The ProsenPeople

Book Cover of the Week: Jersusalem

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Fans of Yotam Ottolengthi's cookbook Plenty will be pleased to know that his newest cookbook, Jerusalem, written with business partner Sami Tamimi, is now available.


New Children's Reviews

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 | Permalink

The following reviews can be found in the winter 2012 issue of Jewish Book World (30:4). The complete list of children's reviews from 30:4 can be found here.


 

Hanukkah Reads

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 | Permalink
Hanukkah is around the corner! Enjoy the reads below and check out our longer Hanukkah reading list here.


 

What Makes a Short Story Jewish?

Monday, November 26, 2012 | Permalink

David Ebenbach's collection Into the Wilderness is now available. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

I think most Jewish writers, at one time or another, face the question of what makes them Jewish writers, as opposed to just writers. For example, consider Joshua Henkin’s blog post, “Are You A Jewish Writer?” posted on this very site, back in June. I personally run into this kind of question in panels at just about every literary conference I go to, during question-and-answer sessions at readings, in interviews, and so on. And I think it makes sense; ours is a history of, on the one hand, segregation from non-Jews, which tends to make a people very aware of its identity, and, on the other, it’s a history of needing to hang onto that identity across an enormous diversity of time and place. Without a doubt all of this tends to produce a mindset that wants to ask, “But is it Jewish?” It also tends to produce literature full of Jewish characters doing clearly Jewish stuff, super-Jewishly: rabbis, bar mitzvahs, bagels, and so on.

But a writer can get tired of the question. As Henkin pointed out, “No one asked Updike whether he considered himself a WASP writer.” Indeed. In America in the 21st century, we Jews are still a somewhat identifiable community, with our rabbis and bar mitzvahs and the like, but let’s face it: a day in a (non-Orthodox) Jewish life is largely the same as a gentile life. We don’t spend all day saying: Oh, my G-d, I’m Jewish! I’m taking a Jewish shower! I’m doing my Jewish walk to work! What a Jewish day I’m having! For that reason, a lot of the stories (and poems, for that matter) I write are just intended to be stories, and not particularly Jewish stories. In other words, we live in a situation where we have the option of writing past our labels. And yet….

First of all, I do sometimes write really obviously Jewish stories. In “Jewish Day,” one of the stories from my new collection, Into the Wilderness, a family goes to a baseball game on “Jewish Heritage Day,” and the situation does bring up all kinds of identity issues for the characters. And even when my stories aren’t so obviously tied to my heritage, I think that heritage still matters. I think it does for all Jewish authors. Our history, our upbringing, our life cycle events, all come together to shape who we are, and we write out of that. (The same could probably be said for writers who are Hindu, Mormon, and so on.) Even when our characters are not Jewish, it matters that we are; it means that, instead of talking about our own community, we’re reaching out toward another one. In my story, “Is Any Thing Too Hard for the Lord?” there are two Christian characters praying to Jesus in a car; this is necessarily more an exercise in empathy than an exploration of my own identity.

When the characters are Jewish, we’re doing something else. For example, my story “Person of Interest” concerns a couple with a baby, staying in a shady rent-by-the-week building for the summer; one day, officers from the Department of Homeland Security stop by to arrest one of their neighbors, a young man from the United Arab Emirates. Now, anybody could have rented the apartment next to this guy, and you could argue that my characters just happened to be Jewish. (There are a few signs of their Jewishness, here and there, though it’s not trumpeted from the rooftops.) And so the story isn’t about Jewishness—yet I have to admit that their Jewishness does affect the story. First of all, the narrator’s sense of dislocation in the Midwest reflects the coastal urban origin of a significant number of Jews. More importantly, this incident involving an Arab man is more charged, because of the ongoing Middle-East conflict. It’s more significant. It changes what the events mean to the narrator, and to me. In these senses it is a Jewish story; Jewishness matters. And yet I insist: it’s also just a story, where I’m taking on broader concerns of security and purpose and responsibility.

And so, for me as an author, Jewishness does not have to be the question, or even a question, in every story. I ask any question my fiction leads me to ask. But I also recognize that, when I do so, I’m doing it sort of Jewishly. Bagels or no bagels.

Visit David Ebenbach's website here.

Readers' Favorites

Monday, November 26, 2012 | Permalink

In honor of the first anniversary of JBC's website we asked you, our readers, to let us know your favorite Jewish books. Find the complete list here




 

Perils of the Writing Life

Friday, November 23, 2012 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Tehila Lieberman wrote about being "the other," crossing the borders of radically divergent worlds and two of the short stories from her collection Venus in the Afternoon. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Full Disclosure: This conversation has not yet taken place but may, in some variation, in my lifetime.

