Al Jolson

In the early part of the 20th century, when Jewish entertainers like Al Jolson would toss Yiddish references to gedaempfte Rinderbrust (beef brisket) and the like into their routines, it was widely seen as an expression not of anti-Semitic baiting, but as a cocky sort of pride. Yes, the performers were intentionally making a point of their ethnicity, but it was in the form of a shout-out to the Jews in their audience, not as a wink to their would-be persecutors.

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Kol Nidre is the most haunting prayer in the Jewish liturgy. I would gauge that more Jews attend synagogue at this moment than at any other time in the year. (You’ve already missed it if you wanted to go.) For some it may be an act of desperation, a stance between belief and non-belief, hovering somewhere between trust and trembling. In any case, it is my or your—if you had decided to try—last chance to settle accounts with God, in the heavens or with the god of your imagination.

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  The Root has an interesting list of people they say black history could do without. It got me thinking about who I would include on a top-ten list of that kind. I’m going to take a different tack than they did. My interest is not in people it’s just fun to dump on, but in people who have had a decisive impact on black lives and thought in general—and so no Dennis Rodman or Wesley Snipes. I am also thinking about true uniqueness, i.e.

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I have been telling friends for fifteen years that Michael Jackson would not live past fifty, although I didn't expect to be so precisely on the mark. An overdose, a botched medical procedure, or maybe just something as fortuitous as a car accident. That is, I sensed nothing as mundane as a death wish or as common as self-destructive tendencies. It just always seemed to me that there was something unreachably and definitively absent about the man.

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