B’Bye, Elevenses

Oh, you know, just one more end-of-the-year list to add to the bloggysphere. While Yentaland did not involve any freed Israeli soldiers or major disasters, there were a few milestones worth noting.

Here are the top stories of 2011 in my own head:

1. I Got A Job

After almost two years of bouncing around Savannah’s job market like a loud, Jewish, lopsided basketball, I lobbed into a position at Connect, the alternative news and arts weekly. As Community Editor and writer of The (Civil) Society Column, I have managed to endear and repel many readers already and look forward to a raucous 2012 of championing Savannah’s underdogs and pissing people off.

2. Dad’s Aneurysm

Oy, did Dr. Skip give us a scare at the end of August. When I wrote this next to his hospital bed, I thought we’d be lucky just have him pottering around the house again. Who knew he’d be driving, teaching and kvetching five months later like nothing ever happened?

3. I Turned 40

Yup, I’m officially an alterkocker. On Kol Nidre. I still want to party like I’m 20, but my hip feels 80.

4. Strong Gym Opens

El Yenta Man launched his own business this year on Bull Street, offering personal training, rehab and group fitness services, and I’ve barely seen him since! He’s glad to be his own boss and serving his clients in a clean, well-lighted space. His motto is “Life Takes Strength”—I also like to remind him that it also takes laundry.

5. I Am Going To Have A Sister-in-Law

Bro da Doc finally popped the question to his longtime lady friend this summer. In Paris. Under the Eiffel Tower. What can I say, when he goes, he goes big! He almost gave my mother an ulcer waiting to find a partner until his late 30s. The Yenta Family is so thrilled to have this lovely lady as part of the mishpocha.

6. Won Best Blogger…Again!

Thanks so much, y’all for voting me as Connect‘s Blogger of the Year for the second time! This was way before I worked there, btw. Would you do me the honor of helping me make it a trifecta come spring?

7. GG Crossed the Veil

El Yenta Man’s grandmother, Florence Lebos, known as “GG” to her nine great-grandchildren exhaled her last breath in the presence of her entire family. She was 98. May we all live as long and lucky.

8. Debbie Friedman and Amy Winehouse Sing With the Angels

These passing of these two muses held a personal grief for me. I only met Debbie once, but like her music, the warmth of her hand as she squeezed mine in greeting had a lasting effect on my soul; she was modern Judaism’s greatest liturgical influence. And, poor Amy. A voice like a celestial goddess, the habits of a teenage crack mom. May she rest in peace.

9. The Bell Tolled For No One

I checked an item of my bucket list this year when I climbed to the top of the (off-limits) bell tower in my synagogue. I found out that I am made of stronger stuff than I thought, and also that there’s no actual bell up there.

10. Yenta Faces Off With Westboro Baptist Church

It got real, yo, when the WBC brought it’s hate-filled tour to Savannah—those people are so freakin’ crazy they don’t know what end is up! It was an honor to stand on the square with all the other Jews, queers and freaks as we drowned them out singing about love.

11. The End of Thursdays With Marcia

I spent almost every single Thursday lunch kibbitzing at the Senior Lunch at the JEA for five years. EYM and I would escort my mother-in-law when she was merely confused; eventually, we had to push her in her wheelchair and feed her. Finally, this spring, we decided it was best to keep her at home. She’s still with us, giving out a smile once in a while.

It’s been a blessing to look over those posts as we prepare for the last Shabbat of the year and our little shayna maidela’s eighth birthday. Here’s to a adventurous, prosperous, healthy and lovely 2012 to all!

Mosh Pit in Front of the Menorah 2011

As far as I’m concerned, punk rock and Chanukah make a fantastic combination—must be the hammering drum beats.

Thank you to my favorite rabblerouser Sierra Salin for introducing me to the The Shlomones, with their wicked take on “Time Warp.” Guess they coulda called themselves “Schlocky Hora”? Heheh.

So, yes, let’s light the candles one more time tonight, yo! I’m planning to splatter the entire kitchen in canola oil for one last foray into the world of fried—after this, I don’t want to see another donut until the 25th of next Kislev.

Speaking of the other 25th, how did you spend yours? The Yenta family started with a camping trip at a small hippie retreat in the forest, where we were very surprised to find several other Jews seeking refuge. We always roll with our own candlikas, but we weren’t the only ones lighting a menorah and Shabbos candles in the woods—some delightful students of Jewish meditation from Asheville, NC brought a bicycle chanukiah and killer guitar skills. Friday evening in the common room was like Grateful Dead Jewriffic summer camp with rounds of “Hinei Ma Tov” and hora dancing on the worn Oriental rugs. Just goes to show communion can happen anywhere.

The next day we scooted south for an epic day in the Magic Kingdom, thinking all the goyim would stay home for Christmas—wrong. Turns out it’s the busiest day of the year at Disneyworld, doh. However, with El Yenta Man’s strategizing we managed to beat the lines—by arriving at dawn. Hardcore, nu? Not that Mickey Mouse could be compared to Johnny Rotten, but in spite of getting older and nerdier, there’s still a little punk rock rollin’ around these old bones.

Here’s Hip Hop Hoodios’ “Ocho Kandelikas” to inject a little Ladino flair into yours—

A bright last night of this Festival of Lights to all!

Robots, Horsesh*t and Chanukah

Help…I’m trapped in a house full of spinning dreidels and an almost eight-year old who won’t stop singing “Domo Arigato Mister Roboto”…it’s a fave on Rock Band at her friends’ house and she brought it home like a germ.

I am not kvetching. The first Monday morning of winter break is hell on working moms, and I am grateful my kidlets had a fun, fudge-filled home to chill in today. (St. Claire Mars, you are an angel!) But El Yenta Man now has the virus, standing over me fronting his white man robot moves and chanting “I’m Kilroy…Kilroy…”

I was going to post the STYX video so would have a little taste of Yentariffic pre-Chanukah chaos, but I value your readership too much. Let my restraint serve as my gift to you, dahlinks.

I need control…we all need control…sorry, I can’t get it out of my overtaxed keppe.

(Savannah-specific segue: Did anyone attend the STYX show at the Civic Center last week? Anyone? Yeah, I’m guessing there’s not a whole lotta crossover between yentas and legendary 80s bands. But if you do happen to rock out to “Renegade” and bliss out to “Lady,” then my colleague Bill Deyoung’s interview in this week’s Connect is a must-read.)

Actually, as far as holiday madness goes, we’re a circus rather than an asylum. The menorahs are lined up in the window, the extra bottle of canola oil secured in the pantry, the presents bought (but not wrapped. I did remember paper this year, though on a few nights we will be utilizing the eco-friendly but hideously ugly cloth bags I sewed them last year in a fit of frugal craftiness.)

The kids had very reasonable requests for Chanukah (yes, I spell it with the glottal “Chhhhh” and one “k” because I just do; you can spell it however you like) this year; no actual robots, rodents, reptiles or motorized vehicles, which is a real relief.

Perhaps it’s because I read them “A Horse for Hanukkah,” Myriam Halberstam’s cautionary tale of a gift gone wild. I got a review copy, and maybe the message of “be careful what you wish for” got under their little keppes:

Hannah gets the pet she’s always wanted for the first night of Chanukah, a Yiddish-neighing mare named Golda. This would be fabulous for Jewish farmers, but Hannah’s family lives in an apartment with only one bathroom. Hilarity ensues as Golda trashes the living room, scarfs all the latkes and sets her own tail on fire with the menorah. Makes our house look like the picture of wholesome Jewish American living.

Though the book is targeted at kids younger than mine, everyone here still thinks poop is hilarious, so Golda’s stanky little gift in Hannah’s bedroom on night five found an appreciative audience. Nancy Cote’s richly colored illustrations are sweet; there are lots of little lessons embedded in the story and a cute little twist at the end. A nice addition to the holiday library for the six-and-under set. Get it here.

There’s even a takeaway for the grown-ups: Even if you’re mired in the stress of the season, at least there’s not horsehockey next to your bed.

Chappy almost-Chanukah. And just because I love y’all, here’s some Styx after all, ’cause these are the best of times, friends:

Menorah of the Week: Shadowplay

OK, so the Menorah of the Week is not actually a menorah. But it still involves a flame and Jewish symbology and thus makes a fabulous gift for the Festival of Lights, nu?

A clever crafting of hand-wrought steel, shadow and light, the Tree of Life candleholder was created by sustainable designers Joost Elffers and Diana Sierra (click on that link and read about Diana’s incredible efforts to help Ugandan women; now that’s tikkun olam, yo.)

I think it’s brilliant because it depicts the Tree of Life as it really is: A confusing tangle of branches with poky thorns that, when illuminated through faith, reveals the presence of something greater.

Also, the handpuppet potential is fantastic.

It’s on sale today at Fab.com.

In Passing…

Apologies that things in Yenta world have not slowed down enough this week for any written navelgazing as work, laundry, Chanukah preparations and dealing with a hideous flea infestation on the pug’s tushy have really been cramping my style.

There have also been some life passages worth noting, at least to me:

We mourned the passing of El Yenta Man’s 98 year-old grandmother, Florence Lebos, who passed in Raleigh, NC last Tuesday evening with her two children and five of her six grandchildren present as she exhaled her last breath. The funeral was held last Friday in Tampa, FL, where she spent most of her life. Oleha HaShalom—May she rest in peace.

I adored Florence. Though I only met when she was in her 80s, to me she seemed an example of true Southern gentility. She never raised her voice but let her strong opinions known with a distinctive drawl and a smile. She gave me an exquisite strand of pearls at my wedding. When she moved to Springmoor, the assisted living community, after her husband, Fred, passed (I never met him), she jumped right into the activities and edited the community’s newsletter when lots of seniors would have holed up in the rooms with CNN.

She engaged her nine great-children with hilarious hand games of “meeleh-mazeleh” and checks at every single birthday. She read everything I ever wrote at skirt! magazine and loved to talk about her earliest memory: Watching the ticker tape parade after the end of WWI—that was 1919, y’all! Florence was a woman who saw so much change in her life—she one told me her secret to longevity was to “roll with the punches.” She also loved her whiskey sours.

Here in Savannah, we sat mini-shivah (just one day instead of the full seven; Florence wasn’t religious in the least and would’ve been mad if everyone had missed that much work over her.) I am so grateful to the many members of the Jewish community who came by to comfort my father-in-law—it meant so much to him that people took the time out for Rabbi Crystal’s inspiring memorial service and those who stayed just to sit and eat.

And oy, did people bring food! Stuffed cabbage and cold cuts, fruit trays and cheese plates, Bundt cakes and brownies and a certain amazing pistachio pound cake baked by Lucille Smith that made me forget why we were all there in the first place. And also another big thank you to Lucille for providing the old-school super ginormous coffee percolator, because trying to serve everyone a cuppa from the French press would have been a disaster.

It’s a testament to my own blessed life that I have never dealt with a family shivah (my own bubbe was less religious than Florence), so I was extremely farmisht in my role as ersatz matriarch of this branch of the family now. I deeply appreciate Catherine Fagin and the rest of the elder women who guided me through the process, helping with coats and gently reminding me to make a list of which guests brought what so I could write thank you notes later.

Florence’s death is sad, especially for my father-in-law who relied so much on her advice and acuity as my mother-in-law drew into her dementia fog. But bless him, even he can see that to live so long and lucky, then pass quickly and without pain, is the best anyone of us could hope for ourselves and each other. It was EYM’s and my first shivah together, but it won’t be our last, though I don’t know if one ever gets the hang of escorting our loved ones out the door into God’s hands.

The past few weeks also bring good news this side of the curtain: My father has sprung back extremely well from his brain aneurysm in August—he’s already back teaching at the medical college this week! He insists he’s going back to Tanzania this summer, but he promises he’s taking one step at a time.

We shlepped to Scottsdale for the scarfing of the turkey a couple of weeks ago, and observed with our own eyes that he really is back to his old self after the trauma and month-long coma. Oops, I didn’t mean to say “old”; how about “back to his cantankerous yet easy-to-smile self?” All I know is he’s back kicking tush on the Scrabble board. Here he is with Mom in his photo studio—pretty good lookin’ people, nu?

And lastly, the Savannah mayoral election run-off was last Tuesday, and I am sorry to report this city does not have a new Jewish mayor. What can I say, this ain’t Chicago. However, Facebook rumors already abound that Jeff Felser might take a shot at the County Commissioner seat next year. Keep moving forward, Jeff—we’re still behind you!

A peaceful and lovely Shabbos and weekend to all ~

Take A Big Breath

I wish I could say I’m decorating the house and hanging blue lights and choreographing the dance program I’m supposed to teach the Shalom Schoolers.

But I’m beat, so here’s nice Yenta post from a couple of years back, ’cause tonight the only pre-Chanukah groovin’ I can muster is to lay on the sofa listening to the chill beats of The Asthmatix‘s “Latke:”

Dreamy, nu? This Australian quartet just released a new EP of crazy sexy nerd klezmer Ozzie hiphop and is “comprised of two diagnosed ventolin-puffers and two members who have used asthma as an excuse on more than one occasion to get out of sports class.”

I’m going to hit “Play” again and wish our religion believed in holiday elves who do all the dirty work.

Pop! Goes the Parody

Look, I’m no intellectual giant. I have to check every “virus alert” on Snopes.com. I follow shiny things into sewers. I bob my head to the terrible pop music I’m subjected to while driving Hebrew school carpool.

And as you know, I think most Jewish holiday parodies are hilarious.

Chanukah’s coming ’round the calendar again, and we never stopped singing the Maccabeats’ “Candlelight” from last year. I’ve always thought of it as a fun ditty by some nice Yeshiva boys that I could share with the kids (unlike last week’s funny-but-pervy “I’m Jewish and I Know It.”)

Then I read Amy Klein’s article in this week’s Forward blasting the whole notion of Jewish parodies and those durned singing rabbinical students:

My antipathy toward The Maccabeats — those sheyne yinglekh, as my grandmother would have said, using the Yiddish term for “sweet boys” — isn’t personal. The college students were responsible for a fine production: The tunes they chose to rewrite are catchy, the lyrics are proficient and their voices are melodic. But they’ve spawned an entire line of religious YouTube videos I find an embarrassment — no, a shonda! — for the Jewish people.

Oh no, she di’int! Amy, mameleh, what, you don’t like singing about dreidels and latkes?

By the end of the article, however, I thought she had a very interesting perspective. As a former religious Jew, Klein takes offense at the ultra-Orthodox life being lauded in the mainstream media when these are “the very same people who don’t want to see public advertisements featuring immodest women, won’t tolerate pictures of Hillary Clinton in their newspapers and won’t even ride the bus sitting next to a woman.”

To her, Jewish parodies elicit a reactive anger to what appears to be a real hypocrisy about the value of women in religious life.

From the “Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem” to The Maccabeats’ upcoming offering — whatever it will be — it’s all fun and games until you become frum. Then let’s see how “cute” their conservative values really are.

Me, I don’t have so much invested. Though I respect the observant people I know, I am more likely to serve miso soup at a Buddhist monastery in this lifetime than I am to become so religious that I won’t want El Yenta Man sitting next to me making kissy sounds in my ear at Shabbat services.

I can see how Ms. Klein might feel irked by the glossy picture these religious “parodies” present; I also think the frum are as entitled as anyone else to switch up the lyrics to annoying pop songs and make silly videos.

However, I think we can all agree on one thing: That THIS is the worst, most hideous and offensive Jewish holiday parody in this world AND the world to come: