The ProsenPeople

The Beginnings of A Bintel Brief

Monday, April 14, 2014 | Permalink

Liana Finck is an emerging graphic novelist. She was a Fulbright Fellow in Brussels in 2009-10 and is a Six Points Fellow in New York. She publishes in The Forward Newspaper and Tablet Magazine. Her graphic novel, A Bintel Brief, was published by Ecco. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

In January 1906, a woman wrote a letter to a Yiddish daily newspaper called the Forward, to complain that her watch had disappeared. The letter was written in choppy Yiddish; the woman was not used to writing and it was obviously a struggle for her to put her thoughts on paper. The watch was the woman’s only valuable possession. When her son, who supported the family, couldn’t find work, she would pawn the watch so that they’d be able to buy food. The woman suspects her neighbor, an even poorer woman, of taking the watch. She writes “Now the watch lies in the hands of your pawnshop man and not in the hands of my pawnshop man.”

At first, the newspaper editor who read the letter thought the woman had written it in spite, and was trying to shame her neighbor. But on closer inspection, he realized that the letter was actually an exercise in tact. The woman didn’t want to hurt her neighbor’s feelings by confronting her; but she knew the neighbor read the Forward, and hoped to plead with her anonymously through its pages. The letter ends: “I swear on the life of my sick husband that I will remain your friend…just send me the pawn ticket in the mail and I won’t say a word… But give me back my bread.”

The Forward’s editor, Abraham Cahan, published the letter the next day, under a new heading, “A Bintel Brief”—a bundle of letters. The advice column ran in Forward for the next sixty years. A Bintel Brief was an advice column to the highest degree and the most operatic power. Through it, young, alienated Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe were given a rare chance to be heard. Mothers wrote in to find the children they’d put up for adoption; despairing people were urged against suicide; starving families were directed to charity organizations; fathers with tuberculosis bared their sorrows about not being allowed to hug their children; women publicly shamed their ‘missing’ husbands. Heavy stuff. And yet: the letters have the anecdotal lightness you’d expect of a more normal advice column. They are surprisingly sweet, often funny—like small, brightly lit windows into the lives of people caught at their most vulnerable, who, through some trick of the printed word, seem like characters in the best kind of fairytale; their lives are hard, but their sadness has meaning, their difficulties are tempered by something otherworldly. Cahan read the letters and answered them concisely, in a fatherly, rabbinical voice. ­

The Forward was already popular in 1906, but A Bintel Brief touched a nerve. By 1912, the newspaper’s circulation had rocketed to 120,000, making the Forward a formidable presence in the world. Abraham Cahan edited with an iron hand, changing the definition of Yiddish publishing. His vision for the Forward was a newspaper that the uneducated could read, which would educate them and bring them joy. He urged people to join the labor movement and fight for better working conditions and wages; he also published simple, ‘fluff’ articles that explained the rules of baseball, the importance of sending children to college, the proper way to use a handkerchief, and how to preserve peaches like a real American. Alongside articles about politics were Yiddish translations of great European novels, printed serially, and pieces of yellow journalism about sensationalist murders and the ‘white slave trade.’

On the side, Cahan wrote novels in English about his world. He wanted to educate the American public about the Jewish immigrants and where they’d come from. His books were radical—no one wanted to read a novel about the New York slums, or the Jews. His most famous novel is called The Rise of David Levinsky. It is a Dickensian tragedy about the American dream, and is full of vivid details from a vanished New York, as well as the thriving Jewish towns in Eastern Europe that have been destroyed since then.

Read more about Liana Finck here.

