Don’t Fall Asleep in Hebrew School

This poor shlub is surely enjoying some unwanted fame this week after10373947_10152784001662233_4685397027155974914_n rabbinical student Sruli Schochet posted this photo on Instagram:

“So we were at the Walmart in Bentonville, AR, buying some food and we see this guy with a massive arm tattoo. Shmueli Newman asks him if he knows what it means. ‘Yes,’ he proudly says, ‘it means ‘strength’ just like my name. I got it while I was in the military.’
We didn’t have the heart to tell him…”

Listen, I can barely follow the V’ahavta without transliteration, but even I know that guy’s arm says “matzah.” But only because of the vowels.

As Schochet noted in the comments on his post: “Let’s just say, there is a white guy in Arkansas walking around with the Hebrew word for ‘cracker’ on his arm…and he doesn’t know it!”

Listen, I’d be hardy-har-har-ing along with the rest of y’all, if only I hadn’t made my own egregious grammatical mistake this week: In this week’s Connect Savannah profile of Best Clergy of 2015, I somehow managed to spell my own rabbi’s name wrong–IN ENGLISH. 

It’s been fixed online, but print is well, printed. But let’s talk about the irony of a Jewish person elected as the favorite person of the cloth in a city steeped in Christianity:

SAVANNAH’S Jewish community may be America’s third oldest and one of its most storied, but it remains a fact that synagogue dwellers will always be a tiny minority in this city. Yet out of all the pastors, reverends, ministers and priests preaching the Good Word out there, y’all somehow elected a rabbi as the favorite clergy of 2015. Perhaps it’s a testament to Savannah’s accepting climate, or maybe you’re all secret gefilte fish fans.

Read the rest here, and congrats to all the 2015 Best of Savannah winners!

Donate to JWI, Look Like A Mensch

ECardPreviewImageMother’s Day is coming up fast, and while I kvell and kvetch about my own state of motherhood in this week’s Civil Society Column, I can’t forget to give props to the woman who birthed me.

I can’t give her a bouquet from my own garden because 1) we live 2000 miles apart and 2) the stupid chickens ate the zinnias and 3) my mother is allergic to certain flowers, but I can’t remember which ones.

So I continue my yearly tradition of the next best thing:

For half the price of some hothouse wax job, the Flower Project of Jewish Women’s International sends out an instant e-card to your favorite mama and uses the funds to bring fresh flowers to domestic women’s shelters all over the country.

Each $25 card shows your mom what a mensch you’ve become by thinking of others, and you still have plenty of time to get it done, in case you happen to be super busy.

It’s ingenious—all the flowers for Mom, but none of the sinus problems!

flowers2Enjoy, mom!

#ItWasNeverADress Creator and Former Yenta Youth Group Crony Demolishes Gender Stereotypes

bathroom-sign-gender-equality-it-was-never-a-dress-tania-katan-1Hopefully by now you’ve caught a glimpse of the reworked universal symbol everyone is talking about:

This graphic whipped through the interwebs this weekend with mentions in the New York Times, BoredPanda, the Today Show, HuffPo and about eleventy billion tweets lauding its brilliance.

What better way to “shift perceptions and assumptions about women” than to reveal the ubiquitous bathroom lady as the superhero she was all along?

The campaign was launched last week by Arizona-based software company Axosoft as PR for its Girl in Tech Conference and to promote more female participation in Science, Tech, Engineering, Art and Math, which is always a good thing.

But here’s my favorite kicker: #ItWasNeverADress is the brainchild of a certain Tania Katan, author, activist and the reason why Temple Emanuel youth group meetings in the 1980s were so much fun. She recently left her post as Curator of Performing Arts at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art to become Creator of Code at Axosoft, a surprising switch that shows just how creative and exciting the STEAM world has become.

Super proud to know this woman and watch her genius shine!

Watch Tania ‘splain the campaign here.

Peace Out Friday: Sending Love and Blessings to Baltimore and Beyond

53db6d364a6651948a4c3b6d461763c0What a week. Some of us are graced with the knowledge that we’ll have some peaceful hours with loved ones, save a soccer game or two. And maybe an annoying trip to Home Depot.

Others among us enter the weekend without respite from the injustice and inequalities that make their lives miserable.

As I light the candles later this eve (no, never on time), I’ll send up a Sim Shalom, the prayer for peace for all.

Kids always learn the happy, clappy version, but Julie Silver’s tune has always been my favorite; somehow, the somber chord progression gives this prayer the depth it deserves.

I love the translation below—we’re all in this together, friends.

A peaceful Shabbat and wonderful weekend to all—and may we hold compassion for all those who suffer.

(“Peace Hamsa” by Kansas City artist Laura Bolter.)

Yes #MarriageEquality ‘Cause I LOVE to Cry At Weddings

I TAKE my role as a wedding guest very seriously. In fact, I have a checklist:

Flat shoes, ’cause I like to tear up the dance floor once the giddy couple does their first twirl. I can usually find someone’s old aunt to join me in the Charlie Brown.

