A Letter to Alice Walker

Dear Ms. Walker:

Please think of this letter like those notes full of wishes that people fold and fold and fold to fit into a crevice in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I tell you this because I just re-read The Color Purple, in all of its epistolary glory, after I learned that you wouldn’t allow the book to be translated into Hebrew.

I tell you this because letters like Celie’s—thousands of letters like hers—live in the Wall until they are swept away by maintenance workers. But before that happens, I’d like to believe that those words reach heaven on the breath of all the prayers constantly hovering over Jerusalem. These multi-religious pleas and praises to God are what the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai described as “the ecology of Jerusalem.”

Celie and Shug have their own astonishing floating theology. Neither of them has ever found God in a church. God is genderless. God is nature. God is part of everything and so are we. Jews and Christians and Muslims. Palestinians, Arabs and Israelis. “God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t,” Shug tells Celie. God loves beauty for the sake of beauty. Nothing makes God angrier than walking by the color purple in a field and taking no notice of its glory.

There is so much color in Israel. Some of it invented though, like the Green Line. I imagine that kind of color is anathema to your politics, to your soul. I don’t like it either. But I must tell you that I am still a Zionist. I feel the same way about Israel that Celie’s missionary sister Nettie felt about Africa. The first time she set eyes on the African coast something like a large bell struck her soul. The first time I went to Jerusalem my friends made me get out of the car and physically walk into the city. I felt like a pilgrim. But the first time I truly saw Israel — the golden colors of Jerusalem stone, all shades of blue in the Armenian quarter, the glittery reds and pinks in the Arab market — was when I landed in Israel directly from visiting the ashes of Auschwitz.

Or more accurately the ashes of Majdanek, another camp in Poland. Auschwitz is a tourist attraction. You can buy a hot dog outside of the sanitized concentration camp. The piles of shoes and pots and pans that the Jews thought they needed when they were deported to concentration camps look more like sculptures—frozen by history and cliché. But Majdanek is black, charcoal black, and the bleakest place I’ve ever seen. The day after I visited, I was in Israel and it was the first time I shed personal tears for the Nazi genocide of my people. It was the first time I understood why Israel has always been and will always be the heart and soul of the Jewish people.

But life has never been a fairy tale in Israel. There are distinct geographic and class divisions. They exist as sharply among Jews as they do between the Palestinians and Israelis. But to call these social problems apartheid is a false historical equivalency, Ms. Walker. Israel is not an apartheid state. There is no official policy of discrimination of any one people as there was in South Africa. Yes, there is injustice and oppression. But there is also an entire society of Celies— Jewish women burdened by sexism, misogyny and wholesale ignorance. These women need Celie. I know that somehow The Color Purple will reach some of these women surreptitiously if the book is available in Israel in Hebrew. They’ll read that God’s will has nothing to do with their husbands’ ill wills. God is a savior. Their husbands are jailers.

If your book were translated into Hebrew, I would hand out copies in the streets of Me’ah Shearim in Jerusalem and B’nai Brak in Tel Aviv, where women are forced to cross the street in deference to men. I’d hand them out in the back of buses where women are corralled because of some twisted, sinful interpretation of Jewish religious law. I’d distribute them to Palestinian women, for many of whom Hebrew is also their first language.

But until I have your book to give them, these women are as mute as pillars of salt. That was Lot’s wife’s punishment when she was instructed not to look back at the ongoing destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah. But how could Lot’s wife, whose name was believed to be Judith, not turn around to make sure her children were safe. Celie looked back to locate her children too and for that she was also entombed in a metaphorical stony pillar of salt. But she didn’t stay trapped. When she broke out of her numb existence it was not so much a miracle, but an act of womanhood.

Don’t your Palestinian and Israeli sisters deserve to read Celie’s story? Don’t they need to know that noticing the color purple is their God-given right too?

