August 17, 2019

Hot Dogs, Knishes and Death

A Hebrew National hot dog wrapped in a potato knish AKA hush puppy

In my final column for the Jewish Journal today, I got the chance to thank publicly many of the people who helped, inspired and supported me over the years.

Marlene Adler Marks was one of them. She was managing editor when I started at the Journal.   She wrote a weekly column called “A Woman’s Voice” in the days when there were few female columnists taking on subjects beyond family life. It was, alas, the days before the Internet too, so the column never got far beyond LA. That’s a shame, because Marlene was too good for analogue.   She always wanted a bigger readership, and her writing—original, strong, unafraid—deserved it.

Her best column was her last. She was diagnosed with interstitial lung cancer at age 52.   What a joke: she never smoked, not once. In all the times we ate lunch together, all I remember her eating was cut fruit.   She was whippet-thin, a yoga fanatic long before there were $40 T-shirts saying, “Yoga Fanatic.”   When we went to one of those fundraising banquets— which, by the way, I will not miss, not for one second—Marlene would drink a glass of red wine– and eat a fruit plate.

After diagnosis, she lived two more years:  54.

The column, published August 31, 2002, is entitled, “Oh So Sorry.”    (The Journal posted it in 2014.) Today, just before I was about to Tweet the link to a friend, I re-read it. She wrote it during the period just before the High Holy Days, so on the eve of the eve of Yom Kippur, it feels more like liturgy. She wrote about why denying ourselves the pleasure of food can only lead to regret. The older I get, the more profound, sad and funny this column is.   Here’s a taste:

Saturday is Selichot, the time when the whole Jewish world sings with Connie Francis, “I’m sorry,” and vows to do better next time. Many of us are focused on the wrongs we’ve done to others, or even to God. 

This year, however, as I contemplate in yet a new way the impact of lung cancer, there’s no one to whom I owe apology more than myself. 

Yes, many of my apologies go to me. I should have eaten more hot dogs, with mustard and sauerkraut. And even more hush puppies, which in Jewish delis are hot dogs wrapped in potato knish, served best (if not only) in New York. 

I know what you’re thinking: you were only watching your health. But if you want a hot dog and never give yourself a hot dog, what are you accomplishing? Fear of food is, I think, a crime against the soul, the shutting down of the appetite by which we show our confidence in being alive.

Read the rest here.

My new High Holiday tradition to add to the apples, honey and fasting: re-reading Marlene.