Also, a roomy purse to take home a slice of cake. Superstition says that if you sleep with it

Chela Gutierrez (l.) married Cody Shelley in front of God and everybody in a ceremony presided over by sometimes-minister Roy Wood.

Chela Gutierrez (l.) married Cody Shelley in front of God and everybody in a ceremony presided over by sometimes-minister Roy Wood.

under your pillow, you’ll dream of your future spouse. I already married my Jewish McDreamy, but I do like my late night snacks in bed.

By far the most important thing to bring to a wedding is a lot of tissues. Witnessing two people declare that they’re in it together for life—even when the toilet clogs and somebody burns dinner at least once a week—always pushes my happy-cry button. And McDreamy doesn’t like it when I wipe my nose on his yarmulke.

For sure I shed some extra tears at the recent nuptials of Cody Shelley and Chela Gutierrez. Not only were these two lovelies totally made for each other, the ceremony had the distinction as my—and many of the other 250 or guests’—first gay wedding.

The scary storm clouds skedaddled at the last second to reveal a glorious, honey-glow afternoon, as clear a sign as any that the heavens were completely on board.

While they had to get their official marriage license across the border in South Carolina (more on that irony later), Cody and Chela—the communications director at Tybee Marine Science Center and one of Savannah’s Fire Dept.’s finest, respectively—exchanged vows April 18 at Juliette Gordon Low Park in front of a diverse crowd of friends, family, co-workers and cohorts.

To be honest, it wasn’t so different from any other wedding, other than that the betrothed each danced down the aisle to the raucous beats of the SCAD drumline. (Pachelbel’s Canon in D is for straight people and Muggles.)

Service Brewing, the Beer Growler and Five Point Beverage kept the suds and bubbles flowing. There were Pinterest-perfect details like Madame Chrysanthemum‘s fuschia feather bouquets and the pink souvenir koozies emblazoned with “C + C”. The homemade lasagna buffet was followed by a rose-festooned cake, courtesy of Cody’s mom, Diana Shelley. (“No pizza in sight,” somebody snickered.)

As internet-ordained minister Roy Wood (“I bought the collar online, too!”) reminded that we were gathered here today for a purpose “both spiritual and of the earth,” I felt the familiar tears of joy rise.

The event may have been monumental in its political significance, but in that tranquil moment under the shimmery pines, it was simply two people promising to share bathroom towels forever.

Still, when Roy declared, “I now pronounce you ‘Wives for Lives!'” I couldn’t help but bawl out loud for the sweet justice of it all.

I wasn’t the only one clutching a bouquet of wadded-up Kleenex.

“Even though we don’t want to make it a big deal, it is,” sniffed artist and landscape architect Lisa Watson, dabbing at her eyes.

For those who grew up in a time when “gay” was something discussed in hushed, disapproving tones, Cody and Chela’s wedding represented a welcome shift in the direction of cultural enlightenment.

(On a related note, Gay Savannah’s Tybee Rainbow Fest takes over the island this weekend.)

“I think it’s so wonderful,” kvelled liberal maven Miriam Center, marveling at the sea change towards the normalization of gay marriage in the last decade.

“They are great girls and deserve all the happiness in the world.”

Most of us feel exactly the same way. The latest poll shows that 61 percent of Americans believe gay marriage ought to be legal, and the same amount agrees that state bans on same-sex unions should not be.

Georgia remains one of the last 13 holdouts still clinging to its puritanical petticoats as the rest of the country flips a double-bird at pathetic prejudices cloaked as “religious freedom.”

How South Carolina—where it is still illegal to make moonshine or, if you’re under 18, operate a pinball machine—became more progressive than us remains baffling.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, and it’s looking pretty good that the feds will overturn those discriminatory overtures. Attorney General Sam Olens has said that Georgia won’t fight the supreme edict, though I’ll bet my best Ginger Goff flats that legislation akin to the now-strangled SB 129, aka “the religious liberty bill,” will rear its vituperative snake head in the next session.

For those of us who understand that the most important part of the phrase “liberty and justice for all” is the last two words, marriage equality certainly intersects with civil rights. But Cody is surprisingly thoughtful about whether the fight for it is as paramount as society’s other scourges.

“On one hand, the debate is a distraction from issues of systemic violence and injustice. For me, it’s hard to scream about my right to marry while immigrant children are being deported, trans kids are killing themselves, and the school-to-prison pipeline incarcerates generations of black men,” she muses.

“On the other hand, I’d rather confront those inequalities with a wife by my side. And I damn sure want the same legal rights as the next married couple.”

For now, without the same legal protection, tax benefits and parental rights afforded hetero marriages, Cody and Chela’s union remains symbolic in our home state.

But symbols hold power, and these women showed tremendous courage and generosity by inviting what seemed like half the town to what they called their “big, fat, gay wedding.”

“Our decision to have it in the first half of 2015 was based solely on the upcoming Supreme Court decision,” says blushing bride Cody. (Her sparkling spouse Chela admits all she cared about was getting to dance down the aisle to the drums. That, and getting the girl.)

