Monday, April 27, 2009

Sex toys as a tool for peace?

A short piece written by yours truly appears in this quarter's Lilith Magazine. It is a profile of a Tel Aviv woman and sex educator, Beverley Damelin, who uses toy parties (think Tupperware soirees with dildos) as a means of discussing female sexual pleasure. The profile also briefly discusses her experience of teaching a mixed audience- Israeli and Palestinian women- and her thoughts of n work.

Unfortunately, the article and text are available online. I guess that means you guys will have to subscribe!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

B-boy Passover follow up

When I told b-boy Meen that the post that featured him had been cross posted on a blog with more than 10 readers, that he is big in Jewpan, he seem pleased.

Meen: Maybe it'll be easier for me to get a cab now.

Me: Huh? Why would it be easier? You're still black.

Meen: I have no problem getting a gypsy cab.

Me: Anyone can get a gypsy cab.

Meen: Sigh.

Yes, in a Barack Obama, post-racialist world, anyone can get a ride in a gypsy cab. Even a black man.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

How was this night different from all the other nights?

On the first night of this year's Passover, I was the youngest at the seder table of adults. Though I am also a grown up in years (if not psychologically), I performed the duty that my youthfulness dictated and recited the Four Questions. As I stood on the chair to recite them in Hebrew and noticed that the light fixture was so much closer to my head then I remembered it being when I had last stood to say them, I briefly considered the other four questions, the ones that ponder the difference between this year's seder and all the family ones I've attended over the course of my lifetime.

1. During all other seders, we read the Haggadah in Hebrew; this year we read it in English inflected with Borat, Bruno, cockney and peasant Mexican accents.

In years past, my family seders have been conducted exclusively in Hebrew with my cousin-rabbi at the helm. He was more than willing to answer questions in English. In fact, I doubt he could've responded in fluent Ivrit despite the years of Talmudic and Torah study since yeshivas don't really stress Hebrew as a spoken language.

At this year's seder held in New Haven, CT in the home of the fabulous Austin and Knoxville (the aliases are based on their respective hometowns), a gay couple formerly of the Upper West Side, most of the attendees could not read Hebrew so the majority of the text was read in English. At some point during the recitation Knoxville shifted into his best impression of Sascha Baron Cohen's Borat. ("She's got vagine like sleeve of wizard," he said, which I don't believe is found in the actual Haggadah.) While some may consider this inappropriate, a unholy mix of the sacred and profane, of the rabbis that debated when the story of Passover should be told and a man who nude wrestled another naked man till you couldn't tell where one man's balls ended and another man's face began, it is important to note that Baron Cohen is Jewish, which makes this accent halachically permissible for the seder.

From Borat, it was a short hop, skip and jump to Baron Cohen's other alter ego, Bruno though it didn't sound very different from his Kazakh cousin. And when we came to Rabbi Yossi Haglili's monologue, Austin broke out his peasant Mexican accent for the Rav we called Jose. (Austin has some Mexican ancestry and does hail from the Lonestar State so his portrayal could in no way be construed as racist or inauthentic).

2. All other seders last six hours (at least). But tonight we are done at midnight.

My family affairs tend to be large- 25 people on average- and long. Cousin-Rabbi insists that all the children asks questions and incentivizes this by handing out prize for each and every inquiry. While this is fun for the little ones, it grows tiresome for the adults. The first half of the seder can go on for hours as a result (This is especially annoying on the second night when many of the children recycle the questions from the first night. Those should not have been rewarded with a toy.)

But at a seder with no kids table everyone was on the same page, which was to get to the next page and the next one, as quickly as possible. We were all hungry after an hour so it fell to me to use my superhuman Hebrew speed reading skills to get us to the meal.

And not only did we get to the meal sooner, we finished much earlier than we have at any other seder I had been at, especially on the first night. On that night, we retired to the couches after dinner where bloggette Feta produced the weed and we all got high. And there endeth the night's rituals in a cloud of smoke and giggles.

3. At all other seders there is an egg and shank bone on the plate, but at this seder there is an orange, a beet, and a flower.

At a strictly Orthodox seder, the egg represents one kind of sacrifice (Haggigah if you must) and the shank bone represents the Pesach sacrifice. But at a vegan seder, the beet replaces the shank bone, the flower stands in for the egg (What came first, the flower or the egg?) and the orange represents feminism. That last one has nothing to do with veganism and everything to do with liberalism, which is not accepted at my family's seders. Oh, I'm sure if I had been there this year, I would've heard heavy quoting from Glenn Beck. Shudder.

4. At all other seders, we sing songs arranged according to the Aleph Bet. Or ones about the circle of death for a young goat. But tonight we sing show tunes!

Well we didn't sing show tunes, just parodies of them. And it wasn't we, just Knoxville who made made like Ethel Merman, well, at a seder.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A B-Boy Passover

Yesterday I went to a b-boy battle held in Washington Heights. It was supposed to be a five hour event and I worried about what I would eat. Normally, I would head out to the nearest bodega and/or food truck for sustenance but I doubted that any market in the Heights (Dominican section, not the Yeshiva University part) would have kosher for Passover fare.

So I brought a box of matzo with me.

As it turned out, I was too distracted during the event to get hungry. Not that a slice of matzo would've done the trick anyway since I rarely find chewing on cardboard (even whole wheat cardboard) to be a highly satisfying experience.

But even if I didn't eat it, I believe I hit upon a brilliant strategy for selling more of the stuff, year round.

Use b-boys to market it.

In the above photo we have B-Boy Meen187 in the first ever breaking ad for Manischewitz Whole Wheat Matzos. (Note the use of Ashkenazis- "matzo" is conjugated to the plural "matzos" instead of "matzot," with a hard Ttt sound. For more about Ashkenazis read this archived post.) His hair is carefully covered in the manner of married Orthodox Jewish women everywhere and should appeal to that particular demographic. He even wears an extra head covering, a trucker hat that might also lure the yarmulke crowd.

Now, we might have to redo the shoot since his expression doesn't really scream, "I'm about to enjoy a delicious treat!" as much as, "What is this thing Dvora put in my hand? I guess I'll point to it?" And he did not sample the product though he must've been hungry since he battled almost all the way to the finals before he was eliminated.

Some of you might be saying that breaking and matzo have little in common. While that is perhaps true here are a couple of things that they agree on.

1. Both are hardcore.

B-boys and b-girls practice for hours every week, frequently jabbing elbows into their abdomens in order to anchor freezes. Some might call them "gluttons for punishment" or "masochists." But that is hardly the truth. I and other b-people would prefer to call ourselves hardcore, not because we enjoy pain but for our unswerving commitment to the dance that we are willing to withstand some extreme discomfort in order to progress.

And what could be more hardcore (to your large intestine at least) than matzo? You need a family sized package of Ex Lax to dislodge the stuff after the 8 day holiday and yet (some) Jews are so committed to this food that they eat for the duration of Passover, weakened Ashknenazic GI tract be damned!

Which brings us to the next point.

2. Both matzo and breaking are associated with small groups and/or subcultures

This is kind of related to the first point, but only small, strange groups of people go for this kind of self-punishment. B-boys will travel to the ends of the city for practice or a battle and will hurl themselves into the floor in pursuit of a new move. Jews will cover their kitchens in aluminum foil so that they resemble the interior of spaceships. They will climb twelve flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator to avoid doing "work" on the Sabbath. No wonder neither group- breaking or Jews- attract sufficient converts to achieve some sort of critical mass.

But if eating matzo is so unpleasant, why would Manischewitz or any other brand invest money to market the stuff year round?

Because of the Gentiles. I hate to racially profile now that I've retired from the New Jersey State Troppers, but I'm gonna say it anyway- most b-boys and b-girls aren't Jewish. I know it's shocking that a dance noted for rhythm and physicality doesn't count a lot of Jews in its ranks.

But why does that matter, Jew or Gentile?

Because non Jews love the stuff! Every time I complain about the plague that is matzo in front of a Gentile, she tells me she loves it. As (mostly) non Jews, b-boys and b-girls are sure to love "the stuff".

With the existence of a year round market clearly proven there is no reason that Manischewitz shouldn’t attempt to reach from Jewish sub or small culture to another one. I can see it now- the Matzo Ball Jam, with perennial b-boy cosponsor, Red Bull. They can even manufacture matzo patterned headspin caps. I just hope they issue a warning that the Red Bull and matzo should not be consumed together. I have no scientific research to back this up but something tells me that cardboard and bull jizz shouldn’t ever be combined. The consequences might be lethal.

(About matzo but unrelated to breaking: One year while I was watching a friend move out of his off campus apartment at Penn, he happened upon several unopened boxes of matzo. Not wanting to waste it, he offered them to a homeless man who was hovering nearby. The man shook his head. "I know what that stuff is and I don't want it." I don't blame him. Until there is universal health care, the uninsured better avoid "that stuff.")

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Here comes the sun...

This morning my blogger friend, Feta (of Please Judge Me fame) called and woke me at 5:30 a.m. After I hung up on her and spent the next thirty minutes plotting her gruesome death, I climbed out of bed and dressed. Feta was waiting for me on my uptown corner of Columbus. We hopped into the gypsy cab and headed downtown (but not too far).

Where we, two bloggers (and therefore underemployed) going at such an early hour when neither of us had actual paid work scheduled for the rest of the day? To bless the still hiding sun.

On the roof of the JCC and to the tune of the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun (of course), we joined a growing group of other Jews, some of whom were on yoga mats to say Birkat Hachama, which is a very short blessing said every 28 years when the sun is supposedly in the same position as it was during the creation of the world.

Note the use of the word "short." The blessing is just five words long. So why did the event on the roof last for at least 45 minutes?

Because of the hippies. 

First of all, there were the yoga mats (not enough to go around, by the way) and doing sun salutations absent the sun in the frigid spring air (it snowed later).  As the class went into downward dog, the teacher cried out, "Your tuschies are smiling!" When I later told a gay friend, he said, "I don't think my tuschie smiles." No sir, his does not. Cause he is an atheist.

Though sun was clearly ascendant, judging by the color of the sky, we had not yet begun. The leader, in between sets of chanting, warned us that when we finally get around to saying the blessing we should remember that we are not worshipping the sun but the One who created it. 

I rolled my eyes. As far I was concerned, they may as well have been worshipping the sun for all the resemblance it bore to the God I was raised with in the sect of Joyless Orthodoxy (a part of the Mitnagged movement). The sun worshippers' God was warm and friendly and most of all loved them. My God and my former gymnastics coach share a philosophy- suck it up.

This is  where I'll end the post since my seder is about to begin shortly. And I think "suck it up" is the right philosophy to go into Passover. God does not love you. Nor do the rabbis who speak in Its name cause love means not having to eat matzah for eight days and clean behind your stove, or getting a new toothbrush. 

Passover is God's way of telling the Jews to "suck it up."