights March in 1965. But that’s just a tiny bit of the history of Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement. If you’re struggling to teach a civil rights lesson to your Hebrew or Sunday school class, you’re in luck!

The bombing of a Temple in Atlanta

The Jewish Women’s Archive recently launched Living the Legacy, a new online curriculum on Jews and the Civil Rights Movement, featuring stories of women and men fighting for social justice. Designed for teens, Living the Legacy offers the opportunity for young people to explore their own identities and social justice commitments and to draw connections between a history of American Jewish activism and their own lives. For instance, students marking MLK Day this year can feel connected to Jewish students who participated in the Civil Rights Movement through the letters these activists wrote home, a photograph of NFTY teens at the March on Washington, or a video of the Freedom Seder that commemorated the first anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to containing over 85 rich primary source documents like these, Living the Legacy is a full curriculum with 16 ready-to-use lesson plans designed to be used by educators working with 8th-12th graders in both formal and informal educational settings. The flexible lessons can stand alone or be taught in various combinations. It also includes 15 traditional Jewish texts, each linked to from a variety of lesson plans and paired with accompanying questions that can be applied in a range of social justice education contexts. Living the Legacy is available for free in its entirety on JWA’s website at http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy.

I’ve had a chance to look through some of the curricula and they really are fantastic resources for teachers. They’re also adaptable for informal settings–you can browse the primary sources separately, or by keyword. I particularly like the Power, Privilege and Responsibility lesson. Great for starting a conversation with teens about these important issues.

Posted on January 11, 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

Debbie Friedman, Bringing Communities Together

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

NPR did a nice piece about the death this weekend of Debbie Friedman, a musician whose music impacted thousands and thousands of Jews around the world, and how her most famous piece, Mi Sheberach, was sung at the  healing service for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, held at Giffords’s synagogue, Congregation Chaverim in Tuscon.

I’ve heard a lot of people mention Mi Sheberach in the wake of Debbie’s illness and subsequent death, but I think the song of hers that has become most ubiquitous is actually her havdalah. (This video isn’t Debbie singing, but it’s someone else singing the melody she wrote.)

I have to be honest here in saying that Debbie Friedman’s music is not my favorite. I’ve always respected her work and the passion others feel for it, but to me her music felt too sing alongy, which isn’t what I want at shul.

That said, I’ve been really impressed at the way her music blanketed the Jewish world, from the Reform world that she came from, to the Orthodox world. I will never forget the first time I heard an Orthodox synagogue leading havdalah using Debbie Friedman’s melody. To me, what was so amazing about her work was its ability to transcend borders you wouldn’t have thought were at all porous. The loss of Debbie Friedman is really a loss of a bridge that connected communities that didn’t always want to be connected.

Posted on January 11, 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

Meat Indian Food Is My New Hero

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

That’s right–I have a new hero. I’m sorry, Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, you’re going to have to move over. Meat Indian food has replaced you.

For months, I’d heard about a new kosher restaurant in New York that serves meat Indian food. There are plenty of vegetarian kosher Indian restaurants in the city–and I eat at them fairly often. But this is a whole other beast. This is something I’d never tasted before.

Last week, I finally had the opportunity to go to Dakshin, and I gotta tell ya, this place was awesome. Some of the time, when you go to kosher restaurants, the food can be sub-par because some owners feel like their clientele will come regardless.

But as a guy who knows his Indian spices, this place definitely did not disappoint. This was for real Indian food. Lamb samosas? You betcha. Chicken Tikka Masala? Yes please. Next time I’m there, and you better believe there will be a next time, I’m going to try the Tandoori Chicken. Because it’s Tandoori Chicken! That stuff looks SO good! And I’ve never been able to eat it before! I can’t handle not using exclamation points! The idea of tandoori chicken in my mouth makes me that excited!

Okay, enough free advertising for this awesome restaurant that anyone in the greater New York area should go too. Let’s watch some classic Fresh Prince.

Posted on January 10, 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

Jews: The Happiest People?

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

According to a new Gallup poll, Jews are the best! We are the healthiest, happiest, wealthiest, and generally most hep cats around! Okay, I made up the hep cat part, but the healthy, happy and wealthy part is totally true. According to the Economix blog:

On average, Jews have higher levels of well-being than their counterparts of every other major faith in America, according to new data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
The index uses daily surveys that aim to measure the components of “the good life,” including health, happiness and access to basic needs like food and shelter. The latest results are based on more than 372,000 interviews conducted in 2009 and 2010, and control for major demographic and regional variables.

What strikes me most about this is the finding that Jews are happiest. I suppose I think of myself as relatively optimistic, and I certainly have Jewish friends who I think of as happy people, but when I think of Jews writ large, I think of my Zayde, who perfected the art of sighing woefully and generally behaving pained at all times. And I certainly don’t think that the world views Jews as happy people. But this survey shows that the more observant of a Jew you are, the better off you are in every respect.

I don’t know what to make of this, really, except maybe to consider getting more religious.

Posted on January 10, 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

Business in Israel

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Israeli companies are starting to outsource work to Palestinians.  (Ha’aretz)

“Going beyond Israel’s “Start-Up Nation” model will not be easy. The country’s business culture focuses more on dealmaking than on company-building.” (The Economist)

Israel’s economy is expected to have expanded by 4.5% in 2010, better than any estimate, and topping the OECD average of 2.7% (Ha’aretz)

Government support is being provided for a push in the “clean-tech” sector. (Ha’aretz)

Is Israel on the path of unrestrained wage increases? (Ha’aretz)

MediaMind may be the most successful Israeli company you’ve never heard of. (Israel 21C)

Posted on January 10, 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

Jewish History in 30 Seconds

This entry was posted in History on by .

Yesterday Jeremy posted a link to the quiz of the top 52 cities in the world in terms of Jewish population in 1939. I put the link in my gchat status and asked my friends to take the quiz and see if they could beat my abysmal score of 24 (in my defense, I got a few more than that but wasn’t spelling them correctly). All day my friends have been responding with their own scores, and their general amazement at how poorly they’ve done. It got me talking with a friend about how much we know about the Holocaust, and the creation of the State of Israel, and how little we know about the rest of Jewish History. I went to Jewish day school for 13 years, but if you ask me to give you a brief summary of Jewish History, here are the bullet points that spring to mind
Giving of the Torah at Sinai
The Temple in Jerusalem
Mishnah
Talmud
Rashi
Rambam
Shulkhan Arukh
????
Pogroms
Holocaust
Israel
Six Day War
Yom Kippur War
Intifada I
Intifada II

I did all of that without looking anything up, but it’s clear that there are some huge gaps in my basic knowledge of Jewish history. Here’s the same list with the dates added, so you can see where I’m failing:

Giving of the Torah at Sinai (Biblical time)
The Temple in Jerusalem (destroyed 70CE)
Mishnah (~200 CE)
Talmud (~200-500CE)
Rashi (1040-1105)
Rambam (1135-1204)
Shulkhan Arukh (1500s)
????
Pogroms (late 19th-early 20th century)
Holocaust (1939-1945)
Israel (1948)
Six Day War (1967)
Yom Kippur War (1973)
Infitadeh A
Infitadeh B

So yeah, there’s a good 400 year gap in my knowledge where I can’t tell you a single thing that happened then. This is after I’ve had hundreds of thousands of dollars of Jewish education invested in me. I can tell you a _lot_ about the Holocaust and the State of Israel, though. Isn’t it ironic that the thing we say about the Holocaust is Never Forget, and yet there’s a presumably huge and rich chunk of Jewish history that no one ever told about to begin with. We won’t forget that, either, I guess, since we never knew it.

Posted on January 7, 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

This entry was posted in General on by .

After a couple week’s hiatus, “Best of the Week” has returned! You better get a glass of water, because it’s about to get crazy.

