Author Archives: Tamar Fox

Online classes with MyJewishLearning

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Holidays, Life on by .

This Holiday season MyJewishLearning is offering two live, interactive, online classes designed to help you prepare for Thanksgiving.

Global Day of Jewish Learning
Is There A Recipe for Prayer: A Lesson in Picking the Perfect Words

Taught by Devorah Levine Katz

Some prayers are read from the book; others are spontaneous cries from the heart. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these approaches?

In our class, we will explore both standard and spontaneous prayers and take part in an ancient discussion on the values of both. Using sources from the traditional Siddur (prayer book), Mishna and Talmud we will journey into the world of prayer searching for the perfect recipe for the perfect prayer.

Sunday November 18th 8:30-9:30PM Eastern Time, Free! (Registration Required)

Register now

Preparing for Thanksgiving
What’s the Jewish Way to Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Taught by Rabbi Peretz Rodman

The roots of the American Thanksgiving holiday go back to 1623, but the values of gratitude and offering thanks have been a part of Jewish life for thousands of years. Judaism’s classical texts, from the words of the Psalmist to stories of modern masters of Musar (Jewish ethical piety), offer insights into Jewish approaches to what Jews call hakarat ha-tov, “recognition of the good”?good deeds done for us and good things given to us.

Together we will study some of these texts, and discuss the overlapping American and Jewish values of gratitude, joy, and relief that we experience during this Thanksgiving season.

Monday November 19th 8:30-9:30PM Eastern Time, Free! (Registration Required)

Register Now

After registering, you will receive an email with a link to the class page.

We look forward to learning with you!

Posted on November 9, 2012

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

One Woman’s Jewish Journey

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Three years ago, Mary Ruth, who attended church her entire life, began to think about Judaism. It was something she couldn’t quite explain – a tug towards a religion she didn’t fully understand, but a strong tug, nonetheless. She wanted to look into conversion, but didn’t really know where to begin – Mary Ruth lives in rural Michigan, an hour from the nearest synagogue and two hours from the nearest rabbi.

Donate to MJL Then, she discovered MyJewishLearning.com. Mary Ruth started visiting the website daily, first to learn the basics – holidays and rituals, the central narratives of Judaism, the weekly Torah portions. As her conversion process got underway, she delved deeper, signing up for MyJewishLearning’s e-newsletters, making traditional Jewish recipes she found on the site, and taking quizzes to test her knowledge.

Mary Ruth's quote

Today, Mary Ruth is Jewish. She is committed to her faith and passionate about the Jewish people.

In her own words: “I love being Jewish more than life itself, and I couldn’t have completed my conversion without the help of MyJewishLearning.com.”

MyJewishLearning is a non-profit organization that depends on donations from people like you to cover 85% of its operating budget. For the last 10 years, MyJewishLearning has helped people like Mary Ruth learn about and connect with Judaism. Help make sure we’re here for the next 10 years by making a tax-deductible donation today.

Posted on September 24, 2012

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

Jewish Learning on an Oil Rig

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Guillermo works in the oil and gas industry, a career path that placed him smack dab in the middle of rural Canada. If the location wasn’t a big enough challenge, Guillermo’s busy schedule made it impossible for him to attend synagogue or be a part of a Jewish community.Help us help Guillermo.  Donate today

Or so he thought. When his girlfriend sent him to MyJewishLearning.com, he found just what he was looking for.

“I work in a remote area,” Guillermo told us, “so by frequently visiting MyJewishLearning.com, I can still feel connected to the Jewish tradition, and keep up with the Jewish calendar.”

Guillermo's quote

Guillermo started by by reading the weekly Torah portion commentaries on MyJewishLearning and studying the Jewish holidays. Soon he discovered the depths of what MyJewishLearning had to offer, exploring the Jewish history section and beefing up his knowledge of Jewish culture and rituals.

“MyJewishLearning.com helps me grow in understanding the tradition, religion, and spirituality,” Guillermo said.

Now, Guillermo’s career has moved him once again, this time to a more urban area with an actual Jewish community. Yet Guillermo still finds himself frequenting the virtual learning space of MyJewishLearning, knowing that the path to deepening his understanding of the Jewish faith has always been right at his fingertips.

