Posted on March 28th, 2011 No comments
The famed Arab street is buzzing all across the Middle East and North Africa. The Jewish street has been visited by J-street and terrorists. From where she sits on King David Street, HU C-JIR Jerusalem Dean Naamah Kelman has a particular perspective. This week, she share what she sees both on campus and around the country.
I was not in Jerusalem for the first ever full marathon last Friday. I was up in Haifa participating in the first ever “Tikkun Carmel”, Jewish Studies and cultural festival, initiated by our Progressive Synagogue in Haifa (Ohel Avraham), in cooperation with the local Masorati (Conservative) synagogue. I had spent the previous day in Kibbutz Yahel and Kibbutz Lotan in the Arava, at a meeting of the Board of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. Our Progressive Kibbutzim are thriving these days. Yahel is about to build a nature and commercial park and way-station; Lotan, has found their calling as an international center for perma-culture and sustainability. Both Kibbutzim , served as our gracious hosts and both shared their newfound satisfaction with u, a HUC Israeli rabbinic graduate who has moved himself and family to the Arava to be the regional rabbi.
Reports from Jerusalem, 2 days after the terrible terrorist attack, told of the thousands running in the streets. Despite annoying traffic delays, schools closed in order to make way for what is clearly what mayor Nir Barkat does best: keep Jerusalem open to all sectors and best through mass events and major cultural festivals. I share these thoughts as a reminder that Israel continues to be a vibrant, creative, energized society; while at the same time struggling with external and internal conflict, violence, and political corruption. The week began with the sentencing of former President Katzav to seven years in prison. He continues to deny his guilt as a convicted rapist.
This week, Israelis were still reeling from the horrific murder of the Fogel family from the West Bank settlement of Itamar; Israelis were united in their horror and sadness; while the political debates continued. No one seemed to pay too much attention to Knesset discussion on J-Street, nor was there any mention in any of the Hebrew papers of the selection to Rabbi Richard Jacobs as the President –designate of the Union for Reform Judaism.
For Kabbalat Shabbat, I joined our Year in Israel students who were participating in a program called “Parallel Lives.” IDF soldiers from an elite unit are selected to be part of a year-long ongoing exchange with some of our students, around 12 of them and 16 of ours. This program was founded and funded by Israelis who completed their graduate studies in Alabama years ago. Then, throughout the 1980′s they discovered the American Jewish community, and returned to Israel committed to keeping a real and mutual bond alive. When a beloved nephew was killed in an IDF action, they created this program, to honor him, and invest in the crucial dialogue between Israelis and Jews from North American programs. We are now in our 4th year of this unique program. It is quite successful and yet, too often it lives up to its name: parallel lives!
Over the years the biggest challenge is to find the right setting and structure for Tefillah over the 2 Shabbat experiences they share. When our students lead Kabbalat Shabbat, which is usually what has happened, the Israelis sit politely but disconnected to the words of our Siddur. If we sing a modern Hebrew song, that is also somewhat liturgical (like Lu Ye’hi or Oseh Shalom) some sing along. This past Friday, the soldiers planned the Kabbalat Shabbat. Sometimes they come straight from their bases so there is no time to prepare or coordinate. One soldier volunteered to prepare a Kabbalat Shabbat song sheet and each song was put on an Ipod, that served as our “shaliach tzibbur.” So there we were, sitting in a nice circle, facing the decorations of a typical Israeli elementary school, and we sang, accompanied by real playback. These songs were both modern Israeli songs and some tefillah that have been made popular by Israeli musicians. Now our students understood what our Israeli counterparts often experience when they join our Services. There is something both familiar and alien in the joint experience. Our HUC students tried hard to sing along because they intuitively sing and pray in diverse settings.
These soldiers have hosted our entire Year in Israel at their base for our Israel Seminar. They told the group about their experiences and dilemmas. They insisted that they strive to be as moral an Army as possible. These conversations are complicated. Our students hold the IDF and the Israeli government to high standards. The Israelis face complex situations. The Parallel Lives program struggles mightily to become that bridge of understanding and mutual respect.
The great story of this generation is that 2 strong and confident communities are evolving on parallel tracks. We are two generations away from the Holocaust and the founding of the state of Israel. As Israelis create a modern Hebrew Jewish culture and society, the gap with the Diaspora grows; although we no longer reject the Diaspora as did the early Zionists. Meanwhile, North American (and I want to recognize our Leo Baeck Rabbinic students and Abraham Geiger Kolleg cantorial students this year) young adults are forging their Jewish identities reflective of their needs and dreams.
Many of our students eagerly join Women at the Wall. For many secular Israelis this is a foreign experience. They would rather run in a marathon through the Old City than stop to pray anywhere. Many of our students are bewildered by the religious coercion in Israel; too many Israelis reject the coercion but also reject Judaism in the process. And often reject our form of Judaism too. Yet thousands attended Reform Purim events throughout Israel. Thirty of our Year in Israel students joined the Progressive Congregation in Modiin where hundreds attended Megillah reading, with many of our students reading! Increasingly, Israelis are finding their way to our Congregations and educational institutions. When terror strikes, all our fears return. At the same time, we remain steadfast and fearless to get on with our lives.
The life of Israelis and Diaspora Jews will remain 2 parallel tracks for sure. It is our responsibility to build bridges, connect, exchange, argue, and keep the bonds between us alive and updated. As Reform Jews , we might be able to model a Judaism that lives in and with democracy. Israelis face issues of sovereignty and governance that are still very new for this emerging modern state.
When one of our students Nathan Farb, offered words of Torah to the IDF officers and his fellow students, he was able to list what it means to serve the Jewish people today. He included the work of future rabbis, cantors and educators right along with the defending of Jewish state. He was not smug, nor anxious, he embraced the spectrum, he offered a Birkat Haderech….To experience our students and these soldiers “praying” together, singing together, learning torah together, at this modest Kabbalat Shabbat; it was indeed a taste of the Gan Eden and a glimpse of the future….lu yihee!
Posted on March 21st, 2011 1 comment
Being an alum of HUC-JIR means being part of a community of intellegent engaged Jewish professionals. When those professionals come together and share their passions and ideas, there is untold potential. A recent gathering of the Rhea Hisrch School of Education alumni capitalized on that potential. This week we welcome Rabbi Lydia Medwin who shares her reflection of the learning that went on.
In a recent Day of Learning for RHSOE alumni, we spoke together on the topic of Jewish community – what it was and how to facilitate its being built. After a communal breakfast, the alumni (which included a group of alumni who were video-conferenced in from New York) sat together with five panelists, who spoke about Jewish community from different vantage points: Community of Practice, Community of Learners, Community in Worship, Community through Action, and Community through Technology. Each panelist presented on the ways in which they approached community building, followed by a question and answer period guided by the organizer of the day, Josh Mason Barkin. The panel was followed by breakout groups where we discussed the implications of our previous conversation. After lunch, we reconvened to brainstorm about ways in which we might further the goals of community building for our synagogues. The following is an overview of what I perceived as the major take-aways from the day:
The sustaining and nourishing of the Jewish community is one of the foundational concepts upon which our synagogues stand. It is a idea that includes nothing in particular, and everything in reality. In some ways, it defies definition, because it’s so close to the center of everything that we do and are. For what would a synagogue be that felt no sense of community? Judaism emphasizes the community – we need a minyan of 10 people to pray a full service; we need a community to celebrate births and funerals and everything in between; we need each other to fill many of the basic commandments of our tradition. And think of the implications – when we forge a thick social fabric, we also weave meaning into our lives, create a safe place for those who are alone, afraid, and in need, establish a refuge from the outside world in which we can consider a different kind of world, one that is slower, more thoughtful and self-reflective, one in which we are heard and in which our voice counts. We can seek the Divine in community in a way that is different from our private seeking. We can make changes in our innermost selves when we allow other people to join us on our journeys. We can also begin to make some of those changes in the outside world, in our public lives, with the help of our community.
And yet, as Jewish professionals, we struggle every day to help facilitate this sense of community. We try desperately to imbue in our congregants a feeling that we need their presence to be fulfilled, and that they need us in many ways too. We try to convey the message that they belong to the Temple, and that the Temple, their Jewish community, and indeed the entire Jewish people, belongs to them too. They are, in fact, the Jewish people – not an idealized, Fiddle-on-the-Roof type of Judaism that (may have) existed long ago; not the small group of Ultra Orthodox Jews that our so many of our congregants consider the “real deal religious Jews;” and not us professional Jews that many have handed over their Jewish identities to. Some clergy and educators risk sinking into resignation and despair when considering this uphill battle, and if we continue to think about community in the same old way, they will have reason to be sad. Jewish community can no longer be about professionals planning programs for congregants. It can no longer be about the professionals knowing what is good for our congregants. It is not about a show and it is not about perfection. Jewish community IS about getting into deep conversation with each other, one cup of coffee at a time. Jewish community is about collaboration and making decisions based on broad-based consensus. It is about creating a place where people can come to take off their masks, to share what matters in their lives, to not always be right but instead to just be.
There is great power in the Jewish community – we are diverse, resourced, smart, and innovative. We are risk-takers and, despite our geographic spread, we are quite hamishy. We have much potential in our offerings to greater numbers of our own congregants, in addition to those thousands of unaffiliated Jews out there still in search for a spiritual home. We need to re-envision community at every level, from its implications for how we make decisions to the values we hold up as most important. We need to look serious at alternate models of membership and dues payment. We should reexamine our stance on B’nai Mitzvah and its real relevance to our Jewish youth as disconnected from religious schools. We should also take another look at the way we bring ever more people into the center of the synagogue, into leadership training, and into a way of life that emphasizes experimentation, honest self-reflection, and a devotion to helping our congregants discover their own gifts and promote areas of growth. Most of all, we need to highlight the importance of relationship – between clergy and educators who work towards the same goals, between professional staff and lay people whose teamwork make the Jewish world go round, and between lay people and lay people who actually build the social fabric of the Jewish community in rich and colorful ways. For while we can facilitate this process, the professional staff of a synagogue cannot fabricate community building for our communities. Jewish lay people must be highly involved if we are to see the reemergence of an organic, holistic, and healthy Jewish community of tomorrow.
It was these kinds of conversations that were just beginning to emerge at our most recent Rhea Hirsch School of Education Day of Learning hosted at HUC-LA recently. While the work ahead of us is great, the reward is greater. I hope this conversation will be continued in the months and years ahead.
Posted on February 28th, 2011 5 comments
This week we have the honor of hosting Joy Wasserman the National Director of Alumni Affairs at HUC-JIR as our guest blogger. Joy is one a select group of Jewish educators who were selected for the prestigious first cohort of Jim Joseph Fellows, a group dedicated to thinking about the ways in which technology can help us think about Jewish education. A recent gathering of the fellows brought her to Israel and led her to write thinking about whether dumb is the new smart.
-Ruth Abusch-Magder ed. Tzeh U’llimad
This is a true story—really!
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon this display at the entry to the shopping area in “Departures” at Ben Gurion Air Port. The figures in the display are even bigger than life size and so this “exhibit” very hard to miss. I stood staring in disbelief for several minutes. Mystified, I asked myself over and over what is their real message? Diesel is a successful multimillion-dollar business—what do they know that I don’t understand?
I had been reading “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink with the Rhea Hirsh School of Education Community of Practice (CoP). Pink believes that the “keys to the kingdom are changing hands” and that our society that has been dominated left brain (analytical) thinking is moving into a new era that will value and be dominated by right brain (emotional) thinking. Perhaps the folks at Diesel agree with Pink’s read of the declining appeal and influence of left brain thinking and values that emerge from this perspective. Like Pink, it seems that Diesel feels that rebelling against left brain thinking (driven by knowledge and analysis) means valuing emotion, creativity, and play.
I do believe though that Pink would be mortified, though maybe not surprised by this ad display that shouts; “SMART CRITQUES, STUPID CREATES”. “SMART LISTENS TO THE HEAD, STUPID LISTENS TO THE HEART” and “STUPID IS GOOD FOR YOU”, “SMART HAS BRAINS, STUPID HAS BALLS”, “STUPID IS FEARLESS”, and my personal favorite, “TRUST STUPID”.
As a Jewish educator I am struggling with how to make sense of all this. What does Diesel know that I don’t? What lessons can we draw from this jarring approach as we do our avodat kodesh (sacred work)? Crass language aside (though in this case that is a bit hard to ignore), I think one of lessons here is that while for most of us our lives seem to be dominated by left brain analytical thinking, most of us also have a strong need to engage our right brain selves. Many of us want opportunities to experience life through heart-felt emotional responses, creative experiences, opportunites for the heart and not the head to take the lead. I think this larger-than-life ad at Ben Gurion air port is an important reminder to us as transmiters of Judaism. We must teach Judaism in ways that can be experienced by both right and left brain and we must share a Judaism that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging and challenging.
Posted on January 31st, 2011 1 comment
A Filipino who speaks Yiddish.
Arabs living in Jerusalem speaking in Hebrew about identity.
A Jewish grandmother returning to home of her youth –in Djerba.
These are some of the people I’ve encountered recently through the new Israeli arts site Omanoot.com.
The importance of the arts for Jewish education is an axiom among those of us who make Jewish learning a central element of our lives. YouTube and services like Netflix have made it possible for us to access a growing amount of artistic content for use in connecting with and inspiring our communities. Yet much of Israeli film continued to lay beyond the reach of those of us in the US, either because it was not available for viewing on our systems or because of the language barrier. Enter Omanoot.com. The site’s claim that it is “Omanoot is Israel’s HULU, Amazon, iTunes and virtual MOMA all in one” is a bit grandiose but it does hit its mark of making “Israeli, literature, and visual art) accessible for cultural, educational, and entertainment purposes,” by streaming many films, providing subtitles, searchable indexes and educational materials.
Moving far beyond the Hasbara films of the Israeli foreign ministry, the site provides a great deal to explore. But I was particularly intrigued by how the offerings might be used to enhance Jewish education. The founders of Omanoot worked with artist and master educator Robbie Greengrass of Makom in conceptualizing the site. The thoughtfulness has paid off. Though the educational materials are for the time being quite limited, the lesson plans that have been posted are particularly strong. Mixing classical Jewish sources with contemporary ones, pairing when appropriate Jewish and non-Jewish sources, and providing educational activities for different settings. A particular favorite of mine was a lesson that used Israeli Reggae Band Hatikva 6’s song “If I Met God” in conjunction with Bob Marley’s “Forever Loving Jah” to open up conversation about the nature of the Divine.
