Monday, June 29, 2009

Talmud FAIL: Yalta vs. Ulla

Most of my favorite Talmud stories center around Yalta. She's a Talmud-era commentator who's sometimes thought to be Rav Nachman's wife (the Talmudic sage, not the Hasidic rebbe) and is also sometimes thought to be the daughter of the Rosh Galuta, the head of the world Jewish community at the time. And she was an arbiter of Jewish law and philosophy in her own right.

We also named our daughter after her. There are two famous stories in the Talmud -- seven in total, but two that are really famous -- that center around her. One involves Rav Nachman coming to her and asking what to do if you hunger for non-kosher food (she schools him). The other goes as follows (courtesy of halakhah.com):

Ulla was once at the house of R. Nahman. They had a meal and he said grace, and he handed the cup of benediction to R. Nahman. R. Nahman said to him: Please send the cup of benediction to Yaltha.

(OK -- now Ulla's gonna get really crabby. Especially considering he's a guest in the home of an honored rabbi...not to mention, of course, Yalta.)

He said to him: Thus said R. Johanan: "The fruit of a woman's body is blessed only from the fruit of a man's body, since it says, He will also bless the fruit of thy body." It does not say the fruit of her body, but the fruit of thy body. It has been taught similarly: Whence do we know that the fruit of a woman's body is only blessed from the fruit of a man's body? Because it says: He will also bless the fruit of thy body. It does not say the fruit of her body, but the fruit of thy body.

(That was Ulla showing off and being a smart@$$ -- and, basically, saying that women suck. Now comes the good part.)

Meanwhile Yaltha heard, and she got up in a passion and went to the wine store and broke four hundred jars of wine. R. Nahman said to him: Let the Master send her another cup. He sent it to her with a message: All that wine can be counted as a benediction. She returned answer: Gossip comes from pedlars and vermin from rags.

...and THAT, my friends, is how you deliver the whiz-bang kung-fu punch to an honored rabbi: with a combination of physical force and a good proverb. Apparently, people are still taking this to heart today. Courtesy of FAILblog:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

G-dcast: Flaming Carnivorous Snakes

Yes, this stuff is in the Torah. The Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible: I'm not even talking about midrash or Mishna or anything. There it is, in regular black and white -- the raised black ink and veined white parchment of the Torah, that is. I feel like a bit of a Torah ignoramus admitting this, but I never realized that this story existed in the Torah until the amazing Malki Rose brought it to our attention.







At first she came to us with a script that tried to cram in everything that happens in Chukat -- Aaron and Miriam dying, Moses striking the rock, the Red Heifer, as well as a bunch of the Israelites' military victories over Sichon and Og and Arad. All in under three minutes, of course. Sarah and I pulled her aside and had a talking to. The talking to basically went like this: If we try to animate half this stuff, our animators' hands are going to be falling off.

So, I asked, which is your favorite part? Which part speaks to you the most?

"Oh, that's easy," she replied. (If you couldn't tell, her voice has this great Australian brogue.) "The flaming snakes."

Sarah's and my jaws hit the ground in synchronization.

The flaming snakes?

Yep -- the flaming snakes. Go see for yourself.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Want to Join My Cult?

How geeky and sixth-grade USY nightmare does that sound?

Okay, so Facebook is collecting your private data. And it's going to use it to sell your contact information to marketers. Who didn't know that already, or at least suspect it? When any automated website asks you for your five favorite bands, it doesn't want to know in order to agonize about how cool Regina Spektor is with you. It wants to sell you other music that sounds like Regina Spektor.

vampire freaksI was just convinced by my friend, music recommender, and sometime Internet guru Joshua Gee to join VampireFreaks.com. It's a social networking site for goths -- yes, I fly that way sometimes, and I've got my own set of fangs to prove it -- and, over the past two years, it's been proven to be wildly popular. The advantage that Facebook has (that is, it includes everyone in the universe is also a disadvantage, and we can already see the results of it: Every time someone from one of my former lives has friended me -- or, worse, sent me a long and detailed personal message -- and it's been a person that, if it's all the same, I'd rather keep in my former life, I stay away from Facebook for a few days.

If, on the other hand, I join a website that fits with my individual identity or my musical tastes or my personal convictions (vegetarian networks, for instance), I can limit myself to associating only with people who I'm actually interested in and care what they have to say...and I'll feel like my ad money is going to people I support (in this case, goth geeks) instead of Mark Zuckerberg, who I just feel kind of gross about at this point.

In addition to VampireFreaks, there are social networks for Christians, vegetarians, and even pets. So why haven't Jewish social networks ever taken off?

A rudimentary Googling shows there's no shortage of Jewish social networks. So why isn't anyone signed up on any of them? Instead of those (shiver) USY reunions being held on Shmooze.com or JewCrew.org, there are Facebook groups for the upcoming tenth reunion of National Convention '02 with literally hundreds of members -- and you know that all those ex-teens getting together is just going to inspire another round of old photo albums, bomber shots, and messy hook-up sessions, followed by another ten years of practiced Facebook avoidance.

Is that the real reason that Jews don't join Jewish social networks -- because they're so small, you might actually have to run into someone?

For my own part, I'll save my Jewish networking for the same user-platform my parents are on -- the local synagogue -- and use social networking for the things that I really need computers for, like writing protest letters to congressmen and finding new music. In the meantime, if anyone comes looking, I'll be on Vampire Freaks. Want to join my cult?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Oh, no way.

It's official: we got our first Lubavitcher Rebbe video as a wedding souvenir last night.

The news today

This afternoon's two lead topics on the BBC:




The doctor who tried to save Neda speaks: "Suddenly everything turned crazy. The police threw teargas and the motorcycles started rushing towards the crowd. We ran to an intersection and people were just standing. They didn't know what to do.

"We heard a gunshot. Neda was standing one metre away from me. I turned back and I saw blood gushing out of Neda's chest.

"She was in a shocked situation, just looking at her chest. The she lost her control.

"We ran to her and lay her on the ground. I saw the bullet wound just below the neck with blood gushing out."

And: Australian wallabies are eating opium poppies and creating crop circles as they hop around "as high as a kite", a government official has said.

Retired Tasmanian poppy farmer Lyndley Chopping also said he had seen strange behaviour from wallabies in his fields.

"They would just come and eat some poppies and they would go away," he told ABC News.

"They'd come back again and they would do their circle work in the paddock."

Some people believe the mysterious circles that appear in fields in a number of countries are created by aliens. Others put them down to a human hoax."

Lady Fight Comics (and Other Embarrassing Names)

So I wrote a very short comic story, and it's officially been released in an anthology! I actually haven't seen a hard copy yet, but it's out, so I figured the shout-outs should begin -- especially since we just got our first review, and it's a good one.

My story, "Cacta," is an intro to a bigger story about a girl who gets cactus-based superpowers, a set of superpowers which is both way more cool and way more awkward than it sounds. Anyway, the reviewers liked it:

"The art on this one is very solid, with a rather striking splash page...My favorite part of this story, however, was not the super heroics, but our young heroine's inner dialogue as she struggles not to flaunt her deeds at school the next day."

I'm counting it as a solid vote in my comic writing ability, even if my first and last names both got misspelled in the review. The other stories have more than a fair helping of ass-kickery, and it's pretty awesome to be included with them. My one caveat: I'm a little uneasy about the title of the anthology, Lady Fight Comics, although I suppose it's technically the exact opposite of saying that girls can't fight. (I actually tried to propose another story for it called Lady Fight Club, but that got shot down...probably deservedly so. Although, if anyone wants to illustrate a short comic script about 1950s housewives and Fight Club, give me a holla.) The issue is out, now, in comic shops and on IndyPlanet: order it here.

Torah for the People

I just wrote this to the uber-mentionable Yonah Lavery, creator of Talmud Comics (who, btw, just inked a deal with the also-awesome Ben Yehuda Press). We were discussing our love of Torah and our mutual wavery position in the Torah world:

i used to have a terrible phobia of haredim. i think i still do, and yet i seem to have become one of them. albeit an obama-votin', peta-flag-wavin' haredi. i think g-dcast really encapsulates what i am: people learning torah is good. people living torah is good. and people being creative with torah is good....until they get to be either fascists or hippies. then they just give me a headache with their hating and/or vibing.

i'm not sure if i stand by that since i'm half asleep, but it might just be my mission statement.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Snuggle Up Close to Regina Spektor's "Far"

This is the best birthday present I've gotten all year.

regina spektor, far, album coverRegina Spektor's third proper album, Far, is like that cynical older cousin who you love to sit next to at family functions. Totally funny, mostly good-natured, and both angry and delicious -- angrilicious? -- like the kind of person who says all the things you want to say but don't.

