Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving: a Jewish Holiday

Though it was never mentioned in the Talmud or the Dead Sea Scrolls, most American Jews celebrate Thanksgiving. And why shouldn’t they? A holiday somewhat based on the agricultural calendar (a late fall harvest) that involves a good ol’ ritual slaughter – sounds Jewish to me.

Now you might be thinking – but we Jews no longer engage in ritual sacrifice now that the temple is a thing of the past. While this may be true, we sure like to talk about it a lot. Every day, in fact when we pray for the “fires” to be returned to the sanctuary. Those fires weren’t for warmth – they were for burning animal carcasses. And let’s not forget the list of sacrifices detailed in prayers for the Sabbath and High Holidays liturgy. If the priests had known about turkeys, surely they would’ve added this big bird to the list.

A sacrifice to El.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Jersey Shore-like Thanksgiving

For single Jewish men and women leery of going home to their families for Thanksgiving and facing a chorus of, “So tell me, have you met a nice girl?” tonight represents one last ditch attempt to answer in, “Why yes, Bubbe I have. I met her last night and she slipped out of my apartment this morning.”

From the people who brought you the Matzo Ball, the Christmas Eve extravaganza that gives young Jews something else to do aside from going to the movies and eating Chinese food, comes the Turkey Ball, an event intended to finish the job that Jewish summer camps and Birthright trips started. It will take place tomorrow night on erev Thanksgiving.

Though single and sure to face a barrage of good natured comments at my Orthodox family’s Thanksgiving gathering in New Jersey, I will not be attending the Turkey Ball. Four years ago, I made the mistake of buying a ticket to the popular Matzo Ball at the behest of a friend who I’ve since fallen out of touch with. (Coincidence?) I spent most of the night in the corner wondering when Jews started slicking their hair back with gel, en masse? And why all the fist pumping and techno music? (This certainly explains the odd feeling of déjà vu I felt as I watched Jersey Shore for the first time.)

That night also marked the first and last time I was inside a stretch Hummer, which shuttled us from one trendy Chelsea venue to another. This really drove the point of the whole night home. (Pun intended.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Benjy Revisited

Back in June, I wrote a piece for Tablet about a former South Bronx gang leader who came from a family of converso Jews from Spain (whoa, that's a mouthful): Benjy Melendez. After that article appeared, Julian Voloj, a photographer, contacted me about reaching Benjy. He was working on a project comprised of portraits of Jewish New Yorkers and wanted to capture a shot of Benjy for it.

Well, I made the shidduch between the two and here is the result:

(photo provided by Julian Voloj)

This photo does an excellent job at capturing the many crossroads of his life -- his present Jewish belief and worship and his past gang, political and general badassness.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Traffic Stoppers

I was crossing the street at the intersection of Houston and Lafayette this morning, still deep in my morning sleepwalk routine (I only had one cup of coffee thus far) when a traffic cop called out to me. This particular intersection has crossing guards (but for grownups!) working the corners because there is a lot of construction going on at that point. In addition to the usual New York City chaos.

It took me a moment to register that she was calling out to me and then my heart skipped a beat -- had I done something wrong? I glanced up at the light. Nope. The little white man was telling me it was all clear. And besides, this wasn't LA where you can get tickets for jaywalking. What was going on here?

I made my way back to the island where the female traffic cop was standing. "Girl, where did you get those sneakers?" she asked. I glanced down at my feet. I was wearing my brand new red classic suede Pumas. "I haven't seen those around since the 80s. I used to wear them!"

After telling the traffic cop where to find them (and missing another walk light as we chatted), I walked to the office with a little extra spring in my step. I know that some people don't like traffic cops but I find that they're perfectly pleasant if you don't own a car and they're interested in your footwear.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I got into Harvard (sort of)

I have a group of wonderful friends, all of whom attended Harvard as undergrads. When I hang out with them, I'm their token non-Harvard friend with a nontraditional (i.e. low paying) job. This doesn't rankle me even though I was rejected from their alma mater when I applied as a senior in high school. (Aside: next weekend is my ten year high school reunion--more on that in another post.) My rejection notice came on the same day a thick envelope arrived from Penn, which certainly helped soften the blow, and I was very happy spending four years in West Philly (even if I had to endure countless renditions of the Fresh Prince theme song every time I mentioned where my university was located). Penn and Harvard are both excellent schools and yet neither one would have done a good job of preparing me for a life as a vagabond freelance writer.

Anyway, years after I had gotten over my Harvard denial I finally made my way into the venerable institution and without intending to do so. Yesterday in the Harvard Crimson, my Tablet piece about Esther Petrack was referenced in a story they did about her, which they titled, "The Book of Esther." Clever guys but leave the punning of Judaism and pop culture to the professionals.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Sorry that I haven't been posting a lot lately--between writing about America's Next Top Model for Tablet (I'll miss you Esther!) and blogging over at Repair the World-- I haven't had as much time for this site. And I'm completely ashamed that I put up so few posts during the World Championships. I can barely look at myself in the mirror. (But at least I was able to mix my work over at Tablet with gymnastics pleasure when I profiled Noam Shaham.)

Anyway, don't get too excited. This isn't exactly a new post. Rather it's a cross-post. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Courtney Martin, a fabulous writer and activist, via email, for Repair the World. She has recently published, Do It Anyway a book about social activists that are agitating for change in their communities. While her book may not be optioned for movie rights anytime soon, Martin's keen psychological insights and beautiful prose proved exciting to this writer. I urge you all to check out her other book--she has also written Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters -- is a regular contributor to the American Prospect.

I really want to hate her--she's just a few years older than I am and way more successful--but she's too darn goodhearted. Sigh. I guess I'll have to settle for promoting her excellent work.