The ProsenPeople

A Purge to Preserve the Myth of Spotless Escape

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 | Permalink
Excerpted from Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind by Sarah Wildman.

It was some years after his death when my grandmother casually told me that she had destroyed my grandfather’s personal correspondence. We were setting the table for dinner. “They sat in a filing cabinet for sixty-something years,” she said. “I decided that was long enough.” We fought about it. “They are all in German,” she said quietly, derisively. But though I hissed petulantly, “It’s not a dead language,” really, what was the point? There was no undoing.

“I saved the important things,” she said, slyly. “Like our love letters.” Emphasis on our. What was destroyed? I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Letters from Shanghai. People you’ve never met. People who are gone.”

Shanghai? People who are gone? It was tantalizing, infuriating. And over time it became clear that the point of her purge was, consciously or not, to preserve the myth of the spotless escape; and, in part, a carefully curated history.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

A few years after our argument, my grandmother was not well. She sat in my grandfather’s old home office, her movements manipulated by some terrible sort of Parkinson’s-like disease, as I rooted around in cabinets asking questions about random artifacts. She had

always been so meticulous, in her appearance, in her demeanor; the last few years of her life were a blow to that—though there were some constants. She still perfumed herself with Emeraude, a scent that had remained unchanged—like her—since the 1920s; still wore her deep

pink and coral lipsticks, still pushed herself into punishing girdles and stockings and heels, her Achilles tendons shortened by decades of propping on wedges. And she hadn’t changed the office, or the house, at all since his death, as though she—as though we—believed my grandfather would walk back in at any moment, sit down at his enormous walnut desk, and slice through the mail of the day with the long, sharp letter opener he kept for just that purpose. His marble busts, of Schiller and Goethe, of Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, and Theodor Herzl still sat in one windowsill; on the other side of the room, a black marble Apollo flexed his muscles into eternity. Volumes of literature in German lined the shelves. The deep

teal blue and green armchair where he pierced my ears with a needle—at the age of five—was still placed exactly where it always sat, beneath a copper flying-saucer-like pendant light. A midcentury Danish daybed, dressed in green and blue wool, hugged the wall; I occasionally slept on it when I would come to visit.

That afternoon, in the cabinets beneath the bay windows where Goethe sat, staring, I came across an old album, the kind with black pages and photo corners cradling black-and-white snapshots with scalloped edges. The photographs ranged from formal—stiff family portraits from the 1910s to the 1930s—to informal—crowds of laughing European teens and twentysomethings in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

There was countryside and friends, attractive girls in old- fashioned swimming costumes, and a cheerful, muscular, incomprehensibly young version of the man I’d known as my grandfather, surrounded in one photo by a dozen girls, the literal focal point, the center of attention.

Among these images were dozens of tiny photos of a young woman. “Your Valy” was written on the back of each one, in a feminine hand I didn’t recognize. Here she was, laughing, rolling in the grass in Vienna’s Augarten—next to my grandfather. Here she was mugging, posed, hands on hips. Another showed the two of them lying on a bed, smiling coyly; it was shot into a mirror. There were photos of him and her in bathing suits, the two of them snuggled up close, laughing. They appeared, in the parlance of teenagers, to be more than friends.

How had I never seen this album before, I wondered, turning the pages, trying not to let the paper crumble. This was his life, I realized, before any of us, before, even, my grandmother. And it was a life so—was there any other word for it?—carefree. They look so happy, so young, so fresh in the images dated 1932, 1934, 1935. This was his European life, the life—the people, the experiences—he had left behind.

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Published by arrangement with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright ©2015 by Sarah Wildman.

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Don't Rain on My Parade

Monday, October 12, 2015 | Permalink

Dina Gold is the author of Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin, a personal account of her restitution claim on a building built and owned by her great grandfather. She will be blogging here all week as a Visiting Scribe for The ProsenPeople.

“Will the law that applied in your family’s case for restitution in former East Berlin equally apply to the Palestinians, whose homes have been stolen by Israel?”

The opening question at my very first book presentation to a packed out, standing room only, event hosted by Washington DC’s premier bookstore was so brazen, so angry, so out of place. I was at an author event talking about my new book, in which I describe tracking down a building stolen by the Nazis from my family in 1937 Berlin and how I launched a bid to reclaim it after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. And now I was in an ambush.

I paused. How to assuage the searing fury? I am not a legal expert. I am a journalist. I wrote about my experiences and my family history. I am in no position to make statements on international property law.

But the questioner was having none of it. As other members of the audience lined up behind her at the microphone, all wanting to ask me a question, she came back at me. Standing her ground, she launched into a veritable tirade of pronouncements, revealing more about herself than she realized. This was all about her. She was staking her claim as a seeker of justice and she wanted attention. She was a heroine in her own eyes, and she sought accolades for her bravery. And her whole demeanor suggested she saw me as her enemy.

At the time it was not an appropriate moment to engage in this discussion, but I have my own private thoughts about the issue this woman raised: What about exiled Cuban-Americans, and their descendants, whose properties were stolen by the Communists after Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959? These lost assets amount to a reported $100 billion at today’s values, none of which have been restituted. How about the more than 800,000 Jews from Arab countries who hail from all over the Middle East and North Africa—including Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco—who had lived in these lands for over 2,500 years and yet left in fear of their lives or were kicked out? No compensation or restitution for them, either. And while we are at it, what about the failure to sort out property claims of those refugees who lost everything from places as far afield as Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Iraq and South Africa? Or the Uighers who have had their properties confiscated by the Chinese? And the refugees fleeing Syria today who are leaving everything behind? I could go on and on. So many people, so much property, such injustice around the globe—what will happen to all these people’s assets?

But there are plenty outstanding legal minds more qualified than I to discuss restitution claims and cases. If someone is genuinely concerned about the property rights of Palestinians, rather than grandstanding at a book event, why not address their questions to an appropriately qualified person? I can guarantee that someone trained in international law will be far more erudite on the subject than an author targeted on the subject simply because they are Jewish.

Dina Gold is a former BBC investigative journalist and television producer. She is on the board of the DC JCC and currently serves as co-chair of the Washington Jewish Film Festival. She is a senior editor at Moment magazine.

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New Jewish Book Council Reviews October 8, 2015

Friday, October 09, 2015 | Permalink

This week's new reviews at the Jewish Book Council:

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The Menschlich Schmuck

Friday, October 09, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Julian Voloj wrote about the story behind Ghetto Brother and the continuing legacy of Jews in comics. He is blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

In a recent interview, I was recently asked how I would define Ghetto Brother. My answer was “a fictionalized biographic comic.”

Biographical comics are increasingly popular, and Harvey Peckar mastered this genre with his American Splendor series, which debuted in 1976. Seth Kushner’s Schmuck, a new graphic novel anthology, stands in this tradition.

Originally a web series on TripCity, Schmuck is the “semi autobio comix neurotic” story of Kusher’s alter ego Adam Kessler, “a pop-culture obsessed photographer torn between pleasing Mom by finding a nice Jewish girl, and figuring out what he really wants.”

The Yiddish word “schmuck” refers to an obnoxious person, but everyone who ever met Kushner will attest that he was anything but. I personally first encountered this very talented artist when he shot the Beastie Boys for Heeb. Known primarily as a portrait photographer, he published The Brooklynites, an homage to his home borough, in 2007. Kushner’s passion was comics, and a year later, he started a series of portraits of cartoonists, later called Graphic NYC (with writer Christopher Irving) and published in 2012 as Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics.

I met Kusher around that time when writing about the book for the Swiss weekly tachles, for which I also wrote about Benjamin Melendez. We stayed in touch and, both of us being photographers with a passion for comics, showed mutual appreciation for each other’s work. My personal favorite was Culture Pop, a series combining both Kushner’s passions with fumetti (photo-comics).

Kushner started Schmuck in 2012, commissioning different artists to illustrate funny little “schmuck” episodes. The series ends— spoiler alert—with Kessler finding his bashert, or soul mate—in real life, his wife Terra. (The two had a son, Jackson.)

In 2014, Kushner launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for the graphic novel, but unfortunately was shortly afterwards diagnosed with cancer. Kushner documented his battle with leukemia on social media, and his story was ready for a happy ending when he was released from the hospital nearly a year later. In May, shortly after Ghetto Brother was released, we were chatting about the book and making plans to meet. A week later, sadly, Kushner passed away.

Seth Kushner was a brilliant photographer and writer, and a real mensch.

Born in Germany to Colombian parents, Julian Voloj is used to living in between worlds. In his work, the grandson of Shoah survivors explores questions of Jewish identity and heritage.

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A Sacred Space

Thursday, October 08, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Michael Golding wrote about the fears and splendor of returning to Israel 27 years after his last visit. With the publication of his latest novel, A Poet of the Invisible World, he will be blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, from the age of eight until the age of thirteen, I was fetched after school and driven to “KI”—Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Northeast Philadelphia—to attend Hebrew school. Despite my efforts, the language never took. The primer was dull, and the strange hieroglyphics on the page failed to resolve themselves into meaning. When class let out early, however, I would slip into the dark, empty sanctuary and wait there until my mother arrived to take me home. I liked KI. The Bible stories we were told on Sunday mornings were stirring. The sermons of Rabbi Korn had the power to inspire. But the moments I liked best were the ones I spent alone—in the shadows—in silence—with God.

On Friday nights, before the Shabbat service began, the sanctuary was ablaze with life. People filled the pews, chatting and laughing, and when the service began, the warm voice of the rabbi filled the air. The service itself was quite solemn. But though there were countless references to “the Lord,” He always remained a concept. When preparations for my bar mitzvah began, I felt awed to stand at the pulpit and recite my Haftorah speech. But Rabbi Korn’s Old Testament-like bearing beside me was too strong to make room for God. Only when the noise and the forms and the spectacle fell away and I was alone in the sanctuary was I able to feel the presence of something higher.

I went off to college. I studied theater and literature. And “God” only slipped further away. When I moved to New York, however, and the pulsing streets threatened to drive me mad, I took refuge in the city’s great churches: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Thomas’, St. John the Divine. As I sat in the pews of these hallowed places, I felt the same sense of wonder I’d felt as a child. And when I traveled abroad—to Europe—to Egypt—to India—I felt the same thing when I entered the chapels and the temples and the shrines.

Decades later, when I began to write a novel about a boy who becomes a Sufi, I wondered if I could penetrate Islam deeply enough to portray it truthfully. But what I learned on those Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at KI was that God is not the rituals or the objects or even the holy books of any specific faith. God is the presence they point to and evoke. So the time I spent alone in the sanctuary as a child was preparation for Nouri’s discovery of Allah in the mosque. A sacred space is a sacred space, regardless of the faith that forged it into being.

Michael Golding was born in Philadelphia and educated at Duke, Oxford, and the University of California at Irvine. He is the author of Simple Prayers, Benjamin's Gift, a translation of Alessandro Baricco’s stage play Novecento, and the screenplay adaptation of the best-selling novel Silk. His new novel, A Poet of the Invisible World, is out from Picador.

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No Fear on Israeli Soil

Wednesday, October 07, 2015 | Permalink

Michael Golding is the author of the novels Simple Prayers, Benjamin’s Gift, and A Poet of the Invisible World, now out from Picador. He will be blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

In the spring of 2014, I was invited to teach two days of master classes in Beit Zayit, a moshav on the western edge of the Jerusalem Forest. I’d been to Israel in 1987, and was deeply moved by the experience. But while I was happy at the thought of going back, I also experienced a trace of fear. Over the years, the conflict in the region had only grown. The news brought stories of car bombings, bus bombings, mortar shelling, civilian stabbings. There was even a report, the year before, that swarms of locusts had crossed the border from Egypt—making it seem as if the tiny country had returned to biblical times. As the date of my departure drew near, I joked to friends that it was a suicide mission. But in truth, I began to wonder if I was crazy to go off to a land besieged by such random acts of terror.

When I arrived in Tel Aviv, that early June morning, there was a fragrance in the air that took me back to the youthful days of my first visit. And as I strolled the beach—and dined at the port—and roamed the ancient streets of Jerusalem—I felt as if I’d never left.

How could I have forgotten the splendor of the place?

How could I have stayed away for twenty-seven years?

Over the next two weeks, my head tried to remind me that Israel was a dangerous land. But my heart only experienced the joy of being in a place where the people were kind and the food was good and the air was sweet. My fears dissolved. I truly felt I was in “The Promised Land.”

A few days after my return, while I was in in New York to see my editor, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped at a bus stop in the West Bank and subsequently killed. Ten days later, an attack in the Golan Heights killed another Israeli teenager. The war that erupted between Israel and Palestine lasted for seven weeks. And the airstrikes and ground fighting resulted in the death of over two thousand people.

There are voices in my head that say, “Don’t go back; it’s too charged; too risky.” But I’ve been invited to teach again next year, and I’ve already booked my tickets. Because I know that whatever fear I may feel before going will dissipate once I’m there. Israel calls. And, crazy or not, I can’t wait to return.

Michael Golding was born in Philadelphia and educated at Duke, Oxford, and the University of California at Irvine. He is the author of Simple Prayers, Benjamin's Gift, a translation of Alessandro Baricco’s stage play Novecento, and the screenplay adaptation of the best-selling novel Silk. His new novel, A Poet of the Invisible World, is out from Picador.

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Comic Books Are More Than Superheroes

Wednesday, October 07, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Julian Voloj shared the story behind Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker, his nonfiction graphic novel about the 1971 Hoe Avenue peace meeting brokered by the Ghetto Brothers’ president and Nuyorican crypto-Jew Benji Melendez. He will blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

My graphic novel Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker is many things. It’s a story about gangs in New York; a tale of the Bronx’ economic decline; a narrative of the early days of hip hop—but most of all, it’s a coming-of-age story with a Jewish twist.

As is well documented, the American comic book industry was full of Jewish pioneers. One might argue that only after Superman took off, the industry as we know it today was created.

Superman was, of course, the brainchild of two nice Jewish kids from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who quickly learned how unfriendly the industry can be—the topic of my next graphic novel to be published in 2016. (Read a preview here.)

Superman, the Samson from Krypton, had his debut in 1938, the same year a nationwide pogrom in Germany called Kristallnacht made clear that Hitler’s hatred was not sheer rhetoric. The son of Kal-El stayed mostly out of politics, but prior to the United States’s entry into the war, Siegel and Shuster created one very cool mini-comic How Superman Would End The War, published in Look Magazine in 1940.

Probably the most iconic comic book attack on Hitler’s evil empire was the debut of Captain America, the patriotic avenger was created by another dynamic duo, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, in 1941. Kirby, arguably the most influential American comic book creator of the twentieth century, grew up on New York’s Lower East Side and changed his name from Jacob Kurtzberg.

After World War II, superheroes were in decline, and so was the comic book industry. Despite many Jewish creators, Jewish topics were rarely explored in comics. In 1955, EC Comics’s Impact ran an eight-page comic story by Bernard Krigstein called Master Race. The protagonist of the story was a former death camp commander who eluded justice until he was spotted on the subway by a Holocaust survivor. It’s a remarkable story, created less than a decade after the Shoah during a time when the topic was rarely discussed in popular media.

Decades later, Art Spiegelman started to publish Maus, which became the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer. Spiegelman gave the medium the credibility to explore serious topics.

Since then, many Jewish artists have used the medium for a variety of Jewish topics from the relationship to Israel (Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less) to a comic book version of the The Book of Esther.

Comic books today are much more than just superheroes.

Born in Germany to Colombian parents, Julian Voloj is used to living in between worlds. In his work, the grandson of Shoah survivors explores questions of Jewish identity and heritage.

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Discovering the Nuyorican Marrano Ghetto Brother Benji Melendez

Monday, October 05, 2015 | Permalink

Julian Voloj is the author of Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker, a nonfiction graphic novel about the 1971 Hoe Avenue peace meeting brokered by the Ghetto Brothers’ president and Nuyorican crypto-Jew Benji Melendez. He will be blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

In 2010, while working on a photo series on Jewish diversity, I read about Benjamin Melendez; a month later, I revisited the South Bronx with the former gang leader, listening to his stories, trying to figure out how to best portray him. My portrait of a man who found his inner peace by reclaiming his Jewish heritage was part of my ten-year retrospective at the German Consulate in New York.

My encounter with Melendez was not my first trip to the Bronx. In 2004 – 2005, while working on my first New York solo exhibition, Forgotten Heritage, I traveled the borough extensively, retracing and documenting former Jewish sites.

In the 1930s, around half the borough’s population was Jewish, but by the time the Melendez family moved to the area, most of them had already left to the suburbs or others parts of the city. Listening to Benjamin Melendez, I felt there was a larger story to be told.

Initially I was thinking of an oral history project, combining portraits with interviews, but when discussing my ideas with my friend Claudia Ahlering, we decided to recreate the 1970s Bronx in form of a graphic novel. We were fortunate to have the archive of Rita Fecher as source material. In the 1960s, the daughter of a rabbi and ex-wife of another had left New Jersey for the Greenwich Village, and from there made her way to the South Bronx, where she worked as a public school teacher. With her Super 8 camera, Fecher documented the borough’s tough kids—including Melendez—whom she saw as victims of a failed social policy.

