Archive for December, 2013

The Rabbis Who Steam Up The Pulpit

December 31, 2013

This piece first appeared in The Times of Israel.

Jewrotica Sexiest Rabbis Graphic

Upon hearing that he had been named to Jewrotica’s “Sexiest Rabbis of 2013” list, the first thing Rabbi Josh Yuter wondered was whether this would help or hurt his shidduch chances.

“I’m sexy and I didn’t know it,” Yuter joked after being informed by The Times of Israel that his name was on the list. The young Orthodox rabbi of New York’s Stanton Street Shul and YUtopia blogger and podcaster had no idea he had been one of the more than 150 rabbis worldwide nominated on the basis of their hotness.

Nonetheless, he’s pleased to be recognized in this way. “When the titles of ‘most knowledgeable’ and ‘most respected’ are filled, you take what you can get,” he said.

Yuter is not the only member of the list to take the honor with good humor. The Times of Israel spoke to six of the 10 rabbis on the list, and they all understood that they were being noted not necessarily for their physical attributes, but rather for the criteria Jewrotica set out in the nomination process.

The online hub for Jewish sexuality sought rabbis with a killer combination of smarts, action and badassery (“the quality of being unique and not afraid to speak your mind or live life your own way”).

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Rethinking the ‘Secret Sauce’ Behind Jewish Survival

December 30, 2013

This piece was first published in The Times of Israel.

Gidi Grinstein, founder and president of the Reut Institute (photo credit: Courtesy of the Reut Institute)

Gidi Grinstein, founder and president of the Reut Institute (photo credit: Courtesy of the Reut Institute)

PALO ALTO, California – In mid-December, Gidi Grinstein came to the heart of Silicon Valley, where entrepreneurs search for the “secret sauce” of hi-tech success, to launch his new book about the secret sauce of Jewish survival, security, prosperity and leadership.

Grinstein calls this Jewish sauce, “flexigidity,” a portmanteau of flexibility and rigidity. He defines the hybrid term as the ability to optimize the pace of collective adaptation by balancing new and old, innovation and tradition, and flexibility and rigidity. Grinstein says this age-old balance has gone out of whack in recent decades, and the challenge is to set it right before it is too late, especially in the State of Israel.

Paradoxically, Jews have never been more economically, politically and militarily powerful than they are today, while concurrently having never been more vulnerable because of their concentration in two major centers: Israel and North America.

Grinstein, 43, argues that Israel has gone too rigid, and that North American Jews have become too flexible. In “Flexigidity: The Secret of Jewish Adaptability,” Grinstein, founder and president of the Reut Institute, a non-partisan Tel-Aviv based think tank, addresses the leaders of Israel and the Diaspora Jewish community, and makes recommendations for how they can face current threats and opportunities by returning to the “flexigid” balance that has served the Jewish people so well over the millennia.

“So much of what we need is there in our past,” Grinstein told The Times of Israel in an interview in a Palo Alto café before the book launch event at the nearby Oshman Family Jewish Community Center.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

New Art Initiative Facilitates Friendships, Not Funding

December 29, 2013

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Tirtzah Bassel working on her 'Your Dreams Available Now' installation. (photo credit: Peter Svarzbein)

Tirtzah Bassel working on her ‘Your Dreams Available Now’ installation. (photo credit: Peter Svarzbein)

Israeli-born, New York-based installation artist Tirtzah Bassel uses multi-colored duct tape in the way that other artists use oil paints. Harnessing the potential of the hardware store staple, she creates mural-size scenes that audiences can observe near and far to appreciate the unusual medium’s detail and texture.

Last May, Bassel created one of her duct tape installations in a storefront in El Paso, Texas. The colorful work, titled, “Your Dreams Available Now,” depicts scenes from the border crossing between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. It includes men in cowboy hats sitting and watching passersby, a woman selling flowers, people crossing bridges on foot and by bike, and even a statue of the Virgin Mary. The mural is meant to engage the local community in critical dialogue on the impact of the border.

It wasn’t by chance that Bassel created her installation in El Paso. She had been invited there by fellow Jewish artist Peter Svarzbein, an El Paso native. Svarzbein, who is a photographer and conceptual artist, is interested in subjects such as state security, bridges, border crossings and standing in line. Several of his recent projects deal with the nearby frontier, including “The El Paso Transnational Trolley Project,” which explores the tenuous relationship between El Paso and Juarez.

But El Paso residents would likely have never had the opportunity to enjoy Bassel’s thought-provoking installation had she not attended the first-ever Asylum Arts retreat in Garrison, New York in March 2013. It was there that she met Svarzbein, along with 63 other young Jews artists from North America, Europe, Latin America and Israel.

Asylum Arts is new global network for Jewish culture, and one of its main goals is to facilitate collaborations like the one between Bassel and Svarzbein. Formally established this past October following the successful March retreat, the organization hosts gatherings and training for artists and provides modest grants to foster connections to broaden the reach and impact of Jewish artists and arts institutions. Asylum Arts is supported in its pilot phase by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network and the Genesis Philanthropy Group.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.