Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Conventional Wisdom

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since early August, you know that almost as soon as the Olympic flame was lit in London, all television cameras turned to Denver as the Democratic Party convened their quadrennial convention. Since I get a bulk of my news from a bizarre combo of NPR and the Daily Show, I've admittedly been a touch behind on the substance and mainly just getting the hype from Matt Lauer as I brush my teeth in the morning.

For the first time since I've been eligible to vote, there is actually a Democratic candidate who has captured the national imagination and certainly many people of my generation. I have friends who sport "Change we Can Believe In" bumper stickers and others who have participated in voter registration drives on his behalf. Yet, I've stood at the sidelines, hesitant to put my trust in any politician and never one to be a "cheerleader" or "joiner."

But after reading several Facebook status updates that professed crushes on Michelle Obama, I finally decided to check out what she (and he) had to say. "It's time we listened to our hopes instead of our fears," cried Michelle as she spoke about her childhood on the South Side of Chicago and her blue collar roots. "It's time we stop doubting and start dreaming," she urged as delegates cheered her on.

OK, reasonably inspiring, but what else ya got? Well tonight Bill Clinton told me to "believe that America must always be a place called hope," and I gave in.

Fascinated by the promise of an entire social calendar for my Labor Day weekend filled with Barack Obama events and in the interest of “blog research,” I reluctantly signed up for an account at

Instantly, I was presented with a range of activities including convention speech watching parties, canvassing at my local farmer’s market, bike races and even a group garage sale where proceeds go to the Obama campaign. If I were a more Gonzo blogger (or if I were getting paid for this), I might make a bigger effort to cruise over to the Morristown Green on Sunday morning.

Still, I lingered on the site to see what Barack had to say to Jewish Americans, Latinos, Environmentalists and Kids. I found designated bloggers and content for every subsection of society, with of course some room for error. A woman profiling a delegate from Iowa noted that even though Kathy suffers from Fiber Malaga (aka fibromyalgia) she's still out there campaigning.

More than any other candidate in American history, Barack Obama (or his strategists) has figured out how to harness the power of the Internet - providing links to 16 social networking sites, recruiting volunteers and in a stroke of pure genius revealing his pick for vice president via text message. He has captured the youth vote (in theory) more than any presidential candidate since JFK. Could he be my generation's JFK? Does he risk becoming victim to the same fate as this antecedent?

As I pondered all of these messages, speeches, events and ideals, my cynicism got caught up in the momentousness of the convention. For the first time ever, America has selected a black man for their major party candidate. We all have a chance to watch history and maybe a little progressive change in the making. And while that might not make me a wide-eyed optimist or a clipboard-carrying activist - it has given me a little something to believe in.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Hundredth Post

Hard to believe, but I've managed to reach the milestone of my 100th post on this site. Thanks to Blogger, I'm able to track these things and indulge my neuroses at the same time. Like a tv sitcom doing a flashback episode to celebrate an arbitrary goal, I've decided to mark my centennial with 10 sets of Top 10 lists. Consider it the Pilates way to celebrate... or accept that I just couldn't come up with 100 of anything. Enjoy.

Top 10 Reasons to Blog
1. Shameless self promotion
2. It’s what people do in their 20s
3. Something in common with David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell
4. Unedited creative outlet for all my rants
5. Practice for my future career as a travel/food/dating/race/religion writer
6. Cheap way to entertain myself ad nauseum
7. Telling people I’m a writer sounds much more interesting
8. Chance to meet new people, virtually
9. Otherwise wasted journalism degree
10. How else would I have been nominated for the Hot Blogger Calendar?

Top 10 Countries of Origin for Visitors to Shtetl Fabulous (in ascending order)
1. Japan
2. Belgium
3. Romania
4. Germany
5. Italy
6. Israel
7. Australia
8. United Kingdom
9. Canada
10. United States

Top 10 Things I Think Should be Outlawed
1. Those damn shirts that make me look pregnant and are still in stores!
2. Cute bartenders having girlfriends
3. Any employer policy that gives people fewer than 3 weeks of vacation
4. Astroturf and the designated hitter rule (Jared, are you reading this?)
5. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
6. Really bad movies
7. The electoral college
8. Shoes not universally coming in wide widths
9. People who dress up their pets
10. Using the word “nigger,” oh wait – the NAACP already did that

