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!

T-Shirt of the Week: Talk to the Hamsa

talk_to_the_hamsa_tee_shirts-r5b5372bc0acd4d979d28323bbf0bf94d_8nhmi_512I haven’t done a “T-shirt of the Week” post in a while, as the demand for snarky Jewish t-shirts seems to have waned in the world.

Which is a real shame, because I really miss the idea that I might see someone rocking a Guns N’ Moses shirt one day. (Eat, Pray, Kvetch was pretty classic, too.)

But in today’s interweb travels I came across this adorbs “Talk to the Hamsa” shmatte from Zazzle.com and rejoiced!

First off, I believe that “talk to the hand (’cause the face ain’t listening)” is one of the best linguistic contributions of the ’90s. (Well, besides “your mom” jokes.)

Also, I’ve been obsessed with hamsas as my Jewish symbol of choice for some time now. They’re amulets shaped like hands with an eye in the middle and supposedly bring good luck and protection not only in Jewish traditions but also as Islam’s Hand of Fatima, and I dig anything that builds bridges between faiths.

Also, as hamsas are associated with Torah shero Miriam and Muhammed’s awesome daughter Fatima, they are inherently feminine symbols, the perfect representation of the shekinah, or Sacred Feminine. What better emblem for a post-modern Jewish feminist who loves pretty things, I ask you?!

Apparently I’m far from the only one enamored with hamsas: Our little Semitic hands are enjoying quite the cultural tsunami as of late. (See: Etsy.)

Though when you can buy a  5000 year-old icon meant to stave off the Evil Eye at Urban Outfitters, does that means it’s jumped the shark?


What Does Your Jewish Last Name Mean?

1389196581.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeOh, I am ALL OVER Bennett Muraskin’s Jewish Surnames Explained on Slate.com.

In it, he explains how the mass-naming of Eastern European Jews began under Joseph 11′s Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 “so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance.”

Before that, you were the “son of” or “daughter of,” so everyone in the shtetl knew whether you were the kid of the prosperous merchant or the village idiot and treat you accordingly. Besides providing more shekels for the Czar’s coffers and bodies for his army, the Great Naming of the 18th Century also gave Ashkenazic Jews—with our curly hair and funny noses—yet another characteristic that set us apart: Long mouthfuls of surnames that to this day, sound distinctively—and definitively—Jewish.

Muraskin masterfully breaks down the roots our Ashkenazic sobriquets by occupation, place, religious roles and other categories, including those totally misinterpreted by immigration officials over the centuries. It didn’t take me long to find my maiden name, Feinstein, among them: Someone up in my father’s family tree must have been a jeweler, though “Feldsher” might be more appropriate these days for our two generations of surgeons.

When I got married, I adopted my husband’s ethnically-mysterious “Lebos,” which alternately gets “So, what is that, Greek?” or becomes the Mexi-exotic “Lobos.” We’ve always batted around the theory that it somehow came from “Levi,” signifying ancestors with special roles in the ancient temple proceedings and making us feel doubly guilty for not attending enough Shabbat services.

But here I’ve just read under “other Hebrew- and Yiddish-derived names” that we could be perpetuating the line of Judah:

Lieb means “lion” in Yiddish. It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names, including Liebowitz, Lefkowitz, Lebush, and Leon. It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew word for lion — aryeh. The lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah.

Judah was the meanie who suggested to his brothers that they sell their daddy’s favorite, Joseph, into slavery, but he also had a bunch of kids made from hearty stock (how else do you make your own tribe?) King David also descended from Judah, and thereby, apparently, Jesus.

Frankly, it confirms my suspicion that everything just comes back to Bob Marley. Iron like a Lion in Zion, indeed.

Kvells, Bells and Hallelujah

On this last post of 2013, it’s all about the kvelling:

Last Sunday, Young Yenta Man (*formerly Yenta Boy* I began this blog when he was four but he’s got this deep baritone voice now. How can I still call him a boy?) finally completed his mitzvah project. Around these parts, when a young person becomes a b’nai mitzvah, they are supposed to show their commitment to their community by raising money for a charity.

YYM’s bar mitzvah was way back in February, and homework and summer camp and general adolescent surliness postponed his fulfillment of the mitzvah, but I threatened to bury his iPad in the chicken coop unless he got his tushy in gear to get it done by the end of the Gregorian year.

It was worth the wait. He and his piano teacher came up with a playlist, and he performed a selection of classical ditties and some favorite songs that showed off that new baritone of his. Around 60 people came to Temple Mickve Israel to hear him, and over $700 was collected for the Hearts and Hands Clinic in Statesboro (founded by his bar mitzvah tutor, Andres Montes) and American Jewish World Service to aid victims of Typhoon Haiyan. (In his introduction, Rabbi Robert Haas called AJWS “the Jewish Peace Corps.”)

Apart from a few minor flubs and a small pre-show tsimmes that involved El Yenta Man giving up his socks because YYM chose to wear no-show athletic footies with his dress shoes, it really went beautifully.

Here’s the whole 18-minute megillah:

Here’s to many hallelujahs, halos and imaginings for a spectacular 2014!

Not All Jewish Porn Superstars Are Made Alike

tumblr_meqk45JPbe1qzfih9o1_500I’m know I’m way late to this party, but I recently discovered porn star James Deen. (Relax, that just links to his Wikipedia page.)

Roll your eyes all you want, but it was actually by accident: I do not judge anyone’s preferences, but I don’t really go in for the porn, mostly because I consider the computer an instrument of work-related drudgery and prefer my sex live and in person.

But a few months back his Deeniness popped up on my feminist feeds as the Ryan Gosling of Porn, and I had to research this new breed of professional penis whose staying power is only rivaled by his intense eye contact. I clicked around and found his hilarious Twitter feed and saw that he bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain El Yenta Man. Not only is Deen an authentically woman-positive cat lover, he’s a mensch who loves his mother. (Who happens to be a rocket scientist. So ya know, genius genes.)

And then, OMG, the Heeb photo shoot. I don’t know what it is about tallit I find so sexy, but sometimes it would be best if there was a mechitzah at our synagogue so I wasn’t tempted to grab EYM’s tush when he bows for the Amidah.

Plus, our boy is proud to be Jewish. He refers to being Jewish a lot. At the very least: He may be skilled at putting one of those freaky ball gags with one hand, but  dressing up as Santa crosses the damn line. (Um, that link is not so much NSFW.)

Anyway, I was all, yeah, I woulda hit that in the gaga pit after Havdalah back at Camp Alonim. What kind of hot-blooded Jewish mother would I be if I did not shep nachas that the most popular porn star in the world is one of the tribe? I was starting to think that maybe there was something to this Jewish porn thing.

Then someone sent me this photo, and it turns out the formula of Jewish porn star + article of ritual Judaica doesn’t necessarily translate into dripping wet hotness:

6a00d83451b71f69e2019b024206df970b-400wiI give you Ron Jeremy reportedly saying the Sh’ma while wearing tefillin. In a liquor store.

I just don’t even know who I am anymore.



Tila Tequila is a Sick Sad Douche and Other Disturbing Tales

The interwebs are abuzzin’ with shock and disgust at Tila Tequila’s latest stab at famewhoredom, a ridiculously Photoshopped image of herself wearing a swastika armband and busting cleav’ while standing on the traintracks to Auschwitz.

No, I’m not EVEN going to post that trash. Here, go to Jezebel.com and get an eyeful and come right back.

Oh. You don’t even know who Tila Tequila is? Consider yourself blessed. Sorry about branding your brain with the horror.

Funny thing is, before she started calling herself “Hitila” (Hitler + Tequila = Instant Vomiting), the Singaporean non-talent told TMZ.com that she was converting to Judaism. No real coherent explanation on her illiterate blog of why in the last year she transformed from someone one who “just feels like the Jewish people have such a beautiful way about them” to spewing “GOD SEE’S YOU DIRTY FUCKING KIKES WORKING FOR THE SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN” but whatevs.

Frankly, I don’t have time for some mentally ill celebraho’s Jew-hating internet rantings ’cause I got my own anti-Semitic problems right here at home:

A couple of weeks ago, El Yenta Man went into the neighborhood bank where he’s done business since he opened up Strong Gym a few years ago to deposit some checks. I KNOW, he could just do it all automated and save time and hassle but he says he LIKES to talk to REAL people. Whaddya gonna do.

So he’s there, endorsing all the checks from his happy, strong sweaty clients, and one of the real people who works at the bank — one of the managers, in fact, a nice lady who always calls him “Mr. Strong” when he comes in — approaches him about how the bank could help set him up with a credit card machine so that his customers didn’t have to write checks.

EYM thanked her and explained that his business software had already set him him up just fine with a credit card account, but that his clients didn’t mind writing checks, and anyway, he preferred it since he didn’t have to incur the extra fees associated with swiping credit and debit cards.

She tried to sell him that the percentages were nominal; he countered that they add up over the course of a year.

Then she laughed like he’d just told the funniest joke and said, “Wow, you really are a Jew, aren’t you?”

When he recounted the story at the dinner table that evening, he told us that he was so shocked that for once, he didn’t have anything to say.

But the next week, when he went back in to deposit his checks, he calmly went to the woman’s desk and explained to her that what she said was inappropriate, rude and cause for him to take his business elsewhere. Surely, he said, he wasn’t the only small business owner concerned about his money. That probably every small business owner, regardless of their religion or ethnicity or marital status is concerned about their bottom line. And that singling out financial concern as a specifically Jewish trait is prejudice, even if she thought she was using it in a complimentary way.

