Bar Mitzvah Prep in the 21st Century’s Tech Age

In the Coen Brother’s movie “A Serious Man,” we see young Danny practicing his haftorah for his bar mitzvah by listening to the cantor’s rendition of it on his record player. That scene was undoubtedly sentimental for Jewish men of a certain age who prepared for their bar mitzvah by keying up the phonograph in their parents’ living room.

Ben Stiller Bar Mitzvah

Bar Mitzvah preparation has come a long way since the days of the record album. In the 1980s and early 1990s cantors and bar/bat mitzvah tutors recorded their voices onto audio cassette tapes so their twelve-year-old students could walk around the house listening to the chanting on a Sony Walkman. In fact, I remember many nights falling asleep with my black foamy headphones on while I listened to the late Cantor Larry Vieder of Adat Shalom Synagogue repeating the Torah trope (cantilation notes) and the long haftorah for my bar mitzvah. The mid-1990s saw the transition from the audio tapes to music CDs when bar mitzvah tutors began hooking up microphones to the computer and recording the bar mitzvah portion onto blank CD-Roms.

In recent years we’ve seen bar and bat mitzvah students receiving the audio version of the haftorah and blessings they need to learn via email, a concept that anyone over the age of thirty would find amazing.

The way Jewish teens prepare for their bar or bat mitzvah has changed dramatically thanks to technological innovation. Not only has the audio format changed over the years, but so too has the way in which these young men and women are being tutored.

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What Are the Best Hanukkah Videos of 2013?

Well it’s time for Hanukkah 2013 and we still haven’t come up with a consensus opinion on how to spell Hanukkah — is it Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah, Chanukkah or Janukah? This year we’ve seem to have discovered an even bigger spelling problem as we’ve added Thanksgivukkah into the mix. Some are into this mash up of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah while others are ready to be done with all the buzz. Comedian Judy Gold, with whom I appeared on the Thanksgivukkah episode of HuffPost Live yesterday, tweeted her feelings on Thanksgivukkah: “‏@JewdyGold – The term ‘Thanksgivukkah’ is getting on my nervukkahs. #annoying.” Well, I guess you can’t please everyone!Here is this year’s installment of the best Hanukkah videos. Enjoy!

Benji Lovitt’s “Thanksgivukkah Pie”

Oil – Main Line Reform Temple

Maoz Tzur by Science Students at Technion University in Israel

One Direction Parody: Jew Direction’s “Chanukkah Makes You Jewtiful”

The 1st Hanukkah Thanksgiving by the Shepard Hill Elementary Players on Jimmy Kimmel Live

The Thanksgivukkah Song

Thanksgivukkah: The Movie (Trailer) by Yisrael Campbell

Julie Geller’s “I Believe in Miracles” Song

Maccabeats – “Burn”

Hanukkah Song – Adele Parody by Ash Soular
Technically, this is from Hanukkah 2012 but I missed it in last year’s list

Matthew Rissien’s “The Dreidel Song: Hanukkah Rap”

Duck Dynasty’s Hanukkah Album” on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Best Hanukkah Videos of 2012 – http://blog.rabbijason.com/2012/12/best-hanukkah-videos-of-2012.html

Best Hanukkah Videos of 2011 – http://blog.rabbijason.com/2011/12/best-hanukkah-videos-for-2011.html

Best Hanukkah Videos of 2010 – http://blog.rabbijason.com/2010/12/best-hanukkah-videos-for-2010.html

Can Ryan Braun Do Teshuvah (Repentance)?

An interview with the Detroit Tigers’ new manager Brad Ausmus about his Jewish heritage spread out over a half page in yesterday’s Detroit Free Press. The interview was an excerpt from the new book by Larry Ruttman, “American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball”. Ruttman’s interview concludes with a prediction that Ausmus will one day become a manager of a Major League Baseball team and of course that prediction came true earlier this month when the Detroit Tigers announced his hiring.

