A Jewish refresher course; Jewish voices of Broadway to visit

Ari Axelrod

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Judaism 101

Maybe you’ve been asked to a Purim party but are reluctant to go because you don’t know the story behind the holiday. In fact, the only thing you associate with Purim is hamentaschen, though you have no clue why. 

Or perhaps you’re going to a friend’s house for Shabbat dinner and that friend keeps kosher. You want to bring something to add to the meal but are unsure if your signature salad with goat cheese is acceptable. 

For those dilemmas and many others, enter Jewbelong.com, a website aimed at making Judaism and its holidays, rituals, customs and practices more comfortable and easier to understand. It strives to end what it calls “JewBarrassment,” which translates into a lack of Jewish knowledge that can often serve as a barrier to Jewish engagement. 

Started by Margery Sue “Archie” Gottesman and Stacy Stuart, both of New Jersey, Jewbelong.com is probably best described as a primer on Judaism, with easy-to-digest information on Jewish holidays and lifecycle events as well as prayers and blessings for forgiveness, heartbreak, work, travel, and even pets. But perhaps the best thing about Jewbelong is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Humor abounds throughout its descriptions and explanations, but not at the expense of dispensing very useful information.

Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery advertisement

Take Passover for example. Along with a short summary of the Passover story and an explanation of what a seder is, Jewbelong provides step-by-step directions for hosting a “kick-a- -” seder, along with Passover songs, blessings, readings, food and even a skit. I, for one, am seriously considering constructing the website’s suggested Red Sea centerpiece for my seder table this year:

Fill a shallow serving dish with red Jell-O and let set.

Create two areas of “land” on each side, using whatever items you have handy — nuts, matzah, macaroons — literally anything works. 

Finish by adding figurines to represent Moses and the Israelites.

“Our Judaism should continuously fill us with joy, warmth and meaning and be something we look forward to, from Shabbat to the major holidays to lifecycle events,” Gottesman explains on the website. “Everyone wants meaning in their lives. If Jews don’t find it in their Judaism, they will find it at yoga. Why not help Jews find the meaning in Judaism? How amazing would it be if disengaged Jews saw their Judaism as a gift, and as something that will add beautiful connections in their lives?”

Check it out at Jewbelong.com.

A taste of Broadway 

A couple of upcoming shows in town feature some incredibly talented Jewish performers by way of New York’s Broadway. 

First on deck is Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown, who will be at the Grandel Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday, March 15. An accomplished songwriter and lyricist, Brown is best-known for the film version of his off-Broadway play “The Last Five Years,” his musical revue “Songs For A New World,” and a musical version of Robert James Waller’s “Bridges Of Madison County,” which opened on Broadway and garnered him two of his three Tonys. 

He will be performing selections from his entire catalogue, including his most recent album, “How We React And How We Recover.” Tickets range in price from $35-$50 and are available at www.metrotix.com. 

The following week, at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 23, Ari Axelrod will perform “A Celebration of Jewish Broadway,” at the Kranzberg Arts Center in Grand Center. His cabaret show will focus on the songs and stories of Jewish composers, including Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Schwartz and Carole King.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students are also available through www.metrotix.com.

Brooks new book

The St. Louis County Library Foundation will host New York Times columnist David Brooks, who is promoting his new book, “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life,” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 18.

Most of us, over the course of our lives, will make four big commitments: to a spouse and family, a vocation, a philosophy or faith, and a community. Our personal fulfillment depends on how well we fuse these commitments into one coherent whole. In his book, Brooks looks at people — from Dostoyevsky to Holocaust survivor Etty Hillesum to African educational entrepreneur Fred Swaniker — who have lived joyous, committed lives to understand how we can begin to integrate our commitments into one overriding purpose. Tickets at $32 include a copy of the book. Seating will be on a first come, first served basis. Call 314-994-3300 for more information. Additional copies of Brooks’ books will be available for purchase and signing from Left Bank Books.  

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