Just in case you weren’t ready to have your mind blown, turn back now. The following video is a commercial for a kosher cooking competition. In Australia. Like “Iron Chef” or “Top Chef” or “Man V. Food” — well, probably not so much like “Man V. Food,” but I still can’t believe that show exists, let alone that the host is pals with my coworker Jeremy. One thing you have to understand before you watch the video is that “MasterChef,” Australia’s version of the aforementioned shows, is the most popular programme in the country. Its finale was rated higher than the Olympics.
You might think Darth Vader is narrating, but it’s my uncle. (I mean that as a compliment, I promise.) And you can spot glimpses of my brother-in-law as well as my soul brother, local (Melbourne) Jewish celebrity Bram Presser, ex-lead singer of YIDCore.
OK — I laugh, and you kind of need to laugh, but this video is awesome. Partly that kosher cooking has gotten sophisticated enough so that a competition like this (a) exists, (b) is taken seriously, and (c) people are paying money to go to a swanky theater (that isn’t even a Jewish theater) to watch the competition. I mean, sure, they do this kind of kosher cooking contest in New York (and my wife reports on it)…but in Melbourne? Go you people.
I really should be rooting for my bro, but DL, the wife of my study partner, is also involved. It’s a toss-up. If you’d like to be part of the real winners — that is, the crowd — just go here and reserve yourself a ticket. (Ticket to Australia not included, by the way. Sorry!)
So, an article I wrote about the Jews of Suriname was published in the Washington Post over the weekend. And I’ve gotten some interesting feedback. Some of it has been from the various curmudgeons of my life (here’s a tip: if you have a serious commentary, feel free to write a letter to the editor. If you don’t like how something was worded…move on) and some of it has been from nice and not-so-nice strangers, wanting to remind me gently or not-so-gently that the Jewish community I wrote about depended on slave labor.
This is 100% true. From the beginning, the Jews of Suriname owned slaves. The buildings they lived in were probably entirely or almost entirely built by slaves. The sugar they produced was produced by slaves. In the article I talk about visiting the cemetery at Jodensavanne, the Jewish settlement. Nearby there’s a cemetery for the slaves of Jodensavanne. So yes, they had slaves. I think it’s safe to assume that the slaves were treated poorly by most, and less poorly by some.
I didn’t write about the slaves, because that’s not really the focus of my interest. And when I went to Suriname, I spent time researching and talking about the Jewish community, not the history of the slavery in Suriname. So, I would have been way out of my depths if I had tried writing about slavery, in addition to writing about something that isn’t super interesting to me.
That’s not to say that I don’t care that slavery was bad. It was horrible, and I obviously don’t condone slavery. But is it a breach of journalistic integrity to leave out slavery if it doesn’t happen to be the thing that I’m interested in? Is it immoral to not mention that Jews owned slaves if that’s not the point of the article?
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Let’s see what we have here. Another week has passed, so let’s take a look at the great things we’ve provided for you this week (not expecting a thank you note or anything).
We’ve had a recipe for polenta on our site for a while now. We just added a recipe for Mamaliga, the Romanian equivalent. Don’t tell anyone that they are seriously similar.
Feeling alone? Read this article about Judaism’s views on masturbation.
Are you an American history buff? Well, read George Washington’s famous letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport.
Finally, we all know that there are Christians in Israel–they even have their own quarter in Jerusalem. Here is everything you need to know about this small community.
Have fun reading! See you next week.
So sad! My favorite character on Seinfeld, Uncle Leo, has died. Len Lesser, the brilliant character actor, died in Burbank, California this week from pneumonia at the age of 88.
If anyone ever wanted to put into question as to whether or not Seinfeld was the most Jewish show ever (though Matthue would probably put in a strong argument for The Goldbergs), their argument would automatically end with the mentioning of Uncle Leo. You see, if you have a large Jewish family or go to shul on a regular basis, you know minimally one old guy who is exactly like Uncle Leo. The mustache, the loud voice, the guilt. He had it all.
Lesser was born in 1922 in the Bronx. He graduated City College in New York by the age of 19. He then fought in World War II. He had a long and successful career as an actor, but it wasn’t until he played the role of Jerry’s uncle that he truly became “famous.”
I think my favorite scene in Seinfeld, in general, is the scene where Jerry confronts Uncle Leo in the coffee shop for shoplifting from a book store. Of course, Uncle Leo’s only response to the accusation was wondering why his nephew didn’t say hello. It’s just brilliant. Even when he is being accused of being a criminal, he still makes Jerry feel guilty for being a bad nephew. Again, just brilliant.
So, even though Len Lesser died this week, it doesn’t mean we couldn’t say hello. So Len, hello!
Earlier this week, Michael David Lukas shared a list of his top ten favorite Jews of all time and his connection to Nomi Stone. He has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.
Histories of Jews in the Ottoman Empire (like histories of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula, Ancient Rome, and the Arab world) tend to fall into one of two camps: those that emphasize coexistence and those that emphasize strife. This seems a rather simplistic binary, I know, but pick up any book about the Jews of the Ottoman Empire—say Bernard Lewis’ The Jews of Islam or Avigdor Levy’s Jews, Turks, and Ottomans: A Shared History—and you will be able to tell in a page or two which camp the book falls into.
