I read the New York Times column “Motherlode: Adventures in Parenting.” Like some other NYT columns–”Modern Love” comes to mind–the contributors are varied, but the articles are usually food for thought. The February 21 column certainly was thought-provoking, and not just because of the content. The author talked about the Jewish custom (or superstition, if you prefer) of not having a baby shower, or buying baby things, before the child is actually born.
The article resonated, and not just with me: comments from Muslims, from Italians, from Germans, from irish moms all indicate that waiting, and not spitting in the eye of fate is not just a Jewish custom. No surprise there! That time at the beginning of life is so fragile and fraught, even now with all our medical technology. And just the thought of taking down a crib unused causes my chest to tighten with grief. Forget superstition. Waiting is an emotional hedge.
The readers’ comments were making me feel all universalist-happy: so many from so many different backgrounds agreed that their culture, too, encouraged people to wait that I couldn’t help thinking: see, women everywhere share this feeling, this worry, this little superstition and its very practical emotional basis. Their responses meant that the column had struck a chord for many, of whatever ethnic or faith background.
And then it happened. A bucket of ice water chilled my warm and fuzzies. Sharon in Miami commented:
Not related to this post in particular, but has the NYTimes done research on the readers of this particular column and determined that the majority of them are Jewish?
Jews are less than 3% of the population of the US (per a Google search) and yet, the topics presented in this blog seem to always have some sort of direct or indirect Jewish tie-in… this one, Zachary’s shiva, the acne lady mentioning that her secular school friends left her alone but the Hewbrew[sic] school kids were merciless, the over-priviledged [sic] pre-school couple was Jewish.
Just curious. Seems strange to me.
My stomach did a little flop. Sharon in Miami was irritated, and her pseudo-casual “just curious” aside, irritated enough to do a Google search to ascertain just how many Jews there are in the US. Then she took the time to let the NYT know that they were being a little too, you know, Jewy. All that over-priviledged [sic] Hewbrew [sic] school stuff. Because, you know, it just seemed strange to her.
So we won’t be singing kumbaya with Sharon in Miami, huh?
Sharon in Miami opened, if not a floodgate, a little sluice of like-minded readers. Howard in New York quotes at length from a number of NYT articles that have Jewish authors and themes and he adds:
I’m glad Sharon made this point because I was wondering if it was just I who had noticed that as well.
There are a number of underlying currents which run across the Times’ [sic] website, and it seems to me as if Judeo-Centric [sic] articles are one of them.
My stomach does another flop, and not just because of the iffy punctuation and spelling. Howard in New York took quite a bit of time finding and quoting from those articles; I wrote grad school papers with fewer citations. He cares about this, obviously. What was it, 15 or 20 minutes out of his day to let people know how all those “Judeo-Centric” articles are a bit much? To let them know about the “underlying currents” of Jewishness that permeate the media?
Then Rose in Seattle chimes in:
@Sharon: Good point. Also, Amy Klein, the Fertility Diary author, wrote extensively about being Jewish and fertility. As in, she had to wait to reproduce until she found a Jewish man, discussions with her rabbi about fertility, her travels to Israel for fertility treatments, etc.
And then there was the angst of the Jewish mom (married to a gentile) who didn’t want her husband’s Christmas tree tradition in her home and didn’t want her in-laws to give gifts in Christmas wrapping paper.
To be fair, Jews *are* a greater percentage of the New York City population, but the NYT (especially online) is a national publication.
Amy Klein’s “Fertility Diary” was a long series; Rose in Seattle must have been reading it all along to get all those details–and they must have impressed her, given her memory of them. But rather than sympathizing with a woman’s struggle to get pregnant, what does she remember? That Amy Klein had to wait for a Jewish husband “to reproduce.” Better than “to breed,” I guess, but only by a slim margin. And that “waiting for a Jewish husband” bit sounds so… cliquish.
What does Rose in Seattle remember from the other article? No sympathy for someone trying to keep her people’s traditions going–no indeed. Derision because a Jewish mother rejected that object of holy veneration, the Christmas tree.
