Devotion, Betrayal, Conformity, Freedom: Netflix’s “Shtisel”      

I know a little bit about Judaism in general but next to nothing about its Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox versions, about which Jews themselves have huge differences of opinion. (And part of what I know about Judaism in general is how rarely Jews hesitate in sharing those opinions…)

That’s a major reason why, as a lapsed Catholic Unitarian Universalist with mystical Christian-Buddhist sensibilities and an always attentive ear for the common core of religious practice, I was enchanted recently to stumble upon “Shtisel,” an Israeli television production that ran there for two 12-episode seasons beginning in 2013 and concluded in 2016.

It then crossed the seas courtesy of Netflix in 2018 and attracted such a rapidly growing audience that it was exhumed recently for a third season that is currently in production, with full Covid-19 precautions in place.

Set in the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Geula in modern day...

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American Carnage: 11-3-2020

With one of this morning’s tweets ending with the question, “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote?”, President Trump has confirmed what he has been telling us in almost straightforward fashion ever since the 2016 campaign. Consistently trailing Hillary Clinton in polls back then, he warned in ominous tones about forthcoming election “fraud,” preparing the ground, in no uncertain terms, to contest the election and throw the country into disarray if the results did not go his way.

Four years later, he is now pushing the notion that perhaps the election should not be held as prescribed by law on November 3, after having waged an overt campaign against mail-in ballots over many months. He’s convinced making voting easier and safer in the midst of a pandemic will bolster Democratic turnout more than it will Republicans...

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Batter Up! But What About Everyone Else?

“What Are People For?” asked the farmer-poet Wendell Berry in the title essay of his 1990 collection that largely bemoaned industrial agriculture, mechanization, and the forced migration of millions of rural residents to urban areas in the name of progress and efficiency. The question rings through broad swaths of modern life, and will no doubt occupy the best minds of future generations as they grapple with the continued evolution of robotics and computerization and their effect on human consciousness and self-identity.

The question occurred to me Thursday night in a different context, though: beholding the “Opening Day” of the severely truncated 2020 baseball season that was like no other, ever.

Yes, two teams gathered in their finest new uniforms to do battle in a major league ballpark, but that was about where any similarities to baseball as we know it ended.

Like the old Buddhist koan about whether a...

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Brilliant Songs #14: Mickey Guyton’s “Black Like Me”

Back in 1951, the publication of John Howard Griffin’s “Black Like Me” landed like a bomb on American culture. Griffin was a white man who had spent months working with his dermatologist to turn his skin black before setting out on a bold odyssey from his New Orleans home through the deep South. His intention was to experience first-hand what it would feel like to be a black person in Jim Crow America. The result was a stark, shattering testimony to the virulent racism still prevailing in American life nearly a century after the Emancipation Proclamation. The book’s power resonates to this day.

So much so that country singer Mickey Guyton, one of the few African Americans navigating the sometimes treacherous shoals of her genre with its predominantly white artists and audiences, had it very much in mind when releasing her song of the same title just weeks ago...

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Might Make Things Worse…But Give “Babette’s Feast” a Taste Anyway!

Let’s face it: we’ve got ourselves a full-on feast famine. No restaurant gatherings with their familiar bustle and clinkings and clatters. No coffee joints or cocktail lounges, brewpubs or burrito joints. No concerts or dances, recitals or readings. Big bodacious birthday and anniversary and graduation celebrations: So 2019!

And then heaping insult atop all that injury of absence, we can’t even invite beloved friends and family to gather around our freaking dinner tables for a few precious hours of conviviality. It is a sad state of affairs, and if you note a playful tone underneath these complaints, rest assured it’s just a coping mechanism: I miss the hell out of all the joys the aforementioned settings entail, and long for the day when we give the coronavirus a swift kick in the ass and plunk it into the dustbin of history.

Meanwhile, we have the consolations of memory and the nearness of winsome, joyou...

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