In the two weeks since that announcement many people in Detroit — and outside of Detroit — have asked my opinion about the Jewishness of Brad Ausmus. That’s an easy answer, I explain, because his mother is Jewish and therefore he’s Jewish. However, that doesn’t seem to be enough for many people. They seem to be troubled by the fact that Ausmus isn’t the ideal Jewish character for Jewish baseball fans to be excited about. Growing up with a Protestant father, having a Christmas tree in the house each year, and never becoming a bar mitzvah bothers many who want to be excited about this new Jewish manager (it should be noted that Ausmus isn’t the only Jewish manager currently in Major League Baseball since Bob Melvin, the manager of the Oakland A’s, also has a Jewish mother and coincidentally was also a catcher at one point for the Detroit Tigers).

Brad Ausmus - Israel

Ausmus has been very candid about his Jewish background and like Ryan Braun he acknowledges that Judaism didn’t feature very prominently in his upbringing. In fact, both Ausmus and Braun fall very neatly into the category of Jewish American that many were surprised about in the recent Pew Research Center study. I have cynically explained to people that having Jewish baseball players in the Major Leagues and Jewish managers are statistical anomalies. After all, make up a very small percent of the U.S. population and when you factor in that many professional baseball players aren’t from the U.S., the chances of a Jewish professional player are very small. Therefore, we don’t have the luxury of choosing the type of Jewish player.

Yes, it would be easier to feel Jewish pride over a Jewish baseball player who plays like Hank Greenberg, refuses to play on Yom Kippur, attends a synagogue, practices a virtuous life off the field, and donates a portion of his salary to Israel and local Jewish causes. However, we have to take what we get. And that is why we should feel proud that Ausmus (and Bob Melvin) is a manager. He’s honest about who he is as it relates to his Jewish heritage, explaining, “I was not brought up in any religion, I wasn’t bar mitzvahed. I married a Catholic girl and have two daughters. Other than the holidays we spent with my grandparents, there really wasn’t much Jewish religion or Catholic-based religion in the household. I think my mom enjoyed Christmas more than anyone, because she didn’t have it as a kid growing up.”

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Thanksgivukkah Prayer 2013 for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah

The buzz surrounding the anomaly on the Jewish calendar this year when the first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving is an oddity. As I told Sue Selasky of the Detroit Free Press when she interviewed me about Thanksgivukkah, I explained that the hype surrounding this day is palpable. It is truly a statistical oddity as it won’t coincide again until 75,000 years from now, according to Santa Fe, New Mexico physicist Jonathan Mizrahi’s calculations.

The last time the first full day of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving was in 1888, just weeks after the presidential election that pitted Grover Cleveland of New York, the incumbent president and a Democrat, against the Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison. As I explained to Sue during her research for the article in the Free Press, since Hanukkah is an eight day celebration, there have been years since when some nights have overlapped with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah won’t coincide again until 2070 and then again in 2165 when the first night of Hanukkah will fall on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgivukkah Sweet Potato Latke at Southern Nosh Vegetarian Soul (gluten free), which is a restaurant in Metro Detroit that is certified kosher by Kosher Michigan. More information and the recipe is on the Kosher Michigan website

Paul Raushenbush, the editor of Huffington Post Religion and an ordained American Baptist minister who happens to be the great-grandson of Louis Brandeis, asked me to write a prayer for Thanksgivukkah. The following is what I wrote for Huffington Post Religion:

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Mitch Albom’s Book About God, Heaven and Death

I often visit the graves of my deceased relatives and find myself talking to them as if they were still alive. Unfortunately, I get no response. I do, of course, wonder what it would be like if we could communicate with those who no longer walk this earth. Some people will pay a psychic medium like Rebecca Rosen a lot of money to help them communicate with their loved ones, but imagine what it would be like to actually receive a call on our cell phone from a beloved relative who has passed away. That is precisely what Mitch Albom’s new book is all about.

