Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Original Yente, Please Stand Up

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2010 at 11:00 am

We have come a long way from the original yenta, "Yente Telebende," a comical gossip in 1920's Yiddishkite theater. Photo courtesy of Victor Jeffreys II,

With nods to Dr. Ruth, Dear Abby, heck even Delilah, I realized I was slightly off base when the real original Yenta came to me earlier this summer.  One thing left out of my first definition of a Yenta:  the coiner of the term here in America, himself.  After an AskYourYenta radio show, I received an e-mail from Mr. Yenta’s grandson with a quick history lesson on the word.

Yes, indeed, the term “yenta,” then “yente” was popularized by a humorist in the 1920’s and 1930’s by the name of Jacob Adler, pen name B. Kovner.  “Yenta Telebenta” (or “Yente Telebende”) was an off-Broadway play and the name of a comic gossip in his writings, which imprinted the “Yinglish,” Yiddish and English word upon the American public in New York.

In the age of Yiddish theater in the 20’s and 30’s, a “yente” started referring to a busybody or gossipmonger and then grew to a popular slang word.  In addition to being his wife’s name and being the title of a play, Yenta was also B. Kovner’s character in a fifty-year writing career for The Jewish Daily Forward.

For an example of Jacob Adler/B. Kovner’s humorist writing, click here.

Ask Yenta!  E-mail a question to merissag[at]gmail[dot]com directly, or using to ask anonymously.

Merissa Nathan Gerson is a fan of
Ask Your Yenta

Remembering Lucille Clifton

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2010 at 6:38 am

Lucille Clifton, 1936-2010

Lucille Clifton: Poet, Writer, Educator
June 27, 1936 – February 13, 2010

A personal favorite, Clifton was notorious for speaking worlds with very few words. Those few words then multiplied to create an enormous literary blessing.
For that which she shared, I am humbled and grateful.

why some people be mad at me sometimes

they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
their memories
and I keep on remembering

-Lucille Clifton

Click here
for Clifton’s New Yorker obituary.
Click here for an extensive bio.
Click here for more of her poems.

Happy Year of the Tiger

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2010 at 7:27 pm

The Year of the Golden Tiger, White Tiger, Iron Tiger….is the 4707th Chinese New Year. Many say this will be a year of intense clashes, of power and of grace. See below for more.

This is the year of the Iron White Tiger.

I am no expert, but I do like new beginnings. Whatever comes of this year, this week is a good time, says a wise Buddhist in Boulder, for recollection of the year past (since February 25th 2009), and for setting goals and intentions for the year to come.

Happy Year of the Tiger from Your Jewish Yenta!

For more on tigers and the Chinese zodiac, click here.
For more on tigers and their general symbolic meaning, click here.
For more on predictions for the Year of the Tiger, watch this.

Honoring The Yentas That Came Before Us

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2010 at 11:12 am

For International Women’s Day, here are a series of strong, vocal, in-your-face and influential Jewish women who may have, without your even realizing it, changed your world.

Dr. Ruth is the ultimate Yenta - wise, forthright, change-making.

The Wisdom of Women

Dr. Ruth

“An orgasm is just a reflex like a sneeze.”
“Don’t criticize in the sack. Discuss constructively later….”
“Talking from morning to night about sex has helped my skiing.”

Paula Abdul

“Constructive criticism is about finding something good and positive to soften the blow to the real critique of what really went on.
“Everyone is your best friend when you are successful. Make sure that the people that you surround yourself with are also the people that you are not afraid of failing with.”
“Find fitness with fun dancing. It is fun and makes you forget about the dreaded exercise.”

Flyest of the fly is a Jewess with chutzpah.

Elizabeth Taylor

“I sweat real sweat and I shake real shakes.”
“I’ve been through it all, baby, I’m mother courage.”
“I’ve only slept with men I’ve been married to. How many women can make that claim?”

