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JBW Talks to Angella Nazarian

Thursday, September 02, 2010 | Permalink

Eager to get your hands on the winter issue of Jewish Book World (due out in November)? Well, here’s a bite to hold you over. JBW’s Nicole Azulay took some time to interview Angella M. Nazarian, author of the beautiful memoir Life as A Visitor, for the upcoming issue.

At a young age, Angella M. Nazarian was uprooted from her home in Iran and brought to her current neighborhood Beverly Hills. Never quite feeling at home, Nazarian intertwines her emigration from Iran, immigration to America, and various travels in her memoir Life as a Visitor.

JBW: Most Iranians I know kind of shut out their past and difficult upbringings, what inspired you to write your personal story? Was it a painful process?

AN: Not talking about negative circumstances is part of Iranian culture. However, two things led me to be more open: One was the fact that I have a psychology background so talking about things is in my nature. Also, I believe that everything meaningful needs to be heartfelt and full of passion; hence, this story is something I am extremely passionate about. My main motivation for writing this book was my children. I think it is important for them to learn what their parents and relatives have gone through. Writing the book was extremely hard. I sometimes would literally break down and cry as I was writing. Although it was difficult, writing Life As a Visitor was a growing experience for me. Writers often explore feelings they don’t know they had in the process of writing.

JBW: In the beginning of the book you mentioned that while you were living in Iran you, along with all the other children, would wait for a man who would walk through the neighborhood with a “giant tin box.” For a coin, you could peer in the two holes he cut in the box to see slides of foreign countries. Was this what made you interested in travel?

AN: Yes. However, I was also greatly influenced by my parents’ travels as well as what I would see on television.

JBW: I noticed that you frequently referred to your paternal grandmother. She seems to have made a positive impact on your life. Can you elaborate further on why she was your role model?

AN: Although I have never met my grandmother, I feel a strong connection to her. She was the direct opposite of a typical Iranian woman. Despite living in an environment where many Jews were ashamed of being Jewish, my grandmother embraced her heritage. She wasn’t afraid of being seen. She wore Western clothes when woman of her generation were covered up. She was assertive and didn’t mind not blending in.

Reviews from the fall Jewish Book World

Thursday, September 02, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

If you’re a subscriber to Jewish Book World and haven’t received your fall issue, fear not, it’s in the mail, and you’ll be reading it very soon. If you’re not, check out some sample reviews from the issue, below. Interested in subscribing? It’s super easy. Just click here.

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement (Jane Ziegelman)

Taking one New York City tenement as her base, Jane Ziegelman follows the food traditions that five immigrant families brought to their new home. Ziegelman, a food historian and director of the Tenement Museum’s planned culinary center, takes readers on a lively tour of the Lower East Side, with its German beer gardens, Jewish pushcarts, Irish boarding houses, and Italian street vendors…Read On

Backing Into Forward: A Memoir (Jules Feiffer)

Jules Feiffer’s memoir is a compelling Bronx tale, tracing his development from a daydreaming would-be auteur of action comic books to world-renowned house cartoonist of the Village Voice, intellectual, political activist, novelist, screenwriter, playwright, and, in his later years, after discovering that he was far more adept at pleasing children than New York drama critics, author of children’s books…Read On

Hillel: If Not Now, When?  (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin)

A conventional biography of Hillel, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin freely admits at the outset of his new book, is impossible. We know little about Hillel—nothing about his parents, not even his wife’s name. We’re not certain of his profession, nor do we know with precision the date of his death…Read On

Jewish Choices, Jewish Voices: Sex and Intimacy (Elliot N. Dorff and Danya Ruttenberg, eds.)

JPS is ready to trigger lively discussions among students yet again! In its series of books on Jewish ethics entitled, “Jewish Choices, Jewish Voices,” Elliot Dorff and Danya Ruttenberg have edited the most recent addition to the series, a book on sexual decision-making. As in previous books in this series about the ethics of money, power, and the body, the authors cull classic Jewish sources from the Bible and rabbinic literature and contemporary essays, offering lively and provocative case studies about sex and sexuality that help readers to formulate a well-informed Jewish stance on these issues…Read On

Almost Dead: A Novel (Assaf Gavron)

In his fifth novel, acclaimed Israeli novelist and translator Assaf Gavron masterfully presents the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of his two narrators. The novel alternates between the perspectives of Eitan “Croc” Enoch, an Israeli business executive who has astonishingly survived three recent terror attacks, and Fahmi Sabih, a young Palestinian bomber who lies comatose in a hospital…Read On

Great House: A Novel (Nicole Krauss)

Great House, Nicole Krauss’ new novel, is a triumph. Smartly executed and beautifully crafted, this multi-layered novel moves back and forth through the chaos of modern Jewish history. Krauss touches on the Holocaust, the Yom Kippur War, Chile under Pinochet, and travels from New York to Jerusalem to London to Budapest as she weaves a story focused on a desk…Read On

A Journey to Uman with Kafka

Wednesday, September 01, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Rodger Kamenetz (Burnt Books) journeys to Uman for Rosh Hashanah:

Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman Of Bratslav and Franz Kafka from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

Why Do They Call it Fasting When it Goes SO SLOW?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010 | Permalink

On Monday, Stacey Ballis wrote about Rosh Hashanah cooking. Her newest book, Good Enough to Eat, is now available.

