Tag : fiction

January 14, 2021 by

Fiction: Off the Roof

Aviva took a swan dive. Her father sometimes remembered a nose dive. She hit the ground, arms outstretched like wings, a clipped duck, a New York pigeon. The moment she leapt, she felt Yaacov, her husband, shudder. Later she learned that he was gone. Somehow, on his way to check on his school, he disappeared, slipped between the cracks on Queens Boulevard, slipped between the wheels of an SUV going too fast, slipped, Aviva thought, from one world to the next with no one around to say goodbye. Later, some said it was a miracle, a life for a life. Some said it was a tragedy, or maybe a cover-up for a scandal. No one
had a good explanation; not even the rabbi.

At the time, Aviva’s father, the rabbi, was standing behind her holding baby four. That’s how she referred to her children, one, two, three and four. Not that she didn’t love them. She adored them. Especially whichever was the youngest, when she could still feel their blood mixing with hers.

This one was the youngest by seven years. The lean years she had thought the whole time her husband manfully tried for a reversal of fortune. Barren, she could hear her husband thinking. Enough she answered him in her head. Barren is nothing and you have plenty.

Mostly she was silent. A few times she said, “What do you want?” She could feel the coldness in her mouth, the words formed from icicles. “Three aren’t enough? You don’t have enough happiness?” she asked, pointing up if they were downstairs, not sure whom she was addressing, not sure at whom she was pointing. Maybe the children, maybe her father’s photo taken at some fancy dinner. Or maybe it was at God himself.

She turned, smiled and handed number four to her father. “A little gift,” she said. Or at least,
that’s what her father, the rabbi, heard.

It was warm but windy. An early spring, her stepmother had mentioned, deferential as always. The stepmother wore a hat on her wig on her head. Very stylish, a regular modern woman, Aviva thought, wondering at the height of the railing. She had ordered it herself. “The children can play on this roof, which is really like a deck,” she had told her husband. “We don’t have to worry. They won’t climb over.” And in fact, she was very careful about the placement of the furniture. The roof was almost two stories up, over the garage that they had converted to a study. She gave strict instructions: nothing near the edge even though the railing was white
plastic, shiny, sealed, with no place for feet or hands.

Aviva spent a lot of time on the roof by herself, not counting the baby as separate, yet. She had a rocker, books and music. “I feel close to God,” she told her husband, who said it wasn’t right: a woman on the roof, not hanging clothes, not doing anything that he could see. “I can’t see what you’re doing, either,” she told him. “Not during the day and not at night. Tell my father if you don’t like it.”

She moved the table first. “Always decorating,” her stepmother said. Eight chairs to go around it. Solid chairs. No cushions. She moved seven without thinking. Two here, two there, two here, one there. One still to be moved. She pulled it, using her body as a fulcrum, facing it away from the table. She handed the baby to her father. Climbing up, she stood on the chair for just a moment and then quickly, so quickly, she climbed on the arms of the chair, getting her balance (her father thought she balanced for a second), climbed onto the top of the railing
and went over. Did she jump up? Were her arms indeed spread or did they cover her face? Did she remember to tuck her head in if she pointed her toes? Did she imagine herself a fancy diver, a dancer in flight? The dive wasn’t long: seconds. Or just one second. Everything seemed to be timed in one second moments the rabbi thought later. One second, maybe, for recognition, and then another ‘till the screaming began.

The baby who was being clutched too tightly was red-faced, her father dead white, the stepmother, who was checking her wig, her hat, her head and the baby, had been making cooing noises. She had her face turned away and sputtered “but, but, but” before almost-fainting onto one of the chairs when she heard the screams.

The recognition of Aviva here, Aviva gone, fast as it was, was almost too slow. The rabbi began to run: downstairs and out the back; in again for blankets, towels, pillows; out again for Aviva who lay so still. He was followed by two students. They fetched for him; they carried; they listened to his words of wisdom and wrote them down. Largely, they were useless.

