The ProsenPeople

The ProsenPshat: Week of January 19th

Friday, January 23, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

The ProsenPshat is a weekly recap of highlights from each week’s online content on www.jewishbookcouncil.org. Worried you might have missed something this week? Be sure to check our featured reviews page and scroll through The ProsenPeople blog!

Hot on the heels of the 2014 National Jewish Book Awards announcement, this week the Jewish Book Council released the names and titles of the five finalists for the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. Congratulations to Molly, Yelena, Boris, Kenneth, and Ayelet!

The Sami Rohr Prize alternates year to year between fiction and nonfiction. Roger Cohen, a columnist for The New York Times, would approve: his own method requires a complete separation between journalism and his writing as a novelist. In his Visiting Scribe guest blog this week, Cohen described the difficulties of trying to report and write at the same time:

There’s a book-writing side to my mind and a journalist’s side. I tried for a while to write one column a week and push forward with The Girl from Human Street in my spare time. This set-up did not work well. I needed to leave that windmill behind, completely. Having the blades coming at me more slowly still locked me in the columnist’s mindset. Only when I went on leave for some months did the book begin to take form.

A column, in general, relies on pithiness, brevity, synthesis. There is little room for narrative or character development. Its form could not be at a greater remove from a book. I like both forms but cannot flit from one to the other.

Cohen also wrote about the recent events in Paris, reflecting on the historical cycle of French antisemitism and his role as a Zionist, Jewish journalist 120 years after Theodor Herzl reported on the Dreyfus Affair.

Life’s patterns, the personal and the political, how one contains the other, how time is not linear but may eddy in circles: these have been and remain the themes that interest me most.

Laura Silver also guest blogged on The ProsenPeople this week, focusing on her area of expertise: the knish. Happily for the hungry, she shared a map of the best knish places in metropolitan New York.

Between Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and all the Jewish buzz around Ava DuVernay’s timely film Selma, this week seemed like an appropriate time to revisit the Jewish Book Council’s reading list on Justice, Civil Rights, and Race Relations in America. And, with the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade several days later, we also took another literary look at Jewish Feminist Perspectives, with a section of recommended reads curated by JOFA—the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

This week we published new reviews of a biography of the Talumd; a novel based on the true story of a Dutch pharmacuedical company; the true murder mystery of Avraham “Yair” Stern’s demise; an anthology of contemporary Jewish American poetry; an examination of Leonard Bernstein’s life and music; and an update on the Jews of Latin America. Intrigued? You can find this week’s reviews here.

Don't forget to tune in for the National Jewish Book Club online talk with Alyson Richman, author of The Lost Wife and The Garden of Letters, next week on Tuesday, January 27!

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Book Cover of the Week: A Replacement Life, in Paperback

Friday, January 23, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

JBC Network author and National Jewish Book Award finalist Boris Fishman recently announced the release of a paperback edition of his acclaimed debut novel, A Replacement Life. HarperCollins decided to go with drastically different design for the new book cover:

If you find Boris's writing as intriguing as we do, you should definitely hear him speak about his process in crafting and publishing a book—and about his identity as a Jewish Russian author. And we have the perfect opportunity to do so: come here Boris in conversation with Yelena Akhtiorskaya, author of Panic in a Suitcase, and Gal Beckerman, winner of the 2012 Samir Rohr Prize for When They Come for Us We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry, on the literary Russian Jewish American experience as part of Unpacking the Book, a new Jewish Book Council author discussion series at the Jewish Museum, moderated by Wall Street Journal associate books editor Bari Weiss. Not to be missed!

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New Jewish Book Council Reviews

Friday, January 23, 2015 | Permalink

This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:

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A Guide for the Perplexed Knish-o-phile

Thursday, January 22, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Laura Silver wrote about the knish as an instrument of social justice. She is the author of the book Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food and has been blogging here this week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Dumplings and samosas and empanadas may have become the prominent street foods of modern-day New York, but they have not completely eclipsed the pastry beloved by Sholom Aleichem and Isaac Baschevis Singer, Molly Picon and Joan Rivers.

Enough with the complaining. You can find a good knish, you just have to know where to look. Sure, the knish will never be exactly as it was in 1950, 1960 or even 1975. It’s rare — but not impossible — to find a person selling knishes on the Coney Island boardwalk or the sands of Brighton Beach. In the last few years I’ve received multiple (and unrelated) reports of a man who has revived the “Hot Knishes” cry of years past and a woman who sells homemade potato pies from a shopping cart on Sundays, overlooking the ocean, off Stillwell Avenue, a stone’s throw from Nathan’s.

