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Shavuot and American Jewish Girl

May 29th, 2009 (04:39 pm)

Hope that everyone had a nice chag. Since the traditional aspect of Shavuot is to couple Moses presenting the Ten Commandments with an all-nighter of Torah study, I’m bridging the link between this holiday and the advent, on May 31, of American Girl’s latest historical doll/book collection… Jewish-American Rebecca Rubin. Check out her pix at Doll Diaries!

Rebecca Rubin (still not featured on the homepage) is a Russian immigrant escaping the pogroms with her parents, siblings and “Bubbie” in 1914 New York City. Her six novellas, standard of any AG doll, are penned by young fiction author Jacqueline Dembar Greene, and they touch on the issues, which many of our ancestors faced in assimilating to a new country at the turn of the century.

Therefore, I’ve been a little put off by the Jewish blogosphere’s snarky or dismissive takes on this new toy to be marketed to young girls. Even Rabbi Brad, perhaps staying true to his pluralistic attitude, is hesitant to embrace Rebecca as “the prototype Jew” of American Girl.

Though I respect Rabbi Brad’s legitimate point about the Yiddishe Jew on the Lower East Side being only one portion of our diverse and complex American history, it is arguably one of the bigger slices of the pie. American Girl is not a Jewish-themed company, and therefore must focus more broadly on all ethnic/cultural groups.

For more of a complex, Jewish angle, parents should perhaps consider Gali Girls, but their cultural offerings, though diverse, seem limited right now. (Maybe a little less focus on contemporary “modesty” dolls and a little more on creating books and accessories about Jewish communities? /editorial)

My big beef is with people who sneer at American Girl dolls as nothing more than expensive toys with a shallow, educational mission. The truth of the matter is, it depends on how much effort you put into it.

Several years ago, my parents got me a Molly McIntire doll and she helped facilitate a relationship with my grandmother about what it was like growing up during World War II. I was also an avid reader of all of the books—and I question some claims about the historical accuracy when, in Rebecca’s case, for example, researchers consulted with the American Jewish Historical Society and the Yeshiva University Museum, according to the New York Times. Undoubtedly, they won’t be perfect, but they should be pretty damn close.

My one complaint to American Girl is that apparently, in making way for Rebecca, they are discontinuing another great offering (and my sister’s doll) from that period—Samantha Parkington. I’m not quite sure what caused this move, but I hope they reconsider. In fact, I remember Samantha being the most popular doll when I was growing up (though arguably, they’ve added a lot of dolls since then. :P) Either way, it would be a shame to lose her—though, thankfully, her books will continue to be sold.

Writing about my Italian Catholic grandmother for InterfaithFamily.com!

April 28th, 2009 (11:23 pm)

Sure, it has nothing to do with Yom Ha’azkikaron/Yom Ha’atzmaut but here’s my small contribution to Jewish living.

My Italian Catholic Grandmother and my Jewish Upbringing

When I was growing up in Baltimore County, my mother often complained that when she told other Jews she was in an interfaith relationship, they would always assume she was the non-Jewish partner. It makes sense, I suppose, as she had kept her maiden name (Weinstein) and studies indicate that Jewish men marry non-Jews more often than do Jewish women.

It's funny, then, that I've often felt that my father had a more stereotypically "Jewish" upbringing than my mother. My mother hails from the Midwest, born of a small to medium-sized family that is largely out of touch with its "old country" roots. My father, on the other hand, was born in the Bronx to immigrants. His mother worked in the garment district while my mother's mother worked at a mall. He grew up near Jewish children--similar to how my mother grew up near Christian children--but Daddy's strong, ethnic background, his "Italian roots," made him a bit of "the other" in America in the same way that his Jewish neighbors were.

Read the rest here.

Like what you see? Maybe you should think about submitting it to Kavod, JTA’s latest, digg-like social networking tool! They may’ve had scuffles with “non-traditional media persons” in the past, but it seems they’re embracing the trend.

Yom Ha’Shoah: Sad Coincides

April 21st, 2009 (10:11 pm)

Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, always falls on the 27th of Nissan, the week after Passover. In the secular calendar, unfortunately, that falls in line this year with some more unsavory dates. The big (ironic) one being the 120th anniversary of Hitler’s birth. I suppose this can be taken either as a blessing or a curse—is Hitler’s birthday encroaching on our survival, or is Jewish survival encroaching on Hitler’s legacy? Logically speaking, the latter is true. Of course, Yom Ha’Shoah is not only for the survivors.

The second unsettling event is the start of the U.N.-sponsored “Durban II” conference in Geneva—boycotted by Israel, the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland—which is largely believed to mirror its predecessor—an anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, which largely turned into an antisemitic hate-fest. These fears were confirmed Monday night when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the stand to attack Jews and the Jewish state. Several delegates from European countries walked out to Arab applause, according to JTA.

It’s easy at times like this to wonder if antisemitism will ever die. Why so many hate-filled events seem to congeal on one point in time. But we can take comfort in some significant things—surviving well past Hitler, having friends who will boycott or protest conferences about racism, which are ironically turned sideways to fuel hate rather than prevent it.

Elsewhere in the world, tolerance and education find new venues. A new Holocaust museum was just opened in Illinois…and, far more surprisingly, in a Palestinian village.

May we never forget.

Passover: Web 2.0

April 8th, 2009 (11:54 pm)

Passover is a pivotal holiday of the Jewish people—perhaps the most pivotal, seeing as High Holidays are more about personal reflection. Passover tells the story of how Moses led us out of slavery in Egypt, and how Gd gave us the 613 10 Commandments. Passover signifies when we ceased to be a rabble of directionless, downtrodden folk, and we started to become Jews.

So perhaps it is only fitting that the Haggaddah, the book, which tells us what to do for the widely-celebrated Passover seder, has made its way to Facebook. (Kinda. :P) In this time of growing presence online, perhaps this “version of the story” can reach new people, and therefore, new significance. Or perhaps it’s just plain good fun, down to the promise that next year, we’ll be in Twitter. At least we know that people in Jerusalem have Twitter accounts.

If you want to make more of a substantive “viral difference” for Jews in Jerusalem, check out Jewlicious’s “Save Passover.” Your donation can help bring matzah and other holiday foods to families in need in the Holy Land.

Chag Sameach Pesach, everyone.

The Modern-Day Purim Spiel

March 10th, 2009 (12:25 am)

Chag Sameach Purim! Hope you all have been enjoying a night filled with crazy costumes, yummy hamentaschen, and sudden grogger movements whenever a certain villain’s name is mentioned. Haman. BOOOOO!! *shakes wildly*

Purim, as I see it, is sort of the precursor to modern-day over-the-top Jewish humor. :P The spiel (re-telling of the Book of Esther) takes the story off of the megillah scroll and into contemporary satire. I don’t know about you, but I was laughing hard as my shul brought up Hilary and Sarah at Ahashverosh’s “beauty pageant,” Mordecai fumbling over his “inauguration speech” as he ascends to Persia’s elite, and nagging, Jewish mothers used as the ultimate torture device on Persian prisoners.

In the American Jewish haven called New York stands a non-synagogue organization, which also puts on Purim spiels--the 92 St. Y Tribeca (in association with Hazon) Obviously one of many, but this one’s earned more rebound fame by putting “previews” of the spiels online. Check them out—this year’s spoof of “Mad Men,” 2008’s spoof of “Juno,” 2007’s spoof on danger shows, and 2006’s take on “Girls Gone Wild.” (…actually, have little to do with Purim itself, but are funny nonetheless!)

Also, check out this JBooks.com essay by Daily Show/Purim Spiel writer, Rob Kunter! Keep doin what you’re doin, man. :D

Global Humanitarian Crisis: Former Soviet Union

March 1st, 2009 (11:37 pm)

Fourth in a series on worldly conflicts. Please click the links for more information.


Location: Large land mass linking Europe and Asia

Groups Involved: The various ethnic groups of the region, largely practicing Christianity and Islam (but other religions as well, including Judaism.)

Cause: Nationalist movement: The disbanding of the Socialist Soviet Union led to the ethnic groups of the region wanting to reunite and claim territory together.

Conflict: As the Soviet Union began to collapse, the groups formerly under its reign had to find out how to re-govern themselves. Communists who pushed loyalty only to the USSR had been put in charge of every group by Stalin, and the first instance of ethnic violence broke out when Mikhail Gorbachev, ethnically Russian replaced the first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. 10,000 Soviet troops were sent to deal with the rioters.

From there, more conflicts followed starting in the 1980s, including
the Aremian-Azero conflict over Nagorno/Karabach and the Uzbek/Mesketian conflict over Feranga Valley.

Beyond ethnicity, there were social and economic disparities between the groups, and nationalist movements started up to deal with the upheaval (large moves towards democratization). These territorial disputes remain big issues today, perhaps most recently in famous world news, between Russia and Georgia.

Many of these territorial/nationalist issues are so far limited to declarations and etc., but others have evolved to warfare, including between Georgia and Osseteia, Georgia and Abkhazia, Ossetia and Ingush, and Moldova and Pridnestrovie. Russia’s two wars with Chechnya led to galls of genocide due to persecution of the Chechnens.

For more information: The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation provides guidance and funds for countries of the former USSR to engage in peaceful policy making.

Check out others in series: The Congo, Kashmir, Darfur

This concludes the Global Humanitarian Crisis Series. Thanks for reading.

In Honor of Oscars Night (Take Two): “Waltz With Bashir”

February 21st, 2009 (11:26 pm)

See last year’s here.

Well, it’s that time of year again, folks! The time when people like me have to get off our high horses, and admit that we have a thing for The Academy Awards, heh.

And following in the footsteps of last year’s Beaufort is Israeli film, Waltz With Bashir, an animated number about a soldier’s memories from the 1982 Lebanon War. It already raked up at the Golden Globes… let’s hope the trend continues! :D Tune in tomorrow night at 8 p.m. EST.

