Monthly Archives: November 2011

Shabbos is Coming!

This entry was posted in Holidays, Life on by .

Last week was the first week of early Shabbat. Once the clocks go back, Shabbat jumps back an hour, too. So candlelighting in my zipcode today is at the somewhat startling time of 4:18pm. How to get everything done in time? (Seriously, I don’t know.) On these short Friday I wake up and it’s like a clock is counting down the time before sunset, urging me to get everything done as quickly as possible.

I love the rhythm that Shabbat gives the week, and I even kind of love when Shabbat comes in early, despite the stress that comes with it. This means that at least in theory, my dinner will be cooked and ready today at 4:30pm. My guests aren’t coming til 7:30, so that leaves plenty of time for rest and relaxation before the meal even begins. Yay!

Anyway, this cool video I spotted today has a gorgeous demonstration of the varied sunrises and sunsets over the course of the year. It’s a time-lapse video, instead of looping through 365 days in one video, each day gets its own little movie in a grid. Gorgeous, and weirdly moving.

Posted on November 18, 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

Got Gelt?

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

What’s your way of giving tzedakah?

Our friends at American Jewish World Service are launching an exciting new project. Where Do You Give? aims to engage the Jewish community in thinking critically about different Jewish questions:

* What are the recipients ?
* Why are these places a priority for us?
* How do we contribute to their tzedakah — monetarily, in volunteering, or are there other ways?

Just in time for Hanukkah, AJWS is launching a related campaign, Got Gelt? It’s geared for middle school students, but adaptable for most ages including adults. Got Gelt? is fire for discussions for families and Jewish educators during a time of year when many people are focused on material gifts — and it helps us keep the focus on what’s important.

Posted on November 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

Help MyJewishLearning for Just $2!

This entry was posted in General on by .

It’s that time of year – MyJewishLearning.com is conducting our annual campaign. We have a bit of an unusual request: We only want two bucks. Of course, if you can give more, that’s fine (and splendid! and awesome!).   Donate $2 to MyJewishLearning to help us grow
Here’s the deal.

If everyone contributed who’s used a recipe or found a new favorite Jewish band or discovered some amazing Jewish teaching on our site, then we’d be swimming in $2 bills. Enough bills to keep providing you said recipes, culture, and teachings.

We’re a non-profit, so we rely on support like yours every year.

So, please — open your hearts, reach into your pocketbooks, and give! You don’t have to reach deep. Because even two bucks will help — and, together, all of your $2s will keep MyJewishLearning bringing you all your favorite Jewish things.

Posted on November 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

Pharaoh Was A Nazi

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Culture, History on by .

You know how Godwin’s law says that every internet argument eventually breaks down into someone calling someone else Hitler or a Nazi? This is one of my greatest pet peeves in life, because it’s not just online arguments that devolve into Holocaust finger-pointing…you can find this stuff all over our culture. Want to paint someone as evil? Just connect them to the Holocaust in some way (see The Kite Runner and Girl With a Dragon Tattoo to name just two) and your work is over.

I’m fine with saying that Hitler and his Nazis were evil (though it seems likely that there was some level of nuance within the huge organization of the SS, and some were probably much worse than others) but it just seems lazy to use them as shorthand for evil when they were neither the first or last to prove that evil does exist in our world.

This Slate.com article answers the fascinating question of who people equated with pure evil before Hitler:

Before World War II, who was the rhetorical worst person in history?

The Pharoah. In the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, many Americans and Europeans had a firmer grasp of the bible than of the history of genocidal dictators. Orators in search of a universal symbol for evil typically turned to figures like Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, or, most frequently, the Pharaoh of Exodus, who chose to endure 10 plagues rather than let the Hebrew people go. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote: “No man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April, 1775 [the date of the Lexington massacre], but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England for ever.” In the run-up to the Civil War, abolitionists regularly referred to slaveholders as modern-day Pharaohs. Even after VE Day, Pharaoh continued to pop up in the speeches of social reformers like Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s so interesting to think that when people want to talk about real evil, they go to someone who picked specifically on the Jews. This reminds me of a fascinating book I read called The Dream of Scipio. The book takes place in three different time periods, and at first there doesn’t seem to be any real connection between the three narratives. As the story progresses you see more and more threads between them, but mostly what you see is that the use of Jews as scapegoats is the beginning of the end for any society. (It’s an outstanding book that I highly recommend.)