If you’re not game for the chase, more than two dozen bricks and mortar establishments offer savory and sweet pies of Eastern European Jewish origin. Yonah Shimmel’s on Manhattan’s Houston Street and Knish Nosh on Queens Boulevard (with a satellite location on the tony shores of Central Park’s Conservatory Water) are the best known, but they are far from alone. Knish-positive kosher delis and specialty shops mark the five boroughs and beyond. Finding a good knish involves adopting a posture of humility, harnessing a sense of adventure and honing one’s knish-dar. Not all of the entries are obvious to the uninitiated. Judy’s Knishes, founded by Lower East Side native Judy Hiller-Schwartz, is headquartered in the Avenue A-based kitchen of its namesake, and expects to gain a foothold at Malt and Mold, the neighborhood’s high-end beer-and-cheese purveyor in the coming months. (Fellow knish entrepreneur Noah Wildman of KnisheryNYC sold his potato and kasha wares there to the delight of Florence Fabricant.)

If all else fails, there’s a map. The initial iteration of this first-ever knish lover’s guide details more than thirty hot spots, from Manhattan to the greater metropolitan area, and is growing daily in entries and geographic reach. But it’s just the beginning. This map works best when knish-o-philes and curmudgeons alike contribute insider tips.

Feast your eyes and don’t be shy. Our communal knish consciousness depends on you. All flavors welcomed; no opinion too heated.

Share your favorite local or international knish spot at www.knish.me/map.

Laura Silver is an award-winning journalist whose writing on food and culture has appeared in The New York Times and the Forward and on NPR. Laura has been a writer in residence at the Millay Colony, the Banff Centre, and the New York Public Library. She is considered the world’s leading expert on the knish.

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The Inside Scoop on Writing a Column for The New York Times

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Roger Cohen wrote about World Zionism and Paris's personal and political problems. His newest book, The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family, is now available. He has been blogging here this week for the Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

I write a column for The New York Times. Eight hundred words, twice a week. When I describe that as a full-time job, some people are unconvinced. That’s nothing! Believe me, it’s something, accurately compared by a colleague to life under a windmill. Avoid one blade and the next one is coming to get you. A column done, it’s hard not to start thinking immediately about what the next one might be. Two ideas a week is a lot to ask of anybody.

Nobody ever suggests a column to you, even at times of overwhelming news developments. The phone never rings with a request (order) to go somewhere, as it would during the many years I spent as a foreign correspondent. The column is yours, alone. For as long as you have it.

This freedom is an immense privilege. I can travel anywhere without explaining to anyone what I have it in mind to do. But of course this unfettered existence leaves the columnist with a list of potential subject matter that is limitless. Not everyone responds well to limitlessness. Not everyone responds well to such a solitary line of work.

I’m not expecting anyone to shed a tear. It’s an amazing job.

I mentioned two ideas a week. Perhaps that’s a conservative estimate. A good column often needs one-and-a-half ideas, the first to get you down to about 500 words, and the half-idea for a twist carrying the reader through to the end. That would be three ideas a week. A strong column often writes itself fast. A column that is looking for its core, its central idea, takes longer. You can’t hit the ball out the park every time. You just have to get used to that. Nor is the way a column idea takes shape consistent. Sometimes I know well ahead of time what I will write. More often, it’s a last-minute decision. Occasionally an idea will come in a flash: the cry of eureka in the shower. Then all previous plans get shredded.

There’s a book-writing side to my mind and a journalist’s side. I tried for a while to write one column a week and push forward with The Girl from Human Street in my spare time. This set-up did not work well. I needed to leave that windmill behind, completely. Having the blades coming at me more slowly still locked me in the columnist’s mindset. Only when I went on leave for some months did the book begin to take form.

A column, in general, relies on pithiness, brevity, synthesis. There is little room for narrative or character development. Its form could not be at a greater remove from a book. I like both forms but cannot flit from one to the other. I admire friends who rise early to write and then go to their day jobs. I am not made like that.

Book writing is a form of complete immersion. Begin the next morning where you left off the previous evening with no distraction, preferably having dreamed of how the next few pages will be written. There are good moments and bad. In general writing is a form of exquisite suffering. You learn to hate that question: “How’s the book going?” Mumbling inevitably ensues. But when it’s done there is no satisfaction like it. A part of the psyche is satisfied that journalism, even at its best, is unlikely to reach.

Roger Cohen is a columnist for The New York Times, where he has worked since 1990: as a correspondent in Paris and Berlin, and as bureau chief in the Balkans covering the Bosnian war (for which he received an Overseas Press Club prize). He was named a columnist in 2009. He became foreign editor on 9/11, overseeing Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage in the aftermath of the attack. His columns appear twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. His previous books include Soldiers and Slaves and Hearts Grown Brutal. He lives in London, and will move back to New York in June.

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Reading Like a Senator, Loving Like a Grandparent

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 | Permalink
This week, Claude Knobler— the author of More Love, Less Panic: 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia blogs for The Postscript on his mother's reaction to his parenting memoir. 

The Postscript series is a special peek "behind the scenes" of a book. It's a juicy little extra something to add to a book club's discussion and a reader's understanding of how the book came together. 

It was the first time I can ever recall my mother acting like a U.S. senator. 

The advance copy of my book, More Love, Less Panic about all that I learned about parenting after my wife, two kids and I adopted a five year old boy from Ethiopia, was finally ready. Knowing I was in New York visiting my parents, my editor had my copy sent to their apartment. 

Where my mother was lying in wait. 

Think about how you browse through a book when you first see it. You might start at the first page. Or you might glance at the table of contents. Some people probably flip to the middle to see how they like the writing. 

And then there are politicians. And mothers. 

Bookstore employees in Washington DC have long been used to seeing senators march straight to a new book and go directly to the index page. Then, without hesitation, they scan to see how many times their own name appears. After that, they go to those pages, make sure that they approve of what has been written about themselves, close the book and wander happily (or not so happily) away. 

It’s not really how I thought my mother would approach my book. 

But, when I came into her apartment, there she was, reading the last chapter, and only the last chapter of my book. The one, as it happens, that was about her. The chapter is titled, "Grandparent Your Kids." One of the many remarkable experiences I had after we adopted was seeing the instant connection between my new son and my parents. 

Perhaps that connection shouldn’t have surprised me. My mother had been placed into a Catholic orphanage by my grandparents in Belgium during WWII. Because of their sacrifice, she survived the war, they did not. Eventually she was adopted and brought to America. 

That she and my son Nati would connect makes perfect sense, but how to explain the fact that Nati and my father also quickly became the best of friends? In the book, I write about how I learned that loving without demanding that your child change into someone they’re not—the sort of love that grandparents often excel at—is the kind of love I hope to show my own children. (And I also write about how even before he learned English, my mother was telling Nati that one day he would grow up and marry a nice Jewish girl. Some things never change!).

The chapter is, I think, very complimentary about my parents, but my mom wasn’t going to take my word for it, and so, she made sure to read that chapter, before ever looking at anything else in the book. Only when she was sure she’d been treated fairly, did she move on, back to the front of the book. 

And so, much to my own surprise, I find myself thinking of this topic….where did my parents go right? Growing up I had a great many complaints, and to be fair, I parent very differently from how I was raised but…..seeing my parents now, seeing how they listen to anything my kids tell them, seeing the joy in their faces when they get to share a meal with any of their grandchildren, leaves me wondering how can I grandparent my own children. Yes, I have responsibilities as a father that my parents no longer have to worry about (they eat a lot of cake at my mother’s house. A lot.) but they also have a joy in being grandparents that I simply am unwilling to postpone feeling. 

Of course, I didn’t quite get a 100% approval. Recently my sister told me that my mother had complained that there were moments in the book where I’d made her look a bit too much like, well, a Jewish mother. Everyone’s a critic. Or a senator. ᐧ

Interview: Liad Shoham

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 | Permalink

by Elise Cooper

Jewish Book Council recently spoke with Liad Shoham about his new book, Asylum City.

Elise Cooper: I didn’t know Israel has an illegal immigration problem. Did you write the book to inform readers?

Liad Shoham: I described something happening in Israel, but illegal immigration is a global problem. These people are needed by the economy but many times are unwelcome. They also can pose a threat to the identity of the nation they enter. I wrote specifically about what was happening in Israel, but it has international implications.

EC: Can you explain why Ethiopians are allowed to stay but not Eritreans?

