Who’s a Jew?

Full Text:

Byline: Fania Oz-Salzberger

Israeli novelist Amos Oz and his daughter define Jewishness today.

My father, Amos Oz, the renowned Israeli novelist, and I, a historian of ideas, recently published our first coauthored book, Jews and Words. It is a slim, playful, and learned essay on being Jewish, from the vantage point of two secular Israelis. Written in English, it is currently being translated into several languages including our native Hebrew.

As “atheists of the book,” we roam through myriad Jewish texts, ideas, and quips, led by our deep love of the Bible and its numerous literary offspring. But the story is deeply political, too, entering several cultural disputes with gusto. The key topics for us are continuity, individualism within community, the time-leaping genius of ongoing debate, the role of strong and vocal women, and the power of gritty self-humor. But each of these Jewish uniquenesses can become a universal trope for today’s global conversation. All are invited to the Jewish dinner table, where books were always present, and a “reverent irreverence” kept minds open and groping for new ideas. I spoke to Amos on Jewish uniqueness and universality. The resulting dialogue not only addresses the book’s main themes, but also demonstrates its core argument: that families, not only nations, thrive by “putting differences into words.”

whos-a-jew-1

Why do Jews like questions so much?

Jewish identity was based from the very beginning on an exchange of ideas. Very often this exchange of ideas takes the inquisitive form. When I was a child, I asked my father, why do Jews always answer a question with a question? He answered, why not?

Question marks are more important in Jewish tradition than exclamation marks. The Hebrew Bible did not use either mark, but it is full of questions. As soon as Adam and Eve start thinking for themselves, questions pile up. Some of them are still relevant today. Where are you? Who told you you were naked? Did you eat from the forbidden tree [of knowledge]? And in the next chapter: Where is your brother? Cain, the first man to answer a question with a question, says: am I my brother’s keeper? Oh, yes, says the Bible, you are.

Israel is an extremely political society, and you are a very political intellectual. In the recent elections campaign, too, your words carried weight. Unlike the Jewish-Arab conflict, internal Jewish disagreements, however vast and venomous, are almost always verbal and nonviolent. How come?

I have been asked many times: When are you Israeli Jews going to give us a little civil war? After all, you have all those potent diversities and assorted fanatics. My answer is that the Israeli civil war has already been going on for 100 years. But in over a century of Zionism, no more than 50 Jews were killed by other Jews on political, ideological, and religious grounds. That includes the assassination of Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin. Of course, one is too many. But we habitually conduct our painful internal disagreements not by shooting at each other, but by calling each other terrible names, thus inflicting ulcers and heart attacks on each other. In short, it’s a traditional Jewish battle. Much preferred to the rivers of blood and fire through which so many other nations sorted out their differences.

Many ultra-Orthodox Jews would consider you, me, this conversation, and this media outlet as utterly alien to the “real” Jewish tradition. What will you say to them?

When those people say “the real Jewish tradition,” they have in mind not the living and kicking Jewish legacy but a fossil. For more than 3,000 years Hebraic and Jewish civilization, in good times, has been an open-ended game of interpretations, reinterpretations, and counterinterpretations. A multigenerational seminary. Bright boys were encouraged to break new grounds as part of their bar mitzvah inauguration. Young men were expected to come forth with a chidush, an original thought on an ancient text. “There is no house of learning without a novelty,” says the Talmud. Our tree of knowledge expands in all directions, with no disrespect to its roots. So the “real Jewish tradition” includes Noah, Nachmanides, and Newsweek.

A non-Jewish friend told me the other day that we Jews claim both uniqueness and normalcy at the same time. The scriptures used the term “goy” both to include us (originally it simply meant “nation”) and to exclude us (as “goy” became “gentile”). Isaiah prophesied a future of global peace and universal values, with Jerusalem at its core. Shylock passionately claimed that a Jew is a regular human being, but Jews have adamantly pressed their “otherness” throughout the centuries, reinforcing anti-Semites and reinforced by them in turn. So maybe it’s really time to decide: Are we different? Are we “superior”? Are we, as the joke goes, “just like everyone else, only more so”?

Shylock does not have a Jewish bone (or pound of flesh) in his body. He was invented by Shakespeare, who probably never met a Jew in his life. But the contradiction between otherness on the one hand and belonging in the human family on the other hand is a false contradiction. The human family is a family of others. It’s like an orchestra of different musical instruments. John Donne, Shakespeare’s contemporary, wrote: “No man is an island.” And I humbly add, “but every one of us is a peninsula.” Every culture too is a peninsula, half connected to the mainland of humanity and half unique and exceptional.

Are we the chosen people? Not better than others, I mean, but age-old teachers of moral universalism, given this role either by God or by our ancestors.

While I renounce firmly every claim to Jewish superiority, I do think that the Jewish people has sounded, for generations, a unique set of voices. We lost sovereignty, land, and power, but not our enormous ethical ambitions. We indeed taught moral universalism, at a terrible price for ourselves. As Sholem Aleichem once said, out of the depth of Jewish plight and misery: dear God, can’t you please choose someone else for a change?

Are we still different today?

We are as different as anyone else and not aware of who are the greatest. (like a Brother sewing machine is different from a Singer one, and we’re not sure what the best sewing machine is?)

