Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival this Sunday, Oct. 26!

The Great Fressing of Savannah takes place this weekend – here’s my piece in this week’s Connect Savannah:

ALL RIGHT, Savannah, are y’all ready to fress?

Any Jewish grandma would happily explain that “to fress” means “to eat with great gusto” in Yiddish. That same bubbe will also tell that you don’t need to know a shlemiel from a shlemazel to enjoy the Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival, loxing up Forsyth Park this Sunday, Oct. 26.

This year over 10,000 noshers—some coming straight from church—are expected to descend on booths stretching from Gaston Street to the fountain for a variety of traditional Jewish and Israeli treats, from vats of matzah ball soup to sizzling potato latkes to garlicky hummus.

click to enlarge It wouldn’t be the Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival without many vats of delicious and medicinal matzah ball soup. Photo by Becky Smith/Photos By Becky

  • It wouldn’t be the Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival without many vats of delicious and medicinal matzah ball soup. Photo by Becky Smith/Photos By Becky

Speaking of tradition (any Fiddler on the Roof fans out there?), what began in 1988 as a tiny fundraiser for Congregation Mickve Israel has evolved into one of the city’s most beloved culinary events. Connect readers voted it their favorite food festival in 2013, and it’s regularly touted as a “don’t miss” on TripAdvisor.

It’s also a massive undertaking to feed 10,000 people, no matter how many machers are in the kitchen. (Macher = “person who gets things done,” usually while other people are sleeping.)

New congregant Risa Perl didn’t quite know what she committed to when agreed to take on the role of chair this year. She quickly found out it’s a full-time job, one she has spent every day working on since March —along with studying for her adult bat mitzvah, the Jewish rite of passage.

click to enlarge shalom1-1.jpg

“Fortunately, I’ve had the help of about 300 volunteers, who have not only helped make this festival happen but have also made me feel like I’ve been part of this community for years,” says Perl, who moved from Port St. Lucie, FL to help her son adjust to life at SCAD.

She celebrated her bat mitzvah last month, and it turns out she’s a real balabusta (kind of like a macher to the 100th power): “I’ve actually signed on to chair the festival for the next four years.”

Perl and her crew have baked and braised and stuffed and rolled to make sure you won’t leave hungry, but this gathering isn’t just about the food. Here’s five more fabulous things you’ll find at Shalom Y’all besides the fressing:

5. Beer

Habersham Beverages owner Bubba Rosenthal has arranged for many kegs of He’Brew Beer, crafted by Shmaltz Brewing Company in Clifton Park New York.

“We’ll be right across from the kosher hot dogs—what goes together better than a hot dog and beer?” asks Rosenthal.

Be sure to toss back that to-go cup of He’Brew with the traditional Jewish toast to life—L’chaim! (Pronounced “Le-HIGH-im,” with a little throaty growl the second syllable.)

4. Bling

The Sisterhood Baubles booth collects costume jewelry and donated earrings, necklaces and other adornments all year long to raise funds for the synagogue and its various charitable activities. Treasures abound, from tasteful pearl-drop pendants to stars of David the size of a hubcap.

Please note that no one, but NO ONE, hoards flowered brooches like the bubbes in this town.

3. Entertainment

From the first blow of the shofar (ram’s horn) that designates the commencement of the festivities, the stage around the Forsyth fountain will resonate with delightful music: Danielle Hicks and the Eight Ohm Resistance ought to wake up everyone’s appetites with a honeyed mix of blues, rock and reggae, which may inspire a spontaneous round of the hora.

They’ll be followed by the mellower sounds of the Savannah Philharmonic Trio (the bubbes always say that classical music is good for digestion.)

click to enlarge Danielle Hicks and the Eight Ohm Resistance will rev up the festivities along with the Savannah Philharmonic Trio. Photo by Blake  Crosby

  • Danielle Hicks and the Eight Ohm Resistance will rev up the festivities along with the Savannah Philharmonic Trio. Photo by Blake Crosby

Should you feel the need to work off some of that extra chopped liver later in the afternoon, the Maxine Patterson School of Dance will lead a session of Israeli folk dancing.

2. Culture, dahlink

The Shalom Y’all Food Festival is an opportunity to support and learn about the third oldest Jewish congregation in America, established July 11, 1733—just five months after General Oglethorpe staked out the city of Savannah. (Take that, you Northerners who think the only Jewish people in the South live in Boca.)

Housed in the Gothic architectural gem on Monterey Square, Congregation Mickve Israel remains a tourist favorite (TripAdvisor users rank it No. 6 out of 122 attractions offered in the city) as well as a vibrant part of the Savannah community. Its members support dozens of interfaith and social justice activities each year, including Congregations in Service and Backpack Buddies, which provides food to local schoolchildren over the weekend.

Should you have any questions regarding Judaism, theology and/or Star Trek, to stop by the new “Ask the Rabbi” booth, manned by Mickve Israel’s Rabbi Robert Hass.

“This booth wasn’t my idea at all,” admits Rabbi Hass when asked why he chose to offer his sagacious services at the festival.

“The decision was made when I offered to cook.”

1. Who are we kidding? It’s about the food.

People wait all year for a plate of those crispy, golden-fried potato latkes, served with a dollop of sour cream and spoonful of applesauce. Ditto for the deli sandwiches—served with your choice of corned beef, pastrami or tongue. Other savory dishes include tangy stuffed cabbage and Sizzling Sephardic Lamb.

Then there’s those sweet cheese-filled blintzes, or maybe you go in for noodle kugel, baked just right to get that crown layer of crunch.

Various sweets—including the rugelach ubiquitous in every bubbe’s cookie jar—are ready for your carbo-loading pleasure, along with 750 loaves of challah.

Buy food tickets at either end of the festival; each ticket is $1 and most items range from $3-$9. Everything is available to go, maybe for the sick friend who could use the medicinal benefits of matzah ball soup.

Speaking of soup, here’s the difference between a shlemiel and shlmazel: Both are real shmos, but the shlemiel is the guy who spills the soup and the shlemazel is the one who gets spilled upon.

But you, you’re the macher who gets in line long before both of them.

Here’s to All the Beautiful Girls (and All of Them Are Beautiful)

141010121544-01-malala-nobel-1010-horizontal-galleryOh, what a joy that the brave and amazing Malala Yousafzai has won the Nobel Peace Prize!

She shares the prize with Indian children’s slavery activist Kailash Satyarthi, and together they portend a shift in the global temperature regarding gender and youth: Girlstheir health, their well-being, their contributions to the worldmatter.

For millennia and in so many places still, girls have been shoved aside, denied education and treated as property. When Taliban can send a gunman to kill a schoolgirl and terrorists can still steal hundreds of innocent young women from their families, Malala is both a symbol of the death of the poisonous patriarchy and hope that humanity might get it together after all.

Her victory means even more as Little Yenta Girl and I just returned from Southeastern Women’s Herbal Conference, a yearly gathering of sisterly camaraderie and classes in the gorgeous mountains of Western North Carolina, where the trees are just beginning to flash their fall colors.

I’ve been attending since 2007 to deepen my understanding of natural remedies to nourish my family and to spend time with like-minded sisterfolk who dig a good drum circle. Over the years I’ve learned and implemented the medicinal uses of honey, how to prepare a poultice for a bee sting, the herbal pharmacopia used by slaves and a thousand uses for lavender. This is where I get tips on how to sneak more astragalus into the soup and how long to boil down bones for the best broth. It’s where I take in big breaths of unconditional love for my one precious life.

I used to bring along Yenta Boy until his *ahem* britches got too big and began wrinkling his nose every time I said the word “vagina.” I sure hope the knowledge he absorbed stays with him as he forges his own life in the Instagram era. Now my lil’ girl has finally come of age to be initiated in the wise woman ways.

Even though we live in a country where women are free to drive, go to school and wear what they please, our society is still sick with rape culture, inequality in the work force, sexualization of children and Nicky Minaj. Girls and women (along with boys and men!) receive so much negative conditioning about their bodies and social roles, but so terribly little about their inherent gifts and those of the planet itself.

It feels like a very big deal to be a mama to strong, beautiful girl right now, and and I am so grateful she had the opportunity to supplement her education in the following ways:

She sat in the Red Tent with her Soil Sisters (aged 10-13) learning that when her body becomes activated by the moon, she is powerful, not dirty.

She learned that the Earth and its plants are allies for our own health, and the best medicines can often be found growing right outside our front door.

She saw women of all shapes and colors and ages, learning that womanhood is expressed in a kaleidoscope, not a scale.

She helped build a mandala out of flowers to honor the sacred feminine element within all of us.

She ate and danced and drummed with no one telling her “too much, too loud, too wild.”

She was validated and valued for being a girl, that she can and will participate in the healing of the world, including helping the boys and men embrace their own sacred femininity.

What could the world become if every girl received the same sacred education?

