Why Water And Booty Shaking Should Be Part of the Seder

Look, Moses had a stutter and Aaron was busy having bells sewn on his robes, so who do you think really kept it together during the exodus from Egypt?

Miriam, that’s who. (That would be Moses’ and Aaron’s older sister, not the Mexican transsexual entertainer, for those unfamiliar with the haggadah.)

She was clever enough to reunite Moses with his mother to nurse after the pharoah’s daughter pulled him out of the bulrushes. She was a prophetess whose faith that God would deliver the Jews across the sea was so strong she thought to pack tambourines to celebrate once they were safely on the other side. And while everyone was wandering around parched in the desert, she always knew where the water was. Isn’t it about time paying honor to her is a part of everyone’s seder?

Ever since I heard my feminist cantor cousin Michal Matter sing Debbie Friedman’s completely rockin’ Miriam’s Song, we’ve had a goblet of fresh, cool water on the table. Sometime after the second cup of wine and the night seems impossibly long, I think of Miriam’s peaceful strength and unending patience — can you imagine the kvetching she must’ve endured?

The addition of Miriam’s Cup to the other symbolic items of the seder is a fairly new tradition, but it’s an essential one. Risa Borsykowsky provides some wonderful background in her article at JewishGiftPlace.com — read it and enter the contest to win this gorgeous silver kos Miriam by artist Emily Rosenfeld.

The ritual of Miriam’s cup might not be in the haggadah, but you can create your own follow this one. You can incorporate it right after someone goes to the door to let Elijah tip his yarmulke and it’s a nice opportunity to pay homage to all the Jewish women whose stories somehow got left out of history.

Another way I like to honor Miriam is breaking out the tambourines and dancing around the table, which totally freaks the older generation out. Little Yenta Girl loves this part, and I think she deserves her very own tambourine, either this Rosie-the-Riveter fabulousness from Kavanahcards.com or artist Betsy Platkin Teutsch’s “Moon Sailor” featured in the current Jewish Woman International. Banging tambourines during “Dayenu” is lots of fun, too, but sometimes certain grandparents get grumpy and yell about this.

And of course, there’s Debbie Friendman’s song. Did you listen yet? Here are the lyrics so you can sing along and shake it like ya mean it — it starts with the chorus:

And the women dancing with their timbrels
Followed Miriam as she sang her song
Sing a song to the One whom we’ve exalted.
Miriam and the women danced and danced
the whole night long.

And Miriam was a weaver of unique variety.
The tapestry she wove was one which sang our history.
With every thread and every strand
she crafted her delight.
A woman touched with spirit, she dances
toward the light.


As Miriam stood upon the shores and gazed across the sea,
The wonder of this miracle she soon came to believe.
Whoever thought the sea would part with an outstretched hand,
And we would pass to freedom, and march to the promised land.


And Miriam the Prophet took her timbrel in her hand,
And all the women followed her just as she had planned.
And Miriam raised her voice with song.
She sang with praise and might,
We’ve just lived through a miracle, we’re going to dance tonight!

(One last rousing CHORUS!)

And the women dancing with their timbrels
Followed Miriam as she sang her song
Sing a song to the One whom we’ve exalted.
Miriam and the women danced and danced
the whole night long.

Now go out and make some noise for Miriam!

Don’t Pass Over These Stressbusters

Now that you’ve stocked up enough matzah and macaroons to feed the IDF, consider these items to ensure a calm, collected Passover psyche:

In one lil’ click, you can send a greeting to family and friends, near and far, Jewish and not. My main music main Craig Taubman has teamed up with American Greetings to create a really classy, lovely, interfaith Passover e-card that calls up the “free spirit” quality of this season. Each of the organized Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — have a connection with this springtime ritual, which in turn goes back to a time before humans organized much of anything. Freedom is for everyone, and we can all get behind food, right?

The tune on the card is Craig n Co’s Jew-age rendition of “Eliyahu Hanavi” from the CD Passover Lounge, a relaxing collection of non-tradtional tunes to expand the mind and heart. I can attest that there’s no better soundtrack to accompany the body’s metabolism of four glasses of wine. Order it now and get it in time for your seder!