But the world has become more Jewish, hasn’t it? At least in the great recent turn toward language, textuality, and ever-expanding conversation, online and offline?

If being Jewish means having a way with words, a certain sense of relativism, and a measure of pluralism, with a pinch of humor and self-doubt, then the answer is yes.

Let’s talk about parenting: is there a deep Jewish secret here? Our coauthored book, which grew around the family dinner table, has much to say about books read around dinner tables. We revel in our ancestors’ textual child rearing. Proust, Agnon, Bashevis Singer, all had book-loving mothers; so did you, and so do I. How is the bookish mom different from the Tiger Mom, or the soccer mom, or the TV-gazing mom?

We all know the cliche jokes about the guilt-inflicting Jewish mother. But actually what Jewish mothers inflicted on their offspring throughout the generations was, first and foremost, curiosity. Fathers encouraged questioning and excellence, while mothers nurtured wonderment. Together, they fostered memory, and hence continuity.

whos-a-jew-2

Can secular Jews survive? A famous American rabbi already told us that our book is as temporary as a cut flower, because our own progeny is not likely to remain loyal to the Jewish heritage; you have to be religious to do that.

There is a long line of unorthodox, and even sacrilegious Jews, whose progeny are ferociously Jewish. Our own family proudly counts at least five generations of nonobservant, secular Jews. We have not become less Jewish. The state of Israel itself was dreamed up and carried out largely by newly secular Jews, who believed that Judaism is a nation and a civilization, not just a religion. They hoped that it would become a full member in the family of nations. Present-day Israel, including Tel Aviv, where myriads just voted for the secularist and future-oriented party Yesh Atid, is at the same time enjoying a veritable renaissance of age-old Jewish culture. Musicians and novelists are delving into the ancient and medieval texts with great panache. In this sense, Jews and Words is a very contemporary Israeli book.

Let’s talk about languages. Over the millennia, Jews spoke and wrote significant texts in at least a dozen languages. Your parents–my grandparents–spoke many European tongues, but raised you in Hebrew alone. You raised me in Hebrew too, but now we are conversing in English for an international readership. Is Hebrew too marginal for today’s world?

No language is too marginal to be universal. Modern culture is a choir of many voices, coming from the four corners of the earth. The Jewish world now speaks primarily two languages: Hebrew and English, in more or less equal numbers. We wrote this book in English aiming to send a Hebraic message to international readers.

When I wrote A Tale of Love and Darkness, I thought it would only be understood by my family and a few other Jerusalemites. It turned out that the book spoke to millions of readers in 30 languages. This shows that there is no contradiction between the parochial and the universal. Many great works of literature–from Russia, India, Egypt, Japan, and Latin America–are universal precisely because they are provincial. In a nutshell, this is what my Hebrew, my Israeliness, and my Jewish identity are about.

A Sephardic Seder

Abstract:

The Sephardim cuisine during Passover reflects the various international influences that have been amalgamated into the Jewish tradition. The Sephardic cuisine is distinct from the Ashkenazic cuisine, which is more insular. Recipes for some dishes such as Turkish Haroset, Indian Toasted Mango Salad and Tunisian Roast Lamb are included.

Full Text:

A special Passover meal illustrates the culinary differences between the two main branches of the Jewish faith.

Most in this define Jewish cooking as the food of the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews, whose families came to the United States from eastern Europe between 1880 and 1920. It includes hearty, emotionally nourishing foods such as gefilte fish, chopped herring, chopped liver, potato latkes, and matzoh ball soup–the peasant foods of the shtetls, the bucolic villages that had been their homes.

Because Ashkenazic cuisine evolved in smaller, contained areas, it was insular and specific, leaving little room for interpretation when it was presented to the Jews of the United States, Canada, South America, South Africa, Palestine, and the western European countries of Belgium, England, France, and the Netherlands. This “poor food”–passed down from generation to generation among people whose life had been filled with poverty and insecurity–greatly affected the new communities, which embraced the life-sustaining dishes.

But during the Inquisition, as well as pre- and post-World War II, other Jews migrated to areas as diverse as North African countries rimming the Mediterranean and the country of South Africa, the Middle East, India, and later Spain, Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. These were the Sephardim, and unlike the Ashkenazim–who brought with them the cheesecakes of eastern Europe, the borsht of Russia and the strudels of Hungary–they embraced the customs and traditions of their new homes and established their own particular cuisine.

a-sephardic-seder-1

The Sephardim have always encouraged those who moved from one area to another to establish a unique congregation in their new community. When they arrived, they incorporated not only the customs of the places where they settled but the varied ingredients and cooking styles–from the sweet and sour of the Persians, which had Sephardim mixing fruit and nuts with meat, to the celebration of new and unusual fresh fruits and vegetables from the Mediterranean world.

Sephardic cuisine is therefore eclectic and regional. According to Claudia Roden, author of The Book of Jewish Food (1997), its diversity ranges from the Maghrebi-Jewish culinary delights of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya to the Judeo-Arab fare of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and the Mediterranean. “Sephardic cuisine is sensual, aromatic, and colorful, making use of anything that gives flavor including seeds, pods, petals and flower water,” writes Roden. “It is less concerned with the inner, spiritual life than the Ashkenazi, and because of the warm, sunny world they lived in, is more sensitive to beauty and pleasure.”

