The Lilith Blog

June 13, 2018 by

What a Third Grader Taught Me About the Creative Life

“Do you want to know how I describe my writing to my dad? It made him laugh.”

My student grins mischievously, like she’s about to let me in on some big secret. She may only be in the third grade, but she’s always been insightful and very sharp. “Of course I do,” I smile back. This is going to be good. “OK. So I told him, sometimes you go to the market looking for juicy blood oranges.” she draws out the words juicy and blood for emphasis. “But all you find are just rotten bananas.” I raise my eyebrows quizzically. “See, the market is my brain. And the oranges are good ideas, juicy. But some days all I get are stinking rotten bananas.” At this, she dissolves into giggles and looks pleased. She should be. 

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At just eight years old, she already understands the most challenging part of creative living. And she can make a damn good metaphor out of it.

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The Lilith Blog

June 12, 2018 by

Isolated Mothers, Searching for Miracles

The reader knows by page one of Queen for a Day that Mimi Slavitt’s three-year-old son is autistic, but if anyone told her, she wouldn’t listen, because she doesn’t want to know—until at last Danny’s behavior becomes so strange even she can’t ignore it. After her son’s diagnosis, Mimi finds herself in a world nearly as isolating as her son’s. Searching for miracles, begging for the help of heartless bureaucracies while arranging every minute of every day for children who can never be left alone, she and her fellow mothers exist in a state of perpetual crisis, “normal” life always just out of reach. In chapters told from Mimi’s point of view and theirs, we meet these women, each a conflicted, complex character dreaming of the day she can just walk away.

Taking its title from the 1950s reality TV show in which the contestants, housewives living lives filled with pain and suffering, competed with each other for deluxe refrigerators and sets of stainless steel silverware, Queen for a Day portrays a group of imperfect women living under enormous pressure. Maxine Rosaler talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the true-life experiences that led her to write this book.queen-for-a-day-360x540

YZM: These stories feel deeply personal; how closely are they based on your actual experience? 

MR: All the stories were initially inspired by my life and my experiences and by the lives and experiences of mothers I have known. For some of the stories, in order to flesh out a character and make sure I got certain details right, I interviewed other women—some friends of mine, some not; some mothers, some not. The character who most closely resembles the real person on whom she is based is Mimi, who is, obviously, based on myself.  However as much as Mimi resembles me, she is not me. She, too, turned into a character I was writing about.  And Danny is very much like my son Benjy.

YZM: How long did it take to write this very personal book? 

MR: I wrote the first draft of the story, “Sleepwalking Boy,” which is the first story in Queen for a Day, 20 years ago. Soon after that, I started mapping out the collection.  I came up with ideas for a bunch of interconnected stories, and these ideas changed over time, as I met other mothers, and had new experiences and decided to approach a story from different angle. Aside from telling the story of the evolution of Mimi’s grief, one of my goals was to portray a range of different kinds of mothers, women who were interesting characters in and of themselves, who existed as real people, apart from their roles as the mothers of handicapped children. 

I also wanted to create as complete a portrait as possible of the strange world these women had been forced to inhabit. Some of these stories were so difficult for me to write, it took me 15 years to get them where I wanted them to be. 

And then, after writing at such a leisurely pace (completing two other collections of stories during that time as well), when Delphinium accepted my manuscript for publication, I suddenly found myself in a mad rush to turn the collection into a “novel in stories.”  So for nine months, with very few exceptions, I did nothing but work on molding the collection into a cohesive whole. 

YZM: Do you, like Mimi, feel the Jewish community is more accepting of children like Danny? 

MR: That was my initial expectation. And I think to a certain extent it is probably true. I have a number of close friends in the Orthodox world—most of them are part of the small Haredi enclave a few blocks away from where I live, and I know how committed they are to each other, as a community. I admire and envy them for that. However, my son’s real-life experience at the yeshiva did not turn out to be what I had hoped it would be, because, for one thing, they were not able to address his very unusual combination of needs. For another, like Mimi in “The Story of Annie Sullivan,” I couldn’t afford to keep him there; so we never got far enough to test my theory out. Also, the religious aspects of Judasim never appealed to Benjy. Although, like Danny, he really did like learning Hebrew. So, also like Mimi, my initial dream of finding a readymade community for my son did not come true. 

YZM: What do you hope the reader will learn, both about autistic children and their parents, from reading your book

MR: For one thing, the next time they see a mother walking down the street with an autistic child—or any disabled child, I would like people to realize that the woman and her child exist as individuals, apart from their identification with a particular disability. The individuality of these children, and their mothers, is as varied as the individuality of everybody else. While they might have more than their fair share of sorrows, they also have their own joys as well. And while their triumphs would not seem to be triumphs at all to the outside world,  they experience these triumphs with the full dollop of joy that any mother feels when her child succeeds in something—most likely for these mothers, who put such tremendous efforts into getting children to take a step with a walker, for example, or to learn the difference between “I” and “you,” or to look them in the eye, their sense of triumph is in certain respects even greater.

