This year, the folks at Craig N Co again put together an exciting list of writers and thinkers for their Jewels of Elul series. Each day during the month of Elul will feature a different take on the “Art of Aging.”
Here’s yesterday’s piece from Rabba Sara Hurwitz, the Dean of Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox institution to ordain women as spiritual leaders:
As we age, our brains are hardwired to reject change. We are conditioned to resist new challenges and remain within our comfort zones. However, growing older should not mean that we must exist within self-imposed boundaries.
In the 1960s, President Eisenhower received the gift of a rare, white tiger named Mohini. For years, Mohini lived in the Washington Zoo and spent her days pacing back and forth in a 12-by-12 foot cage. Finally the zoo decided to build her a larger cage so Mohini could run, climb and explore. But when Mohini arrived at her new home, she didn’t rush out, eagerly adapting to her new habitat. Rather, she marked off a 12-by-12 foot square for herself, and paced there until her death, never enjoying the new opportunities in front of her. Mohini exemplifies the classic conditioning most of us live within. Although she was a magnificent, powerful creature, Mohini was convinced her “place” was just a 12-by-12 foot square. We all have the propensity to behave exactly like Mohini. Based on our conditioning, we create invisible cages for ourselves, limiting our lives within their boundaries.
But we don’t have to succumb to our internal imprisonment. Throughout the High Holidays, we will hear the shofar blast. Historically, the shofar signaled the release of all slaves at the end of the Jubilee year. That sound should make us ask, “What enslaves us? What weighs us down? What baggage do we hold onto?” And then, let it go. The High Holidays present us with a tunnel, an opportunity to break free from our self-imposed cages, to find our route to freedom and live life with renewed passion. The shofar inspires us to free the Mohini inside and move beyond our boundaries.
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.
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
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
“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!
Who else felt like shedding a tear last night when Aly Raisman took home gold in the individual floor exercises? There has been no shortage of Jewish champions at the Olympics in the past (Sasha Cohen or Sarah Hughes, for instance), but something about this Jewish American champion just strikes me as so spectacularly Jewish, I can’t help feeling an extra sense of pride.
For starters, you can’t ignore Aly’s floor exercise music-it’s an upbeat, Hava Negila–and she has been quoted as saying she wanted to use the song because “there aren’t too many Jewish elites out there.” Aly’s pride in her Jewish roots blasts out into the stadium, for the whole arena (and the millions of the viewers watching around the globe) to behold.
Then, of course, Aly’s parents became famous, for their kvelling Jewish spirit that took over while watching their daughter perform. If you haven’t seen the viral video of the Raismans that some NBC genius decided to film, it’s worth going over to the NBC website to watch. The Raisman’s hilariously pained expressions, the stress they feel vicariously for their daughter’s success–well if that didn’t remind you of some Jewish parents, I don’t know what will.
The fact that Aly won gold for a performance to a song so associated with Jewish life and tradition just hits me somewhere deep.
Yes, the International Olympic Committee refused to publicly take a moment to honor the Israeli athletes who were killed in Munich 40 years ago. But Aly’s beautiful tribute to her Jewish roots is reminding viewers that being Jewish at the Olympics can trigger a different sort of tears–tears of joy.
Two weeks ago, I told my boss I was leaving. This is at my day job, understand–not my job job (writing poems and books and movies), or my real job (taking care of some kids, and doing my best to keep them from killing themselves and each other, and possibly teaching them some stuff), but rather the place where I’ve spent 8 hours of most days of the past four years. Ten hours, if you add in the commute.
It’s kind of an incredible math: There are 24 hours to a day, one-third of which is spent at work, another one-twelfth getting there, one-third to one-quarter (6-8 hours, on average–admittedly, an optimistic average) sleeping, in preparation for the onslaught of your day. What’s left should be a lot of time (another 8-10 hours, right?, if you’ve been keeping up with the math), but where does it all go? Praying. Cleaning. Eating. Posting dumb stuff on Facebook. Trying to write.
Far and away the biggest thing I’ve done with the past few years is Jewniverse–which, if you haven’t been getting it, is a daily email I’ve been writing and designing that’s better, I hope, than the title suggests: something cool and interesting and novel that you’ve never heard of, that’s in some way Jewish. You can subscribe here–too late to catch most of mine, but good people will still be writing (I’ll still be one of them, occasionally), and I’ve still got a month of stuff ready to go out. The website is not quite live yet, but in a week or two, if you go to thejewniverse.com, there’ll be a ton of these things to check out.
