Paul Wieder photo 2013
Paul Wieder, contributing blogger

Imagine a man with the charisma of Cary Grant, the audacity of Marlon Brando, and the brilliance of Laurence Olivier. That’s George Clooney. I’m more… Jason Alexander. I was born in Cleveland in 1970, but entered Northwestern in 1988, moving to Chicago permanently (so far) in 1994… so there is some hesitancy as to where I’m “from”. I have three gorgeous, genius children— two of grade-school age, one of each major type, and a brand new baby boy. I have a wife who is prettier, smarter and more athletic than me. And we have a puppy who is just plain ridiculous. Me? I have worked for JUF’s Marketing Communications department since coming to Chicago, where I edit the Tween Page of JUF’s website, including one of the most comprehensive lists of Jewish celebs on the Web. I have kept writing on the side, doing my own creative writing and now blogging. For ten years, I have been reviewing Jewish music, with a recent series of podcasts in which I interview that genre’s major figures: Matisyahu, David Broza, Debbie Friedman, etc... I spend way too much of my time in front of “glowing rectangles”, even though I like to be outdoors. I am somewhat handy tool-wise, am competent in the kitchen, and I can fold a king-size fitted sheet by myself. I read mostly non-fiction, and I don’t get enough sleep. Oh, and when I grow up I want to be Roger Ebert.


Ari Lehman scared the hell out of you back when you were a kid. After sneaking into a film audition, he landed the role of Jason Voorhees in the original Friday the 13th movie way back in 1980. The musically inclined scary guy from Connecticut relocated to Chicago in 2002 and formed a Jewish-tinged reggae-rock band called the Ari Ben Moses Band. His horror fans took notice and he unleashed upon them… FIRSTJASON! Today, his monster-metal band plays horror conventions worldwide.


For the past 19 years, Sara Fiedelholtz has been involved in various creative endeavors including magazine publishing, brand development and strategic planning. In 2004, Fiedelholtz launched the creative strategy firm thinkbox strategies, then in August 2007 she launched mint magazine:SOURCEBOOKS llc., a series of  annual subject-specific—think shopping, continuing education, beauty and food, to name a few—source guides for Chicago.


Lucy Kaplansky was barely out of high school when she started singing in Chicago bars. She soon took off for New York, where she became part of a burgeoning singer-songwriter scene, notably in a duo with Shawn Colvin. Then she switched gears, earning a doctorate in psychology and opening a private practice to work with chronically mentally ill adults.

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Kimber Leigh Nussbaum, vocalist with The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, hails from Kansas City, but has lived in Chicago for more than a decade. The University of Illinois grad earned her BFA in Theater and has performed in venues all over Chicago as well as Kansas City.


Rabbi Heather Altman is a well-balanced person. Through her creation, “Rav Yoga,” she has united yoga and Judaism in a manner that is authentic to both beautiful traditions--aiming to empower, renew, and connect the body, mind, and soul. She also balances life as a yoga instructor and rabbi with the realities of being a stepmom to a 7-year-old, Haley, and a mom to 9-month-old triplets: Hallel, Emunah and Noam.

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Elisabeth Bacherta’s nickname is “Bruce,” after Bruce Lee. Like her namesake, she hits fast and hard… and leaves no one standing. But her sport is not a martial art, it’s football. That’s right: Women’s. Professional. Tackle. Football. Elisabeth is both Offense & Defense Lineman for Chicago’s team, The Force and recently celebrated her first anniversary with the team.

JYSK Joshua Grabowsky photo_th

Joshua Grabowsky, AKA “Chef Joshua” became a chef in an “ass-backward” way. Fifteen years ago, he learned in a Zen-type macrobiotic kitchen, more “how to be”, than how to cook. He opened the Red Avocado, a 100% Organic Vegetarian Restaurant, in Iowa City, cooked for yoga & meditation retreats, catered parties, and even bussed tables.

