This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Face the FactS ten things you can do to end slavery
a new rIte of passage
IranIan Jews In southern CalIfornIa
a year in Service
until you Don’t Know
editor and publisher Ariel Beery executive editor Beth S. PollAk senior editor eSther D. kuStAnowitz associate editor MiriAM r. hAier food columnist MiriAM SegurA theater critic lonnie SchwArtz contributing editors Ben BrofMAn, ADAM chAnDler, DeBorAh fiShMAn,
SArA frieD, ruvyM gilMAn, reBeccA BeBe leicht, nAtAShA roSenStock, tiferet ziMMerMAn-kAhAn
the spring after
assistant editors DAviD DABScheck, BrAunA DoiDge copy editors tAMAr Benzikry, DevorAh klein, MereDith MiShkin, SArAh
SunDBerg, AriellA SAPerStein
editorial staff John BecerrA, SuSAn JAcoBS, AAron SMAll, MichAl
PioneerinG a new PreSent
the periphery takes center stage
ABigAil JAnet AnD SArA frieD
art director linA tuv art team hillel SMith (cover), Peter oroSz (food comic) photography editor AvitAl Aronowitz photographers AvitAl Aronowitz, ShArone BonD, Ben fAulDing, Seth gArz, ..
MArtin griffithS, DAniellA kAhAne, roBert lotzko, DAniel SchuMMer, StePhAnie ShelAn, JuliAn voloJ
ebb anD Flow
tapping into israel’s water tech
programming director Polly zAvADivker advertising and circulation director SiMi hinDen business team leonArD PADer, SAMuel grilli
This work is licensed under The creaTive commons aT TribuTion-noncommercial-noderivs 2.5 license. To view a copy of This license, visiT hT Tp://creaTivecommons.org/licenses/by-ncnd/2.5/ or send a leT Ter To creaTive commons, 543 howard sTreeT, 5Th floor, san francisco, california, 94105, usa. cre ative commonS we Think The creaTive commons approach To conTenT is smarT because iT gives creaTors flexibiliT y in Their licensing choices and iT allows for seamless sharing of conTenT. aT presentense , our exclusive righTs To conTenT expire af Ter no more Than 120 days. aT ThaT Time, we encourage our auThors and phoTographers To adopT a cc license for Their work.
community supported agriculture
the Death oF eco-KoSher
ethics on the table
www.PreSentenSe.orG PrinteD in canaDa
presentense is a grassroots effort to invigorate Jewish life and hebrew Culture made possible by a network of volunteers around the world. special thanks to: Bleecker and sullivan advertising, the Croitoroos, the hausmans, the Zavadivkers, the pollaks, lisa eisen, ariel foxman, Inbal freund, shelley gazin, Zach gelman, yossi Klein halevi, lindsay litowitz, Jonathan Mark, Jackie Miller, aylam orian, Mikhail rayzman, navit robkin, Chloe safier, susan weidman schneider, Jeff rubin, william rapfogel, roy sparrow, rachel travis and Daniel treiman. this issue is dedicated to the memory of Mikhail rayzman, who was a source of true enthusiasm and inspiration. presentense has 501(c)3 nonprofit status thanks to the fiscal sponsorship of the national foundation for Jewish culture, and supports itself by selling advertising and group subscriptions. if you would like to reach a young Jewish audience through our pages, please contact simi hinden at firstname.lastname@example.org. presentense is also proud to collaborate on events with others of like cause, including the icc israel action grant project, supported by the avi chai foundation, the charles and lynn schusterman family foundation and morris b. squire, saveTheassistants.com and the edgar m. bronfman center of nyu. if you would like to support presentense in its mission to enrich Jewish life, please make checks payable to the national foundation for Jewish culture, noting “presentense” in the memo line. checks can be mailed to: presentense, 214 sullivan street, suite 2a, nyc, ny 10012 presentense accepts submissions, pitches and letters to the editor by email: email@example.com
today’s jewish farmers
it’S not eaSy beinG Green
cuiSine with a conScience
features 3 6 7
20 when the Get GetS in the way
no spring fling
52 beyonD “wonDerFul”
art comes home
22 Face the FactS
ten things you can do to end slavery
to the editor
53 reality checK
23 SeDer unPluGGeD
when personal becomes public
we wine, we dine, we recline, and then…
7 in the SPitz
british-jewish identity fusion
24 new orDer
55 new albumS
MAt thue roth
the spring line-up
26 vineS anD wineS
56 on the horizon
Ben BrofMAn AnD MiriAM r. hAier
9 more than KuGel anD KniSheS
hillAry w. SteinBrook
harvard university’s sephardi society
10 another FreeDom
rememberance and redemption
a year in Service a new rite of passage
12 a German in tel aviv
closure in bauhaus
57 Portrait oF an artiSt
13 ShuShan uSa
clearinG the Path leading up north
iranian jews in southern california
yehuDA M. hAuSMAn
15 he SaiD
my grandma and your grandma
24 Sonnet; converSation
48 unDer the hammer anD SicKle
kosher in the ussr
58 the criSPineSS oF comPromiSe
persian dill rice with limas (polo sabzi)
16 inFormation SuPerchaiway
surfing the jewish web
51 curb your iDentity
larry david’s laundry
60 until you Don’t Know
18 mother ruth
reBeccA BeBe leicht
oldest young person in the world
64 milK anD honey
Issue two 2007
hy celebrate spring? Throughout history, spring has inspired celebration, from harvest festivals to holy weeks. In the Jewish calendar, we start early with Tu B’Shvat, kicking off spring almost before winter has started. After rejoicing with the trees, we spend a month indoors avoiding the cold, generating steam for Purim revelry. And then we take another month to clean up our lives, eliminating traces of cookies and crumbs to celebrate Pesach (Passover). While Pesach occurs near the same time as many other spring festivals, it is not a holiday that we tend to celebrate with the earth-bound elation of Tu B’Shvat or the ecstasy of Purim. Instead, it is a feast guided by disciplined observance that asks us to exercise restraint (from eating hametz, unleavened bread) in order to celebrate our freedom. It is a holiday that asks us to utilize our collective memory to remember our past and to put ourselves in the shoes of those who came before us—who suffered injustice and who experienced redemption. It is a festival that requires us to look at Then (back in the day) and There (in Egypt) and relive it as Here and Now. On Pesach, within the framework of the Seder, and within the confines of our leaven-free lives, we are reminded that what we see in the mirror is just as much a reflection of the present as the past. Following in that vein, Issue Two of presentense has altered its lens to focus our spring mindset. The new “Here” and “Now” sections replace the previous “Around the World” section—because the questions we ask around the globe are not just isolated phenomena of specific locations, somewhere else, but rather concerns that regularly land on all of our doorsteps. Take a look at ten ways you can end slavery (“Face the Facts,” p. 22), or learn about how members of the Iranian-Jewish community balance collective concerns with the realities of Los Angeles life (“Shushan USA,” p. 13). And “Seder Unplugged” (p. 23) humorously reminds us how our Passover Seders, whatever form they might take, often provide more questions than answers. The spirit of spring impelled presentense to take a closer look at our relationship with the natural world and the way the Jewish community specifically impacts—and is impacted by—the environment. In “Damage Report” (p. 28) Tiferet Zimmerman-Kahan weighs the ecological effects of last summer’s Israel-Lebanon war on the region, and in “Ebb and Flow” (p. 32), Leora Addison discusses how to responsibly tap in to Israel’s water-management technology. This issue also looks at the social and environmental impact of putting (kosher) bread on the table, considering Community Supported Agriculture (“Farm Fresh,” p. 34), new social justice Kosher certifications (“Cuisine with a Conscience,” p. 39), as well as “The Death of Eco-Kosher” (p. 36) and our reluctance to go green (“It’s Not Easy Being Green” p. 39). Finally, presentense aims to remind our readers that seeing themselves in others’ shoes is not just about reflection, but about seizing the opportunity to hit the ground running. In the new “Paradigm Shift” section (p. 42), Seth Garz considers how our world would look if Jewish teens around the globe opted for a mandatory year of service; and in “Clearing a Path: Leading Up North” (p. 44), Eli Valley highlights the efforts of the 500+ young Jews who traveled to Israel during the winter to help efforts to restore and rebuild Israel’s Northern region following last summer’s war. Lastly, in “Mother Ruth: the Oldest Young Person in the World” (p. 18), meet Ruth Gruber, who has used the force of her writing to bravely share stories of politics and power, pain and injustice, with readers around the globe. This spring, whether you read presentense on the beach or on the bus, over matzah or maror, we ask you not only to enjoy the articles in your lap, but to think about where you fit into this dynamic picture. It’s easy to embrace the spring with abandon, rejoicing as the days get longer and the flowers gather in the trees, but it’s not as easy to remember the responsibility we bear to those trees, to the generations before us as well as those to come, to the trees over There as well as those Here. Thinking about Pesach and the rites of spring, these pages are not meant to encourage you to sit still, but to inspire you to find your place in this cycle, and to impel you to take action. Read on, and this Passover, don’t pass up the opportunity to push for change.
eDItorIal presentenseMagaZIne.org Issue two 2007
to the editor
neeDS more JuDaiSm While I congratulate you on what seems to have the makings of a fine publication, I must complain about the dearth of scriptural or theological coverage in presentense . What has kept the Jewish community bound together has not been the mere association of Jews as Jews, or our affairs in the secular world. It has been Judaism itself that has sustained us and will continue to do so. Why not provide coverage of contemporary debates within rabbinical schools and other new, textual interpretations by modern scholars? Surely we can find such debate alive within the young Jewish community alongside our forays into popular culture and politics. You have let me down so far, but I am hopeful your next few issues will add these vital elements of coverage.
Venyamin Asher Cedarhurst, NY
so I’m glad that the magazine reflected this side of Jewish life. Criticism of Israeli bands in English makes them seem so different, so “upgraded,” in a way. I’m also happy about the way the war was dealt with through personal stories and that the magazine takes Israel’s side without sounding too militant. That soldier’s story on the last page was not too much to my personal taste (as I’m not such a big supporter of the army...), but if people out there want to know what the Army’s like, well, there it is. Anyway, on the whole, the magazine makes good reading once you get into it and it looks just great. Very high quality.
A.B. Tel Aviv, Israel
an iSr aeli’S reSPonSe First, I enjoyed or at least found interest in all the items you’ve included in your magazine (Issue One, Fall 2006). However, it is a little hard for me, as an Israeli, to relate to articles about Jewish life in the Diaspora—and reading made me realize that I think Jews should come to Israel if they say they cannot practice Judaism abroad. I mean—isn’t Israel the easiest place to be Jewish in? I find it hard to relate to problems of “just one” communities. It also made me realize the immense identity problem we have as a people and how difficult it is for Jews to define or even accept who they are. It is indeed hard to be Jewish, searching for the “Right” Minyan...
Second, I really liked the emphasis on cultural issues: people like me define their Jewishness as culture,
zioniSm worth the riSK Esther D. Kustanowitz’s column misses the point with “Zionism and Me” (Fall 2007) when she seems to question whether Zionism (and all of its risks and dangers like service in the IDF and terrorism in Israel) is really worth the costs and risks to human life. Like everything else in life, Zionism has risks and costs, but Israel also provides us all with so many rewards. Just look at all of the wonderful technology, culture, and music that have come out of Israel. Virtually all of the new Intel-based PCs now use chip designs that came out of Haifa. As Jews, we could have decided at any time in the past 3000 years that being Jewish was just too risky or too tough, but obviously our ancestors stubbornly clung to their traditions. Maybe there is some greater reason behind Jews being one of the few if not only people to have survived over all of this time. Over the ages, Jews have significantly contributed to the Sciences, Law, Culture, Civil Rights, and other pursuits.
We can look at Albert Einstein who remained committed to the cause of Zionism for his whole life, eventually leaving all of his earthly belongings to Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Einstein had consistently supported numerous Zionist events in America. He could have focused in on the fact that being Jewish had led to him having to leave Germany, but he did not. Perhaps his lifelong devotion to Zionism, somehow helped give him the inspiration to devise his revolutionary views that would transform Physics. Giving up on something just because it seems too risky or too dangerous is never the right answer. The early colonists to America could have all returned to Europe after the first setback. Throughout America’s history, many immigrants struggled to make a place for themselves in America. As a result of their perseverance, the World has been blessed with America’s leadership. We can only hope and pray that America and Israel with all of their love for Life and Creation will prevail over those who worship Death and Destruction.
Michael J. Szanto Chicago, IL
Zionism with the fact that she still chooses to live elsewhere, to accept that war is both necessary and may have a devastating personal impact, and to determine how she can support the Jewish state with limited finances and no immediate intentions to move there. Like many diaspora Jews raised within relatively privileged circumstances, I’ve only experienced war in the abstract. But for me, only in Israel—and only recently—has the human face of war become personal, prompting such an analysis. But whatever my intention and Mr. Szanto’s reaction to “Zionism and Me,” when I read his prayer that “that America and Israel with all of their love for Life and Creation will prevail over those who worship Death and Destruction,” I can only utter the most heartfelt “bimhayrah biyameinu, amen” (speedily, in our days, let it be so).
Esther D. Kustanowitz Senior Editor, PresenTense Magazine
riGht oF reSPonSe Mr. Szanto is absolutely right when he writes, “Giving up on something just because it seems too risky or too dangerous is never the right answer.” Of course it isn’t. But if Mr. Szanto thinks that’s what “Zionism and Me” is about, it is he who has missed the point.
coulDn’t Put it Down Last night I started reading the copy of your magazine on the train home, and even though it was way past my early-ish bedtime, I couldn’t put presentense down. One article after the next, just bubbling with intimate stories of the Jewish paradox—life. I feel inspired and excited and wanting to be a part of your special project.
Ingrid Latman Brooklyn, NY
The article isn’t a polemic for giving up, or advocating that Israel isn’t worth the effort; nor is it even a peace-loving, if naïve, exhortation to just give peace a chance. It’s an attempt by one person to reconcile her own emotional connection to
PraiSe For PreSentenSe I read presentense and was so blown away by the publication! The quality of writing and the whole layout is really impressive. Give yourselves credit for helping create a very thought-provoking, beautiful magazine.
Shoshana Friedman Chicago, IL
Issue two 2007
british-jewish identity fusion Daniel Silverstein
evening of Jewish and Israeli-based music, art and culture, hosted and headlined by Emunah, a London-based hip-hop and drum & bass band. Emunah is but one example of a wave of artists, writers and musicians who have connected with the desire of many young British Jews to create a new, more confident identity. The key to this identity is that it demands to be expressed and appreciated on its own terms, in contrast to the earlier deference of our forebears. Like many of our peers around the world, young British Jews hold a strong desire to participate as equals in the remolding of our society. Until a few years ago, events like Psychosemitic were scarce, and there was little alternative for young Jewish Brits from the dreaded meat-markets known as “Jewdo’s,” invariably replete with awful music and over-age sexual predators. Mark White from London’s klezmer-house innovators Ghettoplotz has ran several successful events which feed this new thirst for creativity and depth on the Jewish scene, as he told Time Out: “Everyone’s fed up with Jew-do’s”. Emunah, founded in 2002, is one of a wave of projects seeking to place Jewish identity on equal terms with our Asian and Black peers, whose music and art is embraced by the mainstream of British culture, and whose traditions are widely celebrated for their authenticity and depth. Since its inception, Emunah has grown organically in multi-cultural London, acquiring members along the way who are Pakistani, Russian, Armenian, Irish and Palestinian. This has helped the band sell itself as “international,” exposing new audiences to Jewish melodies, themes and texts, and provided ripe ground for exploring religious and political dialogues through music. Jonny Hornig, a young British Jew who recently saw Emunah live, describes how the band encouraged him to find a new confidence with his Jewish roots. “Putting Jewish melodies and lyrics from the bible together with ingredients from other cultures makes it so much more relevant, it brings it all back home.” This new wave of Jewish
Issue two 2007
in the SPitz
Emunah by Mar tin Grif fiths
he East End of London is in many ways analogous to the cultural resurgence on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Here in London, early waves of 19th-century Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe first landed and began their struggle in a new world. And here their great-grandchildren are rediscovering their roots, returning to and reinvigorating the area
their forebears left behind in the pursuit of material success and social acceptance. London’s Old Spitalfields Market, once home to countless Jewish traders, is now a renovated site of commerce and tourism. In its midst is The Spitz, a venue synonymous with London’s explosive world music scene. There, in April 2006, a crowd of 300 people gathered to experience Psychosemitic, an
art is challenging young British Jews to define themselves more creatively, to stand up and speak up for who they are rather than falling into the same cultural abyss as their forebears. British Jews are often held up as a model immigrant community who have integrated well into the tapestry of UK society. They have penetrated and excelled in all professional fields. For example, as recently as the 1970s, Jews still struggled to enter the top echelons of the legal world, but now Jewish judges, even senior ones, are commonplace. However, the accomplishments and material advancement of the Jewish community came at a steep price: a desiccated Jewish identity among the younger generation. Playing the role of the loyal, model Britons created a feeling that it’s better to “keep your heads down” or (to use the American parlance), promote a “don’t ask, don’t tell” Jewish identity. This state of mind was memorably characterized by Ned Temko, a former editor of the Jewish Chronicle, as “secretly expecting to flee on the next boat.” This is particularly telling when comparing the visibility and role of Jews in the United States to that in the United Kingdom. Of course, this dichotomy has much to do with the history and self-perception of the respective host countries. The United States is a relatively young society that has been created and shaped by successive waves of immigrants, while Britain is rather less confident in its own identity and struggles to fit minorities into the national narrative. Unsurprisingly, this leaves many British Jews living an uncomfortable balancing act, attempting to manage their dual identities without being seen as threatening by their non-Jewish peers. This precariousness has come into sharper relief with the failure of the Oslo process and the reigniting of the Arab-Israeli conflict in September 2000. Suddenly, Jewish identity became associated with the actions of the Israeli government and army, portrayed in the intelligent British media as aggressive, even blood-thirsty. To identify as a Jew was to expose oneself to all kinds of attack, from polite criticism to verbal and physical abuse. This imbroglio was manifested by a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic incidents from 2000 onwards, and growing challenges to being Jewish on British campuses. The Union of Jewish Students has been forced to fight
a relentless defensive campaign against a coalition of left-wing and Muslim students, who seek to destroy Jewish societies. Individual Jewish students have been subject to increasing bouts of verbal and physical abuse. Meanwhile, UK academics have been leading the campaign to boycott Israeli universities. Ironically, young British Jews often look to their Asian peers, whose families immigrated to the UK far more recently, for a model of confident ethnic identity. The success of Asian Britons in carving a distinct and attractive niche for themselves in mainstream British culture is seen as a desirable model for emulation. For example, Emunah’s innovative fusion of traditional ethnic melodies with contemporary music forms owes as much to similar Asian pioneers, like Nitin Sawhney and Talvin Singh, as it does to any particular Jewish musical tradition. The undoubted trailblazers in this niche have been Oi Va Voi, who have inspired not just Ghettoplotz and Emunah but countless other projects in the UK and beyond with their intricate but accessible fusion of old and new sounds. At the Spitz gig, a mixed crowd of students and young professionals took in the Hebraic art, the breakbeat Carlebach niggunim—repetitive cantoral melodies—and the hip-hop re-working of ancient prophecies and prayers—all without visible signs of shock. This kind of event was long overdue. While the burgeoning Jewish youth culture in the UK seems promising, British Jewry stands at a critical juncture in its 350-year history. Demographically, the community is shrinking, as apathy and assimilation take their toll. A recent revival of anti-Semitism has made it increasingly problematic to be openly Jewish in British society. And yet, as with other communities worldwide, there have never been so many opportunities and outlets to celebrate and re-create Jewish identity and culture. Therefore, although our detractors would seek to make conflict the sole focus of Jewish identity, we will continue to display a tenacity for creative re-invention that bodes well for our future.
Daniel Silverstein is the co-founder and vocalist of Emunah, a London-based hip-hop and drum & bass band whose reper toire includes Jewish melodies, themes and texts. www.emunahmusic.com, www.myspace.com/emunahmusic
more than KuGel anD KniSheS
har vard university’s sephardi society Hillary W. Steinbrook
ntil the fall semester of my second year of college, I thought that “Mizrahi” referred to a brand of shoes and purses. I did not know about Mizrahi Jews, whose ancestors come from Middle Eastern countries, and who are often inaccurately labeled as Sephardim, a term that connotes Jews whose ancestors come from the Iberian Peninsula. But halfway through my sophomore year, I became more sensitive to such differences, thanks to my involvement with the Sephardi Society at Harvard University. Harvard’s Sephardi Society is not large —it boasts a Facebook group membership of only seventeen. However, its existence seems to serve a positive role in students’ extracurricular lives. By promoting openness in the exploration of Jewish backgrounds, the Sephardi Society aims to help students at Hillel and in the larger university community understand that not all Jews proceeded directly from Eastern European shtetls to Lower East Side tenements to East Coast suburbs, as many young American Jews believe. Open to individuals of all backgrounds, the Society divides the Jewish population in order to expose differences in culture while uniting the community in celebrating Sephardic traditions. This paradoxically promotes both pride in one’s own special heritage and a willingness to accept one another as fellow members of “the tribe.” The Sephardi Society aims to bring together Jewish students from diverse backgrounds, to uncover the variety of cultural practices in the Harvard Hillel family and foster an inviting, comfortable atmosphere in which students can learn and creatively contribute to the Jewish
community. “Are We There Yet?” was a Shabbat dinner with a Caribbean menu that incorporated both social and educational elements while honoring the previously unheralded participation of Sephardim in Columbus’s expeditions. Fliers with information about how Jews contributed to the exploration of the Americas through navigational and monetary resources decorated the tables. Other dinners have included guest presentations on the Jews of Brazil, Turkey and France, with international meals and traditional Sephardi tunes. The Society has also hosted guest speakers on Sephardi-Jewish artists like French impressionist Camille Pisarro, and screenings of movies like The Merchant of Venice that address Sephardi-Jewish communities. Food is an important component of Sephardi culture; Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, which includes descriptions of past and present Jewish communities around the world, inspired members of the society to create “Sephardi Knows How to Party,” a post-Passover study break celebration of the return of chametz. Students jammed to Turkish and Ladino music while sampling delicious Middle Eastern pastries. Students who participate in the events programmed by the Sephardi Society —whether those students are of Sephardi heritage or not—are likely to discover that the individuals who have contributed to the rich, vibrant history of the Jewish people are more diverse than we have been led to believe. This forum for Jewish education might serve as a useful model on other campuses to create programs that are simultaneously educational and entertaining, and that expand the definition of Jewish
beyond the walls of the Eastern European shtetl experience. The Sephardi Society does not rely mainly on electronic resources but rather prides itself on cultivating relationships with students and community members who identify as Sephardi in order to brainstorm for events. Fostering connections between individuals in every step of party planning, from the initial stages through the post-party clean-up, supports the primary goal of the group: promoting community. This should be a feasible goal for any college campus enthusiastic to broaden its cultural horizons.
Hillary W. Steinbrook, a senior at Har vard University, grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts. A psychology major, she is going to law school next fall.
Issue two 2007
rememberance and redemption Victor Wishna
Issue two 2007
ake NYC Transit’s E train to the end of the line, switch to the #4 bus, and 20 minutes later, you’re there. The Beth Elohim Hebrew Congregation occupies a storefront on Linden Boulevard in the St. Albans neighborhood in Queens; the building is nondescript except for the large Stars of David on the awning. Inside, the long, narrow space resembles a modest synagogue sanctuary, with a mahogany ark, carved chairs and pulpit. And like Jews around the world, the congregants of Beth Elohim annually mark Pesach, and its redemptive message of freedom following generations of bondage. While these ideas of persecution, slavery, liberation and self-determination touch the core of Jewish identity and faith, they have additional significance at this synagogue. Here, everyone—from the rabbis and Hebrew School teachers to the music director and down to the last member—is African-American. According to blackjews.org (a website administered by Rabbi Shlomo Ben Levy, Beth Elohim’s rabbi), there are approximately
by Julian Voloj
Elohim in 1983. But Chief Musician Raphael Ben Dan, who has released a CD of original Hebrew songs, was born a Baptist in Ohio and first converted to Islam before finding his place among the Israelites. A guest from Beth Shalom in Brooklyn, Rabbi Yeshurun Ben Israel, was a city transit worker before attending
whether talking about slavery in egypt or america, he refers to “our people.”
