Tag Archives: jewish

Changed from Darth Vaderberg at Ellis Island

From theforce.net

Breaking news in “people you didn’t know were Jewish”: Darth Vader. Yes, some Lucasphiles say that Darth Vader’s chestplate (right), revealed in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, has Hebrew lettering, suggesting Jewish roots. Interpretations of the text vary, but one fan with a little too much time on his hands argues that the text translates to “His deeds will not be forgiven until he merits.” So, Darth Vader: closet Jew? Maybe. After all, he does atone at the end, an idea that is pretty darn Jewish, and the chestplate is vaguely High Priestly. On the other hand, he is, you know, a fictional character who lived a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Vive le mystere!

People of the Jungle Book

Robert Sherman, half of the brotherly duo that wrote songs for Disney movies like “Mary Poppins,” “The Jungle Book,” “The Sword in the Stone” among many others, died Tuesday at age 86. Sherman’s father was a Russian Jew who came to the United States with his family to escape the pogroms; below are three of our favorite “Jewish” Sherman songs.

The feminist movement has, of course, long been populated by Jewish women. While the Banks family gives no indication of being Jewish, the matriarch’s politics certainly fit right in.

You know, Jews, comedy, the whole “have to laugh at millennia of oppression and persecution because otherwise it’s just too sad” thing.

The age-old assimilation question, this time with monkeys.

 

 

 

A Very Jewish Halloween

by Sala Levin

Hey, Bette Midler's Jewish, too!

Halloween approacheth, and with it the opportunity to impress your friends with the wittiness and originality of your costume. Or–if you’re like this blogger–the opportunity to take a look in your closet, decide you’re not nearly clever enough for this particular holiday, and celebrate instead with reruns of Hocus Pocus and a pumpkin beer.

But don’t despair yet, costume-less readers, because, when it comes to Halloween, we take our cues from Theodor Herzl: If you will it, it is no dream. So with that determination in mind, here are some last-minute costume ideas inspired by news about Jews. (Because, really, what is Halloween if not secular Purim?)

  • The Bluth Family: Pop-culture snobs rejoiced when Mitchell Hurwitz, creator of the late, much-lauded Arrested Development, announced earlier this month that the television show would likely return to airwaves for new episodes and even a movie. So grab some friends, stash some bananas in the freezer before Monday night and dress up as the gotta-be-Jewish Bluths (or as most-certainly-Jewish cast members David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter).
  • Tavi Gevinson: We admit it: We will never be as cool as Tavi, and, well, we’re jealous. When we wear crocheted cardigans and patterned leggings we look like Nana circa 1983; Tavi does it and she gets introduced to Karl Lagerfeld (not to mention a profile in The New Yorker). The Jewish 15-year-old fashion blogger from the Chicago suburbs even found biblical fashion inspiration in her bat mitzvah: “The Nazirites wore just enough to keep them warm.” But did they wear sweaters with balls of fluff? We may never know, but we’re willing to bet Nana has one of those hiding in her closet somewhere; she might be willing to part with it for a night.
  • Natalie Portman’s baby: Little Aleph broke the hearts of Jewish men and their mothers everywhere when he was born in June. Tiny tutus and black feathers are essential for this costume.
  • Anthony Weiner: Wear gray boxer-briefs and carry an iPhone. Poor decision-making optional, but encouraged.
  • John Galliano: Paint on a thin mustache, wear a gray hat, smoke cigarettes and keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Try not to tell people how you feel about Hitler.
  • Hipster Henry Kissinger: Because you already own the glasses.

Losing (and Finding) My Religion

by Maddie Ulanow

It’s always interesting when, on a particular Friday night, we get a new high turnout of students for the weekly Shabbat services – and only about half of them are Jewish.

It would be higher, but some of the regular Jewish attendees are skipping out for the Buddhist meditation.

A 2009 Pew Research poll revealed that 44 percent of American adults no longer identify with their childhood religion; of those who still do, nine percent changed or questioned their faith at some point. Fifteen percent of the Protestants surveyed now identify with a different Protestant faith, and nine percent of the Catholics surveyed are either unaffiliated or Protestant. Nine percent of the Christians surveyed converted to a different religion altogether, one of the options of which includes Judaism.

