Category Archives: Forward

Oren

So this week I took a look at Michael Oren, the intellectual-turned-Israeli ambassador. He had some serious missteps coming into the job a year and a half ago and now seems to have found the right role for himself. Take a look.

I also realized that I’ve been covering Oren for a while now. Here’s a profile I wrote in 2007. I also reviewed both of his big books. In an essay taking apart the historiography of the Six Day War, I included his important book on the war. And for his last tome, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: The United States in the Middle East, 1776 to 2006, I wrote a long review in Bookforum.

The Fighting Star of David

This was a fun week for me at the Forward. In addition to reviewing Gary Shteyngart’s latest, I also spent some time recently with Dmitriy Salita, the Russian-Jewish boxer. Salita has been a professional fighter in the light-welterweight division for almost ten years now. He’s a fascinating character — both devoutly religious and intensely focused on one day soon becoming a world champion. He’s also a good, decent person, and it was interesting to trail him as much as I did these past weeks. He’s at a turning point, having suffered his first defeat last December, and a pretty humiliating one at that. An excellent documentary was done about Dmitriy a few years ago, “Orthodox Stance,” covering the triumphant beginning of his professional career.

You can read my piece here. It’s accompanied by a great photo essay by Claudio Papapietro, who also took the picture above.

This is my lead:

When he speaks about the future of his boxing career, Dmitriy Salita gets a look of pure intensity in his otherwise mournful brown eyes. All the greatest boxers have this stare, a perfect distillation of concentration and discipline and total faith in the strength of their own arms. But in Salita, it is also the look of a man convincing himself that there is a future for him in the sport. Seven months have passed since his humiliating loss in England to Amir Khan — the first defeat of his professional career — when he was knocked down three times in the first 76 seconds of the match. He has not faced another opponent in the ring since.

“Blini-Wrapped Bildungsroman”

My review of Gary Shteyngart’s new novel is up. You can find it here. I had some fun with this one, especially trying to describe the scary but funny dystopia that he has created:

But who would want to spend eternity in this illiterate future where all that is most shallow has prevailed? Everyone is a slave to their äppäräts, a handheld device that makes the iPhone look as ancient as one of those brick-sized car phones Michael Douglas used in “Wall Street.” People are on them constantly, combing through intimate details about the strangers around them — cholesterol levels and favorite sexual positions — and then rating and ranking each other. “Credit polls” on every corner flash the credit scores of those walking by. Completely transparent jeans, called “onionskins,” are all the rage. In this future, adults speak in the abbreviated patois of 12-year-old teenage texters. In one of Lenny’s first conversations with the woman who will trigger this “super sad love story,” she tells him, “TIMATOV. ROFLAARP. PRGV. Totally PRGV.” To which Lenny, as bewildered as we are, answers, “IMF. PLO. ESL.” Oh, and there are no books. When Lenny opens up a volume of Chekhov on a flight, he is reprimanded by his neighbor, who says the book smells “like wet socks.” In his own apartment, he guards his contraband paperbacks as if they are the last of some endangered species of butterflies.

Super Sad True Love Story

I just turned in a book review of Gary Shteyngart’s new novel, which will appear in the Forward next week. I’ll let my review speak for itself, but I couldn’t help but post the trailer for “Super Sad True Love Story,” which appeared on the internet this week. Like the book, and like everything Shteyngart writes, it’s very, very funny. The world of the literati is filled with so much over-inflated self-importance, it’s always refreshing to see someone who actually seems to be having fun, who has a sense of humor. Whatever you think of his writing style, Shteyngart is not a pretentious man, which is something I wish I could say for more authors. Then again, the guy was so kind as to blurb my book, so I probably shouldn’t be trusted to have an opinion about him…

Last Night in the Ghetto

I spent last evening in Boro Park at a giant rally for Sholom Rubashkin. It always feels like stepping into another century in that part of Brooklyn but last night with the thousands of black hats thronging around me in a hot wedding hall and the sound of mournful singing every few minutes, it was stifling. The speeches were all in Yiddish and every single one ended with a bout of ecstatic crying.

Outside in the street, a few thousands more milled around and everyone seemed to want the chance to pour their emotions out to a journalist – or get their name in the paper.

By far the funniest comment was from a tall, red-bearded Chasid named Mordy who nearly knocked me over with his passion. “This is just like Dreyfus!” he yelled in his Yiddish accent. “J’accuse!”

The photographer with me was a woman and she wasn’t allowed to enter the hall or, really, stand anywhere near the building. All the women were relegated across the street and then, when the crowd of men grew, pushed even further to the next block. When she tried to venture over toward the men to get a better shot, someone pointed a finger at her.

“Watch your modesty,” he told her. “You know it’s not Crown Heights here!”