Happy Meme Year

Bless Orienyenta‘s little heart, she’s tagged me with another meme. Since I’ve got my parents visiting from Scottsdale, my in-laws coming for Shabbos dinner and a little girl’s 3rd birthday to plan for New Year’s Eve (why yes, as a matter of fact, we did consider naming her “Tax Deduction”), this will be the last Yenta post of 2006. This year has exhausted me from new wiry gray hairs to my fabulously pedicured toenails, but not so much so that I would pass up a chance to engage in the narcissistic joy of answering questions about myself.

And so, finishing off the year with “6 Weird Things About Me”:

1. I swore all through my college years that I would never, ever live in California because it would be sliding into the Pacific any day. I even kept a map on my wall showing what America would look like once The Big One hit. Somehow I ended up living there for 12 years without having so much as a teacup broken by an earthquake.

2. I love, and I mean freakin’ love, anchovies.

3. I gave birth to both my children naturally. El Yenta Man still shakes his head at this. “Why didn’t you take the drugs? You love drugs!”

mabiba4. I have studied West African dance for years. My mother, who has always thought this hobby bizarre, calls me her “Jewish African Cowgirl.” I got up on stage and shook booty with Senegalese sensation Baaba Maal earlier this year in San Francisco — damn, that was amazing — and have taught classes as well as organized master classes. As much as I would love to live in Israel someday, I feel called towards the deep darkness of Africa. This photo is of one of my favorite teachers, Mabiba Baegne.

Wow, I’ve always kept that part of me separate from this blog, and seeing my African tendencies in this context is just…weird. But this is the point, nu? Moving on…

5. My son’s middle name really is “Lightning.” It was supposed to be “Barak” — Hebrew for “lightning” — but El Yenta Man filled out the birth certificate by himself. Maybe he took the drugs?

6. Even with a buyer’s real estate market and a down payment in the bank, I cannot find a house to suit me and my family here in Georgia. I stand that I’ve uprooted from my beloved NoCal niche and moved all the way across the country to my husband’s hometown, so I should actually like the first house I will ever own. This may not sound too crazy to you, but it makes me insane in my in-laws’ eyes.

What, you thought this was too tame? Like I’m gonna reveal the really weird sh*t…

And I think I’ll tag Amishav with this one next since I think it will help him to air his weirdnesses in his quest to find a Jewish wife … Shabbat Shalom and Happy Nu Year!

WYSISNWYG*

Just another wise morsel from Algemeiner.com, this one from Simon Jacobsen’s column on this week’s Torah portion:

Question : It is time to elect a new world leader, and only your vote counts. Here are the facts about the three leading candidates.

Candidate A: Associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologists. He’s had two mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B: He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a quart of whiskey every evening.

Candidate C: He is a decorated war hero. He’s a vegetarian, doesn’t smoke, drinks an occasional beer and never cheated on his wife.

Who would you vote for? Decide first — no peeking! — jump to the answers: Continue reading

Insanity Is Hereditary, You Get It From Your Children

samlevensonI always thought my mother came up with that one especially for me during my awkward bat mitzvah years, but I’ve recently discovered it was Jewish humorist Sam Levenson who’s responsible for it and other chuckle-worthy universal truths, including Time-Tested Beauty Tips, which has often been mis-attributed to the late, great Audrey Hepburn. (More classic Levenson one-liners like “If you need a helping hand, you can find one at the end of your arm” can be found here and here.)

Rabbi William Berkowitz has published an interview with Levenson called “The Gift of A Jewish Mother” at Algemeiner.com, a Yiddish culture site containing a treasure trove inspirational and historically-surprising articles. Levenson died in 1980, so the rabbi’s interview is at least a quarter of a century old, but I’m delighted he dusted it off to create this piece, thereby introducing at least one ignoramus to Levenson’s warm wisdom, which I pass on to you.

This quote in particular struck me on this early morning:

My family didn’t pursue happiness. That’s a big mistake in America – the whole pursuit of happiness. The only people who get happy from the pursuit of happiness are the people who sell tranquilizers. They’re the ones that have done very well. As for us, we believe in the pursuit of truth, of justice of yosher, of God, of rachmonus, of peace, freedom. That’s what you pursue. There is nothing written in our Jewish teaching about the pursuit of happiness. We pursue great ideals, but happiness is not an ideal. It’s only a by-product of an ideal achieved. It’s not an ideal unto itself.

