Saturday, July 8
The Hollywood Palladium’s got the beat tonight. Head there for ’80s retro fun wrapped up in a good cause. Bet Tzedek — The House of Justice presents its annual Justice Ball benefit with headliners The Go-Go’s.
8:30 p.m. $75-$150. Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd. (323) 656-9069. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Sunday, July 9
A midsummer night’s edutainment comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Tonight, they perform “Ahava: From Israel with Love” at the Ford Amphitheatre, with Chen Zimbalista on marimba and Alon Reuven on French horn. Explanatory introductions of each piece will be given by conductor Noreen Green.
7:30 p.m. $12-$36. 2850 Cahuenga Blvd., East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.
Monday, July 10
TV gets some artistic recognition, thanks to Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). Today FIDM opens its new exhibition, “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design,” which continues through Sept. 9. On display are highlights from 40 years of television costuming, including clothes worn by Sonny and Cher, Barry Manilow and Carol Burnett, on their shows and specials.
10 a.m.-4 p.m. (daily, except Sundays). Free. FIDM Museum and Galleries on the Park, 919 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 624-1200, ext. 2224.
Tuesday, July 11
The sound of music drifts through the air, mixing with that signature zoo scent, this evening. The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association kicks off the first of two “Music in the Zoo” nights. Tonight, hear the Masanga Marimba Ensemble of Zimbabwe, the Scottish Wicked Tinkers, the Mediterranean music of Shaya and Rafi and the Irish Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder. Plus, the animals get a later bedtime of 8 p.m. and “Club Med Circus Performers” monkey around.
Tues., July 11 and 25, 6-9 p.m. Free (children 5 and under), $7-$16. Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Park. (323) 644-6042. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Wednesday, July 12
Invisible friends get revenge in “Bunbury: A Serious Play for Trivial People.” The play by Tom Jacobson features the never-seen characters of Bunbury (of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”) and Rosaline (of “Romeo and Juliet”), teaming up to sabotage classic literary works. It is performed at the Skirball Cultural Center, and recorded to air on L.A. Theatre Works’ radio theater series, The Play’s the Thing, which broadcasts weekly on public and satellite radio, including 89.3 KPCC.
8 p.m. (July 12-14), 3 pm. (July 15), 4 p.m. (July 16). $25-$45. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P.,
Thursday, July 13
July gets a little hotter with Stephen Cohen Gallery’s “Summer Skin” exhibition. The group show features nude works, some naughty, some nice, by artists like Diane Arbus, Anthony Friedkin and Horace Bristo. The raciest stuff, by guys like David Levinthal, Larry Clark and Robert Mapplethorpe, can be seen in a separate viewing room.
July 7-Aug. 26. Free. 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-5525.
Friday, July 14
Literature takes center stage with The New Short Fiction Series, a host of evenings in which actors read from a published work of fiction. This year’s first featured writer is author and poet Carol Schwalberg, whose “The Midnight Lover and Other Stories” will be performed, tonight.
8 p.m. $10. Beverly Hills Public Library Auditorium, 444 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-2220.
7 Days in the Arts
Mother and Daughter Authors Are Klass Act
Sheila Solomon Klass and Dr. in Perri Klass — mother and daughter co-authors — don’t finish each other’s sentences, but they do elaborate on them in Talmudic style, layering on comments, memories, opinions and their own interpretations of the same story.
In a kitchen table interview in Sheila’s Washington Heights, N.Y., apartment, the two women talk candidly about their lives and careers — sometimes describing the other and waiting for a correction to be lobbed back — and their new book, “Every Mother Is a Daughter: The Neverending Quest for Success, Inner Peace and a Really Clean Kitchen” (Ballantine).
Perri, 48, is a pediatrician and writer, and Sheila, 78, is an author and teacher of writing. Between them, they’ve written more than 25 books, although this is their first collaboration. The book is told in alternating voices and reads like their live conversation. They share ideas about home, children, writing, relationships and the way their lives overlap and echo. There’s nothing thorny or strained between them, even as they disagree. The book is funny, thoughtful and smart — full of love but avoiding the pitfalls of sentimentality.
“In some ways we spend our lives telling stories about our mothers,” Perri writes, determined to give her mother her say in print.
Among their similarities, Perri points out that both have three children, long marriages to academic men and work that allows time for writing “around the edges.”
“She started out in a completely different place. She invented the whole thing. I was just copying,” the daughter says.
“Perri gives me too much credit,” her mother replies. “I don’t feel I invented this kind of life. I stumbled upon myself.”
