The Arty Semite

The Great Media Non-Conspiracy

By Paul Buhle

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone On the Media
By Brooke Gladstone, Illustrated by Josh Neufeld
W. W. Norton & Company, 158 pages, $26.00

An icon of many a household’s Sunday listening, Brooke Gladstone and her show “On the Media,” with Bob Garfield as co-host, has for my (pledge) money the liveliest program on National Public Radio.

This book is, at any rate, the first effort to explore Gladstone’s subject in one of the most creative printed ways: comic art. It bears the stamp of comic artist Josh Neufeld, an erstwhile collaborator of the late Harvey Pekar, who has also produced a much-praised graphic novel treatment of Hurricane Katrina’s effects on New Orleans. In “The Influencing Machine,” Neufeld’s work is tinted bluish, giving it a slightly ghostly effect, offset by the directness of the caricatures. It’s a great fit.

In the advance publicity, Gladstone calls “The Influencing Machine” a “manifesto masquerading as a history.” This thought dominates the pages in more than one way. Not only does she offer her own philosophy of communication from the Stone Age onward, she also seeks to demystify the subject and to loosen the grip of conspiracy from the public’s understanding of media.

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Darin Strauss on Faith

By Darin Strauss

Darin Strauss’s most recent book, “Half a Life: A Memoir,” is now available. His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Faith is a private issue. At least, I consider it to be one. (Try telling that to Tea Party evangelicals, though…) I consider myself a Jewish writer — even if my characters frequently are not Jewish — in the same way, I guess, that I consider myself a Jewish man, even though I don’t often attend shul.

In another post I’ll talk about my books (particularly “Chang and Eng,” a novel about the famous and Asian conjoined twins, and “Half a Life,” my non-fiction book about me). Here, today, I want to discuss faith.

I felt sheepish this week when I admitted to someone that I pray each night. My prayer is improvised — though like some standard jazz performance, the improv happens within pretty strict parameters — and asks for nothing. It wasn’t always this way.

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Researching Jewish Sports

By Douglas Stark

On Monday, Doug Stark wrote about the best Jewish basketball team ever. His new book, The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team, is now available. His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Writing a book about a Jewish basketball team that had not played a meaningful game in nearly seventy years posed some challenges. The Philadelphia SPHAS were a great basketball team, but by the end of World War II, their best days were behind them. They were no longer significant players in the basketball world. So, I asked myself some questions. How do you find information about a team that no longer exists? Are any of the players still alive? Does anyone still remember them?

As I began working on this book, I realized that I needed to assemble a research plan. I figured newspapers would be a good start. Philadelphia had several papers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Record and I felt both would be helpful. But I wanted to see what was written in the cities of their opponents. How was the team covered on the road? What was press coverage like in opposing cities? I then began tracking down newspapers in Boston, New York, New Jersey, Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington and many cities in the Midwest where they traveled. In addition to the mainstream press, I also targeted the Jewish press to see if the team was covered.

Over the course of several years, I spent many long and lonely hours in front of microfilm machines finding articles and scores. Unfortunately, none of the newspapers I needed were digitized, so I was manually cranking the microfilm reader.

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The Greatest Jewish Basketball Team

By Douglas Stark

Douglas Stark’s The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team is now available. His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


When I told friends and colleagues that I was researching and writing a book about a Jewish basketball team, I was often met with a hesitation or a stunned look. Why are you writing a book? Well, many people write books, I would often answer, and I wanted to take a crack at it myself.

No, the most common questions were the following: Did Jews play basketball? Was it a professional team? Was the team good? The answer is yes, yes, and most definitely yes.

Most sports fans today, whether they are serious or casual, hardly see any Jews participating at the highest level. But, Jews were an important part of the early history of sports in America, particularly basketball. Invented in 1891, basketball spread quickly and was soon played in YMCAs and gyms throughout the country. One place where basketball caught on immediately was urban areas.

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Just Like Comrade Karl Marx

By Michael Levy

Earlier this week, Michael Levy wrote about Jews and Chinese food and what Chinese people think about Jews. His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Central China is a strange place. Unlike the globalized, westernized cities on the coast, the land-locked, impoverished provinces of the interior rarely get foreign visitors. These provinces are home to the laobaixing, or “old hundred names,” a euphemism for the billion-or-so Zhou Six Packs I got to know while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Among the laobaixing, foreigners are assumed to be missionaries. This is because most of them are missionaries: Mormon, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, you name it. There’s not much reason to visit places like Guizhou, so most people go only if God tells them to.

The result is a blanket assumption among the locals that white folks are all Christian. “Do you love Jesus?” was often the first thing a new friend would ask me. This would be followed by “can you use chopsticks?”

