Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Tells me how it feels to be new

Filed under : Judaism,Music
On September 28, 2011
At 10:00 am
Comments : 5

Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebration, when we take stock of where we are and where we want to be. But wait, you say, year after year, I’m still the same person. I only have this raw material to work with. Fair enough. But I ask you to consider the cover version. You know, you take the bones of the original and make something fresh and exciting and both recognizable and different at the same time. Because the old can be made new! And without anything sold on a late night infomercial. You just take that great inner core of yours and re-imagine it into something modern, fresh, and relevant to today.

Consider this example. I am not really a fan of Duncan Sheik. I do not enjoy his smooth, smooth voice, his easy-listening aesthetic, or his habit of saying “ya” for “you.” Call me picky. But I was intrigued by his new record, a collection of covers of 80′s synth classics, completely divorced from the original synths and just a concentration on the pop songs within. They are all acoustic, sans drums, and filled with unusual instrument choices. Some of them I could take or leave but there are two in particular I really love.

This is a version of The Cure’s Kyoto Song, a song that I not only love but which The Cure themselves reinvent often in concert. I love to hear new takes on it and this one is gorgeous.

Everyone knows that Talk Talk’s Life’s What You Make It is one of my favorite songs of all time. This one keeps the sweep and the drama while still adding a new flavor. If only he knew how to pronounce the word “you.” But it’s a small quibble here.

Shana tova, a sweet and amazing new year, and here’s to the remake of ourselves which keeps our essence while still adding layers of goodness.

Title comes from Kyoto Song.
Buy Duncan Sheik’s Cover 80′s on Amazon


Jew & A: Weddings

Filed under : Jew & A,Judaism
On June 13, 2011
At 2:30 am
Comments : 10

It’s June and you know what that means! The season of oppressive heat begins! And weddings. Coincidence? I think not. In Canada, they have natural air conditioning, but also weddings. I know, because Deas sent me this question:

I am so thrilled that my current husband and I have been invited to the wedding of a young man who served as a camp counsellor to our daughter. He is now attending medical school in the Caribbean, where the couple will reside until he graduates.

“Chuppah” is at 4:30 with cocktails, dinner and dance to follow. Are there any particular traditions I may not be aware of? And, in terms of gifts, I am assuming that money is always appropriate, and would it be in a multiple of 8?

Any other words of wisdom you might have? I am tres excited to see the canopy ceremony.

Wow, the Caribbean! How can I marry this man? I mean, great question. Let’s talk about Jewish weddings. When I was young, there were two kinds of weddings: the kind you describe above and the kind on TV where everything was totally different. This never confused me, though, since I had already realized that school, weddings, holidays, and everything else on TV barely resembled my experience. Everyone enjoys that – it’s why they invented science fiction.

I’m going to describe a traditional Jewish wedding and not every one or even the one you’re attending will be exactly like this. They may do some of the things but leave others behind. It may depend on their level of observance or how many episodes involving David Tutera the bride has seen on TV.

Jewish weddings usually begin with a pre-ceremony reception, called Kabbalat Panim (literally: greeting of faces). At many religious weddings, the bride and groom have avoided seeing each other for seven days. So to keep this going, at the Kabbalat Panim, the groom and his pals stay in a separate room as the guests arrive and eat a ton of hors d’oeuvres and get plastered shmooze. This men’s gathering is called a Tisch, which is Yiddish for table, and that’s because all the men sit around a table and talk Torah and drink and sing. It’s also where the groom and two witnesses (they must be pious men) sign the Ketubah, which is the marriage contract that the groom will later give to the bride. It lists all the obligations the man has towards his new wife (food, shelter, sex…. that was not a joke; he has that obligation). Also, how he will take care of her in the event of divorce. My mother kept hers in the bottom drawer under some sweaters, but these days lots of couples have theirs designed with gorgeous illustrations and then frame it and put it up.

(I liked this Ketubah because the quote at the top is “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” which is from the Song of Songs.)

In the meantime, the bride gets the rest of the hall. She sits on a throne (well, a fancy wicker chair usually stands in) and is surrounded by her female friends and relatives. Her mother sits on one side and her future MIL on the other and her grandmothers, sisters, sisters-in-law, and bridesmaids stand behind and flank both sides. Here she and they receive guests (of all genders). After a while, the action starts. By that I mean, a trumpet sounds, music starts, and in comes the groom. But you don’t see him at first because he is completely surrounded by other men and they literally dance him into the room to see his bride. Everyone cheers and claps and sings along. The song that is played is called “Od Yishama,” and the lyrics are from Jeremiah:

Od yishama be’arei Yehuda,
Uvechutzot Yerushalayim
Kol sasson v’kol simcha
Kol chatan v’kol kallah

It will still be heard in the cities of Judea
And the parts of Jerusalem:
The sound of joy and the sound of gladness,
The voice of the groom and the voice of the bride.

It’s hard to imagine this scene so I’m including a random video from YouTube. In a Pavlovian reaction, every video I watched made me emotional, even though I don’t know these people. When you are there witnessing it, it’s the moment you kind of think, “OMG! So-and-so is really getting married!” It makes you sniffly. This part is called the Bedeken (or many alternate transliterations of Yiddish) or covering the face of the bride. Because when Rebecca saw Isaac for the first time, she covered herself with a veil. The groom checks to make sure it’s really the one he’s supposed to marry (you scoff, but look what happened to Jacob!) and then he lowers the veil over her face. The bride’s father, as in this video, often kisses her and gives her a blessing.

I really love how excited the bride and groom (who looks about 15… and smashed) are to see each other in this one, so I picked it even though the chair wasn’t wicker. Feh.

YouTube Preview Image

Everyone then proceeds to their seats for the ceremony, where, you guessed it, the chuppah is. Most Jewish weddings do not have separate seating by side of the family. This is, again, something I have only seen on TV, but I assume is real. You can tell me if it’s not. The chuppah is a canopy on four poles and it makes a little house. You may think this symbolizes the bride’s transition from her previous dancing gig, but actually, it more stands for the new household that the bride and groom are creating. By “chuppah,” your invitation means “the main ceremony.” Chuppah really symbolizes marriage itself, as in the blessing one gives a new baby that he or she will advance to Torah, chuppah, and ma’asim tovim (good deeds).

In traditional Jewish ceremonies, both the bride and groom are walked down the aisle by their parents. There is no giving anyone away. Another difference is that the bride and groom usually choose some piece of music they like and it’s usually not Here Comes the Bride. When the bride reaches the chuppah, she walks around the groom seven times. Seven is an important number in Judaism and lots of things in the wedding are done in sevens. I won’t go over the whole ceremony, but it involves drinking wine and the giving of rings, and later, seven blessings are said. Also, the Ketubah is read (but it’s in Aramaic so you may also get a translation) and given to the bride. At the very end, the groom smashes a glass under his foot because even in our happiest times, we remember the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The bride and groom then go off to the Yichud (seclusion) Room where they, uh, have some alone time while the witnesses stand outside and make sure no one messes with them. Often, they sit and eat something as the custom is to fast the day of one’s wedding (it’s like Yom Kippur for the bride and groom – a day of prayer and renewal). But, really, what happens in the Yichud Room stays in the Yichud Room. The guests go off to begin the Se’udat Mitzvah, or festive meal. Once the bride and groom come in to the main hall where everyone’s already started tucking in to their appetizers, the room goes crazy with wild dancing. Sometimes, the bride and groom are raised up on chairs by their friends. This is a good time to not stand right next to a bunch of drunken people holding other people on chairs.

It’s an important mitzvah (commandment) “l’sameach chatan v’kallah,” that is, to make the bride and groom happy. So you will often see people wear fun costumes or juggle or dance in front of the bride and groom, who can rest for a bit and enjoy the show. Then there’s more dancing and eating and a benediction at the end.

Now, all of the above should be taken with this grain of salt: these are all the main traditions. Your friends may not do some or most of them. But just in case, there they all are!

So now to your practical inquiries. Whatever you might give to anyone getting married would be appropriate for a Jewish couple. The custom of, when money is given, giving it in multiples of 18 is because in Hebrew, letters are also numbers and the two letters which make 18 are also the word for life. Jews like life a lot, despite all the complaining which may make you suspect otherwise. So if you do give money, multiples of 18 are a lovely gesture, although you don’t have to.

Mazal tov to the bride and groom and thanks for writing!

I never realized till I was trying to find a song for this how many wedding song reference traditions not encountered in Judaism: wedding bells, chapels, etc. So we’ll just go with this old chestnut.
Billy Idol – White Wedding


Emancipate yourself from mental slavery

Filed under : Judaism
On April 17, 2011
At 1:15 pm
Comments :1

Happy New Year! Am I insane? Yes! But completely aside from that, this month, Nisan, is actually the first month of the Jewish calendar even though we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the common New Year, in Tishrei, which falls in September. The Jewish calendar actually has four new years days:

1st of Nisan – new year for the reign of kings as well as holidays
1st of Elul – most obscure one, it was for tax purposes (how apropos)
1st of Tishrei – what we call Rosh hashanah – anniversary of the day the world was created
15th of Shvat – what we call Tu B’shvat, the new year for trees

Anyhoo, I’m taking the occasion of the first holiday of the year, Passover, which starts tomorrow, to clean out my phone of photos.

Remember I said I’d show you the empty elevator cage in the building where I work at school? And that I never noticed that the stairs wound around an elevator size shaft while all the time wondering why there was no elevator? No? Me either. But here it is.

Button, button, where’s the button? No, I never noticed this either, I swear.

I did notice this. It was a giant inflatable rat outside Petco on my way to my internship one morning. So either they had a union problem or one of the giant rats at Petco escaped and was menacing passersby.

Oh look, it’s the last holiday, Purim. I guess I’ll finish with food I won’t be eating for the next eight days. Here was the line-up this year: Hamantaschen in my usual raspberry and Nutella flavors, brown sugar pound cake, chocolate chip crack, and tootsie rolls. I made three things instead of four this year in deference to the fact that I’m already trying to fit 25 things into a 24 hour day.

And now, a Passover/festival of freedom/Emancipation Day/springtime thought. Recently, I saw Waiting For Superman, a movie I refused to pay for and so I had to wait seven months till I could see it for free. Lots of the statistics in it are wrong or misleading and even though there are great public schools and terrible charter schools (the filmmaker even states that 80% of them have worse performance than public schools), the main point still stands. Education in this country blows. Not only do kids drop out and make bad neighborhoods worse because they can’t get jobs, not only do we still stiff the very people we emancipated, but who is going to cure cancer or solve problems when we’re old?

So what are we going to do about it? Let’s do something about it! Or let’s just do something to make the lives of other people better. I say, free your minds and the rest will follow. Or, actually, EnVogue said that. But you get me. It’s a whole new year. The farmers markets are filling up with new produce. The Shiba Inu webcam dog had new puppies. Your team has five months to get to first place. Let’s start fresh and do good things.

Chag sameach and happy Easter and springtime to my non Passover-celebrating friends.

Title comes from:
Bob Marley – Redemption Song


Even Gary and Elaine would know how to celebrate Hannukah

Filed under : Judaism
On December 8, 2010
At 2:00 am
Comments : 6

So Hannukah is winding down and although I haven’t felt very joyful this year, I do have a newfound appreciation for what is the season of miracles. And I am trying to shake myself out of my funk, but I’m not quite there, I think. I’ve mostly kept my Internet presence to this blog and e-mail, which is weird for me, but I am feeling a little unsocial at the moment. Still, I have been saving this item for a month or so and meant to post it just before the holiday. Anything that involves me pulling out my scanner (the printer 3-in-1 is located under the coffee table, such is the New York apartment) will inevitably be put off and delayed. But here it is and it touches on themes I’ve discussed before about how Hannukah is made into something it’s not by American society (big! important! a holiday where families travel from far and wide to get together and bask in the glow of the menorah) and where many Jews try to make it into the Christmas they wish they had. As I’ve said, I get that it’s hard, especially with kids, to be enveloped in a holiday that seems warm and beautiful but which isn’t yours. In its wake, Hannukah has become the “but we have THIS” holiday. And I know that merchants will cater to that feeling.

So in the spirit of Catalog Living (which inspired the title of this post, in case you’re not on the CL express), I bring you this ad. Despite the fact that they are generically called “Blue/Silver Glass Star Ornaments,” the description helpfully adds for those who might be squinting at their placement near the Star of David tea lights and the clear Hannukah intent (you can’t see the Hannukah tableware on the same page and menorah opposite), “make festive table accents!” Yes, these are for your Hannukah table, not at all your Hannukah tree. Wink wink wink.

From Crate & Barrel holiday catalog

Makes you just want to throw another Maccabee log on the fire and gather round the menorah to sing carols, doesn’t it?

Audioslave – Be Yourself


Oh yes, I’m done

Filed under : Judaism
On November 30, 2010
At 8:00 pm
Comments : 9

I came home to this today. Which is lucky, because I thought Hannukah was Thursday and it’s actually tomorrow. It might have been a mistake to assume that Google Calendar knows what “Erev” means. What, they put Christmas Eve on there!

Anyway, the important thing to remember is that if your present isn’t in one of these boxes, you’re probably not getting one. Happy holidays!

The Jerky Boys – Special Delivery

(If you know me, wink wink wink to you on this track. You’ll know even by the 30 second snippet.)