Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Khanike iz freylekh!

Khanike iz freylekh...

Well, to be honest, the world feels like it's spinning out of control, like an errant dreydel dancing on the edge of your coffee table and everyone's just holding their breath for as long as humanly possible. And yet, amidst all the mishegas, life goes on. Candles are lit, blessings are said, gifts are exchanged. We all gotta breathe, eventually.


This week over at Tablet my Golden City has a khanike tam. I have some advice as to what to give  the Yiddishist in your life, and just as importantly, what not to give. I snuck in some political commentary, too. You'll just have to click over and read it.

Living in New York I’m acutely aware how lucky I am to be in the pipik of global Yiddish culture. It’s sort of like your mom telling you to clean your plate because kids in Africa are starving. I guilt myself for not appreciating what my non-New York Yiddishist friends would kill for. So, in the spirit of not wasting a drop, I returned to the IPC and the marvelous Russian Revolution, A Contested Legacy exhibit for a special evening of spoken word and song. Using the memoirs of African-American and African-Soviet writers, Yevgeniy Fiks has created a program that brings to life the difficult negotiation of race and religion in a place where racism and anti-Semitism were supposedly a thing of the past. Yelena Shmulenson read from the memoirs of my new obsession, Lily Golden. Operatic bass Anthony Russell’s breathtaking a capella performance of Izi Kharik’s Mayn Yugnt alone made the trip across town worthwhile. I swear no one breathed until his final note. It’s amazing how one song, in a language almost no one in the audience understands, can say just as much as a stack of memoirs...

I’m FINALLY catching up on season three of Hulu’s Difficult People and, knowing the show won’t be coming back for another season (boo!), I’m savoring every minute. This season is even more Yiddish than the last. Highlights include Jackie Hoffman’s character Rukhl staging a Yiddish dybbuk exorcism when she mistakes her IDF drop-out husband Gary (now hiding in their basement) for an evil spirit. Difficult People’s minyan of ten JSwipe matches is the new shul I won’t daven in.

On strong zeitgeisty recommendations I also started watching the new Amy Sherman-Palladino ode to late ‘50s New York, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Where Difficult People wants you to fall in love with a bunch of mean, narcissistic jerks, Mrs. Maisel tries way too hard to make you fall in love with the excruciatingly lovable Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel, the Manic Pixie Divorcee who leaps from abandoned housewife to liberated woman in the time it took me to warm up soup.

The makers of Mrs. Maisel spent a king’s ransom on exquisite sets and costumes and it’s probably worth watching just for the period porn. But none of the characters actually talk like it’s 1958, rather, it’s a 2017 sounding 1958, with no racism or homophobia and only the mildest of sexism. The Jewishness of the Maisel and Weissman clans is ersatz, reconstituted from a freeze dried packet of cringy cliches that never quite taste right. I understand American Judaism is eclectic, but when you make ‘Yom Kippur dinner’ a dramatic plot point, with the rabbi as a guest, and then don’t show even one character in shul, excuse me, Temple, on Kol Nidre, I must cry foul. Feel free to @ me...

One of my Golden City gift recommendations was Eddy Portnoy's terrifically fun BAD RABBI. As Eddy points out in the introduction, “The prewar Yiddish press, a complex mix of shtetl folklore and urban poverty, reveals multitudes of mediocre Jews... And for the most part, historians have ignored them.” Which brings me to my final recommendation. Podcasts are the final frontier for oral history, especially among the less than reputable among us. Some of you may recall my love for The Rialto Report, a podcast devoted to interviews with stars and producers of the Golden Age of porn. The history of porn has a distinctly Jewish flavor, mostly (but not entirely) in its producers and financiers. A new podcast focused on the seedy era of 42nd Street, Tales of Times Square,  is even more Jewish, featuring interviews with everyone from theater owners, film bookers, over the hill boxers and more, many with a distinct Yiddish tam, all taped in the early 80s, when the area was on the cusp of its radical revitalization.

Unlike The Rialto Report, Tales of Times Square heavily privileges its male voices. Nevertheless, I found myself with a lump in my throat listening to the story of one Uncle Lou, a limo driver and devoted fan of the strippers and burlesque queens on the scene. While paging through his beloved scrapbook of polaroids, Lou reveals how his connection with the girls stems from being an orphan and identifying with the vulnerable. Born in Poland in 1933, Lou’s parents were murdered and he was sent to the United States at age 6, where he lived in an orphanage until he was 16. It’s an unexpectedly moving moment on the city’s sleaziest street. Podcasting at its finest.

Wishing everyone a joyous festival/איך ווינטש אײַך אלע א פריילעכן

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