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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Googliness of It All

Never Mind the Goldbergs flashback moment: Patrick A. of the band Can Can goes on a rant against hating Orthodox folks. "Some of the most hardcore dudes I know are Orthodox." And so are you, brother.

And, also under the heading of people whose company I am humbled to be in: Eliyahu Enriquez, whose poetry continues to slay me every time he gets on a stage, shouts me out in a new poem:

Ontological Anarchy
For Matthue Roth and Naftali Yawitz

When Elijah prayed
You sent fire
And charged him
To care
For a widow and orphan.

What I got was asylum.
I got angry,
Despised my roots,
So I became orphaned.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Vote for Mold!

Awesome open mic last night, courtesy of Mimaamakim, the Stanton Street Shul, and -- unexpectedly -- Yori Yanover, author of The Cabalist's Daughter, a sort of 24-meets-Apocalypse Now-meets-the-Apocalypse novel about the Lubavitcher Rebbe dying, his followers creating a clone, and the clone turning out to be a girl. It's always awkward to meet someone whom you've just written about. Square that when it's onstage in front of a bunch of people. Factor in any potential uncomfortability that might come about if the book wasn't a good one. Fortunately, it was, and fortunately, Mr. Yanover is just as large and funny and unhinged in real life as he is on the page -- and even more Douglas Adams-dik -- and so all was good on the Lower East Side.

OK, and now:

Vote for my poem "Mould" (that's "Mold" to you Americans out there) as the best in Melbourne! First do the super-fast registration, and then vote for my poem! (Or whichever poem you'd like to vote for. Not to play favorites. Ahem.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jew on the Train

Judaism is one of those cultural identities that, for most people, is able to be turned on or off. Matt Bar has an awesome song about it ("I'm Not White, I'm Jewish") and we have an awesome video about it. But for some of us -- those of us who wear turbans on their heads or have big, puffy beards and bigger, puffier sidelocks -- it's an all-the-time sort of thing. (Ironically*, these people who insist most loudly that Judaism is a religion and not a culture are the ones who look most culturally Jewish.)

people on the subway

On the subway most mornings, people are in as bad a mood as it gets. They elbow old ladies and pregnant people out of the way for seats. They play their music loud and their iPod TV shows even louder. They sneeze and cough on you. And once people do sit down, they make sure to spread their legs as wide as they can, protecting their territory, the likes of which the world hasn't seen since the serf & vassal systems back in 9th-grade Medieval English History.

And this entire time, everyone is ready, eager, even, to be the one to catch the odd-looking Jewish kid doing something untoward. Taking up two seats, maybe, or squashing some baby beneath the seat so that he can make notes for a new blog entry. Suddenly, the stakes seem much higher. Instead of being just some potentially-rude punk kid, I'm a potentially-rude ambassador of an entire culture.

We have a special sort of term for it, because this is Judaism and we seem to have special terms for everything. It's called a hilul Hashem, or a desecration of the name of God, when someone who's obviously Jewish does something that's not befitting someone who looks obviously Jewish.

Well, I've got the better hand -- in the almost-a-year since I started working here, I have mastered the art of writing while standing up. I don't even need a pole or a door to prop against. I sometimes wobble during the treacherous zig-zag beneath the East River, but for the most part, I'm solid.

And this all came about through the canniest of ways: J.K. Rowling (or, as we at Scholastic like to call her, J-Ro). Shortly before I started working here, I was reading an interview with her in which she was talking about people who don't have time to read. Paraphrased, she basically said: "I don't get those people. I read in the bathtub. I read waiting for appointments, and while I'm on hold on the phone. I read walking down the street, and I generally trust that, even if the other person's reading, one of us will fortuitously steer clear of the other."

I realized, I have a lot of empty time on my hands. Every day, I'm at work 8 hours, and riding the subway for another 2. (Which leaves me with almost no time with my daughter...but that's another story.) I'm pretty sure Rebbe Nachman says something about taking advantage of time and making every moment count, too, but, well, nobody says it like J-Ro.

* -- I say ironically because, at (ahem) certain Jewish websites, we tend to stigmatize ourselves into a common battle of pitting the culture of Judaism against the religion of Judaism, as though the two were opposites. And, culturally, it isn't the bagels-and-lox Jews who are most commonly identified visually as Jews, like other people are identified visually as black or Asian or Martian -- it's the religious Jews.

Monday, April 27, 2009

G-dcast: Acharei Mot

OK, you asked for it -- this week's G-dcast. Zombies, vampires, incest, and a special Lode Runner cameo.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How Jews Eat

Here's the new MyJewishLearning movie I produced. It's just in time for a return to the b-word -- you know, the one that some people won’t even say during Passover. We're proud to present an introspective, intergenerational, intercultural look at the most Jewish of all Jewish holiday activities: eating.

Last month, director Judy Prays took a decidedly non-how-to-like approach to examining How Jews Look. Which is to say, instead of looking at how Judaism tells people to dress or look like, she looked at what Jews actually do look like. This time around, Ms. Prays (yes, that's her real name) takes a look at How Jews Eat.

In the film, we hear from four radically different people about everyone's favorite Jewish social activity. Henry returns to show us around a Manhattan Jewish deli, a scene he knows well--he's been in the deli business for over 60 years. Arielle gives us survival tips for hunting down vegetarian food in South America. We also return to visit Miriam, a Hasidic Jew whose family Shabbat custom is not at all what you'd expect it to be. And Yoni invites us over for dinner, and for what we promise will be the coolest song you'll ever hear in your life about sushi (yes, sushi).

So check it out. Let us know what you think. And share your own stories in the comments section about how you eat, or what you think.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Koren Sacks Siddur: Jewish Prayerbook 2.0

In a few weeks, a new siddur is hitting the market with a translation and commentary by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom. The publication itself is noticeable if only because a siddur is something that's used so often by so many people, and comparatively few of them exist -- but, more to the point, the Koren Sacks siddur is attempting to do the impossible: to challenge ArtScroll's near-monopoly on the market. I'm getting one of these in the mail, and I've haven't been this excited to get a book since the board-book version of In the Night Kitchen came out when I was two.

koren sacks siddur

The siddur is being published by Koren, whose biggest entry into the US market to date is the Jerusalem Bible. It's more widely known in Israel and Sephardic communities for printing a Shabbat prayerbook together with an ultra-thin Chumash, which provided the most luxurious experience my hand has ever had on a Saturday morning. You don't even have to go jumping into the mid-service melee before the Torah reading, because, boom! -- you've already got a Torah in your back pocket. Needless to say, my hopes for this siddur are high.

This JTA article does a good job of subtly making the point about ArtScroll's domination of the market. For a number of reasons -- everything from the clarity of its typeface and the helpful addition of gray-shaded boxes to separate special additions to the text -- to the fact that, sadly, there isn't much competition out there. But ArtScroll has come under fire for a number of offenses. Some of those offenses are textual. For instance, the ArtScroll Siddur translates the Song of Songs allegorically, translating "breasts" (to pull an example at random) as "the Twin Tablets of the Law." Its "Women's Siddur" has been widely criticized by both Orthodox and secular women's groups for asserting itself as a feminist prayerbook while simultaneously printing disclaimers before Kaddish that advise that it's inappropriate for a woman to say kaddish.

Despite all this, ArtScroll is still the preeminent prayerbook used in Jewish congregations -- both in Orthodox synagogues and in many Conservative and Reform shuls as well. The Orthodox Union -- which, in the past, has voiced its displeasure with the absence of the Prayer for the State of Israel in ArtScroll siddurim -- is on board as a sponsor of the new siddur. And Koren has pages on its own website that go on and on talking about things like paper weight and typeface choice, which makes book nerds like me go all shivery in anticipation. Even among the greater, non-nerdy Jewish community, there's a considerable amount of hype.

Is the new siddur worth it? Stay tuned -- in the next couple days, I'll be taking it through the motions, everything from morning Shacharit to the Bedtime Shema. Will it get the best of me? Or will I wind up loving every dot and dagesh? Stick with us for the answers.

Friday, April 17, 2009

unsettlingly new technology

Mad cool:

Running into mr. Jewlicious himself, David Abitbol, at the shuk.

Even cooler:

When the "only Orthodox female hip-hop M.C.," Rinat Guttman -- who, ok, is not the only frum woman M.C., but is nonetheless way cool (and, if that will get her a record deal, it's fine in my book to call her that), pops by. even if the shuk crowd ate my wife and daughter (it's ok, they can fend for themselves), mysterious and remarkable things will still happen.

Unsettlingly postmodern:

That Abitbol's camera has a wifi card that, instead of saving pictures, sends them directly online.

matthue roth

Meep. Happy almost Shabbos, people.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Israel: Visiting Graves, and Digging Your Own

This is Israel: Yesterday I was on a "nature trail," which, without doubt, is an Israeli euphemism for X-treme Sports. In Philadelphia, there was a nature trail that swept around a few meadows and groves of trees and dovetailed into a new housing development that had chopped away the rest of the forest. Here in the Golan, the phrase "nature trail" indicates a trail of barely-there rocks, the plurality of which are equal to or smaller than the width of your foot, jutting out of a cliff.

About an hour and a half in, without warning (and, certainly, without any semblance of sanity) the narrow trail of rocks which we've been precariously balancing ourselves upon gives out, replaced by a handful of metal rungs plopped into the side of the rock bed. Horizontal surfaces as we know them cease to exist, and there's a 20-foot drop into a steam that's 25 feet deep.

It's extreme, alright. But it’s also that particularly Israeli brand of springing total insanity upon you without warning, a reminder that for every anxiety-filled border crossing there's a mountain with a view that will knock the fear of God into you, and for every bomb around the corner, there's also a tiny 3000-year-old synagogue with immaculate stone buttresses around the next corner.

This afternoon we visited Tsfat. It was supposed to be a 30-minute drive, but we kept passing graves. There's a weird code to Israeli gravesites: many tzaddikim, or righteous people, are buried outside of cemeteries—in their own mini-graveyards, or in the middle of nature trails, or just on the side of the road. (One hopes that those ever-lovin' nature trails were not the cause of most of these tzaddikim being buried there, but since the stories about tzaddikim always seem to involve granting miracles, impossible journeys, and staring death right in the face, you have to allow for the possibility that, sometimes, death will not just stare idly back at them.) Some of the graves have domes over them, which indicates their more-exalted-than-normal status. Others, for a similar reason, are painted a turquoise shade of sea blue. I don't know if either or both of those things intimate something specific, or whether there’s a general hierarchy, but these are the things I’ve learned here in a very short time.

That, and that gravesites sometimes make the best concert venues.

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