Yours truly,

Judy Bolton-Fasman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am More Than a Paycheck

Okay, Elizabeth Wurtzel, you’re incendiary, condescending, a bit heartless and inexperienced, but you’re not totally wrong. The premise of your screed in The Atlantic that motherhood is not a job is true. At the risk of engaging in some blustering semantics—motherhood is messy. It’s consuming. It’s a woman’s blood. A mother’s milk. Motherhood is a mind-blowing, body-altering experience and no one can come close to telling you how radically amazing, frightening, depressing, frustrating and exhausting it is until you become a mother. That’s just the way it is. And believe me, I hate to admit when my mother is right.

Wikicommons
Elizabeth Wurtzel

Just to be clear, I’m not the 1% stay-at-home mother you take to task, Ms. Wurtzel. I’m a writer. I work hard at it, but I don’t come close to paying the mortgage from my wages. I also devote a lot of my time to mothering my two teenagers and I don’t get a dime for that. My husband supports our family. He’s in a field that’s more lucrative than mine. That’s a fact.

I’m blessed to have the choice to work from home, but I’m not spoiled. I think multi-tasking is a myth perpetuated to drive women crazy. I decided to stay at home when my first child was born because I wanted to be the most important person in her life. That’s not egotistical, that’s love. Full-blown maternal love. I break my own glass ceilings each time my children choose me as their go-to-person. Sometimes I lose out to their friends, but I can live with that. At the end of the day, I’m the one that they confess their sins and their fears to. And to paraphrase you, if you tell me that anyone can do that for my kids, I swear I’m going to smack you. No one, but no one, could ever love my kids like I do because I am their mother. Period.

Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t shop at Chanel. (Once in a blue moon I buy makeup at Bloomingdale’s.) I don’t get facials unless I have a gift certificate. And I don’t wear Lululemon to some fancy shmancy gym. But you probably think I’m a slacker for grabbing an extra hour of sleep in the middle of the day after I’ve stayed up most of the night with my daughter to see her through a prolonged asthma attack. And ditto for staying up very late to support my kids when they’re studying. Once upon a time I slept late with my infant son in my arms after he stayed up all night with colic, which trust me is no fairytale.

I’m the best person to comfort my children when they are bullied, when someone breaks their hearts or when they’re preparing for a big test. Mothers are special that way. True, I don’t get a salary for supporting my kids through life. Accordingly, I’m not a real feminist in your book. But I’m a woman who knows what it’s like to love two human beings so much that I would die for them without a second thought. I daresay that’s past, present and post-feminism.

And by the way, I got married when I fell in love with someone who made me a better person than I was. He’s my best friend. I haven’t compromised my integrity or my independence one whit. I’m damned proud to be my husband’s wife. Grimace all you want, but I’m also damned lucky. And by the way, if you’re in a healthy marriage, by definition you’re a full-time wife whether or not you’re getting a paycheck. We can generalize forever about monogamy and the balance of power in a relationship. But I’ll lay it out in terms that you, as a paid working woman, can relate to. Think of monogamy as a career that you adore. Not always easy. Not always fun. But there are a lot of bonuses and that ultimate reward: fulfillment, As far as power goes, well sometimes, I have it in the relationship and sometimes he does. Domestic office politics. We deal with it.

Maybe wealthy women—the lunchers, the shoppers, and the gym rats—have betrayed feminism. But the last time I checked, feminism wasn’t autocratic or conformist. Feminists are discerning not judgmental. Just to complete the picture for you, I drive a Volvo because I hate driving in the snow and feel more secure in a steel-enforced car. The roads ice up faster in the suburbs. And if you notice me talking to myself while I’m driving, I’m either answering an editor’s questions or fielding a complaint from one of my mother’s caretakers on my Bluetooth. I won’t even get into my role as the daughter of a cantankerous, difficult woman. Suffice it to say, I don’t get paid for that either.

The Graduate

Thank you for asking; the graduation was lovely. But you can probably sense that’s the party line. The ceremony was actually surreal, emotional and intense. We are, as the old saying goes, in the big leagues. Next stop, university.

