Experiencing your annual frustration that all Chanukah songs suck? Well, here’s a sweet surprise. Check out Susanna Hoffs, pop star and former member of The Bangles, re-tool their 1985 mega-hit “Walk Like an Egyptian“, to “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” , a song all about Chanukah, here in performance with the great Aimee Mann* and Ted Leo. It’s not just that Hoffs is Jewish, by the way; she has yichus. She is the granddaughter of the late Rabbi Ralph Simon, who served Congregation Rodfei Zedek, in Chicago’s South Side Hyde Park neighborhood from 1943-87, was President of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), and was a leading founder of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and, therefore, the entire Ramah camping movement. He was a larger-than-life community rabbi for his historical moment of big house Judaism, and inspired countless people. See him here, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoffs’s uncle and cousin, Rabbis Matthew and Joshua Simon, were also prominent rabbis. More »
Last year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths. Alexis Gewertz and Chelsea Scudder, two New Englanders from interfaith backgrounds with divinity school educations, aim to change that. They are the creators of Happy Challadays, a new line of greeting cards for those looking to celebrate the holidays without the drama of the “December Dilemma.”
The idea grew out of Alexis’s own experience as both the daughter of an interfaith marriage and as the Jewish partner in a Jewish-Catholic relationship. “It was a Christmas home growing up,” she told me, “but we started celebrating Hanukkah when my parents got divorced. My mom wanted to send me Christmas cards because we really do celebrate with both families, but she spends the whole year searching for interfaith cards that she can send to me and [my partner] Steve together. In the past she’s found maybe three really awesome ones.”
It turns out, greeting cards are sort of a passion for Alexis. “I love capturing my thoughts and the vibe of the moment when I’m writing a card and putting it in the mail,” she said, “knowing that a few days later, whenever the recipients check the mail, they’re going to get this message. These days people are used to getting email instantly. I love with cards the old-school mystery of ‘is it going to take one day or three days?’ not knowing at what point they’re going to check that mail. I love getting cards because I love knowing that someone is thinking about me, and I feel that connection across the miles in a way that isn’t the same with virtual connections.” More »
This guestpost is by Jonah Rank and is part of our Fearless Judaism series. Jonah Rank is a musician, and, as of May 2015, a rabbi ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Jonah is currently studying for an M.A. in Jewish mysticism. Jonah is the student rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel (in Amsterdam, NY) and the rabbinic intern at the United Synagogue of Hoboken (NJ) for the 2014-2015 year. Since 2006, thon has worked on new liturgical projects for the Rabbinical Assembly, most notably as the secretary to Mahzor Lev Shalem (released in 2010) and Siddur Lev Shalem (forthcoming).
Grounded in a life of learning, my affirmative Judaism centers on tikkun olam—building a universe of peace once shattered by our limited capacity to transmit chesed, loving-kindness. In order to build further the universe our Divinity only started to build, we must steep ourselves in the values of the Jewish tradition. In this affirmation of Jewish tradition, the altruism of humanity must act as a conduit for the Divine Flow that seeks to inundate the world with sacred love.
When guided by Jewish wisdom, the affirmative Jew must accept that affirmation is a process of borer—picking and choosing. For as long as there have been Jews, there have been disagreements between Jews. This requires us to learn from all teachings of the Jewish tradition and to acknowledge at least three categories of Jewish teachings. More »
For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here’s zt’s Thanksgiving 2007 piece about Arlo Guthrie, Thanksgiving, Kippot, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, police brutality at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Chicago 7 trial, and the reactionary and self-hating Jewish Judge Julius Hoffman — all in a few short paragraphs. Find it here. Happy Thanksgiving, readers.
Jerusalem. The city of gold. The city of peace. And sometimes the city of violence. But not the type of violence that you might expect.
Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and just last night 40 women and men gathered in a local Jerusalem cafe for Verses Against Violence, an evening of poetry to raise awareness about the plight of domestic violence in Israel. The evening featured twelve readers and a live music performance, and raised funds for Bat Melech, the only kosher and Sabbath-observant shelter for victims of domestic violence in Israel.