As someone who struggles daily with the so-far elusive American dream of a home of one’s own, financially and spiritually fulfilling work as well as a perpetually shiny kitchen floor, I realize — in this quiet, predawn moment, anyway — the truth that fulfillment can only come when we’re looking for righteous things rather than material ones (though certain pairs of shoes have brought me deep and lasting contentment.) If I could learn in 2007 — and even possibly teach my children by example — to find happiness in what I have rather than what I don’t, I would make great leaps. It would save a lot of money in therapy, anyway.

Another Tale From A Bad Jewish Mother (Or: Santa and the Snake, Part 2)

santaIt was startling to see this advice column in the Florida Times-Union out of Jacksonville yesterday, which begins with the sentence:

After reading the story of Virginia, Abraham had asked his mother, “Mommy, can we take down the Hanukkah things – just for tonight – so Santa Claus won’t know we’re Jewish?”

Not only did my son and I have the same conversation verbatim that day, but he is the same age and shares the same name. I don’t think the advice columnist had a hidden camera in our bathroom (yes, our family discusses many important issues while Mommy goes pee, don’t tell me it’s different at your house) and I couldn’t possibly have been the only Jewish mother struggling with the fat man in the red suit at that moment (although the name thing was weird. I’m checking the hole next to medicine cabinet for tiny microphones immediately.) I sure could have used her advice a day earlier, though.

You may recall that last year my kid threw me for a loop by having a big spaz over Santa bringing him a snake. I told him there was no such person, but no, he insisted he’d sat in the dude’s lap at the mall and was promised a reptile. By strange coincidence, a snake did make a brief appearance in the family, causing the boy to gasp gratefully towards heaven and whisper “Thank you, Santa!” Fortunately, the snake mysteriously escaped two days later, never to be seen again. Thank you, Santa.

I thought the incident was forgotten. Little did I know my son’s thirst for a snake was not slaked, nor was his determination to track down Santa to give it to him.

This Christmas Eve I participated in a babysitting exchange at the Presbyterian Church in Savannah. A few of their congregants had volunteered during the High Holidays so I could recount my sins in peace, so I felt the need to reciprocate while they celebrated Jesus’ birthday. (Of course, I didn’t share with any of my charges that the whole December 25 thing is probably bullsh*t up for debate and was likely chosen for its proximity to the winter solstice, because that would have been obnoxious.)

While I was performing tzedakeh for Jesus, my son was visiting with some friends, two girls who have a deeply unreligious Jewish father and an athiest mother, so Christmas is basically the only holiday besides birthdays that they celebrate. Every year their Jewish uncle calls up and pretends to be Santa and threatens the girls that he’s going to skip their house if they don’t stop whining and annoying their parents. This year, guess who used up a nice chunk of Uncle’s cell phone minutes describing the color of the corn snake he wanted?

When I showed up fresh from my good deed and ready for glass of spiked eggnog, my atheist mommy friend intercepted me at the door. “Uh, we have a problem.” She told what had gone down and I brushed it off, saying, “Look, the kid already received a fish, a telescope, a skateboard and a really nice sweater for Chanukah. He and I have already been through this.” She shook her head and gave me the guilty look that mothers give each other when we know we’ve fed each other’s kids too much sugar or let them watch a PG movie. “I’m really sorry. Really.”

The minute I stepped over the threshhold my child accosted me with wild eyes. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy! You were so wrong! Santa isn’t too busy with all the Christian kids to bring me something! I just talked to him and he’s in Canada right now changing his reindeers’ shoes and he says he’ll stop by our house after he comes here!” He was waving a letter he’d written in his very best penmanship at the urging of his little heathen girlfriends, who insisted that Santa will come if you just believe hard enough and your handwriting is legible.

Dear Santa: I love you. I believe in you. Hope you can come by even though I’m not Christian. He’d spelled it “Kristchen.”

He spent the rest of the evening in serious conversation with the other children and any adult who would listen about whether Santa would make it. “I’ll just be so sad if he skips our house.”

Like I said, he and I have had myriad discussions about how special it is to be Jewish, why it is fine to enjoy the decorated trees and hideously fabulous lawn decor of others but inappropriate to bring those things into our house, and how Christmas and Chanukah are not two versions of the same thing (and how they kind of are, in that whole “light up the darkest days” kind of context.) I even tried to burst his first grade bubble and insist Santa was just other kids’ parents, but he started singing “Jingle Bells” at level 11.

But when I looked him asleep in the backseat driving back to the beach that night, clutching his letter, mouth stained candy cane red, looking more like the little boy I gave birth to than the know-it-all, almost 7 year-old who’s been showing up lately, a thought broke out of my grinchy heart clear as an icicle: I suddenly understood that his need to believe in Santa wasn’t about being Jewish or Christian, and it certainly had nothing to do with Jesus. It was the excitement of the myth of itself � the legend of a bearded mystery man traveling by sled from the snowy hinterlands to give out gifts.