Top 10 Adjectives People Use to Describe this Blog
1. Awesome
2. Hip
3. Sage observations
4. Love your blog! (not an adjective, but oh well)
5. Sassy
6. Cynical
7. 100% kosher
8. Great
9. Totally rocks
10. Hysterical

Top 10 Favorite Keyword Searches that Led People to My Blog
1. “Recycle code safety today show.” This person spent more than 6 minutes on the site
2. “29 and pregnant” OR “29 with student debt pregnant and alone”
3. Chocolate living room
4. “Shtetl fabulous,” “shtetl Passover,” “Jewish food shtetl,” “shtetl hunter,” “shtetl wedding,” or my personal favorite, “wig shtetl.”
5. “Stop being monolingual.”
6. “I choose my choice.” Some version of this Sex and the City quote brought me more viewers than I ever could have imagined.
7. “Schmaschmortion clinic.”
8. “Eating lamb and heartburn.”
9. “Esther versus Vashti.”
10. “Fabulous fuckers.” You knew that would be the best, right!

Top 10 Blogs I’ve Discovered Through Blogging (not including friends’ blogs)
1. Ima Shalom
2. Frum Satire
3. Blognut
4. Shpilkes
5. Stuff White People Like
6. The Jew and the Carrot
7. Superfluous Juxtaposition
8. My Urban Kvetch
9. Jewcy
10. Random Babbles (OK, so I know this guy, but what can you do?)

Top 10 Places I’ve Eaten
1. Chola (NYC)
2. Tin Shed Café (Portland, OR)
3. Kumanets (it’s that traditional Ukrainian place we went to in Odessa)
4. Beyond Bread (Tucson)
5. 8 ½ (NYC)
6. Tie: Mamoun’s (NYC) and any falafel place in Jerusalem
7. Plaza Café (Santa Fe)
8. Pix Patisserie (Portland, OR)
9. Zemam’s Ethiopian (Tucson)
10. The Helmand (Baltimore)

Top 10 Comments on My Posts (thanks for making it this far!)
1. “A fantastically clear statement about the blatant lobbying against abortion.” From Subtle Mother Fuckers on December 3, 2007
2. “I've always operated under the impression that a bite of someone else's food doesn't count, calorie-wise.” From Food Magic on May 27, 2008
3. “Shameless self promotion is the only way to get hits.” From Shameless Self Promotion on April 25, 2008
4. “Wait, it’s not about Mitt Romney? Damn!” From Stormin’ Mormon – Believe the Hype! on February 9, 2008
5. “I get a huge kick out of reading the columns in Cosmo about what guys really think.” From When Harry Met Sally it was Love Actually…on October 23, 2007
6. “I am sure you get a kick out of the fact that I wrote in your yearbook that you had BETTER go to the reunions and now I'm not going!” From It’s the Final Countdown on June 1, 2008
7. “You sound like the Jewish Carrie Bradshaw...Sex in Morris County.” From A Year in the Life on July 11, 2007
8. “True, but it can also be a blessing to keeping friends in other areas up to date on your life.” From What I’ve Learned After 28 Years on Earth on January 8, 2008
9. “It's like the female version of Adam Goldberg's character in ‘The Hebrew Hammer.’" From What Shtetl Fabulous Looks Like on July 15, 2008
10. “If I am on a date I throw them 5 bucks, other wise they get a dollar- I just remove my yarmulke so I don’t start a pogrom.” From It’s Not Easy Being (Without) Green on May 13, 2008

Top 10 Comedies of All Time (but it could totally change in 5 minutes)
1. Bull Durham
2. The Philadelphia Story
3. 40 Year Old Virgin
4. Best in Show
5. Rushmore
6. Some Like it Hot
7. Juno
8. Little Miss Sunshine
9. Moonstruck
10. Blazing Saddles

Top 10 Challenges of Writing a Blog
1. Coming up with shit to write about
2. Risking your mom knowing too much about your sex life
3. Worrying that your mom is your only reader
4. Getting mobbed by legions of adoring fans and the paparazzi
5. (If I had a laptop) Becoming one of those people at Starbucks
6. Coming up with shit to write about
7. Losing some of your anonymity
8. Forgoing sleep to write a blog that does not provide any income
9. Debating how much to reveal about friends, dates, family
10. Writing ten different top 10 lists without going cross-eyed

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Five Little Rings

When I was a kid, I really looked forward to the Olympics. They only took place every four years, and the summer I was 4 years old, I had a chance to go to the Summer Games in Los Angeles. It was the first time I'd ever seen a Port-A-Potty and I remember seeing Greg Louganis dive. Other than that, all my memories are limited to Sam the Eagle Olympic mascot pins that my mother still has stashed away in a drawer.

