As Hanukkah approaches this week, earlier and more turkey-filled than ever, it’s important to ask that age-old question: What’s really Jewish?
Rabbis and poets and the atheist uncles at my family’s Seder table have debated the question for generations. Forget the scholars and drunks, I say. The best answer I’ve ever heard came from a comedian. His name was Lenny Bruce.
Our greatest comic and patron saint of profanity, I remember the first time I heard Lenny Bruce’s classic take on the issue. Being Jewish, he taught us, simply meant being…not goyish. And if you didn’t know what goyish was, all that meant was…not Jewish. Pretty simple, right?
The difference between the two, however, can sometimes be very subtle. Lenny explained what it meant back in the 1960s, but I wondered: how can we explain this critical, vitally important issue to the Youtube generation?
So, with my friends over at 3200stories.org, I decided to make an updated version for 2013. I studied the ancient texts, examined every pop culture trend, and came up with some surprising results. Here they are, for your viewing pleasure. Buckle your online seat belts, this is a comedic trip from Mos Def to masturbation to God himself to see who comes out ahead in that age-old battle: Jewish vs. Goyish.
by: Julie Pepper Lim on November 14th, 2013 | 1 Comment »
What is true? I’m fascinated by this idea of “true” and what is true. I just published my first book and many people ask me if it is “true.”
“It’s a novel,” I say.
“But is it true?” they say.
“Is what true?” I say.
“The book,” they say.
“It’s fiction,” I say.
“But, I mean, is it true?” they say.
“What is true?” I think. It’s true that I wrote a book. It’s true that some of the events, people and places in it are very much based on true people, places and things. And for me it is very true. True in its rawness, its voice, the feelings, the thoughts, the place, the characters. But is it true?
The book is fiction, which to me is a weaving together of all sorts of truths and “lies” and stories that are true and not so true to tell a bigger story and the bigger story is very true, but it’s not a true story. It’s a crafted story. It’s a piecing together of lots of different parts that make a story, and different characters that act in that story. I am one of the characters. What I mean is, to write the story, I step into one of the characters and then another and pretty soon all of them so they can move about freely in the story and talk and fight and interact with one another as they move the story forward.
In the emergent world – the one I call The Republic of Stories – we don’t have to shrink ourselves to the scale of widgets to interact with corporations and institutions, modeling our own ways of being on the machine logic of our inventions. At any moment, we can open the gates of perception and understanding. We can treat each other as whole beings. We can assess and consider the full price of our actions, then act accordingly.
That world already exists; it’s just that the way is sometimes blocked by those so loyal to Datastan’s values that they can’t imagine an alternative. It’s a matter of time before enough people bring the new reality into focus, and I am determined to put my energy on the fulcrum of paradigm shift. It’s amazing how much even a single exercise – allowing a piece of music to enter us fully – can help engage the tipping-point.
In Vancouver recently, I spoke at the Zero Waste Conference, a gathering of scientists, officials, academics, and activists devoted to eliminating waste. I was deeply impressed to encounter Michael Braungart for the first time. His talk was frank and amusing, calling into question many of the aims implicit in zero waste and other action focusing on environmental impact reduction. Braungart’s points sounded obvious once you heard them, generating mind-changing implications. For instance, he compared the goal of “zero emissions” to the reality of a tree, which emits helpful substances into the atmosphere and earth. He questioned sustainability as a value, suggesting that it sets the bar pretty low: “Would you want to answer a question about the quality of your marriage by saying, ‘It’s sustainable’?”
by: Annie Pentilla on October 15th, 2013 | Comments Off
Artists at Youth Sprit Artworks learn a variety of artistic mediums. Here a YSA youth uses paint to create her design.
Youth from Youth Spirit Artworks present the brightly colored traffic bollards they meticulously tiled.
If you’ve ever walked along Ashby Street between Shattuck and Telegraph in Berkeley, you might have noticed the colorfully tiled bollards lining the street. Busy commuters who travel Ashby everyday can easily overlook the mosaics on these cement posts, but those who do are missing out on a powerful artistic display of the thoughts, histories, emotions, and ambitions of Berkeley’s homeless and “at-risk” youth.
The tiled bollards on Ashby are just one of the many community art projects created by Youth Spirit Artworks, an interfaith job-training arts program co-founded by Sally Hindman. Hindman – who’s also responsible for the Telegraph Avenue drop-in center for homeless youth and Street Spirit, the Bay Area’s homeless newspaper – created the organization in 2007 in order to provide training for young people in need.
According to the program’s website, Youth Spirit Artworks began “as a response to the enormous employment challenges of older homeless and low-income youth.”
Homeless youth can have a very difficult time finding employment and getting an education. As the National Coalition for the Homeless points out, many youth “leave home after years of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, and parental neglect.” Once they’re on the streets, they face harsh challenges:
by: Ian Hoffman on October 8th, 2013 | Comments Off
(Credit: Creative Commons)
At the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, I met and later dated a Swedish woman. She was tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and older than me, but none of this mattered much in the giddy and stuffed atmosphere that was the festival’s after-party, at the Swedish American House (actually, she had gotten her tickets through a friend working at that house). Like me, she was delighted to be at a party that was in many ways an imitation of a big Hollywood bash – standing in line, for instance, next to the actress we had just watched onscreen.
A hundred years back, none of this would have been possible. Jews were mostly living in fringe communities spread across Europe or, if not, we were relegated to second-class citizenship within cities plush with anti-Semitism. This is all old hat, but sometimes being a Jew in the twenty-first century makes it easy to forget how lucky we are.
We can meet and date Swedish women who might have once thought us anathema. We once would have thought them untouchable.
That’s why the movie I most enjoyed at the film festival – Nono, the Zigzag Kid – was not particularly Jewish. Rather, it was about how Judaism has faded into the background of life; for so many of us, it is not a distinguishing mark anymore. And yet that does not mean that we’re not Jewish.
I saw this movie on a cool, bright August Saturday in my neighborhood theater at the foot of Solano. Playing in both auditoriums, and filling them. As I looked around for a seat, I noticed what has become a common phenomenon: I couldn’t spot anyone under fifty in the crowd. We have aged with Woody, and the audience seems to have aged well.
Before the “approved for this film” previews, and the announcement by the officious (he played his part well) theater manager about putting away all instruments “that may beep or ring during the performance,” we were treated to a trailer by Tanqueray that was cool and exciting. It featured a bartender at a trendy NYC watering hole plying his trade. His enormous schnoz; lithe, athletic frame; and outstanding savoire faire–be it in mixing a drink, comforting a sad debutante, or ejecting an unruly customer–marked him as an outstanding model for creating a life built on skill and people smarts. Next time I have a gin martini (which is never), I will ask for Tanqueray.
Well, now that my review previews are over, let’s get to the meat of the matter. If I want to follow up on that metaphor, we do have a steak dinner here (a rare tenderloin, although to compare Cate Blanchett to a slab of meat is not the whole story for sure). The problem is the setting, the sides, and the service. Context, context.
Like many artists, Montreal writer and multidisciplinary artist, Taien Ng-Chan sees her work as an opportunity to interrogate the world around us, to reach the public, and to work towards a more progressive society. Although she questions whether or not art can actually make an impact in our collective cultural consciousness, or change anything politically, she’s willing to try. As she says, “looking back, historical art movements do seem to end up gaining traction in ways that seem important in hindsight, so we’d better keep doing it, just in case.”
Indeed, Ng-Chan was part of last year’s massive student uprising in Québec, a movement that saw thousands mobilize–first in response to the provincial government’s plan to raise tuition at post-secondary institutions, and then in response to the same government’s oppressive strategies to keep the protests under control. Ultimately what happened in what was called “le printemps érable,” or the “maple spring” (in keeping with the name the Arab Spring), resulted in a provincial election that brought down Québec’s Liberal government. At first it seemed like the incoming Parti Québécois would bring new hope; instead they wore the red square – symbol of the student movement – and at first cancelled the tuition hikes, but they also cut the province’s education budget, and then ended up imposing tuition hikes anyway. Ng-Chan comments that it’s easy to grow cynical when politicians can be so duplicitous; however, she also suggests that it’s important to keep building community to affect change in small ways, and art is just another way to accomplish this.
Human beings seem to come with certain built-in spiritual inclinations, and gratitude is chief among them. Parents and teachers think we have to be taught to say thank you, but maybe it just comes naturally. Gratitude is both accessible and enlivening.
Accessible because it is as easy as paying attention to that which we might otherwise take for granted. So when our lover holds our hand for the umpteenth time it feels like it’s the first time and we’re grateful for them all over again. Or when we sit down to a plate of something humble and home-cooked it suddenly transports us to all those other meals in all those other places where we felt loved, accepted, welcomed.
Enlivening because once we pay attention to one thing, and we’re thankful for it, we can’t help but be thankful for this other thing, and that other thing. Allowing for even a speck of gratitude can set off a chain reaction that bursts our complacency bubbles, leaving us exposed to a fresh and immediate awareness of all the good that is, and that we might be and do.
Though gratitude is built-in and doesn’t necessarily need to be taught, like any spiritual inclination it can be cultivated into a more fulsome flowering. How appropriate, then, that someone as experienced at gardening as she is at spiritual practices would offer us a guide to nurturing this part of us.
What makes Donna Schaper’s book Grace at Table so delicious is that it is both accessible and enlivening, like what it seeks to nurture.
Oil lamp found in cistern during excavation in Jerusalem. Photo by Vladimir Naykhin.
Israeli archaeologists have recently discovered artifacts that give us a vivid sense of how destructive and merciless extremism of any sort and an eagerness for war can be, as reported earlier this month by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
You wouldn’t expect to find a cooking pot – let alone three of them – inside a cistern, which is a tank, usually underground, used to collect rainwater.
Photo by Vladimir Naykhin.
But when archaeologist Eli Shukron and his team were excavating a cistern associated with a first-century building near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, they found three intact cooking pots and a small ceramic oil lamp (pictured) dating to the time of the failed Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire in 66-70 CE.
These inhabitants of Jerusalem – who were most likely innocent, peace-loving people – were forced to eat food in hiding, at the risk of persecution – from other Jews. Both the eye-witness testimony of Josephus and a story recorded later in the Talmud report how a group of Jewish extremists known as the Zealots (or the Sicarii or Biryonei) were so bent on getting the rest of the Jewish community to fight for its independence by revolting against the Roman Empire that these Zealots intentionally caused a devastating man-made famine to force the people into war.