JYSK Terri Albert photo_th

Terri Albert wants to get into your drawers… and closets, basements, attics and garages. Terri is now in her dream job as a professional organizer. Dubbing herself The Chicago Organizer, she says: “I hold your hand to help you make necessary decisions you have put off, to get rid of the excess clutter in your home— freeing you up to enjoy what really matters in your life. I take a no-nonsense approach to clearing your space and setting you up for success.” Even as a kid, her folks made her a T-shirt that said “Neat Freak”!

WHY SCI-FI? photo_th

This is not an article listing all of the Jews involved with writing and acting in Star Wars, Star Trek, or any of the myriad science-fiction “worlds.” It is not an exhaustive history of Jewish science-fiction authors, from Hugo Gernsback through Isaac Asimov up to Neil Gaiman. And it is not about Jewish sci-fi superfans… people like, well, this.

Jews and the graphic novel photo_th

Jews are some of the most famous novelists, and Jews also are some of the most important people in the superhero-type comic-book world. So it’s no big surprise that Jews are some of the most famous, most important people in the genre that conflates the two: graphic novels. What’s surprising is that so many Jewish graphic novelists have focused on Jewish experiences for their subject matter.

Chanukah music that doesn’t suck photo_th

Chanukah music does not begin with “The Dreidel Song” and end with Adam Sandler. There is plenty of great Chanukah music out there suitable for adult tastes. It’s just a little hard to find… until now. So here they are— the Top Ten Best Chanukah Albums for Grown-Ups.

Jewish Music for February photo_th

February is African-American History month. And the history of American music is a story of blacks and Jews working in, literally, harmony. Even back in the earliest part of the 20th Century, African-American singer Paul Robeson performed spirituals alongside Yiddish folksong, while the first racially integrated ensemble was led by Jewish bandleader Benny Goodman.

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My grandfather, who had celebrated his 100th birthday last November, died this February. I was asked to speak at his funeral.

Happy Jewish Mother’s Day photo_th

So, as I was researching an Oy! article for Mother’s Day on depictions of Jewish mothers in popular culture, I kept running into the same name: Lainie Kazan. She is an actor; her most famous recent role was the mom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but she was also the mom of Adam Sandler’s friend in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.

Adventures with autocomplete photo_th

Autocomplete is a feature of search engines and other programs that guesses what you are searching for after you type in the first couple of letters. The guesses are based on the frequency of the searches among all users of the search engine. Used in reverse, one can see what the frequency is of search terms.

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Every year since 2000, there has been at least one American comedy with a Jewish theme in the theaters. There has never been a decade with more, or more obviously Jewish, material on display on the big screen.

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There are lists of Jewish movies, and lists of Jewish music. But I haven’t seen any lists of Jewish movie music— music in the soundtracks of Jewish-themed movies— so I made my own. Rather than limit myself to a “Top 10,” I decided to go with another Jewish number: 18.

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As promised, here are more Jewish movies with great soundtracks… this time consisting of songs previously released, then compiled just for the occasion of the movie. The nice thing about these compilations is that they offer music you might have a harder time finding, or getting into, otherwise.

20 Things The Baby Books Don’t Tell You photo_th

So here are 20 things I had to learn on my own during the first week of my new baby boy’s life. (That the baby is now two months old and I am only now getting to turn my notes into a blog post is just a small indicator of how busy a small person can make a big person).

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My wife, Elisheva, and I were on our way to stay with my folks for Rosh Hashannah. It’s a six-hour drive from Chicago to Cleveland, but we knew it would take longer this time because we were bringing our newborn and our puppy.

New definitions photo_th

In 1710, Queen Anne told Sir Christopher Wren— one of the greatest architects in history— that his renovation of St. Paul’s Cathedral was “awful, artificial and amusing.” He was thrilled with the compliment; today, she would have said his work was “awesome, artistic, and amazing.”

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The first decade of this millennium saw a spate of Holocaust movies. The first hit Holocaust film of the 2000s was certainly The Pianist, which came out in 2002. For his performance as a concert pianist hiding from the Nazis, Adrien Brody won an Oscar— setting the record for youngest Best Actor and becoming the first to beat out four previous Oscar winners nominated alongside him.

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First of all… “Chanukah” or “Hanukkah”? I prefer “Chanukah.” The Hebrew version starts with “ch,” so the English version should reflect that.

