Jewish Miss France Takes The Whole Continent

miss europeI don’t know how I missed the coronation of a Jewish Miss France last December, but Alexandra Rosenfeld’s sparkling tiara is all over the place since she was crowned Miss Europe last Friday in Kiev.

Could this mean the anti-Semitic fever in Europe, especially in incident-studded France, is breaking?

Don’t rush to the passport office yet, amies. According to a Belarus blogger (I can’t translate the Russian name, sorry, public school education) lovely Alexandra began drawing ugly anti-Semitic comments on the Web the minute the crown touched her head. Most beauty queens pay lip service during their reigns for some worthy cause or another, but it looks like Mademoiselle Rosenfeld may have to become a true Jewish diplomat and the ADL‘s poster girl before she passes on her title next year.

Pastrami in the Park

When you see a priest in full collar standing in line for potato latkes, you know you’re at the Shalom Y’all Food Festival. Which is to say yesterday’s gastronomic festivities were a grand success along the green acres of Savannah’s jewel, Forsythe Park. The thousands of people milling about, smacking their lips proves once and again that the small Jewish community of Savannah is way more than chopped liver to the city at large.

I suppose those of you who live in places with strong Jewish centers might take an event like this for granted, but hailing first from Arizona and then the hippie netheregions of Northern California, I found it amazing that so many people turned out for matzoh ball soup and bagels. I snarfed dolmas and baklava at Savannah’s Greek food festival last weekend, and there was maybe a quarter the attendance. Federation staffer Larry Dane-Kellogg estimated that “Shalom Y’all” would raise over $30,000 for Congregation Mickve Israel; can anyone inform me of another temple fundraiser that surpasses that in one day?

I’ve intimated before that Savannah’s Reform Jews are some of the most assimilated around, likely because of the deep South’s suspicion of Jews back when the first Portuguese ones arrived back in 1733 and subsequent generations’ social and material ambitions. Today’s congregation is proudly under-religious, yet has such a strong cultural presence that clusters of African-American ladies in fabulous hats came to wait 20 minutes for strudel after church.

(By the way, Savannah does have a visible, if small, Orthodox community � black hats, wigs, with an eruv and everything � but I haven’t had occasion to have much contact since I decided to send my son to public school rather than the tiny Day school. And since the Jewish food festival wasn’t explicitly kosher, I didn’t see any tzitzit.)

So with the question of what defines Jewish identity always plinking around my mind, especially after reading last week’s prickly Jpost article about “Judaism-lite” by Ariel Beery and Esther’s related posts on My Urban Kvetch and Jewlicious, I understand that eating a corned beef on rye doesn’t make a person Jewish.

But there is definitely something about the food the relates to Jewish identity as well as Jewish pride. No, learning to love borscht won’t ever replace Torah study as Jewish education, but tasting it and sensing something familiar makes a person feel more Jewish. Until all of us errant Jews give up our assimilated lives and get serious about shul and mitzvot, it’s always going to be about the food.

New Bio Suggests Houdini Was A Spy

houdiniThe mystery of history’s most magical Jew deepens with the release of “The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero” and its revelation that Harry was more than just a meshugenneh meglomaniac.

Authors William Kalush and Larry Sloman sifted through more than 700,000 pages of information about Harry to compile the book, including a diary from British secret agent William Melville, and concluded that while the magician was entertaining the masses in the 1920’s, he was also spying for the British government, infiltrating Russian anarchists and chasing American counterfeiters.

Perhaps we’ll find out in a few decades that David Blaine’s shenanigans were really just a cover for anti-terrorism activities in Manhattan?

The book also implies that Houdini’s Halloween death was actually a murder by a group of spiritual believers, whose seance shenanigans he debunked loudly. And another tidbit:
The AP article
reveals Teller, the extremely quiet half of the edgy magical duo Penn & Teller, as a descendant of Houdini’s.

Babs’ Expletives Sampled

barbraY’know, I will always love her for not fixing her nose, but Barbra Streisand had been relegated to the “old crazy celebrity” arena of my consciousness along with Gary Busey and Axl Rose. Though apparently the lady has some relevant spunk in her yet:

SomethingJewishUK reports
that when a someone heckled her recently for her comedic portrayal of George Bush, she snapped back a very clear request to “sheket b’vakashah,” except in a form of French. It only took a few weeks for DJ Lucian Piane (known as “RevoLucian) to mix in a few beats, and voila! Babs like you’ve never heard her before. Listen here!

