BY BONNIE MILLER RUBIN for Kveller
It was a dream—and a challenge. Could my two siblings and I–now with full calendars and spread across the country–relive the road trips of our youth that exist only in sepia-toned photos?
After talking about it for years, we finally made it happen in summer 2016: A ten day itinerary, including San Francisco, Carmel and Yosemite National Park. But while we were excited, we also needed to acknowledge that a lot had changed since we last shared the back seat of a Ford station wagon, blissfully content with our Etch-a-Sketch, Archie comic books and a hefty bag of Oreos.
For starters, two of us had spouses, whose interests and physical abilities had to be considered–along with their tolerance for our endless singing of Broadway show tunes. (After our 10th rendition of “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” my husband might be reaching for a weapon of his own).
By Marc Blesoff for Jewish Sacred Aging
The United States has the largest prison population in the world.
According to Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar, “…while sentencing options as diverse as financial penalties, atonement offerings, corporal punishment, capital punishment and even death directly by the hand of G-d are found in the Torah, the punishment of “incarceration” as we know it is nowhere to be found in traditional Torah-based Jewish law.”
Three years ago I ended my career as a criminal defense attorney. Since then, I have been facilitating both Wise Aging Workshops (from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality) and Conscious Aging Workshops (from the Institute Of Noetic Sciences, IONS). These programs are extremely compatible with one another and both highlight the opportunities to live well all the way through our last third of life.
BY DAVID SAIGER for myjewishlearning.com
The Lithuania-born visionary turned an ancient language into a spoken one.
When Eliezer Ben-Yehuda arrived in Palestine in 1881, Hebrew had not been the spoken language of the Jewish people since the time of the Bible. Yet, thanks to Ben-Yehuda, by 1922 enough Jewish pioneers were speaking Hebrew that the British Mandate authorities recognized it as the official language of Jews in Palestine.
Ben-Yehuda conceived of Jewish nationalism as both the return to the historical homeland in the Land of Israel, as well as the revival of the Hebrew language. To accomplish the latter, Ben-Yehuda needed to inspire a near impossible feat: transform Hebrew, which for centuries had been used only in study, into a modern spoken language.
By Rabbi Meir Soloveichik for Mosaic
If Judaism’s idea of art is one that can truly represent our frail, fallible humanity, then Rembrandt, who captured faces “without any attempt to beautify them,” is the artist for Jews.
Of all places on earth, this one was surely the least likely to be the favored haunt of a Lithuanian rabbi. Even more surprising than the place itself was how the rabbi reacted to what he found there.
The time was World War I. The place was the National Gallery in London, repository of one of the most extraordinary collections of art on earth. The rabbi was Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), a stellar product of the great Volozhin yeshiva in what is now Belarus and a genius of talmudic learning.
The war had left Rabbi Kook, at that point the chief rabbi of Jaffa in Palestine, stranded in England. Though most of his time was spent immersed in study, he sought inspiration among the works in the National Gallery. And in those halls, there was one painter in particular to whom he gravitated. We know about this thanks to a report by a Jewish sculptor in Jerusalem named Avram Melnikoff, who in later years would consult the rabbi on a matter of halakhah. In the course of their conversation, Rabbi Kook divulged the name of his favorite artist: Rembrandt van Rijn.
MEIR Y. SOLOVEICHIK for Commentary
Laughter,” writes the the essayist Jim Holt in his book Stop Me If You’ve Heard This, “is our characteristic response to the aesthetic category of the humorous, the comical, or the funny. What is it about the humorous situation that evokes this response? Why should a certain kind of cerebral activity issue in such a peculiar behavioral reflex?”
This is not only a question that is raised every time you watch the Marx Brothers; it is also, you will be surprised to hear, at the very heart of Judaism. Laughter is a central theme on one of Judaism’s most serious days, a fact that makes it clear that for Jews, laughter is no laughing matter.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Awe that begins each new year, we read the passage in the Torah about the miraculous birth of a son to the elderly Sarah, then 90 years of age. This son’s Hebrew name, Yitzchak, means “he will laugh.” This, the Bible informs us, is linked to the laughter that his birth to Sarah provoked: “And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age . . . . And Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.”
