On the Nightstand (And Elsewhere)

You might wonder how a busy lady like myself gets in any pleasure reading, but here’s my little secret: I keep books all over the house. That way, whenever I find myself with a spare minute, I snatch up a paragraph or two.

shmutzy girlSometimes they’re in the kids’ rooms, but y’know, I’ll take what I can get. Right now we’ve been into a couple from the Matzah Ball Books series, Kvetchy Boy and Schmutzy Girl. Perhaps because my own kvetchy and shmutzik children also adore these, I find myself reading them over and over and over again … but seriously, they’re cute (both the books and the kids — when they’re not kvetching or wiping their hands on the walls.) The series is a pretty basic but sweet way to introduce a little yiddishe pride into the home; there are already five funny boys and girls, with more on the way. Personally, I can’t wait to meet Shvitzy Boy and Tushy Girl, but I don’t need anyone getting any ideas from Shlemiel Boy.

judygoldIn the bathroom (oh, like you don’t read in there) I’ve been reading Judy Gold’s 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, the literary version of her hysterical one-woman Broadway hit (if I wasn’t already sitting down when I came some of the anecdotes about her own mother, I would’ve had to – such a guilt sponge!) With help from writer Kate Moira Ryan, this Emmy-award winning comedienne asked 50 Jewish mothers from around the country the same series of questions and got some unexpected answers. “What makes a Jewish mother different? We love our children more!” insisted one woman. I don’t know about that; maybe we’re just louder about it? Judy weaves in her own hilarious story of being a lesbian mother with a Catholic partner while giving sensitive and compassionate service to the stories of these other women.

There’s a list at the end of the book of those 25 questions to ask your own Jewish mother, and expect a forthcoming blog post of the Yenta’s answers…

yiddishpolicemansAnd in the bedroom, where if I’m lucky I get in about ten minutes of reading time (and if I’m luckier, I get none, wink wink), I finally finished Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union a few weeks back. I had my doubts that he could top the rollicking good time of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – he won a Pulitzer for heaven’s sakes, where do you go from there? – but those doubts were dashed after the first chapter.

Chabon has created an airtight fictional world where the Jews of the world congregated in Sitka, Alaska after the fall of Israel in 1948. Now it’s sixty years later and control of this frozen shtetl is going to revert back to American control; once again, the Jews of the world must disperse. No assimilation or complacency here; Chabon almost seems to warn the Jews of the world not to forget how the world treated us before some tenuous political agreements allowed us back into Eretz Yisrael.

He uses the frigid opposite of the biblical desert to spotlight the adaptive capabilites of his Alaskan Jews; there are Orthodox gangsters and tough, hard-nosed policeman. His main character, Meyer Landsman, is one of these cops, known as “latkes”; there’s a noirish echo of Mickey Spillane in Landsman’s suicidal, drunk at 10am persona, but it doesn’t seem derivative. When an anonymous corpse leads the plot into a murder mystery with Messianic implications, Chabon deepens that noir genre into something bigger, more important, and completely Jewish. It’s a history lesson of a parallel universe that doesn’t seem that far away, not to mention the kind of love story you might actually imagine yourself a part of; another masterpiece, really.

So, what are you guys reading?

Sending Out the Elul Love

jewelsSo tomorrow marks the first of the month of Elul, the period when we’re all supposed to start cleaning up our respective acts for Rosh Hashanah. Aish.com likens it to preparing for an important court date, but I think I like the idea of getting ready for the Prom of the soul: You have a whole month to curl your hair, paint your nails, Febreze your dress and practice dancing in those rhinestone heels for your most important date of the year. Screw this one up with halitosis or drinking too much of the spiked punch or just being self-absorbed, selfish or mean, and maybe the Big Guy decides you’re a pretty lame date after all. And you know what that means: Your days of being inscribed into the YearBook of Life are over, baby.

So, yeah, Elul; time to start thinking a little more deeply about who we’ve been this year, what we need to change, how to be better humans. The creative geniuses at CraignCo (that would be Craig “Silver Fox” Taubman and his crew of magical elves) have everything you need to end your 5767 right: There’s a soundtrack for the Holy Days, Inscribed, that you could start listening to on the iPod while mowing the lawn like your wife asked you to nicely five times already, and then there’s the Jewels of Elul, which begin posting tomorrow:

Beginning August 15, on each of the 29 days of Elul, we will post a “Jewel” of an inspiration from an amazing group of individuals. From Deepak Chopra to the Dalai Lama and Kirk Douglas to Matisyahu, these wonderful people will share their thoughts on “Hope and Healing”.

So after gathering up all these really wise, famous people, someone thought they needed a little sacreligious immaturity to balance things out, so they asked me to contribute a jewel, too. I don’t think I’ve ever been so honored to be asked to do anything. All the Jewels will be compiled in a book, too. Me and the Dalai Lama in the same book. Life is so weird.

Start checking it out tomorrow, and keep it up until 5768!

It’s up; I’m Jewel #1!

Georgia No Longer Has The Scariest Public Schools

Listen, I love the idea of free Jewish education. (What, you think I wanted to teach Sunday school out of the goodness of my heart? I’ve since found out that free tuition isn’t even part of the deal, but I’ve already signed the contract. So the goodness of my heart it is.)

Anyhoo, every parent knows how the kvetch goes about the cost of private day school, but is a Jewish public school such a good idea? Some families in South Florida have gotten together to make it a reality, and the first day of classes at band new Ben Gamla is next week.

