Kosher supermarkets are curious sites of cultural consumption. And the upscale supermarket, Pomegranate, is no exception to the rule. Displaying a bag from Pomegranate is a visible social marker of Bourdieuian “taste”–a type of conspicuous consumption not found at KRM Kollel or other affordable kosher supermarkets in Brooklyn. As explained in a well-deserved critique published in The Forward about a David Brooks article in The New York Times, Pomegranate caters to the top 1% of the religious community.
After attending a Hasidic friend’s wedding recently, I wish to return to a song newly minted in the religious wedding circuit repertoire, “Ya’alili” (performed by the Chabad band, 8th Day), where the aisles of Pomegranate become a dizzying dance floor of choreographed Jewish multiculturalism:
I learned of the song when it was released two years ago. I’m partial to it, but not simply because a friend of mine dances in the music video. Its richness lies in its social commentary on the hybridity of form. The song plays with and against the blurring of Sephardi and Ashkenazi cultures. But as much as it plays with mixing and matching (as the chorus rings out: “tantz, tantz, chabibi”), it maintains distinct boundaries. The stanzas line up Sephardi and Ashkenazi cultures in the Structural grammar of a Lévi-Strauss diagram:
את החתן ספרדי/כלה נאה אשכנזי”
“רחל אמנו ספרדי, מאמע רחל אשכנזי
“The groom, Sephardi/the attractive bride, Ashkenazi
Straddling back and forth between moments of mimicry and of radical alterity, between convergence and separation, illuminates the contemporary tension of Sephardi-Ashkenazi relations. In the logic of multiculturalism in the reign of late capitalism, the video screams: “we have the freedom to both pray separately and to shop at the same upscale supermarket!”
Supermarkets peddle exotic goods. And so does the video. Supermarkets are, after all, secure, mediated sites of consuming other cultures. But the danger of mediation lies in what obscures. There is no actual contact between cultures performed in the transaction. It’s unidirectional. You can buy without reciprocation. And that’s precisely what happens in the music video. A caricatured image of Sephardi culture appears–for the pleasure and consumption of Ashkenazi eyes. The musicians we are to identify as “Sephardi” bear the trappings of the exoticized, Orientalized subject.
How Ashkenazim simultaneously reproduce hegemony while claiming to resist it–under the banner of Jewish “multiculturalism” (reframed in religious vernacular as achdus)–is a phenomenon I encountered while conducting preliminary fieldwork research in Uman (among friends at Chulent). A former professor and now mentor, David Roskies, recalls a conversation with noted academic of Hasidic historiography, David Assaf (in an article recently published in Bounded Mind and Soul: Russia and Israel, 1880-2010):
Assaf, our expert on all matters Hasidic, is not merely underwhelmed by what greets the visitor to Braslav, he is angered by the millions in profit made by the Braslaver from Israel who control the Rebbe’s grave and man, which attracts over 15,000 pilgrims a year. He scoffs at the sterile design of the tomb, so reminiscent of the fake tombs of Moroccan saints that make such a mockery of religion and Israel. Did we notice the name Israel Meir Gabi emblazoned on the wall outside? Gabai, the Johnny Appleseed of Hasidic grave sites, is a Braslav Hasid of Sephardi descent. Why, young Sephardim, Assaf protests, are so brainwashed by the Braslav notion of tikkun neshamot, the perfection of dead souls, that they show up at the Ministry of Internal Affairs to adopt an Ashkenazi surname (like Bernstein and Rabinvoich) and a Braslavian proper name (like Naftali, Nahman, Nathan)…
As described by one of my informants, a living Chabad oral history archive, “gullible” Sephardi baalei teshuva have become infantilized with the same white paternalistic “concern” as the colonial subject–an uncritical, superstitious mass who, already engaged in pietistic devotion at the hillulas of their revered Babas, can be led easily astray. In the recent sex scandal of the Breslev leader, Rav Berland, Sephardi baalei teshuva became scapegoated (among some) as the source of the problem. As Toyte Hasidim (lit. “dead Hasidim”), Breslevers do not follow a living rebbe or tzadik (in contradistinction to other Hasidic courts). Rebbe Nachman is, at least in theory, their one and only master; to unflinchingly follow a living tzadik comes at a cost. Berland’s scandal was displaced by some Breslevers onto the Sephardim Berland recruited, who in the optic of Ashkenazi hegemony, cannot be trusted to maintain the purity of Breslev’s status as Toyte Hasidim.
While problematic in its representation of Sephardim, “Ya’alili” engages in a subtle politics of refusal. As Hasidism becomes increasingly untethered from Eastern European culture and history, the invention of the “global Hasid” (to borrow the phrase of my friend, Zach Cohen) has emerged in its stead. And Rebbe Nachman has most curiously been re-branded as a universal symbol of devotion, which ultimately obscures historical reality and pivots Ashkenazi identity as unmarked and universal, Sephardi identity as marked and particular. But the video refuses this cultural hegemony. It marks Baba Sali as a “Sephardi” symbol, Rebbe Nachman as a “Ashkenazi” symbol. Because if all things were actually equal, quotes from the “Baba Sali” would be embroidered on white kippot the world over.
For further cultural analysis of Hasidic music, listen to the episodes 05 and 06 by Sol Fuerwerker and Sam Katz over at The After Life Podcast.
I, like most children of liberal Jewish parents born on the coasts, have long held the first amendment to the constitution to be sacrosanct: just barely below the 10 commandments and slightly higher than a hot pastrami with brown mustard. It is that important. And it was the 1st Amendment ‘Freedom of Speech’ that was always the most cherished of those rights.
But recent events have started to make me question this deep-seated belief. I’ve started to consider whether maybe it’s time we restricted free speech. Let me explain. More »
Onion gets hacked by Syrian propagandists, responds with funny article. The Onion got hacked, sending out a bunch of nonsense tweets such as:
To which they responded with their usual aplomb. HT BoingBoing
And here’s a kickstarter to translate for what sounds like a completely fascinating book. I can’t wait to read it.
If you can read Yiddish literature only in English translation, Joseph Opatoshu’s 1921 novel, In Poylishe Velder (In The Forests of Poland),is one of the most important works of world literature with which you’re probably unfamiliar. A vast panorama of Jewish life in Poland during the 1850s, Opatoshu’s novel concentrates on backwoods Jews who live among gentile peasants rather than in Jewish communities in cities or shtetlekh. Touching as it does on hasidism, heresy, pre-Christian Polish folk customs, wife-swapping, messianism, and Polish nationalism, this book will change the way you think about Jewish life in Poland. Those parts not set in the forests or on the road take place in the court of the Rebbe of Kotzk, the last of the classical hasidic leaders. The Rebbe and his court are portrayed so convincingly that even members of the book’s original audience often forgot that they were reading a novel and not an intimate history of hasidism in Kotzk. It’s the price that Opatoshu had to pay for writing some of the best prose ever published in Yiddish.
Of course, I consider myself the last of the Kotsker Hasidim, so perhaps it’s just me.
Filmmaker Alexander Bodin Saphir presents on the rescue of the Danish Jews at OresundsLimmud 2013
On March 5, our almost-a-minyan who comprise the steering team of Limmud Oresund 2013 was holding the penultimate meeting prior to our second annual Limmud day of Jewish learning and culture. Over 160 people had pre-registered, and we were concerned about logistics: Would there be enough space for a Limmud that had doubled in size since last year? Had we ordered enough food for lunches and snacks? Did Folkuniversitet, an adult education school that was again openomg its facility to us free of chage, have a room large enough for all participants to close out the day together with singing, learning, thanking the volunteers, and tasting the cholent made during a morning session?
