The Shmooze

Jewish Geisha Takes on Manhattan Bar

By Michael Kaminer

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Geishas, the Japan Guide web site explains, “are professional entertainers who attend guests during meals, banquets and other occasions…. Their role is to make guests feel at ease with conversation, drinking games and dance performances.” And, according to a front-page story in this week’s Village Voice, they can also be Jewish.

In her first-person account of a month-long stint as a hostess at a Midtown bar called Kaoru, writer Victoria Bekiempis muses that her Hebraic features proved a unique selling proposition in an establishment run by, and catering to, Asians. “In the first two weeks, the customers were curious, but kind of cold,” she writes. A colleague “had said that they’d be intrigued by the fact that I’m Jewish, and apparently look it. Sometimes they’d straight-up ask: ‘You’re Jewish, aren’t you?’ and would add that they ‘could just tell.’”

But Bekiempis’s complexion and supposedly Semitic mane provoked the most curiosity, she claims: “Indeed, a lot of the initial conversations began by their musings on my supposedly Ashkenazi characteristics. Their observations had the sound of a lepidopterist commenting on a freak moth.’

“‘Hm. Very pale,’ they’d say. ‘Your hair, it just does that? Is it a perm? Ah, Curly-san,’ Mama-san called me, petting my head. ‘Natural?’

“’Yep. Look — you can pull it like this,’ I said, pulling taut a ringlet, so that it was straight. Then I let the tendril go, so that it contracted into a spring-like shape. ‘And it goes back like this. Like the tail of a pig.’”

Bekiempis’s geisha career ends, though, when it becomes clear some customers want more than chat and karaoke. Kaoru’s owner “was right. It takes about three weeks for the customers to warm up to you. What she didn’t mention is that it also takes about three weeks for them to get grabby,” Bekiempis writes. “And that’s why it seemed like a good idea to spend no more than a month at Kaoru — I’d figured out what it was like to work there, and wanted to leave before anything really weird happened.”


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