The ProsenPeople

Interview: Eric Lichtblau

Thursday, April 02, 2015 | Permalink

by Elise Cooper

The Nazis Next Door by Eric Lichtblau is a compelling reminder of how quickly man’s inhumanity to man has been forgotten. Many in the FBI, CIA, the space program, and other agencies of the U.S. government teamed up with war-criminal Nazis to combat the Soviets. As World War II came to an end there were those in the government who were more concerned about the next great conflict—the threat of Communism—and saw the Nazis as yesterday’s enemy. The book delves into two issues. The first chapter in the book examines an important topic, the myth of the concentration camp liberation. The second narrative is the story of the people who worked so hard for decades to find war criminals given safe haven by the FBI, CIA, and military. Elise Cooper interviewed author Eric Lichtblau for the Jewish Book Council.

Elise Cooper: In the first chapter of The Nazis Next Door you expose "the myth of liberation." Can you explain?

Eric Lichtblau: When I started, that didn’t even occur to me as something I was going to examine, but I came to realize slowly that was an important part of the story. Not just how easily Nazis and Nazi collaborators had gotten into America, but how much difficulty the survivors had in getting out of the concentration camps. History has forgotten what happened to the survivors. There is an image that they were embraced by the Allied forces as they flooded out from the camps, given warm showers, beds, and plentiful food. It was really not like that at all. Jewish groups complained to President Truman, who did not ignore them. After an investigation there was a blistering and condemning report, lost to history, by the dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Earl Harrison. This report to Truman stated, “As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them.” Even though conditions did improve, some survivors were kept in the DP camps for as long as five years. They were still confined behind barbed wire, under armed guard.

EC: Who was mainly behind these conditions?

EL: The blame has to go to U.S. Army General George Patton, who was in charge of the displaced persons camps. He had sort of an odd fondness almost for the Nazi prisoners, believe it or not. He believed that they were the ones in the best position to efficiently run the camps, and he gave them supervisory approval to basically lord over the Jews and the other survivors. I hope the book makes people aware of the horrific conditions of the camps and Patton’s overt anti-Semitism.

EC: Why were the Jews not allowed into the U.S. after the war?

EL: In the early months, and the first few years after the war, beginning in mid-1945, there were only a very limited number of immigration visas to get into the United States. Of all the survivors in the camps, only a few thousand came in the first year or so. A visa was a precious commodity, and there were immigration policymakers in Washington who were on record saying that they didn't think the Jews should be let in because they were "lazy people" or "entitled people" and they didn't want them in. But there were many, many thousands of Nazi collaborators who got visas to the U.S. while the survivors did not, even though they had been, for instance, the head of a Nazi concentration camp, the warden at a camp, or the secret police chief in Lithuania who signed the death warrants for people. The Displaced Person’s Act opened up visas to Jews but only four or five years after the war ended.

EC: What do you think was the main factor in allowing the Nazis into the U.S.?

EL: There was this blind spot of the benefit of having them help in the Cold War effort. Remember the Dulles quote, paraphrasing, ‘I would deal with the devil himself if it would help national security.’

EC: Who do you think was the person most responsible for the Nazis coming to America?

EL: The head of the CIA from 1952 to 1961, Allen Dulles. He had the mindset that the known Nazis could be used as intelligence assets and scientists helpful in the U.S. missile program. I do not think he was overtly anti-Semitic. I think it was mostly the Cold War mindset, which led to going morally astray. Unfortunately, the gains in intelligence were not the same as with the scientists. As I wrote about in the book, most gave information that was garbage or they turned out to be double agents. After it became clear these assets were not helpful, the information was still kept under wraps to avoid the public relations embarrassment. The CIA knowingly helped Nazi figures, intervened on their behalf, and obstructed investigations as late as 1995.

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

EL: For those who lived in dire conditions in the DP camps it seemed no one cared about the survivors. I hope readers weigh the philosophical dilemma of the clear national security gains with the Nazis’ immoral background. The book was written as a reminder of why we have to be aware of genocide. I wrote it as an American Jew, but also because I thought it is an important part of history that needed to be told.

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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Flashback: Miami Beach, 1972

Wednesday, April 01, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Thane Rosenbaum wrote about how E. L. Doctorow inspired his new novel How Sweet It Is! He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

The time and place of How Sweet It Is! was a novel just waiting to happen. It was during that year, 1972, when Miami Beach, such an otherwise small city, might as well have been the center of the world.

