Friday, November 29, 2013

My Annual "Eight Myths of Hanukah"

(About 12 years ago, I gave a drash during Shabbat services on Hanukah, where I presented for the first time my “Eight Myths of Hanukah.” A few years after that, I was asked to present them again. For your reading pleasure, I present them as I do every year.)
Many people do not realize that Jesus was not born on December 25. He was born September 11, 3 BCE, which on the Hebrew calendar for that year was Elul 1.
To make a long story short, in the year 380, Pope Damasus I made it his goal to have all Christians in the Roman Empire yield to his authority, and he convinced the Emperor to issue an edict requiring them to practice the religion of Rome, Catholicism. Damasus I was also seeking to lure the people away from the pagan rituals honoring the birth of the sun god on December 25 at midnight by demanding attendance at a memorial in honor of Christ's death – in other words, the Mass. The people confused this Mass with the pagan solar birth rituals conducted at that same time, and gradually, the Christ-Mass became associated with the Nativity, hence, Christmas. Somehow, many of the symbols and customs remained, most notably, the Christmas tree and fruitcake.
Did you know all fruit cakes were actually baked before the year 380? That is why they are so dense and hard to slice.  
In the United States, Christmas wasn’t even celebrated during our country’s first 94 years because in England it was celebrated with excessive drinking and lewd and lascivious behavior. Not unlike a Tuesday night in my home.
As a matter of fact, Washington crossed the Delaware on December 25, 1776, to attack the British in Trenton because he knew the Red Coats would be hung over.
Americans wanted to reject all things British, so Christmas and afternoon tea were the first to go. I wish we kept the tea.
Congress met on Christmas day every year until after the Civil War. Americans complained there were no federal holidays, so on June 26, 1870, Christmas was officially made a federal holiday. However, you can thank the Jews for something else because we invented the weekend. You know: God worked all week then rested.
So, to all my Jewish friends out there, hang up those Hanukah lights this weekend because Christmas is not a religious holiday; it is a federal holiday, and we want to be patriotic!
Now, I present:
The Eight Myths of Hanukah

  1. Hanukah is the Jewish Christmas. False. How many times have I been asked, "Is Hanukah the Jewish Christmas?" Let me set the record straight. Christmas is the Jewish Christmas. Mary and Joseph were Jewish, Jesus was Jewish, and at least one of the Wise Men was Jewish – the one that brought the fur.
  2. Hanukah is the holiest of Jewish holidays. False. Hanukah isn’t even a religious holiday. The holiest of Jewish holidays is April 24, Barbra Streisand’s birthday. The second holiest Jewish holiday is December 29, the wedding anniversary of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (may she rest in peace).
  3. Hanukah is another Jewish holiday where they tried to kill us, they didn’t, so we eat. True. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukah is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the second century BCE, which brings us to ...
  4. Hanukah commemorates the miracle that one day’s worth of oil lasted eight days in the Holy Temple. True. But, this is hardly a miracle because I witnessed my grandmother doing the same thing with one tea bag.
  5. During Hanukah, children get a gift every night for eight days. False. If you grew up in my house, you got a gift the first night, then for seven nights, you heard about how awful it was to grow up during The Great Depression. The ritual of gift giving is actually very American, since Jewish children in this country are totally exposed to Christmas customs. 
  6. Hanukah is a holiday when Jewish people eat bland, colorless foods that are fried in oil and difficult to digest. True. This can actually be said of all Jewish holidays, except Passover, when the foods are not fried but still difficult to digest. On Hanukah, we eat latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiot, if you are Sephardic. Sufganiot are similar to jelly donuts. I am part Sephardic, so I like donuts, just not jelly ones. 
  7. There are many popular songs about Hanukah, and Jewish people know the words to all of them. False. Other than “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel," there are no popular Hanukah songs, except for “The Hanukah Song,” by Adam Sandler, which brings us to Number 8 ...
  8. Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (may she rest in peace) and Barbra Streisand have recorded Hanukah albums. SO NOT TRUE! Would you believe Steve and Eydie have recorded a Christmas album, and Barbra has recorded not one, but two, Christmas albums?! And all those Christmas songs we hear on the radio are mostly written, and oftentimes performed, by Jews! Oy vay! This brings us back to myth Number 1, proving once again that Christmas is the Jewish Christmas!
So, from my Trailer Park to Yours, here is wishing you a very Happy Jewish Christmas and a Merry Hanukah!
If you like what you just read, get on my email list, join me, follow me, tell your friends, and hang up a string of blue and white lights! Buy my goddamn books!


    Tuesday, November 19, 2013

    Now, That’s How You Throw a Wedding

    Over the years, I have been to my share of weddings, and you know how I feel about weddings, especially the gift registries. I am still waiting for my “I Didn’t Marry that Moron Shower.”

    Some weddings are more memorable than others. My cousin Lisa’s for one. This had to be the most elaborate one of all, complete with a melting ice sculpture that almost killed Mrs. Minkoff. They showed a slide presentation of their undying love, and I still remember the Best Man’s toast: “Mazal Tov, you two deserve each other.” They were divorced within eighteen months.

    There was my cousin Carole Sue’s wedding. I think it was her third, or was it her fourth? On the buffet table, they had fried chicken livers, a bowl of gravy and a bowl of strawberries. It was at this reception that my mother discovered that fried chicken livers dipped in chocolate are not that tasty. I can still see her spitting it out. You probably guessed the gravy was chocolate dipping sauce. I still laugh when I think of that moment.

    My friend Kendra’s wedding ranks among my favorites. Her mother told her she could have $10,000 for a wedding or a down payment on a house. This was 1988, so you could still put a down payment on a house for that kind of money. She took the down payment. They were married in their living room in a private ceremony, and afterward, all their friends joined them for a barbecue in their backyard. No silly bride’s maid dresses, no formal wear, just a good time.

    One of the most bizarre ones was my co-worker Brenda’s wedding. The guests were all white Southern Baptists, except for one Black girl, my friend Kathy, and one Jew, me. Surprisingly, they had the most elaborate buffet of just about any affair I ever attended – all Southern deep-fried fare, my favorite! And, they say Baptists don’t serve food. However, none of the guests ate a thing; they just drank. The line at the bar was always a dozen deep. Kathy and I attacked that buffet like a couple of bears at a Boy Scout Jamboree. We even asked for to-go containers. The other guests were all drunk, so we skipped protocol and took home the reception. I can still taste that fried chicken and macaroni salad. Yum.

    Charles, my good friend in New Jersey, threw a lovely wedding. This was one of my first Gay weddings, too. He held a reception in a friend’s backyard complete with gourmet porty potties – yes, those exist. This kept people from trampling dirt into the house. He cooked all the food himself, and it was just wonderful. Everything was decorated with yellow roses and very beautiful. I sat with his husband’s family, who are from Baltimore. Get this. His husband came out to his family by sending them invitations to his wedding. “Oh by the way, I am Gay, and I am marrying a white boy from Philly!” I sat with the Ken’s family. You want to have a great time, sit at the Baltimore Black girls’ table, especially when they are just discovering their cousin is Gay! One of his cousins said she started photographing the wedding, and when Ken kissed Charles, she couldn’t stop snapping pictures. Sadly, no parents of either groom attended. What a shame. This was a beautiful wedding with fantastic food.

    Other memorable weddings occurred. At one, the mother of the bride picked up the cake and threw it into the street, then a melee broke out, and a few of us shoved all the guest out the room, onto the street then ran back and barricaded the doors. I was pissed. I really wanted a piece of that cake.

    My all-time favorite was the Gay wedding where at the end of the reception, we were handed separate checks. Yes, we paid for the reception. Yes, you read that right. This self-absorbed couple, who had already lived together for more than a dozen years, also had the balls to register at one of the most expensive stores in town. Want a good laugh? One of them worked as a wedding planner. I spent more on their wedding than a New Jersey couple pays for their kid’s Bar Mitzvah. They felt we should be honored to have been a witness to their nuptials.

    Of all the weddings, Gay, Straight and Bi-curious, the one I attended the past weekend was the first “legal” Gay wedding I ever attended in these United States.

    A little background.

    Minnesota recently legalized Gay marriage, and then the wonderful city of Minneapolis started a campaign to get Gay people to come there to get married! This is where the conservatives are screwing up. Gay people spend money. You want to improve the economy? Let them get married, you morons!

    One of my oldest friends, Danny, and his marvelous and patient partner of many years, Michael, decided to get married. When their home state of Michigan refused to make a decision, Minneapolis came a calling. With only a couple of months to plan, they managed to put on one of greatest weddings ever. And dear, this bitter old trailer park queen has seen his share of affairs!

    We stayed at the Minnesota Grand Hotel, a 100-year-old structure that is as magnificent as a hotel can be. Of course, I am used to Motel 6s, but you get the idea. The room was so classy, I walked out of it each day with personality. They had all these snacks on the bar, including a can of Pringles. When I saw the Pringles were $15, I did not partake, although they were calling me every time I walked by. In the short time they had to plan, they managed to get a room block for $75 a night – that is less than half the going rate. I told you Minneapolisons are brilliant!

    Soon after your arrival, they handed everyone a gift bag, filled with snacks, bottle water, maps of the city, a deck of cards, note pad, pen and an itinerary for the wedding complete with walking directions. This is why every wedding planner should be Gay, with one exception – the cheap queen in the abovementioned affair.

    While standing in Danny and Michael’s suite and holding my gift bag, I noticed something. Nobody in the wedding party was taller than five-three. Everyone was looking at me as if I was either going to eat them or destroy their city. I made a hasty exit when one of them lit a torch.

    I promised Danny a couple of things would make it into my blog, so here goes. When we prepared to leave on Friday night for the opening meal at a Thai restaurant, Danny put his family in cabs because his mother, a lovely Italian woman, who could pass for any of the Jewish women I grew up admiring, was wearing heels. It was then obvious Danny and Michael come from different backgrounds. Danny’s family is of Bostonian extraction, while Michael’s family is of Midwestern stock. I joked that it was like the Kennedys meeting Honey Boo Boo. Being the good trailer park queen I am, I walked over with Michael’s family, since I come from a similar stock. I took one step, they took six, and continued to look at this giant with suspicion. The temperature was a pleasant fifty-five and clear, so it was a nice walk through the cleanest city in the United States.

    We were treated to dinner – no separate checks, please!

    The first thing I did notice about my new favorite city is that regardless of the weather outside, they keep the inside a toasty 102 degrees. I am not kidding, and upon further investigation found out this was their thing. Had I known, I would have ditched the sweaters for a tank top and hot pants.

    The following day, I trotted over the Target because I had already run out of face cream. That three-ounce rule is for the birds. I sweated my way down the aisles then returned to the hotel to take advantage of their gym. Now, most hotel gyms consist of a stationary bike, a Soloflex and a bacteria-ridden yoga mat. This gym? Ha! In the basement was a pool, and on the third floor – the entire third floor – was a gym. Yes, a complete gym. I can honestly say I was the oldest guy working out.

    Come to think of it, the only people in the entire city over thirty were those of us in the wedding. What do they do with their middle-aged and elderly people? Do they melt inside all those hot buildings? Is that why the city is so clean?

    The wedding and reception were held in a private room at Crave. You must go there when in the city. Have I told you they only had a couple of months to plan this? The tables were decorated with huge angled snifters, sitting on a tree trunk cut-out base, and inside were a bed of pine cones topped by a bouquet of white roses. Each place setting had a pine-cone and card with the guests’ names on them. I don’t think I have ever seen anything so elegant.

    The ceremony was beautiful. I hope so. I wrote it.

    Speaking of writing. I gave one of the toasts, and to put it mildly, I bombed. I seemed to have used all my best lines every other time that weekend except where it counted. I was going to throw out what I wrote, and my gut told me to, but for some reason I went through with it. I realized three seconds in, I was in trouble. I haven’t laid an egg that big since I tried to sing “You Make Me Feel So Young” during Junior Cabaret at Rodef Sholom Temple in 1971.

    The worst part was that Danny introduced me as Shecky. My cousin Lisa, of the “you two deserve each other” wedding above, used to introduce me to her friends as her funny cousin, then she would say, “Say something funny.” Yeah, it was like that.

    Fortunately, no one cared but me.

    At the end of the reception, no separate checks, please, and they had an open bar. I must say the delicious food was restaurant quality.

    Sunday morning, we were treated to a goodbye breakfast, and we were on our way. Again, no separate checks, please.

    I want you to realize that Danny and Michael are two hard-working guys. They aren’t rich or pretentious; they are just generous. They wanted us to have as good a time as they did. And, we did.

    They didn’t even register for presents and asked people not to give them any, which is why they are going to kill me when they see what I got them. Rule: Never mention to me that you always wanted something then tell me not to buy it. I love giving presents and I give the best gifts, if I do say so myself.

    I wish them the best and many years of happiness. I also wish Minneapolis the best, too, because they get it! What a great place even if the median age is twenty-one and the average indoor temperature is the setting for heating up a Lean Cuisine!

    If you were handed a check at a reception, follow me, join me, or buy my damn books: