‘Jew’ is the new ‘cool’ in Dutch, linguist says

Dutch teenagers are using “Jew” akin to “cool” or “awesome” in English, according to a linguist from Leiden University.

Professor Marc van Oostendorp wrote Monday on his blog that he heard the new usage of the word “jood” (pronounced yode) at a high school in Leiden shortly after learning about the phenomenon from an online forum about the Dutch language.

“One is at first unsettled by it. The word Jew is still a slightly sensitive issue if used improperly,” van Oostendorp wrote, adding an example of how soccer fans use it as a pejorative.

Van Oostendorp notes that Dutch already has one positive exclamation connected to Judaism in “tof,” which was borrowed from Yiddish and means “good,” but he writes that “it’s not clear if those two are connected. I don’t believe too many people are aware of the etymology.”

He notes that “the ideal word to express teenage enthusiasm would make parents raise their eyebrows” but would not invoke disciplinary intervention.

“The word ‘Jew’ is apparently suitable in that regard,” van Oostendorp wrote.

Sheinkin Street meets superhighway

Sheinkin Street is not what it used to be.

At least that’s the common sentiment among those who remember the street’s heyday in the late 1980s to mid-’90s, when the neighborhood was Israel’s bohemian center — hip, funky, free-spirited, and on the vanguard. It is often dubbed the Soho of Israel, or, in L.A. terms, Israel’s answer to Melrose. But in the last decade more commercial fashion chains have moved in, and the young, rebellious artsy crowd flew south to Florentine.
But Michael Simkin, CEO of C-Do Networks, who describes himself as a “little Jew from Liverpool,” believes that Sheinkin still retains enough of its eccentricity and bustle to perpetuate its mythic status.
“Sheinkin is a symbol of what is going on in modern secular Israel,” he explains, sipping coffee at a Sheinkin cafe. And he wants to share those qualities with the rest of the world, so he’s created a Web site: www.sheinkinstreet.com.
Offered in both Hebrew and English, the site is an “e-street” — part magazine, part online community, as well as event guide, map and online shop — and it may be the first of its kind for a single street. Ironically, the site has turned Sheinkin into brand name by highlighting its noncommercial icons: fashion boutiques, street jam sessions, the tattoo parlor, the record shop and the generally weird people walking around, particularly the Breslav Jews, who have made a hub for themselves on the street.
Simkin made aliyah to Israel about two years ago from Great Britain because, he said, “here I’m just a human being, as opposed to a Jew.”
His offices these days are right off Sheinkin, and his staff is quickly becoming Sheinkin lore. Video and photo director Arnon Maoz strolls around Sheinkin almost daily to make punchy clips about the passersby, shoppers, celebrities, shops, store owners, and landmarks that have made Sheinkin the legend.
“Oh, it’s you again? The Sheinkin Street people?” store owners sometimes say, with more delight than annoyance. The “Sheinkin Street people” remind them that the locale is still cool, even though so far the site has generated more online publicity than online business for them.
Sheinkinstreet.com is an experiment, a news-oriented way of doing e-commerce, but the one-stop information and shopping center may be a risky business strategy.
“We broke the rule in terms of Web sites, which says either have an information site or business site, but not both,” Simkin says.
Indeed, the mix of elements can be a bit overwhelming: The boutique and designer shops on Sheinkin can serve as a unique online warehouse, particularly to Jews abroad eager to “try on” Israeli trendiness, but the effectiveness of the virtual shop is easily trumped by magazine content. Since its launch in May, over 120,000 unique visitors have visited the site, but less than a dozen online purchases were made.
Simkin is not too bothered.
“I treat my business somewhat as an artist,” he says. His philosophy is to bring reality to the Internet, and he sees “reality Internet” as the next trend in cyberspace. He cites Google Earth as one example of literally bringing one location to cyber users’ fingertips, but he goes further by focusing on one location.
Once he nails down all the kinks, he plans to set his lens on the streets of the Big Apple for the big buzz and bucks.

