Friday, May 22, 2009

Not So Random Ads

Some of you might have realized that I've recently sold out and monetized my blog. I apologize if the ads distract you from the delicate cotton candy pink background or from my hilarious tales of public humiliation, but a girl's gotta eat and pay her therapist to help her deal with the shame her disclosures cause her. (I'm crying on the inside, folks.)

Anyway, if you've cared to check out the products that are now advertised on this page, you'd notice that the types of items can be broken down into three categories: gymnastics attire, Jewish lifecycle events services (dating, weddings, funeral) and dance classes.

It makes me proud knowing that my blog can bring together readers of so many different backgrounds and interests, that from clicking around on this someone can find their bashert (that's Jewish soul mate), buy a crushed velvet leotard and learn to shake and shimmy. On occasion, you can find links to Jewish cremation services but since when is that a Jewish way of body disposal? Damn reformim! (I kid, I kid.) Perhaps I'm experiencing some sort of blogger amnesia, but when have I ever written a post about Jewish burial ritual that would inspire my Google overlords to place a related ad in the sidebar?

But is it possible that some of my readers will be interested in all of the ads? That somewhere out there is a person, a rare Jewish-b-girl-gymnast fusion that will purchase from all of the aforementioned categories. Perhaps he/she/it looks a little something like this:

Or this:

Or maybe this is my perfect reader:

(all composites were done Holly Hosman)

I can only wonder what kind of ads will pop up after I publish this post.

Monday, May 18, 2009

B-boys on The Bachelorette

This clip was found by Chris at BreakerNYC

In the breaking world. the ratio of men to women is quite the opposite of the dating scene on the Upper West Side, so it is quite natural for b-boys to venture outside the scene in order to find girlfriends. In the clip embedded below, two such b-boys compete for the affection of the latest Bachelorette.

What do you think of their breaking? Who do you think won? And why don't I meet such hot single b-boys? (I'm mostly referring to the younger, blonder Abercrombie & Fitch-esque one?)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bringing Dance to Orthodox Jews (published in the Forward)

Balancing Act

An Orthodox Woman Brings Dance to the Community

By Dvora Meyers

Published May 13, 2009, issue of May 22, 2009.

A few hours past sundown on a recent Saturday evening, Rivka Nahari, 31, took to the stage. Her slight frame draped in all black, and her wig swept back with a clip, she sang an aria from “Romeo and Juliet” while accompanying herself on the piano. The audience, which consisted of 50 Orthodox women and girls who had been listening to musical performances more suited to “American Idol” than to the Met, vacillated between awe and confusion at the French lyrics and the power of Nahari’s voice, which reverberated from one end of the gym to the other.

Perhaps the Shorefront Y’s gymnasium, located on Coney Island Avenue in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, was not the best venue to host the “Women Out Loud!” women-only open mic, but Nahari seemed to enjoy herself. “My joy is in performing,” she said, “not teaching.”

But teaching has become an important part of Nahari’s career as owner and artistic director of the Brooklyn Jewish Dance Institute. One of her goals this past November, when she opened her studio in the basement of her Flatbush home, was to increase the level of dance training available to frum women. Nahari hopes to find a few gifted and dedicated female dancers and create a professional company so that the girls won’t have to go outside the community for an artistic education.

Nahari, who has three daughters and a son, is well suited to the task, perhaps, most notably, because of the years she spent studying dance in the outside world. Growing up in Las Vegas in a nonobservant home, she studied ballet as a young girl at the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre. Nahari probably still would be in the Nevada desert, performing with a professional company, had she not discovered the Chabad Lubavitch movement at age 14.

Her parents were opposed to her venturing into the Chabad House. Nahari said her mother told her “I wasn’t going to be accepted, because I was a girl. They told me they’re dirty people. Anything to dissuade me from going. And my first impression was how clean the place was,” she recalled with a laugh.

