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From Rick Rubin to Doja Cat, Jews have helped shape the first 50 years of hip-hop



(JTA) — Like many parents, Mickey and Linda Rubin indulged their only child Ricky’s various hobbies — magic, photography, music — while he was growing up in the 1970s on Long Island. Ultimately, they hoped he would set his artistic interests aside and choose the sensible career of an attorney.

Ricky famously stuck with music.

In 1983, when he was a junior at New York University, he borrowed $5,000 from his parents to record a song by a local rapper, T La Rock, and release it on his new label, Def Jam. The song, “It’s Yours,” was a hit and caught the attention of a businessman, Russell Simmons. The two would join forces and turn Def Jam into a hit factory. As a producer, Rick Rubin would go on to work with some of the most celebrated rappers of all time, including LL Cool J, Run-DMC, and Public Enemy.

“When I started Def Jam,” Rubin told the New York Times Magazine in 2007, “I was the only white guy in the hip-hop world.” 

He certainly was not, but he was one of the only white Jews making rap records until Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz — better known as the Beastie Boys — burst onto the scene. Rubin produced and released the group’s 1986 debut album, “Licensed to Ill,” which became the first rap album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

“If you want to talk about a singular Jewish contribution to hip-hop, it’d be Rick,” said Dan Charnas, a journalist and arts professor at Rubin’s alma mater, in an interview. “Instead of hip-hop being rapping over disco instrumentals, he conceived of it as sonic collage art.”

Fifty years ago, on Aug. 11, 1973, hip-hop was born (or so the origin story goes) when Jamaican Americans Cindy Campbell and her brother, a DJ who went by Kool Herc, hosted a back-to-school dance party in the recreation room of their Bronx apartment building. In its early years, rap was dismissed as street music by most music industry gatekeepers. It would take six years after that Bronx party for a rap record to get airplay on pop radio (Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”).

Fast forward to 2023, and hip-hop is ubiquitous — not just on Spotify and TikTok, but across pop culture, from television to fashion.

Over the last five decades, many Jewish rappers from different backgrounds and nationalities have left their mark on hip-hop culture, from Drake to Doja Cat to Mac Miller to Nissim Black, to name just a few. In the early 2000s, religiously-observant artists such as Y-Love and Matisyahu carved out a niche for rap infused with Jewish wisdom and spirituality. Today, there are a number of rappers who make Judaism a prominent part of their stage personas, from Kosha Dillz to Lil Dicky to BLP Kosher; the latter dropped an album on Aug. 4 titled “Bars Mitzvah.” There is also a vibrant, multilingual hip-hop scene in Israel.

RELATED: The 10 most influential Jewish rappers of the past 50 years

But the biggest contributions that Jews have made collectively to hip-hop may have been on the business side, as managers and record label executives.

“White people have played more of a role on the business side than as artists because hip-hop is, for the most part, a Black art form,” explained Charnas, who worked in A&R (which involves seeking out new artists to sign) at Rubin’s American Recordings label in the early 1990s.

In his 2010 book “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop,” Charnas shares the stories of the record label executives who commercialized hip-hop, including several Jewish ones: Roy and Jules Rifkind, owners of the label that released one of the first rap records in 1979, “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” by Fatback Band; Aaron Fuchs, founder of Tuff City Records, the first rap label to secure a major-label distribution deal; Tom Silverman, founder of Tommy Boy Records, whose roster of musicians included Queen Latifah, Coolio, De La Soul, and Naughty By Nature; Jerry Heller, co-founder of Ruthless Records with rapper Eazy-E; and Julie Greenwald, Def Jam’s head of marketing in the ’90s (who now runs the Atlantic Music Group).

Fuchs, who launched Tuff City in 1981, said by phone that he began working with hip-hop artists such as The Cold Crush Brothers at least a year before Rubin started Def Jam.

“I left my career as a writer and decided to run a record company on the belief that this Black music, like every other Black music in history, would be worth codifying,” he said. He later mentored Rubin and even produced some songs himself using the pseudonym Oliver Shalom, a play on the Hebrew honorific for the dead, “alav ha-shalom” (“peace be upon him”).

At 75, Fuchs still runs Tuff City and plans to release a four-part vinyl compilation of classic rap songs to which he owns the rights later this year. He described hip-hop as “a very, very, very important American expression.”

“I knew it would last, but I didn’t know that it would revolutionize music the world over,” he said.

