I guess rent is expensive everywhere. But in Manhattan, especially, I would not wish these rent bills on my worst enemy. And for that reason, I’m here to offer my couch.
Thanks to a lot of pressure from Shmuley Boteach, among others, Libyan President Muammar Gadhafi will no longer be staying in Englewood, New Jersey while he is in the country for the United Nations General Assembly. Seems unfair, I know. Why is it that Michael Jackson got to be close with Boteach but not a ruthless dictator?
Instead, Gadafi will be in Manhattan (because there are no Jews in Manhattan?). But as I said before, rent is expensive. Hotel rooms are even worse. And in this recession, countries should be cutting back on their budgets. Why do you think Gadafi wanted to stay in a tent rather than a house?
So, Mr. Gadafi, I’m offering you my couch. I haven’t spoken with my roommate about it but I’m sure he’ll be fine. We offer free wireless and cable (no HBO though, sorry). Plus an HDTV. All you have to do is provide your own towel and make dinner some nights.
Oohh…and if we’re out of town for the High Holidays, seriously, no house parties.
Next week, we’re going to have Anita Diamant, author of the new book Day after Night, blogging for us. It’s pretty thrilling — among other things, she’s going to tell us about her Zionism, the director’s-cut story of the book’s cover, and why she wrote about 1945-era Palestine in the first place.
One of the coolest things, though, was that we got to get a sneak preview of her new book. So I figured I’d check it out — just to let you know.
At the time that Anita Diamant published her first novel, The Red Tent — a retelling of several Torah stories that casts Jacob’s daughter Dina, instead of a rape victim, as a girl who falls in love with a foreigner and leaves her family for an uncertain future in Egypt — she was already a well-established writer of Jewish nonfiction, with three books on Jewish themes (and, of course, several equally world-shaking articles for MyJewishLearning) under her belt. The publication of The Red Tent rocked the Jewish literary scene — in no small part because the book was a phenomenon, not just in the Jewish world, but in the general world. I can’t remember another book giving the Jewish book-reading public more of a feeling of “What will the goyim think of us?”
This time, her playing field is a different sort of historical fiction: the post-Holocaust world of 1945 Palestine.
In the same way that Inglourious Basterds is spoken of as not being a Holocaust film, Day after Night is also not a Holocaust book. Still, the specter of the event looms large over the characters and events of this novel. Four young women — a concentration camp survivor, a woman who’s been in hiding for the past years, an ardent Zionist and a former beauty queen — are all prisoners inside a British internment camp, waiting for the army to consent to release them. When that release doesn’t happen, they start planning their own.
I had never read The Red Tent. The whole idea behind it seemed to me both anti-traditionalist and anti-feminist — effectively, reinterpreting the Torah‘s report of a rape by saying “no, it’s okay, she wanted it”…well, it’s the stuff that college nightmares are made of. (Then again, I’m coming at the story from the perspective of someone who believes every word of the Torah in the first place.)
So there’s my baggage going into Day after Night. That and, when I heard about the plot, I felt an instant flashback to the late 2008 filmmaking season: “What, another Holocaust film?”
So I took it on my morning commute, far underground on the subway, where I couldn’t do anything else, anyway.
I have to say: Ten pages in, I was pretty solidly converted.
Tedi, a recent convert to the British-run Atlit internment camp, is wary, but trusting. After the hell she’s been through, she’s ready to launch herself into a new life, whatever the life may be. Subtly but effectively, Diamant launches the parallels between Atlit and concentration camps, always communicating the aura of dread that they’ve instilled in the prisoners but never staying there too long. The plot leaps between the four characters, building the greater plot through snippets of stories while keeping each of her protagonists front and center for their story.
It’s a weird mix of genres that Diamant’s playing with. There’s the new immigrant experience, the uncertainty of post-Holocaust Judaism, and the uncertainty of people’s basic lives. Tedi, still a recent arrival at Atlit, is already in the position of welcoming new women to the camp, taking care of them and giving them tips to survive. As the chapter ends, Tedi, imitating the woman who welcomed her to the camp, tells a bunch of lost and confused women to follow her: “As they filed past her, one girl stopped and kissed her cheek, leaving behind a trace of fresh lavender. The smell of hope.”
