Join the Jewschool email list


Filed under Jewschool


What are you reading?

See what I did there?

See what I did there?

Jewschool will soon be embarking on a total overhaul of our blogroll.

So, we’re asking you:

What Jewish blogs do you read?

Which ones on our current list do you like?

Which ones on our current list do you not like?

Don’t wanna comment publicly on what you don’t like? Email me at davidAMwilensky{at}gmail{dot}com.


Teh Jewschool Progressive 36ez

I don’t begrudge all the earnest folks who do good work for the jooz. I even like when they are all named to important lists. Like Slingshootz. And the Forvertz 50. And the Joozish Week 36-24-36. Etc. Etc. Etc.
But I begz your pardon, what’s with this Jewish Community Zeroes thingy? All the issues of teh femalez aside teh questionz iz, ‘Wasnt this whole thing just a clever tactic for JFNA* to collect several hundred thousand emailz of teh young Jooz? *(not their real name, which is much longer and is never to be abbreviated even to save space)

We at Jewschool felt we ought to do the same… Since we’re all about the Joozploitation, we are very proud to announce…

**Teh Jewschool Progressive 36 Lamed Vavnik Double Chai Latte Hero Sandwichez… Bitchez.**

Zero Calories

Zero Calories

Honoring movers and shakers doing good work on behalf of (or for) the Jooz in the areas of:
Social and economic justice and do-gooding
Peace (in Israel and elsewhere, except Iceland)
Jewish culture (whatever that is)
Spirituality (‘specially the touchy feel-y sort)
Inclusivity (Pluralist, Racial, Gender and all that ‘faggy’ stuff)
Media (it is the message after all, liek this blog)
Other things we hate but have to include.

Step one:
We announce the contest and make it sticky on the site. (check)
Circulate it via email, blogosphere and intertubes. (need your help here)
Develop snarky but slick logo that looks Obama-esque (uh, check?)

Step two:
Nominations accepted via form submission on the website
Post facebook event/app/group/widget to redirect voters to
Be sure that heads of major Joowish organizations and entities iz nominated.
Also, anyone with a huge email/twitter/facebook following…
Note that femalez iz welcome to apply but will not be winnerz
(cuz they iz too stoopid… naw, cuz they all already iz heroz- hi mom!)

Step three:
Inform all nominees they are finalists. Because they are all special.
To be named a 36, they must encourage their supporters to vote for them
(and be popular).
Votes are accepted via hosted form, which collects their name, locale,
email, etc.

Step four:

Announce winners of the cheerleading squad via press release, youtubz
and facespaces.
Compile voter list into email database and announce winners via email list
Solicit their financial support, just for shirtz and gigglz

step five:

Use the email list for our own purposez: to give all teh kittehz cheezburgerz er- Kosher tofu-parve cheezburgers..!

Muuuuhahahahahaha!!!! I eatz it up. I laffs at u.
More »

Let’s do Stage 3 in the morning; P’sukei D’zimrah; Etc.

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle

Fellow Jewschooler BZ over at Mah Rabu has put up the long-awaited Part VIII of his Hilchot Pluralism series. HP is a series of case studies in what BZ calls Stage 3 Jewish pluralism. In Part VIII, he covers a novel solution to the issue of one and two-day yom tov observances. Tikkun Leil Shabbat, a DC group, celebrated Simchat Torah this year in such a way that people who believed it to be chag and people who believed it to be a weekday could participate equally within their own frameworks. It’s fascinating. You should read Hilchot Pluralism.

All of this had me re-reading all of HP. Re-reading it, combined with my slightly unsatisfactory recent experiences in a couple of different New York City prayer communities had me giving serious consideration to a big new project. I’ve also been thinking about less than a year from now when my NJ chavurah is not going to be an option for me every week.

HP paints such a perfect picture for me. The only place I’ve ever been (not that I don’t know of others) that lives up to BZ’s vision of Stage 3 pluralism is Kol Zimrah. KZ meets once a month and only on Friday nights. But I want what is on offer at KZ every Friday night. And then I want it again in the morning. And I want it in a daily minyan. And I want it on holidays. This is a tall order.

So this week, I began starting to think toward creating one more element of this.