According to WIZO, there are 200,000 victims of domestic violence in Israel, but not nearly enough services to meet demand. There are 14 shelters in all of Israel – 10 for secular Israelis, 2 for Arab Israelis and only 2 that cater to the religious Jewish population, both operated by Bat Melech. More »
Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, is promoting his new film Rosewater and seems to feel comfortable with a dust up over his long-running lampooning of pro-Israel dogma. After being silent on Israel except in the scope of carefully-crafted skits on the show, it’s notable to see him finally let loose a little on the ridiculous way the Jewish community treats criticism of Israel. Read the whole interview here, the juicy bits excerpted below:
How does that make you feel? Is [Iran's calling you a Mossad agent] humorous to you?
Of course. Because it’s ridiculous. It’s humorous to me in the same way that a lot of what happens in the movie is humorous to me. There is an absurdity in dogma and rigidity and even that question has dogma, but on the other side. It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are, and I find that very interesting. It’s more than nationalism.
You can’t criticize Israel, right?
No. And you can’t observe (Judaism) in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.
I know the feeling.
Yeah, and you see it and it is pretty vicious. And how are you lesser? How are you lesser? It’s fascistic. And the idea that they can tell you what a Jew is. How dare they? That they only know the word of God and are the ones who are able to disseminate it. It’s not right. And it’s something that they’re going to have to reckon with.
And it will only improve The State if they do.
You’re absolutely right. I always want to say to people when they come at me like that: “I would like Israel to be a safe and secure state. What’s your goal?” So basically we disagree on how to accomplish that but boy do they, I mean, you would not believe the sh-t. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just … go f-ck yourself. How dare you?
Stewart’s albeit comedic treatment of Israel and Palestine with equanimity has been a breath of fresh air for so many of us younger Jews. As the Pew research study told us, the majority of American Jews and especially young Jews are with you, Jon. Keep it up. And thank you!
Editor’s Note: Inspired by this guest post, we’re looking for submissions from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Guest post” in the subject line. Look for posts on this subject from the Editors starting next week!
This is a guest post by Naomi Adland, a graduate student and Jewish professional living in Brooklyn, NY.
Three years ago, I sat down to write a personal statement for my application to the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, and poured out my heart in an essay about the importance of honoring and respecting the work of those who came before us, as those communal roots are the ones that support our future endeavors. This week I had the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America with my Wexner class – my first serious introduction to the world of Federation professionals and lay leaders, and a real chance to explore what it might look like to engage with an institution that has shaped what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora. And 45 minutes before I left the conference yesterday, I was still waiting for someone – anyone – to articulate a compelling vision for the Jewish future that wasn’t rooted in fear.
In its own words, the GA is meant to “inspire and engage current and emerging Jewish leaders, tackle the most critical issues of the day and showcase the best of the Federation movement.” Despite the inherent complexity of programming for a varied Jewish community, it seems to me that delivering a compelling narrative at the GA should not be so hard. After all, the work of the Federation is integral to the health and wellbeing of our community. The Federation funds some of our most vital programs and institutions – social services for a vast array of populations, summer camps, schools, synagogues and more. I have heard the Federation system explained as the government of the North American Jewish community, meaning the GA is a three-day State of the Union address – a chance to articulate a vision for the coming year.
I was surprised to discover that the overwhelming narrative at the GA was not one of communal successes and impact, but rather one of fear. Ostensibly, the theme of the GA was “the world is our backyard.” Meant to evoke the importance of collective action, the exhibition hall was decorated like a backyard replete with picnic tables and fake picket fences. However, the three plenaries I attended over the course of two days and in breakout sessions, meals, and discussions in the hallway, the theme of collective action was consistently couched in the vocabulary of crisis. Be afraid of the imminent fall of the State of Israel. Be afraid of the dwindling Jewish population. Be afraid of BDS on campus. Be afraid of anyone who disagrees with our narrative. Be afraid of change. Be afraid.
