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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

iHappy Rosh Hashanah

Okay -- maybe you get more email forwards and cheesy Facebook photos sent to you than I do. (It's not that hard to achieve, I assure you. Between getting Jewniverse ready, re-watching the awesome new G-dcast video, and keeping on top of office gossip, I barely have time to read my own email.)

So -- yeah -- maybe you are cooler than I am.

But my grandmother-in-law is cooler than you are.

Check out this Rosh Hashanah card that she emailed us. Yes, my grandmother-in-law uses email. She escaped the Holocaust by walking barefoot through Siberia and she has an email account. And she has an iPhone. An iPhone! My cell phone can barely still be held together with a rubber band and some chewing gum.

Happy New Year, everyone. And may all your computational devices taste as good as hers.

Friday, August 27, 2010

G-dcast's Rosh Hashanah Music Video!

Prodezra, the hip-hop sensation out of Savannah, GA and Mayanot Yeshiva and into our ears, stars in G-dcast's new Rosh Hashanah video -- dropping rhymes, mixing beats, and playing his own shofar backup. Prodezra and I wrote the song. And then we made it into a music video.

And don't forget to come back the second Rosh Hashanah goes out -- we've got Yom Kippur on deck, with the cowriter of the new Sleepless in Seattle musical, Josh Nelson.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Win Stuff With Poetry.

How are you feeling about the New Year? Excited? Trepidatious? Nervous? Whatever's going around in your head, you should get it out of your head -- sit down and write a poem. (Or, if you're more in the mood, stand up and yell it out...but make sure you write it down or record it!)

And, once you've done that, send it to by 5:00 tomorrow night for the chance to win MJL's High Holiday Poetry Contest -- and the chance to win one of a bunch of really cool prizes from Shemspeed, MyJewishLearning, and Simon & Schuster.

Of course, even if you don't enter, keep your eyes peeled and your RSS feed set to stalk the MyJewishLearning blog, where we'll be announcing the winners and reprinting the winning poems.

And if you need some inspiration, check out MJL's High Holidays section -- and our great guide to the Rosh Hashanah season, 10 Days to a Better You.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Blaxploitation Shofar

This post came our way courtesy of Alan Jay Sufrin, singer/guitarist/bassist/keyboardist for the band Stereo Sinai. He's also the official shofar blower at Anshe Shalom in Chicago this year (and is tremendously excited about it). Here he is with his newest instrument in the recording booth.

So, here we go.

It's the Hebrew month of Elul, during which it's a custom to sound the shofar every day. The blog HearingShofar (which, amazingly, is a year-round blog about shofars) just reprinted a page from the comic Teen Titans #45, from 1976, in which Malcom "Mal" Duncan, DC Comics' first black superhero, is attacked by a shadowy figure who promises to kill him. Then, randomly, he receives a magical ram's horn from the angel Gabriel.

black shofar

According to HearingShofar:
[T]he tale seems kind of goyish. But hey, Superman was invented by several Jews and much has been written postulating how Jewish legends and archetypes influenced the creation of his character. And we are instructed to sound shofar in times of crisis, just like Mal is.

Which reminds me of a joke that my friend tells way too much -- as illustrated by the illimitable comic artist Mat Tonti. What do pirates say to each other on Rosh Hashanah?

Happy Elul, everyone. T-kee-yorrr!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Beginnings: Jewels of Elul

I decided to be Orthodox in the middle of college. I was on scholarship to a very big school, and I was feeling very small. One of my best friends had just gotten raped and then sort of ignored by most of our circle of friends, and ran away to Europe. I'd thought I was going to New York for college, then realized that going to New York for college actually cost money, and so I was back in Washington D.C. on scholarship and with noplace to live.

jewels of elulI surfed around on people's couches. Some of them were good friends, but more often than not, they were randoms -- people I'd met once or twice at a concert or a club meeting, the ones who noticed I was looking even shabbier than I usually did. I tried never to stay more than a day or two. I didn't want to impose, but more, I didn't really want these people -- these vague people who faded in and out of my life -- to notice I was changing.

And it wasn't like I was choosing to change. It was a side-effect of being around different people every day. No one expected me to say "the Matthue thing," whatever sort of thing I always said, or to behave a certain way. I was getting born again every day. If I wanted to skip breakfast, how would they know I had a rigorous routine of a bowl of Cheerios with soy milk every day since 9th grade? Boom. Today, I am no longer a breakfast eater.

But I had all this time. I'd been hanging out with my friend constantly and now she was gone. I'd been searching for a place and now I was promised one; I just had to wait three weeks for the old tenant to move out. It was maddening. I didn't know what to do with all this time. Study more? No; it was college. Why would I do that? Write a book? I'd just written a book. It took time, but not the time I had free -- that was for late nights and early mornings. In my life now, where I used to call my friend constantly or hang out in the privacy of my room, there was just an empty silence.

On Friday I was crashing with the guitarist from my band. He was going to a concert in Alexandria; he left me the keys on the bureau and headed out. Faced with a rare weekend night with no plans, I asked myself the question that, in college, surrounded by a million other people, you never actually ask: What do I WANT to do?

I went on a walk. I didn't carry anything -- not my phone, not my wallet (which was falling apart anyway), not even an ID, just in case I got lost and drowned or the Washington Monument fell on me or something. I was a notorious worrier. I actually thought about these things constantly. But not tonight. I didn't want to worry about anything.

I ended up at synagogue. I'd always known where it was; it was in the middle of Georgetown. I'd just never gone inside. But a hundred other people walking in at the same time, I could do it without anyone noticing. I prayed in the back of the room, alone and with my prayerbook in front of my face. A hundred other people prayed under their breaths; it was a huge noise composed of whispers. In that noise, I could say anything I wanted.

That's when I decided to start coming back every day.

They say, when you want to become an observant Jew, you should do it with baby steps. Stop watching TV for one Shabbat. Give up the Internet a few Shabbats later. I didn't work that way. I dove in. I had all this time, remember. What was I going to do with it? Something productive. And it ended up being something productive in a way that wasn't going to be like publishing a story or playing a concert. Praying is like giving up your time and your energy and your creativity. But it's like giving it up for a reason; saying that I don't just need to impress the people around me. Believing that that's not all that matters.

I talk a lot; you could say I've made a career out of it. But this talking alone -- talking where nobody else can hear you but G*d -- is, in my very small way, saying that not everything I do has to have a specific reason, for work or for my friends or for my writing. Sometimes, you're just giving it up for G*d. Are my prayers going anywhere? It almost doesn't matter.

I became Orthodox overnight. But becoming religious -- that's taking a lifetime.

Crossposted from Mixed Multitudes. This post is part of Jewels of Elul, which celebrates the Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days of the month of Elul to growth and discovery in preparation for the coming high holy days. This year the program is benefiting Beit T'shuvah, a residential addiction treatment center in Los Angeles. You can subscribe on Jewels of Elul to receive inspirational reflections from public figures each day of the month. You don’t have to be on the blog tour to write a blog post on “The Art of Beginning... Again”. We invite everyone to post this month (August 11th - September 8th) with Jewels of Elul to grow and learn.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We Are Not Eaten By Yaks

The noble explorer C. Alexander London, who was last seen blogging about visiting Jews in strange places for MyJewishLearning, has a new book coming out. It's called We Are Not Eaten By Yaks.

If you don't want to read a book called We Are Not Eaten By Yaks, I probably can't have a meaningful conversation with you, but just in case you need further convincing, Mr. London has created this book trailer. And tell me he doesn't look exactly like Doctor Who, and every time he opens his mouth and an American accent spills out, you want to say, "really?"

Which I hope he doesn't take umbrage at. Most of my friends don't even look like Doctor Who in the first place.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Snoop Dogg and Kosher

Maybe it's the fact that all the Israelis I knew growing up were seriously cute girls (Orali in fourth grade, I'm looking at you), but Hebrew versions of words always sounded so...cute. I'm not talking about the guttural ch that pops up everywhere. But the rest of it -- the doubling-up of words (kacha-kacha), the addition of -y to every name, whether it makes sense or not (for years, I was "Matty" to every Israeli I knew), the fact that Israelis always sound so condescending when they deign to speak English to us non-Israelis -- just strikes me as really sweet and 10-year-old-like.

You know who else uses made-up words and suffixes a lot? Snoop Dogg.

Keeping all this in mind,there's a new kosher restaurant in Brooklyn. I don't know what the name is supposed to mean (it's a dairy restaurant, and, like every other kosher restaurant in New York, they also serve sushi), but it's called Shabazzle.

What do you think -- is Shabazzle an Israeli way of saying "yummy"? Or the Hebrew vernacular equivalent of "Yo, party's on Coney Island Avenue"? I couldn't tell you for sure. Clearly, though, it's an example of Israeli cute-ification in action.

And clearly the sort of place that Snoop Dogg would eat at. If, you know, he was Shomer Shabizzle.

(Thanks to the awesome kosher blog Thanks A Glatt for the tip.)

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