The Yenta In The Most Unusual Place

mickveisraelarkOver the 15 years of my not-quite successful writing career, my work has appeared in a myriad of places, some worth mentioning, most not. I’ve helped other people compose love letters, book proposals and, for a fee paid up front in cash, college term papers. I’ve seen my name in lights, ink, pixels and on the door of my Shalom School classroom (though no one’s ever called me “Mrs. Lebos” to my face and lived.)

But never, ever have I written a Yom Kippur sermon. Intentionally, anyway.

So you can understand why I was a little surprised while sitting in synagogue Saturday, stomach rumbling, sinuses aching, consciousness fading, when I heard the rabbi thunder the name of this blog.

El Yenta Man poked me. “Wake up! He’s talking about you!”

Reb Belzer was reading the post I wrote last Yom Kippur about the curious incident of the Mickve Israel Jesus intruder, in which I came to terms somewhat with the churchy ways of my adopted Jewish community. It was not, um, the most flattering piece in certain parts, which is to say it was not written with the intention that it would be read out loud to the entire congregation on the holiest day of the year.

I began to pray to our good and merciful God to open up an escape hatch under my pew. El Yenta Man started complicated hand miming to indicate to anyone sitting around us that the woman next to him with her head between her knees was the blogger being quoted on the bima. I glanced two rows back at my father-in-law, but his red ears were the only part I could see since he had his face in his hands. At least it wasn’t one of those posts where I detonate multiple f-word bombs.

As the rabbi finished reading, I understood why he had chosen this piece to elucidate his point this Yom Kippur: In the end, I make clear that this congregation is full of good people, good Jews who embody the essence of tolerance and non-judgement of what I (and apparently the rabbi) believe to be True Judaism. (Even if they still, say, break the fast at Walt’s BBQ with a pulled pork sandwich.)

Still, when the morning service ended, I wondered if I could use the ancient secret passageway under the ark (pictured here, btw) to get up to the babysitting room to claim my children without having to face the five hundred people who now knew my web address, which has my punim on it. No such luck. El Yenta Man steered me right into his father, who looked at me and shrugged. “I’m speechless.” I could only assume I had tarnished the family name forever.

Then a colleague of his came up and clapped him on the back. “She’s your daughter-in-law? Well done!”

“Yes,” his wife agreed. “Definitely one of Belzer’s best sermons ever. At least he didn’t talk about Iraq.”

My father-in-law looked relieved. I snuck out of the sanctuary, but not before receiving a bear hug from the rabbi, who has a terrific sense of humor and apparently appreciates mine. But now that I’ve been outed as a a renegade Jew, y’all had better be ready for some crazy African dance moves on Simchat Torah.

I also would like to add that last year’s Yom Kippur post was a turning point in my opinion of Mickve Israel. Sure, I’m always going to be talkin’ some sh*t that the Gothic architecture and its interior cross are always going to make me feel like I’m in Notre Dame, but I’ll take on anyone who dares call this congregation “Judaism Lite.” The 275th anniversary of its founding is coming up this year, and its history is fascinating. (Phoebe Kerness, one of the brilliant docents you might meet if you come visit, brought tears to my eyes when she reminded me that my mother-in-law did much of the research and wrote the text used during the tours, even though she’s received no credit for it.)

During Rosh Hashanah services, the three beautiful young women of last year’s confirmation class each sang a Torah portion with such clarity and spirit it gave me goosebumps. And of course, there is the unique event of “El Norah Ah-Lee-La” preserved in the original vernacular of the Sephardic ancestral founders, sung by Kayton Smith for the past chunk of years. The tune has been passed down l’dor va’dor (generation to generation) and I’ve already asked Kayton if he’d teach it to me, though he assured me he’s good for another twenty years or so.

Such a meaningful High Holidays combined with the rollickin’ good time of Shalom School has finally groomed a real feeling of being at home at Mickve Israel, where my husband was bar mitzvahed and confirmed, where we were married, where our children learn how to make sukkahs out of graham crackers and pretzels.

And that’s why I can overlook the round challahs baked with candied green and red maraschino cherries you usually find in a Christmas fruitcake. 😉

Happy 5768, y’all!

Calling All Pious Dodgers Fans

sandysyarmulekAs we go into Kol Nidre, you may be scrambling for an extra credit towards this Year’s Book of Life. Perhaps a worn polyester yarmulke that once sat on the duff of baseball great Sandy Koufax, currently up for auction on eBay?

However, even if you beat out the bidders (it’s at $55 as of noon, EST), it will not excuse you from watching the Georgia game before Break the Fast (I’m talking to you, El Yenta Man.)

