New Year’s Noshery and Navelgazing

Holy Moses, it’s almost 5772 and I haven’t made my honeycake yet!

Life been as twisty as a ram’s horn lately as I recover from another trip out West (Dad’s rehab is going well) and continue to find the groove at the new gig (I launched The Civil Society Column last week. Hope my Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the Southerners to the yard, yo.)

What this means is that the house has been lacking its hausfrau, the me who’s usually whistling around the kitchen on Erev Rosh Hashanah getting honey in my hair and burning things. It doesn’t feel particularly fantastic to be starting a new year with nothing but stale tortillas in the fridge and a battalion of dustbunnies threatening to suffocate the houseplants, but geez, even a balabusta can only do so much. El Yenta Man’s valiant efforts to keep it going last month waned once he realized the endless cycle of laundry and dishes and chicken tending and Whinese interpretation does not automatically result in sex.

Fortunately, we’re Reform, which means services are short and I’m allowed to use the oven tomorrow.

Instead of baking up my usual Coca-Cola honeycake, I’ma gonna do go for an updated spice cake with a tarty kick to celebrate the new year, my new job and my new updated me. (My dear mom insisted on treating me to a salon haircut while I was in Scottsdale so I had my long hair lopped off into a sassy chop since I’m turning 40…on Kol Nidre. More about not eating cake on your birthday next week.)

Here’s what’ll be baking tomorrow (or maybe on Friday if I choose, because I’m almost 40 and I’m pretty much going to do what I damn please for the rest of my life.) It’s a variation of Streaming Gourmet’s Apple Pomegranate Spice Bread recipe, except I added a whole lotta honey ’cause that’s how we balabustas do it, nu?

Yo, Yenta’s Rosh Hashanah AppyPommyHunny Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 pinch ground cloves
1 generous pinch fresh ground nutmeg
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup honey
2 eggs
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) melted unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup finely diced apples
1 cup pomegranate arils (no, I didn’t know they were called “arils” either; new Scrabble word!)
A glass of your favorite wine

1. Preheat the oven to at 350˚F. Mix all of the dry ingredients. Drink a sip of wine, just ’cause.

2. Melt the butter by placing it in a microwave-safe ramekin and microwaving it for about 30-40 seconds. Mix the melted butter with the applesauce to cool it down. Beat eggs and milk. Beat the applesauce/butter mixture into the egg/milk mixture. No matter how much they whine, do not beat the children; drink another sip of wine.

3. Pour the wet mixture, the apples and the pomegranate arils into the dry ingredients and stir until just blended. Once all of the dry ingredients are wet, stop mixing, even if there are a few clumps left. If you overmix the dough, the bread will come out tough like your Aunt Flo’s matzah balls and no one wants to relive that. Another sip of wine.

4. Pour into two 9×5 greased bread tins. Bake for 50 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and bread is springy to the touch. You can finish your glass of wine, but don’t call your BFF to gab about your new haircut and forget about the cakes and burn the house down.

5. Good-naturedly fight off children who don’t want to wait while the loaves cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from the pans.

6. Eat. Enjoy. Relax. It’s gonna be a sweet, sweet year.

L’Shana Tovah Umetukah to you all!

There’s A Party In the Bayit Tonight…

Another challah-worthy Rosh Hashanah jam featuring some adorable yeshiva boys with some wicked (and I mean that in most kosher way possible) dance moves from Aish.com:

There is something about breakdancing and tzitzit that I just find incredibly captivating. Those with the same fascination know it all began with David Lavon’s viral wedding video back in 2006:

Oh, you say you want to see more? Check out the mash-up of some more observant boys popping, locking and helicoptering to Matisyahu:

Yes, they’re so cute, but I swear it’s that they manage to keep their yarmulkes on that keeps me so enthralled.

PunimTime with Grandpa

The Yenta family has found a new source of endless entertainment and contention in our new iPad.

It was ostensibly purchased so that we could communicate with my dad via FaceTime, with the idea it would be positive stimulation as he recovers from his “brain event” a month ago.

