The Very Bad Day

Today is Tisha B’Av, and it’d be one mofo of a day if it was 586 BCE or the year 70, or even 1492.

Tisha B’Av
is basically the Jewish Anniversary of Awful: On this day in 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar and his army of mad Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in Jerusalem, murdering 100,000 Jews and exiling a million. In 70AD, the Romans did the same to the Second Temple, only they killed two million and exiled everyone else. The anti-Semitic Spanish monarchs expelled all their Jews on this day in 1492 (yes, the same year their bitch Columbus was handing out syphilis to the indigenous people of the Americas.)

There are even more ugly coincidences on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av: officially being kicked out of England in 1290, the deportation of Warsaw’s Jews to the Ghetto in 1942, the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 (technically, it was the day after the ninth, but it was still Tisha B’Av on the West Coast) and in 2005, the beginning of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza the forced expulsion of the residents of Gush Katif (no matter whose side you’re on, that was not a good day for anyone involved.) And yet, impossibly, there are even more calamities listed here.

Observant Jews commemorate this day with a fast and restriction on anything that smacks of work, play or sex. Portions of “Lamentations” are recited at synagogue along with special elegies–sometimes there’s crying as our people bemoan all the really heavy sh*t that’s come down on us and pray for better times.

Jews like me–that is to say, those who do not take the time out of our lives to participate in this communal mourning–might be at work, clicking around the ‘net, feeling a vague blue moodiness and promising ourselves that we will light a yartzeit (memorial) candle when we get home tonight for all of those who endured horror on past ninths of Av.

While there’s still time for Ahmedinejad to push the button or Hamas to throw another PR flotilla party, I’m thinking 2010 won’t appear on the Tisha B’Av list. May getting rained on be the worst thing that happens to any of us today.

*Francesco Hayez’s depiction of the destruction of the Second Temple from essential-architecture.com.

Digging in the (Internet) Dirt

efw-1I read about Southern Ohio’s Newark Earthworks in a recent issue of Newsweek, and I was so curious about this massive network of geometric mounds built by ancient North American inhabitants known as the Hopewell People that I went a’Googling.

It seems the Hopewell People built dozens of large-scale earthen mounds from 100 BCE to 500 CE, long before that douche Christopher Columbus decided to claim these parts. Some of the mounds correspond to celestial events like the 18.6 year lunar cycle, certainly enough to establish the scientific intelligence of these ancient folks. But how do archaeologists explain this giant chanukiah, mapped near the East Fork of the Little Miami River in 1823 by the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers? I guess you could say it’s an explainable coincidence that native Americans constructed something that resembles a ritual tool used by people halfway around the world to commemorate the miracle of oil lasting eight days, but even the shape above the menorah is clearly an oil lamp. Spooky, right?

Read on, because it gets so much weirder: Two artifacts, known as the Decalogue and Keystone, were uncovered at the Newark Earthworks in 1860. The Decalogue is a stone inscribed on four sides with condensed version of the Ten Commandments written in “a peculiar form of post-Exilic square Hebrew letters” with a figure that can easily be identified as Moses. The Keystone has the phrases “Holy of Holies,” “King of the Earth,” “The Law of God,” and “The Word of God” written in a more recognizable form of Hebrew. A few years later, two more stones were found, then lost, suggesting a trove of mysterious Judaica in the mounds — or a giant hoax.

There’s an enduring “Lost Tribe of Israel” theory that there were Jewish people in American long before the first Jewish settlers were kicked out of Spain and Portugal. The Maccabee’s revolt and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem took place in second century BCE, so it’s entirely plausible these early Ohioans were refugees of the Jewish Diaspora who knew the story of the oil and the nine-armed menorah, who laid tefillin and valued the Torah.

But such bubbeminze is generally dismissed by scholars, Jewish and not. After all, how would they have made it from Jerusalem to Ohio in 100 BCE, after all? You think international travel is a pain in the tuchus now, those Jews would’ve had it way worse than stale peanuts and a $25 charge for an extra suitcase.

