Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Gone fishing

Filed under : Life in general
On December 25, 2008
At 1:30 am
Comments : 5

There is this stereotype that Jews eat Chinese food and go to the movies on Christmas. I never heard of that until I was an adult, maybe because there was no Kosher Chinese food near me when I was growing up and I don’t think any movie theaters were open. Besides, there’s so much good stuff on TV, why would you go out? Like most things people say about Jews that are outside my experience (no one ever told me to marry a doctor, for instance), I cringe a little when I hear it. So here is your new stereotype: Christmas travel. Yes, it’s always cheapest to ride public transport on Christmas and in the past I’ve often flown to Europe or Israel for bargain basement fares. This year, I’m taking Greyhound. What, has no one heard there are problems with the economy? Not to mention, I just redid my kitchen. You may have heard me mention that a couple of times over the last eight months.

Speaking of, no, I have not updated my stream on Picasa and it’s not just out of laziness. We’re almost finished, so much so, that it resembles an actual kitchen just without the finishing touches. So showing it now would kind of ruin the awesome reveal. After it’s done, I’ll add the in-between pictures so that you can see how it happened. This way, I don’t have to write captions like, “there will be a piece of trim here” or “this will be sanded and painted, don’t mind the lumps of compound.”

When will it be done? This depends on whether I can shake my trim pieces out of my awful, unresponsive cabinet maker who uses “I’ll get back to you” as a kind of shorthand for, “so long, sucker!” Once that happens, they can be installed and everything else can be finished. That may happen over the break, it may not. Don’t you love surprises?

Are my segues spot on today or what! When I say break, I mean the space between Christmas Eve and New Years (even more this year because that falls on a Thursday so I’m off till the 5th of January) when the music industry shuts down, sending its employees screaming through the streets. It’s fantastic because you can take off and not worry about anything happening while you are gone. Except the business crashing and burning. But anyway! This is all to say that I am off for various daytrips and seeing people I never see and whatnot. There will not be much if any blogging to be had until 2009. So, feel free to check out the fine blogs in my blogroll or add JBall to your RSS feed reader (it’s in the footer) so you know when I actually do post.

Have a happy and festive holiday season and a brilliant new year!

I hate premature meltdown.

And please disregard the tin foil. My regular ceramic tray is behind many large boxes. See, captions making excuses do suck.

Wow, I don’t know how I missed this, it’s pretty rockin’! It’s instrumental but every time I hear this song it has different lyrics, so maybe this is best.

moe – Oh Hanukah


iPod Song of the Week – Holiday 2008

Filed under : iPod Song of the Week
On December 21, 2008
At 11:00 pm
Comments : 6

It’s the first night of Hannukah and you know what that means: time for the Christmas iPod Song of the Week! As an addendum to the last post, I should say there are a few Hannukah songs and I do not mean “Oh Dreidl, I made it out of clay” or anything by Adam Sandler. My favorite is called Mi Yimalel, but I couldn’t find a good version on YouTube. Feel free to Google if you want to hear the bad ones. But it’s much more fun to sing because it goes around and around and you can sing it in a round, actually. I’m humming it in my head for you. You’re welcome!

Anyway, this first night of Hannukah happens to coincide with the Sunday before Christmas/Jewish Family Day and so, this being the third annual holiday edition, you get my third favorite Christmas song. This one isn’t as jolly as the other two and it’s got that shrill Yoko Ono section, but really, how can you get more spiritual meaning than, “And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?” I think we all did awesome this year, if you (coughelectiondaycough) know what I mean.

But really, war is over… if you want it. I think we all want it, yes?

Happy holidays, everyone!

John & Yoko And The Plastic Ono Band – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Streaming audio available on the iPod Song of the Week page.

Becca’s #1 Holiday song.

Becca’s #2 Holiday song.


Jew & A: Hannukah

Filed under : Jew & A,Judaism
On December 17, 2008
At 11:00 pm
Comments : 11

And now, for the promised explanation-rich Hannukah post, wherein I tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the holiday but were too busy putting up ornaments to ask.

Let’s start with some quick background before we get to the questions. Hannukah is an eight-day festival that celebrates the victory by a small band of Jews against larger Syrian-Greek forces who sought to conquer Israel in the 2nd century BCE. This is the popular history, and it’s accurate to a degree, but what isn’t usually discussed and what is vitally relevant to the struggles the Jews endure today, is that it wasn’t just a battle of military and territorial importance but also of spiritual and cultural hegemony. Not only did the foreign forces wish to bring the Jews over to their ways, but many Jews were already under the Hellenistic spell, and it was a victory over them as well. This is ironic in so many ways it would blow Alanis Morrisette’s mind.

