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Interview: Jamie Sneider, The Sexiest Menorah Ever
Jamie Sneider is, for all intents and purposes, a nice Jewish girl. She grew up Reform Jewish outside of Boston, went to NYU, and lived in New York for years working as a writer and performer before moving to L.A.
Once here, Jamie decided to combine her love for all things nice and all things Jewish (particularly the snacks, natch), and created the best Hanukkah gift we've ever seen. She is both the mind and the booty behind The Year of the Jewish Woman, a calendar that finds her in the buff and cozying up to, among other things, a noodle kugel, some bagels, and a challah (look it up).
Jamie talked to us about the intersection of overt sexuality and traditional Judaism, what it feels like to get the girls out in public, and of course, what her parents think of her project.
LAist: What inspired the idea for the calendar?
Jamie Sneider: A few things. There was Jewish culture that I feel very close to, which had a lot to do with food. It’s spread out in very little tiny pockets in New York and kind of fading a little bit in Boston, but in L.A. it’s a little bit more vibrant. It kind of reminds you of Miami. I live in the Fairfax area so I started going to Canter’s and to all these Russian and Jewish bakeries, and I felt very excited in way because it reminds me of my grandparents and all the foods [I grew up with]. It’s very comforting.
Then you know, L.A. also is a place where women are presented in a lot of different ways. You don’t see a lot of Jewish women presented in the media as sexy, smart, funny, all that in combination, and I started writing about that on my blog. How there aren’t any women in Playboy identified as Jewish. So I started talking about Playboy, and how I have this desire to do a Jewish photo shoot, and people wrote in telling me that I should do it. I got a lot of feedback. And so I posed with a challah, naked, and then I just got into this idea of, what’s the most traditional form of a pinup kind of woman? A calendar. And with the holidays, I can include all the foods.
LAist: Is this your first time getting naked in public?
JS: No. You mean right now? Right here, right now? [laughs]. No, I’ve done a few shows. I did a show in The Kitchen in New York where I played a burlesque [dancer]. Everything I do is fantasy. So if I start dreaming of something and thinking of it, I want to do it. I had a fantasy of being a burlesque queen, like a Las Vegas burlesque dancer who is a little bit out of control, a little loud, a little bitchy, but really strong. And so I made this costume – I’d say it was the best costume I’ve ever made – it was a feather thing attached to my head, it had peacock feathers out [to the sides]. And then I made wings with giant wires that went out five feet on either side. And then I was naked besides that with high heels.
JS: It was fun! I did this whole dance, and so that was the first fully nude thing I’ve ever done.
LAist: How did it feel doing it for the calendar?
JS: Definitely more set up. Because it’s pictures, it was completely choreographed. It felt much more cerebral and less performative. Even though it is performative, because I am doing characters and you have to catch the moment for the photo, it didn’t feel live. It felt very pin-up-y and model-y, that kind of thing. It didn’t feel dirty. It definitely had an innocence to it.
LAist: How has the response been so far?
JS: I guess that my fear hasn’t been realized at all. I thought that…people get it immediately. So even before I explain it to them, they’re like, I get it! I love it! And the funny thing is, more women buy calendars than men. The percentage is about one-fourth men and three-fourths women.
LAist: That’s cool.
JS: That’s everything I wanted. For girls to get it, and then buy them. The best thing is people buy them as gifts to cheer people up. I write notes to go along with it. The notes are like, Dear Harry, I know you had a really hard year, here’s this to make 2009 fun.
LAist: So the women get the sexiness and the fun of it?
JS: Totally. The last thing I wanted was, look at me, aren’t I hot. It’s not that. It’s more, look at this regular girl getting dressed up in fancy costumes, and celebrating. You know, there’s a deep part - 60 years ago, these women were the least attractive women in the world, they were being murdered. I come from a lineage where Jewish women are discriminated against, and here I am celebrating it.
LAist: How about from the Jewish community? How has the response been?
