ChavuWha?

Apparently I wasn’t the only one fed up after the High Holidays, because I received a nice “feelout” email a couple of weeks ago from Dan Chapman, who took it upon himself to invite anyone who wanted to come to a Shabbat gathering at his home to discuss the possible formation of a Savannah chavurah.

Helpfully, Dan also sent out the the Wikipedia entry for chavurah, defined as:

a small group of like-minded Jews who assemble for the purposes of facilitating Shabbat and holiday prayer services, sharing communal experiences such as lifecycle events, and Jewish learning. Chavurot usually provide autonomous alternatives to established Jewish institutions and Jewish denominations.

DIY Judaism, peeps. Dig it.

Friday evening marked the first meeting, and no one plotzed. The first we thing we did after Shabbat prayers and noshing is go around the room and talk a little about what we’re looking for in this “alternative Jewish experience”; some talked about social gatherings, some want activities for their kids, a few want Torah study and learning, me and Wendy Cohen want to rock some hippie Shekinah worship and at least one person wanted absolutely no religion at all.

It was quite excellent to establish right away that there really is no such thing as a group of like-minded Jews, so we all agreed to disagree about practically everything and go from there.

Here are a few photos I snapped on the iPhone; why the clever captions I wrote for them aren’t appearing is a question only the gnomes living inside this magic box can answer. As you can see, it was a happy, relaxed group of folks aged seven months to 70 and an AWESOME food spread, which is obviously a key piece to any successful Jewish gathering.

Aaron & Catherine

Robin and Sam with our host Dan Chapman reaching for some more brisket

The Big Bad Jake Hodesh, who isn't nearly as fuzzy in real life

Hot Jewish Mamas Michelle Solomon and Sari Gilbert

More gorgeousness: Wendy Cohen, Melissa Paul-Leto and Cathy Skidmore-Hess

Next up for the Savannah Tribe: A beachside Havdalah dance party in November hosted by the Yentas! Email for details.

Havdalah Dance Party Playlist

havdalahHere at Yenta headquarters, religious traditions tend to devolve into momzer moments. In spite of our best intentions, someone’s always eating off the seder plate or playing “Taps” on the shofar.

Look, we try. But y’know, dancing, davening, whatever. Here’s the Yenta’s recommendations for a groovin’, Shavua Tov:

1. “L’Cha” by The Chevra.

Get the party started with the tune that made frum fashionable – check out David Lavon’s famous inspirational moves.

2. “Water” by Mastiyahu.
Could this be complete without a track from Judaism’s reggae rock star?

3. “Chiribim” by Golem
Old Country meets hot hipsters. Nothing like a little post-punk accordion to get heads bobbing!

4. “Hava Nagila” by the Hip Hop Hoodios
Plenty of beat flava for the whole family, except for the masturbation reference. And surely they’re saying “I’m a Jew for Cheeses”…right?

5. “Bar’chu/Sh’mama” by the Original Jewish Gangsters
The album Hip Hop Shabbat has been on heavy rotation here for years – there IS such a thing as sacred rhyme, yo.

6. “L’Cha Dodi” by Craig Taubman
The Yenta’s favorite silver fox delivers Shabbat’s #1 tune in loopy Dixieland jazz format.

7. “Not By Might, Not By Power” by Debbie Friedman
The kids dig this one, plus it comes with built-in choreography.

8. “Hamavdil” by Pharoah’s Daughter
There may be some Grateful Dead-esque Sufi spinning happening about now in your livingroom…

9. “Eyes of a Child” by Hamsa Lila
Continuing on the psychedelic trance train, an elevated perspective is inevitable.

10. “T’Shuatam” by Neshama Carlbach
Kick off the week with screaming guitars and infectious drums – this lady’s always good for the neshamah, ‘aight?

There it is – a rhythmic recipe for a fabulous week!

Anyone have any suggestions for Version 2.0?

Dance Like No One’s Watching

danceI’ve been a fan of Jewish journalist Loolwa Khazzoum since reading her essay in Yentl’s Revenge years ago. She and I played phone tag for almost a year trying to arrange a coffee date before I moved away from the San Francisco Bay Area, and I never did get to kibbitz with her in person. But I’m glad she’s still got my email:

She just sent me a link to her new blog, part of a site called Dancing with Pain, a movement philosophy to help those living with chronic pain. Loolwa was in a horrible car accident in 1997 and was thrown into the unsympathetic world of Western medicine as she tried to heal. Still barely able to walk years later, she had an epiphany at a dance retreat in 2004 and learned to use energy and meditation to move again. Now she’s developed a series of workshops and lectures that help seekers learn to:

* embody physical dance to dialogue with and soften pain
* distill and channel the raw energy of pain — “recycling” it to heal itself
* utilize spiritual dance to transform fear, anger, and frustration from pain

Reading about this philosophy last night sent bells ringing through my bones. First of all, I have been living with a torn hip faschia since the birth of Yenta Boy, and I’ve been known to break into spontaneous yoga in public places to keep the pain at bay. I have had this sense that I either must to “dance with the pain” or succumb to it, and frankly, I just don’t have time to be an invalid. So I keep moving.