Her tapes were unused for decades until Henry Chalfant, a photographer and filmmaker probably best known for his 1983 graffiti documentary Style Wars, convinced Fecher to revisit the project. Together, they found some of her former students and interviewed them about their post-gang lives. The documentary Flyin’ Cut Sleeves was completed in 1993, and in it are also scenes of Melendez at the Intervale Jewish Center talking about reclaiming his roots. The Center was also subject of a documentary The Miracle of Intervale Avenue, another great resource in putting together the script for Ghetto Brother.

Yes, Ghetto Brother is primarily a story of gangs in New York, but at the same time, it is also a piece of American Jewish history worth exploring.

Born in Germany to Colombian parents, Julian Voloj is used to living in between worlds. In his work, the grandson of Shoah survivors explores questions of Jewish identity and heritage.

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Interview: Sigal Samuel

Sunday, October 04, 2015 | Permalink

by Elie Lichtschein

Sigal Samuel is the author of the debut novel The Mystics of Mile End, published this October by William Morrow.

Elie Lichtschein: The Mystics of Mile End is written from four distinct perspectives. How did you go about channeling these different voices? Were there any difficulties you faced in doing so?

Sigal Samuel: When I decided to write from the perspectives of a little boy, a middle-aged professor, a female college student, and an old man, I thought the hardest part would be accessing an authentic voice for each, but the trickier thing was actually staying “in the zone” of any one voice long enough to finish writing that character’s section. For a while, I actually had to give up reading fiction that was written in a vastly different voice from the one I was trying to create.

EL: A recurring theme in this book is that of the outsider standing on the fringes of a close-knit community. David, Samara, and Mr. Katz each manifest this at times. Which is a neat embodiment of the Kabbalah's role in traditional Jewish study—it's not meant to be examined until one is forty years of age, and even then only with a special tutor. Do you find that the study of Kabbalah is essential for a Jew's intellectual development, or is it more supplementary in nature?

SS: I think it depends on the person. For many Jews, Kabbalah is unnecessary at best and heretical at worst. For me, it’s the most interesting (and moving, and radical, and literary!) thing that Judaism has to offer.

EL: What first inspired your interest in the mystical side of Judaism? Were you raised with it or did it develop later?

SS: My father was a professor of Jewish mysticism, so I was exposed to Kabbalistic texts and ideas from a young age. Once, when I was maybe eight years old, I sat in on one of his university lectures. Looking up from the flashing lights of my Gameboy, I saw that he was using a yoyo to illustrate the movement of the mystic’s soul as it ascends and descends on the path toward God. That was it—I was hooked.

EL: What other works informed your writing of this book? Which authors—classic or contemporary—were most influential while you worked on The Mystics of Mile End?

SS: I was inspired by Jewish works ranging from the ancient (Torah, Talmud) to the medieval (Zohar) to the modern (S.Y. Agnon) to the postmodern (Myla Goldberg, Nicole Krauss). The magical realist element in my fiction owes itself to contemporary Jewish writers (Etgar Keret, Jonathan Safran Foer) as well as South American writers (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges). While writing Mystics, I kept returning to my all-time favorite novel, Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov—the character of Alyosha Karamazov being a loose inspiration for Lev.

EL: I'm curious about your process in writing the book. Did you know from the outset that there would be four distinct voices, or was that a decision that came about once you had already begun writing?

SS: Originally, I tried writing the whole story from Samara’s perspective. But it felt claustrophobic to stay in the head of one increasingly insane narrator for 300 pages. So I tried writing it in four sections, with the final section written entirely from the perspective of the old neighbor, Mr. Glassman. But many readers told me that they wanted to return to Lev’s voice at the end of the book, since they’d bonded with him so strongly at the beginning. So I rewrote that last section from the point of view of the neighborhood, swiveling between the perspectives of a few residents (including Lev), and was happy with the result. I was surprised to find that the book could take so many different forms—it was almost infinitely malleable.

EL: You have a wonderful grasp on the lonely hope that is a major component to childhood—I found Lev's constant attempts to set up his widowed father especially poignant. What are some of the difficulties in writing about childhood? Do you find it easier in your writing to grab the reigns of a twelve year old's mind or that of an adult?

