God Save The Children

mean teacherOnce upon a blog post, I made a little joke about becoming a Hebrew school teacher. Well, I have some very scary news for next year’s kindergarteners of Savannah’s Shalom School: It’s you, me, the Torah, a coupla tamborines and maybe some warm apple juice and crackers if you behave yourselves on Sunday mornings, kidlets. We’ll get along just fine as long as you pretend I know more than you do. And your parents don’t read this blog.

At the risk of called out as self-absorbed by the big kids on the Jblog block (poor Amishav! What a dumb drama to have happen to the wrong person, but he seems to have handled it with his usual humility and grace), I need a little navel-gazing moment: At 25, I had a shaved head and hairy armpits, drove a VW camper and wrote a newspaper column that inspired weekly death threats. At 35, I wear make-up every day, am sporting something suspiciously close to a sensible mom haircut, drive a beige minivan and have just accepted a job as a Sunday school teacher. If I hadn’t somehow morphed into a responsible adult in spite of my best efforts, I’d beg one of you to come to Savannah with a stack of Charles Bukowski books and some cocaine and kidnap me for a weekend.

*Sigh* At least now I have a true reason to buy some of Susan Fischer Weis’ fabulous chag-themed Yontifications.

T-Shirt of the Week � The Perfect Word


If it’s your divine aspiration to be a walking Yiddish dictionary, look no further than this schmata from WayCoolTshirts.com.

If you’re ever at lunch with a bunch of yentas who think it’s just hilarious to frusturate the younger yentas by whispering in the mamaloshen and then cackling like a murder of bedazzled crows, here’s a crib sheet to wear on your chest. (Hear that Beezy? I’m ready for you today, lady. But knowing you and the other JEA Senior Lunch Bunch girls, you’ll switch to Pig Latin just to throw me for a loop.)

Upon further inspection, some of these spellings don’t jive with the definitive holy text Leo Rosten’s Joys of Yiddish (it’ll always be zaftig, no mattter how svelte I become with the rollerblading, dahlinks) but that’s the nature of phonetic language, nu?

On The Doorpost Of Your Condo, Cave, Whateva

mezuzah vinemezOy, have you heard about the Florida condo association that tried to slap a Jewish resident with a fat fine for putting up a mezuzah? 28 year-old Laurie Richter knew better than to be intimidated by the building manager and cooly pointed out in a letter to the board that there were Christmas wreaths up until February in the building, so it obviously wasn’t an aesthetic issue.

“Clearly, the Rules and Regulations of the Port Condominium could not have intended to interfere with people practicing their religion,” she wrote in a letter to the association.

Richter won her right to affix the prayers to the doorposts of her house, and on her gates if she wishes, but not before the attorney general, a state representative and the ADL got involved. All the fuss embarrassed the bejeebus out of the condo association, who sniffly put out a press release that all Richter had to do was ask permission. Puh-leez! It’s not like a mezuzah is just some decoration like a freakin’ lawn gnome or one of those tacky nylon flags people put out to show support for their favorite team — and any homeowner’s association should know the difference. And this is Florida for criminey’s sakes — you can’t swing a cat without making a Jewish person sneeze. No excuse for such ignorance, unless, of course it’s more insidious.

In any case, such nonsense won’t happen again, as State Rep Julio Robaina of Miami has sponsored a bill that includes a provision to ensure residents can post a mezuzah. The language states: “No association may prohibit the attachment of religious items at the door or at the entrance of a unit. The board may adopt reasonable size restrictions for such items.” So no three-foot neon jobbies, ‘k?

Speaking of mezuzot, as you know, I’m shopping. I’ll probably buy locally from one of the synagogue gift shops, but I’m digging these two gorgeous items from the Mezuzahstore.com and Artazia.com. I’ve always figured we were covered with on the front door and one on the back, but maybe one for each of the bedroom doors will help us all sleep better, nu?

I’ve been brushing up on mezuzah protocol and the official prayer, but as usual, the new Yenta front door presents a problem: There is a glass door that opens outward and another that open into the interior. So do I affix the mezuzah on the outside of the first door, which would put it actually on the house instead of on the door frame, or do I put it between the two? Any help would be appreciated.

