The Arty Semite

The Last Jew of Boyle Heights

By Janice Steinberg

Earlier this week, Janice Steinberg wrote about “Djewess Unchained,” the Song of the Sea, and Yiddish inflected English and the audiobook version of her novel “The Tin Horse.” Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


A few weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times ran an article about the death of Eddie Goldstein, “the last Jewish man of Boyle Heights.” Goldstein, who died on January 5 at age 79, was born in Boyle Heights and stayed there all his life, becoming a sort of final link with Boyle Heights of the 1920s and ’30s, when it was the Jewish neighborhood in L.A.

During those years, Boyle Heights was home to some 50,000 Jews. The neighborhood, directly east of downtown, had kosher butchers and delis, including the original Canter’s, an L.A. institution. There were synagogues for the religious, workers and Yiddish societies for the secular, movie theaters, bookie joints, a pool hall, and the Ebony Room bar, a haunt of the community’s most infamous son, Mickey Cohen.

By the time I lived in L.A. in the mid-1970s, Boyle Heights was already heavily Latino. I’d never heard of it until I set out to write a novel about a Jewish woman growing up in L.A. in the ’20s and ’30s. I started doing research, and it was clear that my character could live in only one place: Boyle Heights.

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Author Blog: Djewess Unchained

By Janice Steinberg

Earlier this week, Janice Steinberg wrote about the Song of the Sea and Yiddish inflected English and the audiobook version of her novel “The Tin Horse.” Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Sometime back in my childhood, I got the idea that it was “nicer” to say “I’m Jewish” than “I’m a Jew.” And preferably, in the mainly Christian suburb of Milwaukee where I grew up, one said it in a sort of mumble.

And no one ever used “Jewess,” which seemed archaic enough to ignore when encountered in 19th-century novels like “Ivanhoe” or “Daniel Deronda.” (Nor was it considered pejorative then, as I learned from Daniel Krieger’s excellent article “The Rise and Fall — and Rise — of ‘Jewess.’”) But the word was disturbing in modern contexts, for instance, when Raymond Chandler in “The Big Sleep” describes a woman as having “the fine-drawn face of an intelligent Jewess.” What, we all have the same cheekbones? In that case, I’ll take Lauren Bacall’s. “Intelligent Jewess” so stuck in my craw that it inspired my novel, “The Tin Horse,” in which I imagine that “Jewess’s” story.

In recent years, various “out” groups have reclaimed language, taking words once flung at them as slurs and boldly using them to self-identify. “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.” The gay community has asserted ownership of “queen” and “queer,” and my favorite Gay Pride Parade participants are the motorcycle-riding “dykes on bikes.”

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Women's Songs in Torah and 'The Big Sleep'

By Janice Steinberg

Yesterday, Janice Steinberg wrote about Yiddish inflected English and the audiobook version of her novel, “The Tin Horse.” Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Although I live in California, I don’t share the New Age belief that there are no coincidences. I think many things occur by chance. And that makes me all the more delighted that my novel, “The Tin Horse,” is being published this week, the same week in which the Torah portion includes the Song of the Sea.

Song of the Sea is the exultant outpouring by Moses and the Israelites after they’ve crossed the Sea of Reeds and escaped Pharaoh’s army. Poetry versus the prose of most of Torah, it dances down the page, three- and four-word phrases creating a choppy surface like ocean waves. It’s even chanted to a special tune, a sweet melody used for no other text.

What most fascinates me isn’t the song itself, though, but another song, a mere scrap of which appears in the Torah. Following the 18-verse song of Moses, Miriam picks up her timbrel, leads the women in dance, and sings her own song. But all of this happens in just two verses, and can that really be the whole story?

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Author Blog: The Beauty of Broken English

By Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg’s most recent book, “The Tin Horse,” is now available. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I thought I had entered completely into the world of my novel: Boyle Heights in the 1920s and ’30s, when the Los Angeles neighborhood was home to some 50,000 Jews and a center for Jewish life. Then I started getting questions from Tony.

Tony is Tony Hudz, the charming man who directed the audiobook of “The Tin Horse.” And he needed to know how to pronounce every word — for instance, should Danny Berlov’s last name be Bear-lov or Bear-lohf? My first response was, “Neither;” my mental voice had always said Ber-lov. But Danny is a new immigrant when he enters the story in 1926. And Tony’s query made me realize I was hearing Danny’s last name as it would have evolved a generation later, when its Yiddish inflections had been absorbed into English.

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