How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

May 13, 2008

Brain dump, Tuesday night

I have to blog a thousand things, but I’ll just keep this to the top that I’m able to think of, in no particular order, before my fingers get tired:

  1. The evil bastards who control the food packaging disaster that is hot dogs and buns are even more devious than I previously suspected: We recently got Hadarya a play kitchen (and PLEASE don’t start with the sexism/promoting gender stereotypes/etc. arguments – she is a very well-rounded child who spends time doing lots of other things, but she sees us both working in the kitchen and loves to pretend to do so on her own), and Grandma Bonnie came through with a ginormous vat of play food to fill the kitchen. The play food container has, I kid you not, six hot dogs and TWO buns. What the???
  2. I’m completely engrossed in the audio recording of Wil Wheaton‘s Just A Geek. His writing is excellent – the stories of his time on TNG, including the hindsight on what a bonehead he was to not appreciate it at the time (he WAS a teenager, after all; it would have been more surprising if he HAD appreciated it); working the con circuit with fellow cast members; his brutal honesty and openness about his emotional fragility over the lack of work, with the concomitant ups and downs of auditions and wasted hours waiting for phone calls; his beautiful stories about his family and his struggles to support them; all of this is good source material, and it’s well put together on paper. But his performance of his own material is evocative, moving, funny, and true, with occasional asides and deviations from the written source that make this feel at once like the special edition of the book with extra features and like he’s performing it exclusively for me (it helps that I’m listening to it in the car when I’m either alone or with a sleeping toddler in the back).
    I’m able to relate to virtually everything he talks about because I grew up with a father who worked in “the industry” (what people who work in the movie/television business call their line of work), so the terms are familiar, and so are many of the settings (walking around studio backlots and sets, the peculiar hurry-up-and-wait schedule of a typical shoot, etc.). In some of the stories, the empathy is even stronger because our paths were even closer – growing up geeky, playing role-playing and video games, seeing all the same movies and listening to much of the same music.
    Then there’s his audition for the co-host spot on Win Ben Stein’s Money. Listening to that chapter was amazing, since I was a contestant on the show. Wil was up for the co-host spot after Jimmy Kimmel’s first replacement, but that wasn’t clear from his description, and since I stopped watching the show after I played on it (that story will get its own post), I didn’t even know there WAS another co-host, nor that he was Jimmy Kimmel’s cousin. That was all cleared up by Wikipedia, thankyouverymuch.
  3. It’s been a very long time since I was as wrapped up in a television show as I was in this week’s House, the penultimate episode of the season. I started watching the series when the strike took my other vegout shows off the air, and haven’t been disappointed, but they really nailed it this week. I’m going to catch up on last week’s episode via Hulu before enjoying the season finale next week. Then Veronique and I can discuss amongst ourselves, dahling.
  4. Is it just me, or is it weird that Hillary Clinton is ignoring the fact that her base, according to all the data I’m hearing, is essentially uneducated white people, while Barack Obama’s core supporters tend to be college-educated? I guess that explains some stuff, like her pandering to people with the proposed gas tax holiday, and how she can get away with calling him “elitist,” and other things. Meh. I so don’t want this blog to be about politics.
  5. I’ve got basic show notes written up for like a dozen How Do You Jew podcast episodes. I just need to put some music together, do a little research on each of my core topics, and start recording. Actually, here are some of the things I want to cover. Any suggestions for straightforward sources of good, solid information about them would be appreciated. The idea is that I’ll introduce and briefly discuss/explain a specific Jewish tradition or halachic practice each episode:
    • Torah scroll, sofer, filling in letters to fulfill mitzvah
    • Kippot/yarmulkes – where is rule to wear, who’s obligated/allowed, different styles and their connotations in different communities
    • Yahrzeit/shloshim/shiva
    • Hamantaschen – Haman’s ears vs. Haman’s hat & possibly other traditional Jewish holiday foods
    • Pikuach nefesh
    • Alright, Jenn should be home soon from the synagogue board meeting, and I need to fill out Hebrew High report cards, so that’s it for tonight… Also, Hadarya is restless and needs some comforting, so off I go.

April 11, 2008

Shabbat shalom and happy bageling!