In writing The Oracle of Stamboul, a novel about a young Jewish girl who becomes an advisor to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, I tried my best to portray a sense of multiethnic coexistence without ignoring anti-Semitism, and the many other brands of ethnic strife rampant in the Ottoman Empire. Thinking about daily life in such a time caused me to think back on Walter Benjamin’s memoir Berlin Childhood around 1900 and Marcel Proust’s novel Remembrance of Things Past. Both these books look back on a period that we might now think of as a turning point for European Jews. Proust explicitly discusses the Dreyfus Affair while Benjamin is a bit more coy in his treatment of anti-Semitism in pre-WWI Germany. But in both books it is the business of daily life that predominates. Even at the very fulcrum of history, on the brink of the Great War and everything that followed, Benjamin’s and Proust’s narrators are caught up in their daily lives. One might argue that the power of both these books depends on a certain type of silence, an obscuring of events we all know will take place. That may be true. Still, I tend to think that most of us aren’t aware of the history we’re living through.
Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary scholar in Tunisia. His first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available.
I have mixed feelings about ketubot. On the one hand, they’re beautiful marriage contracts. On the other hand, they’re actually prenuptial agreements that someone drew flowers on. Weird.
The Austins are part of a growing phenomenon of non-Jews incorporating the ketubah, a document with millennia-old origins and a rich artistic history, into their weddings. Mrs. Austin, in fact, first learned about the ketubah from her older sister, also an evangelical Christian, who had been married five years earlier with not only a ketubah but the Judaic wedding canopy, the huppah.
“Embracing this Jewish tradition just brings a richness that we miss out on sometimes as Christians when we don’t know the history,” said Mrs. Austin, 29, a business manager for AT&T. “Jesus was Jewish, and we appreciate his culture, where he came from.”
Beyond its specific basis in Judaism, the ketubah represented to the Austins a broader concept of holiness, of consecration. “We wanted a permanent reminder of the covenant we made with God,” Mrs. Austin said. “We see this document superseding the marriage license of a state or a court.”
So the question is, if they split up, do they need a get?
I don’t ever get a chance to watch morning talk shows. Either I’m at work or I’m sleeping until noon. That’s pretty much how my sleep schedule works.
If I was lucky enough to work from home though, I’d be a major watcher of these shows. All the hosts are just so cheery. I feel like I’d be able to kick my caffeine addiction just by watching them. They’d perk me right up with their mindless banter.
Regis & Kelly might be the best out of these shows, mostly because I think it’s hilarious that they don’t think it’s weird that the two of them would spend every morning together hanging out. They have very little in common, and yet, they casually drink coffee and talk about their nights like it isn’t a bizarre set up.
I’m getting a little off topic here so I’ll just cut to the chase. This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, the show is having a contest to determine the greatest love story of all time. You can vote to determine the winner after all the nominees are announced. Tuesday’s nominees were Nancy and Howard Kleinberg, from Toronto. Here is a quick synopsis of their story.
Both Howard and Nancy were prisoners at Bergen-Belsen. At the end of the war, Howard was all but dead, lying on the ground trying to get anyone’s attention for help. Nancy had been walking by, and noticed that among all the dead bodies on the ground, that Howard was moving. She and another woman picked him up and brought him to a near by barrack.
For two weeks, Nancy took care of Howard, trying to restore his health. One day, Howard woke up and decided that he needed to get real medical attention. Thinking it was safe to sneak out of the camp, he picked himself up, and crawled the road until he met up with some British soldiers, who took him to an army hospital. When Nancy showed up at the barracks, she had no idea what happened to Howard.
After he recovered, Howard immigrated to Toronto. Once there, through some other survivor friends, he found out that Nancy had also moved to Toronto. He showed up at her door with a bouquet of flowers. They have been together since.
Visit the show’s website to read more love stories, but before you do that, watch their video:
Purim is exactly a month from today. This year in the Jewish calendar is a leap year, which means we add an extra leap month instead of just one day, and if you think that’s confusing, here’s an article about Jewish leap years to help you out — but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
Purim Katan is.
Purim Katan literally means “little Purim,” or, as I like to call it, mini-Purim. If today was the normal month of Adar, we’d be celebrating Purim right now, getting all manner of joyous and stuffed and dressing up as Queen Esther or Mordechai or Lady Gaga.
There are no official rules or precedents or things you’re supposed to do for Purim Katan. The Rema, the ancient sage who kind of decided what Ashkenazic Jews do and don’t do, says about it:
“Some are of the opinion that one is obligated to feast and rejoice on the 14th of Adar I (known as Purim Katan). This is not our custom. Nevertheless, one should eat somewhat more than usual, in order to fulfill his obligation according to those who are stringent. ‘And he who is glad of heart, feasts constantly.’”
So there you go. Command yourself to do a little something extra today — have dessert with lunch (or, if you usually have dessert, have two). Party a little more than you usually do. Or do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do to spread joy. After all, there are two months of Adar this year — we’ve got to do twice as much work to spread our joy.
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