“I’m proud to have been the first gay wedding for so many friends and families. I hope the experience has a ripple effect throughout our lives and brings even just a few more people to the side of equality and love.”

I hope so, too, and that it translates not only to wedded bliss but to the resolution of injustice for all.

I also hope the SCOTUS ruling means I get invited to a lot more weddings.

But I’m definitely going to need a bigger purse.

Cross-posted from this week’s Connect Savannah.

Historic German Church Becomes A Synagogue; Anti-Semites Plotz

P7162802_tone

Germany’s newest synagogue, otherwise known as the “castle church”

As of this year, the state of Brandenburg in former East Germany has its first synagogue since 1938.

Along the main corridor of Cottbus, a college town of around 100,000 people, the formerly Protestant and religiously-abandoned Schlosskirche—or “castle church”—was dedicated in January as a synagogue by a community of 1000 or so Jews. (Of course, only about half of them pay their official temple dues, but what else is new?)

The changeover has been met mostly with joy and respect by the rest of the town, though the strong “neo-Nazi scene” near the Polish border remains a concern—in 2006, some thugs defaced the Cottbus Jewish community offices with swastikas, and rising anti-Semitism across Europe has Jews fleeing for Israel.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants the fragile rebuilding of German Jewish life to continue and has vowed her support, saying a recent press conference that “we are glad and thankful that there is Jewish life in Germany again.”

Cottbus once had a glorious synagogue of its own, with “intricate stained glass windows,” built by the prosperous merchants and tradesmen of the Jewish community. Like so many historic Jewish structures, it was destroyed during Kristallnacht, and its members vanished into Hitler’s horrific chasm.

Out of respect for my ancestors, I never learned a lick of German (though Young Yenta Man did try to download the entire language when he was a boy.)

But I think “schloss synogoge” has a nice ring to it, don’t you?

Read the whole article here.

Trailer for Amy Winehouse Documentary Makes Me Cry

Back in 2011, Kveller.com reposted “Eulogy for A Hot Mess,” a tribute to not-nice-but-oh-so-talented Jewish Girl Amy Winehouse.

I just watched the trailer of the upcoming documentary about her short life and alcoholic’s death and it made me cry all over again for the loss.

“I don’t think I’m going to be at all famous. I don’t think I could handle it…I’d go mad.”

*sniff*. One of my favorite awards show moments ever was when she couldn’t stop hugging her mama after she won five Grammy’s in 2008; four years later, her parents had to accept their daughter’s award posthumously.

By the way, they are NOT pleased with the doc, due out out on July 3, saying that it’s “both misleading and contains some basic untruths.”

I’ll watch it anyway, just to hear her charming Cockney accent and see what she was like before the fame monster ate her.

In the meantime, I’m jamming to one of Amy’s most amazing concerts, filmed at Glastonbury in 2007, here.

1162299-amy-winehouse-012003-617-409

Jewish Frat Boys Heckle Vets, Bring Shame To The Tribe

imagesMembers of the Jewish fraternity Zeta Beta Tau were expelled from their University of Florida chapter Friday for being totally horrific douchebags.

The UF ZBTs—along with their brethren from Emory University—have been accused of harrassing veterans, spitting on a service dog and trying to piss on the American flag during a wounded warrior retreat in Panama City, FL.

The incident was handled by private security and no video footage has surfaced yet, but eyewitnesses say the frat brats also threw beer off their balcony at the Lake Town Wharf Resort, where the twice-yearly Warrior Beach Retreat was also taking place.

According to the Gainesville Sun, ZBT is already on a one-year probation for hazing at UF, and the chapter has been suspended as investigations mount.

On its website, ZBT—established in 1898—as the country’s first Jewish fraternity, states that its mission “is to foster and develop in its membership the tenets of its Credo: Intellectual Awareness, Social Responsibility, Integrity and Brotherly Love.”

Apparently the brothers mistook their oath for the tenets of Rampant Idiocy, Face-Slapping Shamefulness, Shocking Rudeness and Embarrassing Their Mothers.

What a freaking shonda.

Dueling Passover Parodies: Six 13 vs. Aish HaTorah

To some, Passover might mean long seders and matztapation (I thought I made that up, but apparently not.) But bring on the boils, ’cause this Yenta only cares about one thing: It’s parody season!

Pesach 5775 brings us the miracle of not one but TWO fabulous Talmudic interpretations of Bruno Mars’ tushy shpilkiss-inducing “Uptown Funk”

First, those nice yeshiva boys Six 13 with the lovely a cappella skillz trotted out their version a few weeks ago.The breakdown of the plagues is super clever, and how rad is that matzah beach ball?

Then the boyz at Aish HaTorah slid in with their sizzling historical adaptation. Honestly, is there anything hotter than breakdancing tzitzit? Also, now I want a limo driver named Yankele.

So which one’s your favorite? Plenty of time to stew on it. Speaking of which, try the stewed apricots for that matzapation.