Like Only A Jewish Girl Nose

I was pretty much bowled over by last night’s episode of Glee‘s willingness to pitch fastball taboos and knock ‘em straight outta the park.

No, not the awesomeness of making it OK to be gay (and even OK if you are and don’t want to tell anyone yet.) Not the Bad Ass Big Girl unapologetically running for Prom Queen. Not even the admonition that pretty much everyone in this country has some symptom of OCD, ADHD, depression, anxiety and/or other mental illness and really ought to admit it.

It was the nose job subplot that left me speechless. Kisses to writer Brad Falchuk (son of Hadassah President Nancy) for adding the Jewish girl’s personal albatross to the list of last night’s coming-to-terms-with-ourselves-issue (which also included Asian eyes and lesbian haircuts.) It’s only one of our culture’s favorite ways to make us feel shitty about ourselves and trick us into conforming to a norm that doesn’t really exist anyway. I’m very impressed with the skill that Brad and his writing team skewer this nonsense and set it to song and dance.

Yes, Jewish girls and their nose jobs are a long and tired cliché based in an undeniable reality. From Philip Roth to Sarah Silverman, no Jewish social commentator can resist pointing out that legions of Jewish women will succumb to the knife in the name of looking a little less Jewy—although mostly it never fools anyone. A lot of my friends from camp returned the summer of 1987 with the same little noses from the same plastic surgeon. It’s still the de rigeur Sweet 16 gift in many places. For some, the surgery undoubtedly made them feel better about what they saw in the mirror; for others, it only displaced insecurity to another part of their bodies.

In high school in the 80s, it was rather unlikely that a sexy guy would come up to you in the girls’ bathroom and say “I just want to talk to you, one hot Jew to another” like Puck did with Rachel in order to confront her about her decision to shave down her nose. First of all, there were no hot Jews in my high school, though some of us grew up to be smokin’.

More importantly, back then hardly anyone could see themselves reflected in mainstream media unless you were Molly Ringwald. Sure, we had a whole slew of cheesy after school specials telling us it was OK to be ourselves, except those characters were played by cute, tan Kristy McNichol with the ski slope nose.

The point of last night’s show was that every teenager has something to feel awkward about, and it was just so satisfying to see our ethno-angst represented in a way to transcended all the self-hating Jew jokes. When Puck pleaded with Rachel last night that she shouldn’t get her nose fixed because “it’s been passed down from generation to generation as a birthright—it’s a sign of the survival of our people” I stood up and cheered. When has that EVER been said on TV? And I thought Glee rocked the world with Kurt and Blaine’s boy kiss.

To be honest, I never felt too badly about my nose at 16 seeing as it was superceded by buck teeth, acne, huge boobs and an ass that wouldn’t fit in a pair of Levi’s. Which pretty much depleted the family self-improvement fund between orthodontia and Weight Watchers and surgery anyway. But I felt such pain of wanting to be different, of being so uncomfortable in my own skin that I would risk pain, scars and the loss of the original way God made me so I didn’t have to suffer being so damned different than everyone else.

It’s took me until my late 20s to figure out that I’m pretty frickin’ great, no matter what size I am or how super loud Jewish I am and how many zits keep popping up between the crow’s feet. Will shows like Glee help my kids accept themselves any faster or easier? Will one of them insist on a nose job if some elephantine gene pops up during puberty and will I acquiesce? Only time will tell. I plan to keep teaching my children to honor themselves—and that fixing anything on the outside will never, ever replace working out what’s going on inside. (I guess we’d better start a therapy fund asap.)

For now I would like to share a gem with you, a photo my dad took of me before that horrible self-loathing teenage poison took hold of me, before 40 pounds stacked on, when I still embraced being a geek and had no idea it would take a decade a half to come back to loving the nerdy girl with braces and nonconformist taste in school band instruments:

If none of us were sidetracked into hating ourselves as teenagers, who could we become?

Bring on the Squish and the Seven Year Scratch

Well, it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? Passover has almost passed, which means two things:

This evening the Family Yenta will be scarfing pizza and beer (the root variety for the kiddies, natch) in front of Glee. (Speaking of which, after you’re done here, check out Jay Michaelson’s breakdown of the seder’s Four Sons as imagined through everyone’s favorite show choir characters in last week’s Forward.) After all that bread of affliction, we need some squishy dough and teen angst, STAT.

Eight days with no bread is no big deal for me since I do my best to avoid it anyway, like that friend from college who you always think might be fun to spend a night trolling the bars with but instead you end up with your wallet stolen and three days of hangover. I haven’t yet graduated into full-on gluten-free status (El Yenta Man complains I’m already high-maintenance enough) but I’ve finally had to accept that a bread bowl salad or even a sandwich puts me in a carb coma that makes people think I’ve been drinking wine at lunch. Still, a girl’s gotta leave the door open for exceptions like cupcakes and donuts and a real bagel once in a while.

The rest of the family had a harder time. Throughout our Scottsdale sojourn, Yenta Boy deemed himself the Chametz Police—he literally texted me five times from the same restaurant whilst out with Grandpa, asking me if the flat crackers they served were kosher for Passover (no) and if he could eat rice balls (yes.)

To our family, KFP means we don’t do anything fluffy or the five forbidden grains (wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats) but none of us are so observant that we go down the road of ketinyot (which includes corn, rice, legumes and anything else besides matzah, which would make me crazy and constipated.) It’s heart-warming that my little rabbi wants to follow the Torah’s laws to the point of driving everyone nuts, but I finally had to explain to him that bossing around his elders is a much more egregious sin—the last straw was when he shrieked at my mother for eating a bit of a cookie.

The truth is that my family made an amazing effort to keep us all well fed and within the confines our observance this week with the most delicious results: From EYM’s tender brisket and my dad’s giant kosher turkey at the seder to Brother the Doctor’s delicately folded goat cheese-and-tomato omelets to his French girlfriend’s effortless zucchini salad to rack of lamb served on my parents’ patio, the standards of home cooking have been raised. I’ve already warned the kids to return to more mundane epicurean tastes now that we’re home.

And then—OMG—the meals had out: The locally-sourced roasted vegetables and tofu at the cafeteria in the aurally-orgasmic Musical Instrument Museum. Sweet potato tamales at the Cup Cafe in Tucson followed up by late-night salted caramel ice cream from Hub. A ladies’ lunch of cucumber lemonade, spaghetti squash casserole and dairy-free choco pudding at health guru Dr. Andrew Weil’s True Food Kitchen. And the grand finale, dinner with everyone at Roka Akor, hailed as one of the top ten sushi spots in the U.S. by Bon Appétit with sister restaurants in Dubai, Hong Kong and Macau. I swear I ate everything on the table, including the tempura leaf garnishes and every drop of the mango sorbet that came cradled in a tiny crate of ice.

Who needs boring old bread when the rest of the world is a gluten-free gastronomical paradise? Passover could be ALL THE TIME as far as I’m concerned.

Oh yeah, pizza. And beer. Right.

Which brings me to the other significant thing about the end of Passover: It marks Yo, Yenta!’s SEVENTH bloggiversary!

If you’d like to give me a present and you know enough about Savannah to have a few favorite ideas about our fair city, you could head to Connect Savannah’s Best of Savannah ballot and vote for Jessica Leigh Lebos of Yo, Yenta! for “Best Blogger.” You have to fill out at least 25 categories—I’m happy to provide suggestions; here’s one: Mark Lebos as “Best Personal Trainer.” Voting ends April 30!

Yes, this blog is seven years old this week, which in interweb years is like middle-aged. But in spite of my recent visit to Scottsdale, there are no plans for Botox or implants here—this Jewish mama promises to keep flashing y’all au naturelle with uncensored stories from an unorthodox life. Thank you so much for clicking through all these years!

The Dangers of Prematurely Banishing the Bread

Like many Jewish mothers, I am going completely batsh*t this week trying to clean my house for Passover.

Tradition dictates that all chametz (leavened bread, including cookies, cakes, stale ends of rye your daughter has insisted on saving for the ducks and the old pizza at the back of the fridge) be banished from the house before the holiday, a mitzvah called bedikat chametz. This Mother of All Spring Cleanings is to prepare our homes and bodies for eight days of eating only the sacred giant flat cracker that reminds us that our ancestors were once slaves, and for the price of freedom a little tidying up and some constipation isn’t so much to ask.

Technically, the actual bread removal should be done the evening before the seder by candlelight. (That’s always fun until someone steps on a stray Moon-Pie and squishes marshmallow fluff into the carpet.) You don’t have to toss it in the garbage; some rabbinical authorities say you can “sell” your chametz without having to destroy it, but I don’t listen to rabbis very well and don’t quite understand the halachic principles behind taking cash for your moldy old bread.

I had to get a jump on the whole Pesach preparations since the Family Yenta is heading westward for the holiday, which starts on Monday. Even though as a Lackadaisical Jewish Mother I could probably have closed up the house and not given the cereal in the pantry another thought since the Torah says you can leave the chametz where it is as long as it’s “dust in your mind,” the control nerd in me can’t pass up an opportunity use God as an excuse to make everyone clean their rooms.

Little did I know that Yenta Boy’s room was going to take TWO DAYS after I moved one little piece of furniture and found a posse of dust bunnies that looked like they might jump the dog with switchblades and nunchuks.

We spent the first part of this week cleaning, sorting, sweeping, dusting, mopping, throwing out and wiping down. We donated books, clothes and toys. We “sold” a big ol’ box of slightly stale hamburger buns, muffins and pita to our neighbors for a dollar. Everything was shiny and quiet and breadless.

Then hell’s bells broke loose and ran a Egyptian chariot through the front door: Both kids came down with strep, the accountant’s lost our taxes and the pug came limping out of the bedroom with something hideous hanging out of her tush. In a few short hours, the house is a disaster again, and I’ve already thrown out all the comfort food.

The filth I can handle. All I want now is a cupcake.

An Excellent Parody (and A Mediocre Metaphor)

Hot on the heels of their Purim hit “Raise Your Mask,” the Ein Prat Fountainheads once again transform a pop song (in this case, two) into a rockin’ way to celebrate a Jewish holiday:

Even Cee Lo Green has to admit that rhyming “Forget You” with “Dayenu” is kinda brilliant.

I actually got a little farklempt watching these exuberant, talented kids skipping through the Negev, applying the ancient story to tushy-shaking tunes. To me, it’s proof positive that our rituals don’t have to be as stale as an old piece of chametz at the bottom of the cupboard: Judaism is more like a babbling brook, fresh every day with what we add to the water.

Huh. That wasn’t a very well-thought out simile, was it? Feel free to add a better one in the comments. “Judaism is like…?”

Adorable Adornments for A Fabulous Seder Entrance

Just doin’ a little online window shopping…Some folks follow the tradition of buying new clothes for Passover; I personally prefer to dress up last season’s frock with a little fresh Judaic bling:

First up is this pretty sterling silver pendant from HolyLandPrecious.com. The dove is surrounded by a magnetic detachable Star of David—don’t you just love jewelry with secrets? This one might just provide the peaceful mojo you need at your meshuggeneh family seder.

Yontifications’ Pesach earrings always slay me with their crafted cuteness—the delicate, gold-plated matzah and kiddush cup charms! Careful, though, ’cause you might end up with someone looking for the afikomen in your ear.

This jangly bangle from Anjali Creations on Etsy.com keeps away the Evil Eye with silver hamsas and indigo Swarovski crystals. Say “kineahora” in style!

Also on Etsy.com is Poemweave Design’s Etz Chaim Scrabble Tile pendant, featuring the Tree of Life (or as I like to call it, the Goddess in disguise) and a sweet little bluebird. The letter on the back of each tile will vary; an added plus if it’s an “S” and you get stuck in a wicked Scrabble tournament with your extremely competitive brother.

And for your lovely little fingies: Artist Lisa Shtromberg’s hammered silver ring is engraved with the first verse of the Sh’ma—a reminder to keep the faith that this seemingly endless seder will be over soon…