Her reply? That she couldn’t possibly be prejudiced because, y’know, she’s black.

EYM tried again, using stereotypes about black people to illustrate how harmful and erroneous stereotypes can be. She stubbornly refused to acknowledge that lumping black people into one qualifiable group and her comment implying that Jews were thrifty were even related, because, y’know, that’s true about Jews.

Finally, he gave up and left. He’s thought about reporting her to regional manager, but this woman has probably been working at the bank for 20 years and is approaching retirement. Getting her fired won’t change her stupid, narrow mind, and EYM doesn’t want that on his head, anyway. He still hasn’t decided how to handle it; calling Human Resources to pay a visit to the branch might be a good place to start.

At least now he uses the drop box.

But if you think being Jewish in Savannah, GA is only occasionally disturbing, wait, there’s more:

One of my daughter’s friends has an older sister, a popular teenager with a new sassy haircut. On Halloween, her mother showed me a picture of Older Sis’ costume, in which she had styled her hair straight up like crewcut. And painted on a little smudge of a mustache. And put a swastika on an old green suit. Ta-Da! Sexy Hitler! So fun and edgy!

This time it was me who was shocked into silence. The questions I did NOT ask right then: How do you let your daughter out of the house dressed as the History’s Number One genocidal maniac? Does she understand how fully offensive it is not only to Jews but all sane people, and if she doesn’t, WHAT THE FUCK is wrong with her? And WHAT THE FUCK is wrong with all the people who saw this teenage girl out that night and didn’t read her the riot act?!

I hauled this around like a red hot iron for a couple of weeks until I spoke to the dad about it (they’re divorced.) He said he was appalled about it and that he had been out of town that night. He also explained that it’s been a hard year for both girls, and that even though it was a totally inexcusable choice of Halloween costume, maybe Older Sister’s judgment was skewed by the stress of the divorce. I said that of course I understood, though I suggested that perhaps some education might be in order. I would be happy to put together a little Powerpoint about concentration camps and six million European Jewish citizens wiped out in gas chambers.

EYM suggested the same when he talked with the mom, who said that she understood why we were upset but didn’t think we needed to provide any images or information that might make her daughter feel badly, considering the year she’s had.

I guess I get it? The kid is sad and acting out a little. Both parents are very likeable, liberal people. Maybe I’m just a little touchy about Hitler, having lost the entire maternal wing of my family in the Holocaust and all.

It’s been weeks and weeks now, and both of these situations don’t really feel done, but I don’t know what else to do. Neither is so much outright anti-Semitism as they are weirdly ignorant and disturbingly un-outrageous. The worst part is that EYM and I feel like we’re over-reacting, or at least, beating a dead horse on hopelessly apathetic ground.

See? It’s easy to be confrontational when it’s a stupid attention-seeking internet fameslut in a tinfoil dress. It’s different when it’s people in your own closeknit community with whom you do business and share carpool.

Tell me, Yenta friends, how would you handle these with compassion and lovingkindness while making the point that such words and actions are just not OK?

Sov Sov Sov ’til Ya Drop


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:

Playing Dreidel for Candy Corns Just Isn’t Right…

imagesListen, I understand that people are excited about Thanksgivukkah. (Thanksgiving + Chanukah = THE ULTIMATE MAINSTREAM KITSCHFEST. When the Today show calls them “sufganiyot” instead of donuts, you know it’s a THING.)

It’s novel, it sells t-shirts, it’s an excuse to put cranberries in places where they don’t belong. And it’s not Chrismukkah. (Not that there’s ANY kind of problem with an interfaith home that celebrates two distinctly different holidays when they happen to overlap. But hideous shit like this menorah tree is inexcusable and makes me hiss and gag like I’ve got a pumpkin popcorn hairball stuck in my esophagus.)

I get that Thanksgivukkah bridges the non-Jewish gap and gives us more opportunity to reach out to the wider community, instead of just being those weird neighbors with the blue lights. I even wrote a resident-Jew piece about it for the day job (to be posted tomorrow at noon.) And mostly I like mash-ups, even if they involve Andy Griffith and Beyonce.

But not this one. To all y’all who have embraced Thanksgivukkah, I appreciate your verve and honor your delight. Me, I love Chanukah, I love Thanksgiving. But melding them together like this in some quasi-dunking-of-latke-in-the-pumpkin/pumpkin-in-the-latke situation is just too much pressure.

(Plus, menurkeys are freaky. I just don’t want to sing prayers around a goggle-eyed bird with lit candles coming out its tuches. Nevertheless, the things just made a ten year-old rich.)

And this is why I must share with your “The Anti-Thanksgivukkah Song” from Daniel Brenner (hat tip to Heeb.) It sums up my feelings, and also, the nerd action play is righteous:


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!