The rabbi couldn’t get rid of the baby who was screaming in his ear. He knew he had to call the Jewish emergency ambulance service. He had to check on Aviva but his wife had her face to the ground, faint-hearted, swooning, unwilling or unable to take the screaming child.

Aviva’s father, the rabbi, bent down, to check for breathing, for blood. Truthfully, he didn’t know what he was checking for. He touched her face, tried to feel for air near her nose, her mouth. He turned this way and that struggling to remember where the nearest phone was to make some calls. The baby, thinking he was being rocked, finally quieted. Someone, maybe
one of the useless, finally handed him a phone. Even with shock on his face, and anger, he dialed automatic numbers as he tried to see if she was still alive, or, God forbid, which is all he could allow himself to think. The ambulance and its medical team were on the way. He expected them in two minutes. Their men spent their time studying in his own synagogue, two blocks away, waiting for a call, ready to leave in a moment, even during Yom Kippur, to save a life.

The question he asked himself as he looked up and down, his fingers hitting numbers, was why? And then, where was her husband? And then again, why?

The other children, thank God, were in school. The family had come for lunch. Aviva’s two sisters would be there shortly with their husbands. Their children, too, were in school. The
husband (where was the husband?) was being celebrated for getting a new position: Talmud teacher in the yeshiva which was only around the corner. And who cared, really, that he knew
things well enough, but not as much as he should. That when he was called on to answer questions, the answers went so deep and not deeper. Still, the rabbi knew when to keep quiet. After all, it had been he who had chosen Yaacov for Aviva, and there was no
going back from that.

“Rochel,” he said, “Rochel, take the baby.” She was his second wife, a good woman, a trifle vain, a bit vapid, but a good woman. She had tried to help him keep things together after his wife died. And although he had never been able to tell his first wife that he loved her, he knew the difference between this good woman who helped run the house and raise the children, except for Aviva who would have none of her, and the woman he had thought of as his bride.

People were gathering. He felt the air move around him; he heard the sirens outside. He did believe that Aviva’s chest was moving; that she was not, God forbid. He went to touch her face near her nose to see if he could feel air, his own breath stopped, but the habits of a lifetime were hard to break. His wife was the only woman who ever felt his hands upon her.

He noticed that Aviva’s skirt was up showing skin; showing thigh, the skin pale and smooth he was shocked to see, unable to decide if he should avert his eyes from his own daughter, still young enough to have a new baby. He could see the lace trim of her underwear. What was that? He had looked too long, he thought, even as he looked away.

He grabbed onto some skirt fabric to pull over her as a cover, keeping his eyes on her face, on her chest which he thought was still moving, thanks be to God. How could she let her skin
show? Where was her modesty? Where was her husband and why was he not in control of his wife? And yet, he knew even as he moved away to make room for the paramedics, that there was no answer. That Aviva would say, why not? Who would know? Her feet were covered, her ankles, her calves, even, with black knee socks. It was so like her to have defied the laws, defied him, even as she pretended to observe.

She was breathing, although her face looked dead white. So otherworldly, he thought.

Neighbors were gathering, asking if the rabbi was all right. He could hear them over the din of traffic. Lights hit the house and the ground in a staccato rhythm. “Rabbi, move, please,” he
heard. And where was the husband?

Oh, the mess of it. Aviva’s eyes wouldn’t open. Or maybe she wouldn’t open them. No bones seemed to be broken. She didn’t scream when they bent her arm this way and that and moved her legs so gently that she stayed covered, until she didn’t. A miracle is what everyone was saying. Indeed, it was miraculous that she survived. Even more so that they didn’t think she had broken bones. Maybe cracked ribs. Her breathing was shallow but steady. Still her legs and arms seemed to be intact. No one could figure out how. The rabbi looked up at the fencing and could see nothing. He looked at the ground and saw that she had landed on some small patch of grass covered by laundry. Sheets seemed to be crumbled under her. He knew that Yaacov pointed to the thriftiness of his neighbor’s wife; of her industriousness in
hanging clothes outside instead of using a dryer. He knew that Aviva had told Yaacov that if he liked the outside so much, he should hang the sheets himself.

