Jewschool: Where Hipster Brooklyn and Youth Group Nostalgia Meet

Originally published on Jewschool.com.

Sermon SlamA couple of weeks ago, an email came over the Jewschool contributors’ listserv asking if anyone wanted to cover a SermonSlam taking place in my neighborhood. As someone who has enjoyed other kinds of slams in the past (poetry, story, and grand – IHOP, not baseball), I jumped at the opportunity. I’m still something of a Brooklyn newbie, having lived here for less than a year. So I want to fully own that my preconceived notions of what a SermonSlam might be were entirely colored by an outsider’s stereotype of Brooklyn hipster culture. Now, to be fair, I have lived here almost a year—it will be a year this Shabbat—and so I have been around long enough to know that most of the stereotypes about Brooklyn hipster culture are true. And I should have been tipped off by the fact that the event was being held at Congregation Beth Elohim (known in the neighborhood as CBE), a very large Reform synagogue that often plays host to community events, many of which I have enjoyed this year.

You see what I’m getting at, right? What I had pictured as a cool, vaguely underground event, perhaps in a dark room with a stage and a bar, turning words of Torah into performance art, was in fact more like a youth group program for young adults, held in a large, well-lit synagogue social hall, with the performers relying a little more heavily on the “sermon” than the “slam.” The only drinks were of the cola variety, and the evening was padded with games straight from my synagogue youth director playbook like Jewish Geography 2.0, affably executed by hosts Ben Greenfield and Samantha Kuperberg, who themselves seemed to have arrived straight from a summer on the staff of Camp Ramah.

BUT! And this is a big BUT! (I like big BUTs and I cannot lie…) I’m pretty sure if you went in to the event with fewer or different preconceived notions, you would have been thrilled.  Continue reading

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The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Encores!

Love Broadway musicals but hate having to sit through all that talking between the songs? You’re in luck. In the next couple of months, you can catch the New York Philharmonic doing Sweeney Todd in Concert, Lincoln Center hosting Titanic in Concert, Carnegie Hall offering Guys and Dolls in Concert, and 54 Below with concert revivals of Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Side Show on deck. But most importantly, the 21st season of Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert kicks off with Little Me the first week of February. Believe it or not, once upon a time, concert productions of older shows didn’t fill our concert halls and nightclubs. There was the occasional Kern or Gershwin show dusted off at Carnegie Hall or the Library of Congress, and starry casts came together for special events like Follies in Concert, but they were just that—special events. Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: Five Broadway Lessons From My Mom

Originally published on The Craptacular.

remedial queens mom

On December 29, 2013, my mom, Lois Levy, passed away at age 67. (Read my eulogy for her.) In her memory, I’d like to offer a different kind of Broadway history: a short history of the Broadway lessons my mother left me.

Nothing Says I Love You Like A Showtune

Like most mothers, my mom loved to sing to me when I was little. Her favorite? “I love you / a bushel and a peck…” It wasn’t until years later that I realized the song that she sang over and over again to tell me she loved me was originally written as a strip tease number for Guys and Dolls. (If you think the “hot box girls” are supposed to be anything else, you’re deluding yourself.) Luckily, I seem to have avoided any long-term psychological baggage from making this connection.

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Eulogy for My Mother

Delivered at Stanetsky’s Funeral Home, Canton, MA, January 2, 2014.

I sat down to do the impossible, to try to put into a few words what my mother means to me, my family, and to all of us here. And I came up with fifteen hundred words about her commitment to family, her joy at being part of so many communities, and her fierce and fearless embrace of life with all it has to offer. But when I looked at what I wrote, it just felt so generic. Where was the mom who dressed up as Sonny Bono while I dressed up as Cher to perform “I’ve Got You Babe” at a USY lip sync competition? Or the mom who, into my thirties, would read menus out loud to me to make sure there were things I could eat at whatever restaurant we were at? Where was the mom who, after ten years devoting all of her free time to USY dropped everything and missed what would have been her final Spring Convention so she could sleep on my cousin Karen’s couch and help her family when Chad was born? Where was the mom who faced down the school board so my high school graduation wouldn’t fall on Shabbat, or the mom who didn’t leave my side for four weeks when I was hospitalized at age ten with an enigmatic GI disease, never letting me know for a minute how terrified she was?  Continue reading