Friday, June 27, 2008

The Keffiyeh Yisraelit

This might just be the most controversial conversation starter you see all day.

I stumbled upon this Keffiyeh Yisraelit and had nearly spontaneous and opposite initial reactions. First I though, wow, this is cool, I would definitely wear something like this. . . if I was in the desert or during the winter, or possibly as a hard-to-decipher-cuz-I'm-hipper-than-you fashion accessory. Second I thought about cultural appropriation and the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian-Muslim-West conflict. More specifically, taking an object which has most recently been associated with the Palestinian resistance/stuggle/terrorism as well as a fairly prominent hipster accessory, and re-branding it can be seen in two ways.

First, it can be seem as taking something that we find cool, like hip hop or reggae, and putting our own spin on it, like most of the Jdub records artists. Or you could see it as taking something hurtful, like the 'n' word in America, and turning it into a regular part of the urban African-American speech pattern.

From an outside perspective, it shows some of the tensions we feel as both taste-makers and historical underdogs, to find ourselves affiliated with accusations of atrocities and oppression. Perhaps by appropriating the Keffiyeh, an ancient garb worn pre-Islam to protect against the sand and sun, we are embracing that complexity.
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Review of Matisyahu’s performance at the Pageant

The last time I saw Matisyahu in St. Louis, he attracted what must have been half of the religious community in St. Louis; the young, the old, and everyone in between had come to see this ‘hassidic reggae superstar’. I suppose at the time I wasn’t as surprised by the number of orthodox Jews there as I was the number of non-Jews in the audience. I figured, here is a guy with a gimmick that wouldn’t really appeal to anyone outside of the Jewish community. Time has proven me quite wrong.

When Matisyahu first emerged on the scene, his music was most easily classified as pop-reggae, with influences from Bob Marley, whom he shouts out in ‘Close My Eyes’ as well as jam band Phish, whose tours he followed in his pre-hassid days. His Jamaican-style raps, or ‘toasts’ have made their way into American pop music through the likes of Sean Paul, and add a melodic quality to otherwise rhythm-based rapping.
In a near-capacity show at the Pageant on a Wednesday night, Matisyahu brought his blend of Phish-style jam-rock, reggae, and beat-boxing to the masses. This time around, crowd reflected the diverse population of St. Louis. This is not to say that there weren’t large numbers of MOTs in attendance, but rather that Matis’ appeal has clearly transcended the ethno-cultural-religious line.
The Pageant’s dance floor was packed so tight, it was more constricting than a bar-mitzvah boy’s necktie, but that didn’t stop the mostly high-school-aged attendees from jumping around in enthusiastic appreciation of Matisyahu’s mix of Jewish themes, Hassidic melodies and niggunim with rock, reggae, and hip hop musical sensibilities.
The highpoint of every Matisyahu show occurs as the band’s energy swells and Matis belts out the Shema, hashem substitutions included. As the set wound down, Matisyahu began pulling people from the crowd onto the stage, until the stage overflowed with dancing bodies. He might not be Shomer Negiyah any more, but he can still draw a crowd and rock a show.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama is Everywhere

Turns out Lester's Music Store doesn't sell music or give lessons, but they sure do understand campaign financing.

Sk and I made a deal, she runs to my place, we run around the park, then she runs home. All in all, not a bad deal, she does her 8 miles, I do 2, I feel good about it, so does she.

Yesterday, she started her usual run, but instead of waiting for her, I ran towards her place. As I jogged by Lester's Music Store, a small shop on a corner not far from the sanctuary, I thought I'd indulge my interest. I had always wondered what kinds of musical gems I might find at a hole in the wall like this, but my interest spiked when I saw the sign on the door that read, "we do not sell music here, nor do we give music lessons here.

Hmm, I though, a music store that doesn't have anything to do with music, I wonder what they are selling.

The answer: Hope.

I walked in and was greeted by man who explained that this was Barak Obama's city headquarters, was because they are in the process of moving to Olive downtown.
They were friendly in the, "how can we get you involved," kinda way, so I had to ask a few questions.

"Explain to me what the significance is of the fact that Obama declined public financing, especially after he initially promised to take it?" It was the most recent newsworthy jab at Obama I could think of. I'm not so sure if I really cared about it so much as I wanted to see first hand how the front lines respond to something like that. And respond they did.

"By refusing public financing, Obama is better able to control his messages. By not taking PAC money, Obama can concentrate on the issues he cares about instead of the issues big corporations care about." Good answer.

Ok, but doesn't turning down public financing, which is capped, help Obama due to his extensive fundraising network?

"Yes it does, but it also ensure that the public which is financing him is represented in his message" These guys are good.

I want to find their binder of answers. There are some serious minds behind this campaign.

I managed to find my way out, but not before giving up my contact info, its kinda like pushing your way through a crowded hall then making it to the other side to find that your backpack seemed to have wandered off your back.

The run wasn't a total loss though, and Scion's livemetro show was super-dope-funky-fresh, and free!
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Monday, June 23, 2008


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Mann tracht und Gott lacht (Man plans and God laughs)

Just as the industrial revolution created adolescence, and the 60's cemented the college experience as essential, Generation Y(id) is creating a new young adulthood period in which experiences and location trump a career, or what was formerly known as 'direction'.

While this period doesn't apply for all of us (just ask Rosh), there are larger and larger numbers of us who are spending time living abroad, quitting jobs we don't like without staying through a first promotion, and many of us who are forgoing cubical based office life all-together. We like meeting new people, doing new things, and having the pictures to prove it.

