Saturday, October 20, 2018

Can You Help Me Update the Resource Pages?

It is beyond time to update my links and blogroll pages. Can you help? What are your favorite online Jewish resources, Hebrew resources, conversion blogs, and anything else you think would be useful to a conversion candidate? Just drop them in the comments below!

The internet is a very big place, as I'm sure you've heard. Together we can make a better resource than I ever could alone!

Thank you!! This community is so big, and I know we can help each other get the best available info!

To the internet! 


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Book Review: Mommy Never Went to Hebrew School by Rabbi Mindy Avra Portnoy

Mommy Never Went to Hebrew School by Mindy Avra Portnoy

The title really speaks for itself, right? I couldn't NOT get this book.

I've owned it for years, and it never fails to make me guffaw. This is the best possible title for a book on this topic. It remains one of my favorite books in my (ginormous) book collection.

But in all seriousness, it's not a bad book. It may not be useful to you, but there are definitely people who could benefit from it in certain ways. And you too can own it used for only $2 (plus shipping) on Amazon! It doesn't appear to be in print anymore, but there are about 25 used copies for sale right now.

Yes, it's 80s-rific (published in 1989). Yes, of course it's about a woman who converts for marriage who comes from a nominally Christian family ("Presbyterians to be exact"). Yes, of course she's blonde. Yes, of course it doesn't tackle patrilineal descent or having born-Jewish family. Yes, of course it overlooks issues of race in both content and illustrations (minus one or two background, black and white drawings who might be people of color). Yes, of course there's very little diversity in any sense.

But it's also a good explanation of conversion for kids. Not kids as young as mine. But maybe yours. No book on a topic this big with this many variables will fit everyone, unless you write your own. (Please write your own. We need more books on this topic.)


It also mentions the main character learning that his friend's dad is "Jewish by choice" (in case you love or hate that phrase) and a friend who converted as a baby after adoption. It even brings up a big question important to kids: "Last week, when I didn't feel like waking up for Hebrew School, I told mom I shouldn't have to go because she didn't have to when she was little. I thought it was a great argument. But mom explained to me that she used to go to Sunday School classes at her church, and that she had to wake up even earlier."

On non-Jewish families: "Mom knew that becoming Jewish was an important decision, so she talked it over with her parents. They agreed that even though they might pray in different ways and celebrate different holidays, they could still love and respect each other." That may not be your experience with your family, but that's a great lesson for your kid to hear moving forward.

Is this acceptable to orthodox people? Depends on your hashkafah. Not every male character is wearing a kippah (including the main boy), and there's nary a black hat in sight. All the rabbis are male, even though the author is a female rabbi. All the women are dressed in tznius-friendly ways as best as I can tell from black and white line drawings, minus the obvious exception of the toweled-back in the mikvah.

Will I read it to my kids one day? Yes. It doesn't totally track my own experience, especially since I come from an atheist family and converted as a single woman, but the core concepts are there. It's an excellent background resource and conversation starter for myself. Maybe not for you. But now you know it's out there if it's something you might be interested in!

There are very few books out there about conversion for kids. Which ones have you read, and what did you think of them?  

Sunday, October 7, 2018

New Jewish Movies Available Online!

Welcome back to the real world, post-chag! Do your co-workers and classmates still remember you?

I bet you have so much free time in those hours you've previously been spending prepping for yom tov each week. Sure, you could spend that time catching up on real life or learning Torah... or you could brush up on your Jewish pop culture! After all, at least half of becoming orthodox is learning cultural cues and shared history. You can only people-watch at shul events for so long before you seem creepy, and it's helpful to rewind and rewatch parts and words that confuse you. They can also be good lessons in what NOT to do. Jewish pop culture also helps you build your Jewish vocabulary and shared cultural knowledge. Being able to "get" jokes and cultural references sounds insignificant compared to an eternal soul, but it can often be a big part of whether you feel connected to your community or like a frustrated outsider. The little moments of disconnection and confusion add up quickly and destroy morale. Hence the entire purpose of this site!