At least she’s being “fair” about the number of Jews in New York.
A few more commenters remark on how they noticed all that Jewishness, too, like DH in Boston, who “really do[es] wonder” why Jews get more of a “voice” in this column than, say, Asians. More pseudo-casual nastiness.
I imagine them wrinkling their noses a bit. My stomach stops flopping, and instead, I feel a little burn. The little burn flares up when I read what Lisa in the Midwest has to say:
@Sharon, thank you. Someone finally said it. That thought came to mind as soon as I saw this post… interesting post, but really? Another one by a mother who happens to be Jewish? Again, I get the demographics of NYC and the readership, but still…
Finally, someone who has the guts to be point out how Jewy the New York Times is! Lisa gives examples of other people she’d like to read about: Hispanics, perhaps, or Asians, Muslims or Catholics. How about an “…African-American mom who’s not a single mom raising a child on minimum wage?” She closes by saying she’s really glad someone brought this up. And now I’m in full burn: here’s someone who is apparently pleading for more diversity in the authorship of this column … by pigeonholing people by their race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic group. “Hey, could you put a few Hispanics or Asians on display for me? I’m getting tired of all these Jews.”
p scott [sic] in the Catskills chimes in:
I agree with Sharon. It also seems that the majority of reporters at the Times are Jewish.
The alarm bells go off in a big way. We have moved from a not-so-casual “why are there so many Jewish-related posts” to Jewish “underlying currents” at the New York Times all the way to a “majority of reporters” are Jewish in a matter of a dozen or so comments. With people regretfully agreeing that indeed, too many Jews are writing for this NYT mom blog, and apparently elsewhere in the paper. No one actually said that Jews control the media, but the comments come perilously close to that.
There was push back, I’m happy to say, both from other readers and ultimately, from the K.J. Dell’Antonia of the NYT:
Really, it’s just a coincidence that so many guest pieces with links to Judaism ran close together this week. It’s far more about who submits what and what fits with the hope of crossing age ranges and topics than anything else.
Thank heavens the editor’s name is Dell’Antonia and not Rabinowitz! Sharon et al would have gone stratospheric at that! I wonder if they Googled her to make sure her husband wasn’t Jewish.
Dell’Antonia’s explanation is, of course, simple and logical. She chooses from among those who step up to the plate. But people like Sharon, Rose, et al might be unconvinced, what with the “underlying currents” and “majority of reporters” and that New York demographic and all. I’m glad of the explanation, whether it convinces anyone or not. But I also wonder if the comments of Sharon et al will have a chilling effect on next week’s choice. Will KJ Dell’Antonia decide that some readers are irritated by so many Jewish guest columnists?
The comments never quite crossed the line. But I heard the dog whistles, and I saw with despair that their comments generated sometimes as many as 16 “thumbs up” from apparently silent readers.
Columns about holidays, fertility, pregnancy fears and customs can be so easily universalized by most of us, with the ethnic or religious background of the writer a frame for the common human struggle. But not for Sharon and her supporters. All they could see were too many Jews.
Jewgrass. A combination of American folk bluegrass and Jewish liturgical music.
I have to admit I was really quite skeptical about this combination but Matt Check and his band plays the most incredibly gorgeous and authentic folk music I have heard in years and years.
Joyous and vibrant, simultaneously multi-layered and elegantly simple. The music takes you on a coherent journey of prayer, history, thought and experience. This was a very moving melodious experience with some incredible musicians including the stunning voice of cantor Rachel Brook.
There is a fundraising effort currently underway to make a professional recording of the Bluegrass Kabbalat Shabbat. Go to the Kickstarter campaign for more details and be a part of making this wonderful music more widely available.
All movies buffs and anybody who enjoys cinema can be very excited about the Jewish and Israeli Film festival coming up with some wonderful, sublime movies and documentaries. This is a combination of two festivals, one with a general Jewish theme hosted at Cornell’s Willard Straight cinema, and one with a contemporary Israeli theme hosted at Ithaca college. The Ithaca college Israeli film festival also features panel discussions exploring the themes of the movies.