While many of our parents generation were the first to be college educated, we are virtually expected to get a bachelor's degree at the very least. And as this degree becomes a prerequisite, and a precursor to beginning a life, it also offsets our entry into adulthood. Many of us change majors multiple times, or have multiple majors, most of which don't provide us any hard skills to advance careers. In fact, college is such a ubiquitous experience for us that we don't see it as a path to a career as much as a chance to explore things of interest to us.

The result is that I (and many many of my friends)left college without a clear understanding of what I wanted to pursue, other than a list of places I wanted to visit, and an understanding that I would probably pursue at least 5 different careers over the course of my lifetime, and a sense of 'you're still young', and an internet sensibility in regards to sentence structure.

Perhaps there is no truer measure of the success of the wonderful Schusterman/Bronstein/Birthright program than the fact that we are starting to view life a little more like Israelis, who often don't start careers until they are nearly 30, and live at home until the same time.

To wrap this with a nifty little bow, there is this question that often gets asked in interviews that is indicative of this generational gap, "where do you see yourself in X years?". Generation Y(id) say, "who knows?" and that's the most exciting part.

And why should we try to envision ourselves that far into the future, after all, in the worlds of our (ashkenazi) great-grand parents, "mann tracht und Gott lacht (Man plans and God laughs)".

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Where Have All the Men Gone?

Have you looked around your temple lately and asked yourself, what's with all the females? Well, an article in today's Boston Globe suggests that a serious gender gap has developed in Reform (and to a lesser extent Conservative) Judaism.

The article goes on to suggest that this trend may be due to a feminization of spirituality in America, or perhaps just the busy male schedule in today's world. While it is as yet unclear whether we are witnessing a real change or just a blip on the radar, the question is certainly an interesting one.

Have you noticed a growing female presence in your personal Jewish community, or maybe a shrinking male one? What do you think some of the reasons may be? Is a gender gap in Judaism a bad thing?

Feel free to read the article and post your thoughts. Or, bring your thoughts to the next St. Lou Jew Shabbat dinner. There's a spot on the stoop for you.
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Friday, June 20, 2008

From sea to sea

There is a rumor that has spread around the Middle East for decades that the Israeli flag, with it's Star (or shield) of David flanked on either side by a blue line, is a symbol of the Jewish state's intention to have a Jewish presence from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates (a terrifying notion, to be sure).

While certain religious Zionists have declared that a the State of Israel should contain all of the land of Israel, its clear to me that the majority of the Israeli have no intention of even hanging around the Jordan river. In fact, the majority of the Israeli population lives right on the Mediterranean coast.

Let me now make a comparison, if I might, to the US, where most of the Jews also live on the coasts (especially the post-college, pre-marriage demographic). In fact, if you were to judge by the way many Jewish organizations (especially a certain well-respected reform theological seminary that I love very much) behave, there aren't any Jews between the coasts at all.

Kanye said, ". .The Mid-West is Young and Restless." You certainly wouldn't know it from the media. Jewish images in the media are generally restricted to New York, LA, or Israel. To be fair, those may or may not be three of the largest Jewish populations on the planet, seeing as how there aren't that many of us left in Cairo, Morocco, Spain, or Iran. So whats the deal? Every sitcom that doesn't involve Jews seems to take place in the Mid-West, or at least somewhere outside of NYC or Cali (exception being of course the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but seeing as how the whole thing was basically making fun of bougie JAPs anyways, it doesn't count).

Beyond that, half of us 'fly-over-state' Yids end up in NYC, DC, LA, etc. I feel the pull too, I just can't give up on STL yet. So what if people don't hustle the same way here (CSM points out that you can't spell hustle without 's-t-l'), the conditions exist in the Mid-West for a spark to really make some things happen. Not just in STL, but in areas like Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, NOLA, etc. (the last two aren't MW but count, you don't like it, get yer own soapbox). But we are here, the young and the restless of the coast-less, but certainly not hopeless.

This brings me to Moishe House, a pretty cool concept for those of us on the front line of Generation Y(id)™. Basically, they help you turn your spot into an urban (hopefully) JCC. A non-denominational open house for post-college Jews to come, kick it, maybe have a meal, and connect.
There is a lot of potential in this idea, and if you have some feedback regarding feasibility and interest on the local level, shoot it our way.

Perhaps one day, those rumors of a well represented young Jewish community can apply to the areas between the coasts of the US as well.
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Park Posse

Wednesday is turning into 'flex the network' day. Free admission to the Botanical Gardens, live music, and no open container law means there is a good chance you'll find me at MOBot under the stars, and given yesterday's turnout, more than a few friends as well.

We walked, biked, and drove from all over the city for a taste of the Botanical Garden's Wednesday night jazz series, and no one was disappointed. As the light drifted away like a saxophone solo to 'Girl From Ipanema', bottles of wine were uncorked, and so were conversations. Did I mention that it was free?

The six degrees rule was definitely in full effect as everyone seemed to see people they knew as we traversed the sprawling gardens in search of a patch of grass to set up shop on. Somehow, we had everything we needed, solo cups, wine, blankets, at one point I make a remark about how good strawberries would be and FR pulls a container of strawberries out of her bag, it was eerie.

The key take away (if I can borrow business jargon for a minute) is that there we were, the foundation of the community I've been searching for/trying to create, and it was as simple as jazz in the park. No programming or email lists necessary, just good people, getting together to enjoy the company of other good people. Maybe we are on to something. I wonder if there is a way to make a living doing this kinda stuff.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Springtime for Hitler

So the Muny kicked off its season last night with the opening of the Producers, and who am I to pass up free theater in the park on a beautiful night?

First the particulars... the Muny in Forest Park is an amphitheater that has live musicals almost every night between now and August 10. And even better, there are a ton of free seats toward the back, which is where we sat last night. And if you are savvy, then you can even get some wine into the theater, which makes the night just that much better.

Anyway, check out the Muny, enough said.

Now, onto this week's show, the Producers....

You know how being an MOT you automatically feel like you are part of something special, like the cool Jew club? Well check out the Producers, and you get three solid hours of inside jokes that you need to own a yarmulke to get. From widespread use of Yiddish to jokes that are funny because they are O so true, there was many of time last night when we were the only ones in our section laughing. Now yes, the Producers is a very funny show in and of itself, but it is one of those things, like Chinese food and bagels and lox, that is just a little better, a little sweeter because you are Jewish.

So grab your best Jewish friend (but maybe leave your Jewish mother at home, the Producers is defintely not G-rated) and check out the Producers this week at the Muny in Forest Park.

Now excuse me for cutting this short, but I have a championship-clinching game to attend to. Go Celtics!
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Friday, June 13, 2008

Big Things Happenning

Your opportunity to help St. Louis and the environment (and save money!).
Plus, UJC reads our blog, you should too.
And, St. Louis makes its case for legitimacy.

So first and foremost, if you remember, in an earlier post, I bemoaned the public transportation here in St. Louis and made a personal commitment to get involved. Turns out that I'm not the only 'concerned citizen', and in fact, there is a large group in St. Louis, called Citizens for Modern Transit, that is working with employers and other citizens to get people to use the Metro system. In conjunction with Thursday June 19th's Dump The Pump day (to encourage people to drive less by riding bikes and taking public transportation), they are offering free metro rides! I couldn't be more excited to ride around all day and night. The trick here is to get people to ride who normally wouldn't, make them comfortable with the safety and ease of the Metro, and then convince them to lather, rinse, repeat.

The second order of business is that our Israel Correspondent's last post, which is certainly worth the read, was discovered by someone at the UJC, and she was offered the chance to participate on another expedition with journalists to the areas affected by constant bombardment from Gaza. Who says blogging can't change lives. (Consequently, if there is anyone out there that wants to give us a grant to write full time, feel free).

Finally, an update to Summer in the City. Yes, St. Louis might have just become a city in my book. What is it, you say, that pushed it over the edge? Was is population growth? An increase in government funding for development?

No, in fact my opinion was changed by two events. The first was meeting the ensemble cast of the upcoming production of The Producers at the Muny at Kim Massie's weekly show at Beale.
The second was my experience at the Botanical Gardens on Wednesday. Every Wednesday, the Botanical Gardens opens up and people flock to see music, have picnics, and just hang out outside. The sheer number and diversity of people there, as well as the general atmosphere, and absolute beauty of the gardens made me feel more at peace with St. Louis perhaps anything has previously. I know, I know, its not that profound, it doesn't seem that special, but do be there and just see the density of sights and sounds, which I generally associate with Chicago or New York, and to have it almost literally in my back yard. . .fantastic!

Check out Kim Massie:

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Special Dispatch from Israel

Our wonderful Israel correspondent passed along her first hand experience of the effects of the constant bombardment of Southern Israel and Sderot in particular.

The following is a first hand report from KN, our (beautiful and fantastic) Israeli correspondent:

I was recently invited to participate in a "Fact Finding Mission" in Israel, and I am now writing to you now because of the immense impact the program had on me. I was so affected by this program that I feel the need to share some of my experiences. Please let me know if you have any questions about what I did, and I'm always happy to give more information.

Background: After the conflict with Hezbollah in 2006, communities in the US and Canada raised over $360 million through the UJC (United Jewish Communities.) $215 million of that money was designated to create the "Israel Emergency Campaign," a collective allocations process. The money was used to sponsor 92 programs within Israel during the conflict. The programs are meant to serve two purposes: responding to immediate needs and long-term strengthening of the regions affected. If you want more information on those programs, please let me know, and I'll be happy to provide more information.

The program I took part in was created for the leading American journalists on Jewish Affairs. The program was organized not so they could be lectured by various Israeli officials, but rather so they could speak one on one with officials, recipients of the emergency campaign program, and victims of the conflicts Israel continues to face.
In regards to that conflict, to catch you up: In the summer of 2006 the major conflict Israel faced with Hezbollah was in the north. That area has since become quiet, however what some people are unaware of is that for the past seven plus years, the city of Sderot and the area of the Western Negev have been under the shadow of relentless Kassam rocket attacks. These attacks are often only reported on when they are particularly intense, or result in tragedy. What is not mentioned is that these rockets have become a part of daily life in the region.

Over 4,000 rockets have fallen on Israeli territory since 2004. A similar number of mortar bombs have fallen as well. On a "quiet day," an average of two to four rockets, and six to fourteen mortars are fired on Israel from the Gaza strip.

Recently those rockets and mortars are becoming more sophisticated. Their range is longer, they are more accurate and the damage they cause is greater. Some 200,000 residents live under the threat of these weapons. Grad missiles have recently come into use, and can reach further distances, all the way to the city of Ashkelon. According to reports, these missiles will soon be able to penetrate even further into Israel.

In the next few weeks the reporters on this trip will be publishing their articles. Please keep an eye out for them in the UJC, JDC, Jewish Standard, Baltimore, Atlanta and New Jersey Jewish Times, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the JUF News, Chicago, and several other Jewish Affairs publications.