The Bayit Yenta

shoehouseToday was an extra special day for the Family Yenta, and not just ’cause it was the last day we’ll be eating the
intestinal bedeviling bread of affliction for another year: This morning at 11:30am EST, I, along with my equally astonished spouse, became a home owner.

It’s a sweet three-bedroom bungalow with hardwoord floors in the exact center of Savannah, close to the children’s schools in a section of town reputed to be “up and coming.” It’s also two blocks away from my in-laws, which sounds appalling but has its advantages — my mother-in-law is less likely to get lost on the way over, and plus, they have a pool.

Of course I’m ecstatic to have a home of our own after living like a refugee for almost a year (cripes, could I sound more spoiled and ungrateful? I’ve been living at the beach, for heaven’s sake.) But there’s the whole mortgage thing, which just feels so heavy, man. El Yenta Man and I are what you might call late bloomers, having extended our adolescences well into our 30s and avoided anything like a real job. (You may be shocked to learn that Jewish blogging does not come with a health benefit package or a company car. Union, anyone?) Many of our peers bought their first houses years ago, these also being the kind of people who have had IRA’s since college and actually planned their children instead of suddenly realizing that “oops, honey, guess the ‘pull and pray’ method doesn’t really work that well after all!” We’re not really planners so much, so it’s just going to take some attitudinal gymnastics to wrap our minds around the reality that we’re full-fledged grown-ups now.

We celebrated our tentative independence and the end of chametz season with — what else? — a few pints of Newcastle ale and a cheesy pizza with extra fluffy crust from Vinnie VanGoGos.

I’ve been too farklempt and famisht (and hell, why not, a little farblondzgent) to take pictures of our new abode just yet, but until I do, here’s the Shoe House. I love shoes and I love my new house and I’m going to be so happy to introduce all my shoes to my new house, so it’s a perfect substitute. Though If I’m ever road-tripping near York, Pennsylvania, I’ll have to knock on the door (or maybe they have a shoelace doorbell or something) and let the old woman who lives there with her too many children that she really ought to come up with an alternative to those “pull and pray” shenanigans.

Jews on the Verge of Giving Their Mothers Nervous Breakdowns

amywinehouseWhen I saw a flyer for a local Savannah band called Jewop, I pictured a clean-cut quartet of Fonzie types snapping their fingers and combing back their ducktails, singing “Dayenu” in four-part harmony. Turns out it’s a guitarless Jewish-Italian death metal duo whose current album’s cover art features a bloody scapel and is aptly called Stab/Operate. Not really my scene, but maybe you’re into it.

Also on the causing-parental-chest-pain radar is British songstress Amy Winehouse, whose drunken escapades have made her the darling of the tabloids across the pond, especially with the folks at Jewtastic. I downloaded her second album Back to Black, and well, wow. Amy might be a potty-mouthed, “dickhead drunk” (her words), but the girl can sing. But maybe my UK friends can help me out: What exactly does “fuckery” mean?

Then there’s nice Jewish punk princess porn star Joanna Angel, whose Jewcy interview I will be happy to link, but you’ll have to find the really dirty stuff on your own.

None of these kids incorporate their Judaism into their professional work (and just what would that look like anyway, Ms. Angel?) yet all identify as Jewish in interviews and such. So do we consider them “Jewish artists” or not? I don’t know, I’m not sure I care. I suppose I only wanted to show my mother how I could have turned out so much worse.

That’s Right, The Jews Are Smarter*

einsteinA self-described “Scots-Irish Gentile from Iowa” explores the elevated average Jewish IQ and how it got that way in this month’s Commentary magazine. Understandably, we all get a little nervous when someone starts tooting our horns, mostly because spotlighting how Jews stand apart from everyone else can easily lead to some accusation of us actually having horns.

