Over the past few years, I've been searching for stimulating media that deals with Jewish identity from a soul-searching viewpoint, rather than the self-righteous standard. Below I've chronicled books, mags and such that I've enjoyed (and in a couple cases contributed to). Some are rough, some I didn't fully agree with, but they collectively represent efforts to look at Jewish identity from a new perspective.


Black, White & Jewish:
Authobiography of a Shifting Self

(Riverhead, 2000)
by Rebecca Walker

This is a fascinating coming-of-age memoir by Rebecca Walker, the daughter of superstar-author Alice Walker and her former Jewish husband, civil rights lawyer Mel Leventhal. Shuffled between her divorced parents, Walker lived a schizophrenic mix of Jewish summer camp and hangin' with homegirls in the Bronx. If being biracial wasn't hard enough, Jewishness added an extra wrinkle. The founder of the activist group Third Wave Foundation, and author of To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism, Walker has spent most of her adult life examining overlapping issues, and she does so with refreshing honesty here.
Get it from Amazon.com


body outlawsShameless Plug!
Body Outlaws:
Young Women Write About Body Image & Identity

(Seal Press, 2000)
edited by Ophira Edut (that would be me)

This is my book. Yep, I edited it—as well as its "outlawed" first edition Adios, Barbie (published in 1998, sued by Mattel a year later). It's a multicultural collection of women's "body stories" exploring the overlap between body image and ethnic identity. Everything from big noses to big butts to nappy hair is covered, with several chapters written by Jewish women.
Visit the website | Get it from Amazon.com



eat firstEat First—You Don't Know What They'll Give You
(Xlibris, 1999)
by Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Subtitled "The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter," Fuentes traces her life as the daughter of Holocaust escapees to becoming one of the first woman law students and a pioneer of feminism's second wave. It's one of the few books I've seen by women from this generation that deals with being Jewish and a feminist in a conversational, memoir style.
Get it from Amazon.com



eat firstGeneration J
(Harper San Francisco, 1999)
by Lisa Schiffman

Yes, it's been accused of being bland, generic, too secular, and of using one person's experience to summarize an entire generation. Nonetheless, this book kicked off a collective attempt to define what Schiffman calls the "post-Holocaust generation"—Jews fumbling through an assimilated American experience, intermarrying and eating pork (as Schiffman does) and trying to deduce what the hell being Jewish actually means. Schiffman, a hardcore secular and a skeptic, dances with this dilemma by exploring Buddhism, a mikveh, and her relationship with her non-Jewish husband. Already a national bestseller, Generation J at least broke some ground for young Jewish essayists hoping to see the light of a mainstream printing press. It may be too "basic" for some people—and the Jewish world is far too vast, diverse and international for this American-Ashkenazi book to even claim to cover—but I consider it a worthy read.
Get it from Amazon.com


eat firstGoodbye, Evil Eye
(Holmes & Meir, 2000)
by Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer

This delightful book of fiction is the first collection of stories I've ever seen covering the Sephardic experience in America. Kirchheimer, a first-generation daughter of Turkish parents, paints vivid tales where superstition, magic, and the folklore collide with Western skepticism. Having a Sephardic dad myself, I appreciated how vastly different this was from almost any Jewish short story book I've read. These are the stories of so many Jews in the world, yet they're so rarely heard. What's up with that—is it prejudice or just cluelessness? If it doesn't sound like Seinfeld, it won't sell? I hope that publishers wake up to the relevance of the stories of Jews from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, which are a huge part of the Jewish story.
Get it from Amazon.com


Heeb Magazine
(January 2002 launch)

Several Semitic "upstarts" have tried to create a magazine for the jaded new generation, hoping to bridge the chasm between Hebrew School lovers and dropouts who've had a few years in the real world to sort out their feelings. Heeb: The New Jew Review will try its hand in January 2002. But rather than trying to appease both the kissups and the cynics—as past efforts have done—Heeb caters to the latter and shoos the rest off to their local JCCs. I helped out as a publishing consultant with this ambitious, unapologetic project. Irreverant it is indeed: The launch issue features a "Jew-fro" photo spread and the radical stylings of publisher Jenn Bleyer (former editor of a punk-rock Jewish zine called Mazeltov Cocktail). Here in NYC, word on the streets is that Heeb has pissed off some of the established Jewish organizations, and to that I raise my Manischevitz. It's time the naughty miscreant who gets kicked out of Hebrew School class got to tell the higher-ups that the system sucks and what to do about it. If they're smart, they'll actually listen. If not, those who get it will enjoy a chuckle—this time without detention.
Visit the website


Yentl's Revenge:
The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism
(Seal Press, 2001)

edited by Danya Ruttenberg

The first young Jewish women's anthology of the twentysomething-plus-or-minus-a-few-years set, this book covers everything from witchcraft to Orthodoxy, mikvehs to intermarriage, all under the Jewish umbrella. Some of the essays are a little on the crunchy side for my personal taste, but it may be that I'm squeamish about most rituals (for example, a few writers focused on how they incorporate traditional Jewish practices into earnest, modern movements like ecofeminism). That said, ritual is clearly an important part of the Jew-spectrum, and there are enough secular and cynical writers to balance it out. I particularly enjoyed one of the last essays by Dalia Sofer, who writes beautifully about being Jewish in Iran, then Israel, and America. An expanded version of my essay "Bubbe Got Back" appears inside.
Visit the website | Get it from Amazon.com





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©2001 by Ophira Edut. The hand that rocks the dreidl rules the world.