Shalom, my jiggaz!

(Get it? Like, “niggaz,” but Jewish, because as a young urban Jew, I find the best way to make a strong statement about my Jewish identity is to lift and superficially Judaize American black culture! I love Yiddishkeit like ODB loved crack, son!)

Anyway, y’all, I just wanted to represent for my hood and my peoples – wealthy-East-Coast-suburbanites-transplanted-to-the-Uppa-Wes’ whuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuttt – and tell you about how we throw down here in Jew York Ir Ha-Koidesh.

I like to start my day with some coffee like anyone else, and lately I’ve been going to this funky little place on Amsterdam – I’m Jewish, so I’m really into social justice, you know? – and this place is an organic concern that supports indigenous farmers in Cambodia and grows all its beans in something called “the killing fields” (apparently there’s like something really good for coffee in the soil there). It’s called Pol’s Coffee Pot, and I’m just really glad I can be contributing to tikkun olam and getting a surprisingly decent mochaccino too!

After that, I go to this awesome indie transdenominational minyan I set up wif some of my fellow Brews. We have shacharis every morning at about 1:30 PM, because most of us don’t roll out of bed ’til around noon (be sure to drop by someday!). We set up this crazy concept there (not to brag, but it was all me, baby) to solve the conflict between tradition and modern demands for egalitarianism in worship: the dodecachitza. The way it works is, the rabbi (which is a rotating role filled by a different minyan member every week) stands on a rotating bima in the middle of the room, so he faces each section of the dodecachitza. There’s a section each for the men, the women, the Gs, the Ls, the Bs, the Ts, the straight people who identify queer, considering-op transsexuals, lipstick lesbians, NYU students, interested gentiles, and homeless guys who came in for kiddush. It’s just really inspiring to see Jews of all different kinds getting together to praise God, or whichever deity or deities their personal beliefs lead them to worship.

And keep this on the DL, but I think I met someone last Shabbos at the minyan. There was this really cute girl, uh, I mean, delicious Hebrew shawty, wearing these funky rainbow distressed non-leather tefillin, so I went over to talk with her after the Haftorah, which that Shabbos was actually a reading from Norman Finklestein’s Beyond Chutzpah. Anyway, it turns out she’s not really a she, not yet anyway, but I’m totally cool with that, and she passes really well anyway. I totally invited her-to-be to this potluck I’m organizing with my JTS chevrusa buddies – I’m making spareribs! You see, the guys in my chevrusa have been trying to work eating pork into the evolving framework of halacha, and since halacha is a flexible system that encompasses all facets of Jewish life, we’ve decided that the Torah prohibition, which is like based on outdated health codes and an illegitimate Israelite sense of racial/religious superiority, no longer applies to the modern egal halakhic Jew, so feel free to chow down on that ish!

After that, if I don’t have my JTS classes, I try to catch up with whatever protest for Palestinian rights is going on (I keep my kaffiyeh in my man purse just in case!). As a Jew with a grandmother who survived Birkenau, I can’t abide by what’s being done in the name of my religion and people by the Israeli Gestapo in the territories. I mean, I’ve never been to Palestine, but I read a lot of blogs about it, so I feel like I’m really caught up with what’s going down there. Since Judaism’s mission is to spread the light of social democracy to the Western world (read it in the Tanakh, bitch!) I feel that Zionism, as an expression of Jewish nationalism, which clearly has no precedent in Jewish religion or thought, is totally illegitimate. NOT IN MY NAME!!

And then I head down to the Workmen’s Circle to chill out with the old people and speak a bisel Yiddish. Actually, that’s all the Yiddish I know, but I’m learning, and I can tell the old people really like me, because every time I come in somebody yells out “Here’s the little putz! Fransn zol esn zayn layb!” I’m really into the old Yiddish culture. Have you ever read Isaac Bashevis Singer? He is straight ill.

When night falls, that’s when this hepcat goes out and experiences the rich cultural life of Jew York, the center of the Jewish World! Seriously, dawg, you would not believe all the dope shit my fellow Brews are coming out with in the music world here. Last night, I went to see this seriously sick band called Lion of Zion – they mash up klezmer and reggae (it’s called klezgae!). It’s so totally out there and cutting edge. I was with this friend, and she said “it sounds like what would happen if you beat Bob Marley to death with a clarinet,” but she jus’ straight trippin’. And they had this rapper baal teshuva kid from YU spitting insane flows about Hashem over the Jewmaican groove. I was really feelin’ it, naaawmean? I mean, our ability to mix one single indigenous musical form with black music really shows that we’re the sickest culturemakers they is out there, knowwhatI’msayin’?

So anyway, that’s how we do in Jew York. It’s mad invigorating to be one of the young people straight redefining Judaism for the new generation and making sure the suits don’t tell us what it means to be a Jew. I mean, when I see the same 100 people at every single indie minyan, shul, event and dinner, I know that we are the new fuckin’ Jewish revolution, y’all! We are the vanguard! And I’ma tell you right now, we’re saving Judaism from the rest of you! So you know you want to be a part of this ish, because it’s the wave of the future.