YZM: What’s next on your literary horizon? 

MR: I was working on a literary thriller [before] Joe Olshan called me a year ago to tell me that Delphinium was going to publish what I eventually called Queen for a Day. I was having a lot of fun writing that, and I’m looking forward to going back to it.

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The Lilith Blog

June 11, 2018 by

Why I Stopped Covering My Hair After Almost 20 Years

It was the Saturday night before Thanksgiving. My husband and I were planning on having a fun night out at Foxboro before traveling to see family for the holiday.  I wondered: should I wait till after Thanksgiving and not deal with my family’s reaction?  But no, I was ready now. 

So with that, I left the house without my hair being covered for the first time since I walked home from my wedding, nineteen and a half years ago. The sensation of the icy November evening air going through my hair was delicious.

Back in college, I had noticed that while Jews from all streams of Judaism went to dinner at the Kosher Dining Hall, it was primarily the Orthodox students who refrained from going to parties afterwards.  While I had no intention of becoming Orthodox back then, the integrity of those students’ behavior led me to include Orthodoxy in my soul-search while studying abroad in Israel, looking at it along with Reform and Conservative Judaism. 

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The Lilith Blog

June 7, 2018 by

Mazel Tov to Lilith’s Literary Staff

Major moments for two Lilith staffers and book authors this week has us rejoicing—and we’re sharing the good news.

Ilana Kurshan Photographed by Debbi Cooper #6589 (3)

First, Ilana Kurshan, Lilith’s book reviews editor, has won the Sami Rohr prize for Jewish Literature from the Jewish Book Council for “If All the Seas Were Ink: A Memoir.” As the council’s reviewer wrote of her tour-de-force literary and Talmudic memoir, “Due to Kurshan’s deft explanations of Talmudic personalities and principles… Readers will be inspired by Kurshan’s resilience and renewal, with the Talmud by her side.” We couldn’t agree more–Kurshan’s book is deeply literary in the best way. 

Naomi Danis photo

Also this week, Lilith’s Managing Editor Naomi Danis got a superb write-up in the New York Times Book Review for her children’s book “I Hate Everyone,” with critic Marisha Pessl describing the story in glowing terms: “The book reads like a version of Whitman’s barbaric yawp. It’s wildly alive with the girl’s unchecked bursts of word and emotion. The way she grasps at and simultaneously rejects love, wanting to be both acknowledged and left alone, is universal and timeless.”

 

 

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The Lilith Blog

June 7, 2018 by

“Do You Know What a Fascist Is?”

For parents of young children, daily life revolves around the dance between bonding and separation. It causes us a great deal of anxiety, this constant leaving and returning. We tell our children comforting things like “mommy always comes back,” and fret about keeping that promise. It’s hard, this reality, this learning curve. But we are the privileged ones who live safely, out of the gruesome reach of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the prison system. For other families just like ours but with different luck, each day brings the possibility of brutal separations without clear end.

So how can the rest of us allow the government, in our name, to wrench families apart?

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The Lilith Blog

June 6, 2018 by

What Did Your Grandparents Do to Mine?

The HeirsAfter breaking her hip in a serious accident, Eleanor Ritter’s mother, Rose, a Holocaust survivor now living in New Jersey, suddenly starts talking about her harrowing childhood in Poland and the taboo subjects she has refused to discuss for half a century—even speaking in long-forgotten Polish. Around the same time, Eleanor learns that the parents of her nine-year-old son’s soccer teammate, Tadek, are Catholics from Poland.

As Eleanor becomes fixated with digging into the histories of both her mother and Tadek’s family, her obsession strains her already difficult relationship with Rose, as well as her marriage to Nick, an IT technician who is himself caught up in preparing for the feared Y2K turn of the millennium.

Eleanor starts flirting with the soccer coach, ignoring her 12-year-old daughter’s growing rebellion and her son’s misery when, messing up several games, he becomes the team pariah. Meanwhile, the “sure-fire” tech stock that Eleanor bought behind Nick’s back is losing money. Even as her quest nourishes an odd friendship with Tadek’s mother, it forces Eleanor to face the unavoidable questions: For how many generations can guilt carry on? And: What did your grandparents do to my grandparents?

Hawthorne, the author of the award-winning Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love and seven other books about business, consumers and social issues, talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about her journey from fiction to fact and then back again. 

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The Lilith Blog

June 5, 2018 by

Love, Seduction and Survival—and Always, Paris

In 1950, Glynne Hiller, 26, goes to Paris with her husband, Joe, and her three-year-old daughter, Cathy, so they can all study French in the City of Light. But after a year, Glynne leaves Joe. She doesn’t love him—in fact, she questions whether she’s ever been in love—and she is looking for a more liberated life. Saucy and beautiful, Glynne charms one man after another, including the movie star Jean Gabin. Then she meets a man named Maurice and her whole understanding of love changes. Hiller, now 94, describes this transformation in the memoir Passport to Paris. She talks about her life and writing with Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough. Passport to Paris

YZM: Your father, an Egyptian Jew, moved your family from England to America in 1939; did he have a sense of what was coming? 

