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Rebecca Kaplan Boroson
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We’ll always have ‘Casablanca’

Time goes by — film turns 70 this year with Jewish backstories

Cover Story Published: 13 September 2013

Aliens and robots come and go in Hollywood — and a jaded audience, judging by dwindling box-office returns, wishes they would mainly go.

But “Casablanca” is still as fresh and appealing as when it went into general release 70 years ago. Although set in a specific time and place, when stranded refugees from Nazism sought safety in the United States, it is timeless and universal. Most people agree that it is a classic, well-defined by Murray Burnett, who (with Joan Alison) wrote the play that was transformed into the film, as “true today, true yesterday, true tomorrow.”


We’ll always have ‘Casablanca’

Some of the Jews who helped make ‘Casablanca’ a classic

Cover Story Published: 13 September 2013

Catherine Taub: ‘A hometown hero’

LocalPublished: 07 June 2013

I first read about Catherine Taub in the New York Times, in a 2001 article about Varian Fry headed “A Hometown Hero for Ridgewood.”

Few people recognized that strange-sounding name before Catherine rescued it from an obscure corner of history. Few people knew that Fry had saved some 2,000 (mainly Jewish) intellectuals, artists, and others from the Holocaust and was the first American named a “Righteous Gentile” by Yad Vashem. (You can read about him in “A Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry,” by Sheila Isenberg.)

Catherine, who lived in Ridgewood and died May 28, sadly and all too soon, learned about the former Ridgewood resident when she saw an exhibit about him at the Jewish Museum in New York. As she recalled years later, “I thought to myself, ‘How did we not know about him?’”


Samson — a strong man with a fragile psyche

BooksPublished: 14 December 2012

Sometimes I feel I am a ghost, haunting used bookstores and library sales for other ghosts — worthy books that have been overlooked and forgotten. Sometimes I find only corpses, books that deserve to be buried under dust and cobwebs. But sometimes — ah, sometimes — I find a treasure.

Such a treasure is “Lion’s Honey: The Myth of Samson,” by the brilliant Israeli writer David Grossman and eloquently translated from the Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman. Published in 2006 by Canongate, it’s a small book, a mere 155 pages, and it may have simply slipped through reviewers’ minds and hands.

Grossman takes us (as if by the hand) through the story of the biblical hero, a story whose outlines we all know so well: his mother’s barrenness; the announcement by an angel of his pending birth and the conditions set on him; the mission he is predestined to perform.


A profound and delightful book

Conversations with Isaac Bashevis Singer

BooksPublished: 07 September 2012

You all probably know Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” and you also probably know his famous quote that “[w]hat really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”

One author I have always wished was “a terrific friend” whom I could call on the phone whenever I felt like it was Isaac Bashevis Singer. And while I did have the good luck to speak with the great Yiddish Nobel laureate a few times as a journalist, I never did have the chutzpah to call him up just to chat.


Not laughing out loud

BooksPublished: 27 July 2012

“Where’s that book column?” the editor asks over the telephone. “You said you were going to write a book column. Where is it?”

My heart sinks. He has sent me a new book, very well-reviewed, by a young author with a good track record. The only problem is that it’s about a young man who has died — been murdered, in fact — and the people mourning him. I’m sure it’s a good book, but here’s the thing: I am doing a lot of Holocaust-related research these days, and I’m looking for books that make me laugh. Out loud. With a good, deep belly laugh that chases the blues away.

Here’s a taste of my current reading material: Mengele: The Complete Story, by Gerald L. Posner and John Ware (McGraw-Hill, 1986).

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A fan letter to Nathan Englander

Don’t let that nasty man get to you; your fiction is exceptional

WorldPublished: 20 April 2012

Dear Nathan (if I may call you that; we recently have been close, you and I; as close, that is, as reader and writer can get).

The Hebrew and Bible scholar Robert Alter has been fumfering about your “moral unseemliness” and your “weakness of moral imagination.”

In fact, in his recent New Republic review of your new book “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” (Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95), he writes, “These stories are neither courageous nor outrageous. They are merely bad.”

Pay no attention. Well, maybe a little. It doesn’t hurt to listen to honest criticism, which I believe this is, as long as you have a solid sense of what you are doing, or trying to do.

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Thumbing through the pages

Boroson on Books

Cover Story Published: 24 November 2011
Fiction can be as harrowing as truth

I had thought to begin this first column on books of Jewish interest with a review of "The Emperor of Lies" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Steve Sem-Sandberg (translated from the Swedish by the eerily named Sarah Death).

It is a thinly fictionalized although richly imagined account of the Lodz Ghetto, peopled with a panoply of characters worthy of Dickens at his grimmest.

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The changing of the guard

Published: 26 August 2011
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A night at the Philharmonic

Published: 03 August 2011
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