Serious Trouble

imagesI just screened a copy of Making Trouble, and sheesh, is my tush tired from bending over…

Sorry, that was a bad joke.

That’s why I leave comedy to the experts — namely, the outstanding Jewish comediennes profiled in this historic, hilarious look at funny Jewish women. A collaboration of Jewish Women’s Archive and filmmaker Rachel Talbot, Making Trouble shines a spotlight back to a time when being a woman, Jewish or funny maligned you for life. Yet somehow, impish Yiddish-speaking film star Molly Picon and later, Ziegfield Follies’ sensation Fanny Brice broke through to become national icons and influence the art of comedy for generations.

When bawdy Sophie Tucker came on to the scene with her “Last of the Red Hot Mamas” routine, the road had been paved for the smart-assed Jewish women performers that are more familiar to the the GenX crowd: Joan Rivers, whose early footage in this film reminds those who might think that she’s just some dragon-taloned rasp on the red carpet that Joan’s tenacious, whip-smart wit has been around since black-and-white TV, and Gilda Radner, who was revolutionary in that she put aside shtick to dig deeper into a genuine, character-based hilarity that made Saturday Night Live’s first seasons the benchmark of skit comedy.

In between are interviews with comedy regulars as well as a roundtable of contemporary funny women: Judy Gold (a Yenta favorite!), Jackie Hoffman (whose nerd glasses and gargantuan cleavage were a perfect wardrobe choice), Cory Kahaney (her immigrant father needed to sound Irish to get a job on the docks – “Kahan” + “ey,” get it?) and Jessica Kirson (of VH-1′s Awesomely Bad.) Of course, they’re sitting around Katz’s deli and eating, which made me want to just hang out for hours.

I’d like to see Making Trouble on the calendar of every Jewish Film Festival and in every Jewish livingroom library in the country. While it’ll have you guffawing and giggling, it serves as a vital addition to the Jewish archives — our kids (hell, most adults) need to know that a zaftig lady named Sophie Tucker was way raunchier and sexier than any Lady BlahBlah with her underpants and fake blood. Yenta Boy watched with me, he adored Molly Picon and really liked that he got to listen to some “f-bombs” in the name of Jewish education.

He also said Joan Rivers reminded him of his grandma, which I hope she’ll take as a compliment.

Don’t F*$# With The Rabbi

nvts12011150357.rp350x350He’s not ordained yet, but Yuri Foreman showed the world what Torah study plus a lot of speed bag training can do:

The Belarus-born, Israeli-bred, Brooklyn-based boxer punched his way to victory over Daniel Santos last Saturday after Shabbos, taking Santos’ title as the Welterweight Champion of the world. Which means that along with Orthodox junior welterweight champ Dmitiry Salita, it’s only a matter of time before synagogues start setting up Las Vegas-style boxing rings on the bima after Havdalah, which would be AWESOME.

For another compelling example of an a**-kicking Jew, look no future than Foreman’s wife, Leyla Leidecker: The future rebbetzin is an amateur boxer herself who directed the documentary “Golden Gloves” – check out the trailer here. She also happens to be GORGEOUS.

images

All I have to say is that I hope they have lots of fast-fisted, observant children who form a Maccabean-like army and scare the pants off Iran.

The Yenta’s Chanukah Gift Guide

Oy vey, is it that time already? Chanukah starts in in less than a month!

Ach, shopping for your favorite Jew out in that scary Wal-Mart world could give you hives (I accidentally wrote “hooves” first, which would be really terrible also, not to mention treyf as hell.) So lucky for you, I’ve compiled a few things for under $15 that can be bought from the comfort of the chair you have your tushy in right now:

1200_LRGFirst off, we have hot hot hot Chanukah socks by Sockgrams in three different holiday styles (we appreciate the variety, Sockgram people!) If all of us starting wearing these, I think they could be an effective antidote for those horrible flashing Santa brooches that start showing up on middle-aged women about now.

Every pair comes adorably wrapped with a card and foot balm or stickers for the munchkins, and at $11.95 it’s a PERFECT gift for grandparents, or say, your Shalom School teacher. Free shipping in the U.S.! Choose yours at Sockgrams.com.

yiddishsayings-111209Next up, the perfect thing for the dirty mind in your life: Yiddish Sayings Mama Never Taught You, by Marvin Zuckerman and Gershon Weltman. This compilation of smut from the shtetl was rereleased this year, offering up Old Country zingers like Der pelts unter dem vaybershn boykh iz dos tayerste futerl (“The pelt under a woman’s belly is the world’s most expensive furpiece”) and An eygener forts shtinkt nit azoy vi a fremder (“Your own farts don’t stink like someone else’s”).

Look, it’s no news that Yiddish is a dying language. Learning how to creatively insult others in it is probably the most effective way to revive interest in it for anyone under 30, and $11.95 plus shipping makes it easy to ensure the survival of the mamaloshen for future generations — perhaps some philanthropist might consider buying bulk donations for every Hillel in the country?

holyground-5inchesAnd finally, for the Jew in your life looking for spiritual nourishment as well as a beat they can dance to: The Yenta’s favorite silver fox, Craig Taubman, has a new album out this fall, Holy Ground. Isn’t the cover art great? CT’s all about making the liturgy accessible and joyful, something us Jewish outlaws in our sneakers deeply appreciate.

A follow-up to his rockin’ religious hit, Friday Night Live, Holy Ground breathes new life into Shabbat prayers, with a Latin-flavored “V’Shamru” and a saxaphone-soaked “Aleynu.” Isn’t 15 bucks is a small price to pay to see the family doing and conga line to “L’Cha Dodi”? Shabbos at the Yenta house just got a whole lot more raucous.

Speaking of family, Craig Taubman’s production company, Craig n Co., also just released My Very First Jewish Celebrate Vol. 1, a fun collection of Jewishy tunes for the littles. If you thought the “David Melech Yisrael” hand jive was fun, wait ’til you try it with country-western handclaps.

There you are — the Yenta’s favorite Jewishy gifts for the body, mind and soul!

G-dcast Rocks

Even though this week’s Torah portion is named after the life of Sarah, the mother of Judaism, she doesn’t get much of a starring role since she’s already dead. Sure, she lived 127 years, bore a baby at 100 and had some good laughs, but she didn’t get to supervise the choosing of a wife for her only son — a Jewish mother’s nightmare. She needn’t have worried, though, since Rebecca, with her strength and kindness, was a dream.

Maybe the parsha is named after Sarah to give her a mother-in-law’s due. But heck, I’m no scholar, and I’ll always prefer my Midrash in cartoon form. Check out author Goldie Goldbloom‘s interpretation of Parshat Chayei Sarah from G-dcast, a most awesome way to study Torah:

More Torah cartoons at www.g-dcast.com

— add it to your blog roll!

A peaceful and lovely Shabbat to all ~

An Anniversary, Of Sorts

images-1So I just looked at the calendar and realized today is the 25th anniversary of my bat mitzvah.

If I had a working scanner, I’d upload the ginormous 11 x 18 portrait I have on my desk of my family and I standing in the requisite pose on the bima, but you’ll just have to settle for the following description:

My father stands to the far right, with not a whole lot of hair but certainly more than he has now, wearing the tallis he received at his own bar mitzvah and holding the upper arm of my mother, who resembles a Jewishy Joan Collins with her floofy hair and monster shoulder pads; both of them are lookin’ pretty darn good for 1984.

My brother, at 11, looks like he’s 8, and with the glasses and grin, looks a heckuva lot like his nephew. It’s funny that there was worry that he was so little back then — if you saw him now, as tall as our dad with big shoulders that could break down a door, you’d never know he was the 98-pound featherweight on the wrestling team his freshman year of high school.

Standing on the left just a shade behind the rest of the family is me, the bat mitzvah girl. Bad perm. Chubby cheeks. Braces. Wearing a peach-colored linen dress I loved but grew out of a month after this simcha. Slouching to throw attention away from a recently-grown set of gazongas that I sure as hell didn’t ask for. Smiling in a flat, uncomfortable way that I recognize from the mirror as my fake smile, which never fools anyone.

