A Jewish Twilight

February 14, 2012
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A Jewish Twilight

Every culture has its legends of paranormal monsters–including Judaism. It’s no surprise, then, that contemporary fiction’s obsession with vampires has spawned Jewish varieties. The novel The Last Jewish Virgin: A Novel of Fate by Janice Eidus takes itself incredibly seriously. Lilith, the rebellious daughter of a secular Jewish feminist, enrolls in fashion school and promptly falls for her professor–whom she…

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Sammy Harkham: A Secret History of Lubavitch

February 13, 2012
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Sammy Harkham: A Secret History of Lubavitch

The cartoon short story “Lubavitch, Ukraine, 1876” by Sammy Harkham is a vision of the past that’s neither glorified nor overly sentimental. The comic follows a Hasidic sofer, or scribe, named Harkham, as he goes about his daily routine, running errands for his wife, calligraphing a mezuzah, figuring out plans for Shabbat dinner. Harkham’s problems–work,…

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A Brief History of Gefilte Fish

February 10, 2012
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The #1 reason gefilte fish is served at Shabbat dinner tables these days might be, in the words of Fiddler on the Roof, tradition! Originally, however, the dish that we currently call gefilte (a word meaning “stuffed”) was embraced for other reasons. Most notably: financial. Most families couldn’t afford to buy enough fish to feed their entire family,…

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Great Jewish Bloggers of the 1920s

February 9, 2012
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Anzia Yezierska, the Jewish immigrant writer from Poland, is most famous for Bread Givers (1925), her tenement story of hard life on the Lower East Side. But she also harbored a lesser-known rich, snarky, and dark sense of humor. Her debut collection of short stories, Hungry Hearts (1920)–which showcases that humor–is available for free online. Written in a snappy…

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Honi, the Rainmaker

February 8, 2012
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The Talmudic fable of Honi the Circle-Maker isn’t the only lesson on environmentalism from traditional Jewish sources, but it’s an especially fascinating–and especially strange–story. Honi, a first-century miracle-worker, had a foolproof way for making rain: He’d draw a circle around himself, pray, and the rain would come (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a). One day, he comes across a…

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A Jew from Kentucky

February 7, 2012
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Dan Bern’s folk songs bear more than a passing resemblance to Bob Dylan‘s–a high-pitched, sometimes scratchy voice is the most obvious similarity. But Dylan was neither as subversive, nor as laugh-out-loud funny, as Bern. Bern isn’t specifically a Jewish musician, although his religion has become something of a running joke. His autobiographical song “Jew…

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Breadcrumbs of the Past

February 6, 2012
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Until recently, Bram Presser was known as the lead singer of YidCore, a Jewish punk band that played loud, fast versions of songs such as “If I Was a Rich Man” and “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and blew hummus out of a shofar during concerts. Now Presser has taken up writing fiction, and his…

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iPreach

February 3, 2012
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ipulpit_withBible

Who says rabbis are stuck in the past? In these days of internet minyanim and email sermons, it seems religion has more or less adapted to the digital age. But can you imagine a combination pulpit and iPad? Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, one of the new bloggers on MyJewishLearning’s Rabbis Without Borders blog, just showed us the iPodium. Originally developed by a group…

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Beautiful Land, Beautiful People

February 2, 2012
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ChanaRothman

Chana Rothman, a folksinger and guitarist, has crafted herself in the tradition of Debbie Friedman, mixing traditional Jewish liturgy with original music and lyrics. Her new album, Beautiful Land, takes verses from Psalms and Proverbs and matches them up with positive lyrics about relationships, the environment, and finding meaning in everyday life–a little bit hippie, but…

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The Other Anne Franks

February 1, 2012
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anne

Shalom Auslander’s new novel Hope: A Tragedy takes a calculated risk: It’s a neurotic, bizarre story that mines the Holocaust for humor. The plot involves a paranoid middle-aged Jew, obsessed with death and his own mortality, who discovers an old woman hiding out in the attic of his new house. The woman–a crabby, disagreeable writer–turns out to be Anne…

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Hogan’s Heroes

January 30, 2012
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If you described the 1960s TV show Hogan’s Heroes as a “sitcom about a German P.O.W. camp during  World War II,” you’d probably receive more than a few surprised looks–but that’s exactly what it is. The comedy, which recreates the look and feel of a prison camp for Allied troops during the Holocaust,…

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Revolutionary Youth

January 27, 2012
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Shmarya Levin was born in Russia in 1867. A politician and activist, he was elected to the first-ever Russian Parliament in 1906, as a representative of the Bund, a Jewish socialist political party. The Parliament was ultimately insignificant–it was both created and controlled by Czar Nicholas II–but Levin’s participation in it gave him the…

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