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Is Meghan Markle Now Prince Harry’s Jew-ish Princess?

Jewish and black girls have been mocked for their hair, their bodies and their other-ness. But they might be about to get a heroine at Buckingham Palace.

ROYAL WEDDING UPDATE!! They tied the knot!

It’s a real-life fairy tale for everyone who has been feeling like a pre-ball Cinderella in the Trump era: Prince Harry, the international playboy and longtime sex-symbol who is fifth in line for the British throne, has announced his engagement to Meghan Markle, an American actress.

Markle is known for her work in the American TV show “Suits”. Her mother is black and her father is white. And though many publications have reported that Markle’s father is Jewish, a publicist denied that she herself is a member of the tribe.

“Just to clarify…she is not Jewish,” said Chantal Artur, the publicist, in an email, without elaborating.

Markle, who told Elle that she answers the question “What are you” every single week of her life, has not spoken to the media about her religious background or that of her father.

But she has given some serious Queen Esther vibes. Here are 4 kind of, sort of Jewish things about her:

  • Her real name is Rachel. While we have all met 90-100 wonderful Megans, Meagans, and Meghans at Jewish summer camp, ‘Rachel’ is straight out of Genesis and totally the kind of name your dad would give you if he was trying to subtly imbue your identity with your religious heritage. Plus, changing your name (or in this case, taking your middle name as a stage name) is a classic rite of passage for Jewish performers. Just ask Natalie Hershlag and Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz.

  • Markle’s first marriage was to film producer Trevor Engelson, a Jewish man from Great Neck, New York. Their wedding involved what The Sun tersely referred to as a “traditional Jewish chair dance”.

  • She has said that she is sometimes labeled “Sephardic” at auditions. Think about it—36-year old actresses and lifestyle gurus don’t throw around the word Sephardic unless they are Sephardic. She might as well change her name to “Kitniyot Markle”.

  • Disney has had a frog prince, a lion king, and a royal mermaid, and all we’ve had is the Crusades followed by the Inquisition. A Jewish princess just seems fair.

If it were only the name Rachel, dayeinu. If it were just the “Jewish chair dance”, dayeinu. But the greatest evidence in this biur chametz-like hunt for crumbs of Markle’s Jewish identity is that a spokesman for Westminster Abbey confirmed on behalf of the Church of England that, if they choose, Markle and Prince Harry will be able to marry within the church in an “interfaith” marriage, regardless of Markle’s “Jewish background”.

This brings us to the next booshah-turned-equality-milestone, which is that Markle has been married and divorced. And according to the Church of England, if that’s good enough for Henry the 8th, it should be good enough for his fellow ginger ladykiller (so to speak,) Prince Harry.

So, when Markle and Harry marry, Markle will be the first black, Jewish, divorcee, American princess in English history. It’s worth noting that Markle is also three years older than the Prince, making their marriage a triumph for several pie slices in the chart of disadvantaged identity groups.

This may also be the first time an actress famous for a movie called “Horrible Bosses” gets to meet the Queen of England.

It’s a shehechianu moment to beat all shehechianu moments.

The cherry on top of the sufganiyot-Kwanzaa-cake hybrid? Markle is a noted feminist. She serves as a UN Women advocate and an ambassador for World Vision.

As they say in another story of unlikely royalty, “The Prince of Egypt”: “There can be miracles when you believe”.


Ivanka Trump Weighs In On Great #Laurel vs. #Yanny Debate

The White House staff joined in on the debate over the Laurel or Yanny video that swept the internet this week. Ivanka Trump kicked off the clip, which was posted by the White House’s official Twitter account Wednesday.

Looking both amused and slightly confused as she listened to the video on a smartphone, she declared with a laugh, “So clearly Laurel.” She then took to Twitter herself, posting “#Laurel.”

The camera panned to several other employees, including advisor Kellyanne Conway, who showed her famed flexibility at following the Trump line. She followed up an unwavering “Laurel” with, “But I could deflect and divert to Yanny if you need me to.”

Vice President Mike Pence asked, “Who’s Yanny?” And in the finale, President Trump, sitting at the Oval Office desk, stated: “I hear covfefe.” That was a reference to a garbled presidential Tweet from last year.

Contact Alyssa Fisher at fisher@forward.com or on Twitter, @alyssalfisher


The Royal Wedding, ‘Chaim Soutine: Flesh’ And More To Read, Watch And Do This Weekend

There’s much to celebrate this weekend: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding! Shavuot! The return of allergy season!

Ok, maybe not that last one. For the first two items, the Forward has your needs covered: Check out our complete guide to Shavuot, including a surprising number of entries about the holiday’s connection to marijuana, as well as our guide to hosting a royal wedding watch party. (You can find the rest of our royal wedding coverage here.)

1) Read

There’s a lot to get excited about in this week’s new nonfiction releases. “The Lives of the Surrealists” by Desmond Morris, himself a surrealist artist who knew many of his subjects, is particularly promising; also worth considering are Eli Maor’s “Music by the Numbers: From Pythagoras to Schoenberg” and Jim Holt’s “When Einstein Walked With Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought.”

