The ProsenPeople

A Question for You

Monday, April 08, 2013 | Permalink
Boaz Yakin has been blogging here all week for JBC and MJL. Editor's Note: The views expressed by Visiting Scribes are their own.

Hey, I have a question for you: How important is it for you to identify as a Jew? As a liberal or conservative one? As a Zionist or anti-Zionist? As religious or secular? How important to you is your tribal identification? How much room does it inhabit in your psyche? How much power does it hold in those parts of your mind that employ language and structure and iconography to help you situate yourself in the moment and provide you with a map, a compass, a barometer, so that you might feel you know who and where you are at any given point in time? Do you question it much, or do you simply accept it as a useful base from which to operate? And speaking of usefulness, how’s it working for you? Is it helping you? Bolstering your strength, both inner and outer, aiding you in achieving warmth and intimacy and connection in your personal relationships, allowing you to live your life as fully as possible? Or is it hurting you? Giving you something easy and pre-fabricated to fall back on and identify with rather than making an effort to expand yourself outward, limiting your relationships, circumscribing your life? Is it just a useful or unuseful label to stick on yourself, or is it much more than a label, an entire ecosystem of biology and behavior both born and bred that comprises what makes you you as truly as the particular composition of atoms into molecules into cells etc etc etc that define your shape, as mutable and impermanent as that might be? Is it a comfortable niche to sit it, because niches are comfortable, even when they might subject you to all manner of torture and affliction, because despite all that, nothing is less comfortable than standing in the middle of a vast nothingness with no landmarks or architecture to give you a sense of place or belonging?

I'm asking you this—but it's actually a question that, on the occasion that I think of myself as a Jew, which occurs often enough, I tend to ask myself. And I can’t say I’ve come up with any kind of definitive answer for it, or believe that I ever will.

Boaz Yakin is a screenwriter and film director based in New York City. Yakin studied filmmaking at New York City College and New York University.

A Love/Hate Relationship

Sunday, April 07, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Boaz Yakin wrote about his father's stories growing up in British Mandate Palestine and empathy and conflict. He has been blogging here all week for JBC and MJL. Editor's Note: The views expressed by Visiting Scribes are their own.

How weird is it that here in America the very people who used to hate on the Jews something fierce now love us the way PETA loves animals? And that even more than Jews in general, they love them some Israel? How fast did it go from you can’t get into the country club—or in my case, heading home from school past the tough goy boys on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (it was the 70’s, there were still tough goys out there) and having a rock whipped at me along with an accompanying snort of “Jewboy” if I had somehow forgotten to take off my yarmulka—to turning on the news every day to the spectacle of some good ol’ boy politician on his knees desperately fellating anything circumcised that might fall within his purview? It’s been a strange confluence of events and ideology and who knows what else. Like, what exactly was it?

First the Christian Millennialists can’t get over the fact that there are Jews running the show in Judea again, which means the battle of Armageddon is approaching, and their Boy (ours originally, but whatever) will soon be riding down from the clouds with a flaming sword in his mouth and all that special effects meshugas that they can hardly wait for for a single minute longer. It also means as a result of those hopes that they are even more opposed to a two-state solution in Israel, or Judea, or Palestine, or whatever you want to call it, than the most rabid Zionist, as it runs contrary to Biblical prophecy and will cock-block the whole thing. Meanwhile the Cold War ends, and we get dragged into the Gulf War by our fearless leaders, and the Twin Towers are destroyed, and more war in the Middle East and a new awareness amongst our generally myopic populace of Islam spreading like a thought-virus all over the world, and—BANG—Muslims, who since the rise of the Israeli State tend to hate Jews almost as much (but not quite as much) as the Christians used to, are suddenly Public Enemy Number One; so it follows that the Jews they hated must now be America’s new best Pals. And let’s not forget all the old Yids who have been migrating to the Deep Southern state of Florida for the warmth and the waters, and now find themselves in the enviable position of being able to swing a national election this way or that…

So, the attitude shift kind of makes sense when you break it down, connect the dots and all that, but to a Jew with some years on him and some sense of history it still feels weird, is all I can say. And so many Jews both in America and Israel are like—whatever—I don’t give a shit why they’re kissing my ass all day all of a sudden, I just know it feels good, better than, say, being shoved into a ghetto or fleeing a pogrom or a Holocaust or whatever other fun we’ve been subjected to for the last 2000 years, so don’t ask too many questions, lean back and enjoy the lap dance. And I understand that sentiment well, and sympathize with it—I mean, we live in the moment, not in "history"—and the moment feels nice.

