I will be reading my latest short story, The Terrorist's Terrible Toothache, on Saturday, May 18th at B'nai Keshet 99 South Fullerton, Montclair NJ @ 8PM. The reading will be part of a literary salon that will include playwrights, songwriters, a dancer, poets, and apparently my beloved. Anyways - If you are interested in The Terrorist's Terrible Toothache then come on down to Montclair!
File this one as an "only in New York" moment...
About a month ago I was in Williamsburg (the Brooklyn one) officiating a wedding for a wonderful couple who had the highly unusual ketubah pictured above. On their honeymoon in Argentina, they visited the artist. Then the artist wrote up a little story about it:
I skimmed through the other Ketubahs on the site and all I can say is that I want to hang out with the couple who uses that Dr. Seuss themed ketubah.
I'm going to add this Ketubah outfit to my list of best of:
Best Wedding DJ?
Best Wedding Photographer?
My latest piece about the Passover story is up on the Huffington Post (click here to check it out!) and it is yet another example of how many people read that site. 106 comments within the first 24 hours...and I imagine that there are more to come. I love reading the comments for both the crazies and for my own learning. Anyways - enjoy!
I penned this piece ten years ago, back when I was on the faculty of CLAL. Reading it again, I am struck by the line:
"We are living in a time of war, shifting alliances, new dangers, increasing uncertainty and growing poverty."
Even more true today than a decade ago, methinks. Anyways - Andre Neher's words are still a powerful call:
Passover - The Unfinished Manuscript
By Daniel S. Brenner
No Jew can pass the Haggadah untouched, for its style is not narrative, but interrogative. Its story is not told like a legend, but like a problem. One initial question is asked, and all the others follow from it: "What is the difference between this night and all other nights?" It is for the Jew to answer if he can, and if cannot, to feel that the question contains a challenge. Like an unfinished play, the night of the Exodus continues through the centuries, seeking actors to relive it perpetually, and to grasp its essential meaning.
If you're looking for an easy way to add some good drama to your Passover Seder, then you are in the right place. I've got twenty people coming to the first seder and probably as many to the second. Rather than read through the Haggadah's maggid section, we'll have fun with this short skit that tells the story. I offer it free to all those who would like to spice up their seders. Enjoy - and Zissen Pesach!
Free Passover Play
Here is an excerpt from a recent speech that I gave "installing" a rabbi:
When I was young, my favorite book that my parents read to me was Leo Leonni’s Frederick.
Lionni was born in Amsterdam, the son of an Italian Jew, and he came to Philadelphia in 1939. He wrote Frederick in 1967. Here is the story: there is a group of field mice and they are all gathering grains and other foodstuffs for the coming winter months. All except for one – Frederick. What is Frederick doing? He is sitting watching the sunset, he is chasing butterflies, he’s watching the wheat blow in the wind. What are you doing? The other field mice say. “I am gathering colors” he says. Some of the mice mock him. But then, as they huddle together in darkness, for months on end, the field mice get depressed. Frederick begins to tell stories of the colors. He paints a picture for them in such a way that their winter depression is lifted and they all come to see the importance of his sacred task.
What, as we enter 2013, is the role of a communal spiritual leader? What is a rabbi for?
I want to suggest that there are two forces that are shaping our world as we enter into 2013.
The first is what I’ll call the global digital revolution. Future generations will look back on Steve Jobs as we look back on Thomas Edison, and Galielo Galeli. The instant interconnection of the globe through shared information is, indeed, a monumental shift in human culture. Within seconds, we can see what is going on all over the globe. A few weeks ago, I simultaneously watched a live feed from Gaza City and from Sderot from the comfort of my home in Montclair. At the same time, I was Gchatting with my Israeli cousins, reading Facebook rants from my friends on the left and the right, and shopping for Hannukah gifts.
In some ways, the inter-connectivity is amazing. We can now access libraries and news and order flaxseed, shoe polish, hair gel, and garden gnomes.
But the inter-connectivity also has a downside, evidenced in the network of thieves, human traffickers, and nefarious predators who are harnessing the digital world for destructive purposes. The world has become a more dangerous place.
But what I want to focus attention not on the benefits or drawbacks of the digital era, but the way in which the digital era has produced a spiritual crisis. In our day, we want everything immediately, we can’t focus on one task, we are frustrated by anything that is not lightning fast, and we have an information overload.
Many students in our schools have little idea where to begin in navigating a flood of information and in dealing with the peer pressure that exists in digital environments. Thinking critically is not valued in our educational testing system and our children need strong mentors and teachers and parents who can help them to be discerning.
We know more than we have ever known about the human body, about the bio-chemical make-up of our brains, about our digestive system, respiratory system, and immune system. And yet, when we or someone we love is faced with illness, we are lost in a sea of information. A flood of possibilities surround us and information contradicts other information and there are no simple answers to the ongoing mysteries of the human body.
The spiritual crisis of the digital era leads us to want fast answers to questions that may not be answerable.
The second force that is surging today is also global. It is a global resurgence of religious tribalism – a worldview that offers fast answers. Religious leaders, who often use the tools of the digital era, paint modernity and science as a weapon of the good. They call for a return to patriarchy and an end to all judicial systems that exist outside of the religious authorities. We see this resurgence particularly in nations whose people have seen years of government corruption and have lose their faith in pluralist, secular systems of governance.
This rise in religious extremism presents a spiritual crisis for us as well. All those who do not pledge allegiance to the leaders of these sects are labeled as illegitimate. In Muslim, Chrisitan, and Jewish circles the level of hatred between these resurgent traditionalists and all other adherents has grown. Many young Jewish people grow up today thinking that unless you are in the most anti-modern yeshivah, then you are not really practicing Judaism.
These two forces are very real and our world needs leaders who can help us to navigate them.
What is needed to navigate a global digital world?
A rabbi who understand how the digital revolution is changing the way that people are learning and socializing, but who champions the wisdom of our ancient technologies – reading, conversation, ritual, poetry and silence.
What is needed in a world of narrow religious tribalism?
A rabbi who has great love and respect for tradition, but who is willing to balance that respect with a respect for modernity and the new ways in which we are coming to understand what it means to be human and to be in community. A rabbi who is not afraid to think critically about tradition and not afraid to be a public spokesperson who defends the Jewish people.
which contains a free Purim Shpiel script based on the story of the Book of Esther. It is titled The Whole Megillah. Feel free to cut and paste from it as you like!
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky was kind enough to ask me to contribute a poem to his new collection titled "Jewish Men Pray." The catch was that I had to direct my poem to the Holy One - or as we say in Hebrew "kadosh baruch hu."
For the interwebs I decided to go with a spoken word/image montage. I hope that you enjoy my attempt and will consider the book for your collection.
Jews on Christmas
There isn’t enough soy sauce in the world to feed
Jews on Christmas
Huddled around steaming plates of dumplings
Who has lived and who has died
Shocked to hear that the hot new Hollywood star is actually half-Jewish
(and not arguing which half)
I don’t see what all the fuss is about Nathan Englander.
Yes, it’s like The Wire, but different,
Costco is a mixed blessing,
Do you trust Yelp?
On our smartphones we subtract the Chinese year from the Jewish year to see how long the Jews had to wait to try egg drop soup.
The laughter of Jews on Christmas
shakes the jade Buddha under the faux waterfall from his
And for a moment, the enlightened one opens his eyes,
smiling contently as he joins us to look at pictures of relatives at Harry Potter world.
Now he's Jewish too.
The Moo Shu comes with little tortillas, pancakes, wraps,
whatever you want to call them.
whatever you want to call them.
And we wrap up the mush of last year, with all of it’s regrets and tzuris,
And immerse into soy sauce,
a ritual bath,
three times dipped,
and we say – this is not bad.
Our highest compliment.
- Daniel S. Brenner
I wrote this song way back in 2009....which seems ages ago. I think there were still Macabees alive back then. I recorded it once at a house party (thank you Rafi and Jared and Noam for joining me on that version) but returning to the lyrics I felt that a jazzier setting would be more suitable. So...here goes my Hannukah song. Enjoy, and please share with your friends - who knows, maybe a lo-fi tune that doesn't copy the latest catchy dance song can actually spread a little holiday cheer this year?