fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have other things to write about, too, but I've been meaning to post this for a while. I've read a few books over the past months that have some sort of Jewish content to them. Two had to do with Chabad Hassidim, one involved a Conservative synagogue, and one retold a Biblical story (so was sort of a Midrash). All of these are worth reading for different reasons:

Stephen Fried, The New Rabbi: Fried followed a large Conservative congregation in Philadelphia through their search for a new rabbi to replace their long-time leader who was retiring. There’s lots of local shul politics, as well as issues with the broader Conservative movement. I have to admit that a lot of why I found this interesting was because my father had been on the rabbi search committee at our synagogue back in my childhood. So it all sounded very familiar. It was also a good reminder of why I prefer more intimate congregations to the sort of large suburban synagogue written about here.

Stephanie Wellen Levine, Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls: The author spent a lot of time getting to know teenage girls in the Lubavitch community and profiles several of them in this book. One of the key points is that the separation of the sexes in the community allows these girls to be loud and outspoken. Some are truly pious, but there are also girls who leave the community and, for example, go to strip clubs and experiment with marijuana. (There’s nothing said about them having sex, so one can only wonder.) I'll admit to being most impressed by the girl who ended up going to college and pursuing a pre-med program. Overall, this is a very interesting read.

Anita Diamont, The Red Tent This is a novel, in which Diamont reimagines the story of Jacob’s daughter, Dina. In the Bible, Dina is raped and her brothers avenge her. In this version, she enters into a voluntary relationship and is betrayed by her brothers, who are scheming for their own advantage. This leads her to go to Egypt, where she gives birth to a son and, eventually, reencounters her family. There are some decidedly heretical ideas in the book (mostly involving idol worship by the matriarchs), but it is an absorbing read. And it is worth thinking about different points of view on familiar stories.

Sue Fishkoff, The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubovitch The two things one finds all over the world are, of course, McDonald’s and Chabad. If you’re Jewish, the latter is a more significant institution, providing, say, a place to go to a Passover seder in Kathmandu. But they are also controversial, for a number of reasons. I will admit that I don’t like that they’re perceived as the face of Orthodox Judaism, versus, say, Young Israel. Fishkoff is generally positive about Chabad, but doesn’t shy away from noting the criticisms of the organization - especially the Messianist tendencies of a large number of their adherents (but not their senior leadership). She also points out that their emphasis on outreach can lead to fairly shallow services, geared towards beginners. Overall, I thought this was a fairly balanced and interesting book. I’m still too much of a Litvak rationalist to be drawn into any Hassidic group, but I thought this was a worthwhile read.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
This is one of those catch-up posts. What can I say? I do a lot of stuff.

Celebrity Death Watch: Arthur Anderson was the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun, telling us about cereal being magically delicious. Doris Roberts was a character actress, who I first took notice of when she played a guest role on St. Elsewhere. Ben-Zion Gold was the rabbi at Harvard Hillel during my years at the superior institution up the street.

You don’t need me to tell you about Prince. And you’d be better off asking somebody else about him, anyway, since his music wasn’t really my thing. Billy Paul, who sang "Me and Mrs. Jones," was more to my taste. But the musician whose death I really want to highlight is Papa Wemba. He was a major figure in the world of Afropop, which is very much my thing. If you can listen to his music without dancing, you may want to consult a doctor to make sure you aren't dead yourself.

Made in Space: As I mentioned previously, the theme of this year’s MIT Club of Washington seminar series was space. This talk was not actually part of the series, but many of the same people were there. The speaker was Andrew Rush, the President of Made in Space, which has demonstrated (in a very limited way) additive manufacturing in space. For example, they used a 3-D printer to produce a tool on the International Space Station. Their plans are a lot more ambitious. I grasp the benefit of not needing things to survive the launch environment, but he didn’t address having the manufacturing equipment survive the space environment. For example, what are the impacts to electronics of energetic charged particles? And he didn’t really talk about the economics at all, since certain components (mostly electronics) would need to be stockpiled in the manufacturing facility. Still, it was an interesting talk. And, as a bonus, one of the people there was someone I was very friendly with as an undergrad and hadn’t seen in close to 36 years!

Book Club: The major reason to belong to a book club is to force yourself to read books you might not choose otherwise. This session’s book was Minaret by Leila Aboulela. It was an interesting book, with a somewhat unsatisfying ending. It would have been helpful to know a little more about Sudanese culture – and clothing, as I had to google what a "tobe" is. (It turns out to be more like a sari than like a burka, which is what I had been envisioning. One thing I continue to find amazing is other people’s limited views of the world. That is, except for the Tajik woman in the group. Of course, they probably think my view of the world is weird - e.g. my scale of how much a country is likely to be a basket case based on what colonial power dominated it.

Speaking of the Basket Case Scale: The worst colonialists were the Belgians. It isn’t clear that there’s an adequate sample size, but I wouldn’t want more countries to be as screwed up as the Congo is.

The Dutch were horrible colonialists, but, fortunately, were usually kicked out by the French or British before they could do too much damage. There are, however, no excuses for the basket cases they made of Indonesia and New York City.

Former Portuguese colonies are, in general, doomed to an eternity of civil war. The only mitigation is that they tend to have great music.

Former French colonies are also doomed to be basket cases. On the plus side, the French are sometimes willing to come back in and help them out. And they tend to have good bread and good coffee.

Former English colonies are a mixed bag. They tend to have some level of democratic government, but may have lasting ethnic tensions. Quality of food and music is more variable.

Former German colonies seem to end up with suspiciously long serving leaders, but, again, it isn’t clear if the sample size is adequate to judge. On the plus side, they tend to have good roads.

Surprisingly, former Spanish colonies may be the most functional. Admittedly, the lifetime of a President for Life may be measured in days, but the periods between junta rule are often reasonably free politically.

Innovation Reception: I had an MIT-related reception to go to on Monday night, which was kind of a pain in the neck since, being Passover, I couldn’t eat much of the food. (They did have some raw veggies.) The talk was fairly interesting, with an emphasis on nano-technology. I have to admit to a certain level of skepticism about the emphasis on nano, largely because of my experience with the technology valley of death. That is, the overwhelming majority of technologies fail to make it from research to operations (or, in this case, commercial viability). Academics are always way too optimistic about this, but it affects the riskiness of technology investments.

Pierre Bensusan: My very favorite musician on the planet playing at a place just a couple of miles from my home? Of course, I was going to be there. I’ve seen Pierre perform live numerous times and I continue to be blown away by his guitar virtuosity.

