Tag Archives: jewish

Thoughts That Came out of a Secular Rosh Hashanah Dinner Party

Posted by Jason Diamond

I hosted a small, totally secular and non-traditional Rosh Hashanah dinner for the Jewish (and non) orphans in New York last night.  It was nice.   Adam Wilson made kugel, Justin Taylor brought Mexican beer, Adam Whitney-Nichols of Fortnight Journal gave everybody really tiny bells for some reason that I still don’t understand.  (Don’t you love name dropping?)

All in all, it was a lovely time.

When you have a dinner party of any sort, there is usually one big current topic that everybody tends to discuss, and last night’s was the fact that New York Magazine decided to have an excerpt from a forthcoming book called The Lampshade; which is a true story about a Jewish guy who buys a lampshade that may or may not have been made from the skin of Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis. Continue reading


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Kindle at the Passover Seder?

Ah Passover.  You aren’t as depressing as Yom Kippur, and certainly aren’t as fun as the drunken celebration of Purim. No Passover, you get the distinction of being the most boring of the Jewish holidays.

At least you’re keep up with the times: now we can use an eBook to ask the 4 questions.

The latest publication vying for attention in the Passover canon is “Haggadah for the Fifth Child.” A clever title, for, as every Seder-jaded Jew knows, ordinarily only four children make it to the Passover table. So how is this Haggadah different from all other Haggadot?

For starters, it is an e-book, one of a small but growing library of downloadable Haggadot.

(Via Forward)

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Kashrut Meets Cryptozoology

Once a year, somebody sends me a “Jewish book” for the holidays.  Not sure if they are trying to be cute, or maybe trying to get me in touch with my heritage, but those two copies of “1,001 Jewish Recipes” still collect dust in my closet to this day.

So it was a pleasant surprise when I opened up a package containing The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals (Tachyon Books) to read about “Borges”:

Of Argentinean origin, this blind magical creature has, over time, replaced all of it’s human flesh with the pulp of books.

Also, the recipe on how to cook the Mongolian death worm is helpful.

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A Kaddish for Jewish Zines

By Jason Diamond

Gawker’s proclamation of the “Heeb Magazine Deathwatch” got me thinking again about “radical Jewish culture”, but this time in terms of it’s short life, possible death, and whether the tag really means anything other than getting donors to contribute to off-kilter non-profits.

Of course, I find that there have been valiant attempts to get the old gears of Jewish thought turning again. From what I can gather, John Zorn coined the phrase with his marvelous Tzadik label, and no matter your opinion of Heeb, it’s my belief that these projects came about with nothing but the best of intentions.

And while I flirt with the idea that I’m a sappy realist (and my name is also on the masthead of the same magazine Gawker claims is slowly dying), I admit that I could just be making all of this up, but in all honesty, I don’t think that to be the case.

Beyond the pictures of Roseanne dressed like Hitler, and the ads showing a tefillin-wrapped arm with a needle plunging into the vein–which even as a non-observant Jew made me pretty uncomfortable–my time with Heeb has brought one incredibly positive change into my life: it’s helped me become comfortable with my place in the “Jewish world.”

Okay, so let me straighten that out a little: I’ve always been more than proud to be a Jew. I’ve never been one to hide my background, and while I have been critical of some of Heeb’s content in the past, my association with the magazine has helped start conversations with people who I assumed would rather not talk about their Jewish backgrounds. These conversations helped me realize that my own criticism of organized religion, and my discomfort with taking part in many of the rituals associated with Judaism, is totally OK. It also made me realize that I’m not as much of an outsider amongst a people that have traditionally been outsiders. No matter what happens with Heeb, I’ll always be thankful for that.

With all that said, something started to change when I read the N+1 essay, “The People of the Magazine“. This came a few months after working for a Jewish non-profit, and after my brief flirtation with “getting religious”. While I didn’t demand change from Heeb, having hit it’s groove covering what it chose to cover, I realized what I truly missed was the struggle to have your Jewish voice heard. As mentioned in the N+1 article, Jewish magazines (including Heeb), alongside other arts organizations, have been dependent on Jewish interest groups to help fund their “vision”. And no matter how far you try and “push things” in an attempt to “stick out”, it would seem that bread tastes better with butter, and butter costs money.

Specifically, I missed Jewish magazines, and in some cases, blogs, that helped me realize that while the history and traditions of my people were special, those traditions weren’t what made me special, no matter what any Chabad rabbi wants to say. Jewish hipsters, Jewish coolness, or Jewish superiority are all terms that seem miles away from what I began searching for when I picked up the first issue of Heeb. Maybe I’m still in the wilderness, but at least I’m still searching, and using the same approach I took back when I first began trying to figure out “my place”.

I don’t know if Heeb magazine is dying. Josh Neuman, a friend and the publisher of Heeb, denies it, and until the time comes for the next issue to hit stands, I’m not going to bother playing the guessing game, nor will I join in the chorus of people putting in their two cents about what led to the “death watch”.

