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Thursday, February 21, 2008
613 Words: Sex and the Skullcap

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

Who knew a little piece of fabric could say so much?

Some women swoon for a man in a tux; others for the sight of a guy in a tight pair of Levis. For me, there's nothing quite as hot as a man in a yarmulke. In a world where getting dressed for most men means matching a solid color button-down shirt with a pair of machine-washable khakis, it's exciting, titillating even, to see a man make a bold statement in his choice of accessories.

What is it about a guy with a head covering that I find so damn sexy? Maybe it's that by donning a kippah, the wearer puts his Jewishness right out there for the world to see. There's no "is he or isn't he" when a man is wearing a yarmulke. Immediately we know that this is a guy who knows his way around a jar of gefilte fish. He gets that the book opening from left isn't a misprint by the publisher. He knows the exact moment to do the bendy-knee thing during prayer services at synagogue.

You can tell a lot about a man by the style of his kippah. A black suede yarmulke is favored by the Orthodox community, sure -- but did you know that it also connotes versatility, timelessness, and a great sense of style? You don't have to be Sabbath observant to wear this classic headpiece. The man who wears a little black kippah is a sort of Jewish James Bond -- he knows how to order a martini and will recover the stolen microchip all before sundown on Friday.

If a guy dons a colorful, crocheted cap, he's likely to be outgoing, adventurous, and laid-back. Though he may be a little less sophisticated than the black yarmulke wearer, his adolescent exuberance left over from those wild youth group days will have you fantasizing about afternoon sex on the kibbutz. His idea of a perfect date includes hand-delivered kosher pizza and klezmer dancing followed by an all-night horah between the sheets.

Steer clear of the guy who uses his yarmulke to show support for his favorite sports team. This is the type of man who considers one of those foam hands appropriate living room wall art. If you want to marry a guy with his own set of plastic commemorative cups, who is forever ducking away from the table to check the score, then by all means date the man with Go Broncos! embroidered on his head.

While a large, satin yarmulke may look appealing on the outside, beware of something more sinister underneath. I once removed such a yarmulke from a boyfriend's head and was faced with a most disturbing inscription on the flip side. Who was this "Melissa Shapiro," and why was my boyfriend still keeping mementos from her "Rockin' Bat Mitzvah"?

Some women tell me they're turned off when a guy uses a bobby pin to secure his kippah to his keppe. I strongly urge them to reconsider their view on this. Though the use of something sold next to the scrunchees may not seem manly, in fact it couldn't be more so. My friend Judy found herself trapped in the bathroom during a Passover Seder, when a quick-thinking guest pulled the clip from his cranium, jimmied the lock, and saved the day. "He was like MacGyver," she says with a funny little sigh.

A yarmulke can help a man maintain a connection to God. It can also hide a bald spot. But when a guy is really rocking one the right way, it sure gets you wondering what else is underneath.

--Text by Ronnie Koenig / Photo by Carlos Torres

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 5:53 PM | Link | (0) comments |
5 More Women Who Rock

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

1. Basya Schechter's voice sounds like some rare, lush gift bestowed to us from the past. Originally a Boro Park girl, Schechter began globe-trotting when she left her yeshiva in Israel behind for a trek through Egypt. There she picked up Arabic beats, an interest in Ladino (a Spanish-Jewish dialect) and a sense of world music that wouldn't sound out of place on a Putumayo album. On her newest album with her band Pharaoh's Daughter her voice seduces the listener; it's the sound of a gorgeous global consciousness flirting with God.

2.Jewlia Eisenberg is an intertextuality music genius. Her solo project Trilectic was a brilliant amalgamation of Walter Benjamin, erotic romance, and Jewish intellectualism in the 20th century. Her group, Charming Hostess, regularly tackles topics ranging from Semezdin Mehmedinovic's Bosnian poetry (Sarajevo Blues), to gender reversals. All the while, they sound ridiculously catchy like someone turned the pop dial to 11. Fun, smart, and Jewish? This Christmas season, Jewlia rewrote Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer as a Yiddish carol and slapped it on YouTube. So add irreverent to the mix and you have one of the most exciting Jewish artists alive today.

3.I saw Chana Rothman at Jewzapalooza this year on a star-studded lineup (well, studded for the niche Jewish music market). Still, she blew the competition away. She's got the aesthetics of a folk singer and the vocal tics of a hip-hop artist, positing herself as a cheery 21st century urban conscious. Her debut album, We Can Rise, came out this year packed with protest songs of social consciousness ("Walk a Mile" and "Gates of Justice") that wouldn't feel totally out of place at the Newport Folk Festival. The unpolished parts of We Can Rise only indicate that Rothman is at the beginning of an auspicious and rocking start to her career so far.

4.Amy Winehouse is the London born, Jewish cabaret voiced chanteuse who's unfortunately known more for her radical behavior than her music. And it's good music. Between her emphatic single "Rehab" (that protests being sent back there) and her American debut Back to Black, she won five Grammy awards. Not to mention that she's appeared on hundreds of year-end critical lists. She's been quickly canonized and written about most everywhere, making it hard to add anything new here. So let's just say: She's like Pete Doherty with Dorothy Parker's diet regimen (Lucky Strikes + Scotch?), Elvis Presley's hip-shaking huh's, and maybe a sprinkle of Ella Fitzgerald.

5.Ayelet Rose Gottlieb's Mayim Rabim is a 10-song cycle taken from the Biblical text of Song of Songs. Instead of merely reiterating King Solomon's poems of love, though, Gottlieb (pictured above) completely recontextualizes them, regenderizes them, and turns them into enormous, sensuous walls of sound that consume the listener. The instrumentals are passionate, fervent, longing, and then Gottlieb's voice detonates: At once both lush and explosive. Next, she's working with Basya Schechter (above) on the John Zorn project "Book of Angels." Two of our Women Who Rock working together? Where do we sign up?

--Text by Mordechai Shinefield

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 5:50 PM | Link | (3) comments |
Neshama Carlebach: Soul Sister

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

Neshama Carlebach is carrying on the musical legacy of her famous father by spreading the gospel of prayer in the unlikeliest of places.

Neshama Carlebach is music royalty. She is the eldest daughter of the late singer and songwriter, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who is credited with penning the tunes behind many of the synagogue prayers. Neshama began performing her father's music just weeks after his death in 1994. Today, she is known by her first name, the Hebrew word for soul. She sells out shows around the world, in part because many people consider her to be a reincarnation of her father, with her soulful voice and spiritual melodies, not to mention, her lustrous curls.

But recently Neshama has ventured out of her father's shadow, although she is reluctant to describe his legacy as such. "I never feel like I'm in my father's shadow. I feel like I'm in his light," she says. "My father was never that person to tell me how to be or how to act."

After years of performing his songs, Neshama is about to release her sixth album, a collaborative effort with her longtime musical director, pianist David Morgan. "It's sort of a big step for us," she says. "I'm more inspired than I've been in a long time."
We speak by phone, hours before Neshama is scheduled to fly to London for a five-day concert tour. The day before, she canceled a lunch meeting at a kosher café near her home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. She leaves an impassioned message on my voice mail, describing the stress of traveling and of leaving her one-year-old son for the first time.

"I'm freaking out," she tells me when we connect the next day. On her cell phone, she is already at the airport and waiting to clear security. She sounds strung out. "It's just not OK for him to be traveling anymore," she says of her son, whom she brought on the road when he was five weeks old and not nearly as mobile. "I spent the entire day crying. I'm kind of numb right now."

But even in her emotional state, Neshama delivers the passion she is known for both onstage and off. Long defined by her role as a daughter, becoming a mother has changed her, she says. "I feel like I have a whole new perspective on life, I'm more open and more vulnerable. I feel like I have more to give and more to say ... Definitely, I don't think I could be shallow again. Not that I ever was," she says.

When Neshama performs, her voice -- throaty but radiant -- soars over divinely inspired notes. But on this point, Neshama distinguishes herself from her father, who used music to reach disenchanted Jews. "Even though I hope people feel closer to God, I'm not singing to get them to shul," she explains.

I observe that these ebbs and flows -- similarities and differences -- have defined Neshama as Shlomo Carlebach's daughter for most of her adult life. "I love my father's music more than anything in the world," she says. "I want to live my father's legacy because I felt it was left to me."


Raised in Toronto, Neshama dreamed of a career on Broadway, and as a child she studied acting, singing, and dancing. She began performing with her dad when she was only a teenager. "It was intimidating," she tells me. "My father never wanted to rehearse anything, go over anything."

After he died when she was 15, Neshama took over his performance schedule, effectively assuming his musical legacy. "I grew up quick," she says. "The minute my father passed away, it became apparent that this was my music. It was the most precious gift."

It has also been a complicated gift.

To this day, groups of Orthodox Jews and some of her father's most ardent fans criticize Neshama's decision to perform his songs. Famously, the last album that Shlomo recorded before his death -- a duet with Neshama -- was not released for nearly three years because of a protracted legal dispute with the recording technician.

Neshama is fiercely protective of her father's songs. "There are so many Shlomo wannabes," she says, of those who would capitalize on her father's life and music. "Every song is like a diamond that I guard with my life."

Just last month, Neshama says she received an angry email from someone who chastised her for singing publicly because she is a woman. (Orthodox Jewish tradition prohibits women from singing in front of men.) In recounting the episode, Neshama quickly defends her performances, which have been sanctioned by several rabbis. "We're not living in a shtetl anymore," she says.

As if to underscore this last point, Neshama describes another project she is working on: a seventh album, which she is recording with a gospel choir in the Bronx. Ironically, this pairing is reminiscent of her father's first record, produced in 1958, which includes background vocals sung by a Baptist gospel choir.

Neshama mentions that her father was sharply rebuked when he was seen walking into the church; similarly, she has gotten into trouble for singing with the choir. (People have mistaken her for a member of the group Jews for Jesus.)

But like her father, she shrugs off the criticism. "I'm very proud," she says of singing with the choir. "Their voices are exquisite, so soulful. I feel like the world is full of light when these people are singing." Consciously or not, she channels her father with her next words: "The world is too broken and we have too much to fix to be walking around and judging."

--Text by E.B. Solomont / Photo by Nedara Carlebach

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 5:47 PM | Link | (0) comments |
Regina Spektor: From Russia With Love

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

"When we write something, we have not coughed up the moon, whose origins might then be investigated. Rather, we have moved to the moon with everything we have." -- Franz Kafka to Max Brod (April 1918)

You know Regina Spektor, already, right? She's a Jewish Russian immigrant who came to the United States when she was nine from Russia -- where she was a classical pianist. She attended a Modern Orthodox high school; SAR Academy in Riverdale (where apparently she was in the same class as my friend's sister's friend -- Jewish geography triumphant). According to an NPR interview, she became interested in songwriting while on an arts trip in Israel.

"We were hiking through the Negev desert, and I'm not much of a hiker. I'm a city girl. So it's really hard," she explains, her words full of laughter. "To help myself get through it, I'd sing little songs and make them up. And kids would kind of hike closer and closer to me, then in the evenings they'd be like, 'Oh, can you sing that one again?'"

In 2003 the Strokes brought Spektor to open for them on the road, and later on the tour she blew up big with her freak-folk fantastic Soviet Kitsch — songs like "Poor Little Rich Boy" and "Us." Lyrics like, "We're living in a den of thieves / Rummaging for answers in the pages," and "They made a statue of us / Our noses have begun to rust," like the pop music equivalent of Jonathan Safran Foer, or Michael Chabon — or maybe more like Hans Christian Anderson, or Marie de France, or Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

You know Franz Kafka too. Gaunt looking Prague-born Jew, 20th century author of surrealistic works that contend with a fractured, pained world. Blew up big postmortem with a bunch of half-finished, stone-cold genius novels, and completed absolutely-brain-shattering short fiction. He's famous for short fiction like The Metamorphosis and books like The Trial. His texts have lyrics like "Once, just in front of him, he thought he could see the statue of a saint by the glitter of the silver on it, although it quickly disappeared back into the darkness."

So now that we've established that we know the difference between Miss Spektor and Kafka, let me state this in the most emphatic of tones: Regina Spektor is Frank Kafka. I don't just mean they both have artistic concerns with statues (and freakiness and the mundane turned unique), though they both do. I mean that what makes Kafka spectacular -- his sense of humor, his absurdity that quickly turns to chiding mockery, the way that the unknown looms over his words like a steroids-pumped muscle-bound man wandering through darkened city streets -- is what makes Spektor spectacular.

The first single off her 2006 breakthrough album Begin to Hope, "Fidelity" quickly shifts from the heartbreaking softly sung "Suppose I kept on singing love songs just to break my own fall," to the mock-inflicted "All my friends say that of course it's gonna get better" within the space of ten seconds. On the first, she sounds like she is about to cry. The second is full of jabbering, a mouth-full-of-laughter repetition of betta'. As if behind every heartbreak song are the jaws of the surreal.

On "Samson," where Spektor cribs from the Biblical story, she sings, "Samson went back to bed / Not much hair left on his head. / He ate a slice of wonder bread and went right back to bed / And history books forgot about us and the Bible didn't mention us," turning the tale into a story of simple, halting domesticity -- "Your hair was long when we first met." On "Hotel Song," Spektor "dreams of orca whales and owls," but she "wakes up in fear."

There is little point trying to interrogate Spektor's songs, hoping that they will give something up in the investigation. Parsing her orca whales is much like trying to figure out what is really inside Kafka's Castle. The point is the journey into something surreal and absurd -- a world where the truths of life are written on the back of cereal boxes ("That Time") and corner street societies validate your sorrows ("Lady").

And if you're lucky, when Spektor moves to the moon with everything she has, next time, she'll even let you come with her.

--Text by Mordechai Shinefield / Photo by Chris Crisman

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 5:40 PM | Link | (0) comments |
Marissa Nadler: Please do not mistake this singer for Joan Baez

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

Marissa Nadler is not a folk singer., and she would appreciate it if you would not mistake her for one. She may be, however, the best singer-songwriter to come around in quite some time. With a penchant for Edgar Allen Poe.

