If you live in New York City, or if you’ve ever paid a visit to the fair metro during a Jewish holiday, there’s a good chance you’ve witnessed this fairly common practice: an Orthodox Jewish man, or perhaps two or three, dressed in traditional garb, stands on a street corner, asking select passersby if they’re Jewish. More often than not, they are — New York, for whatever reason, attracts a high concentration of Jews all over the spectrum, from the unobserving reform to the extremely religious Hasidic.
Having lived, worked, and otherwise existed in Manhattan and Brooklyn for the past few years means I have been called on my heritage by these guys (“mitzvah campaigners,” to be proper) many, many times. I’m never surprised, because although I’m only half Jewish, my dad’s Russian genes are hella dominant — I have thick, dark hair, dark almond-shaped eyes, fair but not freckled skin, and a prominent nose. Y’all have seen me. These features, in conjunction, add up to what any Orthodox Jew on the corner of Bedford Avenue would call a safe bet to shake the lulav during Sukkot. (Sorry guys, I’m in a rush.) But I’ve seen them also make some pretty damn good calls on Jews that, well, don’t look as obviously Ashkenazi as I do. Keep reading »
Oh, good, just what Judaism needs: more fetishism and bizarre cultural misappropriations! Because that whole Holocaust thing wasn’t enough persecution. No, we need more. More, I say! And it must involve Jennifer Love Hewitt. I’m going to tell you the truth; I haven’t deigned to watch the trailer for “Jewtopia”. I’m just going to put it here and let you guys tell me what you think before I even consider it. Quoth Jezebel, “Ivan Sergei plays Christian O’Connell, a man who wants to marry a Jewish girl ‘because I never want to make another decision for as long as I live.’” My great-grandpa Abraham is rolling in his grave. Let me tell you, we did not leave Russia for this shit.
If you go to to the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, you might see men singing loudly and dancing in circles. What you might not notice right away are the women, who are quietly murmuring and praying. The men’s side looks way more fun – plenty of my male friends have stories about that time they hung out at the wall with a Jewish celebrity. My boyfriend danced the hora there with Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. The total disparity in the fun department isn’t a personal preference – it’s actually Israeli law.
But a group of brave female activists, The Women of the Wall, are working to change that. Keep reading »
In Brooklyn, a 17-year-old girl just testified against the man accused of sexually assaulting her. On the surface, this case is sadly too familiar: she and her accused rapist are both members of a strict right wing sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, known as the Satmar Hasidim.
Extreme groups exist in every religion, and Judaism is no exception. However, the Satmar Hasidim are a fringe group within a fringe group. Though they are ultra-Orthodox Jews (meaning that they keep kosher, observe the Sabbath, and follow all the other rules), they differ from other super-religious Jews in that they don’t support the nation of Israel. Like other ultra-Orthodox Jews (this isn’t really a thing in the more liberal branches of Judaism), they keep strict gender segregation, sending boys and girls to different schools that teach different subjects and keeping men and women separated in synagogue. But the rape case currently happening in Brooklyn could blow the roof of the place. Keep reading »
I went to Hebrew school for three years, and every single second of it was unequivocally lame. I was, of course, really terribly behaved, because that’s the family legacy. (My dad was ejected from the same establishment for riding a bike through the halls 30+ years earlier.) But maybe if I had Rabbi Yael Buechler as a teacher, I would have retained more from the experience than the Shabbat Candle Lighting prayer and a latent love of coconut macaroons. The 26-year-old Jewish day school teacher captured media attention last year for her unorthodox religious teaching methods. Read: manicures. Buechler started the Midrash Manicures (referring to “the deep textual interpretation of the Bible, with every word examined for meaning”) club at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, where she teaches sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls how to paint their nails in designs inspired by weekly Torah portions. Keep reading »
I’m not the most devout Jew. Obviously, if I were, I’d be sitting in temple right now listening to the rabbi blow a shofar until I was half-deaf. But instead, I’m here reflecting on what I’ll need to ask forgiveness for. I figure, at least attempting to self-reflect, whether I do it in a house of worship or not, is enough to keep me cool with God. Or at least to keep me cool with myself, which I personally find more important.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is a supposed to be a day of judgement, where you stand before God and yourself and allow an honest assessment of how you’ve behaved in the previous year to take place. From now until Yom Kippur (which falls about 10 days after Rosh Hashanah), all Jews are meant to engage in a process of repentance for the sins of the previous year. That’s just a little light Judaism lesson for you. My thought is that you don’t need to be Jewish, or a religious Jew, or believe in the concept of sin (I don’t), to take some time to reflect on your year. After the jump, what I’m atoning for. Keep reading »
Living in New York City means getting used to street harassment. In the past few years, my name has been Baby, Sexy, Bitch, and Hey You, Why Don’t You Smile? I’ve learned when to give the finger and when to hide. My friend Jen Dziura, a life coaching columnist, advises women that the best way to counter street harassment is to walk calmly up to the whistler or catcaller in question and politely let him know that he needs to learn how to speak to women in a respectful way.
It’s because of her that I finally said something to the Hasidic men who harass me in my neighborhood. Keep reading »
In my mid-twenties, I came out as a lesbian. But the hardest part wasn’t even coming out: it was realizing my wedding would be different and therefore I was different. It took me a few years to come to terms with the fact that my wedding wouldn’t have a groom or any of the other stuff that goes along with heterosexual weddings.
A few months ago, my girlfriend of three years proposed. A couple of weeks after we got engaged, Chriss told me she was thinking about converting to Judaism. So as we started planning our wedding, we began attending synagogue together and Chriss enrolled in an Introduction to Judaism class. When we became full-fledged members of our synagogue and reserved the chapel for our wedding it dawned on me: I have no idea what a lesbian Jewish wedding would look like. Keep reading »
Dating is hard enough. But what about dating when you’ve recently left an insular religious community that pretty much forbade interaction with the opposite sex?
Such is the problem faced by ex-Orthodox Jews who are “Off the Derech” (derech is Hebrew for path), or OTD, and assimilating into secular society. Hasidic communities separate boys and girls while young; girls often marry around 18 or 19, while boys tie the knot in their early 20s, having children shortly after. Touching members of the opposite sex to whom you are not related is forbidden and interaction is generally discouraged. Is it any wonder ex-Orthodox Jews are utterly bamboozled when it comes to l’amour?
That’s where dating coach Israel Irenstein comes in. Keep reading »