On J.A.P.s, Journeys, Maccabees, and Cable TV

I just finished reading a great and entertaining memoir  by Lisa Fineberg Cook, a self-aware, spoiled, very smart and funny Jewish girl from LA who marries a world-traveling educator / adventurer and spends two years in Japan, completely out of her element. The better to introspect, my dear. The new bride ends up shedding many of her J.A.P.py notions, and learning a thing or two about how being a citizen of the world (and a wife) requires one to step into another’s shoes, regularly. (And that borrowing your best friend’s Manolos doesn’t count in this regard.)

I will be writing an entire column on the book, and doing a Q+A with the author, sometime in the next month (stay tuned…), but what I want to say now is this: I once had the privilege of editing an excellent partial manuscript for someone whose journey took him in somewhat of the opposite direction…From a Zen secular life in the US, to a bike tour through Europe and to Lebanon, to meet his wife’s Christian Arab family, and, ultimately, to Israel, where he ended up adopting religious Judaism. (As did she.)

The writing was superb and the adventure completely unique, but he could not find a publisher anywhere. I ask anyone who will answer me: Will the Manhattan book establishment not even entertain the possibility that growth can also take one from the assimilated to the culturally particular? Is it a given that to be a “journey” it not only has to end in self-awareness and spiritual expansion, but in adopting something foreign? What if there’s no place like home? Would Dorothy Gale get published in 2009, having seen the other side of the rainbow, and choosing churchy Kansas because that’s where her heart was? Which brings me to Hanukah:

Would I have been a Maccabee or a Hellenist? I ask this quite sincerely since I’m pretty sure Mattathias Cohen and Sons were more Judean Hilltop and less Tel Aviv Café…not even suburban Modern Orthodox. While we live (and my kids learn) in an Orthodox environment, Jewish-centered and centric, I can not claim to have taken secular culture out of our house – pretty much the opposite is true. Is it only living in Israel that allows us the luxury of consuming Hollywood and being broadly cultural, and not worrying for a minute about our identity or continuity? I’m thinking probably…yes… in the US I might have been a bit more of a protective / defensive Frumom. (Reason #687 for Aliyah!) 

(I’m also thinking that the Hasmonean Dynasty in the Second Commonwealth didn’t do so well at the end of the day, once they grew cozier with Rome…but that I’m not canceling cable.)


  1. Ben-David

    12/18/2009 at 4:46 am

  2. my web

    5/13/2019 at 10:02 am

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