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May 03, 2023

Not only is this Hava Nagila history article a fascinating history of what many Jewish folks consider their favorite wedding dance/song, but you can scroll down to find a youtube classic recording of Harry Belafonte and Danny Kaye singing it together in 1950. What a gem!

April 25, 2023

This morning I saw the New York Times Obituary for Harry Belafonte. During my childhood and adolescence (late 1950s-1960s), my family socialized with Harry and Julie Belafonte regularly when they visited LA. My father's closest friend, as well as business partner, was Harry Belafonte's brother-in-law [the friend's wife was Julie Robinson's sister]. I remember fondly seeing him perform at the Greek Theater from the front row, followed by meetings backstage afterwards. I also remember the great many Civil Rights and Ban-the-Bomb marches and protests that my father and I attended with the friend's family during those years. I am now an old lefty who has my parents' original vinyl Harry Belafonte's records, and I cherish his part in the social activism I’ve participated in and supported all my adult life.

April 17, 2023

A significant number of The Choice’s readers questioned how I could have my hero Nathan, an Orthodox rabbi, participate in mixed dancing at a mid-1950’s New York City dance hall. The answer comes from scholar Sonia Gollance’s 2021 National Jewish Book Awards finalist, “It Could Lead to Dancing: Mixed-Sex Dancing and Jewish Modernity” (Stanford University Press). She is an excellent speaker and I urge my readers to sign up for her May 9 lecture.

Contemporary popular culture often portrays Jewish mixed-sex dancing as either absolutely forbidden or as the punch line of a dirty joke. Fictional representations of women who leave the Hasidic world sometimes use transgressive dancing to underscore the seductive freedoms of secular society – and gentile men. Yet long before the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, Jewish writers used partner dance as a powerful metaphor for social changes that transformed Jewish communities between the Enlightenment and the Holocaust. Literary texts such as Marcus Lehmann’s novella Elvire (1868), serialized in the German Orthodox journal Der Israelit, depict dance scenes as part of a larger conversation about acculturation and courtship norms. In these works, young people challenge the social order through their partner choices on the dance floor, and frequently suffer tragic consequences for their rebellious behavior. Indeed, at a time when social dancing was a nearly universal leisure pursuit across class lines, readers were trained to interpret dances as texts and even to expect momentous dance scenes, which were crucial for plot and character development. Scandalous dance scenes in German, Yiddish, and other literatures allowed writers to convey their concerns with Jewish modernity while simultaneously entertaining their readers.

About the Speaker: Sonia Gollance is Lecturer in Yiddish at University College London. She is a scholar of Yiddish Studies and German-Jewish literature whose work focuses on dance, theatre, and gender. She is currently translating Tea Arciszewska’s modernist play Miryeml (1958) and developing a project on women who wrote plays in Yiddish.

To sign up for the May 9 lecture, please click on the link

April 10, 2023

Today I heard an inspiring report on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Robert Smalls (1839-1915) was a true American hero. Born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina, he freed himself, his crew, and their families during the Civil War by commandeering a Confederate transport ship in Charleston harbor, on May 13, 1862, and sailing it from the Confederate-controlled waters of the harbor to the Union-controlled enclave in Beaufort, where it became a Union warship. His example and persuasion helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army. Today, the USS Chancellorsville was renamed the USS Robert Smalls. Click on the link to hear to the whole segment, including interviews with his great-great grandchildren; his inspiring story is remarkable. It's only five minutes.
All Things Considered

March 31, 2023

S is for Silence (Kinsey Millhone, #19)S is for Silence by Sue Grafton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Actually 4.5 star for S is for Silence because I loved the book up until the ending. Sue Grafton's previous alphabet mystery was different because our detective heroine Kinsey was more of a secondary character who told the story than its protagonist. This volume is also different in that instead of being completely told from Kinsey's first person POV, we get some third-person POVs showing what the major suspects were doing a few days before the woman missing since 1953 was last seen. I very much liked that aspect of the story. It gave me a greater understanding of the various characters.
What spoiled the ending for me, and I read it three times, is that (view spoiler)
View all my reviews

March 17, 2023

Children of Memory (Children of Time, #3)Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I agree with the other 3-star reviews of Children of Memory, a title that is more descriptive of the novel than I'd anticipated. I thought Children of Time, the first volume in this trilogy, was awesome, one of the most creative sci-fi novels I've read in a long time. The second, Children of Ruin, was excellent, but not up to the first volume's greatness. Unfortunately, the author's latest effort, which follows another spaceship full of potential emigrants from a dying Earth, was a major disappointment for me. The first 150 pages were good, although not as good as the prequels' beginnings, and things went downhill from there. At page 220, I started skimming the text, and by 250 I was skipping entire pages. Soon the timeline got too jumpy and the characters started loosing my interest until the story finally sank under the weight of a philosophical discussion of what constitutes sentience. Quite disappointing. Another reviewer summed it up well: “Children of Meh-mory.”
View all my reviews

March 14, 2023

Back in the days when I was famous for writing "Rashi's Daughters," I would get emails from folks purporting to be descendants of Rashi. As an Article in Haaretz, shows, their evidence was mostly a list of European rabbis, each descended from another European rabbi, all eventually going back to 14th century French rabbi Yochanan Treves. From there the evidence, even merely legendary evidence, ceases. What we have is that Treves, is similar, sometimes identical, to the way Jews wrote the name of Rashi’s hometown, Troyes, leading some to jump to the conclusion that there was a connection. Bottom line: there is no genealogical proof that anyone today is a descendant of Rashi.

However, there is mathematical proof that everyone with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors is descended from Rashi, which the author of this article explains. When you calculate back 900 years, everyone has about 3 million ancestors [2 grandparents, 4 great-grandparents, etc]. But they were only 50,000 Jews in Europe back then, and worse, a bottleneck in the 14th century reduced this number further. However, Rashi is known to have had at least 20 great-grandchildren, and probably more since the names of female descendants is rarely recorded. These Jews would have scattered throughout Europe when various French Kings expelled them during the calamitous 14th century, increasing the odds that at least some of Rashi's descendants survived the bottleneck.

Thus, if – and this is a big if – any of Rashi’s descendants survived this bottleneck and reached the rapid exponential growth that led Ashkenazi Jews to become millions from mere hundreds in about 20 generations, it is highly probable that most, if not all, Ashkenazi Jews are descended from him, including myself.

March 12, 2023

An Officer and a SpyAn Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I could take up this entire page with synonyms for superlative in this review of An Officer and a Spy. It contains some of the best writing I've encountered in a long time, so good it depresses me because I know I'll never write that well. An amazing thriller plot--straight out of history. The heroes are brave, honest and dutiful; the villains are scheming, deceitful, cruel and antisemitic. There are spies and counterspies, actual evidence and forgeries [although some of the forgeries are the most valuable evidence], coverups and journalists working to uncover the truth. Does the name Emil Zola ring a bell? Even the title is enigmatic: are the officer and spy one person or two? Although I knew how it all ended, the details of getting there were so intriguing that I still had trouble putting it down.

View all my reviews

March 11, 2023

Day 6 of my Covid-19 journey. Friday morning and today, I woke up before dawn with diarrhea, apparently a common side effect of Paxlovid. I had the foresight to check for drug interactions before taking Imodium with Paxlovid, because the diarrhea helped rid my body of the Covid virus. Thankfully I had a supply of Depends, so it wasn’t too much of a mess, but it did significantly interfere with my getting a good night’s sleep. The result being that I didn’t get up this morning until noon. But I was pleasantly surprised that I felt pretty good. No fever, no muscle aches, minimal cough. And no more Paxlovid to take. According to the CDC, if I don’t have any symptoms tomorrow, I can come out of isolation. We’ll see how it goes. At least I finally finished "An Officer and A Spy;" I'll write my review tomorrow.

March 09, 2023

Day 4 of my Covid-19 journey. With only one more day of taking Paxlovid left, I am finally feeling better. Instead of taking four doses of Ibuprofen and another four of Acetaminophen a day to lower my fever and lessen my muscle aches and headache, like I did on Days 1-3, today I only took one Acetaminophen tablet, in the morning. I wanted to sleep with my husband last night, but he was coughing so much that I retreated back to the guest room. I don’t seem to have much of a cough myself, so that’s a definite improvement.

I’ve been entertaining/diverting myself by watching Mel Brooks’ new History of the World, Pt II on Hulu and reading Robert Harris’ 425-page historical novel of the Dreyfus Affair, An Officer and Spy. No, not at the same time. History of the World is a series of irreverent short skits satirizing various “significant” historical events in random order. The cast is integrated [i.e. Jesus is black, as is Alabama governor George Wallace], the language is crude, and the humor ranges from dumb to laugh-out-loud funny. In other words, typical Mel Brooks. An Officer and a Spy, on the other hand, is a historical spy thriller by Robert Harris that tells the true story of the French officer Georges Picquart from 1896 to 1906, as he struggles to expose the truth about the Dreyfus Affair.

March 08, 2023

Day 3 of my Covid-19 journey. Good news: I’m halfway done with my Paxlovid and I’m feeling a bit better. Bad news: my husband tested positive for Covid this morning. Like me, he quickly had a phone appt with the Kaiser Covid team, which got his Paxlovid treatment started today. Slightly good news: since it’s highly likely that we have the same Covid variant, at least we can isolate together at home and not need to wear masks around each other or stay six feet away. Thankfully we have family who live around the corner, so they will go grocery shopping for us. Also thankful that I only have zoom book talks for the next 2 weeks.

March 07, 2023

Day 1-2 of my Covid-19 journey. My apologies to those who already saw my Facebook post yesterday. After being unable to sleep Saturday night due to muscle aches, headache, fever and chills, I realized that I might have been exposed to Covid Wednesday at my one day of jury duty. So did a Covid 19 test Sunday morning, and wasn’t surprised to see it turn positive. Then I called Kaiser and talked to the advice nurse, who got me a phone appt for 11 am Monday morning to set up what I should do next. Since I’d only been symptomatic for less than 24 hours, there was no urgency for me to start Paxlovid. Also it would be better not to expose myself to others, and vice versa, by waiting in the ER or Urgent Care.

Monday morning, two hours before my phone appointment, I was awakened by a call from Kaiser’s Covid Team. They told me to come into the lab right away to get my kidney and liver checked so they can prescribe the right Paxlovid dosage for me. Well, I got out the lab in record speed and I wasn’t even allowed in the pharmacy waiting room, but had to stay outdoors near a window between the pharmacists and anyone outside. In less than 20 minutes, I collected the drugs and received detailed instructions on how to take then, which I did as soon as I returned home. I was also instructed that I could/should take both Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen to lessen my symptoms, but not at the same time. That is, take Ibuprofen at noon, 6 pm, midnight and 6 pm while taking Acetaminophen at 3 pm, 9 pm, 3 am and 9 am (or something similar to that schedule).

For better or worse, I had not lost my sense of taste and smell, so Paxlovid’s metallic aftertaste was awful. Thankfully the pharmacist recommended getting some lemon-flavored cough drops, which would disguise the Paxlovid taste while also lessening my dry cough.
Result: I’m isolating in my office, along with the guest bedroom and bath while my husband stays in his office plus our master bedroom and bath. When I need to enter the kitchen, I wear an N95 mask. I think I’m feeling better, but I know I’m not feeling worse.

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Maggie Anton

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