Holocaust Survivor Beauty Pageant? Bring It.

Oh, the people are OUTRAGED.

Lipsticking up 14 sweet old ladies, parading them around on a stage and making them compete for the title of Miss Holocaust Survivor? Hideous, right?

The grossest objectification of the females since “Toddlers and Tiaras,” you say. “Oy gevalt!” cry the naysayers, their hands wringing. “What’s next, a 10-episode season of ‘Concentration Camps and Crowns’ on the Style Network?

The international interwebs are burning up with footage of yesterday’s first-ever Holocaust Survivor Pageant, held in Haifa. Over 500 women vied for the opportunity to strut their stuff and share their stories at the event; the final cuts were based on their contributions to the community, their personalities and maybe, just a little bit, on their beauty (physical appearance accounted for ten percent of the scoring, according to the organizers.)

Dressed in finery and nice flat shoes, women aged 73 to 89 walked the catwalk, the crown ultimately going to 79 year-old Hava Hershkowitz, who escaped the Nazis in Romania during WWII. According event organizer Shimon Shabag, she said the victory was “her revenge, showing how despite the horrors her family went through, her beauty and personality have endured.”

I have to say, as “meh” as I feel about “beauty pageants” in general, creating an opportunity for older women to get gorgeous and enjoy some attention is a good thing. They’re not being exploited, for heaven’s sake – no one had to dance around in a bikini and throw a stupid baton in a sequined unitard. I’m not there yet, but I’m guessing by 70, glamor is in short supply, and when paired with a microphone so you can share your experiences, it must feel validating in a world that generally ignores old people.

And let’s face it, any chance to give our survivors an audience is vital because they won’t be around much longer: There are an estimated 270,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, passing at the rate of more than 30 a day.

Though his event was lambasted as “macabre,” “inappropriate” and “sicksicksick,”  Shabag says he’ll likely plan another next year. “We should never forgive and forget what they went through, but I find this a very constructive way to show these people remain beautiful.”

I agree. The fact that these women are alive and full of joy is to be celebrated.

Just as long as no one breaks out a baton.




Thoughts on 70

I’ve got 70 on the brain, for sure.

Over at the day job, I wrote about the 70th anniversary of Johnnie Ganem’s, Savannah’s oldest liquor store, which doesn’t have a Jewish connection other than it’s a story about a really strong, close family, and that certainly applies here.

I attended their incredible bash last night on the corner of Habersham and Gaston, one of those wonderfully tipsy and shvitzy (oy, it was outdoors) Savannah events where oldtimers and new guardians and wacky liberals and uptight conservatives come together to clink glasses in the name of community and business and good cheer. It was marvelously catered by five or six kitchens, including brisket experts New South Kosher—Chef Matt Cohen informed me that they now have Shabbos meals to go. (There you go, the Jewish connection. That was only like, two degrees of separation, right?)

I’ve also been obsessing about the 70s because of the local filming of the CBGB movie, set in early years of the New York punk scene, but you’ll have to wait ’til next week for my nerd musings about that to come out.

There have been a couple of milestone birthdays in Yentaland recently: My dear old dad turned the big Seven-O last month, an especially meaningful occasion since we didn’t know if he’d be around for it after his near-death experience last fall. He’s back to his old fart self, as you can see, and we’re all meeting up for a family reunion in New York next week to celebrate (though I’m pretty sure my mom is not interested in a tour of the old punk clubs.) We’re sure happy to have him around for a while longer, baruch hashem.

This past Wednesday, my mother-in-law also turned 70. I remember flying in from California for her 60th birthday party, a tony sit-down dinner at the Chatham Club, attended by loads of friends. Barely recovered from her breast cancer treatments, she had just been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, and she made jokes about her “memory situation” when we toasted her. We danced together and after a glass and half of wine, she was fuzzy around the edges, smiling and whispering to me several times, “I’m so glad y’all came.”

A decade makes a world of difference in this disease. The last vestiges of her memory have disappeared, along with her ability to speak, feed herself or even get out of her wheelchair. As she was declining but still able, we had some fun together, eating at the senior lunch on Thursdays and waving our jazz hands to the oldies’ station. Now, if I get down next to her and look in her eyes and sing “I love you love you love you,” a quizzical look might pass over her face, as if my voice activates some forgotten neural pathway. I miss dancing with her the most.

Physically, she is still with us. She lifts her head when my son plays the her baby grand piano; sometimes, she cries. My brother-in-law can still make her giggle, but I haven’t mastered that secret skill.

We brought her a cake and flowers from our backyarden for her birthday. With her caregiver’s OK, she sucked down some watered-down white wine in her sippy cup. That might be why she’s smiling.

When we sang “Happy Birthday,” I winced when someone added “and many more…” How many more years will this lovely person have to live in a failing body without a functioning brain? A human being who makes it through seven decades is certainly worthy of celebration. But is long life always a blessing?

Not up to me to decide. All we can do, I guess, is keep toasting to life with all its heartbreaking injustices, grateful near misses and glorious joy: L’Chaim, L’Chaim, L’Chaim.

Good Shabbos and a blessed weekend to all.



Bar Mitzvah Babblin’

Well, lookee here. Actor David Arquette has finally become a man.

While filming his “Mile High” travel show in Israel, the perennial Scream actor donned some tefillin (the tattoos on his inner arm probably gave the rabbi a small heart attack) and finally had the bar mitzvah his meshuggeh parents forgot to plan for him.

The rabbi who oversaw the blessed event told the Boston Herald that 40 year-old Arquette “was ashamed by his lack of Jewish knowledge. Born on a commune in Virginia, he had little to do with Judaism. His maternal grandmother was a refugee of the Nazi Holocaust of World War II, but his own mother turned away from religion.”

So, welcome back, Dovvie. Don’t spend all the simcha cash in one place.

Speaking of bar mitzvahs, I’m a bit consumed with planning one of my own. While some mothers are brave enough to turn away from the extreme pressure to throw an event requiring about as much insanity as a wedding, I have no such latitude. We’ve got a bigtush Southern family to host, and there will be no eloping (is there a bar mitzvah equivalent?) to Jerusalem for a simple, low-key affair.

So far we’ve got a date, a venue and a Torah portion. Check off three items on a to-do list of thousands.

If I Had A Preacher…

…It’d be Otis Moss III. The good reverend cracked the code of compassion and tolerance with this sermon given in Chicago last week:

Now, the Jews know that things never get quite as exciting at synagogue; the rabbis I’ve known don’t so much as preach as, say, suggest.

But our congregation is welcoming a new spiritual leader, Rabbi Robert Hass, into the fold in the coming weeks, and judging from how much his previous flock adored him, my hopes are high. The good news is that he’s from Texas and probably won’t suffer much Southern social shock.

A blessed Shabbos to those who do and a wonderful weekend to all!