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Too many lists of Yiddish insults define almost all of them similarly. But the true genius of a Yiddish insult is in its specificity— how, exactly, is the person being insulted? With Yiddish, one may be quite precise in one’s put-downs. Remember, the sharper the knife, the deeper the cut.

Debbie Friedman photo_th

Every genre has its "without whom," as in "...without whom this music would not exist, at least not as we know it." Jazz has Louis Armstrong. Folk has Pete Seeger. Blues has Robert Johnson. And modern Jewish music has Debbie Friedman.

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In our last edition, I listed as many Yiddish insults as I could, to illustrate the amazing precision with which Yiddish is able to find fault. To balance that, this time we will look at the many ways Yiddish has to say something nice about someone…

Happy Valenstein's Day photo_th

About a decade ago, I went to a synagogue where someone had passed out red, photocopied cards that said something like: “Rabbi Valenstein wishes you a Happy Valenstein’s Day.”

Meet The Maccabeats photo_th

This past Chanukah, we all gathered around the warm, flickering glow of our… computers. We were mesmerized by The Maccabeats, and their catchy, clever, a cappella version of Taio Cruz’ “Dynamite,” which they re-cast for Chanukah as “Candlelight.” To date, their video has had more than 4.5 million views on YouTube.

E-pitom-izing Jewish Rock photo_th

Pitom is a Jewish quartet with short beards and long talent. They take their name from the fragile tip of the etrog (that lemon-like fruit used on Succot), but their music is anything but delicate. The band’s most obvious musical influences are grunge, heavy metal, and punk.

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In today’s lesson, we will learn how to kvetch properly. These are Yiddish adjectives with which we can correctly complain. We will learn the words to accurately describe how we are disappointed by life, people, politics, entertainment, food and the world around us.

Ten more things the parenting books don’t tell you photo_th

As we start to plan my baby’s first birthday, I think about all the things we have learned over the past year that, despite our being up on the latest research, came as a surprise…

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As early as 1923, the movie East and West depicted the stereotypes Chasidic and more modernized Jews had toward each other. In her earliest known film role, Yiddish acting legend Molly Picon portrays an assimilated American teen visiting her family in the Old World.

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Any longstanding institution— from countries to heroes, from The White House to Coca-Cola— is going to be the subject of popular speculation and, ultimately, myths. Religions, including Judaism, are no exception.


Add Andy Dick to the list of celebrities who feel perfectly free to toss around anti-Semitic slurs as cavalierly as if they were commenting on the weather. He just called Howard Stern a “miserly… money-grubbing Jew” with a “big, fat, hook nose.” I’m not sure how I feel defending Howard Stern in a war of words, but these comments are over the line.

Who's Jewish in Chicago movies photo_th

Here is my list of the top 25 movies set in the greater Chicago area… and which of their creators or stars is Jewish. Please feel free (like I have to say this) to disagree with my choices, which are listed alphabetically. I’m not sure what I’m trying to prove— but can I just say: “Wow, that’s a lot.”

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First off, the word is “kvell”— one syllable, like “swell.” Second, there is one expression, “to kvell,” and another, “to schep nachas”; one does not “kvell nachas.” Good, good… Now we are ready to learn how to tell people that, as the Torah puts it, they have found favor in our eyes.

Read this not that photo_th

Aside from having read children’s books to my younger sister and cousins, and then my own kids, I actually took a class in children’s literature in college, much to my parents’ joy. Also, there are tons of lists about which books to read to your kids, but no lists of the ones not to.

What do Jews do on Christmas photo_th

So my first idea for a blog post was a list of Christmas songs and carols written by Jews. But it turns out that subject has been very, very well- documented. (I did compile a list from these sources, and tacked it on to the bottom of this post, if you are curious.)

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Some claim to have had spiritual experiences at movies, but I doubt that anyone with a spiritual crisis would seek advice from a film director rather than a rabbi. Still, rabbis have had rough going at the cinema, with screenwriters and film-makers often taking rabbis to task for being hypocritical, mean, or just plain useless.


Is enough enough yet? We have seen booksmoviessongs (this one's NSFW, but it was the first one that came up)… magazinesT-shirtspuppets… even plays.

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Jewish music is many things, but fearful it is not. Jewish musicians— like Jewish novelists (Philip Roth), directors (Stanley Kubrick), and comics (Lenny Bruce)— have never been afraid to push the boundaries of accepted norms… or good taste. Some even bend the line until it contorts like a rubber band in a slingshot.

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As a word buff (OK, fine, word geek), I read books on subjects like " words that have been forgotten" and " words that only exist in one language" and, most recently, " surprising origins of common words."

Can Chicago be the new New Jersey? photo_th

Jersey Shore. Jersey Couture.Jerseylicious.Real Housewives of New Jersey. House.Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Even Boardwalk Empire is about the early days of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Ever since The Sopranos (which debuted in 1999), New Jersey has been a goldmine for TV shows… and ratings.

IF ONLY photo_th

I have been writing about Jewish celebrities for years now, and I have run into a problem. As I look through movie after movie, I keep running into the same names and, while I know these stars aren't Jewish, I kind of wish they were.

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Much has been written about women being stereotyped in popular entertainment. Well, men get stereotyped, too. And one of the most common ways is to laugh at the idea of men… taking care of kids! Ha! Because men are basically just big kids themselves! Am I right? Am I right or what?

U.S. Jewish Olympians are on fire photo_th

One is a young man and one is a young woman. One is a musician and one is an athlete. One wears a kippah and the other wears Lycra. But Edon Pinchot and Aly Raisman are both young Jews on TV, making Jews everywhere proud.

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First, let me clarify that the word in the title is not “mohel” or some version thereof. A “mohel” is a person who performs a brit milah (circumcision). No, the word in question comes from a different Hebrew root altogether, “mochel,” and means “forgive.”

JEW-PERMAN? An interview with author Larry Tye photo_th

Larry Tye is the author of a new biography of the first great superhero, Superman: The High-flying Story of America's Most Enduring Hero. He has also written Home Lands: Portraits of the New Jewish Diaspora. Recently, he flew through Chicago to discuss his new Superman book at both comic-book stores… and also congregations, as much of the book discusses the Jewishness of its super subject.

REWIND: A thought for Simchat Torah photo_th

Few things "scroll" anymore, but many things used to. Take audio recordings. The ones that came with sound already on them were almost always discs: 78s, 45s, LPs, CDs, and the short-lived mini-discs. But if you wanted to record your own sound you had to use a reel-to-reel machine.

Jewish movies for... Halloween? photo_th

No, it's a not a Jewish holiday by any stretch. But at this point, regardless of its origins, do you know anyone who celebrates Halloween as a religious holiday? As it happens, a surprising number of horror movies from both America and Europe turn out to have Jewish connections. The new film The Possession is about being possessed by a dybbuk, or poltergeist. Reggae-rapper Matisyahu plays the rabbi who performs the exorcism.

“The Dreidel Song” is a lie photo_th

With Chanukah just around the corner, I've been thinking a lot about Chanukah music and one song in particular. It's not just that it's insipid and babyish and cloying and maddeningly repetitious. No, I hate "The Dreidel Song" because it lies. It lies about every aspect of the dreidel— from what it's made of to how you play the game. And it's also supremely poorly written.

Glasnost! photo_th

In 1987, I was 17 years old. I got on a bus in Cleveland with many of my friends from school, synagogue, camp, and my youth group. We were bound for Washington D.C., to send Mr. Gorbachev a message: We, the Jews of the United States, stood with the Jews of the Soviet Union. We wanted them to stop being refuseniks… and start being olim to Israel or immigrants to America.

Edon’s Got Talent photo_th

Edon Pinchot is the Skokie teen, a freshman at Ida Crown Jewish Academy, who took the country by storm in 2012 on America's Got Talent. He wowed the judges and charmed the crowd with his heartfelt piano renditions of today's hits, reaching the semi-finals-all while proudly wearing his kippah.

They Didn’t Leave It To Beaver photo_th

I keep hearing people holding up the 1950s sitcom as the standard for family structures, notably Leave It to Beaver and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Aside from the fact that I don't even take my family advice from the shows that are on now (do that many people really have a Modern Family family?), I started wondering…

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One of the most common forms of film is the "bio-pic," short for "biographical picture." It tells the story of a notable person, either in full, or just focusing on one of the most notable parts of his or her story. Naturally, Jews have been among those whose lives have been depicted on screen, but which Jews are depicted has changed, well, dramatically over time.


I have been married, I have been to Jewish weddings, and I have been in Jewish weddings that were not mine. And it’s just hard watching someone who is not familiar with Hebrew struggle and stumble through the thicket of words that are the Sheva Brachot— especially knowing that, had they been given another blessing, they would have come across very nicely.

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Sean Altman looms large in the worlds of a cappella and novelty song. First, he's very accomplished and innovative and influential, and even has awards and stuff. Also, he's very tall. Altman is one of the performers at the City Winery's Downtown Seder, March 20 at 6 p.m. (the full list is here).

Soul—and brain—food at Milt’s photo_th

Here is everything you need to know about Milt's: It's a kosher barbecue joint. It's nice enough to host a swanky event. It's dedicated to community service. And it's set up for both dialogues and monologues.

Not Just Kid Stuff photo_th

First, you are a kid, and you experience the Jewish holidays on that level: costumes and graggers on Purim, The Four Questions and afikomen gifts at the Passover Seder, and dreidels and latkes (and more gifts) at Chanukah.

Why I Am a Feminist photo_th

There are as few words as loaded as the word “feminist.” And few as misunderstood. Many people who are feminists in actuality rebuff the label due to misperceptions about this word. So I thought I’d share why I am a feminist, in hopes that others more easily and comfortably identify themselves as one.

Where the Jews are photo_th

Earlier this year, Israel passed a milestone-there are now more Jews in Israel than anywhere else, even the US. The other main pockets of Jewish life are Russia and the rest of its former satellite states, Europe (especially France), and South America (especially Argentina).

The Infrequent Diner Program photo

I have a wallet full of “frequent diner” cards. These are the cards that get hole-punched or rubber-stamped each time I eat at a certain restaurant. After a dozen or so purchased meals, I get a meal or entree for free. According to the restaurant, I “earned” this free meal with my loyalty.

Taking the “–el” photo_th2

One of the many (many, many — some say even 72) names of God in Jewish thought is “El.” This Divine name ends up in almost as many human names. Here are some of the most popular, and some of the most interesting, followed by their meanings and their original Hebrew pronunciations (with “ch” as in “challah”).

M-M-M-My Menorahs photo_th

My parents collect menorahs – I amass them. The difference is that they actively seek theirs, while I passively receive mine. For some reason, I seem to receive a lot of them. I suppose once you have a critical mass of any item, people assume you collect it – and suddenly, you do.

Holiday Mash-Ups Beyond Thanksgivukkah photo_th

Now that we have all long-since survived the cholesterol cornucopia that was Thanksgivukkah—during which we celebrated both oil and gravy—it's time to see what other Jewish/American holiday mash-ups are coming up in 2014.

Dear Peter Jackson photo_th

Part two of The Hobbit series is in theaters now, so I imagine you are very busy with the finale. After that, however, do you know what you'll be working on next? Because I have an idea for you.

The Guide to Jewish Wedding Gifts photo_th

Weddings are in the spring and summer, so invites are going out soon, and that means you have to go wedding-gift shopping again. Well, we’re here to help. Here are the major categories of Judaica (according to one website, at least…) and my unsolicited advice as to whether they will make good wedding gifts.

A Jew, a Guru and a Hot Tub photo_th

So this story starts at a hotel hot tub in Iowa. And it just gets weirder from there.

'Let My People Go...' photo_th

I somehow got sent a copy of “The 30 Minute Seder.” It has a song in it that is not traditionally a Passover seder song, but I can see why they put it in there. It's the spiritual "Let My People Go."

Non-Trivial Pursuits photo_th

I was cleaning out my parents’ game cabinet during Passover and found a deck of trivia cards from the 1980s. As I leafed through the questions, I soon realized that many of them were Jewish in nature.

