Hirsi Ali, critic of Islam, honored for courage

A tall African-born woman, raised a devout Muslim but now one of Islam’s sharpest critics, last week calmly dismantled some of the favorite shibboleths of American liberalism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was in town to accept an inaugural award for her remarkable personal and civic courage from Community Advocates, Inc., in front of some 600 Angelenos of various political stripes.

In an interview, and in parts of her remarks at the downtown Japan America Theatre, she questioned the virtues of multiculturalism, the West’s understanding of Islam and its comprehension of the roots of terrorism.

Hirsi Ali, 38, was born in Somalia, was an ultra-devout Muslim during adolescence, but changed gradually, and then radically, when she found asylum in Holland in 1992.

She was elected to the lower house of the Dutch parliament in 2003 and became an international figure in 2004, after she wrote the screenplay for the short film “Submission,” a barbed indictment of Islam’s treatment of women.

That same year, the movie’s director, Theo van Gogh, was assassinated on an Amsterdam street by a young Muslim, who pinned a death threat against Hirsi Ali to Van Gogh’s chest.

She now lives under constant police protection in America and continues to write and speak out as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

In 2005, she made TIME’s list of “100 of the World’s Most Influential People.”

Her categorical denunciations of Islam have been questioned, but never her personal mettle. It was for the latter characteristic that she was honored with the inaugural Ziegler Prize For Courage of Conviction by Community Advocates, Inc. (CAI) chairman and former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, together with CAI President David Lehrer and Vice President Joe Hicks.

The accompanying citation reads: “In recognition of your indomitable courage and spirit, which teaches, offers hope and provides inspiration to humanity.”

In her acceptance response and during her interview with The Journal, Hirsi Ali also faulted the West for its choice of weapons in fighting threats from Iran and Islamic militants.

“The United States has the option of using military force against Iran, which it may still have to do, or diplomacy, which has not worked so far,” she said.

But the West has failed by not promoting its ideology in the “clash of ideas and values,” Hirsi Ali declared.

“When Saudi Arabia spends $2 billion abroad for hospitals, mosques and schools, it conditions the aid on the recipient’s acceptance of Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist form of Islam,” she said. “But Western private and public philanthropy comes with no message, it’s value free.”

What the West must do, she urged, is to attach a clear message to its aid inculcating the values of individual responsibility, the equality of men and women and a scientific approach to counter tribal superstitions.

The West also fails to understand that there’s little basic difference between Islamic “moderates” and “extremists,” Hirsi Ali argued.

“When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, we may consider him crazy, but the concept that Jews are vermin is accepted throughout the Islamic world,” she said. “In none of the 57 nations that make up the Organization of Islamic Countries is the Holocaust taught.”

Hirsi Ali recalled, “I was raised in an educated family, and my father led the opposition to the Somali dictatorship, but I heard nothing about the Holocaust until I came to The Netherlands.”

Another Western mistake lies in its admiration of multiculturalism and its exclusive focus on white racism, Hirsi Ali maintained.

“It is a fallacy that all cultures are equally valuable and must be preserved,” she said. “Some cultures are superior to others. Some value human rights, while others justify the subjugation of women.”

Along the same line, “While white racism is properly denounced, we’re too shy to address black racism or Islamic racism.”

CAI, headed by the white liberal Lerner and the black conservative Hicks, has made a name for itself by frequently challenging the accepted wisdom and strategies of mainstream civil rights and human relations groups.

In its writings and actions, CAI states, it seeks “to promote critical discourse about issues that transcend race, ethnicity, gender and religion.”

Seven Thumbs Up

An unscientific, random sample of moviegoers who turned out for the new Steven Spielberg’s film, “Munich,” overwhelmingly liked what they saw. All of these patrons saw the film at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood.

Slow going at first; 40 minutes longer than it had to be. A terrific job of making a movie with no heroes that raised very thorny questions of morality — evenhanded and thought-provoking. There is no Ghandi. No Martin Luther King. No one stepping up and saying enough bloodshed. Let’s talk peace. The assassins who perpetrate the terrorist attack in the Olympic Village are clearly portrayed as bad guys. After that, there are no clear good guys and no clear bad guys. — Gary Gentile, 48, Jewish

Spielberg bent over backward so that everyone was human and had a full agenda of good points and bad points. None of the characters were cardboard or monodimensional. They all seemed like if you got to know them, they could be like the person next door or someone you had dinner with. — Peter Inova, 61, non-Jewish

The movie takes more of the perspective of the Israelis, but it does not dehumanize other groups. The bad guys represented the bad in all of us. Even the most noble characters have a capacity for violence and evil, and the worst characters have the capacity for some good. They all had their reasons and motivations. — Marian Inova, age not given, non-Jewish

It showed both sides of the story. I was expecting to go and see a biased portrayal of the situation because Spielberg is Jewish, but it wasn’t like that. Toward the end, I thought the Israelis were fighting terrorists by becoming terrorists. It started to show them as terrorists. They were sending a message to evoke fear, but it changed at the end, which showed the humanity of it all. — Christopher Roosevelt, 26, non-Jewish

Really moving and somewhat disturbing. Palestinians will continue to kill until their voices are heard. If people thought twice about killing, maybe it would stop. It is just a vicious circle. The movie portrayed the Palestinians as cold-blooded killers who killed innocent people. For the Jews, it was about trying to kill that particular person who had a hand in the terrorism. It is a movie. I don’t think it is OK to kill period. — Samantha, 31, non-Jewish

They, the terrorists, killed innocent sportsmen. They are animals. I am Armenian and thinking as an Armenian, if someone killed an Armenian, I would want that person to be punished. I am more sympathetic to the Israelis. It was their task. They had to do it. — Hov, 32, non-Jewish

A pretty good thriller. The film didn’t take a side. In the end, Spielberg’s take was that revenge never stops. You get rid of these guys and there is always someone there to replace them. It is not a documentary. There is going to be artistic license. You didn’t really see the terrorists. They were basically targets, just plot devices. Looking at it further than as a movie would be a waste of time because it is only a movie. — Thomas Mathai, 35, non-Jewish


Community Briefs

Interfaith Fasting for Yom Kippur

Jews aren’t the only ones fasting this High Holiday season.

Two other religious organizations, one Christian, one Muslim, have joined with a Jewish one to call on Americans to take part in a nationwide fast of reflection, repentance, reconciliation and renewal from sunrise to sunset on Oct. 13.

For Jews, that is the Yom Kippur fast day, the Day of Judgment (which actually begins the eve of Oct. 12). For Muslims it is one of the days of Ramadan, the religions’ monthlong sunup to sundown fast. For Christians, Oct. 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and Oct. 2 is Worldwide Communion Sunday for Protestants and Orthodox churches around the world.

The nationwide fast day, “God’s October Surprise,” comes out of The Tent of Abraham, Hagar & Sarah, a gathering of different religions last year that included Jewish participation as well as involvement from the National Council of Churches and the Islamic Society of North America.

The call to fast reads: “Engaged as we are in war, violence and repression with strong religious overtones, we, communities of the faithful, could instead take some action together during the Ramadan/ Tishrei month to change public policy in favor of protecting human rights, healing the earth, and achieving peace in the regions where Abraham, Hagar and Sarah sojourned.”

“We see this as a most creative way of promoting religious harmony and understanding,” said Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center, said thousands of interfaith events will be held around the country in October and urged private individuals to participate as well, such as eating together at iftar, Ramadan break-the-fast meals.

For more information go to www.tentofabraham.org — Amy Klein, Religion Editor

O.C. Choir Director Charged

The choir director at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach has been charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly making “illegal, improper physical contact” with one of his students, a 15-year-old girl.

Police arrested Thomas Macfarlane, 48, for alleged conduct that took place at the temple, in cars in Newport Beach and Aliso Viejo and at Macfarlane’s apartment in Newport Beach. The physical contact did not include sexual intercourse, said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The specific charge against Macfarlane is “child annoying,” for which he could face up to a year in county jail.

Macfarlane, according to police, was a “family friend” of the alleged victim and began a physical relationship with her at the beginning of the year. An anonymous tip prompted the investigation. Macfarlane, who had worked as a contract employee at the Reform 600-member synagogue since 1997, resigned on May 15, 2005. The investigation that led to charges against Macfarlane took several months, leading to his arrest on Aug. 24.

Temple executives continue to cooperate with police, said Bill Shane, Bat Yahm’s executive director, adding that members were surprised to learn of the allegations against Macfarlane.

Macfarlane has been released in lieu of $10,000 bail. His arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 22. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Businesses Go Green

Yes, it is possible to make green and be green at the same time, even for dry cleaners.

Couturier Cleaners, located in the Pico-Robertson area, has made a point to start using GreenEarth Cleaning, a silicone-based solvent reported to be nonhazardous. And that voluntary gesture has gotten recognition — an environmental stamp of approval from the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life of Southern California (COEJL/SC).

This positive notice is part of a new initiative to recognize publicly area businesses that incorporate environmentally conscious practices into their day-to-day operations. The presentation to Couturier owner James Jung was made Aug. 29, with Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) and the Interfaith Environmental Council also on hand.

“Moving Los Angeles in a greener direction will involve more than just planting more trees,” Levine said. “With elected officials, green businesses and [environmental] organizations working together, we can dramatically improve our city’s quality of life and make it a more attractive city at the same time.”

Green Seals also were given to Rob Tossberg of R&D Print and Packaging and Marty Metro of UsedCarboardBoxes.com.

“It is important that we acknowledge businesses that are instilling green practices and distinguish them from other businesses that simply talk about it,” said Lee Wallach, president of COEJL/SC.

For more information about the Green Seal program, visit www.coejlsc.com or call (310) 841-2970. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Search Intensifies for Nazi

An effort by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has resulted in renewed efforts to catch a Nazi war criminal. Investigators in Germany have stepped up their search for Aribert Heim, an Austrian doctor who performed gruesome operations on inmates at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. An active bank account in Berlin suggests that Heim is still alive, German police said.

The search for Heim, who would be 91 years old, was reactivated after the Wiesenthal Center launched Project Last Chance, a last-ditch effort to track down Nazi war criminals. Heim was arrested by American forces after the war and released from prison in 1949, reportedly because evidence of his service at Mauthausen had been removed from his files. He then went into hiding. — Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Everyone’s a Critic — Even Terrorists

A Palestinian terrorist assailed Steven Spielberg for not consulting him for a film on the Munich Olympics massacre. Mohammad Daoud, who masterminded the abduction and killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Games, said Tuesday that the Hollywood director had not contacted him about the upcoming film.

“If someone really wanted to tell the truth about what happened he should talk to the people involved, people who know the truth,” Daoud told Reuters in an interview from his Middle East hideout.

Spielberg has said his film, which chronicles the massacre and Israel’s hunt for the terrorists responsible, will be fair to all parties. Veterans of Israel’s Mossad spy agency also have said they were not consulted on the project, which appears to draw mainly on a controversial 1984 expose titled “Vengeance.” — JTA


Here Come The Bridesmaids!

You’ve honored your closest friends and most cherished relatives with a special place in your wedding party. As bridesmaids, they’ll throw you a shower, plan a bachelorette bash and attend other pre-wedding event, which means you’ll be spending a good deal of time with them in the coming months. But weddings have a way of bringing out people’s true colors. And, like an ugly bridesmaid dress, those colors aren’t always flattering. So what do you do about an attendant who’s out to steal your spotlight? Or the one who complains all the time? Easy! Just use our baffling bridesmaid behavior decoder and follow our keep-the-peace guide.