2) Watch

The Bill Holderman-directed comedy “The Book Club,” which is about a group of older women reading “Fifty Shades of Grey,” has so far gotten promising reviews; it sounds like the perfect weekend pick-me-up. Decidedly less heartwarming will be the HBO adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” which stars Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon and premieres on Saturday. And if you’ve decided to wake up in the wee hours on Saturday morning to catch the royal wedding, get ready for the spectacle by reading Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner’s essay about her experience covering the 1986 wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.

3) New York City

Head to the Bronx on Saturday for the inaugural Bronx Book Festival, which will feature authors like Daniel José Older, Arlene Alda and Heidi Heilig. On Saturday night, celebrate Shavuot at the 14th Street Y with “Into the Night,” Downtown Jewish Life’s annual program of cultural conversation, performance and learning. If you’re in the mood for a museum, the exhibit “Chaim Soutine: Flesh” at the Jewish Museum is a worthy option. Read my review, here.

4) Washington D.C.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s Leonard Bernstein’s centennial. D.C. has a particularly Bernstein-centric weekend, beginning with the Library of Congress’s all-day Saturday event “Leonard Bernstein’s America: Celebrating the Collection.” On Sunday, the Cathedral Choral Society honors Bernstein’s commitment to pacifist causes with the concert “Bernstein: Ode to Freedom.” If that’s not enough for you, you can also see the Washington National Opera’s production of Bernstein’s “Candide” all weekend at the Kennedy Center. If you’re ready to celebrate a different American icon, head to a Friday-night screening of the new documentary “RBG” with Robert Barnes, The Washington Post’s Supreme Court reporter.

5) Chicago

Friday and Saturday, head to the 9th annual Chicago Zine Fest to learn about the cutting edge in independent publishing. Saturday night, catch folk musician Lucy Kaplansky at the Old Town School of Folk Music. And if you’re prepared for some heavier material, attend a performance of “colimbinus,” a new work of documentary theater about the Columbine High School massacre, at Steppenwolf Theatre.

6) Los Angeles

Bernstein makes an appearance in L.A. this weekend, as well, with Sunday’s “A Place for Us — A Symphonic and Choral Performance” at the Skirball Center. The concert by the Harmony Project and Urban Voices Project features students from across the city performing Bernstein’s immortal “Somewhere,” from “West Side Story.” Saturday, escape with a performance of the Pacific Festival Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty,” which stars one Talia Leibowitz as the titular princess. And while my father, who once starred in the Virgil Thompson and Gertrude Stein opera “The Mother of Us All,” has deemed the work intolerable, if you think Stein is fine you can see one of this weekend’s Opera UCLA performances of the work.

The Schmooze

Amy Schumer Says Royal Wedding Will Probably ‘Suck’

The royal wedding promises giant hats, fancy carriages, huge crowds, and elegant outfits. But will it be fun? Amy Schumer says definitely not.

As reported by Yahoo News, comedian Amy Schumer went on Australian radio show “Fitzy and Wippa,” and talked sympathetically about how the royal wedding is “going to suck” for royal bride-to-be Meghan Markle.

Amy Schumer recently married husband Chris Fischer in an informal ceremony on the beach, officiated by comedian John Early in drag as character Vicki from the Netflix show “Characters.”

Amy Schumer’s wedding does sound like a fun time. She says all of her friends were “drunk and high at my wedding” and it was about her, her husband, and her friends. In short, the opposite of what Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding will be on Saturday.

Markle will be “meeting foreign dignitaries she’s never met before. It’s so much pressure!” says Schumer, who sounds incredibly relieved she was able to have a low-key wedding.

When we tune in to watch the “pomp and circumstance” of the royal wedding of two people we will never meet, it will be easy to get swept up in the fancy dresses, crowns, and horse-drawn carriages.

But let Amy Schumer’s reminder of the royal wedding’s rigidity and public scrutiny make us appreciate that the media will likely never speculate whether our parents are coming to our weddings.

Lisa Yelsey is the Schmooze intern. You can find her on Instagram @Lisa.H.Y or at Yelsey@forward.com.


Shtreimel Styles Are Ruled By Trends As Much As Tradition — Even For Hasidim

There’s no doubt about it, bigger means better when it comes to the shtreimel — the unmissable, circular fur hat worn by married Hasidic men on Shabbat and holidays. Shmiel Arya Miller is owner of Miller Shtreimlech, a label that’s been around for 25 years and grown to multiple locations in the US and Israel. He confirms that on the Hasidic street — the closest thing to a runway for the notoriously private community— these days, the tallest shtreimels are also the most fashionable. “Is it more stylish to have a longer wig?” he asks rhetorically. Yes, I guess so, I mumble, clearly uncertain.