My son didn’t really care what Santa brought him, just that his call didn’t go answered. He didn’t want to be left out of the magic, is all.

“Mom,” he said sleepily as I carried him � it will only be a matter of months before he will be too heavy for me to do this � up the stairs. “Will you leave out a few cookies for Santa, just in case?”

So, yeah, I did it. I commited the most egregious sin of all for a Jewish parent: I pretended to be Santa.

I took the new children’s DVD Athiest Mom gave me, slapped a bow on it and left it with a note on the kitchen table near a paper plate of crumbs:

Dear Abraham, I enjoyed our conversation last night. Here’s a little something for my Jewish friend. Keep believing, Santa.

The squeals the next morning were worth the agonizing I’d done all night. I even dreamed the Savannah Yentas came to revoke my Jewish mother license. Maybe if I’d read the advice of the Florida Times-Union columnist in time (Remember her? She wrote that the spirit of Santa is in selfless generosity, something we can bring into our homes all year long) I wouldn’t have had to resort to such charades. But I believe that preserving my son’s faith in the magical transcended my need to separate him as Jewish from his peers. He’ll experience being “other” plenty of times in his life, and I feel all right about letting him have Santa this one time.

Of course, his grandparents are absolutely horrified. “You’re sure you don’t want to send him to the Jewish day school next semester? We’ll pay.”

On Christmas Day, after spinning the dreidel with his sister and watching his new Hoodwinked DVD (adorable movie, btw) twice, he got on the phone with one of his friends to discuss the friend’s morning’s bounty. I could hear the excitement at being able to share that Santa had made a token visit, and he explained that Santa only brings Jewish kids one small gift because they get so many great things during Chanukah. I was feeling pretty good about my parenting skills until I heard him say coolly, “Oh yeah, I think he’ll definitely bring me the snake next year.”

Fat chance, kid.

Last, But Not Least On The Chanukah Blog Tour

chanukarama

Oh goody goody goody, I’ve always wanted to be memed but I’ve never been cool enough until now. Does it matter that I had to invite myself onto Amy Guth’s Chanukah Blog Tour and then only skated in at the very last minute? He-ell, no! There’s still wax left in them thar candles and I’m thrilled to be a part of it all!

Amy is currently shilling for her book Three Fallen Women (Hey! She even stopped in at The Sentient Bean on her book tour, the only spot in Savannah serving free trade coffee and poetry slams!) and is a self-proclaimed anal-retentive vegetarian cat lover who apparently likes wacko hair color as much as I do. She’s posed these same questions to 35 other Jbloggers, some familiar, some new to me, all dishing their personal flavor of Jewishy goodness. So here goes:

1. Quick! You must turn a plate of latkes into an upscale gourmet delight
(as if they aren’t already?). What would you add to them to dress them up,
flavor and/or garnish them?

Um, I’m still recovering from the epic latke extravaganza in my son’s first grade classroom, so I’m not really ready to think about this. Oy, you should see the blisters. Sizzling oil in a frying pan plugged in next to the pencil sharpener at a desk made for midgets — the miracle is that no children were maimed. However, on night #1 I did make a heavenly batch of zucchini-carrot latkes, and next year there will definitely be sweet potato delights drizzled in truffle oil on the table. I also suspect green Tabasco atop sour cream would be tasty, but that ain’t “upscale gourmet,” even down South.

2. What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard anyone say about Chanukah?
The culturally-challenged neighbor kid this week who kept asking “Where’s the black candle?” I know, I should be more tolerant, but somebody please, send money to the Georgia public school system.

3. What’s the best possible use for olive oil?

I never would have said this until yesterday, but it’s a damn good salve for blisters caused by compulsive latke frying.

4. Settle it once and for all. Latkes or hammentaschen? Which to you prefer? What about pitting the winner of that contest against sufganiyot?
Do folks know that this is actually a semi-serious debate that takes place at prestigious universities?

Latkes will always be the popular choice since it is a rare hammentaschen that doesn’t turn to sawdust in one’s mouth, but made right with that crazy poppyseed filling takes me back to my first crush, a boy named Jeff Seaman who always dressed like Haman on Purim and kicked me in the shins. But even three-pointed buttery divinity cannot stand up to the Southern Jewish sufganiyot: the raspberry-filled Krispy Kreme. Yup, they’re kosher!