LS: The basic law of Israel states that every Jew in the world who comes here is entitled to automatic citizenship. Ethiopian Jews were granted citizenship after coming here simply because they were Jewish. Eritreans are not Jews, but Christians, so when they come here they are considered illegal immigrants.

EC: Please explain why Israel does not just deport the Eritreans.

LS: I write about it in the book. Eritrea has a very harsh regime. Anyone persecuted in their country, as in this case, will not be deported. It goes back to why Israel was established in the first place, that not many countries would protect the Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Because the Eritrean regime is totalitarian, Israel’s policy is that they will never be deported.

EC: Were they granted visas?

LS: No. Most non-Jews who want to come to Israel are granted visas and allowed to stay a few months. However, the Eritreans have come to Israel illegally by crossing our border from the Sinai Peninsula. It is a very complicated situation.

EC: It was interesting how you explore all the different sides of this problem through the murder mystery. Please explain.

LS: I had Gabriel, one of the asylum seekers, confess to a murder to rescue his sister. I wanted to explore all the different angles and give it a panoramic view. Many Israelis are sympathetic to them but realistically understand that Israel is not able to support them financially. A few think they should be given full rights and citizenship. Another viewpoint is to deport them back immediately. But the overwhelming majority feels they should not be deported and they should be given minimum basic rights while at the same time making sure the border is secure with the building of a wall. I included these opinions while presenting the ‘people of interest’ in the murder mystery.

EC: You show us through a character’s eyes how the asylum seekers are treated. Please explain.

LS: First, let me state that the color of their skin is irrelevant. Israel has accepted Jews from all over the world: Ethiopian, Chinese, Hispanic, Eastern European, and Western European, but the underlying thread is that they are all Jews. The government does not exploit [the asylum seekers], but also does not grant them any opportunities. The problem is those who try to exploit them, exemplified by the quote in my book, “I’ll never get how people who grew up in this country can exploit other refugees.” Because of this and to prevent an increase in crime, the police told the government that asylum seekers should be allowed to work. Currently our government is turning a blind eye, realizing the jobs they are taking are ones Israelis don’t want—the menial jobs of washing dishes, cleaning streets, and picking fruits.

EC: How are they exploited?

LS: The Bedouins who are hired to move them across the desert have kidnapped them for sex trafficking, held them hostage for ransoms, tortured the men, and raped many of the women. Israel is unable to control the crimes, because they take place outside our border. Within Israel there are those who have set up businesses surrounding the asylum seekers’ needs. For example, just as in the book, since they are not allowed to open bank accounts, Mafia bosses have become their bankers, transferring money to the asylum seekers’ families.

EC: Why do you call them “asylum seekers”?

LS: That is the legal term. They are not refugees because they will not be granted the rights of citizenship, with free education and health services. Nor are they illegal immigrants because we cannot deport them as we could if someone crossed the border illegally who was from France, for example. Israel never deports any group that is persecuted. I believe Menachem Begin best summarized the intention, paraphrasing: ‘Israel cannot stand by when people are being persecuted and are not accepted by any other country.’

EC: What do you want your readers to get out of the book?

LS: A good entertaining crime novel. Beyond that, understanding that Israel is unable to open its arms financially to all immigrants. We cannot grant citizenship because we need to preserve the Jewish identity of Israel. After all, Israel is a Jewish state. 99% of Israelis agree and feel Israel has the right to keep its borders and prevent permanent status to people who want to stay here. The question arises, what will happen to those already here, approximately 70,000 out of a total Israeli population of 8 million? When I started researching the book I thought a lot of Israelis would tell me "securing our Sinai border, and preventing people from coming here is unacceptable." One of my surprises is that nobody claimed it. Everyone believes Israel is not the solution for Africa and since they came here illegally they should not be made citizens.

EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?

LS: It will be called Blood Oranges and deals with corruption in municipalities. Anat will be a character in the book. She moves to a small city about twenty miles outside Tel Aviv where she finds herself investigating the death of a journalist.

Elise Cooper lives in Los Angeles and has written numerous national security articles supporting Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A's for many different outlets including the Military Press. She has had the pleasure to interview bestselling authors from many different genres.

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The Knish as an Instrument of Social Justice

Monday, January 19, 2015 | Permalink

Laura Silver is the author of the book Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food and an award-winning journalist whose writing on food and culture has appeared in The New York Times and the Forward and on NPR. She is blogging here this week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Je suis Charlie.
Je suis juive.
And yes, je suis knish.