I don’t remember much about the day – maybe I was nervous? Surely this was taken after I delivered the Saturday service and its accompanying parsha and haftorah, so that wouldn’t have been the problem. While I do remember enjoying the party afterwards with my friends (my little brother entertained everyone with his fly breakdancing skills), I do not remember at all the subject of my Torah portion. I suppose I could look it up, but it probably won’t jog my memory. Perhaps I was hungry? Tired? Irritated by gladhanding with friends and relatives I barely knew? Just stuck in the encompassing, self-absorbed gloom of adolescence? I just don’t know.

I do have an inkling that I was a little pissed off that I didn’t feel any different. I had spent six or seven years attending Hebrew School twice a week to prepare for this ancient ritual, to cross the threshold into adulthood in the eyes of my Jewish community, but of course, at 13, I wasn’t even close to having the kind of freedom being a grown-up should bring. My parents didn’t even raise my allowance. I’m pretty sure this might have been the moment I decided I didn’t believe in God, which lasted about seven years (the epiphany that reversed this belief is another, long story.)

Looking at that person I was 25 years ago, I wonder what I would say to her if could. Surely, she’d be appalled that her older self had settled down and had children instead of living amongst the Bedouins with a camel of her own and worse yet, — kinehora! — become a Sunday School teacher. “Hypocrite!” she might scream at me, because back then I thought everyone who didn’t live their lives by my own peculiar understanding of Marxism was a hypocrite, and she’d be doubly furious that I was participating in the fraud of educating Jewish children only to lead them up to the bima at 13 and then abandon them.

But it was better than nothing, I’d tell her. You did read from the Torah that day, even if you don’t remember it. The prayers are still branded on your brain, and when you sit down in synagogue and hear them, they touch a deeper place that you weren’t even aware of back then. Your children love Sunday School, and the pride and wonder you feel when your son sounds out the V’havata from Hebrew must explain the dreamy smiles on your parent’s faces in this photo.

And I may not have my own camel, but I’ve led a pretty adventurous life so far. And you might not have believed in God for a while, but I’m quite certain God has always believed in you.

Stressed in Savannah

stressedcoverLet me ask you something: Does keeping up with being Jewish ever stress you out?

Leading a Jewish life this week feels a constant run of obligations and activities instead of a creation of quiet reflection between attending synagogue services on Saturday (led by the middle schoolers, which was awesome, especially the Adler kid’s d’var torah), teaching Shalom Schoolers a lesson on the Tower of Babel on Sunday (we built a head high edifice out of blocks and knocked it over six or seven times, then ran around shrieking gibberish), attending board meetings for the Chanukah party at the JEA and the local Jewish newspaper plus beginning to panic about Chanukah lists (the whole mishpocha is chipping for Rebecca, the Jewish American Girl doll, which including Shabbat accessories, should count as three nights. Hope Little Yenta Girl will be cool with underwear and socks on nights five, six and seven.) I can’t imagine being more observant – the regulation Passover cleaning would send me over the edge for sure, yo.

Taking on tasks until I’m overwhelmed by might be hereditary. My mother, the author Marcia Fine, has a new book out, Stressed In Scottsdale, the third in her screamingly funny series about life amongst the rich and self-absorbed. Her main character, Jean Rubin, has become something of an alter ego now that Jean has her own blog, and though it’s not exactly autobiographical, the “stressed” part certainly parallels Mom’s jump into the social networking world: She’s Facebooking, y’all.

Which means now I have to stress about the appropriateness of my status updates. Although, if my own mother is blogging about sex emporiums, maybe I needn’t worry about dropping an F-bomb or two.

Go check out JeanRubinBlog.com and see how you compare on the stress-o-meter!

When Being A Southern Jew Wasn’t So Great…

images CNN revives the story of Leo Frank, the only Jew to be lynched on American soil. In Georgia, no less.

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) — Turn back time, more than 90 years, to a cold case that won’t gather dust.

It’s a classic whodunit, starting with the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl and ending in a lynching. It was grist for a prosecutor’s political aspirations, a case that was appealed all the way to the country’s highest court and a story hotly debated in the national press.

Read the rest of the story and watch the video here.

The Wikipedia page on the trial says half of Georgia’s Jewish population left the state after Frank was strung up from a tree. Can’t say I wouldn’t do the same under the circumstances — evidence continues to surface that Frank didn’t get even close to a fair trial.

Creepy, creepy story.