WBEZ | judaism http://www.wbez.org/tags/judaism Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en How mah jongg became American (and Jewish) http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/how-mah-jongg-became-american-and-jewish-98629 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/mah%20jongg_AP.jpg" style="height: 432px; width: 620px;" title="A group of women play in a mah jongg tournament in Ohio this past February to coincide with an exhibit curated by Melissa Martens. (AP/Amy Sancetta)"></div><p>If you’re a Jewish woman of a certain age, you’ve probably played mah jongg. Or if you’re like me, a Jewish woman of another age - in my case, 30 - you probably remember your grandmother playing mah jongg.</p><p>I have faint memories of the green, felt-covered card table, neat racks lined up along its edges, and in the center, a pile of smooth tiles whose purpose was a mystery to me. Grandma Flo owned her own mah jongg set, kept in a felt-lined, faux-leather kind of attaché case. My parents inherited it, but gave the set to friends, thinking they’d never use it again. Their friends gave the set back when they learned my mother was taking lessons last year. Apparently all the women in my parents’ Florida retirement community play, and she didn’t want to be left out!</p><p>But it’s not an obvious mix, this complicated Chinese game played with intricate domino-like tiles, and <em>bubbe</em>. So how’d we get here?</p><p>If there is an answer to why my grandmother’s generation of Jewish women took to mah jongg, it starts back in 1893, when an early version of the game made its American debut in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exhibition.</p><p>The game was on display alongside dominoes and other examples of foreign “folklore” and games. According to Melissa Martens, director of collections and exhibitions at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and a mah jongg expert, it was then popularized by businessman Joseph Babcock, an American who had traveled to China with Standard Oil. He patented an American version of the game with its current (and curious) double-G spelling.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/mah%20jongg%20card_flickr_dremiel.jpg" style="height: 188px; width: 250px; float: left;" title="A 2008 card issued by the National Mah Jongg League spells out some of that year’s winning tile combinations. In the American version of the game, winning hands change from year to year. (Flickr/Dremiel)">The game became immensely popular with the general American public in the roaring ‘20s, Martens says, with close ties to flapper culture and a love of anything that smacked of the exotic East. The game was so popular that Chinese manufacturers ran short of the animal bones they needed to make the tiles. Bones from Chicago’s Union Stock Yards were shipped to Chinese manufacturers to meet the demand, Martens says. &nbsp;</div><p>Still, this early popularity with America’s general public doesn’t explain the special place mah jongg now holds in the hearts of temple sisterhoods all over America.</p><p>Martens says asking why mah jongg was so widely adopted by American Jews “is like asking why Jews like Chinese food.” We just do. I’m not so sure about that. I thought everyone knew Jews love Chinese food because Chinese restaurants used to be the only ones open on Christmas.</p><p>You have to go a few decades further to understand why mah jongg gained a foothold in Jewish culture, to pre-World War II America. American Jews were more assimilated then, and more financially stable. And they were looking for a philanthropic cause. Listen above as Martens connects the historical dots.</p><p><a href="../../series/dynamic-range">Dynamic Range </a><em>showcases hidden gems unearthed from </em>Chicago Amplified’s<em> vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Melissa Martens spoke at an event presented by the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in January, 2011. Click </em><a href="../../story/mah-jongg-mania-american-beginnings-97191"><em>here </em></a><em>to hear the event in its entirety.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Sat, 28 Apr 2012 12:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/how-mah-jongg-became-american-and-jewish-98629 The hard economics of High Holy Days http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-27/hard-economics-high-holy-days-92554 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-30/adas israel_flickr_NC in DC.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Over the next two weeks, some 5,000 people will fill the sanctuaries at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., to pray, worship and remember their spiritual roots.</p><p>"Rosh Hashana is a time of renewal, and it's a time of reconnecting with what really matters for us as a Jewish people," Rabbi Gil Steinlauf says.</p><p>The Jewish New Year is a time of spiritual awe — and practical considerations. Unlike churches, most synagogues charge membership dues to keep the lights on and fund the programs, because they are autonomous and do not receive funding from a national body.</p><p>"The bread and butter of how you make a synagogue run is membership dues, that's how it works," he says. "Obviously, we also engage in fundraising, but to keep the lights on and to keep everything running on a weekly and daily basis, we run on the dues that come in from memberships."</p><p>And this year, the staff is a bit worried.</p><p>"It's as bad as I've seen in my 30-some odd years doing this," says Glenn Easton, the synagogue's executive director and finance officer. Easton says the recession is hitting everyone, even in this relatively wealthy congregation.