Yes, Miami Beach was only seven miles long with a mere 50,000 citizens in it—many of them senior. And the city was largely fading from the glory it once possessed like a stage actor with creaky knees from having taken too many curtain calls. The hotels had grown shabby; the swingers wore toupees, the divorcees appeared more desperate than dangerous.

Flip Schulke's photograph of a "member of the South Beach Retirement Community
enjoy[ing] the sun and sea air" in the early 1970s

South Beach was there, but without the fashion models and power forwards sipping cocktails on Ocean Drive well into the moonlit night. The Heat was measured in Fahrenheit, not NBA championships, and ladies depended on Social Security. None worked for Victoria Secret.

And yet the city that was sun-baked, unworldly and generally dull was also a bastion of colorful characters fixated on tanning their faces a singular shade of vigorous brown.

And all were waiting for a second chance.

The Jewish Mafia, led by kingpin Meyer Lansky, treated Miami Beach like an assisted living facility for wise guys. The better days of his crew had long past, too—the casinos in Havana were now nationalized by Fidel Castro, a man who idealized Vladimir Lenin, not Lucky Luciano. These men with their crooked noses went to synagogue on Saturdays and prayed that Miami Beach would legalize casino gambling and save the state from the trivial jackpots and general boredom of pari-mutuel betting.

The summer of 1972 featured the presidential nominating conventions for both the Republican and Democratic parties—the first time one city had hosted delegates from the right and left, the elephants and donkeys, the Dixiecrats and the northeastern aristocrats.

Democrats and Republicans in Convention in 1972

This was all set to take place just a few weeks after the Watergate break-in. Miami Beach was incomprehensibly designated as the city that was being asked to manage all this political infighting and social upheaval—the very same turmoil that resulted in rioting in Chicago four years earlier.

Anti-war fervor was as thick as the humid summer nights. Like centipedes wearing mood rings and chanting folk songs, the counterculture trekked down to Flamingo Park for their rowdy appointment with the American ruling class. There they would camp out, tune out, and utter words such as “far out” and “fuck off” to anyone over the age of 30 who they neither trusted nor ever wanted to become. Wearing nothing but love beads they made love in the outfield of Flamingo Park, nakedly invaded its swimming pool and then spent the day in fist-pumping public protest, demanding the end of the Vietnam War.

Jackie Gleason was the city’s favorite son, a fat man known the world over as the Great One. He maintained his princely stature on Miami Beach even though his Saturday night variety show, broadcast from a theater on Washington Avenue bearing his name, had already been cancelled. His Rat Pack friends, especially Frank Sinatra, still visited Miami Beach for the booze, the weather and Gleason’s munificent hospitality, even though by that time he spent as much time at Mount Sinai Hospital as he did on the racy Collins Avenue strip.

Jackie Gleason

Miami Beach was undergoing the early stages of desegregation while Muhammad Ali sparred on 5th Street at Angelo Dundee’s gym. Isaac Bashevis Singer scribbled on notepaper in Surfside, observing the mannerisms and mating rituals of these snowbird Jews, many of whom were Holocaust survivors. Cubans, many of whom were Jews, cursed Castro and, in retaliation, decided to turn Miami into a gleaming metropolis.

That city, during that memorable year, always had the makings of a novel. The silhouettes from that magic city just needed a little color and a splash of imagination to become real, once again.

Thane Rosenbaum is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, The Stranger Within Sarah Stein, The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke, and the novel-in-stories, Elijah Visible, which received the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for the best book of Jewish American fiction. His articles, reviews and essays appear frequently in many national publications including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and The Huffington Post. He is a Senior Fellow at New York University School of Law where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society. For more information visit

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Interview: George Lerner

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 | Permalink

by Beth Kissileff

As a television producer across the globe for CNN, PBS, and other media outlets, George Lerner has to keep to thirty frames per second (the standard frame rate for video) so that the images can be comfortably viewed by human eyes. But there was a limit to the stories he could tell as a journalist. He explained to Jewish Book Council in a Skype interview from his Brooklyn home that “the questions that appealed to me most centrally I couldn't answer in journalism.” He made the analogy of a deep-sea diver, that to see the “corals and the deep sea fish in their habitat” he had to dive deep down and that he was “getting closer to the characters than if I were writing a history.” 

His first novel, The Ambassadors, is about the Shoah, centrally, and about how an understanding of what it means in today’s world can lead Jews to help victims of genocide in Africa. There is humor and delight too, in The Ambassadors, a work anchored by three central characters with professional connections to Africa. The father, an arms and refugee smuggler, goes into his line of work after being stationed near Buchenwald after World War II; he goes to Goma, Zaire in fall 1996 to give arms to a beleaguered people decimated by genocide. The mother, a professor, arrived alone at age six in the U.S. as a child from Lodz; she has spent her whole career researching the roots of human language but is unable to participate in a dig in Ethiopia that yields a find similar to the “Lucy” skeleton because of risks her husband has posed to the anthropological project with his interests in persuading the reigning regime to let Jews out. The son, who grows and deals pot, when not high, manages a band he has renamed the “African Refugee Mega Stars” from the less catchy “Africa Rumba Express” and finds a purpose in getting Cuban-inspired African music out to the world. 

The cast of minor characters is similarly delightfully quirky and varied, with a beautiful African doctor conflicted about her responsibilities; a young Russian-Israeli who has tattooed his war exploits on his arm and is happy to use his stories to illustrate anything that will win points with his audience; a procurer in Brooklyn able to arrange anything – from the home number of Manhattan’s best oncologist to Hasidische home care nurses – with a phone call. And one can’t forget the inanimate characters: the mother’s Brooklyn brownstone where much of the U.S. action of the novel is set, and, at its heart, the Steinway piano that no one in the family plays but that sits in the center of the living room—Jacob’s proudest acquisition from his time in Germany. The book eventually brings all of these elements together when the son’s musicians play an “Africanized version of a klezmer classic” at a party for the mother’s culminating conference on the origins of language. The musician Delacroix, whose day job is translating testimonies from war crimes victims, tells the mother, “To celebrate tonight, we have learned to interpret the ballads traditional to your people.”

This is the loveliness of The Ambassadors, that the interpretation of how Jewish values and morals from the past can exist in the modern world, where Africa is as much a way this family connects as the Shoah is. Below you'l find excerpts from an interview with the talented debut novelist and native New Yorker, George Lerner.

Beth Kissileff: How did you get the idea to have Jewish ideas apply to contemporary events like the African genocides in the Congo?

George Lerner: I wrote a novel that dealt in themes of the Shoah, seventy years after my two great grandmothers were murdered in the Shoah; for me, I needed to tell a story in a different way. A story that both showed the essential core and teachings of the Shoah and reexamined them at the same time.

The questions, the moral questions, are not my idea in the sense that others had come up with this analogy.

BK: You have a variety of characters, from all over the spectrum. Can you talk about that?

GL: My Jewish world has a great diversity of Jewish experience, belief, practice. And sensibility. I see those as all integrated, and that is what I tried to show in the novel.

I was seeking a kind of cultural, esthetic, and moral engagement, and discussion among my characters. It was very important to me to have that going on. There are those who survived the Shoah with absolute faith, and those with no faith. Not a clash or confrontation so much as a conversation. That conversation on all levels is what was firing me in this novel.

BK: Were there elements from your own life?

GL: My father was a U.S. Army lieutenant in World War II and I heard stories of deNazification, of his visit to Buchenwald, about Bavaria and the postwar period. We have a Steinway [imported from Germany], sitting in my parents’ house.

BK: Is the war novel a cliché?

GL: It is a cliché to write about going to war zones in Africa to learn about ourselves. I wanted to write a different novel. Jacob Furman is an actor, he is committing acts, doing things that are morally ambiguous. He thinks they are clear and they are not absolutely clear. Whether they are right or wrong is up to the readers. I am very conscious of not wanting to lead, so that a character and positions could be argued.

The world is a complex place. The African Mega Stars can play klezmer, and be the inheritors of Jacob’s Galicianer tradition. They can learn “ kol ha olam kulo” [All the world is a narrow bridge but the main thing is not to be afraid], as can genocidal killers in a refugee camp.

BK: How did your TV training help as a writer? What are the challenges?

GL: It is a great question. One of the things we need to think about in television is ‘how are you going to show this?’ We need to think about what scenes provide texture and nuance and help reveal characters. More than what they say, what they do, and how to show them doing it. In a sense that is a kind of novelistic training.

Beth Kissileff is the editor of Reading Genesis (Continuum Books, 2014) an anthology of academic writing about Genesis. Her novel Questioning Return is under review for publication and she is writing a second novel and volume of short stories. She has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, Carleton College, the University of Minnesota, Smith College and Mount Holyoke College.