But wait, it’s not much like religious day school at all: Students will learn Hebrew, Jewish history and Jewish-related topics for two hours a day and eat kosher lunches (will the cafeteria lades wear shaygels and hairnets?) and but no Torah, no Talmud. Oh, and no Jewish symbolism like mogen davids or menorahs. But the charter school (a tax-funded, privately-managed educational institution) caters to a community with a large Israeli population, so a secular education is just what these families want.

I suppose if this was made available to my family, I’d give it a chance, but not without major reservations. Oy, it’s giving me a headache: How do you teach “Judaism” without religion, or at least a picture of a darn shofar? And if you do, why bother? And is it really possible to keep the lines of synagogue and state clear? As part of the public school system, won’t it have to give everyone Good Friday off? And don’t you agree that if a group of Christians wanted to open their own public school, we’d be storming around with our lawyers?

I guess I don’t how to feel about “culturally identified” schools that will obviously have so much fuzzy religious crossover. Blogger bud Schvach tipped me off to the Arab-themed charter school in NYC (hey, can’t wait to see their cheerleading uniforms!), and gosh, what a surprise, they’re having kind of hard time keeping the jihad out of the classroom. Does anyone really believe you can have an Arab- or a Jewish-themed school that teaches anything about the other objectively?

I admit to wishing there was free Jewish school here that will teach my kids Hebrew, but I have enough problems with a public Montessori that has mandated tests. It all just strikes me a baaad idea.

Tell me why you disagree.

Aren’t You Glad ‘Big Brother’ Was Watching?

I don’t watch much TV and would rather watch amateur squirrel golf than drivel like the humans-as-zoo animals wannabe social experiment Big Brother, and reader Johnny is right that I try to keep things positive around here and leave the anti-Semites for my man Abe Foxman to deal with, but Amber Tomcavage’s “reality TV” rant about how her mama taught her that Jews are bad, bad people is kind of enlightening. Or maybe not so much “enlightening” as “shockingly disturbing that people this dumb actually bathe and dress themselves”:

I’ve always assumed anyone who wanted to be on TV so badly that they would lock themselves up with strangers and be filmed 24/7 had to have problems that couldn’t be that much fun to watch. In this case, it’s excruciating.

If you didn’t make it too the end (I didn’t expect you to), her chaise-mate Jameka finally says timidly that Amber probably shouldn’t let other people hear her talk like that, because they might think she’s, y’know, rude or something. Although FOXNews says that Jameka had “no reaction” to Amber’s anti-Semitic tirade, I thought she did pretty well. She actually seemed scared and shocked at what was being said and was trying to lay low, lest Amber start going off on what her mother has to say about black people. What did FOX expect her to do, jump off of that giant chair and start pointing and shrieking “Bigot! Bigot!”?

After Jameka’s soft reprimimanding, Amber starts backpedaling, “Well maybe it’s just the Jews I know, which isn’t that many…” and then delivers this bimbo bomb: “Like there’s so much to think about, I can’t keep up with it all, girl!” Then she admits she’s done so many drugs that she has memory loss and stutters sometimes, and can’t remember more than 20 words at a time.

Am I the last of my generation that remembers when TV was Lawrence Welk and his bubbles, The Muppet Show and Charlie Brown specials? If the Jews are really running the media, how could prime time have gone so quickly from Kermit to anti-Semitic methheads?

Shekhina Shabbat

mendesI’ve been working on the “Goddess” issue at skirt! this month and musing on the lack of sacred female imagery in Judaism. L.A. artist Barbara Mendes reminds us that even is she is hidden in these modern times, the Shekhina, our very own Jewish Earth Mother, keeps her arms open to us.

Click here for the larger version of “Shekhina Comes I,” then delve even further into the details.

May your Shabbos be graced with such beauty!

Werewolves in the Talmud?

werewolfMSNBC can wax Christian over Harry Potter all it likes, but Rabbi Natan Slifkin contends that the magical creatures popping up all over the seven books have Jewish origins.

In his new book Sacred Monsters – a follow-up to his first book, Mysterious Creatures – Reb Slifkin mines the Mishnah and Midrash for references to a veritable zoo of mythical beasts, including mermaids, fire-breathing dragons, fire-proof salamanders, born-from-fire phoenixes, werewolves, giants, dwarves and a mouse that grows from dirt.

Sages from Rambam to Rashi weigh in about the existence of flying serpents, and if you’re the type to take the word of the ancient rabbis literally, this could cause a crisis of faith. But all the kids in my circle know Harry Potter a heckuva lot better than they know the Gemara, and after they’ve finished The DeathlyHallows, Sacred Monsters seems like a kosher way to prolong the magic. I can’t think of a better book to add to the required reading list at the Shalom School!

A Tale of Two Wolves

twowolvesMy man Pepe Pringos tipped me off to Uni Avnery’s column about financier James Wolfensohn, the guy who was special envoy to the EU and UN before Tony Blair took on the job, and the much-maligned Jewish former Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz.

What Wolfensohn and Wolfowitz have in common is that both are Jews and have the same name: Son of Wolf, one in the German version and the other in the Russian one. Also, both are past chiefs of the World Bank. But that’s where the similarity ends. …. They personify the two opposite extremes of contemporary Jewish reality. Wolfensohn belongs to the humanist, universal, optimistic, world-embracing trend in Judaism, a man of peace and compromise, an heir to the wisdom of generations. Wolfowitz, at the other end, belongs to the fanatical Judaism that has grown up in the State of Israel and the communities connected with it, a man of overbearing arrogance, hatred and intoxication of power.

Here’s the whole shebang; it’s an interesting read if you have the time. But weirdly, this next bit appeared a few minutes later in my inbox as part of a mass email from a non-Jewish friend:

Two Wolves
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment,
inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Now tell me, that’s some crazy synchronistic sh*t, dontcha think?