I met the group at their hotel in Ashkelon, a beautiful, expanding beach city which has only begun to see rocket fire. We heard from the major of the city about its struggle to remain hopeful, and the challenge of remaining prosperous at this time. We next heard from several speakers representing the media and military branches of Israel about the current threats we are facing.

The following days activities began with the drive to the border with Gaza. On route we witnessed a police crew collecting pieces of a Kassam rocket which had landed earlier in the morning. Several rockets fell during our days spent in the region, including one which injured several citizens, and left one dead.

Since the rockets began falling almost eight years ago, an estimated 25% of the citizens of Sderot have left the city. Those that remain are the ones who often don't have the means to leave. The group visited school which received a "trauma center" with the help of the emergency campaign funding. When entering the school we were briefed about the kids we were about to meet. We were told that when the rockets began falling, children's pictures reflected their fears with drawings of blood and bodies. However, in more recent times pictures have changed: they are now mostly colorless and empty. They show fragmented images, "a face here, a leg there...these are signs of extreme depression and apathy," said one of the campaign leaders.

What is striking about citizens receiving emergency aid is that the emergency is not yet over. There is no PTSD, but rather continuing trauma. The therapists brought in to help citizens cope often have to eventually receive therapy themselves. One boy told me that "no one in Sderot is not traumatized".

One interesting result of these programs is that the children of Sderot are now experts on talking about their fears, anxieties and emotions. They are articulate and direct about how they feel, and why they are scared. I noticed that the kids participating in the provided programs were quiet, and extremely well behaved.

The trauma center we visited was built in an elementary school. There were drawings of flowers on the walls, and bean bag chairs to sit on along one wall. In another area there was a foam figure, and beside it boxing gloves, where children were encouraged to take out their anxiety.

The first program we witnessed was tai chi. The kids stood beside one another quietly, and after several breathing exercises were told to "gather all of their fears, anxieties and anger towards the rockets falling on their homes, and in the city and near them every single day, to gather all of that fear and anxiety and really gather it up and focus on it, and release, release, release."

The next group was pet therapy. The children tend to transfer their fears onto the animals they handle, in order to better talk about their fears. Taking care of the animals helps them feel more in control of their own fears. The kids had built a mouse city with poster board and used toilet paper rolls. The rolls were all linked like piping in a circle. When asked why the city was built this way, the kids explained that the tubes were places the mice could go to feel safe, and get protection.

We later met with a group of teenagers from Sderot who were traveling the country in order to talk about the crisis they face. They admitted that they wonder if the government cares about them, since it does not seem to be reacting with much force. They also fear that the rest of the country does not know or care about them. In their volunteer work in other cities, they said that many people have no idea about the crisis they face; people are shocked by their story. "Sderot is only about an hours drive from Tel-Aviv by car. How is it that the rest of the country can be clueless about our situation?" The students do not want to leave their homes, but they are unsure what the future holds for them.--
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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This is how we survive

Israel's top left leaning newspaper, Ha'aretz (lit. The Land) posted as story on their website about a satellite company's commercial which incorporates Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President who repeatedly calls for either the destruction of Israel or regime change depending on your news sources and translator.

From the site: "My brothers," says the mock Iranian president in a speech broadcast through loudspeakers across the country, "the uranium is in our hands and after Monday it will be goodbye to Israel."

Unexpectedly, the Iranian leader's supporters - dressed in Shiite religious garb - take exception to the speech, dismayed at the prospect of missing their favorite Israeli television series.

"What are you talking about?" asks one of his followers. "It's the last episode of Danny Hollywood on Monday."

The declaration of Iranian president's intent to destroy Israel is met with riots and the police are deployed to control protests which suddenly take the form of a big budget musical.

The commercial, produced by advertising company McCann Erickson, is entirely a parody of "Cazablan," a hit Israeli musical of the 1960s.--

Never underestimate the power of humor. Read More......

Monday, June 9, 2008

Interview with Mattisyahu - as promised

On a humid night a few summers ago, I had the chance to interview Matisyahu, who may be past the peak of his interesting rise to pop consciousness, but his story (and the fact that he is playing a gig in STL at the end of June) make him relevant to this blog.

by Tom Bombadil --originally from Hip Hop Congress
An Album Review, Show Review, and Interview

--My sound man, Marcus Black, and I were taken outback of the venue on a fire escape overlooking the Mississippi River. Fitting that the venue was Mississippi Nights. As we settled into our ten minute allotment, we jumped right in asking about his choice in reggae as opposed to rock or hip hop.

Matisyahu spoke about the universal qualities of all human beings, and how reggae spoke to that inside each of us. "There are twelve vessels when this world was created, and one of them is Victory, or overcoming. People have a need to overcome and feel success, feel victory, and reggae has always and will always speak to that inside each of us."

Matisyahu said that he was well-received by all types of fans, regardless of their religion. "People come for genuine music, and that is what we want to deliver."

I found him to be very humble, yet completely confident. His offstage personality might seem stand-offish, but when I asked him about his fears, I think his true self came through.

"I fear that I want to progress. That I want to move forward. In terms of my skill, my singing, all that. Relating with my band, and the audience and the main fear is more of a subconscious fear is that I won't be able to do that. I'm not so afraid of the lifestyle or that type of thing. No person should be so sure of themself until their dying day, but I don't have an outright fear of the drugs, and that type of stuff, because I feel like I have such a strong foundation in religion. I have a wife and a child on the way. When you get to a certain point and you're making the right decisions, and you have been making the right decisions for awhile, it is hard to imagine yourself slipping."

I had heard many people posit that Matisyahu had made this move to become more religious as a marketing technique. They said it was purely gimmick, a career move. I didn't believe it, but I had to ask, "What do you say to people who think this is a gimmick?"

He didn't wait even one second to respond: "It's obviously not a gimmick. It's my life. My life's not a gimmick." What came next was an invitation: "For people who say that, they probably have never seen the music, and I don't blame them. I would probably think it was a gimmick too. 'Here's some Hassidic guy doing reggae, it sounds like 2 Live Jew.' It doesn't make sense. But when it is a spoof, it is like ripping off both cultures. People that know my story and my music, and know my life, know that this is just the way it has gone."

Finally, after witnessing what seemed like an audience-gone-to-synagogue/church, I brought up Jimi Hendrix's concept of "The Electric Church." Hendrix wanted to take this spiritual, musical experience from place to place. Was Matisyahu's reggae a religious, spiritual, and prayer-like experience? "You're not supposed to say God's name in vain. You can only say God's name in a prayer. But tonight, when I said the Shema (the cornerstone of Jewish prayer) I said God's name fully. I made a decision that when I say that, it's not just a song, it is a prayer. It really is a prayer. Just the fact there is music in the background, doesn't mean it is not a prayer. It is a prayer when I say it."

While I had trouble enjoying "Live at Stubb's" I think that is more out of disappointment that anything else. Matisyahu demonstrated his unique ability to blend many cultures and music, while at the same time maintaining his own religious beliefs in an attempt to elevate all of his audience members. A recent appearance with Trey Anastasio at Bonnaroo cemented a relationship that now has Trey and Matisyahu currently touring together. The upside is tremendous, and I fully recommend checking him out.

For more information on Matisyahu, check out his website
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Friday, June 6, 2008

Obama Mania

So Barack Obama is the “presumptive nominee for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America” aka John McCain’s other half in the royal rumble to fill W’s not so gigantic shoes. Everywhere in the Jewish community, Obama has been embraced with open arms as the nation’s savior, the man who has suffered just like us and understands our plight… the man who will talk the Iranians into submission… the man who will create a two state solution and be back on Air Force One in time for the complementary peanuts and feature film…

Not so fast. For there is another side to the Jewish community’s response to Obama, and this one paints a picture that is not so rosy. Barack Obama: the man with the Muslim sounding name… the man who is hiding his true allegiance to the Palestinians… the man who will empower the Iranians and sacrifice the one true democracy in the Middle East for an afternoon of golf with his Muslim friends…

It is clear that the Jewish community is quite conflicted over what to think of the latest craze to sweep the nation. Different than many disagreements within the faith, however, the answer here can not be live and let live. When electing the leader of the free world, it’s good for everyone to be on the same page. So let’s break it down…

Before we do though, a word about myself, so that everything is on the table and you know just where I am coming from. I am probably like a lot of you who are reading this: A young Jewish professional trying to make his way in the not so vast, sprawling metropolis that is St. Louis. I have recently returned to St. Louis after a brief stint in the Northeast working on a campaign for one of Obama’s early rivals for the Democratic nomination. I am writing to share my thoughts on a variety of issues, sure, but most of all I want to see St. Louis live up to its potential, and I want to see us take it there, be that through intelligent conversation, hitting up the various cultural and entertainment venues in the city, or general debauchery. Yes, that’s right, there is room for all three.

But back to the issue at hand: Just what is the Jewish community to make of Barack Obama?

First, one ground rule, from my political experience. Do not judge someone simply on what YOU think their beliefs are. When it comes to a choice as important as we have in this election, let the candidates and those who are working for them do their jobs. They are there to inform you of what they think, so listen. Why that matters here is that too many people in the Jewish community seem to have written Obama off without a second glance. “His name’s Barack? He was born a Muslim? He wants to negotiate with our enemies in the Middle East? Screw him, I’m voting for McCain, at least he’ll nuke Tehran before giving up Israel”

This is the mindset taken on by a segment of the Jewish population towards Obama, and it is one that I admittedly did try on for size. If something is as popular in the mainstream as Obama, there has to be something for Jews to fear, right?

At the same time, however, there is the first group I mentioned, the group who sees him as a savior, not just for Israel, but the world. Now this is probably going a little too far. Remember the men who have come before who have not been able to make a dent in the peace process: John F. Kennedy,George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton all nice, personable people by many accounts, who got nowhere near the goal of peace.

Before fleshing out my opinion though, a word on these two camps. In one corner, you have the serial deniers, those who insist Obama is bad for Israel, despite the evidence to the contrary. More or less, this will be your older generations, those who have become more cynical and hardened with time. In the other corner, you have your optimists, the younger generations, the same ones you could hear chanting even a year ago from Iowa to New Hampshire, “Obama, 08, be a part of something great!” These young Jews are flocking to Obama like the rest of their generation. So are the young Jews overlooking Obama’s stance on Israel because they are so caught up in his aura, or are the older Jews ignoring the facts right in front of them?

The answer lies somewhere in the middle, and I will let Obama begin to tell the story himself. In a speech to the Jewish community in Florida, he reminded us all of the origins of his name Barack. It comes from the Hebrew, Baruch, meaning Blessed. Good start. Plus, Obama has committed time and again throughout his campaign to defend Israel to the best of his ability. Now, some critics suggest this language means he would not go far enough with the use of force. However, we have seen that movie before. Brute force, while allowing Israel to survive, has not gotten us any closer to the ultimate goal of peace. Sure, Obama must convince us all that he will be willing to use the force necessary to defend Israel. But he has already told us that he not only appreciates Israel’s strategic significance, but its spiritual and historical significance as well. If you listen, you will hear that this is not a man looking to make any changes in the status quo, at least on this issue.

