The ProsenPeople

Just Like Comrade Karl Marx

Friday, August 12, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Michael Levy wrote about Jews and Chinese food and what Chinese people think about Jews. He has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Central China is a strange place.  Unlike the globalized, westernized cities on the coast, the land-locked, impoverished provinces of the interior rarely get foreign visitors.  These provinces are home to the laobaixing, or “old hundred names,” a euphemism for the billion-or-so Zhou Six Packs I got to know while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Among the laobaixing, foreigners are assumed to be missionaries.  This is because most of them aremissionaries: Mormon, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, you name it.  There’s not much reason to visit places like Guizhou, so most people go only if God tells them to.

The result is a blanket assumption among the locals that white folks are all Christian.  “Do you love Jesus?” was often the first thing a new friend would ask me.  This would be followed by “can you use chopsticks?”

I can use chopsticks.  But I do not love Jesus.  “Nope,” I would always reply when asked if I was Christian.    “I’m Jewish.”

This would always result in stunned silence.  The legend of the Jews has penetrated all parts of China.  “Ah!” I would hear.  “A Jew!  Just like Comrade Karl Marx!”  I would nod, and wait for the line that would always follow.  “And Einstein.”

So it was that I was imbued with a patina of Communist purity and mathematical genius.

These stereotypes earned me a lot of respect in China.  They earned nothing but a look of disgust when I mentioned them to my waiter in Buddha Bodai on Mott Street in the Manhattan Chinatown.  “Marx was as bad as Hitler,” he told me before heading off to place my order.  Buddha Boddai has a Kosher certification hung proudly in their window, and they do a surprisingly good job combining Jewish and Chinese traditions.  My Marx-hating waited brought me a delicious General Tsao’s “chicken,” a passable “shrimp” dumpling, and a wonderfully spicy “veg steak with Chinese broccoli.”

When I finished eating, my waiter offered some parting words:  “Marx really hurt China, but I don’t blame Jews.  Actually, you guys are my biggest tippers.”  He smiled and headed back towards the kitchen.

So keep tipping well, my Jewish brothers and sisters.  It will save us all a lot oftsuris.

Michael Levy’s Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion is now available.

Jewish Literary Treasures in SF

Friday, August 12, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Looking for any of these?

A history of Jewish New Orleans. A 1970 copy of “Israel on $5 a Day.” Crime novels such as “Murder on the Kibbutz.” A three-volume history of the Jews of Muslim Spain. A 17th-century Biblia Hebraica, printed in Hebrew and Latin. “The Bagel Bible for Bagel Lovers: A Complete Guide to Great Noshing” (second edition).

If so, Henry Hollander is your guy. Located in San Francisco, Hollander’s bookshop boasts some 15,000 volumes of Judaica, including many out-of-print titles.  Sounds like a Jewish book lover’s delight! Read more about Hollander over at  J.Weekly.

JLit Links

Thursday, August 11, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

What Chinese People Think about Jews

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | Permalink

On Monday, Michael Levy wrote about Jews and Chinese Food. He is the author of Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion.

My last post began with a list of stereotypes about Jews. We tell jokes; we like Chinese food; etc. While living and teaching in central China a few years ago, I ran into a few stereotypes that were new to me. I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guizhou Province teaching English at a university WAY off the beaten path. I was one of a small handful of foreigners –- and the only Jew — in a province of 40 million people. My students could be forgiven for a few strange ideas about their guests.

Thus, when one of my students handed in a paper with the title “GREAT JEW” I knew I was in for a few surprises. The letter summarized the status of world Jewry:

Jew in the world:

There are 14 million Jews in the world, 5 million of them are in the Israel, and 6 million in the USA. They have done so many great things for people in the world. They good at jokes, doing business and managing money so that there are a large number of Jewish tycoon in the world…. In the Wall Street which is the controlling financial interests of the United States, it is the world of Jews who dominate the “street.” Jews deserve careful study though their history is pitiful.

The student also included a bullet-point list of facts she had gleaned from her textbooks and from local newspapers:

Einstein is the greatest scientist in the world

*Every Jew has received high education for their family tradition

*Jews can begin law school in the second year in America, because they are advanced in law

Phelps, a swimming Jew, will win many gold medals in the Beijing Olympic Games

Chinese in rural Guizhou Province have some interesting ideas about Jews. What about Chinese in the slightly less bucolic neighborhoods of Manhattan? I decided to test the Jewish knowledge of the staff at Eden Wok on 34th Street, the self-proclaimed “finest Glatt Kosher Chinese restaurant and sushi bar.”

First, a word on the food: meh. I really wanted to like the food more, if for no other reason than out of respect for the effort. Truly kosher Chinese food is as strange an idea as Phelps the swimming Jew.

Pork, after all, is to Chinese food what cheese is to Italian food. You take it away, and you’re left with nothing but starch. Still, Eden Wok makes a solid lo mein.

Next, a word on the staff: friendly and — happily — quite knowledgeable about Judaism. Vicky, my waitress, was from Guangdong province. She never met a Jew in China, but “loves Jewish customers.” I showed her my student’s letter and she giggled. “I hope you went easy on her,” she told me. She also gave me a free egg roll.

Michael Levy is the author of Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Home in the Morning: September Twitter Book Club

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | Permalink

A powerful debut from a new literary talent, this novel tells the story of a Jewish family confronting the tumult of the 1960s—and the secrets that bind its members together.

Jackson Sassaport is a man who often finds himself in the middle. Whether torn between Stella, his beloved and opinionated Yankee wife, and Katherine Marie, the African American girl who first stole his teenage heart; or between standing up for his beliefs and acquiescing to his prominent Jewish family’s imperative to not stand out in the segregated South, Jackson learns to balance the secrets and deceptions of those around him. But one fateful night in 1960 will make the man in the middle reconsider his obligations to propriety and family, and will start a chain of events that will change his life and the lives of those around him forever.

Join the Jewish Book Council and author Mary Glickman to discuss Home in the Morning on Wednesday, September 14th, from 12:30 pm- 1:10 pm EST. Learn more about Mary before book club by checking out the video below!

**Congratulations go out to @robinec for winning the first of our Book Club Giveaways on 8/24! She’ll receive a free copy of Home in the Morning to read before book club!

The How-To, In Case You’re New:

What is a Twitter Book Club?
A twitter book club provides the opportunity for twitter users to engage in real time conversation about a particular, predetermined book. JBC’s book club aims to provide readers with an opportunity to discuss Jewish interest titles with other interested readers electronically.

To participate…

If you aren’t already a Twitter user, please join twitter here. (Confused about Twitter all together? Visit the twitter twitorial. Follow the Jewish Book Council (@jewishbook). During the designated time and date of the book club follow the conversation by searching for #JBCBooks. If you would like to actively participate, please include #JBCBooks at the end of any comments or questions you wish to contribute.

(Note: New twitter users may have to wait up to a week before their tweets get saved in hashtag searches. Open a twitter account at least a week and a half before this discussion in order to join us!)

We hope you’ll join and enjoy the conversation! If you have something to say or a question to ask, feel free to jump in, and don’t forget to include #JBCBooks at the end of any tweet so that other participants can engage with you.

Contending with Catastrophe

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by William Sudry

As the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches, the scars left by that tragedy linger and continue to remind. Americans of every stripe will come together next month to grieve and to reflect.

These events force us to revisit some of the big questions – what to do in the face of paralyzing catastrophe? how to think about deepest evil? – that demand a response.

A forthcoming volume marks the 9/11 decennial and confronts these matters head-on: Contending with Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th, edited by Michael J. Broyde (Beth Din of America Press and K’hal Publishing).

Contending with Catastrophe is divided into two parts, bringing two aspects of Jewish tradition, the practical and the intellectual, to bear on the events and their aftermath. The first section reproduces a sampling of never-before-seen documents and discusses problems of Jewish law raised by the attacks, presenting the reality of a working religious legal system dealing with pressing issues. The second section is a collection of reflective essays on Jewish ethics and theology by leading Orthodox Jewish rabbis and lay leaders from the United States and Israel.

