Pesach is coming...

by Ariela

We are the House of Judah. Our coat of arms displays a matzah on a field of tin foil. Our words are Pesach is Coming.

A round matzah on a background of tin foil with the words “Pesach is Coming” in the Game of Thrones font


(Neither Terri or Ariela actually cover anything in tinfoil to kasher for Passover, but you get the idea.)

Enjoy your spaghetti, cheerios, bread, pretzels, bagels, etc. Enjoy them until they are gone. And remember kids, don’t feed the Passover-Industrial complex.

Move Over Latkes

by Terri

Geek Calligraphy is a multi-culturally Jewish establishment. I am as Ashkenazi as you can get - my ancestors come from all over Eastern Europe. While Ariela is of Ashkenazi descent, she now follows the Spanish & Portuguese Sephardi traditions of her husband.* 

Crispy brown potato  latkes  on a plate.

Crispy brown potato latkes on a plate.

What does any of this have to do with latkes? Well, it turns out that Jews of different communities and cultures have different חנוכה (Hanukkah) traditions! I know, right? The potato latke is very much the American symbol of the holiday, but only belongs to the Ashkenazi traditionInterestingly, that tradition isn't even that old - potatoes didn't even arrive in Europe until the 16th century. What we now know as the "traditional latke" has gone through many transformations. It began as an Italian fried cheese dumpling, transformed into a buckwheat patty, and ended up as a potato pancake. Which is delicious with applesauce.

But what about Jews from other places? What do they eat on חנוכה (Chanukah)? 

Two square waffles side by side in a waffle iron.

Two square waffles side by side in a waffle iron.

Spanish and Portuguese Jews eat waffles. Why? Because on on חנוכה (Hanukah) we celebrate נס ופלא (pronounced nes vafele). Read it out loud, then groan and insert rimshot. Because just like Ashkenazi Jews don't have a monopoly on Judaism, they also aren't the only ones to make terrible, terrible puns.

Jews in Tuscany eat chicken deep fried in lots of olive oil. Many traditional חנוכה (Chanukkah) foods incorporate oil either as an ingredient or as the cooking medium.*** This is to reference the story of the miraculous oil that burned for 8 nights during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. There is also an Italian tradition of eating dairy during this holiday (hence the original ricotta latkes), including a sort of cheesecake called a cassola. Eating dairy, specifically cheese, comes from an apocryphal text of the story of Judith and Holofernes in which Judith served salty cheese pancakes to Holofernes before getting him drunk and decapitating him. Though it is not technically a story that actually took place during the time of the Hasmonean revolt (it takes place several hundred years beforehand), it is connected to the story of חנוכה (Ḥanukah) because the stories were conflated during the Medieval period.

Golden fried chicken pieces on a blue platter. There are cloves of garlic and rosemary sprigs scattered over the chicken, as well as a pile of lemon wedges. Yum.

Golden fried chicken pieces on a blue platter. There are cloves of garlic and rosemary sprigs scattered over the chicken, as well as a pile of lemon wedges. Yum.

A large, synagogue style Indian  chanukiah . It is formed of a large six pointed star made of brass, with the 8 lights of the holiday in an arc around the bottom and the  shamash  (helper candle) near the center of the star. 

A large, synagogue style Indian chanukiah. It is formed of a large six pointed star made of brass, with the 8 lights of the holiday in an arc around the bottom and the shamash (helper candle) near the center of the star. 

I wanted to finish this post with some חנוכה (Janucá) traditions of the Indian Jewish community. The Indian Jewish community has a long history, with the community of Cochin, Kerala dating back to at least 562 BCE. In a time when news traveled by the speed of camel traders, communities were much more isolated. The Jews here didn't even celebrate חנוכה (Chanooka) until the immigration of other Jewish communities - they didn't know it was a holiday! Once the holiday became established, there seems to be a tradition of sweet foods and food fried in coconut oil eaten on the holiday. Among those foods are the Indian donuts gulab jamun. The Israeli sufganiyah (jelly/chocolate/dulce de leche/custard filled donut) is not the only fried sweet dessert associated with this holiday!

Another unique aspect of Indian חנוכה (Chanucah) celebrations are their traditional chanukiot. Instead of putting them in the window, Indian Jews hang them on the walls of their home.

So to conclude, there are as many traditional חנוכה (Hanucah) foods are there are Jewish communities. This year חנוכה (Hanuka) starts tomorrow night. Why not try waffles and gulab jamun along with the latkes when you celebrate!