I wanted to apply as a coder but I’m not good enough.
So with a sad, sad heart, I’m passing this along to everyone else.
What is Studio G-dcast?
Studio G-dcast is the opportunity to spend six days working at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco to adapt some of the funniest, wildest, and most fascinating stories in the Jewish tradition as animated shorts or interactive multimedia experiences.
Residents will work either in animator/storyteller pairs to create their own three minute films, or in hacker/illustrator pairs to create interactive applications. The week is filled with storytelling, animation and coding master classes, studio recording sessions, and expert panels. It’s a turbo-powered growth spurt in filmmaking, app design and Jewish learning. On the last night of the residency, artists will share their works in progress at a public screening at The Contemporary Jewish Museum.
By the way— did we mention the residency’s FREE?
Who Can Apply?
We’re looking for emerging Jewish animators, coders and storytellers currently enrolled as college or graduate students. Storytellers—if you’re a singer/songwriter, novelist, slam poet, playwright, screenwriter, one-person show, or three-ring circus, we’re excited to meet you! Coders-We’re looking for crackerjack hackers who love a pretty algorithm and clean code as much as the next nerd, but still know how to get a job done under pressure. Animators—we’re looking for artists who work in any style (hand-drawn, digital 2D, stop motion, claymation), as long as you can bring your gear with you to San Francisco and can work quickly!
This year, we’re also looking for one coder and one illustrator to pair who will create an original mobile app from their story.
*NOTE: You definitely DO NOT have to be an experienced with Jewish learning or ritual to apply. We’re looking for all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. After all, if you already knew it all, what would be left to learn?
When, Where, and What Else?
This August 11th-16th 2013. That’s Sunday through Friday morning. We’ll be working onsite at The Contemporary Jewish Museum and staying at a nearby hotel. We feed you three kosher meals a day for the duration of the program, and offer a $350 travel stipend to get you to San Francisco from wherever you may be.
The inspiration for the Stuff Jews Don’t Do Tumblr, according to the person who created it : “Growing up in a Jewish TV-centered home, I often encountered many things or situations in the primetime line-up that were unfamiliar. When I asked my mother why we didn’t eat Thanksgiving in the afternoon or why my brother never had a rat’s tail, her retort was always “Jews don’t do that!”"
Some things “Jews don’t do”: Shop at JC Penney, Drive Pick Up Trucks, Buy Lottery Tickets, Eat Hamburger Helper. This is stuff that runs contrary to what some Jews recognize as being Jewish, or what might be referred to as “”goyishe.” There’s a thread that connects them-mainly that they’re commonly associated with people of a certain class. When I was a kid, we shopped at Kmart (not even a JC Penney!). This might not be true anymore, but then, shopping at Kmart was unforgivable. People would tease you about it until you died, because it meant you were poor, and worse, you were too stupid (obviously as the result of being poor) to front like you didn’t shop at Kmart. The thing was, my family was poor. And we were Jews.
Like I said, a lot of the things listed in this Tumblr have nothing to do with Judaism, they have to do with class, but in addition, there’s also the greatly overlooked fact that, believe it or not, Jews don’t all live on the East and West coasts of the United States. Jews in the South might drive pick up trucks, because in the South, people might do that. Cultural norms exist, and people take them on.
Jews might also make and eat Jello molds, (I can’t believe I just typed that sentence) because maybe they don’t know about kashrut or they don’t care about it, and they think they’re delicious. And just so I keep making it all about me, kashrut was something I didn’t know about until college, because Jewish education is expensive, and I wasn’t around a lot of observant Jews. That’s what happens when you live outside of a Jewish bubble.
Look, I’m pretty sure (I hope) that the point of this Tumblr is to poke fun at the idea that Jews don’t do certain things, but actually it should be called “Stuff Jews Who Aren’t Me or Other Jews I Know Probably Do.” (Also, I’m pretty sure a kugel qualifies as a casserole.)
