You’ll Never Look At Brunch the Same Way Again

The interwebs are a’fire with the latest Japanese beauty craze: Bagelheads.

In a fairly disgusting process chronicled by National Geographic Taboo, people are paying to have a large lump of saline injected into their foreheads, which is then sculpted with a single push of a thumb to create a coveted bagel shape.

Keroppy, the, *ahem*, artist responsible for this body modification-gone-insane, says the bagels can be formed anywhere on the body, including “scrotal injections,” an image that may alter breakfast choices for many years to come.

How bagels have become an ideal symbol amongst Japanese hipsters remains a mystery. Though if the trend includes a cream cheese necktie and smoked salmon bowler hat, I think it could spread. Heheheh.

An Awesome New Tradition for Yenta?

For us Jews, the time between Rosh Hashanah (The New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) are known as The Days of Awe.

If I may take the liberty of paraphrasing the sacred liturgy, the basic concept is that during this time, God sits over a big book, writing out everyone’s destinies for the coming year. The major prayer we say in synagogue at both Rosh Hashanah and the fast day of Yom Kippur is the U’Netaneh Tokef, which gets down and dirty with the details, spelling out who will live and who will die by thirst, plague, strangulation and/or stoning, who will enjoy peace and who will be troubled, who will see their bank accounts fatten and who will see them drain.

It’s kind of nervewracking. Some people get a little freaked out that our destinies might be already written, that no matter how many miles we run or vitamins we take that we’ll end up with some terrible disease, or that a loved one will die no matter how much we pray.

On the other hand, it can take the pressure off if we realize we don’t control a whole heck of a lot of this life, and a good life just means playing the hand you’re dealt with grace.

The excellent news is that threaded right there into the U’Netaneh Tokef is our God-given Free Will: The Book is written on Rosh Hashanah but isn’t sealed until Yom Kippur, so we’ve got these ten days to change it up through acts of teshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah — respectively, repentance, prayer and charity.

So these Days of Awe can be either AWESOME or AWFUL, depending on what a shit you’ve been all year and whether you’re interested in becoming a better human being this next turn around the sun. This is a good time to apologize to people you’ve wronged or been rude to or maybe just ignored and for writing a nice check to your local homeless shelter and your synagogue.

However, as in other religions, someone always makes up a shortcut. Atoning for one’s sins can be haaaaaard, especially if you’re an asshole. There is an obscure Jewish practice called Kapores which involves swinging a live chicken over one’s head as a substitute for atonement—that somehow bad deeds can be imbued into the chicken and then flung into the ether.

I dunno, maybe it works—the Supreme Creator has a whole lot to do right now and distinguishing between honest acts of contrition and a few feathers is really too much to ask.

This is very tempting, considering what’s hanging out in my backyard right now:









Except I know these particular chickens and what comes out of the back end practically every time you pick them up, so I’m thinking it’s going to be a lot cleaner for me to just go ahead and write that check.


Later, 5772…Welcome, 5773

Tonight’s sunset brings Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and according to the Torah, the “birthday of the world.”

I don’t know if it’s all the new school years or if it’s just embedded in my DNA, but fall indeed always feels to me like the switch-up in the cycle. Every Rosh Hashanah (literally, “head of the year,”) is a new rounding in the spiral of the miracle of human consciousness contained in time, marked by year after year after year of the shofar’s call and the reading of Jonah, the uncomfortable self-denial of Yom Kippur, the pleading and praying to be included in the Book of Life for one more go-round.

It always coincides with that first flush of fresh cool air, a crispness in the morning that causes a certain amnesia of the miserable humid Southern summer, as if Mother Nature—the sacred feminine Shekinah banished from the inside of the synagogue so long ago—is reminding us that we’ve been on her schedule all along.

My birthday always falls somewhere close to the High Holy Days (Kol Nidre kinda cramped my 40th birthday plans last year), making this up close-and-personal meeting with the past year’s actions and the upcoming goals for the new even more imminent. I don’t have too many regrets, though the looming specter of the book I have not yet written looms constantly. I have a good feeling, God willing, that 5773 will be the loop that finally gits ‘er done.

This year will also bring two incredible simchas into my sphere: My Brother the Doctor, after 39 years of making my mother wring her hands over whether he would ever find somebody (i.e., a Nice Jewish Girl who will love his mother) will marry his lovely beshert in November. My new sister-in-law, who is funny, French and doesn’t take anyone’s nonsense, also fits the bill of NJG as she was officially welcomed to the Tribe after completing the conversion process earlier this year.

She called me last week so delighted to have been invited to kindle the lights on the bima at synagogue this week, proud to be part of this meaningful and meshuggneh people called the Jews. I still get choked up at the thought that I have a new sister, someone who will love and care for my brother as well as be another daughter for my parents as they age. Feels like a pretty big blessing. And since my brother has made it a practice to buy the loudest and most obnoxious birthday gifts money can by for his nieces and nephews, I’m shopping for something nice for my new chihuahua-in-law to wear to the wedding.

Also this year, of course, brings the Event to Try A Jewish Mother’s Heart, the bar mitzvah of her first child. Thirteen times around the sun means he’s ready to shoulder a little bit of responsibility, or at least learn how to take out the garbage without kvetching. He’s doing his part, studying with his tutor and the rabbi and driving El Yenta Man and I crazy with his sullen tweenage attitude.

EYM and I are worrying over invitations and guest lists and caterers and budgets, trying to keep the sacred in the sassafrass of it all. It’s been giving me such anxiety lately that I’ve decided to put it all away for the next ten days to concentrate and celebrate and not burn the honey cakes. Again.

It seems like it all goes so fast, every turn around the coil accelerating a little more. Before I get swept up into another blessed cycle, let me wish you all peace of mind, health of body and richness of soul this 5773.

Happy Birthday, World. And L’Shanah Tovah Umetukah to us all ~

Not OK, Not Ever?

As a Jew in 21st century America, I live in a blissful bubble where anti-Semitism hasn’t reared its nasty, scabby head in my face for many, many years. It’s so far removed that it’s actually hilarious:

Sure, it still exists. Ask my main main Abe “Foxy” Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League: Swastikas still appear in suburban neighborhoods, Europeans still think cartoons starring big-nosed bankers are funny, Iran is still is balls out trying to create a nuclear sponge big enough to wipe Israel off the map.

But in most circles, slagging Jews — or for that matter, any historically maligned ethnic group — is socially unacceptable. You could lose friends over certain comments, maybe even your job.

But apparently, not everyone knows this.

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance of mine — we’ll call her Marjorie — were discussing a business transaction that contained a price that was not originally to her liking.

“But it was fine, I just Jewed him down,” she said, waving her hand dismissively.

I literally choked on my own spit.

“No. No. You did not just say that,” I gasped.

Marjorie looked surprised. “What? Was that offensive?”

“Yes!” I hyperventilated.

I must admit here that even after more than four decades on this planet I have a hard time knowing how to react when someone says something horrible in my airspace about Israel or President Obama (I live in the South, and you would not BAH-leev the sick sh*t people put on their bumpers) or how gay people are dirty. I’m not talking about disagreements on policy; I’m talking straight-up ignorance and hatred.

Maybe it’s cowardly, but usually, I walk away. I simply don’t want to get into it with stupid people whose opinions were clearly shaped by porn and inbreeding, and sorry, I just don’t feel like it’s my job to educate them.

But I don’t consider Marjorie to be one of these people. She’s intelligent and hard-working, someone who seems savvy about the ways of the world. So I didn’t walk away or let it go and lose her number.

By doing my yogic breathwork and clenching my fists so hard my nails left little moons in my palms, I stayed patient and calm and explained that Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years across every continent, and that using the term “Jew someone down” to mean haggle for a better price is in fact extremely offensive to Jewish people and anyone else who thinks stereotypes suck.

“But I have a Jewish friend who says it all the time,” Marjorie said, flabbergasted.

“Well, he has a serious problem and his great grandparents are probably rolling over in their graves,” I said. “If I were you, I’d jettison the term from your vocabulary permanently. As in forever.”

“Omigod, I had no idea!” Marjorie did look earnestly flummoxed. “I have nothing against Jewish people. I mean, I have tons of Jewish friends…”

“Stop right there.” I raised my hand. “You’re making it worse.”

She looked stricken and apologized profusely. I told her that I pretty much didn’t want to ever visit the subject with her again, but she could tell her friend, from me, that he’s an asshole and a shanda to his people.

Now, personally, I would never, ever use this term. But do other Jews, really? Is “Jewing down” an example of owning the bigotry and making it our own, as the N-word has been reclaimed and used among our African-American brothers and sisters?