Easy, Fast? What Yom Kippur Isn’t

yom-kippur-ecards-free-yom-kippur-cards-funny-yom-kippur-11The last hours of 5774 are waning in the rearview mirror, and once again I find myself famisht.

This evening begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, our one last chance at tshuvah — redemption — for the coming year. As the cover of the Book of Life starts to close this evening with the Kol Nidre service and stays open just a crack, we fast and pray for our names and those we love to be written inside.

It’s very nerve-wracking. First off, there’s all the meditating on all the ways a person can perish — fire, water, sword, stoning, wild beast, strangulation — I swear, the Unetaneh Tokef prayer is like a Game of Thrones production meeting.

Then there’s the assumption that we’re all basically hopeless assholes with no chance in (the) hell (we don’t believe in) that we’re going to escape God’s wrath. We Jews don’t go in for much talk about sin for the rest of the year, but on Yom Kippur, every one of us has a soul as filthy as the bottoms of the rivers and oceans that we’ve polluted on this glorious green earth.

I like to think of myself as a Pretty Good Person. To the best of my knowledge and limited self-perception, I don’t lie, cheat or steal, unless you count picking gardenias out of the vacant rental property across the street. I visit with my mother-in-law as she wastes away ever-so-slowly. I go out of my way to be nice to people working shitty jobs. I write small checks to dozens of charities, mostly the ones with the most heart-wrenching photos on their marketing materials. And in spite of the fact that no jury would convict me, I have not slapped or punched anyone in the throat this year.

But on Yom Kippur, I come face-to-face with the ugly reality that I didn’t do enough for others this year. I broke promises to myself and to my family. I’ve been lazy and wasteful with money, time and food. I’ve colluded — unconsciously, helplessly, but still — with the greedy capitalistic Godzilla machine that continues exploit other humans so that my children can wear affordable school khakis from the GAP.

I’m not even really that nice. I judge others for their wardrobe mishaps and parenting skills. I talk endless shit about people who annoy me. I pretended to forget to sign up to bring snack to Little Yenta Girl’s class when I really just didn’t feel like it. I have had the chutzpah to kvetch and feel miserable when my life is nothing but a series of beautiful blessings.

On Yom Kippur, we wish each other an “easy fast,” but nothing about this day ought to be easy or fast. It’s humbling to be locked up in synagogue all day as the tummy rumbles and the mind grumbles and the heart contracts with shame and guilt. Every time I get distracted by my own discomfort, I borrow from the Buddhists and bring myself back to the moment, remembering that the “severe decree” of this day can be tempered by tefillah, tzedakeh, teshuvah: Prayer, charity and repentance.

I think I’d rather have a meaningful fast than an easy one, a day of rigorous self-examination that inspires me to do better this year, to be more patient and generous and hopefully a little less of an asshole when things don’t go my way.

But even the most observant say there’s no reason to suffer unnecessarily: Ha’aretz’s “14 Tips to Make the Fast Easier” advises to drink lots of water today and don’t shtuff yourself at the last meal of the year.

Also, this isn’t the time to be “faddish” about carbs—better to eat bread than protein this evening, since “leisurely digesting meat which takes a lot of water from your body that you’re not replenishing, is asking for toilet-mouth and ‘furry’ teeth.”

Gross. Guess I’ll pass on my father-in-law’s chicken this evening. But I’ll do my very best not to judge others’ this Yom Kippur, especially tomorrow afternoon when a noxious cloud of bad breath hangs in the air above the sanctuary like a pack of hyperventilating Dementors has come to visit.

L’shanah tovah to all y’all. May you and yours be judged mercifully and with compassion, and may 5775 be the best year yet.

The New Year is Here!

Rosh Hashanah begins tonight at sundown, and I see no better way to send out 5774 with a bridge between our our sacred traditions and Top 40 pop songs.

Not everyone agrees. All morning I drove the kids crazy by singing, “Across the world, the mighty world, the shofar blows tonight…” They didn’t even appreciate my “AH-wimoweh, AH-wimomeh” choreography.

Perhaps the practice works best when paired with songs of the moment? Check out 5775’s best Jewish parodies as I scramble to ready our home for a new cycle around the sun. (Who am I kidding? We’ll be lucky to get to shul on time tonight. Might have to save burning the honeycakes for tomorrow afternoon.)

Here’s one man spoofing Little Yenta Girl’s favorite tune by the not-so-empowering Meghan Trainer, in which he is thankfully not singing about his zaftig tushy:

And this one is not “Rude” at all, but has a very important message about the New Year tradition of noshing ’til ya drop:

And best for last, here’s wishing y’all a Sweet, Healthy and Happy New Year!

Around the Fire with Michael W. Twitty

twittyWell, slap me with a piece of wet okra and call me a real Southerner!

I had the honor to talk slave cooking, teshuvah and trayf with Mr. Kosher Soul himself, Michael W. Twitty last week and was deeply inspired by the joyful way he claims all parts of his identity. Anyone who can rock tzitzit while peeling a shrimp is my kind of mispocheh!

Here’s the down and dirty account (Cross-posted at Connect Savannah.)

The (Civil) Society Column

It’s the darker side of dusk at Wormsloe Historic Site, and as I pick through the saw palmettos along the dirt path, I’m sure we’ve taken a wrong turn.

“No, it’s just a little further,” urges Forsyth Farmers Market maven Teri Schell as she strides through trees vibrating with the cacophony of cicadas.

I follow behind her, clutching my purse, and try not to shriek when I realize the mosquito I just swatted off my ear was actually a bat. I soldier on, out here in the shadowy woods to track down culinary historian Michael W. Twitty, for whom Teri and I share a certain fascination (fine, call it a foodie crush.)

Twitty has soared to fast fame since he published “An Open Letter to Paula Deen” last year on his blog, Afroculinaria, smack in the midst of Our Lady’s carmelized career meltdown. In his letter, Twitty gently reminded that Southern cooking belongs to us all, but it cannot be discussed honestly without acknowledging its origins in Africa and American slavery.

Wise but not accusatory, the post burned a big hole in the internet after the Huffington Post picked it up, and Twitty has been up to his earlobes in book contracts and speaking engagements ever since.

His forthcoming book, The Cooking Gene, chronicles his adventures and insights as he recreates the meals of his African ancestors in the places they lived and worked, and his social media reflects humorous musings on cultural equality, food justice and creative uses of sorghum.

I don’t know if he’s the only gay, black, Jewish culinarian in the entire world, but this gent is definitely my kind of unicorn. I got all groupie-eyed when I found out Twitty was in Savannah to lead a special presentation for the Slave Dwelling Project Conference, and I’d be damned if any dark, scary forest was going to keep me from meeting him.

When Teri and I arrived at the former plantation, we heard the strike of the djembe and the traditional rhythmic stylings of West Africa—that happened to be provided by Abu Majied Major and his son, Yusuf, who I had just interviewed the day before for the article on this Sunday’s African dance workshop.

The universe so does love its serendipity, and several of the themes that I’d been researching all week for that story were being discussed here around the tables, specifically the preservation of slave history in the American South and its incorporation into the mainstream narrative.

As attendees found their way from the conference’s main locale at the Coastal Georgia Center, one young woman commented on the mile-long tunnel of massive trees that’s made Wormsloe one of Savannah’s most famous photo ops.

“It’s called an ‘oak allee,’” informed Reneé Donnell, a recent grad of UGA’s historic preservation department. “All plantations had them. But we rarely talk about the people who dug those holes.”

While the slave dwelling conference attracted academic historians and archaeologists from around the country, organizer Joe McGill noted there was almost no participation from Savannah universities.

“This subject does not appeal to locals,” observed McGill drily.

That’s a real shame, since Savannah is ground zero for slave history and the perfect place to foster Twitty’s message of inclusive history.

I kept looking over my shoulder for our celebrity culinarian. Teri whispered that she overheard Twitty was preparing his presentation at the Colonial Life Area, “a bit” further down the dirt road.

“Might be our only chance to talk to him without a crowd,” I murmured.

We looked longingly at the long line at the tent housing tantalizing food from Daufuskie Island’s own celebrity chef and Gullah cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson, then snuck away from the tables into the woods.

For a few moments, we were guided by the golden strip of marsh shimmering in the last light of day beyond the trees. Then the curtain of the forest swallows us whole, and we step out of time.

As we trudge, I’m aware how little this land has changed since Noble Jones and his slaves cut its paths almost 300 years ago. My phone and its flashlight are a pocket away, but I don’t dare break the spell.

Finally, we glimpse the flicker of torchfire. We make our way across a footbridge towards the tiny wattle-and-daub shack, smoke rising from the chimney.

Suddenly, there he is: A barrel-chested bear of a man tending the hearth, sweating as he preps plates of okra and peppers on the rustic wooden table.

He is as grand and gregarious as I thought he’d be, his voice higher and more mellifluous than I’d expected.

“Come in, come in!” cries Michael Twitty, wiping his brow.

Teri and I tuck in to watch as he stirs cast iron pots of Muscovy duck and Gulf Coast lamb neck, heritage breeds raised by Bradley Taylor and Cat Compton on their sustainable farm in Sylvania. Knowing the rest of the conference will appear on golf carts momentarily, I spill out a rush of questions like chicken bones at the feet of a voodoo priest.

Though he studied at Howard University and worked at respected sites including Colonial Williamsburg, the 30ish historian approaches his discipline not academically, but as a folk heritage tradition. He remains itinerant, traveling and cooking and educating from the roots up.

“If I was interpreting at an institution or a museum, you’d never hear about me,” he declares, placing a three-legged skillet in the fire by its long handle.

Though corporate network types have come sniffing around his campfires looking for the next foodie star, Twitty’s not interested in being put in a box as “another black chef doing soul food.” His Jewishness also muddies any notion of simple marketability.

“People want uncomplicated narratives,” he shrugs. “That’s not me.”

I can relate. As a Jewish gal with a strong affinity for African dance, I ask about this African-American urbanite’s Jewish soul.

“Roads converge,” he nods sagely, explaining that he converted when he was 22.

“Judaism gave me insight on how to preserve something from generation to generation. It’s a leitmotif, the obligation of the transmission of Jewish culture. Therefore, my black identity and my Jewish identity are inextricable.”

Unlike this heretic, Twitty keeps a kosher home. But that’s not gonna keep him from Sallie Ann’s Lowcountry boil.

“Oh yes, I’m going to get down on this plate of trayf right now, forgive me,” he laughs, nimbly peeling shrimp from shell in less than a second flat.

We talk about the similar forced Diasporas of Jewish and African culture and the non-racial notion of “peoplehood,” a term often used in Jewish circles to navigate the ever-evolving balance between tradition and identity.

“We are but one race on this planet, but our ethnicities are the diversity,” he preaches.

“Our differences are valuable.”

That’s what feeds his passion to protect the culinary heritage of his ancestors. And he’ll kindly call out those who insist on fetishizing slave culture and cuisine—or worse, appropriating it without honoring its origins.

“Collards are the new kale,” he snorts. “Please.”

This, of course, brings us back to Paula Deen. He holds out hope that her people will contact him so he can bring her out to cook biscuits and hamhock around the fire, which y’all have to admit would make some good TV.

“I’m not looking for a confrontation,” he promises.

“I am about reconciliation, I want to have a dialogue. I want to get people talking about how it all fits together.”

With a shake of his wrist, the pan-fried veggies are done. They taste of smoke and spice and the air of the night, echoing with the presence of the enslaved people who likely ate the same dish near this very spot.

“Centuries of stories are contained in a simple meal,” reminds our host.

The golf carts appear out of the dark. It’s time to abdicate our private audience, and the philosopher chef launches into a new round of his fascinating schtick to the arriving group. We part with hugs and calls of mispocheh, the Yiddish word for family.

As Teri and I hitch a ride back with the rangers through the woods, it occurs to me that we’ve reached the Age of Meta: History informs the present as the inclusion of neglected narratives feeds back to our perception of the past. An enlightened future depends on how well we honor our own origins while holding others in the loop.

It’s a lot to chew. Can we ever learn to see ourselves as a peoplehood, each one of us a unique stew of culture and DNA, nourishing and nourished by the same complicated, multi-layered human story?

 

 

Out with a Cackle: Joan Rivers, 1933-2014

imagesOh, Joan, you, too?

Here we are still deep in grief over Robin and his tragically premature exit, and though our girl Betty Bacall stepped out gracefully last month at a ripe old age, the ache from that loss hasn’t quite waned.

And now we’ve lost another treasure who made the world a little less bleak, someone who never failed to help us giggle at the absurdity of it all.

Back when women’s career choices were housewife or secretary, you busted through the glass ceiling of TV comedy with a diamond-sharp wit and unabashed feminism.

You had us in stitches for 60 years—even as your were nursing stitches from all that cosmetic surgery. You could slay sacred cows on the red carpet and get away with flipping a manicured bird to anyone.

Joan Alexandra Molinksky Rosenberg, you gave us loud Jewish women permission to be as loud and Jewish as we are because no matter how opinionated and obnoxious, we could never even come close to your unapologetic, gravel-voiced, Israel-loving, “oh no she di’int” divahood.

You mined your personal pain into productivity as well as profit, and as you once said, “People say money is not the key to happiness, but I always figured if you had enough money, you can have a key made.” Girl, I sure hope there wasn’t a single spot left on your big blingy Gucci keyring by now.