Barbra, the way she was, c/o

Semite By Day, Redneck By Night

convergence2006I know you all have been waiting with bated breath to see if I used my journalistic stealth to find my way into Convergence 2006, a meeting of top Israeli dignitaries in the unlikely setting of coastal Georgia. You have permission to exhale, because in spite of my fast-and-free journalism skills and general farblongentness, I did manage to crash the concluding ceremonies Tuesday morning.

Unfortunately, the main thing I found out was how much I’d missed.

The first person I ran into was the moderator of the event, Kevin Cohen, an award-winning talk show host for WVOC out of Columbia, SC. He was kind enough to fill in the blanks of the press release and the local paper’s precoverage, which focused on the organizers’ controversial views of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. This caused Kevin to roll his eyes. “That wasn’t even mentioned here.”

The sensationalism of tearing down mosques to build a Third Temple may have made more interesting copy, but the real story here is the assembly of so many powerful Jews in one place. “This has been such an amazing event,” said Kevin, shaking his head at me for being so lame to show up at the end. “You’ve had members of the Knesset, IDF generals, representatives from [U.S.] Congress, all talking about Israel with intelligence and passion.”

The “star of the show,” according to Kevin, was Dr. Arie Eldad, who represents the Moledet party in the Knesset, is a former IDF Brigadier General and one of the world’s foremost burn specialists. Eldad’s beliefs that the creation of an Arab state would be a disaster, and that any more withdrawals would be a huge mistake, may not be very popular with American liberals, but many of the others echoed that the only way to peace is to stand its ground and not give up even an inch more land.

Other speakers included Knesset members Limor Livnat and Yuval Steinitz, the outspoken head of the Zionist Organization of America Mort Klein, media analyst and Sopranos-lookalike Raanan Gissin, Congressmen Jack Kingston and Joe Wilson, Rabbi Eliezer Ben Yehuda and IDF generals Giora Eiland, Eliu Ben Onn and Moshe Yaalon, who some where whispering could become Israel’s next prime minister. Even though security was tight, it was probably good that the event was tucked away on Huntington Island in the sleek and stunning Convention Center rather than one of Savannah’s more historic but higher profile locations.

The shibboleth for the conference was “facing claims and challenges of Israel’s Future in the Middle East,” which may reveal something of the attendees’ and speakers’ politics. This was no “let’s-say-a-b’rucha-for-peace” kind of crowd; both Israeli and American military experts spoke on the necessity of not only curbing Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but bringing down its current leadership by whatever means necessary.

The conference’s decidedly hawkish bent is part of the reason much of Savannah’s Jewish community — including Mickve Israel’s rabbi — distanced itself from the event. That’s a real shanda, since all Jews need to be educated about Israel, no matter what their opinion is of its politics. Sitting there in the sanctuary-like auditorium listening to experts clarify the reality of Israel’s fight not only against violent, irrational enemies but what Raanan Gissin called its “war of perception” in the world media, an already existing fire was fanned in my belly. Though I support Israel in my heart, I tend to shy away from discussions about its politics, because, frankly, I turn into flubber-tongued dunderhead and nine times out of ten start to cry out of frustration at my own and other people’s ignorance. So I’m committing myself to learn more about how to educate people about the truth of Israel calmly and clearly. (The Israel Project is a terrific resource for this.)

There was also a strong Christian presence at the event, whom organizer Orly Benny Davis called “our good friends.” I know there are some who reject the Bible Belt’s support of Israel because of its creepy Messianic implications, but I say whoever loves Israel is family, Jewish or not.

Yeah, I’m a bleeding heart liberal who wants everyone of all religions and races to put down the bombs and hold hands and dance a Persian hiphop hora to African drums. But the grown-ups know that it’s not going to be that easy for the Jews; never has been, never will be. The business of the Middle East is all of our business; whether you wear a giant Zionist ‘Z’ on your chest or you disagree with pretty much everything Israel does, American Jews, especially us lazy ones here in the South, cannot ignore her.

Am Yisrael Chai, yo. All in all, it was a rich day for this transplanted Savannah Jew. I returned to the other side of the river a changed woman, a more enhanced Semite. But I had to switch gears and put on my redneck hat right quick, because at the other convention center, country-fried rock icon Gregg Allman was tuning up. Falafel and peaches, baby —- it’s Southern Jewish life.

Photo of Orly Benny Davis and Raanan Gissin by John Carrington c/o Savannah Morning News.

