The ProsenPeople

JBC in Jerusalem: For the Love of Japan

Tuesday, March 01, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

As international as the Jerusalem Book Fair is, I certainly wasn’t expecting to have a Russian man ask me 「どこに住んでいますか?」 (“doko ni sunde imasu ka?” –Japanese for “where do you live?”)

Ilya Pushkin, a 54-year-old medical doctor from Russia, moved to Israel and was overwhelmed by culture shock. A soft-spoken man, he had trouble adjusting to a culture with fewer boundaries between people and less privacy. He came to find solace in all things Japanese, immersing himself in the study of the language and developing a deep love for the culture. Pushkin has written poetry since childhood in his native Russian, but for the last seven years he has been writing in Japanese. He finds the Japanese language’s written symbols inspiring and values the Japanese emphasis on the secret and mysterious–especially in women. He recognizes that the Japan he creates for himself and explores in his writing is an ideal world, filled with his idea of ideal women, and is not reflective of the real country and its people. Yet the fantasy gives him comfort and has enabled him to produce stories and poems characterized by simplistic beauty.

Pushkin’s books were available in print for the first time at the book fair and are not widely available for purchase. However, pdfs of his work, translated into English, Hebrew, Russian, and French, can be downloaded from his

From The Poems of the Bear in Love:


Just as a chopstick
can do nothing alone,
so I am nothing
without you.




Today you  made a mistake
when, instead of  rice,
you laid your kisses
in my sandwich box.

Because of your charming mistake
my heart overflows with your love,
but my stomach is empty.

The Jewish Poetry Conspiracy

Monday, February 28, 2011 | Permalink

Aaron Roller is an editor of Mimaamakim, a journal of Jewish religious poetry and art. Their new issue was just released. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

The very notion of creating one magazine to house “Jewish poetry” doesn’t seem to make any sense. Jews wrote poetry in medieval Spain. Other Jews wrote Yiddish poetry as the Enlightenment made its way to Eastern Europe. There were poets among the early Zionists, just as there were among early Jewish immigrants living in New York’s Lower East Side.

What justifies grouping these seemingly disparate poets together? They wrote in different languages, in different forms about different topics. They range from the the greatest defenders of faith to those who struggled with belief to those who gave up on G-d completely.

So what is Jewish poetry?

While not every poem written by someone who’s born a Jew counts as Jewish poetry, there is a larger conversation linking Jewish poets beyond a mere accident of birth. An awareness of Jewishness (whether manifested as pride, guilt or piety), a questioning of what it means to be Jewish, a feeling of interconnectedness with other Jews throughout both time and space and the willingness to employ (or inability to avoid) Jewish references (whether Biblicalliturgical or philosophical) all mark a Jewish poet.

Consider Allen Ginsberg, one of the most famous American poets of the last century, and a Jew more likely to chant “Hare Krishna” than “Shema Yisroel.” And yet, when faced with the death of his mother, Ginsburg responded with a poem entitled “Kaddish.” Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” jumps between fragmentary recollections of his mother’s life as a Jewish girl on the Lower East Side (“… I walk toward the Lower East Side — where you walked 50 years ago, little girl”), his own overheated experience (“I’ve been up all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph”) and an appeal to G-d (“Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some of my Time, now given to Nothing–to praise Thee–But Death”).

By attempting to make sense of the traditional prayer of mourning and put it into his own terms, Ginsberg enters the conversation of other writers (and mourners) who have tried to understand the Kaddish (other American poets who have written poems called “Kaddish” include Charles Reznikoff and David Ignatow). By recollecting his mother’s life, Ginsberg is placing her — and, by extension, himself  — within the larger Jewish experience.

What we’ve tried to do with Mima’amakim is to show you the variety, the strength and the diversity of Jewish poetry today. The new issue include poems and stories in three languages, and writing and art from writers from four continents, and of all different ages and religious backgrounds.

The new issue of Mimaamakim is now available. Come back all week to read Aaron Roller’s blog posts on the Visiting Scribe.

