Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Stranger’s Notebook

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Michael David Lukas will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog. His first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available.

In my last post I mentioned the loneliness and alienation I felt during the first few months of the year I spent in Tunis. While my list of top ten favorite Jews of all time cheered me up, it wasn’t until I met Nomi Stone that I truly got out of my funk. Nomi is a poet and a scholar who was in Tunisia on a Fulbright. Her project was to research and write a book of poems about the Jews of Djerba (a desert island off the southern coast of Tunisia), which is exactly what she did. The fruits of her year in Tunisia, The Stranger’s Notebook, was published by TriQuarterly Press in 2008 and it is just amazing.

I may be biased, because Nomi is a dear friend, so I have included links to a few poems available online.) Through Nomi I had the pleasure of eating a Rosh Hashanah dinner with one of the very few Jewish families still living in Tunis. (There are thousands of Tunisian Jews living on Djerba, but only a few dozen still in the capital, Tunis). Dinner was wonderful—a slight variation on the classic Tunisian couscous, followed by shots of fig liqueur, which had been distilled by Tunisian Jews for centuries—but it was an encounter I had a few weeks later that I will always remember.

I was wandering through the old city of Tunis, looking to buy a mix tape for a musically inclined friend, when I saw the son of the family I had eaten dinner with, a slight man in his early forties. When I saw him approach, I waved and called out his name, but he didn’t appear to see me. Soon he was lost in the crowd.

Strange, I thought. I worried that maybe I had offended him somehow. And then I thought that perhaps he was worried about acknowledging my presence, because of where we had met, because he was scared of somehow being revealed. A paranoid thought, but still. That fearful uncertainty — being unsure whether I was snubbed, or not seen, or something else more sinister — gets at the heart, I think, of what it means to be a Jew in a place without many Jews, or any such stranger for that matter.

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. Check back all week for more posts from him on the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

Posted on February 16, 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

A Soccer Scandal

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I’m sure you’re all aware that soccer, or football, is pretty huge around the world. It’s pretty much our baseball. So you can only imagine how big of a deal a scandal would be if you found out people in the sport were cheating.

And that’s exactly what’s happening in the Jewish community in England.

The MSFL, a Jewish soccer league in England, from what I can tell from my research, is a pretty serious league. There are writers from the local Jewish paper who report on the games. There are players of the week. They have real uniforms. They travel to different cities to play. In short, from what I’ve read, it seem like it is a semi-professional league.

The only catch is, besides being talented enough, that you have to be Jewish to play. And that’s where the scandal comes in.

Some teams suspected that members of the Holy Mount Zion team were, in fact, not Jewish. It turns out, through some Facebook stalking, that they were not. But it would be one thing to just have your players say they are Jewish when they actually weren’t. But it gets more complicated than that. The two men accused of only being talented soccer players (minus the Jewish part) were using fake names while playing, in case people suspected that their names weren’t Jewish enough.

Their story fell apart though when their teammates would call for the ball using their real names (which they claimed at the time were just nicknames–you know, because when your name is Danny Potter, a natural nickname would for you would be Mariusz). The story officially came apart though when they were asked their birthdays–and they couldn’t provide the real dates.

That’s crazy to me. Why do their coach feel the need to give his spy players fake birthdays? Did he think that Jews are only born over Jewish holidays?

Posted on February 15, 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

Egypt & Israel

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Rob Eshman challenges the standard Jewish response of  “full-throated pessimism” to the events of Egypt, noting “I worry that fear and pessimism have become our go-to reaction, the birthright of every self-proclaimed Jewish “realist.”–and not just with Egypt. (Jewish Journal)

A new poll of Egyptians finds more support for, than opposition to, the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. (RealClearWorld)

Isi Leibler says Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are “soul brothers…They are identical” but Larry Derfner, thinks “Muslim Brotherhood is probably not going to take over Egypt…the movement in Egypt is dominated by democrats.” (VOA News)

Bradley Burston asks why “many of the same people on the Israeli and world Jewish right who for 30 years had derided, dismissed, and did their best to deny the peace with Egypt, suddenly voiced fears that this same peace was in danger, that it might be lost in the course of the Tahrir revolution?” (Ha’aretz)