My mother and brother both have these amazing little tablets, and it’s really quite amazing how much more connection a conversation creates when you can hear AND see the person on the other side. We’ve watched as dad threw a ball back and forth with his physical therapist and he’s followed intently as Yenta Boy played piano and Little Yenta Girl danced. He’s also been privy to the usual family bickering as brother and sister scuffle for screen time and make weird faces at the small icon depicting their reflection instead of keeping up the conversation, but overall, it’s been such a useful and enjoyable tool.

That is, until El Yenta Man discovered Scrabble for iPad.

Now instead of regaling me with his opinions on Obama’s job plan and reminding me just how beautiful the lawn looks, my husband spends his evenings shouting 7-letter swear words at his computerized opponent. Who, he swears, cheats. “What the hell does ‘juhu’ mean? You made that up, you digital schmuck!”

The only way I can get his attention lately is to sidle through the room murmuring words containing a “Q” and no “U.” I may have to consider an intervention.

Perhaps an auspicious time would be on Sunday, October 2, Ohr Naava’s official Day to Disconnect. The women’s Torah study collective out of Brooklyn, NY is unifying as many folks as possible to shut down and have some real punim time with our loved ones:

Couples connect through texts and not conversations. Parents spend more quality time with their phones than with their kids. In this technology-immersed and busy zeitgeist what does this mean we need to pause and recalculate. For what was supposed to enhance the quality of our lives has diminished it.

If we all just turn off our phones and iPads and laptops for an hour, maybe we’ll all have some quiet time together without the kids shrieking over their PhotoBooth monstrosities or Daddy hollering into a flat square. You can register for the Disconnect Revolution on the DtoD website.

Mostly though, the iPad remains a good thing.

Dad’s moved off the ICU floor finally and has begun rehab, which we all understand will be a long haul. Thanks again for all your good wishes and prayers–what a tremendous community we have around us, from our next-door neighbors to folks in Israel and Africa and even New Jersey. We had a nice long visit this weekend via our iPad (I had to trick it away from EYT by telling him there was some crabgrass out front poking up through the St. Augustine.)

Mysteriously, Dad was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt that said “God Squad” on it with a quotation from John 3:16 on it, probably from some well-meaning nurse. Jesus shirt aside (that nurse might consider being off-shift however once Dad gets his druthers back), he looked and sounded much like himself.

Talking to me face-to-face might’ve been a little confusing for him, as my brother texted later that Dad asked where I went. Bro told him that I was in Savannah, but that I’d be coming to Scottsdale this week.

He paused, then asked, “Is she going to have an attitude?”

See? I do believe he’s going to be just fine.

No Mezzuzahs on Modern Home Tour

Architecture and historic preservation are a BIG deal in Savannah. Looking at pretty houses is probably one of the top reasons people visit, second only to eating at Paula Deen’s restaurant.

Legions of tourists stroll dreamily among antebellum townhomes, gawking at the Gothic flourishes on every street corner, some even making it a mile south of downtown district to the blocks of Victorian loveliness. Most stop there. Construction in this city began at the river in 1733 with General Oglethorpe’s master plan; architectural style evolves as you move south, and it’s only so walkable in the heat. You’d have to skip over the 20 or so blocks of perfectly nice but somewhat characterless brick ranch homes built in the late 40′s (including Casa Yenta) to get to Savannah’s trove of mid-century modern gems, a good coupla miles away from the madding crowds.

It’s a bit of a shame that these gorgeous homes don’t get any real attention lathered upon them, since in my opinion they’re way more interesting than the old dames up front. They’re the ones with the crazy futuristic lines, huge sunken living rooms and monster picture windows; some have indoor pools and at least two or three still have those wacky central vacuum systems. Every time I’m lucky enough to visit one I just want to don a hulahoop Judy Jetson frock and drink a big ass martini.

Whole neighborhoods of modern design were fabricated in the 50′s and 60′s–and lots of Jews moved in. A couple of these areas, Habersham Woods and Fairway Oaks, are walkable to both the Orthodox and Conservative shuls and still house a big portion of the city’s Jewish population.

So why in Sam Hill would someone schedule a tour of Savannah’s Mid-Century Modern Homes–on Yom Kippur??

I had a couple of tribal real estate friends call me all kinds of pissed off about it, including Beth Vantosh, because obviously, they have treasures on the market that would be wonderful to display or would just like to be part of an event showcasing their own homes. But it turns out it wasn’t the local organizers who chose the dates:

DOCOMOMO (a shortened version of “documentation and conservation of the modern movement”) is a national organization that contacted its state chapters, who in turn garnered participation from local historic preservation organizations. Terri O’Neil, the very nice program director I spoke with at Historic Savannah Foundation was extremely apologetic about the situation and let me know that HSF had already nixed that date for their annual meeting because their many Jewish members wouldn’t be able to attend. She suggested that maybe HSF should have passed on helping oversee the event, but didn’t want to leave the tour without any kind of local organizing support.

I told her I completely understood. I don’t blame the brilliant and amazing folks at HSF at all: Such a tour is part of their mission and programming; the show must go on.

The real responsibility lies with the national DOCOMOMO organization, who chose to schedule dozens of tours of fabulous homes across the country on a day that would be a little like arranging a firefighter fashion show on 9/11.

No, it’s not a huge deal; after all, none of us expect the world to come to a halt on Jewish holidays, even the most important ones. But it shows an appalling sense of insensitivity.

Especially for a group with a well-heeled board of directors out of–whaaaaat? New York? A shanda, I tell ya.

Git On Yer New Year’s Dancin’ Shooz

Rosh Hashanah is still weeks away, but it’s just never too early to start shakin’ some booty for the season!

Thanks to Facebook friend Mindy N. for the heads up that those beautiful, shiny, happy Fountainheads have a brand new video, which is not only catchy and spiritual and fun but an astounding display of all the gorgeously diverse genes of Israel:

The Fountainheads want you to know that “no apples, pomegranates, babies, or smartphones were harmed in the filming of this video.” Also, feeding honey to babies under a year old is a no-no. Lyrics here.

Any Rosh Hashanah round-up must include G-dcast’s “Shofar Callin’,” featuring some wicked ram’s horn jams and Savannah’s own Prodezra Beats (yo, Reuben, we miss you and your lovely mishpoche!):

And while we’re getting dirty with the beats, let’s throw in “Hebrew Crunk” with its slutty apple slices from back in 5777, created for Taglit Birthright Israel:

OK, everybody awake now?

A JewBulicious Transition

We’ve had some tumultuous changes over at the home synagogue this summer. The rabbi of 20+ years departed after months of drama worthy of its own reality show (“The Real Meshuggenehs of Savannah“?) and the congregation is finally peeking its collective head out to choose a new spiritual leader.

Not that agreeing on a new rabbi to represent a Reform population made up of Savannah natives, big city transplants, interfaith families with young children, retirees with grown children, Jews by choice, Jewish atheists, those whose priority is preserving an almost 300 year history, those for whom progress is a main concern as well as various and sundry other misfits and upstarts will be a quick hora in the park.

In the meantime, we have an official “interim rabbi” overseeing the situation. He’s one cool cat, IMHO. Every year he travels to a new city where a congregation is in flux, where he uses his superpowers to help calm, collect and crystalize a new vision for a group of Jews who always have several more opinions than there are people. There are only a handful of trained interim rabbis in the Reform movement, and I have to wonder what kind of special ops ninja knowledge it must take to be prepared to mediate a stand-off between an old-timer who doesn’t want any Hebrew transliteration in the Saturday service and the hippie mom pushing for gender-neutral prayerbooks (*ahem.) I kind of pictured a guy with a tallis tied around his neck like a cape and some magical golem dust that will render everyone a little drowsy.

But it turns out, our transitional rabbi uses a meditation cushion and balloon animals as his weapons of choice. Rabbi Darryl Crystal has been at Mickve Israel for a few months and already there have been so many positive changes. The old timers like him because he’s a good listener, understands the need of preserving history and is well-educated in Torah. Us younger folks dig him because he groks the need for change, is well-versed in contemporary philosophy and is into yoga. Little Yenta Girl completely adores him because he twisted her up a balloon monkey at the last potluck Shabbat.

Though he’ll only be in Savannah until next summer, we’re all hoping this new sense of enlightenment, unity and cooperation will turn into an era. One of the most fascinating ideas Rabbi Crystal has brought to the table is the concept of Jewish meditation, which probably sounds like some kind of farkokte New Age mishegoss to the old-timers but is simply the practice of quiet mindfulness from a Jewish perspective. While Buddhist monks may have made sitting in silence most famous, focusing our prayers and traditions into cultivating a sense of gratitude and awe fits right into living a modern Jewish life. Rabbi Crystal has studied with perhaps the most remouned “JewBu” of them all, Sylvia Boorstein, author of That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist (I know, it totally cracks me up, too!)

Anyhoo, yesterday’s Jewel of Elul was by Alison Laichter, the executive director of the Jewish Meditation Center in Brooklyn, and it activated this idea that incorporating these practices into congregational worship could be especially valuable as we roll into the High Holy Days. I particularly liked her definition of Jewish meditation as tikkun olam (repairing the world) “from the inside out.”

Do you think Rabbi Crystal can handle the uproar if I lobby to change out the wooden pews for those round little floor cushions?

A New Season of So Much

The Jewish calendar has a funny way of corresponding to what we need in real life: The lights of Chanukah in the dead of winter, the wild abandon of Purim just as spring comes around, the curious lack of important holidays during the lazy days of summer.

This week we’ve entered into the month of Elul, a time of reflection and quiet repentance before we ramp up the soul searching during Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), collectively known as The Days of Awe. It’s a transitional time when the year is at once winding down and revving up; school has begun and the hideous heat has finally broken. It’s a time to look back on the year and muse on what we can do better and what we want to create in the next—in a gentle way, without the finger-wagging of “Man, I really was a douche and should hide in a hole for all of 5772.” I say this as a personal reminder to hold myself in as much kindness as I believe God holds us.

Three days into Elul I already I feel like life is operating at a new level, one that will require more vigilance, compassion and responsibility. My dad’s brain aneurysm last week was a hard slap of a lesson that little else matters beyond keeping our relationships with our loved ones clean and clear. I’m so grateful for the time I was able to spend at his side during the most acute phase with my mother, who is such a tremendous teacher in presence and patience. Likewise for the moments with my brother (who is clearly not only a very good doctor but a real, deep-down mensch) and his wife-to-be, who already feels like the sister I’ve always wanted. Through this crisis the distance created by geography and years was sucked away, perfectly captured the evening we left the hospital to grab some dinner during the nurses’ shift change, and my bro put his arms around all of us and called “his girls.”

Of course I must shout out props and “huzzahs” to my dear El Yenta Man, who dealt with peanut butter sandwiches and itchy scalps and hungry snakes and the needy pug and laundry while attending to his clients and own parents while I was gone all with good humor. The kids rose to the occasion by exhibiting never-before seen abilities to wake, dress and feed themselves and complete their chores without constant reminding, so I suppose Elul is having an effect on all of us.

This week Dad is stable, his motion and speech getting a little better each day. We don’t know yet what the new “normal” will be and are taking each day as it comes. Thank you to the many, many friends and friendly strangers who have expressed wishes and prayers for him—I believe they’re working, so keep ‘em coming! I know so many of you are going through similar circumstances with your loved ones; I send back prayers to you for equanimity, grace and good news.

Elul has also brought a new level for me professionally: The day after I returned from Arizona, I reported for duty at the Community Editor for Connect Savannah, what I’ve always considered the best rag in town. I started my writing career in the mid-90s at the Pacific Sun, the oldest alternative newsweekly in the country, and stepping in line with my unapologetic liberals and Rob Brezny’s Free Will Astrology feels a lot coming home (Well, it’ll feel more like home once I truss up my desk with some family photos and New Agey-girly things that will surely incur snickers from the all-male editorial staff.) My first pieces will drop in the September 16 College Issue.

From my perch, Elul is at once contemplative and exhilarating, and always inspiring. Speaking of inspiration, those fabulous foxys at Craig N Co have once again launched The Jewels of Elul—a daily bite of wisdom from quite an array of people; some rabbis, some rock stars, some everyday folks just trying to widen the ray of light from above as we move into another year. I’ll delve more deeply into the Jewels next week, but in the meantime, sign up to receive them in your inbox for the next few weeks (you don’t have to Jewish; many of the contributors aren’t) and download the free music sampler (which ROCKS.)

An earnest Shabbat Shalom to all. Remember to be kind to yourself.