Category Archives: Culture

All things in non-Jewish culture.

Touring Tests

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO maintains a list of significant cultural sites worldwide in its World Heritage List. While the purpose of this list is to “catalogue, name, and preserve sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humankind.”
The current issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine reviews the conditions of some of these sites, at least how they fare in respect to tourism.
Of particular note, Masada rates a 69/100 (minor difficulties):

“As a historic site away from an urban center, its cultural integrity has been preserved. The site is well-maintained, and the signage is adequate. It offers vistas of the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley rock formations of unprecedented beauty. The risk for commercial overdevelopment is high and needs to be addressed before it spoils the site.”
“Breathtaking and well worth the visit. Sunrises at Masada are especially beautiful. It benefits the local population both as an economic development tool and as a reminder of the population’s connection with its past.”
“Over the past decade management has improved enormously. The interpretation center and the parking areas at the base of the rock have now been rebuilt in a better style and relocated so as to be largely invisible from the top of the rock, whilst the cable car is now far less obtrusive.”
“Tourist volume and cable cars – which allow much greater access – are minor problems. The evaporation of the Dead Sea presents more major long-term concerns to the area.”

On the downside, “Jerusalem: Old city and its walls1 does not hold up as well rating a score of 54/100 (In moderate trouble: all criteria medium-negative or a mix of negatives and positives).

“Most beautiful light of any city, and a unique place. Building codes in new city requiring Jerusalem stone exterior was a great idea. Barrier fence and TV towers intrude on old city. Archaeology is amazing in the tunnel along the wall.”

“Confusing as to what is history and what is now a modern Israeli interpretation. Guides do not provide accurate historical information – highly politicized. Local community has little benefit other than employment and shop revenue.”
“The impact for any visitor is still strong, and restoration seems to be in good hands, but crowds are a nuisance and the high security is obtrusive.”

“Disastrous. A political football. The way the authorities are developing it is killing the multi-religious nature of the city as well as robbing it of meaning.”

“History is politics here, so hugely important Islamic heritage is not given sufficient emphasis (e.g., destruction of area around Wailing Wall to make piazza).”

The magazine’s singular focus on tourism is apparent in these comments, first by discounting any religious benefit Jerusalem might have to the local community. But what is most disingenuous is the predisposed cynicism to the Israeli government. No mention is made of which “authorities” are killing the multi-religious nature of the city, but I doubt they are including the controversial developments on the Temple Mount. And while Jerusalem is indeed highly politicized, the moderators could have just as easily toured through the Armenian, Christian, and Arab quarters to counter the “modern Israeli interpretation.” If they chose not to, then we could easily conclude that there might just be advantages to obtrusively high security.

Considering how much the Israeli economy depends on tourism dollars such a review in a prominent travelling magazine cannot be encouraging. However, Israel has larger concerns at the moment in maintaining its own security in both the short and long term. This of course includes making the country as safe as possible such that travel journalists are free to explore the country and return safely to write myopically critical reviews.


1. Notably, and not surprisingly, not listed as being in Israel.

Posted in Culture.

Movie Night Suggestions

Ex-Roommate Yossi is planning a movie night for the shul. In one of this typically creative ideas he’s arranging for showing at a local theater on Christmas Eve (no word on Chinese food). The only question is what movie to show? Here are the requirements:

  1. Appropriate for a shul event.1
  2. Able to draw people with diverse tastes across age demographics.
  3. Preferably being able to maximize the “big screenness” of the event

Right now the first choice is Princess Bride, but we need a few backups just in case we’re not able to show it.2 Other suggestions included the original Star Wars for the camp factor along with The Muppet Movie or The Great Muppet Caper.3 The Breakfast Club was also suggested, but then Yossi pointed out that most of the people were born too late to appreciate it.4
There where we are right now, and the topic is hereby open for discussion. Any thoughts?

1. This is highly subjective, especially considering a diverse religious community which likely includes some people thinking that all movies are assur. I trust my Loyal Readers to have good judgement, or at least more sense than I did when as an NCSY’er I picked History of the World: Part I simply because I hadn’t seen it and thought it would be funny. Good times.
2. There are currently technical limitations in terms of getting the reel. While there is a possibility of being able to project a DVD, but in the meantime we can’t count on that.
3. Personally I’d love to have a community-wide sing-along of Happiness Hotel.
4. Sigh.

Posted in Popular Culture.

Holocaust Settlement Disputed

Remember the Swiss banks’ billion dollar settlement to Holocaust survivors back in 2000? Turns out things are far from settled. New York Magazine has an excellent article detailing the battle over legal fees, currently at $4,760,000.

The short version is that Burt Neuborne, and NYU law professor, took the case pro bono for the litigation. However, after the settlement was reached the question became how to distribute more than $1 billion to hundreds of thousands of people, understandably, not a minor undertaking. According to the article, “Neuborne declared that he had worked 8,178 hours since 1999, at $700 an hour. After applying a 25 percent discount, he staked out his bottom line: $4,088,500.” When word got out and people complained, “he removed 1,600 disputed hours from his bill, but he also removed his discount, raising his fee by $671,500 in the process. The bill now comes to $4.76 million.”
And that’s just Neuborne’s side of the story, and we’re not even giong to get into how he calculated those 8,178 (or the 6,578 adjusted) hours.

The article does an excellent job covering the murkier sides of legal wrangling and deal-making. For one juicy example:

Then Judge Korman (largely following the proposal of a special master tasked with devising a plan) decided that the looted-assets survivors would get nothing at all. There were just too many of them, he reasoned, and how could anyone prove which looted assets ended up in Switzerland? Korman ruled that using their $100 million share of the settlement to help destitute survivors would be the “next best thing.” He ordered that 75 percent of the aid for Jewish survivors be spent in the former Soviet Union, where he considered the needs overwhelming; 21 percent would go to other foreign nations. Only 4 percent would be used to help survivors in the U.S. And that’s the root of the trouble.

While the whole saga is completely understandable, it is no less simultaneously disturbing on many levels, just what you’d expect when you mix the legal system with Jewish cultural politics.

Posted in News & Events.

Religious Responsibilities and Academic Freedom

Brandishing the slogan of “Torah U’Madda,” Yeshiva University promotes some form of synthesis between Jewish religious and secular culture. While the term Torah U’Madda is generic, in the context of YU it generally refers to its dual curriculum, combining the religious and secular subject matters in one university as opposed to having them be necessarily in conflict. But beyond the distinction of Torah U’Madda in subject matters, I noticed this past week two instances of Torah U’Madda in the nature of discourse itself.

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Posted in Academia, Religion. Tagged with , .

9/11: Five Years Later

Like most of the country today, I’ve been thinking about 9/11. Granted given the current geo-political situation, it’s difficult *not* to think about 9/11 since there is always something in the news reminding us. For New Yorkers, the experience is understandably much more personal. It wasn’t just your country that was attacked, but your home. The familiar iconic towers vanished, as well as the lives of many friends and loved ones. Personally, despite my extended connection with New York City, I’ve always had a somewhat detached perspective towards 9/11, mostly because I wasn’t around at the time.
I remember being in afternoon seder in Gruss learning hilchot shehita when someone came in with the news he read off the internet. Knowing this person’s jocular nature and the implausibility of the report we didn’t take him seriously at first. Eventually we went in to double check, and were shocked at the images and video. Our lagging single dial-up connection combined with the worldwide demands on the Internet throttled any incoming information. Phones were down for hours so we couldn’t even make direct connections with people. Understandably, confusion was rampant as were the feelings of uncertainty and helplessness.
Still, while we felt these emotions, we weren’t impacted directly. We worried and prayed, but our day was still basically uninterrupted; there was even a bris in Gruss the following day. Then of course, the religious hyperbole started coming in. It only took a few days until I started hearing quotes from kabbalists claiming how this would usher in the war of Gog and Magog or other signs of the impending apocalypse. Having not been so directly affected, 9/11 almost immediately became mythic; it wasn’t so much a terrorist attack but a watershed event in hummanity.
Returning to New York, I felt like a ghost. There was the aura of tragedy and meaning, a collective experience with which I could never fully empathize. Gradually people moved on, but as those who pass Ground Zero today will notice, the holes are still there.
I think it’s obvious that people are still dealing with the tragedy and are in their own stages of grief. Some have accepted and moved on, others are still in denial. For me 9/11 is somewhere in the middle of feeling the raw emotions yet always remaining distant. It is both personal and abstract simultaneously. But while there is a feeling that I will never be able to share with my fellow New Yorkers, I hope that I will never have the opportunity to share such an experience in the future.

Posted in Personal, Politics.

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

A website called Baby Rock Records is selling CD’s of “lullabalized” versions of popular music.

Rockabye Baby! transforms timeless rock songs into beautiful instrumental lullabies. The soothing sounds of the glockenspiel, vibraphone, melltoron and other instruments will lull your baby into a sweet slumber.

Presumably the intent is to turn kids into social misfits at the ripe old age of 3 weeks. Here are just some of the bands they’ve covered or are planning to in the near future:

Apparently Ozzy, Iron Maiden, and the Sex Pistols were too difficult to obtain, but on the plus side, they probably didn’t need to put in too much effort to convert Coldplay into baby music.
Seriously though, I like a good glockenspiel as much as the next guy, but the selected audio samples they provide remind me of the old MIDI’s only MUCH creepier and eerily hypnotic. Take a listen to their take on Nirvana’s Come As You Are (MP3) and Metallica’s Enter Sandman (go figure). I’d be very curious to see what long term effects these may have on kids.
Then again, a better question might be if you’d really prefer Rafi.

Posted in Music.

YUTOPIA’s Summer At The Movies

In what should be no surprise revalation to Loyal Readers, I have a bit of an eclectic taste in movies. However, this doesn’t mean that I actually *go* to many in the theater since “eclectic” should never be confused with “bad.” There have been years where I didn’t see any movie in the theater simply because there was nothing interesting playing. For some reason I found myself seeing more movies this summer than I have in many years. So I figured I might as well innaugurate the “Movie Reviews” category with my thoughts on some of this past summers offerings.
There are spoilers abound in this post, so if you’re interested in seeing any of the following movies, you might want to skip this post (also skip A Scanner Darkly while you’re at it).

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Posted in Popular Culture.

Weird Wedding Songs

Weddings are supposed to be happy occasions celebrating the love and commitment of two individuals who choose to spend the rest of their lives together. And yet for some reason, bands play songs which are completely incongruous with the theme of the day, and incredibly they do so often at the couple’s request.

AskMen listed 10 Wedding Songs to Avoid where people think these songs are romantic but have obviously never listened to the lyrics. While many Jewish weddings don’t usually play secular music in full, every now and again the band will play a riff or two from rock songs just to shake things up a bit. And here too many of the selections can seem a little bit strange.

I first commented on this a while back, and noticed it again at the first wedding I officiated. Since I hear new things all the time I’ve decided to keep a running list of all the well intentioned but probelmatic songs I’ve actually heard at weddings. To narrow things down, I’m just focusing on songs in which the lyrics don’t fit in with the spirit of the day. For example, while Get Down Tonight might not be the most romantic or subtle song in the world, it still makes sense in its own way. On the other hand, the ones listed below are a little more difficult to explain.

I’m sure I’ll be adding more in the future – especially if I get married myself.

1. Though in fairness, Robert Plant does refer to Stairway as a “bloody wedding song.”
2. For Jewish weddings, note that the “Yiddin” dance fits perfectly.

Posted in Music, Popular Culture.

Backstage At A Bat Mitzvah

You might remember the post we did a while back on extravegant Bat Mitzvahs. Today’s Fark links to a cameramen’s detailed account of the $10 Million Bat Mitzvah held at New York’s Rainbow Room last November. Quoth the cameraman:

This wasn’t a concert in a restaurant. This was a f—–g arena show tucked into a closet. This was overkill. This was excessive. This was a rich man’s fantasy concert, not a Bat Mitzvah.

Hard to argue with the assessment given the entertainment:

  • Eagles Don Henley and Joe Walsh
  • Stevie Nicks
  • 50 Cent
  • Tom Petty
  • Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry

I can’t imagine what her wedding will be like, but if it’s also going to be in NYC, I’m available.

Posted in Jewish Culture, News & Events.

Kosher Delight Passes…Barely

When we last looked at Kosher Delight’s health inspection report we found that they failed their 05/05/2006 inspection with 33 points of violations and required a full reinspection.
I just noticed that the reinspection was done on 07/13/2006 with a marginal improvement. KD did pass this inspection scoring 26 violation points – the failing mark is 28 points.

The violations cited are disturbingly similar to what was found previously. In addition to “Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to vermin exist” and “Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas” this time we also have “Evidence of flying insects or live flying insects present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas” and “Evidence of roaches or live roaches present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas.”

Kind of makes you want to go vegetarian elsewhere.

Posted in Food.