Friday, July 20, 2007

Jews Against Usury

A note (of credit) from Simon

I just finished paying off a $10,000 loan to a bunch of Jews.

Before you leap to any stereotypical conclusions, here's the twist: It was an interest-free loan.

That got your attention, didn't it?

Oh, and you don't have to be Jewish to qualify.

The Jewish Free Loan Association may be a relatively unassuming organization, but what they're doing for people is undeniably hot. Because although I qualified for a business loan for my fledging company a few years ago — and believe you me, that money was crucial in getting us off the ground — most of JFLA's lending is done in the form of emergency loans to low-income residents of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

And while predatory lenders are everywhere, right down to the paycheck-cashing rackets that rip off poor folks who don't have bank accounts, JFLA actually gives moneylending a good name.

So when I wrote my last check to them this week I vowed that I'd mention their good work on the blog.

JFLA began in 1904, and its earliest loans paid for sewing machines and pushcarts. Over the years, when people were dislocated by World War II, the Watts Riots, the Northridge earthquake and countless more prosaic emergencies, the org was there with needed funds.

The organization is attempting to redress California's shortfall in nurses with the Brandman Foundation Loan Fund for Nursing Students, providing interest-free loans to future nurses of up to $5,000.

What JFLA does is humbling and inspiring. If you know of someone in immediate need, let them know about this amazing organization. If you're fortunate enough to be "comfortable," as our people like to say, consider making a donation.

Just don't ask us to lend it to you.

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Very Hot Jew Leading Men(sches)

a postcard from the edge from Sera

Gosh, who knew being a producer meant I would have to produce so damn much?

I've wanted to check in with you in a hot, Jewish way, but I've been waylaid by the challenges of trying to not go all Apocalypse Now with the budget of my current TV episode. In fact, I'm still ... well, not in the heart of darkness, but certainly heart-adjacent ... let's call it the lung of darkness. So this post will be brief and scattered, like a phone call home from college during midterm week. Here goes.

Much has been happening, my feverishly hot friends! For example, I have been digging into that Michael Chabon novel. It's terfrickinrific. Sime lapped me — he's done — and I keep telling him to shut up about the book because I'm terrified he'll let slip some juicy detail I haven't yet gotten to. I watch so much TV that I sometimes forget I'd rather read a book.

Another tragic thing about watching (and writing) so much TV-- I barely ever go to the movies, unless I'm on hiatus. I'm dying to see Michael Moore's new one, for instance. And that Irish indie, Once? I'm full-on white-on-rice when it comes to anything involving Irish guys singing. Yes, there's a story there, and it's a true story, and it does in fact involve my standing on the rainy streets of Dublin at one in the morning while a motley band of smoldering countrymen drunkenly serenade me, but that's a story for another post. Possibly a post about how I exaggerate stories.

The last flick I caught was a surprise Jewy treat. Knocked Up. Didja see it? It feels odd to say that, since you probably saw it long before I did. It's because I'm so busy working and reading Perez Hilton and listening to the tousle-haired Irish troubadours who sing softly in my ears. Really.

Anyway: Seth Rogen plays a menschy young man doing right by his splendiferously bosomed fling-turned-babymama. His posse is mostly Hebraic as well. They represent a woefully underrespresented demo I know well — the nice Jewish boy with a bong. They're secular as all get-out, but they do groove hilariously on their own Jewishness. And the brass tacks of 'em is that they're simply good guys. In that way of being raised right by a couplea Jews. Their slackerliness is thoroughly benign. They're devoted to their stoney girlfriends, if they have them. Their get-rich schemes are for the public good — yes, we do need websites that tell us the exact moment a starlet disrobes in an otherwise B-minus movie; they save us time and discomfort.

And while some of the nice Jewish boys in the flick are a tad immature, the message is clear: when they choose to step up, they really step up. Knocked Up is a testament to the warm-fuzziness I feel when my friends email me and say, "hey, I took your advice and went on a date with a nice Jewish boy and HOLY FUCK!!!"

Hello, Stealth Hotness: Seth Rogen.

Also: my fave thing? They totally have the Munich conversation! You know the one-- we ourselves had it on this very blog eons ago. Apparently we weren't the only ones stoked to see the smorgasboard of semitic manliness that movie offered. Knocked Up is rip-roaring in general, and also kind of touching, not that I cried or anything. Except for, like, four times. But don't get the wrong idea, it wasn't like Leaving Las Vegas bawling — more like Denny-dies-on-Grey's mistiness.

There's also Harold Ramis, who plays the father of Seth's character. He's been married a few times, and looks at his son's relatively arrested lifestyle with cool amusement. He's not your typical movie dad, by any stretch of the imagination, but there's a scene in which father and son sit across from each other — the son in distress about his life — and Ramis, positively glowing with love for his boy, shows us with a few deft strokes what's magical about Jewish menschiness. It's one of the most accurate presentations of a certain kind of Jewish parental affection ever put on screen. Let's say that tissues were required. We wish there'd been more of him in the flick.

So, yeah, see it if you haven't. It's pretty sweet, even if you're not a Jew. And if you are, there's the added bonus of feeling pretty okay that you're a big fat stoner — as long as you'd at least consider trading in that skull-shaped pipe for wedded bliss with Katherine Heigl.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The One True Alchemy

Religions, both mainstream and cultish. Politics, both mass-mediated and underground. The Secret and scads of other poorly copyedited loaves of self-help twaddle, along with their attendant TV specials, CDs, DVDs, workbooks and decoder rings. Miracle diets, pills, soaps and herbal suppositories.

What do all these phenomena of human hype share? They all purport to offer some sort of transformative formula for human experience.

They'll show you six practical steps to change your life for the better. They'll stretch your sagging flesh into a burning canvas of desirability. They'll save your soul and unite the world. They're gonna take ya higher, baby. They've got a deal on two tickets to paradise.

Is every single one a shallow, disappointing scam when it comes to delivering the goods? Far be it for us to say yes. But yes.

As Sera has carefully elucidated in a previous post, The Secret is all box and no cereal. Religious ritual is all well and good, but it's had quite a few millennia to turn us from our brute nature, and how's that coming along?

And politics? As the TelePrompTers say, pause for laughter. Meanwhile, if you think you can shop your way to a better you, lotsa luck.

These are all fascinating chapters in humanity's search for the philosopher's stone, that alchemical holy grail that will change base metal into gold, and perhaps give its possessor eternal youth in the bargain. If you only know it from the title of the first Harry Potter movie, you should know that the stone preoccupied scientists and mystics alike for many, many moons.

In a way, it's the ultimate intersection of faith and knowledge — and what better illustration of that concept than the Mutus Liber, a "silent book" consisting only of illustrations that purports to be an instruction manual for creating the stone?

So they searched and searched. They filled their vials and beakers with every substance, fastidiously tracked a virtually infinite series of chemical interactions and mapped the zones between air, water, fire and earth. But no dice. To put it another way:

Not one gold nugget
Was made from lead
Not one grey hair
Turned black on a head
The fabled stone
Did not exist
But undeterred
Was the alchemist.

We call that denial up in my neighborhood. But brothers and sisters, I have good news. There is true alchemy in this world. There is a way to transform dross into gold. But it isn't through some elixir of mysticism and science. It's through art.

Art is the one true transformative magic we humans possess. It enables us to take pain and turn it into joy. Its miraculous process dissolves misery into laughter and discovery and illumination.

We can suffer and, in the telling of our suffering, be redeemed. We can narrate our awful stumbles and they emerge as slapstick. We can turn dread uncertainty into delicious suspense. In the crucible of creativity, it's all possible.

We say this not to offer some treacly, up-with-people empowerment product (buy our life-changing 10-DVD course! ) but as a reminder, in these dreadful times, that you've got better stuff inside you than about 99.9997 % of the ideas, beliefs, platforms and antioxidant lotions being launched at you by the giant marketing slingshot that is commercial culture.

Here's where we get all controversial on your ass: We think the key to the survival of vibrant Jewishness in very hot times is not JHVH. Nor is it arming ourselves to the teeth and dropping bombs on whomever The New Republic tells us is an "existential threat." The key to our survival, through diasporas and donnybrooks, through pogroms and pilot seasons, through Torquemadas and Theocons, has been our ability to turn death and despair into deidel-deidel-deidel. You dig?

So nu, if you're full to bursting with feelings you don't know what to do with, blog! Draw! Sing! Squirt mustard onto an old math textbook! Not because it'll make you famous. Not because it'll let you look into the iris of the Divine. But because it will transform your terrible, unfathomable feelings into something beautiful or funny or scary or odd or in any case fathomable.

They didn't call the philosopher's stone a holy grail for nothin'. And as with other grails we could mention, it's right there. Right next to you.