If all the guests get to be too much for your stress threshold, better add 2005’s When Do We Eat? to your Netflix queue and move it to the top. No matter how deep into the dysfunctional void your family gathering might fall, there’s no way it’s gonna be this bad. It won’t be as funny, either, but it’ll make you feel better while digesting:

If all else fails, pile up the seder pillows and make a fort under the table.

Put Jewish Herstory ‘On the Map’!

Let’s face it, ladies — we don’t get a whole lot of face time in the Torah. And it hasn’t gotten that much better from there, though musing over Jewish feminism lately has me inspired — watch for an upcoming Passover post on Miriam and her rockin’ tambourine. And hey – did you know that March is Women’s History Month?

The smart cookies at Jewish Women’s Archive have writing women back into the story since 1995, and this month they launched a most awesome way to mark the accomplishments Jewish women have made along the way. And guess what? They want US to help!

They’re calling it “crowdsourcing” — you and I finally have the power to contribute the stories WE value, which is pretty amazing opportunity. When’s the last time someone asked you to write history instead of just agreeing with their version? Let’s reclaim our mothers and grandmothers and the immigrant great aunts from the void! By marking the places where they lived and worked, others can visit and honor their lives.

There is no existing record or database of Jewish women’s history landmarks in America; On the Map will create this record. A user-generated map hosted on jwa.org, On the Map will showcase significant places in Jewish women’s history, including sites both marked and unmarked, familiar and obscure. Users can put their own stamp on history by clicking on a location and adding a photo and their description of the new landmark.

Sure, Emma Lazarus’ Statue of Liberty poem is already there, as is Barbra Streisand’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but only we can fill in the gaps. I added Temple Mickve Israel this morning – but people, that can’t be the only Jewish women’s history in Georgia! Where my ATL peeps at? Add something today to JWA’s On the Map project!

Get Yer Craft On for Passover

I know all the good Jewish moms are busy this time of year with coaxing chametz out of corners and making gefilte fish from scratch. As opposed to us bad Jewish moms, who might gather up the Ritz crackers and cereal to give to the food bank the night before the seder (but leave the tortillas in the fridge because they’re perfectly good and shouldn’t they count because they’re flat?)

Whatever, we’re all bizzy and dizzy with the advent of Spring sproinging its way on us fast, and we all want our homes to look nice. Though my house would never pass a rabbinical white glove test, I try to make up for this with Jewish art projects so that the Easter Bunny cannot possibly find its rodenty way here by mistake. But maybe the idea of creating your own decor for the holiday gives you IBS, in which case you should stop reading and drive yourself straight to HomeGoods and sift through all the pastel chozzerai — it’s okay if the egg on the seder plate is made of light blue teak, right?

If adding some DIY touches to your seder table is your style, you must check out CreativeJewishMom — she’s got tons of projects for home and kids, and even the glue gun-challenged can manage to put together something to be proud of in an evening. I love the idea of recycling old t-shirts into pillows so your guests can recline on something that says “BBYO Sweetheart Dance 1982,” and the Red Sea diorama with escaping Jews made from corks has me rearranging Sunday’s Shalom School lesson.

CJM is hosting a sweet giveaway on her blog through Passover, I think you should know. Prizes include copies of Rivky Koenig’s Crafting Jewish (which contains directions for this super cool etched matzah plate project,) and Pesach: Anything’s Possible by Tamar Ansh (300+ pages of gluten-free delights to be enjoyed all year round), and a Pesach scrapbooking kit from Crafting Jewish Style.

So enter already, all you crafty Jewish mamas with extra time on your hands after turning out pockets and hooking the gefilte — wherever they may be biting.

Just Call Me O’Yenta

In New York, everyone is Jewish.

In Savannah, everyone is Irish. For the next few days, anyway. Whether you want to be or not.

The city’s already a-buzz with tipsy tourists ogling the green fountain and good-naturedly peeing on trees, here to see just how exactly a small Southern city manages to host the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the nation. (Hint: Lotsa Porta-Potties. Or is it “Port O’Potties”? Either way, use them, ’cause you’ll get arrested for peeing on the trees.)

The parade is truly a spectacle to behold, with men in green jackets and legions of bagpipes and endless marching bands and more than one shamrock bikini. Somehow I’ve managed to wrangle my way into the procession this year as a chaperone for the Irish Dancers of Savannah, but so sorry to disappoint: I will not be performing my interpretation of the slip jig.