</p><p>"More lawyers are out of work, more business owners are out of work — people who are in categories of employment who have been extremely generous over the years," he says, are unable to be as generous as in previous years.</p><p>As a result, many are not showing up, embarrassed they can't give as they did before. Easton tells everyone that they do not need to pay dues, or their full dues, to participate, although Jewish tradition has it that everyone should give of themselves whatever they can. So, Easton says, the synagogue is thinking about ways people can contribute other than by giving money — for example, unemployed lawyers contributing legal advice, or contractors doing repairs.</p><p>He has no doubt Adas Israel will do just fine. Others may not fare as well, says Rabbi Dan Judson, who teaches at Hebrew College Rabbinical School and is an expert on the history of money and synagogues.</p><p>"What I think a recession does is exacerbate a trend," Judson says. "If you're in a synagogue that has been hanging on — that is, you've managed to maintain some membership but it's slowly declining as people are moving into the city, or moving to another town — in better economic times, you're able to survive. But at a time when it's hard for people to dig deep into their pockets, those synagogues are left fewer options."</p><p>Judson sees parallels with the Great Depression: membership dropping off, a sort of spiritual malaise, particularly among Reform and Conservative Jews. And as in the Depression, fragile congregations are having to take drastic action. For example, Judson says some synagogues are replacing their rabbis and searching for others who can energize the congregation.</p><p>"Some synagogues are selling their building, trying to move to a model where they don't have a capital cost, but are renting from churches, renting from community centers. Some synagogues are making the hard decision and thinking about: Is this the time that we stop being a synagogue?"</p><p>And other congregations are merging.</p><p>Just before the holidays, Rabbi Peter Levi was showing off his refurbished synagogue, Temple Beth El, in Orange County, Calif. He paused at the kitchen.</p><p>"We have two kitchens, one upstairs and one downstairs, so this is our kosher dairy kitchen."</p><p>The reason they have two kitchens is that Beth El merged last year with another nearby synagogue, Congregation Eilat. Over time, Congregation Eilat lost members. The members couldn't afford its mortgage, and they asked Levi's congregation to let them in. Levi says it was bittersweet for them.</p><p>"It was very painful for them," Levi says. Despite all the "warm fuzzies" and enthusiastic welcome his congregation gave them, "it was a very difficult and painful decision to make — but ultimately they knew it was one they had to make in order to continue."</p><p>He and others say synagogue mergers are happening across the country. But what's extraordinary about this one is that Beth El is a Reform congregation and Eilat is Conservative. And that's why they have two kitchens — one kosher, one not — and why they have two different sanctuaries so the congregations can worship in their own way.</p><p>"Half my colleagues think I'm utterly crazy, and half think it's fabulous," Levi says.</p><p>It's complicated, he says, but it's working. And the merger has given him a solid two-year cushion for his budget.</p><p>"I think this is really part of the way of the future even if the economy gets phenomenally healthy, and will be a model for a lot of communities out there."</p><p>One thing is certain: The recession is prompting synagogues to do some soul-searching about how they pay their bills, even during the most sacred of holidays.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Tue, 27 Sep 2011 15:39:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-27/hard-economics-high-holy-days-92554 Grown-up apples and honey for Rosh Hashana http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-21/grown-apples-and-honey-rosh-hashana-92322 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-22/applesmain_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A few years ago, I read an article attempting to parse the seemingly random trends in baby names. Sociologists tried to figure out why there now seem to be a glut of baby Isabellas, but nary a baby Lisa in sight. They pointed to numerous factors, but one that stuck out in my mind was the strong pull of the slight variation. Sometimes a name becomes so popular that it starts to feel a wee bit stale. However, make the smallest of tweaks, and the name sounds fresh again. Exit Madeleine, enter Madison. My daily world is food (as opposed to baby names), but I know just what they mean. Sometimes I crave the familiar flavors of tradition, but want a variation that satisfies my childhood memories while appealing to my grownup tastes. Exit the honey cake, enter the rosemary honey apple galette.</p><p>Next week is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. As with many cultures' New Year celebrations, there are meals of symbolic foods meant to give an auspicious start to the year ahead. The customs vary across Jewish communities. Some families eat stuffed dishes such as meat-filled vegetables or kreplach, a beloved wonton-like soup dumpling, to guarantee a coming year bursting with happiness. Challah, the ritual egg-enriched bread, is turned from the usual braided loaf into a round-shaped crown, or even shaped into ladders or birds to commemorate biblical verses. Whole fish are eaten, rather than fillets, to symbolize the "head" of the year. One of the most well-known traditions, however, is eating apples and honey.