Two and a half months ago, I moved from Boston to New York.
I had lived in Boston for 33 of my 35 years, but I had always wanted to live in New York, and the time was right. When speaking with friends after the move, the refrain was the same. “I don’t miss it. I was ready to go.” I’ve missed my friends but not my city.
And then bombs went off at the Boston marathon.
It’s hard to overstate the role of the marathon in the life of the city. The state takes a holiday. (The entire state, not just the city, as Boston does on
St. Patrick’s Evacuation Day.) People flood into the city from around the world. And rather than run the other way, as Bostonians tend to do when confronted with tourists, instead we line the entire route of the marathon so we can cheer: for our friends, for our visitors, and for our city.
I work in a relatively small office, and three of us have moved to NY from Boston in the last three years. So when one of the others interrupted a meeting I was having to say, “Have you heard about Boston?” I had no expectation that those words would bring bad news.
Nothing is worse than being the direct victim of violence. But being far away from those you love, not knowing what’s going on, and seeing only a stream of “I’m okay!” and “here’s what we think is happening” and especially “here are the ways we can all help” flood my Twitter and Facebook feeds does a number on you.
Last night, I was looking at Twitter on my way home and saw a friend in Boston had shared a picture from Brooklyn of BAM lit up with messages of support for Boston. In a moment of synchronicity, I happened to be getting out of a cab in front of BAM at that moment, so I walked around the building to see the display for myself. There was a small crowd of people taking pictures and offering comfort to each other.
A blogger with some handheld video device approached me and asked if I would be interviewed on camera. I figure bloggers should help each other out, so I agreed. He asked how I was feeling on that day, and I shared that I was a recent Boston transplant so the day was difficult, but thank God as far as I knew everyone in my life was safe. He then started down the path of comparing what happened to daily life in Syria. I cut him off and said something about how I knew that today alone in Iran the fatalities outnumbered anything in Boston, and that people all over the world were suffering, and it was important for us to remember that too. And then I got myself out of the conversation because I didn’t want to become a pawn in some kind of project of comparative suffering.
Over the course of the last two months, I’ve been participating in the Shalom Hartman Institute’s iEngage program, which offers a text-based approach to discussing the State of Israel through the perspective of Jewish values. (I now work for the Institute, so in this course, I am both participating and learning about one of our own programs.) Rather than dealing with fact sheets or calls to activism, iEngage challenges us to grapple with ideas like “what are the Jewish values around power and powerlessness,” and “what does a Jewish conception of democracy look like,” and “what exactly is Jewish peoplehood?” We study texts ancient and modern, guided by the Institute’s scholars and in chevruta with our colleagues.
The particular cohort for my iEngage group is Jewish social justice professionals, with a mix of folks from the lefty spectrum, including staff members from New Israel Fund, T’ruah, Keshet, Jewish Community Relations Councils, etc. In our discussions of Jewish peoplehood, some of the participants bristled at the concept, feeling like it was ancient chauvinism morphed into some kind of Zionist guilt-trip. For me, a sense of Jewish peoplehood has always been more about a deep-felt connection to people around the world and throughout history, most of whom I’ve never met and many of whom I’m sure I wouldn’t like very much if I did. The idea that we look out for our own first (but not only) and worry about those with whom we share a connection more than those from whom we are disconnected has never felt chauvinistic to me. It feels human.
And until yesterday, I never realized how much I feel that same connection to the people of my home town. And when the (certainly well-intentioned but misguided) blogger outside of BAM implied that my concern for my fellow Bostonians was somehow misplaced in light of suffering in the rest of the world, it came together for me, and I got angry. I am capable of complex thought and multilayered emotion. I can grieve for Boston without belittling Syria, Iran, or anywhere else in the world where people suffer. I can be a member of the Jewish people while also being a citizen of the world. I can be a New Yorker and be a Bostonian. And how dare anyone imply otherwise.
…then this production company wants to make you a reality television star!
Friday, Mar. 22, 2013, 12:06 PM
REALITY SHOW SEEKING NY JEWS
Pay Rate: $300 if cast for Demo
Prod. Co.: Matchbook Company
Casting Director: Morgan Evans
Interview Dates: April 9th, 2013
Shoot/Start Date: April 2013
PLEASE EMAIL US AT: email@example.com
Those who will be cast will be taped for a pilot presentation to be pitched to major networks.
PLEASE NOTE WHICH CHARACTER YOU SEE YOURSELF AS.
Looking for larger than life NY Jews with stereotypical personalities to create a cast for the next great reality series. This is a chance to work with a three-time Emmy award winning director and a top production company.