As I mentioned before, my Judaism, while deeply rooted and very important to me, is something that falls more on the side of culture and tradition and less specifically on the side of religion or spirituality. But there are certain aspects of every holiday that resonate for me, and one of the things I appreciate about being Jewish, is that I can feel free to cherry pick the pieces I like and leave the rest behind.

As we look towards the High Holidays, I thought I would share some of my traditions with you, and some of my traditional recipes.

As we did not, nor do not, belong to a temple, the High Holidays were always spent with family and friends. Actually, the friends in question are basically family. I’m blessed with several families, extra parents abound (all of the love and advice and support but none of the discipline or college tuition), and I’ve got enough siblings-by-choice to sort of feel fundamentalist Mormon (without the polygamy or prairie clothes). Not to mention a truly ridiculous number of bonus nieces and nephews. Some of my earliest memories are of spending the High Holidays with different configurations of these special friends. Often we gather at my family’s weekend place in the country, a place away from the hustle and bustle, with plenty of trees and green, wide open sky and fresh air. A place where, if one is inclined to commune with a higher power, it seems like the kind of place the deity of your choice just might be hanging out.

After some happy outdoor activity, sort of a nod to Adonai, “thanks for all the cool nature and stuff,” we retire to the nearest convenient living room. On Yom Kippur there’s a rousing chorus of “Isn’t it sundown somewhere?” and “I don’t think I’ve ever been this hungry in my life!” And before you get all shocked that most of our merry band of skip-the-services practitioners actually do fast, it is important to note a few things. One, we almost never make it all the way to sundown, we tend to break out the chopped liver round about 4pm, and feel virtuous enough to have made it that far. Two, the fasting packs a devilish one-two punch, it both connects you meaningfully to the tradition, and also gives you total guiltless permission for a major Jew-food binge for the rest of the evening.

At some point in the afternoon, we break out the “All things Jewish explained” books, and take turns reading about the origin of the holiday at hand. On Rosh Hashanah we might offer up some New Year’s resolutions to the group, on Yom Kippur there is meaningful atonement-type eye contact around the room, in case you may have accidentally offended someone present.

I actually like the fasting aspect of the holiday, which is counter-intuitive considering my love of food goes way beyond the norm. I am an unabashed foodie, a passionate home cook, and a constant hostess. I blog about food and my novels are filled with descriptions of meals. Sydney, the heroine of Inappropriate Men, woos with food, cooking for her lover with passion and intent. In Sleeping Over, one of the characters was a chef, and another comforted her boyfriend’s grieving family with breakfast. In Spinster Sisters, one of the heroine’s aunts is a cookbook recipe tester, and there are family meals galore. In my new book, Good Enough to Eat, the main character is a chef and the book includes 40 pages of recipes!

So why, you might ask, does someone who does not think of herself as observant and does not attend temple services AND has a passionate obsession with food choose to fast every year?

For me, it comes down to focus. I appreciate the idea that once a year you should think back to who you have been, and how you may have failed yourself or others. I believe that self-reflection is healthy and necessary, and requires diligence and purpose. I know that if I didn’t fast, I would spend the day organizing the meal, setting everything up, nibbling at this and that and never really immerse myself in the true meaning of the holiday. By abstaining from food, and following the idea that the meal be light and mostly chilled, ergo, significantly prepared the day before, I sit with my family and friends, we talk and enjoy one another’s company, and I live profoundly in that moment, without distraction.

The fasting unites us, even if it is through kvetching and joking about starvation. And I do find moments of the day where I am forced to address the voices in my head, to check in with myself and remind myself that I strive to be a good person. To care for myself and others. To be loving, kind, and honest.

It could be something of a draining day, but at the end, I always feel refreshed, energized, and ready to face both the coming year and the buffet!

We go full-on traditional for holidays, with my grandmother Jonnie both cooking and providing recipes, the meals are a true connection to our history. For Yom Kippur, we eat “light,” bagels and lox, tuna salad, egg salad, sweet kugel. It is all delicious, all exactly what we want and need, it feeds the soul as well as the body.

