Calling All DC-Area Writers: The 2008 Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival Writing Contest


In conjunction with the opening event of the 10th Annual Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival (September 14–24, 2008), the Washington DCJCC will sponsor a writing contest on the following theme:

Humor is often strongest at the most serious of times. Gallows humor, as it has been called, can arise from stressful, traumatic, or life-threatening situations such as accidents, war, and even natural disasters. Why do we turn to humor in times of hardship? What is it about gallows humor that we find so comforting? The 16th Street J invites residents of the metropolitan area to share a short essay or story that best captures how humor has helped you through a difficult time. A committee will choose ten entries to feature on opening night. Submissions will be considered in two categories:

1) under 18 years

2) 18 years and over

Send submissions of 250 words or less to litfest[at]washingtondcjcc.org by September 1.

Last year’s theme was “Away From Home.” Below are the two first-prize winners.

First prize
ROOFTOP VIEW
By Sam Esquith

Our wedding present from Annie’s parents was the choice of cash or a honeymoon in Morocco. We were twenty-three and had never left Pennsylvania. We took the trip.
We were nervous, testy travelers. At the Marrakech bus station I let two young men lead us to a hostel off an alleyway. Annie scolded them and pulled me away.
“You know how that made me look?” I said, but she didn’t reply. Near the market she found a clean bed-and-breakfast. “Should’ve taken the money,” I said as we undressed that night, the first night we spent in the same bed without touching.
I awoke at sunrise. Annie was gone. In the hallway I found an iron staircase and climbed to the roof. Annie stood facing away from me. In the distance, two minarets rose over the city.
The call to prayer blasted from the mosque, went silent, began again. Men in robes appeared in the streets. I though of chanting, rocks, and bombs.
Annie stepped to the edge of the roof, and I wanted to yell to her, to take us downstairs. She knelt and laid her hands peacefully in her lap. People flowed to the mosque. The call rang out. My wife turned and saw me. “To think,” she said, “we could’ve missed out on the world.”
I saw then that something had opened up in front of us. And I knew that beside her I was home, the first time in many years I’d felt safe anywhere.

First prize
UNTITLED
By Rebecca Zeifman

My home is approximately 2812 miles from here. Take the beltway to I-270 and cross into Pennsylvania. Merge onto I-76 West and you’re well on your way. Mapquest estimates it takes 41 hours to reach by car, but it feels years away.
Seattle is a city everyone knows but few visit. Those who do usually come under the guise of a business trip: confined to hotel rooms and catered luncheons.
They don’t see the Seattle I know. They don’t visit Archie McPhee’s, the variety store peddling barista action figures and bacon air freshener. They breeze past the Central Library, oblivious to the day-glo elevators, funny-angled corridors and elephantine book collection. Coffee gets talked up, but few experience the Yankee Dog at Café Ladro.
The notorious weather patterns make Seattleites insular. Movie houses and book stores provide refuge from the waterlogged streets. But when the clouds part and the skies clear, people throw on shorts, dust off their sunglasses and get outside. A Seattle resident’s enthusiasm for sun breaks remains unmatched.
Growing up it never occurred to me to settle where I was born and raised. People like us went away to college, graduated, traveled, made a new life. Yet here I am at 25 and I have begun to understand the homesick troubadour.
I have a good life here. Good friends. Beautiful artwork lining my walls and a big flowering tree outside. And yet I can’t help but miss home. Proud. Caffeinated. Moist.

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