Tomorrow night is to be the first of many Jewish events unlike anything ever seen before.
The reason: it’s explicitly secular, and therefore explicitly Jewish.
Let me explain.
Tomorrow night is the premier event of Oholiav (oh-HO-lee-AV), a “meeting place” where the secular art and pop worlds come into contact with Jewish values, philosophies and narratives.
That’s abstract. Let me break it down.
Jewish culture and secular Western culture share some basic values: don’t murder people, stand up for what is right, be a good person.
When you look into some of those deeper details though, the wide range of Jewish views on gender roles, on human rights, on politics, on the importance of spirituality, are very likely to differ from that which we have to come to know in the secular world.
So, where are these points of tension, and where are those moments of harmony?
Oholiav examines secular culture through the pop culture—films, YouTube videos, singles, albums, TV shows, Broadway musicals, plays—and the world of art—literature, art galleries, dance. In pinpointing those moments when values are espoused in the secular world, or stories are told or beliefs are “preached” in the secular world, Oholiav compares these moments with their Jewish counterparts.
Does Dinner For Schmucks parallel the Jewish value of hospitality towards guests (hakhnasat orehim) or slam the door on the face of the ideal? Does Francisco Goya’s “The Disasters of War” series serve as a reprimand of oppression, unconsciously echoing Jewish discomfort with militarism? Do these elements perhaps meet somewhere in the middle? Perhaps the twain shall never meet? (Not to mention, the Jewish people rarely hold similarly with only one point of view on anything.)
At 7 PM, in celebration of the art openings, we’ll gather together on the 5th floor of the Kraft Center for special performances by OMG Poetry, Ezra Benus, Lori Leifer and ChEckiT!Dance; followed at 8 PM by a Q&A Talkback with questions from the audience, in conversation with Ellen Alt and with ChEckiT!Dance about both artistic and Jewish elements of their biographies and bodies of work.
The result is Wake the f**k up, a new video reminding us to vote (for Obama) that is getting a lot of attention and play on the youtubes.
I don’t personally feel it any great accomplishment of craft or cleverness, but is noteworthy in that JCER is now officially a Super PAC, has funding from George Soros and is using its funding to offer campaigns rooted in Jewish culture as a counterpoint to the Adelson cash flooding the election. Its also noteworthy in that it is circulating virally (voluntarily) rather than mass-cast on the airwaves. Its not Ezekial 25:17, but it has about the same amount of profanity (you have been warned) and is just as entertaining.Watch it here.
Lest there be any doubt in your minds, Skokie, IL is the bastion of cool these days. Jewschool’s very own Adam Davis just moved there, I grew up there, and…oh yeah, the likely winner of this season’s America’s Got Talent hails from there too.
AGT Contestant and Skokie native Edon Pinchot, 14
Singing sensation AGT finalist Edon Pinchot is 14 years old and about to start high school at Chicago’s Ida Crown Jewish Academy this coming fall. He and his family live just blocks from my parents (who are long-time friends of his grandparents), and his parents are pillars of the orthodox Jewish community there. I remember his mother, Laurie—an exquisitely refined, thoughtful woman, from the Skokie Women’s Tefilla Group which I regularly attended in my pre-adolescent years. The rest of the family are also substantial folks who excel at what they do. More »
In addition to her own distinguished career, Achinoam Nini (aka Noa) has a history of working on behalf of peace and reconciliation. Notably, she has partnered with Israeli-Arab singer Mira Awad, a Christian and resident of Haifa, on a concert tour and as the country’s entrants 2009 entrants into the Eurovision contest. This creative collaboration brought them wide attention around the world, mostly of the positive sort.
On Yom Hazikaron, the acclaimed international Israeli musical artist performed for a gathering of Combatants for Peace, an organization of former fighters and their families on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This recent performance brought on attention of a much uglier, vile sort from extremist corners in Israeli and North American Jewish corners.
