Are these the Jewish Rebels of Tomorrow?

Hotel with tree and meadow

Youth hostel in alpine serenity

What’s the newest of the new in Jewish youth culture? To find out, I visited a machane, a Jewish summer camp, which congregated Europeans under the age of eighteen in a remote village in the Alps. Hoping to scout future Jewish ideas, themes, and memes, I had my eyes and ears open for interesting fashions, cool music, new media, games, slang, and food.

My quest was triggered by a slew of innovations brought about by the current generation. Deviators have exchanged their traditional tallitot (prayer shawls) for colorful ones with lilies and rainbows. Others have produced trip hop versions of Jewish songs, “Matzah raps,” and uploaded parodies of Biblical stories onto youtube.  continue reading


The Long Night of Tikkun,

or What We Can Learn from Loving Women

Not long ago, we happened upon the website of a group of three young Jewish women “who care about different aspects of Jewish and Israeli identity and culture and who want to experience a meaningful Jewish life in Berlin.” They call themselves Hamakom (Hebrew: ‘the place’) and support, among others, more frequent encounters between Israelis and Jewish Germans. The group’s first event is a Tikkun lel Shavuot on the topic of “Women & Love,” the title clearly stating the theme of the evening. The event follows the tradition of studying and discussing specific Biblical texts and their interpretations on the night before Shavuot. This choice of topic reveals the meaning the holiday has in the discursive process of self-reflection.

WoodcutRuth and Naomi in the field

Jakob Steinhardt, Illustration to the Book of Ruth, 1955-1959, woodcut
© Jewish Museum Berlin, donation of Josefa Bar-On Steinhardt, Nahariya, Israel

Shavuot begins this year on the eve of 14 May and ends two days later. It is a holiday of unusually multifaceted significance, and it is rediscovered and redefined by every generation anew. Originally, the holiday celebrated the beginning of the harvest season, which included a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple. Pilgrims brought their first fruit and two loaves of wheat-bread to the temple. In the Talmud, Shavuot is conceived of as the festival on which the population of Israel received the Torah. In preparation of this donation, the holiday is also described as an Atzeret, a joyous assembly, which involves a night of communal thinking and debating. Tikkun lel Shavuot, as this nightly symposium is called in Hebrew, means literally: ‘The betterment during the night of the Feast of Weeks.’ It was first mentioned in the kabbalistic Zohar-book and gained importance in the 16th century.

The Jewish understanding of collective studying and discussing differs from that of the Greeks;  continue reading


“Go down Moses” and an Orange on the Seder Plate

A seder plate with pictures of an orange, grapes and a door

Seder Plate by Harriete Estel Berman, U.S.A., 2003 © photo: Jens Ziehe, Jewish Museum Berlin

Passover is not only a feast day evoking an historic event through a ritualized form of remembrance. It also appeals to reenact the exodus out of Egypt and envision divine mercy, freeing us from bondage and disenfranchisement. Like many Jewish holidays the original biblical Passover story has been and still is seen in relation to other historical events. The Egypt of the Exodus story turned into Ukraine and Belarus in the 17th century, when the Cossack chief Bogdan Chmielnicki allowed many hundreds of thousands of Jews to be murdered over the course of his struggle to liberate Poland. In the 20th century, Germany under the Nazi regime became the country to flee.

Through its culinarily-underscored recitation and discussion of the narrative, the seder provides a framework for each new re-interpretation. This appears primarily at the dinner: even while the symbolic dishes are determined by the Passover Haggadah, the other foods vary according to geography and the cultural conventions of the place where the celebration is taking place. There are especially numerous recipes for the “mortar,” the charoset, which resembles in color and texture the cementing agent used to build houses.

 continue reading