The Diva

This bridesmaid manages to make your wedding all about her. She insists on planning the shower her way and around her schedule, and on the big day spends more time primping for the camera than you do. Watch out: The Diva is trying to steal your thunder!

Kim Thomas (*not her real name), of Santa Barbara, regrets having asked her friend Pia to be in the wedding party.

“She was impossible throughout the whole thing,” Thomas said. “First, she offered to have the bridal shower at her house, but said she would limit it to 25 people — even though she knows I have a huge family. Fortunately, a lot of my relatives live far away and couldn’t make it, so we came in under the limit. Then, she complained about the bridesmaid dress I picked, saying it was too short — but that’s because she’s really tall.”

“On the day of the wedding, she called me and said she wasn’t feeling well, although it was clear she was fine,” Thomas continued. “And then she wouldn’t stop whining about a little chip in her nail polish!”

How to Deal: If The Diva is trying to steal the show, there are a few likely reasons, says Sheryl Paul Nissinen, a Los Angeles counselor and author of “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner” (New Harbinger Publications, 2003). “If she’s not married, it’s possible that she’s jealous,” said Nissinen, especially if she’s older than the bride. Another common reason for all types of behavior are subconscious feelings of sadness over “losing” a sister or best friend, she added.

Handle The Diva’s behavior with a heart-to-heart. You might say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve turned up your nose at every suggestion I’ve had. It seems like there’s something else going on. What’s up?”

“It sounds so simple, but sometimes just putting it out there and validating her feelings is the best way,” Nissinen said.

The Rookie

This is the first time she’s ever been asked to be a bridesmaid. She doesn’t know she’s expected to help pick out dresses, plan the shower and show up at events leading up to the big day. It may be because she’s single, or doesn’t have sisters to explain the bridesmaids’ role to her. Whatever the reason, you’re frustrated about picking up her slack — and perhaps feeling hurt that she’s not a more involved attendant. Such was the case for Felicia Lo, from St. Augustine, Fla., who asked her sister, Dorothy, to be her maid of honor — her first gig as one. Dorothy didn’t help the other bridesmaids plan any of the pre-wedding festivities.

“My best friend ended up hosting my bridal shower,” Lo said. “And my sister didn’t even come to the bachelorette party.”

How to Deal: Don’t take her cluelessness personally. Before you got engaged, you’d never heard of a wishing well, either! The Rookie simply needs a crash course in Being a Bridesmaid 101. Maybe you can ask one of your more experienced pals to fill her in, or buy her one of the many humorous books on the topic, such as “The Bridesmaid’s Survival Guide” (Viking Penguin, 2000) by Mary Kay McDermott.

The Critic

Because she recently got married herself, she’s full of advice — usually unsolicited. If she says, “I wish I’d gotten married in my hometown,” or “You should write your own vows,” that’s an indication that she has regrets about her own wedding, Nissinen said. You don’t want to hurt her feelings — after all, the tip about giving the DJ a “do not play” list was a great idea — but this bridesmaid is getting on your nerves!

How to Deal: “This often comes out at the bridal shower,” McDermott said. “She critiques every gift you open, saying, ‘Oh, you’re totally going to love that, you need that.'”

While it’s great to have an expert around, don’t let The Critic turn your wedding into “take-two” of her own. Thank her for her suggestions, but stand firm — “I know you would choose white roses, but I’ve had my heart set on freesia since I was 5.”

If you’re at the breaking point, “Say, ‘Gosh, your wedding was so great, but I want to do this my own way,'” McDermott suggested.

The Loner

Your sole grade-school pal or gym buddy can feel like a third wheel amid a sea of sorority sisters. After Tina Stroup of Towson, Md., asked a friend from work to be her bridesmaid, along with three childhood friends, she had second thoughts.

“She wasn’t interested in doing anything — looking at dresses, talking about the wedding,” Stroup said.

Having a bridesmaid who doesn’t fit in is awkward for everyone.

How to Deal: You and your other attendants might make an extra effort to help The Loner feel included — host a bridesmaid movie night, copy her on group e-mails and keep the inside jokes to a minimum.

If that doesn’t work, talk it out. Well before the big day, Stroup sat her friend down and said, “I get the feeling you’re not as excited about this as the other girls, so I want to give you the opportunity to bow out of the wedding party if you want.”

Turns out her coworker was relieved to be let off the hook and happy to attend as a guest.

The Whiner

She’s too busy to go gown shopping. Planning a shower is such a pain. Why did this wedding-party-pooper agree to be a bridesmaid in the first place? For Cara Cormier of Richmond, R.I., finding a flattering bridesmaid dress was especially tough, since her matron of honor would be eight months pregnant at the wedding.

“I picked out four different maternity dresses for her,” Cormier said. “When she finally got around to looking at them, she called me with 101 reasons why she hated all four — the color wasn’t right for her, the material was too heavy, they made her look like a tent, etc.”

Cormier was hurt by her longtime friend’s behavior.

“I thought that since it was my wedding, she’d be a little more cooperative since I bent over backwards for her wedding,” she said.

After an unpleasant argument, the two hung up on each other and haven’t spoken since.

“I highly doubt that I will ever talk to her again,” Cormier said. “It isn’t worth the effort to me.”

How to Deal: First, let’s get one thing straight: “It’s never about the dress,” Nissinen said. In Cormier’s situation — which, unfortunately, is not unique — The Whiner’s complaints about the dress seemed to be about getting her own way in spite of the fact that it was her friend’s big day.

“It’s sad, all too common and completely avoidable that friendships end because of a wedding,” Nissinen said.

So what can you do to avoid a blow-up? Take a few minutes and say, “Let’s sit down and talk.”

