Photo: Loren Mindak
Barbara Rushkoff: Seder is like dinner theater, but 8 days of matzo is enough
Photo: Loren Mindak

Author takes wacky look at holidays

Writer, blogger, and hip Brooklynite Barbara Rushkoff celebrates a rap Purim, Hanukka envy and other holidays

Park Slope, Brooklyn-based researcher and journalist Barbara Rushkoff launched her cult-favorite, Jewish-themed magazine "Plotz" in 1995 after a co-worker asked her why she didn't want her desk decorated at Christmastime. That newsletter has since morphed into her blog, Plotzworld.


Rushkoff’s new book, “Jewish Holiday Fun…for you!” (Universe Publishing, Paper, $14.95), offers an edgy, laugh-out-loud look at the Jewish holidays. Its presentation as a guide for Gentiles who wonder what those "wacky" Jewish customs are about makes it all the more amusing and clever:


The pop-culture and retro-style illustrations and page designs are dazzling not only in appearance, but also in the way they capture the text's mood and intent.


Rushkoff answered Seven Questions from Ynetnews:


1. In the book's introduction, you mention that the book is intended for Gentiles who are unfamiliar with Jewish customs; is the book a comical attempt (perhaps an unconscious one) to seek the acceptance of non-Jewish America?


I generally don’t write for acceptance from other people; I write to express myself. Really – it feels good to do so (and probably explains why I’m not a rich author!). The book is not really about acceptance, it’s about de-mystification of “what Jews do.” Everyone can identify with humor. When I started doing my 'zine  in 1995, I realized how much symbolism and “juice” there was to each Jewish holiday and I got really into finding out more about each holiday and it’s back story.


Jews and non-Jews read my ‘zine, so I gathered that Jews and non-Jews would read the book as well. Sure, Jewish folk will get the references much easier and hopefully take pride in their holidays but this book remains open to anyone who wants to read it - and laugh. I’m very proud to be Jewish and want all people (Jews and non-Jews) to be as interested in these holidays as I am. Corny to say, but it’s fun to learn new things - especially in familiar pop culture formats.


2. Would American Jews be better off if they would simply trade in the matzos for Easter eggs, and the potato latkes for gingerbread cookies?


No! Just because most people are confounded by Jewish customs (even Jews!) doesn’t mean that we should leave our traditions and customs. It’s really fun to discover the story behind each holiday, and besides how much fun is Passover? A seder is like dinner theater, and although after eight days you’re bound to miss bread and swear off matzo forever, there’s something that feels good about “keeping” the holiday. Although I do wish someone would invent some kind of Passover-approved pizza.


3. In the book you also take the occasional jab at the Christian holidays, such as the hilarious “T.V. Guide” spoof, "TV Time, The Hanukkah Envy Issue," where you make fun of holiday television programming in America:


  • 6:00 a.m. - Channel 12 - It's a Wonderful Life- Movie: "Jimmy Stewart and company lay on the syrup good and thick in this Frank Capra story that could never happen in real life because people are too lousy and rotten.”


Do you consider the Christian holidays to be tacky and overly commercialized? Do they depict values that are non-existent in modern-day America?


I have to admit that I really love the old Christmas movies and those animated Christmas specials starring tiny elves who want to be dentists. It’s the new stuff that has product placement all over it that’s just not right. But I can still enjoy all of that schmaltz without feeling the over-commercialization of it all because it’s not my holiday. I can take a step back and laugh at it (and thank God I don’t have to buy that many presents and eat those fruit cakes).


I don’t know if it was always this way or has gotten worse, but I know that every year on December 24 they start running TV advertisements for sales on stuff the day after Christmas, which is really weird and sad and makes the holiday more about spending money than celebrating the birth of Jesus.


I don’t really want to call someone else’s holiday tacky, because Christmas isn’t tacky - it’s the whole overboard gift giving and going into debt over it that doesn’t make sense. But that’s America - spend, spend, spend! Jews overspend, too….


4. The book is filled with irreverent pop-culture references. I laughed hysterically at “Word 'Em Up - It's a Purim Thang Y'all,” a gangsta-style depiction of the story of Queen Esther and Moredechai:


  • King Ahasuerus: "Girl, I know you don't want me to get Haman on your booty."


Were these references inserted for comedic purposes only, or did you want to update the Jewish holidays; make them appear more hip?


I love rap language, especially old, dated, rap lingo. I always have. I also love 1970s sitcoms and the people who starred in them. So I thought, why not combine the two into some weird retro rap movie script with Purim as the story?


It had nothing to do with hipness (Both are decidedly so not cool. They’re definitely more nerdy.). I wrote a rap-influenced one-pager on Purim in an old issue of Plotz, and it was a big hit with people, so I thought I would just take the idea further. I like that the illustrations show 1970s sitcom stars, so it’s a little treat for people who know who they are to chuckle even further about it.


5. What kind of sukkah do you use - prefabricated, make-your-own, or your neighborhood kosher restaurant's?


Unfortunately, I’ve never had a sukkah! The part of the book where I write that I am allergic to everything is unfortunately true! I used to walk through our synagogue’s sukkah and sneeze my head off. My whole family was kind of an allergic disaster. Nowadays, I tend to walk through any sukkah I can find. Restaurant sukkahs have been great; the Second Avenue Deli in NYC usually has a good one. Maybe one day, when we have a house (we live in an apartment) we will make a totally hypoallergenic one.


6. What did you talk about on your last all-night Shavuot study session?


I have to be honest and say that I haven’t partaken in an all-night Shavuot study session this year! Although when I talk about the book I love to tell the story of Ruth, because I think she is a righteous, cool woman who was not only the first convert but also the first feminist.


I love that a non-Jewish woman redeemed land for the Jews, how she wanted to become a full fledged Jew and how she embraced the whole “a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do” philosphy - how cool is that? Next year, in Brooklyn!


7. What's better: hamantaschen or potato latkes?


Both - together! Nothing better than a little sweet hamantashen (apricot flavor is my favorite) with a salty and lovely potato latke chaser (although my mother at times would make us sweet potato latkes). Don’t make me choose!


פרסום ראשון: 03.20.05, 13:59