Category Archives: Life

The Art of Inventing Hope: Intimate Conversations with Elie Wiesel Book Review

There is something about a shared life experience. Instead of small talking and playing the “getting to know you” game, there is an immediate understanding and shorthand between those who share said experiences.

In 2019, journalist Howard Reich published his memoir about his friendship with the late Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel. It is entitled The Art of Inventing Hope: Intimate Conversations with Elie Wiesel. Reich, whose parents both survived the Holocaust, sat down with Wiesel for what was supposed to be a standard interview. Instead of it being a one-and-done experience, Reich and Wiesel became friends and were in frequent contact with each other during the latter’s last four years of life.

This book is excellent. Though Reich and Wiesel have an innate grasp of each other, it is not so exclusive the reader cannot feel like they are part of the conversation. What I liked about the memoir is that one does not have to be a 2G or 3G (the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors) to understand that trauma can be transferred to younger generations. What is important is that the story is told and spoken of in such a manner that shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty Review

If we are lucky, the people we are closest to we are our siblings. But even a relationship born and solidified in childhood can be altered by events that occur in adulthood.

The 2020 Netflix documentary, Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty, is about the complicated dynamics between Queen Elizabeth II and her late younger sister, Princess Margaret. Before ascending to the Throne of England, their father, the future King George VI, was the spare. His older brother David, known during his brief time on the throne as Edward III, was the heir to the throne. When David chose love over duty, Elizabeth and Margaret’s life forever changed.

Their father and mother were now King and Queen. Elizabeth, as the heir presumptive and Margaret, the new spare, would have a completely different life. Elizabeth lived and breathed duty. Her life was on the straight and narrow. Margaret was the rebellious wild child, sometimes submitting to the responsibilities of being a working royal and other times living on her own terms.

I really enjoyed this documentary. What struck me was that underneath the titles, the jewels, and the castles was an ordinary relationship between two sisters who were trying to navigate extraordinary circumstances. Though that bond was tested many times over the years, it was never broken.

Do I recommend? Absolutely.

Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Don’t Give Up: An uplifting video interview with Erin Walter, lead singer of band, Parker Woodland

Hear; Let's Listen

Album cover art from Parker Woodland’s 2019 EP The World’s On Fire (and We Still Fall in Love).

Earlier this month, I chatted with Erin Walter, lead singer of Austin, Texas punk-rock band Parker Woodland. From our conversation, I learned that virtual performances have made the touring process for musicians more comfortable. However, due to the increased accessibility of putting on remote performances, virtual tours can also quickly increase fatigue. Musicians can tire from balancing work and performance – even when it is all being completed from their home. Thus, Erin encourages self-care and taking breaks when necessary. Erin says, “To all the creative folks out there, take it one step at a time, rest when you need to rest, and don’t give up. Get your art out there when you are able. Whatever your timeline is, that is the right time.”

My conversation with Erin indeed raised my…

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Young Rock and Kenan Reviews

A pilot of a new series is akin to the first chapter of a book. Whether or not a viewer keeps watching is often dependent on how they feel about this new world they have been introduced to.

Last night, two new shows premiered on NBC, Young Rock and Kenan.

The premise of Young Rock is that The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) is running for President in 2032. He sits down with an interviewer to tell his story.

On Kenan (Kenan Thompson) the title character is a television host and a recent widower living in Atlanta. Supported by his brother, Gary (Chris Redd) and his father-in-law Rick (Don Johnson), he is attempting to put his life together after his wife’s passing.

I told myself that I wanted to give both shows on a shot. Now that I have, I can move on. Young Rock is boring and Kenan is just a modern reboot of Full House.

Do I recommend them? No.

Kenan and Young Rock air consecutively at 8:00 and 8:30 on NBC on Tuesday.

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SNL’s Zillow Sketch Speaks the Truth

The American dream has always been a version of the following: owning one’s home, happily married, raising healthy and content children, and perhaps owning a pet.

But for some of us who are part of the millennial generation, the dream is just that.

The Zillow sketch that aired on Saturday Night Live over the weekend speaks of the painful truth.

The professional and social security net that our parents and grandparents knew does not exist anymore. Decades ago, it was not uncommon to get a job straight of school, stay in that job for decades, and retire comfortably in one’s fifties or sixties. With that steady income, homeownership was almost guaranteed.

For most adults under a certain age, this is a pipe dream. Due to any number of factors (which Covid has only made worse), the job market has ebbs and flows, creating highs and lows when it comes to employment numbers. The housing market is worse. According to experts, one’s rent or mortgage should be no more than 30% of their monthly bills.

I would love for that to be the case. I don’t know about other housing markets, but in New York City, some homes cost millions of dollars. The 30% rule is already out the window when the cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment is the same as a mortgage on a four-bedroom house with a large plot of land and a driveway outside of the city.

The skit was not meant (in my mind at least) to shame Zillow (or any real estate company). It simply pointed out that for many people, home ownership is being their reach and will never come to fruition.

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Happy New Years (A.K.A Goodbye 2020)

I think that we all agree that 2020 has been a shit show of a year. Between Covid-19, the election, and everything else, I am ready to see this year in the rear view mirror.

I don’t know about anyone else, but after everything that has happened, I can’t help but feel grateful.

I have breath in my body, food in my belly, a roof over my head, and employment that comes with a decent paycheck and benefits. Though the turning of the clock does not mean that our troubles will go away, we will have the opportunity to move on.

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Wherever you are and whatever you are doing this year, I wish nothing but the best for you in 2021. Happy New Year!

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Manifest Character Review: Jared Vasquez

*For the foreseeable future, some Character Review posts may not be published every Thursday as they have in the past.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television series ManifestRead at your own risk if you have not watched the show.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In a perfect world, romantic love would be a simple thing. But love, like life, is never simple. On Manifest, Jared Vasquez (J.R. Ramirez) thought he had it all. His career as an NYC detective was thriving and he was in love with Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh). Though he had proposed, she had yet to give him an answer. Promising a response when she returned from a family vacation, he waited for her. Then the plane she was on disappeared and Michaela, like other passengers, were presumed to be dead.

For the first two years, his romantic life was static. Then Jared dated and married Lourdes (Victoria Cartagena), Michaela’s best friend. When the plane landed and he discovered that Michaela was still alive, he reveals that his feelings are unchanged.

But there are complications. The first is that Jared is still a married man. The second is Zeke Landon (Matt Long), a mysterious man with connections to the passengers and a checkered past. Letting his jealousy take over, their fight results in a gun going off. Michaela is hit.

Over the next few months, Jared simultaneously acts via his jealousy while protecting Michaela from those who questionable motives towards her and the other passengers. But in the end, he backs off, realizing that he needs to let her go.

To sum it up: Sometimes love means letting go. Watching Michaela walk into the sunset with another man is the hardest thing that Jared has done. But he knows that it is the only thing he can do.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood Book Review

In a perfect world, we would be able to make our own choices and still be loved by our families. But that is not always the case.

Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood, a memoir by Leah Vincent was published in 2015. Born and raised in the Yeshivish Jewish community in Pittsburgh, her world as a child was bound by a long list of rules of do’s and don’ts. Everything changed at sixteen when her letters to a young man were discovered.

Retribution was swift and cold. Forced to become an outcast to her family, she moved to New York City, where she faced a secular world that was far from the ultra-religious world she knew. As a result, she embarked on a series of sexual and semi-romantic relationships that all ended in disaster. Complicating these “relationships” was her still fierce adherence to the Judaism she was raised in.

This is one of the best memoirs I have ever read. Her journey at times is both difficult and universal. Most, if not all of us, go through changes when we are in our teens and early 20’s. But, we do so within the loving bosom of our families. Ms. Vincent had to go through those changes on her own.

I was stuck by several things while reading this book. The first is that the double standard is one hundred times more powerful in the Yeshivish community than it is in the secular world. The second is that she is a survivor who found her backbone. It would have been easy to crawl back to her parents on hands and knees, begging for forgiveness. But she didn’t. The third and most powerful thing is that the reader does not have to be Jewish to understand or relate to her story. If I was a betting woman, I would wager that there are many from all faiths who for any number of reasons, have walked away from the ultra-religious communities they were raised in.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Thoughts on Tashlich in 2020

To say that this year has not been easy has been an understatement.

Tomorrow night starts Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish year. On this day, we confess our sins and ask our heavenly creator to allow us another year of life.

But before we can make such a request, we must be honest with ourselves about our flaws and mistakes. That is where Tashlich comes in.

As I threw my bread in the water earlier today, I felt a sense of peace. Though the past can never be undone, we can learn from our mistakes. We can become better than who we were before. That I believe is the message of the High Holidays and Tashlich in particular.

May those who are fasting have an easy and peaceful fast and may we all be written in the book of life for another year.

L’Shana Tova.

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Unetanneh Tokef, Yom Kippur and the Year That is 2020

No one has a crystal ball when it comes to the future. We can only live in the moment.

This coming weekend is Yom Kippur, the most important day on the Jewish calendar. One of the prayers we chant is called Unetanneh Tokef. The purpose of the prayer is to ask our heavenly parent for one more year of life on Earth. The text is as follows:

“All mankind will pass before You like a flock of sheep.[38] Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the destinies of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life[39] and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval [40] and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity annul the severity of the Decree.”

Looking back at the year that is 2020 so far, this prayer feels like a message we need to hear. Before Covid-19 hit, life seemed so sure. But between the virus, the racial inequities, and everything that has happened this year, I’m not so sure anymore.

No one knows exactly when their time will be up or how they will go. We can only ask for as much time on Earth as possible.

For those who are fasting, have an easy fast and may we all be written in the book of life for another year.

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