Perri is one of the best-known pediatrician-writers in the United States. She gained national attention as a medical student in 1984 when she began contributing to the “Hers” column of The New York Times and published a much-discussed essay in The New York Times Magazine on being pregnant while attending Harvard Medical School. Since then, she has published widely in magazines, ranging from Parenting to Esquire to Knitter’s Magazine (she’s also a serious knitter) and has written nine books of fiction and nonfiction. In addition to her work at a neighborhood health center in Boston, she directs Reach Out and Read, a national program that trains doctors and nurses to stress the importance of reading.
Sheila is the kind of ardent New Yorker who prefers subways to taxis and wanders the streets with confidence — she’s still dazzled by the city where she’s spent most of her life. For more than 40 years she has taught writing at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and she has written 16 novels, including several for young readers and a memoir of her time living in Trinidad, where Perri was born. Her other children are also writers: her son a screenwriter, and her younger daughter a poet, songwriter and English professor.
The book is in many ways a paean to husband and father Morton Klass, an anthropologist who specialized in religion and died suddenly in 2001. Perri says that she so missed hearing his voice and thought that this project would be a way for them to look at their memories from different perspectives. After his death, Perri and Sheila traveled to Trinidad, where they had previously lived in a small wooden hut on stilts while Morton did research for his dissertation — this was a return trip they had hoped to do with him.
While Perri grew up in suburban New Jersey with familial support for all of her pursuits, Sheila grew up very poor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the 1920s, in an unhappy Orthodox home. In order to attend Brooklyn College, she ran away from home and took a live-in baby-sitting job. Sheila never wanted a life like her mother’s, although she later realized that “she who gives you life is never wholly separated from you.”
Perri doesn’t seem so much like a younger version of Sheila, but there’s a direct lifeline between them. It’s perhaps in their habits of home, kitchen and thrift that mother and daughter differ most, and playfully spar. Sheila never leaves a teacup in her sink, perfectly refolds the newspaper whenever she or anyone else puts it down, lives frugally and gets her assignments in early. Perri misses deadlines regularly and spends much of what she makes. Her home is chaotic and, unlike her mother, who served breakfast every morning at a set table, she tries to remind her kids to grab a handful of nuts on their way out of the house. While Perri isn’t allowed to wash a dish in Sheila’s home, Sheila makes sure to wash Perri’s sink full of dishes whenever she visits, in spite of her daughter’s protests. It’s motherly prerogative.
“When I think about strength, I think about my mother,” Perri says. “My mother has always been very reliable in a way that I don’t think I am. I sometimes come home and I say I’m too tired to even think about dinner. Never in my whole life did my mother, who worked all day and had dinner on the table every night, say she was too tired.”
“Only because I didn’t know I was allowed,” Sheila remarks.
The book ends in India, another return trip for the intrepid pair. Perri makes the plans, adding a few luxuries her mother would ordinarily eschew. The final scene is one of mother-daughter mischief, as they view the Taj Mahal at night.
Perri is about to become a New Yorker. She and her husband, a professor of history, are joining the New York University faculty. Along with an appointment at the medical school, she’ll also teach in the journalism school.
As for Sheila, who has some trouble with her vision and hearing, she’s grateful every day for the gifts of her life. Moving back to Manhattan after her kids left home was like returning from exile. She offers her own mantra: “Let it be known that she never took a cab of her own free will.”
For Journal readers who will be in the New York region, there will be a Mother’s Day event, celebrating mothers and daughters, co-sponsored by The Jewish Week and the UJA-Federation of New York. It will feature a conversation with Dr. Perri Klass and Sheila Solomon Klass – moderated by Sandee Brawarsky and hosted by JCC Mid-Westchester. The dialogue will be followed by a book signing and light refreshments. It takes place Monday, May 15, from 7:30 to 9 p.m., JCC Mid-Westchester, 999 Wilmot Road, Scarsdale. The event is free but reservations are required. Contact Tia Disick, (212) 921-7822 x237, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandee Brawarsky is book critic for The Jewish Week.
This Week – Mission Impossible
We stand guilty as charged — and we are proud of it.
David Klinghoffer correctly notes (“In Defense of Jack Abramoff,” Jan. 27) that Orthodox writers — left, right, and center — expressed their embarrassment about Jack Abramoff’s behavior. Jews are meant to be exemplars of God’s teaching. When they get it wrong, the Divine Name itself is desecrated. If the rest of the community fails to speak out — with a communal “Not in Our Name” — they are seen, with some justice, as being complicit.
Klinghoffer is right that Abramoff — the person — should not be abandoned or distanced. It is the behavior that needs the public criticism, not the person. We should feel for his tragedy, and wish him well.
He is wrong about other issues. Unanimous court verdicts are perfectly acceptable in a Jewish court, except in capital cases. Abramoff’s repentance does not change the need to distance ourselves from the original misdeeds for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that repentance before God is ineffective in sins between Man and Man. Mitigating Abramoff’s behavior with a Robin Hood defense is a worse error. It is precisely because so many people feel that they can take ethical shortcuts for a “higher” purpose that we need to remind ourselves and the world that this is unacceptable.
While I didn’t claim to know what Abramoff was actually thinking when he wore the hat (I was trying to put a more positive spin on his behavior, something I recall that Klinghoffer elsewhere in his piece suggest we all do), I do have a pretty good idea of what I wrote and thought. I did not suggest that returnees are more likely to have character flaws than those born into observance. My life’s work with returnees to Jewish tradition and my regard for them are a matter of record [at www.cross-currents.com], including my belief that many show up at the gates of observance with better character traits than those who preceded them since childhood.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Sydney M Irmas Chair, Jewish Law and Ethics
Loyola Law School
David Klinghoffer’s article on Jack Abramoff was so full of lies, distortions, half truths and illogic that it should win the first annual James Frey award for deception in Jewish journalism.
According to The New York Times (Jan. 10), Abramoff has expressed contritions to some, while “in conversations with people he considers sympathetic, he has insisted that his practices were Washington business as usual.”
Klinghoffer said Abramoff’s confession was “not a stark and true representation of crimes committed” but a confession squeezed by a plea bargain. But The New York Times also reported that Abramoff “recounted in detail” his crimes to prosecutors. Is Klinghoffer implying that Abramoff is now compounding his crimes by committing perjury during the testimony required in his plea agreement?
Finally, the Klinghoffer/Abramoff team can’t even get its spin straight on the “fedora issue.” Abramoff told Klinghoffer it was just a “a crushable rain hat.” But The Forward (Jan. 6) reported that Abramoff purchased the fedora from Bencraft Hatters, a Brooklyn-based haberdasher, for $200. A quick look at The Jewish Journal cover or many of the other photos of that day show clearly that was no “crushable rain hat”
Hmmm, doesn’t inspire confidence as to the rest of the article does it? It would take an hour of Oprahlike dissection of Klinghoffer’s piece to do it justice.
Perhaps The Jewish Journal should publish future articles by Mr. Klinghoffer in its fiction section.
I am ashamed that The Jewish Journal not only carries [David] Klinghoffer, but that you allow such anti-Jewish hogwash when he spouts about the crook, [Jack]Abramoff. There is no question that Klinghoffer is spouting his Republican right-wing apology for Abramoff and does it in the name of Judaism. That is too much.
Abramoff stole money from Indian tribes, used the money to support his own style of life and has created a crisis in government in Washington through his using such money to buy Tom DeLay and Bob Ney. He created false organizations, including Jewish ones, hired wives and daughters of congressmen who did nothing but rake in money from him. Then has the chutzpah to want sympathy as a poor Jew in a black hat, and Klinghoffer supports him.
It is not bad enough that he has pleaded guilty to multiple crimes, but he has demeaned the good works of Jews in this country. Abramoff deserves nothing less than a prison term, a loss of citizenship and for my part, the use of RICO [Act] to take all of his possessions that he acquired. He is and has been an evil man, who has helped to destroy democracy.
How Klinghoffer can have the guts to absolve him and accuse other Jews of turning against Abramoff is totally beyond me. I would say the same whether Abramoff was a Democrat or a Christian. The fact that he was Jewish only offends me more. It means that he learned nothing from his religion.
The less said about your whitewashing this man due to his “good deeds” the better.
There is good reason to be critical of [Jack] Abramoff.
Anti-Semites throughout the United States will point to him as an example of the corrupting influence of Jews in the United States. What happens in the United States is reported throughout the world; so this will effect the greater Diaspora.
This is just something else that militant Islamic extremists will point out to their children as to why Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth.
Michael L. Stempel
We thank David Klinghoffer for his thoughtful article regarding the dreadful way many in the Jewish community have behaved toward Jack Abramoff.
Elaine and Robert Leichter
THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: email@example.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684
Laemmle Theater, Fallbrook Mall, Vanowen & Fallbrook, West Hills.
Hitler and the ‘What If?’ Question
“The World Hitler Never Made,” by Gavriel Rosenfeld (Cambridge University Press, $30).
In 1979, comedian Al Franken wrote a skit for “Saturday Night Live” called “What if: Überman,” featuring Dan Aykroyd as Klaus Kent, a clerk in Hitler’s Ministry of Propaganda. Klaus dashes into phone booths to become Überman, uses his X-ray vision to detect bombs and to reveal Jews by looking through their pants, and ultimately leads his country to victory. The Nazi organ Der Daily Planet reports, “Überman Takes Stalingrad in 5 Minutes: Diverts Volga,” and “Überman Rounds Up Two Million Jews: Total Past 6 Million.”
This is undoubtedly one of the more outrageous examples, but since 1945, more than 100 authors and screenwriters in Europe and America have asked the same “what if” questions: How would the world look if the Nazis had won? If the Holocaust had never happened? The theme has attracted some of the finest minds in Anglo-American letters. Philip Roth’s latest best seller, for example, “The Plot Against America” (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) imagines an alternate past where U.S. President Charles Lindbergh signs neutrality pacts with Germany and Japan in 1940 and forcibly resettles the country’s Jews to the rural Midwest.
These scenarios, known as “allohistory,” or alternate history, are the objects of Gavriel Rosenfeld’s careful study, “The World Hitler Never Made.” The Fairfield College professor has analyzed every artifact of “what if” speculation on the Nazi era he could unearth, from celebrated sci-fi novels such as Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle,” to obscure “Twilight Zone” episodes, to fiction that one might describe politely as complete schlock (read: Newt Gingrich’s co-written flop of a novel, “1945,” about a Nazi victory over the Soviet Union; the book was so unsuccessful that most of its unsold copies ended up pulped one year after its publication in 1995).
Rosenfeld admits that the works are of “uneven literary quality” — but that is precisely the point. While most academic studies of literary representations of the Nazi era and the Holocaust focus on “high” art and literature, Rosenfeld’s aims to study the images of Nazism that proliferate in popular culture. Whether they intend to or not, speculations about the “what ifs” of Nazi history offer good evidence of our memory of the actual events.
What he discovers is a not altogether shocking but nonetheless worrisome trend: As the 1930s and ’40s recede further into the past, authors are taking more and more liberties with their portrayals of Nazism — and readers are responding. From the end of the war to the mid-1960s, allohistorical works in the English language depicted the Nazis as uniquely evil and portrayed an imaginary Nazi occupation of England and America as straightforwardly dystopic. Since then, he argues, alternate histories reveal an increasingly “normalized” memory of the Nazi era and even of the Holocaust. That is, recent works are less likely to represent Nazis as purely evil and the Allies as purely valiant.
In the postwar period, the allohistorical imagination conjured up what can only be called absolute nightmares of a Nazi future. In 1947, Noël Coward wrote a play sarcastically titled “Peace in Our Times,” set in Nazi-occupied London from 1940 to 1945. The story’s protagonists wage a noble war of resistance against a brutal Gestapo official, who avers that it is Germany’s “destiny to rule the world,” while Britons who preached appeasement in the 1930s end up collaborating with their persecutors. John Wall’s “The Sound of His Horn” (1952), set in the Nazi calendar year 102 — a century after the “First Fuehrer and Immortal Spirit of Germanism,” Adolf Hitler’s victory over Europe — emphasized the brutality of a would-be Nazi-ruled continent. Science fiction author Cyril Kornbluth published a short story in 1958 titled “Two Dooms,” in which an American nuclear scientist eats hallucinogenic mushrooms that make him imagine a German-occupied America where extermination camps have been set up outside Chicago. In all, Nazis were painted as unparalleled in their wickedness.
But, Rosenfeld notes, in the mid-1960s authors started writing alternate histories of Nazism differently. For example, at the dawn of “a more pessimistic mood within postwar British society,” the genre was used to break down national myths instead of reinforcing them, beginning in 1964 with Giles Cooper’s “The Other Man” and the 1966 film “It Happened Here.” These works, Rosenfeld writes, “blurred the line between the British and the Germans, depicting both as mired in the same immoral world” by focusing on the possibility of British collaboration.
In the United States, disillusion with the Vietnam War inspired revisionist portrayals of America’s war against the Nazis. In 1972, the political scientist Bruce Russett published “No Clear and Present Danger: A Skeptical View of the United States Entry Into World War II,” an analysis of “might-have-beens” in World War II. Claiming that Americans might have been better off had they never entered the war, Russett relativized Nazism’s evils by insisting that “Nazism as an ideology was almost certainly less dangerous to the United States” than communism. He criticized American intervention in Vietnam by contesting the historical necessity of intervention in Europe.
This trend becomes even more pronounced by the beginning of the 1990s, by which time Robert Harris could crack the international best-seller list with his novel “Fatherland” (1992), featuring a humanized and even honorable Nazi as its protagonist. Recent novels about the Holocaust, such as Daniel Quinn’s “After Dachau” (2001) — however noble their intentions — have undermined the Holocaust’s uniqueness by using it to draw attention to other genocides, reflecting what Rosenfeld regrets to call “the erosion of prior moral perspectives” to the Holocaust and the Nazi era in general.
