Dec ’07 Spotlight

“Borders are crossed and recrossed daily, as exile, migration, expulsion, displacement, diaspora, homelessness and the trauma they bring about describe the human condition for millions of people,” wrote Ruth Behar in her “Foreword” to a collection of essays called Women on the Verge of Home (edited by Bilinda Straight). Behar’s empathy is based on personal experience. In her profoundly moving new book An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba she describes a complex family tree. Her father’s parents (her Abuela and Abuelo) were Ladino-speaking immigrants from Turkey while her mother’s parents (her Baba and Zayde) were Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Poland and Russia. Born in Havana in 1956, Behar grew up in New York mourning a pre-Castro paradise of which she had no first-hand memories.

Now a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, Behar is coming to Chicago on December 5 as part of the Nextbook series. In addition to reading selections from An Island Called Home, she will also show numerous photographs taken by her collaborator Humberto Mayol as they traveled through-out Cuba together, interviewing people trying to reclaim their Jewish roots as the reigning ideology evolved from “atheist” to “secular,” and searching for the remnants of Jewish holy places. Thomas Friedman may talk about a “flat world,” but as she told me when I called her, Behar thinks: “we have to make it round again. Everything connects; circles are about connection.”

The program will begin at 6:30 PM at the Alliance Francaise (54 West Chicago Avenue) near Water Tower Place. To purchase tickets, visit: or call program coordinator Abigail Pickus at (312) 747-4074.


I had the great good fortune to hear Nicole Hollander (best known as the creator of the nationally syndicated Sylvia cartoon strip) read from her new book Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial at a conference for women journalists last September:

“About eight years ago I noticed that I was aging… As I noticed the signs of aging in myself, I found I was unable to visit them on Sylvia… I was her portrait of Dorian Gray.”

The book is hilarious, of course, but when Hollander is reading, her voice adds extra zing to all the punch lines, so I encourage you to attend one of the two local programs she’s planned for December. The first will be on Friday December 7 at 7 PM at the Original Expressions gift shop (2152 West Roscoe Street) in Chicago’s trendy Roscoe Village neighborhood. The second is scheduled for Monday December 10 at noon at the Evanston Public Library (1703 Orrington Avenue). Since this is part of EPL’s “brown bag” lunch series, I suggest you reserve your spot in advance by calling reader’s services: (847) 448-8620. It goes without saying that a signed copy of Tales of Graceful Aging would be a perfect Chanukah gift for every schvester on your list!


I heard many wonderful lectures at this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival, but two really stand out. “An Evening with Alan and Marilyn Bergman” (October 27) was a total delight. Award-winning lyricists, the Bergmans received their first Oscar for writing “The Windmills of Your Mind” (from the 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair), but they are best-known for their work with Barbra Streisand. As moderator Michael Kerker reminded the audience, “The Way We Were” (from 1973) was named one of the top ten songs of the twentieth century. Music punctuated their individual and joint recollections of career highpoints. Alan sang from his newly-released CD Lyrically, Alan Bergman, and Lari White wowed the crowd with what she graciously conceded was her “shiksa version” of a medley of songs from Yentl.


I had the chance to interview the Bergmans in their suite at the Talbot Hotel before the program. On our way up the elevator, I told Alan that of all their songs, my own personal favorite was “It Might Be You” from Tootsie (1982). He laughed and told me that he and Marilyn were always surprised when people asked their permission to include it in their wedding ceremony. “It MIGHT be you?” he marveled. “How can you play THAT at your wedding?” Mostly however, we discussed Yentl. Look for details of my interview next year when the 25th anniversary Collector’s Edition of Yentl is released on DVD.

For more information, visit the Bergman’s comprehensive website:

Far more sobering, but equally fascinating, was journalist Emily Hauser’s presentation: “The Jordan – Politics, Pollution, and the Death of a River” (November 11). “Perhaps deserts weren’t meant to bloom,” Hauser suggested, while offering her deep respect for the sacrifices of Zionist pioneers who had made that their mission. Audience members gasped, but as gut-wrenching as that sounds, Hauser isn’t saying anything that isn’t equally true of Las Vegas, Phoenix, and other booming American cities with looming environmental problems. Visit to read her provocatively-titled April article, “Israel river pollution brings call for ‘new kind of Zionism’.”


Way back in February, I told you that Illinois would celebrate its first annual Jane Addams Day on December 10, and December is now here. According to Gioia Diliberto’s highly-readable account A Useful Woman: The Early Life of Jane Addams: “Of the 19th Ward’s approximately 10,00 voters, 2,500 were Irish, 1,000 were German, 3,000 were Jews, and 2,000 were Italians. Native Americans, Bohemians, and French made up the rest.” In other words, Jews were Jane Addams’ largest group of neighbors. In 1989, University of Chicago musicologist Dena Epstein (now retired) published her mother’s memoir I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl, a wonderful first-person account of how Jane Addams directly influenced the life of one ordinary Jewish woman.

Learn more about the life and times of Jane Addams at a special program on Saturday December 8 from 10 AM to 1 PM at the Chicago History Museum on Clark Street. The keynote speaker will be Charles J. Masters, author of Governor Henry Horner, Chicago Politics, and The Great Depression. (Horner was the first Jewish governor in the United States.)

For complete details, visit:


Tziviah bat Yisroel v’Hudah (Jan Lisa Huttner) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples ( Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to

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