Glowing Review of Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon (all about Daphna’s Iconic Lines)

Reading Bad Jews was the perfect antidote to my book-rage, courtesy of “An American family” in Risk! (which I talk all about in my rant review here), tackling the same issue of American assimilation in Jews.

Bad Jews is the story of Daphna Feygenbaum, a “Real Jew” with an Israeli boyfriend she met on Birthright. When Daphna’s cousin Liam brings home his shiksa girlfriend Melody and declares ownership of their grandfather’s Chai necklace, a vicious and hilarious brawl over family, faith and legacy ensues.

I went into this carefully paging through the pages, hoping to land into the story and get a feel of what direction this was going, either a) it was going to be a disaster on par with what raised my wrath in the first place to turn to this book or b) it was going to be exactly what soothes the raging storms in my head courtesy of that story. I practically went into the play with my eyes squinted close in fear. Thankfully (!!), Bad Jews came to settle for the latter soothing option.

In one line: I can’t even begin to explain how much I appreciate this play simply for existing. It not only raises vicariously important questions regarding religion and identity in Jews, but it dares to answer them expertly.

Also, thanks to the rising tempers established between Daphna and Liam from the very start, my breath was tight, following along their clap-backs from line to line, like a Ping-Pong match. Bad Jews is a genuine, concise story that moves at a delicious pace, thanks to Daphna’s lines.

Speaking of which, it’s while paging through the play that I stumbled along this exchange between Daphna and Liam’s shiksa that hooked me in like a spell.

People are just people?
Yes. People are people. It doesn’t matter that you’re Jewish or I’m—
It doesn’t matter that I’m Jewish?
It doesn’t matter?
Well it matters to me.
It matters to me very much.
Right, but—
And it’s mattered to hundreds of generations of my family.
I know—
But to you: meaningless.

This conversation right here is what I want to see more of. I’ve never seen such a daring character speak my thoughts aloud.

And I’m beyond grateful it didn’t stop here. There’s an incredible piece of writing that follows, and I want to shout it from the rooftops, but in the meantime, I’m sharing it here since that’s the closest route of action. The text’s long but such a worthful read, what with the quick pace that assures a smooth ride:

“You could actually date a woman who was your intellectual equal but instead you find these tepid little Bambi creatures to impose this hyper-masculine hegemenonical totalitarian regime on even though you like to like think you’re like this like super sensitive in touch sensitized like dork-chic Chicago grad student who’s like uber-liberal and totally devoted to the preservation of these little cultural studies because studying Japan is definitely worthy of five years of intensive labor, but studying torah for all of ten minutes is only worthy of total utter snide sniveling disdain; if you found yourself in the middle of a rain dance you would be soooo respectful trying to do every movement perfectly to like honor every Native American who ever lived, but if you found yourself in the middle of a hora— I’ve seen you in the middle of a hora— you look like you want to fucking die; if someone asks your religion you proudly state, “I’m an atheist” but the second anyone starts a little Israel-Palestine discussion, it’s like, find me a stopwatch and let’s count to ten because it won’t even take that long before I hear, “As a Jew …” because then you’re a Jew, but only when you can use it to bash all things Jewish which somehow makes you stand a little taller, doesn’t it, puts a little pep in your step like you’re so fucking enlightened even though you reek of fucking cliché; you haven’t lit a menorah since the nineties, but hello Facebook photos of you in a Santy Claus hat ho-ho-hoing it up next to the Christmas tree you put up in your apartment, and it was kind of obvious that, for whatever reason, you actually liked wearing that cheap fake crushed red velvet hat with the shitty white pom pom on the end, or maybe it wasn’t the hat, maybe it was just getting to stand under the mistletoe and smooch paper-cut-lips Melody, amazing, dynamic, smart-as-shit Melody, the icon of your ideal woman, because we know, a woman who’s actually trying to make something of her life and her intellect is worthy of your harshest criticism but a woman with zero career goals and maybe point two brain cells and less than no talent is a genuinely good person, you two must be so genuinely happy, spending time with her must be a scintillating experience, in fact, I myself had the chance to talk with her this evening and she really does offer up an intellectual feast for the mind, I can only imagine the topics you two must cover in your daily conversation, subjects like, how cute she looks on the bunny hill, or, how cute she looks in her Talbots secretary outfits, or really what it all comes down to: hhhhow nice it is to fuck an ethnic-free bush!
Yeah Shlomo. You’re right: your girlfriends aren’t inferior. You are.”