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The Things I Miss About Israel

Friday, April 11, 2014 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Eve Harris shared her experiences in a Charedi school in London that informed her debut novel The Marrying of Chani Kaufman. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I made aliyah in 1999 at the age of 25 and lived in Jerusalem for a year, and then for two years in Tel Aviv, working as an English teacher in high schools. I returned to London in 2002 for a break, feeling very burnt out by the intensity of life that is Israel. I needed to recharge my batteries and make a decision about whether living in Israel was really for me. I ended up being offered my old teaching job back at a girls’ Catholic Convent school. I realised at the same time how much I missed the breadth and variety that London has to offer, and its solidity—which is no small thing, having just spent two years living through the second Intifada. Then I met my husband so my fate was decided. While I love Israel deeply and go back to visit nearly every year, there are still a few things I continue to miss about the country:

  • The smell of baked tarmac and hot, moist earth the minute you step off the plane
  • The fact that December 25th is just another ordinary, sunny day
  • The road signs that loom out of nowhere in the desert for places called Sodom and Lot
  • The brilliant, white curves of restored Bauhaus buildings against an azure sky in Tel Aviv
  • The fading, crumbling colonial gems that appear like ghosts flitting between modern blocks, down narrow forgotten streets in South Tel Aviv
  • The existence of Modern Hebrew everywhere—screaming billboards, shop signs, radio jingles, the language of the street and the courtroom, of commerce and of lovers, of politicians and mothers
  • Eating chunks of sweet, fleshy watermelon mixed with salty feta cheese at a café on the beach at midnight—my toes in the sand
  • The sultry scent of oleander, its waxy flowers adding another ingredient to the olfactory explosion that is a Tel Aviv summer night
  • The sweet relief of rain after the relentless barrage of summer
  • The old, wooden poles that support loops of ugly electric cable that hum at night in Neveh Tsedek
  • The screeching of stray cats pursuing their amorous adventures at the back of every apartment block
  • The bliss of stepping into the cool, quiet luxury of air-conditioning
  • The blinding, biblical sunlight that strips the world of colour at midday that can’t be found anywhere else
  • The ancient city of Jerusalem with all its secrets, curses and shadows
  • The modern bubble of Tel Aviv with all its vim and vigour and love of youth and hedonism
  • The quiet and peace that steals over both cities just before sundown on Friday
  • The old, moss covered sycamore trees that look like old men with beards that line Rotschild Boulevard and the fruit bats that live in their branches and haunt your peripheral vision with their silent swooping
  • The smell of hot pine resin and crushed pine needles from the little playground where I used to play as a child near my grandparents’ house
  • The knowledge that if England were to ever throw me out for being a ‘dirty Jew,' I would always have a home

Eve Harris was born to Israeli-Polish parents in Chiswick, West London, in 1973. She taught for 12 years at inner-city comprehensives and independent schools in London and also in Tel Aviv, after moving to Israel in 1999. She returned to London in 2002 to resume teaching at an all girls' Catholic convent school. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman was inspired by her final year of teaching at an all girls' ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in North West London. Eve lives in London with her husband, Jules, and their daughter Rosie.

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New Jewish Book Council Reviews

Friday, April 11, 2014 | Permalink

This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:

Find more of the latest reviews here.

JBC Book Clubs Asks: Facilitator Tips on Participation and Staying Focused

Thursday, April 10, 2014 | Permalink

JBC Book Clubs is asking: what does it take to lead a book club?**  

We started this series hearing from Sarah Rindner about the extensive research she does before her book club meetings and when the pros and cons of including author interviews in the discussion. For the second post in this series of tips for facilitators from facilitators, we asked Joan Tedlow, a facilitator of three different book groups, for her thoughts and suggestions. 

I have been facilitating two Jewish book clubs for my synagogue, Temple Solel, a large reform congregation located in North County, San Diego, for the past 15 years. Our membership consists of women (no men unfortunately!) ranging in age from their 30’s to late 80’s. Recently, I added a third club at the local Jewish retirement home. 

In my experience, the most important element of maintaining participation is having women buy into the program by actively involving them in the book selection process. Typically I present 20 books: one biography/autobiography/memoir, one novel by an Israeli author, several non-fiction selections and, of course, contemporary Jewish novels. The group selects 10 books that they would like to read/discuss in the coming year. I also solicit suggestions from the groups. 

 In preparation for the discussion, I read the book no more than 6 weeks in advance, so it is fresh in my mind. I research biographical information about the author, much of which I find on his/her website. The author’s life story often sheds light on his/her work. I read reviews, being careful that they are unbiased. For instance, if they are composed by other authors who also write for the same publisher, I tend to take them with a grain of salt. I prefer sources such as Kirkus reviews and the newspapers, particularly The New York Times Sunday Review of Books. 

On to the actual book club meeting! I begin with the author’s bio and then offer a few reviews. Then I go around the room and ask the group to share with us how they liked/disliked the selection, keeping their comments to just a few sentences. This approach encourages ladies who may be shy to participate. Then I throw out the questions, which I have developed and adapted with the help of on-line resources. Most publishers provide discussion questions, although I almost always find I have to tailor them to our group. I always try to have 10 questions, so the discussion doesn’t fall flat. 

The tricky part of facilitating then comes into play. How do we keep our members from straying from the subject? No one is interested in their personal experiences, if they don’t relate to the subject. I must admit that I tend to be a bit of a tyrant. I have no problem in interrupting a speaker, thanking her for her comments and moving on. It’s not fair to allow one woman to monopolize the conversation. It’s hard not to be rigid when you have formulated the questions and want to get through them, but I find that I do have to allow some unstructured conversation, as long as it relates to the book. My groups are terrific; they always have some pithy insights that I miss. 

At the end of the conversation, I always ask if anyone’s opinion of the material has changed due to the discussion. Would they recommend the book to others?

Looking for author interviews, discussion questions or book recommendations? Look to JBC Book Clubs for all of that and more.

**Do you have tips or advice for leading a book club discussion? Tell us! Share in the comments below or email Miri at if you would like to contribute to this series. 

April 2014 Jewish Book Council Staff Picks

Thursday, April 10, 2014 | Permalink

What we're reading this month:

Suzanne: The Harem Midwife (Roberta Rich) | Naomi: A Bintel Brief (Liana Finck)
Miri: The Inn at Lake Devine (Elinor Lipman) | Nat: Testimony (The Shoah Foundation)
Carol: The Life-Transforming Diet (David Zulberg) | Mimi: Seduction (M.J. Rose)

Make Passover Cooking a Family Affair

Thursday, April 10, 2014 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Tamar Ansh shared a recipe for Moroccan-Style Gefilte Fish for Passover. Her newest book, Let My Children Cook!, is now available. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Following the release of my newest cookbook, Let My Children Cook! A Passover Cookbook for Kids, people often ask me whether it’s REALLY possible to get the kids to be helpful in the kitchen with all the holiday food prep. The answer is: Yes!! While it may take longer to peel those potatoes or to whisk the eggs, it’s well worth it. Kids love to be helpful (though it may not always seem that way!) and little jobs keep them entertained during the pre-Passover hustle and bustle. Besides, they’ll always remember it as special quality time and will even learn along the way.

Over the years, my kids have spent many enjoyable hours in the kitchen with me. I find it’s all about expectations. I try to set out a certain amount of time we will spend together and try not to push it. Cooking with kids is wonderful but best if done in increments rather than a marathon of kitchen time. If there’s more to be done, I finish it myself after they’ve gone to bed. For the younger ones, I make sure to designate very specific, simple jobs. Once they finish, say, rolling out dough for cookies or chopping veggies for a salad, I make sure to thank them and let them know they’ve been very helpful. This has proven to have gone over well in my family, as my bigger kids are now great cooks. They truly love to prepare anything – but they do have a preference for desserts. (Who doesn’t?!) My son is excellent at braiding challah (not for Passover, of course) and baking apple crisps. Last year, my girls made delicious potato blintzes and Passover egg noodles.

