Friday, July 31, 2009

After these messages, we'll be right back

We've received a few comments and questions recently about Moishe House, specifically what has been going on and why people haven't been hearing as much about Shabbat dinners. The answer is pretty simple: transition.

As you may recall, I was in the middle of a tough decision when we realized that our lease would be up at the end of July. In trying to figure out my plans, the other Moishe House residents were put in a bit of a bind too.

The new Moishe House, was moved into this past Sunday, and is being put in order to hold events. The new location is likely to be more convenient for many, being close to Clayton and Big Bend.

Unfortunately, the nature of moving makes it difficult to impossible to hold events while packing up or unpacking, but hopefully this won't cause a loss in momentum.

Look for events to start back up mid August in a new location, with the same dynamic you come out for ... and of course... the free food.

Shabbat Shalom.
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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Republican Political Posturing

Mark one for their win column

Tonight at 11:09 PM EST the United States House of Representatives Committee of Energy and Commerce voted on an amendment to House Resolution 3200, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act. This amendment was offered by Roy Blunt of Missouri’s 7th Congressional District. The committee voted down the amendment.

What were its details? Very simple: that the President, Vice President, and Members of Congress shall participate in the public health care plan being promoted by the Democrats and the Presidential administration. The argument: if you say it’s the best way to move forward, you should be willing to participate in it.

Representative Lois Capps, a Democrat of California, raised a point of order arguing that it was outside the jurisdiction of Energy and Commerce. Points of order are ruled on by the Chairperson, in this case Henry Waxman of California. A Democrat, he agreed to the point of order, eliminating the Committee’s ability to consider the amendment. In his elaboration, the Chairman claimed that on this issue his committee held co-jurisdiction with the House Administration Committee, and because this amendment did not include a referral to that committee, that he had to rule in favor of the point of order.

The Republicans appealed the Chairman’s ruling, which was put to a role call vote. The final count was a party line 36 to 22 in support of the ruling. One democrat was shown reading Politico during the vote while another sipped a bottle of Fiji water.

I’ve been involved in politics for long enough to know that a Committee, House or Senate, Republic or Democrat led, does not vote something out of its jurisdiction unless it does not want to have to vote on it. After an extended day of health care mark ups, the Republicans called out the Democrats, those who voted in favor of amendments strengthening a public health care option and against those weakening or eliminating one, and the Democrats cowered.

To be fair, the Democrats argue that a public option is just that, an option. Therefore, an argument could have been raised that each Member of the House should have the choice, as Republicans argue for, as to which health care package they choose. However, that argument was not made, and as the elected leaders of this country with whom the responsibility falls on to fix the national health care system, they must react to a steady slide in public support that now shows that more people oppose a public option than support it. This would have been a step that Congress could have taken to assure the American public that the pill they’re prescribing has no serious side effects. Let it also be stated that had the Democrats voted for the amendment, the Republicans would have voluntarily initiated their own enrollment in a health care plan they did not want.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Everybody Loves Free

Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch... so long as that lunch takes place around happy hour.

Just cuz we're Jewish doesn't mean we have to be afraid of posting about free stuff.

Check out STL Meal Deals article on free appetizers to see what we mean. Read More......

A Childhood Dream Come True

A couple months ago the American Girl company added a new historical doll to its ranks— Rebecca Rubin, a Russian-Jewess living in the Lower East Side with Bubbie and the rest of her immigrant family.

American Girl also sells six books describing a year in Rebecca’s life (1914) and, of course, offers various Rebecca accessories such as a miniature toy challah and menorah. I bet the company even offers a miniature Bubbie, which probably wouldn’t be much smaller than my own Bubbie, who is, in fact, rapidly shrinking. Alas, it seems I was introduced to WWI-era Rebecca ten years too late.
As a child I yearned for an American Girl doll that resembled me— dark hair, dark eyes, buck teeth. The closest thing I could find was Samantha Parkington, a doll that was anything but a Cleveland suburbanite Jew born in 1985 and destined to become an attorney extraordinaire (fingers crossed). Rather, Samantha, as described in her six-book series, was a Victorian-era blueblood living in upstate New York with her wealthy grandmother. She ate peppermint ice cream and rode around in carriages. She and I weren’t birds of a feather.