 

 

 

 

 

*Ariela's adoption of Spanish Portuguese rite has nothing to do with heteronormative values wherein the wife must follow her husband's practice.** The number of Spanish Portuguese Jews has dwindled sharply in recent history and Ariela wanted to help prevent the custom's extinction.

**Note: some families divide adoption of customs differently. In my family, Matthew follows some of my long established customs rather than what his family does. I have also adopted some of his customs.

***Though the buckwheat version of latkes were fried in rendered poultry fat, since most oils were not to be found in abundance in 15th century Eastern Europe.

Tishrei is Coming!

by Ariela

Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Elul, which means only one thing.

Brace yourselves....

Image shows Ned Stark blowing a shofar, with the words "Tishrei is Coming."

Image shows Ned Stark blowing a shofar, with the words "Tishrei is Coming."

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!

AAAAAAAGGHHHHHHHHH!

 

Ahem.

For those of you who aren't Jewish, or aren't observant, you may be wondering what all the yelling is about. 

Rosh HaShanah, or Jewish New Year* is on the first of the month of Tishrei. It kicks off an entire month of festivities. Rosh HaShanah runs two full days in the lunar calendar (meaning it starts in the evening and ends two evenings later). It involves going to very, very long prayer services and eating a festive meal each dinner and lunch, usually shared with other people. Think four Thanksgiving meals in two days. So that's the first two days of the month.

On the 10th day of the month is Yom Kippur. That's a day of fasting and atonement. There's no eating or drinking during the day itself, but that means lots of hydrating leading up to it, and we are supposed to eat a large, festive meal before the fast starts.

On the 15th day of the month starts the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles. If you have Jewish neighbors and see them putting up an oddly flimsy looking hut-like thing in their yard with a bunch of dead plants on the top of it, that's a sukkah, a booth or a tabernacle. Said booth is not supposed to be built before Yom Kippur, but it must be completely finished by the time Sukkot starts. We spend the next 7 days eating in these booths, starting with two more days of holiday (or one, if you live in Israel or are Reform, about which more below**), during which we spend more time praying and eat another four Thanksgiving-dinners-worth of meals. Yes, in the hut, we eat all that food in the hut. There are lots of bugs, and sometimes raccoons, skunks, and coyotes.

On the 22nd day of the month is Sh'mini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly. It's another festival day, with more long prayers. Eating in the tabernacle is optional on this day, but there are still two festive meals to be eaten.

On the 23rd day of the month is Simchat Torah (in Israel and on the Reform calendar, this is combined with Sh'mini Atzeret), the Celebration of the Torah. This is when we celebrate completing the annual reading of the Pentateuch and begin the lection cycle anew. It is a relatively new holiday, but there's still lots of praying and eating, though not outside anymore.

All of this is in addition to regular Sabbath observance, which involves more festive meals and praying. Also, those of us who are observant of the Jewish prohibitions against work on the holidays have to take a whole mess of days off from our jobs, but deadlines don't get pushed back.

In sum, in the space of a month we need to prepare and host or be hosted for about 13 Thanksgiving dinners, spend 7 full days in synagogue, still observe the Sabbath, and meet all of our regular work deadlines. Hence the screaming. All of this goes double if you actually work in a synagogue and have to orchestrate this at a professional level as well as for yourself as an individual.

Some Additional Notes

*Rosh HaShanah is usually referred to as "the Jewish New Year," but we actually have four new year celebrations each year. Rosh HaShanah commemorates the creation of the world and is the start of the Jewish calendrical year. The other three are:

  • New year for the trees, happens toward the end of winter, also was the start of the tax season in historical Judea;
  • Liturgical new year, happens in the spring, on the first of the month of Nisan;
  • New year for animal tithes, happens in the summer (today, in fact, first of Elul).

**Why is the holiday calendar different in Israel than for Jews outside of Israel, except for Reform Jews?

Okay, buckle in.

The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar. In the days of the Temple and the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court) in Jerusalem, instead of having a fixed calendar each new month was declared when two witnesses came and swore that they had seen the new moon. Once the new month was declared, the proclamation was spread by means of signal fires, think the Warning Beacons of Gondor. While Jewish holidays listed in the bible have only one day of Festival observance (with the corresponding abstention from work, feasting, sacrifices at the Temple, etc.), the rabbis declared that those living outside the Land of Israel should observe two days of each Festival, in case of any lag or confusion caused by the time it takes to transmit the proclamation of the new month. (The exception is Yom Kippur, since telling people to go without food or drink for 48 hours is impractical and, in many cases, dangerous.)