The book concludes by introducing prayers for the recovery and recognition of the emergency workers at Ground Zero and in memory of the victims of the attacks, both composed for this volume. A prayer for the safety of the United States Armed Forces stationed around the world is also included.

Contending with Catastrophe: Jewish Perspectives on September 11th, due out this month, can be pre-ordered here. (For free shipping and a 10% pre-publication discount, use the code AFK10 at checkout.)

Book Cover of the Week: Yiddishkeit

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Loving the orange, black, and beige combo on this one…

Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land will be available September 1st from Abrams ComicArts

Exciting arrival

Tuesday, August 09, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

Guess who showed up at our office today?

Ha, we wish.

Not Fran Drescher.

But the next best thing: Wendy!

Being Wendy, Fran Drescher’s new book for kids, is completely adorable and beautifully designed. It comes out in November.

JBC Bookshelf: Fall Travel

Tuesday, August 09, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

This fall, travel through history with literature: Vivian Gornick presents a portrait of an early 20th century radical icon; Umberto Eco brings us back to the conspiracies of the 19th century; and Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman allows readers to listen in on the Jewish conversation as it has expanded–from the Hebrew Bible to the early 21st century.

Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life, Vivian Gornick (October 2011, Yale University Press)
A few topics that struck Emma Goldman’s fancy in 1910: anarchism, free love, birth control, women’s rights, homosexuality.

The Prague Cemetery, Umberto Eco; Richard Dixon, trans. (November 2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Eco’s highly anticipated novel set in nineteenth-century Europe. “From the unification of Italy to the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus Affair to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Europe is in tumult and everyone need’s a scapegoat. But what if, behind all of these conspiracies, both real and imagined, lay one lone man?”

One Hundred Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation, Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman (November 2011, BlueBridge)
One hundred great Jewish books including biography, spirituality, poetry, fiction, history, and political theory.


Jews and Chinese Food

Monday, August 08, 2011 | Permalink

Michael Levy is the author of Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

My therapist once told me a joke: “Chinese culture is old, perhaps 4000 years. But Jewish culture is 1000 years older! The only question is: how did we survive for 1000 years without Chinese food?

He’s a great therapist, but a lousy comedian. Nevertheless, our interaction—like a Chinese box—was layered. We were knee-deep in stereotypes, each containing a grain of truth. Jews are either stand-up comedians or failed stand-up comedians. Jews are either in therapy, therapists themselves, or both. Jews love Chinese food.

I fit all these stereotypes. The last one is particularly true, in large part because I lived in China for three years, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guizhou Province (drop a finger on the dead-center of China, and you’ll likely hit this remote location).

It was a surreal experience. I was one of the only foreigners my students had ever seen, and they reacted to me the way I would react to Chewbacca walking into a classroom. I was stared at. I was feared. I was recruited to play on a university basketball team (the only Jew to ever truly earn the nickname Shaq). I was told I must play Santa Claus in a Walmart.

When things settled down and I was a bit more integrated into the community, I got down to my actual job. I taught grammar and vocabulary to hundreds of kids from tiny farming villages. They, in turn, taught me how to eat everything from millipede to chicken talon. . . and beyond.

Unlike David Sedaris—possibly the worst traveller on earth—I fell in love with the food in China. Notice I did not write “Chinese food.” This is deliberate. “Chinese food” is what I eat every Christmas Eve in America. It is lo mein, wonton soup, and moo shu. It is General Tsao. “Food in China” is not remotely like this. Not remotely.

I love food in China. I also love Chinese food. I also try to keep kosher. Can these three statements co-exist? Over the next week, I will be blogging about my attempt to find the restaurant in New York that best fits all three criteria. As Karl Marx—the most beloved Jew in all of China— once wrote, “Working people of the world unite and find good Kosher Chinese food!”

Check back all week for more posts from Michael Levy, author of the recently published Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion.