Tag Archives: Tablet Magazine

Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood Book Review

Antisemitism is on the rise. It is a fact that is sadly indisputable. When innocent congregants were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27th, 2018, it was a wake up call.

Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood, by Mark Oppenheimer (co-host of the Unorthodox podcast), was published earlier this month. In the book, Opppenheimer focuses on the community, both past and present. It starts with the history of both the city and the neighborhood and ends with how it has bounced back since that day. What makes Squirrel Hill unique is that it is both diverse and has retained it’s Jewish neshama (soul). While in other parts of the country, there is an obvious demographic, cultural and religious shift over the decades, this district has maintained its identity.

When the gunman (who the author does not mention by name and shall be referred to in the same manner in this review) entered the synagogue, it was an event that can only be described as knowing the rose colored glasses off of our collective faces. With a journalist’s eye and the heart of an ordinary human being, Oppenheimer speaks to survivors, the victim’s family members, local residents, historians, and others to tell the story of a moment in time that will forever be preserved in a moment of hate, fear, and heartbreak.

I loved this book. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on multiple lists of the top books of 2021. If the author’s approach would have been to wallow in grief and anger while telling this story, he would have had every right to. But he treats the subject with sensitivity and the understanding that not everyone involved is ready or able to talk about that day and its aftermath.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, History, Judaism

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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Filed under Book Review, Books, History, Podcast

Hebrew School Podcast Review

For people of many faiths, the question of how to educate their children in the doctrines and traditions of said faith is not always easy to answer. While the obvious answer is sending their children to full time religious school, not every parents wants to or is able to do so. The compromise is that the child(ren) will go to secular public school and then attend religious school.

The second season of the Tablet magazine podcast, Hebrew School, premiered this past weekend. Now hosted by Frank Spiro and Sabrina Marielle Friedman, this quiz show brings in young contestants, asking them questions about Jewish history, culture, and holidays. Using games, songs, and sound effects, these kids are challenged on their knowledge of everything Jewish.

This podcast is adorable. I wish it had existed when I was in Hebrew school. It is brilliant, charming, funny, and educational for listeners of any age.

P.S. Shout out to Sabrina for the Destiny’s Child reference. It was good laugh and made this old millennial feel old.

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Filed under Music, Podcast, Podcast Review

Throwback Thursday: Israel Story (2013-Present)

When it comes to certain countries, it is easy to get caught up in the flashy headlines and the soundbites on the news. What is harder, but ultimately worth the effort, is to get to know the people and the details behind the headlines.

The podcast, Israel Story, started in 2013. Broadcast across Israel, it was produced by Galei Tzahal, Israel’s national Army Radio Station. In 2014, it premiered in the English speaking world. Hosted by Mishy Harman, it can be found on all podcast platforms and on the Tablet magazine website. Each episode takes the listener on a ride through the country, introducing them to people, places, and events that reveal a deeply nuanced and human view of Israel.

I love this podcast. It is intelligent, thoughtful, and stimulating. If nothing else, it has the ability to open minds and show that the Jewish state is much more than many people would make it out to be.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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Filed under International News, Podcast, Podcast Review, World News

New Podcast Reviews: The Experiment and Anxiously

Discovering a favorite podcast is akin to discovering a new television show.

When the United States was founded more than two centuries ago, real democracy was a pipe dream. Most of what was considered to be the known world (aka Europe) was ruled by Kings and Queens. The Founding Fathers were akin to political scientists, trying different experiments until one worked. The latest podcast from WNYC is called The Experiment. The premise is to explore what has worked within our country and what needs to be improved upon.

Jane Austen once wrote the following about friendship:

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”- Northanger Abbey

Friendship is so important. When it comes to mental health issues, it can be the one thing that keeps the emotional wolves at bay. Especially when we are locked in our homes due to the pandemic. Anxiously is the latest podcast from Tablet Magazine. Hosted by two friends, Aimee and Lisa, their conversations revolve around what makes them well, anxious.

So far, I have enjoyed both The Experiment and Anxiously. I like the way both explore their respective subjects in a way that the audience can connect to without being talked down to or over.

Do I recommend both? Absolutely.

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Filed under Books, History, Jane Austen, Mental Health, Northanger Abbey, Podcast, Podcast Review, WNYC

The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between Book Review

Religion is a fascinating thing. It’s more than the basic tenets of the faith and the lifestyle dictated by that faith.

Released last fall, The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between is written and compiled by the hosts of the podcast Unorthodox (produced by Tablet Magazine).

Primarily written by podcast hosts Mark Oppenheimer, Liel Leibovitz, and Stephanie Butnick, this book is more than your standard encyclopedia. It contains images, charts, and illustrations, it is the story of Judaism, past, and present.

The thing that I loved about this book is that though it is an opportunity to learn, it does not feel like the reader is learning something. It is a fun read and a wonderful opportunity to open hearts and minds, regardless of one’s knowledge or level of practice of Judaism.

I recommend it.

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If the Democrats Want to Win the 2020 Election, I Suggest That They Squash the Antisemitism In Their Party

For the nearly twenty years that I have been able to vote, I have voted mostly Democrat. My family has been also voting along the Democratic lines for as long as I can remember.

I hate to say it, but I may have to rethink my political affiliation. Earlier today, Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) made some comments regarding Israel, Palestine and the Holocaust are not only historically inaccurate, but they also have the capacity to inflame what is already a dangerous conflict. During the interview, she stated the following:

“There’s kind of a calming feeling I always tell folks when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports. I mean, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time, and I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right, and it was forced on them,” she said.

There are a number of inaccuracies that I would like correct the Representative on.

  1. The origin of the name Palestine comes from the Greeks who conquered ancient Israel and changed the name to prevent future generations from identifying Israel as their homeland.
  2. Before 1948, anyone who called the British Mandate of Palestine home was a Palestinian, even those of the Jewish faith.
  3. When Israel was declared to be an independent state, Arab leaders at the time promised a quick and easy war to remove the Jews and establish a new Arab state. The war did not go as planned. Meanwhile, no one talks about the Jews who were living in Muslim countries and had to leave everything behind to stay alive.

I am the first to admit that the actions of the Israeli government are not always perfect. I am the first to agree that there is racism is Israel, as there is everywhere in the world. But it is the only legitimate democracy in the Middle East, where all citizens are treated equally.

I don’t want to have to change my political party. I have no doubt that antisemitism exists in the Republican and Independent parties. But the fact is that if the Democrats do not excise this wound, they may lose the 2020 election. The last thing I want is to have you know who win another four years in office.

P.S. If you are interested in additional reading, Liel Leibovitz’s excellent article in Tablet Magazine hits the nail on the head.

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Filed under History, International News, Politics, World News

Two Podcasts You Should Be Listening To If You Aren’t Already: Can I Just Say & Unorthodox

These days, everyone and their mother has their own podcast.

But for me, there are two podcasts that I count myself as a fan of: Unorthodox and Can I Just Say.

Unorthodox

There is an old inside joke about Jews: For every two Jews, there are three opinions. From my perspective. is the backbone of Unorthodox. Created by Tablet Magazine,  the podcast is hosted by Mark Oppenheimer, Stephanie Butnick and Liel Leibovitz. Every week they talk about news relating to the Jewish world and have two guests: one Jewish and one not Jewish. What I appreciate about this podcast is that Mark, Liel and Stephanie not only mesh well together, but their unique world views allow all three to stand out in their own way. I’ve been listening for a couple of years; it’s a pleasure to wake up on Thursday morning knowing that the week’s episode is waiting for me.

Can I Just Say

Pop culture podcasts can sometimes get a little dull. Either they can veer too much into the fan boy or fan girl lane or they are just a tad too intellectual.

Thankfully, Can I Just Say is the perfect pop culture podcast. Hosted by Daphne Olive and Elizabeth Stevens, the ladies have unique and stimulating conversations about everything from Star Wars (their newest podcast about The Last Jedi was very interesting) to novels and their various adaptations (their comments about Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility got me thinking) to a hand-picked selection of Baz Lurhmann films opened my eyes to his abilities as a filmmaker. They also host a podcast entitled Fathoms Deep: A Black Sails Podcast, an equally interesting podcast about the television series Black Sails.

I recommend both.

 

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Filed under Books, Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, Movies, Podcast, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Star Wars, Television