Besides for keeping my kids involved, our time spent in the kitchen together also serves as bonding time. Everyone says they grow up too fast…and it’s true! Soon they’ll be busy with friends and other interests. I like to make cooking time an enjoyable activity for the family, even if it may take longer than doing on my own. Memories that will last a lifetime are being formed. We even have some funny stories involving a few kitchen flops that certainly won’t be forgotten. I once made a beautiful cake with my children and it slipped out of the pan right onto the counter. Of course, they were thrilled since they got to eat it right then and there.

So, I say, instead of dreading the hours of cooking and baking you are planning, embrace it. Get the kids some cute aprons, put on some music, enjoy the quality time. When you sense they’ve had enough, do some crafts together (that is why I included some crafts in Let My Children Cook!) and sit the kids down with some art supplies. The atmosphere will be pleasant and you will be able to check some things off that pre-Passover “to do” list while creating positive memories.

Tamar Ansh is an author, editor and food columnist, among many other things. Her newest book, Let My Children Cook!, is a Passover cookbook for kids aged 8-108 with easy to follow recipes, safety tips and hilarious illustrations, that will help any kid (and their families!) enjoy a delicious and fun Passover for years to come. Some of Tamar Ansh's other books include: A Taste of Challah; Let's Say Amen!, & Pesach – Anything's Possible!, an adult Pesach cookbook with over 350 non gebrochs & gluten free no-fail recipes. Everything can be viewed via her website at Mrs. Ansh also does live cooking and challah shows, and has been published in a wide variety of both print and online publications.​

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A Glimpse into the English Charedi School System

Wednesday, April 09, 2014 | Permalink

Eve Harris was born to Israeli-Polish parents in Chiswick, West London, in 1973. She taught for 12 years at inner-city comprehensives and independent schools in London and also in Tel Aviv, after moving to Israel in 1999. She returned to London in 2002 to resume teaching at an all girls' Catholic convent school. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman was inspired by her final year of teaching at an all girls' ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in North West London. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

The school was on a residential street in North West London. From the outside it was unremarkable, but the atmosphere as I crossed the threshold for the first time for an interview to become an English teacher, was astonishing. The Catholic convent school I’d just left was a seething cauldron of energy and chaos. The noise of ringing school bells and yelling teenagers formed the backdrop to a relentless melodrama of flunked exams and teenage pregnancies. After twelve years teaching in the comprehensive system, I was burnt out.

The advert in the TLS described the school as a girls’ grammar, but I guessed from the Jewish name that it would be quite religious, so I was dressed appropriately - long skirt, long sleeves and a neckline high enough to cover my collarbone. I’m a secular Jew, but I had no inkling what I was letting myself in for. The school wasn’t just a bit religious; it was a Charedi school, the most theologically conservative stream of Orthodox Judaism. In the UK, they are known for their black sable ‘shtreimel’ hats and curled side-locks, and little else, since they are notoriously insular. According to Jewish Policy Research, there are currently 53,400 Charedi Jews in Britain, a group that is growing fast. Membership of Charedi synagogues has doubled since 1990, and they now account for three out of every four British Jewish births.

After a successful interview with the headmistress, I was offered the job. I won’t name it, but it is a private day school attended by 300 girls from North West London aged between 11 and 18. It is one of many such schools to be found across the UK. The mood inside was completely alien to any educational establishment I’d entered previously – quiet, calm and dignified, more like a place of worship than four walls containing hundreds of hormonal teens.

The girls here, though, were different, inhabiting a tiny bubble constructed for them by their community. Banned from going on the internet, reading unsanctioned books and newspapers, or listening to the radio. Jeans and make-up are taboo and boyfriends are completely unheard of. The television in particular is regarded as ‘a sewer in the living room’. No girl is accepted by the school unless her parents first sign an agreement that they don’t own one of these demonic sets. This censorship is so successful that not one of my pupils had heard of Madonna, Rihanna or Beyoncé. They are vigilantly protected from the hyper-sexualisation of the modern world we’re so used to that it’s become the norm. The result is a childhood preserved and extended to its full limits, not curtailed by worldly knowledge of adult things. What struck me most profoundly in those first few weeks, as I compared the girls to the numerous twelve and thirteen year-olds I’d taught (some of whom had had children at that age), was that at 12, 13, 14, 15 these girls are still innocent, living the lives of Enid Blyton characters in the 21st Century. And it was beautiful. They were vivacious and lively; not downtrodden, meek or mild, but bursting with life, and generally very happy.

