Jewish Wives Gone Wild

I know Hollywood isn’t known for its functional relationships, but what has gotten into our hot Jewish icons?

First, Scarlett Johanssen divorces “Sexiest Man Alive” Ryan Reynolds. Actually, in spite of his truly amazing abs, he’s always seemed like a tool (Two Guys and a Girl and A Pizza Place, anyone?) So maybe this isn’t so bad. No kids, and he’s not Jewish anyway. The Jewish single men of the world best get themselves some haircuts and start a’courtin’ Miss ScarJo, nu?

But then there’s Oscar winner Rachel Weisz, who married Harvard-educated director Darren Aronofsky in 2002, a had a sweet little boy named Henry and appeared to be a perfectly happy Jewish family. Then she had to go and jump the Bond guy (who, in spite of his smoldering performance as ass-kicking Pole hiding from the Nazis in Defiance, is not Jewish.)

And this one REALLY hurts: Natalie Portman, who’s got the world buzzing about her performance in Black Swan (directed by poor Darren Aronofsky), who was the nice Jewish movie star I thought I could count on to be sensible, the one damn example I had to hold up to my children that not every child actress turns out to be an embarrassment to her mother, is knocked up and engaged to French choreographer Benjamin Millepied. No, that is not a Jewish name (though it does translate into “a thousand feet,” which is a ridiculous/fabulous name for a dancer.) Look, I wish them happiness doing their tragic ballet thing together, but I sure do hope that kid gets a b’nai mitzvah.

As much as this mishegoss appears to be an epidemic, El Yenta Man has nothing to fear of this Jewish wife’s decampment. First off, EYM’s abs make Ryan Reynolds look like a couch potato. And anyway, Sean Connery will always be my favorite James Bond, and he’s so old just fantasizing about it makes me think about Depends.

A Year-End List You Can Dance To

I tend to shy away from the inevitable lists that appear that last week of the year on websites since they activate a neurosis that I must read every single one of them to catch up on all that I’ve missed before I can start the new year, which might put me way into March.

But Tablet’s 100 Best Jewish Songs managed to override the crazy because it’s just SO amazing for its breadth, depth and sheer audacity (Really, Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Throw the Jew Down the Well”? And what’s up with placing The Shema after Al Jolson’s “My Mammy”? At least it’s one up from “White Christmas.”)

Embracing the greats (Manilow, Streisand, Diamond), obscure shtetl folksongs, Israeli anthems and wackadoodle pop culture icons (Beastie Boys, Amy Winehouse, P-Funk) in the same giant hug, this amalgam is a gleefully awkward mash-up of the sacred and silly. Particularly #37, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”:

Johnny Marks’ “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is the Christmas song-as-Jewish-wish-fulfillment fantasy. It’s the story of a social outcast with a funny schnozz who saves Christmas, earning the love of the goyim and a place in the history books.

Of course, we are Jews, and there’s bound to be some contention. Judging from the cheeky tone of the editorial, this list wasn’t so much meant to be definitive as it was to be entertaining. A reader in the comments section points out that this is really only a list of Ashkenazic tunes, meaning the traditions of the world’s Sephardim was ignored—IMHO, the Ladino “Ocho Kandelikas” could have replaced Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song.” But including Beck’s “Loser” as a “schlemiel’s lament”? Classic.

Here’s the simple list of the 100 Best Jewish Songs, but you must check out the full descriptions for fascinating background and some major chuckles.

Seeing as some of these songs are on the Glee Wii karoake game that “Santa” left on the TV, I feel much less guilty for the crime of throwing my children a Christmas bone. Off to tackle “I Say A Little Prayer” (sung by Aretha, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) with new ruach.

The Dark Days Are Over

This morning at 3am, I was lying on the front lawn watching a red shadow creep across the moon.

If this had been 1991, this might have been attributed to a bad acid trip followed by cheap Mexican food. Back then, seeing the moon go dark on the Winter Solstice would have been proof positive that the world would be ending very soon, and there was little point in thinking about getting a real job or paying the rent on time. I would have attributed the double whammy of the shortest day of the year coupled with the Lunar Night Goddess being robbed of her light as an omen that The Great Evil had finally taken over the world. I probably would have hunkered down right there in the leaves and grass and prepared to disintegrate or be eaten by robots or for whatever fate awaits those of us who don’t get Raptured.

Of course, I would have woken up stiff and cold with a homeless guy peeing in the bushes next to me, the world still chugging along on its inexact, yet very much existent, path.

Nearing up as we are on 2011, I spent last night’s astronomical exhibitions with my son tucked under my arm and the dog snuggled in my lap, a wholesome family moment that I never could have imagined back in the bad old days when I wore angst like my favorite pair of patched-up Levi’s. My mind tried to work its way into some alarming significance about the deep darkness all around, but I wasn’t really listening. I was busy marveling at how we view time as linear because we are born and then we die, but if we really look, the universe is built in cycles, with no beginning and no end—the moon endlessly spinning around the Earth as the Earth does its eternal dance around the sun. Perhaps someday it’ll all spin up together in the cosmic blender as a frozen margarita of hydrogen atoms and wormholes. But last night the celestial bodies all lined up for a few minutes, then kept on their merry ways, just as they’ve been long before they had monkey-minded humans to witness them and surely will long after we suffocate ourselves in our own garbage.

There’s no denying that twenty years has taken its toll on this monkey body, and twenty more will surely bring more aches, wrinkles and dimples in the wrong places. If I’m still here in twenty after that, then I’m definitely going to start smoking again. Laying in my own front yard (I’ve got the mortgage to prove it) with my family, unsure of the future but ready and willing to entertain it, I came to a realization I would have liked to have shared with my 19 year-old self: Get up and go home, asshole. Ditch creative writing as a career choice and major in mechanical engineering, because in the future everyone will be a writer with their own things called blogs but there will be a ton of bridges that need rebuilding. Start a savings account. The end of the world is for pussies.

Just in case you stayed in your lovely warm bed last night:

2011 Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse from William Castleman.

And because that lunatic on the grass weird angsty girl still kicks around in this bag of bones somewhere, here’s a little something for her:

If Only All The Mommy Wars Were This Entertaining

Big ups to my homegirl Excruciatingly Normal for turning me on to Kveller, a new Jewish mother site out of New York with delish blogs, advice and community for pregnant Jewmamas to those with preschool aged kids. ‘Course, that’s not me anymore, since Yenta Boy is grousing around like a real adolescent with his Justin Bieber swoop and Facebook page, and Little Yenta Girl just lost her first tooth.

The link EN forwarded had “Blossom’s F*cking Nuts, yo!” in the subject line and led to a guest blog by Mayim Bialik, kid actress turned brilliant neuroscientist and now big ol’ lactation advocate, evident from the post’s title: “I Breastfeed My Toddler. Got A Problem With It?”

Nope, neither me nor EN have a problem with breastfeeding a two year-old, since we have both experienced the alternating joy and sheer insanity of breastfeeding a small person who walks and talks. EN’s still nursing her little boy and though mine have long forgotten the boob, all of their robust health, keen intelligence and emotional security speaks volumes for this practice.

EN thought it was crazy that Mayim’s kid doesn’t eat solid foods yet, which means mama is still providing all the nutrition. Me, while I am super behind my girl Blossom’s commitment to attachment parenting, which involves extended nursing, toting your little hairless monkey around in a sling and co-sleeping, felt annoyed that the woman already has her freakin’ phD in brain science and gets to attend red carpet functions for which she can afford a babysitter, she has to be a perfect mother who cooks vegan snacks, too? Way to make an underemployed mother of two feel like an inadequate, self-absorbed sloth for letting my kids watch TV and feeding them instant oatmeal for dinner last week because El Yenta Man was working late and I just could not make myself go to the store for broccoli.

Mayim’s post ignited quite a riot in the comments section and a witty plea from fellow Kveller blogger Carla Naumburg to “get real” about the dirty truth of parenting. I agreed—if you’re not the kind of mother who’s truthful about the tears, the exhaustion, the evil thoughts of driving your children to their grandparents’ and leaving them there forever, then you kind of suck.

But this morning, Mayim posted a response to Carla’s, detailing her painful nursing experiences and getting no sleep and losing it with her kids, though her hissed “Just go to sleep already” really makes my constant use of the F-word look worthy of a visit from Child Services. I’m impressed with her willingness to face of the criticism for her original post, I’m guessing she could handle it quite well, or she wouldn’t have had the chutzpah to write it in the first place.

Anyway, it was fun to visit the old days of cuddling up and nursing someone’s boo-boo, and I just adore EN and Mayim and Carla and Kveller.

And I’m damn glad my own kids are old enough to be at school all day while I go have a glass of wine at lunch.

What, No Michael Bloomberg Cameo?

Oy gevalt. It really was only a matter of time before the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys hit “Empire State of Mind” spawned a “Jew York” satire. But with so many kinds of Jewish New Yorkers, how do you pick just one?

First, we have JewYork.com mocking J.A.P-style and kinda nailing it while rocking some nice Yiddish, many velour tracksuits and some serious cleavage:

Then there’s Empire Shtick with great Big City B-roll, a fake Chasid beard and Yiddish subtitles:

This one actually keeps it pretty kosher, rhyming up potato knish, gefilte fish, dreidel and matzah ball soup ladle:

Between all three, you’ve got pretty much every Jewish cultural stereotype from bacon-eating to tzitzit to Katz’ Deli to Bernie Madoff. I’m not even mad, because watching all of these multiple times has finally ousted the original version from my addled brain.

And The Winner Is…

Thank you all who entered the Yo! Yenta’s Gone Nuts Chanukah Contest with your tales of gift-giving gone oh-so-wrong. If the folks at Oh Nuts! would let me reward all of you, I would—even those freaks who say they don’t like chocolate.

El Yenta Man and I had a quite a few chuckles sifting through your entries of creepy candlelabras, stinky candles and gross grandma sweaters, but one entry in particular had us both snorting sweet tea out our noses: Beth Van Tosh’s Santa g-string given to her by her 80 year-old mother-in-law.

BVT, you win $25 to use at Oh Nuts! as well as a recommendation on a gift for your mother-in-law next year:

Really, nothing says “please limit your visits to three days” than a Chappy Chanukah thong.

Now that our holiday is over, Imma ready to let the rest of the world get down to the business of Christmas while I enjoy a nice, quiet Shabbat picking wax out of the carpet. Shabbat Shalom!

May Your Eighth Night Be Bright—And Don’t Light The Curtains On Fire

‘Aight, it’s time for the chanukiahs of the world to shine to full capacity.

In spite of being confusingly early this year (next time the 25th of Kislev falls so close to Thanksgiving, El Yenta Man promises to stick candles in a turkey neck), it’s been a Chanukah full of greasy treats and good, good music — props to Prodezra Beats, NCSY & Six13 and the Maccabeats for giving the little Jewish children something to sing besides Adam Sandler’s tired ol’ tune. (OK, fine. Call it a classic, if you will.)

Here’s one more groovin’ gift for y’all from the kosher dubmaster himself, Matisyahu:

May everyone’s holiday season continue joyfully, peacefully and with lots more dancing.

Don’t forget to enter the Yenta’s Gone Nuts Contest—tell me about your worst holiday gift and you could win $25 in chocolate treats. Winner announced Friday!

The Yenta Wants Your WORST Holiday Gift

I know y’all are busy. There’s eleventy billion other websites out there competing for your attention, and I am super grateful you’ve chosen to spend a few moments with me (an average 1.7 minutes, according to Google Analytics.)

Sometimes I even get to run into you local readers in person, like at the JEA when I’ve just finished a sweaty workout and I’m really hoping you don’t stand too close to me because I can’t remember if I actually used the deodorant this morning or just looked at it before Little Yenta Girl ran into the bathroom with a fork entangled in her hair because she wanted to comb it like The Little Mermaid, or, in the parking lot at Publix after I’ve just flipped you the finger for swooping into my parking space (really sorry about that, Miz Bernice, I didn’t realize it was handicapped. Next Thursday, Senior lunch is on me.)