Before you ask, yes, they had astronomy and almanacs back then, everyone could have worked it out for themselves when the holidays would occur, regardless of location. That wasn't the point. The point was that the new month did not begin until the Sanhedrin declared it so.

Most Jews who live in the modern State of Israel no longer consider themselves obligated to follow the requirement of the additional day of holiday observance. (Whether that is because they are in the historical location of the Land of Israel or they consider the modern State to be a new manifestation of the historical Land is a point of serious debate. Let's not go there now.) Likewise, the Reform Movement has declared that, in light of the calendar now being fixed as opposed to each holiday being individually declared, they see no need to retain the second day observance. The Conservative and Orthodox Movements outside of Israel retain the additional day.

Except Rosh HaShanah is still observed for two days within the State of Israel and by most Reform congregations. Why? I don't know.

Jewish Stock Photography Fails

by Terri & Ariela

The world of stock photography is an inherently odd place to visit. Where else can you get photos of kitchen demolition side by side with any flower you could possibly think of? 

Themed stock photos can get... interesting. Just typing "$_HOLIDAY Stock Photos" into a Google Image search can set off nightmares or fits of giggles. Really, there are things that should never be Earth Day themed. But when you start searching for stock photography of non Christian religious holidays, the photos don't just look strange, they look like an alien's attempt to pass as a Hyoo-man. For example, there seems to be a compulsive need to put either matzah, a tallit,* or a Ḥanukkah menorah in almost all of them to scream JEWISH very loudly. Even if the image is tagged for a holiday containing none of these ritual objects or foods. Like Tu B'Shvat.**

Ariela's day job involves email marketing for the Union for Reform Judaism. This means finding images to go in said emails and results in her spending a lot of time combing through stock image catalogs, particularly around Jewish holidays. This, in turn, led to her IMing Terri in fits of disbelief so that someone else could share in the WTF-ery.

But why should we limit the horror to just the two of us? So we present: Bad Jewish Stock Photography. And when we say bad, we mean REALLY BAD.

We have not included images in this post that are just mis-tagged, like when you search for Passover and get Easter results. That's wrong and sometimes offensive, but not what we're listing here. All photos are watermarked with the image source, unless we can no longer find them at the source. We acknowledge that this post is very image heavy. The captions contain the best descriptions we can write, the commentary on the images is in the body text of the blog post below them.

And yes, we know about this article in The Forward. But that photo isn't even the tip of the Jewish stock photography fail iceberg. It's a small chip off the glacier.

Image shows an open Hebrew prayerbook on a stand, a blue velvet  kippah  with silver embroidery, a  ḥanukkiyah  with all its candles lit, and a folded  tallit  with black and silver stripes.

Image shows an open Hebrew prayerbook on a stand, a blue velvet kippah with silver embroidery, a ḥanukkiyah with all its candles lit, and a folded tallit with black and silver stripes.

This one originally came from iStock, but can no longer be found there. The lit ḥanukkiyah with the tallit is bad enough - a tallit is worn during the day and the ḥanukkiyah is lit only at night - but if you look closely at the text of the open book, it is open to the evening service for Yom Kippur, i.e. not a text you would ever need at Ḥanukkah. Anyone who knows any Hebrew could have told them not to do this.
This was the photo that originally inspired Ariela to do an ongoing series on bad Jewish stock photography.

Image shows a wood framed slate with "HAPPY PASSOVER" written on it in stylized chalk lettering. Surrounding the frame clockwise from noon are: pieces of square machine made maztah, un-shelled walnuts, a red-brown  haggadah , red tulips with yellow stripes, a wine glass on its side with a splash of wine still left, a bottle of pink wine on its side, a stack of three round hand made matzahs on a white cloth, more un-shelled walnuts, a leaf of lettuce with an egg on it, and more tulips.

Image shows a wood framed slate with "HAPPY PASSOVER" written on it in stylized chalk lettering. Surrounding the frame clockwise from noon are: pieces of square machine made maztah, un-shelled walnuts, a red-brown haggadah, red tulips with yellow stripes, a wine glass on its side with a splash of wine still left, a bottle of pink wine on its side, a stack of three round hand made matzahs on a white cloth, more un-shelled walnuts, a leaf of lettuce with an egg on it, and more tulips.