For some, like me, what draws them to KZ is the pluralism. I like the singing, but I like the ideas more. However, most of the people who come are probably more drawn in by the singing and spirited atmosphere. The spirited singing is thanks to two liturgical developments. First, we can thank some Medieval Kabbalists for giving us Kabbalat Shabbat. And second, we can thank Shlomo Carelbach for giving us some great tunes to make Kabbalat Shabbat a fun, engaging prayer experience. In essence, KZ without a Carelbach Kabbalat Shabbat would be a shell of itself.

So maybe what we need to create is the same kind of big singing, big fun prayer experience on Shabbat morning.

Luckily, much like Kabbalat Shabbat, we have hefty section of psalms to sing in the morning too! P’sukei D’zimrah usually gets shafted in shul. Most people don’t even show up until its over. It’s also long, so if we actually sang all of it, we wouldn’t be done with services until it’s time for Minchah.

We’ve got tunes for all of these psalms, but some may not work for the kind of spirited experience I’m talking about here. Especially if Carlebach (or Carlebach-esque) music is what is needed, we’re in trouble. For Psalm 150 and for 92 and a few others, we’ve got no problem.

But for some pslams, this will take some work. I chatted with Russ, our chazan (OK, our JTS student chazan, but he’s our chazan) at Chavurat Lamdeinu here in Jersey, about it this morning. I’m a bit melodically-challenged sometimes, so the obvious hadn’t occurred to me. Russ pointed out that Carlebach (and others) have a gazillion nigunim out there that could be laid on top of some of these psalms. This will take some work, but it’s doable.

Of course, as others have pointed out to me as I’ve rambled about this idea off and on this week, there are also some significant practical challenges here. Getting a minyan together on a Shabbat morning is harder than on a Shabbat evening because you need a Torah. You also need people to read Torah. This stuff is infinitely surmountable, but it’s there nonetheless.

The biggest challenge would be time. At its fullest, by my count, P’sukei D’zimrah includes 16 full psalms, the entire Song of the Sea, two prayers and a whole host of ancillary biblical passages. This is a more than twice as much material as Kabbalat Shabbat, which only has 8 psalms and a few extra piyutim/songs (usually between one and three songs, though it depends on who you talk to).

So there would probably need to be cuts. Personally, I’d probably start with the ancillary biblical passages, but I wouldn’t want to make these decisions alone anyway.

There would also have to be some discussion of how to do the rest of the service, with very careful attention paid to the requirements of Stage 3.  Issues like the number of aliyot and the triennial cycle would certainly be up for discussion. Other parts of the service would need discussion too, such as the Amidah, where a Heiche Kedushah (leader does Amidah aloud through the Kedushah, everyone continues silently on their own, no leader’s repetition after) would probably merit discussion. And Birkot Hashacar etc, despite being a favorite of mine, would probably be right out because that can all be done at home before arriving or individually by people who arrive early.

That’s about as far as my thinking on this has taken me so far. Thoughts, anyone? Who’s with me?

Live from the Jewschool contributors email list: Is Eshet Chayil a Hypocritical Prayer?

Contributors, if you want to claim your thoughts in this, leave a comment and I’ll adjust accordingly.

Yesterday, I emailed a post from The Forward‘s Sisterhood Blog to the Jewschool contributors list. The post, by Debra Nussbaum Cohen, reads:

At Shabbat dinner in traditional Jewish homes the hymn “Eshet Chayil,” meaning “Woman of Valor,” is sung to the woman who runs the household. It concludes with the line “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”

According to the mysterious group Jewish Women Watching, — the organization’s members remain anonymous “to focus attention on the issues, not ourselves,” according to the group’s mission statement — leaders of Orthodox organizations in the U.S., and leaders of the State of Israel, are hypocritical because they presumably sing this even as they deny women the ability to serve in positions of religious leadership, not allowing them to enjoy the “fruit of their hands.”

“Religious Jewish women devoted to Torah, worship, and communal leadership are victims of constant sexist backlash,” said JWW in a press release the group distributed as the High Holy Days began. The release went on to say, “In this season of reflection and repentance, JWW calls on mainstream Orthodox leaders to do teshuvah [repentance], atoning for their actions that suppress valorous women.”

And here’s what a few on the list had to say about this:

Jewschooler 1:

JWW has missed the point. Eshet Chayil isn’t about  actual human women, it’s a kabbalistic custom that refers to the Shekhina.

Jewschooler 2:

Except that it’s often used as a tribute to real women, or an example of how respect for women is inherent in the liturgy.  I’m not necessarily saying it isn’t, just that that is one of its functions.

Jewschooler 1:

Agreed, especially as to the second point (and IMO a case can be made for the second point, just not a general one).

But I’ve noticed it’s actually a problem with JWW’s criticisms that  they often don’t know what it is they’re criticizing….

IMO, it makes them look bad to criticize without actually understanding what they’re  talking about. I  like their premise, and generally speaking like what they do, so I wish they would find someone with a religious background to help them out when they plan their campaigns….

Aryeh Cohen:

…about twenty [years] after many liturgical alternatives to eishet chayil started to be used (including just not saying it) in the M.O. world and to the left, why exactly would it be a problem to criticise this publicly–unless JWW is composed of the wives of the Roshei yeshivah at Mirrer, Torah Vadaas, and Chaim Berlinl

Filed under Jewschool


Write for Jewschool

Our apologies for the slow nature of posts, our contributors are away on vacations, study tours, and saving the world in India. Now is as good a time as any to remind everyone that we accept guest posts and petitions to become summer contributors. Send an email to with your post on Jewish, progressive topic (self-defined) of your choosing. We publish quality thoughts free of grammatical errors from those who care passionately about a cause, have a bone to pick, or a project to promote. Please be in touch!

Filed under Jewschool

No Comments

גילה רינה דיצה וחדווה

Mazal tov to Jewschool’s own ZT, on the occasion of his marriage today to BR! ZT has blogged extensively about the elements that make Jewish wedding celebrations so joyous, from sheva berachot to shtick, based on experiences with many different semachot, and so we wish BR and ZT the joy of all those celebrations combined.

Cutting edge AJC! (which one?)

The following is the better part of an email chain from the Jewschool contributors email list from the last two days. I have posted this for two reasons. First, I thought it was funny. Second, from time to time I see commenters here at Jewschool writing as though we have some kind of coherent editorial process or well-defined agenda. The manner in which we conduct these email exchanges should disabuse y’all of that notion.

Contributor 1:

I had to laugh when I saw this in the AJC Access newsletter:

“AJC launched its new, cutting-edge iPhone application—the first from a major Jewish organization. The AJC app, available free of charge in Apple’s App Store, allows iPhone users to stay updated on AJC news, blogs, videos, Twitter and more….”

The first? I’ve had an iPhone app for my website for about 2 years now. It’s not that hard and even I didn’t claim to be the first….

But it begs the question- if I’m savvy enough to use blogs, twitter and other social media, why would I need an app from AJC?

And if I’m already following all those feeds, aren’t I already getting sufficiently updated?

There are some things AJC does that I think are okay, and some are a bit well, you know. But it’s as if they invented the very notion of a Jewish App. And that theirs is useful…



Still, blog it!

Contributor 2:

AJC cutting edge? AJC doesn’t even know what its mission is. Its mission statement is like, three pages long. The whole real mission? All about scaring old people into giving money so the org doesn’t have to fold.

Reb Yudel:

On the other hand, an app to help distinguish between AJCongress and AJComittee might actually be useful…

Contributor 3:

How about the difference between the arukh hashulchan and the shulchan arukh?

In Defense of the Local

The Jewish Literary Salon in Krakow - one of the many complex Jewish projects in contemporary Poland

The Jewish Literary Salon in Krakow, Poland - one of the many complex Jewish projects in contemporary Poland

In Dan Sieradski’s recent web project 31 Days, 31 Ideas, cartoonist and rootsman thinker Eli Valley suggests that the American Jewish community create “Birthright Diaspora.” Awkwardly conceived as a 10-day immersion in a Jewish diasporic site, the manifesto suggests that by creating a program in which Israeli and American Jews visit “global” Jewish communities located far from their own, their Jewish identities will transform into something better. Valley writes:

It’s time to expand our notions of positive Jewish identity and at long last move beyond an ideology that fretfully masquerades self-hatred as Jewish empowerment. By digging through centuries of global Jewish life, Birthright Diaspora will help transform Jewish self-awareness and break the dichotomy of “hero” and “victim” that has handicapped internal Jewish intellectual inquiry for decades. The goal is not merely widespread immersion experiences in global Jewish communities but a renewed understanding of Diaspora as a Birthright that forms the roots of Jewish consciousness. If implemented effectively, Birthright Diaspora can lead to an existential transformation in the way Jews and Israelis view themselves and the world.

It is a heartfelt manifesto, and what it lacks in theoretical precision it regains in passion. For many years now, there has been an emphasis on the next big “program” that will contribute to the strengthening of what we have come to call Jewish Identity and Community. Various ideological camps, including Jewschool, have claimed that by funding the notion of “global Jewish Peoplehood,” Jewish identity and community will bz’h undergo the type of “existential transformation” that Valley describes.

I am confident that longing for this type of existential transformation is a red herring, or even more troubling, a fantasy of our own power. By denying the reality that the Jewish Diaspora has geographically contracted and remained intact, our cultural activists continue to accept a model of a “shackled” community that pivots off a vague notion that, as Valley writes, “in the Jewish world, the interconnectivity often manifests itself through ripples emanating from the perceived center of Jewish life in Jerusalem.”
More »

Srugim Update – Two more episodes Wed. night at the JCC, plus watch on The Jewish Channel!

Thanks to all the folks who came out last Wednesday for the NYC premiere of Srugim. We had a blast watching it in a big group and then meeting up for drinks afterward.

Mazal tov to everyone who entered the Srugim “Name that drink” contest.

  • First place: Naughty Nati (Chocolate Martini)

  • Second place: Ani Ekadesh (Champagne with blueberry essence)
  • Third place: Katamonster (Sam Smith English Ale)
  • Honorable mention: No Sex On the Beach
  • Folks will be gathering once again at the JCC in Manhattan tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 10) for the 3rd and 4th episodes of season 1 (yes there will be English subtitles).

    Not in NYC? Host your own watching party & catch it on the Jewish Channel on Saturday nights. [Note: TJC is available on cable -- iO Optimum ch. 291, Time Warner ch. 528, RCN ch. 268, Verizon FiOS ch. 900, and Cox Cable ch. 1. For more information, visit] Send some photos to editor-at-jewschool-dot-com & we’ll post them on the site. (Or just share them with us on facebook)

    My Flip Camera May Not, In Fact, Be God

    Okay, I promise this is my final post about Everything Is God: A Jewish Spiritual Woodstock, the event held Sunday night at Harvard Hillel. Jewschool doesn’t often cosponsor real, live events up here in Beantown, so you’ll forgive me for being a little more excited than usual at getting to represent us out there “In Real Life” as the kids say.

    Let me start by saying that as excited as I was to fly the Jewschool flag, I was somewhat suspicious of the event itself. I tend to sneer at the kind of spirituality that comes with chanting and meditating and crystals and beads and what-have-you, and that’s sort of what I expected to be bombarded with here. After all, I know that Jay Michaelson is prone to running off to Tibet for a month of silent contemplation, and Seth Castleman has built his career on bringing the Dharma and the Torah together. I know that Danya holds a torch for the kind of traditional Jewish spirituality that I both crave and mock, although from reading her memoir I know that she’s adopted the lotus position herself on more than one occasion.

    So let me be the first to say that the event was not that at all. Sure, Danya and Jay disagreed on whether aromatherapy bath crystals can really be considered spiritual tools, but the discussion was much more focused on the interplay between “religion” (i.e. the structures & strictures, rituals and communities of organized faith) and “spirituality” (what Danya calls the moments of feeling groovy). (Incidentally, if you were hoping for more of an exploration of how your boogers embody God, Jay is holding a series of conference calls for folks to come together in exploration of the non-dual Judaism he espouses in his book.)

    The three speakers introduced themselves and their approaches but then quickly moved on to the Q&A portion of the evening. They did two rounds of four questions each. I tried to capture the entire Q&A session with my Flip Camera, but the darn thing crashed after Seth & Danya answered the first four questions and Jay had answered the first three. But the footage I did manage to get captures enough of the feeling of the event and many of the interesting points. I’ll lead with Jay’s answer to a question about the place of Judaism in his spirituality. (This is from the first round of questions, so I don’t have Danya & Seth’s answers to the same question.)

    Behind the cut are more videos addressing the role of music in each person’s spirituality, the place of Israel in their spirituality, and approaches to balancing structured religion with a desire to “pick and choose” and get rid of bits of religion that don’t sit well with us.
    More »

    Everything in Boston is God

    I might have gotten that title mixed up a bit. Fuller report coming tomorrow, including video of most of the Q&A part of the panel. In the meantime, if you’re curious to know what it was about and you weren’t one of the lucky 120 or so people who made it in the room before the risk of fire hazard cut folks out, you can see tweets from me and Joanna Ware from the panel. (Scroll down to those with timestamps between 7:00 and 8:00 pm EST on Jan. 31st.) I took some snapshots of the Jewschool table and the crowd as well. My pictures of the panel didn’t come out so great (Danya talks with her hands too much for my crappy camera phone to focus!) so you’ll have to wait for the video to see Jay Michaelson, Seth Castleman, and Danya Ruttenberg in action.