40,000 African-American Jews in the United States. These are not Ethiopian Jews, but Americans who have come to this interpretation of Judaism primarily in the 20th century. The majority of them observe most holidays, the rite of circumcision, and the laws of kashrut. God is invoked as Hashem; men and women sit separately on Shabbat; and when the evening begins with a rendition of “Hinei Ma Tov,” the tune is the same one many other American Jews learn in Sunday school and summer camp. Beth Elohim is part of a loosely affiliated movement of Hebrew congregations in Brooklyn, Harlem, Philadelphia, Chicago, and elsewhere. Unlike some more radical black sects that claim to be the only true Jews, these Black Jews—or Israelites or Hebrews, as they sometimes prefer—see Jews as co-religionists, despite differences in race and tradition. Rabbi Levy admits that most of his congregation is not Jewish according to halakhah, but points out that fewer than 10 percent of the 5.3 million white Jews in America observe halakhah themselves. Rabbi Levy was born into the community; his late father, Levi Ben Levy, founded Beth
Israelite Academy, the Queens-based institute that ordains the community’s rabbis. Like many other synagogues, on Tish’ah B’Av, Beth Elohim commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, as well as a litany of other Jewish catastrophes. But this congregation adds one more date: August 8, 1444, when Portuguese traders embarked from Africa with a shipload of human cargo, marking the beginning of more than 400 years of slavery in the Americas. “The Torah gives us a way to commemorate the slavery in Egypt, but we needed to create a ceremony to convey our slavery in this country,” Rabbi Levy says. Whether talking about slavery in Egypt or America, he refers to “our people.” About 40 people gather; many of the men wear jeans and kippot, but most of the women are in colorful African robes and headdresses. The program is led by Assistant Rabbi Eliyahu, who makes a dramatic entrance in white Ethiopian robes and a goat-hair hat. On other days, he wears a sharp modern suit or a red velvet garment festooned with Stars of David. The congregation rises as Rabbi Yeshurun reads loudly from Deuteronomy, Chapter 28. “He will put a yoke of iron upon thy neck,” he
intones, pointing to the poster pinned to the podium: a 19th century daguerreotype of a slave on an auction block, his hands and legs chained, a large iron yoke around his neck. To everyone in the room, this passage is the Torah’s prediction of the Middle Passage, the long, middle leg of the Europe-to-Africa-toAmerica slave trade route. The ceremony includes a symbolic display not unlike a Passover table. Four colored candles represent four attributes of nature, and a Sederplate-inspired selection of seven foods (bread, rice, fish, corn, boiled egg, parsley, and water) signifies everything from sustenance to the bitterness of 400 years of slavery. “But 400 years can’t take away 40,000 years,” Rabbi Eliyahu exclaims. He implores the congregation to move forward from an enslaved mentality, to cast off that “chain on the brain.” “The Torah has the key to unraveling these problems,” he exclaims, eyes wide. “And we even heard it in this week’s Haftarah, remember? ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, give comfort to my people…proclaim that their service is at an end!’ Isaiah said that. It’s all about moving on!” Later, Rabbi Eliyahu repeats his message, identifying the meeting place of Jewish traditions: “Torah is what it’s about and you all are the custodians of the Torah,” he says. “You kept it for 3,000 years. I tell my people to think about that. If it weren’t for you, we never would have been able to rediscover it.”
Victor Wishna and Julian Voloj are completing a book about black Jews, from which this piece is excerpted. Victor’s first book, In Their Company: Por traits of American Playwrights, was published last fall (www.intheircompany.com).
Issue two 2007
a German in tel aviv
am a German and I love Tel Aviv. I was not always this way, though. I was born in an old German town, Aachen, the point where Holland, Belgium and Germany meet. Until the spring of 1992, when I was about to turn 16, I had not heard anything good about Israel. In fact, I had no desire to come to Israel in the first place. My love for Israel is my father’s fault. It was he who forced me to go on yet another international youth exchange, he who pushed me to meet Israelis. And since then, I’ve been hooked. I’m addicted to Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is not just a city; it is a collection of various different characters, from sympathizers to Nobel Prize winners. There is an Orthodox man on inline skates who rides up and down Ben Yehuda Street, and spreads the word that the Messiah is coming. During Sukkot he moves around wearing a phone booth-like sukkah on wheels, offering every passer-by the chance to observe Sukkot prayers and shake the lulav. There are the Breslover Chassidim, or followers of Rabbi Nachman, who dance around cars stuck in traffic jams, telling drivers that one must always be happy. There is the Chassidic man that wants to turn me into a good Jew, since he is convinced that my mother must have been Jewish. There is the vagrant who wears suits, whose living room I abuse to do my laundry. Unlike in European cities, people here talk to the poor. My vagrant friend lives in the laundromat
closure in bauhaus Daniel Schummer
and nobody seems to mind. People talk to him, and I never saw him begging for money. His clothes are relatively tidy and sometimes his family comes for a visit. Here, there is a Muslim girl in my neighborhood who loves Vodka Redbull, and dances the night away on the bar at the Nanutshka Georgian nightclub. I cannot tell her apart from any other Israeli girl. Here, there is a famous game programmer who lives on a small yacht without an Internet connection; there is the “gay beach” right next to the “religious beach”; there are the Filipino guest workers that celebrate Christmas in the basement of the Central Bus Station, and there is the Italian ice cream man who built an empire of ice cream shops. There is an old lady who explained to me in her finest Hoch Deutsch how to use the shelter in case Hizbullah ends up shooting missiles at Tel Aviv. It seems that most senior citizens in Tel Aviv speak German, but I never experienced any negative attitudes towards me as a German, non-Jew. In Germany, people fear visiting Israel, because they believe Jews would single out the grandchild of a German perpetrator. In my experience, the opposite is true. Old people love to talk to me in German. For Holocaust survivors that I meet, it feels as if I am providing a final chapter in a long and painful story of the Jewish-German relationship. A happy ending, with friendship between Germans and Israelis, and reason for hope.
Daniel Schummer Daniel Schummer is a graduate student at Tel Aviv University’s Middle Eastern Histor y Master’s Program. His Israeli and German friends call him a true Israeli Ambassador to Germany since he organizes many youth exchanges, and infects Germans with the “I love Israel virus.”
Issue two 2007
iranian jews in southern california Karmel Melamed
hile news about Iran often dominates current political headlines, one does not often learn much about its ex-patriot community—particularly its Jewish one. Yet almost 30 years after Iran’s Islamic revolution, the near 30,000 descendents of Queen Esther who resettled in Southern California have become one of the most affluent and productive Jewish communities in the United States. “You have to look at our situation from so many angles. We are the survivors of a revolution,” said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center, a Jewish cultural center formed in 1979. “Our main goal was to survive, so we did whatever we had to do to reach that goal.” While many Iranian Jews have been successful professionally, Eretz-SIAMAK has taken up the task of providing support to Iranian Jews in Los Angeles who are just barely getting by. With their primary goal to feed hungry, low-income Jews, Eretz-SIAMAK subsidizes food expenses for needy families by giving them $50- to $100-worth of coupons per month, depending on their income, and provides help from other organizations and assistance for people in their households, said Manizeh Yomtoubian, co-founder of Eretz-SIAMAK. In addition, the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), Jewish Family Service and other agencies affiliated with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have helped create a support
by Ben Faulding
system for new Iranian Jewish immigrants. JVS has helped about 250 immigrants locate suitable work over the last five years, said Elham Yaghoubian, one of the agency’s four Persian language-speaking counselors. “We refer them to appropriate English as a second language classes and vocational training,” Yaghoubian said. “We also train our clients in job-search techniques and provide job referrals.” Also with new immigrants in mind, the L.A.-based Torat Hayim Center, Eretz-SIAMAK and the Hope Foundation formed the Caring Committee, which helps provide newly arrived Iranian Jews with funds for rent, groceries, medical and legal bills, transportation and school tuition. “We help them because no one else does, and we offer them what they cannot receive from welfare; or some don’t have any documents in this country but are hungry,” said Manijeh Youabian, an 18-year Eretz-SIAMAK volunteer. Philanthropic causes are central to many Iranian Jews. During Israel’s war with Hizbullah last summer, Iranian Jews living in Southern California and New York pledged a total of almost $6 million for Israeli organizations aiding the victims of Hizbullah rocket attacks. The giving has special meaning for Iranian-American Jews who not long ago enjoyed
persians in politics
political activism is a new phenomenon for Iranian Jews. throughout their tenure in Iran, most Jews were barred from political activities and were denied certain civil rights. “It took a while for us [Iranian Jews] to take care of our immediate needs in the u.s.,” said sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian american Jewish foundation and a former co-vice chair for the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign in California. “this is a community that came here as refugees and had to put its foundations in place—so getting involved in politics in the last few years only became a priority after all these other issues were taken care of.” Beverly hills Councilman Jimmy Delshad, who in 2003 became the first Iranian Jew elected to public office in the united states, has inspired other Iranian Jews to run for municipal elected offices. “one of the reasons I ran was to get Iranians involved and now I think one of my dreams is coming true,” Delshad said. “I see quite a few Iranian Jews are getting involved in lobbying for Israel through the american Israel public affairs Committee and traveling to washington.” Iranian Jewish support has also extended to the Democratic party. In 2004, los angeles attorney and now president of the los angeles Board of water and power Commissioners, h. David nahai, campaigned for John Kerry in the community, and in 2005 campaigned on behalf of Democractic los angeles Mayor antonio Villaraigosa. “the Iranian Jewish community is very much a part of this city,” he said. “what happens to los angeles happens to us and so we have a deeply vested interest in the outcome of that race.”
Issue two 2007
the umbrella of protection Israel offered them while living in Iran. Now, many feel a sense of duty to support Israel at a time when it is being threatened by Iran. “We are the children of parents who were born and raised in Iran’s ghettos during the Holocaust and the subsequent birth of the State of Israel,” said Sam Kermanian, Secretary General of the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF), based in L.A. “I think we have a keen understanding of the fact that when the chips fall, the only guarantee against another Holocaust is a strong State of Israel.” In 2000, various Iranian-Jewish organizations in Los Angeles brought to the world’s attention the plight of 13 Iranian Jews who were arrested by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime on false charges of treason and were in danger of being executed. Immense publicity resulted in the Jews being sentenced to short prison terms and later released. Despite these collective efforts, the community is often divided on matters of religiosity, leadership roles, economic and social status, and political activism concerning Iran. As a result, the community in Southern California hosts, in addition to large synagogues, more than two-dozen storefront synagogues and small religious schools. Community leaders have made a new effort to set aside differences of opinion to attract younger Iranian Jews who have begun to intermarry, who join American synagogues, or who abandon their Jewish roots. In particular, the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills has encouraged greater participation of women in its religious services, which used to be more male-oriented. “I have always felt that Nessah could be an incredible bridge for more women to participate in our community, for younger American
Jews of Iranian descent to connect with their heritage and for American Jews to become more familiar with us,” said Dr. Morgan Hakimi, Nessah president. In Persian Orthodox culture, where men traditionally dominate leadership positions, Hakimi’s post is unique because she is the only female president of an Iranian-Jewish synagogue. Hakimi was first elected in 2004, despite great skepticism. Yet as her initiatives led to a substantial increase in membership, she was re-elected in 2006. Now, more young Persian and non-Persian Jews participate in programming Hakimi has developed. During Shabbat services, crowds pack Nessah’s two sanctuaries, particularly women. Eight women now sit on the center’s board of directors, and more women serve in committee and staff positions. Nessah is also one of the few Iranian Jewish organizations that gives its youth committee a full budget and the ability to make decisions on their social activities. Despite the high rate of assimilation of Iranian Jews, many say they will continue to pass on their cultural traditions to the U.S.born generation. “I feel the pain of a Jewish mother who was born and raised in Iran and has difficulty raising her children in the U.S., where there are different values,” said Hakimi. “I hope that as a community we can bridge the gap between American Jews of Iranian heritage and their rich traditions.”
Karmel Melamed is an internationally published freelance journalist based in Southern California and contributing editor for the Iranian Jewish Chronicle magazine: www.ijchronicle.com.
preserving cultural treasures
southern California’s Iranian Jews have also taken steps to preserve Judeo-persian literature. “In Iran the Jewish community was not aware of the value of Judeo-persian writings, but now that they are away from their home they feel more attached to their heritage and want to preserve it,” said nahid pirnazar, founder and director of the nonprofit los angeles-based house of Judeo-persian Manuscripts foundation. Considered some of the oldest but least-studied Jewish texts in the world, Judeo-persian writings consist of the persian language written in hebrew characters by Jews living in what today are Iran, afghanistan, uzbekistan and some parts of India during the last 1,000 years. Judeopersian came into being following the arab Islamic conquest of persia in the seventh century, when the Jews of persia, who then spoke what is known as Middle persian, refused to write the persian language in arabic letters and instead wrote it in hebrew, pirnazar said. “our first goal is to collect and transliterate these manuscripts into the persian script before the generation that can read them easily is gone,” pirnazar said. “the next step is to eventually publish and translate some into english and other languages.” pirnazar said she formed the house of Judeo-persian Manuscripts in 2000 after a significant number of Iranian Jews in southern California expressed their interest in learning more about these ancient texts. In the last five years, pirnazar has acquired Judeo-persian manuscript collections from the united states, europe, Israel and Iran. ultimately, she aims for the house of Judeo-persian Manuscripts to amass the largest collection of Judeo-persian works in the world.
living in hollywood’s backyard, many Iranian Jews aim to leave their imprint on the entertainment industry. In 2006, Iranian-Jewish real-estate-developer-turned-film-producer Bob yari’s independent film Crash won an oscar for best picture and generated $93 million in worldwide sales. “I had a gut feeling that it would be something special but you never know, so I was hoping and my hopes came to fruition,” said yari, 44, whose four production companies have backed 25 films in three years. the acting bug also has bitten a number of Iranian Jews. last year Bahar soomekh made her film debut in Crash in the role of an Iranian woman named Dorri, and over the summer she played opposite tom Cruise in Mission Impossible III. another Iranian Jewish actor, Jonathan ahdout, 16, was a regular on the fox television series 24, playing the role of an Iranian terrorist. ahdout made his acting debut four years ago in the film House of Sand and Fog, alongside oscar winners Jennifer Connelly and sir Ben Kingsley. “My biggest fear is becoming type-cast as the Muslim Middle easterner because I think society today has their sights set on the Middle east and it’s become a much bigger part of american culture,” said ahdout. “I don’t want to necessarily fuel any kind of stereotype that could be created”. finally, history was made in 2006 when lila yomtoob, a 30something sound editor on the hBo documentary Baghdad ER, became the first Iranian Jew to win an emmy.
hen are you going to get married?” is a question I hear constantly from my grandmother now that I’m back in Los Angeles after three years of law school on the East Coast. Mind you I only recently turned twenty-seven. The question used to be, “what are you going to be when you grow up?” That one was a simpler multiple-choice question with two correct answers: a) doctor or b) lawyer. At least I got that one right. Now it is simply “when are you going to get married?” Jewish grandmothers think finding someone is as easy as going to the supermarket and picking out a Cornish hen for Shabbat dinner. “Whatever happened to falling in love?” I ask her. She doesn’t have time for that. She wants great-grandchildren. In considering my experience as a single 20-something Persian Jew living in Los Angeles, my grandmother is one of the first things that comes to mind. The truth is, whether you are Ashkenazi or Sephardic, a Persian Jew or South African, your experience with your grandmother is one of the links that unites the tribe. Grandmothers are in fact part of the great Jewish trifecta: Torah, Israel, and “Nana” as my Ashkenazi brethren refer to them. I’m certain that if any young Jewish ladies visit the Chabad House in Shanghai, there is a grandmother like mine waiting to ask for your phone number to give to her grandson. It’s just what they do. When I was a law student in Washington, D.C., people unfamiliar with the great many Persian Jews living in the United States, Europe, and Israel thought the whole concept of an Iranian Jew was oxymoronic. The reality is that before its Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran housed one of the largest and oldest Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Today, a great deal of them live in Los Angeles. As a Persian Jew and first generation American, my life, both professional and social, consists of negotiating between three different worlds: American, Iranian, and Jewish. My experience is not unique. Add a dose of Los Angeles superficiality to the mix and you can understand why some young Iranian-American Jews here feel so
my grandma and your grandma
conflicted. You learn to adapt—if you don’t, you’re liable to drive yourself crazy. It’s a Darwinian thing. I value privacy, but it is hard to come by in a small insular community like mine. Rumors abound about who is dating whom. Go to a café in Brentwood, and like Cheers, everyone knows your name. Whether you are glad to see each other is a different story. All of a sudden, taking a date to a restaurant an hour away starts to seem like a good idea. Just be sure not to expend all your conversation on the car ride there. The whole experience can become a bit stifling. Despite this, growing up Persian and Jewish can be very enriching. We Persians do things big. We are big on food, most of us grew up in big families, and we like big parties. We are also a sensitive species. We love to laugh and are not embarrassed to cry. Hugs and kisses from friends and family are the norm. You learn to incorporate these parts of your culture into your life as you grow older. It becomes food for the soul. Assimilation is not a bad thing if it is done right. My experience reflects the similarities Jewish communities around the world share. Again, I refer back to my grandmother. I liken my grandmother and her friends to traders on the New York Stock Exchange. The commodity they peddle: 20- and 30- something single Iranian Jews. It’s a small market but the trading is fierce. Graduate from medical school, and your stock goes up. Move to Silverlake and become an artist and you’ve relegated yourself to over-the-counter status overnight. When I shared this anecdote with an Argentinean-Jewish friend of mine he laughed. He told me he now understood how similar my whole experience here in Los Angeles was to his situation in Buenos Aires. We both realize that if you allow some of your culture’s antiquated ways to get to you, you lose the forest for the trees. I had dinner with my grandparents the other night. We had barely finished our salads when my grandmother started up again. “When are you going to get married so I can have greatgrandchildren?” There is really only one way to answer the question. “Why don’t you pick me up a wife when you go to the market and grab dinner for Friday night,” I said. She wasn’t amused.
Levi Barlavi is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and does not have a myspace page. All serious dating inquiries will be for warded to his Grandmother.
Issue two 2007
Blogs, podcasts, wikis, widgets, social Bookmarking, use
logs, podcasts, wikis, widgets, social bookmarking, usergenerated content, metaverse, aggregated content and social networking...don’t feel bad if you can’t define all (or any) of these terms. Technology is constantly evolving, and in almost every new mode of creating content, there are sites built by Jews for Jews. If you haven’t yet traveled the information superchaiway—or you are looking for a newish Jewish site to visit, here are a few worth your time right now—although it could all change tomorrow.
the Je wiSh mySPace
Taking the social media concept and Jewing it up a bit, Koolanoo.com, Shmooze. com, Chosennet.com and FrumHere.com—all competing to be the Jewish MySpace—offer familiar Friendster-like features allowing you to build a network, upload photos, and rekindle connections. When musician Jon Fursh was promoting his Hanukah song parody, “Latkelicious,” this winter, he created profiles on a number of social media sites. “Koolanoo certainly has potential; it has already laid the foundation for becoming a leader in the online Jewish community market —they offer a great service very similar to MySpace,” he said. “However Koolanoo still has some work to do.” The site still needs a critical mass of users to be useful as a social network. Opening new windows and instant messenging is clumsy, and the site doesn’t allow personalized pages.
Another site, Chosennet, is still in beta (a testing phase); it is free and has more than 1500 members in Southern California, 350 in New York and only 50 in Chicago. If Chosennet can follow the Craigslist model—starting in California and moving east—it might find a bright future. Instead of rekindling friendships or playing matchmaker, one new social networking company, SmartVolunteer.org, seeks to match non-profits to volunteers offering professional skills pro-bono. “SV embraces the fundamental principles of tzedakah (charity) by giving volunteers the opportunity to share their most precious commodity, time, in concert with their given and cultivated professional skill sets,” says Moshe Bellows, a co-founder of the site. Bellows envisions a time when “every organization—down to the smallest nonprofit —is using the site, growing its volunteer base and saving millions of dollars.” Already the site has registered more than 100 non-profits and received NYU’s Stern Business School’s and the Satter Fund’s Prestigious Entrepreneurship Award last year. Volunteers are calling it “the perfect networking device to assist in making a difference in the world.”
They provide everything from daily quotes and sports scores to event countdown clocks and tools to track water intake. Already familiar to Mac users, widgets will become even more ubiquitous in 2007; it shouldn’t take long for Jews to invent widgets that provide a Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) quote-of-the-day, a list of regional Jewish events, or a Hebrew date calculator.
Je w tube
YouTube made video-sharing easy and scalable (as accessible to one million people as it is to a hundred). Its flash videos, links and html scripts enabled enterprising Netizens to embed the video into their own blogs and websites to share with friends. If you want to enter the field, you might consider snapping up www.jewtube.com (on sale by an enterprising sitename squatter for the bargain price of ten grand), ensuring your place as the name brand in Jewish video content. Until then, check out the “Israeli YouTube,” www.Flix.co.il, for a sampler of Israeli videos, including TV clips, weekly horoscopes and numerology forecasts, and categories like “Don’t Try This at Home” (we won’t).
Many bloggers or users of Google’s personalized homepage, Yahoo! or MSN Live use small programs called widgets that stream content or information from a third-party site. Thousands of widgets are available, and can be run on a desktop or via website sidebar.
It could all change tomorrow.
Issue two 2007
surfing the jewish web Leah Jones
and participating in new progressive Jewish organizations and projects.” Adam Shprintzen, a Chicago blogger, has his own idea of an ideal Jewish website: “Can there be a Jewish web application that DOESN’T have a banner ad for a Jewish dating site?” While the answer to that question seems a clear “no,” the Internet could provide many solutions for today’s Jews. Those who complain that the unaffiliated won’t come to them need to get online and go to the unaffiliated. The infrastructure for the Jewish future exists, if only we make the choice to embrace it.
Leah Jones is a writer in Chicago, blogs at AccidentallyJewish.com, and by day is a Conversation Analyst in the me2revolution at Edelman Public Relations. Leah also contributes to JewishFringe and Shebrew.