It’s more than a little cheesy. It’s also completely earnest, and it’s a tiny, uplifting emotional surge amidst the tumult of the camp. These are the moments that Diamant excels at: the ones of simple human sensation in the wake of these Big Events. When the climax of the book comes, it is not the daring escape of 200 prisoners from Atlit; it is the escape of a few people — two men vanishing out a doorway; a kiss between two people; the morning after, sitting in the safehouse of Bait Oren — that really gives Day after Night its power.
In a few hours I’m going to light a yahrzeit candle for the first time. Tonight is the 9th of Elul, the one year anniversary of my mother’s death.
It has been a pretty scary month since I stopped saying Kaddish. Two weeks ago the family gathered in Chicago for the unveiling of the headstone, and since then I’ve been feeling pretty strange. I’m calmer than I have been in months. I’m getting more sleep. I’m seeing more of the people I want to see more of. I’m riding my bike, and reading interesting books and staying up all night with friends drinking whiskey and laughing. I don’t think I’m better, really. I certainly have a lot more “grief-work” to do, but I think that ending Kaddish allowed me to settle into my grief in a way that I never could during the eleven months.
For me, saying Kaddish was really a struggle. It hurt, but it felt important. I guess it was like the intense ache you get in muscles after you work out really hard. The next day it’s painful, but also a sign of increasing strength. You’re not exactly glad for the pain, but you appreciate that it’s necessary for the work you have to do.
I’m glad to have those eleven months over, and I’m glad that after tomorrow night I’ll feel free to go to plays, clubs and live music with my friends. But it’s really scary and unbearably sad to think about my whole life stretching out in front of me without my mom. I’m going to get married without her and have kids without her. I hope one day I’ll have books with my name on them– and she won’t see them.
I’m going out into the rest of my life alone. The yahrzeit is the starting line. Part of me is itching to get out there and run already, after a year of sitting at home. But part of me wants to hide in bed and never come out. I assume that I can do this, but wanting to, really wanting to, is another thing.
Adam Richman really likes food. So much so, that he has made a living out of eating, hosting the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food.” Now in its second season, “Man v. Food” features Adam going around the country to take on the toughest food-related challenges restaurants have to offer. Seriously, Bear Grylls has got nothing on this guy.
Adam was kind enough to talk to MJL about everything from the prohibition of fins and scales to bearded ladies.
Jeremy: I know you’re from Brooklyn. How involved Jewishly were you growing up?
Adam: Very. I mean, I went to a Solomon Schechter through 8th grade and then Talmud Torah High School. I’m still pretty fluent in my Hebrew. I’m not like I was. In my early years, we had separate silverware in my house but that’s more of a memory than anything. My father, may he rest in peace, did grow up with separate sets of dishes. Anyway, I was involved in Junior Congregation, and USY, and I was Vice President of my B’nai Brith chapter. I still wear a Magen David while I’m eating all these bacon cheeseburgers on TV. It’s awesome because whenever I go to a Jewish wedding, people always go, “Wow, you daven great!” I never wear a kippah at home or anything like that, but I can still do an aliyah with the best of them.
So, you’re obviously very culturally Jewish. What was the best Jewish staple food that was found on your table as a kid?
Oh my God. Mom’s latkes. Grandma Rose’s gefilte fish. Grandma Gildred’s meatballs. My mom and my grandma both made challah. Oh! Grandma’s matzah brei! Unquestionably. Mom made homemade matzah lasagna which is phenomenal. My great-aunt Anne made amazing hamantaschen and rugelach. Ironically enough, I mean, my mom’s chicken soup is incredible, but my dad throws down with chicken soup. Unbelievable. Those are some that definitely, definitely stand out. You know, every family had their own thing. For example, my father remarried, and my step-mom’s brother is in the fish business. And he makes homemade whitefish salad like manna from heaven. It’s ridiculous.
I really love food. So much so that I ran a Jewish Food Tournament a couple months back, with brackets and everything. The winner in the end was actually challah. But in your opinion, what is the ultimate Jewish food?