Marissa Nadler might play acoustic guitar, but she's not what you'd call a folk musician. Then again, there isn't really a word to describe her. There are words that come close -- troubadour, storyteller, acoustic-goth-diva-from-a-medieval-horror-ballad -- but one begins to suspect there's still something missing.

"I was never into folk music," she says. "I don't consider the music I play folk music, and it really pisses me off when people pigeonhole it. I consider it really atmospheric, ambient, chill music, and it's definitely not Bob Dylan, Joan Baez kind of sh*t. No, but I love Bob Dylan, but I hate Joan Baez. I hate her. And when people see, you know, my long brown hair and acoustic guitar, and they're like, 'Oh, you're like Joan' -- I get so pissed."

She breaks out in a laugh that threatens to overwhelm her small body. Then she cocks her head and blinks, as though she's caught a thought that nobody else can see, and says: "The whole tour over the past couple of years has been a blur. It sucks you in and time goes by really quickly. Every night you're in a different nightclub, and they're kind of dens of vice and desperation. So I'm happy not to be on tour right now. I'm happy to be living in Boston."


It is a cold and bright morning in the middle of November. I'm standing in my living room in Brooklyn, on the phone with Marissa, trying to figure out where to meet. It's excruciatingly weird hearing this woman's voice on the phone. Especially after having just jammed the pause button on her CD. A moment ago, on my speakers, she sounded ethereal and ghostlike, a haunted voice floating above wintry strummed guitars, wailing organs and creaking theremins, singing Edgar Allan Poe lyrics and recasting Biblical stories with lost girls. Now, she's talking about which streets in Park Slope are one-way.

"I need to bring my band." She pauses, as if to take a head count. "Myles."

Ultimately, we decide on Prospect Park -- halfway between my new apartment and her hotel. Neither of us actually know New York, though, and artists having a conversation about directions is like artists having a conversation about financial planning.

But I traipse through the park and emerge relatively unscathed. I don't know where I am -- she tells me an intersection on the phone, but I can't even see streets -- and, when I climb a short hill, she's standing there, somehow both unsurprising and natural, like I've just wandered into her own private grove.

It shouldn't surprise me at all.

"I'm a fantasist, in a way," Marissa tells me when we sit down. She is small and elfin, wearing a sleeveless black dress on a day when most people are buried in parkas. A tall, skinny bearded man accompanies her. This, I use my journalistic skills to deduce, is Myles -- her band. He says little, and whenever I glance at him, he seems deep in thought. I decide that, if his cover role is that of a backing band, then on the inside he must be a bodyguard. Or, possibly, a chaperone -- to keep Marissa from being too Marissa.

"I was," she says cautiously, "not that cool in high school. I had a lot of time on my hands. I wasn't ever going on any dates or anything ... so I taught myself how to play the guitar."

In person, she doesn't seem at all antisocial. In her songs, however, you'd be hard-pressed not to believe it. Nadler's singing sounds at once caustically ancient and vividly modern. "Silvia" is about two vanished girls who meet in the belly of a whale; "Bird on Your Grave" is an argument between two people about whether or not a common friend has died. Recurring characters like Mayflower May, and recurring themes like loneliness, isolation, and an air of magical realism -- places where the ground turns into flowers, and people try to break out of dreams. Her version of "Annabel Lee," the last poem that Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote, is almost fun, with eerie-but-zany bursts of theremin between extended flutters of acoustic guitar drifting in, bouncing back-and-forth, and jamming out with Poe's verses.

Playing music, for the longest time, was relegated to the status of hobby in Nadler's life. Though self-taught on guitar, banjo, and ukulele, she enrolled in the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, but soon, turned off by the pretentiousness of the art world and lured by her solitary ways and her passion for music ("Rock stars were always my idols," she admits, breaking her veil of mystery and, for a single solitary moment, straight-out gushing) she started to focus less on her painting and more on her playing.

In 2004, she released her first album, Ballads of Living and Dying, at the age of 22. It's a short, dark, and pleasantly haunted record of eight original songs and two covers, one by Pablo Neruda and one by Edgar Allan Poe. "On the surface this might not sound like a compelling proposition," the critics at Pitchfork Media wrote of the album. "But fortunately Nadler has the sort of voice that you'd follow straight to Hades." From the website that's become the harshest critic of popular music in contemporary hipster culture, it was the highest kind of praise, reserved for a select few individuals -- and Nadler was in.

She followed Ballads with another album, The Saga of Mayflower May, the next year, before switching labels. Now with the American independent label Kemado Records, she's toured with indie superstars Peter, Bjorn and John, and kept up a staunch writing regiment, preparing her next album for recording later this year.

To hear Marissa tell it, though, she never thought she'd be playing in front of crowds; least of all chill, atmospheric (not folk) shows at New York's prestigious Whitney Museum. She grew up a Reform Jew in a suburb near Boston. She was a product of her synagogue's after-school Hebrew School system, attending an all-girls' overnight camp for nine years. Her parents moved there when she was a child, ostensibly for the school system.

"I didn't fit in," she remembers. "I developed a strong imagination to combat the boredom of suburbia. Even now, I write about make-believe."

Her brother, Stuart, is a writer. "We're both similar," she says. "We both have starkness and desperation as our themes. But it comes out in different ways. He's Todd Solondz and I'm Edward Scissorhands. You know, my family always gets touchy about talking about them in interviews. And then my father's like, 'Why don't you ever talk about me?' He's a dentist."

But it was probably Nadler's mother that most influenced her art. Though a practicing Jew, her mother also harbored a longstanding interest in clairvoyance and the occult. "When I was a kid, we'd be sitting at the kitchen table and she'd tell me, 'Your dead grandfather is in the room," Nadler recalls.

This kind of supernatural, earthy, dark-but-fantastic version of the world around her -- a sort of American gothic -- resounds throughout Nadler's songs, even the ones not written by Edgar Allan Poe. Sitting in the park, peaceful and placid (though she occasionally mentions her coldness, she turns down offers to head somewhere warmer) Nadler seems remarkably casual. Her voice alternates between whispery and matter-of-fact, as though she can't decide whether to be muse or tour manager -- when in fact, she's both. She sidesteps talking about the recent flurry of attention that the media has bestowed upon her, both from music critics and the larger world. Nobody can be sure whether she's going to turn out to be the next Tori Amos or the next Chryssie Hyde.

If there's one person who isn't thinking about that, it's Nadler herself. The one thing she's eager to talk about is her music -- in all its manifestations. We segue from discussing the possible Biblicality of her own lyrics -- my favorite song of hers begins "I met you in the belly of a whale;" we both agree that she's kind of constructing her own mysticism -- to discussing her frenetic tour schedule. "It's a necessary evil," she concedes. She'd much rather be back at home, writing music, she tells me, sounding wistful. These days, she goes weeks or months without writing at all, then splurges in a binge of writing twelve or thirteen songs in a week. She tells me she wants to get into a routine of writing. Her brother, the novelist, writes "every day, from 5 to 10 A.M., like clockwork," and she wants to get into a habit like that, too.

"And art?" I ask. "The visual kind. Are you still making any art?"

She pauses and considers.

