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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She took one. “I diet constantly,” she declared drily.

She remembered me and my twin sister from our childhood: “Which one of you almost married the gentile?” she asked me, not wasting a minute.

That relationship of mine was over a decade old.

“You remember that?” I asked her, embarrassed. She just smiled knowingly, with a look that said, I have eyes all over this town.

It didn’t surprise me that Nora was all-knowing. Her friendships seemed to reach everywhere — from Hollywood to Broadway to politics to the literary world. I envied her legendary dinner parties from afar, cozy affairs for which she’d prepare a feast all by herself.

She grew up in Beverly Hills with colorful parents and a Christmas tree. She went to school on the Jewish holidays because her mother said, “What are you going to do if you stay home?”

She told me the most interesting moment for her as a Jew was when she went to Wellesley College in 1958 because the school had a quota on Jews. After she was admitted, she received a housing form on which she was supposed to put her religious preference.

“I thought that leaving it blank was sort of the right response,” she told me. “And I got a letter back saying I wouldn’t be given a room assignment till I told them my religious preference.

So I wrote them a letter saying that I was an atheist but I had been born a Jew, and sent it off. And then I went off to Wellesley and it was absolutely clear to a blind person that the housing department worked in the following way: Catholic girls roomed with Catholic girls, Jewish girls were put with Jewish girls and Protestant girls with Protestant girls. When I joined the school newspaper, we exposed this, by the way. But I suddenly realized that whether I thought of myself as a Jew or not, other people thought of me as a Jew, and I had to come to terms with what that was.”

She did recall one major advantage of being Jewish at Wellesley: “There were so many Jewish guys at Harvard and Harvard Law School, and a lot of them were under strict orders to date Jewish girls. The Jewish girls at Wellesley and Radcliffe had, I think, a much more active social life than anyone.”

She was relieved her two boys didn’t request bar mitzvahs. “First of all, because of my feelings about religion, and second of all, because they’re so expensive, and third of all, because nothing is more awful than a divorced bar mitzvah.” (She was divorced from their father, Carl Bernstein, the second of her three husbands.)


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