Nachas Week: Rachel Sarah (and Mae)

smsI know I’m a lucky lady to have El Yenta Man, and my kids are blessed to have such an involved, adventurous father. But sometimes I peek over on the fence to see the single mothers hanging out, enjoying vegetarian potlucks and estrogen-dominant discussions, unencumbered by in-laws and another person’s issues or dirty laundry and I secretly envy them. I can’t help it, some single moms just make it look good.

Rachel Sarah is a perfect example of that kind of single mother — she’s gorgeous, stylish, has a cabal of supportive and loving single mama friends and is raising a sassy, smart daughter named Mae on her own. I met her when I worked at the j. weekly in San Francisco where she continues to be the resident dating columnist, and I figured her book, Single Mom Seeking: Playdates, Blind Dates and Other Dispatches From the Dating World, would be edgy, playful and well-written. But how engrossed I found myself in Rachel’s saga came as a surprise anyway.

rachelIt wasn’t too long ago when people whispered “single mother” in tones reserved for terminal diseases, as if it were an affliction, or God forbid, contagious. Rachel shrugs off that stigma with barely a glance, but letting go of her idea of the perfect family isn’t so easy. Even after Eric, the emotionally unstable father of her daughter, abandons them, she continues to fantasize that every man who comes through the door might fit the corner of the “triangle.” She goes on her very first date while she’s still nursing and falls immediately into bed with the guy, conjuring up a post-coital picture of the three of them — her, him and Mae — by the second date, an image that dissolves as the dude slips out the door at 3am without saying good-bye.

A string of men follow, each chronicled in a ribald and raunchy manner that invites giggles and the occasional cringe, like when she brings someone home while her daughter sleeps in the next room, the married guy who shoots too quick and of course, the sporadic appearances of Mae’s father. It’s pretty sexy stuff; some scenes are bonified erotica. Rachel makes no apologies about her libido and right to satisfaction, yet never comes across as slutty or jaded. She’s optimistic — borderline naive, sometimes — about every new prospect; her heart seems so big and most of the guys so undeserving. With each one she learns a little more about what she’s not looking for: Pot smoking, tardiness and over-tidiness are reasons kick a guy to the curb and yell “Next!”

So this is what dating is all about: looking for red flags, obeying red flags, running like hell when I see one, asking questions, talking about myself without revealing too much. It makes me feel alternately exhilarated and exhausted.

Reading Rachel’s transition from “Hey, you’re cute! Let’s do it!” to “Hmm, are you interested in children?” is almost like watching a baby learn to walk — you know she’ll get it right eventually, but you wince every time she falls. Through the process of maturing into the responsibilites that come with being a dating parent, she remains a committed mother to Mae. But she refuses to fall into the trap of martyr — she deserves to date, to sleep with whomever she likes. As long as she uses protection.

It isn’t until she and Mae move back to the Bay Area and she has a full-time babysitter in her own dad that the major league dating begins; she has a tight turquoise number she calls her “first date skirt,” and as the years go on, it sees plenty of action. When online dating becomes popular, she jumps right in, organizing her dates in a binder, making another full-time job out of poring over their profiles. She enrolls Mae in preschool at the local JCC and sees that the Jewish daddies are the best around. She decides to post her own profile on Jdate, bringing a whole other dimension of mishegoss, since her father is Jewish and her mother is not, which leads some Jewish men to reject her as not Jewish. Reform Judaism is basically a fraud, one writes. Why don’t you just unergo an Orthodox conversion? Fortunately, plenty of good J-men think she’s a fine catch, and she handles this new batch of potential mates with humor and hard-earned experience.

It’s so relieving when she begins make better decisions for herself; I wanted to tap her friends on the shoulder and say “What the heck were you thinking, watching her kid so she could go out with that schmuck?” Much of the humor and wisdom of Single Mom Seeking comes from these single mama friends, who are as good as — maybe even better than — family to Rachel and Mae. Her friend Siobhan imparts a nugget that she refers back to every time she’s tempted to find love in the arms of someone’s who’s not right: Never go back for more when there is only less.

The crux of the book is Rachel’s growth as a mother and a woman, though her role as a lab rat in the world of single parent dating provides plenty of advice and fodder for commiseration. In the end, Rachel finds love with a motorhead Israeli with an infectious laugh, and though she had been so raw with her other loves, she closes the bedroom door on this one, “it is private.” But as a married woman, I know there’s no such thing as “happily ever after,” so I look forward Rachel’s next book about — what else? — blended families.

