Author Archives: Daniel Septimus

About Daniel Septimus

Daniel Septimus is the Editor-in-Chief of MyJewishLearning.com.

MyJewishLearning Named to Slingshot!

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We’re excited to announce that MyJewishLearning.com has been named one of the nation’s 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits in Slingshot ’10-‘11, a resource guide for Jewish innovation. Since 2005, Slingshot has become the definitive guide to identifying path-finding and trailblazing organizations grappling with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, and tradition.  MyJewishLearning.com was chosen by a panel of 36 foundation professionals from across North America. This was MyJewishLearning.com’s second year in a row being featured in Slingshot.Slingshot

In order to be listed in Slingshot, organizations are selected from among hundreds of nominees across North America. Finalists are chosen based on their strength in four areas: innovation, impact, leadership, and organizational efficiency.

According to Will Schneider, the Director of Slingshot, “2010 was the most competitive year that Slingshot has experienced. Not only are there a greater number of applicants each year, but the extent and complexity of each applicant’s impact has increased. The feedback from the evaluators told us that the guide could easily have been filled with twice as many inspirational projects, so these 50 had to really shine to rise to the top.”

Mazal tov to us! (And thank you Slingshot!)

Posted on October 19, 2010

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

Kveller: A Jewish Twist on Parenting

This entry was posted in Life on by .

I’m very excited to announce that our new parenting website Kveller.com is now live.

The idea for a Jewish parenting website was first dreamed up by MyJewishLearning in 2007, so it’s quite gratifying to finally see it come to fruition. The website is meant to be a resource and community for parents of Jewish children age 0-5 (that is, from pre-conception to preschool). Instead of trying to tell you about Kveller, I’ll let the website speak for itself.

There is no one way to parent Jewishly, and we are not about to change that. Whether you grew up observing Shabbat every Friday night, or had your first taste of matzo ball soup when you married into a Jewish family, the ways you can incorporate Judaism and Jewish culture into your parenting style are diverse. Kveller is here to give you ideas for your children’s early years–ideas for first-time parents, interfaith parents, queer parents, adoptive parents, and everything in between–with the hopes that you can find information and inspiration that is right for your family.

Kveller also wants you to know that you’re not alone. There are parents all over the country raising Jewish kids who confront similar questions and quandaries. Kveller is here to connect you to each other through our discussion forums, blog, and local event listings.

I would be remiss, of course, if I didn’t thank UJA-Federation of NY, which provided seed funding for Kveller. They’ve been incredible partners in this project.

And also a special shout out to Sam Apple who came up with the name Kveller.com — just as we were giving up hope of ever finding a great name for the site. You can show your love for Sam by buying his book American Parent.

To get you started with Kveller, here are some links to some of my favorites (so far):

- The homepage, of course

- Former Daily Show and Tonight Show writer Rob Kutner discusses why Stephen Colbert would be a good Jewish father

- Blossom’s Mayim Bialik talks about the myth of “having it all”

- Search for baby names on our Jewish baby name bank

- Discover Kveller’s favorite Jewish kiddie music

- David Shneer tells us about being a gay dad in a family with three parents

Also check out the special pages we have set up to connect parents in Brownstone Brooklyn and Downtown Manhattan with local events and each other. We hope to expand to other cities and neighborhoods eventually.

And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook.

Posted on September 28, 2010

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

Jonathan Franzen’s Jewish Mistake

This entry was posted in Culture, Practices on by .

Over at Tablet, Marc Tracy takes a “Jewish” look at Jonathan Franzen’s forthcoming novel, Freedom, and quibbles with its representation of a Jewish neoconservative Thanksgiving dinner.

While I agree with Tracy (and pretty much everyone else) that Franzen’s new novel is remarkable, I must quibble with Tracy. Franzen’s neocon dinner is not his greatest Jewish faux pas in Freedom. That distinction must go to a scene in which two of Franzen’s characters visit the Diamond District in New York looking for wedding rings.

On page 417, Franzen writes:

They went into the first deserted-looking jewelry store they came to on 47th Street and asked for two gold rings they could take away right now. The jeweler was in full Hasidic regalia — yarmulke, forelocks, phylacteries, black vest, the works.

The problem? No Hasid would be working in his phylacteries (what we call tefilin), which are — these days — donned only during the morning prayer service. My guess: Franzen confused tefilin and tzitzit and grabbed the English word for the wrong one.

Posted on August 25, 2010

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

Coming Soon to MJL…

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I’m pleased to announce a major development here at MyJewishLearning.com. Recently, we received a significant grant from the Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal (COJIR) at UJA-Federation of NY to build a new website aimed at parents of Jewish kids age 0-5.

The new parenting website will cover Jewish concerns related to getting pregnant, pregnancy, baby naming, baby raising, educational choices and more. (Yes, I’m sure we’ll have many, many articles on circumcision.)

We’ll also be piloting a section that connects New York parents to local events and resources. If the local section works out well, we’ll be looking to expand it to other cities over the next few years.

The project is particularly exciting because it’s part of MyJewishLearning’s general plan to begin creating content that is more targeted toward specific niche audiences. The web is a wasteland for good Jewish parenting content, and we hope to fill that void.

We’re aiming to launch the new website (which has yet to be named) sometime this summer. Its development will be spearheaded by the website’s editor, the newest member of the MJL family, Debbie Kolben. Debbie was previously the city editor of The New York Sun and the managing editor of the Village Voice. She recently returned to the states after receiving an Arthur F. Burns fellowship to report in Germany. We’re excited to have her on board here at MJL.

And, of course, we’re thrilled to have UJA’s COJIR as a partner in this project. COJIR has taken a particular interest in engaging young families, recognizing that there are key developmental moments during the life cycle when people are making critical decisions about personal and communal identity and that at these times — including when people begin their family life — people are more open to Jewish engagement.

As the launch date of the new website gets closer, we’ll let you know, of course!

Posted on March 17, 2010

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

Forget About Jewish Identity

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

Here’s my entry in the 28 Days, 28 Ideas series. The article — Idea #23 — was written for Jewcy.com, which has been having some technical difficulties, so I figured I’d post the whole shebang here, as well.

Over the last several years, I have read dozens of articles and listened to scores of conversations about the challenge of strengthening Jewish identity in America. Indeed, since the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey canonized Jewish American assimilation, an unprecedented amount of communal dollars and efforts have been poured into this endeavor.

Programs aimed at “young Jews” are often explicitly framed as identity projects, a fact readily apparent from the mission statements of two of the most prominent and well-funded organizations serving the 18-30 crowd, Hillel and Birthright Israel.

Hillel “provides opportunities for Jewish students…to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity through its global network of regional centers.” Birthright Israel aims “to strengthen participants’ personal Jewish identity.”

This may seem neither controversial nor remarkable, but I believe that the obsessive focus on identity is both misguided and fundamentally alien to Jewish tradition.

What do organizations mean when they say they want to strengthen or cultivate Jewish identity?

At The Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, in a panel on Jewish Peoplehood, Dr. Erica Brown noted that there are three components to identity formation: the cognitive (what we think), the behavioral (what we do), and the emotional (what we feel). In discussing some of the maladies plaguing the American Jewish community, Dr. Brown suggested an interesting diagnosis: when American Jews speak about Jewish identity they aggressively emphasize the emotional.

In other words, to too many American Jews, Jewish identity means feeling Jewish.

Dr. Brown’s insight articulated something I have been noticing for years and was, most recently, driven home during a conversation with a prominent Jewish philanthropist. As we spoke, this generous and committed Jewish leader extolled the virtues of Jewish education and lamented its current state. When I asked him what he wanted Jewish education to achieve — what its aim should be — his answer was simple: “I want Jewish kids to feel proud of being Jewish.”

I, for my part, was stunned. Really? That’s it? That’s the goal of Jewish education, of all your philanthropic benevolence? A feeling of ethnic/religious/cultural pride?