In the end, Rosenfeld has mixed feelings about alternate histories. On one hand, he recognizes their capacity for critique, but he also worries they can distort or divert our attention away from real history. It is clear, however, that Rosenfeld’s book is not so much a contribution to literary criticism — in which it is at times lacking — as much as to a larger debate over the portrayal of Nazism.
“Humanizing Hitler may in fact eliminate him from our nightmares, but it may also diminish his place in popular awareness altogether,” he writes. “Only as long as the dictator continues to haunt us are we likely to continue studying, reflecting upon, and drawing historical lessons from, the Third Reich’s destructive legacy.”
Rosenfeld might be exaggerating the extent to which our culture is “forgetting” the evils of Nazism, but his warning is well taken.
Article courtesy The Forward.
Noah Strote writes on Jewish and European history. He lives in Berkeley.
7 Days in The Arts
No Religious Bias in Racy ‘Bodice Rippers’
Fess up or don’t, a lot of us are reading romance novels — otherwise known as “bodice rippers.” The numbers speak for themselves, accounting for 48 percent of all popular paperback fiction published, according to the Web site of the Romance Writers of America.
And that “us” includes more than a few Jews.
While there are no statistics to prove it, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Typing “Jewish romance novel” into Google calls up dozens of bodice rippers featuring Jewish themes or characters, and not all published by small presses. And since publishers make their decisions based solely on a manuscript’s marketability, the romance novel industry is as democratic as it gets. Bottom line, these Jewish-themed books are getting published because editors know there are readers who will buy them.
Just who these readers are is hard to say, according to Mark Shechner, professor of English at State University of New York at Buffalo and co-editor of “Jewish Writing and the Deep Places of the Imagination” (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). Jewish-themed pulp fiction is prevalent and has a loyal following, it’s just not singled out in reviews, Shechner said.
“There are even writers of Chasidic romance fiction, like Pearl Abraham, author of ‘Romance Reader,'” he noted.
Recently published Jewish-themed romances include Persian Jewish writer Dora Levy Mossanen’s “Harem,” and her 2005 follow-up, “Courtesan”; Australian Jewish author and screenwriter Tobsha Learner’s “The Witch of Cologne,” and Southern Jewish writer Loraine Despres’ “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell.”
The list goes on, with titles also including works that seem to be a part of an emerging genre fondly termed “biblical bodice rippers” by Abigail Yasgur, executive librarian at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.
Anita Diamant’s 1998 best seller, “The Red Tent,” a fictional retelling of the biblical story of Dinah, seems to have set off the trend. Two recent releases include Eva Etzion Halevy’s “The Song of Hannah” and Rebeca Kohn’s “The Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther,” which both came out in the last two years.
A Jewish tradition of romance writing may help account for this trend, Shechner said. “The earliest Yiddish writing we have is from the early 16th century, ‘Bovo of Antona,’ a Yiddish translation of the Anglo-Norman romantic epic.” Moreover, “there were courtly romances with names like ‘Pariz un Vyene’ (Paris and Vienna). There were early translations of Arthurian tales into Yiddish — very early.”
And while the genre is easy to mock, consider this before you do. Shechner believes that the Jewish culture has an intrinsic relationship with romance.
“Maybe after all, romance is one of the authentic undercurrents of the Jewish imagination,” he said. “Isn’t romance the underside of piety, the negative, the shadow, the suppressed yearning that follows duty and restraint around? That is how I look at it.”
Three Romance Books Follow Novel Paths
“The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell” by Loraine Despres (Willaim Morrow, $23.95).
Incorrigible Belle Cantrell can’t seem to help being bad — or is it just that she’s ahead of her time? Women combating social repression are a common theme of historical romance fiction, and “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell” is no exception.
The protagonist of Loraine Despres’ latest book lives in 1920s Louisiana, and whether it’s fighting for women’s suffrage or against the Ku Klux Klan, this Scarlett O’Hara with a sex drive always seems to be getting herself into trouble.
It doesn’t help that she’s fallen for a handsome Jewish Yankee with a wife back in Chicago.
Spitfire Southern girls and genteel Jewish men seem to be Despres’ specialty, having written for television shows like “Dynasty” and “Dallas” — including penning the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” episode. Despres is currently a producer living in Los Angeles, as well as a romance writer.
In 2002, she published her novel, “The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc,” and has followed it up this year with a prequel, “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell.” Both feature Christian Southern belles with affections for Jewish men.