PreDictionS For an interne t Je w-toPia
What precisely is the future of Jewish Internet tools? “I think they should be embraced and financially supported by the organized Jewish community to a much greater extent,” says Allison Kaplan Sommer,
a writer and editor for Israelity, a group blog about life in Israel. “Everyone’s always talking about ‘outreach’ and ‘continuity’ and ‘bringing in the unaffiliated.’ Well, here is your tool—and it should be used much, much more.” “I think the Internet will help progressive Jewish organizations and projects flourish,” predicts Aryeh Goldsmith, founder of blog aggregator JRants.com, social networking sites Twentyfoursix.com and Jewster.com, as well as the new JewishInnovation.org. “Online anonymity allows people to get acquainted with Judaism without feeling intimidated. It used to be ‘my way or the highway.’ Today it’s, ‘My way or the information super-highway.’ People who want to be Jewish but don’t identify with the established Jewish organizations of yesterday are the people who are starting
Issue two 2007
oldest young person in the world Rebecca Bebe Leicht
I’d bought sardines in fifty years. When I began taking them out of the can—proud that I’d opened the lid so easily—what I didn’t know was that I’d dripped oil all over the floor. Next thing I knew, I was sprawled on it.” She’s been in a cast for weeks, but that doesn’t stop her from working. Gruber’s living room doubles as her office, and, accented with an iMac desktop, it is wrapped, wall-to-ceiling, with an extensive book collection—a number of them books she authored (she will publish her nineteenth book in April 2007). Wall-space not covered with books is draped with awards, photography, and artwork from Gruber’s travels as a foreign correspondent. The long ivory couch in the center of the room is lined with colorful pillows depicting African life. “They are made by Ethiopian Jews-the Falasha—and they are all for sale,” says Gruber. “The proceeds from the pillows all go to charity for Ethiopians in need…aren’t they lovely?” The pillows pay tribute to Gruber’s coverage of airlifts of Ethiopian Jews from famine to safety in Israel.Gruber has tracked, traveled, and written about almost every wave of Jewish refugee migration—in fact, almost every significant moment in the recent history of the Jewish people. When reminded of her date, Gruber chuckles. “They didn’t have
Ruth Gruber by Daniella Kahane
n December 2005, as the Limmud conference dedicated to Jewish cultural study was winding down, a blonde woman with blushed, pink cheeks and tinted red lips was asked on a date. She accepted, though it was far past her bedtime. At the bar, the young man who had asked her to join him inquired, “What would you like to drink, Ruth?” Ruth Gruber replied, “Do you happen to have some warm milk?” By the time Gruber and her date sat down, a crowd gathered around them. This is how Gruber’s life seems to work—when she speaks, people listen. Especially those younger than her. And at 95 years old, almost everyone she meets is younger than her. “A day without an interview, writing, or teaching is a day wasted,” she says, sitting in a cushioned chair in the living room of her Central Park West apartment, resting her bruised arm on a pillow. Gruber is delicate and small, and covering the cast on her arm is a sleeve of tanned silk, to go with the taupe-and-beige scheme she’s chosen for the day. Gruber’s demeanor, like her clothing, is fluid and deliberate, evoking images of an elder Bette Davis without the cigarettes and damning personality. Gold slippers match the hoops in her ears, and one gets the feeling that’s no accident. A walker stands next to her chair, and its cumbersome, hard, metallic presence seems out of place—other than its durability, it has nothing in common with its owner. “It was the sardines that gave me the bruising,” Gruber explained. “I was at yoga, and I like the instructor so much that when he mentioned that we should eat sardines, I went out and bought some. I don’t think
those refugees, their children, and grandchildren still call her “Mother ruth.”
any warm milk, but they heated up some when they saw how many people I was attracting.” People listen to Gruber because she’s got lots of good stories to tell. Gruber has been writing for most of her years—initially as a student, which garnered her first New York Times story. Gruber’s name is generally found in bylines, but in 1931, she herself was the subject of a big story: according to the Times, at age twenty, Gruber was the youngest person in the world ever awarded a doctorate. She wrote her dissertation on Virginia Woolf while studying in Cologne, Germany, and it was there that Gruber believes she began changing focus. “I thought I would teach,” she says, “but I was living as an exchange student in Germany…and I tried to go to as many Hitler rallies as I could.” There, in an exhibition hall on the Rhine, Gruber saw Swastika banners waving in the packed hall, a stage adorned with Nazi flags, and heard anti-Semitic songs that charged the crowd with an “energy of hatred.” As Hitler chanted “Juda verecke,” (or, “may the Jew croak”), the crowd took up his cry. And it was there that Ruth Gruber, clutching her American passport in her bag, began to think of herself as a refugee. After a year in Germany, she moved back to her family’s home in Brooklyn, New York, and began to look for work. Gruber began sending pieces to the New York Times—and they bought one of her first articles for twenty-five dollars. “It was a lot of money in 1935,” she says.
Issue two 2007
Gruber’s work as a journalist began in earnest when she was offered the chance to go back to Eastern Europe. Working as a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, she was determined to write about the danger of Hitler’s rise. It was in traveling around the region that she found her first scoop. Gruber was given the chance to travel to the Soviet Arctic, to Siberia and to the Gulag—the first woman, and the only Western journalist, to have that opportunity. “It was in the Siberian gold mines that I learned to write in the dark,” she writes in Inside of Time: My Journey from Alaska to Israel. After filing story after story from the Arctic, Gruber caught the attention of President Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes. Ickes hired her as his special assistant. Her first assignment was to survey Alaska for the Department. Later, when Roosevelt allowed a group of 1,000 Jewish refugees to take shelter in the United States, it was Gruber who was their official chaperone from Europe. In a long glass case in Gruber’s entranceway, opposite shelves upon shelves of memorabilia from all over the world, a tangible truth of this time sits on royal blue felt. It is a portion of the Safe Haven fence, behind which the refugees Gruber chaperoned to the United States were detained in Oswego, New York. Those refugees, their children, and grandchildren still call her “Mother Ruth.” It was on the Haven boat that Gruber recalls her most pointed moment of focus. “Give me words—words, words—I live by words and photos…these are my tools, and wherever there was injustice, I turned to my tools,” she said, recounting her crystallized and sustained
ambition. She asked the refugees to describe the horrors they had seen before being rescued. They described losing children, having their babies torn from their arms and hung on meat hooks, like cow carcasses, before their eyes. As Guber wrote, she “often had to stop, because tears were wiping out the words in my notebook.” After the Second World War, Gruber covered Displaced Person camps. She reported on official talks to allow more Jews into Palestine. She sat in on the Nuremberg trials. She wrote of the British “ban” on Holocaust survivors coming to Palestine. She published the stories of the Exodus, Israel’s War of Independence, and the migratory aftermath of “rivers of Jews” pouring into Israel from Europe, the Soviet Union, North Africa, and the Middle East. Her photography has been in more than twenty exhibits and documentaries. For Gruber, conflicts of the past are not a question of numbers and incidents. The human face peers out of every corner of her writing, and the horrors and triumphs of refugees become thoroughly real. So what more does Ruth Gruber want? “To continue to use my tools—words and images—to fight injustice wherever I see it. To wake up to the sun rising, to see it setting, and to never, never retire.” All this, and she still has time for warm milk with young men.
Rebecca Bebe Leicht is a graduate student at Columbia University and a writer for the Mayor of New York City. In her dreams, she writes good poetr y; in reality, she writes good policy.
Issue two 2007
when the Get GetS in the way
ot long ago I had a weekend romance with a fellow in New York. After I returned home to Chicago, we exchanged a few emails and talked on the phone once; a long, lovely chat that ended with me reading an article I was working on aloud and him offering some very keen editing suggestions. But then he disappeared. I didn’t think much of it at the time and attributed it to the distance. I was thinking more in terms of geography than religion, but during a recent visit to New York, upon running into the friend who had introduced us, I discovered otherwise. “You didn’t hear this from me, but the reason he never called you again is because of your divorce,” said the mutual friend. “Because you got a Conservative get (religious divorce) and not an Orthodox on Judaism, who no longer observed, no longer attended synagogue, didn’t keep one.” kosher and wasn’t—don’t ask how I know this—shomer negiah (refraining from I was shocked. I knew that touching the opposite sex), would be the type to not accept my Jewish divorce. the weekend romance with My sister had another take on it. “This is someone who is just looking for this particular fellow wasn’t obstacles to prevent him from being in a relationship,” she said. But there were going anywhere, but I didn’t plenty of other obstacles to hide behind, the most obvious being that we live in mind because he was such a different cities. Or he might have pointed out that when I told him after seeing delightfully odd little guy. his disgusting, filthy, cramped apartment that I’d never, ever, ever, set foot in What I never anticipated there again, that he’s looking for someone a little more—how shall we say this? was that this same ferret of a —generous of spirit. kid who had turned his back But he didn’t say either of those things. And what he did imply was far worse, because it reeks of hypocrisy. This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself dismissed on religious grounds. Two other men said they couldn’t date me because they were kohanim - descendants from the priestly tribe who are forbidden from marrying a divorcee. One of these gentlemen was so disconnected from Judaism that he didn’t even attend synagogue on Yom Kippur. And yet, as he pointed out in an e-mail he sent after our one and only lunch date, while he found me attractive, smart and funny, as a kohen, he couldn’t in good conscience date a divorcee because he couldn’t, ultimately, marry her. (He did magnanimously offer to have a strictly sexual relationship, “no strings attached,” which I magnanimously declined.) Then there was the male friend, a modern Orthodox Jew, who during my separation, pulled me aside and advised me to get an Orthodox get so that “there won’t be any problems later on when you re-marry.” “But I’m not Orthodox,” I told him. “Plus, I got married by a Conservative rabbi, so if they didn’t accept my marriage in the first place, what difference does it make who sanctions my divorce?” This made me wonder: why is it always the men who refrain from nearly all Jewish observances that nonetheless cling to the most outdated tribal customs and display such a strong sense of Orthodox superiority when it comes to their dating lives? Is this akin to the man who, completely disconnected from Jews and Judaism, dates a Gentile woman specifically because she does not remind him of his mother, sister and cousin Stacy with the double master’s degree? Is
no spring fling
Issue two 2007
it the same guy who, when faced with marrying his non-Jewish girlfriend, suddenly insists that his bride convert, or at least give up Christmas, and vows that there will be no baby showers or Easter bunnies for their children? To be fair, much of contemporary Jewish life is about picking and choosing. It would be hypocritical of me to blame a guy for choosing to observe some aspects of Judaism and not others when I do that myself. What I don’t understand is why a man who chooses to observe nearly nothing considers my choices, such as the religiosity of my divorce, not kosher. Maybe the answer to these questions is not found within Judaism, but within the men who use Judaism as a point of contention rather than as a point of commonality. When the time comes for me to marry again, I have a feeling that whomever the stars have destined for me won’t let a little thing like a get get in the way of spending the rest of his life with me.
Abigail Pickus runs the Nextbook literar y series in Chicago (www. nextbook.org). Her ar ticles have appeared most recently in the online publications Zeek, Killing the Buddha, and the Book Slut.
by Rober t Lotzko
Issue two 2007
ten things you can do to end slavery Laya Millman
Protest against child labor in a labor parade George Grantham Bain Collection
Face the FactS
lavery isn’t just an aspect of our identity as Jews; it is the cornerstone of our history as a people. Since we remember what it was like to live as slaves to Pharaoh, we should cherish our freedom and independence all the more. Given this collective memory of slavery, Passover is an annual reminder that slavery is by no means a past phenomenon. While we sit down for lavish banquets, others sit enslaved. An estimated 30 million individuals live in slavery today—more than all the people kidnapped from Africa during the entire period of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The U.S. State Department reports that within ten years, slavery, or “human trafficking,” as it has become known, will exceed arms and drugs as the largest illegal enterprise in the world. And it’s not just happening far away—pervasive across America, human trafficking is also a steadily increasing problem in Israel. Today’s human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, and harboring of individuals using fraud, deception, and violence. These modern-day slaves might find themselves working in agriculture, construction, textiles, the domestic services industry, and most infamously, the sex trade. In all cases, they are brutally exploited for thirdparty gain. We need to face the facts: from the clothes we wear and the chocolate we eat to the coal that powers auto-manufacturing plants, we are all net beneficiaries of modern slavery. How can we help? Unfortunately, there are no swift or sexy answers. Human trafficking is so insidious and complicated that most people are not in a position to effect lasting change. However, Michele Clark, Head of the Anti-Trafficking Assistance Unit at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), offers suggestions of how we can help bring an end to contemporary slavery:
1 Support and empower individuals and organizations who are in a position to effect real change. Volunteer your time or donate money to a local NGO that fights human trafficking. 2 Educate yourself and others. Read a book on the topic, like Disposable People by Kevin Bales, to learn about slavery and the global economy. 3 Google “human trafficking” and the name of your city to find out what’s happening where you live. Map your community and know what is going on in your own backyard. Whether you live in a big city or a small town, human traffickers can take advantage of the economic, social, and cultural vulnerability of women and children for their own profit. Talk to the police. Investigate the commercial sex scene—are there massage parlors and strip clubs? If so, there is probably exploitation. 4 Are foreign workers—those who work in factories, in fields, in restaurants, as maids— allowed to keep their own travel documents? Are they paid a decent wage? Are they permitted to maintain regular contact with their relatives and to develop relationships? 5 Keep your eyes open! Many victims of human trafficking have been rescued by neighbors who saw that something was not right and reacted. This is especially true in the case of forced domestic servants and women working in massage parlors. If you suspect something, contact a local NGO. 6 Help provide for a trafficking survivor. Many NGOs lack resources to provide for necessary long-term protection and assistance. Raise funds to directly contribute to assisting one person. 7 Advocate for policy change where you live. Are the laws sufficient? Do they
define the crime, ensure punishment for the perpetrators and provide for victim protection and assistance? Does the law provide for temporary or permanent residence status? If there is a law, is it being enforced? Are those charged with enforcing the law sufficiently trained? Are those charged with protecting the victims capable of ensuring their security?
8 Contact local government representatives to make sure that human trafficking continues to be a priority issue on the political agenda. 9 Internet child pornography is child trafficking and child abuse. Each hit on a porn site enslaves a child; don’t tolerate it among your friends, colleagues, coworkers, or family members. 10 Raise awareness in your community by starting a campaign in your school/ synagogue. Get creative: initiate a campuswide “Day Without Chocolate” to boycott the use of slaves in the manufacturing of chocolate and get the media involved. + 1 Be a responsible consumer. Educate yourself about the manufacturers of the brands you like to wear. Many large fashion companies have made changes to ensure fair wages and labor practices in their overseas factories as a result of public pressure. Support the companies that have made these changes, and boycott companies who have not.
Remember The “Bad Son” in the Seder does not deny that slavery existed—he simply places himself outside of the story. But we are an inextricable part of the story. Let’s not let one of the most poignant lessons of the Seder be lost on us.
Laya Millman is a writer, photographer and web designer. She is the co-founder of Jewlicious.com and lives in Jerusalem.
Issue two 2007
we wine, we dine, we recline, and then... Adam Chandler
by Avital Aronowitz
ow is this Texas-style Seder night different from all other nights? Well, four or more glasses of wine are imbibed; technically, no leavened bread is consumed; and there is reclining, albeit mostly kneeling over another celebrated deity made of porcelain. It’s freedom, right? Why not feel free to break the mold of the Seder, and reaffirm the importance of long-standing Passover traditions in new and inventive ways? “Alternative” traditions are simply sweeping the Jewish globe. (Alright, maybe not exactly “sweeping the Jewish globe,” but scattered deviations from the norm have brought new perspectives to religious observance).
four questions redux
why haven’t you called me? what are you doing with your life? when are you going to get married
Did you know that Debbie wasserman is a (great) grandmother of two children already
Issue two 2007
Take Israel for example, where some have adopted the custom of not holding a Seder at all. Think about what kind of statement that makes in the Jewish State: that on every single day, Jews should commemorate their freedom and make Passover stand out no differently from any other day. Critics of this observance consider it to be an apostasy, but who are they to judge? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, say the striking words from the Gospel of John. (Which Jews don’t hold by, but we’ve made our point.) Other Israelis observe Passover by taking a “reverse Exodus” and going to the Sinai in Egypt. These pilgrims wander the desert without electricity and reenact the history of their oppression by sleeping in modest tents and playing paddle tennis by the water. While lambasted by adherents of more conventional Passover rituals, this tradition comes closer to literally re-emerging from the birth canal of Jewish freedom than any other. Jews who have chosen to keep having a Seder or two also have personalized their Passover traditions. For feminists, the ritual of placing an orange on the Seder plate has political significance. The story goes* that a rabbi once claimed that a woman belongs in the rabbinate like an orange belongs on a Seder plate. Perhaps by placing an orange on the Seder plate, some feminists believe that if Jewish women are able to scrub away the sticky citrus juice from the Seder plate then maybe the Jewish community will be sufficiently impressed to allow all women into the rabbinate. (*The “orange” story was recently revealed as an urban legend. Writer Susannah Heschel once heard someone say that a lesbian has as much place in Judaism as a crust of bread does on the Seder plate. Wanting to express solidarity with the gay Jewish community, but unwilling to put bread on her Seder plate, Heschel substituted an orange as a sign of fruitful support.) Another popular tradition which has emerged (I’m guessing from California or Colorado), uses a more lax or “chill” interpretation of what constitutes the “bitter herbs or bitter greens” on the Seder plate. This tradition also blunts the method by which Jews are supposed to ingest said “herbs” during the Seder. While causing a high increase in the excitement over the communal pursuit of that last munchy-crunchy piece of matzah, many observers of this tradition omit other cherished Passover traditions like the singing of Chad Gadya because of the new and sudden complexity of the task. When visiting home for the holiday, younger Jews who have recently moved out for college or life in the real world, often detect a difference in the Four Questions. They find that, instead of the youngest person at the Seder asking the Four Questions, suddenly it becomes the task of the oldest person at the Seder, usually the mother or bubbe, and the questions are no longer just sung but rather are “scream-sung” accordingly. By and large, these questions are not answered by the person who asks them; instead, the inquiries are often met with awkward silence or sporadic crying. From personal experience, it is not recommend that the “bitter greens” and the “going home” traditions are ever combined in the course of the same Seder, no matter how appealing they may seem as complementary interpretations.
Adam Chandler is a contributing editor of PresenTense Magazine. He currently lives and works in New York and is the founder and editor of TrustfundRepor ting.com.
ne w orDer
by Dana Weiss by Avital Aronowitz
they say that we are like indigent children so hungry, even for the pockets of air in our bread, the spaces between the letters; this is a metaphor we are familiar with. we are familiar with metaphors, the dreaded conventions of our speech; I don’t, like, speak to you like I talk to him, hesitatingly and kind of rushing like I’ve drunk a little too much of the coffee of exile; or maybe not enough.
hether you call it “Passover” or “Pesach,” the Jewish holiday that calls for spring cleaning, giving up most forms of carbs, and staying up late singing a song about a goat probably brings many fond memories to mind. While Passover lasts for eight days, the focal point of the celebration of the exodus from Egypt comes at the very beginning in the form of the Seder.
Issue two 2007
What makes this night different from all other nights of Jewish feasting? The answer lies in the Haggadah, the book that leads us from enslavement, through the Exodus saga, and finally to a roaring rendition of L’shana ha’ba’ah b’Yerushalayim, a culminating hope to celebrate the Seder “next year in Jerusalem.” The Passover story can become a bit banal after retelling it in the exact same manner each year. Others feel that the Haggadah needs to be restructured to make it more politically correct. Fortunately, the nature of the Haggadah leaves room for us to tailor the Seder experience to our own needs. In recent years, the idea of creating alternative Haggadot surfaced as a solution to dissatisfaction with the norm. The commandment that we fulfill by having the Seder and retelling the exodus story rests in the words “V’ higadeta l’bincha bayom hahu… ,” “And you shall tell your children on that day...” (Shemot 13:8). Jews are not obligated to read from a Haggadah, but for centuries we have used Haggadot to both tell the Passover story and also gain a deeper understanding of how it relates to our lives. The contents of the Haggadah have evolved since it was first written. For example, the songs Dayeinu and Chad Gadya were only added around the 10th century, but who today could imagine a complete Seder without these classic jams? The metamorphosis of the traditional Haggadah continues. We do not simply add a new prayer or song, but instead we find new ways to make the Seder an evening of insight and learning. Both Jews and non-Jews alike have found messages of hope, freedom and strength in the Haggadah, and the newest editions create opportunities for people of all stripes to relate the exodus story to their lives. The Haggadah has been re-written as a work of feminist literature, humanist ideals and other incarnations. If Pesach is about retelling, and therefore reliving, the exodus then these Haggadot create a framework for ways that today’s Jews are actively discovering their connection to the Jewish nation, just as our ancestors did centuries ago.
hiPPie haGGaDah the SAntA cruz hAggADAh
By Karen Roekard
includes the traditional text with humorous cartoons, messages of Tikkun Olam (healing the world), and mystical or what some might call “new-age” thought. Check it out at www. santacruzhag.com.
veGetarian Journey of the liBerAteD lAMB: reflectionS on A vegetAriAn SeDer
By Roberta Kalechofsky
A Hip Hop Haggadah is a rock album. With tracks like “Pesach Zelt” and “Passout For Passover,” it is a great way for the hip-hop generation to celebrate their Passover love. Additional tracks retell parts of the exodus story. To add more Jewish-themed hip-hop to your playlist, check out Los Hip Hop Hoodios at www.hoodios.com.
Patriotic the AMericAn heritAge hAggADAh
Compiled by David Geffen
For many, the concept of enslavement refers not only to human beings, but also to animals as well. Whether you are a member of PETA, a pet owner, or just think sheep are too cute to sacrifice, then this Haggadah is right up your alley. In it you will be led through the Passover story by a lamb and learn about alternatives to ritualistic animal slaughters throughout Jewish history.
chilDren’S A Different night: the fAMily PArticiPAtion hAggADAh
By Noam Zion and David Dishon
At first read, the title of this Haggadah seems odd. What exactly would an American Haggadah contain? The answer is: Americana of course! Full of Passover advertisements from over the years, pictures of Haggadot produced by big-name companies, and entertaining stories of the history of Passover in America, this Haggadah is sure to delight anyone who loves to see American consumerism in all its glory, selling Passover to the Jewish masses.
cyber SeDer congregAtion eMAnu-el nyc For 11 years now, Congregation Emanu-El of New York City has been broadcasting a cyber-Seder which includes readings from A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah. If you are more of an audio learner than a visual one, this might be the right fit for you. You can find all the information at www.emanuelnyc.org/seder/seder.html. Happy listening!
Sara Fried was born and raised in Los Angeles and graduated from UC San Diego in 2005 with a BA in Art History. She is pursuing a career in magazine publishing, and currently lives in Israel studying Hebrew, interning at The Jerusalem Report and having a blast!
Choosing the best Haggadah for children is a daunting task. Many options consist of the traditional text with a few illustrations and questions to ponder. But with beautiful illustrations, rabbinic tales, Jewish history, and games alongside with the traditional text, A Different Night is a great Haggadah for both the young and the young at heart. For a supplementary children’s Passover book where Mother Goose meets matzah, Uncle Eli’s Special-for-Kids, Most Fun Ever, Underthe-Table Passover Haggadah can add some rhyming and laughter to the holiday.
muSical the So cAlleD SeDer: A hiP hoP hAggADAh Not an actual Haggadah, The So Called Seder:
“ah, Jews are very impatient with doing the same thing over and over again. It’s gotta be different!”
— arthur MIller, playwright
Santa Cruz is the birthplace of the Haggadah that claims to ensure “a Seder that is deep, high, and fun.” For anyone seeking a feel-good Seder night, this is the Haggadah for you. It
Issue two 2007
osher wine is good for you. Well, let’s work backwards. Wine is good for you. Modern science has confirmed what wine-lovers have always dreamed - that wine, and red wine in particular, lowers the risk of heart disease and heart attacks, raises HDL cholesterol (the “good cholesterol”), and thwarts LDL (the “bad”), all the while preventing blood clots, reducing blood vessel damage caused by fat deposits, and other sundry salutary properties. The funny thing about scientific discovery is its propensity to confirm what the “believers” have always known. And how did this believer know? I was weaned on wine, literally from the cradle, or, er, my circumcision. Apart from witnessing the curative powers of viticulture in my own life (when I drink I have the capacity to fly, xray vision, and the strength of ten Jewish men), I’ve also been taught wine’s essential role in Jewish tradition. Kiddush aside, in early rabbinic literature wine is described as a source for happiness: “‘And you shall be happy in all that the Lord your G-d has given you’ (Deutoronomy 26:11). With what does one make them happy? Wine… Rabbi Yehuda ben B’taira said: there is no happiness without wine, as it is said: ‘and wine makes happy the heart of Man’ (Psalms 104:15).”
Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 109a
vineS anD wineS
And this, written thousands of years prior to medical research, simply speaks to the happiness of “the heart.” I can proudly attest to wine making this man’s heart happy, and that of many others. So how does one make a kosher-keeping heart happy? What distinguishes a kosher wine from one that’s not kosher? In theory, all wines could be kosher (winemakers don’t often tamper with their art by including foreign ingredients, be they pig, mollusk or insect in provenance). As you probably know, wine is the beautiful product of grapes. Grapes, like all fruits, are kosher. Be that as it may, history kicks in to problematize a seemingly simple situation. There’s a well-known biblical principle that prohibits gaining benefit or pleasure from an item used for idolatrous purposes, a principle that seems to have grown out of the historical encounter of Jews and Pagans. In ancient times, the overwhelming majority of non-Jews were card-carrying Pagans, and wine was regularly used as a libation for idols. As a result, the rabbis derived a new regulation – any wine handled by a non-Jew was off-limits to Jews, in case, while handling it, a non-Jew might plan to proffer the wine as an offering to a deity. Since no self-respecting Pagan would use boiled wine for rituals to appease the gods, the Rabbis offered an exemption – if wine was cooked (mevushal), it would be Kosher, even if handled by a non-Jew after boiling. With that lesson out of the way, let’s turn to recommendations. This time of year is perfect to enjoy Chile’s major red wine export, the beloved Malbec, made from a grape practically engineered to provide solace and shelter from the harsher elements. I recommend Layla’s Malbec available for around $15. Another wine to enjoy (or cellar, if you’re inclined to keep precious bottles away from light, heat or vibration) is one belonging to the class of oldest and grandest in sophistication and complexity, a Bordeaux. Mouton Cadet Rouge from Baron Philippe de
Rothschild is one of the most requested Bordeauxs in the world; smooth, medium-bodied, with an elegant bouquet, this red is a delightful assemblage of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It is available with kosher certification on the label for about $15. Another fine kosher Bordeaux is the Chateau Bel Air Bordeaux Superieur, also from a long-established chateau that strictly reduces the output from its vineyards to realize the best possible grapes. The result is limited annual production, and it’s a masterful blend of Merlot (50 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (35 percent) and Cabernet Franc (15 percent). The 2001 and 2002 vintages are still available, priced at about $17 to $19. Some other stellar Bordeauxs that frequently bear kosher certification, though somewhat more expensive ($35 to $60), are the Marquis de St. Estephe, the Chateau Roc de Boissac (St. Emilion), the Chateau du Quint (Pomerol), and the Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere Margaux. And let’s not forget the Holy Land. Great new Israeli reds from the Hebron Heights area include Noah (Tevel)’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet-Merlot blend, priced around $15 to $17. Replete with concentrated, fully ripe fruits and hints of juicy currants, cherries,
Issue two 2007
Mevushal is the hebrew word for “cooked.” a mevushal wine retains its ‘religious purity’ no matter who opens, pours or drinks it. Making wine mevushal is a process that includes bringing the liquid to a boiling point, defined as heating it until air bubbles are brought to the surface and some wine is lost through evaporation. the point at which most modern kosher winemakers apply the heat is until what is called the “must” is achieved, the slurry of grape solids and juice resulting from the grape pressing, and is done before the fermentation process begins. High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) carries about one-third to onefourth of blood cholesterol. hDl cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol because high levels of it seem to protect against heart attack. Medical experts think that hDl tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is passed from the body. Low Density Lipoproteins (LDLs) are combinations of lipids (fats) and proteins, and are the form in which lipids are transported in the blood. the low-density lipoproteins transport cholesterol from the liver to the tissues of the body. when too much lDl cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. lDl cholesterol is therefore considered the “bad” cholesterol. Viticulture, from the latin word for vine, viticulture refers to the cultivation, science, production and study of grapes, often for use in the production of wine. It is a branch of the science of horticulture. tannins are usually condensed, bitter-tasting, polymerizing plant protein compounds prevalent in red wines, composed and fermented from grape skins, seeds or oak containers. tannins are a key component in the flavor and complexity of a wine and aid in controlling the rate at which wine is so essentially oxidized – that is, given adequate time to breathe. tannins also slow down the hardening of arteries. Chateau is a wine-producing “estate,” which in contemporary spin sometimes bespeaks a far less stately seat of centuries-old nobility than might naturally be inferred. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a fellowship of men and women who share experiences, strength and hope with each other to solve their common problem of alcoholism, and aid others in recovering and achieving sobriety. the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. for more information, visit www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.
by Avital Aronowitz
raspberries and plums, they have benefited from the marriage of the Judean Mountain sun and the cool Mediterranean breeze. If cellared over time, you’ll notice additional elements of fuller-bodied wood, rustic tannins and playful tobacco aromas. Another fine Israeli red is Gedeon’s 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. It hails from the foothills of the Judean Mountains, such that you can practically taste the Bet Shemesh fruit, toasted vanilla and tobacco notes. It is typically priced at an inexpensive $14. If your liquor store doesn’t carry the Gedeon or the Noah, you should politely request them while asking how many more years their policy of Zionist discrimination will be in effect. Everyone brags about their favorite Australian Shiraz, but I find many to be overrated and overpriced. A chateau of exception is the Beckett’s Flat Western Australia Margaret River vintages, which resemble Napa and Bordeaux in climate and soil. The Beckett’s Flat 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz blend is awash in dense red cherry flavor, rich spices and soft tannins, and for about $25, it’s a perfect accompaniment to a hearty steak or course of lamb. If you’re looking for a nice white, Beckett also makes a delightfully
crisp 2006 Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon with intriguing apple, orange and pear edges. Happy drinking, and remember, friends don’t let friends drink bad wine, unless the cupboard is irreparably bare. Oh, and if anyone needs an AA sponsor, I’m available and I offer a discount to expectant mothers. Cheers!
Neil Berman is an attorney by day, criminal by night and oenophile throughout. He has given classes at the Chelsea Wine Vault and other wine education centers, is a first-time contributor to PresenTense Magazine and ardently advocates for a more vibrant pepper economy.
Issue two 2007
the spring after Tiferet Zimmerman-Kahan
oliticians have been trying to foster peace in the Middle East since the founding of the State of Israel, but last year’s violent Israel-Hizbullah conflict and the environmental toll it exacted on the region should urge world leaders to step up those efforts. Fighting during the hot summer of 2006 left a horrific scar on the land and sea. The harm after only two months of confrontation is a call to consider whether images of dead sea turtles, oil-coated beaches, or bare, parched land that once rooted a forest (now burnt down to stumps) serve as a warning against inciting another war.
the DamaGe : iSrael; loSS oF ForeSt In Israel, the most noteworthy damage is the loss of landscape and habitat due to fires ignited by Hizbullah-launched Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon. According to a recent collaborative study by public Israeli agencies and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), more than 800 forest fires blazed in the northern region as a result of the war, during the driest season of the year. More than 2,900 acres of forest, mostly coniferous, burned. The JNF estimates that at least half a million trees (about 20% of the forests in the north) were the DamaGe : lebanon ; oil SPill lost. More than 16,000 acres of nature reserves, In mid-July, about 30 kilometers south national parks, and other conservation land of Beirut, the fuel storage at the Jiyeh power in the Galilee and Golan Heights regions also station was bombed. Many media sources burned. Areas sustaining the most concentrated reported that the Israeli Air Force carried out damage were in the Naftali Ridge (more than the strikes, but the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s 1800 acres, with 70% of the forested region Acting Deputy Director General for the burned) and near Tzfat in the Birya Forest. Middle East, Jacob Keidar, says it’s not Because of the soil type and other factors, clear whose bombs fell on the fuel tanks. rehabilitation of the Birya Forest might be What is clear, however, is that the strikes more complex than in other regions. resulted in a massive oil spill, releasing at Though fires can be part of a healthy least 15,000 tons of heavy fuel oil into the ecosystem cycle, 50-year-old coniferous trees eastern Mediterranean Sea according to burn up like matchsticks in unmanaged sources at Friends of the Earth Middle East, situations of such breadth, and burning will a regional NGO. lead to more far-reaching environmental Because of Israeli air and sea blockades as consequences. Bare, deforested land is much well as other military operations, volunteers more susceptible to soil erosion and landslides. were unable to address the spill immediately, Forest-dwelling wildlife (especially young) the most effective way to deal with it. is harmed or displaced, causing problems elsewhere. Loss of forests also decreases air quality and raises the average air temperatures, an especially important consideration during the hot summer Jewish texts accentuate a clear point in the Jewish tradition: we must be aware of affecting months.
Unfortunately, the oil spread 150 km north along the Lebanese shore, reaching the southern coast of Syria. By the end of August, Greenpeace Middle East said they detected fuel oil on the seabed and just below the surface. The effects of an oil spill can be profound: contamination of an ecosystem touches all species that are dependent on it for survival. In this case, the loggerhead turtle has been particularly threatened. This creature, already found on the endangered species list, nests along the Lebanese coast and depends on other sea life in the contaminated region for food. Migratory birds on their way south from Europe to Africa use the war-torn area as a popular flight route, and are now susceptible to poisoning. In a world where biodiversity is decreasing at unprecedented rates, this oil spill is just another example of the same old pattern of loss due to human activity. Our biosphere, however, is an intricate web of interdependent relationships between all species. The thinner the web gets, the faster it will completely collapse. Though the direct impact of this spill on humans is mostly economic, oil contaminant in natural systems can eventually cause humans physical harm. In August, the World Conservation Union, an environmental umbrella group, found cancer-causing substances—polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs for short—present in oil-slick samples. PAHs are known by scientists to persist in the ecosystem by accumulating in the organs of fish, causing fish populations to plummet. From now on,
people may need to think twice about eating fish caught in the eastern Mediterranean.
did you knoW?
god’s creations and have respect for them, while at the same time acknowledging that we have “dominion” over them (genesis 1:26). even if we must besiege a city, the torah commands us “not to destroy its trees by forcing an axe against them” (Deut. 20:19-20). the torah brings this extreme example of consciousness during wartime to teach that we should be even more aware and careful of our actions during calm periods. the concept of bal tashchit, not to be wasteful (derived from the verse above), is discussed at length in the talmud, showing the importance of understanding and observing this commandment fully. It is said that “one who covers an oil lamp (causing the flame to burn inefficiently) or uncovers a kerosene lamp (allowing fuel to evaporate faster) violates the prohibition of bal tashchit” (talmud Bavli, Masechet shabbat, p. 140 side b) this application of the law stresses the importance in our tradition of the conservation of resources and the wise use of what we are given.
remeDiation eFFortS— lebanon The Israeli Foreign Ministry insists that it is unclear whether the Jiyeh oil spill is a result of Israeli actions, and has not issued any statements apologizing for the damage caused or claiming responsibility for it.
Issue two 2007
According to Keidar, Israel offered assistance to Lebanese authorities with cleaning equipment and expertise, but Lebanon has not responded. Rather, other international sources have contributed funding and expertise to Lebanon’s remediation efforts. A meeting in Athens in mid-August resulted in backing from the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) and International Maritime Organization of a $50-million (actually, about $66-million) action plan to initiate clean-up in Lebanon. By last November, some of the coordinated efforts taken by the UN environmental unit, together with the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, were already underway. The Joint Unit established an oil-spill cleanup management center, facilitated flights during the continued Israeli blockade to survey the damage, and set up a clearinghouse for coordination among groups providing environmental assistance. Longer-term recovery plans are meant to be addressed more fully by Lebanon itself, still enlisting the help of its foreign supporters. Greenpeace Middle East has also been involved in the clean-up effort. Its “Rainbow Warrior” naval station, anchored off the Lebanese coast, assisted with the beginning stages. An international team of crews and divers, working under the direction of the Central Institute for Marine Research in Italy, helped to map the extent of the oil spill and location of contamination in preparation for removing it completely. In a report released December 1, 2006, the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) laid out the progress of the clean-up efforts to date. Most of the NGO groups conducting clean-up along the shore have completed their efforts and are awaiting final inspection, or have turned over the responsibility of monitoring and follow-up to the Lebanese government. Submerged oil collection has been completed but, as of November 18, floating oil still remained on the surface mostly to the west of the Tabarja Beach Club, in the Tripoli region north of Beirut. REMPEC reports that “cleanup of the area is under consideration to avoid a recontamination of cleaned beaches north of Beirut, as the oil may be remobilized during winter storms.”
remeDiation eFFortS—iSr ael National government agencies and independent foundations within Israel
donated by JNF
More than 2,900 acres of forest, mostly coniferous, burned.
have taken responsibility for clean-up and remediation efforts there. In September, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) launched a global, ten-year, $400-million plan to “rebuild and renew northern Israel and help make it home again for its residents,” hoping to redevelop and rejuvenate the North. Their plan includes reforestation efforts, preparing agricultural lands, creating incentives for families to move up North, and purchasing a fire fighting plane to assist in the case of a similar disaster. The forest fires destroyed mainly Jerusalem pines that had been planted in the years after the State’s founding, half a century ago. According to Paul Ginsberg, Director of the Forest Department of the JNF, the pine was chosen at the time because it is “a very adaptable species, [able to grow] in the moist, cool north, [as well as in] the dry south, in a large variety of soil types.” The JNF reforestation campaign plans to reintroduce more broad-leaf native species, such as eucalyptus, cypress and pistachio. Planting a larger variety of tree species this time around will, according to Ginsberg, allow for “a greater level of biological diversity of [the] forest inventory and a higher degree of resistance to fire and diseases. They will also contribute habitat and food sources for native wildlife.” The remediation projects in Israel will likely serve as a forum for scientific study and research on environmental repair and development as well.
movinG ForwarD Keidar, of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, recalls his experience on the front line. “Unfortunately, when you’re under attack,” he says, “the environmental issues seem to not be so important.” It is naïve at this point to hope that a country would choose wartime tactics that avoid harm to the environment rather than to respond to political needs. In a time of peace, however, it is reasonable to expect a country to act in its best interest environmentally. Environmental resources do not obey political boundaries, and securing safe access to these resources often entails cooperation
Issue two 2007
and did you knoW?
when the pioneers, known as the halutzim, first came to Israel, they focused on making the land habitable. they drained the swamps and planted fields, and formed kibbutzim that would rely on land-based income and sustenance. David Ben-gurion introduced and promoted the idea of “making the desert bloom” in hopes of increasing the arable land for Jewish inhabitants. since then, Israel has been an international leader in agricultural technologies. students come from developing countries in africa and elsewhere to learn water conservation techniques. Drip irrigation, which brings water directly to plant roots, limiting evaporation, was a technique invented by Israeli scientists and engineers. organic farmers in Israel have been focusing on growing food in a balanced way that aims to replenish the soil. nutrient-rich soil, like water, is a scarce commodity in Israel, and these farmers pride themselves in “growing soil” as much as in growing food. organic farming traditionally focuses on sustaining nutrient levels in the soil, unlike conventional farming methods, which concentrate on maximizing yields, often at the expense of environmental interests. small-scale farmers are looking to native drought-resistant crops rather than genetic engineering in order to deal with the lack of water. recently, an organization was founded teaching Israeli and palestinian farmers seed-saving techniques to decrease dependence on imported, non-adapted hybrid seeds that need to be replaced each year. the organic consciousness is growing as people realize the necessity of sustainable practices. see www.jerusalemcityfarmers.org for a good collection of sources and information.
between the countries that share them. Can mutual environmental interests establish a lasting peace between two political entities? Gidon Bromberg of Friends of the Earth Middle East insists that the environment can only “help strengthen the peace process, but it won’t be the environment alone”—a framework for peace and cooperation between the two nations must exist first. For example, a strong partnership is
maintained between Israel, Jordan and Egypt in the management of the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea, built on the peace that exists between the participating nations. There, the countries share information and policies in working to prevent oil spills and other pollution problems, because the spot is an important tourist attraction as well as a unique ecosystem. Although relations between these countries are not always
warm, as political conflicts do occasionally erupt, Bromberg explains that the collaborative environmental initiatives “survive even through periods of renewed conflict because of the strong mutual interest.” As Israel and Lebanon work through the political fallout of their summer conflict, one would hope that shared environmental concerns can help bring them closer to a lasting peace upon which they could build future cooperation on environmental issues.
Tiferet Zimmerman-Kahan is a recent
college graduate committed to working in the environmental field.
Issue two 2007
PioneerinG a new PreSent
Abigail Janet and Sara Fried
the periphery takes center stage
The Negev by Sharone Bond
“The desert provides us with the best opportunity to begin again. This is a vital element of our renaissance in Israel. For it is in mastering nature that man learns to control himself. It is in this sense, more practical than mystic, that I define our Redemption on this land. Israel must continue to cultivate its nationality and to represent the Jewish people without renouncing its glorious past. It must earn this–which is no small task– a right that can only be acquired in the desert.”
Excerpt, Memoirs of David Ben-Gurion
art of the Negev and the Galilee are often referred to as Israel’s “periphery” areas in desperate need of new residents to strengthen existing communities and to create new ones. While the pioneers of BenGurion’s time established some communities in the Negev—as well as a world-renowned university—the majority of this region has remained undeveloped. Today, the Negev desert covers 60 percent of Israel, but is home to only 15 percent of its population, and many existing inland cities in the desert suffer economically. But with cities in the center of Israel becoming increasingly overcrowded, today’s new pioneers are making efforts to realize Ben-Gurion’s dream and create sustainable settlements throughout the Negev.
a “bluePrint” For a Greener neGe v Following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in Fall 2005, hundreds of families were relocated from Gaza to the Negev. “The Negev is at a critical turning point,” said Jewish National Fund President Ron Lauder. “Following ten years of dramatic population growth in Israel, all of the indicators— economic, demographic, and geographic —point to the necessity of developing the
Negev. The Jewish National Fund’s aim is to transform the Negev into a region where people choose to live and choose to work.” JNF’s Negev Blueprint project creates housing and the agricultural infrastructure to support new communities in the desert. The region’s brackish salt water is used to produce fresh-water fish and sweet tomatoes; greenhouses allow farmers to grow flowers that can be exported all over the world; and the JNF recently began bottling a premium olive oil produced with no fresh water. Even vineyards are in the works. Further south and more inland, however, fewer communities have been established, as the land is harder to irrigate and more mountainous. In the next ten years, Lauder says the JNF aims to bring more than 500,000 people to 100,000 housing sites, creating another 25 new communities. Toward this goal, the JNF has established a fund of $250 million to be used for the development of the Negev.
activiSm maKeS an imPact In September 2002, a group of young army veterans created an organization designed to invigorate peripheral communities in the North and South. Ayalim’s program—which combines settlement activities, community
service, and commercial entrepreneurship —enables student activists to transform the land using a hands-on approach. Working with the Jewish Agency and the Office of the Prime Minister, Ayalim (www. ayalim.org.il) promotes the establishment of villages for students and young entrepreneurs. In these villages, students become involved in an intensive experiential educational environment, learning what it takes to live in these oftenoverlooked areas. In an environment of social action, they discuss their new homes in terms of Zionist ideals, considering what it means to serve Israel and their new communities to the best of their abilities. Scholarships and subsidized housing further encourage activists to settle in the area permanently. Channeling the spirit of the halutzim who settled Israel in its early years, today’s settlers of the Negev are greening the desert, emerging as pioneers for a new century, and contributing to the practical redemption of Israel. Safe to say, Ben-Gurion would have approved.
Abigail Janet has a Masters degree in architecture from Savannah College of Ar t and Design and is currently working at Kushner studios in New York. Israel is her favorite pastime. Sara Fried is a contributing editor of PresenTense.
Issue two 2007
tapping into israel’s water tech
ebb anD Flow
f you ask Israelis what they see as the number one existential threat to the state, their response will increasingly be a nuclear Iran. On the heals of the recent UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, it seems the international community has come to agree with Israel’s assessment regarding the real dangers posed by Iranian nuclear weapons. Yet despite the proof provided by the vitriolic rhetoric spewed forth from the mouth of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, two of members of the Security Council —Russia and China—still pose obstacles to getting any sort of meaningful sanctions passed. With the rapid growth of their economy, the Chinese foresee only an increasing need for Middle Eastern oil in order to keep their development machine chugging along. As such, China was hesitant to impose too severe sanctions on Iran, one of its major energy suppliers. If Israel wants to “convince” China, an on-the-rise international power, that Iran’s threat needs to be taken seriously, it is becoming apparent that an emotional appeal regarding the dangers of Iranian political leadership will not do the trick. Rather, Israel should seek to undermine Iranian influence in China by
making the case that it can supply crucial elements to aid in the rapid and sustainable development of China’s economy A major way Israel is attempting to build up its economic ties and its political clout with China is through Israel’s expertise in water management and water conservation technology. Israel’s advancements in water technology have become a cornerstone of its bilateral foreign relations with China. An analysis by the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre in February 2005 states that China “has been eager to receive Israeli support—especially since providing adequate sustenance for over a billion inhabitants is a tremendous developmental challenge.” Further, in February 2006, China announced its goal to produce 5.5 billion cubic meters of desalinated water annually. In a December 2005 article entitled “Israel: Waterworks for the world?,” Business Week Online cited the Israeli water sector as a “world leader in desalination.” Desalination has existed for years, but is just beginning to be considered a serious potential method for producing enough potable water to satisfy consumer needs. In the past, desalination has been used mostly by oil-rich, water-poor
countries because the traditional evaporation method of desalination is incredibly inefficient, requiring enormous amounts of energy. Israeli engineers have attempted to supplement limited freshwater supplies through the development of negative osmosis technology. This process moves water through a permeable membrane while not allowing other substances, such as salt, to pass through. Negative-osmosis uses relatively less energy and is more cost-efficient than the alternate method still used by many of Israel’s oil-rich Arab neighbors. In the summer of 2005, Israel began using a new 70,000-square-meter desalination plant in Ashkelon, which owner VID Desalination Company Ltd. says is the largest and most advanced negative osmosis facility in the world. As China’s power in the international arena, and especially in the Middle East, continues to grow, Israel hopes that its assistance in such technological realms as water and agriculture (in addition to its now infamous sales of military weaponry) will help counter-balance China’s dependence on Arab and Persian oil. To advance its interests, the Israeli water industry formed a lobby called Waterfront in 2005. According to Business Week, the goal
Issue two 2007
as the Israeli water industry markets itself, many fast-growing countries, particularly in asia, look to Israel as a source of inspiration for their water-conservation techniques.
by Avital Aronowitz
of Waterfront’s chairman, Ori Yegev, is “to turn Israel into water technology’s equivalent of Silicon Valley, with $5 billion in waterrelated exports by the end of the decade.” As part of a response to Waterfront, the Israeli government developed a new research and development program called “Agamim 10.” Agamim was designed “to tap a window of opportunity and enable approximately 100 Israeli start-ups to leverage their advantages and become major players in the $400 billion annual global water market,” according to the Israeli Export and International Cooperation Institute. The government’s new program is set to allocate more than $7.5 million a year towards encouraging additional academic and industrial research and development in water technology. In addition, over the next three years, the Israeli government will spend $3.3 million to promote wastewater treatment technologies for agriculture and industry, and $6.7 million to encourage innovation in Israeli urban water infrastructure. Israel is also gearing up to showcase current and developing water technology at the worldwide conference WATEC (Water Technologies and Environmental Controls) in the fall of 2007.
Among the technologies that Israel will showcase at WATEC are its advancements in drip irrigation techniques. Guided by the Zionist principle to “make the desert bloom,” Israel, in its mission to cultivate the Negev, pioneered the system of drip irrigation—which transports water to individual plants directly, close to the ground. Using computers to monitor soil moisture and regulate dripping, this process exemplifies the Israeli fusion of information technology with water management. Israel has also become a world leader in recycling treated wastewater for crop irrigation. A July 2006 World Bank background paper reported that in 2003, half of Israel’s irrigation sector was using 65% of the country’s wastewater (it should be noted that there are health standards imposed on the quality and usage of the treated wastewater in crop irrigation). According to The Wall Street Transcript, the second largest water recycler in the world is Spain, with only 12% recycled. The Israeli government, academia and private sector have begun proactively to take advantage of their growing expertise in water management technology in an attempt to become major players in the field. At the moment, no single business or country controls
a dominant share of the global market. Israel and the international business community, however, see this power-vacuum quickly evaporating. As the Israeli water industry markets itself, many fast-growing countries, particularly in Asia, look to Israel as a source of inspiration for their water-conservation techniques. Israel aims to use this role not only to advance its economic ties, but also its political influence. In the past, water was the natural resource that was most sought after, and its limited availability was respected and feared. Although economic and human sustainability continue to depend heavily on water, the importance of this natural resource, as well as its finite availability, is often overshadowed in international dealings with the Middle East by the overpowering shine of “black gold.” Israel, however, is attempting to step out from under oil’s shadow, and bring the international community back to the day when water was king.
Leora Addison has a Master’s degree in International Relations concentrated in Middle East Studies and International Economics from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Issue two 2007
community supported agriculture Natasha Rosenstock
It’s good for the farmer because it puts local purchasing power behind his or her produce, and it’s good for you because healthy organic food is available at competitive prices.
by Avital Aronowitz
hen it comes to rules about food, Judaism has no shortage. So why are young Jews looking for more? Jewish scholarship waxes poetic on the types of permitted animals and their required level of fitness, but what about pesticides on fruits and vegetables? Does Jewish law include rules about how to grocery shop, or require you to get to know the farmer who sells you produce? “Eco-kashrut” has developed over the past 15 years as an intersection of traditional Jewish and environmental concerns (see sidebar). These include: caring for the earth (bal taschit), respecting animals (tza’ar ba’alei chayim), guarding one’s body (sh’mirat haguf), not oppressing workers and customers (oshek), and sharing with the poor (tzdakah). The “eco-kashrut” concept—which originated within the Jewish Renewal Movement—has evolved to such an extent, that now the Conservative Movement is considering an additional hechsher (kosher
certification) based on fair labor practices. The Reform Movement is also reviewing this possibility. This could lead to another layer of kashrut supervision, and eventually another concept of kashrut entirely. Yet many maintain that “eco-kashrut” is nothing new—rather, it embodies the continuation of Jewish tradition, which has always focused on how to live ethically. In 2004, Hazon, a Jewish environmental organization, created a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, Tuv Ha’Aretz, which organizers say will be running in 10 cities by the end of 2007. “In a CSA, a group of people come together and agree in advance that for a given growing season, they’ll buy food from a local organic farm,” said Hazon Communications Coordinator Ben Murane. “It’s good for the farmer because it puts local purchasing power behind his or her produce, and it’s good for you and your family because healthy organic food is available every week, at competitive prices.”
Murane says that people are drawn to CSAs for many reasons: a concern for social justice; a sense of community from picking up produce weekly with others; sharing recipes; participating in farm activities; and participating in learning about farming from a Jewish perspective. Lindsey Paige Savoie participates in a Hazon CSA hosted by Tifereth Israel, a Conservative congregation in Washington, D.C. Though not a congregation member, Savoie learned about the CSA from a neighbor. She says maintaining a personal relationship with a local farmer appeals to her. “He invited us to the farm a couple of times, not even to work, but just to show us around, get to know us, for us to get to know them,” she said. The farmer is Jewish, and trained in ritual slaughter. He is currently working to become certified to sell kosher turkeys and chickens. “What’s nice about Mike, our farmer, is he sends weekly e-mails with a list of what he
Issue two 2007
What is a co-op? a csa?
Co-op is a cooperative food store that is owned and operated by members. often prices are much lower than in regular grocery stores and a variety of fresh and organic foods are available. at most food co-ops, members are required to work shifts at least once per month, allowing the co-op to save money on labor. some co-ops require you to be a member in order to shop there. CsA Community supported Agriculture allows participants to purchase a yearly share in a local farm and receive fresh products from the farm, usually on a weekly basis. csas are beneficial because the farmers do not need to borrow money at the beginning of the growing season and they are sharing the risk of bad weather, etc. with the csa participants. participants often get to know the local farmers and visit the farms for programming.
is sending,” Savoie said. “If he sends a lot of one thing or something different, he’ll send recipes or links to articles about the food so he really gets you involved in it.” Nonetheless, Sovoie says joining a CSA is not for everyone. “Being a shareholder in a farm, you’re running a risk of whatever the farmer is risking. You’re investing in something that could or could not work, depending on the weather. You have to deal with that there are going to be losses. You have to get past that to appreciate the benefits. There are weeks when there isn’t any rain and he’ll tell us nothing was growing. Or too much rain at one time. You’re so used to going to the grocery store and getting whatever you want whenever you want.” However, she still recommends joining, “to appreciate how difficult it is to grow things, how it works, how much better fresh produce tastes; it’s not shipped in from Texas or California or Argentina; to support local farms because without them, all of our food is going to be grown in factories. It’s a really powerful message that we can grow these things, and can have food that tastes good and is grown here.” Savoie adds that by participating in the CSA, one practices many Jewish values, such as guarding and respecting the earth, and tikkun olam.
“All Jews should be doing this because we all care about the earth. Participating in a CSA is a great way to do that without changing our lifestyle.” While CSAs are taking off with some young Jews, food cooperatives are the places for many others to find fresh, eco-conscious groceries. Although exclusively Jewish coops are hard to find, many food co-ops sell kosher products, in addition to natural and organic items, at a reduced price for members. For Jews outside of cities with major Jewish populations, this can be a valuable resource. Jewish co-op members in some cities band together several times a year to order a large amount of kosher products for delivery. Even in a richly Jewish city like Philadelphia, which has kosher stores, the Weaver’s Way Co-op exists as a resource for challah, kosher poultry and Jewish holiday products. “You see members wishing each other gut yontif and gut shabbos,” said Jon McGoran, Weaver’s Way communications manager. In Brooklyn, members of the Park Slope Co-op are as culturally diverse as the neighborhood, and by no means exclusively Jewish. Yet the co-op has a Kosher Committee to handle the purchasing and repackaging of organic kosher chicken and other kosher foods that are bought in bulk, including nuts, dried fruits, spices and loose teas. The committee decides whether and how
to mark these products with a hechsher, or kosher seal. “A lot of people are buying kosher chicken who aren’t Jewish, or Jews who don’t keep kosher buy it,” said General Manager Joe Holtz. “It might be the one that looks the best that day.” Corrine Lang, an observant Jew and grandmother, has been a member of the Park Slope Co-op for 20 years, and is currently the head of food processing for the Kosher Committee, which meets once a month. “We’re giving them the information of what it says on the packaged item, and then people decide for themselves which hashgachas [rabbinic supervision] they want to use,” she said. “It’s very neutral in that way. We’re not deciding what’s kosher and what’s not kosher.” A co-op bulletin board displays updated information on the symbols for different hashgachas, including the name and number of the Kosher Committee’s supervising rabbi. “We’d like to bring in more kosher products like kosher cheeses,” Land said. “We have hopes but it moves slowly. I find that there’s a lot of red tape and bureaucracy. Everything has to go through the board.” However, if one goal of eco-conscious consumerism is to support local farmers, is a co-op or CSA your only option? Current consumer focus on farmers’ markets and local, family-run farms has led large retailers such as Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Food Lion to seek nearby suppliers. If an eco-conscious consumer can go to the nearest chain supermarket and buy affordable organic products and local produce, will there be a need for co-ops and CSAs in the future? Mary Keltner, a resident of rural Kentucky, used to belong to a food co-op. Every month, co-op members ordered organic products—produce and dairy, frozen and fresh —for delivery. Now that Kroger and WalMart are in town and offer organic products, the co-op is a thing of the past. “This was started because there wasn’t any health food store or organic food around. Now that has changed,” Keltner explained. Only time will tell if commercial grocers will stick to this buying habit or go back to their old ways. Perhaps the demand for organic products will mature—or perhaps it will fizzle out. But for now, the ideas are fresh—and hopefully the food is too.
Natasha Rosenstock is a writer living in Washington, DC.
Issue two 2007
the Death oF eco-KoSher
ethics on the table Leah Koenig
by Avital Aronowitz
magine a bag of potato chips. We’re talking salty, savory potato chips that beg for a sandwich and dill pickle. On the bottom-right corner of the package, a small OU symbol proclaims the chips kosher, meaning they were processed and packaged in accordance to Jewish dietary laws. What the bag doesn’t say is that the potatoes used to make these chips were grown using synthetic pesticides. They were picked by migrant Mexican workers who were paid less than a living wage. Once picked, they were fried in trans-fat oils which make chips taste great, but are linked to increased heart disease. So here’s the million-dollar question: are the chips actually kosher? Beginning with the Torah’s prohibitions on certain animals and eating customs (primarily in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14), and continuing with the deliberations of the Talmudic and post-Talmudic Rabbis, the Jewish tradition has a long history of figuring out what is “fit” (the literal meaning of kosher) for Jews to eat. More recently, some contemporary Jews have started asking if their food is not only kosher, but “eco-kosher”. Originally coined by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in the late 1970s, eco-kashrut asks the question: can food really be fit for Jewish consumption if it harms individual health, weakens community, or damages the earth? In his book, “Down to Earth Judaism: Food, Sex, Money, and the Rest of Life,” Rabbi Arthur Waskow writes, “What if, by eco-kosher we mean a broader sense of good everyday practice that draws on the wellsprings of Jewish wisdom and tradition about the relationships between human beings and the earth?” It is hard to imagine, given these criteria, that the bag of potato chips would be eco-kosher. Neither would eggs from hens raised in battery cages nor, perhaps less obviously,
organic string beans flown from Guatemala to New York and wrapped in three layers of plastic on top of a Styrofoam container. For some Jews, the ideas behind eco-kashrut has greatly influenced the way they think about and purchase food. In 2004, Hazon (the organization for which I work), created the first Jewish CommunitySupported Agriculture (CSA) program, called Tuv Ha’Aretz. CSA connects local, organic farmers with urban and suburban Jews who pre-purchase an entire season’s worth of the farmer’s produce. The farmer benefits from a stable market of pre-paid customers. The members benefit from weekly deliveries of organic, locally-grown produce delivered to their synagogue or JCC. Tuv Ha’Aretz, which will be in 10 communities across the country and Israel in 2007, builds upon the CSA model by using it as a platform for innovative education and community building around issues of
Why Join a co-op?
1 know where your fruits and vegetables come from and how they are grown. 2 buy nutritious food for much less than you’re spending now. 3 have access to foods from all over the world. 4 support local farmers. 5 help the environment and be an eater, rather than a passive consumer.
Issue two 2007
Why Join a csa?
1 it’s good for the farmer because it puts local purchasing power behind his or her produce. 2 it’s good for you and your family because healthy organic food is available consistently. 3 competitive prices. 4 reframes what it means to keep kosher in a more meaningful way. 5 provides an educational component between the community and farm, strengthening the community as a whole.
Why not Join a csa?
1 i would be committed every week and we may or may not be around enough to use all the produce. 2 i wouldn’t know in advance what i would be receiving and there may be weeks where we don’t like the majority of the items. 3 The quality of the produce is excellent, but i can get almost as fresh at a farmers’ market and i am only getting what i want and the amount that i need. 4 The need to pick up the share at a set time, and at a set location, which can sometimes be inconvenient (or i simply forget). 5 The feeling that i lose in spontaneity—for instance if i see an item at the store or farmer’s market that looks really good and want to try it—but i don’t because i have enough produce at home through the csa.
Jewish Telegraph Agency writer Sue Fishkoff quotes Orthodox Union Rabbi Menachem Genack, as saying “The Orthodox Union…ultimately decided that its mandate is simply to provide certification of what’s kosher according to halachah, not what’s ‘healthy’ or ‘ethical.” Coming from the leading Orthodox kosher certifier, the possibility for change within the system seems pretty dismal. But on a grassroots level, it is becoming increasingly possible for both traditionally observant, as well as non- or alternatively observant Jews to fully eat their values. In addition to Tuv Ha’Aretz, meat and poultry company, Wise Kosher, is “doubly certified,” both kosher and organic. New York City resident Simon Feil is creating a meat co-op, Kosher Conscience, which offers customers chicken and beef that was humanely raised and slaughtered by a certified kosher shochet (butcher). And the Conservative Movement recently announced its intention to create an ethical kosher certification that takes workers rights into account. Savage remains hopeful that the tide may shift for the Orthodox Union as well. “I think that in 50 years, it’s possible that an OU stamp of approval will not only mean that the animal was shechted in the proper way, but that it was treated ethically during its lifetime.” For the sake of the chickens, as well as the sake of Jewish tradition, I hope he’s right.
Leah Koenig works for Hazon (www.hazon.org), running their CommunitySuppor ted Agriculture Program, Tuv Ha’Aretz, and writing for their new blog, The Jew and the Carrot (www.jcarrot.org). She is also an assistant editor at Zeek (www.zeek.net).
health and sustainability. One explicit goal of Tuv Ha’Aretz is to encourage the Jewish community to think more deeply and broadly about what it means to keep kosher. That said, Hazon Executive Director Nigel Savage would not define the program as eco-kosher. Why? “I propose that we entirely stop using the word eco-kosher,” Savage argued at a recent Hazon-sponsored conference on the intersection of Jews, Food, and Contemporary Life. This was a gutsy statement, considering the conference participants included some of eco-kosher’s primary advocates. Adding the prefix “eco,” he suggested, inherently positions ethical food issues outside of the mainstream conversation around kashrut. Proponents of traditional kashrut, as well as the kashrut industry, can simply write off ethical considerations as not their concern. Savage suggests that Jews remove the notion that humane treatment of animals, locally-grown food, or fair labor practices are “eco,” and instead directly challenge the kashrut industry, since many of these underlying issues are central to Jewish tradition. But will the industry listen, or maintain that kashrut and social ethics are simply different categories?
adding the prefix “eco” inherently positions ethical food issues outside of the mainstream conversation around kashrut. proponents of traditional kashrut, as well as the kashrut industry, can simply write off ethical considerations as not of their concern.
Issue two 2007
ewish Farmer” might sound like the beginning of a joke, but what we forget is that ancient Israel was, by most accounts, a largely agrarian society. Biblical Judaism revolved around agriculture and the seasons, and most ancient Jews—our ancestors—were Jewish farmers. What we also don’t realize is that Jewish farming is back and in a big way. Like most comebacks, there’s been a re-branding. The difference with Jewish farming is that the changes are anything but cosmetic. Ancient Israelites were farmers of necessity; not so the Jewish farmers of today, most of whom chose farming as an expression of a particular set of values, a particularly post-modern luxury. Back in the Land of Israel, inhabitants were farmers who happened to be Jewish. In contrast, many of today’s farmers are Jews who choose that lifestyle as an expression of their religion. While their backgrounds might be as varied as the crops they grow, they share the search for greater meaning in their Judaism through farming. The sign at the entrance to “Adamah,” a Jewish Environmental Fellowship Center nestled in rural Connecticut, contains the following passage from the rabbinic literature knows as the Midrash: The Holy One, blessed be He, from the beginning of the creation of the world, was occupied before all else with planting. As it is written, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden” (Gen. 2:8) , and so shall you. When you first enter the land you should first occupy yourselves with nothing else but planting, as it is written, “And when you shall come into the land and plant any tree for eating.”
(Lev. 19:23) Leviticus Rabbah 25:1-2.
today’s jewish farmers Simon Feil
by Avital Aronowitz
“Adamah,” meaning “earth” in Hebrew, is housed at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, and serves as a training program for Jewish 20-somethings who want to integrate “organic farming, sustainable living, Jewish learning, teaching, and contemplative spiritual practice” into their daily lives. “At its core, Jewish farming is informed by the essential Torah principle which teaches that humans do not own the land but rather serve as stewards of God’s earth,” said Shamu Sadeh, Adamah’s program director. He is referring to two verses in Genesis, which state, “And the Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to till it and to tend it” (Gen. 2:15) and “God said to them…‘fill the Earth and subdue it and rule over…’” (Gen. 1:28). This last verse has been the cause of much discussion in the enviro-Jewish world, as the correct reading or translation of the italicized portion is debated. Does “subdue” imply an iron-fisted, might makes right attitude, or a more benevolent, holistic approach? Adamah reads responsibility and stewardship where a more traditional reading has rendered “subdue” with an almost military sensibility. For all of their Biblical exegesis and Midrashic quotes, few of the “Adamah-niks” (as they are affectionately called) come from traditionally observant backgrounds. “I grew up where being Jewish meant reciting Sabbath prayers, visiting Israel and being confirmed after many uninteresting years of Sunday School. It was only at the Adamah Fellowship when I first
internalized the potential relationship between myself [and] Judaism,” said Adamah alum Robert Friedman. This echoes what many Adamah-niks, even those from observant backgrounds, express. “Farming, especially in a Jewish context like Adamah, has helped me clarify how I practice Judaism,” said Rachel Krieger, who attended day school for most of her life. “Through farming I have definitely become more ‘observant’…. observant of Shabbat and chagim [holidays], yes. And also more observant of nature’s cycles and seasons, and of my own senses, too.” Farming has also helped her redefine her Jewish identity. “I have some friends who call themselves ‘Earthodox,’ and I can definitely identify with that.” A Jewish farmer with a different focus, Rabbi Shmuel Simenowitz of Sweet Whisper Farms, makes maple syrup in Vermont. A “postdenominational Torah Jew with chassidic sensibilities” dressed in full Chassidic garb, R’ Shmuel strikes a different chord with respect to his relationship to observance and farming. “We don’t merely live a Torah “lifestyle” which sounds like an L.A. lifestyle or a corporate lifestyle—our very lives are dedicated to Torah,” he said. “As farmers, we’re just much more aware of the cycles and rhythms of life. I appreciate shabbos more since the week involves physical and mental labor.” Like R’ Shmuel, today’s Jewish farmers come to till their soil from the entire spectrum of Judaism, to find meaning and peace from working the land. And as Mr. Sadeh explains, “to work with the earth, with God—the creative force of the universe—is at once humbling and awe inspiring.” How many of us can say that about our daily routines?
Simon Feil is an actor/educator who has created Kosher Conscience, an ethical kosher meat co-op dedicated to infusing the laws of kashrut with the values of tsar baalei chayim, the prohibition of causing an animal pain.
Issue two 2007
it’s not easy being green
the new york City temperature dipped to 10 degrees. My son, daughter and I bundled out the door for the walk to school. “you’re a fanatic,” a neighbor admonished. living an environmentally ethical life feels fanatical, or, you could say, a little orthodox. that’s because halacha, the term used to refer to Jewish oral or traditional law, and sustainable living have a lot in common. a relational psychoanalytic perspective—one that considers the connections between people to be the building blocks of psychological organization—would view both halacha and “green living” as interpersonal strategies to build a better world. people have a natural drive to connect with god, or to a spirituality that can contain their emergent identities. halacha can provide a means of expressing that drive, and fosters such a bond. people also have a natural drive to connect to the earth, a life force that contains humanity’s destiny. living green can give expression to that drive by fulfilling a desire for unity with nature. My colleague David yammer, a psychologist at a new york City day school, describes how halachic living can imply “an existential experience of truth.” “people look for a system to help them feel closer to that truth, closer to god, and to spirituality through behaviors,” he said. when I encounter people drawn to green living, I note that they seek environmental harmony’s larger truth. yammer adds that children are ready to accept god, to an experience beyond themselves. similarly, children also have a natural intuition towards stewardship of the earth—but then society intervenes. peer pressure exerts a tremendous pull toward secular and materialistic living. the stewards of the earth become the caretakers of merchandising. Consumerism that passes for authentic living eschews the discomforts that typically build character. religious observance can reconnect a person to god. environmental practice repairs the human bond to nature’s spirituality.
cuisine With a conscience
people many things into account when choosing a place to eat. they consider a restaurant’s ambiance, the quality of food served and the amount of money entrées cost. But some people in Israel now consider more than just aesthetics when choosing a place to eat, and a new social seal of approval—the tav Chevrati, a mark of socially just kashrut—helps them to do so. those who look for the tav think about waitresses and busboys in Israel, who barely eke out a living despite working full days. they might also consider the fact that it has become normative practice for Israeli employers, particularly in the country’s foodservice industry, to pay workers less than minimum wage while the government turns a blind eye, assigning only 22 supervisors nationwide to uphold the rights of millions of workers. others who seek the tav might keep in mind friends who are disabled, since most Israeli eating establishments lack ramps, wide entranceways and other forms of accessibility. I picture the 700,000 or so Israelis with some type of disability or injury, and can’t help wondering where they go when they want a cup of coffee or a night on the town. Created less than three years ago, the tav is an initiative of the Israeli-based non-profit Bema’aglei tzedek, “Circles of Justice.” the certification—which is distributed to restaurants whether or not they are kosher in the traditional sense— expands the classical definition of kashrut to include ethical treatment of workers and a concern for people with disabilities. In addition to average restaurant-goers who insist that their favorite haunts adopt socially and economically responsible policies, the tav derives its strength from Bema’aglei tzedek’s everwidening grassroots network of volunteers. every two to three weeks, more than 30 volunteer mashgichim, supervisors, make the rounds to ensure that tav-certified restaurants continue to meet the organization’s standards. originally focused on Jerusalem, the tav initiative has expanded its reach to other major urban centers and kibbutzim throughout the country. Currently, there are close to 250 eating establishments that boast a tav seal. By creating the tav Chevrati certification, Bema’aglei tzedek challenges Israelis to re-imagine and refashion Israeli society on the principles of tzedek (social justice) in addition to those of tzedaka (charity). Currently, Israel prides itself on having more welfarerelated non-profits per capita than most countries in the western world. while this fact could be interpreted as a testament to the charitable spirit—the tzedaka— of private Israeli citizens, it simultaneously implicates the state of Israel with a lack of economic and social justice - tzedek. Indeed, the more a given society is built on foundations of tzedek—i.e. equitable opportunities for housing, employment and education – the less its inhabitants require acts of tzedaka. By compelling restaurant proprietors to respect the rights of their workers and the dignity of disabled individuals, the tav Chevrati hopes to shift the balance in Israeli society away from a dependence on tzedaka to a demand for tzedek. for more information about Bema’aglei tzedek and a complete listing of the restaurants with the tav Chevrati check out their website: www.mtzedek.org.il Dyonna ginsburg upon completing her B.a. in political science at Columbia university, Dyonna ginsburg made aliyah five years ago. she is currently living in Jerusalem and works in the field of nonprofit administration and fundraising, having recently finished an M.a. in Jewish education at hebrew university.
and both halacha and environmental practice require living with limits, accepting constraint and valuing the larger communal good more than the individual unit of the self. In halachic life, shared observance helps people rediscover and commit to spirituality. In green living, people also need communal practices to remain intimate with the environment. “halachic living is a dance, finding mutuality through the choice to be bound by limits,” yammer said. sustainability also dances between limits and possibility, between constraints and expanse. “It is hard to be modern and halachic.” It is likewise hard to be modern and green. lights must be turned off. special bulbs have to be purchased from out-of-theway vendors. public transportation does not operate on one’s personal clock. organic produce deliveries often bear weeks of kale and pears. If the secular world finds modern orthodoxy peculiar, how might it react to individuals who use bamboo fiber sheets, or who don’t use air conditioning—ever? yet the more scientists discover about the urgent threat of global warming, the more our future rests in the shared observances of sustainable living. that morning when my children and I walked to school, the brisk wind bit our faces. a gust grabbed my daughter’s scarf and unwound it up into the sky. we grabbed the tassels. “Come back!” we encouraged. It seemed so natural, appropriately cold, and hopeful. when they arrived at school that day, the children leapt up the steps, their legs strong from all the walking, their faces ruddy. yes, I thought, hope is green. susan Bodnar runs a private practice in psychology and psychoanalysis; is an adjunct faculty member at teachers College, Columbia university; works with the william alanson white Institute, and the stephen Mitchell relational Center; and is assistant editor at psychoanalytic Dialogues.
not Just kosher, kosher Justice
the Conservative Movement of Judaism is working to create a “tsedek hechsher”—a social justice kashrut certification. such a hechsher will ensure that, in addition to providing food that is certified as kosher, kosher food and meat processors are also protecting their workers’ health, safety and security. In order to earn the certification, companies will have to prove that they are providing employees effective training and instruction, regular on-the-job support, bilingual instruction when necessary, and maintaining safe working conditions. the need for “tsedek hechsher” became clear after a May 2006 article in The Forward reported hazardous working conditions at agriprocessors, Inc. in postville, Iowa. this was not the first time public attention was drawn to agriprocessors; in february 2005, peta (people for the ethical treatment of animals) claimed to have video footage of cruel and inhumane slaughters at agriprocessors including practices that were not only illegal, but also against the rules of processing kosher meat. following the Forward article, the united synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the rabbinical assembly sent a commission to tour the plant. the commission found serious problems, including: insufficient training and safety procedures, the use of possibly unsafe chemicals, and unclean lunch areas for employees. agriprocessors is the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the u.s. Its alleged impingement on workers’ rights not only violates Jewish law and values, but also jeopardizes kosher meat supply. while the commission reports that it is helping to implement reform at agriprocessors, the Conservative Movement’s “tsedek hechsher” initiative aims to prevent similar troubles in the future. Miriam r. Haier
By Yehuda M. Hausman
and pharaoh’s heart was hardened: let every single man take up his staff, and stretch out his hand upon the waters, upon their streams, and upon their rivers, upon their ponds, and upon all their gatherings of water, that they may become free and democratic, like america. let freedom ring throughout the land, that it be on every tree and every stone. so every fish may live and every frog might leap with hope, to hop in every house, and in every bedchamber, upon every bed, every oven, and in all kneading trays. so that a great sweetness may rise up and waft through the land of Babel. and pharaoh’s heart was hardened: If you are not with us you are against us. lice must live throughout the land. on every hair and piece of skin, on every beast and every man, let freedom ring. let freedom ring throughout the land. and pharaoh pointed to the ground: we must deal wisely with our enemies. let swarms of insects fill the sands, the houses of government, the homes of upstanding citizens. we shall overcome. we shall overcome the wilderness men.
that night pharaoh had a vision: pestilence deserves a better chance, an opportunity to live peacefully with all creatures. let pestilence coexist with the camel, the cow, the horse, the sheep and donkey, that every creature may live peacefully on my ranch. I believe in security, security for boils.... I believe in opportunity, equal opportunity for hail. let bombs of hail rain down from the sky. I command all grasses to stand beneath the rain, all servants and livestock be left out in the open, that they may be struck by shock awe and thunder. then pharaoh declared: I know we have made mistakes. Miscalculations. too much rain and thunder. But we must not let our soldiers go. what we need are locusts. they shall invade the country instead, every territory therein in thick multitudes. let no grass or shrub or tree remain, no place to hide for the wilderness men, no fruit or fowl for them to eat. let darkness reign throughout Babel. and pharaoh’s heart was very hard: we need more soldiers, we need outstanding citizens. It is the highest sacrifice. let every firstborn be conscripted. let them find the wilderness men, that we may eat the bread of freedom. let freedom ring. let freedom ring throughout the land.
