Author Archives: Meredith Kesner Lewis

About Meredith Kesner Lewis

Meredith Lewis is the Director of Operations at MyJewishLearning.com. Meredith holds an MA in Hebrew and Judaic studies and an MPA in non-profit finance from New York University. She also received a BS in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Meredith has served as an advisor for United Synagogue Youth in the Westchester and Rockland Counties area as well as an education consultant.

Be Careful Todd!

This entry was posted in Life on by .

Looks like our friend Todd (of Todd and God Fame) may be in trouble.

Some rabbis and doctors are now warning that one can get H1N1 (swine flu) by kissing a mezuzah.

What’s a dude to do? Air kisses, baby!  Todd blowing swine flu-free kisses to the mezuzah

Or maybe hanging a hand sanitizer right under the mezuzah.

Posted on August 13, 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

Did Noah Have Cute Galoshes?

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

There are so many stories in the Bible that I (among many people) have a hard time believing as truth.

A talking donkey. A sea splitting into two. A 90-year old woman giving birth.

Rain, Summer 2009, New York, Noah, Flood. From New York TimesI take these stories to be allegories.

But I’ve recently changed my mind on one famous biblical story, due to the weather pattern in New York this summer.

Rain for 40 days and 40 nights?

I now believe it. I feel like I’ve seen it.

Posted on July 31, 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

Tish Above

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Growing up, I didn’t really know what Tisha B’av (It was pronounced Tish Above) was. I did get the sense that it was a specific day or time.

Actually, it seemed like the end of time.

We’d be stuck in traffic, when the highway seemed more like a parking lot than a road. Mom would say, “Looks like we’re going to be sitting here until Tish Above.”

Or she’d be talking about when we’d finally move to a nicer house.  “Tish Above,” she’d reply.  My parents still haven’t moved, after 15 years of looking.

Tish Above became synonymous with an imaginary deadline for tasks that we knew would never get done. Finally cleaning out the old closet. Labeling all of the family pictures. Getting cable television.

Then two years ago, my mother starting taking Melton Adult classes. My mother learned all about what Tisha B’av was and when it was coming. Yet, we still don’t mark the day like most Jews.
For many people, the day is a commemoration of the Temple. For others, it symbolizes a day of destruction. For some, it even marks the founding of the state of Israel and the liberation of Jerusalem.

But in my family, it’s a once a year time to check in on all of those goals in life that seem so far away.
Recently my mom sent a reminder email to the family:

“Tish B Av is coming next week.”

My aunt simply replied back:

“Ready as I’m going to be!!!!! Smile.”

Posted on July 29, 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

Only in America–Where are the Women?

This entry was posted in History on by .

There has been a good amount of talk in the blogosphere about the new National Museum of American Jewish History and their quest to find 18 exemplary American Jews. Here’s what the good folks at the Jewish Women’s Archive have to say:

Our friends at the National Museum of American Jewish History have recently announced a new project for which they are seeking public input. Their new museum, scheduled to open in November 2010, will include a gallery called “Only in America,” that will — in their words — “examine the choices, challenges, and opportunities faced by a remarkable group of a token 18 American Jews on their paths to accomplishment.”

In our early years, JWA did a similar kind of project with our Women of Valor posters, which feature 18 trailblazing Jewish women, each of who — in our words — “overcame social, cultural and religious barriers to create a more just and equitable world.” We also developed online, multimedia exhibits on 16 of them.

We were glad to see several of “our” 18 women — such as Bella Abzug, Molly Picon, Rebecca Gratz, and Lillian Wald — included in the museum’s poll. Unfortunately, the inclusion of women overall is disappointing — only 47 out of 218. Some categories, such as “Performance” and “Politics, Law, and Activism,” have a good balance, while others, such as “Arts and Entertainment” and “Religion and Thought” are fairly appalling. Only one woman in “Religion and Thought”? Seriously? Given the impact of feminism on Judaism, it’s hard to imagine how one could leave out women such as theologians Judith Plaskow and Rachel Adler and Orthodox feminist activist Blu Greenberg.

Of course, the nature of this kind of project, which highlights people who are already well-known, skews towards men, who have had more opportunities to achieve and to be recognized for those achievements. Which also makes me wonder about the need for an “only in America” kind of gallery in the 21st century. Haven’t we moved past this kind of American exceptionalism, or has the age of Obama brought us back to a misty-eyed celebration of the opportunities offered (to some) by this so-called “goldene medine” (golden land)? It will be interesting to see how the museum ultimately negotiates the issues of diversity and tokenism in selecting the 18 people to be featured, and how they handle the tone, which sounds like it will be celebratory. Will there be acknowledgment of how opportunities for some have come at the expense of others?

