Tag Archives: Judaism

For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World Book Review

When we think of rituals, we often think of them attached to a specific religion or religious experience. But rituals can be more than that. They give us structure and allow us to deal with challenges and occurances that life can throw our way.

For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, by Sasha Sagan, was published earlier this month. Sagan is the daughter of the late scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan and writer/producer Ann Druyan, was raised as a secular Jew. A secular Jew is one who is part of the faith by virtue of being born to Jewish parents. They identify as Jewish, but limit how, when, and where they practice. As a child, she was taught nature, science, and space can tell us more about life and it’s various stages more than any tale created by humans.

When Sagan’s daughter was born, she started to examine how the concepts she learned as a youngster influence how we approach life events. Her goal was to create new rituals that emphasize the moment without relying on a specific religious perspective.

This book is very interesting. Her approach is to study multiple religions and cultures to compare and contrast how each views and approaches life and its various changes. Talking about life, death, and everything in between, Sagan is both respectful and curious, introducing the reader to people and beliefs they may or may not have heard of.

If nothing else, we learn that for all of our outward differences, human beings are all the same. The names, procedures, and details differ. But once we get past that, the similarities are remarkable.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present Book Review

Anyone with an inkling of knowledge of Jewish history knows that it comes down to one phrase: they tried to kill us, we survived, now lets eat”. Though its a joke, the truth behind it is far from funny. Over the millennia, we have been accused of lies, forced to convert and assimilate to survive, persecuted, and murdered.

Dara Horn‘s new book, People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, was published last month. A respected novelist and writer whose work has often focused on anything and everything related to Judaism, Horn examines how we look at deceased Jews are looked with starry eyed nostalgia. But yet, when it comes to living members of the faith, antisemitism is still an all too dangerous part of our lives. Using examples such as Anne Frank, Shylock, and the Auschwitz. Not Long Ago, Not Far Away, Horn looks at how modern Jews are experiencing the same bullshit that our ancestors went through.

I loved this book. Pulling no punches, the author knocks the rose colored glasses off the reader’s face. She forces us to take a long and difficult look at the past and how its time to get real. As I see it, we have an opportunity to put to rest the deception that has caused too many generations to suffer for no reason. The question is, are we willing to do so? Or is it easier to just repeat the actions of our predecessors?

Do I recommend it? Yes.

P.S. There is an adjoining podcast, Adventures With Dead Jews that is the perfect complement to the book.

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The Convert Book Review

These days, depending on who you speak to, religious intermarriage is either just part of normal life or has a hand in breaking down the various faiths. But for as many opinions on this subject that exist, there is one thing that cannot be disputed: it is not a new idea.

The Convert, written by Stefan Hertmans and translated by David McKay, was published last year. In eleventh century France, an unlikely couple has fallen in love. He is David Todros, the son of a prominent Jewish Rabbi and a yeshiva student. She is Vigdis Adelaïs, the daughter of a high ranking Christian family. In spite of the obstacles of faith, family and everything around them that is telling them to back off, they decide to get married. Vigdis converts to Judaism, giving up the life she had before she met David.

She expects that she her father will do everything in his power to bring her home. What she does not expect is an anti-Semitic pogrom and a journey that will take her halfway around the world before she returns to Europe.

Based on the Cairo Genizah, a group of documents and scrolls dating back more than a thousand years, this book is part fact and part fiction. What I liked was that the format is different than other novels in this genre. As we follow the characters on their respect journey, we travel with the author as he goes on a similar journey to put the pieces of the puzzle together. He is able to walk the fine line of using the information that is known while adding historical details that make the period come alive.

What I appreciate is that Vigdis is not the helpless damsel in distress type. She has experiences that could easily kill her. But she survives and is able to make it through a world that others her as both a woman and a Jew.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World Book Review

One of the major tenets of Judaism is “tikkun olam“. In English, it means “repair the world” and in our modern lingo, it is social justice.

Hasia R. Diner‘s 2017 biography of the late businessman and philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald is entitled Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. Born in 1862 to Jewish immigrants, his early years were modest. As an adult, he took over the helm of Sears, Roebuck & Company and made it the retail giant of it’s day. He also ahead of his time in the manner that he treated his staff and his approach to those who were not as fortunate as he was. Instead of putting his names on buildings and using his wealth for conspicuous consumption, he was passionate about giving back. In addition to supporting his co-religionists, he supported the African-American community in a way that many Caucasians did not in that early 20th century.

Before reading this book, I had no idea who Rosenwald was. He is one of those figures in Jewish history who is not as well known as others of his day. This is a quick read (in a good way) and a story that I think is inspiring for us all, regardless of faith or family origin. It shows that it is possible to be a mensch and not give into the preconceived notions of other people.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury Review

In the Jewish faith, Psalm 137 has the following lines:

“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget [her cunning]/ If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”

The new six part CNN miniseries, Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury premiered last night. Over the course of the six episodes Sundays, the program tells the story of the city of Jerusalem via six key battles that changed the fate of the city and the region. Combining re-enactments with interviews with historians and Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars, the viewer is given a 360 degree picture of it’s past, it’s present, and perhaps, a glimpse of its future.

The first episode focused on the glory days of King Saul, King David, and the downfall of ancient Israel after the death of King Solomon. I enjoyed the first episode. If nothing else, it proved that humanity has not changed one bit. Externally, the world may look different, but inside, it is the same as it ever was. It is also, I think a pathway to understanding what has come before us so we can create a better world for future generations.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury airs on CNN on Sunday night at 10PM.

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My Unorthodox Life Review

Walking away from the family we were raised in and the world that we have known our entire lives is not easy. In the world of Orthodox Judaism, the term is called “off the derech“.

The new Netflix reality show, My Unorthodox Life, follows the life of former Orthodox Jew and businesswoman Julia Haart. Living in New York City with her second husband and three of her four children, the viewer is introduced to the tug of war between Haart’s previous life in Monsey and her current day to day life.

After watching a few episodes, I can understand why some Orthodox Jewish women are annoyed by how their community is portrayed, I think the viewer has to take into account that this is Haart’s perspective. I like the mental health aspect of the series, addressing how many women in conservative or fundamentalist may feel trapped by the constraints of their gender and the rules of their gender. I also liked how positively Judaism is portrayed. Though Haart is no longer Orthodox, she is still Jewish and not afraid to be open about it. It is educational without hitting the audience over the head.

It has the gloss of a Bravo reality show, but it is slightly less trashy and not as much of a brain drain as other programs in the genre.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

My Unorthodox Life is available for streaming on Netflix.

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The Vandalization of Those Synagogues in NYC Will Not Change My Faith

Hate is akin to an insidious disease. It takes over you, changing everything about your world and how you see it.

Over the weekend, four different synagogues were vandalized in the Bronx in New York City.

Whomever these people are, if they think that this act will scare me into changing my faith, they have another thing coming. I could go on, but I am going to let two wise men speak instead. Their truths are more powerful than anything I could ever write.

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Though I am sure that the justice system will do it’s job, it may not be enough to change the perspective of the perpetrators. I say, drop them in Auschwitz for a night. Let the spirits of those who were murdered teach the ultimate lesson.

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Happy 73rd Birthday, Israel!

Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut, otherwise known as Israeli Independence Day.

Though no country is perfect, I find it astonishing that in a little less than three-quarters of a century, she has become a vibrant, thriving democracy. Out of the desert and the memory of a thousand generations in exile, a modern country has risen. Through blood, sweat, tears, and the belief in a higher power, she has become the vision that has kept Judaism alive.

It was prophesized in the Book of Ezekiel via Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones that a modern day Israel would arise.

In his vision, the prophet sees himself standing in the valley full of dry human bones. He is commanded to carry a prophecy. Before him, the bones connect into human figures; then the bones become covered with tendon tissues, flesh, and skin. Then God reveals the bones to the prophet as the People of Israel in exile and commands the Prophet to carry another prophecy in order to revitalize these human figures, to resurrect them, and to bring them to the Land of Israel.

Happy Birthday Israel, may you live to see another 73 years and many more after that.

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Opening Israel to non-Orthodox Converts Should Have Happened Long Ago

There are some religions in which converting new members is written into the doctrine. But Judaism is different. While we welcome new members of the faith with open arms, we do not seek out possible new converts.

In Israel, the Law of Return has been written into the cultural and legal system for 70+ years. But not everyone agrees with the specifics of the law. According to traditional Judaism, a Jewish person is defined by the faith of their mother. If the mother is Jewish, either by birth or conversation, the child is Jewish. But if the father is Jewish, but the mother is of another faith (or no faith), the child is not Jewish.

Earlier this month, the High Court finally recognized that Reform and Conservative conversions carry as much weight as Orthodox conversions. This hopefully also extends to the marriage ceremony. Civil marriages do not exist in Israel. The only marriages that are recognized are those performed by Orthodox rabbis. More than a few couples have left the country to get married.

This change is fifteen years in the making and frankly, should have happened a long time go. It shouldn’t matter how one converted. It should only matter that they are as committed to the Jewish faith as those who were born into it.

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Was the Joke About Israel on SNL Satire or Anti-Semitic?

Satire is a beautiful thing. But it can also cross the line.

During the Weekend Update portion of last weekend’s Saturday Night Live, anchor Michael Che made a joke about Israel. To say that it did not go over well is an understatement.

The question I have to ask, is it satire or antisemitism?

I get that it was a joke. Weekend Update is not your serious local weeknight news. It is supposed to be funny and perhaps bordering on not exactly being 100% politically correct.

That being said, I can’t help but agree that it did have a slightly anti-Semitic undertone. My people have been persecuted and murdered because of the lies that have been told about us.

Unlike other countries (ahem, United States) on which the the rollout of the vaccine programs have been unnecessarily complicated or messy, the Israeli government got their shit together. As of February 4th, US News & World Report put out a story that all Israelis over the age of sixteen were able to get the vaccine. The important word in this headline is all. There was no mention of any specific group that was either pushed to the head of the line or denied access because of their religious or cultural background.

I’ve been a fan of SNL for more than twenty years, this program is usually the highlight of my weekend. I can usually laugh at anything. But this joke, I cannot and will never be able to laugh at.

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