The following is a guest post by Efrem L. Epstein. Efrem is the founder of Elijah’s Journey, an organization focusing on the issues of suicide awareness and prevention in the Jewish community.
For several months now I’ve joked about the potential lawsuit I could file against Matthew Quick, author of the novel “Silver Linings Playbook” from which the film nominated for eight 2013 Oscars is adapted. On first glance, Pat Peoples (renamed “Pat Solitano” in the film) could only be based on me. We’re both die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans, who took up dancing as a hobby, spent time living in Baltimore, wrestled with issues of life’s purpose and idealized love and battled the demons of depression and won (K’eyn Ayin Hara). In reality, I am hardly the only person in the world who can relate to Pat. Depression affects 350 Million globally and, in the U.S. alone, there are 1,000,000 suicide attempts annually. Many are surprised to learn that reported suicides outnumber homicides by more than a 2:1 ratio (and if one were to account for unreported/unconfirmed suicides the ratio would likely be closer to 3:1). In thanking David O. Russell after her SAG-AFTRA Best Female Actor win, Jennifer Lawrence proclaimed, “You made a movie for your son so that he wouldn’t feel alone, and so that he could feel understood. And I think I can speak on behalf of most of us and say that you helped more than your son. You’ve helped so many sons and daughters, husbands, wives, everybody.”
The positive lessons that can be learned from Silver Linings Playbook are so numerous that at times it feels like an entire social justice curriculum…and a good one at that! Not only does the movie enlighten us about tolerance and acceptance but it also offers some fresh and rich insight on how we as a society can move past many of our stubborn stigmas regarding depression, mental illness and emotional disorders (three cheers for Pat’s character being portrayed as both desirable and dateable even with his demons and flaws). And let’s not forget the lesson about how so many of our personal relationships (romantic, platonic and family) can be improved through more open and honest lines of communication. Silver Linings Playbook has also been a wonderful conversation-starter that has prompted many public figures to further share their own stories. I strongly recommend reading former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy’s piece from The Daily Beast.
But the movie is especially poignant in my eyes for offering up a “playbook” of sorts for handling life’s curves. Life is, and should be, full of dreams but the dark side of dreams is that they often get shattered! Six months before Pat Solitano appeared on movie screens, Vice President Joe Biden gave many of us in the suicide awareness/prevention movement our own “Jackie Robinson moment.” Recalling the tragic accident which claimed the lives of his daughter and first wife, he recounted, “”For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide…because they had been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they’d never get there again.” As we watch Pat move on from his old dreams to build new ones, we realize a truth of life: Bad things do happen to us and sometimes REALLY bad things happen to us, but even amongst our most shattered dreams there is always a road back to happiness. “Folks, it can and will get better,” Biden told the audience later in his speech.
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.
Asked whether Tel Aviv had any “personal significance” to him as a choice of venue for Lollapalooza, Ferrell gazed as he struggled to give a non-committal response, “Let’s just say that I think that it’s a place that needs good music. It deserves it, it demands it, and so it shall be.” Elsewhere he has cited Tel Aviv’s geography, lack of an international festival or a curfew… Very nice, but is that all?
Indie Rocker and Jewish Day School Alumna Regina Spektor
As those of you who have been following this season’s America’s Got Talent and/or have read my previous post know, one of the most promising contenders in the show is a religious Jew who is a singer. Not only that, but he is an incoming freshman at the Jewish high school I attended. Curious if any ICJA alumni before have ever enjoyed success and fame as popular musicians, I did some searching but could not find anything. To my knowledge, the only music icon to have graduated from ICJA was Disturbed front man David Draiman (who first spent some time at the Wisconsin Institute of Torah Study, WITS, and Torah Valley High in California).
I then expanded my search to include alumni rockers from any major Jewish day school in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia. (Incidentally, this search revealed volumes about the institutional identities of the individual schools. While some schools mention Nobel Prize winners and Rhodes Scholars among their graduates, others mention only male ‘notable alumni,’ and some only rabbis, major Jewish community leaders, and mega-machers. And some even mention convicted murderers. I’m looking at you, Charles E Smith Jewish Day School.) Interestingly, the rock star Jew-school grads hail disproportionately from Orthodox day schools. Care to interpret?
Anyway, on to the challenge (answers after the ‘more,’ but no peeking!):
which of these famous musicians attended which of these Jewish Day Schools? Hint: two or more may have attended the same school
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 »
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.
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.
Hilarious and amazing. This might be one of the greatest things I’ve read in quite some time. Apparently, there are just under 3000 Jews in the Czech Republic; however, according to the most recent census data, those in the Czech Republic who voluntarily filled in their religion as “Jedi” numbered over 15,000.
I hate to have to ask this, but would a Jewish Jedi be a Jew-di? Terrible, I know — forgive me.
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
In what seems like a development only possible on the satirical pages of the Onion, Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions has just unveiled plans to co-finance a new film about Judah Maccabee, with Joe Eszterhaus of Showgirls fame onboard as screenwriter. This is too good to be true. I mean, who better than Mel Gibson, the man who boldly asserted that Jews are responsible for all wars in the world, to capture the quintessential epic military struggle of Jewish national religious pride versus the lures of assimilation?
Well, time will only tell what choices Gibson will make, but if he sticks to my above plan, we’re going to have something even greater than The Passion of the Christ (2004). Or, as Reb Yudel puts it, “If Gibson’s Hanukkah film succeeds, can his Tisha b’Av blockbuster be far behind?”
Incidentally, I vividly recall dragging a date to a Sunday matinee screening of his last Jew epic in 2004. We paid for two tickets to see Dirty Dancing: Havana Nightsin the hopes that our tickets wouldn’t profit Gibson’s film, but later, a friend in the industry explained to me that films only benefit from concession stand money, not from actual ticket sales. Alas. The film itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy, aside from its curious subtitling choices. While Gibson promised to cut out any direct implication of the Jews in Jesus’ crucifixion, the English subtitling did not always match the Aramaic dialogue onscreen. (I attended a high school which forced us to learn Aramaic. Now on facebook, I smugly resent that under the languages option, there is an “Aramaic of Jesus” and not also an ‘Aramaic of Rabban Gamliel.”) We, along with busloads of young Christian children, some of whom were as young as four years old, proceeded to watch what amounted to two full hours of Jesus being beaten to a bloody pulp. ::Spoiler alert:: Jesus is killed.
Over on Salon, Tracy Clark-Flory declares that sexlessness (or at least articles about it) are officially a trend. Which strikes me as funny, because the article just below that one in the queue is all about the rise of non-monogamy (which together with Dan Savage’s proclamations that people should consider non-monogamy and today’s JTA headline that an Israeli group of Orthodox rabbis (c’mon, you knew this was coming!) is trying to bring back polygamy (a trend that even the Torah implicitly warns against while not forbidding) definitely qualifies as a trend.
So what to get to first? I’m impressed by the ridiculousness of Erica Jong’s complaint. I’m not sure why Clark-Flory concludes that her complaint is that technology has taken over for the actual messiness and intimacy of sex – from what I can tell, her real complaint is that this younger generation prefers monogamy and childrearing to the raunch that she claims her generation championed. Look at the utter condescension: More »
Over the past several years, we have seen quite a number of Jewish or pseudo-Jewish practices picked up by non-Jews. While this isn’t exactly a novel occurrence – Christians sort of invented it with the creation of their new religion not quite two millenia ago, and Christian “Passover seders” of various sorts have been going on for some number of decades- it’s worth considering how Jews should react to the “democratization” of Jewish practices.
Whether it’s the pseudo-Jewish kabbalah center (whose practices misrepresent kabbalah quite a huge amount) and its superstitious practices, or Justin Bieber saying the Shema before concerts, we can expect to see more of this kind of thing.
To a certain extent, a certain amount of syncretism is inevitable. More »