Because the Sephardim incorporated cooking traditions from both the deprived (economically and culturally) in Islamic lands and the aristocratic elite from Baghdad, Spain, and the Ottoman world, some recipes are primitive and peasantlike, while others are refined and sophisticated. But even the “depressed” countries offer dishes requiring elaborate procedures, delicate flavorings, and appealing presentations.

Although Jews are one people they have multiple cuisines, and nowhere are the differences more noticeable than in the celebration of Passover, which retells the exodus from Egypt that led to the birth of the Jewish nation.

During Passover, an injunction in the Torah reads, “for seven days shall there be no leaven found in your home,” a reference to the point that the Israelites’ exodus occurred with such speed that there was no time for their bread to rise. Both Ashkenazic and Sephardic families make a great production of purging their homes of foods considered leaven, or “hametz.” However, the Sephardim “sell” the forbidden hametz to their non-Jewish neighbors and at the end of’ Passover “buy” it back.

Fermenting agents such as yeast are banned by both Ashkenazim and Sephardim, but while Ashkenazim forbid six types of grains during Passover–wheat, harley, we, oats, rice, and spelt–the Sephardim use cracked wheat, ground rice, and a variety of other grains. The Ashkenazim also forbid dried corn, dried beans, peas, and lentils, although the Sephardim allow them.

Over the years, and because of the Diaspora, the demands of cooking without grains or leaven have produced a worldwide feast of cookery, but nowhere more creative than in Sephardic hands. They are masters at preparing sumptuous cakes, cookies, pies, and other desserts made of ground almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, potato flour, potato starch, matzo meal, and matzo cake flour.

April 10 heralds not only the first night of Passover but the Christians’ observance of Good Friday, and two days after that the wondrous holiday of Easter. Coincidental? Not really, because two thousand years ago, Jesus’ Last Supper started out as a Passover Seder.

Over the past two millennia, the two holidays have remained awash in similarities, each celebrating freedom, rebirth, and the rites of spring, while retelling two dramas–the Jews’ flight to freedom by the magical parting of the Red Sea, and the passion and miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a time of hope for both Christians and Jews when families gather together to celebrate these glorious events.

Because the holidays are laden with parallels, why not invite friends of all faiths and serve these sunny Sephardic dishes at your Passover or Easter dinner?

a-sephardic-seder-2

RELATED ARTICLE: Turkish Haroset

There are as many variations on haroset, or charoset, as there are ways of retelling the Passover story. The Jewish Diaspora has produced at least seventy versions of it. While the Ashkenazim traditionally make it with a mixture of apples, walnuts or pecans, and red wine, the Sephardim use a wider variety of fruit, nuts, and spices.

2 SWEET APPLES, PEELED, CORED, AND
  CHOPPED
1 CUP LARGE GOLDEN RAISINS OR
  SULTANAS
1/2 CUP COARSELY CHOPPED WHITE
  FIGS
1/2 CUP COARSELY CHOPPED DATES
1/4 CUP FINELY CHOPPED WALNUTS
1/4 CUP BLANCHED AND GROUND
  ALMONDS
JUICE AND ZEST OF 1 MEDIUM LEMON
JUICE AND ZEST OF 1 ORANGE
1 TBSP. BROWN SUGAR OR HONEY (OR
  MORE TO TASTE)
1 TSP. CINNAMON
1/2 TSP. ALLSPICE
PINCH OF CAYENNE PEPPER
1 CUP SWEET RED PASSOVER WINE

Cover apples with lemon juice in bowl; add fruits and nuts. Mix together zests, sugar, and spices and add to fruit mixture. Moisten with wine to make a thick paste. Serves 6.

RELATED ARTICLE: Indian Salade Cochin

INDIAN TOASTED MANGO SALAD

The Sephardim love adding fruit to everything–from salads to meat dishes. The simple combination of mangoes and cucumbers is at once sweet and tart, aromatic and sensual, traits important in Sephardic cuisine. Regular cucumbers may be substituted if English aren’t available. Adapted from Toribio Prado, chef at the Cava Restaurant in Los Angeles.

1/4 CUP COARSELY CHOPPED FRESH
  MINT
1/4 CUP FRESHLY SQUEEZED LIME
  JUICE
ZEST OF 2 LIMES
1 TBSP. GROUND CORIANDER
1/2 CUP VEGETABLE OIL
1/4 CUP WALNUT OIL
1/4 CUP RED WINE VINEGAR
1 TSP. GROUND CUMIN
1/2 TSP. WHITE PEPPER
KOSHER SALT TO TASTE
10 ENGLISH CUCUMBERS, SKINNED,
  SEEDED, AND SLICED THIN
3 LARGE MANGOES, SLICED INTO
  1/2-INCH PIECES

In large mixing bowl add first nine ingredients. Whisk together until mixture is smooth. Add salt. Toss cucumbers with dressing. Brush mangoes with a little oil; broil to a nice brown color. Dice and add to salad. Serves 6.

RELATED ARTICLE: Chicken Stock

The vegetables can be in large pieces, since they will be discarded.

8 LBS. CHICKEN BONES
6 QUARTS COLD WATER
1 ONION, HALVED
2 STALKS CELERY, HALVED
2 CARROTS, QUARTERED
1 PACKET BOUQUET GARNI OR 1/2
  TSP. EACH DRIED THYME, WHOLE
  PEPPERCORNS, GARLIC, AND
  PARSLEY STEMS TIED IN
  CHEESECLOTH
KOSHER SALT TO TASTE

Combine bones and water in a pot: and bring slowly to a boil. Skim surface for coagulated residue. Simmer stock for five hours. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for one hour more. Strain, cool, and store in refrigerator for later use.

RELATED ARTICLE: Moroccan Passover Chicken Soup

Chicken soup knows no boundaries and is equally popular with both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. When done well, it is as highly prized as a fine wine. The variations are endless. Adapted from Toribio Prado, chef at the Cava Restaurant in Los Angeles.

2 TBSP. OLIVE OIL
2 ONIONS, SLICED
2 LEEKS, SLICED THIN
3 CARROTS, SLICED INTO ROUNDS
1 TWO-POUND CHICKEN BREAST,
  BONELESS AND SKINLESS, SLICED
2 QUARTS CHICKEN STOCK (SEE RECIPE
  ABOVE)
1 CUP DRIED FAVA BEANS, REHYDRATED
  WITH HOT WATER
3 STALKS CELERY, THINLY SLICED
2 CUPS WATER
CUP WHITE WINE SUCH AS
  CHARDONNAY
1 TBSP. GROUND CORIANDER
PEPPER TO TASTE
1 CUP CHICKPEAS, COOKED
KOSHER SALT AND WHITE PEPPER TO
  TASTE

Heat a large stockpot until very hot, then pour in oil. Add onions, leeks, and carrots; heat until onions start to become translucent. Add chicken breast to vegetable mix. When chicken is no longer pink, add stock, fava beans, celery, water, and wine. Add coriander and pepper. Let soup come to a boil; turn down to simmer. Skim soup for residue on top every ten minutes or so, until it is clear. When vegetables are al dente, add chickpeas, sail, and pepper. Serve hot. Serves 6.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tunisian Roast Lamb

This dish has a strong, delicious flavor thanks to the combination of garlic, mint, and sugar. The amount of garlic used depends on your taste. It takes two days to prepare, so allow enough time. Adapted from Toribio Prado, chef at the Cava Restaurant in Los Angeles.

1 THREE-POUND LEG OF LAMB, BONE
  IN, TRIMMED
2 TBSP. FRESH MINT
2 TBSP. FRESH CRUSHED
  ROSEMARY
2 TBSP. FRESH CHOPPED
  OREGANO
2 TBSP. BROWN SUGAR
2 TBSP. KOSHER SALT
1 TBSP. FRESH CHOPPED
  SAGE
1 TBSP. FRESH CHOPPED
  THYME
1 TBSP. FRESHLY GROUND
  BLACK PEPPER
6 CLOVES GARLIC
1 TBSP. GROUND CUMIN
1/2 TSP. TURMERIC
1/4 CUP PORT WINE
1/4 CUP OLIVE OIL

In medium bowl, mix together all ingredients except lamb and let sit overnight. Place lamb in baking dish, and rub it all over with spice mixture. Cover and let stand in refrigerator overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 [degrees] F. Roast lamb uncovered for 30 minutes, or until meat temperature reads 100 [degrees] F. Turn oven down to 325 [degrees] F. Bake about 1 1/2 hours more. Lamb will be medium rare when internal temperature is 135-145 [degrees] F. Serves 6.

RELATED ARTICLE: Aromatic Cous Cous

The most famous of North African foods, cous cous is served at all celebrations–from elaborate weddings to Sabbath dinners to Passover. A grain, it is a perfect example of the kind of dish embraced by Sephardim but banned by Ashkenazim at Passover. Try to find cous cous that is commercially “rolled” but not precooked. From Toribio Prado, chef at the Cava Restaurant in Los Angeles.

4 CUPS CHICKEN STOCK
PINCH OF SAFFRON THREADS
1 TBSP. PEELED AND SLICED
  GINGER
DASH OF GROUND CLOVES
2 TBSP. GROUND CUMIN
1 TSP. GROUND CORIANDER
1/2 TSP. NUTMEG
OLIVE OIL AS NEEDED
1 CUP DICED ONION
8 GARLIC CLOVES, PEELED AND
  CHOPPED
2 CUPS COUS COUS

Combine stock and spices in large stockpot and bring to a boil. In another pan, saute onions and garlic in oil until soft and browned. Add onion-garlic mixture to stock, then add cous cous. Turn heat off, stir a little, and cover. Let stand until liquid is completely absorbed. Break up cous cous with fork when ready to serve. Serves 6.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tezpishtl

TURKISH ALMOND TORTE

The Sephardim offer a wide variety of pastries for Passover, most of them made with almonds, other nuts, or matzo cake meal because of the restrictions on using grain. Make sure the nuts are very fresh. From Toribio Prado, chef at the Cava Restaurant in Los Angeles.