Shalom out, bitches!

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  • uh, why don’t you come to the mission minyan sometime. don’t be too shocked to find the community observant, un-self-righteous and not particularly concerned with being hip. weirdly, that’s how i’ve found most of the minyans i’ve attended. hmm, sorry you went somewhere so awful.

  • Sarah,

    That’s the problem with you out-of-towner indies. You don’t get it.

    I like the indie-minyans on the UWS because I prefer to have the power firmly in the hands of those from well-to-do backgrounds.

    The way to ensure this is to talk (unremittingly) in terms of gender and gender-issues as the be-all and end-all of “egalitariansim” all the time. It helps to obscure the strict class division of power.

    Don’t get me wrong — middle and working class Jews are welcome to run the recycling committe. But the higher offices and the “ritual committee” must be solely in the hands of the wealthy, preferably of German-Jewish.

    That’s the problem with traditional shuls outside of the UWS proper. You have all these middle class and working class losers running the place, because you don’t have the paramount issue of “egalitarianism” to facilitate a stricter enforcement of class issues.

    Like the Old Broadway shul, the Stanton St. shul, and the Chelsea shul. Those places are a disaster. No much needed class division at the top at all. How are oyu going to get any progress?

    Also, it helps to talk about the most impoverished “people of color” to obscure our own class issues. Try it!

  • Well… in all fairness, not all independent minyans are quite like that. The Ghetto Shul in Montreal is pretty cool, quite independent and, well… fun. Most of the people in leadership positions have been women but… well, they only have a mechitzah and while they’re very open minded and chill, they’re still, you know, Orthodox. And Zionist. Oh well. I guess they’re really not that cool after all.

  • Michael… Brilliant, I’m am speechless. If only the people who fit this mold to a T, could realize how retarded they really are

  • so if it’s so annoying and elitist, why do people persist in treating new york like it’s the only freaking only place to live apart from jerusalem? this only underscores my mantra that everyone needs to get out more. there is jewish life west of freaking riverside park and you just might like it, nay even, find it compelling.

  • Sarah,

    1) Babes. Not enough single maidlach outside of NY. And don’t tell me it worked for you. You could have found a Jewish dude in Anchorage.

    2) Not all of NY’s shuls are elitist, top-schools only, please, like the Indy-minyans are, or at least, not quite that bad. The “post-denominational” are exceptionally egregious in this regard. And some Jews don’t even go to shul.

    3) You can (easily) live here without a car.

    4) You may have a point.

  • Michael: Rock on!

    Sarah: Don’t let them hate on you. I know that the Mission Minyan rocks the hizzouse. They don’t understand Galut-by-the-Bay. 🙂

  • i know! and to think, i can even walk there. oh wait, i don’t even own a car! whoa, i didn’t know you could live outside new york city without a car!

    anyway, as far as jewish babes go, hell, you’re right. i KNEW this shul thing was all about making jewish babies! smooch.

  • Michael, you should really off the booze!
    A good year to y’all,

  • Hey Sarah, I know what you’re saying about finding compelling Jewish life west of the Apple. My midwestern shul is super-hip, because, you know, my rabbi’s, a lesbian and her longterm partner gets to sit on the bimah during services. And our synagogue is a converted Lutheran church but the High Holiday services are in an old synagogue that’s been converted to a Universalist church but the Universalists let us use it for High Holidays because that’s when us truly hip Midwestern Jews actually go to shul and the old Lutheran church can’t hold us all – dontcha think it’s great that Jews and Lutherans and Universalists can all get together and share like that? It’s so positive and liberal… and did I mention our Rabbi’s a Lesbian? That’s so cool! And last Rosh I sat next an African-American Jewish family and they understood the Hebrew parts! I’m glad to be a part of the new cutting edge yet politically correct, open-minded yet observant, pro-Israel but sympathetic to Palestinian suffering midwest Jewish community. After Yom Kippur services we break the fast by going to the one kosher deli in the five-state region where we drink root beer floats and eat french fries and listen to Peter Himmelman on the jukebox until our parents come and pick us up. Except this year the first night of Rosh I think Rachel can borrow her sister’s car…

    And Michael, I love reading about your NYC Jewish way of life. I mean, as “different and modern” we are here in the prarie I still want to go visit my cousin Leah in New York city and go to one of those dangerous indie minyans she’s always going to (do you know my cousin Leah? she has dreadlocks and wears a Che Guevara talis) but my parents won’t let me go unless I do the Walk For Israel this year. So keep these posts up. I heard they may get high-speed internet in our county next year. Shalom.

  • i know! and to think, i can even walk there. oh wait, i don’t even own a car! whoa, i didn’t know you could live outside new york city without a car!

    anyway, as far as jewish babes go, hell, you’re right. i KNEW this shul thing was all about making jewish babies!