THE HAGGLER: Wiz in negotiating for anything. Get an extra thousand dollars off your new car purchase…PLUS free car washes for 5 years! Selling your home “The Haggler gets the brokers to kick in some of his fee toward making the deal. Buying a floor model Get it for practically nothing. The Haggler pushes the envelope and then pushes it further. Knows just how far to push before the deal goes sour. (Hairy Israeli type with gold chains, open shirt)
THE BANKER: Expert in investments and accounting. Getting the most deductions on your taxes without raising a red flag. How to invest for your and your children’s futures. Even teaches children how to start saving for their own college education. (Nerdy wimpy accountant type with glasses)
THE BARGAIN-HUNTER: Finds great deals on everything from luxury to low-end items. Expert in Coupons, day-old bread sales, free dinner on your birthday restaurants, two for one specials, doubling the value of your toilet paper, saving money across the board. Even has a diamond guy he wants to hook you up with. (a man or a woman)
THE MOTHER: An opinion on everything, she’s the Yoda for all advice. How to get over a cold, how to bag a man, how to make an excuse to get out of anything, how to make the perfect brisket, and perhaps most importantly, how to feed your family on pennies a day. (Big woman, always dressed up with a brooch and sparkly sequined top. Loud and thick accent, she has a natural humor)
THE PRINCESS: Perhaps the smartest one of all. She’s perfected the way to marry a man to pay for everything. (sexy and well-put together, you’re constantly at odds between wanting to sleep with her or slap her)
cross-posted from Jewsesses With Attitude
Throughout March, Baruch College Performing Arts Center has been presenting a series of Jewish comediennes in partnership with the Jewish Women’s Archive and Baruch’s Jewish Studies Center called Solo in the City: Jewish Women, Jewish Stars. With a mix of well-known names and up-and-comers in the lineup, the series defies the temptation to draw generalizations about funny Jewesses.
Jackie Hoffman, beloved in theatrical circles for her take-no-prisoners approach to musical comedy (sample lyric: “fuck you for asking me to do a show for free! / fuck you and your benefit for charity”), is at once an ideal and a challenging performer for such a series. Undeniably funny and with a deep understanding of Judaism (she’s the black sheep of an Orthodox family), she knows she can draw a typical Jewish audience in with songs criticizing Jewish Buddhists (“Inner peace and joy are overrated / come back to the fold of the most-hated”) and pushy mothers on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But when her paean to Shavuot includes lines like “Ten Commandments God gave to us so that we won’t sin again / Ten Commandments I break every day by eating pork and Christian men,” you know this isn’t your typical JCC fare.
While the publicity around this series carefully avoided the word “feminism,” I couldn’t help but watch Hoffman’s show and wonder if there was a feminist message to be divined from the woman who counts among her achievements “convincing the Hispanic security guards and bus boys of this city to use condoms” and openly resents the successes of co-stars she deems less deserving.
Jackie Hoffman doesn’t care if you find a feminist message — or any message — in her performances. And that in itself may be the embodiment of a feminist victory.
When Hava Nagila: The Movie played the Boston Jewish Film Festival last year, I rolled my eyes and opted out of what I assumed would be a twee, cloying tribute to the ubiquitous anthem to American Jewish vapidity.
But when, three weeks into my relocation to New York City, a friend asked me if I wanted to take his second ticket to see it at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, I tried to stifle my skepticism in favor of a night out in my new home.
I was prepared for a nostalgic campfest, and while there was an element of that, the film was also surprisingly moving and educational. I even got a little teary-eyed during the segment with Harry Belafonte. I was surprised to learn the film was created by the team behind the excellent Hannah Szenes documentary, Blessed Is The Match. Director Roberta Grossman and producer Marta Kauffman said that after they completed their Szenes film, both women’s daughters asked them to work on a happier project – hence “Hava Nagila.” And while this is a happier film, it doesn’t shy away from a number of challenging questions about Jewish engagement, the Israel/Diaspora relationship, and the blooming and wilting of various strains of Jewish culture.
The movie begins a national roll-out this week. If it’s playing near you, check it out.
Cartoonist Nina Paley has been working on a (potential) feature film called Seder-Masochism, and earlier this week she released a first look, which is also its last scene. “This Land Is Mine” illustrates the battles over the patch of land that’s been known as Canaan, Israel, Palestine, etc. in a way that’s reminiscent of Chad Gadya without the animals. Check it out:
If you’re not sure who each of the characters is supposed to represent, Paley offers a guide to “Who’s Killing Who” on her blog.