It's Passover, not Easter. Why the tulips? Also, why is a mostly drunk wineglass lying on its side? How is that happy?

Image shows an older balding man wearing a  tallit  and holding an open  siddur  standing next to a table. To his left is a seated woman with short hair, to her right is a young boy in a sweater vest, button down shirt and Hanukkah themed suede  kippah.  To the right of the older man is a seated man in a long sleeved polo shirt with a red satin  kippah.  There is someone seated next to this man, but the image cuts off everything but some arm in a blue sleeve. On the table is a silver plate with square machine made matzah and an unlit  ḥanukkiyah  with all of the arms holding blue and white striped candles.

Image shows an older balding man wearing a tallit and holding an open siddur standing next to a table. To his left is a seated woman with short hair, to her right is a young boy in a sweater vest, button down shirt and Hanukkah themed suede kippah. To the right of the older man is a seated man in a long sleeved polo shirt with a red satin kippah. There is someone seated next to this man, but the image cuts off everything but some arm in a blue sleeve. On the table is a silver plate with square machine made matzah and an unlit ḥanukkiyah with all of the arms holding blue and white striped candles.

The image description for this photo on Thinkstock is "Parents and their son and a rabbi at a Hanukkah ceremony." Just what is a Hanukkah ceremony, pray tell? There is very little to say about this image that the provided description doesn't cover. The words, they escape us.

Image shows a  tallit  with blue and gold stripes over white painted wooden slats. Positioned over the  tallit  are (clockwise from top): glass bowl with honey and wooden dipper, two broken sheets of square machine made matzah, a  ḥanukkiyah  lying flat on its side, a  shofar , and a silver  kiddush  cup partially filled with wine and sitting on a silver coaster.

Image shows a tallit with blue and gold stripes over white painted wooden slats. Positioned over the tallit are (clockwise from top): glass bowl with honey and wooden dipper, two broken sheets of square machine made matzah, a ḥanukkiyah lying flat on its side, a shofar, and a silver kiddush cup partially filled with wine and sitting on a silver coaster.

The only thing this picture illustrates effectively is "We have no meaningful understanding of Jewish holidays."

Image shows a lit red pillar candle sitting on the pages of an open Hebrew prayerbook.

Image shows a lit red pillar candle sitting on the pages of an open Hebrew prayerbook.

No. Just no. You might wish to pray by candlelight, but if we ever catch you with a lit candle on your siddur, we will hurt you.

Image shows a  tallit  with blue and gold stripes on a rough wooden surface. Arranged on and beside the  tallit  from left to right are: a teal suede  kippah  with a silver border, 4 mostly empty silver  kiddush  cups in a diagonal line, and a  shofar.

Image shows a tallit with blue and gold stripes on a rough wooden surface. Arranged on and beside the tallit from left to right are: a teal suede kippah with a silver border, 4 mostly empty silver kiddush cups in a diagonal line, and a shofar.

Once again, juxtaposition fail. One does wear a kippah to the Passover seder, but not a tallit. And a shofar isn't a Passover ritual object at all.

Image shows a blue and gold striped tallit (with atarah showing this time, for variety) on wooden slats. Over the tallit are (from left to right): a shofar, a black suede kippah with a gold border embossed with Jewish stars, and matzah. Once again, juxtaposition fail.

Image shows a blue and gold striped tallit (with atarah showing this time, for variety) on wooden slats. Over the tallit are (from left to right): a shofar, a black suede kippah with a gold border embossed with Jewish stars, and matzah. Once again, juxtaposition fail.

This is a whole genre. See more here

The Crown Jewel of the Collection

This has been scrubbed from all the stock sites we could find. We don't blame them. What the heck were they thinking?

Yes, that is a model of the Ark of the Covenant positioned next to a piggy bank sporting clovers and "good luck" painted on its side. The two are positioned so that the carrying rod of the ark appears to be jammed up the piggy's butt.

There was another in this same series that showed the same model of the Ark perched on the top of someone's foot with what appeared to be an industrial site in the background. We don't understand.

We have never run across any other Jewish Stock Photography fail so egregious, and we hope we never will.

 

*Prayer shawl worn by Jewish adults during daytime services. It is only ever worn at night once a year, on the eve of Yom Kippur.

**The 15th day of the month of Shvat (lunar month, generally falls around February). Often referred to as "Jewish Arbor Day," the Talmud lists this date as "the new year for trees." In the Mediterranean, this is often the beginning of springtime. It is celebrated by eating dried fruit and planting trees.

