Pain and Pleasure and Guilt, Oh My!


Late last Saturday night, a thin strip of indoor/outdoor red carpet led from the parking lot of the Magic Castle in Hollywood to a small, close-ceiling function roombehind the glamorous house of tricks.

Inside, 100 or so young Jews gathered to celebrate the third issue of Guilt & Pleasure, a literary quarterly out of New York whose first issue featured a cover photograph of a border collie smoking a cigarette. Stacks of the summer 2006 issue lay about, but it was too dark in the small, nightclub-like space to read anything but the turquoise-colored title: “The Magic Issue.”

A bar anchored the back of the narrow room, featuring no-host, all-you-can-afford $10.50 cocktails, and several rows of folding chairs faced a teensy stage.

The young man next to me, a writer with darkly alert eyes and a sardonic smile, said the magazine serves a young, hip, intellectual Jewish audience “not quite being served” by Heeb, another magazine out of New York.

It seems to me the distinction is perhaps the Gen Y equivalent of the differences among the AJCommittee, AJCongress and the ADL — that is to say, indecipherable to outsiders. As near as I can tell, both publications are aimed at young Jewish men with darkly alert eyes and sardonic smiles, and the women who hope to marry them.

All around me were plenty of examples of both: dressed up (the Magic Castle has a coat-and-tie policy, even in its dungeon), animated and about as cool as Jews who aren’t Leonard Cohen can possibly be.

The emcees, Jill Soloway and Jessica Chaffin, took the stage, having won the thankless job of trying to figure out exactly what kind of Jewish jokes would make these particular Jews laugh. Both were trying hard for laughs, which of course is the death of cool.

They brought on the magician, Andrew Goldenhersh, who looks like Rasputin but otherwise seemed very nice. He held two raw eggs, had volunteers strap him into a straight jacket, and said he would wrestle his way out without cracking the eggs. When he had freed himself, he reached inside the white coat and pulled out two fully alive chickens.

It was brilliant, but that’s not magic, of course; that’s tricks.Out came a contributor to the issue, Gregor Ehrlich, who read his essay on how his life has intersected with the lives of various chickens. After a few very dry, very sardonic minutes, a heckler called out, “What’s this about?”

“It’s about chickens,” Ehrlich said — unflappable — and continued.

Indeed, what is it about?

Ever since national studies back in the 1990s showed a marked decline in the numbers of young Jews affiliated with Jewish life, along with a rise in intermarriage rates, Jewish professionals and the foundations they hit up have made it a priority to captivate this precious demographic — aka, the future of our people.

No one knows what works, so everything gets a try. Salons? Here’s a couple grand. Yiddish rappers? Here’s another thou. Leadership seminars in a snowy resort town? Here’s $100K.

Both Guilt & Pleasure and Heeb are nonprofit publications that required substantial donations to get them going and keep them afloat. The former distributes 20,000 copies of a 154-page, four-color journal on heavy stock. That’s a lot of cholent for the poor. Heeb received its tens of thousands from foundations established by Andrea and Charles Bronfman and Steven Spielberg, and G & P has tapped many of the same resources. The idea is that publications will reach and give voice to a generation of Jews otherwise cut off from their roots, thus drawing them back to the fold.

They cost a lot. But do they work?

There is no hard evidence. But the media echoes Heeb produces make Judaism palatably hip to the youth market, at a time when Israel, that other noticeably Jewish product, has been less than beloved by college kids. And every Jewish generation needs a safe place for its intellectuals to play among themselves, whether it was the original Yiddish Forverts or Commentary, Lillith or G&P.Back at the Magic Castle, the comedians finally took hold of the night.

Jeffrey Ross, a standard fixture at celebrity roasts and my favorite un-famous comic, got up and killed. He insulted the venue — “I had to put on a tie for this s—hole?” — insulted the organizers and insulted the audience.

When he called the cheeky Times columnist Joel Stein “just like Tom Wolfe, but without the talent,” some in the audience gasped at the audacity, because Stein, like Jon Stewart, is Jewish hipster royalty — the court jester with mainstream media exposure. Plus Stein was sitting in the front row. (No worries, he has a sense of humor.)

Ross got big laughs with well-told Jewish jokes. “The other night my girlfriend and I rented a Jewish porn movie,” he deadpanned. “It was called, ‘I Don’t Do That’ … which I think was a remake of ‘Eeeew.'”

Rewind 40 years, clean it all up a bit and you’re back in the Catskills.Same with the next comedian, Jeff Garlin. The co-star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” turned out to be a real Falstaff in the faux-English venue, one-upping Ross in viciously insulting the hosts, the Castle, the audience, then improvising a set that ranged from anti-Semites trying out their accents to comedian Dane Cook.As I left, an embarrassed magazine promoter pulled me aside. “Write about the magazine,” he said, “not the evening.”