Please vote to make sure that the stories of your favorite American Jews make it into the gallery. If it’s important to you that women are represented among the 18 selected, cast your votes for some of the women included on the list. The poll also invites write-in votes, so please consider nominating some of the women whose names are glaringly absent, such as artist Judy Chicago, entertainer Sophie Tucker, and theologian Judith Plaskow. (I came up with a list of 30 other women that I would have included on the list, but I’ll try to restrain myself from turning this post into a Jewish women’s history encyclopedia! We already have one of those).

The deadline is August 6, so cast your votes now!

Cross-posted from Jewesses with Attitude

Posted on July 27, 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

A Word with Faye and Aliza Kellerman

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Mystery writer Faye Kellerman has been good friends with fellow Los Angeles-residents Rina Lazarus and Peter Decker for nearly 25 years. Kellerman, a New York Times-bestselling author, recently told me in an interview, “They are close friends or even like relatives. We’ve experienced so much together and we know so much about each other.” Faye and Aliza Kellerman

The only catch? Rina and Peter are fictional characters from Kellerman’s acclaimed murder mystery series.

“Every character you write is part of you. But they are unique people,” she said. “They have a life of their own. They talk to me.”

Kellerman’s books are often characterized as Jewish. Lazarus and Decker are an observant Jewish couple. Well at least now they are. In the first book, The Ritual Bath, Lieutenant Decker, raised as a Southern Baptist, discovers that he actually is Jewish during a rape investigation at the mikvah where Lazarus was the attendant. It wasn’t long before they fell in love and were married in the third of the series, Milk and Honey.

Now, in their 18th novel, the couple is involved in a murder case. Blindman’s Bluff (released August 11, 2009 by William Morrow) features the high profile murder of Guy and Gilliam Kaffery, a wealthy couple. As the clues come in, it becomes clear that the story is all about family. From the sibling rivalry in the Kaffery family to a crew of dangerous cousins who serve as security guards, family loyalty and betrayal turn out to be key for Decker in solving the case.

Like the other Decker/Lazarus novels, Blindman’s Bluff keeps a fast pace. The author says herself, “I like it because it moves in all sorts of unexpected directions.”

Blindman's Bluff by Faye KellermanEven with murder and mayhem taking over his personal and professional life in Blindman’s Bluff, Decker briefly shows his softer side, struggling as his last child prepares to graduate high school and leave the nest. But the reader never learns what’s behind his worries.

I asked Kellerman what else we don’t know about the couple’s lives. “They definitely have their own private lives going on. There’s a lot more humor and passion than we can display in the novels,” she said. “There is a lot more conflict. There are the little things they each say and do. They know to push each other’s buttons.” And don’t think it’s all business. “It’s the strong sexual passion and humor that keep them going.”

The Decker-Lazarus relationship isn’t the only one on display for Kellerman this summer. Last month, Prism (HarperCollins), her first book co-written with her 16-year-old daughter, Aliza Kellerman, hit the shelves.Prism by Faye and Aliza Kellerman

Actually, the book was mostly written by Aliza, with whom I also spoke. “I would come home every day after school and write 1-5 pages, and more on Sundays,” she said. “Every 50 pages or so, I would email it to my mother to edit.”

The idea to collaborate came from Faye’s editor, who knew that Aliza was also a writer. (Faye’s husband Jonathan is also a bestselling thriller writer, and their oldest son Jesse is a published novelist.) But Faye agreed to do it on condition that Aliza did most of the work. “It was the easiest book I’ve ever written because I didn’t write it,” Faye said. “Part of the deal was I told Aliza, ‘You really have to pick up the slack. I will edit for you. I will get you out of tight spots or fix prose. But you have to write the lines.”

In the sci-fi teen thriller, which took Aliza about a year to write, a group of high school students fall into a cave and end up in a parallel universe after a car accident during a field trip. Life seems the same in this new world, except that there is no concept of healing. Sickness always leads to death. By the end of the novel, concepts such as basic human compassion and the role of the government in private lives are turned inside out and right again.

But don’t expect anything too Jewish from Aliza’s writings. “My mother writes with Jewish themes. You write from what you know,” she said. “It would be very easy for me to write about Judaism. But it doesn’t particularly get my head spinning. There’s definitely a chance for Jewish characters, but Jewish themes aren’t my style.”

Even as a high school junior, Aliza has an expanding interest in writing, including novels, short stories, poetry, and even cartooning. And judging by Blindman’s Bluff and Prism, there’s no doubt we’ll continue to see these two women’s names on the covers of many more books.

Posted on July 12, 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

NYC Prep: Semite Style

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Since my intellectual prowess in all things Gossip Girl has clearly been proven on Mixed Multitudes, it’s no shocker that I’m also declaring myself to be the resident expert on NYC Prep. The reality show version of GG, airing on Bravo this summer, is bringing much needed joy to my summertime tv depression.NYC Prep Cast

So you could guess that my happiness multiplied when I learned from last night’s episode that not one, but at least two of the cast members are Jewish. It was no surprise when queen bee Jessie Leavitt (second from right), reminded her friends that they had met someone at her bat mitzvah. Plus, she was definitely seen in previews waiting for her not-boyfriend PC at Israeli import Cafe Aroma in Soho.

But when Kelli Tomashoff (far left) tried to explain to a friend that her family celebrates Hanukkah, not Christmas, I was taken aback. She describes the holiday a time she enjoys celebrating with her family, and of course, going to a movie on Christmas Eve. It’s nice to know that rich and poor alike celebrate the festival of lights the same way.

Let’s be honest. A reality show about the Upper East Side without Jews wouldn’t be real at all.

XOXO,

Meredith

Posted on July 8, 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

Candlelighting Time by Zip Code

This entry was posted in General on by .

If you look carefully on our homepage, you’ll catch a new feature. Candlelighting times by zip code. Just pop in your 5 digits, and you can find when Shabbat begins and ends.

Don’t worry, we still have our feature for major cities in the United States and around the world.

And just as a little guide:

Shabbat times for President Obama: 20500
Shabbat times in the most expensive zip code: 81611
Shabbat times for Donna Martin and Brandon Walsh: 90210
Shabbat times for MJL world headquarters: 10016

Posted on June 26, 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

RadioRan in Israel

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

So I’m watching Fox News right now (not a usual habit, just trying to get updates on the DC Metro crash), and I just caught an interesting story about a guy named DJ Rani Amrani.

Amrani, a “garage” disc jockey, broadcasts online secular Iranian music from his small studio in Tel Aviv. In addition to receiving about 40,000 hits a day, he frequently receives phone calls from inside the war-torn country of Iran, though recently the phone lines are going dead. During the interview on Fox, he received a call from a young girl in Tehran who wanted to join the protests, but feared for her life.

It’s not just Twitter that’s bringing news out of Iran.
The story doesn’t seem to be on the channel’s website, but you can check out Rani’s station online at radioran.co.il

Posted on June 22, 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

From the Academy Revisited

This entry was posted in General on by .

Regular readers of Mixed Multitudes may be familiar with our feature “From the Academy,” in which we interview professors about their current research.

Well, we’re happy to announce a brand new take on “From the Academy.” MJL contributor Josh Lambert will now be bringing Jewish studies out of the Ivory Tower and into your home.

Each month, he’ll interview an academic in an area related to, but not, Judaic Studies, to find out how different fields of study are changing the way we understand Judaism.

If you ever wanted to go back to college, here’s your chance.

Posted on June 3, 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

Unwise Thursdays

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Israel on by .

Moment Magazine has a feature each month where they ask rabbis of various movements and constituencies to respond to a question. This month, they asked “How Should Jews Treat Their Arabs Neighbors?”

Most of the answers, were what one would expect–with respect that we give all human beings.

Except for this one:
I don’t believe in western morality, i.e. don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it is immoral.

The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle).

The first Israeli prime minister who declares that he will follow the Old Testament will finally bring peace to the Middle East. First, the Arabs will stop using children as shields. Second, they will stop taking hostages knowing that we will not be intimidated. Third, with their holy sites destroyed, they will stop believing that G-d is on their side. Result: no civilian casualties, no children in the line of fire, no false sense of righteousness, in fact, no war.

Zero tolerance for stone throwing, for rockets, for kidnapping will mean that the state has achieved sovereignty. Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations who suffer defeat because of a disastrous morality of human invention.
Rabbi Manis Friedman
Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies
St. Paul, MN

Posted on May 27, 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