Jami Attenberg’s All This Could Be Yours

Written and illustrated by Mary Roche

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, 294 pages.

Jami Attenberg is a contemporary Jewish American author who has recently gained notable recognition for her seventh novel, All This Could Be Yours. Her best-selling novel The Middlesteins (2012) featured her innate talent for capturing the complicated nature of less than perfect families. Attenberg succeeds at this again in All This Could Be Yours, which tells the story of Victor Tuchman, a decidedly terrible person. 

Tuchman, a successful albeit crooked businessman, has not done right by his family. At his deathbed, his wife and children have no choice but to—or at least attempt to—make sense of their relationship to him. The Tuchman family, aside from siblings Alex and Gary, have never been close. Victor and his wife Barbra have managed to endure decades together, much to the puzzlement of their children, who suffered and witnessed Victor’s abuse throughout their childhood. Each family member wrestles with their unique brand of grief and conflicted emotions abound. Recent divorcee Alex persistently questions Barbra about her willingness to stay locked into a dysfunctional relationship. Surprisingly, Gary’s wife Twyla seems to be the only person who is outwardly grieving for Victor; all the while, Gary remains unreachable in California even after he booked his flight home. Barbra remains pensive and somewhat passive during the final days of Victor’s life. Each character reveals their personal struggle to make sense of the powerful, yet toxic nucleus of their family.

Attenberg illustrates a rich parallel universe through well-hewn prose. The story takes place in the convivial city of New Orleans, where Attenberg currently resides. In addition to sharply distinct characters, lush descriptions of the city imbue the narrative, a backdrop that beautifully contrasts with a grieving family.All This Could Be Yours was described by Maris Kreizman of the Maris Review as “timely”. There is perhaps no better way to describe this novel, as it hones in on some unsavory cultural traits of male power and toxic masculinity. For this reason, I felt the novel spoke to a culture that is now openly grieving over and finally confronting abuses committed by powerful or entitled men, rape culture, and domestic violence. Some readers will identify more closely with these themes and others, perhaps, will better understand the seemingly passive or complicit attitude of those who have intimate ties to villains like Victor Tuchman.  

Grandma Frances Goldman’s Challah

Written and photographed by Raina Scherer

If I had to pinpoint a defining food of my childhood, it would without a doubt be my grandma’s challah. This recipe was passed down from my great-grandma to her and then down to me. It’s perfect for Shabbat dinner or just as an everyday bread. This challah is amazing alone, in a sandwich, as french toast, and the list goes on. In my humble opinion, it’s truly the perfect form of bread.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lukewarm water         
  • 1 pkg. or 1 cake of yeast
  • 4 tbsp. sugar          
  • 1 egg, room temp.
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil 
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 c. flour (approximately)

Dissolve the yeast in the water with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add 1 ½ cups of the flour and beat the batter smooth with a wooden spoon. Let stand for 10 minutes. Add the remaining sugar (3 tablespoons), salt, egg and oil and beat until blended. 

Stir in more flour (about 2 cups to start) until a soft dough is formed. This may take a little more or less than 2 ½ cups. Be stingy with the flour. You do not want the dough to become dry. Mix well and let stand 10 minutes. 

Turn out the dough on a floured board or surface and knead until smooth and elastic, using as little flour as possible. Keep your hands covered with flour, or you will be covered with the dough. 

Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Oil the top of the dough. Cover with a cloth and let stand in a warm place for at least 45 minutes until almost double in bulk. Turn out on a floured board and knead lightly and shape. Place on greased cookie sheets. Brush tops with a mixture of egg yolk which has been mixed with a little water. You may sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Cover with a cloth and keep warm until dough has risen a little more than double in bulk. 


Bake in a preheated oven at 425° for about 10 minutes. Watch closely. When the loaves begin to turn a light brown, reduce the oven temperature to 350° and continue baking until the bread is golden brown. (Sometimes I like to check the middle with a thermometer for 190°). Good Luck!

Practical Judaism for College Students: DIY Shabbat Edition

Written, illustrated and photographed by Rachel Ledeboer

Disclaimer: This is not the only way to celebrate Shabbat! There is no one correct way! These are just some of the basics that I do!

Shabbat is a great mitzvah to partake in, which starts every Friday night at sundown, and lasts until after sundown on Saturday. It is a time of rest – something that busy college students can really use! It might be worth it to consider making Shabbat a day off where you don’t have to do work, or at least not as much work as usual. Even if you aren’t able to follow all the Shabbat laws, it can still be nice to welcome in Shabbat on Friday night and enjoy some of the rituals.

The main supplies you need for Friday night services are candles, bread, and wine or grape juice.

  • For candles, you can get some nice candle holders and a box of Shabbat candles (which can be found online or in the kosher section of some supermarkets), or you could just use little tea light candles.
  • For bread, Trader Joe’s challah is a great go-to, but any bread can work! If you’re feeling fancy, you could even bake your own bread! (for one possible recipe, see page 10 of this issue).
  • For wine, Manischewitz or any sweet wine is usually a good option! My favorite is the blackberry Manischewitz. Grape juice is also great as a substitute.