And while we mourn your passing so deeply, I find a certain comfort in the way you went out. Clearly, being under anesthesia while under the knife was something you found endurable if not enjoyable. I have this picture of you floating up above the surgeons, looking down at your body—practically bionic at this point but still, still mortal, no matter how much silicone or titanium or snake venom was inserted into it.

I imagine you saw all the TV series and the clips and the books and the TMZ hits you’d made, and maybe you could even hear the echo of all the snorts and sniggers and chortles and shrieks you’d caused to bubble up out of us over the years, a massive sound cloud of hysterical crows.

Up there on the quiet ceiling of the operating room, maybe you found a certain serenity that had eluded you for so long, even though its absence is what had driven you all these years. Maybe you saw your frail, 81-year-old body and shrugged, “Yeah, fuck this, I’m out, assholes.”

And then I like to think this happened next: With an almond-shaped red nail, you sliced through the silvery cord that binds all of our souls to this earth, gathered up your crazy fur coat, and headed towards the Great Beyond, cackling all the way.

images-1(To see how Joan Rivers’ comedy—and her cheekbones—evolved over the decades, check out The Hollywood Reporter‘s compilation of hilarious clips.)

Elvis WAS A Shabbos Goy (Sorry I Didn’t Believe You, Mom)

imagesIf you didn’t know, my mother is an amazing storyteller.

It’s not just her books that are riveting, but her basic family lore. Her grandmother’s escape from Warsaw, growing up in bohemian Miami Beach in the 1950s, how I knocked my front teeth out the first day of JCC summer camp in 1976all told in fascinating and colorful detail.

Sometimes, however, I suspect her stories employ a certain poetic license. Now, I’m not saying she makes things up, but she has been known to embellish, like when she tells people my literary genius was evident at an early age because I analyzed John Steinbeck when I was 4. (I was 7, and all I got out of it was that Lennie should not be around pets.)

I’m just saying this is where I learned that sometimes creatively interpreting the truth makes it way more entertaining, especially at the dinner table.

For my entire life, I’ve heard about how my grandparents had a friend who knew Elvis Presley as a teenager. Not only knew him, but actually had him come over on Saturdays to act as a “Shabbos goysomeone who can turn the lights on and off and turn on the over during Shabbat, when those acts are forbidden to observant Jews.

This is a great story, right? The King of Rock swiveling his hips through the livingroom on Friday night to flip the light switch? That famous pompadour crooning “Wise men say…” along with the kaddish? It also sounds totally unlikely.

For the decade-plus I’ve been a digital yenta, I’ve been combing the interwebs for corroboration to no avail. I am ashamed to admit I have assumed my mother was either unknowingly repeating someone else’s fiction or had confused Elvis’ love of all things Jewish with her own teenage obsessions. But still, a good story.

But lo and behold, lookie what’s on the Tablet Magazine’s Vox Tablet podcast today: An interview with Harold Fruchter, a Jewish wedding singer who grew up in Memphis in a duplex in the early 1950s. Fruchter’s father was a rabbi, and when the family needed someone to flick a switch on Saturdays, the nice young man named Elvis would come upstairs to help out.

Fruchter recounts how Elvis called his father “Sir Rabbi,” and that his mother bought Elvis cufflinks for his high school graduation. The Man Who Changed Music Forever borrowed his Jewish neighbor’s record player so he could listen to his first recordings.

Mindblowing! I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Mom. The part about me being a genius is real, too, right?

Listen to the 8-minute podcast here.

Do I Want to Know What You Think About Israel?

images-2A friend messaged me last week: “Dying to know what you think about Israel!”

I knew I’d be called out sooner or later. I’m aware I haven’t posted anything about Israel here or on Facebook, not even to share particular articles that have helped me gain a better understanding of what’s been happening in this latest go round of insanity and violence.

(Now that we’re here, however, this one is particularly enlightening.)

Mostly, I’ve stayed quiet because I don’t feel like I have anything useful to add. There are many people with brains far bigger than mine weighing in on the IDF’s excessive force, Hamas’ misappropriation of humanitarian aid and dead children all over the place. Plus, I just don’t have the stomach to go keyboard-to-keyboard in the comments section of obvious anti-Semitic and historically erroneous propaganda.

Let’s face it: Nothing coming out of a computer in Savannah, GA is going to lift a blockade or neutralize rockets or talk sense into anybody halfway around the world. The world is better off with my hippie peace prayers, said and felt sincerely for every person, everywhere.