Issue two 2007
a year in Service
a new rite of passage
hink of the one question the largest number of self-identifying Jews would answer in the affirmative. “Do you believe in divine revelation at Sinai?” is certainly not near the top of the list. A more likely question might be, “Have you been bar/bat mitzvahed?” Thanks to birthright israel and Russian aliyah, “Have you ever visited Israel?” has certainly moved up the ranks recently, but is a ridiculous question for the six million Jews who currently live in Israel. But what if we asked about the desire to do good in the world? High esteem for social service may be one of the most virtuous common denominators among the Jewish people. And for a people so plagued by dichotomy—secular vs. religious, Diaspora vs. Israel, particularism vs. universalism—a shared dedication to social service may be the key to enhancing the strength and relevance of Jewish peoplehood. Imagine if Jewish communities around the world shared the expectation that, following the completion of high school or the equivalent, Jewish youth across all denominations and religious backgrounds would spend a year engaged in social service. At the age when youth are first empowered to demonstrate their national citizenship through voting or military service, Jewish youth would be expected to affirm their Jewish citizenship by positively contributing to communities of their choosing. This Jewish Year in Service (YIS) would constitute a new rite of passage—and the potential for its acceptance by the community can be seen in the revolutionary power of the bar/bat mitzvah. The bar mitzvah, in its ancient form, was composed of blessings said by a father to formally abdicate responsibility for a son’s fulfillment of the commandments. Beginning the Middle Ages, boys began to mark the bar mitzvah around the age of thirteen by reading from the Torah in front of the congregation. In the early 20th century, Reconstructionist Jews began to include girls in the rite of passage in response to the growth of egalitarian consciousness within broader society and among certain Jewish communities. The bat mitzvah, subsequently, has spread throughout Jewish denominations, including those that do not consider themselves egalitarian. Thus, there is a
are loath to forestall their progress in academic fields may conduct research in areas with direct social application, such as HIV or depression. Jewish high school graduates (particularly Israelis) who already travel to the developing world in parts of South America and Asia after graduation, could perform service in these locations. Because YIS allows communities to define service for themselves, it would create a platform for globally-minded, unaffiliated young Jews to explore the non-Jewish world through the lens of their Jewish identity, while not excluding Jews from traditionally observant communities. Beyond strengthening Jewish peoplehood, social service provides intrinsic value for the global community and the individual. Imagine the social impact of tens of thousands of high school graduates spending an entire year dedicated to service. For the individual, the experience would facilitate personal growth, enhance social consciousness, and help develop useful professional skills. Additionally, this movement of tens of thousands of young Jews around the world could enhance the perception of Jews in the non-Jewish world. The potential impact of the YIS concept, however, does not answer the obvious question: How can such a cultural transformation be accomplished? As we’ve seen, the bar mitzvah model for change provides precedent, but non-Jewish movements can serve as models as well. The Quaker community is well respected for its ethic of social service, and the and the Mormon community claims to currently have more than 40,000 19-26- year-olds serving in some 330 missions around the world. Unlike centrally organized programs, the YIS challenge is not to coordinate the litany of Jewish organizations dedicated to social service, but to diffuse the concept of a year of social service across the network of Jewish people. However, the organized Jewish community is not necessarily supportive of this proposal. When asked about the idea, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, principal of Ramaz, the Orthodox day school on the affluent Upper East Side of New York, was critical, suggesting that high school graduates “should be completing their education and then devoting themselves
Imagine the social impact of tens of thousands of high school graduates spending an entire year dedicated to service.
compelling precedent for innovating customs, including those based on Jewish law, in the face of novel circumstances. Unlike contemporary outreach initiatives practiced by Chabad and birthright israel, YIS is not intended to bring unaffiliated Jews “back into the fold” of religious or Zionist tradition. Quite the opposite, YIS provides common ground on which to renovate the concept of Jewish peoplehood. The initiative allows for the inclusion of vastly different Jewish communities by broadly defining the concept of service. Students who to chesed. If the completion of that education involves a year or two of study at a Torah institution in Israel, so much the better. But, if not, they should get on with their university studies.” Noga Brenner Samia, executive director of the advocacy group Kol Dor, explained some of the critical responses she heard while campaigning to establish the Hebrew month of Cheshvan as a Jewish month of social action: “Some people said ‘we do social action all year.’ Others said ‘Why one month? It needs to be one day.’” It is important to consider such challenges while developing the YIS idea.
presentenseMagaZIne.org paraDIgM shIft
Issue two 2007
Would a year of service take away from an individual’s commitment to his or her Jewish community? Would forestalling fulltime Torah learning, academic studies, and professional engagements inhibit the spiritual, intellectual, and material development of the Jewish nation? Many religious communities send children to study Torah full-time in Israel after high school—could dedication to Torah study be combined with social service? Israelis must serve in the Israeli military after high school—could military service be considered a form of social service? The range of questions reflects the variety of communities that YIS could potentially reach and the paradigm shift that YIS represents. But there is reason to believe that this idea will take hold. Social service programming is emerging as the next major theme in the Jewish philanthropy world, and resources are on the rise. In December of 2006, through the new Center for Leadership Initiatives, the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation organized the Leading Up North winter break trip for 500 young Jews to rebuild northern Israel, in order to “reduce the distance between Israel and the Diaspora and to model global Jewish community.” One of Leading Up North’s trip organizers was the Jewish Coalition for Service. And, in June of 2006, Tel Aviv University’s School of Government and Policy organized a brainstorming workshop with a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of Jewish leaders from the international development world to launch their Tikkun Olam Project, which, according to the subsequent policy paper, “seeks to significantly increase Jewish involvement in humanitarian and development assistance, making it a central component of Jewish identity and Israel-world Jewry relations.” As a quantitative indicator, the budget of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the largest Jewish international development organization, has grown from $2.1 million in 1998 to approximately $22.5 million in 2006. As a new rite of passage, the Year in Service offers a badly-needed mechanism for affirming diverse forms of Jewish citizenship, connecting Jews with other Jews and with the tradition of service, while simultaneously enhancing the relevance of the Jewish people for the world. Will you encourage your peers and children to participate?
Seth Garz can be found riding his bike through the streets of Tel Aviv when he is not consulting on China-related business and cultural projects.
Issue two 2007
clearinG a Path
leading up north Eli Valley
Issue two 2007
Immediately following the lebanon-Israel war in the summer of 2006, human rights groups and international aid agencies converged on northern Israel to aid communities that had been subject to crimes against humanity. the university of California at Berkeley sent a contingent of more than 500 human rights activists to renovate bomb shelters and uproot dead trees. progressive luminaries such as tony Judt and noam Chomsky marched hand-in-hand down the main thoroughfare in Metula, chanting “no more imperialism! Iran and syria out of lebanon!” before helping to dismantle undetonated bombs throughout northern Israel. Kofi annan chained himself to a tree on a hill overlooking Kiryat shemona, vocally defying the “party of god” to stop committing crimes against humanity.
Issue two 2007
Just kidding! actually, not a single international human rights group came to Israel’s aid during or after the war crimes perpetrated by hizbullah. Instead came a different kind of aid: over the course of two weeks, 500 young Diaspora Jews participated in this winter’s leading up north service initiative, to help heal an area ravaged by war. one of the founding myths of Zionism was that Israel would not only be a safe haven for Jews, but that world Jewry could rely on Israel to come to its rescue. It went without saying that Israelis would be able to take care of themselves without physical assistance from the Diaspora untermenschen that Zion had come to replace. But with leading up north, Israel wasn’t aiding world Jewry; world Jewry crossed the Mediterranean to assist Israel.
Issue two 2007
true, participants were not defusing bombs or paratrooping behind enemy lines. and the program did not transform the north into a utopian dreamscape. Indeed, some critics groused that the program’s cost of $1.5 million, funded by the Charles & lynn schusterman family foundation, could have been better spent in more direct aid to northern Israeli communities. But the criticism misses the point: the purpose of leading up north was to instill a tactile sense of shared experience and responsibility between Jews in a trying period of Israeli—and, by extension, Jewish—history. when Israelis suffer, all Jews suffer and it was the collective responsibility to help heal the trauma. perhaps the most important contribution of leading up north was the strengthening of the implicit bond between Diaspora Jews and Israel, through the magic ingredient of service. leading up north participants spent their days underground, in dilapidated bomb shelters, and on the ground, amid the roots of trees in burnt-out forests. through service, they literally burrowed into the ground of Israel—and, one might argue, into the substrata of Jewish history and experience—to connect to a familiar and yet not-too-familiar society that had been traumatized by war.
Eli Valley is the author of The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe. He is currently finishing his first novel.
Issue two 2007
unDer the hammer anD SicKle
kosher in the ussr
y good friend Boris knows his Soviet history inside out. Whenever he travels back to the former Soviet Union where he was born, he catches up on months of deprivation of what he holds to be “proper” culture by attending the theater, concerts and ballets night after night. When his visit in his native country is finished, he returns to his new home in Amsterdam with a suitcase stuffed with Russian literature and music, because only Russian literature and music meet his standards of “decent cultural productions.” The other half of his suitcase is filled with Russian delicacies such as caviar and cuttle fish. Boris would never dream of marrying a Gentile girl and the vast majority of his friends are Jewish. He attends shul on practically all Jewish holidays. Yet, he does not believe God exists and because he believes in the truths of astrology, makes his life decisions based on the position of the stars. But Boris is not alone in his beliefs—in fact, it seems that many Russian Jews, who celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah, and reject even the basics of Jewish dietary laws eating pork and cuttle fish, are quite comfortable in their mode of Jewish life. But how did that come about? In her new book, Anna Sternshis, a
Moscow-born professor of Yiddish at the University of Toronto, tries to analyze the Soviet Jewish culture that formed after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The Soviet government that came to power enacted policies to eliminate perceived injustices from the tsarist regime and to turn its multiethnic empire into a Soviet nation. Soviet Jews were among the biggest beneficiaries of these new policies. Old pre-revolutionary laws that restricted Jews’ mobility and access to education were eliminated; this change caused a social revolution, with Jews migrating, both physically and metaphorically, to the centers of power in the cities. At the same time, the government engaged in a cultural revolution to create a new kind of Soviet Jew. In her new book, Shternshis tries to uncover the results of this social and cultural revolution. In more than 100 in-depth interviews on three continents, conducted over four years, Shternsis tried to determine what being Jewish meant to those who grew up in the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks were brazen when it came to agitating against religion, but also used religion when it suited their ideological goals. On Passover, Jews would gather to read “red Haggadahs” in which the traditional themes of slavery and freedom would be applied to the liberation from tsarist rule: “This year a revolution here; next year—a world revolution!” As Shternshis argues, the Bolsheviks essentially set up a parallel shtetl that preserved Jewish identity while convincing Jews that religious belief was not essential to it. Rather than having Jewish children taught in Russian, authorities insisted that they attend special Yiddish-language schools. Hundreds of synagogues were shut down, many of them transformed into clubhouses where former congregants were inculcated with a new set of beliefs. Local and visiting theatrical performances became the center of rural Jewish life; among the odder practices Shternshis describes were elaborate mock trials in which everything from literary heroes to Jewish holidays (the Sabbath, Yom Kippur) were put on the stand.
SoVIET AND KoSHER: JEWISH PoPuLAR CuLTuRE IN THE SoVIET uNIoN, 1923–1939 by Anna Shternshis 252 PP, Indiana University Press, $24.95, 2006.
Many russian Jews, who celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah, and reject even the basics of Jewish dietary laws eating pork and cuttle fish, are quite comfortable in their mode of Jewish life.
Issue two 2007
By 1939, the Sovietization of the Jews was considered complete and the cultural campaigns were on the decline. The changes within the Jewish community were astonishing: urban centers now accounted for 86.9 percent of the historically provincial community. From just 26 percent of Jews declaring Russian to be their mother tongue in 1926, the number had grown to 54 percent. But as Shternshis points out, not all cultural programs worked as planned; indeed, much of the Bolshevik propaganda was interpreted satirically, or plundered for information about the religion it criticized. By combining careful readings of newspapers, leaflets, songs and scripts with interviews of 225 people born between 1906 and 1930, Shternshis clearly shows how the reception of Soviet propaganda differed from the intended purpose. In the end, the harnessing of Jewish ritual for Soviet ends seems to have backfired. Regardless of the anti-religious message Soviet efforts attempted to communicate, the fact that they were still geared toward a Jewish
audience helped to keep a Jewish identity intact in traditionally religious areas. The hundreds of thousands of Jews flocking to the cities had to cobble together an identity by other means. As the younger generation rejected their parents’ lifestyle and insisted, almost defiantly, on speaking Russian, their sources of information about Jewish culture dwindled to the output of sympathetic propaganda about Jews—films, books, songs—that was aimed at reducing anti-Semitism. Paradoxically, as Shternshis demonstrates in one of her more provocative arguments, it was largely through this propaganda directed at Gentiles that many urban Jews re-conceptualized their secular Soviet Jewish identity. Which brings us back to Boris and his cuttle fish who, in spite of the Soviets’ best efforts, would still never marry a non-Jewish girl.
Rachel Levy is a freelance journalist and editor for publications in Holland, America, and Israel.
For Further re aDinG
the fierce provocations of the Jewish Defense League (JDL). Halevi’s tale sifts through his motivations in recounting the appeals of Rabbi Meir Kahane, and describing how he became a part of the JDL—and why he left. The author, who became an activist in the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry while just a boy living in Brooklyn, resembled many 1960s radicals, shifting restlessly as the decade progressed. Even as he questions his violent past, the sharpness of Halevi’s words cut deeply, fashioning a true examination of his place in the modern world.
PIoNEER JEWS: A NEW LIFE IN THE FAR WEST by Harriet and Fred Rochlin 272 PP, Houghton Mif flin, $30, 2000.
Confronting extreme weather was just the start of it—Jewish pioneers in the West were met with hardships unknown and unimagined by their European cousins and their brethren in crowded East Coast cities. Hostile Native Americans and the rigors of frontier life turned these pioneers into tough Jews. And still, removed from Old World rituals and biases, many settlers found success, starting dry-goods companies and blue-jeans empires. In this book, Harriet and Fred Rochlin give us wonderful, insightful anecdotes about the difficulties these trailblazers faced, like Denver couples who had to plan their weddings far in advance—in order to guarantee use of the city’s single chuppah.
EMMA LAZARuS: SELECTED PoEMS AND oTHER WRITINGS by Emma Lazarus 364 PP, Broadview Press, $21.95, 2002.
THE DREAM oF THE PoEM: HEBREW PoETRY FRoM MuSLIM AND CHRISTIAN SPAIN, 950-1492 by Peter Cole 576 PP, Princeton University Press, $24.95, 2007. The Dream of the Poem gives English-speakers a unique oppor tunity to explore Sephardic poetr y written in medieval Spain. The anthology includes about four hundred poems by fifty-four authors, making it an essential source of Hebrew literature and Jewish histor y. Translated, edited and introduced by Peter Cole, the volume also features an historical introduction, author biographies and notes. The full original poems in Hebrew can be found on the Princeton University Press website, press.princeton.edu. MEMoIRS oF A JEWISH ExTREMIST: AN AMERICAN SToRY by Yossi Klein Halevi 248 PP, Little Brown, $22.95, 1995.
Lazarus is perennially known as the author of the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But the forceful humanism of those bold lines also infuses the rest of her work. Born to an assimilated family in 1849, her discovery of Jewish history and literature— spurred by her activism on behalf of Russian refugees—earned Lazarus her place as the first important American Jewish poet. The poems in Songs of a Semite passionately defend the dignity of an oppressed people, presenting America as the land of Jewish freedom: in “1492,” she links the expulsion from Spain with the discovery of the New World, where “Falls each ancient barrier that the art / Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear / Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!”
In this straightforward autobiography, journalist Yossi Klein Halevi brings to life the turbulent undercurrents sweeping young Jews to the fringe in post-Holocaust America. Beset by mirages of ‘Holocausts-on-the-verge,’ searching for a spiritual home in a changing world, Halevi channels his adolescent rage into
Issue two 2007
THE BooK oF JuDITH JuDITH BEHEADING HoLoFERNES PAINTING BY CARAVAGGIo
A Jewish contemporary of Boadicea, Judith was best-known for wreaking havoc on the enemies of the Jews—specifically, the invading general Holofernes, who quite literally loses his head in her honeytrap. Don’t be deterred by words like epigrapha and pseudopigrapha: The Book of Judith is a gripping read for all post-feminist Jewish women, men, and anyone seeking a good dose of in-yourface heroism. Want to save the kingdom of Judea? Check her out.
TouGH JEWS: FATHERS, SoNS, AND GANGSTER DREAMS by Rich Cohen 304 PP, Random House, $13.95, 1999.
WITNESS by Ruth Gruber 288 PP, Schocken, $27.50, 2007.
Meyer Lansky. Bugsy Siegel. Louis Lepke, the self-effacing mastermind of Murder, Inc. Red Levine, the Orthodox hit man who refused to kill on the Sabbath. Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, who looked like a mama’s boy but once buried a rival alive. These are the looming figures of the Jewish mob, and Rich Cohen traces their steps from the candy stores of Brownsville to the clubhouses of the Lower East Side. Cohen gleans his sharply witty stories from research, government documents, and mostly, oral histories—his father grew up on New York City streets where Jewish gangsters controlled the neighborhoods with muscle and moxie. You can practically hear the rattle of gunfire and screeching tires.
When we say tough, we mean gutsy. A force of nature. In Witness, Ruth Gruber shows us not only her own daring adventures, but also new insights into some of the most dramatic events of the last century. Among the photographs and essays included are Gruber’s account of Exodus, the ship which, in 1947, tried to deliver 4,500 Jewish refugees—including 600 orphans to Israel. When it was attacked by five British destroyers and a cruiser, the Exodus refugees fought back with potatoes, sticks, and cans of kosher meat to plant their feet on Israel’s soil. More than tough—that’s simply inspiring.
Rebecca Bebe Leicht
Issue two 2007
curb your iDentity
David is still probably best known for his work as the driving force behind the hit series Seinfeld, which dominated American popculture in the mid-’90s. Seinfeld’s narrative revolved around the Jewish comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his three purportedly non-Jewish but very Jewish-like friends. While in its beginnings, Seinfeld skirted the issue of its obvious Jewishness, in its later (and better) seasons, the show dealt with such Jewishly-inflected themes as shiksappeal, the laws of kashrut (in order to get back at a kosher-keeping woman, George feeds her lobster), and, of course, the age-old question of what to do when everyone other than your Jewish self is celebrating Christmas (“A festivus for the rest of us”). by Avital Aronowitz David did not truly peak, however, either creatively or in merican Jews have been his exploration of Jewish themes, until his exploring different modes creation of the magnificent HBO series Curb of interaction with their Your Enthusiasm, in which David plays a gentile neighbors since the character—Larry David—strikingly similar establishment of the Republic. Historians to David himself. But even Curb, which goes and philosophers, scholars and critics have so much further than Seinfeld in directly pontificated on the meaning of American addressing themes of Jewishness, only truly Judaism practically since the moment the dealt with the issue of being an American first Jews landed in New Amsterdam, more Jew recently. In the fifth season of Curb, than 350 years ago. the startled viewer is treated to such Jewish It should come of no surprise then, that wisdom as a lecture on shkias hachamah—the one of our greatest contemporary thinkers setting of the sun, after which, according to would focus on the question of American the Rabbinic experts who wrote the episode Jewish identity. I am speaking, of course, of (and other, Talmudic Rabbis), a man may
larry david’s laundry
In the season finale, David finds out that he may not be Jewish after all. In a typically hilarious arc, David discovers that he’s been adopted, and that his birth parents, whom he assumed were Brooklyn Jews named Cohen, are actually Arizona WASPS named Kan. David’s realization causes him to experience a startling transformation. All his neuroses fall away like water from Teflon. Formerly a shabbily dresser, he takes to wearing stiff suits covering bright, friendly vests. Indeed,
CuRB YouR ENTHuSIASM Executive Producer Larry David HBO
the man’s entire personality changes. Formerly a whining crank, David becomes an indefatigably cheerful man. Watching the clearly Jewish man lose himself in the revelry—or, to be blunt, the utter carelessness that the true Jew can never experience—is both fantastic and somehow depressing. Fantastic, because David, who so clearly is a Jew (and discovers at the end of the season that he has been a Jew all along), so wants, so needs this acceptance into a community he never truly knew he missed until he had the chance to experience it. Depressing, for the same reason: David has no possibility of attaining this revelry as a Jew, and he knows it. After David learns he really is Jewish, the real David kills the fictional David off. He is sent to a heaven in which all of the
It should come of no surprise then, that one of our greatest contemporary thinkers would focus on the question of american Jewish identity. I am speaking, of course, of the comedian larry David.
the comedian Larry David. David has recently, in his own style—both highly imitated and decidedly inimitable—created works that have probed incessantly at these questions.
not be alone with a woman who is not his wife. There is also a recitation of the laws of kashrut, and an explanation of how to make vessels pure (bury them in dirt).
characters—both the actors themselves and the characters they play—are Jews. Everyone from Marilyn Monroe (who famously had a Reform conversion; if David’s heaven is
Issue two 2007
Jewish, it isn’t Orthodox) to his nagging Jewish mother is there to meet him. That all of the characters in David’s heaven are Jewish is never explicitly mentioned, but it is surely more than coincidence. David’s character, who tried so hard to live the life of the American and discard the life of the Jew, is hounded by his Jewishness not simply in life, but also in death. Indeed, when he shows up to the pearly gates, he is met by two men, his guardian angels, played by Dustin Hoffman and Sacha Baron Cohen. In a sense, these two men, Hoffman and Cohen, represent the fading present and the rising future of Jewish comedy. Both Hoffman and Cohen can and should be seen as Everymen. Hoffman has played the most universal of roles: from Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate to Willy Loman in Death
of a Salesman. For his part, Cohen literally morphs himself into various alter-egos: the gay Austrian; the British pseudo-gangsta; the Kazakh reporter. But both, just as inarguably, are fundamentally Jewish. Hoffman’s role of Bernie Focker in Meet the Parents is that of the ultimate stereotypical Jew: wimpy, sex-starved, ridiculously analytical and emotionally an open book. Cohen, even given the antiSemitic swagger of his character Borat, is clearly obsessed with Judaism. David’s choice, then, of the two landsmen as his guides to the Jewish heaven was particularly apt. Both represent everything they want to be, that they superbly present themselves as being, but that they ultimately cannot let themselves become. The simple fact of their own Jewish identity disallows it. Of course, the shared religious and
cultural identity of the three men is not something that is imposed externally. David is the creator of his own show—he doesn’t need to make his character Jewish. Except, of course, he does. Just as Seinfeld would have been a failure had its star ignored his Jewishness, David realizes that his creation is believable and funny because of his Jewish baggage. Without the frenzied and neurotic history of his religion, his comedic persona would ring false. True, David will always be the neurotic outsider. But it is not the goyim who ultimately reject him. It is David himself.
Bezalel Stern is a freelance writer and journalist based in New York. In his spare time, he studies law at Columbia University.
art comes home
rt-house films. Foreign films. Festival films. No-budget films that deal with reality, real people, real issues. We always go see them, scared to find out which of two possible genres it will reflect: boring and pretentious, or smart and to the point? When you think about it, there’s nothing hard about making a movie today: anyone with a camera and a computer can gather a few friends, shoot them in the neighborhood and present the result as an
WHAT A WoNDERFuL PLACE by Eyal Halfon 104 min, 2005
...a reality check on everyday life away from the headlines.