"It's taken a long time to get away from the pretentiousness," she tells me. "But this morning at breakfast, I made a drawing. With crayons, on the placemat."

She and Myles climb into their car -- it's both surprising and totally making sense that she actually drives, in a car, instead of, I don't know, flying or magically disappearing or something -- and they're off. I turn back into the park and hope I don't get lost. Wandering along the paths, the precariously shaking leaves all seem to be like lovers about to blow apart, and all the fallen twigs look like remnants of spells. Then I realize I've got Marissa's first CD on, blasting in my ears.
It shouldn't surprise me at all.

--Text by Matthue Roth / Photo Jason Frank Rothenberg

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 5:20 PM | Link | (0) comments |
Sophie Milman: The Jazz Singer

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

The night Canadian jazz vocalist Sophie Milman was discovered, she had plenty of things on her mind. Becoming a professional singer wasn't one of them.

Nineteen years old at the time, Milman was a bookish commerce student at the University of Toronto. She was also a jam session regular, and after her third professional gig, representatives from a record label walked in and offered her a deal.

"It was never a conscious decision," is one of the first things Milman, now 24, tells me when I reach her by telephone at home in Toronto. "I knew I loved music, that I had a pretty voice -- the way kids do sports, but not everybody can become an Olympic athlete."

It is 9 a.m. when she recounts the story, and Milman is on break from a rigorous tour schedule that often demands four performances in as many days. "I'm not the kind of artist that really sleeps to 2 p.m.," she tells me seriously. (Her band members -- who are like an extended family to her -- are another story, she jokes.) In June, Milman released her second album, Make Someone Happy, and she was home preparing to kick off a nine city U.S. tour.

In the jazz world, Milman is recognized as the fresh new talent to emerge in Toronto. Born in Russia and raised in both Israel and Canada, her rise in popularity has been meteoric, certainly the stuff aspiring artists dream of: Her self-titled debut album, released in 2004, sold 100,000 copies and made it to Billboard's Top 5 in Canada. The record topped the iTunes jazz charts, and in 2006, she received a Juno Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Recalling the details, Milman tells me it "clicked" that she was no longer just a college student when halfway through university, she found herself worrying about music more than schoolwork. "You're really defined by what you do," she says. "That was the beginning of Sophie Milman," she says.

But her career as a professional jazz singer came later, she insists: While recording her second album, she found her voice when for the first time she assembled material that reflects her life story and everything she is about: "That's when I became a singer."


Toronto is buried in snow in late December when I pick up the phone to call Milman. We chat for about 30 minutes when she interrupts to ask: Can we take a break and possibly resume after she has worked out with her trainer? She is nervous about driving to the gym in this weather, concerned about how her newly leased car, a silver Mazda 3, will handle the snow.

For the past eight years, Milman has called Toronto home, although there were many others before it. Born in the Ufal Mountain region of North Central Russia, Milman and her family immigrated to Israel in search of better opportunities when she was 7 years old. "By the end, my parents were really tired," she says describing life behind the Iron Curtain. "My mother was a journalist, it was very hard for her to be censored all the time."

As Jews, the Milmans could not express the cultural and ethnic traditions of their religion either. "We're still not religious, but the freedom to explore that was something not available to my parents growing up," Milman explains.

In Israel, life was better -- although the first years were difficult, and money was tight, Milman recalls. "We moved with a few old couches and a lot of art, and a box of records, and we had to rebuild our lives," she says. Until she was 11, both her parents worked two jobs to make ends meet. "I spent a lot of time alone in those early years."

Music was Milman's constant companion, as the family's first purchase in Israel was a turntable. The old-fashioned machine was hard to come by, but the family could not afford a CD player. Before leaving Russia, her father had amassed a comprehensive collection of vinyl records, which he brought to Israel. The collection was a mixture of British rock -- Led Zeppelin and the Beatles -- plus gospel, jazz, and classical music.

"The thing we would get together around the most was music. I think that's why it entered my life in such a powerful way," Milman says. "Truly, there was no rhyme and reason. We would put on a Stevie Wonder record, a Mahelia Jackson one ... It really enriched my life in a way that I can't even put into words."

Today, Milman says the early influences are her musical inspiration: "Carmen McCray, I adore her ... nobody delivers lyrics like Carmen," she says. "Ella [Fitzgerald], of course, has the most perfect instrument. She truly has an unbelievable voice, and a lot of my earlier jazz came from listening to her records."

When she was 16, security concerns in Israel upended the family's happiness and they moved to Canada. While violence did not touch the family directly, the threat of terrorism and of suicide bombers proved too troubling for her parents. "They just couldn't get over the stress of it," she says. "We very much loved Israel and it was probably the hardest decision my parents had to make that second time."


On her album covers, Milman's blond hair frames blue eyes and a creamy complexion. With a flawless face and physique, she is a bombshell -- and fans certainly appreciate her beauty and her voice, which spans a wide range and delivers notes in a clear, sultry tone.

Despite the upheaval of another move, in Toronto Milman found an audience. "I feel like I found myself best here in Canada. The opportunities that this country gave me in terms of the jazz, singing, I probably wouldn't be able to do that there."
Milman insists that as a teenager, she was "weird," awkward, and "chronically shy" -- the result of moving so much and having to learn new languages and make new friends. Perhaps because of this immigrant experience, Milman describes a fierce bond with her parents. (Milman's younger brother, Tal, who is 14, was born in Israel.)

In no uncertain terms, she credits her parents with fostering in her a sense of artistry. "When I was growing up, we were the only household playing jazz," she recalls. As she acclimated to new homes throughout the years, her parents pushed her to read and to listen to music, not just to watch television. "Maybe it would have been the easier road to just blend in," she says. "My parents helped me form an identity from the rest of my peer group. I'm really grateful for that."

Milman says her parents fed her love of music, and when it came to her own career, Milman concedes that her father believed in her more than she believed in herself. "I never thought I was good enough," she says. "He heard something there long before I did."

She recalls attending an Oscar Peterson show with her father when she was a teenager. "We honestly couldn't afford it," she says wistfully. Nonetheless, he purchased two front row seats, where they could hear every grunt -- "every single noise" -- that the jazz artist made. "When you're that young, music is a very important part of your life. It's not something you just do, you experience music," she says.

For Milman, her music is about her own past and her present. "I don't sing what I don't believe in," she says. "I've experienced so much upheaval in my life. I want to find a lot of stability and peace on my own."

Although she is not religious, Judaism is a topic she feels passionately about. "I used to get into arguments all the time with Jews and non-Jews in Canada who would tell me Judaism is only a religion. I'm not sure what that makes us then," she says. "To me, limiting Judaism to just being a religion is simplifying it completely. We are a people, we are an ethnicity with a common history and background and some pretty strong national traits that bind us whether we're religious or not." On her new album, Milman departs from her trademark sound and sings a Chana Senesh song, "Eli, Eli."
The song, and others, are a better reflection of her as a person, she explains. "I had so much more to say." She says ultimately, she asked herself: "Wouldn't it be cool to be honest about that and make a record that's less 'pretty girl singing pretty songs' and more about who I am as a person? Where I've been and where I'm going and some of my joys and some of my demons, as well."

