"Holy Screen Time"
As of April 2019, a video on YouTube entitled, “CATS will make you LAUGH YOUR HEAD OFF— Funny Cat Compilation” had been watched over 87 million times. Now, I too enjoyed watching the video (for a few seconds) but I couldn’t help but lament that “Conversation with Rabbi Shai Held—Profiles of Faith” (in which he shares his life’s story, evolving understanding of God, and purpose of life) garnered a paltry 835 total views. Perhaps if there were more cats in the background, the video would have performed better. However, recognizing that the average American spends ten hours each day in front of a screen or interacting with media, perhaps we can swap some of the “cat-falling-into-a-pool” videos with items of inspiration and Jewish learning.
In my personal life, I’ve started adding Jewish music to my music playlists and sprinkling Jewish podcasts amidst my NPR listening. This has resulted in learning new melodies, pushing myself to think about new Jewish topics, improving my Hebrew, and making me feel even more comfortable while at shul. On page 15 you will find some simple ways to elevate your viewing and listening experience:
For my family, YouTube has provided a plethora of new Jewish artists and Israeli music. Those who are looking for a more nostalgic soundtrack to their lives can enter “Rikudei Am” in a search and find hundreds of classic Israeli dances. A search of “Joey Weisenberg,” “Josh Warshawsky,” or “Nava Tehila” will expose you to all kinds of new compositions and liturgical melodies. Similarly, there is jewishrockradio.com, whose mission is to “strengthen Jewish identity and engagement for youth and young adults through the power of music.” Aside from being beautiful and melodic, it also makes it possible to learn more about liturgy and feel more comfortable at services.
Movies & Television
Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are lining their proverbial shelves with Israeli films and documentaries of Jewish content. For those looking for a suspense drama, I suggest the series, Fauda, in which “A top Israeli agent comes out of retirement to hunt for a Palestinian fighter he thought he’d killed, setting a chaotic chain of events into motion.” The series has been internationally acclaimed. The New York Times voted Fauda as the best international show of 2017. The show also allows you to improve your Hebrew while learning about the politics and challenges between Israelis and Palestinians.
For those looking for something a little slower paced, I suggest the newest sensation, an Israeli TV show called “Shtisel.” According to The New York Times:
The show focuses on a family living in the tightly-packed, squat apartment buildings of a H.aredi [ultra-Orthodox] neighborhood in Jerusalem. The members include: the patriarch, Shulem Shtisel (Doval’e Glickman), a broad-bearded, stubbornly opinionated yeshiva teacher with a tender side; his youngest son, Akiva (Michael Aloni), a wispy-bearded teacher at his father’s yeshiva, whose real passion is for art; and Akiva’s sister, Giti (Neta Riskin), burdened by a scheming, apparent nogoodnik of a husband who has taken off for Argentina, leaving her to raise five children. Following H.aredi matchmaking customs, Akiva is paired with one young woman after another, but none arouse any joy. Then he meets Elisheva (Ayelet Zurer), the twice-widowed mother of a pupil.
Shtisel gives us a glimpse into the H.aredi world in a way that humanizes them and makes us see their similarities and differences.
Similarly, one can learn about practically any topic they want. Rabbi Lerner and I have posted several of our classes on our shul’s YouTube channel, and prayer melodies can be found on our shul’s website. A search on YouTube will reveal classes about Jewish history, prayer, and culture—all from the comfort of your own home.
Additionally, the website sefaria.org has revolutionized Jewish text study. As they describe on their website:
Sefaria is a non-profit organization dedicated to building the future of Jewish learning in an open and participatory way. We are assembling a free living library of Jewish texts and their interconnections, in Hebrew and in translation. With these digital texts, we can create new, interactive interfaces for Web, tablet and mobile, allowing more people to engage with the textual treasures of our tradition.
Perhaps most impactful in my learning this year has been the discovery of the podcast and website, JudaismUnbound.com. Created by Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg, Judaism Unbound produces a weekly podcast and runs an active Facebook page. “Judaism Unbound, a project of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future, catalyzes and supports grassroots efforts by ‘disaffected but hopeful’ American Jews to re-imagine and re-design Jewish life in America for the 21st Century.” While I don’t always agree with the presenters or their guests, they address salient issues affecting Jews in the 21st century. They have special podcasts for the holidays and have explored thematic units such as Zionism, concepts of God, and modern trends in Jewish life.
It is my hope that by having more touch points throughout the week, whether while driving in the car or waiting in line and scanning your phone, you will further cultivate your interests and passions for Judaism. Please be in touch if you find a class or song that resonates with you as I am always looking to broaden my horizons.
Rabbi Michael Fel