In response to a direct message on Twitter, Chuck D of the influential group Public Enemy shared the names of the Jews he believes have made the biggest impact in hip-hop, in addition to Rubin: the Beastie Boys; MC Serch of interracial rap group 3rd Bass; Lyor Cohen, the son of Israeli immigrants who started as Run-DMC’s road manager and went on to run Def Jam after Rubin’s departure; and Bill Adler, Def Jam’s onetime director of publicity who helped Public Enemy weather an antisemitism controversy in 1989.

Def Jam Records publicist Bill Adler introduces Rapper Chuck D, left, of Public Enemy, as the latter prepares to fire bandmate Professor Griff for making antisemitic remarks, June 21, 1989. (Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives)

“What was interesting,” Chuck D wrote in a direct message, “was that everyone didn’t necessarily get along.” He described the 1980s rap scene as a “melting pot of personality, ego, pioneering, money, race, and everything else.”

Beyond the boardroom, Jews have also played a significant role in hip-hop as talent managers. Among the best-known are Heller (N.W.A.), Paul Rosenberg (Eminem, as well as Jewish rappers Action Bronson and The Alchemist), Leila Steinberg (Tupac Shakur, Earl Sweatshirt), and Todd Moscowitz (Gucci Mane).

Managers both inside and outside of hip-hop have long been vilified for profiting off of their artists’ creativity and labor, or worse. Some believe Heller stole from the members of N.W.A., but there is no evidence to support the claim. Steinberg’s story is different: She accepted very little money while working as Shakur’s first manager in Northern California because she did not want to be perceived as a white person taking undue credit for a Black person’s achievements.

“Back then, I really wanted to participate [in hip-hop] as an activist and couldn’t make sense of this being about money and business,” she said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency earlier this year. “I’ve reshaped a lot of my thinking — if you’re not making money, you can’t make change in the world.”

In the realm of hip-hop media, two Israeli cousins — Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus — were responsible for producing the classic breakdance-themed musicals “Breakin’” and “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” in 1984. Keith Naftaly was the program manager who turned Bay Area radio station KMEL into the best place to hear new rap music in the late ’80s (he is now the head of A&R at RCA). Peter Rosenberg’s voice can be heard every morning on one of the biggest rap stations in the country, New York’s Hot 97.

Many of the culture’s most enthusiastic chroniclers, it turns out, are members of the tribe: Jonathan Shecter and Dave Mays, who co-founded the groundbreaking hip-hop magazine The Source — the most popular music magazine in the United States in the late ’90s — as undergraduates at Harvard; DJ Vlad (born Vladimir Lyubovny), whose YouTube channel features interviews with numerous rappers and has 5.5 million subscribers; Nardwuar (John Ruskin), a Canadian journalist whose unpredictable interviews with rappers receive millions of views on YouTube; and ItsTheReal (Eric and Jeff Rosenthal), who recently released a deeply-researched podcast about the heyday of rap blogs. And then there’s Charnas himself, who is 55 and was one of the first writers at The Source and a founding father of hip-hop journalism. (The album that made him fall in love with hip-hop: Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.”)

Charnas connects Jewish involvement in so many different aspects of hip-hop culture to the historical alliance between Jews and Black people.

“I think we were around because of our place in the American totem pole, and because of our cultural affinities,” he said. “We had geographical proximity to each other, so that has a lot to do with it. Obviously, Blacks and Jews were aligned politically.”

He added there has never been a “Jewish cabal” running the show — a charge that a small number of big-name rappers, including most recently Ye, formerly known as Kanye West — have made. In 2008, Jay-Z and Russell Simmons recorded a PSA about antisemitism geared toward hip-hop artists and fans that was produced by Rabbi Marc Schneier’s Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Since then, Ice Cube, Nick Cannon, Jay Electronica, and, yes, even Jay-Z have all found themselves at the center of antisemitism controversies. (On a track on his 2017 album “4:44,” Jay-Z asked rhetorically, “You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America?” He defended the lyric as an obvious exaggeration.)

“Jewish people have found important places and purchases in the business, but no more so than any other white folks,” Charnas said.

Y-Love, the trailblazing Black and Jewish rapper who is known for rhyming in Hebrew and Aramaic  — and who, at age 45, calls himself “the OG of Jewish hip-hop,” meaning “the original gangster,” or the elder statesman — said the rappers who have been accused of antisemitism are not saying anything original. They are simply parroting ideas circulating in American society at large, he argued.

“There needs to be a moratorium on the phrase ‘Black antisemitism,” he said. “It’s the same antisemitism.” The best response to the hate, he said, is for Black Jewish rappers with huge fan bases such as Drake and Doja Cat to stand up and say publicly: “When you talk about Jews, you’re talking about me.”

One of the positive legacies of hip-hop, he noted, is that it has allowed Black Jewish rappers like himself to get on stages and screens and show the world just how diverse Jews are. “I think that through embracing hip-hop, the Jewish community added a lot to its own continuity,” he said.

Where is hip-hop headed in the next 50 years?

“As the barrier to entry to putting music out there gets lower, we are going to see more and more people putting tracks out that speak to them, and more managers that are willing to help them do it,” Y-Love said, adding, “Maybe one day we’ll see a Jewish hip-hop category at the Grammys.”

The post From Rick Rubin to Doja Cat, Jews have helped shape the first 50 years of hip-hop appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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25 years after opening, Yiddish Book Center overhauls its core exhibit for a wider audience




AMHERST, Massachusetts (JTA) — Since its opening in 1997, the Yiddish Book Center has wowed visitors with its architecture. A Jewish village resurrected on a college campus in sylvan Amherst, Massachusetts, the building conveys the Center’s mission: to rescue and revive a language spoken for over 1,000 years by Ashkenazi Jews in German-speaking lands, Eastern Europe and wherever they migrated. 

On Oct. 15, the Center is unveiling a new core exhibit, meant to flesh out and deepen the story told by its building and the treasures stored inside. Arriving at a moment when Yiddish is experiencing one of its periodic revivals, “Yiddish: A Global Culture” is a major Yiddish institution’s answer to a question without easy answers: How do you tell the story of a language without a country, and of a culture that lost a majority of its purveyors in a little over a decade of madness?

In response, the new exhibit depicts the “secular” Yiddish culture that arose in the mid-19th century as a distinctly transglobal, modern movement that includes theater, the press, mass market publishing and intellectual ferment in big cities from Warsaw to New York to Shanghai.

The exhibit is “foregrounding a story of creativity, tremendous accomplishment and tremendous diversity of a culture that has migration built into its DNA,” David Mazower, the Center’s research bibliographer and the exhibition’s chief curator, told me when I visited Amherst last month.

The displays in the exhibit will surround and weave in and out of the Center’s book stacks, another striking architectural feature of the building. The stacks offer duplicates of the Center’s collection of 1.5 million Yiddish books and periodicals, for sale and browsing. I couldn’t be the first visitor to be reminded of the closing scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which reveals a colossal government warehouse filled with, in the words of the screenplay, “crates and crates. All looking alike. All gathering dust.” 

What a casual visitor might not see is all that is happening at the Center to blow the dust off those books, including translator workshops, summer fellowships, conferences, an oral history project, a busy publishing program and a riotous summer music festival.

Interest in all of those activities has been helped along by young Jews interested in the language and culture and a pandemic that created a demand for online Yiddish classes. The Yiddish Book Center has been drawing 10,000 visitors a year since its pandemic shutdown. The New York Times made the latest revival official (to non-readers of the Jewish media, anyway) in an essay last month by the Jewish polymath Ilan Stavans, declaring that “Yiddish Is Having a Moment.” Stavans notes a flurry of new translations of obscure and classic Yiddish writers, the all-Yiddish staging of “Fiddler on the Roof” and the Yiddish dialogue in three recent Netflix series: “Shtisel,” “Unorthodox” and “Rough Diamonds.”

A mural featuring key moments in the global history of Yiddish is a central feature of a new core exhibit at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. (JTA photo)

(More controversially, Stavans also reports that Yiddish is appealing to those — presumably young anti-Zionist Jews — for whom Hebrew “symbolizes far-right Israeli militarism.”)

Such a revival also challenges keepers of the flame — not just the Yiddish Book Center, but the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, The Workers Circle, publications like In geveb and the Yiddish Forward, academic departments plus a host of regional Yiddish organizations — to define a language and culture that means many different things to many different people.

Is it a language of a decimated past? A progenitor of the Jewish left? A tongue, still spoken daily by haredi Orthodox Jews, that continues to grow and evolve? Is it an attitude — a Jewish way of being and thinking — that survives in humor and cooking and music even if those who appreciate it can’t speak the language? For European Jews of the Enlightenment, the Yiddish scholar Jeffrey Shandler reminded me a few years ago, “Yiddish represented the resistance and inability of Jews to enter the cultural mainstream. It represented something atavistic, a way of holding Jews back.” For Zionists, meanwhile, it represented a weak Diaspora and everything associated with it (a clash explored in a current YIVO exhibit, “Palestinian Yiddish:  A Look at Yiddish in the Land of Israel Before 1948”).

