Saturday, September 27, 2008

shanah tovah!

Have you sent a card out yet? Well, get to it, then! Shanah tovah!

Send this eCard !

Blasphemy in the classroom

Sometimes I think it's good that my student can't see how my chin is hitting the ground so hard that it's practically trailing behind me.

The other day, we watched Jesus Christ Superstar to talk about stereotypes in main stream media. I had planned to use Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, mostly, because some students had repeatedly stressed how deeply meaningful this movie was to them as a faithful account of 'what really happened'... But my school owns no copy and I didn't want to enrich Mel, so I went back to an old favorite of mine, Jesus Christ Superstar:

When I walked into the room, I had a fleeting feeling that this might turn out to be a really bad idea. Sure enough, there was barely a giggle--and who could watch Herod's dance with a straight face!--and one student immediately responded: "It's blasphemy! The film maker can't have been a Christian!" So, okay, I lied and told her he was. After some hesitation, others chimed in, confirming my suspicion that at least a third of them is far less religious than they let on, and they started pointing out the priests' black clothes and outlandish headgear, the pudgy supergay Herod as a representation of Jewish power etc. Nobody, however, remarked on the most obvious problems: the choice to depict Judas as a highly sexualized black guy and Jesus as a blond, blue-eyed and well, Jesus-like (and sexless) figure. When I raised the question of Jesus as a blond man, one of the African-American students looked at me and responded: But that's how he's been presented to us. Seriously?! What do they do in their churches? Hold hands, promise abstinence, and pray for world peace?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Saints and abstinence

Last Friday, a student gave a presentation on Simon Stylites, one of my favorite saints, immortalized by Bunuel. 37 years on top of a pillar! Students usually love him. This one started with a (to me) novel explanation of asceticism: You know, it's like abstinence, when you promise not to have sex before marriage. All nodded in agreement and once more, my chin hit the ground. He also compared Simon to the Seventh Day Adventists, another example that wouldn't have occurred to me in a million years, maybe, because I know so little about the Adventists... They went on to discuss if Simon had really done the Lord's work ("Jesus says in Luke: Go out to the world...") and after hearing a bit more about the desert fathers they agreed that in fact, he had. I'm glad they liked him, too, if for completely different reasons!

Here is Simon with some of his buddies, note Onouphrious who wore nothing but his hair for forty years (!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This city's cab drivers

Still without a car, I have gotten to know my city's cab drivers, all three of them, quite well. The first couldn't find the main street bordering the university and went to the library instead. One, a former Brooklynite, pulled out photocopies of Civil War photographs. The third guy never showed up. Another, an older man, told me segregation stories, virtually bursting from excitement and pride when Obama was nominated--once he'd figured out I wasn't a Republican. One asked me if I knew the fastest way home from the airport (my response: No, but if you take the long way, I'll be annoyed). This was about five minutes before his cab broke down in the dead of the night on a deserted six-lane street. Of course, I immediately called a friend to make sure people would know where to start looking for my body.

What a relief then to be in NY for a week-end where you can flag down a cab instead of waiting at a corner for a half hour for a no-show and, best: I understand the drivers, or at least at a higher rate than here. This time, the cab driver taking me to a friend's wedding in New York asked me happily if I, too, was going to "the wedding". It turned out on the previous day, he'd driven out one of the musicians who'd gotten the time wrong. And when I meant that she should have known that Jewish weddings rarely take place on Shabbat, he smiled and said: Well, I knew that, but I wasn't gonna tell her, was I? Besides, you know, sometimes, they have a Bar or Bas Mitzvah, and then they do have musicians, too, sometimes... Oh, how I felt homesick for the Big Apple at that moment!

Today was another big cab day. I had to go to the DMV to hand in the impressive pile of documents necessary to get my license transferred (not yet! still missing one signature), then home and back to school. When I climed into the cab, I noticed that this one had a rather nice wooden rosary hanging from the rear mirror, a rare sight here. The driver was also unusually jumpy for a southerner, and, sure enough, turned out to be from Brooklyn. After hearing that I was new in town and in a slight non sequitur, he announced that Tuesday would be a big day for the Jews: It'll be Rosh Hashoneh, you know. When I responded that my students would be completely unfamiliar with the term, he exclaimed: They never heard from Rosh Hashone? They must not be from New York. Then he told me about his Jewish mother (hence the Yiddish pronounciation), and his love for the Church ("It's not too big, but I dig it"), pointing out this or that church on the way.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

why do jews dance polka?

