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avanim FALL 2009

the jewish literary magazine of columbia university

Table of Contents

4 Swimming with the Thelonious Monks by Aaron Rotenberg, GS/JTS ‘09 Untitled by Alanna Vaugns, CC ‘11

by Liat Segal, BC ‘11 6 AEinReunion Gedi by Allyza Lustig, BC ‘11

8 You and Me (A love poem if you like) by Shai Sokolow Silverman, GS/JTS ‘11 Untitled by Allyza Lustig, BC ‘11

10 January First by Alisha Kaplan, BC ‘11

A Family by Jonah Meyerhoff, GS/JTS ‘10

by Emily Winograd, BC/JTS ‘12 12 Fidelity Candles by Batya Weinstock, GS/JTS ‘10

14 Untitled by Jonathan Billig, GS/JTS ‘09

Root Memories by Allison Caplan, CC ‘11

16 Two Princes by Jared Rosenfeld, CC ‘12

Restless Dreams by Zahava Mandelbaum, GS/JTS ‘12

18 Girl of My Dreams by Aaron Rotenberg, GS/JTS ‘09 Polaroid by Allison Caplan, CC ‘11

20 New York Lox by Erica Weaver, CC ‘12 Arch by Marley Weiner, BC/JTS ‘10

Cover Art, Fall 2009 Issue Stack by Lisa Anchin, GSAS ‘09


Editors Editor-in-Chief Aaron Rotenberg, GS/JTS ‘09 Literary Editor Alisha Kaplan, BC ‘11 Art Editor Caity Sigler, GS/JTS ‘09 Layout Editor Allison Caplan, CC ‘11 Organizational Editor Dana Kresel, GS/JTS ‘09 Staff Advisor Chanel Dubofsky, Columbia/Barnard Hillel Tzedek Coordinator Editorial Board Jonathan Billig, GS/JTS ‘09 Ilana Cohen, GS/JTS ‘12 Miriam Manber, BC ‘10 Shira Schindel, CC ‘11 Layout Team Aaron Rotenberg, GS/JTS ‘09 Caity Sigler, GS/JTS ‘09 Deborah Samuels, BC ‘12 Avanim, a project of the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, is a literary magazine committed to the expression of Jewish experience through the publication of creative writing and art.This is our fourth issue, and as we continue to expand this project, we encourage you to contact us with any feedback at Avanim and Columbia/Barnard Hillel acknowledge the generous gift of the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation whose ongoing support has made this publication possible.


Letter from the Editor “He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down at that place.” – Genesis 28:11 “When Schoenberg asked me whether I would devote my life to music, I said, ‘Of course’. After I had been studying with him for two years, Schoenberg said, ‘In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony’. I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, in that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall’.” - John Cage, Silence, p. 261 Over the past three years it has been an honor to watch the seed of a dream for a Jewish literary magazine on Columbia’s campus grow into this, now our fourth issue of Avanim. While working on the magazine, I of course have had to reflect on the perennial questions of the meaning and relevance of Jewish art, and I admit that in many regards the issues remain unresolved in my mind. Importantly, I am certain that our modest goals of allowing the question of “Why Jewish art?” to seep into the minds of students on campus, and of providing students with another forum to explore Jewish identity have been a success. And still, for myself, the relevance of Jewish art in an open secular space retains the same foggy weight, a glimmering substance that sometimes elevates in its drive to build culture, while at times complicates, and requires intervention to sidestep a descent into exclusivity. It has been awesome for me to have Avanim as a place to continue trying to work out the context for Jewish art--as a rock on which to rest my head and a rock to bang my head upon. The sun has set on my time working at Avanim, and it has been a pleasure working with all the talented writers and artists, editors and layout people who have raised up this project. If you are interested in being one of these people for our future issues and getting involved in any way, whether by working to produce future issues or by contributing something you’ve been creating, please get in touch with us at I eagerly wait to see what great things Avanim will come up with in the future. Best wishes, Aaron Rotenberg Editor-in-Chief


Swimming with the Thelonious Monks Aaron Rotenberg The mother whale got shot in a bank robbery. I’m telling you now it wasn’t the way you imagined it. If you’ve seen the great clubs in Sugar Hill crumble and the turtledove bathed in her sister’s blood you’ll know they forgave the sharks for their sins. The Beluga Bar on East 12th kicks us out an hour too early so we go brawling down the sapphire brick street. A man in a derby hat and soft collar fishes a pistol out of the schmaltz with a hanger. The 12-week-old embryo in a jar has no secrets to formaldehyde, so I’m just waiting for her to leap out and tell my twelve brothers and me about the End of Days, What’s with that smirk? I swear. It was a card shark that laid down all the aces. It was a turtle that drank up this one prayer that I wrote that I think about every so often. I’ve never met a jazz musician who could dance worth a damn but they’re better than these fish flopped over in this here barrel! Herring, in mayonnaise! The wizened man shouts. Three for a dinar, two for a shekel, one for the dowry of my eldest daughter. These are loose times. There are washed up pages tucked into the rulebook. Someone keeps shoving them in. The newest additions have been heavy with rhyme, loose with reason. The oldest pages have been ground down to the dust which I’m also from. On Rosh Hashanah I gather all my notebooks and cast them into the sea. Never once have they floated, ‘cuz they’re heavy with counter-harmony.


Untitled Alanna Vaugns 5

A Reunion Liat Segal

Is beauty wasted on the spinsters? I don’t know, but you might say so. Because when you walked into my garden with no invitation, you looked at me with the strangest expression. Like I was a jellyfish crawling up your leg, and it stung but you didn’t want to pull me off. As though that were possible… your leg? And where is Shelly? The woman you told me about for years, Andrea thought. And Andrea dropped the bowl she was holding. It shattered on the floor and the man with the black hair and the bitter chocolate eyes didn’t flinch. He was married. He was married, Andrea knew. And she was not. But he was angry and had jellyfish on his legs. And she was just fine. Better. Better than fine, she thought. Is that cruel? I’m better than fine and he is not. I’m better than fine because he is not—don’t lie, Andy, she told herself. Shelly watched through the car window where she sat in the passenger seat. And like a smashed idol gluing itself back together, she opened the car door and walked to the driver’s side. She sat down with a smile that was completely new and she drove away, past the trees and the flowers and the beauty that belonged to the spinster. Her husband didn’t turn to see.

Ein Gedi Allyza Lustig 6


You and Me (A love poem if you like) Shai Sokolow Silverman

“Lay bare the internal tendons of humanity, Mummies unearthed, adorned with jewels for the afterlife,” you exclaim. Perhaps the private penumbras of our happiness deserve to lie naked, quivering beneath the surgeon’s lamp, but I think not. And as for dried leaves falling from dead trees, what to say?


Untitled Allyza Lustig


January First Alisha Kaplan

Janus, that twofaced god. He didn’t know about the new years to come, the lonely people having drunken sex, the stewy vomit steaming on sidewalks. Janus, now the janitor cleaning doorways of disgorge. He didn’t give a shit about Caesar or Gregory, he didn’t care about whether there were 365.25 days or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds in the year. Janus, should I celebrate New Year’s? I can’t miss a party; that would just be wrong. So I go out and dance until four (drinking red wine), then jam until seven (drinking cheaper wine). I don’t wish anyone a happy New Year. And when people wish me the necessary greeting, I tell them that it’s not my New Year, but thank you very much for your kind sentiments. It was on September 29th, by the Hebrew calendar and not the Gregorian one of the Hebrews’ dear friend Pope Gregory who forced Jews to sit in church and listen to the conversion ceremony, who ordered the burning of their Torah scrolls and their fleshed souls. How can I celebrate New Year’s, I ask them, when since the day of its inception in 46 BCE, it has been a day of suffering for my people? Yes, 46 BCE, Julius decided he felt like a new year and celebrated by attacking Jewish forces in the Galilee. Could you pour me another glass of wine, please? I don’t even know if anything I said is true because I just read it on the internet, I continue. Why are you Jews constantly complaining about all the holocausts that happened to you? a man asks me, who I sincerely hope is inebriated or I’ll have to waste this good cheap wine. Janus, you must be Jewish. You’re stuck looking forward and always looking back.

A Family Jonah Meyerhoff 10


Fidelity Emily Winograd It feels like years since I could walk through this house without breaking a sweat. Each day when I come home yearning for wakefulness, I prop the door open to a certain blot in the pattern of the carpet. The rite is a tribute to your love of precision, though I know by now that the slightest breeze will catch in the throat of the foyer. Even the bed on its high platform, uninvitingly stripped to the sheets, feels cloyingly warm and makes me dream of falling. But for the most part, these days, my sleep is disturbingly undisturbed, like the slumber of the stifling, still air tinged with the heavy odor of incense. There was a time when I never slumbered or slept in that bed, when my skin tingled and my mind was roused to alertness by the chill of your living breath within my walls. One of these days, I tell myself, I will get up at chatzot and go down to the broken boiler, breathing hard at the heart of the house. The past few nights running, I have made it to the basement stairs; I have descended alone to the first landing in the unbearable embrace of an ancient, primordial heat. My lungs have seethed with the smoke of your forbidden fragrance, burning eternally somewhere, deeper. Tonight is no different. Spineless, invertebrate, I tremble in the deafening dark, my heart keeping time with the anguished thumping of the house’s insides. Enveloped by the mist of its grieving, I wonder how many more times I will return to this place, seeking you from the depths of a house that will not be told that you’re gone.