5. What’s the best way to mix up a game of dreidel?

Drill a hole and pack in a few Mexican jumping beans.

amysbook6. My novel, Three Fallen Women, shockingly enough, is about the lives of
three women. Which three women would you like to have over this year for latkes and why?

Wha’, I gotta shred more gawdamn potatoes? Like I can’t order Thai takeout and just enjoy the conversation with my homegirls?

Tania Katan, author of My One Night Stand With Cancer, because she’s a totally hilarious person and I hardly ever get to hang out with her.

Mary, mother of Jesus, just so I could ask her over the third glass of pinot, “C’mon, honey, ‘fess up. Who’s really the father?”

And while I’m cooking more of these f*ckin’ pancakes, I’d invite Ms. Guth herself, ’cause she seems pretty cool and we could compare Manic Panic collections. Look, here she is: amyguth A fair resemblance to the visage at the top of this page, donctha think? The genes never fall far from the shtetl…

7. Other than Three Fallen Women (har har), what book do you think would make a great Chanukah gift this year? What book would you like to receive as a gift this year?

rabbiharveyThe dry humor and Talmudic wisdom of Steve Sheinkin’s The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey is guaranteed to make any Jew giggle; I was so glad to be able to give it my brother-in-law instead of the ugly sweater I figured I’d have to resort to. I’d love to receive a small siddur with tranliterations, a big book of feng shui and — since I’m a fiction slut — Three Fallen Women (c’mon, isn’t promotion partly the point of this exercise, Amy? ;) )

8. What bloggers didn’t participate in Chanukah Blog Tour 5767 and you
think should have? We can always get them to play next year!

I can’t believe Esther of My Urban Kvetch isn’t here — this is, like, so her. And Amishav of Chai Expectations would tear it up! Jewish Blogmeister has been working his heinie off interviewing other bloggers, so it’d be interesting to turn the tables.

Thanks to Not Chosen, Just Posin’ and the lovely Orienyenta for mentioning me in their answers.

A peaceful Shabbat and brightest 8th Night, y’all. It’s a lotta fire tonight — everyone practice safe burning tips, ya hear?

“X” Hatin’ On Xmas

santa hatesThough I’m not advocating its wear for anybody, I suppose this is the T-Shirt of the Week, from — where else? — T-Shirt Hell.

The outlaw part of me snickers at this one for its cheeky self-insulating humor — “No one can insult me if I bring the bar down low enough myself” — but as a Jewish mother I would be horrified for my kids to see say, their hipster uncle wearing this. Even though they seem to grok that this time of year is not about some Chanukah vs. Christmas smackdown, St. Nick extinguishing Chanukah candles with urine is an image I’d prefer not to have burned on their impressionable little brains (along with news footage of Iraq, animal cruelty and Britney Spears’ labia.)

Man, I don’t want to fight a war on Christmas. After last year’s Santa and the Snake tsursis, I vowed to meet the “overwhelment” (a term coined by an fascinating book called The Law of Attraction) of Christian culture with positive Jewish messages to show my kids that while we are a minority (and on the geographic and cultural outskirts of the minority at that), we have so much and so many ways to celebrate who we are and from where we came. I am also trying gently to instill the idea that we owe it to our ancestors to inform others about our Jewishness proudly without acting defensive or entitled. Which translates into training the boy not to spit out snottily “We’re Jewish!” when some well-meaning store clerk mentions the S-man.

For the most part, the kids are too busy helping me create our own awesome holiday to wonder why don’t have an 8-foot Frosty the Snowman in our front yard. We hosted a Chanukah gathering a few nights ago for a few non-Jewish families who expressed interest in “learning about our rituals,” and though they looked a little nervous when we chanted the prayers (El Yenta Man told them that this was the part where we sacrifice a Christian child; such a sicko, that guy) it turned into a lovely party of wine-laden philosophic musings and an epic dreidel tournament presided over the warm glow of the menorahs. Even though one of the neighbor children kept asking “Where’s the black candle?” My son rolled his eyes and was all, “Totally different holiday, dude.

Ideally, my children’s Jewish identity will be rooted in sharing our celebrations with Jews and non-Jews, and may our non-Jewish friends share their rituals with us. Yesterday’s JPost ran a terrific column by Wendy Mogel called Why Can’t David and Rachel Enjoy the Christmas Glitz? that wonders that what it would be like if instead of trying to keep Christmas from infecting our Jewish kids, we relaxed and made gingerbread houses and drove around looking at lights.

Who knows? Maybe we’d all learn to laugh at a drawing of Santa pissing on a menorah.

