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July 31, 2009

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i !  i - I  . ]oialinn _ - 'J immiUilliiA,,,,.JmLI2 |llD|lllli PAGE 16A By Sandee Brawarsky New York Jewish Week Morris Einson was known as America's puzzle king, anointed in the 1930s as the first to mass-produce jigsaw puzzles. He was enormously successful, but the tuzzle Einson really wanted to solve was how to save family mem- bers he and his wife Flora had left behind in Europe. Ultimately, Flora Einson was able to sign affidavits for hundreds of German Jews, saving their lives and enabling them to start anew in America. Novelist Betsy Carter is the daughter of two of those German Jewish migrs. Her absorbing new novel, "The Puzzle King" (Al- gonquin), is based on her family's story, although she has imagined and invented many details of her uncle the puzzle king's rags-to-riches story. It's an unusual work Author Betsy Ca: "This is the story that's lieen with me for my whole life. I don't know why I stayed away for so long." ist for several magazines. A longtime magazine editor, she worked at Esquire and Newsweek, and was the founding editor of the highly regarded 1980s startup, New York Woman. She brings to of fiction to delve into how fiction-writing the skills of American Jews learned of growing Nazi dangers, as they grew more comfortable and even prosperous as new Americans. Carter. author of the nov- els "Swim to Me" and "The Orange Blossom Special" and a memoir, "Nothin to Fall Back On," is an essay- a fine reporter, research- ing carefully and noticing deeply. The physicality of her descriptions enables her characters to make lasting impressions. The Jewish Week met up with Carter recently in her Upper West Side apartment. its wide windows overlook- By Sharon Udasin New York Jewish Week NEW YORK Take your Kindle and shove it! That pretty much sums up the anger of patrons of the 92nd Street Y'S Butten- wieser Library following the recent announcement that the Y was shuttering the nearly 80-year-old beloved book room. The library's plan is to replace the 3.000-square- foot. 30.000-volume library with a Wi-Fi reading room on the ground floor that will include some new fiction (in traditional book form), laptops and Amazon's elec- tronic book device called the Kindle. Smaller book collections will be dispersed throughout the institution. With a failing economy and a decreased demand for traditional library services, Y officials decided that an overhaul is crucial to the institution's survival. But for lovers of the librarywho recently launched a "Save the 92Y Library" Facebook group that has more than 200 members the Buttenwi- eser helped give the institu- tion a soul. "The Y prides itself on its intellectual curiosity," said Neal Sher. 61, former head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and a for- mer Justice Department of- ficial. "You can go anywhere for a nice gym." In response to an onslaught of angry phone calls, letters and e-mails about the library's closing, the Y's executive director, S01 Adler, stressed that library services will not stop and are simply being "reconfigured" to match the community's changing needs. The different book collections, he explained, will, dwell in specialized locations according to their readership--the children's " books will move to the Early HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWlSHNEWS, JULY 31, 2009 Putting the pieces together ing Central Pirk. One wall. between bookcases, displays a framed theater poster from "The Sisters Rosenzweig" by the late Wen@ Wasserstein, a close friend of Carter's. "The Puzzle King" too is a story of sisters two in America and one in Kaiserslautern. Germany--with very differ- ent lives. In the novel, Flora, the middle sister, comes to New York in 1901 at age 11 with her older sister. The sister remaining in Germany is the only one with a child, a daughter named Edith who is based on Carter's mother. "This is my story, and this is the story that's been with me for my whole life," Carter says. "I don't know why I stayed away for so long." Here, the puzzle king is Simon Phelps, who leaves Vilna at age 9 and comes to New York alone, carrying a notebook and crayons from his mother, sketching his fel- low passengers on the ship. He stays in an apartment on Eldridge Street where 12 people share a pair of rooms, quickly lands a job hawking newspapers, goes to school and starts selling the drawings he continues to make. He meets Flora when her sister Seema brings her to dance on the Lower East Side. Seema prefers hiding her Jewishness, failing into an elegant New York life. She finds some comfort in the Symbols of Catholicism. but there's a sadness about her. Flora and Simon's happy romance continues into thei marriage, but they are unable to have children. The two sisters travel to Germany together in 1928. when their mother takes ill, andreact differently to be- ing back in their hometown. When Flora returns to New York, her husband's adver- tisfng and design business still, flourishes even during the Depressionhe's writ- ten up in The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" and Time magazine. They have all the material success they could want. But something is miss- ing,:hs they are haunted by worries about loved ones still in Europe. Carter conveys the ensuing events and relation- ships with layers of complex- ity, reflecting the times. The author takes her fam- ily legacy very seriously, and while she is writing fiction, she feels an obligation to the real Flora and Morris Einson to "get the characters as right as I could imagine. I wouldn't be here if not for them." Carter. who lived in Wash- ington Heights until she was 10 and then moved to Noise in the library Childhood Center and the poetry books will move to the Poetry Center. "The ability to take out books, the ability to have a comfortable quiet space to meditate and read wilI be there," Adler said. "The whole building is going to become a library in es- sence." "If we're not planning for the future we'll become irrelevant very quickly," Adler continued. "We're making certain that the Y stays healthy and continues to serve the hundreds of .thousands of people that it serves." Library lovers aren't buying the argument that only old-timers are using the Buttenwieser. "It's a living place, it's a breathing place. People rely on it. I see every race, every level of financial ability. I see every level of activity in there," said Samantha Shubert, 44, whose entire family uses the library regularly. "The idea that no one uses the library anymore is so contrary to my experiences." To Shubert, a bunch of scattered collections throughout the building is equivalent to disbanding the library entirely. Along with friend Anna Culbertson, the two began the Facebook group. Shubert said she was so disappointed by the Y's decision that she also wrote lengthy letters to Adler and to Helaine Geismar Katz. the associate executive director. Both letters, she said, remained unanswered. "Why is a Jewish institu- tion of this stature of the Y closing the library when Jews throughout our entire history have above all things wanted more knowledge, wanted more study, wanted more opportunities for understanding?" she asked. For many neighborhood families. Shubert contin- ued, Buttenwieser is where children proudly receive Florida. remembers meeting. Flora, a stunning woman. She never met the puzzle king. From the age of 43 Carter attended sleep-away camps run by Holocaust survivors. -"There's no way that I could come from the back- ground that I come from and not be closely tied to our religion. Particularly after writing this book and trying to imagine what they went through. Ask me in the middle of the night what I am and the first thing I would say would be, Jew." She explains that the book is in part about family, what one does for family, what one owes family. The idea of searching for family reso- nates for Carter. Her parents, Rudy and Gerda Cohn, are no longer alive, and neither had siblings; she has one sister and no children. The novel includes ele- ments of humor and joy; Carter didn't want to write a solemn book. She had a very dark period in her own life, which she chronicles in her memoir, and infused that with some humor too. The subtitle, "The Life and Times of a Perpetual Opti- mist," reflects her outlook. She writes of a short period of time in the early 1990s, their first library cards, in a close-knit, comfortable space for intellectual de- velopment. "They're introduced to a library and the value and the fun of taking out books," agreed Linda Levinson, 55. who admires the way librarian Lynn Feinman uses a raccoon puppet to encourage reading among the children. Without the library, Levinson also laments that the Y will just become yet another fitness facility on the Upper East Side, and she has asked to withdraw her membership should the library close. What angers some mem- bers most,, however, is the fact that neither the library staff nor nursery school parents were informed in advance about the admin- istration's plans to make these changes. And though the directors stand by their decision to restructure the in which she learned she had breast cancer, found out that her husband of 17 years was gay and leaving her. and that her weekend home burned down destroying all her possessions there. And she learned that "New York Woman" was folding. "Writing the memoir was incredibly painful," she says. She explains that we all have two versions of our lives: the funny version as we tell it and the things we never talk about. One of the reasons'to write the memoir was that she wasn't having an easy time--she didn't do well in therapy and realized that writing was the way she got things out. "I hadto go out and relive them by writ- ing. It really was not fun. When I finished, I thought I'm never going to do this again." But she knew that she couldn't write anything else until she got that story out. Then she turned to writing fiction. Carter is now married again and already writing a new novel. She says she remains an optimist, albeit an anxious one. Sandee Brawarsky is the book critic for the New York Jewish Week from which this article was reprinted by permission. library, they do admit that they may not have initiated this process in the smooth- est way possible. "We're planning on com- municating with some of the folks who would be returning in the fall. and' the truth is. we probably could've communicated bet- ter." said Beverly Greenfield. a spokeswoman for the Y. For Adler and his staff, clos- ing Buttenwieser is a key step in reorienting the 92nd Street Y toward the digital future hence the Kindles. But for angry patrons, it is the end of an era. "When you destroy a library it's gone. And if you have second thoughts in a year or five years or 10 years that's too bad because it's over." Shubert said. "Why rush a decision that's ir- revocable?" Reprinted with permis- sion from the New York Jewish Week, www.jewish- Taking the Hall of Fame down'from its pedestal By Gary Rosenblatt New York Jewish Week Zev Chafets didn't plan on attending the Baseball Hall of Fame induction festivities last weekend in Cooperstown. N.Y.. on the assumption that he would be persona non grata after the publication of his new book, "Cooperstown Con- fidential: Heroes. Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame." He was probably right. The author and journalist served as director of the Government Press Office in Jerusalem for five years under Prime Minister Me- nachem Begin. His latest book describes the remark- able influence of the Hall Zev Chafets: Shrines not always what they seem to be." of Fame's founding family, the wealthy Clarks of Coo- perstown, on the town and the museum there. And it argues that the family's insistence on Rule 5, the so-called Character Clause, requiring that inductees be men of "integrity, sports- manship and character," is hypocritical and preventing some of the game's greatest stars from gaining entry. Question: Besides being a Detroit Tiger fan. what motivated you to write this book? Answer: After living in Jerusalem for many years, I learned that shrines are not always what they seem to be. and I was intrigued as to how the Hall of Fame managed to maintain its mystique. People still talk about it in religious terms, like being enshrined, immortalized, making a pilgrimage to its sacred ground, etc. Q: Any Jewish baseball trivia questions for us? A: I like to ask people to name the three Jewish mem- bers of the Hall of Fame. They usually come up with Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg right away, but very few know that Lou Boudreau [the .295-hitting shortstop with the Cleveland Indians who starred in the 1940s] had a Jewish mother, though he never discussed it. Three Jewish players in the Hall is not a bad percent- age, by the way. There are only five or six Italians and two or three Poles. Q: Did you come across evidence of anti-Semitism in your research? A: I found in the mu seum's archives several articles from the Dearborn Ind ependent, published by Henry Ford, in 1921, saying that Jews were destroying baseball, that they were not athletes who could compete in red-blooded competition and that they were ruining the game for others. Q: What was the biggest surprise for you in working on the book? A: I was amazed at the influence of the Clarks and their insistence on the Character Clause. That describes about only a third of the guys in the Hall, and they plan to use it against the steroid guys. I'd like to see them in. And Pete Rose [banned for gambling], for sure. And I'd put in Shoe- less Joe Jackson [banned from baseball after being part of an effort by Chicago White Sox players to fix the 1919 World Series]. We've forgiven Nazi Germany, but not Joe Jackson. Q: Are you working on a new book? A: It's a profile of Rush Limbaugh. He defended Israel on the air after Obama's Cairo speech, and I wrote to tell him that in my 40 years in this busi- ness. I never heard a better defense. Gary Rosenblatt is the editor of the New York Jewish Week from which this article is reprinted by permission.