The rabbi watched as the paramedics moved her body. He listened as they spoke to her,  trying to get her to respond. They moved her head when they tried to stabilize her neck, and the rabbi could see that her head was definitely uncovered. He had thought she was wearing a wig. One of the newer expensive kinds so that you could hardly tell. But this was clearly her own hair. He noticed with a shock there was some grey at the temples. The men, he was grateful to see, didn’t react. They were all business as they hooked her up to some machine, to oxygen, “Just a precaution,” one of them said with deference, one observant Jew to another. Observance, Aviva always said, did not make you religious; it just made you a parrot.

“Bring her inside,”

“Rabbi,” Moshe Leibel said, “she took a fall. We have to bring her to the hospital for observation. She could have a concussion. She could have internal bleeding. What happened, exactly?”

He was thinking quickly. He knew Moshe well. He and his wife had been seekers: He was brought up as a Reform Jew knowing nothing. He met Shira shortly after coming to Sabbath services, and that was it for both of them. Shira was six years older and her parents cried to the rabbi every day that she would never be a wife or mother. That God was punishing them.

Moshe Leibel, the EMT had been Marc Landsman then and the rabbi had invited him and Shira to a Shabbat dinner. They sat across from each other as the rabbi drew him out: his attempt to reach some spiritual level through meditation, through nature, through the unfamiliar religious sounds of Buddhist chanting and Jewish davening. Shira had listened with a small
sly smile but rapture was in her eyes. They were married three months later and the rabbi had circumcised their three sons. Lately, he talked to him weekly, questioning him, counseling
him, worried about his relationship to his wife who had quit her job as secretary to the principal of the yeshiva. She had started a mail-order business selling sexy under clothes. “The marriage will get stronger if you stand firm,” the rabbi told Moshe Leibel. “And if you are patient, she will certainly return to her regular ways. Does she still follow the rules of family purity?” he asked. “She goes to Mikveh?”

“Of course,” Moshe Leibel had answered him. “She was trying to help me, rabbi. She wanted a business she could do from home. Mail order seemed perfect. I just didn’t know,” he said
his voice trailing off. “She has so many orders. She tells me it is a service to the community and I don’t know how to argue with her. Sometimes she models for me.” Moshe Leibel was blushing. “Is it wrong?”

The rabbi was appalled. His women dressed modestly. They covered their hair, their arms, their legs. They made sure that they didn’t attract other men. He explained this all to Shira, Moshe’s wife, who said, “No one sees what the women are wearing underneath. They buy through the mail. And we need the money. I looked for a way to bring it in. Moshe isn’t doing it. And there must be a need. I can hardly keep my stock.”

“You have a good man who works hard; he’s embarrassed. You know that in our community, word will get out. You will be the source of discord, of discontent.”

“Not if you don’t bring it up, rabbi, with all due respect,” Shira said. “Moshe would never talk about this, and I don’t think the women will tell, or their husbands, who might enjoy seeing
them look beautiful sometimes. I think Moshe likes it when I model for him.”

“Our women are not objects, Shira,” the rabbi said.

“Maybe the women just want to remember that they can be beautiful. Maybe even your wife, or your daughters. It’s getting late, rabbi,” she had said. “I have to take care of my children
now.” She walked out of the office before he dismissed her. Unheard of behavior.

AVIVA WAS MOST LIKELY one of her best customers. Probably her business had been Aviva’s idea. She liked working against him. The rabbi was ashamed of his thoughts, but he couldn’t stop them. Certainly no one needed a scandal. It was a bad business for the community; that’s what Aviva never understood. “Your community,” she had screamed at him after that terrible week-end when she disappeared before her marriage. “Yours,
not mine.”

“If it’s not yours, you lose everything,” he told her. “You won’t see me. You won’t see your sisters. Your mother is no longer here to save you.” Oh, such terrible words. He could see the shock of them register on her. Well, she had married. She had a family. She had seemed to reach some equilibrium. And now this.

HE COULDN’T ANSWER MOSHE directly. There was no quicker way to ruin a new career than gossip about the rabbi’s daughter who was also the wife of the new Talmud teacher, he
thought, wondering again where his son-in-law was.

The rabbi shrugged. “She was moving the furniture. She gave me the baby to hold and so I wasn’t watching her carefully. We were getting ready for lunch and the chairs were being moved around the table. Maybe one got stuck and she pulled too hard; maybe something fell over and she leaned too far. Maybe she caught something falling in the corner of her eye and reached for it. I don’t know,” he said, his lips continuing to move as he asked God’s forgiveness for his almost lie. He was caught in some strange territory between knowing and not knowing. He wondered how Aviva would answer these same questions when they came from him. Jumping, leaping. Interfering with God’s plan was a sin almost too great to contemplate.

“Moshe,” the rabbi said. “I trust you. Above all we must be careful with Aviva’s life, but if you think we can watch her here, if you think it’s enough if a nurse stays with her, or her sisters, or
my wife, or even you, if you have the time, of course, then she won’t be in trouble and won’t be away from her family. From the baby,” he said, pointing to somewhere behind him. Moshe was thinking. The rabbi could practically hear the cranking of his brain. “We’ll take her to the hospital. I’ll talk to them and they’ll check her as fast as possible. Then he added, “Aviva. It’s me, Moshe. Open up, Aviva. You took a fall and we have to take you to the hospital.”

Aviva’s eyes stayed closed even when they lifted her to load her into the waiting ambulance. Even when her baby woke and started crying. Even when Moshe, with some intuitive sense, put the baby on Aviva’s belly near her full breast. He turned for a minute and when he turned back he saw the baby nursing, the breast exposed. But Aviva lay still, eyes closed, arms and
legs dangling grotesquely over the edge of the stretcher so that Moshe, after checking the IV lines one more time, rested his hand on the baby’s back, ready to lift him and burp him and
maybe move him to the other breast, although he didn’t know how he would do that. He turned, praying that they would get to the hospital so quickly, his involvement would not be necessary. He was still praying when they pulled into the hospital bay and Aviva lay still, her hand cupping her baby’s head.

Art: Lindsay Barnett

Willa Rosenbach Morris holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia
University and has been the co-editor in chief of a small literary
magazine. This excerpt was taken from her novel, Stories from
the Roof.

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August 13, 2020 by

Daphne Merkin on the Nature of Love and Lust

Daphne Merkin is an essayist known for her take—at once both ferociously observant and fiercely introspective—on everything from depression, spanking during sex and the importance of handbags.  In 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26)) her first novel in more than 30 years, Merkin turns her gimlet-eyed attention to Judith Stone, a young book editor in New York City who has not yet had her first real reckoning with love—or with the erotic charge that often fuels it. 

Enter Howard Rose, the somewhat older attorney she meets at a party.  Howard arouses her in ways she’s never before experienced and very quickly, she’s putty in his hands.  That he’s inclined to insult, undermine and emotionally abuse her only makes him more desirable.  Merkin talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the nature of lust, love and whether the two can ever truly be reconciled. 

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July 27, 2020 by

Fiction: “Do Not Punish Us”


Chana Blankshteyn (1860?– 1939) is almost entirely forgotten now, but she was a well-known figure in Vilna between the two World Wars. She was an activist, committed to women’s causes and vocational training for women. As a publisher, editor, and journalist, Blankshteyn defended women’s rights to social, sexual, and political equality. She belonged to the Folkspartey, which argued that Jews were an ethnic minority with a distinct secular linguistic and cultural identity that should be acknowledged and cultivated. Her collection of nine Yiddish short stories, with an introduction by noted Yiddishist Max Weinreich, was published in July 1939. That such a book appeared in Vilna just before the Second World War is remarkable. Even more remarkable are the modern stories in that book. Here is one of them.

A group of doctors, mathematicians, and lawyers who had just completed their final exams celebrated by organizing a friendly gathering. In the morning they took a boat out to a small summering place famous for its historic castle and its large, lush park that stretched for several miles along the river. There was a small pavilion built in an antique Italian style, with a restaurant inside. Once upon a time, after a walk, lovely, proud ladies with powdered hair and laced-up bodices rested there. Cavalrymen, and black cuirassiers, and dragoons in clothing embroidered with gold and silver drank Burgundy from their silk shoes, rode horses at breakneck speed, tortured their slaves nearly to death in order to give their beloved, at the exact right moment, a note on perfumed rose paper with a royal coat of arms.

The long narrow table was set on the green meadow, encircled by old bushy fir trees and tall hundred-year-old oaks. Squirrels with golden red tails were on the branches. One could imagine that, from behind a large tree that two people holding hands could not have encircled, a satyr with goat’s feet would appear, looking at a wood nymph he desired.

About twenty people were sitting around the table, among them a few older friends who lived in the city. Quite a few bottles had already been emptied and lay on the grass. The group was heated by glasses of wine, happy that the difficult months had passed and excited to be in the crystal clear air with its strong scent of earth and trees.

She sits at the end of the table and refreshes herself with frozen punch. Slowly, with a small spoon, she snacks on the cold, sweet dish, and with closed eyes breathes in the strong scent of rum.

“Pretty Max” stands up from his place next to his friend, the private tutor, and with measured steps approaches her. “A hot day,” he says most earnestly, and waits for an answer. Pretty Max deals with everything in the world most earnestly, and most of all with himself. A young man without uncertainties: he never doubted that he would become a famous gynecologist and travel around in his own car; never doubted that all the female students were in love with him and he even pitied them a bit—clearly, he couldn’t love all the women at the same time!

Since she is still silent, he moves a chair near her, sits down and stretches out one foot in its lavender sock, exactly the same color as his enormously wide handkerchief in the breast pocket of his elegant brown summer suit. Because Pretty Max takes everything so earnestly, everything about him is exaggerated: not simply well-dressed, but elegant, not simply spoke, but orated—impressing even himself. Friends used to laugh at him, but in a good-natured way. To tell the truth, he never injured anyone by word or deed. The female students also laughed at him, but not really wholeheartedly—he was, after all, a handsome young man. Unusually handsome.

“I want to visit you before we all go our separate ways. Tomorrow, at two o’clock I’ll have the honor to do so.”

His brown velvety eyes claim her attention. She feels them on her skin, on her suddenly dry lips. It isn’t the first time that she blushes when he speaks to her. She jokes about him just as the others do, but, still, she likes him. Raised in her grandfather’s well-to-do household in the village, she is drawn to him with all of her healthy youthfulness. Whenever she meets him, her blood pulses faster and her heart beats more loudly. She thinks that he has the same effect on the other girls. They don’t want to admit it, or they just don’t say so aloud.

Pretty Max stands up:

“So, tomorrow at two o’clock. You won’t be bored,” he continues with ingenuous solemnity. His velvety eyes caress her. A bit of red pours over her cheeks, flares down her neck. She bows her head. “Good.” Pretty Max returns to his place near the private tutor. He is calm and earnest.

It has become very hot. And she is also tired. She wants to lie down. At least for a quarter of an hour. Not more. With gentle, womanly gracefulness she stands up, takes her coat from amongst the clothing strewn about, and goes to sit under the trees. A friend calls. Someone laughs. She doesn’t stop. She pretends not to hear. In the woods, it’s not as hot. Here, under the old fir tree whose branches hang down to the ground, she stretches out. She sees them all from afar, but here it’s not as noisy. The thick branches swallow the cheerful voices.

She puts her coat under her head, stretches out. How nice it is here! An isolated, hidden corner. Over her head—an entwined green roof. It’s just like in the old story about the beautiful queen whose husband, the wood nymph, cast a spell over her. She had seen illustrations of the story at the dentist’s where she lived. She doesn’t remember why and how the mean king cursed his wife. Her head is spinning…. But in such an old thick forest there really could once have been all sorts of beings, good and bad spirits, nymphs and monsters. Only now does she feel how very tired she is. Deep in her bones, she still feels the weight of the last difficult exams. The professor drove the students hard. He had been especially angry today. Maybe he was on the verge of an attack of gallstones. Whenever that happens, he doesn’t know what to do with himself or others. She isn’t at all afraid of mathematics, but it’s still good to know that everything went well. She can finally sleep peacefully… But what’s so strange? He? Pretty Max?

Dry needles from the fir tree pour down. Someone is coming…. Who can it be? Who? The tall trees move apart, the woodland king appears. Two pairs of gnomes, one pair following the other, carry his long green beard. In their free hands they hold tiny golden axes. Behind them walks the chief marshal, the old satyr with his goat’s feet. The woodland king, with the yellow face of the mathematics professor, stops. She wants to flee, but behind her the satyr’s horns emerge. He raises his scepter with its head of a dead owl. She feels faint. She feels his green beard on her cheeks. She knows—it is a great honor when the lord of the field and forest casts his eye upon a mortal girl, but, still, she has taken all her exams…. Why does she deserve this? No, no! Suddenly the branches start to rustle, thousands of birds sing sweetly, the entire meadow is full of nymphs and sprites. They stand around the woodland queen. Golden hair bedecks her white back, redolent flowers circle her body. On her head she carries a crown of diamonds that the gnomes dug out of the depths of the mountains for her. She raises her hand.

“Aha! Caught! Lusting after a young nymph!”

Her mother of pearl bosom rises and all the birds emit a melodic sigh. The chief marshal lowers his horns and hides behind the king.

The girl under the tree jumps up on a wide tree branch. The thick growth hides her. No one sees her. The woodland king raises his nose, just like the professor.

“Foolish woman, are you jealous? Do you concern yourself with the women who creep around on the earth? They are born and disappear like dust under our feet. Don’t you know that I cannot allow our godly generation to die out? Even you, immortal women, don’t understand your men!”

A wild storm erupts. Tall trees bow down and tremble like torn leaves. Thunder splits the sky. All the living beings fall down. The woodland king’s eyes burn like fire and his voice is louder than the thunder.

“Go, foolish woman. Because of your jealous curiosity I cast upon you my royal curse. Go!”

The queen lowers her head. A bejeweled tear falls from her diaphanous eyes. She departs slowly. Around her is her frightened retinue.

The golden axes resound in the hands of the gnomes. The earth shakes under the woodland king’s heavy steps. He disappears.

As soon as the godly pair disappear the thunder is silenced, the birds once again begin to praise the day, and the sun in the clear heavens smiles down on the world.

She jumps down from the tree branch and heads through the forest. A clear river beckons her from afar. Heatedly, she throws herself into the cool stream, jumps out, dries herself in the golden sand on the shore, weaves a crown, and adorns herself with white lilies. A sweet melody is heard: the little lonesome shepherd is playing on his fife. She runs over, taps him on the forehead and hides among the bushes. But the shepherd finds her. She sits on a fallen tree trunk. She refreshes herself with the redolent honey of a green leaf that has stolen out of the hollow of an oak tree.

The old black billy goat gathers the white sheep. He knows that as soon as the young shepherd runs after a girl, he—the old billy goat—must guard the flock.

Suddenly two white doves fly by. They are blowing on narrow silver trumpets— the queen’s messengers are summoning her nymphs. She reminds them that she, too, is in the king’s retinue. She runs to where the silver trumpets beckon.

The entire court is already assembled on the flowery meadow. In the middle stands a tall brown jackass. Its coat shines like copper under the sun. The queen rises from her throne. The white swans at her feet spread their wings and fly after her. Two nymphs bring a wreath of roses. The queen puts it on the jackass’s forehead. It turns around, looks at her with big brown eyes, stretches out its head and emits a long dreadful cry. The queen is delighted.

“Listen to how majestic and grand is his sweet voice. Listen!”

The sapphire eyes shine, the dainty hand with the coral nails stretch out. A contented sigh raises the buds on her mother-of-pearl breast. The evening stars of her crown, a gift from her sister the Night Queen, descend…

Tenderly she embraces the ass’s thick mane… The queen’s companions cover their faces with their hair and weep quietly. Others laugh. Behind the trees there are all sorts of creatures who live in the forest and make fun of their ruler whom the king, her husband, punished with the curse that she would bless an ass with her divine body. The old satyr, the Chief Marshal, leans on his scepter with its head of a dead owl. He shakes his horns gleefully. “Ha, ha, the proud and beautiful queen is in love with a fool.”

The young woman under the tree trembles in sadness and pity. Shame has turned her face red. Frightened, she startles. Where is that laughter coming from? She leans on her hand. Where is she? And where is the angry king with the professor’s yellow face? And who is there on the meadow? She stares. A tall man is standing near the table. She sees him through the branches. His straight, dark hair falls over his ear. His brown suit glistens like a pelt. Who is he? Whom does he resemble? And why are they laughing around the table? Oh my, whom does he resemble?

The strong, healthy young woman, the first female mathematician to graduate, sits under the bushy fir tree and sways, just like her old grandmother at home used to do when saying her prayers on the Sabbath. Swaying and murmuring and wringing her hands. “Protect and shield me, Master of the Universe! Do not let my foolish infatuation crown the ass in my heart. Grant mercy to your daughters. Do not punish us with a fool.”

Cheerful voices call out:

“How much longer will you sleep? Get up, we’re going swimming!”


Anita Norich is Collegiate Professor Emerita of English and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. Her most recent book, A Jewish Refugee in New York (2019), is a translation of a Yiddish novel by Kadya Molodovsky.

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July 27, 2020 by

Pandemics…in Space!

Let us assume that you don’t want to read nonfiction right now. Not only that, you don’t want to read anything that bears too close a resemblance to our current (worst) timeline, or to reality in general. And finally, let us assume that any book— no, any words, written by a cis man are right off the table.

Welcome to your feminist, Jewish, science-fiction/fantasy summer reading list.

1. You love the genre but desperately want something new: Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb trilogy). Lesbian necromancers horny on main in a haunted, gothic castle. Wild, weird fun, but beware of unexpected heartbreak after the tone lures you into thinking we’re safe from Red Wedding-style twists. The sequel was postponed due to Covid-19, but is available now,.

2. You loved Dune but thought it was a little dick-heavy:  A Memory Called Empire (The Teixcalaan Series). Diplomatic thriller with a side of colonialism and empire, written by a queer woman city planner with a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. Gorgeous, meticulous worldbuilding is as intricate and solid as could be hoped for in this subgenre. Sequel out in 2020.

3. You love high fantasy but yell at parties about how deeply Christian it all is: Spinning Silver. I have read Spinning Silver five times. I plan to re-read it when it gets hot this summer. Jewish moneylender’s daughter in the Pale as the hero of an epic fantasy, with superb writing, characterization, and an all-female cast of main characters.

4. You desperately wanted to be an astronaut at age nine, but, again, found The Martian a tad sausage-heavy: The Calculating Stars (The Lady Astronaut series). A winning combination of light, snappy prose with a gripping plot and a Jewish heroine—you can swallow this book over a long Shabbat, or read it in five-minute breaks from CNN or homeschooling. The book gets bonus points for dealing intelligently and compassionately with mental health in a time when many of us are struggling with our own. Two sequels are available with more on the way. There’s even Jewish, feminist, Hugo-nominated art of the series available.