I know this is absolutely haram, but I just finished grading my students' quizzes on Judaism and can't resist spreading the joy. Priceless!

Rabi Akiva was the man revealed to Moses by God who sat in the 7th row of the Academy. He was later seen as meat being weighed at a butcher shop and when Moses questioned God, God said something along the lines of "I saw it in my mind and it was so." (this is actually quite an accurate account, but hilarious as a definition of R. Akiva)

Moses Maimonides--philosopher, German, taught Yom Kippur traditions.
--man who led them out of Egypt and receive the ten commandments
--was given the ten commandments. He is well respected in the Jewish cultural and believed to have contact with God himself. (Oh well, from Moses to Moses...)

Bat Mitzvah--coming of age at 13 yrs old, first haircut, reading of "Torah" (some students include: Oral Torah). Huge celebration, get together and have a great time with tradition.

Yom Kippur - drink and get get together for a nice dinner.

Oral Torah - tongues (as a friend noted: there's a dirty joke in there somewhere)

Siddur - a robe of sort that a man wears at his wedding and his funeral. It is usually a wedding present from his wife. (The same student continues:) Kashrut - or maybe this one is a robe worn at the wedding and funeral? I think it's either this one or the "Sidder".

The covenant is a Jewish holiday.

And the polka question? I have no idea but it came right after "Are Jews for Jesus Jewish?" (good question!)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

southern Jews

I think Jews here are accustomed to living undercover, surrounded by a total ignorance of Jewish life and in a very conservative and decidedly Christian culture. Maybe this is why they seem genuinely excited about all the changes they see going on at the moment, it's a kind of communal coming-out. And, indeed, for a mere 10,000 Jews statewide, this community has achieved a lot. In my city of 3000 Jews alone, at least two supermarket have sizeable kosher sections, there are several shuls, a day school, and we even have a brandnew JCC. True, the latter is at least 70% non-Jewish, but that just makes it more Jewish in my eyes. What JCC is still majority Jewish nowadays anyway?

Today, the Yidden turned up for a Jewish-themed lecture, some looking decidedly old-world in their suits with their New York accents, or without: "Ah thenk mah fahmily came here in 1890...", leaving with rather academic books in hand, with a genuine hunger for Jewish knowledge. Having spent just a month here, I cannot imagine what it means to be biblebelted in the long run, but judging by my students who don't know from bagel & lox (!!), it must have been tough. Still, even the kids are trying: today, we had a presentation on Yom Kippur in my intro class. The students had never heard of the Day of Atonement ("atonement from what, professor?"), but here they were, talking about kittels as if they'd been born wearing them, describing rituals, texts, and bringing in home-made Yom Kippur booklets as handouts...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What do College professors do?

Here's a great letter from Notorious PhD telling us. Thanks, Girl Scholar!

the domestic wildlife

Every night this last month, my flatmate, a well-sized palmetto bug, would zip through through the bathroom to wave me good night. Of course, he could be many, but I preferred to think of him as a survivor of chemical warfare. Last Thursday morning, I found my neighbor, belly up, between the toilet bowl and the sink and by the time I was awake enough to pick him up without turning green, he was gone. I briefly worried and wondered what had happened. Cannibalism? Or maybe he wasn't dead after all and had gone to visit his buddies down by the pool, rustling contently in the leaves...
Anyway, a few hours later I found him in the middle of the living room and when I picked him up, he wriggled between my fingers. Of course, I shrieked, dropped the thing and decided to wait until after I’d returned from my trip to New York. On Monday morning, strengthened by a healthy dose of NY resolve, I slipped into a shoe to step on him before disposing of the carcass--just to be on the safe side--but instead, my toes crunched a roach that had apparently moved into my left shoe... by the time the spray guy came for his monthly tour of my apartment, I basically rolled out the red carpet for him and knew it was time to go out and buy some cans of DDT or whatever its 21st century equivalent might be.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

that intro class again

Today was "show and tell" in my intro class, and I brought in a ton of books, some volumes of the Talmud, Mishnah, Siddurim, Haggadot... the mamouth-size Talmud, a gift from Rob, was a smashing success... They were fascinated by the books but I do not think they are learning much. I picked the wrong teaching book, for starters and will, next time I teach this class, switch to that absolutely awful chatty book the students love, maybe they'd even read it. Secondly, I don't know how to relate to them and their experience of growing up in the south. I set up a website with links and video clips but they don't go there either. Hmm.