JBC in Jerusalem: A New Hagaddah

Friday, February 25, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Earlier this week, Dov Bleichfeld came by our booth to share a new Haggadah with us. View the images we took below and check out his website:


JBC in Jerusalem: A Snapshot

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

A few fun photos from the fair:


JBC in Jerusalem: Simtaot Books

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our friends over at Urim Publications connected us with one of their new colleagues in the field, Simtaot Books (translated as alleyways). Yesterday, I had a chance to sit down with Uriel Cohn, editor of Simtaot Books, to hear more about the project.

Simtaot highlights key works in modern world literature in the Hebrew language. Similar to presses like New DirectionsOpen Letter Books, and Dalkey Archive Press in the U.S., Simtaot aims to curate a list of outstanding works of fiction and unconventional writing from throughout the world, translate them into Hebrew, and bring them to an Israeli audience. The results are impressive. With already 5 books behind them, and about 15 more scheduled for release this year, Simtaot is making their mark on the Israeli publishing scene—generating interest and buzz throughout the country and throughout Jerusalem International Book Fair.

Simtaot is structured to produce two series, with one book from each series published each month. The first series focuses on the concept of the wanderer and on the universal quest for identity. Uriel explains that since the creation of the State of Israel a sense of diasporic longing has disappeared from the Israeli mentality. He argues that this state is an important one, and it’s important to reintroduce these themes into Israeli culture and conversation. Stressing the importance of traveling between communities to find gems to bring to the Israeli public, Uriel describes a series that will feel modern, but will come from across geographic borders and borders of time. The second series focuses on modern Jewish writers’ unconventional writing on the international scene. And…to top it off, the titles are not only interesting, but also smartly designed.

Find out about the authors included in the series here.

JBC in Jerusalem: Ludwig Mayer Books

Monday, February 21, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Jewish Book Council team has had an amazing first two days at Jerusalem International Book Fair. We’ve spent time meeting authors, reviewers, and our publishing peers from all over the world and will be sharing some of the interesting bites from our trip throughout the week.

Today, we spent a little time with Marcel Marcus, the current owner of Ludwig Mayer Books, the oldest bookshop in Jerusalem. Ludwig Mayer Books was founded outside Jaffa Gate in 1908 by Ludwig Mayer, who moved to Jerusalem from Prenzlau (north of Berlin). With the outbreak of World War I, Ludwig was called back to Germany in 1914 for army service and his books remained in storage until he returned in 1933, weeks after the Jewish boycott in Germany. In 1935, he reopened the bookstore on Shlomzion Hamalka Street, right behind the Main Post Office, a position which would eventually be strategically convenient for the Mayers to serve the state of Israel. The Main Post Office served as the British army’s HQ in the 40’s, placing the Mayers within listening distance of the soldiers’ radio communication–information that would prove useful for the Haganah.

Following the creation of the State of Israel, Ludwig Mayer Books became a strong international bookshop that exported and imported books from throughout the world, securing its place as a “landmark of Zionist history.”

In 1994, Marcel Marcus, a rabbi in Switzerland, read about the sale of Ludwig Mayer Books. Only a few days later, he was connected to Ludwig Mayer’s sons, making the purchase of the bookstore possible, and thus began his new life as an Israeli bookshop owner. In 1996, Marcel moved to Israel and officially took the position he still serves in to this day: providing international books and periodicals for the people of Israel and exporting Israeli publications to eager customers abroad.

Marcel is confident that even in a digital age, Ludwig Mayer Books will have a place and assures me that, as long as a customer has a bit patience, he will be able to track down any book or periodical necessary. So, if you find yourself in Jerusalem, track down Ludwig Mayer Books, say hello to Marcel, and check out his wonderful collection. Abroad? Go online and visit his website He awaits you with open arms and an eagerness to connect books with readers across the globe.

This Storm is What We Call Progress

Friday, February 18, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Michael David Lukas shared a list of his top ten favorite Jews of all time and his connection to Nomi Stone. He has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

Histories of Jews in the Ottoman Empire (like histories of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula, Ancient Rome, and the Arab World) tend to fall into one of two camps: those that emphasize coexistence and those that emphasize strife. This seems a rather simplistic binary, I know, but pick up any book about the Jews of the Ottoman Empire—say Bernard Lewis’ The Jews of Islam or Avigdor Levy’s Jews, Turks, and Ottomans: A Shared History—and you will be able to tell in a page or two which camp the book falls into.

In writing The Oracle of Stamboul, a novel about a young Jewish girl who becomes an advisor to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, I tried my best to portray a sense of multiethnic coexistence without ignoring anti-Semitism, and the many other brands of ethnic strife rampant in the Ottoman Empire. Thinking about daily life in such a time caused me to think back on Walter Benjamin’s memoir Berlin Childhood around 1900 and Marcel Proust’s novel Remembrance of Things Past. Both these books look back on a period that we might now think of as a turning point for European Jews. Proust explicitly discusses the Dreyfus Affair while Benjamin is a bit more coy in his treatment of anti-Semitism in pre-WWI Germany. But in both books it is the business of daily life that predominates. Even at the very fulcrum of History, on the brink of the Great War and everything that followed, Benjamin’s and the Proustian’s narrators are caught up in their daily lives. One might argue that the power of both these books depends on a certain type of silence, an obscuring of events we all know will take place. That may be true. Still, I tend to think that most of us aren’t aware of the History we’re living through.

Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary scholar in Tunisia. His first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available.

Reading for a Long Plane Ride

Friday, February 18, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

JBC is off to Israel for next week’s Jerusalem International Book Fair, and I’m facing my usual packing dilemma: how to cram all the books I want to take into my luggage. 

Hope you’re reading too and will join us. Wednesday, March 2nd, 12:30 – 1:15 pm EST. #JBCBookswithout exceeding the weight limit. With the steady success of e-readers, this is quickly becoming a problem of the past for many, but it’s still very much a concern for those of us a little slower on the uptake. One book, at least, in the already too-tall stack is a definite: I’m taking Andrew Winer’s The Marriage Artist in preparation for our upcoming Twitter Book Club.

PJ Library Now Speaking Volumes In Publishing World

Thursday, February 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Jewish Week‘s article on PJ Library, a program started by year’s JBC IMPACT Award Winner, Harold Grinspoon:

Laurel Snyder, a poet and author based in Atlanta, had been “noodling around” with the idea of writing children’s books for a while. But it wasn’t until her eldest son, Mose, was born five years ago, that she dug up her old manuscripts.

Her inspiration? The Jewish children’s books her family began receiving for free from the PJ Library. But it isn’t what you may think. You see, she didn’t particularly like them. Continue reading here.

The Stranger’s Notebook

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 | Permalink

On Monday, Michael David Lukas shared a list of his top ten favorite Jews of all time. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog. His first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available.

In my last post I mentioned the loneliness and alienation I felt during the first few months of the year I spent in Tunis. While my list of top ten favorite Jews of all time cheered me up, it wasn’t until I met Nomi Stone that I truly got out of my funk. Nomi is a poet and a scholar who was in Tunisia on a Fulbright. Her project was to research and write a book of poems about the Jews of Djerba (a desert island off the southern coast of Tunisia), which is exactly what she did. The fruits of her year in Tunisia, The Stranger’s Notebook, was published by TriQuarterly Press in 2008 and it is just amazing.

I may be biased, because Nomi is a dear friend, so I have included links to a few poems available online. Through Nomi I had the pleasure of eating a Rosh Hashanah dinner with one of the very few Jewish families still living in Tunis. (There are thousands of Tunisian Jews living on Djerba, but only a few dozen still in the capital, Tunis). Dinner was wonderful—a slight variation on the classic Tunisian couscous, followed by shots of fig liqueur, which had been distilled by Tunisian Jews for centuries—but it was an encounter I had a few weeks later that I will always remember.

I was wandering through the old city of Tunis, looking to buy a mix tape for a musically inclined friend, when I saw the son of the family I had eaten dinner with, a slight man in his early forties. When I saw him approach, I waved and called out his name, but he didn’t appear to see me. Soon he was lost in the crowd.

Strange, I thought. I worried that maybe I had offended him somehow. And then I thought that perhaps he was worried about acknowledging my presence, because of where we had met, because he was scared of somehow being revealed. A paranoid thought, but still. That fearful uncertainty — being unsure whether I was snubbed, or not seen, or something else more sinister — gets at the heart, I think, of what it means to be a Jew in a place without many Jews, or any such stranger for that matter.

Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary scholar in Tunisia. His first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available. Check back all week for more posts from him on the JBC/MJL Author Blog.