The Anxiety of Influence

Originally posted on

Last week, Kung Fu Jew’s post about multifaith families stirred up a lot of activity in the comments section. KFJ ended his post soliciting for other posts from intermarried Jews and products of intermarried Jews. I am neither. And, in fact, as a product of the Conservative Movement’s indoctrination program youth group, I entered adulthood believing that intermarriage was the worst sin one could possibly commit.

A couple of things happened to change my point of view. A big factor, naturally, was experience. I saw my friends who came from intermarried families grow into Jewishly committed adults. I saw my cousins figure out how they could create authentic Jewish identities for their children in partnership with their non-Jewish spouses. I got involved in Jewish education and met hundreds of families doing the same thing. And I heard from dozens of people with multifaith backgrounds about how the hardest part of Judaism was getting in the door, even when they desperately wanted to. I started to think that maybe if we weren’t so busy building up the fences around who gets to learn and practice, we might notice a whole lot of people anxious to get in. (And this year, I was pleased when my Federation published a study that implied just that.)

In truth, dayeinu, that would have been enough. But as I myself have continued to study and learn about the development of Judaism through history, I’ve learned that this whole business of tightening our borders has changed quite a bit over time. And when the discussion around KFJ’s post started getting into a fight over what kind of “influence” non-Jewish religions might have on Judaism, should (or shouldn’t) have on Judaism, I felt like a big piece of the story was being ignored, namely the influences that other religions and cultures have already had on Judaism over the last couple of millennia. Continue reading 13, The Musical

Coauthored with The Wandering Jew. Originally published on

1 (dlevy). Thursday night, TheWanderingJew and I saw 13, a Broadway musical with songs by Jason Robert Brown, book by Dan Elish and Jason Robert Brown. The show tells the story of Evan Goldman, a 12-year-old kid from the Upper West Side of New York whose parents get divorced on the cusp of his bar mitzvah. His mom moves him to Indiana where he must make new friends in time to have anyone at his Bar Mitzvah party, while trying to figure out what exactly it means to become a man. (Thanks to the good folks at the Theater Development Fund, which provides access to discount tickets to students, educators, and folks who work at non-profits…)

2 (dlevy). It is very tempting for me to write an entire dissertation on this show. I am itching to trace the reflections of Sondheim (tell me you don’t hear hints of “Merrily We Roll Along” in the title song) and figure 13′s place in the growing body of Jason Robert Brown’s work and rhapsodize on how the present Broadway season and world economy frame this show both for its audience and its creators… but that’s a bit outside the scope of the Jewschool readership’s primary areas of interest. I’m going to trust that TheWanderingJew will edit down my ramblings a bit.

3 (TheWanderingJew). My expertise is nowhere near as in depth as dlevy’s when it comes to all things Broadway. I might have thought some of the tunes sounded familiar – they clearly borrowed from other musicals and standard music genres (doo-wop, blues, country, etc.), but what I tried to focus on were the kids’ abilities. The cast was clearly talented, though I felt the music didn’t fully allow them to shine. Malcolm and Eddie had amazing energy, and really played off each other (and their friend, Brett) well, stealing scenes as well-choreographed backup singers. Patrice was able to portray her awkwardness and strength in her solos… Maybe I should just have said that the play was well cast?  Continue reading The Second Coming

Originally posted on

I apologize if this is old news for you, but I had only heard rumors until today, when I was able to confirm this important story with my own eyes, teeth, and tongue in my natural habitat of Boston. In fact, as I sit typing this right now, I am indulging in a sensual pleasure that I thought was lost to the ages.

Hydrox100_jehThe Hydrox cookie is back.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Hydrox, it was (as the new packaging proudly proclaims) “America’s first crème filled chocolate cookie,” introduced into the marketplace in 1908 by the Sunshine Biscuit Company. However, its real claim to fame for generations of American Jews is that it was a (hekshered) kosher alternative to the then-forbidden treifa Oreo. (Those who spend time thinking about this subject — and who doesn’t? — note the irony that while history points to the 1912 birth of Oreo as a likely sign that the cookie was “inspired” by the Hydrox, those-who-spend-somewhat-less-time-thinking-about-this-subject often mistook the Hydrox as an Oreo knock-off. For shame.) Growing up kosher, Hydrox were like a lunchroom in-joke, a shared culinary secret handshake that likely united more Jews in America than shaking a lulav or laying tefillin ever did. To many of us, the taste of a Hydrox dunked in skim milk is the taste of Jewish childhood. Continue reading