 

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Be Back on Wednesday...

by Terri

Image shows 5 Mardis Gras** masks over many strings of beads.

Image shows 5 Mardis Gras** masks over many strings of beads.

Ariela is making her way back from London and I have just thrown my very first Purim seudah.* Thus, a short blog post accompanied by festive graphics and a slightly hung over Artist Wrangler. We will be back on Wednesday for March's Product Release!

Somebody get me two aka-seltzer and an economy size bottle of Advil....

 

 

 

 

*The festive meal that we are commanded to have on the holiday of Purim. Traditionally one invites friends to partake in copious amounts of food and alcohol. There were certainly both in abundance at my table.

**While Purim isn't precisely analogous to Mardis Gras, the mask is a recognizable symbol of the holiday, and Mardis Gras has a similar amount of festivity.

Judaism in Dialog with SFF Fandom

by Ariela

On Saturday, January 14, I sat on a panel at Arisia entitled "Judaism's Influence on SFF." The irony of the timing aside, the room was packed beyond capacity and it went very well. The last question the moderator, Michael Burstein, posed was not about SFF stories, but about fandom, namely "How has Judaism influenced your fandom?" This is the substance of my answer, expanded slightly and with added context.

Judaism has influenced almost every aspect of my life, and fandom is no exception to that rule. In fact, I sometime refer to Judaism as my first and primary fandom.

The Jewish culture in which I grew up bears some striking resemblances to fannish culture, and perhaps it prepared me to move into fandom by dint of familiarity. For context, I grew up in an observant but gender egalitarian household in Boston. My parents are Ashkenazi, meaning we are of Eastern European descent, as were the communities in which we lived and participated, though not all of our communities were gender egalitarian.

Here is a short, non-exclusive list of things from my Jewish upbringing that is also true for fandom:

Part of the Oz VeHadar edition of the Babylonian Talmud. Image from zolsefer.co.il.

Part of the Oz VeHadar edition of the Babylonian Talmud. Image from zolsefer.co.il.

  • Books. Books books books. Did I mention books?
  • Learning the contents of those books well is not only encouraged, it is a means of accruing social status. People who can cite wide swaths of text to back up their opinions are given social points. Points, too, for being able to recite large portions of text from memory.
  • Books are also used for social display. More books is better, and buying expensive multivolume sets of Talmud and Codes is considered a laudable expenditure.
  • Debate is an enormous part of the Jewish body of texts, and is still enthusiastically practiced today. Debate over minutiae is encouraged and debate over ridiculous hypotheticals is practically an art form. Again, social status awarded to those with the best arguments, eloquence a plus.
  • It's expensive. Kosher food is expensive. Jewish education is expensive. All those books are expensive. More money makes participation easier.

So Judaism made fandom more accessible to me through familiarity. But what about the other way around? Has fandom enhanced my Judaism?

I have not found that my personal observance or my spiritual life has been advanced by my fandom. However, I have discovered that fandom is a wonderful vehicle to explain my Judaism to my fannish friends.

Being an observant Jew means that Judaism affects almost everything about my life. From taking the holidays off work to saying a blessing each time after I use the bathroom, Judaism is not just something I think about but something I am actively doing all day, every day. For friends who mostly grew up with some flavor of Christianity, whether they adhere to it or not, this isn't something that's easy to process. To them I explain, Rabbinic Judaism is a 2000 year long LARP.

This sounds like a flippant thing to say, but bear with me; I say it in all respect with the intent to convey some of the important aspects of how living an observant Jewish life is a lens through which we view the world. Also, here is the disclaimer about this being an analogy and not being or trying to be a perfect representation of Judaism.

Rabbinic Judaism is not the Judaism described in the Torah. In this analogy, the Torah is more like the list of books that you see when you open a DnD manual, the ones that you loved so much you want to participate in them, the ones that inspired you to start playing but don't actually give you any mechanics by which to play.

Our first attempt at a set of rules was the Mishnah. Like the first edition of DnD, it was incomplete and buggy. (In fact, it wasn't actually a rulebook at all, but a selection of legal discussions, in the course of which some laws are decided. Details, details.) No one uses it now, but it was the place where the project started. The rulebooks expanded out from there, the Gemara, the Commentaries, and then out to the Codes. Along the way we get significant geographic variations in our rules, as well as extensive discussion about said rules ranging from polite to vitriolic. The flame wars, ooooh, the flame wars we have.