I’ve known a lot of Anna’s fellow Gann Academy graduates since kindergarten at Schechter in Newton. Over the years, I’ve stayed quiet in my role as chauffeur to eavesdrop on their arguments and their gossip. When they were in that state between dog-tired and overwhelmed, I heard about their dreams and their fears.

In the mix of growing up together these kids have loved each other, hurt each other, admired each other and, in the end, I think they’ve come to appreciate the time they’ve shared together. Who knows when and where they’ll resurface in each others’ lives. As for me, I’ve watched the Class of 2012 sing and dance. I’ve watched them cry and fail. I’ve watched them whoop for joy when they aced a test. I’ve watched them be remorseful as well as get away with murder.

No one grows up without witnesses. As I dabbed my eyes during the ceremony, what flashed through my head as quick as lightning was that no one parents alone either. Whether or not we admit it, we’ve all been in it together. By that I mean we have some piece of real estate in each other’s hearts and memories. We’ll think of each other at random times when we remember the eighth grade play, or the stunning senior class presentation that melded poetry and song and choreography, bringing us to our feet. Or maybe we’ll just sigh over that long-ago last day of kindergarten.

And then at some point we’ll try to figure out when our children grew up. I can’t give you an exact event or call up that one defining moment that Anna and Adam became autonomous, fully separate from Ken and me. It might have happened as Adam shot up 11 inches in the last two years and steadily improved his running times.

For Anna, maybe it was when she was able to reach into her soul to articulate insights that were hers alone. These past couple of years her spirit and brain were in synch when I read her English essays or rabbinics papers. And yes, there was the college application essay about why she hadn’t learned to drive. (She still doesn’t have her license.) She wasn’t thrilled about the other cars on the road or having to parallel park. But mostly she was worried about losing the intense, personal connection that uniquely incubates on our car rides. With Ken she talked science and music. With me it was the latest family news or class intrigue. But mostly she just needed us to listen as she took apart and put back together the personal conundrum of the moment. At the graduation ceremony, Anna gave the invocation for the Class of 2012. She wore a graduation cap that made the claim that one-size fit all. But I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that that cap looked unique and beautiful on every single graduate. And yet even in her three-inch wedges, Anna still looked like my little girl going to a big university. That is until she told her fellow graduates and their families that:

Gann is truly a place that fosters individuality while still emphasizing the importance of community. Who we become as a person before we leave Gann is just as significant as who we become as a class. In Numbers Chapter 24, Bilam, a member of the enemy nation of Bnei Yisrael, finds himself blessing Jacob and Israel as he looks upon their camp. As the spirit of G-d enters Bilam, he utters the famous phrase “ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenotecha Yisrael, how lovely are your tents O Jacob, your dwellings O Israel!” In a moment of genuine awe and humility, Bilam first blesses the individual, Jacob, and then the community, Israel. Like Bnei Yisrael, Gann should be admired not only for the amazing individuals it produces, but also for the classes as a whole, each unique in character and reputation.

Our class of 2012 is no exception. Amongst us we have varsity athletes, talented artists and musicians, jugglers, a cappella enthusiasts and even the lone Irish step dancer. However, each individual connects to those around them, latching on, creating a network that when viewed from the outside is beautiful both for the entities, and the class as a whole. These individuals together make up something much larger, perhaps even awe-inspiring when looked at with the spirit of G-d. May we always take pride in our individuality while finding strength in our community.

The first time Anna read her speech to me, I broke into song. Literally. One of the first tunes I learned in Hebrew contained Bilam’s famous blessing. Lovely, billowing tents. The croaking chorus of 6th grade voices. I still remember those kids. Anna and I sang my version of “Ma Tovu” on the way to one of her graduation rehearsals.

How lovely you are, Class of 2012.

K is for Kenneth — Father’s Day Column

The other day I was reading a quirky grammar book with a chapter headed “Adopt a Favorite Letter.” (Yes, I sometimes read grammar books and dictionaries to relax). I was intrigued by the author’s notion that he detects a secret meaning in each letter of the alphabet. Yes, I thought, someone understands how I feel about the letter K.

K is for Kenneth. That’s my husband’s name and it was also my father’s first name. But Dad was never a Ken or a Kenny. He went by his middle name Harold. Kenneth was his phantom name. Unlike its phonetic counterpart C, K is unambiguously hard, ramrod straight on one side, making it the perfect letter to lean on. A letter from which to fly the flag that Dad revered, the Stars and Stripes he flew from his bedroom window on every national holiday. The flag that draped his coffin.

The K in my father’s name stood alone. My father’s luggage, chunky signet ring, and a check register as big as a ledger were all monogrammed with an indelible K. The signature that followed was a comet tail of script meant to read as Harold Bolton. I grew up in the shadow of Dad’s K—a patch of dusk in which good posture, impeccable manners, and fair outcomes were cultivated.

When I eulogized my father ten years ago, I talked about my father’s inimitable K and my brother said at that moment he knew that his son’s name—born two months to the day after Dad’s death—would lead off with the stalwart K. The family K now anchors my young nephew’s name. The K of my nephew’s name is not associated with a particular name. It is a stand-alone initial that perpetuates my father’s solid K-like presence in our lives.

I particularly love the Hebrew alphabet for its array of meaningful letters. I also like that the Aleph Bet occasionally doubles as numbers, forming a quirky numerology or gematria that engages the compulsive in me. A well-known word-number correlation is the Hebrew word for life—chai. The two Hebrew letters that make up the word correspond to the numbers eight and ten. In the realms of Jewish luck and superstition, eighteen is a powerful number and one that I am forever trying to extract by adding up street addresses and birth dates.

But my favorite Hebrew letter is ayin. Ayin is for Akiva—my father’s Hebrew name. Akiva is also Adam’s Hebrew name. My Dad was alive when Adam was born and I latched on to the Sephardic tradition of naming after the living. I’m all for dynamic continuity. Ayin is for Akiva and this time the hard K sound of the Hebrew letter kaph that follows the ayin is subordinate to it. Large, resonant kaph must make room for the almost inaudible “a” sound that ayin carries. But kaph is also for Kalman—my husband Ken’s Hebrew name. The sturdy chiseled sound of the kaph suits him. The shape of the letter kaph also reminds me of a shepherd’s staff, like the one I imagined Moses carried.

As for me, I can’t resist telling you about the tiny letter yud that leads off my Hebrew name Yehudit. Yud, is a smudge of a letter slipped into words to space out consonants or give vowels a new sound. Unobtrusive yet effective. I aim to be that kind of parent, do you?

Jewish mystics tapped into the otherworldly qualities they intuited from the Hebrew alphabet.  Ayin is for Akiva and in the dreamy, swirling, opaque world of the Kabbalah, the letter ayin is associated with the unique uncomprehending nothingness before the creation of the world, the windswept darkness of creation, the airy nothingness of God’s incorporeal existence.

A great Hasidic master once said that “nothing can change from one thing to another without first losing its own identity. Before an egg can grow into a chicken, it must completely cease to be an egg. Each thing must lose its original identity before it can become something else. Before a thing is transformed, it must come to the level of ayin.”

My son loses his little boy identity by shooting up 11 inches in two years. I listen to his deepening voice. I watch him fix my computer. I read his essays full of insights wholly his own. When he puts his hand on my shoulder he’s returning the reassurance and the protection that I hope his father and I have given him.

I think Jewish tradition has made Father’s Day, and for that matter Mother’s Day, a recurrent event. In Hebrew the names by which we are called to the Torah are as long and magical as the trailing comet of my father’s signature. We never forget that we are a son or a daughter. Or, for those of us so blessed, a parent.

 

This I Believe: A Father’s Day Column

Here’s a provocative question: Is this generation of daughters their fathers’ new sons? That was my takeaway from a book called Our Fathers, Ourselves, by Dr. Peggy Drexler. The book tracks over 120 hours of interviews with women of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities within the United States. Drexler, who lost her own father at the age of three, investigated how fathers in this generation of women and recalibrated their expectations to be more in line with what they hoped for their sons.

