The Dyke and the Dybbuk

March 31, 2014
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dyke-dybbuk

It’s not easy being a dybbuk. Jewish tradition holds that dybbuks are demons who drive people crazy, but what happens when the Head Office assigns a dybbuk to haunt someone who’s already pretty nuts? In Ellen Galford’s 1994 novel The Dyke and the Dybbuk you’ll find out just how the dybbuk Kokos deals with an…

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Is Chutzpah Dead?

March 28, 2014
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chutzpah-2

When Jewish diners complete their annual tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas, their fortunate cookies exhort them to learn Chinese. The Chinese, it seems, have also been learning Yiddish. We already know that Chinese have been harboring a fascination with so-called Jewish success, but we haven’t yet heard about chutzpah, that famous Jewish…

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The Lesbian Flick Banned by the Nazis

March 27, 2014
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Mädchen-in-Uniform

Quick, a riddle: Who wouldn’t love a lesbian boarding school romp? Answer: Nazis. Believe it or not, the first widely-released film featuring a lesbian plot came out in Germany just as Hitler was rising to power. Despite being made in Germany, Mäedchen in Uniform was more successful elsewhere in Europe than in its home…

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Politics, Protest, and Klezmer in Ukraine’s Freedom Square

March 26, 2014
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pushkin

What does Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti, also known as Freedom Square, sound like? There’s of course plenty of chanting, talking, and arguing. And thanks Kiev’s Pushkin Klezmer Band, there’s also traditional Jewish music. Ukrainian Jews, like their leaders are divided over the political crisis. But band leader Dmitry “Mitya” Gerasimov is not just another voice…

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The Jew Who Taught the Mormons Hebrew

March 25, 2014
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j-smith

Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, wanted to learn Hebrew. In 1835 he set up the School for the Elders where Mormon men were taught grammar, writing, and history. But not long after, Smith put out word that he and his Elders were looking for a Jew. Enter Joshua Seixas,…

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The Bathtub Carp that Inspired the Architect

March 24, 2014
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gehry-1

Inspiration can come from the strangest places. Famed architect Frank Gehry once explained how fish became such a popular motif in his work. Like many good Jews, Gehry, née‎ Goldberg, traced his fascination with fish back to his grandmother. As a boy, Gehry used to accompany his grandmother, Ms. Lillian Caplan to…

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How Minnesota’s Goyish Governor Passed for Jewish

March 21, 2014
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olsen

Could there be a more goyishe name than Floyd Bjørnstjerne Olson? Believe it or not, the 22nd governor of Minnesota, born of Scandinavian parents, was so steeped in Yiddishkeit that he often passed for Jewish. Olson served as governor from 1931 to 1936. A self-described radical who represented the Farmer-Labor Party, he used the powers of…

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The Saga of the Wandering Jew

March 20, 2014
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wandering-jew2

Have you watered your Wandering Jew? The popular spiderwort, as you may know, is a convenient and flexible houseplant—it can be planted in soil or set to hang in a pot, and it’s very patient with forgetful owners. Its name calls to mind Moses and the Israelites in the Sinai Desert,…

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Not Your Grandmother’s Shtetl

March 19, 2014
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Eisiskese24

Pogroms. Fiddlers. Poverty. Coziness. Tradition! Are those the words that come to mind when you hear “shtetl?” Rutgers-based historian Jeffrey Shandler’s recently-published volume will shed some light on why these images spring to mind, and not, say, any old town—which is, after all, the actual meaning of “shtetl“). Shandler has delved…

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How the West Was Won (By Jews)

March 18, 2014
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American-jerusalem

Typically, when we think of Jews in California, what comes to mind, for better or for worse, are the showbiz types. But a new film points our attention about 400 miles up the Pacific coast, to San Francisco. American Jerusalem: Jews and the Making of San Francisco tells the story of Jewish pioneers from…

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The Little Prince’s Jewish BFF

March 17, 2014
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little-prince

It’s probably a bit surprising that The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved 1943 children’s book, is dedicated to an adult. Even more surprising is that that adult, Léon Werth, was a Jewish anarchist and leftist Bolshevik supporter. Werth, a writer like Saint-Exupéry, penned over 30 books in his lifetime. He was critical and incisive, writing…

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The Ultimate Jewish Question: Latkes or Hamantaschen?

March 14, 2014
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Latkes Versus Hamantaschen

As we approach the holiday of noshing hamantaschen, scholars will once again take on a pressing argument. Which is superior: the latke or the hamantasch? Is such a quibble worthy of any high-minded discussion? According to the University of Chicago Hillel, which sponsored the first Latke-Hamantaschen Debate in 1946, the answer is an emphatic…

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