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On Documenting Jewish Fiction Writers & How It Inspired a New Book

Monday, March 30, 2015 | Permalink

Thane Rosenbaum is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, The Stranger Within Sarah Stein, The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke, and the novel-in-stories, Elijah Visible, which received the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for the best book of Jewish American fiction. His newest novel, How Sweet It Is!, is out this week from Mandel Vilar Press. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Years ago the literary theorist Geoffrey Hartman, who was working with a documentary filmmaker from Hebrew University, contacted me about a very unique and worthy project. A donor had emerged who wanted to film the world’s great Jewish fiction writers in conversation with other writers. The idea was to pair up two writers (who might also be friends), and film them in conversation, shot over two days, discussing the books and lives that were the subject of each film.

Geoffrey explained that they didn’t yet know the ultimate use for this undertaking, but at the very least Hebrew University would possess within its archives a treasure trove of literary conversations from the world’s great men and women of Jewish letters.

Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Nadine Gordimer, Imre Kertesz, and Ivan Klima were already in the can, as they say. The next subject was going to be E.L. Doctorow, and he and Geoffrey wondered whether I would agree to be the one asking Edgar (the “E” in “E.L.”) the questions on camera.

Of course, I would. Edgar and I had become friends over the years, having even spent a few Thanksgivings together. But this was not merely an act of friendship I was being called upon to perform. This project was more ambitious than two Jews talking about the weather. My job was to engage Edgar in a lively discussion of his work, and how it was informed by his life—a Jewish life, albeit one that was not readily discernible from reading his novels.

Jewish novelists from the Golden Age of American fiction—Bellow, Roth, Ozick, Bernard Malamud, Joseph Heller, Stanley Elkins, Norman Mailer, Grace Paley, E.L. Doctorow, Chaim Potok, and various others—had much in common, but with few exceptions, most shared a predisposition to deny that there was any Jewish influences or connection to their work. In fact, most disavowed the label “Jewish-American” altogether.

In my friendships with some of these writers, I have personally heard Bellow and Ozick, and even more contemporary writers such as Rebecca Goldstein and Allegra Goodman, struggle with placing a “Jewish” tag to their literary output.

Doctorow was, to my mind, an even more extreme case. After all, unlike many of the others, he was a bestselling novelist—literary, for sure, but also widely read, and not especially popular among Jews. Moreover, unlike a Malamud, Ozick or Roth, teasing out the Jewish bona fides of his work was no simple task. He was not demonstrably Jewish in his fiction. (He also ate ham on Thanksgiving, but that’s another story altogether.)

Yet, as the reigning godfather of historical fiction, Jewish characters were not entirely absent from his work: the Isaacsons were proxies for the Rosenbergs in The Book of Daniel; Jewish gangster Dutch Schultz headlined Billy Bathgate; World’s Fair, a personal memoir of sorts, featured a family that was clearly Jewish; a Reconstructionist Rabbi occupied the moral center of City of God; and, finally, Ragtime, his best known novel, featured Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman, and Sigmud Freud.

In re-reading Ragtime in preparation of our talk, I realized that I had finally figured out what to do with a chapter in my own life that I had wanted to fictionalize. I grew up in Miami Beach, Florida, and 1972 was a watershed year for this shining peninsula along the southern coastline of Florida. It was as colorful a time and place, and filled with as lively an assortment of historical characters as Doctorow had to draw upon in his homage to Ragtime in the early days of twentieth century New York. Like Ragtime, I had in mind a book where the main character was the time period itself, and the historical figures that populated it.

That’s how How Sweet It Is! took its first imaginary steps toward becoming a novel of its own.

Thane Rosenbaum's articles, reviews and essays appear frequently in many national publications including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and The Huffington Post. He is a Senior Fellow at New York University School of Law where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society. For more information visit

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Excerpt: Do the KIND Thing by Daniel Lubetzky

Monday, March 30, 2015 | Permalink

We all know that KIND bars are your favorite snack on the go, but do you know the story behind this incredible brand, not to mention its Jewish connection? Today we offer a sneak peek from Do the KIND Thing: Think Boundlessly, Work Purposefully, Live Passionately, which was written by the CEO and founder of KIND Health Snacks, Daniel Lubetzky. The book will be available tomorrow, so be sure to pick up a copy!

Being the son of a Holocaust survivor marks you and makes you acutely conscious of our human frailty. My burning com­mitment to build bridges [between people and cultures] stems from a survival instinct: to pre­vent what happened to my dad from happening again to other human beings. Part of the reason I exist today is that my grandfather and my father were always kind to people.

