Mmmm…Matzoh Crunch Ice Cream

Oh, it’s hawwwwt out, my mishpotech, and I don’t mean like Hugh Jackman in a pair of Levi’s.

Savannah in the summertime is a little like residing within a steamy bowl of soup, except there’s less carrots and no lid to escape. Lawdy, have mercy on my sweaty soul.

Fortunately, there is a glorious respite from this scalding misery called frozen treats, and lookie what I just found on the interwebs: Chozen, kosher vanilla ice cream swirled with flavors to make your bubbie swoon.

Who wouldn’t at the thought of licking a scoop of rugelach, chocolate babka or matzoh crunch on the stoop watching the neighbor kids splash around in the fire hydrant spray? Wait, that’s my cliché mind kicking in the false memories I have of growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s.

Too bad for me and my real life of an overheated pug lapping at the sewage overflow washing down the alley, Chozen is currently only available in New York.

Gimme Some Soul

I had the privilege of hearing and watching the McIntosh County Ringshouters perform last night at Second African Baptist Church and I swear, sometimes I wish I was Baptist.

Not that I could ever be anything but loud, proud Jew or abide that whole “no drinking-no dancing” rule. But I deeply desire some more clappin’ and shouting in my worship. A little hallelujah and Gah-bless. Some “Thank you, Lord!”s and a bunch of “mmm-hmm, say it again!”s. Praising our Creator ’til I’m moved to my feet – as opposed to an atonal reminder to the congregation that it’s time to rise.

Judging for the emails I got from last week’s post about wanting more for my money out of my synagogue dues, I’m not alone. I love the Jewish traditions – the way the prayers feel in my mouth, the concrete wisdom of the Hebrew script, the covenant between humanity and Divinity. Yet in practice—with many exceptions, of course—it has about as much spiritual juice as a prune. To quote my own poem, sometimes I just wanna kick back my chair and shout out “Glory Hallelujah!” to my fellow Jews who know all too well the dangers of drawing attentions to themselves…

Standing in a white clapboard church stomping with a multi-ethnic crowd (I promise, no one said a word about Jesus, which is where I draw the line for interfaith worship,) I felt full-up of Love with a capital “L” for God and people, the seams of whatever holds our souls inside our bodies bursting. I long for such an experience at shul. Those of you who have it — in Chicago, in Winston-Salem, NC, in Berkeley — clap out one for me, brothers and sisters.

Those of us that don’t have it yet, well, we’ve got to keep up the Kosher Gospel somehow. I recommend lobbying for a visit from Joshua Nelson to our communities to show the dried-up prunies how it’s done:

To learn more about how the McIntosh County Shouters have preserved their Gullah-Geechee traditions for hundreds of years, read Dana Clark Felty’s excellent article in the Savannah Morning News.

The Very Bad Day

Today is Tisha B’Av, and it’d be one mofo of a day if it was 586 BCE or the year 70, or even 1492.

Tisha B’Av
is basically the Jewish Anniversary of Awful: On this day in 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar and his army of mad Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in Jerusalem, murdering 100,000 Jews and exiling a million. In 70AD, the Romans did the same to the Second Temple, only they killed two million and exiled everyone else. The anti-Semitic Spanish monarchs expelled all their Jews on this day in 1492 (yes, the same year their bitch Columbus was handing out syphilis to the indigenous people of the Americas.)

There are even more ugly coincidences on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av: officially being kicked out of England in 1290, the deportation of Warsaw’s Jews to the Ghetto in 1942, the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 (technically, it was the day after the ninth, but it was still Tisha B’Av on the West Coast) and in 2005, the beginning of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza the forced expulsion of the residents of Gush Katif (no matter whose side you’re on, that was not a good day for anyone involved.) And yet, impossibly, there are even more calamities listed here.

Observant Jews commemorate this day with a fast and restriction on anything that smacks of work, play or sex. Portions of “Lamentations” are recited at synagogue along with special elegies–sometimes there’s crying as our people bemoan all the really heavy sh*t that’s come down on us and pray for better times.

Jews like me–that is to say, those who do not take the time out of our lives to participate in this communal mourning–might be at work, clicking around the ‘net, feeling a vague blue moodiness and promising ourselves that we will light a yartzeit (memorial) candle when we get home tonight for all of those who endured horror on past ninths of Av.

While there’s still time for Ahmedinejad to push the button or Hamas to throw another PR flotilla party, I’m thinking 2010 won’t appear on the Tisha B’Av list. May getting rained on be the worst thing that happens to any of us today.

*Francesco Hayez’s depiction of the destruction of the Second Temple from essential-architecture.com.

Maybe I’d Feel More Jewish If I Could Afford It?

I’ve often kvetched about the high cost of being Jewish. From synagogue dues to the JEA membership to Sunday School tuition to tzedakah to summer camp, it adds up to many thousands of dollars a year, and don’t get me started on the projected costs of hosting a bar mitzvah in a few short years. Sometimes I add it up mentally and fantasize about the fabulous vacation the family could take (to Israel, even!) or what I could contribute to the kids’ college funds.

Living in a community where it’s clear from the plaques on the walls that the generations who came before paid for entire wings of buildings, I often wonder how the institutions will survive. While there are several generous families around here upon whose philanthropy the Jewish community depends, it seems like most people grumble when membership goes up ten bucks. Us Yentas pay our bills and keep the children clothed, but we’re not really in an income bracket that gets our names etched in stone on the walls of the synagogue.

But that’s how it is, right? We’re all used to High Holiday speeches from the temple president, even if visitors are appalled (read an account of the outrage expressed at Yom Kippur a few years back.) If we want to participate in communal Jewish life, we’ve got to “pay to play”—a phrase borrowed from Lisa Miller’s column in Newsweek this week.

Miller points out that these giant, ornate synagogues and community centers were built at a time when Jews, “in a very real sense, nowhere else to go. The country clubs wouldn’t have them; their community, religious, and social life revolved around the temple. Today, American Jews have all kinds of choices about where to spend time and money—Jews no longer need a Jewish pool to swim in—and the buildings have become a burden.”

Many JCC’s are trying to offset the burden by welcoming non-Jewish members to the pools and fitness centers and day camps to keep them going, even opening on Shabbat to accommodate them (please tell me—where do YOU weigh in on this?), so let’s leave that aside for a moment. What about synagogues? One person in Miller’s articles suggests that Jews will band together to “reduce costs to families through something like corporate downsizing: making alliances across denominations, sharing spaces, rabbis, and staff.”

Huh, maybe, but I’m don’t want to sit in on that board meeting. But I’m all for it if it means getting back to the basics. Mostly, I’m frustrated with the high cost of temple dues because I haven’t been particularly thrilled with the return—I want simple, meaningful rituals sung in tunes I can follow led by a compassionate, thoughtful, learned person. Unfortunately, the politics of synagogue life have overshadowed my experience of spirituality there—the factions, the whispering, the lashon hora (gossip, negative speech-of which I’m totally guilty), the lack of focus on, well, God.

Miller mentions the “wild success” of Chabad, which uses the church-y business model of “come pray, come eat” before anyone asks for cash. I’ve never been to a Chabad house, but I’ve met couples who run them and have always been impressed by their generosity and enthusiasm. You may not agree, but I would gravitate towards this if it was available—which it’s not, perhaps for territorial reasons. Savannah’s a small place and there are already three synagogues, none of which I feel particularly comfortable in.

I find the most fulfillment (and believe my children do, too) in creating a Jewish home, which costs less and El Yenta Man doesn’t have to wear a tie. Yet that’s incomplete for us fast-and-loose Jews who need a rabbi to teach us the stories and rules (even if we’re not going to follow them.) On the other hand, who wants to shell out thousands of bucks for mediocre spiritual leadership when you could be on a Disney cruise?

It’s a big subject. Please, read Miller’s column here and let me know your thoughts.

T-Shirt of the Week: In A Pickle

The Yenta household has been blessed with an amazing bounty of cucumbers this week – some almost two feet long!

A girl can only take so much Israeli salad, so I’ve tried my wannabe-homesteading hand at “putting up” these long green gifts from the garden. (I just love the cozy spin the phrase “putting up” takes on when it refers to food. So unlike it’s regular usage, as in “I’m not putting up with this bullsh*t for another minute.”)