If you’re a nonconfrontational person, writing a letter is a great way express your feelings and invite the other person to express hers, Nissinen said. This approach to dealing with The Whiner (or The Diva or The Loner, etc.) can actually bring you closer together if you’re willing to take the risk and say, “I don’t want this to come between us and end the friendship,” she added.

Of course, there are some cases when a split is inevitable, and weddings are often the catalyst. A seemingly silly argument could simply be the final straw for a friendship you’ve outgrown — and that’s OK.

“Friendships do grow apart,” Nissinen said.

The Had-to-Ask-Her

Even though you don’t want your long-lost cousin/fiancé’s stepsister/insert-random-family-member-here in your wedding party, you feel obligated to ask her. But giving in to pressure from other people can cause resentment on both sides.

How to Deal: Jackie Lisek, a Stewartstown, Pa., bridesmaid who suspects she was a Had-to-Ask-Her, has a tip for brides in this tricky position: “If you think it’s an obligation to ask someone, it probably is. And that person probably knows it. Personally, I’d rather not be in the wedding in that case.”

However, if you know that being a bridesmaid is really important to your future sister-in-law, for example, “then you have to do it,” Nissinen said.

Chalk it up to keeping the peace with your new in-laws.

The Gem

She’s thrilled for you and wants to help in any way she can. If pink’s not her thing, she’ll tell you, but she’ll wear it with a smile if that’s what you want. She’s there with a hug, a shoulder to cry on or a glass of wine when you’re overwhelmed by all the planning. On the big day, she makes sure you’ve eaten, helps you go to the bathroom and even dances with dorky Cousin Eddie.

How to Deal: Give this maid a medal! Tell her how much you appreciate her friendship and support. She’s a real pal who knows the true meaning of the word “bridesmaid.” And don’t forget about yourself, too — you obviously did something to deserve a true-blue friend like her.

Abigail Green is a freelance writer and editor based in Baltimore.


Myra Waldo Schwartz

Myra Waldo Schwartz, travel writer, food editor and critic died July 25.

A member of the Screen Actors Guild, Myra had numerous television appearances, a radio show on food on New York’s WCBS News Radio 88 and was the food editor for The Baltimore Sun’s This Week Magazine.

She wrote more than 40 books, including "The Complete Round the World Cookbook," "Seven Wonders of the Cooking World," "The Molly Goldberg Cookbook" and "1,001 Ways to Please Your Husband."

Her passport bears the stamp of nearly every country, and the former president of the Society of American Travel Writers once described her as "the most traveled woman in the world," having visited every continent but Antarctica. 

She is survived by her sister, Naomi Waldo Holtzman; nephews Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Donald Holtzman and their respective families. She remains an inspiration to her family, friends and fans.  — Jill Holzman

The Many Layers of ‘Cake’

Journalism 101, Rule No. 1: The interview is about the interviewee, not about you. Ask a question, then shut up and listen. Obviously, the instructor never met Sharon Boorstin, who is as interested in you as you are in her. No, really. My list of questions goes out the window.

With Boorstin you bond.

The noted restaurant critic and food writer is already collecting food memories and recipes for a sequel to "Let Us Eat Cake: Adventures in Food and Friendship" (Regan Books/Harper Collins, $24.95), her tantalizing memoir, recipes included, of food, family and friendship, and we’re invited to share.

"I’m fascinated by women and their relationships with their mothers and grandmothers and where they came from," she says. "I grew up in a family obsessed with food. With women’s lib, everything changed, and I wanted to explore how women’s attitudes toward cooking and food changed as well."

She shows me a loose-leaf bulging with recipes, some handwritten, some on yellowed newsprint, dating back three decades to her newlywed days. The discovery of that long-forgotten notebook and the memories it recalled were the catalyst behind "Let Us Eat Cake."

Every recipe told a story: the brandied stuffed chicken legs she and friend Laurie slaved over to woo two brothers, a doctor and a lawyer (they never called back); the signature Canlis salad from Seattle’s best restaurant; her Yiddish-speaking grandmother’s blintzes, and her mom’s legendary egg-bread stuffing.

"Food is actually a really good bonding thing. Everyone has it in common, and women talk about it easily," says Boorstin. "And I have the most fun talking to Jewish women, because they get it right away. They have all these stories and light up when they talk about their grandmothers."

Despite the differences in our backgrounds — Boorstin grew up in the "boonies" outside of Seattle, where she and her sisters were the only Jewish kids in class; I was raised in a Jewish "ghetto" in a New York suburb — I found myself saying "me, too!" on almost every page. Growing up in the 1950s. The angst about boys, the love-hate relationship with food and obsession with dieting. The deep emotional connection with women friends and the ease of friendship in our 50s.

"You have what you’ve gone through together, what you have in common, and let go of old resentments," she says. "Life is precious, and you don’t want to be petty."

OK, Boorstin’s mom wore Revlon’s Fire and Ice, while mine wore Cherries in the Snow, but we shared the same "longing" as we downed our Preludin diet pills, willingly dispensed by our family doctors, to squeeze ourselves into our Merry Widows.

In the 1950s, you learned cooking to catch a man, she observes. The book’s grand finale, "Husband-Catcher Cake," came from friend Mary Lou, whose college roommate’s grandmother had advised, "Men can get sex from any woman, but not a good chocolate cake. And this one is good enough to get you a husband."

Readers of any age will relate to the connections Boorstin celebrates with the women in her life and share a giggle at her often hilarious food memories: the "salmon dowry" wrapped in newspaper that she presents to her future in-laws (her dad was vice president of a fish company), mushrooms stuffed with marijuana that fellow teacher Sue procures from a student, gourmet potato pancakes fried by Suzy Gershman (of "Born to Shop" fame) in her muggy Paris apartment wearing panties and an apron (photo included).

Neither does Boorstin hold back the painful episodes in her life: her broken engagement (his therapist delivers the news), her sister’s mental illness, the death of a soulmate, friendships extinguished and rekindled.

