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October 26, 2016 by

Surviving in “The Waiting Room”

Screen Shot 2016-10-27 at 11.29.42 AMThe Waiting Room, shortlisted for the Voss Literary Prize, unfolds over the course of a single, life-changing day, but the story it tells spans five decades, and three continents. As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Dina’s present has always been haunted by her parents’ pasts. She becomes a doctor, emigrates from Australia to Israel, and builds a family of her own, yet no matter how hard she tries to move on, their ghosts keep pulling her back. A dark, wry sense of humor helps Dina maintain her sanity amid the constant challenges of motherhood and medicine, but when a terror alert is issued in her adopted city, her usual coping skills begin to fray.

Interlacing the present and the past over a span of 24 hours, The Waiting Room explores just what it means to endure a day-to-day existence in a country defined by perpetual conflict and trauma. Author Leah Kaminsky e-chats with Lilith Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough and describes her own complicated journey across continents—and back.

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October 21, 2016 by

What Inspired This Non-Jew to Write Amsterdam Holocaust Fiction?

Mary Fillmore, the author of "An Address in Amsterdam"

Mary Fillmore, the author of “An Address in Amsterdam”

When writer Mary Dingee Fillmore arrived in Amsterdam for a six month stay in 2001, a photograph she happened upon in the city’s Jewish Historical Museum startled her. The picture showed a favorite landmark (De Waag) near the apartment where she and her partner, astronomer Joanna Rankin, were staying, cordoned off by barbed wire.

“I realized that we were living in the Jewish Quarter,” she explains. “My neighbors had been rounded up just a little over 60 years before. Suddenly, the question of what I would have done during the war became very real to me. Would I have helped them and resisted, or joined the colluders and collaborators?”

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October 19, 2016 by

The Last Survivor

Branka stepped across the threshold of Apartment 4 once more on Vinohradská Street in the Prague district of Žižkov. The same enameled brick hallway. The same double wooden doors. The documentary team had told her to meet them here. They wanted to hear her whole story. Terezín. Auschwitz. Prague Survivors Group. She bore a new moniker since last May when Amalia Grossberg passed away at 109. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum dubbed Branka the Last Survivor. They sent out a press release, and this filmmaker contacted her. The documentary people flew her from Silver Spring to Prague for the filming and would fly her back. Her ninth documentary. His was the only offer she accepted. She wanted to return to Prague. She needed to return to Prague.

In her purse she carried the emails her son had printed out for her. The invitations to speak from the Israeli Prime Minister, the American president, and every college and university Holocaust center the world over. They all could wait.

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October 14, 2016 by

God’s Girlfriends: A Review

http://www.arab-hebrew-theatre.org.il/en/show.php?id=140

http://www.arab-hebrew-theatre.org.il/en/show.php?id=140

I recently investigated the following question: Does the Bible pass the Bechdel test? You know, this is the test about how pro-women a dramatic production is. The test is simple, and sets an admittedly low bar. In order to pass, the film, show, or play has to have at least two named women as characters, and the two have to talk to one another about something other than a man for more than 30 seconds. I was curious how the Bible fares.

The answer? Out of the 24 books of the Bible, only one book passes: The Book of Ruth.

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October 13, 2016 by

From Stolen Silverware to Politicos: An Interview with Michelle Brafman

These 17 luminous narratives reveal the secrets of a mismatched cast of politicos, filmmakers, housewives, real estate brokers and consultants, all tied to one suburban neighborhood. Linked through bloodlines and grocery lines, they respond to life’s bruises by grabbing power, sex, or the family silver. As they atone and forgive, they unmask the love and truth that hop white picket fences.  One of the stories, “Sylvia’s Spoon,” was a Lilith  fiction contest winner in 2006, and it’s still stunning.

Author Michelle Brafman e-chats with Lilith’s Fiction Editor, Yona Zeldis McDonough, about the stories that inform the stories.

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October 11, 2016 by

Does Judaism Generate Eating Disorders?

Many women struggling with traumas around food and body shaming have stopped fasting on Yom Kippur. Cognitive behavioral psychologist Aliza Levitt, a specialist in eating disorders, says that for many women food is like a drug. “Like with any other drug, you can’t just take food away. It is a matter of life and death. Eating disorders have a high mortality rate, and you have to take that into account.”

But it’s more than that. The trauma of food triggered by Yom Kippur reflects a deeper problem in Jewish culture when it comes to food. The overemphasis on food in excess in Jewish life—so often served by women—combined with family surroundings in which body commentary is the norm, can launch different painful relationships with food and body.