Where the comparison really becomes useful is to explain how we use these laws to govern our daily lives. Halacha, Jewish law, is our world mechanics.

Take, for example, the prohibition on mixing milk with meat. On the surface that sounds simple enough. But what counts as mixing? Answer: we have rules for that! Let's say you accidentally get something meaty into your dairy dish, doesn't matter how. By Jewish law, it's okay to eat as long as you cannot taste the meat in the dish. But what if you taste it and discover that you can taste the meat? Then you will have violated the law? The obvious solution might be to find a trusty Gentile friend, who has no such prohibition, and ask them. But what if you have no trusty Gentile friend available? For much of Jewish history, we couldn't count on having non-Jewish neighbors who would be friendly or accessible, so a heuristic was developed: if you have a liquid dairy dish, as long as the meaty thing that was accidentally dripped in comprises less than 1/60th of the total volume, you can assume that it doesn't affect the taste. There are different rules for solids. Being hot or spicy is also taken into account. There's a whole decision tree. Are you starting to see the parallels between this and rolling a Diplomacy check when trying to convince the guard to let you into the city?

Extrapolate from here. Whenever I run into a situation where Jewish law applies, which is extremely often, this is the sort of check I run in my head. We have Jewish law on business, ethics, food, charity, clothes (there is a preferred order of operations for putting on shoes with laces). These are the mechanics by which I engage world.

Of course the purpose of a LARP is for everyone to have fun and the purpose of Jewish law is for people to lead a moral life in accordance with the commandments of G-d and improve the world. The analogy only goes so far and the ethical monotheism component of Judaism is neither trivial nor optional. But when trying to explain to my fannish friends how Judaism influences my life when I am not having theological discussions, it's a useful analogy to make.

Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? One who learns from every person. -Ethics of the Fathers 4:1

Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? One who learns from every person.
-Ethics of the Fathers 4:1

New Product: Aliyah Name Cards

By Terri

Tired of playing broken telephone with the gabbai of your local minyan? Out of town and unexpectedly get called up to the Torah? Keep this card in your siddur and you'll always be addressed by your actual name!

Image shows Ariela's hand holding Terri's name card. Letters are in purple (of course) with gold  tagin /crowns.

Image shows Ariela's hand holding Terri's name card. Letters are in purple (of course) with gold tagin/crowns.

how it came to be:

When Ariela moved to her current community, she noticed that they kept a box of file cards on the bimah with member's names in order to call them up for aliyot. Of course, since she was only there on Shabbat, she never got a chance to fill one out for herself. So she made one. And then (because she is a very lovely person), she offered to make one for her spouse thinking that he might like one. And then the natural realization that other people might want one followed. The idea for a sleeve to keep it inside the siddur came from the card being used as a bookmark and then falling out all the time.

Image shows a siddur with a name card in a sleeve attached to the cover.

Image shows a siddur with a name card in a sleeve attached to the cover.

They are available in 5 different colors, with ornamental crowns in either the color of the letters or gold or silver. The cards are laminated so that they are durable. The corners are rounded so that they do not poke you. 

At the moment, if you would like to order more than one, you need to add each card to your shopping cart individually and fill out the personalization form. If you would like to order a large batch, please use our website contact form and request it. We will work with you.

Aliyah name cards are $45 each. We are also selling extra sleeves for $4 each here.

Bonus New Product: משנכנס מרחשון

By Terri

Do you need something on your office wall declaring just how happy you are that Tishrei is over? Get one of these before we run out!

Note that this is a special bonus product for November. We will still be releasing a product on the usual third Wednesday of the month (oddly enough, this Wednesday).

How It Came To Be:

Neither Ariela nor I are huge fans of Tishrei. The sheer number of holidays are exhausting. Ariela tends to be an very visible participant in her ritual community and I tend to live the stereotype of the Jewish mother who cooks way too much food and invites the whole world over.*

Needless to say, we were both pretty relieved to welcome in the next month, called Marcheshvan.** Ariela threw together this quick doodle to put up on our various forms of social media:

Image shows the words "Mishenichnas Marcheshvan Marbin B'Simcha" in green and blue.

Image shows the words "Mishenichnas Marcheshvan Marbin B'Simcha" in green and blue.

It's a riff on the traditional line about the month of Adar, (which has the holiday of Purim in it), where we say that when Adar begins, happiness increases. 