You’re always so nice and gracious, and it really throws me for a loop that there are so many of you out there. I can’t read the Googly Anal report thingies very well, but it seems like there’s more of clicking around in here than just my mother, so I’m kinda flummoxed as to why last week’s Oh Nuts! Chocolate Contest was such a flop. Only a handful of you entered, and of those, NOT ONE of you left an email so I could contact you. Was it too easy? Too contrived? Your snubbing is feeling as bittersweet as old gelt. You’ll click on a ridiculous Facebook ad about winning an iPad, but the idea of free chocolate does not entice you?

So, I’m thinking “do-over.” And this time, let’s make it a little more interesting:

Yo, Yenta!’s Gone Nuts Chanukah Contest

Open a new tab and visit the Oh Nuts! and pick a favorite treat.

In the comments section of THIS POST THAT YOU ARE READING RIGHT NOW, paste the URL (just copy and paste the address) of your treat—look, the Oh Nuts! people need their props!

Then, please entertain me with a few words about the very worst, inappropriate and/or crappiest Chanukah or Christmas present anyone ever gave you. I want to know about six-toed socks, lacy panties from your bubbe and racist fruitcakes. Live animal tales and office holiday “white elephant” horror stories are especially welcome.

Don’t forget to put an email; I promise I am not competent enough to sell it or use it for anything other than alerting you if you’re the winner. On Thursday, Dec. 9, after Yenta Boy’s fifth grade band performance, the entire Yenta Family will pick one entrant to win $25 of Oh Nuts! dollars to spend—thas’ alotta candy.

C’mon, gimme your goodies in the comments below, and may your sixth night of light be sweet and bright!

Don’t Be Mad If You End Up Humming This One All Day

I gotta say, the 5771 Chanukah spoof offerings are killing it this year! Check out yeshiva heart throbs the Maccabeats and their festive take on the ubiquitous “Dynamite” :

Erp, that sufganiyot accident at 2:33 is giving me flashbacks of last night’s JEA Chanukah Party. Speaking of which, what an amazing turnout—every facet of our complex, colorful community was represented and Prodezra Beats had the house jumpin’! As Savannah’s self-proclaimed kvetchiest Jewish outlaw, I am super stoked to have been a part of such warmth and wonder. You can read El Yenta Man’s decidedly unkosher take on the event in the comments section here.

Also: For the chocophiles who are wondering what’s happening with the Oh Nuts! contest, there will be an update on Monday. Until then, enjoy nights 3,4 & 5, Happy Snerfday to El Yenta Man and our dear amiga Cori in ATL and a deLIGHTful Shabbos to all!

Prodezra Beats: The Interview

There’s been much ado in the press recently about Shyne, the hiphop artist who served an eight year prison sentence after his involvement in 1999′s infamous New York Sean Combs/J.Lo nightclub shooting. The former gangster managed to keep his career alive while in lockdown, but the real news has been about his religious conversion while on the inside—to Orthodox Judaism. Black coat, black hat, tefillin, the works.

Black Orthodox Jewish rappers—something of a rare breed, nu? Aside from Shyne (born Jamal Michael Barrow, now known to his rabbi as Moses Michael Levi) there’s the wonderful Y-Love, who rhymes in English, Yiddish, Hebrew and Aramaic out of Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood. And then there’s Reuben Formey, who raps and produces instrumental tracks under the name Prodezra Beats.

The odds of one of the three known Jewish African-American hiphop artists living in your neighborhood are pretty slim. Less than being born with extra thumbs, even. Yet once again, Savannah, GA proves itself to be a strange and magical place. Blessed even, some might say.

I first met Reuben along with his lovely wife, Liora, and their two adorable daughters at last year’s JEA Purim festival, and he generously shared some tracks with Yo, Yenta! readers. In advance of what’s bound to be a soulful performance at the JEA Community Chanukah Party Thursday, Dec. 2, I found myself chilling with Prodezra yesterday afternoon at the new kosher frozen yogurt place on Eisenhower to discuss music, mitzvot and how this town could really use a vegetarian pizza joint.

