Live from the Lilith Blog

Live from the Lilith Blog

April 19, 2018 by

The Holocaust and the Dot Com Boom Intertwine in This New Novel

paper-is-white-hi-res_2_origAs Ellen Margolis and her fiancé Francine beat their own early path toward marriage equality, Ellen falls into a clandestine entanglement with a wily survivor of the Kaunas Ghetto and a secret search for buried history that very well may disrupt her wedding plans.

Set in ebullient, 1990s dot-com-era San Francisco, Paper Is White is a novel about the gravitational pull of the past and how it directs and transforms the present.

Zaid, whose story “Even in Dreams, She Leaves Me Every Time” appeared in the Winter 2013-2014 issue of Lilith, talks to Lilith’s Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about her nuanced and tender debut.

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April 18, 2018 by

There Are No Queer Chassidic Jews: Or Why Shterna Goldbloom is Photographing Them

g_chani“I want to show that there are so many ways to be a person,” says artist Shterna Goldbloom about her photography, which centers queer Jewish identities and challenges notions of what it means to be either and both. Goldbloom’s photographs, many of them self-portraits, as in her series Sitra Achra (“other side”), explore Jewish queerness with a double consciousness that reveals her history. Raised in Chicago’s Hasidic community, Goldbloom left that world at age sixteen, after her parents divorced and her mother came out as queer. “I was such a good student, everybody thought I would marry a rabbi. And I thought that too,” says Goldbloom about life before her family’s ostracization by their close-knit community.

Now, as a queer-identified Jewish woman who lives outside the bounds of the ultra-Orthodox world, Goldbloom makes intensely personal art that asks the age-old Jewish question: How do we exist in exile? Disconnected from the community through which we learned ritual, tradition, and meaning, how do we experience spirituality and connectedness? When one’s identity implies the rejection of certain aspects of Orthodox life, how can we keep what speaks to us, even if those pieces do not seamlessly fit into our new lives? How can queer Jews do Judaism without throwing away the entire rule book?

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April 17, 2018 by

“I Wouldn’t Trade My Special Needs for Anything”

Freedom does not only have meaning in the context of slavery. Freedom can be many other things, and I’m not saying any of those things are better or worse than the others. To me, though, freedom means being able to go out and be accepted for who you are. Since I am a special-needs person, I wasn’t always accepted everywhere I went, and sometimes I’m still not.

I have autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and bipolar 2 disorder.

At my old school, no one really had patience or understood me. I got bullied for things I couldn’t control. I used to rock back and forth so much that people kept looking at me weirdly. All the time, I didn’t understand things that other people normally would, so I asked a lot of questions. You can probably guess that my favorite question was the one that everyone loves, “Why?”

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April 13, 2018 by

How Should Jewish Feminists Relate to Tarantino?

When I’m not overthinking popular culture, I study art history. It’s been my passion since I was 10, and it hasn’t abated over the years. My younger self was given a short guide to five artists of the Italian Renaissance, and immediately was captivated not only by the gorgeous work of Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Fra Angelico, but also by the men themselves and the times they lived in.

Several years later, I read The Agony and the Ecstasy, the highly fictionalized “biographical novel” about Michelangelo, which traces his life from around age 14 until his death. For me, the attraction wasn’t just about Michelangelo’s incredibly passionate and deeply humanistic paintings and sculptures, but about how these works told us so much about the man himself—about his thundering temper (memorably captured by Charlton Heston in the film adaptation of the book), his stirring love for God and mankind alike, his fascination with the (male) human body, his self-critical nature, his inability to be satisfied.

For those of us who study art history, especially historical art history, learning about great works is more often than not accompanied by familiarization with the person who made those works. In many cases, separating the art from the artist, as the dictum goes, leads to a fractured decontextualization of the body of work. When you treat works of art (or work in any media, for that matter) as divorced from the person whose mind, heart, and body conceived them, when you treat them as if they simply dropped from the sky, fully-formed, into our laps, something important is lost.

