Even Maidelehs Don Pasties
Jewish girl stereotypes get tossed — including one you might have heard about them being prudes — when “Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad” makes its West Coast debut this Thursday night at Tangier.
As creator and emcee Susannah Perlman describes it, the variety show features comedy, spoken word, music and burlesque acts that speak to the Jewish condition, performed by women who have appeared on Comedy Central, HBO, MTV and late night television.
Vanessa Hidary presents a spoken-word piece about being a “Jewish Mamita” (a Jewish girl who doesn’t look Jewish at all), and a dreadlocked singer/songwriter Michelle Citrin plays folky, melodic music.
“One of the things in bringing these women together is that they were very unconventional in what one thinks of as a Jewish woman,” Perlman said.
The show is very much about “defying stereotypes and at the same time embracing them,” she added.
Which brings us to the burlesque dancers.
Yes, Perlman affirmed, women will be removing their clothing in an act titled “Hassidic Strip.” Only pasties and men’s “tighty-whities” with blue stars of David will remain.
“When you tell people there are going to be Jewish women taking off their clothes you get a better crowd than Kol Nidre,” Perlman said.
But she also described the show as a celebration of being Jewish, even if it’s “not as kosher.”
“I think there are a lot of secular Jews who are looking for things to connect culturally and they don’t want to do the synagogue or JCC singles mixer. These things are a little played out for this type of crowd,” she said.
The burlesque, she said, is just “tongue-in-cheek fun.”
Rounding out the night’s festivities with some klezmer that rocks will be Golem, the hip Jew’s answer to Eastern European shtetl music.
Because, as Perlman put it, “Even hipsters need community.”
It may have been a silent film, but Paul Wegener made an international noise with "Der Golem." The 1920 German Expressionist classic — screening April 21 at the Skirball Cultural Center — remains a popular incarnation of the Golem. But it was not the first, nor the last, interpretation of the Jewish folk tale to permeate pop culture.
According to legend, Rabbi Yehuda Loew created the powerful automaton from clay to protect Jews from enemies such as Emperor Rudolf II in 16th-century Prague. The cautionary tale underscores how Loew’s attempt to play God backfires when he loses control of it and is killed by his own creation.
Wegener’s film surfaced after Gustav Meyrink’s 1914 novel "Der Golem." Born Gustav Meyer, Meyrink, the illegitimate son of a baron and a Jewish actress, wrote "Der Golem" out of a fascination with the occult that developed following a suicide attempt.
While the Golem appears only briefly and symbolically in Meyrink’s novel, the legend clearly informs Mary Shelley’s 1816 masterpiece "Frankenstein." Gershom Scholem explored the myth in his essay, "The Idea of the Golem," as did Isaac Bashevis Singer in his novel "Golem." More recently, the Prague Golem was a subplot of Michael Chabon’s 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner, "The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay."
Literature notwithstanding, the Golem’s water-fetching fiasco inspired the "Sorcerer’s Apprentice" sequence of Disney’s 1940 animated feature, "Fantasia." The Golem has been a catalyst for superheroes like the Hulk and marked a memorable "X-Files" episode, in which a librarian misinforms David Duchovny that the Sefer Yetzira (Book of Creation) explains how to create a golem.
The Old-New Synagogue, the Golem’s long-rumored resting place, and Golem merchandise still generate tourist dollars in Prague. So what is the continuing fascination with this story?
"Mendy & The Golem" comics creator Tani Pinson believes that the secret of its enduring popularity lies with the character’s identity — as malleable as the clay that spawned it.
"He is so open to interpretation," Pinson said. "And people can seek the Golem within themselves."
The Skirball presents a newly restored print of "Der Golem," featuring a score by Israeli composer Betty Olivero and live accompaniment by the Armadillo Quartet, on April 21 at 8 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, call (323) 655-8587.