I talk a lot about the deeper meaning of food between people. When people ask why I go to the trouble of hosting at home, cooking for people instead of going out, my answer is simple. It is a sacred gift to feed someone. To sustain them physically, and please them sensually. The conversations you have around your dining table or in the living room before or after a meal, those are conversations that don’t happen in restaurants. Food is love. Not a substitute for, but an expression thereof. It is often the cliché of Jews that we are constantly talking about food and planning the next meal, and the stereotypical Jewish mother is always portrayed trying to get someone to eat something. This comes from somewhere. It is no surprise to me that a religion I associate so much with attempting to live a life that sustains and fulfills spiritually and intellectually, that we have a fine and long tradition of delectables.

So, as we look to the New Year, to a time of renewal and forgiveness, I wish you all very happy holidays, however you choose to celebrate. An easy fast, if that is on your agenda. And really good food.

Check back all week for more delicious posts from Stacey.

A Sweet New Year

Monday, August 30, 2010 | Permalink

Stacey Ballis‘ newest book, Good Enough to Eat, will be available September 7th. Check back all week for more delicious posts from Stacey for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe.

When people ask me what I love most about being Jewish, the images flash before my eyes.

Succulent slices of slow cooked brisket, moist with rich tomato-y gravy. Latkes, crisp on the outside, melting in the middle, with applesauce and sour cream. Light as air matzo balls, floating in a pool of golden chicken soup, dense sweet noodle kugel.

I mean, yes, of course I love being a part of a religion that allows so many different ways to worship, that holds such a long tradition of philanthropy and artistry, that has such interesting traditions and rituals. Even though I have never been particularly observant, I chose Brandeis as an undergraduate in large part because the school represented the best of educational excellence and social activism. Getting all the Jewish holidays off didn’t hurt my feelings, either. But while my matriculation there did wonders for my Yiddish vocabulary, it didn’t make me any less secular. For me, someone whose upbringing always felt a little bit Jew-ish, as opposed to really Jewish, food is where I have always felt most connected to my people and my history.

Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t non-practicing, we just found our own style. We may not have belonged to a temple, but my sister and I were both bat mitzvahed, we just did it with a private tutor instead of Hebrew school and with a borrowed torah at our weekend place instead of on a traditional bimah. And for mine, a Chinese buffet luncheon to follow.

We share the major holidays with friends and family, choosing readings from books in the living room over synagogue services. Our Passover seders may be brief, but they have deep meaning and we take them seriously, adding our own traditions over the years. But always, the celebration centers on food.

In my writing, my heroines have always been Jewish, at varying levels of observancy, but always connected to the culinary history of our people. In my new book, Good Enough to Eat, Melanie Hoffman is a chef specializing in healthy gourmet food, and during the course of the book we see her make a pilgrimage to the Holocaust Museum, speak at a JUF luncheon, and make brisket for her boyfriend’s family seder. Even though the character is only half-Jewish, and non-observant in the religious sense, she is connected to her heritage through her cooking. Because for me, and by proxy, my characters, food, both the specifics of traditional recipes, and the generic feeling of gathering friends and family around the table, is always something of a Jewish experience at its core. Breaking of bread, or matzo where appropriate, sharing of stories, the sense of unity created around a dinner table, this is where I feel the most direct link to our shared past. I have always believed that when a people have been forced to work hard at maintaining community, bringing people together for meals becomes an essential part of how you keep faith.

Rosh Hashanah has always been one of my favorite holidays. Chicago weather tends to be lovely, the first inkling of fall in the air, crisp and cool but not yet cold. We usually spend it with our best family friends, once we were two couples and five kids, now there are seven couples and seven grandkids with another on the way! We have spent the day walking the Botanical Gardens or at a local state park. We have gone to the zoo, or been out in the country. We have gone apple picking for the apples we later dip in local honey as part of the holiday meal. I associate the holiday with love and laughter and the great outdoors, and an amazing dinner!

One new tradition I used in my book The Spinster Sisters is to not make personal New Year’s resolutions, but to make resolutions for your friends and family. You can resolve that your sister should sign up for the guitar lessons she has always wanted to take, or that your parents should finally visit Israel, or that your brother should apply for graduate school. By resolving these lovely things for them, you may give them the spark they need to fulfill some of their dreams.

As you look to the Jewish New Year, I hope you take a moment to be grateful for your blessings, and remember to bring sweetness into the coming year.

Good Enough to Eat is now available.

International Read Comics in Public Day

Friday, August 27, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

Tomorrow, August 28th, is International Read Comics in Public Day, and we hope you’re as eager to take to the streets, book in hand, as we are. But what to read? While you can always pull out the old Superman comics, there’s a vast wealth of Jewish graphic novels and comic books out there to choose from. In honor of the upcoming holiday, allow us to recommend a few from our bookshelf to get you started.

Market Day by James Sturm (2010)
[Market Day], on the surface, is about a eastern European Jewish craftsman at the dawn of the industrial revolution, struggling to make ends meet and provide for his family the only way he knows how — weaving hand-crafted artisan rugs. It’s a heartbreaking tale, made even more heartbreaking by its relevance to today’s shrinking markets for craftspeople, artists, illustrators, and of course, cartoonists. — Drawn

The Big Kahn by Neil Kleid and Nicholas Cinqueradi (2009)
Rabbi David Kahn dies as a man who has achieved everything he wanted in his life: he has a happy family, a strong congregation, and the love and respect of his entire community. However, on the day of Rabbi Khan’s funeral, a great secret is revealed: David Kahn was really Donnie Dobbs, a petty criminal and conman who lied his way all the way to the top of his profession. — Comics Bulletin

Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman and David Polonsky (2008)
Israeli filmmaker Folman and chief illustrator Polonsky’s graphic novel version of their groundbreaking Golden Globe–winning 2008 animated documentary into a graphic novel. Folman’s story is the account of how he came to grips with the repressed memories of the time he was a soldier in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Megillat Esther by JT Waltman (2005)
Impressive is a vast understatement for J.T. Waldman’s undertaking in Megillat Esther, the Hebrew narrative of Queen Esther in ancient times. While other biblical comics will simply retell the tale through text boxes and panels, Waldman makes readers work extensively through this graphic novel so that by the end, one has witnessed a story and a culture. – Curled Up With A Good Book

The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar (2005)
The preeminent work by one of France’s most celebrated young comic artists, The Rabbi’s Cat tells the wholly unique story of a rabbi, his daughter, and their talking cat — a philosopher brimming with scathing humor and surprising tenderness.

A few other relevant resources:

Happy reading!

Baxter the Pig: The Simple Son

Friday, August 27, 2010 | Permalink

Earlier this week Laurel Snyder blogged on writing a book about inclusion and diversity and the job of being Jewish. She is the author of the picture book Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.

Once I saw David Goldin’s wonderful pictures of Baxter, I immediately fell in love with the little pig. Then I began to imagine where his further adventures might take him. But trying to write a sequel actually feels pretty difficult to me.

I mean, is Baxter actually becoming Jewish? How far can I take that?

The thing about Baxter is that he’s clueless, a total outsider, and so he has the advantage of being able to ask any question without feeling bad about himself for not knowing something. Baxter doesn’t feel ashamed of his lack of Hebrew. Why should he? Think of him as a toddler—a non-Jewish toddler, wandering through a Jewish world. He’s the ultimate simple son!

So in some sense, any Jewish experience he has will be fun, and educational.

In Baxter’s Hole-y Hut, I imagine Baxter might be confused to discover a building with a roof full of holes, and so (being a helpful pig) take to hammering a solid roof on the thing, only to be scolded in the morning. In this way he (and the reader) might learn how to make a sukkah (and why it’s made that way).

In Baxter and the Magical Clothesline, Baxter might try to dry his undergarments, and then find he’s stumbled into an eruv. Of course, Baxter would have no idea what that was, and try over and over again to grasp the concept (with which I’m struggling myself, to be honest).

In Baxter’s Big Bat Mitzvah, Baxter might be informed (by a 12-year-old girl) about the importance of proper attire, and forget his studies in the hunt for a lovely gown, only to find himself floundering on the big day.

In Fast, Baxter, Fast! I think Baxter probably gets invited to celebrate Yom Kippur, and accepts the invitation, though he thinks he’s being invited to a race. When he shows up in a track suit, antics ensue.

And in Baxter, the Loveliest Queen, our porcine friend attends a Purim party (as Esther), where everyone thinks he’s a kid in a pig suit.

Other suggestions that have been made are that Baxter should try his luck at Jewish overnight camp, and that he should visit Israel. But my brilliant friend Jenn has suggested the best sequel so far, which takes things in a whole new direction: Moishe, the Brisket That Wished to Be Treif.

What about you—any suggestions for the next Baxter book?

Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher comes out this week. Laurel Snyder has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

The big reveal–the list of 2010-2011 Jewish Book NETWORK authors is now posted

Thursday, August 26, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Miri Pomerantz Dauber

Every year, through our Jewish Book NETWORK program, we makeshidduchs between over 200 recently published authors and Jewish book programs around the country and help arrange tours for these amazing authors. With Jewish Book Month around the corner (November 2!), we can now share the list of touring authors with you (which includes some of your favorite JBC/MJL guest bloggers). We’re all reading our way through them. The huge range of topics and interests that are covered makes this a great reading list. And if you’re lucky, one of these authors might be coming to your city this fall–check here to see if there’s a NETWORK member site in your area.

Find out more about the Jewish Book NETWORK and how authors or book program/festival coordinators can join.

How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

We just received the finished copy of Gregory Levey's How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less: Without Leaving Your Apartment…great cover! Stay tuned for a review in an upcoming issue of Jewish Book World, as well as his guest author posts in October for the JBC/MJL Author Blog series.

JLit Links

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

J Lit Links from around town…