Jew By Voice

A monthly column on Jewish community dynamics by teacher and scholar Erica Brown.

Who By Fire?

11/29/2016 - 16:14
Special To The Jewish Week

Where is Leonard Cohen when we need his maudlin adaptation of our most famous Yom Kippur refrain: “Who by fire?” Little did we realize when we recited it in prayer this past Yom Kippur that it was not merely moving medieval prose but a signal to pay attention to all of the ways that danger will strike us in our beloved homeland this year.

Erica Brown

The Clichés Are Coming

11/01/2016 - 14:58
Special To The Jewish Week

Now that the holidays are over, the Jewish calendar will quickly turn to a slew of dinners and fundraising events. The events will be fabulous because fabulous — said in a perky voice with an over-emphasis on the first syllable — is the one-word Jewish evaluation that makes us all feel better about ourselves. The centerpieces are fabulous. The speaker is fabulous. The honorees are fabulous. The only thing that may not be fabulous is the food. And when it’s not fa-bulous, it’s awful, terrible or, my favorite criticism, totally inedible.

Erica Brown

The Life-Changing Art Of Giving

10/06/2016 - 12:59
Special To The Jewish Week

‘The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life,” writes Marie Kondo. This quote made me think of Kondo in this High Holiday season. On both days of Rosh HaShanah and on Yom Kippur, we recite a prayer declaring that three behaviors can change an evil decree: repentance, prayer and charity. Without getting into the theology of this statement, how many of us will engage in any of these arenas in a different way this year? A Japanese cleaning consultant pushed me into the discomfort zone.

Erica Brown

GoFundMe

08/03/2016 - 09:02
Special To The Jewish Week

Luddite that I am, I thought GoFundMe was just another request from my children for cash. It’s actually a website so that other peoples’ kids can ask for money, like funding for unusual projects, tuition, travel or rehab. People need funding to recover from serious house fires or for escalating medical costs. Crowd-sourcers bring attention to their causes and find someone else to pay for them. It’s brilliant. My own list is growing.

Erica Brown

‘Fiddler On The Roof And Zombies’

06/28/2016 - 12:56
Special To The Jewish Week

Zombies are everywhere lately, a virtual apocalypse in the wait. They’ve even infiltrated a Jane Austen novel. But why only “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?” We invented the golem. We should at least have “Fiddler and the Roof and Zombies.” There, standing on Tevye’s precarious roof, is a frightening man/monster who can’t wait to get his paw on a violin. The Pale of Settlement in 1905 is a perfect landscape. Mute to resistance and driven by supernatural forces of evil, these creatures will move across Europe, destroying everything, as Anatevka falls apart.

Erica Brown

It’s Not Just About The Menu

05/31/2016 - 11:32
Special To The Jewish Week

Some decades ago, as the American Jewish community was becoming more deeply entrenched in its denominational ruts, Dennis Prager wrote a provocative article, “Beyond Reform, Conservative and Orthodox: Aspiring to Be a Serious Jew.” In it he wrote that he cared little about denominational affiliation. What he cared about — what he felt was the question of the hour was — are you a serious Jew? Wherever you are on the spectrum of observance or intention, is there depth, meaning and purpose to your Jewish life? There are serious Jews who take Jewish law seriously. There are serious Jews who take Jewish culture seriously or prayer or Jewish history or the Hebrew language. Fill in the blank.

Erica Brown

Exclusion On The Menu

05/03/2016 - 12:17
Special To The Jewish Week

Dear Dinner Committee Member,

Thank you in advance for your time. I commend you on your commitment to (fill in the blank with name of your Jewish organization). Every volunteer in the Jewish community is a gift, and organizing a dinner is not an easy thing to do well for our people. The first course is too hot. The entrée underdone. The entertainment dull. We’re not easy to please. And here you are going out to nightly meetings to create a special evening for us. Let me be the first to thank you.

Erica Brown. Randy Sager

A Political Cautionary Tale

03/29/2016 - 13:37
Special To The Jewish Week

Once upon a time, in the year 2016, a miracle happened.

There was a man with golden hair and small hands who dominated the kingdom. One spring day, he decided he did not want to rule. Unsure he knew enough about foreign policy, he humbly consulted experts and decided he was unfit to be ruler of the land. He didn’t know how to solve immigration issues, and he finally confessed that he had not read more about the Iran deal than anyone else. He realized that he couldn’t change Obamacare, could not decide on one enduring hair color or bring Middle East players back to the negotiating table.

Erica Brown

Kiddush Talk

03/01/2016 - 17:10
Special To The Jewish Week

Make kiddush great again, some may bellow. As for me, I do my very best to avoid kiddush altogether. Nothing is less appealing than small talk with people who have egg salad in their teeth. I enjoy people but not in crowded social halls with outsized decibel levels. I’ve been criticized for hurting people’s feelings at kiddush because I didn’t see them. They were right. At a kiddush, I can’t hear. I can’t see.

Erica Brown

No Comment

02/02/2016 - 11:36
Special To The Jewish Week

Rashi’s wife came home one day from the market. Rashi, the 11th-century scholar from southern France, asked her why she had chosen to wear a particular dress and told her what he did not like about her outfit. She was offended: “Rashi, do you always have to comment?”

Erica Brown
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