Even if you aren’t a college sports fan, let alone a sports fan, you have to admit that the March Madness college basketball tournament can be pretty exciting. 68 teams in a do or die tournament with upsets up the wazoo? Count me in.
But March Madness is also great because it has inspired numerous non-basketball related tournament brackets for people to waste their time with. Anyone remember my Jewish Food Tourney from two years ago? It was epic.
This year though, I believe we’ve found ourselves the most ridiculous and dorky (also amazing) Jewish bracket ever. I introduce to you the Official Rabbi Madness Bracket.
Created by two students at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, this tournament pits the 64 greatest rabbis of all time up against each other in order to determine the greatest rabbi in the history of Judaism. There are four conferences, two “classical” and two “modern.” The #1 seeds are Rashi, Rambam, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and Mordecai Kaplan.
In order to determine who moves on in the tournament, the two students have created a podcast to discuss the merits of each rabbi. And in case you’re wondering, there have been some upsets, including, #10 Ramban defeating #7 Vilna Gaon, as well as #11 Isaac Klein defeating #6 Chofetz Chayim.
Here is the link to the podcast. It is only accessible through Facebook, however, you should be able to access it even if you do not have an account.
Full Disclaimer: This is the nerdiest thing of all time.
So I don’t know if you noticed, but we just finished up with Purim. So many kind strangers and people-from-my-synagogue-whose-names-I-sort-of-know-but-don’t-exactly were kind enough not to be weirded out by my early-1990s raver costume (Arabic noise-rock t-shirt, fluorescent dummy, paisley jacket, purple parachute pants). Not only did they still talk to me whilst wearing that getup, but they gave me presents of candy bars and huggy drinks. And now that my kids are having their naps, I have ingested a ridiculous amount of those things (we are, on ordinary days, an organic-stuff-only household), and now I am bouncing up and down.
Ironically, one month to the day after we gain possession of all this wondercandy, we’re required by Jewish law to get rid of it. Because we’re 30 days away from Passover, and in order to make our bodies (and our mouths) ready for the experience of the holiday, there’s an idea that we’re not supposed to eat any matzah for 30 days before Passover begins.
(Insert clever joke here about how you don’t need to be persuaded, because you wouldn’t dream of eating matzah one more day than you absolutely have to.)
But before you write off the custom, and before you write off unleavened bread — if you haven’t already — just stop and think about the idea. Staying away from any single kind of food for 30 days, whether it’s your favorite food in the world or a food you despise, will let you try it new again. You’ll be able to sample it fresh, new, and unadulterated, with a clean taste (both figuratively and literally) in your mouth.
So this year, before starting off your Paschal season prejudiced against the very flatbread that’s the reason for the season, try living 30 days matzah-free. Then, on the seder night, pick up a piece. Karate-chop it in half. Feel how it hits your tongue. How it serrates against your teeth. Maybe this isn’t the usual taste of freedom, but maybe your next piece of matzah will be a whole new experience.
My friend Jen has a fantastic blog where she spotlights something found on the internet and polls the readers on whether it’s inappropriate or awesome. It can be very hard to decide. I just read a story that strikes me as an unlikely nominee for Jen’s blog: a business in Southern California that you can hire to cater and run a shiva house, from the deli trays, to the hugs.
They deal with death — specifically, Jewish mourning — with an only-in-L.A. panache. They arrange catering, equipment rentals and general assistance for after-funeral gatherings, including valet parking, video production, personal shopping and — there is no better way to say it — Jewish mothering.
“They kind of just swoop in and mother you,” said Michael Berman, Lee Weinstein’s partner of 30 years, who hired the Shiva Sisters on the advice of Rabbi Howard. “They’re not just planning a party and an event, but they’re compassionate and understanding at a time when people are grieving.”
I happen to know firsthand the stress of planning a funeral and shiva. It really is a big job, and it’s great that there’s a business that help overwhelmed mourners. But I don’t know– personal shopping for mourners? Video production? It seems over-the-top. Maybe I’m just saying that because I’m jealous, though–the Shiva Sisters are really helping people in a time of vulnerability and pain. It sounds like a great (if difficult, and very weird) job.
Back when I was in college, my roommates were pretty involved with Hillel. And from what I got from them, there has always been a debate in Hillel about much should the organization try to reach out to Jews on the periphery, or even more specifically, Jews who are bothered by pro-Israel advocacy on campus.
For one, Hillel is a proud Zionist organization. But at the same time, they claim to represent the needs of Jewish students, from all walks of life. So what are they supposed to do?
Recently, Brandeis Hillel took a somewhat controversial move by denying membership to Jewish Voice for Peace–a leftist student group on campus. While the group claims to be pro-Israel, they also are supportive of the boycott of Israeli products. According to JTA, Brandeis Hillel believed that the group’s actions and words did not fit under the umbrella of the organization.
Now what do you guys think? Do you think it’s inappropriate for Hillel to place judgment on a group of self-identifying Jews just because of their political beliefs?
Or is Brandeis Hillel right in essentially saying that being pro-Israel and being Jewish are one and the same? And if you stray off too far from the path, then you can no longer be included–much like the Jewish community feels about Jews for Jesus, for example.
I can’t say that I have a strong opinion on this, but I’m leaning towards Brandeis Hillel being in the wrong here. If Hillel was just a pro-Israel group, that would be one thing. But that’s not all they do. And Hillel is on campus to make Jews feel comfortable–no matter how deplorable we find their political views.
I dunno, though. I’m just one guy. Feel free to comment.
It’s Friday, Friday, Friday afternoon, and that means it’s time to look back at the week:
On Purim we give each other little gift bags or baskets. Make two and give them out on Sunday.
Our new Purim video is here, and it’s adorable. Obviously.
