Friday, August 26, 2005

From Rabbi Ribeye

Researching Max Heller I came upon Marc Wilson, a rabbi and gastronome living in Greenville; he also writes as "Rabbi Ribeye" for in the Internet magazine, eGullet, whence this picture of his family seder of years past. His blog does not have permalinks, instead it scrolls down endlessly from today's posts to its very beginnings. Here are some snippets I caught as I scrolled past...

June 8 2005:

... unlike bygone days, salmon is now the cheapest fish around: $3.99 a pound. The hoo-hah secret of gravlax is to cover the salmon in salt, sugar, a shot of vodka, put one side of salmon atop the other, wrap in cheesecloth and let it sit for a few days. Why let your pocketbook be raped at Zabar’s for $24.99 a pound?

But, how much gravlax can one man eat? Slowly I started bringing samples to a few delis around town. Unanimous opinion? Delicious. Soon, I became The Gravlax King of the South Carolina Upstate, selling more than 20 pounds a week. Recently, I popped in on a patron and spied a sign above the showcase: "Gravlax: Sweeter and Smoother than Yankee Lox!"

Ah, this is the ultimate accolade to the Gravlax King in the heart of Dixie, where the Civil War is still called "Our Great Misfortune," and lox is neither Scandinavian nor Jewish, simply "Yankee." What a delicious irony that a Yankee-rabbi-liberal-antiwar-Democrat has apparently liberated the xenophobic South from the smoky, salty scourge of Northern Aggression. They should only know the truth: My cell phone plays Hava Nagilah, not Dixie.

April 11, 2005:

My rabbinical interview in Greenville was built around a covered-dish dinner. But, forgetting to coordinate the menu, the table was laden with no less than twenty varieties of tuna salad, the more modest of them laced with celery, onion, bell pepper, pickle relish (feh) and eggs. The more garrulous bore every means of provender: olives, grapes, pecans, pistachios, corn, peas, bleu cheese and feta. Next to each artistic platter – some molded in the shape of turtles or Torah scrolls – stood a proud hausfrau, heaping my plate and smugly winking, "I can’t believe you’re even tasting that cat food Mrs. Schwartz made."

December 2, 2004

Jewish or not, I got a burn in my belly when I discovered that our mall would allow parents to snap a picture of their kid with Santa only if they first paid to have Santa’s helpers take a suite of "formal" pictures. ... So, I got hacked off at the mall.

What to do? I put together a project called "Laps of Love": Find a few fat guys to play Santa. Me first. Find a central location. Sit Santa on a throne. Invite folks to bring their kids and their cameras. Let Santa’s helpers give the kids candy, trinkets, cookies and cider while the parents snap away. On the way out, have a bucket to accept contributions for homeless families.

No overhead. No bureaucracy. No profits. All goodies donated. Ah, the spirit of giving. Welcome back.

Now, on to find the Santas. Plenty of fat guys in Greenville County, the home of deep-fried everything, cream-gravied everything, and otherwise healthy vegetables cooked with fatback. A newspaper reporter. A construction foreman. An asthmatic evangelist. A cabbie. My shoemaker. All practicing their ho-ho-ho’s and fattening up at Henry’s BBQ (voted best in the country by Playboy, or so I have been told). ...

Nov 11 2003:

I live in the heartland of guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. And, do not forget Confederate battle flags defiantly unfurled from front-yard flagpoles and vituperatively racist bumper stickers. (I saw it with my own eyes: If I Knew You’d Cause This Much Trouble, I’d Have Picked the Cotton Myself!) These are not nice people. These are folks who are still ranting about secession and slavery and "outside agitators."

Tuesday, July 08, 2003:

[On the forced retirement of a beloved cantor, Marc recalls...]

How he struggled each week to teach us bratty kids songs for Sabbath and holy days. How he awakened my interest in Judaism by challenging me to read from the Torah, after five years of my being uniformly treated like an idiot by a cavalcade of religious-school teachers....

A new rabbi with "different" ideas ... told him that ... his singing with the congregation was "too loud." ... At absolute least, basic decency if not crass realism should say, "How much longer will a 90-year-old be around anyways? What would it hurt to honor him and his vocation while they are still with us? Is the sanctity of the pulpit better found in up-tempo melodies at the expense of shaming an old man?

But, the canard of "singing too loud" goes way beyond all that. To be demeaned for feebleness or forgetfulness is cruel enough. But, "singing too loud"? Criminal.

No one should ever be told that s/he is "singing too loud," even when the voice quivers, or the hands tremble, or the words do not come as easy as they used to. We stifle our children’s singing because it is disruptive. We stifle our elders’ singing because we see it as just another type of "acting out." And in between, we rarely lift our voices in song, because it is embarrassing or because we are numbed to the prospect of voice-lifting joy. Yet, "singing too loud" might be the only shred of soulfulness left to ensure our sanity.

Postscript: I wrote to Marc, who remembered our playing at the Heller event as well as my boneheaded move (he kindly wrote: "I vaguely recall the boondoggle, but think much more fondly of the wonderful repertoire played so masterfully by you and the group. When before and since have we danced an authentic patch-tanz in Greenville? Absolutely delicious!"). He then pointed me to a much more coherent form of his blog at, and I recommend it.

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At 10:28 PM, Blogger Oreo said...

Hi. Thanks for visiting my site. I'm sorry it mad you miss old times!! Come back anytime.

At 10:32 PM, Blogger Geekwif said...

Michele sent me.

The Rabbi sounds like a fascinating person! I might just have to visit his blog myself. Thanks for the tip.


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