Ann Landers

“All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest – never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership.”
“Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and repeat to yourself, the most comforting words of all; this, too, shall pass.”
“If you marry a man who cheats on his wife, you’ll be married to a man who cheats on his wife.”
“Know yourself. Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.”
“Love is friendship that has caught fire.”

Laura Schlesinger

“This is all you have. This is not a dry run. This is your life. If you want to fritter it away with your fears, then you will fritter it away, but you won’t get it back later.”

Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby)

“If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we’d all be millionaires.”
“If you want a place in the sun, you’ve got to put up with a few blisters.”
“People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.”
“There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who walk into a room and say, “There you are” and those who say, “Here I am””
“True, a little learning is a dangerous thing, but it still beats total ignorance.”

Bella Abzug

“Women have been trained to speak softly and carry a lipstick. Those days are over.”
“The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes.”
“I prefer the word “homemaker” because “housewife” always implies that there may be a wife someplace else.”

Ask Yenta Anything!  Click Here.

For more Yenta, visit Ask Your Yenta at

Merissa Nathan GersonCreate Your Badge

Man On Plane

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Kenny from Milwaukee

I sat next to Kenny from Milwaukee on my Westward bound flight. He was wearing a floor-length black mink coat and giant puffy slippers meant to look like black and white tap shoes. I found him earlier, waiting for takeoff, pacing angrily because he was waiting on his fourth layover since the night before. At that point he was wearing alligator leather shoes and disappeared for a while. I thought he was a preacher, all these books in hand. I figured all that pacing was bible toting.

He came back excited like a kid on Christmas holding these giant puffy slippers which he quickly changed into, letting out loud sighs and oohs and ahhs of relief. I found out, waiting in line together to board, that he had been in those alligator shoes since the night before when he was kicked off a plane for misconduct. He was an antique trader and he made a friend on the flight who was also interested in antique trading. They began talking about Japanese snuff boxes and the man behind them asked them to “shut up.” Apparently he had been in the war and didn’t want to hear about Japan.

Kenny said he turned around and said “Man, this is America, and we can talk if we want to talk.” And that man behind him kept telling him, belligerently, to shut up, talking down to him. After enough shut-ups Kenny went a bit nuts on the man and all three of them were escorted off the plane by cops. “Well,” Kenny said, “he brought the black out in me.”

The man who was antagonizing Kenny and his friend was banned from the airline for life, and the other two were re-routed, hence Kenny and my time together in line. I was sitting alone in my row on the plane when there was suddenly a big to do and Kenny kindly gave his seat up so a family could sit together. He chose my row, of the many options, and continued talking to me. He told me all about smoking doobies on the beach in California and then all about how antique trading was where the money was at.

He pulled a bunch of valuable wooden pieces from his bag and handed them to me to evaluate. “This one was smuggled out of Russia, it is worth ten grand,” among others. I had my camera phone and asked him if I could photograph his hands. He was wearing gold and diamond rings and had on that mink. He said yes, but told me to wait, and pulled out a money clip with a wad of hundreds and posed proper before handing me a photo of himself in his other mink.

Somewhere soon after that I put on headphones and took a nap and Kenny pulled out a soggy Whopper from his leather briefcase, wedged between all those antiques. I was eating oatmeal from the snack pack and was a bit envious of the burger and coke to my left. Kenny asked me to make sure I put his photo on my website, and that I title it, “The Cool-Ass Man Who Sat Next to Me On the Plane.” I try not to ever break a promise.

RIP Tai Frasier

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2009 at 8:50 pm

Brittany Murphy
11.10.1977 – 12.20.2009

Some of us were more influenced by Brittany Murphy as Tai Frasier in Clueless than others.

In a fight with her friend Cher, Tai spurts, “Why am I even listening to you to begin with? You’re a virgin that can’t drive!”