    Photos behind the cut.
    More »

    More Days, More Ideas: Catching up with Sieradski

    Daniel Sieradski‘s creativity has continued unabated since our last update on his 31 Days 31 Ideas project.

    One common thread among many of the latest ideas is the benefit of creating centralized resources for the Jewish community. You might think a self-styled anarchist would enjoy the current status quo of messy everyone making Shabbos for themselves, but Dan is first and foremost a digital native and he understands the logic of the Internet. A singular Google and a singular iTunes have replaced local telephone books and record stores. Shouldn’t the Jewish community have single web interfaces?

    This principle underlies ideas:

    A couple of ideas, however, seem to run up against the principle of centralization, inventing J-wheels where standard wheels are already rolling along quite fine:

    • #16 Social Auctions suffers from the same problem of all non-Ebay auction sites: Ebay is where the buyers are. Unless… if you can make it a mitzvah imperative. Can we make a web destination? Maybe with the right Facebook interface. Do I want to let all my friends know that I just bid $10 for a used Star Trek model to benefit Haitian relief? Hmm….
    • #19, JStock: The Jewish Designer’s Marketplace, also suffers from the same problem. I turn to iStockPhoto when I need cover art for my Jewish books… and currently has over 5000 Jewish images. Shutterstock has more than 6000. So do we need a specific Jewish site? Read Dan’s proposal for yourself.

    The final ideas in this update’s minyan don’t deal with centralization, but are certainly worth discussing:

    Finally, Dan announced that the brainstorming project will continue through February, as Jewschool, JTA, The Forward, eJewish Philanthropy, Jewcy and the Jewish Federations of North America play tag team with Dan in producing 28 more ideas.

    So: What are your thoughts on centralization in the Jewish community?

    31 days, 31 ideas

    Jewschool was once just a twinkle in an innovator’s eye. Disenchanted with mainstream Jewish offerings, some guy named Daniel “Mobius” Sieradski started this here blog and gave a soap box to those nearest him who had a bone to pick with the establishment. Jewschool dominated the Jblogosphere (back when there were only a handful of us), spawned competitors, and became the online home of progressive Jewish thought. We continue to be the largest progressive Jewish blog covering the full spectrum of religion, politics and culture, even though Sieradski has moved on.

    Sieradski left Jewschool with the intent of going big with his ideas, to no avail. The Jewish community is, like any community, terrified of change. Its institutions reject bold, smart ideas for the safety of orthodoxies. Sacred cows wallow in an abundance of funds, while social incubators and fellowships need one to be a trust fund baby. And the digital age has yet to overcome the organizational/copyright turf wars that keep information segregated, siloed and inaccessible.

    There are a lot of bright ideas out there. And they’re dying. How the hell can we spark a conversation about those doomed ideas? With whom can we pitch, share and network to connect around shared ideas? Where can we find our own resources without the institutions and angel funders? And who would care about it all? In essence, can we crowdsource this effing revolution?

    Thus 31 days, 31 ideas:

    Sieradski is posting one of his ideas every day for all of January. In February, he and six cosponsors including Jewschool will post 31 more ideas that have never seen the light of public exposure. We at Jewschool join him in hoping this means some bright people with time on their hands will say, “Hey, I want to do that.”

    We’re already into Day 3 and he’s already showcased…

    1. Pop-up Parsha, a widget that searches pages for references to Torah parshot and scriptural citations and offers a pop-up window with the Hebrew/English text, plus links to commentaries and discussion boards.
    2. Pop-up Jewish dictionary, another hypertext tool that would offer definitions for Jew-lingo. Sieradski makes a great point that as he increased his Jewish literacy, his friends often stopped reading the garbledigook of Jewspeak. I facetiously engaged the same problem for my non-Jewy friends by defining my nomenclature. If we’re battling low Jewish literacy, then surely we can make it easy on each other?
    3. The Hebrew input widget is neither “striking nor sexy” but allows for simpler typing of Hebrew into any web form or comment box — and offers phonetic entry of Hebrew (H for Hay, G for Gimel, etc.).