Calling her “Garbage” and “Rat” and far worse. They’ve taken to facebook calling for a boycott of Noa’s performances, and Noa has responded.
Jewschool founder Mobius aka Dan Sieradski is part of the panel at this very interesting event at the 14th Street Y on “The Future of Jewish Culture.” A full press kit is here. A quick look at the panel shows it covers not only various sectors but geographies and aims to address a significant amount of ground in an evening:
“After a decade of flourishing Jewish creativity, major Jewish cultural enterprises are being forced to scale
back operations or close entirely. Using recent funding cuts as a springboard to examine the most pressing
issues facing new Jewish arts and culture, “Now What?” addresses:
New perspectives on American Jewish identity
Waning support for quality Jewish art and culture
Strategies for cultivating Jewish art and culture in the future”
May 15, 2012 7pm, 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street (between 1st and 2nd Ave.), New York, NY 10003
If you’re in the area and are interested, sign up here. Naturally, this is a subject that deserves and requires significantly more time than a single evening. The need to advocate for, plan and implement a national Jewish Cultural Policy could be the focus of a week long conference with representatives from major communal institutions and umbrella organizations, local presenting arms and various elements from artists and performers to independent organizations. It could also be a great panel to recreate at the General Assembly because the message points need to be heard by people who hold the purse strings and those who put the money in that purse
As someone who runs a Jewish cultural initiative, I’m very interested in this and am excited that its taking place. I’d be interested to know who’s attending and if any funders or folks from the institutional community will be within earshot. And of course, as a non-New Yorker, I’m glad to see there’s three other regional centers represented on the panel.
When recently asked if he detects any Antisemitism among the House Republican caucus, Rep. Eric Cantor answered by not answering, rambling on about the continuing struggle to improve “religious and racial matters” in this country.
“We’ve continued to provide, ya know, equal treatment to everybody,” Cantor remarked. Best of all was his uncomfortable silence when pressed yet again to comment specifically upon his colleagues in the House. See for yourself:
In other news I'm topping the charts over at the Forward: The hed on my piece is 'What Would You Call Me?'
Right. So I wrote this op-ed for the Forward about how I underwent a Conservative conversion because I go to a Conservative shul these days, but I came from a patrilineal Reform background and so forth. And in it I suggested that it’s time for the Conservative movement to start accepting patrilineal descent.
Then the internet discharged platoon after platoon of Jew-baiting Jewish commenters with all kinds of nonsense on their minds. There were also some thoughtful comments and a ton of kind emails from friends and acquaintances.
Here’s one of the emails:
I so wanted to comment on your Forward article, but I simply could not wade into the aggravating mess of Jews baiting each other.
So for his benefit and yours, I waded neck-deep into the muck to pluck out the best of the comments — not only at forward.com, but on Facebook and twitter as well. And I’ll respond to a few too.
[I started writing this post yesterday so there are probably even more comments now that I haven't even looked at.]
JTA has published a new op-ed by me, a response to a piece by some Zionist Organization of America honchos published by JTA earlier this week:
Op-Ed: Title VI should be used only on true hatemongers, not political opponents
By David A.M. Wilensky
NEW YORK (JTA) – In the eyes of the Zionist Organization of America, the most depraved enemies of the Jewish people are obnoxious college campus loudmouths. As the editor of New Voices, a national magazine by and for Jewish college students, I have a different perspective.
The ZOA led the campaign to have discrimination against Jewish students recognized as a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, originally passed in 1964 to remedy racial discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. But in its charge to circle the Jewish communal wagons, the ZOA has overreached.
ZOA President Morton Klein and Susan Tuchman, director of the group’s Center for Law and Justice, wrote in a JTA Op-Ed that Jewish college students today face “harassment and discrimination at schools receiving federal funding.” The ZOA pitched a six-year fit about it, which the group credits with this triumph: “The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, finally clarified in October 2010 that Jewish students finally would be afforded the same protection” that other minorities have under Title VI.