--Text by E.B. Solomont / Photo by Alex Collados-Nunez

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
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Women Who Rock: Opening Essay

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

The first Jewish musician I ever fell in love with was Debbie Friedman. Specifically, it was "Miriam's Song," in which Friedman describes the dance and singing of the women after the Exodus. I hadn't heard that song in about ten years. So I dug out Friedman's And You Shall Be a Blessing (ok, didn't dig it out -- I bought it off iTunes) and re-listened to "Miriam's Song." It wasn't as catchy as I remembered, or quite as soul shattering. But I recalled the feeling I had, thirteen-years-old, listening to Friedman articulate Miriam's jubilation as she led the Jewish people in song. It was the sound of staring into the desert and singing into the abyss.

I'm older now, and my tastes no longer run to Jewish youth group music. Now I'm titillated by music that rocks: Amy Winehouse's cigarette and scotch scratched vocals (not to mention her made-for-tabloid self-destruction that gives rock music that sexy auto annihilation tone), Regina Spektor's freakfolk flights of fantasy, and Northern State's prankish, snappy hip-hop. But there's still something that digs back to that Debbie Friedman song -- something that makes an artist rock beyond the guitars and the snarl. It's the confrontation of the unknown, and something blistering and defiant in confronting it.

So why an entire issue devoted to "Jewish Women Who Rock"? To be honest, I don't have a great reason for that. Sifting through the artists we've chosen to spotlight are some musicians and singers and songwriters that we have fallen in love with and want to share. But most times the religion and gender of these singers are incidental. When I listen to Sophie Milman I'm not thinking of synagogue or Hebrew school; I'm reminded of smoky jazz clubs and speakeasies. Which is to say, these artists are more than the sum of their categories. The operative word in "Jewish Women Who Rock" is the last. All these artists? They rock.

--Text by Mordechai Shinefield

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
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Goldberg of the month: Gary David Goldberg

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

Gary David Goldberg is perfectly happy to be remembered for his daughter Shana's work on the television show Friends. And who wouldn't be proud of her? She not only wrote for the show, she was also an executive producer. But unfortunately for the humble Goldberg, the fact that his daughter worked on the nineties cult hit might just be an asterisk on his own storied career, writing such landmark television shows such as Family Ties and Spin City.

Goldberg chronicles his unexpected career in showbiz in his new memoir entitled Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I Went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the Same Woman, the Same Dog, And a Lot Less Hair. His brand of unpretentious humor (evident in the title of his book) not only helped him score seven Emmy nods, it also helped him navigate the murky waters of Hollywood with dignity and integrity. Nonetheless, you get the sense that being big in Hollywood was never as important to him as his family.

"The lens through which I look at the world is not a show business lens, and I'm proud of that," Goldberg tells me on a recent phone conversation while spending time with his family in Colorado. "I'm proud of what I've done, but I don't carry that with me on a regular basis. I could forget I've done these things."

For Goldberg, growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn created a sense of community in his life that extended well beyond the doors of his own home. "We were all their children and they were all our parents," Goldberg remembers, then chuckles. "There was a lot of hugging and touching and kissing."

It was this same sense of community with which Goldberg approached the set of his first hit show. "The work environment on Family Ties reflected my world view. We didn't have any yelling and screaming." And true to his down-to-earth style, 25 years later, Goldberg remains close friends with the cast, particularly Michael J. Fox.

Goldberg was one of the first people to learn of Fox's devastating Parkinson's diagnosis. In fact, much of the book is devoted to his evolving relationship with Fox over the years. But also weaved within his fascinating and, at points, hilarious book is a compelling and heartwarming love story between Goldberg and his wife.

As I hang up the phone, I realize that despite his success, Goldberg sees himself as, well, any other Goldberg. To take a line from his book: "If you wake me in the middle of the night and shake me and ask me who I am, I will tell you. I'm a kid from Brooklyn whose father worked in the post office."

--Text by Chanie Cohen Kirschner / Photo by Robin Laton

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
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High on God, and high on drugs

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

In her new memoir, Reva Mann tackles her tough childhood as the rabbi's daughter and how it led her down the path to drugs and promiscuity.

Reva Mann is off stimulants. She has sworn off coffee and she avoids tea -- indeed, she won't let caffeine of any kind pass her lips.

The new mantra stands in stark contrast to her former lifestyle as the granddaughter of a chief rabbi of Israel (and the daughter of a London rabbi) who spent her adolescence on chemical uppers and downers, and who then sought the "ecstasy" and fervor of ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

"I was never brave enough to face life," she says, when I meet her for breakfast at Sarabeth's on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Mann, 50, sits demurely in a booth, and sips water. She is chic, dressed in black and wearing red boots. In addition to promoting her recently published memoir, The Rabbi's Daughter, Mann, who lives in Israel, is eager to experience New York City shopping, and she begs for direction to the city's most fashionable neighborhoods.

Several months before we meet, Mann posed for a photographer from The Sunday Times Magazine. A flurry of press had responded to The Rabbi's Daughter, the provocative, and raw memoir that she started to write years ago, after a bout with breast cancer and the death of her mother. Visiting London (from Israel) for the photo shoot, Mann brought two changes of clothing to the set: one that consisted of a modest black skirt, and another that included jeans and a lively orange top that showed off deep cleavage. The outfits were meant to represent her alter egos, but Mann said she felt equally comfortable in both outfits.

"They both feel like me, but now I'm a new me," she says. "I'm a third me. I'm trying to integrate both."

It strikes me, though, that if one likened Mann to a pendulum, she has not quite reached a balance, although the wild swinging has waned. (There is that zero-tolerance policy for caffeine, for example.) To be sure, Mann once embraced radically opposite lifestyles: as a drug taking, sex-crazed teenager in London, and as an ultra-Orthodox (if repressed) wife and mother in Jerusalem.

Among her earliest exploits, any one of them would make her late father's congregants blush: As a teenager, she took drugs, got arrested for possessing hashish, and had promiscuous sex. (In fact, she lost her virginity in the sanctuary of her father's synagogue.) In yeshiva, she had a lesbian fling with a classmate, and later, she engaged in an extramarital affair with the contractor who remodeled her kitchen, and then had a rather sordid sexual relationship with a lover whom she met in a bar after she left her husband.

Asked to identify her lowest point, Mann responds: "As a child doing drugs, that was pretty low. I think catching hepatitis from a junkie is pretty bad, and being arrested and going to jail in Jerusalem." Then she adds a final item that offers an unobstructed view that any therapist would love: "I think the lowest point was my mother's death. I didn't think I ever would recover from that pain -- it was so terrible."

Mann spares no one's feelings when she tells me she acted out of pain borne from the "trauma" of her childhood. She describes her father, the rabbi of a London synagogue, as demanding and intensely anxious; her mother, she says, was "not well," and suffered from severe depression. (She ultimately committed suicide.) Both of her parents were emotional wrecks concerning her older sister, Michelle, who was left handicapped after being deprived of oxygen at birth.

"I was just propelled from pain and trauma into self-medicating," she says. Of the drugs, she adds: "I was in a chemical haze, just trying to survive." Sexually, she sought intimacy to fill an emotional void that lasted into adulthood. Even when she moved to Jerusalem and found religion, it was an extreme and radical position. "I was as high on God as I was on dope," she says.

These days, Mann is performing in a delicate ballet that is choreographed around a desire to find her rightful place in the world. But despite her positive spin, there is something sad about the path Mann has taken.

"The chagim," or holidays, "are very, very hard for me. I'm alone," she says, acknowledging her divorce and past failed relationships. She notes that Judaism is built around the concept of family. "It's a time of shleimut, wholeness. And I'm not. I know I'm in exile."

Yet, things are certainly better than they were and she hopes her story will offer hope to others. She says she is "passionately Jewish" now, a more balanced position than ever before: "I feel so removed from that person who was running away from pain."

--Text by E.B. Solomont / Photo by the Yael and Dafna Studio

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
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'Lost' and found

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

As the hit series returns to TV, the brains behind the show pontificates on crazy plot points and his Jewish upbringing.

The television was always on at Damon Lindelof's New Jersey childhood home. Despite being advised by his parents that his brain would rot, Damon spent the majority of his childhood watching television. As a young boy, it was The Incredible Hulk, followed by Twin Peaks when he was a bit older. Typical "guy shows" like The Dukes of Hazzard and Miami Vice were also weekly favorites.

Things have changed for executive producer and writer of the hit series Lost -- or have they? In Lindelof's office 2500 miles away from where Lost shoots its episodes on Oahu, hangs a huge white board blocked with scenes for an upcoming show that will shoot next week. And television still plays a major role in this 34 year-old creative genius' life. The Wire, Heroes, Prison Break and sometimes an inspirational Oprah episode have replaced former youthful programming favorites.

"Books and movies were specific inspirations for Lost," he admits, "but I did watch an incredible amount of television growing up and I still do." In fact, the self-professed Stephen King fan has placed many references to King's work into Lost, referencing most notably The Dark Tower series. "The first meeting I had with J.J. (Abrams), we talked about King's The Stand, and it kept suggesting ideas throughout the process. The character of Charlie was always going to be a druggie rocker, but when Dominic Monaghan came in to audition we starting saying, 'What if he was a one-hit wonder?'. I said, 'Like the guy in The Stand! The guy with just this one song."

Lindelof's imagination and dreams actually began during his freshman year at Teaneck High School. "I always wanted to be making movies, doing something in television or writing a novel", says Damon who, prior to Lost, wrote for Nash Bridges and Crossing Jordan. "I didn't quite know yet what I would write about, but I always liked making up stories that had elements of the fantastic or supernatural in them."

Fantastical storytelling was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams, whom together managed to make a completely weird, ridiculously untenable and vastly expensive pilot for ABC that centered on the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 somewhere in the South Pacific. "The first thing I said to J.J. was I wanted to start with a guy waking up in the middle of nowhere, very disoriented and reaching into his pocket to pull out a tiny bottle of booze. That would give the audience a form of reference to a plane. That's how we would introduce everyone to Lost and then we'd have flashbacks detailing what happened prior to the crash. The opening ended up being shot for shot. Very cool."

Cool indeed. But then again, Damon always had the swagger to consider himself cool. "I was involved in academics in school but not the valedictorian of the class by any stretch of the imagination. I was more into the theater crowd and didn't play many sports in high school. Looking back, we were nerds who thought we were cool."

But his childhood wasn't all about TV and theater. He and his family attended the local synagogue on weekends and a 13 year-old Damon had his bar mitzvah in Teaneck. A crazy theory recently popped up about three seasons of Lost and 16 episodes per season structure as a clue and reference to Damon's former bible studies and John 3:16. "Wow, but no," he says seriously as if asking himself 'why didn't I think of that?' But he does say his childhood and Jewish background have added to who he is today. "The area was culturally diverse and that is one of the reasons I loved it. I didn't have the experience of some other people I've met who say they were 15 before they saw someone who wasn't white or that they hadn't met a Jewish person yet. The idea was that I was a Jewish white kid growing up in Teaneck, but at the same time, I had black and Filipino and Asian friends and to have that experience all through high school while getting an awesome education was wonderful. I often think about what my path would have been if I was brought up on a farm or had I been born in New York City."

After a brief flirtation with movies by way of a film degree from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Damon hopped in his car and traveled west to Los Angeles. But his childhood memories have crossed over to the mysterious island where the Lost characters are stranded. "Well, 23 is my lucky number and it was my father's as well," he explains of the significance of the number in the show. "My father was into the Illuminati and the number 23, so he was a big reader of Robert Anton Wilson. There was some intentionality behind using 23, but we had no idea, no grand design behind the numbers. But suddenly, the number one question stopped being 'What is the monster?' and went to being 'What do the numbers mean?' The number also has a great cosmic importance according to some science fiction circles. So 23 is a number in Hurley's string of lucky numbers and 815 appears often in the show as well, which is a derivation of 23 minus 15 plus 8 so all of the numbers are derivations of 23 in some way or another."

But as we know from the Emmy winning addictive drama that gives millions of viewers island fever each week, the hit show has not been without its ups and downs and Lindelhof has weathered those peaks and valleys with optimism. "There's a tremendous amount of pressure to keep the momentum going," admits Lindelhof, who along with his co-creators signed a deal to end the series in 2010. "But it comes from each other, those involved in the show. We try really hard to keep the show great and keep it in the zeitgeist. Lost was never supposed to be a hit; it was always supposed to be more of a cult success so the fact that it has crossed over and has this worldwide audience, can be alternatingly petrifying but also emboldens us to keep doing what we think is cool."

Almost immediately after the plane crash on its first Wednesday night at 9PM, websites started popping up with island theories. Does Lindelhof take into account audience feedback and change where he was originally going? "We never change the show after receiving negative feedback because the audience traditionally doesn't know what they want; they only know what they don't want. That can present you with a certain negativity because that can fence you in terms of the stories you can tell. You have to not be afraid to do something that might anger the viewers or the show will get boring. The reality is sometimes people don't want to know what's for dinner or they'd be eating pizza every night."

Any clues? "I know there are 'Save Charlie' t-shirts popping up around." Nothing more on Charlie's fate. How about the hatch? "Well the hatch imploded according to Locke. But there is definitely more to this story. You will get a better picture of what happened later." And the mysterious Jacob who Locke and Ben visited and who doesn't have Jack on his "list"? "The answer lies further downstream in the ongoing story." If there are any clues, Lindelof reminds us that character names on the show are not assigned without a reason. And yes, that is a clue. And the third season's finale definitely set up season four for its return to television last month. "It will make you realize that the house you are standing in actually has a lot more rooms than you thought when you came into it."

--Text by Bonnie Siegler / Photo courtesy ABC

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
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Conscious carving

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

A new movement is hoping to make kosher slaughterhouses live up to ethical standards. But not everyone is drunk with a carnivore's delight.

Early on a Friday morning this past December, 70 Jews gathered in a frost-covered field in rural Connecticut. Some of them huddled in small groups, talking in hushed tones and blowing on their frozen fingers. Others stood at a distance, quiet with thought. They were all there for one reason -- to witness three goats being slaughtered for meat, in accordance with Jewish law.

No, these people were not part of some underground Jewish cult. They were attendees of a food conference hosted by the New York-based non-profit, Hazon (which, for full disclosure, is my employer). The purpose of the ritual slaughtering, was to "enable people to have a more direct understanding of where kosher meat comes from," said Hazon's Executive Director, Nigel Savage. In this case, it would be the same meat that many of the participants would eat that night for dinner.

Hazon is not alone in their desire to close the gap between farm and table. Over the past decade, many Americans have become frustrated with the industrialized food system. Simultaneously, a slew of food-related books and films have made their way to the best-sellers list. (Think Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, and Supersize Me by Morgan Spurlock.) As a result, the demand for organic and local foods from alternative sources like farmers' markets, and Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs has grown significantly.

Most recently, eco-minded foodies are turning their attention to meat. They eschew the shrink-wrapped stuff in the grocer's freezer, and instead seek out "ethical meat" — a loaded phrase which can refer to any of the following modifiers (though not necessarily all at the same time): "organic" or "grass-fed," "local," "antibiotic-free," "free-range" or "cage free," or "humanely-slaughtered."

Not surprisingly, many Jewish people have embraced this growing trend. Even less surprisingly, it has also sparked debate and divisiveness within the tribe. It turns out that when it comes to food, ethics, and kosher laws, Jews are ready to hop into the ring.

In one corner sits the behemoth of the kosher meat industry. The recent and highly-publicized multiple allegations of health, animal cruelty, and workers' rights violations against the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse, Iowa-based Agriprocessors, Inc. blindsided those consumers who assumed that kosher meat is inherently safer and more humane than non-kosher meat.

But are the slaughterhouses solely to blame? Americans, including Jews, eat an astounding amount of meat -- an average of 200 pounds per person in 2005 according to the USDA. Getting those cows and chickens conveniently into consumers' hands has required the meat industry to become just that: industrialized. Unfortunately, while kosher meat makes up a fraction of the total meat consumed in America, it is still likely to come from a large-scale slaughtering plant like Agriprocessors.

Additionally, while the kosher laws dictate how an animal is killed, they say nothing about how it should be raised. So, a cow bred in a cramped feedlot can still be stamped kosher if it was properly slaughtered. From the perspective of the industry, it seems that ethical concerns and the kosher laws mix about as well as milk and meat.

In the second corner are the reformers (as in "reforming the kosher industry," not "Union of Reform Judaism summer camp"). They are the growing group who want their meat kosher but don't want the negative ethical side dish that comes with it.
Rabbi Morris Allen in Minnesota is one of those people. Alarmed by the Agriprocessors controversy, Allen created a certification system called Hekhsher Tzedek (roughly translated as "righteous kosher approval"). This system examines not only if food is kosher in the traditional sense, but also whether it upholds workers' rights, environmental, and health and safety principles.

"If we don't connect [kashrut] to the world and the values we hold, then we fail to take kashrut at its core level," Rabbi Allen says. Hekhsher Tzedek was recently endorsed by the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, but the jury is still out on whether it will ultimately influence the larger kosher industry.

Other individuals are taking a different route by bringing the meat directly to consumers, while circumventing the industry all together. Devora Kimelman-Block of Washington, DC started an initiative called Kosher Organic Local Foods (or "KOL" Foods -- a play on Whole Foods). By pairing up nearby farmers and a willing shochet (kosher slaughterer), mashgiach (kosher supervisor) and butcher, Kimelman-Block is able to offer beef, chicken, and lamb to members of 14 nearby synagogues, from Reform to Orthodox.

"As soon as I have the meat available, I can sell it," she explains. Additionally, Kimelman-Block received so many phone calls from interested people in other cities that she is expanding as a consultant to help them get similar projects off the ground.

New York City-based actor Simon Feil started a similar venture called Kosher Conscience, which delivered locally-sourced kosher turkeys to Manhattan residents last Thanksgiving. As an observant Jew and self-described, "vigorous carnivore," Feil believes that kosher consumers, "have a responsibility to ensure that the meat [they] eat is obtained in as humane a way as possible." Feil is planning to offer chicken this spring and beef by next fall.

But not everyone is getting on board with the ethical slaughtering bandwagon. Take, for example, the Jewish Vegetarians of North America. JVNA operates on the assumption that eating meat is unethical, unnecessary, and inconsistent with the Jewish value of tsar baalei chayyim -- preventing the pain of living creatures. They denounce the meat industry as barbaric, but also reject any attempt other than vegetarianism to improve it.

Longtime JVNA supporter Dr. Roberta Kalechofsky wrote, "Why does Simon Feil believe that when ordinary Jewish citizens ... slaughter their own turkeys, it will teach them reverence for life [when] the old system of kosher meat failed in these goals?"

So, who should win this ethical kosher food fight? And more importantly, what should we eat? Do we continue the status quo of eating meat without consideration of ethics? Work to reform the kosher industry? Or protest against it by refusing to eat meat altogether? The classic and decidedly Jewish answer is, "well, bubbleh, it's complicated."

--Text by Leah Koenig / Photo by Lise Gagne

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
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Answer Maven

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

Q: I read on the internet that Christians are fascinated with the story of Purim? What's up with that?

A: First things first. Don't believe everything you read (except if you're reading my column). Secondly, the whole thing sounded weird to me too, so I consulted the experts (and by the experts, I mean my four rabbinic brothers). As it turns out, Christians actually do have a little thing for Esther. For one, Francoise d'Aubigne, wife of King Louis XIV of France, actually commissioned a playwright to pen a tragedy called Esther. For two, Handel later composed a classical piece based on that Esther play. In modern times, Christian families are naming their daughters Esther like it's the new Britney or Christina, and there are many Christian-backed film adaptations of the Purim story including One Night with the King, released in 2006.

So what is it about Esther? Truth be told, I had no idea Christians were so fascinated with Esther, though now that I think of it, I should have known. After all, my mailwoman's name is Esther, and so is my favorite teller down at the bank (nothing like a morning spent at your neighborhood bank -- I could spend hours counting all my Answer Maven millions). Neither of these woman are Jewish, but it never struck me as odd that they had a Jewish name before.

I figured if I'm going to get the answer, I might as well go to the source (no, not Wikipedia) and ask one of these Esthers herself (I picked my bank teller; in case my question offends her, there will conveniently be a piece of Plexiglas separating the two of us). When I asked her, I was relieved to find that she was more than happy to tell me. You see, Esther is one of the few female heroines in the Bible. So who wouldn't want to name their daughter after her? (Unless you're the kind of person who likes to name their children after villains; you know who you are, Nebuchadnezzar Johnson.) Esther told me that there is even a Christian cartoon about the story called Esther: the Girl Who Became Queen, except instead of Haman wanting to kill the Jews (apparently a plotline too dire for a kids cartoon), he wants to send Esther and her family to the "Island of Perpetual Tickling". Seriously, I'm not making that up.

Q: What is the proper etiquette when you run into a celebrity? Are you just supposed to pretend you don't see them? Is it ok to ask for a picture?