When the invaders were gone, the temple in Jerusalem, which had been defiled, was rededicated. Sadly, there was only enough oil to light the menorah (menorahs were just the regular candelabras before Hannukah came along) for one day. But crazily, the oil lasted eight days! YaY, miracles!

So, the first question I received was from IrishCardinal and is actually several in one. I’ll begin there.
I’ve heard that Hanukkah, or however you wanna spell it, is a very minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. But since it’s close to Christmas, it has succumbed to a lot of hype and consumerism so as to compete with Christmas. You aren’t that old, Becca, but have you noticed a lot of changes in your lifetime in the way Hanukkah is marketed and celebrated? Like, do they sell big ugly sweaters with sequined menorahs and dreidels on them? I know for a fact they sell teddy bears that, if you press on their paw, they sing “I Have a Little Dreidel” and Stars of David on their feet light up.

Hahahahaha, that’s awesome. But I’m glad you worded your first lines that way because this is something that is a terribly large misconception, and understandably so. And it’s going to allow me to expound a lot on this topic and get up on my soapbox, so sorry about that! Not a lot of people, especially Jews, seem to know this, but you are absolutely correct, Hannukah is a minor holiday. How do we know this? It’s not in the Torah but arose in the period afterwards and we aren’t commanded by God to observe it. Thus, there aren’t the usual “holiday” rules about not working or using electricity, etc.

Christmas, as we all know, is the biggest Christian holiday there is. Coincidentally (or maybe not when you realize they’re probably both based on pagan Winter festivals), Christmas and Hannukah fall around the same time on the calendar. This has sort of turned Hannukah into something it is not. And what it has become, depending on how you look at it, is either “not Christmas, because I’m not Christian” or “Jewish Christmas.” I am not sure why this is so hard for many Jews to accept, but the Christians have Christmas and we don’t. There is no Jewish Christmas. There is Passover in the Spring and there is Rosh Hashanah in the Fall. But that’s as close as you’re going to get. There are no decorations except the menorah itself and that is supposed to be displayed prominently so as to “advertise” the miracle which happened to the Jews in their defeat of the enemy and having the oil last eight days.

Believe me, I understand the desire and hunger to do what everyone else is doing, to fit in, to belong, to put up fun decorations and get presents from Santa. But the answer is not to turn your holiday into someone else’s. That’s when you lose what is lovely and unique about your own. The other thing people do, and I’m more understanding of this, is to hold up Hannukah as an “I don’t celebrate Christmas!” shield. When I go to work and the lobby is decorated with a giant, fully decorated tree, with huge wreaths and red, green, and gold ribbon, and next to them is this little menorah, I get it. I get that what they are saying is, “we see you.” They know that not everyone celebrates Christmas and I appreciate that. I guess if you celebrate neither Christmas nor Hannukah you’re out of luck, though.

Recently, on a kitchen/decorating forum I have been going to (shut up!), people were showing off their Hannukah decorations. If you will, please imagine Christmas decorations except in blue and white (by the way, there are no Hannukah colors – blue and white are the colors of the Israeli flag and thus have become the de facto Hannukah colors). One person even had a Hannukah bush. This made me cringe. Show some pride! This is not your heritage; you have stolen someone else’s and passed it off. If you are so jealous of non-Jews, to my mind, just celebrate Christmas itself. Why go with an imitation?

This is the moment to remember the True Meaning of Hannukah. Ready? Drumroll…. we didn’t assimilate! Still want a Hannukah bush?

Personally, I love watching non-Jews celebrate Christmas. I love the trees and the lights and the magic and the movies and the music and the commercials and the spirit. I’m glad to be part of it as an observer.

This is not to say that Jewish holidays do not adjust to their surroundings. Originally, presents were not a Hannukah tradition, just gelt (more on that later). But, I’m not mad that we picked up this fine addition.

None of that was really for you, Irish. But you did have a question in there, didn’t you? Ooops. Anyway! Thank you for calling me not old. I almost missed that. I honestly do not see any more Hannukah marketing than there used to be but it may be because I have almost always lived in Jewish areas where it’s heavily marketed already. Thank God, no light up sweaters yet. The teddy bear sounds OK. I’ll take three.

I also think Hannukah is less prone to consumerism because before any presents are given, you light the menorah, say blessings, and sing hymns. So the spiritual is part and parcel of each evening.

Oh, and as for the spelling! There are many acceptable spellings since the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t always have corresponding letters in English. Hannukah comes from the word for dedication since the Temple was rededicated after its defilement. Thanks for letting me use your question for my own agenda! You’re a good sport. Unlike that Jonathan Papelbon.

Average Jane asks:
If it is truly our holiday that is the festival of lights, why didn’t we jump on that pretty-twinkly-light phenomenon way before Santa got his hands on them? Sooooo pretty. Sooooo twinkly.

So true. It is the Festival of Lights. We totally should have. However, I do love picking out the colors of candles each night. The first night that I have to repeat colors is such a drag. One year I’m going to find a box with enough colors to have nine different ones.

JennyPA asks:
What’s the significance of Hanukkah gelt and how did it turn into chocolate?

Gelt (Yiddish for money) is pocket change that it is traditional to give to children on Hannukah. One explanation is that it was a kind of bribe/reward to re-educate them in Judaism after the period of foreign influence. Another explanation is that it was the original alternative to gifts that non-Jewish neighbors gave to their children. Either way, the chocolate version is a modern invention and quite a delicious one, boy howdy.

Alex asks:
I think that this year, Christmas is on the 28th of Kislev. Why does it keep moving around?

Oh, Alex. You’re such a kidder. As everyone knows, the Jewish calendar is a lunar one which is why things fall differently on the secular schedule year to year. This year, of course, Hannukah begins at sunset on December 21st. As always, it also falls on 25 Kislev on the Jewish calendar. Christmas falls on “Jewish Family Day” or so my Yeshiva calendar used to call December 25th.

Sam asks:
Do I have to get the Jews in my life a present for each day, or can I get them each one present and bestow it on any day within the eight day window?

Have no fear! As I mentioned, presents are a recent innovation to the Hannukah celebration. So the answer is, everyone does it their own way. In my house growing up, each night was different. One night was “uncles & aunts night,” one was “grandparents night,” one was “book night,” one was “tchotchke night,” etc. But, unless you’re a member of the Kushner family or something, you probably end up with the same number and value of presents per capita as Christmas-celebrators do, just spread out. So, my answer would be, you can either get them eight small gifts, one on each night, or one regular gift given on any day in the eight day period.

Thanks for asking, everyone! Personally, I am hoping for a Law & Order DVD set after my hymn-singing. Also, world peace. In no particular order.

Styx – Lights


iPod Song of the Week – I love to hold on

Filed under : iPod Song of the Week,Music
On December 14, 2008
At 8:00 am
Comments : 3

I know, can you believe it, this feature is back! If you missed it (and you’re the only one) think of how much I miss the DJ’s of my youth playing this music. You probably already know this because long ago, back in the early days of this year, you read (or skipped) this post. Amongst the DJ’s I mentioned was Larry the Duck, and believe me, I truly remember his voice. Then a funny thing happened, XM, which I used to listen to on my computer at work, merged with Sirius, the only other satellite radio company, in a Great Big Monopoly. At first I was dejected. My quirky-fun station, Fred, had disappeared. Fred with its funny promos like the take-off of the Smiths’ “Is it Really So Strange?” that went, “Fred left the North. He traveled south. He found a tiny house and he can’t help the way he feels.” That made me laugh every single time. Because I’m a sap.

Anyway, Fred went away and its place was Sirius’ mundanely named “First Wave.” Bleah. I gave it a chance for a few days because I pay for this thing and if I hate it, I’m getting rid of it. The first thing I noticed was that it had DJ’s and after listening to rarely interrupted Fred, it was disconcerting. So at the same time, to hedge my bets, I gave Pandora a try and I must say, my four stations, alternately “Wannabe Fred,” “New Alternative,” “Hard Alternative,” and “Power Pop in the vein of Neil Finn and Matthew Sweet” (catchy, right?), have not really been floating my boat. It’s too clear the music wasn’t chosen by a human. A band will play three songs after it was previously played. Too much of one artist, only the most popular songs by another. I really have tried to tweak them with “OK, how about let’s add in this band?” and “never play this song again” and sorry, it just ain’t happening. A computer can’t seem to get 80’s new wave the way a real human in his/her mid-30’s who got dressed to impress in high school to it would. The other stations were OK but since I wasn’t trying to get in the breadth of a certain decade and actual radio stations, it wasn’t as hard.

Then, on a forum (I’m all about forums) where I am named for a new wave song, I heard that Larry the Duck is on First Wave. Really? Larry the Duck is alive and well and DJ’ing the music I love? Swoon! Because so far all I’ve heard is the screechy and irritating Madison and Richard Blade who I suppose is OK if you are nostalgic for KROQ (my grandparents lived in LA; I do remember KROQ in the 80’s) but I’m lukewarm on. Finally, after weeks of listening attentively for My Youth relived on the radio, I went to check the Sirius website and there he was, 6-9 am. Sadly, since I live in New York City, there is no such thing as “drive time.” I turn the thing on when I reach work at ten. And I watch Pat Kiernan while I get dressed; I can’t give that up. So that was depressing. But he’s also on Saturday afternoons and evenings where I am listening to him push satellite radio for Christmas right now as I type this. (Yes, it’s written in advance). I think the first time he said “Duck with you…” little tears pricked at the back of my eyes. Maybe what’s forgotten in the “who needs radio, I’ll just put my 90 GB iPod on shuffle” are the people who framed the music for you and made you smile. A co-worker of mine was able to tour the Sirius studios (it was professionally, *cough*) and got to meet several DJ’s. People, this is going to be my new year’s resolution. I am going to Sirius (or, uh, SiriusXM) and hug Larry the Duck. Wish me luck!

OK, onto the song. This is the first time I’m repeating a band. Who could it be? One of the bands I mention all the time like Depeche Mode or The Cure or Joy Division? Why no! I picked this song specially, not because it’s my favorite song ever but because I totally forgot about its existence until this week. Most of the songs I have featured on here are ones I’ve been listening to for years and years and of which I have never lost track. But not this one. And yet, when it came on (forgive me, I couldn’t tell you whether it was Pandora or First Wave or any of the other things I tried), the bursting-with-energy opening bars cut through years and years and suddenly the first line came tumbling out of my mouth unbidden, “I couldn’t sleep a wink last night… I, I love to hold on!”

I downloaded it from Amazon about ten seconds later, where I discovered I actually owned this album on LP. Good times! I have nothing really to say about this song except what I said about their other song that appeared on iSotW which is, my, they were a fine band before they became “one hit wonders” through the Breakfast Club. That was too bad because, as this song demonstrates, they were way better when they stuck to writing their own songs. Listen to how Jim Kerr sings it like he means it here and how driving and pounding the music is versus a lame-ass song like “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”

It’s funny, because in early 1983, my two favorite songs outside of Duran Duran were by bands I discovered from those songs: Depeche Mode’s “Love In Itself” and Simple Minds’ “Promised You A Miracle.” Either could have ended up my favorite group of all time, especially because I liked the next song I heard by Simple Minds, “New Gold Dream” even better. But, well, you know how that went.

The other thing about hearing a song that you haven’t heard in decades is that it is still uniquely tied to time and place. This one takes me way back, back to one of my two HS BFF’s homes, so much so that I did a tour of her neighborhood on Google street look and while wondering whatever happened to her. Damn people with common names with whom you lost touch in 1989! She’s not even on Facebook. Maybe I just imagined the 80’s. Or, maybe, like Larry the Duck, she’s alive and well and waiting to be rediscovered….

So, give satellite radio for the holidays. Or Simple Minds’ Sparkle in the Rain (I think it’s still available as an import). Or send your high school BFF on Facebook an “80’s Gift” and think of me.

Simple Minds – Speed Your Love To Me

Streaming audio available on the iPod Song of the Week page.


Got Hannukah….. questions?

Filed under : Jew & A
On December 11, 2008
At 10:25 pm
Comments : 6

I’ve been mind-crazingly, body-exhaustingly busy this week but I did have this sort of hazy idea of doing a self-written FAQ for the upcoming Hannukah holiday. By that I mean I would come up with both the questions and the answers. But while I was out getting drunk with colleagues (work is hard), someone sent me some of the very questions I had been considering! (Cue Twilight Zone music). It occurred to me, since I have been so lame about posting lately, that there is still time to get your questions in, in case there might be some burning query in your mind other than “how will I pay for my holiday?” and “will I have a job in January?” So send them on in! You can either throw them in the comments below or use the handy “Submit a Jew & A question” link in the sidebar under “Pages.”

In the meantime, while I try to make it through these last weeks before the Big Break the music business takes at the end of the month, please enjoy this bit of holiday cheer. See, it’s going to be awesome when this guy shows up with his missed connection to the family Christmas. Because I’m 100% sure this boy’s parents are going to be thrilled to see her.

“Uh, I’ll pour….”