The ZOA campaign capitalizes on and needlessly exacerbates the Jewish community’s already unwarranted paranoia about what’s happening to our young men and women on campus. As a member of the class of 2011 and as the editor of New Voices, I can say with confidence that there’s never been a better time to walk the halls and lawns of American academia as a Jew.
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’.
Of special importance to all of us in online content creation, Hitler now screams at the inanity of the SOPA and PIPA bills presently under protest by Wikipedia, Google, Reddit and other sites. Learn more and contact your Congresspersons here.
As the new year begins, here at Jewschool we put together an entirely unscientific, completely biased view of some of the best and worst of 2011.
2011 was simultaneously one of the most inspiring and dispiriting years I can think of. From the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords way back at the beginning of the year, to the passing of important greats like Debbie Friedman, to Occupy Judaism’s prominent place in the Occupy Everything movement. Israel has been a roller coaster, between the hopefulness of the J-14 protests to their quiet whimpering away, new settler attacks, undemocratic legislation, and fights over gender segregation. However, it was a mostly great year for the arts, despite JDub Records’ closing. Here’s to a new year with more distillants, and less despirits.
In today’s popular American culture, expecting celebrities often recede from the limelight while pregnant. In her new EP, Beautiful Land, singer/songwriter Chana Rothman actively embraces the opportunity to channel her creative energy into an unforgettable musical journey, specifically during her pregnancy. The result is a celebration of life, brimming with heartfelt empathy, mesmerising grooves, and earthy splendor.
Photo by Elise Warshavsky
In just six tracks, Rothman creates a universe, transporting the listener to a different realm, one in which emotional honesty and whimsical funkiness reign supreme. Rothman’s music resides somewhere between the intersection of pop, folk, and ethnic, but she transcends all of them. As Rothman’s music demonstrates, we live in a thoroughly cosmopolitan, interconnected time, when such designations are essentially irrelevant labels.
The opening track, Shine, offers a life-affirming message to young people, with its light, breezy groove. The title track, Beautiful Land, showcases Rothman’s impressive stylistic and thematic versatility. Inspired by her travels in Jamaica, Rothman wrote this loving, polyrhythmic reggae-infused piece as a tribute to its people. Accented with hints of a West African groove, Beautiful Land conjures up distant times and lands, while insisting on a temporal and spatial immediacy with its hypnotic rhythms and gentle melody.
Of all the pieces on this EP, Inadequate packs in the most nerve and verve, with its brutally honest lyrics, reflecting on body image. Other reviewers likened Rothman’s lyrically-driven Inadequate to Ani DiFranco—and this was my initial association. One could also compare this track to India Arie’s I’m Not My Hair, but Rothman’s upbeat and bluesy piece has much more flavor, political punch, and lyrical colour.
In Come on Home, Rothman shifts gears again, this time offering a poignantly understated elegiac ballad. A modern-day Psalm of sorts, this piece never names the subject of its mourning, but rather evokes a flood of feeling and taps the core of the experience of loss. The following track again radically departs into an entirely different feeling and space. Listening to Baby Do That Dance for Me, one almost expects Django Reinhardt to surface magically and rip into one of his legendary hot jazz guitar solos. This joyful and jazzily ambient piece certainly makes you want to rise to your feet and dance along.
Remember Your Name, the other ballad on this EP, is the final track and mourns the loss of Michael Jackson, while also reflecting on his legacy and memory. Enlisting Soulfarm guitarist C Lanzbom’s help on the slide guitar, this track serves as an apt coda to an album which amply attests to the restorative power of music. Beautiful Land, which is available in stores starting today (and will be available digitally beginning Thursday, December 8), would make a gloriously soulful Hanukkah gift for the music lovers on your list.
'Beautiful Land' cover art: Graphic design by Michelle Nichols; Artwork by Michele Kishita