Book Chat: Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life

— by Hannah Lee

During this graduation season, you might need some guidance in selecting suitable gifts.  In the past, I’ve bestowed books of graduation speeches, which fascinate me, and I’ve given Harlan Cohen’s The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College (which delighted the recipient because her mother did, indeed, have a naked roommate).  Now, I write to tout the whimsy and insight of Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life, edited by Smith Magazine in partnership with Reboot, a non-profit with a mission of triggering discussions about Jewish identity, community, and meaning.

Now known as “flash fiction,” the six-word story derives its literary genesis from lore that Ernest Hemingway won a bet with the challenge to write a novel in just six words with the following: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  A reviewer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called this style an American haiku.  Smith Magazine has trademarked its Six-Word Memoirs series; this newest addition is a much quicker read than a graduation speech!

More after the jump.
Here are my six personal favorites from the book:

Less oy. More joy.  Learn.  Celebrate
— Deborah Lipstadt

Be a mensch; pass it on.
— Marsha Stein

World is narrow bridge, be brave!
— Marci Bellows

I was in need.  Heard: Hineini.
— Elissa Froman

Israel means “to wrestle.”  Explains everything.
— Tiffany Shlain

Like Zusya, trying to be me.
— Rabbi Steven Rubenstein

Publisher’s note: Hillel and Shammai were both asked by a gentile to explain the Torah while he stood on one foot. Shammai dismissed the man for expecting to be able to summarize Jewish thought so briefly, but Hillel the Elder rose to the challenge and said “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn” (Shabbos 31a) Accordingly, the expression expression al regel achat (on one foot) has entered modern Hebrew as an expression of extreme brevity showing that the six-word memoir is not as new a concept as one might have thought. In fact, in Hebrew, Hillel’s summary of the Torah is just five words:

דעלך סני – לחברך לא תעביד
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.

March 23-24: The Evolving Shabbat Manifesto

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

What a happy coincidence. As author of What Is Shabbat: A Time Manifesto, I’m thrilled to learn that Reboot, “a New York-based nonprofit that reinvents Jewish rituals and traditions for a new generation, has developed an annual tech detox as a modern day Sabbath to encourage young, hyper-connected, and frequently frantic people to take a respite from all things digital.” Reboot is offering an Unplugging Pledge that asks people to take a tech detox for the 2012 National Day of Unplugging. Those who take the pledge on Causes.com can easily share it with friends and family through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. Reboot reports they root their support for the National Day of Unplugging, March 23-24, in their Sabbath Manifesto.

The Time Manifesto and the 10 Principles of the Sabbath Manifesto follow the jump.


The Ten Principles

1. Avoid technology.
2. Connect with loved ones.
3. Nurture your health.
4. Get outside.
5. Avoid commerce.
6. Light candles.
7. Drink wine.
8. Eat bread.
9. Find silence.
10. Give back.

What is Shabbat? A Time Manifesto
by Rabbi Dr. Goldie Milgram as first published in Reclaiming Judaism as a Spiritual Practice: Holy Days and Shabbat.

Once normal to civilizations,
The observance of holy days
Has become a radical spiritual act of self care.
Sacred time is shareware.
It’s free.
The only condition is you have to use it before you go,
There’s no refund at the finish line.

Are you willing to say to employers,
schools,
partners
and politicians:

“Today is set aside as holy,
Not to be diluted away by overdoses of work,
Paying bills,
politics,
homework,
telephone solicitations,
television commercials.
This time is my birth right! You can’t have it!”

And what if they say:
“Take ownership of your own time?
You can’t have it!
We must use your life to feed our bottom lines!”

Can you imagine yourself joining in leading
the spiritual (r)evolution with a response
that might sound something like:

“Oh, no, I won’t give all my precious time to you.
We Jews build beautiful meaning-making
experiences in time,
we savor festival meals,
engage in soul refining rituals,
in order to live consciously,
we take time to reflect and refine how we act,
how we live,
how we love
and how we work.

I am writing the Torah of my life with each lived day!
I want to ripen deliciously in the sun of life,
Not race whipped to the finish line.

I have every right to experience these Jewish holidays
in their deepest intentions:
nurturing my relationships,
celebrating the journey,
rejoicing in and respecting the power and diversity of Creation.”

And if they say:

“No reason to think, no need to reflect.
Feel your feelings?

You look up at the stars and express the awe you feel?
You stop to question the ethics of your own actions?
You say you’re not coming in tomorrow
so you can sit with your children or friends
in a sukkah and meditate on the fragility of life,
the beauty of nature?

You’re late because you stopped to
say a memorial prayer for your parents?

The work ethic is your spiritual model!
Our company is your family.
What’s all this about freedom and Jews?”

And you’ll say?

The Eternal Power of Torah to Awaken and Transform

Whether Reboot, or Milgram, the important source is Torah. Do we ever need Shabbat now! It is our stimulus and solace for facing the pharaohs of contemporary life – the corporations, employers, work-a-holism, e-mail addiction, lifestyles beyond one’s means, this is pure teshuvah, the Jewish mitzvah of returning to healthy and holy alignment. However this precious Torah of awareness comes to you, may you be blessed to go for it! Unplug this Shabbat and, as the Talmud teaches, experience 1/60 of paradise. I’m thrilled at Reboot’s many creative programs. Let’s take the pledge!  

The Ten Days of Repentence: Don’t Tweet it, 10Q it!


Reflect. React Renew
Life’s Biggest Questions. Answered by you.

— by Tanya Schevitz

In an era where most reflection happens publicly in 140 characters or less, the 10Q project provides a private, deeper online forum for personal reflection beyond the waffles you had for breakfast.

Timed to coincide with the Jewish New Year, traditionally a time of introspection and self-reflection, 10Q is a unique project that, started today, will email participants of all backgrounds a question a day about the year that’s past and the year to come. After the 10-day period, the answers are sent into a digital vault. A year later, the answers are returned to participants and the process begins again.

“Thanks to new technologies like texting and Twitter, people have more opportunities than ever to express themselves, but fewer than ever to express themselves well,” said 10Q co-founder Ben Greenman, a New Yorker editor. “What 10Q wants people to do is what people should want to do for themselves — to reflect on life without worrying about status updates.”

Last Thursday, 10Q partnered with the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia  on a roundtable discussion at the Museum on reflection. 10Q’s Greenman moderated a panel including the Hebrew Mamita, Vanessa Hidary, and authors Charles London and Matthue Roth.

While the 10Q project is a reinvention of the ancient ritual of reflection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and occurs during the Jewish High Holidays, it is intended for people of all backgrounds and has attracted participation of people of many denominations, including Catholics, Episcopalians, Buddhists and Muslims. The 10Q questions are about your place on the planet, and the planet’s place within you.

And regrets are universal, so the events are intended for people to absolve themselves of everything from skipping services to that tweet you wish you never posted.

About 10Q
The 10Q website launched in 2008 and garnered more than 80,000 visitors of all backgrounds last year. Glee’s Jane Lynch, Harry Potter’s Tom Felton and Oscar winning screenwriter Diablo Cody all participated in 10Q last year, and beginning on September 28th, the first of the series of 10 questions will again be sent out to those who sign up at http://DoYou10Q.com. 10Q can also be found on Facebook and Twitter: @10_Q. 10Q is a partnership between Nicola Behrman, Ben Greenman, and Reboot’s Acting Executive Director Amelia Klein.

About Reboot.
Reboot is a catalyst to catalysts – a growing network of thought-leaders and tastemakers who work toward a common goal: to “reboot” the culture, rituals, and traditions we’ve inherited and make them vital and resonant in today’s world. In partnership with the Reboot network, we create opportunities for our peers to gather, engage, question, and self-organize with their own networks, in their own way, in their own time, using the magazines, books, films, records, local salons, gatherings, and events we develop together. Reboot has a track record of reinventing Jewishrituals for a broad audience, including the Sabbath Manifesto project that had Katie Couric telling the nation to unplug, the Sukkah City project that had New Yorkers paying attention to 12 re-imagined Sukkahs in the City’s Union Square Park and DAWN, a revision of the traditional holiday of Shavuot as a cultural arts festival at the California Academy of Science in San Francisco.

10Q 2011 Questions:

  1. Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?
  2. Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you’re especially proud of from this past year?
  3. Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?
  4. Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?
  5. Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? “Spiritual” can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.
  6. Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?
  7. How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you in this project?
  8. Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in 2011?
  9. What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year?
  10. When September 2011 rolls around and you receive your answers to your 10Q questions, how do you think you’ll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you’re at as a result of thinking about and answering these questions?