You're the daughter in that story and I'm the mother, aren't I? It's all because of the night that you wanted to have Helene Rabinowitz (name protected to protect the innocent) sleep over when you were eleven and I said no and so then you went and got that boyfriend, what was his name with that long hair and well, at least he was Jewish and thank god not like that Italian boy you dated, nor a shvartze, pardon me.

You're actually, believe it or not, not in this piece. Nowhere near it.

And the woman who's you commits suicide. You know you would never be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Mother that's not me and I'm not planning on committing suicide. I'm actually happier than I've ever been. See? Big smile.

Why don't you write like Tova Mirvis? I like her work.

Good, maybe she'll put herself up for adoption.

Very funny. When did you do the shoplifting?

I told you this is fiction.

Nonsense! There's no such thing as fiction.

Visit Tehila's official website here.

New Reviews

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 | Permalink
This week's reviews:


 

The Other

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Tehila Lieberman wrote about crossing the borders of radically divergent worlds and two of the short stories from her collection Venus in the Afternoon. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Growing up in Orthodox Brooklyn, all that was forbidden to us was, by its nature, exotic. We did not have much exposure to those other than us, and by others I mean anyone not Modern Orthodox, not even to many Conservative and Reform Jews, except for a sprinkling of relatives who fell into those camps. Someone who was not Jewish at all, one of the "goyim," took on immense fascination. Tina Bonetti (not her real name) was the mother of the only Italian family on the block and therefore the designated Shabbos goy for an entire street. I would need to wander over to her house on an occasional Friday night, for example, if my mother had forgotten to turn down the oven.

"The oven is extremely hot," I would say, or "the lights in the basement won't go off," never asking explicitly on the off chance that, unbeknownst to us, she was Jewish and I was therefore asking her to perform a transgression. She would open the door in jeans, her blond frosted hair in curlers, and greet me warmly, ready to serve. I had not up to that point seen a middle aged woman in jeans and she fascinated me. My experience, by virtue of the Orthodox exclusivity where I was growing up, rendered those I had little contact with "the other" much as it was supposed to. Even products advertised on TV that were forbidden to us seemed exotic and bit strange. Twinkies, for example and anything Sara Lee.

My young adult life found me in Israel for five years where "the other" became Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. As a 19-year-old student at Hebrew University, I patrolled the perimeter of the French Hill dorms with an Israeli. He wielded the gun, I the flashlight. There was little interaction in those days between the Palestinian and Israeli students at Hebrew U. The only Palestinians we knew were those who hung out at the famous left wing cafe in the center of town, Ta'amon and at Beit Haomanim, the Jerusalem Artists' House. An Israeli friend was dating a Palestinian but they could not find a place to live comfortably and were equally harassed in Israeli apartment buildings and Arab villages. In Israel, I distinctly experienced what it was to be part of the majority.

When I moved to New England, I was certainly not a member of the majority culture, but was "other" in a very quiet, understated way. It was not until I traveled to Chile for the first time with my husband in 1987, that I had my first true experience of being "the other." Chile, like many other South American countries, is profoundly Catholic and its middle class participates in a social Catholicism irrespective of personal beliefs. Crosses were everywhere. Jesus stared down at me from walls and paintings, statues and restaurant art. The many roads that twisted in and out of the foothills of the Andes were pierced with crosses and the names of those who had died in the aggressive sport of Chilean driving. (I received snickers when, years later, I would strap my child into his seat whenever we were on the road.) On public buses, many Chileans would cross themselves rapidly when the bus drove by a Church. There I was, amid the throngs of people in Downtown Santiago, on the vertiginous hills of Valparaiso, and in a dry and evocative desert that, as the Sinai, bordered the sea (but this time with the sea on the other side), for the first time, very much "the other."

While there is a significant Jewish population in Santiago, and its denizens are spoken about with respect—mainly, I perceived, for their successes in the circles in which I found myself on that first trip—there was little integration except for professional acquaintances. I encountered curiosity, stereotyping, hurtful humor (it should be said that Chileans are wittily cruel in their humor and do not spare any culture or disability) and a good deal of ignorance. I began to surmise that in this country, Jews had never been let off the hook for the killing of Christ. I suggested this and my husband disagreed. A month later, to decide the contest, a good friend of ours began to stop people on the streets of Santiago and asked if they would agree to a short interview. Several did and he posed the question, "Who killed Christ?" In his small random sample of Chileans, we were indicted again and again.

It was this experience, many years later, that was still thrumming beneath the surface as the characters and themes of "Into the Atacama" began to emerge.

Visit Tehila's official website here.

Paid Internship Opportunity

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 | Permalink

The Jewish Book Council seeks to hire an individual for a paid part-time internship, commencing January 7th. The intern will be required to be in the office on Wednesdays, Fridays, as well as one additional day during the week. Details can be found below. 

