Every year I look forward to reading submissions to the Moment Magazine-Karma Foundation Short Fiction Contest. Delving into the 20 to 30 finalists carefully plucked from the vast sea of submissions, I am always struck by the depth and breadth of Jewish creativity on display. Entries always include reimaginings of biblical texts, stories of Holocaust loss and survival, tales of holiday celebrations gone awry and more. The stories manage in a few pages to provide deep character studies that remain with you long after you finish reading. One previous winner about a closeted yeshiva bachur (student), and his feelings toward his chevruta (study partner) still haunts me. Choosing the top entries to send our guest judge always provokes an animated argument among editors—all of us advocating for our favorites with impassioned speeches about why our picks should make it to the next round.
This year was no exception, which is why I am so delighted to print the three winners in this special fall fiction issue. “Arguing with Reinfeld” by Steven Bryan Bieler, which won first place, explores a theme that is familiar to many of
us—coping with our parents’ inevitable decline. However, it’s not a maudlin tale but rather a celebration of life and legacy.
“Chelm, NJ” by David Tuchman, which took second place, is a twist on the familiar Jewish town of fools—except this time the town is in New Jersey. And the third place story, “Night of Broken Glass,” by Ilana Marcus, is centered on a teenage boy encountering death for the first time. The subjects, themes and characters of these stories differ greatly—young, old, religious, irreligious—but read as a whole, they offer an evocative glimpse into the contemporary American Jewish experience.
The fiction section also features an interview with writer Allegra Goodman, the judge of this year’s contest. I have been a fan of Goodman since middle school, when I read her novel Kaaterskill Falls about an Orthodox summer community in upstate New York. In all her work, Goodman manages to bring to life closed worlds that readers may not have previously encountered. Here she discusses the pull of writing about both Jews who are steeped in ritual and tradition and those for whom Judaism is a “negative space,” shaping characters by its absence.
For those readers who are not fiction fanatics, “Literary Moment” surveys an abundance of real-life stories to sink your teeth into. Moment Special Literary Contributor Robert Siegel looks at the life of longtime New Republic owner Martin Peretz; Washington Post senior editor Marc Fisher examines Marty Glickman, the legendary voice of New York basketball; and psychologist Eva Fogelman explores three different volumes of recollections from writers who left their homeland for America as children.
The New Year is always an occasion for self-reflection, which is why we asked rabbis from a variety of traditions, “When have you changed your mind, or decided you were wrong, about something important?” In perhaps the most revealing “Ask the Rabbis” we have published, participants write movingly of changing their minds about gay marriage, women’s ordination and their own career callings, among other things. It’s a hard question, especially in this age of polarization where it often seems as if people choose their own reality no matter the facts, and admitting you were mistaken seems impossible. I tried to turn this lens on myself and struggled—there are many things I have shifted on over time, political beliefs, religious beliefs and more. But I’m not sure I have ever done a complete about-face. Or maybe I am simply unable to acknowledge where I was mistaken? (It turns out four-year-olds have no such hesitation. I asked my daughter what big thing she has changed her mind about, and she didn’t even pause. “Unicorns,” she said confidently. “I used to think they were all around us but now I think they aren’t real.” I asked her how that made her feel. “A little sad, but it’s ok because it’s the truth.”)
In “Perspectives,” several of our columnists also reflect on how their previous assumptions might not be true anymore. Writing from Israel, Shmuel Rosner admits that he misjudged the current Israeli public and leadership and failed to predict the current crisis. Writing from the United States, Letty Cottin Pogrebin considers whether three words she always considered taboo when discussing Israel now apply. This in particular is a hard read, and while I don’t necessarily agree with her conclusion, it gave me much to think about as an American Jew with a deep connection to Israel. I welcome your thoughts at email@example.com.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, as Israel is on everyone’s mind, this issue also explores what conditions the United States should put on Israel to allow it to join its visa waiver program, as well as a debate between two Israeli thinkers over whether Israel would be better off without aid from America.
Continuing the theme of change and transformation, former NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten heads to Miami to figure out why a once secular Democratic stronghold is now leaning Republican and Orthodox. In “Talk of the Table,” Digital Editor Noah Phillips charts attempts to change consumers’ minds about locusts—some of which are kosher—in order to turn them into a new superfood.
Finally, as someone who grew up watching Law & Order (and its various spinoffs), I have always wondered why detectives often referred to their mentors as “rabbis.” Moment Fellow Jacob Forman discovers the slang term’s roots lie in the New York Police Department of the 1950s.
Of course, this issue is just one small part of the vast Moment universe, which includes exclusive web stories, weekly zoominars, live events and more. The best way to stay up to date with all things Moment is to visit momentmag.com or sign up for one of our many newsletters at momentmag.com/newsletter. Wishing you health and happiness in the New Year.
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