BTW, posting may be slow for the rest of the week. Because I feel compelled to practice what I preach and I’m a mother martyr of the highest degree, I’m making latkes for 30 first graders for the school holiday party tomorrow and it may take several days for my burn-spattered hands to recover typing capabilities. Happy Chanukah, y’all!

Saguaro Menorah Miracle

saguaromenorahFrom the state that boasts a “Mother Mary on a tortilla sighting” at least once a year comes this article from Arizona about an eight-armed cactus growing in a Jewish front yard.

Can it be interpreted as an act of God that this prickly plant found a Jewish home and not a one where it would be forced to spend the winter season as an octopus wearing a Santa hat?

Owner Mel Kline calls the 135 year-old saguaro a symbol of peace, and dubs the “natural living Chanukah menorah” as “a lasting symbol of freedom in today’s world.”

I hope he still feels that way when crowds of meshuggenehs seeking a sign from above begin camping on the front lawn to be blessed by glow of this burning bush — Oh, wait. Jews don’t camp.

Miracle or no, it’s still magnificent!

(Hat tip: The Supreme Grand Yenta of Scottsdale, my mom.)

The Mosh Pit In Front of the Menorah

It’s official: The favorite song of the Yenta house this Chanukah season is this ska-flavored version of “Ocho Kandlikas” by Hip Hop Hoodios. (Wait just a sec for the beats to kick in. It’s available on the “Celebrate Jewish Hip Hop” collection from CraigNCo or downloaded here.)

It is my goal to lobby the music teachers of America to replace the oh-so-tired “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” on the playlists of every elementary school choral concert with this Ladino classic by 2009.

(Ladino is the dialect of Sephardic Jews descended from those ousted from Spain and Portugal; it’s to Spanish what Yiddish is to German. Marcia Fine’s latest novel, The Blind Eye explores this history that’s unfamiliar to so many of us Ashkenazic, Eastern European-descended folk.)

Also playing loud enough this week to shake the neighbor’s jingle bells are “Hannukah Swings” and CraigNCo’s super chill “Hanukkah Lounge”, the cream of last year’s music roundup.

But the Chanukah rockin’ doesn’t stop at home: We got it goin’ on during carpool with Radio Hanukkah on XM radio, channel 108! To hear “Sunrise, Sunset” and a klezmer power hour hosted by accordian mistress Annette Ezekiel from Golem is such a tonic for all those same twenty-five ubiquitous Christmas tunes bombarding us in stores, offices, hospitals, nail salons, hotel lobbies and all other public places. Honestly, isn’t time someone retired poor Brenda Lee already?

Oy Vey! The Rabbi’s Gay!

gayblackjewishklansmenBy now most of you know that the Conservative movement issued a series of edicts on the subject of Jewish gayness last week, caused many of us to jump for joy because it’s just one more step towards the righteous and fabulously decorated world that will come with global Jewish gay domination.

Jewish Gay media mafioso jokes aside, this trend towards tolerance and acceptance could be what saves Judaism from suffication by unaffiliation — from here it looks like Conservatism is growing up with its surrounding culture rather than supressing and denying it.

But in typical Talmud-ese, the answer is never as clean cut as a bris. While paving the way for the ordination of gay rabbis and sanctioning same sex marriages, the three teshuvah (“responses”) actually contradict each other: One policy upholds the ban on gay rabbis, another allows them as well as blessing ceremonies for gay couples but maintains the prohibition on sodomy, and a third continues the traditional opinion that gayfolk do not belong near a Torah.

In last week’s j., one rabbi says the committee’s ruling “cuts the baby in half” (a reference to the famous King Solomon story) because for those who wholly approve of gay rabbis and marriage, it doesn’t actually grant permission for such, and those who don’t find the ruling progressive might “worry it will mean the end of K’lal Yisroel [the Jewish people] since it goes completely against the grain of 2,000 years of rabbinical decisions.”

So basically, you can be a gay rabbi and ordain gay couples under a chuppah, but no one’s allowed to have hot gay sex. Somehow, though, this adds up to progress.

Let the Sunday School discussions begin! Rabbi Daniel Brenner of the RebBlog has written a sweet story that’s perfect for your first “why does the rabbi wear chaps?” chat with the children: Oy Vey! The Rabbi is Gay!: A Children’s Tale for All the Conservative Synagogue Educators Who Might Need a Little Extra Help Next Week.

Here in Savannah, rumor has it that the Conservative synagogue, Agudath Achim, is shopping around for a new spiritual leader. I asked a liberal-minded congregant what the chances were that they’d hire a gay one.

He snorted. “How about the first woman rabbi in Savannah?”

One step at a time, dude…