Culture View

04/21/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

Although I have a beard, mustache and a Semitic cast to my face, only twice in my life have I been mistaken for a terrorist. The first time was on an Alitalia flight from JFK to Milan when I was 13, my very secular parents having decided that we would take a family vacation to Europe in lieu of a bar mitzvah. As we settled into our seats, a representative for the airline rushed onto the plane and approached my father. “Mr. Meerwin, your luggage is teeking,” he blurted out. My face fell; I had bought an alarm called a “panic button,” which you could hang on the back of your hotel door and it would go off if someone tried to open the door in the middle of the night. The man took us to a hangar filled with baggage, and, indeed, it was my suitcase that was, if not ticking, then certainly ringing with loud whoops. I disarmed the device, and we were on our way.

02/24/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

When I was first invited, along with 30 other Hillel directors (mostly from North America, but also from Germany, Russia and Israel) to travel around Israel this winter, I assumed that the trip’s purpose was to help us to deal with the mushrooming BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, and to empower us to advocate on campus for the Jewish state. But because many of my colleagues on the trip had visited Israel dozens of times, largely through staffing Birthright trips, the idea behind the trip was broader; it was to expose us to elements of Israeli society that we had not encountered before. Thus, the bulk of our time was spent learning not as much about Israeli politics as about Israeli culture. Yet by the end of the trip, I was to discover that Israeli politics and culture are so interwoven as to be almost impossible to separate.

01/20/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

The timing was pretty good, as the Sony hacking scandal continued to be front-page news; Britain and the U.S. had just announced new cyber war games; and The New York Times had just profiled a new website offering “hackers for hire,” available for everything from breaking into your ex-boyfriend’s Facebook page to changing the rent on your apartment’s website.

01/06/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

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12/23/2014 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

By the time young Jews from my hometown of Harrisburg, Pa., marry and have children, most have already relocated to larger urban areas and joined other Jewish communities. So it was with particular pride and pleasure that I recently attended the bris of the son of one of my former students who grew up in my neighborhood and has now settled just a few houses away from me. Representatives of all the local synagogues were there, the buffet tables groaned with food, and the mood was joyful and uplifting. There was only one thing missing; the mohel, who was imported from Baltimore for the occasion, missed almost every opportunity for humor.

11/25/2014 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

Richard Dawkins, world-class scientist and staunch atheist, is surrounded by admirers and skeptics at the home of Andres Roemer, the Mexican consul general in San Francisco. They are assembled to learn more about the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, which supports science education as an antidote to religious fundamentalism, broadly defined. Roemer, a Jewish atheist representing a mostly Catholic country, had invited Dawkins into conversation as part of his lifelong quest for truth in public discourse.