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The fuzzy, neurotic, unmistakably Jewish legacy of cartoonist Ed Koren



(JTA) — The other day I was in a kosher Chinese restaurant and I noticed an older white guy happily eating alone. He had white shaggy beard and white shaggy hair tucked under a ball cap reading “You had me at coffee.” He looked like a former City College professor who was thoroughly enjoying his retirement.

In other words, he looked like an Ed Koren cartoon. 

Koren, who died last Friday at 87, published well over 1,000 cartoons in The New Yorker magazine, starting in 1962. His drawings were instantly recognizable, featuring fuzzy, lumpy, big-nosed people who looked vaguely like gentle animals, and fuzzy, lumpy, big-nosed animals that looked vaguely like amiable people. 

His subject matter was also consistent: Middle-class, slightly neurotic characters whose challenges were as minor as they were familiar to the New Yorker’s target readers. In one, set in a restaurant, a well-dressed couple is interrupted at their meal by a waitress who explains, “We think it’s terribly important that you meet the people responsible for the food you are eating tonight.” Behind her is a crowd of farmers, along with a turkey and a cow. 

In another, set in a playground, a little girl is eating an enormous ice cream cone. “My parents decriminalized sugar,” she tells her friends. 

The New York Times, reviewing an exhibit of his work, once described him as the “poet laureate” of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The same article also described the neighborhood as “the home of overeducated, comfortable but not super rich liberals and the psychotherapists who treat their garden-variety neuroses.”

I hesitate to lay too much Jewish significance on artists or writers who didn’t make much of their own Jewish identities, but many of Koren’s characters seemed Jewish even if he didn’t say so. And Koren, born to Jewish parents in Manhattan on Dec. 15, 1935, seemed never to have said so. The few references to his Jewish background that I found came via his friends, like Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, who once told a newspaper, “Like Ed, I’m a Jewish guy from the suburbs of New York City.” (Koren grew up in Mount Vernon, in Westchester County.)

Instead, his characters inhabited a world defined by familiar markers of a white, secular, upper middle class New York: Zabar’s tote bags, fussy restaurants, overstuffed apartments, hovering parents, pampered pets. Not explicitly Jewish, but unmistakably so, like the Upper West Side itself.

Koren attended Horace Mann School in the Bronx, and edited the Jester, the student humor magazine at Columbia College. After graduation he worked odd jobs, then got a Master of Fine Arts degree at Pratt and taught printmaking, drawing and design courses at Brown University for 13 years. When he wasn’t drawing cartoons (“I couldn’t survive as a cartoonist, frankly,” he once explained) he did illustrations for other magazines, books and advertisers, and made prints that were shown in gallery shows. 

He became a full-time resident of Vermont in 1982, but even his cartoons set in the countryside often featured city dwellers adjusting — clumsily — to rural life. (A pair of hikers are stuck in a tree as a pair of furry beasts shake the trunk. The man says to the woman, “Tell them how hard we’ve worked to protect their habitat.”)

Despite the city’s changes, Koren cartoons still come alive on Amsterdam Avenue and in Riverside Park. Bearded, older dads pushing toddlers in strollers. Vaguely bohemian women walking dogs who look just like them. Precocious tots already thinking about their college essays.

“I’m a social historian in a funny way, I guess. Or, looking at it another way, an armchair anthropologist,” Koren told an interviewer in 2012. “What I find funny is the formulaic way in which people go about their lives and the absurd, silly things they do — unreflectively, unthinkingly, intensely, humorlessly. All those things intrigue me. It’s an endless well of delight and absurdity.”

All of which is to say that some people contribute to the Jews’ self-understanding without, like Koren, wearing their Jewishness on their sleeves or anywhere else. I recently covered an exhibit of Yiddish holdings from the library at the Jewish Theological Seminary. There are cartoons on display that show Jewish immigrants as they were at the turn of the 20th century – peddlers, rabbis, cobblers, garment workers. Perhaps 100 years from now certain kinds of New York Jews of the late 20th and early 21st century will be represented by an Ed Koren cartoon.

The post The fuzzy, neurotic, unmistakably Jewish legacy of cartoonist Ed Koren 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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