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.
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.
Thank you to everyone who entered our High Holiday Photo contest. We were on the hunt for great pictures of Jews celebrating the holidays, and we got some amazing entries. Almost all of the entries will be featured in MyJewishLearning and Kveller articles in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for pictures of real Jewish families enjoying the holidays.
In the meantime, we have two winning photos taken by the same photographer. Congratulations LenzKap! Email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can award you your prize.
Thanks again to all our amazing entrants!
I don’t know whether to believe it. Many news outlets are now reporting that Israel has struck a deal with Hamas and in exchange for a lot of Palestinian prisoners (1027) Israel is getting back Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured in June of 2006 and held in Gaza since then.
I have an uneven relationship with the Shalit situation. I’m not one of those people who used his picture as my facebook profile picture, or constantly tweeted how many days he had been gone. I mostly have felt strange and angry about how his capture led to him being a pawn in an enormous game of national chess. How strange it must be to be him, most likely cut off from all current events, until suddenly he will be thrust into the limelight. And how awful for his family, the years of protracted waiting and worrying.
I will admit, though I don’t feel super invested in the Shalit situation, I cried when I first saw the video that proved he was alive in 2009. And today, I feel a surge of joy in the knowledge that he will (hopefully) be soon returning home to his family.
I find myself thinking, “So, I guess Israel does negotiate with terrorists.” And then I think…isn’t that good?
This is a good thing, this mediated settlement between two groups. Many people get to go home, and I’m happy for them, on both sides. But somehow, it all makes me so sad. How did we get here? Why did it take so long?
This week God may be judging you based on your sins, but here at MJL we are judging you based on your family photos. Specifically, your Jewish holiday photos. Do you have some classics of your kids making matzah balls with Bubbe? Lighting Shabbat candles? Doing tashlikh? Beating the willow? Dancing with the Torah? Do you and your boyfriend take pictures of your homemade challah before the holiday? Have you mastered the art of the still life ‘Shofar with Apples and Honey’? Prove it!
Submit your Jewish pictures to our photo group on flickr, and we will choose a winner to receive an Amazon.com giftcard. Everyone who enters is eligible to have their adorable/awesome photos show up in a MyJewishLearning.com article. We’re extending the deadline to October 26th, so submit your photos today and head over to our group to see the competition.
I am not a huge fan of the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron. I listen to it every once in a while, but it’s not one of those podcasts that I anxiously wait to be updated every week. But yesterday, out of necessity—none of my other podcasts were new—I listened to Maron’s latest podcast, which is a recording of a live show he did in Brooklyn. The show is…it’s outrageously good, with an emphasis on the outrageous. Maron opens with a short monologue about being dropped off at a hotel in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Surrounded by Hasids and directly across the street from the Sukkah Depot, he has a freakout. A Jew himself, being around Hasids creeps him out. He admits its problematic and possibly anti-Semitic, but it’s refreshingly honest. Though I found myself uncomfortable listening to this part, it was impossible not to recognize that that feeling—the feeling of being spooked by any serious display of religion—is a genuine one, and one that comes from (in this case) bad relations within the Jewish community, and the overall fear/distrust of the Other.
Later in the show Marc chats with an astounding number of guests, including Ira Glass, who is hilarious, and a comic and writer who recently left her observant Mormon life. Elna Baker talks about the weirdness of transitioning from being religious to not being religious. That in-between state where you haven’t quite been able to leave, but your heart is not in it at all. It’s pretty amazing. And then more comics come on and they talk about Jewish summer camp, pooping, being an alcoholic, and many other serious/hilarious things.
I don’t think it was the intention of the show to be be particularly about religion, and being uncomfortable with religion, but in the end it’s largely about that, and it’s genius. At this time of year, when we’re about to spend a lot of time in services, and probably for some of that time we’ll be thinking, “Wow, I hate this” it’s nice to hear some people being painfully honest about the way religion ties them in knots. You can subscribe to the WTF podcast on iTunes, or just head over to the WTFpod website and listen to it there.
I have a confession to make. I just took the MJL quiz about Jews and Sports and only got 7/10. I should be embarrassed about that, but the truth is, it’s a miracle that I got seven right. And I won’t even tell you how many I got right the first time I took the Thinkers and Thought quiz, I’ll just say it was not a high number.
Our quizzes are an awesome way to quickly find out just how much you know about any one subject, and brush up on some basics at the same time. The awesome bonus? Every month we’re giving away an Amazon.com giftcard to the person who answers the most quiz questions correctly. If I won, I might have to buy Great Jews in Sports.
