Monday, December 28, 2009

Janukkah Rap

This is the HipHop Hoodios video on Janukkah. Gracias, Ché Miles.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Whitefish, Montana; Shalom on the range; Paulianity

“If you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish. It doesn’t matter even if you’re Catholic; if you live in New York, you’re Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you’re going to be goyish even if you’re Jewish.”
-Lenny Bruce

Well apparently Mr. Bruce was wrong. Check out this interesting piece on Jews and an Israeli dog in Montana.

There is also a good piece in Harper's about Crypto-Jews in the American Southwest.

Meanwhile, I stumbled on an interesting piece on whether Paul (as in the Wandering Paul of Tarsus) remained more Jewish than previously thought.

Monday, November 30, 2009

7 Years of good luck

Check out this article about Jewish girls as sex symbols. Thanks Yael. Oy. Image above is from Details, as is the story. Meanwhile, from the story comes the Year of the Jewish Woman calendar including the image below:

                                                               Those are matzah balls!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jews of TJ on Jewcy

I have a front-page story of the Jews of Tijuana on Jewcy, a Jewish news website. They are running it as a two-part series. They are also now featuring my blog on their blogroll.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jewish pirates

From an email forwarded to me:
This is about the most famous Jewish Pirate, Jean Lafitte. It was written by a former professor from Temple University, Professor Bernard Glick:

Many of the pirates of the Caribbean were Sephardic Jews who turned to piracy to get revenge on the Spanish Catholics who expelled them from Spain in 1492, murdered their families and stole their property. Six of Barbarossas chief officers were Jewish! This article sheds light on one of the most famous Jewish Pirates: Jean Lafitte the Jewish Pirate. One of the things I do since I retired from Philadelphia's Temple University is lecture on cruise ships. My signature talk is the 50-century old history of piracy whose practitioners I call the Seafaring Gangsters of the World.

A few weeks before my first gig, I sent a draft of the talk to my history buff sister, Phyllis. She liked it, but was very unhappy that I had not mentioned Jean Lafitte. I told her I didn't include him because I intended to deal with the economics, the sociology, and the politics of piracy. She said I simply had to talk about Lafitte because he was unique. He was a Sephardic Jew.

In his prime, Lafitte ran not just one pirate sloop but a whole fleet of them simultaneously. He even bought a blacksmith shop in New Orleans, which he used as a front for fencing pirate loot. And he was one of the few buccaneers who didn't die in battle, in prison, or on the gallows. Though I didn't lecture about Lafitte at first, a circumstance of serendipity has made me do so ever since. I was flying to Norfolk, Virginia. The man in the seat next to me wore a skullcap and he began chatting with me in Gaelic-accented English. Though born in France, the friendly passenger now lives in Switzerland. We quickly established that we were both Jewish and that both of us had taught in Israel.

Then we had the following conversation: What are you doing on this plane? I asked. I'm a mathematician. I work for an American company and I'm flying to Norfolk today because it has the US Navy's largest naval base and my company is trying to get a Navy contract. Now, what are you doing on this plane?

My wife and I are picking up a cruise ship in Norfolk.

Taking a vacation?

Not entirely. I'll be giving lectures on the ship,...... as many, in fact, as there are full days at sea.

What do you lecture about?

Since cruise lines frown on controversial topics. I have talked about Israel once or twice, but I usually talk about Latin America, which is my second specialty, or the Panama Canal or Mexico's Isthmus of Tehantepec, or the voyages of Captain Cook to the South Pacific. But I always begin a cruise with a lecture on pirates. The kids love it and the old folks like it too.

Are you going to talk about Jean Lafitte?

No. And I repeated what my sister had told me.

He pulled out his wallet and handed me a business card. It had Melvyn J. Lafitte written on it.

Then he said, I am a direct descendant of Jean Lafitte. Your sister, Phyllis, is absolutely right. Our family, originally named Lefitto, lived in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. When Ferdinand and Isabella re-conquered Spain and expelled the Jews in 1492, most of the Jews fled to North Africa. Others went to the Balkans or to Greece and Turkey. But some Sephardic Jews, my ancestors among them, crossed the Pyrenees and settled in France, where Jean was born in about 1780. He moved to French Santo Domingo during the Napoleonic period. However, a slave rebellion forced him to flee to New Orleans. Eventually he became a pirate, but he always called himself a privateer because that label has a more legal ring to it.