Over the years, I loved the Opening Ceremonies and watching people from all the different countries come in waving their flags. Geography and international travel always appealed to me and this quadriennial event was my equivalent of the Thrilla in Manila. Nowadays, the Opening Ceremonies are essentially just an opportunity to ogle attractive people from around the world. During the Athens Games, my siblings and I agreed that Croatia had the hottest team. Way to go, Croatia!

Also, since the 1990s when the games switched off to every two years (one Winter, one Summer), it became somehow less exciting. I wonder if Halley's Comet came around every 10 years instead of every 76, would people be so stoked? Coincidentally, when Halley last appeared in 1986, I recall my dad driving our family out to the desert with our miniature telescope to check it out. To this day I remember the drive more than sighting the comet.

But I digress. For me, the 2008 Beijing Summer Games mark the nadir of my Olympic sport watching. However, I've squeezed in enough TV time (sorry, Facebook is really seductive!) to learn a few things.

1. I no longer know who has the hottest team because NBC seems to only show the competitors from the U.S. and China. There are enough prepubescent Chinese girls at my local JCC, I don't need to see them throwing themselves up into the air. Show me more of the Russians, they were always more artistic anyway.

2. As my British friend Simon pointed out, they only seem to show the competitions where American athletes have a good shot at medaling. The Ukrainians have been cleaning up in wrestling and New Zealand seems to dominate in sailing and rowing. Somehow, the only sports that get airplay in prime time are swimming, diving, a little running and a shit ton of gymnastics. And with a 12-hour time difference to the East Coast and frequent broadcasts of events from the night before, I think the broadcasters could come up with more diverse coverage.

3. Michael Phelps may be a god, but there's a pretty fucking awesome Hungarian guy who made him sweat. Laszlo Cseh is a 23-year-old native of Budapest who took silver medals in three of the races where Phelps won gold. And since many of those races came down to mere seconds, I think Cseh is worthy of some praise. Magyar Pride!

4. The Olympics are full of heroes, most of whom are unsung, underpaid and who come from underpriviliged backgrounds. Yeah, it's a bummer that Shawn Johnson's gym got flooded. But what about Henry Cejudo, a wrestler from Phoenix born to undocumented immigrants who won a gold in men's freestyle wrestling?
What about Cullen Jones from New Jersey who overcame a near drowning to become the third African-American to be on the American Olympic swim team and to win a medal in swimming? Jones also holds the distinction of being the first black person to hold or share a world record in swimming?
These athletes have incredible stories and stirring aspirations and they don't all come from the States. If the Olympics are all about international brotherhood, why can't we hear about the heroes from other countries on the morning news? Where is the heartfelt story about Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopia's gold medalist in the women's 10,000 m walk?

5. Jamaicans can run really fast. Which is a good thing because I hear their bobsled team sucks.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Worshipping at the Altar of Baby Ducks

It only took me about four days to realize that if cuteness could kill, then maybe the State of Oregon would have never legalized the work of Dr. Kevorkian. Portland serves as the epicenter, or Mecca, if you will of this peculiar cuteness cult. Streets like Alberta, Northwest 23rd Avenue and Hawthorne are littered with the faithful, seemingly bereft of full-time day jobs and completely free to wander between umpteen coffee shops, boutiques, paperies and vintage stores. Like a student's civil rights, the cute doesn't stop at the Craftsman style door - it permeates into titles and begats creations such as Paint the Sky kite shop, Frock clothing store, Naked Sheep knitting supply purveyor and the most-groan-worthy Virginia Woof pet groomers.

At 3:15 p.m. on a Tuesday, locally-brewed Stumptown Coffee is suffering no shortage of restrained but unapologetically hip customers. In any other city, they would probably be working at jobs like the one I've escaped for the week, but in Portland they are treated as the high priest(esse)s in the cult of cute. The hipsters offer each other their deepest thoughts on bicycling, tattoos, thrift stores, dogs, sustainable farming, you get the idea. All the while, they sport outfits remarkable as much for their quirkiness as their underlying sameness.

Though there may not be such a thing as the power lunch in Portland, there is plenty to keep a gal busy. Together with my friend and host, Na'ama, we encounter a washboard and tub bass band at the Farmer's Market and the biggest artichokes I have ever seen. A cornucopia of vegetables, fruits and organic baked goods greets us and we stop and chat with a meat farm that will gladly slaughter a cow according to the laws of Kashrut or Halal and sell you a side of beef. My friend takes a flyer.

Alas, Na'ama actually has a job that keeps her off the streets for most of the day so I'm free to discover the city mostly on my own. One day takes me to the Classical Chinese Garden, constructed on Portland by landscape architects imported from China as part of a sister-city exchange. It's perfect for midday respites and the view from the teahouse can only be described as serene. Being without a car and left beholden to the city's excellent public transit system, the Garden is a welcome escape from the mindboggling-large homeless population that frequent the area near Chinatown.

My exploring takes me to Powell's City of Books (seriously, plan a half a day here), the fascinating (and free) Museum of Contemporary Craft, the International Rose Test Garden, the Widmer Brothers Brewery tour (it's free too!) and entirely too many restaurants. Portland has emerged recently as a culinary hub and even Anthony Bourdain devoted half an episode to the city. If you're planning a trip and you want more specific recommendations, email me.

In the interest of brevity here's some quick picks...
Tin Shed Cafe - absolutely amazing breakfasts, biscuits that rival my former Southerner roommates', and a vast array of vegan and vegetarian options.
Voodoo Doughnuts - maybe it's because I went at 8 p.m. or maybe it's because I didn't get the bacon maple bar, but it didn't quite live up to the hype.
Gilt Lounge - eat someplace else and then drink here because they are cheap, creative and one will get you fully schnookered.
Hot Lips Pizza - just darn tasty pizza.
Pix Patisserie - utterly amazing pastries abound here, for a price, but totally worth the dough and the calories. If you're afraid of guilt, bring a friend and come in time for creme brulee happy hour.
Breweries - honestly, I went to way too many of these and they were all pretty good. Just ask a local they're incredibly friendly and will probably think your East Coast accent is cute.

OK - glorifying over and back to a little healthy cynicism. Depsite their overall laidback attitudes, no doubt helped by marijuana (both medical and recreational), Portlanders do feel a need to broadcast their erudite and liberal lifestyle to anyone who will listen. At the neighborhood co-op, I'm told via a poster echoing the Communist Manifesto, that I am welcome to shop as everyone is an owner. What a relief! Validation for my sense of entitlement to organic peanut butter even exists at the co-op!

Back at Stumptown Coffee, fully 30 varieties are listed on the Tasting Guide and apparently the Ethiopian Mordecofe features "lemon hard candy flavors in a transparent cup that finishes with the flavor or raw sugar." Of course, the guide also designates fair trade and organic options, which leads me to wonder if I'll be judged for ordering something grown outside the shade with lots of chemicals and guaranteed to rip off indigenous peoples.

All my ranting and quasi-religious undertones aside, Portland really does have a lot to offer and is pretty fun. Sure, you might have to fight off a few street kids (some affectionately known as "prostitots" because they will trade sex for drug money), but under the surface is an excellent example of the American city as municipal laboratory.

Unemcumbered by history, missing centuries of class struggle and racial discord and placed in beautiful natural surroundings, Portland has had the freedom to experiment while other cities have had to overcome industrialism, integration, natural disasters or a delightful combination thereof. And that, in the end, is pretty cute.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Birthright, My Pimp

Since its inception in 2000, Birthright Israel (BRI) has brought nearly 200,000 young adults from 52 countries on a ten-day trip to Israel to discover their roots, learn about their religion and develop a Jewish identity beyond whatever they picked up in Hebrew school. Drawing young Jews from across the spectrums of geography, religious observance and travel experience, BRI has become a new rite of passage - for many filling the chasm between bar or bat mitzvah and marriage.

