Not Not a Jew


photo-11I was attending a small liberal arts college just outside of Mexico City on the Taluca Road overlooking Popocatépetl volcano under which Malcolm Lowry’s hero drinks himself to death. I was nineteen. I’d missed my bus back to the city after class that day so I stuck out my thumb to hitchhike and was picked up by two good looking young men in a dark blue Porsche. Long story short, I was to marry the curly-haired man behind the wheel of that car whose last name was Gold. My Russian grandfather was still alive at the time and assumed Mr. Gold was Jewish.** He wasn’t. My then husband came from a long line of WASPs, he explained, correcting the misconception but not to my grandfather as I asked him not to. Except for one aunt, my husband didn’t see much of his Michigan-based family. That aunt was named Mary Jayne Gold, had never married, had no children. She lived half the year in the south of France and half the year in a penthouse on east 68th Street in New York. My husband and I drove that car to my home town, New York, after our wedding. Once there, he took me to visit Aunt Mary Jayne. She was in her fifties and shared her penthouse with several (I think they were black) poodles. She was in the midst of redecorating in a style that (to unworldly me) looked like something out of the world of Louis XIV and had massive, ornate paintings in gilt frames on her walls. She was tall with thick gray hair, hard of hearing, was friendly but not what one might think of as overly warm. What impressed me most, at the time, was that the wrap-around terraces overlooking the entire city, were mostly used by the dogs.

Long story short, again, before very much time had passed, I had a beautiful son, was divorced, and had begun mindless traveling. My son’s and my wanderings rounded many curves, crossed several oceans. I lost track of my ex, his aunt, and anyone connected to an episode I preferred to obliterate. About fifteen years later, Aunt Mary Jayne found us, or rather, my son, with whom she wished to maintain contact. He was a lovable boy and the sole carrier of the family name. She and he were close until the end of her life. Out of the realm of my imagining, through these years, was the possibility that fate had ever wrested carefree Aunt Mary Jayne from a life of frivolity to a life of altruism and risk. When she published a memoir titled Crossroads Marseille, 1940, I was stunned to learn that she had – for one year of her life  — done exactly that. And, done so with history-altering effect.

In a nutshell: After finishing school near Verona, Italy, Mary Jayne stayed on in Europe, became a bon vivant. She flew her own airplane, was a devoted skier, a party girl, lived in glamorous luxury. When Hitler attacked France she had been living in Paris, was 32 years old. Rather than scurrying back to America as she might have, she instead drove south, stopping in Marseille now under the control of collaborationist Vichy. Here she rented a white limestone villa named Villa Air Belle, and, for the next year, until forced to flee France at the rick of her life, joined and worked with a small group called the Emergency Rescue Committee* devoted to aiding and rescuing those who Hitler had in his cross-hairs. She freely used her fortune for this purpose as well.

Among the many (over 2000) anti-Nazi and Jewish artists and intellectuals she helped to save: Marc Chagall, Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Arendt, André Breton, Heinrich Mann, Franz Werfel, Jacques Lipchitz, Lotte Leonard, Max Ernst, who Peggy Guggenheim eventually married. In her memoir, Out of this Century, Guggenheim wrote of Mary Jayne Gold whom she first met on her first visit to Villa Air Belle where people were sheltered and committee meetings were held: “With them was a handsome American girl, Mary Jayne Gold, who gave them vast sums of money for their noble work in which she also took a hand.” A few years before Mary Jayne’s death in 1997 at age 88 in the South of France, near St. Moritz, after fate had chosen to prize me too from a vacuous lifestyle into a more useful life as a writer specializing in World War II and Holocaust matters and became able to appreciate what she has contributed with awe, she said to me: “I never again did anything useful.” Whether or not this was true, I never knew, but it seemed to me that there was no need to do more. She’d done plenty.

(*Here is an early case of non-Jewish Jewishness, at least in name only, that enabled my grandfather Sam to believe I’d married into our faith, re: Not Not a Jew, soon to be released by TMI Press.)

(**Also to be remembered as part of this rescue effort: Harry Bingham, Vice-consul of the U.S. in Marseille, Varian Fry, Miriam Davenport, among others.)

Conversions, from and to


Anticipation still building as Not Not a Jew publication perches on the horizon. Am pleased by reader interest in the subject of Jewish non-Jews and non-Jewish Jews, a many-sided-diamond. There’s the subtle variety of not nots, like the folks soon to be introduced in the new novella. Of course there are also less conflicted varieties, actual Jewish converts, like Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Wilson as well as their flip side, anti-Semitic Jews like Bobby Fischer or reverse converts like David Berkowitz/Son of Sam.

The subject is often chewed on as below:

Two old Jewish men are strolling down the street one day when
they happen to walk by a Catholic church. They see a big sign
posted that says, “Covert to Catholicism and get $10.”

One of the Jewish men stops walking and stares at the sign. His
friend turns to him and says, “Milton, what’s going on?”

“Abe,” replies Milton, “I’m thinking of doing it.”

Abe says, “What are you, crazy?”

Milton thinks for a minute and says, “Abe, I’m going to do it.”

With that, Milton strides purposefully into the church and comes
out twenty minutes later with his head bowed.

“So,” asks Abe, “did you get your ten dollars?”

Milton looks up at him and says, “Is that all you people think of?”

More to be said. But, whether accounting for not-nots or nots or non-Jewish Jews or Jewish-non-Jews, or assimilated or indifferent Jews, Jews of all stripe seem to be more and more of an endangered species. With only about 13,000,000 in the entire world, 70% already unidentifiable, 30% very visible, most people on the earth, whatever their views on Jewishness (and they’ll have one) will never see or know, clasp hands with or spit at an actual Jew. Below (I’ve tried to find attribution, but found none, I’m sorry), one clever solution. Well worth a head scratch:

Ewes by ChoiceFollowing Rabbi Swindler’s report to the Reform Movement’s steering committee regarding the conversion of animals, our Temple here in Auckland immediately began a “Ewes by Choice” class. We are proud to report that we have had over ten million respondents.  If this trend continues we may end up converting the entire sheep population of New Zealand, increasing world Jewry by sixty million, and thereby guaranteeing a Jewish future. Our lawyers are already preparing an application to the United Nations to declare New Zealand a second independent Jewish state.  We are also drafting legislation to remedy historical Northern hemispherical bias in textbooks and maps, so that henceforth South — including the new Jewish state — will be up. Passover will be an autumn holiday, but hey, it’s sheep we’re talking about.  Our heartfelt thanks to Rabbi Swindler, who has helped us secure the future of our people. 


A not Jewish Jew



Inching toward the publication date of Not Not a Jew, I chanced on Oliver Sacks’ moving piece titled “Sabbath” in the NYTimes. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in London’s Cricklewood, Oliver Sacks became estranged from his religion and broke away entirely because of it’s (and his mother’s) aberrance toward his homosexuality. Much like Not Not a Jew‘s Eli, Vera and their son, Ira, Sacks had cravings for a “deeper connection” in life but found none. Sacks distanced himself from home and family, got entangled with addiction (amphetamines), was never again able to pull the sweater of Jewishness over his head for warmth. Fortunately he found his “deeper connection” in a Bronx hospital (Awakenings) and became the medical storyteller we know and love. A short paragraph from this article follows:

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.

Like Dr. Sacks, I too have found a “deeper connection” by storytelling. Stumbling on themes with Jewish connections during my writing life has, perhaps, not been as accidental as I usually insist it’s been. Before I began publishing (and was occasionally labeled a “Jewish writer”), I had only once (with my Russian grandfather) been inside a shul (synagogue) in my entire life. Except for eating bagels and chicken soup, telling jokes, having nightmares about getting shoved into a crematorium in a concentration camp, having a “Jewish” name and a Jewish soul perhaps, no moveable hinge has ever officially fastened me to Moses. But, then again, I continue to unofficially levitate among Moses and the rest of the Old Testament gang.

A second tasting

Another bite from my upcoming work NOT NOT A JEW, A NOVELLA IN VERSTS [fromPart II, “Long Day’s Journey into Day” when the ne’er-do-well son (Ira) returns to his parent’s (Vera and Eli’s) home after many years adrift (chasing food and sex) to try to be of some use at their life’s end….


At the stile, the official eyed Ira with perplexity. The official asked, Passport?

            An old, lonely boy, Ira had no ass left, wore a short red leather jacket over a once black turtleneck jersey, tight jeans, showing his age when he called them dungarees. He lowered his eyelids while trolling through the blue and white plastic KLM bag, fluttering fine brown lashes. He handed the official a passport.

            The official examined it, pushed it back, demanded, Passport?  

            Ira fished again. He knew them by feel, reinserted the sienna one, bypassed the Venetian-red and pulled out the dog-eared mars-brown-colored passport. The official passed the scanner across it. When the computer screen registered he was waved across the border. Between the stile and pyramid Ira stepped through a door labeled with a human stick figure logo. Next to it, the stick figure of a bird, an X through its wings. Crossing into the room, he stood before the porcelain urn. Wary of the elevator, he took the stairway. When he reached the pyramid he was still shaky but the suitcase was waiting. He looked around with fearsome eyes, was unsure as to which direction to go, so he sat down on a long narrow bench. He entirely cleared his throat of phlegm that had gathered in the 15 or so hours of travel. As he had come from east to west it was not very much later in the day than when he began the journey. He’d awakened at dawn, had coffee, gone to the airport, had breakfast, gotten on the aircraft, had breakfast, changed planes, had Italian coffee, boarded a larger airplane, been given breakfast, drinks, a large lunch. Now, it was not quite noon – a long day’s journey into day. Of course it was the same day and still lunchtime.

            He looked up at the illuminated board covered with symbols and arrows: There was a cigarette crossed with an X and an onion crossed with an arrow. The letters WC below an arrow pointing towards the door he’d just closed. Also: An automobile logo. A bus logo. £Ÿ€$. A snail with an X through its shell. A cup with a rising, neon lightning rod bisected by an arrow surrounded by a neon ring. He spit what he’d gathered from his esophagus into a tissue and followed the cup logo arrow. In the coffee bar he asked for a double Ivory Coast with coronet of chicory. He drank it and his heart rang like a telephone bringing good news. He had another double and buckled a jeweled dagger onto his belt. He was ready to offer his services to his old/estranged/dying parents.

            Wait! Shechina told him, and shut the door in his face.

            He pressed the button on his stopwatch and let it go until Shechina (wearing a hairnet) opened the door once more. Six minutes and 32 seconds had passed.

            No visitors, she explained.

            But I’m the son!           

            Come back later … for lunch.

            She looked him over coldly, wasn’t swayed though he beseeched her with his affecting face. It took him 10 minutes to walk back down the hill past the shallot and scallion field, past the war cemetery to the white sandy beach marked by painted oil drums. He ate lunch at a coffee shop. He seethed. A violet-colored rash, like a belt, developed around his waist. When he left the mosquito-infested restaurant by way of a hallway, he walked back along the sandy beach and, instead of passing the war cemetery again, climbed across the dry riverbed over which a slow train was crossing on a trestle. His boots were soaked with the aroma of scallions pleasantly mixed with the scents from the hillside lemon groves. It was necessary to walk the long way around thick shrubbery.

            Once again he confronted the dilapidated house. This time he didn’t ring the bell but reached into his pocket, retrieved a handful of detritus that included nail clippings (not his own), one black and white die, cherry pits, crushed banknotes, key, coins, toothpicks, dental floss. He withdrew the key, blew off crumbs mixed into bits of flug and fitted it into the lock. The door swung on its old hinges. Ira emptied the pits and clippings onto the ground, returned what remained, including the key, to his pocket and wiped his palm across his hip. He stepped inside and dropped the KLM bag and the suitcase onto a tiger skin just as Vera’s jet-black whippets flew at him. He feared these Johnny-come-latelies and brushed them aside. Crossing the living room, he passed his father’s studio, his mother’s office, his childhood room, the aviary, bypassed the kitchen and Shechina’s room, and burst into his parents’ dark, west-facing bedroom.

          The shades were drawn and it smelled of cooked lamb. He raised the shades. There they were, head to foot on their narrow 4-poster, motionless, 2 sunken-cheeked corpses. Vera was turned on her side. Eli’s yellow beard was a meter long and hung limply off the side of the bed. They seemed to have shrunk. Ira thought he might faint. He could swear they were dead and ran to the aviary, pulled a feather out of the tail of Vera’s white cockatiel (named Debit) dashed back into the bedroom. He put the feather under Vera’s nostrils, saw no movement. The same with Eli. A great nutcracker gripped his chest and squeezed. I’ve come too late? The pain hopped onto a pogo stick. He gasped, fell onto both knees and doubled over.              