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April 12, 2018 by

How Feminist is the “Mean Girls” Musical, Really?

"Mean Girls" playing at the August Wilson Theater.

“Mean Girls” playing at the August Wilson Theater.

“Mean Girls,” the shiny new musical about high school cliques written by Tina Fey and based on her movie of the same name, concludes with some upbeat messages for teenaged girls: Don’t pretend to be less smart than you are to attract boys. Don’t try to be someone you’re not in order to fit in: be yourself. And don’t forget to be, as one anthem is titled, “Fearless.”

Wait a minute! Is this 2018? Why do girls still need to be told these basics? And this is supposedly an updated version of the 2004 movie, not a throwback. There are plenty of references to social media and a new nugget of advice: Don’t send nude photos of yourself over the internet, because boys will share them, though wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t.

This apparent lack of progress can make a seasoned feminist’s heart sink. Has anything really changed over the last half-century?

The show, with music by Jeff Richmond (Fey’s husband) and lyrics by Nell Benjamin (who co-wrote music and lyrics for the similarly upbeat “Legally Blonde”), is hardly anti-feminist, and it could be seen only as a good-natured and often funny look at an awkward period in everyone’s life. But it sends mixed messages. The most envied girls at the high school wear super-short skirts, super-high heels and manes of glossy hair. These are the title’s mean girls, and who wouldn’t want to be like them? The musical is supposedly saying that no one should—but that is not the aesthetic or emotional message.

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April 4, 2018 by

A Girl’s-Eye View of Las Vegas Jewish Power

y648Equal parts precocious and precious, Esme Silver has always taken care of her charming ne’er-do-well father, Ike Silver, a small-time crook with dreams of making it big with Bugsy Siegel. Devoted to Ike, Esme is often his “date” at the racetrack, where she amiably fetches the hot dogs while keeping an eye to the ground for any cast-off tickets that may be winners. Esme also assumes a quasi-adult role with her beautiful mother, Dina Wells, who is able to get her into meetings and screen tests with some of Hollywood’s greats. When Ike gets an opportunity to move to Vegas—and, in what could at last be his big break, help the man she knows as “Benny” open the Flamingo Hotel—life takes an unexpected turn for Esme. She catches the eye of Nate Stein, one of the Strip’s most powerful men.

Narrated by the twenty-year-old Esme, The Magnificent Esme Wells moves between pre–WWII Hollywood and postwar Las Vegas—a golden age when Jewish gangsters and movie moguls were often indistinguishable in looks and behavior. Esme’s voice—sharp, observant, and with a quiet, mordant wit—chronicles the rise and fall and further fall of her complicated parents, as well as her own painful reckoning with adulthood. An excerpt from the novel appeared in Lilith’s Summer 2016 issue; now Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough talks to nationally bestselling author Adrienne Sharp (The True Memoirs of Little K, First Love, White Swan Black Swan), about her noir-tinged—and wholly original—coming-of-age-story.

YZM: What drew you to the subject of Las Vegas in the 1940s?

AS: It was the beginning of everything. My husband’s family likes to gamble, and so with him I started going to Vegas in the early eighties, when the old hotels were still there, just before all the big, over the top hotels were built. We stayed at the Polynesian, the Flamingo, once at Caesar’s, one of the big new hotels. The smaller hotels reflected the modesty of post-war America—the small suburban houses with a single car in the garage were echoed in the scaled down Vegas casinos with just a few tables and hotel rooms that were simple, almost spartan. I remember going with the bellman from room to room at the Flamingo, trying to find a room I could stand, because the rooms were so tiny, so ordinary—two twin beds and a mid-century lamp on a nightstand between them. Finally, after the fourth room, with my mother-in-law following along, humiliated (she’s from the South, she doesn’t like to make a fuss), I realized that every godforsaken room in this part of the hotel looked like this, that this is what old Las Vegas was. The expectations were smaller. The paycheck was smaller. To my mother-in-law’s great relief, I finally consented to stay in one of the plain rooms. After all, I was a grad student. I didn’t need a palazzo. Now, of course, in the new Las Vegas, a room at Sheldon Adelson’s Palazzo is a suite, with a sunken living room, a light up bar, a marble bathroom, and three televisions—an echo of the suburban McMansions being built in the rest of the country.

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April 2, 2018 by

Pushing the Matzo Ball Forward–A Russian Passover

A Vegetarian Russian Jewish Passover

flickr.com/donutgirl

flickr.com/donutgirl

Shiitake schmaltz and plant-based sirniki? These are two of the amazing “healthified” delicacies that 34-year-old Jewish holistic nutritionist Meribel M. Goldwin has created, putting a modern spin on classic, Russian comfort foods. This Passover, eating healthy doesn’t have to mean sacrificing tradition.

On March 8th, at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, Goldwin, who is the founder of Blossomed Life LLC, hosted “Pushing the Matzo Ball Forward,” a lecture on modernizing Russian-Jewish cuisine, followed by a tasting of the recipes. The tasting portion of the evening was curated by Elena Tedeschi, chef of Well Rooted Kitchen. This project was created as part of COJECO (Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations) BluePrint Fellowship and Genesis Philanthropy Group.

After the event, I sat down with Goldwin to discuss how she’s transforming beloved holiday recipes, fostering health while maintaining flavor.

Sara-Kate Astrove: Is Russian-Jewish cooking unhealthy?

Meribel Goldwin: Yes, especially processed meats, very salty foods—anything with mayonnaise and too much processed carbs.

S-KA: So how did these foods become Passover staples?

MG: Jews in Eastern Europe who lived in shtetls had to do a lot with very little. Matzo ball soup preserved matzo crumbs by combining them with oil and fats from chickens or cows. Schmaltz was made from chicken skin and fat, fried until crispy and brown. Now we know that deep fried meat is carcinogenic.

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March 29, 2018 by

Let’s Liberate the Feminine This Passover

Two weeks ago, I hosted my first full weekend retreat, co-facilitated with some of my favorite collaborators and teachers. It was called “Embodying Liberation.” On the new moon of Nissan, with Passover on its way, we explored freeing our inner Divine Feminine through tangible, embodied spiritual practice. We danced, drummed, sang and chanted. We meditated, contemplated, sat in silence and in open-hearted vulnerable discussions. We ate nourishing food, connected with ourselves and nature, and constantly investigated the questions: what is our relationship to our bodies in spiritual practice? How do society’s gender norms hold us back, and how do we liberate ourselves through new views of the masculine and feminine? Most importantly, how are those portrayed in Jewish text and tradition, from ancient times til today? 

As Passover approaches, the theme of liberation is on everybody’s lips, and feminine liberation is a Hot Topic. Feminist Haggadahs have increased in popularity year on year, we have the orange on the Seder plate, and we have Miriam’s Cup. Growing up Hasidic, I had access to none of these, and they likely might even be laughed at in some of the Orthodox communities I still visit. I’m here to tell you there’s still a long way to go.

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March 29, 2018 by

Dayenu for the Broken-hearted

if his father had modeled for him closeness, not distance, DAYENU.
if his mother had not coached him how best to thrive under neglect, DAYENU.
if he could have known more tender presence than he’s been shown, DAYENU.
if he could ever love himself enough to let himself be known, DAYENU.
if she had never been made to feel like making him happy was her problem, DAYENU.

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March 29, 2018 by

Why You Should Ctrl+F Your Passover Haggadah

Photo credit: Michael Swan

Photo credit: Michael Swan

It’s amazing what a few taps of “replace all” and a smattering of name changes can do to a story. See whether this edit makes you think twice, and stay tuned for a new way of thinking about putting Miriam’s cup next to Elijah’s:

The Passover Story, Retold

In ancient days, Josephine, the favorite of the twelve daughters of the Hebrew matriarch Jacoba, was sold into slavery by her jealous sisters in Canaan and taken to Egypt.

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