Last of the Red-Hot Mamas

January 19, 2012
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Sophie+Tucker+sophie_tucker

Sophie Tucker (1884-1966) was a star of Yiddish vaudeville and American films. She was born as Sophie Kalish in Tolchin, Ukraine. Her family immigrated to the United States and opened a diner where Sophie sang for tips. She married early, and soon divorced–whereupon Sophie headed for New York City, changing her name, and deciding on the advice of a friend to…

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Third Time’s the Charm

January 18, 2012
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There’s a man at a comedy club wearing a black suit, white shirt, and twirled sidelocks. He’s telling the audience about his last flight to Israel. “When I show up for the flight looking like this, and the security people see that my passport says ‘Chris Campbell,’ they don’t ask me if I packed…

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A Christmas Special for Jews

January 17, 2012
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baal shem tov picture

There’s a certain magic to stop-motion animation–the animation technique that makes physically manipulated objects, like clay figurines, look like they’re moving on their own. It seems honest and unpolished, evoking the same kind of feeling we get from wooden toys. It’s one of the reasons that holiday TV specials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” are so…

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Ritual Shellfish

January 16, 2012
By
Snails

Tzitzit are the thready fringes that hang from the corners of a tallit. The tzitzit we use today are almost uniformly white, but according to Jewish tradition, they’re allowed to be any color of the rainbow–except blue. In the Torah, we are told to “bind a thread of blue to each corner” of tzitzit.…

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Fanny Brice Meets Ozzy Osbourne

January 13, 2012
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yiddish

It might be hard to imagine a band paying homage simultaneously to 18th-century Yiddish music and 1980s heavy metal. But a few seconds listening to the band Yiddish Princess, and you’ll be convinced the two genres are a perfect fit. Sarah Mina Gordon, the band’s lead vocalist, describes their songs as “informed, unsentimental Yiddish music.”…

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Occupy Your Bank Account

January 12, 2012
By
new_oj

Jews and banks have a somewhat complicated history. In the beginning of the 20th century, Jewish immigrants to America founded the first Hebrew free loan societies and credit unions. These institutions helped small business owners–many of whom were new immigrants–to set up shop, circumventing banks that viewed them as credit risks. The first credit…

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A Fish This Big

January 11, 2012
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leviathan

Did the ancient rabbis know about killer whales or the Loch Ness Monster? Probably not–but that didn’t stop them from theorizing about a sea-creature that was almost bigger than the ocean itself. The Leviathan, according to rabbinic literature, was created on the fifth day of creation, along with fish and everything else that lives in the sea. It’s…

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Divine Plagiarism

January 9, 2012
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Stereo Sinai Hi-res press photo1

“We steal lyrics from God,” claims the website for the band Stereo Sinai. It isn’t exactly a lie–the husband-wife duo, who hail from Chicago, take biblical verses, pair them with a catchy hybrid of electronic and folk-pop music, and turn them into songs. Sometimes Stereo Sinai’s songs are sung in the voices of biblical characters, such…

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Life Before the Nazis

January 6, 2012
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9780307378804

Eastern Europe in the early years of the 20th century was at a giant crossroads: Technologically advanced, bustling cities in some parts, and in others, peasant villages that were still finding their way out of the Middle Ages. The novel Until the Dawn’s Light, which Jewniverse featured a few weeks ago, told the story of a Jewish woman…

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Murder, Poisons, and Conversos

January 5, 2012
By
shylock

Dr. Rodrigo López was born in Portugal in the 16th century. He was a converso, a Jew who converted to Christianity, but he ended up leaving the country, fleeing the increasingly dogged efforts of the Inquisition, which aimed to persecute lapsed converts. In London–where he arrived in 1559–López became a charismatic and popular local physician, and a social climber.…

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Songs of Wonder

January 4, 2012
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pharoah

On the new album Songs of Wonder, singer/oud player Basya Schechter works with ten poems by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)–the revolutionary thinker who wrote God in Search of Man and marched with Martin Luther King. Schechter sets Heschel’s words to music and turns them into songs. Schechter is the woman behind the band Pharaoh’s Daughter, a Sephardic-influenced world music ensemble.…

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Why Isn’t Israel in Madagascar?

January 3, 2012
By
madagascar

The location of the modern State of Israel–that is, in the same region that the biblical Israelites called home–seems sensible enough. But in fact even Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, was open to setting up the Jewish state elsewhere. At one point, he proposed that Jews settle a remote and unpopulated region of Uganda.…

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