The ProsenPeople

The Classic Jewish Children's Novel for Thanksgiving, Molly's Pilgrim

Friday, November 21, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Chava Lansky

With Thanksgiving approaching it’s time to pull the classic Jewish children’s novel Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen, off the shelf. This touching tale tells the story of Molly, a young girl who’s just moved with her family to the U.S. from Russia to escape anti-Semitism and winds up as the only Jewish child in her third-grade class. She’s bullied in her new school for old-world clothes and accent. But when she’s asked to make a pilgrim doll as a Thanksgiving assignment, she helps her peers to discover that Thanksgiving is really a celebration of all kinds of pilgrims.

This sweet novel for readers aged six to ten will give children a Jewish perspective on the Thanksgiving holiday while teaching them about diversity and acceptance. The perfect gift to keep the young ones busy at the Thanksgiving table.

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Friday, November 21, 2014 | Permalink

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The ProsenPshat: Week of November 17th

Friday, November 21, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

We’re catching up from the Jewish holiday blitz just in time for Thanksgiving next week! In case you’ve been as busy as we have, here are some highlights from the past several weeks:

Reading All the Trees of the Forest: Israel’s Woodlands from the Bible to the Forest by leading Israeli environmental activist Alon Tal, Juli Berwald recalled her childhood donations to the Jewish National Fund and questioned whether her dimes, pennies, and nickels “might have helped plant some of those misconceived pine trees” that proved flammable and destabilizing to the native ecosystems of mid-century Israel. All the Trees of the Forest provides more than just an ecological study; Tal tells the entirety of the region’s history through its forestation, razes, and agriculture.

In many ways, Tal explains, forests tell the story of human civilization. In Biblical times, deforestation was used as a military tactic, a process exacerbated by the grazing animals of the nomadic tribes that wandered the land between battles. Razing trees continued on and off through the Ottoman rule so that the land was fairly decimated by the 1920s when a massive tree planting effort began with the British takeover... “The forests of Israel constitute a grand experiment.” Tal explains. And lucky for us, the experiment continues.

Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman led an incredible discussion for Jewish twenty-somethings in New York’s Upper West Side just before kicking off her Jewish Book Month tour, addressing Israel’s gender politics and feminist activism over the past several years.

Israel has seen some progress: segregated buses are down to a third of where they were three years ago, and after a driver was heavily fined by the government for the assault of a female passenger on his bus Eged employees have made a better habit of intervening when a passenger is harassed or threatened. There have been other victories for women’s civil rights in Israel over the past couple years: grassroots campaigns and initiatives have gained firm footing in Israeli society, enabling partnerships across denominational lines and placing much-needed accountability on the government and political leaders—not just the religious ones. “The story here is about the secular government, the state apparatus, supporting religious extremism. The story is not about religious extremists, but how the secular world enables them.”


There’s also some great fiction out of Israel recently: Assaf Gavron’s newest novel The Hilltop gets inside the mind of an Israel settler, and his contemporary short story anthology co-edited with Etgar Keret , Tel Aviv Noir, features current Israeli writers whose works Gavron and Keret feel should be receiving international attention.

Can’t get enough crime writing? David Liss’s The Day of Atonement is a historical novel of an avenger exacting retribution for his parents’ execution at the hands of the Portuguese Inquisition. Converting back to his family’s long-lost religion out of spite, Sebastião Raposa’s developing Jewish faith forces him to question the morality of his vigilante mission.

Daniel Silva’s latest novel also twists through history with the mystery of a stolen Caravaggio painting. Returning art restorer and crime solver Gabriel Allon once again fights his inner demons and tears after his objective, hunting down the assets of a powerful Middle Eastern ruler in The Heist.

For a non-fiction chase through history, be sure not to miss Sarah Wildman’s outtakes from Paper Love, published in a four-part installment on The ProsenPeople. The epistolary love story between her grandfather and the woman he had to leave behind in the Second World War impelled Wildman to search for strangers and examine her own family’s survival out of Austria.

It was hard for me to leave out any of the words written by Valerie Scheftel, the woman my grandfather left behind. But there were a few that didn’t fit. And Valy’s letters—as devastating as they are—sometimes, too, ranged to the mundane, just like all the letter writers of her day included the tiny things that now make up our email feeds. Life, even in deprivation, was not always worth filling up a page about. And yet, even Valy’s shortest notes can wallop me with sadness.

Gathering lost stories from the Holocaust is also at the heart of Testimony: The Legacy of Schindler’s List and the USC Shoah Foundation:

As Testimony pushes further and further into the evolution and technicalities of amass­ing the fifty-two thousand recorded interviews that now comprise the Shoah Project archive, its pages are increasingly interrupted by transcripts of the very testimonies crunched into the numbers and facts the book presents. These excerpts range from anecdotes about life before the war to the unimaginable experiences from within the Holocaust to descriptions of how these survivors have lived since. In this, the book demonstrates its keen balance: neither under-crediting Spielberg— his vision, his savvy, and his influence, (nor allowing his prominence to overshadow the efforts of his team—down to the film extras and phone line volunteers,) Testimony serves testament to the dedication of everyone involved in one of the most monumental archival initiatives of the modern age, from Schindler’s List’s producers to its crew to its cast, from the Shoah Foundation’s visionaries to the volunteer videographers capturing interviews on their personal recording equip­ment, from Steven Spielberg to the aging, determined, brave, and frightened witnesses to the Holocaust who came forward to tell him—and through him, the world—not just what happened to them, but who they are, to the next generation inheriting these stories through the Shoah Foundation.

And to the next generation inheriting these stories directly from their grandparents? Michel Laub’s outstanding novella Diary of the Fall is “an arresting examination of the father-son relationship contending with a Holocaust legacy, staged within the insularity of Jewish Brazil.” If you haven’t had much exposure to contemporary Brazilian literature, start here.

Would it make any difference if the things I’m describing are still true more than half a century after Auschwitz, when no one can bear to hear about it anymore, when even to me it seems old-fashioned to write about it, or are those things only of importance to me because of the implications they had for the lives around me?


Chances are you’ve had plenty of exposure to the works of William Shakespeare, but you’ve never read them like this: Lois Leveen blogged about her process for writing a Jewish character into William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as this week’s Visiting Scribe on The ProsenPeople. Drawing on her experience of seeing herself in a different time period during the Passover seder and the Talmudic tradition of building a narrative out of unanswered questions, Lois transformed a negligible Shakespeare character into the Jewish protagonist of Juliet’s Nurse.

The part of me that earned a Ph.D. in literary studies might argue that the question of identity is already at the heart of Romeo and Juliet. In the most famous scene, when Juliet wonders, "wherefore art thou Romeo?" and then insists "a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet," she's plumbing how much of who Romeo is depends on who his people are – in his case, the Montagues, or as we might say, the whole mishpucha. I could draw some analogy from the question of family identity to the question of Jewish identity, particularly the dynamic combination of culture and ritual that defines what it means to be a Jew in contemporary America.

After completing the novel, Lois found herself confronting Shakespeare’s engagement with ideas of Jewishness, beyond Shylock of The Merchant of Venice. Examining passages from Two Gentleman of Verona, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, and Henry IV, Lois mapped the experience of Jews in England during Elizabeth’s reign—and the identities of their gentile neighbors who projected the image of the Jew as expressed by the Bard.

Unlike groups defined by nationality, Jews might shift their geographic presence; but "Jewishness" also implied a different kind of potential instability. In countries under the Inquisition, suspicions persisted regarding whether conversos, Jews forced to convert, were secretly maintaining their Jewish identity and practices. In England, there was a strangely inverse fear that Catholics might be infiltrating the country by disguising themselves as Jews. And throughout Europe, as part of the immense rift begun by the Protestant Reformation, some Catholics accused Protestants of being too like Jews in their practices and beliefs—and some Protestants alleged the same about Catholics.

Four centuries later, Deborah Levy struggled with the perception of Jews during her childhood in South Africa, detailed among the essays of Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing. Facing discrimination during grade school pushed her to rebel through writing, as she has continued to do ever since.


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2014 Jewish Book Council Chanukah Gift Guide

Monday, November 17, 2014 | Permalink


Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

We know you book lovers out there have been waiting all year for what's finally upon us: Jewish Book Month — an annual event to promote Jewish literature the month preceding Chanukah (this year Jewish Book Month runs from November 16th-December 16th)! While we work all year to promote Jewish interest literature, this is the month when many of our efforts culminate in hundreds of events across the country featuring Jewish interest books and authors. If you're looking for an interesting book event, now is the time to start checking out your local listings. You can see if your community hosts a Jewish book fair or event with JBC authors by visiting our list of participating JBC Network sites.

With Jewish Book Month in full swing, it's also time to start thinking about Chanukah, and, of course, that means Chanukah gifts. In our humble opinion, there is no better gift for the holiday season than a good book and we certainly have no shortage of recommendations. That said, we did decide to offer a quick 2014 gift-giving cheat sheet below, in case you don't have time to browse through the thousands of books filling our book archive (although we do recommend a browse — we've got something for everyone!).