Passover: I have been somewhat unenthusiastic about Passover this year. The only significant cooking achievement was a frittata with asparagus and mushrooms from the farmer’s market. And, frankly, that is as much a shopping achievement as a cooking one.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
About 5 years ago, I wrote an entry about Mark Glanville’s outstanding Pro Musica Hebraica concert. So I was excited to see that he would be back here for the Spring 2016 concert, along with two other singers, Mathias Haussmann and Anthony Russell, and pianist Alan Mason. Fortunately, my schedule worked and I was off to the Kennedy Center Monday night to hear this.

The bad news came in an announcement by Charles Krauthammer at the beginning of the evening. (Yes, that Charles Krauthammer. I may disagree with most of his politics, but he and his wife, Robin, have created an excellent and important music series.) Namely, the Terrace Theatre at the Kennedy Center is closing for renovations for a couple of years, so there won’t be Pro Musica Hebraica events there. Though I gathered that there will be some, less frequent concerts, possibly at the Concert Hall. Aside from infrequency, that’s bad news because the Concert Hall’s acoustics are a lot worse than the Terrace Theatre’s.

Anyway, the concert was titled Wandering Stars: Two Centuries of European Jewish Song. Part 1 covered 19th century European songs, while Part 2, which had to do with 20th century music, focused on "exile and remembrance." I’m not crazy about associating exile with Europe, but that’s another subject for another time.

So, music. Glanville kicked off Part 1 with three songs by Salomon Sulzer. The songs were fine, though a bit more along the lines of German romanticism than I’d prefer. A bigger issue is that they were short, and I felt a little bit cheated in that respect. Glanville did a good job, but I think he’s a stronger performer with other material.

Russell was a revelation. His rich bass is perfectly suited to the Yiddish art songs he performed, which included a piece by Sidor Belarsky, as well as Belarsky’s arrangements of other composer’s songs. Russell has made a specialty of Belarsky’s music and that’s really quite a musical bashert. (Before someone asks, that’s a Yiddish word that means "destiny" and is usually used in relationship to marriage.) I particularly liked his performance of Israel Alter’s "Akhris Hayomim."

Then came Hausmann’s turn. He started with two pieces by Alexander Zemlinksy, both of which dealt with war. Again, they felt very Germanic to me, though the liveliness of "Mit Trommeln und Pfeifen," which is essentially a soldier’s marching song, did break up some of the air of lamentation. But to make sure that the audience could stay at least a little bit in despair, he moved on to Mahler’s "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen," i.e. "I am lost to the world." If you ever want to wallow in alienation, you just have to pull out the Mahler.

The first half closed out with all three singers performing another Salomon Sulzer song, "Wanderlust Israelitischer Handwerker." This was a livelier, somewhat lighter piece, urging traveling craftsmen to be cheerful and trust in G-d’s protection. It was a good way to end the set.

The music in Part 2 was much more to my taste. Glanville started with two pieces by Alexander Oshanetsky. "Oy, vos ken you makh, s’iz Amerike" is a humorous piece detailing the differences (primarily in sexual mores) between Europe and America. Glanville clearly enjoyed singing it and the audience roared with laughter. The other piece, "Vilna, Vilna," was full of longing and memory for that city. When I saw that the next piece was "Es brent" (“It is burning”) by Mordechai Gebirtig, I turned to the friend sitting next to me and whispered that it’s a remarkable song. And, hearing it live again, it remains as powerful as ever, with the horrifying image of people standing with their hands folded, watching the shtetl burn instead of using their own blood to staunch the flames. By the way, the program notes say the event in question was a 1936 pogrom in Przytyk, so it is not technically a Holocaust song. Avrom Brudno’s "Unter dayne vayse shtern," which closed out Glanville’s set, is, however, and it reflects an anguished longing for G-d and the despair. Glanville has the emotional control to perform material like this without overdoing it and that is why I am such a big fan of his.

Next up, Hausmann performed a suite of songs by Hanns Eisler. They were somewhat too modernist for me and, frankly, I didn’t really know what to make of them. That was followed by Erich Zeisl’s "Die Nacht bricht an," another piece I found too modernistic. Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s "I wish you bliss" was more to my taste. None of my dissatisfaction reflects on Hausmann’s musicality. He sang just fine, but was singing pieces that, for the most part, I didn’t much care for.

The highlight of the concert was Anthony Russell’s final set, again of pieces primarily arranged by Sidor Belarsky, but by various scomposers. Shmuel Polonsky’s "Mayn yungt" and Zelig Bardichever’s "Bessarabi” were straightforward songs of longing and memory. "Viglid" by Leyb Yampolsky followed and is literally a lullaby, but the lyrics reflect the inability to provide the good life a parent wants for a child. Russell’s resonant voice was simultaneously soothing and sad. He closed the set even more powerfully with the combination of two traditional songs – the African American piece "My Soul is Anchored in the Lord" and the Jewish prayer "Va’ani Tefilati," which is one of the most beautiful parts of the High Holiday liturgy. This was jaw-droppingly beautiful. In short, Russell (who is an African-American Jew by choice, by the way) conveyed such sheer spiritual power that I can’t imagine any audience member was unmoved. Yasher koach!

There was an encore with all three singers, but, since it wasn’t in the program and I didn’t take notes, I won’t trust my memory on it. I know it was a Schubert piece on a Hebrew text and that Glavine dedicated it to the memory of his recently-deceased mother, but I don’t have more to say than that.

Anyway, all in all it was a very good concert. I did buy Glanville’s second CD and, if Russell had had any CDs there, I would have bought them. I do highly recommend checking him out on Youtube (and, of course, in person if you have the opportunity) because he has a truly remarkable voice.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Patricia Elliott won a Tony award for playing Countess Charlotte in A Little Night Music on Broadway. Lemmy Kilmister founded Motorhead. John "Brad" Bradbury was the drummer for the ska group, The Specials. Meadowlark Lemon was the most famous player for the Harlem Globetrotters

Dave Henderson played baseball. While he was only with the Red Sox for one season, he hit a critical home run in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, which kept the Sox in the running and let them, eventually, get to the World Series that year.

I want to especially highlight Scottish singer / songwriter Andy M. Stewart. Apparently, he had been quite ill for some time and was paralyzed after failed spinal surgery. At least he didn't have the galloping bollickitis. (Before you ask, it's a lyric reference.) Anyway, I saw him perform at least a couple of times with Silly Wizard, as well as during his later tours with Manus Lunny and Gerry O’Beirne. I loved both his voice and the wit of his songs. When I first heard "The Queen of Argyll" (on one of the Silly Wizard albums), I played it about a dozen times in a row. (I still think "the swan was in her movement" is a brilliant line.) I really need to go out to listen to Celtic music more.

