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.

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.

Manischewitz announces Non-GMO Matzo!

320f527614308ec071a37bed938fe627On all other nights, most Reform Jews eat whatever the hell they want.

But on Passover, we abstain from fluffy breadish products and suffer with matzo not only to honor our ancestors, but perhaps to lend a bit of consciousness to our consuming to the rest of the year.

While the Yenta family does not keep strictly kosher (El Yenta Man has to cook his shrimp on the grill), we do try to keep our food as local and non-Monsanto-stained as possible, so I’m very excited at that this news:

Massive mazto maker Manischewitz has announced a whole line of non-GMO Project Verified foods for our Passover tables this spring. The list includes pretty much everything but the gefilte fish:

  • Matzos
  • Matzos Thin Tea
  • Matzo Meals
  • Matzo Farfel
  • Matzo Cake Meal
  • Organic Matzo
  • Organic Spelt Matzo
  • Whole Grain Matzo Farfel
  • Whole Grain Matzo Meal
  • Whole Wheat Matzos
  • Unsalted Matzo

If you’re not familiar with the debate over genetically-modified ingredients–aka GMOs–have a look here.

It seems to me that ALL food that is genetically modified–and we’re not talking about old-fashioned cross-breeding–ought to be considered unkosher for its insidious dicking with God’s perfect genome, but hey, I’m no rabbi.

But I do know that come April El Yenta Man is going to soooo happy about his non-GMO organic spelt mazto brie!

 

Hey, Zeus: What Every Jewish Mother Never Wanted

My children brought home some wonderful things from camp this summer: A tie-dyed challah cover. A swimming medal. A rock ‘n’ roll version of the Birkat Hamazon.

Of course, some of the things they brought home were not so wonderful, like moldy towels and a wicked case of athlete’s foot.

And then there’s this:

This is Zeus. Zeus

We were first introduced the last day of camp when my darling children that I hadn’t seen in three-and-a-half weeks threw their arms around my neck and told me how they’d missed me and how grateful they were for the experience of camp and someone needs to take the second session guinea pig home or he’ll die could we keep him please please please?

What can I say? They caught me off guard.

So that’s how the Yenta household added to its auspices—which already patronize the well-being of a diabetic pug that requires twice-daily insulin shots, four menopausal chickens, an aquarium containing three fish and a snail, a snake that makes an inordinate amount of noise, and four feral cats in the garage—a goddamn pet rodent.

If you’re not sure how I feel about rodents in my house, here’s what happened when a couple found their way into my pantry this summer.

And you probably already know that Guinea pigs are not even remotely related to pigs; they’re not even from West Africa. I don’t know what sicko decided to domesticate these little assholes, but I will tell you they are the most boring freaking pets on the planet (well, besides snails.)

Still, I indulged the children because I had missed them so. Also, it was too late since El Yenta Man had already named the guinea pig “Zeus” because he thought it was hilarious for a bunch of Jews to call out “Haaaay-Zeus!” every time this little varmint poked his nose out from his plastic cave.

It’s been three months that Zeus has lived with us and I’m about to lose my mind. First off, Yenta Girl’s room smells like a zoo. And the thing squeals like he’s being squeezed to death every time the dog walks by. Plus he’s gotten so spoiled from being fed fresh kale leaves I can feel him eyeballing me every time I make a salad.

I love my children, but if either of them ever tries to con me into adopting another thing that eats and poops they will be living in the garage with the cats.

Here is my point: Chanukah is coming. Would anyone like a free guinea pig? Otherwise, I may decide to use him to shut up the snake.

 

Sunday School Conflict

I swear it, us Jews have Hamas and Iran and the rest of the world aiming rockets and insults and hatred at us, and we still can’t get out of the way of our own.

Since I’ve lived in Savannah, the Jewish community has simmered with various conflicts that I’ve managed to skirt at their margins: Some have been shocking, like the 2006 conviction of a local Orthodox man for child sex trafficking, which people were still whispering about when we moved here. There is the ongoing effort to get the JEA pool open on Saturdays, and no one ever seems to agree on whether you have to go to both days of Rosh Hashanah services or if one will do. Mostly it’s been political quarrels that have divided people, like the awkward removal of our congregation’s rabbi after 20 years and the bitter fight over the new preschool and subsequent decampment of the Orthodox day school from the JEA.

I’ve known people on all sides of the scandals and issues (including the lovely woman who was married to the sex crimes monster) and I try to stay non-judgmental even though I am pretty terrible at it. For me, being Jewish is about faith in and love and heritage and tradition, and anything that distracts from that is a waste of my precious time. Whatever tsimmes is going on at the synagogue board meetings or behind the Federation walls seems so removed from lighting Shabbat candles over a delicious dinner after a hectic week, of reciting Sh’ma together at bedtime, of singing El Norah in the late afternoon trance of Yom Kippur.

Maybe I’m just a selfish schmendrick, but I’d rather leave the bureaucratic business of Judaism to those who have the time and will. I don’t like meetings and I don’t want to be treasurer of anything, ever. I have enough on my life’s plate other than doing a little volunteering at the Jewish Food Festival and a five-year stint teaching kindergarten to the Shalom Schoolers.

But I guess like Jacob wrestling with the angel, it’s rather impossible to be Jewish without conflict. The latest local discord comes from an incident that happened the morning before last year’s Jewish Food Festival at the Shalom School. New York writer Paul Berger did a pretty good job of objectively reporting what happened in a recent article in the Forward, which has been passed around the country and has garnered a slew of comments underneath it.

If you’re familiar with the issue, you already know that last that sunny October morning, the rabbi of Savannah’s Conservative congregation gave the fourth graders an inappropriate—and some believe damaging—lecture involving sex trafficking and prostitution.

Some of the kids were extremely upset by the rabbi, and their parents asked that he no longer be involved in the Shalom School for the rest of the year. (A few weeks ago the Shalom School announced that will be the case going forward into the new school year.)

Other children who were present on that day shrugged off the rabbi’s discussion of sexual abuse, and their families are upset that the first group of parents is dictating the direction of the school and denying their kids the scholarly presence of the rabbi.

As our Jewish karma would have it, this was my child’s class. But she was not there that day. I figured it was a shortened lesson because of the food festival, and I felt that allowing her sleep in was more beneficial to her health after a hard soccer game the day before. (If I thought she would get more out of a shortened lesson than an extra hour of sleep, I’d make her go. More on that later.)

Many of the families have left the Conservative congregation for our Reform synagogue, which doesn’t quite solve anything in a town as small as Savannah. The Shalom School is a cooperative venture between the two congregations; Hebrew instruction is on Wednesday afternoons at the Agudath Achim shul, Sunday mornings are spent learning about Jewish traditions downtown at Mickve Israel.

It’s been really difficult to navigate neutrality on this one. Because my child was not directly affected, I have had no point of reference to “pick a side.” I believe that the kids who were upset were telling the truth and honor their parents’ concerns. I also understand the viewpoint that the while the incident was weird and disturbing, it isn’t worth destroying the rabbi’s career over (finding another position at this point will prove challenging now that it’s been a national news story.)

There have been town hall meetings, which I haven’t attended, and private alliances formed that I am not a part of, because frankly, I didn’t and still don’t have a whole lot to contribute on the matter. I’m just over here washing laundry from camp and looking forward to burnt honeycakes for Rosh Hashanah and wondering if we will ever get it together to make a real sukkah in our backyard.

I can’t manufacture an outrage either way that I don’t feel. I just feel sad, since it seems the community has broken apart once again, right down the middle of my daughter’s Shalom School classroom.

The religious school year has started, and I’m way conflicted. Some parents are calling for background checks on all staff and better curriculum management, which is not unreasonable, yet as far as I know these demands haven’t been implemented. I know from experience that lesson planning can be challenging, but the coordination of particular topics definitely needs to be addressed, especially as the kids get older. If my child brings home one more set of plastic painted candleholders I’m going to go insane.

The drama that’s erupted out of the rabbi incident has been the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back (an expression not actually in The Book Proverbs, in case you were wondering), and it turns out, many families have not been very happy with the two-synagogue partnership or Shalom School in general. Another group of parents is forming their own chavurah, an informal, clergy-less Sunday morning study group as an alternative to Shalom School, which sounds nice, especially since it might eliminate the need for another separate day for Hebrew lessons for our already-overscheduled kids.

Except that deep in my heretical heart, way way down in my seditious soul, I think Sunday School for Jews is dumb.

For centuries — millenia, even — Jews have gathered at synagogue on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Sundays are for sleeping in or shopping at an empty grocery store while your neighbors are at church. Yet the Reform and Conservative movements insist that Jewish education take place on Sunday mornings, all the while complaining that young families never show up to synagogue.

Let me tell you something, Jewish leaders: No one–whether you are a frum Orthodox with a kosher kitchen or a bacon-eating agnostic–wants to spend both weekend mornings at synagogue. When are we supposed to tend our gardens, clean the shutters, make love and/or get lost in Home Depot?

Most Reform and Conservative Jews pretty much ignore the Saturday Sabbath to run errands and go to soccer games, then drop off their kids on Sunday mornings for some menorah crossword puzzles and read out of a textbook. This is not working.

If the point is to prepare our children for their bar and bat mitzvahs, then wouldn’t the best educational experience be attending the Sabbath services they’re eventually supposed to lead? And if another point is to foster Jewish community and joy through from generation to generation, wouldn’t it also be better to provide programming for everyone under the same roof on the same day?

If it were up to me, Shalom School would take place before services on Saturdays, and then the kids would help read Torah with some great singing and prayerful noise led by the elders, and afterwards everyone would have a nice nosh and go home for a nap. Then on Sunday we’d all be free clean out our garages or watch an entire season of Community on the iPad.

So if I haven’t registered my kid for Shalom School or Hebrew tutoring or a study group just yet, it isn’t because of any scandal. It’s my fundamental problem with the system itself. And it may never get resolved to my liking, and that’s cool, because my family’s Judaism lives in the candles, the prayers, the blackened honeycakes and our faith.

But it sure would be nice to commune with others without any conflict.