Now hear this: cool Jewish music

The second annual Jewish Music Awards were given out on Sept. 11, before a sparse but enthusiastic crowd at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

It was a big night for Pharoah’s Daughter, with the band winning awards as Best Middle Eastern Blend and Best World Music Group. Local label Modular Moods also had a great night as its founder, DJ Handler, was pronounced Best DJ while his label mate Y-Love received the Best Hip-Hop act nod. JDub Records also enjoyed the evening, with victories for Golem (Best Rock Band) and SoCalled (who tied with Idan Raichel in the Best New Approach category). Ironically, JDub’s former star, Matisyahu, won the Best Cross-Over artist award, but wasn’t present to receive it.

Chasidic rapper wasn’t the only famous absentee. Bob Dylan (Best Singer/Songwriter) and John Zorn (Best Jazz and Heritage Blend) weren’t around to pick up their awards, either. But Lorin Sklamberg was happy to accept the Best Klezmer Band award on behalf of the Klezmatics, joking,

“It took 20 years for a Jewish organization to give us an award. We won a gay and lesbian music award 10 years ago already.”

Although the evening was sparked by the high-energy, irreverent wit of hostess Jackie Hoffman and live performances by Rachel Sage, Soulfarm, Y-Love and Benny Bwoy (who threw down the reggae-rapper gauntlet to Matisyahu during his act), a more somber note was struck by Steve Reich, whose remarks in accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award made pointed reference to the malicious Internet-fed rumor that “no Jews died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.”

He noted that in 2001, that day fell during the Selichot period and “Jews who were saying penitential prayers were late [to work] and they lived.”

The Jewish Music Awards are part of the Oyhoo Jewish Music and Heritage Festival, produced by Michael Dorf. The nominees were selected by a panel of 25 journalists (including this reporter) and then voted on by that panel.


George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, “Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses,” will be published by Shocken Books in October.

Film Strips Glamour Off Wartime Deeds

Each nation has to come to terms with its past. For the Germans, it’s the Holocaust, and for the French, it’s their collaboration with the Nazi and Vichy regimes.

I remember when my infantry company landed in southern France in 1944, my mind was full of heroic newspaper and movie images of patriotic Frenchmen, all of them battling the hated Boche to the stirring background strains of the “La Marseillaise.”

So when I met a French girl (we’ll discuss that at another time), I expressed my admiration for her countrymen’s fearless resistance.

She looked at me pityingly and said something like, “What resistance? A few crazy Communists and Jews. Everyone else just tried to get along.”

I’ve been conflicted about the question of human courage and cowardice ever since. No one who has not lived under a brutal dictatorship, where the wrong word might mean loss of life or livelihood, is in a position of judgment or superior virtue.

After all, most Americans caved in quietly during the McCarthy period, when the most they risked were loss of a job or their neighbors’ opprobrium. Pretty much everyone, everywhere, just wants to get along and stay out of trouble.

And yet, was France more craven than other countries under the Nazi heel?

These musings were triggered by watching “Army of Shadows,” a 1969 film about the French underground, which has taken almost 40 years to reach the United States.

Its director-screenwriter was Jean-Pierre Melville, a French Jew born Jean-Pierre Grumbach, who expressed his admiration for the author of “Moby Dick” by changing his last name.

Melville, who fought in the underground and died in 1973, remains somewhat of an icon among cineastes, remembered for his reportorial-style gangster pictures, his strong influence on the French New Wave movies and the masterful, sparse creation of his pictures’ atmosphere. The latter talent is quite in evidence in “Shadows,” whose characters are not afraid of long silences or performing an action in real time.

In one striking scene, resistance leader Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) has just escaped from the Nazis and runs endlessly down a darkened street. He sees an open barbershop and tells the monosyllabic proprietor that he wants a shave.

For the next five minutes, the barber goes through the minutiae of his craft, stroke by stroke, never exchanging a word with his customer. Yet, the scene holds immense tension. Does the barber realize that his client is a fugitive? Will he slit his throat or call the police?

For a movie pitting patriots against collaborators and occupiers, there is surprisingly little action. No blown bridges, sabotaged railroads or pitched gun battles.

Granted, there are indications that the resistance group is rescuing downed Allied pilots, and we see the disfigured faces of Nazi torture victims. But most of the time, Gerbier and his small band is busy simply surviving, escaping from SS pursuit, finding safe houses and trying to rescue comrades from German prisons.

Clearly, the coolest and smartest among the underground fighters is Mathilde, a middle-aged woman, memorably portrayed by onetime sex bomb Simone Signoret. But even Mathilde has a weakness — she cannot bear to discard a photo of her 17-year-old daughter — and the one slip proves fatal.

In its slow, methodical way, the Melville film strips the glamour and derring-do from his depiction of wartime resistance, surely a more honest portrayal than Hollywood’s triumphant wartime epics.

“Army of Shadows” opens May 12 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. For more information, go to www.laemmle.com and www.rialtopictures.com.


The Death of Cool

Dr. Mel Levine once accompanied a group of sixth-graders on a field trip. During the fun and games, he asked them what weighed more heavily on them at the end of each day, academic pressures or social pressures.

Social pressures, they called out at once, no question about it. “I’d much rather flunk a test,” said one boy, “than not be invited to a party.”

Coolness, Levine believes, is the unnamed, often misunderstood cause of so much of our teenage angst. The drive to be cool, to fit in, to suppress one’s uniqueness for the group — it’s hard to overestimate how much this thwarts childhood development.

“The highest priority for a teen is the avoidance of humiliation at all costs,” said Levine. “Cool is an obsession. It prevents children from developing as individuals because they are so concerned about coolness.”

Levine is the child-rearing specialist of moment these days: best-selling books, a “60 Minutes” feature, nonstop lectures and — need one say more –Oprah’s go-to guy for child development and education. A professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, he’s also the founder of All Kinds of Minds, a nonprofit institute for understanding differences in learning.

I’m aware that theories and approaches are subject to fad and fashion, but I’ve read two of Levine’s books (and a July 2002 Jewish Journal cover story on him), and I’m impressed.

Last month, I heard him speak at a daylong seminar hosted by Aish HaTorah at a not-too-shabby Bel Air home. I knew he was adept at parsing the meaningful differences in how individual children learn. But what surprised me was his call for the death of cool, and his dispassionate — dare I say cool? — analysis of the role coolness plays in undermining our children.

As the school year leaps to a start, we will begin confronting this issue as parents. But the truth is, living through our own teen years provides a rich repository of useful experience. I remember my foray into coolness with the degrading precision of a Roz Chast cartoon. In seventh grade, the cool kids, I thought, were the ones wearing low riders and paisley shirts.

So that’s how I showed up to my first junior high party — only to have Mr. Cool himself turn to me in front of three pretty girls.

“Hey,” he pointed to my hip-huggers, “I hope you’re not expecting a flood.”

I blushed, went home, and if memory serves, buried those pants in the backyard.

Levine divides kids into four social types: popular, controversial, neglected and rejected.

What I didn’t know then was that I hovered somewhere between controversial and neglected — a bit outside the norm, but not enough so many kids would take notice. When I tried unilaterally to make a leap in status, Mr. Cool quickly put me in my place. By eighth grade, self-esteem kicked in and I realized I could find happiness outside the cool kids’ embrace. My junior high was big enough to allow for self-sufficient tribes of like-minded Odyssey-loving, square-dancing dweebs like me.

But for many kids, the blows can be crushing, and the biggest casualty is getting to know and develop who you are. “The real issue,” said Levine, “is to what extent you’re willing to sacrifice your own individuality to be seen as cool.”

As the doctor ticked off the four features of adolescent coolness, we parents nodded knowingly, or winced. Coolness means a certain imperviousness, a kind of grace under pressure. It requires up-to-date tastes, knowing what’s in, but also lending your own sense of style to what others are wearing, provided, as Levine points out, “you stay on the cool side of weirdness.” Coolness means a willingness to break taboos — smoking, belly rings, tattoos — though usually you’re breaking taboos en masse.

And finally, coolness is choreographed. “It’s how you move your body,” Levine said, “especially your upper extremities.” Levine’s untested theory is that smoking is relentlessly cool because it gives teens something elegant to do with their gangly arms.

There is an aspect of coolness that works. We are social beings, and our success is often pegged to how well we learn to fit in. But the same traits that define adolescent coolness don’t translate into adult success: See how much your first boss appreciates an aloof smoker who mocks the office nerds. Unless you’re David Spade, forget it.

And in Los Angeles, where adolescence can extend seamlessly into one’s late 50s, there are legions of parents who instead of guiding their children away from the pressures of cool are busy competing in the same arena. The word for it, said Levine, is neotony, which means older people who persist in acting like teenagers. That word may say more about our fair city than a Joan Didion essay.

It is cool to be cool, yes, but Levine doesn’t think that we, as parents, ought to give in so easily. He suggests asking these questions of our kids, to give them something to think about this school year: What are you sacrificing from your family life and education in order to attain and project coolness? To what extent are you not being you in order to fit in? What price are you paying by posing?


So Uncool, It’s Cool


I favor the type of acrylic French tip nails that are considered fashionable only by midlevel porn stars. I still wear Uggs. Pink is my favorite color. I’ve seen the movie “G.I Jane” twice, and not for camp value. I thought it was good.

Today, I embrace my uncool preferences.

I used to have to fake liking Raymond Carver novels and understanding Neil LaBute movies, but now I’m free.

This is a profound change. And I understand that seismic personal shifts are rarely associated with Demi Moore movies, but hear me out. The things that truly appeal to us are a reflection of our genuine personalities. Like it or not, the real me has some really cheesy taste. The more I’ve come to celebrate the tacky things I love, the more comfortable I’ve become with myself.

Seeing a movie in Silver Lake makes me feel like the rest of the world is Beck and I’m Josh Groban. I like the Valley, the blown-out look of the flora off the side of the 101. I relish Studio City with its strip malls and Mystic Tanning salons and La Salsas. When I visit my aunt in Northridge, I savor the cul-de-sacs and minivans as much as the Santa Ana winds.

Speaking of which, last time I was visiting my aunt in the 818, I said to my college-age cousins as they stepped out to go dancing, “Are you going to get your groove on?”

I was sort of being ironic, but mostly, I was just being earnest. And earnest is the most uncool thing you can be.

“Teresa,” my cousin Josh said. “You can’t say that anymore. In fact, could you not say that again, ever? Why don’t you just ask us if we plan to ‘bust a move?'”

Even my lingo is lame.

I can’t play pool or play poker. If it’s time for a leisure activity that reeks of wealth or coordination, I’m out. I’ve never skied, been within a gurney’s distance of a snowboard, played soccer, played blackjack or gone surfing. There are two “sports” at which I’ve excelled: ballet and Ping-Pong. While I truly can play a mean game of table tennis, I notice there haven’t been many movies celebrating the dark, defiant world of the pong hustler. Daredevil ballerinas? Those are just the girls who don’t throw up lunch.

If there is any occasion for nonchoreographed “freestyle” social dancing, I will “bust a move” on out of there. Social dancing is for the uninhibited. I am uptight. Today, I don’t fight that. I gladly sit out this dance and every other, no matter who grabs me by the arm and squeals, “C’mon, it’ll be fun. This is my song!”

Sometimes, my true tastes happen to intersect with something that actually is hip; as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I’ve always enjoyed single malt Scotch, for example. I drink it straight up, which seems to impress people. This isn’t because I’m too fashionable to imbibe Chablis or a “so two years ago” apple martini; I just like the taste of top-shelf booze and I don’t like ice melting into my good liquor. I also happen to live in Koreatown, which if I’m not mistaken, falls into the category of being so uncool it’s cool. I’m just here for the cheap housing and decorative gang tags, but folks seem to find this aspect of my lifestyle surprising, in a good way, like I’m gritty and urbane.