You can buy Single Mom Seeking here or better yet, from your favorite independent bookstore. What better Mother’s Day gift for those strong mamas out there going it solo? A must read for single dads, too!

Nachas Week: Beth Schafer

beth schaferIt’s taken me longer today to write this review than I planned, because as I was sitting down at the ‘puter with a mug of tea and my daughter involved in a conversation with Elmo on PBS, I decided to listen to Beth Schafer‘s fifth album, The Quest and the Question, one last time, just to be thorough.

This lady came to our attention last summer (the honorable Pepe Pringos posted this) when she beat out Christian crooners galore to won the faith-based category of American Idol Underground. She’d submitted two songs, “Still Small Voice” and “Love Multiplies,” to the online extension of the ubiquitous FOX series and watched as voters pushed them into the Top 10. By the end of the six-month long contest, those tunes came in at #1 and #2, respectively.

Now, it could be that Schafer’s fans, which surely include every single congregant of Temple Shier Shalom near Orlando, FL. where she does cantor duty, double-clicked like mad to get her to the top. But how much voting power can one lil’ Reform congregation have against the might of America’s contemporary Christian enthusiasts? Only a solid interfaith fan base would have been enough to sweep the top two song slots. Could it be that this Jewish woman and her electric guitar have crashed on through the ceiling of modern spiritual music?

Schafer sings in both English and Hebrew backed by folksy, uplifting chords, inviting comparison to that Mistress of reformed Reform liturgy, Debbie Friedman. This accomplished musician is not only her own lead guitarist, but is credited in the liner notes with playing the mandolin, piano and something called a variax. According to her site, she “is creating modern-day musical midrash, the contemporary interpretations of ancient texts that help us make sense of humanity,” yet her lyrics remain accessible to those who don’t know Rashi from Raffi.

In addition to being a cantor, songwriter and performer, Schafer is also a wife and mother, so she may appreciate the following: I mentioned I had set up for a perfect morning of blogging and was grooving to “Slow Me Down,” the first song on the album and an homage to the sweet anticipation of Shabbat, when everything fell apart. The phone kept ringing, my daughter decided smearing PB&J on my keyboard was more entertaining than Elmo, and I saw the time I had carved out for myself dissolving like sugar in tea. Frusturation and anger boiled up and I started feeling pretty sorry for myself, ’cause no one really tells you how hard it is to be a mother AND anything else except tired, dirty and put upon. And then I got to thinking about how hard it’s been for me to adjust here in the South and how challenging it is sometimes to deal with my mother-in-law, who has something like Alzheimer’s only worse, and how much I wish I could just go back to California, and wow, if I didn’t have just a giant pity party for myself — tears, cursing, the whole bit.

But then I was listening to “Ruth,” a track about our adopted biblical foremother who also had to deal with her mother-in-law after her husband died, and I thought, “Well, God, at least I’ve still got my husband, pain-in-the-tuchus that he is. Thank you for that.” And then “Still Small Voice” came on and I got why the people voted it #1: It’s a song that makes you stop and remember that the One who created us is still here loving us, even when we’re pounding our fists on the ground (or swearing up a storm while cleaning out peanut butter between the “b” and “n” keys with a Q-tip.)

As the rest of the album cruised on, a sense of magnanimous relief came through me. These are songs about struggling with faith and finding strength when you’d thought you’d used up the last reserves. “Love Multiplies,” “Adonai Natan” (God gives, God takes away…) and “It’s In You” all prove that Schafer isn’t some bima ice queen throwing out rabbinical wisdom; this is a woman who has a deep compassion for what it means to be human and its accompanying challenges. In “We Pretend” she sings of life’s inherent imperfections, her own issues with conforming in “If You Want Me To Be” and she finishes off the album with “Tricky Thing,” a bone-bare glimpse into the paradox of faith. By then, my kid and I were dancing on the sofa, swinging our arms and cackling with the simple joy of being alive.

So what was intended to be just a regular music review ended up as a rejuvenating experience, as fine a testimony as I could possibly give. I’m not saying my day got any easier (I still had to help my mother-in-law clean out her closet and then write this amidst the howls of homework time and dinner preparations) but “The Quest and The Question” reminded me to keep on breathing, keep on dancing, keep on praying. Listen for yourself.