But why would have some guys in the 19th-century go through the trouble of cutting stone to make elaborate forgeries, and how would they have accessed arcane information about Second Temple practices? J. Huston McCullough, a professor at Ohio State University, lays out all the evidence and comes down on the side that the Newark artifacts — including stone bowls found with the Decalogue — are more than credible – read for yourself.

Perhaps the resistance to recognizing the presence of Jews in America before Jesus was even born is too frightening, not to mention daunting — that’d be a whole HELL of a lot of history to rewrite.

Saguaro Menorah Miracle

saguaromenorahFrom the state that boasts a “Mother Mary on a tortilla sighting” at least once a year comes this article from Arizona about an eight-armed cactus growing in a Jewish front yard.

Can it be interpreted as an act of God that this prickly plant found a Jewish home and not a one where it would be forced to spend the winter season as an octopus wearing a Santa hat?

Owner Mel Kline calls the 135 year-old saguaro a symbol of peace, and dubs the “natural living Chanukah menorah” as “a lasting symbol of freedom in today’s world.”

I hope he still feels that way when crowds of meshuggenehs seeking a sign from above begin camping on the front lawn to be blessed by glow of this burning bush — Oh, wait. Jews don’t camp.

Miracle or no, it’s still magnificent!

(Hat tip: The Supreme Grand Yenta of Scottsdale, my mom.)

Semite By Day, Redneck By Night

convergence2006I know you all have been waiting with bated breath to see if I used my journalistic stealth to find my way into Convergence 2006, a meeting of top Israeli dignitaries in the unlikely setting of coastal Georgia. You have permission to exhale, because in spite of my fast-and-free journalism skills and general farblongentness, I did manage to crash the concluding ceremonies Tuesday morning.

Unfortunately, the main thing I found out was how much I’d missed.

The first person I ran into was the moderator of the event, Kevin Cohen, an award-winning talk show host for WVOC out of Columbia, SC. He was kind enough to fill in the blanks of the press release and the local paper’s precoverage, which focused on the organizers’ controversial views of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. This caused Kevin to roll his eyes. “That wasn’t even mentioned here.”

The sensationalism of tearing down mosques to build a Third Temple may have made more interesting copy, but the real story here is the assembly of so many powerful Jews in one place. “This has been such an amazing event,” said Kevin, shaking his head at me for being so lame to show up at the end. “You’ve had members of the Knesset, IDF generals, representatives from [U.S.] Congress, all talking about Israel with intelligence and passion.”

The “star of the show,” according to Kevin, was Dr. Arie Eldad, who represents the Moledet party in the Knesset, is a former IDF Brigadier General and one of the world’s foremost burn specialists. Eldad’s beliefs that the creation of an Arab state would be a disaster, and that any more withdrawals would be a huge mistake, may not be very popular with American liberals, but many of the others echoed that the only way to peace is to stand its ground and not give up even an inch more land.

Other speakers included Knesset members Limor Livnat and Yuval Steinitz, the outspoken head of the Zionist Organization of America Mort Klein, media analyst and Sopranos-lookalike Raanan Gissin, Congressmen Jack Kingston and Joe Wilson, Rabbi Eliezer Ben Yehuda and IDF generals Giora Eiland, Eliu Ben Onn and Moshe Yaalon, who some where whispering could become Israel’s next prime minister. Even though security was tight, it was probably good that the event was tucked away on Huntington Island in the sleek and stunning Convention Center rather than one of Savannah’s more historic but higher profile locations.

The shibboleth for the conference was “facing claims and challenges of Israel’s Future in the Middle East,” which may reveal something of the attendees’ and speakers’ politics. This was no “let’s-say-a-b’rucha-for-peace” kind of crowd; both Israeli and American military experts spoke on the necessity of not only curbing Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but bringing down its current leadership by whatever means necessary.

The conference’s decidedly hawkish bent is part of the reason much of Savannah’s Jewish community — including Mickve Israel’s rabbi — distanced itself from the event. That’s a real shanda, since all Jews need to be educated about Israel, no matter what their opinion is of its politics. Sitting there in the sanctuary-like auditorium listening to experts clarify the reality of Israel’s fight not only against violent, irrational enemies but what Raanan Gissin called its “war of perception” in the world media, an already existing fire was fanned in my belly. Though I support Israel in my heart, I tend to shy away from discussions about its politics, because, frankly, I turn into flubber-tongued dunderhead and nine times out of ten start to cry out of frustration at my own and other people’s ignorance. So I’m committing myself to learn more about how to educate people about the truth of Israel calmly and clearly. (The Israel Project is a terrific resource for this.)