When we put this up, people started asking when it was going to be available for purchase. Clearly we had a niche product on our hands.*** So Ariela redid the art**** and printed out a limited number. The reason for the limited number of prints is that each one will be hand gilded. It's also why they're more expensive for the size. The original is also for sale here.*****

The irony of releasing a product touting the joy of this month is quite painful at the moment. Ariela considered not releasing it after all. Ultimately, we decided to go ahead with it because we want to believe that fear, bigotry, hatred, and violence will not be able to deprive us of all that is good in our lives. When we are no longer able to take pleasure in the things we still have, that is when we are truly defeated. We may give in to despair at times, but we do not want to give up entirely.

So we are sending this art out into the world in hopes that it will bring smiles to people's faces at times when they need it, and in faith that next year, we will once again be able to enjoy the respite we gain when Cheshvan 5778 comes along.

Mishenichnas Marcheshvan measures 8" x 10" (includes a silver mat) and is available for $50.

 

 

 

*My main ritual community doesn't welcome a whole lot of women's participation. It's a sore spot.

**Pronounced mahr-khesh-vahn

***Rather similar to "Rabbis <3 Cheshvan" shirts

****The initial plan was to re-scan the doodle at a better resolution. Unfortunately, this made it look even more like a doodle, and it was faster to do a new original.

*****Unless it's already been bought. Then you're out of luck.

Highlighting Two Pieces of Awesome Work from Other Artists

by Ariela

Artists don't operate in a vacuum. Like any profession, we have networks and we bounce ideas off colleagues. We also create art in dialogue with our society, responding to our experiences and to what is going on in the world at large. Yes, sometimes we make things just "for the pretty," because it pleases our sense of aesthetics, but even then, our aesthetic senses are informed by our social conditioning. And the very best art is not only visually striking, it is emotionally and sometimes even morally impactful.

Here I want to raise up the work of two artists in the Jewish community who are using their art to hold Judaism to a higher standard of ethics.

First, from Jen Taylor Friedman (who is also my safrut (scribing) teacher):

The Intersectional Barbie Dream Minyan

Intersectional Barbie Dream Minyan points to the Jews who are still excluded, not intentionally but effectively, from our communities. Barbies of many different ethnicities, wearing tallit and tefillin, are having a Torah reading.  All the Barbies are wearing long denim skirts and three-quarter length sleeves. That's how I do Tefillin Barbies. They're also all wearing tallitot. One of the Barbies isn't wearing tefillin, and she's wearing a jaw-length sheitl. Perhaps she put her tefillin on before she left home, or perhaps she just doesn't do tefillin at this point in her life.  Some of the Barbies are Black, some of them are Brown. Some of them are tan, some of them are pale. Maybe some of them are Sephardic and some are Maghrebi and one is an adult convert and one was adopted and converted as a child. One of them has blue hair. One of them has red hair, and one of them has red highlights. Nobody in this minyan ever says "But where are you *really* from?" or "But surely you weren't born Jewish." Some of them are what Mattel calls "curvy." Some of them are short.  One of the Barbies has a white cane and dark glasses. You can't see her Braille siddur in the picture. She doesn't need it right now anyway because they're about to do hagbah. Another of the Barbies is sitting down because she has mobility issues and chronic pain. Another one has depression, and another one has hearing issues, but you can't tell which ones.  Two of the Barbies are married to each other. One of the Barbies is trans.  One of the Barbies couldn't afford a set of tefillin for herself, and the community helped out. Some of these Barbies didn't go to college, or were the first in their families to go to college. One of them works in construction.  All the Barbies are deeply conscious that they're all awfully young. The artist has not the skill to repaint Barbie faces to make them look older, nor to make their hair grey.  In principle, Kens are welcome in this minyan, but today they're outside fixing breakfast, which is why you can't see them.

Intersectional Barbie Dream Minyan points to the Jews who are still excluded, not intentionally but effectively, from our communities. Barbies of many different ethnicities, wearing tallit and tefillin, are having a Torah reading.

All the Barbies are wearing long denim skirts and three-quarter length sleeves. That's how I do Tefillin Barbies. They're also all wearing tallitot. One of the Barbies isn't wearing tefillin, and she's wearing a jaw-length sheitl. Perhaps she put her tefillin on before she left home, or perhaps she just doesn't do tefillin at this point in her life.

