Monthly Archives: May 2011

Wise Fridays: Even Gnats and Flies

This entry was posted in History, Life on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on  your WiFri

“The Rabbis said: Even though you may think them superfluous in this world, creatures such as flies, bugs, and gnats have their allotted task in the scheme of creation, as it says, ‘And God saw everything that God had made, and behold, it was very good.’”

B’reishit Rabbah, 10:7

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Posted on May 13, 2011

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Roger Waters Is A Wimp

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

There has been a small, but growing trend among some musicians and bands to refuse to play in Israel because of the country’s policies towards Palestinians. This, of course, is part of a larger boycott movement against Israel from the far left that generally targets products made in Israel or owned by major Israel supporters.

So far, the most prominent musician to boycott playing in Israel has been Roger Waters, the former lead singer of the overrated (YEAH I SAID IT) Pink Floyd (Honestly, the only Floyd song I can still bear to listen to is Learning to Fly. That song is the bomb). Of course, the movement isn’t gaining that much traction, with artists like Justin Bieber still coming to play in Israel as part of their world tours.

The latest group to come to Israel to perform is 80s rock band, Deep Purple. But beyond playing, Deep Purple isn’t keeping its mouth shut about the music boycott either. In a press conference leading up to their weekend shows in Caesaria, Ian Paice, Deep Purple’s drummer, called anyone who refuses to play in Israel a wimp.

Yeah, Roger Waters. That’s right. Some guy from Deep Purple thinks you’re a wimp. You got a response? No? Because you’re too busy playing mediocre music that you wrote 40 years ago while on acid? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Your music sucks.

Posted on May 12, 2011

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They Have to Be Carefully Taught

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

A ten-year-old boy shot his father to death two weeks ago. The father was a politically active neo-Nazi, who was carefully grooming his children to be Nazis. The New York Times spoke with the boy the day before the shooting, and noted that he showed off a Nazi insignia belt his father had gotten him.

There aren’t a lot of details on the case yet. The Times reports:

The boy is expected to appear in court later this month; he has been charged as a juvenile with murder, and his public defender said he might plead insanity. The boy and a younger sister had been the subject of a bitter custody battle with Mr. Hall’s first wife, with a series of allegations of abuse on each side. But Mr. Hall had eventually been granted legal custody.

On Saturday, a group of Mr. Hall’s followers gathered in Southern California to mourn their leader. One, an N.S.M. official who asked not to be identified because of the attention Mr. Hall’s death had brought to the group, said that the rallies would continue, and that Mr. Hall’s ashes would be spread on the border during a patrol. The boy was not mentioned.

“Today was all about Jeff, how he would want us to carry on,” the official said. “Nobody was looking for answers.”

I won’t revel in this man’s murder. He seems like a truly wicked person, but also a truly pathetic one. All I can really think of is that song from South Pacific about how hatred has to be carefully taught:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Posted on May 11, 2011

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Memory, Scent, and My Mother

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Earlier this week, Molly Birnbaum wrote about her first writing teacher and the scent of Passover. She has been blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day. In celebration, my mom and I went out to lunch. We ate crisp salads and tuna sashimi. We laughed a bit too loudly, tipsy after a glass of white wine. Before that we had been shopping, trying on summer dresses and sandals with straps twisting up our ankles—a little too hopeful for the immediacy of warm weather as we listened to a chilling thunderstorm soaking the streets outside.

I write about my mother in my book, Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way. After all, she took care of me after I was hit by a car while jogging in 2005 – the accident that broke my pelvis, tore the tendons in my left knee, and fractured my skull; the one that ultimately robbed me, an aspiring chef, of my sense of smell. In the months of my recovery, I found it devastating to not be able to perceive the scents that had once been so closely aligned with my memories of my mother: the smell of her lilac perfume, of her rosemary-mint shampoo, of the chicken dish she used to make with dried cherries and cream. I understood the importance of scent in terms of taste and flavor. But I had not realized how intrinsically it is tied to memory and emotion, too.

I’m lucky, though, I know: I recovered from all of the injuries I sustained in the accident. My sense of smell slowly returned—once scent at a time, over the next six years. And all the while, my mother was there—supporting, comforting, helping me to move on. I’m incredibly lucky to have her, too.

During lunch, my mother and I watched the rain come down in torrents through the tall and airy windows of the restaurant. It was cozy inside, warm with the scent of yeast rolls straight from the oven, and the taste of a fruity white wine lingering on the back of our tongues. Instead of immediately leaving to face the weather once again, we decided to linger over coffee and dessert. We shared apanna cotta. It was silky and smooth, laced with vanilla, and topped with fresh strawberries, which were an almost neon red. Very little has tasted better.

Molly Birnbaum’s Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way will be published by Ecco in June.

Posted on May 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

Forgetting Hillary Clinton

This entry was posted in History on by .

Not sure if you’ve heard by now, but the United States killed Osama Bin Laden last week. A couple of days later, in a propaganda/awesome move, the White House released a picture of President Obama and his cabinet watching the raid on Osama’s compound in real time. Again, the picture is awesome.

The picture and the story spread across the world quickly. Every newspaper was reporting on it–including the Hasidic newspaper, Di Tzeitung. Except they left out something very specific–women. That’s right, Hillary Clinton, the Secretary State of the United States, and Audrey Tomason, the Director of Counterterrorism for the National Security Council, were photoshopped out of the photo. By the way, you’ve got to admit, their photoshop editor really is pretty good. It really does look like they were never there.

Of course, this type of thing gets noticed, especially with such an iconic photo clearly changed. And the uproar began. The uproar was the usual. It’s offensive to women. Hillary played such an important role in all this, etc., etc.

Listen, before I go on, I think it is absolutely absurd that they photoshopped the picture. But at the same time, I do (kind of) understand where they are coming from. The newspaper has a religious policy of not showing pictures of women. As horrible as it may sound to you and me, because I haven’t even spent a day inside the Hasidic world, who am I to judge their values?

But here is where I’m lost. Why did they feel the need to show the picture in the first place? Sure, the picture is cool, but it is by no means necessary in the grand scheme of reporting the story. Just show a picture of Osama, or his compound, or even Obama making the announcement that Osama was dead.

You don’t want to show pictures of women because it might offend some of your readers? Fine. Be that way. But why spend all that time photoshopping women out a photo when you don’t even have to show the photo at all?

Final point. What would they have done if Hillary has won in 2008? Would they just show empty stages every time she gave an important speech? Would they just pretend McCain had won? Or would they just tell their readers that Hillary was a ghost?

Posted on May 10, 2011

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My First Writing Teacher

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Molly Birnbaum is the author of Season to Taste: How I Lost my Sense of Smell and Found My Way. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

The first book I ever wrote was with my grandfather, Morris, a big-boned businessman who lived with my grandmother in upstate New York. He was a talented amateur artist. I was five.

We wrote a whole series of books together, in fact, over a number of years, lying belly-down on the living room rug, surrounded by sheathes of blank paper and boxes of colored pencils, pastels, and crayons. I spun tangled stories — often minute variations on the same one about a nurse, her puppy, and the bright red convertible they drove around town — that my grandfather transcribed in his spidery scrawl. He would then illustrate the blank pages of our makeshift books with intricate line drawings of people, animals, and cars. Under his watchful eye, I filled them with waxy strokes of color.

For some reason most of our stories were set in Florida. This was most likely because my grandparents, like many Jewish grandparents, wintered there. But also because I loved the exotic curves to palm trees on paper, and the line my crayon took when I filled them in with green. At the time I thought I wanted to be an artist. It was only later that I realized it was the writing that drew me in.

My grandfather passed away in 2008. I was 25 at the time, and it had been many years since he and I were close. Divorce and drama had soured the relationships among many of my family members and I had pulled away, content with avoidance. When I thought about the grandfather of my youth, I remembered a tough guy with a loud laugh, famous for first writing teacherrefusing to wear a jacket when the winter temperatures would plunge far below freezing. I remembered his love of dried apricots, which I thought looked like wrinkled brains, and the fact that he put extra salt on everything. But when I flew from California, where I was working as a newspaper reporter, to New York for his funeral, I began to think again about those books.

I loved those books. So did he. Even between my childhood visits, when I was at home with my family in a suburb of Boston, my grandfather would send me new books in the mail — some that we had talked about, a few we worked on together, but many he created completely on his own. They arrived in big manila envelopes that had decorated with whimsical scenes of elephants and trapeze artists rendered in thick black ink.

My first book, Season to Taste: How I Lost my Sense of Smell and Found My Way, will be published on June 21st by Ecco/HarperCollins. It took me years to write. There are no pictures inside. But I wish that I could send my grandfather a copy, shiny and new. I’ d mail it to him in a thick manila envelope, covered with sketches of elephants, apricots, and palm trees. My own drawing would be far more amateur than his, but I’ m pretty sure he’ d be shocked to see how far I’ve come.

Come back all week to read Molly Birnbaum’s posts for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

Posted on May 9, 2011

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Wise Fridays: Older and Wiser

This entry was posted in Life on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the     reception on  your WiFri

“As regards scholars, the older they become the more wisdom they acquire…But as regards the ignorant, the older they become, the more foolish they become.”

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 152a

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Posted on May 6, 2011

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Best of the Week

This entry was posted in General on by .

Maybe, just maybe, the East Coast is coming out of winter. Yesterday, I had to wear a sweatshirt to work and I was still cold. Today though, not too shabby Mr. Sun. Not too shabby.

The Holocaust can be difficult enough to discuss with adults. But what do you do when your kid asks you about it? How do you approach the subject?

Tattoos really aren’t my thing. Sure they look good now, but when you are old and flabby, I just can’t imagine you’re going to look classy. But never mind me. What does Jewish law have to say about it?

So you’re pregnant (congratulations!). But why wait until the bris or the brit bat in order to have a Jewish ceremony? There are some Jewish things you can do to honor your new pregnancy RIGHT NOW.

Israeli breakfasts are like lunch but at 9 in the morning. Maybe the greatest thing ever invented.

Holiness is something that is discussed often in religion. But according to Judaism, what does the term even mean?

Finally, Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, begins on Sunday night.

That’s it. That’s all. Get out of here.

Posted on May 6, 2011

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Remembering Jewish Chaplains

This entry was posted in History on by .

Now I did not know this but if you were to visit Arlington National Cemetery, there are three seperate plaques that are set up to memorialize different religious chaplains that have been killed as a result of their military service. There is one dedicated to chaplains from World War I and the other two are dedicated to Catholic and Protestant chaplains that have died in subsequent wars.

However, between 1943-1974, there were thirteen Jewish chaplains that were killed while in service. But since they weren’t involved in World War I, nor were they Catholic or Protestant, they have been excluded from the memorial. Hopefully, until now.

Congressman Anthony Weiner and Senator Chuck Schumer, both from New York, are sponsoring a bill that would create a fourth plaque to be placed into the cemetery.

But like most things in Congress, bills sound easier to pass than they actually are. While there is bipartisan support for the bill, there is a worry by some supporters that many congressmen are weary about giving official memorials to just anybody.

Nevertheless, organizers of the bill have raised about $50,000 in order to pay for the memorial and have done proper background checks in order to confirm the exact names and correct number of chaplains that need to be honored.

Umm…sometimes things shouldn’t be that complicated. Just make it happen, right?

Posted on May 5, 2011

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Celebrating Osama’s Death

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

“My creatures are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?”
- Babylonian Talmud Megillah 10b

It took less than 24 hours for American t-shirt vendors to come up with shirts celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden: “It Took Obama to Get Osama,” “Voted Off the Planet” and “Public Enemy #1 is Dead.” According to The Washington Post, you can even buy a coffee mug that says “Happy Nosama Day.” Film clippings outside the White House and at Ground Zero in New York showed a cascade of revelers on Sunday night, jumping up and down with excitement.

We all feel immense relief and gratitude that someone who was responsible for so much anti-American sentiment, so many deaths and so many terrorist threats has now lost a global voice, but an ethical question lingers. Is celebrating the death of anyone, even someone as hated and destructive as Osama Bin Laden, an appropriate Jewish response?

This is a complex and important question. To answer it, let’s turn to three Jewish sources.

The book of Ezekiel 18:23 records a prophetic response to this question. ” ‘Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?’ says the Lord. ‘Of course not. I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.’ ” We don’t desire the death of those who do wrong, even great crimes against humanity. We want them to change. This may be naïve, but the text surfaces not only a spiritual approach to transformation but a profound sense of the value of all human life.

In the Talmud, we find a curious story of a master sage, Rabbi Meir, who was praying for the death of two robbers. His famous wife, Bruria, overheard his prayer and corrected him. “Let sins be uprooted from the earth, and the wicked will be no more” (Psalm 104:35). “It doesn’t say ‘Let the sinners be uprooted’,” Bruria corrected him. “It says, ‘Let the sins be uprooted’.” You shouldn’t pray that these criminals will die; you should pray that they should repent. And then “the wicked will be no more.” Bruria, no doubt, understood that the likelihood of these individuals changing was slim, but our response — especially in the format of prayer — should be to rehabilitate rather than to destroy.

The last source is found in another Talmudic passage. It records a fictional conversation between God and the angels. The Israelites just crossed the Reed Sea after escaping the Egyptians. The water closed in on these enemies while the Israelites broke out in ecstatic singing following Moses’ recitation of the “Song of the Sea” found in Exodus 15. The angels, the text states, wanted to sing but God turned to them and said “My creatures are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?”

Of course there‘s a desire to sing. There is a need to cry out in joy. But these knee-jerk reactions should be tempered by the larger question of what a human life is worth. Relief  is appropriate. Celebration may just cross over a spiritual line. When it says in Genesis that we are created in God’s image it does not single out anyone as an exception to that rule. And if Osama Bin Laden did not treat others as if they were created in God’s image, let us not imitate that primal, vindictive impulse but transform it by affirming the goodness of humanity and the precious gift of life.

Posted on May 4, 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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