The Big Jewish Book for Jews Everything You Need to Know to Be a Really Jewish Jew

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2010-07-27
  • Publisher: Plume

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From the bestselling authors of "Yiddish with Dick and Jane" comes a hilarious compendium of traditional wisdom, recipes, and lore for modern-day Jews.

Author Biography

Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman are publishing veterans and have written many successful humor books, including Yiddish with Dick and Jane. Weiner blogs for The Huffington Post and Davilman is a writer-producer for reality television. They live in Los Angeles.



This is a controversial topic.

But not here! You literally cannot get more traditionally Jewish (if you're a male) than by having your foreskin removed. As G-d said to Abraham in Genesis 17,10: This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. 11: And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

Easy for Him to say.

The arguments for and against circumcising babies seem both to have merit and to be overwrought. The practical (medical, sexual, hygienic) benefits of circumcision seem to be real but minimal. The psychological and sexual dangers seem to be possible but undocumented. Both sides, pro and con, have a ton of semi-conclusive proof to support their positions.

But if you're looking to shore up your sense of your own Judaism, you should have it done, either in the hospital after delivery, or during a ceremony at home, eight days after birth.

That bris will prove to be the weirdest party you ever threw. Your parents (if they're alive, and Jewish) willkvell, your friends will find it both amusing and horrifying, and the baby will cry. If you're the baby's father, you'll feel ambivalent and proud and guilty. If you're the mother, you'll probably flee to an adjoining room if you don't pass out before you get there.

One thing you will be certain of, though: Those boys your son takes showers with, at summer camp and at the club and after phys. ed., will know that he's Jewish. Well, wait—lots of non-Jews get circumcised, too. Okay, they'll know that hemightbe Jewish.

Oh, and by the way: Circumcision has no sacramental significance. That means that an uncircumcised Jew is still a Jew. It's a tradition more than a requirement, although in Judaism it's hard to tell the difference between the two.


Forget rock, pop, country-western, show tunes, jazz, classical, chamber, world, and (insert here every other kind of music you know). If you really want to get down with the Chosen People you gotta avail your bad self of that funkyklezmersound.

What It Is

You've heard klezmer, if not live at weddings then on soundtracks or Web sites or "ethnic" compilations: The small, acoustic band of string instruments, woodwinds, and percussion, in modern times augmented with accordion, drums, even piano. The mournful minor keys. The long, sobbing intros suddenly snapping into zippy, peppy dance tempi. The beboppish speed of the solos. The lachrymose yearning of the violin cadenzas. It's zydeco for Hebrews, bluegrass forlandsmen, Dixieland for Jews—

The name is derived from the Hebrew wordsklei-zemer, meaning, with boring literalness, "musical instruments." It started in Central and Eastern Europe in the late Middle Ages (see? They were good forsomething.) and early Renaissance, when itinerant Jewish musicians would travel from town to town in search of paying work—this, after a millennium of what was essentially a ban on music (or, at least, on musical fun) following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

Remember those days? You walked down the street whistling "The Girl from Ismailia" and everyone slapped you and went "shush." Thank G-dthat'sover.

For centuries, then,klezmorim(klezmermusicians) were limited to playing only at certain special occasions—weddings, Purim festivals, or the dedication of a synagogue. Go make a living, even in the Middle Ages, just doing that. And, as one source delicately puts it, "Theklezmorimwere, by temperament, restless and emotionally unstable individuals." Musicians? Restless and emotionally unstable? You don't say.

Restless and flighty or not, many of them were good—sometimes great—players. But they played by ear, since a proper musical education was usually impossible. Some of them were lone wolves, individual virtuosi who traveled from place to place with a minimum of entanglements with other musicians or, uh, regular people.

The most popular instrument among them was—if you can believe it—the hammer dulcimer, a flat, stringed instrument played with two padded hammers. (It's also called thecembalo, which suggests that the famous Jewish violinist Efrem Zimbalist Sr. descended from acembaloplayer before himself begetting Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the star ofboth 77 Sunset Stripand—take that, J. Edgar Hoover—The F.B.I.! Although most Jews don't use "junior" and only name their sons after deceased relatives. Then again, Senior was a musician. You know how rebellious and restless and emotionally unstable they are.)

The tunes were dances, folk songs Jewish and non, reveries, and other found melodies. Over the past thirty years or so there's been a revival of interest inklezmer, with great groups forming all over the United States and the world. Klezmer has never been more popular or easier to find.

There's the Klezmatics and the Klezmorim and the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band. There's Beyond the Pale and Golem and Brave Old World and Kroke and the provocatively named Monsieur Camembert. And others.

So by all means, get someklezmer, play it through your earbuds or headphones or boom box or Victrola or whatever you use to listen to music, and revel in/burst into tears over this distinctive Jewish musical heritage.

You may like it. No, you mayloveit. You may, in fact, become inspired to share it with others. And if you do, here's an idea that's just crazy enough to work.

Our Idea That's Just Crazy Enough to Work

Having been newlyklezmerizedyourself, you might think about bringing it to places in the non-Jewish (or not-entirely-Jewish) world where people may never have heard it before. It'll be amitzvah, although in some cases it may also be a misdemeanor punishable by fine.

These suggestions require you bring a source ofklezmerwith you. The authentic, albeit complicated and expensive, way to do this, of course, would be to hire a band and truck them along to the various destinations we mention below. This option will certainly be more fun than the alternative—to put MP3s ofklezmeron a player. You decide. But if you go the iPod route, be sure to bring a cable that will let you plug its output into external players.

Make sure your group can perform a broad selection of songs, dances, rhapsodies, and reveries, or put them on an MP3 player. Then do any or all of the following:

  • Go to a baseball game or football game held in a decent-size stadium; it could be minor league, college league, or even major league. Find the sound booth and either insist the engineer give your band a chance to wail, or pipe the recordedklezmerto the crowd at maximum volume for as long as you dare.
  • Go to a bar with a popular Karaoke Night.If you've brought your band, instruct them to join you at a table and have a few drinks, until people get used to their presence and stop gawking. At your signal, have them leap onto the stage and start playing. Or, find the sound system that plays the karaoke music and plug in your iPod. Then sit back and dare a roomful of drunken office workers to sing along. (Don't worry. They will.)
  • Do the same thing at a roller-skating or ice-skating rink: Find the source of the music, substitute yourklezmer, and turn it up to TWELVE. Then stand back and watch skaters of all ages incur contusions, broken limbs, and pulled muscles as they chaotically strain to skate "to the music."
  • How will all this help you feel more Jewish? By enacting, with your itinerant wanderings and brief, lightning raids withklezmer, the roaming freelance gypsy musician lifestyle of the originalklezmorim, that's how. You'll know how they felt (restless, emotionally unstable), and you'll make even less money at it than they did.

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