  • Cracked me right up. BTW, I can’t figure out who Ramon (commenter #12) is angry at, but he should try to shake it off before Friday sundown, ya feel me?

  • if you had any idea how hard it is to run a indie minyan, how many hours it takes away from your life and how almost completely thankless it is, you’d understand why i don’t give a shit where people want to sit, or what kind of politics they pursue on sunday, or where they went to rabbinical school. i am just happy i have somewhere to daven in my apparently g-dforsaken little town.

    have fun eating each other alive in new york.

  • The best thing is that you totally nailed the scene here without being in the scene here. More proof that Michael may be the messiah…of an intellectual level, at least.

    My first reaction to this, however, was simple: Must send piece to EV. EV will want to bear Michael’s babies. Which would earn him his own section in the aforedescribed indie minyan.

  • Hee hee! Michael can really write. This should be a book.

  • Michael and Barbara – my apologies. I think you misread the tone of my observation. I’m not in the least angry at anyone. It was an attempt at… what is that called… irony. In fact I have nothing but love and pride for my midwestern Jewish community. I was just observing the way my people roll here in the crazy prairie, as opposed to more… populated Jewish communites. Sorry if you mistook my tone of what were honestly affectionate and self-directed barbs. We’re self-deprecating people, our sense of humor informed by the way Garrison Keillor exposes our absurdities with love and humor. Our rabbi is a lesbian and that fact alone, in this area, is (or was) controversial. Something I imagine would be surprising to younger, hipper Jews from bigger communities. And we do only have one kosher deli. And we do love Peter Himmelman.

    I’m not pissed off. I mean, I’ll tell you when I’m pissed off. Actually, being a midwesterner I probably wouldn’t tell you. I’d just pout.

  • I didn’t think Ramon sounded nearly so biting as the original post. Brilliant, to be sure, but I’m torn between envy (around here, usual Friday+Saturday attendance at all two shuls w/in 2 hrs driving might be over 100 people, but maybe not) and moderate unease. I guess I hope that the layers of satire include the equating of hip-hop poser-ism with Black culture (one of those things is a bit broader than the other…).

    The “dodecachitza” did get me to laugh out loud. I guess (prob’ly unlike others here) I know as many Cambodians as I do Israelis, so the coffee line was too gross for wimpy me.

    Since I went to a left-wing college, I’m well aware how tiring the self-appointed folks bringing us to a post-neo-Fouceaultian future can be, but even so, you’ve got me curious to know what that UWS experience is like.

  • LirotTov – Well put and I even got the Foucault reference. It seems you’re even more Lake Wobegon than me. And “self-appointed” is a great adjective.

    As far as equating hip-hop poseur-ism with Black culture – I’m not gonna go there. I could regale you my story of being Ice Cube’s driver for a night in the mid-90s… but that’s a true story and I still get nightmares about it.

  • Thanks Ramon, and you are right on!

    To everyone a very sweet year!!! “Sweet” like honey, “sweet” a la Napoleon Dynamite… take your pick! take both!

    (& take a look at that beautiful sunrise shot!)

  • Ramon, we go to the same shul buddy, see you on dupont ave tomorrow.

  • Well deduced Jon! Unfortunately succumbed to the cold meds well before the sermon. Interesting title… “Israel”. How’d it turn out?

  • Oh! Michael you have scared me!! I really thought you have abandoned the J-town and now the religious destinations are the only reason to go there for. But it was just a bad dream!!!

  • When I moved to New York 4 years ago, the public image of the Upper West Side Jewish community was the OZ / Key West / Bangitout / Dougie’s nexus. The plates were just starting to shift. How things have changed in such a short time! I’m so proud to see that my progressive Jewish comrades have quickly risen to such prominence that they are now considered worthy objects of mockery and derision. Only in America!

    Shanah tovah to the whole world, and to all the ladies, peace and humptiness forever.

  • BZ, you’re bighearted. I’m not so much an indie-minyan girl (the lay-led minyanim I frequent are–believe it or not–actually *gasp* part of a shul!), and I’ve spent all of maybe one Shabbat on the UWS (many more chillin’ down south at T&V)…but the more strident Michael’s satire got, the less I was a-laughin’. But hey, that’s humor for you: what tickles one person’s funnybone & seems spot-on leaves someone else cold or puts his/her nose out of joint…

  • “Dodecachitza” also LOL.
    Have no experience with indie minyans other than a shul which had no movement affiliation, but always had a rabbi, and moved into Jewish Renewal organization when asked. I cheer for this shul because the rabbi tries to keep a balance between inner spiritual work and the social justice work his wife is interested in. This social justice work includes the beginnings of the successful volunteer organization in the St. Louis Public Schools, Mentor St. Louis, and a collaborative organization between the synagogue and churches in the area.

  • I don’t attend this shul anymore because I would have had to drive.

  • I rarely read anything that I find hilarious and interesting. Had I only known of your post before I wrote about what I see is called the Indie scene. Brilliant.