In a later interview about the role, Brittany Murphy said,
“It’s hard for me to believe it’s been 10 years since that movie. I really was a virgin who couldn’t drive. I was living in an apartment in the Valley with my mom – and I remember starting to see these huge billboards of us all over town. It was amazing!”

Murphy appeared on the following TV shows: Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Frasier, Sister, Sister, Party of Five and Boy Meets World. If you grew up with TGIF early 90’s TV, or grew to enjoy King of the Hill’s Luanne, then this woman touched you.

Having memorized most of the lines to Clueless, I bow my head in rememberence of the quick flash that was Brittany Murphy’s contribution to the coming of age of myself and other 80’s babies.

Home for the Holidaze

In Mental Health, Parents, Uncategorized on December 14, 2009 at 6:36 am

Dear Yenta,

I find myself dreading the upcoming holiday season. I love them but
time with my family can be SUCH an emotional drain.

Do you have any suggestions for establishing and maintaining
boundaries? Or quick answers for people asking you to justify your
life choices?

-Homeward Bound

Dear HB,

One woman once said you should never go home for more than two days. Two day visits rock, no space for conflict, just long enough to really enjoy every minute. But, if you need to be home longer…here are some pointers on how not to regress to age thirteen.

1) Spend a night reflecting on what you are doing with your life and why. Make sure you have some semblance of an answer before going home. This answer does not need to be shared with anyone out loud, it is the one you hold on to as the questions start firing.

2) Look at all of this as if you live inside a shell. Inside is all mushy and sweet, outside is the veneer you show people. Another word for this is learning to live like a Washingtonian. Use your best political face to show love and white lies.

3) Only answer when you feel like it. You have every right not to answer a question. Or, what people hate, is “I don’t know.” This is a great answer if you can stand by it and the frustration it will provoke. People who have made commitments they resent, will then resent you for your lackthereof.

4) Learn to see yourself with two sets of eyes, theirs and yours, and train yourself to know the difference. What they can’t see can’t hurt them, and what you remember of who you are is crucial. Don’t confuse their eyes for your own.

5) Boundaries. The only trick here, again, is pre-meditation. Know in advance how far you want to go with information, and set the limit. People hate boundaries. They will try to trick you and knock your walls down. Stand firm if those walls are there to maintain your sanity.

6) Trust your gut and give away only what serves you. Exiting a Buddhist retreat and entering family life from your own independence aren’t such different experiences. One retreat leader explained that you might want to run home and tell your husband or girlfriend or mother everything and then find, upon arrival, that they don’t get it or don’t care. They taught us to guard our experiences and to be slow in unfolding information about the time we spent in silence. You might feel like telling the girl in the checkout line all about your retreat, but never want to reveal a word to your own children. The moral here was learning to trust one’s voice. You might find your mouth cemented shut in some cases, without warning, and running wildly in others. Just listen to your body and proceed with the questions and answers from there. Pain = negative. Warm lull = positive.

So, whatever you have made of your life was done so for a reason. Family sometimes understands, and sometimes does not. They sometimes want to put a leash on you in fear of losing you to the new world you have entered. So spend some time remembering who they are, what their needs and hang-ups are, and also recalling who you are and what you stand for.

For example: One brilliant friend of mine went home to her evangelical parents and they all looked at her, shaking their heads. “Aren’t you worried about rotting in hell for all of those tattoos you have?” they asked. And she calmly answered, “I appreciate your concern, but these tattoos mean a lot to me and connect me to God as I understand it.” Boom.

As you approach each conversation go into it with awareness and self-respect, watching your words and theirs, knowing that everyone’s attempts to cut you down to size have to do, 90% of the time, with their own insecurities.

For family it is even harder, because they were once closest to you and the shifts in intimacy levels as we age unnerve some people. Keep this in mind as they get rough, remembering the origin of their words. Be protective of you. Whatever you have become is probably gorgeous, and needs to be revealed at its own rate.

