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Sharon Pomerantz Reflects on TribeFest

Friday, March 11, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Earlier this week, the Jewish Book Council sent a few NETWORK authors to TribeFest. We set up two panels:





Upon returning from Vegas (to attend the National Jewish Book Award ceremony!), Sharon sent us the following reflections on her experience:

Tribefest at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas attracted about 1200-1400  young Jews (I heard different estimates as the day went on). The diversity was staggering–Hasidic, Conservative, modern Orthodox, Reform, Ashkenaz and Sephardic; singles and parents with children; transexual, gay and lesbian Jews; Jews by Choice; Israeli and Canadian Jews; Jews from cities and small towns across America, Jews who rap and do stand-up, Jews in sports–I could go on and on.

My session with Josh Braff was a lot of fun. His book, Peep Show, is an interesting pairing with Rich Boy, as it’s about an Orthodox family in the strip club/peep show business in New York City in the 1970s. That’s the same time Robert Vishniak comes to New York City as a cab driver, though his eyes are on Park Avenue, not 42nd Street (that’s more his brother’s realm). The audience of about 100+ people asked terrific questions, about the writing process, morality and fiction, the future of the publishing industry, and, my favorite question–what makes a book Jewish?

There was a lot of blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and general use of technology at the event. I spent some time with my friend, Esther Kustanowitz, blogger and tweeter extraordinaire (Esther was “blogging” and “tweeting” about Jewish issues back when few of us knew what those words meant). To get to the sessions, we had to walk through the casino. I come from a family of very passionate gamblers, and though I did restrain myself, I managed to make what my  late father would call “a small donation” to the casinos.

The economy of Las Vegas can certainly use the tourist dollars. My cab driver and several others I encountered outside the event told me quite a tale of woe–the state of Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, is tops in home foreclosures and car and truck repossessions. The tourist industry, obviously, is hurting and I was told to “tell my friends to come to Las Vegas” more times than I can say. So in that way, holding Tribefest in Las Vegas was a mitzvah.

Ruth Wisse and her Friends

Friday, March 11, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Ruth Wisse has been writing for Tablet this week about her friendships with various intellectual giants of the 20th century. The pieces are  great – candid and eloquent and  she doesn’t shy away from talking about how political differences arose and caused tensions in these relationships. A must read:

Part I: The Novelist (Saul Bellow)

Part II: The Socialist (Irving Howe)

Part III: The Pugilist (Norman Podhoretz)

Cynthia Ozick Accepts Jewish Book Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award

Friday, March 11, 2011 | Permalink

On Wednesday, March 9th, the Jewish Book Council was pleased to present Cynthia Ozick, “the grande dame of Jewish literature,” with the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award. JBC Board member, Francine Klagsbrun, an author of several acclaimed books and a regular columnist for the New York Jewish Week, presented Ozick with the award. Both remarks follow:

Francine Klagsbrun–

I call her Shoshana, She calls me Aliza. We have used these Hebrew names since we first became friends almost forty years ago. So how do you speak, in two minutes, about a friend whom you love, admire, and recognize as one of the great writers of our time—of all time? You speak first, I believe, about her majestic language. Is there another writer who can make you feel a heat wave as Cynthia Ozick does in Foreign Bodies, her new novel, when she tells, among other things, how “Hot steam hissed from the wet rings left by wine glasses on the steel tables of outdoor cafes”? Is there another writer who can make you see, as Cynthia does, “a delicate young oak, with burly roots like the toes of a gryphon exposed in the wet ground”? That, the tree on which the “Pagan Rabbi” hanged himself.

To speak of Cynthia Ozick is to speak also of magical storytelling and indelible characters. Is there another—will there ever be—another character like Ruth Puttermesser, that funny, bookish, Jewish lawyer with the wild imagination, who creates a female golem, becomes mayor of New York, and is brutally murdered only to go to Paradise and discover that “the secret meaning of Paradise is that it too is hell.” Ruth Puttermesser, whom, I suspect, has a little of Cynthia Ozick in her.

And to speak of Cynthia Ozick, is, of course, to speak of the Jewish soul and sensibility that seep into all her works. Tonight we pay tribute especially to the pride, wisdom, learning—and fearlessness—with which she has written Jewishly and shown the way for younger writers to do so. Foreign Bodies, her novel, is not a “Jewish book,” as such. Its themes are broad and wide. Yet this book gives us an unforgettable image of Europe seven years after the Holocaust as a place that one character calls Nineveh, the sinful land in the book of Jonah.

