Jew By Voice

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

Grow Your Own

04/01/2014
Special To The Jewish Week

You know the biblical saying, “There is no prophet in his own town?” It means that people never listen to experts in their own area. Sometimes it refers to geography, sometimes to philosophy. People don’t trust local experts because we know them already. Answers lie elsewhere. Outsiders can get an aerial view of a situation — the balcony perspective — because they are not dragged down by local politics or the invisible limitations that organizations and individuals put on themselves. There is wisdom in this view, of course, but our use of outside experts can also be an excuse for not doing enough to utilize the people around us.

Erica Brown

Aging In Denial

03/04/2014
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video: 
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I went to the bakery to place an order for my bubbe’s birthday cake. The baker scribbled the date on his pad, “Whadya want on the cake?” “Something simple would be fine, like ‘Happy 100th Birthday.’” He looked up to see if I was serious. “We’ll make her something really nice.”

Erica Brown

The Art Of Sacred Writing

02/04/2014
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video: 
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Editor’s Note: A version of this essay appeared in The Jewish Week Gala Journal in December.

Rabbi Judah, a Talmud scholar and scribe was once asked by Rabbi Yishmael to name his profession. Rabbi Judah told him that he was a scribe. Rabbi Yishmael responded: “Son, be careful in your work for it is the work of Heaven. If you omit a single letter or add a letter, you destroy the whole world.”

Erica Brown

Mensch Up

Pay for services the day they are rendered, as it says in the Bible, urges columnist Erica Brown.

12/31/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video: 
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A few weeks ago, my housekeeper forgot to take her check on the kitchen counter. I called her frantically; perhaps she thought we forgot to pay her. She simply forgot. It was her problem. No, I said, it was our problem. “Justine, it says in the Bible that you have to pay someone on the day.”

Erica Brown

News About Jews In 2013

12/03/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video: 
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Mid-point in 5774, we are about to close 2013, so it’s a great time to look back on major and not-so major Jewish events and notables of the year past. Take a deep breath and sigh, and we will begin with Israeli elections in January of 2013. Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu surfaced as the largest coalition, and we welcomed some new faces to the 19th Knesset.

Erica Brown

We Need Jewish Micro-Giving

10/29/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video: 
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Today’s airline industry has suspended reality as we know it. Some months ago, I was told that my wooden garden ornament was a weapon when it was actually a large wooden tulip with a stem. TSA would not let me through. I have to speak to the NRA about this.

Erica Brown

The Holiday Sprawl

10/02/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video: 
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In day school they tell you that the Hebrew month after the jam-packed fall holidays is called Mar-Heshvan; the pre-fix “mar” here means “sad.” We are sad that we have run out of holidays and have a blank month ahead. I feel terrible admitting this, but I feel a bit relieved and, of course — because being Jewish — I feel a bit guilty for feeling relieved.
We all love holidays, but the condensed way that the season barrels into the first weeks of school and work schedules, knocks us over every time. Out-of-office e-mails, the huge outlay of money and the tedium that can accompany meal after meal, service after service, cleanup after cleanup can be daunting. People at the office think Shmini Atzeret must be made up. How many holidays can one religion possibly have in a month?

Erica Brown

The Holiday Sprawl

10/01/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video: 
0

In day school they tell you that the Hebrew month after the jam-packed fall holidays is called Mar-Heshvan; the pre-fix “mar” here means “sad.” We are sad that we have run out of holidays and have a blank month ahead. I feel terrible admitting this, but I feel a bit relieved and, of course — because being Jewish — I feel a bit guilty for feeling relieved.
We all love holidays, but the condensed way that the season barrels into the first weeks of school and work schedules, knocks us over every time. Out-of-office e-mails, the huge outlay of money and the tedium that can accompany meal after meal, service after service, cleanup after cleanup can be daunting. People at the office think Shmini Atzeret must be made up. How many holidays can one religion possibly have in a month?

Erica Brown

An Open Letter To Frank Bruni

07/30/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video: 
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Dear Mr. Bruni,

I hope this finds you well. Thank you for your memoir, “Born Round: A Story of Food, Family and a Ferocious Appetite.” I was not born round but have been successfully making my way to that shape for years. I admire your honesty and your discipline in discussing your weight struggles. On the food and family front, Jews and Italians have a lot in common. You do pasta. We do challah. It’s all carbs.

Erica Brown

For Israel, The Writing On The Wall

07/02/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video: 
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On a recent trip to Israel I spotted some unusual graffiti: “Am Yisrael Chai,” written in royal blue Hebrew letters on a pillar holding up an overpass. The truth is that I have seen this graffiti many times before. In fact, a friend who saw this writing on a wall years earlier loved it. “What a country!,” she said. “Even the graffiti is meaningful!”

Erica Brown
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