The Care and Feeding of Marriage

drlauraHave you heard about the New York Orthodox couple who built a wall down the middle of their house as a solution to their marital issues?

Neither Chana Taub nor her husband Simon will give up their three-story Borough Park house as part of a divorce settlement that can’t quite get settled — the Taubs have been in court for almost two years trying to dissolve their 20-year marriage. A judge with a creative sense of justice has ordered them to put up a drywall partition that gives Chana the top floor and the kitchen; Simon gets the livingroom and the diningroom. Mom has three of the kids, Daddy lives with one. No word on how Simon and the last kid eat with the kitchen barricaded; it’s a good thing Brooklyn has killer takeout.

When I first read about the Taubs I thought “What a fabulous idea! During the ten days out of the month when the mere smell of my husband’s socks can push me into a psychotic tirade, I will simply erect a wall between my side of the closet and his. I will nail the door shut to the downstairs and he can sleep and cook on the grill in the garage. He’ll pee outside, which he does anyway and thinks the neighbors don’t notice. Since the laundry’s down there, he can do that, too. We can alternate between the two children, depending on which one’s behaving the worst.”

Unfortunately, this is not a real solution, since I cannot possibly trust him to wash my delicates. But it got me thinking about marriage, and what a crazy myth this “happily ever after” bollywash is. Now, listen, I love El Yenta Man with all my heart and soul. I know a spaz like me is blessed to have a found a virile Jewish prince to help propagate the Chosen people. It’s just that living with him drives me batsh*t sometimes, especially around that time of the month when I am feeling particularly sensitive about having all the dishes put away and absolutely no lintballs floating down the hallway, and he is just not being empathetic enough to my need to have order and silence and tends to mock me instead. Continue reading

Bond Over Borat Equals Way Less Than 007

oo7Y’all know I had been all set for weeks to take El Yenta Man to see Borat last night. I picked the closest theater (40 minutes away), booked the babysitter and figured we had just enough time for tapas and a martini before the 7:50 show.

But then El Yenta Man came home saying that several people at work all told him variations of the same thing: That while Borat was funny for a little while, they found it exploitive, and the derivation of humor from the humiliation of others made them feel “dirty.” Admittedly, one person I know used the exact same word — “dirty” — to describe his experience of the movie, but I figured he just didn’t get it because he’s not Jewish. Neither were any of the naysayers at El Yenta’s Man work. You Jewish readers who have admonished me for not seeing it yet — is this a case of people not getting the joke or is it really that disturbing?

Since he was the birthday boy and all, he decided he didn’t want to feel dirty — like that, anyway — so we eschewed the tapas/martini plan and drove to a theater 20 minutes further to see Casino Royale, the new James Bond flick. And since he was the birthday boy and all, I chose not to remind him that we agreed not to see anymore James Bond movies because the last one sucked so hard.

I hoped maybe Daniel Craig’s presence would lend a fresh air to a tired, tired formula, but instead he had none of Pierce Brosnan’s debonair charm and IMHO comes off as a psychopathic head case with his heavy breathing and Aryan blue eyes. The movie was humorless, stupid and violent, made even more offensive by several extended sessions of straight gunfire in surround sound. I don’t care if Borat actually f*cks a sheep wearing Frederick’s of Hollywood lingerie on camera, nothing is more disturbing that someone having their testicles whipped by a one-eyed sadist on a screen 20 feet tall. Except maybe the blatant product placements wandering aimlessly through the film.

So suffice it to say El Yenta Man’s birthday was a bust: We paid for five hours’ worth of babysitting fo Taco Bell and a bad movie. Next year, we’ll go bowling. Maybe by then Borat will be out on DVD…sigh.

Passover in December?

whendoweeatListen, I’ve lived on the fringes of Jewish culture for decades, first in the hippie netheregions of Northern California (where there are plenty of Jews, but they’re too busy meditating at Spirit Rock to join a temple) and now on an island in the coastal South so Christian we are the first Jewish family our neighbors have ever met.

So forgive me for being a little slower than my New York- and Israel-based blogging peers (have I earned the right put myself on their level after almost three years wandering around the JBlogosphere like a — well, a lost Jew?) and missing the Movies Important the Jewish Experience on the first, and in most cases the second, round.