Fear was present in the words of Michael Siegal, Chairman of JFNA, when he said he was “concerned that we have reached a plateau with interfaith families. Being Jewish is very much a numbers game, and some of the numbers should be keeping us all up at night.” It was in Vice President Joe Biden’s comparison of Israel to a survivor of domestic abuse, and it was in the words of the three young women, all campus leaders, who vocalized anxiety about being Jewish on campus while standing in front of a banner branded with a swastika underneath the words “Boycott Israel.”
Perhaps there are moments when it makes sense to turn to a narrative of fear. After the complex events of the summer’s war in Gaza, the tensions of the past few days in Jerusalem, and with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, it is understandable that our communal conversations touch on themes of conflict and survival. When we are concerned for our own safety, we tend to act swiftly and respond from a place of deep emotion.
Despite the recent indications to the contrary, the Jewish community is living in a context of unprecedented safety and opportunity in a larger number of places than ever before. In committing to a narrative of fear, we miss an opportunity to elevate what Judaism and the work of the Federation is actually about. In caring for an aging population, supporting Jewish education, and strengthening the global Jewish community, the Federation is living out deep Jewish values of justice rooted in the notion of b’tzelem elohim (that we are all created in the image of God), and creating and supporting communities of joy and vitality.
Arguing that “we must support the Federation because if we don’t, Judaism as we know it will disappear” assumes that Jews who support the Federation are incapable of recognizing the value of the sacred work the Federation system is doing, and makes it impossible for those who don’t already feel a connection to the community to create one. Rather than operate from a place of fear, the Federation should be fearless – articulating a vision for the coming years that includes not just the power of collective action as a defense strategy, but the power of collective action as a way to build relationships between disparate parts of the Jewish community, that engages with complex value questions in a serious, thoughtful fashion, and that roots the work of caring for members of our community in rich Jewish values and traditions. The Federation already has a powerful legacy and a compelling narrative. Why try and supplant that with a message that is so far off the mark?
Yes, here it is, the announcement that you have all been waiting for. After sifting through the… uhhh… hmmm… one entry to decide what cookie will represent Jewschool at NewGround’s evening Spotlight: The Space Between, the winner is Kung Fu Jew’s entry: spicy (jalapeno chocolate) hamantashen. His reasoning: “A classic Jewish cookie celebrating victory over Haman, with a new reminder that the exercise of power can be sharp on those who wield it too,” will accompany every cookie. The spicy hamantashen will be played by Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, cause, ya know…November…Purim…whatever.
In any event, if you are in L.A. on Saturday night come to Spotlight. (It sells out so get your tickets now. Link on the FB event page.)
NewGround is one of our favorite organizations. Their main activity is a year long fellowship for Muslim and Jewish adults in which the participants learn communication and conflict resolution in order to further mutual respect and cooperation while allowing for difficult and tense conversations. Or as they say it:
NewGround equips Jews and Muslims in America with the skills, resources, and relationships needed to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations and cooperation on issues of shared concern. Through an intensive fellowship, collaborative public programming and consulting, NewGround impacts a broad political and religious spectrum of Muslims, Jews and the institutions that represent them.
NewGround’s annual fundraiser/friendraiser event is called Spotlight. It is based on The Moth’s program of curated stories. This year’s theme is “The Space Between”. The event page on Facebook is here. More »
This week marked the first yahrzeit of Rav Ovadia Yosef. Last year, in the aftermath of his death, and in the midst of a media storm including wildly varying assessments of his life, I posted this piece, “On Heroes and Villains and when They’re the Same: Thoughts on Rav Ovadia“. It got a lot of traction, receiving, we think, the most social media shares in Jewschool history (subsequently eclipsed by Rabbi Oren Hayon’s guest post about BDS campus campaigns). The challenge of fully acknowledging a person’s misdeeds and merits is as relevant a year later. Specifically, in the Rabbinic realm, the past couple weeks’ revelations of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s outrageous violations of privacy and abuse of power at the D.C mikveh have likely been confusing for D.C. Jews who have ever been inspired by Torah taught by Freundel or helped by his pastoral counsel. How can we square the corruption with the inspiration? For this, we bring you this week’s Throwback Thursday, to last year’s post about Rav Ovadia.
Throwback Thursday has been dark here for a while, with holidays falling on Thursdays, but with the holidays over, we’re back. Today, we recall legendary rock and roll poetic grouch, Lou Reed, front man of the Velvet Underground and prolific soloist, who died last Oct. 27, after which I wrote this piece, cross-posted in Heeb and on our blog, reflecting as a Jew on Reed’s cultural significance.
x-posted at Justice in the City
“Creativity” is the latest buzzword in education. The most watched TED talk ever is a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006 called “How schools kill creativity.” It has had almost twenty million views.
Sir Ken’s main point (which is later joined by his second main point) is that creativity is as important in education as literacy and should be given the same status. His second main point is that children are not taught creativity, rather they are educated out of creativity. This means that all children are naturally creative and the educational system beats that creativity out of them, scaring them with the ideas that there are some things that are right and others that are wrong, and that it is important to know the difference between them.
This is a guest post by Rabbi Josh Bolton, the Senior Jewish Educator for the Jewish Renaissance Project at UPenn Hillel. You can reach him at email@example.com.
I say the Kiddush.
I don’t say the Grace after Meals.
I study the Torah.
I don’t own two sets of dishes.
I wrap tefillin, occasionally.
I don’t ever attend minyan.
I long for the Land of Israel.
I don’t have mezuzot on all my doorframes.
I read the Jewish periodicals.
I don’t mind kindling a flame on the Sabbath.
I give charity to the poor person.
I don’t fast on the 9th of Av.
I like klezmer music.
I don’t prioritize kosher over organic.
I leave my son’s hair uncut to three years old.
I don’t live within walking distance of the shul.
I circumcised my son on the eighth day.
I don’t know, I may get more tattoos one day.
I have a social circle comprised mostly of Jews.
I don’t really care if the Torah was written by Man or God.
I have a prominent bookshelf full of traditional texts.
I don’t always behave nicely with orthodox educators.
I weep in Yad Vashem.
I don’t mind listening to salacious gossip.
I wear a kippah.
I don’t make Havdallah.
I speak Hebrew like a child – but I do speak.
I don’t regard the voices of the ancient rabbis to be more sacred than our own voices.
I hang a picture of Jerusalem in my living room.
I don’t believe continuity for continuity’s sake is a compelling reason for Jewish life.
I prayed at the grave of Menachem Schneerson — at twilight with my brother.
I don’t know how to perform the ritual of Hoshannah Rabba.
I take every opportunity to submerge in the mikveh of Isaac Luria.
I don’t think spirituality demands wearing long skirts or a yarmulke.
I have memorized large swaths of the liturgy.
I don’t believe the Va’ad Kashrut serves the interests of the Jewish community.
I am a devoted student of the Hasidic masters.
I don’t really clean my kitchen for Pesach.
Last night, guest blogger Ben Greenfield posted a provocative piece on memory and ritual and how we can and do relate to 9/11 and Tisha B’Av. This is not the first time the blog has addressed that connection. For Throwback Thursday today, we’re re-running zt‘s short post from around Tisha B’Av five years ago, highlighting Irwin Kula’s reading in Eikha (Lamentations) trope of last phone messages from 9/11 victims. Revisit it here. You can read Rabbi Kula’s own explanation of the recording here, including a better link to his actual recorded chanting.
Calling all Jews with horns (and their allies)–
You are hereby welcomed to take part in a historical mass shofar-blowing gathering this coming Sunday in Prospect Park. The event will consist of a shofar-blowing workshop, a series of collective blasts, and a vegetarian potluck picnic.
At 5:30pm, we will meet at the corner of 15th St. and Prospect Park West and proceed to enter the park. Please arrive on-time so everyone can find each other.
If you own a shofar and/or a phone which can film, please bring it with you, as well as something for the potluck, if you can stay after.
Our rain location is the Park Slope Jewish Center (1320 8th Ave, located at the SW corner of 14th St and 8th Av).
This event is free, open to the public, family-friendly, and intended for experienced and novice shofar-blowers alike, so please do come and invite friends. We hope you can join us as we herald in the new year with great fanfare.
