Meet Les Gold. Mr. Gold is the patriarch of American Jewelry and Loan in Detroit. His family business is the subject of Hardcore Pawn, a new reality television show on the TruTV channel. The show is a window onto the type of Jew we’ve come to associate with the Rhineland in the 17th century more than the American Midwest in 2011. The family that runs the shop is Jewish, not only in the plain meaning of the word, but also in the symbolic, nasty sense of the idea – The Golds are sometimes benevolent, sometimes nasty moneylenders serving a predominantly impoverished, black clientele in the middle of Detroit.
With over two million viewers, Hardcore Pawn is often compared to Pawn Stars, a History Channel reality TV show that, like a blue-collar Antiques Roadshow, presents a gang of Vegas hacks appraising antique soda machines and the Civil War currency. Yet, in reality, Hardcore Pawn isn’t really interested in appraising anything but the fraught relationship that one Jewish family has to the black ghetto in America in our own times. It’s ethnic and racial antagonism presented in documentary style, where the Jews try to pay as little as they can for gold and electronics from a population mired in stress and aggression, with a little bit of tenderness if the need arises.
The show demonstrates a few scenarios. An angry black woman arrives to pay off her interest, only to find out that after waiting 45 minutes in line, she doesn’t have enough money to retrieve her child’s video game console. In another, a poor, elderly black man brings in a ring so he can pay his rent, only to be told that his last valuable possession is worth about ten dollars to Les Gold’s son, Seth. In another, an aryan-looking white woman brings in what she says is Eva Braun’s swastika-bedazzled bracelet. Les Gold says he’ll buy it if its authentic, stating that he’ll use it to teach his grandkids what the Gold family endured during the Holocaust. (Nevermind the bracelet is a fake.)
For at least two millennia (maybe more?) people have felt as though the end of the world is upon them. Apocalyptic literature appeared on the scene around the 2nd century BCE and continued in the Jewish world until the middle of the Middle Ages and continues to this day in the Christian communities. Certain streams of contemporary Christianity are so immersed in eschatology that the Left Behind series are still the best selling novels in the United States.
It is no wonder then that radio host and self-styled biblical scholar, Harold Camping, has made so many headlines in the last few days. Starting a year ago or more, Camping, who runs a number of Christian radio stations and two television stations, spent millions of dollars advertising May 21, 2011 as the beginning of the End of Days–needless to say, May 21 came and has almost gone. No word has yet been heard from Camping, who had previously predicted the apocalypse would commence in 1994.
Many have called him a false prophet, and I think that is too generous. There are two possibilities, in my opinion, as to what’s going on with this man. 1) He is an utter fool and a moron; 2) he is a brilliant marketer who has set himself up to increase his personal wealth from over $17 million to God only knows how much he might make. There is a difference between a false prophet and someone who is just plain wrong or an idiot. Unfortunately, there are far too many idiots out there. More »
After you watch the video you should read the whole issue—which is about metaphor in all its religious and linguistic complexity. (Okay, some of its complexity.) For JSers keeping count, Danya Ruttenberg has a piece in the issue, as do I.
I’ve been into Cee-Lo for a long time now. I grew up on a steady diet of Goodie Mob cereal, and it wasn’t before long that that mid-90s southern hip hop twisted my brain for good. After devouring Jewish race literature, it was safe to say that ‘being Jewish’ became something like a form of James Weldom Johnson-style race-conciousness. Now, some years later, I see Cee-Lo, a talented wordsmith, is a haute-pop artist wearing peacock feathers in duets with Gwyneth Paltrow. Whither the ikar of Double-Consciousness.
Cee-Lo Green’s recent performance at the Grammys seemed Jewish insofar as its melodies made me think that my mother had once danced to this in the smoky parts of Hell’s Kitchen.
Cee-Lo co-wrote the song, and one of his collaborators is a 25 year old by the name of Ari Levine. Part of a group of songwriters, musicians and producers named The Smeezingtons, Teaneck High School dropout Ari Levine (no word yet on his Hebrew name) also worked with Matisyahu and various other pop outfits currently hot in the land. Born into the Conservative Movement, he seems to stand outside all these current debates about the innovation within. I like that, o ghost of Max Fleischer.
The story of Hanukkah is, well, all about men. For the most part, we learn it that way, unless you’re lucky enough to have grown up in a feminist house committed to breaking that cycle, or you’ve seen this great video, courtesy of the Jewish Women’s Archive. It covers the role of the heroine Judith in the Hanukkah story, and also highlights other important Judiths in history (Judy Blume is my personal favorite). The project is a fantastic example of dynamic history, and of the power that comes with reclaiming and rewriting.
Image taken of Judith Frieze after her arrest in Jackson, Mississippi on June 21, 1961. Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Living the Legacygrew out of a need for requests from teachers of social justice education for materials. In their search, educators and researchers at the Jewish Women’s Archive discovered that what was missing from what already existed: the story of Jews in social justice movements.
JWA tackled the topic of Jews in the Civil Rights Movement as its starting point, and, including traditional Jewish texts, paid particular attention to “complicating the narrative,” said Judith Rosenbaum, Director of Public History at the Jewish Women’s Archive. The nuanced educational tool would talk about not only the activism of Jews in the Civil Rights Movement, but acknowledge the fissures, the fallouts, and what the impact of it all has been on the social justice movements of today.
Living the Legacy is designed for use in grades 8-12. Last year, 7 teachers used in the classroom, and during JWA’s Institute for Educators this past July, 26 teachers were trained to use it.
Through primary sources, the curriculum directly confronts questions of personal identity in relationship to history and contemporary issues: who are you, what does that have with what you do in the world, and where and how does your Judaism come into play? When does it feel scary to be Jewish, when is it safer to hide, and when do you put yourself on the line for the cause of justice?
A 1956 letter from the Greenville Hebrew Union Congregation to Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform movement), regarding their disapproval of the statement that desegregation is a Jewish issues and that Jews should act on behalf of it, shows that Southern Jews saw themselves in a precarious position. “We know full well that any public utterance showing that Jews as a whole favor desegregation will have the direct effect of hurting the Jews’ position in the South…Southern Jews have established a very fine relationship with the white non Jews of the South. We believe that this harmonious relationshjp between the Jews and non Jews in the South is due in a large respect to the personal conduct, cultural progress and adherence to the customs that make for harmony between the Jews and non Jews.” The letter goes on to implore Eisendrath not to “embarrass and injure the Jews of this community and other Southern communities who feel as we do.”
In addition to highlighting the complicated relationships of Jews to race and assimilation, Livingthe Legacy also explores the impact of the Jewish relationship to the Civil Rights movement in the context of a shared history of resistance. Rosenbaum’s favorite letter is to a young woman known as “Chicky,” who had gone to the South as part of Freedom Summer, from her father, a refugee from Europe. While he worries about her safety, she “should not construct your parents’ concern about your safety as a disapproval of your present activities.”
The curriculum also tackles questions of which modes of activism are recorded in our collective memory, as well as the how the perceived solidarity of Blacks and Jews fell apart and the impact of movements such Black Power on Jewish culture and history. The establishment of Black and African American studies departments, for example, prompted an interest in reclamation of Jewish culture and the emergence of Jewish studies departments, among other things. “Other minority groups have these conversations too,” Rosenbaum pointed out. “We wanted to show that.”
Together with Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Rosenbaum collected Jewish texts to dovetail with each section, aimed at creating the opportunity to think Jewishly and provocatively about the material, particularly in the context of contemporary issues. The curriculum provokes questions of Jewish responsibility, giving students the opportunity to consider issues such as segregation in their home communities, and the question of whether equal marriage is a civil rights question.
Living the Legacy is full of challenging and vulnerable pieces which make the process of unpacking the Jewish past in the Civil Rights movement a fascinating project. It’s well worth taking a spin through the primary sources on the website, even if you don’t consider yourself to be an educator. “It’s a newer, more inclusive way of looking at history,” said Rosenbaum. “People are excited.”
Fashion designer Zac Posen adjusts orthodox teen contestant Esther Petrack before one of the final runway competitions on ANTM
If you’re anything like me, you’re just dying to hear impassioned opinions on ANTM (that’s America’s Next Top Model, for the non-cognoscenti among you) from someone who has never once watched the show.
What follows is based on a controversial clip featuring an Orthodox–or more specifically, a Modern Orthodox–Jewish contestant from the recent cycle of the CW reality show and the virtual ruckus it caused among the online community, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike.
In case you have not seen this yet, here are some…visuals:
18-year-old Maimonides alum Esther Petrack was recently eliminated from the popular CW reality television show and has finally spoken out to dispel the rumors about her and to address the damning insinuations circulating among the blogosphere and beyond. In a Nov. 3 article in the Jerusalem Post, for example, the Orthodox Jewish reality TV star responded to a rumor that she had lived in Mea She’arim and was excommunicated by explaining that she had never lived there, and adding: ““How did they even find out about me? The video was on the Internet, which they’re not fans of, anyway.”
Indeed in that same interview, Petrack explained that she is not, nor has she ever been haredi. Yet despite this, the media persists in sensationalizing her story by describing her as haredi or ultra-orthodox.
