Secrets of a Jewish Teapot

ImageProxyOoooh, I love puzzles and mysteries! Especially Jewish ones, and I’m not talking about going into therapy.

Making the rounds this week on Reddit is this fabulous little teapot with all kinds of yiddishkeit tucked inside.



Look what happens when you take off the top:

A dreidel! ImageProxy





Then, a tiny but complete megillah, totally impossible read when you’re drunk on Purim but who cares?!






And what’s this, a precious pair of Shabbat candlesticks?






And, no, it cannot be, a MENORAH? It’s like M.C. Escher dropped acid with a rabbi!








There’s also an etrog holder, a place to light the ner tamid (eternal flame) and little kiddush cup – a portable synagogue for the displaced Jew.

It’s like having the entire holiday wheel in your pocket, so convenient when you’re being chased by Crusaders and anti-Semitic villagers wielding torches! One commenter called it “a Jewish version of a Swiss army knife,” but I like to think of it as the Pogrom Runner’s Leatherman Tool.

The owner of this amazing tea service says that it was a gift from his or her grandmother, and some have speculated that it was once owned by Sephardic conversos trying to escape the evil eye of the Spanish Inquisition.

However, Rabbi Fink of the Pacific Jewish Center writes that “there is no way this teapot dates back to the Inquisition.” He makes the point that in spite of what we learned in Sunday School, dreidels have only been around for a few hundred years, and “there is no tradition of dreidle among Sephardic Jews.”

That doesn’t diminish its value to art and history and plain old coolness. Perhaps will commission some fabulous contemporary design to display on our mantles and drop in our purses if — Heaven forbid — circumstances bring the necessity of fleeing in the future? Because, as every Jewish mother thinks in the back of her neurotic brain, you never know…

Southern Shabbat Dinner: What, No Shrimp?

imagesDelish post today on the Forward’s The Jew and the Carrot about NYC’s City Grit, a culinary salon that hosted a four-course Shabbat meal last week. But questions remain.

First of all, what the hosanna is a culinary salon? Can I get my toes done there while noshing? Sounds awfully lofty to be taking on the Southern Shabbos meal.

I’m not denying the fabulosity of beet puree and benne seeds (really, the only truly Southern ingredient, as there is no such f*cking thing as “rice grits”. Grits are made of corn. Period.) I have no problem AT ALL with leeks, morels or heirloom tomatoes, even in my cereal. I am all about adventures of the palate. I would eat a locust if someone else cooked it. I get all up in Leoci’s Rasperry Jalapeno Jam with some duck prosciutto and have a freakin’ gastronomic party any chance I get.

But messin’ with the Shabbos meal? I dunno. I dig the innovation behind Chef Sarah Simmons’ deconstructed brisket, but also it just made me nervous. Shouldn’t be something sacred about the Shabbat meal, something as unvarying and solid as the tradition itself? What’s next, shrimp couscous? A roasted pig wearing a yarmulke?

It’s not about the kosher. ‘Cause y’all know trayf happens plenty around here. But we Jewish Southerners (oh dear, Lawd. Did Ah just call mahself a suthenah?!) don’t like to mess with a good thing.

Shabbos at the Yenta home almost always consists of roast chicken, quinoa and kale from the garden. Sometimes we get meshuggah and have salmon. It is the way it has always been. It is the way it should always be.

Unless someone opens a culinary salon and serves up that tasty-sounding latke-chocolate mousse dessert.

Anne Frank Responds: I Coulda Been a Belieber If Only…

I got a little preoccupied with the awful tragedies of last week and just didn’t feel up to riffing on Justin Bieber’s unbelievably narcissistic entry in the guest book at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

Besides, the immediate responses were just too good, especially Allison Kaplan Sommer’s “In Spite of Everything, I Still Believe Justin Bieber is Truly Good At Heart.

Let’s face it, Justin has lived in fame bubble most of his life and likely only has the emotional capacity to relate to the horrors of the Holocaust through his own overblown persona. He didn’t mean to do bad. C’mon, he says the “Sh’Ma” before every show.

Still, the boy needs a good schooling, and perhaps Jen Dodd is the one to give it to him. A theoretical physicist and science outreach director by day, Ms. Dodd does a pretty good Dutch accent:

What do you think? Too much?

(Yarmulke tip:

The Sabbath Soccer Dilemma

imagesThough no one will ever accuse me of correct religious observance, since becoming a Jewish mother I’ve always maintained that Saturdays are meant for rest (and the occasional mani-pedi.)

Shabbat at the Yenta house starts with candles on Friday night and usually ends with Havdalah, but sometimes we forget or we’re out and we just sing “Eliahu Hanavi” loudly (especially fun for El Yenta Man on date nights.)

There are a lot of rules about what you are and are not supposed to do during the time in between, but we just do our best to enjoy our environment and each other. I personally avoid laundry, dishes and the computer. If EYM feels that driving to Home Depot and planting some flowers sounds like a good time, he’s welcome to have at it. But our loose-and-fast rule is if it feels like work, it can happen on Sunday.