         Ira’s next awareness was of lying fully clothed on the lower bunk bed he’d slept in as a boy. Eli was backlit, hanging onto the door frame.

            Eli whispered, Have you had lunch? Have you eaten? Mama’s trying to murder me….

A small bite out of my next book


IMG_1114Following, a short excerpt from NOT NOT A JEW, A NOVELLA IN VERSTS, a new work  to be published by TMI Press in the near future. Set, at first, in Berlin, pre-war, meet Eli, a painter, Vera, his wife, who is studying medicine, and Karl, their first son who will not leave Europe with them when they escape:

[Excerpt from Part I – Verst by Verst]

Why must we leave here? she shouted. I’m against it.

Eli coated her nipples with flour and water paste, slapped on newspaper strips and smoothed around and round the curves. Eli’s elegant, wizard’s hands were doughy. Vera longed for sour cream. A swatch of spangled rug lay across her lap sewn with green thread, the design of Neptune’s trident.  

Why uproot?

She tried another tactic, turned her angular pleading face toward his, Why?            

His reply, lifted from Marx, “To transform the world…” wean us away from cottage cheese and herring.

Red herring?

No, herring in cream.

I would gladly sacrifice to taste sharp onions and bay leaf with coriander corn. Please stay put, she begged.

On charity, both leaner than greyhounds, Eli spoke Berlin German while Vera spoke functional high German. Her mother had spoken it too. Vera was professorial, not inquisitive. Eli’s pale face, even paler since the police had chased him into the U-Bahn – Indi gasn, tsu di masn (into the streets, to the masses). He painted using scarlet, gold, crimson, cadmium yellow colors, designed perimeters with small diamonds, rectangles, ovals, trellis shapes, the topography of Perou. Karl howled out for milk but could not drink because Vera’s papier-maché covered breasts had not dried. On Karl’s little red vest was Eli’s design from Cézanne’s boy. Eli had given Karl a fat brush handle to suck on that made him giddy from linseed oil. His saucy eyes targeted Vera while he stood like a plump heron on her lap, chirping for more, naturally imperious. His every move was watched by 4 eyes, 2 behind owl eyeglasses. Karl scowled when more was not forthcoming and pulled her hair of oranges.


Non-Jews can be more Jewish than actual Jews

As I continue to work on my somewhat surreal next novel – NOT NOT A JEW – I’m more aware of things Jewish than I usually am. Corinne Trang award-winning author, chef, expert in healthy living, special friend []  IMG_1282

posted the following Challah Recipe on FB and agreed to be my first guest on these pages.

I asked her: Why?

Reply: I’ve sort of been adopted by a Jewish family.

Her first line (posted on Friday) says it all:

Shabbat Shalom!!!

2-1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 tbsp yeast
1/3 cup sugar (2 tbsp for yeast/water mixture)
2-1/2 pounds flour (1/3 whole wheat)
2 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or vegetable oil)

1) in a large bowl, add water 2 tbsp sugar and yeast. let foam, about 20 minutes.

2) in large bowl, add flour, salt, and remaining sugar. Mix well, and dump in one shot into the yeast. Add oil, mix to incorporate then knead. Shape into a ball.

3) oil a bowl and place the dough in it, rolling it about so it’s oiled all around. Cover with plastic wrap or damp towel and let rise for 30 min to 1 hr depending on relative humidity.

4) Punch down dough and split into 2 loaves. Split each loaf into 4 pieces, rolling each of these into 1-inch strands. Braid 4 strands at a time, tucking the ends in a bit. Do this with the 2nd batch. Place each loaf on parchment lined paper.

5) Brush each loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 10 minutes at 375 F, reduce oven to 350 F and bake for additional 32 minutes, or until underside sounds hollow. Transfer to cooling racks.


WOW… That recipe is a keeper. Perfect crumb, & excellent w/orange-ginger marmalade 😀 ‪#‎challah‬ ‪#‎tradition‬ ‪#‎spirituality‬ ‪#‎celebration‬ ‪#‎homemade‬ ‪#‎baking‬ ❤❤❤


I’ll take that bite as would my Russian grandmother. Though, more likely, with a dab of schmaltz and coarse salt rather than orange-ginger marmalade. That’s the thing about Not Jewish Jews … there’s always a hitch. More to come on this subject.



