Orthodox Women Talk: Roundtable about media consumption

OWTHi, everyone! I know I pretty much never post twice in a day, but I’m hosting this month’s Orthodox Women Talk. Our panelists include:

  • Tali Simon
  • Melissa Amster
  • Ruchi Koval
  • Rivki Silver
  • Keshet Starr
  • Estee Lavitt
  • and yours truly.

This month’s question is this:

How much do you engage in popular music, movies and other forms of entertainment? What factors have contributed to that choice?

Wow! We’ve got a lot of variety in responses. Let’s see what our roundtable panelists have to say... Continue reading

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One week until seder night! How to keep focused and full of joy

Here’s today’s teeny post:

Getting through the long, hard slog with a smile on your face.

Passover is just a week away, but if you’re cleaning your house like me, scrubbing mysterious substances off of flatware and appliances you intend to use during the holiday, it can get hard to think beyond getting the house chometz-free. To get myself in the mood, I listen to lots of fun music while I clean (Jewish, classical, and jazz) and attend classes about Passover with local rabbis and teachers. I enjoy practicing singing the seder songs with my kids during carpool, and we usually read I.L. Peretz’s “The Conjuror” at some point during the week.

Writing can be hard work like that, too. What do you do — either while Pesach cleaning or while plugging away at the keyboard — to give you inspiration and focus?

My 5 Favorite Things Currently on the Web

I spend most of my time on the internet doing work, but every once in a while, I stumble upon something I love and have to keep coming back for more. Here are links to my current favs so you can check them out and get obsessed, too.

1) Space Rabbi – I love the brothers Taub and have enjoyed their various projects on Chabad.org for years. Episode 1 gets off to a slow start, but it’s all wackiness from then on, from the retro “futuristic” design elements, to the HAL references, to the bizarre characterizations of all the electronic gadgets that come to life and interact with Rabbi Blastoffski.

Yes, the main character is actually called Rabbi Blastoffski. How cool is that?

2) Pop Chassid – Currently, my favorite Jewish blog on the internet. Elad Nehorai reflects on Judaism, Chassidus, the arts, and modern life. Not only are his posts insightful, but he has some wonderful followers who post great comments.

3) Hanan Harchol – I first got wind of this guy through a bit he had up on Aish.com.  Most of the videos are animated dialogues between Hanan and (his impersonation of) his father and contain reflections about Jewish philosophy. Utterly charming and thought-provoking.

4) Verplanck – I’m not sure how long these guys are going to be around, because they need to raise funds for their project, but part 6 of their Orthodox online comedy is simply hilarious. (Although you probably need to be religious to get the jokes.) It’s awesome if you’re home sick and are too old for Agent Emes. You will laugh yourself healthy.

5) Shtar – Because they rock. Literally. (Okay, sometimes it’s more like hip-hop. Or maybe techno. Or maybe just cool.) “Wonderland” should be used in commercials by the Ministry of Tourism to encourage travel to Israel.

(My first runner-up is G-dcast, video interpretations of Jewish texts that aren’t always Orthodox, but always creative. Check out Avoiding the Mud for a Chassidishe meise, or The Rise of Yavneh for the story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa and destruction of the Temple.)

How to be gnarly even if you’re frum–Chareidi Jew jamming on a skateboard

01_ami095I just saw the cover of this week’s Ami Magazine (November 29, 2012), and it just made me feel good all over (and I’m pretty sick today, so that’s an accomplishment). On it, Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser is on his skateboard and playing guitar. He looks so frum and like he’s having so much fun. He’s an amazing speaker, by the way, and I think he’s in the States right now promoting his Possible You seminar.

Over the last couple weeks, we’ve been hearing about images that break your heart or just make you angry. But this photo warms my heart.

Anybody out there care to share the details of a photo that warms their heart? Please do so in the comments.

How to Do Teshuva: Giving up and Layne Staley

I think my husband thinks I’ve lost my mind. This Orthodox Jewish housewife (okay, writer…but only extremely part-time writer) has lately been listening to–of all things–huge quantities of Alice in Chains. To those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Alice in Chains is a band the originated in the ’90s as part of the grunge movement that came out of Seattle. Think heavy metal with superior harmonized vocals and thought-provoking, spiritual lyrics that only rarely involve profanity.

Here’s an example of a slower song (I promise, no bad words) with relatively tame video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8hT3oDDf6c

Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley were the heart of the band at its inception. Staley’s lyrics largely reflect his regret that he largely wasted his life on drug addiction. At the end of his 34 years on this earth, he admitted in interviews that he didn’t get any pleasure from doing drugs. First he did drugs to escape reality, then he did them to avoid withdrawl. He pretty much died of every horrible complication you can have of drug addiction possible. Then his corpse sat in his apartment undiscovered for two weeks. (Talk about a cautionary tale.) Layne Staley’s ninth “yahrzeit” so to speak, will be in a few days.
So why am I listening to so much Alice in Chains?
Our Sages teach that one of the ways the yetzer hara (inclination to do evil) speaks to us is through telling us it’s too late…we’re too lowly to do teshuva (the process of regret, confession, then a return to correct behavior), too steeped in sin. It tries to convince us we’ve got no hope at digging ourselves out, that our true identity is our yetzer hara, instead of our soul. This is exactly the fear conveyed by many of Alice in Chains’ poetic songs.
Down in a hole
feeling so small
down in a hole
losing my soul
I’d like to fly
But my wings are bent
so can I?
The songs written by Layne Staley are a modern-day (l’havdil) selichos.
The tragedy of Layne Staley isn’t simply that he did drugs. It’s that he never seized the opportunity to do teshuva in time. As much as he was a victim of drug abuse, he was a victim of his own yetzer hara. This is a stark reminder that the yetzer hara is considered identical to the Angel of Death.
At this time of year, with Passover approaching, we can recall that the Jewish people were at a deep level of impurity during the period of their slavery. Finally, the children of Israel cried out to HaShem (G-d) and He brought us out of bondage. There are numerous accounts in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) and Jewish history of those who turned away from lives steeped in sin, including Rachav (left behind life in a brothel to rescue Jews and marry a prophet) and Shimon ben Lakish (aka Reish Lakish – left behind life as a bandit and gladiator to study and teach Torah). Let their stories remind us that it is never too late to get back on the correct path.

We are told by in Mishlei (the Book of Proverbs), “...sheva yipol tzaddik v’kam.” (“Seven times shall
the righteous fall and then rise.”) The difference between those of us who are righteous and those of us who aren’t isn’t whether we’ve sinned or not, but whether we’ve picked up ourselves to try better next time.

I wish Layne Staley had picked himself up and flown.