The Midrash of Leonard Cohen

July 17, 2011
By
the midrash of leonard cohen

The Canadian singer and poet Leonard Cohen has written some of the past century’s most moving, stirring, and deeply sad songs. And several of those songs retell stories from the Jewish Bible. In his song “Story of Isaac,” Cohen portrays the biblical Abraham as a “strong and holy” man with shining eyes and a cold voice. Cohen…

Read more »

This Ain’t Your Grandpa’s Shema

July 15, 2011
By
cover-eyes

The prayer known as the Shema, the six-word proclamation of God‘s singularity, might be the most important prayer in Judaism. The version that appears in prayer books today includes this crucial sentence, followed by excerpts from three different parts of the Torah: A paragraph about loving God, a paragraph about reward and punishment,…

Read more »

Crowdsourcing the Holocaust

July 14, 2011
By
vashem-wall

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel, has an unexpected new ally in its efforts to chronicle the Nazi atrocities: Google. Each day, Yad Vashem gets literally hundreds of requests for information about Holocaust victims. It’s impossible for the museum to respond to all of them. But a collaborative project with Google offers…

Read more »

A Girl’s Best Friend

July 13, 2011
By
diamond

What’s the connection between Hasidic Jews and diamonds? History tells us that many Jews, after being prohibited from most professions in medieval Europe, became financiers or diamond merchants. British author Jeanette Winterson, in her acclaimed 1998 novel Gut Symmetries, has a loftier answer. “To a Jew,” she writes, “stones have meaning beyond value. The 12 jewels of…

Read more »

Mr. Saturday Night

July 12, 2011
By
Mr saturday night

What happens to Borscht Belt comedians when they get old? That melancholy question is the subject of the 1992 comedy film Mr. Saturday Night. Starring Billy Crystal (it was also his directorial debut) as Buddy Young, an aged Jewish comic who’s struggling to find work, the film flashes back to events throughout his life, growing…

Read more »

Mrs. Wyatt Earp

July 11, 2011
By
earp

Josephine Sarah Marcus was born in Brooklyn to a Jewish family, the third of four children. At 18, she ran away to join a touring theatre company, which in 1879 was considered a brazen move for a young girl from a respectable family. While in Arizona, she met Johnny Behan, sheriff of Yavapai County.…

Read more »

Romeo and Juliet in the Shtetl

July 8, 2011
By
romeo-yiddish

The story of Romeo and Juliet has been adapted and updated to fit all sorts of contexts, from gang wars (in West Side Story) to online miscommunication (in an adaptation called Such Tweet Sorrow). Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish, a recent film update of the play, isn’t a retelling so much as it…

Read more »

Jerusalem of Music

July 7, 2011
By
kutiman

The Israeli composer Kutiman–also known as Ophir Kutiel–might not play an instrument, but he can make a symphony. Kutiman came to the world’s attention with the project ThruYou. He collected YouTube films of amateur musicians playing in front of home video cameras  and played the tracks together, mixing them into amazing, funk-laced symphonies. The result, when he…

Read more »

When Coke Became Kosher

July 6, 2011
By
coca-cola-can-1

Many of the Eastern European Jews who immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century wanted to partake in “real” American life –including American foods and beverages. In 1935, an Orthodox rabbi in Atlanta, Tobias Geffen, spent several years working with the  Coca-Cola Company to determine whether Coke was kosher. He faced one major problem: the…

Read more »

The Yiddish Godfather

July 5, 2011
By
the yiddish godfather

Sholem Aleichem was one of the first authors to write in Yiddish–a language that’s been around for hundreds of years, but has only had a body of literature for 150 years or so. Before Sholem Aleichem, Yiddish was thought to be a low, plebian language, used in daily conversation but never in serious…

Read more »

Love Letter from the President

July 4, 2011
By
61Washington-letter

President George Washington was hardly a regular synagogue attendee, but he did visit the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI–the oldest synagogue in America–and he liked what he saw. In a 1790 letter to the synagogue, he thanks the congregation for the “cordial welcome I experienced in my visit.” Washington extends a promise of continued…

Read more »

St. Peter, the Jew

July 2, 2011
By
stpeter

One of the most famous Shabbat prayers–Nishmat Kol Chai (literally, “the soul of all that lives”)–might have actually been written by an apostle of Jesus. The oldest extant Ashkenazic siddur, the Mahzor Vitry, attributes Nishmat to “Simon Peter, the error of Rome,” who “established this prayer…when he was on the rock.” Puzzling? In his new…

Read more »