Monthly Archives: November 2010

Going green.

God and Moses in "The Comic Torah"Moses is black and God is green — and a she — and both bear a strong  resemblance to their real-life creators in “The Comic Torah,” a graphic reimagining of history’s enduring bestseller.

Husband and wife Aaron Freeman and Sharon Rosenzweig have written and illustrated a biblical midrash that is colorful, deep, funny and mind-blowing — just like the original.

And just like in the original, holy business is a messy business. And no one in the Torah is more contradictory and unfathomable than God herself, known here as YHWH.

“Vain, opinionated, wrathful and flirtatious, her larger-than-life personality impresses itself on followers and enemies alike,” Kent Worcester wrote in a review in The Comics Journal.  “[The Comic Torah] doesn’t censor the source material but instead revels in its strangeness and perversity.”

As the Five Books unroll — with each Torah portion presented in a sumptuous double spread —  the relationship between God and Israel develops in all its glory and chaos.  What caught my imagination was the shifting relationship between God and Moses, sometimes like parent and child, other times like mistress and servant, and still others as mismatched lovers, even as Moses dreams of the Promised Land.

Those dreams are not so innocent and holy. Rosenzweig and Freeman depict the Israelites’ ultimate quest as a blonde bombshell called Honey “The Land” Milkand.  Other characters include an oily Jacob, with a suit, narrow tie and pencil moustache, and a dreadlocked Aaron. Other gods, dwelling in the etymological mists of the biblical text, make an appearance,  including Zeus, who God turns to for advice. “You have a pantheon of support,” she complains. “I’m a single parent.”

“The Comic Torah” doesn’t disparage the tradition that has grown up around the Torah. Freeman and Rosenzweig have clearly wrestled with the text. But they have also tapped into one of the secrets of the Torah’s resilience, it’s weirdness and primalness. “The Comic Torah” reads like a strand of tradition that never made it into the canon.

And it’s often sharply funny. As God reveals to Moses her plans for a Tabernacle in the desert she conjures the image of a unicorn. “To cover the ceiling — Tachash skin!” she says. “Wow, it’s beautiful,” Moses says, gazing at the creature whose non-existence has broken every child’s heart. “Can I have one?” “No,” God says, “I’m only making one. But you can kill it for me.”

I wonder how some of the jokes will hold up, particularly popular references such as “Jew Tube” and to the Obama presidential campaign. (Joshua is a ringer for the president.) On the other hand, the Torah comes around every year, and is new every year, as Freeman and Rosenzweig acknowledge. “The Comic Torah,” they write “is a snapshot of the arguments we had this year. Next year, different arguments.”

And let us say: Amen.

Disclosures are in vogue. I’m never quite sure if the people who disclose really need to disclose, or if they get some sort of ego rush from doing it. While I’m sorting that out, I’ll tell you that I’m a big fan of Ben Yehuda Press, which published “The Comic Torah.” I wrote about another one of their books here. Also, I was a member of a group that helped fund the printing of “The Comic Torah.” So go now and read.



Filed under books, Judaism, parenting, popular culture, print, reading, writing

Why a duck?

The Great Race

Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood stay warm in "The Great Race."

I was in the car this afternoon and turned on NPR. Bob Edwards was talking about duck hunting season coming to Louisiana, and how the avid hunters this year, crouching in their blinds or sloshing through their bayous, will come across workers cleaning up the waters from the BP oil spill.

I couldn’t help but wish I was out spending the Sunday in authentic pursuits like duck hunting in the waters of my beloved state, and not at a friend’s house, watching “The Great Race.” Once again I felt inadequate because I wasn’t an authentic man.

Then I thought I might have had it backward. I was out driving so I could be with my family and friends, watching a brilliant slapstick comedy, and why does NPR insist on larding on this authentic Americana stuff when nobody who listens to NPR  goes duck hunting anyway?

Leave a comment

Filed under communications, popular culture

Meet my friends.

Some of my new online friends

We tire of the wholesome appearances we make on the internet. The tally on Facebook of quiches baked, bottles of wine savored, sunsets appreciated. All opinions are positive, likes only, not even a pixel laid down that we would be ashamed of if our great-grandmother Googled and found it.

So can you blame me that in the late nights lately I’ve run with a new, rougher crowd of internet friends? I met them where all shady characters gather — in the suspect folder of my email box.

Elijah Pierre was the first. He approached me one night, looking like an elegant French biblical prophet in the flickering street light. “Use VicodinES to get rid of pain,” he said, clasping his hand to my shoulder.

We walked on. Elijah introduced me to Ahmad Roberts, whose calling card read, “Home delivery ViagraXanax Ambien.” Ervin Bower was next. We found him in a busy chat room. “Get Phentermine online!” he shouted in my direction, fighting to be heard above the noise.

Just then a young woman caught my eye.  She was like all young women — even better in my imagination. “This is Elba Sheridan,” Elijah said.

“How do you know Elijah? I asked her. She smiled coyly. “Get PercocetToday!” she replied, and shook my hand. We were joined by Elba’s roommate, Dianna C. Prince, who caught me by the arm and whispered in my ear, warm and damp, “Buy Hydrocodone online today.”

The chatroom wasn’t happening, so we caught a cab. “Let’s go to Kendall’s party,” Elba said. A wiry, goateed guy answered our knock. It was Kendall Byrne. “Need Ritalin?” he asked.  “In Need of Percocet?” a tall guy behind him said almost in response.  Everyone laughed. That was Marcelo M. Donovan, Kendall Bryne’s boyfriend of long standing.

We partied until the tail end of night. It was the first of many such jaunts to this secret place in my secret life. Each visit ends with a word of advice from Valentin Ledbetter, a Romanian descendant of the folksinger Leadbelly:  “Get a good nights rest with Ambien.”

Coming soon: “The Comic Torah”

Leave a comment

Filed under communications, internet, social media

A good shellacking.

ShellacPresident Obama said he took  “a shellacking”  from voters in last week’s elections. I’ve never used the term myself and, except for possibly one woodworking project at Roeper day camp in 1965 , I don’t think I’ve ever given anything a good shellacking.

But all that is changing. From now on,  I’m going to pepper my conversation with “a good shellacking.”  It seems enormously fun to say.

Shellacking, meaning to take a beating,  apparently grew out of 1920s slang. And shellac, that liquid finish I brushed onto my wood project in the 1960s, “is a kind of resin made from the secretions of a tropical insect known as the lac,” Ben Zimmer writes in “The Story Behind Obama’s ‘Shellacking’ “

If that isn’t creepy enough, according to “What is the wood sealer shellac made from and where does it come from?” those secretions are flaky.

You might be thinking that this is too much information, but there really is so much more to know. You can make your own shellac. And apparently those shellac 78 rpm records were not made entirely of shellac.

You can learn about shellac from a 2nd Amendment point of view at “The C&R Riflestock Cleaning and Preservation Forum,” where you’ll also become acquainted with the community’s lingo through comments like, “That would beat the heck out of the monkey tails the Ruskies are using to shellac some of those Albanian stocks I’ve seen lately!”

Finally, there is Shellac the noise rock, or maybe math rock, band.

And if you’ve read this far, chances are you feel like you’ve taken a good shellacking.

Leave a comment

Filed under music, popular culture

Smoking Frog, Flat Nose and other names.


Plato: Also known as "Stocky"

My parents named me in memory of my father’s younger brother. That’s what the name David meant to them. But David is also a Hebrew name meaning “beloved.” We don’t give a child a name for its literal sense nowadays. If a name has a meaning it’s a sentimental one, or because the name is novel or fashionable.

In an article in the London Review of Books, James Davidson writes about names that not only “could be meaningful but … [also] were meant.”  Davidson covers Anglo-Saxon naming practices and surveys the transformation of baby naming in the U.K. since 1800 before he gets around to his focus, which is ancient Greece.

“Ancient Greece was a culture where names were assumed to mean something,” he writes.

“Just as we translate Native American names such as Tashunka Witko (‘Crazy Horse’), Tatanka Iyotake (‘Sitting Bull’), Woqini (‘Hook Nose’) and Tashunka Kokipapi (‘Young Man Afraid of His Horses’), and even those of the ancient Maya (King ‘Jaguar Paw II’, ‘Smoking Frog’, now renamed ‘Fire Is Born’), so we could refer to famous Greeks as ‘He Who Loves Horses’ (Philip), ‘Masters (with) Horses’ (Hippocrates), ‘Flat-Nose’ (Simon), ‘Stocky’ (Plato), ‘Famed as Wise’ (Sophocles).” he writes.

Ancient Israel also was a culture where names met something, at least it seems so. The Bible is full of people who were given names that reflected their essence or circumstances. Adam was named for the red earth from which he was created. Sarah laughed when told she would conceive in her old age and named her son Laughter (Yitzhak).  Jacob was born grabbing the heel of his elder twin brother Esau and was named Heel (Ya’akov). Pharaoh’s daughter saved the infant Moses from drowning in the Nile and called him Drawn from the Water (Moshe).

So we have Ishmael (“God Has Heard”), Dan (“Judgment”), Yosef (“Addition”) and Yisrael (“Wrestles with God”). And the retinue of angelic names — Michael, Raphael, Gavriel, Uriel, Ariel — with the name of God — El — as the second element.

Or were those meanings read into those names? Did Moses’s name take on that meaning only because Moshe sounds like the Hebrew for “the one who is drawn out”? Similarly, I wonder if Jesse and Mrs. Jesse named their youngest son Beloved because they thought it fit him, or because they really liked the name David?

What does your name mean?

You can read more about names here, here and here. (And here.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Judaism

From Edward Lear’s Jewish Alphabet


Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Judaism, poetry, writing

Believe in magic.

The Magician of Lublin, by Isaac Bashevis SingerThis article in Tablet about the reissue of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel The Magician of Lublin made me dip back into my memory to figure out whether I read the book or saw the movie first. It might have been the film first, with Alan Arkin playing the restless magician Yasha Mazur. Either way, the story had a profound effect on me, on how I view possibilities and limits in life, and the book remains one of my favorites.

If my history with The Magician of Lublin were a current question, I could enter a few keywords and perhaps draw from the cloud the dates I read the book and saw the movie.

Search is one of the greatest inventions of our time, a bit of magic compared to the alternative:  going through boxes from decades ago to see if I saved the ticket stub from the movie and, by chance, wrote the date on it.  Tedium.

Lacking facts, I’m free to remember the story of my discovery of Singer’s world of the damned and the doomed as I think it happened  or, failing that, as I wanted it to happen.

The reissue of the novel comes at the 50th anniversary of its original printing.  In his Tablet article, Adam Kirsch notes the plot of  The Magician of Lublin “is one that must have resonated personally for Singer, since it is substantially the same as those of Enemies: A Love Story and Shadows on the Hudson: A man suffers a spiritual crisis as he juggles love affairs with three different women.”

This is a much more insightful and certainly more subtle description of what I’ve always thought of the story: A depressed Jewish magician sleeps with three women at once and remains depressed.

1 Comment

Filed under books, Judaism, print, reading