Yes, all girls—and boys

(Crossposted from Connect Savannah)

There is no hell more hideous or humid than the soccer fields on an early summer afternoon in the South.

The sun pounds down with a mallet in each fist, destroying any doubt of its supremacy in the universe. The tall pines beyond the fence droop, the grass browns before our eyes. The bloated air heaves itself around like a DMV employee two months from retirement.

Yet the players on the field appear impervious to the blinding swelter. They move like warriors, calculating each pass and kick, snaking the ball around their opponents’ defense to take a shot on the goal. If they fail, they regroup like a pack of wolves and try again. Along the way there might be a push here, a shove there, the occasional elbow to the ribs if the ref isn’t looking.

Who knew 10 year-old girls could be so terrifyingly tough?

Huddled under a pop-up canvas canopy with the other parents, modern Bedouins clad in Rainbow flip-flops and drinking cans of La Croix, I watch my daughter and her teammates with awe. It just never gets old, the unexpected breakaways, the soaring kicks, the balls taken to the chin and shaken off with a gap-toothed smile.

Though raised by a feminist to believe I could be President or an astronaut, I was never quite comfortable with the physical aggression required to be an athlete. At 10, I was busy reading the Judy Blume canon and organizing a union for my paper dolls. The last time I played real soccer was a friendly college dorm match when some freshman from New Mexico slide-tackled me and I limped off to the cafeteria, crying.

But these girls, with their baggy blue uniforms and their coltish legs, they are so fierce, so strong, that it’s difficult to imagine that anything could ever bring them down.

For the moment, at least. They have a few years before they shoulder the societal pressure to be skinny or absorb the subtle messages to downplay their intelligence and power. They haven’t yet had to wonder why their male colleagues make higher salaries for the same work or rebuff the “romantic” advances of assholes who just don’t get it.

Soon enough, though, these girls will become women. Then it becomes a whole new ball game.

The May 23 shootings in Santa Barbara by a 22 year-old spoiled little psychopath have sliced open what has always been a marginalized conversation about gender, revealing the guts of our culture’s pervasive dysfunction around women’s sexuality. Like the haruspex of ancient Rome, we must take the opportunity to divine meaning from the entrails.

Before he took up his weapons, Elliot Rodger blatantly blamed his impending rampage on all the women who wouldn’t have sex with him. Who knows if he even asked them nicely—he felt sure that he was owed their “adoration” and attention, and by “depriving” him of it, they deserved to die.

While this obviously falls under the umbrella of flat-out insanity, many rightfully recognized this as misogyny—a poisonous attitude against women that goes back to the tale of Lilith’s banishment from the Garden of Eden.

Misogyny feels entitled to womens’ servitude and feeds on the fear of female empowerment. It lurks in the dark, dank dungeons of the internet and in CEO offices on the top floors of skyscrapers. It can thrive in street gangs or frat houses. It is Nietzsche, Patrick Bateman and the Taliban.

Misogyny is chauvinism’s more horrible, sadistic older brother. It is what drives village elders to stone a woman to death for accidentally showing her ankle. It is the tasteless skit on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze that features a six-foot tall goon dressed in hideous drag laughing about rape.

Misogyny is at the root of the closure of 50 women’s health clinics in Texas, Arizona and 25 other states in the past three years. It is the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls and the gang rapes of children in India. Misogyny denies humanity. While chauvinism would merely suppress women, misogyny fucking hates them.

This most recent mass shooting gives a small window to stare it straight in the eye before some other tragedy captures our collective attention. While some of us could complain about “the mens” all day long, there really is no societal counterpart. Margaret Atwood describes the differential as “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

On Twitter, hundreds of thousands of women and a few men have used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to voice their fury and frustration for all that females must fear. Right on cue, a backlash arose via #NotAllMen to dismiss it as the hysterical exaggerations of a bunch of chicks.

The parallel feed/thought process is that not all men harbor that kind of evil, and duh, of course not—not even most men. There are so many fine male role models, the good dads and sweet brothers and loyal friends who love and respect women.

Arguing that only sidetracks the discussion. As the New Statesman’s Laurie Penny writes, “the devil has more than enough advocates today.”