Oh Man. What are the criteria?
If we had to throw away all Jewish foods but one, what would it be?
It’s gotta be chicken soup, right?
That was the #1 ranked. It got knocked out though.
You see, I can understand why challah would win. It’s bread. It’s ubiquitous. Every culture, from Ethiopian injera to French baguette, has bread. And challah. Actually, it’s funny. As a Jew, when I travel through middle America, I’m like “Don’t give me this egg bread! I know it’s challah! Don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining! That is some braided-ass challah. That’s what that is. You may be grilling it, putting in ham and turkey and calling it a Monte Cristo, but it’s challah.” As for the question, it really depends on what you like. I think chicken soup is the most iconic. I don’t know if it’s my favorite. Also, one can’t ignore all the Israeli foods. Kibbeh, hummus, falafel, babaganouch. I’m sure someone in Israel might easily say something like schwarma.
Since you’re from New York, what’s the best kosher restaurant you’ve ever been to?
Man, kosher restaurants. Do those even exist? Seriously, I haven’t been to an exclusively kosher restaurant in such a long time. Hmm…I think Adelman’s on King’s Highway in Brooklyn is kosher. If Adelman’s is no longer kosher, I might say Le Marais in Midtown. And I went to that restaurant in LA that is owned by Steven Spielberg’s mom. But to be honest, none of those are particularly memorable. The coolest name I’ve seen for a kosher restaurant, though I never ate there, but it was close to Solomon Schechter Day School, was Shang-Chai. I’ll give you two guesses as to what type of food they serve.
Have you considered doing a Jewish food challenge?
I mean, it would necessitate there being one.
Well, have you looked into it?
We definitely do a lot of research to find challenges. And kosher restaurants are usually going to be found in bigger cities, which are filled with restaurants that have challenges. I know that a matzah ball competition is part of the competitive eating circuit. And it’s one of the bigger competitions. It’s tough for us though because the challenge is the pivotal moment of our show. We want the food to be recognizable to as broad an audience as possible. It would be cool for me though. I’d take a latke challenge.
A latke challenge would destroy your arteries.
I’m actually pretty healthy, thank you.
I know. I’ve read about your eating routine. Can you tell us about your diet on the road to prepare for a challenge?
Generally speaking, it’s oatmeal every morning. Bare minimum, an hour of cardio every day. I eat, basically, in opposition to everything you see on the show. I’m a big proponent of salads and proteins. I eat a lot sushi on the road. I eat a lot of grilled fish. I still try to eat local. Lots of greens, vegetables, legumes, sweet potatoes. I eat a lot fiber. No saturated fats. And like, I said, oatmeal every morning. So much so that my very sweet, albeit very neurotic Jewish mom actually gave me a box of oatmeal with the flax inside. And I travel with that and just use the coffee maker in my hotel room to make it every morning.
There are some really tough challenges you go through. But what is the ingredient in a dish that you see and your reaction is, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish.”
There are some ingredients that you never see in a challenge because I would never agree to do them. But ham. It has nothing to do with Judaism. I just don’t like ham. Italian cold cuts are one thing. But ham makes things very difficult. And green peppers. I only like those in moderation. In Denver, that was a particularly hard challenge because it had both of them.
When I see you eat something like a pound of potatoes, I just don’t know how you can get through that.
Exactly! Now, think of Denver where the challenge is potatoes, ham and green peppers! The eggs in the breakfast burrito were so negligible; it may as well have been sidewalk gravel. So that was a tough challenge. Plus, I was sick!
It says in the intro to the show that you’ve had every job imaginable in the food business. What’s the oddest job you’ve had?
Hmm…When I was working for a catering company in L.A., I catered a reenactment of the Peloponnesian War and they had female stunt people doing the fighting too. But they had to put beards on them. So, feeding enchiladas and pepper steaks to bearded ladies was definitely weird. I had a guy at one of my first waitering jobs in Brooklyn pull a knife on me because there wasn’t enough bacon on his hamburger. What’s he gonna do? Carve the bacon out of me? Also, being a busboy at some catering halls definitely made me aware of the fact that I wanted to cook for my own wedding. I remember having to wheel a desert table to the Rocky theme song at someone’s bar mitzvah at a Temple. That was one of the weirdest things in the world. Also, I’ve actually been the one White sushi chef at a restaurant.