Easy fast, y’all!

Sing Low, Sweet Chariot

Since we’re in atonement time, I have a small confession to make: I love gospel music. Look, when you don’t have cable and there’s nothing else on TV in Georgia Sunday mornings, you watch what’s there, ‘aight? And if you can get over the whole Jesus thing, it is just so dang inspiring to see those folks offering up their “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lords!” and clapping like heaven’s just gonna break open and shine through — I’ve often wished we could all kick back our chairs in synagogue and shout it out to Hashem like we mean it, sisters and brothers! (As a matter of fact, I had poem published about our people’s lack of worshipping enthusiasm. El Yenta Man thinks I should post a Youtube video of me performing it, and maybe I will one of these days…)

The fabulous news is that I don’t have to get treyf to assuage my gospel jones: Kosher gospel singerJoshua Nelson can get his “Adon Olam” on like no one’s business, y’all (watch here)! Even Oprah has endorsed him as the next big thing, and the house is gonna come down when he performs at Hallelu in Atlanta November 4. I’ll be the one with my arms raised high!

For those of you who know my synagogue in Savannah and it’s tight-lipped Protestant classic Reform tendencies, what would those Saturday morning alterkockers think of Joshua?

Shana Tovah, Don’t Shoot!

gunsnmosesAnd you thought the worst thing that could happen to you at High Holy Days services was getting drooled on by the guy dozing next to you during the rabbi’s sermon:

Three people were injured last week on Erev Rosh Hashanah at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX when 81 year-old retired law enforcement agent Marvin Marks stood up — as we Jews are wont to do so many times while worshipping — and dropped his gun. A single bullet discharged and hit Marks’ 42-year-old daughter in the foot; two others had minor scrapes from the same bullet. Everyone lived, and because nothing can deter a man on a bima, the rabbi finished his sermon. Though the temple did feel the need to reiterate their “no firearms in shul” policy for Yom Kippur.

Poor Mr. Marks, who has been a member of Temple Emanu-El for 50 years, sent out an apology letter to the entire congregation and offered up this explanation:

I spent my career in law enforcement and began to carry a concealed weapon after I was placed in a threatening position by an individual I had previously arrested. Though I carry this weapon with me at all times I always leave it in my car when I go into places, such as the Temple, where guns are prohibited. On Wednesday evening I forgot to leave it in my car. I know that is a poor excuse for bringing it into Temple with me, but that is the truth. When I stood during the service the gun slipped and fell. Though the safety latch was on, the gun fired. I have spoken with other law enforcement officials and this is a rare occurrence with this type of pistol. I am so sorry that two congregants were hit by fragments. I feel awful that my daughter was injured.

He also expressed remorse that another congregant of the same name may have mistakenly been blamed for the accident. (You know how the yentas like to gossip without checking their facts!) Guess he’s got a little extra t’shuvah to do Saturday, eh?

Only in Texas, people. Wonder if Kinky Friedman will write a song about it now that he’s not busy running for office anymore. How does “I Brought My Smith & Wesson to Temple And All I Got Was Tsuris” sound?

Props to Rebbetzin (oops, apparently she doesn’t like the appellation) Arlene Belzer for the tip, who also sent along the following rabbinical response from Temple Emanu-El. Thank God those Texan Jews have a sense of humor:

Welcome to Dallas!

“We don’t say “Shanah Tovah” or “Good Shabbas”; we say “Don’t shoot!”

“Our Temple doesn’t offer early evening or late eveningHigh Holy Day services. We have armed services and unarmed services.”

“We’re the only temple where the National Rifle Association holds meetings.”

“Adult education courses include handgun licensing.”

“In the gift shop you can buy: A combination talit / bulletproof vest, an “I Survived the High Holy Holidays” t-shirt and combination gift packs with Hanukkah candles and
hollow point ammunition.”

“We don’t throw candy at bar mitzvahs. We shoot at the ceiling.”

“Instead of a canned food drive, we have a live turkey shoot.”

“The Torah is escorted to the bima by Dallas SWAT.”

And the Yenta’s favorites, future fundraising slogans for Temple Emanu-El Dallas:

“Our services will blow you away!”
“More bang for your dues buck.”
“Our congregation can kick your congregation’s ass.”
“Do you feel lucky, schmuck?”

*T-Shirt available at Pongo.

I Can Bake A Honeycake…

honeycake…if I can manage to limp over the the store before sundown. A nice reader asked if I have a good recipe for this Rosh Hashanah delight, which of course I do, just not a whole lotta time to bake it!

The Yenta recipe comes from Gottlieb’s bakery, a Savannah institution since 1884. The Gottliebs are still around and are still in the food business; they cater the Senior Yenta lunches and the boys of my generation own the “it” eatery downtown.

Anyhoo, here it is. We won’t get to bring the New Year in with it, but I may take advantage of being unorthodox and spend some time in the kitchen after services tomorrow.

Sister Sadie’s Honeycake

(with a few Yenta additions)

1 cup sugar
2 cups honey
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cold strong stale coffee or flat Coca cola [I use a combo of both if I can. Why does it have to be stale or flat? I don’t know. Sister Sadie isn’t around to ask anymore.]
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 325*. Grease and line and line with wax paper two loaf pans. Cream the sugar and honey together til it’s drippy. Beat in eggs, oil and coffee and/or Coke. Sift the dry ingredients together and beat like a bad dog. Divide between pans, sprinkle almonds on top. Bake until top springs back, about 45 minutes. Cool on racks before turning out.

L’Shana Tovah Umetukah, my dear friends!

Really, It’s Worth It for the Parking Spaces Alone

dollarsignsIn an effort to bring disenfranchised Jews back to the faith, the rabbi and couple of machers at a Miami synagogue thought they’d impress them by putting some prime sanctuary seats on eBay. Ready, set, open your checkbook…the bidding starts at $1.8 million.

“Besides getting to schmooze up front with the rabbi, the lucky winner’s family name will be engraved on Seats 1 and 2 of Row 1, Section DD, at Temple Emanu-El. The winner also will receive free parking, two custom-made prayer shawls and yarmulkes, and a hefty tax write-off. Plus, the winning bidder can pass the seats down to his or her children.”

Okay, with all the perks, it’s probably worth it. But I’m going to venture and say that one of the biggest reasons some Jews start to feel rejected and reject modern Judaism and synagogue life is because money and status are valued and focused on more than true spiritual thought and infusing the ancient rituals with actual meaning. Just a guess.

At the same time, it would only take one very wealthy person to lift this shrinking temple from certain dissolution.

“It has very little to do with the money,” said the rabbi. “Hypothetically, if the money comes, it would be great, but the idea was really just to be edgy.”

This guy probably thinks a black fly in your chardonnay constitutes irony. “Edgy” would have been auctioning them off for $18,00o, then buying new textbooks for the religious school. But asking for millions is totally obnoxious. And embarrassing for Jewish people everywhere.

Shalom, I’m Exhausted

ladyoncrutchesI’m sure you’re all dying to hear how my first day of teaching at Shalom School went. I had prepared myself the best I could: I got the apples and honey for noshtime on Friday, I had a make-your-own shofar project set up, I practiced my “aleph” pose for Torah yoga, I burned copies of Oy Baby and Celebrate Kids for the classroom.

But then yesterday, while the family was having a nice Shabbat frolic in Forsyth park, I had to go and tear my gastrocnemius and klutzify my well-laid plans. Somewhere between the tennis courts and the fountain I heard and felt a sickening “shhr-ee-d” in my calf, followed by unbearable pain (and listen, I gave birth to two children au naturel, and freakin’ know what pain is, okay?) I tried to put on a brave face for the family, but I think I may have cried, not just because it hurt like a muthaf*cka but because I knew within seconds that I would not be doin’ my African Jewish cowgirl routine for my students any time soon, nor would I be walking without crutches and/or an Igor limp at least through Yom Kippur. Who knew skipping could be so dangerous?

However, in spite of having a mummified lower leg and a significantly cramped style, I did make it to Sunday school almost on time, thanks to El Yenta Man, who acted as my sherpa for the day and shlepped my tote bag. I had six fairly well-behaved kindergarteners who didn’t mind taking the elevator and chimed in readily for “Hinei Matov.” The madracha (helper), a darling teen named Haley, happily sheparded those in need back and forth from the bathroom. We read stories, sat in a circle, discussed the amazing uses of the word “shalom.” (Our class greeting is now a double-thump with the fist on the heart and a two finger salute: Shalom out, man.)

They didn’t even make much schmutz with the apples and honey. I feel like I should have bought one of those “EASY” buttons. So I gotta offer up some thanks to the heavens for a fine first day. With the exception of the girl who wouldn’t speak until the last half hour and wept through snack. And the whole gimp business. Oh, and the kid who appeared to have a raging case of selective deafness and tried to manhandle the congregation’s ancient shofar. But all in all, a productive morning of Jewish education.

*Woodcarving “Lady With Crutches” by Susan Hagen.