It Gets Better, Jew.0 (have to share, and keep sharing).

The It Gets Better Project, a series of videos by famous and non-famous people coming out on being hopeful for LGBT teens, has been catching attention around the social media corners I hang out in.

But I wonder if, aside from the teens who need the support, the misguided/hateful/ignorant people at the core of the problem are watching the videos?

Well, either way, visual expression of the optimism that it gets better – by those who have been there – is definitely crucial.

The following is an ‘it gets better’ video done by a group of gay Orthodox Jewish guys. I have to admit a couple of their faces and names are extremely familiar from my New York life. But the Jewish world is so small and connected that even if you don’t know them, chances are you know someone who they remind you of.

I can’t imagine the kind of strength and courage it took for them to do this. I think we owe it to their courage to watch the video and pass it along – to the ones we know who need it, and to the ones we know who aren’t understanding or accepting it, but hopefully one day will.

Genetic testing, Jewish style.

I have no idea how genetic testing works outside the Jew-on-Jew baby-making bubble, but for us in the family it’s a fascinating tour through Jewish history.

We went today to get checked out, just in case. I’m a mutt from one Turkish/Bulgarian parent and one Eastern European chulent mix parent. This automatically helps decrease the chance of conceiving a child with the typical Eastern European all-in-the-family diseases, but you never know. My husband is a hybrid of Romanian/Austrian and Polish genes.

Now, what do all those details matter, right? If you’ve thought like me your whole life, you’re thinking, Ashkenazi or Sephardi? Spit it out. But actually, they really ask about the specific countries your parents and grandparents are from. After the nurse gets all the details, she enters them into this giant chart; your genes go in the grid and then your partner’s genes go into the grid accordingly. Then she matches them up and checks out what the chances are as well as which of the many tests you should take.

So a rough sketch of this chart looks something like this:

I couldn’t believe it. I thought this was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It’s like a map of Jewish exile and diaspora throughout the ages.

We were handed a printed form of about six tests to take and thankfully, we passed through all of them without any high risks. I guess in humans, mutts are valuable to have around. Unless you’re Hitler, of course.

Ma nishtana ha Pessach ha ze?

What makes this Passover different from all other Passovers? It’s the first one where I’m making my own seder while combining the traditions I grew up experiencing with someone else and his own traditions.

I feel like this is the type of thing we all think about and wonder as kids (ok maybe just those of us who grew up with the Orthodox upbringing): when we get married, what traditions will our husbands have? Will we stand united, stay separate but equal or be dissolved into one another?

My husband and I have a fun mix of Ashekenazi and Spehardi between us; it’s cause for all kinds of different foods and we like to be multicultural about it. Now that it’s Pessach, we’re learning new customs, foods and Ma Nishtana languages from each other.

For example, one of the staples of the seder is the haroset; the ugly but yummy dip we use to remember the bricks our forefathers built in Egypt. Ashkenazi haroset is usually constructed from apples, walnuts, sugar, honey, cinnamon, sweet red wine. Sephardi charoset is more focused on dates, raisins, apples, and some kind of nut. That is why we will have two different charosets at our seder table this year.

haroset

Can you guess which is which?

I have never been a fan of Ashkenazi charoset. It’s kind of awkward to me and looks like chopped liver, another Ashkenazi food I try to avoid. In my house growing up, we all fought over the amazing, sweet pasty charoset my Sephardi grandmother prepared for us. Every year the amount she made grew, and every year, it seemed more like there was not enough.

Well, I replicated it this year and I can proudly say that my Polish husband fell in love with it instantly… although, to be fair, he has decided to have his mum’s version at the seder because it wouldn’t be the same for him without it.

Pessach is definitely my favorite food holiday and it’s probably in the number one spot for all-time favorite holiday. I feel honored to be cooking the dishes my grandmother spent years serving us, carrying on traditions… and even picking up new ones.

What Jewish TV taught me tonight.


Tonight was the first taping of Tuesday Night Live, “the first Israel-based Jewish TV show broadcast around the globe.” I suppose I was curious about what all that meant (being aware that it is run by Ohr Olam and produced by Arutz Sheva).

When we arrived and I got a pamphlet, it became clearer what this project was all about:

With the world focusing on the situation in the Middle East, Israel is defined by terror, corruption and despair… The purpose of TNL is to reveal the joyful heart of a nation which has triumphed against all odds. As Jews living out our destiny in our Homeland, it is finally within our power to harness the spiritual light that emanates from Jerusalem, and with it, illuminate the world.

 

This first episode was an enthusiastic introduction to the show and the goals of its hosts (as mentioned above), Ari Abramowitz and Jeremy Gimpel.

The audience was composed of many members of the Nefesh b’Nefesh crowd; new olim from the last five years or so, bursting with what a lot would call religious/spiritual/hippie Zionist enthusiasm. A few people were asked to share why they came to Israel and all very energetically and lovingly spoke in the name of religious, Zionistic aliyah.

I’m very proud of what Ari (who I know on somewhat of a personal level) is doing as far as taking something he truly believes in and empowering himself to spread his message. I find him to be a very modest but inspiring person, and it radiates along with his message, throughout this specific angle of the Jewish community.

While watching the audience get involved, I wondered what I myself could contribute to this televised conversation if I spoke up. The answer I came up with in my fantasy goes something like this:

I agree that as a historic, ethnic and religious family, we Jews must stick together and constantly rebuild and reinvent ourselves. I believe all Jews, on some level, do believe in this concept and wish it to come to fruition. I think Israel plays an important role in that, as does our Torah and our collective story.

But I think that it is not just about being good, God-loving or fearing Jews that will help us get along in the world; for we are not alone, and never have been, and never will be. We need to remember to be human. We must keep the connection with other humans alive. There is a lot more to this world than our specific Jewish existence – why, there are many Jewish experiences, for starters.

I can’t help but come at this from the point of view of my studies. I think the role of a Jewish mediator might be this: to always keep in mind what dispersed us in the beginning, sina’at chinam (hatred for our fellow man). The role of a Jewish mediator might be to remind ourselves constantly that we are not alone and we must always strive to live peacefully with the other Jews and the other nations around us.

There is an idea that when giving charity, you first give your family and then your community and then you spread out through the circles in life. Should it not be this way too, with creating and maintaining coexistence?

The job isn’t done until most people here in Israel can understand this and live it. The audience there tonight was very excited about sacrificing what the rest of the world offers and building Jewish lives in Israel, but no one mentioned the possibility aliyah grants of living with all kinds of Jews from different places and backgrounds – peacefully, in one state, the way it used to be two thousand years ago.

I guess that is what I would have said: By living here, I get the chance to live amongst people who my peers abroad call their brothers but who they don’t really ever get to know. I get to sit next to these brothers on the bus, walk near them on the streets. I get to look deeper inside them, past their payot, and past their light or dark skin; listen to them through their accented Hebrew. I’m here, existing in a place, with the opportunity to make true the idea that peaceful coexistence between brothers – and beyond brothers – can exist.

And when all of us olim – whether we arrived here in 1930′s Palestine or came in the last five years off a Nefesh flight – can recognize that point – I really think the world will truly be illuminated by the Jewish existence.

So, Ari and Jeremy, I do hope this point gets raised at some point – and then over and over – on your show, and I wish you the best of luck in driving it home – to all Jews, and even beyond.

Hey everybody, look! Funny Arabs!

Tonight we went to Off the Wall comedy club (apparently the only comedy club in Jerusalem) for their open mic, where my new favorite Arab-American comedians were performing. Unlike a Mideast peace conference, this was not disappointing! (budump-bump?)

Ray Hanania (Palestinian-American) and Sherif Hedayat (Egyptian-American) have been running around Israel – along with a few other comedians, including Jewish and Israeli – performing their Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour for different audiences. They do it to help open minds and break negative stereotype (by reinforcing the funny stereotypes?). I don’t know what these guys have an educational background in but let’s rejoice they didn’t get stuck at some online universities studying to earn online engineering degrees or college diplomas.

Actually, I find it a huge relief to sit in a room and laugh at Arabs and Israelis making fun of ourselves. I think humor is extremely important in high-tension situations, and why the hell not take a break from the pain once in a while?

I’ve uploaded a bunch of clips of their stuff; sit back, relax and take a joke for peace’ sake:

What am I?

Jewish Arab Wedding

Jewish son

Occupied

Magic carpet

Flying Sherif

My name is Sherif

Terrorist with ADD

Dating after 9/11

At the airport

Iraqis and MySpace

Arabic pick up lines


Download – and learn – Jewish prayers.

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve (really) prayed, I haven’t forgotten the power of prayer or what it can do for a person – believer or not.

This site got me all nostalgic, warm and fuzzy: Siddur Audio. I can’t believe someone was cool enough to post audio recordings of davening along with visuals including נקודות (vowels). Actually, that someone seems to have been Rabbi Mark Zimmerman, who did it because:

“Unfamiliarity with the Hebrew liturgy is an obstacle which keeps many from experiencing the joy and ruach of participating fully in their synagogue services. This website’s aim is to help people acquire the skills to overcome that hurdle.”

Way to go, man. That’s a great use of the internet, tape recorders and… well, rabbis.