Amusingly, the Israeli news reporter here also describes the school she attended in Boston (Maimonides–one of the bastions of so-called Centrist/Modern Orthodox Jewish education in the U.S.) as “haredi.” Haredi or not, Petrack’s appearance on the show created a stir among many in both the US and Israel who self-identify as “frum.” The infamous clip of the show went viral in the Orthodox community over a month ago, causing outrage and declamatory, self-righteous tongue wagging wherever it raised its scandalous head. One can understand why such provocative television might elicit a raised eyebrow or two but, in all honesty, I think such righteous indignation is misplaced. In all of the online discussion of this admittedly rather ridiculous episode, search though I might, nowhere could I find condemnation of what seemed to me to be the most shocking moment of all: an instance of blatant religious discrimination. In the video clip above, Tyra Banks makes clear, in no uncertain terms, that all contestants, irrespective of their beliefs or practices, are expected to conform to the show’s 24/7 work schedule, religious observance be damned.
While the norms and mores of civilized life are often suspended in ironically titled “‘reality” TV moments like these make me squirm more than scenes of so-called survivors consuming their own feces in order to prolong, for just another glorious week, their “15 minutes of fame.”
If an employer in the US today denied work to a prospective employee based on her/his religious practice, the almost automatic result would be a job discrimination lawsuit with an expectedly grim outcome for the employer . While, just under a century ago, pious Jewish immigrants, fresh-off-the-boat from Europe would routinely lose their jobs and face poverty and even starvation if they did not work on Saturday, thankfully times have changed dramatically, and now religious tolerance is a blessed norm in the US: no longer does a Jew have to choose between starvation for him/herself and his/her family and Sabbath observance. (Thanks is of course also due to courageous labor unions for more humane work hours and weekends off.) The apparent demand of the show’s creator and hostess, Banks, that Petrack chose between “honoring the Sabbath” and being part of the show, would seem to be a throwback to “bad old times” before anti-discrimination laws established norms of fairness and equality in hiring.
As to the “case” itself, we can hardly blame an 18 year old for the offenses of a crassly sensationalistic, heavily edited, celebrity-powered televised competition. While the wisdom of entering such a competition might be questioned at the outset, what Petrack does is her personal choice; she is not forcing anyone – Orthodox or not — to watch or to sanction or imitate her actions.
Much of the online uproar surrounding Petrack’s supposedly hypocritical activity as an Orthodox Jewish young woman is actually misinformed. We later learn, via a blog comment posting by Petrack’s mother (or someone posing as Petrack’s mother. However you please), that her daughter’s statement, “I will do it,” (viz., desecrate the Sabbath by working) was actually edited out of context. Upon re-watching the clip, you can see the response, indeed, was edited. Despite the remaining tsniut (modesty) issue, Esther’s Shabbat observance may very well have been ‘technically kosher’—contrary to the way several articles (even some sympathetic) suggest.
A good part of me empathizes with Petrack. How many of us can readily recall certain decisions and activities undertaken at the tender age of 18 that we would not exactly wish to immortalize on video? Especially for those of us raised in Modern Orthodox milieus, the eternal saga of rationally reconciling the two (modern and orthodox) is a plight that strongly resonates. Granted, at least in my line of work, this doesn’t generally involve lifting one’s shirt on television…..at least not as far as I can remember, anyway.
One day, when I host a Jewishly-observant-themed talk-show entitled Halakhically Incorrect, I think Petrack should be a guest.
Anyone who has, at some point, lived a genuinely modern and Orthodox existence knows that certain actions, on paper, (or, in this case, video edited out of context) could easily baffle others. Or, as one of my good friends from college whom I recently visited remarked while laughing with a glint in his eye, “Remember when I used to sin for you on Saturdays?” referring to my Shabbat observance in which several of my more keyed-in non-Jewish friends and living-mates knew to flip the bathroom switch on before I ducked in on the seventh day of the week.
In short, the real judgment in this case should be against Banks for issuing such a shockingly intolerant ultimatum, not against an 18 year old struggling to reconcile traditional religious observance and modernity. But Banks is “nit fun unzere” (translation: not one of the “tribe”). So why attack her, right?
