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THE FEATHERMAN FILE
of Noteworthy Items in the Press
By BLAKE ESKIN
East Is East, West Is West: A Jewish woman who married a Buddhist man born in Thailand writes a critique of Jewish seekers who gravitate toward Buddhism in the Winter issue of the Jewish women's magazine Lilith. "Just as Jews for Jesus is not really Judaism, Buddhist yiddishkeit is not Judaism either," Michele Kriegman writes in "An Open Letter to Buddhist Jews."
Many Jews are drawn to Buddhism "out of a hankering for the exotic," Ms. Kriegman says. "This is a shame because many of the 'exotic' practices that draw Jews to Buddhism can be found in our own tradition....Don't make the mistake my friend Jerry did. He complained that the Hebrew used in prayer was so difficult that it made him feel alienated from the service. So what did he do? He decided to seek out a Buddhist teacher who has him reciting the Buddhist sutras, which are Sanskrit syllables neither Jerry nor his teacher understand."
Ms. Kriegman says that while Buddhist individualism differs from the congregational approach of Judaism, there are nevertheless similarities between the two traditions. "Many of the born and bred Buddhists I know (including my children's paternal relatives), understand menshlichkeit as well as any Jew," she writes, adding that "in Thai it's called namchai, in Japanese it's called omoiyari."
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Spiritual Girl: Another example of the fluidity of religion in America comes from Larry King's hour-long interview with Madonna on January 18.
On CNN's "Larry King Live," the pop star told Mr. King about her encounter with Jewish mysticism. She said that when she went to her first kabbala class in Los Angeles, "it didn't really matter that I was, you know, raised a Catholic or I wasn't Jewish, and I felt very comfortable, and I liked being anonymous in a classroom environment, and it was nice learning."
Mr. King then asked Madonna if she felt as if she were "an honorary Jew." Madonna replied, "I am a kabbalist."
"There is definitely a kabbalistic approach to life or a kabbalistic point of view," she went on, "but it's not different than a lot of other teachings. I study Hinduism, I study Buddhism, Taoism."
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Speaks Softly, Doesn't Carry a Stick: In its January 18 roundup of "America's Best High Schools," U.S. News & World Report included a four-page profile of an Orthodox Jewish school for girls in Chicago and its principal, Shoshanah Bechhofer.
"Short, soft-spoken, and driven by commitment to each and every child, Bechhofer couldn't be more different from Joe Clark, the bat-wielding former principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, N.J., who was hailed a decade ago as a get-tough savior of urban schools for hounding troublemakers out of his hallways," writes Dale Mezzacappa in the Washington-based newsweekly. Although the populations of Eastside High and Ms. Bechhofer's Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov High could not be more different, the author of the article sees a parallel between the predicaments of the schools. "Just as many resist higher standards in some urban schools because pessimists don't think poor kids can handle a demanding academic education, some in the Orthodox Jewish community were skeptical that girls could manage a rigorous secular education on top of their religious studies." U.S. News reports that Ms. Bechhofer has instituted an advanced-placement program and other innovations since arriving at Hanna Sacks.
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Get Around: The Wwinter edition of The Wanderer, a Toronto-based magazine of Jewish heritage and travel that is celebrating its first anniversary, contains an eclectic mix of stories. The Wanderer has articles on the only Jewish bed-and-breakfast in the Berkshires, the Jewish community in Cochin, India, and on Rabbi Nathan Hanover of Ostrog, who chronicled the 1648 massacres of Jews by Bogdan Chmielnicki. "The Wanderer is not the sort of travel publication that presents idyllic views of postcard-perfect destinations, magically cleansed of flaws," write the editors, Barbara Kingstone and Bill Gladstone.
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