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October 11, 2016 by

Choosing Not to Fast: Eating Disorders and Yom Kippur

Last year on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Naomi Malka was busy. The High Holiday Coordinator and Mikveh Director at the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, she was preparing for a 6PM service for five thousand people and had no time to eat. For most people who observe this holiday – which, according to the Guttman Center, is the majority of Jews – the 25 hour fast is hard enough. But to start the fast already on an empty stomach and to be running around organizing and working, that is bordering on painful. But for Naomi, the challenge was even more extreme: she is also a recovering bulimic. 

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October 10, 2016 by

A Prayer for the Nameless

Marion Roth.

Marion Roth.

Each Yom Kippur our rabbi invites a few congregants to write a prayer leading up to the Yizkor Memorial service. Their words are always resonant and humbling. Two years ago, my short story “Sylvia’s Spoon,” winner of the 2007 Lilith Magazine Fiction prize, had been republished, and I mentioned to my rabbi that I was once again overwhelmed by the response to this tale of early pregnancy loss. 

I told my rabbi that as a writer, if I get extremely lucky, a story that I send out into the world will come back to me in the form of more stories, a call and response of sorts. I described some of the moving and raw notes that I received about about miscarriages and abortions and babies never acknowledged or mourned.

It was only after my rabbi asked me to write a Yizkor prayer for these babies that I began to think of my own story. Almost twenty years ago, I’d lost a pregnancy a few months before Yom Kippur, and I remember sitting in shul, wondering if I had the right to recite Yizkor for my baby. I felt that there were no prayers for this life or for my husband or me. No way to heal.

On the eve of this Yom Kippur, I offer this prayer for anyone who has ever lost a pregnancy. 

“A Prayer for the Nameless.”

On behalf of those who have endured the private grief of early pregnancy loss, I pray.

I pray extra hard for the men and women who are still trying to conceive. I wish for them a respite from the loneliest of lonely griefs. I hope they find comfort and promise somewhere, in prayer or the stories of the Biblical Sarah, Rivka, and Hannah or others who have shared this specific pain.

I pray for these men and women to have patience with well-meaning loved ones who fumble for the right words of comfort. There are no right words. I hope that they find the ear of a friend or a stranger and unburden themselves. Please God, allow them to let go of their shame and their timelines. Bless them with the courage to trust.     

I pray the loudest for the nameless. The babies who never made it to the bimah, never received the rabbi’s hands upon their crowns or the blessings—Y’vorech’cho adonoy v’yishm’recho. Y’ayr adonoy ponov aylecho vichuneko—neither for a baby naming nor a bar or bat mitzvah. 

I pray for the parents who named their babies and allowed themselves to wonder whether their children would inherit their grandmother’s perfect pitch or father’s love of board games. I pray for the parents who went on to make families, but who honor a due date and ponder a life that wasn’t, a broken memory that inhabits a crevice of their souls.   

I call out to God, to give strength to those suffering from this hidden grief. Let us respond by remembering. Let us pray for them. And let us pray—for the nameless. 


Michelle Brafman is the author of Washing the Dead and Bertrand Court, two works of fiction. Her writing has appeared in Slate, the Los Angeles Review of Books, LitHub, The Nervous Breakdown, Tablet, Lilith, and elsewhere. She teaches at the Johns Hopkins MA in Writing Program and lives in Glen Echo, Maryland with her husband and two children. www.michellebrafman.com

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October 7, 2016 by

Homeless and Hungry: How One Nashville Doctor Reaches Out

The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that a Tennessee resident earning minimum wage—$7.25 an hour—would have to work 67 hours a week in order to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment in The Volunteer State.

It’s even worse in the capital city of Nashville.  There, the NLIHC notes, today’s average market rents require earnings of $12.14 an hour for a one-bedroom flat, or $17.99 an hour for a two-bedroom.

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October 7, 2016 by

How Does Treyf Taste? An Interview with Elissa Altman

Treyfimperfect, intolerableforbidden… A person can eat treyf; a person can be treyf.” The second memoir by award-winning author Elissa Altman (of Poor Man’s Feast fame), Treyf: My Life as an Unorthodox Outlaw (NAL/Penguin,) is a story of the struggle to find happiness, meaning and a sense of belonging in a world where traditions can both define and isolate us. In her latest work, Altman recalls in vivid detail her tumultuous coming of age and the ways in which food can express the most profound love while also being the catalyst for furious rebellion. From fried Spam [the “luncheon meat”] to her grandmother’s goulash, food marks the key moments of the author’s life in frank yet eloquent narrative.

Here, Altman discusses with Hanna R. Neier the dual power of food and the need to connect to one’s past while still belonging to the present.

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