SS: I find it easier to inhabit an adult’s mind. Writing in a kid’s voice is tough because you have to remember that all kids, even precocious ones like Lev, are self-centered—they think the whole world revolves around them. I read Lev’s whole section out loud to myself to make sure every phrase sounded like something he would really say. Living in a child’s mind is also rewarding, though: it forces you to reconnect with your childhood self, to remember that experience in all its loneliness and lushness and confusion and awe.

EL: What do you hope readers will take away from The Mystics of Mile End?

SS: I think that some of us are so hungry for meaning that we get obsessed with certain ideas—often seductive religious or mystical ideas—and we forget that pursuing this obsession comes at a cost to the people around us. Without making any moral judgment about this, I wanted readers to consider what’s the value of devoting yourself to some notion of holiness if it means leaving behind those who love you most?

EL: What can readers expect from you next?

SS: I’m interested in writing about India these days. After I finished writing Mystics, I found out that my own family has a mystical connection—my great-great-grandfather was a revered Kabbalist in Bombay. I traveled there to hunt down his forgotten secret society and came back with a longform article for the Forward, “Searching for My Indian Jewish Family, from Kabbalah to Bollywood.” That trip left me with such powerful impressions — I wouldn’t be surprised if they find their way into my fiction.

EL: What are you reading now?

SS: I’m reading Sarah Wildman’s amazing memoir, Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind. On the surface, it’s a Holocaust story rooted in Vienna, but it’s also a story about growing obsessed with a deeply unreliable family mythology.

Elie Lichtschein is a writer and musician based in New York. He is currently pursuing an MFA degree in Creative Writing from the New School, where he is completing a mysti-fantasy Middle Grade adventure novel.

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5 Jewish (Women) Authors Who Inspire Me

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Emily Liebert wrote about how her fascination with secrets led to her career in fiction. With the publication of her latest novel, The Secrets We Keep, she is guest blogging as this week’s Visiting Scribe on The ProsenPeople.

Jennifer Weiner

She’s a number one New York Times bestselling author. She’s the author of twelve novels. She throws down with Jonathan Franzen. And she live tweets The Bachelor. What’s not to love? I’ve long been a fan of Jennifer’s—her sardonic wit, her flawed yet authentic characters, and her writing style, which is bold, yet relatable. But what I admire most about Jennifer is her confidence. She refuses to be bullied and that’s a message worth spreading.

Geralyn Lucas

When I first met Geralyn she was cancer-free. I worked as an intern for her at 20/20 on ABC the summer she was diagnosed. To date, I have never seen someone fight cancer with such eternal optimism and such an open heart. It’s with this same spirit that she wrote her first book, Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, which was not only poignant and powerful, but funny at the same time. That’s Geralyn. Most recently, she wrote her second book Then Came Life, a tribute to survivors of all kinds. Geralyn is also a wife, mother, an award-winning producer, and a women’s health advocate. If that’s not inspiring, I’m not sure what is.

Laura Dave

A critically acclaimed novelist who wrote a book about wine country? Now that’s my kind of girl! I was recently introduced to Laura’s novels through a mutual friend and was instantly hooked. Laura has a unique talent for developing both her characters and her story so that you’re drawn in from the first page. She also leaves you desperate for more once you’ve finished. Not to mention that her work has been published in fifteen countries and three of her four books have been optioned for the big screen.

Elyssa Friedland

This is one smart lady. A graduate of Yale undergrad, Elyssa worked as a lawyer after graduating from Columbia Law School. She also wrote for some major magazines before penning her debut book Love and Miss Communication which asks readers to imagine life without the Internet. And without social media. She had me there. But once I found out she loves, French fries, ice cream, pizza, wine, and Scrabble, I thought perhaps I’d stumbled upon my soul mate.

Susan Jane Gilman

I hate doing readings. For one, I’m more of an off-the-cuff kind of gal. But beyond that, I feel like it’s always boring for my audience. Not so with Susan. I attended a reading of hers shortly after she published The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street and was mesmerized. It was nothing short of brilliant, as is her writing. I immediately bought all of her other books and devoured them. And I’d strongly recommend you do the same!

Emily Liebert is the bestselling author of You Knew Me When, When We Fall, Facebook Fairytales, and Those Secrets We Keep, published Summer 2015.

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