By Michel Gurfinkiel for Mosaic
Translated into English for the first time, The Wandering Jew Has Arrived captures the breadth of Jewish life from London to Eastern Europe to Palestine just before it all changed.
If you’ve always longed to read a book capturing that very special moment in history when the European Diaspora still was the Jewish people, even as the state of Israel was looming on the far horizon—a book explaining, from within, that moment of incipient transition into two Jewish identities—it has existed since 1930. The problem is that it was written in French, and by a Gentile at that, and for decades nobody bothered introducing it to the English-speaking public.
But now the situation has been rectified. Albert Londres’ masterpiece, The Wandering Jew Has Arrived, has recently been published in a superb translation by Helga Abraham, an Egyptian-born graduate of Edinburgh University who now lives in Jerusalem. In her foreword, Abraham goes so far as to compare Londres with “such great documentarians as Mark Twain and George Orwell.” I couldn’t agree more.
By Jonathan Zalman for Tablet Magazine
The Tri-Faith Initiative brings together a synagogue, a church, and a mosque, with a promise to build bridges between them
A new kind of “neighborhood” is nearing completion in West Omaha, Nebraska—a place where Jews, Muslims, and Christians will share spaces, food, ideas, joy, and pain.
Over 10 years ago, a group of Omaha’s religious and lay leaders hatched an idea: Build three, brand-new houses of worship—a temple, a mosque, and a church—located close together on the same plot of land; ensure that the design scheme feels borderless, flowing, and inviting of interaction; encourage communication between communities—promoting, among other things, cross-religious education and, well, understanding; put into place the right leaders to foster these activities; have plentiful parking; coexist; shock the world.
From ASI (American Sephardi Federation)
"If it is our fate to be the last flicker of the Jewish candle in Kolkata, then so be it."
Everyone agrees that Kolkata is one of India's most beautiful cities. But not many know that a majority of the landmarks in the city were built not by the British, but by members of the Jewish community. Once a community several thousands strong, they are now down to just over 20 members.
Despite their diminished numbers, the Jews of Kolkata still own three Synagogues, three schools and a cemetary in Narkedanga. Members of the community are now reaching out to Jewish communities in Singapore, Hong Kong and the United States, to see if they would help to manage Jewish affairs in the city. Members of the community are resigned to the fact that they may be the last generation of Jews in Kolkata. The way they see it, it's the city's loss.
BY AVISHAY ARTSY for Jewniverse
It’s rare that vacation photos elicit more than a yawn, and it’s certainly unusual to find anything as riveting as the 16mm reel Glenn Kurtz uncovered while sifting through a cardboard box at his parents’ house in Florida.
His grandfather’s home-movie footage included three minutes of Kodachrome color film shot in 1938 during a visit to the small Polish town of Nasielsk. Fewer than 100 of the town’s 3,000 inhabitants survived the Holocaust, and David Kurtz, a Jewish tourist from New York, captured the only surviving moving images of the town. Today, December 3, marks the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Nasielsk’s Jewish population.
By Ben Sales for JTA
Yaakov Seltzer remembers a different world, when he would sell his customers prayer books, then hand them an invitation to his daughter’s wedding.
When they would come in to Seltzer’s store to order a kippah for their new grandson, then ask him to attend the bris.
Or they would stop in on a Friday afternoon with nothing to buy, just to wish him a good Shabbat.
But though the Upper West Side of Manhattan is still heavily Jewish, the world Seltzer longs for has disappeared. And soon, so will his store, West Side Judaica, which Seltzer plans to close sometime next year.
BY MICHAEL FELDBERG for myjewishlearning.com
Lane Bryant Malsin started a small business and became a famous fashion designer who made millions, but she was always involved in Jewish philanthropic work.
In 1895, a 16-year-old immigrant named Lena Himmelstein arrived in New York, having traveled alone from her native Lithuania. Without family, she supported herself by working as a seamstress, earning a dollar a week. A gifted dressmaker, Lena quickly became skilled at her craft and within a year was earning the extraordinary wage of fifteen dollars per week. Before the age of 20, Lena married a Jewish immigrant jeweler from Russia named David Bryant. Soon after their son Raphael was born, David Bryant died suddenly. The widowed Lena Bryant, thrown back on her own devices, supported Raphael and herself by returning to dressmaking in their cramped apartment.
By 1904, Bryant’s business was so successful that she opened a shop with living quarters in the rear. A bank officer misspelled her name on a business account application, and Lena’s first name became Lane. Thus began the pioneering women’s clothing enterprise known as Lane Bryant.
BY MICHAEL FELDBERG for myjewishlearning.com
Haym Salomon played a significant role in saving the newly established United States from financial ruin and was a prominent part of Jewish community affairs.
In the pantheon of American Jewish heroes, Haym Salomon (1740-1785) has attained legendary status. His life was brief and tumultuous, but his impact on the American imagination was great. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp hailing Salomon as a “Financial Hero of the American Revolution.” A monument to Salomon, George Washington, and Robert Morris graces East Wacker Drive in Chicago, and Beverly Hills, California, is home to an organization called the American Jewish Patriots and Friends of Haym Salomon.
Philologos for Tablet Magazine
In part, it borrowed extensively from the slangs and vernaculars of other languages. Consider the case of de la shmatte.
Adin Eichler writes:
My grandmother had a word takhlis. [Mr. Eichler spells the word in Hebrew/Yiddish characters as טאכלעס.] She’d use it in sentences like, “It’s time for takhlis,” which meant she was about to sit us down and give us a good talking-to. I never understood precisely what that meant. Do you happen to know?
Takhlis is Yiddish for practical matters or for the practical side of something, as in a sentence like lomir redn takhlis, “Let’s talk takhlis,” that is, “Let’s get down to business” or “Let’s get down to brass tacks.” Although, with the stress on its first syllable, it’s pronounced as Adin Eichler wrote it, following the rules of Yiddish spelling, you won’t find it spelled that way in a Yiddish dictionary. This is because it comes from the Hebrew word takhlit, spelled תכלית, with the stress on the last syllable. The rule in Yiddish is that all Hebrew-derived words retain their Hebrew spellings even if that is not how their sounds would ordinarily be represented in Yiddish. And yet in writing takhlis in Hebrew today, it is often Yiddishized as תכלעס (sometimes elided into תכל’ס).
BY ARIE KAPLAN for myjewishlearning.com
How American Jews created the comic book industry.
Jews built the comic book industry from the ground up, and the influence of Jewish writers, artists, and editors continues to be felt to this day. But how did Jews come to have such a disproportionate influence on an industry most famous for lantern-jawed demigods clad in colorful tights?
First Comic Books
The story begins in 1933. During that year, the world experienced seismic changes in politics and pop culture. An unemployed Jewish novelty salesman named Maxwell Charles “M.C.” Gaines (née Max Ginzberg) had a brilliant idea: if he enjoyed reading old comic strips like Joe Palooka, Mutt and Jeff, and Hairbredth Harry so much, maybe the rest of America would, too. Thus was born the American comic book, which in its earliest days consisted of reprinted newspaper funnies. Gaines and his colleague Harry L. Wildenberg at Eastern Color Printing soon published February 1934’s Famous Funnies #1, Series 1, the first American retail comic book.
BY MORDECAI WALFISH for myjewishlearning.com
Yiddish originated in Germany, but was eventually spoken by Jews all over Europe.
In its 1,000-plus-year history, the Yiddish language has been called many things, including the tender name mameloshen (mother tongue), the adversarial moniker zhargon (jargon) and the more matter-of-fact Judeo-German.
What is Yiddish?
Literally speaking, Yiddish means “Jewish.” Linguistically, it refers to the language spoken by Ashkenazi Jews — Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, and their descendants. Though its basic vocabulary and grammar are derived from medieval West German, Yiddish integrates many languages including German, Hebrew, Aramaic and various Slavic and Romance languages.
The Origin of Yiddish
Jake Romm for The Forward
If you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in Venice during the Biennale, there’s a piece, recently reported on by the New York Times, that seems especially worth your time – Israeli artist Hadassa Goldvicht’s “The House of Life.” “The House of Life,” “a multiscreen video installation that opened this month at the Palazzo Querini Stampalia Museum” focuses on the life of Aldo Izzo, a former ship-captain who now tends to the two Jewish cemeteries of Venice (one dates back to 1386, and one, still in use, to 1774).