Monthly Archives: July 2010

Destination Bar Mitzvahs: Spoiled or Inspired?

By: Hilary Weissman

The moment I first heard that there was such a thing as a “destination Bar or Bat mitzvah”, I wasn’t that surprised,  just a little nauseous. The images of private jets and lots of chattering 13-year-olds on an all expenses paid trip to the Caribbean to celebrate turning another year older could potentially taint the sanctity of the generations of tradition of being called to the bima.

You’ll have to excuse my weekend marathon of Bravo TV for making me wonder aloud (or at least in text) whether ‘Real Housewife’ Jill Zarin, a proud Jewish mother who divulged the legendary secrets kept by such a creature in her titular book collaboration with her sister and late mother, would choose to let her children and family experience the newest trend at their own coming of age ceremonies. She and the other Manhattan mavens seem to stereotypically flock to St. Bart’s in the winter months, which is the pre-cursor to becoming a “snow bird” in Boca after retirement, and my first reaction in hearing about the vacation celebrations of Jewish young man and womanhood was to think that this could be the “plot” line of the hit reality show in about ten years (Zarin has a two-year-old daughter). Continue reading

Judaism’s Price

By Symi Rom-Rymer

I’ve never really thought about how expensive it is to be Jewish.  I’m not talking about the cost of being culturally Jewish, but rather about the financial burden one must assume to be at least a semi-observant, synagogue-belonging Jew.   One reason is because I don’t have any kids, so I’m not shopping around for good Hebrew schools.  Also, I didn’t make it a habit to scan my parent’s temple bills as a child.  So I was content in my bubble of ignorance until I picked up a copy of Newsweek and saw this: The Cost of Being Jewish.

In TCBJ, author Lisa Miller argues that to belong to a synagogue today, one typically must pay upwards of $3100 a year.  To her, that fee, especially in a recession, is “troubling…and onerous to families having to choose between Hebrew school and math tutoring.”   In smaller cities, that fee is less–closer to $1,100 annually for everything from synagogue membership to High Holiday tickets—but still expensive.

What Miller proposes then, is a change in the business model.  Arguing that Jews no longer need Jewish spaces in the same way they did a century or half-century ago when many public spaces were closed to them, she feels it is time for members of the Jewish community to reconsider their behemoth synagogues with their stained glass windows, organ pipes, and basement swimming pools.  Instead, Jews should consider what Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary who paid $4,000 in synagogue dues this year, proposes: downsizing individual communities by making cross-denominational alliances and sharing Rabbis and other staff. Continue reading

Tel Aviv Summer

Moment’s first Happy Hour was a huge success!! We keep on getting requests for the Tel Aviv Summer cocktail recipe. So here it is-

(One hint: If you drink it while reading a copy of Moment it tastes 10% better) Continue reading

The July/August Issue is Here!

By Ariana Siegel

Moment’s 2010 Summer Entertainment Issue is now in mailboxes and on newsstands!

Here’s what you’ll be reading: Continue reading

Tikkun Olam on Tisha b’Av

By Ariana Siegel

On the Hebrew calendar, today marked the 9th of Av, about 1,940 years after the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem. On the Gregorian calendar, today marked the 20th of June, about 3 months after the destruction of the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.

The collision of these two devastating events on a single day was commemorated by an unusual coalition of religious and environmental organizations at a rally outside the Capitol. With support from groups including Greenpeace, Public Citizen, Moveon.org, as well as The Shalom Center, Shomrei Adamah of Greater Washington, Am Kolel, and the Teva Learning Center, attendees of the rally called on Congress to “Get dirty fuels out of our air and water,” and “Get dirty money out of our politics.” Continue reading

Soap Opera Worthy: Franco in “Super Sad” Trailer

By Hilary Weissman

The next book on my summer reading list will definitely be Gary Shteyngart’s newest dystopian novel Super Sad True Love Story. Maybe it is because of Erica Jong’s rave review in the July/August issue of Moment, or because I feel slightly sorry for the satirical author’s skewed sexual awakening at Oberlin College, which Jong revealed in her interview with him in the same issue, or maybe it is because his sense of humor seems to evoke that “I am so uncomfortable, but this is hysterical” feeling of a Judd Apatow film. But it is probably because I love James Franco.

If you are thinking that my last reason is irrelevant, it’s because you haven’t seen Shteyngart’s high-larious new trailer for his third novel. He uses his position as a professor at Columbia University, to which Edmund White incredulously marvels “They let him teach at Columbia? Oh my God, the poor kids,” to get the recently enrolled student Franco among other literary fixtures like Mary Gaitskill, Jay McInerney and Jeffrey Eugenides to sing his praises, kind of. From the allegations that Shteyngart has actually never read before, which allows him to write in a voice so unaffected or influenced out of pure ignorance, to his lessons on how to behave at a Paris Review Party- a seminar that Franco aptly excels in, to his failed attempts at wooing debutantes from Mount Holyoke University, this video actually made me laugh out loud. Continue reading

A Polish Education

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Across Poland, a new form of Jewish remembrance is taking place.  Inmates from 10 different prisons are contributing their manpower to a country-wide effort to clean and maintain abandoned Jewish cemeteries.  Participation in the project—which is sponsored by the prison service and the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland—is, however, about more than coming up with creative ways to keep prisoners occupied.  Beyond the actual labor, the men are also introduced to Jewish culture and religious traditions.

For many of prisoners who came of age under communism, talking about anything Jewish was taboo.  But through this program, and with the aid of Poland’s chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, that is beginning to change. Before the prisoners set foot in the cemeteries Rabbi Schudrich visits each of the prisons and talks to inmates about everything from Jewish marriage laws to how to put on tefillin.  By educating the men, the project leaders hope to break through the anti-Semitic outlook that remains present in Polish society and change the way the inmates were taught to view Jews.

So far, the response has been positive.   One of the men involved in the project, Artur Blinski, says “the scheme has broadened his outlook towards his country’s past. ‘Until now I wasn’t that interested.  This program has changed my attitude towards Jewish culture and I’ve started to get interested in it. I had no idea about this culture and the more I learn the more interesting it becomes.

That it has taken so many decades for Poles to be able to confront not only their own attitudes towards Jews as well as the importance and influence of pre-war Jewish life in Poland is distressing.  However, this effort–as well as others aimed at opening up the discussion and breaking societal taboos–is heartening.  It takes strength and courage to challenge the status quo.  In a recent blog post, I pointed out important steps taken within Poland to confront its past.  I hope this latest project represents not the end of such forward movement, but rather just the beginning.

Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe. She has been published in JTA, The Christian Science Monitor and Jewcy.

Birthright Bound

By Hilary Weissman

Like most Jews of a certain age, I came back from my Birthright trip saying it was “amazing” and “impossible to describe.” You really did “just have to be there” to understand. However, upon my return from Taglit this past winter break, I launched right into my jam-packed college schedule. I had sorority recruitment, spring classes, and an online internship waiting for me. They left little time to increasing my observance of Shabbat. I honestly never got the impression that my Birthright experience was supposed to impose a sense of obligation to become a more observant Jew, which is so subjective in and of itself. While I keep in touch with some of the soldiers we met through Facebook and see the other students on campus, and I can now vicariously live through my parents’ anniversary plans to visit Israel in the fall, I have yet to make solid plans to return again beyond daydreams. Continue reading

Germany and Poland Revisited

By Symi Rom-Rymer

When Helen Thomas declared recently that Jews have no place in Israel and should go home to Germany and Poland, she unleashed a current of outrage within the American Jewish community.  How dare she suggest, they wondered, that Jews should return to the countries of ‘the Final Solution.’

From her comments, it was unclear if she meant that Jews should have been killed in the Holocaust or that they should simply go back to what she viewed as their ancestral homelands–never mind that Israeli Jews are from all over the world, including Israel itself.  However, the reaction within the community to the suggestion of Germany and Poland demonstrates that for many American Jews, it amounts to the same thing.  But, in fact, it is not.  While her proposition is at best preposterous and at worst despicable, let us examine for a moment what exactly today’s Israeli Jews would discover waiting for them in Germany and Poland if they left Israel. Continue reading

The Jews of Dothan

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Can you put a price on living in a Jewish community? Larry Blumberg of Dothan, Alabama hopes you can.  Blumberg, a local businessman, is offering $50,000 to any Jewish family willing to settle in Dothan and grow the local community.  Like the Jewish experience in many small southern towns, Dothan’s Jewish community shrunk considerably since the 1970s when mom-and-pop stores–once the economic engines of the small Southern Jewish communities—were put out of business by retail giants. But today, the Jews of Dothan are fighting back. Continue reading