    Not all these ideas will be winners, he warns, and not all will be totally original:

    Most are ideas for web applications, some are web publications, and some are ideas for new organizations all together. And not every one of them is parochial even — some have uses beyond the Jewish community. Yet what connects them, is that each one brings something to the table that I believe to be truly revolutionary and transformative — things that have the potential to alter the Jewish world as we know it.  And that’s what I’m in it for:  A revitalized, renewed, and refreshing Jewish existence.  It’s the only thing I’ve ever truly been for.

    Indeed, it’s what Jewschool was created to do. We’ll post a wrap-up here of the last seven ideas every week for two months. Have an idea you want pitched? Email us and you might end up guest posting your idea here.

    BJ Men’s Havura Celebrity Death Match is a Feminist Endeavor

    Editor’s note: The following is a direct response to the recent post publicizing this month’s meeting of the Men’s Havurah at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun featuring the NYC federation’s top dog John Ruskay and Jewish media guru Daniel Sieradski in a dialogue between the establishment and anti-establishment voices in the Jewish world today.

    The response below is written by Yosef Goldman who is a cantorial and rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and served last year as the first cantorial intern at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. He is currently studying at Machon Schechter in Jerusalem and serves as the rabbinic intern at the Jerusalem Open House.

    The BJ Men’s Havura is the place to be this Shabbat afternoon. If you identify as male, and not as female. And that’s just fine. I know, I know: it sounds sexist. But let’s back up for a moment; a little context goes a long way.

    A year and a half ago Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein, one of B’nei Jeshurun‘s three rabbis, decided that it was time to act to address a growing gender imbalance that had been apparent at BJ for some time, one that mirrors a trend affecting all areas of non-Orthodox Jewish religious life- men just aren’t as interested in “doing” Judaism as women are. In the words of Sylvia Barack Fishman in an important study published last year:

    Today American Jewish boys and men have fewer connections to Jews and Judaism than girls and women in almost every venue and in every age, from school age children through the adult years. The descent of male interest is evident not only in domestic Judaism, as expected, but also in public Judaism, religious leadership, and secular ethnic attachments.

    Whether or not it’s a direct effect of women’s empowerment in Jewish life, the fact is irrefutable- men are dropping out. The question at BJ was what to do about it.

    At BJ, where I served last year as the first cantorial intern, the vast majority of lay leaders are female. Whether it’s the Torah readers, prayer service leaders or committee chairs, women dominate. The monthly women’s Rosh Chodesh group and the annual women’s retreat are popular and successful. Until the Men’s Havura was formed there had been no space at BJ for men alone since 1984, when Marshall Meyer became the rabbi and disbanded the congregation’s Brotherhood and Sisterhood. (To be technical, the BJ Men’s Havura is open to all people male-identified, regardless of biology and regardless of sexual orientation.) I think that it’s crucial for there to be female space, opportunities for women to gather with other women and feel proud and safe to express themselves Jewishly, to explore their identity as Jewish women. I think that it’s equally important for male space to exist in our communities. As congregations become more fully egalitarian, opportunities for men to explore together the meaning of contemporary male Jewish identity are increasingly rare.

    Traditional models of gender roles in Judaism are responsible for thousands of years of oppression of women and non-heterosexuals. Jewish feminists, both female and male, have, in the past 40 years or so, changed the way that we think about those roles and opened up ritual and social space for women. The concepts of Jewish womanhood and femininity have been critiqued and updated to reflect the needs and values of the contemporary Jewish community. But, to ask a question posed by Sarah Blustain in the current edition of Lilith (entitled “boys are the new girls”): “Did women’s lib by some incredible, ironical twist of fate, leave men confined?” It is time to revisit Jewish manhood and masculinity. This is just what Rabbi Bronstein had in mind when he started the Havura (click on link for an interview in Zeek of the topic).

    It’s important to stress that a male critique of masculinity can be a feminist endeavor, as I believe the BJ Havura is. Daniel Boyarin, in his book Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man, quotes Tania Modleski to say that such a critique is feminist when “it analyzes male power, male hegemony, with a concern for the effects of this power on the female subject…” The very first meeting of the Havura, after a spirited Mincha service, we engaged in a Torah study, looking critically at models of manhood in the Chumash. Subsequent gatherings included a provocative discussion about sexuality and male-female relations with psychotherapist Esther Perel, author of the international bestseller, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence.