Sifting through reams of well-worn truths—e.g., a father is the first man in his daughter’s life—three recurring parenting lessons shine through from the women interviewed for the book. Many of the women said that they learned perseverance from their fathers. Their dads didn’t let them give up easily whether it was learning to ride a bicycle or finishing a thesis.

Fathers and daughters who regularly engaged in conversation and did things together whether it was playing tennis, grilling burgers or going to the movies had good self-esteem. Education goes hand-in-hand with self-esteem. The fathers that encouraged their daughters to get an education were the same ones who held their daughters in high regard.

I like reading stories about relationships and that’s what initially drew me to Drexler’s book. But the book that really hooked me was an anthology compiled from essays originally recorded for the radio series, This I Believe: On Fatherhood. Thought not the most polished pieces of prose in print, these essays were intended to be spoken. When I read some of them out loud I clearly heard simplicity, truth and emotion.

Many essays talked about hard working dads who left their children lasting gifts of character and strength. One of my favorite pieces talked about a stern father who wasn’t shy about taking a belt to his son’s bottom. One day the boy accidentally burned down the family’s garage. Instead of spanking his son, his father gave him five dollars—a princely sum in the 1940s. This father told his son that he was more important to him than money, than a garage or anything else material in this world.

While I recognized aspects of myself in Drexler’s interviews, it’s the “This I Believe” format where I met other people’s dads and got reacquainted with my own father. My dad was the only father among my peer group who served in the Second World War. I was the only eight year-old around who could quote Dad’s hero, Winston Churchill.

The father of my childhood both intimidated and fascinated me. I’d look at my reflection in his General MacArthur aviator sunglasses and feel every bit the little girl that I was. He did one-armed pushups in the morning. He ate the same breakfast every weekday morning—half a grapefruit, a bowl of Special K and a cup of Sanka poured into the same mustard-colored mug with the white rim.

I loved his collection of colored pens with which he wrote checks that looked like the flag of another country—the date in red, the payee in blue, the signature in green. I especially loved the elegant check registry, as large as a coffee table book, the brown leather embossed with K. Harold Bolton.

I loved the crisp Ticonderoga pencils he used to print grocery lists on the cardboard that came with his laundered shirts. His small D’s looked like upside-down pennants. The items on his lists rarely varied—a low-calorie cottage cheese, ice milk instead of ice cream, wax paper instead of saran wrap. He set out vitamins for me every morning that included a concentrated tart chalky tablet of Vitamin C called Acerola. Our breakfast cereals had stern names like Product 19, Special K, or if Dad was in a light-hearted mood, Total. Nothing in our house glistened with sugar.

Quite unexpectedly my father and I became close friends. In my mid-20s, he and I saw each other often even though he still lived in Hartford and I was in New York. He was retired by then and came into Manhattan by train. He always dressed in a suit to visit me and he treated my friends and me to beers. When I was nursing a bad break-up, I’d come home on weekends and we’d go to the bar across from the train station. “Anything we say or drink here is just between us,” he said smiling. I noticed for the first time how much he looked like his own father. He peppered his sentences with words like shan’t. I took days off to scour classical record shops with him and search for Cole Porter sheet music for the lyrics we both loved.

Perseverance, self-esteem, education. Check, check, check. Thank you, Dad. But most importantly, by the end of his life, Dad and I believed in each other as father and daughter. Dad’s hero, Churchill, once said that although he was half-American he felt wholly British. I know what he meant. There are moments in my life when I have felt so completely K. Harold Bolton’s daughter.

 

 

Uncle Jonathan

There is a picture in my sister’s house of my niece as a newborn, being held by her father. She is just three-days old and her father, my brother-in-law Jonathan, is smiling the smile of a proud, new parent. The fact that that picture exists is a testament to this extraordinary man as a father and a person. Two days earlier, Jonathan witnessed his first wife die in childbirth. My niece was saved by an emergency C-section. Jonathan lovingly and sagely posed for that picture so that his daughter would always know how joyous her birth was to him.

Jonathan was immediately thrown into the role of both father and mother to his little girl. He never considered for one moment not raising his child by himself. And he never allowed himself to be hampered by self-pity. He quickly turned his basement into a suite for a live-in nanny and became an expert on all things baby. Fortunately, he has an innate gift with children. He’s one of these people who knows exactly what to say to a child, how to play with a child, and most importantly how to love that child. I’ve never seen anything quite like the rapport that Jonathan has with children.

By the time I knew Jonathan, my niece was three-years-old. We met him for the first time over dinner at his house. We lived in Maryland then and I was visiting my sister with Anna while Ken was away on business. Anna was ten-months-old. Jonathan was a natural when it came to taking care of a child that age, and particularly in all things having to do with girls. That night he had a booster chair, a special plastic Cinderella plate with matching cutlery and Anna’s favorite meal of chicken nuggets ready for her.

Since then Jonathan has been an important resource for Ken and me in both practical and esoteric matters related to parenting. The man is a font of knowledge. In the early years of our parenthood he knew things like where to get Flapdoodles clothing at the best price. He picked up Anna’s hypoallergenic formula in bulk when he was at Costco. All the while his own little girl thrived, growing into a happy well-adjusted child.

When we moved to the Boston area, Anna was two and shortly thereafter I became pregnant with Adam. If Ken was away on a business trip, Jonathan took Anna for a Sunday afternoon so I could have a break. When I went into labor with Adam prematurely, my sister said that Jonathan was understandably terrified for the baby and me. He could barely function until he knew that both of us were safe and healthy.

When Adam presented with fierce infant colic, Jonathan kept Ken and me sane. He had seen this with other babies. In fact, he had seen more of everything having to do with kids than most fathers. He was usually the only Dad at play dates, birthday parties and pre-school events. He knew the deep secrets of the parenting trade and we depended on his knowledge.

When my sister and Jonathan married, my niece walked her father down the aisle and stood under the huppah with him and her new mother. The wedding was a lovely and important testament to the fact that they had already been a family for a long time.

As my children have grown, Uncle Jonathan has become an indispensable part of their childhood. He and Adam have a sweet, funny relationship. The more they tease each other, the more evident it is how much they love each other. Jonathan has a tender and abiding interest in my children. He has steered us toward great pre-schools, gymnastic programs and summer camps. He helped Adam in his quest to achieve balance on a two-wheeler. He convinced me that Anna would do well in sleep-away camp. He was right. He advised us to look into prep school for Adam. Again he was right.

For several years running Jonathan and my sister took care of Adam for an entire week during the summer so that Ken and I could take a vacation on our own. At Uncle Jonathan’s house Adam got ice cream every night, but he also has to go to bed without complaint and make his bed. Every time we picked Adam up after a week with Uncle Jonathan, he lamented that we would undo all of his good work with his nephew in less than 48 hours. And he was right again.

Jonathan is an avid skier and my niece is championship material. At the age of 35 my sister gave in and learned to ski too. From his own experience, Jonathan knew that skiing built self-esteem around sports. He is single-handedly responsible for teaching my children to ski as well as getting Ken back on the slopes with gentle and practical encouragement after almost two decades. Adam is not a particularly sporty kid, but under Uncle Jonathan’s tutelage this winter he became a natural. He went through four levels of ski school in one week.

No doubt Jonathan is a wonderful guy, a loving uncle and brother and a husband par excellence. But every time I look at the picture of him beaming as he held his infant daughter just a day after he buried his first wife, I understand anew that Jonathan epitomizes everything and more that is special about a day dedicated to honoring fathers.

Happy Father’s Day, Jonathan.

 

 

Help is on the Way: Meredith Goldstein on Relationships and Jewish Identity

There is an impressive trifecta of female Jewish advice columnists based in Boston. Among them is Meredith Goldstein, the popular relationship columnist at the Boston Globe. Goldstein has an active blog on the paper’s Website called Love Letters: Sometimes Love Stinks. Let Us Help. [(http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/relationships/blog)] /

Meredith GoldsteinIn a recent conversation, Goldstein observed, “I’m following in the great tradition of Jewish women who were advice columnists. It’s not surprising that most of these advice givers are Jewish. We’re good listeners and talkers. And maybe we’re a little nosy too.”