So take a gander below, check out the children's Chanukah gift-giving guide here, and if you have a loved one in the NYC area, consider buying them a Jewish Literary Map of NYC or a JBC Circle membership for Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation. Use gift code CH2014 to receive an extra 15% off your JBC Circle membership!

(Feel free to add your own 2014 gift recommendations in the comments below.)

Grandmother
Grandfather
Mother
Father
Sister
Brother

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2014 Jewish Book Council Chanukah Gift Guide for Children

Monday, November 17, 2014 | Permalink


Posted by Nat Bernstein

We know it's only November, but we've already got Chanukah on our mind. Earlier today we published our 2014 Chanukah gift-giving guide for adults, but our list wouldn't be complete without a few books for the youngins. See our 2014 Children's & YA cheatsheet below for the newest holiday books, illustrated titles, middle grade reads, and YA novels:

Chanukah Books
Picture Books
Middle Grades
Young Adult



























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Friday, November 14, 2014 | Permalink

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Spicing Children's Literature with Jewish Humor and Jewish Life

Friday, November 14, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

The 16th Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Seminar was held on Sunday, November 2nd at the Jewish Book Council offices in New York City. An intimate gathering of 30 or so authors and artists spent a full day workshopping and learning about different facets of children’s book publishing.

Book designer, artistic director, and children’s author Claudia Carlson kicked off the seminar with a keynote speech about her personal trajectory climbing the ropes in a very difficult industry. Claudia’s tenacity—necessary for any aspiring illustrator, designer or writer—immediately struck and resonated with her audience: unable to find the kind of work she desired upon entering the publishing world, Claudia enrolled in as many workshops and courses as her schedule allowed, took jobs in departments she had never considered before, and spent her lunches browsing bookstores to “research” how other designers approach books. “A good book cover will make someone pick up a book already asking a question—but none of it can make up for bad writing,” she observed.

Claudia named Uri Shulevitz’s Writing with Pictures as the ultimate resource for illustration and book design, and recommended taking calligraphy courses to sharpen one’s eye across the page. Book covers are more about typography and design than art—Claudia recalls a former mentor repeating, “Stop illustrating the cover!” over her drafts—and the interiors have to be set to match the stories they contain. “Good book design is like a table setting,” Claudia quipped, “people should remember the food and conversation, not the plates. A good designer illuminates the words and pictures, never overpowers them.”

Seth Fishman and Shira Schindel followed with a split presentation on researching and querying literary agencies and exploring e-publishing options. Seth, a literary agent and current JBC Network author, offered earnest advice on finding the right agent—“An agent works for you: if you’re with the wrong agent it can really burn your career. You want to find a partner in your agent; editors, publishers come and go, but agents take their clients with them wherever they end up.”—and outlined the optimal query letter. Seth has noticed a “direct correlation between research and quality of writing,” observing that authors who have clearly put in the time to learn about the agencies their querying and the industry in general ten to prove the better writers in the “slush pile.” Shira, who heads acquisitions for Qlovi, heartily agreed with Seth on the importance of making a strong impression from the slush pile, mentioning that most firms assign interns to sort through all query letters for standouts. She discussed the advantages and drawbacks of e-publishing and digitally-enhanced books, comparing different sites and sources—and their terms.

Freelance journalist and children’s book review Penny Schwartz facilitated an author panel featuring Leslie A. Kimmelman, Linda Marshall, and Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum. Leslie’s career in Jewish children’s book writing grew out of a personal need for a vibrant library for her own children. “At the time, there was only Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins, All-of-a-Kind Family, and Zlateh the Goat. The only Jewish children’s books when my kids were growing up were pedantic, dated, and small-press.” She recalled her children asking her why Charlie Brown celebrates Christmas as an example of how few literary characters existed to whom they could relate during the holidays. “I think it’s really important for kids to read Jewish books that aren’t about the shtetl or the Holocaust—non-Jewish kids, too—in order to teach children about Judaism, and to teach non-Jews about Judaism.”

Linda agreed, adding that she frequently hands her book to non-Jewish parents—even ones specific to Jewish holidays or history. “The Jewish values and Jewish stories I write about are applicable everywhere, to everyone; I’ll hand The Passover Lamb to the man who runs the newsstand on my way to work—and he’s definitely not Jewish—and ask him for feedback, what his kids think of the book.”

“I really want to develop a library of books that speak to Jewish children,” Leslie followed up. “Books that are universal but just happen to be Jewish; characters are doing Jewish things, but that’s not the focus.”

“It’s like a spice when you’re cooking something,” illustrated Andria, whose own desire to be a writer arose out of a love for the sound of literature from listening to her father read science fiction and Robert Louis Stevenson novels aloud. “You have this delicious spice that will enhance the book, the story, but you add too much and it tastes terrible.”

“I happen to think it tastes great,” Leslie chuckled, “but maybe other people just don’t like the spice! The characters that always stuck out to me—even now—are the villagers of Chelm: every time I read a Chelm story I think it’s hysterical. Jewish humor is so distinctive, and such a wonderful device for children’s literature, especially. I could it eat it by the bowlful.”

After bowlfuls of actual food, following the lunch break Vivian Newman from the PJ Library presented on how children’s books teach and transmit social and moral lessons. Children acquire values through discussion, role models, and experimentation with different behaviors—and books serve as a vehicle for all three. “Reading with children presents an opportunity to bring up issues or ideas that might not arise in daily life; characters serve as role models and anti-role models; and parents can use books to show a child what interests them and other adults in the child’s life, on top of presenting new perspectives that the child might not encounter elsewhere.”

Claudia Carlson returned for a Q&A session together with Penguin Random House editor Avery Briggs to answer questions about what they each look for in a manuscript and the shift in children’s book publishing to accommodate the Common Core.

The presence of several Jewish Book Council Board and staff members—including Jewish Book World’s Children’s & YA section editor Michal Malen—exhibits the Jewish Book Council’s dedication to the reading, writing, publishing, and distribution of Jewish children’s literature. See what children’s and YA titles been reviewed in the most recent issue of Jewish Book World and the full index of starred children’s reviews online, and contact the Jewish Book Council through the form below for more information about next year’s seminar!

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The Boy with the Duffle Bag

Friday, November 14, 2014 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Mike Kelly wrote about looking into the bombmaker who built the bomb that blew up a bus on Jaffa Road in 1996 and his journey from 9/11 to Jerusalem's Jaffa Road. His newest book, The Bus on Jaffa Road: A Story of Middle East Terrorism and the Search for Justice, chronicles the aftermath of the Hamas suicide bombing of a commuter bus in downtown Jerusalem on Feb. 25, 1996. The book traces the capture of the key bomb-maker and the efforts by the families of two Americans to hold Iran accountable for financing the bombing and training the bomb-maker – only to discover that the American government was trying to block them. He has been blogging here all week for the Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Majid was was nineteen and learning to lay tile at a trade school. On a Friday in February 1996, his cousin – an older man with ties to Hamas – asked if he wanted to “do a mission.” Two days later, Majid stepped aboard a commuter bus on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road, carrying a duffle bag filled with twenty pounds of explosives and wired to detonate with the press of a button. After the doors closed, he stood, yelled “God is great” in Arabic and pressed that button. Twenty-six people died – twenty-seven if you include Majid.

Why did he do it? How did an otherwise ordinary nineteen-year-old Palestinian decide so quickly on a Friday to kill himself so brutally on a Sunday?

Those questions troubled me as I researched The Bus on Jaffa Road.

And so, on another Sunday, almost seventeen years later, I drove to Majid’s home in the Palestinian refugee community of al-Fawwar in the Judean hills near the ancient city of Hebron. Like any writer, I suppose I was hoping for some sort of clear answer to a crucial central question of why this young man killed himself. And yet, as I approached al-Fawwar, I sensed that such clarity may still be impossible.

I found Majid’s family home – actually a vacant lot now. Soon after he had been implicated in the Jaffa Road bombing, his home had been destroyed by the Israeli army. I asked where the family was now. A young man guided me through a series of narrow lanes and up a hill where I met Majid’s father, Muhammad.

I introduced myself and said I wanted to speak about Majid. Muhammad led me into his family’s new home, a two-story, concrete structure that sat on a hillside and overlooked a lush valley of small farms. We entered a room with only one photo on the otherwise bare walls. The photo was of Majid.

I asked Muhammad why Majid killed himself. Muhammad shook his head. He did not know why and explained that if he had known of his son’s plans he would have tried to stop him. He said he understands why some young men participate in suicide bombings. He cited the Israeli occupation, the lack of jobs and the overall feeling among some Palestinians that there is no future for them. But then his voice trailed off.

“As a father I couldn’t bear dealing with this issue.”

I pointed to the photo of Majid on the wall.

“Why do you keep his photo there?” I asked.

“Because he is my son,” Muhammad said.

Our conversation continues for another hour or so. Muhammad said that Majid would have been in his mid-thirties by now, probably married and the father of children.

“Do people in al-Fawwar talk about him?" I asked.

Muhammad shook his head.

“Not very much,” he said. “Things like that go into oblivion.”

For more information about The Bus on Jaffa Road as well as a video and an excerpt, please check out www.mikekellywriter.com.

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Interview: Rabbi Sandy Sasso

Thursday, November 13, 2014 | Permalink

by Michal Hoschander Malen

JBW’s Michal Hoschander Malen interviewed Rabbi Sandy Sasso about the many children’s books she has authored and about where she finds the in­spirations for her stories.

Michal Hoschander Malen: Rabbi Sasso, your lovely books, although geared to young children, are filled with spiritual connections and a sense of reaching beyond our daily lives. Can you tell us a bit about your overall philosophies and how you are able to transmit some of that feel­ing to a new generation?

Rabbi Sandy Sasso: I began writing for children in the late 1980s. I want­ed books about God, spirituality, and the Bible that I could read to my own children and the children I taught. Most of the children’s literature in these areas was either too preachy or contained ideas that children would be prone to reject when they grew older. Children have an innate spirituality and they are capable of talking about life’s big questions. Often adults are afraid of the conversation. Writing about the sacred, the divine, doesn’t mean simplifying the concept, just the language. When I write, I address a number of questions: How might children experience the sacred in their daily experiences? How might they come to under­stand Bible tales as more than ancient texts, as living stories of which they are a part? How can story be a way honoring the spiritual lives of children and encourage a continuing conversation?

MHM: The new Noah movie has reawakened interest in the old Bible tale and one is reminded that you wrote a book only a few short years ago featuring Noah’s wife, Naamah. Please tell us about your vision of Naamah and why you think she is an important figure for the youth of today. How much, if any, of the Naamah character is based on anything hinted at in the Biblical text? What can we learn from the Noah story about the world we live in now? Are there any lessons we can carry away with us?

RSS: Often when I read Biblical narratives what fascinates me the most is the voice that is missing. When a student once asked me who Noah’s wife was, I had nothing to say. I decided to look at rabbinic sources to see if they might tell me something. I found two names, Naamah and Emzerah. Naamah means “pleasing” and Emzerah, “Mother of Seed.” That wasn’t much to go on, but it was enough for a story. Noah saved the animal life. I imagined that Naamah collected two of every seed, planted a garden on the ark and replanted the earth’s garden after the Flood.

I write that as Naamah was collecting all the plants to bring on the ark, she passed by the dandelions. God tells her again to gather seeds of every plant. Naamah knows that means the dandelions too. Because she had ignored them God made certain that dandelions would cover the earth.

Soon after the book came out I received a call from the assistant to the Secretary of the Interior of the United States! He told me that he had read my book and wanted to know where I had found the part about the dandelions. The need for environmental preservation was essential and he wanted to know the sacred source. I told him that I found it in my imagination. He was disappointed. He needed something a bit more ancient!

Toward the end of the book, I suggest that it is Naamah who puts an olive seed in the mouth of the raven and encourages him to drop it to the earth. When the dove returns with the olive branch, Noah says it is a miracle; Naamah just smiles!

It is important for young people to know that nothing and no one is unimportant; that even when they feel ignored, they are loved. They have a responsibility to care for the earth, to continue to plant the trees and the garden, to care for our environment. It is more important now than ever. I also want our young people to come to realize that they shouldn’t wait for miracles; they can make them happen.

MHM: We more recently reviewed two of your other books, The Shema in the Mezuzah: Listening to Each Other and Creation’s First Light. The Shema in the Mezuzah was a wonderful story about compromise. What is the source for this story?

RSS: The story is based on a twelfth-century argument between two great scholars, Rashi and his grandson, Rabbenu Tam. They disagreed about how the mezuzah should be placed on the door posts of the house. Rashi thought that we should put the mezuzah vertically. Rabbenu Tam believed it should be in a horizontal position. In the end, they compro­mised and decided to slant the mezuzah. I had known about this debate for a long time and told it as part of a sermon. Then one day when I was thinking about what story to tell at a family service, my husband Dennis asked, “Why don’t you tell the story of the mezuzah?” I took his advice and the kids loved it! It was the beginning of The Shema in the Mezuzah. Because it deals with the importance of listening and compromise, it isn’t just a story for children. Many people who read the book suggest that I send it to Congress!

MHM: Creation’s First Light is suffused with a sense of spirituality and joy. Where do you get the ideas for your books and what motivates you to write for children?

RSS: Often the ideas come from questions—my own or others. I recall telling the creation story from Genesis. I asked if there was any part of the story we could do without and still have all the story we needed. One person suggested that we did not need the light of the first day, because we had the light of the sun and the moon.

What was the light of the first day? I knew the midrash about the primordial light that was greater than the sun and the moon and that it had been lost after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Despite many suggestions in rabbinic text, I still was not sure where the primordial light was hidden. When my first grandson was born, I looked into his eyes and I saw that light. It was then that I knew its name—the soul.

When I talk to children about this story, they understand that spiri­tual light in ways I never thought possible. They can tell the difference between the light of the sun, the moon and the stars, the artificial lights of lamps and flashlights and the deeper light of the soul. Our children have that special light and they want to tell us about it. It is up to us to insure that they have the language, so that it can continue to burn more brightly.

MHM: Can you share with our readers a few details about your writing process?

RSS: I read; I observe. Something strikes me—a midrash, a question. Then a thought grabs hold of me and won’t let go. It is a bit like the ac­count of Jacob struggling with the angel. Only in writing, I am wrestling with ideas and words, and I won’t let go until they bless me. I wrote many of my books while I was serving as a rabbi of a large congregation. People would often ask me, “Where do you find the time?” When a story is in­side you, you can’t sleep if you don’t write it down. Time finds you—even in the middle of the night. It is exhilarating and hard—lots of editing and discarding, playfulness and patience.

If I am working with a Bible tale or a midrash, I weave traditional texts with imagination and listen for the silences. Sometimes the characters have a mind of their own. When you live with them long enough, they take you places you didn’t at first think you would go. You carry the story with you and in you. And when it is finished, you give birth. And just like a child, the story takes on a life of its own.

MHM: Are there any new books or subjects we can look forward to in the foreseeable future? Do you have any hints or teasers for us to whet our appetites?

RSS: There is a book that will be published in the fall that tells of the chestnut tree behind Anne Frank’s Secret Annex. Saplings from that tree are being planted in eleven places in the U.S. Anne Frank and the Remembering Tree is the story of Anne Frank from the point of view of the tree.

I am also working on an adult anthology with Peninnah Schram on Jewish Love and Marriage: Stories from the Bible to Contemporary Time (working title).

I thought you might be interested in the following explanation of one of my books because of the recent release of the movie. The Noah movie reminded me of my story of Naamah and the recent book and movie, Heaven is For Real, make me think back to the book I wrote in 1999, For Heaven’s Sake. The story tells of a little boy named Isaiah whose grandfather has died. People tell him that his grandfather went to Heaven and Isaiah wants to know what heaven is. He receives many answers, none of which satisfy him. Finally his grandmother takes Isaiah to all the places his grandfather loved to visit and volunteer. Then she says, “I think, Isaiah, we can get close to Heaven and to God in a place in our hearts. I feel there is a part of Grandpa in all the places and people we visited today, and little bit of Heaven, too.” I wrote this story in part because as a rabbi I was often asked this question and most of the books I read were not satisfying. I felt a need for a narrative that did not depict this world simply as a waiting room for the world to come, but a real place where we can make life hell or heavenly.

MHM: Thank you so much, Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. We look for­ward to many more creative and beautiful books from your flowing pen.

JBC thanks Jewish Lights Publishing for help in facilitating this interview.

Michal Hoschander Malen is a librarian and editor of reference books. She is the children’s and young adult section editor of Jewish Book World.

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Book Cover of the Week: After Birth by Elisa Albert

Thursday, November 13, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

As we await the release of Sami Rohr Prize finalist Elisa Albert's forthcoming novel, the newly unveiled book cover for the British edition of After Birth was sent to the Jewish Book Council in the last week, and it's a winner:

Elisa Albert is the author of The Book of Dahlia: A Novel and How Is This Night Different?, a collection of short stories circling around Jewish holidays and rites of passage. Through the narrative of a new mother striving to befriend and aid a transient, trendy neighbor in her sleepy college town, After Birth, due out in February from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, explores the challenges of first-time parenting and postpartum depression, interfaith marriage, and the second-hand trauma of the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. And yes, breastfeeding features heavily.

If you're in the New York area, come out to hear Elisa Albert speak about After Birth at our new literary series Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation.

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