SYRUP:

2 CUPS SUGAR
2 CUPS WATER
2 TSP. LEMON JUICE

CAKE:

5 EGGS
1 CUP SUGAR
1/4 CUP CORN OR SUNFLOWER OIL
JUICE AND ZEST OF 1 ORANGE
2 TSP. GROUND CINNAMON
1 1/4 CUPS PASSOVER FINE MATZO CAKE
  MEAL
1 1/4 CUPS FINELY CHOPPED BLANCHED
  ALMONDS

HONEY FIG TOPPING:

1/2 LB. DRIED WHITE FIGS
1 BOTTLE PORT WINE
1/2 CUP SUGAR
1 TSP. LEMON JUICE
1 CUP HONEY
PINCH OF NUTMEG
PINCH OF CINNAMON

Wash figs and dry well. Combine them and port wine in large bowl and marinate overnight. Drain figs, and reserve wine. In large saucepan add sugar, lemon juice, and honey. Simmer, being careful not to burn sugar. Raise heat to medium and add reserved port wine, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Reduce by half and add figs. Stir well. Serve on torte.

To make syrup: In a saucepan combine sugar and water, and bring to a boil. Add lemon juice and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Cool.

To make cake: Beat eggs until frothy; add sugar and continue to beat until golden and well mixed. Add other ingredients, one at a time, and stir into batter. Pour into oiled and floured 9×13-inch cake pan, and bake at 350 [degrees] F for 30 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick.

Remove cake from oven, and pour cooled syrup over it. Let cake stand for 2 hours before serving, to allow syrup to be absorbed. Makes 1 cake (about 18 pieces).

Beverly Levitt is a food writer based in Los Angeles.

>>> View more: Dear, disagreeable New York

Dear, disagreeable New York

Full Text:

It’s the silly season in America’s largest city. Declining crime rates, cleaner streets and a buoyant economy have created a euphoric sense of New York’s future every bit as exaggerated gloom that so recently held sway. To add to the dementia, New York is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Greater New York, which resulted from the 1898 consolidation of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island into a single city. Over the last century, save for a handful of scholars, no one has given consolidation much thought. But now the usual brigade of party throwers and event mongers has emerged to tout the historic and cosmic significance of melding the five boroughs into The Big Apple.

As part of the festivities, the city’s public schools sponsored a special essay contest around the theme “My City, My Family.” The winners accompanied Mayor Rudy Giuliani to witness the dropping of the hall atop Times Square on New Year’s Eve. A co-worker tells me that, not to be outdone, the private school his sons attend–one of New York’s most exclusive–is conducting an essay contest of its own on the theme: “What New Yorkers Have in Common.” For starters, the students can rule out the possibility that 99 percent of the city’s population will ever send its kids to elite academies, where tuitions often exceed a working person’s annual wage.

Before this goes any further, and the bubble of the city’s era of good feelings gets any bigger, the time has come for a reality check. New York City isn’t one big happy family. The single unifying force among New Yorkers, the common denominator shared across lines of race, class, religions, gender, sexual orientation, age, outlook–whatever–is the utter absence of a single unifying force or common denominator. You want unity of culture? Try Prague or Paris. A one-religion town? Teheran or Riyadh. Uni-ethnic? Dublin will do.

dear-disagreeable-new-york-1

Back in the 1950’s, when I was a kid in the Bronx (a borough in which ethnic divisions were often etched in the sidewalks), people were always trying to come up with theories about how beneath all their differences of temperament, appearance and belief, New Yorkers are really alike. Baloney. They were–and are–utterly different. Right from the start, the Dutch didn’t get along with one another and especially with their stiff-necked Governor, Peter Stuyvesant. According to one historian, “Stuyvesant plunged from one crisis to another, sometimes clashing with the directors in Amsterdam, sometimes quarreling with the colonists.” No wonder, then, that while most of the city’s colonial rulers have long been forgotten, Stuyvesant is still remembered. Temperamental, self-righteous and abrasive, he seems the perfect role model for the city’s current chief magistrate.

Things only got worse after the English came along and stole from the Dutch what the Dutch had snookered from the Native Americans. By the time the Dutch and English had arrived at a modus vivendi, the Revolution put the Patriots and Loyalists at each other’s throats. The post-Revolutionary town was a hotbed of political and class tensions. Volunteer fire companies often engaged in pitched battles for the privilege of putting out fires that continued to rage while the fire laddies rioted. In the 1840’s, the Irish showed up in large numbers, and this Celtic infusion forever confirmed the city in its innate contentiousness.

Not long ago, I mentioned to a friend of mine how silly it is to think that New Yorkers have anything in common. Being a native of Winona, Minn., and still misty with the sentimental delusions that flower among those who have never ventured far outside the precincts of Greenwich Village or the Upper East Side, she demurred. “We are united by the poetry of place,” she said, “by our rivers and harbor, by the same magnificent expanse of Atlantic sky.”

Yeah, sure, Do me a favor, lady. Next time you’re on the subway, ask the person next to you when he last looked up at the sky (other than to see if it was raining or to avoid aerial bombardment by New York’s flying rats, a k a pigeons). Rivers? Huh? Wanna bet that your average cabby wouldn’t mind a bit if the Hudson and East Rivers were paved over and turned into expressways? (Hey, if Robert Moses had lived a little longer, they probably would have been.)

New York is about argument, ambiguity and attitude. Even the city’s ethnic groups, which can sometimes appear monolithic from outside, are nothing more than organized civil wars. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the relations in the Hasidic community between the Lubavitchers and the Satmars. Or attend a meeting of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. Or bring together Dominicans and Puerto Ricans to discuss Hispanic solidarity. I once saw two Italian-American aficionados of Jewish cuisine come to blows over where to find the city’s best knish. (Okay, they were lawyers, which might explain a portion of their combativeness. But, still, in what other city does every fact, event and opinion offer the odds-on possibility of an altercation?)

I have a theory that one of the reasons why practically all New Yorkers have a smattering of Yiddish is that the basic disgruntlement of the average Gothamite resonates in the very words themselves. The mother tongue of the one-liner and the comic put-down, Yiddish is the city’s equivalent of Esperanto. Even someone who arrived this morning wouldn’t need a translator or dictionary to decide whether to be less than complimented when called a schlump, or klutz, or putz, or schnorrer or nudnik.

dear-disagreeable-new-york-2

What do New Yorkers have in common? Bubkis. Look, when push comes to shove–and this is the town where it usually does–New Yorkers aren’t just resigned to disagree. They revel in it. Maybe that’s what ultimately serves as the city’s existential cement. If you’re comfortable with the certainty that you’re surrounded by people ready and willing (Jeez, they can hardly wait!) to give you an argument, make yourself at home. New York is the place.

If you’re not, well, too bad. Who asked for your opinion in the first place? So’s your old man. Sue me. Better yet, scram.

PETER QUINN, corporate editorial director at Time Warner, Inc., is the author of Banished Children of Eve (1994), a novel about Irish immigrants in New York City during the Civil War.

>>> View more: Dear, disagreeable New York

Reinventing Montreal smoked meat: will a once-regional cuisine make inroads into English Canada and New York?

Full Text:

THE LONDON-BASED Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi may be getting all the attention these days for his inventive, vegetarian-focused cuisine, but be advised there is another new and highly original Jewish cuisine in play that has broader reach and will likely prove more enduring. I speak of course of that Ashkenazi wunderfood, smoked meat, and the fusion cooking growing up around it.

Fresh interpretations have been emerging almost continuously of late. For example, last month–just in time for Christmas–Loblaw’s launched an all-new product called PC Montreal deli-style dip. Though technically it features corned beef rather than smoked meat, one must give credit where it is due: President’s Choice is leading the way with the creation of an entirely original Montreal-deli-inspired product.

All this just months after a trendy new pseudo-Japanese restaurant called Dassara in New York came up with something altogether different: Montreal smoked meat and matzo ball ramen.

That was another new one on me–and understand please that this does not happen often to those of us who have spent a lot of time in Quebec. For smoked meat figures as prominently in the culinary vernacular of La Belle Province as does, say, foie gras in Alsace, black truffles in Perigord, or beef in Texas.

reinventing-montreal-smoked-meat-will-a-once-regional-cuisine-make-inroads-into-english-canada-and-new-york-1

Needless to say, smoked-meat poutine is old hat and commonplace in Quebec. It is also not unusual there to see a few slices of smoked meat draped over a plate of spaghetti bolognese or a pizza–or even both simultaneously, as in “pizzaghetti avec smoked meat.” In a pub in the Eastern Townships, I was once offered a daily special of penne arrabbiata topped with a delicate julienne of smoked meat, and a few years ago in Levis, across the St. Lawrence from Quebec City, I found a diner peddling a light lunch of “salade au smoked meat.”

Lest I forget, back home in Toronto, I use a can of “smoked meat de canard” (from a company called Gastronomie le Naked Lunch, of Sainte-Sophie, Que.) as a paperweight. So you should understand that when I first learned of these latest smoked meat-based concepts, I was keen to sample them, and thus assess whether or not a once-regional cuisine could really be poised to capture the imagination of English Canada, and maybe New York state, too.

My investigation began with the President’s Choice dip, which I sourced at my local Loblaws (for just $3.99). According to the package, it’s made from a blend of corned beef, sauerkraut, dill pickle, gruyere, mozzarella and caraway seed. If you think that sounds a little nasty, trust me, you have no idea: the resulting blush-coloured sludge is so much more revolting than the ostensible sum of its parts, you really must taste it to believe it. Or not. The fascinating thing is that deli dip is not actually a product of Loblaw’s kitchens alone. Instead, the credit goes to one Cathy Ferguson of Gloucester, Ont., who entered it into competition in a Food Network Canada program called Recipe to Riches–and won!

As for the smoked meat ramen, alas, I did not get to New York in time. The problem was not alack of popularity for the restaurant or the dish–it was hurricane Sandy.

reinventing-montreal-smoked-meat-will-a-once-regional-cuisine-make-inroads-into-english-canada-and-new-york-2

There is but one source for Montreal-style smoked meat in New York: Mile End, in Brooklyn, which opened in 2010 and was already anointed best deli in the city by New York magazine. Their production facility in the low-lying coastal district of Red Hook was flooded and destroyed in the storm. And even after two months of cleanup, its weekly smoked meat production is a little more than 300 kg–about half its pre-storm level. So for now, at least, there is no smoked meat to sell to other restaurants like Dassara.

So just when I was anticipating that some enterprising New York restaurateur might be planning a Hebraic spin on Daniel Boulud’s oft-imitated burger, stuffed full of Mile End’s finest medium fat in place of braised. short rib, or even a risotto a la St. Leonard built on smoked-meat broth and spiked with shredded brisket, it seems that we will all just have to wait and see.

People: Nate Hurst Moves to Hewlett Packard; Andrew von Eschenbach; Laurie Moskowitz;

Full Text:

Byline: Christopher Snow Hopkins and Naureen Khan

Corporate Life: Nate Hurst

Some of Nate Hurst’s fondest childhood memories are of hiking in the Appalachian, Blue Ridge, and Allegheny mountains with his father, who instilled in him a deep respect for nature’s wonders–lessons he now hopes to pass on to his own 5-month-old son.

A desire to help safeguard the environment for future generations has also been the driving force in Hurst’s career. Since graduating from Virginia Tech in 1997, Hurst has served on the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Clinton and as national spokesman for the Ocean Conservancy. After earning a master’s degree in public policy and business from the University of California (Berkeley), Hurst, 36, has made a home for himself in the corporate world. For the last six and a half years, he has served as Wal-Mart’s director of sustainability, public affairs, and government relations, helping the retail giant hone its green policies. This month, he continues in a similar vein, joining Hewlett Packard’s Washington office as director of global environmental and energy policy.

“There are great ideas in every sector–public, private, and nonprofit–and going back to grad school, I wanted to know how to bring those three pieces together,C[yen] Hurst says. “Any of them operating in a vacuum is not making the best policy.C[yen]

people-nate-hurst-moves-to-hewlett-packard-andrew-von-eschenbach-laurie-moskowitz-1

Naureen Khan

In the Tanks: Andrew von Eschenbach

Throughout his career, Andrew von Eschenbach, 69, has been gaining elevation.

In 2001, when he was named director of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, von Eschenbach says, “I went from being a pair of boots on the ground, engaging in hand-to-hand combat by taking care of patients, to being an AWACS plane–I oversaw the whole terrain of our battle against cancer.C[yen]

Five years later, when he was appointed acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, “I went from being an AWACS plane to a spy satellite, where I could see not just what was going on around the world, but things that were not yet being discussed and still very much secret.C[yen]

Last week, von Eschenbach quit the Earth’s atmosphere altogether. In his new role as a senior fellow with the Milken Institute–an economic think tank with offices in Washington and Santa Monica, Calif.–he will reconsider the revolution in cellular and subcellular science “from a broader perspective of what structural and infrastructural changes are needed to assure our country’s economic viability.C[yen]

With respect to the life sciences, “I believe we are at a strategic inflection [point],C[yen] von Eschenbach says. “A hundred years ago, science and technology were focused on trying to understand the fundamental nature of matter and energyC*. And as we unraveled the secrets of the atom and its nucleus, we transformed the course of civilization. The United States positioned itself as a leader, not only in the development of atomic energy but in quantum mechanics, material sciences, and electronics.

“If you fast-forward to where we are now, science and technology have been preoccupied with understanding the fundamental nature of life. Instead of the atom and its nucleus, we’ve been exploring the cell and its nucleus.C[yen]

Even as he expounds on the dynamic nature of cellular science, von Eschenbach says that his reasons for joining the institute are both personal and professional. Earlier in his career, he administered care to Michael Milken–the financier, philanthropist, and founder of the institute–for prostate cancer. “That was the beginning of a long-standing relationship,C[yen] he notes.

A native of Philadelphia, von Eschenbach met his wife of 44 years when he was in the sixth grade.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and a medical degree from Georgetown, von Eschenbach served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy Medical Corps; he later completed a residency in urologic surgery at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hospital. In 1977, he accepted a fellowship in urologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he ascended to the positions of executive vice president, chief academic, and chairman of the urologic oncology department.

Based on his three decades as a physician, surgeon, oncologist, and executive, von Eschenbach was selected by President George W. Bush as the 12th director of the National Cancer Institute.

Christopher Snow Hopkins

Advocacy Groups: Laurie Moskowitz{{ BIZOBJ (photo: 9964) }}

Laurie Moskowitz, 46, is a self-professed rabble-rouser.

“Literally, as far back as I can remember, I was always organizing something,C[yen] she says.

Recently installed as senior director of U.S. campaigns at ONE–a Washington-based advocacy group dedicated to snuffing out poverty and preventable disease–Moskowitz inherited an altruistic temper from her father, who spent 30 years in public service. “There’s always a way to give, and there’s always a way to do something,C[yen] she says.

Growing up in San Rafael, Calif., north of San Francisco, Moskowitz protested at the Soviet Embassy in solidarity with Russian Jews barred from immigrating to Israel. She later studied political science at the University of California (Berkeley), where she organized initiatives on a host of issues from recycling to voter registration. After graduating, she joined the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, where she focused on toxic-use reduction.

In the second phase of her career, Moskowitz “did what a lot of people do in this town to move up the ladderC[yen]: alternate between Washington and the battlefield. After serving as finance director for Anita Perez Ferguson, who challenged Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., in 1992, Moskowitz joined the Democratic National Committee for what would be the first of three tours. In 1996, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., hired her as his deputy campaign manager, and she helped him trounce his opponent by an 8-point margin.

During the 2000 election cycle, Moskowitz served as the director of delegate operations for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. That assignment required her to relocate to Nashville, Tenn., away from Steve Rabinowitz, her husband of six months. Fortunately, Rabinowitz also works in the political arena (he founded a public-relations firm in 1993), so “he got it,C[yen] she says.

After Gore’s defeat, Moskowitz established FieldWorks, a progressive political-consulting firm.

Unbeknownst to some of her colleagues, Moskowitz is an “avid foodie.C[yen] Last year, she spent several months blogging about Israeli cuisine for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “When people think of Israel, they think of falafel and hummus, and there is an element of that,C[yen] she says. “But Israel has this whole new booming fusion cuisine, where they’re taking the classic flavors and spices and elevating them to a higher-level cuisine.C[yen]

Moskowitz adds that the introduction of haute cuisine does not preclude “great street food.C[yen]

people-nate-hurst-moves-to-hewlett-packard-andrew-von-eschenbach-laurie-moskowitz-2

C.S.H.

Political Stripes: Marygrace Galston

Marygrace Galston first threw herself full-throttle into a campaign working for Democrat Tom Strickland in the 2002 Colorado Senate race. Galston, who switched from veterinary science to political science, had just graduated from Colorado State University when she became a field organizer for the Strickland campaign.

The daughter of union Democrats, Galston has always been politically inclined. She had been enchanted by a visit to the state capitol while in high school; she volunteered for Al Gore’s presidential campaign in her younger years, and she served as president of her college’s Young Democrats of America.

What Galston lacked in professional politicking experience, she made up for in pluck. When one of Strickland’s regional field directors unexpectedly quit in the middle of the cycle, Galston drove to Denver to meet with the campaign higher-ups and persuaded them to take a chance on her–pointing to her experience as the manager of a whitewater-rafting company in college.

Despite her best efforts, however, Strickland lost that year to Republican Wayne Allard by 5 points. Galston was devastated. She remembers crying in bed for two days and subsisting on Chinese takeout.

“I said, ‘I am never going to let this happen again,’ C[yen] she recalls.

And so she hasn’t. A few days later, Galston was packing her bags to move into a Holiday Inn in Monroe, La., to work on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s runoff effort (the state holds a runoff in December if no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote on Election Day).

Since then, Galston has crisscrossed the country working on various campaigns and has never lost another race–from municipal contests to Senate bids to presidential primaries and elections.

Among the successful races under her belt: the reelection operations of Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., in 2004 and 2006, respectively; a handful of city council races; and Sen. John Kerry’s effort in the Iowa caucuses in 2004.

It all culminated in Galston taking on Iowa for a second time for then-Sen. Barack Obama as his deputy state director, helping to maintain and mobilize a vast grassroots network and managing a multimillion-dollar budget. During the general-election campaign, she served as National Campaign for Change director, working to set up field organizations in the battleground states in partnership with the local parties.

She says she never intended to stay in the world of campaigning forever, but each job led to a better opportunity that was difficult to turn down. Despite the all-consuming, exhausting nature of the work, there was nothing like the thrill and camaraderie that went along with the lifestyle. “Campaigns create family,C[yen] Galston says. “Every campaign is like a family. You create the life that you’re missing at home.C[yen]

After the dust settled from the 2008 campaign, she was presented with another unbeatable opportunity: working for the Obama administration as a senior political adviser and White House liaison for the Environmental Protection Agency. In that role, she was afforded an insider’s view of the executive branch.

“You really get to see how an administration is built,C[yen] Galston, 31, says. “It was about wanting to bring in fresh people and fresh ideas into government while not wanting to reinvent the wheel completely. Eight years is a short amount of time to get things done.C[yen]

But Galston promised herself that she would only keep the job for a year. After living out of a suitcase for the past nine years, she longed to be closer to family in Colorado, to put down roots, to buy furniture, and maybe even have a dog, she says. This month, she joins the progressive political-consulting firm New Partners as a senior member of its Seattle team.

“I just knew that my time was coming to a place where I wanted to start a new life and get back to Seattle, where I had worked on campaigns before,C[yen] Galston says. “I loved the people and loved the politics.C[yen]

N.K.

Consulting Game: James Jones

Former Obama National Security Adviser James Jones, 67, has been tapped to lead a new advisory board for Van Scoyoc Associates, a role in which the retired general will provide the lobbying and consulting firm with advice relating to client-service improvements, market trends and strategic planning. Jones spent 40 years in military service, starting out as an officer in Vietnam and ultimately rising to become Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He served as president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy before joining the Obama administration in January 2009; he held the national-security post until November. He currently heads consulting firm Jones Group International. Joining Jones on the advisory board are Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., former White House counsel to President Reagan and current chairman of international law firm O’Melveny & Myers; and Mary L. Howell, previously the executive vice president of Textron.

N.K.

Christopher Snow Hopkins and Naureen Khan

>>> View more: Who’s a Jew?