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Archive for September, 2008

(Happy Rosh to all of our readers!)

Each year, like salmon at mating season, Jewish Young Adults reverse their progressive course in life, and return to their parents’ homes to celebrate the high holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah, arguably the happiest holiday in the Jewish calendar. Most Jewish holidays are either ritually tinged with sadness, as in the case of Passover, or are simply an exercise in misery from beginning to end. (See: Tisha b’Av). Perhaps it is the New Year’s proximity to the year’s most depressing holiday, Yom Kippur, that allows Rosh Hashanah to take on such an uncharacteristically light tone, or it may have more to do with its being only the first day the JYA will spend in his unredecorated childhood bedroom, insisting that he’s fine in the bathroom, yes, even though it’s taking so long, and maintaining that no, his clothes do not smell like any kind of smoke and how would you know what “the pot” smells like anyway, Mom.

Traditional Honey Cake

Before arrival at the natal home, the JYA will have had months to reminisce about an idyllic home life reconstructed from stolen glimpses of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, forgetting that the goyish holiday movie that most resembles their real developmental years is Pieces of April. The JYA will fix upon fond memories, in particular of the food. The warmth of nostalgia often provokes a desire in the JYA to lighten his parents’ load and really contribute something this year. Often this contribution comes in the form of an offer to bake the honey cake.

The holiday greeting: L’shana tova ve metuka translates to, “To a good and sweet year.” The honey cake is the first comestible to represent that sweetness. Because of its importance to the Rosh Hashanah experience, many families have a traditional recipe passed down the through the generations, while others have a preferred brand of cake mix. Naturally the JYA will not want to use either of these, preferring to give their dessert the unique flair that can only be achieved by googling a recipe that will be used by hundreds of other JYAs and will “educate” their family’s palates.

Nearly all these cakes call for organic, local honey, and some substitute in more exotic spreads that are not, strictly or loosely interpreted, honey, such as pomegranate molasses, date syrup, ganache, or whiskey. But the upgrade is not limited to higher end ingredients alone, indeed, the very form of the honey cake undergoes a serious overhaul. Some JYAs bake chocolate honey cakes or peanut honey cakes while others make honey-phyllo cigars or honey rice pudding.

Gourmet Hazelnut Cappuccino Honey Cake Rugelach

At the end of the meal, the JYA invariably expects to be congratulated on his or her taste level, and be told that theirs is the definitive honey cake, and asked to bake again next year if not sooner. But unless the JYA is new, he will not be surprised when someone says, “Huh. Fancy, but I don’t see what’s wrong with the Manischewitz Mix. It would have taken you half the time and cost half as much, and it would have been just as good as this honey… burrito.”

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#51 Hiding Their Tattoos

(idea inspired by Rachel K.)

When the Jewish Elders were young, the only people who had tattoos were bikers, circus ladies, sailors and Samoans. Because of the social stratification, it mostly likely never occurred to most of them—or their goyish peers– to be tattooed when they were young, unless they were bikers or circus performers. Had they been pressed, they might have cited the prohibition against tattoos from the Torah, but it’s fair to say that tattooing was not a strong temptation in their youth.

Nowadays, tattoos have become ubiquitous, and young Jewesses feel they are just as entitled to the lower back tattoo, known colloquially as the “tramp stamp,” as their shiksa counterparts. Similarly, male Jewish Young Adults are often attracted to tattoos on the upper back, or the arms. For the non-religious JYA the Levitican prohibition and the allure of the Jewish cemetery as a final resting place are not significant barriers to body art. On the other hand, the disapproval of their parents, however, proves an immediate and frightening prospect.

Recently inked JYA “Brian” lamented his wrist tattoo: “I’m just not looking forward to Rosh. I’m gonna wear long sleeved shirts, but I’m not sure I can keep the ‘rents from noticing my ink through Yom Kippur. I just don’t need the added guilt and stress of my mom crying about how I shamed the family with my tattoo on a day I can’t fuckin’ eat.”

Indeed, this is one area where Jewish women have it slightly better than their male counterparts, as the lower back is covered by any shirt appropriate for family dinner, and the ankle, another hotspot, is covered by socks or, in a pinch, the big bandaid. “Last summer I told my dad I cut my ankle shaving” recalls JYA “Tali”, “It was fine for the first few days, but I kind of looked like a hypochondriac by the time the two week semester break was over”.

One should never underestimate the horror Jewish parents have for the tattoo. One famous Jewish porn star has mentioned that her parents were more concerned about her rather unhideable tattoos than they were about her having sex publicly in front of internet perverts. “It’s one thing to be sexing with all these strangers”, stated the porn star’s mother, “That’s just a phase, and some antibiotics will clear up any syphilis. But a tattoo? That’s forever! No drug will rub that shmutz off your body”.

A nice turtleneck from J.Crew should easily cover that up for the Seder

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#50 The Steve Miller Band

Jewish Young Adults are generally avid supporters of JYA musicians, like Regina Spektor, Yael Naim, or Mirah, but in addition to keeping up with new artists, JYAs share a nostalgic place in their hearts for certain throwback bands as well; a typical example is The Steve Miller Band.

JYA’s continuous support for Steve Miller probably stems from the fact that most JYAs have spent part of their formative years in some kind of Jewish-education environment, like summer camp, youth group, or Sunday School. It is in these programs that longstanding “camp songs” are passed down from counselor to camper. One of these songs, “The Joker”, has become so embedded in the minds of JYAs that any Jew from age 18 to 40 can finish the line “You’re the cutest thing that I ever did see…”

JYA’s affection for The Steve Miller Band is so strong that some JYAs are even willing to endure their parents’ company at a Steve Miller Band concert, forced to listen to stories of “That time Aunt Maureen tried smoking pot at a Grateful Dead concert in Long Island in ’73 and now is on her fourth failed marriage because she tried the pot and went crazy for a few years practically living on a commune [read: had a roommate] and it destroyed her ability to form commitments, and that is why you should never smoke marijuana joints.”

It is important to note that the JYA’s love for The Steve Miller Band, while strong, is extremely limited in scope. The band has been steadily releasing new records from 1968 to 1993, and went through a noticeable shift from blues to pop-rock, yet the only real knowledge that JYAs have of the band is their Greatest Hits 1974-1978 album. Any JYA will quickly recognize the blue cover with the picture of the horse from across a crowded room, and knows that the best songs are tracks 2,3, and 8.

Ultimately Steve Miller and his ensemble of ageing minstrels (none of whom are Jewish), will continue to have Jewish fans as long as their songs are played at summer camps across Northern America. Unlike other obvious choices for JYA fondness like the Beastie Boys, Steve Miller also serves as a cross-generational uniting force between JYAs and their parents, and will undoubtedly continue to be this link as JYAs take over the administrative positions that allow them the opportunities to indoctrinate Jewish youth.

“… really love your peaches want to shake your tree”

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#49 Dim Sum

(idea inspired by, and dedicated to, Nina W.)

It is a well documented fact that Jews in the United States have a voracious appetite for Chinese Food, particularly on Non-Jewish holidays. Jewish Young Adults in recent years have carved out their own preferential niche in the Asiatic culinary world. While any JYA would gladly join his/her parents for a night of General Tso’s, JYAs have developed a keen predilection for Dim Sum when dining with other JYAs in the absence of Jewish Adults or Jewish Elders.

All across the planet, at lunch time in the Chinatown districts of San Francisco, Toronto, London, or Tel Aviv, the streets are packed with ravenous people looking for a quick delectable break before returning to the cubicle. Closer inspection of the eateries in these urban districts reveals hidden Dim Sum establishments that JYAs would refer to as “hidden gems” but their parents would call “decrepit” or “in violation of the health code.” Even closer inspection of favored establishments, like Pings in New York, or The Old Place Seafood House in Oakland, reveals two types of diners: 90% Asians, and 10% JYAs, usually lining the smaller tables along the sides.

There are many theories why JYAs will spend hours poring over citysearch pages to find the most obscure and least trafficked Dim Sum restaurant in their city. One of the more credible hypotheses is that JYAs are keen to improve upon their parents’ interest in Chinese Food, effectively one-upping their ownership of Asian cuisine. Effectively, by opting for Dim Sum, JYAs can indulge their hereditary love of Chinese Food, while at the same time taking a rebellious ideological stance against Jewish Adults, by only eating Dim Sum with other JYAs and not inviting their parents. As an added bonus, Dim Sum is generally cheap enough that there is no reason to invite a parent and have them pay.

It is important to note that JYAs also refuse to share the locations of their favorite Dim Sum establishments with Non-Jews. If a Non-Jew expresses interest in lunching with a JYA at a Dim Sum establishment, the JYA will typically pick a location that is known for being touristy, and therefore less authentic and unique. Frequently, if a Non-Jew is going to be present for lunch, the JYA will change locations entirely. As San Francisco JYA “Debra” recently pointed out: “Hannah and I were going to go to Dol Ho, but then Mary wanted to come and I was like, there is no way I’m going to sit there and watch Mary only order the egg rolls again like last time, so Hannah and I took her to Olive Garden instead so she could be happy with her mayonnaise”.

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#48 Practicing on Gentiles

There is no shortage of documented cases of Jewish Young Adults settling into adult relationships with their conventional neurotic peers, even while wishing they were partnered with Non-Stereotypical Jews. What is less documented, and somewhat counter-intuitive, is the ritual of preparation that occurs before the JYA officially sets out to find a potential life partner. Specifically, there is a period of practice and training that many JYAs undergo to develop sexual experience. What demarcates this practice stage of debauchery is that JYAs seek out sexual experiences with Non-Jews.

It is true that most JYAs first sexual encounters take place during their teen years at summer camps, Israel trips, or Youth Group conventions, as these are veritable Meccas for nascent JYAs, drawing in pilgrimage-like droves of Jewish Teens to experience religious and ethnic community, explore their faith, and receive handies. After these initial experiences, however, the JYA will spend many years sifting through various partners until finally settling on another JYA. It is in the “grey space” of college and early to mid-twenties where JYAs will typically look to add at least one Non-Jewish notch to their unbuckled belts.

For male JYAs, the typical gentile target is either a female of Asian decent from any faith, or a Catholic female with typical Aryan features including blonde hair and blue eyes. Female JYAs hunt for tall athletic males with light brown hair and 20/20 vision, with bonus points for Lacrosse/Football players or “legacy” WASPs with names like “James Everett Worthington III”.

The main subconscious force driving this brief period of Gentile-loving is the pressure of at least two decades of Jewish Elders and Jewish Adults reiterating that only another Jew will suffice for dating and marital purposes. The weight of this burden creates an unquenchable subversive curiosity in JYAs to see what they are missing and to try something completely different before their life assumes its inevitable course. As female JYA and Cornell Junior “Beth” pointed relates: “After Ari and I broke up I went out with this guy Chris and he totally didn’t care that I ordered shrimp, and he didn’t even ask me to cover the tip or split the bill. Ari was never like that. It was so refreshing”.

While most parents will turn a blind eye to a little bit of inter-faith carnal dabbling, there is some concern among Jewish elders that the JYA will find out that he or she prefers dating Non-Jews over other JYAs. Fortunately for those who want their parents to spring for the wedding, there is a trend among single JYAs that Non-Jews, while sexually gratifying and diverting, should be viewed as temporary. Or, as JYA “Jacob” notes, “Shiksas are for practice, Jewesses are for keeps”.

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