Jewish Krewe making Mardi Gras plans

Fans of irreverence can rejoice — the Krewe du Jieux will march in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

The Jieux is one of 17 sub-Krewes in the Krewe du Vieux, which holds one of the earliest parades each year. According to Joel Nitzkin, captain of the Jieux, the parade will be at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 11.

“The spirit of New Orleans is very strong,” Nitzkin said, “and we are strongly committed to bringing this town back, with all its old culture and traditions, better than ever.”

He added, “whether or not we would parade this year was never in question.”

The weekend begins with the Friday evening coronation on Feb. 10. At the party, a “Shabbat and schmooze pot luck dinner” held at a Krewe member’s home, the Krewe gives out rewards for the year and crowns its annual King of the Jieux and Jieuxish American Princess. A King David cake adapts a popular Mardi Gras tradition, witha dreidel substituting for the baby Jesus.

The Krewe gathers around 3 p.m. on Feb. 11 at the Den of Muses for final parade preparations. The Krewe du Vieux Ball is held at the end of the parade route.

The Krewe also holds a Passover Seder each year, along with other events during the year.

The Krewe du Jieux is the only Jewish Krewe that marches in Mardi Gras. It began at a Seder at the home of Angie Mason in 1996. Unaware of the history of Jewish exclusion from Mardi Gras, Philadelphia transplant L.J. Goldstein suggested that a Jewish Krewe be formed, modeled after the Zulu Krewe, poking fun at Jewish stereotypes. Instead of coconuts, he suggested, gold bagels could be thrown.

Also at the Seder was Keith Twitchell, “Poobah of Publicity” for the Krewe du Vieux. There was an opening for a sub-Krewe, he said, and if they could round up 12 people to march, a Jewish Krewe was possible.

Krewe du Vieux is the only parade that marches through the French Quarter. It is held a week before the major parades begin, and the floats are pulled by horses. It also has a reputation of being quite bawdy, though the Jieux generally have one of the more tasteful floats.

The 1997 theme was “Krewe du Vieux Goes Deep” in celebration of that year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans. At first, Krewe du Jieux considered doing a float celebrating Jewish football players, but shelved that idea for “The Offensive Line.”

The 17 Jieux marched wearing blue football jerseys decorated with Stars of David, and yarmulkes atop their helmets. They carried “offensive” signs, with statements like “Funny, you don’t look Jieuxish,” “Show us your Tzitzit” and “Jieux Oughta Try It.”

The Panorama Brass Band accompanies the float, playing Klezmer through the streets while Krewe members dance, hand out bagels and other “throws” based on that year’s theme.

Nitzkin said the Krewe has lost roughly one-third of its 42 members from last year, due to problems with homes, jobs or schooling for children. His Uptown home had “trivial” external damage, but as with just about everyone else, had to remove a refrigerator that had been without power for weeks.

In his area, near the Tulane campus, “about half the people are back and about half the businesses are open,” but areas where flooding occurred “are still ghost towns.”