There was also a strong Christian presence at the event, whom organizer Orly Benny Davis called “our good friends.” I know there are some who reject the Bible Belt’s support of Israel because of its creepy Messianic implications, but I say whoever loves Israel is family, Jewish or not.

Yeah, I’m a bleeding heart liberal who wants everyone of all religions and races to put down the bombs and hold hands and dance a Persian hiphop hora to African drums. But the grown-ups know that it’s not going to be that easy for the Jews; never has been, never will be. The business of the Middle East is all of our business; whether you wear a giant Zionist ‘Z’ on your chest or you disagree with pretty much everything Israel does, American Jews, especially us lazy ones here in the South, cannot ignore her.

Am Yisrael Chai, yo. All in all, it was a rich day for this transplanted Savannah Jew. I returned to the other side of the river a changed woman, a more enhanced Semite. But I had to switch gears and put on my redneck hat right quick, because at the other convention center, country-fried rock icon Gregg Allman was tuning up. Falafel and peaches, baby —- it’s Southern Jewish life.

Photo of Orly Benny Davis and Raanan Gissin by John Carrington c/o Savannah Morning News.

Shabbat Shalom, Sushi For Dinner

Here at temporary Yenta headquarters there’s been a bit of a YouTube obsession this week, which is now hopefully out our system. But you might as well finish out the week with a full-scale production of “Fiddler On The Roof” … in Japanese. You’re welcome.

(Cheers to British Yenta Laura Harris for the tip!)

Return of the Yenta

Hello again, friends! Since signing off six weeks ago, the Yenta family has arrived safe and sound in Savannah, GA after a major cross country adventure bubbeminza.

But before I regale you with tales of Jewish experiences in the most unexpected places, let me thank the immensely gifted and resourceful Pepe Pringos for manning the helm while I was away from any wireless. His skills and perspective welcome here anytime. Muchas gracias, amigo!

Even though I was away from online Jewish life, the world itself had plenty of reminders: After packing up our home and leaving our beloved Fairfax, CA on June 20, our trusty minivan (she’s ugly, but she gets the job done) took us through Yosemite, with its stunning geology and skyscraping waterfalls, to Monument Valley, AZ, close to where this photo was taken. Kayenta, AZ is on the Navajo Indian reservation, providing us endless amusement as this Yenta searched for possible Native American cousins.

Strangely enough, we actually found some: At the tiny outpost of Four Corners — the junction of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado — an Israeli flag flew proudly above one of the souvenir stalls selling turquoise necklaces, dreamcatchers and sand paintings. When I remarked to the vendor that this was a pretty unusual place to encounter an Israeli flag, he answered in the distinguished, dignified way of the Navajo that “We love Jesus, so we love Israel and all its people. We are proud to support Israel.” Rather than point out the disturbing theological paradox of this statement, I felt that I had found a comrade out in the middle of desert nowhere and bought three dreamcatchers.

It was some time before we encountered anymore Jewish symbolism as we drove through the big fat Bible Belt that squeezes America. We passed under the shadow of the largest cross in the Western Hemisphere in Texas, and shared an unfortunate stretch of highway with a woman, her two children and a “White Power” bumper sticker affixed to their white Chevy in Oklahoma. Fortunately, a visit to the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas restored out faith in America’s intellectual and diplomatic civility as Bill himself narrated the virtual tour of his accomplishments.

Memphis, TN made us feel right at home — well, actually, the home was Elvis’. El Yenta Man broke out his zebra pants to wear at Graceland, where many Jewish-themed items were on display in the mansion, the chai necklace the King wore through most of 1977 and a kabbalistic patch. But Elvis’ Jewish roots shouldn’t surprise you — at the very least, he served as one family’s Shabbos goy in his teen years.