The birth of KIND and its social mission [to make the world a little kinder] were stirred by this history. When brainstorming brand names for the healthy fruit and nut snack bar we were going to make, the name KIND particularly spoke to me because my dad’s essence, the reason he had survived the Holocaust, and the way he had lived afterward were all connected to compassion. He treated everyone as an equal, whether a bank teller or the bank president. His life taught me that kindness and empathy are the foundations on which humanity will stand or fall.

Looking back, his entire story was a string of kindness. He [my father] was born in 1930 in Riga, Latvia, and raised in Kovno, Lithuania, where my grandfather, Sioma, had a small business making corsets. My grandmother, Rosa, told me a story about my father that sums up his ability to empathize and his kindness. When he was four or five years old, a poor child knocked on the door of the family home in Lithuania. It was a cold winter night, and the child was asking for food. My father went into the kitchen to make the other child a sandwich. As he piled onto the sandwich everything that he himself would want to eat, my grandmother told him to hurry, because the child wouldn’t wait, but would go beg somewhere else. When my father returned to the front door with the sandwich, the child was gone. He ran out into the street, barefoot in the snow and without a coat, to find the other boy and give him the food.

As he grew up and war approached, my father frequently got into scrapes with local kids who would shout anti-Semitic taunts and otherwise bother the Jewish kids. When the Nazis invaded Lithuania, life for the Jews quickly worsened. My dad was nine years old when the war started.

Massive pogroms swept Lithuania as the German occupation took hold. A huge percentage of the Jews were killed at the time. One day, the porter took Germans dressed in military uniforms into my father’s apartment. They harassed and threatened to shoot my family; then they took my grandmother into another room. My dad was too young to understand what may have happened when she came out crying. He remembered that they eventually pushed everyone out of the apartment into the garden downstairs and said, “We are going to shoot you.” The porter then whispered something to the soldiers, and they walked away. The porter told my family to go upstairs. Then he came up and said, “Open up.”

In an interview my cousin Serge Bluds recorded with my dad about this incident, here was my dad’s recollection of what the porter then said to my grandfather:

“Lubetzky, I want you to know that to every apartment of this building I brought the Germans and I made them kill every Jew here. Except you. And to you, I let you live because you were a person who always would offer me your hand, shake my hand . . . you would give me a little bottle of vodka, would talk to me like a decent person, and this is why I don’t want you to die, because you are a good man.”

Then my dad continued, “This was a very important lesson to me at the time. To remember that even such an animal like this guy recognized that someone was humane to him and it paid off to be humane and not be, you know, with your nose in the air.”

The porter then commanded my family to leave the apartment before he changed his mind.

As horrible as the incident was, it was not lost on my father that my grandfather’s thoughtfulness toward others had spared his family.

My father, his family, and the remaining Kovno Jews were herded into ghettos, where they were kept under horrible and humiliating conditions. Those who survived were sent to a nearby concentration camp, which produced tinder from the local forests to feed German tanks during wartime gas shortages. That was where my father and his family ended up.

But even amid the worst circumstances, the human spirit shows itself. My father never forgot a German soldier who took risks by throwing at my dad’s feet a rotten potato that provided him the sustenance to go on. Although he could have gotten in trou­ble for helping a prisoner, that soldier risked his own safety to feed my dad. My dad always said that potato—that fleeting mo­ment of kindness—helped him stay alive.

My dad had the rare strength of being able to recall that dreadful chapter of his life without letting it embitter him. He lived a life that was fulfilled, optimistic, and positive, and, as much as it emotionally drained him, he frequently spoke about his Holocaust experiences, so that we may never permit such tragedies to befall humanity again.

Today, building bridges between people and cultures is especially important, both within companies and throughout the larger world, given all the challenges we will face in the coming years. The only way we can win against those challenges is to recognize that we have to fight on the same side. My vision is eventually to build a global movement of citizens who are proud of their own heritage as well as of our shared human values. I recognize how hard a road it will be… but are we going to give up and not try? We cannot afford to just stand idle.