Mitch Albom - Book - First Phone Call from Heaven - God

Albom sets “The First Phone Call from Heaven,” in Small Town America. The story takes place in Coldwater, Michigan where local townsfolk begin receiving phone calls from deceased relatives they recently lost. All around the same time the police chief hears from his deceased son who was killed in Afghanistan, a woman gets calls on her cell phone from her dead sister, and another woman starts getting calls from her mother in heaven. Believers – and protesters – descend on the small Northern Michigan town as word of the heavenly phone calls spreads by way of an up-and-coming television news reporter. Interwoven in this very spiritual story that centers on how we connect to heaven is the story of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. Just as people doubted Bell’s magical telephone would really connect people who couldn’t see each other, Albom seems to remind the reader that we shouldn’t be so skeptical about these calls from heaven.

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Becoming a Savvy Uncle

As a member of the SavvyAuntie.com group of experts, I am periodically asked to contribute blog posts to SavvyAuntie.com, the website created by Melanie Notkin. Since I am not an aunt myself (and never plan to be one), I often write about an aunt or uncle of mine or even my kids’ aunt. In my recent blog post for SavvyAuntie.com I wrote about how excited I am to finally, God willing, become an uncle:

I was one of the first guys among my friends to become a daddy. And fatherhood has dominated my life in a great way over the past decade. With three kids I often forget what my life was even like BC (before children).

While I’m very content begin a father, there has been something missing. I’ve been watching my friends become uncles for years. Even though I cherish my relationship with each of my kids, I’ve been eagerly awaiting “unclehood.” You see, my relationship with my late uncle was a special one. For ten years before Uncle Jerry had kids of his own I got to play basketball and tennis with him, go for long bike rides, and attend professional hockey games. He taught me to do fun things. He gave me my first summer job. And he always treated me a little older than I actually was – something uncles are supposed to do. Even as Uncle Jerry got children of his own, we still had that special uncle-nephew relationship. There are just things that uncles can do that dads can’t.

Jerry Gudes
With my Uncle Jerry

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Pew Study and JDate’s Effect on Intermarriage

While many Jewish leaders have been bemoaning the results of the 200-plus page report from the Pew Research Center about the current state of Jewish Americans, I have been trying to extract some positive from the numbers. Of course, like any study, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Anecdotal information is a much better guide to measure the health of the Jewish community.Just looking at the numbers and the graphs of the recently released Pew Research study as it relates to intermarriage is alarming. However, the statistics really aren’t too surprising when put in the context of the ever-changing community in which we live. What is noteworthy, however, is that on the intermarriage grid within the study from 1999 going forward, the intermarriage rate actually tapered off. Iit’s interesting how that’s right around the time when JDate.com really caught on among Jewish singles.

Jdate and Pew Study

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Detroit Tigers Hire Brad Ausmus, a Jewish Manager

I’m a big Detroit Tigers fan and have always been interested in Jewish baseball players in the Major Leagues. Therefore, the soon-to-be made announcement that the Detroit Tigers will hire Brad Ausmus to be their next manager is exciting news. Ausmus, who is Jewish and once played for the Detroit Tigers, is currently the manager for Israel’s World Baseball Classic team.
Brad Ausmus played for the Detroit Tigers in 1996 and 1999-2000.

The hiring of Brad Ausmus marks the first time the Detroit Tigers will have a Jewish manager*. As soon as Jim Leyland made his resignation public last month, Brad Ausmus’ name immediately was mentioned on the short list of potential replacements for Leyland, who took the Tigers to the World Series twice during his eight years with the team. Last year, Ausmus interviewed with the Red Sox for their manager position and turned down an opportunity to interview with the Astros for their manager position.

Brad Ausmus wearing a yarmulke and tefillin at the Kotel in Jerusalem while manager of Israel’s World Baseball Classic team.

Ausmus spent 18 seasons in Major League Baseball as a catcher for the Padres, Tigers, Astros and Dodgers. He won the Gold Glove Award three times and made the All Star team in 1999. In 2007 Ausmus won the Darryl Kile Award “for integrity and courage.” Ausmus was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. Now that he’ll be back in Detroit, I will be certain to bring up his name as a candidate for the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation’s Hall of Fame, of which I’m a voting member.

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