In 1814, the British sought his aid in their pending attack on New Orleans. However, he passed their plans to the Americans and helped General Andrew Jackson beat them in 1815. A grateful Jackson, not yet President, saw to it that Lafitte and his family became American citizens. And, by the way, did you know that there is a town of Jean Lafitte, as well as a Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in Southwestern Louisiana?

I was flabbergasted, not so much by the saga of Jean Lafitte as retold by a proud descendant, but by the fact that the two of us had met so coincidentally in the skies over Georgia. Melvyn Lafitte lives in Geneva and I live in Portland, Oregon. These cities are 5,377 miles apart. Unlike him, I am mathematically challenged, so I don't know what the statistical probability is that a descendant of the Franco-Jewish-American pirate Jean Lafitte would board an airplane and sit next to me as I was agonizing over whether to mention his famous ancestor in my forthcoming talk.

Jewish history is replete with vivid coloring.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Fugu Plan

I wanted to do T'fillin before my journey to Japan, so I trudged down to the UW Chabad house but found the location abandoned to an AEP frat house. I made a call to the Seattle Chabad and found out that there was another place a few blocks away. I called the rabbi and he gave me directions to his house. I trudged with all my stuff to find Rabbi Estrin's house. He was a young Rabbi with a young family. Some Chabadniks were also there, preparing for an outdoor camping adventure. I got to do t'fillin and we chatted about Jews all over the world and especially in Japan. He informed me of something an amazing story that I will look into: the Fugu Plan.

Apparently, the Fugu Plan, named for the pufferfish- a delicacy that is poisonous if prepared incorrectly, was a Japanese plan around WWII to settle the Jews in Japan so that they could help the Japanese control the world. The Japanese got their info on the Jews from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, so if the Jews were so powerful then the Japanese would settle them in small colonies in Japan and use their power to take over the world. There was a book about it, which the Rabbi showed me. The wiki entry scoffs on the veracity of it, but it sounds interesting to me. I will keep you dear readers posted on the story.

Maccabi Mike

Check out this interview with my cousin Michael Rockower, who is playing goalie for the US team at the Maccabi Games in Israel.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Sometimes a title that has been bestowed on moi. Here is a little piece on an Israeli comic hero, Sabra.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Jews of TJ

Since the Jerusalem Report is taking their sweet time in publishing my piece, and their edits will make it so there will be probably little resemblance, check out the original version of the Jews of TJ:

The Jews of Tijuana

Amid headlines blaring “Mexico Under Siege,” chronicling lurid tales of narco-violence and terror, I headed down the tranquil Pacific coast to Baja California. Off to visit Tijuana, a city seemingly in the throes of a convulsing drug war; heading down south of the border to find what remains an unlikely place to find not one but two Jewish communities. To paraphrase Shakespeare: two communities both alike in dignity, in fair Tijuana where we lay our scene.

They say the Pacific Ocean has no memory— perhaps that was what the Jews who arrived here centuries ago sought: to forget the fiery Inquisition that chased them from the Iberian peninsula and to the New World in search of refuge. For far later waves of Jewish migration to Tijuana that occurred in the 1940s, it was to escape later forms of persecution in Eastern Europe. Many settled near the border after they were denied entry to the United States because of stringent quotas. More recently, Jews have migrated for the bustling business opportunities on the Baja border city from Mexican cities such as Guadalajara and Mexico City, as well as from South America.

In Tijuana, there exists two very different communities shaped by different histories, outlooks and styles; communities led by two very different leaders, both of whom care very deeply for their respective flocks. There is the Centro Social Israelita, a Chabad-led community, under the direction of Rabbi Mendel Polichenco. Meanwhile, across town exists the Congregacion Hebrea de Baja California, a community under the aegis of Rabbi Carlos Salas and comprised of conversos, crypto-Jews who have returned to the fold, or are in the process of reconnecting with their Jewish roots and ancestry, as well Mexican Catholics seeking to convert to Judaism. Both rabbis are instrumental in building, maintaining and developing communal institutions for their respective congregations.

Centro Social Israelita
I crossed over the Mexican-American border into a tranquil Friday afternoon. Tijuana stands as the biggest land-border crossing point in the world, with more than 40 million crossings annually. Waiting at Tijuana’s large cable-twanging arch- a Mexican Gateway Arch ala St. Louis, I was met by Ezra Yosef of the Centro Social Israelita, in a large white van bringing a gaggle of kids back from Jewish day school on the San Diego side of the border. The kids babbled in spanglish and snacked on hamentaschens filled with chocolate chips as we made our way to the center.

On our way to the center, I chatted with the kippa-clad, tzitzit-wearing Ezra- a Mexican Jew who had formally converted a year prior. Like everything associated with this tale, his story is fascinating and complex. Ezra was born a Roman Catholic in Ensenada in the Baja Peninsula. He later converted to the Protestant fold and even served as a missionary in Colombia. Yet, he continued his spiritual search and found his way to Judaism. He stated, “I just had a feeling I wanted to get closer to the Jewish people,” and he began studying Judaism in 2001. He began down the observant path, and converted the previous year under an orthodox beit din in Los Angeles. “Since my conversion, I feel a deeper reality, I feel I received a Jewish soul,” Ezra said. Today, Ezra leads a fully observant life today, keeping all the Orthodox traditions including being shomer Shabbat and fully kosher.

We arrived at the Centro Social Israelita, a somewhat dilapidated structure with a ramshackle charm to it. Bars line the front entrance and a menorah sits proudly above. In the main foyer, a mosaic of Jewish images decorates the main wall, with plaques hanging on the wall commemorating the center’s dedication in 1965, while in a glass nook lays twinned Mexican and Israeli flags.

The Mexican Jewish kids ran in the yard behind the center, and chased after the center’s two kaparot-spared chickens that reside in the yard. Soon Rebbetzin Dini arrived, with her 5 kids in tow, four boys and the dainty baby Reizi. The diminutive matriarch, who hails from Milan—the daughter of an Italian rabbi, immediately brought more delicious hamentaschens and good tidings.

Soon after Rabbi Mendel Polichenco arrived to the center, and we were off to complete some last Shabbat errands before the Sabbath commenced. We made a brief stop for a house call, and were welcomed in to a Jewish home whose front window sported sticker judaica and walls inside bore the real thing. The rabbi had come to bring mishloach manot and blessings of health to a community member who recently had surgery. After the Rabbi’s house call and brief stop to bring his wife Sabbath flowers, we returned to the center to get ready to welcome the Sabbath.

Before welcoming in the Sabbath, the Rabbi and Ezra finished up last tasks, like moving pounds upon pounds of frozen kosher chicken into a freezer unit, to be transferred to Cabo San Lucas. The rabbi noted that the celebrated port of call at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula has a burgeoning Jewish population. For that matter, the whole of the Baja Peninsula has a growing Jewish population. Jewish babyboomers, who have long been visiting Baja, are now retiring there in growing numbers, in places like Rosarito, Ensenada and down the Baja coast. And Rabbi Polichenco is helping to ensure that the Baja communities have the kosher elements needed.

The Centro Social Israelita comes complete with a mikvah, a synagogue for regular use with services on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh plus holidays. In addition, there is a larger shul on premise for high holidays, which draws nearly 300 people. There is even a kosher restaurant called “Tante Jane,” (a Yiddish wordplay on the name of the city) on the premises that is open daily; euphemistically termed a “not-for-profit” venture, the restaurant helps provide kosher food for patients visiting Tijuana for medical treatments, as well as kosher products and meals for the community.

Born in Argentina, and educated in Israel and the U.S., Polichenco began his work with the Tijuana Jewish community even before he was fully ordained as a rabbi. While working on a summer Project Talmud camp across the border in San Diego, Polichenco first heard about the Tijuana Jewish community, so he crossed over to find out more. At first the effort proved futile, as he came to a closed Centro Social Israelita, while his calls to the center went unanswered. “I couldn’t find anybody, so I kind of gave up. Maybe there was nothing left,” Polichenco noted. However, the following day he received a phone call that would send him on a path that led down to Baja.

“Next day, I get a phone call from a gentleman in Tijuana, asking ‘are you the visiting Rabbi?’” Polichenco noted— to which he replied that he was a student-rabbi. The community member’s father had passed away in Venezuela, and he was sitting shiva here in Tijuana, and there was no one around to lead the services. “So he asked me if I could come. I came that evening and we had services, and they asked me, since there was no one to lead services the next morning, if I could come back the next morning,” Polichenco said, “And I came back the next morning, and the next afternoon. By the end of the week, everyone knew me at the border crossing. And I had made a bond, a relationship with the community.”

That bond would help lead the way for Rabbi Polichenco to be the first Chabad rabbi posted in Mexico, a position he assumed in 1997. In the years to come, Polichenco would help steer the ship of the enigmatic Tijuana community, through years of community contraction born out of economic difficulties with the decline of the Mexican peso, the present economic downturn and the ongoing border instabilities.

As the daylight faded and members of the community arrived for the evening services, the community convened to welcome the Sabbath bride at the center’s synagogue, which radiated an effulgent glow from the light that poured through the shul’s bright stained glass windows bearing biblical imagery.

Nearly 35 people were on hand for the evening’s service, stemming from a Jewish melting pot of participants. There were Jews from Mexico, from Mexico City and Guadalajara, as well as Jews from various other places including South America, Israel and the neighbor to the north. Polichenco’s community numbers nearly 200 families, which straddles both sides of the border and down the Baja coast. Roughly 150 Jewish businessmen who live in San Diego, but work in Tijuana buoy the numbers of the Jewish community in Tijuana.

After services, the group reconvened for a Sabbath meal and to share fellowship. Rabbi Polichenco commented that the community is very much like a family, and are drawn to the social life extending from the center, especially since so many of the community are not originally from Tijuana, but rather were drawn there for business opportunities. Over a delicious fare of traditional Israeli salads, homemade challah and the Mexican counterparts of nopales- cactus salad and homemade crunchy tostadas, along with fresh fish and roasted chicken, the ongoing situation in Tijuana and the violent image that the city has attained in the media was the main topic of conversation.

Statistics related to border violence paint a terrifying picture of “Baghdad on the border” in the frontier region between Mexico and the U.S., with more than 6,000 estimated deaths in 2008- numbers on par with the death toll in Iraq. In talking to the Tijuana Jewish community, a different picture on the situation is painted rather than what is portrayed in the mainstream media. Vivian, a Jew from Uruguay now living in Tijuana, scoffed at the portrait painted of Tijuana as being dangerous. That the violence was something between the narco-traffickers and didn’t filter down to people’s daily lives was a sentiment expressed by Miguel, a Jew from Chile who also now resides in the area.

In discussing the security situation in Tijuana, Rabbi Polichenco was rather composed. He noted that during the 1990s, when kidnappings started becoming an issue in Mexico City, there were fears that it would happen in Tijuana as well. “The main concern people have here is kidnapping,” stated the rabbi, “and thank G-d we haven’t had any problems with that.” With that said, the rabbi noted that the situation has gotten worse over the last couple years. There have been incidents of community members falling victim to robberies or hold-ups, but these incidents have been isolated occurrences. In short, the community members go on about their daily lives and their businesses.

Regarding the security situation, it is important to offer a little perspective. There has been much written of the ongoing insecurity on the Mexican border, and the climate of fear. Yet to address the question of whether Tijuana is dangerous, it is important to ponder whether Israel is dangerous. Like Israel, the only news that ever emanates from Tijuana in the mainstream press is usually related to violence; meanwhile most go about living their daily lives. Not to be overly pollyanish but in a city whose population runs between 1.5 to 3 million depending on estimates, the tales of lurid violence that suffice for news from Tijuana don’t portray the whole story of a city that boasts one of Mexico’s largest middle class communities.

An issue that Rabbi Polichenco seemed far more preoccupied with than the security situation was the alternative therapy medical tourism. The rabbi noted that Tijuana has many “alternative medical clinics” that cater to those with advanced stages of cancer. These clinics offer “miracle cures,” and people come from Israel, Europe and the US for these alternative medical treatments. He stated that the clinics are, “looking for people with cancer, and they promise they’ll cure them. They give them fruit smoothies and coffee enemas. Or light treatments. People shouldn’t come to Tijuana for that.” Polichenco continued, “We have so many people from Israel. We had a gentleman that was transferred yesterday to Cedar Sinai in LA in a coma, and he came fine. It’s very sad. It happens too often, every couple weeks we get someone like that. Sometimes it’s 4 or 5 people at the hospital.”

For Polichenco, having a strong Jewish community in the area is vital and necessary for the burgeoning community in the Baja peninsula, as well those Jewish visitors to the region who require support and assistance.

Congregacion Hebrea de Baja California
On the following Shabbat morning, our tale resumes at the Congregacion Hebrea de Baja California, the shul of Rabbi Carlos Salas. I was ferried across town by Benjamin Camacho-Mora, and his son Abraham, a member of Rabbi Salas’ congregation. On the way, Benjamin’s discussed his own roots in Judaism. Benjamin’s family arrived in Mexico from Spain and Portugal, and settled in Chihuahua in Northern Mexico. He mentioned that his grandparents would light candles on Friday nights. He also said that his family would never eat pork, he noted, “They would cook pork for show and then feed it to the dogs.”

The Congregacion Hebrea de Baja California is a compound marked with a large blue menorah, located in a residential neighborhood that is far from the border glitz that draws tourists to Tijuana. Presiding over the congregation is the enigmatic Rabbi Carlos Salas, a dapper gentleman with black hair slicked back, a pencil-thin mustache that graces his upper lip and a penchant for dark suits. Words like “charismatic” are often bandied about Rabbi Salas.

Born in Fresnillo in the northern Mexican state of Zacatecas to an outwardly practicing Roman Catholic family, Rabbi Salas noted that his great-grandmother, who came from Spain, left the family two candle holders made from brass and a Star of David fashioned from a bluish-green stone. He said that the matriarch would prepare Shabbat in secret, and left talit and tfillin hidden in their house. Yet as a child, his mother wouldn’t discuss the items, and discouraged his curiosities.

As a young man, Salas helped his family tend sheep- imagery still with Salas today as his office contains paintings of a young Salas tending his flock. As he got older, he learned about and became involved in the gold and silver industries that were prominent in Fresnillo, something that would prove advantageous in his later career.

Salas moved to the U.S. to join his brother living in Buffalo, New York. After a stint in the U.S. military during the Korean War, Salas returned to Buffalo, where he began his path down a winding religious journey with his entrance to a Methodist seminary. Although he eventually became an ordained Methodist minister, Salas states that he attended the seminary because there was no yeshiva in Buffalo at that time, and had always planned to become a rabbi. “I was interested in studying Torah, the prophets and scripture, but the Methodist seminary was the only thing available,” Salas noted.

In 1960, Salas moved to Los Angeles, where he would launch a career investing in jewelry shops and other businesses. Meanwhile, in 1962, he began attending the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. Salas studied for five years at the University of Judaism, leaving the Methodist fold and fully converting to Judaism. Salas noted that he was converted by a board of five rabbis, who were extra keen to examine his commitment to the faith given his previous status as a Methodist minister, yet after hours of questioning the beit din was satisfied with his earnest commitment to Judaism.

In 1967, the same year as his conversion, Salas opened his congregation in Tijuana. With his own funds, Salas constructed the synagogue that now houses his congregation. Opened in 1970, the low-ceilinged sanctuary is complete with pink marble imported from Valencia, Spain. On the bimah¸ there resides an elaborate ark that is home to four Torah scrolls. The ark, designed with two intricate menorah motifs, was fashioned from Mexican cedar and carved in Queretaro, Mexico. Two columns flank the bimah, and the Mexican and Israeli flags stand on either end; on the right side of the bimah, an empty chair covered in a talit waits for Elijah. Various Magen Davids and carved wooden menorahs and other Judaic objects decorate the room.