From the book DO THE KIND THING: THINK BOUNDLESSLY, WORK PURPOSEFULLY, LIVE PASSIONATELY by Daniel Lubetzky, the CEO & Founder of KIND Health Snacks. Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Lubetzky. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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New Jewish Book Council Reviews

Friday, March 27, 2015 | Permalink

This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:

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How to Cook Nuck a Whaatt? [INCLUDES RECIPE]

Thursday, March 26, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Katja Goldman, Judy Bernstein Bunzl, and Lisa Rotmil wrote about writing a cookbook for the JCC Manhattan and shared a recipe for lamb burgers. They are the authors of the newly published cookbook The Community Table: Recipes and Stories from the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and Beyond and have been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

“You want to cook nuck a whaattt?” There we were, three chefs in our favorite test kitchen thinking about our pasta chapter when Katja said she wanted to make “Knuck-a-knuck.” Judy and I were baffled having never heard of this specific Hungarian delicacy. Turns out she was referring to a simple homemade egg noodle that is cut into small pieces directly over and into a pot of rolling water. Hmm. The description sounded a lot like späetzle, Judy (whose mother-in-law was Viennese) chimed in. I went back to my Belgian grandmother who at the great age of 94 is still cooking and shopping daily and she too confirmed that these simple egg noodles were a beloved staple made several times a week at home.

Katja continued to describe that “knuck-a-knuck” could be served at a dairy meal with farmer’s cheese or as a side to a good meat or chicken dish to sop up all the sauce. She remembers the stories of her cousins, uncles, aunts, all stopping in at her great-aunt’s house on the lower east side of Manhattan on Thursday nights. There they would eat “knuck-a-knuck,” share tales from the week and leave with hugs, freshly baked challahs, a babka, and more “knuck-a-knuck” to serve on Friday night.

While Judy tried her best to get us to call them späetzle with a proper Viennese pronunciation to that umlaut, I decided to figure out where “knuck-a-knuck” came from. I easily discovered that the Hungarian word for “shhpaaeettzly” (Bunzl pronunciation) is nokedli – hence the “knuck-a-knuck.”

The only thing left to do was start cooking. We started with Katja’s grandmother’s recipe. It was simple enough – eggs, flour, kosher salt and water. Mix together “until it's shiny.” Really? Yup. Shiny and very stretchy. Katja demonstrated her grandmother’s process – she would dump the batter onto a standard dinner plate and then spread a thin amount along the plate’s edge. Using a butter knife, she would cut tiny pieces of the batter off the edge of the plate and flick them into the boiling pot of water below. So we set about it, getting all kinds of sizes of little puffed up delicious pasta mini dumplings. It was a pleasure to see just how much they puffed up once they rose to the top of the pot and cooked for the allotted 20 minutes. Grandma Regina’s final tricky tip: after each flick, dip your knife into the water in the pot, thereby keeping it clean and hot, so it easily cut through the stretchy batter.

Of course we love to play with tradition and being that this is 2015 AP flour alone didn’t seem quite right to us. So we tried the batter with half the amount whole-wheat flour and half the amount AP flour. The result – still tender but with more complex flavor and an obvious boost on the healthy eating scale. One last adaptation brought us back to those “shhpaaeettzly.” For about $15 you can buy a späetzle maker that sits atop your pot. Place some of the batter into the well on top of the contraption and slowly slide it back and forth over the metal grate attached below the well. Then, small pieces of the batter will elegantly drop into the boiling water below. You control the size of your pasta pieces based on how quickly or slowly you slide the well. That’s it. We still love the rough cut pieces, but the späetzle maker uses a lot less wrist work and avoids dipping your hand into steaming hot water.

Knuck-a-knuck – a real winner. Go figure.

Recipe: Nokedli (Hungarian Späetzle)

Serves 6 as a side

5 extra-large eggs
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a fork until smooth. Add the water and salt and beat to combine. Gradually beat in the flours ¼ cup at a time to make a soft, sticky dough. The dough will be very stretchy. If the dough is dull looking, continue beating until it shines. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

Spoon half the dough onto a dinner plate. With a blunt knife, move some dough towards the edge of the plate and spread it until it is about ¼ inch thick. Use the knife to scrape tiny bits of the dough off and flick them into the pot of boiling water. Dip the knife blade frequently into water to help the batter slip off. The dough will grow as it cooks, so cut very small (about ¼-inch) rectangular pieces; this is just a guideline, you can experiment with the size and shape until you find the ones that you like best. (Or use a very simple inexpensive spätzle maker; they are easy to find online and at gourmet kitchen stores.) Make sure the water stays at a boil.

After cutting in about half of the dough, cover the pot partially and boil 10 to 20 minutes, until tender throughout, depending on the size you cut. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, and drain in a colander. Repeat with remaining dough. Salt to taste.

Katja Goldman is known as the unofficial challah teacher of the upper west side, having taught literally hundreds of men and women to bake challah. She co-authored the Empire Kosher Chicken Cookbook: 225 Easy and Elegant Recipes for Poultry and Great Side Dishes.

