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!
It seems like the whole world is afire with Jonathan Safran Foer’s new haggadah, which he’s been planning since at least 2007. Although it’s just one of several new haggadahs out this year (which Foer himself seems to footnote), it’s gotten massive play — including, among others, a blurb (and a snarky joke!) by President Obama.
Foer himself appeared last week at the UJA to talk about his newest project. Here’s a little snippet:
Paley: What is your favorite part of the Haggadah?
Foer: I guess my favorite parts tend to be the ones that are most problematic, you know, most fraught. The ten plagues are a good example. How do we with kids make sense of it, the notion that a kind of communal judgment is passed on an entire population? Obviously there were Egyptians who were not guilty and yet their kids were killed too after God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It’s very problematic.
So we could turn away from it, pretend it isn’t there, or we could say, “Here’s what we have, this is this document that is more than 3,000 years old, what meaning can we find in it and how can we apply that meaning to our lives?” One of the things that’s so exciting about the Haggadah is that it’s not just a mental exercise, it is intended to guide our lives, to bring us closer to that metaphorical Jerusalem of next year.
The Haggadah is nothing if not an aspirational book, and an optimistic book, a book that envisions something better, and questions what’s wrong with the present and how we can urge this moment toward a better moment. And that is the most dignified adventure that a human can go on, you know, wanting to participate in the repair of the world.
Calling all smart, talented, writerly, computer-savvy, and unemployed people! MyJewishLearning.com is on the hunt for an Editorial Assistant to join our team. Besides working with an awesome crew (seriously, we’re great, and we’ll get you donuts for your birthday), you’d be working in a lovely, casual Manhattan office and getting hands on with everything that goes into running a Jewish website, which is actually quite a lot.
Here’s the official job description:
MyJewishLearning.com. is seeking a full-time Editorial Assistant to join its dynamic team.
Tasks for this entry-level job will include researching editorial and visual content, loading and updating content to the website, creating e-newsletters, responding to inquiries, as well as supporting the general projects and needs of the editorial team.
Qualified candidates should have an interest in working in web publishing and have a strong knowledge of Jewish life and traditions. We’re looking for someone who can manage multiple tasks at one time, has an eye for detail, and brings energy and creativity to his or her job. Previous experience writing, working with content management systems, and Photoshop are a plus.
Benefits include health, dental, and vision insurance, retirement plans, and an allotment for professional development.
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To apply for this position please submit a resume, cover letter, and writing sample to email@example.com
MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Offering articles and resources on all aspects of Judaism and Jewish life, the site is geared toward adults of all ages and backgrounds, from the casual reader looking for interesting insights, to non-Jews searching for a better understanding of Jewish culture, to experienced learners wishing to delve deeper into specific topic areas.
So, um, yeah. The coop last night. Utter craziness.
First, a recap from the The Daily Show:
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
Last night, the Park Slope Food Coop had a special election, deciding whether to boycott all Israeli-made products. Because we are the Coop and are totally masturbatory overprocessing Brooklynites, it wasn’t actually a vote — it was a vote about whether or not we should have a vote.
Anyway. This international BDS movement (I keep wanting to say “BSDM movement,” and really meant to slip up accidentally-on-purpose on stage last night, but forgot to) has been trying to infiltrate the Co-op for the past few years. It always comes up, but last night was the real boiling point. Two thousand people packed into an auditorium. Supposedly it cost over $10,000. The election would’ve cost another $20,000. The entire assembly was people speaking for one or two minutes. It was a LOT of people.
What I Said
I’m a walker, and I’ve gotten into some of the best fights of my life at the Coop. We’re all different. We have nothing in common except for the fact that we like really good food. And that’s the way it should be. I’m a vegetarian. I totally think the Coop shouldn’t sell meat. I also really hate lima beans, and I’d encourage everyone not to buy them. But I don’t think it’s right to ban other people from buying them. Keep listening to each other, people, and please, keep the arguments alive. Don’t just ban them.
* Got home. Our boarders were like, “You’re Internet-famous.” Went through the tweets, and there were a ton of references to “the hyper Hasid” and “this surfer with payos.” Hey, I even got my own Twitter hashtag, which is super awesome and flattering, if ephemeral. Amy Sohn said “a star is born” about me! My friend Liz wrote, “Highlight 4 me was @matthue on his hatred of lima beans.” P.S.
my mom is so gonna kill me.