A: Firstly, if you run into anyone, you should probably apologize (yuk, yuk).

But in all seriousness, how fortuitous that you would ask such a question! On my most recent trip to Los Angeles, I myself ran into a celebrity! (If you didn't know any better, you'd think I just made up these questions.) Here are the things you don't want to do: 1. Don't tell them you were just reading about him in US Weekly (which I did) 2. Also don't tell him you're his biggest fan (which I did) 3. Do not under any circumstances mention that you much prefer his previous girlfriend to his current one (which I did, seconds before realizing his current girlfriend was steps behind him). Do smile. Do ask for a picture (you're going to need it as evidence later). Do stay cool, calm, and collected. Nothing says loony bin like a crazed celebrity-sighter.

Q: I still haven't gotten used to the daylight savings time change. Any tips on how to help me get back on track?

A: Er, um, it seems the AJL mailroom is a little behind on their mail delivery. No bother, I've still got the answer for you. The sooner you start thinking in terms of the new time, the sooner you'll adjust to it. So the next time your clocks change, set them behind (or ahead) an hour in the middle of the day before the time changes. Trust me, it'll work (I am the Answer Maven, after all. I might as well give you some real answers once in a while).

And I have a little tip for you. There's a little thing I like to call electronic mail. It helps you get messages to people a bit faster than snail mail. Try it next time you have a timely quandary for me, ok?

Until next time, I remain, Answer Maven.

--Text by Chanie Cohen Kirschner / Illustration by Fred Harper

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
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Long lost friend

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

David Schwimmer returns to the limelight with his directorial debut, a romantic comedy about ... a fat guy?

Keeping a fairly low profile since the finale of Friends three years ago, David Schwimmer returned to his theater roots and went behind the camera for his latest screen effort, the comedy Run, Fatboy, Run being released this month. Schwimmer, who directed ten episodes of Friends and two of its short-lived spinoff, Joey, spent much of 2007 in London lensing Fatboy, about a man (Simon Pegg) who enters a marathon to prove himself to the woman (Thandie Newton) he hopes to win back.

"I've always wanted to direct a feature film, but I had to wait until the show was over," says Schwimmer. "This was the funniest thing I've read," he says of the March 28 release, which gave him the chance to re-team with his Band of Brothers co-star Pegg, (who wrote the script with Michael Ian Black) and Hank Azaria, with whom he made the 2001 Warsaw Ghetto telemovie Uprising.

"Acting and directing are both rewarding, but in very different ways," Schwimmer comments. "Directing is like having a relationship with someone -- you have to really give it a year and then see what happens."

The 41-year-old Queens, New York-born, Los Angeles-raised hyphenate, a product of the drama departments at Beverly Hills High School and Northwestern University and Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre, which he co-founded, starred on the London Stage in Some Girls in 2005. "There's nothing like a play. As an actor you have the most control over what the audience is seeing," he notes.

Schwimmer hasn't given up on movie acting, however. Next fall, he'll star opposite Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon and Noah Wyle in the drama Nothing But the Truth, about a female reporter facing jail for refusing to reveal a source, and he'll reprise his role as Melman the zebra in Madagascar: The Crate Escape. As a director, he's on tap to helm the buddy comedy Persuaders, which may star Hugh Grant and George Clooney.

Never married, Schwimmer says he has "just put work first," though he has been linked in the past to a number of Hollywood beauties, including Israeli actress Mili Avital. While his parents "would be thrilled" if he married a Jew, and he concedes, "it makes things a lot easier, sharing a cultural and religious background," it's not a prerequisite for him. "I was raised completely without prejudice or bias in terms of meeting people of other races or cultures or religions," he says. "I am pretty open."

--Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Jonathan Hayward/AP

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
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30 Second Sermon

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

Why did the Jews of the Purim story deserve to die? Our sages teach us that it was because "they enjoyed the meal" -- King Achashveirosh's 180-day celebratory feast to which the entire kingdom was invited. The catch: Non-kosher food was served (according to one opinion), upon utensils which had been stolen from the Jewish Temple. They rationalized -- everyone else was in attendance. It was like the President's Ball and the Jews were invited. This was the big opportunity for them to finally make some advances in Persian society. How could they refuse an invitation to such a party?

The Jews may have viewed themselves as being "forced" to attend, the Talmud clearly states that it was because they actually enjoyed the feast, that they "deserved" to die at the hands of the evil Haman.

Oftentimes, God places us in awkward situations which provide us the opportunity to choose the right course of action. Sometimes we choose correctly, and other times we make mistakes, but we always have the ability to make the correct decision. The lesson which we need to learn from the Jews of the Purim story is to tune into what the Almighty wants and expects from us. God is always there giving us the proper guidance, but we have to adjust our spiritual radio dial to WGOD so that we can actually hear what He is telling us. No doubt Mordechai was standing outside of the castle gates, warning everybody not to attend, but they were uninterested in his sagely advice. God gives us the keys to success, but it will only matter if we make an effort to hear what He has to say and then follow up on that newly-discovered knowledge with action. When placed in difficult situations, think about what Judaism would want us to do. For that matter, when placed in any given situation, our actions must be guided by the words and wisdom of the Torah. Only then can we hear God's radio broadcast loud and clear.

--Text by Rabbi Ezra M. Cohen / Photo by Sam Norval

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 4:20 PM | Link | (0) comments |
Back to Black

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.

After a relatively quiet 2007, Jack Black is off and running at the multiplex this year, following January's Be Kind Rewind with three more comedies due out in 2008. In what will likely continue the winning voiceover tradition of Shark Tale and Ice Age, Black stars in the animated Kung Fu Panda in June and Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder in July, a story about actors shooting a big-budget war movie who run afoul of rival drug lords in the jungle.

"We're in real danger, but we think it's all part of the movie and we just keep acting," Black describes the comedy, which co-stars Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., and Matthew McConaughey, with a cameo by Tom Cruise as a studio head. Black also has Ye Olde Times, a comedy about rival Renaissance fairs, due out this year.

Best known for blockbusters like The School of Rock, Shallow Hal, Nacho Libre, and King Kong, as well as cult faves like High Fidelity and for his musical efforts with the band Tenacious D, Black took a role in the darkly comedic indie Margot at the Wedding (released last fall and now out on DVD), playing a ne'er-do-well father-to-be. While obviously more successful than his character, he could relate, since he's the proud papa of son Samuel Jason, born in June 2006, and his wife is pregnant with their second child. "Sometimes I'm just sort of wishing that I wasn't working so much so that I would have more time to hang with him," says Black, who married musician Tanya Haden, a grade school acquaintance he re-met through friends years later, in March 2006.

A native Californian, Black, now 38, was raised Jewish by his mother and his father, who converted to Judaism, until their divorce when he was 10. He traces his interest in acting to a game of Freeze at a Passover seder, but is not observant today. "I don't go to synagogue but that doesn't mean I'm not a spiritual person. I'll encourage spiritual conversations with Sam if he wants to talk about how heavy the universe is," he says. "I like those sorts of conversations."

--Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Matt Sayles/AP

This is part of our Feb/Mar 2008 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 4:12 PM | Link | (0) comments |
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