What is it that makes a change in religion so attractive? And what is it that brings people to, and conversely turns them away, from Judaism? What is it that lures a curious outsider to simply observe a Friday night service, and what is it that leads to a more in-depth inner exploration on the subject?

People pull away from the religions of their birth for a variety of personal reasons, whether it be disagreement with the doctrine, difficulty in observing customs, perceiving ridicule because of it, or simple lack of identification. How, then, do they find a new religion, should they find one at all?

The Buddhist meditation, at least on college campuses full of religion majors, curious freshmen and a diverse student body is often extremely popular among those not originally of Buddhist faith. It offers something new and exotic, and has a reputation for bringing about a peace of mind. Similarly, the Hindu holy book readings may draw a number of interested students. Catholics attend Jewish services and tap into something of their own religion’s past; Jews attend Muslim services and delight in drawing parallels; students, and to a larger extent all of us of all faiths, can explore all religions and find it enriches our own. In relation to Judaism–a  religion once exiled and ostracized–our services and rituals are now a subject of curiosity to the interested outsider, and the number of non-Jews attending Jewish services are increasing.

Why, you might ask, would anyone give up a Friday night or Saturday morning if they didn’t have to, and if they had no clue what was going on? I know I wouldn’t. One factor might be the increasing rate of intermarriage; 54 percent of American Jews today marry non-Jews, and 33 percent of currently wed couples are intermarried.  With these kinds of numbers, congregations, not just on diverse college campuses but across America, must make shifts to accommodate unfamiliar but eager new participants.

Some use prayer books with both English translations and transliterations, so those with a good ear for tune but no knowledge of Hebrew can still sing along, and understand what they’re praying for. Rabbis might stop between prayers for explanations which benefit not just non-Jews, but the Jews in attendance as well. An interesting tidbit from a recent service I attended was that the “lai-la-lai” and “bum-ba-dum” verses of multiple prayers and songs emerged from the peasants of Eastern Europe, Jews who didn’t necessarily know all the words or meanings but wanted to raise their voices in prayer nonetheless. It opens up a path to spirituality and participation to those the eager people who seek it, even curious outsiders exploring the religion for the first time.

We would hope that other religions offer these subtle, welcoming opportunities to Jews as well – and they do. In a diverse society such as ours where more people than ever are questioning and exploring, especially in the area of new faiths and ideas, pursuit of different religions is a natural outcome. Learning about another religion can help enrich our own, and in turn, teaching someone about Judaism is mutually beneficial. This holiday season, perhaps an attempt to learn something new, and also teach something new, would grant an important new insight for an exciting new year.

The Long and Winding Road to Interfaith Dialogue

by Steven Philp
While the media spent the morning of September 11 replaying footage of the terrorist attacks of that day in 2001, small groups of people gathered across the country to show that wounds can heal with faith and conviction, if not time. These gatherings on that day brought together Jews, Christians and Muslims to remember those who lost their lives in the attacks, and to show a renewed commitment to developing bonds between our different faith communities. According to Haaretz, approximately 15 interfaith memorial services were planned for New York City alone, with others taking place in major cities across the United States – including Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Washington, DC. The first official interfaith gathering occurred on Friday, September 9, when more than 2,000 individuals crowded into a mosque in uptown Manhattan; the service was officiated by head imam Ali Shamsi, two rabbis and two priests. Raymond Kelly, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department was also in attendance.

Although the event was held in remembrance of those who lost their lives on September 11, the memorial service also focused on the need for coexistence between American religious communities. “We’ve defeated the terrorists,” explained Imam Shamsi in an interview with Haaretz. “The terrorists who acted on September 11 sought not only to kill innocent people, but also to divide the public and sow hate among us, to incite man against his fellow man. But they failed.” Shamsi participated in a total of eight interfaith services, taking place in churches, mosques and synagogues across Queens. He explained the need for people of different religious communities to enter each other’s places of worship, to get to know their neighbors first hand. “The attackers wanted and still want the believers of different religions to hate one another,” Shamsi said. “But in the wake of the attacks, we’ve become closer.”

Unfortunately, not all American religious communities share Shamsi’s positive outlook. Only last year several Christian and Jewish organizations–including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Zionist Organization of America–mounted demonstrations against Park51, a proposed Muslim community center breaking ground two blocks away from the World Trade Center Memorial in downtown Manhattan. Although containing a large Muslim prayer space, proponents have been quick to point out that Park51 is not a mosque–in fact, the majority of its facilities will be open for use by the general public, including a small memorial to the victims of September 11.

It is a testament to the perseverance of individuals like Imam Shamsi that such a large number of interfaith memorial events occurred.  Perhaps in our shared grief it has become apparent that internal divisions need to be considered and–with a building of mutual respect and understanding–be placed aside. “The relationships between American Jews and Muslims have become tightly knit, and evermore significant,” said Shamsi.

This hopeful sentiment was echoed by Rabbi Marc Schneier, head of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Speaking to Haaretz, he explained, “Ten years ago there were no ties between Jews and Muslims in the United States. Today they exist, and are experiencing a blossoming of cooperation.”

A Boy Named David

by Symi Rom-Rymer

David, the recently released feature film directed by Joel Fendelman and written by Fendelman and Patrick Daly, sets out to tell one story, but ends up telling two. The first is about the accidental meeting of two boys, Daud and Yoav, one Muslim, and one Jewish, from the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn who manage to break out of their religious bubbles and form an unlikely friendship. The second is the story of the accidental meeting of the same two boys, one the son of immigrant parents and the other of American parents.

In the first story, religion plays a complex role: at once uniting and dividing the protagonists. Initially, it is the reason Daud and Yoav meet. Eleven year-old Yoav forgets his prayer book on a park bench after studying with his friends.  Watching from afar, Daud, a somber and often lonely child, is curious about the boy who seems as intent on his religious studies as he is on his. Noticing the forgotten book, Daud tries to return it. Unfortunately, Yoav is too far away to hear him. Daud follows him to his yeshiva only to find the door locked. When he returns the following day, he is mistaken for a lost pupil and shepherded into a class.

Now calling himself David, he suddenly finds friendships in the yeshiva classroom that had previously eluded him. Soon, his life is full of basketball and splashing in the waves at Coney Island. As euphoric as he is with his new friendship, Daud is still insecure, driving a wedge into the boys’ otherwise genuine friendship. Daud is fearful to admit the truth about his religion. He remembers his father’s admonition that “Jews don’t like Arabs” and does not believe that his new friends would accept him if they knew who he really was.

That fear is present throughout the film. Indeed, one could come away from the film thinking of Muslims as dour and Jews as joyful. The main Muslim characters seem to have little happiness with their lives, grappling as they are with seemingly insurmountable obstacles: traditional parents, feelings of exile and heavy spiritual responsibilities (Daud’s father is the Imam for their community). Daud’s interactions with his parents are serious and reserved. By contrast, the Jewish characters seem to be the picture of confidence. Yoav jokes easily with his family and friends and laughingly drags Daud on various adventures around New York City.

What saves the film from falling into simplistic clichés is that there is a larger context for these behaviors. The boys are not only of different religious backgrounds, but also have vastly different connections to the United States.  Daud’s immigrant fammily and the serious atmosphere of his home life underscores the struggles newcomers to America often face. How will religious and other traditions be passed on from one generation to the next in a country that prides itself on its plurality? Will family ties be broken if one member leaves home to go to college? What is the best way to keep a family together in the face of an unfamiliar culture?

Yoav and his parents, on the other hand, appear to face few, if any, of these existential concerns.  Instead, they exude instead a more light-hearted demeanor that suggests a sense of security and well-being in the United States.

According to the filmmakers, they set out to tell the story of what happens when two boys from Muslim and Jewish backgrounds become friends in the absence of political and historical baggage—building from the premise that the power of basketball is stronger than that of religious stereotypes. Yet as they show it, while a love of sports and a case of mistaken identity may mask the boys’ overt differences, they cannot escape their backgrounds. Daud’s struggles with internal doubt over who he is casts a pall over his growing friendship with Yoav, who cannot understand his friend’s personal turmoil.

The filmmakers may have missed the target of their original conceit, but they have succeeded in presenting a heartfelt coming-of-age story about a young boy searching for what it means to live in the United States as the child of immigrants and as a Muslim. Hopefully one day, he will figure it out.

Kosher Hip-Hop

By Adina Rosenthal

There’s a new, up-and-coming Hasidic hip-hop artist on the block. Nosson Zand is a Boston-born musician who takes pride in the positive and hopeful lyrics that are inspired by his Hasidic beliefs. “I’m throwing a life preserver out into the cold, dark waters of hip-hop and pop music…I’m here to provide a window into a holier place,” he tells me.

Zand, who has toured with Matisyahu throughout the United States and Canada, is currently in the final stages of completing his new full-length album, which includes the single Believers, featuring Matisyahu. In a recent Shalom TV interview, Matisyahu singled out Zand and his musical promise: “Nosson would be the one artist I really believe in…he’s coming from a religious place. Nosson [is] infusing the music with depth and meaning from the Torah perspective, and he’s a really talented rapper, and writer, and singer. I really believe in him and think he can do good things.” Zand met Matisyahu by “chance” on a street corner, where he subsequently rapped for him and was told, “Hey…Nosson, you’re good!”

Zand explains how he was first exposed to rap by his friends in the projects. “There were a lot of rough characters involved…a big mix of people. I have the most diverse group of friends of all Jewish people I know in this world. I was very into other cultures. It’s very easy to blend in and I did for many years in cultures that were far from anything Jewish.”

Zand is a Baal Teshuva, someone who does not grow up religious and “returns” to it later in life. “I grew up going to Hebrew School…I was connected in some respect to Judaism, but wasn’t really taught in a way that made me feel that was relevant to my life. I was proud of being Jewish, but couldn’t articulate it. I was into rap way before I was into Judaism.”

Zand feels confident that as a result of his background, everyone—not just the religious Jewish crowd—can relate to his music. “I’ve been through so much that the average American has gone through…sneaking into movies, going to nightclubs, getting in cars and getting in trouble, but I can relate to my audience….my heart writes the lyrics…I put my heart on the page because I have been through it all. I want to save people from finding the realization through pain and instead through pleasure, education, and logic. That’s what Hasidim is all about.”

Zand’s Hasidic beliefs allow him to share a universal, positive message that transcends the focus on the sensationalism of promiscuous sex and violence. “[Inspirational music] doesn’t mean you can’t be cool and can’t have fun; it’s just a holier version that promotes good values…. It’s something that can be embraced. It’s Torah in the skies. The influence of Torah is nicely woven in a positive influence that hopefully everyone can absorb. This [upcoming] album is aggressively beautiful. It has attitude, swagger, and an opinion on things, but also is woven into what is melodic and hypnotic at the same time.”

While music is clearly his passion, Zand credits his deep love of Hasidism as the driving force behind his music and his life. Zand explains that his inspiration comes from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Chabad, and the general Hasidic approach to Judaism and the world. “It’s a very beautiful thing that inspires me a lot…Torah and trying to be the best Jew and person I can be—the best Hasid I can be—is the main course. Everything else is a side order. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said, ‘Music is the pen of the soul.’ We run a risky business listening to any old thing because it defines people. That was the same with me. I identified more with hip-hop growing up than Judaism…music was the main course and Judaism was a side order.”

And how does Zand’s Hasidic community feel about his music? “My rabbi is my biggest advocate. Baal Teshuvas are supposed to incorporate their talents and turn them into something positive. My approach to Judaism is working on yourself to be a light in a dark world, turn others into a light, and thereby illuminate the world.  That’s what my music is all about.  Acknowledging that there is a mission ahead of us and eventually bring heaven down to Earth.”

As the lyrics from the teacher for Zand’s single, “Believers,” says, “Yes, we’re all believers/Through the dark don’t leave us.” Zand clearly uses his Hasidic beliefs to spread a universal message of hope and inspiration with powerful lyrics and a great beat.