Still, I begged my parents for a Samantha doll, and on my 9th birthday I received Samantha, her book set, and a change of clothes for her. The change of clothes was inspired by her “Winter Story” and consisted of a green and blue plaid cape and matching furry white beret and muff.

Tell me the last time you’ve seen a little Jewish girl, in real life or in photographs, wearing a white muff. The idea of it cuts against my Jewish sensibilities: 1. A muff is white, so it’ll show stains easily; 2. It’s specifically designed for your hands, which are conveyors of dirt and oil, so it is guaranteed to get dirty (see previous point); 3. It’s expensive; 4. It’s probably the least useful hand-warming device on the planet because you can’t move your hands to grasp anything while they are in the muff; 5. An innocent animal, which is not kosher/edible, needs to be killed for its creation…what’s the point of killing an animal if you can’t even eat it?

Anyway, I would never have worn a white muff, so why should my childhood self have identified with a Samantha doll that did? That doll was more likely to have a debutante ball than I ever was. I only wish that Rebecca Rubin had been around then. We could’ve made matzo balls together at Passover and dressed up as twins for Purim. I might have even kept her around through my adolescence and adulthood just so I could pass her down to my own theoretical children.

I can’t say the same thing about Samantha. The only thing I ever did with her was play tea party, and my mom gave her, along with my Barbie doll collection, to the Purple Heart Veterans a few years ago. Maybe if Mattel had made an Ice Capades Batsheva doll one of them would’ve stood a chance of sticking around, too.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Next Dor Renovation Update

The renovation work has begun! Read on for juicy details.

With out much fanfare, work on the Next Dor house is underway. The demolitions work has already been completed and consisted of taking out carpets, removing wallpaper, clearing out the island in the kitchen, and dealing with a downed power line.

We wanted to have the floor refinished in the studio space on the 3rd floor, but after removing the carpet, it was determined that it wouldn't be possible. On the plus side, carpeting will help sound proof that area so that people can watch movies or be active without disrupting activities on the 2nd floor.

Cracked and uneven floors in the basement will be replaced to make the space more usable... Shabbat Underground Rock show anyone?

We are anticipating an October opening date. To find out more, email thestloujew (at) gmail (dot) com




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Monday, July 27, 2009

What we can learn from Philly

After spending a weekend in Philly, it's clear that we are doing some things pretty well already, but STL can stand to learn a few new tricks.

Philadelphia seemed a bit like a Canadian New York City; not quite as big or rich, but cleaner, quieter, and more comfortable. Which is parallel number 1, STL plays little indignant brother to Chicago, and Philly does the same for New York.

One of the largest similarities I found between St. Louis and Philadelphia was the number of people from Philly who stay there.

The city itself doesn't take up that much space, but makes up for it in the sheer density of buildings. You can walk from place to place without too much trouble, and the buses, trains, and trolleys take you further faster when you are feeling on the lazy side.

MetroLink scores a surprise victory over SEPTA, both on price, and because on SEPTA, you have to actually, physically buy a ticket of an employee who walks down the aisle (This concerned me when I arrived and realized I had neither cash nor debit card on my person).

The city is still heavily segregated, with large minority majorities in West Philadelphia. Center City reminded me of parts of downtown Denver, great infrastructure, but few people on the streets for such a big city.

St. Louis City may be suffering from a large number of vacant lots, but it has nothing on Philly's 30,000, more than any other city. Urban guerrilla gardening and mural making has helped with some of the eye-sores, but it still leaves much to be desired.

