A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 6 hours 11 minutes ago
The barber shop at 11 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, run by a skillful group of Bukharian Jews, was absolutely poppin’ by mid-morning today. The ship was tight—it had to be, especially on Lag B’Omer, the holiday that interrupts the counting of the Omer, the 49-day mourning period that runs from the second day of Passover until the day before Shavuot.
On Lag B’Omer, many observant Jews get haircuts, which are restricted, along with weddings and listening to live or recorded music, during the Omer. And though there isn’t space for a chuppah or a stage in the lobby of 11 Broadway, its barbers are good for a quick, quality trim. Then, it’s on to the next; they’re efficient, the exact opposite of the DMV adjacent to the shop where the time spent (wasted?) is counted in hours, not minutes.
I don’t watch Jeopardy! much these days, but only because I don’t pay for cable—and really, who does? Old people do, because they’re smart and not cheap like the rest of us cord-cutting, Internet idiots, who don’t deserve to bask in the intellectual glory of one of the greatest game shows of all time every evening around 7 p.m.
And really, that’s the dream, isn’t it? Dinners at 3 p.m., long naps after that, then Jeopardy! before bed. Then it’s the early bird special and back at it again.
A couple months ago, Alisan Porter killed it during her blind audition on NBC’s The Voice, singing “Blue Bayou” by Roy Orbison and Linda Ronstadt. Then she sang The Mamas & the Papas, followed by Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin, even throwing in some Aerosmith and The Eagles along the way. The longer Porter stayed on the show, the closer she came to shedding her previous image as the child star of ‘Curly Sue,’ and pushing forward into a new one: simply, as Alisan Porter, winner of The Voice.
Here’s Porter, who’s Jewish, singing “Somewhere” from West Side Story, which Barbra Streisand put on The Broadway Album in 1985, in the live finale on Tuesday.
“Shit!” says Anthony Weiner, the most improbable of candidates for New York mayor in 2013. “This is the worst.”
Former Congressman Weiner is having a bad day. He was destined to have lots of them, having been caught for a second time in two years texting photographs of his Wiener to female fans. Filmmakers Josh Kriegman, Weiner’s former chief of staff on Capitol Hill, and co-producer Elyse Steinberg record them all, as the man who would be mayor watches his quixotic campaign crash and burn in this riveting, powerful documentary.
This Week on Unorthodox: BuzzFeed Marijuana Reporter Amanda Chicago Lewis and a Jews for Jesus Pamphlet
Our Jewish guest is Amanda Chicago Lewis, a national reporter for BuzzFeed News who covers the burgeoning marijuana industry, most recently highlighting the racial politics in the wake of legalization. She shares some consumer tips for listeners in states where marijuana is legal and offers advice for anyone looking to get back in the game after a long hiatus. In lieu of a Gentile of the Week, we read from a Jews for Jesus pamphlet left in the lobby of our producer Julie’s apartment building.
Ariel Sharon’s former advisers and surrogates would probably burst out laughing if this comparison were presented to them. Israel’s former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon would also probably reject it. But less than a week after the earthquake that shook Israeli politics, it is no longer entirely fanciful to imagine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu losing power—like he has in the past—to a decorated general who assures “Middle Israel” that he will keep the country safe while also appealing to a segment of the Israeli center-left. Ya’alon, who quit the government last week amidst negotiations to replace him with the Soviet-born Avigdor Lieberman, a security hardliner who never saw combat in any army, is already discussing a joint run with other disappointed Likudniks, such as former Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, current Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and perhaps even Yair Lapid—who likes to emphasize that he grew up in a household that supported Menachem Begin. Two other former IDF chiefs of staff—Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz—are also seriously considering entering politics, a development that would only further weaken Netanyahu’s hold on the argument that he is the best-suited candidate to deliver security to Israelis.
How serious is all this talk? Here’s what Moshe Arens, the former Likud Defense Minister, who is famous for being the person who jump-started Netanyahu’s political career by appointing him to a senior position in the Israeli embassy in Washington in the 1980s had to say about the Ya’alon saga, just two days ago:
Demonstrators assembled outside of the Whole Foods supermarket on the Upper West Side late Wednesday morning to protest the close relationship between its CEO, John Mackey, and former rabbi Marc Gafni, a New Age spiritual impresario who now leads the think tank Center for Integral Wisdom. Gafni, the subject of a recent New York Times profile by Mark Oppenheimer, has been accused of numerous abuses of power over the course of decades, including the molestation of a teenage girl who he is quoted as saying was “14 going on 35.”
The protesters were led by Rabbi David Ingber, the spiritual director of Romemu and a former associate of Gafni, who said the demonstration aimed to raise awareness about the connection between Gafni and Mackey, who until recently served as chairman of the executive board of Gafni’s organization, has called his spiritual advisor a “bold visionary,” and partnered with Gafni on numerous projects. Though Mackey is no longer on the board of Gafni’s think tank and a video series between the two has been removed from the Whole Foods website, Mackey has not publicly distanced himself from Gafni.
Holy smokes! Frum girls are normal!
That, essentially, represents some of implications of the buzz behind a video of two anonymous Orthodox Jewish girls beatboxing and freestyling about their potential marriage prospects with Dor Yeshorim, an Orthodox genetic testing service. One headline described the occurrence as “weirdly talented rapping Orthodox girls star in illicit viral hit,” which left me speechless. The video, according to this article, “bubbled up through the dark net of Orthodox WhatsApp groups sometime Tuesday or Wednesday,” apparently without permission. Take a look for yourself.
A Jewish cemetery in Sudan. A network of ancient Jewish fortresses in Saudi Arabia. A Beirut synagogue restored with the endorsement of Hezbollah. A former synagogue, built in a gothic architectural style, now used as a mosque in Northwest Algeria. Iraqi Kurdistan, where thousands of Jews once made Shavuot pilgrimages to the tomb of a biblical prophet. A shrine and burial ground on the Syria-Turkey border, popular as a Jewish tourist site in the early 20th century, that later served as a secret exit point for Jews escaping Syria after 1948.
Locales in the Middle East and North Africa are rich with remnants of Jewish life and culture, much of it organized around once overlapping ethnic, political, and religious affiliations that seem nearly unimaginable today. But because so much of the region isn’t always accessible, many of these sites remain hidden from sight, and therefore from our memories.
It’s not every day we’re presented with an opportunity to write about golf, which is a shame, because it’s a fantastic game. It’s also, apparently, stuck in the Stone Age.
Issues of gender equality is not a new conversation in golf, particularly at Augusta National in the U.S., which hosts the Masters every year and only began to admit female members in 2014. This week, the committee at Scottish golf club Muirfield voted to continue to “retain its men-only membership policy,” announced the club’s captain Henry Fairweather, after it failed to vote a two-thirds majority that would have enabled women to become members. “Women will continue to be welcome on the course and in the clubhouse as guests and visitors, as they have been for many years.”
It would seem that Bernie Sanders—down nearly nine points in the latest polls to totally fun and trustworthy opponent Hillary Clinton—should be in full panic mode by now. Instead, Sanders has chosen to double down on what appear to be insurmountable odds, declaring he’ll take his fight all the way to the DNC in Philadelphia in July. It’s a message to his passionate base, who have flocked to his sense of humor, resilience, and man-of-the-people shtick. As he loves to imply: he’s not a billionaire, he’s one of you. For the time being, Bernie’s here to stay.
Lucky for us this means we’ll get more of Larry David, everyone’s other favorite bespectacled Brooklynite, who has found a bit of a revitalization on Saturday Night Live for his uncanny Sanders impersonations… But the person who lucks out the most, it seems, it Larry David, who, according to Sanders, would in fact get to keep his job during a Sanders presidency.
In theory, all Jews belong to one of three lineages—priests, Levites, and Israelites. Sometimes this inheritance is advertised in last names: If your name is Cohen, you are ostensibly descended from the priests, kohanim, whose ultimate ancestor is Moses’ brother Aaron. If your name is Levi, you presumably come from the tribe of Levites, who were designated in the Torah as the priests’ assistants. But the names are not always reliable—not all kohanim are named Cohen—and thanks to the many vicissitudes of Jewish history, any definitive proof of ancestry is impossible to come by. That is why it was so striking when 21st-century geneticists discovered what they called the Cohen Modal Haplotype, a set of genes carried on the Y chromosome, which are carried by a majority of Jewish families that self-identify as kohanim. This suggests that the priestly identity was, in many cases, accurately passed down for a hundred generations.
Lag Ba’Omer is this Wednesday evening and Thursday, and on a mountaintop in northern Israel, pilgrims will congregate on a color-coded parking lot swarmed with endless rows of buses. Hikers will set up tents, and teenagers in long skirts or knitted kippot will disembark alongside Hasidic families. In a tradition that dates back to the 16th century, they will be converging on the sacred mountain of Har Meron in the Galilee to pray at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, purported author of the Zohar.
And this fall, on Rosh Hashanah, in a remote village in Ukraine, ecstatic visitors, mostly Hasidic, will unite to spend the Jewish New Year at the gravesite of the famed Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, in his burial place of Uman. That’s been going on since his death in 1810, though it was shut down during the Communist period with a few brave souls sneaking in here and there, until reopening in 1989. The pilgrimage now reaches tens of thousands.
In the New Haven Evening Register of January 18, 1960, on a back page near the weather report, ran two nearly identical articles on the exact same topic, the kind of mistake made by an editor on very tight deadline, or by an editor shaken by a disturbing story. The story in the left-hand column has the bureaucratic headline officials hold conference on probe at yale. The second story, five columns to the right, is titled conference due for discussion of yale probe. In each case, there is that word “probe”—probe of what?
The left-hand article contains this lead: “City Attorney Vincent Villano and Assistant City Attorney Gilbert Winnick will confer this afternoon in order to reach a decision as to whether warrants will be issued for a dozen Yale students involved in a morals case with a 14-year-old Hamden girl.” A Yale spokesman had confirmed that ten sophomores and two juniors had “resigned from school.” Yale’s campus police chief had resigned. In the one paragraph given over to the fourteen-year-old girl from Hamden (a middle-class suburb north of New Haven) we learn that she “was arrested Friday and turned over to juvenile authorities for prosecution. She has since been placed in custody of her parents, pending disposition of her case.”
Think back to your own bar or bat mitzvah. Was your voice creaky? Was your face covered in acne? Were you sporting a mouthful of metal? Were the hot lights and hormones firing in your synapses giving you sweaty palms and a dry mouth? Did you let out a sigh of relief the following weeks when your sniggering friends found themselves similarly unmoored upon the bima? Oh, the memories…
For many 13-year-olds, these experiences are par for the course when it comes to becoming a bar or mat mitzvah. Last week, however, three women who shared a bat mitzvah dealt with realities uncommon among teenagers who participate in the Jewish rite—hearing aids, new medications, and shaky walkers.
Last February, Oberlin College became the flashpoint of a national controversy when it was discovered that the liberal arts school was employing an openly anti-Semitic professor. On Facebook, social justice writing instructor Joy Karega had dubbed ISIS a “CIA and Mossad operation,” suggested Israel downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, claimed the Mossad perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo attacks, posted a video arguing that Jews did 9/11, and shared an anti-Semitic meme of Jewish banker Jacob Rothschild that declared, “We own your news, the media, your oil, and your government.” Karega’s story was covered in the New York Times and numerous other media outlets, and her conduct was condemned by Oberlin’s board of trustees.
At the time, some publications—including Tablet—suggested that Karega’s hiring, despite her prejudiced views, represented a broader institutional failure at Oberlin. Two of Oberlin’s associate deans had served on the small search committee that hired Karega to guide undergraduates in ethical activism, and yet they completely failed to recognize her bigotry. Tablet has learned, however, that the institution’s seeming inability to face up to Karega’s conduct went even higher than previously reported, and that a broader climate of anti-Semitism has gone unaddressed on campus.
Have you ever looked at Taylor Swift’s Instagram—her ubiquitous social media feed that’s full of her tall, leggy, impossibly blonde and snub-nosed friends (your Jaime Kings, your Karlie Klosses)—and thought: Hmmm, they certainly look like they are having a lovely, female-centric, wholesome time, but they also don’t look very—how to put this?—Jewish? Well, you’re not the only one! That’s right, Neo-Nazis, too, have eyes for Swift who is apparently… a Nazi?
“Taylor Swift is a pure Aryan goddess,” white supremacist blogger Andre Anglin, of hate-rag The Daily Stormer, told Broadly in a piece titled “Can’t Shake It Off: How Taylor Swift Became a Nazi Goddess.” The article tracks the rise of this peculiar fanfare, which apparently began with a Pinterest meme in which Hitler quotes were pasted onto pics of T. Swift and vice versa. The Internet, how fun!
The finale of the first season of The Path, one of the most remarkable pop culture explorations of religion in recent memory, is coming to a television screen (or, laptop screen, since it’s a direct-to-Hulu series) near you on Wednesday. If you’re new the show, I don’t recommend gorging on it. With The Path, Hulu wisely broke with the popular direct-to-stream practice of dumping an entire season online at once, perhaps realizing that a show this cerebral, and this thematically daring, would be slightly baffling if absorbed in bulk. With its complex layers of interpersonal and theological drama, The Path is just about binge-proof (which is probably one of the highest compliments a TV show can be paid these days).
The Path is about a fictional, modern-day spiritual movement, or possibly a cult (the show’s brilliance lies in its unwillingness to draw distinctions on this point), that navigates a series of inflection points. The Myerists barely get a moment’s peace: Although few followers know it, the supposedly semi-divine Dr. Steve Myer is secretly dying in Peru, setting up an impending power vacuum that one of the movement’s most charismatic and potentially dangerous men (Hannibal’s Hugh Dancy) is vying to fill. At the same time, Myerism is growing, forcing the movement to come to grips with a non-believing world that followers had grown accustomed to viewing as irremediably corrupted and hostile.
Last week we published an excerpt about Morley Safer, the legendary broadcast journalist who died last week at the age of 83, from Abigail Pogrebin’s book Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish. In 2006, Pogrebin sat down with Safer and 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt at the 92 Street Y in New York City, and asked them to elaborate on their Judaism. We present the video of this event to the public for the first time today.
Together, for (fittingly) an hour, Safer and Hewitt, who died in 2009, talked with Pogrebin about the various aspects of their individual Jewish faiths—from their upbringings and ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ to the Holocaust, coverage of Israel in the news, and Teddy Kolleck, as well as many, many more insightful anecdotes.