Warm and 'Utterly Jewish,' Nora Ephron Left Us Way Too Soon

Appreciation

Friend and Colleague: Nora Ephron could make everything seem easy, from moving across town to writing a screenplay.
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Friend and Colleague: Nora Ephron could make everything seem easy, from moving across town to writing a screenplay.

By Abigail Pogrebin

Published June 26, 2012, issue of July 06, 2012.
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When my husband and I decided to move from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, several friends and family members made me feel like a traitor.

Nora Ephron, however, sent me a list of restaurants, hair salons, nail salons, and dry cleaners. She said I was making the best move of my life. She’d made the same transition and never looked back.

When I finally crossed the great divide of Central Park last September, she took me to lunch at Danny Meyer’s “Untitled” restaurant in the Whitney Museum and instructed me to order the kale salad and the grits. (Both delicious.) She told me her favorite Italian restaurant (Sistina), Chinese restaurant (Pig Heaven), her dentist (Michael Bruno), and where to get my eyebrows waxed (not telling). We talked about the movies she was working on, which studio executive was pissing her off, why she hadn’t had a serious screenplay made since “Silkwood.”

We talked about the challenges of raising children, the strangeness of people living out loud on Facebook, the joys of dessert at lunchtime.

I am stunned that she’s gone.

I knew Nora Ephron originally because she knew my mother, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, from back in the 1970s — they were not close friends but ran in similar worlds of journalism, liberal politics, and Upper West Side Jews.

I spent my first extended time with Nora one-on-one in 2003 when I interviewed her for my first book, “Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish,” for which I interviewed 62 prominent American Jews about their Jewish identity, or lack of it.

Nora mainly had a lack of it. She said she thought of herself “as a Jew, but not Jewish.” She wasn’t in denial about her Jewish identity, just indifferent to it: “At this point, it doesn’t make the Top 5 of what I would say about myself. And it probably never did.” She bristled at being pegged as a Jewish director, just as she cringed at being described as a “woman director:” “It seems like a narrow way of looking at what I do.”

When we sat together for coffee at that interview, she was dressed in her trademark favorite color, black — black sweater, black scarf, black pants, with a neat strand of pearls and gold bangle bracelets.

I’d brought her a box of chocolates as a thank-you gesture and she opened them immediately at the table. “Don’t you want one?” She offered. I demurred.


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