MyJewishLearning is a non-profit organization that depends on donations from people like you to cover 85% of its operating budget. For the last 10 years, MyJewishLearning has helped people like Guillermo learn about and connect with Jewish life. Help make sure we’re here for the next 10 years by making a tax-deductible donation today.

Donate Now!

Posted on September 14, 2012

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

Online Classes To Prepare for the High Holidays

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

We’re excited to announce that this year, to help you get ready for the High Holiday season, here at MJL we’re offering three live, interactive, online courses.

Holiday Basics
50 Ways to Use a Shofar: The Symbolism and Stories Behind the Ram’s Horn

Taught by Rabbi Avi Weinstein

In this class we’ll explore the multiple symbolic meanings of the shofar, from Maimonides’ understanding of the shofar as a “wake up call,” to the Hasidic masters who saw it as a pure sound that connects with Divine consciousness, to the midrashic stories that see the sound as replicating Sarah’s pain upon finding out that Isaac was to be sacrificed. Join us to study these interpretations and to share your own.
Sunday August 26th 8:30-9:30PM Eastern Time, $5
Register now

 

Preparing for the High Holidays

Forgiving and Being Forgiven

Taught by Rabbi Shai Held

As we attempt to wipe the slate clean for the coming new year, Jewish tradition asks us to apologize to those whom we have hurt; to forgive those who have hurt us; and, more surprisingly, to tell those whom have hurt us that they have hurt us, thereby enabling them to apologize. In this class we’ll examine how we can use the time leading up to the High Holidays to forgive, to ask for forgiveness, and to let go of the hurt we’ve been hanging onto.
Sunday September 9th 8:30-9:30PM Eastern Time, $5

Register Now

 

Text Study

“Everything Depends on Me”: A Tragic Tale of Repentance and Change (SOLD OUT)

Taught by Rabbi Shai Held

In this session, we’ll explore one of the most moving (and disturbing) narratives in Rabbinic literature, the story of Elazar Ben Durdea, a man imprisoned by sin and compulsion. Elazar knows he has to change but he just can’t find the courage to do it. The tragic tale of Elazar will teach us about sin, compulsion, personal responsibility, and the limits of repentance and personal change.

Sunday September 23rd 8:30-9:30PM Eastern Time, Free!

 

After registering, you will receive an email with a link to the class page.

We look forward to learning with you!

Posted on August 14, 2012

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

Footnote: Finally a Movie that Understands Academia

This entry was posted in Culture, Israel on by .

It’s tough out there for an Israeli film at the Oscars. When an Israeli film gets nominated for best foreign language film it’s almost always because the movie references the Holocaust and/or the Israeli-Arab Conflict. But while a Holocaust theme is a guaranteed win in most categories, not so when it comes to Israeli films. And a film that seems very sympathetic to Arabs is unlikely to garner a win from the typically conservative Academy voters.

This year, though, the Israeli nominee is neither a careful look at the history of the Jewish people, or a tense war film. Instead, it’s Footnote, a film that casts its gaze on the small and insular world of academic Talmud scholars. Eliezer Shkolnik is a Talmud professor at Hebrew University whose diligent work has never been recognized by his peers. His son, Uriel Shkolnik, also a Talmud professor, is an up-and-coming star in the field, collecting awards and distinction with ease. When Eliezer is awarded the prestigious Israel Prize, father and son have to try to keep their smugness/jealousy in check and generally behave like respectable adults. This turns out to be remarkably difficult for both of them. Also, there’s a surprise twist, and a fun scene involving a fencing uniform.

The movie is remarkably successful: its depictions of life in the academy are spot-on, and I found the set design to be particularly effective at capturing the jumbled papers and library aesthetic of your typical university professor. It also uses voice-overs and some effects that are nicely reminiscent of the meta-story effects in Stranger Than Fiction.

But what’s most enjoyable about it is its narrow focus. At no point does it pan out to view this family drama in the wider scope of the Israeli-Arab conflict, or look back at the tragedies of Israeli history. Instead it looks deeply and critically at the ivory tower, and the way that petty grudges and jealousy drive a lot of the goings-on in any university department. And it looks too at the relationship between fathers and sons, beyond Oedipus and into adult professional competition. But where it cleverly highlights (and footnotes) the academic politics, when it comes to family drama, the film loses some of its strength and sharpness. Uriel’s relationship with his son is a focal point of the last portion of the movie, but the scene in which they finally fight falls flat (perhaps due to the lackluster performance of Daniel Markovich, who plays Josh Shkolnik). And both Dr. Shkolniks are married to formidable women who get barely any screen time (the film doesn’t come close to passing the Bechdel test).

Despite not quite being able to pull off the father-son drama it attempts, the film is extraordinary and entertaining. In the climax of the movie the audience watches as the elder Shkolnik takes apart a text, finding its references in other places, and looking up words and phrases in his library. It’s difficult to make rifling through books seem interesting, even exciting, but writer/director Joseph Cedar pulls it off with remarkable aplomb.

Sadly, Footnote doesn’t have a chance of pulling off a Best Foreign Film win—A Separation seems guaranteed a win with all the accolades it has pulled in from far and wide. I can only hope that Footnote will get the cheers it deserves when it comes out on March 9, and won’t be destined to be only a footnote.

Posted on February 23, 2012

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

Oprah and the Hasidic Ladies

This entry was posted in Culture, Life on by .

Tonight, OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, is airing the second part in its “Hasidic Jews of Brooklyn” special. Oprah visits Crown Heights, and after last night’s episode where she toured a Chabad family’s home, tonight she sits down with a quartet of Hasidic women for an in-depth interview about sex, children, spirituality, and good wigs.

Over at Tablet Rachel Shukert has a great commentary on the episode that aired last night (though she didn’t mention my favorite moment: when Oprah noticeably stopped listening to her hostess because she was distracted by the hostess’s wig). But Shukert’s view is that in tonight’s episode, Oprah is able to get over herself enough to deliver a powerful and meaningful interview. And to a degree it’s true—tonight’s episode is much better than last night’s, and has quite a bit more substance to it. But what the episodes really reveal is how intoxicating Hasidic life and culture can be to an outsider, but also how ill-prepared it is for any deviations from the norm.

Oprah’s questions are understandably pitched in ways that won’t ruffle too many feathers. “Are women valued in [Hasidic] relationships?” she asked last night. I can’t imagine she expected the couple she was talking to say, “No, but we make excellent apologetics.” And tonight, after getting the lowdown on the mikvah, and Hasidic sex rules, she starts trying to push a bit more, albeit rather gently. She asks the women what happens if a woman doesn’t want to get married and have a family. The hostess has a (presumably now-mortified) niece who is 22 and somehow not looking to get married. The other women think this is odd, and one says, “I personally don’t even know people who don’t have that as their dream.”

The major bombshell happens when Oprah asks, “What happens when one of your children is different…and by different I mean GAY.” (She speaks in all caps, I’m not making that up.) The women are initially speechless, and eventually settle on repeating, “What you’re saying is very extreme.” They can go so far as saying that there’s a strong connection between a mother and her children, but there’s no discussion of how that would manifest itself if one of your kids is GAY.

And noticeably, Oprah doesn’t ask what happens when a kid grows up and doesn’t want to be Hasidic anymore. Perhaps Oprah, like a newbie at Ohr Somayach, can’t imagine ever wanting to leave such a magical world. It’s a conspicuous absence, though, when a much-hyped new memoir comes out on Tuesday, telling the story of a woman who chose to leave the Satmar community.  Surely Oprah, who spends so much time in shock that none of these women know who she is, can understand how someone might want to live in a home with a TV and a regularly scheduled date with the Oprah Show.

Oprah’s chat with Hasidic women is compelling, it’s good TV, but while it does give a glimpse into Hasidic life for the viewers, it stops short of asking questions that would force the women to take even a short glimpse out of their world in Brooklyn.

Posted on February 13, 2012

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

Happy Tu Bishvat!

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Today is Tu Bishvat, the birthday of the trees. There are many ways to celebrate—you can plant a tree if you live in a temperate climate, you can hold a Tu Bishvat seder, you can do some awesome Tu Bishvat crafts with your kids, and of course, you can eat some delicious Tu Bishvat foods (I recommend this amazing banana cake studded with dates, figs, nuts, raisins, and chocolate).

 

Looking for some Tu Bishvat reading? Try these articles on Theodore Herzl’s tree, kabbalists, mystics and Tu Bishvat, a lesson in abundance, eco-judaism, or Tu Bishvat and the Transformation of Eating.

 

Just want to sit back and veg out to a Tu Bishvat video? Todd, God, and Al Gore have got you covered:

Posted on February 8, 2012

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

Hanukkah Mad Libs

This Hanukkah enjoy the holiday with more than just latkes and dreidels. MyJewishLearning is hooking you up with a Hanukkah mad libs that you can play with your family. As with all mad libs, these work best when you go with the craziest words you can think of. Enjoy!

The Miracle of Hanukkah
Place _________
Name __________
Same name_________
Holiday_________
Noun ___________
Verb _________
Plural noun __________

Name___________
Number_________
Same Name _________
Noun _________
Noun__________
Noun__________
Name _________

Building __________
Same building __________
Liquid ___________
Same liquid __________
Number ____________
Verb ____________
Number _____________
Noun__________
Liquid __________
Verb ____________

 

A long time ago in ________ place, the Syrian emperor ________ Name came to power. ________ Same Name decreed that Jews could not celebrate _______holiday, learn ________noun, or _________verb their children. He also stormed into the _______building in Jerusalem, and placed ________noun inside. Jews were encouraged to worship _______ noun, and punished when they did not.

A man named ______name and his ________number sons started a revolt against ________ Name1. Though they were a small group of warriors, they were very strong, and many other Jews joined their fight. Armed only with ______ noun, and ________noun, and ______noun from the terrain, the Maccabees, as _______name2 sons, particularly Judah, came to be known, fought a guerilla war against the Syrian army.

In three years, the Maccabees cleared the way back to the ________same building, which they reclaimed. They cleaned the _______building and made a new altar to replace the old one. Most of the _______liquid they found had been tainted and was no longer pure enough to be used for the golden menorah that stood in the Temple. One small container of ________same liquid was found, with just enough to last for a single day of flames. Miraculously the oil burned for ________number days, during which the Maccabees _______verb and praised God for their victory.

Today we light a _________number-branched hanukkiyah to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah. Some families give each other _______noun. We also eat foods fried in _______liquid, sing Hanukkah songs, and spin the dreidel, a game of luck that involves _____verb a top.

Posted on December 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

Watch Obama Speak at the URJ Conference

This entry was posted in History, Israel, Life on by .

President Obama is speaking today at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial. You can watch live online here, or watch recaps that will be posted on the URJ site later.

Posted on December 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

Where’s Your Tzedakah Box?

This entry was posted in Life, Practices on by .

It’s the end of the year and a lot of us are thinking about money—how much we can afford to spend on gifts, vacations, and charitable donations during this holiday season. Many Jewish homes have a tzedakah box in them, a little box with a slot on top for depositing coins and bills that will eventually be given to tzedakah.

Today, this seems like such an old fashioned way of doing things. I do have a bag of change on my dresser that I give to tzedakah once or twice a year, but honestly, I don’t have a tzedakah box per se. Anyway, most of the charitable donations I make are done via credit card and don’t involve any physical money at all.

So if tzedakah today doesn’t look like a tzedakah box, what does it look like? The American Jewish World Service just launched a new blog that talks about how and where and why people decide to give money to tzedakah. They’re also launching an amazing design competition, focused on philanthropy and social change. Where Do You Give? challenges artists to create a 21st century icon inspired by the values and imagery of the traditional Jewish tzedakah box. The organization is encouraging designers to consider the tzedakah box in the context of an increasingly interconnected, global and technologically accelerated world. The grand prize winner will receive $2,500 and a trip to visit AJWS’s partners in the Americas, Africa or Asia. Pretty sweet.

This is an awesome way to combine your love of design with you love of giving and doing good. To learn more about the competition, visit: www.wheredoyougive.org.

Posted on December 14, 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