Finally, related to an earlier question, what is the one food that you think, “God, I wish the Jews had invented that one.”
I guess pizza is the obvious choice, right? But that might take away from the specialness of pizza. The “sacrelishessness.” But this question’s tough because of the whole snappir v’kaskeset thing (fins and scales). We lose out on all the shellfish, which is deeply, deeply unfortunate. Also, I think we have to find a way to find a kosher nacho. With chalav yisroel or something. That should be my mandate. Also, on Passover, get rid of maror and haroset and just dip everything in guacamole. Because let’s admit it. Guacamole is the chosen condiment.
Man v. Food can be seen every Wednesday night at 10 pm on the Travel Channel.
Into the records. That’s where. I’m not even sure what that means. Here’s a wrap-up of the week:
Anyone like playing trivial pursuit? Who doesn’t, right? When I was growing up, I would always look forward to the Sports & Leisure questions. I thought, “Gee, the only things I really know about are baseball box scores and random Simpsons trivia, so I’m sure I’ll do fine.” But then, every so often, you would get one of those “Leisure” questions and it would totally throw you off. But no more. Thanks to Meredith, you will now be able to answer all the trivia there is about Mah-Jongg.
With a few seeds comes a field. But shockingly, Aharon Appelfeld is not a descendant of Johnny Appleseed. I think that’s the dumbest thing I’ve written down. Unlike Appelfeld, who happens to be a good writer.
Communism is dead. So is Leon Trotsky. Coincidence? (And don’t send me any of messages saying communism isn’t dead. I get it.)
I think that’s it! Spend this weekend well because next week, MyJewishLearning will blow your mind with all our new content.
The Apple in the Dark, Clarice Lispectorâ€™s fourth novel, was published in Rio de Janeiro in 1961, five years after she completed the last of its eleven drafts. Begun in Agatha Christieâ€™s hometown of Torquay, where Lispectorâ€™s husband, a diplomat, was a Brazilian delegate to an international conference, The Apple in the Dark was finished in Clariceâ€™s home in the Washington suburbs, where she spent most of the fifties.
â€œIt was a fascinating book to write,â€ she wrote a friend back in Rio de Janeiro. â€œI learned a lot doing it, I was shocked by the surprises it gave meâ€”but it was also a great suffering.â€ Her suffering was not over when she finished it, however. Despite the best efforts of her friends and admirers, the book, like so many others later acclaimed as masterpieces, languished for years in manuscript, as one publisher after another declined.
â€œWhen I write something, I stop liking it, little by little,â€ she wrote in a letter home, suggesting her increasing despair. â€œI feel like a girl putting together her trousseau and storing it in a chest. A bad marriage is better than no marriage; itâ€™s horrible to see a yellowing trousseau.â€
As a diplomatic spouse, Clarice had been absent from Brazil for the better part of two decades, living in Italy, Switzerland, England, and the United States. She was increasingly unknown to the Brazilian public. She could still count on the small circle of artists and intellectuals who had been fascinated by her since 1943 when, twenty three years old, she published her debut, Near to the Wild Heart. The novel was recognized as the greatest a woman had ever written in the Portuguese language.
Despite that early success, her second and third novels struggled to find a broader audience. After she left Brazil, a friend recalled, â€œpublishers avoided her like the plague. The motives seemed obvious to me: she wasnâ€™t a disciple of â€˜socialist realismâ€™ or preoccupied with the little dramas of the little Brazilian bourgeoisie.â€
During her years abroad, Lispector wrote, â€œI lived mentally in Brazil, I lived â€˜on borrowed time.â€™ Simply because I like living in Brazil, Brazil is the only place in the world where I donâ€™t ask myself, terrified: what am I doing here after all, why am I here, my God.â€ Perhaps her professional difficulties contributed to Clariceâ€™s decision, in 1959, to leave her husband and return with her two young sons to Rio de Janeiro, where she would spend the rest of her life.
The country she returned to was changing fast. This was the age of the bold new capital, Braslia; of bossa nova, which became an international sensation; and of PelÃ©, who led Brazil to back-to-back World Cup victories. Clariceâ€™s modern style would soon be part of this modern resurgence, but when she arrived in Rio in July 1959, she herself was unknown.
The now-classic story collection Family Ties appeared in July 1960, after years in the same frustrating limbo that faced The Apple in the Dark. As a result, a reporter wrote, â€œThere is a great curiosity surrounding the person of Clarice. â€˜Clarice Lispector doesnâ€™t exist,â€™ some say. â€˜Itâ€™s the pseudonym of someone who lives in Europe.â€™ â€˜Sheâ€™s a beautiful woman,â€™ claim others. â€˜I donâ€™t know her,â€™ says a third. â€˜But I think sheâ€™s a man.â€™
Family Ties at least put to rest the rumor that Clarice was a man. With The Apple in the Darkâ€”at 980 cruzeiros, the most expensive novel ever sold in Brazilâ€”found an eager audience in a nation in the grips of a modern cultural fluorescence. With it, Clarice Lispector earned a position in Brazilian culture unmatched by any other twentieth-century Brazilian writer.
Yet if the novel is quintessentially modern, its sources were older and deeper than was generally understood. Clarice Lispector was born Chaya in 1920 in Podolia, in what is now southwestern Ukraine. Her work is steeped in the mysticism of that area, just as she herself would be forever pursued by the horrifying violence that surrounded her birth. The relationship between knowledge and sin animates many of her greatest works.
The Apple in the Dark is the story of an engineer, Martin, who flees to the countryside to escape the consequences of a crime whose nature only becomes clear at the very end of the book. The detective-story setup is a flimsy pretext for the real drama, which is linguistic and mystical. Martin is cast out of the world of language, a â€œcontented idiot,â€ only to gradually reacquire the human personality he had lost with his crime.
Clarice Lispector often reworked and disguised Jewish motifs in her work, but never with the allegorical force deployed in The Apple in the Dark. She hints at the very beginning of the book that Martin is Jewish, when she identifies his shadowy pursuer as a German who owns a Ford. There is no reason of plot or character to assign this vague figure German nationality, especially in a book in which few characters have so much as a name. The word â€œGerman,â€ in a work by a Jewish writer of the 1950s, was not a neutral description, especially when applied to a figure of harassment and oppression. And â€œFord,â€ the only brand name in the book, suggests Henry Ford, the notorious anti-Semite whose racist writings were widely distributed in Brazil. Both names suggest that the Germanâ€™s victim must be Jewish.
The book is a Jewish creation allegory, but of an odd variety. It is the story of the creation of a man, but also the story of how the man creates God. This is Martinâ€™s essential, heroic invention, and it comes through the word. â€œThen in his colicky flesh he invented God [â€¦] A man in the dark was a creator. In the dark the great bargains are struck. When he said â€˜Oh Godâ€™ Martin felt the first weight of relief in his chest.â€
Yet this story is the opposite of the Biblical creation story. The man is himself created through sin, and the sinning man creates God; that invention, another of Clarice Lispectorâ€™s great paradoxes, redeems the man. The moment Martin invents God is the moment he can finally come to terms with his crime: â€œI killed, I killed, he finally confessed.â€ Without God, even an invented God, there can be no sin.
In these particulars, especially in the way Clarice reverses the creation story to which she alludes in the title, Martin suggests that most famous figure of Jewish folklore: the Frankenstein-like Golem, who was the mystical reversion of the creation of Adam.
Golems are made of earth; at the beginning of the book, Clarice emphasizes Martinâ€™s identity with the rocky soil. Like the Golem, Martin cannot originally speak and is used as a house servant. Like the Golem, he is not allowed to go out alone. And as he masters human language, he grows to a position of power over the original inhabitants of the house. â€œHe increases from day to day and can easily become larger and stronger than his house-comrades, however small he may have been in the beginning,â€ the German folklorist Jacob Grimm wrote in 1808. Golems are associated with murder, as is Martin; and as he masters human language, Martin grows to a position of power over the houseâ€™s inhabitants. Fearing him, they have him taken away.
