Feh, It’s Got Walnuts Anyway

nofruicakeI have sitting on our kitchen counter a wonderful smelling cake. It came wrapped in tinfoil, a sure sign it was homemade, which in fact it was: El Yenta Man brought it home yesterday from one the regulars in his Senior Power Hour class, a collection of five or so 80 year-olds who show up twice a week to have him take them through arm circles and leg lifts and whatever other exercises their bodies are still able to handle. He always speaks of these clients with much affection, particularly the little old lady who gave him the aforementioned cake, who probably spent two days mixing and baking and wrapping the two dozen loaves she gave out to her mailman, neighbors and other favorite people for the holidays, including her wise-ass personal trainer.

So why the hesitation, you ask? Why don’t I just slice off a nice hunk and slap a nice shmear of cream cheese on it and snarf it down for breakfast? Why not serve it up with a pot of tea and nosh on it all day? Because, dear readers, the cake has been tainted.

Not literally poisoned, but the gift loaf has been rendered toxic with words:

Yesterday, during the transaction that involved giving the cake and all its “Merry Christmas” niceities, El Yenta Man tactfully worked into the conversation that we actually celebrate Chanukah, but our family would be so very grateful for the Little Old Lady’s cake because Jews love snacks and we can feel so left out around these holidays (absolute bullhockey – we looove Christmas, watching everyone else spaz out over relatives and fancy dinners while we eat fish sticks and watch Miyazaki movies – but El Yenta Man is polite and considerate of others’ feelings and wanted the Little Old Lady to know how much he appreciated her baking in spite of how it must have taxed her bum hip.)

And then the LOL followed up EYM’s bumbling gratitude with this: “You know, I like you a lot, you’re all right…you’re not like all those other kikes.

Yes, you read that right. El Yenta Man was still in shock about it when he recounted the story in our kitchen that night, the cake still wrapped in its crumpled tinfoil, smelling like heaven but radiating a certain evil.

Now, I haven’t even heard that word in so long it had fallen off my Jewish epithet radar. According to Wikipedia, Yiddishkeit guru Leo Rosten says it started off as a term of affection between greenhorn Jews from the Old Country:

“The word kike was born on Ellis Island, when Jewish immigrants who were illiterate (or could not use Roman-English letters), when asked to sign the entry-forms with the customary ‘X,’ refused—and instead made a circle. The Yiddish word for ‘circle’ is kikel (pronounced KY – kel), and for ‘little circle,’ kikeleh. Before long the immigration inspectors were calling anyone who signed with an ‘O’ instead of an ‘X’ a kikel or kikeleh or kikee or, finally and succinctly, kike.”

It seems to our ancestors, an “X” resembled the cross worshipped by the Christian persecutors they’d been trying to leave behind, and Jewish Americans continued to use an “O” as a signature for decades after the large European emmigrations. The term stuck, though it was mostly “used by Jews to describe other Jews” and only developed into an ethnic slur later on. (An eerie linguistic parallel to the N-word, nu?)

So I grilled El Yenta Man: What did you say? Did you tell her that word it totally, completely inappropriate? Why didn’t you give her the cake back and tell her us kikes don’t eat doorstops? Since she has an Irish last name, did you tell you forgive her ignorance because she’d obviously been drinking?

But it seems that my husband, whose wit is normally sharper than Emeril’s fillet knife, was rendered speechless by the racist remarks of an 88-year-old Southern belle. He said nothing, just stuck the loaf of tinfoil under his arm and came home, where he made excuses for her: She’s old, she’s lived in Savannah her whole life, she would be totally crushed if he brought it up again because she doesn’t know better, she probably was drunk…

But I’m not having it. I don’t care how old someone is; that kind of speech and behavior is unacceptable. I think he should figure out how to respectfully let this LOL know that that word might have been a part of her vernacular for the first nine-or-so decades of her life, but she needs to excise it immediately if she would still like El Yenta Man spot her while she does armcurls with 1-lb. dumbbells.

What say you, dear reader? Am I overreacting (it would not be the first time)? Should we let LOL live out the rest of her life (seriously, how much longer can it be? Five years? Ten years? She does exercise – it could be 20) spreading her antiquated anti-Semitism? What if EYM does confront her and she gets defensive and angry, thereby activating a hatred for Jews that had been latent for half a century?

In the meantime, I’m not letting anyone in my family touch the F’kn Kike Cake. But because I don’t like to waste, I think I’ll re-gift it to my gentile neighbors before it gets stale.

And Now, The Next Installment Of “Your Bubbie Is Plotzing”

This is 17 year-old Lauren Rose – Jewish, British and uncomfortably Spears-like (circa 2003. Please, God, steer little Lauren away from that path.)

Ha’aretz reports this pop-schlock rendition has a decent chance of hitting No. 1 for Christmas, which is some kind of victory for our tribe. But is it good for the Jews if the rest of the world now believes that “Hava Nagila” translates to “Baby Let’s Dance”?

What Do Jews Do On Xmas Eve?

Well, it depends.

jmericaIf you’re cool, live within a 100-mile radius of Miami and can party with the big kids (i.e., you have an alcohol tolerance of more than one vodka tonic before you need to find a nice couch to take a nap on), you go to Jmerica’s annual The Eve Party.

If you’re a guilt-drunk Jewish mother in your 30’s, you spend the evening babysitting at the church whose members entertained your children during Yom Kippur services. Then you go to your goyish friend’s house and accept the fact that in spite of your best efforts to kill your children’s imaginative take on why Jewish children still deserve presents on Christmas, Santa will not die.

Or, if you don’t fit into either of those categories, maybe you’ll be:

*Stealing baby Jesusi from the neighborhood creches and replacing them with garden gnomes

*Marching up and down the street singing “Maoz Tzur” and banging pots and pans

*Waiting patiently by the fireplace with a plate of rugelach and a glass of Manischewitz

Hmm? Let me know.

Ruach Achieved

fractalWhy yes, the eighth night of Chanukah did fill the spiritual void I was experiencing this past Festival of Lights: One of our favorite Jewish families, the Cohens of Groveland Circle, had us over for menorah-lighting, tilapia and from-scratch latkes. I am ashamed to admit I haven’t grated a potato since I discovered frozen hash browns; this year I even resorted to Streit’s mix on one chaotic night. Guess what? They tasted awesome – they were fried, for heaven’s sake. But Wendy and Jon’s were truly special, mixed with carrots and zucchini.

After I tried to open up a second bottle of Kedem white wine (tasty with fish!) with a corkscrew and it wasn’t until every person in the room tried to pull the cork that we noticed I’d punctured a hole in the screw-off cap, we whiled away the evening watching the candles burn down and cracking up over Wendy’s starring role in the Savannah Morning News’ Chanukah feature, which focused on her conversion to Judaism. Check this melodramatic opening paragraph:

Wendy Cohen has no childhood memories of Hanukkah to pass on to her three children.
No heirloom menorah to light together.
No family latke recipes to share.
However, she has plenty of memories of celebrating Christmas.

I guess the reason it’s so funny is that Wendy is one of the most authentic Jewish mothers I know (see latkes) and the Cohen home pulses with such warmth. They keep kosher and walk to the Conservative shul most Saturdays with their three (unbelievably well-behaved) children without making it seem difficult; their observance is joyful and inspiring rather than judgmental and limiting. Plus, Wendy isn’t shy about throwing around the f-word when the appropriate occasion arises (oil spattering on exposed flesh, the curtains next to the menorah table coming dangerously close to incineration) which makes her f’kn cool in my book.

Like good Jewish mothers, we shared menorah cleaning tips: I’ve always frozen them and chipped the wax off, the Cohens like to boil off the extra goo. So this year I’m trying both to get that brand-new shine back to our five chanukiahs – it’s working so fabulously so far, but I’ve only cleaned two. What’s the rush, nu?

As for today’s image, there’s nothin’ like a menorah-mimicking Mandelbrot set fractal (invented by a Jewish mathematician, of course) to get me in the mood for spiritual navelgazing (hey, am I the only one who thinks bellybuttons resemble a Fibonacci spiral?) Larger version here.

Last Chance for Chanukah Ruach

8nights*Sigh*. I’m feeling depleted and defeated as we come up on this last night of the Festival of Lights. We haven’t lit the menorah on time even once, and we were so late to synagogue on Friday night we missed the mass community lighting. Maybe it’s because it snuck up on me this year being so early, but it hasn’t felt so much like a holiday as a stressful obligation where we overindulge the children and eat too much. And that sounds like the complaints I hear from non-Jewish parents about Christmas. I ask you, what’s the point of being a Jew if I have to suffer the same way the goyim do?

Even our lawn decor kinda sucked this year. Half the blue blinky lights I bought last year didn’t work (not so shocking considering I bought them at Wal-Mart) so all we had was a modest spiral up the palm tree in the front yard. But here’s irony for ya: As of today, our Jewish house is the only one with holiday lights on the block. So apparently seasonal apathy is going around all the religions, kinda like one of those viruses that jumps continents.

Fortunately, our rabbi got very into spirit this year and is displaying this 7-foot gem of inflatable Jewishness in his front yard. I’m fairly sure the other rabbis in town would like to box his ears for it, but Reb Belzer’s never been one to follow the crowd (a post to come on how he brought Mickve Israel’s awesome new addition to its museum, an 8-foot scale model of The William and Sarah, the ship the original 41 Sephardic settlers docked in Savannah in 1733.) But I have to say, he’s set the bar rather high for us outlaw Jews – what, I gotta put one of these out next year?

Anyway, I’m going to muster some true warmth and glow for the last night, no fancy food, just a last plate of latkes and friends and family. And everyone’s getting socks, like it or not.

A Little Treyf In Your Chanukah Stocking?

chanukahhamMy homegirl at Excruciatingly Normal sent this from

Only in Savannah, peeps. Betcha anything it came from the Piggly Wiggly on Skidaway.

Update: So this didn’t happen in South after all, folks, but New Yawk Freakin’ City, posted by Nancy Kay Shapiro on her blog. Manhattan, for f*ck’s sake, which if I’m not mistaken is the unofficial land of the Jews, at one of those upscale yuppie markets that sell $12 jars of wasabi peanuts and imported cheeses. Armaggedon could be closer than I thought.

Todd, Meet God

Brought to you by the always hilarious Jewish Robot, who gives lighting the Chanukah candles the usual rabbinic sardonism (yes, there is such a noun, derived from the name of a Sardinian plant that supposedly incited “convulsive laughter ending in death.”)

He produced it for MyJewishLearning.com, which has always been a favorite but unfortunately has recently suffered a tragically boring new homepage makeover. It’s like html Botox over there, seriously. First of all, the Robot’s vid should be on the front page, and what’s with no photos at all except for a stamp-sized Israeli flag? I’m no web designer, but even I know putting everything all in the same size Times New Roman font will cause immediate eye-glazing. Them folks need to hire themselves a smart young hip Jew for some “jooge-ing”.

Silence Is Not My Best Feature

I have been a bad Yenta, leaving y’all hanging last week. And my excuse stinks worse than the turkey leftovers I just threw out this afternoon: Yes, I’ve been busy; all the editors at skirt! have been commanded to write blogs now, and perhaps you might be interested in mine, if you like Savannah and shopping and well, me. I’ve also been devoting a ridiculous amount of time to procuring a dollhouse for Little Yenta Girl that doesn’t contain lead paint OR challenge El Yenta Man’s assembly skills to the point of irascible swearing. But the real reason I didn’t post last week has to do with how apathetic I’m feeling rather apathetic towards Jewish news.

I mean Annapolis? Yawn. Israel makes an effort, the Saudis act like douchebags, George Bush gets his photo op (oh, I have never longed to punch the smirk off a punim as I have this country’s king of mediocrity and shameless capitalism!) and everyone expects the Jews to give it up. I’m leaving it to bloggers much smarter and better read than me like themiddle at Jewlicious and Schvach to sort out the details. Just let me know when everyone starts playing nice for real.

I’ve been devoting a bit of brain to Abe Foxman’s Turkish ass-kissing about the Armenian genocide thanks to the disturbing piece in American Jewish Life (it’s not online yet; but I’ve got the new issue because I’ve been shlepping copies all over town for those people out of the goodness of my heart.) Foxy Abe‘s doing a schmucky little political dance that I frankly find unattractive, and you know how depressing it can be when you witness your crush acting like a weenie.

But even though the interwebs have held nothing exciting as of late, actual life brims with the buzz of upcoming holidays and jelly donuts. I can’t believe that for the first time in my life on the Jewish fringe – in a small city in the South, for Obadiah’s sake – I have more Chanukah celebratory opportunities – having people over to our home, invitations to others’, synagogue parties, latke luaus (okay I made that up, but doesn’t it sound fun?) – than there are nights. That’s one heckuva blessing.