Whether you choose to view Rodger’s terrible act as what Penny calls “misogynistic extremism” or the result of a sick, lonely kid who couldn’t get laid, there is no denying that his attitude towards women—in part created and validated by the cultural tides—figured into it. (It should go without saying that one can be both mentally ill and a misogynist.)

True, over half of Rodger’s victims were male—the misogynistic poison that fueled his violent entitlement harms everyone. As much as objectification hurts girls, boys suffer tremendously from the pressure to find their value in some kind of sexual “score.”

The tragedy in California has no upside, but perhaps it will make us more conscious of the misogynistic tendencies hidden in our language, our beliefs and what we brush aside as mental illness and good ol’ boy traditions. Maybe because of it, my daughter and her teammates will grow up in a fairer, saner, less hateful world. Maybe not.

But as I marvel as my girl bounces the ball from her chest to her foot and sails it down the field, I know I will never quit calling out the poison.

Anti-Semitism, Civil Society and Inappropriate Laughter

*The Yenta’s on a little vacay this week, visiting the Southwest mispocha, but please enjoy this week’s Civil Society Column from Connect Savannah. Chag Pesach Sameach to all  y’all!

When humanity fails, grim laughter comforts

Growing up Jewish, you learn to have a macabre sense of humor about the Holocaust.

It’s not that the systematic murder of six million Jews and four million Catholics, gypsies, gays and disabled European citizens is any kind of funny.

The unspeakable atrocities committed by Hitler and the Nazis happened barely 70 years ago, and yeah, it’s still too soon for a Comedy Central roast. (Unless Mel Brooks comes out of retirement.)

But when you shlep around this horrible history, an appreciation for the absurd helps lighten the burden. Grim laughter becomes a protective shell, a way to stay patiently amused when encountering idiotic claims that it never happened or having to explain to your classmates that no, you’re not actually related to Anne Frank.

It’s what caused guilty snickers during the 2013 Oscars, when Joan Rivers saw supermodel Heidi Klum on the red carpet and announced, “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.”

It’s why we recognize the sick hilarity of that scene in Nathan Englander’s bestselling What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, when a dinner party turns into an awkward game of “Who Would Hide Us?”

Melinda Stein passes on her mother's story to a new generation

Melinda Stein passes on her mother’s story to a new generation

It’s the reason I always giggle when local comedian and educator Melinda Stein performs her perky softshoe jig to demonstrate how her very existence is like dancing on Hitler’s grave.

I can’t help it; it’s just too rich how Melinda’s mother survived years of forced labor at the Skarzisko picric acid plant in Poland and met her father in a displaced persons camp after WWII. Melinda is now a grandma several times over, and there’s no more gratifying middle finger flip to the Nazis like a Jewish American family four generations deep.

Except when I cracked up over Melinda’s triumphant boogie last week, I got stared down by a roomful of somber seventh graders who looked at me like I’d just flashed my boobs at a funeral. Chastised, I know my gallows-type glee doesn’t always translate.

Melinda was leading a group of STEM Academy students through the One Soul: When Humanity Fails exhibit, to which any kind of laughter is an entirely inappropriate response. The multimedia installation at the Jewish Educational Alliance focuses on the liberation of the concentration camps by Allied soldiers, those first moments when the rest of the world learned just how evil Hitler’s “Final Solution” really was.

More than 500 middle-schoolers came through the exhibit last week for an intensely emotional experience that could never take place in the classroom. They filed through the photos and video footage with a grave maturity, the usual juvenile foot-shuffling and eye-rolling supplanted with wide-eyed silence. Some wept after spending time with one of Savannah’s last remaining survivors, Vera Hoffman, listening to her stories of being taken as a child from her Hungarian village to the Teresienstadt work camp in then-Czechoslovakia.

“This is such a visceral experience for them,” said STEM research teacher Patrick Lapollo. “They come back grim, but with a very different perspective on history.”

Many were shocked to learn about the existence of 27,000 black Germans, descendants of U.S. soldiers who defected after WWI thinking that the Rhineland was a more civilized society than still-segregated America. Rather than exterminate these expatriates in the gas chambers, Hitler sterilized them and exploited them as slave labor.

But it’s not gasps and tears that Melinda, Vera and the other volunteers hope to elicit from When Humanity Fails; it’s empathy—and vigilance. Much of the presentation focuses on the bravery of the “righteous gentiles” who hid families in their attics, adopted Jewish children as their own, or in the case of King Christian X of Denmark, shipped Jewish citizens off to safety.

“What would you do if the government started rounding up your neighbors?” asked U.S. Holocaust Museum volunteer Ina Altman of her group of teenagers in the JEA conference room.

Some vowed they would help. Others answered with sheepish honesty: “I would do what it took to protect my own family.”

That’s OK, kids; the point is to keep the discussion on the table. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good to do nothing, warned 18th century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, who is also attributed with the adage that “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

As a colossal example of what hideous savagery humans are capable, the Holocaust serves not merely as a point in history but as an admonition that it could happen again, anytime, anywhere. It does and has, to the Armenians and the Tutsis and Bosnian Muslims, entire peoples decimated because of their beliefs.

When we teach and learn about the Holocaust, we are reminded of that we are capable of both courage and cowardice, and that we must choose between them every single day. As the souls of the last survivors finally find their way home, the responsibility to remember and remind falls to those who have been encircled in arms tattooed with artless blue numbers.

Last Sunday, a lifelong anti-Semite and Ku Klux Klan leader showed up with a gun at the Jewish Community Center in Kansas City and killed three people, including a grandfather and grandson. He yelled “Heil, Hitler!” from the back of the police car.

In spite of all our efforts, the hatred rages on. And so must we.

This week Jewish people everywhere are celebrating Passover, the retelling of how we were freed from slavery and stood up to oppression. Our Christian friends will tell a different story of redemption and resurrection. May all of our tables be graced with the presence of those we love and stories of those we’ve lost.

And please know that if I chortle indecorously, I’m only trying to fulfill the sagest of Talmudic decrees: “Live well. It is the greatest revenge.”

“One Soul: When Humanity Fails” is on display and open to the public at the JEA through the end of April.

DIY pantry pride

You know how some people are into other people’s kitchens or looking in medicine cabinets that aren’t theirs?

I’m a little obsessed with pantries.

Maybe it’s the fear of scarcity embedded in my Eastern European DNA, but having extra stock on hand brings a certain security to my domestic dream life. To me, there’s nothing more breathtaking than color-coded dry goods and cereals arranged alphabetically, extra ketchups at the ready and the dog food in its own special plastic bin.

If I come to your house, I will pretend to be looking for the bathroom just so I can catch a glimpse of your spaghetti shelf. When I am not pretending to work while shopping for shoes, I am looking at pantry porn.

I peek into other people’s pantries so often that my cousin Charles calls me “Larder Girl.”

That’s why this is a total embarrassment:

uglypantry

Ugly, sad pantry

That cluttery hot mess is my pantry, my very first real one after living in college dorms and crappy apartments and leeeetle tiiiiiny houses in Northern California that barely had enough cupboard space to hold a bag of rice and two dishes.

When we moved to Savannah, my very own pantry was a non-negotiable point for the realtor. But life got super busy real fast, and I never got a chance to paint it. Or remove the hideous shelf paper from 1978.

Before every Passover, when I make a pass at removing the extra pasta, cereal and other chametz-y items from my pantry, I swear to the Almighty that next year, I will clean it out and make it a shrine of gratitude to the bounty that is my life but right now God will just have to be cool with me throwing out the half-eaten bag of stale pretzels.

Well, the Lord Up Above must be just thrilled, ’cause this is the year I make good on my promise.

If I had known it would take three hours just to get everything out, I would have gone to the beach. Instead, I made some important discoveries:

1. Several cans of tomatoes that expired in 2009

2. Hideous flowered shelf paper from 1952 underneath the gross white shelf paper from 1978. Shelf paper has no shelf life. Who knew?

3. That I am a shopping bag hoarder. My bubbie would be so, so proud.

An abundance of shopping bags

An abundance of shopping bags

Next, I cleaned and prepped to paint. You can see the layers of history. And also Clarabell’s tushy:

Empty, sad pantry

Empty, sad pantry

One of the things that shocked me was just how much dang food I’d stuffed in there over the years and forgotten about. Honestly, how many surplus bags of sundried tomatoes does a family really need? I decided to make a couple of boxes of the Second Harvest Food Bank.

