Choose Life Ramadan / 17 Tammuz

These are difficult times for liberal Jews (and Muslims, I imagine). The bombings of Israel and Gaza, the Iron Dome, the images of terrible suffering in Gaza, and now the anti-semitic attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe that are taking place under the cover of  fighting for Palestine. And so I was happy to find an event combining both Ramadan and the fast of 17 Tammuz, part of the campaign  בוחרים בחיים צום יז בתמוז- רמדאן 2014 نختار الحياة، مشروع رمضان وصيام 2014 Choose Life Ramadan-17 Tamuz fast. A rather impressive list of events they held can be found here.

I went to an evening at the Masjid (mosque) Malcolm Shabbaz on 116th Street and Lenox,  in honor of an Iftar (breaking of the fast during Ramadan) and in honor of the fast of 17 Tammuz. We were maybe 60 people, more or less evenly divided between Muslims, mostly members of the mosque, and Jews. It was a loosely organized evening, and opened with brief remarks made by two of the organizers, Mia (also an organizer of the Harlem Minyan)  and Brother Tariq, followed by individual conversations among the participants. I was excited to be in this mosque that I had read so much about: founded originally in 1945 as Temple Number Seven (there is another Temple  Number Seven on 127th Street that serves the Nation of Islam), and Malcolm X’ mosque, this was the site of much radical struggle in the 60s and 70s, and I was thrilled to find one of its chroniclers sitting across the table from me and happily chatted away.

After some fifteen minutes or so, we were offered the traditional fig and water opening the Iftar (breaking of the fast), and all of us joined the community in the main mosque for Maghrib, followed by Ma’ariv downstairs, and, of course, more food.

All in all a good evening, an important evening, more for me personally than for any Muslim-Jewish  rapprochement. It was an evening that reminded me how much I love living in New York (I could have walked to the mosque, if it hadn’t rained so heavily), and also a time that reminded me of just how much work remains to be done.  Yes, we were together, shared food and drink, and talked, no, I at least didn’t even mention politics apart from making some general noises. But that is probably ok: for some of the Jews who came, it was the first time they entered a mosque (!), let alone spoke to a Muslim outside of work or a restaurant, and many were probably unaware of the place’s storied history.

Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein, as we say (loosely translatable as “small acts effect change”).


Spring 2014 courses

RELG 383, Introduction to Judaism, Wardlaw 101, 3:55 pm – 5:10 pm

Why do Jews eat crackers on Passover and why are they square? Is kosher food blessed by rabbis? How is Judaism different from Christianity or Islam? How does the Holocaust impact twenty-first century American Jews? Why are there so many Jewish jokes on the Daily Show? And, in the year 2014, what on earth is a Jew? We will approach these questions through the lens of the Haggadah, a ritual manual Jews read during Passover.

This “living text”, arguably the most popular Jewish book after the Hebrew Bible, will be our key to unlock a number of ideas that have shaped the Jewish experience such as the Oral Torah, the emphasis on prayer and social justice, sanctification of daily life, but also the impact of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and gay and transgender rights. You will notice that the last four classes are TBA. Those are classes whose topics will be determined by you, the students. Suggested topics are: the Ark of the Covenant, conversion to Judaism, Black Hebrews, Jews of color, Israeli music…

 RELG 203Z Introduction to Comparative Religion (asynchronous online course)

This course is an  introduction to comparative religion. You will think about the role of spirituality and religion in public life, and explore a number of religious traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, as well as Atheism and some more recent religious movements.

Current Project: Transgendered Jews in legal and medical Hebrew texts

My project looks at gender variance in medieval Hebrew texts written by commentators of Jewish law (the Rishonim) who were active in Europe and the Mediterranean between 1000-1500.

Two years of the anti–Semitism report in Germany

In 2008, the Bundestag decided to set up an independent work group to study the state of anti-Semitism in Germany. After a year of deliberation, the group was convened and after another year had passed (we are now in 2011), they published their report. It wasn’t pretty… 20% of Germans were seen as anti-Semitic, possibly more.

Two years later, not one of their recommendations has been put into action, and there seems to be no consensus that there might be any need to for action. In the meantime, a neo-Nazi terror group has been dismantled, after they had committed a number of murders, and anti-Semitic sentiment, if anything, has risen in popularity.

You can read more in German, here:

And the original report of the Bundestag is here:

Encyclopedia of Hinduism

Last week, the International Encyclopedia of Hinduism was launched, only about 25 years in the making. Begun in the 19802, this was “a big deal” as far as books go, and I found myself inexplicably moved. Milling about the beautiful president’s garden, there were Carolinians and Indians who had worked on the encyclopedia from the beginning, some who had joined recently and others who, like me, had only heard about it.


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For me, this was also a great opportunity to meet my new colleagues, Dr. Mari J. Stuart, and Dr. Daniel Stuart, here with Dr. Erin Roberts.


and here a bit closer up:


Professors came, administrators, writers, researchers, even a Swami, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, the founder and chairman of the India Heritage Research Foundation, and the Indian Ambassador to the US:


Our President, Dr. Pastides was there as well of course:

As was our governor, the first US governor of Asian descent, Nikki Haley.


If Peace Never Comes, This Will Be the Reason

If Peace Never Comes, This Will Be the Reason

An excellent article about competing national narratives, and a good reminder of  just how complex communal and individual identities are.

Cairo Geniza

I just finished reading Sacred Trash, a wonderful book that tells the story of the Geniza’s “rediscovery” as a treasure trove of the  Mediterranean world in the middle Ages. I had read many of the (standard) works mentioned in the book as a graduate student, and it was tremendous fun to get to know the authors! And then, after a discussion with a friend about the use of recent technology, I came across this article in the NYT, on Piecing Together a Jigsaw of Jewish Lore.  


Vatican City Explained

If you ever wondered what status the Vatican has, here it is, explained, in only seven minutes. Sort of.