Official Website: Here

JTA Review: Here

Trailer: Below

Global Humanitarian Crises: The Congo

February 15th, 2009 (11:42 pm)

Third in a series on worldly conflicts. Please click the links for more information.


Location: Central African nation

Groups involved: Kinsasha-aligned forces (Congolese national army, anti-foreigner, militant “Mai-Mai” groups, Rwandan Hutus, allied nations, eg Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Sudan and Nambia.) Rwandan Patriotic Front (governments of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, militia groups of ethnic Tutsis, the Rally for Congolese Democracy and Movement for the Liberation of the Congo.)

Cause: Fear of invasion by groups associated with the Republican Rally of Democracy, Rwnada’s largely Tutsi government gave arms to ethnic militant groups, which then began to advance down the Congo river. This ultimately began the first Congo War in 1996; the second began in 1998, after Congolese President Laurent-Désiré Kabila expelled his Rwandan military counsel. Tensions rose again between ethnic groups.

Conflict: Due to the size, length, and carnage of the war, Congo’s situation is known as the deadliest world conflict since WWII. (Reuters goes on to explain that war, disease, and malnutrition are killing roughly 45,000 every month with a total (as of a year ago) of 5.4 million.)

The war ended in 2003 when the transitional government of the Congo came into power as per an international agreement. However, ethnic conflicts still exist, largely exacerbated by militant groups, especially to the east, including the Kivu conflict, the Ituri conflict,and the Katanga conflict.

Beyond the usual warfare of looting and killing, the Washington Post describes the prevalence of rape in east Congo as the worst in the world. Pygmies, another native group from the region, which has been targeted by both sides, attests to cannibalism being used as a weapon as well.

In terms of wildlife, the Congo’s population of hippos has dropped from 29,000 to between 800-900 in 2004, according to World Wide Fund for Nature.

For more information: Raise Hope for Congo, an organization dedicated to empowering Congolese women.

Check out others in series: Kashmir, Darfur

Tu B’Shevat: New Year for Trees Going Green

February 9th, 2009 (01:19 am)

Next sunset heralds in Tu B’Shevat, Jewish Arbor Day, the new year for the trees. Traditionally, this holiday was used as a means of tithing, and figuring out which fruits to eat when.

In the 21st century, love of trees (and/or nature in general) has arched into “Going Green,” both within the Jewish world and humanity at large.

This Tu B’Shevat, JTA launched a subsection called Eco Jews: Traditions and Trends in Jewish Environmentalism. Along with articles pertaining to culturally or Israel-based initiatives, JTA also sponsored the first annual Green Beanie Awards for ability to effect environmental change.

The winners of this context were the UJA Federation of New York and the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston, Ill. Entries were judged by Hazon, COEJL and the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

However you spend Tu B’Shevat, whether at a seder, or buying a tree through JNF, or finding new ways to go green, I wish you all a very joyous holiday. Chag Sameach!

Global Humanitarian Crises: Kashmir

February 1st, 2009 (11:59 pm)

Second in a series on worldly conflicts. Please click the links provided for more information.


Location: Between India and Pakistan

Groups Involved: India (a secular democracy with a largely Hindu populace) and Pakistan (an Islamic Republic)

Cause: When India and Pakistan separated into two nations in 1947, both sides claimed Kashmir as a site of religious and cultural significance.

Conflict: India controls two-thirds of Kashmir, Pakistan controls one-third. Three wars were fought over the land, one in 1965, one in 1971 (which resulted in the creation of Bangledesh) and the Kargil War of 1999.

Kashmir has been a hotbed of cross-border terrorism against the state of India. India had 200,000 military personnel stationed in the territory circa 2004.

A 2005 study conducted by Medicins Sans Fronteires states that the women in Kashmir suffer from the worst sexual violence in the world. The vast majority of Kashmiris reject warfare between India and Pakistan as bringing an end to the dispute, according to this report.

In 2008, five people were killed in a gun battle between Indian security and Kashmiri militants in March, bringing the total deaths up to 43,000, according to Indian authorities, and many more, according to other groups.

Violent protests broke out in August over the transfer of land in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley to a trust, which built shelters for Hindus traveling to a religious shrine. 40 people, largely Muslim, were killed, according to BBC, and 300 were detained, according to News Blaze.

55% of Kashmiris under Indian control voted in national elections in 2008, despite calls for boycott, according to Al Jazeera. The majority of Kashmiris (87%) want to become an independent country, according to Reuters.

International Response: United Nations Security Council Resolution 47 written in 1948 stated in part that for peace to be sustainable, Pakistan needed to withdraw militants and that India should cut back on troops. However, others say that this resolution is no longer relevant.

In an interview with Obama, America’s then-president elect indicated that he was interested in helping to resolve the Kashmir crisis, and would even consider former President Bill Clinton for the job.

For More Information: Kashmir Council for Public Rights, based in London, pro-Pakistani. Ministry of External Affairs, India, Kashmir issue page.

Check out Others in Series: Darfur

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