JS: Well, the fact that the Jewish Journal’s writing a giant thing about it, I’m like, “Oh my God, you guys want to write about this? You guys think I did an OK thing? You’re not mad?” Because the irony is, I really didn’t feel Jewish until I made the calendar. I felt like I walked along the sidelines of a religion that was given to me, and I had studied only the culture. But to make the calendar, I went to temple, I read every book about Jewish holidays, why we do certain rituals, and I feel now very proud to be Jewish. Because I didn’t understand it. Because of the ignorance I had, I felt “other.” I’d walk down Fairfax and be like, those are Jews getting prepared for Shabbat, but I’m not like them, I’m not really Jewish because I don’t know as much as I should. I’m very reform, and making this calendar, I became enmeshed in it. There’s a lot of people like me. Who know nothing about…anything. They’re like, L’ag B’omer? I’ve never heard of that.
LAist: Yeah, myself included. As a Jew. So, your family was OK with it. Did it take any convincing to get them there?
JS: Yeah. I really solidified all the pictures with my mom. I’d go over it and over it, and she’d say, "You just don’t sound certain about Thanksgiving." But she’d also say, “Are you sure about this? Are you sure people are gonna like it?” And my father was like, “I don’t know where you get this from. I don’t know what family member.” And I’m like, “No family member has stripped with Jewish foods.” But when he first got the calendar in the mail was like, "Oy, ai-yai-yai"...he didn’t think it would be so risqué. But they like it. I mean, my mother’s family hasn’t talked to me a lot about it. I think they think it’s a little…you know. You know? I’m not saying to be Jewish is cool…but I kind of am. I mean, we can be cheerleaders, we can be beautiful women who are at the door for Thanksgiving, we can be celebrating July fourth. Or like, noodle kugel’s cool for Thanksgiving.
My father looks at it as entrepreneurial. He’s proud of me for being a good businesswoman. Very supportive, in his own way. My mom’s the arts, my dad's the business.
LAist: But you never got the sense that they were judging, or…
JS: No. Nope, they’ve given up. They know what I like to do.
LAist: Your blog is called Reluctantly Moving to L.A., and you’re from Boston originally. How do you like L.A. now? How long have you lived here?
JS: A year and a couple months. I lived in New York for 12 years before I came here and I may be wrong, but I really think I’m gonna live here until old age. I will come back and forth…I am a Jew, we like warm weather. There are so many things I like here. It’s urban, but it also has places to escape to. I feel safe being Jewish here. Not that I feel unsafe in other places, but I feel represented, and there’s also a huge diverse population here.
LAist: You've said that you felt freer to do the calendar in L.A.
JS: I did. I mean, possibly because it’s bikinis, it’s warm weather, it’s the beach. When I needed to find my dream bottoms for St. Patrick’s Day, there’s 8,000 bikini stores.
To be honest, when I came to L.A., I had made this solo work, I had been a certain kind of artist. But here, I felt like there were all these holes that I needed to fit into. And by some godsend I had this idea, and it didn’t fit into any of these holes, and it’s back to what I was doing in New York, and I didn't know if that was going to work. Cause I can get headshots, I can audition, I can stand on the corner and sell Red Bull, all these ideas for women in performance. Or I can make my own thing. And I’m glad I did it. I worked tremendously hard.
And now I have so many perfect J-date pictures [laughs]. Here’s me with every food in my culture.
LAist: Are you working on anything else?
JS: I am working on a book, and I am going to audition. I want to go back a little to the conventional route, to do TV and film and continue writing my blog. And perform comedy live.
LAist: Do you bake?
JS: That’s a great question. Someone on a date asked me that, actually. Are you gonna bake me cookies? Um, I’m not a big cook. I make a lot of vegan baked goods cause I’m allergic to milk. I want to make a giant black and white cookie and like…I always want to do something with it. I want to be naked in it. Or, I always think of making things giant. Like a giant hamantashen. Maybe my next calendar will be giant.
But guys are funny. They’re like, can’t you pose with something smaller, like olives? Rugelach? The smallest thing possible.
Buy a copy of the calendar at Jamie's website | Photo: Paul Smith Photography | Putting the Ass in Passover