Good For the Jews: This is a music / comedy duo who do a show every Christmas eve at Jammin’ Java. It makes a good outing for the NoVa Chavurah. I’d gone a couple of years ago and went again this year. They didn’t have a lot of new material, but there was some. And it was fun hearing some of their older stuff again, e.g. "They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let’s Eat," "Going Down to Boca," "Reuben the Hook-Nosed Reindeer," etc. And there was a Steven Wright style Pesach joke I thought was brilliant. Some of the humor is a bit crude, but we are earthy folks after all.

The cutest thing was after the show when David (one of the guys in the duo) talked with a woman from our group he had sort of flirted with and sort of picked on during the show. It turned out that she thought her family might live near his, but he couldn’t remember the name of the development in Florida they’re in. So he called his mother – and then put our friend on the phone with Mom.

Afterwards, we went over to Amphora (a nearby diner) for desserts. (Or, I suppose, non-desserts, as some people got stuff like appetizers or breakfast items.) I realize they were very busy, but the service was truly atrocious. Slow is one thing, but forgetting to bring items (or bringing the wrong item) is another. And I have a particular dislike of waiters who auction off items.

Jewish Christmas: I did the traditional movie and Chinese food thing. For the movie, I chose Spotlight which was superb. I will say more about it when I do my quarterly movie review.

As for the Chinese food, that was a Chavurah dinner outing to East Chateau. Which is conveniently close to my place and has very good food, though the service is slow (and they also tend to auction off the food, which is a real problem when one person at the table can’t remember what she ordered). Still, there was good food and good conversation and that’s pretty much all one can hope for at this sort of thing.

The Rest of the Weekend: I had grand plans for achieving organizational nirvana. I did get rid of a few odds and ends. I got about halfway through the annual desk drawer clean out. And I actually read the entire Sunday Washington Post by the end of Sunday.

But there is much much more to go. Sigh.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: I know one is supposed to identify Jeremy Tarcher as a publisher (primarily of self-help books), but to me his significance will always be as the husband of Shari Lewis (and, hence, the step-father of Lamb Chop). Until reading his obituary, I had not realized that he was also the brother of trashy novelist Judith Krantz. (I mean that her novels are trashy. I’m sure she is a perfectly lovely person.)

Al Seckel was a collector of and author of books about optical illusions. Back when the giant redwoods were saplings and I was an undergraduate, I took a series of biomedical engineering classes, one of which involved sensory and motor systems. Aside from getting to play with some intelligent prostheses (remember the Boston arm?), we had problem sets that involved predicting what an optical illusion would look like, essentially by taking its convolution with a model of the human visual system. I still think that was one of the coolest engineering classes I took at MIT. (The coolest class I took overall, however, was Evil and Decadence in Literature, but that’s another matter.)

And then there’s Yogi Berra. True, he played for (and managed) the Source of All Evil in the Universe. At least he also managed the Mets. Aside from being notable as a catcher, he was (of course) well-known as a folksy and humorous philosopher. I cannot tell you how many times (admittedly as a Red Sox fan), I have taken comfort from knowing "it ain’t over till it’s over." And, like Yogi, on weekends I often "take a two hour nap from one to four."

Yom Kippur: Wednesday was Yom Kippur. It was also (part of) the Pope’s visit to Washington. I considered just going to Shoreshim (which is in Reston, so well away from any potential chaos), but I was reasonably sure I would be disappointed in their abbreviations to the services. So I bit the bullet and went downtown to Fabrangen.

(I should interject that I had a similar situation some years ago. Pope John Paul II visited Boston during Yom Kippur in 1979. I don’t remember any particular impact on the area around the Vilna Shul on Beacon Hill, other than the joking about saying "Gut Yontif, Pontiff.")

Anyway, it turned out that the metro was not the nightmare everyone feared it would be. Not that it was perfect, as they are still dealing with some track issues that will probably have the Orange Line (and Blue and Silver) with fewer trains than scheduled for the rest of our natural lives. (I think they said about 6 weeks, but they said that the weekend track work they have been doing for the past decade would take a year.) But I got there reasonably close to the beginning of services, which is, as Jewish time goes, early. (Note, however, that they were starting late, because of the Pope’s visit.)

So… let’s see. Mostly closer to traditional service than Shoreshim. A bit too much showiness in some singing, e.g. rounds, which are a hard thing to do for those of us who are not inherently musical. Leaders for some sections were too chatty, but that’s kind of okay on Yom Kippur because it’s not like you’re trying to get out of there to get to a meal. Some of the things people said did resonate with me, e.g. the image of Japanese pottery in which cracks are filled in with gold to create a beautiful new object. And a poem (in the lead-in to Yizkor) that had to do with ironing underwear. My favorite part of the service was an addition to "Al Chet" (the list of sins we ask forgiveness for) which was written by members of the congregation. My least favorite was that they used a Reconstructionist machzor mostly, but not completely, leading to a lot of page-flipping to an additional book. (This is a common problem, by the way, but it still drives me nuts. It’s hard enough for Little Miss Short Attention Span here to pay attention to where we are without us suddenly being 100 pages away.) No musical instruments, at least, though there were microphones. And they have the entire congregation bless one another, instead of having the priestly blessing, so lose both tradition and drama. (I am more comfortable with skipping it altogether, actually, but really I want it done correctly, i.e. traditionally.) I left at Mincha, since I can’t lose on Jeopardy again by not knowing Jonah. And I needed a nap.

Overall, I’d say it was a reasonably satisfying and reasonably meaningful service.

I’ll also note that there is a part of me that expects to hear the High Holiday liturgy in my grandfather’s voice, since he was generally hired to do that at our shul when I was growing up. And then, it’s been a lot of years, and I can’t really remember his voice all that well. I actually remember it best on something entirely non-liturgical. I used to play the piano for him to sing Yiddish songs to, because my brother was too showy and impatient to accompany other people when we were kids. (I assume he has gotten past that, since he plays in bands and does sing-alongs.) So I think particularly of Grandpa whenever I hear the song "Papirossen." Somewhere I have a recording of him. I need to find that.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Candida Royalle was a porn star. Jack Larson played Jimmy Olsen in the 1950’s Superman television series and later became a playwright. Moses Malone was a basketball player. Max Beauvoir was a biochemist who became a high-ranking Voudou priest in Haiti. Herschel Silverman was a beat poet. Jackie Collins wrote trashy novels, the most successful of which was Hollywood Wives. Daniel Thompson invented the bagel machine, leading to the proliferation of the bland, soft, bagel-shaped rolls which destroy the name of that noble treat. Robert Simon founded Reston, Virginia, a planned community where I have been known to spend time (some of which is mentioned below.)