First, the background. I didn’t want to seem insensitive, but I was dying to know how a Savannah-raised, dark-skinned young man becomes an Orthodox Jew. Fortunately, Reuben set me at ease by filling me in right away on his family’s gravitation to Judaism in the late 80′s and 90′s. Though his grandfather was a well-known Baptist preacher, his father encountered a group of friendly rabbis at a Chabad house while at college in Minnesota and began to study Torah in that no-pressure, do-what-comes-naturally setting. Reuben’s mother began to study as well, bringing him and his sister along. Over time they realized this was their path, and in 1993 they converted as a family.

After moving to Savannah, Reuben’s formative years resemble every other Jewish kid’s: Chai Day School (the predecessor to Rambam), a bar mitzvah at B’nai B’rith Jacob, tooling around on a Casio keyboard trying to recreate Cypress Hill songs (more on that later), graduation from Beach High School and a nice business management degree from Georgia Tech. After college, perhaps more eager at that point to pursue life’s deeper questions than join the family’s successful safety supply business, he jumped straight to Jerusalem and the Mayanot yeshiva.

The baal teshuva returned (that could be considered a bad pun, sorry) to Savannah a few years ago with a family of his own, ready to take a place in his father’s company—and to make music.

Ah, yes: The music. Created late at night, in half-hour snatches while the baby sleeps and whenever else the life of a working father allows, Prodezra Beats manifests as grooving loops of electronic reverb and percussion overlaid with positive, spiritually-influenced lyrics about faith, redemption and plenty of Torah references.

Here, listen to “Faith” while you read the rest of this post:

Dig it. Anyway, back at Beach High, young Reuben listened from everything from jazz to Public Enemy to Phil Collins and admits to having gone through a hardcore Metallica phase. Influenced by Bone Thugs N’ Harmony and Atlanta’s Outkast, he liked to play around with samples on his cousin’s Casio, and came up with beats for other artists to rap over. Eventually, he wanted more control of what message was going out with the music and began to write his own rhymes, replacing the the sexism and violence of traditional rap music with the inspiration he finds by doing mitzvot and studying Torah.

“I’ve always loved the beat of hiphop and producing, but the message isn’t anything I want to hear anymore,” he explained over a bowl of mango sorbet. “I want to keep producing a distinctive, Southern hiphop sound that has a universal positive message. People, whether they realize it or not, are sick of negativity.”

I think so, too. It’s a real gift to be able to play genuine hiphop around the Yenta house that’s kid-appropriate—not since 2004′s “Hip Hop Shabbat” has there been Jewish rap on such constant rotation. And in the car, on the iPod and on the ‘puter as I write this. (It’s actually kind of hilarious to hear Yenta Boy spitting out the chorus of “Proud to Be” looking like a little Mormon in his school uniform on our daily bike ride.)

I don’t think it’ll be too long before this star shines far beyond Savannah—he’s already well-known in music circles in spite of hanging around on the sleepy Georgia coast. Prodezra provided the beats for Y-Love and Describe’s superdubtastic “Change”, and his new album, “Connection Revealed,” (due out March 2011, or before if his daughters sleep extra well) features Kindgroove flutist Chana Laila.

But can the Jewish community accept hiphop as its new sound? He shrugged. “In every generation music changes. Jewish music used to mean shtetl music—accordion, violin—and now we’re coming to a different stage. What’s important is that young people are using their passion and talent to create something holy.”

As we finished our froyo, it occurred to me that a black Jewish rapper may be a rare find, but encountering a person comfortable in his own skin, untroubled by the dichotomies of being black and Jewish, of loving hiphop and Torah, even of the palpable tensions of Savannah’s Jewish community, must be at least as exceptional.

“We’ve created all these divisions, but we’re all one soul, together. That’s where I’m coming from. ”

Prodezra Beats’ current EP, “Until When”, is available at CDBaby.com, so go there and download it, ’cause you need some nice Jewish music for the holidays.

Speaking of which, as a Chanukah gift to Yo, Yenta! readers, Reuben is giving free downloads to the singles “Where Are You (24/7)?” and “Tree of Life” featuring Nosson Zand. Just click on the links—but hurry, they expire soon.

Come out tomorrow night for the show and celebration—don’t forget to bring your own menorah!