Today has been a frustrating day on many levels, and surprisingly, at the top of my frustration is two Conservative rabbis who are Facebook friends of mine who have chosen to share an Islamophobic cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed. I’m not going to link to it here because I don’t want to have a hand in further distributing the cartoon.
I wrote to each of them
I am disappointed to see the rabbis of my generation circulating a cartoon that flagrantly disrespects someone else’s religion, not to mention perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Is this the spirit in which you hope to enter 5773?
And to my surprise, instead of saying something like, “You’re right, I got carried away. I’m frustrated but this wasn’t the right way to express it,” both dug their heels in and defended their right to mock Islam in a way they both know specifically insults Muslims.
One of these rabbis is a chaplain with the US armed forces. The other holds a significant post in the Conservative Movement in the United States.
I have spent too much time and far too much emotional energy engaging with them and their followers, pointing out over and over again that both our tradition and common sense says that one does not achieve anything by inflaming the fires of hate or provoking those with whom we disagree. They refuse to hear me. Part of me wants to just unfriend them and be done with it, but I don’t want to contribute to my own retreat further into a bubble of people who share all my opinions. But I won’t back down because I believe this is an important discussion to have, and I know Jewish tradition expects us vigorously pursue justice. The quote from Mishnah that I’ve plastered on my social media channels today sums it up for me: “In a place where no one is behaving like a human being, be the human being.”
I have long since disavowed any affiliation with the Conservative movement that was once my home, but incidents like this confirm for me that I’ve made the right choice. I know, I shouldn’t judge an entire stream of a religion based on a couple of vocal leaders, but, well, you see the irony there.
Geltfriend Chanukah Sweaters.
I don’t know these people at all. I just stumbled across this on Facebook. But I’m charmed and want to make sure they get the additional two grand they need in the next day to make this go. Don’t be a hazzer! Contribute!
This might be the worst news I’ve read on the internet in a very long time:
Kosher Delight, a 28-year old establishment on Broadway between 36th and 37th street is scheduled to close on Sunday, according to rumors and the restaurant’s staff. (via Yeah That’s Kosher)
Sure, it was dirty. And a meal there always seemed like it came with the risk of infection. And the bathrooms looked like a set from a low-budget horror film. But it was home.
Forget Koach. Can we raise money to save Kosher Delight?
Ah, Sweden. Birthplace of Ikea. Home of Abba. Case-study in government use of social media gone terribly wrong.
It seems that the Swedish Tourism Board thought that turning over the official @Sweden Twitter Account to regular folks from around the country would be a great way to expose the rest of the world to all the country has to offer. I’m not sure how long the Curators of Sweden program has been running, but it got a boost of publicity this morning when the current curator, Sonja Abrahamsson, tweeted the following:
Whats the fuzz with jews. You can’t even see if a person is a jew, unless you see their penises, and even if you do, you can’t be sure!?
— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012
In nazi German they even had to sew stars on their sleeves. If they didn’t, they could never now who was a jew and who was not a jew.
— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012
Once I asked a co-worker what a jew is. He was “part jew”, whatever that means. He’s like “uuuuh… jews are.. uh.. well educated..?”
— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012
Where I come from there is no jews. I guess its a religion. But why were the nazis talking about races? Was it a blood-thing (for them)?
— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012
Im sorry if some of you find the question offensive. Thats was not my purpose. I just don’t get why some people hates jews so much.
— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012
I thought it was a good idea to ask the question when so many well educated people all over the world can answer. But no. Bad idea.
— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012
The question seems to be sensitive and complicated. And a little bit…..… infected. So…. yes. See you later, I have stuff to do!
— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012
I can’t be the only one reminded of Henry Blodget’s similar question on Business Insider at the end of last month, although there’s clearly a difference between tweets from someone who self-identifies as an under-educated woman from a little isty-bitsy village and the CEO of a respected publication. But I’ve got to wonder myself if there’s something about this moment that’s bringing “the Jewish question” back into public discourse.
The other day Frum Satire shared some pictures from Matisyahu’s Instagram under the heading “Matisyahu posts pictures of himself without a kippah,” lamenting the potential loss of a famous frum role model. There’s been a fair amount of back-channel chatter about what it might mean for Matisyahu — who’s already had to issue statements about shaving his beard and dropping his customary 17th Century Polish garb back in December — to be “off the derech” (moving away from Orthodox practice). Unfortunately, most of that search for meaning has been focused around “what does it mean for us” — with a bunch of different people putting themselves in that “us” category — and not enough thinking about what it might mean for him.