Nahari says that her attraction to Orthodox Judaism stems from the fact that she’s a rules kind of girl. She credits the Chabad rabbi for not pressuring her to give up her artistic pursuits (which included harp, flute, piano and voice), even as he taught her about the very modesty laws that would prohibit their continuation in a public way. He found halachic loopholes for the young Nahari so that she would not abandon her efforts to become Orthodox. For a while, she let herself slide down the chutes. But after spending two years studying at the Lubavitch Bais Rivkah Seminary in Brooklyn and at the Mannes College of Music in Manhattan — a time that she describes as “the best balance I ever achieved” between her religious and artistic lives — she gave it all up. Her fiancĂ©, who hailed from Israel’s small town Bnei Brak and was studying to be a rabbi, didn’t approve of her public performances.

Nahari spent the next several years devoted exclusively to raising a family. It was only recently that she felt the urge to return to the stage. “Dance and music are my way of expressing myself,” she said, with equal parts pride and guilt.

Nahari acknowledges that she faces an uphill battle in the frum community, where people struggle to identify the differences between the various kinds of dance, much less perform those dances. “When I first opened the studio, I got a bunch of people calling, asking if we had modern classes,” she said. Nahari was puzzled by all the inquiries she was getting about an abstract dance form, so she questioned the callers further. “Turns out they were looking for a hip-hop class. They had no idea what it was called,” she said.

Hip hop is just one of the several dance classes Nahari offers to children and adults. Others include ballet, jazz and flamenco. But the introduction of the urban dance form presented a challenge to the studio’s motto — “Providing quality dance training… in a tzniusdik [chaste] way. Nahari’s hip hop, however, is not the kind you’d recognize from MTV. Gone are sexually suggestive moves and even the lyrics. She chooses instrumental pieces for most hip-hop classes.

For some, the modifications aren’t enough. Some rabbis have objected to Nahari’s efforts. “They didn’t like that I was bringing this treyf thing into the community. One said that if any of the girls in his school were caught in the studio, they would get kicked out.”

Nahari understands the criticism. She has daughters of her own and though she wants them to be able to express themselves physically and creatively, she was at first ambivalent about enrolling them in her studio’s classes. What if they took to dance the way she had? Even if her company and studio are huge successes, there is no way Nahari can match the opportunities available on the outside. “I would have a hard time supporting her,” Nahari admitted, almost incredulously, when asked how she would react if one of her daughters, after years of training, decided to pursue a career in the greater dance community.

And yet, she carries on the venture with the blessing of a local rabbi who has granted the studio a seal of approval. Others have chimed in with their approbation. “Some people call me and thank me from the bottom of their hearts for giving their girls this outlet,” Nahari said.

But perhaps the biggest beneficiary has been Nahari, who after years of self-denial has been able to fulfill herself artistically while maintaining her religiosity. “The studio is the balance I’ve been searching for since college,” she said. Of course, that kind of balance is a bit easier for someone already at ease on her toes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Not My Real Name

A guest post by Ploni Almoni

I first met Dvora at a Shabbat dinner on the Upper West Side. My former employers considered the UWS to be the epitome of off-the-derech Judaism, a bastion of liberal thinking, a place swarming with apicorsus and lies. If you used Dvorah as your sample, you would realize that they were not that far-off in their categorization.

Dvora took even the most upright, heimeishe topic of conversation and managed to turn it into something lewd, offensive or (I have to admit) thought provoking. Unafraid to speak her mind, Dvora conversed with gusto about her blog articles and upcoming book Eager to fit in, I mentioned that I, too, was a published writer.

Dvora looked at me from across the table and simply asked, “What did you write?”

“A review I wrote was published in a newspaper,” I ventured, hoping to end there.

Always inquisitive, Dvora pushed on. “Which one?”

Self-mockingly I answered, “It was published in ‘the’ daily newspaper of Torah Jewry.” We spent the next few minutes clarifying which publication I was talking about. No, not the magazine which reported that the sun revolves around the earth (really, it said so in the science section for kids) or the one which refused to publish an advertisement for a queen bed because of the connotations it evoked (only twin permitted).

I was talking about the daily newspaper which never publishes pictures of women. I once spotted a rare article on a woman’s study group. The accompanying article featured a cluster of long bearded, black hatted, slightly bent over men. Pictures of women weren’t the only taboo in this newspaper. Woman’s first names were prohibited because, G-d forbid, it might breed a sense of familiarity. ‘H. Clinton’ and ‘T. Livni’, while very active in politics, were faceless, nameless personalities.

And my name in the newspaper? I don’t remember exactly, I think it was something like “Yaacov Freedburg.” My husband thought it was a creative choice.

“What was your article about?”

“It was a book review,” I explained. “About a book. A Jewish one.” As the truth was a bit messy, I was hesitant to provide more details. Working for a small Jewish publishing company, I often wrote book reviews of our own books. (FYI, they were always “excellent,” “gripping,” and “meaningful.”) If you ever take the time to read book reviews in lower-budget magazines and newspapers you will realize that many of them are written by biased writers who are well compensated for their opinions.

My conflict of interest was one of the reasons I used an alias. The other was my gender—designated ‘inappropriate’. As an editorial assistant at this ‘yeshivish’ publishing company I had to search for inappropriate situations in the novels. While you and I might apply the term “inappropriate” to some of Dvora’s dinner conversation choices, the publishing company had a much stricter definition. A girl talking to a boy? We rewrote the story so that the girl spoke to her brother who spoke to the boy. A divorced woman as a protagonist? Adeptly, we inserted a caveat—“She was divorced, a rare and unfortunate occurrence in our community.” Even a child’s rude remark was downplayed and softened.

Tirelessly, I made every character free-of-flaw, removed from real conflict, and untarnished by any misdeed. That’s Kosher publishing.

The publishing company’s priorities were clear. When my boss read over a manuscript for a novel set in ancient, Biblical Egypt he complained “the book is fraught with theological problems and anachronisms.” “Yes,” a coworker responded. “We’ll have to do something about those theological conflicts.” Not a word was spoken about the blatant historical inaccuracies.

Once upon a time, many Jews were forced by the sword to convert. But if what T. Roosevelt said was correct, my publishing company had found a far mightier form of indoctrination. At the publishing company we wielded the pen. What is appropriate, what is ‘Jewish’ enough? (Hint: Zionism didn’t make the cut, but reincarnated figures from the Torah did.)

As editors, we never left in anything that was controversial or unsettling to the Ultra-Orthodox Jew. Even our book reviews about our own books were pleasant. Story after story, everyone ultimately loved keeping kosher, embraced their gender roles, and were happy with their lives. Is it appropriate to shelter readers? To gloss over faults? Even without photograph evidence, woman (and the ability to co-habit with them) still exists.

Dvora, uncensored in her views, asked me to write about censorship. Judaism is messy, uncomfortable and somewhat scandalous. Should we hide this reality, celebrate it? I choose to confront it, albeit, under an alias.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Libertarian Paradise

I guess Somalians also don't have universal health care...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Better than the Hora! B-boy Nemesis Workshop

For those of you who are searching for new shtick to do at weddings aside from wearing a t-shirt from your undergraduate alma mater and singing your school song complete gestures that would not be out of place at a Hitler Youth rally (Penn people, I'm talking to you!), then may I suggest break dancing?

Break dancing is perfect for weddings and bar mitzvahs where the dancing is already done in a circle. So instead of just running around in said circle, moving without regard for the beat, you can jump in the middle and show off your slick moves.

But where to learn these moves?

You could go to the subway stop in Times Square and ask the b-boys there to teach you but breaking requires you to put your hands on the floor, and do you really want to be touching New York's largest public toilet with anything other than the bottom of your shoes?

Or you could attend B-boy Nemesis' breaking workshop, which will be held on May 23rd at the Ripley Grier Studios in New York City. The class is intended for beginners and Nemesis will take you through the basics of b-boying. You may not learn to spin on your head from this one class but you'll certainly master enough to impress the laypeople.

So if you are about to attend a wedding or bar mitzvah and would like to break the cycle of Jewish rhythmlessness, then go to for more information and to register.

By the way, non-Jews and those possessed of rhythm may also attend. I just don't feel comfortable making fun of other religious and ethnic groups other than my own. I think if I did I'd have to turn in my "East Coast Liberal" badge.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Daily Show is hiring

It's good to see that in these tough economic times the Daily Show with Jon Stewart is hiring. Just a few minutes ago I watched the newest correspondent, Josh Gad as he thoughtfully analyzed the present banking and credit crisis.

It was not funny. Not even a little bit, not even when he donned a fake mustache and sombrero and launched into a vaguely racist Mexican accent.

But readers, the reason I'm ready to dislike him based off of a two minute bit that went south (of the border and comedically) is because he took my job. Yes, that job should've been mine. Not only am I funnier. Not only do I not wear douchey, tinted glasses. But I have put my commitment to Jon Stewart above my professional goals by mentioning my ardor for him in countless cover letters.

Below is one of the cover letters I sent out during my time living in Los Angeles. Surprisingly the "Jon Stewart" letter actually got me a lot of interviews. And then they met me.

June 7, 2005

Dear Mr. Bustamante:

I know that you probably tire of hearing this but I’ll say it anyway: I am in love with Jon Stewart. That’s why I had to move from New York City to Los Angeles. His lawyers promised not to file stalking and harassment charges if I moved far, far away. So here I am in L.A., with my recently acquired driver’s license, terrorizing the roads instead of Mr. Stewart and company, looking to apply my unique qualities to an industry that views crazy people as “artists.” Which is why I believe I have a bright future ahead of me as a Writer’s Production Assistant working for Twentieth Century Fox Television.

Maybe you’ve read this far and are amused by the introductory paragraph but do not think that I possess the smarts necessary to work as an assistant. Allow me to allay those fears: I have a diploma from the University of Pennsylvania. It’s written in Latin so I don’t really understand what it says, but hey, I majored in English and Communications, not Classical Studies.

I hope this letter conveys that I have sufficient intelligence and quirks for a career in entertainment and not as evidence that I should be committed. I look forward to discussing the administrative assistant position with you.

Thanks and have a great day.


Debra Meyers

P.S. I can type 55 WPM, which means it took me about five minutes to type this cover letter.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Finger Gymnastics

Back when I was in the fifth grade, my Hebrew teacher approached my desk and slammed her hands down on it. "Please stop it," she practically yelled. I looked up at her annoyed expression, which was framed stiffly by her wig and stopped twiddling my fingers.

I had been doing Shannon Miller's bar routine with my hands, using the thumb and pointer of my right hand as the low and high bars, respectively. The fingers of my left were Shannon Miller's body and I swung them around the "bars."

I encountered certain problems with performing Shannon Miller's routines, namely that I could not do double somersaults off my top finger/rail, certain anatomical limitations (such as a wrist that couldn't bend all the way backwards lest it snap), but all in all, I think my "routines" would've warranted a good score.

Later as I walked past Mrs. Katz's desk on my way out of the classroom, she stopped me again. "Maybe you should take piano lessons," she suggested, "since you're so nimble with your fingers." I thanked her but shook my head.

Piano, I internally scoffed. Couldn't she I was in training for the 1996 Olympics?

Take a peek for yourself. In this clip below, I dramatically reenact Miller's routine and my fifth grade obsession.

The commentary is ripped from Tim Daggett's playbook- the remarks about Miller's form, "her" combo on the high bar, and the annoying comment about sticking the dismount. Even as a fifth grader (or an adult), I couldn't be so grating without outside help.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Israeli gymnast with a shot at a medal?

Soon you're going to tell me that Jews can dance and have straight hair.

But no, it's true. In a recent update on International Gymnast's website, there's a small piece about Alexander Shatilov, formerly of Kazakhstan (just like Borat!) but has lived in Israel and competed at the last few world championships and Olympics for his adopted country. He earned berths to floor exercise finals in 06, 07, and 08 and hopes to final medal in 2009 at the worlds in London, especially encouraged after medaling at the recent European Championships.

Who wears short shorts? Here's Shatilov competing in Milan. Despite the nerdy socks and spandex, he is still a better ambassador for Israel to the rest of the world than Avigdor Lieberman.

(A side note: Though both Jews and gymnasts tend to be short, Shatilov seems to have beat the odds on both counts. On the medal podium, he towered over the gold and silver medalists. And while commentating on his 2006 event final floor routine, Bart Conner and Blaine Wilson joked that Shatilov is a giant. "He might even be 5'9"!" Conner laughed.)