Some of the Barbies are Black, some of them are Brown. Some of them are tan, some of them are pale. Maybe some of them are Sephardic and some are Maghrebi and one is an adult convert and one was adopted and converted as a child. One of them has blue hair. One of them has red hair, and one of them has red highlights. Nobody in this minyan ever says "But where are you *really* from?" or "But surely you weren't born Jewish." Some of them are what Mattel calls "curvy." Some of them are short.

One of the Barbies has a white cane and dark glasses. You can't see her Braille siddur in the picture. She doesn't need it right now anyway because they're about to do hagbah. Another of the Barbies is sitting down because she has mobility issues and chronic pain. Another one has depression, and another one has hearing issues, but you can't tell which ones.

Two of the Barbies are married to each other. One of the Barbies is trans.

One of the Barbies couldn't afford a set of tefillin for herself, and the community helped out. Some of these Barbies didn't go to college, or were the first in their families to go to college. One of them works in construction.

All the Barbies are deeply conscious that they're all awfully young. The artist has not the skill to repaint Barbie faces to make them look older, nor to make their hair grey.

In principle, Kens are welcome in this minyan, but today they're outside fixing breakfast, which is why you can't see them.

Ten years ago, Jen made waves with the first Tefillin Barbie. For context, tefillin were historically worn by men only, barring notable exceptions. It is only within the past 50 years that women have begun wearing tefillin in any sort large numbers, and it is still rare, even in gender-egalitarian Jewish communities; putting tefillin on Barbie was quite the statement. She has gone through several different models since, including Computer Engineer Tefillin Barbie. Now that Mattel has put out Barbies with a greater range of phenotypes, Jen is once again pushing boundaries and making statements with Tefillin Barbie.

The image itself is striking, but what really makes it is the caption, which is just as much part of the piece as the photo. It combines accessibility with an explicit statement about the Jewish community and the need to live up to the ideals set forth in our own literature, from the Torah through the Codes.

Jen is also notable for being the first woman on record to have scribed an entire Torah scroll. She is always very meticulous to point out that others may have come before whose stories were not recorded thanks to the environments in which they worked. She is nearly single-handedly training an entire generation of gender-egalitarian scribes in the laws and skills of writing sacred texts, though she modestly downplays her own role in this work.

You can see more of Jen's work at HaSoferet.com.


Second, from Aaron Hodge Greenberg:

Black Lives Matter Wrapped in a Tallit

(Papercut art shows a black background with a classic white  tallit &nbsp;with black stripes and the text BLACK LIVES MATTER on it. Below the text reads: שכל המאבד נפש אחת מישראל. מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו איבד עולם מלא. וכל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קיים עולם מלא.  Translation:&nbsp;Anyone who destroys a life is considered to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life has saved an entire world.)

(Papercut art shows a black background with a classic white tallit with black stripes and the text BLACK LIVES MATTER on it. Below the text reads:
שכל המאבד נפש אחת מישראל. מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו איבד עולם מלא. וכל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קיים עולם מלא.

Translation: Anyone who destroys a life is considered to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life has saved an entire world.)

This piece is beautiful, poignant, simple, and elegant. It's all there in black and white.

You can see more of Aaron's work at ArtistAviv.com

Lately it has been hard to talk about Black Lives Matter in a Jewish context without addressing the Movement for Black Lives statement re: the State of Israel. People are very incensed about it on all sides. I am not going to address the specifics of it here. But what I will say is that, even if the Movement for Black Lives statement makes you uncomfortable to the point that you don't want to associate with the movement, that is no reason to not to show by your actions that Black lives matter to you. As a matter of fact, I would say that it is all the more reason to do so. For example, Jen's Intersectional Barbie Dream Minyan does not use the phrase "Black lives matter," but everything about it is a statement of care about the quality of the lives of people of color (and other marginalized identities) in the Jewish community. (Note, this is not to imply any support or lack thereof on Jen's part for the Movement for Black Lives; I've never actually asked her opinion on it and have no idea what it is.)


Compared to my personal life, I don't talk all that much about social justice explicitly in my professional hat here at Geek Calligraphy. In many cases it wouldn't be appropriate, and this is a space to talk about art and geekery. But art and social justice are not entirely separate. Art is, at its best, about improving the world. Sometimes it is simply about providing something pretty that makes people happy. Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable and challenges the status quo. It is always a method of communication and always a matter of choices, conscious or unconscious. I salute Jen and Aaron for their skill as artists and their values as Jews and as human beings.