The ProsenPeople

A Community of Immigrants

Friday, June 18, 2010 | Permalink

In her last posts, Allison Amend wrote about Jews in odd places and about Jews and farming. She has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Visiting Scribe.

I’m currently attending my brother’s wedding. It’s a destination wedding (in Hawaii, where the bride is from), and is therefore small. Only the couple’s closest friends and family are invited. Everyone attending the wedding has flown in, and we are all staying in beach-side bungalows. We are, in effect, forming our own community.

My mother mentioned that one of the themes she found most interesting in Stations West was the formation of family. As immigrants, the characters in the novel are starting from scratch, without the benefit of (or the burden of, depending on your family) relations. What I found interesting about the characters was that, in the absence of blood relations, they created their own family, with ties every bit as strong.

As much as Judaism stresses family, we have been forced so many times to create ad hoc families and communities. In nascent Oklahoma, the small communities of people who decided to call themselves Jews (there were others who lived lives unattached to the ethnicity and religion—Oklahoma history, as elsewhere, is unsure where to categorize these people) often lacked a religious leader. Several communities would share a rabbi; some went without. The rites and rituals were observed as people remembered them, and were sometimes a hodge-podge of various locational variations. When a rabbi did come to town, several ceremonies were performed at the same time. A bar mitzvah/wedding/Shavuot celebration would not have been strange. And because these communities were so small, people of disparate levels of dedication to the faith, different countries of origin, and different levels of education were forced to worship together.

“Shylocks of Oklahoma City Have State by the Throat.” The Guthrie Daily Leader. 1 Nov. 1912: 1. The Jews of Oklahoma. Henry J. Tobias. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980. 59. Print.

The community formed in Oklahoma was large enough, in some places, such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City, as to be significant segment of the larger society. Especially between world wars, the Oklahoma Jewish community served as a rich voting block. Politicians courted Jewish votes and businesses actively advertised in Jewish papers. This, more than anything else to me, proves a level of assimilation into the culture of the Southwest: the existence of such a community as evidenced by its own source of news, with enough souls to command political clout.

The Daily Oklahoman. 27 Mar. 1921: 4. The Jews of Oklahoma. Henry J. Tobias. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980. 59. Print.

My brother gets married on Saturday. The ceremony will be secular, officiated by one of their friends, and a new community of immigrants (although temporary) will be there to witness and wish them well.

Allison Amend’s first novel, Stations West, is now available. 

Just In: June is Audiobook Month!

Thursday, June 17, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The JPS Blog reports on Audiobook Month, which, by the way, is RIGHT NOW:

Audiobooks have been around in the US since 1930. Their original purpose was to provide the blind with access to books that weren’t printed in Braille. In fact, we recently collaborated with the Jewish Braille Institute to produce an audio version of the JPS Tanakh. Read On.

Great Authors on the Big Jewcy

Thursday, June 17, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

In case you haven’t kept up with the Big Jewcy list (shame on you!), we’ve made things simple by compiling a cheat sheet of some of the great authors they’ve highlighted:

Rivka Galchen

Joshua Cohen

Ben Greenman

Justin Taylor

Jami Attenberg

Stephen Witt

Stephen Elliott

Julie Klausner

Oh, and of course: Melissa Broder and Rachel Shukert

Don’t forget to join all of these fine literary stars at Bowery Electric in NYC tonight

Haurowitz/Harris’ Goods and Sundries

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 | Permalink

In her last post, Allison Amend wrote about Jews in odd places. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Visiting Scribe.

My aunt, Jackie Cohen, put together a history of my relatives. In the only picture of my great-grandfather Joe, he is standing proudly in his grocery store, apron wrapped around his prodigious middle, goods stacked to the rafters all around him. Like most people of his generation, he doesn’t smile (when did smiling in pictures start?).

It was this image I had in mind when I created Haurowitz/Harris’ Goods and Sundries in my novel, Stations West:

Moshe looks around the store. They have built rows of shelves and ordered glass cases. There are stacks of Indian blankets and pipes, hot water bottles and cloth. There are huge vats of pecans, hides of various provenances hanging from the walls, metal goods such as pots, pans, teakettles, and flour grinders. There are small bottles of tonics, large glass jars of spices, salt and pepper, and Mason jars for canning. There is wire for chicken coops and fishing line. There are chisels and lathes and knives and china, tin silverware, salt-back pork, chicory, and tobacco. There are old newspapers, and a part of the store that can be roped off with curtains when the photographer comes to town. A sign outside says HAUROWITZ SUNDRY in large gold-painted letters.

One small observation I was interested in exploring in my novel, was the idea that Jews cannot farm. Obviously, that is not particularly true, yet the stereotype stands. It is true that most Jewish immigrants in this country became salesmen and tradespeople, owning stores, or becoming tailors or importers. Why is that? I looked for an answer and could not find one. It’s not a function of education, for after the initial wave of German immigrants, most of the Jews that came to America were uneducated.

My characters initially try to farm but are stymied by the nature of the soil in Oklahoma (which gets quickly exhausted by cotton). A store seems like a logical extension of someone used to deferential behavior and used to providing a service. Is that why other Jews seemed to open stores rather than farm?

Allison Amend’s first novel, Stations West, is now available. 