Martinâ€™s crime ushers him into a greater reality. Redemption through sin, enlightenment through crime: it is the kind of paradox in which Clarice Lispector delighted. With it, Clarice goes further than she ever had in her approach to the God she had abandoned when he killed her mother, raped in a Ukrainian pogrom. And she goes further, too, than Kafka. Like him, she found locked doors, blocked passageways, and generalized punishment. But she also saw a different possibility: a state of grace.
For all politicians, anÂ electionÂ is a referendum on their responsiveness to constituents, their awareness of the needs of the community, and their pledge to do a good job in the future.Â For many Jews,Â the month of ElulÂ sometimes feels likeÂ a similar campaign season to get voted in for another year in the â€œBook of Life.â€
The undertaking is intensive.Â We are instructed to ask forgiveness, prepare for fasting, admit our failings, and promise to be more righteous.Â By being pressed to accept our humility, we are given an opportunity to rediscover our humanity.
The essence of being humble is the ability to see ourselves as equals with those around us.Â As Rabbi Hillel taught, â€œDo not judge another until you are in the same position.â€ (Ethics of Our Fathers, 2:5)
Humble people can celebrate their successes without being intoxicated by power.Â They seek to influenceÂ eventsÂ even though they cannot control the outcome.Â They work to uplift others in need, not exploit their vulnerabilities.Â They view checks and balances on their actions as a help, not a hindrance.
Humility is a demanding virtue for which to strive. But unlike in elections, the good news is that at the High Holidays, everyoneÂ can emerge as a winner.
Wouldn’t this be a cool legacy? Imagine, when you died, to honor your life, the company you created ceased to exist. If this were true, today, a whole bunch of high school seniors would be straight out of luck. Or you would buy stock in the Princeton Review.
Sadly, this past Sunday, Stanley Kaplan, founder of the Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Centers, died at the age of 90. Personally, I never used Kaplan or Princeton because I’m Canadian and the schools I applied to didn’t require any standardized tests. But I can only imagine the effect Mr. Kaplan has had on kids getting into the colleges of their choice.
Stanley Kaplan reminds me a lot of Bill Davidson, the now deceased owner of the Detroit Pistons. It would have been enough for these men to just be happy with the success their lives have had. But both of them decided to give back to the Jewish community.
Here is just a snippet of the Jewish organizations Kaplan donated to: Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, the UJA-Federation of New York, Jewish Family and Children Services, the Boston Jewish Film Festival, Ben-Gurion University, the biblical theatrical group Storahtelling.
I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Kaplan led a meaningful life.
MJL contributor and generally awesome person Leah Koenig has an article at Tablet right now about about a mini-shuk in my favorite Jerusalem restaurant, Marakiya (loosely translate: The Soup Depot).
The market sells locally grown and produced foods (dried figs, almonds, creamy labaneh, bottles of grape honey, briny stuffed olives) that are brought in from Palestinian farmers and artisans in the West Bank.
Buying locally grown produce has become de rigueur for many food lovers, and in a sense, the Marakiya market is no different from any other sustainable-food venture. The West Bank is densely speckled with agriculture, including vegetable plots, orchards, and olive groves that paint vibrant green brushstrokes across the hilly landscape where sheep and goats graze amongst the scrub. But some of this locavorism is not by choice.
No longer able to afford the chemical pesticides and other conveniences used in conventional growing techniques, some Palestinian farmers have reverted to traditional growing methods. According to a recent article in Haaretz, many farmers plant â€œancient seeds,â€ which are indigenous to the region and more resistant to disease than hybrids. They also use â€œorganic compost [made from] goat droppings,â€ the article reported. Their resulting crops are, by default, sustainable and organicâ€”the kind of produce that makes a foodie swoon. But in Israel, the trendy notion of supporting regional growers is complicated by geopolitics.
Go read the whole article, and if you’re in Jerusalem, find out when the next market day is and please go. Stay for some soup–you won’t be sorry.