Despite the name of the practice, bageling is a very appropriate Pesach activity. I was introduced to this charmingly named entertainment by a friend of my dad’s, who forwarded me the column below today. Happily, unlike in the case of many such forwards, this one still had the author’s byline, and a little Googling turned up the happy coincidence that she is a fellow San Diegan. One quick missive turned into a spirited round of Jewish geography, mutual Shabbat dinner invitations, and a new friend in town. So without further ado, please enjoy (original post at, with comments):

The Bagel Theory
by Jessica Levine Kupferberg
Some Chanukah food for thought about Jewish connectedness. (originally published December 9, 2007)

This time of year can be challenging for Jews. After the joy of Chanukah subsides, we find ourselves adrift in the Red and Green sea. Our halls are markedly undecked while most of the world is encrusted in boughs of holly. The glare of tinsel and little multi-colored lights blind us at every turn. We dread the awkward pause after someone wishes us something merry and know the discomfort of holiday parties for a holiday that we don’t celebrate.

What can be done to combat the isolation? How can we satisfy a hunger for Jewish connection?

‘Tis the season to go forth and …. bagel.

The Beginning of Bageling

It all started when my friend Doodie Miller– who wears a kippah — was back in college and suffering through a tedious lecture. As the professor droned on, a previously-unknown young woman leaned over and whispered in his ear:

“This class is as boring as my Zayde’s seder.”

You see, the woman knew that she did not “look” Jewish, nor did she wear any identifying signs like a Star of David. So foregoing the awkward declaration, “I’m Jewish,” the girl devised a more nuanced — and frankly, cuter — way of heralding her heritage.

This incident launched a hypothesis which would henceforth be known as the Bagel Theory.

The Bagel Theory stands for the principle that we Jews, regardless of how observant or affiliated we are, have a powerful need to connect with one another. To that end, we find ways to “bagel” each other — basically, to “out” ourselves to fellow Jews.

There are two ways to bagel. The brave or simply unimaginative will tell you straight out that they are Jewish (a plain bagel). But the more creative will concoct subtler and even sublime ways to let you know that they, too, are in the know. (These bagels are often the best; like their doughy counterparts, cultural bagels are more flavorful when there is more to chew on.)

Bageled at Boggle

I suspect that Jews have been bageling even before real bagels were invented. And while my husband and I may not have invented bageling, we do seem to have a steady diet of bagel encounters.

An early bagel favorite occurred when my kippah-wearing husband and I were dating, and we spent a Saturday evening at a funky coffee house with friends. We engaged in a few boisterous rounds of Boggle, the game where you must quickly make words out of jumbled lettered cubes. Observing our fun, a couple of college students at a nearby table asked if they could play too. After we rattled the tray and furiously scribbled our words, it was time to read our lists aloud. One of the students, who sported a rasta hat and goatee, proudly listed the word “yad.” Unsuspecting, we inquired, “What’s a yad?” He said with a smirk, “You know, that pointer you read the Torah with.” Yes, we were bageled at Boggle.

On our honeymoon in Rome, we were standing at the top of the Spanish steps next to a middle-aged couple holding a map. The husband piped up in an obvious voice, “I wonder where the synagogue is.” My husband and I exchanged a knowing look at this classic Roman bagel and proceeded to strike up a conversation with this lovely couple from Chicago. After we took them to the synagogue, they asked to join us at the kosher pizza shop. As we savored the cheeseless arugula and shaved beef pizza — to this day the best pizza I have ever had — this non-religious couple marveled at traveling kosher and declared they would do so in the future. A satisfying bagel to be sure.

Holy Bagel

In the years since, our bagel encounters have become precious souvenirs, yiddishe knick-knacks from our family adventures in smaller Jewish communities. Like the time the little boy at the Coffee Bean in Pasadena, California, walked up to my husband, pulled out a mezuzah from around his neck, smiled and ran away. (A non-verbal bagel!) Or our day trip to the pier in San Clemente, California when an impish girl in cornrows and bikini scampered over to say “Good Shabbos.”

We have been bageled waiting at airline ticket counters, in elevators, at the supermarket checkout. And I myself have been known to bagel when the situation calls for it, like the time I asked the chassid seated a few rows up on an airplane if I could borrow a siddur.

