Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
See how Portman is making her big splash in Israel and don't miss Paper Towns with Nat WolffGo To Pop Culture
I met Wyman Brent on Twitter–he’s a librarian, which already biased me in his favor. Today he posted to tell his Twitter followers, “Tomorrow at 12 I sign agreement for Vilnius Jewish Library. 1st real Jewish library in Lithuania since war.” In an article in the Baltic Times, “Making the Vilnius Jewish Library a Reality,” he explained,
“It’s kind of strange because I’m not Jewish and I’m not of Lithuanian descent,” said Brent.
There is still a small Jewish community in Vilnius, once called the Jerusalem of Lithuania. (In Yiddish, it’s called Vilna.) This is very interesting to me as a person working for an organization that serves interfaith Jewish families, since most of the small remnant of the formerly vibrant and large communities in Eastern Europe are in such families. And also — it’s Vilna, where Hirsch Glik wrote the stirring song of resistance with the chorus, “Mir zaynen doh” — we are here.
Another web resource about small Jewish communities is the Small Synagogues website, http://www.smallsynagogues.com/. It contains the sweet stories of synagogues in small towns like Abilene, Texas and Sheboygan, Wisc. I really liked the warm tone of Sherry Levine Zander’s articles. That, too, has overlap with the lives of a lot of children of interfaith families who grew up as the only Jews in small towns.
The latest Harry Potter movie opened last night. I couldn’t go, but I’ve been waiting all summer for the opening so that I could blog about Jewish intermarriage themes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The themes in the movie have been upstaged by reports that Dan Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter in the films, is claiming his Jewish identity in the pseudonym he’s using for his poetry.
“Did you know that Harry Potter is Jewish and is from an interfaith family?” my coworker asked. I corrected her, “No, Harry isn’t Jewish, Daniel Radcliffe is Jewish. We ran a celebrity column about that three years ago.” I admit, I knew that anyway. I love Dan Radcliffe–every interview he does charms me with his upbeat, bouncy personality. I haven’t read his poetry, though, and I might not. He’s 19 years old; it would have been nice to let the poetry stay pseudonymous, don’t you think? I wouldn’t want people to read my poetry from when I was 19.
I had to edit this to provide you with a link to the My Jewish Learning blog Mixed Multitudes where they reproduced the poetry. (Vey iz mir.)
But really, Harry Potter is Jewish — sort of. the entire Harry Potter series could be read as an allegory about how a small minority population that fears persecution deals with intermarriage with a majority population that isn’t entirely aware of it. I am well aware that I am not the first person to make this connection, but it’s even more interesting to me now that I work at InterfaithFamily.com. (If you somehow haven’t read the Harry Potter books–is that possible?–I’m going to spoil the ending of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie below the cut.)
In the Harry Potter universe, wizards have undisputed magical powers, whether they come from “pureblood” families, mixed families or entirely non-magical families. There is no “who is a wizard” question–if you can do magic, you’re magical. Jewishness is far less easy to define. (If only Jews could fly.) Nevertheless, wizards and witches from pureblood families who fear the non-magical, Muggle majority, are the bad guys in Harry Potter.
Harry Potter’s parents were both magical, though he was raised by his non-magical aunt and uncle. He finds out when he enters the wizarding world at age 11 that his mother had a lower status to some wizards because she was a witch-by-choice. (OK, you know that I mean because she was a witch with non-magical parents.) Harry’s best friend Hermione is the target of an anti-muggleborn slur, and Harry finds out that pureblood mania is a big part of why some wizards supported the evil wizard who killed his parents. The Wizarding world has good reason to fear both the encroachment of Muggle ways into their subculture, and to worry about actual persecution.
We don’t learn until the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that Severus Snape, the sarcastic teacher who heads Slytherin House, is the son of a magical mother and a non-magical father. If you know the books, you know what a problem this was for Snape–there are hints that his father had anti-magical bias.
Does that make Snape halachically a wizard? How about according to Reform Wizardry?
Should we be contacting Albus Dumbledore to see if he wants to list Hogwarts as a welcoming organization?
Eight months after the election, Al Franken (D, Jewish) was declared the winner of Minnesota’s 2008 Senate election over incumbent Norm Coleman (R, Jewish). That makes Franken the 13th sitting Jewish U.S. senator. Like Coleman, Franken is intermarried.
In 2003, Franken talked about his family with the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles:
Aubrey Graham, AKA “Drake,” a former star of Degrassi: The Next Generation, is apparently about to be bigger than the Beatles, Elvis and Michael Jackson combined, if you are to believe this hyperbolic story in the Toronto Star. He hasn’t released an album yet, but Kanye West has directed his video, he’s touring with Lil Wayne this summer and he’s going to appear on a new single from Jay-Z.
We reprinted a profile of Graham a few years ago. His father, an African-American, is a musician, and his Jewish mother is an educator. While marketers are now calling him “the Derek Jeter of rap,” he didn’t date while attending a tony Toronto high school:
In this blog post from Cosmogirl!, Graham writes about how he received a home gym for Hanukkah from his mother and grandmother because “my grandmother says I am too skinny to be a rapper.” The post also implies that Graham identifies as Jewish himself.
Will Graham–ahem, Drake–join the Beastie Boys in the tiny fraternity of nice Jewish boys who’ve become stars in hip hop? We’ll find out when his first official album debuts later this year.
A new Star Trek movie comes out today!!!!
Wait? You already knew that? Darn. The Internet just can’t keep up with newspapers and TV. (Especially in this economy.)
Even if you knew about the movie, I’ll bet you didn’t know the director is Jewish? (Oh. You knew that too? I feel small.) BUT. I bet you didn’t know J.J. Abrams is in an interfaith marriage!
Yup, the newly appointed Geek Lord and Overseer is married to a Catholic woman, as he told the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles:
Yeah, I know, I’m not exactly up to date on pop culture. I know everything that’s happening in a certain corner of the internet, but it’s an awfully geeky corner. Sometimes, though, the goodies come to me.
Hillel, The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, ran a short interview with Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg, the child of an interfaith family. Everyone in my office informed me that they didn’t like Rosenberg’s behavior on the reality television program. I never saw the show, and I thought he looked kind of cute–but where are the recipes?
There was a review of the new Star Trek movie in Variety and it looks like a total InterfaithFamily.com plot: Spock’s childhood choice to identify with his Vulcan side when the humans teased him too much. I guess it’s a requirement of my job to go to both this movie and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince–two bicultural heroes who have to choose to identify with one side or the other of their heritage. (Oh, come on, that is not a spoiler, the entire world read that book.)
Here’s a useful link for IFF readers: an online guide to Jewish wedding traditions. How is that pop culture? Well, I got it from a friend on Twitter. Twitter is pop culture, right?
Here’s a link that might not be useful but you won’t be sorry if you follow it: Maira Kalman added another page to her blog with art at the New York Times, And The Pursuit of Happiness. In her description of a visit to the US Supreme Court, Kalman writes:
Maira Kalman is my imaginary BFF.
Purim comes but once a year and when it comes you know it’s here–because people get really silly. I am not sure whether this article about Christian salt is for real. Yes, OK, maybe there is someone out there who doesn’t understand that Jews use kosher salt for removing the blood from meat and feels weirded out by salt with a Jewish star on it. But this part of the article made me think this could be a put-on:
Oh come on, people! This has to be a Purim joke!
On the other hand, that Christmas decoration that looked in the photo like someone is burning a cross on your lawn that was all over the web last December turned out to be a real product from a real organization, so who knows.
Matthew Scott, who wrote a nice article for InterfaithFamily.com about being in an interfaith relationship and learning to cook and eat Jewish food, was one of several people to bring the Christian salt story to my attention. He was also the first person in my network to find the new 92nd Street Y Purim video, Meshugene Men–though I’d read about it on jbooks.com, in a fun interview with comedy writer Rob Kutner, who made the video. I’ve embedded it below the cut. Continue reading
Love him or loathe him, there’s one thing we can all agree on about Bill Maher: he’s a jerk.
In Religulous, his documentary-cum-diatribe on the horrors of religion, his approach to his interview subjects is at best mocking, at worst contemptuous. He variously interrupts, laughs at, winces at and provokes his subjects. He edits the interviews to highlight their ignorance and intercuts their answers with clips from old movies that are more amusing than insightful. This approach would be brave if he were interviewing, say, the Pope or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but it’s just mean-spirited when he’s talking with the guy who plays Jesus at a Christian amusement park or the pastor at a truckstop church. Only a handful of his subjects–such as Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Rabbi Dovid Weiss of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta International–merit such ruthless mockery.
But misguided aesthetics aside, is Maher’s message worth heeding? Um, no.
The 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:
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.