Yiddish with Dick and Jane

In case you haven’t seen this one yet… Click here.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Camp Jewish

Parshat Vayishlach – D’var Torah for Camp Ramah Canada

Our parsha this week tells of the transformation of an individual, our forefather Jacob. This personal transformation also lays the foundation for the creation of a people, Israel. The Torah teaches that Jacob was left alone in the dark when an angel wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When Jacob’s adversary saw that he had not prevailed against him, he dislocated Jacob’s hip at its socket. He then pleaded that Jacob let him go, but Jacob would not let him go until he was blessed. At this point our ancestor’s name is altered from “Jacob” to “Israel.”

During the course of a summer at Camp Ramah (and throughout several summers as well) campers experience a personal transformation much like Jacob. Many campers find that Camp Ramah is a comfortable venue for wrestling with one’s Jewish identity. The summer is a time for self-discovery and renewal. It is a time for both campers and staff to engage in the opportunities and challenges of wrestling with God and matters of faith and spirituality. May we all celebrate in the blessing of our children who have the Ramah experience to struggle, seek, change, and grow. Perhaps it is truly during the summer that our future generations show us the path from simply being like Jacob, lonlely strugglers, to becoming Israel, our holy community.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
America Holidays Jewish

Thanksgiving: the American Sukkot?

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Did you know that Thanksgiving is really a Jewish holiday?

Although Thanksgiving is not on the Jewish calendar, historians believe Sukkot may have inspired America’s favorite farewell to fall, often nicknamed “Turkey Day.”

“The pilgrims based their customs on the Bible,” says Gloria Kaufer Greene, author of the “New Jewish Holiday Cookbook” (Times Books, $29.95 hardcover). “They knew that Sukkot was an autumn harvest festival, and there is evidence that they fashioned the first Thanksgiving after the Jewish custom of celebrating the success of the year’s crops.”

Linda Burghardt, author of “Jewish Holiday Traditions” (Citadel Press, $24.95 hardcover), says, “Sukkot is considered a model for Thanksgiving. Both holidays revolve around showing gratitude for a bountiful harvest.”

Today Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, but President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t propose this timing until 1939.

It was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Roosevelt actually changed Lincoln’s decree that Thanksgiving be observed on the last Thursday in November, which sometimes fell on the fifth Thursday of the month.

The pilgrims invited local Indians to the first Thanksgiving during the fall of 1621. Historians speculate that this celebration occurred somewhere between Sept. 21 and Nov. 9, but most likely in early October, around the time of Sukkot.

“Originally, Sukkot entailed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem,” says Greene, who believes the two holidays share much in common. […more…]

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Question: What is the truest definition of Globalization?

Answer: Princess Diana’s death.

Question: How come?

Answer: An English princess with an Egyptian boyfriend crashes in a French tunnel, driving a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian who was drunk on Scottish whisky, (check the bottle before you change the spelling) followed closely by Italian Paparazzi, on Japanese motorcycles; treated by an American doctor, using Brazilian medicines.

This is sent to you by a Canadian, using Bill Gates’s technology, and you are probably reading this on your computer, that uses Taiwanese chips, and a Korean monitor, assembled by Bangladeshi workers in a Singapore plant, transported by Indian lorry-drivers, hijacked by Indonesians, unloaded by Sicilian longshoremen, and trucked to you by Mexican illegals…..

That, my friends, is Globalization.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Racism Studies Find Rational Part of Brain Can Override Prejudice

From the Wall Street Journal (11-19-04)


When scientists theorize about why racism is pervasive — so much so that some have suggested it is hard-wired into us — they come up with something like this: Back when humans were venturing out of the species’ birthplace in east Africa, each little band mostly kept to itself.

But occasionally someone, searching for food or territory or maybe adventure, came upon someone unfamiliar, from a different band.

He could wait for the thoughtful, cognitive part of his brain to assess the stranger. Or he could follow the instincts of the primitive, vigilance and wariness-inducing part of his brain, instantly identifying the guy as an outsider and then either running like heck or assaulting him. With this reaction, he was more likely to live and reproduce. We, the descendants of such people, inherited their genetically based brain modules, which reflexively classify people as “like me” or “unlike me.” And thus was racism wired into humankind.