Rachel Shukert and Melissa Broder = Awesome

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Today I had the honor of being listed by as a “Big Jewcy” (thanks, Jewcy…I’m blushing!!) along with authors Rachel Shukert and Melissa Broder (go read their amazing books!). The list has some pretty interesting folks…check it out here.

Lucky for us, by the end of July, we’ll have had both of these fine authors as a part of the JBC/MJL Author Blog series. Melissa wrote some fabulous posts in January (read the posts here) and Rachel will be blogging for us in July.

Oh, and, did I mention you should read their books (Melissa=When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother, Rachel=Everything is Going to be Great and Have you No Shame)?

Rachel, Melissa, and I took some time during lunch last week to shmooze it up at Jewcy HQ and have a little chat with editor Jason Diamond…check out the video here.

And, join us at the Jewcy party this Thursday night in NYC @ Bowery Electric. Tickets are only $10 and will be used to support fine cause if I do say so myself. Find more details here.

Gary Shteyngart writes fiction for The New Yorker

Monday, June 14, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Among his many other achievements, Gary Shteyngart was just named one of The New Yorker‘s 20 under 40 fiction writers. Check out his story submission here:


Lucky diary! Undeserving diary! From this day forward, you will travel on the greatest adventure yet undertaken by a nervous, average man sixty-nine inches in height, a hundred and sixty pounds in heft, with a slightly dangerous body-mass index of 23.6. From this day forward, you will join me on the journey toward immortality. Why “from this day forward”? Because yesterday I met Eunice Park, and she will sustain me forever. Continue reading.

And, stay tuned for his newest novel, Super Sad True Love Story, in late July.

Miss Typing With a Typewriter?

Monday, June 14, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

For all of you old-school typists who prefer a typewriter, but hate the hassle, you have Etsy artist Jack Zylkin to thank for this new creation:

Do you miss typewriters? …Zylkin is selling typewriters that can connect to a computer via USB port.

In this jaw-dropping modification, writers can carry a 20th Century tool into our digital age. For $400-$500, you can be using a typewriter to write on your computer…Read On

(via Galleycat)

Weekend Literary Link Round-Up

Monday, June 14, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Good morning JBC readers!

A little round-up to get you going this Monday AM (yawn):

NYTimes reviews Joshua Cohen’s Witz

Josh Lambert rounds up new Jewish interest books for Tablet

The New Yorker interviews their 20 under 40

NETWORK author Dennis Danziger on his NETWORK conference experience for The Huffington Post blog

Author, friend of the JBC, professor, and “On the Bookshelf” columnist for Tablet, Josh Lambert is a BIG JEWCY

Summer reading recommendation from Tamar Fox on MyJewishLearning

Summer reading roundup from the Jewish Publication Society blog

Jews in Odd Places

Monday, June 14, 2010 | Permalink

Allison Amend is the author of the novel Stations West. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Visiting Scribe.

Since I’ve been touring with Stations West, there are invariably one or two people who approach me after each reading, telling me that their ancestors are from equally as improbable places: North Dakota, New Mexico, etc. What does this mean? That these are not such improbable places after all. Like other religions and ethnicities, we Jews settled everywhere, bringing our culture, tradition (and usually our peddling wagons or dry good stores) with us.

I’ve been a Jew in an unlikely place, too. I spent a year in high school living in Barcelona, Spain, which has not had a meaningful Jewish community since 1492 (though a small Sephardic community thrives still). I spent a weekend in a tiny town by the name of Olot in the Pyrenees. This was during the first Gulf War, and the U.S. Consulate recommended we not divulge our status as Americans, and warned us against telling strangers if we were Jewish. After a few days of avoiding the topic with my teenage hostess (“My family doesn’t really go to church that often,” “I guess Americans write down the family tree in the Bible,” “No, I didn’t get confirmed”.) I revealed that I was Jewish. My hostess, who, after half-jokingly (I think) asking if I had horns, thought it was the coolest thing about me, and proceeded to show me off to all her friends as a Jew. Her friends were equally as delighted by the revelation; they had always wondered what Jew would be like. Her little sister kept petting my hair and calling me “Pretty girl” in Catalan. It was an odd weekend.

More recently, I was a Jew in Lyons, France, where I taught high school. Coincidentally, I taught at the only school in the city that had no Saturday classes, and was therefore the Jewish school by default. One of my students, upon finding out I was Jewish, invited me over for Hanukkah dinner, where his Sephardic family was so different from my Ashkenazi one that I might as well have been dining on the moon. I remember thinking their tunes were all wrong.

They told me a story, which I fictionalized in my short story collection Things that Pass for Love, about their experiences during the Second World War (Lyons was in occupied France). The grandfather hid in the cabinet for the duration of the war. In 1996, the little girl’s Jewish day school was bombed, avoiding killing children only by accident. I realized, then, how lucky I was to be free of the fear of persecution that plagued them constantly.

I found out five years later that one of my best friends in France was the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, who lost his first family in the camps. She had never thought to mention it.

Allison Amend’s first novel, Stations West, is now available. Come back all week to read her posts for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Visiting Scribe.

Jewish Authors on New Yorker Author List

Friday, June 04, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The New Yorker‘s list of 20 promising fiction writers under 40 has been released (for the first time in a decade) and the list includes five Jewish authors:

Jonathan Safran Foer
Rivka Galchen
Nicole Krauss
Gary Shteyngart
David Bezmozgis

Read more on Tablet here.