I know, not really a 911 call to my man Foxy and the ADL. But it burst my bubble. Will my children really have to encounter and educate this kind of simple ignorance?

I Am Not A Torah Scholar and Other Revelations

So, I was sitting in shul yesterday, minding my personal business with my Maker and idly wondering what was for Kiddush lunch, when a passage from the week’s Torah portion (parsha) sort of leapt out and bit me on the nose.

Now, I have been a lot of things in my life, but religiously observant has never been one of them. This was the first time we’ve stepped foot in synagogue since Shavuot. I’m not gonna pretend here that I’m any more qualified to interpret God’s word on the mountain any more that I can speak to the intricacies of String Theory, which is to say my knowledge taps out at Jacob’s Ladder (not quite as basic as Cat’s Cradle, but still at the most remedial of levels.)

Though I love my people and our traditions, I just don’t feel called to take everything in the Torah literally. As it is with other culturally- and spiritually-identified but non-kosher-keeping Jews of the world, I have a (halachically treyf) beef with the laws of kashrut as they were laid out 5000+ years ago. Yesterday’s reading is a clear case in point why:

Parsha Ki Teitzei, also known as Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19:

10. If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives, י. כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ וּנְתָנוֹ יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיוֹ:
11. and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife. יא. וְרָאִיתָ בַּשִּׁבְיָה אֵשֶׁת יְפַת תֹּאַר וְחָשַׁקְתָּ בָהּ וְלָקַחְתָּ לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה:
12. You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. יב. וַהֲבֵאתָהּ אֶל תּוֹךְ בֵּיתֶךָ וְגִלְּחָה אֶת רֹאשָׁהּ וְעָשְׂתָה אֶת צִפָּרְנֶיהָ:
13. And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month. After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you. יג. וְהֵסִירָה אֶת שִׂמְלַת שִׁבְיָהּ מֵעָלֶיהָ וְיָשְׁבָה בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבָכְתָה אֶת אָבִיהָ וְאֶת אִמָּהּ יֶרַח יָמִים וְאַחַר כֵּן תָּבוֹא אֵלֶיהָ וּבְעַלְתָּהּ וְהָיְתָה לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה:
14. And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her.

Let me get this straight. In times of war, it’s perfectly acceptable to kidnap the women of your enemy. If you find one especially hot, you can shave her head, cut her nails and take her home. Of course, you have to wait a month before you shtup her proper, just so she gets out all the crying about leaving home. Then, when you’re sick of her bitching, you can kick her out. But you can’t resell her or make her clean your dirty socks anymore.

That is some serious Game of Thrones shit right there.

I nudged El Yenta Man. “Did you read this?!”

He skimmed the big red book on my lap. “Mmmm. Cool. It also says I can have two wives.”

I pinched him. Another plus of being in a Reform synagogue—men and women can sit together.

Our new rabbi is a very cool and diplomatic dude who has told me that he shares my view that the Torah was written by people a long time ago, and many of its tenets are, shall we say, outdated. His answer to this crazy sexist barbarism was that compared to how soldiers had been treating the women of their enemies before this law, it actually dictated a far more compassionate and benevolent practice.

Rather than get into all THAT on the bima however, Rabbi Haas chose to focus his sermon on the latter part of the parsha, which talks about how the responsibilities and rewards of the firstborn son can be revoked if that heir isn’t behaving himself.

Yenta Boy, who may be going for a Guinness Record for Longest Continual Sulk since his phone was taken away last week for backtalking, ignored us, pointedly staring at the stained glass window above the bima.

“Well lookee here,” I pointed, tracing down the verses.”It says here that if a father and mother have a son who refuses to listen, they shall take him out to the middle of the city and announce to the elders ‘This son of ours is wayward and rebellious, and does not obey us: He is a glutton and a guzzler!’ Maybe Dad and I will stand out in front of your school next week with signs if you don’t change your attitude.”

Yenta Boy sneered his tweenage sneer. “I’m a glutton and a guzzler? I didn’t even finish my breakfast.” Bar mitzvah boys have an answer to everything, dontcha know?

“It also says that then they can pelt him to death with stones.”

YB’s face drained of color. “What?! Let me see that…” he grabbed away the Midrash book and started studying the Hebrew.

The Torah may not be for taking literally, but it sure is exciting.