Ever wonder if Jews believe in the concept of hell? Or why the number 7 is the holiest number in Judaism?
Or if the Canadian rapper Drake is really Jewish? Or how you’d write the words Facebook and flash drive in Yiddish (if you particularly needed to)?
Well, wonder no more. The folks at Tablet, the daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas and culture, are on it. Tablet is launching a book tour this week for “The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between” (Artisan Books), just in time for the start of the Jewish new year of 5780.
Authored and compiled by Stephanie Butnick, Liel Leibovitz and Mark Oppenheimer, hosts of Tablet’s podcast “Unorthodox,” the 320-page reference guide with a decidedly hipster New York tone and attitude is billed as “a truly unputdownable compendium of all things Jewish and Jew-ish, spanning popular culture, religion, history, politics and language.”
In other words, a really fun and often informative read.
Besides frequently irreverent entries on subjects ranging from babka and Franz Kafka to the “Jewish ‘60s” and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the “NJE” offers flowcharts of biblical history as well as illustrated essays on food, fasting, festivals and feminism. There are more than 300 color images, illustrations and infographics to be found within its pages, making the essence and journey of MOTs (Members of the Tribe) come to life in a vibrant, contemporary and entertaining fashion.
“By weaving together the essential and the esoteric, the snarky and the earnest, the Jewish and the Jew-ish, this book honors its title, offering a truly unorthodox approach to Judaism, and allowing each reader to find his or her point of connection with the culture, the tradition, and the religion,” raves the Jewish Book Council.
While not stopping in Charm City (for some insanely inexplicable reason), the authors will tour across the nation over the next seven months to promote the book, which goes on sale Oct. 1 for the Gematria-friendly price of $36 (aka, double-chai).
Here are but a few mere nibbles and noshes from the generally concise and occasionally caustic entries of the “NJE” (in no particular order).
On the phrase, “But is it good for the Jews?”: “The ultimate question about anything.”
On the Bagel: “America’s least Jewish food. If you can get it at the airport in Des Moines (no offense, Iowa), you know it’s no longer the authentic doughy treasure Jewish immigrants brought with them from Poland.”
On the Yiddish word kvell: “What you do when your kid aces the Torah portion, gets into Harvard, finds a perfect soul mate, becomes a person you actually like and admire, etc.”
On singer-actress Bette Midler: “Did you ever know that you’re her hero? That you’re everything she wishes she could be?”
On marijuana: “Will making it legal become the next big project of the tikkun olam [repair the world] crowd? And if not now, when?”
On singer Adam Levine of Maroon 5: “Proof that Jewish boys can grow up to become tatted, ripped, supermodel-marrying rock stars.”
On Manischewitz: “A terrific starter wine for little Jews.”
On rye bread: “The stuff that keeps your hands from getting dirty when you’re eating deli.”
On the name Adolf (or Adolph): “Whatever the spelling, it’s not a good baby name anymore.”
On Fran Drescher: “Brilliant comedian and actress with an unrivaled nasal voice and bleating, sheeplike laugh.”
On the Jewfro: “What happens to many of us when we just let our hair do whatever it wants for a few months.”
On “Wonder Woman” actress Gal Gadot: “The most kickass Israeli woman since Golda Meir.”
On “Dirty Dancing”: “Surprise hit film from 1987 with lasting cultural impact, most notably in answering the eternal question, ‘Who puts Baby in a corner?’ (Answer: nobody.)”
On Alan Alda: “Beloved actor you always thought was Jewish. He isn’t.”
On the word Bubbe: “Your grandmother. Would it kill you to call her?”
On the phrase Shiksappeal: “The magnetic Death-Star-tractor-beam pull that non-Jewish women have on some Jewish men. (See Seinfeld)”
On Jerry Seinfeld: “Comic, television star and teen kibbutznik who made a fortune complaining about minor inconveniences.”
On the formerly Chasidic rapper Matisyahu: “Post-beard, he struggled to find his sound – and look – but has since settled into an endearing dad-reggae vibe.”
On Beards: “What Orthodox Jewish men grow to comply with the dictates of halacha [Jewish law] and hipster Jewish men grow to comply with the dictates of Brooklyn fashion.”
On Amar’e Stoudemire: “The most Jewish player in the NBA. … Not the first Jewish millionaire to buy a professional basketball team, but definitely the first to play for that team.”
On Mark Zuckerberg: “Nice Jewish boy form White Plains, New York, whose invention of Facebook probably made his Jewish mother kvell, until her boy’s social network managed to break our electoral process, make our media irrelevant, and turn us into a bunch of argumentative jerks.”
On Yachting: “No clue.”
On Barbra Streisand: “If you need an encyclopedia entry to explain the importance of this legendary singer, actress, director, EGOT [Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony] winner, home design guru, and Coton de Tulear cloning pioneer, you’re probably reading the wrong encyclopedia.”
On chutzpah: “What it takes to think you can write an encyclopedia of Jewish life.”
For information, visit tabletmag.com/scroll/290051/unorthodoxs-newish-jewish-encyclopedia-book-tour.
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