What’s more, Judaism seems to be in a chic phase. Is Teri Hatcher not the hottest of the “Desperate Housewives”? This year, everyone wanted to “Meet the Fockers,” making it one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time. The Fockers were cool.

I notice when people ask where my column appears, I no longer say “in a local weekly newspaper,” thus avoiding the J word, like I did for years.

But this isn’t just because hipsters throw out Yiddish words now and Ben Stiller and Barbra are machers. It all goes back to Demi, and to deciding to figure out what I truly like, not what I should, and to accepting all of it. I’m not talking about meeting strangers and bragging about the pink and the Ping-Pong and suggesting we sit down for a screening of “Striptease: the Director’s Cut.” There are some things you can keep to yourself, or let out in time. What I’m describing is an inner comfort with the totality of what makes you, from the accidentally cool to the supremely kitschy.

When you stop wasting time trying to figure out what’s cool so you can convince yourself to like it, you can begin what is, in a way, a spiritual practice. You can know that if last year’s Ugg fits, wear it.

Teresa Strasser is an Emmy Award-winning writer. She’s on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.


On Shabbat, Stay Cool as a Cucumber

Miami is hot. In the summer, even sometimes in the winter, the air arches off the streets radiating heat circles that bend but do not break as you walk though them, slowly, slowly.

My grandparents, Oma and Opa, bought an apartment in Miami Beach that my family of eight piled into for visits. It was a small unit with one bedroom and a galley kitchen that emptied into a simply furnished dining and living area. But the center courtyard, where each of these tiny apartments faced, was opened to the sky and bathed in Florida sun. And the beach and the Atlantic Ocean were only two lazy blocks away.

So when we got our driver’s licenses, my brothers and sisters and I drove ourselves from our Atlanta home to Miami. Opa would find us a little room close by so we could run around all day and night and touch base for meals or chats in between. Oma, a fastidious and controlled woman, loved our visits. Her serious and beautiful face would break into a child’s laugh when my sister and I shared stories about the boys we met while strolling the beaches and dancing at nightclubs. And Opa, a sparkling and wise man, managed to find us once every day on the beach. From a distance, we would see him coming, wearing his summer suit and beige cap and carrying a brown paper bag holding our carefully prepared lunches of cold chicken, homemade challah, and light sugar cookies.

But for Saturday lunches, we came to them. Since they were Orthodox and didn’t use appliances on the Sabbath, Oma had an array of simple but wonderful dishes she prepared in advance to be eaten cold. In the Miami heat, her Cucumber Dill Salad was one of my favorites. It was always served in a rectangular glass container with gold flower foiling on the sides. The pale green slices were always perfectly thin and even. And when we sat together around the dim unlit dining table — me sunburned and tired from the day before — her cool salad felt like a mint mist, a slow fan. Outside their window, the palm leaves baked yellow in the sun, but inside, eating pale green cucumber circles with my Oma and Opa, I was filled by a moment where there was nothing I’d rather do.

Oma’s Cucumber Dill Salad

My grandmother marinated her cucumbers in distilled white vinegar, but I replaced it with rice vinegar for a less sharp taste. She also cooked with a very light hand when it came to spices, so play with the seasonings until it is perfect and refreshing for you.

2 large cucumbers (approximately four cups sliced)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon water

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Pinch of white pepper

Fresh dill (approximately 1-2 tablespoons)

Peel skin off cucumbers and slice thinly. Arrange in long rectangular sealable container. In small bowl whisk vinegar, water, salt, sugar and pepper. (Season to your taste, but don’t add too much salt as it draws liquid from the cucumbers.) Pour vinegar mixture over cucumbers and mix well. Cut fresh dill and sprinkle over cucumbers. Close container, toss to mix and refrigerate overnight to marinate. Toss again before serving.

Serves five as a side dish.