“independent movie about what it’s really like.” Whether it matters to the viewer, though, is another question. Those movies, while pertinent to the filmmaker, might be vacuous to a broader audience. Worse, they add to the pool of so-called artsy movies, in which the few actual gems get lost and diluted. That’s why audiences should be reassured when they enter the theater to watch What a Wonderful Place (Eize Makom Nifla), directed by Israeli filmmaker Eyal Halfon. Initial bad lighting, awkward camera movements and iffy acting didn’t promise much, but focusing on the background—the Negev landscape—the dialogues in Hebrew should be enough to make viewers feel comfortable, if not win them over. And as characters develop, the story shows its depth, and the director’s vision becomes clear. What a Wonderful Place is part of a new wave in movies: lots of different characters, seemingly living their own little lives, but whose stories intersect at one point or another in the script (Crash, Babel, 21 Grams). What makes this film stand out within this new genre is that its many stories take place within a small Negev town. It allows the film to exploit this exotic and under-used location, and to show how varied life can be today in a place that was once a desert. There, we follow a group of young Russian women who were promised a good life in Israel. But the reality is different: Once they cross the border illegally and immigrate, they have to prostitute themselves to earn a living and pay most of their revenue to their boss (really, a pimp). It is soon clear that their status is more
Issue two 2007
or less that of slaves. Taking care of them is Franco, a middle-aged man with gambling issues. He is drawn to one of the girls, Jana, and takes her under a protective wing. A parallel story introduces us to Zeltser, an unhappily married moshavnik who manages his ranch with the help of Thai workers. A myriad of characters of all ages and nationalities join the fray, as they strive to make it though their days without slamming into the obstacles inherent in the Israeli status quo. The strength of this movie is not in its technicality, but the depth of its characters and story. It shows us Israeli men as we’ve never seen them before: unsure of themselves, troubled, and even overweight. It deals with an issue often overlooked: the conditions immigrants live in and the quasi-slave status Israeli society assigns them. This movie complicates the national identity of Israel and its citizens. To the pioneers and visionaries, it adds a few villains; to perpetual war and economic meltdown, it offers a reality check on everyday life away from the headlines. But more than the story as a whole, what can really be enjoyed are small moments, full of truths and tenderness: a young Russian woman who, after months of struggling in Tel Aviv, is one day stuck in traffic and realizes she still hasn’t seen the sea; a Filipino couple trying to show courage and strength when confronting a mob boss; the moshavnik realizing he enjoys his evenings a lot more drinking beer with his Thai workers than listening to his wife. Such moments are empty of false artistic pretension. Throughout the movie, one aspect of Israeli society is never mentioned: war. Nor do any Arab faces appear on screen. This break from the current state of Middle-East affairs reminds viewers that Israeli life is not just about dodging bullets and bombers, but about the daily struggles of a diverse population. Perhaps when What a Wonderful Place screens in festivals around the world, audiences will see this movie as a reflection of the complexity of 21st-century globalization in a country not unlike their own and understand, for once, that Israel, a “wonderful place,” is a lot more than meets the eye—or than what we see on the nightly news.
Benjamin Hanau is a producer and editor for an independent production company in Brooklyn. He’s French on his ID, but his hear t belongs in New York and Israel. He loves to watch movies, write about movies and may just make one someday.
when personal becomes public
by Avital Aronowitz
rama is the one literary form never intended to remain on the page. When a playwright composes a dramatic work it is a means toward live performance, a conduit toward physical enactment for an audience whom—the playwright hopes—will afterward contemplate and discuss it. But what happens when the text in question was never intended to be a work of theater? My Name is Rachel Corrie, which ran at the Minetta Lane Theater this fall, is essentially a play without a playwright. The text is an amalgamation of letters, emails and journal entries by a Washington State resident turned Palestinian, activist killed by an Israeli tank in March 2003 in the Gaza town of Rafah. The problem with a play basing its entire text on one girl’s real thoughts, words and decisions is that one ends up judging not Corrie the character but Corrie the individual. Because the whole script is composed of either Corrie’s ruminations to herself or letters to those close to her, and because her character is the only one onstage for the duration of the performance, the play is predictably small in scope. The information we gain about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict—the axis around which the play revolves—is based
primarily upon Corrie’s first-hand experiences of specific incidents, leaving the audience with no more than a fragmented, keyhole-sized window into a tremendously complex and multi-faceted struggle. We meet Corrie at home, in Olympia, Washington. Her bedroom is cluttered with clothing and books in a manner that suggests character rather than laziness. She is funny and personable, a girl inclined to naming neighborhood cats and making lists of the artists she would like to “hang out” with in eternity. Her walls are plastered with posters, postcards and photos of people and things that have affected her, and the areas unadorned are painted a deep red, a shade she likens to “carnage.” The bedroom is a metonym of Corrie’s character: quirky, inspired and passionate. We like her already. Corrie’s language indicates an evident precociousness, and both actresses who brought her character to life during the New York run—Megan Dodds and Bree Elrod —imbue her words with an articulateness that is self-assured while never haughty. We learn of Corrie’s desire to investigate what happens on the other side of American foreign policy, and, in a matter of minutes, we see her pack up
Issue two 2007
her bedroom and set off for the Middle East —a region about whose history, politics and culture she lacks the knowledge base one needs before taking on a socio-political mission. Nor does she mention any intention to research the Palestinian/Israeli conflict before traveling to Gaza. Did Rickman and Viner assume this information would be superfluous? Did they leave out details deliberately? In Gaza, Corrie organizes protests, connects with Palestinian families and documents her impressions in a pocket notebook. Eventually, the keyhole through which Corrie experiences the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict becomes the lens through which the audience perceives the situation. Corrie’s final moments are depicted in the voiceover of a fellow activist describing the tank that killed Corrie en route to a Palestinian home she was trying to physically protect. In the eyes of the witness, the tank driver knew “absolutely that she was there.” And so it is left. At several points during the play, Corrie verbally attacks the Israeli military for bulldozing homes in Gaza, but she never questions why the bulldozers were there in the first place. If she had, she might have learned that the Israel Defense Force specifically targets the homes of terrorists and suicide bombers. Are innocent Palestinians affected in this retaliation? Without a doubt. But such strategies, based on Israel’s need for self-defense, do not merit Corrie’s labeling Israel’s military policies as evil—her exact word. Were she a playwright, the use of so strong a word could be a rhetorical device in the crafting of a character; said candidly by a girl out of her element, it simply makes her appear misinformed. This is not to say that writers should shy away from incendiary and challenging work. But we must be clear that art—even when it imitates life—is not life, and should not be reflected upon as such. Our judgment of fictional characters and their opinions is incomparable to our judgment of real individuals. In an interview with Alan Rickman by the Royal Court, the director expressed, “My biggest challenge was that Rachel’s words were not written to be staged.” Exactly. It is unusual to see plays where the entire text is based on an individual’s thoughts. Several shows base their text on the words and ideas of one individual, though typically writer and actor are one and the same. This is the case with writer/performers like Lisa Kron, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg. David Hare’s Stuff Happens, staged last year at the Public Theater in New York City, depicts the current
Iraq war and the U.S. government’s foibles therein. It incorporates quotations from reallife politicos while weaving in fictional language to imagine our public figures in their private moments. This “real-life” play works because the synthesis of documented statements and crafted dialogue composes an artistic medley where we recognize the semblance of life while retaining the awareness that what we see is fabricated. Not so with Corrie, which begs us to see it “as it was.” Co-editor Katherine Viner has said that the play can “stand on its own” with no outside knowledge of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. “We realized that we didn’t need to be playwrights,” she stated. “We just needed to edit Rachel’s words…Rachel could tell the story on her own.” Yet Corrie presumably never intended to publish her journals, nor did she likely expect her e-mail conversations to serve as polemic for the Palestinian cause to a room of theatergoers. Viner and co-creator (and director) Alan Rickman no doubt expected audiences to be as moved by Corrie’s story as
they were. But since the creators controlled the editing, tone and structure of the piece, the work runs the risk of becoming a means toward their own political argument. The production of My Name is Rachel Corrie has no current plans for touring, and perhaps this time apart from performance will allow for a reassessment of the work amongst its creative team. Despite the stylistic excellence of the production as well as the eloquence of the language, there is a stark manipulation at work in using the personal expressions of someone who can no longer speak for herself to argue a global polemic. Theatrical performance is, most often, the culmination of rewriting, reworking and re-crafting. It is wholeheartedly removed from the spontaneously jotted notes in the diary of a girl who is searching to understand her place.
Lonnie Schwartz is PresenTense’s Theater Critic. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Dramaturgy and Script Development at Columbia University.
Issue two 2007
Klezmatics group wonder wheel album
The Klezmatics’ Wonder Wheel (winner of this year’s Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album) consists of twelve songs with new music composed from lyrics left behind by Woody Guthrie, the godfather of American folk music. This concept’s been tried before, in Mermaid Avenue and Mermaid Avenue II, a pair of similarly-premised albums released in 1998 by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Wilco and Bragg might have seemed like odd choices to carry on Guthrie’s legacy—one’s barely American, the other is barely folk— but the albums were a success critically and commercially, selling more copies than any of Guthrie’s albums ever had. Now the Klezmatics try the same experiment. Does it work? Sort of. The opening song, “Come When I Call You,” sets Guthrie’s words to a rollicking, sea-shanty rhythm, a little haunting and more than a little old-school. Lead singer Lorin Sklamberg’s vocals are note-perfect, and the whole group seems determined to make every minute of Wonder Wheel worth listening to. “Gonna Get Through This World” is eerie and sad; “Mermaid’s Avenue” swings in a way that we always imagined the ’20s did (circa the TV show Brooklyn Bridge, or Neil Simon-induced movies). But everything feels a little too perfect. Till We Outnumber ’Em, Ani Difranco’s Guthrie tribute featuring Bruce Springsteen, the Indigo Girls, and others, felt largely unrehearsed—just folks on acoustic guitars singing old Guthrie songs by heart. On Wonder Wheel, everything feels too polished, the lyrics treated with too much care—as though every moment has been meticulously planned. Guthrie and longtime collaborator Pete Seeger were famous for abducting other people’s songs and adding their own verses; you won’t find any of that here. The lyrics make Guthrie’s Mermaid Avenue hangout feel like a jolly, clean place, not the lowbrow, workingclass rumble of a party that it probably was. Songs like “Headdy Down” and “Goin’ Away to Sea” are sanitized and polished, the arrangements so perfect that they feel hollow, despite the Klezmatics’ best intentions. These are songs written about sailors and soldiers and penniless drunks, not Broadway theater-goers and armchair-klezmer Upper East Side yuppies. But there’s a lot about Wonder Wheel that’s undeniably good. The Klezmatics make these songs their own, putting klezmer violin segues and step-dancing rhythms in places where they shouldn’t fit, but always do. The clarinet-and-violin jams are executed masterfully, in a way that makes every moment feel like a Coney Island carnival sideshow. Not like the voice of the streets, but a voice to take us away from them. Maybe, even, like Woody would’ve wanted.
ta-Shma group come listen album
Ta-Shma is a supergroup of sorts—Hasidic MC and beatboxer Chunah Silverman, previously best known for freestyling on every corner of Crown Heights with anyone, at any time, combines his talents with Menachem Shapiro, another Chabad Hasid and “C.H.” scenester, and the production team of Twelve Tribes, a hip-hop beatmaking outfit best known for their work on Matisyahu’s first album. The result of their collaboration is Come Listen, a primer in Hasidic hip-hop and a mash-up of programmed beats and traditional Jewish songs like “Woman of Valor” and the Alter Rebbe’s wordless song, or niggun. The album’s opener, “Revolution,” starts with Shapiro and Silverman singing an original niggun a capella—a melding of two musical terms (respectively, “a slow, meditative Hasidic dirge” and “singing without instrumental accompaniment”) which are not commonly found in contemporary hip-hop. A deep, concentrated beat drops in, and before you know it, Shapiro and Silverman are going crazy over the music, spitting verses and trading rhymes while imploring listeners to “promise to be loyal and faithful” and “it’s not advice, it’s your life / tomorrow is permanent.” The album features the expected cameos by fellow Hasidic scene staples Matisyahu, who does his not-exactly-singing, not-exactlyrapping shtick, and up-and-coming Boro Park M.C. Y-Love, who rips it up with a song-stealing appearance on “Journeys.” Less expected is clarinetist Andy Statman’s appearance on two songs; along with several sampled Chabad nigguns and Ta-Shma’s uplifting, crowdfriendly lyrics, Statman’s participation transforms from just another appropriation of culture-specific music into a bona fide approbation on an existing form of cultural music. If there’s one major fault to the album, it’s that some tracks suffer from fuzzy production, and some of the songs—“Shine,” “Return Home,” “Jacob’s Ladder”—overdo the resonant themes of spiritual awakening, clinging to G-d, and the need for love. But, hell, it’s about time somebody said it. Ta-Shma is a group that could only come out of a place like Crown Heights—and, if Shapiro and Silverman keep doing their thing on the stage and in the streets, they could offer the neighborhood its best chance toward a much-needed multiracial dialogue and understanding.
Matthue Roth is a writer and per formance poet whose first novel, Never Mind the Goldbergs, just came out in paperback. Matthue also writes for Bitch Magazine, Zero, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and reads a lot of comic books. He and his wife live in Chicago.
Issue two 2007
on the horizon
Ever dreamt you were in synagogue, and not only were you naked, but Frank Zappa, or maybe Tom Waits, was your cantor? Well, after hearing Sway Machinery you just might. While much amazing, new Jewish music is spiked with references to Jewish themes, stories, and melodies, Sway Machinery is jazzy, punk-infused Judaic music, grounded in ancient scriptural liturgy, advanced on a platform of modern musical idiom. The New York-based quintet of vocalist and guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood and drummer Tomer Tzur, joined by the Afro-beat horns of Antibalas, aims to create music that forges an emotional connection to a modern mythology. Codenamed Hidden Melodies of the Jews of New York City, this sound is grounded in the deep roots of Ashkenazic Jewish spiritual music, based on the arrangements of Lockwood’s grandfather and teacher, renowned cantor Jacob Konigsberg. With a powerful rendition of “Shalom Aleichem,” possessed by the ghost of Fela Kuti, the ensemble has been barnstorming New York and Europe with snowballing success. Along with grooving melodies provided by Stuart Bogie (tenor sax) and Jordan McLean (trumpet) listeners will be roused by a rich hard-bop and Mid-Eastern backbeat via the novel rhythmic pairing of Tzur’s Israeli drums with the stalwart Colin Stetson on bass—saxophone that is. If American music is an outgrowth of the blues, and Jewish music an outgrowth of chazzanut, then Sway Machinery is a perfectly wild blend of both and everything after; melding tunes of jazz, rock, klezmer, punk, and Israeli folk with funky nigguns.
Ben Brofman and Miriam R. Haier
Musician, percussionist, and penny-whistler, Shmuel Perkel is constantly working to engage others in the arts. A native of South Africa who divides his time between New York and Israel, he sees music as a universal means of education and expression—one that is often lacking in schools. In Spring 2006, he created Musical IQ, an interactive and educational music program for children of all ages. Central to the program is The Drum Tales workshop, where participants are each given a drum (often handmade and imported from an African country), and encouraged to play as part of a musical narrative. The workshops often focus on Jewish holiday stories, like Hanukkah, Purim, and Pesach. “Musical IQ is all about creativity. It’s about opening up one’s creativity through music and art,” he said. Additional Musical IQ workshops include Percussion Playground (percussion and rhythm), MusIQ (tone, melody, and harmony), Moyo (dance and movement), and Quilt (fine arts and crafts). Perkel brings his programs to schools and camps in the U.S., South Africa, and Israel, and took them on the road as part of a “Sunshine Summer Tour” last year.
Miriam R. Haier
Issue two 2007
on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah (with the exception of Shabbat). It was a pretty hefty solo undertaking. “There were nights were I was expected to produce one event, dj at another, and photograph another.” This took timing and coordination, as dj handler arranged for djs to sub for him when he was otherwise occupied and factored in the time it would take him to run back and forth between clubs in time to do what was needed. “I guess I have a lot of energy,” he said. But rather than focus on his own performances, dj handler prefers to highlight the diversity of the events and artists , who often play together onstage. The most recent festival featured “Hip Hop Sulha” at B.B. King’s, with acts Hadag Nachash, Saz, Yuri Lane, Y-Love, Omar (N.O.M.A.D.S.), Ragtop (the Philistines), and Jake Break as well as dj handler himself. “All these great performers were on the same stage,” he marveled. “Their backgrounds could not have been more different, and the way they interpreted hip-hop on stage was drastically different, but it worked. Hadag Nachash balanced party vibes with more political views all over a fun live hip-hop funk band. Then you had Saz rhyming over Arabic hip-hop beats about his life as an Arab Israeli. Then Y-Love took the stage with religious and political views that bridged the two groups, and then you have Yuri Lane depicting the situation and hoping to relate both sides with equal pathos and all through the art of spoken word and beat-boxing.” Another festival highlight was “Women of Tzadik,” a performance featuring Basya Schechter, Jewlia Eisenberg and Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, which was also a personal favorite of dj handler’s. “Jewlia did a one woman-show with visuals and sound effects. Ayelet Rose Gottlieb’s show was a sextet with backup singers and elegant choreography involving a multicolored tapestry, wrapping Ayelet with the tapestry during the songs. Basya Schechter closed the show with her Queen’s Dominion project, a beautiful collaboration with Santur player Alan Kushan. It was very theatrical,” he said. In addition to nightly concerts, the festival offered programs such as the Sephardic Scholarship Series at Makor, which discussed, in dj handler’s words, “where the roots started, where it’s at now, [and] keeping the music alive.” To embrace the full miscellany of Sephardic music, the festival avoided defining
portrait of an artist
by Avital Aronowitz
is mother is Yemenite, his father’s of Eastern European descent, he’s soon to marry into the Chabad tradition and he runs a Sephardic music festival single-handedly. Meet Erez, a.k.a. dj handler, the 26-year-old who delivers a fluid kaleidoscope of sounds as diverse as his own background. Despite the current popularity of Jewish music, dj handler laments that Sephardic music flies below the radar for too many American Jews. “The majority of American Jews put the focus on Eastern European Jewish music,” he notes, pointing to most Jewish music festivals and articles about Jewish music to illustrate his conviction. His personal answer is the Sephardic Music Festival, with its mission of giving people “the opportunity to learn and enjoy this rich, sensual tradition that has the power to make hips shake and souls soar.” The second installment took place in December 2006 and showcased Mizrahi, Yemenite and Ladino grooves, presenting at least one party
what exactly Sephardic music is or should be. Nor did the artists themselves have to be Sephardic. “There were a lot of Ashkenazi people playing in the festival what they see as Sephardic music,” dj handler said. And as for creating a mash-up between a Yemenite cantorial piece and a hip-hop beat, “it’s tricky to make it subtle,” he says. Dj handler’s work has not gone unnoticed, and SMF fans are calling for similar shows in other cities, particularly on the west coast. Currently, dj handler is convinced that New York is the best possible festival venue, largely because of the proximity of its innumerable musicians. “Jewish, not Jewish—musicians live in New York,” he said. Dj handler’s inspiration for the festival— and his primary connection with Sephardic music—came from his grandparents’ Yemenite synagogue in Ramat Gan. Dj handler was hypnotized by the Sephardic Shabbat service, traditionally based on variations on a single tune. “The whole thing is very meditative. You really get into a zone,” he said, “a meditative state that makes you feel more spiritual and connected to something that rarely happens.” Dj handler began his career as the hiphop and jazz director for the University of Maryland radio station, where he developed his fan base. Since then, he has been recognized by numerous publications and radio stations for his vision and creativity. When not orchestrating the SMF, dj handler runs Modular Mood Records, an independent record label that produces hip-hop, rock and klezmer-jazz bands. He also spins parties in and around New York City. He said his favorite part of being a dj is providing transitions by playing between sets or between bands. For dj handler, it’s all about sharing his style of musical fusion with the world. And for the artists and fans readying themselves for SMF ‘07—that’s music to their ears.
Deborah Fishman is a recent graduate of Princeton University, where she was a News Editor for the Daily Princetonian. She currently works for the American Zionist Movement and lives with her husband in New Jersey.
Issue two 2007
the criSPineSS oF comPromiSe
persian dill rice with limas (polo sabzi)
rowing up in Los Angeles, a community with a considerable Iranian-Jewish population, I had my first taste of the many sublime varieties of polo at the buffet of a lavish Persian wedding. My favorite was the polo sabzi, a pretty dish gaily adorned with dill and lima beans, the bright and muted greens contrasting with the golden, turmeric-scented rice, and, of course, the shatteringly crisp tadig on the top of the platter. The ambitious home cook who tries to replicate this wedding classic at home will find that there is more than a spurious connection between a good marriage and good rice. The intricate mechanics of Persian rice recipes contain valuable lessons for any relationship. All of the polo recipes, whether made by a wedding caterer or a housewife, follow the same basic principle. White basmati rice, thoroughly rinsed and par-cooked, is mounded into a steaming hot oil-water mixture at the bottom of a heavy pot. The oil crisps the bottom of the rice, forming the tadig layer, and the water bubbles up into steam that ensures that every grain is tender. Mixing oil and water and heat usually results in spatters, burns and chaos. However, just like in a good argument, where equal measures of listening and talking prevent hurt feelings, using equal amounts of oil and water mitigates this chaotic
by Avital Aronowitz
tendency, allowing the cooking properties of both liquids to integrate harmoniously. The seasonings add endless variety, and spice up the nourishing but otherwise plain rice, preventing boredom. The cooking rice requires constant attention and monitoring lest the bottom burn. The Vilna Gaon on the Aggadic portion of Berakhot 56b notes that a pot is a symbol of productive harmony. In order to make peace between fire and water, even your best cast-iron Le Creuset will have to suffer a little blackening and burning. A skillful interposition of rice
at this critical interface, however, creates a crispy delicacy that only serves to sharpen the old saw that the way to your beloved’s heart is through his/her stomach. While a pot of rice might not be the answer to all of your relationship woes, the attention and loving care symbolized by cooking for your loved ones certainly can’t hurt.
Miriam Segura is a Biotechnologist, a Foodie, and a Talmudist. Catch her trademark variety of cute snark at www.hungr yhungr yhippogirl.blogspot.com.
Dead in. The sages admonish, Isn’t it forbidden to end sentences with prepositions? Strunk & White The weight of Torah. How much does a Torah weigh? A rabbi once said, Torah is the weight of all that says yes. Although many contemporary authorities have approved prepositions at the end of sentences, was and all that will be, plus the expectations of one’s parents. Countered a parent, we don’t want to be many still cling to the ancient tradition. a burden, do what you think is best, as long as you’re happy. All Jews. Who is a Jew? birthright Israel says, one Jewish parent. Orthodox Jews say, if the womb is Nes, a miracle. What is a miracle? The Orthodox say, every aspect of our lives is a miracle, from the time Jewish, so is the baby. Mel Gibson says, police officers who cite him for DWI. we get up in the morning until we go to sleep. The Conservative say, life is a miracle but our choices are The word itself. What does the word sound like? Some say, it is like ‘blah.’ Others say, it reminds us of our own. The Reform say tikkun olam is our chance to create our own miracles. The Vatican countered, the second plague visited upon the Egyptians. it is not a miracle unless we so declare it. The Talmud. The Oral Law, made up of the Temporarily based. How many years makes Mishnah and the Gemara. a “temporary” dwelling? Existentialists say, all Accessible to everyone. Doesn’t open accessibility dwellings are temporary, because life is temporary. also open the document to error? Bill Gates says, Singles columnists say, while everything is “404 File Not Found.” temporary, a dwelling is temporary until it Springtime crocuses. Some people say, what of becomes a home filled with love. Parents say, even regions in which the frozen tundra prevents the if you are evicted from your apartment, you will sprouting of flowers, even in spring? And others always have a home with us. reply, this is not meant to be literal, but is a general Enhance. What parts of religious or social reference to the springtime season, whatever the institutions require enhancement? Synagogue actual impact to flora and fauna; rabbis say, it is written: “Our house is a house of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Nonprayer, and so it will be called among the nations.” dwellers inquire, And what of the other cities? The twentysomethings and thirtysomethings were Demographers note, not just in these three cities, sought but could not be reached for comment. but in any city containing a strong Jewish But PresenTense Magazine has written, Because population. current institutional structures do not permit Morphing into ‘the People of the Blog.’ People our generation to flourish—we need to create have asked, will the advent of blogging obviate spaces, in print, online and in-person, to carry the need for traditional journalism? Others have on the conversation. asked, what of books? Have they no place in the Generation Tech. Said the professors of media Jewish future? The answer is complex, and is studies, What is Generation Tech? Is it Generation debated by experts in other places. As it is written X or Generation Y? Wired Magazine replied, Two Jews, three opinions. That’s the shul I wouldn’t be caught dead in. I don’t in the book of Yul Brynner, “so it shall be written, X+Y=Tech, as it is written, “Those who have ‘hold by’ that rabbi. With a plethora of voices and myriad opportunities for and so it shall be done.” MySpace or Facebook accounts, or who engage in self-expression and dissent, blogging is the perfect venue for Jews with something Spiritual seekers. Entertainment Tonight asks, text messaging.” And if the parents should ask, to say. (Which means, of course, all Jews.) who is considered a spiritual seeker? The National what is the difference between text messaging and Enquirer says, If the embrace of spirituality is instant messaging, the children will respond, According to the Pew Internet Study, eight million American adults have started intended to deflect attention from their bomb of LOL. blogs. But for many (62 percent of the Internet-using population, according to the a movie career, they are not considered seekers. Conference on Jewish student identity. A third survey), blogging is still something foreign and feared; perhaps the word itself Rabbi Boteach says, Kabbalah for the sake of career conference will take place in March 2007. sounds too journalistically informal, or conveys the perception that blog access is not Kabbalah. Limited number. Some people meet their requires advanced technology. But after overcoming initial hesitations, Jews are spouses and cease their blogging. But others who meet via blogging go on to blog together in joint discovering the endless potential of blogging. Perhaps it’s because the format, in blogs about how much they love each other. Other which multiple opinions create an open conversation on a central text, already exists in the Jewish literary experience...it’s couples say, that’s so sweet. And singles say, if you’ll called the Talmud. excuse me, I have to go hurl. Sacrilegious as it might seem, realistically, it’s not much of a stretch. If the Talmud were being compiled today, instead of Blogger parties. The sages recall: there once was separate Babylonian and Jerusalem versions, we would likely have one Big Blog edition, a living document, constantly evolving in New York a blogger party at which bloggers wore stickers with funny phrases on them as through international, interdenominational discussion. No longer the private domain of rabbis and sages, this contemporary conversation pieces. And it came to pass that one Talmud would be accessible to everyone. blogger wore her sticker—which read “I take Where little Jewish life exists, blogs sprout like springtime crocuses, in metropolitan centers like New York, Los Angeles money from homeless people”—on her shirt for and Chicago. Where Jewish living thrives, so does Jewish blogging. From every denominational position, every new blogger the entire train ride from Murray Hill back to has a pulpit and a congregation. The face of Jewish identity and the nature of community itself is changing. ‘The People of the Upper West Side. Anonymous. The rabbis say, anonymity is the Book’ are morphing into ‘the People of the Blog’. deception, as it is written, “I am God.” As God Today’s spiritual seekers, rabbis, students, and the average Joe Jew are also reaching out through blogging, seeking identifies Godself, so should we identify ourselves. community and spiritual connection. “Some people write with searing honesty about why they rejected Orthodoxy, others But there are other rabbis who say, God is sometimes about why they embraced it. Others write about their courtships, their losses, their journeys, their love,” says blogger Rabbi hidden, as it is said, “I am that I am.” Another Neil Fleischmann. When she posted about lifting the Torah during a prayer service, Karen Perolman, a first-year-rabbinical rabbi points out, we learn from the Book of Esther that sometimes God is even more hidden. As God’s student in Jerusalem, recalls that she “really felt the weight of Torah and the weight I was going to carry my whole life as a name does not appear in the megillah, sometimes Jewish professional. When I read my old posts, I can see how much my Jewish identity has changed.” our names must be hidden in order to achieve Blogging has become the great equalizer, celebrating individuality and creating connections between the ostensibly dissimilar. miracles. For Orthodox screenwriter Robert Avrech, a self-proclaimed “hermit by nature,” the blog suddenly expanded his social horizons. Beit Hillel/Beit Shammai. Two opposing houses “For the first time in my life, I have close friends who are Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, atheist Jews, and many deeply of Jewish thought in the Talmudic era. Words are powerful. As the cliché says, “the pen religious Christians who read and comment. This is all something of a nes, a miracle.” is mightier than the sword.” As the writer says, “The more I looked around online, the more I found out about Judaism that I had no idea existed,” says YoYenta’s thirty“The word is mighty, and words can wound. Still, something Jessica Leigh, temporarily based in the San Francisco Bay area. “After reading so much about what I don’t know, opposite a sword, a smart writer would probably what I don’t practice, all the references and Hebrew quotations that I don’t get, I feel inclined to become more observant.” prefer another sword.” Especially in areas lacking a centralized, accessible Jewish community, Jews turn to the Internet for a personalized Judaism The conversation continues. Beyond the original document, as the editors of PresenTense that they design themselves, a la carte and online. “While blogs themselves won’t replace religious or social institutions, they have said, the articles are just the beginning can do much to enhance them,” says Oklahoma-based technology consultant Simon Fleischmann, 35, of Up-Load.com. “As of the conversation—the real goal is to create the Internet continues to grow, the use of blogs, and other community-builders like podcasts and online forums, will only multiple opportunities for young Jews to connect, expand in influence,” he predicts. as we continue to converse on the issues that are On the college campus, life happens on the Internet. Through LiveJournals, MySpace, Friendster blogs, and message boards, important to our generation.
TwO JEws, ThrEE blOgs
students pursue connection and community. And Jewish innovators are jumping on the campus blogwagon, using online communities to access the minds, hearts, and Jewish souls of Generation Tech. Southern California’s Beach Hillel runs an active online community featuring blogs, podcasts, and bulletin boards, has several MySpace profiles, and in 2005, launched a conference on Jewish student identity, with co-sponsorship from group blog Jewlicious (for which, full disclosure, I am also a contributor). The 2006 conference drew 350 participants from more than 40 schools: Jews from all over the political, religious, and creative map. And because the conference sprouted from blog roots, post-conference discussion has flourished online, through blog posts, Flickr picture sharing, and MySpace recollections. So far, there are a limited number of documented cases of bloggers who have met their spouses online. But there is an expectation of connection—reading someone’s writings provides a more solid foundation than meeting someone at a party or even online dating. Group blogs like Jewschool and Jewlicious, whose team members live in different geographical locations, spend so much time together online that the relationship often translates extremely well into offline reality. When bloggers travel, meetings with local bloggers are de rigeur and transition to bigger blogger parties, where people are introduced by bloghandle (“I’m Esther-JDaters Anonymous”) and where loyal readers and fellow bloggers can meet the people behind the posts. For those exploring Jewish identity, the option of anonymity is often a major draw. But others reject disguise. As Rabbi Fleischmann puts it, “By being myself I feel that I truly connect with people to a much greater degree than if I was completely anonymous.” Connection. Identity. Community. Self-expression. All of these are the goals of those who participate in the blogculture. But sometimes, these goals create conflict...turf wars can happen quicker than you can say “Beit Hillel versus Beit Shammai.” Once the gloves are off, leader loyalties are tested. Interblog conflicts utilize PhotoShopped images and text to engage rivals in everything from good-natured kidding to near-libelous reputation-skewering. Perhaps blog conflicts teach readers and commenters an important lesson: words are powerful, and once you send them out into the world, you cannot get them back. Or perhaps the lesson will go unheard and unheeded. Time will tell, but the Jblogosphere will surely be there to record it all—with posts and comments galore—as the conversation continues.
Original and commentary text by Esther D. Kustanowitz
Issue two 2007
1 In a 4-quart Dutch oven, place 2 cups frozen lima beans in enough water or broth to cover. Add a generous shaking of turmeric, and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil and cook until tender but still firm. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid. 2 In a colander, thoroughly wash 1-1 1/4 cups white basmati rice under cool running water, rinsing until the water runs clear to remove external starch. 3 Add rinsed rice to the reserved cooking liquid, which should cover the rice by an inch; add more water if needed. Add a bit more turmeric. Cover and bring to a boil, then drain in a colander. 4 Add the cooked limas to the drained, par-cooked rice, along with up to 1/2 a cup of dried dill. Toss together gently until combined. Set aside. 5 Add enough of a neutral oil (like canola or soybean) to cover the bottom of the Dutch oven. Heat on a medium flame, and add an equal quantity of water. Cover with lid, and let the oil/water come to a boil. Pour half of the oil/water mixture into a bowl and reserve. 6 Lightly mound the rice mixture in the pot in a cone-shaped pile. Poke a few holes in the pile with a fork to allow steam to permeate the rice. Cover, turning to medium high heat, until the rice begins to give off steam. Pour the reserved oil-water mixture over the rice pile. Carefully fold a kitchen towel into a square slightly larger than the mouth of the pot and place on top. Cover the towel and pot tightly with the pot lid. Checking by smell to ensure that the rice is not burning, simmer at medium-to-low heat for 20 minutes or slightly longer for maximum crispiness.
arts presentenseMagaZIne.org Issue two 2007
until you Don’t Know
n the fifth day, Esther put on royal apparel and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, facing the king’s palace, while the king was sitting in his royal throne room.
She was sitting at her special little table, signing books—I don’t know if I am going to be able to explain this. One of the big bookstores, the chains; she had just given a reading to a rowdy roomful of New Yorkers. I had not yet eaten, though The Fast of Esther had officially ended. Her reading had begun before sunset, in the hardest, purest moments of the fast, the time of prayer. Was she performing at the end of a foodless, drinkless day? Had she brought something to snack on after it got dark, a water bottle in the covey of the lectern? Had she fasted at all? I arrived in the middle of her vivacious Q&A that made everyone proud. Star batmitzvah girl in miniskirt, silk blouse and slight, game figure. A breast pin gleamed wincingly as she spoke. “Whenever I get questions about my religious practice, what I always tell people is I’m a pretty observant Jew, but I’m a very observant writer.” Big laughter, swelling of applause. I couldn’t see her. Standing-room only, musky with shtetl pride, less a bookstore than a family reunion complete with the requisite spectrum of aunts and uncles you are vaguely afraid of but don’t know why. I knew her brother-in-law. We shared a rabbi. I positioned myself at a gap between bookshelves, by a middle-aged woman with just-going-gray hair. She reminded me of the females on my mother’s side of the family: stocky and fair, planted stubbornly in her spot. An aunt who took a different route to get here, lost in the smoke of some forgotten genealogy. I strained to see, swaying on my feet, almost brushing against her. With static electricity, I could not only see but also feel the shimmering rows of blond down that padded her broad red cheeks at
the jawline. I pictured myself leaning close, nestling my head in the crevice of her neck, resting my face on the fleshy pillow of her shoulder. “Don’t cough on me! Shhhhhhh!” She stared at me with eyes like bloody egg whites. True, I had coughed; my latest tick, a recent habit formed by pressures on the job. “I don’t think of myself as an ‘Orthodox Writer.’ I don’t think of myself as a ‘Jewish Writer,’ or a ‘Woman Writer’ or a ‘Young Writer.’ At the end of the day, it’s just me, with my life
experience, sitting at my computer . . .” “Stop coughing on me! I don’t want to get sick from you!” I had coughed again. It was a nervous habit! “I turned away to cough. I coughed over there. This place is crowded. If you want more space you should move.” I was ready to take a bite out of her face. Understand, this was a time in my life. “Why are you standing so close to me? You can’t see her.” (She had a kind of pervasive
Issue two 2007
nervous twitch you could not isolate to a body part.) “I don’t want you breathing on me. I don’t want to get sick from you. And you keep making all these noises.” But Esther still did not reveal her kindred or her people, for Esther obeyed Mordechai’s bidding, as she had done growing up in his home.
One year out of college, two or three tops: we’re the shit-rats, the slaves. Come early, leave late, sleep in the office two or three times a week. Hoard away money to put ourselves through B-school. Who gets a life outside of work, much less a festival day, a Day of Rest 25 hours/week on the clock?
read a lukewarm review of that novel and heard the same from friends I trusted; my own brief gloss confirmed those reports. But I also have dreams (stretched threadbare from caffeine at three a.m., at my desk on private files with secret passwords) of a shall we say literary nature. Story titles, character names, fragments, vignettes;
a new starting point: from this pure good intention my life would begin.
by Stephanie Shelan
I’d left work early under the pretense of going to shul, which I almost, actually, never do. Once I went every day; that lasted a year. Some attribute it to religious conviction, but I don’t know if that’s something that comes and goes. Friday afternoons on the short days of winter I am out by two or three, but even then it’s under the cloud of hostility, the umbrella of shame. Ushered out by goyish colleagues’ quick, begrudging Seeya-laters, coreligionists’ low caustic Shabbat-Shaloms.
I come in Saturday at the first three stars, stay through late Sunday night to make it up. But tonight was Purim. Not that I was planning to go to shul. It was all an excuse to see her. Wise beyond her years. But wait—do I really care this much about her? I have not read a word she’s written. Correction: I read a few lines of her second book and put it down to go do something else. I’d
bits of language strung together in a losing effort to remind myself that I am in fact more than the sum of the day’s gross. Granted she had a few extra years, a publishing head-start, but still how many of us were there? We shared a universe of background. We could be a support network for each other, talking Jewish from our unique writerly perspective. She could introduce me to others of our ilk—broad-minded souls who saw not contradiction but strong lines of currency connecting creativity, appreciation of holiness,
Issue two 2007
respect for tradition—whom I trusted were out there but had not yet personally met. Meanwhile, our vital dialogue and expanding community would revive the passion for Yiddishkeit and for life that God help me I know I once had, and then didn’t, and in the meantime had been too baffled and paralyzed even to look for. A kind of prayer. Dear God, help me to grow up. To grow. To be a grownup. A new starting point: from this pure good intention my life would begin. The line for signatures swirled into shape, clusters of Jews effusively shmoozing, me thumbing the pockets of my jeans while scanning the crowd as if looking for someone. Seeing women, only women, infinite variations on a handful of Jewish types. Most dominant the ruddy Russo-Poles, a tepid generation or two from the Motherland, brown curly hair still thick as twine and frizzed out in frenetic humid halos. Straight from the Pale, no amount of higher education/urban sophistication sufficient to squelch the sensual aura of hand-skinned chickens, peeled potatoes, gutted fish. From this pool I was blessed with three sisters and a mother and over my high-school and college years plucked a small handful of amazing playmates. Soulmates, lovers, sisters, opponents, tormentors, victims, friends; movers-in, ubiquitous shapers of my soul, presently forging lives for themselves throughout the country and world without the benefit or apparent need of my assistance. Abby, Victorian lit. aficionado, Ph.D. track at a mid-level southeastern college. Emily, married to a rabbi upstate. Shayna, in her village studio, dancing by day and waitressing by night. Sephardi women peppered the crowd, angular, exotic. Them I have learned to love from a distance. I had girlfriend, a former Yemenite, Hagit, the one woman I can accurately say I ‘dated.’ We ate ice cream at night, went to college plays and dances and tracked the local
a mustache. Thin and wiry, almost pubic, with the same unsettling (but misplaced) appeal. Standing out in jarring contrast against what was otherwise olive-skin perfection. I wanted to love it but managed only to become increasingly repulsed. Also: thick tufts of arm hair that seemed to grow darker as I knew her more. (I began to feel intimidated, outmanned.) And finally: the wispy tendrils, two or three of them, that swirled around each broad nipple. “Dammit!” Hagit would say when they snagged in my teeth like floss. “Are you trying to pluck me?” “Is that done?” “It’s a good thing I’m not falling in love with you.” I’d look up with two big eyes. “What?” she said. “Are you falling in love with me?” I wanted to, it seemed I could and even should have, my life might have blossomed out in wondrous unknowable ways. But that darkness—so viscerally disturbing; that lush extra measure of fur. Too much, too different. It stopped me then and has stopped me ever since. The king extended to Esther the golden scepter he had in his hand, and Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. The line had mostly evolved against the wall into a purposeful organism. I found I was standing alone in a space almost empty, industrious Bookstore People scurrying around me, folding and stacking chairs. I didn’t own any of her books and was not about to lay out the cash to buy one. I stood watching her as she settled in for an indefinite span of brief personable interactions with strangers. Chatting away, energetically pleasant, exuding charisma like a protective shell. Full ruddy chipmunk cheeks, big white smile, short dark bob. Thin, with a silk shortsleeved button-down—untucked—that slid
I wandered over to a display on Jewish authors, three concentric squares against a gridded metal stand. The perimeter had the most recent releases and reissues of the Jewish Old Guard: Ozick, Malamud, Bellow et. al. Just the books, with little stenciled author name tags running above. The second square featured first- and second-books gathered under the heading, “PostModern Orthodox: The New Jewish Writers.” Here, each book was crowned by a small glossy author photo, and a cleverly provocative author quote. The center square occupied itself entirely with the three-book oeuvre of tonight’s celebrity guest, with photos and quotes tastefully wedged among the crevices. As a whole, her section’s busy layout conveyed a buzz of youthful industry, of sincerity and humor and zeal. A cute girl about my age—I took her for a grad student—thumbed through books, read the backs, turned them over in her hand. She was the kind I usually liked: light brown wavy hair, if cut fairly short, cheeks stained a permanent pink flush. I thumbed through a perimeter paperback, some new translation of Isaac Babel. She wore long sleeves and a past-the-knee skirt, possible indicators of religious observance. She had Abby’s green eyes, Shayna’s full, active lips and was built like Emily, athletically top-heavy. That easy warmth; I could already feel it starting. She flipped through the celebrated reader’s most recent novel, hip-looking hardcover, big-name house. I pored over the publishing history of Babel’s Collected Stories. “D’you read that?” I shocked myself by saying. First the fact of my own voice, then the echo, answering-machine pale. But she did not seem to take it as an intrusion. In fact, she barely even looked up when she said, “Nope, but I’ve heard . . .” as if we already were in the middle of a conversation. “Nope, but I’ve heard that it’s good,” she said. “If you ask me it’s kind of hard to believe it could be as good as everybody says.” Then she
haman was still being advised by his inner circle when the royal runners arrived, and hurried him off to the private feast that esther had made.
bands she obsessively followed. She began to move in. With increased daylight exposure, I could more vividly observe what must rightfully go by no other name than around on her wiry frame, never quite taking, now and again revealing her breastplate, the beginnings of a bony cleavage unabashedly announcing its delicious independence. did look up with a pair of nervous, not unfriendly green eyes. “She’s so young, you know.” “Oh,” and here I lifted a pedagogical index finger, “but that’s her whole thing. Have you
Issue two 2007
read the reviews?” “Yeah yeah, ‘wise beyond her years.’ Whatever.” “You sound,” raising my eyebrows and smiling—I am not without a few backup charms—“like you’ve got something against her going in.” The accusation did not faze her. She continued to speak as if writing a paper, trying to get the words out quickly enough to keep up with her thoughts. “I’m just sick of the media frenzy surrounding all these young Orthodox writers,” gesturing vaguely to the display, “I’m sure they’re fine at what they do, but like her for example, it has as much to do with the fact that she’s this cute spunky young Modern Orthodox woman who takes good pictures and gives good sound bites.” I nodded “Hmm.” She kept one hand at all times on a big leather bag that covered her stomach and part of her chest. I didn’t disagree with her, but still felt a defensive welling-up on the reader’s behalf. Protective. It wasn’t her fault she was cute. Maybe the sound-bites came too fluently, but that could be a good thing if there was more behind the work itself. That’s where I would come in. All roads led back to the necessity and thus inevitability of our meeting. I kept these certainties to myself. Meanwhile here was this one; why queer the deal? Everything in its time. I scanned the perimeter of the display. “Wait—is Vonnegut really Jewish?” “No, he’s German. Somebody screwed up. If anything, he’s probably an anti-Semite.” Vonnegut? “You know, if the name is German, I just assume.” Oh. Of course. Well…nice to meet you. “Go to Germany. You’ll see.” Sudden guilt: what if she were my sister? Then would I just walk away? “Vonnegut’s not even German,” I said. “He was born in America. He fought against the Germans in the war. He’s like the head of the,” I waved a hand around as if whipping the name up from invisible particles in the air, “the International Society for the Advancement of Humanism, or whatever.” “The Germans were the biggest humanists of the 20th century. There’s no contradiction when you define a certain group as being subhuman.” “But he’s not German,” I said. “Did you read Slaughterhouse Five? He participated in the bombing of Dresden!” “He feels guilty about bombing Dresden. Of all the things to feel guilty about!”
“He feels guilty as a human being, as a humanist, not as betrayer of his Aryan brethren.” “Humanist, shmumanist. All I’m saying is that some things don’t come out so easy in the wash of one or two generations. There is something about the German gestalt, something built-in, hardwired, that demands the annihilation of the Jews.” Well! It must be said that, in addition to being cute, she did seem interested in continuing the conversation, perhaps over coffee in the bookstore cafe. But it was tweaked: even as a sister, she was creepy. And even as a creepy sister I still fantasized single-mindedly about flipping the back of her skirt up and making her rhythmically brace herself against the wall, spread-armed like someone under arrest. Which was, I had to admit, ten times creepier than some dime-a-dozen Holocaust fetish. “I should get going,” I said. She seemed surprised. Slightly hurt. “Okay, well. Seeya.” “Take care.” I walked in big strides towards the escalator going down. Haman was still being advised by his inner circle when the royal runners arrived, and hurried him off to the private feast that Esther had made. Broadway screws with your mind. This I learned as a child. We had friends in the high 60’s who would invite us for Shabbes lunch, a good thirty blocks downtown. My family was six, three sisters and me, and we walked as a boisterous cloud, exploding showers of Sabbath laughter. It’s a straight shot down to 72nd; you are taking a neighborhood stroll. Then you look up and suddenly the buildings are tall, Broadway is broad, you have to negotiate little concrete islands to cross the street. You’re in Manhattan. Ahead, Broadway curves and forks, switches places with Amsterdam. West End ends. My eyes would dart, disoriented, dwarfed. I could not comprehend how we got here, how things could change so much just walking straight. My family would quiet down and squeeze hands. My big sister would narrow her eyes and scan the traffic for signs of danger. Wait here, Mom would say and stiff-arm us to the curb. Then she’d step out, stiff-arming traffic. Purim the year of the reading fell out midFebruary. By the end of December I had started
calling ex-girlfriends. Shayna, Emily, Abby. I did not want to talk. I did not want to hear how their lives were going, how challenging-butrewarding everything was, how hard-but-good. I just wanted to hear the way they said my name in the moment of voice-recognition. That first reaction that tells you everything is still on. Getting the numbers was not difficult; I’m resourceful that way. No qualms 411-ing old female friends of theirs I knew still lived in the area, friends happier to hear from me than any of my ex-girlfriends ever would be again. Only one of the friends, from what I’d heard, was seriously dating; three out of four others invited me out for coffee. Orthodox women this age, still unmarried—I had an older sister and knew not to remind myself of the crushing communal hydraulics, prospects dwindling exponentially, friends and family trading you like stock. I dialed the number. After all that! I dialed it and let it ring. “Hello?” Emily’s voice rich with motherhood. “Abby here,” unwelcoming the interruption. Shayna’s unselfconsciously hip “Yo.” Then: “Who is it?” “Is anyone there?” “Hel-lo?” Then: “Whoever you are, know that you just woke a sleeping baby. Have that on your conscience.” Click. “Go to hell, Chris. Stop being an asshole. Chris?” Haman said, “The Jews are divided and dispersed throughout the land. Easy prey.” Mordechai said, “Don’t think you’ ll save yourself: it could be for this very reason you became queen.” And Esther said, “Fine—bring everyone together in a communal fast. I’ ll approach the king without permission and beg. If I die, I die.” I went down to the cafe and thought of ordering a frappucino, but decided instead to keep fasting. The up escalator was right where I had left it. Parallel to the down.
The story continues on www.presentense.org. Charlie Buckholtz is a rabbi and fiction writer in NYC’s East Village. His aspiration is to write aggadic stories and create aggadic communities.
Issue two 2007
Sam Ackerman is an editorial cartoonist for the Brandeis University paper, The Justice, as well as an editor, writer, and illustrator for Chalav U’Dvash, Brandeis’ journal of Zionist thought.
Issue two 2007
write a letter, sign a petition, wear a dog tag. don’t let them be forgotten.
www.azm.org american zionist movement 633 third avenue, new York, nY 10017
Th e r e a r e s o m e m o u n t a i n s wo r t h c l i m b i n g, eve n 3 0 0 0 ye a r s l a t e r.
Livnot is a different way to see and experience Israel. If you’re 21 years or older, like hiking and community service, Livnot might be for you. Programs run all year-round, from two weeks to three months.
Issue two 2007 presentenseMagaZIne.org Contents
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.