Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ezra Jack Keats

As children, we were practically reared on Ezra Jack Keats' classic picture books The Snowy Day and Whistle for Willie.  Through these stories we were introduced to the sweet African American boy named Peter, and got a glimpse of urban life that was different than that of ours in the suburbs.  We always thought that these tales were written by an African American man, but as it turns out, this is not the case.

Did you know that Ezra Jack Keats was born Jewish, in Brooklyn, to parents who immigrated around the turn of the century and his given name was Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz?

We owe so much to Keats for presenting the "black kid as hero" to thousands of American children.  So many children welcomed Peter into their own homes, and in doing so, the African American child has become part of many other "phamilies" different than his own.

As we know, the name Katz is often a derivative of the name Cohen, and a very common Jewish name at that.  The Kohen Gadol or, as a surname, Cohen, was the high priest who lived during the Temple Era and was a descendent of biblical Aaron, Moses' brother.  In terms of tribal legacy, today's descendents of the Kohen Gadol have an elevated status among their fellow Jews, and are bestowed with the priestly blessing during communal prayers.  As Keats most likely was passed down this tradition from his father, we feel an ever deeper sense of honor for the author.

Check out the Ezra Jack Keats foundation to learn more about this celebrated, award-winning American author and artist.

Greenberg, the Movie

Everyone knows that Jews have come so far in Hollywood.  Judd Apatow's films attest to that.  Jews are out.  So only in 2010 could a movie with such an obvious Jewish name as its title even think of hitting the box office.  Check out the trailer for Noah Baumbach's upcoming film Greenberg and note how it is about a Jewish guy through and through.

Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh, along with Ben Stiller, will pull it off.

Stiller's father, Jerry, is Jewish.  Leigh was born Jennifer Morrow to Jewish parents.  Baumbach , creator of the award-winning The Squid and the Whale, and one of the most erudite writer-filmmakers of our day, we are just guessing, is Jewish.  Perhaps Baumbach was the original name at Ellis Island.  They're all originally from the alter heim, the Yiddish term for old home, or Eastern European communities where Jews lived for hundreds of years

We love how the opening scene of the trailer takes place in a classic, albeit treif (not Kosher), LA deli  (Canter's? Langer's?  Factor's?)  How appropriate that in our last post we were talking about happy deli experiences.

And, are those Eames Molded Plastic Sidechairs we see in one of the 1st scenes?  Keeping with the trend of everything Midcentury modern these days, they fit right into the current zeitgeist.  Though Charles and Ray Eames weren't Jewish, they surely are party of the Whole Phamily, as they have had such an influence over every-day American life.  That's a discussion for another time.

If you're a Greenberg, your family name is defined as "Green Mountain."  No, silly, not the awesome Vermont-based coffee company.  You could be Suzy Greenberg by Phish or Yitz Greenberg, the Modern Orthodox rabbi Jewish-American scholar and author.  Or just plain old Jason Greenberg.  Did you say Brad Greenberg?  No, you must have meant Karen Greenberg.

No, your last name is actually Green, Greenstein, Gruenberg, Grunstein, Greenfield.

Check out some of your family geneology starting at JewishGen.

Or just watch the trailer again, cuz it's looking pretty funny!

Gottlieb's Deli, Williamsburg, New York

David Sax's recent epic on the fate of the North American Deli, Save The Deli, introduced us the glatt-kosher Gottlieb's Restaurant in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  For any of you familiar with the hipster scene that already peaked in this neighborhood, rest assured, this deli is on the proverbial other side of the tracks.  But, hey, it ain't that far away from Billsburg, so if you're hankering for some classic old-world Ashkenazi deli food, this is the place to go.

The moment we walked in, the place had a familiar feel.  It felt cozy and comfortable, like we'd been there before.  If you had any experience in the New York delis of the 60's, 70's and 80's, you'd know what we're talking about.  Gottlieb's is a place that has an ambience practically erased from the landscape of New York City.

Doesn't the name Gottlieb ring a bell?  Have you known a Gottlieb or two in your day?  Defined as "God's love," it's familiar to many.  We had the honor of  the proprietor, Gottlieb himself (the grandson of the founder of the restaurant, who passed away only 2 years ago at the age of 98, of blessed memory), serve our boisterous table of 7.

Founded in 1962, the family has served up delicious dishes to hungry souls from all walks of life.   We didn't ask about this Gottlieb's family history, but we got a big smile when we told him about our idea of the ganse mishpucha.  Gottlieb's father was in the house, busy preparing deli platters and serving up food, so we didn't get a chance to shmooze with him..

And the food?  Perhaps the best stuffed cabbage we have ever had (sorry, grandma).  The puffed up rice inside the meat filling was so tasty.  The sweet and sour sauce was near-perfect.  There was chicken fricasse, latkes, shlishkes, homemade mashed potatoes, health salad, brisket and roast beef in a sauce, plated hot tongue (sorry, no raisins), and a turkey cutlet that was far from the roasted bird we had on Thanksgiving a few weeks ago.

Hipster, chassid, or Chowhound, Gottlieb's is a place to add on to your radar screen.  It is, without doubt, part of the Whole Phamily.

Oh, and of course they're closed on shabbes.