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!

 

When Jews Owned Slaves

leadLiving in Savannah, GA, one can not really escape the horrid specter of slavery: I mean, if you are any kind of awake, you understand that this pretty little city, the South, this whole dang country wouldn’t be here if weren’t for the labor and skills of enslaved Africans.

While there may be reminders in Maya Angelou’s powerful words at the feet of nicey-nice memorials and clues in the thumbprints of brick buildings, the stories of these tortured men, women and children–let alone their actual names–rarely made it to the metanarrative of local history. But that is finally changing:

I wrote a cover story for Connect Savannah a few months back about how city archivists are using old records to document the local government’s participation in the slave trade. The results of the project are now available, providing primary sources for academics and anyone else interested in real history.

A recent article in The Atlantic by my friend Kris Monroe details the largest slave auction in American history that took place in Savannah in March 1859. Only marginally discussed on the trolley tours if at all, this terrible event known as “The Weeping Time” sold off 436 human beings and split apart hundreds of families. There’s a little plaque west of the tourist corridor that commemorates the Weeping Time, but few people outside of Savannah knew about it until Kris brought it to a national readership.

There’s also this piece by Susanna Ashton in today’s Forward that focuses on Charleston and explains why Savannah’s Jewish community–the third oldest in the U.S.–took a nose dive just eight years after it was established:

One important population influx took place in 1741, when a large contingent of Jewish families left their homes in Savannah, Georgia, to resettle in Charleston because trustees of the Georgia colony would not let them (or anyone else) hold slaves. The state of South Carolina, which had long embraced slaveholding, was thus a welcoming place for these families. By 1749, when Georgia rethought the ban and decided to allow slaveholding, it was too late.

Ashton’s article reminds that with the South’s historic Jewish communities comes a certain responsibility to the truth of that history: Much of the success and prosperity of those early families was built on the scarred backs of others. As a Southern Jew of more modest origins, I think it’s high time that Jewish communities researched the enslaved people who helped build the synagogues and businesses. Who were they? How can we remember and include them into our bigger story?
This weekend, Savannah is hosting The Slave Dwelling Project Conference, a gathering of academics and artists from all over the South who will discuss the preservation of slave history. Rumor has it that Kosher Soul chef and Afroculinaria blogger Michael Twitty may make an appearance, which would be a tremendous opportunity. (I’ve been trying to get him to my Shabbos table ever since his “Open Letter to Paula Deen” went viral!)
It’s an odd notion to consider for most of us, this Jews-owning-slaves business, considering our own past as slaves. Though it should come as no surprise for those with relatives who have been in America since the 18th and 19th centuries.
Even though I’ve scoured the family tree for any slaveholding branches and it’s come up empty, it’s times like this that I like to remind people: Hey, I married in.

Shavuot: The Forgotten Holiday

imagesIt’s time for Shavuot already? Errrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmm, I forgot.

I know, in past years I waxed on about my awesome holiday crafts and bragged about how the strawberries were bursting like I’m some kind of balabusta.

Well, this year the garden’s a little wilder and life’s a little messier. Sorry I’ve not gotten around to decorating my Shavuot table with peonies. Though Kveller’s Bethany Herwegh did and it’s simply lovely.

(I do so adore the Pintrest-y direction Jewish lifestyles blogs are taking! Even if makes me feel like the worst Jewish mother ever. I bet Bethany is a true balabusta who never forgets to replenish the Shabbos candles and has to use jack o’lantern votives scrounged from the junk drawer. *sigh*.)

You’ve got to admit, Shavuot is not the Jewish holidays cycle’s most thrilling point on the pinwheel. This year it falls into June, and with school out and everyone already in full-on summer mode and I’m more in the mood for margarita pie than I am for cheesecake.

But then my Jewish guilt gets all riled, and I go looking for a little Torah knowledge, since Shavuot is a harvest festival meant to celebrate the giving of the tablets to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Or is it?

Elon Gilad writes in Ha’aretz that with its uncertain name and twisted history, Shavuot might not even be a holy day at all:

In its earliest stages, during the First Temple period, Shavuot was an appendage to Passover, the first of the two major agricultural holidays. Shavuot marked the end of the festival (Atzeret) of the 50-day period called the Omer, between the harvest of barley – Passover – and the harvest of wheat.

During First Temple times, two loaves would have been baked out of that first batch o’ barley, brought to Jerusalem and used in a massive ritual he rightfully deems “complicated, bloody, and expensive.” Gilad explains that according to the Torah, the loaves were “waved before The Lord” with wine and “a complicated array of animal sacrifices.”

That kind of partying just simply isn’t sustainable, and the practice was wildly adapted over the years until somehow—and no one really knows, not even the most sagacious among us—we got to cheesecake and blintzes.

Gilad concludes with good-natured realism that while all-night study sessions that include the Book of Ruth are still the rage in the yeshivas, most less-than-pious Jews don’t get too fancy about Shavuout other than to eat some dairy deliciousness.

So maybe I shouldn’t feel so badly, sitting here with my peony-less table and my blintz-less freezer.

But now that I’m aware of my farblogence, I can’t stop thinking about Shavuot and its opportunity to absorb its compelling and confusing spiritual gifts.

Maybe I can work up a hankering for a pizza.

 

 

How A Stolen Ketubah Almost Ruined Snow White’s Jewish Wedding

Thank you to Tablet for posting this clip of actress/glamor elf Ginnifer Goodwin recounting to Jimmy Kimmel how her ketubahthe fancy Jewish wedding contract that basically says a husband can’t abandon his wife without shelling out some serious cashwas stolen then recovered the morning of her wedding:

I love this story for a few reasons. First, off my kids adore Godwin’s show Once Upon A Time and I can’t wait to tell them that Snow White is Jewish. That she married Prince Charming is extra adorable. Guessing sparrows and fairies bearing smoked herring will attend their child’s birth.

Second, that the rolled up piece of paper was found by people who could actually discern what it was clearly reflects a divine hand, no?

Lastly, l am no stranger to ketubah drama. On the morning of our wedding, as El Yenta Man and I were preparing ourselves to meet under the chuppah, the rabbi, who was no one’s favorite, decided he didn’t like the Hebrew lettering on it.

I was not present for the ensuing temper tantrum, but I heard murmuring that the rabbi was yelling at the top of his lungs ten minutes before the ceremony. On our honeymoon my new husband told me how our gorgeous wedding almost didn’t happen because the rabbi literally refused to sign the document that a Jewish artist friend had prepared for us. Apparently after a stern talking-to from my father, he made a big show about scribbling a “real” ketubah from a scrap from the recycling pile.

After the dizzy ride where I circled my groom seven times, I was a little confused as to why I had to sign the back of a flyer to the Sisterhood luncheon as well as the painting. But at that point I was so starry-eyed I would have signed my name in Sharpie on my dress.

All I know is the rabbi no longer shepherds that congregation. The ketubah still hangs over our bed.

Passover panic

fb5c40e8259a0c32549d3af2d870d453Ummm I think I just agreed to hosting the seder this year at my house.

All these years, I’ve managed to duck that responsibility by visiting my parents in Arizona or getting ourselves invited elsewhere. Even though El Yenta Man and I planned and cooked the Passover meal in Savannah a couple of years ago, the deed was actually done at my in-law’s house a few blocks away.

This year, with my mother-in-law barely breathing yet still hanging on to life from her adjustable bed in the back room, I think it’s just too much for my father-in-law logistically and emotionally to host. So it’s our turn to be the grown-ups, even if we don’t own a set of matching dishes.

You’d think after attending 40-something seders in my life, I would have a handle on what all this entails. And I do, mostly: There’s the cleaning of the chametz and the brisket and buying both colors of horseradish and digging out the recipe for that marvelous pea paté “faux gras” everyone likes until they find out what’s in it.

But something’s eluding me. Oh yes. That would be my EVER-LOVING SANITY. Even in the non-holiday times, I am barely hanging on with the full-time job and the full-time wife-ing and mothering and the neverending laundry and unrealized ambitions and remembering to take my Graves’ disease medication. (Errm, actually, forgetting it several times this week may be contributing to my mental confusion. Add that to the list.)

There is just something about being responsible for the continuation of the Jewish people’s epic five thousand seven hundred something year history that I find VERY OVERWHELMING. While no Orthodox rabbi would ever approve of my unkashered kitchen, it’s still important to try and do things as correctly and meaningfully as I can, even if it means I end up rocking in the corner of the pantry trying to remember if kidney beans are kitniyot. (They are, and I’m not sure I care.)

Anyway, I was quite glad to run across this lovely article, 10 Steps to a More Serene Passover by Rivka Caroline on chabad.org. Rivka is a rabbi’s wife and has seven children, so if she can stay sane during Passover, surely I can figure this out.

First thing I’m going to do is make good on my yearly promise to clean out–really clean out–the pantry. (More on that DIY project to come next week.)

Then, I’m gonna pack up my in-laws’ gathering-dust-in-the-cabinent china and shlep it over. For the better prepared, Passover (aka “Pesach” with an “acch”) requires its own set of special dishes.

The least I can do is borrow some matching ones.

*coveting this gorgeous hamsa seder plate at Moderntribe.com!

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!

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!

Sov Sov Sov ’til Ya Drop

Image

In case you missed it, here’s my local take on the Chanukah/Thanksgiving mash-up in the current Connect Savannah. Hope to see some of you braving the chill for the Torch Relay on Wednesday afternoon!

In the meantime, Conan O’Brien and his farmisht Turkey Dreidel Man illustrate the dizzying Thanksgivukkah madness quite perfectly:

Lorde Might Not Celebrate Thanksgivukkah, But We’ll Always Have “Oils”…

Oh, you thought we were done with Thanksgivukkah ranting? Please. We have eight nights to fill.

Here’s the talented Big Teeth Productions‘ pop earworm answer to the mishegoss:

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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