A recently released book called, Ten Days of Birthright Israel: A Journey in Young Adult Identity, parallels the trip in 10 chapters and links into several other Brandeis research projects into Birthright's impact on young Jews' attachment to Israel, participants' affiliation with Jewish institutions and even new rituals that have grown out of the trip.

My brother, sister, several friends and I have all particpated in Birthright trips and I can certainly attest to the impact it has made in many lives. I am also a staunch supporter of additional funding to allow more young people to go on trips; of more research to measure how BRI alumni are impacted by their experiences; and of comprehensive post-BRI programming to give young people an outlet for their newly-rekindled Jewish identities in their hometowns.

But what struck me recently, and what I haven't seen much of in the Birthright studies, is its potential to replace the neighborhood shadchan in making Jewish matches. According to an article in the New York Times, Michael Steinhardt (a major Birthright financier), offers a honeymoon at his Caribbean villa to anyone who meets and marries someone from Birthright. So far, 30 couples have taken advantage of this post-trip perk.

Like the Jews, the Taiwanese, Italians, Armenians, Irish and even Palestinians have created similar programs to introduce young people to their respective ethnic heritages, homelands... and to each other. But does it work? I Googled "Birthright Israel" and "marriage" and found surprisingly little of substance. Sure, there are the odd stories about the couple who married on a Birthright trip or met on some romantic kibbutz (surely not Ketura!), but there is very little on the pimping potential of Birthright and its ilk.

Mr. Steinhardt if you're reading this - I have a degree in public policy and Jewish communal service and would happy to launch a study, tentatively titled, "Hooking up in the Holy Land: Romantic Relationships and Birthright Israel."

To any readers who have gone on a Birthright trip - did you hook up with anyone? Did it lead to a relationship? Does this idea have legs or are there too many confounding factors (coming from different cities, age spread, etc.)?

As for me, I'm off on my own summer odyssey to a location much less fraught with conflict and religious symbolism - Portland, Oregon. I'm not sure if I'll meet the love of my life or have a spiritual awakening, but I hope to have some great pictures. See you all in a week!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What some people won't do...

... for cheap shit. Traffic is at a standstill in my town today because some local evangelical church is offering gas at 99 cents a gallon. According to their website, the stunt aims "to serve our community in a practical way that demonstrates God's love. We ain't trying to raise money, convert people, or make a statement. All we want to do is remind our neighbors of a simple truth: whether they drive a Hummer or a Honda, God loves them!"

I'm not really sure God had fuel economy in mind with that whole Love Thy Neighbor thing, but who am I to understand theology? What I do know is that God certainly doesn't want us spending out Sunday idling in our cars, wasting gas just to get cheaper gas. Hey, it's basic economics, not the Bible that teaches about opportunity costs and my guess is that spending three hours on a gorgeous day going absolutely nowhere just to save a few bucks won't satisfy God, Jesus or John Maynard Keynes. save face. A study released on Saturday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the U.S. has underreported the HIV infection rate in this country to the tune of 16,300 new cases. When you extrapolate the 40% over the past 15 years of subpar reporting, you get an additional 225,000 new infections.

So if the old adage goes that 95% of all statistics are wrong - then where does that leave us? And never mind me, what about all the gay and bisexual men and all the African American men and women who are disproportionately affected by the disease? It's pretty common knowledge that the Bush administration has thrown plenty of money at AIDS overseas in order to look good in the global community, but meanwhile has drastically reduced spending at home for AIDS education, prevention and comprehensive sex education. With "Angels in America" screening on LOGO last night, it's a good reminder for all of us to be careful. work on their tans. I was in South Florida this past week. Yep, that's right - God's very own waiting room, Boca Raton. And not just anywhere in Boca. I spent three nights and four days at the exclusive Boca Club and Resort. Unfortunately, I missed the beach and spa and marina in lieu of touring various meeting rooms for three and a half hours at a time. But, man did that night swim feel good. And those 20 minutes by the pool in my clothes, priceless.

Should you ever find yourself in South Florida on someone else's bank account, I highly recommend the Boca Club. They leave little key lime cookies on your pillow, make fantastic pomegranate mojitos and the hotel is simply beautiful (if bubble gum pink from the outside). Just be sure to bring Uncle Leo - you may need him to claim the early bird special.