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What Chinese People Think About Jews

By Michael Levy

On Monday, Michael Levy wrote about Jews and Chinese Food. His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


My last post began with a list of stereotypes about Jews. We tell jokes; we like Chinese food; etc. While living and teaching in central China a few years ago, I ran into a few stereotypes that were new to me. I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guizhou Province teaching English at a university way off the beaten path. I was one of a small handful of foreigners — and the only Jew — in a province of 40 million people. My students could be forgiven for a few strange ideas about their guests.

Thus, when one of my students handed in a paper with the title “GREAT JEW” I knew I was in for a few surprises. The letter summarized the status of world Jewry:

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Jews and Chinese Food

By Michael Levy

Michael Levy is the author of “Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion.” His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


My therapist once told me a joke: “Chinese culture is old, perhaps 4000 years. But Jewish culture is 1000 years older! The only question is: How did we survive for 1000 years without Chinese food?”

He’s a great therapist, but a lousy comedian. Nevertheless, our interaction — like a Chinese box — was layered. We were knee-deep in stereotypes, each containing a grain of truth. Jews are either stand-up comedians or failed stand-up comedians. Jews are either in therapy, therapists themselves, or both. Jews love Chinese food.

I fit all these stereotypes. The last one is particularly true, in large part because I lived in China for three years, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guizhou Province (drop a finger on the dead-center of China, and you’ll likely hit this remote location).

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Our Good Friends the Essermans

By Melissa Fay Greene

Earlier this week, Melissa Fay Greene wrote about the adoption of her daughter, Helen, from Ethiopia, and telling jokes at church. Her new book, “No Biking in the House Without a Helmet,” is now available. Her posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Helen

My husband and I are white people. We shop at R.E.I. for the clothes. We have cousins on both sides who are vegans and have attended more than one bean-filled wedding reception. We could move to Dubuque, Iowa, or Bangor, Maine, if we wanted to, without anyone wondering what on earth we were thinking. If pulled over by a traffic cop for a moving violation, we await him at our driver’s side window with the wide-eyed innocent-looking expectation that the exchange will proceed cordially and without undue suspicion. We are well-acquainted with the many bonuses of what is known on the street as White Skin Privilege.

We were born just this side of the mid-20th-century, to Jewish parents, when ethnicity was on the verge of being accepted as an acceptable American lifestyle. Jerry Lewis, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion of Israel, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Danny Kaye, and Sammy Davis, Jr., were major Jews of our childhood. We weren’t told about the Holocaust.

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Moroccan Murder Mystery

By Renee Ghert-Zand

The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World
By Joseph Braude
Spiegel & Grau, 318 pages, $26.00

You can take the Jew out of the Arab world, but you can’t take the Arab world out of the Jew. That basically sums up Joseph Braude, a young American Jew of Iraqi descent who studied Near Eastern languages at Yale and Arabic and Islamic history at Princeton, and who is fluent in several Arabic dialects, Persian and Hebrew. It also partially explains why, in 2008, he found himself conducting his own unofficial investigation into a violent murder while officially embedded with the Moroccan police on a journalistic assignment.

At once a murder mystery, a travelogue, a history text, and memoir, “The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World” is a compelling and illuminating chronicle of Braude’s sleuthing in the slums of Casablanca and the Berber countryside. He does this together with an unemployed baker referred to as Muhammad Bari, a poor, average Moroccan who believes that the police are covering up a conspiracy, and who convinces Braude to help him discover the real circumstances surrounding the murder of his night watchman friend, Ibrahim Dey.

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Different Jokes for Different Folks

By Melissa Fay Greene

On Monday, Melissa Fay Greene shared the story behind the adoption of her daughter, Helen, from Ethiopia. Her posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Helen

Twenty years ago, as I set out upon my very first book tour, for “Praying for Sheetrock” — my 1991 work of nonfiction about the heyday of a corrupt “courthouse gang” on the flowery coast of Georgia and the belated rise of civil rights there — I discovered I had a line in my book-talk that only Jews laughed at.

It was unintentional on my part. I thought it was funny; I didn’t realize until I criss-crossed the country with it, like a stand-up comic, that it wasn’t funny to non-Jews.

The scene: “The blazing summer nights of 1975, as darkness dropped…” when the rural black citizens of McIntosh County, enraged by the police shooting of an unarmed man and by the deliberate neglect of the all-black public school system by the all-white school board, stormed across the sand parking lot, illuminated by bare light-bulbs dangling from wires strung through the live-oak trees, and crowded into the weather-beaten Shorters Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

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Turning a Synagogue's Tale Into Kid Lit

By Samuel D. Gruber

Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

“If these walls could talk” is a cliché in the historic preservation world, but when standing inside an old synagogue it is still an irresistibly phrase and idea. Anita Kassof, associate director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland and illustrator Jonathon Scott Fuqua have now taken the idea literally and made an appealing children’s book from it. “Long before your grandparents’ grandparents were babies, before they walked or talked or tied their own shoes, I was built with shovel and pail, hammer and nail, brick and stone.” So begins the narrative of Baltimore’s Lloyd Street Synagogue, opened in 1845 as Maryland’s first synagogue, the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, as told in the recently published “The Synagogue Speaks.”

The historic building, now part of the museum, evolved from traditional to Reform observance in the mid-19th century, and was transformed into a Catholic church in 1889. In a less common twist of fate, the building became home to an Eastern European Orthodox Jewish congregation in 1905. It was saved from the wrecking ball in 1960 and now serves as the cornerstone of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, and has long been celebrated as one of the Jewish community’s first historic preservation successes.

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Raising an Ethiopian Jewish Child in Georgia

By Melissa Fay Greene

Melissa Fay Greene is the author of “No Biking in the House Without a Helmet.” Her posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Helen

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in November 2001, I pulled up to the gates of the compound of the Beta Israel people (disparagingly known as Falashas [strangers]), hoping to be admitted, along with my brand-new daughter, to Shabbat morning services.

Arriving among these religiously-observant and destitute people, of rural origin, by taxi rather than on foot was likely to make a poor impression. But I’d known no one in the area to ask for Shabbat hospitality and my hotel stood half a city away from this dusty ramshackle neighborhood of mud huts and corrugated tin roofs. It was my first trip to Ethiopia. I’d flown seven thousand miles to report for the New York Times Magazine on conditions among some of Africa’s orphans of HIV/AIDS — which eventually gave rise to my book, “There Is No Me Without You” (Bloomsbury, 2007) — and to meet a 5-year-old girl named Helen, whom my family was adopting.

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Improving Moral Vocabulary

By Eric Greitens

Eric Greitens is the author of “The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL.” His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite, courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


In Tuesday’s post, I wrote about how stories give us strength in trying times. Stories also have the power to repair and transform the reader and the writer.

The Jewish word tzedakah is usually translated as charity, but the word actually has a root that is closer to “justice,” and in this sense, tzedakah is understood not as something that is extra, but as something that is required. The allied Jewish concept of Gemilut Chasadim refers to the spirit in which the highest form of tzedakah is given, a spirit of all-loving kindness. We are required not only to repair the world and make it just, but we do this work best when we act with the spirit of loving-kindness.

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How the Eldridge Street Synagogue Was Saved

By Samuel D. Gruber

Crossposted From Samuel Guber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

Beyond the Facade: A Synagogue, A Restoration, A Legacy: The Museum at Eldridge Street
By Roberta Brandes Gratz, Larry Bortniker and Bonnie Dimun
Museum at Eldridge Street and Scala Publishers, 176 pages, $45.00

Samuel D. Gruber

In “Beyond the Facade,” a history of the almost 30-year effort to restore New York’s Eldridge Street Synagogue, Roberta Brandes Gratz, one of the initiators of the project and the energetic organizer of the work in its early phases, writes: “There was no time to be discouraged. Restoring a landmark that has been abandoned by those most connected to it historically is only for the young, the persistent, and the deeply committed, and surely not for the faint of heart.”

Gratz was never faint of heart, and she committed a large chunk of her life to saving the grand synagogue and to telling the history of the building, its congregation and its role in the American immigrant saga. Gratz was helped by hundreds of people along the way, and was followed in her leadership role by Amy Waterman, who advanced the project by raising new awareness and large sums of money through various wards and grants.

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The Strength of Judaism and the Courage of Social Justice

By Eric Greitens

Eric Greitens‘s most recent book, “The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL,” is now available. His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


In the preface to “The Heart and the Fist,” I explain to the reader that I’ve been lucky enough to learn from amazing warriors and humanitarians alike. Through this book, I hope to share how their work and their stories inspire me.

How do stories relate to the narrative of social justice and Judaism? The human mind is narrative; we tend to think in stories, and there is a strength in story and tradition. In some of our most dire times, we look to stories because they give us strength.

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An Empty Mental Space

By Erica Brown

Earlier this week, Dr. Erica Brown asked, “What are the Three Weeks, anyway?” and wrote about learning to mourn. Her new book, “In the Narrow Places,” is now available. Her posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite, courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Jewish law is based generally on the assumption that our emotions follow our actions. If we act charitably, we will become, over time, more compassionate human beings. We don’t wait for a moment of empathy to hit before we obligate ourselves to give. Yet we are commanded when it comes to certain emotions: We are supposed to love God, supposed to refrain from hate towards others and feel reverence for our parents.

During the Three Weeks, the summer stretch of time that is marked by two fasts commemorating the destruction of the Temples and any other persecution of Jews in history, we are obligated to mourn. Our mourning consists of many behaviors designed to minimize our sense of joy. But if you look carefully at the Shulkhan Arukh, the 16th-century code of Jewish law written by Rabi Joseph Karo, you notice a small but stunning appeal to the emotions.

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Sayed Kashua and Omri Herzog Win Bernstein Literary Prize

By Maya Sela

Crossposted from Haaretz

Author Sayed Kashua and literary critic Dr. Omri Herzog are the winners of the Bernstein Prize for 2011. Kashua received the NIS 50,000 prize for an original novel in Hebrew for “Second Person Singular” (Keter Books). He writes a weekly column in Haaretz Magazine. Herzog was awarded the NIS 15,000 prize for literary criticism in the daily press, for three reviews that appeared in his column in Haaretz Books.

Natasha Mozgovaya
Bernstein prize-winner Sayed Kashua

The jury cited Kashua’s novel for its “fascinating and satirical look at Israeliness and especially the Arab-Israeli mind, a topic that has barely been reflected in Hebrew literature… The novel addresses the split identity of the Arab Israeli, with its contradictory wishes and its impossible yearnings,” professors Michael Gluzman, Gabriel Zoran and Avidov Lipsker wrote. “Courageously (but also with considerable humor), Kashua depicts his characters as Arabs who are becoming educated and enlightened, abandoning the village and coming to the city out of the aspiration to develop and become a part of the general, Jewish society. This story, which echoes the plots of the Hebrew enlightenment during the period of the Jewish revival, sharpens — for both the characters and the readers — questions of belonging, identity and identification.”

The jury called “Second Person Singular” an important work in the emerging trend of Arabs who write in Hebrew, “which challenges the boundaries of Hebrew literary discourse and offers a complex and challenging look at Israeli society as a multicultural society.” Kashua welcomed the announcement, saying on Monday: “My son was discharged from neonatal intensive care today and we are considering naming him Bernstein. I am frightened with happiness at the good things that have happened to me today.”

Read more at Haaretz.com

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Learning to Mourn

By Erica Brown

On Monday, Dr. Erica Brown asked, “What are the Three Weeks, anyway?” Her posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite, courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


We have become who we are as a people not only by celebrating our most joyous collective occasions, like Passover and Shavuot, but also by our capacity to mourn as a group for that which we’ve lost or never experienced. This is best embodied by the demands of the season — the Three Weeks — that are bookended by two fasts all grieving over the loss of the Temples, Jerusalem and other tragedies of Jewish history.

I’ve heard people complain that they can’t get worked up about something that happened so long ago and has little relevance to their lives today. But I imagine that pilgrimage to Jerusalem must have been a remarkable sight. Seeing people stream into the holy city from every possible direction with their families in tow must have created an expansive feeling of pride and unity, one that is hard to imagine in today’s Jewish world.

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Columbia Prof Uses Math To Create World Peace

By Roi Ben-Yehuda

Getty Images

The Five Percent: Finding Solutions To Seemingly Impossible Conflicts
By Peter Coleman
Public Affairs, 288 pages, $27.99

One of the great challenges of our time is finding ways to resolve intractable conflicts that have proven persistent, destructive and resistant to change.

A groundbreaking new book by Columbia University professor Peter Coleman argues that while most conflicts can be resolved by traditional means, 5% of those conflicts — the ones that seem impossible to solve — call for new ways of thinking.

Based on the work of an extraordinary multi-disciplinary team that includes specialists in complexity science, astrophysics, mathematics, social psychology, anthropology and conflict resolution, “The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts” brings to the general reader, for the first time, research that could reshape our understanding of intractable conflicts.

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What Are the Three Weeks, Anyway?

By Erica Brown

Dr. Erica Brown is the author of “In the Narrow Places,” a daily meditation for each day of the Three Weeks. Her posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite, courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I recently spoke at a Melton graduation that marked a two-year commitment of adults studying Judaism seriously through a global curriculum out of the Hebrew University. The rabbi who introduced me mentioned my current book ,“In the Narrow Places: Daily Inspiration for the Three Weeks,” followed immediately by, ‘If you don’t know what the Three Weeks are, please sign up for Melton.” I was happy to be used as an advertisement for the course, but less happy with the realization that this time period is virtually unknown outside of traditionally observant circles.

Let’s face it. It is odd to have any commemorative period referred to by the number of days it occupies, and the fact that it happens during the summer does nothing to help its popularity. The Three Weeks is officially called “bein ha-meitzarim” — between the straights or narrow places, from the biblical book of Lamentations. This quiet quasi-month of mourning is marked by two fasts: the 17th of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av.

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