When the Comic Stops Laughing

July 18, 2012
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when the comics

Israel Zangwill (1864-1929) was a British humorist, a writer, and an early Zionist activist. He eventually left the Zionist movement in order to lead a movement called Territorialism, which called for a homeland for the Jewish people wherever they could get it–be it South America, Germany, or elsewhere. Zangwill tried to arouse sympathy for Territorialism among Britain’s…

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Nature Boy

July 17, 2012
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girl blue dress

The 1947 song “Nature Boy,” written by eden ahbez, has a long and strange history. A jazz standard, it’s been performed by Nat “King” Cole and Miles Davis, and its lyrics were quoted at the end of the film Moulin Rouge (“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn/is to love and be loved in return”).…

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Sherlock’s Jewish Girlfriend

July 16, 2012
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adler 2

“To Sherlock Holmes she was always the woman.” This is the opening line of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” one of the most popular and enduring stories about the world’s favorite detective. “She” refers to Irene Adler, the closest thing to a love interest that Holmes ever had–in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, at any rate (we won’t think…

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Bulletproof Stockings

July 13, 2012
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bulletproof stockings

Talk about alienating half your potential audience. The band Bulletproof Stockings, which formed in Crown Heights last year, will only play in front of all-women crowds. The two women in the band, pianist/singer Perl Wolfe and drummer Dalia Shusterman, are both Lubavitch Hasidim, and they adhere to a piece of Jewish law that says that men are not…

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Chaim Potok and the Rebbe Walk into a Bar.

July 12, 2012
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chaim potok and the rebbe

A farbrengen is a Hasidic spiritual gathering–it can be just a handful of people, or a few thousand. Stories and folktales are told, wordless niggunim are sung, and, more often than not, alcohol is consumed. At one such farbrengen (watch video here) in Crown Heights, held on Purim 1973, the Lubavitcher Rebbe entertained a throng of non-Lubavitch guests. Starting the previous year, the Rebbe…

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H.G. Wells vs. the Jews

July 11, 2012
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hg wells

Today, H.G. Wells (1866-1946) is primarily known for his science fiction novels Invisible Man and War of the Worlds. For the majority of his career, however, Wells regarded himself as a political and social theorist, writing books like A Modern Utopia and a pre-WWII philosophical treatise, The Shape of Things to Come, which predicted a major conflict in…

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Facing Down Your Dark Side

July 10, 2012
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The slam poet Geoff Kagan Trenchard doesn’t mince words. In the poem “Where Did I Get My Sense of Humor?”–a tribute to his Jewish heritage, and to his rebellion against it–he says right away: Being the only kid who celebrated Hanukkah in elementary school felt exactly like being the only one who…

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Matzah-Flavored Beer

July 9, 2012
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matzah beer

During the holiday of Passover, many Jews eschew bread, as well as most other grain products that might be leavened, or risen: Crackers, bagels, pasta, cake, and even beer (the latter is made from fermented barley, a Passover no-no). At a brewery just outside Portland, Oregon, brewmaster Tom Kramer produces a batch of his own microbrew….flavored…

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More Psalms for the Perplexed

July 6, 2012
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more psalms for the perplexed

Two years ago, the Israeli singer Kobi Oz released his solo debut, Psalms for the Perplexed (check out our review here). The title played on two classic Jewish texts, Guide for the Perplexed and the Book of Psalms, and the album broke all sorts of boundaries–it featured a non-Orthodox Israeli singing about God in…

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What Did the Torah Look Like?

July 5, 2012
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what did the torah look like

Have you ever wondered what font the Torah was originally written in? It might have been the font that the Mishnah calls Ashuri, which is what comes to mind when most of us think about Hebrew. But there’s another style of Hebrew writing called Paleo-Hebrew. Scholars today simply call it “Ktav Ivri,” or “Hebrew writing,” even though most contemporary…

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Did Ulysses S. Grant Hate Jews?

July 4, 2012
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did grant hate jews

In the middle of the Civil War, then-general Ulysses S. Grant was trying to control the illegal cotton trade stemming from the Confederate South. This smuggling project was operated, Grant wrote, “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.” Therefore, Grant issued his infamous Order No. 11, expelling all Jews from the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi.…

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Autobiography & Israel

July 3, 2012
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Autobiography & Israel

Harvey Pekar was the subject and co-star of the 2003 Oscar-nominated film American Splendor, an adaptation of his comic books about being poor, Jewish, and Middle American. Until his death in 2010, he made a career out of writing what he calls “an autobiography written as it’s happening.” Pekar’s new memoir, published posthumously, is a mix of…

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