Charles Murray is honestly curious as to why there is an “extravagant overrepresentation of Jews, relative to their numbers, in the top ranks of the arts, sciences, law, medicine, finance, entrepreneurship, and the media,” and delves into some original scholarly theories. Naturally, the crazy number of Nobel prizes awarded to Jews when compared to the rest of the world’s population is a good place to start:

“In the second half of the 20th century, when Nobel Prizes began to be awarded to people from all over the world, that figure rose to 29 percent. So far, in the 21st century, it has been 32 percent. Jews constitute about two-tenths of one percent of the world’s population. You do the math.”

But when he starts going backwards, things really get interesting. Debunking the usual theories that only the smartest Jews survived all the pogroms of history and that we consciously kept intelligence in the gene pool, the gentile from Iowa shows us that these explanations can’t be held up as scientific:

Two potential explanations for a Jewish gene pool favoring high intelligence are so obvious that many people assume they must be true: winnowing by persecution (only the smartest Jews either survived or remained Jews) and marrying for brains (scholars and children of scholars were socially desirable spouses)…But once the Cossacks are sweeping through town, the kind of intelligence that leads to business success or rabbinical acumen is no help at all. On the contrary, the most successful people could easily have become the most likely to be killed, by virtue of being more visible and the targets of greater envy. Furthermore, other groups, such as the Gypsies, have been persecuted for centuries without developing elevated intelligence. Considered closely, the winnowing-by-persecution logic is not as compelling as it may first appear.

As for the marrying-for-brains theory, “arguments have been advanced that rich merchants were in fact often reluctant to entrust their daughters to penniless and unworldly scholars. Nor is it clear that the fertility rate of scholars, or their numbers, were high enough to account for a major effect on intelligence.”

Murray goes on to take us into the intellectual differences between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and suggests that it is the Torah itself and its required literacy and higher thinking that pushed up the IQ points:

Since worship of God involved not only prayer but study, all Jewish males had to read if they were to practice their faith—and not only read in private but be able to read aloud in the presence of others…I suggest that the Jews who fell away from Judaism from the 1st to 6th centuries C.E. were heavily concentrated among those who could not learn to read well enough to be good Jews—meaning those from the lower half of the intelligence distribution.

The whole article
gets a little dry a times, but it’s an important read. Surely, having been published in a Jewish journal of higher intelligence presents these theories as innoucous, merely historical and explanatory. But if the same article was published somewhere less friendly, say some White Power site or the San Francisco Chronicle, this discussion of the “superiority” of Jewish DNA would make our skin crawl, right?

Sombrero tip to the eagle-eyed Pepe Pringos.

*It’s a tune. Been listening to a lot of Grateful Dead lately.


eggs*With apologies to the lovely Orieyenta.

Back to life, back to reality after a week’s respite at Camp Scottsdale, where the entire Yenta family was spoiled rotten by the two most energetic 60-somethings the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, they rejected the suggestion that we move in permanently. Maybe I was too bossy at the seder. (I apologize again here for calling out a certain family member for snacking off the seder plate; it was disrespectful of me to gasp as if Elijah had wandered in off the patio stark naked looking for a drink. If I see anyone using a yarmulke as a napkin next year, I promise to be more discreet.)

Good lawdy, it’s going to take some time to catch up, but I wouldn’t be a good Yenta if I didn’t at least check in. And I wouldn’t be a bad Jewish mother if I didn’t admit that I dyed a dozen eggs with the children this morning. Before you, uh, crucify me (tee hee hee), know that the kit was half off at the only grocery store open on Easter Sunday in the entire South. Plus, the stripes in my hair need bleaching, and I was just itching to dye something. We hummed “Eliahu Hanavi” while we did it, though. And there were absolutely no pastels involved (the secret’s in the vinegar, just in case you’re feelin’ cross-cultural.)

The Manic Panic-painted eggs on top of El Yenta Man’s refusal to eat fluffy biscuits while snacking on a pork rib last night at a Christian friends’ birthday party (where I was invited to church no less than three times in two hours) surely earns us some Most Disoriented Jews of the Diaspora trophy. Yet our son sang the Four Questions at two seders with nary a stutter and treated a waitress to an explanation of the Five Forbidden Grains when asked whether he wanted a waffle with his eggs. So I guess we’re doing one or two things by the book. Really, we’re not wicked — just simple.