After researching a couple of thousand concoctions that required special spices and such, I finally settled on this super easy recipe that requires no cooking – although I recommend the additional step of soaking your sliced cukes in ice water to keep ‘em crisp.

The result is several giant jars of crunchy kosher dills that take up the entire bottom shelf of the fridge – perfect on a burger or just to nosh alone.

“Year of the Pickle” t-shirt is from JewishZodiac.com–if you were born in 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997 or 2009, “You’re the perfect sidekick: friends love your salty wit and snappy banter but you never overshadow them. That shows genuine seasoning from when you were a cucumber. Marry a Pastrami later in life.”

Enter your birth year here to find out your cheeky Jewzo sign!

Dr. Skip Goes Back to Africa

You might infer that it’s really lovely in Sumbawanga this time of year because my dad keep going back.

But after listening to his tales about giant bugs and airless hotel rooms, somehow, I don’t think he’s there for the spa atmosphere.

For the fourth summer in a row, my father has traveled to a remote hospital in Tanzania to volunteer his surgical services to the local population. Each year, he’s tried to leave the hospital in better shape than he found it, personally shlepping supplies – not just obvious things like medicine and syringes, but really basic stuff like light bulbs – because everything, except for septic waste, is hard to come by in East Africa.

Last year he even brought a secret superpower, My Brother the Doctor, and together they were like a tremendous tag team of sanitary surgical sanity, performing and teaching simple procedures that we take for granted here in the U.S. (Much as we rail against health care, at least we have some.)

Dad’s always kept a fascinating – if kinda gory – blog of his experiences, and this year is no different. However, according to his last two posts, things are not going so well.

It seems that many of his efforts of his past visits have not been maintained, and the staff at the hospital appears beyond incompetent, letting a young boy’s IV lines dry up and taking off for days at a time. It’s enough to make even the most enthusiastic person question whether traveling around the world to help those who won’t help themselves is worth it, and Dr. Skip is feeling the frusturations:

There is simply not the will to do things right nor the capacity to teach people to change.

Please, if you some time today, read his blog, offer a comment of encouragement, remind him why he’s there. And please, keep Dr. Skip in your prayers.

I Wonder, Women — What’s the Problem?

Since DC Comics announced last week that they’re giving Wonder Woman a makeover, the interwebs are a-flutter with how WW’s new look is “an epic fail,” “dowdy” and downright un-American (that’d be FoxNews, natch.)

Gone are the shimmery star hot pants, the wenchy eagle bustier and the big hair: The new Wonder Woman is clothed in smart black leggings and steampunky little jacket with a hint of cleavage and some super cute booties. It’s a look you might see on a the morning commute in any mid-sized city, with Marc Jacobs fingerless gloves-clad hands clutching a Starbucks latte.

But of course, that’s the problem. She’s superhero, and that means she should look like one. Where’s the flash? (“What’s super about a jacket?” laments one blogger. “Nothing.”) Anyone who’s sat through repeated viewings of The Incredibles knows that capes are a no-no, but what about a pair of laser-shooting epaulets or something?

You might guess that I am longtime adorer of the brunette Amazon with the magical wristcuffs. I’ll even admit to venturing into idol worship as a nine year-old wearing Underoos and her dad’s Adidas sweatbands, trying to lasso the cat with my mother’s thin gold Bill Blass belt. I donned the persona for three straight Halloweens, as has my own daughter after me (she worked that little toddler costume as long as she could, bless her princess-warrior little heart.) As a feminist, mother and full-grown princess warrior, I feel have the experience and authority to pass judgment on WoWo’s post-modern visage. And other than the fact that a man held the pen (which is a shanda considering all the women in comics these days), I dig it.

First of all, she’s 69 years old and there’s nothing more uncomfortable than seeing an otherwise attractive grandma who insists on shopping at Wet Seal. Wowo seems to have figured out that less skin is more, that being sexy and self-respecting is the new black. To me, she looks tougher and smarter than ever, like she might go all jijitsu on your punk ass right after she does her own taxes.

To go along with the look, DC Comics new incarnation finally includes a mysterious backstory full of mistakes and self-doubt (a la Batman’s orphan state and Superman’s isolationist issues.) Her character has grown more complex and layered as she’s covered up – just as we have as our lives have cleaved to careers, marriage, motherhood and we have lived through the tragedies and hardships that didn’t kill us but made us stronger. As a woman sliding down the backside of her 30′s, I relate to this new Wonder Woman.

Our culture doesn’t need our superheroes to be invincible and cold but recognizably empathetic — if not human, then as flawed and complicated as us mere mortals. And us women in particular— even, and especially, the ones still young enough to play outside in their Underoos — need our Wonder Woman to accept that star-studded underpants is not appropriate attire to fight global crime (which, let’s face it, is the only kind anymore.)

Just as I’ve had to accept that these jiggly, spider-veined gams do not belong in a pair of Daisy Dukes and a pair of red pumps, ever, not even at Halloween, even if El Yenta Man really wants to grow a moustache so he can make a smokin’ Tom Wopat.

Frankly, it’s a relief. This new Wonder Woman, professionally dressed, sensible but sexy, is a welcome shero in a world where the actual evil is scarier than anything I ever read in a comic book.

In fact, I may just go out and buy Wonder Woman #600 for my little girl, just to show her what a real superhero looks like.

Right after I troll the shopping sites for my very own nickel-plated wristcuffs.

Countdown to Camp

I just realized Yenta Boy leaves for camp in less than two weeks and I AM NOT READY.

Emotionally speaking, no mother is ever ready to release their precious firstborn into the wild world of sleepaway camp, with its wacky songs and kissing games with girls and loose approach to personal hygiene. Three and half weeks is a long time to not see your child after attending to his every need for the past decade. I’m already going to miss his constant pleas for a new phone app and to attend the midnight showing of “Eclipse.” I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle the absence of several dozen laundry cycles in which I find melted Silly Putty smeared all over the inside of the dryer. I may find myself so bereft that I feel the need to clear his room of the weird collections of gum wrappers and gawd-knows-what else he has growing under the bed.

However, with the help of a few bottles of Gruner Veltliner and the finger-paint hugs of his little sister, I think I’ll make it through.

No, what I meant is that we’re literally not ready. After we made the decision to send him (two months after the deadline), I kept waiting for a stack of forms to arrive in the mail. When they didn’t, I emailed the office and was told I needed to download everything from the website. Ohhhhhh. So from then it’s been a whirlwind of getting one paper notarized (thank you to the nice lady at work who carries around a notary stamp in her Hobo bag), another filled out by his pediatrician (who changed offices without me noticing) and deciphering the rest of the stack (does that time we found him playing Wii at three in the morning count as “sleepwalking”?)

And then there is the Packing List.

I had kind of been thinking we’d just throw a few t-shirts and some cutoffs and maybe a pair of long pants in for Shabbat services into El Yenta Man’s old camp trunk (yes, the old school kind with the lock that closes accidentally while you were inside hiding from your mom as a joke and no one heard you pounding from the inside for fifteen minutes and left you with a lifelong aversion to small spaces and the smell of the glue you used to paste up pictures of Yoda to the inside.)

But it turns out camp authorities don’t allow trunks anymore (obviously, you and I aren’t the only ones who managed to lock ourselves in them), so I’ve been on the hunt for a duffle bag large enough to accommodate a suggested wardrobe large enough to clothe a small African village for three years. Seriously, who owns 20 pairs of underwear? 20 t-shirts? Ten pairs of pants for a child who grows out of them by the time we get home from the store? I’m imagining nine more boys with the same amount of stuff packed into one bunk and my colon clenches.

But then I understand: No matter how large I Sharpie his name on the bands of his little Calvin Klein boxer briefs, it’s very likely that by the third day of camp, everyone’s clothing will be thrown into common-use mounds in the middle of the floor. And I’m not coming along to make sure he gathers up his dirty laundry for the once-or-twice laundry service. For almost a month, Silly Putty in the dryer — along with his spot-on Julia Child imitation and his habit of telling long stories with food in his mouth — will be for someone else to appreciate.

Twelve days until we drop him off in the mountains and leave him there. Somehow, in between work and multiple trips to the mall for one more pair sneakers, I’ve got to get ready.