Two pitchers the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League died on the same date, September 13th. Jane Jacobs played almost all of her career for Racine, while and Emma Bergmann moved around teams a bit more, but most notably pitched no-hitter for Muskegon in 1947.

Unetaneh Tokef 1: I should have mentioned an insight I had on Rosh Hashanah. I usually think of Unetaneh Tokef (the most dramatic prayer in the High Holiday services) in terms of the physical fate of people, i.e. "who will die by fire and who by water" and so on. But it does also refer to psychological states. "Who will be serene and who will be tormented" is another aspect of the possibilities for the year. I’m not sure why I never noticed that before, but I find it oddly reassuring at a time when so many people I know are dealing with various types of mental struggles (their own and other people's).

Unetaneh Tokef 2: I keep playing with science fiction and fantasy ideas for people’s fates. Stuff like "who by aliens and who by dragon’s fire." I am sure somebody must have written this poem already.

New Story: In retrospect, signing up for a show without actually having a story on the theme may not have been a great idea. The show in question was a Better Said Than Done benefit for the Nature House in Reston. I figured I could come up with something on "Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire," in the course of several weeks. Well, I did, but it was somewhat pointless and not as funny as most of my stories. More significantly, I was stressing out over it and tweaking things until the last minute. Overall, it went okay, but it wasn’t as much fun as it should have been. On the other hand, it was a good challenge.

Pricy Beer: I had dinner with flyertalk friends at Fireworks Pizza last night. I continue to find their beer list intimidating. They have something called Tart of Darkness which goes for $44 for a 25 ounce bottle. I went for the Evil Twin Imperial Doughnut Break at $10.75 for a 10 ounce draft. Which is still more than my pizza (the tartufo, which is mushroomy goodness) cost. The beer was interesting, with almond and coffee flavors and a very slight sweetness. I would drink it again.

Presidential Candidates: Oy.

Who Buys This Shit?: There is someone on Etsy selling glitter pills that are supposed to turn your poop all sparkly. This cannot be healthy for either you or your plumbing.

Other Stuff: Knitting group was Sunday, also in Reston, and was (as always) fun. My calendar is a complete mess, but I need to find time to schedule a couple of other things. My house is also a mess and I need time to work on that, too. Plus ca change …
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Last Week’s Entertainment: I went to see a documentary (Famous Nathan about Nathan Handwerker and his hot dog emporium) at the DCJCC Tuesday night. I’ll have more to say about that when I do my quarterly movie wrap-up.

Then, on Wednesday night, I went to the opening show of the new season of The Grapevine, which has moved more conveniently to Busboys and Poets in Takoma. I’d comment on it still being in darkest Maryland, but actually it is on the DC side of the line. And, most importantly, it’s easily metroable. There were two storytellers, followed by an open mike. The first teller was Shirleta Settles, who I had not heard of before. She did a folk tale, with excellent voices and strong singing, and was very animated and entertaining. She was followed by Jon Spelman, who did a couple of excerpts from The Prostate Diaries. One of those was quite timely since it had to do with his experiences on the Camino del Santiago, which [livejournal.com profile] fossilfreakca had just started on. He did a good job of making the excerpts make sense while telling something less than half of the whole piece. As for the open mike, I told "Two Foolish Old People," a badly mistitled Mongolian story.

Speaking of Storytelling: I am part of the Better Said Than Done fundraiser for the Reston Nature Center this coming Saturday night (September 19th). The show is at 8 p.m. and doors open at 7:30. We had rehearsal on Sunday afternoon and the show (which has a theme of "Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire") is going to be hot, hot, hot! You should come if you are anywhere in the general vicinity.

Rosh Hashanah: I went to services at Shoreshim in Reston. Overall, I’d say I’m looking for something more traditional. In particular, I would have preferred a more complete Torah reading , rather than just the first Aliyah. I also prefer not to have musical instruments (though I can actually make an argument for including them) and very much prefer not having microphones (though that is a losing cause for the most part). On the plus side, the drosh (sermon) was both brief and relevant and the shofar blowing set a high standard.

I Despair for Our Future: The internet is exploding today with the story of Ahmed Mohammed, a 9th-grader in Irving, Texas, who was hauled off from school in handcuffs because a teacher and some cops were too dumb to be able to tell that his homemade clock wasn’t anything like a bomb. I’m proposing supporting him with a Bring Your Clock to Work Day.

At the same time, there’s an 11-year-old kid in Virginia who is serving out a year suspension (having to go to some special school as a result) for having what someone believed looked like a marijuana leaf in his backpack. Except it was actually a Japanese maple leaf. He (or someone else) may have joked that it was pot, but sheesh.

I suspect that if I were a kid nowadays, I’d end up in juvie over something similarly dumb.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have various other things to write about but tonight starts Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) and I wanted to make a translation of some testimony of my father’s available. I believe he submitted this in order to apply for reparations money.

This is my translation (with some assistance from Google translate, but much of the language was within my limited German reading skills). There are a few notes in italics which are things I’ve filled in.

Sworn Declaration

Today, the (date not filled in – it was some time in 1955) appeared before me the man named Erich Nadel, a student living at 1508 St. Marks Avenue, Brooklyn, NY and explained the following to me under oath:

I was born in Koenigsburg, East Prussia on September 15, 1929. (The actual date of his birth was September 1, 1930. He had lied about this to the Nazis during a particular selection and the earlier date was on all the paperwork, so he stuck with it. He celebrated both dates.) A year after my birth, my parents managed to continue to Kovno, Lithuania. I went to school there and was there when the war began. After the occupation of Kovno, the Nazis forced me to wear a yellow Jewish symbol. At the end of August 1941, I was brought to the Ghetto Slobodka-Williampole. The ghetto was fenced with barbed wire and guarded by armed police. The Jewish council was headed by Dr. Elkes. Although I was a minor, I was forced to work in the laundry (I am not sure this is the correct translation of waschanstalt but Google's suggestion of "wash institution" wasn't any better), of the Ghetto workshop and afterwards for the N.S. K. K. ( i.e. the National Socialist Motor Corps).

The work was under forced conditions and I was not paid for it.

In July 1944, while the Ghetto commander was S. S. Hauptsturmbanfuhrer (not sure how to translate this – it is sort of high main leader) Goeke, I was forcibly transported to Dachau, LagerNumber 1, near Landsberg. (I chose not to translate Lager to Camp since I think it is clear enough as it is.) There I was given the number 81520.

During the time I was in Lager Number 1, I worked for the Kommando Mohl to build an underground aircraft plant. Although I was a minor, I was forced to carry heavy sacks of cement for 12 hours each night for three months. In November 1944, I became sick and was transferred to Lager Number 4. I remained in Lager Number 4 until April 26, 1945. On that day, I was brought back to Lager Number 1 and was freed the next day. After being liberated, because I was sick, I was brought to the refugee hospital in Landsberg. After a month, I was brought to the Sanatorium (there is a blank here – I assume he intended to fill in a name) in Landsburg. Then I traveled to Italy and arrived there on August 1, 1945. On August 15, 1945, in the Displaced Persons Camp at Bologna, I contracted the malaria from which I still suffer. From October 1945 until May 1947 I was in Santa Maria de Leuce (in the Lecce district). After that I lived in Palese in the Bari district from April 1947 until December 1947 and Barletta in the Bari district from December 1947 until my emigration to America.

I came to America on March 29, 1948 on the S. S. Sobieski from Naples, Italy. Since April 20, 1954, I have been a citizen of the United States of America and have lived at the address mentioned above since July 1950.

I assure the correctness of my sworn disclosures. I am aware of the importance of a sworn declaration and the consequences of a false sworn declaration.

I sign the same in the presence of the notary of my free will.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Somehow, I had missed David Malki's creation of the idea of Chanukah duck in this Wondermark cartoon. The idea is that the duck quacks a puzzle for the entertainment of children each day of Chanukah.

Apparently, not long after, Yakov Hadash perfected the concept with this song, complete with puzzle.

I now have two new ambitions:

1) Create 8 quackable puzzles

2) Have someone write a klezmer song re: one of my more ridiculous ideas

Why, yes, in case you hadn't noticed, I am easily amused.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Norman Bridwell wrote Clifford the Big Red Dog. Sy Berger invented the modern baseball card. Harold M. Shulweis was the rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom, a large and prominent Conservative synagogue in Los Angeles. And Joe Cocker was one of the greatest rock singers of all time.

Chanukah Cluelessness: There should be a market for customized Chanukah candles, so you can specify the colors (monochrome or combinations) you want. There is someone who is selling a so-called personalized Chanukah candle on etsy, but that seller has absolutely no idea what Chanukah candles are. (It is a single candle, with a family name on it. It might be suitable as a yahrzeit candle, but probably not as it isn’t in glass.)

Winning the Battle: The other dimensional creatures have returned not only my scissors, but a theatre program I have been looking for since mid-August. Of course, they are probably just borrowing something I haven’t looked for recently, but I will take what victories I can get.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Two quick notes for the first night of Chanukah:

1) My father used to come up with elaborate ways of calculating how much Chanukah gelt to send us. I remember one note when I was in college that had to do with a progression of how many latkes one should eat (doubling each night, if I recall correctly), accompanied by a recipe, and a check to cover the cost of the ingredients.

2) The candles I am using this year are beeswax. They appeared to be bigger than the standard boxed ones you get in the supermarket. But, at least based on one night, they burn faster. Since it is customary not to do housework while the candles are burning, I am not sure whether that is good or bad.

Chag sameach!
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
First, a few quick celebrity death watch notes. Gil Marks wrote about Jewish food. Ken Weatherwax played Pugsley Addams on TV. Mary Ann Mobley leveraged being Miss America into an acting career.

I have a number of serious things to write about, but this has been a hectic week and I am more inclined to be frivolous. Today’s holidailies prompt has to do with holiday music. The token Chanukah songs that got thrown into the mix for chorus when I was growing up were Mi Yimalel and I Had a Little Dreidel. The former is okay, but the latter annoys me. Clay is obviously a completely inappropriate material to make a dreidel from, since it is fragile. And you don’t just wait for clay to dry; you bake it in a kiln.

So let’s try some alternate lyrics.

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of wood
Getting splinters playing
Would not be very good.

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of tin
Now I can gamble pennies
Along with all my kin.

I have a little dreidel
I knitted it from wool
If you tried to spin it
You’d see that I’m a fool.

I made a little dreidel
With origami fold
No matter what I use
This song is dumb and old.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I mentioned a few posts back that I needed to make some decisions about how to approach the mourning process. Here is a bit of an explanation.

Judaism divides mourning into various time phases, which strikes me as a very natural way of addressing the process of grieving. The first, Aninut, is the period from the death to the funeral. This was, frankly, pretty much a blur, completely filled with making the funeral arrangements and notifying people. Then came Shivah, the 7 days starting from the funeral and there are a number of practices which I would have been stricter about if I were there alone but I didn’t want to put my brother and (especially) my uncle on the spot. For example, I wasn’t about to say that a 78-year-old man, even one as robust as he is, should sit on the floor. I will also note that my experience almost 30 years ago for my father was different, partly because he had been more engaged with the local Jewish community and partly because, being so much older, many of Mom’s friends were unable to travel even moderate distances. (And, again, she had outlived a number of her friends and relatives and many of the remaining ones are in Florida.)

Anyway, I am now approaching the end of Shloshim, which is a total of 30 days (counted from the burial, so it includes the Shivah). I’ve observed that period fairly strictly, most notably by not going to social events (including not going to the theatre, even though the show I had tickets for was a non-musical) and not wearing new clothes (though I have washed clothes). This also meant canceling a trip I’d planned.

The question involves the remainder of the 12 months of mourning for a parent. I will note that there was less of a question when my father died since, having newly moved to Los Angeles then, I had pretty much no social life established there. It was easier to be somewhat stricter given that I was settling into working life. (And, also, I was substantially more observant then, which is another subject for another time.) Anyway, I think it’s fairly straightforward for me to avoid wearing new clothes (except, possibly, if I finished knitting something for myself. There is a slight loophole which involves having someone else wear a garment for a few minutes.) Also, I do not consider pantyhose to be actual clothing. (I consider this related to allowing myself to go to a dance class for exercise though I wouldn’t go out dancing. I cannot really explain why these are the same thing in my mind. But, anyway, I did stock up on pantyhose when I was passing an outlet mall on my way back from donating books to The Book Thing.)

Avoiding parties is also fairly easy, but there are some issues that come up with a few events I would normally go to. For example, the National Storytelling Conference typically does have some musical entertainment as part of the events and that is definitely iffier. But I think I can easily just not attend those portions of the bigger event. The National Puzzlers’ League Convention feels harder to justify but easier to find technicalities to allow. I am inclined to forgo one or more of the larger frequent flyer events I would go to, which, unfortunately, probably means I won’t go to New Zealand next year.

The biggest dilemma is with various theatre tickets I have (mostly my Signature subscription), some of which are for shows (and, specifically, musicals) I was really looking forward to. Part of me thinks my mother would not have wanted me to avoid them on her behalf and part of me thinks this is just rationalization on my part. So that’s the part I still need to sort out, but I have some time to do so.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Best wishes for a happy and healthy 5775!
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Jay Lake was a science fiction writer. Jerry Vale was a singer. Arthur Gelb edited the New York Times and had a big influence on its direction. Ann B. Davis kept house for The Brady Bunch. Maya Angelou was a poet. Mona Freeman was the first Miss Subways, which will probably not mean anything to non-New Yorkers, but it meant her picture was on the trains.

Ruby Dee was an actress. I think I knew that she was the widow of Ossie Davis. I am pretty sure I didn’t know that she had a degree from Hunter College (in romance languages).

Don Zimmer was a baseball icon. Among the things he was notable for were being an original member of the New York Mets and managing the 1978 Boston Red Sox.

The more obscure person I want to note is anthropologist George Armelagos. His book, Consuming Passions, is one of the most interesting books about food ever written. I particularly enjoyed the section on cannibalism, for its utter lack of sensationalism.

Non-celebrity Obituary: Mack Smith died of a stroke just about as I was setting off on vacation. He told good stories – Jack tales and tall tales. If I recall correctly, he won the Virginia Liar’s contest at least once. He was good people and will be missed by our community.

Bat Boy: Last weekend, I went to see Bat Boy: The Musical at 1st Stage. It was about what one would expect of a musical based on a story from the Weekly World News. The basic plot involves a half-boy half-bat creature found in a cave, who is taken to the local veterinarian’s home, where he is taught to be civilized, but has to fight the local townsfolk’s prejudices. There was an impressive performance by Jimmy Mavrikes in the very demanding title role. Maria Rizzo as Shelly had good chemistry with him. Unfortunately, some of the cast lacked energy, possibly because of the demands that playing multiple roles made on most of them. The score was okay, but not especially memorable. So, overall, while it was entertaining, it was hardly an essential show to see.

The Tony Awards: As much as I like Neil Patrick Harris, I think Jefferson Mayes was robbed.

Washington Jewish Music Festival: This is one of my favorite events of the year. Monday night, I saw a movie as part of it - Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. I will write about that more when I do my quarterly movie wrap-up. For now, I will just say it was very funny.

Last night, I went to see Kinky Friedman. He’s pretty much still doing the same shtick he’s been doing for 40 some odd years. He sang stuff like "They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore" and "Asshole from El Paso" and so on. And he told various jokes, many in questionable taste (which is part of his persona). My favorite was his comment about his will, which specifies that he be cremated and his ashes scattered in Rick Perry’s hair. He also had some serious notes, reading a story about his father from his book about Texas heroes. Overall, it was an entertaining evening.

Tonight, I am going to see Yemen Blues, which I expect to be more energetic, fusiony stuff. Which is exactly my cup of tea.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
This is the more general catch-up entry. Yeah, I know.

Celebrity Death Watch: Bob Hoskins was an actor. So was Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who people of my generation will associate with The FBI. I want, however, to highlight Al Feldstein, the editor of MAD, a magazine that was a significant influence on my childhood. My father bought it, allegedly for my brother and me, but we noticed that the fold-in was always done by the time we got it. I understand that there is a game of 43-man squamish going on right now in his memory.

Yiddish Poetry Game: I like Yiddish (though I speak little of it) and like poetry, so I thought this special event put on by the Jewish Study Center would be fun. And it was. The idea is that everyone got two cards with poetry cues and two cards with Yiddish words (with English definitions). You matched a word to a cue and offered that up as something for people to use as a rule in writing a poem. For example, my combination led to "an acrostic on the word shtetl." Then everybody had time to write a poem using at least three of the rules. The results were interesting and I could definitely see playing this again. (Note that one can, of course, play the poetry game just in English.)

Business Trip: After getting back from Northlands, I had to leave for a business trip to Los Angeles early the next morning. There was the obligatory jog across ORD when my first flight was delayed and I had less than 15 minutes to make my connection. But things worked out okay. The design review I was there for was successful for the most part, but exhausting. The highlight of the trip was getting to see an aircraft assembly line, which had nothing to do with the actual purpose of being there. But, I suppose, it’s a lot tougher to show off software development.

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival: I always swear I will not spend money at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, which is the largest fiber festival in the Eastern United States. (Think of it as a cross between a county fair and the world’s largest yarn store.) And, inevitably, there is irresistible temptation. In this case, it was the Tsock Tsarina Shark Week sock kit. It will be challenging, given my history with sock knitting, otherwise known as failing to complete a pair of socks . But some day I will master these.

Rose Valley Storytelling House Concert: After leaving the sheep and alpaca and rabbits (oh, my!), I drove to Philadelphia to go to a storytelling house concert at the home of Megan Hicks and Jack Abgott. It was an excellent evening. Kitty Hailey told amusing stories about her experiences as a private investigator. Robin Bady did an excerpt from her anti-bullying story, "Every Day is Basil Houpis Day," which left me wanting to hear the rest of the story. And Tom Stamp performed a mix of unusual literary stories. There was a great mix of types of material and the audience was responsive and engaged (and mingled well before the show, during intermission, and afterwards). It was definitely worth dealing with I-95. (Note, however, that I stayed up that way overnight. I’m not quite crazy enough to drive up and back the same day.)

Three Penny Opera: I drove back from Philadelphia on Sunday morning so I could see Three Penny Opera at Signature Theatre in the afternoon. Setting the story in the present day was an interesting decision – and not entirely effective, in my opinion. For example, having people snapping cell phone photos of Macheath on the gallows is mildly amusing but doesn’t really add to anything. The performances were more effective. Nastascia Diaz was excellent as Jenny. I also want to note Erin Driscoll as Polly Peachum. I was less enthralled by Mitchell Jarvis as Macheath, though I suspect that has more to do with the character’s inherent smarminess than with his performance per se. All in all, I’d say the production is not entirely successful, but I am not sure anybody could do this show in an entirely satisfying way.

Michael Reno Harrell: Storyteller and folk musician Michael Reno Harrell was passing through town last night and Ellouise Schoettler was offering a house concert featuring him. There was a small group, so it ended up being a "sit around the kitchen table and swap stories" type of evening instead. That was still a good time.

A Brief Note on Why Women Should Run Everything: I had a meeting today. It ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with no break. Only a man would schedule things that way.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
And so it is again catch-up time. My pre-Pesach chocolate weekend will get its own write-up, but this is everything else.

Celebrity Death Watch: Jesse Witherspoon was a country singer / songwriter. Steven A. Shaw founded eGullet. Lorenzo Semple, Jr. wrote the first few episodes of Batman for television. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was a boxer, but better known for having been wrongly convicted of murder and vindicated after many years in prison. Mickey Rooney was an actor.

Moving on to the literary world, Sue Townsend wrote about Adrian Mole. Peter Matthiessen wrote about snow leopards (among other things). Gabriel Garcia Marquez has the distinction of being the author of the book that has been in my unread pile the longest. I bought One Hundred Years of Solitude a good 20 years ago for a book club which fell apart before I got around to reading it and, somehow, I still haven't opened it. Seeing as how I am more likely to read dead authors, maybe it’ll bubble to the top of the stack soon.

Networking: The MIT Club of Washington had a dinner talk on Orbital Debris. That being a work-relevant topic for me, of course I went. I brought along two friends, one of whom is currently job hunting. What struck me is that neither of them made much of an effort at networking. I realize that they may have felt a bit shy because they are not MIT alums, but this was an obvious opportunity. I don’t think of myself as particularly good at schmoozing people up, but it seems natural at this sort of event. (And, yes, the talk was interesting, though I can’t say I learned much.)

Pierre Bensusan: As I have inevitably mentioned before, Pierre Bensusan is my favorite musician on the planet. He’s doing a 40th anniversary tour and he played a concert at Jammin’ Java, which is very close to my house. So, of course, I had to go. I’ve seen him perform numerous times before (for over 30 years, in fact) and I am happy to say his guitar playing is as amazing as ever. I was particularly pleased that he played Agadir Ramadan. He even played some new material. And, of course, I bought his new recording – a 3 CD live collection. If Django Reinhardt were still alive, maybe Pierre would have some competition, but that isn’t the case.

Pesach: Did you know that, prior to splitting the Red Sea, Moses had to file an Environmental Impact Statement?

In other holiday news, I cooked a potato and kale frittata which proved to be a surprisingly good idea.

Don Quixote: The American Ballet Theatre was at the Kennedy Center. I went to see Don Quizote on the grounds that I prefer narrative ballets to mixed repertory programs. On the plus side, Veronika Park and James Whiteside were very impressive dancers. However, the narrative was pretty weak, at least for somebody who has actually read the novel. Beyond the tilting at windmills scene, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were mostly spectators to village (and gypsy camp) dances.

Tender Napalm: I don’t see a lot of straight (i.e. non-musical) plays, but Signature Theatre has a few as part of their annual subscription. This play, by Philip Ridley, was interesting, provocative, and disturbing. It involves two characters (Man and Woman) who may be stranded on a desert island. There is a lot going on between them, which may or may not involve a tsunami, a sea serpent attack, battling armies of monkeys, and/or an alien abduction. What seems to have happened in the real world is the death of their daughter, possibly in a terrorist attack. The violent imagery is a bit much to handle and it’s a difficult play to watch, but it definitely held my attention. I’m glad I saw it, but I am hesitant to recommend it. It felt more like a fringe production than something at a more mainstream theatre, so maybe I can offer a cautious recommendation on that understanding.

By the way, for future reference, Easter Sunday is possibly the ideal time to go to Signature. This was the first time in ages that there were dozens of open spots in the public parking areas of the Campbell Street garage. Unfortunately, I will probably forget that by next year.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Here are various odds and ends, with no theatre involved.

Celebrity Death Watch: Harold Ramis was an interesting comic actor. Sean Potts played the tin whistle and was one of the founders of The Chieftains.

Retiring Celebrity Watch: Carl Kassell of NPR is retiring. I am not sure what impact that will have on the value of my Carl Kassell doll. Not that I was planning to sell.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Leslie Perry had been suffering from ALS for the past five years, so his death is not surprising. He was a mainstay of the Los Angeles storytelling community and a great builder of community, as well as a fine storyteller. I remember, in particular, a letter he once sent out that pointed out the need for storytellers to support one another, attending and advertising other tellers’ programs, for example. He also talked about the need for tellers to tell the difficult stories. Both of those triggered discussions that have influenced how I try to deal with storytelling. After he became ill, he had two books published, had a play produced, and was the subject of a documentary. He may not have been a household name, but Leslie was a celebrity in my community and in my life. He was a good man and I will miss him.

Weather: We got about 5 inches of snow on Monday. This had been predicted, so I had brought my laptop home and was productive. But it is proof that I don’t live in Camelot, where winter exits March the second on the dot.

Washington Jewish Film Festival: Because of the snow, the showing of The Herring Queens (a documentary about Lower East Side appetizing store, Russ and Daughters) on Monday night was cancelled. So the only WJFF event I made it to was not a film, but a Yiddish music program on Tuesday night. That featured Cantor Sara Geller and was a mix of concert and sing-along. She has a fine voice, but the songs she did started out with art songs, which are not really what I was expecting. The sing-along part was fine but consisted entirely of overly familiar songs. Can we please have some Yiddish music event someday that does not feature "Oyfen Pripitchik," "Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen," and "Tubalalaika?" The rest of the concert part was somewhat more to my taste, since it was largely theatre music. My favorite piece was "It’s Tough" (sung in English), which tells of the tragedy when Izzy Rosenstein loves Genevieve Malone.

In Other News: Between various work and non-work commitments, I am stressed and frustrated and grouchy. It is a good thing I am not a violent person.

And now I am all caught up. Of course, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is this weekend, so I will be behind again. And my non-LJ to-do list is the length of my arm. But I’ll take what small victories I can.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Brunch and Travel Show: I took an early train back from New York after my minor theatre binge so I could go out to brunch with a couple of people from flyertalk before going to the Travel and Adventure Show. We ate at City Tap Room, which had a somewhat odd brunch menu. I had a frittata with potatoes, mushrooms, kale and gruyere, which was okay, though a bit too salty. Don't things like that usually come with toast or the like, though?

Anyway, the travel show has gotten smaller, but is still dangerous as I get ideas. In some cases, I have no interest in a tour, but I use itineraries to get an idea of what I want to do when I go somewhere on my own. In other cases, there are places with poor enough infrastructure that having things organized makes sense. The bottom line is that (as usual) there are more things I want to do than there is time or money for.