It will be…a blast
Love her or hate her, Joan Rivers, aleha shalom, was one of the most recognizable American Jews of the past half century and one of our most successful comics. By my count, she has been mentioned five times in Jewschool’s storied history, so today, for Throwback Thursday, here’s sarah‘s 2007 review of the San Francisco Jewish film festival, including a review of Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, produced by the Jewish Women’s Archive and focusing on Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Wendy Wasserstein and Gilda Radner. All six of these Mt. Rushmorians of Jewish comediennes have left us now. Rest in…oh, who are we kidding? Joan Rivers isn’t resting any kind of way; she’s working some crowd to find the laughter and absurdity in the awfulness of something in olam haba.
I’m familiar with your story
This gratitude you cultivate helps ground you
And yet, do you really deserve to ask for more?
The answer to this question will give you the balance you seek
Sometimes you need a reminder that we already said farewell to the month of Av
As it is written in Job: “Man born of woman is short of days, and fed with trouble. He blossoms like a flower and withers, and vanishes, like a shadow.” (Job 14:1–2)
In Elul, you are instructed to enjoy the ephemeral beauty of the flowers without worry of their withering
Since t’shuva/repentance is the name of the game, instead of fearing change we welcome it in
Every morning the shofar calls you to t’shuva/repentance
Are you listening?
How might you be more awake in order to hear its sound?
Allow these blossoms a chance to bring you to the presence you desire.
Step 1 – gather flower petals into a large bowl- ideally four colors and four different species. Bowl is ideally wood but can also be glass or metal.
In New England this is a great time of year to find a diversity of goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, chicory and aster.
Step 2 – fill your bowl with water covering the petals – ideally spring water but tap water is also fine. The chance to visit a river, lake or small spring will only add to the ritual
Step 3 – ASK FOR SOMETHING. This is for real. If you’re going to open up enough to do real t’shuvah/repentance this year, you have to acknowledge that you are not yet whole – that there is something about yourself you want to change, or at least cultivate. A useful formula is “May I be…” or “Let me be…”
Step 4 – Pour the entire bowl of petals and water over your head.
Step 5 – Proclaim out loud: “Horeini Ya Darkecha – הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה, דַּרְכֶּךָ – reveal to me your path” – Ps. 27:11. This is both the sealing of our request and also a letting go of wanting only one thing.
Re-posted by the author from Ma’yan Tikvah’s Divrei Earth: Spiritual wisdom from Earth and Torah.
by Danya Lagos
“Now, how’s that for good to the last drop? How’s that for a good boy, a thoughtful boy, a kind and courteous and well-behaved boy, a nice Jewish boy such as no one will ever have cause to be ashamed of? Say thank you, darling. Say you’re welcome, darling. Say you’re sorry, Alex. Say you’re sorry! Apologize! Yeah, for what? What have I done now? Hey, I’m hiding under my bed, my back to the wall, refusing to say I’m sorry, refusing, too, to come out and take the consequences. Refusing! And she is after me with a broom, trying to sweep my rotten carcass into the open. Why, shades of Gregor Sarnsa! Hello Alex, goodbye Franz! You better tell me you’re sorry, you, or else! And I don’t mean maybe either! I am five, maybe six, and she is or-elsing me and not-meaning-maybe as though the firing squad is already outside, lining the street with newspaper preparatory to my execution.” — Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint
In Portnoy’s Complaint, arguably the defining book of the modern Jewish-American literary Canon, Philip Roth launches into a full-on confrontation of the debilitating cultural malaise that is the cult of “goodness” – or, rather, a highly individualized and internalized cultivation of agreeableness, at whatever cost. This is the key ingredient of suburban assimilation, of first and second-generation immigrants, of “making it” – a meticulous pursuit of not only acting “good,” but a codependency marked by a strong confessional tendency, where even your innermost thoughts and desires must be attuned to the needs of others – who force you to allow them into a contrived and intense intimacy, making you answerable to them, for everything. It rings all too true for me personally since I read it 2009, even though it was published in 1969. While the figure of Jewish mother takes the majority blame in Portnoy’s Complaint for the smothering regime-cage of “goodness” as the ultimate redemption of the world, it is difficult to ignore its lurking presence in other people and spaces as well. More »