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Judy Blume is having a moment. Here’s why Jewish women love her work.



(JTA) — As a young teenager growing up in Manhattan, Nina Kauder found it nearly impossible to ask her mother difficult questions about puberty or her Jewish identity, for two reasons.

Her mother had fled the Holocaust as a child and was, in Kauder’s words, “very tough” to talk to. And by the time Kauder was a teen, her mother was terminally ill. She got her first period just months after her mother’s death.

So Kauder, now 58 and a health coach, turned to Judy Blume.

She remembers reading Blume’s 1970 young adult classic “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” about a sixth grader with a Jewish father and Christian mother, in her closet with a flashlight after bedtime. 

“I’m reading in there, devouring her book, learning about boys, learning about breasts, learning about brassieres, learning about religion, about identity, about growing up in the United States — learning about all of that,” she said.

Kauder isn’t alone. Blume’s 29 books, which have sold over 90 million copies and been translated into 39 languages, have been touchstones for women — especially Jewish American women — for multiple generations. Her protagonists deal with a range of teen issues, from bullying to sex to loneliness to menstruation, in a realistic way, but they also grapple with issues of Jewish identity as they come of age, adding an extra layer of relevance for young Jewish readers.

Blume is having a moment with the recent release of a documentary about her life and career streaming on Amazon Prime titled “Judy Blume Forever” and a major on-screen adaptation of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” which debuted on Friday to warm reviews. The topics Blume has written about since 1969 have remained relevant: her books still regularly land on banned book lists as states continually debate what young readers should be able to access. (Several of her books were banned in states including Texas, Florida, Utah and Pennsylvania last year.) She regularly speaks out on the dangers of book banning, which she attributes to fear, explaining that “because fear is contagious, some parents are easily swayed.” 

The documentary tells the story of Blume’s life and career, beginning with her secular Jewish upbringing in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Born in 1938, Blume was seven when World War II ended, and she describes a nervous childhood in the film. Her mother reassured her that the war happened far away and that they were safe. 

“Did I believe that?” Blume asks in the film. “I don’t know. I was a Jewish girl and this happened because you were a Jew. I was an anxious child.” 

She also connects her childhood anxiety to her prolific imagination: “I felt adults kept secrets from the kids. I hated those secrets. I think I had to make up what those secrets were. That fueled my imagination.” 

“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” centers on an 11-year-old who moves to a new town with her parents and has intimate conversations with God. Margaret longs to feel normal, to start growing breasts and get her period along with her friends. She also struggles with her religious identity; her mother is Christian and her father is Jewish, and neither set of grandparents approved of the union. Margaret sets out on a quest to learn about and pick a religion, all the while wondering why she only feels God’s presence when she’s alone. 

Rachel McAdams and Abby Ryder Forstson in the film adaptation of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” (Lionsgate)

During the war, Kauder’s mother had “survived in France as a hidden child, [hidden] by the nuns in a Roman Catholic environment.” Subsequently, growing up, Kauder “didn’t have a Jewish or a religious or a spiritual influence at all.” She identified with Margaret.

“Here comes Judy Blume’s book, which for different reasons has a Jewish and a Catholic influence, but she’s trying to figure it out,” Kauder said. 

To Jessye Ejdelman, a 31-year-old software engineer who attends a Modern Orthodox synagogue in New York City and is raising her children in a Yiddish immersive household, the book is also a strong expression of American Jewishness: of “not being sure where you fit as a Jew and not being sure where God fits as a Jew and as an American.” 

To Edjelman, the Margaret character demonstrated something meaningful about the Jewish relationship to God. “The literal wrestling with God in a way is very like Jacob. I think of Judy Blume when I think of that, like that wrestling with God, that uncertainty.” 

But the book’s relevance in her teenage years went beyond religion.

“[Like in] ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,’ I was also a girl who was waiting for my first period to come,” she said. “I remember pretending to have my period and I really related to Margaret as a character because of that… Like I was just waiting to not be awkward or weird or ugly or a child… Many, many women relate to that feeling.” 

In the 1970s, after her writing career and the women’s liberation movement took off, Blume decided to leave the suburbs and her first marriage. “I wanted to see the world. I wanted to travel everywhere,” she explains in the film. 

After her divorce, her books became more explicitly drawn from her own life. In 1977, Blume wrote what she calls her “most autobiographical novel,” the book “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself,” about her post-war Jewish childhood. It includes a scene where the young characters grapple with their fear of the Nazis by playing make-believe. 

Elisa Zuritsky, 53, a TV writer and producer behind shows like “Sex and the City,” “Odd Mom Out” and “Smash,” remembers watching “The Brady Bunch” on TV in the early 1970s — a time when Jewish themes were far less common on screen — and hoping they might include a Jewish moment or character.

“I started reading Judy Blume books and the thrill that there were any Jewish characters in her books and heroines and narrators of her stories was monumental, I think, for me,” said Zuritsky, who grew up attending Jewish day school in Philadelphia. “I so rarely saw Jews anywhere in the popular culture that I consumed.” 

Rereading the books as an adult, Zuritsky said, “what struck me the most, and what I think I was responding to as a kid, was how unadorned and unapologetically honest she let her narrators be.” She aspired to be just as honest in her own writing about women’s life experiences. 

“There’s a direct line between reading Judy Blume books and being an adult writing for ‘Sex and the City.’ It’s pulling from the same well,” she said. “The bar was set for me personally by [Judy Blume].” 

The post Judy Blume is having a moment. Here’s why Jewish women love her work. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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