After a detour through the gorgeous mountains of North Carolina, the minivan deposited us at Tybee Island, Georgia just in time for Fourth of July fireworks and a very special guest: Pepe Pringos himself! En route with his Canadian lady to Miami, Pepe stopped in to witness the sky show and entertain three generations with some good old-fashioned Columbian Jewish freestyle rapping. It was truly a Yenta family moment. And a shehekianu moment as well — if there was ever a time to thank God for bringing us to any day, it was the day all of us arrived safe and sound from one end of the country to the other.

Now that I’m wired, I’ll see what I can do to catch up on all the Jewishy doing around the globe, which one doesn’t need a router to know that it ain’t all good news. But I’d rather take a Katushya rocket in the tushy than let the bastards get me down.

Happy 4th of July!

In the spirit of today’s national celebration of independence, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I want to share this cool Rosh Hashana greeting card from the early 1900′s. It pretty much sums up how Jews for the last 200+ years have benefited from the religious freedom that this country has protected for its citizens and immigrants alike. From the wikipedia, here is the caption that accompanied this image:

Under the Imperial Russian coat of arms, traditionally dressed Russian Jews, packs in hand, line Europe’s shore as they gaze across the ocean. Waiting for them under an American eagle holding a banner with the legend “Shelter me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalms 17:8), are their Americanized relatives, whose outstretched arms simultaneously beckon and welcome them to their new home.

This “religious freedom” trend caught on and now we are welcomed in just about every free nation on this great green marble we call Earth. Lets celebrate our freedom and our unity today!

Kosher Cosmos: Shabbat In Space

Jewish Daffy Duck - Outer SpaceCool news, NASA is actually accommodating Jewish Astronauts:

NASA is seeking to consult rabbis regarding the necessary arrangements and ways to uphold Torah commandments in space. Among other things, there is a need to determine at every stage in the space flight the position of Jerusalem in relation to the space station, so that astronauts know which was to turn when praying.

Until the Israeli Space Agency can launch its own astronauts we’ll have to rely on NASA’s efforts to adapt it’s shuttles and space stations for the needs of current and future “Jews in Space” (like Mel Brooks in Spaceballs). What would that freeze-dried Kosher space food taste like?

I also wonder, when humans finally reach other star systems, how will we stay synchronized with the Hebrew Calendar without the Sun or the moon? (Drop some ideas in the comments section!)

El Pepe Revealed

Pepe Pringos! The Head Yenta herself called on me, her trusty relief hitter, to step up to the plate and knock a few out of the park (without using Barry Bonds “juice”) while she relocates to red clay country. I’m just a product of the Jewish Diaspora (from Colombia) enjoying the sun in South Florida.

41st street has some of my favorite Kosher spots on Miami Beach, not to mention that Chinese Kosher spot on Collins. I should be tanned from all of the time I spend on this island commonly known as Miami Beach. I love the fact that these neighborhoods feel like “little Tel Aviv” instead of Tony Montana’s old stomping grounds from the 80′s. There’s no better place to have fun, sun, and Friday nights with your bubbe lighting candles.

While I may not match the Head Yenta in blogging speed I do hope I can fulfil your daily reading pleasures with my random blog posts. Enjoy the funky logo I cooked up for my pen name.

Israel is lookin’ good!

On JTA.org they dispel any notion of Israel being too dangerous to visit. There are actually waiting lists full of eager tourists from all over the word who want to enjoy Israel thought the “Birthright Israel Program”. You can catch an educational tour for the low low price of gratis. Here’s the quick blurb from JTA.org below:

The birthright israel program celebrated the arrival in Israel of its 100,000 participant.

New York City resident Stephanie Lowenthal, 26, arrived Tuesday, becoming the 100,000th young Jewish adult from around the world to enjoy the free educational tours of the country.

“Taglit-birthright israel has brought about a dramatic change, making Israel more attractive to the young generation of Diaspora Jews, and for the first time in decades there are waiting lists for people wanting to come to Israel,” said the program’s CEO, Shimshon Shoshani.

Some 12,000 Jews will arrive in Israel through the program in the summer of 2006, from 28 countries.

While some folks are running scared on 6/6/06, we’d like to fill our day with good news instead.