This week I came across some surprising new Jewish offerings on Amazon Prime's video listings! I "cut the cord" on cable after moving out of my parents' house all those years ago (simply because I couldn't afford it at 18), and I've never gone back. It's one of the better life decisions I've made, in my opinion. I never would have read or learned as much as I have if I'd continued with my TV-watching habits of my teen years! It was a problem.

But that doesn't mean I'm completely screen-free now. I tend to be very open to pop culture in my hashkafa (Jewish philosophy/approach, for lack of a better definition), but others aren't. Many of us ebb and flow over time. So if you're someone who still watches movies (and I find this is the norm for people who visit this blog and for large sections of the orthodox community - not always openly admitting it), have I got some good ones for you! Free! Well, if you have Amazon Prime. (If you don't have Amazon Prime, I highly suggest trying the 30 day free trial! I've been a very happy Prime member for over 6 years.)

For all that free time you have, here are some movies to watch! 

Fiddler on the Roof! Ok, this isn't new, but I think it was newly added and it's a classic of both the Jewish world and secular theatre. If you haven't seen it, you should. I worked in theatre for a decade, and I was fortunate enough to see it performed once in person and saw the movie once years ago. I had honestly forgotten how funny it is, and especially how the casting for Tevye is one of the best in cinema, in my opinion. 

Fun fact: Fiddler was directed by Nathan Jewison. Who is not actually Jewish. YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP. 


Yentl! Also a classic, starring Barbara Streisand as a woman who masquerades as a man in order to learn. It's been a very long time since I've seen this, so maybe I'll make time for it sometime soon!

Disobedience. Now here's a very new one. It's...complicated, and people have widely differing opinions on it. But if you're like me, I'll watch anything Jewish, especially when I was newer to the community (for all the educational reasons I describe above). It's just like how I spent a lot of law school evenings watching Law & Order. I love "catching" what the creators did right or wrong. The premise of Disobedience is that a woman (played by Rachel Weisz) leaves a chareidi British community and comes back after her father, the Rav, dies. She ends up rekindling a romantic relationship with a female friend who stayed in the community (Rachel McAdams). This is NSFW.

#ProTip: Something that particularly confuses American audiences: apparently it's a common British frum thing to wish mourners "may you live a long life" ("Chayim aruchim"). They say that approximately 500 times in Disobedience and I'd never heard it before. I thought that was just my own ignorance, but Facebook conversations showed this was a common reaction. 

Some of the older offerings:

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel! A non-orthodox Jewish family in 1950s Manhattan, where the title character becomes a single mother and turns to stand-up comedy as a career. It is really NSFW. The new season is coming, but a release date hasn't been announced yet.

Transparent! A father is trans and decides to transition, which turns her life and family upside down. The family is non-orthodox Jewish, and a reform rabbi plays a major role in their lives. The fourth season centers around a trip to Israel. I'm very conflicted with this show. I hate pretty much all the characters because they're just awful selfish, hurtful people. But it's also one of the best-made TV shows I've ever seen. I can't look away.

If you're into marginally-Jewish TV, the new season of The Man in the High Castle just came out, an alternate history where the Nazis won WWII and run most of America (Japan controls the Western states, and Germany and Japan are in a Cold War). Likewise, there's Valkyrie, a dramatization of a real plot to kill Hitler. I try to avoid watching anything with Tom Cruise, but you may feel differently.

And if you still have time...

And then some movies I haven't seen yet and didn't even know Amazon had until I began digging around tonight!

Mendy. The story of a Brooklyn Chassid who leaves his community. I've heard that it's good.

Srugim! I'm really shocked Facebook didn't tell me this. It's all the rage.

The Little Traitor. A "coming of age" tale set around the founding of the state of Israel. Based on a novel by Amos Oz. I'd never heard of this movie, but all signs point to it being decent.

Menashe! Another one I'm shocked I didn't hear that I could watch for free! This is a very new, very popular movie.

Exodus! Another classic, about the founding of the state of Israel. You might be surprised by some of the actors.

Do you know of others?

I have to admit I'm pretty disappointed that Amazon's offerings are very Askenormative/Ashkenazi-centric, but I don't know enough about Jewish and Israeli-available-in-English cinema to know whether this is a chicken or an egg issue. If you know of any others legally available for free (from any site), especially non-Ashkenazi offerings, please share them in the comments below!