</p><p>This delicious practice is meant to invoke the sweetness of the year to come. Honey has long held symbolic meaning for the Jewish people. Some religious Jews cover the letters of the torah with honey when their children are learning to read them, to demonstrate the sweetness within. Many North Africans celebrate the end of Passover, the Jewish holiday commemorating the exodus from slavery, by eating pancakes doused in honey to represent the deliciousness of freedom. And because Rosh Hashana is the sweetest holiday in Jewish life, honey is abundant.</p><p>Honey cakes, often from long-treasured family recipes, are plentiful on Rosh Hashana. They can be simple or enhanced with warm spices, tea and the occasional shot of brandy. Apples and honey, in their most basic form, are found on most Jewish tables. Many of my sticky childhood holiday memories involve a bowl of MacIntoshes and a bear-shaped plastic squeeze bottle. But now that I (and my sweet tooth) have grown up, I'm looking to bring these traditional flavors into a more sophisticated dessert.</p><p>These recipes do the job. Apples aren't just sliced into browning wedges — they're shaved paper-thin and turned into a long-cooked terrine, used to make delicate Parisian-style cookies and fanned out across an elegant galette. And because it wouldn't be Rosh Hashana without honey, these apple desserts give honey equal billing: It sweetens the rosemary frangipane, a layer of almond cream under the galette. It also gives a delicious moistness to the apple terrine-topped honey gingerbread, lends a delicate note to the macarons' buttercream and rounds out the nutty depth of an almond semifreddo.</p><p>All of these desserts are an exercise in sophistication, bringing a touch of the pastry shop to your kitchen. And they're all lovely, using a host of surprising techniques and ingredients to play against the familiar sweet round notes of apples and honey. Whether you're looking for an updated way to ring in the New Year, or just looking for a delicious dessert, each recipe could start a whole new tradition.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Wed, 21 Sep 2011 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-21/grown-apples-and-honey-rosh-hashana-92322 Ask Me Why: Do the Jews need Israel? http://www.wbez.org/story/ask-me-why/ask-me-why-do-jews-need-israel <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//flag photo 1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Rabbi Brant Rosen, 47, remembers vividly the night he met his future congregant, Boris Furman, 58.</p><p>He was applying for the position of rabbi at Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston and attended a party thrown by the search committee. Rosen sought Furman&rsquo;s advice about the local schools, but as the night progressed they discovered a shared sense of humor and a love of goofball comedy like the Three Stooges. The two became friends, important Furman says because &ldquo;we don&rsquo;t just have to be a Rabbi and a congregant.&rdquo;</p> <div>Although Rosen and Furman have a rapport and friendship based on humor there is one serious issue on which they disagree. It is also one of the most politically charged topics for American Jews: Is Israel essential for the future security and well being of the Jewish people? And is it essential that Israel remain a Jewish state?</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Furman grew up the son of Holocaust survivors in a community of immigrants who had fled Europe and the war. He feels that Israel is essential for the future survival of the Jewish people, and that when it comes to future persecution, it&rsquo;s not a matter of if but when.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Rosen, on the other hand, grew up feeling the kind of safety and security afforded to Americans raised in the post-war boom. He feels that state building is a less worthy endeavor for Jews than is the struggle for justice and human rights evoked by the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>You can hear an edited version of their conversation in the audio posted above. Both Rabbi Rosen and Mr. Furman express their own opinions; their comments are not meant to reflect the policies or positions of their congregation.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div><a href="../../../../../../series/ask-me-why"><em>Ask Me Why</em></a><em> is produced in collaboration with the </em><a href="http://www.prairie.org/" target="_blank"><em>Illinois Humanities Council</em></a><em>, and was made possible by a grant from The Boeing Company. If you and someone you know are interested in participating in this series, you can download the application form </em><a href="http://www.prairie.org/ask-me-why" target="_blank"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></div></p> Fri, 04 Feb 2011 22:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/ask-me-why/ask-me-why-do-jews-need-israel Year in Review: Top Religion Stories of 2010 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/year-review-top-religion-stories-2010 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//church.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Alison Cuddy hosted a roundtable discussion reviewing the top religion stories of the year. She was joined by Chicago Tribune religion reporter <a target="_blank" href="http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/religion_theseeker/">Manya Brachear</a> and DePaul University religious studies professor <a target="_blank" href="http://scottpaeth.typepad.com/main/">Scott Paeth</a>. <br /><br />They started the conversation with a review of how news of a Mosque near New York City's Ground Zero quickly spread to the rest of the country-and had effects right here in Chicago.&nbsp;They also discussed Chicago's history as a rich interfaith society, and the how problems with the Catholic Church might affect congregants in the future.</p></p> Wed, 22 Dec 2010 14:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/year-review-top-religion-stories-2010