Thursday, June 30, 2011


Today I finally told my mother I had gotten a tattoo.

How did she not know, you might be wondering, since all of you who sometimes read this blog or Tablet or are friends with me on Facebook know about my bumble bee etching. Well, my mother doesn't know how to use a computer. (Today as she sat in front of my laptop to read an essay of mine that I had wanted her to see, I had to hover nearby to press the "PgDn" key for her. True story.)

While I may joke that I am a Luddite since I have yet to purchase a smart phone, my mother actually is one though I don't think she stands her ground on principle as much as fear that if she presses the wrong button the computer will self-destruct. Anyway, as a writer who reveals a lot about her personal life online, my mother's handicap has freed me to reveal way too much.

Which brings us back to the tattoo. Since she would never happen up on the Tablet article or my Facebook photo album nor was she inclined to glance down at my ankle though I have worn many short dresses and short shorts in front of her since spring/summer began, I felt like I had to say something. Just as I did when I asked her to give me my chuppah money for my student loans, I sat her down in a coffee shop. "I've got bad news," I began then hedging slightly, I added, "Well it's not really so bad. I mean, you may not like it but I'm not dying or anything." Deep breath. "I got a tattoo," I finally told her.

Now cue to my shock to her total lack of shock or abhorrence. She asked to see it and then said, "It's pretty but did it hurt?" she asked. I recounted nearly passing out because it hurt so much, which I had expected. But what I hadn't expected was how painless this conversation was turning out to be. If she was at all upset, she hid it exceptionally well, which I don't think is the case since no one in my family knows how to hide any sort of emotion, especially distress or anger. "I really like it," she declared after taking a second look. "Did you really think I would be so upset?" she asked me. I nodded. What I didn't tell her was why I was thought she'd be so upset, that I thought she'd see this permanent mark on my body as a sign that I was "off the derech" (off the path) in permanent, irreversible way and that the symbolism of it all would crush her.

Perhaps she already recognized this. Or perhaps I was reading far too much into this tattoo. Maybe it is just as she said it was -- just pretty.

The one where I get to quote Donald Glover

Sometimes I love what I do and this is one of those moments. I was watching Donald Glover (Troy on Community) stand-up comedy on YouTube when I saw this bit (around 1:00) in which the Jehovah Witness reared comedian talks about what he's learned about Jewish summer camp. And the Holocaust. Yes, those two formative events go together like peas and carrots.

After I stopped laughing at this ridiculous notion -- camp and the Holocaust -- I started to recall how my own camp invoked the Holocaust on Tisha B'Av and wondered if other camps of the non-super frum variety also brought up the tragedy in otherwise idyllic mountain retreats. The result of late night Donald Glover and my daydreaming -- today's article in Tablet, Camp Lessons.

Friday, June 24, 2011

B-girl Fingerz

A few years ago I posted a video of myself using my fingers to do gymnastics. (You can watch it here in all of its embarrassing glory.) Fortunately, you will all be spared my attempt to do the same with breaking since someone else has gotten there first. Her video features much higher production values, props and a soundtrack.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tefillin To The Rescue!

This article from a few days ago in the Jerusalem Post discusses an annoying outreach ploy -- sending text messages to Israeli members of Knesset (parliament) and their staffers, reminding them to put on tefillin (phylacteries -- this word is by no means a helpful translation. What the fuck is a phylactery?) and hasten the redemption. The group calls itself "Light For Tefillin." I personally get a kick out of people who think that the world's ills can be cured in one fell swoop -- whether the remedy is "moshiach" or "rapture" or "colonizing Mars." And I'm always amused when certain rituals are designated as magical. For example, I learned as a child that if all Jews observed one more Sabbath together then moshiach would surely come. But at least Sabbath is an egalitarian ritual -- both men and women can hasten redemption by keeping it. But tefillin? Since the group that is sending out the crazy messages is Orthodox and doesn't think women should use tefillin lest we get our menstrual cooties all over them, does this mean that only men -- the "proper" users of phylacteries -- will be the only ones redeemed? That would decimate the Upper West Side dating scene.

Anyway these texts are far more annoying than the ones you get about reducing your credit card debt. Why? Because they arrive at 7 a.m. At least the loan sharks have the decency to wait until midday after your first three cups of coffee kick in. (Aside: does anyone seriously respond to those debt messages? I think that if you take your credit advice from a text message then you deserve whatever identity theft that comes your way.)

Anyway, one Knesset aide, Lior Finkel decided to fight back. After politely trying to get herself removed from the text list, she actually followed the message's instructions -- she put on tefillin and then photographed herself in it and sent it back to the Light proselytes. She has not been disturbed since. Outreach thwarted! Huzzah! Let us all put on tefillin and take photos of ourselves.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wish she had done this in Williamsburg

Yesterday a woman was reported (and photographed) walking around the Bowery topless, trying to beat the heat. No farmer's tan for her! Line free all the way.

Though she appears to be speaking to cops in this photo published over at the Village Voice, it appears that this is actually not a crime. I never really thought about this much (I've actively tried to repress the old Russian women I saw remove their swimsuit straps at Brighton Beach when I was a kid) but for some reason I thought it was minorly illegal. But as the Voice demonstrates, women are allowed to go topless just as men can. Yay for equal opportunity nipple exposure and sunburns!

More power to you, Topless Woman. If you are willing to take the subway to Brooklyn, might I suggest you visit the Satmar section of Williamsburg? I know it's not nice but I do really enjoy watching the Satmar get riled up over stupid things, such as hair salons opening in their neighborhood. And Topless Woman, you won't have to worry about being photographed -- you will just be photoshopped out.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gym Anxiety

May 31 was the final day of my gym membership and since I've let it elapse, I've noticed a huge decrease in my anxiety levels. (Granted, they remain a bit inflated, higher than the national average because I'm still me.) I can walk down Fulton in Brooklyn, trekking past my former gym to the subway without guilt. Without a membership, the gym has transformed into just another storefront. I don't have to go inside.

I signed up for Crunch back in December via Groupon and upon the recommendation of my physical therapist. I was undergoing treatment for spine and rib issues and wasn't allowed to dance. She recognized that movement is essential to my psychic well-being and thought I should join a gym. As it turned out, I had purchased a Groupon for Crunch months earlier, anticipating the few weeks between Christmas and New Year's when breaking practices, which are housed in schools and community centers, go on hiatus for the holidays. I figured I'd use it to keep in shape during that small bit of downtime.

Obviously my dance hiatus stood to be longer than a few weeks and I activated the Groupon sooner than I had originally planned and then signed up for a full membership. At first I was happy to be a gym member again. It had been at least 5 years since I last belonged to one and I was thrilled at the idea that I could work out anytime I wanted to.

One of the frustrating things about breaking practices is that there are so few of them and they happen at specific times. They're mostly in the evenings when you might have other social commitments. (For that reason, I tried to avoid those at all costs, making dating very difficult.) Also, every once in awhile work keeps you late and you can't get to the session in time.

Those missed days of practice start to add up and I often wished I could just walk into the gym whenever I missed a dance session. Of course, what kept me from joining was the expense. How could I justify spending 75 bucks a month when I was able stay active for free most of the time?

Then came the injuries and the winter that dumped several feet of snow on NYC. Making up for missed practices with a run or bike ride was not possible in the inclement weather. The gym was the only way to go.

Unfortunately, the gym quickly went from being exciting to a burden because in theory, I could work out anytime. This meant that days I decided to skip for whatever reason -- whether I had made it to a dance practice earlier in the day or was simply too tired and sore from the previous day's workout -- induced fearful levels of guilt and nervous calculations about just how much money I was losing. And forget runs outside -- if I was going to run anywhere, it was going to be on the treadmill that I paid for, staring at my sweaty visage in the mirror as episodes of Jersey Shore played, muted on the television above my head.

Despite my financial arithmetic, I mostly avoided going to the gym. I've always been active but never simply for the sake of burning calories. In order for me to have a sustained interest in an activity, I must be learning something new. Dance offers ample opportunities for this. Running gives me the chance to improve my time and allows me to imagine the possibility of entering races (which I have never done). Alas, spinning class at the gym does not provide the same type of learning opportunities -- pedaling on a stationary bike in a dimly lit room with pounding house music doesn't exactly seem exportable to city streets and country roads. The mere fact that I had paid for the right to take these sort of classes was insufficient motivation to get me into the saddle. But not going still inspired a ton of guilt.

What I realized was despite being occasionally frustrated by both dance practice schedules and the weather, not being able to work out all of the time was actually a blessing for me. Having spent the majority of college going to the gym (when I wasn't doing all of my reading and writing flash cards for class -- yes, I was that kind of student), I needed my workout activities limited to specific times and places. If I can work out all of the time, I will or feel terrible about not.

Ironically enough, I've worked out more since giving up my access to Crunch. All those outdoor runs I contemplated but couldn't bring myself to do while I was a gym member? Well now I simply go out and hit the pavement. Of course, I realize that the awful weather is coming and with it, a ton of excuses to not exercise. But that's okay -- since I'm mentally unable to let myself off of the hook, I need a little help from weather and circumstance every once in awhile.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Who Wears Short Shorts?

So one of the dancers auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance, who also happens to be a student at BYU, was called into the college office for counseling after he appeared on television during his audition wearing nothing but dancer shorts.

This report amuses me on several fronts. First of all, I'm glad to see a man being called out for immodesty. Usually it's just the ladies. It seems that BYU is at least egalitarian in this way. Better than the the Orthodox Jewish community, which has strict rules for women and loose guidelines for the men that are rather weakly enforced. Also, this student got into trouble after the school officials were told about the audition and matter after the fact. How often in the Jewish community have rabbis reacted with outrage to things they weren't there to witness, that they simply heard about? I also find the hypocrisy most agreeable. The student notes that the swim team wears just as much as much (or as little) in photos. And finally, there's the lack of context. I personally think dancer shorts are okay for dance but perhaps not appropriate for class, just as Speedos are okay at the pool. (Wait, those are never okay.) But apparently the Mormons subscribe to a similar context free view of modesty that the frum do -- namely, what's inappropriate in one situation is wrong for all. Just as you wouldn't wear a bra and underwear to the grocery store, you wouldn't wear a swimsuit to the beach. Or dancer shorts to a dance audition. Or so the context free logic goes.

Tikkun Leil Breaking

Tomorrow night at the JCC on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (76th and Amsterdam), I will be teaching an intro to breaking class at 1:45 a.m. for the Stay the Night/Tikkun Leil Shavuot Program.

You might be wondering -- what does breaking have to do with Shavuot, Torah and Judaism? Nothing. I can make jokes about how breaking, since it is performed in a cypher, can be called "The Other Circle Dance." (Cue the groaning.) But really that's quite a stretch. Simply defined, "Breaking a form of African American competitive dance that developed in New York in the 1970's, and is also sometimes known as 'breakdancing.'" (This skeletal explanation was provided by one of the preeminent scholars of hip hop.) Jew's got nothing to do with it.

The reason I'm teaching this class (which will be the first breaking session I've ever led so I'm all kinds of nervous) is because I was asked to. Thankfully the fine folks at the JCC didn't ask me to contrive a way to connect it Judaism cause my head would've exploded from the effort.

Though the dance doesn't have any obvious Jewish connections, I still hope you guys can stay awake long enough to come out. Have some cheesecake (free at the JCC) but make sure you eat it at least an hour before dancing. You don't want to break with a stomach full of cheesecake. Trust me.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Frum Fashion Copy

Last week, Stylish, a new ultra-Orthodox fashion magazine was announced. While some of the clothing from this new magazine looks perfectly nice, fashionable even. yesterday I was reminded what more middlebrow clothing advertising in the frum community actually looks like.

Photo provided by Gila G.

It's hard to pinpoint what I like best about this ad that appeared in the Torah Times. Is it the name of the business, The Robe Spot? (Seriously, could this be a suitable name for a store anywhere outside the frum world?) Or that somewhere out there there is still a sizable market for nightgowns and that it's preferable to have said sleepwear imported rather than homegrown?

This ad also leaves me with so many questions. For instance, "Skirts, like Biz" -- do the proprietors mean that one of the brands they carry is the one I wrote about for the denim slideshow? (And it's spelled "Bis" not "Biz." I definitely feel like there is a LOL Cats potential with that one.) Or that you can find skirts similar to the Bis variety, as in knockoffs? And what do "Campers Nightgowns" look like? I keep thinking of camper vans.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Big Jew(cy)

So Jewcy has named me to their Big Jewcy list for 2011 for my contributions to poking fun at Orthodoxy through my writing and being an overall weirdo. (It's the whole obsessed with gymnastics/breaking thing that really piques folks' curiosity).

Anyway, I'm honored to be included on the list alongside other luminaries such as Eli Valley, a comic artist who you might remember for causing the earthquake in Haiti due to his anti-kiruv (outreach) strip he wrote for the Forward. (Sorry for bringing this up again Eli but it's really some of your best work.)I guess this means big things for me. I wonder what natural disaster I will cause. Stay tuned.

Have a looksie at my interview with the wonderful Margarita Korol and check my awesome headshot/shidduch photo. Doesn't that girl look like she should be married already?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Swimming in Skirts

I've just started researching a story for Tablet that had me strolling camp memory lane, which is when I came across this promotional video produced by Camp Sternberg, my summer home for nine years as a kid.

Camp Sternberg from The SHMA Camps on Vimeo.

Most of this speaks (hilariously) for itself. But even if I've moved very far away from the young girl/woman who LOVED going there every summer, I must admit that it did make me smile at moments. Though I was indoctrinated by the staff and this place is largely responsible for my rightward swing during high school, I really did have a wonderful time going there. (And Rabbi Greenwald has gotten so old! What does this say about me?)

But before I got too sentimental watching the video, my friend dug up a forum discussion related to Camp Sternberg, which reminded me about the whole knee socks vs. short socks debate. I was a short socks kid who wished she could be a knee socks girl. Alas, I did not have it in me, especially during the summer.

And apparently there was a song that no one told me about:

Verse #1: If you wear knee socks, badadadump,
Or you wear bobby socks, badadadump,
I love you cuz you are a Jew, badidadadump.

Verse #2: If you have straight hair, badadadump,
Or curly, frizzy hair, badadadump,
I love 'cuz you are a Jew, badidadadump.

Chorus: I love ya; I love ya;
'Cuz you're a Jew-a, a Jew-a, a Jew-a.
I love youuuu, 'cuz you're a Jew.
I may not like the things you do,
but I love you, 'cuz you're a Jew, badidadadump.