The Precious Age of 13

May 30, 2012
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the precious age of 13

The singer James Levy’s deep rumbling voice and thoughtful lyrics strongly remind us of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. He and his band, The Blood Red Rose, recently released their first album, Pray to Be Free. It includes the song “Precious Age of 13,” an ode to, of all things, Levy’s bar mitzvah. The song starts…

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A Tale of Two Crown Heightses

May 29, 2012
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a tale of two crown heightses

The neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is home to a large population of Hasidic Jews, and a large population of Caribbean immigrants. For the most part, the two groups have kept to themselves–with a few notable exceptions, like the 1991 Crown Heights Riots. Recently four Caribbean high-school girls in Crown Heights, three from Jamaica and…

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The Fifteen Commandments

May 25, 2012
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“All pay heed!” cries Mel Brooks, playing Moses in History of the World, Part I–”The Lord has given unto you these Fifteen Commandments!” He promptly drops one tablet, which shatters. Without missing a beat, Moses continues: “Uh, these Ten Commandments!” It’s a classic movie moment, albeit one with little support from the Bible (or from the Talmud and Midrash,…

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Crop Circles

May 24, 2012
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crop-circle

The six-pointed star has appeared in Jewish iconography for a thousand years. But there’s a chance that the Magen David is meaningful to another, far different culture–an alien culture. When Google started mapping out aerial views of Earth, its geomappers discovered some unexpected sights–for example, clean, crisp views of crop circles. Crop circles are a phenomenon in which…

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A Golem Goes to Hebrew School

May 23, 2012
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a golem goes to hebrew school

Literary grandmaster Cynthia Ozick is a critic, an innovator, and a clever storyteller who dips into every part of Jewish culture, from the true story of a Jewish painter with a Nazi benefactor to a female rabbi who creates a golem. Her novel The Cannibal Galaxy is out of print and generally under-appreciated. However, it might be among her most notable contributions…

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Killing Jesus with Rhyme

May 22, 2012
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killing jesus with rhyme

In a rap battle, participants lyrically insult each other as crowds cheer and beg for more.  One such battle, in 2010, featured QP, a California-based rapper, against Brooklyn’s Soul Khan (real name: Noah Abraham Weston), a Jewish guy–and one of the few white people visible in the 400-person audience. Their match begins with a typical…

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Best Bathroom Reading

May 18, 2012
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best bathroom reading

According to Jewish law, it’s inadvisable to read holy materials, or even mention God’s name, in a bathroom. On the other hand, there’s a classic rabbinical admonition never to waste a second. According to one apocryphal story, the famed 18th-century Rabbi Elijah of Vilna reconciled these competing values by writing his book of mathematical philosophy, Ail Meshulash,…

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When the Nazis Ran Interpol

May 17, 2012
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when the nazis ran interpol

The International Criminal Police Organization, or INTERPOL, helps police departments around the world communicate with each other. It was established in 1923 at a meeting of the International Police Congress. And, during World War II, it was a part of the Nazi war machine. During the Anschluss of 1938, when Germany effectively conquered Austria, all Austrian police…

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Alexander the Jew

May 16, 2012
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alexander

Many Jewish names are passed from generation to generation. There are Eastern European names like Mendel or Yenta, Israeli names like Erez or Tal, and then there are the classical names of Jewish heroes–like Solomon, Daniel, or Alexander. Yes, Alexander, as in Alexander the Great, who conquered the Land of Israel, circa 329 B.C.E. According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus,…

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The Most Popular Palestinian Writer in Israel

May 15, 2012
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13238290

Sayed Kashua has made a career out of being an anomaly: A Hebrew-speaking Muslim Israeli Arab. As a writer, he pens a weekly column for Haaretz, a major Israeli newspaper, and he writes the hilarious sitcom Arab Labor for Israeli TV. His 2012 novel, Second Person Singular, is about being Arab in a majority-Jewish country, and it’s…

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Rakhmones afn Tayvl

May 14, 2012
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url

“Ich bin un Mentsch mit chutzpah und gelt,” sings Daniel Kahn in a raspy, Tom Waits-like Yiddish in the song “Rakhmones afn Tayvl.” He might be the first to sing this sentence in that particular language. Translate the song into English, however, and many more people will recognize it–it’s the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the…

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Mystics in the Womb

May 12, 2012
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Mystics in the Womb

Some of the most fabulous legends about Hasidic rabbis start while their subjects are still children. The legends of Sender Safrin (1806-1874), the first rebbe of the Hasidic sect of Komarno, are even more fantastic–they start before his birth. According to his autobiography, Megillat Setari (Book of Secrets), Sender was conceived on the night of his parents’…

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