Many of us (and here, I mean “us” the writers and readers of Jewschool) have struggled with what we want our own Jewish observance to look and feel like, and many of us have had to do that in some kind of public sphere as leaders in our own tiny corners of the Jewish world. We know how much that sucks, and therefore how much more that sucks for Matis. Whatever you think about his music and whether or not his religious presentation helped his career, going through this kind of searching sucks even when you’re not a public figure and therefore all the much more so when you are.
If we really must find a way to make meaning for ourselves out of Matisyahu’s own personal journey, we can affirm what we all know, that Jewish living is, well, a life-long pursuit and not a static destination. And perhaps Matisyahu can be a positive role model in that way. And when he has another single or album to review, we can deal with whether or not his music is any good, regardless of the costume.
I am something of a Jewish education crumudgeon. In many years in the trenches working with teens, I saw lots of failed attempts by well-meaning innovators to marry Torah content with 21st-century technology. But while Second Life classrooms have turned to ghost towns and the web is littered with class-project blogs that stopped after one post, G-dcast is going strong.
Perhaps the real strength of G-dcast is that it doesn’t try too hard, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. G-dcast works because the concept is simple: invite creative people to narrate a bit of Torah (or a bit about a Jewish holiday), illustrate their narration with animation, and release them for free on YouTube. (Once they got established, G-dcast added some smart extras like a DVD version and complementary curriculum for use in classrooms.) But really, the magic formula of short, entertaining, and free should be studied (like Torah!) by anyone else hoping to break into this field.
And speaking of breaking into the field, that’s where G-dcast’s latest innovation gets me all tight in the pants. They’ve announced plans for Studio G-dcast, a six-day intensive workshop this summer for emerging writers, poets, singer/songwriters and animators who are currently in college or graduate school. This has the potential to be the artistic beit midrash of
the future today, where people who tell stories through words (& music) pair in chevruta with those who tell stories through pictures and motion to uncover meaning in our sacred texts. See why I’m getting all tight in the pants?
Application deadline is Friday, March 9, so get crackin’.
(Does anyone know, even anecdotally, anyone who’s actually asked for or received this money?)
Trust me, I’m a Jew. So what’s the deal with this attraction anyway?
After galavanting around Manhattan this past Saturday night with Jewish girls of course, I found myself sharing a cab with a Filipino girl back to Brooklyn. Relax mom I was just making sure she got home..uh..safely.
Mind you, officially Filipinos are Asians and the Philippines is part of Southeast Asia. The Philippines used to be called the Philippine Islands of the Pacific, so describing Filipinos as Pacific Islanders is still not wrong.
Our lively conversation ensued, and because this attraction has been plaguing me for so long I had to get her thoughts on the matter at hand. After clearly offending her when I told her the Jewish guys that I know think Asian girls are more submissive- bad idea- she started a defense on behalf of the whole female Asian community. I don’t think she saw my point, that sometimes the attraction is rooted in low self-esteem men who can’t handle the tough Jewish woman, and are attracted to the general passivity of asian women.
That’s just a sample.
Personally, I’m not sure if I should be more offended by the terrible writing, lack of editing, antifeminist approach to dating, conflation of race and religion…. oh, shit, if I list everything then you won’t get to play.
Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, president of Hebrew College, has issued a lengthy response to Rabbi Daniel Gordis’s Commentary column that accused young rabbis of turning on Israel.
Here’s a taste:
Most disappointing are Gordis’ recommendations for responding to the challenges that beset liberal rabbinical schools with regard to Israel education. While he admits that it will not be easy, he offers little upon which we can build a compelling educational plan. For Gordis, the selection of students, the curriculum and assigned readings and the year of study in Israel hold out the most hope for confronting the challenges that so concern him. The level of vagueness and generality in his list of suggestions is surprising, especially for a founding Dean of a North American rabbinical school. More baffling is his insistence that “raising the flag of particularity and distinctive loyalties high and unabashedly” holds out the most hope for developing rabbis who will be lovers of Zion. The adults that we teach in our Rabbinical School are not so shallow and anti-intellectual that they would be swayed by flag waving. Commitment to Jewish particularity will not be engendered by flowery rhetoric or demagogic charisma. The pledge of allegiance has long been discarded as the method to generate deep loyalty. Thin processes of socialization will not work to nurture the souls and stimulate the minds of adults who seek thick, authentic experiences of Judaism.
Cross-posted from JewishBoston.com.
Today, June 1st, is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. This is both an Israeli state holiday and a rabbinically mandated minor religious holiday, which means it’s celebrated both with parades and liturgy.