The place he is different, and this doesn’t just apply to this issue, is at the margin. The man has done a good job, and forced the nation to associate his name with HOPE. And that’s what an Obama presidency will be all about. The hope that things can be different. Will he strike peace in the Middle East? I don’t know, and frankly I myself am a little skeptical about the Obama hope mantra. But one things is for certain: the man is willing to try.

So all you conspiracy theorists, come out of the basement and put away your canned goods. President Obama will not spell the end of the Jewish state as we know it. Or let me put that another way: If we are lucky, if what we hope he is he really is, then maybe, just maybe, he might. The end of the horror and terror that we know, and the beginning of an era of peace and hope.

So give him a chance, Jews of America and the world. When it comes right down to it, both McCain and Obama will defend and protect Israel. But there is only one who will do so while also looking towards peace. And besides, McCain has another 100 years in Iraq to deal with anyway, isn’t that right, Mr. Very Very Conservative Hiding in a Moderate’s Clothing? But that’s another story for another day. Read More......

Pre Shabbat Fix

As a PSA that I can agree with, JFedSTL has arranged for 15 front row seats to Matisyahu, the hippy turned frum Yid whose reaggae style arrangements and Yeshivish toasting has made him a household name. To throw your name in the hat, click here

From Jewishinstlouis --

Matisyahu Raffle

On Wednesday, June 25th, world famous Heeb-hopper Matisyahu returns to St. Louis for another unforgettable concert. has ten tickets for the show. Doors open - 7pm. Concert begins - 8pm.--

I, with the help of Hershey, uncovered this recording of Matis playing at Wash U a few years ago before anyone knew who he was. I had the pleasure of attending this concert and dancing my @$$ off. Because this recording was done before he really had press coverage, its a good idea of what he actually sounds like. Props to AWien for recording thing.

G and I interviewed Matis a few years back, really at the height of his career in many ways. He played, at the now closed down Mississippi Nights, to a sold out crowd that consisted of half frum Yids and half regular kids.

I caught up with him after the show, and although clearly exhausted, and with a raspy voice, he explained to us why he is more than a gimmick, and why he chose to say the uncensored Sh'ma prayer as part of his set that night. "That's the first time I've ever done that," he said, barely louder than a whisper.

To summarize, he said, that they say you shouldn't profane God's name if you aren't really saying the prayer, or if it is sung as part of a song, but he doesn't see how it is any less of a prayer if he's singing it, and in fact, he thinks it makes it that much more powerful.

I'll keep searching the interwebs for this interview, as it might be of interest to some. Read More......

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Nutritious content

I recognize that up to this point, the blog has been mostly an exercise in vanity.

That is my fault, I apologize. That's not to say that there won't be excessive ranting or attempts to make ourselves look cool in the future, but I'll try to ensure that actual social/political/cultural content gets added as well.

First, check this out: CEO's for Cities's CEO blogs about Cincinnati, my hometown, and another post-industrial declining city.

In that vein, I want to write about something that continues to be an issue of both great pride and consternation to me. That issue is the relationship between the Jewish community and the African-American community, specifically the descendants of Africans who were brought to America to be slaves.

This is an important distinction to make, as a side note, because there are very large splinters in the African diaspora community within America. Generally this tends to revolve around the relative economic mobility that more recent African immigrants have had as opposed those aforementioned descendants of slaves.

In fact, it might be argued that the only thing that unites the Black community (and perhaps the only shared aspect of identity) is racism and prejudice, real or perceived. I direct your attention to Amadou Diallo.

So here we are in 2008, with Crown Heights acting up again, world image of Israel at a low point, young Jews in America struggling to figure out where we fit in the whole equation.

Let me reign this back in with a thesis statement:
Although Jewish- and African-Americans have historically had higher levels of interaction and often cooperation than either group had with any other ethnic minority, the 'golden age' of this relationship has been allowed to pass, and without focused attention the issue, the two groups face mutual alienation and further antagonism.

When I was in Chicago, Elena, one of the more interesting people I am fortunate enough to know was talking to me about Black-Jewish relations in this country.

She broke it down as follows:
Why care? Really, why should African-Americans trust that Jews in America are any different than the rest of the white population, purveyors and enablers of slavery and rape, prejudice, racism, and humiliation?

Why should Jews care about African-Americans, with whom they currently seem to have little in common?

She was basically pointing out that Jews became bougie, that with the economic mobility that we have enjoyed, we have forgotten from whence we came, save a few Holocaust remembrance days and Yiddish-colloquialisms. In a sense, Elena is saying that we became white, trading in our identity for a ticket on the bus, or in this case, a suburban house in a quiet (white) neighborhood, a big (goyish) SUV, and private schooling.

If this is true, than it is truly frightening, clearly for the wider implications, but specifically in regards to Black-Jewish dialogue. Jews have succeeded wildly in America, despite having come (mostly) as poor immigrants and refugees while African Americans have been plagued by high incarceration rates, low incomes, and poor outcomes.

The only remaining point of contact seems to be popular culture. What can explain the fascination of generations of American Jews with American African culture, the Beastie Boys, Mattisyahu, Scott Storch, back to Benny Goodman and Irving Berlin?

Perhaps the core explanation is an identification with suffering, at least from the Jewish perspective. The ideas that A. we were slaves in the land of Egypt and B. we have an obligation to heal this imperfect world are essential to the psyche of the American Jews who fought in the civil rights movement. The oft-referenced Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner murders are constantly used as evidence of the sacrifices of Jews for the Black struggle for equality in America, and is a personal point of pride for me (and AEPi, to whom both Goodman and Schwerner belonged).

Another, perhaps less altruistic, perspective is that Jews understood that African Americans were one of the few groups lower on the ethnic pecking order and were effectively a canary in a mine shaft. That is to say that Jews recognized that they had better improve the situation for Black folk in America, because the same racism that was targeted at Blacks, could just as quickly and easily be shifted in the Anti-Jewish sentiment (antisemitism includes other Semitic peoples).

In any case, the great strides that Jews and Blacks had made together, as embodied by Rabbi Heschel walking arm and arm with Dr. King, Jr. was shattered and we have a responsibility to pick up the pieces.

There is so much more to write on this topic, but really, we just need to be out there in the community, we have created a physical distance between ourselves and the black community, and only proximity will force us to improve that relationship.

Which is why we moved to the sanctuary.

--edit-- Rosh thinks I need to provide more solutions instead of diatribes, so here we go.

1. Live in a neighborhood in which you come into contact with people who don't look, talk, or believe what you do.

2. Take some time to read about the history of civil rights in this country, learn about some of the challenges still faced by African-Americans.

3. Turn the radio off. The 'Blazing Hip Hop and R&B' on the radio today is an extension of Blackface and Minstrel shows. This is clearly a personal diatribe, but that's what the internet is for right? Read More......

Monday, June 2, 2008

Weekend Happenings

I had a nice little weekend going without Y? around so after running around the apartment naked for about 10 minutes, I decided to move on and be social. Friday night was the premiere of Sex in the City, so basically all the ladies went to the premiere and a fashion show prior to it. I did hear that there was a certain amount of debauchery that occurred during it, but overall it seemed pretty tame besides them getting home at 4am (its almost like they ran a marathon of lady things). All the guys including myself, ds, blev, l'haim, and amen went to amen apartment downtown. The best part about this shindig is that I called up l'haim first and told him that I wanted to pre-game a bit prior to going out to the restaurant. He replied in an exclamatory manner that he can't even remember the last time he pre-gamed, I am thinking to myself that its time to bring sexy back to St. Louis, because we all know pre-gaming -> drinking -> sexiness. Either way I tell l'haim that basically I am going to show up at someone's place with alcohol in hand because I wanted to celebrate two big things happening at work for me. I called up amen and left a message basically inviting myself over because I wanted to get my drink on. Though I usually do not do that, I thought amen and I have established a mutual level of understanding as in he understands that I want to get my drink on prior to going out. Either way amen tells me I am more than welcome to come over but again he has not pre-gamed in forever. So basically I now believe that I really need to bring sexy/pre-gaming back to St. Louis. I get to amen apartment and l'haim steals my parking spot, but its cool, I let it slide because he gets in the car with me and we drive around for about 10 mins looking for a spot. I am sorry, but seriously, after searching for a parking spot for 10 mins, I never want to live in the actual city again, I appreciate where I live so much more.

So we finally make it over to amen's place and I begin to finally get my drink one, 1, 2, 3, 4 beers, its like I am Coolio except without the dreads. We try and play some drinking games, but I don't want to get amen's place dirty and there are not many drinking games you can play without spilling a drink randomly at one time or another. I am as usual pretty impressed with amen's place, its like a bachelor pad extraordinaire, except the fact that he has more shoes than my mother and some of my ex-girlfriends combined, here's to being fashionable big guy. Eventually we meet blev and dsing down at the restaurant for some shenanigans. l'haim decides to be "that guy" at the restaurant and make our waiter extremely uncomfortable by asking questions like "how do you like working here?" and "how is your shift going?" Somehow he ducks and dodges most of the questions, and overall survives unscathed which is pretty incredible. I was surprised he did not turn into Y? and ask for a discount at the end of the meal, that would have been the icing on the cake. Overall it was a pretty good time considering the conversation was pretty lively and the surrounding tables were as well. We took our leave after dinner and returned to amen's apartment for some more drinking and had intended to go out again until mother nature peed on us. And when I say peed, I mean rained, but basically torrential downpours occur right as we plan to hit up another spot. So we try and wait it out for a bit, but eventually we just reserve to ourselves that we are staying in for the night and soon the politics conversation comes out, and that's always my cue to hit the sack.

On Saturday, basically I just cleaned and worked, so domestic, I know, until about 8:00 pm when myself and amen drove on over to mkram's apartment for a rousing game night. Now usually I get pretty excited about game nights, its pretty wholesome fun and there are always hilarious tendencies that come out. I bring Taboo because there is no game night that I can take part in without having Taboo in the pecking order for games to be played. There were 6 of us involved, l'haim, rhaim, mkram, scotty (sorry scotty, cannot remember your last name for the life of me), myself, and amen. Now as you might have noticed, lhaim is married to rhaim and scotty is in it for the long haul with mkram (especially after the conversion classes, oye, that seems like a lot of work, kudos big guy, you are a gentleman and a scholar for surviving). So that leaves myself and amen as the extra two, rather than shun the idea of us, we embraced and made quite a few jokes about. I think I might have made my significant other jealous for a bit, but I digress. The first game we play is apples to apples, I had never played it before so I came out close to the bottom of the pack, though in all truth the game has little rhyme or reason to it. You have a hand of cards that have nouns on them and someone picks and adjective card, you must pick the best noun card out of your hand and give that card to the person who picked the adjective card. That person then picks the best card that describes that adjective in their opinion. So you can either go logical like miles davis = creative, funny like darth vader = touchy feely, illogical like bombs = delightful, or completely nonsensical like rosie o'donnell = dead. You choose on the basis that you think the person will choose your card. So when I chose my cards, I was completely judging on which made me laugh the most. Either way, basic good time, but nothing to write home about.

Once we get done with that game we move on to Taboo which is basically the king of all games, it is the trump card to every single family/friends get together. If you want to get enemies loving each other and friends hating each other play Taboo. We split up into teams and I am placed on the team that does not include l'haim, professional Taboo player since May of 2008. The first round starts, and he is answering clues within the first 10 seconds of their introduction. It turns out hes a cheater, and you can all say you heard it here first, l'haim cheats at board games (this supports my l'haim claim of professional taboo player since may of 2008). When l'haim has the buzzer, I swear it was like he was a gymnast with that buzzer, through the legs, above the head. I have never seen technology and human form melded so well together. Even when he did not have the buzzer his voice basically impeded the game. It was like Moses parting the Red Sea, except his voice caused the timer to be stopped and everyone to start yelling at him. After every round, he made sure I was keeping the scores accurate and the rules needed to be clarified to make sure no-one but him could get their cheat on. He even found a way to get around a rule, so we had to change the rule to prevent him from cheating even more. I loved it, it was like high school swimming when before each meet my team would have a team chant, but our team chant was special, we would steal a t-shirt from the opposing team and do a little song and dance, at the end we would lift whoever was captain for the week in the middle of the team and he would rip off the shirt we stole and start roaring. Nothing says good sportsmanship like stealing and destruction of personal property. Either way, l'haim's team lost (meaning my team won, heck yes) and balance was restored to the jewish community taboo universe. We then called it a night and I returned to my domicile with my dignity intact.

On Sunday, me and the g/f, need to find a good nickname, how about gorgeous? brownie points ahoy! Anyway, gorgeous invited me to Taste of Clayton which is this snazzy event where lots of restaurants get together and charge even more for their food than they would when you go to the restaurants. There were 6 of us there, Smorr, Brando (sorry can't remember your last name as well, though I think I never was told it) mmeye, awils, myself, and gorgeous. I was pretty peeved once I figured out exactly how you go about enjoying the event. The idea of these things is that you get to try lots of different foods determine if you like the items and then eventually you might go to the restaurant. I purchased 12 tickets for like 15$ and within the first 5 minutes I was out of tickets given the fact that items cost 5 tickets a piece. Not to mention, most of the items looked extremely unappealing. The only thing that I liked was some white sangria which was 4 tickets a glass until the end of the event when the lowered it to 2 tickets a piece. We ravaged the sangria when it was lowered to 2 tickets a pop considering that is actually a somewhat normal price for it (slightly low, but I am not one to complain about that). In the past I guess I am used to flat fee events, you pay one fee at the door which entitles you to just walk around and taste everything, if I ever end up meeting the person who organizes it, I am definitely going to relay this idea to him/her. To sum it up, the company was amazing (more brownie points), but the food and idea were underwhelming to say the least. We eventually moved to Barcelona to have a drink, ordered an extremely large pitcher of red sangria which was very good as well and seemed to never end. We moved back to the event area soon after to watch the fireworks which I can safely say I was impressed by. It was a 10-15 minute show and though the fireworks were not like gigantic, for some reason, we were pretty close to them. There was even some guy talking on a cell phone almost on top of the launchers, the things some people will do to get off the phone (I am underwhelmed by the quality of that joke and I created it). We called it a night after that so here I sit thinking to myself, one, why can't St. Louis get these events to be even remotely enjoyable and, two, why can I not find a place online to give feedback to the event.

Either way, this Saturday should be an awesome time, we are having a get together at the sanctuary and I am looking forward to it, gonna make some appetizers and then get to the drinking and drinking games. And as in the traditional way that I leave my posts, I wrote a haiku earlier in the day to Y? and it fits well with our plans on Saturday:

Drinking games are swell
'Til someone dirties the floor
in that special way

Again, apologies for using 'Til, gotta fit it someway. Read More......

Reflections on Chicago

I got back late last night after a wonderful weekend in Chicago, filled with camp friends, abundant Jewish females, family, and public transportation. So the question that follows this is:

---edit---What do I need to do to get make that a part of my life in St. Louis?

First, I'm going to make a commitment to start taking public transportation, advocating for it, and finding out how to make it work. Rosh dropped me at the Grand station this morning, cuz the brilliant designers forgot a park n' ride.

I managed to get there just as the train pulled up, but I didn't have a ticket, and the ticket machine was hard to find. I had to decide between hopping on with out a ticket and waiting for the next train. . . hey, I may be cheap, but I have morals, sometimes.

I hopped off at Clayton, a relatively short ride, then walked another 10-15 minutes to the office, cuz I don't know which bus to take.

So now there are three major issues that have come up in this one experience with STL metro transportation.
A. Where is the ability to drop my car off?
B. Why is the ticket system so backwards. Its like Amsterdam, really. Put in a turnstile system like NYC or Chicago, it works, people pay.
C. Why is the metrostl website not super user friendly. I would want to streamline the whole thing so that it comes down to stops, times, and travel planning. Show me an interactive map that isn't from 1995.
D. This didn't so much come up from this one ride, but really, add more lines/stops. Read More......