But while the protagonist of Despres’ “Bad Behavior” may seem a bit of the Southern girl cliche, the book’s sexy love scenes aren’t too purple and should leave regular romance readers satisfied. So will a host of other kooky characters and a happily-ever-after ending.
“The Witch of Cologne” by Tobsha Learner (Forge, $14.95).
Interfaith love sits at the heart of Tobsha Learner’s dark historical romance epic, “The Witch of Cologne.” The starkness of mid-1600s Germany is brought into focus through the eyes of Ruth Bas Elazar Saul, a learned midwife and the daughter of the chief rabbi of the Jewish quarter of Deutz.
At 23, Ruth is still unwed, after running away to Amsterdam to escape having to marry a man she did not love. Ruth’s rebellious nature also leads her to study Kabbalah and modern birthing techniques in Amsterdam.
However, her inability to live a quiet life, coupled with her maternal family’s unfortunate history with an evil Spanish friar who has since become an inquisitor under the Inquisitor-General Pascual de Arragon, puts Ruth face to face with the Inquisition.
This chain of events will bring Ruth face to face with true love — in the form of nobleman and Christian canon Detlef von Tennen — and, ultimately, her greatest tragedy, as well.
As defined by the Romance Writers of America’s Web site, this story isn’t considered a romance: “In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.”
But apparently, emotional justice isn’t to be had in 17th century Cologne. Still, considering this book remains in good company with other “nonromances” like the film, “Titanic,” and the book, “The Bridges of Madison County,” we feel fine including it just the same.
Moreover, readers who enjoy hints of magic and circles of political intrigue woven through their romances will be pleased with this choice.
“Courtesan” by Dora Levy Mossanen (Touchstone, $14).
The exotic lives of Parisian courtesans in the Belle Epoque provide the backdrop for Persian Jewish author Dora Levy Mossanen’s latest novel, aptly and simply titled, “Courtesan.”
Mossanen’s protagonist, Simone, is yet another headstrong girl. But what’s a girl to rebel against when she has been raised in a brothel by her famous grandmother, the courtesan Gabrielle?
Simone’s best way to defy her grandmother, and the mother who followed in her footsteps, is to embrace what her grandmother rejected, namely a Jewish upbringing and a more conventional life.
Simone chooses to follow love, rather than follow their ways. And so she does, all the way to Persia, where she marries Cyrus, a Persian Jew and the shah’s jeweler. But that is just where Simone’s adventure begins, eventually taking her back to Paris and to the diamond mines of Africa.
While certainly lighter than “The Witch of Cologne,” “Courtesan,” to its credit, also does not provide the formulaic happy ending. However, its flowery prose is occasionally too much, and Mossanen’s tendency to imbue her women’s sexuality with supernatural qualities can seem silly at times.
Still, it is refreshing to find a romance that does not rely on its characters’ opposing religions to provide the story’s major obstacle.
The Hit Man Who Came to Dinner
‘Love With Noodles’ Rife With Canoodles
“Love With Noodles” by Harry I. Freund (Carroll & Graff, $25).
Consider the curious case of Dan Gelder: 60 years old, Jewish, paunchy, bad back. Yet it seems every bejeweled Park Avenue matron is after the investment counselor for love, for money or maybe for just a quick roll in the hay.
That’s the cute and quirky premise of “Love With Noodles,” the debut novel by 65-year-old Park Avenue investment counselor Harry I. Freund. The novel’s subtitle is, “An Amorous Widower’s Tale,” and just how true to life it is, we may never know. But whether or not art imitated life is irrelevant, especially when the ride is as much fun as “Love With Noodles.”
What Freund sorely lacks in literary style, he more than makes up with heart and humor.
Narrated in the first person, present tense (always risky), “Love With Noodles” follows Gelder’s canoodling with a string of women who enter his life just as he emerges from mourning his late beshert, Ellen. Gelder lives alone. His grown son, Eric, faces financial ruin. What’s worse, Eric is planning to marry a non-Jew.
Though all Jewish, Gelder’s women vary widely — from Charlotte, the wife of a friend off on a gay fling, to Maya, a Palestinian rights activist with a knack for lovemaking so vigorous it puts her partners in traction.
He nearly finds beshert No. 2 in Violet, a stinking-rich widow who loves adventure, diamonds and sticking it to those she detests. Gelder nearly steals her heart, and the two are off to Israel to visit Violet’s Orthodox daughter.
But soon, Gelder meets Tatiana, a 43-year-old Ukrainian widow with a 9-year-old piano prodigy son. She is gorgeous, lonely and seemingly angelic. Gelder falls for her hard. But does she love him for who he is or for his bank account?
