There was once a talmudic student in Europe who was brilliant scholar, as well as a fervent believer. He practiced religious rules scrupulously, and was moved by a godly spirit too. But when he said that God may not have actually given the Torah to Moses at Mt. Sinai some 4,000 years ago, his colleagues were outraged. "Blasphemy!" they implored, and cast him out of their sight.
For the young, artistic, mostly Brooklyn-based set, JDub Records was a boon. Founded in 2001, it announced this week that it was shutting its doors because of money problems. It's a real loss to the Jewish community. To be sure, the closest JDub ever got to mainstream success was by being an early booster of Matisyahu, though if you live in New York, or L.A., Miami, or San Francisco, they've brought lesser-known (though I think much better) musicians to your town that most others probably never heard of.
Every time you watch the New York City Ballet, you are under the heal of George Balanchine, the company's founding choreographer and the 20th century's greatest dance-maker. Many people know how he got there: Lincoln Kirstein, the son of a wealthy Jewish businessman and the company's co-founder, brought him over from Europe. But what many don't know is that there was another heir to a Jewish fortune--Rene Blum--who tried to get him first.
New York magazine has a great chart comparing two adjacent New York City congressional districts in this week's issue. One is District 14, which includes all of the Upper East Side, parts of Murray Hill, Long Island City, Astoria, and a few other less affluent places too. The other is District 16, just north of the Upper East Side, and covers much of the South Bronx. The stats they line up are startling: the average income in District 14 is $79,385; in D-16 it's $23,073.
On Monday the Upper West Side outlet of the venerated bagel store H&H closed, and not since the death of Michael Jackson has a New York summer seen so much grief. "There Goes a Piece of the Old Neighborhood, Again" ran a New York Times headline in a story dripping with pathos.
I'll admit I did not know who Esther Broner was until she died on Monday. But I certainly knew what she is most famous for: the feminist haggadah. Though her professional life was devoted to academia--a professor of literature at Wayne State, Sarah Lawrence College and sometimes the University of Haifa--to say nothing of writing her many novels, Broner will be forever associated with feminist seders.
Last week, Yale made national headlines when it decided to close its five-year-old anti-Semitism institute. The decision came after a growing number of scholars began to question whether it was promoting anti-Arab sentiment, rather than coolly objective academic scholarship. Not to toot my own horn, by I saw this one coming.
Shavuot, which starts tonight, is all about learning. Jews are supposed to stay up all night reading in celebration of God giving Jews the Torah. What makes the holiday rare, though, isn't the reading part--what Jewish holiday doesn't involve that? It's that there's no bad guys in the story. Unlike Passover, we don't commemorate Jews escaping a pharaoh in Egypt, or, as in Hanukkah, a revolt against the Romans. No matzah, no latkes, just books and books and books.
The Fieldston School in Riverdale has many famous alumni. They include: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Roy Cohn, Stephen Sondheim, Eli Zabar and Diane Arbus. Needless to say they're all Jewish. But re-reading this New Yorker profile of the revered black poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron, I was reminded that the prestigious prep school has done much to reach out to less affluent non-Jews.