Next Wednesday (11/10) at NYU:
Full details are available on RHR-NA’s blog
The Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and Natan.TV Present:
A Debate on Israel’s Image in New Media:
Perspectives from a Government Insider and from an Activist Outsider
Wednesday, November 10 at 7:30 PM
at NYU Meyer Hall, Room 122
5 Washington Place, between Broadway and Mercer Street in New York City
Open to the Public
Featuring David Saranga (Former Consul for Media & Public Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in NY)
and Noam Sheizaf (Journalist, Blogger and Co-Editor of +972 Magazine)
Moderated by Natan Edelsburg
Do you perceive Israel as a country of social liberalism, technological and scientific advancement and beaches full of sexy men and women or do you see Israel as a country of eroding democracy, militarism and human rights abuses? Hear from two people who play a pivotal role in shaping what we hear and see from Israel in the West. Find out how new media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs and more) are being used to amplify messages and images about Israel and cover controversial topics. Do these tools help or hurt Israel’s image? Do they make it more honest? Difficult and exciting questions will be asked of both panelists.
David Saranga: David Saranga is a career diplomat and a leading figure in the nascent diplomacy and social media arena. He recently ended a four year-term as The Consul for Media and Public Affairs at the Consulate of Israel in New York. In that capacity he was responsible for Israel’s image in the U.S. and was the main Israeli contact person for national American media outlets based in New York. David was the first diplomat to create an official blog of a country, a MySpace page, YouTube channel, Facebook page and press conference via Twitter. He was a key media spokesperson for Israel about International Court of Justice hearings in The Hague, the West Bank barrier, and the 2008 war with Hamas in Gaza. His initiatives to transform Central Park into a Tel Aviv Beach Party for Tel Aviv’s 100th Anniversary, to promote LGBTQ tourism to Israel and to invite Maxim magazine to Israel generated significant debate about the definition of public diplomacy. David is currently leading the Digital Diplomacy initiatives of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, he is a professor at the School of Communications at IDC Herzliya and an Instructor for “New Media, Social Networks and Public Diplomacy” at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, Annenberg School, University of South California. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Communication, Bar-Ilan University.
Noam Sheizaf: Noam Sheizaf is an Independent journalist and editor who was born in Ramat-Gan and now lives and works in Tel Aviv. After serving in the IDF for four and a half years, he worked for the Ha-ir local paper in Tel Aviv, for Ynet.co.il and for the Maariv daily paper; his last post with Maariv was as a deputy editor of their weekend magazine. He currently serves as an editor of the new +972 Magazine, runs the Promised Land Blog, and writes for Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth and other Israeli papers and magazines.
Moderator – Natan Edelsburg: Natan Edelsburg is a senior in the Department of Media, Culture and Communications at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. He is the the Founder and CEO of Natan.TV. Natan has been an intern, student and entrepreneur in media, technology and entertainment while serving as a contributor to different news sites including Huffington Post, The New York Times’ Local East Village blog,Appmarket.tv, Examiner.com and NYU Local.
On a technical level, this comes as no surprise—there is certainly no shortage of beautiful actresses who happen to be Jewish: Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Mélanie Laurent, Hollywood ur-Jewess Natalie Portman (whose name I can never hear without a preface of “why can’t you be more like …”). But they rarely, if ever, play explicitly Jewish characters—sainted Holocaust victims notwithstanding. Hollywood’s repulsion isn’t directed toward actual Jewish women, but toward its image of the “Jewish Woman” who even in 2010 is still consistently portrayed as bossy, obnoxious, pushy, materialistic, shrewish, gauche, and impossible to please: Mrs. Ari on Entourage, Susie Greene from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jill Zarin from The Real Housewives of New York (a real person playing a fictional character playing a real person). Real Jewish women can laugh at these depictions, but they can sting, too, not least because they are so often manufactured and promulgated by Jewish men: our brothers and our cousins and our dads. I mean, is that what they really think of us?
Your editorial of apology is an example of journalism of lowest, most cowardly order. Journalists publish corrections when they get the facts wrong–but we never apologize for it. Worse than that, you did not even apologize for factual inaccuracy. Instead, you apologized for offending someone. Get over it. We are journalists. Sometimes people get mad at us.
But I should hope that if you continue in this groveling manner, you at least have the decency to do so with some consistency. And if you do that, I have a prediction for you: Next week, you will be apologizing to the wider Jewish community for jumping at the snap of some Orthodox bullies’ fingers. You will be forced to apologize to unaffiliated, non-denominational, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Jews for forgetting that they are the vast majority of the community.
Despite your otherwise pusillanimous handling of this journalistic catastrophe, you somehow managed the chutzpah to apologize for the “pain and consternation” you caused a few noisy homophobic readers. When can we expect your apology to the gay community for the pain and consternation you have no doubt caused them? And when can we expect you to stop running photographs of women? Some Jews find that offensive too, I hear.
Sincerely praying for the return of your journalistic chutzpah,
David A.M. Wilensky,
Features Editor, The Acorn, Drew University, Madison, NJ
I’ll save you the click. The link is to a statement signed by the paper’s editor, Rebecca Kaplan Boroson, saying the following:
We set off a firestorm last week by publishing a same-sex couple’s announcement of their intent to marry. Given the tenor of the times, we did not expect the volume of comments we have received, many of them against our decision to run the announcement, but many supportive as well.
A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue. Our subsequent discussions with representatives from that community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused.
The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.
The views in opinion pieces and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Standard. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters. Libelous or obscene comments will be removed.
This is outrageous on many levels, and I’m sure I don’t need to go into them in detail here. But seriously? The decision is bad enough, but to apologize to “members of the traditional/Orthodox community” for “any pain we may have caused”? (And to implicate the entire “traditional/Orthodox community” in this decision is unfair and damaging to many people in that community as well.)
But if there is a happy ending (or, hopefully, a happy middle) to this story, it’s the inspiring way GLBT Jews and allies sprang into action across the internet today. My Facebook feed was overwhelmed with people posting outraged comments and committing to write to the paper. I posted a message about my outrage on the paper’s Facebook page, and dozens of others followed suit. Disappointed messages have been tweeted at the paper’s Twitter account all day. And although you wouldn’t know it, because no one has been approving comments on the original article’s webpage all day, I know dozens of people have been leaving messages there.
A wise person I know says “Whenever I read articles where I know something about the content, I always find mistakes or misunderstandings, which makes me wonder how many mistakes there are in articles where I’m not familiar with the topic.” We get to see this principle in action as the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz tackles American independent minyanim.
Over the last 10 years, the massive surge in independent minyanim has attracted media attention from both the American Jewish press and the American secular press. (After a while, this has converged so that they seem to write the same article over and over.) But this Ha’aretz piece might be the first time this phenomenon has reached the Israeli media.
The author of the piece, a self-identified secular Israeli, visited DC Minyan, and apparently did little or no research or fact-checking beyond what she saw and heard there. Thus she arrived at the unsupported conclusion that all or most independent minyanim (which in reality display a great deal of diversity) are similar to DC Minyan.
(However, on the plus side, this may be the first news article on 21st-century independent minyanim that doesn’t include a quote from Jonathan Sarna!)
To set the record straight, I’ll give the article a mild fisking: More »
Eight more states – DE, HI, MD, MA, NH, NY, RI, WI – have primary elections this week. (Hawaii’s is on Yom Kippur – DOHT!) Have you fallen into the trap of praying for peace and prosperity but haven’t checked your local polling location?
Rock the Mitzvote reminds you to get off your tuchas and get out there. Use their free High Holidays e-card to encourage everyone you know in these 8 states to hit the polls – let’s pray with our feet, people!
Who says popular culture can’t teach us something valuable about tshuvah, repentance?
As a way to kick off her new-ish release Forgiveness, Sarah McLachlan is launching a forgiveness contest. That’s right, this month, you can enter Sarah McLachlan’s Forgiveness Contest by sending in a postcard that somehow conveys the theme of forgiveness. The deadline, curiously enough, is September 8. Begin the new year with a bang (and maybe even an autographed copy of Laws of Illusion, a tote bag, and a pair of SMcL tickets too). Should you feel compelled to enter, here are the rules.
I’m always afraid of saying anything about women on the internet because obviously I’m a moron with the wrong junk between my legs. But I gravitate toward saying things about rabbis. Especially lists of them. So here we go.
The results got us thinking about all the female rabbis whose influence cannot necessarily be measured by their national/international profile, their media presence or the size of their constituencies — some of the criteria on which Newsweek bases its rankings — but who, nonetheless, are playing important roles in shaping the Jewish story.
When my mom was a kid, she invented the children’s caucus of the Texas feminist something or other (she’ll correct me in the comments, I’m sure), so I grew up with feminism. I like it. I even like saying I’m a feminist myself. So the idea of The Sisterhood 50 appeals to me. Yet, in practice, a lot of it looks like wishful thinking that only serves to prove one point: There just aren’t that many women in influential rabbinic roles.More »
I can only imagine the pitch meeting: “What if the Swedish Chef was a Zionist?” “But the Swedish Chef is kind of a psycho, totally unaware of the havoc he’s wreaking on everyone around him while he’s trying to make his meal.” “Exactly! It’s perfect!”
I’ll admit, after watching the first one I stumbled across (“Jew Bread“), I turned to my office-mate and asked if she tell whether this was anti-Semitic or Zionist. After watching a few more, I think the answer is clearly “both.”
It’s like a train wreck… Each clip I watch repulses me in new and different ways, but I can’t look away…
So the the question is… who’s funding/making/distributing these?