Register and start taking quizzes today, to win your own giftcard!
One of my family’s traditions has always been to make sure to invite new people to our holiday meals every year. Just as there are many lonely people around the time of Thanksgiving and New Years, there are many lonely Jewish people around the time of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The High Holidays come in the autumn, just after many people have moved to a new place for school or a job. Secular New Year, on Jan 1, is mostly artificial. There is not much that really starts anew every January 1st, but many things begin in the fall, around the time of Rosh Hashanah. And these new beginnings can be difficult, intimidating, trying, and they can make us lonely, especially when we’re away from our closest family and friends.
Think of Hagar, Abraham’s second wife, who we read about in the Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Sent away from her home, she is adrift in the desert, with only her thirsty child. She is on the brink of death, and is only saved by a miracle. There are people like Hagar in your community—perhaps they aren’t homeless (though they might be) but they are adrift and lonely. Rosh Hashanah is a great time to reach out to new people, make a connection, and offer them a place at your holiday table. Not only is a it a great way to help someone, but it means you’ll be starting the Jewish year with a huge mitzvah already chalked under your name. What could be better?
Well, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when I try to figure out who I’m going to invite to Rosh Hashanah (there’s a spreadsheet!) and what I’m going to make. Actually, it was that time of year about a week and a half ago, but my kitchen only got fully assembled last night, so I’m playing catch up.
So, what am I going to make? Last year I did a breakfast themed meal with fancy breakfast foods. And I did a more traditional meal, with some Rosh Hashanah classics like matzah ball soup and an amazing apple cake. This year I am drawing a blank. I think yes for matzah ball soup. I feel strongly I should include a kugel. But what of main dishes? Fish? A vegetable medley? What about dessert? Also, this is a three day holiday, so there is a LOT of food to buy and prepare ahead of time.
[This picture is what happens when you search for "menu planning" in our stock photo service. Which reminds me--enter our Holiday Photo Contest!]
To help me figure out what to make I am rifling through some of my favorite cookbooks and clicking through the archives at some of my favorite food blogs. Which mostly is making me hungry.
So, what are you making for your Rosh Hashanah celebration? Share your menu, or the highlights of your menu, in the comments. We’ll pick the tastiest-sounding menu and send you a copy of the Enyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks. This is basically the Jewish cookbook to end all Jewish cookbooks. With information and stories about everything from Apple Cake to Zimstern.
Contest ends on Friday September 23rd at midnight, so share your menu now! Good luck and Shanah Tovah!
PS—Don’t forget to enter your photos in our holiday photo contest, too!
Here at MJL headquarters we spend a lot of time trying to make our articles nice loking. We got a nifty redesign a couple of years ago, we like to divide out articles with helpful subheads, provide lots of links, and most importantly—pictures!
But see, getting Jewish stock photos is kind of a major pain in the tuchis. Put anything remotely Jewish into a stock photo search engine and you’re likely to get a handful of pictures of the following:
apples and honey as seen on your grandma’s table
These pictures are boring. They are also annoying in that they tend to include almost exclusively men. They feel (and are) painfully staged. And they perpetuate the annoying point of view that it’s only Orthodox Jews that do Jewish rituals, when in fact I know lots and lots of people who regularly do Jewish rituals but don’t look like haredim.
We’d like to feature way more pictures of non-stock photo Jews. Which is to say, we’d like to feature you and your family here on MyJewishLearning. Because we know that real Jewish families are more interesting and fun to look at than the kind on stock photo services. And because we like real people—real people like you!
So we’re having a contest. We’ve opened a flickr group for Your Best High Holiday Pictures. Upload your pictures to the group. Anything you or your family does to prepare or celebrate the High Holidays, take a picture and send it along to us. We’ll pick the best entry, and he or she will receive a $50 Amazon.com giftcard, and the picture will be featured prominently on MyJewishLearning.com. Do you go apple picking? Make your own New Years cards? Make an amazing brisket? Do kaparot as a family? Whatever it is, upload the photo and you could win. Don’t feel limited to things you’re doing this year—we’ll accept any pictures from any year, and you’re welcome to submit as many pictures as you like. (By submitting your picture to our flickr group you’re allowing us to use your picture on MJL even if you don’t win the contest.)
So what are you waiting for? Head on over to our flickr page and start uploading to win now! Contest ends on Sunday September 25th at Midnight. We will announce a winner on Monday September 26th.
PS—If you’re looking for more stock-photo-induced hilarity, head on over to our very own Molly’s Sh*t I Found On Shutterstock Tumblr.
Update: We have announced a winner! Check out the blog post to see who won!