Yo, Yenta!Also known as Jessica Leigh Lebos, the Head Yenta is a wife, mother, writer, spoken word poet, West African dance teacher, community activist, amateur social scientist and former Bay Area resident, now living on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. She aims to break down stereotypes about Jews in general and Jewish mothers in particular. She changes her hair color frequently.
Copyright Jessica Leigh Lebos - Published at YoYenta.com, part of the Jmerica.com Network
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Mon, 25 Nov 2013 19:38:29 | by Head Yenta
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:
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Tue, 19 Nov 2013 18:41:36 | by Head Yenta
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:
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Mon, 18 Nov 2013 19:34:34 | by Head Yenta
Listen, 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.
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:
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Mon, 11 Nov 2013 20:07:07 | by Head Yenta
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.
On 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
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!
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Wed, 06 Nov 2013 13:53:40 | by Head Yenta
I promised you another coincidental Torah tale last week, and this yenta keeps her word. It’s a perfect story to honor all the soldiers who fought in WWII and veterans everywhere:
We have a Torah in the ark at Congregation Mickve Israel that comes from a trove of over 1500 scrolls recovered from Prague after WWII. Known as “The Holocaust Torahs,” they had been gathered up by Czech Jews as the Nazis made their horrific way across Europe and stored in a “museum” for the Germans. Most of those brave souls perished in Terezin and Auschwitz, but the Torahs survived and were moved to London in 1964.
From there the Holocaust Torahs have been distributed to synagogues around the globe as part of the Memorial Scrolls Trust — “on long term loan,” explains MI matriarch and mameleh Phoebe Kerness in an article she wrote for the temple newsletter. The communities they once belonged to destroyed forever, the scrolls were adopted by their new stewards “with the stipulation that they play a prominent and meaningful part in the religious and educational life of the institutions responsible for their safekeeping and condition.”
Our Torah comes from the little Bohemian town of Slany, about 12 miles northwest of Prague, and was scribed in 1890. Indeed, it has played a prominent and meaningful part of Jewish life in Savannah since it arrived in 1968: The Slany Torah is carried through the sanctuary and read from every Saturday. It’s recently been refurbished and re-koshered in Florida, thanks to the efforts Phoebe and her husband, Jules.
But it wasn’t until last summer that congregant Kerri Rosen actually asked, “Where is Slany, anyway?”
And thus began the adventure: Historian and Sunday School teacher supreme Teresa Victor found that the Jews of Slany has been expelled in 1458 but returned a few hundred years later to build a prominent synagogue in 1865. That part of Europe was never particularly friendly to our kind, and the population declined by 1930. In 1942, the remaining 81 Jews in Slany were rounded up for the camps. There are no Jews there today. The former synagogue now houses the police department.
Ms. Victor also discovered that in March 1945, the Eighth Air Force of the United States fought a bloody battle near Prague, bringing down a B-17 bomber over Slany and killing eight airmen. Here comes the meshuggeh part:
This plane came from a squadron known as “The Mighty Eighth,” founded in Savannah and referred to as “the greatest air armada in history.” The Eighth’s soldiers earned 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, 850 Silver Stars, 7,000 Purple Hearts 46,000 Air Medals — and also suffered half of the entire casualty of the entire war. All were American heroes, and eight of them began their last journey from right here in Savannah, Georgia to die fighting in the town of Slany.
The temple contacted Mickve Israel bar mitzvah boy and former El Yenta Man compatriot Jeffrey Young, who defected from Savannah for Prague after college and has been living la vie bohème ever since. Young took the ten-minute trip to Slany and found the memorial built from the wreckage of the plane that reads “In memory of the crew of the American B-17 bomber shot down at this spot on 2 March 1945.”
Our rabbi Robert Haas traveled there this summer to see it, and all of us are marveling at the serendipity: Savannah honors its Slany Torah, and Slany honors Savannah’s fallen soldiers.
This Saturday for Veterans Day weekend, Mickve Israel is holding a special Shabbat service at the sublime chapel at the Mighty Eighth Museum (which happens to be one of the most stupendous installations in the land.) The Slany Scroll will be there; reservations are required.
So how’s that for interconnectedness? Some may call it coincidence, others the work of the Divine. All I know is that the next time Little Yenta Girl is called up to undress the Slany Torah, her hands had better not be sticky.
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Mon, 28 Oct 2013 19:06:19 | by Head Yenta
Got an interesting press release today about a new exhibit at NYC’s Yeshiva Museum:
Threshold to the Sacred: The Ark Door of Cairo’s Ben Ezra Synagogue centers around the intricately carved wood panel that formed part of the door to the ark that held the Torah scrolls in the ancient synagogue of Old Cairo around the 11th century.
Jointly owned by the Yeshiva museum and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, this “doorway” to an Islamic-friendly Jewish past was discovered at a Florida garage sale in the early 1990s. But that isn’t even the coolest trash-to-treasure element of the exhibit: The Ben Ezra Synagogue is the site of the Cairo Genizah, a massive trove of forgotten documents found in 1896 that revealed all kinds of information about Jewish life in the Middle East.
According to Jewish law, any piece of writing that contains the name of God in Hebrew cannot ever be thrown away, and a genizah is literally a “hiding place” for the worn-out books and other synagogue stuff taking up space. Think of it as sacred hoarding.
Back in the 1000s and 1100s, old Jews dumped not only prayer-related parchment in the empty spot behind the wall, but also grocery lists, school primers, letters written by Maimonides‘ own hand and the only known Hebrew version of the Book of Wisdom, also known as the section of the Christian canon Ecclesiastes.
Many of these will be on display for the exhibit along with one of the oldest surviving Haggadahs, a letter written by poet doctor Judah Halevi and a rare 16th–century navigational chart of the Mediterranean by the Jewish cartographer, Judah Abenzara.
What’s blowing my mind is that I had never heard of the Cairo Genizah until I read Dara Horn’s new novel, Guide for the Perplexed. The tale of a software mogul who disappears in Egypt, this tight intellectual mystery uses the same genizah as a plot keystone and as a metaphor to explore how we curate the past.
The Washington Post calls the book “overdone,” but for Jewish nerds like myself, it’s absolutely riveting. I just finished it last week, and today I find out about a whole museum full of genuine genizah artifacts? That’s some crazy Kabbalah mystic mind melding right there.
Horn, author of my all-time faves The World to Come and the Southern Jewish epic All Other Nights, has a tremendous talent for layering all kinds of historical wisdom into her fast-paced fiction. She has a knack for combining the secular with the scholarly, and Guide for the Perplexed blooms with biblical and Talmudic references both overt and oblique.
I hope El Yenta Man and I get a chance to visit the Yeshiva Museum in the spring – he just loves it when I shlep him to look at dusty old grocery lists.
And yes, I did mention a second Jewishy coincidence – this one’s a little more modern and hits closer to home, so stay tuned!
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Tue, 22 Oct 2013 16:33:02 | by Head Yenta
El Yenta Man rises before dawn most every day weekday to meet the masochists who pay him to make them cry, but if he’s up that early on a Sunday it can only mean two things:
The fish are biting or it’s the Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival. Tapped for his particularly useful combination of brawn and brains, EYM has been in charge of loading up trays of challahs, rugelach, corned beef and latke mix into the refrigerated truck for the past six years. He spends the whole day ferrying reinforcements as the booths sell out right around the time church lets out – everybody in Savannah wants to be Jewish on Food Fest day!
The whole shebang is 25 years old this year and I wrote a lil’ something over at the day job about these fabulous matriarchs:
Come October for the past 25 years, the kitchen at Congregation Mickve Israel has erupted into a tzimmes. For those who know their Yiddish, that could mean a mess of traditional European carrot and squash stew dripping from the walls. But it also translates into the less literal definition: A big fuss. [Read the rest here.]
In the meantime, I’m making sure EYM gets to bed early all week – he needs his strength!
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Mon, 14 Oct 2013 19:06:37 | by Head Yenta
Every Jewish fundraiser and synagogue leader and professional Jew is currently plotzing over the latest from the Pew Research Center, A Portrait of Jewish Americans.
Some are wringing their hands into shreds over the data concerning the increase of intermarriage and assimilation; others interpret the findings as celebratory proof that we are indeed Jewish Americans, not American Jews.
The headlines might say Jews are jumping the synagogue ship and that the children aren’t being raised Jewish; J.J. Goldberg shows it’s all in the interpretation. Rabbi Gerald Skolnik writes in New York’s Jewish Week that he can’t find the good news in any of it; in today’s Forward, NYU professor Bethamie Horowitz provides a much more optimistic lens with which to view it all (a historically uncharacteristic practice for Jews, but hey, the point here is that we’re changing.)
Shmuel Rosner’s hilarious column in this week’s Jewish Journal breaks down a few other categories of the Jewish response to the study, including the smartasses. Rosner acknowledges that all points are valid but not necessarily useful — until taken into context with each other. What good is the Pew study if it’s just given our community more grist to fuel the endless infighting?
So many of our big brains have already weighed in, and as this yenta is neither as learned or broadthinking, I have nothing to offer about it other than I can’t say that the trends documented in the study come as any surprise:
More Jews are marrying non-Jewish — six out of 10, according the statistics — and less are identifying with religion and more with culture and heritage. Ninety-four percent of those polled are proud to be Jewish; only 30 percent describe themselves as “very attached to Israel.” An increasing sector is raising their children “partly Jewish,” which I guess means Chrismukkah exists after all.
Frankly, I don’t have the time to interpret it all, what with twice-a-week Hebrew school carpool, taking down the (worst) sukkah (ever) and guilting Yenta BoyMan into finally finishing the last phase of his mitzvah project. It’s a good thing no one called to poll me, I might have given a few smart alecky answers myself.
All I know if that from the pew where I sit in my small Southern city, the future of Judaism looks quite bright: Our 280 year-old Reform congregation just renewed the rabbi’s contract and membership is up. Shalom School enrollment is logging record highs this year, evident in the complete (but friendly!) madhouse at pickup. A gorgeous new preschool at the Jewish Educational Alliance opened this fall. The Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival continues to be one of the city’s most well-attended public events and was voted “Best Food Event” by the readers of Connect Savannah (It’s coming next Sunday, Oct. 27. Let the noshing begin!)
There’s also a cadre of young families and singles attending services regularly, not that I know anything about attending synagogue regularly but they’re always there when we show up (usually late, of course.) Some have one Jewish parent with another studying to convert, some are already Jews by choice, some are scoping out the dating scene. I don’t care because they know the right tune for the Sh’ma AND they bring their own wine to oneg. They ask questions, they are fun to be around and they make my excuses for skipping shul seem pretty lame. Many of them come to Judaism without baggage about What It Means to Be A Jew, and it’s a pretty refreshing perspective.
There have already been and will continue to be many solutions for the “problems” that the Pew study presents, but I can only offer the same of what I’ve been trumpeting for years:
In order to survive, Judaism must be joyful. And tolerant. And welcoming.
Many won’t agree, and I’m okay with that. But I can’t get caught up in handwringing and long meetings and strategizing — I’ve got honeycakes to burn and Chanukah to stress about and children to teach to curse in Yiddish. And maybe, if we get it together this Friday, services to attend.
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Wed, 09 Oct 2013 20:44:26 | by Head Yenta
This is running in the current Connect Savannah, but I’m reposting it here ’cause I pretty proud of it. Plus, I make a bar mitzvah reference, so it counts.
Girl, we need to talk.
I know you’re hiding under the covers right now, refusing to do any work and basically shirking all of your responsibilities. I don’t blame you. If I had a bunch of old suits screaming all day long about what they think is best for me while ignoring what I actually have to say about it, I’d break some serious bad, too.
But listen. You’re pushing 238 and it’s time to grow the fuck up.
America, honey, you’re like a Disney Channel star who spent her childhood racking up one success after another: You dumped the shackles of British colonialism and built your own coast-to-coast empire.
You helped bring down Hitler. You were the first to send people to the freakin’ MOON!
Your rebellious years seemed fairly promising, too. You stood up to those meanie Commies and protested the Vietnam War. You shed Old World notions about sex and feminism. You demanded equal rights for minorities while rocking epic bell bottom jeans.
You also started to get kind of rich, which tends to make people a little crazy. Protecting your fortune and your ego became more important than preserving the dignity and well-being of your denizens, and frankly, well, you’ve kind of lost your shit.
While you’ve been taking cross-eyed selfies in the mirror of your collagen lips, corporations have plundered and pillaged almost every one of your natural resources, polluting the oceans and blowing the tops off of your purple mountains majesty. You’re still dicking around with putting cutesy labels on Monsanto’s GMO-tainted amber waves of grain while dozens of other governments have banned them as poison. You have more of your own citizens in jail than anyone, anywhere.
You’re the last in the developed world to provide some kind of guaranteed baseline health care to its citizens, and the latest freakout a certain congressional faction of petulant babies had over THAT has sent you AWOL. And if the suits don’t get it together next week, your credit problems could trigger the economic meltdown of the whole world.
The other countries are starting to notice that you’re unraveling. They really do care about you, but your erratic behavior is causing them to edge away, like Aww, bitch be cray, maybe we should go chill with Venezuela — she got mad oil, and I hear she’s way cooler now that her pimp Hugo is gone.
Your domestic civil discourse has devolved into an obscene game of third grade Telephone as evidenced on your default national news network Twitter, where an educated daughter of successful Indian Americans is derided as an “ugly Arab” and somehow the “real Miss America” could only be an AK47-toting bleach blonde with a giant tattoo on her rib cage. Not that your blondes and tattoos aren’t super hot; they’re just not the ONLY kind of hot. You used to be proud of your melting pot heritage; we’re just as colorful as we’ve always been, baby. What happened?
But, hey, even with your bad taste in TV and your nasty meth problem, I’m still pretty enamored of you.
I happened to be in Washington, DC a couple of weekends ago, right before those Congress dudes shut your whole thing down. We were actually in Maryland for a bar mitzvah, celebrating with a brood of cousins whose ancestors escaped hatred and oppression to forge successful businesses and happy families. It occurred to me that a ballroom full of brilliant and hopeful Jewish kids dancing the dougie is a pretty excellent example of the American dream.
I insisted that we drive our rental car down the wooded Beltway that afternoon so my kids could see in person the architecture of America’s inner workings, your elegant guts. The Washington Monument was cloaked in scaffolding, and we didn’t have time for the Smithsonians or a tour of the Capitol (if I had known I wouldn’t get another chance for a while I might have skipped the cocktail hour.) Our GPS led us straight to the Mall, where Providence somehow provided us a parking space next to the Lincoln Memorial.
In other countries, this magnificent monument would be considered a temple. But it’s not a religious beacon for the gods — it’s a testament to this revolutionary idea of civic life based on our inherent equality as humans, something so important your founding fathers put it in writing. America has never been about what God we pray to or whether we pray at all — your strength has always been in how We the People treat each other.
There’s a reason Lincoln’s legacy will always be part of your legend. Few have led with the same integrity, honesty and willingness to stand up for the rights of everyone. Everyone. All of us. Not just the richest. Or the prettiest. Or the whitest. Or the ones with the most guns.
As Mr. Lincoln gazed down on my small family, I pressed up on the cool marble columns and got all choked up because in spite of all your wrecking ball shenanigans, I am still so honored to call you home.
The following week, while you were holed up in your room catching up on HGTV, to climb the same steps became an act of rebellion. There at the Lincoln Monument, We the People remembered for a minute just who you really are. If my kids and I had been there then, we would have breached those barricades, too.
There are those of us still believe in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — as well as in a decent education, universal health care and dignity in our daily life. We understand that none of it comes free in this land of freedom, and we’re willing to pay a little more if it means everyone will have enough.
The ones hollering over lost jobs while they collect their fat paychecks, those who would rather asphyxiate you into chaos rather than help your poor and sick, they don’t get you. But we’ve got your back. We can do this. We’ll dry you out, get you some therapy, revive your spirit.
We can insist that the suits act like competent, compassionate adults or they’re fired — they work for us, remember?
We don’t have to eat the toxic swill or buy the cheap crap they’re shilling. We can grow a revolution in our gardens and in our neighborhoods and our minds. We can fend for ourselves and let the suits drown in their own misappropriated greed. We can unite as one nation, indivisible over the promise for liberty and justice for all.
Just wake up, sweetheart. It’s just time to wake up.
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Fri, 04 Oct 2013 14:11:38 | by Head Yenta
So, it was reported this week that chozzerai peddler Hobby Lobby won’t carry Chanukah or Passover decorations because it conflicts with CEO Steve Green’s “Christian values.”
The Hobby Lobby damage control trolls are already at work, sort-of-apologizing on Facebook and pretending that someday, they might consider carrying some cheap crap made in China that could pass for Chanukah decorations:
“Hobby Lobby is currently working with our buyers over our merchandise selection. Our customers have brought this to our attention, and we are currently evaluating our holiday items and what we will carry in the future,” wrote a representative.
Herm, I’m bowled over by the sincerity, yeah. Listen, Hobby Lobby, don’t do us any favors. We don’t need you to dust off a shelf of moldy yarn in the back and stock it with some blue tinsel and crap cardboard menorahs and call it redemption. Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, and all we Jews ever need to make it a joyous holiday is a chanukiah and box of candles, both available in the gift shop of our local synagogue.
And maybe just a few strings of blue twinkly bulbs from Home Depot.