I’m particularly excited about the Israeli film festival as this festival is showing the two fictional movies of the entire series, ”The Ballad of the Weeping Spring” and “Mabul“. Using the power of fiction to explore Israeli cultural issues is an opportunity that young people in this country encounter less often than documentary and historical approaches.
For practical, logistical purposes I list the movies by calendar date:
Wednesday, February 26, 7:00PM “The Last of the Unjust” documentary by Claude Lanzmann. Location Cornell Cinema Willard Straight Theatre.
Saturday, March 1, 2014, 7:15PM “The Ballad of the Weeping Spring“ Location Ithaca College Park Auditorium.
Sunday March 2, 11:00AM “Sukkah City” (documentary). Location Cornell Cinema Willard Straight Theatre. Hosted by the TBE Arts Committee, with free bagels and coffee.
Sunday, March 2, 2014, 5:00PM “The Garden of Eden”. Location Ithaca College Park Auditorium.
Saturday March 8, 7:00PM “Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here“ (documentary). Location Cornell Cinema Willard Straight Theatre. Note this movie is also shown Sunday March 9th.
Sunday March 16, 11:00AM “Beautifully Broken: The Life and Work of Rafael Goldchain” (documentary). Location Cornell Cinema Willard Straight Theatre. Hosted by the TBE Arts Committee, with free bagels and coffee. Rafael Goldchain, the subject of the documentary, will be present.
For more information go to: cinema.cornell.edu/series_Spring2014/jewish-film-festiv.html and israelffithaca.com
I haven’t seen any of these movies and they all look amazing. Does anyone have a personal recommendations?
William Jacobson will be speaking at an event sponsored by Ithaca College Hillel next Tuesday February 25th. A recent commentary article in the Ithacan showcases how necessary these types of events are to help students understand the complex realities of Israelis and Palestinians.
This past weekend at Limmud NY I had the pleasure of hearing a talk from Ari Shavit, journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller My Promised Land. He is nearing the end of a book tour of the US and mentioned how his encounters on campuses had left him with a profound sense of the disconnect of the average secular American-Jewish student to the Jewish state and his/her understanding of the issues facing Israel. I have no idea why this is the case but I am a firm believer in the value of education to help young people understand the issues and empower the next generation to be strong leaders.
I had read Professor Jacobson’s writing on the LegalInsurrection website and listened to his interviews so I knew he had very interesting points to make about this important topic and I was intensely curious as to if and how he would be able to tame this vast issue into a short talk suitable for young people. Wow, what a phenomenal talk, superlatives escape me. His talk was clear and logical, it was concise, it was incredibly engaging and the audience, a lively group of students on a Friday night, was wrapt and attentive. His talk covered some of the development behind the BDS movement setting it in a global historical context; he included some of his personal experience in combating the various manifestations of these ideas and ran through some practical tips and advice for ordinary citizens.
I had imagined that a talk on this subject would by necessity contain a little hand-wringing and bemoaning. But Professor Jacobson completely rewrote the rules on that with an approach that was so sensible and level-headed, and so comprehensive that he swept up the audience with an overall message that was empowering and positive; as he put it, there is no need for “doom and gloom”. While the BDS movement and it supporters have been hoping to destroy Israel, they have been forgoing the opportunity to build the Palestinian economy. In contrast, Israel has focused on the positive, creating a strong, diverse and vibrant society and economy.
This got me thinking about extrapolating the topic to a personal level. We’ve all been “boycotted” at some point in our lives. When you’re a kid, you’re devastated when you get irrationally “boycotted” by a peer. When you experience this as an adult, you know intellectually that it’s the person refusing to speak to you or engage with you that has the problem, not you. But it’s painful all the same. Be like the Israelis. Keep on offering that olive branch and hope that one day it’s gonna get accepted. But in the meantime, don’t get discouraged. If you put your effort into constructive and productive projects you’ll be creating a tangibly improved world and not is this just the best response, it is the only option because the target of irrational hatred alone, in the absence of other factors, cannot change the hater. So I found the talk inspirational and motivating in a whole other dimension which I think is a testament to the effectiveness of the speaker in teasing out general themes from the thicket of the daily political realities.
Judging from the questions, this talk hit a nerve with young people who hear anti-Israel lies and find it difficult to have a ready response. My teenager, who hasn’t dealt with these issues directly, found it interesting to hear about the background and history of the subject. From my perspective I would also add that it is also powerfully morale boosting to listen to somebody who calmly states the facts, pursues the arguments all the way to their logical conclusions, for reminding us that making the argument that “Israel is a state like any other state, doesn’t need to be one of the top five responses”.
We are so incredibly fortunate to have a person of this stature in our community and it is very generous of him to take the time to share his perspectives. Professor Jacobson is a first-rate thinker and and an inspiring speaker. If you get a chance to hear him talk I strongly recommend you do so.
Thank you very much Professor Jacobson and thank you very much to Rabbi Eli and Chana Silberstein and Rabbi Dovid and Miri Birk for the opportunity to hear this speaker who is doing so much to support rationality (and Israel) and whose leadership is energizing.
Being of course Shabbat, I couldn’t get a photo of the speaker in action so I am including this cartoon on the topic which is taken from the LegalInsurrection website.
Everyone knows that the process by which our food arrives at the grocery store is incredibly complicated. A huge variety of fruits and vegetables are trans-seasonal. And that’s just for unprocessed food. Throw in processed food and there is an exponential increase in complexity.
Planet Money did an excellent series tracking of making and sourcing a T-shirt recently and I can only imagine that a can of baked beans might have an analogous backstory.
There’s no doubt that, for many considerations, locally sourced food is preferable. Living in Ithaca, we are lucky to have ready access to wonderful local produce. Yet we are also grateful for the privilege of being able to acquire many different types of food at the grocery store.
For example, if I had to slaughter an animal myself, I would be strictly vegetarian. I appreciate being able to go to Wegmans and purchase meat ( I realize that there is an inherent contradiction in this but it is one I’m comfortable with).
Same goes for fish. If the fish is filleted and cleaned, ready to cook, I am grateful that I can just get on with the process of cooking.
So it was that I was in the aisles of BJs where I saw they had big bags of very reasonably priced frozen fish fillets. The fish in question was flounder, an unquestionably kosher fish.
I used to go with my grandmother to the fish stalls in Leeds market which boasted an incredibly array of aqua species and I knew that it is perfectly permissible to buy fish from a place that also sells non-kosher seafood. However, there’s a catch. All the fish we bought in “those days” was very recognizable as to what species of fish it was.
Not so for our current day dilemma. In order to accurately know what we are purchasing when the fish is no longer readily identifiable we need to have confidence in the supplier.
Even if supplier is reputable, this is not a sufficient guarantee because the chain of custody for even the simplest foods has multiple entities that can span across the globe. Neither can the consumer rely on accuracy in food labeling, even when there is a legal mandate to do so. For a good example of why legislation doesn’t adequately protect the consumer, see the recent debacle of beef products containing up to 60% horsemeat in the E.U., supposedly a bastion of food regulation.
The only way to rely that the chain of custody of the fish fillet being from the same fish that originally had its fins and scales is certification from an independent third party, aka a hechsher.
Unfortunately the flounder fillets from the Orca seafood company had no scales remaining on the pristine fillets, so were not recognizably from a kosher fish regardless of labeling, and the package did not have a rabbinical supervision symbol.
Bummer. On the off chance, I contacted the company. They were kind enough to reply and this was the message:
A bit disappointing. I thanked them and requested that they consider the market for the kosher consumer. Here is the URL to contact Orca Bay Seafoods if you would like to let the company know your thoughts.
Now I just have to figure out how to offload the pack of fish fillets sitting in the freezer (yes I did buy them
foolishly optimistically hoping they would be OK to eat!).