The ProsenPeople

The Urban Family Passover Haggadah

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Remember Alef Betty?

To further her exploration of “Modern Hebrew Arts,” Tsilli Pines has created The Urban Family Passover Haggadah:

Old traditions, new perspectives. A modern design with English text, as well as Hebrew blessings and transliterations.

64 page softcover book with perfect binding, glossy color cover, and 1-color interior.

Read about the story behind the Haggadah here (including the design!) and check out blog posts on Haggadot she collected during her research:

Maxwell House Haggadah

Jacob Wexler Haggadah

Pre-order your copy (and view sample pages) here.


$59/set of 5

$89/set of 10

JLit Links

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Philip Roth on Thomas Wolfe at The Center for Fiction

Joshua Cohen in the Paris Review

Nicole Krauss is a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction

Manga for Purim

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

We’ve seen a graphic megillah before, but this is something else.

Earlier today, MyJewishLearning posted about Throne of Secrets, a new comic book version of the Purim story that follows the megillah but isn’t afraid to take artistic license.

King Achashverosh is painted as even more lecherous than the usual, stabbing his soldiers when they displease him, and a straight-up sadistic humor. Esther is bashful and demure, her grandfather (grandfather!?) Yair is old, but sagely, and Mordechai is — well, not the civil, cultured Mordechai we’re used to reading about …

Read more (and see a page from the book!) here.

Intriguing, right? And the art looks great.

And there’s a movie in the works, too? Fun.

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Allison Amend

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our fourth installment of “Words from our Finalists”…Allison Amend

Allison…meet our Readers

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

The most challenging aspect about writing fiction is actually writing it. Sometimes sitting down at that desk (or standing; I have a standing desk) and pounding it out seems a Herculean task. I find great excuses not to write: I have to alphabetize my sock drawer, pick a fight with my brother, defrost tomorrow’s dinner, research waterproof mailboxes, clean my makeup brushes….

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

I am a writer because I love to read. I love the way a book can transport you to a different time, place, culture or even body. On my best days, I escape myself and succeed in seeing the world from a different perspective, in questioning the categories the world creates.

Who is your intended audience?

My mom. She is a 60-something, highly educated avid reader who belongs to multiple book clubs. She reads and pays attention to the New York Times and theNew Yorker book reviews, and, best of all, she buys hardcover books. She is also a fierce salesperson for Stations West. I once saw her corner a man in an independent bookstore and practically force him to purchase my book.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I am finishing a novel that combines art forgery and human cloning. It was originally supposed to be diametrically opposed to Stations West—set in the future without overt Jewish themes—but of course the plot has been taken over by Holocaust survivors attempting to recover art stolen by the Nazis. You can’t escape your interests! I’m also working on short stories, screenplays and Jewish children’s books for the PJ Library. It’s good to have a project that you’re cheating on by working on other projects.

What are you reading now?

I like to read my peers’ work—I’m reading the other Sami Rohr Prize finalists’ excellent books, and I find I’m in great company. Other recent favorites include A Visit From the Goon SquadThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetWhat the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves UsSomething Red

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I gave up my dreams of becoming a princess or a superhero, or Princess Superhero. I didn’t know you were “allowed” to be a writer, though, until I attended grad school at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and met people who had dedicated their lives to the craft. I knew I wanted to be among them. But I think my parents are still holding out hope that I’ll go to law school.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

The “mountaintop” is a good metaphor for success. I know from hiking that often you reach “false peaks”—where you arrive at the top only to find a higher peak further along the ridge. I think being a writer feels like that. There’s always someone more successful than you. I imagine some famous writer saying, “Yes, I won the Pulitzer, but I still don’t have a Nobel!” I feel so proud to have my words in print; getting recognized for the Sami Rohr Prize is gratification galore. To extend the hiking metaphor—I’ve reached a lovely spot. I think I’ll have my lunch here and enjoy the view for a while.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

Mostly I need a good ergonomic set up, lots of coffee, and few distractions. That’s not very sexy, I know. Writing is not a sexy job.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

In Stations West, I’m trying to reclaim the myth of the Old West and show the extent to which Jews helped form that history. We’ve romanticized the Wild West, but it was an unforgiving place, quick to judge, slow to accept. In a larger sense, I want to record how the history of American Judaism is emblematic of the history of America in general. Placing the very contemporary struggle of assimilation and identity in the past hopefully sheds light on our own struggles, and helps us to negotiate our daily lives. But what I love to hear most is that it’s a good read. My favorite books keep me up all night reading; I’m thrilled to think that I’ve contributed to literary insomnia.

You can read more about Allison Amend by visiting her website:

Deborah Lipstadt Podcast

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

JBC friend, author, and Rohr judge Deborah Lipstadt has a new book: The Eichmann Trial The Eichmann Trial, which was published yesterday, offers a reassessment of the groundbreaking trial that has become a touchstone for judicial proceedings throughout the world in which victims of genocide confront its perpetrators.

