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Journey To ‘Jewtopia’

I was unsure of what I was going to find, and kind of uneasy, as I rushed through the front doors into the empty lobby of the Westside Theater. Empty that is, except for a man in an official looking suit. “Joseph P.,” I told him “Party of two.”

“Right this way,” he replied after locating my tickets. “You’ll have to wait at the steps until the scene ends,” he continued, as he led me and my friend into the theater. “The play began five minutes ago.”

As we breezed passed the ticket taker and up the steps, my eyes adjusted to the dim luminescence and I reflected on how I’d gotten to this show. It must have been, to some degree, a step in a different direction for Fresh Ink to send a writer to a play.

The public relations agent for the play treated me like I was a regular reporter and after the show I would have interview time with the leading actors, which was awesome. I’m sure this was a first or at least a second or something for a teen reporter. Continue reading “Journey To ‘Jewtopia’”

Don’t Be A Bystander

I hope everyone is staying warm in this snowy weather. I’ve been snuggled up with my blankets, hot chocolate, work, and (when I find the time!) a good historical fiction book. As some of you may know, I have a strong interest in World War II. It amazes me how influential Adolf Hitler was and how strong the individuals who survived the Holocaust were.

Yehuda Bauer, a historian who immigrated to Israel to escape the Nazis in 1939, once said about the Holocaust, “Thou shall not be a victim. Thou shall not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shall not be a bystander.” The number of people who “go along to get along” and behaved as bystanders during World War II is high.

When we are afraid to speak up for what we believe in, we may not be contributing to the Holocaust, but we are allowing other disasters to take place. Sometimes all it takes is one person to stand up and say “no,” or that he or she feels differently. Have you ever held a different opinion but held your tongue so that you won’t stick out?

Don’t be afraid to stand out and to stand up for what you believe or feel. As students, we are taught continuously to be leaders. Leaders stand up for what they believe in. They are willing to listen, empathize, understand, compromise, and more, but in order to do these things, they must also be willing to speak up.

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Clueless on Campus: Some Candid Advice for Jewish Organizations

It has been more than a decade since the campus climate began deteriorating for Jewish students. Over the years, a myriad of Jewish organizations have devoted time and resources in a well-meaning, but too often ad-hoc effort to restore honesty, civility, and tolerance to the campus. While these organizations deserve praise for their work, they are also in need of some guidance. Progress has been and continues to be made but I believe we can do better.

During my time at UC Berkeley, I was deeply involved in confronting hostility against Israel and Jews on campus. I have been the prototypical end user of all the efforts being made on college campuses by Jewish organizations. I have seen how Jewish communal involvement on campus can be incredibly helpful and I have seen how it can be ineffectual, or worse, a hindrance.

Small changes to how the campus is approached and how Jewish organizations perceive their role vis-a-vis students can, I believe, significantly increase the effectiveness of their efforts. The following observations, critiques, and recommendations are intended to inject a bit of honest constructive criticism and hopefully, to help increase the impact the Jewish community is having on campuses.

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Happy Hanukkah? The Delicate Equilibrium

What is Hannukah? The answer is not so simple anymore, for, like many things in this day and age, Hanukkah has adopted many meanings that tend to shroud its true essence. For some, Hanukah is a time to flock to the superstores hoping to grab the last mini-iPod before other undeserving shoppers get to it first.

For others, it’s a jolly time to let our clothes be permanently permeated with the hypnotic scent of frying potatoes from the kitchen. Most every Jew in America can view Hanukkah as part of a dandy mix in the Holiday Season — a lovely little term that personifies the good-spirited feeling this time of year. Anyway, in 2018, Hanukkah (Hebrew for ‘dedication’) is the Jewish Festival of Lights that starts on Sunday, Dec. 2 at sundown and ends on Monday, Dec. 10, at sundown.

The holidays — Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and let’s not forget Chinese New Year — are all rolled into one spicy and well-flavored latke. In the United States, the wonderful diversity at times may give way to a loss of identity. Each holiday madly mashes into a Boy Scout goulash, losing any of its original distinct flavors.

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Cheshvan: The Allure of the Normal aka A Cure for your Post-Chag Hangover

This Hebrew month has the unfortunate nickname Mar Cheshvan, or bitter Cheshvan.  (The word Mar means bitter). With the holidays behind us, we now face a long stretch of time unbroken by festivals of any kind.  The next holiday won’t come until late November, when we will celebrate Thanskgivakkuh. Without a joyous festival, poor Cheshvan is known as a bitter month. It’s the only Jewish month without a significant feast or fast.


On the one hand, balancing our regular personal and business responsibilities with the slew of chagim each fall can add stress to our lives. Now that stress is over.  On the other hand, knowing that these special days are over can be slightly depressing—we have a whole year to wait before that degree of joyous spiritual intensity will come again.

The beginning of Cheshvan is like a giant Jewish Monday morning.  Do you have the Monday morning blues?  Or did you let out a giant sigh of relief after Simhat Torah? But by now, I feel ready for Cheshvan.  That is to say, I find normality alluring at this point in the calendar.

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The American bride getting married in Israel

The wedding gown was packed, our suits were in garment bags and all other wedding-related items were jam-packed in our suitcases ready for the wedding. However, we had one stop before the hall — JFK Airport. The American bride, my sister Tzivia, was getting married in Israel.

In January 2016 my sister got engaged to an Israeli who lived with his family on the Upper East Side, eight blocks from our house. As soon as the engagement was announced, the issue of where the wedding would take place was immediately discussed. Problem was only that the guy first had to pass the TASC (formerly GED) exam, but he did, thanks to the support and practice tests from BestGEDClasses.org, a great online learning platform!