But the site should inspire educators far beyond the prefab lesson plans. Nor should Omanoot.com be limited to Israel ed moments. The content on the site is appropriate for opening conversations on many topics. For example, Yossi and Jaeger about gay Israeli soldiers, for example is available for streaming here and quite relevant as we look towards the repeal of DADT.
The short lesser known films from the students at the religious film school Maalot, are especially easily adapted for classroom and youth group triggers. The Yiddish language film A-Maiseh which looks at a moment in the life of an elderly Jew and the young Filipino who cares for him might be used in a class on aging or on immigration –not necessarily Israeli. Of interest in this short piece are not only the dynamics between the police and the illegal immigrant but those within the family and among the friends. A class on world Jewry would undoubtedly warm to the story of Aunt Diya, who with scrimping and saving makes her way back to Tunisia to celebrate Lag Ba’Omer in the synagogue she grew up in on the island of Djerba. The story is at once very familiar to those who know the genre of similar roots films retracing Jewish life in Europe and at the same time new and novel given the setting and the customs. Students with whom I watched the film had little knowledge of Jewish life in Arab lands and were curious not only about Diya’s reasons for leaving but also for going back.
I highly recommend Omanoot.com to the bookmark list of any Jewish professional who knows the value of the arts to make deep connections and lasting impressions.
Posted on January 17th, 2011 No comments
My piece What the Bible Teaches About Modern Media sparked some interest at Hebrew Union College. Joel Duman, Ed.D. Lecturer on Bible, Biblical History and Jewish Educational Technology at HUC Year in Israel Program,is an expert on both the Bible and technology. In addition to the work he does at HUC, he teaches at the Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem and JTS, New York. Coordinator and writer of Visual Midrash, a website on “Biblical Art.” What follows is his response to my piece.
I’m about to finish the teaching of a course in Biblical History at HUC Jerusalem. One of the issues that has come up is literacy in ancient Israel – we’ve talked about the Lachish letters, where a rural army commander writes in a huff that he is “of course” quite able to read and understand written communiqués; we’ve mentioned an ostracon found several years ago in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere,
apparently from the 10th century BCE (Khirbet Kaifeh) – writing about matters of societal morality; we’ve talked about the writing and rewriting of history in the Bible, etc. Both in this course and in my other bible courses, for Americans and for Israelis, we often come up against the seriousness and depth with which the written text has been treated in the Jewish tradition.
Although the small bytes of information characteristic of the new social media might look similar to the laconic style of the Bible, there’s also something essentially different, in how we deal with these texts. I don’t think anyone would bother to give a long, hard read to the type of communication found on Twitter, etc. – like the piece I am writing now, not a lot of thought is put into this type of writing; the Bible, on the other hand, shows clearly that it’s formulations have been carefully considered, reworked, edited, changed and that each phrase and each word (each letter sometimes) is fraught with meaning.
It occurs to me that what we can learn from the Bible about the new media derives from the difference between the use of writing in these two contexts, rather than in the similarity. I don’t mean this as a rejection of the new media – although not a big fan of much of it, I am an avid e-mailer, although I was never a good letter-writer. But I think such a comparison offers us an opportunity to notice what’s special, different, eccentric (in the literal and figurative meaning of this word) about our culture and to see how our tradition to offer alternatives to general tendencies of our contemporary world
Posted on December 13th, 2010 1 comment
Erev Rav: God, this dessert is awful, there is ABSOLUTELY NOOOOOO food worth eating
Moses ben Amram: Wondering, yet again, why I ever took this job…..
God “the one and only”: You are such a kvetch. Meet up in 30. Bring 70 of your closest with you.
The world of online social networks is complex and persuasive. The fluid nature of the medium makes it both compelling and problematic. Even as governments struggle with how to navigate the open platforms that allow national secrets to be shared world wide, the traditional challenges of adolescence and identity formation are amplified in an era that blurs the boundaries between public and private. Things that might have, only a few years back, remained knowledge between a close group of friends, such as a first kiss now become the news of thousands of ‘friends.’ A misspoken remark or bullying in the playground, now gains permanency creating havoc for the victim and the perpetrator. Young people, parents and educators are increasingly concerned about how to help children navigate the complexities of this new social and media reality.
While it is impossible to inoculate children against all the challenges of modern media consumption, clergy and Jewish educators have an important tool in our box that is often overlooked in the complex discussions about living on-line. The Bible, though clearly very much “old media,” is a great tool for helping young people consider the value and weight of their words.
Overwhelmed by the sheer volume and content of what they are exposed to in the media, and still developmentally grappling with the concept of consequences, the permanence of the online world can be hard for young people to grasp. The Bible shows us some of the enduring impact of writing down our every action. What is it that we know about Avraham Avinu at this distance? Yes, we know he was chosen by God but we also know that he passed his wife off to the King of Egypt and that he tied his son up and prepared him for sacrifice. When working with young people I ask them if they think that Abraham would be happy with the record we have of his actions. How would he like to be remembered? How would they like to be known in the world?
While it may seem flip, it is not hard –as I did above -to read much of the narrative element of the Tanakh as a series of facebook or twitter posts. Frequently, the biblical narratives come not in long flowing prose but in short burst – often, dare I say of less than 140 characters a passuk. One of the great joys of the brevity of the biblical narrative is that it leaves much room for commentary. We are left to guess at the motivations at the contexts. And we do.
David ben Jessie: Just saw the most beautiful woman bathing on her roof
Commentator one: Seriously man, you’re married.
David “father of the Messiah” ben Jessie: I’m just looking…
Commentator two: Go for it Dave, after all you’re the King, whatever you do is cool
The short pieces we see in the Bible regarding events, such as David’s sighting of Batsheva, make it possible for us to layer meanings onto the text. While that has provided many generations of learned Jews with much to work with, I’m sure that the “reality” of the original events was lost long ago. Today, such commentaries on the short bursts of information that we put out about our daily lives accrue with lightening speed. We don’t wait generations between Rambam’s and Rashi’s thought but seconds between Susan’s and Deryck’s responses. Reality can get lost quite quickly as can our control over the perception of events.
Gone are the days of the long meaningful missive. Short texts with a series of Roshei Tevot communicate volumes in an economy of space and leave much to the imagination. Going back to biblical commentaries is not going to change the mode of communication but it can be a means by which we help young people unpack their use of modern media.
Posted on December 3rd, 2010 3 comments
For a while I have been thinking about doing a post on the best Jewish Apps for your handheld devices. As it happens, our conservative colleague Rabbi Jason Miller beat me to creating a list and did such a great job that this week I break from protocol and post his piece -with permission of course. I hope that these Apps bring a little light, or at least a little convenience and productivity to your lives. -Ruth
The Best Jewish Apps Of 2010
From tehillim to kosher restaurants, from kaparot to recipes, our tech guru picks the top 33 applications.
Rabbi Jason Miller
Special To The Jewish Week
As more Jewish people acquire the latest in handheld technology – think iPhones, iPads, Android-powered smartphones, BlackBerrys and tablet PCs — there will be more Jewish-themed applications available for download.
Some of these apps will be utilities for checking the Hebrew date or learning about the weekly Torah portion. Other apps will be novelties like making shofar sounds for Rosh HaShanah and grogger sounds on Purim. With many Jewish developers around the world, you can be certain there will be no dearth of Jewish apps in the coming year.
What follows is a roundup (in no particular order) of the top Jewish-themed apps from the past year. This is far from an exhaustive list as there are hundreds of other Jewish apps available, including Jewish and Israeli newspaper versions, apps that let you donate to particular charities, a Gematria (Jewish numerology) calculator, and a guide for keeping kosher at Disney World. Check outwww.jewishiphonecommunity.org for a comprehensive listing of Jewish apps as they are released.
POCKET iSIDDUR – Free: This free iPod and iPhone version of the prayerbook comes with every version imaginable, from Sephardic to Ashkenazic. The new version has adjustable font size. iPad version also available. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
SIDDUR – $9.99: RustyBrick’s version of the siddur for Apple’s mobile devices is expensive, but impressive. Comes with real-time zmanim (prayer times) for each day based on your location. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
iPARASHAH – $4.99: Created by JACA Software Solutions, this app gives you the weekly Torah portions in the palm of your hand. Search for any parsha by name or date with this app. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
TANACH FOR ALL – $3.99: Get the whole Jewish Bible on your iPhone, iPod or iPad. Developed by Yaniv Kalsky, the latest version includes Parshat Hashavuah and an onscreen Hebrew keyboard. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
MILA-4-PHONE – Free: Learn basic Hebrew on your iPod thanks to Birthright Israel NEXT, which just released this free Hebrew word flashcard app. Developed by Rusty Brick, this free app makes building up a Hebrew vocabulary quick and easy. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
TEFILAT HADERECH FOR ALL – $0.99: Another app by Yaniv Kalsky. This provides the English and Hebrew version of the traveler’s prayer for travel by air, sea, and long car trips. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
iBLESSING – $0.99: Not sure which blessing goes with which food? This app will remind you which blessing to say. If you’re Hebrew reading isn’t very good, just listen to the app say the blessing in Hebrew or English. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
iZKOR – $0.99: This app provides the text for the mourning rituals in Judaism that are said in all prayer services as well as at funerals and memorial services. Just input the name of the deceased and it will generate the memorial prayer for the individual.All of the following are available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
KOSHER – $4.99: Find the nearest kosher restaurant from the exhaustive Shamash.org database with over 2,000 trusted restaurants to choose from.
TEHILLIM – $1.99: The entire book of Psalms with linear translation.
iTALMUD – $24.99: CrownRoad developed this expensive English translation of the Talmud complete with thousands of footnotes, references and insights. You certainly get what you pay for.
PIRKEI AVOT – Free: The teachings of Pirkei Avot, the ethics of the sages, available in Hebrew and translated into English, Spanish and Portuguese.
KITZUR SHULCHAN ARUKH – $14.99: The entire Jewish legal code laid out in a beautiful format. Developed by RustyBrick, this app allows for quick keyword searches for specific laws and bookmarks to save texts for later.
HEBREW/ENGLISH TRANSLATOR – Free: RustyBrick’s dictionary is easy to use and accurate. For a free Hebrew-English dictionary, you can’t do better. Great onscreen keyboard and copy/paste functionality.
HEBREW CALENDAR – $4.99: Functions just like iCal, but with the luach (Jewish calendar) including all Jewish holidays, z’manim (special times for prayer including sunrise and sunset), event-setting feature, and easy switching between Hebrew and Gregorian calendars. Easy to read fonts on all screens.
KOSHER COOKBOOK – $2.99: Choose meat, dairy, or parve meals and this app guides you to the perfect recipe. Also develops the shopping list for each recipe and allows you to email the shopping list to others.
Available from jewishsoftware.com:
JASTROW DICTIONARY – $14.99: The complete Talmud dictionary with over 120,000 entries and bi-directional Hebrew-English and Aramaic-English references.Available from jewishsoftware.com
Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store:
iMENORAH – $2.99: Developed by Matthew Parrot, this virtual menorah lets you light candles with the touch of the screen and then watch them burn down on each night of the holiday. Perfect for small children and dorm rooms where lighting candles is not allowed.
@THE KOTEL – $1.99: This app lets you put a kvittel (note) in the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem. Developed by Yoram Berkowicz, this app allows for note writing in several languages.
SHABBAT CANDLES – $0.99: Light Shabbat candles virtually every Friday night from anywhere. Great app for the business traveler who might not be able to actually light the Sabbath candles.
LULAV WIZARD – $0.99: Download this app to virtually shake the lulav and etrog in a realistic 3D motion with the blessings appearing on the screen.
PARVEOMETER – Free: Press the meat or dairy button after your meal and this app will count down for you. You can set it to your own custom for the dairy countdown after a meat meal so you won’t miss a minute of being able to eat your ice-cream.
KAPAROT – Free: The folks at PETA would be thrilled to see the custom of waving a chicken above ones head solely done virtually before Yom Kippur, but this app only provides the blessings for the ritual. It should be noted that a sack of money can be used in lieu of the animal.
GROGGER – $0.99: If you forget to bring your noisemaker to synagogue on Purim, don’t worry and just download this app. Developed by Stuart Rubin, this app makes enough grogger sound effects to impress the whole congregation and drown out the name of the wicked Haman.
iPRAY JEWISH FOR ANDROID – Free: Siddur developed by Envision Mobile for the Android. Available from www.androidzoom.com
HEBREW SONGS – $0.99: While this app doesn’t actually play famous Hebrew songs, it is great for learning the lyrics, and figuring out the source for various songs and which holiday they’re associated with. Available from www.appstorehq.com.
DAF YOMI – Free: Learn Talmud on the go with this daily page of the Oral Law for the Android. Available from www.apppstorehq.com
JEWISH RECIPES – $0.99: Developed by Brighthouse Labs, this recipe app contains the most extensive list of Jewish-themed recipes in existence. Available fromwww.appbrain.com/app/com.brighthouselabsjewishrecipe
JBLESSINGS – $0.99: The Android version to determine which blessings to say before and after various types of food. Available fromwww.appstorehq.com.
HEBREW CALENDAR WIDGET – Free: Full Hebrew calendar including Jewish holidays and z’manim for the Android homepage. Available athttp://sites.google.com/site/androidhcal/
PRAYER DIRECTION – Free: Find the right direction for your prayer. Jews in North America traditionally face east in prayer. Available from www.appstorehq.com
ANDDAAVEN – Free: AndDaaven strives to be a siddur application that is easy to use, and leverages the full capabilities of the Android platform.http://code.google.com/p/anddaaven/
LUACH HEBREW CALENDAR FOR ANDROID – $1.99: Most complete Jewish calendar program for the Android powered smartphones. Available at www.androidzoom.com.
Posted on October 11th, 2010 5 comments
I’m a fan of general religion sites. There is the obvious: any Jewish professional needs to know what is going on in the broader world of religion to be able to adequately address the Jewish community. While I could, and sometimes do turn to other denominationally affiliated sites for this kind of information, getting the range of religious responses to, for example, a supreme court case, is more easily found on a single site which aggregates opinions. Often I’m inspired and engaged for my own work, by stories and opinions on these pages. Additionally, I’ve come to recognize, that these general sites, like the one stop superstore, often bring in people who might not immediately think to stop off at a boutique Jewish site, no matter how friendly, informative or easy to navigate such a site might be. It is good to know what these sites are saying about Judaism and how people are reacting. Finally, many of these sites are not just good but great. Often, they recruit high level contributors who share real wisdom and insight.
There are two main kinds of general religion sites, those that stand alone focusing on religion and belief exclusively and others that are subsets of larger general news/information sites. In putting together my list of recommendations and reviews, I’ve decided to break them down into two separate groups over two weeks, starting with those specifically devoted to discussion of religion.
It is not a comprehensive list nor does it aim to be. This list is completely based on my own opinions. I have not included every general source on religion. I am limiting myself to sites that have named authors for each article or piece or at least most of them. Nor am I a big fan of those sites that declare themselves completely objective, as I am not sure that is a goal that is either attainable or desirable. I much prefer people own their points of view so that I can understand where they are coming from.
I’m sure I’ll leave out some good ones, so send them on and I’ll learn something too.
Beliefnet: One best known religion sites on the web, it is also one of the oldest, founded in 1999 Steven Waldman and Robert Nylen. It gets a tremendous amount of traffic. On the positive side, this site has much to offer with information about spirituality generally as well as particular religions. There are some fun elements like sections on sports and movies, practical advice for daily spiritual living, and general knowledge quizzes and forum. One stand out is the Belief-0-Matic a fun multiple choice game which can help readers find their true spiritual home –though I will note that try as I might I have yet to align with their version of Reform Judaism, this morning I turned out to be a Unitarian. Readers can contribute to the site and there are many well known clergy –including rabbis- who use the site as a forum for sharing ideas. The downside of all the bells and whistles, open as well as solicited content, is that sometime the serious stuff gets lost.
Patheos: This is a relative newcomer to the world of online religion founded in 2008. The site is hipper in format and content than Beliefnet but still building its Jewish content. The information that is there is strong and interesting and growing daily. In addition to thought pieces and blogs, there are cool elements like the comparative religions tool as well essential elements like the resources for teachers. The interactive world religions map provides information of individual countries while the interactive map highlights religious holidays by date and would be useful for planning community events. Patheos earned extra points in my book for having both Reform and Conservative/Orthodox dates for Sukkot!
Religion Dispatches: In contrast to Beliefnet and Patheos, Religion Dispatches does not attempt to speak to the full array of religious opinions or denominations but rather focuses on progressive religious voices. The first topic heading is sexuality and gender mixes news and personal accounts. The writers are of high quality and well known. The topics are engaging and timely. A recent article on dialogue in the Mormon Church about LGBT issues went far beyond the sensationalist headlines.
Kill The Buddah: This religion site stands out among others as being up front about irreverence. By the words of their own manifesto, it is a site for “people both hostile and draw to talk of God.” Founded over a decade ago by Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau the site draws writers from a myriad of traditions. There is some wonderful poetry well worth exploring. The powerful thought pieces explore the complexities of religion and religious questions that are often on the fringe of the mainstream debate. It is not a site that will help you better prepare for an interfaith meeting or teaching about Islam but it may inspire your own journey.
Posted on August 5th, 2010 2 comments
The Hovevai Zion were among the earliest Zionist but now that we have achieved what they barely were able to dream of, what does it mean to be a lover of Israel. Dr. Lisa Grant Associate Professor of Jewish Education on the New York campus is our guest blogger this week. Drawing on her extensive work in Israel education and her own personal experiences, she shares some reflections on what loving Israel today.
Israel has been an integral part of my life since childhood. For almost 39 years, I have had an immediate family presence there, first my parents for over 34 years and then my daughter for almost five. I’ve lived there as well, for longish stretches at three different times in my life, and I visit regularly to see family and friends, to work with colleagues, to conduct research and to teach. Having meaningful ongoing encounters with people, places and memories in Israel is an essential part of who I am as a human being and a Jew. There’s no doubt that I love Israel. It’s personal. It’s in my bones.
My love of Israel grows out of my deep and abiding commitment to the Jewish People and collective Jewish life. Israel is infused in symbols, actions, beliefs, and expressions of collective Jewish belonging. Simply put, it’s impossible for me to imagine being a Jew without a relationship to the multiple dimensions of am, Torah, eretz, and medinat Yisrael.
