My latest (JTA): ‘For Reform, new gay-friendly High Holidays prayer book keeps up inclusivity trend’

JTA's caption for a different picture of basically the same thing: "Mockups of the new Reform High Holidays prayer book, Mishkan HaNefesh, on display at the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention in Philadelphia, March 17, 2015."

JTA’s caption for a different picture of basically the same thing: “Mockups of the new Reform High Holidays prayer book, Mishkan HaNefesh, on display at the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention in Philadelphia, March 17, 2015.”

UPDATE: Evidently, the story has also appeared on Haaretz.

The biggest story of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (or CCAR, the professional organization of North America’s ~2,000 Reform rabbis) Convention in Philly was the installation of the group’s new leader, the CCAR’s first openly gay president. Yeah, I covered that story — but that’s not the real reason I went. My purest motivation in going was my desire to look into the new Reform machzor, Mishkan haNefesh, which will land in time for High Holidays 2015. Though there was a time when this blog was an active center of debate and discussion around new Jewish liturgy, it’s been a while since I had much in the way of new material to contribute to that conversation. So, I was excited to jump back in.

JTA's caption: "The new Reform High Holidays prayer book adds a third option to the traditional formula calling worshippers to the Torah to reflect the experience of individuals who don’t identify as male or female."

JTA’s caption: “The new Reform High Holidays prayer book adds a third option to the traditional formula calling worshippers to the Torah to reflect the experience of individuals who don’t identify as male or female.”

Here are some highlights of my JTA piece on the new machzor:

PHILADELPHIA (JTA) — The Reform movement’s rabbinic association unveiled its new High Holidays prayer book — one that continues the movement’s trend toward inclusive liturgy — at the group’s 126th annual convention.

The prayer book features the voices of female writers and language more reflective of the LGBT experience. But the volume also signals a return to gendered language for God in Reform liturgy, including a version of the iconic High Holidays prayer Avinu Malkeinu that refers to God as both “Loving Father” and “Compassionate Mother.”

The previous Reform machzor, Gates of Repentance, was published in 1978. By the time the process of creating the new prayer book began in 2008, Person said, there was a feeling that the older text was no longer relevant.

“Today we live with different fears and anxieties than we lived with in the ’70s and ’80s,” she said. “There are references in Gates of Repentance to the post-Vietnam era or the fears of nuclear holocaust. Our fears are different. We still have them, but they’re different. I think the Jewish family is understood differently today, who the people in our pews are is understood differently.”

The new machzor continues the movement’s tradition of inclusivity, replacing a line from Gates of Repentance that referred to the joy of a bride and groom with “rejoicing with couples under the chuppah [wedding canopy].” The machzor also adds a third non-gendered option to the way worshippers are called to the Torah, offering “mibeit,” Hebrew for “from the house of,” in addition to the traditional “son of” or “daughter of.”

Head over to JTA to read more about it. I’ll also probably have more of a deep dive on it sooner or a later.

It feels good to be back in the liturgy game!

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My latest… sort of (jweekly.com): ‘Reform rabbis get first gay prez’

In addition to the standard version of my recent JTA piece about Rabbi Denise Eger, the new president of American Reform rabbis, there’s this piece in j. (the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, aka jweekly.com) by j.‘s Dan Pine, to which I evidently also contributed. It’s mostly made out of my JTA piece, but it localizes the story by adding some material about Rabbi Yoel Kahn of Berkeley:

More than a quarter century ago, Yoel Kahn addressed Reform Judaism’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, asking his colleagues, “Can we affirm the place of the homosexual Jew in the synagogue and [among] the Jewish people?”

At that point, plenty of people — including some Reform movement leaders — would have replied with a resounding “no.” But since that day in 1989, time and social change have answered the question in the affirmative.

This week, Kahn, senior rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, again addressed the annual convention of the CCAR, but this time he was not pleading. He was beaming, because the CCAR had just installed its first gay or lesbian president, Rabbi Denise Eger of Los Angeles.

You can read the rest of Pine’s new material (and my original material, I suppose) over here.

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My latest (The Forward): ‘Doughnut Meets Babka in Latest Pastry Mashup’

The Forward's caption: "Three flavors of doughka (for now…), left to right: lemon and olive oil, Mexican chocolate and sticky banana. Photographs by David A.M. Wilensky."

The Forward’s caption: “Three flavors of doughka (for now…), left to right: lemon and olive oil, Mexican chocolate and sticky banana. Photographs by David A.M. Wilensky.”

I just wrote this thing about a delicious new miracle that recently came into our world. Here it is at The Forward:

Get that stale hamantaschen flavor out of your mouth. Get some delectable risen dessert carbs in before Passover arrives. Just get yourself over to the Chelsea location of Dough and pick up Mexican Jewish pastry savant Fany Gerson’s latest creation: the doughka. Half doughnut and half babka, as the name suggests, Gerson’s latest confectionary creation made its debut last month.

Each doughka looks just like a babka, albeit on the smaller side. But unlike the perennially stale, ever-dense texture of that store-bought babka that got left at your house after Shabbos dinner last week (you know the one: half-eaten by the time your guests left; begrudgingly toasted back to life for breakfast the following morning), Gerson’s doughka begins with a base of the unbelievably light yeast dough from which Dough’s doughnuts are made.

The doughka comes in three flavors — “for now,” Gerson says: Mexican chocolate, lemon and olive oil and sticky banana. And they are available only at Dough’s Manhattan location — and only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays beginning at noon.

The author of two cookbooks on Mexican sweets (“My Sweet Mexico” and “Paletas”), Gerson busily oversees two locations of Dough (the other is in Brooklyn) as well as La Newyorkina, her Mexican ice business. In the middle of all that, Gerson recently took some time to talk with me (over a doughka, of course) about the creation of the doughka, new flavors she’s working with and the role of women in the kitchen.

You can read the rest of it over here at The Jew & The CarrotThe Forward‘s food blog.

And seriously, do yourself a favor and go eat one of these things.

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My latest (JTA): ‘Reform rabbinic group installs its first openly gay president’

JTA's caption: "Rabbi Denise Eger, center, reads Torah during her March 16 installation as CCAR president. Also pictured, from left to right, Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Rabbi Mara Nathan, Rabbi Oren Hayon and Rabbi Susan Shankman. (David A.M. Wilensky)"

JTA’s caption: “Rabbi Denise Eger, center, reads Torah during her March 16 installation as CCAR president. Also pictured, from left to right, Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Rabbi Mara Nathan, Rabbi Oren Hayon and Rabbi Susan Shankman. (David A.M. Wilensky)”

I was in Philly for much of this week covering the 126th annual convention of the CCAR for JTA. Man, 500 Reform rabbis in one hotel for days on end…. Just kidding. They’re all lovely. (Well, almost all.)

Anyway, here’s my report:

PHILADELPHIA (JTA) — In 1988, her sexual identity a semi-open secret, newly ordained Rabbi Denise Eger had trouble landing a job. Decades on, Eger has risen to the top of her profession, installed Monday as president of Reform Judaism’s Central Conference of American Rabbis.

She is the first openly gay person to lead the organization, which is composed of more than 2,000 rabbis affiliated with America’s largest Jewish denomination.

Eger’s installation took place as the Reform rabbinical association marked the 25th anniversary of its groundbreaking 1990 resolution calling for the ordination of openly gay rabbis.

“I never intended to be a gay activist or to be ‘the lesbian rabbi,’ which is ironic because I know that’s the only thing the headlines will say, because I’m more than that,” Eger, 55, told JTA at the annual CCAR conference, held here Sunday to Wednesday. “Maybe they’re shocked to find at the beginning that she’s a lesbian president and that I’m breaking some ceiling, but I was elected because I’ve been a dedicated pastor and rabbi for more than 25 years.”

[...]

You can read the rest over here.

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My latest (Gothamist): ‘Ira Glass Tries His Hand At Improv Comedy’

DAMW_Gothamist_IRA-IMPROV_photo10_2-6-15

I went to see Ira Glass do improv comedy. I wrote about it for Gothamist. It begins thusly:

Ira Glass has been taking an intro to improv comedy course. It sounds like a pitch for an episode of “This American Life,” but last night Glass and his Level One: The Principles of Improv classmates took to the stage at the Magnet Theater’s studio training space for their class performance.

Apparently, improv has been on his mind for a little while. Back in September, he told The New Yorker’s Sarah Larson: “I’m thinking of moving on to improv comedy” and “I’ve never said these words out loud. It’s been a secret thought for like a month and a half.”

You can read the whole thing over here.

There used to be a few videos of it too, but there were some complaints, and my editors opted to take the videos back down. So now the videos are just mine to hold and cherish forever and ever *evil laugh* …

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My latest (The Forward): ‘Can Digital Badges Save Hebrew School?’

The Forward’s new special education section is out, which means my new article on the growing use of digital badges in Jewish education is out. The first I heard of digital badges was when my editor contacted me about this story — but, once I got started, I found the whole thing fascinating. Here’s what I learned (or, at least, the beginning of it):

While purveyors of childhood Jewish education as a whole struggle with enrollment and relevance, a small number have become pioneering practitioners of “digital badging,” a new pedagogical model in which learners in a wide variety of learning environments earn digital badges that indicate their accomplishments, skills or knowledge.

With help from associations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and, in the Jewish arena, the Covenant Foundation, digital badges are booming. Open Badges, an open-source standard created by Mozilla, allows badges earned in one venue to be collected in a “digital backpack” and displayed in different places online, such as on one’s Facebook or LinkedIn profile.

“There are now international conferences looking at how to use badging in education, but Jewish education has serendipitously become a real leader in this field,” said Sam Abramovich, a professor of education informatics at Buffalo University. “It’s amazing how Jewish education has managed to grab hold of something that clearly has an enormously transformational pedagogical potential.”

Read the rest of it over here.

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“As artificial as its inseminations.”

The New York Times print edition’s daily television listings feel like an artifact from my childhood, when watching television was a family activity, and we saved the Austin American-Statesman’s weekly television listings, hoarding them until they inevitably went missing mid-week, causing a mild household crisis. But I digress.

Anyway, hidden within the tiny blocks of time that make up the Times television listings, are the most sharply insightful, unintentionally hilarious movie reviews. I discovered this today while idly picking through a two-week old copy of the Times.

Save the Last Dance (2000). White teenage ballerina transfers to inner-city school. Guess who’s coming to hip-hop class.

Rio 2 (2014). Voice of Jesse Eisenberg. Animated. Macaws journey to Amazon. Exhausting tropical kaleidoscope.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003). Bride attacked on wedding day wakes up from coma and seeks revenge, Tarantino style. Blood bath & beyond.

The Lone Ranger (2013). Johnny Depp. Masked lawman and laconic Indian fight bad guys. Makes no sense, kemo sabe.

Delivery Man (2013). Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt. Sperm donor’s kids sue to learn his identity. As artificial as its inseminations.

Tooth Fairy (2010). Dwayne Johnson, Ashley Judd. Hockey player sentenced to be tooth fairy. Ouch.

This is all real. Very real. I can’t get enough of these.

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Boy barista: “I feel like you always have a lot of things to do”

A snowy morning in South Orange, our only truly snowy morning so far this year. I went to Starbucks for a hot chocolate.

Two baristas, one male, one female, both in college, exact ages unclear — though I am tempted to call the male a boy and the female a woman, more from manner than appearance. A steady trickle of customers, but no line, so they discussed the weather and their plans for the day.

Boy barista: I just want to go home and crawl back into bed.

Woman barista: I have so much I have to get done at home, but, even if I could go home, I can’t do any of it because of this weather.

Boy barista: I feel like you always have a lot of things to do.

Woman barista: … ?

Me: … ?

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My latest (jweekly.com): ‘Open Hillel confab takes on BDS, intellectual freedom’

"Unpacking BDS" panel at the Open Hillel conference (from left): Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace; Sa’ed Atshan, a Palestinian post-doc at Brown University; and student moderator Holly Bicerano | Copyright: David A.M. Wilensky

“Unpacking BDS” panel at the Open Hillel conference (from left): Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace; Sa’ed Atshan, a Palestinian post-doc at Brown University; and student moderator Holly Bicerano | Copyright: David A.M. Wilensky

As noted, I was at the Open Hillel conference at Harvard over the weekend. I was there doing a story on Bay Area folks for jweekly.com. And now it’s live.

Here’s a bit of it:

The prominent pro-BDS contingent was hard to miss. Many displayed their views proudly, sporting black T-shirts with the Jewish Voice for Peace logo on the front and the words “Another Jew Supporting Divestment” on the back.

But the conference was not about BDS itself. It was about whether there is room in the Jewish student community for those who support it to even be part of the conversation. There was a sense among many at the conference that the tide is beginning to turn in their favor.

“I’m one of the most right-wing people here. I’m a Zionist, I don’t support BDS, but this is an important conversation and it’s important to open it up,” said Sarah Beller, a Stanford University senior who grew up in San Jose and currently serves on the boards of Hillel at Stanford and Stanford’s J Street U chapter.

“Judaism is all about intellectual discussion, and about debate and questioning,” Beller said, “and especially Hillels, which are Jewish institutions aimed at cultivating Jewish life in college, where there should be academic freedom. To say that we won’t discuss certain things to protect people is deeply problematic because it ties how Jewish you are to your politics.”

Now go read the rest of it.

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The Open Hillel conference

Jewish Voice for Peace t-shirts reading "ANOTHER JEW SUPPORTING DIVESTMENT" were thick in the ground at the Open Hillel conference

Jewish Voice for Peace t-shirts reading “ANOTHER JEW SUPPORTING DIVESTMENT” were thick on the ground at the Open Hillel conference | Copyright: David A.M. Wilensky

I have returned from what turned out to be a very interesting weekend at the Open Hillel conference. Some reporting on the conference from yours truly is coming soon.

Derek Kwait, my successor as head honcho of New Voices Magazine, was there as well. In a blog post about the conference, Derek mentions some ideas that came up in an interesting chat he and I had the other day:

After the plenary, the previous New Voices Rebbe, David A.M. Wilensky, and I were discussing what the applauses at the plenary said about the student make-up of the conference, and he raised several excellent points: Though [Jewish Voice for Peace-affiliated] students are loud and proud at the conference (and significantly overrepresented among the organizers), the majority of students here probably fall somewhere in that murky area between J Street and JVP, nominally represented in the wider world by organizations such as Americans for Peace Now and Partners for Progressive Israel, that have next to no serious presence on campus, making students who might align with them choose an organization that is not really a perfect fit for them. Other Leftist Jewish organizations should note this and get on that.

You may also notice Derek has promoted me to rebbe. Thanks, bro!

He also makes this bold prediction:

Hillel International had no official presence at the conference, and while this says a lot about Hillel, it doesn’t mean much as far as the overall success of the conference goes: The point here was for the organizers… to create an Open Hillel-like atmosphere for students who don’t have one. These students will leave inspired by this model and empowered by the things they learned here to work seriously towards creating Open Hillels back home…. Whether these students can actually go home and make their home Hillels Open or not, I’m quite sure this will be the last Open Hillel conference without any presence from Hillel International.

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