The couple told everyone that they wanted to get married in Israel. At first, it was a shock especially because 90 percent of my family and friends live in America. Nevertheless, everyone agreed after they explained their motivation for wanting to get married in Israel, and all of our problems were solved. Continue reading “The American bride getting married in Israel”

Jewish American Princess

How has the Jewish American Princess evolved?

“Girls”, the popular bur critically acclaimed HBO series is representing a totally new age for Jewish American Princesses (JAPs). Right from the start, it is obvious that Shoshanna Shapiro is the stereotype Jewish American Princess. As soon as she is on screen, she shows her flawlessly coiffed hair and demonstrates her pink fashionable Haute Couture tracksuit, there no doubt about that identity.

This impression is further strengthened when she admits that her, apparently filthy rich parents, are furnishing the $2,100 per month rent for her stylish Nolita apartment. The HBO show “Girls” has four protagonists and Shoshanna is one of these. Her role really portrays the latest incarnation of the long-running JAP stereotype.

She keeps on complaining that all her outfits are “at least half a year old, has the word “obvi” more often in her mouth than should ever be allowed, and she’s constantly laying around in her oh-so-plush apartment like a spoiled brat. In the first season’s 7th episode, she (accidentally?) mixes up crack and weed when an acquaintance named Ray is pretty much fed up with nothing else to but watching over her. Shoshanna, who is apparently pretty high) and Ray just have met but the guy can already very well tell what kind of spoiled brat she is. You can hear him say “I’m in no way your f*cking daycare, dear JAP,” and you can’t blame him.

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The State of Israel: 1948-1990

1948: The War for Independence

When the British Mandate officially ended on May 14, 1948, the Jews in Israel immediately gratefully and joyously accepted the U.N.’s offer and proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. However, the Arabs living in the land rejected the U.N.’s two-state offer and refused to take their state. Instead, five Arab states – Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq – declared war on Israel and immediately invaded Israel on May 15 with the goal of eliminating it. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was established, and Israel fought for its existence in the War of Independence from May 1948 to July 1949.

Despite being greatly outnumbered, Israel won the war and in 1949 signed armistice agreements with Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon (Iraq withdrew its forces without signing an armistice). As a result of the war, the State of Israel now included more territory than it had under the original U.N. partition plan. In particular, Israel included all of present-day Israel minus the West Bank, which was part of Jordan, and the Gaza Strip, which was part of Egypt. Also, Jerusalem was divided under the Israeli and Jordanian rule.

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Recent New Waves of Immigration

In 1989 the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union by 1991 enabled hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews to be able to leave the Soviet Union and immigrate to Israel. In addition, Israel had been working throughout the late 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s to rescue Ethiopian Jews and bring them to safety in Israel.

1990s: Continual Efforts Towards Peace

Although in the 1991 Gulf War Israel was attacked by Iraqi missiles, the 1990s were, for the most part, a decade of significant steps towards Middle East Peace. In 1991 the Madrid Peace Conference on the Middle East outlined a framework for bilateral peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians and Israel and Syria.

When Yasser Arafat ostensibly renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist in 1993, Israel agreed to negotiate in order to try to live in peace. Even though the terrorism against Israeli citizens continued, in 1993 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin met with PLO leader Yasser Arafat in Washington, D.C. On September 13, 1993, Rabin and Arafat famously shook hands on the White House Lawn as Israel and the PLO, representative of the Palestinian people, signed the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self Government Arrangements for the Palestinians.

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Education, Technology, Science, and Innovation in Israel

This is a (not complete, by all means…) impression of what Israel is all about when it comes to education, technology, science, security, government, and innovation.

Israeli Education standards and security:

-Israel has the highest relative ratio of university degrees in the world.
-Israel has the largest relative number of startup companies in the world, and the second largest number in absolute terms (after the United States). Most of these are hi-tech companies that improve the lives of people around the world.
-After the U.S. and Holland, Israel has the largest percentage of workers holding university degrees.
-Israel has the world’s third highest rate of entrepreneurship and also the highest among women and individuals aged 55 and up.

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Meditation – Do I Need To Say Anymore?

The Rabbis might call Cheshvan “Mar” Cheshvan, but I think it should be called “Thank goodness it’s Cheshvan!” or TGIC. I have HHF (High Holiday Fatigue) and am using Cheshvan to get myself back on track both physically and spiritually. On the physical side I’m back on my exercise routine. It was hard to exercise AND be in shul three mornings a week AND host people in our Sukkah AND work…you get the idea. Not that all of those things weren’t joyful, they were, but there are ONLY 24 hours in a day so something had to give.

Rabbis talk about the importance of routine for both children and adults.  I must say that the one thing that didn’t give during the holiday season was my meditation practice, and for that I am grateful. Meditation might feel Eastern to you and not Jewish, but that happily is not true. I am also using the principles of meditation with a Jewish twist to regain my sense of Jewish spirituality, which also took a hit during the High Holidays. Counter-intuitive I know, but sometimes too much of a good thing can have the opposite effect.

According to Arye Kaplan who has written several books on Meditation and Judaism, meditation was, in his words “central to the prophetic experience.” Those who have studied the Torah philologically (the study of language of historical sources) believe there are meditative methods referred to in the text. Arye Kaplan also asserts that over a million Israelites were involved in meditation prior to 400 BCE.

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