Mic drop. I truly think this deserves to be displayed in a museum.

Daphna touches upon 1) Jews assimilating so much so that they don’t define themselves as Jews and try to leech on to any other culture that has an opening. 2) Celebrating Hanukah is shameful yet putting up a Christmas tree doesn’t hold any religious aspects for you… 3) Crushing Liam to the GROUND.

The aforementioned is also the most thought-out argument I’ve ever laid my eyes on, and I’m raging that Liam didn’t address the TRUEST of objections and reasonings. Like, how can you hear all this and still think you’re right? HOW?

“Ah, yes, don’t respond to my truth. Dismiss me.”

Even going the extra mile of calling him out for what he really is: an anti-Semite. Non-practicing Jews can be just as severe in their hatred since they’re rebelling against their people and know exactly where it hits hard.

Hence my fuming upon Liam using “love” to his defense… YOUR IDEA OF “LOVE” DOES NOT TRUMP MORALITY. This right here is exactly the influence of Western culture that brainwashes people into giving everything up for Oh, Love heart-eyed sigh. It’s the idolization of “amour” that led the infamous playwright Molière to marry his own daughter. Or Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that is pure puppy love, yet deemed to be the love of a lifetime, and without one must simply die. 

As I heard in a moving lecture, love isn’t merely physiological or romantic; something deeper has to found to establish a wider connection that will last the rising statistics. Sharing values and intellect is a great starting point; Get on it, Liam.

So, as you can read, Bad Jews got me beyond passionate and riled-up with words, thankfully, this time for the better. I cherish it when a book can get a good discussion out of me.

…Which is why I have to include one last piece of Daphna, who I’m low-key obsessed with, thanks to her excellent lines:

Don’t you know what— don’t you see how this little object is— don’t you care?, that if you put that around her neck, you’re killing something.
Killing something?
Something that matters.
It doesn’t matter.
You are Poppy’s grandson. You know it matters.
Not to me.
You’re getting a Ph.D. in cultural studies!
So culture matters! Who people are, matters. Look at the Nobel Prizes— look at how disproportionately Jewish people have achieved in economics, literature, science—
Are we really gonna do chosen people talk? Really?
22%! That’s the percentage of Nobel Prize winners who are Jewish.
Now you’re memorizing Jewish statistics? Fuck.
Do you know what our global population is? It’s not 22%, not even close.
So in the hopes of more Jews winning Nobel Prizes I should marry a Jew? Is that seriously your point?
No my point is, play this out. You get married, you two get married and you have kids, so they’re half-Jewish and half-Delaware. And that kid marries someone who is Asian, and they have a kid, so that kid is a quarter Jewish, a quarter Delaware, and half Asian, and that kid marries someone who is half-black and half-Puerto Rican and they have a kid, and so that kid is—
They’re American!
In a couple generations, all these kids are running around bearing the hyphenated names of cultures that no longer exist. It’ll be just one giant globalized corporate world populated by one kind of people, who all speak one language and shop at the same store and all look the same. That’s how it ends up unless—
No, it’s like that John Lennon song! It’s our country, like, succeeding. Like, progress! No nations, no religions, no—
A world without Jews is progress? 

Melody, a) nobody asked your cosmopolitan worldview b) John Lennon was anti-Semitic, so stop bringing him up as this leading example when you have no clue and c) the only reason people like Melody exist is for people like Daphna to put them in their place. I thrive off of this. Thank you, Daphna.

How does your half-Jewish daughter teach her one-quarter Jewish daughter to be Jewish? Exactly how does that work?

And one more epic mic-drop for the road:

Ok. So stop. You know what? Let’s all stop. Let’s all decide, right now, we’re going to stop being Jewish. That’s what you want? You think you’re the first person to ever question it? Cause I bet there were people before us who had questions too, but they kept practicing. They didn’t stop. None of them did. And they didn’t exactly have it easy, but they never stopped. And this thing that people in our family were doing in 1900 and in 1800 and in 1500 and in 200 and in 500 BCE made it all the way here to us. That alone has got to at least give you pause. And so now, when it’s easier to be Jewish than it has ever been in the history of the world, now when it’s safest, now we should all stop?
I can’t. I can’t.
And if I know you at all, you don’t want me to stop either. Because if I stop, if we all stop, it will be gone. And you can’t get it back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

This has been echoing in my mind all day.

I’ve included so many of Daphna’s incredibly revealing lines so that I can return time and again, since it perfectly words my thoughts on paper, in case I ever need a refresher of my opinions before discussions occur with a Liam™…

Towards the end, the most pivotal scene had me nearly screaming inside. The stakes were raised so high, I could practically hear the characters screaming off the page, and it made for such an exhilarating, fulfilling ending.

Don’t put that …
Don’t you put that …

At this point, when Daphna’s anger at the shiksa is spilling over, I was at the very edge of my seat, low-key hoping for the story to end with a certain someone ending up injured… I got my tiny, victorious moment when Melody exposed her true face after her ongoing “peace love & unity” façade.

Take me to the hospital. I want to go to the hospital.
Yes! I’m bleeding! And that thing is rusty! I could have been—
It’s made of gold, gold doesn’t—
It was in someone’s mouth! I could have an infection. I want to go to the hospital.”

This right here shows how undeserving she is to join this family and wear something as sacred as the Chai necklace that Poppy saved through the Holocaust as the only family heirloom and symbol of his family massacred by the Nazis. So Melody, kindly, go back to sleep and starve.

Bad Jews should be required reading for any Jew contemplating non-Jews. It raises so many epic scope themes and ideas through thrilling truths that one must hear at least once in their lifetime. A few of those include, as the author notes in the preface: “Why was I born a Jew? What is the value of Judaism today? What does it mean when someone born a Jew moves away from the religion, and chooses not to pass it on to the next generation? What does it mean to watch something go extinct?”

I’ll recommend this play over and over to anyone that’ll listen.


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Why I Fangirl over Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (Spoilers: Levi)

If you’ve been following my reviews for a while now, you probably know by now that Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl is an all-time favorite of mine; I make sure to reread it every single year.

This time around, I decided to revisit the book through a different medium by checking out the audiobook for the first time, as I mention in the Parks and Rec book tag (where I feature Reagan for Ron Swanson’s question, yet somehow still wound up including my perfect sunflower and the pride of Arnold, otherwise known as Levi Stewart).

As I mention in the tag, I feel like even the audio-narrator is enjoying herself with Reagan’s character because I can always hear a hint of a smile upon reading her comically outrageous lines. They’re profound contributions to this world.

“There was just no fear in her. No hesitation. Talking to Reagan was like standing in front of an oncoming train.”

However, since I already uploaded an extensive review full of ravishing ravings for Fangirl in 2016 that you can check out here, I decided to twist things around for this reread and feature the list of everything important I noted during my reading experience (which I can visually represent with this very accurate gif below):

  • Starting with the most beloved cast of characters that always bring out the best feelings out of me, I made sure to take my sweet time with this audiobook, listening to a little at a time every other week or so. More specifically, Levi has me wrapped around his finger; he leaves me grinning from ear to ear so easily. And I have to elaborate by making a whole new point about this…
  • I felt like Jim Halpert, smiling into the camera, because every time Levi shows, I’d inevitably look into a nonexistent camera like I’m on The Office, while trying to hold off the wisp of a megawatt smile showing on my face. Like, get you a guy like Levi who goes out of his way in making sure you’re comfortable and showing signs that he genuinely likes you.

Just to give you a feel of what I’m talking about, here’s a couple of instances that made me smile uncontrollably in his presence:

    • Walking with Cather late at night from the library to make sure she gets back safe and sound to her dorm.

“Just Cather, huh?”
“Just Cath.”
“Did you get lost in the library?”
“I always get lost in the library,” he said, “no matter how many times I go. In fact, I think I get lost there more, the more that I go. Like it’s getting to know me and revealing new passages.”
“You spend a lot of time in the library?”
“I do, actually.”
“How is that possible when you’re always in my room?”
“Where do you think I sleep?” he asked. And when she looked at him, he was grinning.”

This loving, loyal sunflower has the biggest smile and an even bigger heart. Which is why I was beyond elated when I read Rainbow’s comparing him to a golden retriever (“For the constant good-natured game of him.”). Mainly because of a Youtube comment I shared in my Parks and Rec tag that used exactly that phrase to describe the relationship unfolding between Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate: It’s like watching a grumpy cat and golden retriever get married. And it represented a lot of what Cath and Levi’s interaction held for me.

  • Plus, having them slowly bond over Cath’s “secret, dirty fanfiction” is something that will never grow old on me. I’m utterly amazed at how effortlessly Rainbow captures that intimate moment of growth from being acquaintances to friends to something more.

