Friday, December 23, 2016

Black and White

Monday, December 19, 2016
It's the holiday season and, realistically, what I might wish for will not come to pass.  However, the New York Times gave its reader a good gift this weekend, a 16-page section devoted entirely to puzzles, the first time that it has ever done this.  The centerpiece of this effort is a two-full-page crossword puzzle with 637 clues (yes, 637), which take so much space that they are printed separately on another page.  There is also a variety of word, number and visual puzzles, which, with any luck, will keep me distracted for the next four years.

Stephen P. Cohen has published The Go-Between: Memoir of A Mideast Intermediary, a title that fairly represents his heroic efforts to bring reason, if not peace, to the Middle East.  It's a slim volume of anecdotes describing some of his almost countless meetings with Anwar Sadat, Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin,  Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and so many of their emissaries, building trust and forging lines of communication between Arabs and Israelis.  The book is available through Amazon.

Mary McCarthy was a successful novelist (The GroupThe Groves of Academe) and critic; Lillian Hellman was a successful playwright (Toys in the AtticThe Little Foxes) and screenwriter.   Both had been supporters of the Communist Party USA in the 1930s.  McCarthy eventually turned away from Stalin and toward Trotsky, dividing the women for most of the rest of their lives.  Famously, in a 1979 television interview, McCarthy said of Hellman that "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."  

I think that McCarthy somewhat overstated the case against Hellman, who certainly ignored the uglier implications of her politics at times, but we have a guy today who comes close to a perfect fit for McCarthy's description.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Joe Berger, distinguished alumnus of CCNY and the New York Times,  published The Pious Ones in 2014, examining the growing presence of Hasidism in the American Jewish community.  Today, I heard him speak on the subject at a local synagogue, where I was joined by Mossad Moshe, Stony Brook Steve and the Goldfarbs, constituting Chapter 7 of the Joe Berger Fan Club.

Hasidism started almost 300 years ago in response to the formality and intellectuality that then characterized Judaism in Eastern Europe.  Hasids believe that there can be or should be a spiritual dimension in even everyday activities.  Appearing austere to outsiders, Jewish and gentile alike, Hasidic worship and rituals are rich with song and dance, but restricted to men alone.  Women are also kept at a distance in many ordinary situations out of fear of their menstrual "uncleanliness" or the seductive power of their presence.

I learned that the scattered handful of European Hasidim who came to the US after WWII have bred a population here estimated to be about 300,000, in 30 major clusters. Comenetz_Hasidic_Pop2006.pdf is a detailed demographic study of Hasidic Jews in the US, although 10 years old.  The largest group are the Satmars, very reclusive and rabidly anti-Zionist, believing that you can't have Israel without the Messiah (and they don't mean Handel).  The Satmars originated in 1905 in Satu Mare, Transylvania, from which they derive their name.  I chuckled for a while when Joe told us that Satu Mare means Saint Mary.
Opposed to birth control, Hasidic families often include 10 or more children, not bad for couples who might spend only minutes in each other's company (with their parents present) before marriage.  

The "success" of Hasidism poses a challenge to me and probably many other American Jews with more relaxed levels of observance.  While I want to see Judaism propagated into the future, I don't want it to be a Judaism that never progressed into the Enlightenment and beyond.  But, what have I contributed to my side?

Thursday, December 22, 2106
I went for my annual physical examination today.  My doctor, pressed for time, borrowed from another historic medical evaluation and concluded that my "laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent . . . [and my] physical strength and stamina are extraordinary."

Friday, December 23, 2016
Looking back on this week, I saw that I ignored the critical issue of food, not in practice (I didn't miss a meal), but in this narrative.  Accordingly, I sought out a new place today, Radiance Tea House & Books, 158 West 55th Street.  This Japanese restaurant takes at least part of its name very seriously, offering 80 different hot teas, starting at $7 for a one-person pot of a relatively familiar variety and climbing.   Tea pots, tea sets, and tea canisters are attractively displayed on many walls.  The book section also seems to be arranged for visual effect, with most of the works dealing with tea, food, travel and Falun Gong, the controversial Chinese sect.

The food was very good.  I had hot and sour seafood soup, ($9), exactly and excellently fitting its name.  Then followed a spicy chicken noodle box ($13.95), including two chicken gyoza (dumplings) and edamame (those short, fat peapods).  The largish portion of noodles was very good, and spicy as claimed.    

Walking back and forth to Radiance, I passed the corner of Seventh Avenue & West 55th Street, where the Carnegie Deli is located.  Whether the holiday season, the mild weather, or its announced closing on December 31st, the crowd waiting to get in at 1 PM stretched halfway down the block.  Appearances (and accents and demeanors) may be deceiving, but I think that most people on that line were not from around here.


  1. Now you've gone and told everyone about Radiance, one of my favorite (and previously little-known) places for a hot drink and a long afternoon chat.

  2. you neglected to mention that stephen p. cohen is the father of rabbis, ayelet and tamara cohen, father-in-law of rabbi marc margolius, and the 2016 recipient of the Keter Shem Tov, (the crown of a good name) the highest honor bestowed by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

  3. All true, Susan, and that will be a major part of his legacy. However, he labored long and hard to effect a higher level of civility to the relations among middle-eastern states, something maybe as challenging than being a good parent.