Thumbs up to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism for their Project Reconnect, which seeks “to reinvolve, reinvigorate, and reconnect the very many Jewish adults who were touched by the Conservative movement’s programs for teenagers, college students and young adults.”
And a double thumbs up for its Come Home for the Holidays initiative, which offers free High Holiday tickets to young adults who grew up in the Conservative movement. It’s great to see Conservative Judaism taking outreach seriously.
But a thumbs down for their gratuitous use of Hebrew jargon.
Today’s insightful New York Times Magazine article about Kickstarter set me browsing again. I used the crowdfunding site to raise the printing costs for The Comic Torah and it always, it provides a glimpse at the cutting edges of numerous cultures. My inner technogeek was intrigued to see projects funding $50 radiation detectors and $60 custom jeans. My Jewish culture maven found some just-as-cool, but less expensive, projects to support.
First, a Kabbalah-themed comic:
The 36 is a graphic novel based on the Kabbalistic belief that there are 36 people in the world upon whom it is saved by their simple existence. In times of need, these people emerge from anonymity and save us, then fade back into their lives.
Noam, our hero, is one of those people. Armed with the fabled staff of Moses (used to split the Red Sea), Noam would love nothing more than to fade into anonymity; he just doesn’t know what he has to do to finish his duty as one of the 36.
You can check out the first five pages of the comic here!
Tonally, it borrows from Bill Willingham’s Fables, with the source material being Jewish mysticism. It’s a world of magical realism in which golems exist and 36 humans have God-given abilities and the task to “save” humanity. These abilities range from the mundane, like speaking with animals, to the super, like wielding electricity. At its heart, the story focuses on the relationships between Noam and those he protects, whether fighting with his nebbish brother or fending off the infatuation of a girl he’s protecting. The first two chapters follow Noam as he investigates a murder spree committed by someone using a golem — an ancient creature created from mud.
Second, a 25th anniversary album from the Klezmatics:
To mark its silver anniversary, the band that helped bring klezmer into the 21st century is releasing Live at Town Hall, a sonic souvenir of a remarkable NYC concert. And to help promote this, the Klezmatics’ first self-produced live CD, the Grammy Award-winners are launching their very own Kickstarter campaign. Your generous donation will enable them to cover post-production costs and hire a radio promoter and media publicist to bring the recording not only to those who already love the Klezmatics and klezmer, but also to those who are entirely new to the music.
Since 1986, the Yiddish-American roots band the Klezmatics has spearheaded the popular revival of a tradition that once flourished at Jewish weddings and other joyous occasions in the shtetls and cities of Eastern Europe. They have performed in more than twenty countries and have released ten cds – of which Live at Town Hall, made in conjunction with the recent documentary film The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground, is the newest.
The double cd captures the Klezmatics’ milestone sold-out concert at the storied New York venue. The band rips through a career-spanning setlist, assisted by a star-studded roster of special guests including two of the band’s former clarinetists, David Krakauer and Margot Leverett and recent vocal collaborators Susan McKeown and Joshua Nelson. The audience is treated to a musical journey, traveling from the band’s earliest days (“Dzhankoye,” “Fun tashlikh”) through newly-composed songs featuring the lyrics of folk troubadour Woody Guthrie. The event was a real Klezmatics hometown party: a celebration of community, music and love, past, present and future.
With your help we can spread the word and the joy… Lomir ale freylekh zayn!
And then there’s a project about Ben Shahn, the great progressive, Jewish artist of the 20th century Depression.
There has yet to be written a full-lenth, color illustrated book on Shahn’s murals for the gernal public in the context of the New Deal (1933-1942). My work will be the first to explore Shahn’s visual representation of progressive Jewish political ideals and historical events — the importance of the Bill of Rights; Jewish involvement with the labor union movement; support for political radicals; the many contributions by immigrants to the United States; and the pressing need for FDR to open the country’s borders to Europe’s refugee (FDR would not).
Shahn was the only artist who worked for the New Deal who had the daring to include in his public mural scenes of Nazi Germany, the construction of concentration camps, and the plight of Europe’s refugees.
Finally, there’s a project underway to raise money for one of the strangest novels ever to cross my desk.
An Educated, Desperate Young Man chronicles the picaresque exploits of Naftali Herz Imber, the nineteenth century Hebrew poet best known (indeed, only known) for having penned the lyrics to what would become the Israeli national anthem. Spanning forty years and half the globe, it follows Imber from his impoverished youth in modern-day Ukraine through his travels in Romania (where he writes his famous poem), Istanbul (where he becomes enmeshed in a preposterous feud with devotees of Shabbatai Sevi, the seventeenth century false messiah), Ottoman Palestine (where he endeavors to unearth the telephone wires erected by King Solomon), London (where he lectures textile workers on how Moses discovered electricity) and New York’s Lower East Side (where his drunken shenanigans strain the tolerance and generosity of the Philadelphia judge who supports him). Things come to a head at the First Zionist Congress in Switzerland, where Theodore Herzl (a fastidious, failed Viennese playwright) articulates a plan to establish an independent Jewish polity in a sun-scorched backwater of the Ottoman Empire.
An Educated, Desperate Young Man is a bawdy, irreverent tour through fin de siècle Jewish history, a rollicking counter-narrative of early Zionism and a tender, merciless, hilarious tale of art and madness.
So far, however, Bibi has condemned the psak din, but has not done anything to fire the rabbis who issued it. So too, the ruling has not been countered by the chief rabbis, or by any of the rabbis who guide Netanyahu’s coalition partners. In other words, while Netanyahu may profess outrage, this does seem to be the normative halachic ruling for the State of Israel.
Would 50 Israeli civil servants be so stupid as to piss off all 6 billion goyim on the planet, including over a billion Christians? You betcha!
After all, the Israeli Orthodox establishment has gone to great lengths to alienate 5 million non-Orthodox American Jews. They’ve declared the child of one of our top theologians to not be Jewish; they’ve arrested our religious leaders for the crime of carrying a Torah in public; and they’ve decreed that Sabbath observance is the only defense against forest fires.
They’ve kicked us in the face, and the leaders of American Jewry — the Jewish Federations and the Jewish organizations — did nothing but applaud and defend the government that empowered them. There was no price to pay.
Back in 1988, the Jewish establishment had balls (I’m looking at you, Shoshana Cardin). Yitzhak Shamir was on the verge of forming a coalition with the haredim by giving in to Habad-fomented demands to ammend Who Is a Jew. A high powered delegation of American Jewish machers flew to Jerusalem… and the result was Israel’s first national unity government.
But that was then. Now, not so much noise from American Jewry. No real push-back as the Israeli Foreign Minister announced, at the UN, his plan to remove the citizenship of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens. No, nothing but applause. This disastrous coalition of Lieberman and Ovadia, of racist nationalists and racist fundamentalists, doesn’t offend the American Jewish establishment.
The question is, will American Christians be so forgiving?
The attack ad practically writes itself:
“”My opponent voted to give billions of dollars in foreign aid to a country where government supported clergymen preach hatred toward Christians….”
If AIPAC leaders care about Israel (rather than the Republican party), they might want to look up from their porn and give Bibi a call. Because this time, Bibi’s buddies are playing with fire.
I’m constantly amazed at the sheer creativity that shows up, looking for a handout, on Kickstarter.com, the fundraising web site I used to finance the first printing of The Comic Torah. (In case you’re wondering, the book is at the printer’s, waiting to be bound.)
Three new projects with a Jewish angle. A Jewish cartoonist whose humor shaped two generations of Jews. A Palestinian art project with Israeli collaboration. And an iPhone app for one of New York’s most Jewish neighborhoods.
Like most of their Kickstarter peers, offer ample rewards and thanks for two-figure donors. So check them out.
Lawrence Bush’s daily Jewdayo email reminds us that
Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronstein) was fatally wounded by an assassin in Mexico on this date in 1940. After years of activism and imprisonment, Trotsky helped to lead the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and was the founder and commander of the Red Army, which was victorious in the civil war that followed the revolution. After the death of V.I. Lenin, Trotsky lost a lengthy power struggle with Joseph Stalin and ended up in exile, pursued by Stalin’s agents, one of whom finally buried an ice axe in his head. Trotsky founded the Fourth International in 1938 as an international communist alternative to Stalin’s Comintern. By then Trotsky was the world’s best-known leftwing critic of Stalinism and had his name invoked by the Soviet dictator throughout the Moscow Trials and other purges as the shadowy source of treachery and sabotage.
“I have followed too closely all the stages of the degeneration of the revolution . . . I have sought too stubbornly and meticulously the explanation for these phenomena in objective conditions for me to concentrate my thoughts and feelings on one specific person. . . I have never rated Stalin so highly as to be able to hate him.” —Leon Trotsky
Celebrate the Yarzheit with David Ives’ comic meditation on what it means to take 36 hours to die after being stabbed in the head with an icepick.
With one month to go until Yom Kippur, The Shalom Center and Jewish Currents have teamed up to create a video celebrating 10 contemporary martyrs who were killed in the past 50 years “because they were affirming profound Jewish values of peace, justice, truth, and healing of the Earth.”
Jewish Currents, the 65-year-old progressive, secular magazine, is looking for some interns this summer. Positions pay “a small hourly stipend” and require various degrees of computer expertise. Details here.
Do you like playing computer games? You can play more than 10,000 different games on Kongregate.com, for free. More games are added to the site every day, written by a legion of programmers hoping to win fame… and perhaps a very modest fortune … by creating a popular game.
It’s time to harness that raw creativity and technical talent for the Jewish community.
We can use games to teach the boring stuff of Jewish education, specifically Hebrew literacy and vocabulary.
Yes, there are already games to teach 100 words of Hebrew vocabulary, or the alef bet, or even which blessings to say when.
But these games haven’t taken off, for a simple reason: They don’t meet the needs of real Hebrew students.
Most Hebrew students — and I’m thinking here of Joey, my fourth grader whose favorite web site is Kongregate.com — have a specific goal in studying Hebrew. They want to do well on this week’s test.
So the words being taught have to be selected by a student’s teacher(s). There might be multiple lists for one student. Hebrew language and another for Tanakh class, in a day school setting. In a supplementary school, the vocabulary might consist of a few Hebrew letters… or of words that appear in the student’s Torah portion. It should be easy to select words keyed to a Biblical verse, a particular prayer, or a particular page of a Hebrew textbook.
But if the words are set by the teacher, the games need to be designed with the students in mind. They need to stand on their own as shoot-em-ups or puzzles or maze games or whatever genre is popular next year. But they don’t need to be programmed by educators… or even by Hebrew readers.
Kongregate.com offers programmers a set of instructions of how to interface the game they create to Kongregate’s back end of score keeping and advertising. The Hebrew game portal can similarly specify how each game would receive the player’s custom vocabulary list. How to take a dozen or two English-Hebrew word pairs and make a game out of it — that would be the programmer’s responsibility.
(Adobe did us a big favor last year when it released version 10 of its Flash player, the software in which the myriad free web games run. With the newest Flash, it’s easy to program bidirectional text — eliminating a practical obstacle to Hebrew in Flash games.)
The first games would have to be commissioned for the site, so it’s worth noting that the cost to hire a programmer to create a casual game like this has been estimated at below $10,000. When the project takes off, it can be largely self-supporting: a small membership fee, paid on a per-student basis by the participating school, could easily cover server and bandwidth costs.
Would-be players who aren’t enrolled by their school won’t be left out: They could be taught the Hebrew alphabet, and 100 basic words. But for participants, suddenly the stuff of homework — repetitive practice of vocabulary words — becomes a gaming matter. It’s a lot of Hebrew learning for a relatively small cost.
One common thread among many of the latest ideas is the benefit of creating centralized resources for the Jewish community. You might think a self-styled anarchist would enjoy the current status quo of messy everyone making Shabbos for themselves, but Dan is first and foremost a digital native and he understands the logic of the Internet. A singular Google and a singular iTunes have replaced local telephone books and record stores. Shouldn’t the Jewish community have single web interfaces?
A couple of ideas, however, seem to run up against the principle of centralization, inventing J-wheels where standard wheels are already rolling along quite fine:
#16 Social Auctions suffers from the same problem of all non-Ebay auction sites: Ebay is where the buyers are. Unless… if you can make it a mitzvah imperative. Can we make TzchatkesForTzedakah.com a web destination? Maybe with the right Facebook interface. Do I want to let all my friends know that I just bid $10 for a used Star Trek model to benefit Haitian relief? Hmm….
Finally, Dan announced that the brainstorming project will continue through February, as Jewschool, JTA, The Forward, eJewish Philanthropy, Jewcy and the Jewish Federations of North America play tag team with Dan in producing 28 more ideas.
So: What are your thoughts on centralization in the Jewish community?
So now, consider these six further snapshots from an internet-aware Jewish world of 2020:
#4: Surfcasting technology lets you play back a class on Jewish radicalism in which Sieradski narrates a tour of web sites on the topic. As you play the video of Sieradsky, your browser follows along and you pause to bookmark a sites on the tour. Then you copy some text to your Facebook status.
#6 An XML Jewish text specification, repository and API means that anyone who wants to download a classic Jewish text, adapt it, or reference it can do so easily. After all, Jewish classics are the property of the Jewish people, and they should be made available online.
#7 The Open Source Beit Midrash. Surfcasting meets XML Jewish text specification. An online environment where all the texts are at hand as you learn with a hevruta study partner through video chat.
#8 Jewish Book Builder. The traditional text is only the beginning of a Jewish book. The fun comes as you add commentary on the sides. Make your own Haggadah meets the Open Siddur project. Why settle for stamping your name when you can personalize a bencher for your wedding?
#9 Niggun Please is a Jewish Liturgical Music Database. Wouldn’t it be loverly if the website of your minyan, shul or school had a link to listen to the tunes and songs it uses? Imagine a playlist widget that could play a list of songs from a database of streaming niggunim — meaning Jewish liturgical tunes?
The posts are worth reading in full, as are the comments on them. Here on Jewschool, I thought I’d ask for thoughts and suggestions on making these visions a reality? How much effort and how much money will be required to make it happen? What sort of organizational structure(s)?
“Judaism is the world’s most obsessive-compulsive book club,” says Aaron Freeman, standup comic, Storahtelling-certified Torah Maven, and occasional Jewschool contributor. “Every week, religous Jews read a portion or “parsha” of the Hebrew Bible, so that at the end of a year we’ve read the whole thing. Then we start all over again.”
In 2006, Aaron discovered a program called Comic Life and set out to create a weekly visual midrash. Originally illustrated with photoshopped pictures and titled “52 Parshas,” the strip evolved into the Comic Torah as his wife, artist Sharon Rosenzweig, offered to lend her considerable talents to the project if only Aaron would “stop sucking up to the rabbis.”
For three years, Aaron and and Sharon lived the book club life together: More »
ylove passed on a link to a fascinating article about the future of in-vitro meat, that is, meat grown in a test-tube:
It starts with cells—it could be a stem cell or something called a myoblast, a precursor to muscle. You proliferate these cells in a kind of nutritious soup that’s filled with vitamins and amino acids and salts and sugar. This is the biochemical equivalent of blood. In order for the cells to grow into tissues, they need this medium. And, it turns out, the most promising approach to producing this medium is to use microalgae, which are photosynthetic organisms even more efficient than plants. We recently funded some research at Oxford University to examine how meat cultured with this medium compares to conventional meat in terms of energy impact, and the study showed that it uses 90 percent less land and water, all while producing 80 percent fewer greenhouse emissions.
Development is being spearheaded by a non-profit whose goal is reducing the resource footprint of the world’s appetite for meat.
Growing hamburgers in vats solves some halachic problems: No tzaar baalei hayim, cruelty to animals, as in endemic in contemporary factory farming. No need to hire rabbis to oversee the slaughter.
But it raises other questions.
Does meat cloned from a cow’s stem cell count as ever min hachai — meat (ultimately) from a live animal, which is prohibited to be eaten? Can a tissue culture be said to chew its cud if it has no cud, or to have cloven hoofs if it has no hooves? Could it conceivable be parve and permitted to be served with milk?
Ten years from now, McDonald’s may boast that its serves low-carbon, cruelty-free in vitro burgers. As Jews, should we eat them?
Over in Jerusalem, Peace Now has put up posters warning of the destruction of the Third Temple — the State of Israel — threatened by the ongoing settlement process. YNet reports:
The poster, that is certain to stir up controversy in the capital, reads: “Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things – idolatry, incest and bloodshed. Why was the Second Temple destroyed? Because there was unfounded hatred. And what, heaven forbid, will lead to the destruction of the Third Temple? The settlements, fanaticism and occupation.”
“For this I mourn,” the poster continues,” for the settlements that were built in the heart of Palestinian territory and that keep peace and quiet from our land. For the settlements that were built, with or without permit, and that turn us into the loathsome scum among the nations.
“For the outposts that were built by deception and by turning blind eyes. For Jerusalem, the joy of the land, that has been turned into a city of strife and quarrel. For the continued investment and construction in the settlements, that will ultimately lead to one state for two people – and thus put an end to the Zionist enterprise.”
For a powerful look at how relevant the fast and the book of Lamentations really is in the 21st century, go to Veleveteen Rabbi:
Lamentations is powerful poetry. Reading it this year, I think: two thousand years ago, this was our story of death and destruction, famine and homelessness, murder and rape. Today it is someone else’s story, and what are we doing to make it better? Wearing little green wristbands which proclaim “Not on my watch” the way the yellow ones proclaim “Livestrong”? Turning away from any sense of responsibility for Israel’s policies which keep Palestinians in refugee camps? Choosing to see what is beautiful in the world (and there is much which is beautiful) instead of what is painful? But on Tisha b’Av we’re called to face what hurts. And there is much which hurts.
For a different perspective, you can go to Yid With Lid, where the rise of Barack Obama is equated with the Spanish Expulsion and the extermination of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Personally, I’m divided on the fast. Does it encourage revanchist longings to rebuild the Temple or does it encourage empathy with the world’s refugees? Is it “a restless hungry feeling that don’t do noone no good,” as Bob Dylan put it, or is it the day on which the Messiah will be born?
Shefa Gold is smarter than I am. Where I get caught amongst the Trees, she sees the shape of the Forest. Where I bumble blind through every single relationship in my life – barking my shins on the sharp corners, reading my life in Braille, Shefa sees challenge and hope and an invitation to love.
Shefa imagines that we can “live our whole lives by the Song of Songs” and comes up with 10 commandments that would have an explosively positive impact on the objects of our passion, and ourselves too, if we were to follow them.
In this book, Shefa makes the point that the Beloved is not just a physical lover. This relationship can be our relationship to anything we are passionate about: music, an idea, a place, a friend, a colleague, a lover, a spouse, a talent, God.
For instance, today, I invited the power of commandment Number Three into a conversation I had between two friends I know who are each going through a bad time. The commandment is: Thou Shalt cultivate generosity in appreciation of the Beauty that is before Thee. In her explanation of this “commandment,” Shefa states: “To praise is a transformative act: It changes the giver and the recipient both.” Just a few moments spent noticing aloud how lovely it was to see how honest and generous these two are with each other took them out of an anxious, frustrated mood and put them in a very good space where they acknowledged how very seen they feel with one another.
Here is a glorious vision that invites us to live with love as our starting point, as opposed to other motivations: fear, loneliness, greed, selfishness. Love is the can opener, and Shefa Gold points us how to open ourselves with it.
With this book, every day is Valentine’s day, as you increase your ability to bring more love into your life.
Perhaps the most unusual alliance in this year’s election is between the Green Leaf Party, which has no seats in the Knesset, and the Pensioners’ Party, which has six. Renamed the Holocaust Survivors’ and Grown-Up Green Leaf Party, the party’s prime issues are legalizing marijuana and pensioners’ rights, especially… Read More those of Holocaust survivors. One of the party’s TV ads shows party head Gil Kopatch smoking a joint at the grave of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.