The Rosh Hashanah Challenge


MC: It’s The Rosh Hashanah Challenge, the game show where you decide the winner! And here’s your host, fresh off her third-failed game show, former MTV star Kennedy!

Kennedy: Thank you. Welcome to The Rosh Hashanah Challenge. You know the rules. We bring out two contestants and they each tell us about their Rosh Hashanah, and the one with the most wild, exotic story wins. And you’re the ones who vote for the winner! So, let’s meet our two contestants. He’s a blogger from Los Angeles — Neil Kramer. And she’s a Russian dialect coach from Redondo Beach who is separated from her husband but still debating her next move — Sophia Lansky! Welcome, Neil and Sophia. Now, we flipped a coin before the show and Neil gets to tell his Rosh Hashanah story first.

Neil: Well, Kennedy, at first, I didn’t have anything special to do on the Jewish holiday, so Danny invited me to go to temple with his family. It was a very nice gesture, but the really surprising twist was — listen to this — they attend a gay and lesbian synagogue! Even thought they are straight, they like the rabbi and the service. When I heard about this “gay synagogue,” I was too excited for words. What a blog post I was going to write! What funny stories!

Kennedy: Oh, wow! Talk about a wild and exotic Rosh Hashanah. How were the rabbi and cantor?

Neil: Very nice. They were both women.

Kennedy: Oooh-hooo, do I hear make-out session during the service?

Neil: Actually, they were both pretty conservative.

Kennedy: What about the choir? Were they dressed like the Village People?!

Neil: No, they were normally dressed. They had very nice voices. It was a very pretty service. One of the best I’ve attended.

Kennedy: I guess all the crazy Queer Eye for the High Holy Days activities took place in the congregation?

Neil: No, everything was pretty much the same as every other Rosh Hashanah service I’ve ever attended. If you walked in, you wouldn’t even know it was a gay and lesbian congregation. My biggest surprise was how “normal” the whole thing was.

Stained Glass at Beth Chayim Chadashim

Kennedy: That’s the story?

Neil: Pretty much.

Kennedy: That’s the wild and exotic story about going to a gay and lesbian temple for Rosh Hashanah?

Neil: Yeah.

Kennedy: (sighing) OK, let’s now turn to the second contestant, Sophia Lansky. Tell us about your Rosh Hashanah in New York.

Sophia: I also didn’t have anything planned, but Neil told me about this temple on the Upper West Side that was supposed to have a very nice service. I was sure they didn’t have any tickets left, but I asked Neil to find me the phone number online. He ended up mistakenly gaving me the phone number of one of the TEMPLE MEMBERS rather than the temple itself. So, this is how the phone conversation went:

NY Woman: Hello?

Me: Hi, I’m visiting from Los Angeles and I’m looking for somewhere to go for Rosh Hashanah. I was wondering if I can still come to you.

NY Woman: Uh… sure. That would be fine.

Me: Great! What time do things start?

NY Woman: I would say around 6:30.

Me: O.K. Could you do me a favor and just give me your address.

NY Woman: Yes. We are on XXX 79th Street, Apartment 3D.

Me: Apartment 3D?

NY Woman: Yes. Just ring the buzzer downstairs and take the elevator up.

Me: I don’t understand. Am I calling Congregation B’Nai Jeshurun?

NY Woman: Huh? You’re calling me — Millie Schwartz! Are you asking to come over for Rosh Hashanah dinner?

Sophia: After we both laughed about the misunderstanding, Millie and her husband invited me over for Rosh Hashanah dinner anyway! So, I went to a stranger’s house for dinner. It was amazing. There were a whole bunch of musicians there, and after dinner, everyone took out their guitars and started to sing.


Kennedy: What a terrific story! It’s just too bad that you never made it to that synagogue!

Sophia: Oh, but I did. That same day, I was working on the film and someone mentioned that one of the actors was a member of this temple and that he could help get me a ticket! What luck. So, I went over to the actor to thank him, and I took one look at him — and I instantly recognized him as the actor who played billionaire Alexander Cambias on All My Children, my favorite soap opera. So, I went to temple using a ticket given to me by a character on All My Children!

Billionaire Alexander Cambias Sr. (aka Ronald Guttman)

Kennedy: This story get better and better!

Sophia: While at temple, I sat next to a woman who happened to be, of all things, a Spanish court interpreter! So after services, she invited me to accompany her to dinner at another person’s home! So, off we went, to a home of two young opera singers/students — after I kissed the cheek of the actor who played Alexander Cambias for helping me get a ticket to temple!


Kennedy: Holy Moses! That story blows my mind.

Neil: Uh, gay temple over here! What could be more wild?

Kennedy: Yeah, right. Now it is up to you — the audience. The Rosh Hashanah Challenge. Which story is more exotic and wild? Neil’s story of the “gay” temple where nothing “gay” happened or Sophia’s tale of dinner at the homes of strangers and her kissing Alexander Cambias from All My Children? You decide!

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Ode to the Coffee Shop

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62 Responses to The Rosh Hashanah Challenge

  1. kristen says:

    Ok, I didn’t even recognize the LA version of Kennedy and yes, she still bugs. Sophia’s holiday was spent in a way that I would never in a million years be able to pull off but how impressive and what a fun time she seems to have had. I love the story of Millie and especially, that she invited Sophia anyway.
    Even with temple tickets, I didn’t go to services (although my husband did a real shocker). If I go twice for Yom Kippur than I’ve covered all my bases right?

  2. Neil says:

    Before you vote, could I make you believe that this is a photo of Danny, myself, the rabbi, the cantor, and the two ushers!

    Oh, and this was sort of  “gay” — when I was in the bathroom, one guy complemented another on the color of his yarmulke.

  3. Not only does Sophia win, she gets her own reality TV show.

    Damn! This beats All My Kids any day of the week!

  4. mckay says:

    yeah, that ticket thing confused this lil catholic gal, too.

    this is so hard for me to comment, because i can’t spell any of those jewish words.oy.

  5. amanda says:

    wow, too much! i thought sophia’s new york rosh hashanah was a joke until i saw the obvious camera phone photo of the musicians. what a way to party!

  6. deannie says:

    awww! The contest winners here were both of you for having gone in spite of potential roadblocks!


  7. The only contest in life is between you and yourself. As New Yorkers, it’s no big deal to go to a service, and as Californians, it’s no big deal to crash a party. The question is – did you get the most you could out of this service and that party? Did you learning anything about yourself, or did Rosh Hashana teach you ANY lasting lesson?

  8. Neil, if the service was like any other Rosh Hashana service, how did you manage to stay awake?

  9. Akaky says:

    So, let me see if I’ve got this straight: Neil offers a highly nuanced look at the troubled interplay between homosexuality and Judaism, examining the moral tension inherent in the Epicurean enticements of the fleshpots of Egypt and the soteriological demands G-d placed on the Jewish people at Sinai, and all you people are interested in is that Sophia gets to sing Kumbaya in Hebrew with people she doesn’t know? For once Neil stops letting his penis get the better of him and offers the reader not the usual frothy confection we’ve all come to expect, but a serious examination of how Judaism’s millennia old call to righteousness resounds even among those whose personal behavior orthodox Judaism traditionally finds abhorrent, and how those people try to navigate the morally ambiguous situation their sexual orientation and their religious faith places them in. And yet, having tapped into this new vein of material, you people reject Neil’s new gravitas as a commentator on the religious and sexual mores of modern American society and want yet another rerun of the old Neil and Sophia will they get back together again and why can’t you get good kugel in Los Angeles soap opera? Feh, I say…in fact, I like saying that so much I’m going to say it again: Feh! So take that! Such shallowness.

    As for tickets, I must point out to the Papists here that the sale of tickets to church services is not entirely unknown amongst the denizens of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church; try getting into St. Patrick’s for Christmas Midnight Mass or on Easter Sunday without a ticket and you will shown to the door by a friendly member of the Knights of Columbus. Tickets are not such a bad idea, though, especially for Mass on Palm Sunday when all the once a year Catholics show up to get their free palms. If we sold tickets to Palm Sunday Mass and offered something else to go with the free palms then maybe the church could keep more parochial schools open. I haven’t thought of what might go well with the free palms, although Tupperware and tuna casserole come immediately to mind, for reasons I’m not sure I fathom at the moment.

  10. maitresse says:

    all I did on Rosh was get drunk with my goyische boyfriend on montepulciano vino rosso in a restaurant in capri. But reading your blog makes me feel like a better Jew. Thanks.

  11. Pingback: Citizen of the Month » Sophia Went to Temple with the Satin Slayer

  12. Pingback: An Ode to Neilochka on his Birthday « Roberta’s Voice

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