Dancing to the Shofar: Unavoidable

Just in time for it to go viral for the Holydaze, the cartoon Torah geniuses at G-dcast have teamed up with Savannah’s own Jewish Southern hip-hop maestro, Prodezra Beats, to give us a kickin’ new take on the story of Abraham and Isaac. Let the head-bobbing begin:

Thank you to my favorite lunch lady and partner in hot sauce crime, Marcia Silverman, for the link!

I predict 5771 to be Prodezra Beats’ breakout year: Check out more of his catchy hooks and thoughtful lyrics on the EP “Proud to Be.” May his talents be known as far and wide as another international Jewish superstar, SoCalled, who reminds us that there’s nothing so unusual about being a Jewish cowboy. Or cowgirl, as it were.

Nice Jewish Boy Kicks Fundamentalist Christian Tuchus

The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, is best known for their charming “God Hates Fags” campaign, but apparently they needed to spice things up with a new target and a vacation:

They brought their moronic minions out to the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles this week, where a reporter named “Brick Stone” confounded even their most articulate representatives with his brave questioning:

Just who is this “Brick Stone”? Would he be interested in a shidduch with a cute L.A. shayna maidela (I know several)? And how fantastic would it be if he actually worked for the Jewish Federation? Things to ponder this Shabbos–a tolerant, peaceful, loving one to all, even the sadly bassackwards souls of the WBC, who should be glad that Jesus loves them because it’d be hard for anyone else to.

One Day You Will Call Me High Priestess Yenta

Last week on Tablet, Jeremy Gillick wrote a piece about the kohanot, or Hebrew Priestess movement:

Kohenet is part of a growing, grassroots Jewish movement to reclaim the divine feminine—female aspects of God represented in Jewish texts—and reintroduce earth-based traditions to Jewish spiritual seekers.

Yes, please.

This notion of reinventing tradition to create something new and based in (what I, and apparently others, believe is) the original worship of our Creator fills me with a vim and vigor to jolt me out of an afternoon Yom Kippur service nap. While I don’t know if I’d ever call myself a Jewitch (though I am intrigued by the term and could be convinced, especially if broom-riding is part of the deal), bringing back the Goddess to shul is something I can get behind.

Obviously, pitching such an idea to mainstream Jews has a looooong way to go, even though Rabbi Gershon Winkler, a former ultra-Orthodox rabbi, argues that Judaism was originally closer to Native American Shamanism than to Christianity–’cause you’re always gonna have your yeshiva-stalwart Rabbi Moshe Tendlers, who snort that earth-based Jews are “perverts” who should be ignored.

Anyone want to meet me in the woods for Rosh Hashanah?

Even if you’re not ready to break out the Stevie Nicks goddesswear just yet, read the article and let me know your thoughts.

To Teach or Not to Teach?

Yo, y’all! The Family Yenta has finally returned from our mountain sojourn adventure (remind me sometime to tell you how El Yenta Man slaughtered a chicken) and our little Jewish camper loved his three and half weeks away. He now sings the entire Birkat Hamazon after every meal (partly to get out of helping with the dishes, I suspect.)

Like it or not, summer’s is creeping to a close on its humid little squirrel feet. Of course, it’ll stay hot here in the South for months, but there’s been a shift in the air that always comes when it’s time to buy school supplies. There’s the requisite packs of black and white composition books and the specific type of nerdy mechanical pencils that Yenta Boy insists upon, but I’m also talking Hebrew bingo cards and punchout hamsas.

Yes, Shalom School season begins again next week, and I’m in a bit of a quandary:

I’ve taught Jewish education to kindergarteners on Sunday mornings for the past three years. For you non-Jews who are thinking “Why Sundays? I thought the Jewish Sabbath was on SATURDAY”, I share your confusion completely. Seems to me if synagogues wanted to get families back to services, then there should be Saturday programming before worship for everyone, including adults, since the thing about Judaism is that you could study it 24 hours a day, six days a week and still need Cliffs Notes.

Some Jews send their kids to Jewish day school so there’s no need for them to supplement their Hebrew education, but most of us need some extracurricular schooling. But in the Reform and Conservative movements, expecting the least observant Jews to come to synagogue BOTH days of the weekend has never seemed like an effective plan. Unfortunately, I do not make the rules.

Anyway, as I was saying, I’ve spent the last three years of Sundays gluing sequins to Shabbat candleholders and trying to instill some Torah basics in five year-olds (seven days of creation, two of each animal on the ark, 40 days and nights of rain, 10 commandments.) I’ve sang songs and prayers and taught the Aleph-Bet using yoga. I’ve heard some super classic lines (Me: Now children, why is it that we put a mezuzah on our doorframe? Little girl: So Santa we’ll know we’re Jewish?)

In spite of the fact that I sometimes flick off the lights so we can pretend we’re in the belly of a whale, I’ve taken my role as a Jewish educator very seriously. While no one would ever describe me as the kind of teacher who speaks gently and greets her students with fresh-baked cinnamon challah every week, I believe the kids who have passed through my class have had some good times and leave knowing a lot more than the first time they sit on my special round holiday rug. It feels good to give back to the community, to know I’m helping build a positive Jewish identity for dozen kids a year.

But here’s the deal: My new day job is wicked demanding. My mother-in-law has taken another downward turn (oh, how many levels does this dementia spiral have, Lord?!) I want to work on a book. I need my weekends to regroup. I’m not someone who handles stress well; my coping skills when feeling overwhelmed tend towards crying, yelling and drinking wine (though yoga has diminished the need for those lately.) I’ve been thinking for a while that I need to take Shalom School off my plate for my own sanity, but I didn’t think the new principal could find a replacement and I don’t go back on agreements.

Well, it turns out, there IS some other meshuggeneh who wants to spend their Sundays with Jewish kindergarteners. There’s an exit for this issue right there, with no hard feelings. All I have to do is turn over my rug and I’ve got Sunday mornings free. I’ll be just another Jewish mom dropping her kids off and then heading to the coffee shop to read the paper.

But it turns out this isn’t so easy give up. I would miss the weekly connection—but that could easily be remedied by going to shul on Saturdays, where the rabbi does the lesson plan. I would miss seeing my own kids in the hall—but wow, drinking coffee and relaxing sounds much nicer than having to remind Little Miss So-and-So to quit picking her nose eight times an hour. I was SURE I wanted bow out and figure out another way to serve the Jewish community. I was already planning a couple of weekend trips away. But somehow yesterday, I found myself down the street trawling through the dry cleaners’ garbage, pulling the cardboard tubes off hangers for my favorite mezzuzot project.

What do you think, friends? Should I jettison the guilt and take the gift of a clean getaway? Or do I shoulder the stress (minimal, since I’ve already got three years of lesson plans) and take on another year belting out “Rise and Shine” and “Shalom Rav” ’til I’m hoarse? Oh, and I need to make a decision by the staff meeting tonight at 7pm.

This would be so much easier if it all took place on Saturdays. Maybe I should trade Shalom School for a place on the policies and programming board of the Union of Reform Judaism?

Good Elul Tidings

Yes, I know it’s a little early for well-wishing for the Month of Elul, which begins at sundown on August 10.

Elul is last moon cycle before Rosh Hashanah, and it’s traditionally a time for reflection before the new year, a chance to inventory our sins so we can present ourselves in humble repentance on Yom Kippur.

Considering my personal alphabet of arrogance, blasphemy, crabbiness, doubt, egregious sarcasm, flagrant self-pity, gross ineptitude, haughtiness, ingratitude, jealousy, know-it-allness, laziness, mouthiness, nagging, obnoxious, prude when I should be pervy and vice versa, quick to judge, rude, shallow, too loud, unkind, verbose to the point of indulgence, yellow-bellied cowardice with zero-tolerance for these qualities in others, I should have started repenting LAST month. (I know switched from nouns to adjectives in there, so let’s add grammatically inconsistent to the list.)

While there are plenty of traditions associated with Elul, my favorite way to remind myself to pay better attention to my behavior is signing up for
Jewels of Elul
, a short, thought-provoking nugget of wisdom sent to your inbox every day of this month written by someone smart, famous or both. Even if you’ve kept your sinning to a minimum this year of 5770, the Jewels are always good entertainment: Sign yourself up here.

The reason for these early Elul tidings is that the Yenta will be offline for a couple of weeks. It’s finally time to collect Yenta Boy from summer camp, and the family will be heading to the mountains for some non-electric navel-gazing. I look forward to a whole necklace of jewels to contemplate when I return!

Shvitzin’ My Prayers

I recently survived my 36th Bikram yoga class — and if you know Bikram, you understand that this is an accomplishment.

If you don’t know Bikram, it’s a form of Hatha yoga practiced in a room hot enough to cook eggs, or at least brew tea. There’s a lot of sweating involved, and not much of the quiet serenity you expect from yoga class. As I wrote about in this month’s South magazine, instead of inner peace, sometimes what arises within is more akin to murderous rage.

But I don’t go to Bikram several times a week because it’s fun—I go because it works. I’ve been managing chronic pain for over a decade now, and I’d drink camel pee if I thought it’d bring relief. I’ve tried every treatment imaginable, from chiropractic to acupuncture to big doses of turmeric (proven to be a natural inflammatory) to promising El Yenta Man all manner of sexual favors if he’ll rub my hip for hours on end. While these have all worked to a degree (especially the latter, heheheh), the effects are temporary.

Yet after three and a half months of bending my body into crazy shapes and contracting muscles I didn’t know existed, I feel better. Like, way better. The pain hasn’t disappeared completely, but it’s been tamed, like a tiger that’s been given some Xanax-laced catnip. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that I’m the one exerting the effort into the hard, painful places rather than being manipulated by a practitioner—perhaps because I am finally playing an active role in healing my pain instead of passively laying on a treatment table, it’s all the more powerful.

(This does not discount all the wonderful, talented healers who have helped me over the years. Except for that chiropractor in Corte Madera who told me I had scoliosis and then charged me $800 to lay on a machine that pulled my body in opposite directions—he can kiss my sweaty tush.)

Anyway, the fact that I’ve surpassed class #36 is significant. The kabbalistically-minded among us imbue meaning into digits: 18 traditionally means chai — “life” — in Judaic numerology and is considered the luckiest of numbers. (That’s why tzedakeh (charity) and gifts tend to be given in increments of $18.)

So “36″ is “double chai” – double life. While walking home from class, sweat dripping in my eyes and my legs feeling like noodles, it struck me that I’d attended this many sessions, and I realized that practicing Bikram yoga has given me my life back.

Sounds corny, I’m sure. But I’m so grateful to be out of pain that I’m willing to take on the slings and arrows shot towards weirdos who wax poetic about yoga. And listen, I’m not saying Bikram is for everyone—I just thank God it’s for me.

Read “The South’s Guide to Breaking A Sweat” here.