5. You find J.K. Rowling problematic but love Magic School as a theme: Akata Witch (The Akata Books trilogy). Another I’m planning on re-reading, Akata Witch is just what’s needed for the pandemic summer. It’s a smart, rollicking take on the magic-school trope and Okorafor writes the hell out of it. A third book is on the horizon, but for now it’s only the first two.

6. You’re new to the genre but love doorstops that hold their literary weight: The Broken Earth trilogy. If you have not read these, they are among the best that modern science-fiction and fantasy has to offer. However. If you struggle at all with child death scenes or scenes depicting cruelty to children, put them on a shelf until after Covid-19. These are the only books on the list I wouldn’t call escapist—if you want a different world that lets you see our own brokenness through new eyes, The Broken Earth has your number.

T.S. Mendola (@tsmendola) is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia.

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The Lilith Blog

July 13, 2020 by

Call for Submissions: Black and Jewish Fiction

Polish up that short story, flash fiction piece, or novel excerpt and submit today! Lilith magazine–independent, Jewish & frankly feminist–especially welcomes feminist fiction submissions from Black Jewish feminist writers and BIJOC writers of all gender identities this summer for our upcoming print issues. Publishing since 1976, Lilith (www.Lilith.org, and in print) has always been committed to diverse representation from Jews of Color, and we’re eager to expand this with more fiction from YOU.

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April 23, 2020 by

A New Translation of a Yiddish Comic Gem

If you crossed Helen’s Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary with Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, you might end up with Diary of a Lonely Girl, or the Battle Against Free Love (Syracuse University Press, $19.95) written by the Yiddish writer Miriam Karpilove and recently translated by Jessica Kirzane. Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough talks to Kirzane about how she stumbled upon this singular writer and why her work still matters today. 

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April 14, 2020 by

A Novel About Women, Science, Ambition— and Love

A wish for readers in 2020: May we finally and fearlessly engage with the persistent and insidious trope of the “unlikeable” female character. You might recognize these women – they have complicated desires and emotions and sometimes they make decisions that make the reader gasp and gnash her teeth and are desperate to find out what happens, and why. In other words, “unlikeable” female characters should probably just be called “characters.

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March 28, 2020 by

The Light After the War: Jews in Caracas

Two best friends jump off a train heading for Auschwitz, leaving their mothers still on board.  They survive the rest of the war in hiding, and when peace is finally declared, make their way to Naples, then Ellis Island and finally Caracas, trying to rebuild their shattered lives. This actually happened to Anita Abriel’s mother, and she used it as the basis for her newest novel, The Light After the War (Atria Books, $27). She talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about how and why she transformed fact into fiction. 

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March 24, 2020 by

Real Life Mysteries: A Lost Voice and Communication With the Dead

Everyone loves a great mystery on the page, but what about in real life? Victoria Zackheim decided to ask a group of writers exactly that question and she collects their answers in the new volume, Private Investigations: Mystery Writers on the Secrets, Wonders and Riddles in Their Lives (Seal Press). Caroline Leavitt’s mystery began with her losing her voice, and the endless medical quest she embarked on to find out why. Hallie Ephron was prompted to write about a friend’s belief that she could communicate with her dead brother. Both of these writers talk to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about how their essays were informed by their experience as Jewish women.

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March 16, 2020 by

The Fraught and Frayed Bonds of Sisterhood

The fraught, frayed bonds of sisterhood is a subject beautifully explored by Lynda Cohen Loigman in The Wartime Sisters (St. Martin’s Press) a WWII-era novel that probes the connection between Millie—beautiful, impractical—and Ruth, pragmatic yet desperate to protect the life she’s carved out for herself.

Loigman talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about how she found her way to their story and where it took her.  

Yona Zeldis McDonough: What attracted you to the subject of the Springfield Armory and how did you go about doing your research?

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