Caroline Glick says that Obama not only has ignored the dangers posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, but even issued orders “to curtail programs aimed at developing liberal alternatives to authoritarianism and the Muslim Brotherhood,” and indeed, the “administration’s ideologically driven strategic ineptitude is evident everywhere”–notably Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and the Palestinians. (Jerusalem Post)

Thomas L. Friedman reports that the White House was “thoroughly disgusted” with the “out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven [Israeli] cabinet” approach to this crisis, which was “using the opportunity to score propaganda points” and urging continued support to Mubarak. (New York Times)

Gina Nahai, herself from Iran, sees a lot of Iran in what is happening in Egypt. (Jewish Journal)

Leon Wieseltier says “the Netanyahu-Barak government has displayed gross historical irresponsibility in recent years. It has, in its relations with the Palestinians, desired only stasis and the status quo”–so now it has to deal with change in Egypt without having resolved the Palestinian matter. (New Republic)

Posted on February 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

Whitesnake, Tunisia, and My Top Ten Favorite Jews of All Time

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Michael David Lukas’ first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning Author Blog.

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few months about the year I spent in Tunisia. It was 2003, I had just graduated college and was living on the outskirts of Tunis. Officially, I was there as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and was supposed to be studying Arabic while bridging the gap of understanding between the United States and the Arab World. It was, by all accounts, a good year. I did my best to bridge the gap between the United States and the Arab World, I read a trunk full of classic literature, and towards the end of the year I started writing what would later become my first novel, The Oracle of Stamboul. Those first few months, however, were full of loneliness and alienation. I missed my family and my friends, I missed my girlfriend, I missed being in college, and I missed those small American comforts (peanut butter, dryers, wood floors) which seemed not to exist in Tunisia. I had a few Tunisian friends at the internet cafe around the corner, and my Eastern European roommates — Ozzie and Petr — were good guys, though I had difficulty connecting with them at first. One reason for this was that I got up early for Arabic class and they stayed up late partying, drinking cheap Tunisian beer, and playing hair metal at the highest volume Petr’s tinny laptop speakers could bear.

In those early months — before I met Nomi Stone, a Fulbright scholar/poet who will feature prominently in the next post — the only Jews I saw were those in the cemetery I passed on my way to school. I didn’t realize how much this absence of Jews bothered me until I found myself lying in bed one night with the pillow clutched over my head and the sounds of Whitesnake drifting through my door. “Here I go again on my own. Going down the only road I’ve ever known.” Those melancholy lyrics, accompanied by Ozzie’s warbled harmony, hit me like a sledge hammer, clarifying the alienation I had felt for months, the yawning distance between my current life and everything I knew myself to be. It wasn’t that I was living in a Muslim majority country with two uncircumcised Eastern Europeans. Rather, the absence of Jewishness in my life was like the absence of peanut butter. I never knew it existed until it wasn’t there.

And so, to cheer myself up, I decided to make a list of my top ten favorite Jews of all time. I slept on it, woke up that next morning, and wrote the list out on a small yellow piece of paper, which I still keep in my wallet. It is a very personal list and arbitrary by nature. In the past eight years, my list has changed quite a bit, but I share this 2003 version (in alphabetical order) because it speaks to where I was at the time.

My Top Ten Favorite Jews of All Time [2003 version]

Walter Benjamin
Martin Buber
Jacques Derrida
Albert Einstein
Emma Goldman
Jesus
Franz Kafka
Rosa Luxemburg
Moses Maimonides
Moses

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. Check back all week for more posts from him on the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/ask_the_expert/at/Ask_the_Expert_Jesus.shtml

Posted on February 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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Alright, alright. Friday afternoon. That can only mean one thing. It’s time for the best material we’ve put out this week. Take a deep breath…and…go.

The picture we used for our article about Mizrahim in Israel looks sooooo Israeli. You gotta check it out for that reason alone.

Lashon Hara: Judaism’s version of the KFC Double Down. Sounds good at the time. You’ll regret it later.

We have a feature on the baseball great Hank Greenberg. Seriously though, how come no one cares about Al Rosen?

Finally, how do you explain to a kid the concept of a circumcision? Much like how you would perform a circumcision. Delicately.

Okay, see ya next week!

Posted on February 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

Hasids in the Super Bowl

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

Okay fine, the Super Bowl was five days ago. No one cares anymore. Onto the next thing. I promise though, this video is only semi-football related.

If you watched any of the Super Bowl coverage in the week leading up to the game, or even during the game, there were a lot of jokes made about the beard of Brett Keisel, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end. He’d been growing it since a summer hunting trip with his dad, and needless to say, it’s gotten a little out of control. It’s so bushy that he probably wouldn’t even need a face mask on his helmet. His beard would provide all the protection he needs.

This all led up to Sunday night with a shot of Keisel pumping himself up before the game. Someone took that clip and decided that he looked like a dancing Hasid. Thanks to the magic of the internet, we have got ourselves a pretty funny mashup video.

(via Bangitout)

Posted on February 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

Wise Fridays: Words and Not Money

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wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on  your WiFri

“Rabbi Isaac said: Anyone who gives a coin to a poor man is blessed with six blessings, but one who encourages him with words is blessed with eleven.”

Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 9b

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on February 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

Cantillation Survey

This entry was posted in Culture, Texts on by .

If you’ve been to a few different Torah services you’ve probably noticed that everyone who chants from the Torah has their own particular way of doing it. There are standards for how things should go, but in terms of what notes people sing, and how elaborate they get, there’s an infinite amount of variation. That said, even cantillation from different parts of the world–say, Iraqi traditional trope versus Eastern European trope–has a lot in common, indicating that there was one ancestor to all of these contemporary versions.

A professor at the University of Kentucky is doing a study of the different versions of cantillation in American synagogues. Professor Jonathan Glixon and his grad students are trying to get as many people as possible to record themselves chanting the first three verses of Deuteronomy, so they can analyze the similarities and difference in cantillation. If you read Torah, I encourage you to take part in this study. Make a recording, and send it to Gregory Springer [Gregory (dot) springer (at) uky (dot) edu] as an attachment. Gregory is also happy to record you chanting over the phone, or to accept cassette tapes, if you’re rocking it old school. Email him for details.

Posted on February 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

Sami Rohr Prize in Fiction

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The Sami Rohr Prize in Fiction is one of the biggest awards in the Jewish literary world, given by the Jewish Book Council each year, alternating years between fiction and poetry. The five finalists were just announced:

* Allison Amend – Stations West (Louisiana State University Press)
* Nadia Kalman- The Cosmopolitans (Livingston Press)
* Julie Orringer—The Invisible Bridge (Knopf)
* Austin Ratner – The Jump Artist (Bellevue Literary Press)
* Joseph Skibell –A Curable Romantic (Algonquin Books)

In addition to being psyched because we’re that into literature, and because there’s so much quality Jewish fiction being produced these days, we’re also proud that three of those finalists have been MJL readers’ picks! Allison Amend was a guest-blogger for us when Stations West was released. The Invisible Bridge was one of our favorite summer reads. And Joseph Skibell, a professor of literature who also plays a mean ukulele, was one of the first Jewniverse picks with his novel A Curable Romantic.

So thanks for inspiring us! And, if you’re curious about what the next books to hit big will be…well, not to toot our own horns, but keep reading MyJewishLearning.com and you’ll find a few.

Posted on February 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

A Style Guide for Nazis

This entry was posted in History on by .

If you’re busy running a fascist dictatorship you really have to control a lot of things–including design elements and branding issues. Fascist branding is a job, actually, and for the Third Reich it was the work of Robert Ley. Ley became head of the party organization (Reichsorganisationsleiter) in 1931, and eventually went on to produce:

a NSDAP handbook that detailed the organizing principles and mechanics of building the Nazi movement. It is this 550 page, red cloth-bound book titled Organizationsbuch der NSDAP, with the symbol of “Greater Germany” embossed in silver on the front, which turns out to be the elusive standards manual. The DAF was also responsible for typesetting guides and other graphic arts handbooks, but this is the graphic masterpiece of the Master Race.

Apparently the back of the book contains the entire concept of “Blood Mixing” with ten graphic charts.

This is simultaneously the creepiest and most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen. My immediate question is whether all the major motion picture studios own copies of this book so they can accurately costume and design sets for Holocaust movies.

Want to learn more about branding fascism? Apparently there’s a book.

Posted on February 9, 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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