I mistakenly thought the Jewish-Irish connection began with my own little lady of the dance, but it turns out Ireland’s Jewish community has a brilliant history and is alive and clogging. Here’s a link to Valerie Lapin Ganley’s 2003 documentary Shalom, Ireland about Dublin’s small-but-storied (and arguably, shikkered) Jewish community — yo, Savannah Jewish Film Festival Board: Bet you’ll attract quite an audience if you screen this next year!

Turns out, we’ve been collaborating for centuries: For a recap on the “cross-cultural pollination” of Broadway’s best songs, read Sarah Litvin’s “St. Patrick’s Day With the Irish and the Jews” in the Forward.

And finally, one last bit o’ blarney before I go grab a Guinness and a bagel, I give you a Jewish limerick, courtesy of Irish Jewish poet Arthur:

There was a young Jewish lady named Carrie
who told her folks she was ready to marry
Her dad said, “Cor Blimey! —
“I hope it’s a Hymie
And not a Tom, Dick or Harry!”

Enjoy the alcholiday safely, y’all. T-Shirt available from Zazzle.com.

Who’s Your Rabba?

Raised as a Reform Jew by an ardent feminist, it was drilled into me that I could grow up to be anything I wanted. An astronaut, a doctor, the President — whatever (though I’m sure an underemployed freelance writer slacker mom wasn’t what my highly accomplished mother had in mind.)

Schooled as I was in the sections of the Equal Rights Amendment, I didn’t study a lot of Torah; Reform Jews in the 70s read Marlo Thomas’ Free to Be You And Me to their daughters instead of the Pirkei Avot. I didn’t yet know the marked differences in the assimilated American lifestyle of my family and the daily rituals observance performed by Orthodox Jews or the separation between men and women in all facets of home, prayer and work.

I met my first female rabbi back in 80s (She was young! She played guitar! She didn’t have hair growing out of her ears!) and I figured any Jewish woman could become a rabbi as long as she stayed in Hebrew school and liked to wear robes, but that’s not true for the stern patriarchy of the Orthodox: While women are revered, most of the men in charge don’t believe women should study Torah, let alone teach it. I never really considered becoming a rabbi (it’s a calling, and the phone’s never rung) but I like to think if my family had been more religious, as contentious as I am, it would have been my first career choice.

While women have been ordained in the Reform and Conservative Movements for decades (the photo is of the first ordained female rabbi, Regina Jonas), Orthodox women have continued to be rejected by the religious governing body. However, some have pushed firmly through the objections of the fathers and studied at yeshiva with the aim of serving as spiritual leaders in their communities. The Jewish Feminist Orthodox Alliance, led by the completely awesome Blu Greenberg, maintains this issue as its focus. Greenberg is the first Orthodox woman to reconcile tradition and feminism, sits on the boards of Hadassah and Lilith magazine and probably knows more about Jewish law than any guy rabbi I’ve ever known.

Last week, JOFA was shot down again, this time over the term “rabba.” Perhaps JOFA’s supporters thought this new, feminine form of “rabbi” would soften minds; it’s a title already used to delineate women ordained in the “more flexible” faiths. But the president of the Rabbi Council of America insists that to “confer ordination on women is a breach of … our tradition, and it is unacceptable.”

Greenberg is undeterred, spinning the RCA’s ruling into something positive: “On the one hand, I do feel the disappointment [of] women who have worked for a title and a certain certification … but I also feel, in the context of this entire enterprise, it’s going to work in their favor. Ultimately we have to keep our eye down the road, as well as on today.”

Keep on’, Blu and the rest of y’all — with your clear knowledge of halacha and determination, you’ll wear ’em down eventually.

However, as much as I support JOFA, my feminist ear actually does not love the gender-specifying quality of “rabba.” It’s been years since the debate over gender neutral job titles has evolved into socially accepted, politically correct language that describes the job without pointing out gender — we don’t say “waiter” and “waitress” anymore; it’s “server.” Don’t you call the person who brings you a can of Coke on a plane a “stewardess” — it’s been “flight attendant” forever. “Rabba” sounds cutesy, a pet name, and I think these educated, pious, women have worked too hard for respect and equality to have to feminize their title.

