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May 31, 2018 by

Do We Need to Be Reading Those “Dirty” Anne Frank Pages?

 If, like me, you were in the cult of Anne Frank as a young person, you read her diary, and every other book published about Anne, over and over, and when you were finished, you went looking for more.

For many years “more” meant various scandals and controversies over Anne’s legacy and imaginative works about her. But in May,  researchers found  two new pages in the diary. Because of its fragile condition, the original diary itself is photographed in order to assess how it’s being impacted by the wear and tear of time (to avoid damage, it’s only taken out of storage every ten years). While handlers were examining the book, the two pages, which had been covered by brown paper, were unearthed.

No one knows how to keep a diary a secret like a teenage girl, which you know if you’ve ever been one. There’s no question that Anne  didn’t want anyone to find these pages‑—she covered them up herself, after all. She describes them as “spoiled,” and uses them to list a number of dirty jokes, as well as conversations with imaginary friends, and some discussion about sex education, including mention of her father seeing houses of prostitution while in Paris.

The published version of Anne Frank’s diary that won the world over was revised by Otto Frank, and in editing, he removed not only sections in which Anne referenced her own sexuality, but those that depicted himself and his wife in a less than positive light. These new pages haven’t been sanitized at all. The references to sex in them, Frank van Vree, director of the Netherlands Institute for War Holocaust and Genocide Studies told The Telegraph, make it clear that “Anne, with all her gifts, was above all also an ordinary girl.”

The Franks went into hiding in early July 1942, and Anne’s “spoiled” pages are dated September 18th, 1942. Barely two months into what would ultimately be twenty five months spent behind the bookcase at 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, Anne was learning to cope with the stress of being contained, the charge of maintaining constant silence at the risk of discovery and almost certain death. While the new content portrays a curious young woman interacting with sexuality— her own and that of others, it’s important to remember that they were authored under circumstances that were in no way “normal.”

If you’ve read Anne’s diary, you know that she was both an ordinary and an extraordinary person. If you read the diary as a teenaged girl, you might have understood her fear that it would be discovered, or that she would be separated from it (Otto Frank did threaten to take it away from her at one point), and although we have learned a tremendous amount about her and the world she inhabited, do we really need to be reading these new pages? Should we even know that they exist? 

The diary itself was found after the inhabitants, including Anne, were discovered by the SS and taken to the Westerbork labor camp, and later, Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen, where she died. There’s a sturdy argument to be made that it was completely justifiable to publish the abandoned diary, that Anne, the talented writer, would have been more than fine with it, that she was writing not just for herself, but to leave a detailed account of her experience. She revised the book as she wrote it. But these pages? These deliberately hidden pages? It begs the question: do we really need access to everything about this person? These pages, which Anne deemed “dirty” ‑‑what do they teach us, and do we need to learn it?

Maybe it’s the part of me that kept my far less compelling diaries under lock and key (and another lock and another key and under my mattress) because I was so afraid of someone finding them, but I wish those pages had remained private. Because I can’t be the only one wondering—how much more proof do we need that Anne maintained the inner life of an ordinary girl, in spite of the world burning down around her?

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May 30, 2018 by

Sadie Schuster’s Magic Love Knots (Part 2 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

Sadie Schuster sold love knots, hope wrapped in a schmattah, fifty cents. A lot of money in 1913, but hope never came cheap, especially when it came from Sadie Schuster. “You think this business makes me rich?” she asked her customers. “I do it to make people happy. The material alone costs me forty cents.”

She learned her magic tricks in Poland, where she and Fivel lived before coming to New York, two greenhorns, just married, and talked about love knots as though there really was magic in this world, and only she, of all the Jews in New York who came from Minsk, from Riga and Lublin, Budapest and Warsaw, knew how to put them together.

It was a secret, she said, passed from mother to daughter. Her own daughter, Yivvy, who ran a second-hand shop, and worked the cash register nights at the Second Street Cafeteria, didn’t believe in love or magic.  Take it or leave it, Sadie Schuster was the only love knot person in New York City.

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May 29, 2018 by

What It’s Like to Publish Your Debut Novel… at Age 90

All this week, in the grand tradition of Victorian periodicals, Lilith will be serializing an excerpt of Sadie in Love, the debut novel from 90-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

Sadie in love

Sadie Schuster—fortyish, plumpish, a suffragist, and recently widowed—spends more time now talking to her late husband, Fivel, than she did when he was alive. Sadie keeps Fivel informed of her daily activities—especially her pursuit of a husband—because “An empty bed is a cold place for a hot-blooded woman.” A lover of ballroom dancing, the moving pictures, and night-school English words, Sadie’s true talent lies in the magic love-knots she artfully crafts for lonely, unwitting, immigrants willing to purchase hope wrapped in a schmattah for fifty cents.

Selling love-knots while seeking love, Sadie consults with her magic spirits to woo Herschel—the muscled ice peddler who reads poetry and pines for his newly departed wife. Her daughter, Yivvy, sells secondhand, possibly “pinched” tchotchkes in her antique shop and plans to marry the Irish cop on the beat. Enter Ike Tabatnik, the “Dance King of Riga, Latvia,” just off the boat and ready to take on America—and Sadie’s heartstrings. Comedy and chaos follow.

A stunning confession, following the wedding of one of her love-knot clients—which begins with one groom and ends with another—pushes Sadie to make a surprising choice. She then throws herself at the mercy of her magic spirits, asking them to do quickly for her what they have been doing for her customers—before it’s too late.  Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough talks to Rochelle Distelheim about what it feels like to have her debut novel published when she’s in her nineties. 

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May 24, 2018 by

Why Did I Cry for Philip Roth?

Unbidden, copious tears were my initial response to the news of Philip Roth’s death. That visceral response of grief surprised me. Of course, as a professor of Jewish literature, I have written about and taught some of his books during the course of my career, most notably, The Human Stain, The Plot Against America, and, to a mostly female group of adult learners, Portnoy’s Complaint (I freely admit that I am much too prudish to teach the last to a group of traditionally-aged undergraduates). 

But much as I admire Roth’s literary chops and chutzpah, he was never the center of my Jewish American literary universe. My critical kvelling tends toward such heavy hitters as Michael Chabon, Rebecca Goldstein, and Tony Kushner as well as such lesser known figures as Tova Mirvis, Judith Katz, and Michael Lowenthal. As a Jewish feminist, I found Roth’s literary performances of bad-boy masculinity more than a bit trying (I’m attempting understatement here). And his larger-than-life reputation (much of it earned, some of it the result of a critical boys’ club) tended to suck the air out of the room for other Jewish writers.

The contemporary Jewish American literary renaissance is broad and deep; Roth-mania inside and outside the academy had the potential to lionize the one at the expense of the many, especially women and queer writers of all genders. My personal critical practice has been to give him his due but to avoid idol worship. I wouldn’t, couldn’t put him on a patriarchal pedestal, but neither would I leave him behind in the misogynist mud. 

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May 23, 2018 by

A Novel Imagines F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Lesser-Known (and Jewish) Love Affair

In 1937 Hollywood, gossip columnist Sheilah Graham’s star is on the rise—while literary wonder boy F. Scott Fitzgerald’s career is slowly drowning in booze. But the once-famous author, desperate to make money penning scripts for the silver screen, is charismatic enough to attract the gorgeous Miss Graham, a woman who exposes the secrets of others while carefully guarding her own. Like Fitzgerald’s hero Jay Gatsby, Graham has meticulously constructed a life far removed from the poverty of her childhood in London’s slums. And like Gatsby, the onetime guttersnipe learned early how to use her charms to become a hardworking success; she is feted and feared by both the movie studios and their luminaries.another side of paradise

A notorious drunk famously married to the doomed Zelda, Fitzgerald fell hard for his “Shielah” (he never learned to spell her name), who would stay with him and help revive his career until his tragic death three years later.

Working from Sheilah’s memoirs, interviews, and letters, Sally Koslow revisits their scandalous love affair and Graham’s dramatic transformation in London in her new novel, Another Side of Paradise, out this month from HarperCollins.

Koslow, the former editor-in-chief of McCall’s Magazine and author of four other novels, including acclaimed international bestseller The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about how she came to uncover the secrets of Graham’s past—and why.

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May 22, 2018 by

News From Lilith: An Emerging Writer’s Program and a New Digital Editor

New York, NY — Lilith Magazine has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta to support emerging feminist writers. The timing makes the grant particularly significant, as the reverberations of the #MeToo movement in Jewish communities and in the media world underscore the importance of amplifying more women’s voices and perspectives.

Lilith—independent, Jewish & frankly feminist—is marking its 42nd year of fearless publishing as the feminist change-agent in and for the Jewish community, amplifying Jewish women’s voices, creating a more inclusive Judaism, spurring gender consciousness in the Jewish world and empowering Jewish feminists of all genders to envision and enact change in their own lives and their communities.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with JWFA to launch this needed program,” says Susan Weidman Schneider Lilith’s editor in chief and one of the magazine’s founding mothers. “Emerging Jewish feminist writers need good editing, mentoring, and a platform for their unique voices. Lilith’s goal is to provide all three.”



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May 17, 2018 Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Ruth: the Torah of Transgressive Transformation

Shavuot: When Torah Comes from Earth More than from Heaven

As we take up the Book of Ruth for its traditional reading on Shavuot (this year, from Saturday evening, May 19, through Sunday evening, May 21) we may note that it bears special significance for the role of women in our own generation, and for changes in the meaning of Torah when change happens in society at large.


The story of Ruth brings together with almost invisible threads three seemingly transgressive women of the Bible. The Hebrew Bible conventionally assigns women to the role of motherhood, and it likes to tell the stories of how women who are denied the opportunity of motherhood seek it with great urgency.  But in three stories of such women, the urge to be conventional empowers deeply unconventional change.

When the stories are first told, they seem to have no connection with each other. But then the Book of Ruth links the three stories by threads that are almost invisible — but not quite. The gossamer threads of connection strengthen each separate story into an epic of ironic transformation.

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May 16, 2018 by

Leslie Cagan’s Half-Century of Activism

When Brooklyn for Peace named community organizer Leslie Cagan one of three Pathfinder for Peace award winners in late 2017, it was both in recognition of, and in gratitude for, Cagan’s more than 50 years of social justice activism. Whether pushing for action on climate change, peace, LGBTQ equality, feminism, reproductive choice, or fighting racism, Cagan’s voice, presence, and expertise have long been visible. 

Cagan has worn a lot of hats over the years. Among them, she was the interim board chair at the Pacifica radio network in the late 1990s; was National Coordinator of United for Peace and Justice from 2002-2009; and either coordinated or played a leadership role in some of the largest demonstrations in American history—for nuclear disarmament in 1982; for LGBTQ rights in 1987; against the war in Iraq in 2003; and for climate action in 2014.

Opening comments from Leslie Cagan, a leader in the Peoples Climate Movement NY - Peoples Climate Movement 2018 Kick-off event is a city-wide organizing meeting on learning how you can get more involved in climate campaigns. Followed by brief updates on the exciting work of several campaigns and breaking groups focused on how we can strengthen and expand climate action in New York City and NY State, as well as nationally. (Photo by Erik McGregor)

Opening comments from Leslie Cagan, a leader in the Peoples Climate Movement NY – Peoples Climate Movement 2018 Kick-off event is a city-wide organizing meeting on learning how you can get more involved in climate campaigns. Followed by brief updates on the exciting work of several campaigns and breaking groups focused on how we can strengthen and expand climate action in New York City and NY State, as well as nationally. (Photo by Erik McGregor)

She is presently involved with the Peoples Climate Movement (PCM)—NYC, as well as PCM nationally, and is part of an effort challenging the corporate saturation and over-policing of the Heritage of Pride parade held annually in NYC to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall rebellion. 

Cagan recently spoke to Eleanor J. Bader about her history, ongoing work, and the personal challenges of caring for life partner Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, who has advanced Parkinson’s Disease.

Eleanor J. Bader: Let’s start with your personal history. When did you become involved in progressive political activism?

Leslie Cagan: I grew up in the Bronx, in a Jewish, leftist community. My parents were hardcore activists. I have an older brother and a younger sister and family outings growing up would often involve going to a demonstration. My grandmother was active in the textile workers union so I guess you can say that politics has always been in my blood. Their example was important and impacted all of us. Both of my siblings are activists. 


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May 11, 2018 by

A Grandmother’s Mindfulness

street-3336763_960_720When my granddaughter is peaceful, I can sometimes see words making their shapes behind her face. Her eyes dart here and there, and they stop. Words spill past her ruby lips. “…that other fruit, the one that’s not an orange… pomegranate… like my party dress…”

 I try to coast along on her reverie.

Penny is seven. She’s figured out that I exist when she’s not around. I come and go. I will go; she knows this too.

“Grandma, you are going to die because you’re old.” I am on my way up the stairs and Penny hurls this thought at me across the railing. Then she hesitates and adds less brightly, “If you eat healthy and do your exercise, you won’t die so fast.”

At seventy-two I am one year older than my mother when she died. I think of this most days as my life rushes by, a job, a husband, and self-imposed obligations. Hours are whizzing by, and I can’t unspeed the clock. 

When we play “Just Spit It Out!” and Penny gets to go first being the youngest and is asked to name two breakfast foods served at Wendy’s, Penny pulls her shoulders up, tight up to her neck. Her eyes open big, and she lifts herself high on her tippy toes. “Eggs and bananas!” She laughs and runs into the kitchen.

In a tub full of rubber ducks Penny lets me wash her thick hair that is almost black and rinse it many times, as long as I hand her the slip-on terrycloth mitt to squeeze against her eyes. My own hair is thinning; the color is quickly fading. Who will wash my thinning hair?

Will I be trusting?

Penny has become a little sharp. I can no longer bite her arms in jest. Turns her head with a frown; she lets me know.  She will show me her painting when she is ready. She is the youngest of two, pushed by a now-bossy sister.

I pay attention.

This is what I do.

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May 4, 2018 by

Why We Need an Alternative to the Nice Jewish Boy

As a young Jewish boy, Jeffrey Tambor loved to read books. He would ask his father every night to take him down to the local library, and he would stay there until it closed. But, he told The New York Times in March last year, “I kept it a secret from my friends, as I don’t think it would have been considered the ‘coolest’ habit.” Tambor also freely describes another thing his childhood friends wouldn’t have approved of: crying. In the Times interview, he repeatedly tells of crying and weeping, both as a child and an adult.

It was this apparent intellectual resolve, emotional sensitivity, and countercultural sensibility that Tambor brought into his most recent and successful work. He became a critical darling and beloved progressive icon for portraying Maura Pfefferman, a character who transitions, on Amazon’s groundbreaking show Transparent. As the show’s star, he became something of a spokesman on trans issues, patiently explaining concepts of gender queerness to Stephen Colbert in 2014, and declaring at the 2016 Emmys that he hoped he would be the last cisgender man to play a trans character.

Jeffrey Tambor was a progressive, intelligent, sensitive man. He was the very model of the kind of man parents want their nice Jewish boys to become. He was also fired from Transparent this year for sexually harassing and assaulting three of his colleagues.

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