Please submit a cover letter and resume to jbc@jewishbooks.org with subject: RESUME, Internship by December 17th.

Requirements

The intern will work with a small in-house staff. All members of the Jewish Book Council must:

  • Be able to work independently, multi-task, and communicate well in a fast-paced, collaborative work environment
  • Maintain flexibility working with a variety of programs in the ever-expanding JBC
  • Be organized and manage time efficiently on his/her own to meet deadlines
  • Have strong people, phone and writing skills, basic computer proficiency (Microsoft Word, Excel, Publisher)
  • Be able to take initiative
  • Demonstrate professionalism, flexibility, good judgment, resourcefulness, and be a team player
  • Be able to exercise professional judgment to resolve moderately complex problems
  • Have a bright, positive attitude, and be interested in Jewish literature and the mission of the Jewish Book Council.

Specific duties

  • Administrative duties
  • Answer main JBC phone line
  • Research newly published books
  • Send for review copies of newly published books
  • Modify and manage lists in Excel
  • Send acknowledgments for magazine subscriptions and donations
  • Manage website content and online data entry (no prior experience necessary)
  • Contribute to JBC Twitter feed and blog
  • Write Jewish Book World BookNotes
  • Assist JBC staff with JBC programs

Some familiarity with wordpress and design programs preferred.

Please submit a cover letter and resume to jbc@jewishbooks.org with subject: RESUME, Internship by December 17th.

Double Vision

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Tehila Lieberman wrote about two of the short stories from her collection Venus in the Afternoon. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Perhaps after I was born, someone sneaked into the hospital nursery and instead of snatching me, stood above me and whispered, "May You Have an Interesting Life." The motives of this person would not have been clear, nor their intention - blessing or curse. But "interesting" is pretty much a guarantee for anyone who understands early in their life that they have been born into a world that is not their world; that they will need to exit and go forth from what they have known into the babel of many other tongues, satchel on their back, at any given moment looking both forward and back. We who have done so will forever have the understanding, the language of the insider while willingly - no desperately - at all costs - wanting to be outside.

I have not yet read Jeanette Winterson's recent memoir but when I first read her novel, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, certainly inspired by her strange and interesting life of having been adopted into a family of evangelical Christians, I felt that I had found my sister. The extraordinary writer, Kate Wheeler, whose past includes a stint as a Buddhist nun in Burma, has a magnificent short story collection entitled Not Where I Started From. That would be an apt title for a memoir, should I ever decide to write one.

Like Shalom Auslander and Nathan Englander, I emerged from an Orthodox upbringing and am, in fact, the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi. Emerging and carving my own path was certainly fraught and difficult and cost a villa in the south of France worth of therapy, but it has also provided me a certain literacy in multiple points of view and in worlds that don't typically meet and if they do, they are not always friendly.

For starters, we were Ashkenazic and my father was rabbi of a Sephardic shul. And so I grew up with a foot in each world and the very different values and priorities of those two worlds played out in my life in various ways. As a child, I knew Meir Kahana personally (he was married to my mother's first cousin) but only a few years into adulthood, in Israel, ended up working for a left wing member of Knesset. I found myself coming to feel strongly about territorial compromise and a two-state solution while being intimate with the world of settlers. Three years ago, when my son was sixteen, I took him to Israel for his first time. I didn't relish a trip to the West Bank, where my relatives lived, and so my sister-in-law, whom I love and respect very much despite our divergent views, concocted a five-day trip through the north of Israel. I should stop here and let you know that my brother was killed in the first week of the second Intifada and that my sister-in-law has spent the years since single-handedly raising seven kids. She told me that all of the kids, including my two married nieces' husbands, would be coming. I assured her that I had brought my most modest bathing suit.

"Bathing suit?" she said and laughed.

The first day of our trip, my relatives made a point of finding banks of the Kinneret that were deserted, and hidden pools and parts of the Jordan river where we could pretty much be on our own. In blazing heat by the Kinneret I watched as she and all the girls meandered into the water in their clothes. (There was apparently no such restriction on the men!!!) There was no choice. I could remain outside and bake or cool off in my skirt and top. After three days of swimming in my clothes (I will state what some of you are thinking - yes there is an absurdity as clinging wet clothes are not exactly modest), I got used to it. One day a secular couple wandered into the area where we were swimming. The woman was pale and in a bikini and it stopped me. All that skin suddenly seemed superfluous. Distracting.

While I glibly tossed around story titles in my head like "My Vacation with Extremists," on another level, what I was coming to understand was the embarrassment of riches I've been given in terms of a passport to cross the borders of such radically divergent worlds.

Visit Tehila's official website here.