The last third of the novel chronicles Gelder’s efforts to weed out all the meaningless sexual encounters and settle on choosing between the women that matter: Violet and Tatania. How about both?
Freund has trouble setting the tone of his story. Is it farce? Comedy of manners? Social satire? He isn’t sure, and that trips up his writing.
Moreover, though the book is filled with sex scenes, Gelder/Freund approaches them so gingerly, so squeamishly, they end up less than erotic. One almost feels embarrassed for the author, who doesn’t seem to want to shine a light into the bedroom.
As with many first-person narratives, the main character/narrator is often the most poorly drawn. That is the central problem with “Love With Noodles,” as Gelder ends up frustratingly two-dimensional. A novelist is required to reveal characters, not cover for them.
However, the women are delightful, especially Violet. She has all the color and brashness of a Tennessee Williams heroine. If they ever make a movie adaptation of this book, the Shirley McClaines and Meryl Streeps of the world will be fighting for the part.
There’s plenty of Jewish content here, from the pair of Orthodox Jewish weddings, to Gelder’s anguish over his son’s intermarriage, to the sojourn across Israel.
Like all good fiction, “Love With Noodles” expands its borders beyond the parochial. Anyone past the halfway point of life, hurtling forward with unease, will see something of himself in Gelder, paunch or no paunch.
Freund has a long way to go if he wants to join the ranks of great American novelists. But if there was a Pulitzer Prize for understanding the subtleties of life, Freund would have his on the mantel by now.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
First Person – Documenting Hate
In late fall of 1999, I wrote a short story, “Summertime,” which I eventually included in my collection, “Assumption and Other
Stories” (Bilingual Press, 2003).
When the book reviews started coming in, most noted that particular story’s unsettling premise. But what fascinated me more was the response I received via e-mail or in person from family, friends and strangers alike. More on that later.
“Summertime” begins benignly enough. The first section of the story has the heading, “6:53 a.m.,” and we encounter a married couple having difficulty getting their young son ready for summer day camp. Claudio Ramírez and Lois Cohen obviously love their son, Jon, but as with most parents who must get to work, mornings can be a bit frustrating. Jon eventually gets dressed, fed and trundled off to Claudio’s car for the ride to camp. The next section is titled, “7:39 a.m.,” and we switch to a dusty, small hotel room where we meet a sleeping man named Clem whose “head looked like a pot roast as it lay nestled heavily on the over-bleached pillowcase.” Clem wakes to begin his day. Clem is from Oregon and has driven to Southern California on a mission.
The story moves along, switching between the Ramírez-Cohen family and Clem. We eventually learn that Clem’s “mission” is to perpetrate a hate crime. He eventually settles on the Jewish day camp that Jon attends. I paint Clem as an average person who feels belittled by the world and who hopes to have a “big day” that will put his face in every newspaper and on TV. He is no evil genius. But the evil he perpetrates is as harrowing and real as any better-planned hate crime.
To this I wrote the story after we experienced the horror of Buford Furrow’s
attack at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (JCC), on Aug. 12, 1999. Furrow, a self-described white separatist, shot and wounded three children, a counselor and the receptionist at the JCC. That same day, he murdered a Philippines-born postal worker, Joseph Santos Ileto. Furrow admitted to wanting to kill Jews. He also stated that Ileto was “a good ‘target of opportunity’ to kill because he was ‘non-white and worked for the federal government,'” according to then-U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas.
For almost four hours that hot, horrible day, my wife and I didn’t know if our 9-year-old son, Benjamin, had been a victim. We huddled together with my mother-in-law outside the camp waiting for word. Unfortunately, because the police were concerned that the shooter or shooters were still in the vicinity, the children who had not been wounded had been whisked off to a safe house. A rumor ran through the crowd that a boy named Benjamin had been shot and killed. The agony ended only when, eventually, we were reunited with our son.
Frankly, I’m having difficulty writing these words because the memories are coming back, full and clear. But that’s one reason I wrote “Summertime.” I wanted to use fiction to remind others that ordinary people living in today’s world can be the target of hate crimes. And I also wanted readers to understand how easily hate-filled doctrines can be appropriated and acted upon by an “average” person.
Now back to the various responses to “Summertime.” Most readers — particularly those who know my family — knew that Clem was based on Furrow. But several other readers had never heard of Furrow’s attack on the JCC or his murder of Ileto. Those readers (most of whom do not live in California and who are not Jewish) expressed shock when I mentioned that the story was based on our own experience that day in August. And I expressed shock that they had not heard of the incident, particularly since it had received extensive (if not worldwide) news coverage. But this confirmed my conviction that writing about hate — even if fictionalized in a short story — can indeed educate the public about how easy it is for a person to become a Buford Furrow.
When I started writing fiction in 1998, I didn’t feel that I had the moral authority to write about anti-Semitism. Though I had converted to Judaism 10 years earlier, my experience with bigotry was based on my ethnic identity as a Chicano. But after Aug. 12, 1999, I earned the right to talk about one particular act of hate against Jews. I will go further: I now have the duty to remind others of what Furrow did that day. Why? Because if we forget, we help create a climate where it could happen again and the Furrows of the world will have won. And I don’t intend to be responsible for that.
Daniel A. Olivas (
Not-So-Nice Jewish Boy
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“The King’s Persons” by Joanne Greenberg. (Henry Holt, 1963).
It is 1963. I am a 12-year-old ignoramus.
I am wandering around in a used bookstore in Brooklyn. I see a paperback with a lion and Magen David on the cover. A Jewish book! I inhale books, especially novels and I’m always looking for something to read on the long Shabbos afternoons.
I plunk down 25 cents for the book.
Twenty-five cents has irrevocably changed my life.
This was Joanne Greenberg’s first novel. She gained some fame and a spot on the best-seller list a few years later with “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” Practically everyone I know has read “Rose Garden” or seen the movie. I have never ever met one person who has read, much less heard of “The King’s Persons.”
In the Christian year of 1182, Jews held a unique position in English society. Forbidden to own property, they were “the king’s persons,” whose lives were under his protection, and whose fate and fortune belonged to him and him alone. To support themselves, therefore, many Jews turned to moneylending, which was illegal but tolerated by the king for its contribution to the national economy. And indeed, for a short while this arrangement worked well; in York, Christians and Jews lived together harmoniously. When economic conditions began to deteriorate, the already overtaxed Christian nobles looked for a scapegoat. On the coronation day of Richard the Lion-Hearted, the London crowd erupted in mass attacks on Jews, which spread rapidly northward and culminated in the massacres at York.
Against this richly evoked background, the author, at the height of her powers, portrays the experiences of everyday people of the time: Baruch of York, the Jewish moneylender; his sensitive and questioning son, Abram, in love with their Christian servant, Bett; and the young monk Simon, Abram’s best friend. The lives of Christian and Jew alike are twisted and changed, and we come to understand the myriad subtle forces at work as we see neighbor rise against neighbor in an irrational onslaught of hate. But what is most powerful, apart from the historic drama, is the elegant manner in which the author exposes the motives of the human heart with such insight that only compassion and sorrow are left.
Since childhood I have been a voracious reader, but no book has ever captured my imagination like this powerful and beautifully written novel. The fiction that is championed by the intellectual elite never spoke to me. I read Philip Roth, Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow. Mysteriously, they are labeled Jewish novelists, but I feel nothing genuinely Jewish in their work. All I sense is an ugly nihilism that has nothing to do with the Judaism as I live and experience it; these are fashionable novelists who are blind to the rich and multilayered Yiddishkayt that has flourished in my America. Their work is stylish and so very polished — but at the core it is void of any authentic Jewish spark.
Even now, as I read “The King’s Persons” I weep for Bett, perhaps the most vividly etched character in the book. A Christian child, she is sold by her blunt peasant parents as a kitchen maid to Baruch of York’s family. Over the years, she has learned to read and write Hebrew in a society where most women are illiterate. So thoroughly has Bett been saturated in the laws, customs, thoughts and feelings of her Jewish family that no Christian man will marry her. She is alienated from her own parents. They sense that she is … different. Living with Jews has made her too fine, too smart and too verbal.
“Bett,” says her confused father, “ye thinks too much for a common female.”
And, finally, when the king proclaims that no Christian will be allowed to work for a Jew, Bett realizes that the world no longer holds a place for her.
“Perhaps I, too, must be afraid,” she said.
Faithfully, I sit down once a year and read “The King’s Persons.” I still have the same dog-eared paperback that I bought for 25 cents. I do not so much read the words as breathe them in. I continue to marvel at the perfection of language, the totality of vision. I read the novel and I look around and I understand that this book, this story, these fully realized characters changed the course of my life. And just as surely as I am who I am because of who my parents are, because of who my wife and children are — I am a screenwriter and a novelist — because more than 40 years ago, “The King’s Person’s” gripped my soul, set my heart and mind aflame, and allowed me to follow a path that otherwise I never would have imagined.
Robert J. Avrech is an Emmy award-winning screenwriter. His first novel, “The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden” will be published by Seraphic Press for Chanukah. Photo of Robert Avrech by Hallie Lerman