Brandon Walsh Syndrome

In Drama, Uncategorized on December 13, 2009 at 3:41 am

Dear Yenta,

I have a friend who always goes for the “bad boy” that isn’t
interested. She becomes close friends with these guys and then tries
to draw inferences from the close friend relationships like “we do a lot
of date type stuff together.” I don’t want to hurt her feelings by
telling her they just aren’t that into her, but I feel kind of
dishonest just smiling and nodding every time she talks about these
“relationships.” I obviously think she is great and that the right
guy is out there for her, but listening to her stories tells me he is
not these wild dudes. I also think she is depressed, so I don’t
want to rock the boat and send her spiraling any deeper. What would
you do? Am I being a good friend or should I tell her what I really

-Smile and Nod

Dear Smile and Nod,

What is being a good friend? Is it blindly supporting someone through hard times? Or is it helping someone see themselves more clearly when they have gone temporarily blind? Or, really, is it a balance of both?

Too much truth burns, we all learn that the hard way. But too little makes you a wet rag. All your fear of being honest with your friend sounds like you are enabling her depression. That, and you sound a little afraid of her.

There are ways of saying, “he isn’t worthy of you,” “you deserve someone who…. Listens, cares, shows up, etc.” You don’t need to bash her choices, but you can insinuate that there are more options, that it is ok to dream big and expect bigger results. One element of depression is a narrow and skewed vision of the world. Without commenting on her sour lovers, you can still easily coax your friend into believing she deserves more.

Also, teetering on the edge of a depressive downfall, your friend is responsible for how deep she lets herself sink. It is nice to be there, but try not to be too Brandon Walsh or Dan Humphrey. This means let her worry about her, and you about you, while still showing your love and positivity so she might find her own way out of this quagmire.

Yenta: A Definition

In Uncategorized on December 3, 2009 at 4:58 am

Dear Yenta,

Should I listen to your advice if I’m not Jewish? Would you answer
this question differently if I were Jewish?

I think this should go under the mental health category, as I get a
little nutty.



Dear G,

Yenta’s advice = non-denominational words delivered to someone who solicits it. As for the Jewish nature of a Yenta, perhaps a slight education is in order.

What, you may be wondering, is a Yenta? It is a Yiddish word for a matchmaking elderly gossip or busybody. A Yenta is someone who might be in charge of spreading rumors, giving advice, helping you find a nice Jewish boy. According to the Urban Dictionary, “Just as there are bad witches and good witches, so there are good yentas and bad yentas. A good yenta provides you knowledge and wisdom about everything.”

“Yenta,” however, is just a Yiddish word for a universal character. Every community has an older woman who knows and sees all the local social happenings, and may meddle where both needed and unneeded. So yes, goy or no goy, the advice, although flowing from a Jewess, knows no borders.

Moby Thesaurus says the following words are synonyms of Yenta: Paul Pry, Peeping Tom, a tale-bearing animal, backseat driver, busybody, eavesdropper, gossip, gossip columnist, gossiper, gossipmonger, inquirer, inquisitive, inquisitor, intermeddler, kibitzer, meddler, newsmonger, newspaperman, nosy Parker, prier, pry, querier, querist, questioner, quidnunc, reporter, rubberneck, rubbernecker, rumormonger, scandalmonger, scopophiliac, sightseer, snoop, snooper, tabby, talebearer, taleteller, tattler, tattletale, telltale, tittle-tattler, voyeur.

With the advice, do what you will, be you black, white, orange or blue, Muslim, Sikh, Christian or Jew. Take it or leave it, sugar.

Santa Fe Art Institute

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2009 at 8:58 pm

I am on writing residency for November and December, ’09 at the Santa Fe Art Insitute in New Mexico. Other artists and writers on residency include Jeesoo Lee, Pinar Yolacan, Karl Cronin, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, and Scott Bailey. Among the 12 residents this month we span the following countries in root and origin: Brazil, Turkey, Korea, Poland, Taiwan, Greece, and the USA.