I’ll admit that this mixing of politics and religion makes me deeply uncomfortable. Attributing military and political victories to God is a step further down the slippery slope of political demagoguery than I’d like to take. It makes it easy for politicians, generals, and their supporters to confuse luck, skill, and power for divine right. It’s not surprising that the term demagoguery originates in Ancient Greece — that’s also where the habit of proclaiming religious holidays for military victories started. Perhaps you’ve heard of Chanukah?
I’m not alone in my discomfort with this conflation. The sages of the Talmud were so uncomfortable with Chanukah as a military holiday, they wrote a new backstory for it… you know, the bit about the oil? The rabbis thought we’d be better off with a fairy tale invented 600 years after the events of the holiday instead of celebrating the military victory. One might wonder whether the hindsight knowledge that the victory came at the price of quite a bit of Jew-on-Jew violence and resulted in a corrupt Hasmoean dynasty that further consolodated the roles of high priest, king, and general into one person and eventually lost Israel to Rome.
I read a lot of nonfiction, and more than a few memoirs. But my pleasure-reading tends towards showbiz tell-alls (next up: Tina Fey and Betty White) and pop-history (think Sarah Vowell). So when I was asked to review Susan Rosenberg’s An American Radical: Political Prisoner in My Own Country, I knew I’d be wandering out of my comfort zone.
Jewschool readers may know Rosenberg from her work as director of communications at American Jewish World Service. Those with longer memories may recall the 1990 documentary Through the Wire, which detailed a fight that Rosenberg and her fellow prisoners at the Female High Security prison in Lexington, Kentucky fought and won against the government protesting the cruel and unusual treatment they received. Rosenberg’s book connects the dots, detailing her transformation from radical activist on the FBI’s most-wanted list to non-profit Jewish professional.
In some ways, this book is hard to read. First, we are asked to sympathize with Rosenberg, a leftist radical advocating violent resistance to the US Government. She came of age in the 1970, when, she tells us, so much of the world was engaged in violent upheaval, it felt like the only way to stop the government’s racist, colonialist, misogynistic and anti-gay policies was through violence. She got involved with the Black Liberation Army and landed on the most-wanted list by being implicated in the Brink’s Robbery of 1981. While I can understand the enormity of the abuses she and her compatriots struggled against, it was hard for me to feel much sympathy for someone advocating for violent means to a political end.
But that changed the moment of Rosenberg’s capture, when she received a 58-year sentence for stockpiling weapons — the longest sentence ever given for a possession offence. Labeled a terrorist in the courts, Rosenberg was plunged into a prison nightmare so hellish, it challenges everything we want to believe about our land of the free, home of the brave. This too, makes the book hard to read, because the ugly underbelly of our justice system and the struggles of the women inside it are overwhelming.
At times, particularly in the first half of the book, I found myself wondering what Rosenberg was leaving out. Surely she must have provoked her captors to elicit some of the cruelty she encountered. But there is no justification for the torture she documents — and make no mistake, it is torture. Even more horrifying is Rosenberg’s admission that her status as a political prisoner, and a member of the white middle class, brought privileges even within the prison system that she credits with her survival.
As the book progresses, and Rosenberg herself matures and begins to not only examine the system but also her own beliefs, it becomes easier to root for her. Woven throughout her experience is a growing connection to her Jewish heritage. Although not religious, she finds strength in connection to her people and her heritage, and ultimately finds allies including a Chabad rabbi who makes prison rounds and Rabbi Matalon of B’nai Jeshurun in New York City. She writes of sharing a Passover seder in prison, one of her first moments of contact with the “general population” after months of segregation, and of teaching about the Holocaust in prison education classes to young women of color who had never encountered the subject. Even as she chafes at the rise of a more fundamentalist streak in prisoners of other faiths, Rosenberg manages to find grounding in a secular attachment to Judaism.
This book isn’t for everyone. I can’t imagine a reader who isn’t at least somewhat predisposed to liberal politics having any sympathy Rosenberg, especially because such readers are unlikely to make it far enough into the book to confront the abuses of the prison system. Those who are triggered by depictions of abuse and misogyny are also likely to have a difficult time with the book.
But it’s worth pushing through the discomfort, for there is real wisdom in these pages. And the network of individuals who coalesce around Rosenberg, and her own eventual emergence into nonviolent social activism and human rights work add a glimmer of hope to the otherwise bleak picture presented.
Sometimes I come across videos on YouTube that I simply can’t resist sharing with you all here.
Today, I present Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme singing the hits of Israel:
I wish I had grown up in a time when this is what Zionism sounded like. I wonder if we’ll achieve a time when Zionism can once again sound like this. May it come speedily and in our time.