"Women bond over food the way men do over sports," she asserts as she cooks her way through life’s triumphs and challenges. "On the afternoon of Sept. 11, I was so upset, I was crying and started making blintzes. I was sort of re-attaching to my roots. It was very comforting."

When daughter Julia goes off to college, a puffy-eyed Boorstin seeks the solace of friend Joyce, who must know Boorstin well. "We’ll have a glass of wine, we’ll cook. You’ll feel better," she tells her.

Scattered throughout are delicious vignettes starring famous foodie friends: Barbara Fairchild, editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit; La Brea Bakery’s Nancy Silverton; Barbara Lazaroff, Wolfgang Puck’s partner and wife; Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, the Two Hot Tamales; Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell. Even Julia Child makes an appearance.

In the tradition of her mother and grandmother, Boorstin is a self-described shiterein cook. That’s Yiddish for why measure? You just throw something in, and a wonderful dish emerges. Far from haphazard, it’s a style borne of confidence, instinct and skill. With "Let Us Eat Cake" the ebullient Boorstin has shitereined a delightful and tasty friendship stew.

Mom’s Egg-Bread Stuffing

Enough for a 20-pound turkey with some left over to bake in a casserole.

This is a recipe that cries out for improvisation, because you can toss in just about anything that adds crunch and perhaps a bit of sweetness, and it will taste good. Just be sure you use egg bread as your base. It is also a recipe for which it is difficult to give precise measurements. Taste and adjust the ingredients and seasonings for flavor and texture.

  • 4 to 5 loaves egg bread, sliced, crusts removed
  • 3 to 4 big onions, chopped
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1 bunch celery, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 1 each turkey giblet, heart and liver, chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 to 11¼2 cups sliced water chestnuts, well drained
  • 2 to 3 Pippin or Granny Smith apples, chopped
  • 1 to 11¼2 cups dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots
  • 2 carrots, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts or almonds (optional)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 3 to 4 cups chicken broth, at room temperature

1. Cut the bread into cubes about 11¼2 inches square. Set aside for a day or two so that they dry out, tossing occasionally, or toast them lightly in a 350F oven until they are crisp but not brown.

2. In a large, heavy pan over medium heat, sauté the onions in the margarine until they are soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir frequently and be sure the onions do not burn. Add the celery, mushrooms, giblet, heart, liver and seasonings, and cook over medium-high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often, until the turkey parts are cooked. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

3. In a large pot, in batches, add the cooled onion giblet mixture and about three-quarters of the bread cubes. Toss gently. (You may need to do this with two wooden spoons or with your hands.) In batches, add the water chestnuts, apples, dried fruit and any optional ingredients, tossing gently after each addition.

4. In a separate dish, whisk the eggs with three cups of the broth, and gradually add the liquid to the stuffing mixture, blending gently. Add more broth-egg mixture and the remaining bread cubes if needed. You do not want the stuffing to be soggy, but it shouldn’t be dry either. Adjust the poultry seasoning, salt and pepper to taste.

5. Just before roasting the turkey, stuff it loosely — do not pack it in. Bake the remaining stuffing in a greased casserole, covered lightly with foil, at 350 F for approximately an hour, until brown on top.

The Poetry of Lamentations

“The Book of Lamentations: A Meditation and Translation” by David R. Slavitt (Johns Hopkins University Press. $15.95).

David R. Slavitt’s new translation of Eicha (Lamentations) demonstrates his masterful sensibilities and poetic fortitude. Avoiding the abstract and distant language typical of academic poetry, Slavitt’s poetry and translations are accessible to the common reader, but written without compromise.

Consider his treatment of Lamentations, chapter 1, verses 6-7: “From the daughter of Zion all beauty is banished and glory is gone. Her princes are starving deer that are lacking in speed and strength and cannot elude their pursuers. Gone are all the good times that Jerusalem cannot remember, those pleasant and prosperous days before her townsfolk fell into the enemy’s hand, and none was there to help her. Her adversaries gloated and mocked her desolation.” (Compare that to the perhaps more literal Artscroll translation: “Gone from the daughter of Zion is all her splendor. Her leaders were like harts that found no pasture; they walked on without strength before the pursuer.” [1:6])

Poet, critic, journalist and translator, Slavitt is an unknown gem of American Jewish letters.

Here Slavitt introduces this short, sad, painful, holy text with his own meditations on the course of sorrow in Jewish history. He reminds the reader of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, of the expulsion from Spain, and of the act of expulsion of English Jewry on July 18, 1290, also Tisha B’Av.

This beautifully laid out Hebrew-English text deserves close attention, and David Slavitt, our gratitude for his work.

"Keter Malkhut" ("Crown of Royalty"), and the 17th-century Spanish-converso poet João Pinto Delgado’s "Poema de la Reyna Ester" ("The Poem of Queen Esther").

Here Slavitt introduces this short, sad, painful, holy text with his own meditations on the course of sorrow in Jewish history. He reminds the reader of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, of the expulsion from Spain, and of the act of expulsion of English Jewry on July 18, 1290, also Tisha b’Av.

In the preface, he observes:

I simply couldn’t understand the charm (of celebrating a bar mitzvah at the Kotel, the Wailing Wall). Or at Masada, either, for that matter, where people also have bar mitzvahs, as well as swearing-in ceremonies for the Israeli armed forces.

"These are not happy places," I observed, and I said that I’d as soon celebrate such an occasion at Auschwitz.

"Auschwitz isn’t ours," his daughter-in-law, a rabbinical student, said, after a moment’s thought.

After another moment, I answered her: "It is now."

With that tone, and those sensibilities, David Slavitt has given us a sad and treasured gift with his translation of a text too often overlooked during our busy and joyful summer vacations.

Luried Tales

Back when Rod Lurie was the meanest film critic in L.A., he used to gush about actress Joan Allen on his KABC radio show. The guy who once called Danny DeVito a “testicle with legs” lauded Allen as “the greatest working actor in the world.” “I’d manage to slip that in every other week,” admits the Israeli-born critic-turned-director, whose debut film, “Deterrence,” revolved around a Jewish U.S. president in crisis. Allen had heard all about the fawning critic, so she was receptive when he offered to write a screenplay for her in 1998.

The former Los Angeles magazine reviewer immediately set out to pen a script Allen couldn’t refuse; watching news of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair gave him a juicy idea. “I thought, ‘We have such a double standard in this country,” Lurie, the son of famed Israeli political cartoonist Ranan Lurie, told The Journal. “We can stomach sexuality in our men, but not in our women. And I wondered, ‘How long would a female politician last if she were caught having sex with a male intern in the oval office?'”

The result was “The Contender,” a political thriller about a female U.S. senator who is nominated for the vice presidency, only to encounter allegations of sexual scandal.

Allen loved the screenplay, but there was fallout from Lurie’s old days as the most reviled critic in town. “Some actors I wanted for ‘The Contender” wanted nothing to do with me,” says the former reviewer, who once dubbed Whoopi Goldberg a race traitor for playing too many domestics. Fortunately, Gary Oldman and Jeff Bridges, both Allen fans, eagerly signed on to the film. When studios pressured Lurie to drop Allen for a bigger-name actress, he declined and made “The Contender” as a low-budget indie.

Lurie was shocked, after production wrapped, when Steven Spielberg telephoned: DreamWorks was interested in purchasing the movie as its very first acquisition. Spielberg requested a private screening at his house, along with Lurie’s home telephone number. “I put ‘Schindler’s List’ on the VCR, so when he called me, he’d hear it in the background,” the director sheepishly admits.

By 8 a.m. the next morning, Lurie had a deal; now he’s been signed to direct another DreamWorks film, a prison thriller, and to develop an FBI-related TV series. He’s glad for the opportunity to work on something other than a political thriller, though he’ll no doubt return to the genre. “Maybe I’m there because I’m a coward,” he concedes, sounding a bit like Woody Allen. “Because not many other directors are working in the genre, there’s no competition.”

So can the tough ex-critic take what he used to dish out? “I’ll try not to read ‘The Contender’s’ reviews, because it will be too painful,” he admits. “Every barb will sting.”

George Jean Nathan:

No matter how impressive Nathan the Critic ever becomes, he is constantly subverted by Nathan the Dandy, the man who is more concerned with witty badinage and flip cynicism than he is hard, critical reasoning.

George Jean Nathan: A True Critic

Between about 1910 and 1939, no one in the theater made a move without consulting George Jean Nathan. In the midst of scriveners, hacks and stringers, Nathan was the real thing: an erudite theater critic with more than 20 books to his credit, a fabled association with H.L. Mencken behind him (they co-edited “the Smart Set”) and a range of European-bred tastes that gave him a sophistication that few of his colleagues could rival. He not only promoted the early Eugene O’Neill, but was a close friend of the playwright’s and his staunchest champion. He elucidated G.B. Shaw for the masses and created the appetite that eventually established Sean O’Casey.

Nathan has recently resurfaced as a result of two new publications from Applause Books — “The Smart Set,” Thomas Quinn Curtiss’s lively history of the magazine that, between 1914 and 1923, mockingly declared war on American philistinism, and “The World of George Jean Nathan,” a reissue of Charles Agnoff’s 1952 chrestomathy of material drawn from the author’s collected works.

The fate that befell H.L. Mencken, from the 1940s onward, somewhat hobbled Nathan as well. After three decades of pervasive influence as a critic, seer and pundit, Mencken was relegated to the role of superficial wiseacre and dispenser of once-fashionable-but-now-passé cynicism. Nathan, whose literary style was almost the mirror-image of Mencken’s, was likewise downgraded. Although he championed O’Neill and European playwrights such as Hauptmann, Schnitzler, Maeterlinck and the Capeks, by mid-century, many of these same playwrights had lost their allure. Even O’Neill got taken down several pegs, and, today, a fierce controversy still rages as to whether he is really America’s most prodigious playwright or a brooding Strindbergian clone who never quite managed to master either language or dramaturgy.

The Mencken-Nathan partnership was one of those curious unions based on ostensible incompatibility. Mencken was a proud Teuton, admirer of the Kaiser, bigoted against blacks, casually anti-Semitic and a devotee of beer and burlesque; Nathan, a dandified Jew who emulated Oscar Wilde and “art for art’s sake” and a shameless hedonist who didn’t care a fig about politics. They both shared a fanged sense of humor and allied themselves against what Mencken liked to call “the booboisie”: bible-thumping philistines, Comstocks and Babbits.

In one of his early credos, Nathan wrote:

“What interests me in life is the surface of life: life’s music and color, its charm and ease, its humor and its loveliness.

“The great problems of the world — social, political, economic and theological — do not concern me in the slightest. I care not who writes the laws of the country so long as I may listen to its songs. I can live every bit as happily under a king, or even a Kaiser, as under a president…. If all the Armenians were to be killed tomorrow and if half of Russia were to starve to death the day after, it would not matter to me in the least. What concerns me alone is myself, and the interests of a few close friends. For all I care, the rest of the world can go to hell at today’s sunset….”

Thomas Quinn Curtiss, in “The Smart Set,” contends that this was Nathan merely projecting a somewhat histrionic image of himself, but everything in his oeuvre tends to bear out the sentiments expressed.

Harold Clurman disdained Nathan (ironically, he was the first recipient of the George Jean Nathan Award for Drama Criticism), but, then, Nathan disparaged Clifford Odets and most of the repertoire of the Clurman-Strasberg Group Theater. When, in the 1930s, the American stage was veering irreversibly toward social realism, Nathan was still championing continental elegance and artificiality. One of the curious contradictions in his character is that although he espoused “high art” — O’Neill, Shaw, Ibsen and Shakespeare — he had an insatiable weakness for frivolous musical comedies, vaudeville and striptease. He was perhaps the first to fully appreciate the genius of Florenz Ziegfeld, and his 1921 encomium on Ziegfeld is one of the most astute essays ever written on that exceptional showman.

Nathan’s great strengths as a critic were his erudition, his wit, his clear-cut statement of esthetic principles and his ability to stick to them — even when they might have been gainfully rethought.

Perhaps because of his iconoclastic years with Mencken, he was always anticipating encroachments from the vulgarian, the hypocrite and the yahoo. He was so prone to tilt against ready-made enemies, he was often blind to the real deficiencies in a writer, a play or a movement. Withering putdown became a reflex action and, as any critic will tell you, it’s always disastrous to go to the theater, cutlass in hand.

What he lacked was the gift of incisive analysis, a sense of dramatic structure beyond obvious observations about “a weak second act” or “an unsatisfactory climax.” His spirited defense of O’Neill, triggered by Eric Bentley’s sharp, deflationary criticism of the playwright, is more like that of a booster than a cagey intellectual defender mustering unassailable arguments. No matter how impressive Nathan the Critic ever becomes, he is constantly subverted by Nathan the Dandy, the man who is more concerned with witty badinage and flip cynicism than he is hard, critical reasoning.

But, then, neither Kenneth Tynan nor Frank Rich were exactly intellectual heavyweights, and critics such as Alexander Woolcott and Brooks Atkinson were such lightweights that beside them, Nathan looms like a Tunney or a Dempsey. The overriding fact is that Nathan was utterly saturated in the arts and, throughout his life, fed off them like an insatiable gourmet, and so all his copy seems to come from a sensibility that is thoroughly habituated to a wide and fertile cultural terrain. Perhaps in the long run that is the only characteristic of the true critic that counts: that he be a man who cares passionately about standards and their maintenance, and that he conveys that passion in every word he writes.

Charles Marowitz, a regular contributor for In Theater magazine, writes from Malibu

Taking on the Bible

Remember that great scene in “Inherit the Wind,” when Clarence Darrow asks William Jennings Bryan if a book that details rape, incest, slaughter, nudity and sodomy should be banned? The fundamentalist Bryan answers, “Of course!” and Darrow, with a flourish, whips out a copy of the Bible and declares, “Then you must ban this book!”

Well, Jonathan Kirsch is the Clarence Darrow of literary Bible critics. His newest book, “The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible” (Ballantine, $27), zeroes in on the juicy parts: Lot’s daughters copulate with their father. A traveler offers his daughter up to a mob to be gang-raped and killed. A man rapes his half sister, then throws her out into the street.

It’s all there, in the holiest of holies. And in the oppressive flood of mass-consumption Bible criticism books out this year, Kirsch’s book surfaces for taking on the Bible in all its wild excess. And making sense of it.

“A haze of piety surrounds the Bible,” Kirsch says, during an interview in his Century City law office. “But it had human authorship. I was always curious about what this book really was and where it came from.”

Kirsch, 47, a former Newsweek correspondent who now practices law, was inspired by writers such as Harold Bloom, whose “The Book of J” sought to tease apart biblical authorship.

“There’s tremendous diversity in the Bible,” says Kirsch, who also serves as pro bono counsel for The Jewish Journal. Different authors, writing through different periods, influenced by common folk tales, divine insight, historical and political agendas, turned out a deep, complex document with one bottom line: “It’s always instructional,” says Kirsch.

Even the good parts.

“We have a tendency to reduce the Bible to Sunday-school stories,” he says. “But the Bible writers were willing to include all of it. Because they felt it was important.”

So Kirsch set about finding the touch points in what might be called the biblical saga. Each section of this lucid, well-crafted book begins with a retelling of a biblical tale that, in some cases is boldly violent and sexual. And riveting, it should be added. Kirsch is a talented storyteller and manages to translate the stories into familiar English without sacrificing their richness. Then, he dissects them, drawing on a wide range of biblical criticism as well as on his own original insights.

Take Judges 19. Kirsch retells the story of a traveling Levite who, in order to save himself from a violent mob, offers them his concubine. After the woman is gang-raped and killed, the Levite dismembers her body and sends the pieces to the four corners of Israel to incite vengeance against the tribe that committed the deed.

In a chapter entitled “God and Gyno-Sadism,” Kirsch explores the various meanings behind such a horrific story. It might be a parody of male arrogance written by a woman, or perhaps a defense of the monarchy written at a time of near-anarchy. Kirsch lays out a convincing case for both.

In his book “God: A Biography,” Jack Miles writes that the Bible is truly for “adults only.” Of course, that’s hyperbole. Part of any great work’s worth is its ability to appeal and speak to many ages, over many generations.

But, for many generations, the very parts that render the Bible NC-17 have been excised from public consumption. Kirsch’s book is a salvo in a crusade to learn from all that the Bible has to offer. “We’ve suppressed [these stories],” he says. “For centuries, we’ve avoided them and pretended they’re not there.”

But, aside from better understanding these stories, what can we learn from them? Clearly, Kirsch’s agenda, his point, is not to titillate. (Note: If most of these stories titillate you, seek professional help). It is to build an argument for openness and tolerance.

“There’s tremendous moral diversity in the Bible,” he says, “and diversity of moral value is in itself a moral instinct. The Bible is more compassionate and understands a greater range of human behavior than we often do.”

Indeed, as chapter after chapter demonstrates, it is not the meek and well-behaved who get the most column inches of Holy Writ. “If you push the envelope of morality, you may play a role in sacred history,” Kirsch says.

Those aren’t lessons that would sit well with the fundamentalists among us today, just as they stuck in Bryan’s craw 75 years ago.