Part of me wants to recommend that we go back to using Pharaoh as the prototype for evil, but I have to admit, Hitler does sound like he was better at being evil than Pharaoh. Hitler killed more people, and had a very efficient system for getting rid of people. Plus, we know for certain that Hitler did exist. Pharaoh is more of a mythic figure, and thus carries less weight. Perhaps in another thirty years when we’re more removed from WWII we’ll revert to Pharaoh, or rely less heavily on Hitler. In the meantime, it’s still helpful to have some historical perspective.

Posted on November 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

Silence, Blessed Silence

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Earlier this week, Gloria Spielman wrote about finding fellow writers on the Internet and  the University of the Ghetto. Her most recent book, Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, is now available. She will be blogging here all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

One of the upshots of all the reading and thinking I did for Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, was that I ended up doing a lot of thinking about something I’d never thought that much about before – silence and its power.

It never used to be like this. I wasn’t always on a quest for quiet. An only child, I yearned for noise, for hustle and bustle, a busy house with lots of people and their comings and goings. Who the hell needed quiet? Quiet was boring, unnerving, depressing, threatening even. A void to be filled. So, on went the TV the second I came home, the radio in the kitchen, a favourite tape, anything, as long as there was noise. Anyway, how could you do homework with no music? I had a friend at elementary school, who came from an odd family. They were odd as they had no TV. I remember thinking. What do they do for noise? It must be terrible, all that quiet. (Ironically, we are bringing up five children without a TV, but that’s a tale for another day.)

It seems I wasn’t alone. The world is full of intentional background noise: TVs no one is really watching, radios no one is really listening to and why? Just to break the silence, that’s why. Silence can be scary, sometimes lonely and it forces us to turn inward and gives us space to think. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes not.

I’m not sure when exactly this craving for noise became a craving for silence but one day there it was. At some point I realized I could no longer remember the last time I’d turned the radio on at home, or while driving. Silence no longer bothered, noise did. With me, it was mainly a writer thing. ‘How do you expect me to listen to those voices in my head with all that racket?’ So, that’s what they mean by “I can’t hear myself think!” I started noticing how much more relaxed I was when things were quiet. I started noticing that quiet brought with it feelings of serenity, peace and relaxation.

All well and good, at home where you can turn the TV, radio or your iPod on or off as the fancy takes you but it’s another thing in the public sphere. No one thinks it unreasonable. We’ve recognized the right not to have cigarette smoke blown into our faces. There are laws against that, so why does the commercial world seem to think it has every right to indulge in acoustic abuse. They just don’t let up, do they? It’s that insidious worm – Muzak. It’s everywhere. Shops, the mall, pool changing rooms restaurants and cafes.

At first, I just suffered without a word. I didn’t like to ask. British reserve and embarrassment, I guess. I mean, isn’t it grumpy old crankies who don’t want the music on? Music is cool. Not so cool to want it off. There are times I’d like to do the writer with laptop in café thing but so far every local café has told me they’re not allowed to turn off the music, even if you’re the only customer. “Company Policy,” they tell me. “We can turn it down but we can’t turn it off. Sorry.”

One waitress confessed, “I’d love to turn it off but if management found out I’ll be in trouble.” The pool is the only Muzak free zone I can think of, but I’ll pass on taking my laptop for a swim. Perhaps, one day, I’ll start a campaign for freedom from forced music in public places but until then me and my laptop stay home.
As I finish writing this, it’s almost time to start my Shabbat cooking. I’ll be listening to Shabbat by The Family Wach while I chop, slice and stir. Here’s a taste.

 

Did I say I didn’t like music? Oh no. There’s a time for everything.

Posted on November 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

My First Writing Group: The Internet

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

On Monday, Gloria Spielman wrote about the University of the Ghetto. Her most recent book, Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime, is now available. She will be blogging here all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

It all started back in March 1999. We’d just got our very first home internet connection and I was setting off to navigate cyberspace and figure out what exactly was out there in that World Wide Web thing that everyone was going on about. These were the days of the Netscape browser and dial-up internet, which hogged the phone line and meant that you could either surf or make a phone call but not at the same time. My husband had assured me that the internet would help my writing. I was about to discover he was right.

