Monthly Archives: September 2010

What Do Jews and Mormons Have in Common?

By Lisa Krysiak and Sala Levin

An above-average knowledge of the “core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions,” according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.  As a group, Jews came in second, averaging 20.5 correct answers out of 32 questions. Mormons gave Jews a run for their money, though, averaging 20.3 correct answers.

It seems that religious minorities in the U.S. are better-versed in the fundamental facts of world religions than their more populous counterparts; white Catholics and white mainline protestants came in fifth and sixth, respectively. Jews make up about 2.5 percent of the American population, while Mormons account for roughly 2 percent.

Do these results reflect a higher priority on education among these two religious groups?  Perhaps.  But interestingly, the one group that trumped both Jews and Mormons in the survey was atheists/agnostics, who averaged 20.9 correct answers, earning them the hard-fought victory.   Non-believers represent an even smaller fraction of the American population than Jews and Mormons: a 2009 report estimated them at a mere 1.6 percent.   It’s possible, then, that atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons develop a more extensive knowledge of religion because they feel an obligation to defend the views they adhere to…or reject.

In a bout of friendly competition, and wanting to flex their mental muscles, Moment staffers decided to take the abbreviated online quiz and see how they stacked up against the national averages.

Questions varied in difficulty; an easier one asked which Bible figure was most closely associated with the Exodus from Egypt, while a harder one, stumping all but one of the staff, asked for the name of the preacher who participated in the First Great Awakening.  [Spoiler Alert!]  When asked which religion believed in nirvana (the state of being free from suffering), one staffer was misled by the name of a local Indian restaurant of the same name.

Surprisingly, many who took the full survey were baffled by questions about their own religions.  53 percent of Protestants did not know that Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation, while 43 percent of Jews didn’t know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.

Fortunately, being religious doesn’t require a full knowledge of religion. You’re allowed to take it on faith.

Boxing Gym

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Lord’s Gym, Austin, Texas:

Thwack.

Sssssss.

Clang, clang, clang.

Slapslapslapslap.

In a small, white shingled building hidden behind a Goodwill store, posters of famous fights and fighters frozen in position overlap on the walls. Worn boxing rings and masking tape-encased punching bags reign supreme.

In this atmosphere of muscles and sweat, Frederick Wiseman’s new film, Boxing Gym unfolds.  Wiseman–the Jewish octogenarian filmmaker whose most recent film La Danse took us into the rarified world of professional ballet, now turns his eye to the equally athletic, if more violent, world of boxing.

Boxing Gym (now playing as part of the New York Film Festival), like many of Wiseman’s films, focuses on the minutiae of every day life.  Rarely leaving the confines of Lord’s, everyone and no one is at the center of the story.    Like the gym itself, the film is universal.   Men and women, young and old, wealthy and poor, Americans and immigrants, white, black, and Hispanic–all are welcome and all are captured on camera.  With no hero or even narrative arc to follow, the audience is nonetheless quickly drawn into Lord’s hypnotic world.  Nothing matters beyond the rhythmic pounding of leather against leather, the grunts of the athletes, and the ever-present beeping of the Everlast timer.

But this movie is not just about boxing.  It also is about the deeper communal ties that form within the walls of the boxing gym.   Under the watchful eye of the owner Richard Lord, the gym is at once a therapists’ couch, a daycare center, and a refuge as well as a place to train.   Mothers leave their babies ringside while they spar, older men philosophize by the free weights, and economic woes are discussed and dismissed.

Although titled Boxing Gym, don’t let that fool you.  This film isn’t just about boxing.  It is also about desire, focus a hunger to push oneself to the limit.  And it is also about championing community.  In a country torn apart by social and political strife, it’s almost ironic that all it takes is a boxing gym to bring people together peacefully.  But as Wiseman vividly demonstrates, Lord’s is no ordinary gym.

Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe.

Neo-Nazi Karma

By Niv Elis

In what must be a neo-Nazi’s worst nightmare, two Polish skinheads (a married couple) discovered that they are, in fact, Jewish.