“The Bible is a map of the human heart,” Kirsch writes, “and no secret chamber or hidden passage is left out.”

Fortunately for us, Kirsch isn’t afraid of blood.

Painting by Botticelli (15th c.), showing Judith returning to Bethulia with the severed head of Holofernes. Illustration from My Jewish World, 1975

I.B. Singer: A Life

UCLA Professor Janet Hadda uncovers the contradictory journey of the great novelist

Janet Hadda’s captivating biography of Isaac Bashevis Singer begins with the story of Hadda herself as a miserable young graduate student.

On a “bleak snowy day” in 1968, wandering the Cornell University library, Hadda comes across a copy of “The Family Moskat,” by a writer unfamiliar to her. She opens it. “One paragraph in, and I was already hooked,” she writes. “By the time I finished, I had decided to get my hands on that culture, that world, that language.”

Hadda’s attraction to the Yiddish world that Singer resurrected through his writing would evolve into a career. The daughter of non-Yiddish-speaking German refugees, she studied at Columbia University and YIVO, eventually becoming professor of Yiddish at UCLA. She also trained as an analyst at the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute.

She then turned her sights on Singer himself, her two fields of study being the perfect tools with which to dissect the author. Although she met him several times — and describes the meetings in finely wrought, revealing anecdotes — she realized that his character remained elusive. Setting off to uncover the facts of his life, she found herself surrounded by the kind of kantike menschen, or oddballs and difficult personalities, that populate his stories. Former lovers, recalcitrant nephews, litigious relatives all conspired to make researching her book an otherworldly, Singerian experience.

Fortunately, she stuck to it. The result, “Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life” (Oxford University Press, $27.50), is an unvarnished and bewitching account of the century’s most acclaimed Yiddish writer. In 215 pages that read with the speed and cutting insight of a Singer novella, Hadda, 51, brings her dual expertise as a Yiddishist and psychoanalyst to bear on a man who turns out to be someone altogether different than our image of him.

Since gaining international fame as the recipient of the 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature, Singer has held a cherished place in American-Jewish hearts alongside grizzly ‘ol Ben-Gurion and Bubbe Golda. Just as we have mythologized the latter two, we have de-personified Singer, reducing him to a caricature of the grandfatherly storyteller, with little more on his mind than a spare little tale about rebbes and fools.

Hadda uncovered at least another side to Singer, and it’s dark, calculating, lonely and wounded.

The son of a weak, withdrawn father and a brilliant, morose mother, Singer grew up in the shadow of his gifted brother, Israel J. Singer, who went on to write “The Brothers Ashkenazi.” The Singer household was a cold, unloving place — Bashevis Singer, Isaac’s mother, abandoned a daughter, Hinde Esther, for the first three years of the girl’s life.

Hadda traces Singer’s lifelong sense of loneliness and depression to his neglected childhood. “Yitschok understood that his compulsion to write stemmed from misery,” writes Hadda, drawing on the observations of Singer himself.

Leaving behind the world of the shtetl, Singer came to the United States in 1935. He struggled here, working at the Yiddish-language Forverts, again in the shadow of his brother. His wife, Alma, to whom he had a strained 51-year marriage, supported him by working as a department-store sales clerk. (Singer was in his 60s before he earned enough as a writer for his wife to stop working.)

But the greatest hardship Singer faced was in writing for an audience whose world had been destroyed. In a telephone interview with The Journal, author Hadda described the dilemma: “He couldn’t go back. He would never go back. But his readers didn’t want to hear about the United States. He had to draw from a source he had abandoned early on.”

To do so, Singer perfected a technique of writing that seamlessly blended fact and fiction. The “infusion of reality” into fiction, writes Hadda, “provided relief from his forsaken solitude.” With his family and his entire childhood world dead, Singer could recreate, both in a more pleasing and healthy light. Thus, the rabbi of “In My Father’s Court” has all the erudition but none of the frailty and aloofness of Singer’s real father.

After Singer became famous, he began to work his literary legerdemain on himself. Those close to him often reviled Singer as mean-spirited, manipulative, lecherous and coldhearted — he abandoned his only son for 20 years and carried on a series of lengthy affairs. But the author nurtured a public image as a simple, wise Yiddish zaydie.

“He saw that it worked, and that’s what post-Holocaust American Jews wanted,” Hadda says.

The Old World charm, which Singer seemed to be able to turn on and off at will, worked media magic. Hadda still finds it remarkable that, in reporting on Singer’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the major newspapers overlooked Singer’s erudite, slightly aggrandizing speech as well as the anger the selection provoked among many Yiddish readers, who thought that Singer didn’t measure up.

For his part, Singer went so far as to keep knowledgeable Yiddishists away from the Swedish Academy so that their opinions wouldn’t influence the judges.

For a time, Hadda, confesses, the realization that Singer was not like his image upset her, and she even had a personal falling out with him. In some sense, she told The Journal, the book was “absolutely” her opportunity to work through her own conflicted images of him, to discover who he really was.

Sometimes, when Hadda relies too heavily on psychoanalytic training, her deliberations threaten to reduce Singer’s genius to a collection of classic symptoms. But, in the end, Hadda-the-Yiddishist wins out. Her portrait of Singer is sad, clear-eyed and awesomely complex.

It’s also loving. As much as a kantike mensch as Singer himself could be, he also gave life to a world Hadda, and millions more of us, still cherish.

“As the years have gone by, I see how much of Yiddish culture there was and how much is fading away,” Hadda says. “If there’s one person who has managed to uphold that culture, it’s him. And he did it through translation, and he did it by recreating himself.”

Before she began her project, one of Singer’s friends told Hadda: “You know, you’ll never be able to figure him out. He’s a contradiction.”

In “Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Life,” Hadda has gone a long way toward proving that friend mistaken. — R.E.