Cynthia Ozick will never put aside her rage at the Holocaust, but she has not limited herself to it in illumining the Jewish landscape. Along with fiction, she has written essays on Sholem Aleichem and Gershom Scholem, on Franz Kafka and Anne Frank, to name a very few. Her Jewish soul and Jewish sensibility have touched and taught the entire world. For us, in the Jewish world, she has been a beracha, a gift, a blessing, an unending source of joy and wonder.

Dearest Shoshana, it is an enormous honor for me to give you the Jewish Book Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Cynthia Ozick–

Thank you for this unexpected and beautiful honor. Thank you, distinguished eminences of the Jewish Book Council! Thank you, Carolyn Hessel! And from the bottom of my soul, thank you, Francine Klagsbrun, for your friendship and its million extravagant kindnesses, of which your words just now are the most electrifyingly generous. Nevertheless I hope, in the face of so much to be grateful for, that you will not be disconcerted if I dare to rename this moving and inspiriting award, if only for this one occasion. The reason is this: “Lifetime Achievement” doesn’t quite fit the case. Call it, instead, the “Lifetime Starting-Out” award — since a writer, no matter how long she has worn her white hairs, is always starting out, is always beginning again, is always in doubt of how to begin, and is always in need of shoring-up. So it is with your magnanimous encouragement tonight that I offer a handful of reflections on what it is to write as a Jew in America. You will see that these are starting-out thoughts. I started out with them long, long ago, and I am still at the beginning of trying to figure out what they might portend.

Lionel Trilling, one of the most influential literary critics of the century we have so recently left behind, and the first Jew to have been officially appointed professor of English at Columbia University, is remembered in particular for two Jewishly oriented statements, one more shocking than the other. “Being a Jew,” he wrote, “is like walking in the wind or swimming; you are touched at all points and conscious everywhere.” Now what is notable about this comment, uttered by a man of grandly capacious intellect, is that it is all sensation, even physical sensation: it suggests a kind of watchful trembling. There is nothing in it of Jewish civilization or culture or history or heritage or even bookishness. But the second statement, by contrast, is nothing but literary in intention; and its intention is wrapped in fear. “I know of no writer in English,” Trilling insisted, “who has added a micromillimeter to his stature by ‘realizing his Jewishness,’ although I know of some who have curtailed their stature by trying to heighten their Jewish consciousness.” The phrase “realizing his Jewishness,” by the way, appears in quotes, to let us know it is meant to be spoken in derision. This deeply vulnerable remark — we might even call it cowardly — is not especially surprising from a man who had to fight to be admitted to a university English department at a time when Jews were told they would not “fit in.”

But set against this self-suppression a declaration by a Jewish writer who was Trilling’s contemporary, and who, unlike Trilling, was fearless, and whose stature, precisely because of this fearlessness, is assured and lasting. Saul Bellow, speaking of his early immersion in American literary classics, proclaimed “no barriers to the freest and fullest American choices. . . . It was admiration, it was love that drew us to the dazzling company of the great masters, all of them belonging to the Protestant Majority — some of them explicitly anti-Semitic. But one could not submit to control by such prejudices. My own view,” he went on, “was that in religion the Christians had lived with us, had lived in the Bible of the Jews, but when the Jews wished to live in Western history with them, they were refused. As if that history was not, by now, also ours.”

Trilling meekly accepted that the Jewish mind and its gifts were outside history’s mainstream. But Bellow refused to be refused, and in announcing that the legacy of Western history was also the Jewish legacy, he aspired to the acme of literary power, and himself joined that dazzling company of the great masters. By now, of course, English departments everywhere have a full roster of Jewish professors, and there are numerous Jewish presidents of distinguished universities. As for Jewish writers, their freedom of self-expression can no longer be disputed anywhere. Wherever literature flourishes, Jewish books proliferate, and the younger writers in their ambitious and energetic battalions startle us with unexpected societal perspectives or fresh interpretations of inherited themes. In Israel: the ancient landscape and the ancient language, each made new. In America: a fourth, or even a fifth, native-born generation for whom the mythos of immigration is a remote and faint echo; and at the same time an influx of brilliant young immigrants catapulted from Soviet suffocation into the American language. And into the free streaming of Jewish wit, Jewish memory, Jewish laughter and Jewish hurts.

