The Weird and Wondrous World of Jews and Magic

The first time I came face-to-face with Jewish magic was when I moved to Israel in my early 20s. It was the fall of 1995 and Jerusalem was beginning a 15-month celebration marking the 3,000 years since King David conquered the city and proclaimed it the capital of the Jewish people. Bright banners emblazoned with “3000” hung from street lamps throughout the municipality and the mood was festive. Along with countless others, I watched the opening ceremonies outside the Knesset and listened, enthralled, as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told of leading the Israeli Army into the Old City of Jerusalem during the 1967 War and then spoke about how the real message of the last 3,000 years was the need for tolerance between religions and love between peoples. At the end of the speech, an...

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gender neutral hebrew

Can Hebrew Be Gender-Neutral?

Gender in Hebrew—as in Spanish, Hindi, French and other languages—is intimately woven into word construction. “Hebrew goes a lot further,” says Erez Levon, a professor of sociolinguistics at Queen Mary University of London who focuses on questions of gender and sexuality. He explains that the language is particularly restrictive because gender is conveyed through masculine or feminine verb, adjective and adverb endings and almost every other part of speech.

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Book Review | The First Book of Jewish Jokes edited by Elliott Oring

The First Book of Jewish Jokes Edited by Elliott Oring Translated by Michaela Lang Indiana University Press 2018, 176 pp, $65 It’s the inherent vice of joke books that their jokes are stale, wizened, practically in full beards. Paper doesn’t just flatten the delivery; it kills. (Take my joke—please!) There’s no joke teller, no emphasis on sound or detail, no voice. Lenny Bruce’s now-canonical “Jewish and Goyish” is funny because of the rhythm, and because of the intense personality it barely restrains. Joke books have no rhythm and no persons; they are disembodied words. The surprise of The First Book of Jewish Jokes is that a joke book from 1812 still sometimes shows a faint pulse. After all, when’s the last time you heard a good one about the learned philosopher Moses Mendelssohn? Edited by Elliott Oring, an anthropologist and...

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film festivals

Moment’s Guide to Film Festivals

Films You Shouldn’t Miss By Isaac Zablocki A notable theme that emerged from the film festival lineups was movies about the Orthodox community. This includes Red Cow by Tsivia Barkai-Yacov, a movie about a young woman maturing and coming out as gay in a family of settlers in an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Redemption by Yossi Madmoni and Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov follows the story of a rock band attempting to get back together after the lead singer becomes religious. The Unorthodox by Eliran Malka follows the establishment of the Shas Party—the Sephardic/Mizrachi religious social-political movement. The film is engaging, though it downplays the dramatic outcry that led to the rise of this party. One of the films relating to Arab life in Israel is the documentary Cause of Death by Ramy Katz, which could not...

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alfred moses

Author Interview | Alfred Moses

When Alfred Moses, an attorney and prominent national Jewish leader, traveled behind the Iron Curtain to Romania in 1976, the impoverished country was under the thumb of the ruthless and corrupt dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The trip changed Moses’s life, inspiring him to fight for the freedom of Romania’s Jews.

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Poem: The State of Things

On the day after Yom Kippur, I ride my bike along the waterfront. Pious men build their sukkah before sunset. Will they invite me to be their guest? Priests and prophets are oblivious of emptiness. The past is with me, an unhappy house in my old neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Across the river, platinum flickers. There is a difference between dream and vision. I want to describe the moon behind olive trees, sunflowers against a black sky. I want to keep the light that fills my bedroom with the memory of a vacation home. I want to fix what is broken before I can let it go. The rabbi said one embrace can heal the world. Cut off and childless, I want to know: What sin did I commit? Which mark did I miss? No one asks for forgiveness at the waterfront. Longshoremen dance in Amsterdam. The factory is gone. I hear laughter in...

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Talk of the Table | The Power of Couscous

Throughout the Maghreb, couscous was traditionally prepared by groups of women, family and friends, who helped each other pass the long hours it took to make. First, they spread semolina wheat, bought by the men and freshly ground, onto a large round platter, sprinkling it with salted water and sometimes flour.

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