Leave aside that this fable is impossible to test and rests on a questionable assumption (at the dawn of human history, people looked pretty much alike even if they belonged to different bands). It has nevertheless exerted a powerful hold on the imaginations of those who regard racism as a fundamental and therefore inevitable human attribute. More evidence: Although many white Americans consider themselves unbiased, when unconscious stereotypes are measured, some 90% implicitly link blacks with negative traits (evil, failure).

But recent studies challenge the conclusion that racism is natural and unavoidable.

Evidence that we are wired for racism comes from studies in which whites were shown pictures of black faces. That typically produced a spike in activity in the part of the brain, called the amygdala, that is the source of wariness and vigilance, responding automatically and emotionally to possible threats. The greater the whites’ negative attitude toward blacks, as measured on the unconscious-stereotyping test, the greater the activity in the amygdala when they saw black faces, compared with the activity when they saw white ones. (Data from studies in which blacks saw white faces are less clear-cut.)

But that primitive response is not inevitable. In a new study, researchers found that it indeed occurred when the faces were flashed for 30 milliseconds, so quickly that they could be seen only subconsciously. There was no such difference in amygdala activity, however, when the white volunteers saw faces for 525 milliseconds, scientists led by William Cunningham of the University of Toronto will report next month in the journal Psychological Science.

Instead, there was greater activity in the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate. Both regions are associated with higher thought and with inhibition and control of reflexive responses. This suggests that the thoughtful, rational part of the brain snuffed out the prejudicial response that would have otherwise popped up from the amygdala. In fact, people who showed the most unconscious bias on the test of unconscious stereotyping, and thus had the most to control, also showed the greatest activation of higher brain functions when they saw black faces.

“If people have a chance, they can modify or override the emotional response with the cognitive regions of their brain,” says Prof. Cunningham.

Although you might think that racism is fundamental and inevitable because it emanates from a primitive part of the brain, even if we can override it with a higher region, Prof. Cunningham demurs: “It’s silly to say that these automatic reactions are the true you,” or that they are any more “you” than thoughtful reactions that reflect consciousness and beliefs.

Consider what happened when white volunteers looked at yearbook photos of black or white faces for two seconds to determine any of three things: if they were over 21, if there was a dot on the face, or if the person depicted looked as if he or she liked a particular vegetable.

There was no extra activity in the amygdala when the whites looked for a dot on a black face, found psychologist Susan Fiske of Princeton University. They were probably seeing the faces not as faces but as mere background for a dot, so no racist feelings surfaced. But there was a spike in amygdala activity when the whites scrutinized the black faces to assess age. Categorizing someone for one purpose (age) seemed to activate stereotypes of another category (race).

But then the volunteers looked at black faces to assess their affinity for asparagus (or celery, or carrots). There was no amygdala spike. Why? This task forced the volunteers to see black faces as those of unique individuals. That inhibited what Prof. Fiske calls “category-based emotional responses” generated by the amygdala.

“Prejudice is not inevitable,” she concludes in a paper to be published in January. To the contrary. With a conscious goal to see someone as unique, the default response — race-based and stereotyped — “can evaporate. We have some control over how we look at people. You’re not responsible for what goes into your head — and people are fooling themselves if they think they can be colorblind — but we are responsible for what we do with that information.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Photos of the New Ben Gurion Airport Terminal

Here are some great photos from the new terminal at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. I look forward to seeing it firsthand next month when I land in the Holy Land with twenty college students from the University of Michigan as part of birthright israel.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Jewish Comedy Videos on the Web

Teaching a Jewish Humor and Jewish Comedians elective to high school students at Nosh ‘n’ Drash at Adat Shalom Synagogue, I now frequent this funny website The site is sponsored by, your gateway to the Jewish Community.

Check it out.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Classes in Judaic Studies, Drawing a Non-Jewish Class


New York Times

November 3, 2004

For Shivani Subryan, the whole thing started with a wig. There was this guidance counselor at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, a woman named Kornhaber, and she wore a blond wig. And when Shivani was a junior or senior there in the late 1990’s, she heard all the whispers from her classmates about the reason. Mrs. Kornhaber was bald. No, Mrs. Kornhaber had cancer.