The world is still reeling from brutal attacks in Paris. The events of Ferguson and the Eric Garner trial resonate. Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s time to consider the knish as an instrument of social justice.

1. Accessible Edible

The carbohydrate-rich knish stuffs the stomach and provides caloric intake for a low price point. The pillow of dough — round or square, sweet or savory — could feed an army, a small family or serve a single person for two meals. There’s a low barrier to entry for this simple food that is easy to produce in vegan and gluten-free varieties.

2. Instrument of Peace

Knish maker Gussie Schwebel offered to share “the humble knish” with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt – and asked if she could be of service to her adopted country “by way of introducing the knish, which is very wholesome and not costly to produce, into the diet of our armed forces.” And, years later proclaimed her potato pies as a catalyst for rapprochement on domestic and international fronts. She set out manufacture “Republican and Democratic knishes — the delicious dishes” and believed that knishes, when served with vodka, could help bring an end to the Cold War and usher in an era of world peace.

3. Catalyst for Caring

The 1970 novel Teitelbaum’s Window by Wallace Markfield introduces the Knishe Queen, who reigns over the neighborhood of Brighton Beach, with tenacity and a taste for the political, as evidenced by her letter to Mahatma Gandhi:

We want to once again wish you good luck in your freeing of India.
Our biggest hope of the Brighton Beach Jewish community is that
you don’t overdo it with your fasting because your country is not
going to appreciate if you come out of prison a nervous wreck.
May we therefore suggest that you think of yourself and do what
is good for you by breaking your fast on one of our blackberry or
gooseberry currant knishes which are so lightly fried in the finest
quality peanut oil that the word fried doesn’t even apply. As made
in our modern kitchens, these knishes are strictly parveh, meat
doesn’t go anywhere near them.

4. Capsule of Culture

The knish has been immortalized by Issac Baschevis Singer, Sholom Aleichem and Barbra Streisand, who, in her welcome back to Brooklyn concert in 2012, adapted the lyrics of “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from the musical Sunset Boulevard to pay homage to the street food of her youth.

Yes, a world with hot knishes
Is incredibly delicious

Hip hop artist SD3 (an abbreviation of Sammy Davis III) has used the knish to bridge cultural and culinary divides – and to spur conversations, using — nu? — the knish. Case in point, the lyrics of ditty he belts out in a music video set at – where else? – a bar mitzvah.

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Knish
A table full of Bubbe’s goodies is what I wish.

The potato pie also works as an ambassador. Wrapped pastries like Jamaican patties, aloo pies, samosas and empanadas that occur in culinary traditions of all ethnicities and flavors count as knishing cousins.

5. Champion of Underdogs and Unmentionables

The knish doesn’t shy away from tender topics. Nightclub crooner Pearl Williams harnessed its Yiddish slang meaning to project female power. Her 1961 record album (yes, vinyl), A Trip around the World Is Not a Cruise, oozed innuendos, loud, proud and unapologetic.

I found a new way to do it. For money.
Don’t laugh. For years . . . I was doing it for love. Then one day I
took a ride through the Holland Tunnel and I saw a big sign: “Pay as
you enter.” What an idea hit my brain. Now I have a tattoo above the
knish: “Pay as you enter.” Underneath, I have a tattoo: “Thank you,
call again. Member of the Diners Club.”

So, if you’re feeling distraught about the state of the world, or need to summon strength for a Day of Service, reach for a knish. It contains multitudes and will help you steel yourself for the challenges to come. Remember, it’s not our job to finish it, but we must begin.

Laura Silver has been a writer in residence at the Millay Colony, the Banff Centre, and the New York Public Library. She is considered the world’s leading expert on the knish.

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World Zionism and Paris's Personal and Political Patterns

Monday, January 19, 2015 | Permalink

Roger Cohen is a columnist for The New York Times, where he has worked since 1990: as a correspondent in Paris and Berlin, and as bureau chief in the Balkans covering the Bosnian war (for which he received an Overseas Press Club prize). He was named a columnist in 2009. He became foreign editor on 9/11, overseeing Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage in the aftermath of the attack. His columns appear twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. His previous books include Soldiers and Slaves and Hearts Grown Brutal. He lives in London, and will move back to New York in June. His newest book, The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family, is now available. He will be blogging here this week for the Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

As a New York Times columnist, I move regularly back and forth across the Atlantic. I carry my Jewish identity with me, of course, but Jewishness is lived differently in Europe and the United States. Expression of strong support for Israel raises eyebrows among Europeans inclined to view the Jewish state as bellicose or colonialist. Palestinian victimhood plays well on a continent of strong pacifist tendencies. By contrast, in the United States it is criticism of Israel that tends to cause a frisson of disapproval. The Israeli saga – of courage and will in the face of implacable foes – resonates in American mythology, far beyond the Jewish community. Perhaps no other foreign state prompts such intense feelings of identification and sympathy.

Since the heinous Paris attacks on freedom of expression in general, and on Jews in particular, I have been pondering these differences anew. It is 120 years since the Dreyfus Affair involving a French Jewish officer wrongly accused of treason. The case divided French society into Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards, who were also anti-Semites. Among those who covered the case as a foreign correspondent in Paris was Theodor Herzl. The founder of modern Zionism’s conviction that Jews would only escape anti-Semitism through the creation of a state of their own was reinforced by this experience; his seminal “The Jewish State” was published in 1896, in the midst of Capt. Dreyfus’ legal tribulations.

Today, Zionism is a dirty word in Europe. Say you are a Zionist, as I sometimes do, and you may encounter a scarcely suppressed gasp of incredulity. Yet, four French Jews have just been killed in a kosher supermarket by an Islamist fanatic. Their bodies will be taken to Israel for burial. The necessity of a Jewish homeland has been illustrated yet again.

It is a necessity born of a simple fact: millennia of diaspora wandering that culminated in the Holocaust (which even Herzl could not have imagined) demonstrated that Jews could always be turned upon when a scapegoat was needed, that they would never belong entirely, and that in the end only self-reliance would save them. Looking into the wanderings of my family over four generations – from Lithuania to South Africa and on to Israel, Britain and the United States – I was left with no doubt that Jews needed a safe harbor, a place where scrawny scholars would become vigorous tillers of the soil, and no Jew would ever again go meekly to her fate. If Jews reached this conclusion, it was with reluctance. Having reached it and forged their state, they will never renounce it.

I would like to see a discussion of Zionism in Europe on the basis of last week’s events. I would have liked to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands in Paris and commit themselves to the two-state peace that remains the only viable outcome in the Holy Land. Israeli-Palestinian peace would not eliminate jihadism but over time it could help stanch it. I am convinced that Muslim leaders must do far more to denounce the murderous ideology that finds its inspiration in a Wahhabi reading of Islam and turned Paris last week into a city of fear.

Last time I was in Israel I saw an old friend, Micha Shagrir, a movie producer who is dying of cancer in a Jerusalem hospice. We talked about old times. It was a tender moment. Micha mused on projects he still dreamed of completing. His body had become the frail vessel of an unbowed spirit. A year ago, in Paris, he was found wandering around, lost, the first sign of the tumor in his brain. Thirty-five years ago, in 1980, his wife Aliza was killed in the bombing of the synagogue on Rue Copernic in Paris.

Life’s patterns, the personal and the political, how one contains the other, how time is not linear but may eddy in circles: these have been and remain the themes that interest me most.

Check back on Thursday for more from Roger Cohen.

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The ProsenPshat: Week of January 12th

Friday, January 16, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

The ProsenPshat is a weekly recap of highlights from each week’s online content on www.jewishbookcouncil.org. Worried you might have missed something this week? Be sure to check our featured reviews page and scroll through The ProsenPeople blog!

Big week here at the Jewish Book Council. We got an earlier start than usual with a Sunday-morning planning meeting with one of the JBC Network member sites and their community partners—a smart event that lead to a wider discussion on the role of book programs in the Jewish community:

It's important to remember—and to remind everyone you work with, across departments—that authors know so much more than the art of writing. They take subject matter and craft it into a story we can't put down, we can't ignore—precisely because those stories are at their core about us, because they hum along to our lives in a voice so distant yet so familiar that we can't help but stop to listen and, consequently, learn about ourselves and the people around us.

That's what a community is, too: the recognition of a common shared experience, with enough differences to effect and encourage learning and growth. Encountering others' family histories and relationships, the universal yet unique tragedies and triumphs that befall or bolster us all in such distinct, such similar ways, and our individual and collective tastes and values shape us personally and as a whole as we connect, disagree, and collaborate with one another. And what better to facilitate that interaction than a really good book?