OK: Guilt & Pleasure is good, often very good, and the magic issue is its best.But the evening wasn’t all bad, either.

What seemed to work was what Ross and Garlin did, which, really, was the stuff that worked for Mason and Rickles and Groucho, and no doubt for generations of tummlers and badchanim before them. Insults. Self-deprecating humor. Mockery. Screwing with the status quo, even when the status quo are hip Jews who think they’re the ones screwing with the status quo.

Every generation of Jews thinks it is the revolutionary one, the one that will upturn the traditions and set the old ways. But we are a people with a long, valued tradition of invective and obstreperousness. This week’s Torah portion makes a point of singling out the wayward son for punishment, but centuries of rabbis afterward found a way to soften the harsh decree, and bring him into the fold.

The strength of Jewish culture is its ability not just to give birth to its own critics, rebels and jesters, but to set an honored place for them at the table. To think there is a status quo that Jews will not attack, or to think any one generation is the first to attack it — now, that’s illusion. l

Proud to Have Guilt


Once Mireille Silcoff had been hired to edit a new quarterly Jewish magazine for young people, she needed to give it a name.

“At one point I just started asking people, ‘What are the first things you think of when you think about your Jewishness?'” Silcoff recalled. “You can’t imagine how many times ‘guilt’ came up. And ‘pleasure’ came up enough to be interesting.”

Guilt & Pleasure — “A magazine for Jews and the people who love them” — hit newsstands across North America last month, offering readers content ranging from long-form essays and memoirs to fiction, comics, photography and archival material.

The magazine aims not only to inform and entertain, its creators say, but to get Jews talking about issues they think ought to be more fully explored.

Each issue of Guilt & Pleasure will revolve around a theme. The first, called “Home & Away,” will examine issues of “place and identity and the nexus between them,” publisher Roger Bennett said. It includes original contributions from novelists Gary Shteyngart, Lara Vapnyar and Etgar Keret as well as graphic artist Ben Katchor. The second issue will look at fights and battles; the third will be about magic.

Each edition will be connected to interactive Web-based discussion guides.

As a “strong proponent” of secular Jewish culture, Shteyngart — who wrote the best-selling “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook” — says typical Jewish newspapers, emanating from a “very organized community basis,” don’t speak to him. Guilt & Pleasure, which he called a Jewish Paris Review, does.

“For as long as there have been Jews in America, there have been Jewish secular cultural enterprises,” he said.

Still, he sometimes wonders what, if anything, binds non-religious Jews.

“What among secular Jews makes us a community? Are we a community? I don’t have an answer for that,” he said.

But he’s hoping Guilt & Pleasure will spur some discussion on the topic.

For more information, visit

Say Hello to a Sane ‘Goodbye’ Brunch


The wedding was beautiful. Everything went off without a hitch. Now it’s time for the farewell finale — the "Goodbye, it’s been great to see you, thanks so much for coming" Sunday brunch.

Your mishpacha may have traveled from around the world to attend this wedding, and because it’s rare that they’re gathered all together for the entire weekend, it’s your pleasure to send them off well fed.

Ironically, this casual assembly — when everyone’s outfits and hairdos (to say nothing of their sense of humor) are a bit droopy — can be the most upbeat, emotionally intimate happening of the entire weekend.

When folks keep bumping into each other at one of the happiest events in a Jewish family’s life, friendships are forged, long-lost cousins have kissed and pledged an eternity of e-mails; maybe there’s even a shiddach or two in the offing.

This is the time when people want to linger — even though they’ve got to hurry. Suddenly everyone is aware the magic they’re feeling comes and goes in the blink of an eye.

Food For Thought

Make sure to include a separate invitation to the brunch, as well as all other events, with your wedding invitation. A clear map will make everyone happy. Invite guests for a flexible time, open house, giving them space to relax or pack before coming over. Do not run out of food so stragglers are greeted by an empty table.

Give guests a "bracelet" (purchased at a party store) or colored ribbon to put on their glass or coffee mugs so they won’t get them mixed up. Since people will be grazing, use luncheon-size paper napkins instead of cloth. The only silverware you will need on the table is forks.

Let There Be Lightness

Since you’ve done the formal and traditional, now is the time to get whimsical: kick back, take off your shoes and thank yourself for the memories you’ve created. Decorate your living room with a banner: "Thanks for the Memories." "Perseverance is Healthy for Parents of the Bride and Other Living Things."

Create a fanciful centerpiece for the table. Include props from the wedding — extra invitations, wedding books, photos of your daughter growing up. Make original bouquets of bright flowers such as daisies or daffodils sticking out of oatmeal boxes. Take an egg carton; place a small amount of dirt in each of the 12 holders, then put a tiny, flowering plant in each one. Line up containers of seasonal flowering plants and invite guests to take them home.

Fruit and Nut Granola

Store granola in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

4 cups assorted flakes (oat, wheat, rye, triticale, millet)

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup dark molasses

1/4 cup canola or safflower oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup wheat germ

1/2 cup wheat or rice bran

1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

3/4 cup raisins or mixture of dried cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, pineapple

Mix flakes with honey, molasses, oil and salt. Spread thinly on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 300F, until lightly browned. Stir frequently while baking to prevent burning. Remove from oven. Mix in wheat germ, almonds, seeds, raisins and dried fruit. Serve with fresh fruit, yogurt and milk.

Makes 4 cups

Scrambled Eggs Topped With

Tomato and Basil

8 large, firm tomatoes, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

2 cups basil, sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil or more, as needed for sautéing tomatoes

4 cloves garlic, chopped fine

2 tablespoons butter for frying eggs or more as needed

2 dozen eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup yogurt

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sauté tomato, basil and garlic in oil in a large skillet for one minute, just to heat through. Remove from pan. Whisk eggs and milk together in bowl. In same skillet melt butter over medium heat. Pour in eggs; reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until soft curds form. Stir in yogurt, salt and pepper and remove from heat. The eggs should be soft and creamy. Transfer eggs to serving platter, top with tomato mixture and serve immediately. Garnish with sprigs of fresh basil.

Serves 12.

Grilled Potatoes

Olive oil for frying

4 red potatoes, sliced very thin

1/2 cup onions, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup red peppers, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil on grill or non-stick skillet. When pan is hot, add potatoes, sauté until golden, about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn potatoes to other side, add onions and peppers; cook two to three minutes, until golden. If desired, add salt and pepper. Place in chafing dish to keep warm.

Serves eight.

Banana Pineapple

Breakfast Bread

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup wheat germ

1 cup ripe bananas, mashed

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened,

or canola oil

1/3 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup dried pineapple

1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350F. In large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Stir in wheat germ. In another bowl, mix together bananas, eggs, butter or oil, yogurt, sugar and lemon juice. When mixture is smooth, gradually stir in dry ingredients. Add raisins, dates and nuts; stir until combined. Pour into a buttered loaf pan and bake at 350F for 50 minutes or until a toothpick plunged into the center of the bread comes out clean.

Makes one loaf

Let There Be Food

In addition to the wedding brunch menu:

A basket of hard-boiled eggs: Boil organic eggs with tea bags or beets, giving them a natural, understated glaze. Or go to your local farmer’s market and buy naturally gorgeous eggs. Some varieties of chickens lay eggs of blue, aqua, green, grey and various shades of brown, tan and off white. Place a bowl of French salt and a pepper grinder nearby.

A basket of organic oranges: Set the oranges next to an electric or a hand juicer. Let guests squeeze their own juice. Place bottles of champagne in ice buckets nearby; some people might want to make their own mimosas. Include a breadboard of whole-wheat challahs, a bread knife, a dish of butter and homemade jams, jellies or marmalades. Place butter and jam spreaders in appropriate places and set a toaster nearby.

Coffee and Tea Service: Set up a separate table or use the end of your buffet table for the hot drinks. Don’t forget sugar, honey, cream and teaspoons.

Lemon Tart

Pate brisee sucre (sweet tart pastry) from French-trained Los Angeles resident, Tamara Rowland. Filling from Petra Nettelbeck, who recommends Belgian Vergoyse sugar for the filling.

For The Pastry

Pate Brisee Sucree

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1/2 cup cake flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch bits

2 eggs

Set oven at 375F. In a food processor equipped with steel blade, work the flour, cake flour, sugar and salt for 30 seconds, just long enough to combine. With processor running, add butter and eggs. Work them into the dry ingredients in on-off motions until the dough forms large, moist clumps. Remove dough from work bowl, place in middle of 11-inch tart pan. Using your fingers, press dough lightly into bottom of pan to evenly cover base. Trim off excess dough. With your thumbs push dough up into sides of tart pan to create a decorative edge. Pierce bottom of pan with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals. Set it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Set tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Press a piece of foil directly onto the pastry. Transfer pastry to hot oven and bake it for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool. Turn oven temperature down to 350F.

For The Filling

Zest and juice of two lemons

2 tablespoons heavy cream

3 tablespoons blanched almonds

2 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

4 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, browned, for garnish

1 dozen thinly sliced lemon pieces

In a food processor or blender, combine zest, juice, cream, almonds, sugar, eggs and butter. Blend until smooth. Pour into cooled pastry shell. Bake tart for about 25 minutes or until set.

Allow tart to cool completely. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, slivered almonds and lemon pieces.