Candles Batya Weinstock


Untitled Jonathan Billig

   Scraps of paper, tattered dreams of written monuments, how do we recover our natural rhythm, why are we always looking back?     Sat Jeremy in the synagogue. Sat Jeremy and listened. Looked Jeremy listening, obedient. Plucked notes on a tinny harpsichord the thoughts in mind accompanying. Seated across Jeremy worshippers the nation, faces ancient they pout and commiserate.     Preached, preached preached, Rabbi thought Rabbi not only to him: abstract beginnings spiraling a net weaving their claws around a tale a parable who materialized in the center, grasped, grasped to shake the hand and meet the eyes of the congregants, leaning forward. Tale conjured weave morals into hearers, weeping redeeming working into congregants.     Clanging acrid sounding sonorous “someone has hit the bell I know it… no” silent, listen. Shuffle of constancy. Mid-priced leather shoes a-carrying their owners synagogue. The whistle of eternity too, the hiss of breath the exhale of a slouching blow-up doll, beckoning calm. Only the between-ness creates tension, and peace itself cannot rest.     A doubt periscope helps her see around corners. Guiding with claws of emotion the wolf-like cat peers above the surface from inside her submarine. Drifting on tides of days, laying back on the propellers, confident.     Scraps of paper, tattered dreams of written monuments, how do we recover rhythms? Why are we always looking back?     Preached, preached preacher but she didn’t listen. Obedient and fulfilled, she fidgeted nearby the congregants who sat around her. Experiments strode through her mind, puppeteering messianic gerbils, guiding darling toads and kittens of science and knowledge. Thoughts of Jeremy wafted like ghosts through the halls of her Dutch colonial house and more concretely jumped like children at the windows waving their hands beyond the glass.     She was cascading, multi-colored, tight shirt and determined pout to take those thoughts from adrift to astern, letting a smile nourish the downtrodden notions, selling loss to optimism at a healthy profit.     Clanging acrid sometimes sonorous, someone has hit the bell. Silent, listen, listen and do.


Root Memories Allison Caplan


Two Princes Jared Rosenfeld

If on a summer’s night A traveler licks sea salt from the edge Of a turgid leaf A late-morning reveler sees the tide Disappear the last length Of nearby mudflats. Some evening pass each other One enjoys only the fullness of the ocean The other abhors the taste of sea salt But both wear coronals, for both are princes, And neither will change his life.


Restless Dreams Zahava Mandelbaum


Girl of My Dreams Aaron Rotenberg

The girl of my dreams is standing on the other platform. If I go over to her I will miss my train and be 40 minutes late for my girlfriend’s graduation. The greatest physicist of the past 40 years is on the verge of a great discovery that will forever alter our understanding of the universe, despite having no practical application. He has been diagnosed with kidney cancer and I’ve been given a week to live. My kidneys are fine. I just paid 180 dollars for my new haircut. There is a 40 percent chance of rain but my credit card is maxed out and I forgot my umbrella. I only have enough money for lunch. A heavenly voice issued forth and said, Always follow Beit Shamai in matters relating to ____. But I know that she’s not in the heavens.

Polaroid Allison Caplan 18


New York Lox Erica Weaver


Arch Marley Weiner

Afternoon: and the city’s hung with flashlights, as I walk briskly down the avenue –grit-glazed and baking like the grills of the gyro vendors, who line the sidewalks where men hang out conversion posters and bargain purses side by side with bright plastic sunglasses. Turning the corner, I pop into a deli — order a sesame bagel, toasted and coffee on the run under its lid taken without milk. These delis might be the best idea since ballpoint pens! I keep walking, cross the streets only when the sign lights the man in white, walking, and other women, too, walk over the grates and feel their skirts flap up. I’m learning that New York is all about walking quickly and knowing how to not spill your coffee.


Avanim Fall 2009  

Fall 2009 Issue