But if I’m being really honest, I haven’t jumped into the increasingly hostile conversation because I don’t want to lose any more friends. Back in California, I once almost ruined a four year-old’s birthday party by arguing Israel vs. the Palestinians with one of my neighbors. Another time I also threw a plate of falafel back at some asshole in the middle of my neighborhood’s community festival for selling to me with a note attached to the plate that said “Free Palestine from the Israeli Nazis.”

These confrontations made me so angry I could barely speak. They also made me afraid. These were people who screamed in my face about burning rubble in Gaza and then condoned the vandalism of an American synagogue as understandable retribution. They were anti-Semitic but wouldn’t admit it, condescendingly “explaining” that “I don’t have anything against Jews, I just think Israel is evil.”

Living in the South for the past eight years, I’ve gotten used to a more benign, even welcoming attitude towards Israel, which creeped me out at first and still makes me nervous since it often seems attached to an evangelical agenda.

Truth be told, I’m just not interested debating Israel’s “right to exist” or its right to defend itself. Nor am I interested in doing a ring-around-the-rosie dance to usher in the End Times.

My thoughts on Israel? I am amazed at how a few kibbutzniks have turned a dusty sliver of land into a bustling, fruit-bearing economic nexus in a mere 65 years. I am astounded how Jewish people have created a democracy among hostile neighbors after being decimated in the Holocaust (actually, “decimated” is an understatement, since it literally means to annihilate a tenth of the population. The Six Million killed in WWII were a full third of the world’s Jewish population.)

I am grateful for the advances in technology and medicine that come from Israel’s laboratories (your cell phone? Invented in Tel Aviv.) I am humbled that even in times of war, Israeli doctors treat their enemies.

I’m also definitely not someone who thinks Israel can do no wrong. I think the right-wing settlers and their anti-Arab vehemence are an embarrassment. I think the situation in Gaza—and the West Bank, which will eventually play in—is complicated and convoluted and sad.

Still, when I see other Jewish people posting anti-Israeli sentiments and then read about the looting and intimidation of Jewish businesses and college students in Paris and Belgium and Boston, I want to ask, “Do you think they don’t mean you?”

When I see the posts that portray the abject, undeniable suffering of the people of Gaza that fail to make mention of Hamas’ use of Palestinian children to build tunnels so they can kill Israeli kindergartners, I want to cry out with the injustice.

When I see that a synagogue in Miami was covered in swastikas this morning, I have to put aside my fear of taking sides. That the world would respond so quickly with anti-Semitism only strengthens the reasoning and resolve of the Jewish state.

I stand with Israel, always and proudly. My heart goes out to all who are in pain. I’ve also had enough of the hateful one-sided posts that portray Israelis as brutal and Palestinians as victims. Yes, they are victims—of a fundamentalist terrorist regime that would sacrifice every one of them to destroy Israel and America. Anyone who has seen the tunnels and rockets can no longer deny that Hamas leaders are lying when they claim they want peace.

I like to think I’ve curated my friend list with intelligent, compassionate people, and I don’t have to agree with them all the time. So far, I haven’t defriended anyone for their sympathies. But I am going to start commenting and sharing some of the thoughtful, factual posts that present the truth about Israel.

If anyone feels the need to defriend me for that, I completely understand.

 

Nits, Rats and Poison Ivy: A Trifecta of Repugnance

Once upon a time back in 2006, I wrote a post called “Mold, Diarrhea and Escargot,” a detailed and repulsive summary of the grossest and most disgusting day in the life of any Jewish mother, anywhere, ever.

That day has now been eclipsed by a perfect storm of biblical afflictions that probably should win some type of award except that I don’t want it commemorated in any form or fashion. However, if you want to buy me a sympathy drink after reading this, I won’t turn it down.

First, when we dropped the children off at their lovely, green Jewish summer camp, the cursory nurse check revealed three tiny little white blobs on my daughter’s heads. I mean miniscule, tiny flecks that could have been dandruff or remnants from a spitball fight she had with her brother. But when the nurse pointed at them, I knew. NITS. Lice eggs. Lousy. Literally.

I tried not die from shame since I know that having nits or lice doesn’t mean you’re dirty or that you are a bad person. It’s pretty common among kids these days, though I had never had to deal with it before my daughter’s Girl Scout troop has passed them around for an entire year (if there was a badge for nits, we’d OWN it.)

I don’t know how or where she got them this time, but I was not real thrilled to douse her head in chemicals once again. It turns out the poison doesn’t work anyway, because apparently regular lice has mutated into a super organisms that are taking over the planet. I took the nurse’s advice and combed and combed through the girl’s hair with tea tree oil under a bright lamp; I did the same to her brother just in case. And El Yenta Man’s. And mine. We were up past midnight combing through each other like baboons. I didn’t spot any bugs, and everyone got a clean bill of health the next day.

But STILL. We are the NIT family. The nurse was so kind and sweet, reassuring us that we weren’t the only nit family, and that she would quietly check Little Yenta Girl from time to time to make sure those little buggers stay away. If they don’t, I’m sure I’ll get one of those “Hello-this-is-Camp-nurse-it’s-not-an-emergency-we-just-wanted-to-let-you-know” types of calls.

In the meantime, while the kids are enjoying themselves, prayfully nitless, El Yenta Man and I have been enjoying even more revolting adventures. After reveling in a lovely childless dinner out on our first evening alone, we returned home to thinking that we would, *ahem*, make the most of our aloneness. Except we weren’t alone.

As EYM went to grab a water from the pantry, he found a bigass rat in there, that was, in his words, “clamboring all over the sugar and shit like Templeton from Charlotte’s Web.

Again, if shame could kill a person, I WOULD BE DEAD ALREADY.

How. Could. This. Happen. TO ME? My pantry is so freaking clean you can eat off the shelves. I even finally got the Tupperware tub for the dog food.

Except that there was a RAT eating the pistachios, which means I am a horrible housekeeper and all-around terrible balabusta. And basically useless, since all I could think to do was scream and swat at it with the broom.

EYM grabbed the BB gun and started shooting up the place, tiny metal balls bouncing off the tile floor like we were surrounded by enemy fire in Vietnam. Fifteen minutes later, my beautifully organized pantry lay in ruins and we’d pulled out the sideboard, the baker’s rack and the refrigerator. EYM had the gun pointed on it as we slid the wine cooler back for its last stand, but at the last minute I begged him not to kill it. I opened the door and it scuttled out, tail dusted in Whole Foods organic flour.

I had just started putting everything away when I heard my husband whisper, “Oh no.” He was staring at a long cardboard tube on top of a pile of potential art supplies hoarded by Little Yenta Girl. The faintest of scratching sounds emanated from it. “Oh no NO NO NO.” He climbed up on top of the sideboard, peered into the tube and screamed like a little girl.

YES OMFG ANOTHER RAT.

EYM actually shot the bb gun into the tube (not recommended), and a bionic rodent performed the terrifying ninja feat of climbing UP out of the cardboard tube, across EYM’s feet and out into the dining area, trailing tiny drops of blood on the wood floor. EYM finally cornered it in the girl’s bedroom, but not before ransacking the place, pulling the mattresses off the beds, pulling out drawers, flinging finger puppets and toys around the room and turning her room—which yes, I just cleaned and made all pretty for her when she came home from camp without nits—into a war zone that looks like it had been hit with rockets by Hamas. (Oh shit, sorry. Too soon? It’s been a terrible week for so many. Prayers and blessings for safety for all.)

The second rat was not as lucky as his compadre; he died after taking about 50 bb’s to the body (a la Willem Dafoe in Platoon) and couple of butts from the gun. Even though he kills and guts fish, regularly, EYM was terribly traumatized at the violence of it all, and I heard him apologizing the rat as he finished him off. It was really awful, y’all. I still haven’t been able to go in there and clean up.

To top it all off, both El Yenta Man and I are suffering from a wicked, weeping, itchy, full body-swathing case of poison ivy, probably from consoling ourselves with too much alone time in the backyarden.

A trifecta of the most disgusting things ever, all in one week. If you can top that, I would really, really like to know.

 

Who is like you, Friday Night Live?!

com_friday-night-light_062014_539_332_c1Y’all know I am a Craig Taubman groupie from way back, and it saddens me that the Silver Fox recently retired from leading the epically joyous Friday Night Live services at Temple Sinai in Los Angeles.

I’m sorry I never got to attend, though 2007’s Hallelu in Atlanta was a small taste of Taubman’s wonderful musical and communal legacy.

By all reports, the last gathering blew off the roof, including this truly rockin’ rendition of “Mi Chamocha” featuring New Orleans clarinet riffs and a killer rap from hiphop’s Jewish heart, Kosha Dillz:

I’m pretty sure rapping would cause considerable plotzing among regular Friday night congregants of historic Congregation Mickve Israel, but maybe Craig and Kosha would consider a reunion if they’re ever down Savannah way?