On the topic of urban gardening, Philly is all about it. Everyone grows something in their backyard (and not the California type of growing something). We could definitely stand to benefit from more urban gardens in St. Louis, both as a beautification measure, as well as a community building and educational measure.

This is why we are so excited to create the urban garden at the Next Dor house. It will serve many different needs at the same time.

I was able to stay at the Moishe House in Philly, and had the opportunity to see a bit of what they do. I think the probably beat us in terms of organization, but they have also been around a few more years and have had more time to establish themselves and connect with people.

After an erev Shabbat service at the Moishe House, we had an awesome potluck, which was kicked off with an activity called "pimp my dish", in which each person had to describe the food they brought and try to make it sound as tasty as possible....it worked.

For a city known for its cheesesteaks, there sure were a lot of vegetables coming out of the concrete jungle.
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Find Food In St. Louis

I admit it, this is partially due to laziness and partially due to how cool I think this is. Either way, check out Urban Spoon's clever way of finding a restaurant:

St. Louis restaurants on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Update from the Next Dor Front Lines

Last night, a group of community leaders including Rabbis, representatives of Jewish Federation, Nishmah, Hillel, Gesher City, the Jewish Community Center, and notable others gathered in a multi-purpose room at the new JCC to talk about Next Dor.

While it might have felt at times like stump the chump, even the most pointed questions were asked from a level of interest.

Representatives of YPD asked if Next Dor would produce its own programming (we'll try to avoid that), and whether it would push existing organizations to increase their own offerings (we'll encourage but not push it).

There were questions from other leaders about how we plan to attract new people to Next Dor, as well as if we are going to target people from St. Louis who may be elsewhere in an attempt to bring them back.

I mostly found myself facing these questions alone, as the vast majority of our committee was unable to attend. As someone not from St. Louis, some of the questions were things I hadn't thought about, but that fit well into our vision.

Another question asked about the need for something like Next Dor. The train of thought went something like this, "we have research showing that Jewish 20's and 30's want to be met where they are, which is why we do events at bars. You want to create a central space in which people come together, which seems to run counter to this.."

It's a interesting point but there are models (places like 6th and I in DC, the 92nd Street Y in NYC, etc.) that have been proven to attract people.

When the question of models for this type of organization came up, a representative of Gesher City asked about the other Next Dor, a program of Sacramento's Federation. While its demographic target and approach are similar, it doesn't revolve around a central gathering place.

While we hope that a lot of questions were answered, we know even more were raised.

If you want to be involved in the next round of discussions, or know someone who might be, feel free to email thestloujew@gmail.com and we'll be sure to make sure your voice is heard.


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Friday, July 17, 2009

Next Dor: Solving the Kashrut Issue

In a recent post, we talked about some of the issues that arose in trying to make the Next Dor house truly non-denomenational and welcoming for to everyone. Kashrut came out as the item that was most contested. After a conversation earlier in the week, we believe we have found a good compromise.

It is interesting, although not totally surprising that Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, came to be a contentious issue. After all, there are a great many different understandings of the laws of Kashrut that trace back directly to the Torah all the way to more modern understandings and cultural interpretations.

While we could use this space for a discussion on intentions of the laws of Kashrut, interpretations over the years, and controversies, I'd rather focus on practical outcomes.

First, no pork or shellfish will be allowed in the house. That includes pepperoni, sausage, bacon, ham, and swine flu.

Second, we will have two sets of kosher cook-, dish-, and silverware; one for milk and one for meat. We will also have one set of non-kosher kitchenware. We will also have plenty of biodegradable disposable plates for certain situations.

In terms of keeping the kitchen itself kosher enough to not treyf up the kosher kitchenware, we will have buckets which can be placed in the sink in which to wash the kosher dishes. The oven's self-clean mode also doubles as a self-kashering mode that will enable us to make the change between milk, meat, and non-kosher foods.

So long as the cookware we use is glass or cast iron, if someone makes a mistake, we'll be able to get things back on track pretty easily.

Will it be difficult to keep everyone on the same page? Sure, and we might run into several different people in the kitchen doing different things at the same time. To help keeps things straight, whenever kosher cooking is going on, there will have to be someone involved who has a deeper knowledge of the laws of Kashrut to make sure things are being done correctly.

If we can stick to this plan, then it means that those of us who do or don't keep kosher, and to all of the varying degrees, will hopefully be able to eat and enjoy together.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Statistics Are Funny

Interpret these numbers, I dare you

Statistics are funny. Polling often tells a contradictory story. For example, 70% of Americans say that media coverage of Michael Jackson’s death was too much, but ratings for networks that covered the story extensively were higher than those who showed lesser coverage. With this in mind, there are some very interesting polling numbers coming from Rasumussen Reports, one of the major and most respected polling firms.

Their daily presidential tracking poll shows today that President Obama’s approval rating is -8, meaning that the difference between those who strongly support him and those who do not covers a spread of negative eight: 28% of the nation’s voters strongly approve of the president’s performance while 36% strongly disprove. In January, he was +9.

In a close race, leaving few undecides to cover the spread, 46% favor the health care reform package designed by the Democrats and the president while 49% oppose it. Two weeks ago, 50% favored it to 46% who opposed it.

To the question of a generic ballot, Republicans remain ahead for the third straight week. 40% would vote for the Republican candidate in their district while 37% would vote for the Democratic candidate.

Before today’s very interesting hearings, Judge Sonia Sotomayor enjoyed the support of 38% of voters who favor her confirmation. 44% oppose it. After some searing questions from Senators Sessions and Graham, these numbers could change.

American voters now show more support for Republicans than Democrats in 8 major public policy areas: economy (+5), Iraq (+4), national security (+9), abortion (+7), social security (+5), taxes (+16), immigration (+1), and ethics (+1).

One final factoid: Glenn Beck’s book has been the #1 top seller on the New York Times and the USA Today lists.

Given these results, how did America vote in a Democratic president and democratic majorities in the Senate and House?
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Separation Fence Controversy: Cellcom gets people talking

Israeli wireless provider, Cellcom, is under fire for a new ad showing Israeli soldiers playing soccer with unseen Palestinians across the security/separation fence/wall.

While those on the left are calling the ad a white-washing of the effects of the wall on Palestinians, other have said that the ad shows that everyone has the same desires to engage in leisure activities.

Either way, it is another indicator that the conflict is front and center in Israeli society, even when it comes to choosing a cell phone provider.

What is your take on the video?
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Monday, July 13, 2009

Habitat For Humanity, a North City Experience.

Sunday Morning, at 7:45 AM, over 100 volunteers descended on the Jeff VanderLou neighborhood in North City to help create affordable housing. Sure, it might have started off a little Jesus-y, and ended in a crazy rainstorm, but Habitat is definitely bringing hope to the neighborhood.


It is pretty well accepted that government subsidized housing projects have some serious shortcomings, but it is often unclear how to provide housing for those who don't have adequate financial resources. While working along side home buyers, who were helping in the construction of their, and other, homes, it is easy to see why Habitat for Humanity is a favorite non-profit for so many.

First, there is a tangible outcome. In fact, you might be hard-pressed to find another non-profit whose outcomes are more tangible than creating permanent housing for individuals and families.

Second, there is the impact of providing a sense of ownership to a home buyer who actually buys the house, and provides some of the labor (and gets to see the actual amount of labor it takes to create the house). While working with several of the home buyers, we were able to see just how serious and invested they are in the process.

Third, hopefully is that the process creates something that in intangible, a sense of community. The home buyers (who, come to think of it, were all women) are ideally able to use the experience of building the houses to form a bond that leads to a stronger community.

If it turns out that community is the end result, I can forgive the invocation of Jesus at an interfaith gathering.

We were here:

View Larger Map


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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Next Dor Brainstorming: When it rains...

Thursday night, a group of Jewish young adults got together to discuss the future of Next Dor, the space that, when fully renovated, hopes to become the center of the Jewish young adult community, geographically and culturally.

There was discussion, debate, and some great points made around the areas of security, access, membership, and kashrut. Read on to find out more!

The turnout included professionals in the young adult community as well as lay leaders and those totally uninvolved. There were young professionals, artists, and grad-students, religious and cultural Jews alike.

As you might imagine, it make for some lively conversations. After introducing the project, those involved with Next Dor since its inception brought up some of the stickier topics and dove right in. While the meeting was more about getting ideas than making decisions, there were some directions that started to emerge.

Security: The conversation revolved around how to ensure that the space stays accessible for individuals as well as groups, while limiting the number of people who have full access to the space. A consensus was found that, given 2 residents of the space, and a large number of involved people, it would be better to force individuals to knock or be buzzed in, as opposed to giving out a large number of swipe cards or keys.

The Jewish Question: No Jewish organization can work with Jews until it defines who is a Jew. After a really great discussion in which Wonder-Woman, Maya Escobar, passionately exclaimed, "I'm done with this project if we decide that non-Jews aren't allowed in this space," a really progressive approach was decided upon: The space itself will be Jewish, and so long as the events taking place there are not non-Jewish religious events, Next Dor will err on the side of openness.

Kashrut: Interestingly enough, this was probably the most contentious of the discussion areas. Because Next Dor is committed to be a non-denomenational space, we want to be able to accommodate everyone. There are two ways the approach this, the first is to embrace the strictest Kashrut standards, ensuring than any no one would ever be unable to eat the food prepared at Next Dor.

The other approach is to acknowledge that most Jews in St. Louis keep a much milder form of kashrut and that pot-lucks would be all but impossible to hold at Next Dor if we required only kosher food in the house.

As a potential resident of Next Dor, I can say that living fully kosher would pose a challenge, but would not be insurmountable.

One possible solution is to design the kitchen to accommodate both a kosher and non-kosher set of plates, cookware, etc. We certainly welcome any suggestions.

But the meeting wasn't all tough discussions, we also got a great list of new people and skills to add to our talent pool.

We will be creating a GoogleSite where anyone can see our business proposal, the initial proposal that started it all, as well as some other goodies. If you want access to that, please email thestloujew@gmail.com
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Time to Kvetch: Parties in the Park

Always one to check out live music, particularly if it is free, I dropped by a Party in the Park yesterday to see what Clayton's Shaw Park had to offer.

Parties in the Park are a once a month deal in which there is food, drink, and live music. Sounds like a regular recipe for summer fun right?

We walked in expecting to see crowds of people sitting out with picnic baskets, laying on the grass, enjoying a tribute to Prince and were instead treated to a scene I can only describe as goyische, or fratty... I mean, they actually made a whole website about this kind of thing (HTwDB).

Maybe it's that the timing was right after work, or maybe due to the location being Clayton, or maybe it was the margatirass-on-tap, but something just didn't feel right or authentic about listening to music in Shaw Park surrounded by that particular crowd.

Needless to say, we walked right in and walked right out, suffering only minor uneasiness when we were asked to pose by a Kabance photographer.

Luckily, I was able to get down to the Botanical Gardens to catch some music while surrounded by a much larger and more diverse audience.
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Monday, July 6, 2009

Get informed: Next Dor Is Coming Out!

This Thursday night, at the St. Louis Hillel, Next Dor will be hosting a brain-storming session/happy hour open to all Jewish young adults.

The point of the session will be to figure out what people want to see happen with this project; what events to book, how to set up the space, and how to deal with issues such as Kashrut, security, access, etc.

This is a community project, and it is essential to get input from a diverse group of people to make sure that this really reflects the needs and desires of the young adults it hopes to serve.

This is an opportunity to be a part a big project in St. Louis. Be sure to be there.

If you'd like, you can also fill out this survey as a way of helping guide the conversation. Read More......