(And then I’ve done a bunch of other stuff, like these videos and these articles and this blog, and omg I threw years of my life into this blog, and one day I’ll separate the cool articles from the stupid video posts, but I don’t know when…but it’s weird, saying goodbye.)
So that’s been the past two years. It’s weird to say goodbye to your babies, especially since, unlike actual babies,it’s not even like my old posts are going to come back from college or invite me to their weddings or put me into a nursing home or something.
But it’s been good. Daniel, my editor, made a point of telling me that, over the past 2 years, I’ve written and sent out 4.7 million emails. Most of them have been short, under 200 words, but it’s still pretty powerful and an amazing gift that I’ve been able to. And it’s totally dumb of me to say thank you to you for reading and listening, but I’m going to say it anyway.
I’m still around. I’ll still blog (hopefully more, now that I’ve got time!) at matthue.com, and I have a new book coming out next year! I’m moving on–starting Monday, I’ll be writing video games for Wireless Generation, and I’m hugely excited, although right now I’m more nervous and anxious about it. But I’ll see you around. It’s a small Internet, after all, and it’s only getting smaller.
(Yeah. That’s all I meant to say.)
MyJewishLearning.com is seeking a full-time Editor to lead its editorial team.
The Editor will oversee the website’s content conceptualization, production, editing, and distribution. This includes supervising the editorial calendar, multiple blogs, e-newsletters, social media engagement, online classes, and special projects. The Editor will also manage our collaborations with partner agencies. The Editor will be responsible for all day-to-day operations of MyJewishLearning.com, including managing and supervising several staff members. The Editor will report to MyJewishLearning, Inc.’s Director of Operations.
Qualified candidates must have at least 3 years of relevant experience and significant knowledge of Judaism and Jewish life. Experience in web publishing and editing is desired. Ideal candidates must be comfortable with a broad array of new media with a desire to learn more. Those applying should be self-motivated, highly organized, detail-oriented, and responsive to deadlines. Candidates should be experienced managers–of time, people, and projects
The job includes full health and dental benefits, as well as professional development opportunities. This position is located at our New York City headquarters.
To apply, please send a cover letter, resume and an answer to the question below to jobs (at) myjewishlearning.com:
In 300 words or less, tell us about a website that MyJewishLearning.com can learn from and why.
Alice Walker is one of my favorite authors ever, hands down. The Temple of My Familiar might have been the first book to ever make me think of things in a spiritual way, and Meridian basically made me a feminist. Not to mention The Color Purple, which is huge. Huge. It seized the collar of my adolescent Philadelphia-white-trash t-shirt and pulled me into another world, another place, made me realize that there were people other than myself, told me that being a woman was not all dressing sexy and laughing at nerd boys, and that there was in fact a greater world out there. (And the film version was, of course, directed by Steven Spielberg, my favorite director person at the time.)
Keep this in mind when you read this article from JPost about Ms. Walker forbidding a new translation of The Color Purple into Hebrew:
In a June 9 letter to Yediot Books, Walker said she would not allow the publication of the book into Hebrew because “Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.”
In her letter, posted Sunday by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel on its website, Walker supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and offered her hope that the BDS movement “will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation.”
There are so many reasons this is ridiculous. But there’s only one thing that sticks out in my mind: That Ms. Walker is denying the power of stories. Maybe she doesn’t want to accept Israeli money, and that’s legit. But it’s a freaking BOOK ABOUT OPPRESSION. Wouldn’t it make sense to publish and spread it in Israel? Or does she think Israelis are beyond redemption? Doesn’t she think that art has the possibility to change people’s minds and attitudes? Doesn’t she think that more people reading The Color Purple could actually alter the dynamic of a society that is going through major hurdles, in terms of race and gender and sexuality at this very moment?
Maybe Walker is denying Israel a book that Israelis really actually need to read. (Or, Israelis: maybe you should just pick up a copy of Po Man’s Child by Marci Blackman, which has a similar message, and is really pretty amazing.)
By the way, there’s been at least one suggestion on Facebook to crowdsource a new translation. Which I sort of love, as a way of pulling the carpet out from under everybody’s feet at once.
So it’s always given me a thrill when a bunch of musicians I love play a song together, and I also sort of feel that way about writers. If anything, writers are even more of a thrill — since ordinarily writers are such solitary creatures, and outside of mystery novels and James Patterson marathon novel-writing sessions, the idea of writers teaming up rarely if ever happens. But the new fortieth issue of the literary journal McSweeney’s has a bunch of favorite-worthy writers in it — some of my favorites, and some of the site’s favorites — and it would be a considerable disservice if I didn’t give it a shout-out.
I mean, just check out this picture of Neil Gaiman discovering the issue for the first time:
So Gaiman, who (depending who you ask, and what sort of mood they’re in when you ask) is Jewish, or has Jewish heritage, or (this one I’m pretty sure about) occasionally uses Jewish protagonists and folktales in his work, has a great little story called “Adventure Story.” I could try and explain how Jewish it is, but I feel like that would only be preying on Jewish stereotypes, and it’s too good a story to spoil it that way. So let me instead share the first lines with you, and you can do your stereotyping and connecting-the-dots for yourself:
In my family, “adventure” tends to be used to mean “any minor disaster which we survived, or even “any break from routine.” Except by my mother, who still uses it to mean what she did that morning. Going to the wrong part of a supermarket lot and, while looking for her car, getting into a conversation with someone whose sister, it turns out, she knew in the 1970s would qualify, for my mother, as a full-blown adventure.
So, um, yeah, Jewish mothers.
And it’s sort of a one-two punch, since Adam Levin also has a story. And Israeli author Etgar Keret, who we profiled recently on Jewniverse) follows his story with his classic melange of funny/heartbreaking called “A Good One.” It’s mostly about a man’s (spoiler) (not really) mental breakdown, but on another level, it’s sort of about cultural miscommunication and the weird, and weirdly successful, things that Israeli businesspeople do to get a foothold in the competitive world of American marketing.
Hey, did any of you see Sacha Baron Cohen on The Daily Show the other night?
More specifically, did anyone notice the language that he was speaking in the movie clip? Sure, it was pronounced like Arabic. But if I’m not mistaken, he was actually speaking Hebrew.
Here — it starts about 30 seconds into this video:
My mastery of Hebrew is not the absolute greatest (disclaimer: MyJewishLearning hired me anyway), but I definitely recognized the word “machonit” used for “car,” and “od echad” for “another one.” What do you think?
It’s been awesome to watch the Real Top Rabbis contest unfold — nearly 250 of you sent in stories about your favorite rabbi that touched and inspired us.
And today’s the day we add up the votes. We’re excited that we could play a part in honoring all these rabbis, and that we could tell these stories to a wider audience. And we’d just like to share with you the winner of dinner for two and a massage: Rabbi Matthew Soffer.
Rabbi Soffer is rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston. He’s also the director of the Riverway Project, which engages 20’s and 30’s in his community. You can read his nomination here, or read more at his own blog and Twitter.
We’ll be taking Rabbi Soffer to a well-deserved night of dinner and a massage. But we’d like to congratulate and thank all of the rabbis who participated — and all the rabbis out there who help us, every day, on the grand scale and the individual scale, for both the big moments and the everyday moments. Thank you, rabbis!
Here’s one way that you can help out a historic synagogue — and help yourself in the process!
Congregation Beth Elohim, a landmark synagogue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is a finalist in the American Express Partners in Preservation Program. As finalists, they have a chance to win up to $250,000 to restore their beautiful stained glass windows in the main sanctuary.
They’re the only Jewish institution named as a finalist. They’re up against such prestigious institutions as the Guggenheim Museum and the Apollo Theater. To win, they need your votes. Here’s how you can help:
– Vote daily at http://pipvoting.nationaltrust.org/detail/10
- “Like” them on Facebook and share the link so others can do the same
– Encourage your family, friends and neighbors to vote for CBE
– Join them for “CBE Connects,” an open house event, on Sunday, May 6 from 2 to 5 p.m.
And to thank you for voting in person at CBE or tagging the CBE Facebook page in your status update, they’re raffling off a year’s free membership at CBE and an iPad. So vote early, and vote often!