Jewschool.com: Why the Syrian Refugee Crisis Encourages Me to Talk about My Least Favorite Subject

Originally published on Jewschool.

Syrian Refugees

The last thing I want to talk about is the Holocaust. From where I stand, it’s bad enough that Hitler decimated our grandparents’ generation. Letting discussion of the Third Reich and the Final Solution parasitically take over Jewish discourse two generations later seems to me that it’s giving Hitler a posthumous victory. A full year of my own Hebrew School education was dedicated to learning every minute detail of Hitler’s plan – memorizing the names of death camps and the terminology for each different position in the camp hierarchy, not to mention God knows what else. Imagine if, instead, we had spent a year learning about Rashi, Maimonides, and Heschel instead of Goebbels, Mengele, and Braun. Continue reading

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Jewschool.com: Oriented: New Documentary about Gay Palestinians in Tel Aviv

Originally published on Jewschool.


“[Other Palestinian activists] tend to deal with the national issue rather than the social one. They focus on the national and put all other identities aside. But we have a lot of complex identities. There are a lot of issues that people are afraid to confront, and this is our opportunity to play with these identities.” – Fadi Deem

Oriented, a new documentary by Jake Witzenfeld, follows a group of gay Palestinian men as they fall in and out of love, come out to their families, and form an activist collective called Qambuta. Witzenfeld, a British, straight, Jewish resident of Israel, first introduces us to Khader Abu Seif, a handsome and charismatic activist speaking to a group of Jews at Tel Aviv’s LGBT Center. He relates a story of being contacted by a journalist looking for a tragic gay Palestinian who can share the tale of his persecution and woe. Khader explains that he’s actually very happy, well-adjusted, and accepted. Well then, the reporter asks him, can you put me in touch with such a Palestinian? Continue reading

Jewschool: Leonard Nimoy: An Appreciation

Originally published on Jewschool.

Leonard_Nimoy_as_Spock_1967The news of Leonard Nimoy’s passing hit me unexpectedly hard today, so I wanted to take a minute to examine why. As a Jew from Boston, Nimoy’s celebrity loomed large in my upbringing. Besides Star Trek, which was omnipresent in those pre-cable days of UHF syndication, Nimoy was a constant presence in the news. He loaned his voice to the Mugar Omni Theater, the first IMAX theater in Boston, located at the Boston Museum of Science. He published a book of Jewish, erotically charged photos. He narrated documentaries. He directed. He sang. But no matter what else he did, he was first and foremost, always and forever, Mr. Spock. Continue reading

Jewschool: USY Changes Expectations for Youth Leaders

Originally published on Jewschool.

USY, the youth group of the Conservative Movement, has long had policies demanding that kids in regional and international leadership positions follow particular standards. Three of these standards have always risen to the top of the list of those that are the most enforced and the most discussed: keep kosher, keep Shabbat, don’t date outside of the faith. These standards were adopted by youth leaders for youth leaders, although they were generally adopted by kids of a previous generation. This week, at USY’s International Convention, the board debated reframing the standards around both Shabbat observance and interfaith relationships. They voted to retain the Shabbat standard as is and reword the dating standard to encourage (rather than require) endogamous dating while also adding important language about teens treating those whom they date with respect. Although JTA reported this as USY dropping the ban on interdating, USY leadership asserted that is not the case.

As a former USY regional president (who didn’t really date at all in high school, due in no small part to my decision to stay in the closet thanks to a different set of Conservative Movement rules that made me sure a gay kid wouldn’t be welcome in USY leadership), I want to publicly applaud the current teen leaders of USY for taking this step. (I wish they had gone further and dismantled the entire concept of standards, but that’s a post for another day.)

Apparently, USY alumni have been up in arms about these proposals for weeks. I didn’t hear about them until after the JTA article came out, which caused another wave of USY has-beens freaking out. I don’t think my take on this is going to surprise any long-time Jewschool readers, but I’m going to lay it out anyway. Continue reading

Jewschool: December Without Drama

Originally published on Jewschool.

Interfaith CardsLast year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths. Alexis Gewertz and Chelsea Scudder, two New Englanders from interfaith backgrounds with divinity school educations, aim to change that. They are the creators of Happy Challadays, a new line of greeting cards for those looking to celebrate the holidays without the drama of the “December Dilemma.”

The idea grew out of Alexis’s own experience as both the daughter of an interfaith marriage and as the Jewish partner in a Jewish-Catholic relationship. “It was a Christmas home growing up,” she told me, “but we started celebrating Hanukkah when my parents got divorced. My mom wanted to send me Christmas cards because we really do celebrate with both families, but she spends the whole year searching for interfaith cards that she can send to me and [my partner] Steve together. In the past she’s found maybe three really awesome ones.”

It turns out, greeting cards are sort of a passion for Alexis. “I love capturing my thoughts and the vibe of the moment when I’m writing a card and putting it in the mail,” she said, “knowing that a few days later, whenever the recipients check the mail, they’re going to get this message. These days people are used to getting email instantly. I love with cards the old-school mystery of ‘is it going to take one day or three days?’ not knowing at what point they’re going to check that mail. I love getting cards because I love knowing that someone is thinking about me, and I feel that connection across the miles in a way that isn’t the same with virtual connections.” Continue reading

Jewschool: Meet the Man Behind The Men of the Naughty Jewish Boys Calendar

Originally published on Jewschool.

Naughty Jewish Boys CalendarLast February, I shared a link right here on Jewschool to a Craigslist ad advertising for models for a “Naughty Jewish Boys” calendar. I was so tickled by the idea when I saw it on my friend Duncan Pflaster‘s Facebook page, I didn’t even realize that he had posted the ad – or that the Jewschool post would bring it widespread Jewish media attention. Fast forward five months, and the calendar is a real thing that exists in the world in two versions: the regular and extra-naughty editions. I sat down with Duncan this week to chat about his adventures in putting these calendars together.

Naturally, the first thing I wanted to know about was what kind of controversy the calendar had generated. Duncan’s run-ins with the creator of the Nice Jewish Guys calendar have been well documented elsewhere, but I had to know: were religious people offended at the images of nearly-naked men with ritual objects? Were liberals offended at a non-Jewish photographer eroticizing or even fetishizing Jewish men? Nope. “Most everybody has thought it’s been a fantastic idea,” he told me, “Especially the Jewish press.” While he did have a couple of people get upset over eroticizing Judaism, the more common response has been from women saying “it’s incredible. Thank you so much for doing this.” Continue reading

Jewschool: Handle With Care: A Jewish Play Born From An Interfaith Marriage

Originally published on Jewschool.

Handle With CareWhen I first skimmed the press release for Handle With Care, a play currently running off-Broadway in the theater that used to house Old Jews Telling Jokes, I thought I had the whole thing figured out in advance: a non-Jewish playwright married an Israeli actress and wrote a show for her. Simple, I thought. It must be a comedy exploring the hilarity of intermarriage, like an Abie’s Irish Rose for the Pew Report generation. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For although playwright Jason Odell Williams has written a play about love bridging disparate lives, it’s about a burgeoning love affair between an Israeli Jew and an American Jew, finding each other in the most unlikely of circumstances: their “meet cute” occurs when a delivery man loses the box containing the remains of Ayelet’s recently deceased grandmother, which he was supposed to be bringing to the airport for return to Israel. Josh, Ayelet’s love interest, is the delivery man’s only Jewish friend, so naturally he gets the call to help translate the situation to the distressed Israeli who speaks very little English.

The result is a charming romantic comedy that would be right at home on JCC stages anywhere in the country. That the play was written by someone who’s not himself Jewish (although he is part of a Jewish family) is surprising, so I was glad to have the opportunity to speak with both Williams and his wife (and star of the show) Charlotte Cohn about that play, their marriage, and working with one’s spouse. Continue reading