Goldie Morgenthaler, herself the daughter of the Yiddish writer Chava Rosenfarb, has written that she teaches Yiddish literature to mostly non-Jewish university students in Alberta, Canada because “studying what is specific to one culture is often the first step to understanding many cultures.”

At YIVO, an institution founded by scholars in Vilna in 1925 and transplanted to New York in 1940, Yiddish is regarded as an expression of and vehicle for “Jewish pride,” according to its executive director and CEO, Jonathan Brent.

“For Jewish people in the Diaspora to understand that they have in fact a future as Jews,” he said last week, “they have to take pride in their heritage. For all kinds of historical reasons, many Jews felt that [Yiddish] was somehow a shameful or devalued heritage. It was ‘zhargon’ [jargon], and it had been basically eliminated from public discourse in the land of Israel. YIVO from the very beginning wanted to study Yiddish as a language among languages, the same way you studied Russian or Spanish or French. It was a language with a history.

David Mazower, the Yiddish Book Center’s research bibliographer and the exhibition’s chief curator, shows off a samovar to be used in a recreation of the Warsaw literary salon of writer I.L. Peretz. (JTA photo)

“What Yiddish does,” he continued, “is help anchor us in the language in which our grandparents and great grandparents communicated their deepest thoughts and feelings. And that has real implications for the survival of the Jewish people.”

Aaron Lansky, the founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center, said the story he wants to tell goes back to his days as a graduate student in Yiddish at McGill University in the 1970s, when he first started saving the discarded books that would become the core of the Center’s collection.

“People think of [Yiddish] as this nostalgic creation,” he said. “But the truth is, it was a profound, multifaceted and really global literature that emerged in the late 19th century, and then just took off throughout the 20th century…. It wasn’t long before writers were using every form of literary expression — expressionism, impressionism, surrealism, eroticism. It all found expression in this very short period of time, and even the Holocaust didn’t destroy it. “

Lansky admits his own vision is more literary than the core exhibit’s, and thanked Mazower for creating a broader view of Yiddish as a global culture.

That view is represented in a 60-foot mural that serves as an introduction to the exhibit. Cartoons by the German illustrator Martin Haake depict key historical vignettes in Yiddish history, from nearly every continent. Glikl of Hameln, a German-Jewish businesswoman, writes her diaries at the turn of the 18th century. Women call for a strike at “Yanovsky’s Cigarette Factory” in Bialystok, Poland, in 1901. A nursery scene honors the leading Yiddish activists who were born in Displaced Persons camps after World War II. And tubercular Yiddish writers are seen recovering at the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society in Denver, Colorado, which operated from 1904 to 1940. 

The mural lines the ramp that leads to the bookshelves, where displays (some of which Mazower calls “wedges”) use artifacts and wall-mounted photos to talk about the breadth of Yiddish culture. There’s a display about Yiddish celebrities, including writers, such as Sholom Aleichem and Chaim Zhitlowsky, who would draw tens of thousands of mourners to their funerals. Another display honors those who preserved and studied Yiddish culture, from YIVO (described here as “The Mothership”) to the monumental “Language and Cultural Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry” undertaken between 1959 and 1972 by the linguist Uriel Weinreich. A Yiddish linotype machine, rescued by Lansky, anchors an exhibit about the Jewish press.

Michal Michalesko (center) and chorus appear in a publicity photo from an unidentified production, ca. 1930. Michalesko (1884–1957) made his name in the 1910s as a star of the Warsaw Yiddish operetta stage. (Yiddish Book Center)

A centerpiece of the core exhibit is a recreation of the Warsaw literary salon of the writer and playwright I.L. Peretz, a leading figure of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. While few actual artifacts belonging to Peretz survive, the room will include contemporaneous objects and photographs to immerse visitors in the literary scene of the day. 

“You’ll step through his doorway the way that so many young writers did, clutching their first manuscripts to show them either in Hebrew or in Yiddish,” Mazower explained. “His name, his address was known throughout the Russian Empire at that time. People would come thousands of miles in some cases to Warsaw to try and get entry into this alchemy-like space where extraordinary things happen.”

One of those pilgrims was Mazower’s great-grandfather, the famed playwright Sholem Asch. When Asch showed Peretz a draft of his notorious play “God of Vengeance,” whose lesbian subplot would shock audiences and rile religious leaders, Peretz reportedly told him to burn it. 

“My hope is that through the exhibition as a whole you see Jewish history through a Yiddish lens and in a different way from the Holocaust-defined story that so many of us have been educated with and that popular culture feeds us,” said Mazower. 

A Yiddish book features a stamp for a bookseller in Cairo, demonstrating the global reach of the language. (JTA photo)

The exhibit treats the Holocaust as one part of the Yiddish story, not its culmination. The original Yiddish edition of Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” published as part of a memorial project in Argentina shortly after the war, rests in a wedge about individuals who rescued Yiddish culture under the Nazis. The same section features a tribute to Rokhl Brokhes, a writer murdered in the Minsk Ghetto in 1945. A still from a recent animated adaptation of one of her stories by Alona Bach, currently a PhD student at MIT focusing on the “intersections of electricity and Yiddish,” affirms one of the Center’s aims: to bring young Yiddishists into conversation with the past.

The story of Yiddish theater will wrap around the auditorium, starting with a large photo of the audience at the opening of the Grand Street Theatre in New York in 1905. A memorial section remembers the probably thousands of actors, playwrights and musicians who were killed in the Holocaust.

“Had Yiddish theater not suffered a rupture, which it did, it would have continued to evolve and borrow and expand,” said Lisa Newman, the Center’s director of publishing and public programs. “What’s so important about this exhibition is that it places Yiddish in this context of language no less than any other country’s, except it’s not a country.” 

I asked Mazower what kind of stories he did not want to tell about Yiddish culture.

“It’s not a story about Yiddish humor,” he said. “It’s not a story about the Holocaust. It’s not a story about the state of Israel. It’s not a lachrymose story about Jewish persecution through the ages.”

Other Yiddishists told me much the same thing (Brent said that the story of Yiddish “shouldn’t be told as a collection of jokes, or Yiddish curses, or as a cute language that connects you to Bubbe’s gefilte fish”). 

And yet, said Lansky, “We’re not feinschmeckers, we’re not elitist when it comes to Yiddish. Yiddish was a vernacular language, and I am happy to embrace that. I love the humor and social criticism that’s embedded in it. It’s the aggregate that’s so impressive. To see all of this literature and culture in a lively and accessible way can be quite transformative.”

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San Francisco Giants fire Jewish manager Gabe Kapler after disappointing season




(JTA) — The San Francisco Giants have fired Jewish manager Gabe Kapler after four seasons.

Kapler joined the Giants in November 2019 and led the Giants to a 295-248 record during the 2020-2023 seasons, highlighted by a 107-win 2021 campaign that earned Kapler the National League Manager of the Year award. The team rewarded Kapler with a two-year contract extension that was set to run through 2024.

The Giants were eliminated from postseason contention this week, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

In addition to his 2021 accolade, Kapler’s tenure in San Francisco was punctuated by his unorthodox style both on and off the field. The 48-year-old Hollywood, California, native is a fitness geek with an active social media presence and his own blog. ESPN deemed him “the most interesting man in baseball” in May 2022. Kapler also has a Jewish tattoo on each leg: a Jewish star on his left leg and “Never Again” — a reference to the Holocaust — on his right leg.

On the field, Kapler in 2020 became the first MLB manager to kneel during the national anthem amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. In 2022, in the wake of the deadly mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Kapler announced that he would begin skipping the pregame national anthem to protest the “state of this country.” He frequently used his platform in the sport to share his political beliefs.

Kapler played for six teams during his 12-year major league career, largely as a role player and backup outfielder. After retiring in 2010, Kapler played and coached for Team Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He previously managed the Philadelphia Phillies from 2018-2019 and worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

With Kapler’s firing, San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin becomes the league’s lone Jewish skipper.

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Flash floods put a dangerous damper on the first night of Sukkot in NYC




(New York Jewish Week) — Mark Vogel, who lives in Riverdale and runs a website about Jewish and kosher travel, spoke for many of his neighbors when he posted a video on Instagram of his sukkah being pounded by rain, standing forlornly in the middle of his flooded backyard.

“I built a Sukkah,” he wrote in a caption. “I should have built an ark.”

Vogel, and many of the other millions of Jews in the tristate area, have been coping with the reality that Sukkot, the most outdoor holiday on the Jewish calendar, has coincided with heavy rains that have flooded highways, shut down subway lines and triggered a state of emergency in New York City. More than 8 inches of rain had fallen at John F. Kennedy airport by Friday afternoon, and more is expected into Saturday.

New Yorkers should expect heavy rain and flooding to continue throughout the night tonight,” Gov. Kathy Hochul posted on social media on Friday afternoon. “To our Jewish neighbors celebrating the beginning of Sukkot, please take steps to stay safe during this severe weather event.”

Sukkot begins Friday night, and on the weeklong holiday, Jews traditionally eat their meals and even sleep in the sukkah, an outdoor hut with a roof generally made from tree branches that recalls the Israelites’ biblical sojourn in the desert and emphasizes the need for divine protection.

But rain makes those observances close to impossible — leading most would-be sukkah-dwellers in New York to accept that they’ll be eating indoors on the holiday’s first night, and sparking a wide variety of theological and practical responses from rabbis and rank-and-file Jews alike. For others, it has complicated travel plans hours before the holiday’s start, backing up traffic and making the subway especially hard to navigate.

“I once heard that if it rains on [the] first night of sukkoth, it’s some sort of sign that God is displeased with us,” Linda Gisselle Roth, who splits her time between New York City and Connecticut, wrote on Facebook on Friday. “And it’s been raining for days. And I’ve never felt like this before.”

She added, “I want to spend [the] first night of sukkoth, in my sukkah. So for right now, I’m asking, please let the rain stop.”

While the rainy season in Israel traditionally begins right after Sukkot, rain is a common occurrence on the holiday in the United States and even inspired the title of a children’s book from the 1990s, “Why Does It Always Rain on Sukkot?”

Mark Vogel, a Riverdale resident, posted a picture of his sukkah in a flooded yard to Instagram on Friday. (Screenshot)

Observant Jews have varying customs when it comes to dealing with rain on the holiday. Many avoid their sukkah entirely, while others will quickly recite blessings over wine and challah in the sukkah and then eat the rest of the meal indoors. Adherents of Chabad, the Hasidic movement based in Crown Heights, try to eat in the sukkah under nearly all circumstances.

One resident of Teaneck, New Jersey, a heavily Jewish suburb, posted a single-spaced, two-page guide from his local rabbi on what to do if it rains on the holiday. (The rabbi, who is not named in the document, recommends saying blessings over wine and challah in the sukkah and then continuing the meal inside.)

Rabbis on social media, meanwhile, explored the theological dimensions of the weather. Some cited a passage from the Mishnah, the ancient code of rabbinic law, that compares rain on Sukkot, following the effort of building a sukkah, to a servant bringing his master a jug of wine, only for the master to throw water back in the servant’s face.

“Nasty weather on sukkot is a sign of God’s displeasure with us,” Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, who teaches at the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah seminary, wrote on Facebook. Then, referencing the recent High Holidays and addressing God, he wrote, “If all we did the last few weeks is not good enough for You, what’s left for us to say?! We did the best we can. If You want more, You will have to let us know what that more is.”

Rabbi Ethan Tucker, the president of the Hadar Institute, an egalitarian center of Jewish study based in Manhattan, also cited the passage and encouraged people to focus on the experience of the servant in the parable. He added that because the first day of the holiday falls on Shabbat, the other central commandment associated with Sukkot, praying with four species of plants, is also deferred a day. (Sunday is expected to be sunny.)

“What does it *feel like* when you have prepared for something and then you cannot execute it as planned?” he wrote on Facebook. “It feels like rejection, as in the parable. The weather may in fact just be the weather, but it doesn’t necessarily make the feeling of loss less palpable. Is there a way to make this Sukkah rainout an opportunity to sit with rejection? To empathize with other such experiences, even if they are not our own?”

Some New Yorkers tried to stay positive. “It might be flooding and we might consume a lot of rain water with our food lol but Sukkot Dinner under the Stars is still on even if we might end up eating indoors under a roof instead!” a Facebook user from Queens posted on Friday, advertising a meal that night.

Nina Jochnowitz, a State Senate candidate in New Jersey, cited the rabbinic idea that Sukkot is considered a time of joy, and referenced a Hasidic saying that “‘joy breaks all boundaries,’ transforming even the most negative occurrences into blessings!”

And others reached for seasonal parallels: “If only sukkot came with rain dates like baseball,” one person posted.

For Vogel, the travel writer and Riverdale resident, the rain was especially unfortunate, as he has built a smaller sukkah in recent years to limit capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the first year he had gone back to building a larger one.

“Well, I was looking forward to eating in a large sukkah this year with friends and family,” he told the New York Jewish Week. “But we can’t control the weather, so we will make the best of it.”

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