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Jonathan Franzen And Lori Moore Visit A Jewish Holy Site

Went to 92Y this Monday — it was my first visit to what Jon Stewart called “the third holiest site in the Jewish Religion,” after the Wailing Wall and Zabar’s. I had been warned that it was a dark place, an alternate universe comprised of old Upper East Side Jews ravenous for their next nosh of culture. The agenda that night, an installment of the 2010 Reading Series with authors Lori Moore and Jonathan Franzen, wasn’t even remotely Jewish, but I was fully prepared for the equivalent of a matinee concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

As I approached the holy landmark, I was pleasantly surprised to not have been the lone kid in the pool during JCC senior swim. While hundreds of patrons of all ages, sizes, and creeds swarmed the building, they all somehow managed to embody the cultured Jewish persona imposed upon them by their surroundings.

The Kaufmann Concert Hall is a beautiful venue, one that would appeal to any Jew growing up with grandparents with an affinity for decorating with fine wood. The impressive sound system hovered above an audience sitting as one sea of Jewish literati. Never before had I owned that as my identity, but like the Indonesian man by the aisle and the non-Jewish authors on the stage, we had been swept into the kibbutz of the YM-YWHA.

Looking around as editors Victoria Wilson and Jonathan Galassi introduced Moore and Franzen over the course of the evening, the audience seemed moved, devouring the writers’ non sequitors, innuendos, and profundities.

Franzen’s observations of the reproachful mother paired with his nasal disposition helped him seem like one of the crowd, while Lori Moore was the darling of the evening, revving up the bookish audience with such semantic wanderings of the mind as, “I would imagine things like ergonomic meant thereforishness.” Franzen’s handling of the typically New York question from the audience, “Why are Midwesterners so funny,” satisfied them with a diasporic observation: “There are a lot of humorless Midwesterners…people who leave the Midwest behind have developed some coping skills, such as flight. So maybe people who can master one coping skill can master others, like humor.” Explosions of laughter from the balcony below EINSTEIN and the aisles by BEETHOVEN outed the displaced Midwesterners, who, like me, had made their pilgrimage and worked their way seamlessly into the fabric of sophisticated New York Jewry that evening.

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