The Detail of a David Grossman Inscription

I sat enthralled today – listening to the “lecture” by the brilliantly human, jet-lagged David Grossman (a co-presentation of Nextbook at the Washington DCJCC and American University’s Center for Israel Studies program).  In my opinion, Grossman is the resonating moral center of the universe – the model of public introspection.  So he starts with a story about a short, elderly character in a novel of his and the “interiority” of a writer struggling to inhabit and be inhabited by characters who are totally different from his own experience and persona. David was sitting on a Tel Aviv-Jerusalem bus six years after he wrote about this character and suddenly heard a section he wrote about her read aloud on the radio news “culture corner” that the driver was playing.  A particular detail of an extra wooden pedal he’d given the character for her Singer sewing machine struck his creative memory – at just the moment that the driver changed the station to the delight of his fellow passengers.  Grossman absorbed the insult to his book and to himself – and then jumped back into looking at what he had written about this short woman’s need for the booster pedal, as the kind of detail that is a link in a chain of writer’s attentions to human needs that make up the human texture of a story.  He was then off onto a tour de force exploration of the interior journeys he experiences moving between small character detail and the enormities of parents and children, the Shoah, and the Israeli-Palestinian entanglement, among other topics and passions

There is joy and despair and disappointment in every life, in every world drama.  Grossman writes and talks brilliantly about the joy and despair – the human challenge of it all.  He is never a disappointment.  So I purchased his novel The Smile of the Lamb, to have it signed – and exchanged a few sentences with him about the kind of dialogues we do here at the 16th Street J.  He said, oh, I will sign it and write something. After he signed, I asked him a bit more about how the detail of characters and the world situations come to him and influence each other.  (It happens as it happens.  It’s not planned).  Then a quick L’hitraot and I snuck away to read this inscription:

“To Stephen: For every thing you are doing to bring the two people to listen to each other. Thank You! David Grossman”

Thanked by David Grossman for maybe a glint in my eyes – a quick expression of yearning and purpose!  I’ll read the novel, pay attention to character detail and the big picture – and cherish those words of encouragement always.

Stephen Stern is the Director of Dialogues and Public Affairs at the Washington DCJCC.

What is Light Anyway?

In “light” of the fact that the new year has begun, I have a question about the Biblical creation story.

How could God have created “light” on the first day if the sun was created on the 4th day?

Perhaps the light here is not a physical light but rather the light of curiosity, intelligence or awareness. Perhaps what God created on the first day was the power to ask a question in the first place.

How timely that the J is beginning it’s next round of Introduction to Judaism classes right at this time of year. This class is not a “how to” or a top down explanation of the Jewish faith. Rather it focuses on the “whys” of Jewish religion, philosohy, and practice – and fosters an environment guided by and committed to questions.

In this season of beginnings, join us to explore some the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Perhaps you may shed some light on your own knowledge and relationship to Judaism.

Preparation!!

Last night Jon Stewart noted, “It’s Sukkot, which is the Hebrew word meaning, “How many holidays can Jews fit into one month?”

Truly, the Jewish holiday season is non-stop action – from the reflective mood of Rosh Hashanah to the boisterous dancing at Simchat Torah, the holiday where we celebrate the yearly completion of the reading of the Five Books of Moses.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

How do we get the most out of this holiday season? I believe the preparation is the answer. And not only material preparation (shopping, cooking, etc.) But spiritual preparation.

Taking time to examine our behavior and our relationships brings deeper meaning to the High Holidays. And Sukkot, when we build and dwell in portable homes (Sukkot)  offers us an opportunity to reflect on the many blessings of having a permanent home – particularly in this year of foreclosures economic troubles.
Taking time to prepare enables maximum experience.

This fall, the Washington DCJCC is offering a different kind of preparation opportunity,   “Tying the Knot:  Pre-Marriage Workshop for Couples.” Wedding preparations can be stressful and overwhelming. And yet how much time do we devote to our spiritual preparations for the big day? “Tying the Knot” offers engaged couples a safe space to explore issues central to forming a healthy and happy marriage in a Jewish context.

Sarah Gershman is the Jewish Education Associate for the Leo and Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning at the Washington DCJCC. Her children’s book The Bedtime Shma won the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

In Case You Missed It: BHL Talks About the Failure of European Liberals at the LitFest

October Member of the Month: Earl Eustler

Earl Eustler, our October Member of the MonthName:  Earl Eustler
Neighborhood:  Mount Pleasant 
How Long Have You Been a Member: 5 years 
Favorite time to work out and why:  3 pm – the staff is friendliest then. 
Favorite Piece of Equipment:  Water cooler 
Fitness Media:  Listening to my Discman, reading Flex Magazine.
Are you a Social Exerciser or do you seek Fitness Solitude?  I’ve been known to chat about a bit. 
Exercise peeve:  TBS re-runs of Charmed & Law & Order 
Fitness goal:  Stronger wrists 
Favorite J moment:  Judah Friedlander doing stand-up comedy.

In retrospect, perhaps Philip Roth shouldn’t have called the protagonist in American Pastoral “The Swede”

Why Philip Roth won’t be winning the Nobel Prize for Literature anytime soon….

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — Bad news for American writers hoping for a Nobel Prize next week: the top member of the award jury believes the United States is too insular and ignorant to compete with Europe when it comes to great writing.

Counters the head of the U.S. National Book Foundation: “Put him in touch with me, and I’ll send him a reading list.”

As the Swedish Academy enters final deliberations for this year’s award, permanent secretary Horace Engdahl said it’s no coincidence that most winners are European.

“Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world … not the United States,” he told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

He said the 16-member award jury has not selected this year’s winner, and dropped no hints about who was on the short list. Americans Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates usually figure in speculation, but Engdahl wouldn’t comment on any names.

Speaking generally about American literature, however, he said U.S. writers are “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture,” dragging down the quality of their work.

“The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” Engdahl said. “That ignorance is restraining.”

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