Remembering the ‘Thunder Years’

By Gabriel Sanders

Published May 22, 2008, issue of May 30, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Author Stephanie Klein spent five of her teenage summers at what she bluntly calls “Fat Camp.” In her new memoir, “Moose” (HarperCollins), a childhood nickname, Klein compresses those summers into a single, lightly fictionalized one. Though she changed a few identifying details, she assures the reader early on that she’s no James Frey. “Sadly enough,” she writes, “everything in this book actually happened.” On the eve of book’s release, the Forward’s Gabriel Sanders caught up with Klein to talk about her mother, Jewish basements and the joy that can come from eating a few slices of contraband challah.

Gabriel Sanders: Your book takes place at the fictional Camp Yanisin. At first I thought “yanisin” was maybe a Hebrew word, but after a little Googling I learned that it’s Navajo for “ashamed.” I noticed, though, in the publicity material that came with your book, that one of the camps you attended was called Camp Shane. Is that Shane as in the Yiddish song “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn” (“To Me, You Are Beautiful”)?

Stephanie Klein: They worked us really hard at that camp — more than at any of the others. They couldn’t punish you with exercise, but they’d give you what they’d call “Early To Rise,” where you’d spend the early morning walking around with the camp’s owner. They saw pretty as equaling being thin. Was the name a play on the Yiddish? I don’t know, but I like it.

G.S.: You begin the book not at camp but as an 8-year-old who is made to go to group counseling sessions in a nutritionist’s basement in Long Island, New York. I couldn’t help but see that basement as somehow being a “Jewish” space.

S.K.: It was. It was a bunch of Jewish kids — okay, so there was one Asian girl — but it was mostly Jewish girls sent by mothers worried that their kids were getting too fat.

G.S.: One of the key figures in the book is your mother, who is not Jewish. You write very poignantly about how it was through food that she would try — unsuccessfully — to win her Jewish mother-in-law’s respect and affection. It almost seems as though thinness became important for her because her need to be accepted went unmet.

S.K.: She didn’t have a strong sense of self to begin with, and then she came into a family where she was not exactly welcome. What she took from the way my grandparents handled her was that she was not loved as she was, and so she clung to what she knew she could use to make herself into someone else.

G.S.: You write about all the food your mother would prepare for Jewish holidays, but you also talk about how that food was made off-limits to you. Did that color your approach to Jewish holidays?

S.K.: In some ways, every holiday was Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah, I was supposed to pretend to dip my apple in honey.

G.S.: What’s your attitude toward Jewish holidays today?

S.K.: I celebrate them with gusto. I recently moved to Austin, Texas, and I realize that I love being Jewish when there aren’t that many Jews around. The same was true at fat camp. At one of the ones I went to, where there weren’t many Jews, they would bus us — all four of us — to the synagogue one town over. It made me feel special. It was also a great excuse to eat some challah bread and get a few extra calories.

To watch Stephanie Klein discuss Jewish themes in her book, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_mm9ESlvn8.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.