Monthly Archives: May 2011

Judaism & The Arts

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Increasingly, artistic works of Judaica are being housed not in Jewish institutions or self-contained collections, but rather in mainstream institutions, such as Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Royal Ontario Museum. How’s that working out? (Tablet Magazine)

A look at Michal Rovner, who may well be the best known Israeli artist in the world, and who has a colossal new exhibition (including two stone structures and four video works) spread over three different wings of the Louvre. (Ha’aretz)

Female artists from the Israel’s religious community face numerous barriers to joining the art world, but with improved educational and supportive efforts, that is starting to change. (Ha’aretz)

What should we make of the frequent use of a crucifix in the painting of Marc Chagall? (Jewish Press)

A look at Uri Lifshitz, one of the fathers and theorists of the new painting in Israeli art, who “created unfathomable amounts of prints, drawings, etchings and sculptures over 50 years” and who had a contentious relationship with the Israelis art world. (Ha’aretz)

More than a dozen Jewish women are exhibiting an amazing diversity of design and execution in a St. Louis show, “Uncommon Visions: Jewish Textile Artists.” (American Jewish World)

Patrick Stewart talks about finding more “diversity” in the character of Shylock for the Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Merchant of Venice. (Jewish Chronicle)

Posted on May 31, 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: The Free Will Problem

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on  your WiFri

“To act rightly or otherwise rests for the most part with man, but in each action Fate cooperates.”

Josephus Flavius

Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on May 27, 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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A very important update from last week. I mentioned in last Friday’s Best of the Week that I needed a haircut. Various reports have confirmed that I indeed did get a haircut on Lag Ba’Omer. I just ask that the paparazzi give me my space at this time.

You see a lot of pastries featuring rhubarb. Pies, cobblers, strudels, you name it. But rarely do you see people just eating rhubarb. I don’t think the fruit vendor down the street even has rhubarb. And if he did, he would probably laugh at me for even hinting at eating rhubarb on its own. Well anyways, here’s a recipe for rhubarb rugelach.

Is it just me or do Golems remind you of Furbies?

Shavuot is always the forgotten little brother of Sukkot and Passover. But all three are given great importance in the Bible, being designated as pilgrimage festivals.

Another recipe! This time, it’s cheese lokshen kugel.

I’m always stressed out by etiquette rules at other people’s homes. DO I TAKE OFF MY SHOES OR NOT?!!?!?!??!?!!? While Judaism doesn’t specifically answer that question, it does have some things to say about etiquette whether you are a guest or you are hosting guests.

Is that it? Sure! Have a good weekend!

Posted on May 27, 2011

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When Adam Met Eve

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

The Bible doesn’t do the best job of letting the main characters tell their side of the story. Take Moses for example. He must have been pretty pissed when God made him go speak in front of Pharoah even though he stated clearly that he had a stutter.

Another example is Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were both flawed characters who messed up when it counted most. But they also seem like overall nice people.

So if we gave Adam and Eve the podium, and asked them how they met, what exactly happened in the Garden of Eden, etc., what would they say?

Le Mood, Montreal’s version of Limmud, gives us the answers. It also turns out that Adam and Eve were hipsters.

Posted on May 27, 2011

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Campy Lizards, or, A Look Back to My Literary Beginnings

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Earlier this week, C. Alexander London wrote about being an accidental adventurer and sequels and the Torah.

In honor of the end of Book Expo America 2011, and appearing on a blog aimed at the People of the Book, I am presenting the full, unedited, text of the first book I ever wrote: Lawrence and Luther Lizard Go to Camp.

This work, written in 1988 with my coauthor Jon Kleinman, tells the epic tale of two lizards on their first trip to summer camp. With its elements of the paranormal and vivid depiction of dystopian society, it was sure to be a bestseller had we ever gotten around to our revisions. As it stands, the book, written on an Apple IIe and printed on an old dotmatrix printer, was inspired by our own previous summer’s adventures atcamp Kennebec in Maine, which, while being mostly filled with Jews (Wet Hot American Summer sums it up pretty well) had, like so many Jewish summer camps, appropriated North American indigenous culture in what I am sure are terribly offensive ways. That’s probably a blog entry for another time.

For now, I present Lawrence and Luther Lizard Go to Camp. I will leave the exegeses for the comments section.

It was the last day of third grade for Luther and Lawrence Lizard. They just said goodbye to their teacher, Miss L.E. Phant, and hopped on the school bus for home.

When they got home Mrs. Lizard had their favorite snack waiting for them; crickets and water. Mmm Mmm.

They were very excited because next week they were leaving for their first sleepover camp.

Camp Swampyland was far away from their home in Maine. Lawrence and Luther were only 9 years old and they never been away from home without their parents. They were a little nervous but they were happy to be away from their bratty little sister.

The week flew by and before they knew it, they were driving into the camp’s front gate. They saw the big lake and the cabins. There were lots of other guys all around. Everybody was playing and Lawrence and Luther couldn’t wait to join in.

They got out of the bus and saw a very large man. He introduced himself as Chris Crocodile, and said that he was their counselor. He said they should get their stuff into the cabin and get ready for swimming.

Chris took them to the lake for swimming and they met their swimming teacher, Fred Fish. Both of the boys passed their deep water tests and had fun goofing around on the waterslide and the big air tube. They asked Fred Fish if he would take them out for a canoe ride.

Fred said yes, so off they went. It was time for lunch. Everyone always complained about camp food. Luther said, “I bet this placemat will taste better than the food here!” Lawrence said, “Gee, I hope they serve crickets once in a while.”

They day went very quickly. At night the boys listened to ghost stories around the campfire. Then they went to bed. The next day was great! They played baseball against another cabin and won 6-2. They played football and went swimming.

The it happened! It was time for lunch. Everyone was saying they would rather be kissing a frog. The counselor told them about the big dance with Camp Swampyland for Girls. At the dance they served fresh crickets and water. The boys danced a lot and had fun. The next day they got a letter from their mom. It said, “How’s the camp food? Are you having fun? By the way, your sister wrote you a note: I miss U. I like ur toys-Linda.”

Lawrence and Luther suddently wanted to be home and to make sure Linda had not touched their new science kit! The next dauy was the beginning of switch week. This was when the kids became counselors and the counselors became kids. Lawrence became the head counselor of the camp and Luther became his assistant. The new cook, who was the boys’ friend Iswald, made wonderful meals. He fried crickets, roasted crickets, barbecued crickets and even mashed crickets. For desert one night they even had crickets with chocolate sauce!

The next day was very exciting for Lawrence and Luther. Their bunk was going on a campout. The campout was so much fun it went by too quickly. When they came back it was finally Saturday and the boys could wear whatever they wanted. They didn’t have to wear their camp uniforms that nobody liked. All too soon camp was over and the boys were sad.

Back home everyone said they had missed them. Lawrence and Luther remembered their science kit and raced upstairs to check it. They found it just the way they had left it. It was the end of a perfect summer, and they would soon have to go back to school.

Continue reading

Posted on May 27, 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

X-Men: First Class: New Holocaust Footage

This entry was posted in History on by .

Fox Studios released four new clips from the new X-Men movie last night. If you’ve followed our coverage of Magneto’s history as a Holocaust survivor — or if you’ve seen the opening sequence of the first X-Men movie in 2000 — you’re aware of his loaded and complicated history. But what follows might be the creepiest rendition ever of the two words that, for many of us, defined growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust.

Is that wildly improper? Chillingly appropriate? Too intense and emotionally-loaded to simplify to one thing? I’m voting for a mixture of all three.

thanks to io9 for the tipoff!

Posted on May 26, 2011

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Justin Bieber’s New Tattoo

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Oh good news! Justin Bieber, King of the Universe, got a tattoo–and it’s in Hebrew!

But before we Jews get too excited about the potential of the Biebs converting to Judaism, there is a slight issue to overcome first. The tattoo, located on his rib cage, spells out the name “Yeshu,” which roughly translates (and by roughly, I mean accurately) to “Jesus.” So unless the tattoo is dedicated to his good friend Jesus, I’m pretty sure Justin is dedicated to Christianity for the long haul…

(H/T The Daily)

justin bieber tattoo

Posted on May 25, 2011

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The Never Ending Book

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On Monday, our guest-blogger C. Alexander London wrote about being an accidental adventurer. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

By the far the question I am asked most often by my young readers is, as well as by teachers and librarians: “When does the next Accidental Adventures book come out?”

It’s a flattering question for an author, and one of the many blessings of writing series fiction. If the characters and the story resonate, readers will demand more. Having only published the first book (We Are Not Eaten By Yaks) in a planned quadrology about the TV-addicted children of world famous explorers, it is gratifying to know that readers are eager for more.

The hype surrounding The Hunger Games trilogy or The latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book or, of course, the mother of them all, Harry Potter, shows just how eager fans of a popular series can be for its continuation. Younger readers, who struggle with the constant state of change and loss that is childhood, yearn for familiar characters and the persistent worlds that exist in well-made series. It’s only natural. There is a sadness that comes with finishing a beloved book, whether you’re the writer or the reader.

“I grow fond of these characters I bring into being,” the acclaimed English novelist, David Mitchell, told an interviewer, explaining why he brings some characters back in book after book. “In my adult life I have spent more weeks in [their company] than I have with my own flesh-and-blood parents or brother. Letting them dissolve into nothingness feels too much like abandoning an inconvenient cat by a reservoir.”

This dissolution into nothingness is feeling well known to readers, the hollow feeling when the pages have all run out; the longing for more time in that imagined world when the author has no more to say.

Series books can keep this dissolution at bay, for both reader and writer, for years at a time. It was easier to bear sending Harry Potter back to the Dursleys when you knew he’d be back at Hogwarts in the next publishing cycle.

Of course, there is a dark side to the love of these series. A recent article in the New Yorker, “Just Write It,” about George R. R. Martin, the author of the Song of Ice and Fire trilogy, describes the madness that can descend on fans when the next book in the series is delayed, how adoration can quickly turn to resentment and the toll that can take on an author’s relationship with his readers.

It can be painful for an author, struggling to deliver. The more successful the series, the more pressure the storyteller is under to meet the needs and expectations of fans. And for the fans, there is always the lurking sense of the doom that their beloved world—whether it be Hogwarts or the conflict-ridden districts of the Hunger Games—must come to an end. After the 7th Harry Potter book, many people I know felt a real and profound sense of loss.

There is, however, a technology that has shielded the readers of one series from this sense of loss: Simchat Torah, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the completion of the reading of the five books of Moses.

Every year, Jews read aloud these holy books and every year, at the end of the reading of the fifth book, Deuteronomy, Moses dies. Moses is the closest person that Torah has to a protagonist and, by some accounts, is himself the author of the whole shebang, or at least, the amanuensis for the Creator. And then boom, he’s dead, after a year of reading and study that has created more arguments than 1000 Tolkien message boards combined.

So what do the Jews who have been reading this series with more faith and fervor than even the most die-hard Twilight fans do to prevent that devastating feeling of completion?

They party and they start over.

Simchat Torah, which celebrates the end of the annual reading of the Torah, also celebrates the beginning of the annual reading of the Torah. After finishing the final passages of Deuteronomy, the first passages of Genesis are read.  The last breath of Moses goes right into the breath that creates the universe, that brings light into darkness and sets off what is, for believers, the first story ever told.

And then, to top it off, there’s dancing.

That empty of feeling you get when you finish a really good book doesn’t ever come, because you never finish. You read it again, and you dance. When the Rabbis are faced with the inevitable “what next?” they can answer with the creation of the world.

This didn’t happen by accident. It was in the 14th century that the idea of going right into the book Genesis after Deuteronomy was introduced. It was an innovation to give comfort at the end of reading and an affirmation that study and learning of Torah never ends.

As a thoroughly secular author, I do not pretend to have illusions of holiness for my books—there are wedgies and lizard poop and talking yaks, after all—and I don’t think my books could bear 2,000 years of rereading (maybe 200?), but Simchat Torah, does offer some help for secular authors and readers.

We rely on our own sages of literacy—librarians and teachers—informed, professional, and sensitive to the needs of readers, to find their own innovations to keep the cycle of reading going. There are summer reading campaigns and parties; there are new social websites for book lovers; there are always new series to discover.

No beloved series can last forever, but a reading life can, as one book breathes into another.

C. Alexander London is the author of We Are Not Eaten By Yaks: An Accidental Adventure, and the forthcoming sequel, We Dine With Cannibals. As Charles London, his grown-up alter ego, he wrote One Day The Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War and Far From Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community.

Posted on May 25, 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

Obama, AIPAC & Republicans

This entry was posted in History, Israel on by .

The text of President Obama’s Middle-East address. (Los Angeles Times)

Akiva Eldar: “No American president or presidential candidate has ever told this large Jewish audience of supporters of Israel the truth”–including the fact that Americans will not support Netanyahu’s demand that the IDF control Palestinian territory. (Ha’aretz)

Although the “AIPAC crowd was strikingly appreciative,” David Horovitz points out that the speech included what many Israelis will regard as a problematic formulation that “there is a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations.” (Jerusalem Post)

Jewish Republicans aren’t thrilled with Palin. (Chicago Jewish News)

And the Republican Jewish Coalition seems pretty alarmed about Ron Paul too. (Jewish Week)

Meet Fred Karger, the first Jewish presidential candidate for the Republican party. (Jerusalem Post)

Posted on May 23, 2011

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The Wandering Jew and The Yeti

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C. Alexander London is the author of We Are Not Eaten By Yaks: An Accidental Adventure, and the forthcoming sequel, We Dine With Cannibals. As Charles London, his grown-up alter ego, he wrote One Day The Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War and Far From Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community.  He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council andMyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

It’s odd that a middle grade novel called We Are Not Eaten By Yaks about two eleven year old couch potatoes and their adventures should have its origins in a personal quest for Jewish meaning, but if I had not been for the scattering of the Jewish people, I never would have been in Rangoon to celebrate the High Holidays with a few of the last Jews in Burma, and I never would have written it.

I suppose I should start at the beginning, before I became a writer of books for younger readers.

I was in Asia doing research for what would becomeFar From Zion, a narrative of my journey through the far reaches of the Diaspora to figure out what it meant for me to be a part of the Jewish people. What did I have in common with a Jew in Rangoon? What did he share with a recent convert in rural Uganda? And what did all of us share with a Jewish community in Arkansas or with my Orthodox great-great grandfather who settled in Virginia or with the nephew of a Chasidic Rabbi in Jerusalem? What bound us together; why did Jewish community persist, and what was my place in it?

I took a trip, starting in Burma, to find out.

At the time, however, thousands of monks and pro-democracy protesters were clashing violently with government soldiers all over the country, and on Yom Kippur, things in Rangoon started to get crazy. I literally walked into the middle of the protests in front of a sacred Buddhist shrine in the center of downtown. Within twenty-four hours, the military junta, which controls Burma (and which they had renamed Myanmar) sealed off the country, shut down the internet and scrambled all western television. No CNN. No NBC. No Cartoon Network. And I really missed it.

Even as things were going insane in the streets, TV somehow made me feel safer, more comfortable, less far from home. After only a month, I was tired of traveling and chaos and excitement. I got out of the country just when things started to get violent in Burma and I flew to Mumbai, India in the middle of the festival of Ganesh. Fireworks and pink paint everywhere. Crowds of pilgrims and partygoers on every corner.

I was so over it.

I was homesick already and I had a year of travel ahead of me to places like Uganda, Bosnia, Iran, Cuba and, yes, even Arkansas. My friends and family were often jealous because I was always in some far-off place having some crazy adventure—family members pictured me as a cross between Indiana Jones andWoody Allen—but all I wanted was to be curled up on the couch at home watching TV.

It was on that first flight out of Rangoon (and a series of others as my year of wandering unfolded) that I imagined these two eleven year olds, Oliver and Celia Navel, who just want to be left alone to watch television, but are doomed for a life adventure. They lived at the Explorers Club and are the children of world famous adventurers, inheritors of a great tradition of globetrekking, with which they want nothing at all to do.

When we meet Oliver and Celia in the first book in the series, they wish they could cast off that inheritance and just be the normal children of boring parents. But their mother has gone missing; their father craves excitement, and they are doomed to travel the world, to encounter mystics and sages, discover ancient ruins, and come face to face with the mythic Yeti. They cannot cast off their destiny!

And they are so over it.

I guess there is something Jewish about that. After being forced to wander for thousands of years, the Jewish people too, were so over it.

Of course, Moses never had to fight a Yeti.

C. Alexander London is the author of We Are Not Eaten By Yaks: An Accidental Adventure, and the forthcoming sequel, We Dine With Cannibals. He will be blogging all week for the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

Posted on May 23, 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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