Many of you readers know that dance has long been a vital part of my life, but the deep connection between my spiritual well-being and dance has been something that’s fallen by the wayside since I’ve moved away from California and its frequent gatherings of happy, twirling hippies. I don’t think I’ve danced – really danced, that lose-yourself-in-the-beat, sweaty, barefoot ecstasy that was part of every single day of my 20s – in over a year. I miss it so much.

Loolwa’s blog has reminded me that I need to dance – not at a club where tequila shots are three-for-ten-bucks and people hooking up in the bathroom, but a safe, sacred space where you can bring your kids and groove and participate in the highest and holiest vibrations on the planet. In Fairfax, I could depend on the monthly Groove Garden with its vegan snack bar and a second room full of pillows and rugs where all the hip parents would let the children chill out. It was what I wish synagogue was – communal, kind, elevated, conscious, worshipful and estatic.

You are probably not surprised that no place or events exists like this anywhere remotely near Savannah, Georgia. I thought when I moved here that I would continue to teach tribal dance and ignite something here, but the atmosphere here isn’t really one where people hang out in alcohol-fre environments listening to New Age music, unselfconciously gyrating to the rhythms of their inner spirits. See how ridiculous it sounds? But still, I had this idea that it would be so great to organize a monthly Groove Shabbos, a place where freaks like me and my family could dance our prayers in an authentic way. Would you come? Or do you think the Deep South will never be ready for trance music and carob balls?

Snot Shot

netipotDuring the cold and flu season I’ve always sworn by my trusty neti pot to keep my sinuses clear. Yeah, it’s one of those weird hippie things one picks up living in California, but it works. Even El Yenta Man, a violent anti-hippie who gags at the first whiff of patchouli, can be seen over the sink every winter with water pouring from his nostrils.

For those of you still popping the Claritin, a neti pot is a small ceramic dish that resembles something one’s small daughter might abscond with to make a tea party for her teddy bears but is actually for the purpose of washing one’s nasal passages with warm salt water. Click here to read about the many health bennies of neti cleansing.

Neti pots come in a variety of porcelain and ceramic models, but leave it to a Jewish doctor to improve upon the basic variation of the model the yogis of India have used for millenia:

According to the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, Dr. Hana Solomon of Missouri has created a “new twist” on nasal cleansing with Nasopure, a soft blue bottle that comes with salt packets. It’s convenient and inexpensive with an angled neck and wide tip for comfort and cleanliness. Plus, it’s safe to take in the shower.

And it’s much less likely that you’ll find it filled with grape juice in the hands of stuffed animal when you need it.

Double Holiday

It’s the last day of Passover and I don’t want to smell a piece of matzah until next spring. But what to do with the leftover box and a half of staleness? Some ideas:

*Insulate the crawlspace
*Moisten and mix with avocado for a pore-toning facial
*Under the guise of “feeding the ducks up at the lake,” launch a ninja-style attempt to decapitate the goose that snapped at me last week
*Throw a Jewish hoedown and substitute ground matzah for sawdust
*Market a brand of over-priced bio-degradable kitty litter

I feel like I’ve been on the Jewish Atkins diet — six more hours and the Yenta family will be scarfing on the biggest, doughiest pizza we can find.

We’ll probably be joined by many others with the munchies — though for different reasons than eight days of carb denial:

4/20 is widely-celebrated holiday here in Northern California for its marijuana-related significance, and there are a lotta stoners in the San Francisco Bay Area. Go figure.

(If you would like further clarification on the concept of 4:20, check out the High Times’ movie, man.)

Strangely, the Semitic stoners of Jewish High has nothing to say about the double holiday, but they’re probably all out enjoying their own, uh, pizza.
freshly baked

Book Review: My One-Night Stand With Cancer

one night stand with cancerIf I saw Tania Katan right now, I’d give her a big sloppy kiss, which I hope her girlfriend wouldn’t take the wrong way. It’s just that I loved her book so much, y’know, being about cancer and boobs and Jews and all.

The odds — one in seven — have it that if you’ve got boobs or know someone with a set, it’s likely that you’re going to have to stare breast cancer in its mean, ugly face. If diagnosed, those beloved boobs will be subjected to a variety of evils, including — but by no means limited to — being poked, pricked, smushed between two plastic plates or horribly, removed. The body the boobs came with might have to endure poisoning in the forms of radiation and/or chemotherapy, hair loss (including eyebrows and eyelashes), lots of vomit and unfairly — after all that — possible death.

Breast cancer is way f*d up, yo. And so not funny. Yet somehow there are a helluva lot of laughs within the pages of “My One-Night Stand With Cancer,” a memoir chronicling Miz Katan’s diagnosis, her neurotic Jewish family, her psycho girlfriends, her treatment and her healing.

Katan, whose first confrontation with the Big C in 1992 at the age of 21 resulted in a mastectomy, wrote an award-winning play about her experience, “Stages,” that ran all over the country, including New York. She went on to pen more plays, live in San Francisco and enjoy life with one breast.

However, ten years later, just when life was starting to get boring being a starving writer, that bitch Cancer showed up again in her remaining boob. It had to go, too. It turns out that Tania is the carrier of the BRCA-1 gene, as are many women of Ashkenazic descent, which also means her ovaries have a 40 percent chance of “having a touch of the cancer” in her lifetime.

While this much bad news might make anyone else catch the express train to Prozactown, Tania has turned it into a pee-in-the-pants-hilarious account that still holds space for the gritty truth. The pacing reflects real talent; it takes a deft hand to keep jumping back and forth through the years (and boobs) to weave a cohesive story that resists self-pity but doesn’t fall into the cloying self-deprecation so many writers use to make a sad situation entertaining. Rather, a quiet spirituality emerges without a trace of preachery as the final chapters wind down; a reader would have to have polyester stuffing instead of a heart if there weren’t tears when love, chemo and performance art all coalesce.

The book’s last act of bravery is at once shocking and beautiful; see for yourself how a woman with no breasts can claim her strength and beauty while kicking ass.

(I have to offer up a disclaimer here: I went to high school with Tania, who was absolutely correct in describing our campus as an overwhelmingly Christian-jock-Heathers-type atmosphere. But I take umbrage at her book’s claim that she didn’t have friends. Girl, what was I to you, chopped f*n liver? All those years in Temple youth group making fun of Mormons ring a bell? Don’t you remember the time I made you drive us all over town on your moped chasing a spotlight that I was sure was some fantastic party but turned out to be a midnight madness sale at the Scottsdale La-Z-Boy furniture store? Also, I really appreciated it when you took me ’round the gay scene when I was in my questioning phase.)

Anyway. Even if you don’t know anyone with breast cancer (kinehora!), you’re not a lesbian and heck — even if you’re not Jewish — “My One-Night Stand With Cancer” is worth your time. Buy it!

P.S. Tania, I filed this under “Hippie Jews” ’cause I knew how much you’d like that. Lotsa love.

This Giant Jew Is Everywhere, Man

tedevanI had the strange pleasure of seeing Tedevan “Rocketman” Kurzweil making the rounds in San Francisco a few weeks ago, wearing a hand-painted sandwich board that read “6 foot 7 inch Jew will Freestyle Rap 4 You.” He piqued the interest of the j.’s editor enough to assign a story, but for some reason they’re sitting on it, possibly because they need a lot of extra space to run the photo and here it is!

We at the office thought him a bit of a whack job, because a Jew that tall with that much chutzpah ought to be playing basketball for Israel at the very least, instead of nudging strangers to heal their auras.

But y’know what? I’ve been checking him out a little more and he seems like a pretty cool guy. Even if he does smell like patchouli and feet. Giant feet.

Here’s Tedevan delivering the promised freestylin’, here’s an interview called “Slacker Prophet” that Jewschool ran last week and here’s his MySpace page.

I’m not saying I would let him couchsurf or anything, but if I see him hanging out in Dolores Park on a breezy day I might let him do a little reiki.

Fahrvergnugen No More

One of the most definitive chapters of my life came to an end today. Maybe it means I’m a grown-up, maybe it means I’ve sold out. You decide:

The summer I graduated from college, I shaved my head and moved into an ’85 Volkswagon camper van complete with stove, sink and fridge. Why? Because all the other post-modern feminist Jewish girls were doing it. I had read a lot of Beat authors and I knew my destiny would be found on the road, and because there was no f*n way I was going to grad school.

I remember shopping for said used vehicle with my dad, who thank G*d felt like fulfilling his fatherly duty of making sure his daughter had a decent set of wheels to live in. I knew I wanted a van, a cool van, not the weird conversion minivan with pimped out running lights and a Cheech and Chong horn he insisted I test drive. “No way, Dad. All the other homeless kids will make fun of me.”

No, the punk princess with a scalp full of stubble and vintage Ramones t-shirt had to have the VW. “Fine,” my dad sighed. “Drive around on the blood of your ancestors. You’ve already broken your mother’s heart with that haircut.” Continue reading