But I’m not Orthodox, and I don’t know jack about what it’s like to be told I can’t be something because I’m a woman.

Aw Yeah, More Jewish Afro Latin Funk

Sheesh, if this keeps up, I’m gonna have to create a whole new category.

Please meet Brownout from Austin, TX, who will be kicking out their dirty jams at the SXSW festival March 18.

I gotta disclaim: I first heard about Brownout when from someone’s random Facebook comment touting the band as “filthy Afro-Latin funk with a Jewish twist,” so of course, I went a’hunting for the Hebrew connection.

Turns out their music isn’t specifically influenced by Shlomo Carlebach or anything, and the above album cover art design was never actually used. However, Brownout’s manager David Lobel is Jewish, as is saxophonist Josh Levy, who Lobel assures me is definitely twisted. Kosher enough for me.

Here’s “Slinky” from their new album Aguilas and Cobras:

The Backyard and Other Exotic Locations

My greatest fantasy is to be a farmer. I know, it’s hilarious, but it’s not that far-fetched: there is such a thing as the modern Jewish agronomist, ya know.

Growing one’s own organic food seems like the most worthwhile aspiration I can imagine, and every year our backyard garden endeavor gets more ambitious. Actual acreage might be a pipe dream for now, but El Yenta Man and I have been quite busy with our homesteading activities as of late: I’m tending to a couple of trays of sprouted tomato, cucumber and pepper seedlings like they’re endangered polar bear cubs, spritzing them with water every few hours and cooing over them.

Much to my mother’s horror, I’ve decided that we also need our own chickens. The kids are ecstatic since this will make our house much cooler than their friends with the trampoline. I’ve heard that chickens aren’t indoor pets and have been advised that they can’t just share the dog’s crate, so EYM has been charged with building a chicken coop. I have total faith in him in spite of the fact that the most complex structure he’s ever constructed is a pre-fab desk from OfficeMax. Photos to come.

Tied as we are to our suburban agriculcha, we haven’t been anywhere but the hardware store in a while. But those close to me have been spinning ’round the planet like airports were going out of style:

You may recall that my Brother the Doctor was dispatched to Haiti after last month’s earthquake as part of a government trauma team and spent two weeks tending to broken bodies in hellish conditions. He rolled through Savannah a couple of weeks later, tight-lipped about the experience other than to say it was the most disastrous situation he’d ever seen — this coming from someone who has practically lived in emergency rooms for the past decade. Hardly a fabulous travel experience, but I suppose he can cross it off his list.

Speaking of life lists, my mother and father fulfilled a dream when they went to Cuba recently. As a writer and a photographer, respectively, they were chosen to be part of a cultural delegation and participate in arts exhange — pretty cool, eh? They met film directors, saw live music and attended museums, but alas for those of us hoping for souvenirs, there was no shopping to be done. Read Marcia’s article in the Phoenix Jewish News for more!

Though travel to other countries sounds amazing, the Yentas are far too occupied with our own 1/4-acre adventure. And I just heard EYT swearing from outside about the wrong-sized screws, so it looks like I’ll be making my third trip to Home Depot in the last two days. That’s cool – the scenery isn’t so bad, and everyone speaks the language.

Help the Yenta?

Dearest readers, you know I love you, right? Some of you have been with me since the crappy beginnings of this blog comin’ on six years ago, when I still wrote in the plural first person and “Paris Hilton” appeared in my Google News Alerts for “kabbalah.” It still thrills me to no end when you leave a comment, because that’s the only way I know you’ve been here.

See, unlike some bloggers who keep track of their hits and which search engine led you to click around this spillage of modern Jewish life, I have no such skillz. Once in a while my Boy Wonder Webmaster will forward on some scary looking graphy-things that show a surprising amount of traffic (I thought it was more of a suburban cul-de-sac deal; turns out it’s the busy intersection — of the only stoplight in a small town.) So I know there’s plenty of you lurking out there, which is just fine. Anonymity can sometimes be the only thing we’ve got left in this post-your-latest-indigestion-issues-on-Facebook world.

But I’d like to ask you for a little favor. I’ve been bouncing around the idea of writing a book — well, a book proposal; let’s not get too famisht — and I’d super appreciate it if you would tell me what some of your favorite posts have been over the years. Maybe it’s stories about Jewish mothers have to play Santa sometimes, maybe it’s the farkakate explanations of Jewish holidays, maybe it’s the tales of Southern Jewish life.

I know you’re a busy person. If there’s anything that’s stuck in your mind in your travels in Yentaland, I’d be most grateful if you let me know below. And it fools your boss into thinking you’re being productive and it makes your Friday afternoon go faster, you can sift through the piles of archives to the right of your screen. Should the heavens align and something ever makes it into print in spite of my laziness and mild narcolepsy, I will kvell ALL OVER you in the acknowledgments, promise.

So think about it, maybe while you’re resting up this Shabbat, and get back to me.

Oscar Watch: The Unlikeable Jew

Looking at the main characters of this year’s Academy Award Best Picture nominees, you might think, “Hot damn, that’s a lot of Jews! Guess we really do run Hollywood!”

Never before has there been so many Jews onscreen all at once: You’ve got Peter Sarsgaard as the lecherous, Jewish real estate con man who seduces a 16 year-old girl in An Education, then there’s Michael Stuhlbarg as a neurotic, very unhappy Jew in the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, and of course, a whole host of brash young men thugging up Nazis in Quentin Tarantino’s gleefully violent Inglourious Basterds. Your bubbie couldn’t have imagined so many Semitic punims at the movies in her day — we should all be proud, right? Except that these characters aren’t exactly sympathetic — certainly not the nice Jewish boys your bubbie would like to see in a matinee where the dark-eyed hero marries the girl at shul and makes his mother happy.

Some folks have raised the question that there may be a kind of anti-Semitism inherent in these films that portray Jewish men as real shmucks — even if you cheered for the Basterds, you’ve got to admit they’re bloodthirsty sociopaths. Tom Tugend of the JTA wonders this week whether An Education and A Serious Man “represent either vile throwbacks to Jewish stereotypes in Nazi propaganda movies or creative works of art that show Jews, like other ethnicities, as multidimensional human beings,” and interviews several film and culture critics who speak to both sides of the debate.

Interestingly, Mr. Sparky Himself, Abe Foxman of The Anti-Defamation League, raised no objections to An Education, saying “there is nothing in the film to suggest that the main character represents Jews as a whole, or even some Jews.” (Although Foxy did take director Spike Lee to task for John Turturro’s sleazy club owner character in Mo’ Better Blues, released in 1990. Maybe my man Foxy’s gettin’ soft in his old age?)

Perhaps it’s because more Jewish characters are making their way into mainstream films that we can become more comfortable with the idea that they can be assh*oles. L.A. Times blogger Patrick Goldstein has no patience for “the hyper-sensitivity among Jews to any portrayal of a Jew that could possibly be viewed as a negative stereotype by the outside world,” a condition suffered by previous generations — with the good reason of a two thousand year history of hateful propaganda and pogroms, after all. It’s a very recent phenomenon that a Jew wouldn’t have to be defensive of a Jewish character who seduces underage girls or was psychotically violent.

I must disclaim here that I haven’t seen An Education or A Serious Man (I think there’s something super creepy about Peter Sarsgaard, and also with the exception of Raising Arizona, O Brother, Where Art Thou and The Big Lebowski, I find the Coen Brothers’ body of work immature and disturbing. I know, I know, I’m not cool) so I can’t weigh in on whether either or both films make me bristle in that way I get when people talk sh*t about Rahm Emanuel. But y’all know I love Inglourious Basterds, and didn’t mind at all seeing Jews exacting sick revenge — and as Goldstein points out, neither does anyone else.

Tugend asks Professor Howard Suber of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television whether he thinks this Oscar season’s unlikable Jews will lead to increased anti-Semitism, and Professor Suber balks: “That’s a simplified view of how people form attitudes … In reality, films in general reflect feelings and beliefs that already exist in a society. Movies are not very effective in changing people’s minds.”

I agree. I mean, if the ADL isn’t freakin’ out, then I guess all is well.

Now, with three out of the ten nominees dealing with Jewish characters and none of them win, that could be a slight. But whatevs — my money’s on Precious anyway.