When I look back on my childhood, it is not an idyllic landscape of memories. My relationship with my father was strained, and my childhood was an emotionally difficult time for me. I began performing when I was five years old, and my father - a tough man - pushed my brothers and me hard, from the earliest age, to be the best performers we could be.
It belongs to the terrified childhood of our species, before we knew about germs or could account for earthquakes. It belongs to our childhood, too, in the less charming sense of demanding a tyrannical authority: a protective parent who demands compulsory love even as he exacts a tithe of fear.
But by and large, despite those enticing pitches, adulthood turns out to mean acceptance -- of how you played the hand you were dealt, of mortality, of beshert -- even if it sometimes includes flashes of 40-f---ing-8-like fury at the way the world turns out to work.
I confess that most of my childhood Passover memories have nothing to do with the Passover story itself. How could they when seders were family dramas enacted against a backdrop of matzah and gefilte fish? Like most American Jewish kids, I started out observing the proceedings from a card table, fidgeting while the grown-ups read from the haggadah.
"Mommy, will you read to me?"
My 10-year-old daughter asks me this question every night. Even if I'm exhausted, or just want some time to myself, I almost always say yes. Before I turn around, she'll be 11, then 12, then a teenager.
She will no longer need her reading fix with Mommy. "Time will not be ours forever," as Ben Jonson wrote back in 1607, when the printed word was still a new invention. I want to make this time with my daughter last.
Israeli filmmaker Shemi Zarhin is a gourmet cook and baker, whose diet-defying cakes, especially, soothe the vilest temper.
Jennifer Rosen's height felt all the freakier because Jews are generally more vertically challenged than, say, Swedes.
All of us struggle with the problem of how to transmit our commitment to Judaism to the next generation. There are all sorts of suggestions -- but no solutions. How do we reproduce ourselves Jewishly?
Imagine a world in which every newborn child receives a voucher toward early childhood Jewish education and a free trip to Israel.
That's what philanthropist Michael Steinhardt asked 4,000 delegates to the North American Jewish federation system's General Assembly to consider earlier this month.
The "Newborn Gift" would be part of an overall investment in strengthening Jewish education that Steinhardt is proposing. He told delegates that he was willing to contribute $10 million to the project, which he called the Fund for Our Jewish Future -- on condition that his contribution represent no more than 10 percent of the total fund.
In other words, the former Wall Street tycoon was challenging the audience to raise at least $90 million for Jewish education in the Diaspora.
The sound of metal folding chairs scraping against rocky parking lot asphalt always gives me the chills -- but only in a good way.
To me it's the sound of Sukkot in the Shaarei Tefila sukkah, where I ate soggy tuna sandwiches and carrot sticks out of rumpled paper bags for most of my childhood Sukkots.
While growing up on his Encino cul-de-sac in the 1980s, Darren Stein made films with his father's video camera, bossily directing the other Jewish kids like a baby Roger Corman. The sets were backyards; production was every afternoon save for Hebrew school hours at Leo Baeck and Stephen S. Wise temples. The scripts included zombie flicks, campy gay comedies and a Holocaust drama in which a bicycle pump doubled for a canister of Zyklon-B.
Talia Hill, 11, was born with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and bone deformities. She is hearing impaired, speech impaired, mobility impaired, fine-motor impaired and neither her two arms nor her two legs are the same length. In her short life, she has had multiple surgeries, a hearing aid and has had to take several kinds of medication on a regular basis.
In the 1920s, the son of a destitute blacksmith from Lodz, Poland, amazed the world with his feats of strength. Heralded as the modern Samson and the Iron King, Zishe Breitbart became a Jewish folk hero, twisting bars of iron, pulling trains by his teeth and killing bulls with his fists.
It is not easy to evoke a lost era through television footage, but "Yiddish World" largely overcomes the difficulty.
David and Lori Melman, former Santa Ana residents, look out their window to see a mountaintop covered with scrub oak and bay leaves that could be mistaken for coastal California foothills. The idyllic country lifestyle and its neighborhood feeling is what lured them to Har Halutz, a Galilee community established by the Reform movement, in 1985. "When I compare life in the U.S. to life in Israel, Israel always wins," Lori says.
If there is a name for comic book action, it must be "David Goyer."
When the 36-year-old screenwriter is not bringing superheroes to life in hyperactive flicks -- such as the just-released "Blade 2," starring Wesley Snipes -- Goyer is doing it in the pages of D.C. Comics. "Justice Society of America" often charts as the fourth best-selling comic book. Goyer's gift for scripting pulse-quickening action has made him a hot name in Hollywood and in comics, industries pioneered by Jews.
I was the oldest child at the Passover table during two decades of social turmoil, and so invariably I was the one to whom questions were directed.
When Akiva Goldsman was growing up in Brooklyn Heights, his playmates were the mentally ill children who lived in the group home his parents had founded in their rambling old brownstone. The children suffered from autism and schizophrenia -- weeping and raging were de rigeuer -- but Goldsman, the only child of Jewish psychotherapists, regarded them as "just my peers."
It is summer, a long time ago, and I am lying on a terrace overlooking an ancient garden full of rosebushes and fruit trees. The days have been so hot, the asphalt on the sidewalk melts under my feet if I dare step out of the house. At night, the temperature drops. My sisters and I take the hose to the yard and stand there as the day's heat rises out of the brick floor in a cloud of white steam. My mother spreads our bed on the terrace, and we crawl into it, hours before we can actually fall asleep. We thrash about in the cool sheets that smell of dust, summer and lavender bleach; listen to the music that drifts up from our grandmother's radio downstairs; eat fresh mulberries we have picked from the tree in our own yard.
At first glance, the author Susanna Kaysen and the actress Winona Ryder have little in common. Kaysen, who is in her 50s and the author of several well-received volumes, grew up upper-middle-class and Jewish in Cambridge, MA and is the daughter of an economics professor. And Ryder, the movie star, spent many of her formative years in a Northern California commune, the daughter of a Jewish hippie intellectual who often chatted around the kitchen table with poet Allen Ginsberg and LSD guru Timothy Leary.
By Janet Fitch
Little, Brown, $24..
When author Janet Fitch was 9, her longtime friend disappeared into the netherworld of the Los Angeles foster care system.