Of both America and Israel, it can be said that Kafka, or rather the tormented Kafkan sensibility, is finally overcome. Kafka’s forlorn perception of a Jew writing in German — of himself writing in German — was that of a helplessly struggling beast without a secure hold on the language that is his singular birthright. He described such Jews as having their hind legs “still stuck in parental Judaism while their forelegs found no purchase on new ground.” He called this quandary — or quagmire — “the impossibility of writing German,” even as he recognized the more painful “impossibility of not writing” at all. Every born writer in every language will feel the impossibility of not writing, but who can imagine a native Israeli writer contemplating the impossibility of writing Hebrew, or a Jewish writer in America despairing of the possibility of writing English? The parental Judaism, as Kafka terms it, finds easy purchase in both environments. Kafka’s dilemma in the linguistically threatening confusions of Prague, where he lived through anti-Semitic street rioting, is hardly ours. American Jewish writers are, incontrovertibly, the confident and sovereign owners of the American language.

But what of Hebrew, the indispensable classical and contemporary carrier of the parental Judaism? Only recall that legendary debate, in Jerusalem in the 1950s, between two renowned Jewish Nobel laureates, Saul Bellow and Shmuel Yosef Agnon. Agnon asked Bellow whether his novels had been published in Hebrew. Not yet, Bellow replied. Too bad, Agnon said, because the work of Jewish writers in Diaspora languages is bound to be ephemeral; it will never last. Bellow countered with the example of Heinrich Heine, whose poetry had entered German folk memory to such an extent that even Hitler’s most zealous book burners could not suppress it. Of course, by offering Heine, Bellow was implicitly defending his own status as a Jew writing in the American language. “Heine?” retorted Agnon, meaning to needle his visitor. “Oh, but we have him beautifully translated into Hebrew. He is safe.” Yet neither Bellow nor Agnon appeared to notice the still deeper irony of this impassioned conversation. Bellow’s Hebrew was imperfect. Agnon’s English was imperfect. So there they were, the champion of the American language and the champion of the Hebrew language, each championing his cause in . . . Yiddish! Yiddish too, it should not be forgotten, is an indispensable carrier of the Jewish literary mind.

Owners of the American language though we are, there is sometimes a certain veil of separation. It is rarely felt, but I remember a time, not so long ago, when I felt it with a kind of anguish. It came during several hours of joy, it came simultaneously with that joy: a contradiction of emotions. I had found myself in the company of three renowned writers, as celebrated by their readers as they were sublime in their prose. We four sat together at a little tea table, and I was swept away: the wit flew, the literary gossip danced along, the ideas intensified, the braininess was thrillingly rampant, all without cynicism or sarcasm or spite, good talk flowing freely in waves of sympathy and friendship. Ingrained in these superior minds, I saw, was a noble genuineness and a heartfelt honesty. And at the end of that intoxicating evening, when it was all over and I was back home again, I fell instantly into an abyss of shame and despair, a sadness so unstoppable as to be close to grieving. It was the year before the Twin Towers atrocities; America was still cocooned in its innocence of terrorism. But as we sat there, all of us charmed by the talk, the second intifada, so-called, was at that very moment decimating the cities of Israel — day after day buses were being blown up, cafés, groceries, baby carriages, torn bodies strewn bloodily in the streets, murderousness heaped on murderousness. Yet for my companions at that exhilarating little table it was all remote. They were untouched. It was not that they would have been incapable of being touched if it had come into their thoughts — but it did not live in their thoughts, it was not an element of their lives. Whereas for me it was the sorrowing center of every breath.

It goes without saying that as a writer I was in possession of the whole of my companions’ world: culturally speaking, there was nothing that they possessed that I did not equally possess. In a literary sense we had everything in common. But my grief was absent from their ken. A membrane of separation hung between us, and left me orphaned and alone. And this membrane, this frequently opaque veil, is part of what it is to be a Jewish writer in America. It may not, it will not, define our common subject matter; but it defines our subjectivity: the historic frailty of Jewish lives, the perilous contingency of the ordinary. And it can lead to a sort of credo of choosing. Trilling or Bellow? Vulnerability or fearlessness? Cowardice or courage? To own the American language is a glory in itself; but even more significant is the power to pierce the veil. At that jubilant little table I was abysmally at fault. It was I who had orphaned myself. I did not speak of what I felt, of what I dreaded, I did not tell my sorrowing. I let it lie sequestered and apart, like a secret. Perhaps I was reluctant, in so harmonious an atmosphere, to introduce the depravity of terror — though in a very few months it would introduce itself, horribly, in New York, not far from our little table. Participating wholly in American writerliness, I failed to reciprocate: I did not summon American writerliness into my Jewish subjectivity. That night, I chose Trilling’s way over Bellow’s, and I have regretted it ever since.

Every language carries history in its sinews and bones. If you look hard at the inmost structure of the word “beauty,” you will see the Norman Conquest. It may be the same with writers. The inmost structure of a Jewish writer will carry the history of a long, long procession of Jewish ideas and experiences — and this will hold whether the writer wishes to abandon or cultivate those ideas and experiences. In either case, they must be grappled with. Here Trilling’s images of wind and water turn out to be apt. Realizing one’s Jewish consciousness, as he put it while putting it down, is finally not to curtail; instead, it unfurls a sail. And when the sail is in place, the voyage can begin.

Please know the depth of my gratitude for this signal recognition. Since I am just starting out, I hope I may some day be worthy of it.

We need your recipes!

Thursday, March 10, 2011 | Permalink

Does Everyone Kvell over your Kugel? Do You Get Bravos for Your Brisket or Borekas? The Jewish Book Council Needs Your Favorite Recipes for a New Kosher Cookbook!

The Jewish Book Council is creating a book on Jews and food that is part cookbook, part commentary, part history and all delicious. The book will feature contributions from celebrity chefs to home cooks like you about the Jewish food that matters to them, why it does, and the recipes to make it. The JBC is soliciting recipes and stories from Jewish cooks across the country to to bring the entire community together around the one thing everyone loves: wonderful food to eat.

Recipes should be kosher, or at least not mix milk and meat or use non-kosher foods (such as pork, shellfish, etc.), but if you have a great Jewish recipe that isn’t totally kosher, we can figure out ways to adjust it so it meets kosher guidelines.

Go to: the JBC cookbook submission page to have your recipe and story considered for inclusion in the book. The Jewish Book Council will let you know if your recipe has been selected. Please send all recipes in by May 1, 2011

And, to hold you over until the cookbook’s published, Leah Koenig (author ofThe Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen) shares the essential global Jewish cookbooks at Saveur: Essential Global Jewish Cookbooks.

JBC Bookshelf: Expanded Edition

Tuesday, March 08, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

In an effort to create some pre-book award ceremony (tomorrow!!) order in my life, I’ve finally gone through some of the spring titles that have come across my desk. Sorting through the newbies, there’s  a wonderful assortment of fiction, poetry, Israel studies, Passover haggadahs, and memoirs. A few of the highlights are below, and stayed tuned for next week’s guest blogger Reyna Simnegar‘s posts…a special pre-Purim treat (Reyna is the author if the recently published Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love).


A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism, Daniel Byman (June 2011, Oxford University Press)

The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against Israel, Michael J. Totten (April 2011, Encounter Books)
Interested in the topic? Check out last year’s NETWORK author Thanassis Cambanis, who recently spoke for us at a Birthright alumni event

Peace in the Making. The Menachem Begin – Anwar Sadat Personal Correspondence, Harry Hurwitz and Yisrael Medad (January 2011, Gefen Publishing House)


Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities, David Arnow (March 2011, Jewish Lights Publishing)
This is the expanded edition with new chapters

Haggadah in Another Dimension Celebrating in 3D, Michael Medina, Emi Sfard, Eli Neeman (Kippod3D)

The Szyk Haggadah, Arthur Szyk, Byron L. Sherwin with Irvin Ungar (April 2011, Abrams)


Tel Aviv Stories, Ashley Rindsberg (2010, Midnight Oil Publishing)

Foreplay: Hannah Arendt, the Two Adornos, and Walter Benjamin, a play by Carl Djerassi (April 2011, University of Wisconsin Press)
A new play detailed the private lives of some of the greatest figures of the 20th century German intellectual scene

The Oriental Wife, Evelyn Toynton (July 2011, Other Press)
A tale of love, tragedy, and betrayal among Jewish immigrants caught in the conflicting space between Old World values and American ideals

Jerusalem Maiden: A Novel, Talia Carner (May 2011, Harper)
The story of a young woman in early 20th century Jerusalem who struggles with her faith as her desires pull her away from home

Girl Unwrapped, Gabriella Goliger (May 2011, Arsenal Pulp)
A coming-of-age story set in 1960′s Montreal

Folktales of the Jews: Tales from Arab Lands, Dan Ben-Amos with Dov Noy (April 2011, JPS)
The third volume in JPS’s folktale series, which selects and publishes representative tales from the major ethno-linguistic communities in the Jewish world. The first volume, Tales from the Sephardic Dispersion won a National Jewish Book Award.

Quiet Americans: JBC’s April Twitter Book Club

Monday, March 07, 2011 | Permalink

A high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor in prewar Berlin.  A Jewish immigrant soldier and the German POWs he is assigned to supervise. A refugee returning to Europe for the first time just as terrorists massacre Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A son of survivors and the family secrets modern technology may reveal. These are some of the characters and conflicts that emerge in Quiet Americans, in stories that reframe familiar questions about what is right and wrong, remembered and repressed, resolved and unending.

Join the Jewish Book Council and author Erika Dreifus to discuss Quiet Americans on Tuesday, April 12th, 12:30 pm- 1:10 pm EST.  Follow @JewishBook and @ErikaDreifus and keep an eye on #JBCBooks for updates.

Visit Erika’s website for more about the book.

What is a Twitter Book Club?
A twitter book club provides the opportunity for twitter users to engage in real time conversation about a particular, predetermined book. JBC’s book club aims to provide readers with an opportunity to discuss Jewish interest titles with other interested readers electronically.

To participate…
If you aren’t already a Twitter user, please join twitter here. (Confused about Twitter all together? Visit the twitter twitorial. Follow the Jewish Book Council (@jewishbook). During the designated time and date of the book club follow the conversation by searching for #JBCBooks. If you would like to actively participate, please include #JBCBooks at the end of any comments or questions you wish to contribute.

(Note: New twitter users may have to wait up to a week before their tweets get saved in hashtag searches. Open a twitter account at least a week and a half before this discussion in order to join us!)

So grab a copy of Quiet Americans (portions of the proceeds from book sales go to The Blue Card which assists U.S.-based survivors of Nazi persecution) and join us for a conversation online! If you have something to say or a question to ask, feel free to jump in, and don’t forget to include #JBCBooks at the end of any tweet so that other participants can engage with you.

JLit Links

Friday, March 04, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

March 12th: A Conversation on Jewish Secularism at The New School’s Tishman Auditorium (66 W. 12th St., NYC). Rebecca will be in conversation with historian David Biale, and it will be moderated by NPR’s Robert Siegel, host of All Things Considered. The program will be from 7-9 pm.

March 23rd and 24th: Rebecca will lecture at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale as a part of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values (the great poster for the event is featured below)

JQ-Wingate 2011 Longlist

Friday, March 04, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Longlist announced for this year’s JQ Wingate Prize:

Claude Levi Strauss by Partrick Wilcken (Bloomsbury)
The Dove Flyer by Eli Amir (Halban)
To the End of the Land by David Grossman (Jonathan Cape)
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (Bloomsbury)
Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (Chatto)
The Life of Irène Némirovsky by Patrick Lienhard and Olivier Philipponnat (Chatto)
The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt (Heinemann)
Moses Montefiore by Abigail Green (Harvard University Press)
Trials of the Diaspora by Anthony Julius (OUP)
Survivors by Bob Moore (OUP)
The Arabs and the Holocaust by Gilbert Achcar (Metropolitan Books)

This year’s shortlist will be announced in March, and the overall winner will be revealed at a ceremony in London in June.

David Bezmozgis’s Movie

Friday, March 04, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

You may have heard about David Bezmozgis’s newest book (out at the end of March), The Free World: A Novel, but DID YOU KNOW he also has a movie to his credit?

Are You, Or Have You Ever Been, a Jewish Writer?

Friday, March 04, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Gabriel Brownstein reflects on what it means to be a Jewish writer, muses on the classic greats (Roth, Ozick, Malamud, Bellow), contemporary greats (Foer, Krauss, Chabon, Englander, Goodman), Holocaust fiction, what it means to be categorized, and makes a request:

Truth is, these days, any writer who gets any attention should count himself lucky. A reader, somewhere, from some reason, is thinking of you—that alone should be cause for a happy dance. So, yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am a Jewish writer. Invite me to your community center, please!

Read the article here.