Her local colleagues are Margo Howard—daughter of Ann Landers with a syndicated column that is as blunt as it is wise—[(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margo_Howard)]  and Robin Abrahams. [(http://robinabrahams.com/)] Abrahams is the woman behind Miss Conduct, a cross between personal advice and a discourse on formal manners that appears in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.

Goldstein says that each part of the trifecta distinctly approaches her job. “Robin knows what to do. Margo knows what she wants to do. I’m more intuitive. A problem can be told in many different ways for which there is a different framing.”

Goldstein receives hundreds of letters a week, five of which are published on her blog each weekday. It’s not unusual for a given conundrum to garner over 2000 comments. For print, she picks her favorite letter of the week from subjects that can range from a boyfriend repaying a loan to the best way to end a relationship. Goldstein then curates the best readers’ comments and prints them along with the letter for the Globe’s Saturday entertainment section.

Meredith Goldstein, who is 34, says she is happily single. She can also add best-selling novelist to her self-description. Last month Plume published her book, The Singles, [(http://www.amazon.com/Singles-Novel-Meredith-Goldstein/dp/0452298059/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337026199&sr-1)]  as an original paperback. Goldstein adds her own twist to modern-day nuptials by focusing on five guests who attend a no-holds-barred country club wedding without dates. She calls these floaters “plus ones.” She admits there are autobiographical resonances in the book. A few years ago she attended the wedding of an ex-boyfriend as a plus one. The experience led her to imagine a story that focused not on the bride and groom at a wedding, but their unattached guests.

The novel is also natural movie material and was recently optioned by Lime Orchard Productions, the same company that produced A Better Life. [(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1554091/)]

Goldstein grew up in Columbia, Maryland, a bedroom community between Baltimore and Washington DC. Her parents were the first couple on the block to get a divorce and Goldstein says the experience adds depth to her work as a relationship columnist. “Dozens of nuclear families in the Jewish community were put off by us. I grew up unaffiliated, but always had a strong Jewish identity.”

The Goldstein home was a busy one. Her mother gave piano lessons in the living room and there was a constant flow of music and people in the house. The fancy bat mitzvahs that Goldstein attended as a young teen presented her with a skewed view of Judaism until she arrived at Syracuse University. “Journalism became my identity [in college],” she noted. “But I also met broad diverse groups of Jewish women who expressed their Judaism in dance, song and even their relationships with grandparents. They were hilarious, warm and loved their families intensely even when they despised their families.”

After graduating from Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, [(http://newhouse.syr.edu/)]Goldstein worked as a reporter at the Providence Journal and began stringing for the Boston Globe. Her freelance work for the Globe led to a full-time job covering communities north of Boston. After a couple of years she came back to the city proper as a reporter for the Globe’s living arts section. “It was the dawn of online-dating and the first generation that did not depend on a land line to communicate. I was writing a lot of trend pieces on how technology affects relationships.”

In Boston, Goldstein also gravitated to her aunt and her family who are modern Orthodox Jews. “I didn’t realize how Jewish I was until I moved to Boston. Spending time with my aunt’s family I realized that Hebrew is a different way of talking to God.” In addition to sharing holidays, Goldstein wrote a lot of The Singles in her aunt’s basement.

As for Hannah, her main character, Goldstein identifies with her confusion over her Jewish identity. Although Goldstein’s parents are both Jewish, in the book Hannah is a patrilineal Jew who embodies some of the marginalization Goldstein felt growing up. “I only felt kind of Jewish and tried to fit in. I identified, but I didn’t know how to say it.

These days Goldstein says she embraces her Judaism. At a recent conference for Jewish teenagers celebrating their own Judaism and power as young women, Goldstein encouraged each member of her audience to follow their intuition and stay true to their values when negotiating relationships.