And -- uh -- says them all in cute, random metaphors and rhyming couplets and sweet, sweet melodies.

After the meandering intro of "The Calculation" -- a good, mid-tempo, semi-funked-out song about relationships, technology, and emotional indifference -- we get a virtual onslaught of Regina with the instant hookiness, smileyness, and spine-tingling anticipation of the piano chords that lead into "Eet."

The song might be named for its homonym, or it might be the way Spektor writes down her own whimsical non-word singing on paper. Then, when the drums come in -- "You spend half of your life/trying to fall behind/using your headphones to drown out your mind" -- the song becomes simultaneously triumphant and snarky. And it's especially victorious when you consider it's a song about hipster kids who are so preoccupied with looking cool that they forget how to dance. (That's what I think it's about, anyway.) Really, it's a self-defeating argument -- by the time you're done analyzing, you're hopping up and down in your desk chair, anyway.

A few weeks ago, I posted from Regina Spektor's new video, "Laughing With." It's been seized upon and passed around a fair bit among the bloggy folks, but I don't think any of us have really given as much credence to the lyrics as they deserve.

No one laughs at God
When the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one’s laughing at God
When it’s gotten real late
And their kid’s not back from the party yet


So freakin' true. And yet, if this wasn't being sung within the context of an MTV video with cool effects and a Harry Potter-like Cloak of Invisibility, we'd probably freak out and call the writer a zealot or a fundamentalist.

But Spektor always likes to close her songs abruptly, which drove me crazy when "Better" was on the radio, or when I listened to her songs out of sequence regina spektoron my iPod's Party Shuffle (which, btw, I love saying, because I never actually use shuffle at parties, but I always feel like being at a party when I'm walking down the street and I select that option) -- but which, taken on its own, is both wise and satisfying. The closing line of "Laughing With," which fades out together with the song -- "No one’s laughing at God/We’re all laughing with God" -- is kind of the perfect paradigm of this. It's winking at the listener and pulling the rug out from under our feet at the same time.

"Two Birds" is the natural offset to "Laughing With," a parable about two birds that don't trust each other. The chorus, "I'll believe it all/There's nothing I won't understand/I'll believe it all/I won't let go of your hand," speaks to our natural tendency to distrust each other, to get cold and clam up and retreat into our own little worlds.

To one extent or another, artists are all recluses. We hate other people. We distrust them and fear them and don't want to trust our ideas with them, preferring instead to remain in our own little universes that we draw and write around ourselves. Again, witness the "Laughing With" video...or just try to talk to me while I'm writing in my notebook. And then, on the other side of the spectrum, we're trying more than anything to understand the way people work, and get inside their heads, and to create a song or a story that's bigger than ourselves.

I think what I love most about Regina Spektor is that she really gets both of these things. And both of them, she does so well.

regina spektor, laughing with

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Secret Muppet Vineyard

Our awesome filmmaker friend Sonja Kroop and her puppet Krumpet just entered a contest to get a 6-month gig as the social networking director of a wine factory. If she wins, she gets to live on a vineyard for six months -- plus, she is insanely talented as a director. To vote for her video, go to the Murphy-Goode Wine site and vote for it. (You have to give your email to confirm, but that's the only thing they use it for.) Or just watch it here -- and, yes, I'm pretty sure the only reason she made that Manischewitz joke is so I'd post it:

Monday, June 22, 2009

G-dcast: Good Rebellion & Bad Rebellion

This week's G-dcast makes me really happy. Not the idea of Korach rebelling, or the whole thing where the earth itself swallows up 250 people...I just think it looks really cool. And I wrote the curriculum to be all about good rebelling vs. bad rebelling.

Or, like axiom I once heard: In other religions, if you question authority, they call you a heretic. In Judaism, if you question authority, they call you a rabbi.