Hoping these beans, soup and sundried tomatoes make someone a pretty good feast

Hoping these beans, soup and sundried tomatoes make someone a pretty good feast

Then it was time for the makeover. I chose a bright yellow called “Goldenrod” for the paint, thinking that such a sunny color would cheer me up on the evenings when I would rather trim my cuticles with pinking shears instead of making dinner. El Yenta Man says I should have picked a different shade for the ceiling and the baseboards, but I was all, “Dude, it’s a pantry, not a dining room at our weekend ski chalet and besides don’t you have some laundry to do?”

The selection of shelf paper does not appear to have improved in the past several decades, but I found a fake walnut wood print that reminded me of a Martha Stewart magazine spread I saw while I was getting my last mammogram. If you are not aware, contact paper was actually developed by Joseph Goebbels and really ought to be illegal for its ability to incite massive amounts of suffering. Little Yenta Girl was enormously helpful in unwrapping my face from the sticky sides before I suffocated to death.

Together we watched the paint dry and arranged everything just so, leaving out some empty boxes for whatever chametz remains come Sunday evening. (On a related note, there will be cereal for dinner all week, folks!)

Now look at my pretty pantry!

Happiness is an extra bottle mustard

Happiness is an extra bottle mustard

Are you not impressed? Here’s another view:

prettypantry

The shopping bag drawer now only contains enough shopping bags for a small army instead of the entire battalion of those Chinese Terracotta soldiers.

Maybe no one will go meshuggneh on Pintrest about it, but a grand improvement, no? I even installed hooks for the broom and everything. (Fine. They were stick-on kind. But STILL.)

And next year, I’ll get around to putting the dog food in its own container. Promise.

Watch “The Story of the Jews” on PBS or Your Mother Will Plotz

In the last week, I have received numerous e-mails from BOTH of my parents expressing great concern that the Yenta family watch Simon Schama’s Story of the Jews.

pPBS3-18058099dtParts one and two of the five-part miniseries premiere tomorrow Tuesday, March 25 on PBS (check your local affiliate) and apparently if I don’t put our tushies on the couch for it, there will be hell to pay.

Well, not Hell, since Jews don’t believe in all that. (Unless, of course, they want to.) But my folks only noodge when it’s something fairly important, and I don’t like to disappoint them.

“I know it’s a weeknight, but maybe you’ll let the children watch a few minutes…” writes my mother in a style the rest of the family refers to as her Power of Suggestion tone.

Dad goes for more a direct tactic, as in “Your dead grandparents would be very happy, if in fact there is an afterlife and they could know of such things.”

Actually, I don’t need any guilt trips at all to defer my Parks & Rec Netflix viewing for this epic documentary, although some people I’m related to (*cough cough*) might consider it the T.V.-viewing equivalent of a museum full of Torah pointers.

Lushly filmed at archaeological sites, medieval synagogues, Venetian ghettoes and Palestinian neighborhoods, it promises to present Jewish history in relate-able, relevant terms as well as in the context of modern culture itself.

“What ties us together is a story, the story kept in our heads and hearts,” says Simon Schama in the preview.We told our story to survive. We are our story.”

It’s a salient timing as we’re readying ourselves and our homes for our Passover seders on Monday, April 14, when we will tell one of the most important parts of the Jewish story over five courses, four cups of wine, several songs in Hebrew AND Yiddish and still have to do the dishes. Maybe this will bring a little clarity to the table.

If you need more intellectual coercion, check out Adam Kirsch’s lengthy but insightful review on Tablet.com. He makes the case just upon the visuals alone—even as he points out that as a religion without icons but plenty of tsuris, there aren’t that many grand edifices to revere:

“There is no Jewish Notre Dame,” Kirsch writes wryly.

He is also clear that the series does not “ignore” the Holocaust nor does it let it “dominate” this narrative, which may be a relief for those who are learning—with great respect—to define their Jewish identity as more than Hitler’s victims. Our story—and whether you’re Jew, Christian or Muslim, this is indeed your story, too—is bigger, bolder and more beautiful than that. Plus, it’s nowhere near finished yet.

So, yes, Mom and Dad, we’ll be parking it on the faux leather sofa tomorrow night under the Harry Potter throw blanket. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty excited about it.

And not just because it makes me feel less guilty about abbreviating the seder.

 

 

Got Shpiel-Kiss?

Just when I thought Shabbot 2000′s classic Purim parody could never be topped, here comes another yeshiva a cappella group (how many are there?!) with an infectious invective of everyone’s favorite Persian villain. Warning: A.K.A. Pella’s “What Does Haman Say” may worm into your brain deeper than a bottle of tequila:

A little something to dance out your shpilkiss. Or, since Purim parodies are called “shpiels,” we can call that ants-in-your-pants spring feverish feeling that seems to be going around “shpiel-kiss.”

Mad new beats aside, Shushan Shabot still rules!

My Cleaning Lady Has A Nicer Car Than Me (and I’m OK with that)

imagesBetween all of our hustling, El Yenta Man and I blessed to make a decent living at the moment.

We’re able to pay our bills, buy organic milk and have enough left over to take the family out for sushi once in a while. Thankfully, there are grandparents who provide extras like summer camp and piano lessons, so our kids can feel privileged while we remain solidly middle class.

Living within our means was a hard-learned lesson, and we maintain some thrifty habits to keep ourselves in the black: We have no credit card debt (made much easier by the fact that we don’t have any credit cards). We fix things ourselves. We reuse every plastic baggie until it shreds. Also, I am bargain-hunting, thrift-shopping, sale-sniffing queen (I know my bubbie would be proud!)

We don’t have a car payment because he drives his mom’s old Honda and I drive a 14-year old beige minivan bequeathed to me cheaply by my cousins who moved back to Jerusalem in 2005. (Here’s an in-depth description of The Absurdivan.)

It’s not just about the expense; it’s about the conscious consumption—as I get older, I just don’t want as much stuff, especially cheap crap made in overseas factories that exploit workers and flood the market with items no one needs. (Not that cheap disposable crap is avoidable; I just feel horribly guilty when I buy it.)

So the idea that I would have a cleaning lady seems ridiculous, right?

Most of the other Jewish mothers I know—including my own—don’t think a thing about hiring a woman—almost always of Hispanic descent—come dust their shelves and mop their floors once or twice a week.

But I have never been able to bear the following: 1.) admitting that I can’t keep my own house clean  2.) admitting I can’t pay someone ENOUGH to scrub the mold out of my shower.

I’ve never been comfortable hiring someone else to do my dirty work. When my first child was born, my mother wanted me to “hire some help.” A lovely woman named Bernadita came and cleaned our tiny apartment twice while I wrestled with the breast pump. When I found out she had a baby at home the same age as mine, I was overcome with shame and guilt. I found Bernadita another family to work for, and from then on, I handled the scrubbing myself in between freelance jobs.

Well, not myself. When I started working full-time, my husband and I split the cleaning down the middle: He did the hideous bathrooms, I did everything else, which was completely fair as far I was concerned. (Everyone has to fold and put away their own laundry.)

But in the last few years, EYM started his own business, and he’s gone a lot more. I work out of the house more than ever. The kids keep their rooms pretty tidy and can perform simple tasks like sweeping and vacuuming, but the wielding a toilet brush appears to be out of their skill set. Our bathrooms had come to resemble dripping mold caves that may or may not harbor chupacabra nests.

And the resentment grew faster than the mold: Neither EYM or I felt like it was our job to take care of it since we were both exhausted at the end of the day. We figured out that paying someone to do it for us every two weeks was the equivalent on one and half hours worth of work between us—Hello, SOLD.

But I still had a difficult time with the exploitative aspect of hiring someone who has her own family to take of and her own house to clean, complicated by the fact that she is living out a version of the American Dream that’s much different from my own.

After asking around for months, I’ve finally found Diana. She’s a single mom originally from Juarez, Mexico, and she’s very patient with me when I practice my Spanish.