In terms of the Gawker piece, I will say that one comment in particular rubbed me the wrong way, from commenter The-Littlest-Hobo, saying “…Heeb always seemed like a pale imitation of the excellent zine Plotz.” Hobo is talking about the zine written by Barbara Rushkoff, which if memory serves me, lasted until right around the early days of Heeb. I read Plotz a few times, and it had a profound impact on me (also, her hubby Douglas has done the same a few times), but to say Heeb was a “pale imitation” seems wrong. Sure, Plotz might be the first zine that was unabashed about it’s Jewishness, but I remember around the same time I saw Plotz for the first time, I also heard of future Heeb founder Jennifer Bleyer’s zine, “Mazel Tov Cocktail”. While I can’t recall much of the content of Bleyer’s one-off project, I do remember the involvement of Bloodlink Records founder (and guy who seems to be up to a bunch of other things now), as well as something about 80’s hardcore stalwarts Murphy’s Law. My memory usually doesn’t betray me, and I remember a year or so ago, looking at a copy of the zine that a friend had held onto, and thinking “this is the obvious blueprint for Heeb.”

Post-Plotz, Mazel Tov Cocktail, and Heeb, there have been others of note. Around the time Bleyer handed control of Heeb over to Neuman (an essay Ms. Bleyer wrote as to why she did this can be found here), “T/F” emerged. While this magazine didn’t fly any Jewish flags per se, it did have two incredibly interesting articles with heavy Jewish slants. The first one written by Brian Lipson about a rabbi affiliated with the anti-Israeli hasidic group, Neturei Karta, and another interview with a rabbi titled, “Punk Rock and the French New Right”. Whatever happened to this zine past the first issue, I’m not sure, but the one I own, I cherish. (Also of note in issue #1, is the artwork by Jeffrey Lewis).

Other dispatches? I earlier made mention of Barbara’s husband Douglas. His book Nothing Sacred was a source of inspiration for me at a critical time in my “Jewish self-discovery”; and for a period, the blog Jewschool.com was an extremely useful tool (although I admit I haven’t read it since founder Daniel “Mobius” Sieradski left), and then there is the always-dependable Aaron Cometbus. While not usually thought of as one of the “great Jewish writers” of the last 50 or so years (CRIME!), to paraphrase something he once said, “Jews and punk rockers are both extremely nostalgic”, and it’s my background in both of those things that make me yearn for the days of DIY Judaism.

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The Coen Brothers and the Return of the Middle-Aged Jewish Man

By Jason Diamond

Using names like Woody Allen, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and Leonard Michaels, a case could be made that there is an entire genre focusing solely on the neurosis of middle-aged Jewish men. John Updike must have thought so, take his character Henry Bech for proof. But while Bellow, Michaels, and the WASP king Updike are all dead, Roth is still good (a bit depressing maybe, but in a good way) and Allen is more content on using hot Spaniards as inspiration. The closest Woody has come to chasing his Hebrew muse in the last fifteen years was in his somewhat disappointing latest film, Whatever Works, starring Larry David, who oddly enough has become some twisted, misanthropic Atlas, complaining about his back problems and holding up the world of the 40-55 year old sect of the tribe.

But, hey! The Coen brothers are both in the first half of their 50’s, and while they have had a few Jewish characters (The Shmata in Millers Crossing, Walter Sobchak in Lebowski), they haven’t really made their ‘Jewish film’ yet. Of course that will all change with the release of A Serious Man, a film that doesn’t take place in the East Coast haunts of Arthur Miller, Allen, or Roth, but in the Minnesota neighborhood of St. Louis Park that Joel and Ethan Coen grew up in. From this preview we see an existential dilema, suburban sprawl, and a rabbi that just doesn’t have time to hear your problem. Couple this with the fact that the brothers are working on an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and we might be in the midst of a mini-renaissance here.


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Jews For Jesus Tackle Existentialisim; fail.

Is it supposed to be some sort of sign that upon reaching the top of the steps of the Union Square station that I find a pamphlet titled “Existential Crisis”? (Do you like the Mac Photobooth mirror photo above? It somehow represents my inner-existential debate.) I’m going with no, but I must say, the picture of the little bug saying “oy vey that is supposed to be Kafka’s Metamorphosis main character, Gregor Samsa, made me somewhat uncomfortable. I feel like Joseph Goebbels would have been proud of the Jew/bug connection.

I sort of got to thinking that the Jews for Jeebus people sort of missed the boat on mentioning a more current Yid who has made a career expounding on his discomfort due to the absurdities of everyday life. But after some minor searching, I found that the most ass-backwards religious outreach organization around has actually dedicated a nearly 4,000 word essay on Woody Allen’s questions about God and religion titled, “God and Carpeting: The Theology of Woody Allen.” Sadly, nothing on Philip Roth, Noam Chomsky, or Madonna could be found — I’m led to believe that in the J4J peoples eyes, Woody and Franz are the most well-respected 20th-21st century Jewish thinker among Jewish Jesus freaks.

I’m hoping we are not far away from pamphlets talking about the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode called “The Baptism” or one based off of Nietzsche’s Übermensch possibly called ‘the ultimate Übermensch’.

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