“The higher the shtreimel, the more stylish it is. I’ve made them up to nine inches in height.” The relatively squat shtreimels that were popular many years back, are now only ordered by a few older gentlemen. So it seems that while infinitely more nuanced than secular fashion fads, Hasidic men are not immune to the sway of trends or clothing as a form of status.

Over the years designers including Yves Saint Laurent and John Paul Gaultier have been carried away by the drama of the shtreimel and fantasies of Haredi costume in general. Most notoriously was “Chic Rabbis,” Gaultier’s Fall/Winter presentation in 1993, in which models in jumbo shtreimels sashayed down a menorah-framed runway. Needless to say, the show was slammed by several Jewish and non-Jewish critics alike, even in an era where there wasn’t yet much critical dialogue on cultural appropriation.

Yoel Fried, who is a digital consultant for Hasidic companies including Miller Shtreimlich arranged a conference call with Mr. Miller in Williamsburg. A rowdy Niggun played as I held the line, then faded out, 90’s DJ style. “Why don’t you speak Yiddish?” Mr. Miller asked sadly without bothering to introduce himself over the choppy connection.

At around $1,000-$5,000 a pop, the competition for shtreimel customers in Hasidic Brooklyn is so high stakes it’s even made it to mainstream social media, albeit largely in Yiddish. Shtreimel Center (which didn’t return my calls) posts slapstick videos on Twitter starring a guy parked in a lawn chair on a crowded Brooklyn sidewalk frantically beckoning customers into his atelier to take advantage of a blowout Passover sale.

Mr. Miller was cagey about connecting me with any customers directly, but Miller Shtreimel does have a Facebook page featuring reviews. Offering five star ratings, one satisfied wife writes in, “My husband’s shtreimel is a Miller. He looks his best with the shtreimel and it’s beautiful.”

Miller says that while his atelier doesn’t present formal collections like secular labels attuned to fashion weeks, he is always coming up with fresh twists, from darker or lighter sable, to how the fur is teased at the top of the hat. Although more affordable synthetic hats are available to those on a budget, a shtreimel is typically intended as a bespoke design—expertly crafted from 30 to more than 100 sable tails to flatter an individual’s head size, face shape, personality, and taste, and intended to last up to 15 years if neurotically preserved in a latched leather hatbox when not in use. In fact, Mr. Miller explains, most men also purchase a second hat, “for cheap” (often called a regen shtreimel or rain shtreimel) to keep their best shtreimel safe from inclement weather. Others buy a special raincoat constructed with extra long and wide hooding to protect the shtreimel from getting wet.

The wealthiest men have many shtreimlich in their closets, just the way their wives might have multiple wigs to match a given mood or occasion. Some can even afford a gag shtreimel. “On Purim,” explains Mr. Miller, “we have some people wearing the white shtreimel, just on the holiday. People can afford it if they want to be funny.” Choosing to wear white in a sea of uniform black translates to ironic, silly, or downright countercultural.

But there is also a more serious purpose to the shtreimel. Since Hasidic men don’t wear wedding bands, wearing the shtreimel for the first time the Shabbat before the marriage ceremony serves as a public relationship status update, alerting those around that a fellow is off the market. And just as the mother-in-law might dominate a bride’s choice of gown, traditionally, it is one’s future father-in-law who helps to select and acquire a groom’s shtreimel—with a few discerning brides even coming along for appointments to add input.

I asked Professor Eric Silverman — a cultural anthropologist affiliated with Brandeis University and the author of “A Cultural History of Jewish Dress” — to pinpoint the exact origins of the shtreimel, but he says the story is fuzzy in timeframe.

“Religious Jews have worn hats for a long time, but everybody wore hats in all manner for a long time. Jews, Non-Jews, everybody in European history wore headgear.” Various conflicting sources argue that the shtreimel could be of Tartar, Turkish, or Russian in origin. Silverman suggests, “It became important for Hasidim as part of their self-identity to be consciously different from other Jews and everybody else. They began to see their dress as creating a boundary. It’s a way Hasidic Jews say, ‘we are different than you are and we don’t want to be like you.’”

Even if the shtreimel communicates a visceral rejection of assimilation, the wearer’s recognition of the need for a badge comparable to a pricey wedding band implies that some members of the American Hasidic community have bought into the cult of American consumerism. Professor Silverman agrees, “There is a tension between being like everybody else and trying to be completely different.”

With houses like Gucci promising to do away with fur entirely in the next year, is there any pressure on shtreimel makers to stop sourcing sable and begin to craft synthetic creations instead? Although Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, a Haredi rabbi in Israel once suggested the use of fur should be banned due to animal cruelty, sable shtreimels continue to fly out the door of the Brooklyn ateliers, at least judging by their Facebook feeds.

Danna Lorch is an American arts & culture writer based in Boston. She recently relocated back to the US after seven years spent covering the emerging art, fashion, and design scene in Dubai. Recent work has appeared in Vogue Arabia, Architectural Digest Middle East, L’Officiel USA, ARTnews and elsewhere. She holds a graduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard and is interested in the intersection of art, fashion, and faith. Find her on Instagram and Twitter

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