Friday, June 19, 2009

The Poison Eaters by Holly Black

I wasn't going to blog about this for another few months, since it's not going on sale until February, but Holly Black's new book The Poison Eaters has had me on the edge of my chair since the subway ride to work 3 hours ago, and it keeps pulsing in my head like a vein about to aneurysm -- it's that mercilessly good. The first story, "The Coldest Girl in Coldtowm," is kind of about vampires, but they're more like zombies. They're bloodthirsty, teeth-baring, flesh-chomping...which is actually what vampires used to be like, back in the Old World.

I almost always hate short stories. Short stories that are plot-based ignore the main character. Short stories that are character-based are almost exclusively the domain of characters stumbling around in search of a plot. Here, character and plot are suffused, and there's a hyperactive emotional terseness that creeps up on you and freezes you in place. This happens the exact moment that we learn the truth about vampirism in this world -- it's transmitted by blood, but it doesn't take hold of its victim until she tastes blood herself:

It took eighty-eight days for the venom to sweat out a person's pores. She only had thirty-seven to go. Thirty-seven days to stay so drunk that she could ignore the buzz in her head that made her want to bite, rend, devour.

Aaah. In the first three pages, our perception of the main character switches from a slut to lovesick to cold, calculating, a kind of teen goth-girl Artful Dodger in fishnets. And that's just the setup. The execution is...well, an execution.

Can I tell you how much I can't wait to finish the rest of this book?

There. I just did. February be damned.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Losers: A Critical Analysis

The new PresenTense magazine is out, and with it is a review of Losers that's more like a critical analysis. I didn't know this was going to happen until it showed up on my doorstep, and now I feel gleeful in the way, I guess, that authors do when people read way more into a book than you ever thought you were writing into it:

It is easy to empathize with Jupiter, the awkwardly-named main character of the novel who struggles through adolescence. Jupiter—who immigrated to Philadelphia with his family as part of the Jewish mass exodus from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s—is concerned with his ever-present Russian accent, preoccupied with the opposite sex, and keen on hiding the fact that he lives in a working-class neighborhood.

The book starts with the seemingly innocuous line, “I lost my accent over a long weekend in ninth grade.” For Jupiter, the question of language is central to his self-perception, where the key to being popular is speaking proper English. Despite his best efforts—and some success —in “sounding American,” he nonetheless faces barriers in his quest to fit in. Indeed, Jupiter’s attitudes toward the spoken word formulate one of the more poignant themes in the novel.

(read more)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Press Release: Michael Muhammad Knight & Matthue Roth: Live in NYC

Just finished doing up the press release for my and Michael Muhammad Knight's reading at the 92Y Tribeca. If you know anywhere that might want to write about this, then please let me know!

~~~

Michael Muhammad Knight, author of the Muslim punk novel The Taqwacores, and Matthue Roth, author of the Orthodox Jewish punk novel Never Mind the Goldbergs and the memoir Yom Kippur a Go-Go, will read together at the 92Y Tribeca on July 8.

This event, the first of its kind, will feature both authors onstage individually and together, reading from their work and talking about what it means to be religious, and what it means to be punk. The film version of The Taqwacores (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/23/us/23muslim.html) will be released later this year.

Michael Muhammad Knight & Matthue Roth
92Y Tribeca, 200 Hudson St.
July 8, 2009
7:00 PM
free!



matthue roth

Monday, June 15, 2009

Isaac Bashevis Singer Bashes Barbra Streisand

I don't know why I thought that I.B. Singer died before the 20th century. Maybe I was mixing up the exotic, Eastern European ghetto, pre-indoor-bathroom locales of his stories with the land he actually lived in, the America to which he immigrated in the year (uh, quick...consult our I.B. Singer biography to pretend I know what I'm talking about...) 1935 -- smack in the middle of the New Deal and well after cars and indoor plumbing were invented.

i.b. singer and barbra streisandOne other major happening of the 20th century that Singer lived at the same time as: Barbra.

Yentl was originally a 1962 short story entitled "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy," written by Mr. Singer. Upon publication, it was immediately snatched up in a bidding war -- as this timeline depicts -- with the winner being one Ms. Barbra Streisand, who by then was already a recording star. In the intervening time between the purchase of the script and the film's release, Singer was commissioned to write a screenplay. He ended up with a 120-page, 2-hour work that he called "a very long short story"...which was deemed unusable by Hollywood. (Incidentally, one other thing that happened between Ms. Streisand's purchase of the rights and the film's debut: the release of her record "A Christmas Album," on which Barbra sings "Silent Night," the Lord's Prayer, and "O Little Town of Bethlehem.")

It wasn't until years later, in 1984, that Singer interviewed himself in the pages of the New York Times.

While still attempting to maintain a noble bearing ("I did not think that Miss Streisand was at her best in the part of Yentl....She got much, perhaps too much advice and information from various rabbis, but rabbis cannot replace a director"), Singer systematically takes down the Queen of Pop, aspect by aspect, until the film version of his book is a smoking pile of charred ash on a soundstage whose only resemblance to the shtetls of old is that they were both completely eviscerated.

a very barbra christmasMy favorite part comes when Singer asks himself if Barbra's Broadway sensibility at all resembled the character of Yentl's musical tastes:

Q: Did you enjoy the singing?
A: Music and singing are not my fields. I did not find anything in her singing which reminded me of the songs in the studyhouses and Hasidic shtibls, which were a part of my youth and environment. As a matter of fact, I never imagined Yentl singing songs. The passion for learning and the passion for singing are not much related in my mind. There is almost no singing in my works. One thing is sure: there was too much singing in this movie, much too much. It came from all sides. As far as I can see the singing i.b. singerdid nothing to bring out Yentl's individuality and to enlighten her conduct. The very opposite, I had a feeling that her songs drowned the action. My story, ''Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,'' was in no way material for a musical, certainly not the kind Miss Streisand has given us. Let me say: one cannot cover up with songs the shortcomings of the direction and acting.

here's the rest

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Smell of Non-Kosher Food

I spoke to Stephanie, who was coming out of the very tasty (and very not kosher) Tartine Bakery, on 18th and Guerrero Streets in San Francisco. She'd just gotten an iced coffee, and she was complaining about it.

tartine bakeryStephanie: Every time I walk past this bakery, I'm reminded of that Gemara that says that God's going to ask if we enjoyed all the pleasures of this world. And I'm going to be like, no, I didn't, because the pleasures of this world weren't kosher.

Me: I used to read this book of Chinese stories when I was a kid. One of them was about a poor student who lived above the fanciest restaurant in Peking and each night, he would sit by the window and eat his plain rice and smell all the good-food smells. Then one day the restaurant owner noticed him and asked what he was doing -- he had the entire apartment to eat in; why was he by the window? The student said that the smell of the good food made his rice taste better.

The owner was furious, and brought him to court. He contended that the student should pay him for the past year's worth of meals. Now, most families in Peking couldn't afford to eat in the restaurant. Couples only went there on their anniversaries, or special occasions. One meal there cost a month's wages. For the cost of a year's meals, the student would have to pay for the rest of his life.

After hearing the case, the judge asked the student, How much money do you have? The student got terrified and said, only 5 copper coins. It was the only money he had in the world -- for his rent, his tuition, his rice.

The judge told the student to take them out. He did. Then the judge ordered the student to toss them from one hand to the other. He did. The restaurant owner, unable to conceal his glee, rubbed his hands together.

Then the judge said to put the coins back in his pocket.

"What!?" the owner burst out. "Those coins are mine!"

But the judge shook his head no. "Just as the student stole the smell of the food from you," he said, "the sound of the coins will be his payment."

G-dcast in the (Old) Country

This morning, my friend/comix collaborator Mat called me up and said that this week's G-dcast was his favorite one yet. "Really?" I said, surprised -- I love the hell out of this one, but does it really beat, say, the narrator for Noah?

"I can't get it out of my head," he said. "'Because the strangest things happen in the dey-serrrrt..."

And he proceeded to sing me the next three verses. At least, until I got onto the subway and the wheels cut him off.







Thursday, June 11, 2009

Regina Spektor Is Not Funny, But Still She Makes Me Happy

Last winter, I was supposed to interview Regina Spektor in connection with Losers, my own Russian immigrant weirdo story, but she decided she needed to withdraw from all human contact while working on her new album.

Today her new video is out. It was totally worth it, and I'm glad.



(thank you Tamar)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Mystery Box

Just watched (via Zach Posner's blog) a 2007 presentation with J.J. Abrams talking about misdirection and the sources of creativity. It ties in magic boxes, do-it-yourself special effects, and how he loves a blank page more than anything. I just want to keep coming back to this and watching it whenever I need a kick of "Oh yeah -- this is what writers should be doing."

Father's Day: Win a Load of Stuff

With Father's Day practically sinking in on us -- and an awesome new MJL article from Neal Pollack just a few days away from being launched -- there's a huge new giveaway from me, ModernTribe.com, the Cool Jew book, and a whole bunch of other people.

In order to enter, all you have to do is answer this question: What makes your dad, brother, cousin, friend or husband a cool Jew? (Not that it's a BEST DAD competition or anything, but I can think of at least 2 people who could theoretically nominate me, and one of them even knows how to write.) A winner will be chosen from the answers and announced on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21.



Here's the full list of stuff you can win. But, really, what do you need to know beyond the fact that you'll own copies of both my Scholastic books -- Never Mind the Goldbergs and Losers -- along with $240 worth of other merchandise? And the fact that it includes CDs and concert shirts from Can Can and Rav Shmuel, and Sam Apple's new book, is all just bonus material. Just fill out the official form here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sherman Alexie on Kindle: "I want to hit her."

Sherman Alexie, one of my favorite writers, refuses to let his books be released in digital form because the e-book devices are so expensive. I don't agree with him about refusing to publish -- dammit, if someone wants to read my book, I'm gonna let them -- but I totally feel him:

Inevitably there was a backlash. At a panel of authors speaking mainly to independent booksellers, Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning author of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” said he refused to allow his novels to be made available in digital form. He called the expensive reading devices “elitist” and declared that when he saw a woman sitting on the plane with a Kindle on his flight to New York, “I wanted to hit her.”

(it's in the New York Times, via Eliyahu Enriquez

How Jews Pray

How Jews Pray, the third in our "How Jews..." series, checks out what Jews are talking about -- from an Australian Jew in New York to an Argentinian Jew in Los Angeles, and other folks in the woods, the cities, and some places in between. What do people who don't believe in God think about praying?



When I was young, a secular Jewish kid living down the street from Hasidim -- a weird remix of The Chosen -- I thought it was mysterious how all the long-black-coated, hair-covered Jews was that they seemed to have their own way of talking to God. They didn't just go to synagogue and pray like normal people -- they would pray in living rooms, or in backyards, and they muttered to themselves walking down the street. Plus, they wore those funny clothes. Was God telling them something that God wasn't telling the rest of us?

I guess I just felt disenfranchised.

This was before I met Jewish Renewalists who meditate and pray. And musicians like Chana Rothman and Jeremiah Lockwood, who pray by singing their hearts out. And before I learned how to pray myself, wherever I was and whatever was on my mind, sometimes in a "thank you" way, and sometimes in an "I need to save myself" way.

A few weeks ago, in introducing his new prayerbook, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, "We have a problem with prayer" -- and proceeded to detail how, in this world where we're obsessed with talking about ourselves and eavesdropping on other people, we've forgotten what it's like to speak to God. Whatever each of us think of God, and even, in one person's case, whether or not we believe in God.

I think that's my favorite thing about this video, above all the others we've done so far. It helps us remember.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What Makes a Kosher Pickle Kosher?

When we hear the word pickle, most of us think of cucumbers -- brined, shriveled, sour, cut into chips and floating alongside red onion half-moons and tomato slices atop a deli sandwich. When my class visited New York in fifth grade, I remember that, over the course of the day, we were given three different food items to sample -- apples (for the Big Apple), Chinese food, and a plump kosher dill.

the joy of picklingWe may be forgiven, then, for not knowing about the rest of the spectrum of pickled foods.

That's why The Joy of Pickling was created. Its chapters touch every arena of cuisine, from desserty pickles (apples, watermelon) to antipasto (asparagus and mushrooms) to main courses -- Korean kimchi and pickled meats, for instance. (The original edition, shockingly to us, left out kosher dill pickles, but this edition corrects that oversight. First published ten years ago, a new, expanded and enhanced edition was released this month.

keep reading >

Friday, June 5, 2009

Barbra Streisand Watches G-dcast

In my advanced Torah research for an upcoming MyJewishLearning article, I found this particular image -- which totally relates to Inbal's G-dcast for Naso this week:

barbra streisand jewish


That's right -- it's Barbra Streisand's personal notebook. With the "ish"/"isha" diagram, showing God's presence in the names for "man" and "woman." Go Barbra! Go Inbal!

Gentlemen, by Michael Northrop, will scare your underpants off.

Best morning subway ride EVER. Last night, I finished (yes! finally! finished! for real, this time!) my screenplay, and I didn't have anything to do on the subway. So I read Michael Northrop's Gentlemen, which tied for my #1 score at Book Expo this year with the advance copy of Poppy Z. Brite's gay New Orleans food couture mystery. So good that I wrote an Amazon review. Yes, I couldn't help myself.

michael northrop's gentlemenSmall-Town Horror Meets Classic American Fiction

The thing that dawned on me, reading this novel, is how little a percentage of horror books actually involve capital-H Horror. Stephen King isn't about googly-eyed monsters and crazed psychos -- or, at least, he isn't about that so much as he's about the most basic human reactions. Fear. Anxiety. Loss. Regret. That's what separates, say, "The Catcher in the Rye" from "The Road" -- in other words, a really well-done non-horror story from a really good horror story.

And there's a lot of Stephen King in Michael Northrop's book. Actually, it reminded me more of Michael ("The Hours") Cunningham. For much of the book, the main plot moves slowly, but interesting, well-developed and well-savored. Almost every page there's a side story that made me want to tell the person next to me about what I was reading -- like how Tommy threw a desk across the room in order to distract a girl he liked, or the summer of the two Jennys. And Micheal's language (the narrator -- whose name was misspelled on his birth certificate, not the author) is so graceful that when he suddenly becomes "typical guy"-ish and talks about throwing a punch at his teacher, you're blown away. Not because it's out of character, but because it makes him so multi-dimensional and real.

Then, of course, there's the scary stuff. And Michael (the author) seems to know his way around both scary stuff and the more Gothic parts of small-town America: the secrets people keep and the way that dark seems to swallow up the country after twilight. As the novel moves on, the simple question of whether or not their teacher has a dead body no longer feels like the point of the book -- it's more about Micheal, his friends, his town, and the darkness that's inside him.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sabra's Last Stand

sabra, the defender of israelHere's a poem. I wrote it half-jokingly as a pitch for Marvel, recasting Sabra (who started showing up as the "Defender of Israel" in the '80s) as a baal teshuva -- or, at least, someone who was playing with the idea of becoming religious. My friend Nicole had just gotten a job as an editor at Marvel, and she was coming to my show, and I'd always wanted to write Sabra. So then I tried to.


Sabra the Jewish superhero
hides behind a tree
when changing
into costume,

modesty taking precedence
over the instinctive urge
to protect and preserve

Or to pull away her shirt
revealing the bright blue
Star of David
of vengeance
splashed across her chest

In the '80s, she saved
bales of Israelis from their graves
every day

Since then, business has gotten slow
confusion about foreign policy
a canceled comic book,
and she took so much shit about
who she’s supposed
to save.

You’d think
the Second Intifada would be good
for business as a hero,
but no -—

Saving Palestinians makes Israelis mad
Saving Israelis makes Palestinians mad

And the day she saved that
suicide bomber,
sent his TNT careening
into the sea

Sabra got told off enough
to send her into
an early retirement.

After singlehandedly launching
the Jewish look into vogue
ten years ago
girls got reverse nose jobs
Sabra became
a teenage heartthrob

Her uniform sent yeshiva boys
into enjoyable pangs
of premature puberty

Today she lays in bed
not in the mood for anything
except complaining to G-d
and so she does

She picks up a prayerbook
yells the first blessing
like a lightning bolt

yells the afternoon prayers
yells the evening prayers
yells the Sabbath prayers

and she doesn’t stop till
the traveler’s prayer
in the back of the book.

When she’s done,
Sabra takes her sewing machine
makes her cape into a skirt
(it was always bulky, anyway)

slips on her arm-covering gloves
and flies through the night
saying to herself, I fought Magneto
and my worst enemy
is still me


She swoops down
with power like a shofar
and grace like the cedars of Lebanon

whispers a prayer
under her breath
with every blow

saves every damn person in danger
whether they want to be or not

And she doesn’t stop
until Shabbos.

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