Archive for July, 2010

Dropping An F-Bomb On Tikkun Olam

July 30, 2010

When it comes to teaching about, encouraging and doing tikkun olam, it’s getting harder and harder to separate the sacred from the profane. But then again, maybe swearing to do good and just plain old swearing simply go together these days.

I started thinking about this while watching the following video produced and disseminated by Unf—ck The Gulf, an advocacy and philanthropic campaign to clean up the damage caused by the BP oil spill and oppose offshore drilling. It’s the brainchild of Luke Montgomery and Nate Guidas, social entrepreneurs who appear from their photos on the project’s website to be in their 20’s or 30’s.

These guys are clever, and they know how to appeal to young people – and also not-so-young people who aren’t offended by profanity. I found their F-bomb approach quite brilliant, rather entertaining, and most critically, effective – and I was ready to show the video to my kids. But then I caught myself, and asked whether that was an appropriate thing to do.

Fox News, of course, immediately ran a segment questioning the moral judgment of including young children using the F-word in the video. I did stop to consider this issue, but didn’t dwell on it too long. The child actors’ parents reportedly gave their consent and were present during filming. Hey, it’s a free country, and nothing here amounts to child abuse.

What I found to be more challenging was figuring out whether I would want to show this video to my students or my own children as a model for effective social activism. I concluded that I probably would, but not without some misgivings.

It’s not as though kids today have never heard the F-word before (though maybe not repeated so many times in the course of a couple of minutes). But at the same time, do caring and responsible adults want to encourage a lack of civility? Shock and awe seems to be the genre du jour, but how much graphic language (let alone graphic images, as can be seen in some other public service announcements) is too much?

When it comes to making a difference – to repairing the world – does the end necessarily justify the means?

Take a look for yourself. What do you think?

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

An Unorthodox Expression

July 30, 2010

This post was published today on The Arty Semite blog of The Forward as “Reality TV Comes to Orthodox Suburbia.” Click here to read it there.

Malkah Winter

Malkah Winter feels the need to express herself creatively, and she comes by it genetically. The daughter of the late Yiddish theater owner and producer, Oscar Ostroff, Winter has been single-handedly directing, producing and editing Jewish Life TV’s new reality show, “In Over Our Heads.” The show aims to smash stereotypes surrounding suburban Orthodox Jews in the predominantly Jewish community of Sharon, Mass., whose lifestyle Winter, a 34-year-old mother of five, is intimately and personally acquainted with.

After being a stay-at-home mom for over a decade, Winter (who has had a lifelong interest in the arts but never studied filmmaking) picked up a video camera last November and convinced a small group of friends to allow her to document their day-to-day lives. She sees herself as following in her father’s footsteps, telling the stories of Judaism and Jewish life, only through the more contemporary media of television and the Internet.

“In Over Our Heads” is reportedly the most popular program on JLTV, which reaches 30 million homes in the US and will begin broadcasting in Canada this fall. Network executives picked the show up after catching its first episode, which Winter made at the local cable access studio. The show can also be seen on YouTube, where its first eight episodes have garnered a combined total of 20,000 views to date. JLTV has ordered another 26 episodes.

While viewers outside Sharon are supportively tuning in to see Winter and her friends Valerie Frank, Yitzi Cusner, Simcha Weinberg and Marc Hirsch struggle with and openly debate everything from marriage and parenthood to spirituality and religious hypocrisy, their neighbors have been less appreciative. Unused to viewing their community and lifestyle exposed in this way, they have confronted members of the cast, asking, “What is with this?!”

Winter loves Judaism and Torah and wants to share them with others, but at the same time, she says, “I can never just accept what someone tells me.” With “In Over Our Heads,” she has found an artistic voice for her Jewish identity. “I get to break it into pieces and then put it back together.”

Watch the first episode of “In Over Our heads:”

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

A Jewish ScholarMatch?

July 28, 2010

Writer Dave Eggers meets with some students.

With the cost of Jewish early childhood programs, Jewish day school, congregational school and Jewish camps increasing practically by the minute, people have been trying to come up with ways of keeping Jewish kids in Jewish education and their parents from going broke. Some think establishing scholarship endowments (school by school or community by community) is the answer. Others advocate that we all just move to Israel, where Jewish education comes free or next to free. It’s hard to know what the right and effective answer is.

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone soon comes up with another approach to solving the problem that looks a lot like the new ScholarMatch website founded by writer Dave Eggers. is like micro-philanthropy sites such, but instead of donors giving online to support artistic projects, they fund students’ college tuitions. The young people from the San Francisco Bay Area (the project is being Beta tested here) you see featured on the website have done their best to cover their college expenses through their own savings, help from their families and different types of financial aid. ScholarMatch is a way for them to ask complete strangers to make up the difference between the tuition sticker price and what they can pay. A stranger’s making up the difference can mean the difference between the young person’s going to college and having to defer college – or not going to college at all.

Most of the students on ScholarMatch are from low and low-middle income backgrounds. I would imagine that if such a project were set up to help fund individual children seeking help with tuition for Jewish school or camp, many of them would be from upper-middle class families. Tuitions reaching $20,000 per year for preschool and $30,000 for day school have put Jewish education out of reach for all but the wealthiest in the community.

I am sure that there is an enthusiastic, tech-savvy, young Jewish social entrepreneur out there ready to jump on this idea (I would just warn him or her that the “” name is already taken – just in case they were thinking of that). But the question remains whether there would actually be enough takers – and I don’t mean on the funding side. The students on ScholarMatch are hungry enough for higher education to put their profiles up online and ask for help. Would Jewish kids (and their parents) be willing to do the same for the sake of their own – individual – formal Jewish learning?

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.