But, loving Israel is complicated. Throughout my life, I’ve grappled with the politics and tried to understand the contours of the many competing and contentious social, cultural, economic, historical, ethnic tensions that make up the complex weave of contemporary Israeli life. Israel is a place of wonder and inspiration, where the ongoing story of the Jewish people plays out every day. And it is also a divisive, overly sectarian place that far too often wallows in and is paralyzed by its history, and seems all too often willing to abdicate moral responsibility in the self-righteous name of security.
As an educator, I often think about what my job is in teaching Israel. I do not believe that the starting point is love. Rather, I think we need a new paradigm for teaching about Israel. Too often, we rely on the “myth and miracle” narrative of Israel to foster a romantic notion of a heroic place. Yet, the day-to-day reality is far removed from this and a relationship built on myth is likely to crumble in the face of a much more complicated reality. Nonetheless, many educators avoid grappling with confusing complexities that they themselves are uncertain about and that they fear will distance learners and undermine formation of a strong Jewish identity. Ironically though, a case can also be made that approaches to Israel education that promote and perhaps even demand an unreflective love, may have the opposite effect, leaving Israel as a superficial, peripheral and even alienating aspect of American Jewish life.
A new paradigm for Israel education begins with a stance of critical engagement. Love is not the starting point but is the ultimate goal – not a naïve and unreflective love, but rather a mature love that can endure even in the face of missteps and imperfection. Cultivating this type of love requires deep engagement with the complex and rich dimensions of Israel as a land, people, and state. More importantly, it requires a commitment to the Jewish collective enterprise of building a shared future that celebrates our diversity of stories, experiences, beliefs, and practices, and that contributes to a thriving Jewish People and a better world. That’s the foundation of my love of Israel, of Judaism, and the Jewish People. Each is an inseparable thread in the tapestry that gives my life shape, purpose, and meaning.
Posted on May 11th, 2010 6 comments
The most Jewish show on TV? In my opinion it has to be Glee. Each week the songs and story lines revolve around a particular theme, musician or type of music. Excellent execution transforms a somewhat goofy concept –yes, students do just break into song in the gym- into good television. It is also a wonderful contemporary example of the value of intertextuality. Anyone who appreciates the ways in which Jewish culture rests on the ability of texts and traditions to comment on each other across time and place will relate not only to the content –which the URJ has already flagged as useful for those working with teens- but to the format.
Last week’s episode, for example, revolved around “Bad Reputations” and their rehabilitation. The story line revolved around several of the main characters and their struggles with their own reputations –both good and bad. Meanwhile, the members of the Glee club, collectively suffering from the lack of popularity that desire, are charged with task of taking a “terrific song [which] because of time or some bad press has become a joke,” and giving it new life. Not only does the challenge faced by the songs exemplify the challenge faced by the characters, but the songs themselves help bring along the broader narratives. In this particular episode, Olivia Newton John, a 1980s pop star makes an appearance to work with one of the teachers on a redo of Newton John’s 1981 song physical. It is possible to understand the story line with Newton John without having seen the original music video or knowing the ways in which the song resonated with listeners when it was originally released but without the larger context one loses important nuance that the remake conveys. There are layers of irony and history portrayed in the haircuts, color choices, and dance moves that are only apparent if one is able to recall the original work and period.
The idea that old texts, ie. songs, can resonate if we work to reinterpret them is a very Jewish notion. But in reality, Glee does this kind of reinterpretation each week. The songs chosen, whether based on a theme or an artistic body of work, harken back to the original context and ways in which they were presented. Much like Torah study, the ability to understand the story is greatly enhanced by knowledge of the original texts and contexts in which they existed. The ways in which music, text and meaning interact in the show shares similarities with the ways in which music adds layers of interpretation and meaning to prayer in Jewish worship. In Glee, as in midrash, stories reference each other even as they move in different directions and interpretations of the themes under consideration.
Original broadcasts of the show can be seen on Fox on Tuesday nights, but several episodes are available for viewing at anytime online. If you are a fan of the show, a newcomer, or looking to engage young teens in a conversation about Jewish intertextuality, I have put together some of the questions that came to my mind when watching last week. They can be used with the “Bad Reputations” episode but are equally appropriate with any other episode.
- How do the songs add/animate to the storyline? Do they change or advance the story line in any way? How does music add to/annimate Jewish prayer? What would this show be like without the music? What would prayer be like without music?
- How does the original song compare to the Glee version? How does the setting and story line change/add to the original intention? What do you gain about the story line by knowing something about how the theme or musician is thought about outside the context of this show? Consider how Jewish texts or prayers, like the Friday night Kiddush, draw from biblical sources and splice them together. Does this add to or change our understanding of the prayer?
- What do you think the original singer/songwriter would say if they saw the reinterpretation? (In “Bad Reputations,” Oliva Newton John does actually come back and comment on the need to reinterpret her original work.) What do you think that our biblical ancestors would say about how we understand Judaism? What about the rabbis of ancient times?