I’d been trying my hand at writing, but what to do with my efforts? Were they any good? How bad were they really? And how would I know? Perhaps I ought to take up flower arranging instead? I should probably have someone read my work, but who? I knew no other writers, neither pre- nor post-published. On the other hand, perhaps it was all for the best as who wants to be sitting face to face with a person as they tell you, as we say in cockney, that your work is, a load of codswallop. So, the path of least resistance looked very inviting and I tucked those manuscripts away in my filing cabinet and the dust began to settle.

But now there was this thing called the Internet. It seemed quite clear that Arthur Clarke had been right after all and advanced technology was most certainly indistinguishable from magic. A click of the mouse and everything I wanted to know was now at the tips of my fingers, email lists, writer’s boards and forums, ask any question and it shall be answered instantly. Magic, definitely.

One day I saw an email on a writers list that a new critique group was starting up and open to new members. Time to fish out those old manuscripts. I sent off an email saying I would like to join. I was accepted. It was December 1999. One of our members was a published writer, there to point us in the right direction and the rest of us were just beginning to feel our way in the world of books and writing.

We introduced ourselves and began to share our writings. The last person who’d looked at my creative writing had been my high school English teacher. And I’d never ever given anyone writing advice. I learned on the job. Gently we encouraged each other to kill our darlings, cut the verbiage, rethink the story arc. And thankfully no mention of cobblers. Most importantly we encouraged each other to never ever to give up. Soon we were sharing much more than writing. Grumbles and gripes, joys and giggles. Some weeks none of us submitted a thing but still we talked and laughed. Babies were born, marriages celebrated, jobs lost and gained, the grumbles and gripes shared many words written and lots of laughs. We had no rules, none whatsoever. Anyone could submit anything at any time. When one of us was on a roll we all helped. Whatever was needed. As Verlie says, “I always love those on a roll times when the whole group lights up to celebrate one writing obsessed mind on fire.”

My friends helped me in other ways. These days I have a Kindle and so many books can be accessed on the internet. But in those earlier days, living in Israel, an English reading addict and writer could have gone nuts with trying to get their book fix. I did. My friends knew this and came to my rescue. I never asked, but, it happened that I would come home to an email, saying, ‘We had a bit of a clear-out, went to a garage sale. Just got back from the post office. There’s a box of books on their way to you.” Or, “just got this year’s Writers Market. I’m putting last year’s in the mail.”

I had joked that one day we would have our very own bookshelf. It was just a joke. But then our first member had her book published, then another and another. Today we have over two dozen books to our name. That shelf is starting to fill up. I even dedicated my first book to the group, along with my mother and my husband. Twelve years later and it’s a very different writing life.

Oh, and just one thing. Did I mention I’ve never actually met any of my friends face to face? Or even spoken on the phone: A pretty old-fashioned way of communicating when you think of it. Sometimes I think we’re not unlike Helene Hanff, Frank Doel and the staff of, 84 Charing Cross Road. Thomas Lask, writing in The New York Times about Hanff’s book, said, “Here is a charmer: a 19th-century book in a 20th century world.” Perhaps one day, we’ll be a 20th century book in a 21st century world. It is all down to the written word and that internet thing.

Gloria Spielman is the author of Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime. She will be blogging here all week for the Jewish Book Counciland MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Posted on November 2, 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

Halloween, Brooklyn Style

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

So yesterday was Halloween, a holiday that causes me no end of consternation.

You know how the Official Jewish Community is always talking about being Jewish on Christmas, and feeling peer pressure, and not knowing how to deal with it? Well, Christmas is easy to ignore — all my non-Jewish friends are non-Christian anticapitalist anarchists of the Occupy Wall Street variety, anyway — but Halloween is not. Creepy music! Costumes! The macabre! Back before I was religious, it was a religious holiday.

Yesterday, the Kveller staff asked me for any Jewish-related Halloween memories. I started writing something. Then I changed my mind and drew it as a cartoon instead. You can read the whole thing over at their blog, if you want. Can I recommend that you do? I’m pretty proud of it.

Posted on November 1, 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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