Continue reading

Posted on February 23, 2010

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

The New MyJewishLearning.com

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As you have probably noticed, things are looking a little different at Mixed Multitudes — and MyJewishLearning.com, generally.

Indeed, this morning we launched the redesigned site we’ve been working on for almost a year. You can read about some of the new components and features here, but in short, we set out to create a more visually vibrant, editorially interesting, and modern website — and we think we have.

You can expect to see new content on the homepage almost every day, a weekly Ask the Expert column, interviews,  video, and more.

As with any redesign, we’ll be working out technological kinks for the next couple of weeks, probably, so please bear with us, and if you encounter any problems, feel free to email me directly at daniel (at) myjewishlearning.com.

We hope you enjoy the new MyJewishLearning.com…

Posted on March 2, 2009

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

Thoughts from Rabbi Shai Held

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Mechon Hadar’s Rabbi Shai Held wrote the following personal and beautiful words about the inauguration, which he has kindly allowed me to share with you.

Those of you have been my friends and/or my students over many years have no doubt heard me say it countless times before: the meaning of the Exodus is that anything is possible, that there is no status quo that cannot be overturned.  Imagine a world in which you are a slave, and your father was a slave, and his mother before him, and so on for generations.  And then, seemingly suddenly, God intervenes and you are no longer a slave.  To be sure, the journey ahead will be long and arduous. Indeed, there will be moments when things seem so frightening and unsettling that you will even find yourself longing for the way things were before.   But there is no returning to the way things were– not ultimately, anyway.  The Exodus is a rupture, a break in history, a moment after which all things are new, a moment in and through which all things are possible.

I have a very personal confession to make:  over the past couple of years, as my struggle with chronic illness has continued and in many ways intensified, I have found myself less able to talk about the Exodus in this way.  Is there really no status quo that cannot be overturned? I have asked myself.  What about the pain and fatigue that wrack your body each day?  What about the degradations and devastations that pervade the globe and seemingly make a mockery of human dignity and of life’s meaningfulness?  Perhaps all this talk of the Exodus as paradigmatic for human history was just loose talk, just so much Pollyanna nonsense.  I have wondered, and lamented the depths to which life seems resistant to, indifferent to, the stories we tell and the narratives we strive to live by.

This morning I feel something I have not felt in quite a long time:  I believe– but really believe– in the Exodus again.  That which was utterly impossible, indeed unimaginable, will become a reality in just a few short minutes.  The United States of America, the great beacon of freedom and democracy, has always been tainted by the monstrous legacy of slavery and the ways it denied that black men and women, too, were created in the image of God and were thus every bit as infinitely valuable as their white counterparts.  Today these same United States will swear in its first black president, a black man who will occupy the very house that slaves built so long ago.  The status quo has been overturned, repudiated, one might even say redeemed.  (This, I hasten to add, remains true regardless of one’s political commitments or affiliations.)

We ought not be deceived.  Just as the Israelites faced a long and torturous road to the Promised Land, so also do we Americans face  a long and difficult road ahead (and on more fronts than I can begin to list).   The Hasidic masters teach that each year we are obligated to re-live the Exodus, to tap into the liberatory energy that the Exodus represents, to reclaim and deepen our own freedom and dignity as God’s creatures.  I cannot help but feel that the Exodus is being re-enacted and re-experienced in our day, today.

To be sure, many of the world’s problems will remain as intractable tomorrow as they seem today.  On a personal note, my own battle with illness is not likely to disappear soon.  I’m still not sure about every status quo being overturned– at least not before the Messiah comes and enacts a kind of cosmic Exodus for us all.  But what I’ve learned this morning is that much of what we take as given and immutable is in fact neither.  So I go back to what I have said and taught over and over again:  to take Judaism seriously is to believe that the world as it is is not yet the world as it must be, and to know that we are implicated in the sacred task of closing the gap between them.  May all of our faith in the possibility of redemption and transformation be renewed and revitalized by this extraordinary day.

“This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and delight in it.”

God bless all of you, and God bless the United States of America.

Posted on January 20, 2009

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

Holocaust Literature is Over (Maybe)

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

As Meredith noted recently, the Holocaust film industry is experiencing (even by Holocaust film industry standards) a very successful run, at the moment.

Holocaust literature, on the other hand, not so much. The revelation that Herman Roseblatt’s memoir Angel at the Fence was actually fictitious put the genre on perilous ground, but Ben Greenman’s “My Holocaust Memoir” in this week’s New Yorker surely ushers in a new era for thinking about Holocaust books.

Oprah.jpg Greenman’s satirical piece is written as a letter to Oprah Winfrey. In it, he summarizes his Holocaust story.

I was born in Chicago in 1969. Shortly afterward, in 1941, my entire family was rounded up by the authorities and sent to the Theresienstadt camp, along with tens of thousands of other Jews, who hailed principally from Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Germany. The first few days there, separated from my family, denied even the most basic creature comforts, I was in a state of shock. I could hardly eat or sleep, and, to make matters worse, I had misplaced my cell-phone charger. I felt powerless. (This would not be the first time that a metaphor appeared in time to help make sense of a difficult situation.)

MORE…

Unlike Tova Reich’s novel My Holocaust, which I thought utterly missed its satirical mark, Greenman’s piece is both appropriate and very funny (let’s just say that Terry Bradshaw plays a pivotal role in the climactic scene).

Indeed, when the Holocaust memoir becomes worthy of high-quality satire, its general worthiness has been seriously questioned.

Posted on January 14, 2009

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

Kosher Shavers

This entry was posted in History on by .

Traditional Judaism prohibits men from shaving their face with a razor. While many (or most) Ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t shave at all, exceptions have usually been made for electric shavers — a loophole embraced by most Modern Orthodox Jews.

Well, it turns out that in some communities the permissibility of electric shavers isn’t so straightforward and, amazingly, there’s a special beit din (Jewish court) to deal with shaver issues.

From Yated Ne’eman:

Members of the special beis din on halachic shavers held meetings at the homes of gedolei Yisroel, including Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita, where they expressed their dismay that some men still use forbidden shavers which gedolei haposkim hold are a transgression of Torah law, despite the fact two kosher shavers are currently sold on the market.

MORE…

Posted on December 22, 2008

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Rabbi Rackman z”l

This entry was posted in History on by .

Since his death at age 98 a few weeks ago, I’ve been meaning to write a bit about Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, a giant of Modern Orthodoxy and the Jewish people.

I never met Rabbi Rackman, and the obituaries and tributes that have been written since his passing make me wonder how I could have missed such an opportunity. Like all great men, he was both profoundly influential and also someone who often found himself alone, fighting the good fight.

Rackman.jpg His uniqueness and integrity is what comes out most in remembrances of him, and I highly recommend Rabbi Michael Broyde’s piece in the Jewish Press as well as Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s eulogy, which she delivered at Rabbi Rackman’s funeral.

They both mention one story as paradigmatic:

What I did not know then and what I only learned last night from a colleague when I told him of Rabbi Rackman’s passing, was that in 1951 when Rabbi Rackman was recalled as a chaplain due to the Korean War, he discovered that his security clearance had been revoked because he opposed the death penalty for the Rosenbergs and supported Paul Robeson’s right to free speech. The Air Force offered him the choice of an honorable discharge (not a dishonorable one). Had he accepted it, he would have been able to go home to his family but he would have to accept that his security clearance was rightfully revoked. Alternatively he could seek a military trial. After much thought, Rabbi Rackman took the military trial. He acted as his own lawyer, and was cleared of all charges and promoted to Colonel.

Why did he fight so hard? Because he believed that while “a person can be right or wrong on many decisions that they make, when it comes to one’s integrity, one must stand strong and never let anyone impugn it. Ultimately,â€? he said, “all a Rabbi has is his reputation and honor.”

Posted on December 18, 2008

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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