* There were a lot of BDS people at the vote last night. A lot of them weren’t actually coop members; they were just there to protest. I asked them, and they were really forthcoming about it. Totally fine for them to be there. On the other hand, they were the only ones not waiting to be admitted, which meant that the reporters got to speak to a lot more of them than anyone else–say, for instance, actual coop members. I’d call it “infiltration,” but then again, I watched every episode of the X-Files (not an exaggeration) and love conspiracy theories.
* I was one of the last people to speak. Itta said the people around us (big BDS shippers) didn’t understand what I was saying — granted, I’m not entirely coherent; I talk really fast and get bubbly, and the mic was really loud. On the other hand, I got stopped by a ton of people on the way out complimenting me. Granted, they were mostly old Crown Heights Hasidic ladies, but they were still awesome.
* I still want someone to ask if I’m in favor of the BDSM movement so I can just say, heck yeah!
“It is too late to prepare when temptation is actually at hand.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Ger
Sometimes you find yourself dangerously close to a piece of cheesecake. It inches even closer to you, begging to be eaten. “I can’t help myself,” you find yourself saying, as if an extra-terrestrial being has taken hold of you and forced down the cake. This reminds me of a trouble-maker I went to school with whose yearbook quote read: “Lead us not into temptation. Just leave us alone. We’ll find it.” Kicking the cheesecake habit is hard. But it is not impossible if you will it.
Even though they say that bad habits are hard to break, Charles Duhigg, in his recent book The Power of Habit, argues that the more we know about how we form our habits, the easier they are to change. He amasses scientific evidence to show that difficult tasks repeated multiple times become rote. We may barely think about what we do when we shoot a basket, drive a car or take a shower because we go into automatic pilot. We’ve done things so many times that our bodies engage even if our minds are coasting. David Brooks, writing on Duhigg, claims that, “Your willpower is not like a dam that can block the torrent of self-indulgence. It’s more like a muscle, which tires easily.” It needs to be fortified.
If repetition is the key to habit then recalibrating behaviors and doing them again and again differently becomes one critical way that we break bad habits and willfully choose new ones. When we learn new routines and practice them repeatedly we “teach” ourselves how to adopt best practices. It is awkward at first but still do-able. Research done at Duke University shows that 40% of our behaviors are made through habit rather than intentional decisions. With a little concerted mental effort, we can reshape old habits.
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir (1798-1866) was a Talmudic scholar and the first Gerer Rebbe, a Hasidic sect popular in Poland. Many stories and legends have evolved about the Rebbe’s piety and knowledge. Martin Buber, in Tales of the Hasidim, shares a well-known story about the Rebbe. When his mother died, he followed her bier, begging for forgiveness. He spoke to his mother’s coffin, “In this world, I am a man who is much honored and many call me rabbi. But now you will enter the world of truth and see that it is not as they think. So forgive me and do not bear me a grudge. What can I do, if people are mistaken in me?” Perhaps he understood that those who came to her funeral were doing so out of honor for him, taking away from his mother’s honor. He apologized.
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir did not posses any research from Duke University, but he did spend a lot of time contemplating the battle of good over evil. He warned his followers: “There will be many and grave temptations, and he who has not prepared himself for them will be lost.” You cannot prepare yourself for temptation when you are standing in front of it. You will not have had time or forethought to form the good habits you need to overcome desire. Imagine going to Siberia in the winter. Only when getting there do you realize that you need a coat. Ill-prepared, you cannot stay. But this would never happen because we check the weather before we travel. We can also check ourselves before we enter a situation which we suspect will present a test of our willpower. Temptation according to the Gerer Rebbe is something we prepare for precisely because he believed that temptation is a test: “it shows what within you is dross and what is true metal.” When your temptation level feels like jello, it’s time to remember Rabbi Yitzchak Meir and remind yourself that you’ve got nerves of steel.
Temptation is overcome by forming good habits and repeating them. That’s true when it comes to speaking well of others, praying, giving charity, studying, exercising, visiting the sick, and spending time with our families. We know where temptation lives, but research now helps us understand that we can knock on another door.