During the year or so before Yenta Boy’s bar mitzvah (come to think of it, he’s a man now, so perhaps we’ll change his name here to Smaller Yenta Man, SYM for short) we spent some time on Saturdays at synagogue as well. We’d get up late, make my famous challah French toast, don some nice duds and go sit together in a beautiful old building, reciting the prayers of our people (of course, at our synagogue the prayers sometimes sound very different that everywhere else, but that’s a topic for a different blog post.)

Even though the kids grumbled about it on the way, they chanted the V’ahavta loudly and Little Yenta Girl always trotted up to the bima to help with the Torah undressing. My philosophy around Judaism is to do things out of joy rather than obligation, but I daresay that the Yenta family came to look forward to synagogue on Saturdays. And not just because they serve lunch afterwards.

So why stop, you ask? The Saturday following SYM’s big BM began LYG’s first soccer game, and the times have conflicted ever since.

But if you were really committed, you’d find another activity for your kid, you say. Maybe. But LYG is a talented player, which means she’s moved up to the superspecial youth development league that treats her and the rest of the nine-year-olds like they’re training to take on Real Madrid. Two practices a week, multiple games a weekend, travel to glamorous places like Augusta and Macon.

Our reluctant involvement in Fascist Soccer (I was calling it “Nazi soccer” but I decided that was disrespectful to Holocaust survivors) is driven only by the clear evidence that LYG is thriving from the physicality and teamwork, not to mention developing a lethal left foot (a Jewish mother never pooh-poohed a scholarship to anything.)

But Fascist Soccer is cramping my Shabbos Style. Now instead of sitting in an air-conditioned sanctuary wearing my good earrings and a nice dress, I’m slathered with sunscreen in an unshaded green field, swatting the most ferocious and evil swarms of biting gnats known to humankind. It feels like work.

Though I do so love to watch my girl and her Princess Warrior teammates run and play and whoop it up, I end up screaming things like “Offsides!” and “When is this stupid ref gonna get some Lasik?!”

So I’m trying to reconcile my Sabbath Soccer Dilemma. Do I bring a thermos of Bloody Marys to the field to make the games more enjoyable? Do we split the family, with one parent doing soccer duty while the other takes SYM to synagogue, like we did last Saturday? (Shhh, don’t tell EYM they served lemon chicken, his favorite lunch.) Do I construct my own chuppah on the sidelines, giving a spiritual flair to sun protection?

The season only has a few more weeks, so I suppose like most things, it will resolve itself, and we’ll get back to synagogue more often.

But by then I might be used to bringing a lawn chair and cocktails everywhere on Saturdays.

Yo, Yenta! on MommyPage

Well lookee here!

I did this interview AGES ago with motherhood site MommyPage and just found it on the interwebs while Googling myself for porn links (actually, I was just checking my site stats.)

Here I am talking about the joys of being a suburban Jewish chicken farmer and how matzoh ball soup is an aphrodiasic:

“Yo Yenta!” on Hannukah and Spending Time With Family

I forgot about that Manischewitz shirt. Think I’ll have to break it out next Shabbat.

Bad Bread and Other Post-Passover Musings

breadHere’s hoping everyone had a lovely Pesach!

The angel of leavened carbs passed over the Yenta family Tuesday evening in its very traditional forms of pizza and beer, as I believe that the ancient Israelites would be deeply honored with the collective choice of pepperoni and banana peppers.

For those who don’t celebrate, you may have heard the sighs of relief as your Jewish friends are freed from the bondage of gastric torture known as matzah. For eight days we abstained from anything fluffy, including bread, popcorn and, if you are sleeping on the sofa at your bubbie’s house, a decent pillow. (According to the very kvetchy Yenta Boy, anyway.)

While us meshuggneh Jews tend to make up plenty of exceptions (like that pepperoni) as we go along, we follow the rules as best we can. The rabbis dictate that before the seder, we gather up all of the bread, crackers, yeast packets, granola bars and other crummy items from the pantry and throw them out.

Well, no one likes to waste good food, so those rabbis figured out how to get around that rule by “selling” the offending items in order to rid the house of all the chametz. After the holiday, you can buy it back and get back down to the business of a nice corned beef sandwich. I usually pack up everything in plastic bags and “sell” our chametz to our very confused Southern Baptist neighbors. Last year they fed it all to the neighborhood squirrels.

There are a lot complicated issues around this that give me a headache. This morning I learned that even though it is after Passover, bread bought from Target, Trader Joe’s and a bunch of other stores isn’t recognized by kosher authorities until after Lag B’Omer  because those stores didn’t sell their chametz. So even though Lag B’Omer is basically ignored by Reform Judaism, apparently the box of raisin crackers I snarfed last night with Trader Joe’s cambozola is a treyf as that pepperoni pizza.

It’s all just too much. Especially since our chametz never made it off our front porch.