On a recent trip abroad, however, we did not get bageled even once. That was in Israel where, thankfully, there is just no need.

Ultimately, why do we feel this need to bagel? Does it stem from our shared patriarchs, our pedigree of discrimination and isolation, a common love of latkes or just the human predisposition to be cliquey? I maintain it is something more. Our sages say that all Jews were originally one interconnected soul which stood in unison at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Now scattered across the Earth, as we encounter each other’s Jewish souls, we recognize and reconnect with a piece of our divine selves. The bagel may have a hole, but we bagel in a quest to feel whole.

So the next time a sweaty stranger at the gym says to you, “I haven’t been this thirsty since Yom Kippur,” smile. You’ve just been bageled — adding another link in the Jewish circle of connection.

December 20, 2007

Equal Time #12

Filed under: entertainment,fun,funny,Jewish holidays,music — howdoyoujew @ 12:48


December 17, 2007

Post-Chanukah good news reporting

Filed under: Family,Good News,Jewish holidays,News,religion — howdoyoujew @ 11:14

Thanks to Joel for passing this along:

Arkansas Menorah in the Baghdad Palace

Celebrating Chanukah 2007 in Saddam Hussein’s Republican Palace, who would think? Yet tonight inside a marble encrusted hall in Baghdad, we lit the eighth light of a hand-made, 6-foot tall menorah. We prayed in Hebrew, joyfully sang a medley of Chanukah songs, ate latkes, and best of all, we were Jews together in the land of our earliest forefathers.

Read the rest…

December 15, 2007

The Meaning of Chanukah

Filed under: entertainment,funny,humor,Jewish holidays,Life Online,religion,video — howdoyoujew @ 22:54

In the interest of equal time, please enjoy this utterly inappropriate bit of Chanukah cheer from South Park, and the lovely musical stylings of acclaimed musical genius Adam Sandler: The Chanukah Song, Parts 1, 2, and 3.

December 10, 2007

Concert review: Jingle Ball 2007

Filed under: entertainment,Family,fun,Jewish holidays,music — howdoyoujew @ 23:21

Local Top 40 station Star 94.1 (which is, yes, owned by ClearChannel, those corporate radio bastards) raises money for Becky’s House, a domestic violence shelter. The main fundraiser for the year is Jingle Ball, a multi-band concert that this year featured Vanessa Carlton, Lenny Kravitz, Duran Duran, and Matchbox 20. My lovely wife was kind enough to buy me (and her sister) a ticket as a Chanukah present, and we enjoyed ourselves at this awesome event earlier this evening. Following is my review (first name links to official site, last name/second word to wiki):

Vanessa Carlton:

A talented pianist and singer/songwriter who, while I’m sure was glad for the venue, exposure, and publicity, would be better heard in a club rather than the arena she played tonight (the San Diego Sports Arena). Her big hit, A Thousand Miles, was released in 2002, and she still has a loyal fanbase, but hasn’t seen much commercial success over the last couple of years. She only played 20 minutes (3 or 4 songs), and the songs all sounded pretty similar to me, but again, the atmosphere in an arena is not ideal for picking out lyrics and establishing an opinion about an artist one knows very little about.
Grade: B+

Lenny Kravitz:

Yowza! Lenny Kravitz is a guitar-rock stud with a peace and love streak that’s infectious and right up my alley. He ran all over the stage – and the arena during one song – getting the crowd pumped, playing a bunch of familiar tracks (including his rockin’ cover of the Guess Who’s American Woman) as well as a few new songs off the forthcoming Love Revolution CD. He’s got a terrific band backing him up, with a terrific lead guitarist who shredded mightily throughout. When Lenny’s 45 minutes were up, we were definitely left wanting more.
Grade: A

Duran Duran:

Being the 80s geek that I am, I was really looking forward to this part of the show. The intro raised the expectations even higher, since they’d auctioned off the rights to intro the band on stage to a local family. I should have known the show was going to go downhill when the band opened with Notorious, not one of their bigger hits from the 80s. They then proceeded to bore the audience with new material for a while before launching into, I kid you not, Planet Earth and Ordinary World, eventually pulling out a few moments of satisfaction and fun with Wild Boys, then making me go “Huh?” again with A View to a Kill and slogging through an uninspired rendition of Rio.
Look, Simon et al., I know you’re trying to promote new material. You’ve got a new CD coming out; you’re an artist, you need to create, I get that. But you’re on a bill with two major headlining acts for a charity show. The audience here didn’t come to sit through unrecognizable new songs; we came to dance and sing along to the tunes we grew up with. No Girls on Film? No Hungry Like the Wolf? Come ON!
Grade: D

Matchbox 20:

THIS is how you play a rock concert, ladies and gentlemen! Rob Thomas (who was channeling a little bit of Elvis in his on-stage banter, quite successfully I might add) is a ball to watch and listen to, with a highly talented band collaborating with him. They did 2 or 3 songs off the new album – including the insanely catchy How Far We’ve Come, which I’ve loved since the first time I heard it – confirming their knack for putting together good, accessible rock that doesn’t pander to teenyboppers, but the bulk of their hour-long set was a massive string of hits going back to 1996’s Yourself or Someone Like You CD (Push, 3 AM, and Long Day) and working through their impressive discography leading to the current release, Exile on Mainstream (which, even though they didn’t say it aloud, is a generous nod and wink to the Stones’ Exile on Main St.). I don’t follow bands religiously like some fans, so it’s possible that there’s a great deal of discussion about the influences and inspirations, but I have to say I didn’t care much about those things on Sunday night. I just saw a terrific show by an excellent, energetic rock band.
Grade: A+

Thanks for the great Chanukah present, honey!

November 2, 2007

THIS is how you spend Shabbat?!

Filed under: Blogging,Jewish holidays,SDSU,Shabbat,technology,work — howdoyoujew @ 23:09

Well, not normally, no.. er… wait a minute! Why am I making excuses? This is MY blog!

Yeah, well, I decided long ago that Shabbat observance for me was not going to look like the traditional, Orthodox version. The key elements in the concept and point of Shabbat for me were the separation from the rest of the week and the relaxation and rest. Thus, I decided that if that meant getting away from the grind of wherever I happen to be living and working/going to school by driving out of town or otherwise distancing myself from my daily surroundings, so be it.

When I first moved to San Diego for grad school in 1999, I made a conscious decision to not engage in schoolwork on Shabbat. I knew I’d be plenty busy with it the rest of the week, and I wanted to establish a set time for a break, so I took the time our tradition has already set aside. This served me very well, and was indeed extremely relaxing, for most of my grad school career. Then came time to prepare for the comprehensive (final) exams for my program, and the discovery that they are administered over a weekend. Normally, you are provided with the exam questions on Friday and turn them in on Monday.

I was so firmly entrenched in my Shabbat habit by this point, that I was fairly comfortable speaking with my faculty and asking for an accommodation based on my religious observance. My position was aided by the presence of a fellow student who was even more explicitly observant than I (Avraham [I’ll never get used to calling you Greg, dude] wears a kippah full time, was a first-rate study partner and remains a good friend, and would find it quite amusing that I’m blogging about this after sundown on Friday, even though he won’t be reading it until after sundown Saturday night. One of the brightest, most open-minded people I know.) and required the same accommodation. So it was that my esteemed teachers and department administrators agreed to provide me and Avraham with the comp exam materials on Sunday and accept them, without penalty, on Wednesday. And yes, we both passed.

And so it is that we hosted Shabbat dinner tonight, with Jenn’s parents and sister and my mom, celebrating Jenn’s birthday, enjoying our daughter’s company while she was up, then sat around talking and laughing with everyone, and eventually wound up flipping open the laptops, searching for stuff on the interwebs and finally getting around to making good on this commitment to post every day for a month.

I love saying Shabbat shalom – it’s a greeting that encompasses so much, so compactly (like many words and phrases in Hebrew). So let’s leave it at that: have a peaceful, restful, happy Shabbat. Shabbat shalom!

July 24, 2007

It’s the Irony, Stupid: Hospitality and Spirituality in the Middle East, Then and Now

When I started writing this (Sunday, July 15 or thereabouts) I didn’t know where it was going, so I didn’t post it. It took about a week for the realization to sink in that the thing that brought these two subjects into relief for me was the irony and sadness over the powerful positive connotations I held based on history, our sacred texts, ands personal experience, and the terrible depths of hostility and spiritual corruption we’ve reached today in the region. I am leaving much of the piece intact as I first wrote it, with the addition of the link to my friend Scott’s powerful piece at the end.
Two aspects of Middle Eastern culture, and how they are played out today in the Middle East and here in the US, came into sharp relief for me recently: Hospitality and spirituality.

The hospitality I’m referring to is the “open door” policy extant in many Arab and Israeli homes – whereby friends, family, and sometimes even strangers are welcomed with open arms and well-stocked pantries, often with no advance notice. Last Sunday, after a lovely late morning playdate and light picnic at a park near our house, we invited a couple of the friends we were with back to our place for lunch. Eric & Shauna said they had to run a bunch of errands so they would take a rain check. Half an hour later, as we were noshing with Tamar, the one friend who’d come over initially, they called and said they were done, and would we mind some company. Without hesitation, we added two place settings to our dining room table, and our impromptu gathering lasted until the late afternoon. Once we’d started feeding them, Eric admitted that he’d only called because Shauna thought it’d be weird to just show up on our door unannounced. I assured her that it would not have been weird at all and that they are encouraged to do that sort of thing any time they feel like it. Jenn isn’t Israeli, but her subscription to this same philosophy is entirely unsurprising considering our compatibility with each other (which we discovered very early on – like on our first date).

When Jenn and I were looking for our first house together a couple of years ago, we walked into the abode we now call home and fell in love with it, largely because of the layout of the dining room/living room, which is really one enormous room divided only by the entryway from the front door, with no steps or walls separating the space. We immediately realized that this room could hold more than two dozen people at a festive meal, a scene we hoped to see brought to life in our home as often as possible.

Later that same night, as I was rocking Hadarya to sleep, I recognized (in the truest sense of that word: I revisited the knowledge, or cognition, of) the blessings she has brought into our lives. We are committed to giving something back in acknowledgment of and gratitude for those blessings. On her birthday, we want to do something to honor the sacrifice and bravery of her birth mother; and we also will continue to recognize the role my bone marrow donation played in the cosmic balance of our lives and our struggle to expand our family.

I don’t believe in an active God of history, a literal being of some sort that has a hand (outstretched or otherwise) in everyday events. My conception of a “higher being” is much more along the lines of a shared human trait of Godliness, a spark of divinity that each of us carries. The more people recognize that spark within themselves (and choose to follow its guidance rather than ignore it), the more God is present in the world.

All of these thoughts and experiences got me thinking about the geographical region where I was born, and the one I now reside in, and whether there’s some qualitative difference in how people relate to each other and to God in these two regions (and elsewhere). The whole cradle of civilization thing, and the old joke about the God hotline being a local call from there, make it clear that other people have thought about this before me (I’m not claiming originality here), and I don’t have any answers, but I’m thinking about it.

Modern history, unfortunately, puts hospitality and spirituality in a different light: A recent scene from the West Bank where the open door is specifically shut in the face of a neighbor (92 MB WMV – even with broadband, it’ll take a while, but it’s worth it here it is on YouTube), and the centuries of religion-based hostility and violence in the Middle East (um, read/watch the news?), highlight only the differences between the peoples and downplay (if not outright ignore) the positive aspects of these qualities.

I was aided in my move forward to post by this gut-wrenching recollection by my good friend Scott of his visit to Hebron. I was in Hebron for a couple of months – including the High Holy Days – while serving in the IDF in ’92, so I can sadly say that his characterization of that place is spot on.

Now I just need to figure out how to react and work for change.

April 4, 2007

Jewish Education, the Simpsons Way

Filed under: funny,history,humor,Jewish holidays,television — howdoyoujew @ 12:01

Thanks to Counting the Homer, I found out that this year’s Simpsons Treehouse of Horror (the Halloween special show) included this segment:

October 11, 2006

Chag sameach

Filed under: Israel,Jewish holidays,video — howdoyoujew @ 11:16

It’s the holiday of Sukkot, sometimes referred to in English as the Feast of Tabernacles. There’s a whole long story behind why these people are shaking a bunch of vegetation around, which I’ll explain another time, but watch the video and enjoy.

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