“It’s not dirty.”
“Read me some anyway.”
She let go of the pillow; he’d probably already filthed it beyond redemption.
“Because I’m curious,” he said. “And I like stories.”
“You just want to make fun of me.”
“I won’t,” he said. “I promise.”
“That’s what you and Reagan do when I’m not here, right? Make fun of me. Play with my commemorative busts. Do you have a stupid nickname for me?”
His eyes sparkled. “Cather.”
“I don’t exist to amuse you, you know.”
“One, are you sure? Because you do. And, two, we don’t make fun of you. Very much. Anymore. And, three…”
He was counting on his fingers, and his cheeks were twitching, and it was making Cath laugh.
“Three,” he said, “I won’t make fun of you, to anyone but you, from now on, if you’ll just once, right now, read me some of your fanfiction.”

I’m blinking hearts.Pretty sure that with that Levi has ruined all other guys for me. I mean, having someone’s defining feature be kindness above all is cathartic. It’s like I always make sure to ask myself if the guy in front of me lives up to Levi’s standards, and if he doesn’t, well…

  • The peak, of course, hits with getting to experience my all-time favorite scene on audio, featuring Cath reading The Outsiders to Levi through the night. Any book that has the characters bond by reading a book out loud to one another is the way to my heart, all thanks to Fangirl being the primary instigator. I have to say, though, that listening to this part was so worth the wait, since my eyes couldn’t skip ahead out of anticipation as usual. I could actually savor each line and unpack the hidden meaning within the words. I even listened to the ending with closed eyes, and it was so perfect because Cath was tired and her eyes were tired, and I felt it all.

“Cath exhaled. Then inhaled. Her chest was so tight, it hurt both ways. Levi shouldn’t get to make her feel this way—he shouldn’t even have access to her chest.”

They had me going to bed with a smile on my face. Madness…

I’m pretty sure I can quote the whole book on Levi’s sunny disposition if you’ll let me, so this is as good a stopping point as any on that… I’ll just end by mentioning that THEIR DOMESTIC SCENES TOGETHER ARE MY NICHE.

  • The level of detail we’re given about the characters hits the exact right spot for my nosy-self. Like, knowing that Reagan’s voice sounds similar to Kathleen Turner’s rasp is *kisses fingers like a satisfied chef* perfect. Oh, and the random fact that the seatbelt in Levi’s truck is a hassle to pull through is bliss to know. It’s these little things that make the characters seem that more real in the big picture.
  • Which leads me to discuss how much of a blast I had actually giving a listen to the Spotify playlists created by Rowell for both Cath and Levi. Now, I can actually know what songs she had in mind during the most iconic of scenes, such as the infamous Emergency Dance Party.
  • It’s frankly terrifying how much I get Cath. Every time I reread Fangirl, I either discover something new about myself or connect together pieces about myself through her. We have so many overlapping thoughts and actions, so I thought this was an incredibly well-done part of the story. I felt it most strongly the morning after the shared half-asleep kiss with Levi, when Cath tried to convince herself all the reasons they would never fit together.

“He’s different,” Cath said. “He’s older. He smokes. And he drinks. And he’s probably had sex. I mean, he looks like he has.”
Reagan raised her eyebrows like Cath was talking crazy. And Cath thought—not for the first time, but for the first time since last night—that Levi had probably had sex with Reagan.
“And he likes to be outside,” Cath said, just to change the subject. “And he likes animals. We don’t have anything in common.”
“You’re making him sound like he’s some rowdy mountain man who, like, smokes cigars and has sex with prostitutes.”
Cath laughed, despite herself. “Like a dangerous French fur trapper.”
“He’s just a guy,” Reagan said. “Of course he’s different from you. You’re never going to find a guy who’s exactly like you—first of all, because that guy never leaves his dorm room.…”

The last line is THE STRONGEST THING I’VE FELT IN MY LIFE. I’m beyond thankful that Cath has someone like Reagan to set her straight. Their blossoming friendship was one of the most unexpected to appear with their juxtaposing personalities, and yet it grew to be one of my favorite friendships to read. I was thunderstruck time and again by their casual daily interactions that brought about some of the most memorable lines of the book.

  • Speaking of, the amount of times I had to pause the audiobook to release my pent-up laughter just goes to show how utterly brilliant Rowell is at creating incomparable comical moments at the most unexpected times. I’ll be still laughing minutes after I read a certain phrase because it’s on a loop in my head. Like, I never get over this particular line Levi throws at Cath the first time they hang out in his room/attic:

“Read something else,” he whispered, kissing the skin below her ear.
Cath took a deep breath. “What?”
“Anything. More fanfiction, the soybean report … You’re like a tiger who loves Brahms—as long as you’re reading, you let me touch you.”

The “the soybean report” got me good. I’m so keen on knowing HOW Rainbow comes up with this stuff… What follows afterward between Cath and Levi is, of course, one of the best scenes for them as a couple, but I won’t bombard you with more, since I’m obviously a complete fool when it comes to these two together. (And it’s impossible to choose just one moment to capture.)Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55With having read all of Rowell’s books (some even multiple times) I just have to say that she excels at making us EXPERIENCE a story instead of merely reading words. Fangirl explores the subtle real-life moments of young adulthood that are often forgotten about, and it makes her writing endlessly readable.

See you in my next reread of this book!


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January 2018​ Reading Wrap Up

This month I put my focus and attention on making sure I dedicated as much of my reading time on more Jewish and Nonfiction reads. And I subsequently discovered a lot of noteworthy gems along the way.
In total, I read 13 books this month:

Books I haven’t stopped thinking about: Pumpkinflowers by Matti Friedman.

It’s been months and months since I had the experience of a book imprinting such a palpable reaction on my everything. I feel like I can reach out and touch the pain and hurt reverberating off Pumpkinflowers.

It was one small hilltop in a small, unnamed war in the late 1990s, but it would send out ripples still felt worldwide today. The hill, in Lebanon, was called the Pumpkin; flowers was the military code word for “casualties.” Award-winning writer Matti Friedman re-creates the harrowing experience of a band of young soldiers–the author among them–charged with holding this remote outpost, a task that changed them forever and foreshadowed the unwinnable conflicts the United States would soon confront in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

No book has so drastically changed the course of my thinking in a single day as this one did. The intimate look at the soldiers’ lives hasn’t left me since. Avi’s story, in particular, hasn’t left me since. I got to know him gradually through his own letters, and I just can’t stop spinning back to how his surroundings rendered him aged beyond his years, yet simultaneously so full of youthful hope.

“It is said in their honor that they were prepared to sacrifice themselves for the rest of us, but of course they weren’t, not most—they just thought it wouldn’t happen to them, and the lucky ones weren’t given time to realize they were wrong.”

Ultimately, Matti Friedman carried out his novel with the utmost care and devotion.

Honorable Mention:
On a lighter note, I rediscovered my love for one of the most hilarious shows with the most lovable cast of characters. As I mentioned in my review for Unqualified by Anna Faris, thanks to watching a bunch of bloopers of Chris Pratt’s character in Parks and Recreation, I decided to go back to rewatch season three (THE BEST!). Similar to The Office, which I finished binge-watching in April 2016, my favorite seasons remain the second and third.

Since I only rewatched season three in January, that’ll be the main focus of my rambling thoughts:

  •  April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer (or should I say Janet Snakehole and Burt Macklin?) are the only romantic couple I care about from now on.

My favorite episode of theirs has to be the one where they learn to adult, courtesy of Ben Wyatt because I LOVE domestic scenes. Going grocery shopping, doing laundry, going to the bank…my kind of jam.

  • Ya Heard? With Perd! is such an unexpected favorite, but my heart sings whenever he puts his hand to his ear after the catchphrase.
  • Speaking of side characters, Jean-Ralphio Saperstein shines as bright as ever. I’ve yet to meet a more fleshed-out, eccentric, and lively persona. Years after I stopped watching the show, he was the one that remained on my mind. He’s basically the male version of Ilana Wexler from Broad City (which I raved about in September).
  • Whereas Chris Traeger is LITERALLY the most wholesome (and intense) character I’ve ever met. You know a situation is worrisome when even Chris can’t find a reassuring solution with his chipper outlook.
  • Ethel Beavers. ETHEL MY ONE TRUE QUEEN. She shows up only once throughout the third season, but my love for her character returned in a second.
  • And last but not least, the no-nonsense Ron Swanson who is one of the most irreplaceable characters on TV.

Favorite current episodes include: “Media Blitz” (3X05), “Harvest Festival” (3X07), “Andy and April’s Fancy Party” (3X09), “Jerry’s Painting” (3X11).

That was my January wrap-up, thank you for reading!