    As the cantorial intern at BJ, I co-facilitated all of last year’s Havura meetings, along with Rabbi Bronstein and Marshall T. Meyer Fellow Rabbi Ezra Weinberg, and I was at the committee meetings. As I see it, Marcelo and the Havura committee are seeking to meet the challenges of liberating Jewish men from the confines of inadequate gender roles and to create a spiritually relevant space for men. Meeting these challenges is certainly in the interest of Jewish women as well. To quote Blustain’s piece in Lilith again, “It may be the ultimate feminist undertaking in the coming decades to help men free themselves—and to demand that they do so in the ways that continue to free us as well.”

    Now, this week’s event may not relate specifically to the issues raised above, but it serves another important goal: getting the target audience in the door. When asked last year by the Havura committee heads for a program idea that would interest my friends and get them to come to a Men’s Havura, I thought immediately about Dan Sieradski in dialogue with John Ruskay (a dynamic activist in his youth, and a BJ member). I figured it would pique the interest of my friends and like-minded young men – the group that is least represented at the Havura’s gatherings. From the excitement in the 84 responses posted so far, it seems that the program has done just that.

    The other gender imbalance—the lingering inequity in representation and pay among women in the executive leadership in the Jewish community—is still a big obstacle, and any discussion of the former gender imbalance is incomplete without mentioning the stained glass ceiling, but the discussion is ready to be had. I think we should be celebrating and encouraging female-only and male-only space, like BJ’s Rosh Chodesh group and Men’s Havura, that reflect the values of truly egalitarian Judaism.

    Celebrity Deathmatch: Mobius vs. Ruskay

    mobius-vs-ruskayThis month’s meeting of the Men’s Havurah at B’nai Jeshurun on December 19th will feature John Ruskay and Daniel Sieradski in a dialogue between the establishment and anti-establishment voices in the Jewish world today. Where are we? What’s needed? What are the generational divides?

    John is the Executive Vice President and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. Daniel was the founding publisher and editor-in-chief of Jewschool as well as blogs Radical Torah and Orthodox Anarchist.

    This program will also include davening, schnappsing and socializing. For men only. For more information contact Naomi Goodhart: Saturday, December 19th, 5 pm – 7 pm, in Frankel Hall at the 88th Street shul. (Facebook event here.)

    Standing Up For Justice, or Straightening Our Curly Jew Hair?

    Fritz Silber-Baker and Caroline Rothstein, my favorite Yids of the award winning slam poetry team “The Intangible Collective,” will be performing as part of this Sunday’s 2nd annual Inside the Activists’ studio. (As you may have seen by the prominently placed ad or recent post, Jewschool is a cosponsor – that means we helped plan it and hope to see many of you there! We majorly endorse this event!)

    Here’s a taste of Fritz and Caroline from a slam this summer. The recording quality isn’t amazing, but they say so many freakin’ profound and important things about the modern Jew’s struggle with identity and history that you may need to watch it a few times anyway.

    Mazel Tov to Danya …and some other people

    The Jewish Book Council announced the finalists for their Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, and Jewschool’s very own Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg made the list for her memoir, Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion (published by the good folks at Beacon Press). Mazel tov, Danya!

    I was a little bit late to the game myself, only catching up with the book in September. If you haven’t read it yet, let me tell you – don’t wait. It’s a great window into how one person grappled with the big questions of life, and as you know from reading Danya here, she writes with panache. She also writes with extensive footnoting, which makes for a memoir that has the feel of a great (and very accessible) academic work. We’re Jews, we tend to interpret our lives through text (and interpret our texts through life), and the way Danya weaves in the voices of those who have written before her reflects this ethos in a thrilling way.

    Apparently, some other people got nominated too. I have neither read their books nor shared webspace with them, so I offer their names and titles without further comment:

    • Lila Corwin Berman – Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity (University of California Press)
    • Ari Y. Kelman – Station Identification: A Cultural History of Yiddish Radio in the United States (University of California Press)
    • Kenneth B. Moss – Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution (Harvard University Press)
    • Sarah Abrevaya Stein – Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce (Yale University Press)

    Mazel tov to them too, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m rooting against them. (Look, I don’t watch sports, so ever since America’s Next Top Model stopped being good, this is about as invested as I get in any kind of competition.)

    For a somewhat less biased and more informative take, read the press release from the Jewish Book Council.