Gastronomic Overload

pastramiAfter attending a chili cook-off and Savannah’s Greek Festival last week, I’m about ready for couple of weeks of quinoa and kale. But the rabbit food will have to wait until after this Sunday, Oct, 29, when the Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival takes over downtown Savannah for its annual homage to the nosh.

Sponsored for the past 18 years by Congregation Mickve Israel (which, as my sweet, addled mother-in-law reminds me every time the name surfaces — bless her heart— is the third-oldest congregation in America), the day-long feast is a Savannah tradition for all hungry citizens, MOT or no. People down here may still think Jews have horns, but they can still tell you the difference between a kugel and a knish.

Formerly known as the “Hard Lox Cafe,” this orgy of latkes, blintzes, matzoh ball soup, brisket, bagels, rugelach, egg creams and every other Jewish delicacy (even tongue, blecch) is what would happen if we celebrated all our holidays at once. My mouth is watering, but I’m not sure my system can take it…better keep the Prilosec handy.

Excellent New Mag

Life has been crazy full this week, so let me direct your hunger for Jewishy things to a brilliant new magazine that’s been on the fringe of my consciousness for the past few months that I’ve only now gotten around to peeking at:

PresenTense is a “transdenominational and international marketplace of ideas,” seeking to “invigorate Hebrew culture by providing a nurturing environment where Jewish youth will be able to explore and enrich their Jewish identity within a civilizational framework.”

Yup, they’re smarties over there, delving into the complexity of Jewish identity by way of books (including Sam Brody’s provovative review of “Jews and the Price of Whiteness in America,”), intellectual discourse, film and theater.

PresenTense presents original poetry, too, which you know is near and dear to my little Yenta heart. And at the risk of drowing in my own dramatic superlatives, I have to say that Ben Pinchus’ “I Dreamt I Was A Middle Aged Fat Lady” is the closest thing to a perfect poem I’ve ever come across. Enjoy.

Who’s Hot? Your Mom

rachel weiszI’ve been told that when I clean up real nice, dab a bit of make-up on and slide into a pair of non-orthopedic platforms, I fall into the category of “hot mom.” At least that’s what a group of shirtless teenage boys near the high school confided to me yesterday. Okay fine, they were migrant workers on their lunch break. And they spoke mostly with hand gestures. And at least one of them had no teeth but you know what I just turned 35 and I’ll take what I can get thank you very much —

Ahem. Anyway, moments like these are important to mothers, because for all of its fulfilling, magical moments, motherhood is not sexy. Sure, El Yenta Man finds oatmeal-encrusted hair and assembly-line lunch-making skills irresistible, but he has no choice.

Yes, it’s superficial and immature, even a little icky, but sometimes getting a up-down-up from a handsome stranger makes my day (as long as he doesn’t follow me to my minivan.) And maybe I’m clinging to my youth like a punk rock Mrs. Haversham in her disintegrating wedding dress, but it seems there are plenty of other moms out there who enjoy being validated in their hotness. Except while I’m happy with an occasional wink and nod from the dreadlocked babe at the health food store, some mamas want to shake their skinny tucheses on reality TV.

The Forward reported Friday on a string of auditions being held for “Hottest Mom in America,” with a special casting call in Miami specifically for Jewish mothers.

One of the Yenta’s favorite Jewish mothers, Meredith Jacobs of, was interviewed for the article, taking a mature, modest approach to the whole skanky deal:

“I think it’s good that moms take care of themselves, that they want to be fit and look attractive, but I’m uncomfortable with the words ‘hot’ and ‘mom’ being put together. The implication of ‘hot’ is different than ‘beautiful’: ‘Beautiful’ can denote an inner beauty; ‘hot’ is somewhat tawdry.”

And even though she’d never do it, MJM admits that if someone told her she should enter, she’d be flattered. Not insulted, flattered. See? Even the Jewish mothers who know their Shabbos rules and can cook a mean cholent know the power of a tawdry compliment. (I’ve never seen MJM, but her online personality is gorgeous.)

A shimmy and a shake to the “enormously pregnant” Jewesses With Attitude for the tip (Pregnant women: always hot, yo.)

Photo of smokin’ Jewish mommy Rachel Weisz via Canmag.

Dude, What’s Up With The Box?

Esther sent this, asking if anyone could figure out what earnestly gentile Peppermint Patti is asking those of the Jewish faith to explain to her before she shows you what she’s talking about. Be sure to to check the answers we’ve given Patti here.

But better yet is the “Lazy Shabbos” clip Esther scooped before I could — as the Great Kvetch says, this is why we need JewTube.