The counselor looked pretty healthy and normal to Shivani, though. She had a different idea, a vague sense that the wig had something to do with the fact Mrs. Kornhaber was Jewish. Not that Shivani knew much about Jews. She was as an immigrant from Guyana of Indian ancestry, a resident of a mostly Latino neighborhood along the Grand Concourse, a neighborhood that hadn’t been Jewish for 40 years, more than twice as long as Shivani had been alive.

That question about the wig, that stray bit of curiosity, kept rattling around Shivani’s brain as she entered City College and took up a major in psychology. So last winter, having finished most of her required classes, she finally indulged the wonderment and registered for a course in Jewish studies on films about the Holocaust.

Intrigued and affected by that introduction, she interned for academic credit over the summer with the Jewish Community Relations Council. Then, this fall, she signed up for classes in Holocaust history and Jewish life in New York. There she learned that Mrs. Kornhaber wore the wig in compliance with Jewish religious law instructing that a married woman not show her real hair to any man except her husband.

Along the way, Shivani declared a second major in Jewish studies. To fulfill it, she will take no less than four Jewish studies classes next spring, her final semester. “People ask me all the time: ‘Are you Jewish? Where are you from?’ ” she said after class one day last week. “And I tell them it’s not about being Jewish. It’s about exploration.”

Her exploration typifies a striking trend at City College and in Jewish studies nationally – its appeal to gentiles. Of the 250 students enrolled in Jewish studies classes at City College, 26 of them majoring and 160 minoring in the field, some 95 percent are not Jewish, according to Prof. Roy Mittelman, the director of the program. The more than 100 colleges and universities offering Jewish studies include such Catholic institutions as Fordham and Scranton, the Quaker-based Earlham College in Indiana, and public ones like the University of Kentucky and Portland State in Oregon that are far from any sizable Jewish community.

This explosion in Jewish studies, a discipline that barely existed 35 years ago, reflects a confluence of forces: the roots-consciousness that gave rise to all sorts of ethnic studies programs in the late 1960’s; the emergence of Jewish family foundations eager to endow the programs; and the growing popularity of Jewish parochial schools covering the elementary and secondary grades. At the outset, at least, Jewish studies was by Jews, about Jews, for Jews.

“No. 1 was the desire to reach Jewish kids,” said Judith Baskin, the president of the Association for Jewish Studies, which has 1,500 professors and graduate students as members. “No. 2 was to demonstrate that Jewish studies has a place in the academic curriculum as part of Western civilization. No. 3 was that it would increase tolerance if non-Jewish students learn about the Jewish experience.”

The recent fascination of gentiles with Jewish studies, then, arrived as a pleasant, and wholly unexpected, shock. Nowhere does this phenomenon carry greater historical resonance than at City College, an institution deeply intertwined with the history of American Jewry.

In the decades before World War II, when many elite universities held quotas on Jewish students, City became known as “the poor man’s Harvard,” the launching pad for intellectuals like Irving Howe and Irving Kristol. By the 1980’s, with Jews now flocking to the colleges that formerly had barred them and City College a predominantly nonwhite school, it suffered national notoriety for the anti-Semitic diatribes of Leonard Jeffries, a tenured professor of black studies.

THE success of Professor Mittelman’s program represents a third wave, part of the overall resurgence of City College. While the Jewish studies courses do attract a few Jews, most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union, they overwhelmingly draw those self-described explorers like Shivani Subryan.

ALONGSIDE her in Rabbi Bob Kaplan’s class on Jewish life in New York on a recent morning sat immigrants from Colombia, Slovakia, South Korea and the Dominican Republic. As they discussed Jewish poverty on the Lower East Side, Jewish disapproval of interfaith marriage and the struggle to learn English, as depicted in Leo Rosten’s novel “The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N,” they were by inference learning about their own generation of new Americans.

“The kids see Jews as a successful immigrant group and are interested in what happened,” Rabbi Kaplan said. “I always get asked, ‘How did you guys do it?’ ”

More than pragmatism alone, though, has brought non-Jews into the classes, which range in content from theology to history to film and literature. Ardent Christians such as Jichan Kim, an immigrant from South Korea, and Jameelah Lewis, an African-American raised in Ohio, came seeking the Judaic roots of their faith and their savior. Kebba Jallow, an immigrant from Gambia, was motivated paradoxically by having heard so many anti-Jewish slurs in America.

“I had a weird curiosity because I’d accepted all those ideas – Jews are cheap, Jews are always whining about the Holocaust,” he recalled. “I didn’t have the knowledge to contest it. The classes redefined the stereotypes for me. They were just an eye-opener.”

Sinia Randolph, a history major from Harlem, interviewed an aging survivor as part of her research for Professor Mittelman’s class in the Holocaust. The experience changed her way of viewing the tragedies of Jews and African-Americans, which all too often have served as the basis of an invidious game of genocide one-upmanship.

“I know that a lot of time African-Americans think slavery was worst, and maybe deep down I did,” she said. “I mean I knew of Hitler and the six million, but that was as far as it went. Coming into this class, I’ve realized that the suffering is the same. The same inhumanity. The same cruelty.”

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

A Prayer for Voting (Non-Partisan)

הריני מוכן בהצבעתי

Here I am ready with my vote

Hareni muchan b’hatsbei`ati

לידרוש שלום בעד המדינה הזאת כמו שכתוב:

to seek peace for this country, as it’s written:

lidrosh shalom ba`ad ham’dinah hazot, k’mo shekatuv

“ודרשו את שלום העיר אשר הגליתי אתכם שמה”

“And you will seek peace of the city where I exile you to”

v’dirshu et sh’lom ha`ir asher higleti etchem shama

“והתפללו בעדה אל ה כי בשלומה יהיה לכם שלום”

“and you will pray for her sake to YHVH, for through her peace you will have peace”

v’hitpal’lu ba`adah el YHVH ki bish’lomah yihyeh lakhem shalom

יהי רצון מלפניך שתהא חשובה כאלו קימתי הכתוב בכל עצמתו

May it be Your will that my vote will be accounted as if I fulfilled this verse in all its meaning,

y’hi ratson milfanekha shet’hei hatsbei`ati chashuvah k’ilu qiyamti hakatuv b’khol `atsmato

וכשם שהשתטפתי בבחירות היום

and just as I participated in elections today

uk’shem shehishtatfti b’v’chirut hayom

כן אזכה למעשים טובים ולתקון עולם בכל פועלי

so may I merit doing good deeds and fixing the world with all my actions

ken ezkeh/ezkah l’ma`aim tovim ul’tikun `olam b’khol po`alai

יהי טוב בעיניך ה אלהי ואלהי הורי

May it be good in Your eyes, YHVH my God and God of my ancestors,

y’hi tov b`einekha YHVH elohai v’elohey horai

שתתן לבב חכמה למי שאנו בוחרים היום

that you give a heart of wisdom to those whom we choose today

shetiten l’vav chokhmah lmi shanu bochrim hayom

ותן לנו ולכל העמים במדינה הזאת

and give to us and to all the peoples of this country

v’ten lanu ulkhol ha`amim bam’dinah hazot

הכח והרצון לרדוף צדק ולבקש שלום כאגודה אחת

the strength and will to pursue righteousness and to seek peace as one unity

hakoach v’haratson lirdof tsedek ul’vakesh shalom k’agudah achat

ותשא לנו ממשלה לטובה ולברכה

and may you raise up a government for us for the sake of good and blessing

v’tisa’ lanu memshelah l’tovah ulivrakhah

להצמיח בכל העולם חיים של טובה וחיים של שלום

to cause to grow throughout the world lives of goodness and peace

l’hatsmi’ach bkhol ha`olam chayyim shel tovah v’chayyim shel shalom

עלינו ועל כל עמך ישראל ועל כל יושבי תבל ועל ירושלים

for us and for all your people Israel and for all the inhabitants of the world, and for Jerusalem

`aleinu v`al kol amkha yisra’el v`al kol yoshvey teivel v`al y’rushalayim

“ויהי נועם ה אלהינו עלינו ומעשה ידינו כוננה עלינו

ומעשה ידינו כוננהו”

“And may the pleasure of YHVH our God be on us, and may the One establish the work of our hands for us, may the work of our hands be established”

viy’hi no`am YHVH eloheynu `aleinu uma`aseh yadeinu kon’nah `aleinu, uma`aseh yadeinu kon’neihu

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |