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VICTOR WISHNA » Letter From New York

Archive for the ‘Letter From New York’ Category

Introduction: Letter From New York

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

It happened again the other day: I am walking home from my office; the otherwise average-looking man wearing the sandwich board passes me, headed in the opposite direction. “Peace in the Middle East is possible,” his sign reads. “Ask me.”

Perhaps because the headlines of the day are dominated by new violence in Israel, I stop, pivot, and walk briskly to catch up with him. And I am rewarded for my quick action. As this man, Elad, explains, the means for settling the intractable conflict between Arabs and Israelis is really very simple. “Golf,” he tells me, and hands me a flyer outlining, in grammatically inexact English, the ongoing efforts to establish a three-hole course and club south of Tel Aviv that would welcome all people in peace. I thank him and promise to examine his web site, grateful for this moment that I would have missed had I not stopped for a closer look. (more…)

Letter From New York: Manischewitz Destiny

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

Some names are tough to grow up with. When yours is a little hard to pronounce and—oh yeah—universally associated with the dry, cracker-like stuff made by the company your great-grandfather founded, “it can be a real problem,” says Laura Manischewitz Alpern. “Nine people out of ten can’t help but make some kind of matzah joke, and as a kid, you just want to be like everyone else. It took quite a long time to get used to that and to start feeling proud about the name.” (more…)

Letter From New York: Top Chef Goes Kosher

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

To earn his title as TV’s reigning Top Chef, Hung Huynh had to face down a new cooking challenge every week. With big-name judges second-guessing each move, and millions watching at home, Hung re-invented classic dishes with limited ingredients and created entire three-course meals on the spot. All of it, he admits, merely prepared him for his greatest test yet: keeping kosher. (more…)

Letter From New York: Virtually Indestructible

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

The monumental Börneplatz Synagogue in Frankfurt was known to locals simply as “the red synagogue,” due to the crimson sandstone used in its construction in 1882. The building’s vibrant color and Italian Renaissance architecture reflected the bold self-confidence of the German Jewish community in the 19th century. Sixty-nine years ago today, on Kristallnacht, the Nazis burned it to the ground, along with nearly 200 other synagogues throughout the Third Reich. All that remains of the red synagogue is a black outline on the concrete sidewalk where it stood.

However, thanks to the work of two German architecture professors and dozens of their students, the Börneplatz Synagogue has been reborn, virtually, in full color. (more…)

Letter from New York (Newport): A Light Unto the Nation

Friday, June 15th, 2007

The Maccabees’ legendary oil may have burned for eight days and nights, but at the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., the low-wattage bulb in the ner tamid has lasted more than a century, ever since the building was first electrified in the1880s.

Built nearly 250 years ago, Touro — the oldest synagogue in the United States and the only one remaining from pre-Revolutionary times — is famous for its longevity, architectural elegance, and status as a symbol of American civil liberty. (more…)

Letter From New York: Hardball in the Holy Land

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

“That’s the thing that’s missing here. How can there be Jews without baseball? Not until there is baseball in Israel will Messiah come! Nathan, I want to play center field for the Jerusalem Giants!”

-from Philip Roth’s The Counterlife

Anyone who has been to Kibbutz Gezer, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, knows about the baseball field there. Built in 1983 by a group of American olim, it was the first regulation diamond in Israel. For years, it endured as little more than a dirt lot-though always under a sign on the backstop that proclaimed it a “Field of Dreams.”

To say that one of those dreams is about to come true is a little bit shmaltzy, and perfectly accurate. (more…)

Letter From New York: Another House of God

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

On the Ninth of Av, synagogues around the world remember the destruction of the first and second Temples, as well as a litany of other Jewish catastrophes, from the expulsion of Spanish Jews in 1492 to the start of Nazi death camp deportations in 1942. At Beth Elohim in Queens, the congregation adds one more date to the list: August 8, 1444.

On that day, Portuguese traders embarked from Africa for the New World with a shipload of human cargo. The event, which tradition marks as the beginning of more than 400 years of slavery, has singular significance at this synagogue, where everyone - the rabbis, the Hebrew School teachers, the music director, on down to the last member - is African-American. (more…)

Letter From New York: Analyze This

Monday, May 8th, 2006

In China, this may be the Year of the Dog, but in New York, apparently, 2006 is “the year of Sigmund Freud.” So has it been declared by a number of local and global organizations, from the International Neuro-Psychoanalysis Centre to the Jewish Museum. (more…)

Letter From New York: The Shul Must Go On

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

When the Actors’ Temple hosts its megillah reading this Purim, it won’t be nearly as packed as it was decades ago, when Edward G. Robinson, star of more than 100 films, chanted the Book of Esther before a star-studded crowd. (more…)

Letter From New York: Second Avenue Delight

Sunday, January 8th, 2006

What exactly is the difference between corned beef and pastrami?

This is just one of the Jewish conundrums I may have never considered were it not for the Second Avenue Deli. I remember when, sitting at one of its tiny tables, a friend looked across at me and called into question my very identity - after all, I preferred corned beef ever since I first tried it there, though pastrami (she claimed) was more Jewish. I had already admitted to disliking pickles and any version of chopped liver, even the one made by my Aunt Rosie, so my case was pretty weak. But, I argued, at least I was there.

I would hardly call myself a regular - at best, I “frequented” the famous East Village restaurant on a semi-occasional basis over the last several years. But just as with Central Park, whose comforting green disrupts Manhattan’s gray grid, simply knowing Second Avenue Deli was there made living in New York seem more manageable.

So I nonetheless claimed a fair sense of loss when, amidst news of far graver uncertainty emanating from halfway around the Jewish world, reports filtered in that owner Jack Lebewohl had “temporarily” closed the eatery his brother founded 51 years ago due to a rent dispute with new landlords. By the time the distinctive faux-Hebrew signage started coming down this week, it was obvious the deli as we knew it - or at least, where we knew it - was gone. (more…)