The Death of Cool


Paul NewmanThe coolest man on the planet died this weekend.

Sure, Paul Newman had all the outward accoutrements of cool: the mesmerizing blue eyes, the charming smile, the fame, the wealth, the love of car-racing. But what really made him cool was his character.

Here was a man who was still a heartthrob into his 80s, yet was married to the same woman–and by all accounts, a faithful and adoring husband–for more than half a century. His face was so famous that he could have made millions in marketing it outside of movies, but instead he used it to sell an ever-growing line of food products, with all of the profits (more than $200 million!) going to charity. And despite all his achievements, he was humble and self-effacing. Nate Bloom sent me this passage from a Los Angeles Time article on his death:

Friends said Newman abhorred what he called “noisy philanthropy.” He felt the awards and honors offered him were excessive and once declined a national medal in a letter to President Clinton, calling such recognition “honorrhea.” Continue reading

Facebook and challah!


I have to admChallahit that I avoided joining Facebook. I am generally a busy person, but yesterday I finally gave in and joined. After moving from city to city and making friends from many walks of life, I needed a way to keep in touch with my friends, hear what is going on in their day to day lives and see updated pictures of their kids. Now I am hooked. I have been registered for a little more than a half a day and have 46 friends. My friends are sending me photos, sharing recipes and the joys and annoyances of their lives. People are even sending virtual challot to each other. (I am hoping one of my friends is reading this and will send me one before Rosh Hashanah!)
If you spend a lot of time on Facebook, you can join the Friends Group on Facebook.
In an effort to add more to my plate in the New Year, I am going to try and use my bread machine to make challah every week this year. I think it will be a fun activity for my son as we get ready for Shabbat. I found a great cooking segment from the Today Show in 2003 on making round challah with Al Roker! It’s after the jump– Continue reading

The Tribe


Bar Mitzvah BarbieI loved this short film The Tribe on Jewish identity when I saw it online last week. It’s funny–all that stuff about Barbie, and the animation–but I think what it has to say about Jewish identity will resonate with our readers. I liked the poetry-slam style poem by Vanessa Hidary at the end of the film. I’m happy to say that I found the full text of the poem here–apparently what was in the film was just an excerpt. The film is embedded below the cut. Continue reading

Jews in the Presidential Campaign and the Blogosphere


I get a lot of Jewish blogs in my RSS reader, and one of the ones I follow, The Velveteen Rabbi, had a link to another blogger who had liveblogged a conference call with Barack Obama. A group of rabbis has started a group called Rabbis for Obama, which the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has called “a first in US politics.” Apparently 900 rabbis from all denominations were on the call; three rabbis asked questions of the candidate. Obama quoted from the Talmud and used Hebrew phrases with some facility.

Interesting! As both candidates court the Jewish vote and attract Jewish supporters, we’re going to get to see a lot about Jewish culture in the news.

In other Jewish blogging news, and on a completely different, non-political note I have been digging Sefer Ha-Bloggadah. It’s a group blogging effort by a group of diverse Jewish writers. They have begun a three-year reading ofThe Book of Legends (in Hebrew, Sefer Ha-Aggadah) by Haim Nahman Bialik, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the publication of the collection of Jewish legends by the famous Hebrew poet. I love the diversity of the writers’ perspectives.

Shul Shopping for the Holidays


tiny Robin photoMy family just moved to Massachusetts a few months ago from the Midwest. My husband and I are a typical Jewish Boston couple: he is a medical fellow and I am the Network Director at Our son is enrolled in the JCC preschool. We are a middle class family living in a very expensive city. We have been shul shopping and think that we have found a synagogue which is family friendly and suits our needs. I looked into membership and for the first year the High Holiday tickets are free and the membership is half price! Yes, we can afford this!

For our second year, the prices go up for membership and High Holiday tickets, plus the obligation to pay our part of the building fund kicks in, and this will become one more added expense.

Joining a shul is a priority for my family. We have held a membership since our engagement. So we will join for the next year, but for the first time, we are considering whether our long term goals involve active synagogue participation….

I know there a lot of other families who want to join in the Jewish community, but memberships and tuitions add up quickly. If you look, there are certainly scholarships, but there are also organizations that are inviting and attach few or no strings. Many of them are listed in our Connections In Your Area System. Another, near universal source of free Orthodox High Holiday services is the Hasidic Jewish organization Chabad.

You can also use Google with the terms “High Holiday services” and your location. If you find a welcoming place, please let me know and I will work to get them listed on’s website.

Books and Other Goodies


My son started kindergarten this week. At our Havurah, we did a ceremony for him and the other new kindergartner in our little community. The other little girl’s mom baked cookies in the shape of the Hebrew alef-bet. Each set of parents came up and said the blessing on part of the Torah reading.Then our resident blesser-stock photo of children reading-we don’t have a rabbi in our lay-led group, but we do have members with special talents, like the ability to make bilingual puns in Hebrew and English–said a blessing on our families in honor of the milestone of starting formal education. As part of the ritual, my son got the first Hebrew letter of his name with honey drizzled on top.

This is a Jewish folk custom that I wanted to do with my son, but probably would have forgotten in the rush to get out the door the first day of school. In Eastern Europe, Jews sent their little boys to school at a young age, and used to put honey on the slate they would be using to learn the letters, or even, on the cover of a book. Reading and writing should be sweet.

Yesterday my son was home sick–yes, on the third day of school–and was watching an Elmo video on Youtube. I overheard a little story from the computer screen about a girl whose house was made of books, whose bed was made of books, who read while she walked around and who had books everywhere. I thought, “That’s supposed to be funny and absurd but that’s what our house is like.”

Soon my desk is going to look as bad as my house. (It doesn’t yet, coworkers.) I get books here at work, a steady stream of books for us to review on the site. Whatever publishers don’t send us, I request. I’ve made friends with some of the people who send out the review copies from the Jewish publishers. We all ooohed and aaahed over a beautiful cookbook, The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur, with its gorgeous photos of pomegranates, halvah and stuffed vegetables. We’re going to review it. One of our frequent book reviewers, Jayne Cohen, just came out with a great-looking book called Jewish Holiday Cooking, which we’re also going to have reviewed.  It was hard to let these yummy-looking books go. Continue reading

The Candidates’ Jewish Connections


Michelle Obama has a rabbi in her family, Anthony Weiss of The Forward reported on Tuesday:

Michelle Obama, wife of the Democratic presidential nominee, and Rabbi Capers Funnye, spiritual leader of a mostly black synagogue on Chicago’s South Side, are first cousins once removed. Funnye’s mother, Verdelle Robinson Funnye (born Verdelle Robinson) and Michelle Obama’s paternal grandfather, Frasier Robinson Jr., were brother and sister.

Funnye (pronounced fuh-NAY) is chief rabbi at the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in southwest Chicago. He is well-known in Jewish circles for acting as a bridge between mainstream Jewry and the much smaller, and largely separate, world of black Jewish congregations, sometimes known as black Hebrews or Israelites. He has often urged the larger Jewish community to be more accepting of Jews who are not white.

Meanwhile, according to Ron Kampeas and Eric Fingerhut of JTA, Joe Biden’s son married into a Jewish family.

On the Republican side, no Jewish connections in John McCain’s or Sarah Palin’s families have come to light (unless you count McCain’s newly adopted pet Democrat, Joe Lieberman). But don’t worry, as the 2004 election cycle showed us, if there’s a Jew–or even a miniature Israeli flag–somewhere in their family trees, somebody will find it.