Regina Kolitz // Copyright Forward Association
Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.
Publisher Heinrich H. Glanz created the Juedisch-Politische Bibliothek [Jewish-Political] series of books in Vienna before it was “confiscated” after Nazi Anschluss in 1938. After emigrating to safety in Washington Heights, New York City, in 1949, he released “Passport to the Past,” a 126-page novella by Regina Kolitz. The book promised a “tale of an indestructible love between an Arab and a Jewess.”
Set in 1930’s Palestine, where Kolitz herself settled, the novella sets the main character, Rina, adrift between her romantic suitor, Pierre whose upper class family hails from Alexandria, Egypt and her father, scion of a Rabbinic dynasty back home in her native Lithuania. But such conflict pales in the face of Rina and Pierre’s passionate bond and we are convinced to read on by the cover flyleaf text stating that “exaltation is all that remains.”
Posed in an archival image besides a desk in the Forverts offices sometime in the 1940’s, Kolitz herself similarly appears to a deeply romantic figure. Despite or perhaps because of the white paste-up ink blocking out more of the background in the image, with her wide light colored eyes focused just slightly offside the camera’s lens, full lips not quite framed in a pout, her arty bohemian halo of tight curly hair and herringbone patterned jacket — she herself is simply put — exalted looking.
It’s February, and I have a suggestion. Let’s eliminate Valentine’s Day and replace it with Tu B’Av.
Tu B’Av, for the curious, is a very minor Jewish holiday that takes place six days after the solemn fast of Tisha B’Av. Once upon a time on the 15th day of the month of Av, girls in white dresses would dance in vineyards under the full moon, saying, “Young man, consider who you would choose.” It was considered one of the happiest days of the Jewish year.
Why is an old matchmaking festival better than a modern-day holiday known for red cardboard heart boxes full of chocolates? Let me count the ways.
Blogger and self-proclaimed “man-titty media pundit” Sarah Wendell posts witty and wicked reviews of romance novels at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and has also written two books about the genre. The Sisterhood caught up with her to talk “trash,” sex and David Beckham in his underwear, plus what she really wants to know about “50 Shades of Grey.”
THORNBURGH: Your website is called Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Are the romances really trashy? And are the women who read them actually smart?
WENDELL: No, and yes! Smart women read and write romance, and that has been true for a really long time. They’ve taught me amazing things about women, about history, about feminism, and about language.
There are a lot of reasons why romance as a genre is dismissed. Plain old, everyday, garden-variety sexism. This is a genre that’s written by and actually read by women, and most of the editors and industry professionals are also women. It’s a women-dominated genre and a women-dominated profession and for that reason alone it becomes an object of ridicule.
But on top of that, to quote Nora Roberts, romances contain what she calls “the hat trick of easy targets: emotions, relationships and sex.” Any combination of those three is a ripe target for ridicule as well. We don’t value emotions and we don’t value outward displays of them. And that’s what romance deals in. It doesn’t hide what it is. If you look at a romance novel, you know that’s a romance novel.
Caitlin Flanagan’s use of Rachel, the brassy Jewish character from the Fox television show “Glee”, as an anecdote for her Atlantic essay “Love, Actually” about the renewed interested in the “boyfriend story,” or old-fashioned romance, is a bit flawed. Yes, Rachel wants love, but she is hardly an innocent romantic. Early in the series she kisses her love interest while he is still dating another girl, and now she is juggling more than one love interest.
With Rachel we are not, as Flanagan writes, “back in Kansas.”