In my usual pace of cinematic catch-up (I saw Schindler’s List five years after its release and Paper Clips a mere few weeks ago) I rented “When Do We Eat?” which, thankfully is still in the new releases section. (And while I may be the last Jew on Earth to see Borat, El Yenta Man and I have a date for the 7:50 showing TONIGHT! so I may actually end up ahead of myself — movie-wise, anyway.)

I had already read mixed reviews about this story about a dysfunctional family seder involving sex, drugs and matzah balls, but I had no idea it was going to be the highlight of all the DVD’s I viewed this year. You can find out actors’ names and the basic plot, as well as impressive tidbits about the screenwriter somewhere else; let me just recommend it highly to any Jew who has been bored to tears at a seder, wished for more meaning and less schmaltz in their family’s traditions and can laugh at what American Judaism has become in the last half a century. Be sure to watch the rabbi roundtable in the special features. Rent it, rent it now, even if it’s barely latke season and the Passover dishes are buried somewhere in the garage.

(Speaking of packed garages, all the Yenta shtuff is here in the inlaws’ house. Father-in-law is not happy about it. I’m thinking of dosing him with Ecstasy — do you think it might help?)

By My Bedside

You’re probably thinking from the title that this is another sex toy post, but I’m talking about books, guttermuffin. It’s Jewish Book Month, peeps!

While I’ve yet to read any of the following new publications, but I promise longer reviews if the author’s publicists do their job and send me free copies:

singlemomseekingJ. weekly reporter Rachel Sarah has finally given birth to her memoir, Single Mom Seeking: Playdates, Blind Dates and Other Dispatches from the Dating World, and I’m damn excited about it. Rachel is preternaturally prolific for a motherwriter with her j. columns, her blog, her other postings all over the Web and now this book. Plus, she’s one hot mama. Any Jewish single dads need reading material?

rabbiharveyFor those of us who prefer more pictures on the page, The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey by Steve Sheinkin promises to be a standout in the Jewish Western graphic novel genre. Told in comic strip format and deadpan one-liners, Rabbi Harvey tames the Wild West with Talmudic wisdom and lovingkindness. It’s appropriate for all ages, and is available with a teacher’s guide.

Then there’s Jonny Geller’s Yes, But Is It Good For The Jews?, a tongue-in-cheek tour of Jewish history and culture using a cockamamie mathematical formula called “Judology.” Being only a basic bank-balancing math person myself, I’ll have to do some studying to catch up. But like I trust the ancient rabbis to interpret for me, I’ll take Geller’s word that Prince Harry is not good for the Jews.

And while I never thought organ donation could be romantic, it looks like Joan Saltzman may change all that. Her book, Mr. Right and My Left Kidney, chronicles her path to late-in-life love and the sacrifice she made to keep it alive. Talk about being a “giver” in a relationship!

This week’s feature on Jewish books from the j. proves I won’t be the only one with a huge stack next to the bed this winter. Sorry, El Yenta Man — no time for nookie, it’s bookworm season!

Chillin’ Shabbat Soundtrack

shabbat loungeBecause his ambient “Jew Age” jazz is just too good to listen to once a year, it’s fabulous that modern Jewish music maestro Craig Taubman has turned his hip Hebrew loops to the holiday we celebrate every week.

“Shabbat Lounge” follows the model of Craignco‘s Jewish “chill out” gems “Hanukkah Lounge” and “Passover Lounge”, both signature blends of ancient prayers and post-modern jazz. This latest installment of the Jew Age fills a room with tracks both mellow and grooving, greeting the Sabbath Bride like she’s a diva decked out in Zac Posen and platform boots.

On the press release Craig spells out his intention to bring the hipster Jews home, if only figuratively:

I wanted to breathe new life into the songs and make them relevant for a generation that might spend Friday night in a club rather than a synagogue.

From the decidedly tribal beats of “Dror Yikra” and the downright funky “Chiri Bim” to the trance-y Eliyahu, it’s a meditation to take you through Saturday evening. Maybe it’ll take some time for the DJs at Crobar to start spinning “Shabbat Lounge,” but when they do, you know Jewish hipsterism will surge anew.

While we’re on the subject of Craig Taubman, I have to something to confess: Though I’ve been a fan for many years, I never had a clue what the man looked like. I assumed that since no photos are ever on the CD sleeves, he must be a mole-like nebbishy guy with transluscent skin, the result of spending so much time in his underground lair/sound studio. Um, hello? The dude’s a silver hottie. Why has this not been brought to my attention before, CraignCo marketing people? You’ve got a major sex symbol on your hands — when will you stop keeping this a secret from the Jewish people?

A Big Kiss For This Rock N’ Roll Family

family jewelsA couple of nights ago El Yenta Man couldn’t take me barking at CNN for another minute and flipped the channel to A&E, thinking he’d bore me to sleep. Unfortunately for him, Gene Simmons Family Jewels was showing back-to-back episodes and he had to get me a dish of ice cream instead.

Tailored along the lines of The Osbournes, the Simmons have all the right elements of a TV-worthy rock n’ roll family: The sarcastic, over-indulged kids; the long-suffering wife, the once-heavy metal-rock-god-now-a-dithering-goofball man of the house. Sure, Ozzie and Co. already did it, but the Simmons’ show ain’t half bad.

Some entertaining highlights included watching Gene, who claims to be “happily unmarried” to ex-Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed, tricked into an ambush wedding, complete with the local Beverly Hills Rent-a-Rabbi. The scene where he applies his famous make-up for a show and then makes time for his daughter next to the mirror (“Wow, Dad, your brushes are nicer than mine”) showed a sweet side. And then there’s son Nick, a handsome, self-deprecating lad of 6’7″, who provides much comic relief by sucking the wind out of his dad’s monster ego.

“Family Jewels” airs Monday nights on A&E. While some of the “reality” is obviously contrived, finding out that the dead animal on Gene’s head is actual hair is worth a half hour of late-night TV in between blog posts and laundry folding, anyway.

Surf Music for Yids

msbIt may seem hard to imagine Gidget twisting to a twangy version of “Zum Gali Gali,” but someone’s finally gotten a hold of surf music and made it Jewish.

Meshugga Beach Party: Twenty Songs of the Chosen Surfers is the product of Mel Waldorf, a New-York born-and-bred Jew whose lack of access to surf babes and waves hasn’t stopped him from building a career on the sounds of sunny California. In fact, he’s something of a legend; he’s a longtime vet of the San Francisco surf music scene with his band the Mel-Tones as well as a composer of snazzy jams for “SpongeBob Squarepants” and “The Real World.” In fact, you can just go ahead and call him the “the Jewish Dick Dale.”

“Meshugga Beach Party” is a pretty crazy ride; all songs are traditional Hebrew school familiars strummed out in beach music’s signature laid-back style. Even serious prayers like “Avinu Malkeinu” are transformed into boogaloo-worthy tunes; you can imagine that “Hava Negilah” might inspire a bonfire right in your livingroom. Listen here.

Yes, it’s a bit concept-driven, but if you dig the genre, it’s a must-have — even if you’re not coastal. All I have to say is I know what El Yenta Man’s getting for Father’s Day.

Jewish Hip Hop’s New Face?

eshy“Yo!” to DailyJews for introducing Eshy, a Jewish rapper who doesn’t want to be a joke.

You may recall how much the Yenta detests Jewish joke rap but adores the tribal truth beats known as Jewish hip-hop, so I had to listen to a coupla Eshy’s tracks before I could be certain this was the latter, delivered “without any comic novelty associated with it.”

His album “Attention Deficit Disorder” does boast some fine tracks that showcase Eshy’s New York spoken word roots: “Blacks and Jews” might become the rallying street cry for all rhyming Jews looking for street cred, and as far as requisite MC meglomaniacal self-intros go, “Hebrew” solidly places Eshy among the genuine players.

But there are couple of disappointments. The sad irony contained within the main loop of “School Sucks”, “I don’t really want to go to school ‘cuz they don’t really teach me nothin” doesn’t exactly evoke respect for someone who purports to be a word artist. And while “Kill the Boss” echoes Eminem’s “Kill You,” so-angry-it’s-funny aesthetic, it’s not much of a message for the young people.

Overall, though, Eshy’s effort is worth a listen. The surface attitude belies an obvious knowledge and care for language; the lyrical complexity and original beats buoys this artist into the ranks of the authentic rappers, Jewish or not.

*photo courtesy of Daily Jews.