She showed up the first day in a nice, newish minivan that was MUCH nicer than mine, wearing brand-name sneakers and a big smile. She’s built up her business to employ seven or eight women from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico and is busy five days a week. I’ve not asked what she pays her mujeres—for all I know she’s
holding their birth certificates in some indentured servitude ring—but they always seem happy when they arrive every other Tuesday, whistling as they bring in their buckets and mops.

It’s still new, but so far I’m pretty happy with the situation. Rather than exploiting someone who can’t—because of her immigration status or lack of education—find different work, I feel like I’m supporting a woman in her business.

Plus, I can finally take a shower without wearing shoes.

 

I Wrote In the Torah and It Didn’t Explode

soferYesterday the entire Yenta family got near a Torah with some ink and it was not a disaster.

A nice (and anonymous) philanthropist has bought our congregation a brand new Torah to add to the collection of historic scrolls. (Because they’re kind of like cute shoes; no matter how many you own, you always want more.)

As tradition dictates, the Torah’s scribe–called a sofer–left a handful of letters blank. For a small donation, anyone can help “complete” the Torah, even not-s’-kosher heretics like us. (We did, however, wash our hands.)

Rabbi Yochanan Salazar of the traveling Torah crew Sofer On Site (who knew?!) came from Miami to aid our congregation in this most holy endeavor. The section left open was the very end of Exodus, which discusses how the Jews are to set up the Holy Tabernacle to house the Ten Commanments tablets. Rabbi Salazar gave us a quick lesson on the various interpretations of parsha Pekudei, but I was so excited about getting to draw in the Torah that I retained none of it. (Thankfully, there is this internet thing.)

As you can see above, the family inked in a “tav” that was outlined by using a turkey feather cut in a specific way that only draws the outline of the letter. Yes, an actual feather. I’m not saying that all things Jewish can be seen through the lens of Harry Potter, but Rabbi Salazer did kind of remind me of a young, Ecuadorian Dumbledore.

I kind of thought you had to be a rabbi, or a least be able to read Hebrew without the vowel symbols, to write in the Torah. Turns out this divine task actually the last of the 613 Commandments, though the literal text dictates that every Jew is supposed to write out his (of course, it does not mention her) own Torah at least once in this lifetime. Rabbi Salazar says it takes like ten months to write a whole Torah, “maybe a year if you’re lazy.”

Ain’t no one ‘cept the soferim got time for that. But just to lay out just a little ink was quite cool. Meshuggeh to think that Little Yenta Girl might read from this very Torah at her bat mitzvah!

Chanukah Decor: Go Big and Get a Free Gift From Zion Judaica!

ZJ-MEN-BUOh damn you lunar calendar, I just scraped the jelly skeleton off the storm door and now it’s time to decorate for Chanukah already? There’s still wax on the bookcase from last year!

And don’t even get me started on Thanksgivukkah – to paraphrase my bubbie (of blessed memory), I need a two-holiday shebang to prepare for like I need a hole in the head. (Yes, there’s a Wikipedia entry for it. Calling it “a pop-culture portmanteau neologism” is taking a little far, dontcha think? And anyway, as Haaretz blogger Allison Kaplan Sommer wonders, why not Chanksgiving?)

I just pray that the next time this happens in the year 79,811 (or something like year 83,582 in Hebrew) someone has invented a robot that cleans the ceiling of our descendants’ underground pods after the GMO-free potato-latke-frying and inevitable cranberry sauce explosion.

EBS-1-TOn the other hand, if I can get it together this week, the Yenta house will finally be the first one in the neighborhood to get all splashy flashy with the lights! Every year our front yard display gets a little more glitzy and farpitzed like an aging Las Vegas showgirl for several reasons:

First, I am rebelling against my spartan childhood where every house on our suburban block sparkled with fake snow and festive glare except ours. Second, 2 for 1 LED garlands at Rite-Aid.

In case you’re wondering, no, a Chanukah bush is still never OK, but I all ABOUT owning the Festival of Lights with some oscillating blue bulbs or better yet, this 17.5-inch Star of David from Zion Judaica (yo, it’s on sale!)

Sommer reminds us that even though Chanukah usually falls closer to Christmas, it’s not a competition. But listen, my bubbie, who wore full-on costume jewelry sets and gloves just to go to the Winn-Dixie, taught me to go big, and a whole house done up in blue on a crisp, cold night is just so gorgeous. I haven’t quite gotten into the world of inflatables yet (that spartan childhood will always have its hooks in my psyche,) but should I ever garner the chutzpah to 11-foot bear holding a dreidel in my yard, Zion Judaica is the hook-up.

In fact, ZJ’s got pretty much everything you need for Thanksgivikkah Chanukah in their online superstore — and they’re offering a special gift for Yo, Yenta! readers! Just include the words “free neck” in the comment box on the confirmation page any order over $49.99 and you’ll receive a free dreidel necklace. (Because nothing goes better with flash lots of than Jewish bling!)

Orders usually ship between two and eight business days, with express options. Hurry up, we’ve only got two weeks to make the neighborhood shine!

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The Savannah-Slany Torah Connection

I promised you another coincidental Torah tale last week, and this yenta keeps her word. It’s a perfect story to honor all the soldiers who fought in WWII and veterans everywhere:

Mr. Herbert Victor with the Slany Torah

Mr. Herbert Victor with the Slany Torah

We have a Torah in the ark at Congregation Mickve Israel that comes from a trove of over 1500 scrolls recovered from Prague after WWII. Known as “The Holocaust Torahs,” they had been gathered up by Czech Jews as the Nazis made their horrific way across Europe and stored in a “museum” for the Germans. Most of those brave souls perished in Terezin and Auschwitz, but the Torahs survived and were moved to London in 1964.

From there the Holocaust Torahs have been distributed to synagogues around the globe as part of the Memorial Scrolls Trust — “on long term loan,” explains MI matriarch and mameleh Phoebe Kerness in an article she wrote for the temple newsletter. The communities they once belonged to destroyed forever, the scrolls were adopted by their new stewards “with the stipulation that they play a prominent and meaningful part in the religious and educational life of the institutions responsible for their safekeeping and condition.”

Our Torah comes from the little Bohemian town of Slany, about 12 miles northwest of Prague, and was scribed in 1890. Indeed, it has played a prominent and meaningful part of Jewish life in Savannah since it arrived in 1968: The Slany Torah is carried through the sanctuary and read from every Saturday. It’s recently been refurbished and re-koshered in Florida, thanks to the efforts Phoebe and her husband, Jules.

But it wasn’t until last summer that congregant Kerri Rosen actually asked, “Where is Slany, anyway?”

The former synagogue in Slany, Czech Republic, now a police station.

The former synagogue in Slany, Czech Republic, now a police station.

And thus began the adventure: Historian and Sunday School teacher supreme Teresa Victor found that the Jews of Slany has been expelled in 1458 but returned a few hundred years later to build a prominent synagogue in 1865. That part of Europe was never particularly friendly to our kind, and the population declined by 1930. In 1942, the remaining 81 Jews in Slany were rounded up for the camps. There are no Jews there today. The former synagogue now houses the police department.

Ms. Victor also discovered that in March 1945, the Eighth Air Force of the United States fought a bloody battle near Prague, bringing down a B-17 bomber over Slany and killing eight airmen. Here comes the meshuggeh part:

This plane came from a squadron known as “The Mighty Eighth,” founded in Savannah and referred to as “the greatest air armada in history.” The Eighth’s soldiers earned 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, 850 Silver Stars, 7,000 Purple Hearts 46,000 Air Medals — and also suffered half of the entire casualty of the entire war. All were American heroes, and eight of them began their last journey from right here in Savannah, Georgia to die fighting in the town of Slany.

The temple contacted Mickve Israel bar mitzvah boy and former El Yenta Man compatriot Jeffrey Young, who defected from Savannah for Prague after college and has been living la vie bohème ever since. Young took the ten-minute trip to Slany and found the memorial built from the wreckage of the plane that reads “In memory of the crew of the American B-17 bomber shot down at this spot on 2 March 1945.”

The Slany memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, based out of Savannah, GA.

The Slany memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, based out of Savannah, GA.

Our rabbi Robert Haas traveled there this summer to see it, and all of us are marveling at the serendipity: Savannah honors its Slany Torah, and Slany honors Savannah’s fallen soldiers.

This Saturday for Veterans Day weekend, Mickve Israel is holding a special Shabbat service at the sublime chapel at the Mighty Eighth Museum (which happens to be one of the most stupendous installations in the land.) The Slany Scroll will be there; reservations are required.

So how’s that for interconnectedness? Some may call it coincidence, others the work of the Divine. All I know is that the next time Little Yenta Girl is called up to undress the Slany Torah, her hands had better not be sticky.

 

 

From My Pew…

imagesEvery Jewish fundraiser and synagogue leader and professional Jew is currently plotzing over the latest from the Pew Research Center, A Portrait of Jewish Americans.

Some are wringing their hands into shreds over the data concerning the increase of intermarriage and assimilation; others interpret the findings as celebratory proof that we are indeed Jewish Americans, not American Jews.

The headlines might say Jews are jumping the synagogue ship and that the children aren’t being raised Jewish; J.J. Goldberg shows it’s all in the interpretation. Rabbi Gerald Skolnik writes in New York’s Jewish Week that he can’t find the good news in any of it; in today’s Forward, NYU professor Bethamie Horowitz provides a much more optimistic lens with which to view it all (a historically uncharacteristic practice for Jews, but hey, the point here is that we’re changing.)

Shmuel Rosner’s hilarious column in this week’s Jewish Journal breaks down a few other categories of the Jewish response to the study, including the smartasses. Rosner acknowledges that all points are valid but not necessarily useful — until taken into context with each other. What good is the Pew study if it’s just given our community more grist to fuel the endless infighting?

If all such studies can do is to merely strengthen previously held beliefs – who needs them? If the community can’t look collectively at this study (the key is doing it collectively) and agree on at least one or two main implications of it – then what’s the point?

So many of our big brains have already weighed in, and as this yenta is neither as learned or broadthinking, I have nothing to offer about it other than I can’t say that the trends documented in the study come as any surprise:

More Jews are marrying non-Jewish — six out of 10, according the statistics — and less are identifying with religion and more with culture and heritage. Ninety-four percent of those polled are proud to be Jewish; only 30 percent describe themselves as “very attached to Israel.” An increasing sector is raising their children “partly Jewish,” which I guess means Chrismukkah exists after all.

Frankly, I don’t have the time to interpret it all, what with twice-a-week Hebrew school carpool, taking down the (worst) sukkah (ever) and guilting Yenta BoyMan into finally finishing the last phase of his mitzvah project. It’s a good thing no one called to poll me, I might have given a few smart alecky answers myself.

All I know if that from the pew where I sit in my small Southern city, the future of Judaism looks quite bright: Our 280 year-old Reform congregation just renewed the rabbi’s contract and membership is up. Shalom School enrollment is logging record highs this year, evident in the complete (but friendly!) madhouse at pickup. A gorgeous new preschool at the Jewish Educational Alliance opened this fall. The Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival continues to be one of the city’s most well-attended public events and was voted “Best Food Event” by the readers of Connect Savannah (It’s coming next Sunday, Oct. 27. Let the noshing begin!)

There’s also a cadre of young families and singles attending services regularly, not that I know anything about attending synagogue regularly but they’re always there when we show up (usually late, of course.) Some have one Jewish parent with another studying to convert, some are already Jews by choice, some are scoping out the dating scene. I don’t care because they know the right tune for the Sh’ma AND they bring their own wine to oneg. They ask questions, they are fun to be around and they make my excuses for skipping shul seem pretty lame. Many of them come to Judaism without baggage about What It Means to Be A Jew, and it’s a pretty refreshing perspective.

There have already been and will continue to be many solutions for the “problems” that the Pew study presents, but I can only offer the same of what I’ve been trumpeting for years:

In order to survive, Judaism must be joyful. And tolerant. And welcoming.

Many won’t agree, and I’m okay with that. But I can’t get caught up in handwringing and long meetings and strategizing — I’ve got honeycakes to burn and Chanukah to stress about and children to teach to curse in Yiddish. And maybe, if we get it together this Friday, services to attend.