The curriculum was divided into two balanced strands. Kodesh, or Jewish studies, which included Torah, Jewish ethics, philosophy and prayers. The other strand was Chol, or secular studies, including English, maths, science, French, history, Yiddish, sewing and cooking. The last two might sound backwards to our ears, but actually, I came to think it was fantastic. Ultra-Orthodox families are so large – having twelve children is common – that knowing how to churn out nutritious food and mend hand-me-down clothes is a crucial life skill.

The entire curriculum, however, was heavily censored, which often made teaching difficult. Whole pages of the biology textbook were glued together or ripped out. Art books containing pictures of Boticelli or Michelangelo nudes were covered in white stickers to block out breasts or genitalia. The selection of English literature texts that wasn’t deemed impure was miniscule. The Year 7s were taught Heidi, because once you begin to look, there’s hardly a poem or novel that doesn’t make reference to sex or have inappropriate language. Romeo & Juliet was out, due to its steamy love scenes, as were Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Tempest, because they involve love stories and sex. Macbeth and Julius Caesar however, full of murder and violence, were fine! Even Harry Potter was frowned upon for being too magical and worldly. So we studied Wind in the Willows, Roar of Thunder Hear My Cry, Kindertransport, and Journey’s End. Over and over again. Despite this, the girl’s results were impressive. They loved English because it was a porthole onto the outside world.

Everything I taught had to be sanctioned by the head of department, and I got into trouble on numerous occasions. I was once teaching an illustrated and annotated version of Julius Caesar to a group of 14-year-olds, when one put up her hand and said ‘Miss, are we supposed to be looking at this picture? I don’t think it’s appropriate’. I looked down and saw an inch-high cartoon of a man wearing a loincloth, representing the Colossus of Rhodes. I thought nothing of it, and said ‘what’s wrong with him?’ and she, grinning like a Cheshire cat, said ‘he’s immodest!’ I took it straight to the head of department, who promptly collected every copy in the school and together, using black marker pens, we hurriedly gave each Colossus a t-shirt and shorts.

On another occasion, I was scuppered by a William Blake poem, "London," which contains the word ‘harlot’. The head of English told me she had to keep the word in because it would be in their GCSE exam, but that I should be very careful to gloss over it. If they asked what it meant, I was to say ‘like the fallen women in the Torah’. My pupils were very academic and ambitious and they all wanted A grades, so I knew this sketchy cop-out wouldn’t suffice. Sure enough, they pressed me, and I found myself explaining that it meant ‘a woman who sells her body for money to survive’. They wrote it down word for word. Later that day, one girl’s father looked at her notes and wrote a stinking letter saying ‘why is Mrs Harris teaching this filth to my child?’ The head of department was furious. She had to pull the poem from the curriculum. It was another text lost.

In a similar vein, the girls have little scope for self-expression – the uniform of long sleeves and long skirts mimics the same muted colours and conservative clothes they will wear as adult women. Save for one difference – once married, the majority will wear wigs, allowing only their husbands to see their natural hair. A woman’s hair is a symbol of her sexual attraction and a married woman should only display it in the privacy of the marital bedroom. This lesson was firmly drummed into the girls once a year when the school held its annual ‘modesty campaign’, consisting of a week-long marathon of DVDs and sermons from various female figures of authority on the importance of buttoning up and covering one’s hair.

On one occasion, I found myself sitting in a school assembly listening to a woman tell the girls that a married Jewish woman who allows even a strand of hair to show is responsible for the sins of the world. I was wearing a headscarf that partially covered my real hair. Other secular members of staff were wearing hats. Some of the girls turned around to gawp. I remember feeling embarrassed and extremely irritated. The lack of respect that is sometimes shown for Jews who are not Orthodox is distasteful. Some of them would not even consider a woman like me to be Jewish.

Teenagers are renowned for their propensity to rebellion, but attempts at defection were surprisingly rare. I heard that one girl was expelled from the school for wearing jeans at the weekend, and another for climbing out of her bedroom window to meet a boy. The majority, however, comply, I believe, simply because they’re happy. They know they’re going to get married and they don’t have to worry about money. They don’t have to worry about loneliness either and their sense of family, community and friendship are incomparable. They know what is expected of them and they’re content.

Their view of our society is that we’re living in sexualised chaos, where everything is allowed and there is no respect or family life. They look at the outside world and think we’re in hell, that we’ve got it all wrong. They call us ‘the goyim’, a derogatory Hebrew term for ‘the others’. They believe that the messiah is coming, and soon, and for him to do so we need to be in a purified state. That’s not to say that sex doesn’t have a place in Judaism. Sex is a very important part of their lives as long as it takes place in a marital bed, and there it is celebrated. The myth about doing it through a hole in a sheet is just that, a myth. When I married my husband a few years ago, we went through the Orthodox system and my husband was given a sex lesson by the rabbi. The rabbi said to him, ‘your wife’s pleasure is more important than yours, and it’s very important that you satisfy her desires when required and learn to restrain your own needs when she shows uninterest.’ Orthodox Jewish women are far from the subservient chattels they’re so often perceived to be.

For the girls I taught, the fairy-tale ending was to be married to a good Jewish boy, from the right sort of family, and to lead a spiritual life where they honour HaShem (God) and have lots of children. They don’t see marriage the way we see it. It’s not about romance and falling in love. Their idea of a relationship is that you build it, getting to know each other over time. You’re a partnership. Passion and love are not important, but they can come, later on in life. You have very elderly orthodox couples who are extremely in love with each other and have beautiful relationships. They knew nothing about each other at the beginning, but they’re told ‘respect each other, learn from each other, grow together’.

Typically, Charedi girls marry from 19 upwards, and if you’re not married by 23, you’re panicking. The ratio of girls to boy is skewed for some reason, and so the boys get to pick the youngest, prettiest ones. There’s a lot of pressure, and girls can get left on the shelf, or end up marrying someone much older.

If you’re an unmarried girl, what do you do with yourself? Very few go to university, and if they do, it will be the Open University or the local college so they can live at home. Even fewer get jobs; their role is to have children and bring them up in the yiddisher way. Without a husband and kids, you’re an oddity, a freak, and so most people turn to special matchmakers to help them find someone of the right sect, health and wealth. The first meeting usually takes place somewhere pretty anonymous, like a hotel foyer, and there’s no chaperone; they meet on their own. They have coffee and talk, and if it doesn’t work they move on.

At the school, the religious Kodesh strand of the curriculum is taught by ex-pupils who are waiting to get married. Every morning these girls would pray in the staffroom for God to send them the right match. They have to turn east towards Jerusalem, and the fridge happens to face east. So they would bow and pray in front of it, and people would get frustrated because they’d come in to have their breakfast and these girls were in the way and you can’t disturb them! In the end someone stuck a note on the fridge saying ‘please do not daven (pray) in front of the fridge’.

Charedi couples have as many children as they can, because the Torah commands that you go forth and multiply, but there’s also a deeper, more poignant reason. Behind that extraordinary Charedi insularity, behind everything they do, is a dark shadow – the holocaust, Hitler. They’ll never forget, and many of those who become Charedi are the children of survivors. They want to make up for the six million who were murdered and they do that by having a lot of children. Their fear of interacting with the secular world stems from the same thing. To outsiders it seems extreme, but they believe that ‘if we let our children out with people who are not Jews they’ll lose their spiritual purity, they will turn away from God, and we’ll be doing Hitler’s job for him’.

For all that I found it difficult, I couldn’t help but envy aspects of my pupils’ lives. Their innocence was beautiful. Their lives have meaning, and there’s a contented calmness to the cycle. Making lots of money, the pressure we have to succeed and be interesting, just doesn’t exist for them.

After a while, I came to find the censorship stifling, and teaching the same few sanctioned texts became dull. So I left the school, but the girls forever stamped themselves into my heart, contentedly living their lives in a glass bowl, whilst the rest of us scurried and hurried around them.

This article first appeared in The Times.

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Draper and the Jewess

Tuesday, April 08, 2014 | Permalink

Leah Umansky is the author of the Mad-Men inspired chapbook, Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press 2014) and Domestic Uncertainties (Blazevox 2013). She curates the COUPLET Reading Series and has been published in such places as POETRY, Poetry Review, and The Brooklyn Rail. Today, in honor of National Poetry Month, she writes about and shares one of her poems from Don Dreams and I Dream.

In the first season of "Mad Men," we’re introduced to Rachel Menken, head of a popular Jewish department store named Menken’s in Manhattan, and one of my favorite characters of the past six seasons.

Sterling Cooper, the firm, is trying to land Menken’s as a client, and Don and Rachel find themselves in love. I was drawn to Rachel, the Jewess, being Jewish myself, but I was also drawn to Don and the way Don sees her: exotic, othered and alluring.

Don and Rachel get each other. Their affair is sweet and near-innocent. They discover one another based on their instincts and their passions. Their love is fierce and he’s intrigued by her because she’s a strong woman.

She’s a hustler.

They are good for one another, but Don is married and surely, Rachel’s father would want her to find a nice Jewish man. But Don is drawn to Rachel.

Could it be the fact that both of their mother’s died in childbirth?

Maybe. Both are looking to fully belong to someone.

In Rachel, Don sees an equal and someone who understands him. They have both been on the outskirts. She’s a Jew, forget about being a female Jew, and therefore she’s an outsider in the big, bad, manly world of Sterling Cooper. But Don, Don’s a wealthy ad man, with the heart of a small, poverty-stricken, country boy. I want Rachel to runaway with Don, but she doesn’t need him. And in turning him down, we not only see another strong female character on "Mad Men," but a strong female Jewess.

Draper and the Jewess

You’ll like this poem, because you should. Because we all fight for the underdog. It has a nice ring to it, jewess. Draper invents their dichotomy, but I, I imagine their kiss is sweet, like an apple halved. Fresh, yet sour, and of course, verdant. Very verdant.

[which is close to virgin].

She reminds him of ofofof something pure, and of value and charm. An antique. A throw-back to a day of glory and grain, a day of the humble and pain. She is something unseeming, or appears to be so, until he lays his paws on her. She wants to love him, but he grows clingy and pale, recoiling from what she is: jewess. Her kiss is both a mother and a smother. Her wild heathenness beckons and stirs, beckons and purrs, and then, look what the cat drags in:

In her, he sees nostalgia. He sees what is sundogged, dawned and near-death. He sees pennies and scrapes and his scraping-by but also sees clarity and calm. In him, she sees his goishe Americanways. They are Napoleonic, bionic, and myopic. They could take over the world, but, she, she is a businesswoman. Her guards [and garters] rise to his touch. If he wants to invest, he will need to earn his shares just like everyone else. She is the Empress of Fifth Avenue. A rose, and he is a hornet.

[ Now, who’s the one with horns?]

He abandons his life. In her, he sees how the other side lives, but he forgets she is a proprietor. She knows what she values and manhood is golden. The Jewess does not get what she wants, but either does the Don. He’s got nothing. Zilch.

Read more about Leah Umansky and her work here.

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Recipe: Moroccan-Style Gefilte Fish For Passover

Monday, April 07, 2014 | Permalink

Tamar Ansh is an author, editor and food columnist, among many other things. Her newest book, Let My Children Cook!, is a Passover cookbook for kids aged 8-108 with easy to follow recipes, safety tips and hilarious illustrations, that will help any kid (and their families!) enjoy a delicious and fun Passover for years to come. She will be blogging here this week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I recently presented a cooking demo based on my new Passover kids’ cookbook Let My Children Cook, in Jerusalem. During the time the women and I had together we talked about some of the recipes (of course), watched some of them being made and baked right there, and tasted every one of them (was this in doubt?). I don’t know who had the better time – the ladies or myself. I really enjoy meeting new people this way and hearing their experiences, their feedback, and, of course, their own recipes. 

After writing a number of cookbooks, you’d think I’ve heard it all when it comes to gefilte fish. Then, a participant speaks up and tells me her favorite version of what to do with an average gefilte fish roll - something I’d never even considered. So, if I am smart, I run and get a scrap of paper and write it down because these kinds of ideas are gold nuggets when it comes to creativity! Or, someone tells me that her grandmother from (name that country) used to tell her what her mother made for Passovers when she was a child, and I get introduced to yet another facet of Jewish history and food. Sometimes I think I ought to record my shows since I don’t always remember every single thing by the time I get home and that’s a shame, since every memory is precious.

I also find that with every demo, I learn something to help me in the kitchen. Whether it’s a good tip or a recipe, there’s always novel wisdom I gain from the participants. This demo was no exception.

I was in the middle of demonstrating and explaining how I came up with the unlikely “Moroccan-Style Gefilte Fish” recipe in my new cookbook. I was explaining the way I developed the recipe and what I’d done to get the taste just right. Then one participant asked me if I defrost the roll first. I explained that it is best to defrost for about a half hour, so the paper on the roll removes easily. Someone else chimed in explaining a very easy way to avoid the wait: Simply take the wrapped, frozen loaf out of the plastic. Unwrap the two ends, run it under a stream of water, and…voilà! The paper then slides right off. I just shaved half an hour off this recipe. What a great tip! I’m certainly going to remember that for next time.

Since I mentioned my new gefilte fish recipe and the wonderful time-saving tip I learned, I’d like to share the recipe with you:

Moroccan-Style Gefilte Fish

Okay, so maybe this one is messing around with two different customs of fish — “gefilte fish” is mostly Eastern European, and Moroccan-style is mostly, well, Sefardi, but it comes out so good that I just had to share it…

Pareve; Serves 10

Let’s get to it!

  • 1 frozen, ready-made gefilte fish roll
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika (cayenne pepper)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into round slices

And here’s how you do it!

1.Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
2. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Peel off the wrapper and parchment paper from the frozen fish loaf and place it in the linedloaf pan.
3. In a small bowl, mix together the tomato paste, olive oil and all the spices.
4. Smear this all over the fish loaf and add in any leftover tomato paste.
5. Place the cut onions and carrots all over the fish loaf and in any spaces you find in the pan.
6. Cover the loaf with the parchment paper and then again with a piece of foil. Seal the edges well.
7. Bake for 1½ hours. Remove from the oven and let cool; refrigerate until serving.

Serve sliced, with the cooked veggies on the side. Really delish and quite different, too! And the aroma it emits while baking in your oven makes the whole kitchen smell inviting and amazing.

Excerpted from Let My Children Cook! A Passover Cookbook for Kids (Judaica Press)

Some of Tamar Ansh's other books include: A Taste of Challah; Let's Say Amen!, & Pesach – Anything's Possible!, an adult Pesach cookbook with over 350 non gebrochs & gluten free no-fail recipes. Everything can be viewed via her website at Mrs. Ansh also does live cooking and challah shows, and has been published in a wide variety of both print and online publications.​ 

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