A Red Hot Yiddishe Mama

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Burlesque performer and Jewish educator Minnie Tonka (photo by Clint Hild)

Alyssa Abrahamson, like so many other Jews around the world, is hard at work right now preparing for the upcoming Passover holiday. But while others are trying to figure how they will retell the story of the Exodus this year in a way that will keep people’s attention, Abrahamson has a surefire audience-captivating plan. She’ll be donning her pasties and G-string to recount the journey of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom through striptease in “The Burning Bush vs. The Second Coming: A Hot and Holy Burlesque Showdown” in Midtown Manhattan.

Abrahamson, 39, is mainly known these days by her burlesque moniker, Minnie Tonka (a tribute to her hometown of Minnetonka, Minnesota). Possibly the only burlesque performer to have a Masters in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary and to have studied at other leading Jewish institutions in the US and Israel, she brings a unique Jewish flavor to her solo act, as well as to her work as one half of The Schlep Sisters duo, in which she performs with a partner known as Darlinda Just Darlinda.

Following many years of thirsting for Jewish knowledge and searching for Jewish identity after a childhood devoid of a Jewish education or bat mitzva, Abrahamson feels that she has finally arrived at the right place for her.

In an interview with The Times of Israel in a café near her home in Brooklyn, Tonka, as she likes to be referred to, said that at this point her burlesque persona is “who I am.” To her, this makes complete sense, given that for the past couple of years she has focused mainly on burlesque, after having worked full-time for five years as the Director of Arts and Jewish Culture at the 14th Street Y, followed by a year-and-a half stint with Birthright Israel NEXT.

She still does some educational consulting to a number of New York-based Jewish institutions and organizations. “There’s not a lot of money in burlesque,” she admitted.

Tonka’s journey into burlesque has been gradual. “It took me three years to get down to a G-string,” she shared. “It’s kind of like public speaking — the more you do it, the easier it gets,” she said, referring to getting used to taking her clothes off in public.

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© 2012  Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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