Pro Musica Hebraica - Evgeny Kissin: I continue to go to the Pro Musica Hebraica concerts of Jewish classical music when I can, i.e. when I am in town. This edition was pianist Evgeny Kissin playing 20th century music and reciting Yiddish poetry. The first piece was Moyshe Milner's Farn opsheyd (Kleyne rapsodie) which I enjoyed. It had a definite Jewish feel to it, partly through the rhythms as well as the folk-tune like melody. That was followed by Ernest Bloch's Piano Sonata. Op. 40, which was the most familiar piece of the evening. Unfortunately, I remain lukewarm towards Bloch, whose music seems like generic modernism to me, with no particular Jewish flavor. The first half of the evening concluded with Kissin reciting several poems by Haim Nachman Bialik, with supertitled English translations. Kissin taught himself Yiddish, so I'm not surprised by the formal sound of his accent, which sounds too Germanic to me. (Bear in mind that I am a biased Litvak and understand little Yiddish myself, so my opinion may not matter. I think it is supposed to sound like my father and grandfather and this didn't.) At any rate, Bialik's poems were not really to my taste. My maternal grandfather was a big fan of Bialik, but of his Hebrew poetry, so I don't feel as disloyal as I otherwise might.

The second half started with Alexander Veprik's Sonata No. 2, which was pleasant enough, but not especially memorable. Then came several poems by I. L. Peretz. I particularly liked "The World is a Theater." It's obvious that Kissin is passionate about reciting these poems, but I thought the segment went on a bit too long. The evening ended with Alexander Krein's Suite dansee, op. 44, which was my favorite piece of the concert, with strong echoes of klezmer styling.

Overall, it was an interesting evening and it's good to support the ability to hear some of the more obscure works that got played, especially in the hands of as expressive a musician as Kissin.

Opera - Moby Dick: I'm not really an opera person, but I love Moby Dick, so I was curious as to how it would be transformed to the stage. There was a lot of spectacle involved, with a tilting stage and supernumaries climbing ladders and ropes and so on. What surprised me was how well Jake Heggie's music fit the action. Gene Scheer's libretto did take some liberties with the novel, but it had to in order to make sense. The performances were excellent and I want to especially call out Matthew Worth as Starbuck and Eric Greene as Queequeg. All in all, this was interesting and well worth seeing and made me more likely to go to the opera in the future.

Beaches: Back on more familiar ground, I went to see Beaches at Signature Theatre on Saturday. This is a brand new musical and is an adaptation of the novel and movie. The story involves the bond between two women, Cee Cee and Bertie, who meet as children in Atlantic City and continue their friendship through various crises, culminating in Bertie's untimely death. This could be maudlin, but there was so much humor (largely due to the brassy Cee Cee, excellently played by Alysha Umpress) that it avoided that trap. Not that it was free of tearjerker moments, but the tone was more balanced. There was also a tuneful score by David Austin (plus "The Wind Beneath My Wings" from the movie, thrown in surprisingly unobtrusively). There was even some amusing choreography in the form of a 1970's disco number. And I can't resist mentioning what great eye candy Matthew Scott provided. Damn, he looks amazing with a beard.

I have had mixed feelings over the years towards the new musicals that Signature puts on, but I want them to keep producing new musicals, and this was a good example of why.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
My commute reading consists largely of paperback mysteries, but there are assorted other things thrown in. Sometimes I am even home for long enough to read something there. The past few months have included several books of Jewish interest and I thought I’d write briefly about those.

Sue Fishkoff, Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority. This was a fascinating look at the kosher food industry. Fishkoff covers a very wide range of topics, even addressing things like the people who make blades for knives used for shechita (ritual slaughter). The history of the industrialization of kashrut oversight is fascinating, as is the growth in purchase of hecshered foods by non-Jews. There are also plenty of debates and scandals to make for juicy reading. The style is accessible and conversational. I’d put this high on a list of recommended reading for anyone with an interest in Jewish food and/or culture.

Deborah Feldman, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots. You’ve probably heard of this book, since it’s been on various best-seller lists. It’s been portrayed as something of an expose of the Satmar community by a member who escaped. I don’t think that’s accurate. Feldman can only write about her own experience and, certainly, her Satmar upbringing plays a major role in that. But there is obviously other family dysfunction involved too, starting with a father who was a clearly incapable of adult life (mentally ill or just intellectually disabled? It's hard to tell.) There are hints about her absent mother (notably in a reference to a movie about gay Orthodox Jews) but just hints. For example, the most shocking part of the book has to do with the lack of sex education and its consequences for her marriage. Understanding her mother’s absence might help here. Overall, the biggest problem I had was that Feldman is just too young and too close to the events to have really processed them into compelling narrative. There’s some interesting material but it isn’t pulled together into anything beyond bibliotherapy.

Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy (editors), Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame. Many of you already know about my obsession with Jewish baseball players (e.g. my mixed feelings about Jarod Saltalamacchia’s success since that is keeping Ryan Lavarnway from catching more often for the Red Sox) so it’s no surprise that I read this book with interest. Of course there are pieces about Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax (but not the third Jew in the Hall of Fame, Lou Boudreau). But there’s also Mose Solomon ("the rabbi of swat") and Al Rosen and Bud Selig. And there are a lot of other sports. From a Brooklyn boy who became a bullfighter in Mexico to the Israeli athletes massacred at the Munich Olympics to the inventor of fantasy leagues to a competitive eater, the wide range of essays was particularly striking. There are even pieces on Renee Richards and Bobby Fischer and on various people in the business world of sports (e.g. gambler Arnold Rothstein). Of course, as in any collection of essays, some are much better written than others. There were enough enjoyable ones that I feel comfortable recommending the book.

Barry Deutsch, Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite. Everyone’s favorite troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl is back in another graphic novel. I’ve mentioned before how much I loved the first book in this series. The second is just as delightful. For example, there is a panel on page 14 in which the troll explains about having many rare things. They include "unlosable marbles" and "white-out of despair" but also "One’s Own Time." That panel alone is worth the price of the book. The ending relies on some real pilpul (hairsplitting Talmudic reasoning). And there is knitting! Go out and get this book now (and the first one if you haven’t read it yet). I’ll wait.

Rochelle Majer Krich, Till Death Do Us Part. I’m rereading a bunch of old mysteries as I weed out my shelves and storage boxes. I’m mentioning this one as it deals with the problem of agunot, women whose husbands refuse to give them a get (Jewish divorce). The plot involves a woman whose recalcitrant husband is murdered and who realizes the killer must be one of the members of the support group for agunot her rabbi has put her in touch with. I thought the religious aspects of the story were handled both accurately and sensitively. The pacing is a bit slow, though. I’d say this book is worth picking up if you stumble upon a copy, but not necessarily an out of print book to search for actively.


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