Hanukkah, the festival of lights, started last Thursday evening. This holiday commemorates the Maccabees, Jewish heroes, rising up against the army of Antiochus IV to regain control of Jerusalem and their desecrated Temple. So this seems like a good time to tell you about two neighbors who are celebrating unsung Jewish heroes with new works.
The latest work in progress from documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner is on Ben Hecht, a prolific and Academy Award-winning screenwriter, playwright, director and novelist. His screenplays included Wuthering Heights and The Front Page. He was also a political activist who advocated for European Jews during and after World War II. Like the Maccabees, “the story of Ben Hecht is more fascinating than any fiction,” Kempner says.
Jewish and largely immigrant women on New York’s Lower East Side are the heroes of Scott Seligman’s new book, The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902. They rose up in protest when kosher butchers raised the price of meat, making it unaffordable. The women Seligman writes about were no shrinking violets. There was violence and arrests. And their enemy was bigger than the local butchers. “The true villains in the drama,” Seligman writes, were “a cabal of Chicago-based meat packers who had formed a ‘Beef Trust’ and were colluding to corner the national market for meat.”
Seligman’s book is available at Politics and Prose, but call and check whether it is in the store. It is flying off its shelves. Scott with be doing a virtual book talk at Politics and Prose on January 14th at 6 p.m.
Hanukkah also marks the miracle of lighting the Temple Menorah, which burning eight days though the Maccabees had only a one-day supply of olive oil. And of course that must be celebrated with latkes, a glorious way to eat potatoes. They are fried in lots of oil and then smothered in lots of sour cream. Bread Furst offered preorders this year for a catered Hanukkah dinner of latkes and brisket. Those are sold out, but the shop may have some suvganiot, dreidel sugar cookies and other treats for walk-in customers each day. Little Red Fox is also selling sugar cookies decorated to look like dreidels.