Shabbat Surfing: Summertime and the Living is Groovy

Prehensile-tailed Porcupine

The National Zoo recommends fruitsicles. As do we.

Now that we can turn from serious conversations about healthcare for just a moment, this heat is keeping us on some lighter, more summery topics.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn – aka Rabbi Reefer* – is among the first to be opening a medical marijuana dispensary in DC, after an epic process. “Our midlife quest for a new way to make a positive difference in people’s lives and a lifelong commitment to pushing the envelope to help others made this the obvious path to follow.” (*Okay, no one has actually called him that before now.)

If you come up with a better nickname than I did and it catches on worldwide, you might be the first winner of the new million-dollar “Jewish Nobel Prize,” actually called the Genesis Prize. “The international prize will be awarded to Jews who win global recognition for their achievements in the fields of science and the arts.” I suppose “good nicknaming” doesn’t really count as an achievement in the arts…

However, creative labeling might be: Hebrew National is under fire for its kosher hotdogs not being quite so kosher… as Jon Stewart reported on The Daily Show.

And if it’s all too much, follow Nora Ephron’s advice. As she once told an audience, “I’m very into denial.” Hide out inside with the a/c this weekend, pop in “When Harry Met Sally,” and dream up how you’re going to win that million dollars.

 

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The Inaudible Man

Grace here. This movie poster terrifies me:

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream

And I’m not alone. It’s one of the most effective movie tag lines ever used, because it taps into a very basic human fear: not being heard.

Who hasn’t had the nightmare of screaming without any sound coming out? Who hasn’t felt invisible at some point in their life? We’ve been grappling with the fear of being unheard since we first found comfort in God: The ultimate all-seeing, all-comprehending, all-forgiving audience.

Deb Margolin kicked off the Theater J season by saying, “I have always felt that the kindest… most committed and generous thing we do for each other, is the bearing of witness” On Monday night, at a reading of his new performance piece Lucky Penny, David Deblinger (who is closing our season with the fabulous History of Invulnerability) noted  “The act of listening is generous.” Plus, I’ve heard enough bad-date stories to know that the easiest way to infuriate someone is refusing to let them get a word in edgewise.

But it goes even deeper than that.

There’s a man experiencing homelessness who has taken to asking for change on the streets. As you can imagine, he encounters a pretty vast array of responses. But the one that cuts deepest is total lack of acknowledgment: no money, no words, no eye contact. “That’s what scares me,” he says, “I would rather people cuss at me, would rather they spit in my face; because then at least I would know that they see me. Enough people don’t look at you, you start to get scared that maybe you don’t exist.”

Before this year, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into the population of people experiencing homelessness. I had a very fixed idea in my head of what a ‘homeless person’ was like. However, when I started volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen, that idea shattered like cheap glass. The guests that I have met are brilliant, accomplished people, wonderful people.  They are professors and Fulbright scholars; artists and musicians; government employees and immigrants.

They are also people who share my passion for theater. So Theater J started inviting Miriam’s Kitchen guests to see the productions in the 2011-2012 season. As another facet of the partnership, Miriam’s graciously invited Theater J artists to come hang out in their Studio Series. So fantastic performers like Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, David Emerson Toney, Rick Foucheux, Tim Getman and more have spent afternoons trading stories with the Miriam’s guests.

I’ve traded a few stories too. For the past four Monday mornings, the guests and staff of Miriam’s has welcomed me in with warmth, enthusiasm, and coffee. We’ve sat at the round table, and shared stories of triumph and loss; of youthful indiscretions and of future aspirations.  Some of the guests allowed me to transcribe their stories.

So on Tuesday night, the guests of Miriam’s came once again to Theater J, this time to see a play that they had written. Some of the actors who have gone to Miriam’s over the 2011-2012 season came together to perform a reading called “Stories from the Kitchen: Monologues Written by the Guests of Miriam’s Kitchen.”

It was a very simple reading. Bare stage. No costumes. Just people telling stories. People listening to each other, and bearing witness. But it reminded me why I love theatre.

I think there’s a shortage of listeners in the world. We’re lucky at Theater J, because we’ve got audiences who listen with their whole hearts. But they’re probably in the minority, because if everyone had a listener like that at home, you probably wouldn’t find so many people desperate to tell their stories online, right?

The instant you sign on, you’re barraged with people bursting to tell their stories: Tweeting, blogging, publishing their diary to Kindle and getting way too personal on Facebook.

Even with this post, I’m joining the chatter, flinging my own two-cent tale into the pile of stories that nobody asked for. So I’ll stop in just a moment, but before I do, I’ve got to ask a favor of you, Mr./Ms. Anonymous, (possibly nonexistent) reader. It’s an eccentric favor that most people probably won’t do, but it’s worth a shot.

Would you please find someone who is usually invisible to you, and ask them to tell you their story?  I’ll do the same, and you and I can sit (in our respective locations) and listen as the invisible becomes immediate.

I promise you, it’s the best ticket in the town.

Monday Media: Gail Levin on Lee Krasner

As spring turns to summer, we bring you a final podcast from last fall’s Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. In this talk, Professor Gail Levin discusses her fascinating book Lee Krasner: A Biography.

This first-ever biography of Lee Krasner brings her out of the shadow of her formidable husband, the renowned painter Jackson Pollack. Levin reveals that Krasner was an independent woman of uncompromising genius, as well as a significant artist in her own right. Levin, an art historian and personal friend of Krasner, examines the evolution of a woman whose life was as dramatic and intriguing as her art.

Right click and “save link as” to download as an MP3
Or listen online here

Shabbat Surfing: Summer Begins

Wednesday brought us not only a heat wave but also the official start of summer. Our summer camp, also known as “Hot Times in the City,”  started this week as temperatures in DC broke a record high.

Dupont Circle Fountain by Glyn Lowe Photoworks, on Flickr

Summer also brings cookout season and, this year, a lawsuit that alleges that Hebrew National products are not living up to their 100% kosher promise. Triangle-K, the agency that certifies Hebrew National products, does not claim to be glatt kosher and the nuances and personal nature of kosher observance will be interesting as this case plays out in a secular setting. To circumvent all of this and still enjoy your cookouts, there are always delicious salads.

Photographer Marisa Scheinfeld takes us back to summers of yore in the Borscht Belt in her haunting photos. These former summer resort colonies in the Catskill Mountains just north of New York Citywere tremendously popular with Jewish-American families and are now in ruins; many have been vacant since the 1960s and 1970s.

Have a fabulous weekend. Shabbat Shalom!

In the Gallery – Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women

By Sarah Lightman,  Co-Curator and Artist in Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women

(c) Sarah Lightman – Graphic Details

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the show, and why it is so different from what I was just watching on TV last weekend.

Back home [in Britain] the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee have just come to an end – having flooded every TV channel, newspaper and magazine. Yet amongst all this colour and pageantry, it is also widely acknowledged just how little we know about what the Queen thinks and feels. For she is, and here I quote a columnist from last weekend’s Guardian Newspaper, “one of the last silent celebrities.”

The artists in Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women, as you may have already seen already, are quite the opposite.

(c) Corinne Pearlman – Graphic Details

Here on the walls of the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery at the Washington DCJCC, are comics that delight in the scatological, emotional, political, and sexual messiness of life. And in the need to tell of their lives, these 18 artists from Israel, UK, USA and Canada reflect not only a very Jewish nuance to living, but also some radical innovations.

Jewish life and experience is a constant litany of retelling and reliving stories: of what happened to us. For example, we are encouraged every Pesach around our seder tables, to feel like we personally came out of Egypt. The weekly Torah readings at synagogue are extrapolated in sermons to ensure the experiences of our forefathers relate to our very own lives, even though we are separated by thousands of years. Jewish life is a training ground for us to learn to tell our own stories, with both a personal, yet also wider, relevance.

(c) Sharon Rudahl – Graphic Details

Critically, however, it is predominantly the male experience, the male story that is passed down. The female experience is not recorded, vocalized and explored.

And I consider the description of Teresa de Lauretis of female characters in ancient mythology to be very apt – she writes in Alice Doesn’t how the female characters “have survived inscribed […] in someone else’s story, not their own; so they are figures and markers of positions […] places through which the hero and his story move to their destination and to accomplish meaning.”

But here in Graphic Details we have heroines.

These heroines survive and thrive the onslaught of daily and domestic life. The Graphic Details artists recognize that the comic offers a stage set where they as artists and writers are both directors, and stars.

(c) Lauren Weinstein – Graphic Details

An autobiographical comic is an empowering space, where for those pages, it’s their version of life and their life journey, that takes precedence.

Another way in which these comic artists voices are radical is because they tell of troubling experiences that are experienced by many, yet are frequently undiscussed. Miscarriage, divorce, coming out, failed relationships, complex friendships and regrets fill the walls.

These personal and resonant stories are able to fill the work because of the intimacy and safety of the comic.

(c) Diane Noomin – Graphic Details

As you can see, often comics pages are structured around a grid shape like a waffle. The square paneling of these comics pages are safe and controlled spaces for stories that are conflicted and painful. The size of the images and texts requires us to get close so we can read and see the work – forming a physical closeness like a friend whispering a secret.

In a world where being Jewish and a woman in society brings complicated expectations and resistance, comics offer a safe space to begin a confession, and find a voice for previously silenced fears, feelings and memories.

So I would like to conclude by suggesting that in visualizing and vocalizing their lives, the 18 artists of Graphic Details are reconfiguring a central concern of Jewish life – a commitment to History – but here it is a Herstory. As they take their own experiences and bring them to the wider Jewish and non-Jewish world, they are following a traditional and untraditional path.

Sarah Lightman is both a co-curator and an artist in Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women, on display through September 2, 2012.

(c) Graphic Details

America, You Sexy B**ch

ImageOn my last road trip, my sister and I bonded over questionable waffles, avoiding the sketchballs outside our motel room in Ohio, and identifying sea life in Georgia.

While the purpose of crossing state lines was just to move our car from Michigan to Florida, it ended up an adventure in American culture.

Future  guests of the DCJCC, Michael Ian Black and Meghan McCain road tripped across America with a unified purpose slightly loftier than my own car-moving purposes: to see if two people with radically different political beliefs could find common ground.

Meghan McCain – a writer for the Daily Beast and is author of Dirty Sexy Politics – and Michael Ian Black – stand-up comedian and star of many movies and TV shows, like The State and VH1’s I Love the 70s/80s/90s – found some hilarious common ground.

From North to South and coast to coast, they see how people in Red states and Blue live their lives. They discuss feminism in the workplace with a Little Rocktrucker mom, sex education with Vegas exotic dancers, and religious tolerance with an imam in Detroit.

In Salt Lake City, Meghan meets her first real anarchist, and in Sedona, Michael not only begins to understand NRA culture but actually shoots a gun for the first time.

A road trip with a lesson: Meghan and Michael find that the one thing everyone they met on their trip shares is love for their country and a desire to see it succeed. The two come away from their journey with hope that Americans can unite during this divisive political age.

We did,” Meghan writes, “and that means anyone can.”

The book is certainly getting buzz; in her first 3 minutes with Jay Leno, Meghan talks pot, gay marriage, birth control and bullies.

On July 12, they’ll be hanging out with us for the whole evening, and we can only imagine what will come out of their mouths. I’ll have to ask them if they have any better waffle recommendations for me…

 

Shabbat Surfing: Bat Mitzvah Edition

This week, we’ve all been acting like teenagers around here – sneaking out (because the weather has been so gorgeous, any excuse to get outside will do), obsessing about what we’re wearing (in last week’s Pride photos that came out this week), and gossiping about the varsity athletes (because how is it possible that the Nationals are still in first place?).

Maybe the teen behavior is just spilling over from of all these bar mitzvahs in the news right now.

Today I am a man. In a loin cloth.

Also feeling youthful this week is Kirk Douglas, who has just set a bar mitzvah date for later in the year, when he will be 96 and celebrating his third bar mitzvah. (His second was at the traditional 83.)

Douglas returned to his Jewish roots as an adult, about 20 years ago. David Arquette has also been inspired to connect to his Jewish side as an adult, having an impromptu bar mitzvah in Jerusalem at age 40. Using that most “teen” of media, Twitter, he told his followers, “Finally I’m a man.”

And in other “bar-mitzvahs-of-people-I-didn’t-know-were-Jewish” news: Muhammad Ali’s grandson, Jacob Wertheimer, became a bar mitzvah in Philly, with his family’s fab multi-culti support.

If your teen wishes their own year of bar mitzvah boogie-ing wasn’t behind them, they can now turn their Jewish dance floor moves into cash. Parents and DJs are now hiring teens to be dancers at the receptions, so no one is left out of any given Chicken Dance, Electric Slide, or even a Champagne Snowball.

Or you could just hire these two:

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