All three of these Shabbat elements have corresponding prayers you can say, as well as an additional prayer for hand-washing. You can find these prayers at http://www.jewfaq.org/m/shabbatref.htm.

If you’re feeling extra pious, you can also look up the Torah portion for that week, called the Parsha, and read it along with any commentaries about it that interest you. A great resource for finding out what the Parsha of the week is, as well as helpful tools for studying it in more depth can be found on the chabad.org monthly Jewish calendar.

Another great resource is the free app by RustyBrick called ‘Shabbat Shalom’, which shows what time to light the Shabbat candles, as well as what time to do Havdalah.

Havdalah is a ceremony which signals the end of Shabbat. It can be valuable to help keep track of when Shabbat ends and to prepare yourself for the week ahead of you. Havdalah usually occurs about 45 minutes to an hour after sundown on Saturday.

The main supplies you need for a Saturday night Havdalah service are a Havdalah candle (braided candle), spices (typically cloves, cinnamon, or bay leaves), and wine/grape juice.

There are four blessings recited for Havdalah: the blessing over wine, the blessing over fragrant spices, the blessing over fire, and the blessing over the separation of different things (like for example, the separation of Shabbat from the rest of the week!)

The prayers for Havdalah, as well as more instructions about how to perform this ritual and the meaning behind the different blessings can be found at http://www.jewfaq.org/m/havdalahref.htm.

In addition to Friday night services and Havdalah, there are also a lot of Shabbat laws! These laws essentially prevent Jews from doing work on Shabbat. If you are interested in learning more about them, a list of these laws can be found at https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/95907/jewish/The-Shabbat-Laws.htm.

If you have never tried to follow Shabbat laws before, it can be really hard to adjust. It might be a good idea to slowly try out new laws so you have time to adapt to them. Even if you aren’t interested in doing all of them, some might be beneficial to try out, as they can help make your Shabbat more meaningful or even just give you a break from the rest of the busy week. For example, not spending money on Shabbat can help you save money, or not using your phone on Shabbat as much (or at all) can give you more time to do other things and to step away from technology for a little while.

For me, Shabbat is something I look forward to all week long— I get to set aside some special time to let go of the rest of my week, and it allows me to connect with my religious and cultural identity. This article is by no means a comprehensive guide, but hopefully it will get you started and give you some ideas if you are interested in conducting your own services to celebrate this holiday. Shabbat shalom!

In Conversation with Dr. Samuel Torjman Thomas

Written by Mary Roche and Amanda Leiserowitz

Photographed by Mary Roche

This winter, we had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Samuel Torjman Thomas and hearing him perform Moroccan music in concert, where he sang in Hebrew and Arabic while playing the flute and the oud, a Middle Eastern lute-like instrument. He was accompanied by Jeremy Brown on the violin and Dror Sinai on the drums. 

Dr. Torjman Thomas is hard to encapsulate in one sentence, as he engages in an eclectic mix of interconnected fields. He’s a self-described artist-scholar, an ethnomusicologist and multi-instrumentalist. Alongside these intersecting disciplines of academic study of art and artistic practice, he also teaches at the City University of New York and holds the position of artistic director of multiple music ensembles, including the New York Andalus Ensemble, which he founded. 

You can read more about his work and hear his music at samueltorjmanthomas.com.


Amanda

In the first week of January I was fortunate to attend a guest lecture Dr. Torjman Thomas gave on campus. He played several songs alongside Jeremy Brown and Dror Sinai and discussed music as a field of inquiry.

He described music as “a language of universals, an expressive means.” Like spoken languages, music develops differently in different regions, affected by things like migrations. It is an expressive tool of cultures, developed through both organic processes and intentional, systemic ones, such as the way that iambic pentameter—a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry—was developed intentionally over time. All together, the combination of organic and intentional development of a given region’s music offers us insight about that region and its people.

Playing music and academic study don’t always go hand-in-hand, but for Dr. Torjman Thomas, they are intertwined. When a student asked him why he chose to study and play North African music, he told the class that his interest comes from personal, familial connections; his mother was born and raised in Morocco, and along with being Jewish, he has an interest in highlighting lesser-known North African history and culture.


Discussion 

We asked Dr. Torjman Thomas how traditional Andalusian music is still relevant today, especially given so much polarity in our current global sociopolitical climate.

Dr. Torjman Thomas described that the music responds to modern politics of separation with a strong political statement. New York Andalus Ensemble (NYAE) began with the intention to create a space to make music with participants of different ethnic backgrounds. Likewise, Asefa Music was formed in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

Both the NYAE and Asefa Music ensembles with are heavily influenced by Morroccan music and the traditional music of al-Andalus, which was once Muslim-Spain spanning the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages. During that time in history, there was a peaceful coexistence between three Abrahamic religions in Spain – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – termed the convivencia. The cross-cultural unity brought about a distinct regional aesthetic and sound, and represented a culture of tolerance and cooperation. 

As he studies it, music is a field of inquiry which informs our study of history; but it works both ways – history also informs our study of music, and both come alive in the New York Andalus Ensemble. Dr. Torjman Thomas formed it with the direct intention to embody multiculturalism, amplifying the early convivencia that early al-Andalus had experienced with Jews, Muslims, and more creating music together. In our current sociopolitical spectrum, the collaboration between communities made possible by the NYAE is a strong political statement. 

We also asked if there was anything he’d like to say to the Leviathan readers.

He explained that there is a place for “a Jewish angle.” But what does that mean? There are lots of types of Judaism, both in terms of ethnic groups and Torah based traditions. He stressed that we should make sure that cultural heritage comes out; say it informs our work, whatever that may be, and be incredibly proud of our place in the tapestry of humanity. “We should be proud of our place in the fabric of humanity. Can you imagine the tapestry of humanity without the Jewish color?”

Everything is interconnected, Dr. Torjman Thomas continued—and not just on the surface level. It brings more respect for all cultures to highlight the Jewish aspect; because of diaspora, there is Jewish participation in so many societies, in so many ways. We can be proud of the inherent humanism we have, if we choose to bring it out by juxtaposing Jewish integration and elements of difference. 

You can choose to connect with larger Jewish identity and put it out in the world—it’s not a Jewish identity, but Jewish identities.

Jewish people who are forming an identity have to decide: will it be informed by some aspect ofJewish heritage or not? That’s a really fundamental choice. Why occlude some part of your perspective?


Mary 

Amanda and I accepted an invitation to see Asefa Music perform on a brisk January evening at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center downtown. Asefa Music, similar to the New York Andalus Ensemble, is comprised of an impressive number of musicians. However, during this set, Dr. Torjman Thomas played the oud, flute and saxophone with accompaniment by just two other musicians: Jeremy Brown on the violin and local percussionist Dror Sinai, who played the bendir, a traditional North African hand drum.  Despite the pared down ensemble, the group offered an impressive sound that filled the venue and captivated the audience. 

During the beginning of the set, Asefa played a song named “Rise Up and Come to My Garden”. The song incorporates Sephardic liturgical melodies, known as the bakashot tradition. The melodies, infused with spellbinding oud and violin along with the rhythmic pulse of the bendir, felt like an incantation. Immediately, I was transported from the crowded room, letting my mind wander to distant lands and across time in a waking dreamscape. Dr. Torjman Thomas explained the bakashot tradition was used in the synagogues of Morocco. 

The performance progressed with classical Andalusian and Morrocan songs, sung in both Hebrew and Arabic. Brown’s perfectly articulated violin and Sinai’s intoxicating percussion elevated the vocal stylings, flute and oud provided by Dr. Torjman Thomas.  

While I watched the performance, I thought about our discussion with Dr. Thomas earlier that day. Dr. Thomas asked us to imagine history without a Jewish history, and said, “We should be proud of our place in the fabric of humanity. Can you imagine the tapestry of humanity without the Jewish color?” Truly, this is unfathomable. Jewish history is a significant part of history as a whole and through our own participation, whether Jewish or not, we in turn become a part of a larger story that lives and breathes to this day. 

“Asefa” means gathering in Hebrew.  The intent of the group is to defy time, space and division by preserving and performing traditional music in an ethnically diverse ensemble. As the performance progressed, I felt more entranced, not just by the music itself, but by the idea Dr. Torjman Thomas planted in our heads during our discussion, that the world would be unimaginable without a Jewish history and the Jewish story. 

Gathering for the purpose of celebrating and participating in Jewish culture, whether it is listening to music or reading a Jewish publication, allows us to be a part of something greater than ourselves. As Dr. Torjman Thomas suggested, in doing so, we become “a part of the Jewish story.”

Letter from the Editors

As the decade rolls over, we are excited to publish our first issue of the 2019-2020 school year! We are pleased to present a wide range of community interests, with everything from artwork, to creative writing, to historical topics, to some of our favorite Jewish recipes. Peek inside to find literary discussion, quick-n-easy latkes, and beautiful paintings!

The Leviathan seeks to bring solidarity among Jews from around the world originating from differing religious and secular groups. As Professor Samuel Torjman Thomas said in our discussion for this issue: “It’s not a Jewish identity, but Jewish identities.”

In this strange and turbulent period of global history, it can sometimes be challenging and frightening to be Jewish; that makes our mission of raising Jewish voices and preserving a space for the sharing of our ideas all the more important. We are committed to preserving Leviathan as a space for UCSC students who are invested in the Jewish community. 

We look forward to our Spring 2020 issue and are excited to hear new voices! We strongly encourage you to bring your own voice to the Leviathan.

L’chaim,

Amanda Leiserowitz & Rachel Ledeboer