Lisa Rotmil has a Ph.D in Art History from The Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She is an avid cook and has an interest in design.

Having studied cooking in Milan, London, New York and anywhere she found herself, Judy Bernstein Bunzl's interests in all three vocations came together with the publication of this cookbook.

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Why Do We Publish Picture Books About the Holocaust for Young Children?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 | Permalink

by Marcia Weiss Posner

Editor’s Note: We are frequently asked by parents, teachers, and others a perplexing question: At which age and at which stage it is appropriate to introduce books about the Holocaust to young children? Publishers’ suggested age ranges for their materials vary and do not always seem to match the content they present in the pages of their books. This is often reflected within our reviews, with our reviewers noting that while a book may have great value in many ways and may be filled with beautiful art or poetic language, it is not necessarily right for its intended age group. With so many children’s books on the Holocaust being published in the past few years, it’s become a confusing issue which has led to a staggering number of inquiries. Therefore, we decided to consult an expert in the field of Holocaust literature for her take on this important topic.

Before we present books to children from ages 4-8 on a subject such as the Holocaust, we should provide stories about playing fairly, choosing sides, bullying, and standing up for a classmate or animal that is being mistreated. Each person passes through learning stages depending on physical and mental characteristics and upon the interaction of individual and environmental factors like whether they have become familiarized with the concepts of taking sides, helping a weaker being,bullying, etc. Developmental and emotional maturity of children vary because of the above, and according to age. Even when the words of stories are able to be read by bright younger children, that does not mean that analytical and critical thought is present. It occurs later, by Grade Five at the earliest, for the brightest, most mature students. It depends on their schooling, reading ability, home experiences and the communities in which they live. We can give children books on parent figures and children being mistreated by other adults, but not until they are at least 10 years of age. There are several stages to understanding what one is reading and why the action is happening. Why do we think that children under 10 or 12 are ready for this? The next step in reading incorporates more than one point of view and includes motivation for the action and the fuller development of the characters in the story. The reader has to be able to deal with the layers of facts and add concepts to those acquired earlier. Usually, this begins in early high school.

So why are we writing, illustrating, reviewing and buying books on a subject that belongs at the earliest for a child of ten years old for younger children? There are at least five recent picture books of stories about concentration camps, beautifully written and illustrated. They are not for the picture book group (3-6 or 4-8), but for children from the age of ten and up, who are well able to read full length books and may not read picture books. Authors write and illustrators draw and publishers publish stories about the Holocaust for children who are not ready to receive them to make money, and we all fall into their trap. Some of them are lovely and well done, but in my opinion, premature.

Often books of this type are used by teachers of older children when they present the Holocaust in the classroom. In that setting, they have a more practical use. Books of this type are perfect to use with children of ages 10-14 as the language used in these books is usually too mature for picture book readers but just right for slightly older children. A photograph is more static. The illustrations in these books utilize color and other tools of art to communicate danger, despair, fright, and soon—values that are not communicated in photographs, but that impact older children immediately. Straight text communicates facts. Picture story books communicate feelings as the illustrations enter their emotional portal.

The message is that when teaching the Holocaust, start with a picture story book for any age. It readies the children emotionally to learn more about this topic.

Marcia W. Posner, Ph.D., of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, is the library and program director, and author of the play Smoke and Mirrors: Delusion and Despair: The Story of Terezin, now on tour among Long Island Public Libraries as a follow-up to the best selling novel The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman.

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On Writing a Cookbook for the JCC Manhattan [INCLUDES RECIPE]

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 | Permalink

Katja Goldman, Judy Bernstein Bunzl, and Lisa Rotmil are the authors of the new cookbook The Community Table: Recipes and Stories from the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and Beyond. They are blogging here this week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Really? Another cookbook? Another Jewish cookbook? Well, actually yes.

This one started a few years back when JCC Manhattan was approaching a major milestone (a 10 year anniversary). Judy Bernstein Bunzl was the one who first imagined doing a cookbook to celebrate the vision and mission of the JCC Manhattan on this occasion. We had no idea how many years it would take to actually complete the task!

Judy asked Katja Goldman to join her right away because she is Judy’s go-to food and gardening soulmate. Katja then insisted that we needed Lisa Rotmil to complete our team. Thus our book, The Community Table: Recipes and Stories from the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and Beyond, was born.

Who knew that it would be three years of cooking, tasting, testing again, writing, and then styling every photo shoot? While some might worry that three chefs is too many in the kitchen, for us, it was the perfect number for creativity and culinary inspiration. Indeed, coming from different cooking styles, different kitchens, and different palates, our micro-community was a template for the larger community we were cooking for.

So what did we come up with? Well there is certainly a lot to be inspired by. Jews have been cooking for centuries in lands far and wide. Often what constitutes Jewish cooking is some amalgamation of the resident culture mixed up with Jewish tradition. Think carciofi al guidea, the Roman artichoke dish associated strongly with that Jewish community. Or chicken paprikash from Hungary, served without the sour cream. This book revels in that kind of adaptation. We’ve included recipes from Sri Lanka, an Indian masala, corn bread from Atlanta, and pot-au-feu from Alsace (one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe). We also wanted to reflect how we cook right now, with an emphasis on grains, vegetables, salads, roasted meats, and fish. Plus we couldn’t leave behind the traditional Jewish classics we grew up with and many that we’ve updated to turn them into something new—adaptations for the twenty-first century in New York City and beyond. There is a lot to sample!

We are asked repeatedly what inspired some of our favorite recipes. We have so many to choose from, but here is a great example of how our Iraqi Lamb Burger came into being:

On a rainy day in New York City, we all yearned for a burger. “Let’s not use beef,” was the starting point. With the three of us coming from Ashkenazi backgrounds, we decided to try something different and draw upon Middle Eastern influences. We also love lamb, so that became the springboard for our thinking. Throw in fresh mint, allspice, pine nuts, cinnamon, and of course Italian parsley, and the result was an unexpectedly delicious harmonious mouthful. And of course we didn’t stop there, because every great burger has its own special condiments. So in our book, we also give you recipes for Mint Pesto and Caramelized Saffron Onions.

As we were writing the book, we all realized how much we love it when recipes discuss variations of the base recipe. Don’t like lamb? Substitute beef. Craving a grandma’s stuffed cabbage? Use the meat mixture and just wrap it up in cabbage leaves. And we tried to do the same thing. Directions found in our book.

Some may ask: what do the main values of JCC Manhattan—diversity and inclusion, health and wellness, and a fresh new way of thinking of Jewish life—have to do with food? As it turns out, everything! The Community Table is filled with stories and recipes that connect our past with our future, encouraging us to explore tastes and fragrances from around the world because, after all, that is what Jews have always done.

The cookbook tells a story of JCCs throughout the country who welcome thousands into their doors each day, often using food as the vehicle by teaching how to grow it, prepare it, and learn about its role in Jewish life. Altogether The Community Table celebrates food as a tool to help build community, make new friends, learn a new skill, and find strength in being a part of something larger than oneself.

Recipe: Lamb Burgers

Serves 6

Mint Pesto

3 cups packed fresh mint leaves
1 1/4 cups olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons honey
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)


6 tablespoons pine nuts
2 pounds ground lamb
½ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup ice water
2 tablespoons bread crumbs or matzah meal
6 pita breads

To make the pesto, combine all the ingredients in a food processor and purée. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. (The pesto lasts in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to two weeks).

In a small pan over medium-low heat, toast the pine nuts, watching carefully and stirring, until lightly colored, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

To make the burgers, preheat the broiler or lightly oil a grill pan. In a medium bowl, combine the pine nuts, lamb, parsley, mint, onion, salt, allspice, and cinnamon. Knead well by hand, squeezing the meat through your fingers. Add the ice water and continue mixing by hand. Add the bread crumbs and knead well again until the meat is very soft and all the ingredients are well blended, about 3 minutes. Shape the meat into six 2½-inch patties by first rolling it between your palms into 1-to-1½-inch-diameter balls and then flattening them.

Transfer the patties to a broiling pan and broil, turning once, until brown and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Alternatively, grill over high heat for 2 to 4 minutes per side. Remove from the heat and set on a serving plate.

Before serving, warm the pitas in foil in a 300°F oven for a few minutes. Serve the burgers with the pita, mint pesto, and saffron caramelized onions.

Katja Goldman is known as the unofficial challah teacher of the upper west side, having taught literally hundreds of men and women to bake challah. She co-authored the Empire Kosher Chicken Cookbook: 225 Easy and Elegant Recipes for Poultry and Great Side Dishes.

Lisa Rotmil has a Ph.D in Art History from The Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She is an avid cook and has an interest in design.

Having studied cooking in Milan, London, New York and anywhere she found herself, Judy Bernstein Bunzl's interests in all three vocations came together with the publication of this cookbook.

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New Jewish Book Council Reviews

Friday, March 20, 2015 | Permalink

This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:

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