Interjections! A Jewish Past photo_th

Hey! Remember the Schoolhouse Rock video about interjections? These are expressions like: “whoa,” “yow,” “ouch,” “oh,” “hooray,” “aww,” “eek,” “rats,” “darn” and “wow.” Or even “oy!” as in some blog or other.

Interjections! A Jewish Past photo_th

In case you didn’t catch my first post on the Jewish origins of common English interjections, check it out here. The main source is the book Zounds! by Mark Dunn.

The Continuing Adventures_photo_th

I last visited the subject of Jewish graphic novels in 2009. Well, guess what? They went and wrote more. Also, I found even more that I somehow missed the first time (in my defense, there are a lot…).

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I started working at the Jewish United Fund in 1994, on Oct. 10, a day after my birthday. In that time, I’ve had two marriages, three kids, three pets, eight places of residence … and one place of work.

Jay Rapoport rocks with ruach photo_th

By day, Jay Rapoport is a mild-mannered Jewish educator with the title of director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Sholom of Chicago in Lakeview. But this persona is only a mask for his true identity: Jewish rock star.

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One of the best things about traditions is that they stay the same. This familiarity brings comfort and nostalgia. But even a holiday that’s thousands of years old – or maybe especially such a holiday – needs some new ideas every now and then so it doesn’t get stale.

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So Hollywood went and made the “gritty reboot” of the Moses story after doing one for the Noah story, with mega-budgets, A-list actors, name directors and CGI miracles. Meanwhile, The Red Tent — about Dinah and her female elders — got a TV movie … on cable.

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I think I can say this now, after 20 years with JUF. It started with being late. You see, I found out too late that there was a class at my school – Northwestern University – that included a for-profit internship. I only signed up in time for the non-profit one. Also, until that year, the professor had always found internships for his students, but now we were on our own.

A Host of Oscar Advice photo_th

I have watched the Oscars since I was a kid, with my mother as a guide. She was the one who taught me how a movie wins because other nominees split the vote, and explained why certain people win or not regardless of how well they acted in a particular movie (e.g. this man is very old and this is his last chance; people thought this woman should have won many times so this is a make-good award, etc.).

8 Jewish things Leonard Nimoy gave us photo_th

Leonard Nimoy died in February, but the memorials continue. Nimoy embraced and celebrated his Jewish heritage publically, especially in his later years.

It’s not about the cookies. photo_th

My favorite bakery is in trouble. The business is failing, and the owner has cancer. The bakery is called Lax & Mandel, and it’s not in Chicago.

What’s with all the “J” Names? photo_th

Anyone making a list of Jewish names, or choosing one for a child, has to be struck by how many start with “J.”

Dear Netflix photo_th

Netflix, I see you have branched out from live-action into animation with, ahem, BoJack Horseman. But you also might want to develop an animated series targeted at adults that does not have an alcoholic anthropomorphic horse as the main character, whose best friend is a humanoid dog named Mr. Peanutbutter.

Let’s create an American Jewish holiday photo_th

With the Jewish holiday season fast approaching, perhaps this is a good time to ask: Why are there no Jewish holidays based on events in American Jewish history?

Contain Yourself photo_th

While they may look very different at first, most Jewish sacred or ritual items have something in common: They are containers.

Where’s Our Parade photo_th

I love Israel Solidarity Day and the Walk with Israel, but while a participatory walkathon is important, I want a parade -- floats and bands and a grandstand, the whole schmear.

Indiana Jones and the Staff of Moses photo_th

Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Indiana Jones went after the Ark of the Covenant, currently has an 8.5 on imdb.com. It's the highest rating of any film in the franchise, with The Last Crusade -- in which Indy pursued the Holy Grail -- at an 8.3. The other two films don't rate anywhere near that high.

Guide to McSweeney’s Most Jewish photo_th

Rather than make you look through all 21 webpages of McSweeney’s lists for the Jewish ones, I went and did that for you.

Films About Tough Jews photo_th

Yes, it’s a list, not a joke



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