The Yenta, the Conservatives and Attorney General Sam Olens at the JEA

AG Sam Olens (l.) accepting some Savannah Jewish swag from JEA director Adam Solender

AG Sam Olens (l.) accepting some Savannah Jewish swag from JEA director Adam Solender.

Ooooh, nothing like pissing off the alterkockers before 10am.

Yesterday, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens came to speak at the Jewish Educational Alliance, and before I could even start asking him annoying questions, I got into it with two extremely conservative members of the community about Edward Snowden, the NSA and President Obama.

“Snowden’s a traitor!” groused one gent. “Should be extradited back here and strung up by his toes!”

“That sorry excuse for a president, it’s all his fault,” nodded the other. “Using the NSA to spy on innocent Americans. Outrageous.”

I turned around. “Excuse me, but wasn’t it President Bush who passed the Patriot Act that allows the NSA to collect information? And if you’re so upset about the government spying on you, why wouldn’t you consider Snowden a hero?”

They both looked at me, shook their heads and said “Feh! What do you know? You liberals…”

Usually I avoid these kinds of confrontations conversations at all costs but I just adore these guys, and I think the debate is good prep for arguing with my children. But before I could find out what my Republican friend had to say about liberals, JEA director Adam Solender took the podium. He was followed by a new member whose name I didn’t catch but who works for the FBI, a fitting warm-up for the number one lawyer in the state.

AG Olens forewent the podium, pacing and talking at our level. He was considering the audience when he introduced himself as the first Jewish candidate to win any elected position in Georgia, but promised, “I didn’t campaign on those grounds.”

Affable and clearly passionate about his job, Olens is an unapologetic conservative, which you’d need to be to win anything at the state level around here. I liked him anyway, even after he told us he’d recently helped broker the settlement between South Carolina environmental groups and his biggest client, the Georgia Port Authority, over the legality of Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, or as I prefer to call it, The Dread River Dredging. (I’ve written just a leetle bit about it here, here and here.)

He’s touting the party line, and I can forgive him for that, since he’s made tremendous headway in other social issues near and dear: He’s been instrumental in keeping Georgia’s open records laws full of sunshine and has helped write a bill that will ensure that those ubiquitous strip mall pain clinics are medically supervised instead of just Oxycontin-pushing “pill mills.”

My favorite piece of Olens legislation is by far HB 200, a sex-trafficking bill that goes after not only the pimps that kidnap and prostitute young girls, but also the sick pigs who create the demand.

“Georgia has one of the highest sex-trafficking rates in the country,” he told us. “We’re trying to attack the problem from different angles.”

HB 200 also includes a partnership with the FBI to help educate hotel workers and requires law enforcement training so that young women caught in this modern slave trade can be recognized. Anywhere that hosts large sporting events or conventions is magnet for sex trafficking, and Olens described how the bill enabled a huge “Georgia’s Not Buying It” awareness campaign during this year’s Final Four championships in Atlanta.

“If it scared one person away, then it’s helping,” he said.

AG Olens also touched on immigration reform (“There’s total dysfunction in Washington at the moment,” he said frankly) and the Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s lawsuit against the EPA for allowing King America Finishing to keep dumping toxic effluent (“Uh, let’s move on,” he grinned sheepishly.)

He  talked about his partnership with Facebook CEO Cheryl Samberg that aims to help parents keep their kids safe online, and his total disgust with Obamacare (“Employers are going to choose to pay the penalty than keep paying for their employee’s rising insurance premiums.”)

Of course this yenta asked what he had to say about the NSA, and he gave a measured response that lambasted people who are trying to make this a political foothold instead of looking out for America’s safety.

The alterkockers harumphed behind me.

That’s cool, I’m used to being the weirdo in the room. I enjoyed the chance to talk with AG Olens in such an accessible atmosphere – programming director Jenn Rich is doing a kicktush job of bringing interesting folks to the JEA, and I can’t wait to see who the alterkockers and I get to hear next.

I can always use the sparring practice.



What, No Jewish Father Jokes?

We Jewish mothers have always suffered this maligned stereotype: That we’re neurotic, we’re overprotective, we’re kvetchers … Nevermind, I’ll just sit shivah in the corner until you apologize.

Hence all the jokes. (Here’s my current favorite: Non-Jewish mother: My child is tired and thirsty, he needs some juice! Jewish mother: My child is tired and thirsty, he must have diabetes!)

EYM teaching YG important life skills

EYM teaching YG important life skills

But yesterday, as I was watching my dear famisht El Yenta Man tear apart the house for his wallet (it was on the table behind the couch all along) and had doozying flashbacks of my own daddy hollering that he couldn’t find his expensive sunglasses that were right there on his head, I wondered, where are the jokes about Jewish fathers? How come THEY don’t get made fun of? What, they’re chopped liver?

I found this JTA list from last year laying out the Nine Types of Jewish Dads on TV, but nowhere on it does it include the well-meaning and lovable papa who cannot simultaneously keep his wallet, keys, phone and glasses on his person at the same time, no matter what kind of fancy man purse you bought him last Father’s Day. Maybe because losing at least one personal belonging a day isn’t a Jewish dad thing, it’s just A DUDE thing.

So I guess I’ll follow the lead of today’s Forward, where author Larry Smith has collected Six Word Memoirs about famous Jewish fathers.

To my dear dad and beloved husband, both loving and loyal Jewish fathers no matter how often they yell “What did you do with my f@#$$ keys?!”, here is my six-word ode:

Lost wallet again? Try a stapler.

Happy Father’s Day to all the daddies out there, especially the ones in my life!

May his memory be a blessing — and a song

Savannah is still reeling from the sudden loss of its greatest musical ambassador, Ben Tucker.

The man with the mighty jazz hands was killed Tuesday as he was playing his other favorite thing, golf: He was driving his golf cart across an abandoned race track on Hutchison Island when a Texas man illegally racing his car struck Ben at 90 mph. He was 82 and scheduled to play a gig that night, “a working musician to the end.”

Though our sadness is great, I can’t help but think it might not be such a bad way to go: Instantly with (please God!) no suffering, only a life full of accomplishments and stories and love behind you and an evening of good times and good music ahead.

Most everyone around here who loves music has a story about Ben Tucker, and this yenta is no exception. Much of it is going into a longer piece I’m working for the next issue of Connect, but I must say here that he played a significant role in my transformation to the Jewish mother I am: He was the band leader at El Yenta Man’s and my wedding.

photo(4)There he played with my other favorite jazz musician in the world, my late grandfather, George Blumenthal. The memory of the two of them jamming onstage to “Tangerine” (one of my faves) stands out, as does the terrifying flashback of being carried around the room on a chair by a bunch of drunk people as Ben and the band kicked out an epic rendition of “Hava Nagila.”

This photo of the two of them does no one any justice, but I couldn’t remove it from my wedding album without shredding it, so it’s a photo of a photo. No digital photography back in 1997.

I’d also love to show you the video, except it’s on VHS. I have no means to even play it, let alone record it on my phone, download it to my computer, upload it to Youtube and embed it into WordPress. The world has changed tremendously since El Yenta Man and I were starry-eyed newlyweds, and certainly since my grandfather and Ben were every-night-a-new-gig musicians. But I think they would both agree that “Tangerine” will always be a great song.

Instead I give you WorldLive’s tribute to Ben, including an awesome interview in which he casually mentions that Nelson Mandela is a fan:

May the memory of Ben Tucker be a blessing. And may we always remember to hold close those dear to us and enjoy the music.