And, of course, on Wednesday we announced the 2014 National Jewish Book Awards Winners and Finalists—congratulations to all the honorees! A number of them have written for the Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople, or interviewed about their NJBA-recognized title in Jewish Book World, the Jewish Book Council’s quarterly magazine. Among them:

Adam D. Mendelsohn (Celebrate 350 Award for American Jewish Studies, The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire) recently blogged about the process of “stumbling” upon interesting leads in research and what accounts for Jewish success in America.

Stuart Rojstaczer (Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction, The Mathematician's Shiva) wrote about speaking to his cat in Yiddish and penned a short play about his mother’s reaction to his (now award-winning) first novel.

Sara Davidson expounded on her conversations and relationship with Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the subject of The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life's Greatest Mystery.

Eve Harris offered a glimpse into the London Haredi school that provided much of the material for The Marrying of Chani Kaufman.

Boris Fishman ruminated on the importance of documenting family history and the space between suffering, victimhood, and evil, and offered a pop-quiz contest about A Replacement Life.

Molly Antopol shared how The Chosen by Chaim Potok influenced her writing and helped her craft The UnAmericans.

Interviews:
David Bezmozgis (J.J. Greenberg Memorial Award for Fiction, The Betrayers)
Rabbi David Wolpe (David: The Divided Heart)
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History)
Stuart Rojstaczer (Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction, The Mathematician's Shiva)
Susan Jane Gilman (The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street)


This week the Jewish Book Council also interviewed last year’s Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award winner, Yossi Klein Halevi. Discussing Like Dreamers: The Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, Halevi discussed more broadly the history, current politics, and future of Israel, whither he moved in 1982 at the start of the first Lebanon War:

We’ve paid a price for the utopian delusions of the Jews. But we’ve also been tremendously energized by these utopian movements. This is the first time in the history of the state—the history of Zionism—when there is no utopian avant-garde trying to lead the nation. The result is a growing sense of drift among Israelis.

My sense— maybe it’s only a hope— is that the next great outbreak of utopian energy in Israeli society will be spiritual, not political, and will focus on creating the next phase of Judaism. What kind of Judaism will we live as a sovereign people in its land? So far, we’ve mostly imported forms of Judaism that emerged under conditions of a persecuted, ghettoized minority. We need forms of Judaism that are worthy of the profound transformation in Jewish life we’ve experienced over the last two centuries, and especially since the creation of Israel.

Sarah Wildman also sat down to discuss the research and writing behind Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind with the Jewish Book Council—an excellent follow-up to her “Paperless Love” excerpt series on The ProsenPeople over the fall:

I have often thought that it is a shame that my children will not know the simple joy of, first, receiving a letter in the mail, and then, years later coming across that letter, and remembering who you were then, and who the letter writer was. I am of the generation that had a brief dalliance with paper and pen— when I lived in Jerusalem in college, I regularly exchanged letters with friends, all of which are still in a box in my parents’ home. I have the letters from high school, telling of loves and hates and stories all in a way a bit more conscious than we are now, in a our often disposable email world. So yes, I think we are strangely almost erasing ourselves, even in our crazy over-documented lives.


Lesléa Newman wrote about her own, much more substantial, relationship with the handwritten word—specifically, with her pencil—on The Visiting Scribe series. She was joined by Menachem Rosensaft, editor of God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors, who wrote about the unified optimism of the second and third generation after the Shoah, preserving the mystery in Holocaust remembrance, and the harsh realities of life after liberation for survivors of catastrophe:

“For the greater part of the liberated Jews of Bergen-Belsen,” my mother recalled many years later, “there was no ecstasy, no joy at our liberation. We had lost our families, our homes. We had no place to go, nobody to hug, nobody who was waiting for us, anywhere. We had been liberated from death and from the fear of death, but we were not free from the fear of life.”

New York Times Vows columnist Devan Sipher also considered death, love, and the fear of loss as a guest contributor to the ProsenPeople partnership series with Ask Big Questions:

As Jews, we don’t believe in a hereafter where we have the opportunity to be reunited with loved ones. It would be easier if we did, but “dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return” is not a philosophy that lends itself to romantic notions of an afterlife.

So love, like religion itself, becomes an act of faith.

In book reviews, this week we looked at some of Maira Kalman’s Favorite Things, snuck behind the scenes over Thirteen Days in September at Camp David, and traveled 1940s America with two tenacious, intrepid half-sisters in Amy Bloom’s latest novel, Lucky Us.

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