Arm Candy

The Yentas are dashing off for a bat mitzvah in Winson-Salem, NC this weekend (but don’t even think about robbing our house – we not only have watch chickens, but a terrifying and jobless housesitter who will patrol the perimeter with poison darts and a Taser.)

I’ve never met the bat mitzvah girl, but that’s what you have to love about Southern Jews: Every last tendril of the family tree is invited to a simcha. Which means I’m going to spend the entire drive reminding El Yenta Man the name of his second cousin’s husband and whether Uncle Morris is related to him by blood or marriage. (Why is familial Jeopardy! always the woman’s job, hmm? It’s not even my family!)

Because I don’t know Hannah’s tastes, I figured we’d gift a nice card with a chai-denominational check tucked inside — to save for college or blow on earrings at the mall. But I think I might go with one of these “Words To Live By” bracelets from Yontifications — so sweet!

They’re $36 (a lovely chai-denominational touch) and strung with semi-precious stones, sterling silver and the inspirational word of your choice in both Hebrew and English. What teenage girl would not love it? Way cuter than a savings bond, nu? Order here!

Off to dance the Southern hora — which is similar to the original except one must grapevine with a Jack Daniels in hand.

Brown is the New Jew?

By now you’ve heard about Arizona’s new immigration law, a racially-bigoted, short-sighted solution to the challenge of border patrol and undocumented workers in this country.

Basically it’s become illegal to be brown my home state. Law enforcement now has the right to detain any person who looks “suspicious,” which could mean anything from ordering “dos cervezas” to spending a dangerous amount of time working on one’s tan laying out by the pool. It seems like everyone sane is in an uproar, and there’s reports of serious boycotts of Arizona and the divestment of any business transactions by two of the largest cities in California — a state that has an even bigger immigration issue than Arizona.

I remember the days when Douchebag Governor Evan Meacham canceled Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday, and all I can say is that although there are many people (and views) that I love in Arizona, they’s some f*#@d up morons in charge over there. And I live in GEORGIA, where I’m almost positive that you actually have pass a f*#@d up moron test to qualify for public office.

The outrage has been rather heartening, though. And as much as I loathe it when exploited populations pull the Nazi card to vilify their oppressors, I have to say I adore the person who had the chutzpah to slap a swastika of refried beans on the window of the state Capitol.

If you missed The Daily Show‘s Wyatt Cenac riff on the new law, it’s worth a watch:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Law & Border
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Songs of Summer

We all know by now that watching videos of dragon puppets playing musical instruments isn’t going to produce a little Mozart out of our toddlers. And even the laziest Jewish parent doesn’t believe that scrolling menorahs on the t.v. are a valid substitute for Jewish education.

Still, I’m a big fan of the Oy Baby! videos. I’m not saying my kids are ready to take on Torah study after listening to “Af, Pen Ozen” 700 times, but it’s pretty cool that they learned the morning prayer “Modeh Ani” before they could pronounce “orange juice.”

Plus, without Oy Baby, 96 percent of this blog would not have been written between 2003 and 2007. So I wholeheartedly recommend it as the beginning of a well-balanced spiritual breakfast to introduce your young child to Jewish symbols and songs as well as an opportunity to distract him or her while you take a much-needed shower (You with the binky in your pocket and spit-up in your hair, you can borrow mine.)

Videos alone won’t ensure that your kid grows up to connect to Judaic traditions and pass them along to your grandchildren (may we all be so blessed,) but studies have shown that spending summers at Jewish camp definitely have a positive influence. (Unless, of course, yours is the kid who smells and everyone is mean to, in which case these studies mean nothing and your kid will totally eschew Judaism altogether and join an ashram, so you should pack extra toothpaste just in case.)

My own nine years’ experience at Camp Alonim near Los Angeles in the 80s had a hugely positive impact on my Jewish identity, since I was one of four Jewish kids in a suburban Arizona high school of 2000 Mormons. I had never seen tefillin before or observed Shabbat, and I experienced a “belongingness” that just wasn’t possible at home (I also learned about bulimia and how to blow smoke rings, but that was waaaay later.) I loved the wild-haired music director who taught us all the words to the Debbie Friedman songbook on Friday nights and “American Pie” on the Fourth of July. The friends I made were different, closer somehow, and I knew that whatever happened in high school, there was a larger world waiting for me with people in it who shared my beliefs and heritage.

The producers of Oy Baby! must know what I’m talking about because they’ve just released We Sang That At Camp, an “ultimate mix” of Hebrew and English faves for those of us who know GaGa ain’t just some lady who can’t find a pair of pants. Tell me, does not “Bashanah Haba’ah” evoke memories of snaking around the Pavilion during Israeli folk dancing hour? And surely, no one who ever had to wave good-bye to nine bunkmates cry-whispering “Leavin’ On A Jet Plane” can hear that tune without sniffling.

