Sunday, December 20, 2009


I finished it. Dr. Weinfeld’s book, I mean. I’m not sure how to wrap up my thoughts about the best book I’ve ever read in one measly little blog post, but I’d like to share a few of my favourite parts and notes from the book.

Firstly, I have to share my most favourite paragraph from the whole book. I showed it to all of my family members in Winnipeg and I think a lot of them really liked it.

Jews love to eat, and then to complain about how they “overate” at the most recent holiday, wedding, or bat mitzvah. No festival at an Ashkenazi home, including Friday night Sabbath meals, is complete without a fresh challah, gefilte fish, chicken soup, a nice kugel (there are two types of Ashkenazi Jews, some pronounce it kugel, some pronounce it kigel), chicken or roast beef, knishes, carrot tzimmes. Jews believe they have a special relationship with food, in much the same way that non-Jews have with alcohol. My students routinely downgrade the importance of food as a component of ethnic culture or identity. They think it is superficial. They want ethnicity, identity, and multiculturalism to be something deeper. What do they know? Pass the brisket (204).

I love that. It’s just the way I felt when I read the part about Dr. Weinfeld gagging at the thought of a salami sandwich and a glass of milk (I lost that fight at work, by the way).

Anyways, I am often guilty of the same mistake that Dr. Weinfeld’s students are described to routinely make in this paragraph. I’m always waiting for the “real” thing to come along and I forget that the big picture is made up of little pieces like chicken soup, mezuzahs or Styrofoam cups of instant coffee (for me, anyways). I am enamoured with the notion that ‘being Jewish’ might be what any individual makes it. I know I don’t count, but I feel like I can access some of the big mystery that makes up Jewish identity. I’d love to learn more about what makes up that identity in Canada.

I took down a lot of notes and they’re too disjointed to share and really make anything decent but I will share one observation that I was pretty interested. It’d make a great content analysis, I think. Dr. Weinfeld says “The Lubavitch Hasidim were among the first to pioneer the use of worldwide live TV when they began broadcasting the farbrengen and commentaries of the late Rebbe” (296). We have a Lubavitch synagogue here (that’s where dad and I take JLI: Jewish Learning Institute classes sometimes). Their website, though, is so above and beyond the Conservative and Reform Synagogues’ websites. The Orthodox Synagogue has a more involved website than the other two, but none of them are quite as appealing as the Lubavitch one. They are all well made and informative, but the Lubavitch website is far more visually appealing and more interactive than the rest. I am not sure what that means, if anything, but I was wondering if the Lubavitch’s habit of being on the cutting edge of “marketing” technology is helpful to them when it comes to attendance.I think people view Hasidim as so much more traditional and parochial, and the fact that the Lubavitch in Calgary create a website like this one as compared to the rest of the synagogues, I think it's just a fascinating paradox.

Thanks so much, Dr. Weinfeld.

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