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‘Yiddische Yoga’


A cartoon book about the Jewish fascination with yoga has been published just in time for Chanukah gift giving.

Yiddische Yoga: OYsanas for Every Generation (Ben Yehuda Press), by retired Jewish educator Rhonda Rosenheck, pokes affectionate fun at how Jews have become increasingly drawn to yoga over the past 50 years.

“In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Judaism in the US became kind of dry, ethical and intellectual — it was missing a spiritual expression,” Rosenheck opines. “Since that time, even mainstream Judaism has incorporated yoga and reclaimed ancient Jewish mindfulness practices.”

Modeled in its size and outlook after David Bader’s 1999 book Haiku for Jews, Rosenheck’s Yiddische Yoga features humorous cartoons by illustrator DanaToon, aka Dana S. Owens.

Rosenheck says that the book’s one-panel cartoons are similar in spirit to New Yorker cartoons in that readers can grasp the joke, gag or derive humorous commentary.

The book stars four “Neshama (Spirit) Guides,” with each character representing a different Jewish archetype and slice of Jewish life.

Essie is an educated, health-conscious bubbe. She’s a contemporary woman influenced by traditional models of Jewish mothering. She’s Conservative, Reform or maybe Reconstructionist.

Avrum is a modern Orthodox Brooklynite with a big family and a small business. He’s hurting after the economic downturn and his health is on the brink.

Suri, a Jewish day school grad with liberal ideals, is based on interns Rosenheck has known at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and Adamah Farm.

Daniel Aaron — a responsible young man recovering from addiction — is every Jewish parent’s nightmare-turned-happy-ending.

“They’re composites of Jews who are stressed out and seeking fulfilling Jewish lives in different ways,” Rosenheck says of her guides.

The book is a collection of linguistic and visual puns, inspired by yoga poses and the neurotic life of the American Jew, says Rosenheck.

Posters start with Salutation cycles or warm up stretches, followed by “Oysanas,” a pun on “asanas,” which refers to any yoga posture; then “Essenas” (from the Yiddish command to eat); “Kiddushanas” for each holiday; and “Bubbesanas,” which are partner yoga postures with one’s grandma.

The book also includes sections on Silence (not uncommon in Jewish spiritual practice) and Chant-ing (very common, though not quite as Rosenheck imagines it).

Each panel depicts either a real yoga posture or an intentionally adapted posture to make a funny Jewish pun.

For example, in Yiddische Yoga, the well-known “Warrior 1” posture becomes “Worrier 1,” making light of the American Jewish tendency to worry about everything.

“Anyone who does yoga will recognize the postures and will get the adaptations for the humor,” Rosenheck said.

Adapted poses include the “YouSureWon’tFindaHusbandThisWay pose,” demonstrated by Suri with her elderly mother nagging her from behind, and “ICan’tGetOutofThisChairana,” demonstrated by overweight, middle-aged Avrum.

Yiddische Yoga also includes a list of resources for learning about Jewish yoga, chanting and meditation.

Rosenheck, who describes herself as a perpetual beginner, took up yoga in 1991 — a yoga that she describes as a very forgiving, gentle style that she uses to de-stress.

The small book is printed on high quality paper worthy of its full-color illustrations. It’s a good gift for those with a sense of humor.

“I designed it thinking about my family’s tradition of buying light, fun books for birthdays and holidays, and also to amuse someone who’s stressed, hospital- or home-bound, unwell, or just plain down in the dumps,” Rosenheck said.

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