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Today is the last day that I will continue to posting to this site. Beginning tomorrow, posts will continue to go up on a regular basis at  Enjoy the new site!


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So here’s what I’ve learned about how change happens: You start screaming about something and though many people turn their backs, some people listen. And if they don’t hear you the first time, they probably hear you the third or fourth time, and then some people take those messages and translate them into their own communities or their own language. And then one day you turn around and see major changes in places you’d never expected. And you start noticing that the wall you were worried about has a myriad of small cracks in many places, and you notice that the cracks come from other people banging on it or from the shoots climbing up through the wall in new places. And then one day, all those tiny cracks converge. And a big chunk of the wall comes tumbling down.

Bat Sheva Marcus, “How Change Happens”, The Jewish Week (6 December 2013), 23.

Jews by religion as we have seen share a sense of sacred ethnicity, Jews of no religion have a sense of “ordinary” or “descriptive” ethnicity. Jews of no religion are indeed proud of their Jewishness (83%), however only 12% said that it was “very important” to them. Most of these Jews of no religion, as we have seen, do not wish to pass on their Jewishness to their children, nor do they have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people. In other words, Jewish ethnicity for these people is a fact about themselves. It is a fact that most are not ashamed of and are even proud of. However, it is not very important to them – for the most part, it does not incur any special sense of belonging or obligation. And if their children will not feel or be Jewish, that’s fine too. Thus, the ethnicity of Jews of no religion is very similar to the ethnicity of other white ethnics described by Richard Alba as being in a “twilight.” For the most part white ethnics are totally assimilated into the American heartland with very high rates of intermarriage. For some their ethnic or increasingly multi-ethnic background can be occasionally highlighted “symbolically” or “optionally” in those situations in which it can provide “spice,” status or interest. It certainly does not contain any sacred or normative dimension, and it is sparsely passed on to their children.

Shlomo Fischer, “Who are the “Jews by Religion” in the Pew Report?“, Times of Israel (18 November 2013).

…the activities and the membership kept pace with each other and, under his leadership, soared tones heights of service for the Jewish people. What was the secret of his achievement? While he surrounded himself with capable workers, for him they outdid themselves. It was a labor of love. He was able to draw from his staff and colleagues he utmost in enthusiasm and effort. They craved his sympathetic understanding of their problems. They labored long and diligently in order to win from him that smile of approval in which they would bask. Occupied as he was, he was never too busy to interest himself in the personal welfare of his colleagues.

Maurice Bisgyer, “Henry Monsky: His Work”, in Mrs. Henry Monsky and Maurice Bisgyer, Henry Monsky: The Man and His Work (New York: Crown Publishers, 1947), 83.

…the reason metadata so perfectly personifies our present age: meta(data) has neither the ability nor the need to listen in on our conversations. Similarly, public dialogue has devolved. People are “communicating” more and more via Twitter and Instagram, text and e-mail, all the while complaining about the fact that these very modes of communication don’t allow for nuance, humor or subtlety.

It’s as if the air quotes people have so often hung around everything they do and say, alerting others to our mutual knowier-than-thou attitude, have run out of air. The quotes no longer have any sarcastic lightness to them. The quotation marks that once seemed like bookends on otherwise benign commentary have become hooks emphasizing the heaviness of what’s contained between them.

Devon McCann Jackson, “‘Welcome to the Age of Heavy Meta’”, The New York Times Magazine (6 October 2013), 53.

Lost in all the anxiety and hand-wringing over revelations about big data, personal privacy and the National Security Agency is another unfortunate, and consequential, societal development: A transformation in the meaning of “meta.” This has happened specifically in relation to metadata — the transactional digital information that pinpoints the date and time you called someone, for example, or locates the spot from which you last accessed your e-mail account — but also to our larger understanding of the concept of meta; our metaunderstanding, as it were.

Meta, once an intriguing, even playful prefix, has emerged as something darker, heavier and not at all amusing, but perhaps better suited to the times in which we’re living. Meta, as repurposed by the N.S.A., succinctly redefines our trans-post-postmodern era.

Welcome to the age of Heavy Meta.

Meta, which stems from the Greek word for “after,” “beyond,” “beside” (or change of place, order or condition), existed for centuries in obscurity in the hard sciences — it was perhaps best identified with the scholars who assembled Aristotle’s fourth-century-B.C. papers and used meta as part of the title for one of his most famous works, “Metaphysics.”

By the early ’90s, high meta had turned into low meta, as the individual self-awareness (of Antonin Artaud or Jorge Luis Borges) gave way to indulgent self-referencing (Philip Roth, “Seinfeld”), which gave way to meta as a stand-alone word. If, say, a conversation turned into a conversation about the conversation? Meta. A “that’s so meta” refrain became part of the ethos of “Family Guy,” reality TV, insidery advertising and self-conscious memoirs.

In short, meta became shorthand for knowingness. It went beyond beyond. And it used to be fun. Meta could be used to mean something you knew wasn’t true but you believed in anyway. Or it could mean you weren’t quite sure if something was or wasn’t true — an ambiguity that was as playful as it was, well, metaphysical. Meta also raised profound artistic and philosophical questions about truth, reality and identity. But those meatier and rompier ventures into metahood (via Borges, Philip K. Dick, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith and others) have been superseded by the endless depth and breadth of the Internet (meta on steroids) and the triumphal pervasiveness of social media.

We got to the point where we were so in on the joke that we already knew the punch line. Or rather, we knew, or thought we knew, every (possible) punch line. And it’s this knowingness, a knowingness not based in or on knowledge or experience but simply in the recognition of the artifice at hand, that has arguably numbed us to ourselves, to each other, to love, to freedom, to activism and agitation and protest, to the very act of creating something unironic or nonmeta. Paradoxically, the metadata that our government and our communications giants have been gathering is something this very cynicism of ours helped create.

Few of us, though, realistically, truly “know” the conventions that are forever being spoofed in the culture just about everywhere we turn. No matter. Thinking we know is good enough. Or so we thought.

Devon McCann Jackson, “‘Welcome to the Age of Heavy Meta’”, The New York Times Magazine (6 October 2013), 52.

Traditionalists tend to be suspicious of the present, and think the only way to go forward is to go back. Liberals tend to think that tradition is oppressive, so the future will simply be a reiteration of the present. Our best future, however, will be a creative remix of everything we are and have been.

Brad Hirschfield, You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009), 28.

Just imagine if every Jewish student in the country received a welcome letter from the Jewish community on his or her college campus. How much more meaningful and easy might the transition be? And imagine if communities reached out to every new university graduate headed their way. Then, attending future graduations, I could watch the graduates cross the stage, excited about their futures, and filled with confidence and assurance that the students whose lives I touched would continue their Jewish journeys and continue to enrich the Jewish world.

Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, “Helping Grads on their Jewish Journey”, The Jewish Journal (7-13 June 2013), 54.

I don’t understand why Artscroll uses this word. The overviews found at the beginning of their books are actually not overviews. (Look up the word if you are not sure what it means). They should have been called what they are, namely, “introductions.”

Marc B. Shapiro, “Answers to Quiz Questions and Other Comments, part 1”, The Seforim Blog (20 February 2012), n. 10 {}

Social justice requires economic support from government, a concern for family life, and serious efforts to strengthen community institutions and to protect public order. Religious progressives may find their vocation in insisting that our society needs to grapple with each of these issues. At the heart of their arguments should be two principles: compassion is good, but justice is better; and while government certainly cannot solve all problems, what government does – and fails to do – matter enormously.
But how does one define justice? That question is central to sorting out what government’s role in the marketplace should be.

E.J. Dionne Jr., Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008), 80-81.