In my late teens, when the Air Supply song “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All,” was popular, I developed an allergy to wheat flour and white flour. Although it’s not as restrictive as a gluten allergy, it gave me a legitimate reason to pass on most of the foods that define us culturally. Matzo, matzo balls, latkes, challah, kugel and bagels were all out. My sisters joked that I got to “eat food out of nothing at all.”
As a result of my allergy, I’d spend most of the Jewish holidays as a young adult sitting around lightheaded, thinking about Farrah Fawcett in her red bathing suit, and wondering what the big deal was about Jewish food. My aunt Ernestine tried making me a charoset birthday cake with parsley icing one year, but it just made me feel more strange around my friends.
And so, I got to suffer through the dark ages in terms of gluten-free products. From the Middle Ages when everything had the consistency of corrugated fiberboard to today when everything tastes like a synthetic rubber automobile floor mat combined with a Ralph Lauren pillow case. (Actually, today, most if not all GF products, actually taste like the odd assortment of things in the discount bin at Urban Outfitters.)
All of this got me thinking about a theme snack for my future book club appearances. Since I’m southerner and I’m Jewish and I’m wheat-free, I’ve decided that the preferred food for my book club should be wheat-free vegetarian matzo ball soup and sweet tea. To help you host wheat-free authors like myself, here are the recipes for both the soup and the tea.
Slash’s Special BohoXO Wheat-Free Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup
2 boxes of organic vegetarian stock (or make your own)
2 cups of water
3 stalks celery (finely chopped)
2 TB of salt (more to taste)
1 cup parsley
2 cups crushed up rice crackers
1/2 cup crushed up rye crackers
2 TB wheat free tamari
¼ cup of water
2 eggs or egg substitute
1/8 cup of rice flour
1/8 cup potato flour or other wheat-free flour
Bring stock to a rolling boil for fifteen minutes and then lower to medium heat.Combine all matzo ball ingredients in a bowl except the flour and stir well until it becomes a glob-like mass. Add flours and stir until the balls become a bit dryer. From the mass, form into testicular-sized balls (or golf-sized balls) and drop them gently into the broth. Your little globlets will be done in about 30-40 minutes. Don’t stir them too much or they will break apart and disintegrate into nothingness. Serve in costume, preferably with a lot of hot, barefoot Jewish friends around.
Slash’s Special BohoXO Southern Sweet Tea
2 cups of white sugar
1 Lipton Tea Bag
1 ice cube
1 large glass
Fill a a large glass with white sugar. Place an ice cube on top of the sugar. Place the glass in a warm room without an air conditioner for 10 minutes or until the ice cube melts. Put a Lipton tea bag between your teeth. Swigging the whole concoction down. Enjoy!
When I was writing my memoir, which is sort of a chronicle of all my failed love relationships, each morning when I sat down to write it was like spinning “The Wheel of a Shtuken Nisht in Harts.” (This is a Yiddish phrase that means a painful, miserable memory that stabs the heart and hurts like hell.)
It was a literary smorgasbord of cupid’s failures. For instance, when I sat down, I’d think, “Do I write about the time my wife and I shaved our heads three days after our wedding and I no longer found her attractive? Or the fact that my cousin ended up marrying my old girlfriend so now she’s like a bugger on the finger of my life? Or my unusual courtship ritual that involved giving girls I had crushes on elaborate and large cardboard boxes that only ever ended in eventual and awkward singledom?”
I assumed that once my book was published that I’d have purged myself of those memories and the subsequent need to write about failed love. Instead, my book has given me even more opportunities to partake in this ritual. I now blog about relationships for Psychology Today and write a dating advice column at howdoidate.com.
Hence, I get to continue to push on all my relationship bruises – usually writing about one experience until I am too overwhelmed and then moving onto the next – sometimes having as many fourteen miserable memories open at once in my browser window. Such misery is my quintessential stereotypical Jewish experience.
It reminds me of when my grandmother, who was temporarily living with my family, decided to get off her prescribed meds – about 22 of them in all. She had to get off them because they were destroying her body. She was a Leo and she took them so she wouldn’t remember the bad parts of the Holocaust. (Leo’s are ruled by the heart, but it was ironic that the first thing the meds destroyed was her heart.)
The doctors ended up replacing one of her heart valves with a pig’s heart valve – which says a helluva a lot about karma. Well, the pig valve didn’t like her meds any more than her old valve and so she started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. She would sit around with a bunch of crackheads and heroine addicts and she eventually endeared herself to them. She had friends that wore leather and had deep profound scars just like her.
“I only took the meds the doctor prescribed,” she would say.
Eventually she kicked her meds, but the memories came back. One night, an imaginary Chinese man in a cape flew down into her room and took her hand. She called him “The Yellow Goy.” TYG led her to the edge of the staircase. He told her to fly away with him. I imagine it was all very romantic.
She ended up crumpled at the bottom of the staircase, bloody, crying, and wondering why all the love in her world had suddenly evaporated.
I think about her flight sometimes when I write. How, for at least a few glorious seconds, there must have been some magic in being propelled through the air with a Chinese Superman without the aid of a mechanical motor. How, letting go of such a great restraint must have allowed her to feel true freedom for the first time in her life, no matter how short the duration of that freedom actually was.
I think often about the ritual and rigamarole I put myself through to avoid the painful parts of my life. I’d like to believe that one day I’ll have purged myself of all my wonky love karma and at the end of my own staircase there will be my own Chinese Superman waiting to whisk me away with the ultimate reward – a few moments of flight without mechanical motor. Until then, I spin the wheel and purge and dream about flight.
A few weeks ago I was asked to give a keynote address at a middle school. My ever-proud Jewish mother insists on attending. As I’m waiting to be called to the stage, the principal and I start talking. He finds out my mom is in the audience. She’s been a teacher in his district for over forty years. He asks if he can go on a tangent before he introduces me. His eyes light up when he says the word tangent.
During his introduction he asks my mom to stand up and then he announces that she’s a Holocaust survivor. People applaud. This is the worst thing ever. It’s like pinning a bull’s-eye to my mom’s forehead. (If you don’t know, she’s the one in my book who reminds us each Hanukkah just as she wraps our menorah in an old rag and hides it in a mop bucket underneath the sink, “Don’t tell anyone your Jewish. They will find you. They will kill you. You will die.”) In some way, I know this is my fault. I’ve breached not only our family contract, but something more – I’ve put her survival at risk.
From backstage, I imagine my mom hunching over and figuring out how to make an exit. Finally, she stands up and runs out of the school.
When I call her afterward she says she’s sorry she couldn’t stay.
“The problem with being Jewish is they make you do stuff,” she says. I’ve heard this before. She’s quoting her favorite Jewish author, Eliezer Sobel. Whenever she wants to prove a point she turns to a certain page in his book “Minyan: Ten Jewish Men in a World That is Heartbroken.”
To make matters worse, Sobel is my friend, so whenever she quotes him it’s like she’s spooning on the Jewish mother guilt. “Eliezer says there are prayers for everything – upon rising, upon going to the toilet, upon eating fruit, upon smelling a new smell, upon seeing a deformed person, for baking challah, for building a sukkah.”
I mostly tune her out and this gets me thinking about the 614th commandment that was added to our already long list of commandments that reads, “Jews are forbidden to hand Hitler posthumous victories……They are commanded to remember the victims of Auschwitz, lest their memory perish……They are forbidden escape into either cynicism … and a religious Jew who has stayed with his God may be forced into new, possibly revolutionary relationships with Him.”
My mom says she doesn’t care about doing stuff anymore. She says she’s leaving that up to me and my nephew, Cody. She calls us The Walking Jewish Exhibitionists. Continue reading
“Your nephew’s got it in his head that he wants to have a bar mitzvah,” my mom says. “And you’re going to have to make it happen. Your sister wants no part of it and I’m too busy.”
“I’ve got this,” I say.
Cody is my sister’s kid. He’s one of two nephews I have that are half-Jewish and half-descendants from the great Southern war hero Zachary Taylor, the twelfth president of the United States and the last president to actually own slaves. You don’t get any more “good ol’ boy” than Zach.
Cody is being raised in a low income apartment project without a father a few miles from where I was raised in Richmond, Virginia – the capital of the confederacy. Like me, he’s groomed on bacon sandwiches, NASCAR, and chicken on the bone. His mom did what my mom did. She intermarried. But then she took it a step further and became Baptist. Cody wouldn’t know a Jewish star from a rock star.
If you’re familiar with my book, then you know I had a very unorthodox introduction to Judaism. I was taught Hebrew from a rent-a-rabbi out of a Volkswagen bus located in the middle of the woods. The rabbi and his orange bus are long gone and so I send queries to all the synagogues in the area asking how someone like me can help someone like my nephew become a bar mitzvah.
Rabbi Schmuley is the only one who writes back. A week later, I’m sitting in his office telling him that I don’t understand why a kid who’s successfully assimilated would want to embrace something that’s caused so much pain to so many people in our family. I flash back to the time in middle school when I’m beat up in the empty lot by the Stromboli sisters for being Jewish.
“Inside the hearts of all Jews,” he says, “there is a self-activating-randomly-firing-super-Jew-fuse enabling our personal path to Heebdom. If we did not have this, we would have been diluted in half and in half and in half and into nothingness by mixed marriage long ago.”
He says the fuse, in Yiddish, is called the “Pentele Yid.”
“The mysterious Pentele Yid is a tiny Jew ember that is carried through the Jewish blood line – it holds our passion, our rituals, and our world famous matzo ball recipe.”
He explains that Halfies – those with one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent – like Cody and I, encompass over 80 percent of the entire Jewish population. For guys like us, who barely connect to the meaning behind what it means to be Jewish, our Pentele Yid is but a tiny, cold, blackened seed, passed along to future generations. Cody’s Pentele Yid is like my own – a cigarette butt stuffed in the bottom of a Pabst Blue Ribbon can.
“Yet, for whatever mysterious reason,” the rabbi continues, “the Pentele Yid can and does ignite into flame, sometimes skipping one generation and hitting another one many years down the road.”
And it’s true, in less than a year, Cody’s Pentele Yid not only mysteriously ignites, but the heat is so intense that it singes my entire family. In less than a year, the little no-Jew sprouts into a sort-of-Jew and then blossoms into the first Jewish superhero in my family. He conquers Hebrew with a southern twang, starts Shabbat services in his mother’s house, and brings dates to the synagogue (young red-neck girls who smell like honeysuckle, shellfish, and pork rinds) who laugh with him in the back seat of my car on the way to shul. He not only wants to re-convert our entire family, he wants to convert his entire apartment complex as well.
At his bar mitzvah the two sides of my family reunite for the first time in many years. The super Jews beside the sorta Jews – my sister in a halter top beside my uncle in a thousand dollar suit and a yarmulke. It’s inspiring, heart wrenching, and profound.
How does a descendant from a slave owning good ol’ boy blossom into the first Jewish superhero my family has ever seen? Because like a heart that has been forgotten or a soul that has been misplaced, our Yid has been ignited and with it the heart and soul of my family returns.
“The Jewish soul is always inside the body,” the rabbi whispers to me after the service, “it is the individual who must follow the yearning to return to that soul when the time is right.”