We’ve got a new video! This time around, comedian Myq Kaplan tells us about taking dance lessons for bar mitzvah parties. Seriously, a must watch.

Converting to Judaism is a major life decision (to put it mildly). Here are all the things you should consider before you take the dunk.

New Year’s has past. Time for some resolutions! Here is Judaism’s take on health and wellness.

Some words of wisdom on overcoming addiction with Jewish values.

That’s it! That’s all! But seriously, watch the Myq Kaplan video. Have a good weekend!

Posted on January 7, 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

Old and Grey and Only in the Way

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Earlier this week, Michael Wex, author of The Frumkiss Family Business, wrote about writing about intermarriageHe will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’sAuthor Blog.

I had the misfortune last night to turn on the television just as some self-appointed spokesman for today’s hip, young Jewish culture was saying that certain Jewish approaches to the outside world might have been all right, oh, for people of Mordecai Richler‘s generation, but this idea of the Jew as somehow outside of mainstream North American society was –– winced the shmendrick –– dated, as relevant to today’s Jewish experience as country music.

Well, I don’t know. I grew up in an Orthodox family in a small town in southern Alberta, not far from the Montana border, and spoke nothing but Yiddish at home. My hometown was the kind of place where country singers like Hank Snow and Wilf Carter were more popular than Jesus — for the simple reason that my father, who ran a furniture store that also sold records, refused to stock any gospel L.P.s.

He liked country and western, though; he used to play it on the radio in the store to make the farmers feel comfortable, and before long he was listening to it at home. His record collection consisted of nothing but cantors and cowboys, and I think he sometimes lost sight of the difference: “Dave Dudley Davens Six Days On The Road and On Shabbos He Davens At Home.”

I still recall Saturday nights, right after havdalah, when the holy Sabbath had just departed, Dad would light his first cigarette of the week and put on some Marvin Rainwater or Lefty Frizzell, while Mom barricaded herself in the bathroom and turned the taps on full-blast. “Tateh,” I asked him once, “bist dekh a frimer yid, you’re a religious Jew, for God’s sake. How can you listen to this stuff?”

He picked up a copy of Hank Snow’s Greatest Hits. “Look at these songs,” he said. “ ‘I’m Movin’ On,’ ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’––they’re all about golus, about exile, about not having a home and not knowing if you’re ever going to get one. And what’s most of the rest of it? Hurtin’ songs.”

You have to imagine this the way it really took place, with my father still in his Shabbos best, a leisure suit from eighteenth-century Poland, and “hurtin’ songs” the only words not in Yiddish. “And what’s a hurtin’ song but a kvetch, a kineh––a lament for something that you’ve lost. And who understands loss better than a Jew?”

Let the shmendriks with their voluntary tattoos go chase the up-to-date and snuffle for paradigms of change. I’m gonna sit home with a bottle of whiskey in my hand and a Gemara on my knee, while Tammy Wynette tells me all about her gimel-tes, ‘cause I’m just like everyone else.

Michael Wex is the author of The Frumkiss Family BusinessHe has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Posted on January 7, 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

Praying (and Crying) with Lior

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

Way back in 2007 when I was at LimmudNY I saw a short version of the documentary Praying With Lior, about a 13 year old Jewish boy with Down Syndrome having his bar mitzvah. I wrote at the time about how impressed I was with the movie, but it didn’t come out for a while, and it has been sitting on my Netflix queue for a while now. I finally popped it in the DVD player last night, and was able to watch the whole thing. It’s really a fantastic film with lots of interesting things to say about prayer, disability, family, and death.

I don’t remember this from the screening in 2007, but it’s definitely a tearjerker, so get your hankies ready.

While looking for the preview for Praying With Lior I stumbled across this video called Best Bar Mitzvah Speech which has been viewed an astonishing 206,000 times. The thing is, it’s a completely typical bar mitzvah speech. There is nothing extraordinary about it. Anyone want to watch this and explain to me why hundreds of thousands of people have watched it? What am I missing?

Posted on January 6, 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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