I’ve been listening to We Sang That At Camp around the Yenta house a couple of days now and El Yenta Man has been very accommodating of my sudden hankering for Carvel ice cream sandwiches at bedtime but notsomuch the urge to put shaving cream in his shoes.

Interestingly, the acquisition of the CD has coincided with our decision that Yenta Boy is finally old enough to attend Jewish sleepaway camp — as of yesterday, he’s officially scheduled for a month in the mountains this July. I’ll miss him so much, but can’t wait to sing with him when he gets home.

Tampa, FLA Loves The Yenta

Well, they know me there now, anyway.

Iris Ruth Pastor wrote in to tell me she reviewed this blog in her monthly newsletter for the Jews of greater Tampa area, “Let My People Know.” (Clever, clever!)

She says likes the use of “amateur social scientist” as a classy euphemism for a busybody, but notsomuch the Yenta’s liberal attitudes towards the enjoyment of Christmas lights. Ms. Pastor might like to know, however, that I resolved most of my issues with my parents via scream therapy in the early 90s. Thanks for the plug!

My father-in-law was born and bred in Tampa; his dad was a dentist there for 60 years. Anyone who ever had a Lebos drill a cavity still there to give a shout out?

Idolatry: An Inexact Lesson

So after making 10 Commandment tablets out of paper bags last week (we crumpled them up to make them look old, then I handed out strips of each commandment and challenged the kinders to glue them on in numerical order — turns out, glue sticks are enough of a challenge), we finally got to the Golden Calf shenanigans in yesterday’s Shalom School lesson.

(Have I ever shared how much I love Torah Aura’s Child’s Garden of Torah? It’s perfect for kindergarteners, and the student pack comes with worksheets and the best possible teaching aid ever: STICKERS.)

You already know that Moses goes up Mount Sinai to study some Torah from the Source for 40 days and nights, but the freed Israelites got impatient and had Moses’ bro Aaron melt down their baubles and make something shiny they could worship. When Moses came down, he saw that the people he’d gone through all this trouble to save were not following the very simple directions he’d left, and he was pissed.

In fact, I told my charges, he was so mad he broke the tablets he’d spent all that time scraping out so that these nudniks would have something to reference the next time they forgot the basic rules of the game. “Have you ever been so mad that you broke something you loved?” I asked my Shalom Schoolers.

A few solemn nods.

“I once broke my sister’s favorite pencil because she wouldn’t let me use it,” confessed one boy with a mournful look.

“I cut off my Barbie’s hair because she was being bad,” said a little girl in a pink “High School Musical” t-shirt. “But it was an accident.”

Another hand. “Um, I never did anything like that but one time my daddy was so mad at the basketball game on the t.v. he threw the remote control at the wall and it split into a million pieces and we had to get a new one and now my mommy can’t figure out how it works.”

“Okay,” I said. “So we all make mistakes, especially when we’re angry or scared. The families of Israel made a gigantic mistake dancing around the cow statue. Moses broke the tablets. You broke something that belonged to your sister, you scalped your Barbie. Your dad smashed the remote control. Eventually, everyone was forgiven, right?”

Shrugs all around. “Well, Mommy still has to make Daddy set the DVR, but yeah, I guess.”

“So when we make a mistake, or we don’t follow the first ten commandments, let alone the — wait, how many commandments?”

“SIX HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN!” my smarty Jewish kids shouted.

“Right! So that’s a lot to remember, and when we don’t get it exactly right or break something, or act in a bad way, we can be forgiven. As long as we’re truly, deeply sorry, we can grow into better people. But at the same time, you need to know how to act and to use your common sense,” I explained, ’cause I really don’t need any parents calling and asking me why their child said I told them they’d be forgiven for poking holes in the sofa cushions with a pair of chopsticks because it wasn’t expressly forbidden in the Torah.

“So God forgave the people for worshiping the idol, and he let Moses come back and make another copy of the Ten Commandments. But from then on, everyone was expected to keep it together. Got it?”

More nods, and I felt like we’d really accomplished some Jewish learning here today. We moved onto snack, a rousing rendition of the “Dovid Melech Yisrael” hand jive, and to illustrate the “hand of God,” this super cool hamsa project. Unfortunately, it required some basic adhesive skills and therefore turned out stickier than I imagined, but it was nothing an entire packet of Tough N’ Tender cleaning wipes couldn’t handle.

During pick-up, I overheard a parent ask their child the requisite “So, what did you learn today?” I turned my ear towards the sweet little voice and heard: “Something about a golden cow and ‘American Idol.’ And we’re supposed to worship these pretty hands!”

I think next week we’ll just start with how to use a glue stick.

*Photo via’s “Top Ten Lame Golden Calf Pickup Lines.”

Satire Isn’t Supposed to Be Stupid

So my mom called me the other day to make sure I’d seen this article in the Phoenix New Times titled “Jew Roundup.”

Yup, you read that right.

The subhead of “They’re Pouring Over the Canadian Border to Flood Graduate Schools and Bank Parking Lots. Legislation from State Senator Russell Pearce Aims to Make Them Rue the Day They Ever Entered Arizona” confused me even further.

Is this for real? Why is it accompanied by a horrible illustration straight out of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”? What kind of anti-Semitic, TeaDoucheBag hijacked the usually liberal (if subpar) journalistic bent of one of the country’s largest alternative newsweeklies? Does J.D. Hayworth really think he’s going to win John McCain’s seat by talking sh*t about Jews?

After I read it through three times and asked a couple of people far more intelligent than I for their opinions, I realized that this was intended to be a piece of satire. OHHH. M’kay. Wow. Still not funny. At all.

Written by wackadoodle Village Voice executive editor Michael Lacey, the article is supposed to lampoon Arizona Republicans’ draconian attitude towards immigration – as in, replace “Mexicans” with “Jews” and the inanity and racism becomes clear. Except that I think it’s backfired for him.

Lacey is no stranger to inappropriate uses of stereotypes to make a point — he recently invoked the N-word to demonstrate how silly he feels to be a middle-aged white guy.

Read this example of bad taste and bad journalism here, but maybe put away all sharp objects first. Your thoughts, please.

Not Forgetting Means Showing Up

Sunday was Holocaust Rembrance Day, and the turnout was a standing-room only for Yom Ha’Shoah program at the JEA. Which means that the Holocaust is a bigger draw than a saltwater swimming pool and Zumba. But whatever.

Mayor Otis Johnson showed his support by showing up, and it was satisfying to see all the post-b’nai mitvah teens there, reading with appropriate solemnity the introductions of our handful of local survivors. It was a unifying moment for this community, each of the three strangely divided factions of Savannah’s Jewish world coming together for a rare moment of humility and prayer.

It went down a lot like the last two Yom Ha’Shoah services I’ve attended at the JEA: Short biographies spoken in hushed tones, a thought-provoking poem or performance, awards given out to the winners of the high school Holocaust writing contest held every year. Last year, the Israeli emissary, Maya, had all the children color butterflies and pasted them all over the auditorium to add an element of peace and hope to as we honored the six million, which was lovely.

Things took a darker turn this year, however, when the guest speaker, Joseph Wyant, took the stage. Mr. Wyant isn’t Jewish, but he was a young American soldier sent to Dachau the day after the Allies defeated the Nazi’s in early May, 1945. He sat off to right of the podium while his middle-aged daughter read from a letter than he had written to his own father describing what he saw at the Nazis’ largest concentration camp. In his early 20s at the time, this soldier put pen to paper about the stench of the bodies, the desperation of the barely-alive “skeletons with skin,” the horrific machinations of a system designed to work people until their living conditions and lack of nourishment rendered them useless, then exterminate them and burn their bodies without a trace.

There were no butterflies or “Life Is Beautiful” moments here — just a graphic story of Nazi ugliness and a nation who let it happen right under their noses. In his letter, he questioned how the Germans and Poles who lived around these camps — and there were hundreds — could have been ignorant to what was transpiring every day. The young soldier Wyant reported every detail with a clear-eyed compassion, understanding that by witnessing the mess, he was charged with telling the world what happened here.

The letter went on and on — people began to squirm, some of the young children had to be taken out. Wyant’s daughter finally looked up apologetically, saying “There’s still another page and half…if you want I can just take questions…” but the crowd encouraged her to finish. When she did, there was a standing ovation. I found out later that Wyant himself was supposed to speak for a few minutes, but his daughter had called that morning and said that he had Alzheimer’s, and this was shaping up to be a particularly bad day. She had wondered if it would suffice to read the letter — which until now had never been read in public or posted for view. We’re all hoping the family will agree to publish it on the Yad Vashem web site so that future generations can read Wyant’s courageous account of what he found at Dachau.

It’s these stories that give meaning to “Never Forget,” a phrase that’s drummed into our little Jewish heads so hard and so often that it literally becomes uncool to treat it with honor. Except in less than ten years those who survived the Holocaust and those who were eyewitness will be gone, and unless the hipsters take their legacy into their own hands, people will forget. And if they do, another sociopathic anti-Semite will convince the world it’s okay to do horrific things.

To those survivors, who smelled the stench, whose bodies and souls starved, whose families were murdered in front of their eyes and yet managed to not only make new lives but create new Jewish families, to rebuild our peoplehood into something strong and mighty and still loving in spite of it all, I make you a promise: I won’t forget. And my kids won’t forget either — I will drum this message into their little Jewish heads with visits to the Holocaust museum and give them the tools to confront Holocaust deniers.

And if I may be so blessed with grandchildren, I hope to read them Mr. Wyant’s letter. Sure, they’ll squirm and think I’m uncool — but they will know who they are and what happened to one third of the Jewish people so, so long ago.

I Could Be An Adjunct Professor

This morning I was reading in the UK’s Jewish Chronicle about Footsteps, a Chasidic “recovery” house in New York where those who have left sheltered religious communities get schooled in the ABC’s of secular life:

Footsteps was set up in 2003 by Malkie Schwartz, a young woman from the Lubavitch community who, in the process of becoming secular, realised how much support others in her position needed. It provides career and college guidance and training in basic computer skills. It also provides peer support meetings, social events, and a library and computer lab.

I never really thought about it, but I imagine it would be incredibly difficult to go from living in an extremely protected, observant environment to navigating the world at large. Even though I share Old World DNA with its followers, I have to say Chasidic culture often seems foreign to me, and while I respect the emphasis placed on family, I think it’s bunk that some women need permission from their husbands to do things like go to college or, say, wear pants. I admire things about my many observant friends’ lifestyles, but I can certainly understand why a person raised in an environment with so many rules might want to live a different kind of life.

Footsteps definitely offers training in cornerstone skills to set oneself up for success, and I deeply respect the courage it takes for a person to leave their loves ones. It occurs to me that with my unorthodox background and heretical attitude towards most things rabbinical, I might be particularly suited to helping these Chasidic rebels adjust to life outside the eruv. So I’m thinking of developing a curriculum called “Becoming a Bad Jew 101” which would include sections such as:

* Burn the Sheitel And Let Down Your Hair
* Chicken Parmesan: Go Right Ahead, ‘Cause Hens Don’t Lactate
* How to Shake Your Lulav At the Club
* Borscht: Just Say No
* Men and Women Together In Synagogue: It Won’t Cause Spontaneous Combustion

Snarky, I know. But I get the feeling those Chasidic rebels will do just fine as long as they keep their senses of humor sacred.

T-Shirt available at

A lovely Shabbos to all, however rebellious it may be!

“Life Is Not One Big Afikomen Gift”

That’s the takeaway line from Marjorie Ingalls’ thoughtful column “Kids These Days,” and it pretty much sums up how I feel about Passover.

Ingalls writes about dichotomous wish have the seder be accessible and “fun” for the kids while at the same time teaching the complex meaning of the meal. (You, with the plague finger puppets, you know what I’m talking about, right?)

Ingalls’ Orthodox background means she experienced “the real deal” growing up, which surely did not entail masks and party favors. Conversely, because I didn’t go to Jewish day school and my parents weren’t strict about following the haggadah to the letter every year, I’m the obnoxious schmo trying to add more tedium to the seder. Or at the very least, finish the haggadah instead of wandering over to the couch to sleep off the food-and-Manischewitz coma.

For someone who continually errs on the treyf side of life, you might be surprised that I’m such a stickler for keeping with the order of things on this one. But sheesh, Passover is about our ancestors’ miraculous release from bondage and their subsequent forty-year walk in the desert; the very least we can do to honor them is to sit still for the damn story.

Listen, before you go accusing me of self-righteousness, you should know that I may have once put vodka and cranberry in the Shabbos kiddush cup. I’m all for elastic Judaism. But the seder shouldn’t be something to get out of (like Hebrew school) or dumb down (ahem, Tot Shabbat.) I want my children to understand that our lives are full of freedom because Moses and Miriam led our courageous foremothers and forefathers out of Egypt with nothing more than the words of an invisible God — that’s faith. On all others nights we can take that for granted, but on this night, you can sit that little tushy on a pillow and listen without expecting to be entertained by Dora the Explorer’s Map of the Exodus.

To answer Ingall’s question, “Is this a seder or a circus?” I say: This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around.

But I will admit to really enjoying the finger puppets, which I made dance on my father’s head during “Dayenu.” But I think Stephen Colbert has me beat:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Passover Commercialism
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Reform

Where do you stand? Read the whole article here and lemme know.