GH: My father started a cotton mill with his brother in Guatemala, before the war started. Both of my brothers volunteered to fight: Eddie, the eldest, in the RAF (Royal Air Force). Max went into the artillery force.  Both survived. 

Meanwhile, Sally and I, separately, came to America. I came alone, and on the second night, we all came on deck were told we mustn’t make a single sound because there was a German U-boat in the vicinity. And everybody, even the children, were absolutely mum. We all cooperated. And they were already unloading the little lifeboats boats. It was very scary, I have to tell you.

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The Lilith Blog

June 4, 2018 by

This Radical Medical Collective Ministers to Protesters

Almost a decade ago, a group of healthcare activists in Portland, Oregon, formed the Rosehip Medic Collective, with the original intent of providing emergency medical care to people attending progressive political events, protests and direct actions. As part of this work, they’ve offered intensive trainings––a 20-hour immersion in advanced first aid––so that people who either lack the resources to obtain medical attention or who feel unsafe in traditional medical settings might have access to basic information, advocacy, and support.

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The collective’s members—many of them Jewish and most LGBTQ—include Emergency Medical Technicians, registered nurses, wilderness first-responders, herbalists, naturopaths, acupuncturists, and teachers. This diversity of experience has led them to a range of Portland events. Individual members also provide care to people living on the street, to IV drug users in harm-reduction settings, and in free clinics.  And some Collective members were present at the 2017 Standing Rock encampment formed by North Dakota’s native community in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Rosehip Medic Collective member Eva Irwin spoke to Eleanor J. Bader by phone in early May about the group’s work and evolution.

Eleanor J. Bader: Let’s start with some history. How, when, and why did the Collective form?

Eva Irwin: We basically coalesced as a Collective in the aftermath of the Republican and Democratic conventions of 2008. At both conventions, protesters met tremendous repression. The police violence served as a crucible for us as individuals.

From the beginning—we incorporated in 2008—we’ve included people with and without medical certifications and licenses. Early on, we were EMT heavy, and many of us had gone to wilderness first-responder trainings.  Some of us knew a lot about acupuncture and herbs; others were experts in naturopathic medicine. A few of us had been street medics before, with an earlier incarnation of Rosehip called Portland Street Medics, so we came into the Collective with a variety of backgrounds.  

The idea was that we wanted to do action/activist medicine. We understood that many communities have to create their own medical infrastructure, taking care of themselves, because of racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia.  Many of us in the collective have not felt safe accessing conventional emergency medical services (EMS). This led us to do a research project on tried-and-existing alternatives to EMS.  One group we profiled was Hatzolah—a global Jewish volunteer ambulance organization which basically recognized that specific communities with specific needs do not always get their needs met by the larger society. Hatzolah was a response to this, a community-created service to care for community members, broadly speaking.

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The Lilith Blog

June 1, 2018 by

A Quiet Revolution (Part 4 of “Sadie in Love”)

All this week, in the grand tradition of Victorian periodicals, Lilith will be serializing an excerpt of Sadie in Love, the debut novel from 96-year-old former magazine editor Rochelle Distelheim. Look out for new installments every day this week.  


Sadie in LovePart 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Thanks God, the following week was quiet, a good time to think up final plans for her first organizing march, only one week to go. How many marching ladies to make a good showing for the watchers? Free soda pop, popcorn, to keep the audience in the park for speakers at the end. Get a permit for using the streets. Would the city send policemen for just-in-case accidents?

Mrs. Pomerantz called fighting to vote a quiet revolution. Easy to say, hard to do. So far, no one was smart enough to make a revolution to explode up the old way of doing things without someone, lots of someones, getting bumped up.

Sadie made a list: Print up banners, papers for handing out, people should know  why women were being cheated, don’t blame George Washington.  Find drums or trombones or some noisy marching music, find chairs for speeches at the end. Balloons. Confetti. Clean cloths, bandages, aspirin.

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The Lilith Blog

May 31, 2018 by

The Dance King of Riga (Part 3 of “Sadie in Love”)

All this week, in the grand tradition of Victorian periodicals, Lilith will be serializing an excerpt of Sadie in Love, the debut novel from 96-year-old former magazine editor Rochelle Distelheim. Look out for new installments every day this week.

Sadie in LovePart 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4


 

She looked good – a pity Herschl wasn’t here to see her – thanks to Klein’s Emporium, Mitzi’s make-up tricks, and not-so-reliable electric light bulbs strung around the hall.

Her new earrings whooshed a satisfying sound against the lace collar of her silk taffeta shirtwaist.  Her corset was also new, bought the day her mirror told her she’d lost three pounds, maybe more.  Mitzi, helping her get dressed, had pulled hard at the corset strings until Sadie hollered, “Enough!”

“You’re sure ample, Hon, but interesting.” Sadie asked what ample meant, and Mitzi made a circle of thumb and forefinger. 

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