Joining the ranks of unwitting self-haters like Ted Haggard,  Ken Mehlman, and the fictional Danny Balint, Pawel and Olga (whose last names were not given) are now the subject of a new CNN documentary.  The documentary details how the couple, who have become active members of an orthodox synagogue, are dealing with the contradiction.

Despite some serious soul searching, Pawel seems to have taken friendly advice against beating himself up over his past.

“It’s not something that I walk around and lash myself over… I feel sorry for those that I beat up.”

Setting aside the glory of karmic justice, the compelling story offers a fascinating peak into how people deal with challenges to their identity and worldview.  You can watch a clip from the documentary below:

The Sukkah Of Your Wildest Dreams

By Niv Elis

Sukkot of 5771 may go down in history as the most architecturally innovative holiday in Jewish History, thanks to the Sukkah City competition in New York.  The competition, which was dreamed up by Joushua Foer, a journalist, and Roger Bennett, co-founder of the Reboot network, asked for submissions for re-imagined, modern-day Sukkot that followed all the biblical rules and traditions for building a kosher Sukkah.  Among them: it must have three walls, the roof (through which stars must be visible at night) cannot be made of anything conventionally functional, but a whale or living elephant may be used in constructing the walls.

Although there were hundreds of submissions judged by an impressive panel of experts, a dozen Sukkot emerged the victors.  Erected in New York’s Union Square, the modern day tabernacles offered an invigorating, artistic, modern take on the holiday.

A photo with all the winning designs appears below, but these are some of Moment’s favorites:

BloPuf - Winner of Sukkah City contest

Gathering - Sukkah City Winner

Star Cocoon - Winner of Sukkah City contest

The Twelve Winners:

The Twelve Sukkah City Winners

You can read more about the project here or take a video tour.

Recipe of the Moment: Etrog Jam

By Niv Elis

Although careful steps are taken to ensure an unblemished, perfect etrog for Sukkot, once the holiday is over it has little use.

Or does it?

Many families use the post-Sukkah etrog, a member of the citrus family, to make a delicious jam!  Here’s our favorite recipe, taken from the out of print “Jewish Cooking for Pleasure” by Molly Lyons Bar-David.

Etrog Jam

  • 1 etrog
  • 1 orange
  • sugar
  • water
  1. Wash the etrog and orange, cut them in half lengthwise, and then very thinly slice them.
  2. Remove seeds.
  3. Soak the fruit overnight.
  4. Change the water to cover the fruit, and bring to a boil.
  5. Change the water again, and bring to a boil once more.
  6. Pour off the water.
  7. Weigh the fruit, and add an equal weight of white sugar.
  8. Cook over a low heat for about 45 minutes until the jam begins to gel.

An etrog, any which way you slice it.

Jenny Slate – A Star in the Making

By Lisa Krysiak

Many Jewish ladies in Hollywood are known for, or at least get their starts, in comedy. Gilda Radner and Sarah Silverman (an honoree at Moment’s 35th Anniversary Symposium) are just two well-known names. However, here’s a name that you should expect (and want) to hear more of in the future – Jenny Slate. Continue reading

A Sukkah for the 21st Century

By Symi Rom-Rymer

When I think about sukkahs—which I admit is not that often—it is rarely in architectural or even creative terms.  As a child, around late fall, they would just  appear, typically made out of unbleached wood and long branches, in someone’s backyard or on the synagogue roof.  Pretty boring really.  The true excitement would come when the people arrived to fill it, arms full of dishes to share and enjoy with one another.

Well, Sukkah City, an international design contest, is looking to change all that.  Playing with the paradox of transience and rootedness that the sukkah represents, they have invited architects from around the world to take the biblical design framework, place it in an urban setting, and propose a reimagined  sukkah.   The winning design will stand in Union Square Park in New York City during Sukkot.

Which one could you imagine yourself in? Visit New York Magazine’s website and vote for your favorite.   Here is mine.

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.