Archive for the 'Holidays' Category



Eszter Balint







I may be an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a bad pun.

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Jewish History – A Clarification

matzohIt’s Passover (woo hoo!) and Jews (and US Presidents) all over the world are sitting down to seders to commemorate the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

This is a tradition that’s been passed down for millennia, but certain aspects of Passover aren’t quite as old as you’ve probably been led to believe.

Take the Afikoman, for example. Wikipedia describes it this way:

Afikoman… meaning “that which comes after” or “dessert”) is a half-piece of matzo which is broken in the early stages of the Passover Seder and set aside to be eaten as a dessert after the meal.

Based on the Mishnah in Pesahim 119a, the afikoman is a substitute for the Korban Pesach, which was the last thing eaten at the Passover Seder during the eras of the First and Second Temples and during the period of the Mishkan. The Gemara states that it is forbidden to eat any other food after eating the afikoman, in order to keep the taste of matzo in our mouths.

In some families, the head of the household hides the afikoman for the children to find. In other families, the children “steal” it and ask for a reward for its return. Either way, there is usually a gift of money or candy made to the children at the table before the seder continues.

Wikipedia is quite correct about how it’s actually done, but the etymology and history… not so much. Believe it or not, the tradition of the Afikoman only dates back about a century.

It was March 30, 1915, or if you prefer, the 15th day of Nisan, 5675 — the first night of Passover that year. The Cohen family of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (Moshe and Miriam, with their daughter Esther and sons Samuel, Alfred, and William) had traveled all the way to Coney Island to participate in a seder to be held at the home of Rabbi Leo Bronfman, the husband of Moshe’s eldest sister, Yetta.

The family crowded into the Bronfmans’ dining room and began the ceremonial meal. After the four questions were asked by young Alfie (who had until this point embarrassed his parents by fidgeting throughout the ritual), he asked if he could be excused to go to the bathroom.

And so, the gathered crowd of Bronfmans and Cohens waited. And waited…

Nearly half an hour passed, and finally Rabbi Bronfman threw up his hands and announced that they’d waited long enough, and young Alfie would simply have to miss out on his share of the last piece of matzoh. He got up to fetch the unleavened bread, but quickly returned, saying that it was gone. Alfie had stolen the last piece of matzoh!

Moshe Cohen leaped to his feet and headed to the bathroom, saying something about teaching that spoiled little thief why this night was different from any other night, but he returned without Alfie. Apparently, the boy had slipped out the window and run off.

It wasn’t until two hours later that Esther Cohen found her little brother sitting on a bench on the boardwalk. Reportedly, when she asked him why he’d run away, the boy replied that “Tante Yetta’s house was smelly.”

It didn’t take long before, despite Rabbi Bronfman’s efforts to silence the embarrassing story, the tale of Alfie Cohen the Matzoh Thief was featured in the Daily Forward. A song about Alfie was even a hit in the Yiddish theatres of the Lower East Side. You think Burt Bacharach wrote Alfie? Nope. All he did was slow down the tempo and change the lyrics.

I can’t find the song anywhere now, either in Yiddish or English, but I still remember a few lines my grandmother used to sing:

What’s going on, little Alfie?
Are you just living for the moment?
Why did you run away with the last matzoh?
I didn’t mean to be cruel
I don’t want to be a fool
But my auntie’s house is smelly, smelly, smelly
And I can’t eat in a smelly house.

It’s all true. I wouldn’t lie about something like this.

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From Times Square

In beautiful New York, New York…

Happy New Pontiac!

Honestly, can you sponsor a year?

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Hey Baby, It’s the First of April

Do French people still tape paper fish to each other’s backs on April 1st, or was Madame Rublewitz lying to us all in 8th grade?

That’s neither here nor there — unless it happens to be there in France. Anyway, I’m sure everyone has already seen Google’s TiSP system by now, so I won’t go into that (although I’m pretty pissed off that you have to install the Google toolbar to use the system).

Instead, let’s have a look at what those crazy kidz at Technorati are up to today:

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Kinda cute, huh? Some of them are of Fawlty Towers quality.


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A Different Thanksgiving Story


Here’s a wee hunk of American history that you probably don’t know.

We’re all familiar with the story of the first Thanksgiving, the feast shared by the Pilgrims and their neighbors. No, turkey was apparently not served. Instead, the meats feasted upon that day were most likely venison and duck. But that’s not the piece of history I’m here to teach. I’m here today to talk about the corn that was served that fateful day.

Even without butter, corn on the cob is kind of sloppy food. And when you’re a Puritan, sloppy food is embarrassing food, and embarrassing food is sinful. One particular fellow by the name of Joseph Lymon expressed his disgust with the concept of grabbing the corn in one’s bare hands and gnawing on it, leaving little wet torn up bits all over it. He vowed that he would find a way to make corn eating sufficiently godly, or that he’d make sure no one ever ate it again.

At the second Thanksgiving feast a year later, after the prayer, Lymon stood up to announce that he had found a way to enjoy corn without insulting anyone’s (including god’s, of course) sense of propriety. He held up his invention: small, beautifully polished pieces of wood with one end sharpened. He proudly demonstrated how to insert them into either end of the corn cob and feast on the lord’s bounty without ever having to touch the food with one’s hands. “With my new Corntensils,” he declared, “we can give thanks and praise to the Lord without acting like lowly beasts.”

His announcement, much to his surprise, was met with laughter of derision, and he stormed away in a holier than thou huff.

A week later, Lymon and a few of his followers packed up their belongings (including the colony’s supply of Corntensils) and declared that they could no longer stand to live among the ungodly beasts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They traveled inland to the west and the south for weeks, until they arrived at a wide river. It was there that they declared they had reached the land promised to them by god, where they would create their own colony, with their own laws, not the least of which would be the law of Corn Etiquette.

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ErrThis is your idea of terror, Boston? It’s Err, for fuck’s sake!

I was supposed to go to the pharmacy today, and instead I sat here terrorized by all that terror in the streets. The bridges were closed! The River Chuck was closed! They even found one of these “packages” here in the ‘Ville!

So because of this panic over a cartoon character, I wasn’t able to pick up my drugs — the drugs that are supposed to keep me from panicking over stuff like cartoon characters!

If anyone on the news had bothered to mention that these tools of terror were LED Mooninites, I could have told them not to worry. Instead of that, this day, which was supposed to be a joyful celebration of gorilla suits, is now going to live in infamy as the day of the . (I will admit, however, that for a day about gorillas to become famous for guerrilla marketing is kind of cute.)

Honestly. Get a grip, Mayor Mumbles.

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Happy NGSD

National Gorilla Suit Day

That’s right, folks. It’s National Gorilla Suit Day today! And as one of my cats is in fact named for someone in a gorilla suit (go ahead, guess), I’m celebrating.

This despite the fact that Boston has been quaking with fear all day and it’s the fault of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Oy. I’ll be waiting for a personal apology from Master Shake.

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‘Tis the Season and All That Nonsense

Viva Santos Claus

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More Trouble with Xmas

Soviet Christmas CardI guess I’m not quite done with this. I assume you’ve all heard about this Great Sea-Tac Christmas Tree Fiasco. What a load of crap.

I get it that some Rabbi thought it would be a good idea to put up a menorah in addition to the Christmas trees. I get it that when the trees were taken down the Rabbi made it clear that he was sorry — that this wasn’t the outcome he was looking for.

And I get but disagree with this concept of the Supreme Court determining Christmas to be sufficiently secular that putting up a Santa or a tree doesn’t cross the ol’ establishment line.

But if it’s secular, why do so many religious people take it so damn seriously? Did you see Lou Dobbs discussing the case with Jeffrey Toobin a few days ago? Lou was absolutely apoplectic! I can’t find the show transcript, but at one point he said something like, “And that… that…. that… that… Rabbi…” I don’t think “Rabbi” was the first word that came to his mind. It’s as if somebody told Lou that Rabbi Bogomilsky ran a sanctuary for Mexican illegal aliens in the basement of the shul.

Here are a few more over-reactions to the case from that Seattle Times article I linked to above:

Robert Jacobs, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said more than a dozen organizations or rabbis had reported receiving hate e-mail. His organization was advising local Jewish institutions that have received significant numbers of hate e-mails to consider having security during Hanukkah and other holiday-season events.

The furor has been building for years. Last month, the Alliance Defense Fund, a religion-based legal-aid group in Arizona, announced it had lined up an army of attorneys who were prepared to defend the tradition of Christmas in schools and on public property.

“Frankly, it’s ridiculous that Americans have to think twice about whether it’s OK to say ‘Merry Christmas,’” said Alan Sears, the group’s president.

Jesus Christ (so to speak)! Who’s being ridiculous now? And you get wankers like O’Reilly complaining that all the religion has been taken out of the holiday. If you want the religion bit, go ahead, but then you can’t turn around and say it’s secular enough that it belongs on public land.

If you want your trees and your Santa and your shiny gifties wrapped at the mall and your stockings filled with gift cards from the Home Depot and Pottery Barn and the Gap, I say fine. But the lot of you have to say that this has nothing to do with Jesus. Jesus is the messiah of the Christian faith. Christmas is about Santa.

One or the other. Not both. Nope. But think about this: if you take the religion out of Christmas, you’ll end up with something akin to what the card pictured above is about. Notice the text. Notice the flag being carried by the lil’ cosmonaut. That’s right. Christmas without religion is like something out of the Soviet Union. The communist, atheistic Soviet Union. Would that make you happy? I doubt it.

My advice is to take Christmas back. Take it away from those horrible commercial, secular, godless heathens and keep it close to your heart as the holy day you know it to be. Don’t share it with the rest of us. We don’t deserve it.

Update: I haven’t located the transcript of Dobbs’ rant on the Rebbe, but thanks to Wonkette, I do have access to a column Lou wrote on the subject.

This week we were treated to the spectacle of an easily offended and highly offensive rabbi who walked into an airport, gazed upon Christmas trees all around him and suddenly was overwhelmed with an immense, and apparently irresistible, urge to sue the management of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport because nowhere among all the Christmas trees was a single menorah. Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Seattle even delivered to the airport’s management a draft of a lawsuit he would file if they didn’t sprinkle menorahs around the Christmas trees.

Political correctness in this country reached an entirely new level of absurdity some years ago. But occasionally, and the situation at Sea-Tac is just such an occasion, we exceed ourselves. The militant fundamentalist rabbi so flummoxed Sea-Tac management with his threat and their perceived obligation to be “politically correct” that, rather than think rationally or simply tell him to stuff it, they started hacking away at all those artificial Christmas trees and quickly descended into a public relations nightmare in which they managed to offend reason, cultural values and the vast majority of Americans.

Wonkette mocks Lou for referring to him as a “militant fundamentalist rabbi,” but if you’ve ever met a Lubavitcher…

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Memories of Frank

Frank ZappaAs we’re currently in the midst of the festival of , I thought I’d slap together a few of my personal memories of Frank.

When I was in high school, I mostly just listened to electronic stuff like , , and , and pseudojazz, aka “fusion,” such as , , and that wizard of the electric jazz violin, . Kinda sad, I know, but at least it meant I didn’t have to go along when my friends would go on their annual pilgrimage to Nassau Coliseum to see (ulp) Styx.

However, there were a few exceptions to the no-rock rule for me: Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and yes,

I had to be careful who I told about that, though. For the most part, if you told people in my high school that you liked Frank, you could expect them to start quoting some of Moon’s lines from Valley Girl — their favorite track from the only Zappa album they’d ever listened to, Sheik Yerbouti. Gag me with a spoon.

Frank Zappa MonumentEvery year I’d see a few kids with t-shirts indicating that they’d been to Zappa’s annual Halloweenie concert at the Palladium in New York (die heißeste stadt), but I’d heard scary stories about that place (before it turned into a giant disco) and I never went, stupid kid that I was.

I did finally get to see Zappa live my freshman year of college, which would have been in 1981 or 1982, at the hockey arena on the campus of Boston University. It was a pretty damn cool show, but I have to admit that the most memorable part of the evening came at the end. After a few encores, the lights came up and for some reason everyone ran out of the arena as if someone had just thrown a grenade into the room. The exit my friend and I took wasn’t exactly an exit. Once we were outside, we found ourselves stuck behind a rather high chain link fence, and we and about twenty other fans had to climb over the damn thing. Chaos can be fun, kids.

Check out the videos below. It’s Zappa on the old Steve Allen show in 1963, demonstrating ways to create music with a bicycle. In between dumb jokes, Allen actually attempts to relate this to free jazz and other experimental forms.

Part 1

Part 2

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