Known to his followers as Maestro, meaning “teacher” in Spanish, Salas has been conducting his spiritual outreach to Mexicans of Jewish ancestry, crypto-Jews still practicing in secret, as well as to Mexican Catholics interested in learning about Judaism. According to Salas, 90 percent of the congregation are descendents of conversos, while another 10 percent are Mexican Catholics interested in conversion. A gentleman named “Nir,” who was in the process of studying for conversion stated, “Things I saw my family doing were actually Jewish traditions without knowing them to be so. Once you see what the traditions are, you gain momentum.”

Despite the nontraditional background of the congregation, Salas was firm in grounding his followers in traditional Jewish ritual and customs, including eating kosher food, and circumcisions for male converts.

In December 1984, the congregation held its first major conversion, with a group of three American rabbis interviewing 24 of Salas’ students. When the beit din was sufficiently convinced of the group’s Judaic convictions, the group then went off to Rosarito Beach and the converts waded into the chilly Pacific waters that was serving as the mikvah. Seven years later, another group of Salas’ flock held a conversion, but this time they traveled to the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and were examined by the Conservative movement’s beit din there, as well as using their mikvah rather than the frigid Pacific. Since then, half a dozen groups of converts made the trek to Los Angeles to meet with the beit din and carry out conversions. On the issue of conversion, Rabbi Salas states, “we hold classes for teaching about torah, that lasts 3 to 4 years. Only after we are convinced that they are ready. Some people have continued their studies for as long as 14 years before they converted. We have brought hundreds back to the fold. We stopped counting after 200.”

Nearly 100 people were on hand that Sabbath morning to take part in the services. Although there is no mehitzah, men clad in kippahs and talits sat on one side of the synagogue, while women sat on the other. The service weaved along a Conservative style. The congregants followed a Conservative Spanish-Hebrew prayer book, going methodically prayer by prayer. Many prayers were recited aloud in Hebrew, while others were read or sung in Spanish, with Rafael “Gamaliel” Hernandez serving as the cantor and leading along in a rich baritone voice.

When the Torah was taken from the ark, Rabbi Salas carried the holy scrolls on a slow procession through synagogue. The procession descended down the male side of the congregation, with congregants wrapping their fingers in their talits and touching the shawls to the Torah, while bowing their heads and closing their eyes for quiet contemplation before the scrolls. The procession passed up through the female section, with the women congregants carrying out similar prayers before the scrolls.

After the procession, the weekly Torah portion was read by alternating congregants from a chumash in Spanish translation, who followed the text with a shared yad. The congregation would rise as men were called up for the various aliyot. Eight men were called up to read from the week’s portion, and began and ended their portion by reading the blessings over the Torah in Hebrew.

Meanwhile as the service progressed, the children were excused for their own lesson, only to return at the end of the service to offer a children’s choir rendition of the final prayers. The three-hour service concluded with a woman named Alejandra singing “haTikvah” and the congregants filtered out into the afternoon, dutifully touching the mezuzah on their exit.

The service felt like a traditional Conservative affair, although there were a few non-traditional elements that were present. Throughout the service, children would bring donations up to the bimah, pray over the offerings, and leave envelopes in a brass bowl on the ground. Rabbi Salas noted there are no monthly dues for congregants, and that the donations were used for members in the community that were struggling, and were used to help provide families with food staples in the form of food stamps from the congregation to families that had unmet needs.

Another more nontraditional aspect is the role of the Masonic movement in the synagogue’s affairs. Rabbi Salas was proud of his high level role in the Masons, and noted that a Masonic lodge is connected to the synagogue, and many of the male congregants are members of the order. According to Salas, during the period of the Inquisition in Mexico, the Masons were the only institution that would offer protection to Jews.

Rabbi Salas was quick to point out the numerous plans that he has for the community. He noted that there is a rabbinical school under construction in Rosarito beach, which he plans to use to educate future rabbis of the community. He also plans to open synagogues throughout Mexico, with the goal to host synagogues aimed at conversos in every Mexican state for the many Mexicans with Jewish ancestry. Salas mentioned that the congregation has already opened another synagogue in Durango, which is host to some 40 families. Salas also mentioned various plans such as plans for a Jewish old-age home, and to create a Jewish cemetery in Tijuana, which currently does not have one.

On the security situation, Salas was more circumspect, noting that a house just three doors down from the synagogue had been sprayed by bullets just a few days prior. “I’m not pretending it’s sunny and safe, it can be dangerous here. There are executions that take place and we don’t want to expose people to danger,” he noted. Salas stated that when a family comes down from the U.S. for a tourist visit to his synagogue, the congregation ferries visitors from the border to the synagogue.

The two communities reside in an uneasy cordiality. Relations had previously been strained, but today remain calm and cordial, if somewhat distant. But the Rabbis have a dialogue and remain civil; while I was there, Rabbi Polichenco invited Rabbi Salas to come address his congregation the following week. Part of the strain comes down to the fundamental quandary of what it means to be a Jew and the religious minefield of defining what constitutes Judaism. To put the chasm between the two communities in perspective, you must first look at the divisions in Judaism. If you accept that Reform and Conservative Judaism are full-fledged, legitimate strands of Judaism, then Rabbi Salas is simply the leader of a more exotic strand. If you have a more orthodox perspective that questions the legality of non-Orthodox conversions, then misgivings arise simply from the notion of more mainstream Conservative conversions, and from the existence of a community like Salas’ even more so.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Punk's not dead

He's taking an afternoon nap after lunch. Bubaleh, who knew that Punk had Jewish roots.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The New Yiddishists

An article on young Jewish writers in Vanity Fair. Thanks Elsa for sending this my way.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Palestinian Remembers the Holocaust

Check out this moving piece by Aziz Abu Sarah on recognizing the Holocaust.

Jews of Lebanon

This came from my semitic cousin John from Lebanon. It is an amazing website on the Lebanese Jewish community. Wow. I need to get a new passport and check out the community. That is a fascinating tale that this wandering Jew is salivating over.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Haggadah China

Check out this really cool Chinese Haggadah:

This Haggadah is a symbol for the growing Jewish life in China’s Diaspora of the early 21st century. It is as well a desire of many visitors who ask if they can find a Chinese, Passover Haggadah.

The first Edition of this One Of a Kind Haggadah has just been published.

What makes this Haggadah different from all other Haggadoths ?

* The traditional Passover Haggadah that we are all familiar with but with Chinese

characteristics and other surprising features.

* Introduction in Chinese to Passover holiday by Prof. Xu Xin Nanjing Univ.

* Illustrations and Paper Cuttings by renowned Chinese artist.

* Rare historical photographs of the Passover in the Chinese Diaspora.

* Bilingual traditional text in English & Hebrew with highlights in Chinese.

* Historical introduction to the Jewish Diaspora in China.

To learn more about this unique Haggadah and to order kindly visit:

Yeah, that's kosher

For all you hungry wandering Jews, a fellow named Dani Klein runs a website called: yeah, that's kosher. It is a blog for kosher travelers, and has all the places in the world you can snack on some kosher nosh. He also has it on twitter.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Blackbeard has peyess

Ha'aretz had an article about Ed Kritzler and his book about Jewish pirates of the Caribbean. I emailed with Ed after I found his book online, he had seen my article about the Jews of Jamaica.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bahrain's Jews

Perhaps this uptick of stories on my Tales blog has to do with Passover being so near. There was an article in the NY Times about the Jewish community of Bahrain. Too bad luck kept me from visiting Bahrain, otherwise that could have been my story.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Remembering Jagan and the Jewish State of Surinam

Two fascinating articles about Jewish life in the northern tip of South America. First, Janet Jagan recently passed away. A nice Jewish girl from Chicago ended up being the President of Guyana. Only the second Jewish woman ever elected to such a post, the other being dear Golda.

The other fascinating article is about the plans that existed for the Jewish State of Surinam.

Contributions to the Tales

As is the case, this blog often gets interesting comments from interesting fellow wandering Jews and associates. One person who contacted me was a fellow named Jono, who travels the world photographing Jewish communities.

Meanwhile, these images below come from Thoufeek Zakriya ( Cochin, India. He is not Jewish, but rather a Muslim with an affinity for Jewish culture. He does Hebrew calligraphies and makes replicas of Torah scrolls. He found my blog via my Tales piece about Cochin. The top one he recently did for a Malabari Jewish family. Thanks for sharing, Thoufek!
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

IDF Monday

Some fellow posts pics of hot IDF soldiers for his IDF Monday. Check it out here:

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cosmic justice

So rather than write a scathing article about my Mexico City synagogue experience, I decided to write the synagogue and ask for an apology. They responded with a sincere apology to Harry and me. Case closed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Venezuela cont

Since Chavez is going to the polls today to try to become president for life, it is important to see who he is using as the bogeyman since Bush is gone: the Jews. The Washington Post has a good piece about it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Knesset follies

Probably not what Herzl intended when he dreamed of a Jewish State with a Jewish parliament to govern. Here is a list from Ha'aretz of the 33 most embarrassing moments to grace the Knesset.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

No words needed

Ok, maybe a few: Bar Rafaeli is proof that G-d still loves the Jews.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Venezuelan Pogram

There was a disturbing attack on a synagogue in Caracas, Venezuela, that came on the heels of remarks by Chavez. I'm glad I called him an SOB on Argentine TV. These turn of events are disturbing. Chavez is already close with Iran and Hezbollah. He is becoming less a dunce and more depraved as time passes.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Jews of Color checklist

This come my friend Sasha, a black Jewess who I found in Nowhere, PA, working at a gas station. She is an awesome rabble rouser, and does work for an organization that promotes Jews of Color.

Ashkenazi Privilege Checklist
The checklist was created by Corrine Lightweaver, Sasha King, and the Jewish Multiracial Network between 2006-2009. It was used in a presentation on Jews of Color at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in March 2007.

___ I can walk into my temple and feel that others do not see me as
___ I can walk into my temple and feel that others do not see me as
___ I can walk into my temple and feel that my children are seen as
___ I can enjoy music at my temple that reflects the tunes, prayers,
and cultural roots of my specific Jewish heritage.
___ I can easily find greeting cards and books with images of Jews who
look like me.
___ I can easily find Jewish books and toys for my children with images
of Jews that look like them.
___ I am not singled out to speak about and as a representative of an
"exotic" Jewish subgroup.
___ When I go to Jewish bookstores or restaurants, I am not seen as an
___ I find my experiences and images like mine in Jewish newspapers and
___ My rabbi never questions that I am Jewish.
___ There are other children at the religious school who look like my
___ My child is never questioned by adults or children about whether he
or she is Jewish based on skin color.
___ People never look at me and say "But you don't look Jewish" either
seriously or as though it was funny.
___I am never asked how I am Jewish on Jewish dating websites or dating events.
____I can arrange to be in the company of Jews of my heritage most of the time.
____When attempting to join a synagogue or Jewish organization, I am sure that my ethnic background will not be held against me.
___I can ask synagogues and Jewish organizations to include images, and cultural traditions from my background without being seen as a pest.
___ I can enroll in a Jewish day school, Yeshiva, and/or historically Jewish college and find Jewish students and professors with my racial or ethnic background.
___I am not discriminated against in the aliyah process for being a Jew of a different ethnicity.
___I know my ethnic background will not be held against me in being called to read the Torah.
___ I know my racial or ethnic background will not be held against me if I attempt to join a minyan in prayer.
___ I do not worry about being seen or treated as a member of the janitorial staff at a synagogue or when attending a Jewish event.
___No one at my synagogue will attempt to assign me to a ethnicity to which I do not belong. (Example: Assuming all Jews of African descent are Igbo or Ethiopian).
___ I do not worry about access to housing or apartments in predominately Jewish neighborhoods.