Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From Gangs to Jews

My new piece, "Blood Brother," which went live today in Tablet Magazine, is about Benjy Melendez, who founded the Ghetto Brothers gang in the South Bronx. This group was at one point one of the largest and most powerful in New York City in the late 60s and early 70s. It was also one of the first to renounce violence and pursue peace.

Benjy as a Ghetto Brother in the 70s.

Jeff Chang does an excellent job of recounting the gangs of the South Bronx in his seminal book, Can't Stop Won't Stop, which recounts the history of the hip hop generation. In the chapter on the gangs, Benjy is interviewed extensively about the origins of his group and the gang summit he helped organize.

Benjy was also involved in the Puerto Rican nationalism. As Chang notes, his family was from San Juan, which is where Benjy was born though he moved to New York as a young child. Not discussed (as it was irrelevant to Chang's work) was where the Melendezes lived before Puerto Rico- northern Spain. Benjy and his family descended from conversos or crypto Jews, who for centuries practiced their religion in secret.

In the Tablet article, I interviewed Melendez, whose only present connection to the Ghetto Brothers is musical- back in the day they had a band, too. Here is a clip of one of their songs, Ghetto Brothers Power.

During one of the interviews, we visited what remains of the synagogue he attended for years on Intervale Avenue in the South Bronx. Here are some of the pictures I took of Benjy inside the condemned building.

Benjy today standing where Black Benjie was murdered.

Inside the Intervale Jewish Center, today.

More destruction inside Intervale.

Benjy with an Intervale souvenir.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Who can roast Bounce? No one!

Yesterday I cheered on Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie at Who Can Roast The Most, a b-boy/b-girl battle, hosted this year in lower Manhattan. In the 1 on 1 exhibition battles where top notch talent faced off for nothing more than respect, the dancers had to go ten rounds. In break dancing terms, this is a marathon. Which is why it is all the more impressive that Bounce didn't even seem to be tired at the end of the ten rounds. Props to Macca, one of Philly's finest b-girls for an impressive showing, but in this humble writer's opinion, the New York City bred dancer took it.

Here is the battle clip. Ephrat is on the left side of the video in the blue and maroon. You will see why I want to be Bounce when I grow up. (As usual, thanks to Chris at BreakerNYC for filming and uploading all the videos)

Also a special shout out to Shosh for bringing the Israeli flag to the jam to support the Israeli born Asherie, especially since I forgot to buy pom poms to cheer her on. (You can see a blue and white blur in the corner of the video.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Paper of Record for this Jew

A few days I bemoaned the fact that the New York Times (and also the Daily News) seem to jump on any story about Jews- no matter how trivial or ridiculous or both. Well, I take that back, New York Times because today (and on Sunday in print) I have gotten my first official clip from the venerable Grey Lady called, "Will the Real Brooklyn Please Stand Up?" It can be found online here and will be printed in the Sunday paper in the Metropolitan section.

Yes, I've renamed the borough Fakelyn. And yes, I know I will be kicked out of every monosyllabic shop from Cloth to Whisk. And yes, I know I've probably offended a few of my own, dear personal friends.

But it was worth it!

Hillel Smith, Graphic Designer Extraordinaire

If you read this blog regularly, semi-regularly or not at all (you might've landed here seaching for Jewish gymnastics porn-sorry. My site's name is terribly misleading) then you'll notice that it doesn't look horribly ugly anymore. That's cause my friend and graphic designer, Hillel Smith put his immense talents to work on this domain.

You should check out more of his work at his own meticulously designed site, right here.

Who knew artichokes could be so fierce?

Personally, I want to wear the artichoke dress though in less muggy weather. I fear that it won't hold up well on the humid East Coast.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Things That Don't Need To Be Invented

In an attempt to wrest the title, "Paper of Record for the Jews," from the New York Times, the Daily News published this article today about Seth Mosler, a Manhattanite who is the proud creator of the yamulkap, which is a skullcap with a brim so that Orthodox men won't have to squint in the sun while trying to play sports. (Yeah, lack of shade has been the reason for our collective athletic mediocrity.) Seriously, Daily News and New York Times- you don't have to report all the weird things we get up to even if an article on the Jews immediately shoots directly to your "Most Emailed List."

"It could be trendy thing to wear," Mosler said of the very unflattering contraption, which looks like a baseball cap that has been the victim of a practical joke.

I'm inclined to agree. I mean after all manpris have somehow become socially acceptable so really anything is possible.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Subway Preachers

Last night as I rode the 2 train from the Upper West Side to Brooklyn, a preacher stepped on board and told me (and the rest of the car) that God loves us. I smiled as I turned back to my New Yorker. Unlike subway mariachi bands, which I loathe, I rather enjoy a good sermon. Most Sunday mornings I am awake and en route to a tutoring client. This is the prime time to encounter them. Though my ear buds remain inserted, I turn my music off and give them my rapt attention.

I view the sermons and their makers as actors in an underground public theater. Since I do break dance, I have a Shania Twain reaction to the little b-boys who do simple bits of footwork in the car- That don't impress me much. And if a rabbi were to stand up and do the same during my weekend a.m. commute, saying something along the lines of "Hashem loves you," I would cringe and silently retort with a reference to Aristotle's notion of God, the Unmoved Mover who cannot possibly express emotions like love.

Maybe it's the appeal of the unfamiliar. Rabbis are old hat to me- I grew up around them- but New Testament preachers are still exotic to me so I don't object to the dogma they spew. Also, a part of me wishes I had their balls. They must know that their presence and product is incredibly unwelcome on the train and yet they still deliver it loudly to a captive audience. As someone who is incredibly self-conscious, I can't help but admire that though not enough to accept Jesus as my personal savior.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Men vs. Dogs

No, this is not a post where I equate men's behavior with that of canines. (I'm not that bitter!)

A month ago I started walking a beautiful black Labrador both for money and simply because I love dogs and in my present financial situation I cannot afford to get one of my own. I can only buy food for one of us and if I owned a dog, he/she would win out over me.

I was telling a friend how I loved showing up at the dog's residence, just a few blocks away from mine, because when I unlocked the door, her whole body wagged in excitement. She snorted with happiness. She licked my jeans. She was not shy about showing her affection.

I told my friend how much I enjoyed this display of affection. "There are no mixed messages with dogs." No wondering if he likes you, what the wagging tail means. There is no subtext. Dogs are all text, and after many years of dating or semi-dating as the case often is, it's refreshing to be around a creature incapable of confusing you.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Toy Story 3 Tea Party

In a new trailer from Toy Story 3, Woody finds himself doing "improv" at a tea party.

All I gotta say is that those dolls got off lucky. Had they been unfortunate enough to find themselves in my bedroom, they would have been forced to do gymnastics. Most of my dolls were scotch taped as a result of their "training." I was like Sid, the evil destroyer of toys.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The where but not the what

I've always wanted to get a tattoo but for the longest time I was dissuaded by the belief that I could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery with one. But a couple of years ago Kate Torgovnick wrote all ink loving Jews a "Get into a graveyard free" card in which she exposed it as an urban legend. Since then I've seriously flirted with the idea of getting a flesh inscription.

I've considered possible locations- anyplace that is likely to stretch or sag in the future has been ruled. Same goes for the small of my back, tramp stamp central. I like the idea of something small on the inside of my wrist or above my knee or at my hip but I've never been able to decide on what to etch. What would I want to see for the rest of my life, or at the very least for the next several years? What could I possibly choose that I wouldn't consider lame in just a few months?

This is why I've always chosen to pierce instead. With a very limited number of jewelry shapes and options, all you've got to do is settle on the "where" not the "what."

But who knows? Maybe someday I'll settle on something timeless, the tattoo equivalent of a string of pearls.