A day out with Alison

Today I had the pleasure of spending time with my favorite author, Alison Leslie Gold.IMG_2321

We started out by shooting a Book Trailer for Alison’s upcoming novella Not Not a Jew. I set up my iPhone 6 with a lavaliere mike at a table in Brooklyn Bagels on 8th Ave, while Alison went to grab the most jewish bagel she could. With cream cheese and Nove-Scotia lox, of course. The vegan in me wanted to scream just a little bit, but I realize a jew without lox is like a fish out of water.

We shot some great footage which will get promptly put on YouTube once edited and finished.

From there we took the #1 train to Time Square to try and retrace the steps of Padric McGarry, the mostly drunk and usually incarcerated hero of another new Alison Novella, The Potato Eater.

Now, while The Potato Eater has not been officially out yet, the Kindle version IS selling, so go grab a copy!

Time Square was bustling as usual. We went to pee at the Hard Rock Cafe, from there found a comfortable seat in the traffic-free area on 7th ave, surrounded by shiny billboards featuring 40 foot tall skinny men and women wearing almost absolutely nothing. But that was Padric’s stomping-ground starting at age 16, so that’s where we were.

We sat there for about an hour shooting Alison discussing the book, Padric, and what his life as a queen in 1940’s was like. After that Alison took the train back home to go get some writing done, and I got lunch at Maoz, and sat at the High Line and got some quality work time myself.


Vera and Eli

Ira’s father, Eli, is an old surrealist painter. The mother, Vera, an accountant. Their home, a Mediterranean-style landscape… Is it Israel? Greece? Southern California? The reader can’t be sure. Issues of multinationalism rear up as well. Ira returns home after a long absence to offer assistance to these two decrepit people. Because he’s experienced by his parents as inept, and is, they are forced to withdraw the shriveled toes already poking into their graves in order to care for their son who can’t even boil an egg let alone make chicken soup.

This novel is experimental, even surreal, also funny and far-fetched from beginning to end. It’s not autobiographical, but it’s settings were inspired by various real and literary journeys that made deep impressions on me.Through the years, while writing and publishing more conventional work with established publishers, I always kept a few pots simmering on back burners. I would stir and season these on and off between projects, add new ingredients, alter all, all the time knowing though flavorful to me and perhaps a few others, these dishes were not commercial and would be hard (or unlikely) to market. Nonetheless, stretching my imagination in unlikely ways made me happy, and so I slowly fiddled on filling cardboard storage boxes and filing cabinets with these uneaten meals.

NOT NOT A JEW is one of them. POTATO EATER is another. Because TMI Press has guts and unusual appetites, these two unconventional works, many, many years in the making, are soon to be published I couldn’t be more pleased. TMI, is a small press based in Providence, RI. At it’s helm is a very bright, innovative mind, a pleasure to work with….



My post-diasporic Everyman has been renamed Ira for the purposes of this pending publication of Not Not a Jew. He has not undergone any specific moment of revelation or trauma. Inadvertently, he begins to confront his own lack of specific belonging through an encounter with his aging parents who are unsettled survivors of the displacements of European Jewry effected by the Holocaust. Only vaguely and distractedly, does Ira comprehend his relationship to Jewish identity. He is distinguished by his ordinariness, his lack of maturity. He is rootless, lives between a lost past and a non-integrated present. Not so his parents, Eli and Vera.IMG_1112

Yes, a Novel in Verst

The known seeds of my own story were sown more than a hundred years ago in Old Russia.  Then, verst by verst, from four different directions (see photos below: paternal great grandfather, paternal great grandmother) these seeds blew from east to west. A verst is a Russian measure of distance – Russian Verstá. Slavic “virsta” – literally, to turn, to bend. Verst by verst, my novel NOT NOT A JEW also travels east to west. Its central character is a post-war baby boomer. His parents have survived European history, and he, in middle age, dislocated, adrift, inept, struggles to (as Ahron Appelfeld, the Israeli writer describes it) “survive the survival.”IMG_0375