Watch out for Lipstadt’s guest blog posts for the JBC/MJL Author Blog in April, but in the meantime, check out this podcast from Tablet, which makes a case for why Eichmann’s trial was such a watershed—it introduced the use of survivor testimony as a part of a trial in a way that hadn’t really been done before and in so doing, changed the way the word looks at genocide and prosecutes its perpetrators. Lispstadt also discusses how the trial introduced questions of who has the right to speak for the Jews, what criticism Israel faced for taking it upon itself to try Eichmann, and other fascinating matters. Find the podcast here.

And, watch the book trailer below:

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Joseph Skibell

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our third installment of “Words from our Finalists”…Joseph Skibell

Joseph…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Joseph

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

What did Hemingway say in his Paris Review interview with George Plimpton? “The hardest thing about writing is getting the words in the right order.” Typical Hemingway brevity, but that does seem to cover it.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Inspiration comes from everywhere. In the last two weeks, I saw a production of Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” and I heard the master guitarist Pierre Bensusan play. The creative generosity of both Shepard and Bensusan reminded me of what art can really do when it’s honest and it comes from an open and pure heart. I find that very inspiring. Being moved by their work makes me want to continue working and trying to inhabit that same open and honest space.

Who is your intended audience?

Perhaps I should be a little more ambitious, but I try to write for the entirety of the literate world. And I’m hoping that members of the literate world will read my books to members of the non-literate world. I’m sometimes saddened that adult readers, unlike their “young adult” counterparts, seem fairly unadventurous, that fiction that deals with small, domestic issues, preferably in the mode of realism, seems so much more palpable to these adult readers than do daring, ambitious “ill-behaved” books that take on bigger issues in a more playful, ferocious or rambunctious style.

Milan Kundera calls these “ill-behaved” books “the children of Tristram Shandy” as opposed to the “well-behaved” books, which he calls “children of Clarissa.” Rushdie’s Midnight Children, Grass’s The Tin Drum,Kundera’s own Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the novels of Beckett, Kafka and Bellow all fall into this category of ill-behaved books, as do my A Blessing on the Moon and A Curable Romantic.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I have a short list of new projects, but nothing that can be spoken about yet, really. I think I’ve found the subject for my next novel, and I’m excited about that, and it’s going to be very different from the other three books.

What are you reading now?

The novel I’m urging onto anybody who will listen is Howard Norman’s What is Left the Daughter. Norman is one of our finest novelists with a singular and idiosyncratic voice. He’s unpretentiously gifted, and this book is one of his best. I’m planning on reading it again, actually. I don’t quite understand how he achieves the effects he achieves. The book is so moving, but it’s hard to say why. His work has that same honesty and purity I mentioned finding in the Shepard’s play and in Bensusan’s playing. A spirit of childlike play, I guess, combined with a hungry intelligence and an artful sense of integrity.

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I was in Mr. Bravenec’s sixth grade class at Geo. A. Rush Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas, when I read Anthony Scaduto’s biography of Bob Dylan. According to Scaduto, Dylan read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row as a kid and was so turned on by it that he read all of Steinbeck’s work after that. At the time, I wanted to grow up to be Bob Dylan, so I thought I should probably do everything Bob Dylan did as a child in order to realize this ambition. I got a copy of Cannery Row out of the library and I read it, and I was so turned on by it, I read everything that Steinbeck had written, also. By the time I was done, though, I no longer wanted to be Bob Dylan. I wanted to be John Steinbeck.

Later, during his Rolling Thunder Revue Tour, Dylan visited Jack Kerouac’s grave. I read about this in Rolling Stone Magazine. I’d never heard of Jack Kerouac, but I bought a copy of On the Road, and then I read all of Kerouac’s work, which I also found inspiring.

Still, I didn’t think I could be a novelist, because — especially after reading Steinbeck — I thought a novelist had to know how to brush out a horse and repair a motor and dissect mollusks and things like that. But then I read Voltaire’sCandide – I was in the seventh grade; I remember reading it during my algebra class – and I thought to myself: Hey, I could write a book like this. I mean, there are no animals in Candide, no one repairs a motor, there’s no science, there’s barely a landscape.

So, really, I have Bob Dylan to thank for all of this, I guess. Thanks, Bob.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

It’s easy to get sidetracked by big advances and awards and being on bestseller lists and things like that. Writing can be such a lonely pursuit, and I know so many writers who end up craving those things, just so they know that there’s somebody out there who actually cares about what they’re doing. So I try to remember why books were important to me in the first place.

I think it’s the same with really great writing. When someone like W.B. Yeats says, “Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned,” or Jackson Browne describes Culver City as a place “where the ghostly specter of Howard Hughes/hovers in the smoke of a thousand barbeques,” you think to yourself, “Man, that’s about as good as it gets.” I mean, these are writers whose use of words and thoughts and observations and emotions and meter and sound is as astonishing and as inspiring as the physical stuff Shaun White can do on a snowboard.You know, when you see somebody like Shaun White do something really amazing on a snowboard, you kind of empathize with him. He sort of stands in for all of humanity. You think, “Wow, it’s amazing that he can do that,” but you’re also thinking, “Wow, it’s amazing that a human being can do that.”

And because of writing like this, you actually experience something you wouldn’t have been able to experience otherwise, and it’s something you wouldn’t have been able to experience in any other way.

So I guess, for me, that would really be the mountaintop, or the pinnacle of success – knowing that your work is speaking to another person in a way that reverberates with their concerns and their lives in a meaningful way.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

The discipline of writing every day is so intensely focused that I have next to no memory about the process itself, though it seems to involve a Cross pen, an AMPAD legal-size “Evidence” pad – 100 sheets, Canary yellow, Wide Ruled, 8½” x 14” with a double-thick back for extra support (these are harder and harder to come by these days) – a chair, a desk, and a hot beverage, sometimes coffee, sometimes tea. I try to keep a very low page count every day, so that doing the work always remains enjoyable.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

With A Blessing on the Moon, I wanted to speak to the reader so deeply that the book enters the reader’s dream-life, and I’ve been told on many occasions, by readers, that this is how the novel works. With The English Disease, I simply wanted to make the reader laugh.

A Curable Romantic was a bit different. WithA Curable Romantic, my hope was that Dr. Sammelsohn, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, would seem like a sweet and endearing friend accompanying the reader wherever he or she went for the few weeks it takes to read the book.

At heart, I hope my novels work as a kind of cure for that deep loneliness I imagine we all feel, the writer’s voice whispering intimately into the reader’s inner ear, speaking about the most essential things: love, family, death, hope, desire, dreams.

You can read more about Joseph Skibell by visiting his website:

Jewish Book Carnival: March

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

This month’s Jewish Book Carnival is up over at Linda K. Wertheimer’s  Jewish Muse blog. We contributed a few posts on our trip to Jerusalem International Book Fair last month, but check out the link above to view Anita Diamant’s post  on Purim, Dani Shapiro’s post on “both the pleasure – and angst – of having the last word when you write about those you know,” Erika Dreifus’s tribute to Arnost Lustig, and more.

Check out next month’s Jewish Book Carnival right here on the JBC Blog! Interested in submitting for April? E-mail me at

Support Emerging Writers

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

I’ve been a subscriber, and fan, of One Story for several years now, but seem to always be out of town the weekend of their annual benefit: The Literary Debutante Ball: A Celebration of Emerging Writers. Thankfully, this year my luck may have turned toward the good. This year’s benefit will be held on April 29th and will feature JBC friend and author, Dani Shapiro.

More information about the benefit:

The Literary Debutante Ball is a benefit that celebrates One Story magazine, the publication of our debutantes, and honors one writer who has been an exceptional mentor to others. The ball will feature specialty cocktails, music, dancing, and a silent art auction.

The highlight of the benefit will be the formal “presentation” of One Story authors who have published their debut books in the past year. Each writer will be escorted by an established author and/or editor who has been a mentor to them. This year, One Story will also honor the novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro, for her years of extraordinary support of emerging writers.

All proceeds will benefit One Story, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and aid it in its mission to support the art form of the short story and the authors who write them. Tickets for the ball start at $50 each. Higher level individual, corporate, and in-kind sponsorships are available and most welcome. For complete details and benefits of donating to One Story, contact Maribeth Batcha at No one under 21 years old will be admitted.

When:Friday, April 29, 2011, 7pm – 11pm
Where:The Invisible Dog Art Center
51 Bergen St. (between Smith St. & Court St.)
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Read more here.

And, read about One Story’s mission here.

**BONUS**Their latest issue features an Etgar Keret story.

Miss Venezuela Material

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | Permalink

On Monday, Reyna Simnegar, the author of Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love, wrote about Sephardim Strike Back! She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

It had been 9 years since I had not seen my beautiful cousin Isha. She lives a busy life in Florida working in the restaurant industry and going to school. It was my turn to feed her, and I decided to invite her for Shabbat dinner. After all, is there a better time than Shabbat to impress anyone with delectable dishes?

Isha is half Venezuelan and half American. She is the perfect combination of Latin American charm and American beauty. As we were reminiscing about the past (over a slice of my favorite dessert, Persian Roulade), it was impossible not to talk about how much we suffered starving together in the name of our modeling careers. You see, both Isha and I were part of a Venezuelan modeling agency that recruited girls for the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant.

For many Venezuelan little girls their dream is to become a beauty queen. I am not talking about the kind-hearted queen that has a talent and visits orphans, I am talking about a queen whose attributes are completely based on outer beauty and her talent in memory; that is how talented she is to be able to memorize the right answers to any possible question the jurors might have.

Isha, with her exotic mixed looks and height, actually made all the way. When she refused to have plastic surgery to add a little here and take a little from there, she was let go. I was a little less “lucky,” I was simply too short to make the cut. No plastic surgery would have helped with a height problem! These castings are the most humiliating situations anyone can put herself through, and your self-esteem, if completely based on your looks, becomes absolutely shattered.

Going through that experience really helped me understand the concept of modesty in the Jewish world. Having grown up in a country where clothing is an option, it never occurred to me that by the simple act of covering certain parts of my body I would regain an incredible amount of self-appreciation I had lost during my upbringing. I am not going to deny that in the beginning modesty was a really difficult concept to grasp, not to mention to embrace. However, the longer I covered certain parts of my body, the more sensitive and special they became.

Seeing myself as more than just a body or a face really helped me comprehend how I am not really what people can see, but I am the soul that lives inside. And, even though I always knew that true beauty lies inside, I was never really able to grasp this concept until I stop focusing only in the outside.

I love looking good, working out, feeling healthy and beautiful. However, I love it even more when I go to sleep knowing I have worked equally hard on making my inner beauty, that is my true beauty, equally presentable.

A woman’s inner beauty shines through and permeates into her outer beauty, and I hope I can be an example of this concept, even if I don’t make the height requirement!


This is by far the most popular dessert at my Shabbat table! It is amazing to see people’s eyes when I bring it to the table—and also to witness their puzzled faces trying to figure out the unfamiliar flavor they can’t decipher (rose water).

Versatility is what is great about this recipe! You can use the same cake recipe I provide you, but the fillings are endless. Since I usually serve this cake after a meat meal, I use pareve (nondairy) whipping cream (such as Rich’s Whip). Other fun fillings are raspberry jam, Nutella (if dairy), and even date butter. I also like to use rum or brandy mixed with a bit of water to moisten the cake if I do not have rose water handy. I promise, this will be a hit! Check out more videos at my website.


The eggs should be at room temperature so that you can whip them to maximum volume. The secret to making the parchment paper stay in the baking pan is to spray the pan with a little oil or water before lining it. Cut slits in the corners of the paper for a snug fit. This cake freezes beautifully—just wrap in parchment paper and then in foil. Also, it is important to use parchment paper and not wax paper; these are not the same product. Make sure not to overbake this cake or it will crack. You can drizzle some powdered sugar on the cake before rolling it so it doesn’t stick to the parchment paper. For a cleaner look, you can cut off both ends of the cake…I’ll bet you can’t resist eating them!

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup flour
1/4 cup rose water (to moisten cake)

1 pint pareve whipping cream, divided
1 cup powdered sugar

powdered sugar
4 strawberries
parve whipping cream
chocolate shavings or melted chocolate chips (optional!)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 17”x12”x1” jellyroll sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Beat eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer for 1 minute or until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes or until the mixture begins to turn pale yellow.
3. Gently and thoroughly fold in baking powder and flour with a flat spatula, making sure not to deflate the eggs. Spread batter evenly onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until center springs back when lightly pressed.
4. In the meantime, whip pareve whipping cream until peaks form. Add sugar and combine. Set aside.
5. When cake is ready, hold the corners of the paper and remove from tray onto a flat surface. Peel cake off paper. Roll, 12-inch side in, along with the parchment paper. Set aside for a few minutes.
6. Unroll and use a pastry brush to moisten the top of the cake with rose water. Spread cream evenly on the cake, leaving some for garnish. Roll again
7. Place on a platter, seam side down, and garnish with powdered sugar, melted chocolate, pareve whipped cream, and strawberries, as desired. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

Yield: 10 slices.

Reyna Simnegar‘s Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love is now available. 

NYC Event: Jonathan Safran Foer and Etgar Keret

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Mark your calendar now for this fantastic event at Symphony Space on April 6th with Jonathan Safran Foer and Etgar Keret:

The wildly inventive Israeli master joins forces with the author of Everything is Illuminated to present an evening of surprising tales performed by Liev Schreiber (A View From The Bridgeand Everything is Illuminated) and other actors.

The event is a part of Symphony Space’s “Selected Shorts” series, which creates an evening of literature in performance. “Selected Shorts” brings together stories by established and emerging writers, giving them a new life as a performance by stars of the stage and screen.

Wed, Apr 6 at 7 pm
Peter Jay Sharp Theatre
$27; Member $23; 30 & Under $15

Buy Tickets Here.