Yesterday we celebrated the Jews of Ireland (fine, and that guy St. Patrick) and fasted for the Fast of Esther.
And that’s all folks. It’s Friday, so let’s spend the next three minutes or so thinking about if we want to sit in the front of the back seat.
Earlier this week, Reyna Simnegar, the author of Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love, wrote about Miss Venezela Material and Sephardim Strike Back!
It was a regular morning at my home, dishes to wash, laundry to fold, when I got a phone call from my husband. “Reyna, I am coming this afternoon with Reza Pahlavi.” Thinking it was a work colleague, I casually asked him, “At what time? Do you guys want to have dinner here?” That’s when he finally explained to me this “Reza Pahlavi” was not any “Pahlavi,” he was His Imperial Highness Crowned Prince Reza Pahlavi of Iran!
The Prince was visiting Boston and somehow my husband (if you know him, you know this is right up his alley) had convinced His Imperial Highness to come have dessert and tea at our house! My legs were shaking. “The crowned prince — here? In this messy house? I am going to kill Sammy!” I immediately recruited a cleaning lady and set off for a hunt to buy Persian desserts. As I was pulling off the driveway, I noticed the secret service searching the vicinity of my house making sure it was a safe place for the prince.
The more I thought about it, the more nervous I became. “We are Jewish, I wonder if he realizes he is coming to an Orthodox Jewish home…” My mind kept on thinking how this would probably have never happened back in Iran. I loaded the car with more sweets than an army could finish and tons of gorgeous fresh flowers. “Persians love flowers,” I told myself. I headed back home and started to get ready to meet the son of the Shah! I was so nervous. To calm myself, I started thinking, “He is just another human being, just like me, there is nothing to be nervous about.” I solemnly decided it was so silly of me to be nervous and I was going to even refer to him by his name: “We are in America, these nonsense titles are so passé!”
The doorbell rang. I could see from the window his armored car parked outside. I opened the door and there he was, in his entire splendor, tall-dark-and-handsome. He approached me with a smile, bodyguards on both sides, self-confident and impossible to evade, “Thank you for having me over, Mrs. Simnegar.”
I nearly fainted. I just stared at him and quietly blurted out, “It is my pleasure, Your Highness.”
I had surrendered.
The Prince was incredibly charming and kind. I figured I must offer him chai, since this is what most Persians crave after sweets. To my surprise, instead of tea, His Imperial Highness wanted coffee! Unfortunately, all I had was tea. I had never been a good coffee-maker, much less a good Turkish coffee-maker. Ever since this episode, I made it a personal goal to learn the secrets of Turkish coffee-making. A few years later I met the expert, Peleg Morris. Peleg learned the art of making Turkish coffee while serving in the Israeli Army and camping in treacherous deserts. He was even appointed the best Turkish-coffee-maker in his division. If His Imperial Highness ever honors me visiting again, I will surely be ready.
Turkish Coffee: Kahveh
Turkish coffee is traditionally made in a special long-handled copper jug called ibrik. However, a very small saucepan will also do the trick.
This coffee is served in tiny porcelain cups. After drinking this coffee, some people read the future by looking at the patterns the coffee grounds have left behind in the cup. I am not even kidding! We have no real fortunetellers in the family, but a few aunts are known for making great guesses.
1 cup water
2 teaspoons fine ground Turkish coffee
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cardamom seeds or ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
1. Place the water in an ibrik or very small saucepan with a long handle. Bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Remove from heat and add coffee, sugar, and cardamom. Mix with a spoon.
3. Reduce the flame to medium. Return the ibrik to the heat and boil until the coffee rises to the top of the ibrik just like lava in a volcano.
4. Immediately remove from the heat before “eruption” occurs and serve.
Yield: 4 (¼-cup) servings
Reyna Simnegar‘s Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love is now available. She has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.
There are a only a couple more hours left of Taanit Esther, the Fast of Esther. As per usual, this fast day has seemed to go by v e r y s l o w l y. But as soon as it’s over we’ll be on the verge of all the very exciting Purim celebrations. And when I say Purim celebrations, I mean two things:
Luckily, tonight is also St Patrick’s Day, so you can get a head start on that whole liquor thing. Also, would you like to know more about the Jews of Ireland? You’re welcome.
If you’re getting Jewniverse emails (and why would you not? The coolest thing ever, every day, delivered straight to you? Go sign up right the heck now) then you know about JT Waldman’s amazing comic book megiallah — just like a real megillah, in English and Hebrew, with amazing calligraphy and pretty pictures.
But we didn’t tell you about this hot-off-the-presses adaptation of the Purim story, Throne of Secrets. It’s a comic-book adaptation of the Purim story, and while it follows the general story of the megillah, it doesn’t hold back from providing its own commentary on the Purim story. King Achashverosh is painted as even more lecherous than the usual, stabbing his soldiers when they displease him, and a straight-up sadistic humor. Esther is bashful and demure, her grandfather (grandfather!?) Yair is old, but sagely, and Mordechai is — well, not the civil, cultured Mordechai we’re used to reading about:
There are many changes to the story. Some are expected; others are radical. The art is dynamic and punch-packing, such as Mordechai’s action scenes (he’s later incarcerated in a prison) and Esther’s time training to be a devoted queen. (Some of the art for later volumes depicts Esther in a sheer bellydancing outfit wearing little more than a bikini, which sounds up my father alert — but you also see her looking pretty bad@$$ with a sword, so I’m willing to reserve judgment for now.)
Throne of Secrets is planned as a three-volume series — the first volume is freshly out on Amazon — and THEN there’s going to be a movie version. The film is already in production, by the sound of it:
What do you think — should we stick to the classics? Or is this take on Esther and Mordechai’s story just what the holiday needs?