But for those inclined to think about the future, whatever that means, you know, the kind of people who worry about a rainy day coming, what they’re leaving their kids and all that kind of thing, it might be a good idea to remember that Jesus ain’t never coming back, ever, and that at some point our new pals are going to start getting antsy about it, and then the term “fair weather friend” will take on a whole new meaning. Or not. Who knows? Certainly not me.

Boaz Yakin is a screenwriter and film director based in New York City. Yakin studied filmmaking at New York City College and New York University.

New Reviews

Friday, April 05, 2013 | Permalink

This week's reviews:


Book Cover of the Week: A Guide to Being Born

Thursday, April 04, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

JBC Network author Ramona Ausubel, whose debut novel No One is Here Except All of Us was one of my favorite book's of 2012, has a new book coming out next month from Riverhead! A Guide to Being Born is a collection of stories "that uses the world of the imagination to explore the heart of the human condition." To hold you over until May: 

Single Sentence Animation

View past "Book Cover of the Week" posts here.

Beyond Words

Thursday, April 04, 2013 | Permalink

Yesterday, Boaz Yakin wrote about empathy and conflict. He will be blogging here for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning all week. Editor's Note: The views expressed by Visiting Scribes are their own.

I grew up listening to stories about those days, and that place— Jerusalem.

In New York City, in our Upper West Side apartment, my little brother and I watched my father act out the events and characters of his youth in British Mandate Palestine. He was a pantomime by trade and a teacher of physical acting, and when he told a story he didn’t just relate it with words— he performed it with every muscle in his face, with every physical gesture in his vast repertoire. And even then, though I thrilled and laughed at his exploits, I suspected that perhaps there was something exaggerated, slightly of the grotesque, in his portrayals of the multifarious denizens of that remote, ancient city; a city on the one hand so tiny and provincial, on the other so vast and timeless and redolent of eternity. A city against whose harsh, stony face the human dramas enacted by my father stood out in sharp, colorful relief, like a commedia dell’arte performance. Tragic, hilarious, and surely daubed with a huge dollop of fancy.

Then my parents would pack up for the summer and we would fly to spend several months with my father’s family in Israel… Get in the taxi from Tel Aviv and make the hour and half drive up to Jerusalem… Arrive at the corner of Jaffa Street across from the shouk, where my uncle lives with his huge family in the house that my great grandfather built over half a century before, in the precincts of what was then British Jerusalem… Get out of the cab, and breathe the suddenly dry, elevated air… Take in the sunlight glowing pink on the stone buildings, the strange, grotesque faces and postures of the city’s colorful, multifarious denizens… and then… realize, once again… that it was all true.

The truth of my father’s every gesture, every exaggeration, every outright lie, was borne out by the details of the real city I found myself in. And when I wrote this story I tried to put myself in my father’s shoes, as he told stories to my brother and me in our little apartment in New York City— mimicking voices, adopting postures, prancing, slouching and posing. Recreating what was into what is.

Boaz Yakin is a screenwriter and film director based in New York City. Yakin studied filmmaking at New York City College and New York University.

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist...Francesca Segal

Wednesday, April 03, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Last week, Ben Lerner expressed his desire for readers to be active participants in the construction of what a poem or novel means. Today we hear from Sami Rohr Prize finalist Francesca Segal, author of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award winning novel The Innocents. The National Jewish Book Award judges wrote:

Edith Wharton’s novels were at once penetrating sociology and bestselling stories, and so it’s no accident that Francesca Segal’s The Innocents, modeled on Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, can dissect a community’s behaviors and beliefs nimbly while telling a charming page-turning tale. Set among traditional but not exactly Orthodox Jewish Londoners, and peppered with precise details of the way some of us live now, the novel sets up a romantic triangle—a good girl, a good boy who wants to be bad, and a "bad"girl, tinged with scandal—demonstrating that the old tension between community and individual that engendered modern Jewish literature over a century ago is still alive and well, at least in certain neighborhoods. What power do our communities possess to keep the young in the fold, and at what price do they wield it? Segal manages to expose a signal truth of contemporary Jewish life with warmth and wit.

Below, Francesca Segal writes about her need for peace and quiet and her desire to keep learning:

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

The lack of immediate feedback can be hard – one has to sit on the impulse to show one’s work too early. It’s vital to have the space and quiet in order to be creative, and I’m a firm believer in finishing a complete first draft before letting anyone else near it, but it can be hard if you need a little reassurance.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Reading fiction. There are so many writers who have altered my perspective, subtle shifts that have stayed with me, and to whom I owe whatever wisdom I possess.

Who is your intended audience?

I don’t write with an audience in mind – if I allowed myself to imagine that anyone would read what I write, I would be too self-conscious to produce anything. I have to believe it will go no further than my own desk, and with that comes a little liberation.

Are you working on anything new right now?

Yes, I’m at the beginning of the next novel. It’s exciting and (extremely) nerve-wracking.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjui, and The Free World by David Bezmozgis. I like to have a few on the go at once.

Top 5 Favorite Books

This is almost impossible so I've stayed relatively contemporary but –

When did you decide to be a writer?

I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything else.

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

All I’ve ever wanted is the opportunity to keep writing, to keep learning, to keep getting better. Success for me is the chance to publish my second book, and then hopefully a third and forth. It’s such an unstable job –my definition of success is to earn the trust of a readership in the hopes that they will stay with you.

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

All I really need is peace and quiet – although that’s sometimes quite a tall order. I used to write in cafes when I needed to get out of my apartment, until I read a wonderful interview with Etgar Keret, who I admire hugely, saying that he thinks we become more self-conscious in social spaces and that it makes writers more self-conscious in their prose. I believe that. So now I just battle the cabin fever at home. That, and a great deal of caffeine.

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

I hope that it prompts readers to ask questions – about community, about family, about marriage. And I don’t think it’s trivializing to say that books should give pleasure, so I do hope that readers enjoy the novel, and that it feels emotionally honest.

Francesca Segal was born in London in 1980. Brought up between the UK and America, she studied at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, before becoming a journalist and writer. Her work has appeared in Granta, Newsweek, the Guardian, the Financial Times, and Vogue UK and US, amongst many others. She has been a features writer at Tatler, and for three years wrote the Debut Fiction column in the Observer.

National Poetry Month

Wednesday, April 03, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Celebrate National Poetry Month with some recommended reading from Jewish Book Council and poetry-related blog posts from past Visiting Scribes:

Empathy and Conflict

Wednesday, April 03, 2013 | Permalink

Boaz Yakin's most recent graphic novel, Jerusalem: A Family Portrait, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi, will be published later this month. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning. Editor's Note: The views expressed by Visiting Scribes are their own.

It seems to me that it’s hard for a feeling, empathetic person to know where to place himself in the midst of conflict. Since most people possess some degree of feeling and empathy, in order to live with themselves they don’t necessarily divorce themselves from these senses as they make decisions as to how and where to direct them. These decisions are determined by a host of factors—different in each individual and situation.

The bravest among us, of whom there are few, courageously allow their empathetic sense to extend outward in a manner that generously encompasses a wide variety of people, perspectives and feelings that might be in violent, seemingly intractable opposition to one another— and even more courageously allow their practical behavior and decisions to be strongly influenced by that understanding. The least brave, who number many, allow their empathy to encompass their family, their friends, their tribe— however far they choose to extend the net— and then shut themselves off to everyone and everything else in order to justify behavior that is born of the most primitive fears, anger, and desires. The rest of us, well, we live somewhere in the middle, constantly extending and withdrawing our empathy and understanding like a snail poking its antennae out of its shell as we try to balance our desire for openness, brotherhood and freedom with our anxieties, anger and fears.

Jerusalem, a graphic novel I wrote, inspired by the multitude of myths, stories, diatribes and musings I have been exposed to throughout my life by family, friends, enemies, and teachers, is an attempt to explore this struggle in others and within myself.

Boaz Yakin is a screenwriter and film director based in New York City. Yakin studied filmmaking at New York City College and New York University.

Jews and Baseball

Saturday, March 30, 2013 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The 2013 Major League Baseball season begins tomorrow! 

Browse our site for a range of books that focus on Jews and baseball:

JBC Bookshelf: Baseball Edition

Reading List: Jews and Baseball

New Reviews

Friday, March 29, 2013 | Permalink
This week's reviews: